Power of Hope

Think on: “God wishing to show beyond doubt that His plan was unchangeable, confirmed it with an oath. So that by two utterly immutable things, the word of God and the oath of God, who cannot lie, we who are refugees in this dying world might have a source of strength and might grasp the hope that he holds out to us. This hope we hold as the utterly reliable anchor for our souls, fixed in the very certainty of God himself in Heaven, where Jesus had already entered on our behalf…” HEBREWS 6:18-19

I contend that humans are hope-driven. We are the only mammal that is can have hope. We are able to think and thereby think of our future. I’m not talking about instinct here; this is conscious thinking. The cattle don’t journey to the slaughterhouse hoping that someone will free them. Deer don’t cross a road hoping they won’t be hit by a car or shot by a hunter. Fish don’t bite a hook hoping the fisherman will free them. And so on. But humans? We can have hopes and dreams that no other creature can have.

Hope is powerful indeed. I believe that hope enables vision, the supreme life-shaping purpose of our lives that helps us stay motivated and enthusiastic. It becomes a measure of your intrinsic worth. To develop authentically you must have hope to reach an achievable goal. I suggest that a supreme life purpose offers the firmest hope, and that is optimally grounded in following God’s word. A higher goal is critically important. After all, if you shoot into the ground – a low goal – you can’t miss; but of you shoot at a target, you must take aim. As we read in 1 Peter 1:13, “Get your minds ready for good use. Keep awake. Set your hope now and forever on the loving favor to be given you when Jesus Christ comes again.”

I believe the call is to develop a Christlike version of ourselves. To be loving and humble in our faith with a purpose to serve others.

Have you asked yourself what I’m getting at here? I think of the millions economically and socially enslaved in our inner-city plantations and places like Appalachia. Where is their hope? We lament the actions of a bunch of spoiled men in football uniforms barely revealing the shadows of the discontent that lingers. Instead of a solution, they offer a trap for a lower order of thinking in which hope has been depressed. Dare they hope to be understood? Our time on earth is merely a tick on God’s great clock. The truth should be spoken in love, not in acts that disrespect and discount others. To give hope to millions of long-suffering people trapped in their meager existences, we need action to give real hope with avenues to lift them from despair.

We must give purpose to build true hope. Someone characterized a rut as a coffin that’s open at both ends. Throwing goodies into the rut doesn’t lift people out. They need a way to climb out and a reason to do it. Hope is powerful indeed, as has the capacity to transcend despair.

Those guys I referred to on the football field stink at articulating their message and have chosen the wrong medium. They need to get off their knees on the football field, bend a knee at church, and get their collective selves and their money to the inner cities and the hills of Appalachia.

Trust in Truth

Think on: “No disaster overcomes the righteous, but the wicked are full of misery. Lying lips are detestable to the LORD, but faithful people are His delight. PROVERBS 12:21-22
“The greatest enemy of the truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived, and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive, and realistic.” JOHN F. KENNEDY

Look around. Really. Look around. Do you see the war on truth that is in our midst? Seriously, we’re surrounded by it, and it seems to threaten to go nuclear in its scope – if it hasn’t already. Just look at the hate, the invective, the turpitude we see spewing from the media every day.

Arguably, the biggest problem in today’s world is distrust in Christ. It causes us to lose our souls to sin, as repeated wrongdoing becomes desensitized like a callous. It’s inside us, it’s in the world around us. Tragically, myths abound to which many people – Christian and non-Christian alike – ascribe. They are lies or untruths by any other name. The assault on truth is in defiance of God’s prescribed order, as we and those around us fall victim to lies, distortion, and deception.

I suggest that the biggest deceiver among the untruths is the philosophy of relativism; the premise that all viewpoints can be valid. Relativism has metastasized in today’s society, as we bend truths to meet our own selfish ends. For example, many young people today have devolved religion to moralistic therapeutic deism, essentially a set of moral statutes not exclusive to any one religion but sufficient to meet the perceived needs of their moment in time. We are in a culture that is ever-more-closed to truth being personified in Christ. The distrust is manifested in societal amoral positions on the likes of marriage, gender, sexuality, abortion, and the very existence of God. Even truth is under attack: yours or mine or whomever.

We must stop sabotaging our lives by not developing the best versions of ourselves. We must stop deceiving ourselves and trust in His truth. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in The Cost of Discipleship, we must die for Christ – that is, give up our innermost selves to seeking and following His truth. Too many churches today have pushed away discipleship and commitment to the authority – the truths – of Scripture. We ever more often find ourselves surrounded by intellectually smart Christians that are Biblically illiterate. In effect, messages delivered from the Bible have morphed into “self-help talks.” It thus becomes easy to substitute as in Romans 1:25, “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” Oh my, that is one very truth-laden verse in today’s culture.

So please, look around you. What are you doing to stand for the truth, not just any truth, but God’s truth?

Facing Life Challenges

Think on: “But those who trust in the LORD will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint.” ISAIAH 40:31
“As the radius of a circle of light increases, so too does the circumference of darkness.” ALBERT EINSTEIN

I suggest that failure to face our life or business challenges is akin to fixing your car by disconnecting the “check engine” light. Problems, challenges, or whatever you might call them need to be faced head on or you will live life cloaked behind a mask, disconnected from the truths of real life – not unlike disconnecting that “check engine” light.

Most of our life challenges are wrapped around fears and the contradictions they pose. Nicolló Machiavelli in The Prince noted, “Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? One should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved.” Well, we’ve heard variants on that theme from others, but the dilemma persists. Great leaders do battle with the question, as do we common folk. Do we want to be feared or loved? It’s like some hidden enigma that our egos keep us from fully confronting. Daresay, we all want to be loved…but too often our egos get in the way and we incite fear to protect or mask our vulnerabilities.

Problems that are not dealt with head on tend to fester. Are we so afraid to be vulnerable that we allow our egos to bottle in our innermost challenges? How often have we wanted to “clear the air” over some vexing problem with a customer, but we hold back and let resentment and anger build? How often have we endured a social slight and allowed it to become infected and fester into a greater problem?

This failure to confront challenges often leads to argument and anger. If only we were to think first of others. Why can’t we control our egos, our inner selves whereby we place ourselves humbly in service to those around us. How would family, friends, coworkers, and customers react to such a quality. In Philippians 2:3 we are reminded, “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.” Ask yourself what challenges you need to face. What are the root causes? Will facing them bring you peace? Will you renew your strength through faith and soar on eagle’s wings?

Christianity in a Morally Relativistic World

Think on: “Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or anguish or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: because of You
we are being put to death all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us.” ROMANS 8:35-37
“I do not want to drive across a bridge designed by an engineer who believed the numbers in structural stress models are relative truths.” R.C. SPROUL

We had a fascinating discussion recently in our men’s growth group at church, as we grappled with how we present ourselves as Christians in a self-absorbed world that is increasingly rooted in moral relativism. Some people say that we should avoid talking about religion and politics, when we’re not among theologists and politicians respectively. However, am I the only person out there that has seen a marked shift away from the Christian moral underpinnings of our nation in the past 100+ years? So, pardon me if I wax religiously political.

There are some folks who see the early church in Jerusalem as the model for Christian communities but interpret it as a mandate for communal – even communistic – living. They point to Acts 4:32-35, “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.…There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” This communal thinking couldn’t be further from the truth of God’s intentions. “Modern” communism is based on Karl Marx’s theory of class warfare, in which the workers revolt against the capitalists and forcibly take control of private property. Marx figured that eventually the socialist state would wither away and transition to a communist utopia in which everyone lived in peace, harmony, and preternatural freedom. Well, there simply was none of this class warfare in the early church in Jerusalem and private property was not treated as immoral. Why am I explaining this? Well, it seems that we’ve set ourselves up as Christians to increasingly accommodate cultural Marxism over the past ten decades of our own nation’s existence. It really headed downhill with Engel v Vitale in the U.S. Supreme Court in 1962, as it wrongly interpreted separation of church and state and removed prayer from public schools. It’s metastasized from there at a seemingly exponential rate.

A nation rooted in Christian governing principles (e.g., Magna Carta, Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, Penn’s Framework of Government, etc.) has given way to postmodern liberal progressivism with concomitant neo-Marxism. On the political left, social democracy (aka, socialism) which deals with economics and income inequality contrasts with radical multiculturalism based in moral relativism (if you can’t know the truth, make it up) manifest in globalism. Their world is atheistic at its core, as there’s no room for Christian morality. What’s happened is that proponents of these views – cultural radicals – have taken to applying the apparatus of the state to force their will on the nation. They’ve generally found the court system as their most efficient delivery mechanism to deliver cultural radicalism (e.g., gender equality, racism, abortion, property rights, etc.). How does this impact Christians? I suggest that Christianity is already under attack, and the cultural Marxist progressive agenda has already significantly infiltrated many mainline denominations resulting in moral deviation from biblical truths. I would hope readers agree that Christianity is not and should not feature morally relativistic thinking.

Bitterness Versus Trust

Think on: “Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.” ACTS 8:22-23
“The tragedy of life is what dies inside a man while he lives.” ALBERT SCHWEITZER

Have you ever been wronged? What was the occasion? Perhaps, someone merely cut you off in rush hour traffic. Maybe a colleague took credit for something you created. Someone might have stolen your birthright, much as Esau lost his to Jacob. Sometimes, it’s as momentarily harsh as criticism by a trusted friend. Did you react with bitterness, with anger? Do you still hold that reaction?

The causes and your reaction to being wronged can range across all manner of degrees. What is important is how you handle them. I contend that bitterness and trust cannot coexist; that – as Schweitzer suggests – each bitter reaction is a tragedy cutting away pieces of your life. Have you considered how it takes enormous energy to be bitter. It saps your very soul. According to author Lee Strobel, “Bitterness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” The bottom line is that if you don’t deal with it at its beginning, it will eventually kill your spirit if not you.

I’ve seen people I care about consumed by bitterness over a real wrong. They cannot forgive, and their heart turns to stone and affects all their relationships. When you are filled with bitterness, it makes it nearly impossible to trust anyone much less have faith in God. You often imprison yourself in a rut of bitterness, like a coffin that happens to be open at both ends.

What’s the answer? How do you rid yourself of bitterness? The road to reclaiming trust and thereby happiness can be extremely difficult. It requires letting go, surrendering. To do that may require being broken; being brought to your lowest, basest possible existence. It’s hard to see the way out, yet the outcome can be awesomely gratifying as you find new freedom from the weight of bitterness, as you find true peace of mind. I suggest that however bitterness may seem justified, it and accompanying anger and self-pity comprise a selfish act, and that the answer lies in turning from your “self” toward opening your heart to trust in Christ. I believe that when you make a conscious choice – as in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s metaphorical dying for Christ – to commit to trust in God, you open the door to step away from bitterness. When you open your heart to that trust, you will find that trust in others is restored and you will find yourself alive again.

Life’s Bucket List

Think on: “According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” 1 PETER 1:3-4
“You measure yourself by the people who measure themselves by you.” THE BUCKET LIST

General Douglas MacArthur was notoriously characterized by one particular quote, “You are remembered for the rules you break.” Break the rules, he certainly did. The same quote could as easily have been attributed to General Patton, General Custer, Andrew Carnegie, Steve Jobs, or any of dozens of memorably effective leaders. It begs the question of what you will be remembered by. Do you have a bucket list; a list of things you aim to accomplish before you die? How many of the things on your list will be not just memorable, but memorable for what they do as a lasting legacy for others?

Now, here’s the rub. I suggest that, if you accomplish something truly extraordinary, you will forever have a target on your back. Every one of the leaders I mentioned above had people who wanted to take their achievements from them. Why? Envy? Fear? Say you’d like to start a business. In his book, Shoe Dog, Nike founder Phil Knight seeks to remind Americans that, “America isn’t the entrepreneurial Shangri-La people think. Free enterprise always irritates the kinds of trolls who live to block, to thwart, to say no, sorry, no. And it’s always been this way. Entrepreneurs have always been outgunned, outnumbered. They’ve always fought uphill, and the hill has never been steeper.” Then, he adds, “Have faith in yourself, but also have faith in faith. Not faith as others define it. Faith as you define it. Faith as faith defines itself in your heart.” Knight is hardly what we’d refer to as the prototypical Christian, but he attributes his success to God. He depended on luck, grit, expertise, and faith to hold back the dream-stealers that would have defeated him. He refused to knuckle under to any fatalistic acceptance of the status quo, of life’s limitations.

Do you break the rules for greater service for others? Do you stretch your limits? Do you have the faith in God necessary to defeat the underlying drivers that defeat success? Or are you limited by fears, by inordinate needs, by energy-sapping addictions? In 1 John 2:15-17, we are cautioned, “Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For everything that belongs to the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle—is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever.” In closing, I suggest that your bucket list not be about quantity but about quality, about the significance of what you are striving to achieve. Will you be remembered like the words the epitaph of the English poet John Keats, “Here lies One whose name was writ in Water”? Or will you be remembered as a Godly person leaving a legacy enriching the lives of others by your service as delivered by the strength of your faith?

Jesus > Religion

Think on: “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves.” MATTHEW 11:28-29

We find ourselves at a time of the year that is typically filled with religious ritual. We celebrate the birth of our Savior in Bethlehem more than two thousand years ago. Churches will be filled with believers and seekers as only matched on Easter, as we lift His Word in song and – yes -all manner of ritual handed down by church religious leaders over the centuries. It is far too easy get caught up in the ritual of religion and to forget the reason for the season.

I daresay we have set up religious rituals that were never intended by Christ. It’s as though we’ve had successive generations of well-intended popes, pastors, priests, bishops, elders, and the like who sought to appeal to the masses by building religious liturgy, rites, and ceremonies that too often are worshiped in such perfunctory fashion that Christ is lost. As described in Colossians 1:15-18, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For everything was created by Him, in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities— all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together. He is also the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He might come to have first place in everything.” These verses tell us that Christ is the head of the body, the church; but nowhere are we told to place the church above Jesus. Jesus is about the church as community, about relationship with God, not about religion.

Bottom line, Jesus is indeed greater than religion, and during the celebration of His birth and throughout the year we should never lose sight of that. For it is in Jesus – Jesus who is greater than religion – that we are able to find rest for the weary and burdened. We will find that rest, that peace for our soul, in Him; not in religion.

Greed = Life Imbalance

Think on: Someone from the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” “Friend,” He said to him, “who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?” He then told them, “Watch out and be on guard against all greed because one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions.” LUKE 12:13-15

So, where’s the line? Too much? Too little? In previous posts, I’ve often written about achieving a life of significance. Yet, we exist in a world filled with all sorts of sin and corruption characterized by craving newer, bigger, better “stuff.” Ironically, it turns out that the “stuff” is never truly fulfilling. It cannot answer the great question that gnaws at all of us, “Why are we here?”

In Philippians 4:12-13, Paul counsels, “I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.” We are surrounded by an ever more secularized world where the pursuit of the almighty “stuff” transcends true life meaning. People will fight, scratch, claw, cheat, or whatever it takes to fulfill some fleeting fulfillment driven by envy, narcissism, and pure greed.

The impact of this life imbalance is striking as evidenced by the corruption infiltrating businesses, governments, and – sadist of all – families. It’s ironic for example that the size of the average U.S. home has tripled over the past 60 years while the average size of families has been reduced by nearly 50 percent. That seems telling to me. Could it be impacted by the numbers of single parents, the divorces? Could it be impacted by a government that breeds entitled victims? Have people lost sight of the Christian message by which we are destined to live in a world of the unimaginable abundance we were created for?

What to do? I suggest that we can pray for strength to not be tempted, step back and truly fend off those temptations offered by “stuff,” learn from the scripture about God’s way, and focus on achieving significance in this world while we await eventual abundance in God’s kingdom.

Whom Do We Touch

Think on: When I considered all that I had accomplished and what I had labored to achieve, I found everything to be futile and a pursuit of the wind. There was nothing to be gained under the sun. ECCLESIATES 2:11

We humans are necessarily social animals. While there are exceptions among us – a few souls that thrive on being alone – we depend very much on interactions with people. So, I raise the question, “Whom do we touch?” Who in all this social interaction do we actually reach? How? Why? Implicit is what is the impact that we have upon those we touch?

I suggest that to truly touch people in a meaningful way, we must have our own life view in order. Paul sums it up in Galatians 5:13-14, “For you were called to be free, brothers; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love, for the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself.” So, how do we achieve this “freedom?”

As humans, we seem to find ourselves too often motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, while we should immerse ourselves in a framework of humility that moves us to treat others as more important than ourselves. In our selfishness, we invariably set up a self-destructive environment that damages both ourselves and others. There’s a certain fatalism in this condition. Self-protection and self-preservation coupled with fear of that which we cannot understand creates a hunger for safety. Thinking we can do it for ourselves is a fool’s errand at best.

The “whom we touch” is more a function of how we feel about ourselves. The more we move toward answering the “why” of our existence, the less we are fearful of the “whom.” It is about attaining a life of significance. Importantly, significance cannot be attained through others, as it creates unrealistic expectations of them. I believe that significance is attained through a relationship with Christ, as it frames us in the love, humility, and confidence to touch the “whom” of our world. It enables us to be a light in dark places. I’ve often quoted Einstein, “As the radius of a circle of light increases, so too does the circumference of darkness.” Your touching of others with Christ’s strength pushes away the darkness we fear. Importantly, I believe this goes a long way to answering the “why” of our existence.

Identity: Yours or God’s

Think On: For we don’t dare classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. But in measuring themselves by themselves and comparing themselves to themselves, they lack understanding. 2 CORINTHIANS 10:12

In several posts, I have mentioned how we have a tendency to hide behind masks that we construct to protect us. Author Dr. Larry Crabb covers masks extensively in his book “Inside Out.” Crabb, a psychologist, looks at people with a kind of wonder about what wounds lurk beneath their outward personas. Masks beg the question, “how do you see yourself?” Actually, it is a huge question, as it really is hard for most of us to get a sense of how we really appear and is it the “real” us. After all, is our identity conjured by ourselves or God?

Who or what or how do we see ourselves as measured by culture? Are you intelligent, talented, physically attractive, powerful, wealthy, connected, career-oriented, ruthless, intimidating, popular, successful, or what? Or, are you a creature of God? Are you measured by attributes such as service, caring, giving, significant, encouraging, generous, giving of good deeds, loving, kind, forbearing, and gentle?

As the “think on” verse advises, we are on a fool’s errand if we measure our lives through comparison to others. You really cannot get a sense of yourself by such comparisons. As it turns out, we are very much individuals on life missions that are customized to ourselves. Someone else’s plan is not yours.

Look in a mirror. What do you see? What do you think others see? How much does what others see matter? Oh, yes, that’s why we have our protective masks. It’s an emotional exercise, isn’t it? Emotion often dictates our ability to understand our own feelings. Our ability to grasp the emotion behind the mask provides great insight on its influence on our motivation and behavior. The challenge is to gain a better understanding of self-management and self-awareness and thus develop better insight and control over our actions and emotions. I suggest that trying to do this without God’s help is a fool’s errand at best. As described in 1 Samuel 16:7, “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or his stature, because I have rejected him. Man does not see what the Lord sees, for man sees what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart.” It’s a matter of reconciling ourselves to God.

We may be “relationship-wired” as humans, but we dare not depend on those relationships for our true measure of value. Indeed, feasting on such pursuit is a sparse meal.