Archives: December 2012

no different?

Conned out of a large sum of money by a business partner, who claimed to be deacon in a church, my friend’s anger and disenchantment ran deep. He said, “How can a Christian do this kind of thing? I trusted him. Now I know he’s no different from a non-Christian!”

after the honeymoon

The honeymoon is over. Life is settling back to routine—a new one. Now you have a partner to live with. It’s no longer just about your preferences and habits. You need to learn to tango with him or her in a new paradigm. That’s where we start stepping on each other’s toes. And that’s where Song of Solomon 5:2-3 comes in.

listening

I have recently noticed that I am adept at a skill that should not be celebrated. I pretend to listen. Whether it’s a loss of focus because we’re planning what to say next in a heated debate or the random derailed train of thought amidst a casual conversation, I doubt that I’m the only one who excels in this gifting. Sometimes, realizing I have no idea what has been said, I will listen more carefully in the hopes of covering my lack of attention; other times, I simply tell on myself because I have no idea where the conversation has been.

unhappy at work

I have a friend who had been unhappy at work. He told me that no matter how hard he tried, his boss was completely unreasonable. Ultimately, he was fired. An acquaintance who knows both my friend and his boss told me he feels that it was my friend’s issues that led to his dismissal. So what’s the truth? My guess is that it’s a mixture of the two viewpoints. But here’s one thing we can know without question: Being unhappy in one’s work can lead to some sad results.

a prophet and a roaring God

Amos is one of the most intriguing biblical characters, tucked away in the neglected corner of the Minor Prophets. I’ve struggled with the prophet partly because my son Seth once had a stuffed monkey named Amos. My main difficulty, however, has been that Amos is true to his calling as a prophet.

December 26, 2012

What are a few of your spiritual goals for 2012? Why?

you are owned

It’s devastating to be owned by another human. Slaves suffer unimaginable heartbreak and abuse because their lives are not their own. Another person tells them where they will live, what they will do, even whom they will marry. They have no say. Being owned is so harsh that even today, when we want to express the domination of one person over another, we are apt to say something like “Susan owns Tom,” meaning that he pretty much does whatever she wants.

a king born for all

Scene one: A stable in Bethlehem, Judea. There, a group of shepherds kneel before a baby sleeping in a feeding trough (Luke 2:8-20). The society of the day despises these grimy, unclean shepherds, and they can’t believe they’re here. How could they have been given such a privilege?

close to the cradle

The angels were on the verge of a brawl. As characters in our church’s nativity scene, a multitude of small girls outfitted in white gowns and halos had assembled around the cradle. Unfortunately, some eager cherubs decided that they wanted a better look at the baby. Pushing and elbowing ensued. Finally, one little girl turned to the audience and cried, “Mommy!” just before the nativity director ushered everyone off the stage.

good men

The opening line of the 1984 song “Holding Out for a Hero” asks, “Where have all the good men gone?” That’s a fair question in a world that has seen more than its share of passive or violent males.

great expectations

Most parents have great expectations for their children. I’m sure the world’s first parents, Adam and Eve, had high hopes for their first child. We see this in Eve’s response: “With the Lord’s help, I have produced a man!” (Genesis 4:1). The reformist Martin Luther taught that this rendering does not quite capture the intensity of the optimism Eve had for her firstborn. Knowing of God’s promise of a Savior (Genesis 3:15), Eve honestly believed that her son was the promised Messiah. There’s a sense in which Eve said: “I have the man from the Lord!” Or as found in the NASB footnotes: “I have gotten a man, the Lord.” One Bible expositor translated it as, “Here he is. The Redeemer is here.”

tough times ahead

You’ve sent out countless resumes. Yet employment still seems elusive. You’ve led a healthy lifestyle. Yet the cancer marker is abnormally high. You’ve tried to be a good parent. Yet your child is choosing not to follow God. The list goes on.

no longer acting

A gifted local actor was asked to play the part of Scrooge in an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol for my friend’s church. The revised story included a scene where his crusty character broke down, confessed his sin, and received Jesus as his Savior. Each play practice, the actor struggled with the scene—for he was not a believer in Christ. On opening night, however, as he was spoke the scripted words of repentance and acceptance of God’s gift of salvation, the Holy Spirit moved in his heart and he gave his life to Jesus!

waiting in worship

I’ve never been exceptionally good at waiting. While I’ve learned that waiting can only be productive if I have set the desires of my heart on the things of God, lately He’s been working on my attitude in the waiting.

you choose Q: why do Christians die of cancer, while unbelievers live?

Q: Why does it seem like people who are not Christians have cancer and live, and ones who are Christians get cancer and die? I'm confused.  —Patricia

A: Some religions teach that the suffering we experience in this life is retribution for things we did in former lives. A big difference between Christianity and these other religions is that it doesn’t…

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> christian living

Is This Heaven?

In the fantasy-drama Field of Dreams, Ray Kinsella heard a mysterious voice whispering from his cornfield: “If you build it, he will come.” In time, Ray realized the voice was calling him to build a baseball field among his rows of cornstalks. When he built the ball field, major-league baseball players from the past miraculously emerged from the remaining cornstalks to play ball.

Tongues Afire

Over the past month or so, my wife and I have had some hard conversations. Places of deep hurt have become visible again. As we’ve talked, amid much sadness, I’ve had to reckon with a lasting wound I left on her heart. Years ago, before we were married, Miska and I endured a significant conflict. In that turmoil, I spoke words to her that were foolish and immature, words that lodged into the most tender and vulnerable places of her heart. I didn’t speak in anger or malice, but rather with ignorance and stupidity. I’ve asked her forgiveness multiple times, and she has freely forgiven me. Still . . . the wound is there. My words can’t be taken back.

Sarcasm & Sincerity

Sarcasm can cause us to laugh. But it can also become a shield. Why open ourselves to rejection when we can make sure that no one ever knows the real us? Ironically, such insincerity actually leaves us more vulnerable.

> daily devotional

Awaken Your Hope

Whenever my boys feel shame or are uncomfortable, they’ll often look away or bury their head in their chest. If they’re wearing a hoodie, they’ll pull it over their head, as if trying to become invisible. I have a similar impulse. When I’m ashamed or feel vulnerable, defeated, or hopeless, it’s easy to try to hide. With my sons, I draw close to them and calmly say, “Look up at me. I need to see your eyes.”

Meaning Mirage

In 2015, Essena O’Neill dropped out of social media. After building a popular persona on Instagram (700,000 followers) and YouTube (260,000 subscribers), she wrote: “I spent five years wishing I was this perfect person online and I spent three years every day working really hard at it.” She went on to say that at age 19 she realized her aspirations were misguided, stating, “I think the reality is quite sad.” So Essena left social media behind. One reason? She wanted to be a better role model for her 14-year-old sister who had also been trying to find meaning and identity in projecting a perfect image.

Dirty Laundry

The phrase “dirty laundry” could refer to the bag a college student brings home, or it may mean a person’s private business—personal matters not to be discussed publicly. We can safely say that it’s not Christlike to air that kind of dirty laundry.

> ethics

rotten fruit

There’s a “quick sale” area in my local supermarket where fruit is offered at a huge discount. If not sold quickly, the fully ripened edibles will become soft, flabby, and infected with fungus.

judgment of justice

An acquaintance of mine, who is highly intelligent and has a philosophical bent, also carries antipathy toward God and religion. He enjoys being provocative, recently quoting the second-century philosopher Epicurus who said: “There is no such thing as justice in the abstract; it is merely a compact between men.”

if My people

I was speaking with three friends about the lamentable condition of our country. They mentioned the continued practice of abortion, the rise of homosexual marriage, and the debt crisis. One friend cited 2 Chronicles 7:14, and said that our nation’s problems will only be solved when our country turns to God. I said that would be difficult to pull off, as our nation believes in the separation of church and state. We cannot compel Muslims, Buddhists, or atheists to worship Yahweh. Nor would we want to. Life goes badly—both for those inside and outside the church—whenever Christianity becomes the religion of the state.

> faith

Real Faith

I attended a boarding school in Nigeria where the older students ruled over all of us younger students. Once, I misplaced a bowl that belonged to a rather cranky older student. Having been given the ultimatum to find and return the bowl by the next morning, I crawled into bed with a heart full of dread. I whispered a prayer asking God for help before dropping into a troubled sleep. Imagine my awe the next day when the bowl mysteriously showed up in the student’s drawer!

If It’s Really You . . .

A non-Christian organization has established a hotline for people who are struggling with spiritual doubts. While the exact goal of this call-in center seems a bit fuzzy, its founder made an interesting observation: “Many people feel isolated or rejected when they begin to ask questions. . . . If churches suddenly started welcoming doubters [for food and fellowship], the hotline project wouldn’t be necessary.”

Lessons from the Young

On the way home from soccer practice last week, my 12-year-old son busily jotted his thoughts onto a notepad he had brought with him. When he finished, he handed it to me and said, “This is what I [created].”

> health

Real Rest

During the long, harsh Alaskan winter, Denali National Park rangers rely on teams of sled dogs to help them patrol the vast, snowy wilderness. Dogsled patrols can last up to 6 weeks, and the dogs are always raring to go.

sweet sleep

Recent research concluded that Americans are among the world’s worst when it comes to sleep deprivation. The published statistics reveal: The US (along with France and Taiwan) ranks among the top three most sleep-deprived nations in the world. Indians (54 percent), Americans (49 percent), and Singaporeans (43 percent) reported not getting enough rest due to being too worried or stressed out. Most sleep-deprived Americans (66 percent), however, can’t sleep because they’re anxious about finances and paying their bills.

Your Body

I like to write out my thoughts before I type them. But when I use an old pen that rolls roughly across the paper, my thoughts thump along in fits and starts. When I can’t squeeze the ink out, I can’t squeeze the words out, and I quickly toss the pen aside for a better one. A free-flowing pen opens my mind, and the words often come pouring out as fast as I can write them.

> relationships

Distance

Reasons? He has many. As he passes several churches during his drive to the park for his Sunday run, he enjoys his solitude. In fact, he reflects on how he can connect with God just as easily—if not more so—on his own. But deep layers of pain, a multitude of rehearsed excuses, and complicated explanations mask a simple reality: Church has not been a safe place for him.

Sarcasm & Sincerity

Sarcasm can cause us to laugh. But it can also become a shield. Why open ourselves to rejection when we can make sure that no one ever knows the real us? Ironically, such insincerity actually leaves us more vulnerable.

You’re Called

Martin Luther challenged the medieval idea that only priests, monks, and nuns possessed a divine call. He said that just as people are made right with God by salvation in Jesus, they’re also called to serve Him in whatever jobs they do. In this way “the entire world [will] be full of service to God, not only the churches but also the home, the kitchen, the cellar, the workshop, and the field of townsfolk and farmers.”