Saturday, February 28, 2009

Whatever Happened to Integrity?

An item appears in the March 2 issue of Sports Illustrated detailing March Madness on Demand, a CBS Sports production that provides comprehensive internet coverage of the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

The item concludes with this gem: "CBS will again offer a Boss Button, which swiftly hides the game coverage in favor of a mock spreadsheet; in 2008, viewers hit that button 2.5 million times."

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Heavenly Health Plan

Continuing the theme of my last blog – why the things of this world are of little importance in the context of eternity – I’m astounded by our culture’s obsession with physical health and longevity. Exercise programs, diets, vitamins, cosmetic surgery – we go to great lengths to delay the effects of aging. Not all of these things are bad, of course. The Bible urges us to take care of our bodies. But it amazes me how much time, money and effort are spent on physical wellbeing without any regard to spiritual health.

Why try to add years to one’s earthly life – which is not guaranteed past the next instant – but not prepare to live for eternity? Or as Jesus said, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). In that same passage from Matthew, Jesus revealed the key to avoiding such a fate: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (v. 25). To put it in more familiar terms, consider Jesus’ words from John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Be a follower of Jesus and eternal life is guaranteed. No diet plans, no exercise programs, yet in the end, every believer will get a new body, a perfect one like that of Jesus. “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. … And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven” (1 Corinthians 15: 42-44, 49).

Until then, I take heart in the words of 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, which says of my current form, “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” Like the heroes of faith described in the 11th chapter of Hebrews, I am “longing for a better country – a heavenly one” (v. 16).

Just about any solid Biblical concept like this can be found in a good bluegrass song, so I’ll close with the words of one here, “I’m Ready To Go,” written by Tim Surrett and recorded by the Isaacs. I wish you could actually hear the Isaacs throw down on this foot-stompin’ banjo tune, but even without the musical backdrop, the message is still encouraging.

Should Jesus come this very day
I know I’ll then be on my way
I’m ready to leave
No stopping to grieve
I tell you friend I’m glad to be going
To a land where milk and honey are flowing
I’m letting you know
I’m ready to go

I’m ready to go
Should Gabriel sound his golden trumpet loud
In the twinkling of an eye
When the saints are called away
Eyes on the prize, no time to be looking back
We’re headed for that heavenly country
I’m ready to go and I know this might just be the day

Praise God I’ve made my reservation
For a homecoming celebration
When the saints of old gather ’round the throne
So when the trumpet sounds out so clear
You’ll hear me shout “I’m outta here”
Come on Gabriel blow
I’m ready to go

I’m ready to go and I know this might just be the day

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Bucket List

Of the countless ways to bare one’s soul on Facebook.com, a popular new feature is the “bucket list.” The idea is to send your friends a list of cool things you’ve done, then they can send it back and show you all the cool things they’ve done. At the bottom of one such list I received – which was full of all sorts of impressive globe-trotting adventures – the sender commented, “Life is looking pretty good right now.”

The thought occurred to me: “But how’s the next life looking?” Because no bucket-list accomplishment is going to be worth anything when one passes from this life to the next. Then, the only thing that will matter is how that person responded to Jesus’ offer of eternal life by virtue of His death and resurrection. Sadly, many people miss out on this offer as they race through their limited time on earth, searching for meaning in everything but Jesus.

In his book Eiger Dreams, Jon Krakauer described the sensations a climber experiences on a wall of ice thousands of feet off the ground: “The accrued guilt and clutter of day-to-day existence … is temporarily forgotten, crowded from your thoughts by an overpowering clarity of purpose, and by the seriousness of the task at hand. At such moments, something like happiness actually stirs in your chest …” Purpose and happiness – that’s what we want. Not just mundane existence, but something meaningful – something to make us feel satisfied.

King Solomon, who had all the riches and wisdom a man could ever want, discovered he was walking a dead-end road without God. “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun,” Solomon wrote. “All of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14). Reflecting on this meaningless existence, Solomon finally arrived at this determination: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

To fear God is to honor Him as Lord of all, to worship Him, to be in close relationship with Him. That was His intention since the beginning of humankind, and it is possible through Christ, who offers the ultimate fulfillment to man’s longings. “I am the bread of life,” Jesus said. “He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).

Monday, February 16, 2009

Child-like Faith

When it comes to matters of faith, I think sometimes we adults are too smart for our own good. We want an explanation for everything, whereas Jesus said we simply need the faith of a child: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4). And just one chapter over in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (ch. 19, v. 14).

I think I got a glimpse of what Jesus was talking about. At my church’s Promiseland program for children each week, we lead the kids in a series of worship songs before the teaching time begins. Last Saturday night, as we sang David Crowder’s Our Love Is Loud, I watched a fourth-grade girl completely abandoned to her Lord as she closed her eyes and swayed from side to side during the song. She was clearly talking to God and she meant it when we sang, “We love You Lord, we love You, we love You.” It was such a sweet, innocent and yet powerful display of faith. It was the kind of devotion I want to show God – a devotion uncumbered by the worry and anxiety that Jesus tells us is pointless.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Recommended Reading

What do we do when we see a homeless or destitute person begging on the street? Look straight ahead and try not to think about it? Hope the light turns green soon so we can be on our way? That’s what I tend to do. “Street people” are unpleasant. They’re dirty. They smell. They intrude on our lives.

But the homeless are real. Every one of them is a human being and every one has a unique story. And once we get past the prejudice and the fa├žades and the discomfort, we can get to know and love the homeless and make their world (and ours) a better place. That’s what happened to Ron Hall, a wealthy art dealer who, along with a homeless man named Denver Moore, is the subject and co-author of a fine book called Same Kind of Different As Me: A Modern-day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them Together.

Hall’s late wife, Debbie, was the key player in reaching out to love Moore and getting her husband to set aside his pride and prejudice to do the same. It’s a touching story that I recommend to anyone who wants a real-life example of what the love of Jesus Christ looks like in action. I won’t spoil the whole thing for you, but you can find out more in a feature article about the book here: http://www.reachoutcolumbia.com/archives/a-literary-masters-piece/.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

No Coincidences

I love the Bible verse at the top of this page because it speaks to how personal God is. He is watching over me. I find that quite comforting. And I know it’s true because I’ve seen too many amazing things happen in my life that can’t be written off as mere coincidence. For example …

Whenever I go to a big league baseball game, I’m always a little nervous if my seat is in foul-ball range. I was a decent first baseman back in the day, but I’m just not sure I could catch a blistering line drive with my bare hands. A few summers ago I went to an Arizona Diamondbacks game in Phoenix. I had a great seat two rows from the field in right-field foul territory. Before the game started, I offered up a simple little prayer: “Lord, please protect me from any hard-hit foul balls.” Then the game began and I sat back and enjoyed myself without incident for four-and-a-half innings.

As the D-backs got ready to bat in the bottom of the fifth, I got up and went to the concession stand. When I returned, the dude sitting two seats down from me leaned over the empty seat between us and said, “You just missed a foul ball. It probably would have hit you in the face.” He said Arizona outfielder Shawn Green had hit a scorcher off the aisle steps that bounded directly over my unoccupied seat.

Remembering my prayer, I was speechless. And thankful. I thought of Psalm 121: 7-8 – “The Lord will keep you from all harm – He will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” It was as though God was saying, "Yes, that was Me looking out for you.”

I’m thinking a lot about this passage now because I’m newly unemployed. I found out last week my job has been eliminated, another casualty among thousands in our wounded economy. I'm standing at a crossroads and I’m not quite sure where to go. But I’m OK with it – the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it (Psalm 24:1), and that includes includes my dwindling finances. I am certain God has a purpose for me. I just need wisdom to be sure I correctly discern His call whenever He reveals it.

On Sunday I visited a church in Nashville, Tennessee. As I was driving there, I heard a classic old hymn on the radio, Be Thou My Vision:

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best thought, by day or by night;
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Olde English syntax aside, that tune expressed my own heart’s cry in a time of uncertainty. After arriving at church, I heard the song yet again in the prelude. Then the worship team led another song that couldn’t have been more appropriate: Lord, I Don’t Know What to Do. The song answered its own question: Lift up my hands and praise Him.

I needed to hear these words. It was no coincidence that I did.