Wednesday, May 25, 2011

High Anxiety

Dear friends, don't be surprised or shocked that you are going through testing
that is like walking through fire.

-- 1 Peter 4:12

Its brilliance lay in its frankness and simplicity.

It was the Peter Principle, the hypothesis introduced by Dr. Laurence Peter and Raymond Hull in 1969 that states that in a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his or her level of incompetence. Dr. Peter also observed that work in an organization is actually accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.

If you’ve ever been a cubical dweller in corporate America or a even fan of the comic strip Dilbert, you know that Dr. Peter was probably on to something. But there are plenty of cases where folks worked their way through the ranks and earned their way to the top. But once they made it, it wasn’t anything that they expected. As soon as they reached the summit, the co-workers who they left behind began to raise their voices and criticize. Unexpected challenges arose, problems materialized out of nowhere and the limelight of prestige began to burn. That once sought-after corner office became a place of tension and anxiety. And one totally void of peace. 

If opposition and distraction are what people face once they reach the "top" (as the world defines it), what's it like for Christ-followers striving for life's real measure of success: faithfulness to God? For the Lord’s perspective on the matter, let’s consider what we should call the 1 Peter Principle.  

The Bible tells us that those who have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior can also expect their fair share of opposition in this life. In fact, they can count on it. The key to enduring the onslaught while experiencing inner peace is learning how to recognize the opposition and turning it to an advantage.

It's important to understand that the opposition we face will always bring added challenges. But the life-long habits developed as Christ-followers--such as consistent prayer and Bible study--will prove themselves worthwhile many times over. It's like a long-distance runner whose car has broken down in the middle of nowhere. All those hours of training in the hot sun will surely pay off with interest as he or she jogs nearly effortlessly to the nearest gas station that’s five miles away.

The challenges that Christ-followers face are also sure to bring testing. Maybe it's a layoff at work, an illness in the family or an unanticipated, budget-busting expense. Whatever it is, we can respond by either giving up or by depending on our faith in God to see us through and give us peace. Real faith will stand strong to the end. But what's false is bound to fail. As the Bible puts it, "blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him."

Is your faith-journey’s ladder to the top shaky or rock-solid? And are you finding that the view's not what you had expected? If so, maybe it’s time to talk to The Boss:  

“I give you peace, the kind of peace that only I can give,” Jesus reminds His followers. “It isn't like the peace that this world can give. So don't be worried or afraid.”

Saturday, May 21, 2011

City of Joy

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

-- Isaiah 12:3

Millions are unemployed, our indebted nation is entangled in three wars and gasoline costs about $4.00 a gallon. If you believe the news media, there’s not a lot to feel joyous about these days. But the truth is that billions around the world would do just about anything to trade places with us. That’s because even the poorest of the poor in the United States are considered rich (at least statistically) when compared with the rest of the humanity.

If that thought doesn’t brighten your day, maybe the City of Joy will put things into perspective. In his book of the same name, author Dominique Lapierre writes about Anand Nagar (“The City of Joy”), which is a slum in the center of Calcutta, India. Its residents are of different castes and religions, but they tirelessly help one another in the midst of grinding poverty and injustice. As one book critic described it, Lapierre met people there who possessed nothing yet seemed to have everything. The City of Joy was a place where the innocent actually thrived on poverty because of their freedom from care and zest for life. In fact, Lapierre found more heroism, joy and happiness in the Indian slums than in many cities of the affluent West. It was these unlikely residents who turned a place of darkness into a City of Joy.

It’s likely that the Apostle Paul could relate:

“Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,” Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians. “I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers.”

That hardly sounds like a fun-filled existence. Yet Paul wrote that he was joyful.

If Paul’s sentiments seem incomprehensible, maybe our modern society has redefined the concept of joy. Rather than a reaction to something external—like a new car or piece of jewelry—joy is an internal source of gladness and thanksgiving that helps us see the true picture though the most difficult of circumstances. As Christ-followers, our relationship with Jesus grants us literal access to our Creator—a loving Father who hears our prayers and looks for ways to bless us. So no matter how bad things get in our lives, we already know that our ultimate story will end on a very positive note. 

(Now that’s something to feel joyous about!)

With so much negativity in the world today, what’s the secret for achieving a joy-filled, Christ-centered life? The Bible tells us to blend thanksgiving for our blessings and authentic, regular prayer with discernment—the ongoing intentional functions of living, thinking and acting positively. Christ-followers must habitually look for the good and dwell on the positive.

When we have lives that are filled with joy, even the most unpleasant of circumstances can’t bring us down. Paul spent years in prison chained to his guards while under the constant threat of death. But he always prayed thankfully. And instead of feeling sorry for himself, he used his circumstances to change the lives of fellow prisoners and jailers alike—all while writing much of what we today know as the New Testament.

Yes, times are tough these days. But Paul’s advice to today’s weary Christ-followers is all the more simple and profound:

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The International Language

The law says, "You must not be guilty of adultery. You must not murder anyone. You must not steal. You must not want to take your neighbor's things.” All these commands and all others are really only one rule: "Love your neighbor as you love yourself."

-- Romans 13:9

Depending on which authority you ask, there are more than 6,000 different languages spoken in the world today. Mandarin Chinese has the most speakers (numbering about 1 billion), while English and Spanish come in at a distant second and third with about 350 million each. But regardless of nationality, every Christ-follower should be fluent in at least one Romance language. It’s not Italian, Spanish, Portuguese or even French. In this special case, it’s the language of love.

What’s that supposed to mean? According to relationship expert and counselor Gary Chapman, husbands and wives actually speak distinct love languages throughout their marriage. Some speak it through words of affirmation or acts of service while others verbalize their affections through physical touch or quality time. And not surprisingly, another popular marital love language involves giving or receiving gifts.

We learn through the Bible that God also shows His love in several different ways. Think about the famous story of the Prodigal Son, where the loving father welcomes back his wayward—and totally undeserving—child with open arms. Or what about the shepherd who searches tirelessly for a single missing sheep? When he finally finds it, he returns it triumphantly to the rest of the flock.

Jesus also told His disciples about a man who sold all his possessions to buy a field. But not just any field—one that held buried treasure. Although the cost to buy the land was staggering, the man did whatever it took to gain the prize.

These are all pictures of how God shows His love for us. He’ll go to any length to bring you and me into His family. Perhaps the most famous passage in the New Testament (John 3:16) tells us that God loves the world so much that He gave His only Son (Jesus) so that those who believe in Him will have eternal life. God willingly let Jesus suffer and die to pay for all our wrongdoings—past, present and future. We rightfully deserve death because of how we’ve lived our lives and mistreated others. But God’s love offers us joy and happiness if we’re only willing to accept it. By living on Earth among everyday people and then dying for our sins, Jesus has already paid the ultimate price.

We can see from these examples that God’s love language—the one we all need to learn—isn’t about feelings or emotion. Instead, it’s all about action. And as the most important Fruit of the Spirit, the demonstration of love in our lives is evidence that we’re really Christ-followers and that He’s living through us. For some, that might translate into feeding the hungry at a homeless shelter, mowing the yard of an elderly widow or even paying (anonymously) the utility bill of a discouraged unemployed neighbor. There’s no shortage of examples or opportunities.

Regardless of what certain late night TV commercials might claim, learning a new language can be difficult. But James, the brother of Jesus, tells us through the Bible that speaking the most important language of all is really quite simple. And it’s when we do that we know we’re on the narrow path that Christ advised us to take.

“This royal law is found in the Scriptures: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ If you obey this law, you are doing right.”

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Worth the Wait

Therefore, as God’s choice, holy and loved, put on compassion, kindness, 
humility, gentleness, and patience.

-- Colossians 3:12

Call it a milestone of age and maturity: it's that longing we all eventually get for "the good old days." They were the times when life was slower, folks knew their neighbors and the world's troubles were thousands of miles away. But maybe like fine wine, memories too get only better with age. There’s actually a book called The Good Old Days: They Were Terrible! And it explains why this so-called Golden Era was only good for a privileged few and how it was unrelentingly difficult for most. Pollution, crime, tainted food and drug addiction were actually common in 19th Century America.

(Some things never seem to change.)

Does this mean that today's Age of Convenience is really the best of times? We live in a 24/7 world of hurry—one of instant communications, Walmart Supercenters and microwave popcorn. And just about anything we want is literally available at the click of a mouse. But take another look and you'll discover that we're not always on the move. Efficiency experts report that on average each day, a person spends an estimated 45 to 62 minutes waiting. That covers common tasks like waiting in line at the bank, waiting at the restaurant for the waiter to take your order, and even waiting for your car to fill up at the gas pump.

That’s about three years of waiting by the time we reach age 70!

It’s a rare soul these days who has the patience to wait. After all, multi-tasking—like texting while watching TV—is actually a coveted life skill. But the fact is that patience doesn’t have to mean wasted time. It’s actually one of the desired characteristics (fruit of the Spirit) that shows that God is really at work in our lives. This concept might be difficult to grasp because the human viewpoint of time differs greatly from that of our Creator. But it’s very biblical. Jesus waited about 30 years before He began His ministry. And 40 years went by before Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt. Maybe the Apostle Peter can put it into perspective:

"But do not forget this one thing, dear friends," he wrote. "To the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as one day."

As Christ-followers, we must understand that what happens while we're waiting is often more important than what we're waiting for. Ask anyone who has spent grueling hours at the hospital contemplating the health and future of a loved one. Did their soul-searching experience bring a closer dependence on God? It should have. After all, it's when we're so humbled and powerless that we realize we can do nothing on our own.

Developing the fruit of patience takes…what else…patience! For Christ-followers, it all starts with sincere prayer for God’s help. None of us can change our outlook and attitude by ourselves. We also need to be intentional about slowing down and detaching ourselves and our families from the world’s demands and urgencies. And as an extra step, we must establish accountability with other Christ-followers. If a trusted believer knows that you have trouble with your patience, she or he will be there when you most need some perspective.

Patience—as the saying goes—is a virtue. But from a biblical perspective, maybe our never-sleep, 24/7 world actually revolves around waiting. Let's therefore make the most of our time in God's Waiting Room—a place where we can look for ways and opportunities to say yes to Him with a sense of expectancy and hope.

"Be still, and know that I am God," He tells us through Psalm 46:10. "I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."