Sunday, June 24, 2012

Father Knows Best

The Lord has mercy on those who respect Him, 
as a father has mercy on his children.

-- Psalm 103:13

If you're a parent of a child who's old enough to talk, it's that three-letter question you probably hear several times a day. And of course, it's only natural for children look to their parents for answers. But as kids grow older, the tables turn. Rather than being the go-to for general knowledge and trivia, it's the parents' prerogative to evolve into their offspring's most-trusted resource for life-preserving advice.

(And whether the child asks for it or not is irrelevant!)

With this notion in mind, what's the best advice your parents have ever given you? Consider these nuggets of paternal wisdom culled from the Internet:

"Tell your son you're proud of him."
"Water ski once a year. Every year. No matter what."
"Leave the world a better place than you found it."
"Ask how this is preparing you for 20 years down the road."
"Never let a woman borrow your razor."

Maybe these fathers are on to something...particularly about the razor. That's because when life lessons come from a parent--someone who's been there and done that--the road gets just a little bit smoother for that young person who's first seeking his or her way in the world.

The Bible--particularly the Book of Proverbs--is full of useful advice from wise, God-centered people who traveled this same road of life centuries earlier. And their words to us today are not only utterly insightful, relevant and trustworthy...they're God-breathed.

It's when we finally take these holy words to heart that we begin a vital transformation process. And eventually, we mature enough in our faith that God shows us glimpses of His reality. Like an inquisitive child who's finally learned a lesson or two the hard way, it's then that we begin to see through new eyes.

Unfortunately, we're often slow learners. But our Father fully understood our limitations even before He created the Earth. That's why He had to fully reveal Himself to us by literally putting a human face on the Divine. He lived out the human experience in the form of Jesus Christ...even if we didn't recognize Him at the time.

"Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?" Jesus once asked His inquisitive disciple. "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'?"

Jesus' comments were a simple answer to humanity's ultimate--yet childlike--question. If we want to know the who-what-where and why of God, we must first know Christ. Like Father, like Son.

It's some fatherly advice to remember. Because He above all knows us best.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Little Bit More

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do
flows from it

-- Proverbs 4:23
When it comes to having money, what's considered enough? Maybe you agree with billionaire J. Paul Getty and humorist Will Rogers, who were both credited with answering that it's always just a little bit more.

Whoever made this observation, it underscores the fact that most of us would rather have too much money and excess possessions than go without. And obviously, being blessed with abundance is often a very good thing. But with riches come hazards. The author of Proverbs 30:8 put it this way through this petition to his Maker:
"Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread."
Christ-followers must therefore walk a fine line on this issue. On one hand, having too little might cause us to wonder if God still cares for us. But if our stomachs and bank accounts are always full, we're the ones who can stop caring about God! The Apostle Paul had a solution to this problem, which he related in his letter to the Philippians:
"I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength."
Rich or poor, we all need to be satisfied that we actually share in the greatest treasure of all--our Savior, Jesus Christ! And He wants us to trust Him--not our talents, education or finances. We claim to count on Jesus for our eternal salvation. But do we also trust this same God to provide for our daily needs? If not, maybe it's time for a change of heart...while seeing things from His point of view. First, we need to discipline our desires and be satisfied with all He has given us. For instance, buying the newest, shiniest and most state-of-the-art gadget isn't always necessary if last year's model is still working fine. And we must also acknowledge the reality of our circumstances. If we're spending more and more of our income for the sake of keeping up with the neighbors, a healthy reality check can put things into much-needed perspective.

Remember, compared to most of the world, Americans are incredibly rich. When we're hungry for a snack, we just walk to the kitchen and open the refrigerator door. And if we're running low on supplies, a quick trip to the supermarket or Walmart can solve that problem in minutes. (Just put everything on The Card.) What's more, even Americans who receive government assistance are rich by most standards because they can have extra at month's free time to share with others. But regardless of our place on the economic ladder, Christ-followers are called to give--not to get. That's because God continues to bless us with so much.

So are you up for a real challenge? Then ignore the world's corrupt message about wealth and prosperity. And while you're thinking about your bank account, do you have enough...or could use just a little bit more?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Lyin' King

The Lord detests lying lips, but He delights in people
who are trustworthy.

-- Proverbs 12:22
With lies you may go ahead in the world," says a Russian proverb, "but you can never go back."

It's a stark reminder that in life--and this is particularly true for Christ-followers--credibility and character mean everything. And that seems to be the message the public is sending the news media following several highly publicized scandals that continue to plague some of the nation's most influential publications.

In the late 1990s, Stephen Glass--a reporter for The New Republic--was caught making up facts that appeared in some of his feature articles. In 2003, New York Times reporter Jayson Blair resigned after it was revealed he had plagiarized and fabricated portions of his stories. And in 2004, USA Today's Pulitzer-nominated correspondent Jack Kelley quit after he was accused of concocting source material and writing articles steeped in fiction. Recent similar scandals have also rocked television news operations. And the damage has added up. So much so in fact that a 2011 poll from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press reported that 66% of respondents believe that news stories are inaccurate, and 77% of respondents think news outlets tend to show bias by taking sides on issues. Surprisingly (and maybe sadly), a related survey revealed that this same tarnished news media is still more trusted than federal, state and local governments, business organizations...and the current president's administration.

Once you've lost your credibility through lies and deception, how can you ever get it back? That's the question King Solomon seems to pose to the media--and to us personally--through Proverbs 11:3: "People who can't be trusted are destroyed by their own dishonesty." And there happen to be several ways we can hurt ourselves and others through questionable words and deeds. For example, flattery is a form of lying since it tells people what they want to hear--regardless of its veracity. We can also be dishonest through exaggeration. Likewise, cheating (or fudging the truth so we come out on top) is a particularly serious issue since it can impact personal and business relationships. What's more, we also lie when we break our promises.

Whether it's the first time or the fiftieth, it's easy to lose our good name and reputation when we're caught lying in one or more of these ways. Who can ever trust us again? As French playwright Pierre Corneille once observed, "A good memory is needed once we have lied." 

Dishonesty really is like a heavy chain that weighs us down and holds us back. But the truth--and the clear conscience that accompanies it--is liberating. Of course, telling the truth isn't always easy. And conveying honesty and integrity can even cost something in certain situations. As Christ-followers, we must always reflect the words and deeds of our Creator, who's always faithful and dependable. After all, our friends, neighbors, co-workers--and even total strangers--are watching what we do and say.

"God is not a man, so He doesn't lie," we read in Numbers 23:19. "He's not human, so he doesn't change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?"

That's what's said about God. So what do your own words and deeds say about you?

Friday, June 1, 2012

On the Job

"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful
with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.
Come and share your master's happiness!'

-- Matthew 25:23 recently featured The Happiest Jobs in America--a comprehensive list based on the analyses of more than 100,000 employee-generated workplace reviews. The list factored the employees' relationships with their boss and co-workers, plus work environment, compensation and growth opportunities. And if you believe the surprising results, the happiest employees around happen to be software quality assurance engineers. The data also reveal similar satisfaction levels among executives chefs, property managers and bank tellers.

And who are the least satisfied on the job? Apparently security officers, teachers and registered nurses.

According to the old saying, you'll never work a day in your life if you love what you do for a living. That's when a run-of-the-mill job becomes a passion. But whether you're thrilled with your career or simply putting in your hours for a steady paycheck, the Bible has some words of wisdom to help put things in perspective: "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart," advises the Apostle Paul, "as working for the Lord, not for men..."

In other words--whether you're the CEO of a large corporation or a 9-to-5 ditch-digger--you should do your job for God's glory. Christ-followers should therefore consider the workplace as much a place of worship on Monday through Friday as church is on Sunday.

The world's message is that money, position and climbing the ladder equals a successful career...and that a successful career equates to a satisfied life. But the world has it all backwards. In reality, there's no such thing as a self-made man or woman. Everything we have--our money, possessions, family and health--is due to God's generosity. He gives it freely and can take it away without notice.

God defines success much differently. Instead of living self-centered lives on the fast track to stock options and a corner office, His followers need to celebrate Him by doing the most good with the resources He gives them. Our motivation should therefore revolve around doing what's best for others. It's our faithfulness to God that's the real gold standard of success.

"What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?" Jesus asks His followers. "Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?"

Those are tough questions we all must answer. But from God's perspective, having it all in this world can lead to having absolutely nothing at all.