Sunday, May 26, 2013


"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 in your master's happiness!'" 
-- Matthew 25:21     

Millions are unemployed, the president is entangled in multiple scandals and gasoline costs about $3.50 a gallon. If you believe the news media, there's not a lot to feel happy or joyous about these days. But the truth is that millions of people 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.

Of course, poverty and wealth are relative terms. And they don't respectively go hand-in-hand with misery and happiness. Money and possessions can be blessings, but having a big bank account is no guarantee of contentment. And a recent Gallup poll seems to confirm this biblical truth. It reveals that Panama--a relatively poor nation--has the population with the most positive emotions in the world. And the citizens of other impoverished nations such as Paraguay, El Salvador and Venezuela follow close behind on the happy list. Meanwhile, Singapore--the nation with the world's highest gross domestic product (GDP)--comes in last place on the survey. Less than half of the respondents in Singapore said that they smiled a lot or felt treated with respect. Even the residents of Haiti, Syria and Afghanistan were more upbeat! Joy

Regardless of what advertisers would have us believe, money and possessions can't buy happiness and joy. In fact, the Bible tells us that for many people, excessive wealth can actually be a stumbling block to spiritual health. Rather than a reaction to something external--like a new car or piece of jewelry--real 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 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.

The life of the Apostle Paul is a rich illustration of this principle: 
"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," he 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 doesn't sound like a fun-filled existence. Yet Paul wrote that he was joyful.

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--and 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 19, 2013

Generation Next

So Jesus called the children over to him and said, "Let the children come to me! Don't try to stop them. People who are like these children belong to God's kingdom."

-- Luke 18:16     

Maybe you read the newspaper editorial from a few years back. It wasn't about politics, the economy, terrorism or even a Hollywood celebrity. Instead, the author expressed his deep concern about our nation's children. He wrote that this generation lacked good manners and showed no respect for their elders. Moreover, these misguided young people reflected negative societal influences, violence and danger. Children

"What will become of our children?" was the distraught editor's rhetorical (but sincere) question. His opinion was that without a drastic change in direction, their future would be quite bleak.

Maybe a little background here will put things into perspective. Yes, this editorial appeared in a newspaper a few years ago. But it was more than just a few. Many more.

How about 170 years ago!

It all goes to show that some issues are timeless. And when it comes to showing concern about raising children right, that's a very good thing. "Children," as the saying goes, "are the future." And the Bible tells us that respectful, obedient children don't just happen by accident. Godly parenting involves intentional actions and instruction. Consider what the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy says to parents about emphasizing God's ways to their kids:

"Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up."

Children not only look for boundaries of acceptable behavior, they crave direction and seek love and approval. It's when they don't get enough of this from their parents that they can act out, perform poorly at school and gravitate toward the wrong crowd and bad influences.

So what's a parent (brand new or experienced) to do? First, understand that parenting is privilege rather than a burden. And second, remember that God is our heavenly parent. That means that human parents have the great responsibility of playing His role in the child-rearing process. Therefore, follow God's example for raising us--His followers: 

Give your children unconditional love, apply consistent discipline and give them spiritual direction. And don't forget to lead through your own positive attitude and outlook on life.

No one said that parenting is easy. But in a society that's quickly turning its back on God, it's arguably the most important job in the world...and one with literal world-changing consequences. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mama's Boy

Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.

-- Genesis 3:20     

Are you a mama's boy (or girl)? 

It's not necessary a bad thing. In fact, many great leaders had a close relationship with their mothers and credited them for their success. For instance, Sam Houston, one of the founding fathers of Texas, needed his mother's permission to join the army because he was not yet 21. Elizabeth Houston agreed to Sam's request and gave him a musket and a gold ring. The ring was inscribed with the word honor--the attribute she hoped would forever be a part of her son's life. Sam Houston wore this precious ring until his death. 

Then there was the mother of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ("FDR"). Her name was Sara Roosevelt, and she was a woman described as a "strong-willed widow who wasn't about to give up her hold on her only child." She made Franklin wear a dress until he was five-years-old. When he left home to attend Harvard, his mother followed him to college and moved to Boston. And after FDR's marriage to his fourth cousin, his mother bought the newlyweds a fine home in New York City--and then moved in to run the household! It was years later that FDR's wife, Eleanor, wrote, '' were never quite sure when (my mother-in-law) would appear, day or night.''

Maybe Sara Roosevelt took her role as a mother just a bit too far. But the devoted FDR would do almost anything for her. And when Sara died in 1941, the grieving president wore a black armband to signify his deep mourning and affection. Perhaps FDR's old-fashioned attitude can teach us a thing or two about appreciating our mothers and their irreplaceable role in our lives.

With the traditional family under attack from "progressive" thinkers, Hollywood celebrities and the so-called cultural elite, it's God's Word--the Bible--that once again proves to be our source of truth about the strength and value of motherhood. Where would our society be without strong mothers teaching the next generation to walk in God's ways? It's through the examples of good mothers that we learn about compassion, character, work ethic and faith.

King Lemuel shared his observations on the topic through the Old Testament book of Proverbs :

"Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate."

These were words of wisdom and truth centuries ago--and they still are for Christ-followers today. So maybe there's something to be said these days for being a mama's boy...or girl.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

United We Stand

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity
among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus.

-- Romans 15:5     

A good Bible lesson might be jingling in your pants pockets or hiding under your sofa cushions.

Take a look at a quarter and you'll see the phrase E Pluribus Unum, which is Latin for "out of many, one." An early motto of the United States, it signifies that our nation was founded when the 13 original colonies united behind the common cause of liberty. The Founding Fathers from Massachusetts often clashed politically and socially with their compatriots in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Georgia. But they put aside their many differences to write the Declaration of Independence, win the Revolutionary War and eventually ratify the Constitution. Quarter

Out of 13 small, divergent colonies was born a great nation, which today boasts more than 300 million people representing dozens of cultures. From San Francisco's Chinatown to New York City's Little Italy, it's no wonder that the United States is called The Great Melting Pot.

And that's where the Bible lesson comes in: The Church--meaning all the Christ-followers on Earth--is also a place of immense diversity. Christ-followers come from different religious traditions, have different preferences in worship music and distinct likes and dislikes regarding sermon styles. The church is a place where all races are welcome and present. It mingles the rich, the poor and everyone in between. But what unites them all--or at least what should unite them--is a common faith and focus on Jesus as their Lord and Savior. As the saying goes, "The ground beneath the cross is level."

And that's just the way God wants it. Shortly before His arrest and crucifixion, Jesus prayed to His Father about the Church--meaning not only His original followers, but also those in the centuries to follow: 

"I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."

Jesus' prayer spans the dusty streets of 1st Century Jerusalem to present day Christ-followers across the globe. And how do we unify His Church? It all starts with a common focus on Him and resting our faith on God's power rather than man's wisdom. What then springs forth is unity--not uniformity.

Let's take the first step by embracing the Apostle Paul's words from 2,000 years ago to some of the earliest Christ-followers:

"Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another," he wrote to the Colossians. "Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity."