Saturday, May 31, 2014

In God We Trust

Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.

-- Ecclesiastes 5:10

Here's one for history buffs and Trivial Pursuit champions: 

What's the official motto of the United States?

Stumped? You can find the answer in your wallet, your car's ashtray or even between your sofa cushions. For the last 150 years, American coins--and later paper money--have featured the inscription "In God We Trust." In God We TrustThe official website of the US Treasury says that in 1861, a Pennsylvania minister recommended to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase that American coins should "recognize Almighty God in some form." Chase agreed and instructed the director of the Philadelphia Mint to prepare an appropriate motto.

"No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense," wrote Chase. "The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins."

In 1864, "In God We Trust" made its first appearance on the two-cent coin. How ironic that "Godless" money should feature such an important reminder about the real source of our security. But if we're really honest with ourselves, shouldn't the motto read: In GOLD We Trust? After all, when things get tough in life, it's only natural to rely on our money, riches and possessions rather than the One who makes it possible to earn a living. However, reliance on job security and the stock market is never wise, particularly these days.

It's an unsettling fact: Our bank accounts are no defense against life's hard realities. Illnesses strike, relationships fail and that which seems solid turns to dust in our hands. What we desperately need is something--or Someone--who's dependable. Who never changes. Who we can trust.

Jesus paints a vivid picture of this universal quest through His story about the foolish man who built a house on shifting sands. When the storm struck, the rains came and the winds blew with fury. It's no surprise that the flimsy structure collapsed with a crash. But the wise man, in comparison, built his house on a foundation of solid rock. So when the storm clouds of life boiled and the winds howled, that house withstood even the heaviest downpour.

This leads us to the obvious question: Are you counting on your money and possessions to save you when "life happens"? If so, why not rely on God instead: the One who made you, loves you and knows what you really need. You can take it to the bank!

"Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust," we read in Psalms, "who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods." 

Sunday, May 25, 2014


Wildcats and hyenas will hunt together, demons will scream to demons, and creatures of the night will live among the ruins.

--  Isaiah 34:14

The fifth chapter of Mark's Gospel begins with the story of a man who faced some serious problems. Or perhaps a legion of problems is a more accurate description of his plight.

This tormented soul had been exiled from the community to live out his remaining days in a graveyard near Lake Galilee. The man was literally overcome by demons. And so total was his possession that he was able to repeatedly break the chains and smash the leg irons that the townspeople had used to confine him.

"No one could control him," Mark wrote. "Night and day he was in the graveyard or on the hills, yelling and cutting himself with stones."

And that would have been the end Chainof the man's bizarre narrative. But then along came Jesus and His disciples from their voyage across the lake. Recognizing that Jesus was literally God in the flesh, the demons that possessed the man begged Christ to postpone their eternal fate and allow them to enter a herd of pigs that roamed the vicinity. Jesus agreed. And the demons immediately fled from their victim.

Fast-forward now to 21st Century America. Does it seem like "demons" are only found in ancient fairytales? When a celebrity, sports star, family member or neighbor faces the consequences of alcohol, drugs, anger-management issues or some other destructive force, it's not long before someone observes that the victim "struggles with their share of demons." That's often a figure of speech. But literal demons really can torment people.   

The fact is that everyone has their share of demons in one way or another--even Christ-followers. And even though we've accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, asked Him for forgiveness and then received it, we still can slide back into those bad habits and behaviors that we thought we had left far behind. 

So what's the problem? Doesn't the Bible say that becoming a Christ-follower makes us a new creation?

It does. But our transformation is a work in progress on God's timetable. Although it can be immediate, shedding our personal demons often happens bit by bit and day after day along our faith journey. What's more, keep in mind that the pathway is narrow, rocky and full of unexpected turns. And it's when we take our eyes off the destination and listen to our demons that we wind up in the ditch.

Let's finish by considering the life lesson of the Apostle Paul--the Christ-follower who authored much of the New Testament. In his 2,000-year-old lament that may sound uncomfortably familiar to modern ears, Paul complains that he continues to do the very things he despises. Yet at the same time, he fails to do the things he knows that he should accomplish.

If this great Apostle to the Gentiles had so many problems with sin and temptation, what hope can we garden-variety believers have of breaking free from our own chains? Well...quite a bit! As Christ-followers, we don't have to accept sin's dominance in our lives. It all comes down to our ultimate trust and dependence on a Power that's much greater than our enemies.

"What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?" asks Paul. "Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!"

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Pride and Prejudice

Our foolish pride comes from this world, and so do our selfish desires and our desire to have everything we see. None of this comes from the Father.  

--  1 John 2:16

According to Proverbs 16:18, "Pride comes before disaster, and arrogance before a fall." And this is true for both people and organizations. For example, you've probably heard of Microsoft Word, the popular word processing software found on millions of personal computers and other devices around the world. But what about WordPerfect? Back in the 1980s and early '90s, it was the dominant word processor until Microsoft introduced its game-changing Windows 95 operating system.
WordPerfect, which operated on the old DOS operating system, suddenly became obsolete. And although subsequent Windows-based versions of the software were released, there were still compatibility issues. Microsoft Word eventually overthrew the once-invincible WordPerfect. And in 1996, Norvell--WordPerfect's owner--sold WordPerfect for only 10% of what it had paid just two years earlier. 

This multi-million-dollar loss was, to say the least, a disturbing reality check for Norvell. Its management of WordPerfect and the employees who created it is a textbook example of corporate pride and arrogance. Likewise, Christ-followers must understand that pride can hurt us badly if we overlook it and take things for granted.

At pride's root is our love of the world's values rather than our devotion to God. And pride happens to be a disease with some nasty side effects. One symptom is farsightedness. That's because we tend to see it in others but not in ourselves. Our heads then grow and our minds shrink. And eventually, we reach the point where we actually think we're strong and smart enough to do it all-- and all while forgetting that God is the only true power and source of our success. We become arrogant, vain, stubborn and defensive. And we may even develop a strange sense of satisfaction when others, often our closest friends, face difficulties or tragedies in their lives.

These painful symptoms can last for days or even years. But we'll eventually reach the point where God lets us crumble and fall flat after some unforeseen situation or circumstance. It's the pride before the fall. And it's only when we're struggling helplessly in the debris that we finally regain our senses and return to our Creator.

Like the common cold, we're all bound to catch the pride bug every once in a while. So what's the best way to battle the illness once it's set in? First, the remedy doesn't call for adopting an artificially low self-esteem or a terminal woe-is-me attitude. Instead, we'll heal by replacing deceptive self-confidence with reliable Christ confidence. The prescription is to always put God first in our lives and remember that we can do nothing without Him. Always give Him the credit for your blessings and successes. Help others through their struggles. And then remember that God chooses and uses humble people to do great things in the world.

The Bible sums it up with some solid advice: "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up."

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mom's the Word

Listen, my son, to your father's instruction
and do not forsake your mother's teaching.

--  Proverbs 1:8

Many historians consider him one of our nation's greatest presidents. He led the United States through the dark days of the Great Depression, defeated the Axis powers in World War II and won a remarkable four presidential elections.

He was Franklin Delano Roosevelt ("FDR"). By the time of his death in 1945, he was the most powerful leader of the world's greatest military machine. And he was also something of a momma's boy.

FDR's mother was Sara Roosevelt, described as a "strong-willed widow who wasn't about to give up her hold on her only child." She made the future president wear a dress FDRuntil he was five years old. When young Franklin left home to attend Harvard, his mother followed him to college and moved to Boston. And after FDR married 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.''

OK, maybe Sara Roosevelt took her role as a mother a bit too far. But FDR obviously would do (and did) almost anything for her. When she died in 1941, the president wore a black armband to symbolize his deep mourning and affection.

Perhaps FDR's old-fashioned perspective can teach us a thing or two about appreciating our mothers and their irreplaceable roles in our lives. With the traditional family under attack from so-called progressive thinkers, Hollywood celebrities and the 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 sums it up through these observations in 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 today. And it just goes to show that FDR had it right all along. Maybe there's something to be said for being a momma's boy (or girl).

Saturday, May 3, 2014

What Happens In Vegas

So when you give to the poor, don't let anyone know what you are doing. Your giving should be done in secret. You Father can see what is done in secret, and He will reward you.

--  Matthew 6:3-5

Las Vegas has been known for decades as an anything goes type of town. And its reputation is well deserved. No matter the time of day or night, high stakes gambling, quickie weddings (and divorces) and risqué entertainment are just a casino away. But a few years ago, city officials decided to broaden DiceSin City's appeal. Rather than pandering to the lowest common denominator, Las Vegas began promoting itself as a family-friendly vacation destination--sort of like Disneyland, but with lots more glitz and glam.

If you don't remember that brief change of heart, you're not alone. It wasn't long before the message was scrapped in favor of the famous What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas campaign. And when an advertising slogan enters the lexicon, you know you've hit the marketing jackpot!

Essentially, a visit to Las Vegas promises (or at least suggests) days and nights of no-guilt fun and excitement. Nothing that happens there has to leave the city limits. And if you don't tell, they certainly won't. At least that's what they say. But that's not how real life works. As Christ-followers, we understand that our Creator already knows about all of our thoughts and actions--regardless of whether we're alone or at a crowded blackjack table. There's nowhere to hide. And one day, we'll all have to give an account of our life's words and deeds. That should be quite an explanation for most of us!

Christ-followers are to be bright lights to a blind and desperate world. But with so many eyes upon us, doing the right thing and standing up for our convictions can be tough--and even painful at times. Those who refuse to cut corners, shade the truth or puff up their resumes can lose out on careers, friendships and much more. And no good deed seems to go unpunished.

That's just a little that can happen when people are watching. But what about doing the right thing when no one will ever know? Maybe it's that car door you scratched in the crowded mall parking lot. Or the $20 bill that fell from your co-worker's pocket. And think back a few years to when you were playing baseball in your backyard. Who really broke your neighbor's window?

It's daily circumstances like these that challenge our faith, values and convictions. But as Christ-followers, we're directed to be true witnesses to the freedom God has given us through the costly sacrifice of His Son, Jesus. When we accepted His forgiveness for all the ways we've hurt others and ourselves throughout our lifetimes, we gained the freedom to make a positive difference in this world and turn our backs on the past.

Maybe Las Vegas is the town that never sleeps. But if you stick with Jesus' practical admonitions for living through faith, you'll see that a good night's sleep with a clear conscience pays off better than any winning hand at the poker table.