Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Greater Good

"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

-- Matthew 6:34

The death of a family member. An unexpected job loss. A devastating natural disaster.

Who hasn't pondered why God allows tragedies, suffering and injustice? We reason that if he's all-powerful, he should prevent them. But let's consider that God's mysteries extend beyond our superficial human experience and into the immeasurable wonders of his creation. For example, can we comprehend how an awkward caterpillar gorges itself with leaves, spins a cocoon around itself and then emerges weeks later as a beautiful butterfly? And how can a tiny acorn grow into a mighty 80-foot oak?

The principle here is the same. Whether Butterfly2the unexplainable involves a tragedy or God's creation, we must remind ourselves that his ways aren't our ways. Moreover, our human minds are much too limited to grasp the entirety of his greater purposes.

But we're not totally in the dark here. God's word to us--the Bible--gives us several pointers. One is that we live in a flawed world where bad things can (and often do) happen. It was when Adam and Eve disobeyed their Creator in the Garden of Eden that Earth's perfection was spoiled. And it's only four chapters into Genesis that we read about mankind's first murder: a cold-blooded encounter between siblings.

Our own bad choices are another reason for suffering. For example, if someone chooses to drink too much, becomes intoxicated and then gets behind the wheel, tragedy often follows. But that's hardly God's fault. We instead reap the fruits of the foolishness we sow.

These facts are sobering, but the flip side is that we worship a God who specializes in turning bad into good. Consider someone who gets laid off from their job, only to find a much better opportunity in a different city--with higher pay--and in an industry that he or she had never previously considered. This happens all of the time in America. If it weren't for the "tragedy" of unemployment, he or she might have become stuck in a boring, dead-end job with little future. God (as always) know bests!

God also turns suffering into success by using it to discipline and mature us. Are we ever the same after experiencing a major illness or family tragedy? It's through adversity that we draw closer to him and depend on his help and presence. God can even use our suffering as a witness to others. If you're a Christ-follower faced with a God-sized situation, where you place your faith speaks volumes to others.

While suffering, tragedy and injustice are difficult realities of the human experience, our Creator never promised us a pain-free existence. In fact, Jesus even told his disciples to expect troubles in life. But let's take comfort that ours is a Big Picture God--One who sees beyond our limited scope to turn even the greatest tragedies into the greater good.

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace," Jesus assures us through John's Gospel. "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Like Father, Like Son

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord.

-- Isaiah 55:8

Admit it. 

You're probably one of those people who don't understand God. At least not all of the time. Or even a lot. And that's OK. In fact, you're in great company. It's called the human race.

That company is also better Fatherthan you might think. For example, many of the Bible's greatest models of faith were sometimes discouraged by circumstances. Some even questioned why God allowed their trials. Jesus himself asked God--his own Father--if there were another way to complete his mission on Earth. There just had to be a better way to save humanity than by a painful and unjust death on a cross. It didn't make any sense. 

But there wasn't another way. At least not another perfect way.

As Christ-followers, one lesson that we eventually learn is that even the worst situations render some good in the end. The trouble is that we tend to see the situation through the cloudy lens of human experience. But God sees the vivid Big Picture and what's behind that bend in the road. It's when we finally mature enough in faith that God begins to show us glimpses of reality and eternity. And then we begin to see through new eyes.

Even when God shows us these wonderful truths, we're still spiritually nearsighted and unfocused. We finally understand that his thoughts really aren't our thoughts. And our ways fall far short of his. So if that's the case, how can we ever hope to know who God really is and what he's like?

God understood our limitations before we were ever born. So to fully reveal himself to his creation, he had to personally live out the human experience. It was the perfect plan--and one that was totally beyond our comprehension.

Now fast-forward several centuries to Israel, a dusty backwater outpost of the Roman Empire. Philip--one of Jesus' disciples-- told his Teacher about his hunger to know God. He wanted to see his Creator face-to-face. Little did Philip know that he had been doing just that over the previous 1,000 days!

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

It was a staggering revelation. But more than that, it was a simple answer to humanity's ultimate questions. If we want to know if God exists, who he is and what he's really like, we first must know his Son, Jesus. And we all have an open invitation to do just that:

"Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls," the Savior assures us. "For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Who's #1?

Everything you were taught can be put into a few words:
Respect and obey God!
This is what life is all about. God will judge everything we do, even what is done in secret, whether good or bad.
-- Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 

The media have long recognized the public's love of lists. Check out the magazine racks in any supermarket and you'll see headlines for the Top 10 Muscle Cars, Best Ways to Renovate Your Home and the Year's Nastiest Celebrity Breakups. Websites have year-end posts about the nation's biggest political scandals and the most-costly business failures. And television embraces this popular genre through shows like the Top 100 Heavy Metal Videos of All Time, Best Caribbean Beach Resorts and the Greatest Engineering Disasters of the Century.

Then there are perhaps the most controversial lists of them all (at least in the minds of sports fans). Number OneThey're the weekly Top 20 rankings of college football and basketball teams--often topics of heated discussion in office break-rooms across the country and over the Internet.

The fact is that everyone has opinions about what or who is number one in certain aspects of life. When it comes to entertainment and sports, we might have our favorite movie or forcefully defend our choice for the NFL's greatest quarterback. But what's your opinion about something a little more substantial:

Who (or what) is Number One in your life? Is it your family? Your career? Money, vacations...or perhaps the weekend? Or maybe the answer is as close as the nearest mirror. If it is, join the crowd.

Regardless of how you answered this important question, King Solomon--probably the wisest man who ever lived--could relate to your perspective. In the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, he writes that he tried every pleasure under the sun to find fulfillment in life. And unfortunately for him, his search in all the wrong places brought him emptiness and sorrow. But we can gain much from the lessons Solomon learned the hard way.

First, fulfillment in life comes about only when we live for the right person. And in our case, that means living for God by letting his son (Jesus Christ) live through us. Second, we can find fulfillment only when we live by God's standards. After all, what good does it do if we say we're a Christ-follower on Sundays but live quite differently on the other six?  And finally, we find fulfillment in life only when we live with the right focus. In other words, live your life with eternity in mind. Careers, money, vacations--and even sporting events--might seem important at the time. But they all pale in significance when it comes to what we do in life to help usher in God's Kingdom here on earth. Being Jesus' personal representative is in the job description of every Christ-follower.

Now's the time to look again in the mirror and decide who (or what) is really Number One in our lives. Let's consider Jesus' timeless advice on this matter to his first followers. In today's uncertain economic and political environment, you'll see that his words of wisdom are remarkably relevant and reassuring:
"Don't worry and ask yourselves, 'Will we have anything to eat? Will we have anything to drink? Will we have any clothes to wear?' Only people who don't know God are always worrying about such things," the Savior reminds them (and us). "Your Father in heaven knows that you need all of these. But more than anything else put God's work first and do what he wants. Then the other things will be yours as well."

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Ultimate Question

"You said, 'Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.'

-- Job 42:4

It's the ultimate question. And it's the one that's been asked by millions of people for thousands of years:

Does God really exist?

Let's settle this deep mystery once and for all. The answer is a resounding YES.

Since that's an easy claim to make, how do we know that God isn't a mere creation of our imagination? Questions2Simply put, the evidence is all around us. Look at the wonders and beauty of nature, the colors of the sunset and the overwhelming ingenuity of the human body--or for that matter any plant or animal. What are the odds that such things could magically spring to life and evolve from a random assortment of atoms and chemicals? They're probably about the same as a fully functioning 747 jet airliner assembling itself from the debris kicked up from a tornado ripping through a junkyard... and then repeating this miracle millions of times to account for every functioning organism on Earth!

One conclusion is obvious: Where there's creation, there must be a Creator. And according to the Apostle Paul, this Creator has long made his existence apparent:

"There are things about him that people cannot see--his eternal power and all the things that make him God," we read in the first chapter of Romans"But since the beginning of the world those things have been easy to understand by what God has made. So people have no excuse for the bad things they do."

If there is a God, what's he like? The surprising and comforting answer is also revealed in the Bible. And it comes from someone with firsthand knowledge. Jesus, God's own son, tells us that the creator of the universe is like a loving, caring father. In fact, Christ outraged the religious authorities of his day by calling God Abba--a term that we translate as Daddy.

What an incredible concept! Instead of being some anonymous, non-caring entity, our God is someone who actually wants a personal relationship with His creation: you and me. And for those who claim this truth and let it bear fruit in their life, the world becomes a far better place: one full of hope, promise and wonder.