Archive for the ‘Christian Living’ Category

Battle for the Mind

YES, I REALIZE THAT THIS phrase is far from new or original. It’s been used often in book, article, and sermon titles. But truly, as never before, your mind and mine are each the focus of a pitched daily battle. Everyone, it seems, wants our attention—wants us to think about their stuff, their products, their needs, their cause, their points of view, their loyalties.

  • Madison Avenue marketers want to snag our attention with their products and move us to exchange our money for those items.
  • Preachers want us to focus on the things that matter to God.
  • Our families want us to focus on them.
  • Teachers hope we’ll pay attention to our studies.
  • Our employer wants us to think just a whole lot of the day about our work.
  • Political parties want us to side with their points of view.
  • The doc wants us to think more about taking care of ourselves.

We’re surrounded by voices calling out to us—enticing us, commanding us, challenging us, inviting us, pleading with us, and yes, tempting us. And right now, I’d like to add to the hub-bub by suggesting you think of all the thousands of things that pass through your mind in any given day.

Remember that little ditty: “Good, better, best—never let it rest—till your good is better and your better is best”? Well, I’d like to suggest too that in this daily battle for your mind and mine, the great enemy in the tug-of-war called the “great battle between good and evil” doesn’t care if you focus on the good or even the better, if he can keep you from focusing your thoughts on the best.

The Bible says that before the great Flood, they were “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage.” Now, none of those things is intrinsically evil. God created us to eat, drink, and marry. But the pre-Flood residents of Earth didn’t do these things within a relationship with their Creator but instead of that relationship. Today, we have diversions aplenty in addition to eating, drinking, and marrying. For example:

  • The entire world of politics and political “debate.”
  • TV, with its “reality” shows and “idol”-style competitions.
  • Money concerns—making it, keeping it, spending it, protecting it.
  • Health concerns—coping with disease, trying to avoid disease, staving off the ravages of time.

Not all of these are “bad” (though some can be). But we each have only 24 hours in a day, and something will fill our thoughts and win the allegiance of our mind. The enemy doesn’t mind if we spend lots of time on the “good” so long as we don’t focus on the best. And the best? It’s that connection with our Creator and Savior that ensures not only our eternal life but our most abundant life now.

Today, the battle continues. Who today will win the thoughts and attention of your mind? Of mine?

Heaven’s Flowchart

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TODAY I READ ON the Google News website that a higher-up in one of the largest corporations in America has been fired for violating some policy of the company. His title? Chief Information Officer.

Hmmm. Isn’t that what used to be called Public Relations Director or Director of Communications? See…a Director is SO yesterday. Now, if you’re truly important, you are an Officer—and a Chief one at that!

This item got me to thinking about titles. The trend, it seems, is toward ever-more-impressive titles that convey ever-increasing importance.

The Big Cheese or Big Wheel at most corporations is now the Chief Executive Officer (CEO). No more of this president or general manager penny ante stuff. And tailing on to the Important Title bandwagon, treasurers are now Chief Financial Officers (CFOs)—and mere presidents, a step below the CEO, are Chief Operating Officers (COOs). Even being a vice president is only so-so. If you really matter, you’re a senior vice president.

I was a veep once in my career. I was in charge of administrivia—of paper shuffling and minutia—responsible for flying about the country to Important Meetings and attending no less than 18 (yes, count ’em—18) in-house committees that produced Minutes (while wasting Hours) that referred items back and forth to each other.

Now, maybe I’m making something too big out of all this, but it does seem to me that in the ongoing quest in life to Matter, to Be Somebody, to Be In Charge of Something, things are getting a little out of hand.

It’s an old virus….as old as Lucifer and his desire to rise higher up the organizational flowchart of heaven to the top—to have the glory and the power. He forgot that true glory and power are found not in controlling others but in serving them.

Jesus said, “So the last will be first, and the first last.” Matthew 20:16. Then He demonstrated those words in His own life:

“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name.” Philippians 2:5-9.

You see, Heaven’s Flowchart is the opposite of ours down here. The Servant is at the top. You never rise higher in Heaven’s estimation than when you stoop low to help another.

Control and Power and the most Important Titles possible? Guess from whence comes that idea? Even the Church is not exempt from this pursuit of sounding ever-more-important. A Manager becomes a President becomes a CEO. A College becomes a University. Even the janitor becomes a Sanitation Engineer.

Could it be that we’ve forgotten that our importance—our value—is not to be found in titles but in how God sees us? If I’m more important to Jesus than His own life, that should tell me a lot about my true worth and importance—my place in the overall scheme of things.

If I’m to aspire to being Chief of something, may it be to join the Apostle Paul, who, in 1 Timothy 1:15, called himself the “Chief of sinners.” Because with that title, the “perks” are beyond belief: deliverance from certain eternal death, to live eternally with the only one who rightly holds all the Power and the Glory.

Real Change Is an Inside Job

I HAVEN’T READ THE BOOK—and I’m quite sure I won’t, if simply because I have so many other books I want to read that are waaaaay ahead of this one in line. And finding time even for those is a constant battle. I’m not even recommending anyone else read it—though of course, some may choose to do so.

But I’ve read a number of reviews and news reports of the book by A. J. Jacobs that’s currently at number 20 on the Amazon best-seller list and climbing. The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible is the authors’ chronicle of a year he spent trying to follow all the rules of the Bible as perfectly as possible. Not easy for even the most devout—much less an admittedly non-religious man.

Jacobs made lists of everything he should do, then devoted eight months to living by Old Testament rules and four months by the New Testament.

He gave it his best, trying to comply not only with the major moral requirements (tithing; avoiding lust, lying, coveting, and lying)—but also the “minor” items (he grew a ZZ-Top beard, did not mix wool and linen in his clothing, ate crickets, and tried his hand at the 10-string harp).

But he discovered what so many of us who consider ourselves believers have—that when it comes to moral behavior and meeting God’s requirements, success is limited when the approach is from the outside in.

The truth is, those of us with strong wills (and that doesn’t include all of us!) can in fact positively alter our outward behavior. We can to some extent avoid doing the bad and practice doing the good.

But we can’t change what’s inside us.

We can’t change our inner desires. The best we can achieve is doing what God asks because we think we should or must…because we have to…because we fear what may happen if we don’t. Unless God changes us, we’re rebels.

Only the new birth experience of John 3 can change us inside, so that we want to do what God asks.

Real change is an inside job.

“What I Gotta Do to Make God Happy?”

RAN ACROSS A FORUM on the Topix news service for Adventists to discuss things together, and found a thread that began with a post titled, “You Better Work Hard to be Saved!” The post began as follows:

“If you receive Christ as your Saviour, only your past sins, up to that moment are forgiven. Now you must get to work to earn your salvation.”

It’s a good thing the Apostle Paul isn’t still with us, or he’d be appalled that after nearly 2000 years, the false gospel—the one he wrote the books of Galatians and Romans to oppose—is still around. So would Martin Luther

We EARN our salvation? Forgiveness only covers PAST sins?

Somebody replied to the above forum post with this:

“What work I gotta do to make God happy?”

Tell you what. If I truly believed this version of the “gospel,” I’d toss Christianity in a heartbeat. I’d be racing to sign up with American Atheists to lend a hand. I’d do what Jo Dee Messina sings about in her song “Bye, Bye”:

Bye, Bye…I’ll catch you later
Got a lead foot down on my accelerator
and the rearview mirror torn off
I ain’t never lookin’ back
And that’s a fact.

But I’m quite sure my rearview mirror is safe, because if I read my Bible right, I don’t earn or work for my salvation—and forgiveness covers not just every sin I ever have committed—but every sin I ever will commit. My salvation was accomplished nearly 2000 years before I was born.

Yes, I believe that even though I’m 100 percent covered, God won’t force salvation on me. In various ways, I can turn it down and still lose out on His gift. But that’s something to explore in another post.

“What work I gotta do to make God happy?”—at least happy enough He will save me?

Nothing.
Zip.
Zilch.
Nada.

Slaves and employees work. But Paul says we’re not slaves—God has made us His sons and daughters instead. He’s already happy with us.

Picture God smiling as He thinks of you.

It Is Well!

IT HAD BEEN ONE OF HIS FAVORITE songs. Even as a boy, I’d heard him singing it in his baritone-bass voice. So as I grew from childhood to manhood, I’d found myself occasionally singing it too—always when I was quite sure no one could overhear me!

Though I’m only minimally gifted musically, I love this special language of music that expresses so much that nothing else can. And through the years, certain songs or compositions have come to have special and profound meaning—they express what lies too deep inside for words.

The favorite of my Dad’s to which I’ve alluded is entitled “It Is Well With My Soul.” So it seemed only right that the day we said goodbye to him on 9/11—the same morning the Twin Towers fell—that this song would be part of that goodbye.

Somehow she made it through the words, her voice bravely holding strong. My daughter Lorna stood next to the flag-draped casket of her grandfather (Dad was a World War II veteran)—and one of those to whom I had passed on life filled the autumn air with the song so often sung by one who had passed life on to me.

As in the most recent post below (“No More Night!”), here is a clip of this song that includes Christian tenor David Phelps. This video begins with Bill Gaither telling us the fascinating story of how the song came to be. The choir sings the first of the four stanzas (this video skips over the second), then “Gaither Vocal Band” vocalist Guy Penrod sings stanza three. David Phelps concludes with the final stanza.

I’m convinced that if I could truly keep the words of this song in mind more frequently, I’d know that “whatever my lot,” all is well with my soul!

Lyrics after the clip:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blessed assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

No More Night!

MY READING FRIEND….are you experiencing right now your own “dark night of the soul”? Are you…or is someone near and dear to you…battling cancer or some other life-threatening disease? Have you recently stood at the graveside of someone you love, saying a heartbreaking good-bye?

Then today I have for you some Bible verses and a song. First, listen to this from Revelation 21:1-4 and 22:5 in the New Living Translation (emphasis added):

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever” . . .

And there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—for the Lord God will shine on them. And they will reign forever and ever.

The song is one that has helped me through some of my own truly dark valleys. I first heard it as sung by Jennifer LaMountain. This video of one of my favorite pieces of Christian music—“No More Night”—is by the amazing tenor David Phelps, for several recent years a part of the Gaither Vocal Band. Lyrics after the clip:

The timeless theme, Earth and Heaven will pass away.
It’s not a dream, God will make all things new that day.
Gone is the curse from which I stumbled and fell.
Evil is banished to eternal hell.

No more night. No more pain.
No more tears. Never crying again.
And praises to the great “I AM.”
We will live in the light of the risen Lamb.

See all around, now the nations bow down to sing.
The only sound is the praises to Christ, our King.
Slowly the names from the book are read.
I know the King, so there’s no need to dread.

No more night. No more pain.
No more tears. Never crying again.
And praises to the great “I AM.”
We will live in the light of the risen Lamb.

See over there, there’s a mansion, oh, that’s prepared just for me,
Where I will live with my Savior eternally.

No more night. No more pain.
No more tears. Never crying again.
And praises to the great “AM.”
We will live in the light of the risen Lamb.

All praises to the great “I AM.”
We’re gonna live in the light of the risen Lamb.

Seeing Through New Eyes

SOME TIME AGO, I WATCHED a particular episode of the TV medical drama “House.” In the series, actor Hugh Laurie plays Dr. Gregory House—a crotchety doc seemingly devoid of bedside manner but a brilliant diagnostician nonetheless.

In the episode, entitled “Human Error,” Dr. House tells a husband that his wife is technically dead and being kept alive only by machine assistance. The time has come, House says, to let her go.

The machine is shut down, and the husband sobs as he leans across his wife, embracing her as he tells her a final goodbye. Suddenly, he feels her heart beating—on its own. Long story short: she lives, Dr. House discovers the rare heart condition that caused her apparent death, and corrects it.

In the scene where the husband tells his wife goodbye, it struck me again—as it has countless times during my life—how priceless is the value of a single human life. It’s through personal loss and not just fictional drama, of course, that this point has been repeatedly driven home.

Our God, thankfully, never loses sight of the value of life—He is the one who gave it and is its source. And He never loses sight of the value of each person—He is the reason each of us are here. He is the one who died for us personally—individually.

But sometimes, we don’t seem to value each other much. So often, even those who lose a spouse, child, parent, or other loved one in death wish afterward with regret that they had treated their loved one better. If only…

As I’ve traveled through life, some people haven’t rated very high in my estimation. Some, I’ve had very negative thoughts and feelings about. I’ve resented people. I’ve been angry with people. And some, I’ve felt genuine contempt for (somehow, politicians often end up on this list of mine).

These attitudes of mine are wrong—I freely admit. And I routinely have to confess and repent as I bring these things to God.

Suppose I come across someone I just can’t stand—and find that person trapped in a burning car. I’m quite certain that even if I recognized them, I’d do all I could to get them out. So maybe I too value human life.

If so, why can’t I also value the worth, the individuality, of every person I meet, know, or even hear about? Someone in his family—perhaps his daughters—doubtless grieved when Saddam Hussein died. He mattered to them. He also mattered to God, who gave him life and died so the dictator could have the chance to live forever.

Some people seem just plain evil. Some have personalities that grate like nails on a blackboard. Some are so arrogant and full of themselves it’s nauseating. Some go out of their way to hurt and lie about other people. Some seem riddled with bigotry…with hostility toward anyone not exactly like themselves.

But the fact remains that every person that I—that we—despise or even just dislike, is precious to somebody. Through somebody’s eyes, that person is priceless and quite wonderful.

That’s how God sees each of us.

And how God sees me (despite my flaws) is how I need to see others and wish I did. But it will never happen as long as I see them through my own sinful and selfish eyes (eye trouble that is really “I” trouble).

I need to see them—as Amy Grant sings—through my Father’s eyes:

She’s got her Father’s eyes,
Her Father’s eyes;
Eyes that found the good in things,
When good was not around;
Eyes that found the source of help,
When help would not be found;
Eyes full of compassion,
Seeing every pain;
Knowing what you’re going through,
And feeling it the same.