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Meaningless Effort

The days in which we now live go in circles, don’t they? Whirling tornadoes of activity. A person labors for a good life. People pour themselves into buying a home, raising children, belonging to groups of good friends, supporting a better community, doing all sorts of positive things. Yet all their labor seems to amount to well-meant but meaningless effort. It’s undone in an instant.

Look at the emptiness all around us. Every morning the news tells us about someone who was so desperate she robbed a bank or he raped a woman. The offspring from not only the ghetto shoot each other over nothing but also those of the middle class home shoot schoolmates. The world isn’t going to hell in a hand basket. It’s already there! A parent’s hope and dream for a child is destroyed, by the child’s own action, or someone else’s infantile deed.

Look at the emptiness. The excitement of so-called reality shows is artificial, unreal, yet they are popular evening viewing. People who seek meaningful relationships keep looking for them in one bar after another, and seldom find their “soulmate.” A lay-off at work is followed by arguments over money at home until home life is under-appreciated. Politicians spout the same causes as in the last election without the admission that nothing was done to improve on the problems, except to make them worse. The whirling circles of life spin the mind and heart until we are disoriented.

How can human effort become meaningful?

Write a self-improvement book. Develop labor saving products. Enter medical school. Clean up university locker rooms. On and on, we could list positive, life-affirming actions that people take. I admit that doing good works will improve the world. Something edifying always builds instead of tears down. Yet these actions don’t change much, don’t make permanent improvements in the world as a whole. A little good is better than no good, I suppose.

But how can human effort become meaningful for all time?

Only by improving the human being. And this takes a divine hand together with a surrendered heart. God must act to remake the human being, and the human being must cooperate through surrender. This happens every day. People finally realize all their efforts are meaningless, because they are mis-directed. So they give up in a positive sense. They give up to the Lord. They surrender their souls to Jesus Christ, whose Spirit has been prodding them for years to drop their guard and dare to believe. When they surrender, God is able to put new meaning where emptiness used to be. He is able to re-create the surrendered heart and make it consistently good. The divine effort and human effort then combine to remake the world. Even this is not a complete re-manufacturing of a broken world into a good one. There has to be an end made of the vain world, and this God alone can do and plans to do. For the moment, those who find Christ also find an abundant life that’s worth the effort.

 

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2012 in FaithLife

 

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Why I Like Winter

Is winter ever mentioned in the bible? This question came to me. So I looked up the word winter in my Bible. In the New International Version, it occurs only seventeen times. God promised Noah, after the flood, that as long as the earth endured, he’d be certain to send humanity seedtime and harvest. He’d give us times of cold and heat, the seasons of summer and winter. Even day and night would never stop happening. (See Genesis 8:22.) Isn’t wonderful that we can count on the seasons to turn every year? It’s a sign of the Lord’s commitment to us.

The ancient poet who wrote Psalm 74 also considered how God watches over humanity:

          It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth;
you made both summer and winter.
                                                              Psalm 74:17 (NIV)

The psalmist praised God’s creativity, especially as it related to the seasons. The Lord made summer and winter.

And this is one reason I live in the northeastern United States. I love my seasons! One of my daughters has lived in Arizona for most of her adult life, and I love to visit her any time of year. But I’d rather live where frequently in winter the snow falls and the winds blow cold. (I know Arizona gets snow sometimes, but not often enough for me.)

With the ancient poet, I rejoice in God’s creativity.

When God was angry with Israel for its sinfulness, the seasons figured into the background. Through the prophet Amos the Almighty said:

           I will tear down the winter house
               along with the summer house;
           the houses adorned with ivory will be destroyed
               and the mansions will be demolished,”
                                          
declares the Lord.
                                                      Amos 3:15 (NIV)

Owning a summer and a winter house was a sign of the luxury in which many Israelites lived, but when they forgot God, they’d have to surrender their summer and winter luxuries—a warning about the season of wrath and judgment. Even Jesus used winter as a warning of impending disaster. Speaking about the end times, the Savior said, “Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath” (Mt. 24:20, NIV).

I have no idea where these thoughts are leading, except to say that winter is a gauge for human spiritual vitality, just as much as it’s a sign that changes come. In winter, one day may be dreary or rainy, snowy or sunny. The only sure thing is that tomorrow will be different. Winter weather is difficult to predict. And so is life…and judgment…and much more.

Winter teaches me to trust God better, and to be prepared for the day of judgment by the goodness of my life now.

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2011 in FaithLife

 

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Is God Ever Mean?

Now this is a loaded question: Is God ever mean? People, whether Christians or not, don’t like hearing that God might be hard to get along with. They want the divine to be manageable. They like a God who obeys the laws as they understand them, who doesn’t get frustrated or angry. Unfortunately for such people, God’s own revelation of himself is different. God can appear to be very mean to us humans who become subject to his wrath, even if we live according to all the rules.

I’m not speaking of his wrath focused on people who don’t choose to follow Jesus Christ. I’m thinking of how mean God can seem to those who do choose God’s Son as Savior and Lord. When adversity comes upon them, Christians sometimes ask, “Why me, Lord?” After all, if we have faith in Jesus Christ, we’re redeemed people. So where is the power and gift of redemption when fatal illness comes over you or unemployment overwhelms? Adversity seems to fly in the face of promises that life goes better with Jesus in it.

Yet God promises to be mean to his rescued people if they should sin. To the Israelites of Moses’ time, he declared,“Because you did not serve the Lord your God joyfully and gladly in the time of prosperity, therefore in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and dire poverty, you will serve the enemies the Lord sends against you. He will put an iron yoke on your neck until he has destroyed you” (Dt. 12:47-48, NIV). There is no way around it: God is mean to his people when they need it. If they sin, he will punish them.

“Wait a minute!” you say. “That was the Old Testament. God isn’t like that now. Saved in Christ now, our sins are all forgiven. Grace is ours always.”

Do you really believe that it makes no difference how you live after coming to faith in Christ? Does your conduct not matter? Can you do anything you want? I doubt it. Our activities must line up with God’s grace in Christ. If Jesus has redeemed us, we have to live as redeemed people. When we don’t, God is good and right to be mean toward us. He can send—actively send—trouble our way.

The adversity you experience may be the simple result of living as a faithful Christian in a world that wants nothing to do with godliness. You’ll have to grin and bear such trouble. Yet it is possible that some of your adversity is God’s deliberate action toward you which is aimed at dealing with a new or recurrent sin in your life. You should not grin and bear this trouble. You should examine it and learn if you have transgressed. You ought to admit whatever sin brought this trouble from God. Indeed, the only way out of the trouble, could be confession and repentance.

The apostle Paul taught this clearly in Romans 2:9-11, when he wrote, “There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism” (NIV). Adversity comes to everyone, to the Jew first, that is, to those who are chosen and blessed, to Christians. Hard times are not only for faithless people. The faithless get what they deserve, but the believer who sins gets what he needs, help toward repentance.

Will God not judge the actions of those whom he loves and calls according to his purpose? I believe he will. I believe he does.

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2011 in FaithLife

 

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The Impact of the Bible on Human Behavior

On the impact of the Bible on human behavior, Louw Alberts has written: “Men and women do not become angels overnight when they embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but the countless numbers of alcoholics who became responsible men, prostitutes who turned into clean living women, collapsing marriages that reverted to ideal home and family strongholds, restless students and academics who found peace and purpose in their lives—the list is endless—cannot be explained other than by acknowledging that the Biblical message is indeed a powerful source for the good of mankind.”

 

 
 

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