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Archive for June, 2018

The Good Life

June 25th, 2018

What man is there who desires life
and loves many days, that he may see good?
Keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from speaking deceit.
Turn away from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.

The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous
and his ears toward their cry.
The face of the LORD is against those who do evil… (Psalm 34:12-16 ESV)

How would you describe a good life? Some say a good life should be “long,” some say “happy,” others “peaceful,” and this tension between quantity of years and quality of life we can all relate to.

But what about purpose and goals in life? People have an inner drive to be more than pampered and entertained. We also crave purpose and achievements. Most of us would choose a meaningful life over just a comfortable one. In fact, often people despair in their older years and succumb to the inevitable out of a sense of uselessness. As long as someone has a purpose, is making a difference, is helping someone, then they have a reason for living, but take that away and what are we?

So what is a good life? I have three thoughts today.

A peaceful life

The Bible stresses the importance of peaceful times and peaceful lives. Paul wrote, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18). Hebrews says, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). Warfare between nations, conflicts within them, injustices and class warfare, families in turmoil with divorces and child and spousal abuses, and the plights of drug addictions, unemployment, and crime – to name just a few of our problems – are tragedies and contrary to God’s desire for this world.

To Timothy Paul wrote:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim. 2:1-4 NIV)

When there is peace among nations, among neighbours, and within families, then the gospel has a chance to be proclaimed and shared, social problems and injustices can be dealt with, and families strengthened. But peace is not a goal in and of itself alone; peace fits into the larger goal of doing the will of God. And to achieve it we must “strive for” it, according to Hebrews 12:14, and “pursue it” in Psalm 34:14 above.

Viktor Frankl, who endured the death camps of World War II, wrote these words in his book Man’s Search for Meaning:

Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.

If you are enjoying a time of peace and prosperity in your personal life and in our world, remember that someone had to strive against evil and injustice for you to have the life you have. Peace must be purchased and it is normally paid for with the sweat, tears, prayers, and blood of those who came before us. And if we wish to pass peace along to future generations we must do our part. I am convinced that the world will never know perfect peace and tranquility until Christ comes.

A moral life

But more than peace, God calls us to a new purpose in Christ Jesus. The standards of behaviour that Psalm 34 mentions are first of all fairness in our speech, to avoid evil speech, gossip, speaking and affirming worldly values. We should avoid deceit and trickery in our communication. It is common in this world that people speak to others the words that they think will make them appear favourable in their sight – regardless of whether they are true words or not. So we lie, deceive, smile insincerely, all the while planning to knife the other person in the back when we have the chance. 

Our words are important. A Christian has the duty to speak fairly and graciously, but also honestly, “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) to his neighbour. And having done this to the best of our ability we should leave the rest in the hands of God and trust in Him. If you want to sleep peacefully at night, then speak well and pray well. 

A moral life brings God’s perspective into our hearts and we see everything through His eyes. The world’s entertainment is filled with anger and vengeance – and it is this vengeful attitude that hurts so many people and causes even more violent vengeance against others. A moral life brings inner peace to the person of faith. He has a place to stand and some One whom he trusts watches over him at all times. 

A purposeful life

But no life is truly peaceful if it is selfish. The selfish person obsesses over losing the least of his possessions, and he seeks to substitute things for relationships. He is a slave to his physical appetite and to his own comfort. He is also more likely to be insecure about what others think of him, also. He worries that he is the object of gossip and that someone might get more than him in life.

But the Christian is called to a higher purpose and it is in fulfilling God’s purpose for our lives that we have peace and enjoyment. We certainly have our physical needs – food, shelter, rest, safety – and our social and emotional needs as well – friends, security, love, affection, enjoyment, and acceptance. But greater than any of these is the inner felt need to reconnect with the Creator who originally made us. We are first and foremost spiritual beings and not merely physical, emotional, or social beings. 

To know Christ, to know that we are received in Him, and accepted in Him, to be assured of God’s love for us and His grace and forgiveness to us in Christ, these bring peace to our hearts. But to also be able to help others know Him and to be touched and saved by Him, this is also our calling and to fulfil it gives us peace. And to help establish God’s righteousness on this earth, to help end injustices and sicknesses and social problems, in the name of Christ, is part of our purpose and also brings peace to our hearts. 

So if you want to have a good life, you can find no better life on earth than one of a sincere disciple of Christ who seeks to live in peace with others, who speaks honestly and graciously and fairly with others, and who seeks to help others believe in Christ as their Saviour – so that they might also have good lives. 

 

Psalms

What Does It Mean to Grow Up?

June 21st, 2018

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. (1 Corinthians 13:11)

When I turned sixteen, fifty-one years ago, that meant we could go down and take our drivers test and get a license, which also meant more freedom, less parental controls, and we could stay out later with friends on weekends. We felt all grown up, or at least significantly close to it. Lots of these thoughts were just about more personal freedom, but there were other more mature thoughts.

Turning sixteen also meant several other things – things that pertain to true adulthood and maturity. For example, it meant we could hold real jobs without our parents’ permission, and that meant that we could be expected to do a man’s work for an entire day and receive a man’s pay. My best friend and I drove down that summer and applied for jobs with highway construction, and if you ever drive around the great City of Dallas on LBJ freeway (I-635 officially), you are enjoying some of the results of our hard labor.

But being a man is not only about jobs, driving, and more freedom, or even about more human responsibility. It should also be about more responsibility in our faith. The scripture quoted above, 1 Corinthians 13:11, is from Paul’s classic chapter on the subject of love. What does it mean to grow up, to become mature, to be an adult? Clearly the idea of love has to be associated with the idea of being mature.  An immature person loves himself; a mature person has the capacity to love others. Let me break some key ideas down in this verse.

First, it means responsible independence. The word translated “child” here is nepios in the Greek which is really “infant” or “baby.” A baby is dependent on everyone, and everyone, of course, knows or should know that. The family doesn’t expect their one-year-old child to get up and wash the dishes or clean the house or mow the lawn. It is simply impossible. Babies are dependent on people entirely. But to be an adult means that you begin to take responsibility for things around you, and even for your own attitude and life. A baby might need to be entertained and helped to be happy. But adults take responsibility for their moods, for their attitudes, and for their lives.

Something huge in my life happened at sixteen years of age. I made my first mature commitment to Christ. It was youth camp at my church and along with all the fun and flirting and other stuff that goes on, I was confronted with the double life I was living. I rededicated my life to Christ and though I haven’t been entirely sinless ever since, what happened that summer stuck with me. I realized that I could not depend on the faith of others, but rather I needed to be responsible and committed myself. That is what mature people do.

Second, there is a change in how we speak and interact with others. Paul said, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child.” A child lives in his own work – often in a make-believe world. Adults live in the real world. A child can say all kinds of nonsense and no one thinks less of him. But we expect more from adults. We expect them to speak not only to express their feelings, but also to benefit others. We expect them to listen as well as speak. James 1:19 says,“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” Mature people take responsibility for what they say and how they say it to others. They are more understanding and less demanding, more gracious and less judgmental, and they are honest. Which leads to the next point.

Third, there is a change in the way we understand. Here it is helpful to understand something about the Greek words that Paul originally used. This word is phroneo and means to understand and to act on that understanding – both together. Children are not able to understand circumstances or people, and their solutions to problems are not adequate. Sometimes they are even fanciful. Riddles appeal to children because they are based on funny combinations of words, but not on real situations.

Adults, however, seek to see things as they are, to understand circumstances and people and outcomes. However, there must be a centered position of faith that accepts truth and sees everything else through this lens. Mature people regulate their realities based on truths that they hold closely and dearly. This idea of understanding is seen in an iceberg that is 7/8’s underwater. No matter how the wind blows on the surface, the iceberg flows in the direction of the deep water currents.

Fourth, there is a change in the way we reach conclusions in life. Again, the Greek word helps us here. Paul used the word logizomai which is where we get our word “logic” from. It means to reckon, reason, decide, and conclude. One of the hallmarks of a mature person is that they have sorted through the things that they have been taught and have learned what is worth accepting and what should be rejected, and what is still of value, only, perhaps, not as we originally thought.

Adulthood begins the process of taking apart basic beliefs and reassembling them back together and reaching final conclusion about how important they are. This takes years and more than once in the years ahead you will feel confused about things. In those moments do not panic. Trust the Lord to reveal to you His truth and to lead and guide you in the process of learning and growing.

Fifth and finally, there is a change in our expectations. Mature people, especially those who trust in the Lord, are hopeful about the future. David’s words, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:6), are claimed. Solomon wrote, “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day” (Prov. 4:18). We all experience setbacks in life. If we are normal someone will break our heart, our dream job will be given to someone else, and we will experience disappointment more than once. But if we are mature, we will learn the art of getting back up and in faith and trust moving forward.

So these are just a few ideas derived from the verse above on what it means to be an adult, and especially what it means to be a mature Christian.

Spiritual Maturity