This article was first published in the December 2011 issue of The Outreacher, a local Christian paper. It was also produced as an audio blog, broadcast on WCRF the morning of Dec. 7, 2011.
Monday, December 7, 2015
Sunday, December 6, 2015
Home for Christmas
Earlier this year, we celebrated the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. A Christmas song which became popular during that conflict is the familiar “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” It speaks of the longing of someone who wants to be home for this very special holiday, but knows he probably won’t: I’ll be home for Christmas, / If only in my dreams.
Most of us, when we are away working for a company, at school, or in the military, want to go home for special occasions. We want to be with family and friends. This is only natural. Sometimes someone might say, “What’s the matter? Don’t you like it here?” But that’s the wrong question. Home is home, or as an older song says, “There’s no place like home.” Or, as the saying goes, “Home is where the heart is.”
Abraham left his home in Ur with his father and brothers and moved to Paran. Later he left them there for Canaan, which became his earthly home for the rest of his life. But to him it was not really home. The writer of Hebrews says, “By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (11:9-10).
It is this outlook which is reflected in another song, “This World Is Not My Home.” For those of us who are the spiritual heirs of Abraham, who have placed our trust in Jesus Christ as our Savior, our real home is not here, but in Heaven, in the New Jerusalem, the city made by God. When a Christian, a believer in Christ, dies, we may say, “He (or she) has gone home.” Psalm 116:15 says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” One way to interpret this is to see God as welcoming His children home.
Several people we know, relatives and friends, and friends and relatives of those we know, have passed on so far this year. Some of them have gone on during the past month or so. Most of them were Christians. So as we celebrate the holiday here, they are home for Christmas.
Saturday, September 5, 2015
Fruitful Labor - A Blessing from God
Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord,
who walks in his ways!
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.
~ Psalm 128:1-2 (ESV)
The first Monday in September is Labor Day. It was established, at the urging of labor unions, to honor industrial workers and miners. Today it honors all who work for a living, not just those in unions. For Christians, this ought to be a special day, since it was God who made us to do useful work.
A common misconception is that labor is a curse, the result of sin. Work itself is not the curse, but difficulty, fruitlessness, dissatisfaction and frustration in our labor. First of all, God said that the ground itself was cursed and would not be cooperative with human labor.
Since the Flood and the following climate changes, some areas of the earth have been more easily productive than others. This includes animal life (such as fish), pastureland, plant life and mineral resources. God-given human intelligence has been used to make our labor more productive. This includes inventions, both ancient and modern. People have been able to make a living in just about any place on this planet, and someday may be able to do so on other planets as well.
The problems with our labor is related to the aim of our work, our attitudes toward work, and the attribution for our work. In other words, Why do we work? How do we see our work? Who gets credit for our work?
First, what is work? Work can be defined as effort, exertion. It can also be defined as the product of that effort. In other words, our work is what we do and what we produce.
AimWhat is our motive, our purpose for our work? Of course we work for the material benefits: wages or salary, commission, bonuses, royalties, net profits. We must be responsible and support us and those who depend on us. Jesus said, “The laborer deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7; 1 Tim. 5:18). And Paul said, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8).
We can work to help others: Our work is a service to those we work for, whether employers, customers and clients, or (in the case of appointed and elected officials or those in non-governmental service agencies) the public and the needy.
We can work to serve and honor God. This is the highest motive, leading to wanting to serve others.
But there are lesser motives for work. There are people who just do what they like to do for work. Some are just trying to prove themselves to those who doubt their ability, etc. Some work for fame or recognition. Some persons work lead, supervision or management jobs because they want to be above others, to exercise authority. There are people who work excessively to compensate for an inferiority complex or guilt (a type of workaholism).
AttitudeHow do we see our work? How do we feel about our work? Or about work in general? Many people do not like their jobs. Do not like they people they work with. Some do not like responsibility. Many do not like working for others, and are itching to be their own bosses. There are people who want to get everything without having to work for it.
I know people who see work as a necessary evil. They say things like, “I’ll work as long as I have to, then I’ll just do what I want to do.”
According to the Bible, we should be co-workers with God. Obviously not His equals, but working alongside Him, following His direction, His lead. The writer of Ecclesiastes sees work as a gift from God (Eccl. 5:12, 18-20). Proverbs places great value on work and diligence. When we go all the way back to Genesis, we see that God gave the man and the woman work to do in the Garden of Eden.
In the New Testament, Paul tells his readers to work as though they were working for God, no matter what the job was, no matter who their employers were. Employer and employee, master and slave, apostle and menial laborer, they all work for God.
AttributionWe all like to get credit for what we do. We all like to be appreciated. It is right to acknowledge the efforts and accomplishments of others, especially those who serve us. In fact, Paul says we ought to honor those who labor among us, including those who preach and teach the Gospel.
On the other hand, we need to be careful to not take all the credit for ourselves, either for our efforts or for the outcome. For example, in evangelism Paul say that one plants, another waters, but God gives the increase. This language refers to farming, where the farmer and his crew plow, plant and irrigate. But God controls the weather and the fertility of the seed. God can hold back or detour the locusts. The farmer can stand guard against thieves and robbers, but who turns back an invading army?
As far as our own efforts are concerned, who gives us the strength we need to do the job? Who provides the opportunities? We did not choose where we were born, who our parents were, etc. We did not choose the era we live in. Most of us have little, if any, say in the course of work events. In reality, most of the credit for what we do goes to others, especially to God. In Luke 12:16-21, Jesus tell the story of a rich man who took all the credit for his bounty and was unwilling to share it. God said to him, “Fool!”
Work itself is not a curse. Fruitful labor is honorable. It is a gift from God. It should be a service to our families, to our community, and to God. Honorable work should by done honorably. And God deserves the first credit and the first fruits of our labor.
Thursday, August 13, 2015
A Day of Victory
(Scripture Quotes from the English Standard Version)
|"Shigemitsu-signs-surrender" by Army Signal Corps - Naval Historical Center Photo # SC 213700. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shigemitsu-signs-surrender.jpg#/media/File:Shigemitsu-signs-surrender.jpg|
August 14 is Victory in Japan (VJ) Day. This year (2015), it is the 70th anniversary of the day the government of the Empire of Japan signed the surrender on the deck of the USS Missouri. This marked the end of over three-and-a-half years of war since Pearl Harbor was bombed (“The Personal Impact of Pearl Harbor” was printed in the December 2011 issue of The Outreacher). Finally, for the Allies this was a day of victory. Now it was time to rebuild devastated countries and restore societies. Now was the time for reconciliation, for establishing peaceful relationships with former enemies. Just look at Japan and Germany today!
I was alive then, but don’t remember it, since I was a week shy of eleven months old. It was Mom’s birthday, but she did not hear of it for more than a day, because the ship we were on was under radio blackout in case there were enemy subs along the route. We can imagine the celebration aboard when they stopped at Ketchikan and received the news!
Victory was a time of celebration for America and her allies. For Japan, the only nation to suffer a nuclear attack, it was a time of relief, the end of the devastation. For their citizens it was the end of tyranny.
Victory is great, whether in war, sports, a contest, or an election. Victory over a deadly disease or serious injuries is wonderful. But greater still is victory over the enemy of our souls. Over sin. Over death itself. This is not a victory won on our own, by our own power and resources. Just as Great Britain, France, Canada, the United States and others needed allies, we need an ally to win over sin. And there is only one ally capable of winning this victory.
Our foes in this war are not physical. They are spiritual, Satan himself and his horde of demons. Our great ally in this battle is God. As Jesus Christ, the Son, he defeated sin in his life on earth. He defeated Satan in the wilderness and on the Cross. He defeated death itself in the Resurrection. Jesus told his disciples, "I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
In the rebuilding and reconciliation, Germany and Japan shared in the victory. They did this by total, unconditional surrender. We have to recognize that we are participants in the sin which oppresses us, just as many Germans and Japanese willingly supported their governments as long as it appeared they would win the war. Just as they surrendered, so do we. Admit that we are in the wrong (we call this confession). Tell God, “I give up. I’m through fighting You.” In effect, we switch sides in the longest-running war in history; we move from the losing side to the winning side.
As the Holy Spirit, God helps us defeat sin in our lives. He gives us power against Satan: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Our faith (total trust) in God is our defense against Satan’s attacks: “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16).
The recent war in Iraq was criticized by those who said we “won the war but lost the peace.” In our Christian lives we have to careful that we do not “lose the peace.” How can this happen? We are still tempted to sin, to do what is wrong or to not do what is right. As long as we live on Earth, we are on the battlefield. But as Christians, our Ally (and Commander-in-Chief) promises help and support in the battle. God’s “covering fire” keeps the enemy from being too much for us. As Paul wrote, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13). What this means is that, with God’s help, we can successfully resist temptation.
Satan wins when a Christian sins, but it does not have to be a permanent win. He may win a skirmish, but we don’t have to let him win the battle nor the war. What if we fail and sin? That is not the end. There is hope: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
In the end, we can win the war for our souls. For us it can be a Day of Victory!
Here are selections from a few songs and hymns about victory
Hallelujah, what a thought!
Jesus full salvation brought,
Let the pow’rs of sin assail,
Heaven’s grace can never fail,
Victory, yes, victory.
Hallelujah! I am free,
Jesus gives me victory.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
He is all in all to me.
~ Victory by Barney E, Warren (1897)
Oh, victory in Jesus,
My Saviour forever;
He sought me, and he bought me
With his redeeming blood;
He loved me ‘ere I knew him,
And all my love is due him;
He plunged me to victory
Beneath the cleansing blood.
~ Victory in Jesus by Eugene M. Bartlett (1939)
Encamped along the hills of light,
Ye Christian soldiers, rise.
And press the battle ere the night
Shall veil the glowing skies.
Against the foe in vales below
Let all our strength be hurled.
Faith is the victory, we know,
That overcomes the world.
Faith is the victory! Faith is the victory!
O glorious victory, that overcomes the world.
~ Faith Is the Victory by John H. Yates (1891)