Trouble in paradise?September 23rd, 2009
Trouble in paradise? Having just returned from a weekend of preaching in Honolulu, Karen and I were reminded once again of not only how warm and gracious the Hawaiian people are, but also how strikingly beautiful is their island home. The perhaps perfunctory flight attendant’s “Welcome to paradise” certainly isn’t far from the truth. In fact, islanders in our community of faith recall that a mainland visitor to Honolulu over a century ago stood atop the 1,200-foot Pali lookout and commented how the lush green valleys of blossoms and palms spreading northward toward the white beaches and azure sea reminded her of scenes of heaven.
We walked to that same Pali lookout on Sunday with my cousin, Ralph Watts III, and his wife Sharon, who serve our church as president of the Hawaii Conference. Reveling in that paradise moment, we missed the posted warning sign that potential trouble lay ahead. The trade winds that blow off the Pacific onto the north shore are steady and strong as they sweep up the valley to the Pali cliffs. So you can lean into the winds as you stand at the railing and gaze over the emerald floor below. That’s why nobody noticed the tiny yellow and black creatures that were “surfing” the same trade winds, darting low to avoid being swept away in the wind, but quickly resurfacing high into the air again. Nobody noticed, that is, until one of them found refuge from the blowing in the nook of Sharon’s finger, stinging her when she tried to brush it away. We’d been warned—but we had ignored the posted sign in the parking lot: “CAUTION—BEES.”
Why even in paradise there can be trouble! Because, let’s face it, as breath-taking as the Hawaiian islands are, this earth home of ours is hardly the paradise it was once created to be. The sting of economic downturn and job losses, of unexpected health crises, of unanticipated family and marital troubles—the stinging of personal sin and painful guilt—it isn’t that we weren’t warned. It’s just that we keep hoping the warning won’t apply to us. CAUTION—BEES. But alas we get stung with the ultimate sting. “The sting of death is sin” (I Corinthians 15:56).
Is there no hope for us in this paradise lost? “But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v 57). Good news for all the stung. The God of the universe entered into our fallen paradise, and by taking into himself the ultimate sting of sin and death at the cross he delivers all who want to be saved. That’s the critical truth underlying our new series “The Temple” (download podcasts at this website). Yes, “the hour of his judgment has come” (Revelation 14:7). But when the entire Court is on your side, judgment turns out to be the best news of all! For when the gavel falls and court is adjourned, then will come the words we’ve spent a life time awaiting: “Welcome to Paradise.”
Not only swine flu, but research shows happiness is also contagious!September 16th, 2009
Not only swine flu, but research shows happiness is also contagious! Given all the bad news of late, this report from the British Medical Journal seems timely. “A 20-year study found that happy people increase the happiness of those around them—including a spouse, a friend, or even a next-door neighbor.” According to the report I read, “Happiness, it appears, spreads through social networks like an emotional infection.” No kidding! Researchers say that having a happy neighbor (wouldn’t this be true in a dormitory, too?) increases your chances of being happy yourself by 34%. A happy friend who lives within a mile from you ups the likelihood that you’ll be happy by 25%. In fact they concluded that you are 99% more likely to be happy when you have at least one friend who’s happy. What’s not to like about that!
How did the researchers define happiness? Agreeing with these statements: “I felt hopeful about the future,” “I was happy,” I enjoyed life,” and “I felt that I was just as good as other people.” And what’s the secret to boosting your happiness. Here are their seven suggestions: “Surround yourself with people you love; spend time doing things you enjoy; pursue personal growth opportunities; don’t compare yourself to others; focus on the positive; be grateful for what you have; forgive.” (WellNotes March 2009)
Did you catch #7? “Forgive.” Surprised? Why if #7 is true, then God has to be the happiest Being in the universe, wouldn’t you say? After all, think of the astronomical debts he has forgiven you and me. And given all that forgiveness that we’ve freely received from him, don’t you suppose we have very good reason to be contagiously joyful ourselves? Which means we can compound his gift of happiness by turning around and practicing #7 with those who owe us big time, who by word or action have wounded us painfully. It’s the Calvary way to abiding joy, isn’t it? “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). But new research suggests we can know what we’re doing when we choose to forgive our debtors as God has forgiven us. Forgive and be happy. What’s not to like about that?
Health care reform or not, she did alright!September 9th, 2009
Health care reform or not, she did alright! The Scripps Howard News Service carried the story of Gregoria Martinez, 94, who was lovingly remembered by her family at her August 26 funeral in Quanah, Texas. In fact so many of her family attended her funeral that relatives handed out index cards to update addresses and telephone numbers while they had that many of them together. How large was Gregoria’s family? She had eleven children, who in turn gave her ninety-eight grandchildren, who in turn gave her 164 great-grandchildren, who in turn gave her sixteen great-great-grandchildren-leaving her 289 descendents at the time of her death! The report indicates that the family has purposefully underestimated the figures, believing that the number could be as high as 500. That is one healthy family!
As we all know, President Obama and Congress are embroiled in a noisy and fractious health care reform debate. While Americans are agreed that something needs to be one to control escalating health care costs and while most of us express the desire for all citizens to have access to adequate health care, the more-heat-than-light generating debate over the details threatens any reform at all.
But leaving the debate aside, wouldn’t it be wonderful if our nation were as preoccupied with health care of the heart? I don’t mean the pumping organ, but rather that internal seat of our emotions, our hopes, our secret prayers, our touchstone with the divine. While this nation belongs to both the atheist and the faith-full, wouldn’t we all be benefited by a collective quest to heal our fragmented lives, our increasingly isolated national soul. Not by mandating God and faith in the public school class rooms-that would be ultimately counterproductive. But by admitting our numinous sense of need, and validating our shared search for healing.
In our new fall series, “The Temple” (podcasts at this website), we meet a God who is so passionately devoted to the health of his earth children that in order to finally save them he brings all of history to a climactic drama in his celestial courtroom. And all of it for the sake of ultimate health reform: “‘If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land’” (II Chronicles 7:14). Heal the land-that has always been the divine agenda, hasn’t it? It is the single health care reform that could expand the family of God far beyond 289 descendents! For if God had his way, every earth child of his would be insured by the red cross that still offers full coverage to everyone who wants him.
How about a non-Labor-Day story for this Labor Day weekend?September 2nd, 2009
How about a non-Labor-Day story for this Labor Day weekend? Several years ago I received a letter from one of our television viewers who is a Pentecostal pastor ministering in a city near us. He informed me that from his Bible study he had come to the conclusion that the Scriptures plainly and clearly teach that the seventh day of the week is the divine Sabbath for humanity, that it has been so from the creation of earth and remains so today. Needless to say he got my attention! “Moreover, I have written a book defending the seventh-day Sabbath,” his letter went on, “and am enclosing a disk with my manuscript.” As I read his manuscript, I was astounded at how articulately he built a strong biblical case for God’s Sabbath. The reason he had written was because he had discovered our telecast and wanted to be in communication with another pastor who shared his convictions.
A few weeks later we met together in my office, along with one of his congregation members. The pastor had been teaching the Sabbath to his people, and several had joined him in beginning to honor the Lord of the Sabbath on the seventh-day. That was the first of many visits, the rest of which took place in his church in his city. In fact just this week we met again, this time with one of my members. But we met at a new church setting. And it was then I learned that recently one of his elders had led an effort to remove him as their pastor because of his decision to honor the Bible Sabbath. With a heavy heart he left his congregation. And after much prayer over the summer, he began a new pastorate in a for-sale church building across town. He told me last evening that his courage was strong, his confidence in God’s Word unshaken and his determination unchanged to teach and preach Christ as Lord of the Sabbath.
As it so happened, this last Sabbath here at the Pioneer Memorial Church I met a Baptist pastor after our second celebration, who himself has been studying the Bible teaching of the Sabbath, all because he met another one of our members, who has begun studying the Bible with him. Two pastors from the same city making the same discovery—an affirmation, I believe, of the promise: “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day” (Proverbs 4:18). The secret for them, for you, for me is that we continue to step into the light that God graciously shines upon our pathways. As we do so, he promises that the light will grow brighter and brighter, as with every step our discovery of his will and truth deepens. It’s that way with God’s restful non-labor-day Sabbath. It’s that way with all his truth. Keep stepping into Christ’s light and you will never walk in darkness.