Thursday, May 28, 2015

Goodness—the Exemplary Frui

Christians are expected to be good people. In fact, many non-Christians expect more from Christians than they do from themselves or anyone else. Jesus Himself told His first followers, “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” That doesn’t mean we are to act in a self-righteous goody-two-shoes way. That isn’t the goodness Jesus gives. Rather it is genuine goodness of the heart shown in honesty, empathy, helpfulness, and a multitude of other ways.
Sad to say, as Christians we can take on the mistaken idea we’re supposed to be perfect, which no one is, of course, or can be. We’re far better off just doing the best we can, honestly and humbly admitting our faults and mistakes, and then giving God the glory for anything good we do. That’s His idea of goodness.
If you do your best and trust God for the rest, His goodness will shine through.
Sinning Saints
God’s idea of goodness is often quite different from ours. King David plotted the death of another man so he could have his wife. But David knew he was a sinner whose only hope was the love, mercy, and forgiveness of God, and because he repented greatly and loved God all the more after what he had gone through, God called David a man after His own heart. God took the apostle Paul, a fanatical persecutor of the early Christians, and made him one of the greatest Christians of all time. Jesus took a demon-possessed harlot, Mary Magdalene, and made her one of His favorite followers.
God’s idea of goodness is not sinless perfection. It’s a sinner who knows he has no righteousness of his own, but depends totally on the goodness of God. These are the only saints there are; there are no others!
Matthew 5:14-16 ESV / “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Luke 8:2-3 ESV / and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.
James 1:17 ESV / Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

My Life’s Heroes

It was 1977, and Karl and I had left Germany in a camper the previous year. Our journey had already taken us through Italy, what was then Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and India. We hoped to make it to Nepal next, buy a mountain farm there, and settle in a peaceful life away from modern society.
Our budget was tight, and we usually ate at small roadside caf├ęs or bought food from local market stalls, so perhaps it was not surprising that I contracted viral hepatitis. We had reached a lovely bay on the Goan coastline, but unfortunately there was no medical care nearby, and my health deteriorated quickly. Some local villagers noticed my desperate state and took to visiting daily to feed me a diet of papaya and fresh coconut milk. Thanks to their help, I recovered and got back on my feet, 10 kilos lighter, but healthy again.
When we finally made it to Nepal, we eagerly joined a Buddhist monastery for a trial period, but didn’t find what we were looking for. I believed there was something bigger than me, but I was confused. Which God should I pray to? I often wondered while gazing at the multitude of stars in the clear mountain sky.
It was Karl’s turn to contract hepatitis next. By that time, we were back in India, and I drove all night, while Karl was sprawled in the back of the camper with a high fever. In the early morning, I found a lodge where some young European travelers were staying. One of them, David, spoke German, and he helped us find a doctor and a room to rent.
David also decided to stay a few days with us. “Let me read to you from the book that changed my life,” he said when we met the following day.
Reading a short passage from God’s Word became a daily routine while Karl regained his strength. Before David left, he introduced me to his Savior, Jesus, and as a result His words from the Bible became my guiding light from that day onwards.
The Goan villagers were poverty-stricken strangers, but their compassion and concern saved my life. David was a stranger, but it’s thanks to him that I found purpose and direction. My circumstances today are a result of the combined kindnesses of those selfless strangers I met in India that autumn.
John 13:34-35 ESV / A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Galatians 6:10 ESV / So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
James 2:14-17 ESV / What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Quarks in His Glory

Peter and I were taking a few days’ break at a small beach town. One late afternoon, I was taking a walk along the beach, when I looked up to find one of the most stunningly beautiful scenes taking shape before my eyes.
The scattered clouds began to take on pastel hues of peach, violet, and gold against the deepening blue of the sky. I love sunsets, but every once in a great while I encounter one that is so awe-inspiring that I can’t take my eyes off it. And the Great Painter was certainly getting my attention with this one. It was as if He was pouring liquid colored light into each cloud. The colors crept higher and higher until they seemed to overflow, and their streams became a living, swirling kaleidoscope of ever-changing beauty.
Everything else faded into unimportance alongside this masterpiece developing before my eyes. Gently, the expanding display flowed downward until it seemed to swallow up the ocean, turning it into a sea of vibrant colors, soft and smooth like a mirror in the distance, and spraying showers of golden light as the waves shattered on the sand just a few feet from where I stood. I felt immersed in its beauty. It was as if the sunset were communicating God’s encouragement and love to me.
The colors began to spill down in darker hues onto a promontory crowned with a small peak that jutted out into the water some distance away. It was as though the flow of living light had splashed over the edge of the sky onto the peak and the buildings dotting it, transforming them temporarily into glowing gems of iridescent reds and golds.
The vivid transformation of the sky gradually shifted from soft pastel hues to deeper and richer shades of blood red and burgundy, splashed with royal blues and copper streaks. Finally, after what must have been fifteen minutes, but had seemed like mere moments, the grand display began to recede. Its glory slipped peacefully into the gentle mists of the evening to paint the world another day.
As I stood there in the growing dusk, like a little child whose mind had been awed by the grand finale of a massive fireworks display, hoping against hope that it might all start over again, it struck me that this astoundingly glorious and impossibly complex show of power and beauty was a mere thought, a twinkle in the eye of God. It was only a tiny speck in the immensity of His abilities—just a mere quark in the vast universe of His power. If this small and fleeting moment stirred my soul like this and left me speechless with its awesome beauty, how could I possibly imagine or comprehend the Creator of it, who could gloriously splash the sky with such grandeur and wipe it clean in a moment, as if it was just His aura or atmosphere as He passed by.
We get so caught up sometimes in our earthbound realm, fretting and worrying that we are all alone in our troubles and have to try to solve them on our own. But at moments like this, the resounding reality that we are deeply loved by one who can explode the sky into such beauty with nothing more than a passing thought reminds me of just whom it is that I’m trusting in. What God said to me through that glorious heavenly art was, “I can create anything. I can sustain anything. I can protect anyone. I can solve any problem. I am beauty. I am power. I am love, and I do this for you.”
Times like this help me to remember that this same all-powerful one who creates such momentary grandeur for His creations is closely attuned to our tiniest needs and desires, guiding and caring for us in ways big and small. How could we ever worry that He might forget us, or that He might not be in absolute, perfect control of every detail of our lives?
When comes the golden sunset
That trails God’s way on high,
And with its radiant splendor
Illumes the evening sky,
How are the hills and valleys
Aglow with crimson rays,
While nature’s deep toned organ
Lifts heavenward its praise:
“Holy, holy!” Angel voices sing it;
“Holy, holy!” Cloudy pinions wing it;
“Holy, holy!” Gleaming towers ring it;
“Holy, holy, is the Lord most high.”
So God reveals at sunset
The grandeur of His throne,
The deeper, fuller glory
Reserved to be our own;
And in that hour’s unfolding
Forgot are fear and pain
In love’s abounding solace,
In heaven’s great refrain.
Then come, blest hour of sunset,
Along the golden way,
And thrill us with the splendors
That fill life’s perfect day.
God is the end of living,
He satisfies the soul,
And they who seek His glory
Will find in Him their goal.
—Calvin W. Laufer (1874–1938)
Genesis 1:1 ESV / In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Ecclesiastes 12:1 ESV / Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”;
John 1:1 ESV / In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Monday, May 25, 2015

A True Good Samaritan

Recently, after reading an article on the BBC News website, I found myself faced with a few tough questions. The article, a modern-day “Good Samaritan” tale, is worth checking out as an inspiring example of the impact one sincere loving deed can have.
Reading this story made me evaluate my own track record of late. Would I have done the same? Would I be willing to risk my job to help a stranger in need? Unsatisfied with my replies, I also tried some less dramatic-sounding questions. Would my friends say I’m someone who lends a helping hand? Have I done any purely altruistic deeds recently?
If I’m really honest with myself, I’d have to say I’m more often than not absorbed in my own world. I think we all have days when we become a little too focused on our own problems, issues and desires, days when we walk through life staring at our feet instead of looking up and out and around us. I’m reminded of the painfully honest quote: “There are two kinds of egotists: those who admit it, and the rest of us.”
So I guess for“the rest of us” it’s healthy to be reminded every now and then about the world around us, about the needs of others, about the power of love; to stop and have a little chat with our conscience and see how we fare. There are lives we could touch if we’d look outward more, and sometimes we may need to hit the pause button and take a look around in order to do so.
The great thing is that we can reach out with love no matter where we live, what job we have, or what direction our life is going. I think this will be my prayer for some time to come.
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which He looks [with] compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,
Yours are the hands with which He blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are His body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which He looks [with] compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
—Attributed to Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)
Matthew 6:33 ESV / But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Romans 12:2 ESV / Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Luke 12:34 ESV / For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Good—Or Upright?

I recently came across an interesting verse that fits with this issue’s main theme of goodness. I had read it before, but this time it made more of an impression on me.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul says, “Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good.” The New King James Version uses “righteous” instead of “upright.”
That got me thinking. What’s the difference between an upright or righteous person and a good one? Theologian John Gill suggests Paul meant that the former is someone who is outwardly moral and keeps to the letter of the law, whereas a good person goes beyond their duty.
I think the secret is simply that goodness is righteousness mixed with genuine concern for others. Without God’s love to motivate us, we can’t be good, but with it, we’re able to go beyond simply doing the right thing, and make a more lasting difference.
Of course, Jesus is the only one who is fully good, but He expects us to try to imitate Him in our lives and actions. He said, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart.” If we fill ourselves with His goodness and His love, we will be able to pass that on to others as well, to do good to all, whenever we have the opportunity.
Romans 5:7 ESV / For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—
Galatians 6:10 ESV / So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
John 18:36 ESV / Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Unsung Hero

The story of the boy who gave his lunch to the disciples to share with the multitude is well known. Jesus took the five small loaves and two fishes, blessed the food which was multiplied miraculously, and thousands of hungry people were satisfied. Who was the little boy? What was his name? What was the name of his thoughtful mother who provided the packed lunch? These details are not provided.
Unsung heroes quietly performing simple acts of kindness provide the backdrop to so many miracles of deliverance, healing, and supply. Consider the men who carried their paralyzed friend on his bed; they were so eager to bring him to Jesus for healing, they opened up part of the roof to get him into the crowded house.
The bearers who were carrying the body of the widow’s son stood still at Jesus’ command and witnessed the miracle of the young man’s return to life. And we cannot forget the friends of the centurion who bore the message to Jesus, pleading in his stead for healing for the centurion’s devoted servant. Upon their return, they found the servant healed.
These nameless individuals showed kindness, often more than duty demanded. There is no record of them receiving thanks or reward. Their kindness was from the heart.
You’ve probably guessed the topic for this issue’s exercise: Make it a point over the coming week to do a kindness for someone—a colleague, friend, family member, or stranger—without telling anyone what you’ve done or expecting anything in return. Better still, try to do this every week. You may not witness an outstanding miracle, but you will have brought a smile to somebody else.
Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you.—Diana, Princess of Wales (1961–1997)
Born Anew
A single moment surely
Will be my fixed desire:
To pour the ruddy fire
Of wine of kindness down throats parched;
To overturn, spill joy upon the scorched,
Hate-caked mud of earth.
Their joy will be my birth!
My only peace, their peace,
Their pleasure brings me ease,
Their dream will be my dream.
And my heartbeat the throb
Of hearts that beat with God.
Sound that ringing through infinity
Each day calls echoes of divinity:
“Today I’m born anew!”
— Amado Nervo (1870–1919), translated from the original Spanish
Colossians 3:12 ESV / Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,
2 Corinthians 6:6 ESV / By purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love;
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV / Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Change the World

Question: I’d like to do more to improve things around me, but I don’t feel there’s a lot I can do. Changing the world seems like such a huge task—how to know where to start?
Answer: The good news is you don’t need to be someone powerful or famous to make a difference. Each positive change—no matter how small—is changing the world for the better. We can change the world by improving the lives of those around us, through deeds of kindness and consideration, and by showing faith in them. Here are some practical tips to help get you started changing your part of the world, one heart at a time.
Build up excellence. Try to think of at least one thing that you find outstanding in a person, and then make it your task to let them know. Don’t be shy; they won’t get tired of hearing it. What you’re doing is building confidence in that one area, and as they gain confidence, they will start to improve in other areas as well.
Share the responsibility. Give others responsibility in the areas in which they are strong. Make them feel trusted, needed, and appreciated.
Appreciate who they are. Appreciating others for what they do is important, and people like to be thanked and acknowledged for it, but being appreciated for a personal trait feels a lot nicer than only being appreciated for the outcome of that trait.
Keep appreciation simple and doable. Don’t feel that you need to have wonderfully warm feelings about a person, or be their best friend and really know them deeply before you can make a difference in someone’s life. You can be a near stranger and still have a marvelous effect on someone.
Slow down. It takes time to see people in a new light. Go slower in your interactions with people and give God a chance to reveal His perspective.
Pause to meditate. Think of the positive ways that someone has helped you. You will have a change in how you view others, because you will have taken the time to go deeper, past the surface assumptions that are so easy to make.
Let go of the past. Everyone dislikes being labeled or put in a box. Be willing to see who the person is today or the potential of what they can be tomorrow, and don’t let your view be marred by your past experiences.
Ephesians 5:19 ESV / Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,
John 8:16-18 ESV / Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.”
John 4:24 ESV / God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”