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Monday, March 25, 2019

How Happy Are You?

It is perhaps the best known quote in American history, Jefferson's three inalienable rights:  “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  Not happiness, but the pursuit of happiness. After 243 years, the American “pursuit” of happiness seems to be in question.  Are we happy?  Are we pursuing the right things that can make us happy?

The 2018 World Happiness Report, released last week by the United Nations, ranked the United States at number 18 concluding that Americans have become less happy even while American wealth has expanded.  According to U.S. News and World Report, the study stated, “The U.S.  is in the midst of a complex and worsening public health crisis, involving epidemics of obesity, opioid addiction, and major depressive disorder that are all remarkable by global standards.” 

Commercials, sit-coms and stand-up comedy routines give us clues to what has gone wrong in our “pursuit.”   According to many of these sources, happiness seems to be bound up with possessions: to have and to own something better than somebody else; our bodies: to be more beautiful, stronger, more attractive; sex: whether casual and illicit or friends with benefits; drugs (including alcohol):  whatever promises release from our inhibitions and escape from our problems; social media and technology: virtual reality, virtual friends and a virtual life.  With all their promises for happiness, they lead to disappointment and, too often, disaster.

There is another way.  The Bible says, “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good.  How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him. … Who is the man who desires life and loves length of days that He may see good?  Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.  Depart from evil and do good; desire peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:8-14)  “Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:3).

No one is happy all the time. Jesus was characterized as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”  But there is a joy that goes deeper than happiness; a joy that sustains us even in our difficulties.  Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-3).

Churches are the happiest places on earth.  I have visited hundreds of them in most states and many countries.  Wherever I go, the gatherings of believers is characterized by joy, acceptance, encouragement, heartfelt hugs, laughter, smiles and love.  The people of God have within them this unquenchable joy that sustains them, even when times are tough.

This joy is the result of God’s redemption in Jesus Christ.  Our sins have been forgiven. Jesus has been raised from the dead.  As Isaiah predicted, “And the ransomed of the Lord will return and come with joyful shouting to Zion, with everlasting joy upon their heads.  They will find gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”  (Isaiah 35:10).

Monday, March 18, 2019

Digital Faith

I am a digital immigrant. I was born into a world of rotary dial telephones and slide rules, cash registers that resembled slot machines, schools without air conditioning, encyclopedias that occupied an entire shelf in the book case and paper maps that unfolded to fill the front seat of the car.  

I started my immigration to the digital world about 37 years ago when I walked into Toys R Us with sweaty palms and bought my first computer, a Commodore 64.  It had 64k of memory and a floppy disk.  You can still find Commodore 64s in a few attics, basements and museums.

My oldest son is also a digital immigrant, though he was only eight years old when he started his digital journey.  After he grew up he started his own computer company and now works in Information Technology for an energy company. 

My grandchildren are digital natives.  They were born into the digital world and have never known anything else.  My five year old granddaughter was scanning photos on an iPhone when she was one and has already mastered video games. She reads and watches children stories on her iPad.  

I like the digital world.  I would not want to go back.  I live with my iPhone and PC. I can browse the web and check email anywhere in the world.  I have conducted business and managed my bank accounts from Nuremburg and Tel Aviv. I stay in touch with friends in South Africa, Indonesia and South Korea. I can go anywhere with my GPS.  I felt a little sacrilegious when I started reading my Bible on my iPhone and my Kindle.  It seemed like it wasn’t really a Bible if I couldn’t flip the pages and smell the ink. I had to remind myself that the first Scriptures were hand written on scrolls and that books came centuries later. 

But there are dangers in the digital world that did not exist before.
The world of virtual reality can undermine relationships in the real world robbing us of time, energy and emotional maturity. The new world of social networking can foster affairs with remote “lovers” who carry none of the day-to-day difficulties that come with marriage. More than one career has been destroyed by inappropriate posts on Facebook and Twitter. Pornography is at your fingertips.

The book, Digital Invasion quotes one youth pastor: “I see young people losing the interpersonal skills it takes to function in relationships, in a family and in the church.”  It is not unusual to see several people sitting at a table, each focused on their smart phone, none of them speaking to one another.

Craig Detweiler writes in his book, iGods, “The iMac begat the IPhone and the iPad, and each one starts with me – or rather “i.” They enhance our ability to connect and to serve, but they can also create an inflated sense of self, believing the entire world revolves around “me.” … In an age of status updates, personalized shopping, and lists of followers, we are experiencing the rush of becoming iGods of our own making.”  All this sounds strangely like the first temptation, “When you eat of it you will be like God.” (Genesis 3:5).

The digital world brings digital pitfalls and temptations as well as opportunities.  Our challenge is to incorporate the timeless and eternal truths that never change into our digital world, a digital faith that connects us with God and with one another.  The greatest commandment remains:  “Love God with all your heart, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Monday, March 11, 2019

Male and Female: Does Gender Matter?

An interesting thing happened at the state competition recently in the Colorado state wrestling tournament.   Brendon Johnson, an 18 year old senior at the Classical Academy in Colorado forfeited in the first round rather than wrestle a girl.  He later forfeited again in the third round of the consolation bracket rather than wrestle another girl.

Johnson, who started wrestling in the 7th grade and identifies himself as a Christian said, “There is something that I really do find problematic about the idea of wrestling with a girl, and a part of that does come from my faith and my belief. … I really don’t want to disrespect the hard work these ladies have put in. They’ve done a lot of that too. Some people think by forfeiting I’m disrespecting them. That’s not my intention at all.”  He went on to say that he didn’t feel comfortable with the physical aggression required in wrestling with a girl, something he considers inappropriate on or off the mat.

According to USA Wrestling the number of high school participants grew to 245,564 in 2017-2018, making it the 7th overall participant sport at the high school level.  While it is growing in popularity among boys, it is growing even faster among girls.  16,562 girls competed in wrestling last year, an increase of 1,975.

Most sports recognize the physical differences between men and women in strength and stamina. That is true in non-contact sports like tennis and golf and in more physical sports like basketball and football.  But, apparently in wrestling in Colorado, gender makes no difference. 

I have to confess that this leaves me confused.  In a world in which the news is dominated with #metoo reports, where journalists, politicians, athletes, actors and other celebrities have ended their careers with shame and regret over sexual abuse allegations, why would we try to teach our young people that gender makes no difference?  Why don’t we recognize the unique differences between male and female while encouraging respect and consideration?

We can celebrate the revolution in gender roll diversity over the last decades. The talents, interests, and abilities of both men and women span a wide spectrum in the home, technology, politics, science and the arts.  We can be glad that we live in a day when men and women can explore wide ranging experiences with respect for one another.

At the same time we can celebrate the beauty of God’s design in creating us male and female.  There are intrinsic physical, biological and spiritual differences between the sexes that allow us to experience the depths of mystery, courage, devotion, sacrifice and love. History, art, literature and the Bible are filled with the relationships of men and women, some who rose to great heights of love and devotion and others who fell into depths of disappointment with its subsequent pain and sorrow.   The earliest chapters of Genesis start with the declaration, “And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He crated them.  And God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth …” (Genesis 1:27-28).

Monday, March 4, 2019

Less Judgment More Jesus

I came to know Sharon a long time ago.  She worked for a printing company in Illinois that helped publish some of my books.  She was great to work with, helping finalize the lay out and look for my books.  She did such a good job that she was promoted to a higher position in the company. We have never met in person.

After several years she contacted me, knowing that I wrote Christian books.  She was going through a difficult divorce, a painful end to a difficult marriage.  She was filled with shame and guilt, and moving to the small town in Illinois where she worked.  She wanted to find a church that might help her, but she was terrified of the condemnation and rejection she might find. I tried to encourage her and prayed for her.

She wandered by a local church, liked the looks of it from the outside, and sought a personal visit with the pastor to explain what she was going through.  It took courage for her to do that.  She was afraid, but she found acceptance and support, and started to attend.  

With much weeping, she shared what she was going through with her new found friends in a Bible study class, then, during worship, presented herself for membership in the church.  She was surrounded by believers who hugged her and welcomed her.  The pastor asked her to say a few words.  She told the congregation she was going through a difficult trial.  She said, “Worldwide the church is so good about making sure everyone knows John 3:16, That is a good thing, but we need to keep going because John 3:17 says "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. The world has enough condemnation -- it needs more Jesus.”

Jesus maintained a high bar for marriage.  “What God has joined together,” He said, “ let not man put asunder.”  But whenever he encountered people who were broken and wounded he always responded with compassion and redemption.  When a woman was caught in adultery and thrown at his feet, he challenged her accusers.  “If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Convicted by their guilt, the crowd melted away.  Turning to the woman, Jesus asked, “ Does no one condemn you?”  She replied, “No one, Lord.”  “Neither do I condemn you,” Jesus said, “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:3-11).

We need to do all we can to help every marriage survive and thrive.  But divorce is a reality in our world.  Most, if not all, of our families have been affected by it.  We need to embrace and help those whose dreams have been shattered.  Like Sharon said, the world needs less judgment and more Jesus.