Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Accountability in an Age of Transparency

Does it ever feel like the internet is getting scary? I was looking up information about motorcycle parts the other day. Now every time I go to a site with any banner ads, guess what ads I’m getting? You got it – ads for motorcycle parts.

Everything you do online might as well be printed in the Observer. I remember back in the mid 90’s (1990’s, that is) when our company began giving everyone e-mail addresses. They told us to not send anything via e-mail that we wouldn’t want published on the front page of the next day’s newspaper. It was sound advice.

Five years ago in China our friends cautioned us in sending e-mail back to the States that everything we did would probably be monitored. Of course there, even the snail mail we sent was likely to be opened before it ever left the Chinese post office.

It baffles me to read some of the posts and comments I come across on Facebook. Do these “friends” not know that any potential employer or college admissions officer or future spouse will likely be reading anything and everything they print? 

And what’s with all the surveillance cameras everywhere you go? Makes you think George Orwell knew something long before his time. Even a deer can’t walk through the woods in the middle of the night without being captured on a trail camera.

What I’m saying is not breaking news. We’re living in an age of transparency. Every word you speak, every keystroke you make, every thing you do and perhaps even every thought you think could wind up on tonight’s newscast. Or go viral on the internet.

Makes you want to be pretty careful about the way you live, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t it? But let me offer you an even greater motivation to live a clean and unashamed life. Ultimately you will not answer to your friends, to your boss, to your government or to the public. It would be bad enough if they all knew and judged everything about you.

But the Bible says that we all will one day answer to Almighty God, the Perfect and Righteous Judge. Hear the word of Lord from Hebrews 4:12-13: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

What that means is exactly what it says. Read it again. God is the One to whom we must give account. His word sets the standard by which we live, and by which the very thoughts and attitudes of our hearts are measured. You can’t hide anything from God. No careless word ever spoken has He missed. No deed done in secret has escaped His vision. No impure thought or harmful intent has ever gone unnoticed by the Judge.

Don’t know about you, but that’s pretty scary to me. In fact, if that were the end of the story, who among us would be able to stand before Him at all? But, praise God, the One enthroned as Judge is also the One exalted as Savior! We’d all be doomed to everlasting death in hell because of our sin, but Jesus took the Judge’s sentence for our crimes upon Himself! And He rose from the grave in dramatic victory over sin and death!

Friend, that victory can be yours today. Receive His salvation by repenting of your sinfulness and believing that Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins. Believe that He rose from the dead to bring eternal life, and yield your life to Him by following Jesus in joyful obedience as Savior and Lord.

Then on the Day of Judgment you need not be ashamed nor fear eternal condemnation. Instead, you’ll be singing with the saints:

Jesus paid it all
All to Him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Heaven's Hope for Life's Breakdowns

My lawn mower gives me fits. Not that I’ve used it much lately, but it has rained just enough to make the weeds grow up nice and pretty. So I got the mower out for only the second time since early June. That time was to knock down some weeds, also.

I think “fits” fits the description for my reactions to my mower’s tribulations. There’s a laundry list of breakdowns and meltdowns we’ve gone through together. Admittedly, I’m to blame for some of the misfortunes, like when I thought I had enough clearance to mow over the water meter cover. That’ll mess up some blades pretty quick. And I guess not changing the oil or air filter often enough isn’t good for an engine either.

About three years ago I was all set to junk it. Every time I tried to start it all I’d get was some huffing and sputtering and a thick cloud of black smoke. So I had a friend help me haul it a local small engine mechanic he uses. The guy took a fast look at it and went off on all things Briggs & Stratton. As I recall he didn’t like much of anything that wasn’t Kohler or Craftsman. He said it was shot. 

I didn’t know any better. So I was ready to bite the bullet and spring for a new, or at least less abused used, mower. But before I said my final good-riddance, my neighbor came over to look at it. And would you know that for a $4.99 fuel line cut-off valve and some fresh motor oil, he had the silly thing running again? 

That’s the same good neighbor that also helped me out when a pin snapped and a wheel came off when I was mowing one day. And the one who, when I tried and failed to fire it up for the first time one spring, suggested I jump start it. Man, I’ve been ready to call it dead for a long time, but it keeps doing the Energizer bunny thing on me. 

For the record, I need to add that this mower was given to me seven years ago by my brother-in-law. He said he had to get rid of it due to allergies with the grass at their new house, but I think it was to prevent a different kind of headache. I shouldn’t complain. It was free for the pick-up, and I’ve used it a lot. It’s been a good investment. 

So last weekend, after again jump starting the mower, I was zipping around the yard trimming weeds, when at a stop to pick up a stray dog toy, the drive belt gave out. You know by now I’m not a mechanic. How I wish I would have paid more attention when my Dad tried to show me how to fix things rather than shooting hoops and collecting baseball cards! Well, to make a three and a half hour long story short, I did manage to replace the drive belt and we’re back on the road again. 

Here’s my point. Sometimes you may feel like a broken down and worthless old mower. Does it ever seem like life is just one problem after another? Feel like nobody cares a thing for you? Maybe you think people look at you more like a bother than a brother or friend. Ever feel like if they hauled you off to the junk heap it would be a so-long and good riddance and don’t let the door hit you on the way out? 

If so, before you do anything else today, here’s what I want you to do: go get a Bible and read Psalm 31. The author, David, finds himself once again in a hopeless and dire situation. He’s a menace to his enemies, the contempt of his neighbors and a dread to his friends. Affliction, distress, sorrow, grief, anguish and weakness grip him like a vice. 

Does he cave in? Does he cower in fear? Does he wring his hands in despair? No, he lifts his heart to heaven because that’s his only hope. His deliverance and salvation come from Christ alone, and his cry for mercy reaches the ears of the Almighty, whose goodness and faithfulness and unfailing love are poured out upon those who fear Him. His trust is the Lord, and he finds Him to be his rock of refuge. You can too, dear friend.  

“Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord” (Psalm 31:24).    

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Blessing of Family

So we went to the beach on our family vacation and it rained every day. Not the pleasant little light afternoon showers, but pouring rain and thunderstorms. The kind where you’re able to finish 1,000 piece puzzles and watch exciting Olympic events like handball and equestrian. Who gets the medal, the rider or the horse?

I would like to know how some of these activities become Olympic sports. Maybe in 2016 they’ll decide to include foosball and darts and pool. Fishing could be an Olympic sport. So could checkers and cheerleading. How about fantasy baseball? And why not poker? I mean, who doesn’t enjoy watching a bunch of creepy looking characters sit around a table playing poker? But I digress.

And did you know that gas is about 40-50 cents higher in Illinois than in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Florida, and probably every other state in the union? Do you ever sense, as you pump your Illinois gas, that you’re helping pay some ritzy couple’s $7,500 a month rent in a swanky Lake Shore Drive high rise? Along with their yacht, their BMW and all the bling they can buy. Makes you feel like you’re making a real difference in the world.

But I’m not really complaining about going on vacation. Despite the rain and the gas prices we had a great time. There wasn’t a day we weren’t able to spend at least some time on the beach. We saw the sun occasionally, collected quite a few seashells, caught some waves and built fortified sand castles. And 30 hours round trip driving plus multiple bathroom and food stops wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be.

The best part, though, was simply spending time with my family. We’re back now. Back to work. Back to church activities. Back to football practice. Back to taking care of the dog. Back to cleaning house. Back to school next week. Back to real life. But it’s been nice to be together for a week without all these responsibilities. I didn’t even take my laptop along, nor did I miss it.

One of God’s greatest blessings to mankind is the family. Before He established nations, before the first king, before the invention of football and before shopping malls, God created the family. It wasn’t good for man to be alone. So God made a woman from Adam’s rib and brought her to him to be a perfect helper and companion, one who would be “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23).

And even though we sometimes take each other for granted, and even though we’re imperfect people who can be selfish, stubborn and stupid, we need each other. We were made for each other. We complement each other.

I am thankful for my wife. I can’t imagine where I’d be without her. We celebrated our 19th anniversary last week. Not every day has been a walk in the park, but it’s been a joyous journey. In any marriage relationship there are good times and bad, but it’s for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, and in sickness and in health till death do us part. We are committed to one another in a bond of love, sealed with the love of Christ Jesus Himself.

And I’m grateful to the Lord for the blessing of children. We have two boys whom we love dearly. Yes, there are challenges all the time, and we haven’t yet reached teenage years. But our boys are a precious and delightful gift, and I thank God for giving us the joy and responsibility of raising them up in the way they should go.

I appreciate the church giving us some time for family vacation. But it’s also good to be back together with the family of God. Friend, if you’re looking for family, we welcome you to be part of ours at the First Baptist Church.