241 years ago the course of world history changed, for on July 4th, 1776, the 13 colonies adopted “The Declaration of Independence” and proclaimed themselves to be The United States of America. Since then these United States have risen to become a world power and have been the source of many amazing world innovations. One innovation that seems to never be talked about or even noticed is this country's profound contribution to recognizing, appreciating and preserving the wonders of the natural landscape. Nature. It covers the world with its intricate complexity, its unfathomable beauty and its breathtaking majesty. For most of us, our park system doesn’t feel like an innovation; rather it feels like a common, scarcely noticed commodity – yeah, we have National Parks – cool! Today we stop for a moment and ask how did these National Parks come to be, what was the motivation for their existence and what does all of this have to do with Almighty God?
Have you noticed how easy it is to offend people these days? There seems to be such an overt need to accept and to be accepted that we go overboard with the “correctness” of our words and behavior lest we hurt anyone’s feelings at any time. Now, being accepting of others is a good thing, but is it the most important thing? Should we willingly lay all other principles and standards upon the altar of mutual acceptance? Are we compelled to accept the world the way it is without regard to the good we have gleaned from the way it was? How did Jesus do it? He certainly spent time with the sinners of his day but was it at the cost of higher principles? Did Jesus actually “hang out” with sinners? Was his time with them to make them feel good or accepted? What is God’s role in all of this? If we want a relationship with God, does He accept us as we are or is there more to it?
Nobody likes failure. Even when we have been told that failure is good for us, that it is a stepping stone and that you don’t learn from success nearly as much as you learn from failure, we still don’t like it! For many of us, failure can be discouraging, debilitating and even depressing. So, what do we do with this? We learn from it. We look into the lives of those whom we consider successful and study their failures and their reactions to those failures to see how we can use their experiences to help us navigate our own experiences. The Bible is full of great examples of faithful ones who had many failures, and the Bible is also full of their success stories afterwards. What are we waiting for? Let’s get started with this whole making-failure-work-for-me thing!
We all need to be heard, and we all need to be acknowledged. We all need that feeling of validation that comes with being personally recognized as having value, and all of this comes through the important tool of communication. The problem is that we have become terrible at both the giving and receiving ends of the communication spectrum. Somehow we think that posting, texting, tweeting and emojis can replace actual conversation, looking someone in the eye, feeling their emotions or touching their shoulder. Whether it is our lack of attention span, our need for convenience, personal laziness or simply not knowing what we are missing, we have seemingly deserted real true person-to-person communication and replaced it with cold and emotionless technology. So, what do we do? How do we relearn both the giving and receiving ends of this invaluable and necessary tool for a fulfilled life called "communication"?
The world is systematically becoming a dark place. It is not that people are purposely looking to dwell in darkness. It is that people - many people - have come to believe in things that had their origin in darkness and treachery. Wherever you look you can see the subtle creeping in of thinking, philosophies and actions that do not reflect the wholesome goodness of godly righteousness; but they rather engulf all in their path in a pervasive and deepening gloom that is labeled as a "new understanding" of what is good and acceptable. Jesus emphatically told his followers to be the "light of the world," to be that "city set on a hill for the whole world to see." So, how are we doing with that? Is Christianity truly the light of the world or have we misrepresented and failed the light of the Gospel? Is the world supposed to see our light and come to it or are we simply off track in our understanding?
We are not patient. Not anymore. It used to be just a few decades ago that when you needed to talk to someone far away, you waited until the day ended, went home, had dinner and then you tried to call them. Several decades before that, you thought about what you wanted to say, wrote them a letter, sent it and waited… Now we simply and instantly text them and usually get a pretty instant answer as well. Not only do we not have patience, we have a hard time teaching it to others. Our children have the privilege and problem of instant access, instant answers and instant fun which leads them to instant frustration when something doesn’t go as expected. Patience – Jesus told us “in your patience possess ye your souls.” Turns out that there is much more to that statement than meets the eye! What is the Bible’s real message regarding patience for Christians?
Revenge – the desire for it can be a powerful and even overwhelming emotion. Sadly, thinking about revenge can be a fun motivating and bonding experience, as it occupies our minds with creative and yet often diabolical means with which to carry out our purpose. It is amazing how the development of such a negative action can spur such positive feelings. So wait – if all of these positive feelings come from planning revenge then can we rightfully label revenge as wrong? Absolutely! Just because something makes you feel good or empowered or focused doesn’t mean that you are becoming a better person because of those things. Remember, Satan felt good and was empowered and was focused when he rebelled against God – and we all know how that will turn out! Can revenge ever be good? How do we recognize, manage and direct our feelings of revenge?
So, have you ever been or have you ever known someone who has been a victim of fraud? You know, had their credit card number stolen or their bank account hacked or their social security number breached? It is all quite real and it is all quite unsettling. Now, have you heard the term “fake news”? Think about it – fake news is fraud as well, since in its reporting we are led to believe something is true that isn’t. This phenomena is quite real and it is quite unsettling. Now, have you ever taken something from work that is not yours or “padded” an expense report or “forgotten” some income on your tax return? These things are also fraud – they are quite real and they are quite unsettling. The bottom line is, fraud is everywhere and we as Christians can be victims of it and we can also perpetrate it. So, what do we do? How do we keep fraud from being a part of our lives
Vengeance, indignation, burning anger and jealousy. These are some of the words the Bible uses to describe God’s reactions to this present evil world. To put it mildly, God is not happy. Can you blame Him? Look at us – look at what this world does, what it stands for and how we treat one another! God will not allow such sin and corruption to continue. He will act and when He does, there will be no mistaking His response. The Bible emphatically describes what look like world ending events – these events are called “The Day of Vengeance,” “Armageddon,” “The Time of Trouble,” “The Day of Wrath”… So wait! We are always talking about God being a God of love – how could this vengeance of God possibly be interpreted as an act of love? Is God so vengeful and angry that He is going to squash us like bugs or is there another way to understand what His vengeance is, how it works and what it accomplishes?
You want to be happy. I want to be happy. Everyone wants to be happy, I mean, who wouldn’t want to be happy? The Declaration of Independence of the United States of America talks about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as being unalienable rights of humanity. What can we conclude from all of this? Happiness is a central objective and desire that belongs to all. Having said that...why aren’t we happy? Why are so many of us frustrated, disappointed and anxious about our lives? Why do we overeat, binge, eat chocolate, shop or do any number of other things to hide from our lack of happiness? Why can’t we just be happy? Why can’t we stop comparing, stop wishing, stop regretting, stop rationalizing and just start living today for the glory of it being our present? There is hope because happiness is attainable! We just need to know where and how to look for it and how to recognize it when we see it.