What kind of times are we living in? Are you an optimist, believing that the world is getting better and better? Or and things going downhill? What are the problems we face? What are the solutions?
One of the advantages of accumulating a lot of birthdays is that we gain perspective. We have a longer view, and can more easily see trends. Pete’s 80+-year-old grandmother (right) frequently observed, “The world is going to hell in a handbasket!” Being in our 20s, we thought it was just old age speaking. Now that I’m considerably older, I’m beginning to share her perspective.
Some things are obvious. On a positive note, science and technology have improved our lives to a great degree (and also caused a host of new problems). Due to the civil rights movement, past injustices are being corrected. In spite of the dire claims you hear, the environment is actually much cleaner than it was when I was coming of age in the ’70s. On a global scale, extreme poverty and child mortality are down, literacy rates are rising, and overall, if we look at the standard of living, a majority of people are living healthier and more comfortable lives.[i]
The end of the year is often a time when people donate time and money to various charities and other non-profits. Some include giving as part of their Christmas celebration. Every year we receive several catalogs allowing us to donate livestock, school and medical supplies, and Bible study materials to poor families, giving them a leg up in becoming self-sustaining.
All this giving is a good thing. God tells us to give throughout the Bible, and we should do so. The Lord loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7), and we should give with love and generosity. In return, we find joy in the mere act of making someone else’s life better. If you’ve ever watched your kids open their presents on Christmas morning, you realize the truth of Jesus’ statement, “It’s more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 20:35).
Recently, a friend of mine expressed his frustration about all the problems in the world, and his inability to really solve any of them. I felt his pain. We live in the “outrage” decade. Just read the comments after pretty much any news story, and you’ll see what I mean. Everyone is offended about everything. In many instances, that outrage is warranted; the world is full of injustice. This is nothing new.
Perhaps we’re more aware of it all in an age of instant communication, but people have always been mean and selfish, violent and greedy. Thankfully, most of us manage to live as civilized adults—but there are plenty of exceptions. Nature tosses in her share as well, with hurricanes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters. And then there’s politics. Right.
If it’s Biblical, it must be true. As believers, we base our lives on this concept. But just because it’s in the Bible doesn’t always mean that it applies now, in our current situation, in the way we think it does. Reread the account of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness. Even Satan quotes Scripture. He just twists it, quoting passages out of context, misapplying it, and ignoring other passages.
This is particularly deceitful because there is truth in what we’re hearing. After all, the best lies are mostly true. A nugget of deception is hidden among words that we recognize as coming from God. And so we are misled.
Our country has been pounded—fires to the left of us, hurricanes to the right. This is nothing new, although having so many disasters happen at the same time sure makes it seem that way. As a Christian, my initial response is, how can I help?
The first thing we can do is pray. For one, prayer is something we can do right away, and keep on doing as long as the situation demands. And two, prayer releases God’s power and resources—so much more than ours! Ask God how He would like you to pray for these things. Our first inclination is usually to pray the problems away, but God may have something different in mind. (That’s a topic for another post someday.)
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC, formerly known as Zaire) might be the poorest country in the world. It’s a place of both abundant natural resources and abject misery. Located in the heart of Africa, the DRC is surrounded by ten other nations, including Angola, Tanzania, Uganda, South Sudan, and Rwanda. Africa’s second-largest country (by land area), it’s home to 80 million people.
The DRC should be a prosperous nation, with its flowing rivers (and their ability to generate hydroelectric power), fertile soil, and rich mineral resources. It is not.
A good friend sent me this article, and it resonated so strongly with me that I’m sending it on to you. Perhaps that is because Pete and I also attended a well-known university, and what we’re doing now also has little to do with our respective degrees. In any case, I find this post both challenging and liberating. I think you may too.
Read this: Passport through Darkness: A True Story of Danger and Second Chances, by Kimberly L. Smith.
For perhaps most Americans, their faith consists of going to church on Sunday, sending up an occasional prayer, and being nice. Some volunteer at church, or for a local ministry. Some read their Bible on a regular basis. A few go on short-term mission trips. But for Kimberly Smith, none of that was enough. She and her husband sensed God calling them away from their comfortable lives and onto the mission field.
As the holidays approach, we’re all trying to find True Meaning amid the spending and the gathering, the sugar highs and exhausted lows. I had been thinking about the coming Christmas season when I received this little list from a well-meaning friend. These are all good things, no doubt. But as I read the list, that annoying little red flag started waving at me. Will they truly make Christmas more meaningful? I hate to bah humbug, but there are some assumptions made here that I take issue with.
Every day we read about more violence in the Mideast. Everyone seems to hate everyone else. In spite of decades of negotiations, cease-fires, and truces, the battle continues. Palestinians, Jews, Arabs, Christians. Can they live in peace? It seems that no matter what we do, the problem is unsolvable. We pray for the peace of Jerusalem, but do we really expect an answer?
Pete and I enjoyed a real treat this week—getting to sit down with some long-time friends to hear what God has them doing now. Bob and Kathryn Carlton are the kind of people that you can’t resist. Meet them for the first time and an hour later you’re best friends. Perhaps that’s because no matter where they go, they fall in love with people. Put them in Tibet, and they love the Tibetans. Put them in Burkina Faso, and they love the people there. That kind of love is irresistible!