Fallen Dictators

Another ruler has fallen.

Hosni Mubarek, President of Egypt, stepped down this week after almost thirty years of rule. He joins a long list of deposed dictators throughout history. Mass unrest in his country left him few options, despite his assurances that he would not leave until later this year.

The United States is interested in seeing Egypt institute some form of democracy. But how realistic is it to expect a transition to democracy in a nation that has never known such a government?

So who will govern Egypt? The military? Activists such as Wael GhonimThe Muslim Brotherhood?

We may have a long wait for the answers. Still, while the events in Egypt are a surprise to some of us, they are not a surprise to our omniscient Creator God. He controls history, brings nations and leaders onto the world stage in His perfect time, and then removes them when they have accomplished His purposes.

The Old Testament contains numerous predictions regarding the future of the nations. Isaiah recorded many prophecies in Isaiah 28-33 related to Israel’s neighbors. Daniel recorded prophecies regarding the nations in Daniel 11. His descriptions were so specific and fulfilled in such detail that modern critics now cast doubt on the authorship of this chapter solely on the basis that it is too accurate!

The anti-government uprising that swept through Egypt has spilled beyond her borders. Iran, Bahrain, and Yemen have also experienced protests. Even in closely governed Libya, dissidents in Benghazi called for the removal of Moammar Gadhafi.

But if we belong to the Lord, we need not fear the rise and fall of rulers and nations. God is sovereign, His Son is seated on His throne, and His Holy Spirit is present in each of His children. There is much truth in the song, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” That includes us…and Egypt.


Money CAN Buy You Happiness!

All my life I’ve heard people say money cannot buy happiness.
Are they wrong?

Two professors at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs set out to determine whether the saying is true. They analyzed 450,000 survey responses to learn if money can, indeed, buy happiness.

The research report defined “emotional well-being” as the emotional qualities of everyday experience, and “life evaluation” as the thoughts people have about their life. The study indicated that income and education are closely related to life evaluation, but factors such as health and loneliness are more strongly related to daily emotions.

So, can money buy happiness?

The researchers determined that emotional well-being was related to income, but the level of happiness did not increase beyond an annual income of $75,000. They concluded that “high income buys life satisfaction but not happiness, and that low income is associated both with low life evaluation and low emotional well-being.” It seems that money can buy a type of happiness that involves satisfaction, but not necessarily pleasant emotions.

Even if money could buy happiness, is happiness what we really want?

The answer to this question seems like an obvious yes. Who doesn’t want to be happy? Certainly not me. And yet…if my happiness is dependent on my circumstances, what does that say about me? That my well-being hangs on temporary and shifting circumstances? That my happiness is controlled by the consequences of events and the influences of people who may not care about me or even know me? It’s a rollercoaster way of life. I know, I’ve tried living that way, and it’s no party!

If my emotional well-being is going to depend on anything, I want it to depend on something that won’t capriciously shift or on someone who is always faithful, dependable, and trustworthy.

Joy is what I’m after. The joy of knowing to whom I belong. The God of the universe calls me His child, and welcomes me to call Him Father. The joy of knowing He is sovereign. As Kay Arthur is fond of saying, nothing touches my life that hasn’t first been filtered through His fingers of love. This doesn’t mean I won’t have problems. Trust me, I’ve had my share, and then some! But it does mean I can rest in the knowledge that what God allows in my life is for His glory and my ultimate and eternal good.

Money may or may not buy happiness, but Jesus Christ has purchased my joy. It’s this joy that motivates me to teach and to write so others might have it as well.

How about you?
What or who is your source of happiness?
What or who is your source of joy?


Remember

Remembering has been getting more difficult these days. Last week I spent twenty minutes looking for my car keys, only to find them on the drivers’ seat of my car. I’m constantly on the hunt for my eyeglasses, only to locate them…yup, on top of my head. Embarrassing admissions that I chalk up to “senior moments” – except I’m not a “senior”…yet.

Remembering is important. The people and experiences we remember contribute to who we are…and who we are becoming. Remembering enables us to learn from our mistakes. Philosopher George Santayana noted, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Remembering also motivates us to do better. “Remember the Alamo” was the rallying cry for the Texan freedom forces following Mexico’s defeat of Colonel Travis’ army.

This week Americans are remembering something else. Saturday is September 11th—9/11—the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks responsible for the deaths of nearly 2800 people in New York City.

But what should this remembering lead to? Do we remember so that we can “give back as good as we get”? Do we remember in order to stoke hatred for others? Is remembering about keeping score, burning copies of the Qur’an (as is being planned by a pastor in Florida), or deciding whether  Muslims can build a mosque (the controversy raging in New York)?

Before I continue, it may help to point out that the Bible clearly defines different roles for individuals and for governments. It is the government’s responsibility to keep its citizens safe (Romans 13:1-4). However, as individuals we are called to walk in humility and forgiveness and to love our enemy (Luke 6:27-28). Granted, when we read verses such as these, it’s much easier to support them in theory than it is to apply them to those who have hurt or betrayed us, or who openly espouse our destruction.

Like us, the prophet Jonah struggled with the delicate balance between national defense and individual forgiveness. The ancient kingdom of Israel had to be on her guard against Assyria, a cruel enemy. Yet it was to this same enemy that God called Jonah to preach a message of repentance. Of course, Jonah did not want to go. He responded as many of us do when God calls us to do the hard thing—he ran in the opposite direction. The Assyrians deserved judgment, not forgiveness! When they repented in response to Jonah’s message, God chose not to bring judgment. Rather than being happy with the success of his mission, Jonah became angry with God (Jonah 4:1-2).

God is certainly not calling us to be foolish or naïve. Precautions must be taken for our safety and defense, and we rely on our government to do so. Of course, we should communicate our dissatisfaction when injustice occurs. And certainly, we can strongly protest the insensitivity and lack of wisdom in building a mosque so close to an area that still scrapes our collective and individual emotions raw with grief.

Still, personal hostility undermines and contradicts our Christian witness. Burning copies of the Qur’an may send a “message,” but what message does it send? That we are willing to stoop to the lowest levels of our enemies? That we are more interested in showing superiority than we are in sharing salvation?

“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
(Romans 10:14-15).

Those of us who write, teach, or lead have been given the gift of communication—an ability to use words creatively or persuasively. We can honor God with this gift, or we can corrupt it to stoke the spread of hatred, making us no better than our enemies.

As we remember this terrible anniversary, let’s do it in such a way that honors those who died or were injured, while not dishonoring Christ, since we bear His name. It can be done, but only as we depend on the Holy Spirit for His enabling.

How will your remembrance of 9/11 reflect who you are as an American…and as a Christian?


Follow the Leader…without being a Follower?

A recent news article has caused me to wonder, can one follow a leader without being a follower?

By now you may have heard about celebrity author Anne Rice’s “resignation” from Christianity two weeks ago. She hinted at what was coming with several posts on her Facebook page illustrating ignorance, violence, and “horror” among Christians. Then she quoted Ghandi, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Finally, the next day she posted this announcement:

For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.

She followed up her resignation with these words:

As I said below, I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of …Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.

For two weeks, people have been discussing, disputing, and dissecting her position. Can a person follow Christ without being a Christian?

Perhaps this is what happens when we place Christ-followers on a pedestal. Christians are frail and Christians are flawed. As Christians, we are in the process of becoming all that God created us to be, but we aren’t there yet. The apostle Paul wrote:

For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (I Corinthians 13:9-12).

I find it telling that these verses are part of the “love” chapter. Paul describes the characteristics of godly love – the love Christians are to have for others – then reminds his readers that we’re not there yet.

Someone once said Christianity would be a cake walk if it weren’t for all the people we have to deal with. But I’m sure that’s exactly what other people say about me. I hope Anne doesn’t think that she’s the only person among Christ’s followers who got it right. Wouldn’t that smack of the same arrogance she ascribes to others who bear the Savior’s name?

Still, she makes a point. When did Christianity become all about the “anti’s”? I find it sad that she has boiled down Christianity to a series of anti’s…anti-gay, anti-feminist, anti-science, just to name a few. Is this what we’ve become to the world, a group of people who are known more for what we are against than for what we are for?

I’m not saying we should compromise God’s righteous standards. Absolutely not. But didn’t Jesus reach out to sinners with the love of the Father? Surely we can be anti-sin while showing love for the one caught in that sin. After all, wasn’t that the condition of each one of us before we were washed clean by the sacrifice of Christ?

I don’t understand how anyone – including Anne Rice – can say she follows Christ, yet not be a follower of Christ. To be a follower of Christ is to be a Christian. However, I do think many call themselves Christian who are not followers of Christ. Perhaps that’s the real problem.

What do you think?


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