Archive for September, 2009

The Challenge of Death

In a recent article concerning the health care debate, Newsweek contributor Evan Thomas wrote, “At a more basic level, Americans are afraid not just of dying, but of talking and thinking about death. Until Americans learn to contemplate death as more than a scientific challenge to be overcome, our health care system will remain unfixable.”

More than just contributing to the discussion of national insurance, Thomas has addressed some fundamental truths about death in our culture. Not only are people afraid of it, they do not even like to talk or think about it. The separation. The loss. The uncertainty. In fact, society would rather view it on an empirical level, as if one day the sciences will conquer it altogether.

When I read this, I was reminded of the apostle Paul’s comments in Philippians 1:23: “For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better.” How could he experience such a dilemma and consider death a viable, even enticing, prospect? To this day it remains something that we want to delay or avoid.

The key to Paul’s anticipation lies in the comfort and assurance that he experienced in relationship with Christ. Remember that death tops the great list of things that are unable to separate a believer from God’s love in Romans 8:35-38. Not even laying down this mortal body and being separated from loved ones in this world would affect his eternal destination and connection with the Lord.

Death is more than just a “scientific challenge.” It is a spiritual reality that does not have to hold us in its grip of fear and dread. When Christ died and rose again for our sins, He conquered every bit of death’s power over us (1 Corinthians 15:54-55). Paul’s assurance belongs to every Christian.

What a fantastic opportunity we have as believers in Christ. Not only do we possess an assurance not offered by the world, we have the privilege of sharing it with those around us. Friends and family do not like the topic of death, mainly because they have no answer concerning what follows. However, we have the good news of salvation through God’s only Son. May we do our part to share this wonderful message and pray that they find in salvation the freedom from the fear of death.

Let us who know the Savior live lives that echo the words of Scripture: “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57).

Loud and Proud

After yesterday’s baseball game between the Red Sox and Angels, the umpires filed a formal complaint against the Los Angeles coaching staff. It seems the coaches were upset about a few close calls that went against them, and their conduct as the umps left the field was described as “unprofessional and unbecoming.” We are left to imagine what choice words were hurled at the officials. Rather than a noteworthy event, this becomes another in a growing list of ill-mannered incidents.

This week USA Today reflected on our society’s lack of politeness and civility after a few highly publicized episodes in a variety of arenas. Rep. Joe Wilson shouted down the President in a joint session of Congress. Serena Williams launched a profanity-laced attack on a line judge at the US Open to contest a call. Kanye West hijacked the stage during an awards show acceptance speech to redirect recognition away from the winner to his favorite nominee.

Every day we encounter arrogance and impoliteness that go unpublished. A driver shouts, gestures, or drives aggressively because of a perceived slight on the highway. High school athletes “trash talk” like the professional heroes they watch on television each week, rather than proving their mettle on the court or field. Children on the playground berate each other to make themselves feel and look a little better. Pick your favorite venue. It’s likely you will find a famine of humility and a surplus of self-importance. If we are not disciplined, we will find ourselves on the delivery end of such pride and incivility.

The prevalence of such conduct has also made us expert at justifying pride and rude behavior. While explaining the grievance against the Angels’ coaches, the spokesman for the World Umpires Association stated, “We recognize that in the heat of competition folks get heated up and make mistakes.” The Dallas Morning News opined that “passion can be used as a flimsy excuse for shameless self-entitlement.” Our list of excuses goes on and on. Perhaps we should address the heart of the matter instead of defending our misconduct.

David Brooks, a columnist for The New York Times, wrote that humility has come under attack in recent decades and describes the prevalence of “expressive individualism.” Today, “instead of being humble before God and history, moral salvation could be found through intimate contact with oneself and by exposing the beauty, the power and the divinity within.” One result that he notes is that “immodesty is as ubiquitous as advertising.” Instead of recognizing God, we are consumed by self.

Apparently, this is not simply a contemporary problem. The Scriptures speak often of the destructive nature of pride and the blessings of humility. Priests and kings were prone to self-promotion. Even the Lord’s own disciples struggled with putting others first (Matt. 18:1; Luke 22:24).

The answer? More than just teaching good manners and politeness to our children, we must remember the biblical instruction concerning a proper attitude. The unchanging truth is that just as God hates pride and punishes it, He values humility and promises reward. “Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly: but the proud he knoweth afar off” (Psa. 138:6).

As believers, it is our responsibility to lead the way and model Christlike humility. The world has no hope of seeing meekness in action if we do not provide the example. Fight the temptation to promote self and instead prefer one another (Rom. 12:1). The Lord promised, “whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 14:11). What better incentive do we need?

Today, I placed a small card that reads “Before Honour is Humility” (Prov. 15:33) on the dashboard of my car. This silent memo reminds me of the need to demonstrate the mind of Christ in my daily life and the reward that God has promised when I do.