Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Redeem the time

Listen to an audio version of this post at http://media1.imbresources.org/files/147/14723/14723-81739.mp3

Your days are numbered.

That cheery thought occurred to me — not for the first time — as I read a recent USA TODAY story headlined, “How long do I have, Doc?” Patients often hesitate to ask their doctors that question, but many would like to know the answer. They can visit a new website that offers rough estimates of life expectancy based on their answers to a set of questions. Similar online tools predict longevity based on age, nutrition and level of physical activity.

One medical professional interviewed for the article questioned the value of such tools. “My experience is that patients know and families know that life is not infinite,” she told the reporter.

True, but occasional confirmation of your mortality — if not the actual date — can put things into spiritual perspective, regardless of age or health. “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom,” the psalmist prays (Psalm 90:12, NASB).

Time is a holy thing, if we make it so. It is our daily, hourly, moment-by-moment opportunity to love God. We can use it for Him, or we can waste it on ourselves. “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16, NASB).

“Making the most” in that verse literally means “redeeming.” Time needs to be redeemed, to be rescued and made whole. Otherwise it is squandered.

One of the saddest people I ever knew spent most of his life seeking excitement and pleasures for himself. He died virtually alone, having driven away nearly all the people who loved him. He felt cheated by the world because nothing brought him real happiness. In his last years, he kept saying, “Enough. I’m tired. I’ve lived too long. I’m ready for it to be over.” He sounded like the weary Solomon of Ecclesiastes, who finally realized the vanity of all things apart from God. Unlike Solomon, he never admitted his misery was self-inflicted.

Sadder still are young people who waste the gift of time because they think there is an unlimited supply of it. The nonstop distractions available via new media technologies make the process of squandering that gift much easier and more efficient. One day you wake up and realize you have entertained yourself for a lifetime — and accomplished nothing of consequence.

For all our activities and gadgets and apps, we are bored. Why? There is nothing more boring than living for ourselves. We must continually find new pleasures and sensations to stave off despair. The days become evil.

There’s a better way. We were created to love God — moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day. It isn’t always easy, but it’s never boring. And it fills our hearts with joy that cheap substitutes can’t begin to match. It’s not too late to redeem the time, no matter how much you have wasted.

Begin with small things.

“Have I ever been carried away to do something for God not because it was my duty, nor because it was useful, nor because there was anything in it at all beyond the fact that I love Him?” asks Oswald Chambers. “Have I ever realized that I can bring to God things which are of value to Him … Not divine, colossal things which could be recorded as marvelous, but ordinary, simple human things which will give evidence to God that I am abandoned to Him?”

Small things have a way of becoming large things. The child you read Bible stories to might become a missionary. The immigrant you treat with kindness might become the first follower of Christ among her people. The friend you encourage might lead thousands to God.

Time is holy, or evil. It’s up to you what to make of it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Valentine secret

Listen to an audio version of this post at http://media1.imbresources.org/files/146/14686/14686-81514.mp3

Take comfort, guys, if you can’t always figure out what your special someone wants on Valentine’s Day — or any other day, for that matter.

You are not alone.

Renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking is one of the smartest guys in the world. He contemplates stuff like cosmic string theory, gravitational singularity and the density matrix of the universe. Yet when he was asked in a recent interview what he thinks about most often, he replied, “Women. They are a complete mystery.”

Tell me about it, Steve. A lot of men don’t have the guts to admit that, but we’re thinking it. Women, likewise, struggle to find their way through the bewildering (to them) maze of the male psyche.

A former missionary speaking to a group of men about improving their relationships with their spouses compared the mental and emotional differences between the sexes to the chasms missionaries must cross to reach other cultures. If anything, that underestimates the challenges men and women face in understanding each other. I’ve been married for nearly 28 years to a wonderful Korean woman. Sometimes people ask us if coming from different cultures makes communication more difficult. Occasionally, yes. But my wife and I agree on one thing: Compared to the light years separating planets Male and Female, the culture gap is a hop, skip and a jump.

Let’s be thankful, then, that love does not always require understanding. Love requires love. And time.

“I will love you if I understand you” is conditional, like every other “if” qualifier. God’s love sets no conditions. Love first; understanding will come. Sometimes it takes a lifetime. That’s why marriage is hard. So is real friendship — with anyone, regardless of gender. We are worlds unto ourselves until we choose to cross the chasm toward another.

In a crucial sense, the same applies to our relationship with the Lord. Christ crossed a huge chasm indeed to love us. No questions asked. Our reasonable service of worship is to love Him back with our whole hearts. But we can never fully understand Him in this life. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I have been fully known,” the Apostle Paul wrote (1 Corinthians 13:12, NASB).

Until we know God as He knows us, we must trust and obey. His thoughts are infinitely higher than ours, yet His heart is fully available to us if we love Him. The church is the bride of Christ, but Psalm 25 tells us that the “secret” — or intimacy — of the Lord is reserved for those who truly seek Him (verse 14).

Seeking God takes time and quiet. We also can practice our love for Him by loving one another. But true intimacy is hard to find in the age of rush. And rushing has become a global disease.

“I’m a speed walker,” writes an IMB worker in Eastern Europe. “Hurry is my everyday tempo — hurry here, hurry there, hurry, hurry, hurry. But today, [God] stopped me dead in my tracks. With a small, withered old hand lifted, reaching, beseeching me. I almost dashed past it. Almost. In my mad scurry to my next destination, I was nearly past her before my heart caught up with my legs and made me stop.

“She was old, gray, disheveled, feeble. She stood there on the sidewalk, a doll-print sack hanging from one arm, lifting her hand to me and murmuring, ‘Young lady?’ so quietly that I almost didn’t hear her. I thought for a second that she was a beggar. [Then] I realized that the little hand she was raising was not cupped upward to receive money, but reaching for me, for help. As this fact and her voice reached my brain, I came back to her. She pointed at the icy sidewalk and the curb before her, mumbling out a request for help to cross the unmanageable terrain.

“‘Of course,’ I responded, reaching for her hand. Oh, that old, gnarled hand in mine … And to think I almost missed this. I almost missed the chance to love Him by helping a dear, aged soul cross an icy street. Just in front of me, other people had pushed right past that helpless woman, disregarding her as if she was no more than a dried husk of a thing. … I almost rushed past the King of Glory on the side of the road. Praise Him that His quiet voice reached my ears and my heart. I don’t want to miss Him.”

I call that a Valentine card from God. Have you received one without noticing it?