Monday, February 18, 2013
I hate the media overkill, from excessive coverage to silly exaggeration. It wasn’t, as some asserted, “the cruise from hell.” I love hyperbole as much as the next guy, but no one died. Terrorists didn’t take the ship and threaten lives. Pirates didn’t take the ship and hold people hostage for months. The ship didn’t break apart throwing thousands into the sea. I’m not saying conditions were easy, but they were far from unimaginably bad.
I hate the fact that even as I write this, just a couple of days after the ship made port, at least one suit has already been filed. I own no stock in Carnival and have no knowledge of their history, but I’m certain that representatives of the company didn’t purposefully set fire to the engine room. And once the fire happened, it’s not like they could snap their fingers and immediately move the ship back to port. Some problems don’t have easy or immediate solutions—not even in our microwave world.
I hate the fact that a bus carrying some of the newly docked passengers from Mobile to New Orleans broke down. Those poor folks didn’t need any more pain. Remind me to avoid those infamous words, “At least things can’t get any worse.” In almost every case, they most certainly can. It’s smart business to be glad that things are as well as they are.
I was greatly impressed to hear suffering passengers praise the Carnival crew for its service and dedication. I’m glad to know there are good people who make the best of bad situations. I’m glad for the good hearts of people who can recognize the efforts of others even when those efforts can’t fully change the situation. There’s nobility in making the best of a bad situation.
I was glad that I wasn’t on the ship. Had I been there, I hope 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22 and Philippians 4:4-9 would have guided me. I hope I’d have remembered 1 Corinthians 13, Matthew 5:16, and Matthew 7:12.
In this sin-damaged world, bad things happen. Those bad things range from the inconvenient to the stunningly tragic. This cruise ship “disaster” might rank somewhere in the middle. Every day there’s another terminal diagnosis, another death, another job loss, another divorce, and more. Thank God, that every day there’s another statement of “cancer in remission,” another birth, another person blessed with a job, and another happy wedding. Wouldn’t do to ignore the pains and dangers, but it also wouldn’t do to dwell only on the negative. It’s not exactly a quote from the Bible, but it’s certainly a biblical concept: Blessed are the balanced who know God is good all the time in every situation.
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Seize the Moment to Draw Near
Written by Dr. Bill Bagents
During a visit to Athlone Church of Christ in Cape Town, Africa, my assignment for the class and the sermon was simple: encourage the brethren. In class we talked about the nature and importance of encouragement. We looked at biblical examples of encouragers. We talked about ways we can be more encouraging to one another. I’m not sure about others, but it certainly encouraged me!
The sermon title was, “Satan’s Goals and God’s Goals in Conflict.” It’s so easy to be encouraging with a title like that. We know Satan’s goals: to distract, discourage, and destroy. He tries to get us to doubt God, deny truth, and devour one another (Galatians 5:15-21).
God’s goals are just as clear. He uses even conflict to help us learn to love one another (1 John 3:10-15). He teaches and commands loving behavior (1 Corinthians 13). He knows that love builds faith, hope, and character.
It seemed appropriate to use examples that were local and immediate. An outstanding young man was placing church bulletins inside the songbooks before handing them out. Three or four precious children were helping him, and he was welcoming their help. As the children handed out the books, I heard a few people say, “No thank you. I already have one.” My recommendation in the sermon ran like this, “Please accept the songbook. It won’t hurt you to have two. Please let those precious children serve with joy.”
One of the sweetest older brothers was to lead the closing prayer. Before he prayed for those who responded and for the congregation, he said something like this, “Brethren, I have been one of the ones denying our children the opportunity to serve with joy. Please forgive me. It will not happen again.” I continue to be moved by his humility.
He heard a suggestion of a better course of behavior; he embraced it immediately and enthusiastically. His example made the sermon. When it would have been so easy to have taken offense or to have saved face by saying nothing, he took the bold step of seizing the moment to draw closer to God. It was a perfect application of James 4:6-10 and 1 Peter 5:6-7. His example blessed my heart and moved me to tears.
It’s one more reason to meet with the saints every time the saints meet. We never know how or when we will see the grace of God and be made better by it (Acts 11:23).
Thursday, December 27, 2012
More on Errors
Written by Dr. Bill Bagents
• “Milllions” looks funny with the third “l.”
• An article on flooding in Indonesia shouldn’t be headlined, “Floods in India.”
• The mast of “Section C” shouldn’t tell you to look for articles in “Section D” when there is no “Section D.”
I heard a sportscaster read about a player “returning back” to his former team. “Returning” takes care of “back.” I heard a friend ask of someone, “Where is he at?” “Where is he?” works just fine. It’s a bit like the cowboy who said of his hopelessly injured horse, “I shot him dead and killed him.” Twice evidently, and that’s hard to do. In my first draft of this article, I typed “fiend” rather than friend when quoting Proverbs 27:17 in the last paragraph! And I don’t even like the concept of frenemies.
Working with a university and being married to an English teacher, I’m trained to notice errors. That’s not really a problem unless I begin to enjoy noticing them. It’s even OK to help people correct errors, provided that I work on my own first (Matthew 7:1-6) and keep my attitude and motives right (Galatians 6:1-2).
It has been well said, “Only the dead make no errors.” In one sense, errors are evidence of effort. We’d rather make—and correct—errors than to let fear keep us from trying. The infamous “one talent man” of Matthew 25 didn’t fare so well.
Errors provide opportunity for the devil. He will tempt us to pride and defensiveness when others notice our mistakes. He’ll tempt us toward lies and excuses. He’ll invite us to impugn the motives of good people who try to help us improve.
Errors also provide opportunity for the Lord. He corrects/chastens everyone whom He loves (Hebrews 12:3-11). He does so “for our profit.” He does so to move us toward righteousness. And, often, He uses the people around us to point out our need to improve. It wouldn’t be wise to oppose someone who is doing the Lord’s work.
When you try to help me improve, I hope I’ll know that—by your tone and your wisdom (Proverbs 15:1). When you try to help me improve, I hope I’ll appreciate that—and say so—not just with words, but also by doing better. Isn’t that the point of Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend”? Friends help friends improve. It’s spiritually and relationally unwise and off-putting to be difficult to correct (Proverbs 12:15, 15:12, and 17:10). May the Lord bless us to remember that we all need all the help that the Lord sends.
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Written by Dr. Bill Bagents
Perhaps you heard of the Australian radio personalities who impersonated Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles as they called a London hospital to inquire about the health of the Duchess of York. When I heard the recording, even I thought that anyone would recognize them as fakes. But a nurse didn’t, she gave them a bit of information that should have remained private, and a few days later the nurse took her own life.
Now, the radio show is cancelled. I presume that the radio personalities are or soon will be unemployed. Their careers may be over. To their credit, they have issued tearful apologies explaining that they meant no harm and never expected the prank to go this far. And I’m willing to believe them. There’s not a hint of a reason to believe that they thought this prank would have such tragic consequences. But they are forever linked to those consequences.
This brings to mind the famous statement of Deuteronomy 10:13 about the commandments and statues of the Lord “which I command you today for your good.” We are so blessed to be protected by the wisdom of God as we keep His word.
We never know how fragile another person might be, but we won’t be tempted to press that person if we follow Matthew 7:12, Matthew 22:39-40, Ephesians, 4:29, and Philippians 2:3-4. Each of those passages would protect us from exposing another person to danger.
We never know when a “joke” based in deception will backfire, but we know Ephesians 4:25, “Therefore, putting away lying, ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,’ for we are members of one another.” We know this was written to Christians about the treatment of fellow Christians, but we also know that we shouldn’t lie period.
I love good humor—humor that doesn’t endanger others, humor that doesn’t diminish others. I hate evil humor—humor that causes pain, stress, or embarrassment; humor that opens doors for the devil. God has always known the danger and the difference. How blessed we are to access and appreciate His wisdom.
Monday, December 10, 2012
Be Blessed to Bless Them
Written by Dr. Bill Bagents
Positive enabling is a blessed concept. Some describe it as setting people up for success. There’s a wonderful example in 1 Chronicles 22.
David accepted God’s decision that he would not be allowed to build the temple (22:7-8). Though God owed no explanation, He graciously provided one. David was a man of war. The temple of God would be built by a man of peace.
David chose to welcome the fact that his son would be allowed to build God’s temple (22:9-10). No jealously. No bitterness. No competition. David recognized and accepted God’s blessing.
David chose to help his son in every way that he could, and he found many ways. • He appointed skilled masons to hew stones (22:1). • He prepared iron, bronze, and wood for the construction (22:3-4). • He directly charged Solomon to build an excellent house for the Lord (22:5-6). • He asked God to give his son wisdom and understanding (22:12). • He reminded Solomon that God’s favor depended on Solomon’s faithfulness (22:12). • He commanded the leaders and the workmen to help Solomon (22:17-18). • He reminded everyone of God’s gift of peace and rest (22:18). • He urged all to serve by setting their hearts and souls to seek the Lord (22:19).
David set Solomon up for success. He positively enabled his son. He recognized that Solomon’s task was great. He knew that Solomon was young and inexperienced (22:5). Without undermining or demeaning, David took practical steps to bless his son.
David sets a strong example for us. When others are doing right to the glory of God, we’re blessed to bless them. As we contribute to and encourage their good works, we maximize God’s blessing for all. What a joy to set our hearts and souls to seek the Lord and to build one another up in the name of the Lord.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Written by Dr. Bill Bagents
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2).
God knew about reframing before the word was coined. God has always known both the limitations and the possibilities of human thinking. We can get stuck in an errant perspective. Stubbornness, laziness, or ignorance can leave us trapped in bad thinking. But on our better days, we don’t stay stuck. Thoughtfulness, humility, and the word of God move us to think, re-think, and grow.
On the bad days, people seem purposefully dense and aggravating. It’s as if they choose to peeve us. Our first though might be, “Oh no, not again. Why does this have to happen to me?” On our better days, we reframe. We choose to think from a spiritual perspective. We try to imitate the attitude of Christ.
While some might choose to grieve us, most people don’t give us that much thought. The lady who turned across us on the four-lane wasn’t attacking us. Perhaps she under-estimated the distance or our speed. Perhaps she doesn’t see well. Perhaps she wanted a new car and thought the first step was to kill the old one. Whatever the case, she didn’t even know us.
The first thought is to take offense. She could have killed us. We could have killed her. I’ve never wanted a new car enough to wreck an old one. Upon reflection, thank the Lord that the old car has good brakes. Thank the Lord we noticed her poor driving be-fore we got too close. Thank the Lord we missed her. I can even thank the Lord that in this case, she was the bad driver and I was the good one. No need to blame or scold. No need to take personal offence. Reframe biblically. Choose to think with kindness.