The world is a scary place.
Several years ago I took a business trip to Israel. While I was there, I stayed in Beersheba, which is known for Abraham's Well. Some of us decided one evening we wanted to see this little piece of Biblical history, so we asked the hotel clerk how to get to it.
He told us to go out of the hotel, down the street, turn in at the bus station, walk through and out the other side of the station, then turn down that street, and the well was at the end.
So that's what we did. Abraham's Well was not really all that exciting -- a hole in the ground with a grate over it to keep people from throwing things in (or falling in, I suppose) and a fence all the way around it.
So we turned around and came back to the hotel, retracing our steps, going back through the bus station, and down the street as before.
And I didn't think anything about it until about four days later. I was back home, and I got a call from Matt, who was with me on that trip. "Doug, have you seen a newspaper this morning?"
"Go get one."
So I went and picked up a newspaper. On the front page was a picture of a building that had been utterly demolished. The caption read: "Terrorist bomb destroys bus station in Beersheba."
YIKES! I was in that bus station four days earlier!
The world really is a scary place. But this story makes me think of two verses in the Bible. One is John 16:33 in which Jesus says: "In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." Isn't that good to know? There is nothing in this world which takes God by surprise. He knows it all. Yes, the world is scary. Yes, we will have troubles. But He is bigger than all our troubles.
The other verse I think of is 1 Corinthians 15:30. This verse is right in the midst of Paul's discussion on the resurrection, and Paul says that he is "in danger every hour." How can you live with such trouble and tribulation? Because what happens to this mortal body is only temporary, because for the believer, there is something far greater waiting for us.
When I was in elementary school, there was a boy in my class named Steve. Steve was a real troublemaker. No matter what the teacher said, he would do the opposite. He was always getting in fights, and doing things on the playground that he wasn't supposed to do. Not the kind of kid you'd want for a role model!
Speaking of rules, there was a rule on the playground (and a very sensible rule it was) that you weren't allowed to stand on the merry-go-round. You had to sit.
I remember very well a day that Jim decided he would not just stand on the merry-go-round, he would stand on top of the metal bars that we used as handholds. Right in the middle of the merry-go-round, he was going to stand, and then get dizzy spinning in circles.
Great idea, right??
Needless to say, his idea of a fun time didn't turn out to be very fun -- within seconds he was flat on his face, with a bloody nose and a very puffed up lip!
After he got "taken care of," the question was asked, "Why did you do that? Didn't you know it was against the rules?"
His answer? "Steve said it was okay to do that."
That makes me think of Psalms 1:1 which says, "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked." What kind of person asks a "troublemaker" for advice on what is right and what is wrong? A person who wants to do what is wrong. He knows the right answer, but he doesn't want to hear the right answer, so he asks the wrong person.
Jim knew very well what I would have told him if he had asked me...so he didn't ask me! And he suffered for it. Don't take counsel from troublemakers...you'll eventually regret it!
It isn't often that I'm awake early enough to hear the birds start singing. I woke up Saturday morning, long before I planned to, for some odd reason. Sometimes my body just does that and I don't know why. All I know is that it has nothing to do with caffeine.
And sometimes I wonder why the birds sing. I've heard that it's because they're happy to see the sun again. Funny thing is, I was able to witness that the singing starts long before the sun is even visible. And yet they sing anyway. They sing in the darkness, because they know it won't stay dark forever. How do they know this? The same way we do:
It would be so easy to sing in the darkness as an act of pity -- to mourn for the pain it is causing us. But the birds aren't doing that, and neither should we. Sing to welcome the sun. Even if you can't quite see it yet.
Fear Factor is a television show I've only watched a couple times. The last time I watched it, they had the contestants doing a stunt that made me rather sick to my stomach. ::) So I shut it off, and haven't turned it on since.
The premise of the show is this: you get a bunch of people to do absurdly stupid/disgusting/dangerous stunts, to see who chickens out first, and who sticks it out to the end, and does the stunts better than anyone else.
The winner, of course, receives a monetary prize. I went on the Fear Factor website and read some of the interviews they did with past winners. One of the questions they often asked was "Why did you want to be on the show?" The answers varied (everything from "my friends dared me to" to "I wanted to impress a girl"), but one recurring answer was: "because of the money."
The fact is, no one would do stupid stunts like sticking their head in a box filled with angry hornets, or climb into a body bag filled with fire ants, or the other absurdities, unless there was the hope of some sort of reward.
But the contestants tell themselves: "I can suffer through five minutes of being bitten by fire ants, because when it is all over, I could come out of it with a reward that will last not for minutes, but for years. It's all a matter of getting the proper perspective on things.
The essential question of the show is this: How much fear/pain will you undergo without quitting, for the sake of a reward? Because one thing is certain: no quitter ever wins the cash prize.
I was thinking about this recently, in connection with the book of 1 Peter, where Peter writes:
Life is like Fear Factor. We are faced, throughout life, with various testings and fires. Our own personal fire ants, so to speak. And we need to take the same perspective on those trials as the contestants of Fear Factor take toward their trials. Taking this perspective requires us to understand the eternal nature of our existence. Our trials may not last for just a few minutes; some face difficulties that will last their entire lives, but in the perspective of eternity, even an entire life span is just a drop in the bucket. And the rewards that are received on the other end of this earthly existence are "imperishable" (as Peter writes, they don't fade away).
But the real question is: who is a quitter? And who will persevere? Because the rewards never go to the quitters.
The quitters are the ones who roll over and play dead whenever life gets tough. And it might make life easy now, but really, what is that worth?
The quitters are the ones who, having been betrayed by those they trust, say, "I will never trust again." The ones who, having been hurt by those they love, say, "I will never love again." The ones who, having been trampled because they stood for truth, say, "I will never stand for truth again."
The quitters are the ones who, when placed in a difficult, painful situation, spend all their time trying to figure out how to get out of the painful situation, instead of trying to figure out what God can do with their lives while they are in that situation.
As Beth wrote recently in her blog: When faced with failure and loss and disappointment, we find it less painful to to deny reality and live with the numbness. But if you close yourself off to Him by avoiding those uncomfortable feelings, you miss all the great stuff.
That's the quitter attitude...the "roll over and play dead" attitude. We are willing to "live with the numbness" because it makes life "easier." But life isn't about "easy."
I think it's interesting that, throughout the Bible, gold is presented as the greatest of all the precious things. But Peter emphasises that even gold is perishable, in comparison with the greatness of our rewards at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
If you go on the show Fear Factor, your reward for not quitting will last you a few years -- if you spend it wisely. But for those in Christ who do not quit, we are in for a treat that will last forever.
Life is like a roller coaster? I've heard that statement before, but I don't think it's accurate. When people say "Life is like a roller coaster," what they mean is, it's got "ups and downs." But really, that's not a great analogy, because when you're riding a roller coaster, it's all thrills and excitement...and the "ups" are actually less thrilling than the "downs."
No, life is not like a roller coaster. It's like waiting in line for a roller coaster.
One of the boys in our youth group went out to Cedar Point last year, and rode on The Top Thrill Dragster, which is currently the second tallest roller coaster in the world.
"How long did you stand in line for the roller coaster, Josh? An hour? An hour and a half?"
"More like three hours."
"Wow. Was it worth the wait?"
Life is like that. While we are here on earth, for the few years that we have, we are simply waiting in line for the real excitement, which is our eternal life with God. And, unlike a roller coaster, that's a thrill which will never end.
This is a perspective very few people have. Most people think of this mortal existence as all that we have. But when we lose sight of what is waiting for us at the end of our mortal existence, we lose sight of purpose, and life becomes pointless.
Who would stand in line for three hours for a non-existent roller coaster? And if you found yourself stuck in a line with no ride at the end, and no way to get out of the line, what would you do? You would try your very hardest to convince yourself that you were having fun, that there was some point to you being there.
This is how most people approach life. Without the eternal view, we have to convince ourselves that we are having fun right now, and life has to be about squeezing every bit of enjoyment out of the now.
An eternal perspective on life is especially important when we face difficult times. The person who has no eternal perspective is bowed down and even broken by their circumstances. But the person who understands the perishable nature of this life and the imperishable nature of the life to come, can find strength to suffer through difficult times, knowing that their trials and troubles will come to an end...nothing of this world is intended to last forever.
I have a violin which was given to me by my aunt many years ago. It is a beautiful instrument, and is capable of making very beautiful sounds. When I look at my violin, and listen to the sounds it makes, I think, "What an extraordinary piece of workmanship!"
The pieces of wood were carefully cut from the trunk of the tree in thin sheets, which were then cut into exactly the right shapes to fit together into a musical instrument. But that's not the end of the process; the ribs (the wood separating the front and back plates of the instrument) had to be planed to the right width, heated, and bent to the shape necessary.
The face plates were carved in a "bowl" shape, and hollowed out to make just the right thickness and curvature to resonate properly. Too thick, and the violin wouldn't resonate. Too thin, and the violin wouldn't hold the tension of the strings.
If only the tree trunk could speak -- what would it say? "What are you doing to me? Why are you cutting me up? Why are you putting me on the fire and heating me? Get that knife away from me!"
But each painful cut, each bending and twisting, is necessary to make something beautiful! If only the tree knew what the violin maker was doing, how it might rejoice to know that it was being transformed into something of extraordinary beauty! So it is with us; James tells us (James 1:2-4) to rejoice when we face difficult times, because difficult times mean that God is making something beautiful of our lives, just as the violin maker transforms the drab tree trunk into something amazing. We should approach our difficult circumstances with the attitude, "Hooray! God is making me complete and beautiful!"
Of course, one of the difficulties for us is that we cannot see the end of the work. Just as the tree trunk can't understand what the craftsman is doing, we can't see what it is God is making of our lives. Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that we will not "find out what God has done from the beginning to the end." Nevertheless, the same verse tells us that God "has made everything beautiful in its time."
The real tragedy would be if the tree could stop the violin maker from creating what he desired. What would be the end result? The tree would never become something beautiful and long-lasting. The violin would never be made. But the tree would still serve a purpose; it would keep someone warm in the winter time. But if I had my choice, I'd choose being a violin over being firewood!