I sat next to a man at dinner the other night, a retired Marine officer named Anthony who was now a successful businessman. Though he was in his sixties and had six grandchildren, he could have passed, even with a smattering of gray hair, for an elite athlete. He was incredibly intelligent, articulate, a war hero, wealthy, and, by anyone’s estimation, a true Renaissance man. He was also a brand new Christian.
Despite his apparent success, he confessed to having experienced decades of emptiness inside. He described it as I have often heard people describe it, that there was a hole inside and nothing he tried would fill it. He pictured it as painting a facade. He held out the canvas for others to see what he projected, but the man behind the painting was hollow, depressed, and ever searching.
That changed when his neighbor, a man named David Grimes, took an interest in his life. They began walking together in their neighborhood, discussing life. David would always refer Anthony to the Bible and what God’s Word had to say. At some time later, when Anthony faced a crisis, he found himself reaching out to David for help. Ultimately, through David’s friendship and his efforts to teach him, Anthony obeyed the gospel!
Anthony said, “There are a lot of people like me out there! They seem secure, confident, in control, and without need. But they are searching to fill a void in their lives. I know. I was one of them.” We can convince ourselves in these troubling, ungodly times that nobody is interested in God and His Word. Anthony would encourage you to get involved in the lives of your coworkers, neighbors, classmates, and the people you connect with through your children’s activities. No matter what they are projecting, invest in them. At some point, they will let you in. They will allow you to look behind the canvas and the pretty picture they have painted, and you will see a soul searching for something only God can satisfy! God is counting on us to see past the pretense and help that person He loved enough to give His Son for. The picture of success in the world’s eyes was secretly aching for something deeper and better. He found it in the only place it can be found–in Christ!
In 1951, two to three miles off the coast of Point Reyes, California, a military plane went down after battling faulty electrical issues and then eventually running out of fuel. The plane made a crash landing in the ocean and to make matters a little more terrifying, it was a Great White shark haven. There was one Army service man who managed to escape the aircraft, but once in the water he had no idea where to go. It was in the early morning and the fog was too thick to see through. Knowing he had to do something, he simply chose a direction and began to swim. After a couple of miles of swimming he finally, to his relief, reached land. Later on in life he’d go on to become the star of several Hollywood movies, direct his own movies, and even star in movies that he himself directed! His name was Clint Eastwood.
He got lucky. Occasionally, that happens in life. We flip a coin, spin a bottle, or make a random turn and it all ends up working out in the end. Accidental fortune might happen in some areas of life, but not when it comes to our spiritual lives. There won’t be anyone in heaven who says, “I have no idea how I got here. I just randomly went through life and made the right choices, I guess!”
If we’re looking for a deeper faith, a closer walk with God, or directions along the narrow way, we’ll have to be intentional about that.
Psalm 25:5 reminds us that not only does God guide us into all truth, but that this is a path that must be taught.
We take our title from the final words spoken by the productive artist, Osamu Tezuka. As I skimmed his biography written by Helen McCarthy, I came across those haunting words as McCarthy discussed Tezuka’s passing in 1989 from stomach cancer. Frankly, I wonder what Tezuka felt he had left undone. Yes, Tezuka indeed had unfinished manga and animation projects, but his oeuvre includes “170,000 pages of comic art in around 700 different titles, from single-frame comics to epic series. He and his studios worked on more than seventy animated titles, from experimental films to TV series” (McCarthy 248).
In addition, Tezuka was a writer, illustrator, and designer. Having seen Mighty Atom (Astro Boy—US), Stanley Kubrick wrote a letter to Tezuka in 1965 asking him to be the art director of 2001: A Space Oddysey (1960s). Tezuka felt his schedule would be unaccommodating and turned down Kubrick’s offer (Artists). Even so, the global community acknowledged Tezuka’s work during his lifetime. He had accolades plenty. Though Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, etc.) has usurped Tezuka’s title of “Japan’s Walt Disney,” biographer Helen McCarthy notes that Tezuka was far more. She suggests that Tezuka was more like “Walt Disney, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Tim Burton, Arthur C. Clarke, and Carl Sagan all rolled into one incredibly prolific creator” (McCarthy 8).
Was Tezuka merely a tortured artist? The artist often receives low pay and endures long hours, inviting illness and depressed mental states. This lifestyle seems especially true of mangaka and animators of Japan. As an aside, I note how many manga series I have read that went on sudden hiatus due to the mangaka’s health for these reasons. From a Western perspective, the Japanese are workaholics. In the United States, the artists would likely have unionized and gone on strike. Yet, Tezuka longed to keep drawing, even when it wasn’t lucrative or detrimental to his physical health. Since Tezuka has a son now working in the billion-dollar anime industry, it is doubtful Tezuka thought his work was his sole legacy. Yet, something drove Tezuka to keep churning out work. And in so doing, Tezuka not only shaped the “psychology of Japan’s postwar youth” (About Tezuka Osamu) but likewise “laid the foundations for the 21st-century image of a ‘cool Japan’” (McCarthy 12).
Perhaps it was about identity? Maybe Tezuka could only see himself as an artist. I know many men who do not know what to do with downtime or retirement. These men define themselves by their occupation. This propensity is not necessarily a bad thing. However, such thinking can lead to discontentment and disappointment. If someone or something suddenly took your job from you, what would you do? Can you enjoy the life you have built for yourself through your industry? I realize I am asking deep philosophical questions that have nothing to do with devotional literature on their surface. Yet, these thoughts are pertinent to Christianity. Christianity is vocation number one (Ephesians 4.1). Thus, Christianity should be our identity. The things we do so we may eat (2 Thessalonians 3.10) are of secondary import. As long as one is faithful, it matters not if he is the captain of industry or shovels manure. We might add that our hobbies must likewise take a backseat to our Christian walk (Matthew 6.33).
Yet, despite knowing, as Solomon concluded, that one’s duty is to “fear God and keep His commandments” (Ecclesiastes 12.13), we still have difficulty making an application. Even David and Asaph wrote psalms of an existential nature (Psalm 8 and 73). Perhaps this struggle results from the torture our fleshly bodies meet out upon our spirits (cf. Romans 7.14-8.1). Indeed, we wish to be rid of the flesh and clothe ourselves with our heavenly habitation (2 Corinthians 5.1ff). Hence, Paul understood what gain he had in death but acknowledged he had work to do while he remained (Philippians 1.21-22). Even so, I don’t know if Paul would have sounded like Tezuka, begging to do more work than he had already done when on Nero’s chopping block. All I know is that I hope to have a more cheerful tone when on my deathbed than Tezuka. I want to sound more confident like Paul: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4.7 NASB1995). The only way any of us can accomplish that, of course, is to ensure that we are about our Father’s business today.
The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga, by Helen McCarthy, Ilex, 2013, p. 248.
Elijah is known as one of the greatest prophets. We’re introduced to him in 1 Kings 17 and God is preparing him to accomplish great things. As God leads him he begins to grow in faith while following His lead. Ahab wears the crown after his father Omri, but he is significantly more wicked. In fact, he’s more wicked than all before him. It’s fitting that during such a terrible time someone like Elijah makes his appearance.
There’s an interesting event that takes place while the prophet shelters by a brook that God had led him to. Ravens fly in with bread and meat to keep him sustained. The raven was an unclean animal, yet God is helping Elijah grow in several ways during this period. He’s leading, and Elijah follows in faith. He could not deny that God sent him the ravens, yet it went against his upbringing. Even so, he still ate.
One lesson we can pull from this account is that God can use the unclean for His purposes. God can use the evil people and nations to accomplish His will. An unfaithful Christian can share the gospel and a sinful man can make good and godly decisions, all the while remaining unclean. That’s a humbling lesson. We can act faithful, but we can remain filthy. We don’t want that! It’s my prayer that today we can make a fresh commitment to be faithful to God in all things. He can lead us through even the darkest times, if we have the faith to follow.
Solomon makes an interesting observation in the book about his grand experiment seeking the meaning of life. In Ecclesiastes 8, he is writing about the “evil man” who is basically living life as he pleases, doing what he wants with no regard for judgment. There seem to be multiple reasons for him to continue living this way:
He’s doing evil and is not suffering immediate consequences for it (11).
He’s repeatedly doing evil and is even living a long life (12; cf. 7:15).
He doesn’t seem to suffer a fate any worse than the righteous, and sometimes seems to do better than the righteous (14).
Frankly, Solomon is making a timeless observation. Perhaps you have sung the song, “Tempted and tried, we’re off made to wonder why it should thus all the day long, while there are others living about us never molested though in the wrong.” Billionaires, movie stars, professional athletes, politicians, and the like provide public examples of this passage and that song. We can produce more local, if lesser known, examples of those who seem prosper, living so wicked year after year.
Solomon does not have the understanding we have this side of Calvary, but he ultimately grasps the principle that should guide our lives today. At the very end of Ecclesiastes, he says, “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (12:13-14). This is a vital principle for me to internalize and live by.
When I am tempted to live like this world is my home and the pleasures of earth are what life is about, I need to understand that I may not be struck dead while pursuing life on those terms, not even if I persist in it over a long period of time. I may not die a horrible death as the result of pursuing what God calls “evil.” However, Ecclesiastes 8:11-14 does not describe the end. Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 does.
If I drift away from fellowship with God and His people, if I live like the world when I am out of sight of the church, if I put someone or something above my faithfulness to God, I probably won’t suffer immediate consequences. God loves me enough to let me know that. He will let me make whatever choices I want, but He wants me to know the results of my decisions. Solomon rightly says, “Still I know it will be well for those who fear God, who fear Him openly” (Ecc. 8:12; cf. 3:14; 5:7; 7:18; 12:13). There is an appointment for every one to “be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). It is when we appear before the judgment seat of Christ, and Paul says we must all do so. Wisdom is living this life preparing for that moment, understanding that judgment is not now but then. Such knowledge should move us to “fear God and keep His commandments.”
“The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.” (Psalm 19.1 NASB1995)
A cold wind bit my exposed skin as I walked to the mailbox. Three cats wove between legs desiring a petting. I wanted to hurry back to the house but feared inadvertently kicking one of the lovable, purring furballs. I carefully made my way from the shadow into the direct sunlight. I felt the warming rays of the sun on that same exposed skin. I closed my eyes but could still sense the bright light of that gaseous ball some 92 million miles away. As I coaxed the cats back up to the house, I contemplated our life-sustaining star.
How is it that we happened to find ourselves in the “sweet spot” in our proximity from this sphere of hot plasma? Were we any closer, the conditions on earth might prove too hot to support life. Were we any further away, the conditions on earth might prove too cold to support life. If you do any searching into this happenstance, you will encounter the expression “Goldilocks zone.” You may recall Robert Southey’s story of the titular Goldilocks who decided to make herself at home in the house of three bears. She tried the food, chairs, and beds of the absented creatures, finding the baby bear’s things to be “just right.”
Somehow we found ourselves on a planet in that spot, which is just right. Atheists say that this is the result of chance. I was reading a site contributed to by those departing the Christian faith as they discussed this very topic. The original poster to the forum said that this habitable zone’s existence was a remaining hurdle for him in his desire to cast off the reality of God. Commentors threw out what I would consider a straw man argument, stating that life is possible elsewhere; it is just that evolution would produce a different result. Thus, some other lifeforms would be having this same discussion about how their planet was in the “right spot.”
Of course, that does nothing to explain how we found ourselves in just that right spot. It was an explosion from nothing (i.e., Big Bang) that scattered the known universe’s material. Gravity also resulted from this explosion somehow. This gravity enabled the cosmic debris to coalesce into the Earth, Sun, and all the tiny dots of sparkling light observable in the night sky. Yet, despite its chaotic beginning, the earth was situated at the proper distance from the sun to allow life to get sloshed together inside primordial oceans.
Those simple lifeforms, defying every observation today that things go from a state of order to disorder, managed to grow more complex over eons of time. Yes, there were untold dead ends in which mutation brought about disastrous results. But finally, homo sapiens (“wise man”) emerged at the animal kingdom’s apex, the hairless primate, to ponder his existence. With his technology, he created machines that enabled him to communicate over much distance instantly about how the Goldilocks zone is just the illusion of an Intelligent Creator.
Call me crazy, but I think it takes more faith to believe that pure chance put us into the sun’s sweet spot. It is much easier for me to accept an Omnipotent God created us and placed us inside the Goldilocks zone He made. Thus, the perfect proximity from our star declared God’s glory to me! As such, as I felt the sun’s warmth on a cold day, rather than think of it merely as a hot ball of gas heating me, I could imagine those sun’s rays were the arms of my Heavenly Father holding me in His loving care.
Have you ever been misquoted? Like when you say something and your friend takes that and runs with it, and they turn it into a phrase that you never even said to begin with. No one likes getting words put in their mouth, especially if they’re harmful or a lie. When it comes to Gods word, it’s no different. God has clearly shown us what He has said, and there’s not any need to add to it. Sadly some people have taken Romans 8:28, a beautiful verse, and have changed it to mean something entirely different.
“Everything Happens For a Reason.” You’ve probably heard this phrase used before. This phrase has hurt and angered a lot of people who experience a great tragedy. We often say these words to indicate that God is in charge of all things. Unfortunately, that thought has to be balanced with the knowledge that God created us in his image; therefore, we have free will and the right to choose.
If you’re like me, we won’t always use that freedom correctly. As humans we make bad and harmful decisions, and much of the pain and suffering we experience is a result of a wrong choice. God is in charge of this world, but He has chosen to give us freedom to follow. Often, things happen in our lives because we, or someone else, made a wrong choice.
Romans 8:28 is the verse that people will point to when they use this phrase. Let’s take a moment to dig into this verse and see what is being said. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Is God behind every tragedy? Does God cause people to wreck? Does God cause all the good and bad that happens in the world? God doesn’t make everything happen for a reason because of this: He doesn’t control our every decision. We have free choice to live however we want, and those choices are often done out of greed or selfishness or a lack of care and concern for others.
So what does this verse mean? Paul is trying to make a very important point. God takes the good and the bad, and uses it to accomplish His will. God causes all things to work together for Good. He doesn’t cause everything to happen; He takes what occurs and uses it for good. He can take a bad situation and use it to accomplish His will. Bad things happen and the world is filled with sin, but God can take a seemingly terrible situation and something good can come from it. Israel made many bad decisions, but God still used them to bring about the Messiah. God can take the terrible events in our lives, and use them as a way to grow His kingdom.
As humans we want our lives to have direction and meaning. We want to wake up and know what our goal is for the day. Having purpose is what keeps us from feeling like we are spinning in place, it gives us a reason to live. When our lives lack purpose, what does it look like?
There will be confusion. When we don’t have purpose our goal in life is unclear. We will ask questions like, “why am I here?” And “what have I accomplished?” A lack of purpose leads to confusion, a lack of clarity, and direction.
Without purpose there will also be doubt. We will find ourselves second guessing every decision. If there’s no purpose, then we will begin to doubt the choices we make.
A life without purpose contains uncertainty. As humans we want to know for sure that we are making the right call. When we make those important decisions we want to be confident that it was the right choice. If there is no purpose, we will have no ultimate goal to base our decisions on.
A life without purpose is a wasted life. So what is our purpose?
1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
As Christians we are described as:
Chosen Race (God chose you to be part of something far bigger).
Royal Priesthood (we no longer have to be a Levite to gain access to God).
Holy Nation (set apart and useable by God).
Owned By God (a part of The Creator’s possessions).
Because we are chosen, royal, holy and owned by God, we have a purpose to fulfill. Peter tells us that our purpose is to proclaim the excellence of God, the one that called us out of darkness and into light (10).
Our life now has a purpose. We have a calling that is greater than anything else we could set out to accomplish. We are a part of God’s plan.
He needs us to help Him. Our purpose in life is to help change the eternal outcome of those trapped in sin. We have meaning and direction.
We no longer have to worry about what we should be doing with our lives. God had told us our purpose, and we can find true happiness in serving God.
It’s a jungle out there, so here’s some friendly reminders:
We’re here for a short time, not a long time (James 4.14).
God ultimately controls the outcome of November 3rd (Romans 13.1).
This earth is fallen anyway and we’re looking forward to something way better (II Peter 3.10).
We have more pressing matters to attend to (Ephesians 2.10; 4.11; Matthew 28.18ff).
We’re ambassadors, not crusaders (II Corinthians 5.11ff).
Mercy always trumps a condemning attitude (James 2.11ff). Contextually, this is about not showing favoritism based on appearance or status. A broader application concerning our attitude toward others in general is appropriate.
Our attitudes may well be what condemns or saves a lost soul (Philippians in general, but specifically 2.5-11).
Don’t be rude to people, but especially not to those in our spiritual family (Galatians 6).
What we do about our beliefs speaks far more powerfully than what we say about our beliefs, and that can be amazing or especially harmful (James 2.18).
We don’t know that much about the life of Christ between the ages of twelve and thirty, but many of us have this image of Jesus in our minds doing the work of a carpenter with His father, Joseph.
One Hebrew scholar, by the name of James Fleming, makes the argument the word “carpenter” in Mark 6:4 and Matthew 13:56, could actually be a bad translation of the Greek word “Tekton.” Fleming points out that the homes in Nazareth were largely made of Stone, not wood. We also know that the Herod at the time, Antipas, spent a great deal of energy making the city of Sepphoris (Zippori) his “Jewel of Galilee” by giving it a total makeover. This developing city was located only three miles away from the hometown of our Lord.
There was a rock quarry half way between Nazareth and Sepphoris where Jospeh, and perhaps Jesus, could have spent their time cutting stones for the Herod’s great project. An undertaking of this size would have likely employed all the surrounding builders, including those in Nazareth. Of course, Jospeh and Jesus working as stonemasons is pure speculation.
Scripture doesn’t give us a detailed account of Jesus’ childhood, but Luke 2:52 tells us that He, “…grew in favor with God and men.” This passage indicates that Jesus was well liked by those who knew Him growing up, but when you compare this verse with Matthew 13:57, that “favor with man” isn’t there anymore. Matthew records, “And they took offense at Him.”
In both Matthew and Marks account of Jesus’ returning to His hometown, the locals ask the question, “Is this not the son of a carpenter?” After Christ is questioned, He doesn’t perform any great miracle for all to see, but He heals a few of their sick. He doesn’t try to argue with them, but He goes through the town teaching. The gospels don’t tell us exactly what He was teaching, but there’s a simple lesson here for all of us.
Don’t be a carpenter.
Jesus lost favor with many when He broke out of their social mold and when He did things they weren’t accepting of. People no longer liked Him when He also began teaching things they weren’t used to hearing. The identity of Jesus was not wrapped up in the job He was trained to do, He was and is much more than that. If you’re a follower of Christ, your identity is not your profession.
Jesus is not the son of a carpenter, He’s the Son of God. He’s given us a new identity, and we should never cheapen who we are by seeing ourselves as doctors, engineers, truck drivers, preachers, teachers, butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers. We’re Christians.
Even when He lost some positive popularity, Jesus looked for those who were willing to be healed and willing to hear. This is exactly what should be filling our time as well. Who do you know that needs to be spiritually healed by Jesus? Who do you know that needs to hear the wonderful soul-saving truth about the real Identity of Jesus?