Outward Appearance

Susan Boyle

This past Sunday I had the privilege of teaching Bible class at our congregation, Zion Lutheran Church in Walburg, Texas. The topic was the selection of a successor to King Saul, the man chosen first king of the people of Israel. The title of the topic was From Shepherd to King.

King Saul was on his way out when the prophet Samuel was told by God to go to the house of a man named Jesse, where he would find the man God had selected to be Saul’s replacement. One by one Jesse’s sons were paraded before Samuel, who chose each of the first two fairly quickly. Each was a man of stature and made a very favorable impression. Both were nixed by the Almighty. So were all the rest of the sons of Jesse who were paraded before Samuel.

When Samuel asked if there were any more sons, Jesse said there was one more, a young man out in the fields taking care of the sheep. Samuel asked Jesse to bring in that final son, described in the Bible as ruddy and handsome, with beautiful eyes. Immediately the Lord told Samuel to anoint this 16 year-old named David to be the next king of Israel.

The most significant factor in this selection process was the Lord’s direction to Samuel: “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature … For the Lord sees not as man sees. Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Sam. 16:7)

During the class I shared a number of details about the life of David before he was actually inaugurated as king, including his miraculous defeat of the Philistine giant Goliath, nine and one half feet tall. Then I shared the story of Susan Boyle, 2009 contestant on Britain’s Got Talent.

Hardly the fairest lady in the land, Susan did not impress program hosts and judges Piers Morgan, Amanda Holden and Simon Cowell. Even people in the audience were aghast at her very lackluster, homely appearance. However, after the first few notes of a powerful song from Les Miserable came out of her mouth, opinions changed drastically and visibly.

The YouTube video I played showed the incredulous looks on the faces of the judges and audience members when the end of her song was greeted with an enthusiastic, elongated standing ovation. All three judges offered superlative evaluations of her performance!

Susan Boyle was a phenomenal personification of the truth of what God told the prophet Samuel hundreds of years ago: People look at outward appearance. The Lord looks at the heart!

God anointed lowly David and used him to point many people to the Messiah! David became an ancestor of Christ! God created each of us and gave us special gifts. Regardless of your outward appearance, the Lord looks at your heart. What great things does God have in store for you

Death and Taxes – Part Two

TaxesAs previously mentioned, it’s often said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. While not generally considered happy topics, a contrarian perspective on each is not to be overlooked. I touched on taxes last week. Here are a few encouraging thoughts about death.

Death is a necessary portal to cross in order to experience life in a much more glorious existence than most can imagine. Although impossible to confirm veracity beyond the shadow of a doubt, testimonies from people who have gone through what is called a “near death experience” (NDE) in a place appearing to be heaven give a glimpse of the eternal life awaiting believers in Christ.

These NDEs occurred when individuals were thought and even in many instances declared to be clinically dead, usually as a result of traumatic injury, drowning, choking, auto accident, etc. In most cases the out of body NDE person saw medical personnel attempting to resuscitate a lifeless body in a hospital or EMS setting. The body ended up being that of the NDE person.

The testimonies of what they saw, felt and experienced during their out of body journey, described in Imaging Heaven by John Burke, are not identical, yet many include these features:

  • Seeing a man with “shoulder-length hair, wearing a robe of brilliant white light down to his ankles, held together by a gold sash, with piercing eyes that see right into your soul, yet also draw you in with a magnetic warmth and love.”
  • People with whole, healthy bodies in place of incomplete or diseased or decrepit ones.
  • A sense of not wanting to leave this wonderful place but being compelled to return.
  • Bright light emanating from heavenly beings recognized as God and his angels.
  • Reunification with family members, both previously known and unknown.
  • Movement unfettered by time, space or obstacle.
  • Indescribably beautiful surroundings.

Adequate written description of these happy yet temporary experiences of life beyond death would be impossible to achieve. Suffice it to say that what these NDEs portray are most likely what St. Paul had in mind when he said “To live is Christ and to die is gain…My desire is to depart [this life] and be with Christ, for that is far better.” (Phil. 1:21,23)

Also apropos is the description of St. John’s vision in Revelation 21. He saw a new heaven and a new earth where tears, death, mourning, crying and pain no longer exist, with the holy city of Jerusalem “coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel…clear as crystal.” (Rev. 21: The city he saw was pure gold. Its foundations were adorned with every kind of jewel. It needs no sun or moon for the glory of God gives it light.

No wonder those who experienced NDEs truly wanted to stay, not just visit a while in heaven. Their descriptions of heaven make death an experience not to fear but joyfully to anticipate!

Death and Taxes – Part One

Tax ReturnIt is often said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. While not generally considered happy topics, a contrarian perspective on each is not to be overlooked. Since today is one day prior to the traditional deadline for filing U.S. Federal Income Tax returns, I thought it appropriate to touch first on this topic. Next week I’ll share some thoughts about death.

Most people are not happy to see April 15 approach. It’s not a lot of fun to face the responsibility of pulling together all the documents, records and receipts necessary for completing a tax return. Those include numerous forms familiar to most of us (1040, W-2, 1099, Schedules A and B) and a whole bunch of additional forms about which many folks never have to worry.

After compiling such documents, the next step is inserting in the proper space on the proper form the numbers contained therein. Some tackle that project themselves. Those who do so may use an electronic aid, such as Turbo Tax or a similar product. Others do it all by themselves.

The rest simply put in a box or bag all the documents they can find and take them to their friendly accountant, happily paying his/her fee to do the rest. Filing an extension (and paying the balance due) or signing the timely form completes that part of the process.

The final step is either enclosing a check for the balance of taxes due or looking forward to a refund from the United States Treasury of the amount in which estimated tax payments have exceeded the actual tax liability. The former is not a pleasant task. The latter is a happier one.

While many are also required to pay a state income tax, we who live in Texas and some other places are seemingly blessed by not having that requirement. Nevertheless, onerous real estate taxes in non-state-income tax states tend to suck away some of the joy of that privilege.

We in America are currently blessed to be able to deduct from our taxable income the amount of our contributions to church or charitable organizations and entities. Like many of you, Terry and I joyfully and generously make many such contributions, which accomplish the dual purpose of furthering the mission of worthy causes and of reducing our tax liability.

What’s the bottom line? For all its pain and pleasure, paying taxes is both a privilege and a responsibility. Jesus said: “Give to Caesar (the government) what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.” (Matt. 22:21, NLT)

For what we give to Caesar, we receive the privileges of living in a country that provides and defends many freedoms and protects life, property and possessions. For what we give to God, we receive the joy of happily returning to him a portion of everything he provides for us.

Perhaps these thoughts will ease the pain of April 15 in your life! Call for additional suggestions.

April Birthdays

Birthday CakeApril has special significance for me. It’s the birth month of four very important women in my life, listed here in chronological order by unspecified year, beginning with the youngest:

  • Our daughter Angie was born April 6.
  • My wife Terry was born April 10.
  • Terry’s mother Dorothy was born April 15. She passed away five years ago.
  • My mother Elda was born April 10.

Alas! Our granddaughter Kayla, born August 18, missed the April list. She’s still very special!

Without divulging the specific age of each of the four, I’ll simply point out that one sweet April lady on the list is within five days of being twenty years younger than one of the others and is exactly thirty years younger than another on the list. You can do the math.

One of these ladies, God willing, will celebrate her 100th birthday this coming Sunday, April 10. As my readers may recall from prior editions of Perspectives, Mother is ready to go to heaven to see Jesus. She’s growing weaker physically yet remaining strong spiritually and emotionally.

While not looking forward to her leaving us, I believe it’s accurate to say the 54 members of Mom’s immediate family have come to realize that praying for God to keep her here would be selfish on our part. Consequently, we’ve been praying for God to grant Mother’s desire to trade her life here on earth for life in the new heaven and the new earth. (2 Pet. 3; Rev. 21) That’s not an easy prayer.

In the meantime, we celebrate the fairly rare milestone Mom is scheduled to achieve this coming Sunday. Many of you have enhanced that celebration by sending cards, notes and emails. Mother is absolutely flabbergasted at receiving greetings from people across the country, many of whom she doesn’t even know. Thank you very much for your thoughtfulness in helping make Elda’s 100th birthday celebration an occasion to remember.

I love you, Mom! I love Dorothy’s memory! I love you, Terry! I love you, Angie! I love you, too, Kayla! All of you have blessed my life beyond measure! Happy Birthday to each of you!

Here’s an idea, dear readers. Take the time to tell the women (and also the men) in your life how much you love them and thank God for them! There’s no time better than the present to do so!