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Death by Plastic!

The amount of plastic waste in our environment is skyrocketing worldwide, and it is having a devastating impact. In Thailand, a pilot whale recently died “after swallowing more than 80 plastic bags” (The Guardian, June 2, 2018). Experts estimate that over 100,000 marine animals die each year as a result of plastic ingestion. In 2018, world plastic production will reach 360 million tonnes—a level that some believe will nearly double by 2030 (The Guardian, June 5, 2018)!

Once plastic reaches the environment, “it enters our food chain where, increasingly, microplastic particles are turning up in our stomachs, blood and lungs” (The Guardian, June 5, 2018). In seafood, shellfish—such as mussels and other mollusks—are the most likely to transmit plastics to humans because humans eat the digestive systems of these sea creatures (European Food Safety Agency, June 23, 2016). Plastics also make their way into groundwater and soil. To put the situation in context, some researchers suggest that “by 2050 the ocean will contain more plastic by weight than fish” (The Guardian, June 28, 2017)!

Plastic is versatile and very useful, but it is also the hallmark of a “throw-away” society. When humans were placed on the earth, God gave them specific commands to be good stewards of the environment He created for them (Genesis 2:15). Today, humanity has neglected this important responsibility, and we’re told that the “whole creation groans” in agony (Romans 8:22). Thankfully, “the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” when Christ returns (v. 21)—liberty which will surely include a healthy environment and the will and knowledge to keep it that way. Today’s selfish society, which fails to think about the implications of its own actions, must come to an end soon so that humanity and the creation can be saved from destruction. For more on this topic and to understand the solutions, read “Why Worry About Waste?”

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Never Too Late to Quit

“Have you quit smoking?… Smoking kills 1,300 Americans every day….” This headline introduces a recent Forbes report about the “Addiction Stick” habit. Eight times more Americans die per year from smoking-related health issues than died in the Vietnam War. But do you realize that quitting can save more than your life, even if smoking has already damaged you?

Today’s culture seems obsessed with youth, beauty, success and longevity. And yet, disturbingly, the United States’ leading cause of preventable death comes from a habit that destroys those very qualities. Throughout history, people have smoked tobacco or other substances for many reasons. Some include social customs, image enhancement, and even assumed health or spiritual benefits. But today, smoking’s health risks are well known and publicized. Anti-smoking advocates fight to curb tobacco sales, while tobacco companies must print warning labels on all their products!

Many see smoking for the ugly habit it is. Consider all the repulsive nicknames for cigarettes: Coffin Stick, Casket Nail, Widow-Maker. Lip-scorcher, Lung-buster, Cancerette and, somewhat amusingly, Fire-on-one-end, Fool-on-the-other. I’ve heard these labels and more used to describe the deadly, nicotine-packed “commodity” we call cigarettes. And, the statistics speak even louder than the nicknames.

Smoking-related problems burn up over $380 billion in annual medical expenses in America and snuff out roughly 480,000 lives. 40,000 of those lives are nonsmokers suffering from secondhand smoke damage. In some countries, like France, recent anti-smoking campaigns have helped lower these statistics. But sellers continue looking for promising markets, often defying laws protecting potential customers from becoming hooked.

People start smoking for many reasons. In some cases, advertising convinces impressionable young people that smoking is “cool.” Others take it up from social or family influence, and soon become lifelong smokers. Many remain addicted to cigarettes for the same reasons people abuse harder drugs or alcohol. They become convinced of a “need”—that it makes them feel better or “calms their nerves.” It fills a hole, offers an escape.

It becomes a part of them, even though they may know it hurts them. Some are callous about the habit, saying that it’s no big deal or that people should mind their own business. Others smoke, despite the risks, because they don’t think they can quit.

As with any addiction, risks do little to discourage users. According to one recovering heroin addict“I was fully aware of the threat of prison, the potential for overdose and the dangers of sharing needles, but none proved even the slightest deterrent.” Smoking tobacco may not have the exact same health dangers or legal consequences as heroin. But nicotine is still addictive, and people develop strong psychological dependency on it.

And what does it mean when a dependency rules you so much that you find yourself wanting to stop and fighting the urge to continue? It owns a part of your life, doesn’t it? Not only your life and health but your very freedom is in question. Finding a way to escape becomes a character issue. The Apostle Paul warned, “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey…” (Romans 6:16). He declared later, speaking of being pleasing to God, “I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Corinthians 6:11–13). Smoking damages your body, which God created in His image and which for true Christians is the “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20).

But there is hope.

Some struggle with alcoholism or drug addiction until it almost kills them. Others have the willpower to quit “cold-turkey.” I know some in both categories. Some substances may become so addictive that people can die from quitting them without treatment. But, even in those cases, there will one day come a miracle that promises to free everyone in bondage (Revelation 22:1–5).

Yet, smoking is one habit you can kick—the earlier the better, according to studies. Even if you’ve used cigarettes most of your life, like both of my grandfathers, the relief from finally choosing to live the rest of your life free of them is priceless.

Many foundations offer help and support, but don’t forget the ultimate resources—your Bible, and the faith of Jesus Christ. Also, be sure to watch “Secrets to Happiness” for other ways to find the meaning and incentive to quit.

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Human Attempts at Peace

We live in the twenty-first century—nearly 29 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall—and nations are moving away from democratic governments and reverting to hardline leaders with dictatorial and tyrannical tendencies (Washington Post, March 20, 2018). In this atmosphere, it is sobering to note that, since the year 2000, Latin America has experienced more than 2.5 million murders (The Guardian, April 26, 2018)! With just 8 percent of the world’s population, this region of the world records 33 percent of the world’s homicides, most of which occur in just four countries: Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela. Estimates suggest the murder rates in this region of the world will continue to increase through the year 2030.

In reaction to the increasing violence, presidential candidates in various parts of the world are calling for stronger measures, including cutting off the hands of those caught stealing (Business Insider, April 23, 2018). As an old saying goes, “desperate times call for desperate measures,” and human governments seem to be reverting to this old philosophy when faced with difficult situations. But will man’s attempts to eliminate violence really work? Will more extreme measures finally bring peace?

The Bible indicates that God has allowed humanity plenty of opportunities to explore different avenues to peace, yet, so far, no human efforts have been successful in the long term. As the prophet Isaiah observed long ago, “The way of peace they have not known, and there is no justice in their ways; they have made themselves crooked paths; whoever takes that way shall not know peace” (Isaiah 59:8). The Bible reveals that there is only one way to peace (Matthew 7:13–14), and that way involves learning to live by the laws of God (Psalm 119:165). Bible prophecies also state that real peace will only come when Jesus Christ returns to set up His government on this earth in the Kingdom of God (Isaiah 9:6–7). To learn more about how and when true world peace will come, read “The Way to Peace: The Missing Dimension.”

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Throwing Things

“…With all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love…”
                                                                                                                                      —Ephesians 4:2

We’ve all seen it on TV, or maybe even experienced it in real life. For me, it was an episode of a popular TV show when I was a child. It was shocking to my young and easily influenced mind, and looked like a good idea at the time.

In the episode, the middle child of three girls living with their father and two uncles became upset at her father, screamed at him that she hated him, and immediately ran up to her room to slam the door. Later, the father came to make peace with his angry daughter and sat with her to speak calmly and win over her affection. It all ended happily ever after with the girl hugging her dad.

As a small child, I soaked in this example like a thirsty sponge, and wondered if it would work in my own life. It wasn’t long before I became upset over something my mother told me I couldn’t do. I stood my ground, scrunched up my face, balled up my fists and shouted “I hate you” at my mother and ran to my room to slam the door.

Immediately after the decision to run to my room, I realized what I had done and slammed the door more out of terror than anger. Soon, I heard my grandfather’s voice through the door asking my mother if she was going to let me get away with that. As I stood there in the deafeningly quiet room, my little heart hammering away in my chest, I knew I was in big trouble. In fact, I knew that by the look on my mother’s face before I had even darted away from her earlier. 

Needless to say, it did not end the same way as on the TV show, with mother listening to my feelings and then petting me until I was no longer angry. I was corrected sternly, but my mother never lost her temper with me. She was hurt and disappointed more than angry, which spoke the loudest to me. She taught me the verse in 1 John 3:15: “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”

To say you hate someone also says you have killed them in your heart. I was deeply ashamed of hurting my mother and killing her in my heart. Needless to say, I never said it again.

Recently, I was reminded of that time as a child when I lost my temper. I was standing in my kitchen washing dishes when my phone rang. I answered it happily only to be told very upsetting, horrible news. In a moment of grief and anger, I threw my phone across the kitchen.

My children came into the room immediately, shocked that their mother had thrown something in anger. There, with innocent eyes, my little girls stood taking in my example. My middle child picked up my amazingly unbroken phone, handed it to me and asked me, “What’s wrong, Mommy?”

To calm myself, I went to my bedroom to lie down as I remembered Psalm 4:4: “Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still.”

As I lay there on the bed with my arm across my eyes, my oldest child snuck in with a note she had written for me. On the flap was written “Mommy.” I opened it and read inside, in very large little girl handwriting, “You don’t pitch fits.”

Instantly, I felt ashamed and maybe a little bit amused. I didn’t want to be the bad example to my own children that the girl on TV was for me. I didn’t want them to imitate what I had done when they got upset or angry in the future. I remembered all the times of adamantly teaching my children not to lose their tempers, and to use their words, not their fists.

I apologized to my children and explained why it was wrong for me to show such an outburst and what I should have done instead. I thanked my oldest for reminding me about the rule in our home of controlling our tempers.

Both of those times, I learned a valuable lesson on how to control my emotions. My mother’s example helped me to see that it is important to have self-control and not to harbor hatred in our hearts, and I have tried to teach my children that example as well.

Christian mothers should do well to remember: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:22–24).

If I want my children to learn self-control, I need to be a good example of dealing with whatever life brings me with calm strength—not slamming doors or throwing things.

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No Black Belt for Me

My son and I study a Korean form of martial arts called Tang Soo Do. As with most martial arts, the highest is the black belt. The student begins with a white belt, and over the course of years students move up through the color levels until they reach black belt status. A couple of months ago we had the privilege of attending a black belt ceremony, in which we observed some of our classmates receive their reward for years of practice and hard work. At the ceremony, an interesting experience presented itself.

As we watched the students receive their new belts, we noticed that the belts were not completely black. Our instructor explained that the new “Christian” federation, in which our school was now part, had made a change. He continued:

“In traditional Korean Martial Arts, black means perfection. Therefore, when a student completes his training he becomes ‘perfect’ in his knowledge of the Art. But, as Christians, we know that we can never achieve perfection in our lives, but we must always continue to learn and journey towards perfection. So, from now on, midnight blue will be our highest rank.”

My son was a little disappointed to learn that we will never be a traditional “black belt.” However, I appreciate the reminder that, as we live in the flesh, we can never achieve perfection—we can only journey towards it, with God’s help through His Holy Spirit. We know that Christ was the only one to achieve that perfection in His lifetime, as Peter stated in 1 Peter 2:22, “[Christ] committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth.”

Our society is driven by the desire to achieve perfection. We seek out the perfect career, the perfect relationship, the perfect house, the perfect body, etc. It seems that the pursuit of perfection in our lives is all consuming, yet in one area, our society seems to be satisfied with just good enough, and that area is moral or spiritual perfection. In Matthew 19, we read the story of Christ counseling the young ruler, who asks how he can achieve eternal life. Jesus instructs him to follow the commandments, and then He continues to tell him that he would need to give up everything and to follow Him, which the young man was unwilling to do. Later in chapter 22, Christ tells us that the two great commandments are to love God with all that we have and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Jesus Christ makes it crystal clear that spiritual perfection means being willing to obey God to the point of losing everything we have. Does that mean we will each be called to literally give up everything we own for Him? Most likely, no. In 1 Corinthians 10:13, He promises not to place on us a burden that we cannot endure with His help. As with all loving fathers, our Heavenly Father will teach, push, encourage and, if necessary, discipline us—to help us reach our full potential, not to destroy us. He knew from the beginning that, as carnal beings, we will never achieve total perfection. That’s why He allowed His Son to be sacrificed to atone for our sins. That’s why He gives believers the gift of the Holy Spirit to help us continue growing toward perfection. For that, I’m thankful to know that, although there may be no “black belt” for me in this life, He’ll be with me on my spiritual journey to perfection. I’ll trade that black belt for an imperishable crown any day!

Learn more about how we can grow towards perfection in obedience to our God by reading the booklet The Ten Commandments.

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Freedom from Bondage?

Women the world over are choosing career over family, encouraged by the ideas that women should live for themselves and avoid the bondage of marriage and family—or at least delay it! This trend is contributing to decreasing fertility rates around the globe—often to below replacement levels.

Recently, Canadian columnist Margaret Wente, writing in The Globe and Mail, voiced a concern about this alarming trend that is leaving many women unintentionally childless (“Where have all the mommies gone?,” May 11, 2018). In her article, Ms. Wente shares her own decisions and priorities and their sad consequences. Her article highlights the growing problem of a culture that encourages women to seek the “freedom” to develop their careers while avoiding what some see as the “bondage” of matrimony and motherhood. Saying that she was “too fond” of her career, she writes, “By the time I got around to contemplating my options, they were gone… Childlessness wasn’t a choice, really. It was more or less an accident, just as it was for millions of other women….”

Ms. Wente’s column caught the eye of another Canadian, renowned journalist Ted Byfield, founder of the Alberta Report. Noting her observation concerning how many women pursue the goals of professional work and career, only to accidentally lose out on the more fulfilling opportunities of family and children, Mr. Byfield mused on his blog, “Perfect freedom… might mean: Get married, have children, and actively seek servitude to God. Then one day you will realize that in abandoning all hope of freedom, you have actually acquired it” (“The Mother’s Day question that one columnist did not shrink to ask,”, May 14, 2018).

The Bible reminds us that Satan—the god of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4)—has deceived the entire world (Revelation 12:9)! Beginning in the Garden of Eden, he has convinced humanity that any choice can lead to happiness and fulfillment, as long as it is not the choice of following God’s instructions in His word. As Scripture warns us, “It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jeremiah 10:23) and “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12). The way to a truly happy and abundant life is outlined in the Bible, and available to all who choose that way. For more encouraging information on how to become truly happy, watch our telecast “Keys to Happiness.”

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