Saturday, June 16, 2018

Daredevil


I've commanded you to be strong and brave. Don't ever be afraid or discouraged! I am the LORD your God, and I will be there to help you wherever you go.

-- Joshua 1:9

Are you the type who shies away from scary or dangerous situations? Or are you more of a thrill-seeker who actually seeks excitement and adventure? 

If you don’t mind taking a few risks, there’s always skydiving. And you might be surprised by the sport's relative harmlessness. The United States Parachute Association reports that there were just 24 fatalities out of the estimated 3.2 million skydiving jumps made by its members in 2017. On the other hand there’s BASE jumping, which stands for Bridge, Antenna, Span, Earth. Considered by many to be the world’s most dangerous sport, BASE jumping involves parachuting off of objects--like buildings, cliffs and towers--at heights lower than 1,000 feet. 

It’s probably hard for most people to relate to such fear-inducing
daredevil activities. But every day, Christ-followers like you and me face intimidating challenges. And they’re obstacles that we have no hope of conquering on our own. Poverty, hunger, crime and disease are just a few examples. Since we’re to serve as God’s hands and feet on Earth, is it any surprise that Satan uses fear as his primary weapon against us? It’s the Devil who plants the seeds of doubt that cause us to ask ourselves, “What if...” That’s the two-word question that leads many to seek the safety found in procrastination and delay.

Christ-followers, however, are called by their Creator to be bold and courageous. But what does courage really mean? First, it’s not the absence of fear. Instead, it’s more about moving forward in spite of fear. Our God stands with his people. And we can be encouraged by the everyday people he’s enabled to accomplish extraordinary things. We read in the Scriptures that David--an obscure shepherd boy--killed the fierce giant Goliath with a single well-aimed stone from a slingshot. This is the same shepherd boy who eventually became the King of Israel and the one God called “a man after My own heart.” Likewise, the Apostle Peter literally dove into the deep end when he accepted Jesus’ call to walk on water. Although he would one day deny even knowing Jesus when the going got tough, Peter ultimately became a bold preacher who led many to faith in Christ. Two books of the New Testament also bear his name.

“With God with us, who can be against us?” wrote the Apostle Paul in his Letter to the Romans. And this is more than a rhetorical question. Christ-followers can take heart that our Creator is preparing us now for what will be required of us later. Whatever we fear in life, we can rest assured that we don’t face it alone. In fact, it’s when we’re in God’s presence that we’re the most protected. We just need to come to our Father in prayer, listen for his response and guidance, and then obey accordingly in faith.

That’s how we’ll find the boldness and courage to make a world of difference--even if it’s making that difference one person at a time.




Saturday, June 9, 2018

Vital Signs


On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Mark 2:17

When you have doctor's appointment, chances are that a nurse will put a thermometer in your mouth to record your temperature, and a cuff around your arm to gauge your blood pressure. She might also put her fingers on your wrist to measure your pulse. These vital signs establish a baseline of your body's general condition to help spot abnormalities and illness. 

There are biblical parallels to this practice. For example, Jesus monitors the vital signs of the churches that proclaim his name. But rather than checking blood pressures and heart rates, he looks at key indicators like love, faith, service and perseverance. It's no coincidence that Christ is called The Great Physician.

We read in the Gospels that Christ--with just a touch or even a word--healed
lepers, the blind and the paralyzed. He even returned two men and a young child from death: all miracles that helped confirm his prophetic role as Emmanuel: God with us. But Jesus' healing was much more than physical. It had (and still has) both eternal and spiritual significance. In our 21st century culture that worships vitality and outward appearance, Christ sees our real condition like an X-ray of our souls.

What's the prescription for healing in our churches? Believers certainly can't help themselves. The simple answer is a simple faith in him.

The New Testament's Gospel of Luke records that one desperate woman--who had been plagued by bleeding for years--believed in faith that her cure lay in touching Jesus' garments. And she was right. Luke also tells us about a Roman centurion who sought Jesus' healing for his deathly ill servant. Remarkably, this would-be enemy of Israel trusted the ability of Christ's word alone. Matthew 8:10 tells it this way:

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, "I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel."

The body of believers called The Church was never promised a problem-free existence. Acts, Luke's follow-up narrative to his gospel, reveals the conflicts and persecution faced by early Christ-followers. And these struggles, both internal and external, continue to this day in one form or another--and will until Jesus' second coming. It's only then that we'll finally experience complete health in mind, body and soul. And it all starts with believing in Jesus' power, asking for his help and having faith to the end.

"Daughter, your faith has healed you," Jesus told the beleaguered woman who sought his touch of restoration. "Go in peace and be freed from your suffering." 

May The Church do the same.


Saturday, June 2, 2018

God's Waiting Room

But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD,
I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.

-- Micah 7:7


Americans are good at many things, but waiting isn’t one of them. We love our fast food, microwave popcorn and next-day deliveries. We specialize in multitasking. And we sometimes even judge others by the speed and features of their smartphones.

We also have no time for delays. However, efficiency experts report that on average, we still spend nearly an hour each day waiting. That covers common scenarios like waiting in line at the grocery store, waiting for the waitress to take our food order, and even waiting to fill up the car at the gas pump. (All told, that’s about three years of waiting by the time we reach age 70!)

But waiting isn't always a waste—particularly when it comes to God. It’s actually an essential part of his plan for our lives: that process that enables us to grow and become. This concept might be difficult to grasp because the human perspective of time differs from the Creator's. While he
sees the past, present and future, we see only what's happening minute by minute. That's why we want to know (now!) when we’ll find another job, when we’ll sell our house and when we’ll find a spouse. And exactly when will we finally be healthy again? Inquiring minds want to know.

We don't have a clue. But God has known the answers since the foundation of the world.

The Apostle Peter puts our waiting into perspective: "But do not forget this one thing, dear friends," he wrote. "To the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as one day."

As Christ-followers, we need to understand that what happens while we're waiting is often more important than what we're waiting for. Ask anyone who has spent grueling hours at the hospital contemplating the health and future of a loved one. Did their soul-searching experience bring a closer dependence on God? It should have. After all, it's when we're so humbled and powerless that we realize we can do nothing on our own and need him the most.

Downtime and anticipation are necessary components of our 24/7/365 world. So let's make the most of them in God's Waiting Room—a place where we can look for ways and opportunities to say yes to him with a sense of expectancy and hope. Whether we understand it or not, his timing is always perfect.

"Be still, and know that I am God," the Lord tells us through Psalm 46:10. "I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."

 

Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Kids Are Alright


Children, obey your parents as the Lord wants, because this is the right thing to do.

-- Ephesians 6:1 


If you’ve ever experienced the joys of parenthood, you can probably relate to these observations from one well-known comedian:

"You know the only people who are always sure about the proper way to raise children? Those who’ve never had any."

“No matter how calmly you try to referee, parenting will eventually produce bizarre behavior.  And I'm not talking about the kids. Their behavior is always normal.”

Sound familiar? It’s in this domestic arena that God has given parents an awesome responsibility: one of preparing children to make a positive difference in the world and readying them for eternity.

Thankfully, God takes a personal interest in the lives of those who love him.


And this interest extends to the patience and love it takes to raise children according to his high standards. The Bible tells us that respectful, obedient children don’t just happen by accident. Godly parenting involves intentional actions and instruction. For example, consider what the Old Testament’s book of Deuteronomy has to say to parents about emphasizing God’s ways to their kids:

“Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

Children not only look for boundaries of acceptable behavior, they also crave direction and seek love and approval. It’s when they don’t get enough from their parents that they can act out, perform poorly at school and gravitate toward the wrong crowd and bad influences.

What’s a parent (new or veteran) to do?

First, understand that parenting is privilege rather than a burden. And second, remember that God is our heavenly parent. This means human parents have the great responsibility of playing his role in the child-rearing process. Therefore, follow the Lord’s example for raising us: Give your children unconditional love, apply consistent discipline and give them spiritual direction. And don’t forget to lead through your own positive attitude and outlook on life.

No one said that parenting is easy. But in a dark society that’s quickly turning its back on God, it’s arguably the most important job in the world — and one with literal world-changing implications.


Saturday, May 19, 2018

Altar Call


Have respect for marriage. Always be faithful to your partner, because God will punish anyone who is immoral or unfaithful in marriage.

-- Hebrews 13:4

When Barbara Bush died in April 2018 at age 92, it marked the end of her 73-year marriage to George H.W. Bush, America’s 41st president. She met her future husband at age 16. They became engaged 18 months later and got married in 1945. And over the next 13 years, George and Barbara Bush had six children, who between them gave the loving couple 14 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren:

Such a committed, long-lasting marriage is admirable. But unfortunately,
it has become the rare exception rather than the common rule. Society’s attitude toward marriage and the family has evolved since the Bushes exchanged their wedding vows. Seventy years ago, news of a couple living together outside of marriage would have been considered scandalous at the very least. And in some states, it led to jail time for the offending parties!

Think of everything that’s changed in America since our nation has effectively turned its back on committed marriage (the “death ‘til you part” type). With more flexible divorce laws and the media's literal promotion of adultery, it’s no wonder that so many marriages end prematurely--and that fewer people take the institution seriously. It’s also no surprise that so many people consider marriage as not worth the trouble. To them, living together is the rational option.

Our “enlightened” culture has rejected Biblical norms like monogamous marriage between men and women. Moreover, we’ve turned away from God's teachings as a whole--the ones he gave us for experiencing meaningful, fulfilled lives. What were once considered clear, black and white issues of right and wrong have blended over the decades into murky shades of gray. Everything--even truth itself--is considered relative by today’s so-called progressive free-thinkers.

Our Creator, who invented the institution of marriage, has a different perspective. In fact, it’s only two chapters into the Bible that we find this revealing passage:

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and easy-divorce, cohabitation and serial adultery have become accepted--or at least tolerated--lifestyle choices. A prime reason is that commitment is such an uncomfortable word. It's one that implies responsibility, faith and dependence on a much greater Power.

But ultimately, isn’t that what it means to be a Christ-follower?

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Solitary Confinement


For there are different reasons why men cannot marry: some, because they were born that way; others, because men made them that way; and others do not marry for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven. Let him who can accept this teaching do so.

-- Matthew 19:12


It was a place of suffering and loneliness known as The Rock.

Alcatraz was a notorious maximum-security prison situated in the midst of San Francisco Bay. Originally a pre-Civil War era military outpost and later a military prison, it became the last stop for society’s worst-of-the-worst when it re-opened in 1934 as an escape-proof penitentiary.

The Rock’s ultra-strict code of discipline helped the facility earn its nickname of “Hellcatraz.” In its infamous D Block, prisoners lived in 4’ x 8’ cells and were allowed out just once a week for a 10-minute shower. “Harsher punishments,” reports the Legends of America website, included “solitary confinement, in total darkness, for days without any release, or confinement in the dreaded steel boxes.”

Alcatraz closed its doors in 1963. But today there are still millions of
Americans who suffer in solitary confinement in a prison called loneliness. Even in a crowded nation like ours of more than 300 million, too many people are on their own without close friends or family. They know all too well that it’s possible to be lonely without ever being alone. In fact, a May 2018 Cigna survey of 20,000 adults reveals that loneliness is nearly epidemic in America. Nearly 50% of respondents said they sometimes or always feel alone or left out. And about 20% of people reported that they rarely or never feel close to people or feel like there are people they can talk to.

This was never God’s plan for his people. But we all to some extent have trouble forming relationships – with each other and with The Creator. If you go back to Genesis, the first book of the Bible, God put the original man and woman in a perfect, carefree existence called Eden. There were no job deadlines, traffic jams, illnesses or broken marriages. And it was a place where God literally walked with his creation. But when the man and woman sinned by intentionally disobeying the Lord’s instructions, things were never the same. Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened, and they realized the damage they had done. It’s then that they hid from their Creator. Their sin had built a high wall between them and God!

We’re no different today. In addition to our own sins, we also run from relationships because of what others have done to us. We’re determined to avoid being disappointed or hurt again — and running away is the easiest solution.

The good news is that God has a two-fold solution to this problem. First, he re-established a relationship with us through his son, Jesus. When we became Christ-followers, we also became God’s sons and daughters, and joined his family. Second, he established the Church, which is composed of every Christ-follower in the world. It’s a body of imperfect people like you and me who are all looking for the same thing: a safe place to rest from the world, heal their spiritual wounds and make lifelong relationships.

Married or single, we all live with loneliness to one extent or another. Let’s embrace the happy truth that we’re never alone in Christ.





Saturday, May 5, 2018

Family Matters


As many as received Him, to them He gave the right, the authority,
 to become children of God, even to those who believe on His name.

-- John 1:12

Baseball legend Babe Ruth. Apple computer mastermind Steve Jobs. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. Country music superstars Faith Hill and Shania Twain. Other than being famous for excelling at their professions, what do they have in common? They were all adopted. 

About 135,000 children are adopted in the United States each year. Of non-stepparent adoptions, about 59% are from the child welfare (or foster) system, 26% are from other countries, and 15% are voluntarily relinquished American babies. And as anyone who has been through the process can tell you, adoption can be stressful, tedious and very expensive. Arrangements with birth parents can fall through at the last minute. And related agency fees, court costs and attorney fees can easily exceed tens of thousands of dollars. But for the right adoptive parents whose hearts are set on a special child, no price is too high.

Scripture reveals that God is quite familiar with the adoption process,
its struggles and legalities. That’s because in a very real sense, he’s the adoptive parent of every Christ-follower. When we first put our faith in his Son — Jesus Christ — as our Savior, God acted legally on our behalf and paid all the related costs. The result? Our adoption into the Creator's royal family.

But just as adopted children don’t pick their new parents, John’s Gospel reminds us that the same holds true for our heavenly adoption. “You did not choose me; I chose you,” Jesus told his disciples. “And I gave you this work: to go and produce fruit, fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you anything you ask for in my name.”

Before God became our Heavenly Father, we were spiritually dead. And from breaking God’s laws, our sinfulness had made us his enemies -- and he's the Judge. What’s so remarkable is that this same Judge has declared us “not guilty” because of his willingness to pay the price of our adoption through Jesus’ death on the cross. And for us — through our adoption — came a change of family, name and home. As God’s adopted children, it also meant an array of new privileges as well as life-changing responsibilities.

The implications are remarkable. God — as our loving Father—is now approachable through prayer. He’s no longer some cold, impersonal Being accessible only through a priest. In fact, Jesus outraged the strict religious authorities of the day by referring to God as “Abba” or “Daddy.” And he’s a Daddy who watches out for his kids!

Indeed, the Creator of our vast universe cares for us so much and knows us so intimately that he’s literally counted the hairs on our head. He’s also willing to pay any price to adopt us into his family. And for every Christ-follower, that’s exactly what he did to forever convey his name, protection, inheritance and love.