Saturday, February 17, 2018

Just a Little Bit More

I know how to live when I am poor, and I know how to live when I have plenty. I have learned the secret of being happy at any time in everything that happens, when I have enough to eat and when I go hungry, when I have more than I need and when I do not have enough.

-- Philippians 4:12

One of the wealthiest Americans of all time, oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller had a net worth of nearly $400 billion dollars (adjusted for inflation) by the time of his death in 1937. The story goes that a reporter once marveled at the rich man's ability to amass wealth. "Just how much money is enough?" the reporter asked Rockefeller. "Just a little bit more," replied the billionaire.

Whether you're rich, living from paycheck to paycheck or somewhere in between, a little bit more always seems to be the remedy for life's frustrations. Rather than In God We Trust, perhaps America's national motto should be Supersize It.

God has blessed us through a nation of Money Keyincredible wealth. Even our poor and unemployed are considered rich by the standards of most of the world's population. Yet an epidemic of discontentment tends to blind us to this fact. The more possessions we gather and the higher we climb the corporate ladder, the more disillusioned and unfulfilled we become. And rather than thanking God for his blessings and making the most of them, we wonder (often aloud) if it's all there is to life.

This disease of discontentment has some nasty symptoms. Those afflicted with the malady often turn to alcohol, drugs, illicit relationships and gambling to ease their self-inflicted pain. Things might get better for a while. But the hunger returns soon enough.

This problem is hardly new. And it's not confined to the United States or even Western societies. In fact, the Bible addressed it centuries ago. And Scripture's advice is as valid today as it was back then.

What's the prescription?

First, think about all the ways God blesses you. It could involve your family, career, health and friends. Then, stop comparing what you have with your neighbor's possessions. Advertisers prosper when they convince you that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. But consider that many people would readily abandon everything to enjoy just one or two of the blessings you take for granted!

Contentment isn't something that we can get by purchasing a new car, moving into a bigger house or landing that plumb job with the corner office. Instead, it's an internal source of fulfillment and comfort acquired by knowing our Savior and living out the abundant life he's already purchased for us. The key is that it's all about Jesus. A growing relationship with him produces contentment because there's nothing bigger, better or more necessary. Comparisons fall away and material things lose their luster. What was once so important soon fades into obscurity.

Maybe it sounds simplistic or too good to be true. But a whole new life is just inches away--the distance between our head and our heart. And we're all invited to accept Jesus' grand offer and grow in contentment.

"Seek first God's kingdom and what God wants," we read in Matthew's Gospel. "Then all your other needs will be met as well."

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Heart of the Matter

Tell people who are rich at this time not to become egotistical and not to place their hope on their finances, which are uncertain. Instead, they need to hope in God, who richly provides everything for our enjoyment.

-- 1 Timothy 6:17

The numbers are both shocking and sobering. 

According to the American Heart Association's Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2018, cardiovascular disease accounts for about 1 of every 3 deaths in the United States. Approximately 2,300 Americans die from it each day (about one death every 38 seconds). And all told, the condition claims more lives each year than all forms of cancer combined.

It's obvious that our nation--and the whole world, for that matter--faces a cardiac crisis. But there's another serious heart problem that doesn't involve cigarettes, cholesterol management or low-fat diets. Instead, far too many Christ-followers lack a heart that's willing to give generously according to the resources God has richly given them. And when they do open their pocketbooks, it's often done grudgingly.

That's not the example God gives us Heart Handthrough the Bible. And if there's a two-word lesson that we can learn from his principles about money and possessions, it's that we should be generous. After all, God is the ultimate giver. Think about the many blessings that he's given us. They vary from person to person but tend to include things like health, job, home, family, friends and church. And of course there's God's ultimate gift: the forgiveness of our sins and an eternal relationship with him through our faith in Jesus.

God also wants everyone to be a cheerful giver--particularly one who refuses to hoard their blessings. But to do that, we must trust him rather than our riches. After all, bank accounts and retirement funds can be wiped out overnight through unexpected circumstances and economic turmoil. Just look at some of the recent headlines about the stock market.

What's the benefit of being generous with our money, time and possessions? 

As the Apostle Paul explains it through the book of 1 Timothy, giving back richly toward God and his purposes renders much more than a warm feeling of satisfaction. Think of it as a guaranteed high-yield investment with dividends that you'll enjoy forever in the world to come. In fact, God challenges us on our preconceived notions about money. Through his design, giving richly results in getting more:

"By doing that, they will be saving a treasure for themselves as a strong foundation for the future," Paul writes. "Then they will be able to have the life that is true life."

It's every Christ-follower's mission to serve as God's hands and feet on Earth by feeding the hungry, healing the sick and housing the homeless. So by making generous giving a spiritual habit and being rich toward God, we'll become more like Jesus to help change our community, the world--and ourselves--for the better. 

That's the heart of the matter.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Smartest Decision You'll Ever Make

Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

-- John 11:25-26

Let's say you're planning a big purchase. Maybe it's for a new car, a smartphone, an appliance--or even a Caribbean cruise. Whatever it is, you have a decision to make. And there are so many options to consider.

The Internet is probably your next stop. With just a few taps on the screen, you're sure to find several websites featuring helpful consumer information about virtually anything. And some sites even have product reviews from the experts. For example, if you'd like to compare a Nikon camera's white balance and exposure compensation ratings with similar Canon and Sony models, that's all just a click or two away. 

On the other hand, many of the best product websites feature comments from actual purchasers. Their observations can be particularly helpful because they tend to cover the pros and cons without the manufacturer's marketing spin and hype. That glossy brochure might rave about a fancy laptop's speed and design. But if a few product owners report that it's prone to system crashes and viruses, you'll probably look for a better option. The lesson here is that taking advice from the folks who know can help you avoid costly mistakes.

If that's true for a mundane microwave oven or an DecisionSUV, how much more does it hold for things of eternal significance--like the existence of heaven and hell? If heaven exists, how can you get there? And what's the surefire way to avoid hell?

Ask 20 random people these same questions, and you'll likely get a variety of answers. But our Creator doesn't want us to be confused. In fact, he personally came to earth through his Son, Jesus, to both live a perfect life and teach us how to live. Several people who traveled with Jesus throughout his 3-year ministry wrote about their personal experiences with him--and how Christ really is who he claims to be. They personally witnessed his miracles and saw him raise people from the dead, heal the lame and give sight to the blind.

Luke, the physician who wrote the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, also wanted the real scoop about the Savior. That's why he interviewed the people who knew Jesus best and could attest to his reality. Let's consider the opening lines of Luke's first book:

"Many people have tried to tell the story of what God has done among us. They wrote what we had been told by the ones who were there in the beginning and saw what happened. So I made a careful study of everything and then decided to write and tell you exactly what took place. ... I have done this to let you know the truth about what you have heard."

The Apostle Peter also reassured some of the faith's earliest believers with his own testimony:

"When we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, we were not telling just clever stories that someone invented," he reported. "But we saw the greatness of Jesus with our own eyes."

Do you ever wonder if you can believe what's in the Bible? Is all that stuff about Jesus rising from the dead really true? And if it is, how should it make a difference in the way you live? 

Those are vitally important questions. So why not avoid a costly mistake: Take it from the folks who witnessed it first-hand and wrote about their experiences: the authors of the Gospels.

It's the smartest decision you'll ever make.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Touching Base

Yet give attention to your servant's prayer and his plea for mercy, Lord my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day.

-- 1 Kings 8:28

Depending on how you look at it, the introduction of text messaging was one of civilization's greatest advances (or setbacks) in the history of communications. If we want to touch base with someone--whether they're on another continent or on the other side of the room--all it takes is just a few taps on a smartphone, tablet or computer keyboard. 

One downside is that an entire generation now knows little about writing and receiving actual letters and postcards. And a check of our mailbox (the real one by the driveway) proves the point. The volume of first class mail delivered by the post office, such as stamped letters and greeting cards, has fallen since 1998. Text MessagePrinted direct mail advertisements, better known as junk mail, are its replacement. Meanwhile, over 6 billion text messages are now sent each day in the United States, and 81% of Americans text regularly.

Our preferred methods of communication continue to evolve through popular social media such Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. But there's another communications medium that's remained steadfast for centuries. It's prayer, which is talking to God about what's going on in our life, our problems at home and at work, concerns with our loved ones--and just about anything else--both trivial and substantial. Our Creator wants us to tell him about it.

But that's just half the story. That's because prayer is a two-way conversation where we're both talking to God and also listening to what he has to say. That might sound strange, but it makes perfect sense. If we're asking God for his help and direction, don't we want his response?

This raises an important question: If we're seeking God's response to our prayers, how do we know when he's answering? 

First, God speaks in many forms--but never in a way that contradicts his Word in the Bible. We can perceive his message through that small inner voice that tells us the right thing to do in an unexpected situation. God also speaks through Bible study, a situation at home or at work, daily circumstances and even that chance meeting with a friend you haven't spoken with in years. Was that unexpected late-night phone call or text message just a coincidence? Not necessarily.

The key to hearing God's voice is knowing how to listen. So with this in mind, we should set up a regular time each day to speak with him, and feel free to continue the conversation, whatever the hour.

"I call on you, my God, for you will answer me," we read in Psalms 17:6. "Turn your ear to me and hear my prayer."

Like any good message--text or otherwise--our prayers to God don't have to be formal, just authentic. Let's open our eyes and ears--as well as our heart and mind--and listen to all that he has to say.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Real Deal

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.

-- John 4:23

For many tourists in New York City, buying a fake Rolex watch or Gucci handbag from a street vendor is as big a part of their trip as visiting the Empire State Building or taking the Staten Island Ferry. Picking up a bargain is always fun. And who knows? Your friends just might glance at your bling and think that you paid for the real deal.

However, it turns out that buying counterfeit goods is hardly a harmless diversion. The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) reports that 2.5 million jobs have been lost to fake products. And in developing countries alone, counterfeits account for $125 billion in lost tax revenue and additional welfare spending. And the damage doesn't stop there. Microsoft recently found that 39% of the media sold on eBay was counterfeit and another 12% was tampered with in some way. Many of the parts in our nation's warplanes have been exposed as cheap knock-offs manufactured in China. Likewise, there's also a huge problem with counterfeit pharmaceuticals--like anti-malaria drugs--that have proven to be lethal. Malaria is curable. But the medications for treating it must be real. As the Bible warns us in Proverbs: "There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death."

There are obvious parallels between Rolexthe dangers of counterfeit goods and God's warnings about idolatry--or what we might call fake worship. When it comes to buying clothing, jewelry, medicine--and even aircraft parts--we're often quick to look the other way and settle for cheap imitations. The truth is that we idolize expensive luxury goods. But we'd rather not pay the true price for the real thing.

This comparison is no exaggeration. After all, an idol doesn't have to be a literal golden calf like the Israelites worshiped in Old Testament times. Instead, idolatry is anything that means more to us than following God and his true ways. It's also settling for the illicit rather than the real thing. For example, pleasure is one of God's gifts that we can easily idolize. But the message from the entertainment industry is that if it feels good, it's OK to do it. And society has largely taken the bait. Watch almost any popular TV show or movie these days and you'll see destructive behaviors and lifestyles that God expressly condemns. Adultery and other prohibited relationships are no longer considered scandalous. We're told that they're "private" situations where no one really gets hurt. But if Christ-followers dare to say otherwise, they're likely to be branded as intolerant, bigoted or narrow-minded. After all, the advocates of "progressive" behaviors ask, "What does the Bible have to do with living in the 21st century?"

In fact, God's timeless message through the Bible reveals that things haven't changed when it comes to illicit relationships and the destruction they render. Just as our ancestors did centuries ago, we'll often look the other way to accept and justify our behaviors and those we fear to offend. Yes, we might claim that we want God in our lives. But the fact is that we also want him to make room and share the throne of our heart with what's cheap and second-rate.

This approach is totally unacceptable to God. He holds a jealous love for his children and wants only the best. Therefore, sharing us isn't an option. To fully acknowledge his love, we must turn away from our false idols--the counterfeit things, attitudes, behaviors or people--that hold us back from the true worship of our Creator. It's when we change our priorities and focus on God that we can experience the real deal

Let's accept nothing less.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Crossing the Delaware

So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, "On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided."

-- Genesis 22:14

Now that much of the nation has experienced some of the most frigid temperatures in recent history, it's only appropriate that we look back at some of the coldest--and bleakest--days of American history.

Let's turn back the clock to December 1777. General George Washington's exhausted Continental Army had set up its winter camp in Valley Forge, PA, after a year of battling the British. The situation was grim for the 12,000-man rag-tag force. What's more, Washington was also under attack by members of Congress, who disliked his strategic choices and lack of success on the battlefield. Some were even advocating his removal as head of the American army.

With food, clothing and ammunition in extremely short supply, Washington wrote, "...that unless some great and capital change suddenly takes place...this Army must inevitably...starve, dissolve, or disperse..."

And a great change would indeed Washingtontake place. According to the eyewitness testimony of a Valley Forge resident, Washington was alone and on his knees in prayer in the woods. The tired general called aloud for God's help--and not just for his army's dire plight--but also for all of humanity and the world. The witness recalled that he was astonished at the power and earnestness of Washington's prayer. "We never thought a man could be a soldier and a Christian," he said. "But if there is one in the world, it is Washington."

The rest, as they say, is history. In the darkness of Christmas night, Washington and his army crossed the ice-choked Delaware River to attack and defeat the Hessian mercenary force hired by the British. The news of America's surprise victory spread quickly and reinvigorated its fading war effort.

The eyes of our fledgling nation were on George Washington. And it was in the most difficult of circumstances that the general sought God for help. But what about Christ-followers today? When we face seemingly insurmountable odds, do we seek worldly solutions? Or do we trust that God's way is ultimately the right way--regardless of the price?

Rather than the British, it's likely that our 21st century adversaries are unbelieving co-workers, neighbors or even family members. Your supervisor might want you to shade some sales figures so the department will look good to the rest of the company. Or your spouse might tell you to fudge the tax returns for a bigger refund. After all, who would ever know the difference?

When the spotlight is on us, we need to expect opposition. And that's when we need to ask God for the power to trust him and resist the temptation to compromise on what we know is right.

Doing things God's way can be costly--and particularly uncomfortable--when it seems like the world is watching. But such situations can actually be opportunities for demonstrating that our faith is much more than mere words. It's this kind of faith-in-action that honors God. And when we seek to honor him, he will seek to honor us.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

American Idol

"Cursed is anyone who makes an idol--a thing detestable to the Lord, the work of skilled hands--and sets it up in secret." Then all the people shall say, "Amen!"

-- Deuteronomy 27:15

There's an old saying that in battle, you'll never find an atheist in a foxhole.

Maybe there's a grain of truth in that observation--and perhaps a whole lot more. After all, is there really such a thing as a full-fledged atheist--someone who doesn't worship any god? The truth is that we all worship something in one way or another. God has even hard-coded this intense longing into our DNA.

Christ-followers worship the true God American Idolrevealed and proven through the Bible. On the other hand, man-made religions promote false gods, ancestor-worship and even the reverence of living things or nature (worshiping the creation rather than the Creator). And then there are today's popular teachings such as New Age, Scientology and Kabbalah. It's a very long list.

Even those who claim to be strict atheists are in fact active worshipers. True, they may not be devout churchgoers who proclaim Jesus as their Lord and Savior. But they--like everyone--bow down at the altar of their favorite idols. Some worship money, luxury and pleasure while others emulate intellect and higher learning. And still others kneel at the altar of more negative gods such as alcohol, drugs and illicit relationships.

So it's true that there are no atheists on the battlefield. But there's a different type of battle that rages each day within everyone: the God of the Bible who struggles every day against the world's gods and idols. And it's our hearts and souls that are the prize of this eternal conflict.

Perhaps you and I don't literally kneel and worship before a golden idol as recorded in the first book of the Bible. But let's recognize that we secretly (or maybe not-so-secretly) cherish our own personal gods. Think about the things you worry about or sacrifice your time and money for. What are the issues that make you angry? What brings you the most joy? And here's a revealing question: Whose attention and applause do you most crave?

If the answer to each question doesn't involve God, you're likely worshiping an idol. And idols can be difficult to recognize through the smoke and confusion of spiritual warfare because they're experts at camouflage. Sometimes that idol can be as close as the bathroom mirror. And even apparently good things--like a career--can evolve into a "god thing." It's then that they're unmasked as personal idols.

It's particularly important for Christ-followers to remember that the real God--the God of the Bible revealed in person through Jesus Christ--refuses to share his glory with any false god or cheap idol. We therefore need to reflect on the God (and gods) in our lives. And then we must choose the one to live for and serve.

Let's be thankful that our God guards a jealous love for each one of us. In fact, he loves us so much that he let his own son suffer the death penalty in our place so that we could become his children and heirs. That means as children of the King, an incredible inheritance awaits us if we're willing to accept his authentic, precious gifts of forgiveness, love and grace.

Accept no substitutes!