Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Big Picture

Do your work with enthusiasm. Work as if you were serving the Lord, not as if you were serving only men and women.

-- Ephesians 6:7

John Glenn accepted challenges that few would dare to even consider. The Ohio native joined the Marines, became a fighter pilot and completed nearly 150 combat missions in World War II and the Korean War. Glenn also set a world speed record as a military test pilot and later became an executive at Royal Crown Cola. Years later and still hungering for the challenges of public service, he successfully entered the cutthroat world of national politics through his 1974 election to the United States Senate.

Such accomplishments alone would shine bright on any resume or job application. But Glenn is best known for something else: saying yes to the challenge of becoming the first American to orbit the earth. Asked later what he was thinking as he sat high atop the NASA rocket that would blast him into space, he replied, "You're thinking you're sitting on top of the most complex machine ever built by man, with a million separate components, all supplied by the lowest bidder."

John Glenn's willingness to accept great challenges made him a national hero. But while most of us will never become a senator, travel to outer space or run a corporation, we'll still face crucial tests in life. They're challenges that demand hard answers. And the most important one of them all is whether or not to follow God's will and direction: to say yes to God.

God's call comes in many different forms and often touches our career, family, money or just about anything else we hold dear. His call can also defy human logic. Let's consider the famous Old Testament story about Abraham and Isaac. After years of fervent prayer, Abraham's wife Sarah finally became pregnant and gave birth to Isaac - even though the couple was very old. Abraham and Sarah were thrilled and grateful for their long-awaited child. But soon came God's call.

"Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah," God told Abraham. "Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about."

It was a shocking demand. But it also seemed senseless to Abraham because God would never ask for something so precious. (Or would He?)

Even so, Abraham obeyed God in faith, took Isaac to Moriah and built a sacrificial altar. But there's a happy ending to the story. Just as Abraham raised his knife to slay Isaac, one of God's angels called out.

"Don't hurt the boy or harm him in any way!" the angel said. "Now I know that you truly obey God, because you were willing to offer him your only son."

Venturing into the unknown can be scary under any circumstance. We need to remember, however, that God's plans and promises - the "Big Picture" - always extend beyond our immediate line of sight. Human knowledge is limited. But what we do know is that He'll always provide for us when we say yes to Him. And not necessarily with what we want or expect, but with what we really need.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Treasure Hunt

Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near.

-- Isaiah 55:6

Have you ever considered what life would be like if we never had to work for anything? For instance, what would happen if we got straight A’s in school without ever studying? Or what if we received a high-paying job but had no real responsibilities?

Getting everything on a silver platter might be nice for a while. But without experiencing challenges, responsibilities and even tragedies, we can quickly become lazy, self-centered and ultimately fail to reap some of life’s greatest rewards. Just ask anyone who had to work their way through college or take a second or third job to pay the mortgage or send their child to a better school. It can be a struggle. But it can also pay off in the end.

Of course, let’s not forget that we can never work hard enough or do enough good deeds to earn our way into God’s good graces. It was only Jesus’ death on the cross that paid that high price. But as Christ-followers, it’s still up to us to live lives that reflect His love in action: in our community, in the workplace – and of course – right at home. It’s all part of our unique faith journeys.

Let’s now consider some of the very first Christ-followers – those who traveled hundreds of miles through deserts and rugged terrain just to meet Him. They were called the Magi, but you might know them better as the Wise Men or the Three Kings. It’s thought by some scholars that they were astrologers from Babylon (ancient Iraq) who were familiar with Old Testament prophesies about the Jewish people’s long-awaited Messiah. As God had planned it centuries earlier, a very special star appeared to them in the nighttime sky. It was a sign that was both astounding and unmistakable. It was the Magi’s roadmap for finding the king of Kings. And follow it and find Him they did!

The Magi’s journey holds lessons for modern day Christ-followers. The first is that following God can be dangerous and demanding. To reach their goal, the Wise Men had to cross miles of rugged, unpredictable terrain. Likewise, our faith journeys are full of hairpin turns and steep hills rather than smooth stretches of superhighway. But let’s ask ourselves: how often do we choose the easy way out of situations rather than doing the difficult (but right) thing?

The Magi’s long journey also reminds us that we’ll find Him if we search diligently through faith. After spotting Christ’s star in the sky, the Wise Men grasped their life-changing opportunity, stayed on the rough path and ultimately found the Savior. Yes, there really is treasure to be found in life if we’re willing to accept Jesus’ invitation and take the first step. Our hands are sure to get dirty. And we’ll get a scrape or two. But the incredible rewards will be worth the effort.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you,” Christ assures His followers. “For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Friday, December 11, 2009

Time to Reflect

But God shows his great love for us in this way: Christ died for us while we were still sinners.

-- Romans 5:8

Want an eye-opening reminder of God’s greatness and power? Then look no further than the awe-inspiring images of distant stars and galaxies taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Launch into space in 1990 aboard the space shuttle Discovery, the Hubble Space Telescope can take crisp photos of incredibly distant objects because it orbits above Earth’s atmosphere – a barrier that can block and distort light reflected by the mirrors of conventional ground-based telescopes.

But you haven’t seen anything yet. Nine research organizations from the United States, Australia and South Korea recently joined forces to begin building the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT). And when the 80-foot GMT goes online in 2019 from its location in Chile, its seven huge mirrors will help produce images 10 times sharper than Hubble’s!

It takes just a tiny point of reflected light from a telescope’s mirror to change our notions about the universe. But when there are barriers – like the atmosphere – we can miss the big picture or be misled by a distorted image. This principle also applies to how we live out our lives. “I am the light of the world,” Jesus told the people. “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." As Christ-followers, our lives are to always reflect Jesus’ love in action. But we too face barriers. Our society teaches us to beat the competition, climb the corporate ladder and keep up with our neighbors (and then pass them by). We need the biggest, the best and the shiniest. And most of all, we can’t forget that it’s not bragging if we can back it up.

But Christ teaches a much different way: to be first, we must be last.

This bold perspective sheds a new light on things. And that’s just the point. How much better would this world be if His people were to adopt a servant’s attitude and put the interests of others before their own? Jesus answered this question through His own example. First, He willingly surrendered all the advantages He had as God’s only Son. He entered the world through the most humble of circumstances – a birth among farm animals in a less-than-tidy stable. When he grew older, he learned to make a living as a carpenter. Of course, Jesus could have lived in splendor as the King of Kings. But instead, He chose a nomadic existence for teaching God’s Good News of salvation to His people.

That’s quite a life lesson – one taught by the One with a humble servant’s heart. He’s the same One who came to serve rather than to be served. And He’s the only One whose sacrifice for our sakes is counted worthy.

So how can we mirror Christ’s life through our own lives? Jesus says it all starts by accepting Him as personal Lord and Savior. As He explained it to a respected religious leader centuries ago, we must be “born again.”

The fact is that we are nothing without Him and can do even less by ourselves. But through this brilliant Light of the World, all things are possible.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

It's the Thought That Counts

Give him a generous farewell gift from your flock, your threshing floor, and your winepress. Share with him some of the bounty with which the LORD your God has blessed you.

-- Deuteronomy 15:14

Now that Thanksgiving is over, retailers are determined to remind us that the clock is winding down on the gift-buying season. Just count the repetitious TV commercials and overwhelming Christmas catalogs. They’re everywhere. Even your E-mail in-box probably isn’t immune from the holiday onslaught.

But fear not. If you’re still looking for that perfect gift for that someone special, there’s no lack of choices, colors and price ranges. A quick trip online to proves that. But with money particularly tight these days for so many Americans, every purchase has to count. We need gifts that will make impressions. We need value. We want bang-for-the-buck.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to stretch a dollar. But let’s consider that a gift’s real value has much more to do with its meaning and the person behind it rather than just a Low Everyday Walmart price.

That’s certainly the case if we’re to believe what God’s telling us through the Bible. And what does He say about the characteristics of a super gift? And more to the point, what should we know about being a super gift-giver? The example of Jesus’ life and ministry holds the answers.

First, we need to give with an attitude of generosity – one that exceeds what we expect to receive. Our gifts should also affirm the value of the recipient. But most importantly, our gifts – whatever they might be – should be given out of love. When it comes to gift-giving, it really IS the thought that counts. (Your grandmother was right all along!)

So what are your thoughts, attitudes and motivations this Christmas season? And have you thought about sharing just a few of your blessings with someone you may have never met – maybe someone living around the world or just around the block?

Christmas is closer than you think. And the clock is ticking. So before you head to the mall, log onto or tune into the Home Shopping network, let’s follow the examples of Jesus, who was and is the ultimate gift-giver. His greatest present is the salvation He bought through His death on the cross. It was an incredibly expensive gift that can never be re-paid. But it’s a gift given freely out of love. And it’s ready for everyone who’s willing to open the package.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Light of the World

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.
-- John 3:19

Time was that every youngster learned in school that Christopher Columbus “sailed the ocean blue and discovered American in 1492.” Although that’s not exactly accurate history, Columbus was indeed one of the earliest and most important European explorers of what became known as the New World. And rather making one historic transatlantic voyage, he actually made four.

That final expedition across the seas nearly cost Columbus his life. It was February 1504. Now picture the famous explorer in Jamaica, thousands of miles away from home and surrounded by hostile natives that were all-too-ready to kill him and his crew. And even if Columbus could talk his way out of a fight, his expedition still faced the prospect of starvation from the lack of food and supplies. They desperately needed a light at the end of the tunnel to escape a very dark fate.

A skilled navigator who used astronomical tables to help him venture into the unknown, Columbus studied his almanac and discovered that a total lunar eclipse would occur in the next three days. So to buy some much-needed time, he told the natives that his God was angry because they were no longer giving supplies to his crew. Columbus then warned that unless the shipments resumed, God would show His displeasure by swallowing up the moon to demonstrate the evils that the natives would soon experience. It’s likely that the natives laughed at Columbus’ admonition. But sure enough – and just as the almanac predicted – the full moon appeared; and without its lower edge!

As the minutes passed and the sky grew darker, the moon took on a startling, bloody red appearance. The formerly skeptical Indians were terrified at the spectacle and begged Columbus to intercede with God on their behalf. Columbus agreed to try and returned to his ship to confer with the Almighty. Columbus’ “conference” was really his opportunity to track the eclipse’s progress with his hourglass. At just the right moment, the Italian adventurer informed the natives that they had been forgiven and that the moon would be restored.

You can guess the rest. The full moon soon began to shine its bright light again upon the balmy Caribbean island. And filled with gratitude for escaping their close call, the Jamaican natives ran to supply Columbus and his crew with life-saving food and provisions. The crafty European explorers were saved. And within a few short months, they were able to depart on their return voyage to Spain.

It’s easy for us 500 years later to laugh at the over-the-top reaction of those Jamaican natives. When the lights went out, they panicked. But are we really so different? We learn early in childhood that the dark is a scary place. That’s because it’s not WHAT you see that can get you; it’s what you don’t see that does the harm. So it’s no wonder that the darkness is a metaphor for those who don’t know God. Their gloomy existence is not only deceptive, empty and lonely, it’s ultimately without hope.

But everyone – even the most devoted Christ-followers – shares this darkness to one extent or another. How easily do we use harsh words to our spouses and children, cut off other drivers on the highway or maybe even fudge a little on our tax returns? We’re hardly perfect. And that’s all the more reason why we need to let in the Light to drive out those things that should never see the light of day.

That warm Light is Jesus Christ. He invites us to follow and let Him live through us on the pathway to His kingdom -- and then spread His light to those who live in darkness. “I chose you to bring justice, and I am here at your side,” He reminds us through the Book of Isaiah. “I selected and sent you to bring light and my promise of hope to the nations.”

Monday, November 23, 2009

Mixed Messages

Those who know my commands and obey them are the ones who love me, and my Father will love those who love me. I will love them and will show myself to them.

-- John 14:21

It’s been a controversy among Christ-followers for nearly 2,000 years. In fact, some might argue that it’s been a factor over the centuries in dividing Christianity into multiple denominations. So what is this thing that has caused so much conflict among a people who Jesus calls upon to love one another?

It’s the roles of faith and works in the life of believers. On one hand, the Apostle Paul made it clear that salvation is a free gift from God through faith in Jesus Christ. Let’s consider one of Paul’s most famous passages from the Book of Romans:

“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and if you believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, you will be saved.”

That seems straightforward. But what should we do with this Scripture from James, the brother of Jesus?

“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

James’ point seems to be that without doing good works, our faith is worthless. But is it our faith that will eventually bring us into God’s Kingdom or do we need to work for it? And if so, for how long?

Maybe the messages from Paul and James aren’t so mixed after all. On multiple occasions, Jesus’ miracles revealed the incredible power of faith in those who seek Him. For example, we read in Luke 7 that a Roman soldier’s faith actually “amazed” the Son of God. "I tell you,” Jesus told the crowds that were following Him, “I have not found such great faith even in Israel."

So it really is through our faith in Jesus and His work on the cross that we’re saved from the punishment we all deserve. Otherwise – if it were all about works – it might be possible to somehow earn our way to God’s acceptance. And we all know that’s a losing proposition. But that’s not to say that works don’t play a crucial role in the lives of Christ-followers. In fact, the tangible ways that we live our new lives helps to prove that we’re a changed people through our faith in Jesus.

What we have isn’t really a contest of faith versus works. Instead, both must be evident in the life of every Christ-follower. Rather than being saved BY our own good works, our faith in Jesus leads us to being saved FOR doing good works. The author of the Old Testament book Micah puts it this way:

“And what does the LORD require of you? “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Demonstrating a life of justice, mercy and humility is a tall order that we can never accomplish on our own – particularly when we face the struggles and circumstances of everyday life. And it’s the tough times that cause the so-called “fans” of Jesus to fall away to leave only His true followers – the ones with real living faith. So how can we live faith-filled lives that bear fruit for our Father’s kingdom?

"With man this is impossible,” explains Jesus. “But with God all things are possible."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Like Clockwork

As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus.

-- Luke 23:26

During the 1950’s and 1960’s Timex had more than a 50 percent market share of the American wristwatch business. Officially known as U.S. Time, the company’s dependable timepieces were sold in thousands of department stores and pharmacies across the nation. And it’s no doubt that Timex’s popular television commercials helped to drive sales. Sometimes broadcasted live and in primetime, the advertisements used extreme demonstrations to prove their products’ toughness and reliability. Examples include a Timex watch strapped to a speedboat, abused by a wild gorilla, and run through a dishwasher.

“It takes a licking, and keeps on ticking,” proclaimed long-time spokesman John Cameron Swayze. And sure enough, Timex watches usually did just that.

Oddly enough, those old commercials can teach us something about what it means to be a true Christ-follower: dependability. After all, what good is a watch if you can’t rely on it? And that’s the same question that we need to ask if we call ourselves Christ-followers. Our journey is one on a narrow, winding path. Potholes seem to be everywhere and it’s often impossible to see what’s over the next hill. The only way to stay on the path is to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and follow Him – no matter what’s coming at us in the opposite lane. This requires obedience and sometimes means suffering and sacrifice. But the final destination is well worth the inevitable fender-benders and detours we’ll all face on the trip.

We need to understand that our troubles won’t suddenly disappear the moment we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. We also can’t expect a smooth drive down Easy Street. In fact, our daily struggles may actually intensify because the Devil now sees us as a threat. Instead, count on hitting bumps along the road:

“In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus promises us. “But take heart! I have overcome the world."

Unfortunately, too many would-be Christ-followers give up and turn away when the troubles of everyday life get too big. Instead of relying on the unlimited resources they could have as a child of God, they wither from the heat of trials and circumstances.

Like those dependable wristwatches in the commercials, Christ-followers must live lives demonstrating reliability and toughness. Ours is a permanent, 24/7 identity – not simply a role we play for an hour or two on Sundays and at weekly Small Group gatherings. Instead, Jesus tells us to “take up our cross” daily. And then follow Him.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


Then Jesus said to all the people: “If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross each day and follow me.”

-- Luke 9:23

Pearl Buck, the best-selling author and winner of both the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes, once observed that you can judge your age by the amount of pain you feel from new ideas.

There’s probably some truth to that. But change can be painful for anyone at any age. To prove it, look no further than your favorite 24-hour news channel. Our nation is experiencing economic uncertainties, dynamic technological advances, awesome natural disasters, social upheavals and even court-sanctioned assaults against Judeo-Christian faith and values. Change is everywhere… and it’s inescapable. It’s therefore hardly a surprise then that many people seek stability wherever they can find it. They look for dependable, long-lasting products like automobiles, appliances and personal computers. They demand trustworthy public officials and reliable customer service. And as for personal relationships, they want a mate who’s in it for the long haul. Good help – as the saying goes – is hard to find.

But what it’s really all about is a search for commitment – that rare quality that God has valued in His people for thousands of years. Joshua, one of the great servant leaders of the Old Testament, displayed this trait when he challenged the tribes of Israel to choose who they would serve: the false gods of their ancestors or the only one True God. “But as for me and my household,” declared Joshua, “we will serve the Lord."

Jesus seeks this same level of total commitment from His 21st Century followers. Rather than would-be believers who might help to build His kingdom if it’s not too inconvenient for them, Christ demands an all-or-nothing relationship from those willing to give the little they have to eventually gain everything.

Does this sound unrealistic? Jesus’ closest friends once thought so. One day, a rich young man asked Christ what he had to do to gain eternal life. Knowing what was in the man’s heart, Jesus reminded him about following God’s commandments covering theft, adultery, murder, lying, and honoring one’s parents. When the man replied that he had kept these laws since childhood, the Savior told him that He lacked just one thing: the need to sell all his possessions.

Jesus knew that rather than loving God with all his heart, soul and mind (the first of the 10 Commandments), the rich man was actually committed to money. The would-be follower was crushed by Jesus’ harsh revelation and soon turned away. And Jesus’ apostles were just as amazed. “If this is the way it is,” they asked, “who can ever be saved?”

Jesus’ response was both simple and reassuring.

“What is impossible for man,” he replied, “is possible with God.”

The lesson here is that Jesus seeks undivided loyalty from His followers – those special people who are willing to give and serve using the gifts, talents and resources entrusted from God. But to make this vital commitment, we must realize that it requires our total reliance on a Power much greater than ourselves.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Why We Serve

My friends, what good is it to say you have faith, when you don't do anything to show that you really do have faith? Can that kind of faith save you?

-- James 2:14

In 1942, the U.S. Government premiered the first in a series of seven films called Why We Fight. Produced by legendary Hollywood director Frank Capra, these powerful motion pictures were meant to educate our armed forces and the general public about the causes of World War II and the principles on which the nation was fighting it.

As Christ-followers, we’re also facing many powerful enemies. Just turn on the television, go to the movies or pick up a magazine. It’s not hard to find themes that actively attack Christianity and those who are too “narrow-minded” and “intolerant” to believe that every action, lifestyle and preference is relative. Our society has even fallen to the point where the word “Christian” has become an insult to too many people who just don’t know any better (and unfortunately, to too many who do).

But it’s the world – not Jesus and His teachings – that’s upside down. For many of today’s celebrities, musicians and sports stars, breaking the law and going to jail is actually a career move. But if a Christ-follower -- real or in name only -- slips up and does something wrong, the words hypocrite and judgmental quickly follow. It’s in these dark times that we need to remember Jesus’ admonition to some of His earliest followers – those who daily faced much more than an unflattering newspaper article or slanderous motion picture:

“Make your light shine, so that others will see the good that you do and will praise your Father in heaven.”
What does Jesus mean by light? It’s really that “spark” or inner Power that God grants each Christ-follower for demonstrating His goodness through their words and actions. It might be shown by helping an elderly neighbor by running a much-needed errand. Or volunteering to manage a co-worker’s project when he or she is struggling to finish an earlier assignment. Or it might even involve cleaning up a community park or visiting residents at a local assisted living center.

For Christ-followers, the question isn’t why we fight. After all, Jesus already won the battle against evil – and even death – when He died on the cross and came back to life three days later. It was all predicted in the Old Testament centuries earlier. Instead, we might ask why we serve.

The answer is that we’re to be Jesus’ hands and feet on earth while we wait for His return or that day when He calls us back home (whichever comes first). Until then, God wants us to help prepare His kingdom by making the most of the different gifts and talents He’s given each follower. And let’s not forget the other part of the equation: serving others makes us more like our Teacher, Jesus. We’re always to follow the Leader:
“In the same way, the Son of Man did not come to be served,” Jesus explained. “He came to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many people."
When we serve, it’s not about us – it’s instead about Him and His creation. So as Christ-followers, let’s turn our faith into action by accepting Jesus’ invitation to help brighten a dark, dying world that’s so much in need of guidance, truth and love.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Worth a Shot

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

-- 1 Corinthians 1:27

These days it’s Swine Flu. Seventy-five years ago it was polio. But before 1800, one of the most feared threats to public health was smallpox -- a powerful and often fatal disease cited by some authorities as causing the downfall of the Aztec and Incan empires. But that all changed in 1796 with Dr. Edward Jenner’s highly improbable – yet successful – experiment that eventually lead to the scourge’s demise.

The breakthrough came after Dr. Jenner observed that milkmaids who caught cowpox (a similar but non-fatal disease) never caught deadly smallpox. The English physician then did the unthinkable: he took matter from the hand of a milkmaid infected with cowpox and injected it into a healthy, eight-year-old James Phipps. Not surprisingly, the boy eventually contracted cowpox from this vaccination. But then came the second part of the experiment – one that logically should have killed the youngster. Forty-eight days after administering the first inoculation, Dr. Jenner injected James with smallpox – the same lethal disease that had wiped out millions over the previous centuries. But rather than suffering a predictable fate, the boy remained healthy.

Dr. Jenner’s remarkable triumph over death, disease and disfigurement occurred despite the conventional wisdom of the time. His story also reminds us of other victories – the remarkable ones God shows us by accomplishing His will though the most unlikely people, places and circumstances. For instance, God chose someone with a speech impediment (Moses) to tell one of the strongest rulers on Earth (Pharaoh) to free the enslaved Israelites. God also chose a small shepherd boy (David) to defeat Goliath – the feared Philistine warrior who was taller than many modern professional basketball players. David later became Israel’s greatest and most powerful ruler. God even called him “a man after His own heart.”

This unlikely pattern continues in the Bible through the upside down way of Jesus. The Gospels tell us that Jesus’ first followers were anything but the cream of society. Some were lowly fishermen, one was a hated tax collector and another was who we might today describe as a terrorist. Jesus also chose Paul to spread God’s plan of salvation through both personal evangelism across far-flung lands and by writing several books of the New Testament. And why was Paul an upside-down choice? Before Jesus confronted him on the road to Damascus, Paul (then known as Saul) was a feared religious leader who specialized in hunting down and killing Christians!

Then there’s the most up-side-down choice of them all. Knowing that His people were doomed because of their sinfulness, God willingly chose to come to Earth in the form of a man (Jesus), live a perfect, sin-free life, and then be executed on a cross to pay the penalty we all deserve. Out of hate, fear and ignorance, the Creator was killed by His creation – mankind. But that’s hardly the end of the story. Just days after His unjust crucifixion, Jesus fulfilled the predictions written in the Old Testament centuries before when God raised Him from the dead to prove that He was indeed the Savior of mankind.

And as improbable and upside-down as it might seem, Jesus invites us today to accept this same power that raised Him from the dead and use it to establish God’s kingdom on Earth – one unlikely person at a time. Sound improbable? Let’s remember the famous words of the Apostle Paul, who readily called himself “the Chief of Sinners”: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

And so can we all today.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Liberty or Death

Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.

-- 1 Corinthians 9:19

What better symbolizes our nation and its ideals of justice and freedom than the Statue of Liberty? Constructed in France, disassembled and then shipped to New York in 214 crates, “Lady Liberty” was re-assembled and later officially dedicated in October 1886. Since then, the statue has inspired millions around the world to experience freedom by immigrating to the United States and escaping the hardships or persecutions they faced in their mother countries.

Today, Americans enjoy countless rights and privileges protected through federal, state and local laws. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution even guarantees our freedom to worship God as we see fit. But if we look at things through the upside down way of Jesus, no one (of any nationality) has any real freedom at all. The truth is that we’re all slaves!

Regardless of what’s written in our Bill of Rights or the Declaration of Independence, everyone without exception is a slave to someone or something. They might not have literal chains around their ankles. But they still lack God’s perspective of true freedom. As Jesus put it so bluntly, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”

This sin represents slavery to the world’s values. And it comes in many forms. It might be slavery to money and possessions, pleasures, fame, a career… or even to religion itself. But whatever form it takes, the sin boils down to substituting false, manmade gods for the One and Only True Creator.

Christ-followers are also slaves. But the big difference is that they willingly choose to give up the temporary things of this world for the true freedom gained from an eternal relationship with Jesus.

“Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey,” asked the Apostle Paul, “whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?

Paul shows that our choice is one of liberty or death; to follow Jesus or to follow sin.

Maybe this choice isn’t as hard as it seems. The fact is that none of our earthly possessions is really ours or can be counted on to last. We can lose our jobs unexpectedly through layoffs or “downsizing,” and our homes and property through a natural or manmade disaster -- or even foreclosure. Serious health issues can arise at any time. And let’s face it: the mortality rate for everyone is 100 percent. No one gets out of here alive.

The fact is that we WILL lose it all -- one way or the other. And unfortunately, most people choose to do so through their slavery to sin. But there is a far better and much more satisfying choice: becoming a lifelong slave of a very kind master by accepting Jesus’ offer of salvation.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” He invites us. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

The choice is yours.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Honor Roll

And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.

-- Matthew 10:42

Maybe you’re among the millions of television viewers who switch channels or leave the room when a commercial interrupts a favorite TV show. After all, those ubiquitous advertisements for Hamburger Helper, Glade room freshener and Cottonelle bath tissue can get old quickly. But that’s not the case for a select few commercials: particularly those running during professional football games. And it’s all taken to the extreme during the Super Bowl. Advertisers spend millions of dollars on 30-second spots that often are as imaginative and entertaining as any well-written sitcom. And if the commercials happen to have little or nothing to do with their sponsors, so much the better.

A few years ago, one company launched a series of commercials called “Great American Heroes.” Each ad recognized those faceless individuals who labor diligently behind the scenes to support the American lifestyle. What made the commercials memorable was their over-the-top scripts and theme music that saluted the accomplishments of such working class heroes as “Mr. Backyard Bug-Zapper Inventor,” “Mr. Jelly Donut Filler” and “Mr. Driving Range Ball Picker-Upper.”

“Without you, Mr. Giant Foam Finger Maker, our teams would be in sixth or seventh place,” proclaimed the announcer.

Great American Heroes, indeed. And although these commercials were absurd, their celebrations of the Average Joe were in many ways on the mark – at least when it comes to the upside down way of Jesus. For instance, society tends to honor sports stars, musicians, actors and politicians as heroes. And there are times when firefighters, police officers or others are lauded (and deservedly so) for their bravery and heroics. But Jesus tells us that the reality is quite different than the world’s conventional wisdom regarding heroism. From God’s perspective, the last shall be first and the first shall be last.

The world defines the successful of society as those who do what it takes to get to the top and stay there. And in many cases, the ends (success and fame) justify the means. But for true Christ-followers, this so-called road to success is nothing but a dead end.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with achieving success in business or making a lot of money. The trouble comes when wealth, fame and power become the focus of our lives. Rather than worshipping and living our lives for the Creator, we risk worshipping a flawed creation that eventually will fall apart.

So what does it mean for a Christ-follower to achieve success? In Jesus’ upside down way, the answer lies in actually descending the world’s ladder of greatness into humility and servant leadership. Serving our neighbors – those next door, in the next office cubicle and in the next continent – becomes not a chore but a joy. And a way of life.

Maybe you’ll never get a television commercial like “Mr. King of the Karaoke Mike” or “Mr. Souvenir Snow Globe Maker.” But rest assured that the honors will be much greater once you invite Christ to live through you and use you to help build His Kingdom right here on earth. And that’s the way it’s happening every day: one committed follower at a time.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Jumbo Shrimp

You have heard people say, "Love your neighbors and hate your enemies." But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you.

-- Matthew 5:43-44

Reality Television
Steel Wool
Deafening Silence
Civil War

What do these figures of speech have in common? They’re all oxymorons – rhetorical devices that use contradictory terms for effect. If you think about them for a second, they really don’t make sense. But for whatever reason, the words mesh perfectly to communicate the idea.

The Bible reveals Jesus as One who always made His point with great effect – particularly to those willing to put His message into action. But instead of linking a few opposing words or phrases, God’s only Son turned entire concepts on their heads to reinterpret long-held notions about what has true value in life. Consider His admonition to those seeking greatness:

“Whoever is the greatest should be the servant of the others. If you put yourself above others, you will be put down,” Jesus warned. “But if you humble yourself, you will be honored.”

This, of course, flies in the face of our society’s “Looking-Out-for-Number-One” perspective. After all, how can you make it to the top in this world if you let everyone walk all over you?

Through ordinary human eyes, pure selfishness and self-preservation appear to be logical approaches to getting ahead and staying there. But to Christ-followers viewing the world through the lens of the Gospel, it’s really a recipe for disaster. “What will you gain if you own the whole world but destroy yourself?” Jesus asks us. “What would you give to get back your soul?”

Jesus spent His brief ministry teaching from a Kingdom perspective. And it’s through the Bible that Christ explains to us how God means for things to be. Often this demands a totally new life perspective from those who would be His followers. Accepting Christ’s bold message is like a nearsighted child who sees the world anew through a pair of glasses. At first, it can be awkward and difficult – and sometimes even intimidating. That’s because Jesus calls for for total devotion. Half-heartedness and non-committal have no place as Christ establishes His Kingdom through every believer.

Jesus’ invitation to us is much more than wordplay conflicting with conventional wisdom. If we want to call ourselves true Christ-followers, He makes it clear that we must consider the cost in our lives. And that cost is high. But it’s all worth it through the positive differences we can make at home, where we work, in our neighborhood and even throughout the world. And that’s not to mention the personal transformation each believer experiences along the winding path of his or her life journey.

Maybe it’s only fitting that Jesus uses an oxymoron to drive this point home:

"I tell you the truth," He told Peter (one of His first disciples), "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the Gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Who is Number One?

Everything you were taught can be put into a few words: Respect and obey God! This is what life is all about. God will judge everything we do, even what is done in secret, whether good or bad.

-- Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

The media have long recognized the public’s love of lists. Check out the magazine racks in any supermarket and you’ll see headlines for the Top 10 Muscle Cars, Best Ways to Renovate Your Home and the Year’s Nastiest Celebrity Breakups. Newspapers write year-end articles about the nation’s biggest political scandals and most costly business failures. And television embraces this popular genre through shows like the Top 100 Heavy Metal Videos of All Time, Best Caribbean Beach Resorts and the Greatest Engineering Disasters of the 20th Century.

Then there are perhaps the most controversial lists of them all (at least in the minds of sports fans). They’re the weekly Top 20 rankings of college football and basketball teams – often a topic for heated discussions in office break rooms across the country and over the Internet.

The fact is that everyone has opinions about what or who is number one in certain aspects of life. When it comes to entertainment and sports, we might have our favorite movie or forcefully defend our choice for the NFL’s greatest quarterback. But what’s your opinion about something a little more substantial?

Who (or what) is Number One in your life? Is it your family? Your career? Money, vacations or the weekend? Or maybe the answer is as close as the nearest mirror. If it is, join the crowd.

Regardless of how you answered this important question, King Solomon – probably the wisest man who ever lived – could relate to your perspective. In the Old Testament book called Ecclesiastes, he writes that he tried every pleasure under the sun to find fulfillment in life. And unfortunately for him, his search in all the wrong places brought him emptiness and sorrow. But we can gain much from the lessons Solomon learned the hard way.

First, fulfillment in life comes about only when we live for the right person. And in our case, that means living for God by letting His Son (Jesus Christ) live through us. Second, we can find fulfillment only when we live by God’s standards. After all, what good does it do if we say we’re a Christ-follower on Sundays but live quite differently on the other six? And finally, we find fulfillment in life only when we live with the right focus. In other words, live your life with eternity in mind. Careers, money, vacations – and even sporting events – may be the things that seem so important in our lives. But they’ll all pale in significance when it comes to what we do in life to help usher in God’s Kingdom here on earth. Being His personal representative is in the job description of every Christ-follower.

Now’s the time to look again in the mirror and decide who (or what) is really Number One in our lives. So consider Jesus’ timeless advice on this matter to His first followers. In today’s uncertain economic environment, you’ll see that His words of wisdom are remarkably relevant and reassuring:

“Don't worry and ask yourselves, ‘Will we have anything to eat? Will we have anything to drink? Will we have any clothes to wear?’ Only people who don't know God are always worrying about such things,” the Savior reminded them – and us. “Your Father in heaven knows that you need all of these. But more than anything else, put God's work first and do what he wants. Then the other things will be yours as well.”

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Words of Wisdom

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

-- Colossians 3:23-24

Longtime fans remember Yogi Berra as quite a ballplayer. The former New York Yankees catcher, outfielder and manager was a 15-time All-Star, a three-time American League Most Valuable Player, and caught a perfect game in the 1956 World Series. He attained the sport's greatest honor through his 1972 induction into the Hall of Fame. But the St. Louis native was also well known for his "Yogi-isms" -- unique words of wisdom about everyday life that often left readers scratching their collective heads.

"If you come to a fork in the road, take it," Berra once advised. Then there was this bit of sage counsel: "You should always go to other people's funerals; otherwise, they won't come to yours." And who could argue when he opined, "You can observe a lot by watching."

Although Yogi Berra's words are no doubt brilliant, King Solomon probably beats the Hall of Famer when it comes to wisdom and discernment. In fact, Solomon asked God for wisdom - rather than riches or fame - after he took the throne following his father's (King David) death. God honored Solomon's wise request with wisdom beyond human understanding. Great riches and fame soon followed.

Solomon was an effective ruler when he lived by God's standards. But as wise as he was, Solomon tended to strike out in his personal life and make very poor decisions when he took his eyes off the ball. It's through his years of "learning-it-the-hard-way" that Solomon penned Ecclesiastes - an Old Testament book that summarizes many of the wise king's observations about life.

His first observation is that this is our one and only life. And it's only through God that we can find true happiness in it. Likewise, our lives are short. Therefore, we need to make the most of the opportunities God gives us each day. Although our lives are brief, they are more like cross-country marathons than straight-ahead sprints. Jesus centuries later reinforced Solomon's observation. "For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction," Christ warned His followers, "and many enter through it." We instead must enter via life's winding roads and narrow gate.

Finally, Solomon wrote that everyone's hour will come when they leave this brief lifetime and pass into the next chapter of existence. And since none of us know exactly when that will be, we all need to be ready; for both when we'll die and for where we'll spend the rest of eternity.

So how do we get ready when life is so full of unknowns? This first step on this guaranteed road to success is to accept Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior - the One who is ready, willing and waiting to wipe away all the failures of our pasts and give us literal new life and a fresh start.

If you think it's too late in life to start over, you still have time as long as you're still breathing. Yogi Berra's wise words sum it all up: "It ain't over 'til it's over."

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

It's the Real Thing

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
-- Matthew 6:19 - 21

The introduction – or more accurately “re-introduction” – of so-called “retro” products has been a hot marketing trend for several years. You can buy classic video games (like Pac Man and Space Invaders) from the 1980s, wear college football jerseys from the 1960s and drive old school muscle cars from the 1970s. Yes, some things really do get better with age.

Many marketing experts credit simple nostalgia for the products’ successes. They say they’re popular because our aging population looks back toward simpler, more innocent times. And maybe there’s some truth to that. But it’s also likely that folks naturally gravitate toward trustworthy products that have proven themselves over the years. If something isn’t broken, they don’t want anyone trying to fix it.

That might sound like a no-brainer. But it happens to be a basic marketing principle that one Fortune 500 company ignored with disastrous results. In 1985, the Coca-Cola Company introduced New Coke with much hype and fanfare. Unfortunately, this product replaced the tried-and-true fizzy beverage that had quenched the world’s thirst since the late 1800s. Consumers complained that the new drink tasted suspiciously like rival Pepsi. Black marketers began selling $30 cases of the old cola to those still thirsty for the beloved original product. And worse yet, sales of New Coke were (pun intended) flat. The result was a public relations fiasco for Coca-Cola. So within weeks, they pulled New Coke from the market in favor of a classic: Coke Classic, to be precise.

Coca-Cola’s folly is a textbook example of how companies can seriously damage themselves by replacing their reliable products with inferior, second-rate imitations. Consumers might be fooled for a while. But eventually, they see through all the slick advertising and hype.

This goes to show that we’re willing to fight to keep quality products on supermarket shelves. But when it comes to our spiritual lives, most of us are too willing – if we’re really honest with ourselves – to drop our loyalties at times and seek fulfillment from outside God’s kingdom. Rather than depending on Jesus for our inner joy, how often do we turn to negative external influences for a short-lived glimmer of happiness or pleasure? It can come in many different forms – anything from alcohol to drug use to gambling to illicit relationships. And a hobby, job or even religion itself can turn negative when we use them to replace Christ as the source of true meaning in our lives.

An ancient observation from the Book of James reveals much about this issue:

“You want things, but you do not have them. So you are ready to kill and are jealous of other people, but you still cannot get what you want. So you argue and fight,” teaches Jesus’ brother. “You do not get what you want because you do not ask God.”

Turning back to God – the tried and true Original -- is therefore the first step toward gaining personal fulfillment. To borrow Coca-Cola’s classic slogan, It’s the Real Thing.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Believe It Or Not

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 to make a big purchase. Maybe it’s for a new car, a computer, a digital camera – or even a cruise. Whatever it is, you’ve got a big decision to make. And there are so many choices.

If you’re like most folks these days, the Internet is your next stop. With just a few clicks of the mouse, you can find dozens of websites featuring helpful information about virtually any commodity. Some sites feature product reviews from the experts. If you want to compare a Nikon camera’s white balance and exposure compensation ratings with comparable Canon and Sony models, that information is easy to find. But many of the best product websites feature comments from consumers. Their observations can be particularly helpful because they tend to cover the product’s pros and cons without the manufacturer’s marketing spin and hype. That glossy brochure might rave about a fancy computer’s speed and futuristic design. But if a few actual owners write that this same computer is prone to system crashes and viruses, you’ll probably start looking for a better option. The lesson here is that taking advice from those who know can help you avoid making costly mistakes.

If that’s true for microwave ovens and hybrid automobiles, 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 those same questions to 20 people on the street and you’ll likely get just about as many different responses. But God doesn’t want His people to be confused. So He personally came to earth through His Son, Jesus, to live a perfect life and reveal how we’re all to live both for both the day and for eternity. Several of those who traveled with Jesus throughout His 3-year-long ministry wrote about their own personal experiences and how Christ really is who He claimed to be. They personally saw His miracles – how He raised people from the dead, healed the lame and made the blind see.

Luke, the physician who wrote the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, also wanted the real scoop about the Savior. So he interviewed the people who knew Jesus best and could attest to His reality. 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 really trust 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 your life? Those are some vitally-important questions. So why not avoid a costly mistake and take it from the folks who saw it first-hand and wrote about it long before the Internet: the authors of the Gospels.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The A-Team

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

-- Acts 4:13

What do The Dirty Dozen, The Bad News Bears and The A-Team have in common? These late night cable TV staples share the same general plot about a group of unlikely misfits who – one way or another – work together to overcome significant obstacles and achieve victory. They face numerous setbacks along the road. But they eventually rally behind their leader, beat long odds and accomplish the improbable. It’s a classic, feel-good storyline that never seems to grow old.

And it really IS an old storyline: at least 2,000 years-old, to be specific.

The “script” here is the New Testament: the second half of the Bible. Much of its real-life plot also revolves around a group of unlikely and unremarkable characters who finally learn from their all-knowing leader (Jesus) and literally alter history. We read in the Gospels that these mundane individuals were Christ’s hand-picked followers. Some were fishermen, one was a tax collector and another (Simon the Zealot) might be considered a terrorist by today’s standards! Think of them as the original Dirty Dozen.

The apostles were a dubious group for such an important assignment: changing the world for Christ’s kingdom one person at a time. But since it’s a mission that continues to this day, maybe it’s not so surprising that God still chooses society’s outsiders and those who tend to fade into the crowd.

Some modern-day Christ-followers work for insurance companies, supermarkets, retail stores, and banks. Others are homemakers, sales representatives, police officers, and marketing executives. And many are between jobs, retired or work part-time. But for all their differences, they share a critical unifier. It’s a fervent belief in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. And it’s this same common faith that helps them share the joys and overcome the different struggles, disappointments and even tragedies encountered during their unique faith-journeys. Along the way, these seekers have also learned another vital lesson: their own strength and wisdom is worth little towards surmounting the world’s obstacles. But this is to their advantage.

“That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties,” the Apostle Paul proclaims. “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

And indeed God does much with the weaknesses of Everyday-Joes. Families are fed, clothed and housed through their contributions and work in local food pantries, the Salvation Army and similar organizations. The sick are cured through the efforts of health care professionals who also happen to trust Jesus. And still other Christ-followers teach the illiterate to read and the undereducated to gain critical life and job skills.

That’s a very brief list of the ways Jesus changes the world when His followers act as His eyes, hands and feet. As the A-Team’s leader -- Colonel Hannibal Smith – so aptly puts it in every episode: “I love it when a plan comes together!”

And no doubt so does God.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Sunday Best

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

-- 1 Corinthians 10:31

Maybe you grew up attending a traditional church. That might have meant getting up early on Sunday mornings, eating breakfast with the family and then rushing to put on your "Sunday best" - those clothes and shoes you wore only to church and on very special occasions. Then it was time to get in the car, drive to the service and listen to the preacher, choir and organist do their things.

Of course, there's nothing necessarily wrong with this. Millions of people in fact feel closer to God in a traditional church setting -- one often characterized by stained glass windows, choirs, sanctuaries and organ music. And wearing one's Sunday best is to them yet another way to set apart the day and glorify God.

Other Christ-followers have a different perspective. They observe that all the formalities of the traditional church can actually hinder authentic worship. Rather than "being themselves," the traditionalists literally put on a different suit of clothes on one day of the week while living quite differently on the other six. Or at least that's the word from some critics.

Regardless of your preference in worship style, there's no doubt that every Christ-follower must avoid the trap of worshipping God with their lips rather than their daily actions and lifestyles. Yes, an awe-inspiring church sanctuary (and even a movie theater) can be a place of worship and prayer. But so are the workplace, gym and supermarket. What's more, the Bible tells us that our bodies are literally temples. So wherever we go each day -- our place of worship follows.

We're all hard-wired for worship. Even those who claim to be strict atheists are really active worshippers. True, they may not be regular churchgoers and proclaim Jesus as their Lord and Savior. But they - like everyone - worship something. Some worship money, luxury and pleasure, and others intellect and higher learning. Still others kneel at the altar of more negative gods such as alcohol, drugs and illicit relationships. It really boils down to the things we worry about or sacrifice our 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?

So what type of worship does God honor? The Sunday morning variety for Christ-followers generally consists of singing praise songs, teaching God's lessons and sincerely thanking Him for how He blesses our lives through the revelation of His Son, Jesus Christ. But every day and everywhere, we also must worship God by being Jesus' hands, feet and eyes in our community. We do our 9:00 - 5:00 jobs as if God were our boss (and in fact, He is !) rather than a human supervisor. And overall, we look for ways to ease suffering and make the world just a bit better. Perhaps the Apostle Paul best sums it up through his famous words from the twelfth chapter of Romans:

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship."

Sunday, August 2, 2009


His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'

-- Matthew 25:21

Are you a compromiser?

Compromise can be a desirable thing. After all, how many personal relationships and business deals have been saved when both parties were willing to back down a bit and meet each other half way? And for those who remember their high school history classes, the Missouri Compromise of 1820 broke the stalemate in Congress about how the growing United States would accept new states into the Union.

Of course, compromise becomes less palatable when it demands the sacrifice of legitimate principles. Just consider the Mugwumps. If we return once more to American History 201, the Mugwumps were late 19th Century political activists who refused to support their own party’s candidate for president. Some turned their backs on long-held party loyalties and did their own thing. Others tried to have it both ways and came to be labeled as unprincipled and wishy-washy – some supporting Republicans and the other Democrats. One humorist of the 1880s commented that they had their “mugs” on one side of the fence and their “wumps” on the other.

Double-dealing and hypocrisy are arguably the norms when it comes to politics. But what about in matters of faith? When it comes to God’s church, so called “compromise” can be deadly. For instance, the archbishop of Canterbury – the leader of the Anglican Church in Great Britain – recently suggested a “two-track model” for churchgoers: one for traditional, conservative believers and another for more open-minded Anglicans. This double formula, he said, would allow for “two styles for being Anglican” while opening the door for ordaining openly gay clergy and allowing same-sex marriages.

According to this line of compromised logic, everybody wins. But since it openly defies God’s Word, those who fall for the deception become the losers.

Since the end of World War II, many in the church have looked the other way as society has fallen for the media’s if it feels good, do it message. Watch almost any popular television show or movie these days and you’ll see destructive behaviors and lifestyles that God expressly condemns. Adultery and other illicit relationships, for example, are no longer considered scandalous. And if Christ-followers refuse to compromise their biblical principles and dare to speak out, they are likely to be scolded as being intolerant, bigoted or narrow-minded. And let’s not forget “old-fashioned” or “behind the times.”

Of course, God’s Word reveals no change regarding illicit relationships and the destruction they render. But just as our ancestors did centuries ago, many today are too willing to turn their heads and accept the “anything goes” activities of others… including those of some in the church.

As Christ-followers, compromising God’s truth for the world’s priorities is never an option. It’s only when we focus on Jesus and respond accordingly that we can begin experiencing His incredible promise for our lives.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Turning Faith Into Action

In the same way, faith by itself – that does nothing – is dead.
-- James 2:17

When you hear the word allegiance, what comes to mind? For millions of citizens of a certain age, the Pledge of Allegiance was recited each morning in thousands of classrooms across the nation –- with millions of students placing their right hand over their heart –- and all in front of the American flag. It was a daily declaration of devotion to the Stars and Stripes and the nation it stands for.

Being a Christ-follower also calls for allegiance, but to One much greater than any flag or country. In fact, Jesus calls not just for allegiance but for total devotion from His disciples and would-be followers. Half-heartedness and non-committal don’t make the cut. As Believers, our lives must show tangible actions that reflect our faith in Him. This, of course, doesn’t mean that we have to work to earn our way into God’s favor by living a so-called “good life,” following a set of rules, going to church and putting some money into the bucket each Sunday. That standard could never be achieved because not one of us comes close to meeting God’s demand for perfection. That’s why Jesus – Who actually did live a perfect, sin-free life – was the only one worthy enough to die on the cross to pay the penalty we all deserve.

No, we can’t save ourselves. But Jesus did so willingly. And through His sacrifice, He saved His followers for centuries to come to serve as His hands and feet on earth. To illustrate the importance of this incredible mission, Jesus told a story about a master who gave each of his three servants a considerable amount of money (“talents”) to invest while he was away on an extended trip. After a while, the master returned to claim what was his. He was very pleased with the first two servants, who had wisely invested what he had given them. Their efforts and willingness to risk their talents resulted in doubling the master’s money. But it wasn’t so with the third servant. He was afraid of his master’s stern reputation and didn’t want to risk a loss. So instead, he played it safe and literally buried the master’s money in a hole in the ground. The master was displeased, to say the least! Instead of commending the servant’s regard for safeguarding his money, the master was actually furious because the servant had wasted the opportunity to invest and multiply his treasure.

And that’s where Christ-followers enter the story. God has also given us different resources, skills, opportunities and circumstances for investing in the spiritual lives of others. They could be as close as your spouse, sibling or child. They might be a co-worker, a neighbor, villagers in Africa or maybe someone who God puts in your path at a most unexpected moment.

How are you investing the many talents God has given you? Are you putting your faith into action and changing the world one person at a time – or are you playing it safe? Unlike the stock market or the commodities exchange, this is one type of investment that’s guaranteed to pay unbeatable dividends every time.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Rest of the Story

That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

-- 2 Corinthians 12:10

Paul Harvey’s remarkable career in radio spanned eight decades and began while he was still in high school. His broadcasts were heard on about 1,500 radio stations and his commentaries appeared in hundreds of newspapers. No doubt he was best known for a segment of his program called The Rest of the Story: a five-minute, true-life narrative that always concluded with a surprising – and often uplifting – twist revealing greater meaning and purpose in an otherwise mundane or difficult situation.

The Rest of the Story maintained its popularity over the years because it always resonated with Harvey’s millions of listeners. They readily identified with the famous announcer’s depictions of the unpleasant realities and struggles faced by the common man (and woman).

What unpleasant realities have you had to face? Whatever they are, it’s a fact of life that you can count on enduring more. Sometimes they come out of the blue, like a car accident or a natural disaster. And others might be more of our own making, like an arrest for drunk driving or the agony of a broken marriage. The difference for Christ-followers, however, is that we have access to a personal Power who’s here to help us get through the hardest of times. We worship a caring God who gives us both faith and hope.

In fact, ours is a God who specializes in taking the worst situations and turning them toward good. For instance, the first Christ-followers were hunted down, arrested and sometimes executed for worshipping Jesus. But this only caused the new, upstart faith to spread far and wide from Jerusalem and into Asia and Europe. And what can we learn from the Apostle Paul’s life-story? Although he spread the Gospel across the Mediterranean and made many converts, he spent years in jail before his eventual execution. This might sound to some like great wasted potential. Couldn’t God have kept Paul free so he could preach to thousands more and establish other churches in distant lands?

Yes, God could. But He had a much better plan for advancing the name of Jesus. While Paul was in shackles, he spent his time writing much of what we know today as the New Testament -- words of truth that God has used over the centuries to turn millions of men and women away from their destructive lifestyles and over to abundant lives and eventual eternal life.

The saying goes that uncertainty is the only thing certain in life. But as Christ-followers, we can rest assured each day. That’s because ours is a God who already knows The Rest of the Story.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Price is Right

Have you forgotten the Lord who made you, who stretched out the skies and made the earth? Why are you always afraid of those angry people who trouble you and who want to destroy? But where are those angry people now?

-- Isaiah 51:13

What was your first job? Maybe you delivered newspapers every day at 5:00 AM, flipped hamburgers at McDonald's or stocked shelves at Walmart. Odds are that it probably didn't come with a plush corner office or stock options. Instead, the hours were long, you worked nights and weekends, and the pay was meager at best.

And if you were like millions of other teenagers, you stayed on the job - whether you liked it or not - because you had your eye on the proverbial prize. Maybe that so-called prize was your first car.

It was nice enough if your parents let you drive their 10-year-old Ford or Chevy around town or to the mall. But buying your own car with your own money was in a different league altogether. You were working to earn enough money to drive it off the lot, make the monthly payments, pay the insurance premium and fill up the tank. Your bank account was almost always empty by month's end. But you didn't care; your first automobile was worth every penny because you found it. And you paid the price.

Maybe God never drove a '65 Mustang convertible or a late '80s Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z. But He certainly knows about giving up everything to buy that one-of-a-kind treasure. And in His case, that priceless treasure is YOU!

God - the most powerful and loving Presence in the universe - bought you at an incredibly expensive price: the life of His Son, Jesus. Since we could never pay the price that we rightfully owe for all the bad decisions, broken relationships and damage we've wrought throughout our lives, Jesus paid it Himself by dying in our place on a cross between two common criminals. Jesus didn't deserve to be there. But God loved us so much that He was willing to pay an incredible price for us to be with Him forever.

That news is amazing enough. But God wants you to be more than as some sort of honored houseguest (although that would still be quite nice). Instead, He has literally chosen you as His heir. That means that once you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you become an adopted son or daughter of God. And as God's children and heirs, we'll all have quite an inheritance to enjoy for eternity.

Such generosity is hard to comprehend. Jesus explained God's attitude in a way that was readily recognizable to citizens of agrarian 1st Century Israel and to suburbanites in 21st Century America:

"If any of you has 100 sheep, and one of them gets lost, what will you do? Won't you leave the 99 in the field and go look for the lost sheep until you find it," He asked His followers. "And when you find it, you will be so glad that you will put it on your shoulder and carry it home. Then you will call in your friends and neighbors and say, 'Let's celebrate! I've found my lost sheep.'"

God is willing to do whatever it takes to bring you and me home. In fact, He already paid that hefty price nearly 2,000 years ago through the death of His Son, Jesus. It's a price we never can pay back. The only thing that's left for us is to accept His precious gift.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sound Barrier

Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God;
all things are possible with God."

-- Mark 10: 27

It was the final frontier of fixed wing aviation: the sound barrier.

Only a few decades since the Wright brothers had made their historic heavier-than-air flights from the sand dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, aviation had evolved from flimsy fabric and wood biplanes into sleek – and deadly – jet-propelled fighters. The fastest aircraft of World War II would eventually reach speeds exceeding 600 miles per hour. But then the laws of aerodynamics stepped in. There was some invisible force that prevented airplanes from exceeding 761 miles per hour – the speed called Mach 1 (the speed of sound through air). This force could tear the wings off aircraft, which led some to believe it to be an unbreakable natural law.

Chuck Yeager saw it differently. On October 14, 1947, the veteran test pilot and World War II ace broke the sound barrier in a tiny rocket-propelled aircraft about five seconds after its launch from the belly of a B-29 bomber. Then, only five years later, he set another fixed wing speed record by reaching 1,650 miles per hour – more than twice the speed of sound. A once seemingly insurmountable barrier was breached through technology, skill and a good measure of bravery.

As Christ-followers, we face our own barriers as we try to live out each day the way God wants us to. But instead of exceeding Mach 1, we often crash and burn by following our natural tendencies to do what’s wrong (“sin”). Rather than following Jesus’ example of loving our neighbors, helping the disadvantaged and honoring God, we’re often tempted to go back to the old “Me First” lifestyle. It’s a real struggle: the selfish stuff we know we shouldn’t do versus the ultimately world-changing things we can and should do. And as with any struggle, we eventually get tired. That’s when we fail to cross that invisible barrier.

That’s also when we need energy to get us over the top. Something like a shot of espresso or a can or two of Red Bull. But something much more powerful, lasting and dependable.

In the Book of Romans, the Apostle Paul wrote that he considered this exhausting struggle to be literal internal warfare: Good against Evil. Through his own energy and efforts, he knew he would certainly lose the battle. But Paul had a dynamic weapon that assured his ultimate victory. And it’s something that’s available to us right now.

He’s called the Holy Spirit: the Force that all Christ-followers receive when they ask Jesus to be their Lord and Savior. The Holy Spirit is literally God’s power residing in every Believer. It’s what enables us to do or say the things we never could before, overcome seemingly insurmountable odds and generally do the impossible. In fact, the Bible says it’s the same power that raised Jesus from the dead after His crucifixion.

If you’re a Christ-follower, ask the Holy Spirit to take you to the next level. Be alert to His teachings and leadings. And understand that they can come from just about anywhere. It might be that Bible passage that reveals itself to you with new meaning. Or maybe it’s a Spiritual truth emerging from a discussion in your Gel Group. The Holy Spirit can also speak through a conversation you have with a friend or stranger, or even out of an odd circumstance in the workplace. You just never know.

But wherever and whenever He appears, the key is to keep your eyes, ears and heart open. Then trust God to help you cross the barrier.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Eyes Have It

Which one of you fathers would give your hungry child a snake if the child asked for a fish?

-- Luke 11:11

Great Britain has installed video cameras in its cities and villages to help prevent and solve petty and major crimes. Authorities credit the 24-hour surveillance for stemming instances of theft, assaults and vandalism, while civil libertarians condemn the ubiquitous cameras as Big Brother run amok.

This literal eye in the sky is also in America. And love it or hate it, real-time streaming video and closed circuit television are here to stay - particularly considering the very-real threats to people and property from domestic and foreign terrorism. The bottom line these days is that when you're in a public place, something or someone is probably watching or recording you and your actions. Buy a head of lettuce in a suburban grocery store or a pair of pants in a downtown department store; odds are that you're on camera. And better watch what you say and who you look at if you're on an elevator.

The old saying goes that it's not paranoia if people really are out to get you. But when it comes to video surveillance, it's all a bit unsettling - even if it's for your own good. However, here's something else to consider. Don't bother looking over your shoulder for the police, FBI or other law enforcement personnel. They're too busy trying to keep up with all the action playing on hundreds of video monitors. If you want to know who's REALLY watching you - and taking very detailed notes - look no further than your own home.

They're your kids.

That's an eye-opener in itself. But perhaps what's even more sobering is the fact that God has given fathers (and moms, too!) the awesome responsibility of preparing children to make a positive difference in the world and readying them for eternity. It's a tough enough assignment that lasts at least 18 years. But tougher still is that whether you're aware of it or not, children mark that time by hanging on your every word and imitating your actions. They want to know if your words match your deeds and if all the talk actually hangs with the walk.

"Like father, like son" is far more than a throwaway cliché.

Thankfully, being a Godly role model for children involves just a few basic issues. First, do you control your tongue and avoid bad language, nasty gossip and unwarranted criticism? And second, what's your level of self-control? Does your life witness personal satisfaction and gratitude with what God has provided or are you living a life of excess and competition with yourself and your neighbors? Is what you have enough or are you always looking for the next shiny toy, a bigger salary and the best house on the block? It all boils down to who (or what) is really your God. As Jesus put it so bluntly:

"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money."

Remember that your children are watching your every word and deed. And don't bother trying to fool them; they're masters at evaluating the authenticity of your character and personal integrity. Better than any rich trust fund, blue chip stock or mansion on a hill, both qualities are a priceless inheritance that no father should fail to pass on to his sons and daughters.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Ex Marks the Spot

“I hate divorce," says the Lord God of Israel, "and I hate a man's covering himself with violence as well as with his garment," says the Lord Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.”

-- Malachi 2:16

Love, romance and marriage are arguably the most popular themes in music, TV and the movies. Who can forget The Love Boat, Love Story and any Lionel Richie or Michael Bolton song from the 1980s (no matter how hard we try)? But on the flipside, it’s also likely that divorce and separation come in a close second on the hit parade. Consider these immortal lyrics penned by country music legend George Strait:

All my ex's live in Texas, and Texas is a place I'd dearly love to be. But all my ex's live in Texas, and that's why I hang my hat in Tennessee.

And then there’s this observation about marital dysfunction from Zsa Zsa Gabor, who has (so far) been divorced six times and married a seventh. “I'm an excellent housekeeper,” once claimed the iconic Hungarian-born actress. “Every time I get a divorce, I keep the house.”

Such are the anything-goes lives of hard-partying celebrities, superstar musicians and millionaire athletes. To them, marriage and divorce must be ordinary big-dollar transactions. There’s nothing personal… it’s only business. How can a Christ-follower ever relate to their far-out attitudes?

Maybe it’s not really so hard. Sobering statistics reveal that more than 40 percent of American marriages end in divorce. And the numbers aren’t much different for those who claim to follow Jesus. This is obviously a tragic situation for many reasons. For Christ-followers, it reflects a pronounced failure to trust God and live up to our promises to stick with our spouse “for better or for worse.” Is it any wonder that so many non-believers ignore or even mock our faith?

Of course, this is nothing new. So-called “religious” people have divorced their spouses for centuries. And for just as long, God has condemned the often heartless practice because it falls far short of His ideal. The Bible explains God’s perspective through this eye-opening Old Testament passage:

“You ask, ‘Why?’ It is because the Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.”

The fact is that God hates divorce -- and for many good reasons. It’s emotionally and financially devastating, and wreaks havoc on children and their sense of security. No doubt the specter of their parents’ divorces will haunt their own relationships. There’s now a terrible example to follow.

Marriages are hardly the perfect, blissful unions portrayed in bad grocery store novels and the Lifetime Movie of the Week. But God has called Christ-followers to holiness – not always happiness. We therefore must understand that marriage is a God-created covenant rather than a convenience. And as with anything made and blessed by God, we must recognize that marriage is always worth fighting for.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Taking the Plunge

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

2 Corinthians 5:17

Cleanliness is next to Godliness.

You won’t find this familiar saying anywhere in the Bible. But many people think it’s the Gospel truth. We start or end most days with a hot shower or bath. We stock our bathrooms with antibacterial soaps. And we buy costly laundry detergents and bleaches promising brilliant whites and vivid colors. It all adds up to a soap and detergent industry involving about 700 companies with combined annual revenues of billions of dollars.

Our desire to stay clean seems to be hard-wired into our DNA. But this intense longing covers much more than our face and hands. We also want to be just as clean on the inside. That means a clean heart and a clean conscience. And we so much want a clean start.

That’s where baptism comes in: that public demonstration of faith that one has turned his or her back on their past, renounced their sins and been re-born into a new life through faith in Jesus. The Apostle Paul paints baptism as a wondrous portrait of death and resurrection; one where the old ways have perished and a brilliant future has begun:

“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

So what about you? If you could, would you turn back the clock and start your life over again? It sounds like a fantasy, but there really is a way. The saying goes that this new beginning is only a few inches away; it’s that short distance from your heart to your head. The first step on the journey is to realize that you – just like everyone on Earth – has failed to live up to God’s standards and expectations. The next is to trust in Jesus to save you from the penalty we all deserve – eternal death and separation from God. That’s because Christ is the One Who has already paid our way into God’s kingdom by dying for all the past, present and future wrongs we’ve committed in our lifetime. His is a free gift of immense cost. But like any gift, it’s of little use if we don’t accept it.

And then it’s time to (literally) take the plunge into a new life through baptism. Let’s look again toward Jesus as our example. Although He lived a perfect, spotless life with no sins of His own to be forgiven, Christ still demanded this symbolic re-birth and cleansing for Himself – as well as His followers in the centuries to follow.

"This is my Son, whom I love,” a voice from heaven said as Jesus arose from His baptism in the Jordan River. “With Him I am well pleased."

Thursday, May 21, 2009

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

For better or for worse, there's been plenty of talk the last few years about our country's need for fundamental change. But the fact is that America has changed drastically since the end of World War II without the help of celebrities and politicians. There are the obvious things -- like the growth of the suburbs, 24-hour Walmarts, and cable TV. And of course, there's the Internet.

Those changes may be good or bad depending on your perspective. But one change that's definitely negative involves society's attitude toward marriage and family. Fifty 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 could actually lead to jail time for the offending parties. But consider how much has changed now that we are so much more "enlightened" than our parents and grandparents! Think of everything we've gained now that such a large segment of the populous has turned its back on committed marriage (the "death 'til you part" type). With more flexible laws and the literal promotion of adultery in popular culture, it's no wonder that more than 40 percent of marriages end in divorce. It's also no wonder that so many people figure that marriage isn't worth the trouble. Living together becomes their rational option.

But along with the devastating emotional toll comes the burden from the skyrocketing rates of out-of-wedlock births - now reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to near 40 percent. The common denominator here is that our society has walked -- or more accurately run -- away from Biblical ideals like marriage. Specifically, we have turned from God and His teachings as a whole -- the ones He gave us for experiencing meaningful, fulfilling lives. What were once considered clear black and white issues of right and wrong have blended over the decades into murky shades of gray. But it's all relative, right? Who needs those pesky 10 Commandments and Jesus' teachings, anyway?

That's obviously not God's standard when it comes to committed relationships between men and women. He had a perfect plan from the very beginning -- and He was quick to share it. We need read only a few pages of the Bible's very first book before we reach this ancient yet refreshing passage:

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

That sounds very permanent. But to many modern-thinking couples, living together without any strings attached is a more progressive and tolerant lifestyle choice. After all, commitment is such an uncomfortable word - a word that implies responsibility, faith and total dependence on a much greater and wiser Power.

But come to think of it, isn't that what it means to be a Christ-follower?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Mama Mia

Listen, my son, to your father's instruction
and do not forsake your mother's teaching.

-- Proverbs 1:8

He’s considered by many historians to be one of our nation’s greatest presidents. He led the United States through the dark days of the Great Depression, defeated the Axis powers in World War II and won an amazing four presidential elections.

He was Franklin Delano Roosevelt (“FDR”). By the time of his death in 1945, he was the most powerful leader of the world’s greatest military machine. And he was also a bit of a mama’s boy.

FDR’s mother was Sara Roosevelt, described as a “strong-willed widow who wasn't about to give up her hold on her only child.” She made the future president wear a dress until he was five years old. When young Franklin left home to attend Harvard, his mother followed him to college and moved to Boston. And after FDR’s marriage to his fourth cousin, his mother bought the newlyweds a fine home in New York City – and then moved in herself to run the household. It was years later that FDR’s wife Eleanor wrote, ''you were never quite sure when (my mother-in-law) would appear, day or night.''

OK… Maybe Sara Roosevelt took motherhood a bit too far. But FDR obviously would do (and did) almost anything for her. When she died in 1941, the president wore a black armband as a sign to the nation of his deep mourning and affection. Perhaps FDR’s old-fashioned attitude can teach us a thing or two about appreciating our mothers and their irreplaceable roles in our lives.

With the traditional family under attack from “progressive” thinkers, Hollywood celebrities and the so-called cultural elite, it’s God’s Word – the Bible – that once again proves to be our source of truth about the strength and value of motherhood. Where would our society be without strong mothers teaching the next generation to walk in God’s ways? It’s through the examples of good mothers that we learn about compassion, character, work ethic and faith.

King Lemuel wrote these observations in the Old Testament book of Proverbs :

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”

These were words of wisdom and truth centuries ago – and they still are for Christ-followers today. Which only goes to show that FDR was right all along.

So maybe there’s something to be said for being a mama’s boy (or girl).