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.