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.