Thursday, April 22, 2010

Keeping It Kosher

You are like salt for everyone on earth. But if salt no longer tastes like salt, how can it make food salty? All it is good for is to be thrown out and walked on.

-- Matthew 5:13

If you shop or cook, chances are you’ve seen them a thousand times. They’re those special symbols printed on food packaging that certify its contents as “kosher” (literally “fit to eat”).

According to kosher food blogger Giora Shimoni (yes, there really are such folks!), kosher food is prepared according to Jewish dietary laws, which are rules and regulations derived from Old Testament laws and rabbinical extensions ensuring quality, cleanliness and safety. Hebrew National – a well-known brand of hotdogs – has a famous slogan that sums up their call to be kosher: We Answer to a Higher Authority.

Christ-followers do, too. But although we aren’t bound by the strict Old Testament dietary laws observed by the Israelites, they’re still a valuable reminder that we worship a God who knows us intimately, who cares for us deeply and who wants us to lead only healthy, Spirit-filled lives. And moreover, lives set apart from the world by higher standards. This profound, loving care and attention covers much more than the daily necessities of food, clothing and shelter. God also wants only the best for us when it comes to our personal relationships.

His instructions here are straightforward and timeless. When it comes to dating and choosing a mate, the Bible tells us to be picky and refuse to compromise. Does your prospective bride or groom share your love for God and strive to grow in his or her spiritual walk? If not, beware. The nation’s well-known divorce statistics tell the sad story. And what about his or her standards of personal behavior? Are they driven consistently by Christ-centered principles like patience and kindness?

Of course, our intimate relationships embrace both the emotional and the physical. And as with the ancient dietary laws, we need to stand apart from what the popular culture accepts and promotes.

“You surely know that your body is a temple where the Holy Spirit lives,” the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians. “The Spirit is in you and is a gift from God. You are no longer your own.”
That’s a difficult admonition that clashes with today’s feel-good, live-for-the-moment attitudes. But that’s just the point. As Christ-followers, we’re not supposed to follow the crowd. Instead, we’re to be a distinct light to a dark and dying world, with lives that testify to Christ’s power to transform.

What does God want for our personal relationships? He expects us to follow His higher standards and refuse to compromise with the world; our very lives should be kosher. After all, Christ-followers do answer to a Higher Authority.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Solitary Confinement

The LORD God said, "It isn't good for the man to live alone. I need to make a suitable partner for him."

-- Genesis 2:18

It’s known to this day as “The Rock.”

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

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

Alcatraz finally closed its doors in 1963. But today there are still millions of Americans suffering in solitary confinement. Not in a prison or jail – but by loneliness. Even in a crowded nation of more than 300 million, too many people are on their own without close friends or family. They know all too well that it’s possible to be lonely without ever being alone.

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

We’re no different today. In addition to our own sins, we also run from relationships because of what others have done to us. We’re determined to avoid being disappointed or hurt again. It’s too easy to be let down. But it’s much easier to run.

The Good News is that God has a two-fold solution to this problem. First, He re-established a relationship between Him and us through His Son, Jesus. As Christ-followers, we’re literally God’s sons and daughters – and with an incredible inheritance awaiting us. Second, there’s the Church, which is made of all the Christ-followers around the world. It’s a body of imperfect people like you and me who are all looking for the same thing: a safe place to rest from the world, heal our spiritual wounds and make lifelong relationships.

Are you tired of being lonely? Then come on inside. There’s plenty of room at the inn.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Choosing Hope

But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more.

-- Psalm 71:14

We live in a world full of choices. Just go to the supermarket and you might find a dozen different brands of bottled water! Or drive to the nearest theater complex on any Friday night for a broad selection of movies...everything from cartoons for the kids to action-packed dramas for mom and dad. And speaking of driving, try counting all the new models of cars and trucks the auto industry introduces each year.

We also have no shortage of choices when it comes to religion. Like the sandwich items posted on a fast food menu board, there's something to fit everyone's taste and preference. And people like that. For many folks, which religion you choose doesn't matter--just so long as you're sincere in your beliefs and it makes you happy. They say it's all relative and that we're all worshipping the same god anyway.

But is that true? We know from the Bible that Jesus made some startling claims that contradict the popular assumptions of modern culture. He also backed them up. First, the Scriptures predicted Jesus' birth centuries before it happened. And in the Savior's brief time on earth, He cured the sick, raised the dead, forgave sins and became a living sacrifice to pay the price for all the wrongs of the world (just as God planned it long ago). His Resurrection from the grave--just as Jesus predicted it--proved His ultimate power over death. And 2,000 years later, Jesus' words continue to change lives and render hope.

Does this mean that Jesus is really the only way to God? The short answer is YES! Jesus proclaimed that no one can come to the Father (God) except through Him. And when His disciple, Philip, asked to see the Creator, Jesus reassured His followers that God was much closer than they expected. In fact, very close.

"Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?" asked Jesus. "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father?'"

These claims, of course, make millions (maybe billions?) of people uncomfortable. They're claims of exclusivity. They're also much more than politically incorrect: modern pundits condemn them as "intolerant."

But the truth is much different. After all, Jesus' death and Resurrection make eternal life a certainty for EVERYONE who puts their faith in Him and accepts God's free gift of salvation! Christ refuses no one who asks for a new life through Him. And unlike manmade religions, the true way to God isn't about keeping certain rules, saying special prayers or eating (or not eating) particular foods. Instead, being a Christ-follower is about having a personal relationship with Jesus, accepting what He's already accomplished and letting Him live within.

Manmade religions are about "do." But Jesus is about "done."

It's what He did for us all on the cross. And in a world full of manmade ideas, faiths and religions, He's the only reason we can choose hope.