Thursday, May 27, 2010

Up Close and Personal

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.

-- Jeremiah 1:5

In the market for a new job?

Career counselors say that one of the best ways to separate yourself from the competition is to learn as much as possible about the company or organization you’d like to work for. That means searching the Internet – and maybe the library (if you’re Old School) – for complete information about its background, mission statement, business focus, recent setbacks and successes, plus the roadblocks it faces in the near future.

Why is this research so important? Demonstrating that you know your stuff can make an extremely good impression on the interviewer – the one who often has a say as to whether or not you’re hired or just passed over. Doing your homework also shows your potential employer that you understand where they’re coming from, where they’re going and how you can help them succeed. In turn, the interviewer perceives you as being “one of them” because you already speak their language. And your efforts also prove something else that employers value and appreciate: that you really care.

In many ways, the job hunting process is much like finding a soul mate. Once you think you’ve found that someone special, it’s only natural that you try to learn all you can about him or her, where he or she comes from and hopes to go. Instead of your naturally self-centered tendencies, your thoughts and tendencies soon begin to focus on your future spouse. And if the relationship becomes intimate enough, you’ll eventually begin to share your deepest thoughts and desires. You’ll become – as they say – a couple that speaks the same language. And why not? It proves that you really care.

It’s obvious that we’ll go to amazing lengths to demonstrate our sincerity and interest to a potential employer or spouse. But did you ever consider that we worship a loving God who does much the same to have a daily, intimate relationship with us? Perhaps the most famous passage in the New Testament (John 3:16) tells us that God loves the world so much that He gave His only Son (Jesus) so that those who believe in Him will have eternal life. Our Creator willingly let His own Son suffer and die to pay for all our wrongdoings – past, present and future. We rightfully deserve death because of how we’ve lived our lives. But God’s love offers us joy and happiness if we’re only willing to accept it. It was God’s plan that by living on Earth among everyday people and then dying for our sins, He – through Jesus – would come to an intimate understanding of the human experience. God would truly learn to speak our language.

Of course, there is one other important thing accomplished by Jesus’ incredible sacrifice: it proved that He really cares. Therefore, shouldn’t we?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Greater Good

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

-- John 16:33

The death of a family member. An unexpected job loss. A devastating earthquake.

It’s safe to say that just about everyone who’s ever walked this planet has wondered why God allows tragedy and injustice. We reason that if He’s all-powerful, He should prevent it. But consider that God’s mysteries extend far beyond the human experience and into the wonders of His creation. For instance, how can an awkward caterpillar gorge itself with leaves, spin a cocoon around itself and later emerge as a beautiful butterfly? And how can a tiny acorn grow into a mighty 80-foot oak?

The principle here is the same. Whether the unexplainable involves a tragedy or nature, we must remind ourselves that God’s ways aren’t our ways. Our human minds are much too limited to grasp the entirety of His greater purposes.

Our perspective is limited. But we’re not totally in the dark here. God’s word to us – the Bible – gives us several clues. First, we live in an imperfect world where bad things can (and often do) happen. Ever since Adam and Eve first disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, perfection on Earth was spoiled. And soon followed the first murder: a cold-blooded attack on one family member by another.

Have things really changed since then?

Our own bad choices are another reason for suffering. For instance, if someone chooses to get drunk and then gets behind the wheel, tragedy often follows. But that’s hardly God’s fault. We instead reap from the foolishness we’ve sown.

As depressing as this all may be, remember that we worship a God who specializes in turning seemingly bad situations into very happy endings. Consider someone who gets laid off from a job, only to find a much better one in a different city – and with better pay – in an industry he or she had never previously considered. If it weren’t for the “tragedy” of unemployment, he or she might have become stuck in a boring, dead end job with little future. God (as always) know bests!

Finally, God often turns suffering into good by using it to discipline and mature us. Are we ever the same after experiencing a major illness or family tragedy? It’s through adversity that we draw closer to God and depend on His help. And He can even use our suffering as a witness to others. If you’re a Christ-follower faced with a God-sized situation, where you place your faith speak volumes to others.

Yes, our lives can be filled with disappointment and heartache. But God never promised us a pain-free existence. In fact, Jesus told His disciples to expect trouble. But let’s take comfort that we worship a “Big Picture” God – One who sees beyond our limited scope to turn even the greatest personal tragedies into the greater good.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Road Warriors

Even the hairs on your head are counted. So don't be afraid! You are worth much more than many sparrows.

-- Luke 12:7

Think your daily commute is rough? Even if you’ve braved the infamous rush hours of Atlanta, Washington, DC, New York City or even Los Angeles, count your blessings that you don’t live in Sao Paulo, Brazil. According to Time magazine, traffic jams in that South American metropolis of 20 million can sometimes drag for 120 miles. What’s more is that the problem only gets worse with the addition of 1,000 cars each day.

Sao Paulo residents (“Paulistos”) cope the best they can as the gridlock consumes more and more of their lives. But their sense of helplessness and lack of control leaves them feeling angry, exhausted and depressed. Time’s quote from one frazzled commuter says it all.

"I feel useless, like I am a prisoner," complains Andreia de Oliveira, an architect who spends between two and three hours each day going to and from work. "I could be at the gym, studying, at home relaxing. But instead I am stressed and frustrated."
You might not suffer through crippling bumper-to-bumper traffic all day. But you – like every human being – have no doubt felt like things have spiraled out of control. Maybe you feel like that today. And for good reason. But believe it or not, God happens to be in control of the situation.

This is a fundamental truth that every Christ-follower should embrace. One reason we don't feel His control is because we can't see the big picture. We don’t know the life-changing people and situations He’ll introduce to our existence. We also don’t have His vantage point of knowing what’s around the corner and miles up the road. And obviously, it’s hard for us to see a greater purpose in our lives when we're going through the pain of unemployment, lingering illness, family even death. But God is well in control. And for those who trust and follow Him, he offers this assurance:

"Before I made you in your mother's womb, I chose you,” says our Creator. “Before you were born, I set you apart for a special work. I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."

Have things spun out of control in your life? If not, they will eventually. But don’t ever lose hope. God cares for each of us and even invites us to be His sons and daughters through a personal relationship with His own Son, Jesus Christ. With this Good News in mind, we can count on God’s words of expectation…a timeless promise meant for each of us today:

“I say this because I know what I am planning for you," says the Lord. "I have good plans for you, not plans to hurt you. I will give you hope and a good future.”

Monday, May 10, 2010

All In the Family

Children, obey your parents as the Lord wants, because this is the right thing to do.

-- Ephesians 6:1

If you’ve ever experienced the joys and tribulations of parenting, you can probably relate to these astute observations from actor and comedian Bill Cosby:

"You know the only people who are always sure about the proper way to raise children? Those who’ve never had any."

“No matter how calmly you try to referee, parenting will eventually produce bizarre behavior,” adds the father of five. “And I'm not talking about the kids. Their behavior is always normal.”

Sound familiar? It’s in this domestic arena that God has given parents an awesome responsibility: one of preparing children to make a positive difference in the world and readying them for eternity.

Thankfully, God takes a personal interest in the lives of those who love Him. And this interest extends to the patience and love it takes to raise children according to His high standards. The Bible tells us that respectful, obedient children don’t just happen by accident. Godly parenting involves intentional actions and instruction. For example, consider what the Old Testament’s Book of Deuteronomy has to say to parents about emphasizing God’s ways to their kids:

“Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

Children not only look for boundaries of acceptable behavior, they crave direction and seek love and approval. It’s when they don’t get enough of this from their parents that they can act out, perform poorly at school gravitate toward the wrong crowd and bad influences.

So what’s a parent (new or veteran) to do? First, understand that parenting is privilege rather than a burden. And second, remember that God is our heavenly parent. This means that human parents have the great responsibility of playing His role in the child rearing process. Therefore, follow God’s example for raising us: Give your children unconditional love, apply consistent discipline and give them spiritual direction. And don’t forget to lead through your own positive attitude and outlook on life.

No one says that parenting is easy. But in a dark society that’s quickly turning its back on God, it’s arguably the most important job in the world – and one with literal world-changing consequences.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

God of Love

“Jesus did many other miracles in the presence of his followers that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Then, by believing, you may have life through his name.”

This inspiring passage comes from the Gospel of John – a book of the Bible that’s full of eye-witness accounts of Christ’s miracles. In it we read about Jesus healing the sick, walking on water and raising the dead. And that’s not to mention His own miraculous Resurrection and subsequent victory over death and sin. But John’s Gospel also tells the famous story about a wedding Jesus attended. It was during the post-nuptial celebration that He performed the first of His public miracles: changing water into wine.

For centuries, scholars have speculated about this very practical marvel. It obviously demonstrated Jesus’ power over material things. But it also revealed something much more profound: that God takes a personal interest in His creation; and even with their mundane problems like running low on beverages at a wedding feast.

But there was another miracle that day. A man and woman were joined as one in the sight of God. And that’s something that He takes very seriously. So much so, in fact, that He made Jesus’ life a model for what marriage should be. And although Jesus never got married, cut a wedding cake or honeymooned at Niagara Falls, He knows what He’s talking about. After all, He does have a bride - the entire body of Christ-followers around the world known collectively as the Church.

It’s from this perspective that Christ teaches us some important lessons about marriage. First - like He did during His earthly ministry - husbands and wives need to submit to each other. This involves voluntarily relinquishing some of our rights while honoring and affirming the husband's leadership in the family. As Jesus explained about Himself, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

A related Biblical lesson about marriage is that husbands should show sacrificial love toward their wives - just as Jesus showed for His Church. That's unlikely to mean that husbands will literally need to die for their wives (although it could), but it does point to an intentional sacrifice of time and a genuine commitment toward a Christ-centered life together.

Both lessons reveal a critical insight that our modern culture chooses to ignore: successful marriages demand work, vision and commitment. And there's much more truth where that comes from. From the first passages of Genesis to the last verses of Revelation, the Bible teaches volumes about love, marriage and relationships.

But let's step back and consider Jesus' attitude toward His bride: the Church. How much stronger would our own marriages become if we adopted His principles of submission and sacrifice -- and then put them into action?