Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Built to Last

Training the body helps a little, but godly living helps in every way. Godly living has the promise of life now and in the world to come.

-- 1 Timothy 4:8

Long before Lexus, Acura, and Infiniti began to dominate American highways, Mercedes-Benz was the leading brand of imported luxury automobiles. They were – and still are – relatively expensive when compared to your run-of-the-mill Chevy, Toyota or Honda. And with some Mercedes sedans starting at around $40,000, these expertly-engineered vehicles are out of reach for most drivers. But for those who can afford them, their technological excellence is just the point. They do cost a lot. But they’re built to last.

One way Mercedes-Benz builds a reputation for excellence is through its High Mileage Award. First introduced in the 1960s, this citation recognizes those Mercedes-Benz vehicles confirmed as literally going the distance by reaching the 250,000, 500,000, 750,000 and 1 million-kilometer marks. Proud owners are quick to attach the award’s iconic Star and Laurel radiator grill badges to their automobiles.

Like expensive, well-engineered vehicles, Christ-followers are also made to endure long journeys on roads that are rarely straight or smooth. But our journeys are those meant to test and grow our faith, and ultimately take us to our eternal destination.

The Bible tells us that those who have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior can expect their fair share of bumpy roads with unsettling hairpin turns. In fact, they can count on it. Maybe it's a layoff at work, an illness in the family or an unanticipated budget-busting expense. Whatever it is, we can respond by either giving up or by depending on our faith in God to see us through. Real faith will remain strong to the end. But what's false is bound to fail.

Thankfully, life’s not always about dodging potholes and head-on traffic. So while we’re traveling on our individual journeys, we need to take time to enjoy the ride God has given us and ask Him for the wisdom to do His will along the way. And of course, we need to focus on the prize. Not a shiny metal badge adorning a radiator grill – but the crown of life that awaits us when we cross the finish line. “Well done, good and faithful servant” are the incredible words every Christ-follower should long to hear that day from their Creator.

So are you spiritually fit for the long haul? The Apostle Paul had his own perspective.

“Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training,” he explains in 1 Corinthians. “They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Comeback Kid

Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

-- John 4:13

Playwright Oscar Wilde was right on the money when he noted that experience is simply the name we give to our mistakes. Whether it’s on the job (a missed deadline) or in the home (left the water running in the tub), mistakes can be both costly and painful. But consider the pain when the mistake is made in front of an audience of millions.

In the 1972 Summer Olympics, Finnish runner Lasse Viren tripped and fell during the 10,000-meter race when he tangled his feet with American gold medalist Frank Shorter. That would have been the end of the story for most athletes. But Viren did the unthinkable: he got off the ground, resumed the race and caught the runners who had passed him. And then on the final lap – he not only passed his competitors – he literally left them in the dust and crossed the finish line alone. Many sportswriters consider Viren’s performance to be one of the greatest comebacks in Olympic history.

Maybe your own mistakes aren’t of Olympic proportions. But they might feel like it. After all, how many times have we made such huge mistakes in life that it seemed like the end of the world? We feel like we’ve blown it. It’s over. And we’ll never get back.

Life-changing mistakes can cover a lot of territory. They might affect our personal relationships, careers or even spiritual lives – maybe all of the above. But the good news for Christ-followers is that we worship a God who not only knows what we’re going through, but a God who cares. He’s also a God of second (and third, fourth, etc.) chances.

The apostle Peter learned this lesson when he asked Jesus, "How many times should I forgive someone who does something wrong to me? Is seven times enough?" Jesus answered, “Not just seven times, but seventy-seven times!”

If we’re to be so forgiving when others offend us, think how patient God is with us when we make mistake after mistake. And Peter knew a thing or two about making mistakes. In fact, after Jesus was arrested and the apostles had scattered in fear, Peter emphatically denied that he even knew Christ. And not just once – but three times!

Within hours of His arrest, Jesus was tried and convicted on false charges. And then He suffered a horrific, painful death – in our place – through His crucifixion between two common thieves. Crushed by guilt, Peter believed his life was over. If anyone had blown it, it was him. But Christ had other plans for His apostle of little faith. We read early in the Book of Acts that Peter – now filled with the Holy Spirit – boldly defied the same religious authorities who had earlier condemned Jesus to death. So as we search for our own comebacks from failure and pain, let’s take Peter’s testimony about his Master to heart:

“In no one else can salvation be found,” he proclaimed. “For in all the world no other name has been given to men but this, and it is by this name that we must be saved!”

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Rough Road Ahead

We must keep our eyes on Jesus, who leads us and makes our faith complete. He endured the shame of being nailed to a cross, because he knew that later on he would be glad he did. Now he is seated at the right side of God's throne!

-- Hebrews 12:2

The Christ-follower’s faith-journey is often compared to travel along an uneven, winding road or a perilous climb up a craggy mountainside. After all, we never know what’s around the bend or over the next hill. Our vision is limited. And it’s all too easy to lose our footing on the steep inclines and fall back a little.

An excellent illustration of this eternal lesson involves a beautiful spot in the Blue Ridge Mountains called Crabtree Falls. Located about a half hour’s drive past Charlottesville, Virginia, it demands a strenuous hike once you finally park your car. But it’s very much worth it; the view is spectacular.

Like our faith-journey, the narrow, rocky trail leading to the waterfall leaves little margin for error. There’s even a sign at the water’s edge that warns hikers to stick close to the path. Several people – the sign explains – have died after slipping on the moss-covered rocks. Rather than keeping their eyes on the marked trail, these unfortunate adventurers apparently decided to take a detour. Their way might have promised fun and adventure at the time. But ultimately, it delivered only tragedy.

“There is a way that appears to be right,” we’re warned through the Old Testament book of Proverbs. “But in the end it leads to death.”
God – like that sign posted at the waterfall’s edge – urges us to stay on the path that leads to the intended destination. But as obvious as that sounds, life’s problems, temptations and tragedies seem to wait for us around the next bend. And we always trip after compromising our principles with the world’s values. It’s then that we fall down and wonder why God permitted our problems in the first place.

Rather than potholes, loose rocks and hairpin turns, the hazards along our faith-journey involve unemployment, broken relationships, missed credit card payments, and chronic disease. Our task is therefore to focus on our Guide and remember that we worship a God who’s much greater than our circumstances. He’s led us safely through the rough times before…and so He can do again today. And through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus, God has already defeated our greatest life-hazard: sin.

Is your faith-journey getting a little too rough? If it’s not now, it will later. But let’s be encouraged by that famous rhetorical question from Paul, Jesus’ Apostle to the Gentiles: “If God is for us,” he wrote, “who can be against us?”

Following Jesus is you guarantee for reaching the goal of your faith-journey. The trip – as well as the view -- will be unforgettable!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Fear Today, Gone Tomorrow

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

-- Mark 10:27

Exploding budget deficits. Government corruption. Mounting unemployment.

It seems like most news headlines these days involve some painful issue involving the economy or politics. There's escalated rhetoric about war in the Middle East. And no one knows how to stop that disasterous oil leak in the Gulf. So is it any wonder that some people literally fear what tomorrow will bring? After all, the future won't get any brighter. (That is, if you believe what the media keep repeating 24/7 on cable TV and the Internet.)

Of course, bad economic news isn't anything new in America. After the good times of vigorous spending and low unemployment, our economy invariably hits rough waters. That's when people grow wary and start cutting back on their spending. And soon enough, simple talk about recession turns into the real thing.

Thankfully, not everyone listens to the gloom-and-doomers. For instance, consider Kellogg's Rice Crispies, Hyundai automobiles, Kraft Miracle Whip and the Apple iPod. They're all extremely successful products that were introduced during economic downturns. How different would things be today if these companies had listened to their fears, followed conventional wisdom and decided against taking a risk?

Few would have blamed them had they played it safe. After all, fear and uncertainty come naturally when times get rough. God can seem far away. And we can feel discouraged and abandoned because we don't feel His presence. What's more, it doesn't help when the devil continues to talk us out of taking that first step of courage. But the truth is that God knows the plans He has for us. He also sees us for what we can become and not for who we are at the moment. Let's look at the Bible for some examples.

King David - one of the most powerful rulers in history - started out as an obscure shepherd boy. And Moses was a poor speaker who stuttered, yet God chose him to confront Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of slavery. Then there's the Apostle Peter. He was a simple fisherman who actually disowned Jesus three times when things got tough. But God still picked him to lead the growing band of Christ-followers in Jerusalem.

Whatever we fear, the important thing to remember is that we don't face it alone. In fact, it's when we're in God's presence that we're the most protected. It's all a matter of coming to our Father in prayer, listening for His response and guidance, and obeying accordingly in faith.

"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."

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Catch Me If You Can

As Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said, "Here is truly an Israelite. There is nothing false in him."

-- John 1:47

Forget big budgets, A-list actors and Oscar-winning directors; it’s often the quality of the script that decides a movie’s success or failure. But the chances for box office gold are often much better when the screenwriter bases his or her work on actual events.

Consider Catch Me If You Can, the popular 2002 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks. DiCaprio played the ultimate imposter, Frank William Abagnale, Jr.

Jailed in France, Sweden, Canada and the United States for passing bad checks and other crimes, Abagnale was able to talk his way out of just about anything. When his ex-girlfriend obtained a business card from an inspector of the US Bureau of Prisons, the conman used it to convince the guards that he was a real prison inspector. And remarkably, the guards responded that they had known it all along! Soon, the imposter was a free man.

One of Abagnale’s most famous cons involved impersonating an airline pilot. This enabled him to cash bad checks at banks because tellers considered pilots to be credible and respected professionals. Another of his scams involved impersonating a physician!

The FBI eventually caught up with the brazen imposter. And following his release from prison, Abagnale eventually went straight and established Abagnale and Associates, where he today consults for clients (including the US Government) on the topics of forgery, embezzlement and secure documents.

"To look at him, you wouldn’t think he could steal a postage stamp,” remarked Leonardo DiCaprio after meeting Abagnale. “But he has an almost unconscious way of engaging you with his eyes, with his energy and with his intelligence."
Frank Abagnale’s story is both fascinating and shocking. How could a dime-a-dozen conman garner so much respect and admiration from so many unsuspecting people? Unfortunately, the same thing happens every Sunday morning in churches around the world. And while smooth-talking individuals aren’t posing there as airline pilots or doctors, it’s no-doubt that there are imposter Christ-followers in the congregations. They know all the right things to say and the right groups to attend, and they’ve often played their roles for years because it’s what their spouse, close family or neighbors expect. These frauds fool just about everyone on Sundays. But it’s a far different story the other six days of the week. And that’s to be expected: their hearts are far from God. And God isn’t fooled for a moment.

Does this strike too close to home?

If you’re tired of looking over your shoulder in a Catch Me If You Can existence, you too can go on the straight and narrow and have a fresh start in life. It starts with dropping the disguise and asking Jesus in faith to clean you both inside and out. Through Him, you can be filled with God’s vital spiritual authenticity – that Power that enables all true Christ-followers to be his literal hands and feet in a dark, dying world. And rest assured that your transformation won’t come a moment too soon. After all, these are days when God looks for those willing to live out His purposes. And not as a matter of grudging duty, but instead because of deep – and authentic – devotion.