Sunday, August 29, 2010

Pride and Prejudice

Our foolish pride comes from this world, and so do our selfish desires and our desire to have everything we see. None of this comes from the Father.

-- 1 John 2:16

Are you one of those do-it-yourselfers?

You know – one of those folks who can do it all without help from the experts. Whether it’s fixing a leaky faucet, changing your car’s oil or installing hardwood flooring, no professionals are needed – or even wanted on your job site!

There’s definitely a certain pride factor involved when you do it yourself and do it right. Who can deny the satisfaction from viewing a shiny polished car, a lush manicured lawn or a tiled kitchen backsplash? And that goes double when you put hours of hard work into your efforts. Yes, you should be proud.

Or should you?

Maybe taking pride in a job well done is OK to a point. But as Christ-followers, we need to understand that pride is actually one of those lures that can hurt us badly if we don’t watch out.

At pride’s root is our love of the world’s values rather than our devotion to God. And pride also happens to be a disease with some nasty side effects. One symptom is far-sightedness: we tend to see pride in others but not in ourselves. Our heads then grow and our minds shrink. And eventually, we reach the point where we actually think we’re strong and smart enough to do it all; all while forgetting that God is the only true power and source of our successes. We become arrogant, vain, stubborn and defensive. And we may even develop a strange sense of satisfaction when others – often our closest friends – face difficulties or tragedies in their lives.

These painful symptoms can last for days or even years. But we’ll eventually reach the point when God lets us crumble and fall flat after some unforeseen situation or circumstance. It’s called the pride before the fall. And it’s only when we’re struggling helplessly in the debris that we finally regain our senses and return to Him.

Like the common cold, we’re all bound to catch the pride bug every once in a while. But what’s the best way to battle this infectious disease once it’s set in? First, it’s not about adopting an artificially low self-esteem or a terminal woe-is-me attitude. Instead, it’s all about replacing deceptive self-confidence with reliable Christ-confidence. Our best strategy is to always put God first in our lives and remember that we can do nothing without Him. Always give the Lord all credit for your blessings and successes. Help others through their struggles. And then remember that God chooses and uses humble people to do great things in the world.

The Bible sums it up with some solid advice: "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up."

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Tongue Tied

The tongue is like a spark. It is an evil power that dirties the rest of the body and sets a person's entire life on fire with flames that come from hell itself.

-- James 3:6

Did the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 start—as the legend says—when Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over a lantern? Or did it begin when a one-legged man slipped on Mrs. O’Leary’s wet barn floor and dropped his lit pipe into some hay or wood shavings?

Except to history buffs and insurance agents, the answer doesn’t matter. But the aftermath – whatever its cause – was indeed horrific: nearly $200 million in property damage, 300 people dead and another 100,000 homeless. And all it took was a single spark.

James—the half-brother of Jesus—taught much the same lesson in his New Testament book written to some of the earliest Christ-followers. But instead of the destruction wrought from a tiny flame, James described the incredible power of the human tongue. Although it’s only a small part of the human body, our tongues have the power to change lives: to uplift and destroy, and to bless and curse.

We know this all too well through our life experiences. How many times have we uttered something inappropriate—or maybe downright mean-spirited—that seemed to come out of nowhere? Saying the wrong thing at the wrong moment to the wrong person has cost people their careers, marriages and reputations. And the sad fact is that our words reveal what we really think deep down inside. They’re a reflection of our heart.

Not only can our poison tongues inflict damage at any time, the damage can take several different forms. Whether it’s through gossip, lying, sarcasm, cursing or taking God’s name in vain, we don’t lack for words we wish we could take back.

Back in World War II, the U.S. Government printed posters with the headline, “Loose Lips Sink Ships.” The message was that spies can pick up careless—although seemingly innocent—gossip about Allied troop movements, ship launches and other secret information. And when such information reaches the enemy’s ears, the result is often carnage, death and destruction. Likewise, all Christ-followers must watch their tongues to avoid causing needless, irreparable damage to relationships and reputations. Our words should instead lift up rather than put down. The Apostle Paul put it this way:

“When you talk, do not say harmful things, but say what people need—words that will help others become stronger. Then what you say will do good to those who listen to you.”

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Seeing is Believing

But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

-- James 2:18

Ever had a home or office computer infected by a virus, worm or malware? If so, you know that helpless feeling when your machine crashes, freezes or slows to a maddening crawl. And soon enough, that once top-of-the-line PC becomes nothing more than an expensive plastic paperweight.

But don’t give up hope quite yet. There’s powerful software from reputable companies that not only cleans out such infections, it helps prevent future problems by fixing unrelated computer performance issues like defragmentation and registry errors. What was once a dead or crippled computer can actually become better than new. The before-and-after is often remarkable. And that precious $79.99 spent on the anti-virus software looks like a bargain in retrospect.

Every Christ-follower for the last 2,000 years can recognize this modern day cyber-illustration. Like a crippled machine made whole again, Christ-followers become born again once they accept Jesus Christ through faith as their Lord and Savior. We start over at that point with a clean slate with God – now ready to do good works to advance His kingdom. Think about it: everything we’ve done wrong throughout our lives – none of it will be held against us after we leave this life on earth! All the pitiful ways we’ve treated others, the lies we’ve told and the potential we’ve wasted over the years; it’s all forgiven because Jesus paid the price and died for us on the cross.

So we’re now free and have an incredible future with God because of our faith in Christ. But this is much more than a simple intellectual exercise. Instead, authentic, faith-filled Christ-followers must demonstrate tangible changes in who they are, what they think… and especially what they do.

James, the half-brother of Jesus, provides this spot-on illustration:

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Of course, we’re not saved from the punishment we deserve because of any good deeds (“works”) we might do. If that were the case, it would be possible to earn our way to God’s acceptance. The fact is that our feeble efforts and good intentions are never enough; there’s nothing we can do except follow God’s plan of salvation and accept His free gift of freedom through Jesus Christ.

Rather than being saved BY our own good works, our faith leads us to being saved FOR doing good works. Christ-followers are therefore to be Jesus’ mouth, eyes, hands and feet in our community and around the world – and all to demonstrate God’s power to change lives and put His love in action.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Truth or Consequences

We have a chief priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses. He was tempted in every way that we are, but he didn’t sin.

-- Hebrews 4:15

It sounds like something found deep in the jungles of Africa, the Amazon rainforest or maybe even on another planet. It’s a carnivorous plant called the Venus fly trap that’s found only in the bogs of North and South Carolina near Wilmington.

Maybe carnivorous is a bit misleading; Venus fly traps don’t catch and feed on squirrels or small rodents. But they do feast on flies and other insects. This remarkable plant’s secret lies in its attractive colors and outstretched, nectar-scented pads. When an unsuspecting insect lands on the plant, sensors ready its trap to shut. But by intelligent design, this takes more than a single motion. It’s only after a second sensor activates that the Venus fly trap snares its winged victim within 0.1 seconds! (The plant’s double sensor mechanism helps prevent accidental activations from wind, raindrops or fallen leaves.) Powerful fluids then fill the sprung trap, which dissolve the prey into usable nutrients within about 10 days. The cycle later resumes with the Venus fly trap re-opening its pads to repeat the lethal deception.

Everyone – including Christ-followers – can learn one or two things from the Venus fly trap. But maybe it’s really more about learning from the hapless fly.

God seeks to grow and strengthen our spiritual lives by putting us through trials and tests to make us more like Him. On the other hand, it’s the devil who seeks to destroy our spirit by tempting us to sin against God and His will for us. The devil begins his attack by latching onto our natural desires and weaknesses. We then begin to minimize the temptation’s risks while devising intricate plans for yielding to the enticement. Unfortunately, it’s often too late by this point. Like a cancer, that seemingly innocent temptation has metastasized into outright disobedience to God. And the trap is sprung, leading to the dire consequences of spiritual – or even physical – death.

No stranger to temptation and sin, the apostle Peter warned the early followers of Jesus about the dangers that stalked them.

"Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour,” he wrote in 1 Peter. “Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”
The fact is that temptations are part of the human experience. And like the Venus fly trap, they’re incredibly appealing with little hint of danger. So to resist them successfully, we need to understand their source – the devil – the one called the father of lies. We must also visualize the consequences of our contemplated actions. And then there’s the most important step of all:

“Surrender to God!” urges James, the brother of Jesus. “Resist the devil, and he will run from you.”