Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sign Language

The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.

-- Proverbs 12:15

Hollywood movies are rarely sources of Biblical truth. But Bruce Almighty is a refreshing exception to the rule.

Grossing nearly $500 million worldwide in ticket sales, the 2003 comedy stars Jim Carrey as a popular Buffalo, N.Y.-based television reporter with lots going for him – particularly his lovely girlfriend, played by Jennifer Anniston. But after enduring the worst day of his life, Bruce boils over with rage and declares to the Almighty that he can do a better job being God than God Himself.

One of the movie’s best scenes depicts Bruce demanding a sign from the Lord. And God answers by giving him several obvious ones – a construction sign, flashing lights and even a phone call – within a matter of minutes. But because Bruce is blinded by anger and disbelief, he can never grasp them except in hindsight.

Sound familiar? At one time or another, we’ve all asked God for a sign or a word to get us through a difficult situation. We really want Him to write out His will for us in the sky, speak to us in a booming voice or have one of His angels send an E-mail. But that’s usually not God’s way of communicating to His followers. And even if it were, would we have the eyes to see His signs or the ears to hear them?

God does, however, speak to us in many different ways. And they’re often well-timed warnings as we’re heading down the wrong path in life. One way God tries to get our attention is through the example of others. For instance, if your next door neighbor were tried and convicted for tax evasion, would it make you think twice if you were considering committing the same crime? God also speaks to us through Scripture. When you ask Him for guidance (and often when you don’t), Bible passages that you may have read or heard many times before can become crystal clear or take on new significance. And what about the times when a friend, family member, co-worker or even a stranger takes you aside to tell you something straight out of left field. If it relates to something that hits too close to home, chances are that God is using that person as His messenger of truth.

As Christ-followers, we need to be on the lookout for God’s warning signs before we make a poor choice about a relationship, career move or any other life-changing issue. After all, He sees the big picture that we can’t. And He wants only the best for us.

Is God trying to get your attention? If so, He probably isn’t doing it with a personalized flashing neon sign. Instead, His warnings are more likely to come through the words of a caring friend, the experiences of a family member or even scenes from a good Hollywood movie. But whatever form His message takes, open your eyes, ears and heart to it. We happen to worship a personal God Who cares. And what’s more – as Bruce quickly learned from his face-to-face encounter with the Almighty – He’s a God who knows you by name.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Why We Serve

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.' "

-- Acts 20:35

Why is it so important for Christ-followers to serve others?

First, we live in an upside-down world that collides with God's vision of perfection. And unfortunately, it’s been that way to one extent or another from nearly the beginning. Murder, adultery, theft, lying and every other sin are hardly new. But something strange and unsettling has happened over the last few decades. As mankind supposedly becomes enlightened through more education and “tolerance” of once forbidden topics and behaviors, societal corruption has actually mushroomed. What was once considered evil is now good. And what was once considered righteous, society now condemns it as bigoted.

It’s in these dark times that we should recall Jesus’ admonition to some of His earliest followers:

“Make your light shine,” He said, “so that others will see the good that you do and will praise your Father in heaven.”

We’re living in strange and uncertain days, to say the least. So as Christ-followers, we’re to share our faith in God’s ultimate control by being Jesus’ hands and feet on earth: to serve. He calls us to help prepare His kingdom by making the most of the different gifts and talents He’s given us. And it’s as we help our neighbors and community that we can live out our own stories about the One who changed everything when we needed it the most.

“In the same way, the Son of Man did not come to be served,” Jesus explains. “He came to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many people."

What does Jesus mean by light? It’s really that “spark” or inner Power that God grants each Christ-follower for demonstrating His goodness through their words and actions. We might show it by helping an elderly neighbor by running a much-needed errand. Or volunteering to manage a co-worker’s project when he or she is struggling to finish an earlier assignment. Or it might even involve cleaning up a community park or visiting residents at an assisted living center.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Be Like Mike

God has also given each of us different gifts to use. If we can prophesy, we should do it according to the amount of faith we have.

-- Romans 12:6

Did you ever want to Be Like Mike ? If you grew up in the 1980s or ‘90s, chances are you did.

The “Mike” in question is of course Michael Jordan, one of the best (many say the greatest) basketball players of all time. His astonishing NBA career includes accolades as an NBA Rookie of the Year, a five-time NBA Most Valuable Player, a six-time NBA Champion and a 14-time NBA All-Star. When he retired after the 2002-03 season, the University of North Carolina graduate held the NBA's highest scoring average of 30.1 points per game.

Michael Jordan’s remarkable athleticism and talent combined to render an incredible Hall of Fame career that basketball fans will no doubt remember for decades. And his lead-by-example work ethic helped bring the NBA Championship to Chicago six times. So it’s no surprise that the 6’6” superstar was a top NBA draft choice. After all, the scouts had good reason to know that Jordan could soon revolutionize the game.

That makes sense in basketball. But what’s much more surprising is that God tends to pick His team – the Christ-followers around the world known as The Church – quite differently. His ways aren’t mankind’s ways. And He often chooses the least likely people to serve Him and accomplish the remarkable things that conventional wisdom deems impossible.

The Bible is full of familiar examples. Moses was a stutterer who once murdered an Egyptian taskmaster. King David – one of the most powerful rulers on Earth – was once an obscure shepherd boy. The Apostle Peter actually denied knowing Jesus three times in public. And Paul – the Apostle to the Gentiles who authored much of the New Testament – once dedicated himself to catching, arresting and killing Jesus’ followers before the new faith could spread across the Roman Empire. Their common denominator? All four of these real-life heroes were weak: either physically or spiritually. The unlikely is the way God likes it.

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength,” writes the Apostle Paul. “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”
The point here is that you don’t have to slam-dunk a basketball or score 30 points a game to make a big difference on the God Squad. In fact, every Christ-follower – strong or weak – is called to be Jesus’ hands and feet on earth while we wait for His return or that day when He calls us back home. Until then, God wants us to help prepare His Kingdom by making the most of the different gifts and talents He’s given each follower. So rather than striving to Be Like Mike, it’s much more important that we follow Christ.

“In the same way, the Son of Man did not come to be served,” Jesus explains in Mark 10:45. “He came to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many people."

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Special Delivery

Who would have believed what we heard? Who saw the Lord's power in this?

-- Isaiah 53:1

Before FedEx, UPS and E-mail, there was Special Delivery.

Between 1885 and 1997, the Post Office offered this popular service, which involved a letter’s delivery from the local branch directly to the recipient (rather than through the mailman’s standard route). And Special Delivery postage – not surprisingly – cost several times more than the price of a regular First Class stamp. That’s because the Post Office would dispatch a dedicated courier – sometimes on bicycle – to hand-deliver the letter to ensure its important message reached the addressee.

What was so special about Special Delivery? Today, we live in an age of instant messaging, Tweets, E-mail and Facebook. We can take a cell phone from our pocket and call almost anyone in the world at any time. But back in the day before jet airplanes and the Internet erased the miles between New York and California, Special Delivery was the way to go to quickly spread the word about the “big stuff” -- that very special life-altering news covering topics like marriage, birth, death or even a job offer.

As Christ-followers known collectively as The Church, we also have a very important message requiring special delivery. Ours is the Gospel, which translated from Greek means Good News. And what is this good news that distinguishes us from everyone else on Earth? It’s that God’s own Son – Jesus – has paid the heavy price for all of our wrongdoings by dying a criminal’s death on cross. And then three days later, He fulfilled the prophesies written about Him centuries earlier by rising again to life. This means that everyone who accepts Jesus’ free gift of salvation is a new creation (“born again”) in God’s eyes. We don’t deserve it. But it’s our faith in Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior that wipes the slate clean, enables us live our lives anew and have an eternal future with God.

Now that IS some Good News. And Christ-followers and the Church are called to be its Special Delivery couriers. But how?

The most obvious way is to deliver this message during our worship services and personal interactions with non-Believers. But that’s not all. Christ-followers are also to spread the Word by being Jesus’ hands and feet on earth while we wait for His return – or that day when He calls us back home (whichever comes first). Until then, God wants us to help prepare His kingdom by making the most of the different gifts and talents He’s given each follower. In short, we’re to serve others by following Christ’s example.

“Make your light shine,” Jesus explained, “so that others will see the good that you do and will praise your Father in heaven.”

When we serve, it’s not about us – it’s instead about Him and His promise of a new life. So as Christ-followers, let’s turn our faith into action – and deliver the Good News – by accepting Jesus’ invitation to help brighten a dark, dying world that’s so much in need of guidance, truth and love.