Thursday, November 25, 2010

Good News - Bad News

Light in a messenger’s eyes brings joy to the heart, and good news
gives health to the bones.

-- Proverbs 15:30

Let’s say your spouse or your child – or maybe even your boss – approaches you and says: “I’ve got some good news and some bad news.”

How would you react to such a wide-open proclamation? It depends on several factors. For instance, you might be more wary of what your no-nonsense boss has to say than what comes from your playful 8-year-old son. And your guard might also be elevated if your mechanic or plumber was the last person who began a conversation with you that way.

On the other hand, maybe you’re an optimist at heart. For you, this good news/bad news conundrum means just one thing: an opportunity for something better.

About 2,000 years ago, some big news broke in an obscure corner of the Roman Empire. And depending on who heard it, the reactions ranged from fear and uncertainty to joy and anticipation. The news, of course, was the birth of Jesus Christ – an event predicted centuries earlier in the Old Testament. And for the faithful who were looking for a Savior to redeem the people from their sins, it was confirmation of God’s love and faithfulness.

For others – like the Romans who occupied ancient Israel – the birth of this so-called “King of the Jews” represented a direct threat to the land’s law-and-order government. King Herod (the hated Roman ruler) was both jealous and afraid. And he did whatever it took (including the murder of the area’s youngest children) to eliminate the threat as quickly as possible.

Centuries have passed since God came to earth through Jesus. But today in 21st Century America, we are still much like the people of ancient Israel. We too know that the Scriptures promise Christ’s return to free His people from sin and right the wrongs of the world. So now comes the question we must all answer: Is His Second Coming good news or bad news?

Like the hypothetical situation with your spouse, child or boss, the answer depends on several factors. Many will greet Jesus’ return with outright hostility because it means submission to Someone greater and the need to relinquish their plans and ambitions. Others – like many of the religious leaders in ancient Israel – will be indifferent. They’ve spent little time considering the return of The King of Kings and its eternal ramifications. But like those who reject Christ totally, this indifferent population will also be forced to bend the knee and confess that Jesus is Lord.

There is of course a third option that’s a bit more realistic: embracing Jesus now before His return – or before we die (whichever comes first). Doing so means rejection of our sinful natures and failed plans in exchange for the opportunity to live life to its fullest through God’s power. And better yet, it means an eternity of joy in His kingdom after the completion of our brief life on Earth.

How we respond to God’s Good News would seem to be a no-brainer. But the Scriptures tell us that most people will fail to take up God on His most generous offer. What about you?

“Come on now, let’s discuss this!” says the Lord. “Though your sins are bright red, they will become as white as snow. Though they are dark red, they will become as white as wool.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Be Prepared

It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak.

-- Luke 12:38

One of the greatest catastrophes in recorded history occurred the day after Christmas in 2004. The warning signs were there. But most of its victims either didn’t recognize them or heed them.

The day began pleasantly enough with families spending the morning strolling along tropical Asian beaches. Suddenly, a magnitude 9.3 earthquake – as powerful as 23,000 Hiroshima-style atomic bombs – struck near the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The resulting tsunami (“tidal wave”) rose to the height of an 8-story building and struck 11 nations along the Indian Ocean. More than 200,000 people died.

Seismic equipment did detect and record the earthquake that day. However, the region had no tidal gauges or sensors to verify the triggering of a tsunami. And even if it had them, there was no way to warn everyone to flee the shore.

Out of this tragedy came stories from the few who recognized the calamity’s warnings and were able to save themselves and sometimes others. The Associated Press reported that one Indian national saved 1,500 of his fellow villagers after spotting the ocean’s dramatic recession from the shoreline. A student vacationing in Thailand saved herself and her family after recalling a lesson about tsunamis and their warning signs. And for reasons debated by scientists, many animals somehow sensed the disaster and fled in time to higher ground.

Disasters – whether natural or manmade – happen every day. They’re often unpredictable. And there’s no guarantee that we can actually save ourselves, our family or property from the resulting destruction – even if we do recognize the warning signs. But today, there are warning signs of a much greater world-changing event that could strike in 100 years. Or maybe even tonight.

God promises us through the Bible that one day, a Savior (Jesus) will return to right all the wrongs of this world, save and reward those who believe in Him, and send all others to an eternity of torment. No one knows the exact time or day of Christ’s return. But many of the Bibles prophesies about the matter have already been fulfilled, such as the relatively recent one about the re-birth of the State of Israel.

Yes, Jesus could return in five minutes or in 500 years. But either way, we still must be prepared. That’s because none of us knows when our own time on Earth will be over. Check the news on the Internet, television or the paper and you’re bound to find stories about people killed suddenly in accidents, during crimes or by sudden illness (like a stroke or heart attack). Like the victims of the tragic 2004 tsunami, they had no idea that that day would be their last.

So this brings us to the obvious question: Are you prepared to meet your Maker? Your answer has eternal consequences. “So you also must be ready,” Jesus warns, “because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Our God is a God of justice. And since we’ve all failed to live up to His standards, we all deserve the death penalty that Jesus endured for all who would believe in Him. So how can you be assured that you’ll spend eternity with God rather than without Him? The Apostle Paul offers this assurance:

“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What's in a Name?

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?

-- 2 Corinthians 6:14

Since the beginning of recorded history, names have defined our personal traits, our professions and even our family lineage. For instance, the name David means beloved. Catherine means pure. And if your name happens to be Cooper McDonald, it means you’re Donald’s son, the barrel-maker. Choosing the right baby name is therefore one of the most important decisions that parents will make. After all, saddling a child with the wrong moniker can result in a lifetime of ridicule and burden. (Or at least a few giggles.) Just ask Ima Hogg (the daughter of a Texas governor) or Shanda Lear (of Lear Jet aircraft fame).

Going to God for His guidance – rather than a website found on Google – is always a smart move when naming a child. But there are some other critical decisions that come later in life that are arguably more important. And ignoring God’s Word in these matters can lead to much greater trouble and heartache than choosing an awkward baby name.

The first issue involves career choices. It’s the answer to that timeless question every parent asks their child: What do you want to do when you grow up?

God guides us about this in several ways. First, we need to look at the gifts and talents He’s given us. For instance, the ability to make friends and persuade others could mean success in sales and marketing. An interest and love of nature could lead to a career as a scientist or veterinarian. And a natural affinity for mathematics could mean hefty paychecks as an engineer or software designer. But whatever job you take – no matter how big or how small -- the question to ask is whether or not it honors God. As the Apostle Paul wrote in the third chapter of Colossians: The second life-changing question involves marriage. Specifically, should you get married? And if so, to whom? On the first point, either choice is acceptable. Paul advocated the single life for some Christ-followers. But for others – depending on their circumstances -- marriage was the best option. On the other hand, the standard for choosing the right mate is more clear-cut: the lucky guy (or gal) should be a committed follower of Jesus Christ.
“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

That’s Biblical guidance that can save you years of pain, heartache and regret. And the saying is corny but true: The couple that prays together, stays together. Or as God warns us through the Book of 2 Corinthians, we shouldn’t be yoked to unbelievers. It’s true that the daily example of a Christ-follower can be a positive witness to his or her unbelieving spouse. But in many cases, differing spiritual beliefs lead only to frustration, confusion and conflict.

Whether it’s the big questions in life or the seemingly insignificant ones, you can seek God’s will through prayer, Scripture and advice from trusted believers. We worship a God who calls us His sons and daughters. And like the loving Parent that He is, He always wants to hear from His children.

“We are certain that God will hear our prayers when we ask for what pleases him,” we read in 1 John. “And if we know that God listens when we pray, we are sure that our prayers have already been answered.”

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Storm Warning

You may be poor and young. But if you are wise, you are better off than a foolish old king who won't listen to advice.

- Ecclesiastes 4:13

It’s considered one of the worst natural disasters in United States history, leaving up to 12,000 people dead in its wake. And if not for the repeated warnings of one brave civil servant, the toll could have been even higher.

The infamous Hurricane of 1900 struck Galveston, Texas on September 8 with estimated winds approaching 140 miles per hour and a storm surge of nearly 16 feet. Dr. Isaac Cline, Galveston’s weather bureau manager, knew that the hurricane had crossed Cuba. And storm warnings were already issued for several southeastern states. But although he lacked our modern satellite weather forecasting tools and was uncertain about the approaching calamity, Dr. Cline soon became suspicious of the signs he saw in the sky and the waters. A day before the storm, he decided to raise the official storm warning flags on Galveston’s Weather Bureau building. And for the next several hours, he personally warned people on the beach to seek higher ground. Dr. Cline’s last telegraphed message to reach the outside world was, "Gulf rising rapidly; half the city now under water."

There’s no way to know how many Galveston citizens lived because they heeded Dr. Cline’s warnings. But we can see in hindsight that the signs for catastrophe were there. And that’s often the way it is with history-changing events…and even for events a bit closer to home. So let’s consider the warning signs in our own lives.

Is God trying to alert you about a storm on your own personal horizon?

Maybe it’s about your marriage, your kids, your job…or even that risky investment you’ve been considering. But whatever it is, it’s likely that His warnings aren’t a complete surprise. The problem is that we have a strong tendency to put off what’s unpleasant until the very last minute. Or sometimes not until it’s too late. And by then, the damage – often permanent – is done.

Our excuses are remarkably consistent. We’re either too busy or we don’t think the issue is a big deal. We also like to play God by pretending that we already have a handle on the situation, such as with drugs, gambling or drinking. But your family, friends – and most importantly, God – know otherwise.

How should we respond when God sends us a warning? The best answer is the simplest one: face up to it NOW and deny the natural tendency to wait until later.

The people of Galveston found out the hard way. After suffering damages exceeding $700 million in today’s money, they decided to plan for future hurricanes by constructing a massive sea wall and raising the grade of the entire island by several feet. Likewise, we should also be prepared for the storms of life by looking out for God’s warning signs. A little discomfort and inconvenience today can save us from a lifetime of hurt tomorrow.