Friday, December 24, 2010

Change You Can Believe In

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example,
that you should follow in his steps.

1 Peter 2:21

Early followers of Jesus were called Little Christs because their newfound faith had transformed their lives for all to see. This odd group of people from all walks of life – rich and poor, male and female, slave and free -- were markedly different from the rest of society. They somehow had grown more caring and generous toward both neighbors and strangers alike, and they willingly sacrificed their time and resources to ease sorrow and correct injustices.

They had abandoned their old, selfish tendencies in favor of Someone much greater. In a word, they were changed.

And that says a lot for their leader -- an obscure rabbi from a distant corner of the Roman Empire who just happened to be God’s own Son. Few recognized that at the time. But because some did and led changed lives while following Jesus, millions in future generations would in turn help to change the world for the better.

Modern-day Christ-followers must too set aside their selfish deeds and desires in favor of following Jesus’ example. Like those first disciples transformed by the words of the Sermon on the Mount, we should recognize that Jesus the Leader was also Jesus the Follower. Christ spoke constantly with His Father (God) in prayer and always sought His guidance.
“I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing,” explained Jesus, “because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”
It’s a radical approach that’s just as life-changing today as it was 20 centuries ago. And it’s also an approach that calls for personal action, commitment and sacrifice. But we can’t change on our own. So whether you’ve been following Jesus five years or 55, grasp every opportunity to become more like Him, walk in His ways and see the world through His eyes. Then ask God to fill you with His Holy Spirit – that personal, loving Power Who makes it possible to leave your old self behind and become a new creation. Eventually, through the trials of life and the whispers of His leadings, we’ll become the men and women our Creator always dreamed we could be. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Promise

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

-- Jeremiah 29:11

For several controversial reasons, America’s banking industry has suffered like few others over the last few years. More than 150 banks closed in 2010 alone, accounting for billions of dollars in deposits and countless lost jobs. It’s a sobering and painful situation with long-term, widespread implications. And if it wasn’t for a certain promise, things could be much, much worse.

That promise is the U.S. Government’s guarantee to cover virtually all deposits if a bank fails. Unlike the infamous bank runs during the Great Depression, bank customers today can rest easy knowing that they won’t lose a penny from their FDIC-insured accounts.

This rock-solid guarantee has no doubt stabilized our society because the public knows it can literally take the government’s promise to the bank. There’s no need to panic and lose sleep – even when the worst happens. And although that’s a comforting thought during these rough economic times, perhaps Christ-followers should actually find much greater solace in a promise that’s printed on every dollar bill: In God We Trust.

Trusting in God’s promises extends much wider than just our current financial status and job prospects. His guarantees – found throughout the chapters of the Bible – are eternal. And we can take them all to the bank because of God’s proven track record. For instance, God’s promised through the Old Testament’s Book of Amos that the city of Tyre would be destroyed because of its harsh treatment of Israel. And a few centuries later, the armies of Alexander the Great indeed leveled Tyre’s impregnable fortress walls. God also promised to one day re-gather His scattered peoples from around the globe. About 2,500 years later, God did just that through 1948’s birth of the State of Israel.

It doesn’t stop there. J. Barton Payne’s Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy lists more than 1,800 other promises from God. And no doubt His greatest was fulfilled – again, as predicted centuries earlier – through the birth of the world’s Savior in an obscure outpost of the Roman Empire. It was that first Christmas that God came to Earth to live among His creation in the person of Jesus. This Christ-child was God’s literal Christmas gift to us all.

This fulfillment of God’s Christmas promise was much more than a historic incident. Through Jesus, the devil was defeated and Christ-followers were given the power to live victorious, Spirit-filled lives. What’s more, nearly 20 centuries after His death and Resurrection, these same promises apply to us today. And in these uncertain times, it’s nice to have some sure things we can take to the bank. A prime example of this assurance speaks to us through the tenth chapter of Matthew:

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny,” Jesus asked some of His earliest followers. “Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

That’s our Creator’s promise -- that He cares deeply for each one of us. And what’s more, He knows each of us intimately…even before He formed us in our mother’s womb.

In God We Trust, indeed!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Playing God

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. 

-- Isaiah 43:19

Maybe you've had one of those days. Or weeks. Or maybe you've been dealing with tough times - with your health, job or family -- for longer than you care to remember. Whatever the case, it just doesn't seem fair. In fact, there are times when you wonder if God is in control. Or even if He cares.

Maybe - you think - you could do a better job or running things than The Almighty.

If that's your story, it also happens to be the plot of Bruce Almighty, the 2003 hit movie starring Jim Carrey (as Bruce) and Morgan Freeman (as God). Carrey plays a Buffalo, New York-based TV news reporter who's desperately trying to land a top gig as an anchorman. But when he learns that his rival beat him for the job, Bruce loses his cool on live TV...and in spectacular fashion.

Bruce becomes furious at God because he thinks the situation is unfair. And eventually, God (Morgan Freeman) gets tired of his whining. In response to Bruce's defiance, God allows the obscure television reporter to assume His divinity and see how well he can do with running the world. Of course, Bruce abuses his new powers by using them for his own selfish purposes. He soon grows tired of listening to the millions of prayers coming from around the world. So out of his own misplaced sense of fairness - and maybe laziness - he says YES to every one of them! Needless to say, chaos ensues. And Bruce fails at playing God. Even his girlfriend (played by Jennifer Aniston) leaves him.

Bruce Almighty is only a Hollywood movie. But it still offers a few kernels of Biblical truth. And maybe the biggest truth - which we find in the Old Testament book of Isaiah -- is that God's ways aren't our ways. In fact, God specializes in the unlikely by using the least qualified people to do His will and accomplish great things. For instance, God chose a lowly shepherd boy (who later became King David) to slay the fearsome Philistine giant Goliath. Paul - the Apostle to the Gentiles who wrote many books of the New Testament - was originally a legalistic Pharisee who specialized in arresting and killing Christians. And even Jesus' 12 apostles were a motley crew of characters including fishermen, a tax collector and even a terrorist.

Why does God choose these people instead of the experts, the intellectuals or the otherwise highly qualified? The short answer is that HE CAN. Accomplishing the impossible by using the unlikely demonstrates His power and omniscience. After all, if we could always save ourselves, we'd soon believe that we don't need a Savior.

But of course, we all DO need a Savior - even when life seems to be going fine. So whether life is good or your life is falling apart, are you finished playing God? Let's follow the lead from someone unexpected (Bruce) when he prayed to the Almighty:

"Okay, You win. I'm done. Please, I don't wanna do this anymore. I don't wanna be God! I want You to decide what's right for me! I SURRENDER TO YOUR WILL!"

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Gain from Pain

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.

-- Isaiah 55:8

Parents fear the day that their children first utter the word. But don't worry. It's not one of those cringe-worthy expressions of the four-letter variety.  It's much worse.

It's that little question "WHY?".

Many parents will claim that it's cute (at first). But as their children get older, the repetitious sound of "WHY?" becomes tiresome at best. And especially when it's the response to everything from "Pick up your toys" to "It's time to go to bed."

The issue, of course, is that children don't understand that obeying their parents is for their own good -- even when doing so is uncomfortable, scary or downright inconvenient. When first graders ask why they have to go to school or visit the dentist, they don't appreciate that reading and writing will help them land a job one day...and that good dental habits can protect them from considerable future pain and expense. Kids can't see the big picture.

Some things don't change with time. As adults, we're also quick to ask our Parent (God) "Why?" when it comes to facing the trials of life. And just like our inquisitive first graders, we can't see the big picture of the plans God has worked out for us at the foundation of the world. But whether or not we understand His leadings, it's still up to every Christ-follower to obey them.

That's easier said than done because God often approaches problems and situations in ways that are diametrically opposed to what we see as the obvious solution. For instance, we read in the Bible that we're to love our enemies and treat others as we'd like them to treat us. But such wisdom often conflicts with mankind's Look Out for #1 mindset...even if that wisdom comes from the God Who knows the Big Picture.

Like reluctant children facing a trip to the dentist, we too can face discomfort when following God's instructions. Friends - and even family - can turn their backs or even ridicule us when we live out our faith. As the saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished.

If this sounds familiar - and frustrating - rest assured that you're in very good company. Just think of what Joseph and Mary (Jesus' parents) endured before their Son's birth. Since they were unmarried, their reputation was under fire because Mary was well along in her pregnancy. They were also under immense stress as they fled for their lives with the Baby Jesus to faraway Egypt. And of course, following God's plan meant the abdication of their personal ambitions.

So whether your 8 or 88, you wouldn't be human if you don't still ask "Why?". But with the faith that's available to us as Christ-followers, we can embrace God's promises for our lives - even if we don't quite understand His plans and see His Big Picture. It's when we believe His promises while facing the impossible that we show God's power. Even when we still need to ask Him why.