Saturday, December 31, 2011

A New You

But the king of Egypt said, “Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away
from their labor? Get back to your work!”

- Exodus 5:4

It's often the uncertain economy. Sometimes it's a midlife crisis. But whatever the reason, people from coast to coast are reinventing their life's work--and ultimately--who they are. In his book What Should I Do with the Rest of My Life? author Bruce Frankel highlights several remarkable individuals who turned their back on the past to do something completely different. Thomas Dwyer--a 70-something former U.S. Intelligence officer--joined a dance troupe. And then there's Deborah Jack, who left her two-decade-long career in financial publishing after a layoff...and went into business for herself with a Fetch! Pet Care franchise.

"As much as I loved my Wall Street clients, they never jumped up and down when I walked in the door the way my clients do now," Deborah says. "This is a great business. I never have any bad days."

But perhaps one of the biggest change stories of all involves Fife Symington. In 1997, the former two-term governor of Arizona was convicted on seven counts of bank and wire fraud, and sentenced to 30 months in prison and five years of probation. Although a federal appeals court overturned his convictions and he received a presidential pardon, Symington abandoned politics, graduated from culinary school and became an accomplished pastry chef!

These success stories are nothing less than inspirational. But even so, many folks avoid new things--particularly as they get older. However, big changes can reap even bigger rewards. And as the saying goes, people often don't see the light until they feel the heat.

You won't find any arguments about that in the Bible. In Genesis, we read that God told Abraham--who was an old man at the time--to leave his beloved country for a far-off land. And because he obeyed, Abraham became the father of Israel. Moses also had a midlife crisis that drastically altered his career path. Raised within the Egyptian royal family, he fled the country after killing a cruel taskmaster, and spent the next several decades in anonymity as a shepherd. But God never forgot Moses. And He used His unlikely servant to switch gears yet again. This time, it was for Moses' return to Egypt to tell the Pharaoh--the world's most powerful ruler--to set God's people free.

God may or may not call you to make drastic changes to your career or address. But He does call on everyone to make a profound spiritual change--one that lets us see through His eyes and take on His perspective. As Jesus puts it, we all must be born again.

The word-picture the Apostle Paul paints in the Book of Ephesians is that we must strip off the old self and put on the new--much like exchanging filthy rags for a beautiful new set of clothes. But how do we do that? It all begins by admitting that we're fatally flawed individuals who can do nothing on our own to save ourselves from the punishment we deserve. And the next step is to acknowledge through faith that the only One who can save us is Jesus Christ-- the One who died in our place to pay for our sins in full. After all, we can never be good enough or follow a set of rules to meet His impossibly-high standards. It's only through Jesus Himself that we can become a new creation.

The timing of this crucial truth is hardly coincidental. So as we approach the New Year, let's do more than make half-hearted resolutions about changing for the better. Let's start 2012 with a new attitude...and a new Spirit. It's real change we can live with.

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

Saturday, December 24, 2011

It's All Relative(s)

Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Then he pointed to his disciples and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!”

-- Matthew 12:48-50

Reminders from industry trade groups are probably unnecessary. But just in case you haven't heard, the National Communications Association wants you to know that the holiday season can be either a time of joy and togetherness...or an occasion for stress, conflict and family tension. What's more, stress expert Elizabeth Scott, M.S., rightly observes that "many a happy holiday has been found by groups of people who have decided to celebrate with friends instead of family."

It's a sad but accurate commentary about what Christmas has become in 21st Century America. But in many ways, it's simply a reflection of human nature. Whenever families gather--for just about any reason at all--tensions can peak. Sometimes it's because of intrusions into precious personal space--like when the in-laws spend the night (or week) in a house that's already too close for comfort. There's also that outcast teenager who perceives their older relatives as judgmental, critical or demanding. And let's not forget those pleasant conversations over Christmas dinner about relationships, politics and religion.

If this hits too close to home, you're in good company. Jesus Himself--the Son of God--was often misunderstood by those closest to him.
"A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family," Mark's Gospel records Him telling His disciples.
Since even our own families can misinterpret our actions, have you ever wondered if God really understands all the mundane problems, annoyances and trials we face every day? Maybe the Christmas Story holds the answer.

Luke's Gospel tells us that Jesus came into this world in the poorest of circumstances: with a manger--an animal's feeding trough--as His first bed. But why? As the King's Son, Jesus could have lived in a marble palace while enjoying only the finest things in life. And God could have commanded everyone on earth to worship and obey Him.

But something would have been missing. As a loving Father, our God refuses to force anyone to accept His free gift of forgiveness and salvation. And since He knew that men and women were without hope because of the pitiful ways they lived their lives, God decided to come to us Himself in human form to live the perfect life. That meant living among us through the sin-free Jesus Christ--the only acceptable sacrifice to pay for our offenses.

Jesus--the Son of God--was born into poverty. And throughout His ministry, the religious elite despised and cursed Him because they didn't recognize Him or hear His voice. And eventually, the innocent Christ would die in a most painful and humiliating way: crucifixion among common criminals.
But that's the way it had to be. And because Jesus fulfilled the mission God had planned since the foundation of the world, the circle was completed and our sin debt paid in full. Yes, He came to earth to be with His creation and suffer both among us and for us. God not only lived out the human experience, He came to understand both you and me.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Package Deal

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of
King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked,
“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw
his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

-- Matthew 2: 1-2

For many folks, receiving and opening presents is the highlight of their Christmas morning. But giving to others is also satisfying—especially when the gift is significant or has a story behind it. So imagine how you would feel if you bought a particularly expensive gift while overseas, waited patiently while it passed through customs and then paid extra to ship it back home…and then later discovered that the recipient hadn’t even bothered to open the box!

God has also gone through extreme lengths to offer us a costly gift that we can never afford ourselves: total forgiveness of our sins and salvation through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. But just like any other gift, this forgiveness and salvation is worthless unless we unwrap the package…and then accept it. That means:

  • Accepting it with gratitude (because we didn’t pay for it)
  • Accepting it with humility (because we could never afford it)
  • Accepting it with joy (because God chose us when we didn’t deserve it)
Christmas is getting close. But you don’t have to wait until December 25 to open a priceless gift that has your name written all over it. In fact, you can start untying the bows and shredding the wrapping paper…right now.
“In the Scriptures God says, ‘When the time came, I listened to you, and when you needed help, I came to save you,’” writes the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians. “That time has come. This is the day for you to be saved.”

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

This is what the Sovereign Lord says: If the prince makes a gift from his inheritance to one of his sons, it will also belong to his descendants; it is to be their property by inheritance.

-- Ezekiel 46:16

Looking for a memorable present for that special someone? Look no further than the world-famous Neiman Marcus Christmas Book

First published in 1926, this remarkable catalog wows readers in more than 1 million households with an assortment of high-end knickknacks. But it's best known for its outlandish fantasy gifts such as his and hers camels, airplanes, robots, windmills...and even submarines. Does your loved one like water sports? Neiman Marcus has just the thing: a special edition Hacker-Craft mahogany speedboat for $250,000. Or what about the European flower show tour (with nine of her closest friends) via private jet? It's a mere $420,000. But if you're a bit more budget-conscience, order the fully-furnished Mongolian yurt for just $75,000.

Neiman Marcus' gifts are unquestionable memorable. But there are some gifts that are so unforgettable that millions of people still talk about them centuries after they were given. The Bible reveals that the Magi--or Wise Men--traveled hundreds of miles over rough terrain to meet the long-awaited King of Kings: the infant Jesus. And when they finally found Him in an obscure village called Bethlehem, they brought gifts.
"On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him," we read in Matthew's Gospel. "Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh."
On first glance, the Wise Men's gifts seem both odd and inappropriate--particularly for a baby. But they were right on the mark. Gold symbolizes royalty while frankincense represents God's appointed priest--Jesus Himself. Likewise, myrrh was a spice used to prepare the dead for burial. And in this case, it was to be Christ's own.

Like many great gifts, the Wise Men's offerings were also practical. Joseph--Jesus' earthly father--was warned in a dream to flee Israel with his wife and infant Son. This meant leaving their possessions behind and starting a new life in Egypt while the jealous King Herod sought to kill Jesus. Freely traded throughout the region, the valuable gold and spices likely helped support the young family until they could return following Herod's death a few years later.

God provided for His own those many centuries ago. And He continues to do so today. But His greatest gift of all was His promise of salvation through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Sadly, most people refuse to unwrap this amazing present. God recognized our desperate need for forgiveness for the wrong ways we've lived our lives and treated others. So He came to Earth to live among us, teach us how to live...and then to pay the enormous price required to cover our sins. And that dear price was His life.

Jesus' birth that first Christmas was a gift you'll never find in a fancy department store catalog or website. It was neither extravagant like a luxurious round-the-world cruise or unusual like an antique sports car. Instead, it was priceless, practical and life changing. And best of all, it's still free today to anyone who asks for it in faith.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Undercover Boss

Are you one of the 19 million people who tune in each week to the CBS reality series Undercover Boss? If you’re unfamiliar with it, Undercover Boss follows corporate executives who work undercover in entry-level jobs within their organizations. Their goal is to experience first-hand what’s it’s like to walk in their employees’ shoes. At the end of their week-long mission, the executives reveal their true identities, reward their diligent co-workers and provide better working conditions—or sometimes training—to those who need it most.

Undercover Boss has featured executives from Waste Management, United Van Lines, Roto-Rooter and even 1-800-Flowers. They’ve all left their comfortable corporate offices to literally get their hands dirty on the front lines of the working world. And their experiences are often humbling—but they’re also enlightening. 7-Eleven CEO Jo DePinto spent much of his undercover time mopping floors and fouling up the pastry assembly line as a supposed new hire named Danny. Waste Management President Larry O’Donnell picked up truckloads of trash and vacuumed portable toilets. And Michael Rubin, founder and CEO of GSI Commerce, had a quota of boxes to pack every hour.

“I was literally watching [a fellow employee] in front of me and then watching myself, and it was pretty demoralizing,” he reported. “I called my mom after that first day and said, ‘I don’t think I’ll be able to do this tomorrow.’”

A ratings success in the United States, there are also versions of Undercover Boss in Great Britain, Australia, Norway and Germany. It’s entertaining television at its finest. But the show’s premise isn’t particularly new. In fact, the idea is literally as old as the hills.

The Bible tells us that Earth was once a paradise. It had everything and more that Adam and Eve (the first man and woman) could ever want or need. But after they chose to disobey God, they were driven out of the Garden to live existences marked by hardship, disease, pain, disappointment and physical death—the exact opposite of God’s original vision. And ever since, the human experience has been anything but heavenly. Every one of us continues to fall short of God’s high standards in word, thought and deed. It’s a seemingly hopeless situation. And it would be…except that there IS hope. 

From the beginning of time, God had a plan to save us from ourselves. Since we could never live the perfect life He demands, He had to do it himself. He became like those Undercover Boss executives who left their comfortable offices to work anonymously with their lowly entry-level employees. Indeed, God left Heaven 2,000 years ago to live with mankind in an obscure outpost of the Roman Empire. And He arrived through the most humble of circumstances—a birth in a filthy stable among common farm animals. This Undercover Boss—our long-awaited Savior—was here. And His name was Jesus: God’s Word in the flesh. And like those unsuspecting employees at 7-Eleven and Waste Management, few recognized Him.

The Apostle John described it this way:
The Word was in the world, and though God made the world through him, yet the world did not recognize him. He came to his own country, but his own people did not receive him. Some, however, did receive him and believed in him; so he gave them the right to become God’s children. They did not become God’s children by natural means, that is, by being born as children of a human father; God himself was their father.
The saying goes that one should never judge another unless they’ve walked a mile in their shoes. As Christ-followers, we worship a loving God Who did just that. He came to earth to live out the human experience with all its pains, joys and everything in between. And He did it perfectly…because we never could.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Think of what he went through; how he put up with so much hatred from sinners! So do not let yourselves become discouraged and give up.  

--  Hebrews 12:3
Some call it the most remarkable spectacle in Olympic history.

The year was 1992, and 65,000 cheering fans packed the stadium in Barcelona, Spain, for the Men's 400-meter race. This was Derek Redmond's second attempt for a medal. Four years earlier at the Seoul, Korea, games, an Achilles tendon injury forced him to drop out only minutes before the contest.

The race started well this time, with Derek--the British record holder--quickly taking the lead. But only 175 meters from the finish line, his right hamstring gave way. Derek began to hop and then slowed down before finally collapsing on the track. Medical personnel rushed to his aid to remove him on a stretcher. But with tears in his eyes, Derek refused to let his dream die.

"No," Derek told them. "I'm going to finish my race."

He slowly rose from the track and hobbled in pain toward his goal. Jim Redmond, Derek's father, began pushing his way through the crowded stands as soon as he saw his son pull up lame.

"That's my son," the elder Redmond yelled to the bewildered security guards. "And I'm going to help him."

With 65,000 fans giving the pair a tremendous standing ovation, Jim Redmond did just that. He helped his son--painful step by painful step--round the track and cross the finish line.

Is it hard to relate to so much drama? Maybe it's easier than you might think. After all, Jesus never said that our faith-journeys would be smooth and pain-free. In fact, He told His followers that taking the easy way out means guaranteed disaster.

"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it," Jesus explained. "But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."

Jesus is this narrow gate. And there's no other way to victory over pain, sorrow and death except by placing our faith and walking with Him.

The Christ-follower's faith-journey is full of the twists and turns of life--some pleasant and surprising--but many painful and sad. And at the end is the finish line of our existence here on earth. But unlike the finish line on that Olympic track in Barcelona, ours is actually the beginning to a joyous, eternal existence with God.

In this race called life, some are just clearing their first hurdle while others are on the home stretch. Wherever you are, ask God to help you cross the finish line to victory. The reward will be far greater and last much longer than any gold-plated medal or standing ovation.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Extra Innings

Whatever happens, keep thanking God because of Jesus Christ. This is what
God wants you to do.

-- 1 Thessalonians 5:18

If you’re a baseball fan—especially a fan of old school baseball—then you’re probably familiar with Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig.

Nicknamed Iron Man, Gehrig was a outstanding player who combined power with average. When his career was cut short in 1939 by the fatal disease that would eventually carry his name, Gehrig had hit nearly 500 home runs, driven in almost 2,000 RBIs and racked up a .340 batting average. But in spite of these impressive numbers, the New York Yankee first baseman is perhaps best known for his streak of playing in 2,130 consecutive games. It took decades before Baltimore Oriole legend Cal Ripkin, Jr., finally eclipsed this remarkable feat.

Needless to say, Gehrig probably played an inning or two while hurt, sick or even exhausted. But he carried on for the good of his team. And his dedication, selflessness and love of the game sustained him for 16 seasons while leading the Yankees to victory after victory. He succeeded in baseball because he had the strength to go the extra innings. And it’s in much the same way that God’s grace sustains every Christ-follower throughout their long journeys of faith.

A misconception among some Believers is that God only bestows His grace the moment they give their lives to Jesus. And after that—they reason—He steps back into the cosmos to watch in silence. But the Bible tells us that God doesn’t leave us on our own. Just as our lives as Christ-followers are marked by twists and hairpin turns along an often rugged path, God continues to spread His grace to us all along the way. And it’s a good thing. Because from time to time, we’ll all need spiritual renewal as we grow in what it means to walk in Jesus’ steps. Even the apostles—the ones who had personally witnessed Christ’s life-changing miracles—asked the Lord to increase their faith. So we’re in good company.

After abandoning their livelihoods and following Jesus for three years, the apostles were both physically and spiritually drained. And when their Master was arrested, tried and crucified, they scattered in fear for their lives—just as Jesus had predicted. But they would soon get new life the night Jesus reappeared to them. John the Apostle described the scene this way:
In the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples had met together with the doors locked for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood right in the middle of them and said, "Peace be with you!" Then he showed them his hands and his side, and when they saw the Lord the disciples were overjoyed. Jesus said to them again, "Yes, peace be with you! Just as the Father sent me, so I am now going to send you."
These early Christ-followers could now continue with their world-changing mission. What’s more, they had renewed confidence. And not in themselves—but in God alone. It was through Him that they had the faith to both accomplish and endure.

Like a weary baseball team tapping into their talent and willpower to finally clinch the World Series, Christ-followers depend on a special power to get them through those difficult extra innings of life. We know it to be God’s sustaining grace, made possible through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. And if you’ll bear with a final baseball analogy, it’s the power that guarantees we’ll one day be safe at home.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pledge of Allegiance

The Good News shows how God makes people right with himself—that it begins and ends with faith. As the Scripture says, "But those who are right with God will live by faith."

-- Romans 1:17

When you hear the word allegiance, what comes to mind? For millions of Americans of a certain age, the Pledge of Allegiance was recited every morning in school classrooms--with students placing their right hand over their heart--and all in front of the flag. It was a daily declaration of devotion to the Stars and Stripes and the great nation it stands for.

Being a Christ-follower also calls for allegiance, but to One much greater than any flag or country. In fact, Jesus called for total devotion from His disciples and would-be followers. He rejected half-heartedness and non-committal. “Whoever wants to be my disciple,” He explained, “must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” In other words, it’s not about us--it’s all about Him. It therefore makes sense that as Believers, our lives must show tangible actions that reflect our faith in Him. We need to live out our beliefs rather than just talking about them.

Jesus once told a story about a master who gave each of his three servants a considerable amount of money (“talents”) to invest while he was away on an extended trip. After a time, the master returned to claim what was his. He was very pleased with the first two servants, who had invested their talents and doubled the master’s money. But it wasn’t so with the third servant, who was afraid of his master’s stern reputation and wanted to avoid the risk of a loss. So instead of investing, he played it safe and literally buried the money in a hole in the ground. The master was displeased, to say the least! Instead of commending the servant’s regard for safeguarding his money, the master was actually furious because the servant had wasted the opportunity to invest and multiply his treasure.

The cautious servant had actually squandered his life--along with all his talents and opportunities!

It’s a lesson we shouldn’t take lightly. God has given us all particular resources, skills, opportunities and circumstances for doing His will through our contact with others. These “others” could be as close as your spouse, sibling or child. And they might also be a co-worker, neighbor or someone who God puts in your path at a most unexpected moment. But we’re not alone along the way. Like a marathon runner who’s committed to crossing the finish line, we actually have a rooting section to spur us on to victory. The twelfth chapter of Hebrews explains that we’re surrounded by a great cloud of believers who've already completed their faith journeys. It’s by following their examples of effective, faith-filled living that we should run our own race with determination and perseverance. Anything that could get in our way and hold us back must fall by the wayside.

If it sounds like Jesus asks for a lot from His followers, He does. He’s asking for your total well as your life. Even more daunting is that a lot of people are watching--including some who doubt your commitment. What’s the answer? It's to faithfully obey, pray and believe that ours is a God Who can provide in the toughest of situations. And that might seem risky. But when He calls us to do something, risk isn’t even part of the equation.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sign Language

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

-- Hebrews 11:1 

The 2003 comedy Bruce Almighty 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 at 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 see them except in hindsight.  
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 how about those times when 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. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Friends in High Places

 “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me
welcomes the one who sent me.”
-- Matthew 10:40

You know who they are.

Maybe they’re a co-worker, neighbor or even your uncle. They’re the ones who always seem to know who to call for impossible situations. Like the time you needed a pair of tickets to that sold-out concert. Or a reliable plumber to fix a broken pipe on a Sunday night. You won’t soon forget that affordable mechanic they recommended. And how about that iPad they found for your child last year...just when you were sure it was sold out?

No doubt it’s wise to keep these special people high on your Christmas card list. They’re the folks who know someone who knows someone who gets things done. Simply put, they have connections.

And so do we as Christ-followers. That’s because ours is a faith that embraces relationship over religion. Specifically, there’s the ultimate parent/child relationship between us and God. It’s a bond that’s only made possible through Jesus’ death on the cross--a punishment we all rightly deserve for our lifetimes stained by personal failures and shortcomings (also known as “sin”). But since we’re connected with the right Person (Jesus), He’s already paid the price to save us from a certain death and eternal punishment in hell. What's more, Christ has us covered so well that we’re literally heirs to His Father’s Kingdom.

(Talk about connections!)

That’s the primary relationship we enjoy as Christ-followers. But God also wants us to make relationships with others so they too can begin traveling the same faith journey. That means introducing them to Jesus, sharing His story and relating how His death on the cross means a whole new life here on earth...and later in eternity. When these soon-to-be believers come to the inevitable rough patches in life, they’ll always know Who to call.

Jesus set our example when he sent 12 of His followers to the nearby Jewish communities to spread the Good News (the Gospel):
“Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel,” He told them. “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.” 
Here was a time Jesus instructed His followers to actually be the answer to someone’s fervent prayers in the midst of difficulties and pain--and use their connection with Him to do the seemingly impossible.

So how connected are you? As the saying goes, it’s not always what you know that counts in life. It’s Who you know that makes all the difference.

Monday, October 24, 2011


"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

What's the best gift you ever received? For some people, it's the gift they gave to someone else.

The story goes that a doctor was driving through Kibati, Kenya, when he spotted a man approaching him with a bicycle. What quickly became apparent was that the man had a cleft lip--a deformity that often caused its victims to become social outcasts in that impoverished nation. The doctor pulled over, exited his vehicle and introduced himself to the bicyclist as Githinji Gatahi. Dr. Gatahi explained that he worked for an international organization called Smile Train, which could arrange for the surgical repair of the bicyclist's lip at no charge.

The bicyclist--named Peter--responded that he had heard about this remarkable bargain but always assumed there must be a catch. Dr. Gatahi assured him that the surgery was indeed free because generous donors from around the globe had already covered the cost. A few days later, the physician and his team drove their patient to the hospital. And just hours later, an awestruck Peter was staring at himself in the mirror. His cleft lip--the impairment that had plagued him for more than 30 years--was mended. And all it took was his willingness to accept Dr. Gatahi's offer for the costly, but free, gift.

"The words that keep ringing in my mind are that I don't believe it's for free...and yet I could never afford it," Peter said. "It just shows how many people we still need to reach out there," added Dr. Gatahi. "Luckily, people like Peter become real ambassadors for Smile Train."

Cleft lips and similar deformities are true curses in the developing world. In Uganda, babies born with clefts are named "Ajok," which literally means "cursed by God." These babies often must live lives of shame and isolation--and sometimes even abandonment--leading to death.

In modern industrialized nations like ours, we can be thankful that most babies with clefts don't face this fate. However, every one of us has been born with a sin defect that will lead to death and eternal isolation from God if someone doesn't pay for its repair. And the fact is that we can never pay that price--the one we rightfully owe for all the bad decisions, broken relationships and damage we've all wrought throughout our lives. The only way to solve this humanly impossible dilemma was for Jesus (known as The Great Physician) to pay for it Himself by dying on a cross. Jesus didn't deserve to be executed. But God loved us so much that He was willing to pay an incredible price just so we could avoid eternity in Hell and instead live with Him in joy forever.

Like Dr. Gatahi's patient who stared in amazement at his repaired cleft, we too find such generosity difficult to grasp. But it's true. The price for our salvation--one we can never repay--was paid in full through the death of Jesus. What's left for us to do is accept His precious gift with gratitude and become one of His ambassadors.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

As Seen On TV

Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

-- Mark 5:36

Have a stubborn grass stain that won’t come out? Try OxyClean. Spending too much at the barbershop? Cut your own hair for just pennies a trim with the FlowBee. And if you’re looking for firmer glutes, the Thighmaster might be just the ticket.

Advertisers know that everyone wants easy solutions to common problems. So you can blame them for all those late night infomercials that promise to make your cares disappear for an amazing $19.99 plus shipping and handling. Unfortunately, you usually get what you pay for: cheap, often poorly-made products that rarely live up to the hype.

The adage still applies: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. But don’t get too discouraged when your Q-Ray ionized bracelet doesn’t re-magnetize your nervous system and bring you back to perfect health. There really IS a life-changing solution out there that exceeds all human expectations. God’s plan for salvation will remove the ugliest, hard-to-remove sins from anyone’s soul. And the price is right:

It’s FREE to anyone who asks in faith.

It’s also the answer to a problem that’s as old as mankind. We can read in the first few pages of the Bible how sin and death entered the human experience when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and were exiled from their perfect existence. Ever since, we’ve all fallen far short of our Maker’s perfect standards and are unworthy of approaching Him through our own good deeds. So what should we expect in return?

“The wages of the righteous is life,” we read in Proverbs, “but the earnings of the wicked are sin and death.

What’s even worse is that this death is more than spiritual. It’s an eternal existence in hell with no hope of escape. But the choice is ours. If we refuse to follow Him during our lifetime on earth, He won’t force us. But that also means we won’t be with Him after we die. And it’s forever too late at that point.

To the rescue comes perhaps the most famous passage of the New Testament, John 3:16.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
It sounds so easy…maybe even too good to be true. But these simple words summarize God’s perfect solution for delivering us from an eternity in hell and replacing it with a joyful existence with Him. The cost to offer it to us was more than we could ever pay on our own. But through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the price was forever paid. And that means our salvation is just a prayer away.

Famous infomercial pitchman Bill Mays sold millions of dollars worth of merchandise because he was committed to, lived and breathed the products and services he promoted. So how about promoting God’s Amazing, Life-Changing Solution? After all, it’s the proven answer for wiping away ugly sins. And best yet, God is always recruiting new representatives for a market that’s literally dying for His product.

Interested in a challenging opportunity with an unbeatable retirement plan? Operators are standing by.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Devil's In the Details

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, and their ways are vile; there is no one who does good.

-- Psalm 53:1

Have you settled things with God?

No matter who you are--young or old, male or female--that's the question we face. Because one day, we're all going to leave this world, meet our Maker and answer to Him for the lives we led. We'll either die in faith or die in sin. But for Christ-followers, having faith in Jesus means there's nothing to fear. The Apostle Paul explained it this way:
"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering."
That's great news. But how great will it be for those who don't die in faith? Believe it or not, that's not an issue that concerns many people these days. The September 2011 Baylor Religion Survey reveals that only about 51% of Americans "absolutely" believe in hell while 62% have the same degree of certainty in heaven. And recent findings from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life rendered similar results, with 59% of Americans believing in hell and 74% in heaven.

Why such low numbers? According to Kurt Selles, director of the Global Center at Samford University's Beeson Divinity School, the real issue is a reluctance to portray Jesus Christ as the exclusive way to God. In two recent workshops held at the Beeson Pastors School, Selles asked the attendees if they had ever preached a sermon about hell.

"Nobody had," he reported.

Jesus, on the other hand, was not deterred by political correctness or the fear of offending others. "I am the way and the truth and the life," Christ told the people in John 14:6. "No one comes to the Father except through me."

The Gospels tell us that many people DID accept this bold message, but most did not--particularly the religious leaders and supposed experts in God's Law. Centuries later, few things have changed. There's no shortage of "enlightened" people today who claim that Jesus' message is both judgmental and intolerant. And besides--they're quick to add--everyone knows there are many ways to God.

At least that part is true: every path eventually DOES lead to God. But the devil is literally in the details since all of them except one also lead to His judgment and eternal condemnation.
 "Enter through the narrow gate," Jesus warns us. "For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."
Traveling this winding, narrow path involves putting our faith in Jesus alone. And no matter what the world says about that today, it's one thing that God settled long ago.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Shades of Gray

He has shown all you people what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly
with your God.

-- Micah 6:8

One of the great misconceptions about Christianity is that it's all about rules and regulations. And yes, it's true that the Old Testament has over 600 of them, covering everything from proper animal sacrifice to priests with disheveled hair. What's more, the Jewish religious authorities added many others over the years through their oral traditions. Maybe the intentions were good. But the resulting burden was heavy. Who could ever please God by following them all when there were too many to even remember?

"Until the time of John the Baptist, people had to obey the Law of Moses and the Books of the Prophets," Jesus explained to His followers. "But since God's kingdom has been preached, everyone is trying hard to get in."

God's Word was perfect. But Jesus got to the heart of its true meaning. When an expert in the Law asked Christ to name the greatest of the 10 Commandments, the Lord answered:
"'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
Christ-followers who stick close to this principle are likely to travel far down the road of Spirit-filled living. But there are still issues and situations--so-called gray areas--that the Bible doesn't specifically cover. Examples include issues with personal relationships, styles of worship, food and drink, and types of entertainment. Although the Apostle Paul never considered questionable Internet sites and pay-per-view movies, he was no stranger to debatable issues in his own day that pulled the church away from what was (and still is) most important: the Good News about Jesus. Paul advised early Christ-followers that their newfound faith in Jesus gave them liberty.

"Everything is permissible," he explained. "But not everything is necessarily beneficial."

In other words, just because we CAN do something doesn't necessarily mean we SHOULD do it. But this spawns an obvious question: How do we know if a particular gray area is OK?

We first need to determine if the proposed activity could be a problem to those who see us do it. For example, would it build up or hinder the faith of another Christ-follower if they saw you buy a ticket for an explicit R-rated movie? And on the same note, would the activity benefit you spiritually or physically? Just because you CAN eat a bucket of fried chicken and a carton of chocolate ice cream doesn't mean it's the right thing to do.

Our faith in Jesus has given us the freedom to live enriched, fulfilled lives. But this same liberty isn't a license to sin. That should be the last thing in our mind. Above all--whatever we choose to do--we need to do it for God's glory. Because after all, the world is watching.
"A lamp is placed on a lampstand, where it can give light to everyone in the house," Jesus tells us. "Make your light shine, so that others will see the good that you do and will praise your Father in heaven."
The fact is that Christianity is much more about relationships than rules. And it's when we focus on loving God and our neighbors through what we say and do that the vivid colors of life emerge from the gray. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

At the Crossroads

If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you
and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”

-- Exodus 33:13

Are you one of those people who hates to ask for directions when they're lost? Douglas Corrigan was. And his stubbornness would briefly make him the world's most famous man.

Born in 1907 in Galveston, Texas, Corrigan was a skilled mechanic and pilot who helped build the Spirit of St. Louis--Charles Lindbergh's famous airplane that crossed the Atlantic in 1927. Corrigan dreamed of one day repeating the hero aviator's remarkable feat. But time after time, the federal government refused to certify his modified aircraft for transatlantic flight. Corrigan would get his chance 11 years later.

Frustrated by the government's red tape, Corrigan apparently gave up and submitted his official flight plans to return home to California. His plane left the New York runway at night in thick fog--and with (allegedly) a malfunctioning compass. Nearly 30 hours later, the stubborn Texan landed in Dublin, Ireland: halfway around the world from his intended destination. Douglas "Wrong Way" Corrigan became an instant celebrity and received a New York City ticker tape parade that was bigger than Lindbergh's!

Maybe we're all like Wrong Way Corrigan when it comes to navigating our personal life journey. Our compass tends to malfunction and we can easily lose sight of our goals and destination. We're confused about which college to attend, which spouse to marry and which job to take. These are no doubt legitimate questions. Making poor choices can indeed set our life off course.

Discerning God's will is the best way to put us back on track. But how? Let's first look at what NOT to do. Society tells us to follow our hearts and "be true to ourselves." But that's in direct opposition to God's word in the Bible because we're first to be true to Him. "Who can understand the human heart?" we read in Jeremiah. "There is nothing else so deceitful; it is too sick to be healed."

Let's now consider Jesus' example as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before His arrest and execution. Christ had a big decision to make. And He asked God if there might be some other way to achieve the eternal plan that had been set in motion at the foundation of the world. "Father, if it is possible, don't let this happen to me!" Jesus petitioned as He literally sweated blood. "Father, you can do anything. Don't make me suffer by having me drink from this cup. But do what you want, and not what I want."

The clear lesson is that surrendering completely to God's will is our first step to knowing it. 

When we do, God's answer can be eye-opening. But it will never contradict His message in the Bible. And don't be surprised if He responds through an opportunity or situation that has never before occurred to you. Our ways--God says--are not His ways. And His thoughts are not our own.

What's our next move? Let's remember the words of Proverbs 19:21.

"Many are the plans in a person's heart," we read. "But it is the Lord's purpose that prevails."