Monday, February 28, 2011

Let's Go

Then Jesus said to all the people: "If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross each day and follow me."

-- Luke 9:23

The June 6, 1944 landing on the French beaches of Normandy -- the bloody event best known as D-Day -- involved an estimated 2 million Allied soldiers, sailors and airmen, plus thousands of naval vessels and aircraft. About 17 billion pounds of supplies supported it. And if it weren't for a stubborn weatherman and a general who were willing to risk the outcome of World War II, the history-changing invasion of Europe might have turned out quite differently.

American, British and Canadian troops had trained for D-Day for months. And the German military knew they would come sooner or later. The question was where...and when. June 5 was the original date with destiny. But the weather was questionable and could make the English Channel treacherous for the thousands of vulnerable landing craft and support craft (and not to mention the troops). Dr. James Martin Stagg -- the Allies' lead weatherman -- advised General Dwight D. Eisenhower to postpone the massive invasion. However, Stagg added that the clouds would break on June 6. Several members of the meteorological team disagreed with this optimistic interpretation of the weather charts. But after weighing the situation for just 30 seconds, Eisenhower signaled his commitment with three simple words: OK, let's go.

Commitment is a virtue that God has sought in His people for centuries. Joshua, one of the great servant leaders of the Old Testament, displayed this trait when he challenged the tribes of Israel to choose who they would serve: the false gods of their ancestors or the only one True God. "But as for me and my household," declared Joshua, "we will serve the Lord."

Jesus also seeks this same level of total commitment from His modern-day followers. Rather than would-be believers who might help to build His kingdom if it's not too inconvenient for them, Christ demands an all-or-nothing relationship from those willing to give the little they have to eventually gain everything.

Does this sound unrealistic? Jesus' closest friends thought so. One day, a rich young man asked Christ what he had to do to gain eternal life. Knowing what was in the man's heart, Jesus reminded him about following God's commandments about theft, adultery, murder, lying, and honoring one's parents. When the man replied that he had kept these laws since childhood, the Savior told him that he lacked just one thing: the need to sell all his possessions.

Jesus knew that rather than loving God with all his heart, soul and mind (the first of the 10 Commandments), the rich man was actually committed to money. This would-be follower was crushed by Jesus' harsh revelation and soon turned away. And Jesus' apostles were just as amazed. "If this is the way it is," they asked, "who can ever be saved?"

Jesus' response was both direct and reassuring.
"What is impossible for man," He explained, "is possible with God."
The lesson here is that Jesus seeks undivided loyalty from His followers -- those special people who are willing to give and serve using the gifts, talents and resources entrusted from God. But to make this vital commitment, we must realize that it requires our total reliance on a Power much greater than ourselves.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Naked Truth

Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak
or teach at all in the name of Jesus.

-- Acts 4:18

The Emperor’s New Clothes is one of the most familiar and beloved short stories by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. We read that there was once an emperor whose life revolved around fashion. This ruler even had a stylish outfit for every hour of the day. So it happened that two swindlers – claiming to master weavers – arrived at the castle. And they assured the chic emperor that they could tailor a unique suit of clothes for him from the magnificent cloth they would weave.

The emperor agreed to the frauds’ terms and gave them an extravagant down payment to begin their work. Eager to learn about his outfit’s status, the emperor sent his prime minister to inspect the “tailors’” progress. Much to the prime minister’s surprise, he found only empty looms. But he was afraid to reveal his ignorance when the conmen asked for his thoughts about the fabric’s vivid colors and pattern. The prime minister replied that he was very impressed with their craftsmanship. And then he complied with the tailors’ new demands for more money and gold thread to complete their work.

“Is not the cloth magnificent?" asked two high government officials when the emperor came to view the progress for himself. "See here, the splendid pattern, the glorious colors," they proclaimed. Each pointed to the empty looms. And each thought that the others could see the material. "What can this mean?" said the Emperor to himself. "Am I so stupid? Am I not fit to be Emperor? This is disastrous," he thought. But aloud he said, "Oh, the cloth is perfectly wonderful. It has a splendid pattern and such charming colors."

And he nodded his approval, smiled appreciatively and stared at the empty looms.

The day soon came for the emperor’s grand procession – the celebrated occasion when His Majesty would reveal his new suit of clothes. As he walked by, the emperor’s subjects could only gasp at the spectacle. Silence enveloped the room. But no one dared to proclaim the remarkable sight before their eyes. Finally, a little boy pointed at the emperor and stated the obvious.

“Look!” said the youth. “The emperor has nothing on.”

Although written more than a century ago, Hans Christian Andersen’s tale says much about our modern society. The story’s well-intentioned characters followed the popular (politically correct) path and told the emperor what he wanted to hear. But it took a naïve child to reveal the naked truth.

It’s a lesson for every Christ-follower. For too long, many in the church have turned a blind eye as society accepts the world’s deceptive if-it-feels-good, do-it message. Watch almost any television show or movie these days and you’ll see destructive behaviors and lifestyles that God expressly condemns. Adultery and other illicit relationships, for example, are no longer considered scandalous. And if Christ-followers refuse to compromise their biblical principles and dare to speak out, they’re likely to be scolded as being intolerant, bigoted and narrow-minded.

Of course, God’s Word reveals no change regarding illicit behaviors and the destruction they render. But just as our ancestors did centuries earlier, too many today are willing to turn their heads and accept the “anything goes” activities of others… including those of some in the church. “If no one says anything,” they reason, “maybe everything will be OK. We don’t want to offend anyone.”

As Christ-followers, compromising God’s truth for bankrupt worldly philosophies is never an option. It’s when we’re convicted to convey His true Message in both words and deeds – regardless of its unpopularity or consequences -- that we take another step toward making a real difference in the world.  

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Home of the Brave

I've commanded you to be strong and brave. Don't ever be afraid or discouraged! I am the LORD your God, and I will be there to help you wherever you go.

-- Joshua 1:9

Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage was once required reading in high school English classes from coast to coast. Set on the bloody battlefields of the Civil War, this 1895 masterpiece is so realistic that veterans often wrote to Crane asking him to identify his regiment. In fact, Crane was born six years after the war – the fourteenth child of a Presbyterian minister!

The Red Badge of Courage tells the story of Henry Fleming, a naïve youth who – against his mother’s wishes -- joins the Union Army to find his measure of excitement and glory. But Henry soon discovers the horrific realities of war when his regiment attacks the enemy from behind. Henry and several other soldiers run from the carnage and desert. Wounded and bleeding by a stiff blow from a rifle butt (delivered by another “lost” Yankee), Henry eventually makes it back to his regiment’s camp with the help of a fellow soldier. Remarkably, no one suspects the protagonist of desertion.

Henry’s baptism of fire quickly changes the innocent young man into a battle-wise soldier. He’s involved the next day in several frontline skirmishes with the Rebels. Afterwards, his colonel compliments the former coward for his bravery in combat. The transformation was both remarkable and complete. It was just hours before that Henry abandoned his comrades and ran for his life. Now, he held the line and encouraged them to fight even harder.

The Red Badge of Courage is not an overtly Christian novel. But as a “PK” (Pastor’s Kid) and former seminary student, it’s likely that Stephen Crane knew a thing or two about redemption and the Power that enables regular people to do impossible things. It’s also likely that most of us can identify with Crane’s character, Henry. We may not be facing a fierce enemy on some faraway battleground. But we do face a countless number of intimidating opponents – opponents that we have no hope of conquering on our own. Poverty, hunger, crime, and disease are a few obvious examples. Is it any surprise that Satan uses fear as his primary weapon against God’s saints? After all, fear is the opposite of faith. And it’s the devil who plants the seeds of doubt that cause us to ask ourselves, “What if…” It’s that tiny question that leads us to follow our natural tendencies toward inaction and procrastination. (Which is just what the enemy wants.)

The good news is that Christ-followers are called by their Creator to be strong and brave. We’re not alone on the battlefield. And we can be encouraged by the average people (like you and me) that God enables to do extraordinary things. David – the obscure shepherd boy – killed the fierce giant Goliath with a single, well-aimed stone from a slingshot. And that same shepherd boy eventually became the King of Israel and the one God called “a man after My own heart.” Likewise, the Apostle Peter literally dove into the deep end when he accepted Jesus’ call to walk on water. It was only after he began to doubt that Peter began to sink. But Jesus saved him when His follower called out in faith. This same follower – who would also deny Jesus multiple times – ultimately became a bold preacher of what the Book of Acts called The Way. Two books of the New Testament also bear his name. 

As Christ-followers, we can take heart: God doesn’t expect us to solve the world’s problems. Instead, it’s by seeking and using His power in faith that we can indeed make a world of difference. Even if it’s one person at a time.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Candidate

He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.

-- Luke 10:2

Looking for a new job or testing the job market? Maybe Tony Beshara should be on your short list for advice.

A veteran of the placement and recruitment profession since 1973, Beshara has helped literally thousands of people find employment by matching the right candidates with the right organizations. And in his book Acing the Interview, Beshara writes that employers are on the lookout for experienced, can-do candidates who meet some exacting criteria. Those who fail to impress and excel in some categories face the reality of not making it to the critical second interview.

The first hurdle to overcome is the ability to prove that you can do the job. Beshara advises candidates to be prepared to share stories about how they met challenges and succeeded at other companies. Employers also seek to determine if they like you. Even if you’re well-qualified, you probably won’t get the job if they don’t think you have the right chemistry. They also want to know if you’re a risk. In other words, do you have a record of jumping from job to job every couple of years? And do you have the reputation for being difficult to manage? Finally, you need to be affordable. With the job market filled with talented, well-qualified professionals, employers can eliminate you as a viable candidate if they think your salary demands are unmerited and unreasonable.

Corporations aren’t the only ones with high standards for their team members. Christ-followers are tasked with preparing God’s kingdom and being a bright light in a dark, troubled world. And since it’s such an important job that can yield eternal, life-changing rewards, only certain candidates are considered. First, they must be available on an as-needed basis. (Expect to work some weekends and holidays!) They also need to be obedient and follow the Boss’s (Jesus) instructions – even if they don’t make much sense at the time. Effective Christ-followers also must be humble in their work and share the credit whenever it’s due. Overtime and sacrifice are a given. And to top it off, they need to display plenty of initiative and be on the lookout for opportunities to help their neighbors both next door and miles away.

Is it any wonder that most folks won’t respond to Christ’s help wanted ad? To use the U.S. Navy’s old recruitment slogan, “It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure.” Luke’s Gospel records Jesus’s words to His would-be candidates:
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.”
Landing a job is usually difficult – even in vibrant, growing economies. But here’s some good news: Jesus is hiring right now for His organization’s growing staff. And many of His highest-producers had no experience in the field. Sure, the working conditions aren’t always the best. But there are plenty of rewards along the way…and the retirement plan is out of this world.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Semper Fi

Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

-- Acts 14:23

Founded a year before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the US Marine Corps is famous for its involvement in some of the greatest battles in history. And more than two centuries later, the Marines continue to serve our nation with uncommon distinction and valor. But as courageous as they are, the Leathernecks would be ineffective without the high caliber of its officers. So vital are these leaders that the Marines continually recruit individuals who demonstrate the following key attributes:

  • BEARING – Personal conduct reflecting alertness, competence, confidence, and control.
  • COURAGE – Remaining calm while recognizing fear.
  • DECISIVENESS – Making good decisions without delay.
  • DEPENDABILITY – The ability to be relied upon to perform duties properly.
  • ENDURANCE – The mental and physical stamina measured by your ability to withstand pain, fatigue, stress, and hardship.
  • ENTHUSIASM – Sincere interest and exuberance in the performance of your duties.
  • INITIATIVE – Taking action without direction when necessary.
  • INTEGRITY – Honesty and truthfulness is what you say and do.
  • JUDGMENT – The ability to think about things clearly and calmly to enable good decision-making.
  • JUSTICE – The practice of being fair and consistent.
  • KNOWLEDGE – Acquiring information and understanding people.
  • LOYALTY – Devoted to your country, the Corps, and to your seniors, peers, and subordinates.
  • TACT – Dealing with others in a manner that maintains good relations and avoids problems.
  • UNSELFISHNESS – Avoiding making yourself comfortable at the expense of others.

That’s an admirable list that’s summed up in the Corps’ famous motto, Semper Fi (“Always Faithful”).

Jesus’ army of followers – collectively known as The Church – also needs outstanding leaders to help maximize their effectiveness as the citizen-soldiers of God’s Kingdom. We read in the New Testament’s Acts of the Apostles that Paul and Barnabas “…appointed elders for each church. With prayer and fasting, they committed these elders to the Lord, in whom they had placed their trust.”

Paul wrote that “(t)he elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” And what are the key attributes of effective church elders? Paul puts it this way:

“Elders should be without fault. They should be faithful to their spouse, and have faithful children who can’t be accused of self-indulgence or rebelliousness. This is because overseers should be without fault as God’s managers: they shouldn’t be stubborn, irritable, addicted to alcohol, a bully, or greedy. Instead, they should show hospitality, love what is good, and be reasonable, ethical, godly, and self-controlled. They must pay attention to the reliable message as it has been taught to them so that they can encourage people with healthy instruction and refute those who speak against it.”

Like the Marines, Christ-followers are also fighting across the globe. But our battles are against the spiritual evils (“powers and principalities”) that dominate society. Faced with such powerful enemies, it’s no wonder that every local church – and The Church as a whole – needs wise leaders who demonstrate unwavering levels of character and faith in Jesus: leaders who are Semper Fi.