Saturday, April 30, 2011

Racing Fuel

Are you so irrational? After you started with the Spirit,
are you now finishing up with your own human effort?

-- Galatians 3:3

Winning the Boston Marathon is arguably one of the greatest athletic feats in all sports. Hosted since 1897 by the City of Boston, this 26.22-mile race is held each year on the third Monday in April. It also attracts about 500,000 spectators, which makes the Boston Marathon New England's most viewed sporting event.

Nearly 27,000 runners entered the 2011 Boston Marathon. Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai won it in just over 2 hours and three minutes--an effort recognized by some authorities as the fastest marathon ever run. But whether or not Mutai's performance was a world record, completing the grueling race (let alone winning it) involved much more than practice runs and stretching exercises. Effective runners also adhere to a special diet to ensure that their bodies have enough fuel to carry them the distance.

In her Runners World magazine article The Healthy Runner's Diet, Liz Applegate recommends a regimen of seeds, fruits and vegetables, plant foods with their skins intact, milk and milk products, foods originating from cold water (like fish and other seafood), and meat, poultry, or eggs from free-range or grass-fed animals. These powerful foods, says Dr. Applegate, promote good health and peak athletic performance for long distance runners. And what many marathoners well-know is that eating the wrong foods can mean the difference between crossing the finish line and dropping out in exhaustion with miles left to go.

Since our faith journey is often called a marathon, this principle also applies to Christ-followers. But not so much with physical food, but the spiritual food we consume through our choice of friends, movies, music, books or other media. As Christ-followers, we want our lives to produce the fruit of the Holy Spirit, which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. But if we're constantly feeding ourselves with negative influences, we shouldn't be surprised if we follow our old sinful natures from time to time. Expressions of jealousy, bitterness and frustration are common examples of what can happen when we're not taking in the right spiritual fuel to go the whole distance.

As the Apostle Paul explained it to the Galatians, "Our sinful selves want what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit wants what is against our sinful selves. The two are against each other, so you cannot do just what you please."

It's obvious that every Christ-follower--just like every entrant of the Boston Marathon--needs to prepare for the long and demanding race ahead of them. Rather than carb-loading to maximize thestorage of energy in our muscles, we should follow a determined spiritual regimen that will help see us to victory.

First, we need to start with constant prayer and a continual awareness that we can't make it without the Holy Spirit living within us. Rather than living one day at a time, we're to proceed moment-by-moment. Second, we need to deliberately filter our thinking. Do the movies we watch, the websites we visit and the friends we make feed our spirit or our sinful nature? And finally, we must die to ourselves every day by always being on the lookout for traps and obstacles in our lives that could run us off the track. In 2 Timothy, Paul writes that his own spiritual diet and rigorous training regimen paid off for his faith-journey.

"I have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith. At last the champion's wreath that is awarded for righteousness is waiting for me. The Lord, who is the righteous judge, is going to give it to me on that day. He's giving it not only to me but also to all those who have set their heart on waiting for his appearance."

The old saying is true: you are what you eat. So whether you're a brand-new Christ-follower or you've been a believer for years, choose only the life-giving fuels that will take you the distance and over the finish line. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

News You Should Use

Jesus isn't here! He has been raised from death. Remember that while he was still in Galilee, he told you, “The Son of Man will be handed over to sinners who will nail him to a cross. But three days later he will rise to life."

-- Luke 24:6-7

If it bleeds, it leads.

That’s the old saying in the news business. Turn on the TV, read a newspaper or visit a news website and you’re bound to come across story after story about financial hardship, “skyrocketing” unemployment and degenerate human behavior. The fact is that the media thrives on bad news and hyping the worst possible scenarios. After all, good news rarely drives ratings or sells magazines.

A steady stream of good news also doesn’t paint an unrealistically gloomy picture of our circumstances. For instance, bad economic news can lead to self-fulfilling prophesies when the public becomes too scared to buy a much-needed automobile or even a new pair of shoes. True, too many people really ARE struggling these days with difficult life challenges. But unemployment, crime, sickness and death have been part of the human experience for centuries -- even in the best of times. There’s nothing new there.

OK. Enough with the depressing headlines. How about some good news for a change?

As Christ-followers, our Good News (the Gospel) is that Jesus paid the price for our sins (past, present and future) when He died on the cross in our place. Then, just as predicted in the Old Testament, God resurrected Him to life to forever defeat the power of sin and death in our lives. It’s this same power that will one day raise all believers to eternal life and joy with our Creator. And it’s what Easter is all about.

“Death has lost the battle!” wrote the Apostle Paul. “Where is its victory? Where is its sting?”

Does this Good News sound a bit too good to be true? If so, you’re not alone. Even some of Jesus’ disciples refused to believe when they first heard that He was alive. Let’s consider this encouraging passage from the Gospel of John, which reports the skepticism – and later amazement – of Thomas (the one forever known as “Doubting Thomas”):
Although Thomas the Twin was one of the twelve disciples, he wasn't with the others when Jesus appeared to them. So they told him, "We have seen the Lord!"
But Thomas said, "First, I must see the nail scars in his hands and touch them with my finger. I must put my hand where the spear went into his side. I won't believe unless I do this!"
A week later the disciples were together again. This time, Thomas was with them. Jesus came in while the doors were still locked and stood in the middle of the group. He greeted his disciples and said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and look at my hands! Put your hand into my side. Stop doubting and have faith!"
Thomas replied, "You are my Lord and my God!"
Jesus said, "Thomas, do you have faith because you have seen me? The people who have faith in me without seeing me are the ones who are really blessed!"

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Just What the Doctor Ordered

Everyone on earth has a body like the body of the one who was made from the dust of the earth. And everyone in heaven has a body like the body of the one who came from heaven.

1 Corinthians 15:45

The Garden of Eden must have been quite a place.

And indeed it was. We read in Genesis that it was a literal paradise filled with beautiful fruit trees, gardens, rivers, and animals. God created Adam to care for it, and later introduced Eve to complete the equation. There was no crime, violence, unemployment or any of the other realities of our modern existence. And they communed with God in a world without pain or sickness. Or even death.

Then…everything changed. Adam and Eve’s disobedience through eating from the garden’s forbidden tree led to their permanent eviction from Eden. And ever since, human existence has involved toil, conflict, illness, and mortality. It’s a price we’re literally paying to this day.

Just how far has Adam and Eve’s sin taken us from that place of perfect health? In 2009, the United States spent $2.5 trillion--or $8,086 per person—on health care. That’s about 18% of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP). And with the nation’s Baby Boomers entering their retirement years, our need for health care and related services will only grow.

It’s obvious that our nation—as well as the rest of the world—is in desperate need of healing. That’s why it’s a good thing that God sent us a Great Physician in the form of His own Son, Jesus Christ.

We read in the New Testament how Jesus—with only a touch or even a word—healed lepers, the blind and the paralyzed. He even returned a man and a young child from death: all incredible miracles that proved Jesus is indeed God among us. But if you think about it, these miracles were only temporary. All those whom Jesus healed or raised eventually died. Just as we all will one day.

But Jesus’ healing was much more than physical. It had (and still has) eternal, spiritual significance. In our 21st Century culture that worships vitality and outward appearances, Christ sees our real condition like an X-ray of our souls. Truth be told, every one of us hurts in one way or another through the wounds and fractures of daily life.

What’s the prescription for true healing? It’s our simple faith in Him.

Luke’s gospel records that one desperate woman—who had been plagued by bleeding for years—believed that her cure lay in touching Jesus’ garments. And she was right. Luke also tells us about a humble Roman centurion who sought Jesus’ healing for his deathly ill servant. Remarkably, this would-be enemy of Israel trusted the ability of Christ’s word alone.

When Jesus heard this, He was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following Him, He said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”

Christ-followers aren’t promised freedom from physical illness and death. That wonderful prospect disappeared with Adam and Eve. But we do have the promise of perfect health and happiness once we reach our eternal home with the Father. And it all starts with believing in Jesus’ power, asking for His help and having faith to the end.

“Daughter, your faith has healed you,” Jesus told His patient. “Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”