Sunday, June 26, 2011

Warning Signs

The Law of the Lord is a lamp, and its teachings shine brightly. Correction
and self-control will lead you through life.

- Proverbs 6:23

The recent earthquake and tsunami that killed hundreds and caused widespread damage in Japan are reminders that life is unpredictable and that it’s God—not man—who is in control. However, warning signs often precede disasters. And our ability and willingness to recognize and heed them can mean the difference between life and death.

Let’s rewind back to December 2004 when an earthquake generating a powerful tsunami in the Indian and Pacific Oceans released the energy of more than 20,000 atomic bombs. The disaster left more than 150,000 people dead or missing in 11 different nations, and millions of others homeless.

The tsunami’s approach was not totally unannounced. Many survivors remember marveling at how far the ocean had receded to expose the seafloor. Fish and boats were left stranded on the sand. But it was these same warning signs that attracted others to their dooms when their curiosities got the best of them and led them to the shoreline. Tourists gathered in wonder to photograph the spectacle.

But some people did recognize the warning from the rapidly receding ocean. Survivors who understood its significance recalled how they ran for high ground, rounded up family and friends, and tried to warn those who had gathered at the water's edge. The Associated Press reported that one man in India saved 1,500 of his fellow villagers after seeing the ocean’s dramatic behavior. And for reasons still debated by scientists, many animals somehow sensed the disaster and fled in time to safety. Remarkably few animal bodies were ever found.

The level of death and destruction from this natural disaster was unprecedented. Only those few who recognized the warnings and reacted in time lived to tell their stories. But what about impending disasters of our own making? Is God trying to warn you about a catastrophe on your 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 tend to lack the Fruit of the Spirit of self control. We do what we know is bad for us (spiritually and/or physically) and put off what’s unpleasant until the very last minute. Or sometimes we’ll delay 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 to God’s warning signs?

The best answer is the simplest one: Face up to them NOW and run from the natural tendency to ignore our problems or procrastinate. Meanwhile, we should also be on the lookout for red flags by constantly evaluating anything that signals trouble. A little self-awareness and self control today can save us—and others—from a lifetime of hurt and regret tomorrow.   

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Anger Management

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

-- Matthew 11:29

Comedian George Carlin once observed that an "idiot" is anyone on the highway who's driving slower than you. A "maniac," on the other hand, is anyone who passes you in traffic.

Although Carlin's commentary was definitely tongue-in-cheek, many people actually act out these same perceptions throughroad rage. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines road rage as an assault with a motor vehicle or other dangerous weapon by the operator or passenger(s) of another motor vehicle, or an assault precipitated by an incident that occurred on a roadway.

Road rage experts (yes, they do exist) say the most obvious form of this criminal offense is aggressive and excessive speeding, particularly on congested highways or in bad weather. Causes include increased congestion on the roadways, running late (too many obligations), increased levels of intra- and interpersonal stress, and the need to "save face" and overcome feelings of being disrespected by another driver. Most telling, however, is that the NHTSA also identifies chronic or pathological anger as a leading cause of this disturbing phenomenon.

Maybe that's not too surprising. After all, anger is one of mankind's earliest and strongest emotions, and played itself out within the first few chapters of the Bible in the form of the world's first murder.

We couldn't control our anger back then in quiet, agrarian settings and still can't today on our traffic-snarled highways. But Christ-followers are still to live to much higher standards. In fact,gentleness is one flavor of the Fruit of the Spirit that proves God is living through us. With this in mind, note that gentleness isn't just another word for wimpiness. Jesus was gentle--but He was hardly a wimp. Instead, biblical gentleness is the transformation of our innate anger into the power to do God's will in the world. Gentleness is therefore power focused on the positive.

If you're a Christ-follower who's still a bit of a road warrior, take heart. The transformation from our old self into a new creation is a work in progress that's on God's timetable. It's a change that takes place bit by bit and day after day along that faith journey we hear so much about. But the problem is that the journey's pathway is narrow, twisting and full of unexpected hairpin curves. And when we don't keep our eyes on the final Destination, we tend to end up in the ditch.

Jesus even told His disciples to expect discouraging bumps and potholes in the road. "Things that cause people to sin are bound to come," Christ explained. "But woe to that person through whom they come."

Road rage is more than a's a sin. But the good news is that we're free from sin's power and don't have to accept its dominance in our lives. It comes down to our ultimate trust and dependence on Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross. So when we slip up and give in to temptation and bad habits on the highway--or thousands of other places--we can freely ask for help from the One who has already paid the ultimate price for all our mistakes: past, present and future.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tried and True

His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful
with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.
Come and share your master's happiness!'

-- Matthew 25:21

Think of it as the intersection of frustration and helplessness. It’s that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you jump in the car—already 10 minutes late for work—and turn the key in the ignition.

There’s a click. And then…nothing.

With the possible exception of New York City, it’s tough to get much done anywhere in the United States without a reliable automobile. So capitalizing on this fact of American suburbia, Mercedes-Benz has long marketed its cars as not only luxurious, but dependable. They even present a High Mileage Award to their loyal customers who’ve worn out their odometers in remarkable fashion. The latest Mercedes-Benz recognized for surpassing the million-mile mark is a 1970 280SE driven faithfully by George and Luzstella Koschel of Orange County, California. But the current high mileage champ is Gregorios Sachinidis, a Greek taxi driver who drove more than 2.8 million miles in his 1976 Mercedes-Benz 240D.

Mercedes-Benz—as well as several other well-known (and much more affordable) carmakers—has earned its reputation for building dependable products that drivers can count on. But that’s not always the case in marketing. In fact, the designers and manufacturers of some products (particularly personal computers, digital cameras and flat screen TVs) hold to a business philosophy called Planned Obsolescence. Whether it’s function, technology or even style, these products are designed to either fail or fall out of favor with their owners. But their makers know that more times than not, they can count on their customers to buy the latest and greatest models as soon as they’re on the market.

Planned Obsolescence is wasteful…yet effective. But there are some things in life that demand a higher level of fidelity than a shiny automobile or the latest iPad. When it comes to God’s church and matters of faith, the tendency among too many these days is to compromise and go with the flow. And the consequences can be deadly. For instance, the Archbishop of Canterbury—the leader of the Anglican Church in Great Britain—once suggested a two-track model for churchgoers: one for traditional, conservative believers and another for more “open-minded” Anglicans. This formula, he claimed, would allow for “two styles for being Anglican” while opening the door for ordaining openly gay clergy and allowing same-sex marriages.

According to this line of compromised logic, everyone wins. But since it openly defies God’s Word, those who fall for the deception become the losers.

Since the end of World War II, many in the church have looked the other way as society has fallen for world’s feels good-do it message. Watch almost any popular 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 faith and dare to speak out, they’re likely to be scolded as being intolerant, bigoted or narrow-minded. And let’s not forget “old-fashioned” and “behind the times.”

As Christ-followers, compromising God’s truth for the world’s warped values is never an option. It’s only when we focus on Jesus and live faithfully that we’ll fully experience His incredible blessings.  

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much,” Jesus reminds us, “and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Give Me a Break !

Be kind and loving to each other, and forgive each other just as God forgave you in Christ.

-- Ephesians 4:32

Ever consider that it’s friends and family—not strangers—who seem to give us the most trouble?

Former President George H.W. Bush once reminisced about the time his son, George (the 43rd President), visited the family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, and made the mistake of resting his feet on the coffee table.

“George Bush, you get your feet off the furniture!” demanded his feisty mother, Barbara.

“For goodness sake, Barbara,” responded Bush’s elderly father. “He’s the President of the United States.”

“I don’t care who he is,” she answered. “It’s still my coffee table.”

How right Jesus was when he observed that prophets are honored everywhere: except in their hometowns, with their own people and in their own homes!

Joseph, one of God’s great servants of Old Testament times, would likely identify with this awkward fact of life. He was the youngest and favorite of his father’s sons. And one day, his jealous siblings decided to sell their little brother into slavery in Egypt and blame a wild animal for his apparent death. Years later, faithful Joseph had impressed the authorities to the point that he had become a high government official in his adopted land. 

When famine swept over the area, Joseph made sure that the Egyptian people had enough grain. Unaware that their sibling was still alive—much less an important leader—Joseph’s brothers traveled from Canaan to Egypt in search of food. After putting them through several tests, Joseph finally revealed his true identity. Of course, he could have sought revenge by enslaving his brothers or even putting them to death. But instead, he showed them undeserved kindness by inviting them to bring their father, livestock and servants to live with him in his land of plenty.

As Christ-followers, we’re also called to show kindness to others. And many times, we respond by giving to strangers who we’ll never meet. It might be a famine victim in Africa, a tsunami survivor in Asia or even someone who's literally picking up the pieces after a destructive tornado in the American Midwest. There’s certainly nothing wrong with passing along some of God’s many blessings to those who need them the most. But sometimes, those who need our kindness and goodness live as close as down the street or next door. Or even in the next room.

They’re your friends and family...the ones who tend to give you a hard time.

“Don't ever forget kindness and truth,” the author of Proverbs tells us. “Wear them like a necklace. Write them on your heart as if on a tablet.”

God has given us all more breaks than we can ever count. So be sure to pass a few along. You probably won't have to look far.