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.