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.