Saturday, December 31, 2011

A New You

But the king of Egypt said, “Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away
from their labor? Get back to your work!”

- Exodus 5:4

It's often the uncertain economy. Sometimes it's a midlife crisis. But whatever the reason, people from coast to coast are reinventing their life's work--and ultimately--who they are. In his book What Should I Do with the Rest of My Life? author Bruce Frankel highlights several remarkable individuals who turned their back on the past to do something completely different. Thomas Dwyer--a 70-something former U.S. Intelligence officer--joined a dance troupe. And then there's Deborah Jack, who left her two-decade-long career in financial publishing after a layoff...and went into business for herself with a Fetch! Pet Care franchise.

"As much as I loved my Wall Street clients, they never jumped up and down when I walked in the door the way my clients do now," Deborah says. "This is a great business. I never have any bad days."

But perhaps one of the biggest change stories of all involves Fife Symington. In 1997, the former two-term governor of Arizona was convicted on seven counts of bank and wire fraud, and sentenced to 30 months in prison and five years of probation. Although a federal appeals court overturned his convictions and he received a presidential pardon, Symington abandoned politics, graduated from culinary school and became an accomplished pastry chef!

These success stories are nothing less than inspirational. But even so, many folks avoid new things--particularly as they get older. However, big changes can reap even bigger rewards. And as the saying goes, people often don't see the light until they feel the heat.

You won't find any arguments about that in the Bible. In Genesis, we read that God told Abraham--who was an old man at the time--to leave his beloved country for a far-off land. And because he obeyed, Abraham became the father of Israel. Moses also had a midlife crisis that drastically altered his career path. Raised within the Egyptian royal family, he fled the country after killing a cruel taskmaster, and spent the next several decades in anonymity as a shepherd. But God never forgot Moses. And He used His unlikely servant to switch gears yet again. This time, it was for Moses' return to Egypt to tell the Pharaoh--the world's most powerful ruler--to set God's people free.

God may or may not call you to make drastic changes to your career or address. But He does call on everyone to make a profound spiritual change--one that lets us see through His eyes and take on His perspective. As Jesus puts it, we all must be born again.

The word-picture the Apostle Paul paints in the Book of Ephesians is that we must strip off the old self and put on the new--much like exchanging filthy rags for a beautiful new set of clothes. But how do we do that? It all begins by admitting that we're fatally flawed individuals who can do nothing on our own to save ourselves from the punishment we deserve. And the next step is to acknowledge through faith that the only One who can save us is Jesus Christ-- the One who died in our place to pay for our sins in full. After all, we can never be good enough or follow a set of rules to meet His impossibly-high standards. It's only through Jesus Himself that we can become a new creation.

The timing of this crucial truth is hardly coincidental. So as we approach the New Year, let's do more than make half-hearted resolutions about changing for the better. Let's start 2012 with a new attitude...and a new Spirit. It's real change we can live with.

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?" God asks. "I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland."

Saturday, December 24, 2011

It's All Relative(s)

Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Then he pointed to his disciples and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!”

-- Matthew 12:48-50

Reminders from industry trade groups are probably unnecessary. But just in case you haven't heard, the National Communications Association wants you to know that the holiday season can be either a time of joy and togetherness...or an occasion for stress, conflict and family tension. What's more, stress expert Elizabeth Scott, M.S., rightly observes that "many a happy holiday has been found by groups of people who have decided to celebrate with friends instead of family."

It's a sad but accurate commentary about what Christmas has become in 21st Century America. But in many ways, it's simply a reflection of human nature. Whenever families gather--for just about any reason at all--tensions can peak. Sometimes it's because of intrusions into precious personal space--like when the in-laws spend the night (or week) in a house that's already too close for comfort. There's also that outcast teenager who perceives their older relatives as judgmental, critical or demanding. And let's not forget those pleasant conversations over Christmas dinner about relationships, politics and religion.

If this hits too close to home, you're in good company. Jesus Himself--the Son of God--was often misunderstood by those closest to him.
"A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family," Mark's Gospel records Him telling His disciples.
Since even our own families can misinterpret our actions, have you ever wondered if God really understands all the mundane problems, annoyances and trials we face every day? Maybe the Christmas Story holds the answer.

Luke's Gospel tells us that Jesus came into this world in the poorest of circumstances: with a manger--an animal's feeding trough--as His first bed. But why? As the King's Son, Jesus could have lived in a marble palace while enjoying only the finest things in life. And God could have commanded everyone on earth to worship and obey Him.

But something would have been missing. As a loving Father, our God refuses to force anyone to accept His free gift of forgiveness and salvation. And since He knew that men and women were without hope because of the pitiful ways they lived their lives, God decided to come to us Himself in human form to live the perfect life. That meant living among us through the sin-free Jesus Christ--the only acceptable sacrifice to pay for our offenses.

Jesus--the Son of God--was born into poverty. And throughout His ministry, the religious elite despised and cursed Him because they didn't recognize Him or hear His voice. And eventually, the innocent Christ would die in a most painful and humiliating way: crucifixion among common criminals.
But that's the way it had to be. And because Jesus fulfilled the mission God had planned since the foundation of the world, the circle was completed and our sin debt paid in full. Yes, He came to earth to be with His creation and suffer both among us and for us. God not only lived out the human experience, He came to understand both you and me.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Package Deal

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of
King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked,
“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw
his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

-- Matthew 2: 1-2

For many folks, receiving and opening presents is the highlight of their Christmas morning. But giving to others is also satisfying—especially when the gift is significant or has a story behind it. So imagine how you would feel if you bought a particularly expensive gift while overseas, waited patiently while it passed through customs and then paid extra to ship it back home…and then later discovered that the recipient hadn’t even bothered to open the box!

God has also gone through extreme lengths to offer us a costly gift that we can never afford ourselves: total forgiveness of our sins and salvation through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. But just like any other gift, this forgiveness and salvation is worthless unless we unwrap the package…and then accept it. That means:

  • Accepting it with gratitude (because we didn’t pay for it)
  • Accepting it with humility (because we could never afford it)
  • Accepting it with joy (because God chose us when we didn’t deserve it)
Christmas is getting close. But you don’t have to wait until December 25 to open a priceless gift that has your name written all over it. In fact, you can start untying the bows and shredding the wrapping paper…right now.
“In the Scriptures God says, ‘When the time came, I listened to you, and when you needed help, I came to save you,’” writes the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians. “That time has come. This is the day for you to be saved.”

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

This is what the Sovereign Lord says: If the prince makes a gift from his inheritance to one of his sons, it will also belong to his descendants; it is to be their property by inheritance.

-- Ezekiel 46:16

Looking for a memorable present for that special someone? Look no further than the world-famous Neiman Marcus Christmas Book

First published in 1926, this remarkable catalog wows readers in more than 1 million households with an assortment of high-end knickknacks. But it's best known for its outlandish fantasy gifts such as his and hers camels, airplanes, robots, windmills...and even submarines. Does your loved one like water sports? Neiman Marcus has just the thing: a special edition Hacker-Craft mahogany speedboat for $250,000. Or what about the European flower show tour (with nine of her closest friends) via private jet? It's a mere $420,000. But if you're a bit more budget-conscience, order the fully-furnished Mongolian yurt for just $75,000.

Neiman Marcus' gifts are unquestionable memorable. But there are some gifts that are so unforgettable that millions of people still talk about them centuries after they were given. The Bible reveals that the Magi--or Wise Men--traveled hundreds of miles over rough terrain to meet the long-awaited King of Kings: the infant Jesus. And when they finally found Him in an obscure village called Bethlehem, they brought gifts.
"On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him," we read in Matthew's Gospel. "Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh."
On first glance, the Wise Men's gifts seem both odd and inappropriate--particularly for a baby. But they were right on the mark. Gold symbolizes royalty while frankincense represents God's appointed priest--Jesus Himself. Likewise, myrrh was a spice used to prepare the dead for burial. And in this case, it was to be Christ's own.

Like many great gifts, the Wise Men's offerings were also practical. Joseph--Jesus' earthly father--was warned in a dream to flee Israel with his wife and infant Son. This meant leaving their possessions behind and starting a new life in Egypt while the jealous King Herod sought to kill Jesus. Freely traded throughout the region, the valuable gold and spices likely helped support the young family until they could return following Herod's death a few years later.

God provided for His own those many centuries ago. And He continues to do so today. But His greatest gift of all was His promise of salvation through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Sadly, most people refuse to unwrap this amazing present. God recognized our desperate need for forgiveness for the wrong ways we've lived our lives and treated others. So He came to Earth to live among us, teach us how to live...and then to pay the enormous price required to cover our sins. And that dear price was His life.

Jesus' birth that first Christmas was a gift you'll never find in a fancy department store catalog or website. It was neither extravagant like a luxurious round-the-world cruise or unusual like an antique sports car. Instead, it was priceless, practical and life changing. And best of all, it's still free today to anyone who asks for it in faith.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Undercover Boss

Are you one of the 19 million people who tune in each week to the CBS reality series Undercover Boss? If you’re unfamiliar with it, Undercover Boss follows corporate executives who work undercover in entry-level jobs within their organizations. Their goal is to experience first-hand what’s it’s like to walk in their employees’ shoes. At the end of their week-long mission, the executives reveal their true identities, reward their diligent co-workers and provide better working conditions—or sometimes training—to those who need it most.

Undercover Boss has featured executives from Waste Management, United Van Lines, Roto-Rooter and even 1-800-Flowers. They’ve all left their comfortable corporate offices to literally get their hands dirty on the front lines of the working world. And their experiences are often humbling—but they’re also enlightening. 7-Eleven CEO Jo DePinto spent much of his undercover time mopping floors and fouling up the pastry assembly line as a supposed new hire named Danny. Waste Management President Larry O’Donnell picked up truckloads of trash and vacuumed portable toilets. And Michael Rubin, founder and CEO of GSI Commerce, had a quota of boxes to pack every hour.

“I was literally watching [a fellow employee] in front of me and then watching myself, and it was pretty demoralizing,” he reported. “I called my mom after that first day and said, ‘I don’t think I’ll be able to do this tomorrow.’”

A ratings success in the United States, there are also versions of Undercover Boss in Great Britain, Australia, Norway and Germany. It’s entertaining television at its finest. But the show’s premise isn’t particularly new. In fact, the idea is literally as old as the hills.

The Bible tells us that Earth was once a paradise. It had everything and more that Adam and Eve (the first man and woman) could ever want or need. But after they chose to disobey God, they were driven out of the Garden to live existences marked by hardship, disease, pain, disappointment and physical death—the exact opposite of God’s original vision. And ever since, the human experience has been anything but heavenly. Every one of us continues to fall short of God’s high standards in word, thought and deed. It’s a seemingly hopeless situation. And it would be…except that there IS hope. 

From the beginning of time, God had a plan to save us from ourselves. Since we could never live the perfect life He demands, He had to do it himself. He became like those Undercover Boss executives who left their comfortable offices to work anonymously with their lowly entry-level employees. Indeed, God left Heaven 2,000 years ago to live with mankind in an obscure outpost of the Roman Empire. And He arrived through the most humble of circumstances—a birth in a filthy stable among common farm animals. This Undercover Boss—our long-awaited Savior—was here. And His name was Jesus: God’s Word in the flesh. And like those unsuspecting employees at 7-Eleven and Waste Management, few recognized Him.

The Apostle John described it this way:
The Word was in the world, and though God made the world through him, yet the world did not recognize him. He came to his own country, but his own people did not receive him. Some, however, did receive him and believed in him; so he gave them the right to become God’s children. They did not become God’s children by natural means, that is, by being born as children of a human father; God himself was their father.
The saying goes that one should never judge another unless they’ve walked a mile in their shoes. As Christ-followers, we worship a loving God Who did just that. He came to earth to live out the human experience with all its pains, joys and everything in between. And He did it perfectly…because we never could.