Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sound Barrier

He says, "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth."

-- Psalm 46:10  

Houston... We have a problem.

Those words became famous in April 1970 after an oxygen tank exploded aboard the Apollo 13 spacecraft...and nearly ended the lunar mission in disaster. The astronauts were forced to return to earth without ever landing on the moon, and they had to improvise a way to conserve onboard electricity while reducing the buildup of deadly carbon dioxide inside their cabin. More troubling still was that no one could determine if the damaged capsule would withstand the intense heat generated during the re-entry into the earth's atmosphere.

Earth-based radar stations tracked Apollo 13's progress while NASA stayed in radio contact with the crew. But as expected, communications were lost when super-heated plasma built up around the spacecraft. It wasn't until minutes later that Mission Control heard the astronauts' voices break through the static. Millions of prayers around the world were answered that day as Apollo 13 and its heroic crew splashed down safely to earth.

This story is a realistic word-picture of our relationship with God. That's because even for the most experienced Christ-follower, there are times when prayers to God are met by static. Did He hear us or not? And if He did, why didn't He respond?

What we really want to know is how can we break through this frustrating spiritual barrier. First, it's important to examine ourselves for sin...and then admit it to God if and when we find it. The reason is that the noise of unconfessed sin can drown out what God is trying to tell us. Next, we need to clear the airways by forgiving others for anything we might be holding against them. After all, how can we expect God to forgive us for how we've failed Him if we hold grudges against others for relatively minor issues? 

Next, how are we treating our spouse and children? And are we helping to care for the needy through the riches God has entrusted us to manage? As Christ-followers, we're expected to help those in need with food, shelter and clothing.

Finally...there's the BIG question: Are you a Christ-follower? If not, understand that prayer and communication with God are based on your relationship with Jesus:

"You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it," Jesus assures us in the Gospel of John.

Are your prayers these days met with static...or is communication with God coming in loud and clear? When you're having trouble breaking through, locating the barrier is sometimes as easy as finding the closest mirror.

Saturday, December 22, 2012


Have you forgotten the Lord who made you, who stretched out the skies and made the earth?
Why are you always afraid of those angry people who trouble you and who want to destroy?
But where are those angry people now?

-- Isaiah 51:13

What was your first paying job?

Maybe you delivered newspapers every day at 5:00 AM, flipped hamburgers at McDonald's or stocked shelves at Ukrop's. Odds are that it wasn't a position with a corner office, company car or stock options. Instead, the hours were probably long, you worked nights and weekends, and the pay was meager at best.

And if you were like millions of other teenagers, you stayed on the job--whether you liked it or not--because you had your eye on the proverbial prize. Maybe that prize was your first car.

It was nice enough if your parents let you drive their 10-year-old Ford or Chevy around town or to the mall. But buying your own car with your own money was a very different matter. You were working to earn enough to drive the vehicle off the lot, make the monthly payments, pay the insurance premiums and fill up the tank. And your bank account was almost always empty by month's end. But you didn't care; your first automobile was worth every penny because you found it. And you paid the price.

Maybe God never drove a '65 Mustang convertible or a late '80s Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z. But He certainly knows about giving up everything to buy that one-of-a-kind treasure. And in His case, that priceless treasure is YOU!   

God--the most powerful and loving Presence in the universe--bought you at an incredibly expensive price: the life of His Son, Jesus. Since we could never pay the price that we rightfully owe for all the bad decisions, broken relationships and damage we've wrought throughout our lives, Jesus paid it Himself by dying in our place on a cross between two common criminals. Jesus didn't deserve to be there. But God loved us so much that He was willing to pay everything for us to be with Him forever.

That news is amazing enough. But God wants you to be more than some sort of honored house guest (although that would still be nice). Instead, He's literally chosen you as His heir. That means that once you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you become an adopted son or daughter of God. And as God's children and heirs, we'll all have quite an inheritance to enjoy for eternity.

Such generosity is hard to comprehend. So here's how Jesus explained God's perspective to the common people of 1st Century Israel...and to suburbanites in 21st Century America like you and me:

"If any of you has 100 sheep, and one of them gets lost, what will you do? Won't you leave the 99 in the field and go look for the lost sheep until you find it," Jesus asks. "And when you find it, you will be so glad that you will put it on your shoulder and carry it home. Then you will call in your friends and neighbors and say, 'Let's celebrate! I've found my lost sheep.'"

God is willing to do whatever it takes to bring you and me home. In fact, He already paid that hefty price nearly 2,000 years ago through the death of His Son, Jesus. There's no way we can ever pay Him back. But we can accept His priceless gift.  

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Mixed Messages

The good news tells how God accepts everyone who has faith, but only those who have faith. It is just as the Scriptures say, "The people God accepts because of their faith will live."

-- Romans 1:17

It's been a controversy among Christ-followers for nearly 2,000 years. In fact, some might argue that it's been a factor over the centuries in dividing Christianity into multiple denominations. So what is this thing that's caused so much conflict among a people called to love one another?

It's the roles of faith and works in the life of Believers. On one hand, the Apostle Paul makes it clear that salvation is a free gift from God through faith in Jesus Christ. Let's consider one of Paul's most famous passages from the Book of Romans:

"If you declare with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and if you believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, you will be saved."

That's simple enough. But what should we do with this Scripture from James, the brother of Jesus:

"What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."

James' point seems to be that without doing good works, our faith is worthless. But is it our faith that brings us into God's Kingdom--or do we need to work for it...and for how long?

Maybe these messages from Paul and James aren't so mixed after all. On multiple occasions, Jesus' miracles revealed the incredible power of faith in those who sought Him. For example, we read in Luke 7 that a Roman soldier's faith actually "amazed" the Son of God.

"I tell you," Jesus explained to the crowd of followers, "I have not found such great faith even in Israel."

So it really is through our faith in Jesus and His work on the cross that we're saved from the punishment we all deserve. Otherwise--if it were all about works--it might be possible to somehow earn our way to God's acceptance. That's unrealistic...but it's not to say that works don't play a crucial role in the lives of Christ-followers. In fact, the tangible ways that we live our new lives help to prove that we're a changed people through our faith in Jesus.

What we have isn't really a contest of faith versus works. Instead, both must be evident in the life of every Christ-follower. Rather than being saved BY our own good works, our faith in Jesus leads us to being saved FOR doing good works. The author of the Old Testament book Micah puts it this way:

"And what does the LORD require of you? "To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

It takes faith to believe God's promises and obey His commands. After all, demonstrating a life of justice, mercy and humility is a tall order that we can never accomplish on our own--particularly when we face the struggles and circumstances of everyday life. And it's the tough times that cause the so-called "fans" of Jesus to fall away to leave only His true followers--the ones with real living faith. And how can we live faith-filled lives that bear fruit for our Father's kingdom?

"With man this is impossible," explains Jesus. "But with God all things are possible."

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Gift of Love

...He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit...

-- Titus 3:5

Author Philip Yancy once wrote about a conference in England where theologians debated which belief was unique to Christianity. Other faiths held to the resurrection of the dead. And still others described their gods as coming to earth in human form. After much heated discussion, C.S. Lewis--the noted author of Mere Christianity and The Chronicles of Narnia--entered the room.

"What's all the hubbub about?" he inquired.

When his colleagues revealed the contentious topic, Lewis was quick to reply.

"Oh...That's easy," he said. "It's grace."

Grace is one of those "churchy" words that's hard to describe. You just have to experience grace before you can really understand the concept. And to muddy things up a bit, grace is both a thing and an ongoing process.
Receiving a costly, unexpected gift is one way to picture it. It's one of those things that comes out of the blue. You didn't do anything to deserve such wonderful treatment. And you know you never could have afforded it yourself. It's the type of gift that changes you both inside and out.

As Christ-followers, we enjoy God's grace by accepting His gift of eternal salvation purchased for us through Jesus' death on the cross. We've all failed to live up to God's standards for living our lives. But by accepting Jesus through faith as our personal Lord and Savior, our sins and shortcomings are no longer held against us. We were in a figurative maximum security prison awaiting our much-deserved death sentence. But God's grace is our get-out-of-jail-free card that transforms us from the inside out--from the day we accept it until the day we meet Him in person.

God's grace also welcomes and invites us to turn our lives over to Jesus. We're saved once we put our faith and trust in Him. And as we begin our faith-journey as Christ-followers, grace teaches us to become more like Jesus and see the world through His eyes.

"...My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness," writes the Apostle Paul in the Book of 2 Corinthians. "Therefore I will boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me."

Grace is both a thing and a transformation. It's a true work in progress. And most importantly, it's God's gift of love to every Believer.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

God's Waiting Room

I will wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in His Word I put my hope.

-- Psalm 130:5

We live in a 24/7 world of instant communications, Walmart Supercenters and microwave popcorn. And just about anything we want is literally available to us at the click of a mouse or tap of a touchscreen. But take another look and you'll see that we're not always on the move. Efficiency experts report that on average, people spend about 45 to 62 minutes each day waiting. That covers common tasks like waiting in line at the bank, waiting at the restaurant for the server to take your order, and even waiting for your car to fill up at the gas pump. 

That adds up to about three years of waiting by the time you reach age 70!
Since few people like to wait, multi-tasking to make the most of down-time has become a valued life skill. However, waiting isn't always a waste. In fact, waiting is an essential part of God's plan for our lives because it's the process that enables us to become who He wants us to be. This concept might be difficult to grasp because the human viewpoint of time differs greatly from that of our Creator's. The Apostle Peter puts it into perspective for us through Scripture: "But do not forget this one thing, dear friends," he writes. "To the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as one day."

As Christ-followers, we need to understand that what happens while we're waiting is often more important than what we're waiting for. Ask anyone who has spent hours at the hospital contemplating the health and future of a loved one. Did their soul-searching experience bring a closer dependence on God? It should have. After all, it's when we're so humbled and powerless that we realize we can do nothing on our own.

So maybe our never-stop, 24/7 world actually revolves around waiting. Let's therefore make the most of our time in God's Waiting Room--a place where we can look for ways and opportunities to say yes to Him--and all with a sense of expectancy and hope.

"Be still, and know that I am God," He tells us through Psalm 46:10. "I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."

Friday, November 23, 2012

Plugging In

My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness.

-- 2 Corinthians 12:9

OK... It's a little embarrassing. But it's probably happened to everyone at least once. Maybe even twice.

You finally bought that expensive computer, fancy appliance or some other electrical device, and now it's home. You take it out of its box and set it up. Everything looks good-to-go. So with a bit of giddy anticipation, you finally flick the switch. And then...nothing.

You thought you had covered all the bases. So after frantically skimming the instructions manual for the fourth time, the next step is to call the customer service help line. But after 10 minutes on-hold, it finally dawns on you:

You forgot to plug it in.

If you forget the obvious and fail to connect your appliance to the power source, it becomes nothing more than an expensive, dust-collecting paperweight. And isn't that the perfect illustration of our spiritual lives? How many times have we been crushed by a seemingly impossible situation or gigantic challenge--only to look back and recall that we forgot to ask for God's help and guidance in the matter? The fact is that things fall apart when we're not filled with His power--the Holy Spirit.

Jesus illustrates this principle though the vital relationship between a vine (Him) and its branches (His followers):

"Stay joined to me, and I will stay joined to you. Just as a branch cannot produce fruit unless it stays joined to the vine, you cannot produce fruit unless you stay joined to me," he explains. "I am the vine, and you are the branches. If you stay joined to me, and I stay joined to you, then you will produce lots of fruit. But you cannot do anything without me. If you don't stay joined to me, you will be thrown away. You will be like dry branches that are gathered up and burned in a fire."

The problem is that we tend to hide behind the facade that we don't need anyone's help. Everything is OK, we say; all is right with the world.

But we know these words are false as soon as they pass from our lips. Rather than branching out alone and trying to be our own vine, we need to stay connected to the real God and acknowledge our own weaknesses...and invite the Spirit to be in control of our lives. It's this attitude of humility that puts us in position for God's power to fill and flow through us.

Paul, the unlikely missionary to the Gentiles who wrote much of the New Testament, not only understood this connection--he lived his life by it:

"...But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

Feeling overwhelmed and helpless? Then now's time to reconnect with the One who can do all things when we plug into His Power. Because for us to be charged, He needs to be in charge.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Love In Action

He tends his flocks like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

-- Isaiah 40:11
When asked by one of the Pharisees--a strict religious sect--to name the greatest of God's laws, Jesus astounded his audience by the simplicity and clarity of His response.

"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," Jesus answered. "And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

So in just a few brief sentences, Jesus summarized the core message of the entire Old Testament: that God's love, translated into beneficial motivations and actions through our faith in Jesus Christ, is indeed an unstoppable, world-changing force.

This is a difficult concept for many people because they equate the term "love" with that squishy word associated with weddings, chocolates and Valentine's Day. But Jesus wasn't teaching His followers about that often fleeting, awkward emotion. As Christ-followers, God calls us to walk in step with Him by putting our love into sincere, tangible action. And this can come in many widely divergent forms: from helping an elderly neighbor get their groceries to revealing God's light to total strangers through a prison ministry. It could also translate into changing a co-worker's life by showing him or her how Jesus has changed your own. The possibilities and potential are endless.

How does God show His love? There's the famous Bible story of the Prodigal Son, where the loving father welcomes back his wayward--and totally undeserving--child with open arms. Or what about the shepherd who searches tirelessly for a single missing sheep? When he finally finds it, he returns it triumphantly to the rest of the flock. Jesus also told His disciples about the man who sells all his possessions to buy a field. But not just any field, but one that holds buried treasure. The cost to buy the land is staggering, but the man does whatever it takes to gain the prize.

That's how God loves us. He'll go to any lengths to bring you and me into His family. Perhaps the most famous passage in the New Testament (John 3:16) tells us that God loves the world so much that He gave His only Son (Jesus) so that those who believe in Him will have eternal life. God willingly let Jesus suffer and die to pay for all our wrongdoings--past, present and future. We rightfully deserve death because of how we've lived our lives. But God's love offers us joy and happiness...if we're only willing to accept it. By living on Earth among everyday people and then dying for our sins, Jesus has already paid the ultimate price.

The limits of the human vocabulary keep us from fully describing the meaning and implications of how God cherishes His children. We can only skim the surface of this deep and vast ocean. But maybe it's really not that difficult. After all, it takes only three simple words from the Book of 1 John to sum up: God is Love. And it's when we live out our faith through His examples of love that we walk in His steps.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Crossing the Goal Line

Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me."

-- John 14:6
His name was Roy Riegels. But for college football history buffs, he's forever remembered by his nickname, Wrong Way.

In the 1929 Rose Bowl, Riegels--who played center for the University of California Golden Bears--picked up his teammate's fumble on the Georgia Tech 30-yard line. But instead of simply falling on the ball or moving it forward, Riegels turned around and dashed 69 yards in the wrong direction toward his own team's end zone. Golden Bear quarterback Benny Lonn finally caught up to his confused teammate at the 3-yard line and tried to turn him around. But it was too late, and the Georgia Tech defense swarmed over Riegels and tackled him just in front of his own team's end zone.

The result? Riegels and his team ended up losing the game 8-7 while opponent Georgia Tech claimed their second national championship. After his infamous play, Riegels was in despair.

"Coach," he said, "I can't do it. I've ruined you, I've ruined myself, I've ruined the University of California. I couldn't face that crowd to save my life."

"Roy," responded California Head Coach Nibs Price, "Get up and go back out there--the game is only half over."

That's good advice for anyone who's made a wrong turn or two in life--which means all of us. As Christ-followers, Jesus forgives us of our sins and put us back in the right direction. But there are some things we should do to help avoid the missteps that can turn us around and hinder our faith journey.

First, never walk alone. We may think we have everything under control and can take the trip by ourselves. But God never meant for so-called Lone Ranger Christians. Instead, we should be in regular worship and fellowship with other Christ-followers. And when we do meet with other believers, it must be in a spirit a truth--and in the daylight. That means without deception or sin. We also need to agree on a map for our journey, which happens to be God's Word: the Bible. Once we're headed out, we should also expect some bumps along the way. Yes, there will be stretches along smooth roads with beautiful scenery. But there will also be potholes, steep hills and rough terrain. And finally--and most importantly--we need to trust our Guide. And who better knows The Way? Jesus--who was literally God in the flesh--has already gone before us and is the only One who ever lived a perfect, sin-free life.

Have you gotten lost or turned the wrong way along your faith journey? If so, you're in good join the crowd. And then follow Jesus.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Staying On the Path

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

-- Psalm 16:11

The Christ-follower's experience is often compared to a long journey on a winding road or a climb up a mountain. And it's true: you never know what's around the bend or over the next hill. And it's all too easy to lose your footing and take a tumble.

About 50 miles past Charlottesville, Virginia, is a beautiful spot in the mountains called Crabtree Falls. If you're unfamiliar with it, it takes a bit of a hike to reach once you park your car. But once you do, you'll see that the view is spectacular.

One thing that quickly becomes apparent is that the narrow, rocky trail that leads to the waterfall leaves little margin for error. And there's a sign at the water's edge that warns hikers to stay on the path. In fact, it explains that two hikers died after leaving the trail and slipping on the moss-covered rocks. The sign urges its readers to stay safe by keeping on the path.

That's the same wisdom that God gives us for our own faith journeys. Life's problems, temptations and tragedies seem to wait for us around the next bend. And compromising our principles with the world's values trips us up all the time. But when we choose to become Christ-followers, we choose to stay on His narrow path...even when the terrain gets rough.

"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it," warns Jesus. "But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."

Of course, we're all bound to slip and fall once in a while. Even the Apostle Paul--the man God chose to write much of the New Testament--described himself as the "chief of sinners." But we can rest assured that God is always there to pick us up and put us back on the path that leads to real Life. 

So just follow His lead...and you'll eventually reach the destination. It will be an unforgettable trip. And word is that the view is out of this world.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Taking the First Step

Keep me safe, Lord, from the hands of the wicked; protect me from the violent,
who devise ways to trip my feet.

-- Psalm 140:4

There's an old Chinese proverb that says a journey of thousand miles begins with a single step. And so it goes with the faith journey of every Christ-follower. Whether you became a believer at age 15 or 50, the Christian walk is more of a marathon than a sprint. And it starts by taking the first step.

How do we begin? At some point, we have to start moving. And our first step along the journey is to acknowledge that we're sinful and need help. This is often soon followed by our first fall, which serves to reinforce the fact that we can't walk on our own. Next, we have to brush ourselves off and get back on our feet. And we can do that through the knowledge that Jesus is willing and able to forgive our sins. When we admit our sins, it's a bit like a parent helping their toddler learn to walk. When the child stumbles, the parent is there with arms wide open.

Jesus will help us back on our feet. And it's our obedience that reveals if we're still learning to walk on our faith journey. If we're afraid to move forward because we might fall again, our spiritual life can become crippled. Jesus helps us up--not so we'll stand still--but so we'll make progress.

Of course, there's a big difference in this picture of the toddler and the parent. When we teach our children to walk, our goal is for their eventual independence. But when Jesus helps us stand up and move forward on our faith journey, he wants us to grow closer and more dependent on Him.

Throughout our faith journeys--and particularly during the crises we face in life--we'll ask Jesus to stand by us...and even hold our hand. And rest assured that He will take hold and lead us ahead. All the way to the Cross.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Making a Difference

But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds."
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you
my faith by what I do.

-- James 2:18

Have you ever wondered if The Church really makes a difference in the world? Would life be any different without it?

These are common questions raised these days by our ever-skeptical society. But they're hardly new questions. In fact, disbelievers and doubters have been around since Jesus' death and Resurrection. Nevertheless, they're questions that deserve honest answers.

And the answers are all around us. Several years ago, D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcomb collaborated to write What If Jesus Had Never Been Born, a thought-provoking book that addresses the issue. The authors explain that if Jesus had never been born, there would be no Church. This is the same Church that helped stop slavery, cannibalism and the killing of children--all permissible practices at the time in their respective cultures. And if Jesus had never been born and there were no Church, the world would likely be less educated. Christian missionaries first set many of the world's languages in type to help the people read the Bible. And all but one of the first 123 colleges in Colonial America were Christian institutions. Harvard was even founded on this statement:

"Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life, John 17:3."

If Jesus had never been born, there would also be no Church to promote the biblical principles of free enterprise, private property rights and the worth ethic. It's because the United States government was founded largely by Christ-followers that The Declaration of Independence cites "self-evident truths" and "unalienable rights" from the "Creator." Our nation also recognizes the rule of law rather than the authority of man, a concept tracing back to the Old Testament and the Ten Commandments. Even the slogan embossed on the Liberty Bell comes from the Bible: "Proclaim Liberty throughout the land unto all the Inhabitants Thereof..."

The truth is that The Church HAS made a difference. And life would be very different without it. Today, Christ-followers continue to change the world in both small ways and large, such as by delivering meals to shut-ins or providing housing for the homeless. Samaritan's Purse--the Christian relief organization headed by Franklin Graham--also distributes Christmas packages each year as a direct expression of Christ's love for the world's children. And the organization also helps thousands of refugees cope with man-made and natural disasters, such as the 2004 tsunami that devastated Indonesia and other nations, and the Sudanese refugee crisis.

Of course, there's something that we--The Church--must never forget: There's a Power behind this difference.

"I am the vine; you are the branches," declares Jesus. "If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Real Thing

When Solomon had finished all these prayers and supplications to the Lord, he rose from before the altar of the Lord, where he had been kneeling with his hands spread out toward heaven.

-- 1 Kings 8:54


Whether it involves a product, a company or a person, the public tends to gravitate to what's believable, what's trustworthy and what satisfies. Fads come and go. But authenticity--The Real Thing--often leads to longevity.

Maybe that seems like a no-brainer. But it happens to be a principle that one Fortune 500 company ignored with disastrous results. In 1985, the Coca-Cola Company introduced New Coke with much hype and fanfare. Unfortunately, this product replaced the tried-and-true fizzy beverage that had quenched the world's thirst since the late 1800's. Consumers complained that the new drink tasted suspiciously like rival Pepsi. The black market began selling $30 cases of the old cola to those still thirsty for the beloved original recipe. And worse yet, sales of New Coke soon fell flat (pun intended). The result was a public relations fiasco for Coca-Cola. So within weeks, the company pulled New Coke from the market and returned to the The Real Thing.

Coca-Cola's folly is a textbook example of how companies can seriously damage themselves by replacing their reliable products with inferior, second-rate imitations. Consumers might be fooled for a while. But eventually, they see through the slick promotion and hype.

Of course, this truism extends beyond the realms of marketing and advertising. Authenticity also means a lot in our relationships...and in our worship. Whether you prefer Traditional worship (stained glass, steeples, choirs, etc.) or the more free-form Contemporary expression of faith, a critical common denominator is that every Christ-follower must avoid the trap of worshiping God with their lips rather than through their daily actions, attitudes and lifestyles. Yes, an awe-inspiring church sanctuary (or even a movie theater) can be a place of worship and prayer. But so are the workplace, gym and supermarket. Wherever we worship, we can't just phone it in.

Just as consumers can usually spot a fad product, God can also spot phony followers. Here's what He once told the people of Jerusalem through the Old Testament prophet Isaiah:

"When you extend your hands, I'll hide my eyes from you. Even when you pray for a long time, I won't listen," God declared. "Your hands are stained with blood. Wash! Be clean! Remove your ugly deeds from my sight. Put an end to such evil; learn to do good." 
That's a sobering message, to say the least! So what type of prayer and worship does God honor? The Sunday morning variety for most Christ-followers consists of singing praise songs, teaching God's lessons and sincerely thanking Him for how He blesses our lives through the revelation of His Son, Jesus Christ. But every day and in every way, the Church also must worship God authentically by being Jesus' hands, feet and eyes at home, in the workplace and in our community. Perhaps the Apostle Paul best sums it up through his famous words from the twelfth chapter of Romans:  

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship."  

Our God seeks authenticity from His followers. It's up to the Church to respond with The Real Thing.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Where's the Beef?

But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." 
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

 -- James 2:18

"Where's the Beef?" was one of the most popular catchphrases of the 1980's. It originated from a Wendy's commercial depicting an outspoken grandma (played by 83-year-old Clara Peller) and her two elderly friends at a fast food restaurant. As the ladies inspect their meal, they observe, "The bun is very nice...a nice fluffy bun." It's then that feisty 4-feet 10-inch Clara asks the famous question about the tiny piece of meat that's nearly hidden by the bread:

"Where's the beef?...Where's the beef?!"

Nearly 30 years later, people are still asking "Where's the beef?" when they want to see evidence rather than empty words. And it's a question that's as valid for The Church as it is for a hamburger restaurant. As Christ-followers, we're able to make remarkable claims about how our Savior--Jesus--has transformed us. But if the public sees that our attitudes and lifestyles are really no different (or maybe even worse) than anyone else's, they have a right to be skeptical and point at our hypocrisy.

Centuries before Clara Peller asked her question, James--the half brother of Jesus--used a related illustration to help separate the steak from the sizzle:

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

As the Body of Christ known as The Church, we can't claim to be better than anyone else because of any good deeds ("works") we might do. If that were the case, it would be possible to earn our way to God's acceptance. The fact is that our feeble efforts and good intentions are never enough. There's nothing we can do...except to follow His plan of salvation and accept His free gift of freedom through Jesus Christ.

Christ-followers aren't "better" than anyone else. But they are blessed to do amazing things in this world. Rather than being saved BY our own good works, our faith leads us to be being saved FOR doing good works. The Church is therefore to be Jesus' mouth, eyes, hands and feet in the community and around the world--all to demonstrate God's power to transform lives and put His love in action.

Sunday, September 30, 2012


And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

-- Matthew 16:18

Early followers of Jesus were called "Little Christs" because their new-found faith had changed their lives for all to see. This odd group of people from all walks of life--rich and poor, male and female and slave and free--were utterly different from the rest of society. They had somehow grown more caring and generous to both neighbors and strangers alike. And they willingly sacrificed their time and resources to ease sorrow and correct injustice.

In a word, they were transformed.

And that says a lot for the effectiveness of their leader, an obscure rabbi from a distant corner of the Roman Empire who just happened to be God's own Son. Few recognized it at the time. But because some did and followed Jesus, millions in future generations would help to change the world for the better.

Modern-day Christ-followers--known collectively as The Church--must too be leaders by imitating Jesus' actions and principles. It's this very strategy that His first disciples used to guide their own lives. They recognized that Jesus the Leader was also Jesus the Follower. Christ spoke constantly with His Father (God) in prayer and always sought His guidance. "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing," explained Jesus, "because whatever the Father does the Son also does."

What were some of the other attributes that made Jesus back then (and can make the Church today) an effective leader? In addition to inspiring His followers to leave their old ways behind for a higher calling, Jesus challenged the status quo. For instance, he defied the day's spiritual leaders by exposing their religious hypocrisy and revealing God's true intent behind the Scriptures. Jesus also encouraged His followers and empowered them to succeed in their objectives.

Let's not forget that He also acted with a sense of urgency. From the foundation of the world, Jesus knew that He had only about three years to save the world. It was in this brief period that He preached God's Word, healed the sick, raised the dead and forgave all those who asked Him. He even asked God to forgive His own executioners because they didn't realize what they were doing.

Jesus may have changed the world 2,000 years ago. But can His Church still make a difference in the 21st Century? It can if the past is any indication. For instance, it's because of the Church that the world has benefited from modern science, hospitals, universities, agriculture and law. The Church also led the call to abolish slavery. Today, Christ-followers are still to follow His admonition to be salt and light to a dying world in need of guidance, truth and character.

A skeptical world is watching. So let the Church show it a transforming love in action.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Penny Saved

Dishonest money dwindles away,  
but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow.

-- Proverbs 13:11

"Money in the bank is like toothpaste in the tube," writer Earl Wilson once observed. "Easy to take out, hard to put back."

Can you relate to that? After all, ours is a buy-now-pay-later culture. Millions of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck and spend their money as soon as they get it. And if an unexpected expense (or the latest electronic gadget) comes along, it's second nature to put it on the trusty MasterCard or American Express and worry about the bill later. So with such an unrealistic approach to money and finances, is it any wonder that foreclosures and bankruptcies have reached unprecedented levels?

Deep down, we know the importance of saving for the future. Just as we need to set aside the first portion of our income for God's purposes, we also need to follow that by paying ourselves. This involves regularly depositing predetermined amounts into a bank account, rainy day fund or perhaps toward investments like stocks, bonds and annuities. If that sounds boring and too much like work, maybe it is. But think of common sense money management as being like regular workouts at the gym. There's always some pain starting out. But practice it long enough and you'll likely see the gain.

During His brief world-changing ministry, Jesus taught His first followers about the proper relationship with God, family, neighbors and even enemies. But Christ also spoke extensively about money-related issues. In fact, the Bible is full of financial wisdom that's as applicable today as it was centuries ago.

And what do the Scriptures tell us about savings and fiscal discipline? 

One biblical principle is to give the first 10 percent or more of our income to the church. This honors God by actively promoting His purposes on earth and demonstrating our faith in Him for always meeting our needs. What's more, our Creator can do more with the remaining 90 percent of our income than we can do with all of it.

Another precept is to appreciate all that God has already given us. If we foster an attitude of gratitude, we're unlikely to spend what we don't have on unaffordable material possessions that we don't really need in the first place. And next, we need to attack debt and anticipate tough times. This means developing a budget, spending less than we earn, paying off those credit cards (particularly the ones with sky-high interest rates) and setting money aside to cover unexpected expenses. Following these steps can help your savings accumulate little by little over time--especially when it earns compound interest.

Above all, let's be rich toward God and invest in the eternal. Saving for the future is obviously important. But also look for ways to put your money to work promoting God's interests. This might involve giving toward a special church initiative, supporting overseas missionaries or maybe even starting your own community ministry. Whatever it is, ask God in prayer to show you what to do...and clear a path to let you do it. He knows our motivations and rewards those who honor Him.

"'Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,'" says the LORD Almighty, "'and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.'" 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Freed and Forgiven

But with you there is forgiveness, 
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

-- Psalm 130:4 

"I never thought I'd be wearing this striped suit," admitted the young man as he addressed the crowded Naples, Fla. high school gymnasium. "I was 10 feet tall and bulletproof."

The speaker was Eric Smallridge. But for the last 10 years, he's been known as Inmate P22679.

In May 2002, Eric drove drunk, lost control of his vehicle and collided with another vehicle driven by 20-year-old Meagan Napier. Meagan and her passenger, Lisa Dickson, were killed instantly. And Eric was convicted of DUI manslaughter and sentenced to 22 years in prison.

Renee Napier--Meagan's mother--was devastated by the tragedy that had instantly changed her entire existence and outlook on life. She described her tortured emotional state as "the wailing and crying that comes from the depths of your soul." To render some good from such a seemingly senseless incident, Renee founded The Meagan Napier Foundation, where she has so far educated more than 100,000 people about the dangers of drunk driving. Her audiences include high-schoolers, church groups, college students, military personnel...and DUI offenders.

Her presentations were riveting. But Renee still felt that something--or perhaps someone--was missing. And that someone was Inmate Eric Smallridge.

"I knew from the beginning that if I could have Eric with me, that would be very powerful," she explained to ABC News. And in 2010, Eric was given permission to accompany Renee during her presentations. A stipulation was that he had to wear his prison shackles and jumpsuit.

Today, more than 10 years after the accident, Renee still can't forget when she heard the awful news about her child's death. But she has been able to forgive. In fact, she's grown to love Eric and his family. And she even lobbied to have Eric's sentence cut in half to help prevent him from leaving prison with a hardened soul and a criminal mind.
"I could be very angry, hateful and bitter," Renee said in a recent interview. "But I didn't want to live my life that way. There was no way I could move on and live a happy life without forgiving Eric."
Eric, however, says he's not sure he can ever forgive himself. In fact, the memory of his self-described selfishness may well keep him in emotional bondage long after his scheduled November 2012 release from incarceration.

Ironically, we're often the ones who can find ourselves in chains when we need to forgive those who've offended us. It's in Matthew's Gospel that we read Jesus' parable about a man who received forgiveness for his own large debt, but was still stuck in a prison of anger. His wounded soul could not heal...and he was unable to release another's relatively small debt to him. As Christ-followers, we've all been forgiven of a lifetime-worth of sin and shortcomings. So when we're hurt by others, let's seek Him for the Power to move us toward the freedom found only through a forgiven--and forgiving--heart.

"Make it a point not to be this guy," said Inmate P22679, referring to himself. "Don't reduce your life to shackles and chains."   

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Matter of Trust

Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied
with his income. This too is meaningless.

-- Ecclesiastes 5:10 

OK... Here's one for all the history buffs and Trivial Pursuit champions out there:

What's the official motto of the United States?

Stumped? You probably can find the answer in your wallet, your car's ashtray or even between your sofa cushions. Starting more than 140 years ago, American coins--and later paper money--have featured the inscription "In God We Trust." The official website of the U.S. Treasury reveals that in 1861, a Pennsylvania minister recommended to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase that American coins should "recognize Almighty God in some form." Secretary Chase agreed and instructed the director of the Philadelphia Mint to prepare an appropriate motto.
"No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense," wrote Chase. "The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins."
In 1864, In God We Trust made its first appearance on the two-cent coin. How ironic that "Godless" money should cite such an important reminder about the real Source of our security. But if we're really honest with ourselves, shouldn't the motto read: In GOLD We Trust? After all--when things get tough in life--it's only natural to rely on our money, riches and possessions rather than the One who makes it possible to earn a living. But reliance on job security and the stock market is never wise...particularly these days. As the host of one popular television fashion show likes to remind her wide-eyed contestants: "One day you're in. And the next day, you're out!"

It's an unsettling fact: our bank accounts are no defense against life's hard realities. Illnesses strike, relationships fail and that once which seemed solid turns to dust in our hands. What we desperately need is something (actually Someone) Who's dependable. Who never changes. Who we can trust.

Jesus paints a vivid picture of this universal quest through His story about the foolish man who built a house on shifting sands. When the storm struck, the rains came and the winds blew with fury. It's no surprise that the flimsy structure collapsed with a crash. In comparison, the wise man in the story built his house on a Foundation of solid rock. So when the storm clouds of life boiled on the horizon, that house withstood even the heaviest gusts and downpours.

This leads us to the obvious question: Are you counting on your money to save you when, as the insurance commercial puts it, "life happens"? If so, why not trust in God: the One who knew everything about you before you were even born. You can take it to the bank!

"Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust," we read in Psalms, "who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods."

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sunday Best

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do,
do it all 
for the glory of God.

-- 1 Corinthians 10:31 

Maybe you grew up attending a traditional church. That might have meant getting up early on Sunday mornings, eating breakfast with the family and then rushing to put on your Sunday best--those clothes and shoes you wore only to church and on very special occasions. Then it was time to get in the car, ride to the service and listen to the preacher, choir and organist do their things.

Of course, there's nothing necessarily wrong with that. Millions of people feel closer to God in a traditional church setting--one often characterized by stained glass windows, choirs, sanctuaries and organ music. And wearing one's Sunday best is to them yet another way to set apart the day and glorify God.

Other Christ-followers have a different perspective. They observe that all the formalities of a traditional church service can actually hinder authentic worship. Rather than the traditionalists "being themselves" on Sunday mornings, critics suggest that some are really wearing a special suit of clothes on one particular day of the week while looking and living quite differently on the other six.

Regardless of your worship style preference, there's no doubt that every Christ-follower must avoid the trap of worshipping God with their lips rather than their lifestyle. Yes, an awe-inspiring church sanctuary can be a place of worship and prayer. But so are the workplace, gym and supermarket. What's more, the Bible tells us that worship is what God uses to rebuild and unite His scattered people. So wherever we go each day, our place of worship should follow.

The fact is that we're all hard-wired for worship. Even those who claim to be strict atheists are really active worshippers. True, they may not be regular churchgoers and proclaim Jesus as their Lord and Savior. But they--like everyone--worship something. For some, it's money, luxury and pleasure. For others, it's intellect and higher learning. And still others kneel at the altar of more negative gods such as alcohol, drugs and illicit relationships. It really boils down to the things we worry about or sacrifice our time and money for. What are the issues that make you angry? What brings you the most joy? And then there's this revealing question:

Whose attention and applause do you most crave?

Since we're all worshippers in one way or another, what type of worship does God honor? The Sunday morning variety for Christ-followers generally consists of singing praise songs, teaching God's lessons and sincerely thanking Him for how He blesses our lives through the revelation of His Son, Jesus Christ. But every day and everywhere, we also must worship God in unity by being Jesus' hands, feet and eyes in our community. We should do our 9:00-5:00 jobs as if God were our boss (and in fact, He is!) rather than a human supervisor. And overall, we must look for ways to ease suffering and make the world a better place. Perhaps the Apostle Paul best sums it up through his famous words from the twelfth chapter of Romans:
"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship." 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

All Hands On Deck

Christ chose some of us to be apostles, prophets, missionaries, pastors, and teachers, so that his people would learn to serve and his body would grow strong.

-- Ephesians 4:11-12 

Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas, one of the world's largest cruise ships, is over 1,100 feet long and carries more than 4,300 guests at full occupancy. Its restaurants serve thousands of meals every day. And the ship's laundry cleans just as many towels, sheets and table linens. Supporting this floating city are hundreds of talented, hard-working crew members--all dedicated to making their guests' vacations as fun and memorable as possible. The ship's complement also includes an army of stewards, cooks, mechanics and even daycare attendants...and that's not to mention everyone assigned to navigate the ship. From captain to cabin boy, every crew member onboard has a critical role in helping their vessel sail effortlessly through both calm seas and choppy waters.

Like a full-service cruise ship, the church also needs plenty of dedicated, gifted people who work together toward a common goal. That's because we're more than just a group of people who meet on Sundays to listen to the pastor and sing along with the music director. The Bible tells us that God has given every Christ-follower certain gifts, talents and resources for advancing His Kingdom on Earth. Some are obvious--like singers and musicians leading worship with the band. Others have important gifts with behind-the-scenes applications like bookkeepers and office managers, who help the church to use its resources more efficiently. For every gift, talent and resource employed in the secular world, there's also an application for strengthening the body of believers known collectively as The Church.

Jesus' earliest followers were a diverse crew from many walks of life. Some were fishermen and one was a tax collector. Even Jesus Himself had carpentry skills. And when we fast-forward 2,000 years, Christ is still seeking those who are willing to represent Him in our community and serve others by using the gifts and resources God has given them.
"Come, follow me," Jesus once told fishermen Peter and Andrew, "and I will make you fishers of men."
If we're willing to follow the example of the first disciples and open ourselves to the great possibilities ahead, Jesus will no doubt use us to lead and strengthen His Church. It's when we all work together with a unity of purpose that community occurs and amazing things happen. So it's now up to each of us to respond to His simple--yet radical--invitation to join His crew.

Are you onboard? The Captain's call is for all hands on deck.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Going the Distance

I am coming soon. So hold firmly to what you have, and no one will take away the crown that you will be given as your reward.

-- Revelation 3:11

The coverage of the recent London Summer Olympics is a timely reminder to Christ-followers that our faith journeys are much closer to a marathon than a 100-meter dash. But as with any arduous race, weariness is bound to set in. Long distance runners call it The Wall. It's that barrier of mental and physical fatigue that medal-winning athletes train for years to overcome. And when they endure, they reach the finish line with power left to spare. Meanwhile, others drop out of the race in defeat, discouragement and exhaustion.

As Christ-followers, we face our own wall every day as we try to live up to God's calling. We tire as we struggle against our natural tendencies to do what's wrong ("sin"). So instead of following Jesus' example of loving our neighbors, helping the disadvantaged and honoring God, we're often tempted to head for the sidelines and return to the old "me first" lifestyle. And it can be a real challenge. It's the selfish stuff we know we shouldn't do versus the world-changing things we can and should do. And right on time, fatigue begins to overcome us.

Of course, giving up is never a viable option. We read in John's Gospel that because of Jesus' disheartening words, many of His followers began to turn away and head back home...just as things were getting more difficult. Christ then asked His 12 disciples if they also planned to leave Him. To this Simon Peter replied, "Lord, there is no one else that we can go to! Your words give eternal life."

What should we do when we face resistance and hit our own inevitable spiritual wall? First, we should lighten our load by shedding the excess possessions and unnecessary distractions that restrain us. For example, do any of us really need the burden of more credit card debt when we probably have more than enough "stuff" in our homes as it is? And like champion marathoners, we must keep our eyes focused on the finish line. Yes, there are plenty of hills and rough pavement ahead. But every step takes us closer to victory.

Finally--and most importantly--we must always pray for strength along the journey. And we get this much-needed vitality through the Holy Spirit--the Power that all Christ-followers receive when they ask Jesus to be their Lord and Savior. The Holy Spirit is literally God residing in every believer. It's this Force that enables us to do or say the things we never could before, overcome seemingly insurmountable odds and generally do the impossible. In fact, the Bible tells us that it's this same Power that raised Jesus from the dead that first Easter morning.

James--the stepbrother of Jesus--gives us these words of encouragement recorded in the New Testament:
"Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test of time, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him."
Do you have the power you need to make it across the finish line in this Olympic-size race called life? You can endure. But not without asking for the Power to go the distance.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Our Backs to the Wall

Consider now, for the Lord has chosen you to build a house as the sanctuary.
Be strong and do the work. 

-- 1 Chronicles 28:10

About a century after the Romans began building the Appian Way (their remarkable paved highway), construction began in another part of the world on the world's largest human-made structure. The Great Wall of China, which today stretches across Asia, was built to protect the Chinese dynasties against invading semi-nomadic people known to cross into the land and steal just about anything of value.

The wall's completion would be an incredible engineering feat even today. So it's easy to imagine why transporting large amounts of building materials for the wall was essentially impossible in those days before modern backhoes, cranes and excavators. The solution was to rely on locally-accessed materials such as stone hewn from the land's mountainous regions. In some remote desert areas with few available building materials, the Great Wall was formed with soil pressed between wood, which was bound with woven mats.

Construction and repairs on the wall continued into the 1600s. And the final result was a 4,000-mile-long monstrosity that--at its peak--was guarded by more than 1 million soldiers. Historians estimate that 2-3 million workers died over the centuries of construction and repair. And was it worth the immense effort? For the most part...yes. Indeed, The Great Wall of China generally succeeded in repelling invaders. However, in 1644, the Manchus crossed through (but not over) the massive barrier when a Ming border general--who disliked the ruling Shun Dynasty--simply opened the wall's gates. The capital city of Beijing soon fell into the enemy's hands.

There's an old Chinese proverb that says a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. Likewise, the Great Wall of China began with the laying of a single brick or piece of stone. For Christ-followers, building--and particularly rebuilding--begins with a single earnest prayer. And there's no need for the building or reconstruction to involve an enormous physical structure. Instead, it can involve a relationship, a church body...or even a vision for doing something great in God's name.

In all cases, prayer should be our first response rather than the last resort. But be forewarned. If we plan to ask God, we must be ready to act. For instance, if we ask Him for help with our ruined personal finances, we must be willing to make a viable household budget and cut our spending.

We all have something in our lives to build or repair. So let's boldly go to God in prayer. And not because of our own qualifications--but for what He has done and for what He can--and will--do.

"Is the Lord's arm too short?" God once asked Moses centuries ago...and asks Christ-followers today. "Now you will see whether or not what I say will come true for you."

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Generation Next

Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, 
but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct,  
in love, in faith and in purity.

-- 1 Timothy 4:12

Maybe you read the recent newspaper editorial. It wasn't about politics, the economy or even a celebrity or sports team. Instead, the author expressed his deep concern about our nation's youth. He wrote that they're ill-mannered, lack respect for their elders and reflect negative societal influences, violence and danger.

"What will become of our children?" was the distraught writer's rhetorical (but sincere) question. His opinion was that without a drastic change in direction, their future is quite bleak.

Maybe a little background here will put things into perspective. Truth be told, this editorial appeared in a newspaper a few years ago. But it was actually more than a few. In fact, it was a lot more.

(It was actually in the 1840s!)

This just goes to show that some issues are timeless. And when the issue concerns bringing up the next generation, that's a very good thing. Children--as the saying goes--are our future. And that's certainly true for the Church. The Bible tells us that respectful Christ-following children don't just happen by accident. Godly parenting involves intentional actions and instruction. Consider what the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy has to say about emphasizing God's ways to their kids:
"Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up."
Children not only look for boundaries of acceptable behavior, they crave direction and seek love and approval. It's when they don't get enough of it from their parents that they can act out, perform poorly at school and gravitate toward the wrong crowd and bad influences. And sadly, many children who grow up in church actually drop out for at least a year once they reach young adulthood.

So what's a parent (new or veteran) to do about this so-called Generation Next? First, understand that parenting is a privilege rather than a burden. And second, remember that God is our Heavenly Parent. That means human parents have the great responsibility of playing His role in the child-rearing process. Therefore, follow God's example for raising Christ-followers: Give them unconditional love and apply consistent discipline. Share your faith with them. And always lead through a positive attitude and outlook on life.

There are no perfect parents. But there is a perfect God. And He's always there to help awaken the next generation of Christ-followers for advancing His kingdom through the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, July 28, 2012


The Lord is my strength and my shield; 
my heart trusts in Him and He helps me. My heart 
leaps for joy, and with my song I praise Him.
-- Psalm 28:7

According to, Hollywood has released 90 motion pictures since 1978 involving comic book superheroes. The worldwide popularity of these amazing characters--and their easy translation into ticket sales--helps to explain their abundance.

The Avengers seems to prove the point. Since its May 2012 debut, this action-packed blockbuster featuring The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man and Captain America has so far grossed nearly $615 million. And you can take it to the bank that there are sequels on the way.

Superman, Batman and Spider-Man star in some of the most popular movies of the superhero genre. When disaster strikes, mild-mannered Clark Kent--a reporter for The Daily Planet newspaper--trades in his eyeglasses and business suit for his Superman tights and cape. Likewise, Peter Parker dons his Spider-Man outfit to fight crime and injustice. And then there's Bruce Wayne. He's one of the richest men in Gotham City. And he just happens to thwart criminals in the guise of Batman: The Caped Crusader.

In addition to having special powers and flashy costumes, there's another common denominator among these gifted individuals. Clark Kent, Peter Parker and Bruce Wayne all seem to be "regular" people--the last ones in their communities who would stand out as guardians of the public safety. What's more, all three have the habit of fading into the crowd after they've completed their mission. Self-promotion and grandstanding are the last things on their minds.

Maybe there's a bit of Clark Kent in every Christ-follower. We're also Regular Joes who try to avoid the limelight in favor of getting the job done. And like our favorite superheroes, we also have access to powers that can literally change the world. But let's take a close look in the mirror. Do we too often fail to make the most of our potential--and therefore waste opportunities for bearing fruit?

Obviously, God doesn't want us to spend our lives simply marking time and taking up space. It's no accident that He's put us in our communities to accomplish amazing things...and not through our own talents and ingenuity, but through His power. We're to pray for all people, send and support missionaries, partner with other Christ-followers...and plant new churches. And our mission is a clear and simple one: Advance His Kingdom.

As far as we know, the comic books don't say that Peter Parker's (Spider-Man) uncle was a Christ-follower. But his dying words to young Peter ("With great power, there must also come great responsibility") sound much like Jesus in Luke 12:48: "...From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."

And so it goes with comic book superheroes. But even more so for Christ-followers.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Worth Our Salt

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.'
-- 1 Timothy 4:8

The Dead Sea certainly lives up to its name. Actually a 34-mile-long lake, its super-high salinity--about four times that found in most oceans--makes it impossible for fish or plants to live in its briny waters. It's so salty, in fact, it's possible to recline in the Dead Sea, float with ease and read a book!

The Dead Sea also happens to be the lowest point on earth. Situated between Israel and Jordan about 1,300 feet below sea level, the lake is filled by the Jordan River. But since there's no outlet for the flow to escape, the Dead Sea's waters tend to quickly evaporate in the heat. The result is tons of salt and mineral deposits in the water and on the shoreline. And not surprisingly, minimal life.

This is an apt word-picture for many people who call themselves Christians. Like the Dead Sea, which has a constant in-flow of fresh water, these misguided people receive a steady stream of blessings from God. But nothing ever seems to come from it through their lives. Rather than invigorating their churches, neighborhoods and communities, their talents, gifts and blessings remain unused. And they eventually stagnate and decay. Picture a ripe, tasty apple that's hanging low on the branch...but is never picked. It looks good for a brief while. But its destiny is one of wasted potential.

As Believers, our lives must show tangible actions that reflect our faith in Christ Jesus. This doesn't mean we have to work our way into God's favor by living a so-called "good" life, following a set of rules, going to church each Sunday and putting a few dollars into the collection bucket. Our own efforts--no matter how sincere--ultimately will fall short because we can never come close to meeting God's demand for perfection. So it's no wonder that Jesus--the only one who ever lived a perfect, sin-free life--was the only One worthy enough to die on the cross to pay the penalty we all deserve.

And He paid it in full.

With our many sins and shortcomings now forgiven, we're now free to use the talents and resources our Father has given us to touch our community and serve in the name of Jesus. We can become blessings to our co-workers, neighbors, family members--and even that stranger God puts in your path at the most unexpected moment. We're to be a witness of His goodness in action...and a refreshing taste of the clear waters of His blessings.

Jesus put it this way to His followers as recorded in Matthew's Gospel:

"In the same way, you should be a light for other people. Live so that they will see the good things you do and will praise your Father in Heaven."