Sunday, January 29, 2012

Alarm Clock

How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep?
-- Proverbs 6:9

Have you ever stayed up too late at night...and paid the price the next morning by oversleeping? When you're tired enough, it's all too easy to snooze through the sound of a blaring alarm clock. And once you finally wake up (usually startled and confused), you have to scramble to make up for lost time.

Annie Shapiro knows how that feels. On November 22, 1963, the then 50-year-old Canadian businesswoman suffered a stroke while listening to news reports about President Kennedy's assassination. She then fell into a deep coma--and didn't come out of it for nearly 30 years! Medical experts tried and failed to wake her from her slumber. But on October 14, 1992, Annie shocked her husband when she suddenly announced, "I want to see the I Love Lucy Show."

Annie Shapiro awoke to a changed world that deeply disturbed her. First, a look in the mirror revealed the nearly unrecognizable image of a wrinkled, gray-haired woman. Her two children were now middle-age. Television programs were in color rather than black and white. And people were carrying around seemingly magical telephones that had no cords.

It took a doctor administering high blood pressure medication to finally awaken Annie from her coma. But what about you and me? 

We're not talking about medical issues here...but rather our spiritual condition.

What would it take before we finally wake up to the fact that we've pushed God away from certain areas of our life? For example, losing a job because of alcohol or drug use could certainly be an alarm about the immediate changes that must be made to prevent further damage. Another spiritual red alert might be a spouse's or child's growing alienation and withdrawal. The signs and symptoms are there all along. The question is whether or not we'll wake up in time and do something about them.

Of course, an alarm's effectiveness is in direct proportion to how much we don't want to hear it. In Old Testament times, God often sent prophets to tell the people to stop sinning against Him and start living their lives His way. And sometimes, the people responded to His call in true repentance. But too often--just like we can do today--they made excuses about their behavior, denied there was a problem or convinced themselves that everyone was doing it.

But the problems remain. And the alarm bells are still sounding.

If that's your situation--or maybe what's facing someone you know--there's no time to waste. Ask God to open your eyes and ears (or theirs) to clearly perceive the message He's sending. And whatever the issues may be, God's prescribed life-changes must be made as soon as matter how unpleasant the process may be.

Is there an unsettling alarm that's blaring in your ears? This is no time to hit the off switch and fall back asleep.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Top Chef

The people went around gathering it, and then ground it in a hand mill or crushed it in a mortar. They cooked it in a pot or made it into loaves. And it tasted like something made with olive oil.
-- Numbers 11:8

The Bible is your best resource for the truth about what happens to us after we die. But believe it or not, certain reality TV shows also offer glimpses of the afterlife.

Bravo TV's Top Chef gathers groups of ambitious, up-and-coming chefs from restaurants across the nation to showcase their culinary expertise. And--as with most reality shows these days--each contestant has notable strengths and weaknesses...and with personalities to match. 

Most of the show's episodes include so-called Quick Fire and Elimination challenges, which usually involve ingredients provided by the show to cook yummy (but improbably) dishes--and all within designated time and budget limits. For example, one memorable challenge directed the chefs to whip up gourmet appetizers and entrees from food purchased at a gas station! Other common challenges involve team collaborations for larger culinary projects, such as an entire multi-course meat-themed dinner for a group of hungry Colorado cowboys.

Where's the biblical connection? After completing their assigned challenges, the chefs stand before a panel of judges to account for their creations. Those who impress the judges--such as with their dishes' overall taste and presentation--progress to the competition's next round for even harder challenges (and greater rewards). And the chefs who fail to impress the judges--either through their dishes' poor quality and appearance, or even their sloppy kitchen leadership skills--are told to pack their knives and leave.

OK...The comparison between reality TV and the afterlife isn't perfect. But there are some obvious parallels. Contestants on Top Chef start out with certain ingredients (resources), talents and time limits for creating something worthwhile--and often while facing difficult circumstances. Likewise, Christ-followers start with certain amounts of talent, wisdom and other resources to introduce others to Jesus, make disciples and serve as the hands and feet of the Savior--and all within a defined period of time (our life spans).

What's more, the parallels continue because one day, we'll all stand before the Judge to account for the way we lived our lives and used the resources He gave us. It's important to note that those who have in faith accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior are already guaranteed to receive the greatest prize of all: complete forgiveness of sins and an eternity of joy with our Creator. But the Bible reveals that we'll also be rewarded for how we lived our lives according to His will and endured our own particular Quickfire Challenges. So like the successful Top Chefs who used their time and resources to please and impress the judges, we should hope our own Judge will soon proclaim, "Well done!"

So how are you using your God-given gifts and talents? The answer has eternal implications. And what's more, the kitchen timer is running.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Money Matters

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

-- Matthew 25:23

Which names come to mind when you hear the word "rich?" A famous athlete or celebrity? Bill Gates, Peyton Manning...or maybe Donald Trump?

How about you?

Compared to most of the world's population, Americans are incredibly rich. When we're hungry for a snack, all we have to do is walk to the kitchen for some fresh fruit--or more likely--a bag of chips or a tub of chocolate ice cream. And when we run low on supplies, a quick trip to the supermarket or gourmet shop re-fills the fridge in no time.

Even Americans who receive government aid are rich by the world's standards. But regardless of our place on the economic ladder, all Christ-followers are called to give richly because God continues to bless us with so much every day.

But here's a secret: God really doesn't need our money.

That's an odd message--particularly since it's coming from a church. But since God can speak all creation into existence, part the Red Sea with His hands and live among us in human form (through Jesus Christ), it's safe to assume that He doesn't need a bank account or an American Express Gold Card to get things done.

So why do Christ-followers give their time, talents and a portion of their incomes to the church? First, God is the ultimate giver--and He wants us to be that way, too. Think about the many gifts God has given us. Everyone's vary somewhat, but they tend to include things like health, job, home, family, friends and church. And of course there's God's ultimate gift: the forgiveness of our sins and an eternal relationship with Him through our faith in Jesus.

God also wants everyone to be a cheerful giver--particularly one who refuses to hoard their blessings. But to do this, we need to trust Him rather than our riches. After all, bank accounts and retirement funds can be wiped out overnight through unexpected circumstances and economic turmoil. Just ask anyone these days with a 401k.

What's the benefit of sharing our money, time and possessions? As the Apostle Paul explains it through the Book of 1 Timothy, giving back richly towards God and His purposes renders much more than just a warm feeling of satisfaction. Think of it as a guaranteed high yield investment with dividends that you'll enjoy forever in the world to come. In fact, God challenges us on our preconceived notions about money. Through His design, giving richly results in getting more:

"By doing that, they will be saving a treasure for themselves as a strong foundation for the future," Paul explains. "Then they will be able to have the life that is true life."

It's every Christ-follower's mission to serve as God's hands and feet on Earth by feeding the hungry, healing the sick and housing the homeless. So by making generous giving a spiritual habit and being rich towards God, we'll become more like Jesus to help change our community, the world--and ourselves--for the better.  

Friday, January 6, 2012

One for the Money

No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

-- Matthew 6:24

The essence of being a Christ-follower is accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior. So rather than following the world's wisdom about life, relationships, possessions and money, Christ-followers see these things in a very different light. That's because our minds begin to transform as soon as we follow Jesus in earnest. What once seemed so valuable and desirable loses its luster and fades into oblivion. The world's silver and gold begins to rust.

If you're a Christ-follower, you've accepted God's offer to meet all your needs in every area of your life. That covers deeply intimate issues involving significance, happiness, value and self-worth...and of course our money and possessions. Unfortunately, too many of us depend on the size of our bank accounts, 401ks and stock portfolios for security. We struggle for years to build up a nest egg. But even when we "make it to the top" by the world's standards, the so-called victory turns out to be a worthless idol that gains us nothing once we leave this life.

As the saying goes, money is a fine servant but a terrible master. We start confusing our self worth with our net worth. And it's then that we turn good but neutral things (money and possessions) into god things.

So who's the master of your money, time...and stuff?

It's a question with eternal implications. After all, what we do with our God-given resources is an ongoing test of how we put the True Master first in our lives. As Christ-followers, we're to recognize that ultimately, everything belongs to God. We're simply caretakers while we're here on earth. And no matter the size of our bank accounts, we can't take even a dime with us. We must therefore ask ourselves if we're spending our money on the world's definition of success or investing it where it will make an eternal difference.

Money and possessions aren't evil. It's only when we abuse them through bad choices and priorities that they can become a slave master that pushes God aside. But Jesus has a better way: He sees these gifts as tools for helping other people, achieving justice and spreading His Kingdom here on earth. And besides, it's all His, anyway. So let's open ourselves to His will and use our God-given resources as He sees fit.

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

May these be the words that greet us as we enter His kingdom.