Friday, February 24, 2012


Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.

-- Matthew 11:29 

We live in a nation of choices. There are more than 80 different cell phone companies. Well-stocked supermarkets may offer a dozen or more brands of bottled water. And the local Cineplex has a movie for just about everyone...everything from cartoons to romantic comedies to horror flicks. And while you're driving to your favorite shopping mall (the one with more than 100 different stores), try counting all the makes and models of cars in its expansive parking lot.

Yes, Americans love options. So it should be no shock that we also have plenty of choices when it comes to religion. Like the sandwich items posted on a fast food menu board, there's something for every taste and preference. What's more, many so-call "spiritual" customers will assure you that which religion you choose doesn't really matter--just so long as you're sincere in your beliefs and it makes you happy. After all, one person's truth isn't someone else's. It's all relative. And we're all worshipping the same god anyway. Right?

Not really! The Bible tells us that Jesus made some startling claims that clearly contradict the easy-going beliefs of modern culture. And He also backed them up. For instance, the Bible accurately predicted Jesus' birth--even the name of the tiny village where it would happen--centuries before the fact. And in Christ's brief time on earth, He cured the sick, raised the dead, forgave sins and became a living sacrifice to pay the price for all the wrongs of the world. His Resurrection from the grave--just as He predicted--proved His ultimate power over death. And 2,000 years later, Jesus' words continue to change lives and make an eternal difference.
"I am the vine; you are the branches," we read in John's Gospel. "If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."
Many people--even those who aren't Christ-followers--agree that Jesus was a "good" man and a "wise" teacher. But the hot button question is whether or not He's really the only way to God. The short answer is...YES! Jesus declares that no one can come to the Father (God) except through Him. But that's a claim that makes people uncomfortable these days. It's a claim of exclusivity...and many would call it intolerant.

Or maybe it's not quite so exclusive after all. Jesus' death and Resurrection make it possible for anyone who accepts God's free gift to have eternal life! No one who wants a new life through Jesus is turned away. And unlike manmade religions, the way to God isn't about keeping certain rules, saying special prayers or eating (or not eating) different foods. Instead, being a Christ-follower is about having a personal relationship with Jesus, accepting what He already accomplished and letting Him live through us.

By some counts, there are today about 20 different major world religions...and not to mention thousands of related beliefs and their offshoots. And they all have something in common: their emphasis on doing. But Christianity--the simple faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior--is instead about what's been done. We can't earn our salvation or perform enough good deeds to earn our way to God's favor. Christ has already done it--and paid in-full on the cross. All we need to do is come to Him in faith.  

"It is finished!" Jesus proclaimed as He hung from the cross. And that's more than enough for all of us.  

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Face in the Mirror

An AHA moment is that split second when someone's eyes are opened to a spiritual truth that changes everything. As Christ-followers, we can have AHA moments when God shows us that we're going down the wrong path in some area of our life. And then it's up to us to turn in the right direction.

Then there's the ultimate AHA: when non-believers finally wake to their need for Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. That's not just life changing--it's literally eternal. When God's Light gets through, we can finally see. But unfortunately, the world still chooses to remain blind and enjoy the darkness of its existence. In fact, if you're a Christ-follower who's open about your faith, the world won't ignore you. Instead, it will likely accuse you of intolerance or bigotry. Just watch TV, surf the Web or read a magazine. You don't have to look hard to find articles or videos featuring Hollywood celebrities or "progressive" journalists who point their fingers at "narrow-minded Christians" and use the dreaded "i-word."

But depending on its context, is intolerance always a bad thing? After all, Jesus hates sin and declares Himself to be the exclusive pathway to God.
"I am the way, the truth and the life," He says. "No one comes to the Father except through me."
That's not very tolerant of Him. And His bold proclamation defies today's inclusive, politically correct environment. After all, it hurts feelings and suggests that some faiths are better than others. But society's demands for so-called open-mindedness and equality are irrelevant. Jesus has no tolerance for their false second-rate gods and allegiances.

As Christ-followers, we have open access to God's truth through the Bible, prayer and even wise counsel from fellow Believers. We should therefore have less trouble than others with telling right from wrong. But actually doing so is another matter. And that opens us up--and often rightfully so--to charges of self-righteousness and hypocrisy. That's because the world is watching us and comparing our Sunday morning words to our weekday deeds.

This fact tends to put Christ-followers in a delicate predicament. Since God has revealed His truth to us, it's easy for us to point fingers. But when we do, our other four fingers point back at us. 

So look in the mirror. Are your own words, thoughts and actions beyond reproach? Jesus was right on the mark when He said we must remove the plank from our own eye before we can remove the speck from our neighbor's eye. Is your would-be "sinner" someone who needs God's truth...or is he or she already a Christ-follower? Maybe they've never signed up for Jesus' walk of faith in the first place.

The answer should determine our response. But either way, Christ-followers must still hold themselves to a much higher standard. And on the flipside, we need to let God be the judge of others outside the faith. He knows the whole story...and we're hardly in the position to condemn anyone.

It's quite an AHA moment.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Just Do It

When you make a promise to God, fulfill it without delay because God has no pleasure
in fools. Fulfill what you promise.

-- Ecclesiastes 5:4 

"Tomorrow is the busiest day of the week," says an old Spanish proverb. And famous author and humorist Mark Twain put it this way: "Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow."

They're referring of course to procrastination, or what someone once described as "the grave in which opportunity is buried." Procrastination afflicts all cultures, genders and age groups. Ohio State University reports that people tend to embrace it when they perceive a task as being hard, inconvenient or even scary. The reaction is to replace important tasks with low priority substitutes and delay the tough stuff for another day. There's even a term called crooked thinking that describes the illogical--although predictable--way procrastinators justify their behavior!

Procrastinators may also use their sense of perfectionism, inadequacy or discomfort to put off doing indefinitely what really needs to be done immediately. But the longer the delay with facing the uncomfortable, the worse this pattern becomes. And eventually...nothing gets done. As we learned from high school physics, a body at rest tends to stay at rest...unless there's something to put it in motion.

What will it take to put our own uncomfortable life issues in motion--rather than keeping them motionless on the back burner? Once God alerts us to the truth about a situation, we basically just need to do it. He might open our eyes through the words of a sermon, a conversation with another Christ-follower...or maybe even an unexpected interaction with a complete stranger. But by whatever circumstance, the next move is ours.

Procrastination isn't a viable option--particularly in situations where action (or inaction) has serious life consequences. We need to respond by taking that hard first step of faith.

Is it a conversation you need to have, a relationship you need to fix...or maybe a destructive one you need to end? The truth is that someday is really another way of saying never.

So why not start now? Whatever your situation may be, no one's promising it will be easy. But rest assured: you won't be alone.

"In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you," we read in 2 Corinthians. "I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation."

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Missed Opportunities

When a gentle south wind began to blow, they saw their opportunity;
so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete.

-- Acts 27:13

Several years ago, a group of centenarians responded to a survey that asked them what they would do differently if they could somehow re-live their past 100 years on earth. Although their answers differed somewhat, a common theme was evident: they would take more chances in life.

That's not only great advice for individuals like you and me, but it also makes sense in the business world. Silicon Valley high tech companies, for instance, are infamous for going from boom to bust because they can fail to recognize and make the most of opportunities. "What Could Have Been" might well be their motto.

Yahoo, for example, has long been one of the best-known destinations on the Web. And back in 2006, it offered to pay $1 billion for an upstart social media website called Facebook. The deal was a remarkable opportunity--but one with considerable risk. After all, established competitor My Space had more than 100 million members at the time and had sold a year earlier for only $500 million. The issue grew even more complicated when Yahoo ran into financial difficulty and its stock value tumbled nearly 20 percent. Yahoo reacted by cutting its offer to $800 million, which Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg ultimately rejected. The rest, as they say, is history. Today--depending on whose figures you believe--Facebook has more than 500 million users, or 1 in 13 people on earth. MySpace has shrunk to about 34 million users. And Yahoo has struggled with finance and leadership issues ever since.

Yahoo's failure to take a chance and pay top dollar for up-and-coming Facebook was literally history changing. Their executives and advisors had the data and could see the ingenious website's potential. But with their own company's finances in crisis, they decided to play it safe and essentially do nothing. And it cost them dearly.

Likewise, every one of us can reach personal crisis points--such as with negative relationships, alcohol or drugs--that demand immediate action. And with these crises comes the time when family members, neighbors and employers recognize the warning signs, which always find their way to the surface. It becomes a loud and unpleasant wake-up call--and a proclamation that the time for denials is finally over. But it's also a chance for a fresh start--one based on the abundant life God means for us. The issue then becomes whether or not we're willing to seize the opportunity and turn away from what's devastating us and ruining our future.

"Come now, and let's settle this," says the Lord. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be white as snow. If they are red as crimson, they will become like wool."

It's not easy. In fact, it takes considerable strength to accept responsibility for our actions without trying to justify them away. Unfortunately, we tend to let our pride stop us from doing the right thing. But it doesn't have to be that way. If you're facing a crisis, make the most of it. It might be your once-in-a-lifetime chance to turn your life around. And that's one opportunity you can't afford to miss.