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."  

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Training Camp

For physical training is of some value, but godliness 
has value for all things, holding promise for both the 
present life and the life to come.
-- 1 Timothy 4:8

Whether it's college football or just about any other competition, there's something appealing about rooting for the underdog. It just seems right for the Little Guy to beat the odds and win. So maybe that helps explain the lasting popularity of Rocky and its many sequels.

Released in 1976, the movie Rocky is essentially a re-telling of the Old Testament's David and Goliath story...but set in run-down 1970's Philadelphia. The main character (Rocky Balboa) is a washed-up, down-on-his-luck fighter who gets his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fight the reigning world heavyweight champion (Apollo Creed). The match is merely a publicity stunt dreamed up by Creed's handlers, and no one gives Rocky (played by Sylvester Stallone) much chance of surviving the bout's early rounds.

But Rocky does take the match--and his chances--seriously. So as he begins his training and reaches milestone after milestone, even his skeptical girlfriend, co-worker and trainer begin to see that there just might be a glimmer of hope.

The movie's focus on Rocky's unorthodox training regimen is arguably more interesting than the dramatic--but unrealistic--blow-by-blow fight scenes. We see the blue-collar prizefighter working out in the local meat processing plant, strengthening his body by drinking raw eggs and then building his endurance by jogging through the mean streets of The City of Brotherly Love. The sequence ends triumphantly as Rocky races up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, raises his arms in victory and surveys his beloved hometown.

At first glance, Rocky's lesson might be good's ability to overcome evil. But the less obvious New Testament message--revealed through the fourth chapter of 1 Timothy--is the considerable value we can derive from focused training and discipline. For the struggles we face along our faith journey, this means Bible study, discipleship, service and prayer.

Every Christ-follower is called to develop and use the gifts and talents God has given them to make a positive difference in their homes, community and the world. For instance, we're called to explain the basis of our faith to anyone who asks. But how can we respond to a neighbor or co-worker if we lack the discipline to set aside time each day for Bible reading and study? This type of practical spiritual training is also a great way to grow closer to God because it develops our ability to hear His voice. And in turn, it helps us discern right from wrong when faced with questionable situations where our heart tells us one thing but our head says another.

Rocky Balboa's early morning wintertime jogs through Philadelphia's backstreets and alleys also remind us about the critical need for endurance along our own spiritual journey. The road we travel as Christ-followers is anything but straight, smooth and easy. As Jesus advises us, "Enter through the narrow gate. The gate is wide and the road is wide that leads to hell, and many people enter through that gate. But the gate is small and the road is narrow that leads to true life. Only a few people find that road."

Rocky is much more than a classic underdog tale. It also teaches a key biblical principle. Here, we witness a journeyman boxer's steadfast adherence to a grueling training regimen. The process was anything but pleasant. But it paid off by helping him defeat his seemingly invincible opponent...and become a champion. Likewise, it takes focused training, discipline and endurance for Christ-followers to become the deep, faith-driven people that our Creator dreams for us to be.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Higher Authority

You are like salt for everyone on earth. But if salt no longer tastes like salt, how can it make food salty? All it is good for is to be thrown out and walked on.
-- Matthew 5:13

If you shop in grocery stores or cook, chances are you've seen them a thousand times. They're those special symbols printed on food packaging that certify its contents as "kosher" (literally "fit to eat").

According to kosher food blogger Giora Shimoni, kosher food is prepared according to Jewish dietary laws, which are rules and regulations derived from Old Testament laws and rabbinical extensions to ensure quality, cleanliness and safety. Hebrew National--a well-known brand of hot dogs--has a slogan that sums up its call to be kosher: We Answer to a Higher Authority.

Christ-followers do, too...and not just with food. Although we're not bound by the strict Old Testament dietary laws observed by the Israelites, we must still remember that we worship a God of the highest standards. He wants us to lead healthy, Spirit-filled lives and maintain spiritually-healthy homes. And moreover, He expects us to live lives set apart from the world's "anything goes" philosophy.

In the New Testament book of 1 Timothy, the Apostle Paul gives us his three-part strategy for equipping Godly men to do just that. First, he says that men must recognize the dangers of overestimating their ability to endure temptation and sin--the twin maladies that can wreak havoc on our homes and families. Even King David--whom God called a man after His own heart--suffered the devastating consequences from poor judgment and sinful actions related to his adulterous affair with another man's wife. Paul's point is that there are times when it's OK to turn around and run from certain situations.

On the other hand, Paul reminds us that there are some priceless things that we should pursue rather than flee...and many of them contradict the message of popular culture. For instance, the world tells us to do whatever it takes to achieve wealth and success. And while money and its trappings can be blessings, they can just as easily become traps. Instead, our top priority should be our relationship with God and our family.

Finally, Paul tells us about those things in life that are worth fighting for. And our fight is against a shrewd and devious enemy. If we're not careful, our precious home-life can suffer from the gradual--and often imperceptible--moral and spiritual decay caused by the onslaught of modern culture. Indeed, if we find ourselves fighting outside the home while failing to lead the way for our family, we're in the wrong battle.

Flee, pursue and fight. Christ-followers are called by their Creator to do just that when building and maintaining their Spirit-filled homes...and keeping them kosher. We're the people He chose before the foundation of the world to live out and testify to His standards. And we answer to a Higher Authority.  

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Building Blocks

"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

Ask a dozen people what comes to mind when they hear the word church, and you'll get a variety of answers. Their responses will likely cover everything between a roadside clapboard chapel to a stone and stained glass cathedral. Others might take a different approach with answers citing the home churches found in China and Cuba. And believe it or not, a few might even mention churches that meet in movie theaters.

The common theme is the parallel between the word ("church") and the location or style of the physical building. But that's not the Bible's definition. Rather than an impressive structure filled with pews and crowned by a soaring cross-topped steeple, the church is actually a group of people: everyone who accepts and trusts Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. No matter who you are or where you live--if you're a Christian--you're a literal building block of His church called the Body of Christ. And in this light, we're His servants, followers and worshipers, who gather each week to experience Biblical preaching, authentic worship and faithful prayer.

We're indeed a body that's spread all over the globe. We speak different languages, represent different races and hail from distinct cultures. But every one of us is united by Jesus' death on the cross as payment in full for the wrongs we've done (and continue to do) in our lives. As varied as we all are, we're still a single family that's accepted Jesus' free gift of forgiveness and salvation.

But like all families--even the strongest and most stable--differences, disagreements and disappointments are bound to arise among siblings and distant relatives. The simple fact is that the church isn't perfect. And why should it be? It's composed of imperfect people who do imperfect things.

This all leads to another key Biblical truth about the church: It's not about us--it's all about Jesus. Everything we do as Christ-followers should be done to glorify God through Christ, who the Bible reveals is the Head of the Church. And this Body of Christ answers to an audience of One.

Jesus paid for His Church with something far more valuable than money, jewels or precious metals. He bought our spiritual freedom and eternal future at the price of His own blood. So whether we worship Him in a massive cathedral, a quaint country chapel or even a multiplex movie theater, we're ultimately a single body joined through a common faith. Let's therefore strive as Christ-followers to build up a body that's healthy, strong and worthy of His sacrifice.