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.