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.