Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sound Barrier

He says, "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth."

-- Psalm 46:10  

Houston... We have a problem.

Those words became famous in April 1970 after an oxygen tank exploded aboard the Apollo 13 spacecraft...and nearly ended the lunar mission in disaster. The astronauts were forced to return to earth without ever landing on the moon, and they had to improvise a way to conserve onboard electricity while reducing the buildup of deadly carbon dioxide inside their cabin. More troubling still was that no one could determine if the damaged capsule would withstand the intense heat generated during the re-entry into the earth's atmosphere.

Earth-based radar stations tracked Apollo 13's progress while NASA stayed in radio contact with the crew. But as expected, communications were lost when super-heated plasma built up around the spacecraft. It wasn't until minutes later that Mission Control heard the astronauts' voices break through the static. Millions of prayers around the world were answered that day as Apollo 13 and its heroic crew splashed down safely to earth.

This story is a realistic word-picture of our relationship with God. That's because even for the most experienced Christ-follower, there are times when prayers to God are met by static. Did He hear us or not? And if He did, why didn't He respond?

What we really want to know is how can we break through this frustrating spiritual barrier. First, it's important to examine ourselves for sin...and then admit it to God if and when we find it. The reason is that the noise of unconfessed sin can drown out what God is trying to tell us. Next, we need to clear the airways by forgiving others for anything we might be holding against them. After all, how can we expect God to forgive us for how we've failed Him if we hold grudges against others for relatively minor issues? 

Next, how are we treating our spouse and children? And are we helping to care for the needy through the riches God has entrusted us to manage? As Christ-followers, we're expected to help those in need with food, shelter and clothing.

Finally...there's the BIG question: Are you a Christ-follower? If not, understand that prayer and communication with God are based on your relationship with Jesus:

"You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it," Jesus assures us in the Gospel of John.

Are your prayers these days met with static...or is communication with God coming in loud and clear? When you're having trouble breaking through, locating the barrier is sometimes as easy as finding the closest mirror.

Saturday, December 22, 2012


Have you forgotten the Lord who made you, who stretched out the skies and made the earth?
Why are you always afraid of those angry people who trouble you and who want to destroy?
But where are those angry people now?

-- Isaiah 51:13

What was your first paying job?

Maybe you delivered newspapers every day at 5:00 AM, flipped hamburgers at McDonald's or stocked shelves at Ukrop's. Odds are that it wasn't a position with a corner office, company car or stock options. Instead, the hours were probably long, you worked nights and weekends, and the pay was meager at best.

And if you were like millions of other teenagers, you stayed on the job--whether you liked it or not--because you had your eye on the proverbial prize. Maybe that prize was your first car.

It was nice enough if your parents let you drive their 10-year-old Ford or Chevy around town or to the mall. But buying your own car with your own money was a very different matter. You were working to earn enough to drive the vehicle off the lot, make the monthly payments, pay the insurance premiums and fill up the tank. And your bank account was almost always empty by month's end. But you didn't care; your first automobile was worth every penny because you found it. And you paid the price.

Maybe God never drove a '65 Mustang convertible or a late '80s Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z. But He certainly knows about giving up everything to buy that one-of-a-kind treasure. And in His case, that priceless treasure is YOU!   

God--the most powerful and loving Presence in the universe--bought you at an incredibly expensive price: the life of His Son, Jesus. Since we could never pay the price that we rightfully owe for all the bad decisions, broken relationships and damage we've wrought throughout our lives, Jesus paid it Himself by dying in our place on a cross between two common criminals. Jesus didn't deserve to be there. But God loved us so much that He was willing to pay everything for us to be with Him forever.

That news is amazing enough. But God wants you to be more than some sort of honored house guest (although that would still be nice). Instead, He's literally chosen you as His heir. That means that once you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you become an adopted son or daughter of God. And as God's children and heirs, we'll all have quite an inheritance to enjoy for eternity.

Such generosity is hard to comprehend. So here's how Jesus explained God's perspective to the common people of 1st Century Israel...and to suburbanites in 21st Century America like you and me:

"If any of you has 100 sheep, and one of them gets lost, what will you do? Won't you leave the 99 in the field and go look for the lost sheep until you find it," Jesus asks. "And when you find it, you will be so glad that you will put it on your shoulder and carry it home. Then you will call in your friends and neighbors and say, 'Let's celebrate! I've found my lost sheep.'"

God is willing to do whatever it takes to bring you and me home. In fact, He already paid that hefty price nearly 2,000 years ago through the death of His Son, Jesus. There's no way we can ever pay Him back. But we can accept His priceless gift.  

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Mixed Messages

The good news tells how God accepts everyone who has faith, but only those who have faith. It is just as the Scriptures say, "The people God accepts because of their faith will live."

-- Romans 1:17

It's been a controversy among Christ-followers for nearly 2,000 years. In fact, some might argue that it's been a factor over the centuries in dividing Christianity into multiple denominations. So what is this thing that's caused so much conflict among a people called to love one another?

It's the roles of faith and works in the life of Believers. On one hand, the Apostle Paul makes it clear that salvation is a free gift from God through faith in Jesus Christ. Let's consider one of Paul's most famous passages from the Book of Romans:

"If you declare with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and if you believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, you will be saved."

That's simple enough. But what should we do with this Scripture from James, the brother of Jesus:

"What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."

James' point seems to be that without doing good works, our faith is worthless. But is it our faith that brings us into God's Kingdom--or do we need to work for it...and for how long?

Maybe these messages from Paul and James aren't so mixed after all. On multiple occasions, Jesus' miracles revealed the incredible power of faith in those who sought Him. For example, we read in Luke 7 that a Roman soldier's faith actually "amazed" the Son of God.

"I tell you," Jesus explained to the crowd of followers, "I have not found such great faith even in Israel."

So it really is through our faith in Jesus and His work on the cross that we're saved from the punishment we all deserve. Otherwise--if it were all about works--it might be possible to somehow earn our way to God's acceptance. That's unrealistic...but it's not to say that works don't play a crucial role in the lives of Christ-followers. In fact, the tangible ways that we live our new lives help to prove that we're a changed people through our faith in Jesus.

What we have isn't really a contest of faith versus works. Instead, both must be evident in the life of every Christ-follower. Rather than being saved BY our own good works, our faith in Jesus leads us to being saved FOR doing good works. The author of the Old Testament book Micah puts it this way:

"And what does the LORD require of you? "To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

It takes faith to believe God's promises and obey His commands. After all, demonstrating a life of justice, mercy and humility is a tall order that we can never accomplish on our own--particularly when we face the struggles and circumstances of everyday life. And it's the tough times that cause the so-called "fans" of Jesus to fall away to leave only His true followers--the ones with real living faith. And how can we live faith-filled lives that bear fruit for our Father's kingdom?

"With man this is impossible," explains Jesus. "But with God all things are possible."

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Gift of Love

...He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit...

-- Titus 3:5

Author Philip Yancy once wrote about a conference in England where theologians debated which belief was unique to Christianity. Other faiths held to the resurrection of the dead. And still others described their gods as coming to earth in human form. After much heated discussion, C.S. Lewis--the noted author of Mere Christianity and The Chronicles of Narnia--entered the room.

"What's all the hubbub about?" he inquired.

When his colleagues revealed the contentious topic, Lewis was quick to reply.

"Oh...That's easy," he said. "It's grace."

Grace is one of those "churchy" words that's hard to describe. You just have to experience grace before you can really understand the concept. And to muddy things up a bit, grace is both a thing and an ongoing process.
Receiving a costly, unexpected gift is one way to picture it. It's one of those things that comes out of the blue. You didn't do anything to deserve such wonderful treatment. And you know you never could have afforded it yourself. It's the type of gift that changes you both inside and out.

As Christ-followers, we enjoy God's grace by accepting His gift of eternal salvation purchased for us through Jesus' death on the cross. We've all failed to live up to God's standards for living our lives. But by accepting Jesus through faith as our personal Lord and Savior, our sins and shortcomings are no longer held against us. We were in a figurative maximum security prison awaiting our much-deserved death sentence. But God's grace is our get-out-of-jail-free card that transforms us from the inside out--from the day we accept it until the day we meet Him in person.

God's grace also welcomes and invites us to turn our lives over to Jesus. We're saved once we put our faith and trust in Him. And as we begin our faith-journey as Christ-followers, grace teaches us to become more like Jesus and see the world through His eyes.

"...My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness," writes the Apostle Paul in the Book of 2 Corinthians. "Therefore I will boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me."

Grace is both a thing and a transformation. It's a true work in progress. And most importantly, it's God's gift of love to every Believer.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

God's Waiting Room

I will wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in His Word I put my hope.

-- Psalm 130:5

We live in a 24/7 world of instant communications, Walmart Supercenters and microwave popcorn. And just about anything we want is literally available to us at the click of a mouse or tap of a touchscreen. But take another look and you'll see that we're not always on the move. Efficiency experts report that on average, people spend about 45 to 62 minutes each day waiting. That covers common tasks like waiting in line at the bank, waiting at the restaurant for the server to take your order, and even waiting for your car to fill up at the gas pump. 

That adds up to about three years of waiting by the time you reach age 70!
Since few people like to wait, multi-tasking to make the most of down-time has become a valued life skill. However, waiting isn't always a waste. In fact, waiting is an essential part of God's plan for our lives because it's the process that enables us to become who He wants us to be. This concept might be difficult to grasp because the human viewpoint of time differs greatly from that of our Creator's. The Apostle Peter puts it into perspective for us through Scripture: "But do not forget this one thing, dear friends," he writes. "To the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as one day."

As Christ-followers, we need to understand that what happens while we're waiting is often more important than what we're waiting for. Ask anyone who has spent hours at the hospital contemplating the health and future of a loved one. Did their soul-searching experience bring a closer dependence on God? It should have. After all, it's when we're so humbled and powerless that we realize we can do nothing on our own.

So maybe our never-stop, 24/7 world actually revolves around waiting. Let's therefore make the most of our time in God's Waiting Room--a place where we can look for ways and opportunities to say yes to Him--and all with a sense of expectancy and hope.

"Be still, and know that I am God," He tells us through Psalm 46:10. "I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."