Sunday, December 29, 2013

Angels and Elephants

The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."

--  Luke 1:28

There's an old story about three blindfolded men who were asked to touch and identify an undisclosed object. And that "object" happened to be live African elephant...but no one told them!

The first man touched the elephant's muscular trunk. The second man grasped the elephant's brushy tale. And the third man--moving his hand across the elephant's rugged hide--marveled at the object's rough exterior. Needless to say, each man was totally off the mark when trying to identify the mystery object. A 10,000 pound elephant was right in front of them. But they failed to see the literal big picture.

That's the way it is for many people when it comes to spiritual matters. And it's even true for some long-time Christ-followers. To counter this nearsightedness, God has throughout history communicated His message through prophets, the Bible, the Holy Spirit--and of course--through His Son, Jesus.

But that's not all. God also uses angels to remind us every so often that everything is coming together according to His plan. The hassles of everyday life might obscure this fact, but God really does have it all under control.

Angels are God's special messengers. They can appear in broad daylight, remain invisible or even communicate to us in dreams. And the Bible advises us to be hospitable because we might be entertaining angels without even knowing it. But God's messages through angels are much more than cocktail conversations; they're words that change history. In Matthew's Gospel, angels reveal to Mary that she will soon give birth to the Savior of mankind. Angels also tell Joseph (Mary's fiancée) that he can believe Mary's story about her pregnancy through the Holy Spirit. And angels proclaim the Good News of Jesus' birth to the shepherds who witnessed the bright star hovering over a lowly manger in Bethlehem.

Revelation. Confirmation. Celebration.

That's what God conveys through angels. And not just 2,000 years ago in a dusty little village somewhere in the Middle East. Even today, God's plans continue to unfold as planned and on schedule...and through the lives of every Christ-follower like you and me.  

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Joy to the World

Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

--  Luke 6:21

If it leads, it bleeds.

That's the old saying in the news business. Newspaper2Turn on the TV, log on to the Web or read a newspaper, and you're bound to come across story after story about government healthcare run amok, discouragingly-high unemployment rates and degenerate human behavior. The fact is that the media thrives off of bad news and hyping the worst possible scenarios for maximum effect. After all, good news rarely drives ratings or sells magazines.

A steady stream of good news also doesn't depress readers and paint an unrealistically gloomy picture of their circumstances; all leading to self-fulfilling economic prophesies when the public is too scared to buy a much-needed automobile or even a new pair of shoes. Of course, times really ARE tough for many people. But there are always tragedies and hard luck stories--even in the best of times. The difference is that they just don't get as much press coverage.

With bad news and scary headlines in such plentiful supply these days, how about taking a much-needed break from the media? It's easier than you might think. For one week, make the effort to avoid TV--particularly news broadcasts or programs with a political bent. Keep away from the same types of content on the Internet. And don't bother with newspapers or magazines. (Even many of the so-called entertainment magazines embrace politics.)

At the end of these quiet seven days, maybe you won't feel quite as informed as you would have had you stayed glued to the 24-hour cable news channel or surfed the Web. But odds are that you'll experience much less stress and enjoy a more positive outlook on life.

That's some sound advice for avoiding the bad news. But what about finding some good news for a change?

As Christ-followers, the Good News about Jesus is what gives us hope and a much clearer perspective of the future. And as we read all of the promises in the Bible that God has kept over the centuries, our anticipation only grows as we ponder His promises about the amazing future that awaits us. The result is much more than happiness, which comes from external things and circumstances. Instead, it's joy, which springs from within through our relationship with God. He's our loving Father. And He wants to spend eternity with us.

Are the headlines constantly bringing you down? Try some Good News for a change. It's closer than you think!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

I Shall Return

Jesus answered, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me."

--  John 21:22

March 11, 1942 was a dark day for America--as well as for the entire free world. Just three months earlier, the Japanese had launched a devastating surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The result was a crippled American Pacific fleet, 3,478 servicemen killed or wounded, plus an additional 103 civilian casualties. Now, the Japanese had trapped 85,000 American and Filipino troops on the Philippine's Bataan Peninsula and the island fortress of Corregidor. 

MacArthurUnder orders from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, General Douglas MacArthur (the American commander) and his family evacuated the area for the relative safety of Australia. The thousands of troops MacArthur left behind were eventually forced to surrender by the seemingly invincible Japanese military. But the general refused to turn his back on his men--or the Filipino people that he loved. "I shall return," MacArthur promised in his statement to the press. And on October 20, 1944, he kept that promise as he waded ashore with a mighty invasion force at the Filipino island of Leyte. "People of the Philippines, I have returned," MacArthur declared in an unforgettable radio broadcast.

A recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, Douglas MacArthur was known for his bravery, heroism and faithfulness. And although his promise was both historic and world-changing, it doesn't come close the significance of another promise kept more than 2,000 years ago. Mankind had for centuries been enslaved by an enemy called sin...and true freedom was just a dream. There was only one Hope. Keeping a promise He made at the foundation of the world, God Himself paid mankind's enormous sin-debt in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. He came to earth in the form of a helpless infant, grew to adulthood and lived a faultless, sin-free life, and was unjustly executed for trumped-up crimes that He didn't commit. The message of His brief ministry heralded the Good News of God's coming Kingdom. And it's summarized in one of the best-known passages of the Bible (John 3:16):

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

It was through Jesus that God kept His promise of forgiveness and salvation for those who ask for it in faith. And one day--maybe even in the very near future--He'll keep another long-anticipated promise when Jesus comes back to once and for all defeat the enemy and forever free His people.

He shall return!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Pride and Joy

Our foolish pride comes from this world, and so do our selfish desires and our desire to have everything we see. None of this comes from the Father.

--  1 John 2:16 

Are you a do-it-yourselfer?

You know--one of those folks who can do it all without help from the experts. Whether it's fixing a leaky faucet, changing your car's oil or installing hardwood flooring, no professionals are needed...or even wanted on your job site!

There's definitely a certain pride factor Hammerinvolved when you do it yourself and do it right. Who can deny the satisfaction from viewing a shiny polished car, a lush, manicured lawn or a tiled kitchen backsplash? And that goes double when you put hours of hard work into your efforts. Yes, you should be proud.

Or should you?

Maybe taking pride in a job well done is OK to a point. But as Christ-followers, we need to understand that pride is actually one of those lures that can hurt us badly if we don't watch out.

At pride's root is our love of the world's values rather than our devotion to God. And pride happens to be a disease with some nasty side effects. One symptom is far-sightedness. That's because we tend to see pride in others but not in ourselves. Our heads then grow and our minds shrink. And eventually, we reach the point where we actually think we're strong and smart enough to do it all--and all while forgetting that God is the only true power and source of our successes. We become arrogant, vain, stubborn and defensive. And we may even develop a strange sense of satisfaction when other--often our closest friends--face difficulties or tragedies in their lives.

These painful symptoms can last for days or even years. But we'll eventually reach the point where God lets us crumble and fall flat after some unforeseen situation or circumstance. It's called the pride before the fall. And it's only when we're struggling helplessly in the debris that we finally regain our senses and return to God.

Like the common cold, we're all bound to catch the pride bug every once in a while. So what's the best way to battle this infectious disease once it's set in? First, it's not about adopting an artificially low self-esteem or a terminal woe-is-me attitude. Instead, it's all about replacing deceptive self-confidence with reliable Christ confidence. Our best strategy is to always put God first in our lives and remember that we can do nothing without Him. Always give Him the credit for your blessings and successes. Help others through their struggles. And then remember that God chooses and uses humble people to do great things in the world.

The Bible sums it up with this solid advice: "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up."

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Ready or Not

It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak.

--  Luke 12:38 

More than 5,500 people died on November 8, 2013, when Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines. But one of the greatest catastrophes in recorded history happened the day after Christmas in 2004. The warning signs were there. And sadly, most of its victims either didn't recognize or heed them.

The day began pleasantly enough with Preparedfamilies spending the morning strolling along tropical Asian beaches. Suddenly, a magnitude 9.3 earthquake--as powerful as 23,000 Hiroshima-style atomic bombs--struck near the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The resulting tsunami ("tidal wave") rose to the height of an 8-story building and struck 11 nations along the Indian Ocean. More than 200,000 people died.

Seismic equipment did detect and record the earthquake that day. However, the region had no tidal gauges or sensors to verify the triggering of a tsunami. And even if it had them, there was no way to warn everyone to flee to safety.

Out of this tragedy came stories from the few who recognized the calamity's warnings and were able to save themselves and sometimes others. The Associated Press reported that one Indian national saved 1,500 of his fellow villagers after spotting the ocean's dramatic recession from the shoreline. A student vacationing in Thailand saved herself and her family after recalling a lesson about tsunamis and their warning signs. And for reasons debated by scientists, many animals somehow sensed the disaster and fled in time to higher ground.

Disasters, whether natural or manmade, happen every day. They're often unpredictable. And there's no guarantee that we can actually save ourselves, our family or property from the resulting destruction--even if we do recognize the warning signs. But today, there are warning signs of a much greater world-changing event that could strike in 100 years. Or maybe even tonight.

God promises us through the Bible that one day, a Savior (Jesus) will return to right all the wrongs of this world, save and reward those who believe in Him, and send all others to an eternity of torment. No one knows the exact time or day of Christ's return. But many of the Bibles prophesies about the matter have already been fulfilled, such as the relatively recent one about the re-birth of the State of Israel.

Indeed, Jesus could return in five minutes or in 500 years. But either way, we still must be prepared. That's because none of us knows when our own time on Earth will be over. Check the news on the Internet, television or the paper and you're bound to find stories about people killed suddenly in accidents, during crimes or by sudden illness (like a stroke or heart attack). Like the victims of the tragic 2013 typhoon and 2004 tsunami, they had no idea that their final hour was imminent.

This brings us to the obvious question: Are you prepared to meet your Maker? Your answer has eternal consequences. "So you also must be ready," Jesus warns, "because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him."

Our God is a God of justice. And since we've all failed to live up to His standards, we all deserve the penalty that Jesus endured on the cross. He paid the price that we can never afford. So how can you be assured that you'll spend eternity with God rather than without Him? The Apostle Paul offers this assurance:

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

The signs are all around us. Are you ready?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Guiding Light

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.

-- Matthew 5:16 

High-tech energy-saving light bulbs like LEDs, halogens and CFLs have gotten lots of press the last few years because of their purported efficiency and endurance. Unlike old-fashioned incandescent bulbs that might last 1,000 hours before burning out, some of these next generation light sources are rated for 15 years of service.

That's impressive. But as the saying goes, Lighthousethey don't make them like they used to. The Guinness Book of World Records recognizes a lowly 60-watt bulb hanging in a Livermore, CA, fire station as burning almost continuously since 1901 (the year England's Queen Victoria died). Made by Adolphe Chailet (a competitor of Thomas Edison), the tiny hand-blown beacon actually has its own website and fan club. 

Mr. Chailet obviously crafted this so-called "Centennial Light" with the right materials to last for the long run. And in much the same way, God has given His Spirit to every Christ-follower to help them endure through their life-long faith-journey.

Indeed, the Bible tells us that God doesn't leave us alone against the world once we ask Jesus to be our Lord and Savior. Just as our lives as Christ-followers are marked by twists and hairpin turns along an often rugged path, God continues to spread His grace (undeserved favor) to us all along the way. And it's a good thing that He does. Because from time to time, we all need spiritual renewal as we grow into what it means to walk in His steps. Even the apostles--the ones who had personally witnessed Jesus' life-changing miracles--asked the Lord to increase their faith. So we're in very good company.

After abandoning their livelihoods and following Jesus for three years, the apostles were both physically and spiritually drained. So when their Master was arrested, tried and crucified, they scattered in fear for their lives--just as Jesus had predicted. But the story wasn't over. They would soon become re-energized the night Jesus reappeared to them in a most-unexpected way. John's Gospel describes the scene like this:

In the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples had met together with the doors locked for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood right in the middle of them and said, "Peace be with you!" Then he showed them his hands and his side, and when they saw the Lord the disciples were overjoyed. Jesus said to them again, "Yes, peace be with you! Just as the Father sent me, so I am now going to send you."

These first Christ-followers could now continue with their world-changing mission. They had renewed vitality and confidence. And not in themselves--but in God alone. It was through Him that they possessed the guiding light of living faith to accomplish, endure and thrive in a rapidly-darkening world. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Breakfast of Champions

Are you so irrational? After you started with the Spirit, are you now finishing up with your own human effort?

-- Galatians 3:3 

Legend has it that about 500 years before Jesus proclaimed the Gospel, a professional courier named Pheidippides completed the world's first marathon. After the Greek army's decisive victory over the Persians at a place called Marathon, he was dispatched to share the good news with the people of Athens. Pheidippides faithfully ran more than 20 miles to his destination. And after announcing, "Rejoice, we are victorious," he dropped dead from exhaustion.

These days, thousands of runners Breakfastcompete in marathons all over the globe (but with less fatal results). And many of them prepare by adhering to special diets that will power them over the finish line. In her Runners World magazine article The Healthy Runner's Diet, Liz Applegate recommends a regimen of seeds, fruits and vegetables, plant foods with their skins intact, milk and milk products, foods originating from cold water (like fish and other seafood), meat and poultry...or eggs from free-range or grass-fed animals. These powerful foods, says Dr. Applegate, promote good health and peak athletic performance for long-distance runners. And what many marathoners well-know is that eating the wrong foods can mean the difference between victory and dropping out of contention with miles still left to go.

This principle also applies to Christ-followers. After all, our faith journey isn't a sprint or even a jog. Instead, it's a long-distance adventure that's in many ways a marathon. There's also a link here to food. But rather than literal physical nourishment, it actually relates to spiritual fuel. As Believers, a goal for our lives is to produce the fruit of the Holy Spirit, which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. But if we're constantly feeding ourselves with negative influences--like poor choices in relationships and entertainment--we shouldn't be surprised if we follow our old sinful natures from time to time. Expressions of jealousy, bitterness and frustration are common examples of what can happen when we're not consuming the right spiritual foods for going the distance.

As the Apostle Paul explained it to the Galatians, "Our sinful selves want what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit wants what is against our sinful selves. The two are against each other, so you cannot do just what you please."

It's obvious that every Christ-follower--just like every runner in the famous Boston Marathon--needs to prepare for the long and demanding race ahead of them. Rather than carb-loading to maximize energy storage in our muscles, we need to follow a determined spiritual regimen that will help see us to victory.

The first step is to begin with a constant prayer and a continual awareness that we can't make it without the Holy Spirit living within us. Rather than living one day at a time, we're to proceed moment-by-moment. Second, let's deliberately filter our thinking. Do the movies we watch, the websites we visit and the friends we make feed our Spirit or our sinful nature? Finally, we need to die to ourselves every day by constantly looking out for traps and obstacles in our lives that could run us off the track. In 2 Timothy, Paul writes that his spiritual diet and rigorous training paid off for his faith-journey:

"I have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith. At last the champion's wreath that is awarded for righteousness is waiting for me. The Lord, who is the righteous judge, is going to give it to me on that day. He's giving it not only to me but also to all those who have set their heart on waiting for his appearance."

Whether you're a brand-new Christ-follower or you've been a believer for years, the old saying holds true: You are what you eat

Bon appétit.  

Saturday, November 9, 2013


Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that. We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord's coming is getting closer.
-- Hebrews 10:25 

Ask a dozen people what comes to mind when you say the word "church," and you'll likely get several different answers. Their responses will likely range from traditional clapboard country meeting houses to modern arena-style worship centers to Gothic European cathedrals. Others might take a different approach with answers citing the house churches that are common in China and Cuba. And believe it or not, some might even mention churches that meet in movie theaters (imagine that!).

The common denominator here is the link Bodybuildingwith a location or style of building. But that's not the way the Bible defines church. Rather than an impressive structure filled with pews and crowned by a soaring steeple, the church is really people--all the people on Earth who have accepted and trust Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. So no matter who you are and where you live--if you're a Christ-follower--you're part of His church called the Body of Christ.

That's a remarkable concept because it means we're a part of a literal body of believers spread all over the globe. We speak different languages, are of different races and come from different cultures. But we're all united by Jesus' death on the cross as payment in full for all the wrongs we've done (and continue to do) in our lives. As different as we are, we're a single family that's accepted Jesus' free gift of forgiveness.

But as with all families (even the best and most stable ones), differences, disagreements and disappointments are bound to arise among its members. And the fact is that the church isn't perfect. And why should it be? It's made up of imperfect people who do very imperfect things.

This all leads to another key Biblical truth about the church: It's not about us. It's instead all about Jesus. Everything we do as Christ-followers ought to be done to glorify God through Christ, who the Bible tells us is the head of the church. Whether it's a local gathering of believers or the millions of Christ-followers on Earth, this Body of Christ answers to an audience of One.

Jesus paid for His church with something much more valuable than money or gold. 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 church or even a multiplex movie theater, we're ultimately one body joined through a common faith.

Let's strive as Christ-followers to make it a body that's healthy, strong and worthy of His sacrifice.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Double Trouble

Now then, stand still and see this great thing the Lord is about to do before your eyes!  

-- 1 Samuel 12:16 

"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

It's been about 2,000 years since Jesus' first disciples heard those great words of wisdom. And aren't they justLightning as relevant and reassuring to His modern-day followers? Turn on the TV and just try to avoid the never-ending news stories about the economy, healthcare and unemployment. And let's not forget the shadows of nuclear proliferation, terrorism and even the re-emergence of piracy off of the African coast.

The point is that there's trouble everywhere. And there's no escape--even when your TV is off, the newspaper is folded and you've pushed yourself away from the Internet. For some people, trouble comes in the form of a job loss or layoff. For others, it's a chronic illness or the prospect of major surgery. Or maybe your trouble involves family or relationship issues such as a divorce or the loss of a loved one. The problems are many for every person on earth. And they're often significant.

Under such gloomy circumstances, it's good to know that we worship a God who is much greater than any natural disaster, economic difficulty or international dispute. Ours is a God who literally spoke the universe into creation, formed great mountain ranges with His hands and parted the seas with a breath.

"Is anything too hard for the Lord?" asks the writer of Genesis, the first book of the Bible.

Let's take God at His Word when He tells us that through all things in life, He works for the good of those who love Him and who have been called according to His purpose. We're not immune from trouble once we turn over our lives to Jesus and become Christ-followers. But we do gain access to a Power that helps us endure any difficulty--great or small. Likewise, we also become the beneficiaries of an eternal inheritance of a magnitude that will make our current troubles fade into oblivion. The pitfalls and sorrows that seem so great today will become laughably insignificant tomorrow.

As Christ-followers seeking to do His will, let's claim this promise from Jesus found in John's Gospel:

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." 

Troubles are indeed all around us. But we can rest assured that through our great God, all things will work toward His glory.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Death and Taxes

Then go quickly and tell his disciples: 'He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.' Now I have told you."

-- Matthew 28:7 

Few people like to talk about it, but it's something we'll all have to face one day. It's not a trip to the dentist's office, an audit by the IRS or even a ballet recital. It's something much more inevitable: DEATH.

Why do so many people worry about Taxesdeath? For those who aren't Christ-followers, death represents the unknown. It's a gaping, black hole. And who knows what's at the bottom of that pit or who's on the other side? And besides, death is just so... final.

It comes down to this: What we don't know or understand frightens us. And it frightens us a lot.

That doesn't sound very reassuring. So here's some good news (but it's only true for Christ-followers). If you've accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you have absolutely nothing to fear from death! In fact, death is simply the transition between our relatively brief existence on Earth and an eternity of joy with Jesus. From the Book of Revelation--the final book of the Bible--we read that all troubles, tears and sorrows will be a thing of the past. That sounds like something to anticipate rather than fear.

How is this possible? In short, it's explained through the Easter story. After Jesus willingly accepted the death penalty on a cross to pay for all of our sins, He proved that He was indeed God's Son by fulfilling Old Testament prophesies and rising again to life. The huge boulder that had days earlier sealed His grave was rolled away. His tomb was revealed to be empty and hollow. And so also was the Devil's greatest weapon against us: the threat of death.

It's an image that reveals an obvious truth. One day, death will take you. But there's some very good news with this sobering thought. If you've surrendered your life to Jesus, death can't keep you. It's already been defeated through Jesus' triumphant resurrection.

With holiday merchandise already on display at many stores, chances are that you're thinking more about Thanksgiving and Christmas than you are about Easter. But when Easter arrives this spring, remember that it means much more than chocolate bunnies and colorful, hard-boiled eggs. It's really a celebration about overcoming the inevitable and defeating the unbeatable.

The Apostle Paul sums up this reassuring news through Romans 6:5:

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.

It's just one more thing that's guaranteed for Christ-followers. You can count on it.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Recipe for Success

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.

-- Matthew 10:8 

With the holidays fast approaching and Christmas catalogs already arriving in the mail, it's hard not to begin thinking about gift-giving, travel plans...and food!

Yes, there's something extra-special about those savory holiday meals. What beasts Turkeythe taste--and not to mention the aroma--of juicy roast turkey, stuffing, rolls and green bean casserole? And for dessert, how about a big slice of pumpkin pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side? It's literally food for thought. And it's also a reminder about an essential life lesson with Biblical implications: One simple ingredient can make all the difference.

For example, substituting baking soda for baking powder turns what would be a delicious cake into an inedible nightmare. And if you forget to add the 1000 Island dressing to a Reuben sandwich, you end up with a mouthful of salty corned beef, bland stringy cheese and lip-puckeringly sour sauerkraut. (It's the dressing that makes the Reuben a delicatessen masterpiece!)

Likewise, it takes just the right spiritual ingredients for Christ-followers to live life the way God intends it. And what's the recipe? The Scriptures tell us it's one part unity with other Christ-followers mixed with a measure of regular prayer and Bible study. Then blend in a heaping helping of discernment--the ongoing intentional functions of living, thinking and acting constructively. (It's all about habitually looking for the good and dwelling on the positive.) Place this mixture into a hot oven of daily circumstances, trials and crises, and the result is a rich life seasoned by a demonstrable willingness to serve others.

Christ-followers are called to be Jesus' hands and feet on earth while we wait for His return--or that day when He calls us back home (whichever comes first). Until then, God wants us to help prepare His Kingdom by making the most of the different gifts and talents He's given each follower. And it's by adopting a lifestyle of service that we'll become more like our Teacher, Jesus. "In the same way, the Son of Man did not come to be served," Jesus explains. "He came to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many people."   

When we follow Jesus' example of service, it's not about us. Instead, it's really about Him and His creation. So as Christ-followers, let's turn our faith into action by accepting Jesus' invitation to help brighten a dark, dying world that's so much in need of guidance, truth and love.

Are you ready to try out God's never-fail recipe for finding your purpose in life through service to others? The proof, as they say, is in the pudding! 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Believe It or Not

Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

-- John 11:25-26 

Let's say you're planning to make a big purchase. Maybe it's for a new car, a computer, a smart phone...or even a cruise. Whatever it is, you've got a big decision to make. And there are plenty of choices.

If you're like most folks these days, the Internet is your next stop. With just a few clicks of the mouse, you can find dozens of websites featuring helpful information about virtually any product. Many sites even feature reviews from experts. If you want to compare a Nikon camera's white balance and exposure compensation ratings with comparable Canon and Sony models, that information is easy to find.

Even more helpful are those websites that feature comments from consumers. Their observations can be particularly helpful because they tend to cover the product's pros and cons without the manufacturers' marketing spin and hype. That glossy brochure might rave about a fancy computer's speed and futuristic design. But if a few actual owners write that this same computer is prone to system crashes and viruses, you'll probably start looking for a better option. The lesson here is that taking advice from those who know can help you avoid making costly mistakes.

If this principle holds true for microwave ovens and hybrid automobiles, how much more does it hold for things of eternal significance--like the existence of heaven and hell? If heaven exists, how can you get there? And what's the surefire way to avoid hell?

Ask these same questions to 20 people on the street, and you'll likely get a similar number of different answers. But God doesn't want His people to be confused. So He personally came to Earth through His Son, Jesus, to live a perfect life and reveal how we're all to live both for both the day and for eternity. Several of those who traveled with Jesus throughout His 3-year-long ministry wrote about their own personal experiences and how Christ really is who He claimed to be. They personally saw His miracles and documented how He raised people from the dead, healed the sick and made the blind see.

Luke, the physician who wrote Luke's Gospel and the Book of Acts, also wanted the real scoop about the Savior. So he interviewed the people who knew Jesus best and could attest to His authenticity. Let's consider the opening passage of Luke's first book:

"Many people have tried to tell the story of what God has done among us. They wrote what we had been told by the ones who were there in the beginning and saw what happened. So I made a careful study of everything and then decided to write and tell you exactly what took place. ... I have done this to let you know the truth about what you have heard."

The Apostle Peter also reassured some of the faith's earliest believers with his own testimony:

"When we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, we were not telling just clever stories that someone invented," he reported. "But we saw the greatness of Jesus with our own eyes."

Do you ever wonder if you can really believe what the Bible says about Jesus? Is all that stuff about Him rising from the dead really true? And if it is, how should it make a difference in the way you live? These are vitally-important questions. So why not take it from the folks who saw it, wrote about it and shared their testimony with the world?

They're the experts--the folks with the personal experience and unique insight about God's plan His creation: the authors of the Gospels.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Cola Wars

"But if you don't want to serve the Lord, you must choose for yourselves today whom you will serve. You may serve the gods that your ancestors worshiped when they lived on the other side of the Euphrates River, or you may serve the gods of the Amorites who lived in this land. As for me and my family, we will serve the Lord."
-- Joshua 24:15 

We live in a land of choices. And back in the 1970s and 80s, Coca-Cola and Pepsi were engaged in an intense conflict to help the American public choose its favorite soft drink. The press dubbed the companies' marketing efforts The Cola Wars. And which company emerged victorious depends on who you ask.

The Pepsi Challenge was probably Soft drinks the best known battle of the conflict. This was a series of TV commercials depicting head-to-head taste test comparisons between the two colas. Time after time, Pepsi was the people's choice. And within a few years, Pepsi's sales overtook Coke's, which lead to one of the greatest marketing blunders of all time: the reformulation of tried-and-true Coca-Cola into a different-tasting beverage called New Coke.

After plummeting sales and more than 400,000 letters of complaint, Coke's executives admitted their mistake, reintroduced the beverage's original formula (now called Coca-Cola Classic) and eventually won back their market share. Today, Coke enjoys about a 17% market share--followed by another 9.4% share for Diet Coke. Pepsi trails in third place with 8.9%.

Not a cola drinker? You still have plenty of soft drink choices including 7Up, Dr. Pepper, Sprite and Orange Nehi. Likewise, there are also plenty of choices when it comes to religion. Like the sandwich items posted on a fast-food menu board, there's something out there to fit everyone's tastes and preferences. And people seem to like that. For many, which religion you choose doesn't matter so long as you're sincere in your beliefs and it makes you happy. They say it's all relative and that we're all worshiping the same god anyway.

But are we really? The Bible records that Jesus made some startling bottom-line claims that contradict the popular beliefs of our culture. What's more, He also backed them up. First, the Bible predicted Jesus' arrival centuries before it happened. And in the Savior'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 of the wrongs of the world. His Resurrection from the grave--just as He predicted it--proved His ultimate power over death. And 2,000 years later, Jesus' words continue to change lives and make an eternal difference in the world.

So here's the question: Is Jesus really the only way to God? The short answer is...YES! Jesus said that no one can come to the Father (God) except through Him. But it's a claim that makes many people uncomfortable. After all, it's a claim of exclusivity--and it's a claim that some brand as "intolerant."

The reality is that Jesus' death and resurrection make it possible for anyone who accepts God's free gift to have eternal life! Nobody who wants a new life through Jesus is turned away. And unlike man-made religions, the way to God isn't about keeping certain rules, saying special prayers or eating (or not eating) particular foods. Instead, being a Christ-follower is about having a personal relationship with Jesus, accepting what He's already accomplished--and letting Him live through you.

Religions are mostly about "do." But Jesus is about "already done." So to paraphrase one of Coke's famous slogans from The Soda Wars, He's The Real Thing.   

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Dirty Laundry

Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from all your uncleanness and your idols.

-- Ezekiel 36:25 
Cleanliness is next to Godliness.

You won't find this familiar saying anywhere in the Bible. But many people believe it's the Gospel truth. LaundryWe start or end most days with a hot shower or bath. We stock our bathrooms with antibacterial soaps. And we buy costly laundry detergents and bleaches promising brilliant whites and vivid colors. It all adds up to a soap and detergent industry involving hundreds of companies with combined annual revenues of about $20 billion.

Cleanliness is also part of our popular culture. Mr. Clean has been a recognized Proctor and Gamble icon for more than 50 years. Ivory Soap--famous for more than a century--promotes itself as 99 44/100% Pure. There's even a popular Tide race car on the NASCAR circuit.

Our desire to stay clean seems to be hard-wired into our DNA. But this intense longing covers much more than our face and hands. We also want to be just as clean on the inside. That means a clean heart, a clean conscience and a clean spirit. And what we want most is a clean start in life.

But from the earliest chapters of the Bible, we read that mankind chose to turn its back on God and do its own thing. We decided to live our lives on our own terms and ignore the One who made us, knows us and loves us. And by disobeying God, we destroyed our perfect environment and became soiled with a black spot on our souls that the strongest detergent can never remove.

"Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin," pleaded King David, the one who was called "a man after God's own heart." It's this same plea that we should offer up to God every day.

The good news is that God long ago responded to our helplessness in a most miraculous way. But it wasn't by devising some sort of payment plan for all the damage we've done to our own lives and to others. The price was much too high for that.

Instead, God decided to pay the price Himself through the death of His only Son, Jesus Christ. And as predicted centuries earlier in the Old Testament, He came to Earth in the form of a helpless infant, grew up and lived a faultless, sin-free life, and was unjustly executed for crimes He didn't commit.

It was all so grossly unfair because Jesus was without fault. But there was no other way to fully pay the penalty that we alone deserve. Jesus was more than a teacher, more than a king...and certainly more than a man. He was the perfect sacrifice who came to earth to make us right with God. So when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, God sees us as He sees His own Son: One who is blameless and spotless. All we have to do is accept this free--and incredibly generous--gift of grace.

"I, the LORD, invite you to come and talk it over," says God in the Book of Isaiah. "Your sins are scarlet red, but they will be whiter than snow or wool."

It's time to come clean with God. Are you ready?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Better Days Ahead

Jesus said to his followers, "Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?"
-- Mark 4:40 
"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

It's been about 2,000 years since Jesus' sunrisefirst disciples heard these great words of truth and wisdom. And aren't they just as relevant to modern-day Christ-followers? Turn on the TV and surf the Web, and just try to avoid the never-ending news coverage of political scandals, the economy and unemployment. And let's not forget earthquakes, hurricanes and unrest in the Middle East.

The point is that there are always storms of one kind or another. And there's no escape--even after you've switched off the TV, folded the newspaper and logged off the computer. For some folks, a storm might mean a job loss or bankruptcy. For others, it's a chronic illness or the prospect of major surgery. Maybe your trouble involves family or relationship issues like a divorce or the loss of a loved one.

The question is obvious. Does God really care about our personal hurricanes and flash floods? After all, the waters are choppy and the skies are dark and threatening.

Under such gloomy circumstances, let's remember that we worship a God who's much greater than any natural disaster, economic difficulty or international dispute. Ours is a God who literally spoke the universe into creation, formed great mountain ranges with His hands and parted the seas with a breath. And with just a word, he calmed the choppy waters of Lake Galilee that had threatened to drown his small band of followers.

"Is anything too hard for the Lord?" asks the writer of Genesis, the first book of the Bible.

Let's take God at His Word when He tells us that through life's turmoil, He works for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose. But let's also keep in mind that we're not exempt from personal storms once we turn our lives over to Jesus and become Christ-followers. What does change is that we gain access to a Power that helps us endure any difficulty--trivial or immense. Likewise, we also become beneficiaries of an eternal inheritance that will make our current troubles fade into oblivion. The storms that seem so great today will become laughably insignificant tomorrow.

Now consider one of the Old Testament's most famous passages to help us put our troubles and concerns into much-needed perspective:

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

In one form or another, the storms of life surround every one of us. The lightning flashes and the thunder rumbles. But as Christ-followers, there's no reason to be afraid. Blue skies are on the horizon.