Sunday, February 24, 2013

Special Delivery

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

-- Jeremiah 29:11  
Before FedEx, UPS and E-mail, there was Special Delivery.

Between 1885 and 1997, the USPS (the "Post Office") offered this popular service, which involved a letter's delivery from the local branch office directly to the recipient (rather than through the mailman's regular daily mailbox route). And Special Delivery postage--not surprisingly--cost several times more than the price of a regular First Class stamp. After all, Special Delivery required a dedicated courier (sometimes on a bicycle or motorcycle) to hand-deliver the important message, which ensured its receipt by the right person...and at the right time. Special Delivery

What was so special about Special Delivery? 

Today, we live in an age of instant messaging, tweets, E-mail and Facebook. We can take a cell phone from our pocket and call almost anyone in the world at any time. But back in the days before jet airplanes and the Internet erased the miles between New York City, London and Tokyo, Special Delivery was the way to quickly spread the word about the big stuff--that critical life-changing news involving issues like marriage, birth, death or even a job offer.

As a flawed people who fall well-short of God's high standards of perfection, we also need a Special Delivery. And like the one once offered by the Post Office, its price is quite high. But our deliverance happens to be though God's own Son--Jesus--who paid the enormous cost of our failures and wrongdoings by dying a common criminal's death on cross. And then three days later, He fulfilled the Old Testament prophesies written about Him centuries earlier by rising again to life. Though this incredible act, everyone who accepts Jesus' free gift of salvation is a new creation ("born again") in God's eyes. We don't deserve it. But our faith in Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior wipes the slate clean and delivers us from death. We can live our lives anew and have an eternal future with our loving Creator.

The Apostle Paul sums it up this way in his famous letter to the Christ-followers in Rome: "But God has shown us how much he loves us--it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us!" 

The Post Office may have abandoned Special Delivery years ago, but God still specializes in this costly, prepaid service. And unlike the USPS, He's happy to deliver on nights, weekends and holidays.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Of Mice and Men

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.

-- John 16:33  
"The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray," wrote Scottish poet Robert Burns. And he was right. No matter how well we prepare, "stuff happens." And when it does, it can lead to disappointment. Just ask the Apple executives about their disastrous application ("app") known as Apple Maps.

Replacing Google Maps on Apple's much-anticipated iOS 6 operating system, Apple Maps was expected to be yet another useful feature on the wildly-popular iPhone and other devices. Instead, Apple Maps rapidly disappointed its users with a variety of remarkable glitches. For example, the app's 3D "flyover" feature displayed grotesquely distorted images of well-known landmarks. Apple Maps also offered wrong locations for well-known addresses. And famous monuments--even entire cities--seemingly evaporated from existence.
Apple Logo

It's safe to say that just about everyone who's ever walked this planet has wondered why God allows life's disappointments. We reason that if He's all-powerful, He could and should) prevent them. But consider that God's mysteries extend far beyond the human experience and into the wonders of nature. For instance, how can an awkward caterpillar gorge itself with leaves, spin a cocoon around itself and later emerge as a beautiful butterfly? And how can a tiny acorn grow into a mighty 80-foot oak?

The principle here is the same. Whether the unexplainable involves a tragedy or creation, we must remind ourselves that God's ways aren't our ways. Our human minds are much too limited to grasp the entirety of His greater purposes.

Our perspective is limited. But we're not totally in the dark here. God's word to us--the Bible--gives us several clues. First, we live in an imperfect world where bad things can happen. Ever since Adam and Eve first disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, perfection on Earth has been spoiled. And this was soon followed by the first murder: a cold-blooded attack on one family member by another.

Have things really changed since then?

Our own bad choices are another reason for disappointment, pain and suffering. For example, if someone chooses to get drunk and then gets behind the wheel, tragedy often follows. But that's hardly God's fault. We instead reap from the foolishness we sow.

As depressing as this all may be, remember that we worship a God who specializes in turning seemingly bad situations into remarkable endings. Consider someone who gets laid off from a job, only to find a much better one in a different city--and with better pay--in an industry he or she had never previously considered. If it weren't for the "tragedy" of unemployment, he or she might have become stuck in a boring, dead end job with no future. God (as always) know bests!

Finally, God often turns disappointment into a tool for good by using it to discipline and mature us. Are we ever the same after experiencing a major illness or family tragedy? It's through adversity that we draw closer to God and depend on His help. And He can even use our suffering as a witness to others. If you're a Christ-follower faced with a God-sized situation, where you place your faith speak volumes to others.

Yes, our lives can be filled with heartache. But God never promised us a pain-free existence. In fact, Jesus told His disciples to expect trouble. But let's take comfort that we worship a "Big Picture" God--One who sees beyond our limited scope to turn even the greatest disappointments into the greater good. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Good as Gold

The Good News shows how God makes people right with himself--that it begins and ends with faith. As the Scripture says, "But those who are right with God will live by faith."

-- Romans 1:17  
In 2001, an ounce of gold cost less than $260. But just a dozen years later, that same ounce of precious metal goes for more than $1,600. 

Why the difference?

With the headlines dominated by multi-trillion-dollar budget deficits, bankruptcies and foreclosures, many people have lost faith in what they once considered rock-solid. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) claims that it covers each depositor to at least $250,000 in insured U.S. banks. But 51 banks still failed in 2012. And with the unemployment rate and cost of living stubbornly high--and government spending out of control--many people have put their faith in gold and other precious metals to protect their wealth. They reason that economic crises come and go, but gold has always held at least some value. What's more, nations like China and Russia are dumping their dollars in favor of golden stability. So the price of gold has risen with its growing demand.

If it's not in our government or banking system, where can you put your faith these days? But before answering that, let's first consider what faith is. The Bible defines faith as "confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." And along our journey as Christ-followers, faith plays out in several ways: obeying God when we don't know where we're going, believing God against all hope...and trusting Him--even when the circumstances don't make sense.

And the circumstances don't make a lot of sense these days. Millions are facing unemployment or bankruptcy. For others, it's a chronic illness or the prospect of major surgery. Maybe your circumstances involve family or relationship issues like a divorce or the loss of a loved one.

In such an unstable and unforgiving world, we need to remind ourselves that we worship a God who's much greater than any economic reversal, natural disaster or political 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 life's circumstances, He works for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose. We're not exempt from personal storms once we turn our lives over to Jesus and become His followers. But what does change is that we gain access to a Power Who helps us endure any difficulty--great or small.

Although it's hard to be confident in very much these days, let's remember that the problems that seem so great today will become laughably insignificant tomorrow. Until then, all our Savior asks is that we have a little faith.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

DIY Disasters

In his pride the wicked man does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.

-- Psalm 10:4  
Do you like to DIY (Do-It-Yourself)?  

If so, you're certainly not alone. According to the Home Improvement Research Institute (yes, there really is such an organization!), home improvement product sales at retailers like Home Depot and Lowes amounted to about $274 billion in 2012. And for good reason. From building a backyard deck to installing indoor lighting, consumers can save thousands of dollars doing their home improvement or repair projects themselves rather than paying a licensed professional. Magazines, websites and even entire cable TV channels are devoted to showing DIYers how to do it right.

Of course, this all comes at a hefty price for the many would-be handymen and handywomen who discover that they're in over their heads...and then have to call in the pros to fix the mess. The This Old House website features a DIY Disaster section that chronicles the woes of homeowners who only thought they could do it themselves. One Colorado women wrote that because of her area's extremely-high property values, she decided to buy a condemned home for $160,000 just to get into the market. She thought she could afford to re-pour the house's foundation--but failed to calculate the additional cost of re-wiring, new duct-work and landscaping. And when the house was lifted for the foundation's repair, the back 300 square feet of the structure collapsed! In the end, the ambitious DIYer paid $12,000 to make her 2-bedroom house an uninhabitable 1-bedroom shack!

In many ways, this DIY disaster story has much in common with passages we find throughout Scripture. A recurring theme is that God has a grand vision for His people and a plan for achieving it. But mankind--through its arrogance and ignorance--decides it knows better than the Creator...and then sets out to do it itself.

Predictably, the results are both tragic and disastrous. In one of the Bible's earliest passages, we read that the devil convinced Adam and Eve that God was holding back from them and preventing them from reaching their true potential. Falling for Satan's lies, the first man and woman ate the fruit that their Creator had commanded them to avoid. Unintended consequences such as illness, crime, poverty and death have plagued mankind ever since.   

Yes, there are some relatively simple household tasks that we can do ourselves to save time and money. But for the larger, more important projects that we can't afford to foul up--whether they involve our homes or even our souls--it's always best to depend on a Pro.