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.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Here Comes the Son

This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.
-- Luke 2:12 
If you have a teenager, he or she has probably reminded you more than once that you just don't understand.

As a humble parent, you'll learn that you're Mangerhopelessly out of touch when it comes to clothes, school, curfews and a hundred other things. But of course, you know a lot more than you're given credit for. You were once a teenager. And you probably said many of the same things to your own parents.

So, maybe you really do understand after all. At least a little bit.

Do you ever wonder if God really understands all of the problems and trials that you face every day? The familiar Christmas story as told in Luke's Gospel holds the answer. It's there that we read about Jesus coming into this world in the poorest of circumstances, with a manger--an animal's feeding trough--as His first bed.

But why was it like that? As the King's son, Jesus could have lived in marble palaces while enjoying only the finer things in life. And God could have commanded the people to worship and obey Him.

But it wouldn't have been the same. As our loving Father, God refuses to force anyone to accept His free gift of forgiveness and salvation. And since he knew from the beginning that men and women were without hope because of the way they lived their lives, God came to earth in the form of a man to live the perfect life. But not just any man: He came to live among us through Jesus Christ.

Jesus was also born into poverty. And throughout His ministry, the religious elite despised Him and cursed Him--even though He was the Son of God. Eventually, He would die in one of the most painful and humiliating ways possible--a public crucifixion with two common criminals.

"It is finished!" our Savior proclaimed as He hung from the cross. And then His mission here was complete. By coming to earth, experiencing mankind's struggles and then suffering for all of us, God got to know each of us just a little bit better.

It was the only way He could truly understand.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Operator Assistance

The Lord said to him: "I have heard the prayer and plea you have made before me; I have consecrated this temple, which you have built, by putting my Name there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there."

-- 1 Kings 9:3 
The world may be about 25,000 miles around, but it's also a very small place. We effortlessly send emails, texts, tweets and Facebook messages to friends and family members who live across town--or even across the ocean. And with long distance charges costing only a few cents a minute, we don't think twice about picking up the phone to chat.

It wasn't that long ago, however, Telephonethat making a long distance call was a big deal. The phone company's catchy TV commercials even invited you to "reach out and touch someone." Not only was calling long distance expensive, the caller first had to dial zero and ask the operator to place a person-to-person call.

It's safe to say that today's access to easy and affordable long distance communications is a privilege that we most likely take for granted. And as Christ-followers, we're also privileged when it comes to another type of communications: the ability to go to God in prayer about our blessings, troubles, concerns and everything else that's going on in our lives. It's an intimate conversation made possible through our faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.

This raises an important question: If we have such a unique relationship with the Creator, why is it that some of our prayers go unanswered? Indeed, there are times when even the most seasoned Christ-followers feel like their prayers go no higher than the ceiling.

Prayer really is a bit like a long distance phone call. Sometimes the signal comes in loud and clear--like the person is in the next room. But sometimes there's static...or the call doesn't go through at all.

Borrowing some cell phone lingo, there are several reasons for these dropped calls to God. First, we must make sure that the line is clear by dealing with any unconfessed sin in our lives. Likewise, if we're carrying a grudge against someone--perhaps a spouse, child or co-worker--it needs to be ironed out before we can expect God to listen to us.

Faith also plays a big part in prayer. If we pray but don't think God has the power or desire to deal with our problems, why even ask in the first place?

But what happens when we pray sincerely and with good intentions, and our prayers still go unanswered? What's important to remember is that God really does answer all prayers. It's just that sometimes, the answer is "no" or "not now." As the Creator of things past, present and future, God knows the big picture--the people, places and circumstances that make all the difference in the world to our situation. It's only later that we realize that God had a much better plan in mind for us all along.

That's news worth calling home about. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Chain Reaction

So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

-- Acts 6:7 

In 1914, Rube Goldberg began drawing his famous cartoon series that illustrated machines performing simple, mundane tasks in ridiculously intricate and tedious ways. For example, Goldberg's "Automatic Weight Reducing Machine" featured components including a doughnut, a bomb, a balloon--and a hot stove--to trap an obese person inside a food-proof prison. Once the prisoner had lost enough weight, he could wiggle through his cell's bars to freedom. 

By 1931, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary Dominoswas listing "Rube Goldberg" as an adjective defined as "accomplishing by complex means what seemingly could be done simply." Today, nearly a century after that first cartoon, Rube Goldberg contests are still held in school classrooms around the world to build imaginative machines that do just that.

There are some definite parallels between Goldberg's chain reaction fantasies and real God-inspired faith. For many Christ-followers, their journey toward belief was simple and mundane. They grew up in church, learned about Jesus and eventually embraced their need for a Savior. But for many other Believers, their story is much like a Rube Goldberg cartoon. So let's consider this scenario: 

She (or he) was born into a family that didn't go to church or have a Bible in the house. As an adult, she left town to find work in another state. That's where she met a co-worker of a non-Christian faith. Discussions about this co-worker's beliefs led the future Christ-follower to question her own values and purpose in life. And then while channel-surfing one Sunday morning, she came across a televised worship service where the pastor shared the Gospel message. This, in turn, brought about an "a-ha" moment, which led the new Seeker to find and join a Bible-preaching, faith-filled neighborhood church. 

The route here was anything but direct. But it was the one she took to begin her faith journey toward God.

A primary mission for our church--as well as for every Christ-follower in it--is to connect people to Jesus and to one another. Getting the ball rolling might be simple in some cases, such as by inviting a neighbor or sibling to a worship service. On the other hand, you might be a single gear of a complex Rube Goldberg machine by being in the right place, time and circumstance to interact with someone you've never met--and in a way you've never considered.

Either way, pray for God to use you in His spiritual chain reactions.