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.