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 app├ętit.  

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Bodybuilding

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.