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 fiancĂ©e) 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."