Saturday, December 27, 2014

Elephants and Angels

Praise the Lord, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word.

-- Psalm 103:20

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 Elephantmuscular trunk. The second man grasped the elephant's boney tale. And the third man--moving his hands across the beast's rugged hide--marveled at its rough exterior. Needless to say, their impressions about the mysterious object were way off the mark. A 10,000-pound elephant was right in front of them. But they failed to see the big picture.

Many people these days also miss the big picture when it comes to spiritual matters. And that's even true for some long-time Christ-followers. So to correct this common vision problem, God has throughout history communicated His message through prophets, the Bible, the Holy Spirit and of course His Son, Jesus.

God also uses angels to spread the word. These are His special messengers that can appear to you and me, remain invisible or communicate to us in dreams. The Bible actually advises us to be hospitable at all times because we might be entertaining angels without even knowing it. What a get-together that would be!

But God's messages through angels are more than the stuff of cocktail party conversation; His are words that change history. In the Book of Matthew, angels revealed to Mary that she would soon give birth to the Savior of mankind. The angels confirmed to Joseph (Mary's fiancé) that the Holy Spirit was indeed the source of her pregnancy. And angels celebrated the Good News of Jesus' birth to the shepherds, who had seen the brilliant guiding star as it hovered over the manger in Bethlehem.

It's through revelation, confirmation and celebration that God heals spiritual blindness--and not just 2,000 years ago in an obscure village somewhere in the Middle East. As 2015 approaches, His big picture message continues to unfold to the world, and often through Christ-followers like you and me.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Running on Empty

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

-- Matthew 11:28-30
We can learn a lot about ourselves by watching television. But not from the evening news, situation comedies or even historical documentaries. How about tuning in to Animal Planet?

Animal Planet's camera crews often find themselves in Africa filming lions and cheetahs stalking their next meal. And gazelles or some other cute animal are on the big cats' menu. Invariably, the gazelles gather by a muddy watering hole in search of refreshment as a hungry feline sneaks up from behind. But at the slightest rustle of Runnersgrass, the gazelles bound off to save themselves from certain death. It seems like they can never settle down and find peace.

Like the gazelles, we too can run into difficulty with finding places of refuge. And we also don't know who to trust. It's a jungle out there, with predators behind every tree and bush. Translated into the human experience, we all to some extent have trouble forming relationships with each other and with our Creator. The reason is one of the oldest in history. It's called sin.

If you go way back to Genesis--the first book of the Bible--God placed the first man and woman in a perfect, care-free existence called Eden. There were no job deadlines, traffic jams, illnesses or broken marriages. It was a place where God literally walked with His creation. But when the man and woman intentionally disobeyed God's instructions and sinned, things were never the same. Adam and Eve's eyes were opened and they realized the damage they had done. And then they literally hid from their Creator. Their sin had built a wall between them and God.

We're no different today. In addition to our own sins, we also evade relationships with others because of what they've done to us. We're determined to avoid being disappointed or hurt again. It's too easy to be let down, and it's even easier to run. However, the problem with this perspective is that God made us to be in relationship with Him and with others. So when we run, we shortchange our potential.

The Good News is that God has a two-fold solution to the problem. First, He re-established a relationship between Him and us through His Son, Jesus. As Christ-followers, we're literally God's sons and daughters--and with an incredible inheritance awaiting us. Second, there's the Church, which is the entire body of Believers from across the globe. It's a group of imperfect people just like you and me who are all looking for the same thing: a safe place to rest from the world, heal our spiritual wounds and catch our breath.

Are you tired of running? Then come on inside and accept Jesus' offer of rest for the weary. There's plenty of room here at the inn.  

Saturday, December 13, 2014


Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

-- John 14:6

Have you already had your fill of the holidays? The decorations went up in many stores before Halloween and the songs have been on the radio for weeks. So now that Christmas is actually just a few days away, it's a good time to consider what--or really Who--we will celebrate on December 25.
It comes down to the radical notion Partythat God loves His people so much that He sent His only Son to personally pay for the mess we've all made of our lives and a once unspoiled creation. With this immense price now cleared from our individual accounts, every Believer, through faith in Jesus, is free to serve as His hands and feet throughout the community and even the world. It's a universal body of Christ-followers sent to testify that it's nothing less than The Church on the Move.

So how has the church done on this mission over the last 2,000 years? The story goes that a missionary once asked Mahatma Gandhi--the pacifist Hindu leader called The Father of India--why he so often quoted Jesus but refused to become His follower.

"Oh, I don't reject your Christ. I love your Christ," replied Gandhi. "It's just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ."

Yes, we Christ-followers find ourselves in a predicament...and in the cross-hairs for criticism. Relativism rules America these days, and what's obviously right or wrong is no longer considered so black or white. Popular culture vilifies those who believe in Jesus and His teachings. And those who dare to point out our nation's retreat from God are called bigots and hate-merchants.

The world really is upside down. For many celebrities, musicians and sports stars, breaking the law or embracing immorality is just a career move. But if a Christ-follower--real or in name only--slips up and does something wrong, the word hypocrite soon appears on social media.

It should come as no surprise. After all, Christ-followers indeed hold some narrow and politically incorrect beliefs. One is that Jesus is the only way to God. Ultimately, the world's false philosophies and religions fall far short of His standards. And it's Good News that the world can't tolerate.

"Woe to those who call evil good and good evil," responds God, "who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter."

As we look forward to marking Jesus' birth on December 25, let's all strive to be salt and light for a world that's in dire need of guidance, truth and character. So many are watching us, and they're understandably skeptical. May it be that every Christ-follower celebrates The One through changed lives revealing love in action! 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Walking in Our Shoes

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 no doubt reminded you that you just don't understand.

As a humble parent, you're told that you're hopelessly 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 also once Footprintsa 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.

With this in mind, do you ever wonder if God really understands all of the problems and trials you face every day? The familiar Christmas story 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 did it have to be that way? 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 gives us free will and won't 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. Fully God and fully human, He walked in our shoes.

Jesus was born into poverty. And throughout His ministry, the religious elite despised Him and cursed Him, even though He was the Son of God. Soon, He would die in a most painful and unjust way--nailed to a cross between common criminals.

The circle of humility was complete. But by coming to earth, experiencing mankind's struggles and then suffering for all of us, God lived out the human experience and got to know each of us just a little bit better.

It was the only way He could really understand.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Complaint Department

I know what it is to be poor or to have plenty, and I have lived under all kinds of conditions. I know what it means to be full or to be hungry, to have too much or too little.

-- Philippians 4:12

The Old Testament book of Exodus is where we read about God's plan for leading the Israelites to the Promised Land after freeing them from slavery in Egypt. But instead of taking them on the shortest route to their destination, God made His people wander in the desert wilderness for 40 years.

Have you noticed that God takes us on detours rather than the most direct path in our walk of faith? That's because He's more concerned with who we're becoming than where we're going. But when we can't see what's over the hilltop or around the bend, things don't make much sense to us. In fact, we might think that our situation is unfair. However, what would our journey be like if the road of life were always wide and smooth? And what would happen if we never had to work for anything worthwhile? For example, would it mean anything if we got straight A's in school without ever having to study? Or what if we were given a high-paying job with an impressive title...but had no real responsibilities to go with it?

Receiving everything on a silver platter might be nice for a while. But without experiencing challenges, responsibilities and even tragedies, we would quickly become lazy, self-centered and ultimately fail to reap some of life's greatest rewards. Just ask anyone who has worked their way through college or taken a second or third job to pay the mortgage--or send their child to a better school. It can be a real struggle. But it can also pay off in the long run.

The Apostle Paul knew a thing or two about enduring tough times along the journey:

"Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea," he wrote in 2 Corinthians. "I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers."

If anyone had something to complain to God about, it was Paul. Yet his heart was full of thanksgiving and joy. But this wasn't a reaction to something external--like landing a dream job or tickets to the Super Bowl. Instead, Paul could see the true picture though the most difficult of circumstances.

Looking back now to Exodus, we read that the Israelites grumbled constantly about many things, even after God had freed them from their back-breaking existence in Egypt. Thousands of years later, not much has changed for modern-day believers of the same loving Creator. After all, complaining--justified or otherwise--seems to be part of the human experience. But Christ-followers should know better. We can give thanks that all of our wrongdoings in life have been wiped clean through our faith in Jesus Christ. God remembers them no more. And a blessed future as literal sons and daughters of The King awaits us at the finish line! 

The road of life is often narrow, winding and difficult. But regardless of the detours we face along the way, let's never forget to give thanks.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Talking with God

Stay awake and pray for strength against temptation. The spirit wants to do what is right, but the body is weak."

-- Matthew 26:41

We read in Luke's Gospel that one day Jesus was praying in a certain place. After He had finished, one of His disciples made a simple--yet profound--request that Christ-followers remember to this day.

"Lord," the follower began. "Teach us to pray, just as John (the Baptist) taught his disciples."

Jesus' famous response is what Prayer2we know today as The Lord's Prayer:

"When you pray, say: Father, help us to honor your name. Come and set up your kingdom. Give us each day the food we need. Forgive our sins, as we forgive everyone who has done wrong to us. And keep us from being tempted."

Jesus wasn't teaching His followers some magic formula to make God grant their wishes. Instead, He was modeling an intimate, ongoing conversation with His Father. And the religious leaders of the time were highly offended by the notion. "After all," they said, "Who dares go before God but our High Priest?"

The answer, of course, was much closer to them than they could imagine.

Jesus also taught His 1st Century disciples that He could do only what he saw His Father doing. That's a reminder to 21st Century Christ-followers that to do God's will in our communities--and the entire world for that matter--we need to be in constant conversation with Him. Through ongoing prayer, our hearts, wills and vision become closer to the Father's. And His ways become our ways.

Prayer evokes different images to different people. If you grew up attending a traditional church, you might recall kneeling on pews (with eyes closed and heads bowed) between the sermon and the choir's stirring rendition of How Great Thou Art. To others, prayer is something done aloud with hands outstretched and eyes looking skyward. But Jesus' lesson to us is that prayer boils down to the simple act of talking with God. And it's a remarkable concept. The Creator of the Universe--the One Who knows the number of hairs on our heads--wants a personal relationship with you and me!

In these dark days marked by distant wars, economic uncertainties and infectious diseases, it's reassuring to know that every Christ-follower has a direct line to the Father.

"I was in terrible trouble when I called out to you," wrote the Psalmist. "But from your temple you heard me and answered my prayer."

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Recipe for Joy

Go to the flock and get me two healthy young goats so I can prepare them as the delicious food your father loves.

-- Genesis 27:9  
The H.B. Reese Candy Company is a subsidiary of Hershey Chocolate Corporation and the holder of the best-selling candy brand in the United States. Best known for its peanut butter cups, Reese produced a series of TV commercials in the 1970's and 80's depicting unlikely situations where a chocolate bar would become embedded in a jar of peanut butter. "You got your chocolate in my peanut butter!" exclaimed Candythe peanut butter lover after his collision with the equally careless owner of the chocolate bar. "No," his adversary responded, "you got your peanut butter on my chocolate."

Both parties then took bites of the peanut butter-smeared chocolate bar, exchanged knowing glances and nodded in approval. For them, this accidental mixture of two simple ingredients had turned into a recipe for sweet, tasty joy.

A similar principle applies to our journey as Christ-followers. That's because we need certain ingredients in our faith-walk to experience the joy-filled life that our Creator desires for us. But before we look at that, let's define the word joy by explaining what it's NOT.

First, joy isn't the result of a particular action like buying a car, getting a job or receiving jewelry. Those are nice and can make us happy (for a while), but they're external made-made things that have little to do with authentic joy. Instead, joy is an internal source of gladness and thanksgiving that helps us persevere though the most difficult of circumstances. As Christ-followers, our relationship with Jesus grants us literal access to our Creator--a loving Father who hears our prayers and looks for ways to bless us. So no matter how bad things get for us, we can rest assured that ultimately, our story will end on a very positive note. And that's something to feel joyful about.
Nothing can bring us down when we're filled with joy. The Apostle Paul, perhaps Christ's greatest follower, spent years in prison chained to his guards while under constant threat of execution. But he always prayed with a spirit of thanksgiving. And instead of feeling sorry for himself, he used his circumstances joyously to change the lives of fellow prisoners and his jailers alike--and all while writing much of what we today know as the New Testament.

What's the recipe for a joy-filled, Christ-centered life? The Bible tells us that it's one part unity with other Christ-followers and a measure of regular prayer. Then mix it well with 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.

Want to cook up some tasty joy in your life? The right ingredients make all the difference.

Saturday, November 8, 2014


But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
-- 1 Peter 2:9  

We live in a nation that's blessed with choices. Need a cell phone? There are dozens of companies offering feature-packed devices from Apple, Samsung, Nokia and a multitude of other manufacturers. Well-stocked supermarkets have 10 or more brands of bottled water on the shelves. And the local Cineplex shows movies for everyone's taste--from cartoons to romantic comedies to horror flicks. And while you're driving to your favorite shopping mall (the one with more than 100 different stores), try counting all the makes and models of cars in the parking lot.

Yes, Americans like to sing the praises Praiseof choice. So it should be no surprise that we also have options for religion. Like the sandwiches displayed on a fast-food menu board, there's something for every taste and preference. What's more, many who consider themselves "spiritual" will assure you that which religion you choose doesn't really matter--just so long as you're sincere in your beliefs and it makes you happy. After all, one person's truth isn't someone else's. It's all relative. And we're all worshiping the same god. Right?

Not really! Jesus made some startling claims that clearly oppose the easy-going beliefs of our modern-day culture. And He also backed them up. For example, the Bible accurately predicted Jesus' birth--even the name of the tiny village where it would happen--centuries before the fact. And in Christ'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 the wrongs of the world. His Resurrection from the grave--just as He predicted--proved His ultimate power over death. And 2,000 years later, Jesus' words continue to change lives and make an eternal difference.

"I am the vine; you are the branches," we read in John's Gospel. "If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."

Many people--even those who aren't Christ-followers--agree that Jesus was a "good" man and a "wise" teacher. But the hot-button question is whether or not He's really the only way to God. The short answer is...YES! Jesus declares that no one can come to the Father (God) except through Him. Of course, that's a claim that makes people uncomfortable these days. It's a claim of exclusivity. And many call it intolerant.

Or maybe it's not quite so exclusive after all. Jesus' death and Resurrection make it possible for anyone who accepts God's free gift to have eternal life! No one 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 already accomplished and letting Him live through us.

By some counts, there are today about 20 different major world religions...and not to mention thousands of related beliefs and their offshoots. And they all have something in common: their emphasis on doing. But Christianity--the simple faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior--is instead about what's already been done. We can't earn our salvation or perform enough good deeds to earn our way to God's favor. Christ has already taken care of it--and paid it in-full on the cross. All we need to do is come to Him in faith.  

"It is finished!" Jesus proclaimed as He hung from the cross. And it is worthy of our praise.  

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Solitary Confinement

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

-- Revelation 21:4 

It was a place of suffering known to this day as The Rock.

It's Alcatraz, the infamous maximum security prison situated in the midst of San Francisco Bay. Originally a pre-Civil War era military outpost and later a military prison, Alcatraz was the last stop for society's worst-of-the-worst when it re-opened in 1934 as an escape-proof penitentiary.

The Rock's ultra-strict code of discipline Jailhelped the facility earn its nickname "Hellcatraz." In its infamous "D" block, prisoners lived in 4' x 8' cells and were allowed out just once a week for a 10-minute shower. "Harsher punishments," reports the Legends of America website, included "solitary confinement, in total darkness, for days without any release, or confinement in the dreaded steel boxes."

Alcatraz finally closed its doors in 1963. But today there are still millions of Americans suffering in solitary confinement. Not in a prison or jail--but through loneliness. Even in a crowded nation of more than 300 million, too many people are on their own without close friends or family. They know all too well that it's possible to be lonely without ever being alone.  

This was never God's plan for His people. But we all to some extent have trouble forming relationships--with each other and with God. If you go back to Genesis, the first book of the Bible, God put the first man and woman in a perfect, carefree existence called Eden. There were no job deadlines, traffic jams, illnesses or broken marriages. And it was a place where God literally walked with His creation. But when the man and woman intentionally disobeyed God's instructions and sinned, things were never the same. Adam and Eve's eyes were opened and they realized the damage they had done. And then they literally hid from their Creator. Their sin had built a wall between them and God.

We're no different today. In addition to our own sins, we also run from relationships because of what others have done to us. We're determined to avoid being disappointed or hurt again. It's too easy to be let down. And it's much easier to run.

The good news is that God has a two-fold solution to this problem. First, He re-established a relationship between Him and us through His Son, Jesus. As Christ-followers, we're literally God's sons and daughters. And there's an incredible inheritance awaiting us. Second, there's the Church, which is made of all the Christ-followers around the world. It's a body of imperfect people like you and me who are all looking for the same thing: a safe place to rest from the world, heal our spiritual wounds and make lifelong relationships.

Are you in a place of suffering? You're never alone in Christ. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Instant Replay

I, I am the One who erases all your sins, for my sake;
       I will not remember your sins.

-- Isaiah 43:25

There are few do-overs in the game of life. But sometimes there are in the game of golf. For example, if a golfer slices his shot into the woods or a deep sand trap, he might ask his opponent for a mulligan--a chance to try again.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could get a mulligan every time we fail in life? Like for the times we speak rudely to a family member or cut off another motorist in traffic. Or when we gossip about someone at church or "forget" to report some income on our tax forms. Better still, what about a do-over for that night (20 years ago) when we shoplifted on a dare from a friend? Big or small, our failures in life can weigh heavy on our hearts. We just can't stop thinking about them and all of the "would-haves-should-haves."

If we could only erase those ugly moments in time and start over with a clean slate! Yes, every one of us can use a few mulligans.

The Apostle Peter understood this common desire. Although he was one of Jesus' earliest apostles, witnessed his Master's miracles and even walked on water--until his faith ran out--the bold one called The Rock failed the big test. Peter had earlier assured Jesus that he would stand by Him no matter what...and even die if necessary. But only hours after Jesus' betrayal and arrest, Peter denied even knowing Jesus. And not just once...but three times!

That's pretty sobering stuff. But the good news for us is that God is well aware that "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." We can find His solution to this universal problem throughout the Bible.

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness," we read in 1 John. And this passage from Proverbs lends us even more reassurance: "He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy."

A popular bumper sticker sums it all up. "Christians aren't perfect..." it reads, "just forgiven." It's when we desperately need a mulligan to cover our failures--whether on or off the golf course--that we can always count on God's undeserved kindness. We just need to confess our shortfalls to Jesus in faith.

The result is a clean scorecard: a complete and total do-over.

"How far has the Lord taken our sins from us?" the Psalmist asks. "Farther than the distance from east to west!"

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Keep the Change

Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely,
who conducts his affairs with justice.

-- Psalm 112:5
It's both a newsroom cliché and a sign that there's still some good left in the world.

Every once in a while we come across one of those feel-good stories about a customer who leaves an overly-generous tip for their waiter or waitress. This past ChangeApril, for example, The Daily Mail reported that a diner in Clinton, NJ, added a $1,000 tip to his $80 tab because he heard that the server (a fellow dog-lover) faced a huge vet bill after her pet swallowed a ball. And just a few years ago, another newspaper claimed that billionaire Donald Trump left a $10,000 tip on his $82 meal tab. 

"How you treat your waiter or waitress reveals a lot about your character," explains The Donald. "So don't forget to leave a big tip."

He calls this principle his Waiter Rule.

Whether Donald Trump's alleged dinnertime exploits were true or just another urban legend, his Waiter Rule is real food for thought. And there's also biblical support behind it. As Christ-followers, our faith grows as we continue to learn God's ways for living in the world and changing it for His Kingdom. It turns out that generosity is one of those remarkable character traits that we should acquire and put into action along the way. And this is particularly relevant since we modern-day Americans are all so very rich--at least when compared to most of the world's population. According to recent data from the World Bank, about 2 billion people live on less than $2 a day!

This statistic should put our individual financial situations--bleak or otherwise--into perspective. Millions of Americans may be unemployed, on welfare or receiving food stamps, but that still reflects incredible wealth against the backdrop of the poverty found in Africa, India or even Mexico. So how should we "millionaires" respond to this reality?

"Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment," the Apostle Paul told his protégé, Timothy. "Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share."

We can never out-give our Creator with our riches, even if our last name happens to be Trump. But we can positively impact our friends, neighbors and even total strangers through our generosity. It's a biblical Waiter Rule that not only brings joy to others, it brings joy to God.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

One for the Money

No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

-- Matthew 6:24 

The essence of being a Christ-follower is accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior. So rather than following the world's wisdom about life, relationships, possessions and money, Christ-followers see these things in a very different light. That's because our minds begin to transform as soon as we follow Jesus in earnest. What once seemed so valuable and desirable loses its luster and fades into oblivion. The world's silver and gold begins to rust.

If you're a Christ-follower, you've Money Keyaccepted God's offer to meet all of your needs in every area of your life. That covers deeply intimate issues involving significance, happiness, value and self-worth--and of course--our money and possessions. Unfortunately, too many of us depend on the size of our bank accounts, 401ks and stock portfolios for security. We struggle for years to build up a nest egg. But even when we make it to the top by the world's standards, the so-called victory turns out to be a worthless idol that gains us nothing once we leave this life.

As the saying goes, money is a fine servant but a terrible master. We start confusing our self-worth with our net worth. And it's then that we turn good but neutral things (money and possessions) into god things.

So who's the master of your money, time...and stuff?

It's a question with eternal implications. After all, what we do with our God-given resources is an ongoing test of how we put the True Master first in our lives. As Christ-followers, we're to recognize that ultimately, everything belongs to God. We're simply caretakers while we're here on earth. And no matter the size of our bank account, we can't take even a dime with us. We must therefore ask ourselves if we're spending our money on the world's definition of success or investing it where it will make an eternal difference.

Money and possessions aren't evil. It's only when we abuse them through bad choices and priorities that they can become a slave-master that pushes God aside. But Jesus has a better way. He sees these gifts as tools for helping other people, achieving justice and spreading His Kingdom here on earth. And besides, it's all His, anyway. So let's open ourselves to His will and use our God-given resources as He sees fit.

"Well done, good and faithful servant," Jesus says. "You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!"

May these be the words that greet us as we enter His Kingdom. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Generous Toward God

"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'

-- Matthew 25:23 

Compared with most of the world's population, Americans are incredibly rich. When we're hungry for a snack, all we have to do is walk to the kitchen for some fresh fruit--or more realistically--a bag of chips and a tub of Rocky Road ice cream. And if we're running low on supplies, a quick trip to the supermarket or gourmet shop fills up the fridge in no time. We quite literally enjoy an embarrassment of riches.

Even Americans who receive government Gift Cardassistance are rich by the world's standards because they may have excess time or money to share with others. However, regardless of our place on the economic ladder, Christ-followers are called to give richly because God continues to bless us with so much. 

But here's a secret: He really doesn't need our money.

That's something you won't hear in most church services. But since God can speak all creation into existence, part the sea with His hands and live among us in human form (through Jesus Christ), it's safe to assume that He doesn't need a large bank account or an American Express Gold Card to get things done.

So why for centuries have Christ-followers been called to be generous with their resources? First, God is the ultimate giver. And He wants us to be that way, too. Think about the many gifts He gives us every day. Our blessings vary, but they tend to include things like health, job, home, family, friends and church. And what about God's ultimate gift to us: forgiveness of our sins and an eternal relationship with Him through our faith in Jesus?

God also wants every Christ-follower to be a cheerful giver. But to do that, we must trust Him rather than our riches. After all, bank accounts and retirement funds can be wiped out overnight through unexpected circumstances and economic uncertainties. Just ask anyone with a 401k!

As the Apostle Paul explains it in 1 Timothy, giving back richly toward God and His purposes renders much more than just a warm feeling of self-satisfaction. Think of it as a guaranteed high yield investment with dividends you'll enjoy forever in the world to come. God challenges us to overturn our preconceived notions about money and finances. Through His design, giving richly becomes getting more:

"By doing that, they will be saving a treasure for themselves as a strong foundation for the future," Paul says. "Then they will be able to have the life that is true life."

It's every Christ-follower's mission to serve as God's hands and feet on earth by feeding the hungry, healing the sick and housing the homeless. So by making generosity a spiritual habit and thus being generous toward God, we'll become more like Him to help change our community for the better. Jesus sums up this principle through this reminder to us in Matthew 25:40:

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'"

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Storm Warning

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 

A recent Insurance Journal article makes the case that our nation spends an exorbitant amount of money responding to natural disasters, but comparatively little toward mitigating them. Indeed, the federal government has paid out about $1 trillion since 1983 on recovery and rebuilding efforts for hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires and other catastrophes. 

Senior-level insurance executives say Storm Warningthat we've now reached a fiscal tipping point on this matter and are now calling for a much greater emphasis on preparation. For example, they recommend better construction practices and stronger building materials so that homes and businesses can better withstand storm damage. Their logic is that we should invest now to avoid spending much more later.

It's a good argument. But no matter what preventive measures we take, disasters--whether natural or man-made--are bound to happen. They're often unpredictable. And there's no guarantee that we can actually save ourselves, our families or our belongings from the resulting devastation, even if we recognized the danger beforehand. Although that's true, there are warning signs of a much greater world-changing event that could strike in 100 years. Or it might happen tonight.

God promises us 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 Bible's prophesies about the matter have already been fulfilled, such as the relatively recent one about the rebirth of Israel.

Yes, Jesus could return at any time. And whether that's in five minutes or five centuries, we must be prepared for His arrival. What's more, nobody knows when their own time on Earth will be over. Check the news on the Internet, television or in the paper, and you're bound to find stories about people killed suddenly in accidents, during crimes or by illness (such as a stroke or heart attack). As with the victims of the horrendous 2004 tsunami that struck the Indonesian island of Sumatra, the end could (literally) come out of the blue.

So 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 us, "because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him."

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Rookie

But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD,
I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.

-- Micah 7:7

The 2002 movie The Rookie tells the story of Jim Morris--one of the oldest rookies in Major League Baseball history. Morris was a skilled pitcher in his youth, but his father disapproved of his Big League dreams and he was unable to play high school ball. Later, it looked like Morris had finally made it when he was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers. But it wasn't long before his aspirations were dashed by a severe shoulder injury.

Years passed, and Morris remained Baseballin the game through his role as head coach of a high school baseball team. He was married by now with a family of three children. And he still had his impressive 98-mph fastball. Morris' high school players recognized his potential and urged him to try out for the majors. And he did--but only after they lived up to their end of the bargain and won the district title. Morris proceeded to impress the scouts, sign a minor league contract and near season's end was called up to join the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Of course, as we should expect from any good sports movie, the rookie struck out the first batter he faced in three pitches.

Jim Morris' decades-long wait paid off with huge dividends. Such patience, however, is a rare commodity in today's age of modern conveniences. We live in a 24/7 world of instant communications, Walmart Supercenters and microwave popcorn. And just about anything we want is literally available at the tap of a smartphone or the click of a mouse. Meanwhile, multitasking to make the most of our down-time has become a valued life-skill. 

But waiting isn't always a waste. It's instead an essential part of God's plan for our lives: that process that enables us to become. This concept might be hard to grasp because the human viewpoint of time differs greatly from that of our Creator. The Apostle Peter puts it into perspective with these words to ponder: 

"But do not forget this one thing, dear friends. To the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as one day."

As Christ-followers, we must understand that what happens while we're waiting is often more important than what we're waiting for. Ask anyone who has spent grueling hours in a hospital waiting room contemplating the health and future of a loved one. Did their soul-searching experience bring a closer dependence on God? It's when we're so humbled and powerless that we realize we can do nothing on our own.

So maybe our never-stop, 24/7 world actually revolves around waiting. Let's therefore make the most of our time when we're called to be patient by seeking opportunities to say yes to Him with a sense of expectancy and hope.

"Be still, and know that I am God," He tells us through Psalm 46:10. "I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."