Saturday, March 29, 2014

As Seen On TV

What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?  

--  Matthew 16:26

Have a stubborn grass stain that won't come out? Try OxyClean. Do your gutters leak? Flex Seal is the revolutionary spray that's guaranteed to make them watertight. As Seen on TVAnd if you're looking for more ways to add smoky perfection to your diet, the Perfect Bacon Bowl is just the ticket.

Advertisers know that everyone wants easy solutions to common problems. So who can blame them for all of those late-night infomercials that promise to make your cares disappear for an amazing $19.99 (plus shipping and handling). Unfortunately, you tend to get what you pay for: cheap, often poorly-made products that rarely live up to the hype.

The adage still applies: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. But don't get too discouraged if your Q-Ray ionized bracelet doesn't re-magnetize your nervous system and bring you back to perfect health. There really IS a life-changing solution out there that exceeds all expectations. God's plan for salvation will remove the ugliest, hard-to-remove sins from anyone's soul. And the price is right:

It's FREE to anyone who asks in faith.

It's also the answer to a problem that's as old as mankind. The first few chapters of the Bible tell us how sin and death entered the human experience when Adam and Eve disobeyed God. The result was that the first man and woman were exiled from the perfect existence God had created for them. Ever since, we've all fallen far short of our Maker's perfect standards and are unworthy to approach Him through our own good deeds. So what should we expect in return?

"The wages of the righteous is life,"
we read in Proverbs, "but the earnings of the wicked are sin and death. 

This death isn't spiritual or symbolic. Rather, it's a literal, eternal existence in hell offering no hope of escape. But the choice is ours. If we refuse to follow God during our brief lifetime on earth, He won't force us. However, that also means we won't be with Him after we die. And it's forever too late at that point.

To the rescue comes perhaps the most famous passage 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 sounds so easy--and maybe even too good to be true. However, these simple words summarize God's perfect solution for delivering us from an eternity in hell and replacing it with a joyful existence with Him. The immense cost was also more than we could ever cover on our own. But through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the price was forever paid--and salvation for all is now just a prayer away.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Devil Is In the Details

The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." 
They are corrupt, and their ways are vile; there is no one who does good.

--  Psalm 53:1

Have you settled things with God?

No matter who you are--young or old, male or female--that's the question we face. Because one day, we're all going to leave this world, meet our Maker and answer to Him for the lives we led. We'll either die in faith or die in sin. But for Christ-followers, having faith in Jesus means there's nothing to fear. The Apostle Paul explained it this way:

"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering."

That's great news. But how great will it be for those who don't die in faith? Believe it or not, that's not an issue that concerns many people these days. The December 2013 Harris Poll revealed that only about 58% of American adults believe in hell while 68% have the same degree of certainty in heaven. And recent findings from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life rendered similar results, with 59% of Americans believing in hell and 74% in heaven.

Why such low numbers? According to Kurt Selles, director of the Global Center at Samford University's Beeson Divinity School, the real issue is a reluctance to portray Jesus Christ as the exclusive way to God. In two recent workshops held at the Beeson Pastors School, Selles asked the attendees if they had ever preached a sermon about hell.

"Nobody had," he reported.

Jesus, on the other hand, was not deterred by political correctness or the fear of offending others. "I am the way and the truth and the life," Christ told the people in John 14:6. "No one comes to the Father except through me."

The Gospels tell us that many people DID accept this bold message, but most did not--particularly the religious leaders and supposed experts in God's Law. Centuries later, few things have changed. There's no shortage of "enlightened" people today who claim that Jesus' message is both judgmental and intolerant. And besides, they're quick to add, everyone knows there are many ways to God.

At least that part is true: every path eventually DOES lead to God. But the devil is literally in the details since all of them except one also lead to His judgment and eternal condemnation.

"Enter through the narrow gate," Jesus warns us. "For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."

Traveling this winding, narrow path involves putting our faith in Jesus alone. And no matter what the world says about that today, it's one thing that God settled long ago.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Playing With Fire

Whoever is caught with the devoted things shall be destroyed by fire, along with all that belongs to him. He has violated the covenant of the LORD and has done an outrageous thing in Israel!

--  Joshua 7:15

One of the most recognized characters in the history of advertising, Smokey Bear has for decades reminded Americans that just a tiny spark from a campfire or match is all it takes to destroy majestic woodlands and kill innocent wildlife. Smokey's familiar catch-phrase says it all: "Only you can prevent forest fires."

What distinguishes the gravelly-voiced Matchbruin from other beloved media icons is that Smokey actually existed. The story goes that in 1950, a carelessly discarded cigarette helped cause an inferno that blackened 17,000 acres of forest and grasslands in the Lincoln National Forest near Capitan, New Mexico. A fire crew discovered a badly-singed bear cub--soon called Hotfoot--clinging tightly to a burned pine tree. The cub was sent to a veterinary hospital in Santa Fe and eventually renamed Smokey after a game warden opened his own home for the animal's recuperation.

Whoever discarded that lit cigarette probably had no idea of the death and destruction its spark would eventually cause. After all, they tell themselves, who doesn't toss their used butts out the window when they're finished with them? And besides, nobody will know and no one will get hurt.

In so many ways, that's the same attitude that today spreads the inferno of sexual sin in our society. Behaviors that were never part of God's wonderful plans for our lives are now promoted in the media as civil rights and embraced as hallmarks of individualism. Meanwhile, the entertainment industry glamorizes adultery, casual sex and out-of-wedlock births. Pornography is widely available on cable TV and the Internet. What's more, Hollywood produces permissive entertainment like MTV's popular reality series Teen Mom and hit movies like Juno. And if there's any question about a real-life cause and effect, the media reported recently that 17 high school-age girls had made a so-called "pregnancy pact" because--at least in part--of peer pressure to have a baby as some sort of modern-day status symbol (just like on TV). Similar irresponsible behavior extends to the world of professional sports, where many high-profile athletes have fathered numerous children with multiple women across the nation.

Smokey Bear was scarred for life by the inferno started by a single spark. And an untold number of other animals died in the flames that destroyed thousands of acres of wilderness. Likewise, the victims of sexual sin--often innocent spouses and children--are just as emotionally scarred and callused. And that's not even considering sin's collateral damage of broken marriages, damaged relationships and even shattered careers and reputations.

Perhaps, as Smokey Bear says, humans really can prevent forest fires. But the truth is that men and women are helpless to conquer the rapidly spreading flames of sexual sin. So how should we address this crisis? The first step is for us to recognize the problem and admit to God that we've broken His laws. Then we need to ask for the flames of the Holy Spirit to open our eyes and minds to the truth and consume what fuels sin's deception. As any good forest manager will tell you, it's all about fighting fire with fire.

Does this sound difficult? By our own strength, it's futile. But there's unlimited hope for us when we accept Jesus' encouraging reminder in faith: All things are possible with God.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Keeping It Kosher

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

--  Romans 6:23

If you shop or cook, chances are you've seen them a thousand times. They're those special symbols printed on food packaging that certify its contents as "kosher" (literally "fit to eat").

According to kosher food blogger Giora Shimoni, kosher food is prepared according to Jewish dietary laws, which are rules and regulations derived from Old Testament laws and rabbinical extensions ensuring quality, cleanliness and safety. Hebrew National--a well-known brand of hotdogs--has a famous slogan that sums up their call to be kosher: We Answer to a Higher Authority.

Christ-followers do, too. And even though we HebrewNtlaren't bound by the strict Old Testament dietary laws observed by the Israelites, these statutes are still a valuable reminder that we worship a God who knows us intimately, who cares for us deeply and who wants us to lead only healthy, Spirit-filled lives. Moreover, He wants His children to live by higher standards that distinguish them from the world around them. This profound, loving care and attention covers much more than the necessities of food, clothing and shelter. God also wants only the best for us when it comes to our personal relationships.

His instructions on this matter are both straightforward and timeless. When it comes to dating and choosing a mate, the Bible tells us to be picky and refuse to compromise. Does your prospective bride or groom share your love for God and strive to grow in his or her spiritual walk? If not, watch out! Our nation's high divorce rate testifies to the perils of choosing an incompatible mate. And what about his or her standards of personal behavior? Are they driven consistently by Christ-centered principles like patience and kindness? What's more these days, there's also the uncomfortable topic of same-sex relationships. The world tells us that we're bigoted, intolerant and old-fashioned if we don't fall in line. But God's opinion about this matter is clear. And He calls Christ-followers to be Biblically correct, not politically correct.

Of course, our intimate relationships embrace both the emotional and the physical. And as with the ancient dietary laws, we need to stand apart from what the popular culture accepts and promotes.

"You surely know that your body is a temple where the Holy Spirit lives," the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians. "The Spirit is in you and is a gift from God. You are no longer your own."

That's a difficult admonition that clashes with today's feel-good, live-for-the-moment attitude. But that's just the point. As Christ-followers, we're not supposed to follow the crowd. Instead, we're to be a guiding light to a dark and dying world, with lives that testify to Christ's power to transform.

What does God want for our personal relationships? He expects us to follow His higher standards and refuse to compromise with the world. Our very lives should be kosher. After all, Christ-followers really do answer to a Higher Authority.   

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Altar Call

Have respect for marriage. Always be faithful to your partner, because God will punish anyone who is immoral or unfaithful in marriage.

--  Hebrews 13:4

For better or for worse, there's been plenty of talk the last few years about our country's need for fundamental change. But the fact is that America has changed drastically since the end of World War II without the help of celebrities and politicians. There's the obvious--like the growth of the suburbs, 24-hour Walmarts and cable TV. And of course, there's the Internet and smartphones.

Those changes may be good or Wedding Ringsbad depending on your perspective. But one change that's definitely negative involves societal perspectives toward marriage and family. Fifty years ago, news of a couple living together outside of marriage was considered scandalous at the very least. And in some states, it could actually lead to jail time for the offending parties. But how much has changed now that we're so much more "enlightened" than our parents and grandparents!

Think of everything we've gained now that such a large segment of the populous has turned its back on committed marriage (the "death 'til you part" type). With more flexible laws and the literal promotion of adultery in popular culture, it's no wonder that more than 40 percent of first marriages (and nearly half of all marriages) end in divorce. It's also no wonder that so many people figure that marriage isn't worth the trouble. Living together becomes their rational option. But with this brings tremendous societal costs from the skyrocketing rates of out-of-wedlock births, now reported by the federal government to exceed 40 percent.

The common denominator here is that our society has run away from Biblical ideals like marriage. Specifically, we have turned away from God and His teachings as a whole--the ones He gave us for experiencing meaningful, fulfilled lives. What were once considered clear black and white issues of right and wrong have blended over the decades into murky shades of gray. But it's all relative, right? Who needs those pesky Ten Commandments, anyway?

That's obviously not God's perspective when it comes to committed relationships between men and women. It's only a few pages into the Bible when we find this ancient yet ever-relevant passage:

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

But to many modern-thinking couples, living together without any strings attached is a more palatable and tolerant lifestyle choice. After all, commitment is such an uncomfortable word: one that implies responsibility, faith and ultimate dependence on a much greater Power.

But ultimately, isn't that what it means to be a Christ-follower?