Saturday, June 28, 2014

Walking the Tightrope

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, "Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith."

-- Matthew 8:10
If you were around in the 1970's, you surely remember Evel Knievel, the daredevil made famous through his attempts at jumping a motorcycle over the Snake River Canyon in Idaho and the Grand Fountains at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. 

(It's perhaps no surprise that Knievel broke 37 bones during his lifetime!)

More than a century earlier, Charles Blondin was the nation's headline-grabbing risk-taker. In 1859, TightropeBlondin made a name for himself by being the first person to walk a tightrope over Niagara Falls. Even more impressive was that he accomplished this feat in different ways: on stilts, in a sack and even in the dark. 

A crowd of admirers soon grew along with the Frenchman's fame. And there's a famous story that Blondin one day walked the tightrope over the falls blindfolded while pushing a wheelbarrow. The audience that had gathered along the riverbank roared their approval of the death-defying spectacle.

"Do you believe that I can carry a person across in this wheelbarrow?" he asked the excited crowd.

"Yes, yes!" they replied. "You are the greatest tightrope walker in the world. You can do anything!"

"OK," said the daredevil. "Get in the wheelbarrow."

Blondin's admirers claimed that they believed in him. But when he asked them to leave the comfort and safety of the riverbank and put their faith into action, no one came forward. Likewise, Christ-followers today can fail to step out of their comfort zone for other kinds of faith-walks. When we face tough situations at home or at work, do we compromise or do we trust that God's way is ultimately the right way--regardless of the cost? For example, your boss might tell you to shade the sales figures so that the department will look good to the CEO. And your spouse might want you to fudge the family's tax return for a bigger refund. After all, who will ever know the difference?

When the spotlight is on us, we must expect opposition. That's when we need to ask God for the power to trust Him and resist the temptation to compromise on what's right.

Doing things God's way can be costly--and particularly uncomfortable--when everyone is watching. But these situations can also be opportunities to show that our faith as Christ-followers is much more than mere words during a Sunday morning worship service. It's this kind of faith-in-action that honors God. And when we seek to honor God, He will seek to honor us.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Making His Thoughts Our Own

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said,
"If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last,
and the servant of all."

-- Mark 9:35
The Bible is literally a Book of Life; it's God's words to live by. Through its pages we're constantly reminded that He loves us and will do whatever it takes to have an everlasting relationship with His people. But another repeated lesson is that God's ways aren't our ways. And His thoughts also aren't our own.

How true that is. Our society teaches Thinkerus to beat the competition, climb the corporate ladder and keep up with our neighbors (and then pass them by). We need the biggest, the best and the shiniest. And most of all, we can't forget that it's not bragging if we can back it up.

There's not much room for humility. And any other way would look weak. We have an image to keep and folks to impress, so we need to dress the part and live in the right neighborhood. What's more, we must drive the right car and have the right job. It's all about us. And we deserve only the best.

But God teaches a much different way for Christ-followers: To be first, we must be last.

Needless to say, this perspective turns things totally inside out. And that's just the point.

How much better would this world be if every Christ-follower were to adopt a servant's attitude and put the interests of others before their own? Jesus answered this question by His own example. First, he willingly surrendered the royal privileges of being God's only Son. He entered the world in the most humble of circumstances--a birth among farm animals in a less-than-tidy stable. And when he grew older, He learned to make a living as a carpenter. Jesus could have lived in splendor as the King of Kings. But instead, He chose a nomadic existence to teach His people about God's Good News of salvation. He put us before Himself.

Finally, Jesus' ultimate act of humility was to suffer the death of a common criminal. Of course, this was unwarranted because He had lived a perfect, fault-free life. But it was for our sake that He accepted a horrific death on a cross to pay for the failed ways we've lived our lives and treated others.

That's quite a lesson in humility--one taught by the One with the humble servant's heart. He's the same One who came to serve rather than to be served. And He's the only One whose sacrifice was worthy.

How can we adopt this same mindset? Above all, we must recognize the wonderful things God has done for us and continues to do every day. Without Him, we are nothing. But through Him, all things are possible.

When we make God's ways and thoughts our own, we'll finally understand that it's through humility--not force--that our world will change for the better. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Face Blindness

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord.

-- Isaiah 55:8
Studies suggest that up to 2% of the population suffers from prosopagnosia, a condition more commonly known as face blindness. First studied in detail in the 1940s, face blindness is the inability to remember faces. Prosopagnosia patient Bill Choisser recalls that one day he happened to meet his own mother on the sidewalk...but he didn't recognize her!

"People who are tone deaf are not deaf to tones. They can hear tones, they just can't tell them apart," he explains. "People who are color blind can see things that are in color. They just can't tell colors apart. Similarly, I can see faces. I just can't tell them apart."

Author Mary McMahon adds that people Maskswith face blindness must use cues such as voice, clothing--even haircuts--as identifiers to determine who people are. But sudden adjustments can disrupt this strategy. For example, a prosopagnosia sufferer could fail to recognize their own child if the youngster changes outfits during the day.

Just as some people can't recognize the appearance of friends and loved ones, we all fail at times to discern our own Heavenly Father's face. And this often happens in the midst of crisis or adversity. The trouble is that we perceive our world through the cloudy lens of the human experience. For us, seeing is believing. But God sees the vivid big picture and already knows what's over the hill and behind that curve in the road. It's when we mature enough in faith that God begins to show us glimpses of reality. And it's then that we can see through new eyes.

But even as we perceive these wonderful revelations, we're still spiritually nearsighted and unfocused. Yes, we finally understand that His thoughts aren't our thoughts. And our ways fall far short of His. But how can we ever hope to know who God really is and what He's like?

God understood our limitations before He ever created the Earth. To fully reveal Himself to mankind, He had to put on a human face in the form of Jesus Christ and live out the human experience. It was the perfect plan, and moreover, a plan totally beyond our comprehension.

Let's now step back 2,000 years to a scene in ancient Israel: a dusty backwater outpost of the Roman Empire. The Bible tells us about Philip, one of Jesus' disciples, who one day expressed his sincere desire to see God (a craving still shared by Christ-followers today). Little did Philip know how close he had been for the previous three years!

"Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?" Jesus asked. "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'?"

The Savior's response to Philip was a literal eye-opener. And it reveals that if we want to know our Creator and what He's really like, we first must know His Son, Jesus. It's only then that we can emerge from our spiritual blindness to recognize the face of God.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

In Your Dreams

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

-- Ephesians 3:19-21
You finally bought that red sports car you've been dreaming about. And it drives great. In fact, it's even better than you expected. But just a few weeks later, along comes a TV commercial announcing the new 2015 model. The styling is better, the engine is more powerful and it has features that aren't available on your vehicle. Suddenly, your shiny pride and joy has lost much of its luster.

It's inevitable. Buy a feature-packed Sportscarsmart phone, tablet computer or digital camera, and it's a sure thing that the manufacturer will introduce a new-and-improved model before you can submit the registration card for the old one. Televisions tell the tale. It was only a few years ago that those expensive Sony flat screens had the best picture quality. But today's high definition models display amazing, life-like images at about half the price.

There's nothing wrong with that pricey TV you bought a few years ago. Its picture and sound quality haven't let you down. But once you've seen one of those new HD sets, you're spoiled for good. And it's hard to go back because things have been taken to the next level.

When it comes to marketing, it's all about the latest and greatest and what's new and improved. And we expect to hear that from advertisers. But did you know that God also uses this concept when it comes to our faith-journey as Christ-followers?

First and foremost, God wants us to have an eternal relationship with Him by accepting His Son as our personal Lord and Savior. And once we take this life-changing step, we're on our way for an amazing journey. But becoming a Christ-follower isn't a one-shot proposition. God doesn't just turn His back at that point and wait a few decades until we die. Instead, He wants us to become new and improved in the process.

How does this happen? As the saying goes, there's no such thing as a Lone Ranger Christian. Becoming a part of a Bible-believing church is a crucial step in the transformation. It's there that we can share our joys, troubles, issues--and even doubts--with others, which strengthens the experience. Meeting regularly throughout the week with fellow Believers also provides other opportunities for faith enrichment. Together, we can encourage one another, do good for each other (as well as for total strangers!) and study God's Word.

So are you ready for something that's new and improved in your spiritual life? There's a way to trade in a comfortable, basic-cable spiritual journey for 500 channels of high definition faith. And it's far better than you could ever hope for, imagine...or dream.