Saturday, August 30, 2014

Death and Taxes

If you do this, you will be true children of your Father in heaven. He causes the sun to rise on good people and on evil people, and he sends rain to those who do right and to those who do wrong.

-- Matthew 5:45

Death and taxes.

If you believe the old saying, they're the only sure things in life. But actually, there are a few more. And some are not very pleasant.

How about the certainties of suffering, Taxespain and injustice? After all, it seems so unfair that every day, good people lose their jobs, have serious accidents or are stricken by disease. On the other hand, people who openly mock God and live sin-filled lives often get ahead in life. They cheat, steal, work the system and reap the benefits. Why does God allow it?

The short answer is that we're born with free will to do either right or wrong in the midst a fallen, corrupt world. Paradise on earth was forever ruined that day long ago when Adam and Eve decided to disobey God in the Garden of Eden. And death--both literal and spiritual--have followed mankind ever since. But maybe the question's premise is wrong. After all, is anyone really "good"? Jesus didn't think so.

"Why do you call me good?" Christ once asked a wealthy young man who had inquired what was needed to attain eternal life. "No one is good--except God alone."

In our Creator's eyes, no one is good enough to enter His presence because we've all fallen short in life and violated His laws. He demands absolute perfection. Of course, meeting such a high standard is impossible for you and me. But it's not for God.

What's His solution to mankind's sin-problem? We become perfect in God's eyes when we turn from our old ways and accept Jesus, the only One who lived a flawless, sin-free life. Since Christ obeyed God's laws to the fullest, He was the perfect sacrifice to pay the penalty that we all so rightly deserve. His was the ultimate expression of love that confirmed our salvation. But our acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior is no guarantee against suffering in this lifetime. In fact, the Apostle Peter warned early Christ-followers that they should expect troubles: 

"Dear friends, don't be surprised or shocked that you are going through testing that is like walking through fire."

Whatever that testing might be--whether it's deserved or it's blatantly unfair--we can respond by either giving up or by depending on God through faith to see us through. Real faith will stand strong til the end. But what's false is bound to fail.
Yes, bad things do happen to so-called good people. But God specializes in turning suffering into good by using it to discipline and mature us. What's more, our suffering can become a witness to others. If you're a Christ-follower faced with a God-sized situation, where you place your faith speaks volumes to others. 
As the Bible reminds us, "blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him."

You can count on it.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

All Hands On Deck

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

-- Matthew 6:33
Earlier this month, Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas, the world's third-largest cruise ship, left its dry dock in Germany to prepare for its maiden voyage from Cape Liberty in Bayonne, NJ. Quantum of the Seas is 1,142 feet long and will carry more than 4,100 guests. Its 18 restaurants will serve thousands of meals each day. And the ship's laundry will clean just as many towels, sheets and table linens.

Supporting this floating city are hundreds Cruise Shipof talented, hard-working crew members--all who will be dedicated to making their guests' vacations as fun and memorable as possible. The ship's complement includes an army of stewards, cooks, mechanics and even daycare attendants--and that's not to mention everyone assigned to navigate the ship. From captain to cabin boy, every crew member on board has a critical role in helping their vessel sail effortlessly through both calm seas and choppy waters.

Like a full-service cruise ship, the church also needs dedicated, gifted people who work together toward a common goal. That's because we're much more than a group of people who meet on Sunday mornings to listen to the pastor and sing along with the band. The Bible tells us that God has given every Christ-follower certain gifts, talents and resources for advancing His Kingdom on Earth. Some are obvious, like singers and musicians leading worship with the band. Others have behind-the-scenes applications, such as bookkeepers and office managers who help the church manage its finances. For every gift, talent and resource used in the secular world, there's also one for strengthening the body of believers known collectively as The Church.

Jesus' earliest followers were a diverse crew from many walks of life. Some were fishermen and one was a tax collector. Even Jesus had carpentry skills. And when we fast-forward 2,000 years, Christ still seeks those who are willing to represent Him in our community and serve others by using their God-given gifts and resources.

"Come, follow me," Jesus once told fishermen Peter and Andrew, "and I will make you fishers of men."

If we're willing to follow the example of the first disciples and open ourselves to the great possibilities ahead, Jesus will no doubt use us to lead and strengthen His Church. It's when we all work together with a unity of purpose that community occurs and amazing things happen. So it's now up to each of us to respond to His simple--yet radical--invitation to join His crew.

Are you on board? The Captain's call is for all hands on deck.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Hero Worship

The Lord is my strength and my shield;
    my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.
My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.

-- Psalm 28:7

According to, Hollywood has released more than 100 motion pictures involving comic book superheroes since 1978. The worldwide popularity of these amazing characters--and their easy translation into ticket sales--helps to explain their abundance. In fact, Guardians of the Galaxy broke the record this month as the highest-grossing debut for any August movie release: an astounding $94 million!

Just how popular is the superhero movie Supermangenre? BoxOfficeMojo says that combined ticket sales have exceeded $11.7 billion over the last 36 years, with much more to come through titles like Captain America 3 and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

In the movies, a superhero always seems to be around when disaster strikes or a villain is on the loose. But in the real world, The Fantastic Four and Iron Man can't do much about the hardships of life. Illnesses strike, relationships fail and that which seemed solid turns to dust in our hands. What we desperately need is something--or Someone--who's utterly dependable, unwavering and trustworthy.

Jesus paints a vivid picture of this universal quest through His story about a foolish man who built a house on shifting sands. When a storm struck, the rains came and the winds blew with fury. It's no surprise that this flimsy structure collapsed with a great crash. But a wise man in comparison built his house on a Foundation of solid rock. So when the storm clouds of life boiled across the horizon, that house withstood even the heaviest downpour.

This leads to the obvious question: Are you counting on your money or friendships to come to the rescue when the storms of life thunder overhead? You shouldn't. Bank accounts and investments can disappear overnight, and so-called friends tend to grow scarce when times get tough. The best plan is to trust in God and call on Him in both good times and bad. Better than the most powerful superhero, He's the One of limitless strength and resources. And He can literally save the day.

"Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust," we read in Psalms, "who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods."

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Vital Signs

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

-- Mark 2:17

When you visit the doctor's office or hospital, chances are that a nurse will put a thermometer in your mouth to record your temperature and a cuff around your arm to gauge your blood pressure. She might also put her fingers on your wrist to measure your pulse. These Doctorvital signs establish a baseline of your body's general condition to help spot abnormalities and sickness. Likewise, Jesus monitors the vital signs of the churches that proclaim His name. But rather than checking blood pressure and heart rates, He looks at key indicators like love, faith, service and perseverance. It's no coincidence that He's called The Great Physician.

We read in the Gospels that Christ--with only a touch or even a word--healed lepers, the blind and the paralyzed. He even returned two men and a young child from death: all incredible miracles that helped confirm Jesus' divine role as God among us. But Jesus' healing was much more than physical. It had (and still has) both eternal and spiritual significance. In our 21st Century culture that worships vitality and outward appearance, Christ sees our real condition like an X-ray of our souls.

What's the prescription for healing in our churches and in ourselves? It's a simple faith in Him.

Luke's Gospel records that one desperate woman--who had been plagued by bleeding for years--believed in faith that her cure lay in touching Jesus' garments. And she was right. Luke also writes about a Roman centurion who sought Jesus' healing for his deathly ill servant. Remarkably, this would-be enemy of Israel trusted the ability of Christ's word alone. Matthew 8:10 tells it this way:

When Jesus heard this, He was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following Him, He said, "I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel."

The body of believers called The Church was never promised a problem-free existence. Acts, Luke's follow-up to his Gospel, reveals the conflicts and persecution faced by early Christ-followers. And these struggles, both internal and external, continue to this day in one form or another--and will until Jesus' second coming. It's only then that we'll finally experience complete health in mind, body and soul. And it all starts with believing in Jesus' power, asking for His help and having faith to the end.

"Daughter, your faith has healed you," Jesus told the beleaguered woman who sought His touch of restoration. "Go in peace and be freed from your suffering." 

May The Church do the same.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Behind the Mask

"How terrible for you, teachers of the law and Pharisees! You are hypocrites! You close the door for people to enter the kingdom of heaven. You yourselves don't enter, and you stop others who are trying to enter." 

-- Matthew 23:13
The ancient Greeks produced some of the greatest philosophers in world history. Plato, Aristotle and Socrates were some of their best-known thinkers, and their influence is still felt in classrooms today. As much as they enjoyed debating new ideas and concepts, the Greeks also loved show Masksbusiness. Their playwrights--much like today's Hollywood screenwriters--produced numerous popular comedies, tragedies and dramas that were performed in vast open-air theaters.

One interesting characteristic of their shows was that the same actors often played multiple roles on stage. But rather than relying on elaborate makeup or costumes, they instead wore masks that conveyed exaggerated expressions. This is the origin of the familiar happy-and-sad mask icon that has for centuries symbolized the theatric arts. And it's through the actors' practice of changing masks according to the scene that we can trace the term "two-faced," meaning hypocritical.

Today, there are millions of people around the globe who are considering Christianity and evaluating the followers of Jesus. They want to know if these "People of the Word" really live out each day what's preached on Sundays, or if they're just two-faced hypocrites who are living out a lie.

It's a legitimate question that everyone who calls him or herself a Christ-follower must consider. Although none of us is perfect and we all fall far short of God's high standards, the thoughts, words and deeds of true Christ-followers should reflect the inner workings of God's power through the Holy Spirit. So when that day finally comes when we meet Jesus face-to-face, may our encounter be like that of Nathanael, one of Christ's original disciples:

"Now here is a true man of Israel," proclaimed Jesus when He first met His soon-to-be follower. "There is no deceit in him!"

Nathanael was stunned to hear these words because He had never seen Jesus. But as God in human form, Christ already knew everything about him: and just as intimately as He knows today about our own thoughts, motives--and most importantly--our hearts. And however we may try to hide it, He can always perceive our true appearance behind the mask.