Saturday, December 26, 2015

Trip of a Lifetime

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."

-- Matthew 2:1-2 
We call them Christ-followers. They're the folks who are on a life-long spiritual journey that started one day by accepting Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. And all along the way they seek to know Him better and do God's will with purpose and vision.

If you're one of these travelers, you already know that the journey can be rough at times. But what about that remarkable trip taken by some special Christ-followers long ago: one that covered hundreds of miles through deserts and rugged terrain--all for the purpose of meeting Jesus in person
They were called the Magi, but you might know them better as the Wise Men or the Three Kings. It's thought that they were astrologers from Babylon (ancient Iraq) who were familiar with the Old Testament prophesies about the Jewish people's long-awaited Messiah. Then one evening they recognized a very special star in the nighttime sky. It was a sign that was both breathtaking and unmistakable. And the Magi would soon follow it at all costs to find the king of Kings.

The Magi's successful journey more than 2,000 years ago holds lessons for modern-day Christ-followers like you and me. One is that following God can be at times both dangerous and demanding. Our winding spiritual pathway is full of hairpin turns and steep hills rather than smooth stretches of superhighway. And to reach their goal, the Three Kings chose the difficult route rather than a clearly marked boulevard. How often do we choose the easy way out of hard situations rather than doing the right thing?

The Magi's trek also reassures us that as Christ-followers, we will indeed find Him if we search diligently. The Wise Men lived up to their name because they not only recognized His star from a distance, they stayed on the path until they reached the destination.

What about you? As we celebrate the birth of our Savior, now's the time to set your sights on Jesus and open your eyes, mind and heart to God's will for your life. As the saying goes, Wise Men Still Seek Him.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Gift of Love

Give him a generous farewell gift from your flock, your threshing floor, and your winepress. Share with him some of the bounty with which the Lord your God has blessed you.

-- Deuteronomy 15:47 

Christmas is only a few days away, but opinions vary as to whether that's good news or bad. Either way, if you're still looking for that perfect gift for that someone special, there's no lack of choices, colors and price-points. A quick online trip to proves that. But with money particularly tight these days for so many Americans, every purchase has to count. We need gifts that will make an impression. We need value. It comes down to getting bang-for-the-buck.

There's nothing wrong with trying to Gift Tagstretch a dollar. But maybe a gift's real value has much more to do with the meaning and person behind it than a Low Everyday Wal-Mart price tag.

That's certainly the case if we're to believe God's personal instruction manual, the Bible. What does it have to say about the characteristics of a super gift? And more to the point, what does the Bible tell us about being a super gift-giver? We can find the answers through the Scriptures' vivid portrayals of Jesus related to the issues of living, relationships and love.

It's from Christ's example that we learn to give with an attitude of generosity: one that exceeds what we expect to receive. Our gifts should also affirm the value of the recipient. But most importantly, our gifts--whatever they may be--should be given out of love.

Perhaps the Bible doesn't say that an Apple iPhone is a better gift than a bicycle or a sweater. But the same principles apply. And what we also learn is that when it comes to gift-giving, it really IS the thought that counts. (Your grandmother was right!)

Christmas is straight ahead...and the clock is ticking. So before we head to the mall, log onto or tune into the Home Shopping Network, let's follow the example of Jesus, who was and is the ultimate gift-giver. His greatest present was the salvation He bought for us through His death on the cross. It was an incredibly expensive gift that we can never repay. But it was given out of love...and it's free and available to anyone who's willing to open the package. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Love Language

Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the Lord your God has blessed you.

-- Deuteronomy 16:17 

What's your love language?

According to relationship expert and counselor Gary Chapman, husbands and wives demonstrate their love for each another in distinct ways. Some show it through words of affirmation or acts of service while others speak it through physical touch or quality time. Not surprisingly, another popular marital love language involves giving or receiving gifts. And that's something to consider as we wait in line at the checkout counter this Christmas season.

God also reveals His love in several Gift Cardways. Think about the famous Bible story about the Prodigal Son, where the loving father welcomes back his wayward--and totally undeserving--child with open arms. Or what about the shepherd who searches tirelessly for a single missing sheep? When he finally finds it, he returns it triumphantly to the rest of the flock. These are vivid illustrations of God's immense love for you and me.

Jesus also paints this remarkable word-portrait of love, which the agrarian people of His day would have recognized immediately:

"I am the good shepherd," Christ tells us though the Gospel of John."The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep."

Jesus also told His disciples about a man who sold his possessions to buy a field. And not just any field, but one that held buried treasure. The purchase price was staggering. Nevertheless, the man did whatever it took to gain the prize.

And that's how God loves us. He'll go to any length to bring you and me into His family. Perhaps the most famous passage in the New Testament, John 3:16, tells us that God loves the world so much that He gave His only Son (Jesus) so that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life. God willingly let Jesus suffer and die to pay for all of our wrongdoings: past, present and future. We rightfully deserve death because of how we've lived our lives and treated our fellow man. But God's love offers us joy and happiness--if we're only willing to accept it. By living on Earth among everyday people and then dying for our sins, Jesus essentially presented his American Express Gold Card to pay the tab for everyone.

How should Christ-followers respond to his remarkable gesture of grace? Although we can never repay God, our Creator wants us to demonstrate our love through sincere, tangible actions. And we can do so in many ways--from helping an elderly neighbor get groceries to revealing God's light through a prison ministry. It could also translate into changing a co-worker's life by showing him or her how Jesus has changed our own. The possibilities and potential of this eternal love language are endless.

The limits of human language prevent us from fully describing how much God cherishes us through his lavish gifts. But maybe it's really not so difficult. After all, it takes only three simple words from the Book of 1 John to sum up the Creator's love language:

God is Love.  

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Bet Your Bottom Dollar

No servant 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.

-- Luke 16:13 
The essence of being a Christ-follower is accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior. Rather than following the world's conventional wisdom about life, relationships, possessions and money, Christ-followers see these things Money Keyin a very different light. That's because our minds begin a positive transformation process as soon as we follow Jesus in earnest. What once seemed so valuable and desirable becomes dull and insignificant...and maybe even a bit tacky.

Well, at least that's the way it should work. But for too many of us, over-spending for Christmas, excessive credit card debt and the ability to buy online with just the click of a mouse can cloud our allegiances. There's too much easy access to too much of what we don't really need. And that's bound to rob us of our ability to lead the productive lives God wants us to enjoy.

Of course, falling into debt is sometimes unavoidable. Job layoffs and hospital bills, for example, can cripple anyone's bank account. But too often it happens because of foolish spending choices, gambling, get-rich-quick schemes or just about anything else that amounts to greed. The borrower becomes the servant of the lender. And as we all know, money tends to be a very harsh master. In a world that tempts us to buy regardless of our ability to pay, what's the key to escaping the debt trap?

It's really about returning to that process of transforming our minds and seeing things through Jesus' eyes. The first step is to determine whose money it really is. (It's God's). Then write out and follow a reasonable financial plan (a budget) for spending less money than you take in. Soon you'll begin to ask yourself if certain desired items are truly necessities or actually unnecessary luxuries. Can you bring your lunch to work most days instead of dining at restaurants? And do you really need another pair of shoes?

Your savings should grow once those questions are resolved.

Money and possessions aren't evil in themselves. But when they're abused through bad choices and priorities, they can quickly become our master through the debt that follows them. Jesus, however, has a better way: He sees money and possessions as tools for helping others, achieving justice and spreading His Kingdom here on earth. 

As we consider the gifts we'll give and receive this Christmas season, may we all embrace the true Master's perspective.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

True Worship

Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices. You must demolish them and break their sacred stones to pieces.

-- Exodus 23:24 
Do you ever wonder if you're worshiping the right god? The answer isn't as obvious as it seems...yet it has eternal consequences.

If you're a Christ-follower, you worship the true God revealed and proven through the Bible. Meanwhile, other religions promote false gods, ancestor worship and even the reverence of nature or living things (worshiping the creation rather than the Creator). Then there are today's popular teachings such as New Age, Scientology and Kabbalah. The list grows longer every day.

Even those who claim to be atheists Worshipare actually active worshipers. True, they may not be churchgoers and proclaim Jesus as their Lord and Savior. But they--like everyone--bow down to their favorite idol. Some worship money, luxury and pleasure while others choose intellect and higher learning. Still others kneel at the altar of more negative gods such as alcohol, drugs and illicit relationships.

The saying goes that there's no such thing an atheist on the battlefield. But there's a different type of battle--a spiritual one--that rages within everyone: the God of the Bible versus the world's gods and idols. Our hearts, souls and minds happen to be the prize of this ferocious global war.

Perhaps we don't literally kneel and worship before a golden idol like in Old Testament times. But the fact is that we all secretly (and maybe not-so-secretly) cherish our own personal gods. Think about the things that you worry about or sacrifice your time and money for. What are the issues that make you angry? What brings you the most joy? And here's a revealing question: Whose attention and applause do you most crave?

If the answer to each question doesn't involve God, you're likely worshiping an idol. And idols can be difficult to recognize through the fog of spiritual war. After all, they're experts at camouflage. Even apparently good things aren't always "god things."

As we enter the Christmas season, it's especially important for Christ-followers to remember that the real God--the One revealed through Jesus Christ--doesn't want to share His glory with an imitator or cheap idol. So let's all reflect on the God (or perhaps gods) in our lives...and then choose the One to serve, live for and worship fully.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Draft Pick

And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."

-- John 1:12 
When you were in grade school, did your classmates tend to pick you first or last when choosing teams for kickball or other playground sports? And as you got older, did you ever try out--and make--your high school football, baseball or basketball team?

There's something special about being Football2chosen by others--and in particular--by people you respect. And it extends beyond school and sports. When you've gone through the interview process and the human resources representative finally calls to offer you a job with the company, there's nothing quite like it. After all, you've been picked over the competition to join their team.

Kurt Warner knows what it's like to be picked by a team. But he also knows a lot about rejection. The retired NFL quarterback excelled in football, basketball and baseball in high school, and even led his gridiron team to victory in Iowa's Shrine Bowl. This success, however, failed to translate into a big name college scholarship. So for the next three seasons, Warner rode the bench at the University of Northern Iowa until his senior year. It was then that he guided the Panthers to an 8-3 record while garnering honors as Offensive Player of the Year.

As good as Warner was in college, no NFL team picked him in the draft. He stayed in shaped and supported himself financially by stocking shelves in a supermarket. And before long, he joined an Arena Football team. NFL scouts eventually noticed his talent, but he was cut during tryouts for the Green Bay Packers. Warner finally broke through by starring in the NFL's now defunct European League, and later signed a contract as the Los Angeles Ram's third-string quarterback. The following year, when the starting quarterback suffered a season-ending injury, Warner got his chance. And he responded by leading his squad to a 13-3 record and an unlikely victory in the Super Bowl.

"People think this season is the first time I touched the football; they don't realize I've been doing this for years--just not on this level--because I never got the chance," Warner told reporters. "Sure, I had my tough times, but you don't sit there and say, 'Wow, I was stocking groceries five years ago, and look at me now.' You don't think about it, and when you do achieve something, you know luck had nothing to do with it."

Although he was now a champion quarterback, Warner still faced obstacles in his career. For a short time, he accepted a stop-gap assignment with the New York Giants as they groomed another future Super Bowl quarterback, Eli Manning. Eventually traded to the Arizona Cardinals, Warner played in his second Super Bowl, where he threw for 377 yards and three touchdowns in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Kurt Warner is an unabashed Christ-follower who's quick to give God the credit for his successes--both on and off the field. He wasn't always picked first on his sports teams. And he wasn't immune from failure and disappointment. But his gifts and talents always showed through...and the scouts and coaches noticed.

If you've ever been overlooked or experienced disappointment on the playground, the office--or even in your own home--never forget that God has a plan for every Christ-follower. That's no promise that you'll ever lead your team to the Super Bowl. But you're still guaranteed to be His first round draft pick.  

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Opportunity Knocks

When you make a promise to God, fulfill it without delay because God has no pleasure
in fools. Fulfill what you promise.

-- Ecclesiastes 5:4 
"Tomorrow is the busiest day of the week," says the old Spanish proverb. And famous author and humorist Mark Twain put it this way: "Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow."

They're referring of course to procrastination, Opportunityor what someone once described as "the grave in which opportunity is buried." Procrastination afflicts all cultures, genders and age groups. Ohio State University reports that people tend to embrace it when they perceive a task as being hard, inconvenient or even scary. The reaction is to replace important tasks with low priority substitutes and delay the tough stuff for another day. There's even a term called crooked thinking that describes the illogical--although predictable--way that procrastinators justify their behavior!

Procrastinators may also use their sense of perfectionism, inadequacy or discomfort to put off doing indefinitely what really needs to be done immediately. But the longer the delay with facing the uncomfortable, the worse this pattern becomes. And eventually...nothing gets done. Like they teach in high school physics class, a body at rest tends to stay at rest...unless there's something to put it in motion.

What will it take to put our own uncomfortable life issues in motion--rather than keeping them motionless on the back burner? Once God alerts us to an opportunity, we should respond to it. He might open our eyes through the words of a sermon, a conversation with another Christ-follower...or maybe even an unexpected interaction with a total stranger. But by whatever circumstance, the next move is ours.

Procrastination isn't a viable option--particularly in situations where action (or inaction) has serious life consequences. We need to respond to opportunities by taking that hard first step of faith.

Is your opportunity a conversation that you need to have, a relationship that you need to fix...or maybe a destructive one that you need to end? The truth is that "some day" is really another way of saying never.

So why not start now? Whatever the situation may be, no one's promising that it will be easy. But rest assured: you won't be alone.

"In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you," we read in 2 Corinthians. "I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation."

Saturday, November 7, 2015

God's Waiting Room

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

Americans are good at many things, but waiting isn't one of them. We love our fast food, microwave popcorn and automated teller machines. We specialize in multitasking. And some (at least the geeky ones) even judge their neighbors and co-workers by the features and speed of their smartphones.

There's also no time for waiting in our Hour Glassnon-stop, 24/7 society. But we do it anyway. In fact, efficiency experts report that we spend an estimated 45 to 62 minutes waiting each day. That covers common tasks like waiting in line at the bank, waiting at the restaurant for the server to take our order, and even waiting for our car to fill up at the gas pump. (All-in-all, that's about three years of waiting by the time we reach age 70!)

However, waiting isn't always a waste--particularly when it comes to God. It's actually an essential part of His plan for our lives: that process that enables us to become. This concept might be difficult to grasp because the human viewpoint of time differs greatly from the Creator's. While He sees the past, present and future, we see only what's happening minute by minute. That's why we want to know (now!) when we'll find another job, when we'll sell our house and when we'll find a spouse. When will we feel healthy again? And...just when will the economy finally turn around?

We don't have a clue. But God has known since the foundation of the world.

The Apostle Peter helps us put our waiting into perspective. "But do not forget this one thing, dear friends," he wrote. "To the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as one day."

As Christ-followers, we need to 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 at the hospital contemplating the health and future of a loved one. Did their soul-searching experience bring a closer dependence on God? It should have. After all, it's when we're so humbled and powerless that we realize we can do nothing on our own and need God the most.

Perhaps our non-stop, 24/7 world actually revolves around waiting. So let's make the most of our time in God's Waiting Room--a place where we can look for ways and opportunities to say yes to Him with a sense of expectancy and hope. Whether we understand it or not, His timing is always perfect.

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

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Rest of the Story

"But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you."

 -- Luke 6: 27-28

Paul Harvey's remarkable career in radio spanned eight decades and began while he was still in high school. His broadcasts were heard on about 1,500 stations and his commentaries appeared in hundreds of newspapers. No doubt he was best known for a segment of his program called The Rest of the Story: a five-minute, true-life narrative that always concluded with a surprising--and often uplifting--twist revealing greater meaning and purpose in an otherwise mundane or difficult situation.

The Rest of the Story maintained its popularity Microphoneover the years because it always resonated with Harvey's millions of listeners. They readily identified with the famous announcer's depictions of the unpleasant realities and struggles faced by everyday people like you and me.

What unpleasant realities have you had to face?  Whatever they are, it's a fact of life that you can count on facing more. Sometimes they come out of the blue, such as through a car accident or a natural disaster. And others might be more of our own making, like an arrest for drunk driving or the agony of a broken marriage. The difference for Christ-followers, however, is that we have access to a personal Power who's here to help us get through the hardest of times. We worship a caring God who gives us faith, hope and strength to carry on.

In fact, ours is a God who specializes in taking the worst situations and turning them toward the good. For example, the first Christ-followers were hunted down, imprisoned and sometimes executed for worshiping Jesus. But this only caused the upstart faith to spread far and wide from Jerusalem and into Asia and Europe. And let's consider the Apostle Paul's life-story. Although he spread the Gospel across the Mediterranean and made many converts, he spent years in jail before his eventual execution. That might sound to some like wasted potential. Couldn't God have kept Paul free so he could preach to thousands more and establish other churches in distant lands?

Yes, God could have chosen that route. But He had a much better plan for advancing the name of Jesus. While Paul was in shackles, he spent his time writing much of what we know today as the New Testament--words of truth that God has used for centuries to turn millions of men and women away from their destructive lifestyles and over to eternal life.

The saying goes that uncertainty is the only thing that's certain in life. But as Christ-followers, we can rest assured each day. That's because ours is a God who already knows The Rest of the Story.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Extra Innings

Whatever mission Saul sent him on, David was so successful that Saul gave him a high rank in the army. This pleased all the troops, and Saul's officers as well.

 -- 1 Samuel 18:5
It's just about time again for the World Series. And if you're a baseball fan--especially a fan of old school baseball--then you're probably familiar with Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig.

Nicknamed Iron Man, Gehrig was a outstanding player who combined power with average. When his Lou Gehrigcareer was cut short in 1939 by the fatal disease that would eventually carry his name, Gehrig had hit nearly 500 home runs, driven in almost 2,000 RBIs and racked up a .340 batting average. But in spite of these impressive numbers, the New York Yankee first baseman is perhaps best known for his streak of playing in 2,130 consecutive games. Decades passed before Baltimore Orioles legend Cal Ripkin, Jr., finally eclipsed this remarkable feat.

In an era before modern sports medicine, Gehrig no doubt played an inning or two while hurt, sick or even exhausted. But he carried on for the good of his team. And his dedication, selflessness and love of the game sustained him for 16 seasons while leading the Yankees to victory after victory. He succeeded in baseball because he had the strength to go the extra innings. And it's in much the same way that God's grace sustains each Christ-follower throughout their long journey of faith.

A misconception among some Believers is that God only bestows His grace the moment they give their lives to Jesus. And after that (they reason) our Creator steps back into the cosmos to watch in silence. But the Bible tells us that God doesn't leave us on our own. Just as our lives as Christ-followers are marked by twists and hairpin turns along an often rugged path, God continues to spread His grace along the way. And it's a good thing. Because from time to time, we'll all need spiritual renewal as we grow in what it means to walk in Jesus' footsteps. Even the apostles--the ones who personally witnessed Christ's life-changing miracles--asked the Lord to increase their faith. So we're in good company.

The apostles were both physically and spiritually drained after abandoning their livelihoods and then following Jesus for three years, And when their Master was arrested, tried and crucified, they scattered in fear for their lives--just as Jesus had predicted. But they would soon experience renewal the night Jesus reappeared to them. John the Apostle described the scene this way:

In the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples had met together with the doors locked for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood right in the middle of them and said, "Peace be with you!" Then he showed them his hands and his side, and when they saw the Lord the disciples were overjoyed. Jesus said to them again, "Yes, peace be with you! Just as the Father sent me, so I am now going to send you."

These early Christ-followers could now continue with their world-changing mission. What's more, they had renewed confidence. And not in themselves, but in God alone. It was through Him that they had the faith to both accomplish and endure.

Like a weary baseball team that taps into their talent and willpower to finally clinch the World Series, Christ-followers must depend on a special power to get them through those difficult extra innings of life. We know it to be God's sustaining grace, made possible through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. And if you'll bear with a final baseball analogy, it's the power that guarantees we'll one day be safe at home.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Where's the Beef?

But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds,
and I will show you my faith by what I do.

 -- James 2:18
"Where's the Beef?" was one of the most popular catchphrases of the 1980's. It originated from a Wendy's commercial depicting an outspoken grandma (played by 83-year-old Clara Peller) and her two elderly friends at a fast food restaurant. As the ladies inspect their meal--a burger they no doubt ordered after seeing it hyped on TV--they observe: "The bun is very nice...a nice fluffy bun." It's then that Clara asks the obvious question about the tiny piece of fried meat that's nearly hidden by the bread:

"Where's the beef...Where's the beef?!"

More than 30 years later, people still ask, Hamburger"Where's the beef?" when they want to see claims backed by solid results rather than empty words. And it's also a question that's as valid for Christ-followers (known collectively as The Church) as it is for a hamburger restaurant. As believers, we're able to make remarkable claims about how our Savior--Jesus--has changed our lives and is changing the world. But if the public perceives our lives as no different than anyone else's--and maybe even worse--they have a right to be skeptical and point at our hypocrisy.

Centuries before Clara Peller posed her famous question, James, the half-brother of Jesus, used a related illustration to help separate the steak from the sizzle:

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Likewise, the Apostle Paul makes the point in Romans 3:20 and Ephesians 2:8 that we're not saved from the penalty for our sins because of any good deeds ("works") we might do. If that were the case, it would be possible to earn our way to God's acceptance. The fact is that our feeble efforts and good intentions are never enough. There's nothing we can do...except follow His plan of salvation and accept His free gift of freedom through Jesus Christ.

Rather than being saved BY our own good works, our faith leads us to be being saved FOR doing good works. The Church is therefore to be Jesus' mouth, eyes, hands and feet in the community and around the world--all to demonstrate God's power to change lives and put His love into action.

Now there's the beef!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

You Must Be Mistaken

But he went off and began to talk a great deal about it in public, spreading his story far and wide. Consequently, it became impossible for Jesus to show his face in the towns and he had to stay outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from all quarters.

 -- Mark 1:45
The famous playwright Oscar Wilde was right on the mark when he quipped that experience is simply the name we give to our mistakes. Whether it's on the job (missed a deadline) or on the home front (missed the school bus), a mistake can be embarrassing, costly and sometimes even painful. But consider the implications when it's made in front of an audience of millions.

In the 1972 Summer Olympics, Finnish Mistakerunner Lasse Viren tripped and fell during the 10,000-meter race when his feet tangled with those of American gold medalist Frank Shorter. That would have been the end of the story for most athletes. But Viren did the unthinkable. He got off the ground, resumed the race and caught the runners who had passed him. And then on the final lap, he not only passed his competitors, he literally left them in the dust and crossed the finish line alone. Many sportswriters consider Viren's performance to be one of the greatest comebacks in Olympics history.

Maybe your mistakes haven't been ones of Olympic proportion. But they probably seemed like it. After all, how many times have we all made such huge blunders that it looked like the end of the world? We felt like we'd blown it. It was over. And we'd never get back to where things were.

Such life-altering experiences can cover lots of territory. They might test our relationships, careers or faith...and maybe all of the above. But the good news for Christ-followers is that we worship a God who not only knows what we're going through, but a God who knows us by name. Moreover, he's a God of second (and third and fourth, etc.) chances!  

The Apostle Peter learned this lesson when he asked Jesus: "How many times should I forgive someone who does something wrong to me? Is seven times enough?" The Savior responded, "Not just seven times, but seventy-seven times!"

If we're to be so forgiving when others make the mistake of offending us, think how patient God must be when we continue to fail him day after day. Peter certainly knew a thing or two about that. In fact, after Jesus was arrested by the authorities and the apostles had scattered in fear, Peter emphatically denied that he even knew Christ. And not just once, but three times!

Within hours of his detention, Jesus was tried and convicted on false charges. And soon he would suffer a horrific, painful death--as a substitute for you and me--through his crucifixion between two common criminals. Crushed by guilt, Peter believed that his own life was over. If anyone had blown it, he was the man. But Christ had other plans for His apostle of little faith. We read early in the Book of Acts that Peter, now filled with the Holy Spirit, boldly defied the same religious authorities who had earlier condemned Jesus to death. So as we experience the pain, doubt and self-condemnation that arise from our own mistakes and shortcomings, let's take to heart Peter's uplifting testimony about his Master:

"In no one else can salvation be found," he proclaimed.
"For in all the world no other name has been given to men but this, and it is by this name that we must be saved!"

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Making a Difference

But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds,
and I will show you my faith by what I do.

 -- James 2:18

Have you ever wondered if Christianity really makes a difference? And would life be any different today if Jesus had never arrived 2,000 years ago?

These are just two of the questions that a skeptical world raises about The Church and the Christ-followers that comprise it. This unbelief is nothing new. In fact, the doubters and critics have been around since Jesus' death and resurrection. But their questions deserve honest answers.

Several years ago, D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcomb Crosscollaborated to write What If Jesus Had Never Been Born, a thought-provoking book that addresses these issues head-on. In it we read that without Jesus, there would be no Church. This is the same organization that helped end slavery, cannibalism and the killing of children--all permissible practices at the time in their respective cultures. And if Jesus had never been born and there were no Church, the world would likely be less educated. That's because Christian missionaries replicated many of the world's languages on the printing press to help the people read the Bible. Moreover, all but one of the first colleges in Colonial America were Christian institutions. Harvard was even founded on this statement:

"Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life, John 17:3."

If Jesus had never been born, there would also be no Church to promote the biblical principles of free enterprise, private property rights and the worth ethic. It's because our federal government was largely founded by Christ-followers that The Declaration of Independence cites self-evident truths and unalienable rights from the Creator. Our nation also recognizes the rule of law rather than the authority of man--a concept traced back to the Old Testament and the Ten Commandments. Even the slogan embossed on the Liberty Bell comes from the Bible:

"Proclaim Liberty throughout the land unto all the Inhabitants Thereof..."

The truth is that Christianity HAS made a difference. Today, Christ-followers continue to change the world in both small ways and large, such as by delivering meals to shut-ins and providing housing for the homeless. Samaritan's Purse, the Christian relief organization headed by Franklin Graham, also distributes Christmas packages each year as a direct expression of Christ's love for the world's children. His organization also helps thousands of refugees cope with man-made and natural disasters, such as the April 2015 earthquake that devastated Nepal.

Our world would be a much different place without Christianity. But what The Church must never forget is the Source of this difference:

"I am the vine; you are the branches," declares Jesus.
"If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Hooray for Hollywood

Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.

 -- 1 Chronicles 19:13
Did you watch the Emmy Awards on TV last Sunday night...or any of the other self-promoting awards shows that Hollywood presents throughout the year? The entertainment industry is one of the last places where anyone--especially Christ-followers--should seek guidance about godly behavior. After all, Hollywood is infamous for its moral relativism and feels-good-do-it lifestyle. Celebrity relationships are often shallow and short-lived, and they've long embraced political correctness to redefine marriage and the family. What's more, many in Hollywood mock Christ-followers and the Bible as being intellectually inferior, bigoted and behind the times. In Tinseltown, there's not much room at the inn for God and his people.

But maybe Hollywood can teach us something Awardafter all. If you've ever watched the Academy Awards or the Grammys, the winning actors and musicians often go to great lengths in their acceptance speeches to thank others for their success. They'll cite their producers, agents and writers--even their family members--for helping to make it all possible. Rarely if ever does an entertainer take all the credit.

This is not to suggest that most Christ-followers hog the acclaim for their own blessings and achievements. But what's true is that even faithful, long-time Christians can fall into the trap of selfishness. For example, prayer--what should be an intimate conversation with God--can become a laundry list of personal wants and must-haves. The Father becomes little more than a cosmic genie. And we think our wishes should be his command. It's all about I, me and mine without giving thanks to the One who deserves all of our praise.

Make no mistake: God does indeed want us to tell Him about our legitimate needs and desires. We read in Luke's Gospel that the disciples once asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, just as John the Baptist had taught his disciples. Christ responded through what we call the Lord's Prayer that we should always ask God to provide us with our daily sustenance and protect us from temptation and the Evil One (the devil).

Elsewhere the Bible teaches us to blend our prayers with thanksgiving, regardless of our circumstances. The Apostle Paul lived out this principle throughout his ministry. In fact, he spent time in prison chained to his guards while under the constant threat of death. But he always prayed thankfully. And instead of feeling sorry for himself, he used his circumstances to change the lives of fellow prisoners and jailers alike--and all while writing much of what we today know as the New Testament.

So let's be fair and give credit where credit is due. The Hollywood elite are quick to share the credit with those who deserve it. But rather than thanking the producers, writers and agents during our next acceptance speech, let's instead remember the simple admonition found in Psalm 106:

Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Key to Success

In everything he did he had great success, because the Lord was with him.

 -- 1 Samuel 18:14
Climbing the career ladder, beating tight deadlines and closing the deal are all marks of success in Western society. Millions of Americans actually skip or cut short their well-earned vacations because they're afraid to fall behind at work. They think they just can't find the time in their busy calendars.

But is that really what success is all about? KeyJesus had only three years to complete his mission of saving the world from the penalty of sin. He cured disease, raised the dead and even calmed raging storms with just a word. With such a tight schedule, it seems like Jesus would have little or no time to socialize. But the Bible tells us that he made a special effort to enjoy quality time with those who mattered most to him. And more than 2,000 years later, it's safe to say that his ministry was a successful one.

Luke's Gospel records an episode when Jesus visited the home of his friends Martha and Mary. While Martha busily prepared the food and straightened the house for the gathering, her sister Mary decided to take time out and listen to Jesus' message. Martha was very upset about Mary's attitude and complained to Jesus about the apparent injustice. But instead of scolding Mary, Jesus commended her for choosing the most important thing: quality time with him.

What is true success for Christ-followers like you and me? We're called to be Jesus' hands and feet on earth while we wait for his return. Until then, God wants us to help prepare his Kingdom by making the most of our talents, gifts...and time. And it's by adopting a mindset and lifestyle of service that we'll become more like Christ. In short, we're always to follow the Leader:

"In the same way, the Son of Man did not come to be served," Jesus explains. "He came to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many people." 

To the world, success comes when we land that high-paying job, buy that big house and drive that expensive sports car. But our Creator sees things quite differently. Indeed, the real key of success is when we follow Jesus' example of service by using our gifts, talents and abilities to bless others. As Christ-followers, let's turn our faith into action by accepting Jesus' invitation to help brighten a dark world that's so much in need of light, truth and love.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

What Could Have Been

The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.

 -- Proverbs 12:15
Several years ago, a group of centenarians responded to a survey that asked them what they would do differently if they could somehow re-live their past 100 years. Although their answers differed somewhat, a common theme was evident: They would take more chances in life.

That's not only great advice for individuals like you and me, it also makes sense in the business world. Silicon Valley high tech companies, for example, are infamous for going from boom to bust because they can fail to recognize and exploit opportunities. What Could Have Been might well be their motto. has long been one of the Responsibilitybest-known destinations on the Web. And back in 2006, it offered to pay $1 billion for an upstart social media website called Facebook. The deal was a remarkable opportunity--but one with considerable risk. After all, established competitor My Space had more than 100 million members at the time and had sold a year earlier for only $500 million. The issue grew even more complicated when Yahoo ran into financial difficulty and its stock value tumbled nearly 20 percent. Yahoo reacted by cutting its offer to $800 million, which Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg ultimately rejected. The rest, as they say, is history. Today in 2015--depending on whose figures you believe--Facebook has nearly 1.5 billion monthly active users. MySpace has shrunk to about 51 million users. And Yahoo has struggled with finance and leadership issues ever since.

Yahoo's failure to take a chance and pay top dollar for up-and-coming Facebook was literally history changing. Their executives and advisers had the data and could see the ingenious website's potential. But with their own company's finances in crisis, they decided to play it safe and essentially do nothing. And it cost them dearly.

Likewise, we all can reach a personal crisis point--such as with a toxic relationship--that demands immediate action. And with these crises comes the time when family members, neighbors and employers recognize the warning signs, which always find their way to the surface. It becomes a loud and unpleasant wake-up call--and a proclamation that the time for denials is finally over. But it's also a chance for a fresh start: one based on the abundant life God means for us. The issue then becomes whether or not we're willing to seize the opportunity and turn away from what's devastating us and ruining our future.

"Come now, and let's settle this," says the Lord. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be white as snow. If they are red as crimson, they will become like wool."

It's not easy. In fact, it takes considerable strength to accept responsibility for our actions without trying to justify them away. Unfortunately, we tend to let our pride stop us from doing the right thing. But it doesn't have to be that way. If you're facing a crisis, make the most of it. It might be your once-in-a-lifetime chance to turn your life around. And that's one opportunity you can't afford to miss.