Saturday, January 31, 2015

One of a Kind

I praise you because you made me in an amazing and wonderful way. What you have done is wonderful. I know this very well.

-- Psalm 139:14

Here's a mind-boggling meteorological concept that many people accept as gospel:

Since the beginning of time, every snowflake that has ever fallen is unique. Each one is different with a one-of-a-kind design.

This raises a good question: Out of the trillions of snowflakes that have formed over the centuries, who can prove that one from an 1896 Virginia flurry isn't the twin of another from a New York blizzard two centuries earlier?

There's really no way to know for sure. SnowflakeAnd in fact, it turns out that snowflakes aren't quite so different after all. A December 2014 article on the website reports that there are just 39 types of solid precipitation, and snowflakes fall in one of only 35 shapes. A article further explains that certain flakes tend to occur at particular temperatures, humidities and even locations.

Although there could have been two (or maybe even billions) of duplicate snowflakes over the years, there's no question that God has made every human being unique and in His own image. Moreover, we are both loved and precious in His sight.

"Two sparrows cost only a penny, but not even one of them can die without your Father's knowing it," Jesus assured His followers. "God even knows how many hairs are on your head. So don't be afraid. You are worth much more than many sparrows."

God--the most powerful and loving Presence in the universe--bought you and me at an incredible price: the life of His Son. Since we can never repay what we rightfully owe for all the bad decisions, broken relationships and damage we've wrought throughout our lives, Jesus paid it Himself by dying in our place on a cross between two common criminals. He didn't deserve to be there. But God loves us so much that He went to extraordinary lengths so that we can be with Him forever. 

"If any of you has 100 sheep, and one of them gets lost, what will you do? Won't you leave the 99 in the field and go look for the lost sheep until you find it," Jesus asks in Luke 15. "And when you find it, you will be so glad that you will put it on your shoulder and carry it home. Then you will call in your friends and neighbors and say, 'Let's celebrate! I've found my lost sheep.'"

Yes, God is willing to do whatever it takes to bring you and me home. With the hefty price of our sin paid long ago, the only thing that's left for us is to accept His free gift...and then live out our lives accordingly to show a skeptical world that we're truly one of a kind. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Identity Theft

I was created in the very beginning, even before the world began.

-- Proverbs 8:23

Identity theft made the headlines several times in 2014--particularly through the massive data breaches and hacks that struck companies like The Home Depot and Sony Motion Pictures. Just how big a problem is identify theft? According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, there were 761 data breaches last year. And they exposed a total of 83,176,279 records!

The damage from these costly cyber-crimes Digitalcan take years to repair. But believe it or not, there's another kind of identity theft that's much more serious: It's the one that robs its victims of the abundant life they should develop and enjoy as Christ-followers.

How does this happen? The Bible tells us that when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we become a new creation in God's sight. But far too many people have unknowingly taken on false identities through the negative messages they received early in life. One cause is a parent telling his or her child that "they'll never amount to anything" or that they need to set low expectations for their career or other critical life-milestone. Over and over, children hear that they're "just not smart enough" or "don't have what it takes to make it."

Repeated early and often enough, these fictions can become reality. Moreover, they gradually blind us to the truth about our worth and potential through Jesus. We then end up living our lives trying to be someone (or something) that God never intended. Our identities are effectively stolen.

If this sounds familiar, it's time for a spiritual reality check. First, look back at your past and identify and examine the negative messages that you received earlier in life. Then consider their sources. Can you honestly say that those painful "words of wisdom" were true, or do you actually have God-given talents and abilities? 

It's no wonder that so many of us fail to meet our potentials. If fed a constant diet of half-truths, distortions and falsehoods, even a PhD with an excellent academic record might perceive their proven accomplishments as mere mediocrity!

The truth is that God doesn't see His creation through a clouded, distorted lens. He knew you before you were born and knows the good plans that He has for you. And once you expose the past lies that once sentenced you to failure and underachievement, your true identity as a Christ-follower will be revealed and restored.

Saturday, January 17, 2015


The Spirit of God created me, and the breath of the Almighty gave me life.

-- Job 33:4

Long distance runners call it The Wall. It's the barrier of mental and physical fatigue that athletes train for years to overcome. If successful, they'll reach the finish line with power left to spare. Otherwise, they'll drop out of the race in defeat and exhaustion.

As Christ-followers, we face our own Runners10-foot wall each day as we try to live the way God desires. But instead of struggling to keep pace in a marathon, we battle against our natural tendencies to do what's wrong ("sin"). For example, rather than following Jesus' example of loving our neighbors, helping the disadvantaged and honoring God, we're often tempted to go back to the old "Me First" lifestyle. It's the selfish stuff we know we shouldn't do versus the ultimately world-changing things we can and should do. And as with any long-term conflict, we eventually get tired.

That's when we need more power. But not from a shot of espresso or a can or two of Red Bull.

The New Testament's Book of Romans portrays this struggle as an internal war that pits Good against Evil. And through his own energy and efforts, the Apostle Paul--the scripture's author--knew that he would certainly lose the battle. But he had a dynamic weapon that assured ultimate victory. And it's something that's available to you and me right now.

It's called the Holy Spirit, which is the personal "force" that Christ-followers receive when they ask Jesus to be their Lord and Savior. The Holy Spirit is literally God's power inside the Believer. And it's what enables us to do or say the things we never could before, overcome seemingly insurmountable odds and generally do the impossible. In fact, the Bible says it's the same power that raised Jesus from the dead after His crucifixion.

If you're a Christ-follower, let the Holy Spirit empower and take you the entire distance to be the person God created you to be. Be alert to our Creator's teachings and leadings, and understand that they can come from nearly anywhere. It might be a Bible passage that resonates with new meaning. Or maybe it's a spiritual truth revealed during a discussion with other believers. The Holy Spirit can also speak through a conversation you've had with a friend or stranger, or even out of odd circumstances in the workplace. You never know. But you should always be on the lookout.

Do you have all of the power you need to make it across the finish line in this marathon race called life? You can. And all you need to do is ask.  

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The A-Team

His goal was to carry out his plan, when the right time came, that all things in heaven and on earth would be joined together in Christ as the head.

-- Ephesians 1:10

What do The Dirty Dozen, The Bad News Bears and The A-Team have in common? 

These late night cable TV favorites share the same general plot about a group of unlikely misfits who--one way or another--work together A-Teamto overcome significant obstacles and achieve victory. They face numerous setbacks along the way. But they eventually rally behind their leader, beat long odds and accomplish the improbable. It's a classic, feel-good story line that never seems to grow old.

And it really IS an old story line: at least 2,000 years-old, to be specific.

The "script" here is the New Testament: the second half of the Bible. Much of its real-life plot also revolves around a group of unlikely and unremarkable characters who finally learn from their all-knowing leader (Jesus) and literally alter history. We read in the Gospels that these mundane individuals were Christ's hand-picked followers. Some were fishermen, one was a tax collector and another (Simon the Zealot) might be considered a terrorist by today's standards! Just think of them as the original Dirty Dozen.

The apostles were a dubious group for such an important assignment: changing the world for Christ's kingdom one person at a time. But since it's a mission that continues to this day, maybe it's no surprise that God still chooses society's outsiders and those who tend to fade into the crowd.

Some modern-day Christ-followers work for insurance companies, supermarkets, retail stores and banks. Others are homemakers, sales representatives, police officers and marketing executives. And many are between jobs, retired or work part-time. But for all their differences, they share a critical unifier. It's a fervent belief in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. And it's this same common faith that helps them share the joys and overcome the struggles, disappointments and even tragedies encountered during their unique faith-journeys. Along the way, these seekers have also learned another vital lesson: their own strength and wisdom are worth little toward surmounting the world's obstacles. But this is to their advantage.

"That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties," the Apostle Paul proclaims. "For when I am weak, then I am strong."

And indeed God does much with the weakness of Everyday Joes like you and me. Families are fed, clothed and housed through their contributions and work in churches, food pantries, the Salvation Army and other organizations. The sick are cured through the efforts of healthcare professionals who also happen to trust Jesus. And still other Christ-followers teach the illiterate to read and the undereducated to gain critical life and job skills.

That's only a very brief list of the ways Jesus changes the world when His followers act as His eyes, hands and feet. As the A-Team's leader--Colonel Hannibal Smith--so aptly puts it in every episode, "I love it when a plan comes together!"

And no doubt so does God.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Doing a New Thing

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

-- Isaiah 43:19

Of all the words that describe the Bible, timeless is one of the best. After all, a repeated lesson in Scripture is that there are certain truths and principles that New Yearare as relevant today as they were 2,000 years ago. For example, it's hard to argue that we don't reap what we sow in life. If we spend our lives loving our neighbors as ourselves and otherwise make a positive difference among friends and strangers alike, good will result in one form or another. On the other hand, we can expect a more negative outcome from a lifestyle that embraces habitual theft, lying and cheating.

Nothing has changed in God's eyes over the centuries. But while His truths and principles remain constant, another ongoing Biblical theme is our Father's willingness to spring a surprise or two on those who think they know it all. Every once in a while, God likes to do a new thing. And He tends to carry out His plans in some unexpected ways and places through the most unlikely characters.

We can see this throughout the Old and New Testaments. Moses, called to confront the powerful Pharaoh of Egypt, had a speech impediment. King David was a just a shepherd boy when he killed mighty Goliath. Jesus--God's own Son--was born into poverty and spent His ministry in an obscure corner of the Roman Empire. Christ's disciples were a disreputable bunch that included fishermen, a tax collector and even a terrorist! And Paul, the great missionary who penned several books of the Bible, initially persecuted Christians before he literally saw the Light. It's no wonder that the respected religious authorities of the time were astonished by it all. It just wasn't what they expected!

A new year is upon us. And as 21st Century Christ-followers, we're modern-day reminders of how God continues to join unexpected people, places and circumstances to achieve the greater good by doing a new thing.