Saturday, June 27, 2015

Be Like Mike

He chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.
-- Exodus 18:25

Love him or loathe him, LeBron James is arguably the best player in professional basketball these days. But if you followed the NBA in the 1980's and '90's, chances are that you were one of the millions who wanted to be like Mike.

The "Mike" in question is of course Basketball2Michael Jordan, one of the best (or perhaps the greatest) basketball players of all time. His astonishing career includes accolades as an NBA Rookie of the Year, a five-time NBA Most Valuable Player, a six-time NBA Champion and a 14-time NBA All-Star. When he retired after the 2002-03 season, the University of North Carolina graduate held the NBA's highest scoring average of 30.1 points per game.

Jordan's remarkable athleticism and talent combined to render an incredible Hall of Fame career that basketball fans will no doubt remember for decades. And his lead-by-example work ethic helped to bring the NBA championship to Chicago six times. Considering his outstanding qualifications, it's no surprise that the 6'6" superstar was a top NBA draft choice. After all, the scouts had good reason to suspect that Jordan would revolutionize the game.

That makes sense for building a successful sport team. On the other hand, God tends to pick His players--the Christ-followers around the world known as the Church--quite differently. His ways aren't mankind's ways. And He often chooses the least likely people to serve Him and accomplish the remarkable things that conventional wisdom deems impossible.

The Bible is full of familiar examples. Moses was a stutterer who once murdered an Egyptian taskmaster. King David--one of the most powerful rulers on Earth--was once an obscure shepherd boy. The Apostle Peter actually denied knowing Jesus three times in public. And Paul--the Apostle to the Gentiles who authored much of the New Testament--once dedicated himself to catching, arresting and killing Christians before the new faith could spread across the Roman Empire. Their common denominator? These real-life heroes were weak, either physically or spiritually. Unlikely is the way God likes it.

"For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength," writes the Apostle Paul. "But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong."

The point here is that we don't have to slam-dunk a basketball or score 30 points a game to make a big difference on the God Squad. In fact, every Christ-follower--strong or weak--is called to be Jesus' hands and feet on earth. As his servants, we're to help prepare our Creator's Kingdom by making the most of the various gifts and talents that He's given us. So rather than trying to be like Mike, we're to follow Jesus' perfect example of leadership.

"In the same way, the Son of Man did not come to be served," Jesus explains in Mark 10:45. "He came to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many people." 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

What If?

"I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

-- John 25:26

Several years ago, a well-known insurance company ran a series of television commercials that asked viewers to ponder a small yet profound question: What if?

What if you get sick and can't work? What if you get married and have triplets? What if you die and your family can't live without your lost income?

These commercials were effective reminders that real-life issues have real-life implications. UncertaintyAnd if you're not prepared (such as with the right insurance coverage), you actually might have something to fear. After all, millions of people each year really do experience serious illnesses and injuries, and their financial needs tend to correspond with their unique circumstances. As Christ-followers, we have an additional consideration. Unless Jesus returns during our lifetimes, every one of us is guaranteed to face death. The mortality rate is 100 percent. It's an inescapable fact.

Another reality is that our society is one of violence, disease and economic uncertainty. And Believers aren't immune from any of it. But we do have an answer to the gnawing uncertainties that grip so many who don't know the Son of God as their personal Savior. It's His supernatural peace that defies all human understanding.

"I give you peace, the kind of peace that only I can give," Jesus assures us in John 14:27. "It isn't like the peace that this world can give. So don't be worried or afraid."

Jesus also proclaims that when we say yes to Him and become His followers, He's always right there by our side. And the Bible (God's Word to us) also provides additional guidance for addressing life's most daunting challenges. For example, we should face our fears with other Believers rather than going it alone. And like an Olympic athlete preparing his or her body for gold medal competition, we must remain spiritually prepared for our opposition. That means depending on God and His power rather than ourselves.

Those insurance commercials have it right: We do indeed live in a world of what-ifs. But Christ-followers have nothing to fear because God is--and always has been--in control in every situation. Jesus' disciples came to understand this reflection of His love and power the day they faced death in the stormy waters of Lake Galilee. 

"Master, Master! We are about to drown," they shrieked as Jesus slept in their sinking boat. But Christ was unfazed: He simply got up and ordered the wind and waves to be calm.

And they did.

"Who is this?" the disciples asked in amazement. "He can give orders to the wind and the waves, and they obey him!"

Let's all embrace the Answer to the disciples' question. It's through Him that the what-ifs of life turn into fear-nots.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Blind Man's Bluff

"Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit."

-- Matthew 15:14

An a-ha moment is that split second when one's eyes are opened to a spiritual truth that changes everything. As Christ-followers, we can have an a-ha when God shows us that we're going down the wrong path in some area of our life. Then it's up to us to respond and turn in the right direction.

Then there's the ultimate a-ha: when Binocularsnon-believers finally awaken to their need for Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. That's not just a temporary revelation--it's eternal. When God's light gets through, we can finally see. But unfortunately, the world still chooses to remain blind and enjoy the darkness of its existence. In fact, if you're a Believer who's open about your faith, the world won't ignore you. Instead, it will likely accuse you of intolerance or bigotry. Just watch TV, surf the Web or read a magazine. You don't have to look hard to find articles, blogs or videos featuring Hollywood celebrities or "progressive" thinkers who point their fingers at "narrow-minded Christians" and use the dreaded "i-word."

But depending on its context, is intolerance always a bad thing? After all, Jesus doesn't turn a blind eye to sin. What's more, he declares Himself to be the exclusive pathway to God.

"I am the way, the truth and the life," we read in John's Gospel. "No one comes to the Father except through me."

That's not very tolerant of him. And his bold proclamation defies today's inclusive, politically correct environment. After all, it hurts feelings and declares that one faith is better than all others. But society's demands for so-called open-mindedness and equality are irrelevant. Jesus has no tolerance for false, second-rate gods and allegiances.

As Christ-followers, we have open access to God's truth through the Bible, prayer and even wise counsel from fellow Believers. We should therefore have less trouble than others with telling right from wrong. But actually doing so is another matter. And that opens us up--and often rightfully so--to charges of self-righteousness and hypocrisy. That's because the world is watching and comparing our Sunday morning words to our weekday deeds.

This puts Christ-followers in a predicament. Since God has revealed his truth to us, it's easy for us to point fingers at others. But when we do, our other four fingers point right back at us. 

Let's all take a look in the mirror. Are our words, thoughts and actions beyond reproach? Jesus was right on the mark when he said we must remove the plank from our own eye before we can remove the speck from our neighbor's eye. Is that would-be "sinner" someone who needs God's truth...or is he or she already a Christ-follower? On the other hand, maybe they never signed up for Jesus' walk of faith in the first place.

The answers to these questions should determine our response. Meanwhile, Christ-followers must hold themselves to a higher standard and let God be the judge of others outside the faith. He knows the whole story, and we're hardly in the position to condemn anyone.

Let's not turn a blind eye to this a-ha moment.

Saturday, June 6, 2015


I've commanded you to be strong and brave. Don't ever be afraid or discouraged! I am the LORD your God, and I will be there to help you wherever you go.

-- Joshua 1:9

Are you the type who can't stand the thought of roller coasters or skydiving? Or are you more of an adrenaline junkie who gets a rush from excitement and adventure?

If you consider yourself to be something of a daredevil, maybe you already know that May 2015 was a tragic month for several people who shared your passion. According to news reports, a 73-year-old California man died after his parachute deployed late during his 500-foot jump from a bridge over the Snake River in Idaho. Days later, celebrity extreme athlete Dan Potter and his climbing partner were killed while attempting to parachute off a cliff in Yosemite National Park. Then on May 28, a 31-year-old woman died after plummeting 36 feet from the FreeDrop USA attraction at the San Bernardino County Fair in Victorville, CA. FreeDrop USA promises thrill-seekers a "pure free fall" experience without the use of harness, bungee cords or wires.
It's probably hard for most people to Skydiverelate to such fear-inducing activities. But in a real sense, Christ-followers like you and me face intimidating challenges every day. And they're barriers that we have no hope of conquering on our own. Poverty, hunger, crime and disease are just a few examples. Since we're to serve as God's hands and feet on Earth, is it any surprise that Satan uses fear as his primary weapon against us? It's the devil who plants the seeds of doubt that cause us to ask ourselves, "What if..." That's the tiny question that leads many to seek the safety found in procrastination and delay.

Christ-followers, however, are called by their Creator to be courageous. But what does "courage" really mean? First, it's not the absence of fear. Instead, it's more about moving forward in spite of fear. Our God stands with His people. And we can be encouraged by the everyday people He's enabled to accomplish extraordinary things. We read in the Scriptures that David--an obscure shepherd boy--killed the fierce giant Goliath with a single well-aimed stone from a slingshot. This is the same shepherd boy who eventually became the King of Israel and the one God called "a man after My own heart." Likewise, the Apostle Peter literally dove into the deep end when he accepted Jesus' call to walk on water. Although he would one day deny even knowing Jesus when the going got tough, Peter ultimately became a bold preacher who led many to faith in Christ. Two books of the New Testament also bear his name. 

"With God with us, who can be against us?" wrote the Apostle Paul in his Letter to the Romans. This is more than a rhetorical question. As Christ-followers, we can take heart that our Creator is preparing us now for what will be required of us later. And whatever we fear in life, we can rest assured that we don't face it alone. In fact, it's when we're in God's presence that we're the most protected. We just need to come to our Father in prayer, listen for His response and guidance, and then obey accordingly in faith. That's how we'll find the courage to make a world of difference...even if it's making that difference one person at a time.