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.