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.