Saturday, April 30, 2016

Out of the Darkness

My friends, what good is it to say you have faith, when you don't do anything to show that you really do have faith? Can that kind of faith save you?

-- James 2:14
For Christ-followers these days, the headlines are anything but encouraging. Our brothers and sisters in faith have been persecuted and killed by the thousands throughout the Middle East and in Asia. In Canada, Light Bulbthe passage of Bill C-250 has criminalized parts of Scripture that seemingly expose certain classes of people to so-called "hatred and ridicule." And in the United States, which has a Constitutional amendment guaranteeing freedom of religion, Christian business-owners face thousands of dollars in fines and other penalties for the crime of adhering to Bible-based standards. It's in troubling times like ours that we must remember Jesus' admonition to some of His earliest followers:

"Make your light shine, so that others will see the good that you do and will praise your Father in heaven." 

What does Jesus mean by light? It's really that "spark" or inner power that God grants each Christ-follower to demonstrate his goodness through their words and actions. We might show it by running a much-needed errand for an elderly neighbor. Or volunteering to manage a co-worker's project when he or she is struggling to finish an earlier assignment. Or it might involve cleaning up a community park, buying groceries for a shut-in or visiting the residents of an assisted living center. Ultimately, it's about living out our faith. 

As he did 2,000 years ago, Jesus also calls on his modern-day followers to be the salt of the earth--that crucial element of preservation and flavor--while we await his return. That means we're to help prepare for his Kingdom by making the most of the different gifts and talents that he's given us. And while serving the least of his creation, we'll become more like him along the way. 

"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."   

We do indeed live in troubling times. But many outside our faith are now recognizing both their plight and their need for a brighter future. As Christ-followers, let's turn our faith into salt and light by accepting Jesus' invitation to help illuminate a dark, dying world that's so much in need of our Savior's guidance, truth and love. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Read All About It

Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you 
who weep now, for you will laugh.

-- Luke 6:21
There's an old saying in the news business that if it leads, it bleeds. Turn on the TV, surf the web or read a newspaper, and you're bound to come across story after story about presidential campaigns run amok, discouragingly-high unemployment rates and degenerate human behavior. The fact is that the media thrives on bad news and hyping the worst possible scenarios for maximum effect. After all, good news rarely drives ratings or sells magazines.

With bad news and scary headlines in ReadAllAboutItsuch plentiful supply these days, how about counting your blessings for a while and taking a break from the bleakness? It's easier than you think. For one week, make the effort to avoid TV--particularly news broadcasts or shows with a political bent. Also, keep away from the same type of content on the web. And don't bother with newspapers or magazines. Many entertainment publications and even sports shows have become outlets for political agendas.

At the end of those quiet seven days, maybe you won't feel quite as informed as you would have had you stayed glued to the 24-hour news channel or the Internet. But odds are that you'll experience much less stress and have a greater appreciation for God's blessings in your life.

That's sound advice for ditching the bad news. So how about a good word for a change?

As Christ-followers, the Good News about Jesus and our new life through him are what gives us hope and a clearer perspective about the future. And as we read in the Bible about the many wondrous promises God has kept for those who love him, our anticipation only grows as we ponder the goodness that lies ahead. 

Are the headlines too much to bear these days? Good News and the blessings that accompany it are closer than you think. Make time each day to read all about it.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Good as Gold

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean.

-- Matthew 23:27

You've seen the commercials: the ones that invite you to trade your unwanted or broken gold jewelry for quick cash. And with the price of gold these days nearing $1,300 per ounce, the promise of seemingly easy money is tempting. But as you're rummaging through your jewelry chest for that gaudy necklace from your aunt, be forewarned that all that glitters isn't gold. Or maybe it's more accurate to say that when it comes to gold jewelry, what you see isn't always what you get.

The proof is as close as your ring finger. GoldThat's because most gold jewelry is marked with a karat rating of 10k, 14k or 18k--the higher numbers indicating the greater purities of the precious metal. But since the purest gold (like 24k) is quite soft and expensive, goldsmiths mix gold with cheaper metals so the resulting alloy will stand up to everyday wear and tear. One of the most popular gold ratings, 18k, is 75% gold mixed with a 25% alloy of silver, copper or both. A lower-purity gold with a more affordable price tag is 14k. And then there's 10k gold: generally the lowest purity that can still be called gold. About 60% of a 10k ring represents metals other than gold! Then things really get dicey when it comes to the gold-filled and gold-plated jewelry sold on cable shopping channels and at mall kiosks.

Gold can look dazzling to the untrained eye. But Jesus--the Master Craftsman--is quick to spot cheap imitations and showy, overpriced pieces that aren't what they seem. And he's looking at people, not jewelry!

Christ aimed some of his most stinging criticisms at the so-called religious people who said all the right things, appeared to be spiritual and made a show when presenting their weekly worship offering. They looked fine on the outside. But Jesus was able to scrape off their shiny, golden veneer to reveal the ugly base metal of their hearts. He called them hypocrites.

It's likely that our Savior would use this same term for some modern-day church-goers. After all, they've worn their Sunday-finest mask for so long that they think it's natural. But there's good news for those who want to abandon the facade in favor of a new life through faith in Jesus. Likewise, God specializes in forming beautiful and useful examples of his handiwork from raw materials exposed to the intense heat of daily trials and tribulations. And it's when life gets super-heated that our impurities are finally burned away. This trial-by-fire leaves only high-quality gold: the precious metal that's pure and pliable enough to be formed into the effective Christ-followers that God desires us to be.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Face Value

Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours.

-- Isaiah 61:7

Cleft lips and similar deformities are true curses in the developing world. For example, babies in Uganda that are born with clefts are named "Ajok," which literally means "cursed by God." These youngsters often face lives filled with shame, isolation and abandonment.

The story goes that a doctor was driving Mirror Imagethrough Kibati, Kenya, when he spotted a man on a bicycle. What quickly became evident was that the man had a cleft lip. The doctor pulled over, exited his vehicle and introduced himself as Githinji Gatahi. Dr. Gatahi explained that he worked for an international organization called Smile Train. And it could arrange for the surgical repair of the bicyclist's cleft lip at no charge.

The bicyclist--named Peter--responded that he had heard about this remarkable bargain but always assumed there was a catch. Dr. Gatahi assured him that the surgery was indeed free because generous donors from around the world had already covered the cost. A few days later, the physician and his team drove their patient to the hospital. And within hours, an awestruck Peter stared at himself in the mirror. His cleft lip--the impairment that had plagued him for more than 30 years--was mended. And all it took was his willingness to accept Dr. Gatahi's offer for the free (but costly) gift.

"The words that keep ringing in my mind are that I don't believe it's for free...and yet I could never afford it," Peter said. 

"It just shows how many people we still need to reach out there," added Dr. Gatahi. "Luckily, people like Peter become real ambassadors for Smile Train."

In modern industrialized nations like ours, we can be thankful that most babies with clefts don't face such societal rejection. However, we've all been born with a sin defect that will lead to spiritual death and eternal isolation from God if someone doesn't pay for its repair. And the fact is that we can never pay that price: the one we rightfully owe for all the bad decisions, broken relationships and damage we've wrought throughout our lives. The only way to solve this humanly impossible dilemma was for Jesus (known as The Great Physician) to pay for it himself by dying on a cross: a spectacle of ultimate humiliation and shame. Jesus didn't deserve to be there. But God loved us so much that he was willing to pay an incredible price just so we could avoid eternity in Hell and instead live with him in joy.

Like Dr. Gatahi's patient who stared in amazement at his repaired cleft, we too find such generosity difficult to grasp. But it's true. The high price for our salvation--one that we could never repay--was covered through Jesus' sacrificial death. Our shame is now gone because God remembers our sins no more. And with our lives newly transformed, our response should be to accept this remarkable gift with gratitude...and become active ambassadors for our Creator and his Good News.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Without a Doubt

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?"

-- Matthew 14:31
It's been said that if you have enough faith to believe the first four words of the Bible ("In the beginning, God..."), the rest of Scripture is easy. Still, even long-time Christ-followers can have their moments of doubt--particularly in times of crisis, such as with a job loss, a serious illness or the death of a loved one. 

But trusting in God's promises extends well Crossbeyond current relationships, employment status and finances. His guarantees found throughout the Bible are eternal. And we can take them all to the bank because of their proven record of reliability. For example, God promised through the Old Testament's Book of Amos that the city of Tyre would be destroyed because of its harsh treatment of Israel. A few centuries later, the armies of Alexander the Great indeed leveled Tyre's impregnable fortress walls. God also promised to reunite his scattered chosen people from around the globe. About 2,500 years later in 1948, God did just that through the birth of the State of Israel.

It doesn't stop there. J. Barton Payne's Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy lists more than 1,800 other promises from God. And no doubt his greatest was fulfilled--as predicted in detail centuries earlier--through the birth of the world's Savior (Jesus) in an obscure outpost of the Roman Empire. It was that first Christmas that God came to Earth to personally experience the human condition.

This fulfillment of God's promise was much more than a footnote in history. Through Jesus, the devil was defeated and Christ-followers were given the power to live victorious, Spirit-filled lives. And can't we all benefit from that today? Let's consider these words of assurance that are still relevant 20 centuries after Christ's death and resurrection:

"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny," Jesus asked some of his followers. "Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father's care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows."

That's our Creator's promise to you and me: his deep concern for us. He also knows each of us intimately--even before the foundation of the earth. In fact, the Book of Isaiah tells us that our very names are written on the palms of his hands!

As Christ-followers, uncertainties about our faith will come and go. But we should be reassured that ours is a God who loves us and has wondrous plans for our future. 

There's no doubt about it.