Saturday, October 29, 2016

On the Job

Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank.

-- Proverbs 22:9

Earlier this year, posted an article about job satisfaction in America. The piece featured a list of occupations based on employee-generated workplace reviews compiled by online jobs website CareerBliss. Its rankings considered corporate culture, work environment, compensation, growth opportunities and several other factors. And if you believe its findings, the happiest employees around happen to be recruiters. The article also revealed high satisfaction levels among research assistants and full stack developers (a jack-of-all-trades in information technology).

Who are the least satisfied folks on the job? WorkApparently merchandisers, security officers and sales account managers.

According to the old saying, you'll never work a day in your life if you love what you do for a living. That's when a run-of-the-mill job becomes a passion. But whether you're thrilled with your career or simply putting in the hours for a paycheck, the Bible has some words of wisdom that put things into perspective:

"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men..."

That means whether you're the CEO of an international corporation or a 9-to-5 ditch-digger, you should do your job for God's glory. Moreover, Christ-followers need to consider the workplace as much a place of worship on weekdays as church is on Sundays. And we must also keep the end in mind. Because once we pass into eternity, job titles and salaries will be worthless. Rich or poor, famous or obscure, we'll all have to account for what we did in our lifetimes with the gifts and talents our Creator gave us.

The world's message is that money, position and upward mobility equal job satisfaction and a successful career--and that a successful career equates to a successful life. But the world has it backwards. No matter how hard we work, there's no such thing as a self-made man or woman. Everything we have--our money, possessions, family and health--is due to God's generosity. He gives it freely. And he can take it away without notice.

God's definition of success comes as a surprise to many. So instead of living self-centered work-lives on the fast track to stock options and a corner office, our motivation should revolve around being his hands and feet in the home, community and workplace. It's our faithfulness to God that's the real measure of success. And with the end always in mind, it's how we should live both on and off the clock.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Rock

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

-- Revelation 21-24

It was a place of suffering known to this day as The Rock.

It's Alcatraz, the infamous maximum-security prison situated in the midst of San Francisco Bay. Originally a pre-Civil War-era military outpost and later a military prison, Alcatraz became the last stop for society's worst-of-the-worst when it re-opened in 1934 as an escape-proof penitentiary.

The Rock's ultra-strict code of discipline Alcatrazhelped the facility earn its nickname of Hellcatraz. In its notorious "D" block, prisoners lived in 4' x' 8' cells and were allowed out just once per week for a 10-minute shower. "Harsher punishments," reports the Legends of America website, included "solitary confinement, in total darkness, for days without any release, or confinement in the dreaded steel boxes."

Alcatraz finally closed its doors in 1963. But today, there are still millions of people suffering through a different type of solitary confinement: loneliness. Even in our crowded nation of more than 300 million residents, too many people are on their own without close friends or family. They know all too well that it's possible to be lonely without ever being alone.  

This was never God's plan for his people. But we all to some extent have trouble forming relationships, whether it's with each other or with God. If you go back to Genesis, the first book of the Bible, God put the original man and woman in a perfect, care-free existence called Eden. There were no job deadlines, traffic jams, illnesses or broken marriages. It was a place where God literally walked with his creation. But when the man and woman intentionally disobeyed God's instructions and sinned, things were never the same. Adam and Eve's eyes were opened and they realized the damage they had done. Then they tried to hide from their Creator. Their sin had built a wall between them and God.

Some things haven't changed over the centuries. In addition to running from our sins, we also run from relationships because of what others have done to us. We're determined to avoid being disappointed or hurt again. It's too easy to be let down. And it's much easier to flee.

The good news is that God has a two-fold solution to this problem. First, he re-established our relationship with him through his Son, Jesus. That means as Christ-followers, we're considered to be God's sons and daughters. And second, he built the Church, which is composed of all the Christ-followers around the world. It's a body of imperfect people like you and me who are all looking for the same thing: a safe place to rest from the world, heal our spiritual wounds and make life-long relationships.

Are you suffering in a spiritual solitary confinement? You're never alone through a life-giving relationship of faith in Jesus.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

By the Book

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

-- 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Can we really believe what's in the Bible? What makes it so reliable?

For Christ-followers, these two small questions have eternal consequences. But who really knows? After all, many people say that the Bible is too old to be relevant in the 21st Century. Skeptics doubt the possibility of all the miracles it reports. And still others assert that the Bible is no greater than the scriptures used by other religions.

With so many legitimate concerns out there, why should we trust the Bible?

First, the Bible claims to be God's Bibleword. But moreover it proves it with hundreds of prophesies (predictions) about events that actually happened decades or centuries later. For example, the Old Testament records in detail God's plan for saving mankind through a Messiah. The prophet Micah wrote that this Savior would be born--in of all places--an obscure village in the Middle East called Bethlehem. And as we read in the New Testament, Jesus indeed fulfilled these prophesies through his birth, ministry, death and resurrection. And he did so to the letter!

Historically and scientifically accurate, the Bible is also the most studied and critiqued book in history. Try as many have, no one has been able to disprove its claims. Luke, the physician who wrote the New Testament's Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, also wanted the real scoop. So he interviewed the people who knew Jesus best and could attest to his reality. Consider the opening lines of Luke's first book:

"Many people have tried to tell the story of what God has done among us. They wrote what we had been told by the ones who were there in the beginning and saw what happened. So I made a careful study of everything and then decided to write and tell you exactly what took place. ... I have done this to let you know the truth about what you have heard."

The Apostle Peter--someone who knew Jesus personally--also shared his own testimony:

"When we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, we were not telling just clever stories that someone invented," he said. "But we saw the greatness of Jesus with our own eyes."

It all adds up to a mountain of convincing evidence that would stand up in court. So as Christ-followers seeking to grow in our faith, what should be our response to this awesome reality?

First, we should take time each day to read and memorize Scripture. After all, it's God's message to us that covers just about every facet of life. And of course, we also need to obey it--even if it doesn't make sense at the time. What's more, we should delight in it because we know it's the source of truth for our life. And this all leads to our final action: trust.

Yes, God's message to us through the Bible is reliable. And who better to confirm that than someone who believed it himself: Jesus. Luke's Gospel records that Christ even launched his public ministry by reading a passage from the Old Testament:

He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news 
to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery
of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

Saturday, October 8, 2016

See the Light

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" (which means "God with us").

-- Matthew 1:23

Electricity--and the bright lights it makes possible--is perhaps the one convenience that we most take for granted in our modern society. We simply flick a switch and there it is...until a storm rumbles through and plunges us into utter darkness. How did we ever function before today's Age of Enlightenment? For centuries, people used lamps that burned olive oil. Later, there were candles, whale oil lanterns and even coal gas lighting.

The search for something better took Light Bulbyears of tedious trial and error. Thomas Edison--the world-famous inventor--tried thousands of different materials for his incandescent light before he finally found one that wouldn't burn out in seconds. He eventually solved the dilemma in 1879 by placing a carbon filament in an airless bulb. A few months later, Edison improved his design by using a bamboo-derived filament that could last more than 1,200 hours. The rest, as they say, is history.

Edison's tireless quest for illumination was a bit like mankind's search for meaning and fulfillment in life. We all have a spiritual hunger that's hard-coded into our DNA. Some try in vain to fill this void through negative pursuits involving drugs, alcohol, compulsive spending or questionable relationships. Others cope by becoming workaholics or escaping reality through social media, video games or even travel. But after the thrill is gone, the dark emptiness always returns.

Whether we realize it or not, what we actually seek is our Creator. And to this Jesus responds, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." But many people find it hard to believe that Christ is the answer. After all, how can one person BE and DO all that? It sounds too good and simple to be true.

Jesus backed up the biblical claims of being Immanuel ("God with us") by fulfilling dozens of prophesies written centuries before his birth. There were the many miracles that he performed during his 3-year ministry on earth. And then there was his resurrection to life following his death on a cross, which paid mankind's debt for falling short of God's perfect standards. He healed the sick, restored sight to the blind and even raised the dead. But still, many people refused to believe. And that's still the case centuries later. But don't be too hard on Christ's modern-day skeptics. Even John the Baptist--the person Jesus called the greatest man ever born--had his doubts:

"Are you the one who was to come," John instructed his followers to ask, "or should we expect someone else?"

Jesus answered, "Go and tell John what you have heard and seen. The blind are now able to see, and the lame can walk. People with leprosy are being healed, and the deaf can hear. The dead are raised to life, and the poor are hearing the good news. God will bless everyone who doesn't reject me because of what I do."

After much searching, Thomas Edison eventually found the solution for practical electric lighting. But it was centuries earlier that John the Baptist finally encountered The Light. And you and I can do the same today. It's by putting our faith in Jesus Christ that we can begin our journey with Immanuel: the one who truly is God among us.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Show Me the Way

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.

-- Matthew 7:13

It was a tragic story that dominated the news and fueled the legend of the Kennedy Family curse. The world wanted to know what caused the 1999 plane crash that killed John F. Kennedy, Jr., his wife and her sister.

Conspiracy theorists pointed toward political operatives who would stop at nothing to keep Kennedy from entering national politics and upsetting the 2000 presidential election. One Way Sign2So-called witnesses claimed to have seen his Piper Saratoga explode in mid-air. But for many others, the tragedy was simply that: a tragic accident. They cited the young pilot's relative inexperience with instruments-only flying procedures. The weather was supposedly hazy at the time, with less-than-ideal visibility. The answer--they claimed--is that JFK, Jr. became disoriented during the flight and failed to trust his instruments. He instead decided to trust his instincts and literally flew his airplane into the ocean.

This scenario is quite plausible. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, Kennedy lost control after his plane made a series of rapid turns and altitude changes as it approached the airport. Veteran flight instructor Ernie Carnahan says this disturbing aerial activity is known as a graveyard spiral.

Did JFK, Jr.'s self-reliance and refusal to believe the truth (the plane's instrument panel) result in disaster? If so, he wasn't a trendsetter. As King Solomon observed centuries ago in Proverbs, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death."

That's true for physical death. But it's also the case for spiritual death--a stern warning that Jesus reiterated to his followers and enemies alike. He understood 1st Century ideas about faith and spirituality, and how in many ways they would never change. The Roman Empire that governed Israel at the time was multicultural. And although the Jews worshiped the true God, the Romans and their other subjects worshiped multiple false, man-made deities. But if these so-called pagans were willing to worship Caesar as Lord, Rome would tolerate them.

Some things haven't changed after 2,000 years. For example, society embraces a multiculturalism that declares no faith above another. That familiar COEXIST bumper-sticker seemingly abounds in every parking lot. And whether you advocate Christianity, Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism--it makes no difference--particularly if you're sincere in your faith. 

On the other hand, Christ-followers who dare to stand for Biblical principles are denounced as naive, bigoted and intolerant. And in Canada, Holland and other nations, citizens who've denounced the evils of Islam have been brought before special commissions for questioning and prosecution. The United Nations has even sought to adopt binding legislation against blasphemy--and certainly not to protect Jesus' good name!

Christ knew that mankind's self-reliance and pride would ultimately lead to destruction, death and separation from the Creator. But his solution was one of simplicity and reassurance: "I am the way and the truth and the life," he proclaimed. "No one comes to the Father except through me."

Was that an outrageous and intolerant claim? Only to those who refuse to believe that he is who he claimed to be. But to those who follow Jesus as their Lord and Savior, his stunning declaration is a road map showing the only way to truth and eternal life.