Saturday, December 31, 2016

New and Improved

New and Improved
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

-- Isaiah 43:19

You finally bought that new car. And it drives great. In fact, it's even better than you expected. But only a few days later you see a slick TV commercial for the 2017 model. The styling is better, there's more horsepower and it has bells and whistles that weren't available on your vehicle. Suddenly, your shiny pride and joy has lost its luster.

It's inevitable. Buy a feature-packed smartphone, tablet computer or other tech-filled device, and 2017rest assured that a new-and-improved version is right around the corner. Televisions exemplify this principle. It was only a few years ago that expensive Sony Trinitrons had the best picture quality. But today's ultra-high definition flat-screens deliver amazing, life-like images at just a fraction of the price.

There's nothing wrong with the TV you bought a few years ago. Its picture and sound quality haven't let you down. But once you've seen one of those new UHD sets, you're spoiled for good. It's hard to go back because things have been taken to the next level.

Marketing promotes the latest and greatest and what's new and improved. And we expect such messages from advertising agencies and big-box retailers. But did you know that God also uses this same concept when it comes to our faith? First and foremost, God wants us to upgrade our lives by accepting his Son as our personal Lord and Savior. And once we take that life-changing step, our amazing journey begins. But becoming a fully-developed Christ-follower is a process. God doesn't just turn his back on us and wait until we die to take us home. Instead, he wants us to become new and improved along the trip.

How can that happen? One way is by joining a gathering of fellow believers (sometimes called a "small group" or "gel group") that meets in homes, coffee shops or other venues at scheduled times aside from Sunday church worship services. Sharing our joys, troubles, issues--and even doubts--with other believers strengthens the experience. And meeting regularly with them provides more opportunities for faith enrichment. It's in such settings that we encourage one another, do good for each other and study God's message.

2017 is upon us. So are you ready for something that's new and improved? Today's the day to trade in that basic-cable spiritual journey for 500 channels of ultra-high definition faith! 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Package Deal

"If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

-- Luke 11:13

For many folks, receiving and opening presents is the highlight of their Christmas morning. But giving to others is also satisfying--especially when the gift is significant or Gifthas a story behind it. So imagine how you would feel if you bought a particularly expensive gift while overseas, waited patiently while it passed through customs and then paid extra to ship it back home. Then later you discovered that the recipient had never even bothered to open the box!

God has also gone to extreme lengths to offer us a costly, precious gift that we can never afford and don't deserve: total forgiveness of our sins plus salvation through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ. But as with any other gift, it's worthless unless we unwrap the package and accept its contents. This involves:
  • Accepting it with gratitude (because we didn't pay for it)
  • Accepting it with humility (because we could never afford it)
  • Accepting it with joy (because God chose us when we didn't deserve it)
"In the Scriptures God says, 'When the time came, I listened to you, and when you needed help, I came to save you,'" writes the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians. "That time has come. This is the day for you to be saved."

Christmas is almost here. But you don't have to wait until December 25 to open a priceless gift that has your name written all over it. In fact, the Giver invites you to start untying the bows and shredding the wrapping paper--right now!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Special Delivery

Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.

-- Psalm 80:3

Long before FedEx, email and Facebook, there was Special Delivery.

Between 1885 and 1997, the U.S. Postal ServiceSpecial Delivery3 offered this premium option, which involved a letter's delivery from the local post office branch directly to the recipient--rather than through the mail carrier's normal route. And Special Delivery postage was costly. That's because it called for a dedicated courier--sometimes on bicycle--to hand-deliver the letter to ensure that its important message reached the addressee. 

What was so special about Special Delivery? 

Today we live in an age of instant messaging and Twitter. We can take a smartphone from our pocket and Skype almost anyone in the world at any time. But back in the day before jet airplanes and the Internet erased the miles between New York and California, Special Delivery was the way to quickly spread the word about the big stuff: that special life-altering news about marriage, birth, death or even a job offer. 

As Christ-followers known collectively as The Church, we also have an important message that requires special delivery. Ours is the Gospel, which translated from Greek means good news. And what is this good news that distinguishes us from everyone else on Earth? It's that God's own son--Jesus--has paid the high price for all of our failures and shortcomings by dying on a cross in our place. The result is that everyone who accepts Jesus' free gift of salvation becomes a new creation ("born again") in God's eyes. Our faith in Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior wipes the slate clean, enables us to live our lives anew and have an eternal future with our Creator. 

Now that IS Good News! And Christ-followers are called to be its Special Delivery couriers. But how can we do that?

The most obvious way is to deliver the message through our worship services and personal interactions with non-believers. But we're also to spread the word by being Jesus' hands and feet on earth while we wait for his return, or that day when he calls us back home (whichever comes first). Either way, God wants us to help prepare his kingdom by making the most of the gifts and talents that he's given us. We're to serve others by following Christ's example: 

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

It's not about us. It's instead about Jesus and the promise of new life through him. So let's turn our faith into action and deliver this Good News by shining a light upon a dark world that's so much in need of his guidance, truth and love. 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Seek First

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

"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness," Jesus advises us through Matthew's Gospel," and all these things will be given to you as well."

When we seek something--or someone--we need to know what--or whom--we're looking for. Christ-followers on their life-long spiritual journey look toward Jesus as their Lord and Savior. And every day, they seek to know him better and do God's will with purpose and vision.

If you're a Christ-follower, no one has to Majitell you that this odyssey can be rough at times. But let's consider the original Christ-followers, those who 2,000 years ago traveled countless miles through deserts and rugged terrain--just to meet 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. In any event, they one evening 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 gaze upon and worship the King of Kings.

The second chapter of Matthew's Gospel reveals that the Wise Men lived up to their name. Moreover, this scripture still holds lessons for modern-day Christ-followers like you and me. We learn first that following God can be dangerous and demanding. Our winding spiritual pathway is full of hairpin turns and steep hills rather than long, smooth stretches of superhighway. To reach their destination, the Magi chose the road-less-traveled rather than the direct route. So let's ask ourselves: How often throughout the day do we choose the easy way out rather than doing the difficult (but right) thing?

Their example also reassures us that as Christ-followers, we will find Jesus if we search for him diligently. The Wise Men recognized the Christ-child's star from far away. And they stayed on the path until they reached their goal.

It was a worthy lesson 20 centuries ago, and it remains so for us today. Let's set our sights upon Jesus and open our eyes, mind and heart to God's will for our lives. It's then that we'll navigate that narrow, winding road with fellow Christ-followers until we reach the Promised Land that's also our eternal home.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Light of the World

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world,
but men loved darkness instead of light because
their deeds were evil.

-- John 3:19

Grade-schoolers from previous generations knew Christopher Columbus as the adventurer who "sailed the ocean blue and discovered America in 1492." Although that's inaccurate history, Columbus was indeed one of the earliest and most important European explorers of what became known as the New World. And rather than making just one transatlantic voyage, he actually completed four.   

That final trip nearly cost Columbus and Lighthousehis crew their lives. In February 1504 they landed in Jamaica--but they soon encountered hostile natives. Even if Columbus could talk his way out of a fight, the expedition also lacked sufficient food and supplies. The situation was gloomy. What the brave explorers needed was a light at the end of the tunnel.

That light turned out to be more than a figure of speech. While studying his almanac Columbus discovered that a total lunar eclipse would occur in the next three days. The Italian navigator then told the natives that his God was angry because they had stopped giving supplies to his crew. Columbus warned them that unless the shipments resumed, God would reveal his displeasure by swallowing up the moon.

It's likely that the Indians laughed at Columbus' threat. But sure enough--just as the almanac predicted--the full moon appeared, but without its lower edge! As the minutes passed and the sky grew dark, the moon took on a startling, blood-red appearance. The spectacle terrified the natives, who begged Columbus to intercede with God on their behalf. Columbus agreed to try, and he returned to his ship to "speak" with The Almighty. This conference, however, was actually a ruse to gain time for tracking the eclipse's progress. At just the right moment, Columbus informed the natives that they had been forgiven and that the moon would be restored.

You can guess the rest. The full moon soon began to shine its bright light on the balmy Caribbean island. Filled with gratitude for escaping their supposed demise, the natives ran to bring provisions to Columbus and his crew. The crafty European explorers were saved. And within a few months, they departed for home.

When we fast-forward to the 21st Century, it's easy for us to judge the natives for their reaction to the eclipse. But are we really so different today? Everyone--even the most devoted Christ-follower--exhibits episodes of spiritual darkness from time to time. For example, how often do we utter cutting words toward our spouse and children, cut off other drivers on the roadway or maybe even fudge a bit on our taxes? The point is that we all fall short of God's perfect standards. And that's why we must always let the Light into our lives to drive out those things that should never see the light of day!

That Light is Jesus Christ. He invites you and me to follow him on our faith-journey toward his Kingdom--and all the while reflecting his radiance on those who still live in darkness:

"I chose you to bring justice, and I am here at your side," the Savior explains through the Book of Isaiah. "I selected and sent you to bring light and my promise of hope to the nations." 

Are you ready to help light the way?