Saturday, June 24, 2017

All That Glitters

These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

-- 1 Peter 1:7

You've seen the commercials.

They're the ones that invite you to trade in your gold jewelry for quick cash. And with the price of gold these days exceeding $1,200 per ounce, the promise of easy money might be irresistible. But while you're rummaging through your jewelry chest for that ugly necklace from your great-aunt, don't forget the old saying: 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 corresponding purities of the precious metal. But since the purest gold (like 24k) is very soft--and not to mention very expensive--goldsmiths mix it with other metals so the resulting alloy will stand up to everyday wear and tear. One of the most popular gold ratings, 18-karat, is 75% gold mixed with a 25% alloy of silver, copper or both. A lower-purity gold with a more affordable price tag is 14-karat. And then there's 10-karat gold--generally the lowest purity that can still be referred to as gold. About 60% of a 10-karat gold 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 late-night TV.

The bottom line is that gold jewelry can look dazzling to the untrained eye. But Jesus--who's the Master Artisan--is quick to spot cheap imitations and showy, overpriced pieces that aren't what they seem. And he's looking at people rather than 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 giving their weekly church offerings. 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.

Christ would likely 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 truly desire genuine transformation and a new life through faith in The Savior. 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 our Creator both values and desires.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Lawn and Garden

I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you.

-- Genesis 17:6

Recorded during a time when the livelihood of most people involved agriculture, the Bible is full of references to the planting, harvesting and storage of crops. The crowds that followed Jesus from village to village were certainly familiar with the imagery of fruitfulness in his parable called The Sower. They knew a thing or two about cultivation. After all, their ability to grow and harvest a thriving crop each year could mean the difference between starvation and having plenty.

A related theme in the Bible is that of Harvestmankind's need for a thriving relationship with its Creator. Without him, nothing--either spiritual or physical--can grow.

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener," Jesus tells us through John's Gospel. "He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful."

Christ then added this caution:

"I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples."

Warm weather is here, and folks are flocking to lawn and garden centers to buy the tools, fertilizers and other supplies to make their gardens thrive. They know that with enough time and effort, the harvest can be both remarkable and satisfying.  
    
The same goes for cultivating our spiritual lives, which also takes time and effort. But unlike a plot of vegetables that eventually withers and dies with the first frosts of autumn, spirit-filled lives rooted in a solid relationship with God will thrive and produce much fruit--and all with eternal benefits.

Are you cultivating a fruitful, personal relationship with your Creator--and are you helping others do the same? Work awaits us in the fields. So as we gather our spiritual gardening tools for the task at hand, let's consider these familiar words of Jesus from Matthew's Gospel:

"The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few."

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Hitting the Wall

I am coming soon. So hold firmly to what you have, and no one will take away the crown that you will be given as your reward.

-- Revelation 3:11

Long-distance runners call it The Wall. It's that barrier of mental and physical fatigue that successful athletes train for years to overcome. If successful, they'll reach the finish line with power left to spare. But those who are unprepared will drop out of the race in exhaustion and defeat.

As Christ-followers, we face our own wall each day as we try to live up to the calling for holiness--or being conformed to all things to God's will. That means we must be set apart by living by our Creator's standards rather than the world's expectations. But too often we tire as we fight our natural tendencies to do what's wrong ("sin"). Instead of following Jesus' example of loving our neighbors, helping the disadvantaged and honoring God, we're tempted to go back to our old "Me First" lifestyle. It's a real struggle: the selfish stuff we know we shouldn't do versus the ultimately world-changing things we can and should do. And as with any long battle, fatigue tends to set in.

Of course, giving up is never a viable Obstacleoption. We read in the Gospel of John that Jesus' disheartening words caused many of his followers to turn their backs on him and head home. Christ then asked his 12 disciples if they also planned to leave him. To this Simon Peter replied, "Lord, there is no one else that we can go to! Your words give eternal life."

What can we do when we hit our spiritual wall? First, we should lighten our load by shedding the excess possessions and unnecessary distractions that hold us back. For example, do any of us really need the burden of more credit card debt when we probably have more than we need of just about everything? And like successful marathoners, we must always keep our eyes on the finish line. Yes, steep hills and rough road lie ahead of us. But every step we take gets us closer to victory!

Finally--and most importantly--we must always pray for strength. And we get this much-needed vitality through the Holy Spirit: the personal Power that all Christ-followers receive when they ask Jesus to be their Lord and Savior. The Holy Spirit is literally God residing in every Believer. It's that Force that enables us to do or say the things we never could before, overcome seemingly insurmountable odds and generally do the impossible. In fact, the Bible tells us it's the same Power that raised Jesus from the dead that first Easter morning. And it's our Power to keep on the journey.

James, the stepbrother of Jesus, gives us these words of encouragement:

"Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him."

Do you have the power you need to overcome the obstacles in this long-distance race called life? All you have to do is ask for it in faith.  

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Fixer Upper

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

-- Ezekiel 36:26 

Although home renovation is hardly a new concept, the related house-flipping industry has more recent origins. And it's flourished over the last 25 years--particularly following the Great Recession and the 2010 home foreclosure crisis. 

The principle behind flipping is to buy Hammera foreclosed or otherwise "distressed" property at a bargain-basement price, fix it up quickly and then sell it for a nice profit. HGTV's popular television series The Fixer Upper follows Waco, TX-based Chip and Joanna Gaines as they renovate the worst homes in the best neighborhoods. The results from their shared efforts are nothing less than spectacular. What were once useless eyesores become cherished homesteads.

Every Christ-follower is linked to this illustration. Like run-down properties made whole again, we become born-again creations once we accept Jesus through faith as our Lord and Savior. We start life over with a clean slate--now ready and able to do good works to advance God's Kingdom. Think about the implications: All of our failures and everything that we've done wrong throughout our lives is forgiven. And it's all because Jesus paid that heavy price and died in our place on the cross!

As new Christ-followers we become transformed in the way we live, the way we see the world and the way we look toward the future. But like a weather-worn house with a bad foundation, our renovation takes time, and it's on the Master Builder's timetable. What's more, we can't expect quick and easy results.

God--like those professional home pros that we see on TV--enjoys transforming the worthless into the worthwhile. And he tends to accomplish his plans in some unlikely ways and places through some even more unlikely people like you and me.

"Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" our Creator proclaims through the Book of Isaiah. "I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert."

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Smoke and Mirrors

An honest witness does not deceive, but a false witness pours out lies.

-- Proverbs 14:5 

Slot machines and concerts may draw the big crowds in Las Vegas, but magic acts like Criss Angel, David Copperfield and Penn and Teller can be the hottest tickets in town. Their clever illusions and sleight of hand are designed to trick the eye--and all while deceiving the audience that it's possible to make an elephant disappear into thin air. The crowd knows that there must be a trick, yet they still want to believe the incredible. Meanwhile, the magician never reveals the truth: the secret behind the hocus-pocus.

A very different kind of revelation is that split second when one's eyes are opened to a spiritual truth that changes everything. For Christ-followers that can happen when God shows us that we're going down the wrong path in some area of life. Then there's the ultimate eye-opener: when non-believers finally awaken to their need for Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. That's not just life changing--it's literally eternal.

When God's light breaks through, the Magictruth is revealed and we can finally see. Unfortunately, much of the world still chooses to remain deceived and enjoy the utter darkness of its existence. Meanwhile, Christ-followers who are open about their faith are accused of narrow-mindedness, bigotry or worse. Just surf the web or watch TV. You don't have to look hard to find articles or videos featuring Hollywood celebrities or so-called progressive journalists who point their fingers at "intolerant" Christians.

But depending on the context, is intolerance such a bad thing when the truth is at stake? After all, Jesus hates sin and declares himself to be the exclusive pathway to God. "I am the way, the truth and the life," he says. "No one comes to the Father except through me."

That's not very tolerant of God's Son. And his bold proclamation defies today's inclusive, politically correct environment. After all, it hurts feelings and suggests that some faiths are better than others. But society's demands for open-mindedness and equality are irrelevant. Jesus has no tolerance for their false gods and deceptions.

God's truth is near for those who truly seek it. And we have open access to this living water through the Bible, prayer and even wise counsel from fellow Believers. With such vast resources at hand, we should have less trouble than others with telling right from wrong and discerning the truth. But actually living this out is another matter. And that opens us up--and often rightfully so--to allegations of self-righteousness and hypocrisy. That's because the world is watching. And It's comparing our Sunday-morning words to our weekday deeds.

So are our words, thoughts and deeds little more than smoke and mirrors...or are we living on rock-solid faith? Let's not be deceived.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Gospel Truth

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? And is all that stuff about Jesus rising from the dead really true?

Those are lofty questions with eternal consequences. But who really knows the truth? After all, some people say that the Bible is too old to be relevant in the 21st Century. Others doubt the possibility of all the miracles it reports. And still others claim that the Bible is no greater than the scriptures used by other faiths.

With so many legitimate concerns out there, what makes the Bible stand out above every book ever written?

First, the Bible claims to be God's word. TruthBut moreover it backs up its claims 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 the Savior would be born--in of all places--an obscure Middle Eastern town called Bethlehem. And as we read in the New Testament, Jesus fulfilled these prophesies in person 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 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. Let's 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 reassures us through 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 wrote. "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's our response to this awesome reality?

First, we should take time each day to read and memorize God's word. After all, it's his 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 response: trust.

Indeed, God's word to us through the Bible is trustworthy. And who better to confirm that than someone who very much believed it himself: Jesus. Luke's Gospel tells us that Christ even launched his public ministry by reading passages from the Book of Isaiah. A tiny Jewish congregation was the first audience for these stunning words of new-found meaning. But Jesus also meant them for everyone--even those today--with ears to hear them:

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, May 13, 2017

Racing Fuel

Are you so irrational? After you started with the Spirit,
are you now finishing up with your own human effort?

-- Galatians 3:3 

Last week, Kenyan Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge nearly made history in his attempt to complete a marathon in less than two hours. Although he beat his personal best time for the 26.2-mile race, he still finished 26 seconds short of the goal at the Formula One race course in Monza, Italy. 

Completing such a grueling competition (let alone winning it) involved much more than practice runs and stretching exercises. Successful marathoners also adhere to a special diet to ensure that their bodies have enough fuel to carry them the distance. They understand that eating the wrong foods can mean the difference between crossing the finish line and dropping out in exhaustion with miles still left to go.

For Christ-followers, this principle applies Runnerbecause our faith-journeys are also marathons. The difference is that our racing fuel pertains to the spiritual foods we consume through our choice of friends, movies, music and other media. On the way to crossing life's finish line, we should strive to produce the fruit of the Holy Spirit, which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. But if we're constantly feeding on negative influences, we shouldn't be surprised if we follow our old sinful natures from time to time. Expressions of jealousy, bitterness and frustration are common examples of what can happen when we fail to consume the right spiritual fuel for going the distance.

As the Apostle Paul told the Galatians, "Our sinful selves want what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit wants what is against our sinful selves. The two are against each other, so you cannot do just what you please."

It's obvious that every Christ-follower--just like every runner in an Olympic marathon--needs to prepare for the long and demanding race ahead of them. But rather than carb-loading to maximize the storage of energy in our muscles, we should instead follow a determined spiritual routine that will help see us to victory.

First, let's start with constant prayer and a continual awareness that we can't make it without the Holy Spirit living within us. Rather than living one day at a time, we're to proceed moment by moment. Second, we must deliberately filter our thinking. Do the movies we watch, the websites we visit and the friends we make feed our spirit or our sinful nature? And finally, we must die to ourselves every day by staying alert for traps and obstacles that could run us off the track. It's in 2 Timothy that Paul writes about the payoff for his own faith-journey through a rigid spiritual diet and rigorous training regimen: 

"I have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith. At last the champion's wreath that is awarded for righteousness is waiting for me. The Lord, who is the righteous judge, is going to give it to me on that day. He's giving it not only to me but also to all those who have set their heart on waiting for his appearance."

The old saying is true: You are what you eat. So whether you're a brand-new Christ-follower or you've been a believer for years, consume only the life-giving fuels that will take you the distance and over the finish line. 


Saturday, May 6, 2017

Doing Right with What’s Left

Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. 

-- Ecclesiastes 5:10 


Money talks. And often it just says, "Good-bye."

Can you relate to that old saying? According to the Moneyish website, the average American now faces $37,000 in debt, which doesn't include their mortgage. About 10% of us owe more than $100,000! And we're also not saving for the future. The Trading Economics website reports that our nation's personal saving rate--the ratio of personal income saved to personal net disposable income during a set period of time--averaged 8.3% from 1959 until 2017. It reached an all-time high of 17% in May 1975 and a record low of 1.9% in July 2005. Today, we're saving about 5.6% of our income.

How can we climb out of this ever-widening money pit? As with all important things in life, it comes Money Keydown to priorities. The average American is spending 40% of their income on non-essential items like travel, entertainment and hobbies. Meanwhile, they're holding about two bank-issued credit cards and carrying a total balance owed of about $5,600.

Debt is hardly a modern-day issue, and the Bible has plenty to say about it that's as relevant now as it was centuries ago. First, set aside the first 10% or more of your income for God's work by giving to the church. This tithe sets our priorities by putting God first in our lives and focusing our faith on him to meet our needs.

Need some other debt-busters? Set aside the next 10% or more for personal savings. Major expenses--like a leaky roof, auto repairs or doctors' bills--are bound to happen. (And don't forget about retirement!) But if you save little by little over a long enough period, you'll be pleasantly surprised at how your money has grown. And it will be there when you need it most.

This all leads to the obvious question: After you've given to God and then to yourself, how do you handle the rest of your income?

The answer varies by person and his or her unique situation. But there are some general rules of thumb for being good managers of our resources. First, we need to discipline our desires and be satisfied with what God has given us. Buying the newest, shiniest and most state-of-the-art, must-have item is rarely necessary if last year's model still works fine. We also need to acknowledge the reality of our situation. If we're spending more than our income just to keep up with the neighbors, a reality check can put things into much-needed perspective. Do you always need that $4 cup of name brand coffee? Finally, draw up a specific plan by budgeting your money toward what counts most. (And then stick with it!)

When it comes to money, it really is all about priorities. How we handle what God gives us is a tangible test of our trust and willingness to make him our Number One. And if we show him that we can handle just a little while honoring him in the process, he can use us to advance his Kingdom on Earth by putting us in charge of much more than we can ever imagine. 


Saturday, April 29, 2017

Now You're Cooking!

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.

-- Matthew 10:8


Think of them as hours of low-calorie entertainment.

They're those cooking shows on cable TV found on channels ranging from The Food Network to The Cooking Channel and all the way to Bravo. And whether it's Top Chef or Chopped or even Cutthroat Kitchen, their culinary contestants literally cry over spilled milk and put all their eggs into one basket every episode.

Some are eliminated in the first round of competition, Top Chefwhile the best-of-the-best go all the way to become that week's Chopped Champion. But every one of these would-be Rachael Rays and Bobby Flays--regardless of their nationality and upbringing--say that becoming a great chef was always their life's purpose. Moreover, it was a purpose that guided them in nearly every aspect of life. Their culinary career paths even determined their personal relationships!

Believe it or not, there are culinary parallels between the Bible and what it takes to run a popular restaurant on the show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. For example, to succeed in life God's way, Christ-followers first must gather the right spiritual ingredients. That starts with one part unity with other Christ-followers mixed with a measure of regular prayer and Bible study. Then blend in a heaping helping of discernment--the ongoing intentional functions of living, thinking and acting constructively. (It's all about habitually looking for the good and dwelling on the positive.) Place this mixture into a hot oven of daily circumstances, trials and crises. The result is a rich life marked by a demonstrable willingness to serve others.

Christ-followers are called to be Jesus' hands and feet on earth while we wait for his return, or that day when he calls us back home (whichever comes first). Until then, our Creator wants us to help prepare his Kingdom by making the most of the different ingredients (gifts and talents) that he's given to each follower. It's by adopting a lifestyle of service that we'll become more like our Master, Jesus: 

"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." 
  
When we serve, it's not about us; it's instead about him and his creation. So as Christ-followers, let's turn our faith into action by accepting Jesus' invitation to help feed a dying world that's hungry for guidance, truth and love.

Are you ready to try out God's never-fail recipe for finding purpose in life through service to others? The proof, as they say, is in the pudding! 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Just What the Doctor Ordered

Everyone on earth has a body like the body of the one who was made from the dust of the earth. And everyone in heaven has a body like the body of the one who came from heaven.

-- 1 Corinthians 15:45


The Garden of Eden must have been quite a place.

And indeed it was. We read in Genesis that it was a literal paradise filled with beautiful fruit trees, gardens, rivers and animals. God created Adam to care for it, and later introduced Eve to complete the equation. There was no crime, violence, unemployment or any of the other realities of our modern existence. And the first man and woman communed with God in a world without pain or sickness. Or even death.

Then...everything changed. Adam and Eve's disobedience through eating from the garden's forbidden tree led to their permanent eviction from Eden. And ever since, human existence has involved toil, conflict, illness and mortality. It's a price that we're still paying to this day.

Just how far has Adam and Eve's sin Prescriptiontaken us from that place of perfect health? According to the most recent data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), our nation's healthcare spending reached $3.2 trillion in 2015. That's more than $10,000 per person. Experts predict that healthcare could represent 20% of America's total economy by 2025. And with so many Baby Boomers entering their retirement years, our need for healthcare and related services will only grow.

It's obvious that our nation--as well as the rest of the world--is in desperate need of healing. That's why it's a good thing that God sent us a Great Physician in the form of his own son, Jesus Christ.

The New Testament reveals that Jesus, with only a touch or a word, healed lepers, the blind and the paralyzed. He even returned a man and a young child from death: all incredible miracles that proved Jesus is indeed God among us. But if you think about it, these miracles were only temporary. All those whom Jesus healed or resurrected eventually died. Just as we all will one day.

But Jesus' healing was much more than physical. It had (and still has) eternal, spiritual significance. In our 21st Century culture that worships vitality and outward appearance, Christ sees our real condition like an X-ray of our souls. Truth be told, every one of us hurts in one way or another through the wounds and fractures of daily life.

What's the prescription for true healing? It's our simple faith in him.

According to Luke's Gospel, one desperate woman, who had been plagued by bleeding for years, believed that her cure lay in touching Jesus' garments. And she was right. Luke also tells us about a humble Roman centurion who sought Jesus' healing for his deathly ill servant. Remarkably, this would-be enemy of Israel trusted the ability of Christ's word alone:

When Jesus heard this, He was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, "I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel."

Christ-followers aren't promised freedom from pain, illness and death. That wonderful prospect disappeared long ago with Adam and Eve. But we do have the promise of perfect health and happiness once we reach our eternal home with the Father. But why wait? Spiritual healing can begin today. And it all starts with believing in Jesus' power, asking for his help and having faith to the end.


"Daughter, your faith has healed you," Jesus told his patient. "Go in peace and be freed from your suffering." 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Name-Dropping

"Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me."

-- Matthew 10:40


It's a time-honored tactic at dinner parties and job interviews.

It's name-dropping, which means introducing the names of celebrities or otherwise important people Partyinto the conversation to imply a relationship. Claiming that our spouse is the fourth cousin twice removed of a B-list Hollywood actor is often enough to garner nods of approval at the office's Christmas get-together.

Name-dropping can be silly or even annoying, but sometimes it's OK to brag about a relationship with the right person. And in the Bible, it's actually encouraged:

"But the one who boasts should boast in this: that he understands and knows me--that I am the Lord, showing faithful love, justice and righteousness on the earth, for I delight in these things," we read in the Book of Jeremiah. "This is the Lord's declaration."

With this in mind, maybe it's no surprise that Christianity is a faith built on relationships. For example, there's a parent/child relationship between us and God. And it's a bond that's only made possible through Jesus' death on the cross--a fate we all rightly deserve for our lifetimes stained by personal failures and shortcomings (also known as sin). But since we're connected with the right person (Jesus), he's already paid the price to save us from certain death and eternal punishment. Moreover, this same relationship makes us heirs to his Father's Kingdom.
 
That's great news. But God also wants us to make relationships with others so they too can begin their own faith journey. That means introducing them to Jesus, sharing his story and relating all that he's done for us. And when these future Believers come to the inevitable rough patches in life, they'll always know The One to call.

How do we get the ball rolling? 

One of the best ways is to begin praying for people by name. They can be our family members, co-workers, neighbors, political leaders, the unsaved...and especially our enemies. After that, we shouldn't be surprised when we begin to see God's power at work. Jesus set the example long ago when he sent 12 of his followers to nearby Jewish communities to spread the Good News (the Gospel):

"Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel," he told them. "As you go, proclaim this message: 'The kingdom of heaven has come near.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give."

That was an occasion when Jesus' followers actually became the answer to someone's fervent prayers, and they used their close, personal relationship with the Savior to overcome the impossible. But let's not forget that Christ-followers today have this same power and access to the Almighty. As the saying goes, it's not always what you know that counts; it's who you know that makes the difference.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Overcoming the Inevitable

...This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

-- 1 John 5:4-5

Few people like to talk about it, but it's something we'll all have to face one day or another. It's not a trip to the dentist's office, an audit by the IRS or even a ballet recital. It's something much more inevitable: DEATH.

Why do so many people worry about death? For those who aren't Christ-followers, death represents the unknown. It's a gaping, black hole. And who knows what's at the bottom of that pit or who's on the other side? And besides, death is just so...final.

What we don't know or understand frightens us. It frightens us a lot.

That doesn't sound very reassuring. ButVictory there is some very good news: If you've accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you have absolutely nothing to fear from death. In fact, death is simply the transition between our relatively brief existence on Earth and an eternity of joy. It's from Revelation--the final book of the Bible--that we learn that all troubles, tears, pain and sorrows will be things of the past. That's something to anticipate rather than fear!

How is this possible? 

It's explained through the Easter story. After Jesus willingly accepted the death penalty to pay for all of our sins, he proved that he is indeed God-in-the-flesh by fulfilling Old Testament prophesies and rising to life. The huge boulder that had earlier sealed his grave was rolled away, and the tomb was empty and hollow. Likewise, so now was the devil's greatest weapon against mankind: the threat of death.

Easter is a reminder of an obvious truth: One day, death will take you. But there's some very good news in this sobering thought. If you've surrendered your life to Jesus, death can't keep you. It's already been defeated through his triumphant resurrection. In John's Gospel there's a familiar passage about Christ's power to overcome the grave:  

"I am the resurrection and the life," the Savior proclaims. "He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

When Easter arrives next Sunday, remember that it's not about chocolate rabbits and colorful, hard-boiled eggs. Easter is instead a celebration of victory over death. You can believe in Jesus' promises and have great confidence in your eternal future. It's because he conquered death that you never have to worry.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

DIY Disaster

In his pride the wicked man does not seek him;
in all his thoughts there is no room for God.

-- Psalm 10:4


Do you like to DIY (Do-It-Yourself)? 

If so, you’re certainly not alone. According to the Home Improvement Research Institute (yes, there really is such an organization!), home improvement product sales at retailers like Home Depot and Lowes grew by 5.9% to $346 billion in 2016, and the organization forecasts 4.3% growth for 2017. From building a backyard deck to installing indoor lighting, consumers can save thousands of dollars doing their home improvement or repair projects themselves rather than paying a licensed professional. Websites, magazines and even entire cable TV channels are devoted to showing DIYers how to do it right.

Of course, this all comes at a hefty price for the many would-be handymen
and handywomen who discover that they’re in over their heads—and then have to call in the pros to fix the mess. The This Old House website features a DIY Disaster section that chronicles the woes of homeowners who thought they could do it themselves. One Colorado women wrote that because of her area’s extremely-high property values, she bought a condemned home for $160,000 just to get into the market. She thought she could afford to re-pour the house’s foundation—but failed to calculate the additional cost of re-wiring, new duct work and landscaping. And when the house was lifted during the foundation repair, the back 300 square feet of the structure collapsed! In the end, the ambitious DIYer paid $12,000 to transform her 2-bedroom house into an uninhabitable 1-bedroom shack!

In many ways, this DIY disaster story has much in common with passages we find throughout the Bible. A recurring theme is that God has a grand vision for his people and a plan for achieving it. But mankind—through its arrogance and ignorance—decides it knows better than the Creator and sets out to do it itself.

Predictably, the results are both tragic and disastrous. In one of the earliest passages of Scripture we read that the devil convinced Adam and Eve that God was holding back from them and preventing them from reaching their true potential. Naively falling for Satan’s lies, the first man and woman ate the fruit that their Creator had commanded them to avoid. Unintended consequences such as illness, crime, poverty and death have plagued mankind ever since.  

Yes, there are some relatively simple household tasks that we can do ourselves to save time and money. But for the larger, more important projects that we can’t afford to foul up—whether they involve our homes or even our souls—it’s always best to depend on a Pro.



Saturday, April 1, 2017

What Happens in Vegas

For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous. 

-- 1 John 3:11-12

Las Vegas has been known as an anything goes type of town for decades. And its reputation is well deserved. No matter the time of day or night, high-stakes gambling, quickie weddings (and divorces) and risqué entertainment are just a casino away. But several years ago, city officials decided to broaden Sin City's appeal. Rather than targeting the lowest common denominator, Las Vegas began to promote itself as a family-friendly vacation destination: a pseudo-Disney World, but with lots more glitz and glam.

If you don't remember that brief change, Las Vegasyou're not alone. It wasn't long before the message was scrapped in favor of the famous What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas campaign. And when an advertising slogan enters the everyday lexicon, you know you've hit the marketing jackpot!

Essentially, a visit to Las Vegas promises days and nights of no-guilt fun and excitement. Nothing that happens has to leave the city limits. And if you don't tell, they certainly won't. At least that's what they say. But that's not how real life works. And as Christ-followers, we know that our Creator already knows about all of our thoughts and actions, regardless of whether we're alone or at a crowded blackjack table. There's no hiding. And one day, we'll all have to give an account of what we've said and done over our lifetime. That should be quite a story for most of us!

Until then, Christ-followers should be light to a dark, blind and desperate world. However, doing the right thing and standing up for our convictions is often tough--and sometimes even painful. Those who refuse to cut corners, shade the truth or puff up their resumes can lose out on careers, friendships and much more. No good deed goes unpunished.

That's what can happen when people are watching. But what about doing the right thing when no one will ever know? Maybe it's that car door you scratched in the crowded mall parking lot. Or the $20 bill that fell from your co-worker's pocket. And think back a few years to when you were playing baseball in your backyard. Who really broke your neighbor's living room window?

Daily circumstances constantly challenge our faith, values and convictions. But Christ-followers are to be true witnesses to the freedom God has given us through the costly sacrifice of his son, Jesus Christ. When we accepted his forgiveness for all of the ways we've hurt ourselves and others, we gained the liberty to make a positive difference in this world, and shine a beacon of hope to its inhabitants.

Maybe Las Vegas is the town that never sleeps. But if you stick with Jesus' admonitions for living through faith, you'll see that a good night's sleep with a clear conscience pays off in greater riches than any winning hand at the poker table. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Guiding Light

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

-- 1 John 1:5-7

If you're ever visiting Helsinki, Finland, be sure to check out Suomenlinna Church, one of the first landmarks that greets travelers arriving in the city by sea. This remarkable house of worship was built in 1854 for the Russian troops garrisoned at the nearby fortress. Its designer was Konstantin Thon, who was also the architect of the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow.

Converted in the 1920's from a Lighthouse ChurchRussian Orthodox Church to an Evangelical Lutheran Church, this impressive structure is today a popular site for weddings. What's more, Suomenlinna doubles as an operating lighthouse. Its beacon blinks the Morse code letter "H" to alert mariners that they've reached the Finnish capital.

Suomenlinna Church's dual role is biblically significant. First, it reflects Jesus' admonition recorded in Matthew's Gospel to illuminate the world with God's hope:

"You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."

Second, Suomenlinna's beacon serves as a guide--both to sailors seeking safe anchorage--and to less-than-perfect people who are seeking hope and salvation. It's also a reminder that life's voyage is treacherous. And that's why it's so wonderful to know that this welcoming light points the way to Jesus Christ. He invites us to follow him and help build his kingdom--and all while illuminating his truth and giving comfort to those who live in darkness.

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