Saturday, December 9, 2017

For All Intents and Purposes

But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.

-- Exodus 9:16


Post-it Notes.

They're those yellow paper squares stuck in homes and office cubicles around the globe. And because they were first considered an engineering failure, a multi-billion-dollar marketing bonanza was nearly overlooked.

In 1968, The 3M Company was developing Post It Notea strong adhesive for manufacturing aircraft. The result, however, was a weak, pressure-sensitive substance that peeled away from surfaces without leaving a residue. Meanwhile, a 3M product engineer--who also happened to sing in a church choir--was seeking a way to prevent the movements of the song-page markers in his hymnal. He eventually applied some his company's seemingly useless adhesive, and to his delight, the markers stayed in place! There's much more to the story. But after 12 years of various setbacks, Post-it Notes eventually became one of the world's best-selling office supply products.

Like those resourceful 3M engineers who helped turn failure into success, our Creator uses some of the most unlikely and unqualified people to accomplish his purposes. Let's consider a few of Jesus' earliest followers. Peter, Andrew, John and James were fishermen, which was hardly the most respected profession of the era. Matthew was a tax collector--a despised individual who would have been considered a traitor by his fellow Jews. Simon the Zealot was someone we today might call a terrorist. And before coming to faith in Christ a few years later, the Apostle Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, was a strict Pharisee devoted to hunting down, jailing and even killing Christians!

Although Peter proceeded to fail Jesus by three times denying that he even knew him, God used this impetuous servant to lead the early Church. John was likewise exiled by the authorities to the Mediterranean island of Patmos, where he wrote inspired Scripture that's been studied and debated for centuries: the Book of Revelation. And Paul--who described himself as the Chief of Sinners--is considered by many scholars to be one of the most important and influential figures in history.

Fast-forward 2,000 years and Christ is still using society's misfits like you and me to represent him and change the world.

"Come, follow me," Jesus summoned fishermen Peter and Andrew, "and I will make you fishers of men."

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Broken

My spirit is broken, my days are cut short, the grave awaits me.

-- Job 17:1

How would you label yourself with a single word?

Would you say generous, energetic or perhaps successful? What about lonely, abused or divorced? How about broken?

The fact is that we're all broken in one way or another. But the good news for Christ-followers is that we worship a Creator who truly understands. And whether we're the victim or the victimizer in our shattered state, God's grace is enough to help us overcome.

What is grace? It's God's blessings to Brokenundeserving people like you and me. There's nothing we can do to earn it. We just need to accept it, embrace it and live it with transformed lives through our faith in Jesus. Grace is also what keeps us together when everything is coming apart. In 2 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul wrote about his own brokenness and how God answered his prayers through the power of grace:

"...Three times I begged the Lord for it to leave me, but his reply has been, '...My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' "Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me."

That's much-needed reassurance as we begin the holiday season--particularly when the vibrant reds and greens of Christmas seem deep blue for many broken, hurting people. But that's when God gets into the act.

The Bible tells us that long before the world was formed, God knew our names. He knew when and where we would be born, what sort of life we would lead and when we would die. And he also knew that we would need a Savior from our failures and shortcomings. We could never save ourselves against the judgement we all deserve. So God decided to do it himself by personally living the human experience on Earth through his Son, Jesus Christ.

By literally becoming God with us, Jesus truly understands our sorrows and brokenness--whether it's December 25 or any day of the year. He's also promised his followers that he will never leave them or forget them. As a broken people, let's embrace the truth that it's with his grace we not only survive, but thrive...and pick up the pieces. 

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Leading the Season

Year after year, everyone who came brought a gift--articles of silver and gold, robes, weapons and spices, and horses and mules.

-- 1 Kings 10:25

Marketers call it leading the season or Christmas creep. It's the rollout of holiday-themed merchandise and decorations prior to the traditional start of the holiday-shopping season. This year, some stores began displaying festive tinsel, blinking lights and artificial evergreens well before Halloween.

Black Friday--that hectic day after Black FridayThanksgiving--is considered the official kickoff to Christmas. And retailers and websites are already prompting us to make our gift purchases. Just count the repetitious holiday-themed commercials on TV. Meanwhile, the Christmas catalogs are piling up on the coffee table. Odds are that your email in-box is also struggling with the Yuletide onslaught.

But there is some holiday rest for the weary. If you don't feel like finding a parking spot at the mall, that perfect gift for that someone special is just a tap or two away with your smartphone, tablet or laptop. Money, however, is particularly tight these days for many of us, so every purchase must count. We need gifts that will make an impression. We need value. And above all, we want bang-for-the-buck.

There's nothing wrong with trying to stretch a dollar. But let's consider that a gift's real value has much more to do with its meaning and the person behind it than with a Low Everyday Walmart Price.

GiftThat's certainly the case if we're to believe what God's telling us through the Bible. And what does he say about the characteristics of a super gift? And more to the point, what should we know about being a super gift-giver? The example of Jesus' life and ministry holds the answers.

First, we need 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 might be--should be given out of love. When it comes to gift-giving, it really IS the thought that counts. (Your mother was right all along!)

With Thanksgiving now just a memory, what are your thoughts, attitudes and motivations this holiday season? And have you thought about sharing just a few of your blessings with someone you may have never met--perhaps someone living around the world or maybe just around the corner?

The marketers have a point: Christmas really is closer than we think. And the clock is ticking. But before we head to the mall, log onto Amazon.com 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 is the salvation he bought for us through his death on the cross. It's an incredibly expensive gift that we can never repay. But it's one given freely out of love. And it's available to anyone who's willing to open the package in faith. 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Best Laid Plans

We are ruined by our own stupidity, though we blame the Lord.

-- Proverbs 19:3

"The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray," wrote Scottish poet Robert Burns. No matter how well we prepare, stuff happens. And when it does, it can lead to disappointment and confusion. Just ask the Apple, Inc. executives about Apple Maps.

Several years ago, Apple replaced Apple LogoGoogle Maps with Apple Maps on its wildly popular iPhone and other devices. The company's executives expected the app to be yet another user-friendly feature that their customers would rave about. Instead, Apple Maps rapidly disappointed its users because of a variety of remarkable glitches. For example, the app's 3D flyover feature displayed grotesquely distorted images of well-known landmarks. It also rendered the wrong locations for well-known addresses. And famous monuments--even entire cities--seemingly evaporated into cyberspace. Apple's engineers had planned for success. But not thoroughly enough.

It's safe to say that just about everyone who's ever walked this planet has wondered why God allows disappointments. We reason that if he's all-powerful, he should prevent them. But consider that God's mysteries extend far beyond human experience and comprehension. For example, why should a year-old child die of an incurable disease? Or why do thousands of seemingly innocent people around the globe die each year in natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis? 

In both instances we must remind ourselves that God's ways aren't our ways. Moreover, our human minds are simply too limited to grasp the entirety of his greater purpose.

However, we're not totally in the dark here. God's word to us--the Bible--gives us several clues. First, we live in an imperfect world where bad things can (and often do) happen. Ever since Adam and Eve first disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, perfection on Earth was spoiled. Indeed, we can read about the world's first murder in the opening chapter of the Bible. And it was downhill from there.

Our own bad choices are another reason for disappointment, pain and suffering. If someone chooses to get drunk and then gets behind the wheel, tragedy often follows. But that's hardly God's fault. We instead reap from the foolishness we sow.

The flip-side here is that we worship a God who specializes in turning seemingly bad situations into very happy endings. Consider someone who gets laid off from a job, only to find a much better one in a different city--and with better pay--in a completely different industry. If it weren't for the "tragedy" of unemployment, that worker might have become stuck in a boring, dead-end job with little future. God (as always) knows best!

Finally, God often turns bad into good by using it to discipline and mature us. Are we ever the same after experiencing a major illness or family tragedy? It's through adversity that we draw closer to God and depend on his help. And our Creator can even use our suffering as a witness to others. If you're a Christ-follower faced with a God-sized situation, where you place your faith speaks volumes to others.

The human experience is filled with disappointment and heartache. But God never promised us a pain-free existence. In fact, Jesus told his disciples to expect trouble. But let's take comfort that we worship a "Big Picture" God--one who sees beyond our nearsighted plans to turn even the greatest disappointments into the greater good. 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Ut Prosim

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?

-- James 2:14

Is Jesus a Hokie?

Although most people--particularly University of Virginia and James Madison fans--would answer that the Savior doesn't play favorites when it comes to college sports, it's still probably safe to say that Christ closely identifies with Virginia Tech's motto. Literally carved in stone on the scenic Blacksburg campus are the words Ut Prosim, which is Latin for That I may serve.

Serving others and giving back go Hokiehand-in-hand with being a Christ-follower. Indeed, we're called to serve as Jesus' hands and feet on earth while we wait for his return--or at least until that day when he calls us back home. Until then, God wants us to help prepare his kingdom by making the most of the gifts and talents he's given us. What's more, we're to serve as a beacon amidst the darkness of today's so-called progressive, enlightened society.

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

That's how Jesus puts it in Matthew's Gospel. But what sort of light is he talking about? It's really that spark or inner power that God grants each Christ-follower for demonstrating his goodness through their words and deeds. For example, we can shine a light and serve by running a much-needed errand for an elderly neighbor. We can help clean up a neglected school or a community park--or even work in a food pantry or visit the residents of a local assisted living community. There's no shortage of options.

Why is this principle of service so important for Christ-followers?

"In the same way, the Son of Man did not come to be served," Jesus explains. "He came to serve other and to give his life as a ransom for many people." Our Master--Jesus--embodied a service-focused life during his ministry. So as his modern-day disciples, we should turn our faith into actions of service by accepting his invitation to shine a light of hope and truth.

Let's wind things up by considering the original question: Is Jesus a Hokie? Whether he is or not, let's limit our rivalries to the football field and basketball court and become of one mind when it comes to serving others. It's one time that every Christ-follower (whether they're a Wahoo, Tar Heel or even a Mountaineer) can agree to live out Virginia Tech's Ut Prosim motto and become just a little bit more like our Savior.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Comeback Kid

Don't toss me aside, banished forever from your presence. Don't take your Holy Spirit from me.

-- Psalm 51:11

Playwright Oscar Wilde was right on the money when he noted that experience is simply the name we give to our mistakes. Whether it's on the job (a missed deadline) or in the home (left the water running in the tub), mistakes can be both costly and painful. 

If there was anyone who knew something U-Turnabout mistakes--and also rebounding from them--it was David, Israel's most famous king as well as an ancestor of Jesus. His mountaintop moments included killing the giant Philistine warrior Goliath and leading his army to decisive victories. On the other hand, David was twice a fugitive: once while evading jealous King Saul and then years later when his own son chased him from the throne. David also committed adultery with one of his officer's wives and then had the unsuspecting man killed to cover his own sin. Psalms, a collection of poems written and compiled by David, records his emotions as he encountered the epic peaks and bottomless valleys of life.   

Maybe your own slip-ups and blunders haven't been of biblical proportions. But they might have felt like it. After all, how many times have we all made such huge mistakes that it seemed like the end of the world? We blew it. It's over. And we'll never get back.

Life-changing errors can cover a lot of territory. They might affect our personal relationships, careers or even spiritual lives--and maybe all of the above. But the good news for Christ-followers is that we worship a God who not only knows what we're going through, he also cares. What's more, he's also a God of second (and third, fourth, fifth, etc.) chances.  

Like King David, the apostle Peter had a world of experience with mistakes and comebacks. In fact, after Jesus was arrested and the other apostles had scattered in fear, Peter emphatically denied that he even knew Christ. And not just once, but three times!

Jesus was soon tried and convicted on false charges. And then he suffered a horrific, painful death--in our place--through his crucifixion between two deserving criminals. Crushed by guilt, Peter believed that his own life was essentially over. After all, if anyone had blown it, it was him. But Christ had other plans for this apostle of little faith. We read early in the New Testament's Book of Acts that Peter--now filled with the Holy Spirit--boldly defied the same religious authorities who had earlier condemned Jesus to death.

Failure and defeat are both elements of the human experience. But here's the Good News: They don't have to be permanent or define us. As we search for our own life-comebacks, let's take Peter's victorious testimony about his Master--Jesus--to heart:

"In no one else can salvation be found," he proclaimed. "For in all the world no other name has been given to men but this, and it is by this name that we must be saved!" 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Who's #1?

On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

-- Revelation 19:16

The media have long recognized the public's love of lists for who or what is Number One. Peruse the magazine covers while you're in the supermarket checkout line, and you'll see headlines for the Top 10 Muscle Cars, Best Ways to Renovate Your Home and the Year's Nastiest Celebrity Breakups. Television embraces this popular genre through shows like the Top 100 Heavy Metal Videos of All Time, Best Caribbean Beach Resorts and the Greatest Engineering Disasters of the 20th Century. And then there are websites like Ranker.com, which asks its readers to rank their favorites on a wide variety of topics like Best Video Game Franchises of All Time, Greatest Batman Gadgets and America's Coolest College Towns.

When it comes to entertainment and Number Onesports, we might speak up for our favorite movie or defend our opinion about the NFL's greatest quarterback. But what about issues of much greater importance? For example, who (or what) is Number One in your life? Is it your family? Your career? Money, vacations or the weekend? Or maybe the answer is as close as the nearest mirror. If it is, you're not alone.

Regardless of your response to this revealing question, King Solomon--probably the wisest man who ever lived--could relate to your perspective. In the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, he wrote that he tried every pleasure under the sun to find fulfillment in life. And unfortunately for him, his search in all the wrong places brought him emptiness and sorrow. But we can gain much from the lessons that he learned the hard way.

First, fulfillment in life comes about only when we live for the right person. And in our case, that means living for God by letting his son (Jesus Christ) live through us. Second, we can find fulfillment only when we live by God's standards. After all, what good does it do if we say we're a Christ-follower on Sunday but live much differently the rest of the week?  And finally, we find fulfillment in life only when we live with the right focus. In other words, we need to live with eternity in mind. Careers, money, vacations--and even sporting events--may seem important today. But they'll all pale in significance when it comes to what we do in life to help usher in God's Kingdom here on earth. That's because every Christ-follower is called to be Jesus' personal representative.

Now's the time to look again in the mirror and decide who (or what) is really Number One. Let's consider Jesus' timeless advice on this matter to his first followers. Considering today's uncertain social, political and economic environments, you'll see that his eternal words are both relevant and reassuring:

"Don't worry and ask yourselves, 'Will we have anything to eat? Will we have anything to drink? Will we have any clothes to wear?' Only people who don't know God are always worrying about such things," the Savior tells us. "Your Father in heaven knows that you need all of these. But more than anything else, put God's work first and do what he wants. Then the other things will be yours as well."

Saturday, October 21, 2017

I Shall Return

Once you spoke in a vision, to your faithful people you said: "I have bestowed strength on a warrior; I have raised up a young man from among the people..."

-- Psalm 89:19

March 11, 1942 was a dark day for America--as well as for the entire free world. Just three months earlier, the Japanese had launched a devastating surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The result was a crippled American Pacific fleet, 3,478 servicemen killed or wounded plus an additional 103 civilian casualties. MacArthurNow the Japanese had trapped 85,000 American and Filipino troops on the Philippine's Bataan Peninsula and the island fortress of Corregidor.

Under orders from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, General Douglas MacArthur (the American commander) and his family evacuated the area for the relative safety of Australia. The thousands of troops MacArthur left behind were eventually forced to surrender to the mighty Japanese military. But the general refused to turn his back on his men--or on the Filipino people. "I shall return," MacArthur promised in his statement to the press. And on October 20, 1944, he kept that promise when he waded ashore with an invasion force at the island of Leyte. "People of the Philippines, I have returned," MacArthur declared in an unforgettable radio broadcast.

Awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, Douglas MacArthur was a warrior known for his bravery, heroism and faithfulness. And although his promise was both historic and world-changing, it pales in comparison to another promise kept more than 2,000 years ago. Mankind had for centuries been enslaved by an enemy called sin, and freedom was just a dream. Keeping a vow he made at the foundation of the world, God himself paid mankind's enormous sin-debt in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. He came to earth in the form of a helpless infant, grew up and lived a faultless, sin-free life, and was unjustly executed for crimes that he didn't commit. The message of his brief ministry declared the Good News of God's coming Kingdom, and it's summarized in one of the best-known passages of the Bible (John 3:16):

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

It was through Jesus that God kept his promise of forgiveness and salvation for those who ask for it in faith. And one day--perhaps in the very-near future--he'll keep another long-anticipated promise when another warrior, Jesus, returns to once and for all defeat the enemy and forever free his people.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Good Shepherd

Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.

-- Isaiah 1:17

If you're one of the millions of Americans these days who are considering a career change, how about becoming a shepherd?

Although the number of job openings for shepherds has dropped over the last several decades, it appears that good help is still hard to find. In fact, it's not uncommon for ranchers, farmers and landowners to import experienced shepherds from other nations where sheep-and-goat management is a thriving enterprise. If you still think that you're up to the task, understand that shepherds are responsible for protecting their flock against vicious predators including coyotes, wolves, mountain lions, bears and even domestic dogs. They must also monitor their sheep for illness. What's more, an experienced shepherd is expected to shear up to 125 ewes a day without nicking or cutting the animals' skin.

Above all, a shepherd's primary responsibility Sheepis the safety and welfare of their flock. And since so many different things can happen to the sheep under their watch, they must expect the unexpected, be courageous and do the right thing.

Doing the right thing isn't just the right thing to do, it's also a biblical principle for Christ-followers. As we read in James 4:17, "So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin."

Doing the right thing often calls for bravery. While we may never face a powerful army on the battlefield, we might have to take on societal opponents like injustice, crime or discrimination. We have no hope of defeating them on our own. However, we should be encouraged that God specializes in empowering average Joes and Janes to do the extraordinary against overwhelming odds.

For example, the Old Testament tells us that David--at the time an obscure shepherd boy and musician--protected his nation by killing the giant Goliath with a single stone launched from his slingshot. It was this same David who eventually became the mighty King of Israel and the one God called "a man after My own heart." Likewise, a fisherman named Peter once dove into the deep end (literally) when he accepted Jesus' call to walk on water. But after doubting his own abilities, Peter began to sink beneath the waves. Christ, however, saved him once the struggling follower called out in faith. This same Peter--who would eventually deny Jesus to others three times--ultimately became a bold preacher of The Way (the Good News about his Savior, Jesus Christ). Two books of the Bible also bear Peter's name.

As Christ-followers, we can take heart as we proceed through the peaks and valleys of our faith-journeys. While the world is indeed a scary place, God doesn't expect us to solve all of its problems. Instead, it's by seeking and embracing his power in faith that we can make a world of difference. And it all starts when we--like The Good Shepherd we worship--seek and do the right thing.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The A-Team

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

-- Matthew 16:18

What do The Dirty Dozen, The Bad News Bears and The A-Team have in common? These late-night cable TV staples share the same general plot about a group of unlikely misfits who--one way or another--work together to overcome significant obstacles and achieve victory. They face numerous setbacks along the road. But they eventually rally behind their leader, beat long odds and accomplish the improbable. It's a classic, feel-good storyline that never seems to grow old.

And it really IS an old storyline: at least 2,000 years-old, to be specific.

The "script" here is the New Testament, A-Teamthe second half of the Bible. Much of its real-life plot also revolves around a group of unlikely characters who learn from their all-knowing leader (Jesus) to alter history. We read in the Gospels that these mundane individuals were Christ's hand-picked followers. Some were fishermen, one was a tax collector and another (Simon the Zealot) might be considered a terrorist by today's standards. 

The apostles were a dubious group for such an important assignment: changing the world for Christ's kingdom one person at a time. But since it's a mission that continues to this day through The Church--the collective term for everyone who claims Jesus as their Lord and Savior--maybe it's not so surprising that God still chooses society's outsiders and those who tend to fade into the crowd.

Some modern-day Christ-followers work for insurance companies, supermarkets, retail stores and banks. Others are homemakers, sales representatives, police officers and marketing executives. And many are between jobs, retired or work part-time. But for all of their differences, there's a common denominator. It's a fervent belief in Jesus--God among us in human form. And it's this same faith that helps them share the joys and overcome the many struggles, disappointments and even tragedies encountered along their unique faith-journeys. These Believers have also learned another vital lesson: their own strength and wisdom is worth little towards surmounting the world's obstacles. But this is actually to their advantage.

"That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties," the Apostle Paul wrote. "For when I am weak, then I am strong."

And indeed God does much with the weaknesses of Everyday Joes and Janes. Families are fed, clothed and housed through their contributions and work in local food pantries, the Salvation Army and similar organizations. The sick are cured through the efforts of healthcare professionals who also happen to trust Jesus. And still other Christ-followers teach the illiterate to read and the undereducated to gain critical life- and job-skills.

That's a very brief list of the ways Jesus changes the world when the Church serves as his eyes, hands and feet. As the A-Team's leader--Colonel Hannibal Smith--so aptly puts it in every episode: "I love it when a plan comes together!"

And no doubt so does God.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

All Kidding Aside

From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother's womb. I will ever praise you.

-- Psalm 71:6

Maybe you read that controversial editorial a year or so ago that went viral. It wasn't about politics, the economy or even a celebrity or sports team. Instead, the author expressed his deep concern about our nation's children. He wrote that they no longer had good manners, they showed no respect for their elders and they reflected negative societal influences, violence and danger.

"What will become of our children?" was the writer's rhetorical (but sincere) question. His opinion was that without drastic change and direction, their future would be quite bleak.

Maybe a little background here will put things into perspective. Yes, this editorial appeared in the media a few years ago. But actually, it was more than just a few. In fact, many more.

How about in the 1840s!

It all goes to show that some issues are Childrentimeless. And when it comes to showing concern for our children, that's a very good thing. Children--as the saying goes--are our future. And the Bible tells us that respectful, obedient children don't just happen by accident. Godly parenting involves intentional actions and instruction. Consider what the Book of Deuteronomy from the Old Testament says to parents about emphasizing God's ways to their kids:

"Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up."

Children not only look for boundaries of acceptable behavior, they crave direction and seek love and approval. It's when they don't get enough from their parents that they can act out, perform poorly at school and gravitate toward the wrong crowd and bad influences.

So what's a parent (new or veteran) to do?

First, understand that parenting is privilege rather than a burden. And second, remember that God is our heavenly parent. That means that we as human parents have the great responsibility of playing his role in the child-raising process. Therefore, we need to follow God's example for raising us: Give your children unconditional love, apply consistent discipline and give them spiritual direction. What's more, we must lead through our own positive attitude and outlook on life.

No one said that parenting is easy. But in a society that's quickly turning its back on God, being a mom or dad is arguably the most important job in the world--and one that has literal world-changing consequences. 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

All In the Family

By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

-- John 13:35

As Christ-followers, we're often reminded about the importance of helping our neighbors and showing compassion to strangers. Jesus taught this principle through The Good Samaritan: one of the most familiar stories of the Bible. 

We read that a traveler was once attacked by robbers and left for dead by the roadside. A priest saw the wounded man but elected to pass him by. Later, a Levite (a member of one of the tribes of Israel) also saw the man sprawled on the ground. And he too avoided him. HandsBut when a Samaritan--a member of a despised ethnic group--happened to come by, he bandaged up the injured stranger, checked him into a motel and even prepaid the bill!

Two supposedly "good" people had a chance to help the helpless, but they went out of their way to do nothing. Instead, it was the "despised" Samaritan who actually found God's approval because he had shown practical compassion to his neighbor (a total stranger).

Although that's a lesson we all need to learn and live by, helping neighbors and strangers isn't always easy. We too often let selfishness and pride get in our way, and we don't want to get our hands dirty. Then we end up like the supposedly "good" people in Jesus' story. But let's consider the other side of the coin: how are we showing compassion to our fellow Christ-followers: not strangers--but instead other Believers?

The moment we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we become a member of an enormous family of faith spanning race, nationality, gender and generation. We may be very different, but it's our faith in Jesus that bridges the gaps. For all of us, Christ is at the core of our thoughts and motivations. And we all share a common eternal destiny and a loving Father.

This truth sets apart Christ-followers from all others in the world. But since the world is watching us and questioning our motives, we must demonstrate lives of authentic compassion.

How? It's by celebrating each other's triumphs, mourning each other's losses and sacrificing our own selfish interests that we exhibit much more than transformed lives and ongoing spiritual growth. Above all, we need to follow Jesus' example: one where the word love is an action lived out every day through a changed heart. And not just for strangers and neighbors, but for other Christ-followers as well.

That's how the world will know that we're all in the family of God.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

One of a Kind

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

-- Genesis 1:27


Is it science fact or science fiction? Here's a weather-related idea that many people accept as gospel:

Since the beginning of time, every snowflake that has ever fallen is unique. Each one is different with a one-of-a-kind design.

It raises a good question: Out of the trillions of snowflakes that have formed over the centuries, who can prove that one from an 1896 Virginia flurry isn't the twin of another from a Russian blizzard two centuries earlier?

There's really no way to know for sure. SnowflakeAnd in fact, it turns out that snowflakes aren't quite so different after all. An article on the Smithsonian.com website reports that there are just 39 types of solid precipitation, and snowflakes fall in one of only 35 shapes. Meanwhile, a Vox.com article explains that certain flakes tend to form at particular temperatures, humidities and even locations.

Although there could have been two (or maybe even billions) of duplicate snowflakes over the years, there's no question that God has made every human being unique and in his own image. Moreover, we are both loved and precious in his sight.

"Two sparrows cost only a penny, but not even one of them can die without your Father's knowing it," Jesus tells us through Matthew's Gospel. "God even knows how many hairs are on your head. So don't be afraid. You are worth much more than many sparrows."

God--the most powerful and loving Presence in the universe--bought you and me at an incredible price: the life of his Son. Since we can never repay what we rightfully owe for all the bad decisions, broken relationships and damage we've wrought throughout our lives, Jesus paid it himself by dying in our place on a cross between two common criminals. He didn't deserve to be there. But God loves us so much that he went to extraordinary lengths so that we can be with him forever.

"If any of you has 100 sheep, and one of them gets lost, what will you do? Won't you leave the 99 in the field and go look for the lost sheep until you find it," Jesus asks through Luke's Gospel. "And when you find it, you will be so glad that you will put it on your shoulder and carry it home. Then you will call in your friends and neighbors and say, 'Let's celebrate! I've found my lost sheep.'"


Yes, regardless of our differences, God is willing to do whatever it takes to bring you and me home. With the hefty price of our sin paid long ago, the only thing that's left for us is to accept his free gift--and then live out our lives accordingly to show a skeptical world that we're truly one of a kind.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Sunday Best

I in them and you in me--so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

-- John 17:23


Maybe you grew up attending a traditional church. That might have meant getting up early on Sunday mornings, eating breakfast with the family and then rushing to put on your Sunday best--those clothes and shoes you only wore to church and on very special occasions. Then it was time to get in the car, drive to the service and listen to the preacher, choir and organist do their things.

Millions of people feel closer to God in
Unitysuch a traditional church setting--one often characterized by stained glass windows, choirs, sanctuaries and sacred organ music. To them, wearing their Sunday best is yet another way to set apart the day and glorify God.

Other Christ-followers have a different perspective. Meeting in diverse locations ranging from storefronts to movie theaters, some contend that the formalities of a traditional church service can actually hinder authentic worship. Rather than the traditionalists "being themselves" on Sunday mornings, these critics suggest that there are many who wear a special suit of clothes on one particular day of the week--and all while looking and living quite differently on the other six.

There are valid arguments on both sides of the issue. But regardless of worship-style preference, there's no doubt that we must avoid the trap of paying God mere lip service rather than living out our faith through deeds and lifestyle. Yes, an awe-inspiring church sanctuary can be a place of worship and prayer. But so are the workplace, gym and supermarket. The point is that wherever we go each day, our place of worship should follow.

What type of worship does God honor?

Among other things, it generally consists of singing praise songs, teaching God's lessons through the Bible, and acknowledging how he blesses our lives through the revelation of his son, Jesus Christ. We also seek forgiveness for how we've fallen short of our Creator's standards, and we celebrate Christ's death and resurrection on our behalf through that symbolic meal called Communion or The Lord's Supper. And it doesn't end there. Outside of the weekly service, we must also worship God in unity by being Jesus' hands, feet and eyes in our community. We should likewise do our 9:00 AM-5:00 PM jobs as if God--rather than a human being--were our boss.

Christ-followers might not agree on every aspect of worship, but there's one thing that should always make us one: Christ himself. The Apostle Paul makes the case through his letter to the church in Ephesus:

"Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."

Saturday, September 2, 2017

No Question About It

Solomon answered all her questions; nothing was too hard for the king to explain to her.

-- 1 Kings 10:3


You've got questions. We've got answers.

That's was the familiar catch-phrase of Radio Shack--for years the place to go if you had questions about consumer electronics. Whether you needed help with fixing a wire on your stereo or buying your first personal computer, "The Shack" was your one-stop shop. You could even get advice about remote control race cars, CB radios and TV antennae installations.

How times have changed. These days, Google is the online resource for questions about just about anything. Forbes.com reports that the popular website processes over 3.5 billion search queries each day! And while going to Google and its competitors is fine for some mundane questions, going to God for guidance--particularly concerning the critical issues of life--is not only wise, it's essential for Christ-followers.

Your choice of career is a good example. In other words: What should you do when you grow up?

God guides us here in several ways. First, we need to look at the gifts and talents he's given us. For example, the ability to make friends and persuade others could mean success in sales and marketing. A love of nature could lead to a career as a scientist or veterinarian. And a natural affinity for mathematics could mean hefty paychecks as an engineer or software designer. But whatever job you take--no matter how big or how small--the question to ask is whether or not it honors God. As the Apostle Paul wrote in the third chapter of Colossians: "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."

Other life-changing questions involve marriage. Specifically, should you get married? And if so, to whom? On the first point, either choice is acceptable. Paul advocated the single life for some Christ-followers. But for others--depending on their circumstances--marriage was the best option. Meanwhile, the standard for choosing the right mate is more clear-cut: The lucky guy (or gal) should be a committed follower of Jesus Christ.

That's Biblical guidance that can save you years of pain, heartache and regret. And the saying is corny but true: The couple that prays together, stays together. Or as God warns us through the Book of 2 Corinthians, we shouldn't be yoked to unbelievers. It's true that the daily example of a Christ-follower can be a positive witness to his or her unbelieving spouse. But in many cases, differing spiritual beliefs lead only to frustration, confusion and conflict.

Whether it's the big questions in life or the seemingly insignificant ones, you can seek God's will through prayer, Scripture and advice from trusted believers. We worship a God who calls us his sons and daughters. And like the loving parent that he is, he always wants to hear questions from his children.

"We are certain that God will hear our prayers when we ask for what pleases him," we read in 1 John. "And if we know that God listens when we pray, we are sure that our prayers have already been answered."

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Time to Reflect

But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.

-- Exodus 9:16


This week's solar eclipse was an eye-opening reminder of our Creator God's greatness and power. If you'd like another, look no further than the remarkable images of distant stars and galaxies taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Launched into space in 1990 aboard the space shuttle Discovery, the Hubble can take crisp photos of incredibly distant objects because it orbits above Earth's atmosphere--a barrier that can block and distort light reflected by the mirrors of conventional ground-based telescopes.

But you haven't seen anything yet. Space CrossResearch organizations from the United States, Australia and South Korea have joined forces to work on the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT). And when the 80-foot GMT is commissioned in 2022 from its location in Chile, its seven huge mirrors will help render images 10 times sharper than Hubble's!

It takes just a tiny point of reflected light from a telescope's mirror to change our notions about the universe. But when there are barriers--such as the atmosphere in the case of astronomy--we can miss the big picture or be misled by a distorted image. 

This principle also applies to how we live out our lives. "I am the light of the world," Jesus told the people. "Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." As Christ-followers, our lives are to always reflect Jesus' love in action. But we too face barriers. The world teaches us to beat the competition, climb the corporate ladder and keep up with our neighbors (and then leave them in our dust). We need the biggest, the fastest and the shiniest. And most of all, we can't forget that it's not bragging if we can back it all up.

But Christ has a different viewpoint: To be first, we must be last.

This bold perspective sheds a new light on things. And that's just the point. How much better would this world be if his people were to adopt a servant's attitude and put the interests of others before their own?

Jesus answered this question through his own example. First, he willingly surrendered all the advantages he had as God's only Son. He entered the world through the most humble of circumstances--a birth among farm animals in a filthy stable. When he grew older, he learned to make a common-man's living as a carpenter. Of course, Jesus could have lived in splendor as the King of Kings. But instead, he chose a nomadic existence for teaching the Good News of salvation to his people.

That's quite a life lesson. And it was one taught by the One with a humble servant's heart. He's the same One who came to serve rather than to be served. And he's the only One whose sacrifice for our sakes is counted worthy.

How can we mirror Christ's life through our own lives? Jesus says it all starts by accepting him as our personal Lord and Savior. As he told the respected religious leader one night several centuries ago, we must be born again.

The fact is that we are nothing without Jesus and can do even less by ourselves. But when we fully surrender our lives to God, it's through this brilliant Light of the World that we find our purpose in life.