Saturday, February 25, 2017

Stormy Weather

Jesus said to his followers, "Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?"

-- Mark 4:40

"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

It's been about 2,000 years since Jesus' first disciples heard these assuring words of truth and wisdom. Isn't it remarkable that they're just as relevant to modern-day Christ-followers like you and me? Turn on the TV and surf the Web, and try to avoid the endless stories about politics, crime and unemployment. Likewise, who can avoid the unsettling sights and sounds of natural disasters and global unrest?

The point is that storms are everywhere. LightningAnd there's no escape--even after we've switched off the smartphone and logged off from Facebook. For some folks, it might be a job loss or bankruptcy. For others, it's a chronic illness or the prospect of major surgery. Maybe your trouble involves family or relationship issues like a divorce or the loss of a loved one. And it raises a logical question: Does God even care about our personal hurricanes and flash floods? After all, the waters of life are choppy, and the skies are dark and threatening.

Under such gloomy circumstances, let's remember that we worship a God who's much greater than any natural disaster, economic difficulty or international dispute. Ours is a God who literally spoke the universe into creation, formed great mountain ranges with his hands and parted the seas with a breath. And with just a word, he calmed the rough waters of Lake Galilee that had threatened to drown his small band of followers. 

"Is anything too hard for the Lord?" asks the writer of Genesis, the first book of the Bible.

Let's take God at his word when he tells us that through life's turmoils, he works for the good of those who love him and have been called according to his purpose. Meanwhile, we should also remember that we're not exempt from personal storms once we turn our lives over to Jesus and become his followers. But what does change is that we gain access to a Power who helps us endure any difficulty, great or small. What's more, we become beneficiaries of an eternal inheritance that will make our current troubles fade into oblivion. The storms that seem so great today will become laughably insignificant tomorrow.

Yes, there will be times when the lightning flashes and thunder rumbles overhead. But we can rest assured that through faith in our great God, blue skies are on the horizon.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Great American Heroes

Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.

-- Luke 16:10

Maybe you remember that amusing series of commercials from several years back called Great American Heroes. Each tongue-in-check ad recognized a faceless individual who labors diligently behind the scenes to support the American lifestyle. What made the commercials memorable was their over-the-top scripts and theme music that saluted the accomplishments of such working-class heroes as "Mr. Backyard Bug-Zapper Inventor," "Mr. Jelly Donut Filler" and "Mr. Driving Range Ball Picker-Upper."

"Without you, Mr. Giant Foam Finger Maker, our teams would be in sixth or seventh place," proclaimed the announcer.

Great American Heroes, indeed. Number OneAnd although these commercials were absurd, their celebrations of the Average Joe were in many ways on the mark--at least when it comes to Jesus' viewpoint. For example, society tends to honor sports stars, musicians, actors and politicians as heroes. And there are times when firefighters, police officers and others are lauded (and deservedly so) for their bravery. But Jesus tells us that reality differs from the world's conventional wisdom regarding heroism. From his perspective, the last shall be first and the first shall be last.

What does that mean? The world defines the successful of our society as those who do what it takes to get to the top and stay there. And in many cases, they see the end (prestige and fame) as justifying the means. But for true Christ-followers, this so-called road to fortune is nothing but a dead end to ruin.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with achieving success in business or making lots of money. The trouble comes when wealth, fame and power become the focus of our lives. And rather than being blessings to benefit ourselves and others, they can actually become addictions that enslave us.

What does it look like for a Christ-follower to achieve success? The answer lies in descending the world's ladder of greatness into humility and servant leadership. Serving our neighbors--those next door, in the next cubicle and in the next continent--becomes more of a joy than a chore. And ultimately, the way we live our life Monday through Saturday looks much like how we live it on Sunday.

Maybe you'll never get your own TV commercial like "Mr. King of the Karaoke Mike" or "Mr. Souvenir Snow Globe Maker." But rest assured that the honors will be much greater once you invite Christ to use your gifts and talents to help build his kingdom right here on earth. 

Great American Heroes, indeed.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Join the Family

"'In that day each of you will invite your neighbor to sit under your vine and fig tree,' declares the Lord Almighty."

-- Zechariah 3:10

When you were growing up, were you one of the popular kids in school? Or were you, like many people, a bit awkward and introverted? And at recess, were you one of the first ones picked for the team--or were you the odd man out just about every time?

Some things don't change, Invitationwhether it's on the playground or in the office park. How many times have you been turned down for that big promotion or lost out to another job candidate? And has the boss ever criticized your sales presentation in front of your co-workers? Rejection can be brutal.

If this strikes close to home, there's some very good news--even for those of us who were never asked to the senior prom or chosen for the varsity debate team. And it's much more important and lasting.

God--the most powerful and loving Presence in the universe--not only knows everything about you, he knew you before you were even born. Your name is written on his hand. And he's also chosen you as his heir. So once you accept his Son--Jesus--as your Lord and Savior, you become his adopted child. And as God's child and heir, you'll share in quite an inheritance to enjoy for eternity.

That's a lot to look forward to once God calls you to join him. But you don't have to wait until then to enjoy some of the family benefits. And one of them is the privilege of knowing God in a personal relationship. Through prayer, you can come to him directly with your joys, needs and sorrows. It's this close, ongoing bond that helps you overcome the rough spots that you're guaranteed to face throughout life.

Jesus taught his disciples that God isn't a strict, unknowable taskmaster who waits to zap us when we do wrong. Christ instead revealed that our Creator is a warm, reassuring and loving Father in the best sense of the word. And to the amazement of all who heard him, Jesus even referred to God as Abba--a child's word that translates into English as daddy. 

The incredible truth is that God has chosen you and me as his adopted children. And just as with Jesus, he wants nothing more than to hear you respond, "Yes, Abba!"

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Ultimate Giver

Offer the sacrifices of the righteous and trust in the Lord.

-- Psalm 4:5

For centuries, Christ-followers have given a portion of their resources to the church to help achieve God's will on Earth. And if you're a committed giver, you've probably discovered that you can't out-give God. We might one day feel led to help a neighbor pay his electric bill or buy a bag of groceries. And then a few days later, we might ourselves be blessed Giftthrough an unexpected promotion at work or a surprise check in the mail. God's example is a powerful incentive for Believers of all economic levels. After all, he wants us to trust in him--not money--as our provider.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding," we read in Psalms, "in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight."

But when it comes to our money, it really does boil down to trust. We trust God with our eternal salvation. However, do we trust this same God to provide for our daily needs? Christ-followers are called to serve as his hands and feet to feed the hungry, heal the sick and house the homeless. So by making generous giving a spiritual habit, we become more like Him--and all while helping to change the world for the better.

This principle sounds fine in theory--particularly when our bank accounts are full and there's plenty more on the way. But how does it apply to Christ-followers with only modest financial resources?

In the Gospel story known as The Widow's Mite, Jesus described a poor woman who literally gave her last penny as her offering. His point was that since she gave out of her poverty, her small gift was actually much greater in God's eyes than the vast sums offered by rich worshippers. We can see that the widow--although poor--took the initiative and made the most of her gift. Likewise for today's Christ-followers of modest means, giving takes humility. (Who wants to feel compared to others?) What's more, giving out of limited resources takes discipline and trust. Just because we have less than others is no reason to turn our backs on God. And when we're wise with the gifts he gives us, there's more to give back to him and his Kingdom.

Whether our bank accounts are big or small, our generosity brings joy to others. It moves our focus from ourselves and onto the recipient. Moreover, a life of generosity brings joy to our Creator because it shows we're becoming more like him. And why not? After all, ours is a God who is the ultimate giver.