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.