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."