Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year Resolution

As we gaze out at a new year dawning, many are drawn to make ‘resolutions’ or to reflect back on the past year and contemplate what needs to change in the future. Often we are prone to concentrate on those goals that are measurable and well within our grasp. While those resolutions aren’t bad, maybe we should focus more on what God’s goals for us may be.
“We don’t know what those are”? “We can’t figure them out”? “They are too hard and aren’t achievable.” “They may inconvenience me or make me look silly.”
Before we get too far away from the Christmas images and the birth story, I think there is a great message in it for us regarding how we should let God have His way in our lives – for the new year and every year.
There are three different ‘birth pronouncement’ stories in the Bible that may seem somewhat similar, but actually show a marked difference in how we are to react to God’s plans for our lives.
First was the story of Abraham and Sarah:
God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, . . . I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” (Genesis 17:15-17)
Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”
Then the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”
(Genesis 18:10-14, emphasis added)
And then the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah:
Then an angel of the Lord appeared to [Zechariah], standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. . . . Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. (Luke 1:11-19, emphasis added)
And finally, the story of Mary:
But [Gabriel] said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God
. (Luke 1:30-35)
Do you see the difference in the responses to the pronouncement of God’s plans? Abraham and Sarah sarcastically said, “Yeah, right!” Zechariah said, “Prove it.” And Mary said, “Wow – how is that going to happen?”
God told Mary that He had plans for her that were physically impossible. In amazement, wonder, faith, and obedience, Mary responded: “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever he wants. May everything you have said come true." (Luke 1:38, NLT)
When God has plans for us, it doesn’t matter if they seem difficult or outright impossible to us. It doesn’t matter if we can’t figure out how they will come about. It doesn’t matter if we know we aren’t capable of pulling it off.
God’s answer to fulfilling His plans in our lives is the same as His answer to Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you”. That wasn’t just a pronouncement about the ‘immaculate conception’ – it was God’s statement of His ‘modus operandi’ to accomplish His plans: His Spirit and His power.
While it is certainly true that most of us will not experience having an angel appear to us and tell us what God has planned for our lives, there are still many ways God speaks to us and gives us direction (His Word, prayer, godly friends, etc.). But we must be open to His plans, accepting of them, and obedient to them.
When we respond as Mary did (“I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever he wants. May everything you have said come true."), God will fulfill His plans in and through us as He did with Mary (The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.).
As you survey the new year approaching, what is it that you think God can’t do? What are you apprehensive about letting Him take care of? What are you afraid to yield to Him?
It may seem difficult. It may seem outrageous. It may seem impossible.
But as we are reminded in the birth pronouncement to Mary, “Nothing, you see, is impossible with God." (Luke 1:37, MSG)
Are you willing to make your New Year’s resolution to listen, accept, and obey God’s plans – whatever they may be?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Has Jesus Been Lost in Christmas?

It seems like at least one person every year (at Christmas) tells me that they are removing all decorations and ‘Christmas stuff’ from their home that does not relate directly to Jesus and His birth. Throwing out all ‘Santa Claus’ decorations, elves, tinsel, mistletoe, etc. Removing those ‘snowy scenes’ and holly branches and snowmen.
I also noticed the other day while sitting in the barber’s chair that the barber shop’s Christmas decorations consisted solely of holly leaves, Christmas lights, and candy canes. And the malls are piping in ‘Christmas’ music like White Christmas, and I’ll Be Home For Christmas.
There can be no dispute that Christmas has become over-commercialized or that the ‘accoutrements’ of the ‘holiday’ have overtaken the meaning of the holiday to many (if not most) folks. So much emphasis is placed on gift buying, going to parties, eating, and just general ‘holiday merriment’.
It would certainly appear that Jesus often gets lost.
But did you know that there is some biblical precedent for Jesus getting lost in the fun and festivities surrounding holiday celebrations? That’s right – in Luke 2:41-50 is the story of Mary and Joseph ‘losing’ Jesus during the Passover celebration and not discovering that He was missing for a whole day. Mary and Joseph weren’t terrible parents for losing Jesus. They just got so caught up in the celebrations, catching up with old friends and relatives, and holiday coming-and-going that they lost sight of Jesus. And they left him behind.
So maybe it’s not just Santa Claus that makes us lose sight of Jesus. Maybe snowmen aren’t the main culprit, either. Perhaps mounds of garland and mistletoe aren’t what is covering up and hiding Jesus.
Perhaps – just maybe – Jesus gets lost because we lose sight of Him. He doesn’t wander away from us, we leave Him behind.
I don’t think it’s a matter of focusing on other things. I think it’s a matter of losing focus on Him. We don’t have to focus on Santa Claus to lose our focus on Jesus. And we don’t have to remove any and all ‘non-Jesus’ Christmas decorations to keep focused on Jesus.
We know that Christmas isn’t about exchanging gifts, Christmas trees, figgy pudding, sleigh bells, and the North Pole. It’s not about egg nog, chestnuts roasting, my two front teeth, or toys drives for orphans.
Christmas is about a miracle. No - it’s about THE Miracle.
When we truly understand the miracle of Christmas, we can use and enjoy all of those cultural ‘holiday’ decorations, songs, and foods to point us back to Jesus. They can be used to remind us of ‘Christmas’ and ‘Christmas’ should always remind us to focus on the Miracle of Christmas.
The miracle of Christmas is not that a baby was born to a virgin. It’s not about the fulfillment of ancient prophecies. It’s not about ‘peace’ and ‘goodwill’ and happiness and joy.
The miracle of Christmas is that the Almighty, perfect, holy, pre-existent God and Creator of all things was willing – no, not just willing, but desirous of reaching out to His creation. And not just reaching out but actually taking on the form of a human being. And to take on that lowly human form He temporarily stepped away from His rightful throne of majesty, honor, and preeminence.
God became a baby.
That is so totally beyond the realm of possibility that it could be nothing other than a miracle.
The Miracle.
It doesn’t really bother me if you get reminded of that miracle by Santa Claus figurines, inflatable reindeer in your front yard, stockings on your fireplace mantle, erroneous and/or unbiblical Nativity scenes, or Elvis singing I’ll Have a Blue Christmas. (I have a hard time seeing how a song like Santa Baby can get you re-focused on the miracle of the Incarnation, but maybe that works for you.)
While acknowledging that it is not the accurate etymology of the word ‘Christmas’, I find it helpful to think of ‘Christmas’ as the ‘Christ Miracle’. So, whatever prompts me to think ‘Christmas’, I try to remind myself to think of the ‘Christ Miracle’.
And that helps me keep from losing Jesus.
But even when I do lose sight of Him, I know He is still with me. He will never leave me.
That’s a continuation of the Christmas Miracle.
And they will call His name Immanuel – which means God with us. (Matthew 1:23)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Patience At Christmas

Are you a ‘patient’ person? And what do we really mean when say someone has ‘patience’?
Don’t we usually just assume ‘patience’ has to do with how someone ‘bears up’ under an unpleasant circumstance? You know - it takes ‘patience’ to pleasantly wait in line at the checkout at Walmart; it takes ‘patience’ not to sit on your horn in a traffic jam that is keeping you from getting to work on time; it takes ‘patience’ not to rudely slam the phone down on the telemarketer calling during dinner.
The following are some definitions of ‘patience’ I found: good-natured tolerance of delay or incompetence; the state of endurance under difficult circumstances, which can mean persevering in the face of delay or provocation without acting on annoyance/anger in a negative way; exhibiting forbearance when under strain, especially when faced with longer-term difficulties; the capacity to endure hardship, difficulty, or inconvenience without complaint; calmness, self-control, and the willingness or ability to tolerate delay.
Do you see how much we place the emphasis of ‘patience’ on enduring ‘negative’ things - things that would cause an ‘impatient’ person to lose control, get angry, become annoyed, etc.? But there are many areas where ‘patience’ is required to obtain something good, or to await the arrival of something good, or to allow something to come fully into fruition.
As the Christmas holidays are upon us, I see so many areas where our ‘patience’ gets tested. There are lines and crowds of people everywhere – not just at malls, but on the roads, in the grocery stores, etc. Everyone is in such a hurry and our lives become so hectic. We have children who are barely able to wait for Christmas to arrive. Our anticipation of seeing loved ones builds and builds. We look toward gatherings with family and friends. And still others may have a difficult time not ‘loosing it’ because loved ones won’t be there this year.
So much ‘patience’ is required to make it through the holidays. But I’ve been thinking about how much the whole concept of Christmas epitomizes ‘patience’. Let me explain.
All the way back to the Garden of Eden, man has been inventing ways to go his own way, turn his back on God, disregard the ‘perfect plan’ that had been envisioned. And all the way back to the Garden of Eden, God has had His mind on the plan to reconcile man to Himself.
Yet, in His perfect patience, God revealed only glimpses of His plan through generations and generations of His people. Through the patriarchs, the judges, the kings, the exiles and captivities, He patiently continued to reveal portions of what He had planned – hints of the glorious plan of salvation He had conceived.
But the time wasn’t yet perfect.
So He waited.
And then the time arrived. And the Plan conceived in eternities past was born.
But still – patience.
The glorious majesty of Almighty God was wrapped inside the flesh of little baby. And He patiently endured the application of time, His environment, and physical needs to the body He occupied. He patiently waited 30 years before even starting to spread His message of redemption to those to whom He came. In perfect patience He served, taught, healed, touched, and loved. Knowing the depth and richness of the grace and mercy that was to come, He patiently tolerated, turned the other cheek, endured, and bled.
So, in my mind’s eye, when I see that Infant in the manger, I’m awestruck with the thought of the patience that was demonstrated. Knowing the plan of redemption that was unfolding, the God Child waited patiently until the time was perfect.
And when I see the God Man hanging on the cross, I’m overwhelmed with the thought of Him patiently enduring thousands of years of rebellion by His creation, culminating in the prolonged torture and brutal murder of the body He occupied.
Patience. Isn’t that what Christmas is really all about?
God patiently endured us. And He patiently allowed the unfolding of His perfect plan to restore us to Himself. He didn’t rush it. He never got behind schedule.
God had a plan. A perfect plan.
He patiently saw it through.
For a child has been born - for us! The gift of a son - for us! He'll take over the running of the world. His names will be: Amazing Counselor, Strong God, Eternal Father, Prince of Wholeness. (Isaiah 9:6, MSG)
I don’t think that I’ll be as quick to pat myself on the back next time I think I’m being ‘patient’ by pleasantly smiling at the lady in front of me who is fumbling with her keys in the checkout line when she should be taking her change and receipt and moving on.
O LORD, I will honor and praise your name,
for you are my God.
You do such wonderful things!
You planned them long ago,
and now you have accomplished them
Isaiah 25:1, NLT

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Main Thing

Many years ago I was a member of the National Rifle Association – the NRA. The primary reason I joined was to get the subscription to one of their monthly publications, American Hunter. Although I put the NRA membership sticker on my car, I wasn’t particularly a huge ‘supporter’ of all that the NRA stood for (I’m not sure I even knew what the NRA stood for at that time).
I eventually ended up not renewing my membership because of the NRA’s constant harping about the 2nd Amendment and the need to protect the rights guaranteed by it. (I wanted more information about guns and shooting stuff.) At the time, I didn’t see any real infringements on my gun ownership rights, etc. and it seemed like the NRA was just a bunch of ‘alarmists’ turning every discussion or article into something about the 2nd Amendment.
But as I’ve learned a thing or two in life (in other words, ‘gotten older’), I have developed a whole new appreciation for the way the NRA conducts its business and how it approaches its purpose.
Please understand: it is not my goal to take a political position one way or the other or to affirm the goals of the NRA or convince you of the legitimacy of their positions. My point is not about ‘gun rights’. Instead, what I have grown to appreciate about the NRA is the fact that they are single minded in keeping their main thing the main thing.
The NRA seems to understand (better than most people or organizations) that if you give in a little here or don’t hold fast to your beliefs there, you end up on a slippery slope and soon find yourself in a position of wondering how in the world you got where you are. The NRA seems to understand that the time is now and the line is already drawn in the sand. They remain urgently steadfast in keeping focused on their main thing.
There are tons of other organizations (including churches) that started out with a particular purpose in mind and then got distracted or watered down to the point that they lost their relevance, at least with regard to their initial founding. Some get caught up in ‘mass appeal’, or politics, or endorsements and soon lose sight of what they were really all about. They may try to be all things to all people and out of fear of stepping on someone’s toes, they soon stand for nothing and they lose all relevance.
Likewise, individual believers can lose relevance and no longer be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ when they make little concessions along the way and fail to keep the main thing the main thing. We often stress the concept of ‘lifestyle evangelism’, yet our lives are seldom noticeably different from those of nonbelievers all around us. Why? Because our lack of focus on keeping the main thing the main thing has us sliding down that slippery slope.
We can sometimes end up somewhere that we never would have consciously chosen to be because we made little decisions (or concessions) that set our course in motion. We failed to maintain barriers, we left options open that shouldn’t have been, we didn’t stand firm or stand up to opposition, we lost focus. Too many things got in the way of the main thing.
So, what is ‘the main thing’? Is it ‘the Gospel message’? Is it serving? Is it caring for orphans and widows? Is it evangelizing? Is it giving?
Well, I think that in any group of Christ followers, each person’s answer is going to tilt toward what passions God has placed in their heart. I have a friend who thinks everyone should be in the mission field; another thinks everyone should participate in at least seven Bible studies per week; another volunteers every possible minute at the homeless shelter and is convinced you should too.
While all of those are good things and are vital, we are not all gifted in the same ways. (Which is not an excuse – if your gift is ‘encouragement’, you should still evangelize; if your gift is ‘evangelism’, you should still give.)
But, back to the NRA – they do what they do because they stay focused on why they were formed in the first place. They keep their main thing the main thing.
For followers of Christ, I believe that the main thing – the reason we were formed in the first place – is stated by Christ Himself in Matthew 22:37: ‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’
When we stay focused on that, when we run all of our life experiences through that filter, when we are urgently steadfast to that ‘main thing’, we can make a difference in the world. You see, when that is the ‘main thing’, other things can’t be. When that is the ‘main thing’, we don’t have divided loyalties. When that is the ‘main thing’, we don’t get distracted, led astray, watered down, or become irrelevant and inconsequential.
Is that the ‘main thing’ for you? Or is that just ‘another’ thing?
When you make that the ‘main thing’, and when you keep the main thing the main thing, it makes all of the difference in the world.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
I desire you more than anything on earth
Psalm 73:25, NLT (emphasis added)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Am I My Brother's Keeper?

A few years ago I added a ‘zip line’ to our jungle gym ‘fort’ which is set up in the backyard. It starts on the top level, about ten feet off the ground, and descends to a tree about 100 feet away.
Because our son recently turned 18, he now has little use for the jungle gym, zip line, trampoline, and swing set. He is too ‘big’ and too ‘cool’ for such child’s play.
However, our 11-year old daughter can spend hours a day enjoying them. While we avoid the term ‘tom boy’, our daughter is very active, enjoys more ‘physical’ activities, and really pushes the envelope of ‘thrills’ when it comes to trying to have fun.
There are good reasons that one of her primary nicknames in our household is ‘Monkey’. Yet she is fairly ‘safe’ with her escapades: she makes sure she has good grip on the zip line before riding it upside-down and backwards; she positions herself with plenty of room on the non-net-enclosed-trampoline before attempting a particular maneuver; and she checks the underside of the jungle gym for yellow jacket nests before climbing all over it.
Due to our daughter’s inclinations on using our backyard ‘toys’, little thought has been given to ‘safety measures’ or ‘warnings’ or even adult supervision most of the time. But everyone’s children are not like our little monkey.
This realization became clear on a recent Saturday evening when we had some friends over to visit. While I didn’t see exactly what happened, it appears that a friend’s daughter (a more indoor-oriented ‘girlie-girl’) attempted to ride the zip line but ended up doing a face plant from the upper level of the jungle gym.
After assuring my attorney friend of my ‘judgment proof’ status, we set about to cleaning up his daughter’s bloody face, comforting her, and forcing everyone to sign and notarize waivers of liability.
But the whole episode made me think about how we hadn’t really considered the predispositions of other children who may want to enjoy our backyard toys - We had those toys set up with only our daughter’s strengths in mind. And that lack of consideration resulted in injury.
Nevertheless, this situation didn’t cause me to go out and install safety nets and warning labels on the toys nor reconsider letting other children play on them. Instead, it gave me a new perspective on what Paul was discussing in Romans 14.
In that chapter, Paul is discussing ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ Christians and how they approach eating certain meats or observing certain ‘holy’ days. The chapter isn’t discussing ‘non-negotiables’ like stealing, adultery, murder, etc. Rather, the issue is how various believers handle their freedom in Christ when dealing with matters that are not specifically addressed in the Bible.
We normally cite Romans 14 when the subject comes up about drinking, or smoking, or what holidays to observe. But I don’t think it is in any way so limited.
In fact, I believe that the main take-away from Chapter 14 is in verse 13, which states: Forget about deciding what's right for each other. Here's what you need to be concerned about: that you don't get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. (MSG)
That tells me that I should never use my ‘freedom in Christ’ when its exercise would ‘make life more difficult’ for another believer who is not as comfortable with such ‘freedom’ as I may be. This is not to say that we are to live our lives for the approval of men. On the contrary, we live and die to honor Christ. (Romans 14:8) But, with regard to fellow believers, we must live with the realization that our actions may have an impact on them, potentially making their ‘walk’ more difficult.
It is easy to mention an example like not drinking in public to avoid causing doubts/questions in the mind of a ‘weaker’ brother, but there are many other instances where our ‘freedoms’ can act as ‘hindrances’ to those who may observe our actions or be impacted by them. But the question to answer is, “Which brings glory to God – to exercise my freedom and potentially place an obstacle or stumbling block in another’s path, or to refrain and perhaps build up another believer?”
I am not going to list a bunch of situations for us to be aware of and tell you how you should approach each one. This is not about ‘do this’ and ‘don’t do that’. Such discussions are for those ‘weak’ brothers who aren’t as comfortable with their freedom in Christ (they may ‘need’ rules and may wonder why you don’t follow them). Instead, we must just be aware that other believers are watching us and we need to exercise our ‘freedoms’ with them in mind.
Who is ‘weak’ and who is ‘strong’, which position is ‘right’ and which is ‘wrong’ – those arguments are not too relevant in this context. What is relevant is bringing glory to God.
By assuming that all of the kids who played on our backyard toys would be as agile, experienced, and strong as my daughter, I failed to see that others could be at a different level. Someone’s physical well-being could have been in jeopardy with something we didn’t consider to be particularly risky.
And someone got hurt.
That could have been avoided without ruining anyone’s fun. It just would have required a little consideration beforehand.
And spiritual matters are much more important than physical ones.
For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink,
but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God,
and others will approve of you, too.
So then, let us aim for harmony in the church
and try to build each other up.
(Romans 14:17-19, NLT)
Don’t let your freedom in Christ be a hindrance to or cause difficulty for someone else today.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Lions and Tigers and Cats, Oh My!

Although I have owned a couple of them over the years, I’ve never been much of a ‘cat person’. Nonetheless, I have to admit that they are pretty amazing critters.
And I’m not talking about just those little ‘tabbies’ or ‘Persians’ or ‘Siamese’ cats; the big, wild cats have the same characteristics and capabilities as those ‘precious’ little house cats. Whether they are jumping incredible heights, stalking in total silence, or patiently waiting to pounce . . . cats are truly amazing.
When you consider all that those little house cats can do and then extrapolate it out with increasing size and strength to bobcats, cougars, jaguars, leopards, lions, and tigers – not only are cats amazing, they are very scary, too!
This was brought home to me a few years ago when I was visiting with some folks who were renting some family property out in Winnsboro. These folks were ‘rescuing’ tigers from various animal parks and they had some wire enclosures built to hold about five or six tigers.
One particular tiger was in an area about ten feet square and he was cooling himself by laying in a ‘kiddie’ swimming pool that was on the opposite side of the enclosure from where I was standing (on the outside, mind you!). I was just standing there mesmerized by him and pretty much minding my own business. And then . . .
With no warning whatsoever, that tiger leapt out of the water and all of the way across the enclosure. In the blink of an eye, he was ‘standing’ over me with his front paws resting against the enclosure about two feet over my head and his hot breath panting against my forehead while drool was dripping off his enormous fangs.
Whether I was soaking wet from all of the water that was on the tiger when he pounced or because I had wet myself in fear, it was painfully obvious that without the protection of the enclosure I would have been dead. And I would have been dead before I could have even taken my hands out of my pockets.
You are probably very familiar with the following verse: Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8, NIV) When hearing that verse quoted, I’ve always had an image in my mind of those ‘Lions of Tsavo’, which have been immortalized in various books and movies (most recently the 1996 movie, The Ghosts and the Darkness).
As best that I can recall about the Tsavo lions, two male lions put the construction of an entire railroad line in East Africa on hold because they were stalking around the camps and the workers, picking off people one by one. Over a nine-month period, those two lions killed 135 people – obviously more than they would have needed just for food.
So, when I hear 1 Peter 5:8, I have envisioned those Tsavo lions stalking around the camp, . . . growling . . . sometimes roaring. I see the shadow of a prowling lion silhouetted on the canvas of a tent as workers huddle in fear inside. I see the faint outline of lion crouching behind a scraggly bush. I imagine people on constant watch of a known danger that lurks ‘out there’. I hear a distant roar and a blood-curdling scream.
But I’m not sure that my past visualization of what 1 Peter 5:8 is saying was all that accurate. I recently read The Message version of that passage and it says: Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up.
Coupling that translation with my experience with the tiger makes a lot more sense to me and I think is more appropriate in context. You see, the devil seldom announces his presence and he seldom makes his intentions known. There would be little need to warn us to “be self-controlled” or be alert” if we were well-aware of the devil’s presence around us – we would naturally be ‘on guard’.
But when we are going about our day-to-day, ordinary lives and become comfortable and lazy and are no longer alert – he pounces. We may start off ‘watching’ and being ‘alert’, but as time goes by with nothing happening and no red dude with a pointy tail jumping out, we lose focus and get careless.
But he doesn’t.
I once watched an ordinary house cat out in a field for about 45 minutes. I was convinced he was just sleeping, although in a rather odd position. Then, in a flash, he pounced. He knew that if he waited long enough, the mole that was underground would assume all was safe since the ground wasn’t vibrating and nothing had moved in a long time.
That was the mole’s last assumption.
Like a cat of any size, Satan is an amazing, patient, relentless, and efficient predator. And he uses the element of ‘surprise’ with astonishing results.
Are you waiting to hear Satan’s ‘roaring’ and see evidence of his ‘prowling around’ to take the necessary steps to protect yourself - to be ‘on guard’? I know from personal experience that if you wait for the first sign of trouble, you could be in his clutches before you know what hit you.
Or are you going to be on the alert at all times? Are you going to acknowledge that he is always out there - . . . Prowling . . . Stalking . . . Waiting.
He is going to be ready. Are you?

Be serious and keep watch; the Evil One, who is against you, goes about like a lion with open mouth in search of food; Do not give way to him but be strong in your faith (1 Peter 5:8-9(a), BBE)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Will You Take Pascal's Wager?

Even those of us who may not do a very good job of it acknowledge that it is wise to plan ahead for our financial future. We know there will be a time when our earning capacity will be diminished or gone, we know there will be a time when large amounts of money will be needed for our children’s education, we know there are many reasons to plan ahead for all kinds of various circumstances.
Wisdom would dictate that we consider those ‘knowns’ about our future as we live our lives today. Rather than being foolish and betting our financial futures on winning the lottery, we try to ‘hedge out bets’ and invest for the future.
I recently received an email that reminded me of another argument dealing with ‘hedging our bets’ in planning for our future. This argument deals with believing in the existence of God, and it was put forth by the 17th century French mathematician and scientist Blaise Pascal (1623-1662). It is called ‘Pascal’s Wager’.
As somewhat of a philosopher, Pascal did not believe it was possible to prove the existence of God (despite what Romans 1:20 says). But he believed it was much more reasonable and logical to believe in God than to not believe in God. (And he was referring to the belief in the ‘Christian God’, not just ‘a god’ or ‘Allah’, etc.)
The argument of Pascal’s Wager went something like:
1. God either exists or he doesn’t exist (the only two options).
2. If God exists and you believe in him, your eternal rewards will be great.
3. If God exists and you don’t believe in him, your eternal damnation will be great.
4. If God does not exist yet you believe in God, you have not lost anything.
5. If God does not exist and you didn’t believe in him, you gain nothing.
Thus, from a self-preservation standpoint alone, it is only logical to believe in God. God has to either exist or not exist. If God doesn’t exist, belief in him (or not) doesn’t really have any consequences. However, if God does exist, whether or not you believe in Him is of utmost importance.
So, even if someone thinks the likelihood that God exists is small, they have much more to gain by believing in him than could possibly be lost by not. Logic would therefore dictate that one believe in God.
Philosophy was never my strong suit as I am much more of a concrete thinker. And I don’t think anyone can use Pascal’s Wager to convince a non-believer to believe in God. But, I do think that Pascal’s Wager is a great tool to use to open up dialogue with those non-believers in our lives who don’t think it reasonable to believe in the existence of our God.
For someone to bet their financial future on the lottery, their odds of winning are one in 25,827,165. But, under Pascal’s Wager, regardless of the ‘probability’ someone attributes to God’s existence, the odds of whether or not God exists are still 50:50 – He either exists or He doesn’t. If He does exist, the odds are 100% that one will go to heaven by believing and 100% that one will go to hell by not believing.
The odds would seem to require that one seriously consider God’s existence.
Maybe Pascal’s Wager can open up some interesting conversations with your non-believing friends.
And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. (1 Peter 3:15-16, NLT)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My River Guide

On a recent family vacation, we were given the opportunity to go ‘white water rafting’. It sounded like great fun, so we signed up and got ready to go.

At the orientation session, it became frighteningly obvious that this wasn’t the same as floating down the Guadalupe River on an inner tube. We were given instructions on what to do if/when the raft overturned, how to avoid being caught under rocks if/when we fell into the river, how to catch the life rope if/when we fell out of the boat, how to respond when the raft started to overturn, etc. It was almost as scary as listening to all of the side effects of the prescription drugs advertised on TV. We were also told about the water gear and wet suits that would be available to help us survive the extremely cold water (on the assumption that we would end up IN the water).

When we arrived at the river, we were given life vests and helmets that had to be worn at all times! Our ‘guide’ then gave urgent instructions about how and when to paddle and how and when to shift from one side of the raft to the other to prevent it from capsizing.

We had signed up for a fun vacation activity, but it was turning into an anxiety-inducing, life-or-death adventure.

The first couple of miles of the river were not too scary and I could take in the beautiful scenery and get more comfortable with my decision to jeopardize my family’s well-being. Then I could hear the rumbling - growing louder and louder. Soon the canyon walls were closing in on us and there seemed to be more rocks than water up ahead of us.

As we made it through one set of rapids and then another and then another, my fears subsided and I began to really enjoy the trip. In fact, despite the dangers and our vulnerability, I began to feel very safe and secure. The main reason I began to relax on the trip was the obvious expertise of our guide. He was really good (even as compared to the guides on the other rafts with us).

Sometimes we would approach a set of rapids and begin drifting sideways towards the rocks. At the last second our guide would flick his oars this way or that and we’d straighten up and sail right through the rapids with ease and barely a splash. When the folks sitting in the front of the raft would get soaked in one set of rapids, he’d maneuver us around so that we’d go through the next set of rapids backwards and we’d get soaked in the back of the boat (to my daughter’s delight).

When it looked like we wouldn’t make it around a particular rock, he would call out for us to paddle “two strokes forward”, or maybe “one stroke backwards”. And whoosh, right through the gap and around the rocks.

His timing was impeccable; his strength, impressive; his skills, honed; his demeanor, calm and collected. He knew where the currents were and he knew what was around the next bend in the river. He was in control of the raft and knew where he wanted to go.

At the end of our rafting trip, it struck me how similar this experience was to navigating the waters of my daily life.

For example, I am often warned of all the dangers and risks that are out there. I take precautions and try everything possible to protect myself from what I perceive as threats to my safe and secure lifestyle. But when I decided to call Jesus my ‘Guide’, didn’t I realize that sometimes I would have to get out of the boat? Didn’t Peter show us that we can’t walk on water from the security of the boat?

Also, as with the raft, God has gifted me with a paddle (or paddles) to help get where He wants me to go and do what He wants me to do. I usually want to start paddling feverishly on my own to direct things where I think is best. But do I really even know what is best? I don’t see things from the same perspective that my Guide does – I don’t have His foresight, strength, or experience. I do much better when I wait for His commands of when and how to use my paddle.

And those ‘troubled waters’ – I want to avoid them completely. I do everything I can to navigate around them or minimize time spent there. I’ll try to position myself a certain way when I see trouble up ahead, which could be the worst possible move. But God uses those rough spots like my river guide – when He is in control of the boat, those ‘trouble waters’ are ‘tools’ to propel me on toward the goals He has in mind.

Our river guide measured success by getting everyone on board to the final destination. That is also what God has in mind. Sometimes our trip ends in one of those dark canyons, sometimes the canyon opens up into a sun-drenched meadow with snow-capped mountains in the background. But we can relax and enjoy the ride when we let Him be in control. And we can trust that we’ll get where He wants us to go. And the more we trust Him to be in control, the more our trust is confirmed.

He doesn’t promise we won’t get wet. He doesn’t promise a smooth ride. But He also doesn’t leave us in the boat all alone.

He knows the way. He is The Way. And He is good. All the time.

Our river guide sat right in front of me in our raft. On the back of his life vest, he had written his name and ‘Galatians 2:20’, which reads:

Christ's life showed me how [to be God’s man], and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not "mine," but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (MSG)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Holy Is As Holy Does

It sure is easy to get bogged down while reading through the book of Leviticus! There are so many rules, prohibitions, sacrifices. I have the tendency to jump right over all these ‘laws’ and move along since, after all, ‘we’re not under the Law’, right?
Still, there is so much detail in there about what to do and what not to do; about what to do if you did something you weren’t supposed to do; about how to ‘atone’ for doing something you weren’t supposed to do; about how to consecrate yourself to do other things, etc.
All those rules and details must be in there for a good reason. But why?
At one point, I determined that all of those laws and regulations were there to show people how to ‘become holy.’ After all, a phrase very similar to “Consecrate yourselves and be holy, for I am holy” is repeated almost verbatim many, many times throughout Leviticus (11:44, 19:2, 20:7, 20:26, etc.) and the rest of the Bible.
But then I noticed a slight variation to that phrase when reading through chapter 20. In verse 7, the above phrase is repeated, “Consecrate yourselves and be holy, for I am holy”. But then in verse 8, we are told: Keep all my laws and obey them, for I am the LORD, who makes you holy.
Then something ‘clicked’ and started to make a bit more sense to me, a New Testament believer. I realized that all of those ‘laws’ and ‘sacraments’ weren’t there to show anyone how to become ‘holy’. Rather, they were there to show God’s people - those He had set apart and He had made ‘holy’ – how they should be acting since He had already made them ‘holy’.
God chose the people and set them apart, He ‘sanctified’ them – made them ‘holy’. And since they were His ‘set apart’ or ‘holy’ people, they should be acting differently than all of the other people in the cultures around them.
God didn’t want there to be any confusion about how His people should be acting differently than those around them, so He went to great lengths to specify many, many ways to ‘separate’ themselves from the culture – to show that they were ‘holy’. Thus flowed all of the very detailed laws dealing with what and what not to eat, ‘uncleanliness’, how to sacrifice particular animals for specific purposes, sexual relations, a version of ‘tort reform’, etc.
While we want to defiantly claim that we are not ‘under the Law’, there is no denying that even New Testament believers are commanded to ‘be holy’ (1 Peter 1:15-16). And just like the Israelites following Moses were made ‘holy’ by God (Leviticus 20:8, above), not by their actions, we are made ‘holy’ by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:10), not by anything we could ever do.
So, because we are made ‘holy’, we must then live as ‘holy’ people – people set apart as God’s own. God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. (I Thessalonians 4:7, NLT) You ought to live holy and godly lives (2 Peter 3:11(b)).
The Israelites were called to stand out from the cultures around them (I am the LORD your God, who has set you apart from all other people (Leviticus 20:24)). So, they weren’t to sacrifice their children, marry their in-laws, harvest every single grain of wheat, mistreat their slaves, eat certain foods, etc. They were called to be ‘holy’ people who stood out like sore thumbs among the cultures around them.
And that’s what we are supposed to do and to be as well.
We live in a much different world, a much different culture. But we have still been made ‘holy’. We are still called to ‘be holy’ and to stand out from the culture.
How do we do that? What does that look like?
Well, a good starting place is to observe what is going on in the culture around us. Watch movies, read the paper, listen to the radio. It soon becomes painfully obvious what ‘the world’ values, what ‘the world’ is chasing after, how ‘the world’ acts toward one another.
So - . . .
Act differently.
Stand out.
Be ‘set apart’.
Be holy.
Just remember: Actions don’t make you holy. God already made you holy. Since you are holy, live that way.
If you aren’t standing out like a sore thumb in today’s culture, you are probably not living out God’s command to ‘be holy’. Is it more important to you to ‘fit in’ or to ‘be holy’?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Have You Created A Golden Calf?

I was reading a very familiar story today in Exodus 32, where the Israelites fashioned a golden calf to worship while Moses was ‘delayed’ coming down the mountain. I’ve often read that with the assumption that the Israelites were attributing their salvation from Egypt to some ‘mad-made’ god. But I believe they were, instead, just trying to make an image of THE God that saved them. So they resorted to making a golden image of that ‘god’, similar to what other cultures around them worshipped.
When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, "Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him."
Aaron answered them, "Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me." So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt."
When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, "Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD."
(Exodus 32:1-5)
It is amazing to me how quickly the people forgot God’s commands and how constantly they needed to be reminded that God is real and actual even when not visible. He had been leading them by a pillar of cloud or of fire; He had visibly descended upon the mountain in a cloud; He had audibly spoken to the people (The LORD said to Moses, "I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you." Exodus 19:9, emphasis added)
Yet, they wanted a visible, touchable ‘god’ to lead them.
That reminds me of a statement by the philosopher Voltaire: “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.”
Even though the Israelites had experienced and witnessed the existence of God, they felt the need to ‘re-invent’ Him in an image that was more tangible. And we are no less guilty of that, even if we don’t fashion golden calves. Instead, we tend to reflect another of Voltaire’s philosophies: “If God made us in his image, we have certainly returned the compliment.”
No, we haven’t created golden calves, but we do tend to make God into a God that we can get our minds around. We turn God into a much better version of us. He is more loving than we are, more powerful than we are, holier than we are – We’ve made Him the ‘super-sized’, turbo-charged version of us.
Instead of accepting a God that can’t even be imagined, we try to imagine a God that can be accepted.
That is really no better than making a golden calf as the image of our omniscient, all powerful, eternal, perfect, indescribable God.
But it doesn’t work.
He is too big; He is too much; He is too . . . ‘other’.
There is just no way we can understand, comprehend, explain, or grasp what and Who God really is.
Yet that same incomprehensible, uncontainable, indescribable, transcendent, awesome God has reached out to us. He has reached out to us because – for some unimaginable reason – He wants to have a relationship with us.
He has done everything necessary to make that possible. We can try to figure that out; we can dilute and distort His image into something understandable; we can try to make ourselves ‘worthy’ of His affections.
Or - we can embrace the offer and step into the eternal.
We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. (1 John 4:13-16)

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Game Changer

As a young boy, I thought Jerry West was probably the best basketball player ever. He could shoot well, played great defense, was a good ball handler, made great passes, etc. Other players that came along that I thought also really played the game the way James Naismith intended included Walt Frazier, John Havlicek, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson.
Perhaps because I find myself rather ‘height challenged’, I have never been particularly impressed with those players who were supposedly ‘great’ based solely on the fact that they were so much taller/bigger than everyone else (i.e., Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal). I have always liked ‘complete’ players that played all aspects of the game well.
Then along came a guy who changed the way basketball had always been played - Michael Jordan. Many teams never ‘sold out’ their games unless/until Michael Jordan came to play against the home team. He didn’t just take basketball to a different level, he took it in a different direction.
Nothing against players like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, but the way they play was made possible by what Michael Jordan did. He changed the game.
* * * * * *
While many of us may assume that someone’s moldy bread was the impetus for the ‘accidental’ discovery of penicillin, it was actually discovered by a bacteriologist who was actively seeking a chemical that could kill bacteria in humans without harming their bodies. The manner in which Alexander Fleming determined (in 1928) that it was the Penicillium mold which would effectively kill bacteria was somewhat ‘accidental’, but not completely fortuitous. Nevertheless, his discovery eventually led to the development of the ‘wonder drug’ that definitely ‘changed the game’.
* * * * * *
There was a time when only rich people could afford books because each one was painstakingly copied by hand. Then along came movable type and the Gutenberg Press. Soon hundreds, then thousands, then millions of books could be printed. Education, communication, information, sharing ideas – such things were no longer restricted to only the financial, cultural, or powerful elite. A whole new world was opened up and an ‘information explosion’ took place. Perhaps no other invention has so changed the game.
* * * * * *
Although we should do so all year, Easter ought to prompt us to focus intently on what was truly the ultimate ‘game changer’ – the cross.
While the cross was just a simple wooden structure, it changed more than all of the other events, actions, and inventions of all time combined together.
Because of the cross, all of the rules of the game changed. There was no longer a need for ‘keeping score’. We were freed to play the game the way each of us were uniquely designed to play. We were no longer bound by our physical limitations or talents, but we were empowered and gifted.
Because of the cross, not only could people be perfectly healed of physical, emotional, or psychological ailments, but ‘death’ itself was eradicated. The cross provided the cure for the virus of sin and the sickness of self.
Because of the cross, direct and personal communication with the Creator of the Universe was made possible. The cross tore down the barriers and restrictions that prevented poor, depraved, inherently wicked people from relating one-on-one with a wholly holy God.
The cross was simple, yet capable of infinite possibilities.
The cross was rough, yet it smoothed the way.
The cross was painful, yet it took away our hurts.
The cross was heavy, yet it removed the weight we carried.
The cross bore a curse, yet it blessed and made pure.
The cross stood only a few feet tall, yet it reached to heaven.
The cross signified an end, yet it is a new beginning.
The cross was foolishness, yet it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 17:18).
The cross was defeat, yet it is victory.
The cross was humiliating, yet it brought glory.
For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.
This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault
. (Colossians 1:19-22, NLT)
Now that’s what I call a game changer!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Looking Toward Easter

I’ve got a confession to make: I’m not very good at confessing.
It’s not really that I’m afraid of confession or that I am hesitant to agree with God that I have slipped up and fallen short of the mark. No, I’ll freely admit that I regularly sin against God with the things I do and the things I don’t do which I should.
Yet, I still do not incorporate much confession in my regular attempts to communicate with God.
I understand the beauty and wonder of 1 John 1:9: [I]f we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.
I understand the blessings that flow from confessing my sins: Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. (Psalm 32:1-2)
I understand (and have experienced) the need for confession. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. (Psalm 32:3-4)
And I understand that we have to take responsibility – ownership – for our actions (and inactions). That’s part of “how” to confess, as David showed us in Psalm 32: “I acknowledged my sin,” “I did not cover up my iniquity,” “I will confess my transgressions,” and “You forgave the guilt of my sin.”
But what about “why”? Why should I need to “confess” what God already knows? I mean, “O.K., ‘my bad’ – sorry. I’ll try to do better.” Isn’t an apology enough? Why the need for confession?
Well, I’ve started to think that perhaps Isaiah 53 answers that question. That chapter, in prophesying the sacrifice Jesus would have to make, is usually read to say that Jesus was sacrificed for the sins of the world. Through the prophet’s use of the pronouns in Isaiah 53 (“our,” “us,” “we”), we often view Jesus’ death as the atoning sacrifice for the cumulative sins of the entire human race.
But I don’t think that is a correct interpretation. You see, Jesus died for my sins. And He died for your sins. But He didn’t die for our sins. He didn’t endure the cross to atone for all of the sins ever to be committed; No, He was led to the altar for each individual transgression that I would ever commit which would otherwise separate me eternally from God – each one.
So, what Isaiah 53 actually says is:
* Surely he took up my infirmities
* He carried my sorrows
* He was pierced for my transgressions
* He was crushed for my iniquities
* The punishment that brought me peace was upon him
* By his wounds I am healed
Why do we need to confess our sins to God? Because with each act we commit or omit, a thunderous KA THUNK rings out as a huge mallet bangs down on the nails attaching our precious Savior to the cross. A lustful thought – KA THUNK! Looking away from another in need – KA THUNK! That inappropriate deduction on our tax return – KA THUNK! A hurtful remark, a dishonest response, an ignored prompting – Ka thunk! KA THUNK! KA THUNK!
God surely knows who is to blame for His Son’s death - me. And any act (no matter how small) that separates me from fellowship with God is enough to be the sole cause of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross.
When I acknowledge and confess my guilt for each heinous act which pounds those nails into His hands, He is faithful to forgive me and restore me to fellowship with Him.
I don’t know about you, but I think I’m ready to start fess’n up.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Answer

Isn’t it frustrating how so often we don’t get the answers we seek in the manner or timing we seek from God? This is especially true for me when I’m seeking answers for a particular decision I need to make (as opposed to prayers for deliverance, etc. – which is another issue altogether of things not getting done in my way and my timing).
For example, I was recently presented an opportunity that seemed like something I should pursue. I consulted godly friends for advice. I prayed. I sought counsel from His Word.
Yet, when I gazed into my bowl of Alpha-Bits cereal, the answer didn’t supernaturally float to the center of my bowl. And I didn’t have a crystal-clear vision of an angel telling me just what I should do. And my dog wasn’t suddenly able to speak and provide me with guidance (worthless mutt!).
I discovered that my ‘Answer’ is right where He has always been. And I discovered that seeking the Answer supersedes seeking all of those answers.
The following verse was brought to my attention: The Lord will work out his plans for my life - for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever. (Psalm 138:8, NLT) And that made me realize that regardless of the magnitude I may place on any particular decision I need to make, God will work out His plans. But when I place so much emphasis on the ‘decision’ and receiving ‘answers’, I end up making THAT my focus rather keeping God as my focus.
Obviously, a decision still has to be made. But, the pressure of it being the absolute right decision is removed when we keep God as our focus and trust the results to Him.
That is not to minimize the need to: (1) Pray; (2) Read His Word; and (3) Seek godly counsel. But when the answer doesn’t hit you right between the eyes, keep your eyes focused right on the real Answer. Submit to God. . . Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. (James 4:7-8, NET)
You may make a wrong decision now and then even after going through steps (1) to (3), above. But that doesn’t mean God isn’t with you. Always remember: The Lord will work out his plans for YOUR life - for His faithful love endures forever.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

An Olympic Judge

O.K., it’s time for me to launch into my biennial ‘Olympic diatribe’ that my friends and family have grown so accustomed to hearing. While it probably stems from my general dislike of all of the ‘frou-frou’, sissified prancing around called ‘figure skating’ in the Winter Olympics and ‘gymnastics’ in the Summer Games, my aim is really focused on one thing: remove all events that cannot be objectively measured.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t knock the athletic abilities, talents, or training that goes into all of those various events that have ‘judges’; I have a great deal of respect and appreciation for what those athletes can accomplish. But, if you can’t determine the winner solely on speed, distance, goals scored, accuracy, etc. – it shouldn’t be an Olympic sport. When judges start applying their opinions as to ‘style’, ‘execution’, etc., you are really getting into ‘artistic expression’ rather than ‘athletic competition’. At least that’s my opinion.
So, I would completely eliminate a lot of events from the Olympics because they are based solely on judges’ scoring. But others would also need to be modified to remain an Olympic event. For example, in the ski jump, I’m sure that greater distance is obtained by maintaining proper form, etc. But, if one guy can out-distance the others by curling up in the fetal position and flapping his arms like a chicken, he should win. Use the tape measure; forget the judges.
The Olympics should be all about who can go faster, jump further, lift more, make more goals, etc.
And isn’t that the way we prefer to look at our lives, too. So often, we want to hold up our accomplishments and what we’ve done – especially in comparison to others – and use that as the measure of our lives. It shouldn’t really matter how we got we are as long as we end up with a few medals around our neck, right?
Unfortunately, God doesn’t look at our lives that way.
First of all, there is no ‘competition’. It doesn’t matter if we are faster than someone else, if we can go farther than another, or if we are more accurate than others. Why? Because we are the only ones in our race.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. (Hebrews 12:1, NLT, emphasis added)
The next way God views our lives differently than the Olympics is that He is THE Judge. And He is a perfectly righteous and just judge.
God doesn’t look so much at WHAT we accomplish (how fast, how far, how high) as HOW we do it. He judges ‘style’: heart, attitude, motivations – all of those things I prefer to be taken out of the equation.
And the real problem with the way God judges is that He demands perfection. If we hope to end up on the podium with a gold medal and a bouquet of flowers, we must score perfect 10’s every time. How can we possibly do that? We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. (Hebrews 12:2, NLT)
So, get out there and run the race God has set before you:
When you leave the end of that ski jump and are flying through the air and a gust of wind catches you and throws you off balance - look to Jesus. The Judge's Score: 10.
When you attempt a ‘Double McTwist 1260’ and end up in a crumpled heap in the half pipe - keep your eyes on Jesus. The Judge's Score: 10.
When you think you’ve pulled off a colossal upset and truly deserve the prize, you better look to Jesus and give Him the glory. The Judge's Score: 10.

You are in your own race.
Train hard.
Keep your eyes on Jesus.

Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith,
act like men, be strong.
Let all that you do be done in love
1 Corinthians 16:13-14 (NASB)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Where's The Beef?

Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun.
Did you know that in a study done about three years ago 80% of respondents could identify ‘two all beef patties’ as one of the ingredients of the Big Mac? That same study also revealed that only 60% of the respondents could identify ‘Thou shalt not kill’ as one of the Ten Commandments.
While 43% of the folks could identify two of the least-recalled siblings (Bobby and Peter) of the Brady Bunch, the two least-recalled ‘commandments’ were familiar to only 34% (Remember the Sabbath) and 29% (Do not make any false idols), respectively.
In another recent study, people were asked to identify which of the Ten Commandments they can agree with – which ones really matter. Their responses, in descending order of ‘affirmed’ importance, were:
Don’t commit murder
Don’t tell lies about people
Don’t steal
Don’t commit adultery
Respect your parents
Don’t envy other people’s property
Don’t create or worship idols
Observe the Sabbath as a holy day and a day of rest
Don’t have any gods other than the one true God
Don’t misuse the name of God
Jesus made clear that THE most important commandment is, in fact, 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' (Matthew 22:37) But I really like another story where Jesus showed that same priority without actually stating it.
Once a religious leader asked Jesus this question: “Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked him. “Only God is truly good. But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother.’”
The man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.”
When Jesus heard his answer, he said, “There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
But when the man heard this he became very sad, for he was very rich.
(Luke 18:18-23, NLT)
What I get out of this story is:
1. While many may think Jesus was chastising the religious leader for calling him ‘good’, Jesus was actually saying, “You may not even realize it, but you are acknowledging Who I am when you call Me ‘good’.”
2. Jesus jumped right over THE most important commandment and started listing those outward, visible commandments that the religious leader could really claim he had been following.
3. Then Jesus got to the heart of the matter and said, basically, ‘So you’ve done all of those things that even the culture around you says should be done. But you’ve lost sight of THE most important thing: Love ME most; Put ME first.’
How can it really matter if we go through life without committing murder, without stealing, without committing adultery, honoring our parents, etc. without loving God most and putting God first? That would just make us ethical, moral people. But, we’d be no better off than that religious leader.
I didn’t mention those survey statistics to make anyone feel guilty for not being able to list all of the Ten Commandments in the correct order. Rather, I wanted to show that, like the religious leader in the above story, we tend to try to focus on doing/not doing those things that make us appear to be ‘good people’ in the world’s eyes. Instead, shouldn’t we focus on being God’s people?
And what do God’s people do? Love God most; Put God first.
All that other stuff just falls into place when we do that. We don’t even have to memorize all of those shalt’s and shall not’s.
It may not be quite as catchy as ‘two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun.’ But it matters a whole lot more.
Love God most. Put God first.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Valentine's Day - U R 2

O.K. guys, in case you are still mourning the end of football season and haven’t turned on a radio lately to hear all of the ‘flower delivery’ commercials – Valentine’s Day is THIS Sunday. There is no getting around it; you’ve got to make your ‘honey’ feel special.
While I am no ‘super romantic’ (or anything even close to that), I have an idea for you that I believe will knock her socks off and avoid a lot of shopping angst. This idea may sound a little ‘counter intuitive’ at first, and it will definitely require serious commitment on your part. But she’ll love it and you’ll be a better man because of it.
You will need to find a quiet time when you can be alone with her for a few minutes. Sit across from her, hold both of her hands, and look her right in the eyes. And then, in your own words, tell her something like:
“Honey, I want you to know that from this day forward, you are second.
“Regardless of what I’ve done or said in the past, I want you to know that Jesus Christ is going to always be ‘first’ – my first thought, my first action, my first priority. But you will be second at all times. Everything else will be a distant third: work, children, golf, TV, hunting, money, power, position. Everything.
“Although I already love you more than life itself, by always making Jesus my Number One, I will be able to love you better, and more.
“You are second – I promise.”
Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church - a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ's love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They're really doing themselves a favor - since they're already "one" in marriage. (Ephesians 5:25-28, MSG)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Groundhog's Shadow - A Sign?

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign . . .”
Are you willing to show your age and admit to remembering when that song came out? Although referring to a different kind of ‘sign’, that song started going through my mind as I was reading the newspaper recently.
* All eyes are on Punxsutawney Phil to see the ‘sign’ of how much longer winter will last.
* A little cat named Oscar has been cuddling up to last stage Alzheimer’s patients in a hospice situation, indicating who has only days left. The cat is so accurate that the workers know to start notifying next of kin at this ‘sign’.
* A famous televangelist points to the earthquake in Haiti as a ‘sign’ of the deal Haitians made with the devil years ago to expel the French.
There are also lots of ‘end time prophecy’ gurus out there who point to all of the ‘signs’ that the ‘end is near’. You can look at what’s going on the world and see how accurately various ‘signs’ were stated in the Bible:
* "Wars and rumors of wars;" "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom." Matthew 24:6 & 7. There are lots of wars, for sure.
* "There will be famines and earthquakes in various places." Matthew 24:7
* "Woe unto them who call evil, good, and good, evil." Isaiah 5:20. We seem to live in a culture that lets everyone decide their own ‘right’ and ‘wrong’.
* “Many will rush here and there, and knowledge will increase.” Daniel 12:4. Travel, satellite communications, the internet, etc.
* "But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of god; holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." II Timothy 3:1-5,7
* "And the number of the armies of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them." Revelation 9:16. An army of that size had never existed until China's army reached that number in the 1960's.
* "For then I will return to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent." Zephaniah 3:9. Prior to the restoration of Israel in 1948, Hebrew was a dead language. Now Hebrew is spoken throughout Israel.
While I can really become fascinated with how so much of the biblical prophecy has been, is being, and will be fulfilled, I think there is a real danger with focusing too much on that. Certainly it is faith-building for me to see how prophecies have been fulfilled, knowing that the future prophecies will likewise be confirmed. But when we get wrapped up in ‘signs’, we are always anticipating the next one. And to some degree, we put off ‘getting ready’ until all the ‘signs’ we anticipate have been seen.
There are certainly many ‘signs’ left to be fulfilled before the Second Coming, before the Battle of Armageddon, before the Tribulation, before Millennial Kingdom, before the Final Judgment. BUT – there are NO unfulfilled ‘signs’ that stand between now and the Rapture. It could take place today, tomorrow, or in a hundred years. And there are certainly no ‘signs’ that stand between you and eternity – a bus could run over you tomorrow.

Are you ready?
Or are you waiting for some kind of ‘sign’?

I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.” . . . But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. . . . [Therefore], what holy and godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. (2 Peter 3:3-12, NLT, emphasis added)

Don’t wait.
The time is now.

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign.
Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind.
Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Be Still

One of the Bible verses where I turn most often is Psalm 46:10: Be still, and know that I am God. A few years ago (my daughter is now ten), I jotted down some thoughts about “being still” which I’d love to share with you.
* * * * *
Our 3½ year old daughter talks all of the time. From the moment she wakes up in the morning until nap time; from when she wakes from her nap until bed time – she is talking. And it’s not just idle jibberish flowing from her thought processes. She is asking questions, providing commentary, telling stories – all requiring the attention and input of her listener. You cannot get by with an occasional “yes, dear” when you hear her voice inflection indicate she is waiting for a response. No, you have to be actively listening in order to properly respond, “yes, Batman is a good guy,” or “no, Grace’s party is next Saturday,” or “no, Owen’s light saber won’t really cut your head off.” An incorrect or inadequate response runs the risk of a replay of all that led up to the question in the first place.
While I would prefer a bit less verbosity first thing in the morning, I’m not complaining. It is amazing and very entertaining to see how her mind works and is developing.
It would be nice, however, when bed time approaches, for her to wind down a bit more than she does. Our routine calls for: a bath, brush teeth, read a story, rock, climb in bed, a drink of water, sing songs, pray, hug/kiss, sleep. Until the “sleep” stage rolls around, she really doesn’t wind down very much at all. While rocking, I may get about ten seconds of good, quiet, still, snuggling. Then, its back to squirming, laughing, . . . being Rachel.
Again, I’m not complaining. This is a great stage of her life, where she is “doing” so much for herself and she is capable of so remarkably expressing herself verbally.
But I do sometimes long for that baby stage where I could just hold her for long periods. She was so dependent on me for everything. She would rest and relax in my arms and drift off to sleep. She would wake up slightly and look up at me as if to acknowledge, “yep, he’s still got me – safe, protected, taken care of.”

How true this whole picture is of our relationship with God:
● We spend so much of our lives developing our independence.
● We spend most of our “time with God” in a one-way conversation.
● We seek God’s answers to our questions instead of just seeking God.
● We want God’s affirmation of our words, actions, and thoughts instead of affirming Him with our words, actions, and thoughts.
● We so seldom take the time to just rest in the comfort of His love and the assurance of our salvation.
Obviously, any analogy that we can come up with relating to God breaks down on some level because He is so “other.” In relation to our human condition, we cannot even fathom His holiness, His power, His majesty, His glory, . . . Him.
We know He cares about our hurts. We know He wants us to bring our needs and concerns to Him. We know that He cares about every aspect of our lives and wants us to share it all with Him.
But I think He also longs for us to just rest and relax in His arms; to let go and acknowledge that He is in control and all will be just fine; to stop squirming, worrying, and fretting about the world beyond the comfort of His arms.
And I think He wants that for more than just ten seconds a day.
He may remove us from difficult circumstances; He may deliver us from pain. But so long as we are in this fallen world, He certainly desires that we . . .
“Be still and know . . .”

I hope you enjoy the lyrics of Steven Curtis Chapman’s song, Be Still and Know:
Be still and know that He is God
Be still and know that He is holy
Be still, O restless soul of mine
Bow before the Prince of peace
Let the noise and clamor cease
Be still and know that He is God
Be still and know that He is faithful
Consider all that He has done
Stand in awe and be amazed
And know that He will never change
Be still
Be still; Be speechless
Be still and know that He is God
Be still and know He is our Father
Come rest your head upon His breast
Listen to the rhythm of
His unfailing heart of love
Beating for His little ones
Calling each of us to come
Be still

Monday, January 11, 2010

My Hero?

I have never had any particular reason to be a fan of the Florida Gators’ football team, but I have really pulled for them the last couple of years as I’ve watched their quarterback, Tim Tebow. If you keep up with NCAA football at all, you know about Tim. His college career has been so amazing that it has even spawned a line of jokes similar to the ‘Chuck Norris’ or ‘Jack Bauer’ line of jokes, like:
The active ingredient in Red Bull is Tim Tebow's sweat.
Tim Tebow can get Chick-Fil-A - on Sunday.
People with amnesia still remember Tim Tebow.
Superman's only weakness is kryptonite. Tim Tebow laughs at Superman for even HAVING a weakness.
When Google can't find something, it asks Tim Tebow for help.
What color is Tim Tebow's blood? Trick question. Tim Tebow does not bleed.
Tim Tebow once stiff-armed a horse. That animal became what is now known as the giraffe.
When taking the SAT, write "Tim Tebow" for every answer. You will score more than 1600.
Tim Tebow gets called for roughing the tackler.
When Tebow spikes the ball, he strikes oil.
Tim Tebow can touch MC Hammer.
Tim Tebow frequently donates blood to the Red Cross - just never his own.
Referees created instant replay so they could admire Tim Tebow more than once.

But it’s actually the man behind all of the statistics, victories, and hype that I admire. Although he is a devout Christian, home-schooled by missionary parents, and unashamed to admit to confused media types that he intends to remain a virgin until he marries, he has not (to my knowledge) ever tried to leverage his ‘celebrity’ to gain fame and glory for himself. In fact, one of the things that really started me liking him is how he realized that, in his position, the television cameras would be showing ‘close up’ views of him on a regular basis. So, he took that opportunity to write Bible verse references on the ‘glare strips’ he would wear under his eyes.

Although obvious, Tim’s proclamation of God’s Word was still subtle. While a guy wearing a rainbow ‘Afro’ wig and holding a ‘John 3:16’ sign in the endzone bleachers draws criticism and derision, when Tim had the same verse on his glare strips during the 2009 BCS Championship Game, Google recorded 93,000,000 hits for it.

For those of us who have been on Tim’s real team for a number of years, a verse like John 3:16 is just ‘second nature.’ But for 93 million other folks out there, an outstanding young athlete earned the right (in their minds) to point them toward the gospel message.

Patrick Morley (of Man in the Mirror) is similarly impressed with Tim and he tried to keep track of all of the verses Tim referenced on his glare strips this year. He says they were: Proverbs 3:5-6, Mark 8:36, Romans 8:28, Isaiah 40:31, 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Psalm 23:1, Ephesians 4:32, Philippians 4:6-7, Colossians 3:23, Joshua 1:8-9, Romans 1:16, Hebrews 12:1-2, John 16:33, Ephesians 2:8-10. Look those up when you have an opportunity to see what Tim has proclaimed.

There are lots of NFL scouting experts who say Tim doesn’t have what is required to be a successful NFL quarterback – not accurate enough, too long of a throwing motion, etc. But if I had the chance to choose him, I would in a heartbeat.

Tim Tebow is a difference maker. Tim Tebow leads others where they need to go. Tim Tebow marshals all of his gifts and talents and efforts with victory in mind.

And Tim Tebow also plays football very well.

If you are like me, you probably don’t have the opportunity to ‘witness’ to millions of people each week. But what are you doing with the opportunities you do have?

Admittedly, you may lose some credibility if you wear glare strips under your eyes with ‘Philippians 4:6-7’ written on them when you attend your Monday morning sales meeting. And if you’re a surgeon, your patients may go elsewhere if you ask them if they know where they’ll end up if they die today.

But still – we are on the same team with Tim Tebow. The game plan calls for us making a difference; for us to lead others where they need to go; for us to maximize our gifts, talents, resources, and efforts.

Tim Tebow does some heroic things. But Tim Tebow is not my hero; Jesus Christ is.

Tim has shown us one way of pointing others toward our Hero. We should have our own ways of doing that as well.

Are you doing that?

Better question: How are you going to do that today?

“You are the light of the world - like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.
No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket.
Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.
In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see,
so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”

Matthew 5:14-16, NLT

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New Year Resolution

I’m not really much of a “New Year’s resolution” kind of guy. Are you?
I suppose that such resolutions have their place and can serve some good purposes, but they’ve never been too important to me. Maybe some deep-seated cynicism within me is trying to protect me from setting myself up for disappointment or something. Who knows?
It has always fascinated me though, how so many people focus so much on one little tick on the clock when our calendars change from one year to the next. They seem to really grasp at straws for the hope of a “do over” in some area (or areas) of their lives. “It’s a brand new year! The past is behind and I can start with a clean slate!”
But . . .
What about that mortgage, car payment, or credit card bill? What about that project you left on your desk at work on December 31st? What about those extra twenty pounds? What about that leaky faucet in the guest bathroom? What about the argument you had with your son on Christmas? What about that homeless guy under the bridge?
Do those things go away or start with a clean slate just because we went from 11:59 p.m. on December 31st to 12:00 a.m. on January 1st?
The reality is that there’s not much in this life that stops being what it is one second and then becomes something brand new the next. There isn’t much that disappears and will no longer burden us just because the clock went ‘tick tock’.
But - you know what did? Here’s a hint: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17)
Have you ever thought much about that? It’s really a wondrous mystery how that happens and it’s certainly beyond my explanation. But what is clear to me is that upon accepting Christ we do not become turbo-charged versions of our old self; we are not updated and improved; and we’re not “made over,” enhanced, or strengthened.
No, we’re NEW CREATIONS!! Completely new! We became something we weren’t before (and could never have become on our own).
However, unlike “New Year’s” revelers who want to pretend a new year makes all things new and leaves all the old behind, we become completely new and then we keep reaching back to our old self to bring it along for the ride. What sense does that make? We’ve been made a new creation, yet we drag the old with us into our new life!
And that just ain’t right.
The God of all creation has made me a new creation, for His purposes, by taking up residence within me (Gal. 2:20, Col. 1:27, 1 John 4:12). And then I keep dredging up the old me. I keep thinking I can ‘resolve’ to improve upon and make the old me acceptable to God to some way.
I’m tired of it. God deserves better.
The old me is gone and could never be made acceptable. He made a new me and He did what I couldn’t have ever done – made a new, acceptable me. So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1, NLT)

So, . . . I resolve to leave the old self behind and focus on perfecting the new life to which He has called me. I resolve to make this new creation submissive to its Creator; to more fully trust the Most Trustworthy One.
And I resolve that this resolution will not fade away with the passing of time. Because some things, like the new life He has given me, are eternal.