Friday, May 30, 2014

No Loitering

I saw a humorous commercial on TV, recently, maybe some of you have seen it, it involves a guy standing on a treadmill, ready to work out.  He looks at the 4 speed options which include; Mosey, Saunter, Stroll and Loiter, and selects saunter, moving rather quickly to loiter.  Obviously saunter was a bit too demanding. The voice-over asks if we really want to be just average, or do you want to gain the most benefits from our exercise by pushing ourselves to do better.

The same question might be posed to all of us who call ourselves Christians.  Are we merely sauntering through our life in Christ, hoping that the less effort we expend will still keep us spiritually fit?  If it doesn’t work that way in physical fitness,  what makes us think it will improve our spiritual well being?  Let’s face it, many folks are hoping to obtain the highest spiritual rewards by doing the bare minimum. The general thinking is, as long as they can be “Average“, by loitering around church once a week, or month, that should keep God happy.

God isn’t looking for permanent loiterers, or even strollers, he wants all of us to get in the race, running at the perfect speed that He selects, depending on the work he needs us to accomplish. Whatever we do in life, school, jobs, parenting, using our talents, we should be striving for excellence, not average. I once heard a person describe average as, “the best of the worst, and the worst of the best.” When you think of it in those terms, it should make you very uncomfortable to be merely an average Christian. Look at the above-average examples we have to follow, ranging from the apostles, and early church, all the way to modern-day men and women of faith.  Paul, many times, referred to his life as running a race.  Does that mean God wants to run us ragged?  Of course not, even Jesus relaxed by sauntering from time to time so he could be ready for the next sprint. Ask God to help you build up, from loiter to running speed. Believe me, it feels amazing when God's endorphins kick in! “And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Giving the Credit to God

Perhaps you’ve heard this story before, but let me tell it again.  A  photographer was invited to dinner at the home of an acquaintance.  In the course of conversation the hostess said to the artist, “Your photos are so amazing, you must have an incredible camera.”  The man replied, “Thank you, and this meal you prepared is delicious, you must own a fantastic stove.”  While the hostess thought she was giving the man a sincere compliment, the way she worded it robbed the photographer of his talent, skill and effort, bestowing it instead on the camera.

 Let’s face it, we all love to be complimented on our talents, it’s well deserved and encouraging.  I believe that God has given every person, Christian or not, special, personally designed gifts, or skills.  We all know folks who excel in music, sports, art, writing, design, etc., and more often than not, we say they have a god-given talent.  Many people, when complimented with that phrase, will smile and say thank you.  However, there are those who will say, “god schmod“, this talent developed only because of my own hard work!”

The question I’d like to pose today is, how much credit can we take for our gifts, and how much does God deserve?  Jesus addressed this issue when he replied to a person who had called him “good teacher”.  "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good--except God alone.” Mark 10:18.  Even the photographer would have to admit that his pricey , top of the line Canon  camera and lens did play a part in his ability to take awesome pictures. Jesus, instead of accepting the kind words for himself, gave the credit solely to God. Sure Jesus was good, no one can argue that, but he wanted everyone listening to know that the source of his goodness, and all his talents was God.

 I love it when people tell me they like my photos, but I admit it’s easy to take the credit for myself.  When I first started in photography, my mother told me that my gift was “en Theos” which is Greek for God inspired.  If I ever start my own business that is what I will call it…en Theos, God inspired photography.   Think about your own gifts today, and I‘m not talking about the spiritual ones, how are you using them, and who is getting the kudos?  There‘s nothing wrong with accepting compliments, but as Christians we constantly need to give the ultimate kudos to God. “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.” 1 Cor. 12:4-6.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Flander's Field

by John McCrae, May 1915
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Grab the Lifeline

Imagine, if you will, that you are a passenger on the ill-fated Titanic.  The ship was a masterpiece of engineering design, a craft so mighty that it was dubbed unsinkable.  I watched a program on it once, and was amazed at the lengths the designers went to, to insure that the huge vessel would stay afloat, even in the face of a disaster.  As you board the ship, you feel secure trusting what man has accomplished in this iron-clad giant.  Fast forward to the iceberg.  Now imagine that there are no lifeboats, every man, woman and child is on their own.  Barring a miracle, all will perish, no doubt about it.

Unbelievably an old, but sturdy boat appears out of the mist and the captain, himself,  begins throwing out lifelines.  There are enough for every passenger.  You would think that all the lines would be grabbed, but surprisingly, no.  Some of the folks don’t like the looks of the old boat, others fear that the captain could turn out to be a pirate.  Maybe they think that by treading water they can reach safety on their own.  The ones who do take hold, wait for the captain to pull them in, out of the freezing water, and sure death, to life.

Now you might find this rendition far-fetched, but I use it to illustrate my point for today.  We may never leave terra firma, but just as surely as those folks were facing their demise, so is every single human being on the face of the earth.  Yes, we are all going to die, physically, but what I‘m referring to is the spiritual death.  God, like the captain of that small ship, has thrown lifelines out, one for each of us.  Those who trust and believe, grab on, and will be drawn into the safe haven of salvation. Sadly, many will go under, choosing to forsake his invitation, trusting in themselves, and their own strength rather than His.  The reasons they give are similar to those drowning.  In addition they don’t want to feel indebted, or have to follow his strict rules. Maybe they just think the whole lifeline thing is an elaborate ruse.

Don’t think you are exempt, we’re all aboard the same “sinking ship” of sin, but your line is waiting for you.  God will never force you to take it, only you can make that saving decision.  Have you latched on?  Great, now let him continue to draw you in.  Are you still floundering around,  confident that you can reach the shore on your own?  Good luck with that!  Jesus himself reminds us that no one can save themselves.  Don’t pass that lifeline by, take hold and live, eternally!  "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. John 6:44

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

What Do You Have to Lose?

What do you have to lose?  Has anybody ever tried to get you to try something new by asking you that question?  I’m sure they have, numerous times.  There have been situations in my life when I’ve acted on the query and gained.  Maybe it was a new, and improved. way of doing something, or perhaps it was an introduction to a food or idea.  Other times it was chalked up as a loss, like the time my friend Sue Ann talked me into leaving school without permission. Trying new things is what life is all about, but we have to weigh the outcome, before venturing into unknown territories.

The Apostle Paul was a guy who had it all, according to the Bible.  Wealthy, intelligent, a “godly”, law abiding Pharisee, and a Jew with Roman citizenship. What more could a person of that age ask for?  We know now that what he was lacking was a saving faith in Christ.  If there was ever anyone less likely to become a Christian, it was Paul.  If someone had posed this question to him, his answer would have been, “Everything!”

How about you?  Have you made a personal decision to follow Jesus?  If your answer is yes, what have you lost?  If you said nothing, you might want to check your spiritual connection.  When we step out in faith, the first thing we lose is our condemning sin, Christ paid for it.  We also leave behind the “old person”, the one who was holding tightly to the material world and its attractive, but sin-filled ways. Paul, after his miraculous conversion, tells us this. “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith,…”  Philippians 3:7-9.

 Paul had a lot to lose, in the eyes of the world, but he calls everything in his life, before Christ, rubbish, garbage!  It isn’t easy to leave behind what if familiar, but as we hear from this mighty man of God, that there is everything to gain, and no loss.  Perhaps you haven’t made that personal decision yet, or maybe you call yourself a Christian, but your little fist still has a tight hold on earthly stuff. Either way, I ask you today, “what do you have to lose?”.


Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Good Old Days

The lament of older folks, the ranks of whom I’ve now joined, is, “I wish we could go back to the ‘good old days‘”.  Depending on your age, and condition of your mind, that time period can range from as far back as the 1920s, to10 minutes ago!  Some of us get all sentimental when we hear a Beatle’s song, while my parents do the same for a Benny Goodman tune.  Regardless, the point I want to make today is, there is a bygone era that we as Christians should be longing for, no matter our age.

 The  2nd book of Acts gives us a brief, but accurate description of this period.  “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Acts 2:41-47.

Luke, the author of Acts, was a medical doctor, and a Greek.  He was a thorough and concise man who made it his goal to portray the early church and the events surrounding it clearly.  Heck, I’ve written longer texts than that, but none that are so illuminating.  Think about this passage for a moment.  Now, honestly tell me when is the last time you participated in a church like that, if indeed ever?   Don’t feel alone, I’d say most believers today are completely unaware of what the church is supposed to be like.  Let’s look inside those ancient windows, shall we?

 First of all this was a learning church. They knew how vital it was to know and follow the teachings of Jesus.  Everyday they would look forward to getting together and  learning.  Not mere rote memorization, but equipping themselves with the Word. We should all feel that same way, counting the day as a loss if we don’t learn something new about our amazing God.

It was a church of fellowship.  I don’t mean sitting around gabbing over coffee and donuts, but true togetherness, like a band of brothers.  You know how wonderful it is to be with people who have a passion for the hobby you enjoy.  It’s never a drudgery to talk and share about something we love.

It was a praying church.  These early Christians knew the perils that they faced couldn’t be met head on in their own strength.  They always went to God, before they went out to the world.

It was a reverent church.  That doesn’t mean they sat quietly, fearfully doing nothing.  The word actually translates into Awe.  Imagine that you are seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time.  The grandeur of it takes your breath away, leaving you in awe.  This was what they experienced daily, the absolute Awe of God and his world.

It was a church where things happened.  Remember, this scripture was written after the Day of Pentecost, and all the believers were filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  Healings, miracles and all sorts of life-changing events happened all the time.

It was a sharing church.  Those who didn’t have enough were provided for by those who did.  This is not to say they didn’t work, work was expected, this was not merely a place to get free handouts.

It was a worshiping church.  People didn’t go through the motions of a worship service, they desired to be there, and their love for God flowed freely in authentic worship.

It was a happy church.  Unlike many folks today who are happiest when church is over, these folks couldn’t wait to get together, and as we see they did it often…gladly!  The Greek word kalos describes these people best.  It means goodness, but more than superficial goodness, but something that is so delightful, so winsome, that it attracts others to it.  Real Christianity is a lovely thing, and as we read, the church was growing rapidly because people were drawn to its loveliness.

OK, come away from the window, and look into the church you attend.  What do you see?  Or more importantly, what don’t you see.  It is my prayer that each and everyone of us can experience this ancient thing, in a contemporary way.  There’s no need to reinvent the “wheel”, God has left us the example. Ask God to show you how to reconnect, and He will.  Without these life-giving qualities in place, I fear the Christian church will not survive another generation.  We can’t let that happen, join with me in bringing back the Good Old Days!