Tuesday, November 22, 2011

All Smiles

I took a picture today of my three kids standing in front of the World Trade Center memorial. They were smiles from ear to ear. And while I love to see my kids smiling, for obvious reasons smiles didn't seem to match the occasion. The innocence of the moment is that for them, being born long after the WTC attacks happened, this monument memorializing that day means nothing to them. But for anyone old enough to be stunned by the horror and tragedy surrounding that event, the monument speaks of a solemnness that can't be captured in words. But, perhaps there was a different message captured in my picture today. And since it is said that a picture is worth 1,000 words, let me see if I can capture my sentiments in that amount of cyberspace:

There were three of us adults waiting in line to visit the WTC memorial. Each of us had a kid. We waited in the line to get into the area, and then proceeded through the security checkpoint. I get it. I do. Keep the crazies out. Sadly this is the post-9/11 world. Security checkpoints, strip searches, RF tracking devices, x-ray body scans.

This is done so that we could be FREE. But we don't feel free, do we? We don't get on airplanes without having fleeting thoughts of underwear bombers. We walk through crowds with white-fisted grips on our children. This is our freedom, and it's a bit disappointing. But it's an American reality.

But as my kids stood there smiling this afternoon, not having to worry about airplane attacks or briefcase bombs left on the street, I thought, "This is what freedom ought to be. So let them smile." My hurry to stifle their smiles because I thought it was somewhat inappropriate to the occasion represents that I live in a world that isn't as free as it ought to be.

I look forward to the day when I can embrace that kind of freedom, although I know that won't happen until God sets the world back in perfect order. I, for now, am caught in between wanting to enjoy that kind of freedom and living in this present age of terror alerts and police security details. And my kids will likely live in an ever-increasing dangerous planet. They will know trouble in their day, as much as I hate the thought of it.

But one day we, who embrace Christ with our whole hearts, will smile. We will keep smiling. We will know Freedom and never return from it. And that, for sure, is something to smile about.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Anyone can spot a fake, or so they say.

Being real is a very important value to most people. Most would say they don't want to hang around others who they think are fake or insincere. But that forces us to ask the question, "How real are we... really?"

Being real means that the image you put out to the world is the person you are on the inside. In other words, you're not trying to fit into someone else's mold of you. But who we are and what we want peopleto think we are can often be in conflict.

A girl who is abused, for example, doesn't want the world to know that she is suffering at home, so she puts up a front at school, and wherever she goes in public. All the while she carries hurt inside that no one ever knows about. And that, she thinks, is the easiest way to survive. Because dealing with the hurt inside is just too much. In that time, her self-esteem hits rock bottom, and she may even entertain thoughts of being suicidal.

A guy who wants to be a Christian but also wants to fit into the in-crowd will resort to all kinds of improper behavior in order to fit in. So he might smoke a cigarette, or have an occasional drink at a party, maybe even do inappropriate things with the opposite sex.

Which of these two is real?

Neither. Who they are is determined by their actions. Your actions DEFINE YOU. I've heard it said this way: your thoughts determine your choices; your choices determine your actions; your actions determine your character; your character determines your integrity; and your integrity determines your destiny. So, it is your thought life that determines your destiny in the end.

Being a Christian means letting Christ help you in each of those steps - in your thought life, your choices, and your actions. The thing that God wants most to transform is not your actions. For you can change your actions and not be transformed as a person. God wants to transform your mind - your thoughts - because if He transforms that, then the rest falls into line. That is the essence of being a real Christian - to be daily transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

This is an excerpt from a message I previously shared with the youth of my church. I thought it bore repeating:

Point Number 3: Only when we realize God’s great love for us will we ever be of any true use to this world that we live in.

Your generation is full of people doing good things – for humanity and for the planet. What they often forget is that THIS WORLD IS NOT THE END. So the best thing we can do for humanity is direct it toward God, and lead them to Christ. That’s the point that Jesus was trying to make when he told the parable of the Good Samaritan. The respected teacher, who knew the law inside and out, didn’t even know how to gain eternal life. That’s what he wanted to know.
That is MAIN POINT of the ENTIRE BIBLE. Everything points to Jesus as the gate to eternal life. Jesus is called the DOOR, the WAY, the TRUTH, and he is called LIFE. Everything that happened in history led up to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Everything that has happened since points back to it, reminding us that the world is going to get worse and worse. As GOOD SAMARITANS we not only need to practically help those in need, but we need to remind of them of their greatest need – the need to walk through the DOOR, the need to get on THE WAY to eternal life, the need to embrace TRUTH and the need to live eternally in heaven forever.
We cannot be like the first two people who passed the injured man by. They crossed over the other side of the road because they were either too busy or too apathetic to take the time to rescue and wounded man. Whatever the reason, they simply didn’t care enough. When we let our friends and those we love stay separated from God because we don’t care enough to share LIFE with them, we are telling them that we don’t care about them.
We are often guilty of this: that we would rather remain silent because in that silence is where we are in our comfort zone. I believe that if we are that person, the one who chooses not to speak or act, we are not transformed as Christians. We have either let fear overtake us or apathy control us. Either way, lives are destroyed and end up in hell forever and it’s our fault. We are not responsible for the outcome if a person chooses to reject Jesus as their Savior. We are gravely responsible for it if we have the opportunity to speak up and we choose not to.
I ask, “Who would the better neighbor be: the one who lets a person die, or the one who shared life with them?”
We cannot any longer sit idly by and watch our friends live any way they’d like, living this life to the fullest and all the while know that because they have rejected Christ they will end up in hell forever. Perhaps it is because at some level we find that the lifestyle they are living to be admirable. What is it in the way that they live their lives that we find appealing? Because the parties DO end. The good times are NOT without limit. There is fun and pleasure in doing all of those things, but it leaves an empty hole in that person’s life and it WILL never be filled if all they ever do is thrill-seek. And what happens when that person comes to the end of their life? They stand before God in judgment of how they lived their life. And if they have rejected God, he has no choice but to reject them. He cannot let just anyone have eternal life. That person must have walked through the DOOR, and into the WAY – that person must have accepted and lived his life for Jesus Christ.
And we must be the Good Samaritan. If we choose to pass by that person, we not only break the heart of God, but we ourselves become numb to the voice of God. God is crying out to us, asking us to be His hands, his feet.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Most Remarkable

So this week I was speaking to the youth group about the resurrection of Jesus. I admit this is a subject most often dealt with around the Easter holiday, but the theme of the night was "Superhero" and I couldn't think of a more supernatural event in all of history.

I challenged the kids with a question: "What is the thing that stands out most to you about the resurrection of Jesus Christ?" On the surface that's an easy question, but having given that question some thought, I decided I would take a stab at it.

Very often in my life I have taken the stories of the Bible for granted. One Bible teacher noted something I thought was appropriate to mention here, that we shouldn't really call them Bible stories, because that carries with it the idea that it is fictional. Instead, he prefers to call them accounts. Semantics? Maybe. But I get his point. Especially in regard to this story... I mean account.

Because the thing that stands out most to me about the narrative of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is that it's true. Doesn't that have to be to be the most significant point? Because if it was just a fictional story, all of Christianity would be a farce. But like every other verifiable historical account, the evidence for the truth of the story is overwhelming. I think if no one ever found the body of Christ, that wouldn't be enough proof for me to believe that the story is true. But when a reliable historical account like the gospels announces that Jesus appeared to all kinds of people after he rose from the dead, and that information was verified by non-Christian sources, it becomes extremely believable. What is also ironic to me is that for all those who would have liked to disprove the claims asserted in the gospel accounts it would have been easy for them to simply have produced the body of Christ. That didn't happen. And even today people search for evidence that Jesus didn't rise from the dead. There have been news stories where archaeologists have allegedly found the tomb of Jesus. But it's turned out to be bogus. Of course.

What's so impressive about this whole narrative is the lasting impact! It's a feat of supernatural strength that will last forever. And those of us who have been transformed by the power of a living God know that as we watch the world grow worse by the day, we have a hope that is completely unique - that we will live forever, completely free from the very power of death that Christ conquered 2000 years ago. We aren't reincarnated into cows, or beetles. We don't transcend to various states of consciousness. We, along with the rest of creation, are restored and reset to the way that we were designed to be. Forever. That's heaven, and that is the most impressive part of this narrative - that death no longer has any power over us. Amazing.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

I admit it. I go a little crazy when I get started cleaning sometimes. I can look at a mess, in my yard for example, for a long time. But when I finally start tackling the project, I'm like a wild man. Today was one of those days.

In the corner of my yard there was a bit of a jungle developing, complete with ivy that had been allowed to have its way with the yard, bushes that hadn't been trimmed since I bought the house and some random little trees that I didn't even recognize. A bit embarrassing.

So I got out my tools and started going after the mess. I didn't plan on being outside that long, but once I got into clearing out the shrubs and digging up the little bushes, and trimming, and cutting... you get the picture.

Isn't that the way life is, though? We know we've got messes in our lives that need attention paid to them. A little gossip here, a little laziness there. But it's easier to avoid the mess than it is to get in there and dig them up from the roots. In the gospel of Mark, Jesus teaches that what comes out of a man's mouth is what makes him unclean. And he also teaches that what is in the heart will eventually come out of the mouth. The things we pay attention to take root in our heart and keep us from having a close relationship with God.

I knew I couldn't avoid cleaning the mess in my yard forever. That's even more true of my heart. If I want to be close to God, then I should look at what's growing in my heart. And allow the Holy Spirit to root it out.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Deuteronomy 7:9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.

I often find myself falling into this trap: thinking what I do has to earn God's love. Don't get me wrong. God definitely wants us to do the right thing, to make right choices and dare to be different from the rest of the world. But I'm so wrong if I think that there is ANYTHING I can do that will make God love me more. Or less.

Let me see if I can put this in some perspective. This verse was written to the nation of Israel. What you need to know about Israel is that they were always doing the wrong thing, always disobeying God's commands. But every time they messed up, they came back to God and He forgave them. But He never stopped loving them. Not even when they built idols to other gods. Not even when they cursed him and demanded to have a king they could actually see. Not even when they went against every single law He'd given them. And even when they rejected Jesus as the Son of God, He STILL never stopped loving them.

God has made a covenant of love. A pact. He will never stop loving us, so why would we want to keep him at a distance? Why wouldn't we want to be as close to Him as possible? I agree that it's not the easiest thing to be a Christian in this culture, but it definitely is rewarding. Because I know that God loves me and wants the best for me. And he has for thousands of generations. Amazing.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What does it mean to be catalyzed? Well, I am a self-professed geek. I like scientific things; I always have. When you put a catalyst in a chemical reaction, it changes the chemicals in a way that usually speeds up the rate of reaction. Not impressed?

How about this? When something is catalyzed - it is FUNDAMENTALLY changed. That means it takes on a new "life" of sorts. It's completely different than it was before. As a Christian, this takes on a whole new meaning. When I decided to follow Christ above any other and really make Him first in my life, I experienced a "catalytic conversion." And I'm not talking about cars. Something drastically changed in my life. I no longer wanted to do things to please myself, but instead I wanted to do those things that I knew would please the heart of God.

I accepted Christ at a young age - at 8 years old. But it wasn't until much later in my life that I really recognized how different I was from my non-Christian friends. There definitely was a HUGE change in my life. And now, as an adult, I recognize how hard it was to live for Christ in my world then, and also how much harder it is for us even today to make a stand for Christ.

This blog is about challenging you to trace the events in your own life that led you to your own catalysis- your own change of heart. Once you've truly been changed by the love of God, you can't go back. That's what God does - He draws you constantly forward. Perhaps you, reading this, can't pinpoint such a time in your life when you were so dramatically changed. You haven't been catalyzed. Rest assured, though, that such a change is waiting for you if you want to find it.

Or should I say, find Him.