Showing posts from 2012

Entertaining Angels | Hebrews 13

Welcome to Real Life. A man once asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” He basically replied, “Everyone.” Anyone who shows mercy to someone in need is their neighbor.[1]

My father has lived in Slovakia, France, Brazil and America. Yet, for a few years this world traveler was afraid to board an airplane. During one of those years, mom arrived alone at the Cleveland airport for our Christmas visit. Dad stayed home in Daytona Beach.

On New Year’s Day, she called to check in on my dad. He told her this story:
The afternoon of New Year’s Eve, my father had been out running errands and was waiting for a bus home. Being a friendly guy, he struck up a conversation with a stranger at the bus stop. The man had fallen on hard times. He was homeless. Since dad was on his own, he invited the stranger to have dinner with him. They rode the bus home together and dad cooked his whatever’s-in-the-fridge goulash for supper. After eating, they spent the evening watching TV. Eventually, my fathe…

I Desire Mercy, Not Sacrifice | Matthew 9:13

Welcome toReal Life. The Pharisees believed they were serving God by zealously keeping the law, down to the last detail. Yet in doing so they trespassed the spirit of the law. They made sacrifices, but lacked mercy.
Following Christ involves sacrifice. Some are huge: a missionary leaves everything to proclaim the Gospel in a foreign land. Some are small: waking early to pray, giving to those in need, or assisting in a ministry. Do I feel the sacrifice? When I write that check, am I focused on the money I will no longer have or the need I am able to help meet?

In 2006, my mom’s leg was amputated due to poor circulation. My dad’s dementia was becoming apparent. They were living in Florida. We invited them to return to Ohio for a three month period of rehabilitation in our home. It turned into a year, with additional caregiving that followed. This occurred while I was in the final phases of homeschooling my sons. After years of putting my own desires on hold to home educate, I was anticipa…

A Centurion's Amazing Faith | Matthew 8

Welcome to Real Life. Faith. Over and over again in the Word of God, we see the pivotal role of faith. Without faith, it’s impossible to please God.[1]
It seems natural that God’s people would possess the greatest amount of this precious commodity. Yet, that’s not always the case. On an ordinary day during Jesus’ earthly ministry, he is approached by a centurion. The man’s definitely not Jewish. He is a Roman military officer with 100 soldiers in his charge. Though an outsider, he seeks Jesus’ help on behalf of a paralyzed servant who is suffering terribly. The centurion’s request is both humble and bold. It takes humility to admit you need help. It takes boldness to ask. Though he’s tough enough to be a military officer, he’s tender enough to care about someone in pain. His concern moves him to venture beyond his sphere of influence to seek an impossible cure.

Jesus is ready and willing to accompany the centurion. But surprisingly, the man stops him. “Lord, I do not deserve to h…

Instant Reward Christian | Sermon on the Mount

Welcome to Real Life. “I want it now!” screams wealthy and spoiled Veruca Salt to her father in Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I am amused by her over-the-top selfishness. I always feel an affinity with poor Charlie Bucket, not the pampered rich girl. 
Yet in reality, I own much of Veruca’s impatient self-focus. I live in a culture that thrives on instant gratification. I order fast food at a drive-through window. And if it’s not ready by the time I pull around the building, I’m annoyed. I earn “instant rewards” on groceries and gas and credit cards that I can cash in almost immediately. If I have to wait longer than a few moments for a screen to load on my computer, I need faster DSL or something! I want it and I want it now!

This instant reward mentality unfortunately transfers to my spiritual life as well. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus encourages us to do good works, give to the needy, pray, and fast.[1] Our Father in heaven will reward us. The problem is that his …

Be Perfect | Sermon on the Mount

Welcome to Real Life. What does perfection look like? 

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.[1]

Jesus gave this command in his Sermon on the Mount. But, no one is perfect. So how can I live this out? What is God's idea of perfection?

For years, I battled perfectionism. (I still do at times.) I keenly felt my imperfections. I felt “less than,” like I wasn't quite as good as everyone else. Because I misinterpreted Jesus' words, I let them fuel an unhealthy drive for perfection. I tried to look flawless: I didn't drink or smoke or swear. I dressed well. I kept a clean house. I was always at church. I prayed and studied and volunteered. I attempted to fulfill everyone’s expectations.

Yet the harder I worked towards perfection on the outside, the harder my heart grew on the inside. I was slowly evolving into a Pharisee, a hypocrite. Instead of “less than,” I began to think I was “more than.” Who else was trying so hard? Who else was serving to exhaustion? …

What's Your Name? | People are Important

Welcome to Real Life. This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for a simple lesson my mother taught me. She left this world for heaven on November 4, 2012. In planning her funeral, our family reminisced about mom's unique characteristics. My sister and brother both mentioned her fearless ability to speak to total strangers. I often witnessed this “gift.”

The last six years of my mother’s life were lived from a wheelchair. Her left leg was amputated due to poor circulation. Mom’s disability limited my parents’ mobility. Therefore, to get them out of the house, every Tuesday I’d pack them in my car and we’d run errands and go to lunch. 
These outings often began at the grocery store. After shopping, the three of us would get in the cashier’s line with our cart. As we approached the register, Mom would suddenly smile. I knew what was coming. The clerk would be engrossed in her work, barely aware of our presence. Mom would look at her face and boldly announce, “Hi, I’m Mary! What’s your name?” 


The Family Tree | Matthew 1

Welcome to Real Life. I've often considered researching my genealogy.  It'd be exciting to find an ancestor who was noble or famous. But what if I found scoundrels or a murderer? 

Matthew’s gospel begins with the genealogy of Jesus Christ. It includes four women (in addition to his mother Mary).[1] In the patriarchal society of Jesus’ day, it was unusual for women to be named. In addition, three of the four are gentiles. Jewish culture prized ethnic purity. Gentiles were despised. By including these women in his genealogy, Jesus illustrates an important truth:  In Christ, we are all equal.
For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.(Galatians 3:26-28 NLT)Even more surprising are the stories behind these four names:

Tamar |Genesis 38
Judah is one of the twel…

The Great Story | Revelation 21

Welcome to Real Life. What was real life supposed to look like before our world was broken by sin? The final chapters of Revelation give us a glimpse.

The theme of the Bible is redemption – God calling man back to himself - restoring the relationship that was lost. We were created to know and live in the presence of our Heavenly Father. Adam and Eve walked with God in the garden. But, when they chose to sin – that sin separated them from a holy God. So he sent his Son to pay the penalty for that sin on the cross. When we accept Christ’s sacrifice, we are cleansed, forgiven, and clothed in his righteousness. We can once again enter the presence of our holy God. The lost relationship is restored.

However, we still live in a sinful world. Even though I follow Christ, I still stumble and fall into sin. My perfect relationship with God is not perfectly restored … yet. In this broken world, I can’t always see God. I can’t always feel his presence. It can be like trying to make out his feature…

Hallelujah! | Revelation 19

Welcome to Real Life. Hallelujah! “Frankenstorm” has passed. After seven days of solid rain in Cleveland, the sun is shining.  We persevered, we overcame, we survived! 

Hallelujah! Finally, the catastrophic storm is over and the sun is about to break through the clouds. The world has endured seven long years of tribulation, destruction and pain. It is time for the final battle to be fought. In his vision, the Apostle John hears the roar of a great multitude,
Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Heaven opens. The Son of God appears with his heavenly army:

There before me was a white horse,
     whose rider is called Faithful and True.
With justice he judges and makes war.
His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns.
He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself.
He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood,
     and his name is the Word of God.
The armies of heaven were following him,
     riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, whi…

The Destruction of Evil | Revelation 4-19

Welcome to Real Life. Revelation is God’s final chapter in his story of our world. He created a perfect world... but a world where man has the power of choice. Eve and Adam chose to sin. Our perfect world was corrupted. Every generation since has carried the curse. God sent a Savior to set us free. On the cross, Jesus paid the penalty for sin so that whoever chooses may come to him and receive life.[1] In this final chapter, Jesus returns to destroy this corrupt world and create a new kingdom of righteousness. 

In Revelation four, the apostle John is summoned to the very throne room of God. I am awestruck by the images he describes. The Eternal One sparkles like gemstones in a rainbow of light which surrounds his throne. Twenty-four elders dressed in white with golden crowns encircle him. From the throne come flashes of lightning and peals of thunder. Seven lamps are ablaze and a shiny sea like crystal glass lies before it. Four winged creatures covered in eyes are continually glorifyi…

I Don't Need a Thing | Revelation 3

Welcome to Real Life. I'm strong and self-sufficient. I've got it covered. I don't need a thing.  Oh, really? 

Laodicea was the wealthiest city in Phrygia during the time of Christ. Laodiceans were not unlike us. Americans hold the richest standard of living in the world. In the book of Revelation, Jesus sends a message to the wealthy Christians of Laodicea:

You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’[1]

Isn't this where I live? I have plenty of food, shelter and clothing. I don’t need a thing (though I want many things). I don’t need to trust God for my next meal. My refrigerator is full. It’s easier to trust in wealth than in God.

However, Jesus sees from a different perspective. In his eyes, these self-sufficient believers are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked – spiritual beggars. His advice:
… buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed …

Jesus is My Open Door | Revelation 3

Welcome to Real Life. An open door is a beautiful image of opportunity. A closed door means “forget about it.” Jesus uses this imagery in his message to the church in Philadelphia: 

These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David.
What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.[1]David was the most beloved king of Israel. He is described as a man after God’s own heart. As such, David foreshadows Jesus as the ultimate beloved King of Kings. Jesus holds the key to open or lock the Kingdom of Heaven.

Unlike other churches he addresses in Revelation, Jesus has no rebuke for this church:
I know your deeds.
See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.
I know that you have little strength,
yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.[2]Jesus sees me. He knows me. He knows what I do and what I fail to do. Apart from him, I can do nothing.[3] With him, everything is possible.[4] As I follow him in obedience, he opens…

You've Lost Your First Love | Revelation 2

Welcome to Real Life. “I don’t love you anymore.” They're devastating words to hear. How does it happen? How does a relationship fall from passionate love to indifference?

The heart of Christianity is a relationship. Following Christ is more than keeping rules and performing good deeds. The early church in Ephesus had the rules and deeds down pat. Jesus tells them, “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance.”

But relationships are more than serving one another out of duty. I am a doer. I like to accomplish things. I can get so busy “doing” that I forget my initial motivation for the doing. It’s easy to go about my Christian routine–daily devotions, attending church, volunteering, donating money–with a heart far from Jesus. That’s what was happening in Ephesus. Though Jesus commends their deeds, he desires more:  “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.” If I go through the motions of serving Jesus without being motivated by my love for him, it…

The Revelation of Jesus Christ | Revelation 1

Welcome to Real Life. I think I know someone. Then something happens - a crisis or joyful event - and I see that person in a whole new way. The Apostle John knew Jesus. He spent years at Jesus’ side. Then one day on the island of Patmos, John saw him in a whole new light. 
John was one of twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. He was also one of Jesus’ closest friends on earth. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, John became a leader in the early church. He wrote five books of the New Testament: the Gospel of John; a trio of letters titled 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John; and the book of Revelation.

The Gospel of John is his narrative of Jesus’ life. In it, we learn that Jesus is more than a prophet. He is God himself, the Creator of the world and everything in it, who put on flesh and came to earth to save us.[1] John wrote in order that we may believe Jesus is the Christ and by believing have eternal life.[2] In 1st John, we discover that “God is love” and that perfect love drives out …

Restrained for Greatness

Welcome to Real Life.  This week's blog is a guest post by my friend Maureen Zappala. She asks, "Have you ever felt frustrated by restrictions?"

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity,  but of power, love, and self-discipline.[1]
Self-discipline. What comes to mind when you hear that word? I don’t know about you, but that word can make me crazy! It speaks of restraint. Limits. Boundaries. I'm not a fan of restraints, limits or boundaries.

But, what if restraints didn't exist? Are they good in some cases? I was a research engineer for NASA. There, in the Propulsion Systems Laboratory we conducted tests on full scale jet engines with thrust of 30,000 pounds of force. That's power! To test them, they had to be secured with restraints. These NEVER diminished the significance or purpose of the engine. They enhanced it. With the engine held in place, we could study its effects and feel its power. The restraints increased the wonder and marvel of that ma…