It’s What’s Under the Hood That Counts

Sonata

My 2011 Hyundai Sonata looks exactly the same as it did a month ago. On the surface it’s the same 100,000-mile car as it was then.

Yet here’s the strange story of why my car is worth more now than it was several weeks ago…

I got a big surprise when I took my Sonata to the dealer for some routine recalls. “You need a new engine!” the service rep told me, to my shock.

In the seconds that followed, I groaned at the thought of having to pay around $7,000 for a new engine.

But then came the amazingly good news: “The new engine is at our expense, with absolutely no charge to you,” they assured me.

As one more fortunate outcome, they said it would take about a month to get the new engine to the dealership. In the meantime, I got to drive a free, brand-new Toyota Camry from Hertz. And this was great timing, since I was about to embark on a weeklong ministry trip in Ohio.

When I got my car back, I found myself looking for the spiritual lessons in this story…

My Sonata is still a 2011 model, five years old. The body still has 100,000 miles of wear and tear, but overall is in pretty good shape. With a new engine, the car can be expected to run at least 100,000 miles more, probably a lot farther than that. The odometer hasn’t changed, but my car has a new lease on life.

I think there are some parallels between my Sonata and the contrast between our outer body and our inner spirit, which is the “engine” or driving force of our lives. Although people tend to dwell on outward appearances, it’s really what’s “under the hood” that counts (1 Samuel 16:7).

The apostle Paul contrasted the aging of our bodies with the renewal of our spirits: “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16 NIV). In other words, even though we may not be able to keep our body from aging, God can renew our spirit and give us a new “engine” on the inside.

We’ve all met elderly people who are full of youthful joy and vitality on the inside. But there also are many people who have allowed their internal “engine” to age prematurely. Even though their body is still relatively young, they have lost their joy, their creativity, and their zest for life.

Are you a candidate for new engine—a new heart and spirit? If so, God offers a stunning “recall” you should take advantage of: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26 NIV).

That’s an offer too good to pass up, don’t you think? But as with my Hyundai Sonata, the new engine is only offered by the manufacturer. The One who made you in the first place is the One who now offers to renew you (Psalm 51:10-12).

And all you have to do is ask.

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The Cure for an Uneventful Life

lame man

Recently a friend texted me and asked how my week was going.

“Uneventful!” was my reply.

My friend texted back and said that sometimes “uneventful” isn’t such a bad thing. I guess he had a point, but in my case “uneventful” was pretty much equivalent to boring.

This got me thinking about one of my favorite stories in the Bible, the lame man who was healed in Acts 3:1-9. The chapter begins at three o’clock in the afternoon, as Peter and John are on their way into the Temple for a prayer meeting.

The part that intrigues me is that these mighty apostles had apparently had an uneventful day up until that point—and the day was more than half over.

If you’re an old guy like me, there’s a fantastic message of hope here. Even if things have been relatively uneventful in your life up until this point, a miracle from God might be right around the corner. Hey, the day isn’t over yet, and you might be about to meet someone who would remain “crippled” without your prayers or encouragement. Perhaps it’s a waitress, a gas station cashier, or someone next to your cubicle at work, but you encounter lots of people who need a miracle from heaven.

Yet we also have to face the fact that some days—or months or even years—are seemingly uneventful. Remember how Moses spent 40 years in the backside of the desert, taking care of his father-in-law’s sheep? Life must have been pretty boring, to say the least.

Little did he know, but Moses was about to see a burning bush that would completely change the trajectory of his life (Exodus 3:1-22). In an amazingly short period of time, his life was rebooted—and he was 80 years old at the time!

When I view my uneventful life from the perspective of Acts 3 and Exodus 3, I realize a troubling fact: Often our lives are uneventful simply because we’re not alert to the divine appointments God puts in our path.

Countless people passed by the lame man every day, but only Peter and John recognized that this was an opportunity for the Lord to perform a miraculous healing.

And God didn’t address Moses from the burning bush until “the Lord saw that he turned aside to look” (v. 4). In other words, this pivotal event in the history of the Israelites might never have occurred if Moses had failed to pay attention to what he saw.

I’m convinced my life wouldn’t be quite so uneventful if I was more sensitive to God-ordained opportunities along my path. Even when it’s three o’clock in the afternoon, there’s still time for a life-changing event to change everything.

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Victory to Those Who Finish Well

Cavaliers

Congratulations to the Cleveland Cavaliers, winners of the NBA championship this week. It was quite a success story, especially since the team was down 3-1 before winning three straight games from the Golden State Warriors.

The Warriors had been the winningest team in NBA history in the regular season, winning an incredible 73 games and losing only 9.

But victory, in sports or in life, is seldom a matter of getting off to a good start. Rather, it comes to those who finish well.

Most NBA games are pretty boring until the fourth quarter, don’t you think? The clutch shots in the final minutes often make all the difference.

The Cavaliers played better than the Warriors in the final quarter. They finished well, and the Warriors didn’t.

Well, I find myself in the fourth quarter of life these days. From this vantage point, all the accomplishments or failures of the past decades will tend to be eclipsed by how the game of life ends. I’ve found that people tend to forget the opening moments but remember the game’s finale.

History is full of examples of this principle:

  • George Washington seemed like a hapless leader in the early years of the American Revolution. But then he won.
  • Abraham Lincoln was widely criticized and ridiculed during the Civil War. But then the Union forces won.
  • Richard Nixon won reelection by a landslide. But then he resigned in disgrace when the Watergate scandal and cover-up came to light.
  • TV preachers Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart were both extremely popular during the pinnacle of their influence. Yet most people today remember them for their moral indiscretions.
  • Apple founder Steve Jobs was booted out of the company at one point. But he achieved incredible success when he was asked to return several years later.

You see, it’s usually what happens in the fourth quarter that counts. That’s about all most people remember.

The Bible has a lot to say about finishing well. Kings like Saul and Solomon got off to a great start, but then got off track. In contrast, people like Peter and John Mark overcame momentary failure and finished the race with flying colors.

So, what does it take to finish well? Entire books have been written to answer that question.

The apostle Paul painted the picture of an Olympic runner who relentlessly pressed on toward the finish line, forgetting the successes and failures of the past (Philippians 3:12-14). In order to win the crown of victory, he recognized that he would need to run with purpose and self-discipline (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

Hebrews 12:1-2 points out that life is an endurance race rather than a sprint. In order to compete for the long haul, we’re told to lay aside every unnecessary weight and burden. We’re challenged to honestly and ruthlessly deal with sins that would hamper our progress. And, most important of all, we’re reminded to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.

In order to finish well, we all will need God’s grace and the support and accountability of good friends—people who love us unconditionally, but who love us enough to speak the truth even when it’s uncomfortable (Ephesians 4:15).

Here’s the good news, even if we see the clock clicking down: There’s still time to achieve victory and greater impact before the final buzzer sounds.

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Are You Worshiping the Present-Tense God?

burning-bush1

I’m convinced that very few people know the present-tense God. Instead, we worship the God of Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, Azusa Street, or some other movement. Or perhaps we worship the God of Moses or the God of Peter and the original apostles.

It’s not all bad to worship these versions of God, because He wants us to appreciate our spiritual heritage and the amazing work He has done in people’s lives throughout the centuries.

For example, when God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, He first introduced Himself as “the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”  (Exodus 3:6). It must have been comforting for Moses to know that this was the same God as his spiritual forefathers had served.

But worshiping a historical God will only take you so far. It’s like visiting the neighborhood a Person lives in, without actually meeting the Person. At best, it’s a secondhand faith, based on hearsay rather than personal experience.

When Moses pressed further to ask God’s name, the Lord replied, “I AM WHO I AM”  (v. 14). This is a powerful addition to the revelation Moses received about the God of history, worshiped by his forefathers in the faith. This was Jehovah / Yahweh, the God who comes in the present-tense.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus repeatedly uses this same “I AM” nickname to describe His divine attributes. He declares “I AM” the living water…the bread of life…the light of the world…the door…the good shepherd…the resurrection and the life…the way, the truth, and the life…and the true vine.

And if you encounter the true and living God today, He will reveal Himself as the One “who IS and who WAS and who IS TO COME, the Almighty”  (Revelation 1:8).

Do you see how exciting this is? He says He’s the One who resides in the PRESENT, PAST, and the FUTURE—all at the same time. He’s the present-tense God, Immanuel, who is always with you (Matthew 1:23). But He’s also the God who can deal with the issues of your past and your hopes for the future.

These insights have profound implications for the nature of the church. Some denominations are almost completely locked in their past-tense heritage, with very little experience of the present-tense God. Other groups are so obsessed by end-times predictions about the future that they fail to grasp the powerful work the Lord wants to do in His people TODAY.

Today’s most exciting churches are basking in the joy of their relationship with the present-tense  God. Yet even here there’s a potential danger. The Lord wants us not only to know Him as the “I AM,”  but also as the God of our spiritual forerunners and the One who is preparing a triumphant future kingdom.

I pray you aren’t just living on memories of what God has done in the past, nor on hopes of what He has planned for you “in the sweet by and by.” He may not provide a burning bush to get your attention, but He wants you to know Him intimately and personally as the present-tense God.

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Are You Walking in Circles? Here’s How to Get Unleashed!

Pony circus

Perhaps you’ve heard the story of a pony named Pearl who worked with the carnival. Shackled to a pole from a young age, she gave rides to children along a small, circular path.

Every day was the same. Pearl lived in sheer drudgery, going around and around in endless circles, without even the slightest taste of freedom.

Far in the distance, Pearl sometimes saw other horses frolicking joyfully in the meadow. What a great life that must be! she moaned, feeling sorry for herself as she continued her circular journey.

But one night a miracle happened. During a thunderstorm, a flash of lightning struck the heavy cable Pearl was tethered to, snapping it in half.

However, for a long time Pearl didn’t appreciate her good fortune. Although she no longer was shackled, she continued living just as she had done her entire life—plodding along in never-ending circles.

Many people today are still living much like Pearl the pony. They’ve been chained so long to poverty, sickness, addiction, fear, or depression that they don’t think it’s possible to escape the well-worn path before them. And while they sometimes glimpse others experiencing the abundant life Jesus promised, they’re convinced they’ll never experience such a life.

If you can relate to Pearl’s hapless story, I have good news for you. Just as a miracle had set the worn-out pony free from her captivity, the miracle of Jesus’ death and resurrection has done the same for you and me. The problem comes when, just like Pearl, we don’t recognize and accept the freedom won for us on the cross.

Do you see how tragic this is? On the cross, Jesus defeated not only our sin, but also our poverty, sickness, addiction, fear, and depression. Our shackles have been broken in two—but sometimes we continue plodding through life as if the cross and resurrection have never occurred.

Although the devil wants you to think you’re still tethered hopelessly to your problems, nothing could be further from the truth. If you’ve received Jesus as your Lord and Savior, your chains are broken. You don’t have to keep walking in circles, because you’re now “free indeed” (John 8:36).

Even if you’ve endured years of misery, you can get unshackled in a moment’s time when you realize the powerful deliverance available through the blood of Jesus. You may still be taunted by “the father of lies” (John 8:44), but everything changes when you recognize he no longer has any rights in your life.

Just as happened with Pearl the pony, it may take you some time to begin seeing yourself in a new way. But through applying God’s Word to your life each day, you can increasingly become “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

In Jesus’ name, you have power over the forces of darkness, but they’re not going to give up without a fight. You must claim the authority God has given you to sever your chains and get unshackled from your negative circumstances.

I’m praying for God to awaken the mighty warrior inside of you, giving you courage to pull down strongholds in your own life. Exercise your rights as a child of the King, and don’t stop until you’ve taken back everything the enemy has stolen from you!

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Beauty That’s Not Just Skin-Deep

Jim Head xray 616

I recently had a chiropractor take some x-rays and evaluate my spine. As you probably can tell from this “headshot,” it was a humbling experience.

I thought I looked a lot better than this…

In our world of Facebook, Instagram, and online profiles, image is everything. You need to constantly put your best foot (and best face) forward, because an online photo never really goes away.

But I decided to buck the trend and take the bold step of showing you what I REALLY look like. It’s pretty startling, isn’t it?

Yet before you get too cocky and condescending, let me remind you that your  x-rays probably wouldn’t look a whole lot better.

X-rays are hard to beautify by Photoshop or airbrushing. And even if I got a face-lift or covered my skin with a thick layer of makeup, the x-ray would still look just the same.

X-rays don’t lie.

Long ago, the Bible described this phenomenon: “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”  (1 Samuel 16:7).

I guess you could say God has x-ray vision.

So why did I decide to show you this picture of what I look like underneath my well-groomed outer appearance? The next time you see me in person, I wanted to be sure you’d be pleasantly surprised at what you see. I really do look better than my x-rays, after all.

But I also wanted to use this simple lesson to encourage you to enter into God’s x-ray chamber today. Instead of spending so much energy trying to impress people, spend some time in His presence, and let Him show you the real you.

People may love how you look on the surface, but it’s good to know that the Lord loves even your ugly x-rays and the hidden places of your heart.

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A Reboot at Age 80

Best is yet

Not long ago, my computer froze up. As I always do in such cases, I called the IT Department in desperation.

“Have you tried rebooting?” they immediately asked.

Doesn’t it seem like that’s always the first solution when your computer—or your life—gets stuck? You have to reboot in order to function properly again.

That got me thinking about my life these days. While many things are going great, in other ways I’m sure I could use a reboot.

But I couldn’t help wondering: Is a reboot even possible at my advanced age?

Fortunately, the Bible answers that question. Some of its great heroes were even older than me when God rebooted their life and gave them greater fulfillment and impact than ever before.

One of these leaders was Moses. He spent the first 40 years of his life growing up in the lap of luxury in Pharaoh’s palace. But after killing an Egyptian one day, he ended up fleeing to the backside of the desert, where he spent the next 40 years herding sheep.

By the time he reached 80, Moses had an uneventful, unexciting life. He was stuck in the wilderness, both literally and metaphorically.

Little did he know that everything was about to change…

In Exodus 3 the Lord suddenly appeared in the midst of a burning bush. This started out as a mere novelty but turned out to be an encounter that would transform Moses’ life forever. His mundane, ordinary existence was rebooted into something extraordinary and world-changing.

Although I’m not 80 yet, I can see it from here. I think I might be ready for my burning bush, and perhaps you are as well.

I encourage you to read Exodus 3 for yourself, but here are a few observations that might spark your own burning-bush experience:

  1. We all need fresh fire from time to time. Moses’ experience ignited new passion and vision in his life. But notice that this reboot was based on a supernatural experience, not just something Moses gained from reading a self-help book.
  2. God wants us to be on-fire for Him, yet without burning up. Moses was startled that the bush seemed to have an inexhaustible energy source (vs. 2-3). We live in the most burnt-out generation in history, desperately needing the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to fill our lives with new energy as we learn to abide in Christ (John 15:1-5).
  3. God knows our name and where to find us. After 40 years, it’s likely that most of Moses’ friends and family back in Egypt had lost track of him. But the Lord knew exactly where he was and what he was doing. In fact, his 40 years of taking care of sheep was Moses’ God-ordained training ground to prepare him for a much bigger task ahead.
  4. When God calls, we must make ourselves available. After hearing the Lord call out from within the bush, “Moses, Moses!,” the immediate reply was, “Here I am” (v. 4). We’re never going to experience much of a reboot unless we’re ready to listen to God’s call and be available for the new mission He has for us.
  5. If our new assignment is truly from God, it will almost surely be overwhelming.  The Lord told Moses he was being sent to bring the Israelites out of Egypt, where they had been in slavery for more than 400 years. What a daunting, seemingly impossible, task! Moses asked, just as we surely would, “Who am I…?” (v. 11). It took some convincing, but eventually Moses recognized that God was capable of giving him success in this incredible new venture.
  6. No reboot is complete without a new revelation of the nature of God.  We will never complete our mission unless we’ve had a genuine encounter with the living God. The Lord told Moses He was “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (v. 6). But that fact wasn’t good enough for Moses, nor will it be for us. Why? Because a reboot can’t be based on secondhand faith or a spiritual legacy from our ancestors. Instead, the Lord revealed Himself as the present-tense God, with a most unusual name: “I AM WHO I AM” (v. 14).

If you find yourself in need of a reboot today, it must start with a vital question: Do you have a present-tense relationship with God, or just memories of past experiences?  If you’re going to BE who He has called you to be, you must know He’s with you now as your great “I AM.”

Even if find yourself stuck today, hanging out in the wilderness for months or years, God is the one who can give you…

  • Fresh fire—supernatural enablement that will keep you from burning out.
  • A new and exciting mission—but one you can only accomplish with His help.

Someday you’ll look back, as Moses eventually could do, and you’ll realize that God had a sovereign purpose in every experience He’s brought you through. Every step of the way, He was preparing and equipping you for such a time as this.

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