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ImageI remember watching the Toy Story movies with my kids, except for the third one that I think I watched on TV with just my wife. Honestly, I enjoyed them. I know they are computer-animated kid’s stuff, but the story lines were pretty good for a movie about toys coming to life. Somehow Pixar and Disney were able to hold the attention of toddlers while engaging the hearts of adults. I am not ashamed to admit that I had to fight back tears during Toy Story 3. (I hope that doesn’t cause me to forfeit my “man card.”)

As with most movies that we enjoy, they have moments that stick with you. One such moment was when the cowboy doll Woody proudly showed the name “Andy” handwritten on the bottom of his plastic boot. Woody knew he was a toy. His worth was not determined by the price paid at the toy store but in the name of his master written on his foot. That was what was most precious to him.

If you have seen the movie (willingly or unwillingly), you know that at Andy’s birthday party brings a new toy to add to the toy box – Buzz Lightyear, a space ranger action figure. Buzz wasn’t convinced he was a toy. He thought he was a real space cop. His identity and worth were wrapped up in that reality, and when he did come to the place where he knew he was a toy it was a shattering experience (really, it was shattering … if you don’t believe me go watch the movie). Toward the end of the movie Buzz proudly shows Andy’s name was written on his boot, too, giving him a new basis for his worth and value. It was another adult feel-good moment in a kid’s movie!

God’s name is not written on my shoe or even my foot. I’ve checked. In fact, God’s Word tells me something even cooler. In Isaiah 49:16, God says to His people, “Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands…” Wait! Could this possibly mean that God has written MY name on HIS hands? Even if it is symbolic, that’s still pretty awesome. It shows just how special God’s people are to Him.

My worth and value are not wrapped up in a name written on the sole of my shoe. My worth and value are secured by the fact that my name is written in God’s hand. He has claimed me. I am His.  

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Why Can’t I Stay Home and Watch Joel Osteen?

ImageI just spent a few moments today channel surfing. I wasn’t looking for any particular program; I was merely seeing what was on (in case you’re wondering, there wasn’t much on). As I hit a certain region of the station numbers I entered what is referred to as the “religious programming.” I slowly click from station to station and thus from preacher to preacher. I encountered some familiar names and some not so familiar. All, however, had bright smiles, perfectly coiffed hair, and clothing that was quite nice.

As I watched for a bit, I was reminded of some people I have invited to visit the church I pastor. More than once, the invited person has told me that they believed in Jesus but didn’t see much need for the church. They could get all the “good preaching” they needed from Charles Stanley, Joel Osteen, or Joyce Meyers. It was always high quality and could be recorded for viewing when it was most convenient.

It’s hard to argue with such a pragmatic argument. If you’re looking for good preaching, there are plenty of preachers on television to watch. In the past few years, they have even become available and easily accessible on the Internet, too. These preachers are typically a bit more polished and exciting that the ones found in most pulpits – plus they always start on time and end on time.  Add to that the fact that you can stay in your pajamas, don’t have to bath, and can eat a bowl of Cap’n Crunch while you’re hearing the Word – what’s not to like! Oh, and there is no offering plate and no one asks you to serve anywhere.   

Perhaps some of you are reconsidering your regular attendance at your local church, but hang on a moment. When your toddler is preparing to go into surgery, will Joel Osteen be there to pray with you? When your mother passes away, will Joyce Meyers bring a casserole and give you a hug? When your marriage is falling apart, will Charles Stanley sit down and counsel with you? Where are the fellowship, the encouraging words, and the warm smiles and hugs? You need more than a TV preacher; you need a church family. You need more than first-rate sermon; you need a church family. You need more than a thirty-minute spiritual fix; you need a church family.

A local church is more than just a place to hear a message each week; it is a people to whom you can belong. The Bible depicts the church as the Body of Christ. Each part of that body is important if the body is the function well. You not only need the church; the church needs you. So turn off the TV, put down the remote, and you might want to change out of those pajamas. I’ll see you Sunday.

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There Is No Escape

ImageA couple of decades ago I got a new computer.  One of the preinstalled programs was a game based on the arcade game “Dig Dug.”  It was basically a miner trying to dig tunnels without them collapsing on him or being caught by the monsters that roamed the tunnels.  By today’s standards this game may seem boring, but back then it got my heart rate up trying to survive the self-made maze.

One problem with video games is that real life is happening all around.  There are times when you just have to stop the game to answer the phone, talk face-to-face to someone, or sit down to dinner.  I can’t recall why I was called away from the game, but I remember needing to shut it off for some reason.  I hit the “Escape” key on the keyboard only to see an ominous message appear: “There is no escape.”

Do you ever wish life had an Escape key?  When the burdens of everyday life get overwhelming, it sure would be nice to escape those burdens … at least for a while.  Life is full of stress, challenges, criticism, and problems.  Since we don’t have a shortcut to escape these, we need to figure out a way to cope with the difficulties of life.  As a Christian I have discovered three practices that help me cope.

First, develop a habit of spending time with God daily.  Spending time with the Lord has a way of refocusing life and helping us redefine our priorities.

Second, take the Sabbath day seriously.  God created us to work, but He also created us for rest.  It is not an Escape key but it does act as a Pause key.

Third, rely on your fellow believers.  Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto. You need your Christian brothers and sisters to help bear the oppressing burdens.  Ask for prayer.  Share your challenges with a trusted friend.  It does not remove the burdens, but it does lighten the load.