Posted in Christian Living

One “Greedy” Reason to Bear Fruit

We inherit salvation by grace, but how we bear fruit is another reward altogether.
We inherit salvation by grace, but how we bear fruit is another reward altogether.

In a final day so secret that no being save ONE knows its exact date, a great scroll will unfurl, and all souls gathered will join in a celebration like no other, for their journey as mutual heirs to the most mighty kingdom of all will be complete.  On that day, what every soul yearns for, to be re-united with its eternal Creator, will wonderfully come to pass.  From those who committed a lifetime of fruitful living, like Paul, to the criminal who died on the cross beside Christ believing only moments before he died, every person who confessed the deity of the Son of God and accepted the gift of Grace will realize their kinship as heirs to the kingdom of heaven on that day.

This Grace provides us with an inheritance like no other.  Paul writes to the Ephesians:

So that in ages to come He (God) might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them (2:7-10).

In the final lesson of “Amazing Place,” pastor Rick Atchley’s series on what heaven will be like, he makes a distinction between our inheritance as heirs to the kingdom of God, which is equal to all Christians, and the kind of judgment (actually a rewards system) that will be taking place in heaven.  Of course, we believers who have accepted Christ want to fulfill the promise of good works God put us on this earth to complete for Him, but Atchley’s comparison of inheritance versus judgment in heaven also gives us a very “human” incentive to do our best while we are here on earth.

First, let’s make it clear that those who have asked for the redemption bought for us with the very blood of Christ, are no longer under the yoke of judgment that cloaks a fallen world:

“He who believes in Him is not judged,” John writes; “he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3: 18).  Jesus tells us, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17).  Paul assures us, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

True, the book of Revelations is full of examples of the kind of ultimate defeat that will happen when God once and for all finishes the destruction of evil that was begun when Jesus died and rose again.  However, the judgment that takes place for Christians at this time will be more like a reward system tallying how well we did at bearing the fruit of the Spirit.  My Ryrie Study Bible explains in the footnote to the famous verse of John 3:16 that the “eternal life” promised is “a new quality of life, not an everlasting ‘this-life.'”

Part of that new quality of life is casting off the sinful nature and becoming a “new creation,” as Paul puts it.  Christ admonishes us to “store up treasures in heaven” where nothing can rust or corrode what we have collected.  We all inherit equal amounts of Grace, but we do not all tally equal amounts of heavenly treasure.

As one of my life group members pointed out, this way of looking at inheritance versus judgment/reward puts a different spin on some of the more perplexing parables in the Bible.  When you read about the workers of the vineyard who come to work only in the last hour and yet get paid the same amount as the workers who have put in a full day, doesn’t the human nature in you think, how exactly is that fair?  Well, if you consider the wages of the story the inheritance of salvation, the parable makes a different kind of sense.  Surely, when it comes time to hand out the rewards for the work of that day, those who bore the most fruit will receive more of a reward than those who came in the final hour.  In the same way, some who worked unfruitfully for the entire day may actually receive fewer rewards than some who made the most of the less time in the vineyard they had to sow seeds.

So, if we really will see a reward system in heaven according to how well we have used God’s gifts to store up treasures in heaven and not on earth, doesn’t it give us something to look forward to about the Day of Judgment?  Instead of picturing myself cringing at every stupid and willful thing I have done in this life being shown to me on some huge type of movie-screen while everyone watches, I can look forward to seeing, hopefully, that I have managed to do some good things for God!

As a perfectionist who is pathetically seeking “A’s” in a reality that has been outside the classroom for almost two decades, the concept of getting a “well done” from the only Judge who really matters frankly gives me goose bumps.  I used to imagine Christ’s second coming as a moment of awe and love so wonderful, followed by a period of having to be shown all my mistakes during life so I can “start clean” in heaven.  There probably isn’t any theological reason for me to have been imagining the second coming that way.  It’s just the impression I had of the way things might go, even with the grace of God that is my salvation through Christ.

Now, instead of dreading Judgment Day, I actually have something to look forward to.  I also have even more reasons to strive to use my God-given talents to love, love, love while I am on this planet.

As heirs in Christ, we may get in by the skin of our belief, but let’s not spend eternity wishing we had done just a little bit more for Him while we were still here on earth.  Let’s build up as much treasure in heaven as we possibly can by doing as God commanded:  loving Him first and foremost and loving all others as we ourselves wish to be loved (Matthew 22: 36-40).

The Last Will and Testament of our LORD Jesus Christ is the most generous will of all time.  And, if you want to become one of His heirs, all you have to do is ask Him.

 

 

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

The Bucket Theory

water into bucket

Working in the office earlier this week, I handed our office phone to one of our younger employees to have her call our store.  She dialed the main number and then called to me, handing me the phone as if the landline were not working.  I put the phone to my ear, heard a busy signal, and hung up the phone.  After getting the employee an alternate number to call, I assured her the phone was working and went back to my part of the office.

In the back of my mind, I realized what had just happened.  I rounded the corner and asked her, “Was that the first time you have ever heard a busy signal?”  She shyly admitted that it was.

With our advances in technology, I suppose this isn’t as crazy at it seems, that a young woman of 19 might never have heard a busy signal before.  Most people have cell phones or voice mail, so that if you call them and they are already on the phone, you are sent to another voice, not exposed to the braaat, braaat that we older folk recognize as the signal to call again later.

The experience of feeling how quickly the world around us is changing (this 19-year-old could literally be the age of my own child if I had one) reminded me of an analogy my father-in-law has often shared with me, especially when I am taking myself too seriously (which is way more often than I would like to admit)–an analogy I like to refer to as “the bucket theory.”

Think of a bucket with water in it. If you stick your hand in, you become part of the bucket of water. But, if you remove your hand, rather than leaving a hole where your hand had been, the water rushes in to fill your vacated space, rather like you had never been there at all.

In this fallen world we humans call reality, “life” works just like a hand being placed in and out of a bucket. If you think your workplace won’t be able to function without you there, think again. Somehow, life finds a way. People figure out how to fill in the gaps your absence creates. Even when we lose those closest to us, life must eventually move forward.

Most fortunately for us, God’s reality is completely opposite to the idea that each one of us is replaceable. For God, every drop of water matters. In God’s bucket, there are many holes between the molecules where hands once had been because every person matters to God:

“For the son of man has come to save that which was lost,” [Jesus tells his followers]. “What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish. (Matthew 18:11-14 NASB)

Several times in the gospels, Christ compels us not to worry. God has our back. He takes care of the smallest sparrow. He clothes the grasses of the meadow in splendor. In her great song, I Am, Nicole Nordemann puts the joy God takes in each one of us this way:

When life had begun, I was woven and spun/ You let the angels dance around the throne. / And who can say when, but they’ll dance again/ when I am free and finally headed home. . . .

I love these lines because they remind me to feel the complete awe of God’s love for me.  Imagine the angels of heaven actually celebrating my beginning, the time when I came to earth to begin my journey of growth that will prepare me for the rewards of our true home, and then celebrating again when I actually am there.

Earlier last week, I was having a rather bad morning after a disappointing day before.  My Bible reading took me to Isaiah.  The verses I read about God’s power to save His people spoke to me about the power He has to help me with my own problems, as long as I wholly put my trust in Him:

What sorrow for those who are wise in their own eyes and think themselves so clever. . . . Unless your faith is firm, I cannot make you stand firm.  (Isaiah 5:21/ 7:9b)

In Isaiah, besides God’s speaking through this prophet to assure the Israelites that there would come a time when the enemies who had oppressed the Jews would be defeated, there are also many promises about the coming of Christ, our ultimate source of salvation and personal relationship with God.

I was particularly struck by God’s admonition for us to:

Make the LORD of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life.  (Isaiah 8:13)

In a time when I most needed it, I was reminded how powerful it is to really place my problems in God’s hands.  I was particularly struck by the recognition that even as God was speaking the words to Isaiah that were speaking to me as I read that morning, He knew that I would need those words on that day as well!

In other words, we are all so important to God, that He knows what we will do and what we will need, even though we have the freedom of choice.  And His power is so awesome, that He knew all the things there are to know about me even as He spoke the universe into existence.

With an omnipotent, loving God, there is no bucket theory.  He wants and needs every molecule in His unlimited bucket.  The angels dance for us!  We should put every molecule in us into praising Him and growing our relationship with Him.  As Jesus once said:

“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”  (Luke 19:40)

What if we truly treated each other like we want ourselves to be treated?  In a world where the water fills in the gaps left by a hand removed, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were still made to feel important for the role we had played in the bucket in the first place?  We could and should do that for each other.

But, most importantly, God does it for us everyday, and He already knows the days we will need Him most.

Don’t let the “bucket moments” of this life get you down.  It’s time to realize that when we put our faith in God to see us through our challenges, the angels dance!

 

 

Posted in Christianity, Faith

Is Your God Big Enough?

God is Big Enough

Ayiesha Woods’ song, Big Enough, asks us why we ever doubt the help that an uncreated God who created everything out of nothing can offer us:

You turned water into wine – how extraordinary
Gave sight to the blind – and still I carry
My own load when you told me
To take your yoke ’cause yours is easy

And I don’t wanna box you in
You’ve been doing big things since the world began
Sometimes I just don’t wanna believe
That you’re big enough – but you’re big enough yeah!

(http://www.lyricsmania.com/big_enough_lyrics_ayiesha_woods.html)

Jesus proclaims the definitive surety of our safety in the hands of an almighty God:

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
Matthew 6:26

Still, we humans find it difficult not to worry when we are waiting for test results in a doctor’s office or watching serious weather bear down on us.  We even often get so caught up in worrying about our personal issues that we often forget to look outward, failing to help others because we are so busy trying to take care of our own problems that we suffer from a tunnel vision that keeps us from even seeing anybody else.

Besides keeping us from truly loving others because we are too busy worrying about ourselves, failing to trust that God is “big enough” also keeps us further away from Him.

In his series, “Amazing Place,” preacher Rick Atchley points out that besides worry, another thing that keeps us from fully trusting God is having too small a vision of what His promise of eternity really means.  If your idea of heaven is small, then what you manage to learn in this life in your preparation for the next one inevitably suffers.

But instead, if you embrace the infinite power and possibilities that our Creator God IS, then how you live moves towards the goal of His perfectness:

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen  (Jude 1:24-25)

So, what does having a big enough God look like?  How about putting the needs of other people before your own, even people you do not know?  Or what about having the courage or gumption to help out at a local food bank, even though doing that is out of your comfort zone?  Maybe it looks like waking up in the morning feeling anxious and immediately saying a prayer that gives that anxiousness to God, that asks for the insight during the day to see the lessons He wants you to learn, that thanks Him for times in the past when He has proven that He will see you through tough situations.

God doesn’t lie.  People make mistakes.  People get zealous and condemn before learning all the facts.  People fail to keep their promises.  But God doesn’t lie.

And God has promised through His Son to save us from ourselves, to forgive us for every sin we profess as long as we are willing to accept Christ as our Savior.  But that forgiveness is the promise of more than just escaping eternal damnation.  It is the reality of an eternal existence that is so awesome, that even the apostle whom Christ most loved found it difficult to describe the vision he was given of it:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  (Revelation 21:1-4)

God is big enough.

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

3 Lessons from David

David's_Grief_Over_Absolom_(Bible_Card)

After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’  (Acts 13:22)

When you read about one of Israel’s greatest heroes, David, you can see his passion for God, but you also see his humanity.  Despite David’s love for God, he still does things that go against God.  He takes another man’s wife.  He takes a census of his people, even though that denied God’s claim that Israel would become a nation so large, it could not be counted.   He lives a life of such violence to secure the Israelite nation that God leaves the building of His temple to David’s son, Solomon, whom God promises will be able to live in a peaceful kingdom.

There are many lessons to learn from the story of David’s life.  Here are three pointers that have stuck out for me in the previous weeks:

Lesson 1: Repent with everything you’ve got

When David returns the Ark to its home in Jerusalem, he rejoices in God’s glory with his whole self, dancing with such exuberance in front of all his people that one of his wives reprimands him for it because she finds his actions undignified.  But God, who sees the heart, knows the truth of David’s love for God and actually punishes the woman for her attitude towards David.

When David messes up, he repents with the same kind of passion with which he rejoices.  He wears burlap, he fasts, he begs for God to forgive him, he doesn’t try to blame anyone else or his circumstances for what he ultimately did.  Most importantly, his repentance means something because he really intends not to mess up in the same way again.  He wants to do what is right in God’s eyes.

David was conscience-stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the LORD, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, LORD, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.” (2 Samuel 24:10)

Lesson 2: Acknowledge God’s Sovereignty

David had plenty of opportunities to let his worldly successes go to his head.  Even though he had to fight many, many battles during his lifetime, he won.  As a young shepherd, he even took on a giant an entire army didn’t want to fight and killed Goliath!  Women fell at his feet, men bowed to his will, and almost no one had a bad word to say about him.  Think about how we Americans idolize the famous in our country and how few of them even believe in God, and you will begin to realize the real challenges David faced to not let his successes make him think he was close to being a god himself.

But, because David did have a heart for God, he didn’t fall into the trap of claiming his worldly successes for himself.  As you read through David’s story, he always gives God the credit for any success he has.  He asks for God’s permission before making battle plans.  He begs for God’s help for every problem that he faces.  In short, David understood that every step he took was under the protection and oversight of his heavenly Father.

I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. (of David, Psalm 34:1)

Lesson 3: Believe in God’s Love for YOU

No matter what bad things happen to David in his life, whether he felt he deserved them or not, he never doubted that God loved him and would see him through according to God’s ultimate plan.  When David’s son born out of his sinful relations with Bathsheba ultimately dies, David rises from the fasting he had been doing to ask God to change His mind, cleans himself up and begins the hard task of living again.  Because David accepts that God knows best and realizes that God loves him, he can continue to live by trying to follow God’s edicts and worship God for the One and Only God that He is.

Throughout the story of David, in even his most despairing Psalms, David always expresses the belief that God is good, God loves him, and God’s will being done is what is ultimately the best thing to happen–even when what happens really hurts.  Ultimately, I think, it is David’s sincere commitment to believing in God’s love for us that makes David’s heart like God’s own.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.   Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.  Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;  so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.  Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.   Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;  you taught me wisdom in that secret place.  Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;  wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.  Let me hear joy and gladness;  let the bones you have crushed rejoice.  Hide your face from my sins  and blot out all my iniquity.  Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  Do not cast me from your presence  or take your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation  and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.  Then I will teach transgressors your ways,  so that sinners will turn back to you.  Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,  you who are God my Savior,  and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.  Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.  You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;  you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.  My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;  a broken and contrite heart  you, God, will not despise.  (Psalm 51:1-17)

The Next Step

Being like David, flawed but loving God with all your heart, is a really grand goal.  You might consider it a first step toward the ultimate goal of being like Jesus, who had nothing to repent, but loved God, acknowledged His sovereignty and followed His will as an example for all of us.

Luckily for us Christians, we have Christ’s sacrifice so that the wrath we so deserve He took upon Himself on the cross.  With the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we have a guide to help us be more Christ-like each day.  Following David’s, and Christ’s, examples, we should find ourselves praying more, throwing our whole selves into our relationship with God, and growing our faith.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity, Faith

3 Lessons from Numbers for Christians

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My Bible readings have me in the beginning of this only Book that truly matters, and so I am asking God to help me see the lessons I should be learning from what can sometimes seem tedious study, since so much of the story of the Jews’ time in the desert is filled with specifics about measurements for building the tabernacle, the specific punishments for different crimes, etc.  Still, I believe God is showing me some pretty interesting things because I have asked for Him to, in faith.

Reading in the book of Numbers, I tried to see myself in the shoes of the Jews.  They might have had the privilege of witnessing God’s miracles and seeing His presence up close–like having manna and water delivered to them out of nothing and seeing God appear in a great cloud and column of fire to guide them, but I have the knowledge of God’s greatest miracle: that He gave His only Son to die for our sins.

Knowing this, can I see my own worries and misplaced concerns about everyday life as the same kind of backsliding that I scoff at when I read about the Jews and their golden calves or whining about being tired of the same kind of food every day?  Reading the early parts of Numbers in this way, I have come up with three conclusions I can try to apply to my walk with Christ.

  1. God keeps His promises
    • God said He would rescue the Jews from Egypt and take care of them.  But, every time you turn around, the Jews keep wanting to go back to Egypt, back to slavery and harsh taskmasters.  However, the Jews don’t remember these negative sides to life in Egypt when they are whining to Moses.  All they remember is having a variety of food there and not just manna.
    • Don’t we Christians do similar things?  Christ promises that He will be with us always.  Christ admonishes us to look toward treasures in heaven and not on earth.  He wants us to understand that our relationship with Him is what matters most, not the car repair we have to find a way to pay for.  And yet, how many times do we fret instead of trusting that Christ also keeps His promises?  He brings us through the storms in this life, often not in ways we expected, but usually we can look back and see the good Christ works in the things that happen to us, especially when we approach those things by putting our belief in Him first.
  2. God doesn’t want us to fail.
    • I think it is a mistake to place on an omnipotent God an understanding of emotions that is limited by our human perceptions.  In other words, when God gets angry, it is in no way the same as when we humans get angry.  There just isn’t a way for us to understand God’s “emotions” unless He chooses to reveal them to us.
    • I say all that to propose that the punishments that God metes out when the Jews fall short should not necessarily be seen so much as an anger response as a disappointment that borders on mourning.  And what, exactly, is God mourning except the loss of those who fail to have faith in Him despite everything He is doing to show the Jews that He alone is God?
    • If God mourned the failure of the people He had chosen to establish Himself as the one and only God of the universe, how much more must he mourn when people reject Christ, or when we Christians reject the lessons Christ worked so hard to teach us?
    • The bottom line of the cycle of lack of faith and punishment as the Jews wandered in the desert is the lesson that God does not want us to fail.  Think about how many times God allowed the Jews to begin again with their relationship with Him.  Then, think about how Christ allows us to awake each morning as a new creature.  As long as we acknowledge our sins to Him and repent of them, we get to walk with Christ in the presence of God once again!
    • No greater love….
  3. God wants our BEST.
    • Every sin or uncleanness in the book of Numbers requires sacrifices that begin with the offering of the best that the person has to offer.  Lambs with no defect, the best grain, the finest incense.  Only by giving the very best that a person owned could the person really feel the sacrifice required to make things right with God again.
    • The Jews’ relationship with God in the desert always involved barriers.  God spoke to Moses directly, who then conveyed God’s messages to the people.  Thick, wonderfully made curtains separated the unconsecrated masses from the inner sanctuary, where only the anointed, clean priests could enter to present the best of the best to God to redeem those who had sinned.
    • With Christ, the inner curtain has been rent in two!  With the Holy Spirit dwelling in us and with Christ as our High Priest, we can speak to God directly and know that He is listening and hears us.
    • If God wanted the best of what the Jews in the desert had to offer, what do you think He wants from those of us who have chosen to accept the Grace and gift of the Cross?  Do you give Christ your BEST every day?  Do you at least think about giving Him your BEST?
    • If you are wondering what the BEST is for a Christian, begin with a study of the Sermon on the Mount, where Christ expounds what it looks like to be a true citizen of the kingdom of heaven.  He doesn’t promise that it will be easy, but He does promise to be with us every step of the way.

There are lessons in the Bible for all of us, not just in the New Testament.  Even though the Old Testament books include some cultural references and ways of life that are thousands of years removed from modern life, people still retain the same basics of human nature that can bring us closer to God or push us farther apart from Him.

The choice, as always in a fallen world where free will exists, is ours to make.  As you study the Bible, remember to ask God to show you ways you can apply what you read in your every day life, no matter how far removed the events you are reading about seem to be from your usual experiences.  God keeps His promises.  And one of those promises is that those who ask, believing, will receive.

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

Believing God’s Good Intention: Practical Steps to Shine His Light

Wheat

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.  (Hebrews 11:1)

Believing is the basis of everything a Christian does.  It is with faith like that of a child that we are encouraged to come to Christ (Luke 18:17).  It is faith that gives Abraham the courage to follow God’s commands to the point of almost sacrificing the very child God had promised him, a faith that is credited to Abraham as righteousness (Genesis 15:6).  It is faith that allows Joseph to see his exile in Egypt as a positive thing.  He tells his brothers:

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives (Genesis 50:20).

Faith guides Peter to found Christ’s church, sees Paul through more than one perilous mission trip and long periods of imprisonment, gives Ruth the courage to follow her mother-in-law, heals the woman who touches the edge of Jesus’ garment with her fingertips.  Throughout God’s word, we are provided with examples of faith-based responses to the best moments and the worst moments in a person’s life.

So, even though I know all this, why do I still worry?  I don’t have an answer for that, except maybe the same prayer as the father of the demon-possessed boy, who cried out,  “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

In a media-driven world, we have plenty of heroes, usually action stars like Indiana Jones or Rocky or Captain America.  These men usually hold in their emotions, are good in a fight, and ultimately win.  But most of them are not heroes of faith.  In fact, most profess a faith in nothing except themselves, the individualism that marks American culture.

However, in the last few weeks, I’ve been struck by the heroes of faith in the Old Testament like Abraham and Joseph.  When I read how Joseph had such conviction that the events of his life were worked to the good by God, I found a new hero.  I thought to myself, what kind of power would I give to my life if I started seeing it in light of the same kind of conviction?  Wouldn’t I worry less if I kept reminding myself that God will work to the good everything in my life, maybe even especially the challenges?

Courage that can face the good and the bad in life with perfect peace is the kind of courage that means true heroism.  Read the rest of Hebrews 11 for a list of other heroes of faith.  Shining the light of Jesus starts with the first bold step of faith.  And if you don’t think you have it, all you need do is ask:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity, Faith

The Promise We Carry

A Christian Treasure Map (clipartlog.com)
A Christian Treasure Map
(clipartlog.com)

It was a sunny, summer afternoon, but a cloud of sadness and worry and death hung over our house like the proverbial monster in the closet that nobody wanted to talk about. My grandfather had died eighteen months earlier at the young age of 52 in a faraway hospital in the big city. My grandmother had lived with us for a time, gone to help my aunt on her mission trip in Mexico, and was now going to live in the used but serviceable mobile home we could afford to get her with the small proceeds from the sale of my dad’s “ancestral” home and the pittance of a widow’s salary from social security, which for a carpenter who charged just what he thought a job was worth came to a whopping $400 a month in 1981.

In prepping the lot beside my great-uncle’s house for my grandmother’s trailer to set upon, my uncle, just 33, developed what appeared to be an appendicitis attack. When the doctors opened him up in the nearby Lamesa hospital, what they discovered was cancer, an overwhelming amount of it. They sewed him back up and sent him home with pain medications and hospice care. He had a three-year-old son, a four-year-old marriage and a handful of months to live.

When you are 11 years old, these things tend to happen more around you than to you, swirling around you in black clouds of that which cannot be defined. On this particular afternoon, alone at home with my sister somewhere in the house, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I had to do something.

I knew just enough about the Bible to be dangerous. I believed in God. I prayed to God. I had often wanted to go forward to be a part of what the preachers were talking about at the end of every sermon I attended. But, as my dad explained to me, I wasn’t old enough yet to really understand what it was I was stepping forward for. You’re fixing to agree with him.

Because what I knew about God included the use of sacrifices, I figured, why not give it a try? I thought about what meant a lot to me. My practically-flattened teddy bear, “Sugar Bear,” came to mind. (My sister to this day takes great delight in comparing her plump version of this same bear to the one I slept with and on, apparently, each night, as he resembles my sister’s version on permanent Weight Watchers). So, with not much assurance of what I was doing, but with the optimism born of ignorance only youth can bring, I snuck into the back yard with Sugar Bear, placed him on a pile of cinder blocks, and offered him as an exchange for my uncle’s improved health.

This take on theology was bad on so many levels, I don’t even know where to begin. Also, note that since I wasn’t allowed around matches, I didn’t even think to light the teddy bear on fire, so who was I kidding? I thought the sacrifice would work by God just reaching down and taking my teddy bear? It may have been the most egotistical moment of my life. (Unfortunately, for me, it probably wasn’t the most egotistical moment in my life. I’m sure I’ve done worse.)

Luckily for me, I have since learned much more about the meaning of sacrifice in our relationship with God and the exact role of Christ in that relationship. Within a year of my ill-fated attempt at “miracle making,” I was indeed baptised into the family of God. And then the real learning began.

In my first adult Bible, a KJV from 1977, I have marked the step-by-step guide of verses to share with somebody who is ready to be led to Christ. I want to share those verses with you in case you have never seen them in this particular order before, or if you yourself have been wondering what all this Jesus “stuff” is all about. We begin in Romans 3:10:

As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:

Romans 3:23 reiterates:

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

After establishing that none of us are blameless before God, we need to understand why blamelessness is so important:

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:(Romans 5:12)

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23)

And how is Jesus a gift to us? Turn to Romans 5:8:

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Now, we understand why we needed something to get closer to God, which is because we all have sinned, and we see that God’s plan was that Christ’s sacrifice would wash away that sin once and for all. So, what do we have to do? The next steps come in Romans 10: 9-13:

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Even 31 years later, I can remember sitting in class with my Sunday school teacher, Patty Taylor, who had us all mark these verses in our Bible, including our starting point and the verses to go to next, like a treasure map to the greatest prize of all time! I have quoted this treasure map in the KJV from the original Bible where my young hands marked this all out, full of anticipation of being able to share this very map with somebody else some day.

Today, I’m sharing it with you. Anyone who knows me personally knows that I talk about God all the time because He is a part of my life (though, believe me, I am NO saint). However, in 31 years, I think this is the first time I have actually shared the treasure map I have offered to you today. Thank you for allowing me this opportunity.

I grew up in the era of fire and brimstone from the pulpit, and I tend to lean in that direction way too often, seeing the cup half empty instead of half full. But, the whole point of our Gospel Treasure, this thing we carry within us every day and everywhere, is that our cup is overflowing! What a wonderful gem to shine. No wonder Christ emphasized His role in casting Light into the darkness.

So, I say to that 11-year-old trying to pray away a teddy bear in the cool breeze of a summer afternoon many years ago, focus on the promise we carry, which is the love of God. The ultimate sacrifice has already been made. Now is the time to pay it forward.