HE IS THERE FOR US

I have been reading through the book of Matthew in “The Message”.    Matthew has always been a compelling book for me, but I must confess that Jesus’ teachings and parables are frequently disturbing to me.  In chapter 19 verse 25 the disciples ask a question that frequently reverberates in my mind, “Then who has any chance at all?”  The question was in response to what Jesus had just said to them, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for the rich to enter God’s kingdom?  Let me tell you, it’s easier to gallop a camel through a needle’s eye than for the rich to enter God’s kingdom.” 

I, like the rich young man in Jesus’ teaching, find it impossible to qualify for God’s kingdom.  I can’t keep the entire list.  I fall short every day.  What can be done?

Jesus’ answer to the disciples question shocked me from my self-imposed state of worry.  He replied, “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off yourself.  Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it.”  As I thought through this passage, I realized that Jesus, ever aware of the sacrifice he was about to make, was drawing us to himself.  His teachings and parables all point to our need for him, our need for a savior.  His teachings aren’t meant to condemn us, but to show us that though we can’t do it on our own he is there for us.

LOVE = RESTRAINT

Last week I wrote about restraint.  Continuing to contemplate this topic I have found an interesting connection.  Restraint is a companion to love.  If I love my neighbor as myself it stands to reason that I will restrain myself and defer to my neighbor’s wants and needs.  If I do not love then why restrain myself.  I will simply pursue whatever I want without regard for others.  Therefore love provides a motivation for restraint.

When love motivates us to restrain ourselves we find those virtues rising up in us like the ones Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7,

Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love produces restraint.  In love I restrain myself and become a better person, more God like.  I feel better about myself when I am patient and kind.  I feel bad when I trample over others because I’m in a hurry.  The people I push past and disregard don’t feel very well either.  Wouldn’t it be great if I restrained myself because I love others as myself?  Help me Lord!

God loves us.  He restrains himself from judging us because he loves us.  As I pointed out a couple of weeks ago God loves us all (see Another Perspective).  Every human is God’s creation and he desires the best for us.  The all-powerful God of the universe restrains himself because he loves.

Jesus could have called down a legion of angels to protect him from the humiliation, the brutal beating, and the horrible death of the cross?  He restrained himself because he loves us.  He carried through the Father’s plan for our salvation because he loves.

RESTRAINT

It is a tendency among us humans to want to throw off restraint.  From the very beginning, when we had only one restraint, don’t eat from this tree, we have chosen to see restraint as a hindrance to our freedom. The story in Genesis chapter 3 shows us clearly the fault of throwing off restraint.  We gained freedom but suffered the consequences. 

Restraints do hinder our freedom, but they are often good for us.  When driving down the freeway, we are restrained by the speed limit.  Speed limits are for our safety.  They are good restraints.  When the patrolling officer gives us a ticket, we suffer the consequences of ignoring restraint. 

When I was a vice principal in charge of discipline, I used to say to offending students, “You can choose to exercise self-control, or I will apply external control.  Self-control is much easier for you and for me.”   We are either restrained by internal restraint or external restraint.  Self-applied restraint, self-control, is always the better choice, and in the case of receiving a speeding ticket much less expensive. 

The only way we self-centered humans can manage in society is with laws and rules that restrain us.  As Americans, we have a great deal of freedom.  We should be thankful for our freedom and respect the laws and rules that keep us in line.  I find this difficult don’t you?  I always want more freedom.  This gets me in trouble.  There are always consequences when I step beyond the rules.

Isn’t it incredible that Jesus paid the price for my renegade behavior?  He took the consequences for me.  What amazing love and compassion he has shown me.  I should be constantly humbled with gratitude.  Yet I still want to throw off restraints.

ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE

My wife and I recently went to see the movie “The Shack”.  One of the stirring elements of The Shack is that it gives us insight into how God views his world.  Like many we had read through the book twice and were apprehensive about what the movie might do with William P. Young’s beloved novel.  The movie was a refreshing delight.  Directed by Stuart Hazeldine with the screenplay written by John Fusco, the movie omitted very little of the original story.  We both felt that the movie shared the full impact of the book’s message.

Important topics that The Shack explores are why suffering and evil happen in God’s world, and the roll repentance and forgiveness play in dealing with them.  The familiar question, why does God allow such atrocities, can be answered as we delve into what Young was tells us. God allows this because he loves us, all.  There will be a final judgement, but God is patient giving everyone the chance to repent.

From the scriptures the Apostle Peter shares in 2 Peter 3:8-9 an acumen that correlates with this insight:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends:  With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

God’s perspective is always guided by love, his love for all mankind.  He is love!

As Easter Week approaches, see the movie, kneel at the cross, and take some time to bask in his love.  Writing this has stirred me to remember how deeply God loves us, how he is no stranger to suffering himself, and how much he has given for our redemption.

WE ARE ALL WINNERS

The idea of winners and losers comes about because we humans operate in pride and self-preservation.  Pride and self-preservation put us at odds with each other.  Whether it’s a friendly game or an all-out war, we oppose our fellows.  The end result is a selection of winners and losers.  There is only one force that moves us beyond the pride and self-preservation mode.  That force produces all winners.

Now ask yourself, what would motivate me to lay down my pride and self-preservation?  What would get me to the place where I didn’t care about what I had to do or about what others thought?  What would cause me to give my life away?  Wouldn’t you agree that the answer is love?  I would throw myself in front of a bus to save my wife, or my children, or my grandchildren.  I believe I would even do the same for my students.  Why, because I love them.

Guess where we find the greatest demonstration of giving up your pride and laying down your life for others.  Yes, Jesus on the cross is the answer. When the one through whom all things were created humbled himself and gave up his life, everybody became winners.  Everyone is offered eternal life.  He saved us all because he loves us.

The challenge of the cross is before us.  Will we surrender our pride and lay down our lives for others?  Will we choose to love?  Will we help others to know the good news that they are winners?

WHAT SINS?

The other evening I was driving home from work feeling tired but happy.  The next thing you know, I began thinking about a past sin – one that brings me deep regret.  My good mood was being dashed.  Suddenly, I remembered that this sin has been forgiven and forgotten by God.  It is in the past, and I’ve surrendered it at the foot of the cross.  I have been set free by the blood of Jesus.  Dwelling on past iniquities produces nothing good.

Others might want to condemn me for past sins, but God doesn’t.  He forgave me.  I am reminded of what King David said in Psalm 51:4 “Against you, you only, have I sinned…”  Ultimately, though my sins have injured others, my sins are against my Father who is ruler of heaven and earth.  With love, he overcame the sentence of death that I earned by sinning.  He gave his one and only Son to pay for my sins.  This has been done.  Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

So why am I still haunted by sins that God has forgiven?  I seem to hold on to my guilt.  Perhaps my self-depended nature won’t let me forgive myself.  Maybe those sins that I think I’ve surrender at the foot of the cross weren’t really surrendered.  A touch of eternal reality might be needed here.  Psalm 103:11-12 reminds, For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Since God has forgiven and forgotten my sins, and he has set me free from the law of sin and death, the appropriate response would be to discontinue wallowing in them.  What good is freedom if I keep returning to the bondage from which I’ve been freed?

So I exclaim, “What sins?”

THE GREATEST FORCE

Love is the greatest force in the universe.  The Bible tells us that God, the creator, is love (1 John 4:16).   The world and all that is in it was created in love.  It was love demonstrated by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross that brought us salvation.  The redemption of mankind was accomplished by His great act of love.  In love then there is sacrifice.  As Jesus exhibited, love requires the laying down of personal wants and desires for others, or maybe just redirecting our personal wants and desires to others.  Jesus told us in Matthew 22:37-39, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”

We obviously have the right to use love, and we are commanded to use it.  First we are to love our God, and second to love our neighbor.  Our neighbor being anyone we encounter.

We have access to the greatest power in the universe!  How amazing is that?  Why aren’t we using this great power?  Oh, it requires sacrificing our own wants and desires.  Bingo!  The whole world could be changed by this great force that we have access to, but it requires sacrifice.

Taking a broader look, I find that there is little use of this greatest force in our world.   I’m not seeing a wide use of love.  Knowing that God is love, we can say there’s a lot of ungodliness being exhibited.  For those who like to blame this on God, perhaps a look in the mirror might clear their perspective.  I’m looking in the mirror, and I find much room for improvement.

FATHER, SON, AND HOLY SPIRIT

The Bible tells us why we are here and how we came about.  God created us.  God is presented to us in the scriptures as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God with three aspects or parts.  God created the entire physical realm in which we exist.  He is all powerful, all knowing, and omnipresent.  We are the crown of His creation, given charge to take care of the earth.  Yet, how do we relate to this amazing being.  

As Father, God takes on the position of authority.  He is the head.  He is our provider and protector.  God the Father is who we look to for help in our time of need.  With love and mercy, He corrects us and turns us to the right path.  Sometimes, He allows the consequences of our choices to teach us.  He is the perfect father.  The scriptures point out that God is slow to anger and abounding in love.  I’m glad that my Father has these two attributes. 

God the son came to earth and became one of us.  He walked through this life as we do.  He taught us many lessons to show us how we should live.  He lived as we live and suffered as we suffer.  The Son was given the name Jesus meaning God saves, and He did just that.  He gave his life to redeem us.  Through his death and resurrection, he purchased for us eternal life.  Jesus is our oldest brother, and He loves us. He is now in heaven interceding for us.

The Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, indwells those of us who have believed in Jesus and accepted his redemption.  The Holy Spirit lives within us and counsels us, teaches us, and leads us in righteousness.  The fact that the Holy Spirit lives in us amazes me.  No other relationship is more personal.

I believe God has shown us exactly how He wants us to relate to Him Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I think God is more complex than the three aspects he shares with us, but these aspects present the most personal interaction we can understand.  He takes care of us as our Father, loves us as our Brother, and through the Holy Spirit connects with us on a deep spiritual level.  God created us to love us.   His underlying characteristic is love (1 John 4:16).

HOW CAN I REPAY THE LORD

Psalm 116:8-11 reads:  For you, O Lord, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living. 

When I was young I learned about the Lord in Sunday school.  I even went to church.  However, my daily life was on me, and I didn’t think much about the Lord during the week.  Then divorce came into my life.  On my own, I tried to fix the emotional distress of this tragedy.   I floundered in a cavern of unsuccessfulness.  Finally, I came to the end of myself and called on the name of the Lord.  He was right there to help.

Jesus delivered my soul from anguish, my eyes from tears, and he gave me direction for my life.  Jesus gave my life purpose, and I stopped randomly stumbling through life.  Overnight, life completely changed.  I felt alive again as I started my new life walking with him.  In his mercy and grace, Jesus was very good to me.

“How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me?” asked the Psalmist in verse 12.  He shared his answer in verses 13 and 14.  “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.  I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of his people.”  To me this means I will praise the Lord for the salvation he purchased for me.  And, as I have vowed, I will continue to serve the Lord for the rest of my life.  This I will do in the presence of his people.  Gratitude and faithfulness will be the hallmark of my existence.

If you haven’t found the mercy and grace of Jesus just call on the name of the Lord.  He will answer you.

Controlling the Future

I like science fiction.  I don’t know what that says about me, but I do.  The idea of projecting where scientific discovery might take us fascinates me.  I like the adventure and the jolt to my imagination.  Fantasizing future worlds, even alien worlds, has occupies a fair portion of my personal time.

Yet the science fiction stories, where man goes back in time to reshape the future, point to the complexity of manipulating the intricate details of the progression of time.  Change one little occurrence and the entire future of man is impacted.  We can predict, but there are too many factors for us to have complete control over the outcome.

Now, imagine someone able to create a universe, create humans to live in this universe, and set the ball rolling toward a planned outcome.  To add to the complexity of the task, he gives the humans freedom of choice.  During the unfolding of his plan, he intervenes occasionally knowing exactly how this will affect the outcome.  Remember, his interventions usually involve humans who are continually deciding about their actions and reactions to their situation. 

The greatest intervention this creator makes is sending his son to live among humans with the plan to redeem them.  They need redemption because they have violated the prime directive to act in love and, within their freedom of choice, have chosen to injure their fellow humans. They have also turned their back to the creator and denied his very existence.  He accomplishes his redemption plan right on schedule and continues on to his planned outcome. 

The outcome he plans is for all those who receive his redemption to live forever in eternity with him.  Not all of his humans will accept the offer, but every one of them has the choice to receive redemption.  The only one who could put together such an elaborate and complex plan is the all-powerful, all-knowing, creator God.

Read: Genesis 1-3, Job 38 – 41, & Revelation 21 & 22