RECONCILIATION

When I was a young man many years ago, I learned to keep a balance in my check register, and once a month I reconciled that balance so it agreed with what the bank said was my real balance.  For those of you who remember the task of reconciling your checkbook balance with the bank, you may also remember what an arduous task it was at times.  I remember what a great feeling it was when I finally managed to get the balances to match.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans about reconciliation. He said: (Romans 5:6-11) You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!  For if, while we were still God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!  Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

So you might say that our checkbook balance was way out of sync with God’s eternal bank.  We were suffering from a great deficit.  Jesus, through his death on the cross, credited to us what we needed to be reconciled.  Now our balance matches the balance God expects from us.  Isn’t that a great feeling?  Thank you Jesus!

PLEASING GOD

(1Corinthians 5:9 MSG) But neither exile nor homecoming is the main thing.  Cheerfully pleasing God is the main thing, and that’s what we aim to do, regardless of our conditions.

A couple of days ago I read the devotional for March 17th from “My Utmost for His Highest” by Oswald Chambers. For his words of that day he used the above scripture, and he pointed out that the first aim of every child of God is to please God.  It made me think again of the father child relationship, and yes, it should be the goal of every child to please their father.  But what happens when that is not the child’s goal?  What happens when the child wants to do their own thing against the father’s wishes? 

From the father’s perspective it is painful when a child goes beyond our instructions, steps out on their own, and gets them self in trouble.  You tried to warn them, but they did it anyway.  At first you’re angry with them, but as time passes your love for them causes you to forgive them, and you are always motivated to make a way for them to get through the consequences and be restored.

(Psalm 103:8-13) The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.  He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.  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.  As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.

Our Heavenly Father is the perfect Father.  I imagine that he feels pain when we sin against him, but as this passage from Psalm 103 tells us, he forgives his children and removes our sins from us.  He wants to restore us to himself.  How does he get us through the consequences of our sins?  He sent his only begotten Son to pay the consequences for all of us for all of time.

(Hebrews 11:6) And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

I want to please God; I’m a sinner.  I can’t always please him, but I do my best.  When I fall, he is always there to pick me up.  So, faith is the key to pleasing God.  I believe in God, I trust in God, and through faith I know he will always be my Father. 

THE TWO MOST IMPORTANT COMMANDMENTS

Matthew 22:37-40 (When Jesus was responding to the question which is the greatest commandment.)

Jesus replied: “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. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Jesus in his response gives us the whole of what God expects from his created ones, love God and love our neighbors.  He states that if you follow these two commandments you’ve covered them all.  This sounds pretty simple doesn’t it?    Yet these two commandments highlight our greatest struggles.

I’ve always been unclear about what it means to love God with all my heart, soul, and mind, so I looked through various commentaries, and this is what I’ve surmised.  To love God with all your heart means that God is first and above all others and things in our affections.  Our soul is our very existence, our being.  With all your soul then means that we put our being completely into his hands.  The mind is our intellect, our thought processes. Loving God with all your mind is as proverbs 3:5 indicates: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”  I love adding some clarity to this commandment, and I see great freedom and comfort for us if we could conform to its instruction. But, I also see that following this commandment challenges our basic rebellious nature.

The second commandment is found in Leviticus 19:18.  It says: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”  The history of mankind clearly shows that humans have not followed God’s instructions on this commandment.  It directly confronts our self-centered nature.

Jesus has placed a great challenge before us.  God’s desire for us is represented in these two commandments.  He wants a close loving relationship with us, and he wants us to have a close loving relationship with each other. Imagine how wonderful life will be when God’s desire is fulfilled.  Keep the faith, for now what we can do is work on our part with God’s help. When Jesus returns God’s desire for us will be fulfilled.

INSTANT LESSONS

John 14:15-17

If you love me keep my commands.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.  The world cannot accept him, because it never sees him nor knows him.  But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

Jesus left us his teachings as recorded in the Bible, but that’s not all.  He sent us his Holy Spirit to guide us.  A couple of weeks ago, I had what I call an instant lesson by the Holy Spirit. 

I was borrowing a jack stand from my son Ben, and I explained to him the reason I needed it.  Some guys who didn’t know what they were doing had pushed a grand piano sideways without lifting it, and they broke off one of the legs.  I had volunteered to fix it.

Since I’d worked for ten years with pianos, I was well aware of what would happen if you just push a grand piano sideways.  My explanation to Ben included a belittling assessment of the guys involved in detaching the piano leg. 

Ben and I carried the jack stand over to the car I was driving. He had loaned me the car, so he knew it well.  I opened the trunk to put in the jack stand.  When I went to close the trunk, I did what I usually do, I slammed it down, but it didn’t close.  So I slammed it again. It didn’t close.  Then Ben enlightened me to my error.  He explained that when you slam it down it bounces up causing the latch to miss.  He went on to say the best way is to put it down gently giving the latch time to engage.

Almost immediately, I was aware of the correlation between my unawareness of the way to handle the trunk closing, and the guys who were unaware when trying to move the piano.  My making light of the way the piano was moved was unkind and prideful. 

So, I had an instant lesson.  I should not judge or make fun of others because I know something they don’t know.  There is a lot that I don’t know as with the trunk closing.  I wouldn’t like someone making fun of me because of my lack of knowledge. 

I will try to remember this lesson.  This is not the first time that I’ve encountered this lesson, consequently I’m thankful that the Holy Spirit is patient, and that he will always be with me to help me remember.  I foresee many instant lessons in my future.

THE LAST WILL BE FIRST, AND THE FIRST WILL BE LAST

In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus gives us an interesting parable.  He tells of workers who were hired at different time during the work day.  Some worked the entire day, and the last ones hired worked only the last hour.  All the workers were paid the same amount regardless of how long they worked.  The ones who came to work last were paid first, and the ones who worked the longest were paid last.

I knew a man who was 82 years old when he came to Jesus.  He was a delightful man who then took pleasure helping out at his church. At the age of 89 the Lord took him home.  I also knew a young man who was diagnosed with aids and shortly thereafter came to the Lord.  Two years later, the Lord took him home.   These two people are now experiencing eternal life in the presence of the Lord.  On the other hand, I have known people who have spent almost their entire long-lives serving the Lord. They are now experiencing eternal life in the presence of the Lord. 

Notice that they have all received the same reward. Those who were saved for a short time and those who were saved for a long time all have eternal life.  The promise of God is eternal life for all who believe.  There was thief on the cross next to Jesus who believed shortly before he died.  He received the same promised reward. 

Jesus often taught us to look at eternal things; however our physical existence is finite, so we tend to see things with that perspective.  Our self-centered nature is another factor in how we look at events in our finite world.  So when we were in school and the teacher directed us to line up in alphabetical order, but she then allowed the last in line to go first.  Those who were used to being first felt cheated.   

In school, we all got to go regardless of who went first.  I think that gratitude comes into play here.  We should be humbly grateful for what is given to us and not envious that someone else got to go first.  In verse 16 of Matthew chapter 20, Jesus ends his parable with these words, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”  The Message translation calls this the “Great Reversal”.  Jesus wants us to be thankful for the great gift he has provided for us and to not be concerned about who gets there first.

GRACE

(Matthew 11:28-30) “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.”

I’ve listed below a definition of God’s grace.  This definition describes God’s grace that is given to us.  In our Scripture from Matthew, Jesus is telling us the way to God’s grace.   We first come to him.  Grace is there for us, so all that is necessary is to come to him.  God’s grace is freely given to us through Jesus Christ.

Jesus recognizes that we are weary and burdened from trying to work out life on our own, and he wants to give us rest.  He tells us that it is safe to come to him, for he is gentle and humble in heart.  We can trust him with what he requires of us.  He is not going to smash us with his big hammer or chain us into slave labor to work off our sins.  He simply wants to give us rest for our souls. When we receive his grace, the yoke we take on is easy and light, and it is given to us that we might learn from him.  He gets in that yoke with us to lead and guide us.

We should often remind ourselves that God loves us, that he is merciful to us, and that we who have come to him have found favor with him.  His desire is to build a loving, eternal relationship with each one of us.  We are his children, and he will not abandon us.

Referenced from the Encarta Dictionary:

Grace – The infinite love, mercy, favor, and goodwill shown to humankind by God.   

JESUS OUR BELOVED TEACHER

I’ve been currently reading and writing from Matthew chapters 5-7 which is commonly known as the Sermon on the Mount.  I have always struggled with Jesus’ words in this part of Matthew because I fall so short of what he says I should do.  However, recently I’ve come to a different way of looking at his teachings.

I was a classroom teacher for a number of years.  My students ran the spectrum of grades from A’s to D’s, yet from my own experience as a student, I know that grades don’t always reflect what a student actually learns.

When I first started school, my brain was not ready for school type learning. I was therefore too slow at learning to fit in.  I was handicapped, and my grades suffered. I felt unable to be successful in school, so I was not what you would call a well behaved student. But it turns out that I did learn.  I was a poor reader till after I dropped out of high school, but somehow during my formal schooling, I learned to read. 

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was teaching his disciples the godly way to live. He knew that they were handicapped by their sinful nature and their cultural training.  Jesus though, being the perfect teacher, patiently taught and retaught them.  He loved his students and gave them everything including his life so they could learn a better way. 

I now look at Jesus’ teachings as ongoing lessons for us his disciples. Jesus is affording you and me the same love and patience the disciples received. He is our teacher, and he is aware of our handicaps and limitations.  As we read and reread his lessons, we are, over time, able to apply them to our lives.  We all learn at different rates, but we are on the same path moving step by step toward becoming more like our teacher.  Hence, we trust his love for us, and we work our way through life’s learning experiences.

I am also reminded that we have a resident tutor helping us along the way, for he has given us his Holy Spirit to guide us.  We are well equipped to become more like Jesus.  We just need to trust him with the whole process.  I pray that we will not become discouraged, and we will remember to stay close to our beloved teacher.

FORGIVENESS

(Matthew 6:14-15 MSG)

In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others.  If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.

We live in a world full of sin.  We are each contributors to this bank of sin.  Jesus, the Son of God, took all this sin upon himself and gave his life to put this sin to death. The blood Jesus shed on the cross has covered our sins.  Jesus went through all of this so that God our Father could offer forgiveness to all who would believe.  This is the good news of Christianity.  We can be forgiven of all our sins.

I believe, therefore, all of my sins are forgiven.  Now that I have received forgiveness, Jesus tells me that I should offer the same to those who sin against me.  I didn’t do anything to earn God’s forgiveness, so I conclude that those who sin against me don’t have to earn my forgiveness.  I should give it freely.

Now, let’s take a moment to look at unforgiveness.  Unforgiveness is a burden – just like sin is a burden. It ways upon our souls, distorts our judgements, and hurts our hearts.  There is a reason that Jesus wants us to forgive others.  It frees us from that burden – just like God’s forgiveness frees us from our burden of sin.

God our Father wants us to be free.  He went to a lot of trouble to provide us freedom.  Unforgiveness puts us back in the mire, and we lose what God wants for us.

For further reading see “The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant” in Matthew 18:21-35.

MY NEED FOR JESUS

The other day, I was driving along in traffic heading to pick up my granddaughter Elizabeth from school.  Traffic was not too heavy, but the traffic lights were not cooperating.  I was running a little later than I’d planned, so the urgency to get there made me a little impatient.  I was on a mission to get the little one to a play date with our next door neighbor‘s children.

My impatience grew as I encounter red light after red light.  Of course, the many driving errors I encountered helped to build on my self-centered interest in getting there quickly.  As a retired driving instructor, I also noticed every other driver’s errors.  This added to my growing frustration.  Other drivers became obstacles to my mission, and my attitude towards them was not kind.

I arrived at the school finally and picked up Elizabeth.  I fastened her in, and we were ready to head for home.  I reached the main road and we were rolling, but unfortunately not at the speed I anticipated.  On a road where the speed limit is 55 mph, and most often everybody is traveling at 60 to 65 mph, a utility truck ahead of a long line of traffic was traveling at 45 miles per hour. This felt like insult to injury.

It finally dawned on me that perhaps God was trying to get my attention.  My attitude was bad.  I was not where God would want one of his children.  I began to ask God for forgiveness, and apologize for the unkind place in which I was operating.  That’s when I was reminded that Jesus died for my sins.  Jesus died because I can’t keep it together.  I was overwhelmed to tears.

God took the opportunity of my bad attitude to give me a deeper understanding of why Jesus died.  I was washed anew with the realization that I cannot live without his amazing grace.  The truth is that every moment of every day I need what Jesus did for me.

When I think of the amazing, miraculous event that Christmas signifies, I am filled with awe and wonder.  For all the people who have ever walked the earth, God has made a way for us to enjoy eternal life with him.  He has loved us enough to die for us so that this could happen.  Glory be to God in the highest, and on earth peace and good will to men.

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to receive God’s wonderful gift of eternal life.  All other gifts pale in comparison.   

THANKSGIVING

 Psalm 100

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.

Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs,

Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his;

We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise;

Give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;

His faithfulness continues through all generations.

Taking time to give thanks refreshes our view of life.  No matter what we have or don’t have in the way of material blessings, we can give thanks to the Lord.  I have noticed that when I focus my attention on who the Lord is, the things of this world lose their intensity, and I find the peace and comfort that comes from knowing him.

I pray for each of us that we can set aside time to thank the Lord for who he is and experience his peace and comfort. Have a joyful, loving time of thanksgiving.