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?

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.

GOD’S SOLUTION

Humans are at war all over the earth.  There is no peace on earth.  They kill each other and rob from each other.  Evil abounds!  The author of Psalm 82 laments the injustice on the earth.  He calls for God to intervene. We often hear cries for God to do something.  Why does he allow all this evil?

On the other hand there many acts of love and caring on the earth.  People sacrifice for the benefit of others.  They give their money and time to the needy.  Some have even given their lives for others.  Kindness and compassion do exist in the midst of daily life.

I recall that in the beginning we were created in the image of God himself.  Therefore, we are like God, beings of love.  I also remember that we chose to rebel against God and bring sin into the world.  Thus we have the by-polar existence of great goodness and great evil.  What can be done?

God in his infinite wisdom chose not to fix the symptoms but the cause.  His solution began with an infant born in a stable.  From this humble beginning, He brought about redemption from sin for all humans.  Yet, as in the beginning, He didn’t take away our right to choose.  He did give us the opportunity to be a part of the solution rather than part of the problem.  We can choose to repent of our sinful life and accept Jesus as our savior or continue in the pursuit of evil. 

 Yes, peace on earth is a possibility, but it is held in the hands of each person who lives on the earth.  We can elect to return to God or remain in our sins.  Evil or good, we get to choose.  God has heard our cries, and He has intervened for us.

PSALM 32 CONCEALED SIN

All humans have this in common, sin.  If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8).  The question then is how do we deal with our sin?  In Psalm 32 David wrestles with sin.  He talks about the anguish of his hidden sin.  The weight of guilt is heavy upon him.  Have you ever experienced the torment of trying to keep a sin concealed?

David writes in Psalm 32:5, Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.  I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” – and you forgave the guilt of my sin.  Confession is David’s answer.  It is amazingly freeing when we bring a hidden sin into the light and receive God’s forgiveness.  We can trust God.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

Concealed sin separates us from God; confessed sin restores us to God.  The universal and eternally most important thing is to be restored to God.  The significance of Christmas is that Jesus came to earth so we might be restored to God.  God has made the way for us.  Don’t miss out!  Confess your sins and receive God’s great gift of forgiveness.

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).

WHY DO I BELIEVE

Every now and then I come to a time that I review why I believe.  I just read the creation story in Genesis 1&2 and enjoyed the thought-provoking contemplation that it brings.  Can such an awesome being exist?  Is there really an entity that can speak the entire universe into being?  Then I travel through my memories reviewing why I believe this to be true.

I start with remembering when I was at my lowest point, and I called out to God.  Somewhere in my inner being, I knew he was there.  My life changed dramatically from that moment, and I have walked a blessed life since that day.  He has spoken to me in the most intimate ways on a number of occasions.  He has directed my life in ways I didn’t understand at the time, but His ways have always brought blessing.  We have a long term relationship that is ever growing.

So as hard as it is to imagine a being who could speak the entire universe into existence, I have a personal relationship with Him.  I communicate with him on a daily basis.  He answers me.   God loves me, and I love Him.  I see His beauty in all that He created.  I say yes!  There is a being who spoke the entire universe into existence.  I believe because I have experienced Him.

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

NOT AS I WILL

“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as you will.”  (Matthew 26:39)

I have often thought that life as a believer is like a roller coaster ride.  It starts with the climb of anticipation, and then it begins.  You drop in and away you go.  It’s scary and faster than you thought, but you adjust.  You roll with the curves.  You’re living the life.  Then when the trilling part is over, you take the slow approach to the end.  I thought that I had reached the slow part.  I was winding down waiting to depart.  Alas, I was mistaken.  I’m still living on the ride.  Life is still happening at a fast pace, and I’m trying to keep up.  Perhaps this Christian life has a more abrupt end.

Once you accept salvation through Jesus, you’re on the ride with him; you have no control over where it is going, you have put your trust in him.  You can jump out, but that usually ends badly.  Jesus took the ride.  He surrendered control to the will of God.  Thus his prayer, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.”  He asked for a change of direction, yet he stayed the course. 

This morning, I’m not asking for a change of direction.  I’m just asking for help to stay the course.  I can’t do it without his help.  The roller coaster ride of the Christian life is impossible alone.  I need Jesus all the time.  Besides, life is always much nicer with a friend by your side.  We get an all-powerful, all-knowing friend for our ride.

DECEITFULNESS OF WEALTH

When Jesus was explaining the parable of the sower to his disciples (Matthew 13:18-23) he used this phrase, the deceitfulness of wealth, when speaking of those who represent the seeds falling among the thorns.  In Matthew 13:22 Jesus said, “The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word making it unfruitful.”  This phrase caught my attention as I read through the passage, and I thought it worth a more in-depth look.

I frequently like to refer to The Message to expand a passage.  Here’s how verse 22 reads, “The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the kingdom news, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it.”  (I love The Message.)  The words deceitfulness and illusions both give indication of something that is not really there.  We are lead to think there’s something there, but it is a deception.  Here in America, I believe the deceitfulness of wealth hinders us from fully participating in God’s kingdom.  Perhaps it is our greatest deception.

I remember, when my youngest daughter returned from a mission’s trip to Mexico, she was deeply impressed by how happy the people were in the village where she stayed.  She said to me, “Dad they live in shacks and have nothing, yet they are always cheerful and happy.”  It was a great experience for her.  She had the opportunity to realize that possessions don’t bring happiness.  It’s a deception.

As we celebrate this Christmas season let us not fall subject to the deception that it’s about getting more.  We already have what we need, Jesus.  We are celebrating God coming to earth, living among us, and giving his life for us.  What else could we need?  JOY TO THE WORLD!  THE LORD HAS COME!

BE MERCIFUL

“Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.”

 Jude 22-23

 

The Church, the Body of Christ, has throughout the ages frequently missed the basic tenet of being merciful.    On the other hand the Church has been an instrument of mercy in society since its beginning.  It’s been a mixed bag.  In Luke 6:35-36 Jesus says,

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.  Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

God has shown us mercy, and he desires us to be merciful.  I believe our ability to be merciful depends on our ability to receive mercy.  Humility is the key.

 

To receive mercy, I must first recognize my need for mercy.  When I know that I have sinned against God, there is then the recognition of the debt I owe to God.  Secondly, I need to humble myself and become aware that there is nothing I can do to repay this debt.  God is willing and has made the way to grant me mercy by forgiving my debt.  I don’t have to work for it.  It’s free.  That is hard for me because in my pride I want to do something to earn forgiveness.  However, by holding on to this idea of earning forgiveness, I will never even understand mercy.

 

Now you can see why it’s a mixed bag for the Church.  Our pride often gets in the way.  In Matthew 9:13 Jesus says to the Pharisees, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’”  And again in 12:7, “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.”  The Pharisees were caught up in a ritual of sacrifice that fed their pride allowing them to condemn others rather than show them mercy.  They were trying to pay their debt to God on their own merit.  They were blinded by pride and did not understand mercy.   Therefore, they could not extend mercy.

 

Mercy proceeds from a humble, forgiving heart.  This is God’s nature and his heart toward us.  By surrendering my will to God and allowing myself to be forgiven, I take the first step in understanding mercy.  I feel the burden of gilt lifted and the exhilaration of being free.  But, I must remember that I’m free and not fall prey to the lie that I must do something for this freedom.  That lie feeds my pride.  I must remain humble. Then in humble gratitude, I live under God’s mercy.  A life that is continually bathed in mercy emanates mercy.