THE MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION

(2Corinthians 5:17-19) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old is gone, the new is here!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

Last week I wrote about God’s amazing plan to bring us back to what he desired for us from the beginning.  He reconciled us through the sacrifice of his only begotten Son Jesus Christ.  Jesus took our sins upon him and paid the price that we were unable to pay.  So here we are a new creation before God.  He has given us the promise of eternal life – never to be separated from him again.  Can we share a WOW! 

What are we going to do to show our gratitude for this great gift?  We don’t have to do anything to earn this gift because it has already been given.  The Apostle Paul tells us what God wants us to do to show our gratitude.  He has given us the “Ministry of Reconciliation”.  He wants us to tell those we live among: “that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.” 

Yes, as you think about it, this message is not necessarily going to be received as the good news.  People don’t always believe it, and some simply want to go on sinning.  They are often offended by the message.  Jesus told us to be as wise as serpents, but be as gentle as doves since our ministry is not always effective by using the direct approach.  I have always tried to live in the joy and hope God has given me. I’ve worked to love people, care for them, and pray for them, while waiting for the time to come when their heart is opened to receive the message.  This is how I have approached the ministry of reconciliation, but we are all uniquely gifted by God to share the message in the way he has designed us. 

In loving gratitude, let’s continue to tell of the wonderful, miraculous gift God has given us.  Our sins have been forgiven, and we have eternal life with him available to us.  Thanks be to God that he has entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation.

THE DEPTHS OF GOD’S LOVE FOR US

(John 3:16) For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

(Genesis 2:15-17) The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.  And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

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

(Galatians 4:4&5) But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.

In John 3:16 it is stated that God so loved the world.  We are part of the world he loves.  Since we are loved so much, he definitely doesn’t want us to perish.  In the verses from Genesis, we find the warning from God not to eat from the forbidden tree.  Adam ate from the forbidden tree and brought sin and death into our world.  As a result, we all have the sinful nature from our ancestor Adam; therefore, we are all under the sentence of death that Adam received.  This presented a dilemma for God.  He loves us all and wants us to be with him eternally.

God is just, so the sentence of death had to be carried out; but God, who is never surprised by events, saw this coming, and he made a plan to redeem us.  He sent his one and only son.  Jesus came to earth, took our sins upon himself, and paid for them with his death on the cross. He fulfilled the requirements of the law for us all.  Our death sentence was cancelled.  Justice was served, and God’s redemption plan was completed.

God loves us, and he demonstrated the depth of his love for us by sending his one and only Son to the cross.  Through this great and terrible sacrifice, redemption has been accomplished.  I believe that he is now eager for us to come to him.  God has given us opportunity for the eternal life that he always intended for us.

A GOOD LIFE

Most people would say, “My overall goal is to have a good life”.  If you asked them what that means or what does that look like, you’d get a human answer.

Planning for a good life requires many assumptions because our lives are terminal and of an unknown number of years.  This is a precarious platform on which to plan.  We don’t know what is going to happen five minutes from now, or if we will be alive five minutes from now.  Statistically, we’re pretty confident that we’ll be living five minutes from now, but you know statistics aren’t that reliable.

We have only one sure way to plan a good life.  I found that way in Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” The longer I live, the more I appreciate the wisdom of this proverb.  Since we have no clue about the future, how can we plan for it?  The Lord alone knows what the future holds.  Trusting him provides a great life plan.  I’d like to add this amazing truth that comes with trusting the Lord, “in Christ Jesus death is no longer part of the equation.”

GOD’S KIND OF LOVE

God’s love is other oriented. God’s love is self-denying.  I’m relying simply on what Jesus demonstrated on the cross to make these statements. Jesus thought about us. He put our need for salvation before his own needs.

God’s love is personal. As Jesus ministered with his disciples, he knew each one of them individually. They were intimately involved in Jesus’ mission.

Today we are recipients of God’s kind of love. He continues to look to us and our needs. He knows us personally and draws us into his family.

1Peter 1:17-21 MSG, Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God. It cost God plenty to get you out of that dead-end, empty-headed life you grew up in. He paid with Christ’s sacred blood, you know. He died like an unblemished, sacrificial lamb. And this was no after-thought. Even though it has only lately – at the end of the ages – become public knowledge, God always knew that he was going to do this for you. It’s because of this sacrificed Messiah, whom God then raised from the dead and glorified, that you trust God, that you know you have a future in God.

OVERCOMING EVIL WITH GOOD

“The only way evil ever wins victories is by making a man retort by evil, reflect it, pay it back, and thus afford it a new lease on life. Over one who persistently absorbs it and refuses to give it out, it is powerless.” (Eugene H. Peterson, Traveling Light, p.188)

I am truly challenged by the words of this quote from the book Traveling Light. Everything in my cultural training and my human nature tells me to get back at someone who does me wrong. Yet, I see in my retaliation, the propagating of evil. How can I change my natural tendencies?

I find in Jesus’ death and resurrection a definitive example of overcoming evil with good. By not returning evil for evil, he brought forth the ultimate victory over evil. I, as his follower, am challenged to carry on his example of good over evil in my daily life. When I think of the suffering and humiliation that Jesus went through, I realize that this is not going to be easy. Perhaps, I can simply trust God and do as the Apostle Paul exhorts in Romans 12:17, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.”

Paul expands on this exhortation in the next few verses then concludes in verse 21, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Evil perpetuates evil. When I repay with evil, I will be overcome by evil. The only way to break the chain of evil is to avoid responding with evil. Now there’s an encouragement. Who wants to be overcome by evil?

Jesus gave an example of how I can overcome evil in Matthew 5:38-39, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other also.” So if I hit them back the situation escalates, and I perpetuate evil.

I know that these words challenge our basic nature. Yet, if we are to have victory over evil as Jesus did, we must avoid returning evil for evil, and overcome evil with good.

EASTER THE PIVOTAL MOMENT

Acts 17:28, “For in him we live and move and have our being.”

The life we have, the life we live, our very existence is in God. Contemplating this I realize that God is everything to us. All else diminishes by comparison. The Almighty created everything we know, everything we understand, the entire universe, and us. The creation and the history of it, to this day, is part of a plan that God set into motion from the very beginning.

Galatians 4:4-5 MSG, But the time arrived that was set by God the Father, God sent his Son, born among us of a woman, born under the conditions of the law so that he might redeem those of us who have been kidnapped by the law.

Everything Jesus did while here among us was part of God’s plan for us. Jesus suffered humiliation, torture, and a horrible death on the cross to fulfill God’s plan. When Jesus rose from the dead, our redemption and eternal life exploded forth into his creation. This was the pivotal moment in God’s eternal plan to have a loving eternal relationship with his created ones.

HAPPY EASTER!

SAVED SINNERS

(Romans 3:23) For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

I’m a sinner. Now say it with me; I’m a sinner. Sin is a part of our human nature since the first rebellious act. However, this is only part of the truth. Romans 3:24 completes the truth, “And are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

In my life, especially in my early years, I did some rather awful things. How should I deal with this? King David gives me an example. In Psalm 51, he repents before God for his sin with Bathsheba. He starts, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love.” David knew that God loved him. He understood the love that God has for us which God eventually demonstrated by sending his son Jesus to suffer and die for our sins.

David also asked God to cleanse him from his sin. In God’s sight, faith in Jesus Christ has indeed cleansed us of our sins. Our sins are no longer remembered against us. Psalm 103:12 says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

What I learned from King David in Psalm 51 is to humbly repent before God, and he will be faithful to forgive my sins. In Psalm 51:17 He says, “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”

It is great to be forgiven!

The celebration of the Easter season is upon us. Let’s take time to meditate on the amazing grace God has given us through the sacrifice of his Son Jesus.

GOD AMONG US

As we join together in celebrating God coming to be among us, I wanted to offer something I wrote back in 2014. We remember that Christmas is celebrating God’s plan for victory over sin and death. I hope your Christmas is full of joy and peace. Merry Christmas!

 

The recent flood of movies based on ancient mythology depicts gods with the more base human characteristics of violence, greed, covetousness and murder. The hero god battles the dark side and wins in the end. What a great story line! The same basic story line found in the popular super hero movies. I love them. I’ve been to many. We all love to see good win over evil. There seems to be a feeling of vindication when the hero wins. I like feeling vindicated.  But, (you knew a but was coming) what if the evil that needs to be defeated is inherent in us? You know those base human characteristics. How’s a super hero or a god going to overcome that?

Now think how the actual event of God walking among us differs from the good vs. evil stories we all love. Jesus came as a helpless baby. He walked unassumingly on the earth as one of us. Who knew that he was an all-powerful being through whom the earth was created? He never whipped out his sword and killed the bad guys. Actually, the bad guys killed him. But, (Yes, we know this but.) He rose from the dead. Now there’s a great story line, and it’s a true story. Don’t you love those stories based on real events. It seems to give the story a lot more impact.

Yes, a great story, but how was the victory won? He didn’t kill all of us who have inherent evil. We’re grateful for that. What he did do was:

Romans 8:3b God….. (sent) his own son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man…

By surrendering himself (all-powerful being-God) to death, which appeared to his enemy like defeat, his death condemned sin in sinful man. The victory came in his death and was displayed for all to see by his resurrection. This is a powerful real life story that has impacted us for thousands of years. Wow, God really did come to earth and walk among us. It was very different than our favorite stories. The ways of the real God are not our ways:

Isaiah 55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

THE PICTURE OF YOUR LIFE

Have you ever opened a 1000 piece puzzle and dumped the contents out. It’s quite a jumble of pieces and cardboard dust. Now imagine that someone gave you this puzzle in a Ziploc bag without a picture. It would be quite a challenge to put together. Wouldn’t it be nice if somebody came along who knows exactly what the picture looks like? That person could guide you while you worked to put the puzzle together.

Isn’t this what life is like? We don’t know what it will look like. We’re just trying to put the pieces together. And, isn’t Jesus the one who knows the whole picture? When he was on the cross, just before he gave up his spirit, he said, “It is finished.” He had completed the goal of restoring our relationship with God.  Now he’s at work guiding us through life. We should let him. When we pray, we should trust him for the answer. He has the whole picture, and he knows what’s coming.

LET US CELEBRATE

Romans 3:21-24 (The Message), But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift.

Verse 25, God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear.

We have new life in Christ Jesus. That new life begins the moment we believe, and it last forever. Our sins are forgiven and forgotten. We have entered the Kingdom of God. His will guides us and protects us. He is with us no matter what we encounter in our remaining years here on earth.

When we leave the earth we will live in righteousness. We will be together forever. I’d like to add we’ll all be nice, since the sinful nature will be gone. Jesus did all this for us. So let us celebrate what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. I’m looking forward to that time when we’re all together in Heaven. Imagine the celebration.