Monday, March 29, 2010

Instant Replay

I, I am the One who erases all your sins, for my sake;
I will not remember your sins.

-- Isaiah 43:25

There are few do-overs in the game of life. But sometimes there are in the game of golf. We’re talking about the mulligan: if a golfer slices his shot into the woods or a deep sand trap, he might ask his opponent for a mulligan – a chance to try again.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get a mulligan every time we fail in life? Like for the times we speak rudely to a family member or cut off another motorist in traffic. Or when we gossip about someone at church or “forget” to report some income on our tax forms. Better still, what about a do-over for that night (20 years ago) when we shoplifted on a dare from a friend? Big or small, our failures in life can weigh heavy in our hearts. We can’t stop thinking about them and about all the “would-haves-should-haves.”

If we could only erase those ugly moments in time and start over with a clean slate.

Yes, everyone of us can use a few mulligans.

The Apostle Peter could relate to these feelings. Although he was one of Jesus’ earliest apostles, witnessed his Master’s miracles and even walked on water – until his faith ran out – the bold one called The Rock failed the test. Peter had earlier assured Jesus that he would stand by Him no matter what. And even die if necessary. But only hours after Jesus’ betrayal and arrest, Peter denied even knowing Jesus. And not just once… but THREE TIMES!

That’s pretty sobering stuff. But the good news for us is that God is well aware that “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” We can find His solution to this universal problem throughout the Bible.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness,” we read in 1 John. And this passage from Proverbs lends us even more reassurance: “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”

A popular bumper sticker sums it up. “Christians aren’t perfect,” it reads. “Just forgiven.” It’s when we desperately need a mulligan to cover our failures – whether on or off the golf course – that we can always count on God’s undeserved kindness. We just need to confess our shortfalls to Jesus in faith.

The result is a clean scorecard. A complete and total do-over.

“How far has the Lord taken our sins from us?” the Psalmist asks. “Farther than the distance from east to west!”

Monday, March 22, 2010

Doing A New Thing

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

-- Isaiah 43:19

Of all the words to describe the Bible, timeless is one of the best. After all, a repeated lesson in Scripture is that there are certain truths and principles that are as relevant today as they were 2,000 years ago. For instance, it’s hard to argue that we don’t reap what we sow in life. If we spend our lives loving our neighbors as ourselves and otherwise make a positive difference among friends and strangers alike, good will result in one form or another. On the other hand, we can expect a much more negative outcome from a lifestyle involving habitual theft, lying and cheating.

Nothing has changed in God’s eyes.

But while His truths and principles remain constant, another ongoing Biblical theme is God’s willingness to spring a surprise or two on those who think they know it all. Every once in a while, God likes to do a new thing. And He tends to accomplish His plans in some very unexpected ways and places through some even more unlikely characters.

You can see this throughout the Old and New Testaments: Moses, called to confront the powerful Pharaoh of Egypt, had a speech impediment. King David was a just a shepherd boy when he killed mighty Goliath. Jesus – God’s own Son – was born in a filthy animal stable and spent His ministry in an obscure corner of the Roman Empire. And His disciples were a disreputable assortment including fishermen, a tax collector and even a terrorist! Paul, the great missionary who wrote several books of the Bible, initially persecuted Christians before he literally saw the Light. The respected religious authorities of the time were astonished by it all. It just wasn’t what they expected.

Yes, God chose an unlikely bunch. And He used each and every one of them in ways that have shaped our walks as Christ-followers to this very day.

As God's church of Believers, we’re a living reminder of how He continues to join unexpected people, places and circumstances to achieve the greater good.

Let us all perceive it!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

At Your Service

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.

-- Matthew 10:8

Call them guilty pleasures full of empty calories, but those cooking shows on cable TV can be quite entertaining. From Iron Chef to Rachel Ray to Top Chef, their culinary contestants literally cry over spilled milk and put all their eggs into one basket. But aside from the reality television clich├ęs, these shows also serve up some important life lessons with Biblical implications. Here’s a simple one that we should never forget:

Just a single ingredient can make all the difference.

For instance, substituting baking soda for baking powder turns a delicious cake into an inedible nightmare. And if you forget to add 1000 Island salad dressing to a Reuben sandwich, you end up with a mouthful of salty corned beef, bland stringy cheese and lip-puckeringly sour sauerkraut. Just ask any connoisseur: it’s the dressing that makes the Reuben a delicatessen masterpiece!

A related culinary principle applies to realizing our true purpose in life. To live life the way God intends it for us, Christ-followers first must gather the right spiritual ingredients. The Scriptures tell us it’s one part unity with other Christ-followers mixed with a measure of regular prayer and Bible study. Then blend in a heaping helping of discernment – the ongoing intentional functions of living, thinking and acting constructively. (It’s all about habitually looking for the good and dwelling on the positive.) Place this mixture into a hot oven of daily circumstances, trials and crises. The result is a rich life marked by a demonstrable willingness to serve others.

Christ-followers are called to be Jesus’ hands and feet on earth while we wait for His return -- or that day when He calls us back home (whichever comes first). Until then, God wants us to help prepare His Kingdom by making the most of the different gifts and talents He’s given each follower. And it’s by adopting a lifestyle of service that we’ll become more like our Teacher, Jesus. We’re always to follow the Leader:

“In the same way, the Son of Man did not come to be served,” Jesus explained. “He came to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many people."

When we serve, it’s not about us – it’s instead about Him and His creation. So as Christ-followers, let’s turn our faith into action by accepting Jesus’ invitation to help brighten a dark, dying world that’s so much in need of guidance, truth and love.

Are you ready to try out God’s never-fail recipe for finding your purpose in life through service to others? The proof – as they say – is in the pudding!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Rich Towards God

"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'

-- Matthew 25:23

Compared to most of the world’s population, Americans are incredibly rich. When we’re hungry for a snack, all we have to do is walk to the kitchen for some fresh fruit – or more realistically – a bag of chips or a tub of Rocky Road ice cream. And if we’re running low on supplies, a quick trip to the supermarket or gourmet shop fills up the fridge in no time. We quite literally enjoy an “embarrassment of riches.”

Even Americans who receive government financial assistance are “rich” by the world’s standards because they often have excess money and time to share with others. Regardless of our place on the economic ladder, Christ-followers are called to give richly because God continues to bless us with so much. But here’s a secret: God really doesn’t need our money.

That’s an odd thing to read in a church newsletter. But since God is able to speak all creation into existence, part the Red Sea with His hands and live among us in human form (through Jesus Christ), it’s safe to assume that He doesn’t need a bank account or an American Express Gold Card to get things done.

So why for centuries have Christ-followers given a portion of their incomes to help achieve God’s will on earth? First, God is the ultimate giver. And He wants us to be that way, too. Think about the many gifts God gives us every day. Our riches vary, but they tend to include things like our health, job, home, family, friends and church. And what about God’s ultimate gift to us: forgiveness of our sins and an eternal relationship with God through our faith in Jesus?

God also wants every Christ-follower to be a cheerful giver. But to do that, we need to trust Him rather than our riches. After all, bank accounts and retirement funds can be wiped out overnight through unexpected circumstances and economic uncertainties. Just ask anyone with a 401K!

So what’s the benefit of giving our time and money? As the Apostle Paul explains it in 1 Timothy, giving back richly towards God and His purposes renders much more than just a warm feeling of self-satisfaction. Think of it as a guaranteed high yield investment with dividends that you’ll enjoy forever in the world to come. God challenges us to turn our preconceived notions on their heads. Through His design, giving richly becomes getting more:

“By doing that, they will be saving a treasure for themselves as a strong foundation for the future,” Paul says. “Then they will be able to have the life that is true life.”

It’s every Christ-follower’s mission to serve as God’s hands and feet on Earth by feeding the hungry, healing the sick and housing the homeless. So by making generous giving a spiritual habit and thus being rich towards God, we’ll become more like Jesus to help change our community for the better. Christ’s admonition here is stark yet reassuring:

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'