Thursday, February 25, 2016

Accept No Substitute! (Except the ONE)

  For those of you kind enough to humor me by continuing to read these words of sometimes wisdom, I thank you.  I especially thank you because you tolerate all my failures to thoroughly edit my blogs before I post them.  I reviewed my previous work of brilliance only to discover several errors, upon which the English/History teacher inside me cringed and I was immediately filled with self-inflicted ridicule.  "Perfect Grammar and nothing else; accept no substitute," seemed to be my lingering thought upon reading those words from some time ago.

Fortunately, I do not usually linger too long on my faults and failures, and I hope you will not linger on them long either.  But, this thought about accepting no substitutes brought to mind another recent reading where substitutes seemed to play a major role.  The passage in question can be found among the various laws, regulations, restrictions, and blessings given and/or promised to the people of Israel in the book of Leviticus - specifically Leviticus Chapter 27.

I know what you're probably thinking; why is he reading Leviticus? Does he want to put himself to sleep, or is he taking a crash course in how to become a Pharisee?  Actually, neither of the above would be the correct answer.  I am trying to fulfill one of the resolutions I spoke so fondly of last time I wrote. Nevertheless, I found myself in the closing chapters of the book and came across the following verse: "He must not pick out the good from the bad or make any substitution.  If he does make a substitution both the animal and its substitute become holy and cannot be redeemed."  Interestingly, some translations say "neither can be bought back." - Notice why the redemption cannot occur, both the animal and its substitute are made holy, that is they are both now dedicated to the Lord as His.  This passage, of course is set in the context of making offerings and tithes to the Lord, but if we consider ourselves as offerings to the Lord, a larger picture might come into view.

Now I know I am probably taking some liberties with the message here, and I don't normally suggest one do this, but in this case I find a very interesting correlation with another substitution found in the New Testament - a substitution made, not by man, but by God!  In my warped way of seeing a correlation here, God chose to make a suitable sacrifice for our sins, by means of substitution. Jesus became the substitute for us, and paid the penalty owed by us.  By doing so, we were able to made Holy - that is set apart for, or belonging to the Lord.  Christ was already Holy, but because of Him we are made Holy too!  We no longer need to be redeemed because Christ has redeemed us once and for all!  Praise be to the One who would accept no other substitute!

  

Monday, January 04, 2016

Resolution: Redux



Another year has come and gone.  Another year of good intentions and promises to self left unfulfilled.  I am not sure why it is so hard to keep new-year's resolutions.  I mean after all it's not like anyone is intentionally thwarting me in my efforts to post more blogs, lose more weight, exercise more, spend more time with kids; its just that life seems to get in the way.

Fortunately, because this is a new year, I get a fresh start, a do-over, a mulligan, a clean slate.  Maybe this will be the year I lose that unwanted belly fat, to finish the remodeling the bathroom and to grow deeper in my faith and family relationships.  Only time will tell.

As I think about resolutions, I am reminded of some key concepts related to the Gospel message - concepts, like resolutions, I need to be reminded from time to time.

1. My efforts fail precisely because of that - they are my efforts.  Anything I do to earn a better standing with God instantly transforms his His grace-filled, faith-based saving relationship into a man-made journey of religion, which ultimately will fail because He is not the one orchestrating.

2.  Accountability is invaluable.  My resolutions are typically not met, in part, because I don't have anyone walking beside me, encouraging me to keep them.  The same is true in my Christian walk.  While what I do does not earn my salvation, the disciplines I maintain can help me grow in my relationship with the Father.  Having a spiritual brother or sister (my wife in my case) to keep my focus is critical.  There is a reason the Scripture says "as iron sharpens iron. . ."

3 Perhaps one of the most important concepts to remember is that of forgiveness. Failing to keep a resolution is not the end of the world.  If we don't forgive our small missteps, we won't feel good enough about ourselves to continue the pursuit.  In our practice of living like Christ, failing to forgive others will handicap is both spiritually and emotionally.  We need to remember to forgive much, because we have been forgiven much.

4. Finally, remember the clean slate analogy.  Just like each new year provides us with the opportunity to start over and begin anew with fresh resolutions, the so too does the work of Christ on the cross.  I am free to pursue the spiritual life I am called to because of what He has done.  The stains of sin have been washed clean, and I am made a new creation in Him.

May 2016 be a blessed and joy-filled new year, and may the love of Christ fill you as you go and as you grow.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Running to Win the Prize


  I sit at my desk tonight typing this post reflecting on the fact that I have once again been negligent in my charge to keep all four of my followers engaged with lively and new material on a consistent basis.  But at least this time I have a good excuse - sort of.

  You see my daughter begins high school in a couple of weeks and I have been working with her as she prepares for her first ever season of cross-country. For weeks now she has been out running (sometimes with me, sometimes on her own) as part of her strength and conditioning program.  The most amazing part of all this is that she is doing so w/o complaint or argument.  She has discovered the secret to long-term success in this sport whose tag line is "my sport is your sport's punishment."   Self-discipline and training have taken their toll on my daughter (and somewhat on me) as she is getting faster and stronger all the time.

Cross country is not the only arena where training and self-discipline prove themselves to be an extremely valuable component of the athlete's success and or failure, in fact there are many arenas in life where this is the case, yet none more important perhaps than in the expression of the Gospel message we Christians claim to proclaim.

This concept was so important and understood that the apostle Paul used this analogy when writing to the church in Corinth:

1 Corinthians 9:24-27Easy-to-Read Version (ERV)

24 You know that in a race all the runners run, but only one runner gets the prize. So run like that. Run to win! 25 All who compete in the games use strict training. They do this so that they can win a prize—one that doesn’t last. But our prize is one that will last forever. 26 So I run like someone who has a goal. I fight like a boxer who is hitting something, not just the air. 27 It is my own body I fight to make it do what I want. I do this so that I won’t miss getting the prize myself after telling others about it.
Paul recognized the fact that the Gospel message was to be lived out as well as preached.  He new that Christians could not be Christians on Sunday and then turn around and be non-Christians the rest of the week.  He knew that in order for his message to be effective he'd better practice what he preached, thereby setting an example for other believers and living a life devoid of hypocrisy.
Training for the Christian life is hard work.  There are no short-cuts.  If we want to reach the end and claim the eternal prize we must prepare.  Sometimes will slip and fall as we run, sometimes (like me after tonight's run) we'll really stink, but in the end the prize will be worth it -- trust me.   This is a message we can share.  Until next time - Happy Running

Thursday, May 07, 2015

PCs, 2x4s, & Suffering for the Gospel

Well here it is, 12:09 a.m. on a Thursday morning and I really should be sleeping.  Obviously I am not!

The reason for this is not insomnia, stress, or that three-way and cheese coney I had for dinner, rather it is the result of about two hours worth of fighting with an old PC which always seems to process slower than the amount of time it took Methuselah to reach his 969 years whenever I get on it!

I guess its my own fault, but as always I thought this time it would be quick - a few short scans and I'd be done.  Wrong.  The frustration mounted as the PC went slower and slower and slower.  Finally after a reboot and several "fixes" the task was finished.  No good deed goes unpunished I guess - I was trying to update my page on the church website.  After this exhausting experience I began to feel a little sorry for myself; I began counting my labors as a little bit of "suffering for the Kingdom." Then suddenly the reality of my thoughts hit me like a Mack truck - a spiritual two-by-four of sorts, right across the heart.  This was not suffering at all and by most standards the fact that I mentioned a computer in the same sentence as suffering would cause either extreme laughter or condescension.  I had to admit something that I have been wrestling with for some time now - I haven't really suffered much for the Lord.

You might say, "Well praise God, He has blessed you;" but when I look at Scripture this is a bit inconsistent with message Christ proclaimed to his followers, after all it was Christ who declared that if anyone wanted to be His disciple they must "pick up their cross" and follow Him.  In fact, much of the New Testament was written by disciples who were under duress, imprisonment, and extreme persecution.  The New Testament church and as well as many believers around the world know all too well the cost of discipleship and many have paid the full price for their faith in Christ.

This all gets me to wonder - Why haven't I experienced persecution/suffering for my faith?  Not that I want to experience it or invite it in as a sign that it makes me somehow more holy or blessed, but rather a tangible result of a life of boldness in the faith - a mark of one who is "not ashamed of the Gospel." Does the all-too-real answer lie in the fact that I haven't really invested fully into the work of discipleship and the risks associated with sharing my faith?  I have my suspicions that this might be the case.  

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Crying Out


This past week as been a little rough for me.  A friend from high school passed away unexpectedly, missionary friends faced severe natural disasters, and terrorists struck at a church full of believers near a city where a friend of mine ministers and leads churches.

The week served as a wake-up call.  A reminder that my life can become too comfortable at times.  In my comfort I forget just how much I need Jesus.

That it why I write this evening, to remind myself and any of my readers just how important it is to stay in constant communication with HIM.  We need to remain vigilant and not become complacent in our walks of faith.

Yet that is not the only reason I write.  These tragic events further reminded me of two very important issues:
1) The sense of urgency that should accompany the proclamation of the Gospel message and,
2) The hope that only the Gospel message can provide.

For the first point the realization that we don't know how long any of us will have on this earth is a punch to the gut so to speak.  If my friends and loved ones passed tomorrow, would they know the grace and mercy of the Savior?  What have I done to help share that with them?  If faith in Christ is the only true way to receive salvation, what are the implications for those who do not hear the Gospel?

As for my second issue, this week reminded me once again how much relief and hope can be found in the message of the Cross.  Leave it to an Amazing God to use an instrument of pain and suffering to provide comfort in times of heartache and pain.  -- I can only say two words to God for this -- "Thank You."

Finally, I've included this link to one of my favorite songs as well as the lyrics.  I pray that it will provide you some solace and encourage you to cry out to HIM too!

CRY OUT to JESUS by THIRD DAY
https://www.thirdday.com/music/songs/cry-out-jesus
To everyone who's lost someone they love
Long before it was their time
You feel like the days you had were not enough
when you said goodbye
And to all of the people with burdens and pains
Keeping you back from your life
You believe that there's nothing and there is no one
Who can make it right
There is hope for the helpless
Rest for the weary
Love for the broken heart
There is grace and forgiveness
Mercy and healing
He'll meet you wherever you are
Cry out to Jesus, Cry out to Jesus
For the marriage that's struggling just to hang on
They've lost all of their faith in love
They've done all they can to make it right again
Still it's not enough
For the ones who can't break the addictions and chains
You try to give up but you come back again
Just remember that you're not alone in your shame
And your suffering
When your lonely
And it feels like the whole world is falling on you
You just reach out, you just cry out to Jesus
Cry to Jesus
To the widow who struggles with being alone
Wiping the tears from her eyes
For the children around the world without a home
Say a prayer tonight

Monday, January 19, 2015

Resolutions

Copied from Dan Jenkins' Article at
 http://churchofchristarticles.com
Here it is a new year - time to reflect on the accomplishments of last year or lack thereof.

Did I accomplish everything I hoped to last year, no.  In fact in a recent review of family resolutions (a tradition we started a few years ago) I scored about 2.5 out of 7 not a good statistic in any sport, let alone personal life ambitions.

So what to do?  Start again, wipe the slate clean. Choose new/better resolutions for the new year.  I bet my average will improve!  I'll make time, I'll lose the weight, I'll invite more people to church.

Wait, what did I just say?  Invite more people to church?  Why in the world did I resolve to do that?  Oh right, because like me, they need Jesus.  They need to hear the message of God's love expressed in his son Jesus Christ revealed by His Holy Spirit through His Church.  After all, God is the master at helping people to start over.  Our slates have been wiped clean by the blood of HIS SON.  This is a resolution worth sharing and hopefully, this will be one New Year's Resolution I keep.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Pardons for Turkeys



It is that most wonderful time of year again -- the best holiday of the year as far as I am concerned -- yes it's Thanksgiving.  Turkey Day as I (and I'm sure many others) like to call it is a great time to celebrate the four Fs that make my life merely complete: Faith, Family, Food, and of course, Football (NFL-style that is).

I have no doubt that I will spend much time with each of these during this wonderful civic holiday which fits so nicely into my calendar year.  Yet as I think about what it means to be thankful, I realize just how much ingratitude I show my Lord and Savior throughout the year and this thought bothers me a bit.

I don't always live out my faith the way I should.  My Gospel proclamations get compromised for the sake of social acceptance.  My Christ-like nature is quickly replaced with petty anger or self-righteousness.  As a Christian, I find myself walking the ground like a turkey rather than soaring on wings like eagles.

Fortunately however, I do have a saving grace.  Just like the lucky official presidential turkeys, I have been pardoned.  I have been set free and can start each new day with a fresh start, a clean slate if you will.  The purchase price of this Pardon was high - Christ's death on the cross, but as the song goes, "because He lives, I can face tomorrow."

Remembering this pardon causes me to be all the more thankful for the opportunity I have to share the Good News and it is a pardon I hope all of you will get to experience.  Happy Thanksgiving to all you Turkeys like me out there.