On Tuesday I wrote about seeing life as a gift from God. That doesn’t mean that everything is exactly as God wants it. In a world full of sin many things are wrong, and not God’s desire for us. Why was there another tragic shooting yesterday? This is only one more in a long list of “why” question that have no satisfactory answer. Yet there is a truth that remains beyond all the questions. God has not and does not abandon His creation. We’ve just entered the Lenten Season, a season of humbling one’s self before God in repentance. It is a season that culminates with the truth of the atoning death and glorious resurrection of God’s only begotten Son. This is a gift, an act of the greatest love and extreme grace from Almighty God for mankind. It is an act assuring us that in spite of all our unanswered questions, things will be set right. God can be trusted to bring all things to their right conclusion. And in the midst of the day to day struggles He is there. His grace is sufficient for all our needs.
Some years ago I was walking over a piece of wooded property with the man who owned it. Wanting to appear somewhat knowledgeable I remarked that this was a nice stand of pine trees. He responded saying “Oh, their not much yet”. The difference was that I looked at the tree and saw their beauty. He was looking at the trees for their commercial value when they were cut down and sold for lumber. It seems that a lot of life is viewed with one or the other of these perspectives. Especially the way one looks at other people. Are they only useful for their utility and what they can contribute, or are they beautiful as ones whom God created and for whom God’s Son gave His life. I guess I was trying to be smart with my woodsman friend, but I think there is a need to look at life more with the eyes of grace rather than utility.
We understand from Scripture that we can do nothing to earn our salvation. Our salvation is a free and unearned gift of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. It is important to understand two things that this does not mean. First, that, because we have our salvation as a gift, we are now free to do anything we want because God has accepted us. That would be an affront to the holiness of God, and a very dangerous path to walk. Second, because we can do nothing to earn our salvation, we therefore do not have to do anything. That would be a serious neglect of the gracious gift God has given. In Paul’s great statement about the free gift of our salvation in Ephesians 2:8 & 9, it is immediately followed by verse 10, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” We do not work to earn our salvation. But the more we understand and appreciate the magnitude of the gift of life we have been given, the more we want to share that gift in service to others. Paul wrote to the Romans, “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” We can’t contain that love. By God’s grace it pours out in words and actions to the glory of our good Lord.
Throughout His ministry Jesus had done many miraculous works. On this day Jesus had called Lazarus out of the tomb after his having been dead four days. The word got back to the religious leaders in Jerusalem. They immediately called a council to discuss what they should do. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”(John 11:47-48) The decision was that Jesus must be killed. Of course we know that this was all in the plan of God for our redemption. But what strikes me here is how easily the desire for preserving our status, our livelihood, our personal benefits overcomes the clear evidence of a far greater and more important truth. Almighty God was clearly working in their midst, even as He does in many ways in our midst. Yet, it is so easy to be caught up in personal concerns that we fail to see the direction God desires. We have the daily call to trust again in the one true God who had demonstrated His love for us,(Romans 5:8) and to yield to His guiding hand.
Today, October 31st, is Halloween, though I prefer to use its proper name, All Hallows Eve, or the eve of All Saints Day. I really see no fun in cob webs, giant spiders, and skeletons hanging from trees. There really is a far greater significance to this day. It is the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation. That, coupled with it being All Saints Eve, brings two important truths to mind. First, with Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses, the truth of our salvation by God’s gracious gift through our faith in Jesus Christ was brought back to the center of the church. And second, that because of this, we can stand before God in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, we are declared His saints. It is not that we have already become perfect, but our God who has called us, and who sees the end from the beginning, declares that He will continue His work until we are complete.(Philippians 1:6) Put aside the ghosts and goblins, and remember the awesome gift of God’s grace.
Two words that are used in similar circumstances, but are really quite different in depth – sympathy and empathy. Sympathy is defined as being in harmony or agreement with another’s feelings. Empathy is defined as the identification with or vicarious experiencing of another’s feelings, thought, and attitudes. I see the difference as one of distance. The one simply feels sorry that another is going through a particular circumstance. While the other actually enters into that circumstance with the sufferer. You see, our God didn’t just hold Himself off from us, feeling sorry for all the mess we were in because of our sins. He actually entered into our life, living and experiencing all that we do, and taking the burden of our sins upon Himself. Our God is not a God of sympathy, but one of the deepest empathy for all mankind of His creation. And in that empathy we have life and hope.
We are funny people with things that are free. We like to get free stuff now and then, small things that are thrown in as an added bonus. But with something bigger we feel the obligation to pay, or to do something for it. If we are invited to dinner we often take a gift, or feel that we should invite that person back at another time. Jesus once talked about these dinner invitation. “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”(Luke 14 12-14) These poor and crippled are completely unable to pay or do anything to merit the invitation. Such is the invitation we receive from our Lord. Our salvation, our redemption by the blood of Jesus Christ, is a totally free and unmerited gift offered to each of us. We have done nothing for it. We can do nothing to earn it. It is a pure gracious gift of Almighty God. We are, in fact, that poor cripple before God. He has reached out to us and invited us to the greatest banquet possible, life in His presence. Let us rest in Him and rejoice.
When I was growing up polio was a horrible scourge for many children. We would see pictures of kids laying flat inside of an iron lung because the disease had made them unable to breathe on their own. In 1955 Dr. Jonas Salk found a vaccine that ultimately eliminated polio from much of the world. He was hailed worldwide as a miracle worker. Can you imaging what would happen today if a researcher found a cure for all cancers. That name would be a household word. It would be front page news in every paper. The Nobel prize would be given along with whatever other accolades the world would muster. These illustrations point out that the size of the honor is in proportion to overcoming the seriousness of the disease. Every human being is infected with the most serious disease called sin. It is a disease that eternally separates us from our Holy God. But a cure has been found. It is in the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ who atoned for the sins of all mankind. Those recipients of the Salk vaccine did nothing for it. They were very grateful receivers of the gift medical science gave. So too, we have done nothing to receive the forgiving grace of our Lord. We can only fall before Him in grateful thanksgiving. When we realize the deadly seriousness of the disease, we highly honor the One who brings the cure. Jesus is the name above all other names.
We all know how to call upon the Lord for our needs. We raise up before Him cares for healing, for safety in travel, for protection in natural disasters, and many more. These are important, and our gracious Lord does respond. We are also reminded to call upon Him in love. The first and great commandment is to love the Lord your God with heart, soul, mind and strength. Scripture pictures our relationship with God as that of a bride coming to a bridegroom, or a child to a good father. We know the love and desire in our human relationships. They are images of how we come to our God. We see the beauty of His life in all the natural wonders He has made. We know the grace He has shown us in the various events of life. We live in the truth of His redeeming love in Jesus Christ. We can take the words of Isaiah for our own, “I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”(61:10) In the midst of sharing all our need, remember that we are coming to our Father who loves us with an everlasting love. Tell Him of our love for Him.
There is an article in a recent TIME magazine about the way anger and hatred have taken over much of the discourse in America, and even spilling over into the violent acts we’ve all too frequently seen. Break Point is a five minute radio commentary from Charles Colson’s organization. Two of their recent commentaries have been on the need for civility in our conversations. I think even a casual observer of our media can see the truth of these comments. I am a conservative, biblically grounded Christian. I hold strong views on marriage, sexuality, and the sanctity of life. But I’m not against anyone. It is not my place to condemn any person for whom my Lord died. I do hate sin, those things that are contrary to God’s good will for the people He created. I hate sin because it denies the best life from ones whom God loves. Yet it is my task to speak in as much love as the Lord gives me grace to speak. That others may be drawn to that love and want all the best God has for them. Anger and hatred, course speech, and unseemly humor never drew anyone to the grace of our good Lord. You are the light of God in the world. Let your light shine.