Do you know what an Avatar is? It is a name attached to a couple of dozen different things from a movie title to a racehorse. Originally, it was the appearance of a Hindu deity. But, popular today, it is a person making up a character to play in a video game. It becomes the persons alter ego. A person can make up whatever characteristics they want, strength, cunning, intelligence, beauty, whatever. I’m not at all experienced in such things. I’m sure it can be fun, and have its place in video games, but I’ve already been made over, and I didn’t do it myself. You and I, dear Christian, have been made over from the inside out, with a heart change by Jesus Christ. He has been working through all of our years to make us into people who reflect His love. We don’t really need to dream up characteristics that make us great. We have already been made great by the free gift of God’s grace. We are called children of God. There is nothing greater.
Paul uses the expression, “I have become a servant of the Gospel…”(Ephesians 3:7) The Gospel, the Good News, is the great declaration that we are justified and righteous before God by His pure gift of grace, through our faith in Jesus Christ. We are set free from our bondage to sin. Paul is saying, as a prisoner set free, he is not able to be a servant to others with that same grace that he has received. Paul was an apostle and an evangelist, spreading God’s word to city after city around the Mediterranean area. We do not have such a vast territory, but we have received the same Gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. By the very fact of our faith in Jesus, we, too, have become servants of the Gospel. It is the Good News that cannot be contained. In words, and especially in our manner of life, we seek to serve those whom the Lord brings to us. A wonderful title! Be mindful that you, too, are a servant of the Gospel.
We call them “slips of the tongue”, or “putting mouth in gear before the brain in engaged”. It is so easy to speak without thinking of the impact our words have on another. James says that the tongue is the most unruly member of the body. Then Paul gives a good positive directive for guiding what we say. “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29) Do our words give grace? This doesn’t mean that everything we say has to be soft, sweet, and always religious. It does mean that what we say doesn’t hurt another, it is useful, it is truthful, it seek to build up without false flattery, and it is willing to ask forgiveness when we have hurt another. Words are a powerful tool for good or for ill. Let our words seek to give grace to those who hear.
Many of the prophesies of the Old Testament had to be very harsh because of the disobedience of the people. God sent prophet after prophet seeking to turn the hearts of the people back to Him. What is striking to read is how often they will end with words like, “In that day the mountains will drip new wine, and the hills will flow with milk; all the ravines of Judah will run with water. A fountain will flow out of the LORD’s house and will water the valley of acacias. “(Joel 3:18) God take no pleasure in judgment on anyone, but He cannot ignore the sin that is so destructive of people He created. However, God gives the assurance that, in spite of their sin, He will complete the purpose he ordained. People will have to be confronted with God’s judgments, and some may choose to reject His grace, but His hand is always reaching out in love, and He will bring all things to their right conclusion.
“If only we had …..” What an expression of a missed opportunity, whether that of taking advantage of something good presented to us, or our not listening to wisdom that would have kept us from trouble. God said this to His people through the Prophet Isaiah. “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea. Your descendants would have been like the sand, your children like its numberless grains; their name would never be cut off nor destroyed from before me.” (48:17-19) Our God is a God of love, forgiveness, and a depth of grace beyond our understanding, but He is also our Maker who knows what is best for our lives. Oh, that we would pay more attention to His Word, and seek Him for every path of life. Then there wouldn’t be so many times we would have to say, “If only we had ….”
When we look at our lives we sometimes fret that we didn’t know something earlier, or started on some course of action sooner in life. It may be true that things would be different today, but the marvel of God’s grace is that nothing is wasted. God has a wonderful way of using our past for the good we can do in the present. He can even turn some of our sins to His glory. It is not the desired path that He would have us take, but it in no way puts Him out of the picture. His love is too great for that. We may, and often do, have to struggle with things because they were not done earlier in life, or deal with the consequences of past sins, but God is still there. He never abandons us, and He has the ability to take all of the junk that we give Him and make something beautiful out of it. What a marvelous God we serve. Enter this day knowing that He is with you, and seeking to use your life to His glory.
We’ve often said that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, but He really does give us more than we can handle. If all of our trials and temptations were only at the level we could handle, we wouldn’t need to depend upon Him. But our trials, and struggling with our temptations, force us in one of two directions. We can do, as Job’s wife counseled him, “Curse God and die.” (Job 2:9) Or as Job said, “Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him.”(13:15) Life is difficult. We have many needs, pains, and pressures, some very tragic. We don’t have all the answers, many we will never have this side of eternity. But the question always is, “In whom do we trust?” Only in our own reason, ability, and strength, or in the One who loves us with an everlasting love, who truly is working in all things for our best good, and to turn our hearts more to Himself? We soon find that our strength is limited, but His never is. And His grace is sufficient. (II Corinthians 12:9)
Many people have trouble reading the Old Testament because of the picture of God they seem to see there. A God of wrath, judgment, and many wars. In spite of this appearance, He is a God of love, whose grace is shown in many ways. The Old Testament shows our God who is continually working to overcome the sin that we have brought into the world, and prepare the way for His redemption in Jesus Christ. He is working with the Jews to make a people who know Him, who live a different life from that of the world, and who are able to spread His truth to the rest of the world. This is our calling, as well. We are to know Him in Jesus Christ, live different lives from the world, and share His truth with all others. He is not a god of wrath, but of pure love. That is the love we know in our hearts, and seek to show with our lives.
Jesus was about to heal a boy who was demon possessed. He said to the boy’s father, “All things are possible to him who believes.” To which the father responded, “I do believe, help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:23-24) The boy needed healing, but so did the father, and so do we. We believe in prayer. We pray for one another, and we share many prayer requests. But we always face that lingering doubt and fear. When we pray do we expect to see results, or are we never quite sure? Lord, help my unbelief. In Luke 18 Jesus teaches us to be persistent in prayer. It is not that God needs to hear our prayer over and over, but He is also using our prayers to work on our own hearts, to open us more to Himself. Yes, we have doubts, but “all things are possible to him who believes,” and Jesus even helps us to believe.
Last evening we watched a concert by the Vienna Philharmonic on PBS. It was a piano concerto by Liszt. A very lengthy and complicated piece. Yet the pianist had it completely memorized. I marveled again at the mind that God has given man. This is only one man using his gift in this one area of music. There are equally brilliant minds using gifts in many other areas of endeavor. If this is what God has given, how infinitely greater is the mind that gave them! Further, we share in the beauty of the composer’s gift to write, each of the musicians gifts to play and direct, and all of the gifts working together to bring harmony and beauty to all those who listen. An accident? Merely the culmination of human ability? Not at all, but gifts of a gracious God, and a very small glimpse into the beauty He intends for us in His Kingdom. Even a Vienna concert should bring us to worship our gracious Lord, and a longing for our true home.