Friday, October 31, 2008

November's Article

Fall Splendor

The air is crisp and clear. The bright hues of gold, amber and vermilion warm your vision as the breeze cools your skin. Autumn has arrived in all its splendor. While I will always be a summertime boy, my artist’s heart loves the palette of the fall season. It’s almost as if God is saying, “Behold my handiwork and know that I am God.”
What I find even more astounding is that God accomplishes this metamorphosis to brilliant reds, oranges and yellows through the process of the leaf dying. As a tree prepares for its winter hibernation, it ceases all non-essential activity including producing nutrients for leaves. The result: a kaleidoscope of color that causes people to travel up and down the Appalachian Mountains oohing, aahing, snapping pictures and collecting leaves. Even in their deaths, leaves declare the glory of their Maker.
What a great reminder of God’s purpose for our lives. Through our daily dying to self (see Galatians 5:24) we glorify God. Every time we say ‘no’ to sin and ‘yes’ to God we declare our Maker’s praise. When we choose to walk with a cross (cf. Luke 14:27) rather than the way of the world, we testify to God’s holy standard. When we place God’s desires before our own, our lives flood the world around us with the colors of God’s glory.
Paul put it much more eloquently. Rather than comparing us with dying leaves, he compared us to jars of clay. In 2 Corinthians chapter four Paul described our earthly bodies to earthenware vessels. The comparison is a good one. Both are fragile, easily broken, and, compared to eternity, short-lived. But God placed a treasure within us so that while “we are afflicted in every way…perplexed…persecuted…” and “…struck down” we would not be “crushed…despairing…forsaken…” or “…destroyed.” How is this possible? By carrying “in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (verse 10). Once again, through death (this time Jesus’) God is glorified.
Now, don’t overlook the promise in that passage. Just as Jesus conquered death, we who are in Christ will conquer death. Just as a tree will turn green and blossom come spring, we too can bloom in the resurrection of Jesus. Eternal life begins at baptism, not the grave. The joy comes in knowing that eternal life doesn’t end at the grave. To quote an old song, let us “live like we’re dying” and glorify God to everyone we encounter. And the next time you admire the beauty of a tree bedecked in its golden, autumn robe, remember, we can glorify God through anything, even death itself.

Living for Him,

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"You Have Heard that it was Said..."

The Sermon on the Mount has been called the “Constitution of Christianity.” Indeed, Christ’s most famous sermon is a treatise on Christian living. In it, Jesus moves from the list of mere “dos” and “don’ts” that defines legalistic religion and addresses the attitudes of our hearts; attitudes that reflect how we feel towards God and our fellow man.
Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in Matthew 5:17-48. Jesus begins this portion of His teaching with a purpose statement, “I have not come to abolish [the Law and the Prophets] but to fulfill them.” He then empowers us to fulfill them. In fact, He states rather plainly that we must in order to enter His kingdom (see v.19-20). What follows is an instruction on the spirit of the law rather than the letter. The Pharisees had become experts on the letter of the law, but had forgotten the spirit of it, creating a joyless religion. Jesus came to give us joy by creating a religion based on our relationship with God rather than our adherence to a moral code, Throughout this section Jesus inserts His commentary on the law by using two distinct phrases: “You have heard that it was said…” and “But I tell you.” Remember, Jesus is not abolishing, He is fulfilling. He is making the Law complete. He knew the human tendency to restrict following God to a list of rules, and He came to correct it.
Unfortunately, history repeats itself. I often find that we are guilty of the sins of the Pharisees; we have reduced the greatness of being a Christian to a “to-do” list. I’m just as guilty as the next person. I often find myself “correcting” a wrong without encouraging the right. If Jesus were to preach to the modern Church, I can’t help but wonder what issues He would address? Please don’t assume that I claim to have some ‘special knowledge’ or insight into the mind of Christ. But what follows is based on a careful reading of the Scriptures, and I think Jesus might say something like this:

“You have heard that it was said,
‘attend church every Sunday.’
But I tell you
Walk with me everyday and live a lifestyle of worship and service.
You have heard that it was said,
‘take communion every week.’
But I tell you
Commune with me every day. Talk to me. Tell me your hopes and fears. Confess your sins and celebrate your victories with me. Listen to me. I want to teach you, correct you and encourage you. Remember me. Remember you were bought at a price. By remembering you will live a better life.
You have heard that it was said,
‘Read your Bible every day’
But I tell you
Meditate on my Word. Digest it. Let it become a part of you. It needs to permeate your mind and heart. Let it become as vital as the food you eat and the air you breathe. Hide it in your heart so that no one will ever steal it from you. Don’t just read it, experience it and put it into action.
You have heard that it was said,
‘Go and evangelize the World’
But I tell you
Love people. I mean really love them. Love them the way that I love them. Make time for them. Listen to them. Meet their needs, even if it means making a sacrifice. In doing so, you are already teaching them about me.
You have heard that it was said,
‘You must be baptized to be saved’
But I tell you
Don’t forget to love me and do not neglect your faith. The new birth that only baptism provides is useless if there is not a new heart that beats for me or a new faith that lives for me.”

Remember, Jesus did not do away with any of the commandments He addressed. He merely raised them to His standard. We need to start reaching for His standard. A standard that demands more than obedience; it demands a relationship with God.

Living for Jesus,

October's Article

What are you Wearing?

There have been many difficult tasks I have succeeded at in life. Learning an ancient language? No problem. Passing Calculus? Piece of cake. Explaining complicated Biblical truths to pre-teens? I can do it in my sleep. However, there is one task that defies my abilities, strains my nerves and drains my energy: reasoning with a four-year-old.
There I was in the wee hours of the morning sitting in my daughter’s bedroom. My older two girls were abuzz with excitement because it was the first casual day of the year, which meant no school uniforms. Savannah, however, did not appreciate the freedom to choose what to wear. No, she liked the school uniform. She saw it as a badge of honor to show that she was a “big girl” and could go to school. I picked out a favorite dress of hers to wear. She shook her head. I displayed one that Grandparents had bought for her. Still she refused. I tried to let her choose from other items in her closet. Nope, not gonna happen. I tried telling her all her uniforms were in the laundry. She didn’t care. She would rather wear dirty clothes than the dress I had chosen for her. There were tears. There were hurt feelings, but eventually I got my way.
Later, as I reflected on the frustrations of the morning, I couldn’t help but realize that God must feel the same way towards us at times. There are sins in our life that we don’t want to give up. In fact, they have been there so long that we have grown comfortable with them. I have even seen some try to wear their sins as a “badge of honor” by misapplying Romans 7 when Paul writes, “the good that I want to do I can’t, and the bad I don’t want to do, I find myself doing.” “If Paul couldn’t defeat sin,” they reason, “how can I be expected to defeat it?” The simple answer is you can’t. That was the point Paul was making. By himself, he could not overcome the sinful habits in his life. Elsewhere, however, Paul shows us that we can. In Philippians 4:13 he reveals, “I can do all things through [Christ] who gives me strength.” What an incredible promise! Sadly, we too often fail to practice the truth of this scripture. Like my daughter, we would rather wear the dirty clothes of sin than the garments of righteousness our Father has chosen for us.
In Galatians 3:27 we read that all who have been “baptized into Christ have clothed themselves with Christ.” Later, in Revelation 19:8, John records that the fine linen that makes up the wedding gown that the bride of Christ will wear is composed of the “righteous acts of the saints.” We have been given new clothes and a new identity. Let’s use that freedom in Christ to convey hope to a world that desperately needs to see it. After all, as the saying goes, “the clothes make the man.”

Until next time,