“For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:9, NLT).
When one reads the Old Testament, with stories of revenge, wars and mass killings, it’s tempting to believe the concept of grace didn’t exist. With few exceptions, the laws were black and white, punishment was swift and severe and no one got away with anything. In the beginning of the New Testament, it almost seems not much changed, as Jesus talked about breaking the spirit of the law and how even thinking wrong thoughts is just as bad as committing wrong acts.
But God is full of grace and grace was his plan from before the beginning of time. It wasn’t plan B. There was no back-to-the-drawing board meeting. To show humanity the only way to grace and life is through Jesus, God waited until just the right time in history to send his son to us. Through his words and actions, he let everyone know it was him and not the law that would save the world. With Jesus’ last breath, the law, sin and death all gave way to grace and his undeserved gift of life.
“Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked” (Luke 6:35, NLT).
When we think of enemies, those who hate us and possibly even want to see us destroyed, we don’t think of love. Our first reaction is to hate back, to wish evil on them or at the very least, to get as far away as possible and never have anything to do with them again. This is normal, human and common. Jesus knew the history of the people he was talking to and knew his admonition to love their enemies might surprise them. What a strange idea!
He said this of course, because that’s what God does. As Jesus went on to say, God is kind to the unthankful, wicked, atheists, murderers, liars—in short, everyone. Jesus was sent inside enemy lines to be the savior of the world, because God loves every single person who has ever lived. By nature, humanity is against God, but God is always for humanity, treating us as loved children even when we figuratively thumb our noses at him. It is only with his Spirit in us that we can do the same to each other.
“‘For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many'” (Mark 10:45, NLT).
Entitlement is a touchy subject these days. On one side are those who feel entitled to every benefit they can get, either rightfully or by other means. One the other are those who believe we (at least those in the U.S.) are only entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, with no guarantee of the latter.
When Jesus walked the earth, he could have claimed any or all of the entitlements he had as the son of God but he chose to be just like us, needing food, water and sleep. He didn’t call legions of angels to protect him from arrest, torture and crucifixion, even though they were completely at his disposal (Matthew 26:53). Jesus didn’t come to garner any of the things humans covet. He came to give himself away, in little ways as he walked all over the country and in the biggest way of all—laying down his life for ours.
“Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people. He also divided the fish for everyone to share” (Mark 6:41, NLT).
Hunger is a powerful drive. It lets us know when our bodies need fuel. Extreme hunger makes our survival instincts kick into high gear. I’ll never forget the first time I read about the Donner party which crossed the mountains in 1847. They were stuck in the snow in the Sierra Nevada for several months. A few made it, but only after resorting to cannibalism. Up until that time I had no idea hunger could lead to such drastic measures.
Jesus knew about hunger too. He experienced extreme hunger during his time in the desert. His compassion led him to feed the crowd on the hillside with a few loaves of bread and some fish. He also knew about another kind of hunger, one that affects the whole world. In extreme cases, this hunger can lead to murder, war, broken relationships, loneliness and heartache. The deep hungers of the human soul for love, recognition, respect and acceptance are ones Jesus is willing and able to fill, not with loaves and fish, but with his grace, mercy and love.
“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5, NLT).
If you’ve ever been to a vineyard, you know rows and rows of grape vines are a beautiful sight, especially when they’re full of fruit. The wine is the goal and the money maker, but without the vines and all the work that goes into tending them all year, wine wouldn’t happen.
Jesus told his followers the only way to produce fruit in their lives is to stay attached to him, the vine. He is our source. Everything good in our lives comes from him and him alone. For the vintner, the fruit is the most important thing, but for the Christian, fruit is a nice bonus. The real “money maker” is the relationship, the closeness and the bond with Jesus. His life flows into us through this vital connection and all we have to do is hang on.
A television morning show co-host shared with her audience that she has a rare blood cancer. She will be undergoing a bone marrow transplant and will be away from the show for some time. All along, from the diagnosis, through the initial treatment and now with the impending transplant, she has kept a smile on her face. She says life is a journey and her health troubles are part of it, so she intends to carry on with courage and poise.
Even though the phrase is a little over used and can seem trite, it is true. Life is about the journey. But I wonder what people imagine is at the end? Can you really think of life as a journey and not give some thought to the destination?
Some believe this life, this journey, is all there is and the light will simply go out at the end. Others fear what will happen after death. Some come up with religions and theories about reincarnation or becoming part of the universe. Some have no idea and live their lives without any care about what’s next. They decide to cross that bridge when they get to it.
When I ride my bicycle, I travel my usual route or I might take a detour if a side road looks interesting, but either way I arrive back home. The joy is in what I see along the way, from birds, squirrels and the occasional coyote, to the people I meet. They can be other cyclists, walkers and joggers and sometimes, the woman who drives the animal control truck. I enjoy the changing weather, the daily challenge of making it up the hills and the cool breeze when I race down them. I occasionally grouse about bad drivers or people cycling the wrong way in the bike lane, but I always enjoy the ride.
Our journey of life is the same. We’re meant to enjoy it, to live each moment, relishing the blessings and all the people who cross our paths. And just as I always end up at home, when our hope is in Christ, we know our final destination will be at home with God. Some of the details are unclear to us, but we know enough not to fear. We know God will give us new bodies, just like Jesus’ resurrected body; we will be with him forever and will never die again. We know we will be with our loved ones and all the saints who have ever lived. The future will be amazing and surprising in ways we can’t imagine now.
The morning show staff is supportive of their ailing co-host and has done a segment on her journey. I suppose it’s not politically correct to talk about her final destination and audiences don’t want to hear about failed treatments and death. But it’s encouraging to know that after the hard parts of life, climbing the steep hills and riding through the rough patches, we’ll all make it home in the end.
“Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him” (Philippians 3:8-9a, NLT).
Money, possessions, titles—these are important to most people. We work hard to gain them, go to court to defend them and try to ensure they will be kept in the family and remembered after we’re gone. It’s always been this way, so much that wars have been fought over everything humans own or want to own.
I don’t know if Paul had much in the way of physical possessions, but he sure had a lot to brag about. He had a pedigree to die for, the modern equivalent of the whole alphabet behind his name. But he considered it all worthless compared to one precious thing—knowing Christ. Knowing him—his love, grace, mercy and kindness—infuses us with the same and changes us into new creatures who love him and love others. This is the only possession worth keeping in this life: “the priceless privilege of of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord and of progressively becoming more deeply and intimately acquainted with him” (AMP).
“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stay true to the Lord. I love you and long to see you, dear friends, for you are my joy and the crown I receive for my work” (Philippians 4:1, NLT).
Children are always being told what to do by adults. Sometimes they obey and sometimes they don’t. Some will only comply when they know the reason why. Many times they are told only that something is good for them or will harm them, but even then it’s not always a good enough reason. With some kids, they need to know an electric socket has energy right behind that little plate, and if they stick a fork in it, they will get a nasty shock. Sadly, some still have to find out the hard way.
So many verses in the Bible tell us to do something; some explain why and some don’t. In this one about staying true to God, Paul tells the Philippians he loves them, hoping if they know this, they will be more motivated to stay true. Paul’s feelings are a reflection of God’s: because he is true and firm in his faithfulness, and because he loves us, he wants us to stay true and firm as well. The admonitions we receive from God aren’t arbitrary. Each is given because of God’s love, just as parents love their children and want what’s best for them. Staying true to God is a way of loving him back.
“And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is” (Ephesians 3:18, NLT).
“I may not be a smart man, but I know what love is.” Forrest Gump, in the movie by the same name, said these words to Jenny, whom he had loved since he met her on the bus going to school for the very first time. She didn’t take him seriously until the end of her life, when she realized he really did love her. All the men she had been with up until that time had only used and abused her.
Forrest Gump’s love for Jenny was strong, always there no matter how she treated him, self-sacrificing and constant. God’s love for all humankind is the same, but wider, longer, higher and deeper. We see glimpses of how deep it is when someone sacrifices him or herself for another but for the most part, the absolute profundity of his love escapes us. We simply cannot understand how God can love everyone as much as he does, no matter what we do or how we treat him and each other, to the point of giving his life—his God life—so we can enjoy life forever with him. We can only pray, as Paul did, for the power to grasp it, as he reveals himself in Jesus.
“Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself” (Ephesians 2:20, NLT).
One of the first things I learned from my dad, who did some carpentry, and my mom, who made clothes, was to measure twice and cut once. Carpenters have to be sure of their measurements before beginning construction of a house or building. If the first cut is off or the first piece laid is crooked, the whole thing will be a mess. The principle holds true in every area of life: the foundation must be good and true.
The cornerstone is the first stone laid for a building and it determines the position and integrity of the entire structure. The foundation of Christianity is Jesus and there is none more true. It’s crucial to keep ourselves in line with him and not to wander off into areas that have nothing to do with who he is. Keeping our eyes on him and knowing him is the most important thing we can do as Christians. If we do this, everything else will line up properly. Jesus—the rock, the cornerstone, the foundation, the great I AM—is the starting and ending point for our whole lives.