Flag on the Play

penalty-flagEcclesiastes 7:20

20 Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.

There was a unique call in the NFL game this last Thursday night.  The Philadelphia Eagles were on offense during the 4th quarter.  A flag was thrown for a false start.  This is a call that usually indicates sloppy play on the part of one or two players of the offensive line.  In this case the sole offender was the only one NOT  flagged for the infraction.  The center, Jason Kelce, forgot the snap count… and while everyone else sprung into motion… he never hiked the ball.  Referee Walt Anderson received more than a few laughs for his announcement:  “False start, everybody but the center.”   The culprit was the only one not called for the penalty.

Our verse today from Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is not a single person on this earth that is innocent before a holy God.  Not even righteous people do good all the time… even they sin.  Illegal motion could be called on just about every play that humans beings are a part of.

Romans 5: 6-8 reminds us:   For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Solomon said there in not a righteous man who continually does good and does not sin…. but that was because he never met Jesus.  Our redeemer, in the fullness of time, came to live  the only sinless life that has ever been lived.  Then, at the cross, where He died, He took the penalty for our sin.  (2 Corinthians 5:21)   In the game called life, He has given us the victory!  And has made us penalty free in the process!  Blessed be His holy name!

Did I Forget to Pay?

guest checkRomans 13:8

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another…”

In my minds eye I picture a grand luncheon.  Not a modest meal but one that is three courses long and definitely not fast food.  The meal was impeccable, the waitress polite, my company delightful… I leave the restaurant with a spring in my step.  “Thank you God for good times with great friends,” I utter.  I am still paying homage in my mind to the cherry cheesecake and the french amaretto coffee as I head down the interstate to get back to my job site.  And then it hits me… “Did I forget to pay?”  I try to keep one hand on the wheel as I check my wallet.  I groan as I look inside to see the $50 I left the house with still in my billfold.

I imagine for a moment the restaurant manager reading the glowing compliments I paid him and his establishment on the comment card I had filled out.  He is probably not at all interested in my praise.  I may have offered superb lip service… I just didn’t pay my bill!

I wonder how many times in life that I have left a personal encounter with someone and not paid them my debt.  What debt?  The debt of love I owe them through Jesus Christ   Paul wrote:  “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another…”

The context of this verse, strangely enough, is paying taxes.  Paul says in the verse just before it:  “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” (Romans 13:7) Paul means:  “If somebody is due something, pay up!  But remember, that when it comes to love, we are ALL debtors.

There was a concept popular a few years ago, that you still hear now and again, called:   “paying it forward.”  Someone does an act of goodness to you and instead of “paying them back” you offer the same gift of love to the next person you encounter.

This is a Biblical concept.  Ephesians 5:1-2 says:  “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  We are God’s children and enjoy everyday His joy, presence and love.  To go through life at break neck speed, never looking out for our neighbor… never sharing freely the love of God we freely received, is the worst kind of ingratitude.  You are forever indebted to Jesus.  He wants you to pay this debt forward by loving those around you.  Just don’t forget to pay!

Mike Mason once wrote:  “… we are pinched and stingy with our love.  We treat love like money, as if there’s never enough to go around, and so we draw our heartstrings tighter than our purse strings.  How can we grasp that we are dealing with an inexhaustible currency?” (Practicing the Presence of People, p.58.)

Start small.  Smile at the waitress.  Discretely buy a serviceman’s meal.  Strike up a conversation with that frazzled mom or dad in the check out line. And know that life is more than accomplishing goals, accumulating things and enjoying ourselves.  It is also about paying the debt of love we owe to our fellow human beings.  Pay up!  And remember God in Christ has already picked up your tab!

A Feast in the Wilderness

Psalm 63:2-5feast

Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary,
To see Your power and Your glory.
Because Your lovingkindness is better than life,
My lips will praise You.
So I will bless You as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands in Your name.
My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness,
And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips.

I listened to pastor Tommy Nelson recently tell about one of his favorite baptism.  He was baptizing a man who came up out of the water sputtering and spitting out water.  When he asked him what happened the man responded:  “I wanted to all of me to be baptized, so I thought I should make sure you got my tongue as well.”

In the portion of Psalm 63 today, David gets his whole body in the act.  He wants his eyes to see God.  He wants his lips to praise God.  He wants his hands to lift in prayer.  He wants his teeth to sink into God and find his soul satisfied.

Think about the last GREAT meal you have had.  One that lives in my memory was from a church member in Cloverdale, CA.  Gloria Owen prepared for us one evening: Blue Cheese Ravioli’s, Nut Encrusted Goat Cheese on a bed of Romaine Lettuce and Blue Cheese Dressing.  Chicken breast stuffed with Roasted Red Peppers… with Scallops.  Chocolate Souffle with a truffle inside topped with Homemade Carmel Sauce.  (I can only say with Grandpa Jones of yesteryear:  Yum!  Yum!)

What is the mark of a good meal?  Satisfaction!  David says in 63:5 – “My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness.”  The NIV translates that last part… “with the richest of foods.”  That is a health conscious translation to say the least.  Marrow and fatness… the good stuff… that is what communion with God is like.

The question, though, is not whether or not God will satisfy our souls.  The question is how engaged we are in pursuing him.  Do we, like David, get our whole body into the act.  Do we seek him in our place of worship? (v. 2)  Do we praise him throughout the day with our lips, even when we are in the desert?  (v. 3)

A. W. TozerA. W. Tozer once wrote:

“I want deliberately to encourage this mighty longing after God. The lack of it has brought us to our present low estate. The stiff and wooden quality about our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire. Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted. Too bad that with many of us He waits so long, so very long in vain.”

When your soul is dry and you are in a weary land.  It is then that we learn to desire God all the more (v. 1).  And when we seek God will all our hearts… it is there that God provides a feast.  Remember the words of Jesus:  “God is spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Throw yourself into a little worship today!  Let that Ipod blare some Chris Tomlin!  Sing at the top of your lungs to some old hymns!  Ashamedly worship in prayer and with tears and joy… alone or in the sanctuary.  Want Him with all of your being.  Pursue Him with all that you are!  There is a feast waiting… enjoy your God!

An Intelligence Test

Acts 17:16-18Test

On the Tonight Show, host, Jay Leno, has a frequent segment called “Jay Walking.”  He goes out into the area surrounding their studio… talks to real people (only to about 15 people and then about 9 make it on the show) and after about an hour of shooting they are ready to go.  Here is a sample of what Jay finds:

A Man who thought the first president was Benjamin Franklin.

A Woman who when asked how many stars were on the American Flag atop a nearby flag pole answered:  “I can’t tell, the wind is moving it too fast.”

My favorite:  A graduate from college still in cap and gown was asked what the Gettysburg Address was.  After hemming and hawing, Jay asked her: “Have you heard of it?”  She responded:  “Yes, I’ve heard of it.  I don’t know the actual address though.”

When asked what separates the inner ear and outer ear, one bright person said:  Your brain?

Another was asked:  Who lives in Vatican city?  Their answer:  Vaticans.  Jay responded:  “No, but he has a tall hat.   Answer:  “Abraham Lincoln?”

Shows like that make me feel smart.  I love shows like that.  Jeopardy, not so much.  Those contestants seem to know everything.  “What is the weight of a ball bearing off a Boeing 747, Alex?”  “Correct!”  They are smart, but that is only Jeopardy smart.

Then there is “Brilliant” smart… it is an intelligence that goes beyond remembering facts… these people have the capacity to understand things at an ultra complicated level.  They can be intimidating.  Particularly if they come to conclusions you don’t agree with.  The atheist with his book about why God doesn’t exist has a lot of degrees after his name.  You know he is wrong, but how do you reason with someone so intelligent?

Often when met with “brilliant” smart, we just stay silent.  Obviously we have nothing to say.

Paul is about to step into the world of the culturally elite.  He had to feel a bit intimidated as he entered Athens.  But he knew he was defending the truth and to stand up for the truth is always the intelligent thing to do.

Heard the story recently of Courtney Ellis, a former graduate student at Princeton:  “When I attended graduate school for English, there were many occasions when my fellow students openly ridiculed the name of Christ. To my great detriment, I stayed silent. I was quite vocal about my belief in Christ at church and with my friends, but I was terrified of what might happen to my reputation if the people at my school found out I believed in Jesus. … Most of them were just ignorant about who Jesus is. Several of them had never even met a Christian before and assumed that all Christians were the uneducated, judgmental stereotypes we sometimes see in the media. Yet, I was still afraid.

As the program went on, I began to feel guiltier for these silences. If I couldn’t be obedient to Christ in such a central thing, how would I be able to serve him in other ways? God was faithful in my rocky road to obedience—opportunities to speak up for Christ continued to come my way.

One day a fellow student asked me flat out—right before class, when many other people were around—if I was a Christian. I was at a crossroads. … I had a clear decision to make.

I took a deep breath, and, with God’s help, I said a soft, shaky, “Yes.” The student looked at me for a second, skeptically.

“Interesting,” she said. “I always thought that Christians were like circus freaks…but you’re actually kind of smart!”

It was a small step, but even the smallest step made in obedience is progress. God tells us not to fear for our reputations, because the truth will always win out.”

[More to Come]

Taking Your Response to the “Christ-like” Level (A Christian’s Response to Evil – Part 5 of 5)

forgivenessMark 11:25

Typical response to evil in this world:  bitterness.   Our Christ-like calling:

Forgiveness…

As Matthew West put it in his recent song: “It’s the hardest thing to give away.  And the last thing on your mind today.  It always goes to those that don’t deserve.  It’s the opposite of how you feel when the pain they caused is just too real.  It takes everything you have to say the word.”

I’m not going to suggest to you that this will be easy.  This is Christianity 401.   An advance course.  You need a little righteous anger, a little enduring hope… in order to get to Christ-like forgiveness.  But it has to come.

There is a whole host of Scriptures I can share at this point, but one will do…  Mark 11:25 – “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.”

Christ hasn’t called you to some mamby pamby religion.  The one who said “Come follow me” walked the Via Dolorosa.  He let his enemies beat him mercilessly and murder him on a wooden cross and used one of his last breaths to pray:  “Father forgive them.  They don’t know what they are doing.”

You might be thinking right now:  “I CAN’T FORGIVE!”  (You may be one of those people for whom it does NOT come easy.)  You are right… you can’t forgive.  You have to let Christ do it for you… and through you.

He is working even now to reconcile the world to himself and calls us to be ministers of that reconciliation.

God can change the hardest of hearts.  While the world cries out for vengeance… we cry out for justice… and offer hope to both the victims and amazingly to the perpetrators as well.

Philip Yancy in his book, “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” wrote: “…in the final analysis, forgiveness is an act of faith. By forgiving another, I am trusting that God is a better justice-maker than I am. By forgiving, I release my own right to get even and leave all issues of fairness for God to work out. I leave in God’s hands the scales that must balance justice and mercy.

One of the most moving interviews I have ever witnessed was that of Robbie Parker, the father of Emilie Parker, one of the grade school children killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary story.  He was a believer that reached out to comfort victims, to offer hope to those in need and to  offer the first words of forgiveness just a day after the tragrobbie parkeredy.  Here is a portion of what he had to say to reporters:  (see video at http://www.godvine.com/Father-of-a-Sandy-Hook-Victim-Offers-Forgiveness-to-the-Troubled-Shooter-2560.html)

“It’s an horrific tragedy, and we want everybody to know that our hearts and our prayers go out to them. This includes the family of the shooter. I can’t imagine how hard this experience must be for you. And I want you to know that our family and our love and our support goes out to you as well. At this time, our thanks go out to so many people, so many friends and family. And complete strangers who we don’t know. For all the love, condolences and is support that you have given to us.

My daughter Emilie would be one of the first ones to be standing and giving her love and support to all those victims. Because that’s the type of person that she is. Not because of any parenting that my wife and I could have done. But because those were the gifts that were given to her by her heavenly father. As the deep pain begins to settle into our hearts, we find comfort reflecting on the incredible person that Emilie was, and how many lives she was able to touch in her short time here on earth. Emilie was bright, creative and very loving. Emilie was always willing to try new things, other than food.

Here at the church last night, there was a special meeting, and I was given an opportunity to be able to speak at that, as well. And in that, I just mentioned that, you know, the person that chose to act in this way was acting with a God-given right that he was given by God to — with his own free agency. And that free agency is given to all of us to act and choose to do whatever we want. And God can’t take that away from us. And I know that that’s something that he was given and that’s what he chose to do with it.

And I know that God can’t take that away. I’m not mad. Because I have my agency to make sure that I use this event to do what I can to do whatever I can. So, I want to make sure that my family and my wife and my daughters are taken care of and that if there’s anything that I can do to help anybody at anytime, anywhere, that I would be willing to do that.”

Not mad… but resolved to serve.  That is the response of a mature believer.

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This concludes my “A Christian’s Response to Evil” series… please comment if it touched you in any way.  Thanks again for reading!