Thursday, March 28, 2013

He Bore the Scars

                I have a number of scars on my body. Growing up, I was rather accident prone. Each scar bears witness to some traumatic childhood event. There is a scar on my forehead, from when my older brother accidentally hit me with a shovel. There is a small, faded scar on my abdomen; a reminder of my bout with appendicitis.  There is a fat, little scar on my left thumb, from a failed go-cart test run. Over the years I have added several more prominent scars. The most evident is a seven-inch long scar (dubbed “the worm” by my children) from some emergency surgery I had a couple of years ago. Along with the scars that you can see, I bear some scars that are invisible to the eye. They are scars on my soul, caused by major disappointments and failures. Of these, I have many. Each scar, whether physical or emotional, marks a significant event in my life.

                I was reminded today that when Jesus rose from the dead, and presented himself to his disciples, he bore the scars of his crucifixion. You would think that his resurrection body would be perfect, without spot or blemish. After all, the sacrifices that the people of Israel brought to the Temple for hundreds of years had to be perfect. Jesus was and is our perfect sacrifice. So why the scars?

                I believe the scars are there to remind us of the depth of Jesus’ love for us. It was those scars that convinced ten scared disciples that Jesus was real. It was those scars that melted Thomas’ doubt and turned it into faith. Those scars are the ultimate symbol of Jesus’ victory over sin and death. They are the ultimate symbol of Jesus’ love and compassion. They are the ultimate symbol of Jesus’ identification with us in our humanity.

                Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil-- and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Hebrews 2:14-17 (NIV)

                Humanly speaking, it cost Jesus everything to be our Savior. This was no easy task, no walk in the park. This was a battle to the death; and beyond. In taking on our humanity, Jesus took on our scars. Paul summarizes the enormity of the price Jesus paid in Philippians 2:6-11.

                Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
                When a soldier excels in valor, during the confusion and terror of battle, we award that soldier the Congressional Medal of Honor. It is the highest military honor that can be bestowed on a soldier. The scars of Jesus are God’s Congressional Medal of Honor. They symbolize the full extent to which Jesus carried out his duty. Jesus was willing to do what it took to secure our freedom from our bondage to sin. We are the beneficiaries of those scars. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 1 Peter 2:24 (NIV)

                When we think about heaven, we often think about the reality that we will receive a new body. Pain and death will be banished and we will live with Christ forever. The Bible speaks of crowns and rewards that we will receive in heaven, which we will gladly lay at Jesus’ feet. I have often thought of that in terms of jewels in a crown. But I wonder if, at least in part, what we will lay at Jesus’ feet are our scars.

                Paul teaches us that the path of faith is shaped by sharing in Christ’s sufferings. Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. Romans 8:17 (NIV) It is the challenges of life, the ones that often leave scars, that prepare us for the glory that God has in store for us.
                But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
                        Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:7-9, 16-18 (NIV)

                Over the years, as my children were growing up, they have asked me about my scars. Those were opportunities for me to share my story with my children. When we get to heaven, we will see the scars of Jesus. They will forever vividly remind us of his love and grace. The story of Jesus’ life is wrapped up in those scars. When we get to heaven, maybe our scars will be the means by which we get the chance to share our story of faith with Jesus. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What Will You Plant in Your Garden?

                As spring continues to tease us with its arrival, it is time to start thinking about the garden. Right now, our garden is still covered in a thick layer of snow, but it won’t be long before that is gone. Then it will be time to plant. The question every year is what we should plant. Last year the rabbits did a number on our garden, chewing off all of our beans. We will probably try for beans again, if we can keep the rabbits out. (I really have to find the hole in the fence and fix it.) We tried sweet corn one year, but that was a disaster. Before any of it was ready to be picked, the squirrels ripped down the ears and carried them off. We always plant tomatoes; probably too many of those. We’ll definitely put in a few onions. Maybe we’ll plant some cucumbers and squash. You have to be careful with those. They tend to take over the garden. What will you plant in your garden?

                The Bible uses the idea of planting as an analogy of our life. Each of us is like a fertile garden plot. Into this garden, we have the opportunity to plant all kinds of things. The things we plant will determine the crop that our life produces. It is important then to be careful about what we plant. Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Galatians 6:7-8 (NIV)

                Paul tells us that the seeds we need to plant in our garden come in a package called the fruit of the Spirit. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV) These are the seeds that grow a godly character. The very foundation of our life is our character. If our character is faulty, then everything we do will be distorted. If our character is solid, then our actions will be positive and productive.

                In order for the seeds in our garden to grow, we need to water them regularly. Last summer it was a constant task, because of the drought. I have been hearing that we might have the same conditions this year, if we don’t get some good spring rains.

                Our spiritual garden needs to be watered regularly as well, if we hope to produce a harvest of righteousness. Paul gives us some practical instructions on watering our garden. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. Philippians 4:8 (NIV)The quality of the water we use affects the outcome of our garden. There is much polluted water in our world that stunts our spiritual growth. If we focus on all the negative things in our world, we will become discouraged and stop growing. We need to seek the pure water of the Word of God that can produce robust spiritual growth in our lives.

                Every year seeds blow into our garden that we do not want. They produce plants that rob the soil of its nutrients, and can even choke out the good plants, if left unchecked. So we have to spend time weeding out the undesirables.

                In the same way, unhealthy spiritual seeds blow into our lives all of the time. They can quickly take root, and if left unchecked, they can take over our garden. We cannot ignore these interlopers. We have to actively and aggressively root them out. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:31-32 (NIV)

                Spring is a time of optimism as we plant our garden. Whatever we choose to plant will dictate the harvest we produce. What will you plant in your spiritual garden this year that will produce a more Christ-honoring life? 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Ultimate Super Hero

Matthew 21:7-9 (NIV)
They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Hosanna in the highest!"

                We need heroes in our lives. For awhile, in our culture, we were anti-hero. We intentionally called into question anyone who had been lauded as a noble example. People that we had been taught to look up to where portrayed as vulgar and crass. Now we feel the need again for heroes. Just look at the number of “super hero” movies that have come out recently.  

                Our English word “hero” comes from the Ancient Greek term for "protector." In the ancient Greek world, a hero embodied the virtues and attributes that Greek society cherished. They provided a model for Greek people to emulate.

                Our need for fearless heroes has never truly faded. These days, some of our champions are soldiers who've shown valor in war, and astronauts who've risked their lives to explore space. We also see heroism in people who make life-saving medical discoveries, dedicate their careers to helping the poor and underprivileged, or labor to right social injustices.
                Santa Clara University ethics scholar Scott LaBarge tells us that we need heroes because they define the limits of our aspirations. We define our ideals by the heroes we choose, and in turn, our ideals define us. Heroes symbolize the qualities we'd like to possess and the ambitions we'd like to satisfy.

                The people of Israel longed for their super hero to come; the promised Messiah. For hundreds of years they had hung onto the promise that God would send his anointed one. The Messiah would come and make all things right. He would be the ultimate hero. The people had many expectations of who the Messiah would be. He was seen as a political hero who would restore the glory of Israel. He was seen as an economic hero who would restore prosperity to Israel. He was seen as a religious hero who would champion the cause of Yahweh.

                When Jesus made his grand entrance into Jerusalem at the beginning of the Passover week, the crowd recognized him as the promised Messiah. Excitement ran high. The crowds were caught up in the moment. They were convinced that this miracle worker had come to restore the kingdom of Israel. They began shouting the traditional Psalms of praise that were used during the Passover by arriving pilgrims. But this time, they directed them toward Jesus. They shouted “hosanna”; calling on Jesus to save them now!

                  The religious leaders realized what the people were doing. They were uncomfortable with this open display of honor for Jesus. They felt threatened by the high emotions of the people. They even came to Jesus and demanded that he put a stop to this inappropriate display.

                Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!" "I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out." Luke 19:39-40 (NIV)
                Jesus refused to silence the crowd. This was his day. He was making a definitive statement about who he was. He openly accepted the crowd’s praise as appropriate and necessary. Although the people didn’t understand, Jesus had come to be their ultimate super hero, their Savior.

                As we enter Holy Week, we are confronted with the reality that Jesus came to be our ultimate hero. Palm Sunday is a demonstration of Jesus’ right to sit on the throne of our lives. But Jesus will not take that throne by force. He invites us to yield it to him willingly.

                In our angry, violent and confusing world, Jesus came to be our champion. If you have ever been bullied or taken advantage of, you understand the need for a champion. Throughout his ministry Jesus was the champion of the common people; the powerless, marginalized, excluded. He wants to be our champion as well.

                As our champion, Jesus offers us the things we cannot attain on our own.
- He gives us peace in the face of unceasing conflict. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27
- He gives us hope in the face of hopelessness.  Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:23
- He gives us purpose and direction in the face of aimlessness.  
- He gives us ultimate security when our world seems to be crumbling.

                We all need a hero; someone who will stand with us and stand up for us. Jesus is that hero. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


                Believe it or not, Spring officially arrived at 7:05 AM this morning. Today, March 20, is the vernal equinox. Today is the day when we tip the scales in the direction of more daylight and less night. The word equinox is derived from the Latin words meaning “equal night.” Days and nights are approximately equal everywhere and the Sun rises and sets due east and west.

                We often refer to the seasons of the year in relation to the seasons of life. We equate spring with youth, summer with being a young adult, autumn with our mature years and winter as the elder years of our lives. I would like to suggest a different sequence of seasons, related to our spiritual journey.

We are born into spiritual autumn.
                The autumn of the year is a wonderful time of cool nights and the transition from the green of summer to the bright colors of fall. But as we know, those bright colors signal a time of death. The trees lose their leaves. The summer flowers and plants die off. The grass goes dormant. The hours of daylight get shorter and the temperature grows colder. Although the autumn is a wonderful time to be outside, the darkness descends earlier each day, and the warmth of summer evaporates.

                We begin life spiritually, not in spring, but in autumn. We are born into this world in a time of innocence. But because of sin in our world, our innocence is quickly tainted. For a while we enjoy the latent blessings of God’s grace. Those blessings begin to fade as we experience the effects of sin. At first, sin seems glorious, full of color and promise. But, just like the autumn leaves, sin’s color soon fades. It leaves behind the dry remains of unfulfilled promises.

We descend into spiritual winter.
                Winter is characterized by darkness, cold and death. Nothing grows in the winter. When the first hard frost comes, the last plants of autumn succumb. Snow can be beautiful, but it is sterile. It covers the ground with its thick blanket, making the ground hard. As we are well aware of in this part of the world, the temperatures steadily drop. The hours of daylight decrease and we descend into a dark, cold world. Many people suffer greatly during the winter.
                The natural progression in our spiritual life is to move from autumn to winter.

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23 (NIV)

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. Ephesians 2:1-3 (NIV)

                Spiritual winter is a time when sin rules our lives. We have all lived here. We all have experienced the cold and darkness of sin. Although there is an illusion of beauty in sin, it is a sterile environment that only brings death.  Many people live their whole lives in spiritual winter. They learn to make the most of it, like hardy Minnesotans who have learned to embrace winter sports. But they live their lives in spiritual darkness. It is like the line from The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. It is always winter, but never Christmas.

When we meet Jesus, we ascend into spiritual spring.
                Spring is an amazing time of the year. The days get longer and warmer. Gradually the snow melts and the ground thaws. Plants that have lain dormant in the ground spring to life. The color green begins to dominate our world. This is supplemented with an explosion of color as spring flowers multiply. Spring is a time of planting for the future. We sow seeds with the hope of a harvest in due time.
                When Jesus comes into our lives, we enter the true spring of our lives.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light Ephesians 5:8

For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6 (NIV)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV)

Jesus shines his light into our very souls. He thaws our cold, hard hearts with the warmth of his love. When we enter spiritual spring, an amazing transformation begins to take place. The gifts, talents and passions that God placed in our being at birth begin to grow and blossom. We discover the true beauty of life, as we shed the oppression of sin.  Instead of just making the best of life, we begin to live with purpose and direction. The image of God begins to shine through our lives. We plant seeds of goodness with the hope of a harvest in due time. As believers in Christ, spring is a time of exploration and discovery.

As we grow and mature in our faith we move into spiritual summer.
                Summer is a glorious time of growth and productivity. The days are long, the temperature is hot and everything thrives. Summer is lush with life. But the ultimate goal of summer is the time of harvest. The seeds we plant in the spring bear fruit in the summer. Throughout the summer we must do the hard work of cultivating and weeding in order to guarantee a bountiful crop. Summer is also a time of delight and exploration. It is a time for vacations, picnics, walks in the woods, and evening campfires.

                At some point in our journey, we transition from spring to summer. Our efforts become more and more focused. We grow in maturity, which makes us more productive in what we do. We begin to see the fruit of our labors. But the full glory of summer will not be revealed to us until we stand in Christ’s presence. One of the highlights of the summer is the Minnesota State Fair. It is there that the labors of the year are displayed and judged. Those who participate in the events of the fair look forward to receiving the affirmation that they have done well. One day we will bring the produce of our labors before our Father in heaven. We look forward to that day when God will say to us, well done, good and faithful servant.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. Galatians 6:7-10 (NIV)

Friday, March 15, 2013


                Sometimes, in our skeptical world, we accept the premise that people don’t really change. Somewhere along in their personal development, the die is cast. A person can make cosmetic changes to the outside of their life, but their core being remains fixed. We often view people who have run afoul of the law in this way. Sometimes, people who have experienced significant traumas or have made significant mistakes in their past believe that they are trapped. Their past will always dictate their future. Unfortunately, for many people, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
                I said goodbye to a man this week who I watched undergo a significant transformation in his life. It wasn’t instantaneous; it happened over time. This transformation took place through the consistent application of Christ’s love in his life. I watched him move from being rigid and self-righteous to being compassionate and forgiving. He wasn’t perfect and he still had some rough edges, but he was definitely transformed.

                The Bible tells us that, when we put our faith in Christ, something miraculous happens. We become a whole new person. The core of our being is transformed and we begin to think and act differently. Paul puts it this way in 2 Corinthians 5:17. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

                There are a number of examples given in the Bible of this happening. Of course, the transformation of Saul, the vehement persecutor of the church,  into the Apostle Paul, the untiring advocate for the church, is an amazing example. But there is another example that most of us can identify with more readily. It is the story of Zacchaeus.

                Zach, to put it in modern terms, was a ruthless business man. He was always working an angel in order to gain some benefit for himself. His motivator was money. He wanted to live the good life, and so he found the easiest path to get there. In his day, the way to do that was to become a tax collector for the Romans. We may not appreciate the IRS today, but they are saints compared to the Roman Tax collectors. Taking on this responsibility offered Zach the potential for great wealth, but it came at a cost. He had to turn his back on his own countrymen and align himself with the hated Romans. He became reviled within his community, but he didn’t care, as long as he got the money.

                One day he heard about this young Rabbi, named Jesus, who was preaching in his area. He was intrigued by the things that he heard about this Jesus. The more he heard the more he wanted to see this amazing young man. When Zach heard that Jesus was coming to his town, he devised a plan to get a glimpse of Jesus. Zach was a short man. He knew that he would never be able to see Jesus over the crowds that followed him. Being a hated tax collector, no one would allow him to go to the front of the crowd. So he figured out where Jesus would be walking, found a tree, climbed into its branches and waited.

                Zach’s heart began to pound as he saw the crowd approaching. He strained to get a glimpse of Jesus. The crowd was pressing around Jesus, obscuring Zach’s view. His pulse quickened as he realized that the crowd would pass right under him. As the crowd approached, they stopped right under Zach’s tree. There was Jesus, only a few feet away. Much to Zach’s surprise, Jesus looked up into the tree and smiled a big smile at Zach. At first, he thought that Jesus was laughing at him. After all, it was rather ridiculous; this tax collector, in his fancy robes, precariously perched in a tree. Zach began to feel self-conscious and a little silly. Then Jesus spoke. Not to the crowd, as Zach expected, but to him.

                Zach, come down out of that tree. I am going to eat at your house today. Zach almost fell out of the tree, as he hurried to the ground. Jesus wants to come to my house! The crowd was shocked, but the smile never left Jesus’ face. Zach proudly escorted Jesus to his home, and then set the servants to work preparing the meal. As they waited, Jesus talked with Zach and some others gathered there. Jesus’ words penetrated Zach’s hard heart. What Jesus said made sense; more sense than Zach had ever known. Zach was overwhelmed by the compassion that Jesus showed him; compassion that Zach had not known since he was a child. Zach had not been particularly religious, but a longing to know God burst in his soul. As Jesus talked, Zach could hardly contain himself.
                The meal finally came, and all the guests took their places. Zach sat Jesus in the place of honor. Before the meal began, Zach stood and gained the attention of the guests. They expected some pious blessing to impress the young Rabbi. What they got shocked and surprised them.

                Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount." Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." Luke 19:8-10 (NIV)

                Zach was a changed man from that moment on. The Bible doesn’t give us the rest of the story, but I have no doubt that Zach was one of the first to sign up for “The Way” after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

                Most of us don’t have dramatic stories like Zach’s. But all of us are in need of transformation by the love of Christ. Without Christ in our lives, we all live for self. We may be respectable and even charitable, but we are still living for ourselves. The Bible calls this sin and living in darkness. But when we encounter Jesus, the lights literally go on. We cannot live in darkness in the presence of Jesus. In his presence we will respond in one of two ways. We will either run away, as fast as we can, or we will yield to the light and be transformed by his love. Jesus will force no one to stay in his light, but like Zach, he calls us by name and invites us in. Jesus invites all of us to stop viewing him from a distance and to encounter him up close and personal.

Ephesians 5:8 (NIV)
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Struggle with Discontent

1 Timothy 6:6-10 (NIV)
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

                We all struggle with discontent from time to time. In a way, we cannot help it, because we live in a culture of discontent. Every time we turn on the radio or TV, we are being told that we need something new. Every newspaper and magazine is filled with enticements to buy something. These appeals are usually coached in the guise of discontent. Whatever you currently have is not good enough. You need this new and improved version of XYZ.

                Discontent is an insatiable hunger. No matter how much a person has, it is never enough. As soon as a person acquires the latest thing, there is something else calling to them. Solomon understood this all too well. Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. Ecclesiastes 5:10 (NIV)

                The Apostle Paul points us in a different, counter-cultural direction. He tells us that godliness with contentment is the path we should follow. Godliness is focusing on doing the good things that please God. It is living in such a way as to reflect the character of God into our world. Contentment is being satisfied with what we have, without the need for more. Contentment is not asceticism, which rejects the material pleasures of this world. Contentment is fully enjoying the good gifts that God has given to us.

                Paul warns us about the dangers of following the path of discontent. Discontent robs us of the joy of our current situation. If we always have our eyes on what is just out of our reach, then we fail to see and appreciate what is already in our grasp.

                Discontent clouds our judgment. We believe the inflated claims of those who promise us personal fulfillment. We are tempted to compromise our moral values to attain worldly pleasures that cannot last. 

                Discontent leads to more discontent. Discontent is like drug addiction. The more that we give into its demands, the more we need to give us a temporary sense of satisfaction. Instead of being more fulfilled, or happy, or satisfied, we are less. Discontent breeds unhealthy doubts about God’s grace and goodness. Satan convinces us that God is holding out on us. But discontent does not produce true happiness. Instead it causes self-inflicted wounds.

                Jesus addressed this issue of discontent in Matthew 6:25-34.
                        "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

                True contentment is not complacency. True contentment is seeking Christ’s kingdom with all of our hearts, and trusting God to deal with the details. True contentment understands the difference between things of eternal value and things with only temporary value. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Joy of Being Chosen

1 Peter 2:9-10 (NIV)
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

                Going through life, we often experience the ups and downs of acceptance. Most of us have felt the sting of being left out or rejected. Most of us have also felt the delight of being chosen.

                During my junior high and high school years, I lived my life in two worlds. During the school year, I lived in the world of feeling like an outsider. I was shy and lacked self-confidence. When it came to the social life of the school, I lived in the shadows, trying to avoid attracting the attention of the wrong people. I was not very athletic, so I felt left out of that world. I found some sense of acceptance in the music department. I was a poor trumpet player, but a good singer. In band, I steadily progressed toward last chair. My senior year, the band director took pity on me and made me first chair flugelhorn. I was the only flugelhorn. Choir was a different story. The choir director took an interest in me and helped me to develop. I went to several music competitions where I did very well. But even in that arena I felt rejected. Every year our school put on a musical. Every year I would try out. Every year I would make the call backs for the speaking parts. And every year I would be placed in the chorus. For me, junior and senior high was a time of feeling like an outsider looking in.

                During the summer, I lived in a very different world. When I was 13, I attended summer camp for the first time. Although I had accepted Christ as my Savior at the age of five, it was at camp that first summer that my faith became real to me. I determined to go back the next year and work at the camp. I signed up to work in the kitchen, but when I arrived I was informed that I had been assigned to be a junior counselor in a cabin. So began my journey of finding my place.

                The summer staff had to report a week early for training. I was nervous about connecting with a new group of guys. I made my way to Stoddard lodge and found a bunk in the back corner. A couple of other guys were there unpacking their bags. I arranged my things and then sat on the bunk waiting for what was next. Bursting through the door, Mike made his grand entrance into the cabin. He was outgoing and energetic. He greeted everyone as if they were old friends. He saw me sitting in the corner and, for some unexplained reason, headed in my direction. He dropped his gear, leapt up into the top, and peered down at me. He introduced himself to me, and then noticed the tin of cookies my mom had sent with me. With a twinkle in his eye, he said, we’re going to be good friends.

                For the next five years, summer camp became the highlight of my life. Mike and I did become very good friends. We worked together each summer for six years. When I was at camp, I felt like I belonged. I became more and more self-confident and I grew in my faith. The director of the camp gave me more and more responsibility. Twice he invited me to go with him on a three week mission trip at the end of the camp season. During those wonderful summers, I felt chosen; I belonged.

                As I have grown in my faith, I have come to embrace and appreciate more and more what Peter writes in 1 Peter 2. I have come to own the truth that in Christ I am chosen, I belong. I still live in two worlds. The secular world around me is still a foreign place. I have learned how to maneuver in that world. I have even gained a certain level of acceptance. But it is not my world. I no longer belong to the world of sin. Instead, I have found my place in the family of God. In Christ, I have acceptance, value and purpose. I no longer live in fear of not being good enough, for in Christ there is no condemnation. I no longer feel like an outside, because I am a part of God’s forever family.

                My two worlds constantly intersect, but I can live in both with a new confidence and self-assurance. I am a child of God, and nothing can ever take that away from me. I have been chosen for all of eternity.

1 John 3:1-3 (NIV)
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.