The Kentucky Derby and Judgment Day

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.

                                                                               I Corinthians 9:24, 25

The Favorite

He seemed destined to win from the start. As the horses thundered (or splashed) around the track, every rider but one had to contend with the mud that was flung in his face with every hoof-beat. For all but a few tense seconds, it was clear who the front-runner was, and the moment “Maximum Security” crossed the finish line, his rider was approached for an interview before he had even dismounted. The reporter asked the predictable question: “You’ve won the Kentucky Derby! How does it feel?” The breathless jockey’s face was predictably beaming, as he spoke a few words about a “dream come true.”

BUT WAIT …

Moments later there came what was for many the unthinkable: a protest and a chance that Maximum Security would be disqualified – not just have to settle for second or third, but be disqualified. He had run a great race, but had he run a perfect race?

The joy on the faces of Maximum Security’s people turned to expressions of concern, as judges deliberated for what seemed like hours, repeating footage of the race from every possible angle to determine if there had been a foul. News cameras focused on the faces of the owners and jockeys as they waited for the verdict. The spotless face of Maximum Security’s rider was clearly worried. Meanwhile, the mud-covered face of the second-place rider looked (to this observer) like a mixture of hopeful and awkward as reporters threw questions at the young man. My heart went out to everyone involved, including the officials, who were stuck with the job no one would have wanted.

The Verdict

When the verdict was announced, the second-place horse with the modest name “Country House” was declared the winner. His jubilant owner embraced the mud-covered jockey, oblivious to the consequences for his suit. Meanwhile, those who had invested much of their lives in Maximum Security left that day with no mud stains, and no prize.

What About You?

So, what does this have to do with us?

EVERYTHING.

As we are all running our race on the same track, some seem to have a distinct advantage from the start, and inasmuch as they take advantage of every opportunity, they seem to stay ahead. Others start out not so advantaged, and yet they run anyway, sometimes getting mud kicked in their faces by those in front. The rich and famous (or whoever the world describes as “successful”) have their fifteen minutes of fame. They may have breathless reporters shoving microphones in their faces as long as they are on top, while onlookers may waste a good portion of their lives envying these people.

Those with a more spiritual perspective may look for different qualifications when determining who the “front-runners” are. Their “winners” would include the Billy Grahams and the Mother Teresa’s of the world – those who have spent their lives doing good. Surely, they must be God’s favorites because of all the work they have done for Him. The list may also include those who aren’t famous but nevertheless have spent their lives doing the right things, staying clean, and avoiding doing anything they might be sorry for later.

Surprise.

But someday that will all change, and for many it will be a rude awakening.

Jesus began His Sermon on the Mount with these words: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:3-4) The road to eternal life begins with recognizing one’s failure – one’s spiritual bankruptcy – and grieving over it. It begins with humility. (“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” – verse 5) It’s like looking in a mirror and seeing yourself covered with mud – unacceptable to a holy God – and realizing there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. If perfection is required, we are all doomed to die in the dirt.

There’s so much more at stake here than in a horse-race. Titles fade, trophies gather dust, and roses wilt within days. But the race we’re running is about eternity – either in the glorious presence of God or away from Him in eternal darkness, from which there is no escape. (Talk about maximum security … !)

BUT GOD…

But our heavenly Father created us to be objects of love – He is love. (I John 4:8) He has made a way for us to become clean. Since perfection is required, atonement requires a perfect sacrifice (and that ain’t us, folks.). But God provided that perfect sacrifice – His sinless Son Jesus, who willingly died so we could be forgiven, clean, accepted by Him. When all is said and done, Billy Graham and Mother Teresa would be the first to tell you that they weren’t saved by anything they had done, but by the blood of Christ, shed for them.

The Prize

The winning horse at the Kentucky Derby was draped with a blanket of flawless red roses. And those of us who are covered with the blood of Jesus – those of us who have believed in His atoning death to save us – will be the winners, through no act of our own, other than placing our faith in the one Person who qualifies.

(He is the only One who ran a perfect race.)

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we acknowledge that we are helpless to save ourselves. Thank You for sacrificing Your own life to save us. Now that we are Yours, help us to run a good race, to live lives that represent You well, in Your name. Amen.

What Else Matters?

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.         Colossians 3:2

It was the morning of the National Day of Prayer. I was sitting in the auditorium at City Hall, listening to my daughter’s school choir singing a goosebump-raising rendition of “You Are God Alone.” They were warming up for the city-wide prayer meeting that was starting in half an hour. And I was crying.

My daughter Kelly had been having a rough time in high school. The migraines that had first appeared when she was four years old had continued to plague her through grade school and middle school and had caused her record absences through high school, in spite of years of prayers and attempts to find a solution through medicine, both traditional and “alternative.”

But in spite of enduring more pain than some people suffer in a lifetime, Kelly had found a few sources of pleasure in her life. By far her greatest joy was singing, and her favorite part of school was choir. When the students performed, Kelly’s face radiated with unmistakable joy. She had looked forward to the national Day of Prayer and taking part, and as I had said goodbye to her that morning and she left for school, I had whispered a special prayer of thanks to God for this special day.

My optimism was short-lived, however. Kelly had called me from the parking lot of a McDonald’s half a mile from school to tell me about the migraine that had assaulted her shortly after she had walked out the door. When I had suggested that she come home, take some medication, and rest until the assembly, she had sobbed that if she didn’t show up at 8:00 she wouldn’t be allowed to sing with the choir.

There are definite advantages to a small Christian school, one of them being teachers who know each student well and practice grace along with discipline. As I called the office to explain Kelly’s dilemma, the choir director, who “happened to be” right by the phone, responded with compassion. She said to let Kelly come home, take a pill and a nap, and meet the choir at City Hall at 11:30 if she was feeling better.

But the medication that knocked out the migraine had a way of knocking out the patient as well, and when I had tried to rouse Kelly for the prayer meeting, she had been hopelessly (and predictably) dead to the world. Now as the choir finished their warm-up and filed off the stage, there I sat, with nothing to do but feel sorry for Kelly, thinking of all the important high school events she had missed and would never again get a chance to do. And yes, I’ll admit I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, as well. (When “BabyBear” hurts, “MamaBear” hurts, too.) So in spite of my efforts to contain them, the tears flowed.

I was digging through my purse, looking for a tissue when I came across my small New Testament. Since the prayer meeting didn’t start until noon, I knew I had twenty minutes to kill, and the last thing I wanted to do was spend them in self-pity. So I pulled out the Bible and prayed.

Lord, Jesus, please encourage me. I don’t want to feel this way today!

I was not in the habit of looking for answers to problems by haphazardly opening the Bible; I hadn’t done that since college. But since I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, I opened the Book at random, planning just to read until I found something helpful, or until the prayer meeting started, whichever came first.

The scripture that first caught my eye was the last chapter of Mark:

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb, and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen!”                    (Mark 16: 1-6)

Something told me I had seen enough, so I stopped reading.

OK, what does that have to do with Kelly’s migraines? I wondered. But then I pondered the significance of the passage.

Jesus is alive … JESUS IS ALIVE! That means that death is not the end … for Him or for us! And it certainly means this life isn’t the be-all and end-all for those who trust in the Lord. – It’s barely the beginning!

Yes, my daughter had missed the National Day of Prayer, over a hundred days of high school, and numerous weekend festivities. She had missed Homecoming, but someday she would be at the greatest Homecoming in history. She had missed singing in the choir that day, but someday she would sing in heaven’s choir forever. Kelly loved Jesus, and she would get to spend forever with Him, at the never-ending, greatest celebration of all time. When one had that to look forward to … what else mattered?

What else matters? I asked myself, and I found that in spite of my pity-party, I was smiling. I decided that I would pour myself into the Day of Prayer and keep a better perspective on life from that day on, by remembering the one thing that really matters – Jesus is alive!

Excerpted from BARRIERS (So, if prayers are so powerful, how come mine don’t get answered?) c 2015 Ann Aschauer

Prayer: Lord, we rejoice that You are alive! Keep us mindful of what really matters. In Your name, amen

God’s Healing Balm

As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”                           When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.                                                                                                          One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him – and he was a Samaritan.           Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”                                                                                                                                                        Luke 17: 12-19

 

The blogger’s post was timely. She wrote about how we feel when we’ve worked hard, pouring ourselves into a thankless job that never gets recognized. I had had that experience numerous times, and yes, it’s disappointing. But I’ve learned that whatever pain I may be going through, if I think about it, I realize that Jesus has gone through the same thing in one way or another. When I’m having that “unappreciated” feeling, I always remind myself that after Jesus had healed ten lepers, only one came back to thank Him, so why would I expect a better return for my efforts? At least I know I’m in good Company.

This particular day had taken things a step further. After pouring my life into someone for over a year, it wasn’t just that this person was not thanking me. That day I had been verbally attacked, called a couple of names I had never been called before, and heard the door slam on our friendship. …wow.

This experience, along with the blog’s reference to the ten lepers and the ingratitude of the nine, made me wonder: When Pilate asked the crowds what he should do with Jesus, were any of those nine lepers among those who shouted, “Crucify him!” ? Again, I reminded myself that I was in good Company.

Initially there was a moment of unexpected relief. I had started to wonder (and pray about) whether I was getting involved in a type of ministry God was not calling me to. I didn’t want to jump ship, but I also didn’t want to waste time running around doing someone else’s ministry while mine was left undone. My heart told me that God was releasing me from a job that was never His plan for me, and that was a good thing. But the memory of the insulting words threatened to take up residence in my head and cloud my view of life, even my view of myself.

I decided to just let the matter drop and make my retreat in the form of a long walk with my little dog, “Mr. Hollywood.”

It was a gorgeous spring day, and our neighborhood had burst into bloom. As I walked, I thanked God for the beautiful colors, the songs of the birds, and sweet fragrances that overwhelmed my senses.

I saw a man working in a yard where the lawn was full of the little white flowers I loved but couldn’t identify. I stopped and asked him what they were. When he replied in the most delightful dialect that he hadn’t the foggiest, I had to ask where he was from. He told me he was from London, England. As we chatted about our families and how we each ended up in Louisville, he suddenly looked past me and announced, “Here comes Tchaikovsky!”

A beautiful woman was walking toward us with a big, adorable, sad-eyed Basset hound (“Tchaikovsky”). As she stopped to say hello, I introduced myself and Mr. Hollywood and learned her name. This lovely lady was from Russia. I suddenly felt that I was at the United Nations rather than our little Southern suburb. (Yes, this really happened. I couldn’t make up this stuff.) After a brief visit with my two new friends, I headed back home, smiling at the way the Lord had been smiling on me. He knew that I loved meeting all kinds of people. One thing I love about blogging is that it allows me to connect with people all over the world, but meeting these two, face to smiling face, was the highlight of my day.

Another timely blog that same day reminded the readers to share a smile with people, even strangers, because you may be the only source of sunshine they have. It was a delight meeting the English gentleman and the Russian lady, and remembering how many nice people God has put in the world, and that these two actually liked me. I chuckled as I felt the balm of their smiles soothing my soul. I’m sure they had no idea God was using them to heal a sad heart.

On the way home I was walking with a spring in my step, and as corny as it sounds, I was stopping to smell the spring flowers and enjoy all their sweetness. As I was taking in the fragrance of a blossoming tree, a gust of wind shook the branches, showering my head with pink petals; I laughed and thanked the Lord again for being there, for loving me, and for the joy of being His child.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for all the times You healed people – of physical diseases, emotional wounds, and broken relationships. Most of all, thank You for giving Your life so we could be healed of sin and of death itself. Help us to remember these things with gratitude daily, and to pass our blessings on to others who need Your healing touch. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

 

 

 

He Lives! (Really!)

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.                                     1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (ESV)

        “He Lives! (I Serve a Risen Savior)” – chorus:     

    “He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today!
     He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
     He lives! He lives, salvation to impart.
     You ask me how I know He lives?…     [Crescendo … drum roll … ]                            He LIVES  …  [dramatic pause  …   within … my … heart!”

I know a lot of people love to sing that song at Easter, and I suppose I’m one of them, but that last line bothers me.

Yes, Jesus lives in my heart, and in the hearts of all who believe that He died for them, paying the price for their sins and rising again to life, just as He had promised He would.

Yes, we believe it, and we’d love for others to believe it.

But “He lives within my heart” is hardly a compelling argument for convincing the skeptics. I wouldn’t have a problem with the statement, except that there is such a huge amount of evidence for the Resurrection that is a lot more objective and logical, which could elicit more than an eye-roll from the as-yet unbelieving. (When my daughter was little she could just as easily have said that Santa, the Easter Bunny, or Barney lived within her heart.)

When the congregation is singing, “You ask me how … I know He lives …?” I want to jump in and shout: Look at the evidence!”

The resurrection of Jesus is the most well-documented event in ancient history! What millions celebrate today, 2000 years later, was written down by historians who interviewed eye witnesses, as well as writers who were eye witnesses themselves. With all the enemies the Christian movement had from the beginning, no one was able to refute what these witnesses said. After all, Jesus was seen by over 500 men (and probably some women and children, too, though in those days they weren’t counted.). If Jesus hadn’t been raised, all His enemies had to do was produce the body and they would have saved themselves the hassle of arresting, imprisoning, torturing, and killing those pesky people who insisted that He was alive.

The best news of all is that in 2019 we can still enjoy the benefits of the atoning death of Jesus. When He cried, “It is finished!” on the Cross, He was saying our sins were “paid in full!” To confirm His declaration, at the moment Jesus died, the curtain in the Temple in Jerusalem was torn from top to bottom. This was the curtain that sealed off the “Most Holy Place” from everyone except the High Priest, who could only enter once a year. The tearing of the curtain symbolized the opening up the way between God and Man. If we accept Jesus’ death as payment for our sins, we are declared innocent and can now approach our heavenly Father freely as his children.

If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, what did happen?

Here are some theories about what happened that day that turned the world upside down (or right side up, depending on your perspective): 

Theory 1: “The disciples stole the body and made up the story that Jesus had risen from the dead.” This was the original rumor, spread by the soldiers who had fainted upon seeing the Angel of the LORD at the Tomb. They could have paid with their lives for “falling asleep on duty,” but the chief priests, not wanting word of the Resurrection to get around, promised they’d keep the soldiers out of trouble if they would spread this lie. (Matthew 28: 11-15)

But when you think of it, who would have believed the soldiers’ story? Why in the world would a band of scared-to-death men, who the day before had been hiding from the Romans, want to stir up that much trouble? At Jesus’ arrest, all the disciples except Judas had fled, but then after that third day, they were willing to face persecution and death – for a hoax? You’d think at least one of them would have caved under torture. After all, who wants to be crucified upside down for the sake of a prank? 

Theory 2: “Jesus didn’t really die, He just swooned enough to fool the Romans … and the physician that signed His death certificate.” This is perhaps the most popular explanation among skeptics, though I can’t imagine why. The theory is that Jesus survived a Roman scourging (itself tantamount to a death sentence), hanging on the cross for hours, and being buried for three days without food, water, or medical attention, and then somehow healed up enough to roll away a two-ton stone, overcome the armed Roman guards, and declare Himself the risen Lord. okay … 

Theory 3: The women went to the wrong tomb. And that means so did Peter, John, and the others. In fact, the real tomb of Jesus has yet to be found, but when it is, we’ll find His body!  … Uh-huh … 

Theory 4: The 500-plus people who saw Him alive were all having identical hallucinations … for 40 days.  (Seriously?)

OR

“HE IS RISEN!”

Believe it!

Enjoy it!

And have a wonderful Resurrection Day!

 

Prayer: Jesus, thank You for sacrificing Your life as payment for our sins, so that we could be forgiven and have the life we didn’t deserve. We recognize Your sacrifice! We rejoice in Your Resurrection! We marvel at Your amazing love for us! May we live in celebration of You every day of our lives, in Your name, amen.

 

 

Who Knew? (Good Friday Version)

He himself bore our sins in his own body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.        I Peter 2:24

The St. Patrick’s Day quiz was so popular, and so many of you said you learned something new, I thought I’d see what y’all know about Good Friday…

Questions:

#1. When Jesus was arrested, which of the following did NOT happen?

A. All the soldiers arresting Him fell down.

B. A rooster crowed.

C. He healed someone.

D. A man ran away naked.

#2. True or false: Before the stone was rolled away from Jesus’ tomb, many other tombs were opened.

#3. At the moment when Jesus died, something was torn in two. What was it, and what was its significance?

 

Answers:

#1. B – Jesus had said that before the rooster crowed, Peter would deny Him three times. The predicted denials took place at later times during the night, before the rooster crowed. The other three things happened at the time Jesus was arrested:

A. According to John 18:6, when Jesus told the soldiers looking for Jesus of                           Nazareth, “I am He,” “They drew back and fell to the ground.”

C. According to Luke 22:51, after Peter cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant,                 “… Jesus answered, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched the man’s ear and                     healed him.”

D. According to Mark 14:50, as Jesus was being arrested, “everyone deserted him and fled.” Mark 14:51-52 tell us that “A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When  they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.” Some scholars believe this was the gospel writer, Mark himself.

#2. True. According to Matthew 27: 51b- 53, “The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.”

#3. The curtain of the temple that shut off the Most Holy Place. According to Matthew 27:50-51a, “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”  This was the curtain that separated a holy God from men. The only person permitted to enter the “most holy place” was the high priest, and whoever held that office was only allowed to enter once each year, when he came to offer a blood sacrifice to atone for the sins that the people had committed that year. Hebrews 9 has a beautiful explanation of how Jesus, our High Priest, offered Himself as our sacrifice, paying for our sins with His own body. When the sacrifice was complete, the barrier between Man and God was removed.

If you are a believer and follower of Jesus Christ, the barrier between you and God has been removed, and you can approach your heavenly Father as His child, without a priest or saint, or angel, or any go-between. He’s as near as your next prayer. You can enjoy the relationship Jesus bought for you with such a heavy price.

If you are not a follower of Jesus, if you have not yet acknowledged Him as your Savior, the barrier of your sin is still there. I know, that sounds presumptuous and judgmental, referring to your sin. But “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23) so that includes you – and me. And “the wages of sin is death” – That’s eternal death. – “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

You can accept that gift today. You can change your spiritual state in a moment with a simple prayer. Maybe you’ve known this but have been putting off the decision for one reason or another. What better time than Good Friday to make the choice that will transform your life – and your eternity? Today’s prayer is one you may want to pray:

Jesus, thank You for dying in my place. I believe You took the punishment for my sins, and that You were raised from the dead. Today I am placing my faith in You as my Savior. Thank you for sacrificing Yourself so that I could have the gift of forgiveness and a new life. Help me now to live out the life You created me to live. Thank you for the promise of eternal life with You. Amen

 

The Only Thing We Should Fear

I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.                                                                                                                                                       Psalm 57:1b

It was one of those trips involving a drive to the airport, parking, a shuttle ride, first flight, layover, changing gates, and a second flight to the ultimate destination. I was not looking forward to a whole day of traveling, but since it was a done deal, I decided to make the best of it.

Of course, the way to make the best of traveling alone is realizing that I’m not really traveling alone. Driving down the highway, sitting on the shuttle, waiting at the gate, and staring out the window of an airplane are all opportunities to pray.

(You know, “pray.” That thing we’re always saying we don’t have time to do.)

When boarding a plane without assigned seats, I usually ask God to seat me next to the person He wants me to talk with. This habit has resulted in some interesting encounters. But this particular day the seat next to me was empty.

(Or was it?)

This was one of those rare and wonderful days when I had an unusual sense of the Lord’s presence. The more I spoke with Him, the more I seemed to hear His voice. I don’t remember if I “heard” anything specific, I just remember thoroughly enjoying being with Him, and I sensed that He was enjoying being with me, as well. My favorite worship songs were playing in my head all day, and happy memories of answered prayers gave me much to thank Him for as well as encouraging me to pray more. I can’t describe how this felt, other than just an incredible sense of peace and joy that made me want to hug somebody. As I walked through the airport, an unusual number of people smiled at me and even said “hello.” It occurred to me later that this was because I was smiling!

I sat “alone” again on my second flight, a little “puddle-jumper” flying from one Michigan town to another. There were few seats, and fewer passengers, one of them a woman who had never flown before. I’m not sure how I knew that, probably something about the way she gripped the armrests and asked the person next to her a lot of questions in a trembling voice…

In mid-flight we hit a patch of extreme turbulence that made the passengers gasp in unison. (I later learned that a tornado had passed that way moments before, and the airline had had no business letting us take off.)

While the plane bounced around, I could hear the poor first-time flyer muttering, “I’ll never fly again, I’ll never fly again…”

Meanwhile, I was having the time of my life. Though I sensed no fear whatsoever, I tried to suppress a giggle for the sake of the terrified. But I was feeling something I hadn’t experienced in many years – the joy of a small child being bounced on Daddy’s knee. I knew my Father was not going to allow me to leave this earth one moment before (or after) it was my time to “go home.” And since “home” was a good place, one way or another I was perfectly safe. Even if this turned out to be the last flight of my life, that meant I could be in heaven by the end of the day! Besides, as some would point out, statistically I was much safer in that airplane than in a car on the freeway.

A fellow blogger recently posted, “Are we afraid of the wrong things?” (Yes.)

Hikers in the desert might fear a rattlesnake bite more than excessive sun exposure, but skin cancer is much more common than rattlesnake bites. – True.

A father obsessed with the fear of not performing well at his job should possibly have more concern over what is influencing his children while he is working long hours. – Also true.

A young lady obsessed with losing weight should perhaps be more fearful of her tendency toward self-destructive behaviors than a few extra pounds. – All true.

The newest form of fear these days seems to be “FOMO” – “Fear Of Missing Out” –  especially with internet access 24/7. With this window to the world, the ability to communicate with anyone and everyone through messaging, videos, and pictures of what everyone else is doing can be overwhelming.  Trillions of articles and advertisements of what projects we “should” be embarking on, activities we “should” be enjoying, classes we “should” be taking, parties we “should” go to, causes we “should” support, places we “should” travel to, health supplements we “should” be taking – all these can leave us with a fear that we won’t be able to cram everything into our lives that we “should” be including.

[How long is your “bucket list”?]

Bottom Line

Of all the things that clutter our minds with reasons to fret, here’s the one thing we should really fear:

Many will reach the end of life and realize that they don’t have a relationship with the One who created them and had a purpose for their lives. How tragic it would be, at the end of a life of pursuing endless goals and avoiding our fears, to be taking our last breath and realize that, whatever we’ve “gained” in this world over our lifetime, we’ve actually missed everything.

If you suddenly find yourself concerned about this final fear, I invite you to check out the claims of Jesus Christ, who said He came to give us life abundantly. (John 10:10) He even claimed to be the only way to eternal life. (John 14:6)

(I believe Him.)

Prayer: LORD, we know it is not Your will that we should fret and be fearful about things in this world. Draw us to Yourself in an intimate relationship. Order our lives, making them what they should be. Teach us to trust You, so that, rather than living in fear, we can enjoy being the children You delight in, in Jesus’ name. Amen

 

 

 

 

Finishing Well

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”                 II Timothy 4:7-8

 

“So, if everyone else jumps off a cliff…”

Our Bible study group was in I Samuel, reading about Israel’s wanting a king so that they could be “like everybody else,” and the prophet Samuel’s reluctantly agreeing. (I Samuel 8) He anointed the young man Saul, (I Samuel 9) and later Saul was chosen by the people to be king (I Samuel 10) – although finding him hiding in the baggage did not give a great first impression!

According to Scripture, there were some “troublemakers” present who spoke ill of Saul and despised him that day. Most of the people, however, judging by outward appearance, accepted the tall, handsome man as the leader they had been wanting.

Yikes!

In chapter 11 of I Samuel, we read that the city of Jabesh had been besieged by the Ammonites. Although all the men of Jabesh surrendered and offered to serve their enemies, for the sadistic Ammonite leader, Nahash, surrender wasn’t enough. He wanted to gouge out the right eye of every man in the city and “bring disgrace on all Israel.” The men of Jabesh negotiated with Nahash and managed to buy seven days in which to send messengers throughout Israel and see if anyone would come and rescue them. (Since Israel was scattered at that time, we figured Nahash probably didn’t expect a rescue. Perhaps he was anticipating further humiliation for the city when no one cared enough to help them.)

“My, how you’ve grown!”

But when Saul got their message, he appeared a far cry from the young man who had hidden himself, not wanting to be king! “[T]he Spirit of the LORD came upon him in power, and he burned with anger.” (I Samuel 11:6) He forcefully mustered 330,000 men who ambushed Israel’s enemies in their camp on the last night, continuing to slaughter and scatter them into the next day. Jabesh was saved!

While celebrating this great victory, some fiercely loyal men wanted to kill those who had formerly despised Saul, but “Saul said, ‘No one shall be put to death today, for this day the LORD has rescued Israel.'” (I Samuel 11:13)

Okay, that’s enough…

It would have been  a great encouragement, seeing how a timid young man had risen to be a great and humble king, who gave Jehovah credit for Israel’s victory.

Trouble was, I had already read this story, numerous times.

“Can we just stop here?” I asked sadly, knowing the answer. I really didn’t want to go on to “the rest of the story.”

Saul was one of those tragic characters in the Bible who started out with the Spirit of the LORD empowering him to do great things. But by the end of I Samuel, Saul had deteriorated into a paranoid, irrational tyrant, whose reign ends like a Shakespearean tragedy, with his taking his own life.

What went wrong?

There were multiple factors – ego, selfish ambition, jealousy, even going so far as consulting a witch to bring up the spirit of the departed Samuel. But it all began with taking his eyes off the God he was so quick to credit at the beginning, and onto self. 

Although I don’t like to read about the fall of people who had been so promising at the beginning, it’s a good thing for me to do. I have known the LORD most of my life, and He has done marvelous things for me and through me – things I never could have done myself. Now one of the prayers that I pray repeatedly is:

“Help me finish well.”

Salvation is not something you do once and then go back to business as usual. It isn’t walking an aisle, signing a card, raising a hand or standing up in a service.

It’s a commitment of one’s whole life, and renewing that commitment daily, “offering your bodies as living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1) and being daily “transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (verse 2)

It’s confessing every known sin and receiving forgiveness, letting God purify you from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:9) It’s taking sin seriously enough to confess and repent immediately, and taking God seriously enough that you don’t continue to condemn yourself after He has forgiven you.

It’s recognizing and rejecting the lies of the enemy: that God isn’t real, or that He’s unfair, or that He’s given up on you, or He doesn’t really care about you – and why would He, since you’re so [fill in the blank]? It’s knowing God’s Word well enough to combat those lies with Truth.

It’s acknowledging daily our utter dependence on the LORD and His utter dependability. It’s asking Him to make us sensitive to the first hint of proud or self-sufficient attitudes, and running to Him for help when they rear their ugly heads.

It’s never letting the thought cross your mind that you have arrived and don’t have any more growing to do. It’s always looking for what God’s next plan is for your life, and believing that as long as you have breath in your lungs, He has a purpose for your being here.

It’s believing that God works all things together for the good of His children. (Romans 8:28) It’s looking at every situation for the good in it, and if you can’t find the good, trusting the LORD that it’s there, and He has a plan for you that is better than you know.

And all the while we are running the race, it’s realizing that nothing we do saves us. It’s still all God. It always has been.

Prayer: LORD God, source of all life and everything that’s good, You have brought us so far. Now help us to finish well, in Jesus’ name. Amen.