Friday, March 31, 2023

Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus

 For believers, April brings a resounding cry: He is risen!  Indeed!  This is the time when we remember Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross for us, for His death as payment before God for our sins, and then His resurrection as the first fruits of His redemptive work on our behalf.  The death and resurrection of Christ are two of the best attested events in ancient history.  And all four Gospel accounts bear witness to the fact that Jesus Christ died and was raised on the third day.  For us.


The death and resurrection of Christ is the bedrock of Christian faith.  And while believers are quick to profess belief in that truth, we are not always quick to remain grounded on that bedrock.  Not unlike the Israelites who quickly forgot the LORD’s work in parting the Red Sea as they grumbled in the wilderness, we often forget that our foundation is Christ and His death and resurrection.  We thank God for His sacrifice and praise Him for the power of the resurrection.  And then we go through our days hurried and distracted, looking for ways to feel good about ourselves apart from the Lord.


I think it might be helpful to consider that Good Friday and Easter are not events that are isolated from Christ’s entire time on earth as God Incarnate.  In Philippians 2, we read that in becoming incarnate, Jesus emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant.  He patiently grew through His childhood as a member of a family.  And even though He knew who He was when He spent a good bit of time in His Father’s house—the temple—as a twelve-year-old (Luke 2), He remained patient through almost two decades before beginning His public ministry.  Jesus submitted to baptism (Matthew 3) and then spent forty days in the wilderness fasting and being tempted by Satan (Matthew 4).  Christ’s life as God Incarnate was a series of choices that reflected His ongoing relationship with the Father as a day to day commitment.


Jesus was able to fulfill His mission on earth by living out His relationship with the Father on a day-to-day, choice-by-choice basis.  And we have a mission as well!  The Lord has created us for good works, prepared by God beforehand, so that we would walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).  If we are to walk in those good works and obey Christ as He calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow Him (Luke 9:23), we must abide in Him as branches on a vine and follow Christ as we live our day-to-day lives on a choice-by-choice basis.  As we learn to do this, something amazing happens.  We become increasingly free from the appearance, performance, and status standards that the world would place on us.  We become less driven by self interest and more driven by the Holy Spirit.  We become better able to love.  We become more like Christ.  And we are able to experience the peace and joy that He offers.


Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Thought For the Day and For the Year

 "More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness."

                                                                Charlie Chaplin

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Faith For The Day

 Mental health professionals often stress the importance of being present in the here and now moment as we live our day-to-day lives.  These mental health professionals have recognized an important truth in the way the Creator has created His creatures, even though they might be surprised to realize that their position is actually grounded in Scriptural truth.  


God Almighty is eternal, without beginning, without end.  The I AM is the essence of unchanging being, at all times.  He has created us in His image, for unending relationship with Him.  Christ died to cover our sins to make that possible.  The eternal Holy Spirit dwells within us as the first fruits of an abiding relationship with the Triune Godhead that will be fulfilled in heaven as we spend eternity in His presence.


I am not good at living in the present.  Scars from my past tend to make me quite apprehensive about the future, and so I am continually scanning the horizon looking for threats.  Many if not most of us spend a good bit of time looking backward in time as we process a myriad of experiences and then forward to prepare for future experiences.  But when we do so, we risk missing the here and now (Matthew 6:25-34).  


The Apostle Paul and the author of the epistle to the Hebrews both encourage their readers to avoid bitterness.  Avoiding bitterness requires us to exercise forgiveness so that we are not bound to past hurts and offenses inflicted by others.  The Apostle Matthew records in his Gospel Jesus’s exhortation to not worry about the needs of tomorrow but rather be seeking God’s kingdom in faith. 


The Gospels are full of accounts of Jesus living in the present moment as He ministered during His time on earth.  One of the most powerful examples is described toward the end of the Gospel of Luke, in Chapter 10.  By this time, the Jewish authorities have given Jesus and His disciples good reason to believe that they are looking for a way to get Jesus out of their way, to eliminate their competition, as they see it.  In this chapter, Jesus is clearly preparing for His crucifixion as He foretells the suffering that is coming in Verses 32-34.  But instead of focusing on past conflict with the Jews or on His upcoming suffering, Jesus takes time to bless children—considered insignificant in that culture—to deal patiently with James and John as they asked Him for special treatment, and to heal a blind beggar.  Jesus remains present even when there was a good bit in His recent past and upcoming future to think about.



A few weeks ago, I went out in our back yard for my morning time of dog play.  It was damp, chilly, and foggy.  But as I walked past our miniature Japanese maple tree, I noticed droplets of water clinging to the ends of its many branches, shining.  It was truly magical, and I forgot about the dreary conditions and my lack of enthusiasm for the activity.  Dog play soon commenced, and by the time I walked by the tree again, the light had changed and the droplets of water, while visible, were no longer glowing.  I processed the incident as I collected dogs and tennis balls and went indoors.  Had I not taken that blink of time to appreciate our bare but transformed little tree, the Lord would not have been able to bless me with that glimpse of His creative goodness.  And once again, I am able to see a cycle of blessing: as I pay attention to what is before me in the present, I am blessed with glimpses of the Lord’s personal goodness.  And that attentiveness strengthens my mental health and the ability to remain in the present moment and see more of what the Lord is doing.   



To be alive to the wonder of the commonplace, I thought, that is the very gift of a wildly generous Creator, who ever invites his creatures to contemplate the exuberance of his excellent handiwork.  There is a deep and abiding joy at work in this worlds-realm, and we who toil through our lives do often forget this, or overlook it.  But look: it is all around!  Ceaseless, unrelenting, certain as sunrise, and constant as the rhythm of a heartbeat.

                                                                                                    Stephen Lawhead