Archive for May, 2009
“Boy, you are one lucky fella.” That’s what the policeman told me when he was evaluating the wreck. I had been stopped at a red light when a car ran into the back of my pickup. There was no sound of brakes and no skid marks. She hit hard enough to cave in the front of her car and deploy the airbag. It was such a violent collision that my spare tire was knocked from underneath the truck. The frame was even bent from the force of the collision. And I was not hurt. I was not even sore. I had absolutely no discomfort from the accident. The medics and police kept asking me if I was sure I was not hurt. Everyone kept talking about how lucky I was.
But my truck was totaled. I was going to have to find a new one. I worked out what I thought I could pay – how much per month and for how long. Then I began to shop around. The dealer I usually work with had a demo they were ready to sell. And in this economic climate there were a couple of other discounts available. So I figured out what I would have to receive for my totaled vehicle for the deal to work. The salesman did not think I would get what I needed. But I did. Most people would call that “dumb luck”.
I would agree with both of these assessments except for one thing: I am a Christian. I often pray for God to protect me on my travels. When I began shopping for another truck, I prayed that God would help me find the right vehicle that would be reliable but keep my fiscally responsible. I believed my truck had belonged to God and I promised Him the next one would also.
Everyone operates with a world view that enables them to “make sense’ of what happens in this world. Some believe in dumb luck; others call it blind fate. I believe in God. I believe God is active in this world for His people. He wants you to be one of those people. He wants you so much that He sent his Son Jesus to this earth to provide a way for you to get to Him.
So how did God work in my situation? I do not know that I completely understand. If I did, I would be God… and I am not. But it makes more sense to me that God was at work rather than attribute all that to luck.
I don’t like paying taxes. I especially don’t like the whole process of filing taxes here in the United States. It’s amazing how complicated our tax code has gotten. In 1913, the tax code was just over 400 pages long. The instructions for filing consisted of two pages. In 2008, the code had grown to over 67,000 pages; the instructions for filling out the basic form, the 1040, had grown to 155 pages. The complexity of accurately filing taxes fuels an entire tax-preparation industry. Because of that, most of us feel a bit of anxiety when filing taxes: Did I get everything right?
Some people feel a similar anxiety when they think about God. Did I get everything right? Have I made amends for all the bad things I’ve done? Have I done enough good things? Did I say the right words, go to the right places, think the right thoughts? Even though the Bible isn’t as long as the U.S. tax code, the consequences of being wrong can fill anyone’s heart with fear.
If you feel nervous when you think about standing before God on the Day of Judgment, you might be surprised at something the apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). Peace? Peace with God? How can we have peace with God when we have to constantly worry about getting everything right in order to please him? The answer to that question is, we can’t. If our being right with God depends on us and what we’ve done, we’ll never be at peace. But look at the first part of what Paul says: “Since we have been justified through faith.” We can have peace with God because our future doesn’t depend on us doing everything right. Writing to the church in Ephesus, Paul wrote, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). It’s not about what we’ve done; it’s about being saved through faith in the gift that God has to offer us.
God expects us to respond to him in faith, committing ourselves to change our lives, washing away our sins in baptism. But none of that is done as a work, none of that is done to earn salvation. Salvation is a free gift from God, and we can rest assured that God wants to give it to us. We might worry when we mail in our taxes, but when it comes to being right with God, peace should be all we feel.
Grace and peace,
It happens periodically in our world. There is an outbreak of some disease that threatens to become an epidemic. People get nervous, then worried, and some even panic. I do not. It is not because I think I am immune to any disease. But I do not worry.
This time it is Swine Flu. Athletic contests have been canceled, travel has been restricted, and the medical community is on alert. I have no idea what will happen this time. This may become a full fledged epidemic endangering thousands and resulting in hundreds of deaths. Or it may subside and become a footnote in the annals of medical care. But as I write this, even the medical experts seem unsure of what will happen. There is incredible uncertainty.
So where do you turn to secure your future? You could look to the knowledge of our medical community but they seem unable to assure us that they can offer adequate protection. They are not sure if it will become an epidemic, or how to control it if it does. I have heard of swine flu for years but this has caught everyone off guard. All of the science and all of the knowledge in our society may not be enough to protect us.
Maybe money is the answer. If someone can accumulate enough money, surely they can buy some sort of protection. But this strain of flu strikes without regard to economic status. And no matter how much money you scrape together, you cannot buy protection from this illness. So maybe the answer is just to trust in luck. Or fate. Or karma. Of course, there are no guarantees with any of these. The future still remains just as uncertain.
So why am I not worried? It is because my future is guaranteed. I trust God more than science, money, or luck. He has the power to spare me if He so chooses. And if I get swine flu and die, I go to heaven and live forever. It is popular in our culture to dismiss the security Christians claim in Jesus. But in times like these, it seems to me to be the most secure future of all.
Jim Eliot had decided to go to Ecuador, seeking to take God’s good news to indigenous tribes who had never heard of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately he lost his life in the effort, being murdered by the very Indians he sought to teach. Later, however, Jim’s widow Elisabeth was able to go to those same aboriginal people and teach them about Jesus.
Years before going to Ecuador, Jim had written in his diary some intriguing words. He wrote, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” That’s a powerful statement. It is not foolish to give up this life (which can’t be kept) to gain a life that can’t be lost (eternal life). Whatever we have to do in this life to obtain eternal life is certainly worth it.
Jesus stated it in even stronger terms. Not only is it not foolish to give up this life to obtain eternal life, it’s necessary. Listen to how the writer Luke reports it: [i]“Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?”[/i] (Luke 9:23-25) Jesus said that the only way to save our life is to lose it. That is, the only way to obtain eternal life is to let go of this life. We have to be willing to turn our back on all this world offers.
The apostle Paul wrote: [i]“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”[/i] (Romans 8:18) In another letter, he wrote, [i]“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”[/i] (2 Corinthians 4:17) What he is saying is that any suffering that we go through in this life is nothing compared to an eternity in the presence of God. Think about it. What if we could draw a line that stretched for all eternity? (That’s obviously impossible, but use your imagination). In that timeline that has no end, how much space would we dedicate to our life here on earth? If we drew the tiniest dot, a mere point on that line, it would be far too large. This life is nothing compared to the one to come.
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose. Don’t spend so much time focused on a life that can’t be kept that you miss out on the life that can’t be lost.
Grace and peace,