The Lottery Wont Help

It’s fun to dream about winning the lottery.  Many of us already have our answers ready.  Some have even practiced the interview and mastered that impending question… “What will you do with the money?”.

I remember one such interview where the bewildered winner couldn’t decide between fixing his house or his truck.  He simply couldn’t comprehend what millions meant.  That isn’t a number we tread often in.  And that is exactly why it won’t help us.

In order to GIVE, we have to give of something.  We take something of ours and it becomes someone else’s.  At that point, we no longer have it anymore.  Consider how the library works.  If I go and check out a book, they no longer have it… I do!  So if you go searching for that same book, their answer is, “Sorry, someone else has it”.

With the lottery, We can give and still have.  While we may choose to do good things with the money, a key part of giving is absent… sacrifice.  We could discuss earning versus winning as well, but I’ll leave that for now.

Let’s compare this to something more important than money.  What if I see someone on the street and I wave at them and give a nice big smile?  What have I done?  I could argue I put on my Jesus face.  I was friendly, inviting, polite, and I even felt a little awkward waving at a stranger.

But what have I actually given?  Did it take any time?  ah, time!  something extremely valuable, and in limited resource.  And just like the library, if I’m giving my time to someone, I can’t be giving it to something else.  But the answer is, no, it took as much time to wave as it did effort.

I also didn’t speak.  I didn’t share my story.  I didn’t share God’s story.  I didn’t offer the truth of Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected.  I didn’t show love or compassion.  I didn’t offer any fruits of the Spirit.  I waved.  Nothing more, no matter how we dress it up.  I gave pennies and kept millions for myself.

We know from the widow that gave two mites (Luke 21) that it isn’t about how much we give, but instead what percentage.  The woman who gave so little, gave more than the richest of men, because she gave all she had, where they gave small portions.  And thus the problem with so much money.  Much is expected of those that have much.

Consider your time.  We can’t win the ‘time’ lottery.  24 hours fill up a day no matter how lucky you are.  Time puts us all in the same category.  How much are you giving?  Truly giving?  Sacrificing?  Investing in God’s will for you and others?  God calls us to help each other out.  We tithe because He asks us to.  But money does not solve everything.  And that is why He also calls us to go into the world and disciple others.  How much time are we giving?

Jesus Didn’t Come to Win

The world doesn’t understand how Jesus lost for us.

We understand victory.  Triumph.  Splendor.  The cross was a dirty mess and it’s not in our nature to know what to do with that.

If you were a movie producer, how would you tell the story?  Whether it includes explosions, great speeches, or slapstick comedy, most of us would put a happy ending on the matter.  Just before the whip was raised… right as the crown of barbed thorns was lifted up… before the first nail was struck…

Something would have happened.  This wouldn’t even constitute a plot twist, it’s only natural for things to work out in the end.  Killing an innocent man is not a generally accepted principal.  Soldiers would have rushed in.  Angels would have descended.  The earth would have shook.  Supernatural.  Massive.  Epic.  Awesome.  We would have easily accepted these things.  But this story isn’t a fairy tale.  It doesn’t compete with summer blockbusters.

In this story, the innocent is brutally murdered… but the target was us.  He didn’t sacrifice Himself and then pull off an amazing, out of no where, attack scheme that allowed Himself to live too.  This is where we break away from the movies.  We didn’t all meet up afterwards for celebration.  We all didn’t make it.

God’s triumphant plan was not to blow the enemy away.  He came to save the lost.  This was more of a search and rescue.  And as the dust settles, we learn that we are saved through Him.  We learn of His sacrifice  We learn of His love.  And then we realize, He wasn’t just tortured and killed… He took our place.

And so we are left in this moment of miserable joy.  So happy that we are saved, so devastated that our sin held such a cost.  So excited that we serve someone willing to pay this price and yet so mournful of the horrible events endured by the one so loving.  We cheer, we cry, we laugh, we surrender to our knees and tremble.  How could someone do this for me?  What value am I?  And this holy, loving, perfect, one-true-God, He says, ‘this is what I’m willing to do for you… to reach you… to get through to you… to have you near me’.

The world doesn’t understand it because although many have died at the hands of the enemy, the body count still remains at one.  Jesus’ death is the one that ‘counts’.  Our sins are on Him.  For everyone else the price has been paid.  Our death is where the victory occurs.  And we really struggle understanding that sometimes.  We are so used to the phrase, “and they all lived happily ever after…”.  That only works by ending the story before its all over.  For us… because of Jesus… our story starts to get really good in the ‘end’.

And so those that believe sing that God is a “good Father” and that we are “Loved by Him”… perfectly defining the relationship.  A protective Father that loves us and is willing to sacrifice greatly for us.  And we, those deserving of a horrible fate, bask in His love for us.  We are not any adjective.  We are not our professions.  We are not the sum of our status’.  We are defined by God’s love for us.  We are a character in a story told about this amazing triumphant victory.  But that victory has to be chosen by the recipients.

It’s difficult to explain this amazing story where the Savior came to lose.  It takes time to wrap our heads and hearts around the fact that He came to lose for us.  In our place.  Instead of us.  Because He is a good Father and He loves us.  And we are loved by Him.  For 3 days Satan celebrated a short lived and greatly misunderstood victory.  Every day since is a celebration for us.  I think the important take away is that we can’t simply explain this story to others and have them accept it.  We have to show it to them.

They need to see the Savior.  We need to live like Him.  It’s a love story.  For God so loved the world… It’s a story that doesn’t make sense and it greatly needs an interpreter.  We can live those words.  We can share that love.  We can choose to be thankful for God’s gift and respect him with our actions.  We can show love.  We can show sacrifice.  We can teach through our choices.  And when we look enough like our Savior, the world will rejoice in the gift they find in Him.  After all, Jesus didn’t win in the traditional sense.  He didn’t come to win.  He came to love.  He came to serve.  He came to sacrifice.  You could argue He won by defeating Satan, but technically we can still choose to side with either one.  Which means we still have work to do. And its imperative that we learn to love the way Christ taught us.

 

Don’t Throw it all out

Imagine you are a restaurant owner and you serve food on trays.  Guess what happens when people throw their trash away at the end of the meal?  The tray goes in.  Either accidentally or sometimes even on purpose… you just lost revenue because you have to buy another tray that should have been reusable.  Or worse, you get to go dumpster diving.

How do you solve this problem?  You can post signs.  “Please don’t throw away the trays!”.  That won’t work.  Both groups of aforementioned people will continue to do this as a sign won’t prevent mistakes or evil intentions.

You could keep buying trays, sift through trash, hire staff to bus tables, start buying disposable trays… all of this costs a lot of money and none of it solves the root problem.  The trash can is too accessible to the consumer.

Someone had a brilliant idea.  Make the hole to the trash can smaller than the tray.  Genius!  Now, even if you want to, you can’t dispose of the tray.

trash-chute-drop-in-s-s

Think about how we deal with problems.

When something troublesome comes our way, we generally handle it in a few different ways based on the issue.  We dump everything in the trash and leave it all behind, running from the issue.  We react too quickly, making mistakes and leaving a mess.  Or we ignore it and let it all build up.  All of this was the trash before the small hole was added.  In other words, there was no filter, and trash piled up either in or outside of the can.

Jesus said, give me your trash!  OK, it wasn’t worded exactly like that, but it was close.  He installed Himself as our filter.  He not only takes our sins, but He takes our burdens and our everyday pains.  He listens, He cares, He comforts.  He provided a way to allow us to clean up our lives without getting lost in the process.  If you’ve ever encountered an honest, God loving, Christ following, Bible obeying Christian, you’ve most likely wondered what makes them so happy.  How can they smile during crisis mode?  Do they ever have bad days?

The answer to all of those questions and more is that they live under an umbrella of blessings that come from God.  He makes all things good and right.  It doesn’t mean bad things don’t happen.  Even in the can, the trash still stinks.  But, He provides peace, understanding, security, and most importantly, help during those times.  We could take the trash directly to the incinerator.  Hopefully, you clearly see the problem there.  We don’t need that kind of access.  We need boundaries.  We need guidance.  Otherwise, we would burn up with the trash.  Many people see the Bible as a book of rules.  If you read a little more carefully, there are few “rules” included.  I would say the majority of the book is either directly detailing, or referencing God’s love for us.  And because He loves us, He guides us.  He shapes us.  He makes us into useful, purposeful, joyful people.

Even some of that very ‘guiding’ can be painful.  Becoming a Christian is like a form of detox all on its own.  We sacrifice things, we leave things behind, we change habits.  Because they are rules?  No!  Let me answer that another way… NOOOO!!!!  We do it because its the best thing for us.  It brings us closer to God and our Savior.  It makes us complete.  Our eyes are opening to the trappings of the world and how certain things can hold us down and entangle us in unimportant issues, attach us to worthless trinkets, or bombard us in meaningless character attacks.  One by one, we crumple up the garbage that was never intended for man to carry with them… and we toss it out.  God speaks to us and we have learned, He knows best.  So we yearn to listen to Him and obey.

How does it feel?  Fantastic!  Weight lifted.  Sites narrowed.  Purpose defined.  And when you develop that relationship with Jesus, it feels so good to answer that age old question that parents and spouses love to ask… “Did you take the trash out?”  We can say, “yes”, but we know Jesus did it for us.

 

 

 

Don’t Call it a Comeback

I’m going to assume you know the outcome of the Superbowl this year (2017).  I won’t even try to recap as I’m sure its being covered by much more thorough analysts than I could ever claim to be.  And many if not all will somehow tie in the age old wisdom that we should never give up.  For years, this message will be recounted when teams are down late in the game.  And while that message has great value, I hope you will consider another angle.

As Christians, our lives with God aren’t back and forth struggles.  They may feel like it at times, but the reality is… God never moves.

We may choose to follow in His footsteps.  We may opt to go on our own for a little while.  We can come back and forth.  We may reject Him altogether.  We can always come back.  He never moves.  Along with His expectations, He never changes.

So it is with the life of Jesus.  He came to earth with a single task.  Save humanity by self sacrifice.  There was no back and forth.  Satan never scored a point.  That is the beauty of the plan.  By Satan ‘winning’ (killing Jesus), we truly win.  It’s why He came.  He was tempted but didn’t give in.  He was tortured, but never gave up.  He was discouraged, but never stopped loving.  The score never changed.  There was no down and out.  There was no 11th hour or 2 minute drill to try and come from behind.

What’s the point?  Comebacks are hope-fuled opportunities for disaster.  I’ve seen it before.  There is still time left.  The team starts to get everything together.  The game gets more intense.  It really looks like its about to happen… but then it doesn’t.  Even worse than losing was the final hope they wouldn’t.   The Christian story isn’t about score.  It’s not about each play or moment of the game.  The game… has already been won.  There is nothing to come from behind from.  Jesus wasn’t down by 35 points late in the game… There is a great Carmen song where Jesus and Satan are boxing.  When Satan knocks Jesus down the ref starts counting down from 10 instead of up from 1.  Only when he gets to 1, its spelled won.

That song cleverly illustrates the sacrifice Christ made.  He took our place.  We can’t lose, He lost for us.  So instead of drowning those sorrows, feeding that fear, or dusting off those bad habits, consider that Jesus actually won the game before He added all the players.   When we accept Christ, we aren’t gearing up for a winning team.  We are suiting up for a won team.  If Tom Brady showed up at your home today and offered you his super bowl ring, that wouldn’t make sense.  To Christians… that is kind of our story.  It wasn’t a comeback, we already won.

This is what Jesus did for us.  We pick our team by choosing how we live for Him.  There will be no hail marys.  No onside kicks.  No trick plays.  This one is in the history books.  The only thing not decided… is your response.  Do you accept Jesus’ gift?   Will you share the victory with others?

Homework Assignment – Be a Christian

Be a Christian first.  Above all else.  Before anything else.  All other traits must take a secondary back seat.

Do not be a Democrat.  Be a Christian.

Do not be a Conservative.  Be a Christian.

Do not be an Athlete.  Be a Christian.

Do not be a Teacher.  Be a Christian.

… (and many, many, many more examples)

Questions:

  1.  Can’t I be both?  Not for this assignment.  You can still play sports, but when games, training, or status alter your decisions, you are being an athlete.  By being the Christian FIRST, you are choosing to let that be your standard and then you alter everything else.  Game on Sunday? nope, I’ve got Church.  Drinks with the team?  Can’t, my friend needs me.  Protest to join?  No way, I want to identify with Christ and not the tiny factions of this world.
  2. Isn’t this just semantics?  Not at all.  If it weren’t for a single verse in the Bible we wouldn’t know Jesus was a carpenter by trade.  It simply wasn’t important to Him.  What were His favorite tools?  What did He make the best?  What work inspired Him?  Not documented.  It wasn’t important to Him.  He wanted us to know what being a Christian meant and His profession, hobbies, pastimes, and personal interests had absolutely nothing to do with furthering the gospel.  Was He still a carpenter?  For a time, but it wasn’t what made His decisions for Himself.

Example:

Christian baptism is about burying the old and rising up of the new.  We put to death the sins of our past.  This is an exercise and extension of that act.  In order to take on the Christian characteristics, we have to make sacrifices. Things have to be let go of.  Whether its a temptation to argue, correct, condescend, overachieve, or any number of areas in your life it takes practice to get good at letting the worldly things go.  As temptations arise, ask yourself some questions:

who do I really serve?

What is my end game goal?  What do I want most out of life?

Fear comes from Satan.  Jesus has defeated Satan.  What am I afraid of now?

How can I best help others?

What do I want etched on my tombstone?

Duration:

Try this as often as you can.  Practice makes perfect.  See if you can go 24 hours at first where you actively, intentionally, and persistently aim to act like Christ first and foremost in your every decision of the day and night.  Then ponder how different life is from before.