Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Game Changer

As a young boy, I thought Jerry West was probably the best basketball player ever. He could shoot well, played great defense, was a good ball handler, made great passes, etc. Other players that came along that I thought also really played the game the way James Naismith intended included Walt Frazier, John Havlicek, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson.
Perhaps because I find myself rather ‘height challenged’, I have never been particularly impressed with those players who were supposedly ‘great’ based solely on the fact that they were so much taller/bigger than everyone else (i.e., Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal). I have always liked ‘complete’ players that played all aspects of the game well.
Then along came a guy who changed the way basketball had always been played - Michael Jordan. Many teams never ‘sold out’ their games unless/until Michael Jordan came to play against the home team. He didn’t just take basketball to a different level, he took it in a different direction.
Nothing against players like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, but the way they play was made possible by what Michael Jordan did. He changed the game.
* * * * * *
While many of us may assume that someone’s moldy bread was the impetus for the ‘accidental’ discovery of penicillin, it was actually discovered by a bacteriologist who was actively seeking a chemical that could kill bacteria in humans without harming their bodies. The manner in which Alexander Fleming determined (in 1928) that it was the Penicillium mold which would effectively kill bacteria was somewhat ‘accidental’, but not completely fortuitous. Nevertheless, his discovery eventually led to the development of the ‘wonder drug’ that definitely ‘changed the game’.
* * * * * *
There was a time when only rich people could afford books because each one was painstakingly copied by hand. Then along came movable type and the Gutenberg Press. Soon hundreds, then thousands, then millions of books could be printed. Education, communication, information, sharing ideas – such things were no longer restricted to only the financial, cultural, or powerful elite. A whole new world was opened up and an ‘information explosion’ took place. Perhaps no other invention has so changed the game.
* * * * * *
Although we should do so all year, Easter ought to prompt us to focus intently on what was truly the ultimate ‘game changer’ – the cross.
While the cross was just a simple wooden structure, it changed more than all of the other events, actions, and inventions of all time combined together.
Because of the cross, all of the rules of the game changed. There was no longer a need for ‘keeping score’. We were freed to play the game the way each of us were uniquely designed to play. We were no longer bound by our physical limitations or talents, but we were empowered and gifted.
Because of the cross, not only could people be perfectly healed of physical, emotional, or psychological ailments, but ‘death’ itself was eradicated. The cross provided the cure for the virus of sin and the sickness of self.
Because of the cross, direct and personal communication with the Creator of the Universe was made possible. The cross tore down the barriers and restrictions that prevented poor, depraved, inherently wicked people from relating one-on-one with a wholly holy God.
The cross was simple, yet capable of infinite possibilities.
The cross was rough, yet it smoothed the way.
The cross was painful, yet it took away our hurts.
The cross was heavy, yet it removed the weight we carried.
The cross bore a curse, yet it blessed and made pure.
The cross stood only a few feet tall, yet it reached to heaven.
The cross signified an end, yet it is a new beginning.
The cross was foolishness, yet it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 17:18).
The cross was defeat, yet it is victory.
The cross was humiliating, yet it brought glory.
For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.
This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault
. (Colossians 1:19-22, NLT)
Now that’s what I call a game changer!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Looking Toward Easter

I’ve got a confession to make: I’m not very good at confessing.
It’s not really that I’m afraid of confession or that I am hesitant to agree with God that I have slipped up and fallen short of the mark. No, I’ll freely admit that I regularly sin against God with the things I do and the things I don’t do which I should.
Yet, I still do not incorporate much confession in my regular attempts to communicate with God.
I understand the beauty and wonder of 1 John 1:9: [I]f we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.
I understand the blessings that flow from confessing my sins: Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. (Psalm 32:1-2)
I understand (and have experienced) the need for confession. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. (Psalm 32:3-4)
And I understand that we have to take responsibility – ownership – for our actions (and inactions). That’s part of “how” to confess, as David showed us in Psalm 32: “I acknowledged my sin,” “I did not cover up my iniquity,” “I will confess my transgressions,” and “You forgave the guilt of my sin.”
But what about “why”? Why should I need to “confess” what God already knows? I mean, “O.K., ‘my bad’ – sorry. I’ll try to do better.” Isn’t an apology enough? Why the need for confession?
Well, I’ve started to think that perhaps Isaiah 53 answers that question. That chapter, in prophesying the sacrifice Jesus would have to make, is usually read to say that Jesus was sacrificed for the sins of the world. Through the prophet’s use of the pronouns in Isaiah 53 (“our,” “us,” “we”), we often view Jesus’ death as the atoning sacrifice for the cumulative sins of the entire human race.
But I don’t think that is a correct interpretation. You see, Jesus died for my sins. And He died for your sins. But He didn’t die for our sins. He didn’t endure the cross to atone for all of the sins ever to be committed; No, He was led to the altar for each individual transgression that I would ever commit which would otherwise separate me eternally from God – each one.
So, what Isaiah 53 actually says is:
* Surely he took up my infirmities
* He carried my sorrows
* He was pierced for my transgressions
* He was crushed for my iniquities
* The punishment that brought me peace was upon him
* By his wounds I am healed
Why do we need to confess our sins to God? Because with each act we commit or omit, a thunderous KA THUNK rings out as a huge mallet bangs down on the nails attaching our precious Savior to the cross. A lustful thought – KA THUNK! Looking away from another in need – KA THUNK! That inappropriate deduction on our tax return – KA THUNK! A hurtful remark, a dishonest response, an ignored prompting – Ka thunk! KA THUNK! KA THUNK!
God surely knows who is to blame for His Son’s death - me. And any act (no matter how small) that separates me from fellowship with God is enough to be the sole cause of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross.
When I acknowledge and confess my guilt for each heinous act which pounds those nails into His hands, He is faithful to forgive me and restore me to fellowship with Him.
I don’t know about you, but I think I’m ready to start fess’n up.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Answer

Isn’t it frustrating how so often we don’t get the answers we seek in the manner or timing we seek from God? This is especially true for me when I’m seeking answers for a particular decision I need to make (as opposed to prayers for deliverance, etc. – which is another issue altogether of things not getting done in my way and my timing).
For example, I was recently presented an opportunity that seemed like something I should pursue. I consulted godly friends for advice. I prayed. I sought counsel from His Word.
Yet, when I gazed into my bowl of Alpha-Bits cereal, the answer didn’t supernaturally float to the center of my bowl. And I didn’t have a crystal-clear vision of an angel telling me just what I should do. And my dog wasn’t suddenly able to speak and provide me with guidance (worthless mutt!).
I discovered that my ‘Answer’ is right where He has always been. And I discovered that seeking the Answer supersedes seeking all of those answers.
The following verse was brought to my attention: The Lord will work out his plans for my life - for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever. (Psalm 138:8, NLT) And that made me realize that regardless of the magnitude I may place on any particular decision I need to make, God will work out His plans. But when I place so much emphasis on the ‘decision’ and receiving ‘answers’, I end up making THAT my focus rather keeping God as my focus.
Obviously, a decision still has to be made. But, the pressure of it being the absolute right decision is removed when we keep God as our focus and trust the results to Him.
That is not to minimize the need to: (1) Pray; (2) Read His Word; and (3) Seek godly counsel. But when the answer doesn’t hit you right between the eyes, keep your eyes focused right on the real Answer. Submit to God. . . Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. (James 4:7-8, NET)
You may make a wrong decision now and then even after going through steps (1) to (3), above. But that doesn’t mean God isn’t with you. Always remember: The Lord will work out his plans for YOUR life - for His faithful love endures forever.