Monday, April 22, 2013

If It Was Your Last Time to Speak with Your Best Friends, What Would You Say?

Last night was our last HUB of the school year. I thought it fitting to look at the last words Jesus spoke to his disciples before ascending to Heaven. Since the resurrection, Jesus had appeared to his disciples a handful of times. But this encounter would be the last one. What would he say? With what would he leave them?

Matthew 28:16-20
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

In the end, what mattered most to Jesus? In his last conversation with the disciples, how did he encourage and challenge them?

Jesus had spent 3 years with his disciples and here in this final conversation he tells them to go out and love on people. Spread truth to everyone around them. Tell others about how their life can be transformed from the inside out when lived in relationship with Jesus. Help people to see that life will only begin to make sense when they come to know they were created for a purpose that is only found in Christ.

Out of their love, devotion, and passion for Christ, the disciples took Jesus's words to heart and went out to change the world. They left everything behind to bring the gospel to the nations.

I don't think these words (often called The Great Commission) were meant only for the 11 disciples. No, I am positive they are meant for you and for me, also. In life we are called to two things: to love God and love others. Our life is a reflection of our response to God's love for us. May we never stop telling people about Jesus. May we never stop offering hope to the hopeless. May we never stop encouraging friends, family, and strangers with the only truth that will hold up: the love of Christ.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Feeling Entitled?

Last week and this week at HUB we talked about the idea of "deserving." We have our own standards, shaped by our society, of what we believe we deserve and what we believe others deserve. If we work hard, we believe we deserve to be recognized and honored. If we feel we work harder than the next, we certainly better get recognized over them. When we don't, and the other man wins out, our bitterness, and pretenses of anger and life being completely unfair tend to cloud our judgement. We feel so justified. But does Jesus work under the same principles as we do?
If we look to Matthew 20:1-16, I believe we'll find he certainly does not.

“For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work. “At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing. So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. So they went to work in the vineyard. At noon and again at three o’clock he did the same thing. “At five o’clock that afternoon he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’ “They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’“The landowner told them, ‘Then go out and join the others in my vineyard.’ “That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’ “He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’ “So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.”
Matthew 20:1-16 is not what we expect. We are just like the 6 am vineyard workers: astounded when God blesses those we have deemed aren't fit to receive his blessings. God is so excited about all of his children turning back to him, all of his children coming home to him. Perhaps those who come to Christ early in life feel it unfair that those who come later in life will have the same blessings and benefits. Shouldn't we too be rejoicing with the Father?
To what do you feel entitled: Someone's affections, someone's forgiveness, a title or honor, a grade, a starting sports position? 
But isn't it the case with God that we really don't deserve anything, and yet even in our poor state, he lavishly pours his blessings upon us?
So who are you? The grateful 5pm worker, or the assuming 6am worker? Whichever you are - it will affect your entire attitude towards life, others, and God.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Grace by the Death of One

Having just celebrated Easter a week ago, I have a continued awareness of how undeserving I am of God's grace. I watched The Passion of the Christ the Wednesday before Easter, and I watched in awe as my Jesus died on the cross for me. It wasn't because I deserved God's mercy, but because of his love for me. But isn't that just it? We live in a culture that says - You get what you deserve. Or better yet - I treat people the way they deserve to be treated based on the way they've treated me. But God doesn't treat us the way we deserve to be treated. Grace.

Read Jesus's parable found in Matthew 18...

21 Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” 22 “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven! 23 “Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. 24 In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. 25 He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt. 26 “But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ 27 Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt. 28 “But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment. 29 “His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. 30 But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full. 31 “When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. 32 Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ 34 Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt. 35 “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”
Matthew 18 reminds us that we don’t deserve forgiveness - rather, we owe a debt to God, a costly debt: our sin. And yet, God in his grace and mercy extends forgiveness to us through the death of his son, Jesus. And He doesn't just give us extra time to pay our debt, he knows we can never pay it, so we are forgiven entirely because Jesus paid the penalty. But then, we turn around and fail to extend grace, mercy, and forgiveness to those who have wronged us. We think that only those who deserve to be forgiven should be truly forgiven. Only those who have worked hard enough to be sorry enough are worthy of our favor. And yet, we can never, ever, be sorry enough or repentant enough to earn God’s grace. It is a free gift.
Ernest Gordon was a Scottish POW in WWII. His troop fell captive to the Japanese where they had to help build a railroad and were treated as slaves. Gordon describes his time in the camp and how the miserable conditions turned the men into shadows of men filled with hatred and selfishness. Here is an excerpt from his book Miracle on the River Kwai detailing just that….

As conditions steadily worsened, as starvation, exhaustion and disease took an ever-growing toll, the atmosphere in which we lived was increasingly poisoned by selfishness, hatred, and fear. We were slipping rapidly down the scale of degradation. 
We lived by the rule of the jungle, “red in tooth and claw” – the evolutionary law of the survival of the fittest. It was a case of “I look out for myself and to hell with everyone else.” The weak were trampled underfoot, the sick ignored or resented, the dead forgotten. When a man lay dying we had no word of mercy. When he cried for our help, we averted our heads. 
We had long since resigned ourselves to being derelicts. We were the forsaken men – forsaken by our families, by our friends, by our government. Now even God had left us.
Hate, for some, was the only motivation for living. We hated the Japanese. We would willingly have torn them limb from limb, flesh from flesh, had they fallen into our hands. In time even hate died, giving way to numb, black despair.

Ernest Gordon goes on to tell about a day when the men arrived back at the camp after working on the railroad. At the tool check the officers informed the POWs that a shovel was missing. In rage, the officers demanded that the man who stole the shovel come forward, and if no one confessed, the entire group would be killed. Slowly, a man came forward. As he stood before the officers in his moment of confession, the officers beat him to death as punishment.
At the next tool check, all the shovels were accounted for. You see, there had simply been a miscount. A miscount that cost the life of an innocent man. Gordon recounts the disbelief of the men: that a completely innocent man would die to save the rest of them. He said that it was in this moment that the POWs came to recognize an even greater act of mercy: Christ dying on the cross. A completely innocent man who died so that the rest of us don't have to be separated from God. We are the guilty. We deserve the punishment. And yet, Christ paid the penalty.
So, with the grace that has so graciously been extended to us, do we extend it to others?