Tag Archives: Paul

Catching the Germs

Catching the Germs

Our grandkids were with us for a few days. We love it when they come! But this time two of them had coughs and runny noses. We found ourselves hugging them a little more carefully, snuggling a little less and basically trying to love them without getting too close. After all we didn’t want to catch their germs or contract their viruses. Then we’d be coughing and blowing our noses.

I take some comfort in the fact that I know we’re not alone in this defensive behavior. How often have you:

  • fist bumped rather than shaken hands because the other person had a cold?
  • silently thought, or perhaps quietly verbalized “I wish they’d cover their mouth when they cough?”
  • cringed on an airplane because the person across the aisle kept coughing or sniffling?
  • stayed away from visiting someone because they were ill?
  • wanted to wear a mask to keep from inhaling germs?

Let’s face it. We do our best to avoid catching the germs. But after the grandkids had left the Lord spoke to me. He said, “Think about Jesus.” I said, “Okay. I’m thinking. Now what?” He replied, “Aren’t you glad He didn’t avoid our germs?” Then it hit me. Jesus did everything He could to catch my germs and contract my virus. He did everything He could to make my sin His.

When God His Father asked Him to come down to earth He didn’t say’ “But Father, I might catch their sin germs. I might get dirty. Can’t I wait until they’re better?” Rather “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:15) He made His dwelling not near people or close to people but among them. He touched them. He hugged them. He hung out with them.

Why? Because He knew the only way to heal us was to die on a cross. So He needed – and wanted – to catch our sin so He could nail it to the cross. The apostle Paul put it this way:

He didn’t just carry our sins – He became our sin. He caught our germs, He contracted our disease, He was covered with our dirt.

Think about it. He took up all our sin – from the beginning of time until the end. He was covered with every sin that had been committed and every sin that would be committed. It means He carried our germs, our sins.

Tom Cruise starred in the movie called Minority Report. It was about an elite police task force that routinely arrests people who will commit crimes in the future – in other words, this force could see the future and they arrested people to prevent crime from happening.

It makes me wonder what God sees when He looks into my heart. What sins did He see in me as He hung on the cross dying for me? Knowing full well what was in my heart, knowing fully all the times I would come up short and miss the target, still He loved me and died for me.

And it’s true for you as well. Consider: what sins did He see in your heart?  Knowing full well what was in your heart, knowing fully all the times you would come up short and miss the target, still He loved you and died for you.

Words cannot really express the wonder and magnitude of what Jesus did for us. Perhaps our best response is to follow the admonition and encouragement of the author to the Hebrews:

 

Letters of Recommendation

There I was in my first year in my first pastorate, in the beautiful but small town of Sioux Center, Iowa. As the Associate Pastor of Youth & Education I was responsible for ministry to 150 9th – 12th graders. The Youth Leaders and I wanted to do something special for the youth and decided on a formal banquet to honor them. One advantage of a farming community is that good food is abundant – like roast pig. (1)

 

 

So the menu was not an issue. Adult volunteers were not an issue. Entertainment and some type of encouraging message – that was an issue. I had no files, no contacts, and no backlog of resources to draw from. And how could I even begin to think about pulling in some big name person or group without it being a huge cost? After all, there is no easy way to get to Sioux Center (halfway between Sioux City, Iowa and Sioux Falls, South Dakota). Then I remembered – one of the youth had given me a business card of some singers she had heard at a conference shortly before this – she said they were really good. With nothing to lose I called Steve & Maria Gardner – and they came!

Wow! What a night. They were the perfect fit with wonderful, youth-appealing music and an inspiring, challenging message for the youth. And they radiated Jesus – boy did they radiate Him. My wife and I hosted them – and their infant daughter – and fell in love with them and were deeply blessed by them. Jesus was just so evident in their lives! We had a retired pastor who was at the banquet and afterward he told me, “You know, when they started to sing I wasn’t too sure about them and their music. But once that young man started to speak and I felt the Spirit and saw the attention of the youth, I knew they were right and that Jesus would be honored!” They radiated Jesus. (2)

As I think about that great time my mind goes to the Apostle Paul who, in 2 Corinthians 3:1-3 (The Message), wrote “Are we beginning to praise ourselves again? Are we like others, who need to bring you letters of recommendation, or who ask you to write such letters on their behalf? Surely not! The only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves. Your lives are a letter written in our hearts; everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts.” Steve & Maria were Jesus’ letters of recommendation. I learned that when we are recommending Jesus, we need to write a good letter. When I ask for a letter of recommendation I expect the person to write a good reference letter, to present me well. So it is with Jesus – He relies on us to write Him good letters of recommendation. (3)

The reality is that because we  are Christians we represent Jesus everywhere we are, in everything we say, and in everything we do – and even in what we do not say and do not do. At all times and in all places, we represent Jesus. So we need to be sure we are writing a good letter. I think of all the times I’ve let my guard down, or let my temper flare up, or let the devil get hold of my tongue or mind and therefore wrote a poor letter for Jesus. “Lord, forgive me – and give me grace and strength to be that vibrant, Spirit-filled living letter of recommendation for You.

You are always representing Jesus – you are always a letter pointing to Him.  What kind of letter will you be today – and tomorrow – and every day? I pray you will write a good letter.

(1) Image from pixabay.com

(2) Photo from Curry & Barb Pikkaart

(3) Image from StoryBlocks

When You’re Beat…

“It isn’t over until the fat lady sings.” Those words are usually uttered by someone who’s behind in a game and is hoping for a comeback. But I want to use it in a little different way.

Back in the days when I was coaching soccer I had an interesting experience. I was coaching my oldest sons’ team. We knew our next game was against a good team, and their best player had played for us the previous year. He was really good and our guys really liked him. So their talk during practice was all about him – they were looking forward to playing him and were taking it as a personal challenge. So I decided that rather than avoid him during the game it would be best for us to go straight at him, to put our best people against him, to put our strength against their strength. If the guys were going to be watching his every move anyway, why not focus on him?

Game day rolled around and we beat them; he never scored. Our team had fun. The fat lady was singing. As soon as the game was over I headed to the other coach for the obligatory hand shake. As we shook he said something to the effect of “I don’t know why you focused so much on him and ran everything against him; you should have kept the play away from him so he wouldn’t have had as much of a chance to do some damage.” I was stunned. My first thought was “Let me get this straight. You just lost, we just won, he didn’t do any damage yet you’re telling me how I should have coached the game. What’s wrong with this picture?” My second (and admittedly probably prideful) thought was “Does the losing coach really have the right to tell the winning coach how to coach?  When you’ve just been beat do you have the credentials to talk about winning strategies? I don’t think so.”

Reflecting on it later I wondered “When you’re beat, do you have the right to tell the fat lady how to sing?” It made me think of Moses. God appeared in that burning bush and told Moses the game with Egypt was over, that God had won – and it would be up to Moses to follow through. Moses must have missed the part about the game being over. He still wanted to change the strategy. Moses should have known that when God speaks, it’s over. You’re done. He will have His way. But he kept trying to get out of leading (see his excuses in Exodus 3 & 4). He just didn’t like the song God was singing. But Moses didn’t have the right to tell God how to sing. Moses hadn’t yet heard “When you’re beat, you don’t have the right to tell the fat lady how to sing.”

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not condemning Moses. In fact, I love him. I’ve used every one of his excuses, more than once, during my life. I, too, have tried to negotiate with God, to change the strategy after the game was over and the die had been cast. And I do know that when God speaks, it’s over; I’m done. He will have His way. But I try to tell him how to sing anyway. Yet I don’t have the right to tell God how to sing. For that matter, who does? Isaiah wrote “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘He did not make me?’ Can the pot say of the potter ‘He knows nothing?’” (Is. 29:16) Paul picked up that theme as well (Romans 9:20-21) “But who are you, oh man, to talk back to God? ‘Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?”


When God calls, when God commands, when God directs, when God sends us… we’re beat. And “When you’re beat, you don’t have the right to tell the fat lady how to sing.” When life seems unfair or unjust, when we feel like God should treat us differently or change our circumstances to our liking, remember “When you’re beat, you don’t have the right to tell the fat lady how to sing.” As Paul concluded his thoughts he wrote (Romans 9:22-24), “What if God…did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy…?” Do we really want Him to change His plan so we can miss the mercy?  I don’t think so. So “When you’re beat, you don’t have the right to tell the fat lady how to sing.”

The Right Altitude Makes All the Difference

I don’t fly on airplanes all that often, but I’ve flown enough to become familiar with the voice of the Pilot: “It’s going to be a bit choppy on our climb-out today, but we’re expecting it to be somewhat smoother when we reach our assigned altitude at 31,000 feet.” These words, of course, are meant to provide comfort and encouragement.

But not until I read a devotional by Norman Shawchuck (1) did a spiritual parallel come to mind: “When the turbulence is choppy, rise to your assigned altitude.” Norman points out that we were never promised a smooth flight through life but always have the option of moving up to our ‘assigned altitude.’

And what is our assigned altitude? Consider Ezekiel’s experience with the valley of dry bones (37:1-14). Here’s how it ends:

9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ ” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’ ”

Our higher assigned altitude is life in the Spirit. Paul later wrote (Rom. 8:4-9 NLT):

“5 Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. 6 So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. 7 For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. 8 That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.
9 But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you.”

Life in the Spirit lifts us to a higher altitude of mind. And this higher assigned altitude is only a few thoughts away.

“4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil. 4:4-9)

The next time you hit the turbulence of life remember: “When the turbulence is choppy, rise to  your assigned altitude.”

(1) A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God, Upper Room Books, 2006, p. 172

An Incomplete List

Thanksgiving Day is past. But thoughts of gratitude still linger. As part of our celebration some of our family jotted down what they were thankful for. My list was easy – my top three are Jesus and Salvation, a godly loving wife, and a precious family. In some ways it’s hard to argue with my list. Yet today I read an old story I once used to challenge others to consider what gratitude and blessing are all about – and I’m wondering if my list is incomplete. The story goes like this:

An old man showed up at the back door of the house we were renting. Opening the door a few cautious inches, we saw his eyes were glassy and his furrowed face glistened with silver stubble. He clutched a wicker basket holding a few unappealing vegetables. He bade us good morning and offered his produce for sale. We were uneasy enough that we made a quick purchase to alleviate both our pity and our fear. To our chagrin, he returned the next week, introducing himself as Mr. Roth, the man who lived in the shack down the road. As our fears subsided, we got close enough to realize it wasn’t alcohol but cataracts that “marbleized” his eyes. On subsequent visits, he would shuffle in, wearing two mismatched right shoes, and pull out a harmonica. With glazed eyes set on a future glory, he’d puff out old gospel tunes between conversations about vegetables and religion. On one visit he exclaimed, ‘The Lord is so good! I came out of my shack this morning and found a bag full of shoes and clothing on my porch.’ ‘That’s wonderful, Mr. Roth!’ we said. ‘We’re happy for you.’ ‘You know what’s even more wonderful?’ he asked. ‘Just yesterday I met some people who could use them.’

When the Lord is our treasure, when our heart has been given over to Him and filled by Him, thankfulness and gratitude should never be an end in themselves. Rather, they should lead to sharing our wealth of blessings, no matter how much or little they are. That’s where I sense some incompleteness in my list. Shouldn’t the joy of giving be somewhere near the top? Yes – it should. And once again I am challenged to see what more, and in what other ways I can give – not as a duty but joyfully because of what God has given me in His Son. Surely – what I have is something someone else can use! Surely the blessing I have received is one someone else needs.

I need to embrace again the worlds of the Apostle Paul.

And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. So we urged Titus, just as he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving. I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:1-9)
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)

That pretty much says it all. May my blessings and your blessings find their way into the life and heart of someone who needs them. May the heart of Christ find it’s way through us into their hearts. Then my list will be complete.