Jesus died. Yet many people choose not to acknowledge this, or seek to deny it through various ridiculous claims. The Apostles’ Creed affirms the biblical reality that Jesus “was crucified, dead and buried”.
The nation breathed a sigh of relief on Wednesday when it was reported that Donna O’Reilly, a resident of Moncton, New Brunswick, had been found, safe and physically well. A month earlier, she had vanished from her workplace, and hadn’t been seen or heard from again until she showed up on a Moncton street, flagging down motorists in the hope that one would take her to safety (and one did). She had escaped from a basement apartment where she had been held against her will for a month – and where she was able to watch the tearful and impassioned pleas on television from her family, seeking her safe return.
Too often, these stories end far more tragically than this one. Think of, say, Tori Stafford, whose family believed she was alive for the longest time last year until her lifeless body was found. This time, however, we are recipients of good news.
Without a doubt, Mrs. O’Reilly will have significant emotional trauma to deal with, but, surrounded by the love of family and friends, she will surely be fine. She can say that she once was lost, but now is found.
The fellow who popularized that phrase was John Newton, a ruffian slave ship captain for whom a personal conversion experience began during a stormy voyage. He was returning to England from Africa, and it appeared all would be lost. He began reading a spiritual classic – The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis. As Newton’s faith in Christ grew stronger, he tried to improve conditions for the slaves on his ship, even holding worship gatherings for his crew. Eventually, he became convicted of the inhumanity of his work, and became a crusader against slavery. He became a port clerk for a period of time, but then sensed God’s call to preach the gospel, spending the remainder of his life proclaiming the simple truth of God’s love in Christ for all people.
Newton lived to the age of 82 – a ripe old age, considering he died in 1807 – and never retired. He said, near his death, “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Saviour!”
It was Newton who penned the words which were autobiographical :
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see!
Each of us began this life ‘lost’, far from God; in Christ, we are, by God’s grace, ‘found’ in him! “[A]nyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5.17, NLT). Are you living today as one who has become a new person in Christ?
By the way, The Imitation of Christ is still printed today and is available quite inexpensively; it’s worth your time to read this book as an annual spiritual discipline. You can find it, for example, here.
All of us were taught “three R’s” in school. Those three R’s were defined as Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic. These are basic necessities for survival in this world, which is why they are taught.
Then, a generation ago, we were taught three more R’s: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Thanks to this mantra, our blue boxes are fuller than our garbage cans each time they’re picked up, and that’s good for our world
I’m probably not the first to have come up with this, but I think the Bible teaches us three more R’s: Repent, be Reconciled, and Regard.
Okay, I admit that they don’t fall off the tongue quite as easily as the other two sets of three R’s. But these R’s are equally important for our life as followers of Jesus.
Repent: literally, it means to turn around and walk the other way. When we turn away from sin and walk in the way of the Lord, that repentance orients our life differently, for the better, for God’s glory.
Be Reconciled: when we repent, turning away from sin, that opens the door for us to be reconciled to God, from whom our relationship was broken because of sin. Jesus, by his unjust suffering, reconciled us to God.
Regard: once our lives are differently oriented by repentance, and we are reconciled to God, we should regard others in a different way, too. God’s grace in our lives through reconciliation with him allows us to reconcile with others, and to see people not only as friends, or enemies, or obstacles to our own self-fulfillment, but as people for whom Jesus died, people who need to hear his good news.
Living life with these three R’s in mind will change you forever. And it will change the world forever. And that’s all good.
“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5.20, NIV).
Where do you find your identity?
I was talking with a neighbour recently whose car I had noticed sitting in his driveway more frequently than usual. I asked him, “Did you retire?”
He said, “Yeah, I got a bullet put through my head.”
Thinking that an odd turn of phrase referring to retirement, and noticing that his head was not wrapped in a big gauze bandage, I asked what he meant. As it turns out, he was given, shall we say, an incentive to retire. He was bought out and sent home. Now, he’s working on some home renovation projects, but doesn’t seem all that happy about it.
Most of us, when we engage in conversation with another person for the first time, ask one common question after learning the person’s name. We ask what the person does for a living. It’s a natural question, because in our society, we tend to find our identity in what we do. And other people create their picture of us based on that information. (This is why I often tell people I’m in insurance, and if pressed, fire insurance. It doesn’t shut down the conversation as fast as when I say, “I’m a pastor.”)
Here’s a radical thought: what if we were intentional about shaping our identity not around what we do but who we are? For many of us, that is difficult, because what we do shapes who we are, whether we are farmers, fire fighters, homemakers, business owners, massage therapists or aestheticians. What we do becomes who we are.
That probably works pretty well for many people until they retire, or lose their jobs. Then they sink into a funk for a while because their identity has been stolen, signed away on a pink slip or on a pension cheque.
There must be a different way to find our identity.
How about this: to find out who we are, think about whose we are. Instead of being Jane the Dentist, or Bob the Painter, what if we chose to think of ourselves as ________, the follower of Jesus?
Don’t think for a moment that it’s too easy to do that. It involves reorienting our thinking around our walk with God instead of our source of income. That doesn’t mean we should walk away from our source of income – far from it! Being a follower of Jesus first moves our locus of authority from our job to our faith – a faith that calls us to do our jobs well, as if we were doing them for the Lord himself (see Colossians 3.23). Being a follower of Jesus first shifts our ethics toward a conscious decision to please God first. Being a follower of Jesus first stirs our thinking in the direction of living out our faith 24/7. It’s challenging, but ultimately rewarding.
If we will form our identity around Whose we are, we can come to the point of retirement and not find ourselves idle, but find ourselves in the sovereign care of the God who is not finished with us yet! We can be finished with our workaday world and begin a new life of service using our spiritual gifts, and our passions, full-time!
Jesus said, “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father. I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love” (John 15.5, 8-9, NLT).
When we see ourselves as branches of Jesus, the True Vine, we will grow in him and bear fruit. We are his, and he is ours. That’s an identity worth having.
The 17 days of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games were some of the most riveting and captivating days in recent national memory. Like many of you, I sat on the edge of my seat, glued to the television, especially when a Canadian victory was in sight. While all the other sports were great, too, I was especially proud to see Canadian men and women medal in curling and hockey. Of course, THE moment of the games, for most Canadians, was that blink-of-an-eye when Sid the Kid scored the tie-breaking goal in the overtime period of the gold medal men’s hockey game. At that moment, the nation literally erupted. Any patriotic emotion that remained pent up during the previous 16 days welled up, out, and into the streets when we took gold at “our game”.
This got me thinking…how often does our worship of God erupt like that?
Lots of people would say, “We couldn’t do that; it’d be irreverent.”
So, let me see: we can get excited like we’ve never gotten excited over a hockey game, but we can’t get that excited about the God who rescues us from the pit of hell?
Sorry to put it so bluntly, but I’m not sure how else to explain the strangeness of it all. How stodgy is our image of God, when we think God wouldn’t be excited at our excitement over him?
God welcomes our unrestrained excitement.
We might have a hard time picturing this, depending on our background, but I think God exercised unrestrained excitement when he created the world. The narratives in Genesis are short and to the point, but I think when God “saw that it was very good”, he was very excited. The Israelites of old captured a good sense of what our delight in God can look like in Psalm 150 (NLT):
Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heaven!
Praise him for his mighty works;
praise his unequaled greatness!
Praise him with a blast of the ram’s horn;
praise him with the lyre and harp!
Praise him with the tambourine and dancing;
praise him with strings and flutes!
Praise him with a clash of cymbals;
praise him with loud clanging cymbals.
6 Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
I want to encourage you to “get into” God with at least the same joy with which the Olympics captivated you. That’s what I’m challenging myself to do. After all, for worship leaders like me, it can be hard to “get into” God when you’re trying to remember what’s next in the corporate worship gathering. But my heart’s desire – for you and for me – is that we will find in God an even greater excitement than we found in that great moment last Sunday when Sidney Crosby became the new generation’s Paul Henderson.