Archive for March, 2004

So a little while ago I was talking to one of my friends at work discussing a certain group of individuals that were for all intents and purposes doing the wrong thing. I asked her why she didn’t invite them to church. She replied that we wouldn’t want those kinds of people at church because they were so bad. But, I replied, those are exactly the kinds of people we want in church. Even Jesus said that “it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). Then she replied that “God only helps those who help themselves.” I told her that that quote is unbiblical and that it is found no where in the Scripture. So where did that quote come from? After doing a quick internet search (you can find anything on the internet) I discovered that the quote is actually from Greek mythology (http://www.vesselofhonour.com/archives/000097.php) or something like that. I honestly don’t know how credible that website is, but I do know with all certainty that it is not found in the Bible.

Oddly enough, what makes it so unbiblical is the fact that we cannot help ourselves. There is really nothing that we can do. We’ve all heard the phrase “amazing grace” before so the question is “why is grace so amazing?” Well, let’s look at what we can do on our own. The Bible tells me that “the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Still with me? I would daresay that anyone who has ever had a job understands what wages are. Wages are normally given in exchange for some service that has been provided. Thus, wages are earned. I know there is a small minority that collects paychecks without working but for our example we’ll stick to the average public. Most of us work for our paycheck. So since we were all once sinners (we were really born into it) we all earned death. That’s plain and simple. But (aren’t you glad that God is the God of “but”?) God did not leave us there. He gave us a gift. He gave us eternal life through Jesus Christ. It is a gift because we cannot work for it or earn it. He gave it to us because he loves us. This is where the grace comes in. He gave us this gift even though we did nothing to earn it or deserve it. It is free.

But wait there’s more. If we look earlier in the book of Romans we’ll see that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). Again this is true. All of us have sinned and we all come short of the glory of God. But (there’s that “but” again) God did not leave us there. He had a bigger plan for us. Let’s read on! He goes on to say that we “are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (3:24). Because he had grace (or unmerited favor) he justified us freely. Free means free. Free means that we didn’t have to earn it. It is given to us.

One last verse. The Bible says that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). This is the counterpart to grace: it takes faith to put it in action. They go hand in hand, grace and faith. God can give us all the gifts he wants, but we don’t have enough faith to accept it, it will be useless to us. Another way to think about it is “whatever faith receives, grace provides.” There is nothing that we could have ever done to become saved on our own. It really is a free gift that is obtainable by faith. When you think about it, that is what makes grace truly amazing.

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So about a year ago, I received from my uncle, a nice puakenikeni tree. Actually, it was a little shoot of a tree because as anyone knows, you can’t just grow a puakenikeni tree from a seed. You need to graft it to a tree branch or something (I actually don’t know the full extent of the growings of this tree, but that’s what I’ve been told). So my uncle did all of that and gave us a little treeling in a can. After watering it and caring for it for a few months, my little treeling was ready to go into the ground. I dug a little hole and put the tree in and staked it upright. Then I waited. And I waited. And waited some more. Finally, after some long months of waiting, I finally got to see the fruits of my labor. My little treeling had its first full set of puakenikeni flowers.

Now, when I planted the tree, I fully anticipated puakenikeni flowers to bloom from it. What else could I expect? It would be silly of me to expect this tree to grow mangoes or oranges or even have hibiscuses. The only thing this tree knows how to grow is puakenikeni flowers. One tree cannot grow multiple types of fruits (although I hear science is getting close). This is the same with us. Jesus told us to “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5). We see here that it is super important to remain in Jesus (or put another way, remain in the Word). Just like my little tree could not survive unless it was attached to a more mature tree, we are the same way. We need to be attached to Jesus. But the question remains, what kind of fruit are we bearing?

Later in the New Testament we see exactly what kind of fruit we should be bearing. Paul calls them the fruit of the Spirit. This is a handy checklist to see what kind of fruit we are bearing. They are: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Check yourself against this list to see what you need to work on. I would even encourage you to ask others to see what fruit they see you bearing (a word of caution on this one though, if you’re going to ask someone to look at your fruit choose someone that will give it to you straight but still be encouraging. It is too easy to get really negative and only focus on your faults and that’s the last thing you want to do. So choose wisely, someone that you trust and is encouraging).

If you’re not showing these fruits there may be a problem with your nutrient supply. Maybe it means spending more time in the Word or more time praying. See, if you’re not producing any fruit what good are you? If my tree did not produce any flowers I would be the proud owner of a big stick stuck in my back yard. I might as well pull it out. One of the signs of a mature Christian is mature fruits. Even if you’ve been a Christian for a long time, you can still have immature fruits. So no matter where you are, mature or brand-new, you can still grow even more. That’s the beauty of our God. You can always be (and should be always) growing.

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A few weeks ago while I was in Los Angeles, I had the opportunity to watch some women’s basketball. My friend Raelen (there was recently a nice article about her in the Star Bulletin http://starbulletin.com/2004/02/29/sports/story14.html) plays for Loyola Marymount University so I went to watch her in action. Now if any of you watch sports, you know that it is rare that any one team or individual wins wire-to-wire. That’s part of the fun of watching or playing sports. Watching one team take a lead only to give it up again and so on. Usually, the outcome is not determined in the first ten minutes and with any luck it goes right down to the wire so it stays exciting (Game 6 of the 1986 World Series between the Mets and Red Sox comes to mind…sorry Buckner). This is how it was when I went to watch Rae play. By the time I got there (half an hour late due to the wonderful traffic in LA), LMU was up by 6 points or so. Then during the second half, they lost the lead and trailed 5 points or so. This went on for most of the second half and the game remained exciting until the final three minutes when LMU finally pulled away and won a double digit victory.

Of course not everything goes exactly as we planned. Things go wrong, people let us down, there was an accident here or there. Life sometimes gets tough. What is the “exciting” factor in sports becomes a depressing, discouraging let down in life. Why? Aren’t we following God? Aren’t we doing what he wants? Aren’t we in his will? Why are things still going wrong? Why is so-and-so’s life going so much better than mine? These are tough questions and I believe they are very valid. While it is true that Jesus came “to give life in all its fullness” we must remember that there the first part of the verse also says that “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10).

In the book of Matthew it says that “Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side” (14:22). Later, as they were going ahead of Jesus they got into trouble because “a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves” (14:24). So you see, even here, as the disciples were doing exactly what Jesus commanded them to do, they still encountered heavy waves. To further confirm this point, Peter, at the command of Jesus starts walking on water. He succeeds for a little while “but when he looked around at the high waves, he was terrified and began to sink” (14:30). Jesus then saved him and when they got back to the boat the winds and waves stopped.

If we take this example of Peter, we can see that while he remained focused on Jesus and did what Jesus commanded, he succeeded. The minute he took his eyes off of Jesus and started focusing on the circumstance he started sinking. That’s how it is in our lives. The devil would like nothing more than to trip you up and make you take your eyes off of Jesus. While it is true that Jesus did come to give us an abundant life, we must have the faith to hold on to it and not look at the circumstances no matter what they may be. We are encouraged to “hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised)” (Hebrews 10:23). It is not easy to go through life unwavering, but God promises us a great reward if we do. Just as Rae and her team believed they could win and didn’t give up even though they were at one point trailing, we must have that same kind of faith. Even when the chips are down, God still says that we win. Think about that. As exciting as our lives (and sports) are, the only anti-climactic part is the end. We already know how that part turns out. The Bible says that “overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

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