Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Our Red Badge of Strength

In his book, "The Red Badge of Courage", Stephen Crane writes about a young soldier in the midst of the Civil War who contemplates whether or not he will have the fortitude to stand up to the enemy and fight - or will he run, and retreat.

Once, while the young soldier walked among soldiers who had been wounded, he became jealous of the way in which they seemed "peculiarly happy".

Crane writes, "he wished that he, too, had a wound, a red badge of courage."

It is true that we all want to stand the test. We want to endure to and not lose hope. We want the prize awaiting those who have not given up - but have pressed on, in future hope.

As christians, we may be encounter various trials. Some of them, we may run from. But we should not lose hope.

"For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison," wrote Paul in his letter to the Corinthians.

We know that Jesus ultimately went before us - enduring our shame and our penalty. He took our wounds. He is our red badge. Our courage.

With Him, we can endure - to the end. With Him, we have a future.

Thank you for saving us Lord!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Fish and the Shekel

One day, the apostle Peter was approached by a tax collector. The man asked Peter if Jesus was in fact paying the temple tax. Peter said that he was.

When Peter returned to the place where Jesus was staying, the Lord turned the episode into a teaching lesson and then a great miracle (one that is easily overlooked, if you aren't paying attention).

"What do you think Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?"

"From strangers," was Peter's response.

"Then the sons are exempt. However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me."

What's this? Did Jesus just say to pay the tax - and to find that money in a fish?

Puzzling stuff. Odd for that matter. Yet all the while, vintage Jesus.

Amazing as that miracle was - which no doubt underscored Jesus' soveriegn control over all - He teaches an interesting lesson.

We can clearly see that Jesus was saying this: tax collectors get their money from strangers - not their sons and daughters. While at the same time, a correlation can be made that those who are sons and daughters of the heavenly King (Jesus) are exempt from paying their "tax" (wages of sin is death) through Christ.

But what about this statement?

"However, so that we do not offend them..."

Was Jesus really concerned about offending a tax collector? Was Jesus so concerned about how others felt that he wouldn't confront them with the truth?

Probably not.

But, what he may have been concerned about was removing any obstacle or "tool" of rebuke which may have caused the unbeliever to stumble in their acceptance of Himself as the Son of God. Imagine the whispers in the crowds:

"He is truly amazing. He casts out demons, heals the lame and even forgives sin!..."

"But I heard that He won't pay the temple tax."


The apostle Paul too tried to remove any stumbling block that an unbeliever might have in hearing the gospel account by his witness. He spent much of his ministry as a tent-maker and paid much of his expenses as he preached from city to city - thereby removing any chance for people to say, "He's only doing it for the money."

Lord, like Paul, help us to remove those "obstacles" which may be hindering our witness. Though we are yet to be perfected, help to keep us above reproach, for your namesake. Thank you.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

On Fairness

One indicator that points to the fact that we all need God, is our inherent desire for things to be equal or fair.

We see some of this in how we demand equality for all and a level playing field for jobs and education.

And yet, we all know that in reality, life is not playing itself out the way we had idealized. Some children die before the age of 2; jobs are oftentimes given to the one who knows the right person - but who may not be the most qualified; a child is being born to an impoverished family - while another, to milllionaires; a healthy man in his prime, suddenly becomes stricken with terminal cancer. The list goes on.

So what does this all mean? And, what can we learn?

The very fact that we all demand fairness and things to be just - and yet they are not that way - leads us to a conclusion that all is not right here. Our inherent imperative is not being met.

We try to make things right. We institute laws which forbid discrimination and unequal hiring practices. We dictate that all are created equal - and thereby deserve fair treatment.

And yet - we fall short. With all our might, we still cannot make it all better.

This will only lead to a resignation or a hope-filled outlook. As christians, who see a Creator which loves and pursues justice, there is hope for an unfair and oftentimes cruel world. A God who redeems and makes all things new, is really our only hope to quell this inherent desire for all things to one day be made right.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Free to Serve and Give

Jesus is not shy in his promises to reward the faithful. Over 12 times in Matthew alone, Jesus talks about the benefits awaiting those who are obedient.

However, in many of those verses, He makes it a point to address motives.

"So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full."

"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full."

People - set free in Christ - no longer crave the temporal rewards found in the praise of man, personal property or climbing the ladder to the top. Free people seek one thing. The Psalmist said it well:

"One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple."

With eyes fixed on Jesus and doing His will out of the outpouring of Love which He first bestowed on us, we will begin to serve and give and obey. Not so that we may be seen as righteous, but that our grip on this world would be loosened and we would begin to crave after a life with Christ, "...who sees what is done in secret," and rewards.