Christianity


The story is told of a young strong man pulling a cart filled with cloths. As he travels, he calls out, “Rags! Rags! New rags for old!” On his journey he encounters a number of people with a variety of burdens: a young woman grieving the loss of a child, an old man bent and broken with the weight of the world on his shoulders, a one-armed man unable to find work. At each meeting, the young man trades one of his fresh linen cloths with the tired and worn rags the people are using to dry their own eyes. With each exchange, the Ragman seems to take on the burden or handicap of the people. At the end of the day, the watcher who tells the story realizes that the Ragman is none other than the Christ, exchanging new lives for old. (“The Ragman” in Easter Stories, compiled by Miriam LeBlanc)

And that is Easter—Christ exchanging new lives for old. He died on a cross, taking the place of every sinner; taking on His sinless shoulders the sin of every person, and so conquered sin. Then, on the third day, He rose again and so conquered death. In this sacrificial and merciful act He exchanged His perfect life for my imperfect one, He traded my death for His life.

This is the message of Easter available for anyone who believes. Have you received the exchange today? Listen, He calls to you, “Rags! Rags! New rags for old! New lives for old!”

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come.  — 2 Corinthians 5:17

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One of the opportunities and privileges of being a citizen in our great country is that, occasionally, one might be called on to sit on jury duty. When the summons comes, a first reaction will be to consider all of the inconvenience jury duty entails. Work will be missed. We may be out of pocket for several days. Time away from family must be factored in. It’s just a hassle to have jury duty.

First response: figure out a way to get out of the duty. Certain possibilities allow people to be excused from duty. The only summons I ever received was when I was a college student and the duty was scheduled to happen in the middle of my semester finals. All I was required to do was mark a box on a form and I was automatically excused. I recall the time my father was summoned and selected for a pool of jurors in a capital murder trial. Being a Baptist minister, he expected to be turned down by one or both sides, but they didn’t. Then as he sat on the jury, he was astonished that his fellow panel members elected him to serve as chair.

What would happen if every able and eligible citizen would gladly be involved in their civic duty? Including voting in elections and answering summons for jury duty without trying to “get out of it.” I think perhaps we’d have a kinder, gentler nation than we do—and maybe, just maybe we’d get to a place where involvement was the norm rather than the exception.

An even deeper question would be what if every church member would be actively involved in the ministry of their local congregation? Including generous giving and volunteering instead of being begged to serve in an open position. The result, I expect, would be vibrant, growing churches with happy, joyful members.

But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”  —James 1:22

In the book Endangered Species (about reaching the needs of others), a parable is shared about some friends who join together for an after-worship meal on a nice fall Sunday. As they are settling in, a couple of children, notably in need of a healthy hot meal stand at the restaurant window craving just a morsel of the sumptuous meal laid before the diners. According to the parable, one of the women of the group (whom we expect to invite the children in to join them) gets up from the table, draws the curtains closed to hide the scene outside, and returns to her seat with the declaration, “There now, isn’t that much better?”

One of the important marks of Christianity—and by extension, the church—is the spirit of generosity borne out of knowing the blessing of salvation. Often our generosity expresses itself in giving our cast-offs, extras, and no-longer-needs to someone in the name of a generous spirit. Lots of churches are filled almost to capacity with pianos that someone no longer wants (many of these will no longer hold a tuning if someone were willing to pay for the process). At the same time countless church nurseries are filled with worn-out, broken, and useless toys that people feel generous to donate once their children have outgrown them.

We are also willing to “generously” donate that coat that we are replacing to the shelter down the street.

Generosity gives the best from the first that we have, not the leftovers that we no longer want. What has happened to our generous spirit?

 If anyone has this world’s goods and sees his brother in need but closes his eyes to his need—how can God’s love reside in him? —1 John 3:17

An old favorite chorus written by Bill  and Gloria Gaither in the late 1960s says this:

I will serve Thee because I love Thee; You have given life to me. I was nothing before You found me; You have given life to me.

The sentiment is nice and it reminds us that we have been given eternal life for the purpose of serving God. We serve Him here in this life by serving others—by being hands and feet for Jesus—and by sharing His message and the life that it brings with others. It’s what we were originally created for—serving and honoring God.

If you’ll allow me to get nit-picky for just a moment though, I will admit that as much as I like the chorus, it’s not entirely accurate for the Christian. We don’t serve Him because we love Him—we just serve Him. Granted, I do love God, and that love inspires me to be more diligent in my service to Him and to others in His name. Even so, even when I’m not so loving toward God, I serve Him. Not out of duty, or out of coercion. Not out of a sense of self-righteous pride or the need to earn more goodness points on my scorecard to heaven. I serve God because He is God and my service is due Him. I serve my fellow man, not because they deserve it, but by doing so I serve Him.

Perhaps we can change the words to the old chorus—not to take away anything from the Gaithers, but to say what we as Christ-followers should truly say:

“I will serve Thee because You are Thee; You have given life to me. I was nothing before You found me; You have given life to me.”

 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” —Joshua 24:14-15

A popular personality profile that is used in a variety of ways (from psychological profile to business leadership development) is called the Myers-Briggs personality assessment. From a series of questions, if answered honestly, the evaluation tool can categorize a person in a variety of types. One of the strong indicators for a person is whether they get their “energy” from being with people or being alone (extraverts vs. introverts). What the assessment often makes us think is that “if I am an introvert, I don’t like people;” and “if I am an extravert, I love people.” The truth is that introverts can love (and even want to be with) people just as much as extraverts. Crowds just wear them out, and they need some alone time to recharge. Extraverts, on the other hand, get a charge out of being with big groups, but they also discover that they need some time to be alone.

Regardless of whether you prefer your people in small doses or like to be part of a herd, the truth is that we all need other people. And in the church, we need to have time with other believers because that is how we grow. When we gather together with other believers for the purpose of worship, we begin to sense the presence of God (who insists on being with gatherings of even the smallest number of Christians), and we glean encouragement from the group as attention is drawn away from self and personality and focused on God our Savior.

Togetherness is also an opportunity for each of us to grow in our faith as we study God’s Word together to gain insight, pray together to make connection, and fellowship together for encouragement. Let’s stop trying to do life in isolation and help each other (regardless of personality type) to grow in our faith.

 “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”  —Hebrews 10:24

The song is an old one that was a favorite during revival times when I was growing up. It was especially endearing because it spoke into the heart of both the young and the young at heart. It spoke of the attitude that accompanied living the Christian life and being part of the work of God known as the local church. Perhaps you remember some of the words from your younger years:

Every day with Jesus

Is sweeter than the day before.

Every day with Jesus

I love Him more and more.

Jesus saves and keeps me

And He’s the One I’m living for.

Every day with Jesus

Is sweeter than the day before.

The little chorus is a reminder to those who are followers of Jesus that it is a happy privilege to be part of God’s family. Why, then, do we spend so much time whining and complaining about our lot in life? I think that it is because our attitude has soured, and perhaps it is time to have our attitude re-stored by the One who makes it “sweeter than the day before.”

In thinking about my church—the local congregation of which I am a part—it becomes even more evident that I (we) begin trusting Him to create newness of heart on a daily basis so that we can be better representatives of His kingdom.

“By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  —Jesus, John 13:35

Godliness is wrapped up in a package: beginning with faith, adding goodness, to which is added knowledge, then self-control, perseverance, godliness, and mutual affection. The bow with which the package is tied is love. (Note: 2 Peter 1:5-7) Not just any love, but the best kind of love.

From the Greeks we learn that there are levels of love. At the lowest level is a purely physical kind of attraction which is included in our desire to fulfill our own wishes. This is what spurs on statements like, “I love chocolate or bacon (maybe chocolate bacon?),” or “I love the Astros.” It bears no depth at all, and those who camp out at this level of love usually have shallow relationships with others.

Stepping up, we find what we would call brotherly love. It is the same attribute we added to our faith that we called mutual affection. At this level of relationship we place aphorisms like, “Blood is thicker than water,” reminding us that those who are close to us (family, intimate friends) deserve more than a passing nod on the street.

But the love that unifies all of the other attributes of a godly life is a self-sacrificing love. It is the kind of love that drills down to the core of our being making us willing to give up preference, comfort, and even life for the welfare of another—even another who might prove to be ungrateful or unresponsive to that act of sacrifice. The love that Christians aspire to is this selfless kind of love that embodies what real love (the love of choice). It is our goal.

Let us raise our level of love.

“No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends.” —Jesus, John 15:13

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