Christianity


What’s your favorite food? It is kind of an innocuous question. We ask it of new acquaintances, of small children, and of people we’ve known a long time hoping to get to know more details about them. When I was a small child my pat answer to this question was, “Corn,” but I have since expanded my horizons. I like all kinds of food (especially desserts), but when I get to choose, I like Tex-Mex cuisine. I like the flavor and the filling.

However, if I really put some thought into it, I would even change my answer now. And my answer would be just like that of a woman who encountered Jesus when she went alone to draw water from a well in a town of Samaria. When she heard that He could offer her living water that welled up within a person like a spring so that the person who drank it would never thirst again, she wanted that kind of water.

By the same token, if I thought I could get hold of some kind of bread that, once eaten, would satisfy my eternal hunger, that’s what kind of food I would want.

We know that Jesus was talking about spiritual water and that He provides spiritual food. And that the water and bread that He offers quenches forever spiritual thirst and hunger. And since I know that filling my stomach with the best Tex-Mex available will result in fullness now, but more hunger later. I think that my favorite food is the food that satisfies forever—the Bread of Life, found in following Jesus.

The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.’”   —John 4:15

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Life is filled with decisions: Decisions about the career path we will choose, as well as when to make a transition to a new position. Decisions about whom we should marry, or if we should marry at all. Decisions about what kind of education we must get, and where to get it. Some of our decisions are not so earth-shattering, though: decisions on what to wear for the day. Decisions about what to watch on television. Decisions about what we want to eat for dinner.

The biggest decision that a person must make is what they will do with Jesus. Will I believe that what is said about Him (sometimes by Him) in the Bible is true? Will I choose to trust my future to Jesus or to some other teacher in history that sounds good? Will I actually take Him at His word, and pattern my life after His and His teachings?

For the Christian (who has decided to follow Jesus) the decisions to simply stop with that initial decision in which one encounters a personal Jesus for the first time. No, Christians decide daily how they will respond to that relationship. Will I stick with it today? Am I as fully committed today as I was yesterday? Am I ready to “remain in Him”?

If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in His love.”   —John 15:10

In their book Living Forward, authors Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy lead readers through a process that they call “life planning.”  The starting place, they tell us, is to imagine what you would want your eulogy to sound like. What would people—those closest to you—say about you at your funeral?

Most Christians look to the Bible and express a desire to have God say, “Well done!” to them as they enter into His presence. Twice in the scripture we are told of men who had done so well before God, that He said “well done” to them with actions instead of just words. We are told (Genesis 5) that Enoch, having lived 365 years, walked with God and then disappeared.

The other man so honored as to move into glory without dying is Elijah. In 2 Kings 2, we read the story of how his successor, Elisha, saw Elijah whisked away into heaven. These two—Enoch and Elijah—had walked so closely with God that they were taken to be with Him without having to go through the process of death.

While we may not expect to skip the inevitable step of death, we can walk closely with the Lord in such a way as to please Him. What is your legacy desire? Mine is to be faithful to God to the point of hearing His praise at the end of my days.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”   —2 Timothy 4:7

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

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

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