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AUTHOR: Larry Locke

The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.  1 John 2:17.

Those of us in business are painfully familiar with the concept of obsolescence.  You buy a case of business cards and name tags for every one in your department, a week before the company logo gets changed.  Even as a consumer, my father learned he had made a mistake six months after he bought a Sony Betamax video recorder.  Some products might last forever except that they turn out to be useless.

There are different strategies for dealing with products that are on their way out.  One approach is to do nothing and keep using the outmoded product as long as possible.  My father tried that one.  He watched the three or four videos he was able to get for his Betamax machine over and over, all while new titles were appearing daily for the dominant VHS format.

This strategy provided him with some very real psychological benefits.  First, he didn’t have to change anything.  That tends to make a person more comfortable.  Second, he got to affirm his own choice.  We all prefer to think we make good decisions.  Of course there were some real costs, too.  The opportunity for watching all the movies and shows that were becoming available in VHS was lost.

The opposite strategy for dealing with an obsolescent product is to switch to the new, replacement product immediately.  That approach will cost us the discomfort of change and the pain of knowing we might have made a bad choice.  But the benefit is that our investment in that new product will provide immediate benefits and ultimately pay off big.

Applying that same logic to our verse for today indicates an important decision faces us.

There are things we love about this world.  I love the feeling of accomplishing the tasks I set for myself.  I like it when I get affirmed by the people I work for.  I appreciate being able to purchase something cool that I have wanted for a while.

The problem of course, is that all those things I love about the world are already obsolescent.  They are passing away.  My walk with the Lord and His activity in my life are all that is going to survive into eternity.  Should I continue to invest in the things I love about the world or dump them now in favor of the things that will last?

I don’t know about you, but I am hoping to transition to the Kingdom of God as quickly as possible.

Showing Our Failures The Way Out

The Lord will surely comfort Zion
    and will look with compassion on all her ruins;
he will make her deserts like Eden,
    her wastelands like the garden of the Lord.
Joy and gladness will be found in her,
    thanksgiving and the sound of singing.  Isaiah 51:3

All of us who have seen more than a few summers have experienced failures.  Those failures come in lots of different flavors – educational failures, career failures, relationship failures, financial failures, and others.  Does any of that sound familiar?

Those failures can bring many different kinds of pain.  I have been embarrassed over my failures.  Sometimes I have been angry, especially when I thought someone else was to blame.

The Lord has great comfort for us.  He is not in the business of condemnation, shaming, and prosecuting.  But it is not the sort of thing that just happens automatically – yes?  Sometimes our failures seem to hang on to us for years with no sign of redemption.  And sometimes they stay with us for the longest time.  I have seen them follow people to the grave.

Why do some of our failures seem to be comforted immediately whiles others just rankle interminably?  It turns out, if we want the Lord to grow gardens in our wastelands, we have to open them to Him.  The Lord will not intrude on our deserts.  He waits for our invitation for Him to plant in our ruins.

How do we invite the Master Gardner into the failures in our lives?  It may involve repentance.  Many of our ruins were destroyed by ourselves.  Sometimes our wastelands were produced entirely by others.  In those ruins, forgiveness may be required.  In either case it requires us to surrender the future of our ruins to whatever the Lord has for them and for us.

This surrender can be hard for us sometimes.  Many times we would rather sit in the middle of our own deserts than turn them over to the Lord for planting.  We would rather hold on to our old expectations, our old pain, our old bitterness, than surrender them to the Lord for His rebuilding.

Today, let’s show our failures the way out.  We can begin by inviting the Lord into our ruins and deserts.  What are we holding on to?  What do we have to lose?

Good People at Christmas

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.”  Mark 10:17-18.

Out in the working world you meet all kinds of people.  One of the great pleasures of participating in the economy is the opportunity to meet people of all genders, colors, nationalities, ages, abilities, and points of view.

We also run into people whose faith walk is different from ours.  We may know people whose devotion and personal piety put our own to shame.  We may also know people who are absolutely “nowhere” when it comes to faith.

For each of those people we know, we have a sense of whether they are “good” or “bad”.  The funny thing is, our definition of good or bad that we apply to others has a lot to do with who we are.  Because, most of the time, we are pretty convinced that we are “good”.

But in our text for today Jesus says none of us are good.  And deep inside we know Jesus is right.  Only God is good.  We all know that’s true because every time we try to be good we fail at it.  We may intend to smile and greet all our co-workers warmly but as soon as we get behind on our work, that intention falls by the wayside.  We may fully intend to stop drinking, or using, or swearing.  But you know how that goes.

It makes perfect sense when you think about it.  If we could be good without Jesus, why did He come?  Merry Christmas my friends.  Be good.

Who am I?

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. Romans 7:14-15

 In our text for today, the Apostle Paul reveals the personal inner anguish all of us can feel when we fail to do as we know we ought.  We know we should not listen to co-workers gossiping in the break room about a fellow’s life but we we can’t seem to bring ourselves to leave.  We know we shouldn’t watch certain shows on television or visit certain web sites but Facebook knows us well enough to advertise them to us.

The result can be tortuous.  We can feel guilty, ashamed, and locked in a pattern of behavior we feel powerless to change.  Like any creature, we yearn for homeostasis.  We long for personal integration and the failure of our actions to coincide with our identity in Christ can make us, like Paul, wonder “who will set us free from this body of death”.

At that moment we have a God-given opportunity to choose our path.  We can either allow what we do to determine who we are, or we can allow who we are to determine what we do.

If we disagree with God and the work He has done in us, then we will concede that we are reprobates, accept our ill behavior on that basis and conclude that God was wrong. He lacked either the power or the will to cleanse us.

If we agree with God and the work He is doing in us, we can enter into that life of sanctification in which we accept our identity and allow God to lead us in new patterns of living.  Sometimes the change is immediate and joyful, sometimes slow and laborious.  In either case, the trajectory is ever toward God and His holiness.

What determines which path we will take is whether we believe what God says about us.  If we are not reborn, no amount of good deeds can make us like Christ.  If we are, our stumbling will not make us any less so.  Let’s choose to walk in the truth, my friends, and see our path grow ever brighter.

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Genesis 2:8-9

 The tree of the knowledge of good and evil can be understood as a choice of who gets to establish the law.  God wants to be the final arbiter of what is good and evil, right and wrong.  Mankind’s eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is an act of usurping that prerogative for ourselves.  Now we will decide.  We alone get to distinguish the good from the bad.

Even though this was the primordial sin and is described throughout Christian literature as “the fall”, we actually don’t talk about it a lot.

Christians’ disinterest in who gets to choose right and wrong may in part arise from a view that we have already identified with God and his choices.  We already accept that God’s law of right and wrong is correct.  Life is good; death is bad.  Stealing is bad; working for a living is good.  But I wonder if that assumption that we are already in line with God can stand up to scrutiny.

God established that sacrificing for each other is good but we are inclined to indulge ourselves well beyond what we might need for our own wellbeing.  My neighbor may really need my help on a Saturday afternoon but I wind up on my couch instead.  Why?  Any time I make a choice, I reflect my actual law of good and bad.  Even if I try to assuage my conscience with guilt, my actions reveal what I really believe: couch good, investing in neighbor bad.

The law was intended to discipline us and highlight where we miss God’s mark.  But if we become the sole lawmaker, we will find the law will reflect our own shallow morality and self-centeredness.  Let your actions tell you what you believe about good and bad.  Spit out the fruit and let God be the sole lawmaker of your life.