Give Yourself to Others …

The point I’m trying to make is this:  The primary question of faith does not begin with what you believe about Jesus — and I’m not minimizing that point — I’m just saying that is not the first question.

The first question is what you believe about God.

Do you believe God is supreme?  Did God create the universe?  Is having a relationship with God important and relevant?

If your answer to these questions is “no,” then the gospel of Jesus provides nothing of value to you.  Because the significance of Jesus is he offers a path to restore the severed relationship between God and mankind.

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I certainly cannot say what everyone means when they use this phrase: The Providence of God.

One definition of providence is “the protective care of God.”  But it seems a bit more complicated than that.

The way I hear people use the phrase seems to imply God controls and perhaps even manipulates events and circumstances for the benefit of those who believe in and follow him.

I think it’s fairly obvious there are times when such a view is hard to grasp or even accept.  Most often, when something tragic happens.  Does anyone believe God directs a newborn baby to be born with a life threatening defect or cancer?  Does anyone think it is God’s will people die in a fire?

This past week, a woman was flying home when the engine of the plane exploded into pieces, she was partially sucked out the window of the plane and later died — did God make that happen?

Some quickly say, we don’t understand God’s plan for us.

But I don’t think these events have much to do with God’s plan for us.

God’s plan was for us to be reconciled to himself.  Our failures to conform to his will separate us from him, and the point of Jesus and the gospel was to create a pathway to restore our relationship with God.

God’s plan is not that we should have a problem free life.  God’s plan is that we should submit ourselves to his will.

God’s will is supreme, not because he imposes it on us, but rather, because we intentionally submit to it.

God’s will is manifest in the world as the result of our submission to it.  Personally, I see God’s will manifest in the lives of his people responding to the events of life.

Bad things happen.  Good things happen.  But in all things may we always find a way to submit to God’s will and conform to it.

Most are deluded with the idea we can say something to another person, which will cause that person to change their mind about a particular topic.  We think we can persuade others to think like us.

I repeat — that is a delusion.

Now, granted, sometimes we do say things and then, coincidentally, other people changing their view of things.  But even when that happens, it’s not because of us, it’s because of them!

People are free-will individuals.  They get to make up their own minds.  They get to make their own choices.  They get to set their own priorities.  They get to decide what is important and what is not.  They choose what they believe.

People are neither good or bad, just because they disagree with us.  They are just different, and that is their choice.

What we can do is inspire or motivate others to act on what they already believe.

I spent much of my career in the direct mail fundraising business. Fortunately, for me, early on, I learned this:  It’s not about persuading people to agree with me, it’s about finding people who already agree and motivating them to act on what they believe.

An example:  Most political campaign communications are not about changing Rs to Ds or Ds to Rs.  It’s about convincing your opposing voters their cause is lost and there is no point in voting; and, at the same time, inspiring your supporting voters, theirs is the winning side and they should “get on the bandwagon” to victory.

In matters of commerce, you’ll never convince someone to buy your product or service, unless they already believe they have the “problem” your product or service resolves.

People do change their minds all the time.  But those changes are unpredictable and are caused by far more factors and considerations than what little anyone of us may contribute to them.

So, speak out about what you believe.  Believe what you say.  But let everyone else do the same.

I admit, I get pretty annoyed when Christians attempt to attribute to Jesus, their own political views. Whether on the political Left or the political right, I think they are wrong.

Just for the record, I’m more on the political right — pretty close to libertarian.

I see the controlling factor as “free will.”  God gave it to us.  It’s what makes us fundamentally different from animals.

From where I sit, Christians on the political Left want government to implement policies around caring for others; but then object, when those on the political Right want the government to implement policies which criminalize “sins.”

The Left wants to institutionalize charitable activities.  The Right wants to institutionalize Christian morality.

I think both miss the point of Jesus’ example.

The emphasis of Jesus’ life was two-fold:  First, conform your personal will to God.  Second, seek with your whole heart and being to life consistent with God’s will.

One of the central reasons for Jesus’ life on earth was to provide the example of how to conform our will and behavior to God’s will.  But at the same time, he taught we need to recognize our inability to conform completely to God’s will.  Such failure is the reason we need redemption.  And our redemption is individual, not corporate.

That is, the government’s success or failure to provide a “safety net” does not affect our salvation.  At the same time, if another person lives inconsistent with God’s will, that does not condemn me — or anyone else.

The issue, from God’s perspective, is whether I am seeking to conform my will to his.  It’s not about how successful I am — it’s about whether I’m trying.  

So, my liberal friends are trying to do what they think is right.  My conservative friends are trying to do what they think is right.  My libertarian friends are trying to do what they think is right.  My socialist friends (I’m not sure I know of any) are trying to do what they think is right.

None of us know, for sure, if we’re doing the right thing.

Give yourself to others, for their good, expecting, nor requiring, anything in return — even if they disagree with you politically.

I’ve been contemplating the nature of our relationship with God, in the broad context of the Scriptures and our redemption.

It seems to me, much of the Christian world may have missed the substantive point.

I understand the Text (which is the word I prefer to “Bible”) reveals God’s original intent was we should have an eternal relationship with him; but because God gave us the ability to choose or reject that goal, in broad terms, we have rejected it.  That was choice displayed in the account of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

We fell victim to the belief, that because we could recognize the difference between Good and Evil, just as God does, then we would be like God.  Well, we were already “like” God; but as is always the case, we thought we could actually be equal with God — which is a whole different matter.

So, God gave us the Law of Moses, to demonstrate to us how little we knew about being equal with God.  In the New Testament text, we’re told the Law was put in place so we would recognize this failure by us to live up to God’s standard.

As a result, and as he always said he would, God put in place a path which leads us back to him.  That path, of course, was the life of Jesus, his death, resurrection and restoration to God — the good news — the gospel.

The choice left for us is whether to fully submit our individual will to the will of God, and devote ourselves to seeking after God in every way, at every moment, every day.

However, even if we are fully devoted, we will fail to achieve that goal, which is the Text states “we are saved by grace” and that’s a gift from God, not something we have earned.  Because if we had to earn it, we would be condemned for all our failures.

The significance of this view is high, especially for those of us raised in modern Western civilization.  For we are taught about our freedom, our individuality, the right to defend ourselves, hold ourselves up, take pride in our accomplishments.  And submission to anyone or anything seems completely counter to our thinking and our way of life.

We are truly unfamiliar with the concept of submission.  We don’t appreciate the idea of Jesus as King or God as Lord — because we have never had anyone or anything with truly life and death power over us.

Thus, we struggle with our pride and self-reliance and self-importance.

And God seeks our submission.

The question for each day is:  How may I submit myself to God today?

And the answer, from the Text, is:  Give yourself to others, for their good, expecting nothing in return.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And from that moment, God has been sovereign over the earth. Then, he created us — in his image and with the free will to make choices consistent with or in conflict with his will.

He revealed his will for us, to us, and we acted as if we heard him, but we really didn’t. He told us if we lived according to his will, we would be with him forever. We started to think and continue, to this day, to think we are smart enough and wise enough to make decisions, without considering what God’s will for us is.

By acting in conflict with God’s will, we should be destined to be separated from God, now and forever.

But how could a loving God, abandon his creation to be separated from himself? Many of us still ask this question today.

However, God did not abandon us. He made a covenant with us.

He would redeem us from our destiny of separation, if we would acknowledge him as absolute Lord and King of our lives and then, just try to live the way he asks us to live.

We even have a hard time with that, don’t we?

To seal this covenant between God and us, Jesus came to earth. God’s only begotten. One and the same with God. Inseparable from God.

Jesus lived as God wants us to live. The complete example of how to conform to the will of God.

And this Jesus, whom we worship, accepted as his own, the blame and responsibility for all of our failures to conform to God’s will. And so, God allowed Jesus to die in your place and in my place, as punishment for our failures.

But then, in a moment of amazing grace and forgiveness, God said, no, you shall not die, Jesus, you shall live forever with me — and God raised Jesus from the dead.

To claim this redeeming grace and forgiveness, God asks us only to surrender everything about ourselves to him. To put ourselves behind everyone. To submit. To acknowledge he is God. To give up our pride and selfishness in favor of what is best for those around us. For, in order to love God, we must love each other the way Jesus loved us and gave his life for us.

This is what we celebrate today — nothing less. And what could be more proper to celebrate. We are children of God, because Jesus died in our place, and God redeemed us.

Carey Nieuwhof has written a great post on Audience Analysis applied to Sermon preparation & delivery:

How To Know What Your Audience Is Thinking BEFORE You Communicate

Too often, people who present material (on any topic, not just spiritual topics) focus on what they have to say, rather than what their audience will hear.

In his post, Carey describes his process to bring those two things closer together.

This is worth review by any preacher or teacher, or even sales rep!

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