The Thrill of Discovery

(11 of 11 in a series)

Hanging on my office wall is an advertisement torn from a geophysical magazine several years ago.  The page size print shows a little girl at the beach holding tightly to her brother’s foot as he digs deep in the sand looking for buried treasure.  The picture of determination on the little girl’s face is priceless.  The caption reads, “If it’s there, we’ll find it.”

The reason this photo has followed me from office to office, job to job is because it captures, in visual form, the essence of the job of a geophysicist.  We use our training, skills, and keen eye for observation to look for buried treasure.  The “buried treasure” that geophysicists seek can take many forms:  oil, natural gas, water, minerals, fault lines in the earth and much more.  The thrill of discovery when our efforts find success is a powerful motivator for the working geophysicist.

A similar thrill of discovery is available to us in the spiritual world as well.  It is a discovery that has been made all over the world, throughout all cultures, by people of every race, for almost 2000 years.  Even by Mrs. Burgess.

When my wife, Rhonda, was a child, Mrs. Burgess was her next door neighbor.  Their two houses shared a driveway that forked and went to their respective homes.  Mrs. Burgess was always complaining about cars in the driveway and various assorted neighborhood challenges.  In short, Mrs. Burgess was a grump.

During her college years, Rhonda went to visit Mrs. Burgess at her retirement home in Northern Indiana.  When Mrs. Burgess recognized her guest she spoke warmly of Rhonda’s family being her neighbor and thanked Rhonda for her kindness as a child.  Rhonda had to double check the nameplate as this was not the Mrs. Burgess she had grown up with.  To paraphrase her elderly friend, Mrs. Burgess told Rhonda that she had become a believer in Jesus Christ.  She had accepted his offer of forgiveness and had a completely new outlook on life.  She now lived for others.  Her life had been transformed.  She had experienced the truth that sets us free.

In our era of celebrity, we get caught up in the comings and goings, thoughts and opinions of the rich and famous.  It drives our news and social media.  Mrs. Burgess’ story reminds us that in the quiet background, far from the media frontlines, thousands of people every day are experiencing the power of a changed life; experiencing the truth that sets us free.  This freedom, this transformation, this new life in Christ is available to all people, in all places, and for all time.  And most of all, it is being offered to you right now.  Won’t you join us?

True Freedom

(10 of 11 in a series)

When we hear the word freedom, we often think in terms of politics.  As part of a democracy, we are a free people.  Or we equate freedom with a suspension of the rules.  Teenagers are keen on gaining their freedom by having the house rules lifted as they get older.  Or we think in terms of morality, wishing we could act any way we please free from the ethics of our society, or religion, or peers.  Can this be true freedom?

The Bible teaches that true freedom does not equal autonomy.  Complete freedom in terms of total autonomy from any master, motivation, or influence is not an option for us in the human race as much as we like to think it is.  We are all servants of something or someone.  As Bob Dylan sang, “You can serve the devil or you can serve the Lord, but you gotta serve somebody.”

In our natural state, we are servants of our sin nature.  Just as cows eat grass because it is part of their nature, we commit acts of selfishness and harm because it is part of our sin nature.  No one had to teach us how to lie to smooth out a problem and stay out of trouble.  It is part of our nature.  No one has to teach a child to jump into the pool just after being told it is time to get out for adult swim.  It is in our nature.

That all changes, however, when we embrace the Christian message and become followers of Jesus Christ.  We are no longer servants of our sin nature but take on a new nature and a new master, Jesus Christ.  Let’s face it.  Our own selfish nature is our worst enemy.  And true freedom, the freedom offered by Jesus Christ when we embrace His message, is the power to live above our old nature.  We have literally been set free from ourselves.  True freedom is the power to love, to cherish, to protect, and to live in ways that are altruistic and morally beautiful.

The Lost Son and the Lovesick Father

(9 of 11 in a series)

Jesus told a parable – a story that illustrates a spiritual truth – about a lost son.  As the story goes, a wealthy landowner had two sons.  The younger son requested his share of the inheritance from his father so he could set out on his own.  The father agreed and the younger son took the money and headed off to a far away country.  After squandering his inheritance on loose living, the son ended up working on a hog farm in a time of famine and was in the process of starving to death.  When the son came to his senses, he said, “My father’s servants are treated so much better than this.  I will go to my father.  I will throw myself on his mercy.  I will offer to become a servant and work off the money I wasted.”  So the son returned home.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, Jesus paints a picture of a lovesick father waiting and yearning for his lost son to come home.  When the son returns, the father sees him from afar, is overwhelmed with compassion, runs to embrace him, kisses him, and announces a feast in his honor.  He will have nothing to do with his son’s plan to pay off the debt, but instead proclaims to all who will hear, “Rejoice with me.  My son who was as good as dead has come back to life.  My son who was lost has been found.”

Let’s stop the tape right here and say, “Wait just a minute.”  Are we to believe that after squandering his father’s money and inflicting the emotional pain of leaving without a trace, that all is forgiven?  What about working off the debt?  What about some probationary period to make sure the son’s change of heart is genuine?  And is Jesus’ parable really suggesting that this “unfairness of grace” is a picture of how God, the Father, accepts us?

That, my friends, is the absolute unadulterated beauty of the Christian message!  When we change our minds about Jesus Christ and embrace His message, all is forgiven.  There is no probationary period.  There is no “good works” requirement of being better than my neighbor, giving money to a church, or performing any acts of penance.  To our calculating and cynical minds this is too good to be true.  That is the uniqueness of the Christian message.  And this grace is being offered to you right now.

When you strip away the media caricature of Christianity, when you strip away the uninformed biases we have heard all of our lives about Christianity, at the heart of the Christian message is the story of a lovesick Father rejoicing in and accepting without reservation the person who embraces His message of good news.  And the good news is this:  Jesus Christ died for your sin problem and offers to set you free from its power.

Good News

(8 of 11 in a series)

Jesus said, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”  It is a basic premise of this blog, as well as the message of Jesus, that truth exists and that it can be known.

When I leave my home in northwest Houston, I am faced with the concrete reality of a maze of roads that lead to my downtown office.  These roads are literally a concrete reality.  That is, if I want to travel safely from point A to point B, I must travel the roads where they are.  If I decide the highway system is not “truth” for me and head off cross country, I have absolutely no hope of reaching my destination.  Even with a four-wheel drive SUV, I will drive into a house, get stuck in a ditch, or hit a light pole if I drive off willy-nilly.  It would be absurd to say the highway system is truth for you but not for me if I hope to reach my destination.

Concrete reality exists all around us.  Two plus two equals four, you are looking at black print on a white page, and George Washington was the United States of America’s first president.  Concrete reality can be verified by our senses, our experience, and eyewitness testimony.  Abstract reality also exists just as surely as the concrete variety.  Abstract reality is just as real but is not part of our sensory experience.  Concepts such as you are created in God’s image and we all have a sin problem that affects our behavior are abstract, but I believe just as real as the square root of nine is three.

The first step of belief is this.  Because truth exists and because it squares with the reality that we observe around us, we can know that the Christian message is true.  Because we see the message verified in what we can observe, we can trust its truth beyond our senses.  Or put another way, if what I observe about the world around me is adequately and reasonably explained by the Christian message, then can I trust it to explain the more abstract reality of how I can be set free from my sin problem?  If so, what is the Christian solution?

The Christian message proclaims that the solution to our sin problem is wrapped up in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  The person of Christ?  Jesus of Nazareth who claimed to be divine, the Son of the Living God.  The work of Christ?  His death on a cross on a specific day in history paid the ransom to free us from our “sin” prison.

Jesus said in the gospel of John, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  When we read the rest of John’s gospel, literally “good news”, we learn that Jesus is referring to Himself as the way, that is, the only path to God.  He is calling Himself the truth, that is, the essence of all that is true.  He is the embodiment of truth, truth that can be known, discovered, and understood by the human mind.  He claims to be the life, the source of eternal life (freedom from the penalty of sin) and the abundant life (freedom from the power of sin) that can be ours today.  If Christianity is the answer, how do we embrace its life-giving message?

The Shoe Fits

(7 of 11 in a series)

The depravity of man has become in our day a compelling argument for the truth of the Christian message.  Modern man, when he is thinking, knows he is sick.  Recognizing our desperate condition is not the problem.  A large portion of the pop music of my generation was summarized in Steely Dan’s, “Any world that I am welcome to is better than the one I come from.”  In literature, music, and art, nihilism is a common theme; we know something is amiss.  Unfortunately, our “sickness” has clouded our vision and blinded our eyes to the true solution.

It is my contention that when we embrace the “good news” message of Jesus Christ, the blinders come off and a whole new world opens up to us.  We finally see that the Christian message “fits” the world we observe and inhabit.

In the story of Cinderella, the mysterious young woman and new love of the prince loses her glass slipper running from the ball.  The prince, desperate to find the girl, goes on a country wide search for the foot that fits the slipper.  In the story’s climax, the lowly Cinderella is discovered to be the true owner of the slipper and the cry goes out across the land, “The shoe fits!”  The mystery woman has been discovered.

Though the illustration is a simple one, may I submit that when we compare the world we observe and experience and move and live in with the message of Christianity, the shoe fits.  The Christian explanation of who we are is the one that fits the facts of our own experience.  Not only is it intellectually satisfying to find the “fit” to our observations, it more importantly sets us on the path to be healed of our “sickness” by uncovering the truth that sets us free.  A truth we will explore next time.