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Copa Mundial

The following is a repost of the original which was posted on June 11, 2010 and temporarily lost after my site was hacked.

Today begins the greatest month in the world of sports.  People across the globe gather around their radios and televisions for World Cup matches.  While most Americans only care about soccer as long as the US team is still involved in this event, the rest of the world is consumed by football (or fútbol).  There’s nothing wrong with baseball, but should it really be called the “World Series” when the only international flavor is the Toronto Blue Jays?  Meanwhile 32 national teams from six continents compete for a golden trophy and global bragging rights.

While I have never attended a match, I have some very fond memories of previous tournaments.  In 1994 we spent a few weeks in Mexico as the competition was going on back in the USA.  Huge screens were set up in public parks throughout Mexico City so that anyone could watch as they passed.  We were amazed as life basically shut down while matches were being played.  Maribeth and I marveled as the entire city of Acapulco spilled out into the streets after the Mexican team tied Italy.

In 2002 we were with missionary friends at a camp outside Guadalajara, Spain.  Regular breaks from the work were included as we huddled around a radio to listen to matches.  Again that year, we heard the universal language of honking car horns that celebrated a Spanish goal or victory.  When we returned home to the states, I would wake up at 2:00 a.m. to watch the US team play in South Korea.

At this point, I should admit that I remain a fan of La Furia Roja (the Spanish national team).  If the USA does not advance into July, I hope to wear my red jersey all the way to the final.

It is fascinating to watch nations that are plagued by corrupt politics and poor economies find their identity and hope in a football team.  The zeal of fans is unparalleled, moving them to extremes unheard of in other settings.  I think of the Colombian defender who was shot to death two weeks after scoring an own goal in the 1994 tournament.  On a milder note, people will awaken early, call in sick to work, and forget their families for four weeks just to watch football.  What dedication!

I will likely make some minor adjustments to my life for this year’s tourney.  However, I wonder what would be the result of our service for Christ if believers demonstrated a fraction of the devotion known to true football fans.

Grace on Display

The anchor on Good Morning America used a word that is seldom heard on secular programming; “grace.” This was not a reference to George Burns’ wife or the late Princess of Monaco (look them up, young people), but concerned baseball. Grace showed up on the front page of today’s St. Petersburg Times as the editor referred to the “remarkable grace” demonstrated by two men.

Over and over reporters and commentators have made reference to the gracious response of Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga who was denied a perfect game by a bad call. They also have marveled at the prompt and sincere apology of umpire Jim Joyce. Grace seemed to be the only thing that could overrule an ugly situation.

The Greek root word (charis) translated grace is used in a variety of applications throughout Scripture. However, at the core of our understanding is the grace that an eternal God has shown to sinful men. We deserved punishment, but God in his infinite love offered His own Son as our sacrifice. The apostle Paul reminds us that “God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved).” Ephes. 2:4-5

Based on this foundation of God’s forgiving mercy, believers are called to demonstrate grace to a world that needs it, but rarely experiences it. This story from Major League Baseball emphasizes that point. Everyone is celebrating the response of two men. Basically, one apologized and the other accepted and offered forgiveness. These are fairly simple acts that, in reality, are rarely practiced. We have come to expect caustic outbursts and the threat of lawsuits. It is not hard to imagine that if Christians genuinely lived as we are instructed, then the world would sit up and take notice. If this much attention is paid to a simple display of forgiveness, what would happen if believers regularly acted in kindness and forgiveness toward others? What would be said about us if we always seasoned our speech with grace? When we reflect the grace that has been poured out on us, it will provide innumerable opportunities to introduce people to our Savior.

And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. Ephes. 4:32

Unpacking

At a men’s Bible study that I attend, the leader often speaks of “unpacking” a particular passage of Scripture. He is talking about doing more than just reading it. Even more than just commenting on it. He understands that in order to truly use Scripture we must deal with it thoroughly. And so our group digs in to study the truth we read and find ways to apply it to our lives.

Perhaps you have shared the following experience after a trip out of town. You return home tired from travel, walk into your home, and set down your bags. For many of us, the first thing we want to do is clean up and sleep in our own beds. The last thing we want to do is deal with our luggage. That’s a task for a new day…or the next. If that next day turns into a few more, it could spell trouble. Soon you look into the closet for a particular suit, only to find that it has “disappeared.” It’s still yours, but it’s not available to be used until it is unpacked.

Perhaps that’s similar to our Bible. We own one (or more) and know that it is the most valuable tool for our lives. Yet it often sits unused on the shelf. When we need it the most, it seems inaccessible to us. Surely, God has something to say about our particular situation. However, because of neglect, we’re not quite sure what it is. How should we “unpack” the Scriptures?

– Consider it (Psa. 119:95)
– Delight in it (Psa. 1:2)
– Heed it (Psa. 119:9)
– Meditate on it (Psa. 119:97)
– Keep it (Psa. 119:167)
– Memorize it (Psa. 119:11)
– Love it (Psa. 119:97)
– Speak it (Psa. 119:172)

The psalmist’s list goes on and on. The apostle Paul reminds Timothy that the study of God’s Word would prepare him for the demands of this life.

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 2 Tim. 2:15

When we thoroughly study the Word of God, we know what He says about our circumstances. When we commit it to memory, we make Scripture accessible in our daily lives. With His Word we are prepared to face both opportunity and temptation…blessing and difficulty…peaceful days and storms. All of our decisions and actions will be affected by our interaction – or lack of it – with the Scriptures.

If your Bible has rested on a shelf too long (with only an occasional Sunday trip to church), “unpack” a verse today.

Real Hope for Real Life

Rituals with no substance. Liars in the pulpit. Loved ones lost forever. A meaningless faith. No forgiveness, No salvation. No hope – temporal or eternal. This is the grim picture that the Apostle Paul paints in 1 Corinthians 15 if there is no resurrection from the dead. In fact, there would be no reason to meet this Sunday, or any other, if we did not have a risen Savior.

In his work, “A Free Man’s Worship”, noted atheist Bertrand Russell gave a glimpse of life and death through the eyes of one who rejects the biblical record. He wrote, “The life of Man is a long march through the night, surrounded by invisible foes, tortured by weariness and pain, towards a goal that few can hope to reach, and where none may tarry long. One by one, as they march, our comrades vanish from our sight, seized by the silent orders of omnipotent Death.”

However, the Word of God boldly declares, “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept” 1 Cor. 15:20. The Lord conquered sin, death, and hell in His glorious, bodily resurrection from the dead. Our message is powerful. Our sins can be forgiven. Our eternity is secure. Our faith is sure.

Many that live all around us are discouraged and frustrated. They are grasping for anything that promises to provide a glimmer of hope, even if it is just temporary. As believers, we have a life-changing message of genuine hope in Jesus Christ. May we be diligent and generous in sharing our hope with those that are lost.

Many Members, One Body

I cut my finger last night. I am not sure exactly how it happened (likely in a fit of excited clapping and cheering just before halftime). I didn’t even notice it until I saw the blood on my hand, jacket, and face. Somehow my fingertip just split.

The cut may be only ½ inch in length. It’s not especially painful. In a day or two I will forget all about it, but right now it is quite noticeable. That is because I have been trying to work this morning, and that includes typing with a Band-Aid on my right ring finger. While that may not seem like a huge hindrance, I am suddenly aware of how many words contain the letters “p”, “o”, and “l”. What did I ever do before “spellcheck?”

I was reminded of the biblical teaching that believers are members of one body. The apostle Paul stated:
For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: [5] So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Romans 12:4-5

Adding to that thought, he reminds us that every part is important. The head cannot say to the feet, “I have no need for you” (1 Cor. 12:21). The same thing is true for the eyes, ears, hands, or any other member. Likewise, no part should feel unimportant or unnecessary. Every member has its place in the body. All are needed. All are useful for specific purposes. Even a fingertip can affect your productivity.

He has placed believers in the body to fulfill our purpose. Our goal as individuals in the church is to use our gifts for the benefit and growth of others. When we are absent or inactive, the body suffers. It is a noticeable hindrance. We are most useful when we discover our place and serve as God directs us. We discover spiritual growth in our own lives and build up others at the same time

Rescued


Last night we had the opportunity to hear Steve Green in concert. It was a great event filled with powerful music. Not only does he possess an incredibly strong and disciplined voice, but the message of each song was so clear and compelling. (By the way, his a capella presentation of “A Mighty Fortress” was worth the price of a ticket.)

Throughout the evening, he spoke about the blessings of our salvation, the fullness of God’s grace, and the hope of the resurrection. Each topic was an encouragement and a challenge for daily living. Several times when speaking about salvation, he used a significant term – rescued. Saved, redeemed, reborn, delivered…all are descriptive of the work that God has done in the lives of those who are His own. Yet, there is something very striking about the concept of our rescue.

I quickly thought of Air Station Clearwater just down the road. Almost every day I look up to see a thundering C-130 or a HH-60 helicopter heading west from the largest and busiest Air Station in the US Coast Guard. Frequently, we watch the evening news with a report of boaters rescued from the waters of the Gulf.

Can you imagine the experience of being capsized and lost at sea? The waters increasingly chill your body’s temperature. The waves seem to grow taller with each passing minute. Your muscles fatigue, begin to ache, and soon cease to function. You realize there is nothing you can do to keep your head above water. The end is near and certain.

Suddenly in the distance you hear the chopping sound from the blades of a Jayhawk helicopter. From it you can see a cable with a rescue swimmer descending to your position. He speaks words of assurance as he secures a lifeline around you. Steadily you are lifted up out of the stormy waters into the security of the waiting helicopter. As the craft lands and you step out onto solid ground you take in the magnitude of what has just happened. Your life has been wonderfully saved. You have been rescued.

The psalmist never envisioned a helicopter, but described our spiritual rescue with compelling terms.

“He sent from above, he took me, he drew me out of many waters. [17] He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from them which hated me: for they were too strong for me.”
Psalm 18:16-17

More than from just earthly enemies, the Lord has rescued us from our spiritual adversary. When Christ died, He broke the bonds of sin and freed us from the clutches of Satan himself. He lifted us up from our miserable condition and placed us in a sure place.

Often the one rescued returns to the Air Station to meet the crew that carried out the rescue. With a heart overflowing with gratitude, he realizes all he can do is say “thank you.” No repayment is possible, because none could ever measure up to the gift of a lived saved from sure destruction.

How can we ever cease to praise the One who has truly rescued us? What a powerful message God’s children have to share with those around us!

Time is Running Out!

This week the Associated Press issued another in a series of urgent bulletins. The basic message: Time is running out! Commerce Secretary Gary Locke made a pressing appeal for Americans to respond before it is too late. What could possibly be so important to warrant such a barrage of warnings from the federal government? People who have not yet made the transition to digital TV face a Friday deadline to upgrade – or be faced with the terrifying prospect of blank TV screens.

Night and day for eighteen months, the words have slowly scrolled across our screens. When broadcast television converts to digital, analog receivers will no longer be able to pick up a signal. It appears the government is concerned about the uproar that might occur when people suddenly realize they cannot watch tonight’s episode of CSI or “So You Think You Can Dance.”

Can you imagine the chaos that would follow the complete and instantaneous removal of our television signal? What if it included satellites, cable and broadcast TV? What would America do? Sure, television is a tool that can connect us to noteworthy events in the world around us. However, more often than not, it is simply the vehicle that brings various forms of entertainment into our homes. Sometimes harmless, usually mindless, and often downright offensive.

When I read the latest warnings, I began to wonder. What if believers treated the reality of the Lord’s return with the same urgency that the federal government treated this event? The Lord Himself reminds us that “as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Matt. 24:37). He describes people who were eating, drinking, and celebrating as if they had no concerns at all – until Noah entered the ark. Those same people who ignored the warning were swept away in the great global flood. He then offers the sobering reminder that “so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Matt. 24:39).

We have a clear message: Jesus is coming again! We have an urgent message: His coming is imminent! We have an alarming message: He will come without further notice! We have a sobering message: We must be prepared now to meet Him! Perhaps we should put out an urgent bulletin to the people that surround us each day. God has promised the return of His Son. Today is the day to prepare.