No Constraints

“It’s a dog-eat-dog world … and I’m wearing Milk Bone underwear.” It may have been Norm Peterson’s most memorable line from the classic TV sitcom “Cheers.” He was right about the dog-eat-dog part, anyway, because we live in a world where resources are limited but human wants are not. So, we vie for a piece of the pie. (The study of how we do so is called economics.)

Imagine, then, Philip’s sense of helplessness when Jesus asked him where they might buy food for the 5,000 people now flocking toward them. “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”1 the disciple exclaimed. We can feel his panic, can’t we? So much demand and so little supply!

Then with just five small loaves of barley and two small fish, Jesus gave thanks for the bounty and distributed it to the crowd for an all-you-can eat buffet. Filled to the gills and 12 basketfuls of leftovers later, it occurred to the people that “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world,”2 and they aimed “to come and make him king by force.”3 Why? They had reduced God to something of a neighborhood convenience store. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus would tell them when they came seeking Him later, “you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.”4

The kingdom of God, however, is not something we seize by force; it is something we receive through grace. When we do, we find His economy is not one of scarcity, but of abundance—what we strive to earn, God gives for free; though we tend to hoard, He overflows; and as we give away, He multiplies. Why? Because though our desire for Him has its limits, His boundless love for us knows no constraints. And that’s something to cheer about.

“Freely you have received; freely give.” (Matthew 10:8)

Father, your love for me far surpasses my understanding, and your care for me exceeds anything I deserve. Everything I need is found in you. Thank you. In Jesus’ name and by the power of your Spirit, I pray. Amen.

Christ in me is freedom.

1 John 6:7
2 John 6:14
3 John 6:15
4 John 6:26

[Click here to read today’s Scripture in John 6:1-15.]

Unconventional Heralds of an Unconventional King

Announcer: Let’s play—Jeopardy!

Contestant: I’ll take “Quirky Prophets” for $100, Alex.
Host: This major prophet went around “stripped and barefoot” for a time.
Contestant: Who is Isaiah?
Host: Isaiah is right! Choose again.

Contestant: Let’s go with “Quirky Prophets” for $200.
Host: He lay on his left side for 390 days and then on his right for 40 more.
Contestant: Who is Ezekiel?
Host: Ezekiel it is!

Contestant: “Quirky Prophets” for $300, Alex.
Host: He wore camels’ hair clothes and ate bugs.
Contestant: Who is John the Baptist?
Host: Right again! You certainly know your quirky prophets!

Wait a minute! Aren’t these the guys who foretold the coming of God’s Messiah? Aren’t these the ones who announced great details of His Son’s incarnation—the time and place of His birth, His message, His sacrificial death, and His breathtaking resurrection—centuries before He came to us? You mean, these are they who trumpeted Him in the stirring eloquence of hope—“Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him”?1 and “He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”2 and, as a result of His work, “I will put my Spirit in you”3?

Yes, the words of the oracles have been the balm of comfort and hope in souls for millennia, and their fulfillment in Christ will be peace and joy in billions forever. Yet the prophets who proclaimed them were a curious lot; we might think of them as the original misfit toys of Christmas. Then what could such unconventional heralds portend but the coming of an unconventional king?

For Jesus came not to advance a worldly kingdom, but to establish a kingdom not of this world. He came not to condemn us for our unrighteousness, but to save the condemned through His own righteousness. He came not to be served, but to serve. He came in our likeness, so we would be transformed into His. He descended to us, that we would ascend to Him. He came to us poor, and we live in Him rich. He died unjustly at the hand of his subjects, so his subjects would live justified in the hand of their King.

This Lenten season, our church is focusing on Jesus as King. Thank God, our Sovereign does not conform to our conventions, for they are always opposite His own. Thank God, too, for His unconventional heralds—the faithful ones who are willing to forego the approval of the world, so that its people might not live in … well, jeopardy!

Father, thank you for your ways, which are so much higher than ours. Thank you, also, for your people who, whether in the past or in the present, choose your ways over their own. Please grace me to be counted among them. In Jesus name, Amen.

Christ in me is humility.

[Click here to read the today’s Scripture in Matthew 3:1-6.]

1 Matthew 3:4
2 Isaiah 9:6
3 Ezekiel 36:26, 27

The Great Exchange

I’ve been giving some thought to the traits that truly inspire me in people, the qualities I admire and enjoy most in them. Here are some that rise to the top: integrity, objectivity, courage, perseverance, common sense … there are others. What about you? What characteristics do you especially honor in others to the point that you are drawn to them?

Composing Psalm 15, David listed some of the virtues God highly esteems in people: blamelessness, truth, justice, honor, dependability, generosity … there are others. These are the traits of those He invites into His presence. There’s just one little glitch (I’ll speak for myself): I don’t measure up. While I value all of these qualities and want to see them displayed in myself and others, I’ve too often proved myself capable of exchanging virtue for vice if it serves the purposes of my own convenience, comfort, or gain. And truth be told, “All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt …”1 wrote David. When it comes to blamelessness, we are, in mathematicians’ terms, a “null set,” and we share a problem that, if left to ourselves, is unsolvable.

But God does not leave us to ourselves, and what is insurmountable to us is doable to Him whose love for us is as infinite as His wisdom and whose justice is as perfect as His power to execute it. Is it any surprise, then, that this amazing God who does not tolerate sin in His presence took it upon Himself to make a way for us, the imperfect ones, to live with Him forever? How did He resolve our dilemma without compromising Himself? The apostle Paul answers as simply as it can be stated: “God made [Christ] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him, we might become the righteousness of God.2” Martin Luther called this the great exchange—Jesus who knew no sin took our sin upon Himself, and in exchange, He offered His righteousness to us who knew no righteousness. What an exchange! In Christ, we are ushered into the presence of God.

Then we rest secure in Jesus even as we flourish in Him, for our life is now “hidden with Christ in God.”3 So, when God looks at us, He sees the righteousness of Christ who has united us with Himself. And as we live safely tucked away in Him, the Spirit of God transforms us steadily into His image, a lifelong process of molding, shaping, refining, beautifying. This is the promise of our promise-keeping God. What a relief.

Father, it is almost incomprehensible that you would take away my sin and give me, in exchange, the privilege of your presence. Thank you for sending your Son to accomplish this and for securing my life in Him forever. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Christ in me is righteousness.

Click here to read today’s Scripture, Psalm 15.

1 Psalm 14:3
2 2 Corinthians 5:21
3 Colossians 3:3