God lifts us up for the slam dunk

This morning, I woke up early and decided to open the Bible while I ate some Frosted Mini-Wheats.  The Bible fell open to John chapter 8.  In John 8, Jesus saves the woman from being stoned and reminds her would be assailants:

“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

I have always found this passage very easy to grasp. People in glass houses should not throw stones.  None of us have any room to talk.  Or are righteous enough to judge others.  Easy to grasp, not always easy to live up to.  But today I read further:

Jesus then said to those Jews who believed in him, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone.  How can you say, ‘You will become free’?”  Jesus answered them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.  A slave does not remain in a household forever, but a son always remains. So if a son frees you, then you will truly be free.”

John 8: 31-36

I read this passage over several times, particularly the last three sentences:  “Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.  A slave does not remain in a household forever, but a son always remains. So if a son frees you, then you will truly be free.” At first it was very troubling to me.  And I was filled with this feeling of hopelessness.  “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”  Well, we all know that we are all sinners.  So we are all slaves.  “A slave does not remain in a household forever.”  What does that mean?  We don’t remain on earth?  We don’t remain alive?  Of course both of these are true.  We don’t remain in God’s household?  We are not truly part of His house, His kingdom?  This is where, the feeling of hopelessness set in.  Because I know I am a sinner.  I also understand that all humans are sinners and that we really cannot opt out of being a sinner here on earth.  So is it hopeless?  I want to be able to not be a slave to sin.  I want to remain in God’s household forever.  But from everything I read and hear and understand, I cannot choose to do that — I will always sin — so isn’t it hopeless and why do we try not to sin, if we know we will fail?  Is anyone else feeling hopeless with me, now?

So I put the Bible down and thought — maybe I will try to open it again later and it will be a happier place.

Then as I was driving to church, I had a moment of clarity, or at least I think it was. My hopelessness came, because I was thinking only of myself, and my pride was getting in the way saying if I cannot fix it, then it is hopeless.  If I cannot not sin, then  I am a failure.  I was totally missing the last sentence: “So if a son frees you, then you will truly be free.”  Jesus frees us.  Jesus is our hope. I was putting myself ahead of God.  I was thinking like a child: if I can’t do it on my own, then I don’t want it.  I am not able to do it on my own, but God is.  I just need to be humble enough to accept it.  And I need to be humble enough to ask for God’s grace and mercy — to ask Him to free me.

Ok, starting to feel a lot better.  But I was still struggling with a question that has haunted me before.  Why should we keep trying not to sin, even if we know we will fail and continue to sin.  Because God asks us to try.   By trying we show our love for Him. (This time some clarity came from basketball.)  We all root for the under dog.  (I am watching #11 seed Xavier University trying to beat #1 seed Gonzaga right now in the NCAA Elite Eight.)  Why do we like the under dog?  Because they don’t give up — they keep trying even when the odds are against them.  Why do they keep trying?  Because they love the game, they love their team.  God wants us to try.  And understand that when we try, and when we accept our failure and turn to Him, he will lift us up to the rim, so we can finish with the slam dunk.

Jesus,

I love you!  I do not want to sin.  I want to live in your household forever.  I need your help.  I need your grace and your mercy.  Forgive me for my sins.  Break the chains that bind me.  I know that when you lift me up, I will truly be free.  Lord, Lift me up!

Amen

March madness, God’s gladness

I believe that God likes basketball.  He made us in his image and it certainly seems that we like basketball.

I enjoy watching, rooting for the underdog, watching the sweetness of victory — the joy that is shared among the players and the fans — and watching the “agony” and sometimes heartbreak of defeat.  As I was watching tonight, I happened to open my Bible again (a double header day):

You have been born anew, not from perishable but from imperishable seed, through the living and abiding word of God, for:

“All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of the field; the grass withers, and the flower wilts; but the word of the Lord remains forever.”

This is the word that has been proclaimed to you.

1 Peter 1:23-25

I was struck with one thought as I read this, with one eye on the basketball scores (and my bracket that was quickly going down the drain):  March madness is a beautiful microcosm of all worldly things.  Perishable.  Whether your team wins the game, wins the tournament or even experiences the ultimate Cinderella story — the victory is perishable.  The victory is fleeting and will eventually wilt.  Even the worst loss, the humiliating defeat, the broken dreams.  These too are perishable.

Next fall the teams will all start anew.  This year’s victories and losses will be meaningless.  Just memories.  As with most things in life.  Easy come.  Easy go.  Today’s peaks, quickly turn into tomorrow’s valleys.  But one thing remains:

GOD.

All the glory of today will fade away.  All the glory of March Madness will be gone by mid April.  But the Glory of God reigns true.

So cheer your team to victory (as long as they are not playing my team), and remember one team endures forever.