Friday, May 21, 2004

What's That Smoke?

William Tecumseh Sherman was a US General whose march to the sea in 1864 from Atlanta to Savannah were crucial to the success of the Union forces in the Civil War. During one of his engagements, Sherman was having difficulty breaking through the enemy front. He decided to send General Cox's division to attack the opposing left. Sherman positioned himself on a high hill to watch the operations and gave Cox his final orders for the circuitous march: "See here, Cox, burn a few barns occasionally as you go along. I can't understand those signal flags, but I know what smoke means." He knew what smoke means. I guess that Sherman had seen enough burning in war to know that smoke meant that his men were successfully destroying the enemy.
You and I have been around a little. We've witnessed some things in this life that enable us to identify what is going on. We need to be sure, though, that we let the smoke register with us. Here are some examples of smoke that means trouble.
Drinking is trouble. Robert Elliot reported that alcohol is used by a majority of the adult population and creates more problems than all other drugs combined. Broken marriages, brawls, neglected children, crashes on the roads, misspent money, uncontrolled passions all from alcohol. Everybody sees these things yet many still lift a beer to their lips and ask, "What is all that smoke?"
Gambling is trouble. Maybe some of us have seen this smoke a little more than others. I moved here from Mississippi. I still have many friends there, some of whom live along the Mississippi River and on the gulf coast. Gambling boats now line the shores at Vicksburg and Gulf Port. Families are broken and broke. Children are left in gambling boat day cares while their parents cash paychecks next to the roulette tables. The suicide rate is climbing because husbands can't face their wives or their creditors. Crime is on the increase. Don't forget what Jesus said in Matthew 6, "You can't serve God and money." He said later through Paul's pen, "People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." Yet some in Tennessee would cast a vote for legalized gambling asking, "What is all that smoke?"
Bad companions are trouble. 1 Corinthians 15:33 warns, "Evil companions corrupt good morals." You see some kid trying to buy cigarette paper from the convenience store. You find out that a young person at your kid's school was caught vandalizing public property. That turns out to be the same kid. Then that kid comes to your house on Friday night, he opens the car door and a beer can falls to the street. He takes a long look at your daughter and says, "You ready to go?" You clear your eyes from the smoke, then say, "Have a good time, Sweetheart." "What is all that smoke," you ask. You know what it is. Stay clear.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Down and Out

Hall of Fame football star Bronko Nagurski was involved in some horseplay with a teammate that ended with Bronko falling out of a second story window. As he lay on the ground, okay but stunned, a policeman pushed through the crowd.
“What happened?” the office inquired.
Bronko responded, “I don’t know, I just got here myself.”
Sometimes when we are flat on our backs, we don’t know how we got in such horrible position. It was gradual, perhaps, and all we know is that we can’t get back on our feet alone. Other times, we know what happened. We are aware of the foolish choices, perhaps sinful choices that brought about our downfall. Still other times, we know exactly what happened and couldn’t prevent it though we tried. During his ministry, Jesus ran across the lonely like the woman Samaria, the sinful like the woman in John 8, and the sick whose stories are told throughout the gospels. Regardless of why they were “down and out,” Jesus was always willing and able to lift them up! We should be like that! That’s Life at Work!

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

In January I was given a ticket for running a stop sign as I came off a turnpike near our home. I went to court instead of mailing in the fine so that I could justify my action. Didn’t work.
When we think of justification, we tend to think of it in terms of actions, not people. If work is not done, we give our excuse. If I’ve mistreated you, I tell you why. If you’re late, you explain what detained you. The excuses, the “whys,” and the explanations are attempts to justify something done. Justification, as we seek it, is not a proclamation of innocence; it is acceptance that there was good reason to have made the mistake.
But when Paul wrote, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…” he was not talking about reasonable excuses for having done wrong. When Paul used the word “justified” or something like it fifteen times in Romans, he was not indicating that God understands why we’ve sinned, and has accepted our explanation. Paul means that God has made us as though we had not done the wrong thing. Instead of seeing us as wrong, but excused; he forgives and credits us with righteousness. In God’s estimation, those who have faith in Christ, have no sin.
Since the faithful have no sin, they are not under the wrath of God. Since we have no sin, we will not be paid “death,” which sin earns. Since we have no sin, we have peace with God and there is no condemnation for us.
My fine for running the stop sign was eighty dollars. I know now that there is a stop sign there and that even if the light is green, I’ve got to stop. Good lesson learned. I was really irritated, though, that I had pay.
My wage for my sin is death (Romans 6:23). I’ve learned that my justification calls me to a life lived with a mindset on things of the Spirit. Good lesson learned. To have paid the fine for my sin would not have simply been irritating. It would have been devastating … for all eternity. Thanks be to God for the gift of righteousness.