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Great Gain

Pastor Robin Fish
Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church  
Laurie, MO

view DOC file

Mon, Mar 1, 2010 

Life a gift.  That is one of those great truisms, you know, something so obviously true that only the contentious would argue.  No one asks for life, they are born into it.  Parents give life, and God gives life.  But that is not what I meant to refer to in the first sentence.

The specific life which each of us lives is a gift, that is, God has laid out our lives before us.  While we muddle through the details, God has made one of us a farmer, called another of us to work as a mechanic or a grocer or a salesman, led others of us to different vocations and built around us a life filled with blessings and with tasks to do.  They are given to us by God.  We each have our personal abilities, gifts from God.  The opportunities that open before us and the obstacles that confront us are all there by God's gift, or, at the very least, with His permission.  It is all part of His plan.

The fascinating thing to consider is that God can shape our lives as He does without really violating our ability to choose and shape things ourselves.  God works in such a way that our lives are His gift and our work in concert, but always moving in His planned direction.  God is capable of far greater detail and subtlety in His planning than we can even conceive of or appreciate.

I know many people who would read this and reject it out of hand, looking at the world around us, horrified at much of what they would see.  But a quick test should help.  Look at the world of success.  The Bible tells us that God is the One who gives it and creates it.  Old Testament examples would include the rise of Assyria to conquer Israel and Judah.  God claims that that was His work.  In our modern times, we can mark examples of those who are talented and work exceptionally hard, and do great work, and never seem to strike that great success, and we can compare them to those who do achieve success, whose talent and quality of work are no better - perhaps not as good as those who struggle but never quite grasp the brass ring.  What is the difference?  The will and gift of God.  He says so in Hosea 6, and numerous other places In the Old Testament.  Every prayer for success and blessing and each prayer of Thanksgiving in the Scriptures tells us that every good and all blessings come from the hand of God.  It is vain for you to rise up early, To retire late, To eat the bread of painful labors; For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep. Psalm 127:2.

None of this means that we should not try to make good decisions and do the work of our callings and aim to succeed.  God works His blessings in concert with our labors.  Those who ignore His command to work may be blessed with shortages and difficulties.  God's will for us often seems to have a contingency element, such as, 'If you do these things, I will bless in this way, and if you do those things (or fail to do something) I will bless with this other set of blessings.' But as we work and try to make our way in this world, our blessings and, often, the choices available to us, are from the Lord.  Two people can do the same thing, and give the same effort, and come to completely different results in life.  It is from the Lord.  Life is what it is as it comes to you.  Try as you might, you may not be able to change it.  For some life comes easily.  For some it is filled with difficulty.  For some it is happy and for others it is something other than what they want and how they want it.

Many people have trouble with this idea.  Most people see life as a blank slate, and you can make of it whatever you are willing to make of it.  They define a shape, a 'feeling' that life is supposed to have, and then they do what they can to make it happen.  Religiously, that is what most modern Christians do with faith.  They decide what a "Christian life" is supposed to be like, and what faith is supposed to feel like, and they work at making their life, faith, or experience match the pattern they have devised in their mind.  To the extent that such a person succeeds in achieving their goal, they call themselves a success, and to the extent that they fail, they feel that sense of failure, without any awareness that their lives might be precisely what God intended for them, and that they are where He would have them to be for the work He would have them do.

We all tend to define life by those who appear to have the sorts of lives that we desire, and measure our own lives against that 'ideal'.  That is only human.  But there are also those lives that are so much less and more undesirable than the lives we live.  We tend to pretend that they are not there, when we measure our own lives, or that they are some aberration.  Yet those sorts of lives are more numerous than the lives we measure ours against and struggle with the imagined lack of in our own lives.  In times of disappointment with our circumstances, we are generally measuring our satisfaction against the 'ideal' and ignoring the other realities that are far less desirable, ones that, if we compared our lives to those, we would find ourselves to be blessed abundantly and be constantly reminded to give thanks.

It is difficult to frame this discussion without being fatalistic or sounding like one is proposing some sort of absolute determinism.  My aim is to do neither, but to give credit - and glory - to God for giving to each of us the life we have, filled with blessings and challenges and work which we can do to please Him and fulfill His plan. 

So, life is what it is.  It sounds too simple to say it that way, but it is so.  We can imagine that life is something else, and some people do.  They waste the life they possess "waiting" for life to happen, not understanding that what they have right now is life.  It is not all that life can be, or will be necessarily, but it is what life is now.  And we should live it, and take our joy from it as it happens, even when we are not happy with the shape it has at this moment or that.

And it is a gift.  God has prepared it and God has given it to us, and prepared us for it, and promises to be with us as we walk through it and never to give us more than we can bear, but in every situation, to bless us so that we may endure and find our way through.  1 Corinthians 10:13, No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.

Of course, all of this would be generally unhelpful, I suspect, if we did not remember that the Gospel fits in here.  The Gospel is part of this plan of God for our lives.  It is a gift, too.  Pure gift.  And our participation in the Gospel is a gift.

The first reality of our lives is sin.  We were born into it, but we have participated willingly in it from our earliest days.  Even as Christians who do not desire to sin, we participate in sin, and willingly, all too often.  It is sin in general, and sometimes some of our own sinful deeds which have formed the dark and undesirable parts of our existence in this world.  Our failures and our griefs and our frustrations all have their foundation and origin in our sin, and the sin of mankind.  This was not the original shape of the plan of God.

But once man sinned, God factored that into His plans, to work blessings and redemption for us.  He didn't actually wait for us to do the sin, but seeing from eternity that we would, He planned our salvation.  Scripture say, "From the foundation of the world".  He planned to rescue and redeem us.  It had to be a gift, because we are all from corrupt and sinful stock, and not one of us could save ourselves, let alone others.  Romans 3 waxes eloquent on this topic, for example, "as it is written, 'THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.'"

So, God had to lay out a plan that would rescue us, with a Savior coming from outside the spoiled stock of Adam's sons.  "Had to" applies only to our need, not to any divine necessity.  We needed the plan, and to save us, God in His mercy laid out the plan from eternity.  He stepped in Himself, in the person of His Son.  In Jesus, God provided the One who was fully human, but not corrupted with Sin.  All of the long ages before Christ led to the moments we focus on and celebrate in Lent and Easter - and actually throughout the entire year - when God took our sins upon Himself, and paid the price of the just judgment of God against sin and the sinner, so that we could receive the gift of salvation and eternal life.

No one in the great drama of the passion of Christ was compelled to do their part, except Christ in His obedience to the will of the Father, but they all did.  By the plan of God, every detail was fulfilled, and we have been redeemed from sin, death, and hell.  Our participation in the Gospel is another part of that same plan.  God has chosen us, 'called us by the Gospel, enlightened us with His gifts, sanctified, and kept us, just as He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Christ Jesus in the one, true faith.'

Our lives are intricately interwoven into that wonderful plan of God, and are a gift.  We live that gift, but it is gift, none-the-less.  We cannot see the guiding hand of God, or feel His direction, but it is there.  We find ourselves living where God would have us live.  We have set before us the tasks of vocation and of life in general that God would have us to do.  Our opportunities are His gift.  Our burdens, obstacles and challenges are part of that gift as well.  We just cannot fathom how God can or plans to use each situation, but we have His Word on it that He is there and with us and working good for us in every single thing.  You remember Romans 8:28: And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

I have been told by those who consider themselves wise, that this does not mean that every event and circumstance is part of the plan of God, but I am caught by the very words of Scripture, "God causes all things . . .".  It find those words remarkably comforting, not threatening - - but that is because I believe that God loves me - and you!

The Gospel is a given - that is, it is a gift.  We didn't earn it.  We did not deserve it.  We did nothing to attract God's attention to us.  He worked it out two thousand years before we individuals came along - and yet, He tells us that we personally were chosen from the foundation of the world to hear, know, and believe it - to participate in this wonderful Gospel.  No step from the death of Christ to your baptism was compelled by force, and yet it was part of the plan of God, and here we are!  God worked in concert with the "free will" of generations of people to bring you into being, and to call you into His marvelous salvation.  Since the world continues to turn and life goes on, one must assume that His plan continues, and since you are His child, one must conclude that your place and your opportunities and challenges are also part of that glorious plan.  While the individual moments may not all be delightful, I find it comforting in the hard parts to know that God is with me, and has this all in sight and in His plan.  It is a plan that finds its climax (so to speak) with those of us who trust in Him living in glory with Him throughout eternity.

So, your life is a gift from God.  Everyone's life is.  God desires all men to be saved.  To the degree that one appreciates the life he or she has been given, they generally feel good about themselves and their place in life.  Of course, that is not always so.  The number of those who 'make great successes of themselves' and yet still despair and lose their sanity and end their lives tragically with drugs or excess of one sort or another bear witness to the reality that the things and conditions one imagines would make life satisfying do not, necessarily, do so.  So the dream which clings to our sinful flesh, that if only life were just a little different, we would be really happy, is a delusion, a deceit.

My mother was always fond of saying that happiness did not come from something 'out there', but - and she would point to her head and say, "in here".  The conditions of life, and of the world around us always tempt us to judge life and measure our satisfaction with it by our general appreciation of those conditions.  The world around us is changing.  For many, the conditions of life are changing, or threatening to change.  We are tempted with insecurity, fear, frustration and, sometimes, despair.  Those are not good choices for the child of God.  Rather, we are called to faith, and thanksgiving for what we have, not frustration over what we imagine that we lack.

In these times of change, we are called to hear the Word of God and walk in faith.  Life is truly God's gift - not just having it, but the one you are having right now!  Just goes to show you, "Godliness with contentment is great gain" after all.

Yours in the Lord,

Pastor Fish

These sermons are for the Church. If you find it useful, go ahead and use it -- but give credit where credit is due. Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church's Website can be found by clicking here.

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