Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Life's Second Chance

               In Florence, Italy stands one of the treasures of the art world that has been admired by thousands of visitors.  It is the marble statue of King David carved by Michael Angelo.  The shepherd boy stands firm and grasped tightly in his right hand is a stone, ready to be unleashed onward towards its target.  When the statue was first unveiled, over four hundred years ago it created quite a sensation in the art world as it still does to this day.

               But the strange part of the story of the statue was that it was the stone’s second chance.  Years before Michael Angelo began his work carving on this piece of marble another sculptor began to work on this very piece of stone, but, lacking skill, he only marred the block.  It was then abandoned as being worthless, and was cast aside.  For years it lay in a back yard, soiled and blackened by the weather, half hidden among the piles of rubbish.

                But at last Angelo saw it, and at once perceived within the stone the possibilities it held within.  Under his skilful hand the stone was cut into the marvelous beauty, which we now see as being the statue of David.  Yet it is said that the completed work is not quite perfect; that because of the first cutting of the stone the final result is marred.

“Every Man’s Life is a Plan of God”

                A beautiful life is one that fulfills its mission.  We have within us divine possibilities, and we should all come to realize the beauty that is folded up within our lives.  The meaning of the root word for ‘sin’ is, missing the mark.  The aim is to keep God’s commandments, to do God’s will, to realize God’s purpose.  When we miss the mark the beauty of our life becomes marred.
                We have all heard of the word ‘transgression’, it means stepping out of the path, over the boundary, not walking as God directs, failing to live according to His divine plan and pattern.  It is as if an architect were to make a plan for a perfect building, and the builder, through ignorance or carelessness, should spoil the house, not making it like the plan.  The building is not beautiful when finished, because it is not what the architect intended it to be.  A life, which fulfills God’s purpose, whether it is great or seemingly undistinguished, is beautiful.  We need not to seek to do grand things, for the greatest thing for any human life in this world is God’s will for that life.  That is the only true beauty.

Psalm 34:18, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” NIV

                Maybe you know of someone whose life has been spoiled by the folly of a life lived for self or perhaps the unfairness of life has marred it so that it would seem as if all were lost.  There is one, the great Sculptor, who can take the marred, disfigured block, now lying soiled amid the world’s rubbish, and from it carve yet a marvel of beauty.   Though it may not be what it once could have been, it still can produce a very beautiful character.

“Secrets to a Beautiful Life”

                Many people let themselves be defeated almost habitually.  It began for most of us in childhood.  The lessons of life are hard and not easily mastered.  It costs to succeed and many a person concludes that they cannot win so they do not do their best.  Thus at the very beginning the battle is lost, and often times all life afterward carries the effects of a defeated attitude.  It seems like the lessons are always too hard, discipline becomes too costly and the slothfulness of youth leads one down the path of ease.

                  On the other hand, when the lesson of being steadfast is learned in childhood, all becomes different.  Studies are mastered and by being diligent lessons are learned till perfection is found.  Later in life when the lessons are harder, the discipline is burdensome, the tasks require more labor, and the battles test the soul to its last particle of strength, the habit of overcoming still prevails and the life is ever the more victorious.  Then the thought of submitting to the status quo of a so-so life is never entertained for a moment.

Proverbs 4:123-27, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.  Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips.  Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you.  Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm.  Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.” NIV

                The lessons learned in leading a victorious life is one of the secrets of a beautiful life.  Come what may, we are not overcome by the circumstances of this world.  If nothing hurts us, all things then become beneficial to us.  The common trials of life build themselves into a ladder, which we climb step by step upwards nearer to God.

“Another Secret”

                It is a blessed secret to learn how to live by the day.  Anyone can carry his burden, however heavy it may be, till nightfall.  Anyone can do his work, however hard it may be, for one day.  Anyone can live sweetly, quietly, patiently, lovingly, and purely till the sun sets in the western sky.  And this is all that life really ever requires of us—just one little day.  “Do today’s duty, fight today’s temptation, and do not weaken and distract yourself by looking forward to things you cannot see and cannot understand till you stand face to face before them.”  God gives us nights to shut down the curtain of darkness on our little days.  We cannot see beyond, and we ought not to try to see beyond.  Short horizons make life easier, and give us one of the blessed secrets to a brave, true, and holy life.

                We can live our life only once.  We cannot go over it again to correct its mistakes or amend its faults.  We ought therefore to live it well.  And to do this we must begin at the beginning, and make every day radiant as it passes.  Lost days must always remain blanks in the records, and stained days must carry their stains.  Beautiful days make beautiful years, and beautiful years make a beautiful life at its close.

Isaiah 52:12, “You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past.  You’ll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again.” Message

                God looks upon a human life, which bears His image this way.  The smallest fragment of life He regards as sacred.  So long as there is the least trace of Divine possibility in a human soul, He is ready to make something out of it, to take it out of the mire and give it another chance.  If, therefore, one has lost the opportunity to realize God’s first thought for his life, there still remains another chance.  “Though it may not be what it once could have been, the Master still can produce a very beautiful character out of it.”

The Hidden Thoughts of God Revealed!

                  The Apostle John wrote in John 1:1 that, “In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  And later in verse 14, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” 

                  We know that a man’s words are his thoughts revealed.  If this is correct then Jesus, the Word is the way to the hidden thought of God.  If my words are my thoughts expressed then Jesus is in essence the very expression of God.  Unless I put my thoughts into words you cannot understand them.  To understand God we must understand his character, for what he is like in character, we, his children, must also be like.  So the hidden thought, God, becomes the Revealed Word, Jesus. 

                But Jesus is more than just the spelled-out word he is the lived-out word.  He is the mind, heart and Spirit of the Father lived-out in the language of every-day life for every man.  As a Hindu student once said when he had received a Bible, “I am glad to read about the Man who practiced everything he preached.”  To understand what God is like we must look to Jesus.  God is like that which we see in Jesus.  And if he is, then he is a good God and we can completely trust him.

The life of Jesus gives us a picture of the character of God that is so beautiful, so harmonious, so alluring so ‘just what life ought to be’, that he is as inescapable to our spirits as the force of gravity is in the physical realm.

                The life of Jesus lived out in word and deed is the very portrait of the character of God made available to each one of us.  And if that is true then what he is, we can become as well.  As a doctor once wrote: “If the Heart of our Heavenly Father is like this gentle heart that broke upon the cross, he can have my heart without qualification.”

The Fulfillment!

                In Matthew 5:17 Jesus said, “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”  The commandments were a code of righteous behavior but Jesus came and gave it life, raising goodness out of a set of moral laws and requirements basing it on love.  The difference was one was devoted to an idea, the law, and produced the perfect Pharisee and the second was devoted to an ideal, full of grace, and produced the perfect Lover.  Righteousness had as its goal a required duty while the other, Love, has as its goal unlimited possibilities. 

                The one brings what duty compels, the other what love impels which is not of duty but of privilege.  Duty compels you to go the one-mile, to offer the cheek, to give of your tunic.  Love impels you to offer the second mile, the other cheek and to not only give your cloak but your tunic also.  The force of love impels you to realize that loving your friends is not enough, you will love your enemies till they become your friends.

                The Law demands that the punishment fit the crime.  An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is the law of our justice system.  (Exodus 21:23-24)  It may restrain the deed but does little to restrain the person.  Law touches the surface, love touches the center, one is retributive the other is redemptive.  One is governed by its legal attitudes the other by its love attitude.  Loving your friends only is a product of the law of retribution, loving your enemies becomes the love that redeems those who are separated from you.

Jesus has sat before us the perfect ideal of human living, gave us a philosophy of life, met sin, suffering, and death at the cross, arose, and redeems and leads the ages and threw open the gates of full life to all men.

A Philosophy of Life

                  As a perfect lover you are open to the assumption that within every man are two men.  One that is evil, whom you are not to resist, at least on his level and with his weapons, and another man, who is not evil, but who is susceptible to the appeal of love.  Get to that man and you win, said Jesus.  Retaliation always loses, even when it seems to win.

                  If I should strike you on the cheek it is all about,  “Who I am!” and “What you are!”  But as the perfect lover you rise to your feet and looking to find within me a man who is susceptible to the appeal of love you offer the other cheek.  And if I strike your other cheek it now becomes, “Who you are.” and “What I am really like.”  The law of love takes you from resisting on his level and with his weapons and puts you on a much higher level.
The law of love forces the man to go further than he is ready to go thus revealing his true character.  His desire is to break your face, and you, as a Christian, try to break his heart.
When you choose to turn the other cheek you move into a position where you are redefining the conflict and in doing so you assume moral control of the situation.  This enables you to choose your own weapons and place of battle.  You take the situation from out of his control and you compel him to stand on ground that he is not familiar with and to use weapons he has no skill in using.

                If some one forces you to go one mile you are his slave.  But if you of your own free will decide to go the extra mile then the situation dramatically changes.  The first made you a slave the second mile gives back your dignity and moral control over the situation.
Jesus put before us the philosophy of a completed life.    When Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  Matthew 5:27-28.

                Under the law the best you could hope for was, “Do not commit adultery.”  That was because there was nothing within the law that could stop the thinking process.  The will of the Father expressed through the words of Jesus is that even the temptation to not look at a woman lustfully is now possible.

The Mark of True—Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors & Teachers

                 Ephesians 4:11-13, It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”  We find that the work of the apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher is to produce a perfect man, perfect according to the fullness of Christ. He sat before us the ideal life “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Matthew 5:48

                This was made possible only by the finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ and is available to us as we give ourselves fully to Him and live in this supernatural power given at Pentecost.  The Holy Spirit in us ‘the Hope of Glory.’ Romans 8:11

                We pray that you will be overwhelmingly filled with ‘Him’ especially in this hour of uncertain changes in our world and that each day you will come even closer to attaining to that whole measure “of the fullness of Christ.”

Making the Choice--Comfort or Character

                  Victor Frankl was a psychiatrist and a Jew.  The Nazis imprisoned him in the death camps of World War II Germany, where he experienced things so repugnant to a normal person’s sense that he could scarcely reduce them to words.

                  Frankl’s parents, brother, and wife died in the camps or were murdered in the gas ovens.  Of his immediate family only his sister survived the camps.  Frankl himself suffered torture and innumerable indignities, never knowing from one moment to the next if his captors would send him to the ovens or leave him among those who were “saved” and left with the task of removing the bodies or shoveling out the ashes of those who had been cremated while they were still alive.

                One day, naked and alone in a small room, Frankl began to become aware of what he later called “the last of the human freedoms”—the one freedom his Nazi captors could not take away.  Frankl openly acknowledged that the Nazis could control his entire environment and do what they wanted with his body.  They could not, however, destroy his inner identity.  He saw himself as a self-aware human being who had an ability to be a somewhat objective observer of his situation.  He still had the power within himself to determine how his outer circumstances and the Nazis’ treatment of him were going to affect his inner self.  He saw that there was a gap between what happened to him (the stimulus) and his reaction to the stimulus (response), and that in that gap lay the freedom or power to choose a response.

                Frankl came face-to-face with the reality that his own choices, not his circumstances, defined his identity.  No matter how horrifying the environment in which he lived, and no matter how much humiliation and degradation others heaped upon him, he was still in control of how he chose to respond.

The same is true for each one of us!

                No matter what you may have been through, even unspeakable pain, you are still in control of your identity.  No event can change you on the inside unless you allow it to do so.  No person can cause you to respond in a particular way on the inside unless you choose to react that way.  The freedom to forge your own opinions, ideas, attitudes, and choices rests solely and uniquely with you. 

                Charles Swindoll wrote: “The longer I live the more convinced I become that life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we respond to it.  I believe the single most significant decision I can make on a day-to-day basis is my choice of attitude.”

                There are some true children of God who induce their own darkness by morbid self-scrutiny.  They are always going back on themselves, analyzing their motives, re-considering past acts of consecration, and comparing themselves with themselves.  In one form or another self is the pivot of their life and only darkness can result from such a course.  There are certainly times in our lives when we must look within, and judge ourselves, that we may not be judged.  But this is only done that we may turn with fuller purpose of heart to the Lord.  And when once done, it needs not be repeated.  “forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead” is the only safe motto. Philippians 3:13

The question is, not whether we did as well as we might, but whether we did as well as we could at the time.

                A very able and gracious lady was stricken with arthritis.  Her life’s work had come to an end.  She lay a helpless invalid and in great pain for many years.  But to say that her work was ended is not quite true.  It assumed a higher form.  Each morning she had her friends carry her to a window in her home where the factory workers would pass by as they walked to and from the factory.  As they went to their job each morning they were greeted with her friendly smile, and at evening when the day’s work was done there was that same face with its smile—in spite of the unfairness of life.  For years that face lighted all those who passed by.  When she died, four factories closed down to let the men attend the funeral of the woman who had let them see into a heart of beauty through the door of pain and who had let them see God through calamity.

Could the very thing, which we thought was the end, become a new beginning?

                  There was a lady in India who lived as an invalid, walking with crutches because of a spinal injury.  One day as she was going down the steps in her home she fell, breaking one crutch and losing the other on the way down.  She lay at the bottom of the steps and called for help.  But it was noon and everyone was away.  Finally, when no help was forthcoming, with a prayer she drew herself by the handrail and after a long struggle pulled herself to her feet, and began to walk, and she has been walking ever since---without the crutches!

               The best thing that ever happened to her was that fall, though for the moment it seemed to be, misfortune upon misfortune.

                John 14:27, “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  Jesus said to his disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled,” not because they were to be protected from all the troubles of this world but because they were ‘to believe in God.”  Faith in God and his purposes will not save us from the troubles, but will save us through them, for the troubles themselves can be made into the agents of redemption.  If this is so, then “even if the world falls to ruin, the man of faith will be undismayed under its ruins.”  For the fact is, that if the world’s systems do come crashing down, he can get along without the world, for he has his own inner world intact.  The man who is not dependent on anything of this earth but knows he is in right relationship with his God, will live in a place of safety and peace.

                God seldom uses any man unless he has experienced the testing of pain.  Jesus began his ministry with a wilderness experience, but it ends with an Easter morning.  Maybe your life has had more than its share of disappointments and hardships.  We live in a  changing world, talks of a deepening recession, record high gas prices, the war in Iraq, the immigration problem,  people losing their homes and so much more, have all of us wondering what the days ahead might bring.  But we can be sure that our Lord is faithful and secure.

                The road to a noble character cannot be made except in the strain and stress and struggle that life brings to it.  We sometimes cry out and ask God for answers to our struggle, our purpose here on this earth.  But God is in the process of fulfilling our life’s purpose.  We need to be reminded that the process of the journey to the cross, found its purpose in the finished work upon the cross. 

                In the North of India some rug weavers were working.  They patiently sat week after week and month after month making one rug.  If you gazed at the rug you would have felt the futility of their sitting there so long, for the rug seemed to be full of blotches and blurs and knots.  But you would be looking at the wrong side of the rug.  If you would go around to the weaver’s side, you would see the pattern that was unfolding—–and how beautiful it would be!  It was worth the patience. 

                We now see the wrong side of God’s purposes, and they seem without pattern as he weaves through the ages.  But one day we shall stand and see things as he sees them, and then we will gasp at the wonder of the plan that unfolds.  In the exquisite weave of the tapestry we shall see our lives and of those that we have touched woven together in the beautiful masterpiece of life’s journey.

               May He keep you under the shadow of His mighty wings and give you His peace that surpasses all else.