The Past Is Prologue

The other night I took my son to watch my alma mater, Wake Forest University, take on a local college team in an exhibition fundraiser soccer game. If you know anything about me at all, then you know that can be pretty passionate about Wake Forest sports, no matter what sport it is or how good or bad of a season they may be having. And yes, I even celebrate when the field hockey team gets a big win.

As I got settled in to watch the game with a few friends of mine, my son and his buddies went off to kick the soccer ball around with a whole bunch of other kids whose parents dragged them along to watch a game they could care less to see. Us "big kids" were discussing all sorts of issues, including the cost of tuition at Wake Forest University. I asked one of my friends who graduated a few years after I did how much tuition was now and, before he could answer, the two ladies sitting on the bleachers a few rows in front of us turned around and, in unison exclaimed, "Too much!" (Note: Tuition, room and board, and other fees for Wake Forest University bring the cost to a total of $62, 538 a year. Ouch!)

We all chuckled at that comment like grown ups do - which is exactly what made our eyes roll when our parents used to say things like that. It was then that I realized I recognized one of the ladies who had made the comment about the cost of tuition. Turns out we had gone to Wake and graduated together. And it also turned out that the other woman with her happened to be married to an older fraternity brother of mine, who come walking along a few minutes later. Small world, huh?

For the next hour we chatted and caught up on what each other was doing in life and if we knew where so-and-so was now. I will admit, by the end of my senior year in college I had pretty much drifted free of the fraternity scene, but I still had some fond memories to share and this frat brother of mine was certainly one of those guys who left a lasting and good impression on me. I happened to mention to him the reason why I dropped out of the fraternity my senior year - it was due to an incident that I had incited because of an enormous lapse of judgment - and he mentioned that he would like to hear the whole story sometime.

It was at the moment that I paused and shifted gears pretty quickly to another topic. Not only did I not want to share what happened (and I didn't) but the memory of it was pushed way back into the recesses of my mind. That was a painful time in my life, one marked by poor decisions and distance from God. While I learned a lot about myself and what I did and didn't want out of life as a result of those few years, more than anything it was a time that God used to mold and refine me as if in the fire. As a result, I had no desire to revisit some of those memories, choosing instead to focus on where God has brought me by His grace.

An old friend and mentor, Thomas Young, used to tell me that "the past is prologue." By that he meant that what you have done in your past - all of your sins and mistakes and disobedience - are not the things that are meant to define you. Sure, they help to shape who you are today but, if you are like me, they are a far cry of who you are now and of where God has brought you on your life's journey. God's grace covers you and makes you new. That's why Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that if you are in Christ, i.e. if you have accepted His gift of grace and forgiveness, then you are a new creation - the old has passed away, the new has come.

When the game was over I said goodbye to my old friends, hoping to see them again in the near future. As my son and I walked to the car, I marveled at just how far God has brought me in my life. And more than that, I was so thankful to be able to share with my old college buddies where God was leading me right now. Indeed, the past is prologue.

99.9% ain't gonna be enough

The other week, right before Easter, a long-time friend shared an article with me about the death of Jesus. The author of the article asked the question, "Why did Jesus die?", and the reason he gave wasn't quite the one I was expecting. He said that Jesus died primarily to show us what love looks like.

Now I don't disagree that dying for someone is a supreme act of love, but in the case of Jesus it was more than just one shining moment that put Him on that cross. When Jesus went to the cross, He went as a sacrifice for our sins. In other words, if Jesus didn't die on the cross and then rise from the grave, we don't have forgiveness of sins. Did love compel Him to die? Yes! But His blood actually purchased something for you and me. The cross stands as more than just an example of affection.

As I mulled these things over in my mind, I began to wonder about what the word sacrifice really means. Sometimes we say that we are going to make sacrifices in our lives so that we can pay off a debt or allow someone else to have a chance to flourish. But when we do those things - which are really good things to do, by the way - what do they really cost us? Have we really sacrificed like Jesus did?

Here is the truth about sacrifice: It will cost you everything. Think about it. When Jesus died as a sacrifice on the cross for you, what did He hold back? Nothing! A sacrifice isn't a sacrifice if it doesn't demand all that you have to give. If I see someone who is hungry and give them half of my sandwich, that is a nice gesture of love but it's not really a sacrifice because I still have the other half to put into my belly. A true sacrifice gives all.

Paul wrote in Romans 12:1 that we are to present our bodies - our very lives - as a living sacrifice to God. His words are carefully chosen here because, in urging us to give all that we have, he also reminds us that we still are to go on living. When animals were sacrificed in the temple prior to Jesus' coming, their blood was spilled on the altar and their life was snuffed out. There was no life left in the animal so the sacrifice had to be repeated again and again with other animals.

But when Jesus died on the cross, His sacrifice was enough. It eternally satisfied the heart of God. That's because when Jesus died, He didn't stay dead. He rose from the grave and He still lives today. So when you as a Christian are called to offer your life as a living sacrifice, that means that you die to the way that you used to live - your desires, ambitions, selfish motives - and in turn live fully for the glory of God.

It means that you hold nothing back from Him. No goals in life, no relationships, no possessions are to be free from the sacrifice. If you choose to hold something back for yourself then you will never know the joy of relying fully on God for all that you need.

A sacrifice means all or nothing. It requires ultimate trust and the all the faith that you can possibly muster. You see, if you truly wish to live for Jesus as a living sacrifice, then you are going to have to give up the entire sandwich.

Underwear is meant to be comfortable. Life, not so much.

I am serving as camp pastor at a placed called Laurel Ridge in the NC moutains this week, so today I decided to go hiking on some trails in ...