Saturday, February 22, 2014

Tripping Over Your Own Feet

Always make sure you lead with the correct foot first.

Tripping. Who hasn't done that awe inspiring, face planting, shin cracking thing where your feet don't carry you properly to the next step in the road?

How does a person trip and fall?
Apparently, if one foot is not properly placed in front of the next, you run the chance of falling.
Sounds rather remedial to the full grown adult. We learn how to walk at an early age.
It can be taken for granted very easily that walking is just that...easy.
But, if you have tripped and fallen and even hurt yourself, learning how to walk again can be very painful and strenuous.

My father would be someone who would know alot about this subject.
At an early age in elementary it wasn't tripping that caused him pain. At least it wasn't himself that tripped. It was the kid whose shoulders he was riding on. My dad found out the hard way why playing "chicken" was something he had been told not to do. The kid below him either tripped or lost his balance. Some kids went down in a heap. My dad broke his leg.

In the 1950's you didn't go in for a magic surgery get a pair of crutches and be back on your feet by the end of the week. No, you laid there. Wrapped in a cast, dad laid there in bed for weeks before they would let him get up. It's amazing what our body fails to remember once it has not had the chance to continue using the knowledge that it once knew. My dad's body knew how to walk. He learned 8 years prior as an infant and toddler. Now, he had to learn that skill all over again. Ask someone who has had knee surgery or an amputee with a new limb attached. Learning to walk again is no easy process.

The Apostle Paul has the difficult job of teaching people what this Christian life is all about. He is basically teaching them how to walk. In a spiritual sense, he has to show them how to lead with the proper foot so they don't trip and fall down. If it can happen in the physical life then it most assuredly can happen in the spiritual life, also. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul has the job of making what sounds legal into what is spiritual. In other letters, Paul is quite legal and business like, with the Galatians and Corinthians, per se. With the Ephesians, Paul seems to be taking a very spiritual angle on a rather legal type matter. The matter of grace and works.

Ephesians 2:8-10

New International Version (NIV)
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

An an infant and toddler, we learn how to put those feet on the floor slowly and cautiously. Usually, with the help of a mommy or a daddy right there behind us. To sum up Paul's introduction in the first chapter to the Ephesians, he lets them know who their parent is. Their spiritual father gave them life, brought them into this world, had this whole thing planned from the beginning. Most parents do. They have a plan in mind. Sometimes we come across situations where people weren't thinking ahead about what they are doing. In the case of our spiritual lives, God knows what he is doing. "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you" Maybe we have no idea what we are doing or where we are going, but somehow God does. He wants us to be his children and made plans before the earth had it's foundation that this is how things would go. He knew we would need saving. He knew we would need redemption. He would give up his one and only Son to make it possible.

By the time we enter chapter two, the toddler stage is full on. This child is walking and talking. Jibbering away in a language that only he or she knows what they are saying. Maybe mommy and daddy make out a few words or a sentence if they are lucky. It is also at this early age that we begin to understand what it means to trip and fall. How many of us were told as children to not run in the house? How many of us are now shouting to our own children to walk in the house? It seems my little dude just runs everywhere! And, on occasion, there has been the full face plant as he loses his footing and lands in a heap, crying and balling. Getting picked up and placed on a shoulder while telling him, "I told you not to run in the house! Maybe next time you'll think first before you go running..." Wasn't the first time. Probably won't be the last.

The Ephesians seem to need some reminding as well. How did this life begin for them? How did they enter into it? Who taught them to walk? What are they to do now that they have their walking feet on? It is possible to trip in this spiritual life just as it is physically. If we put the wrong foot in front of the other and don't lead properly we can find ourselves in a spiritual heap and a face plant. A person has to learn how to walk. What Paul gives the Ephesians are some good points to help them walk and not stumble. Keeping these thoughts close to heart will help a Christian walk the walk.

It is by grace you have been saved - We are saved because God wants it that way. He sees us in our sin and wants to bring us out to better pastures. His sheep need green grass. Before the foundations of the world he knew we would need saving. Creating something with the freewill to choose also brings about the possibility that wrong choices will get made. We'll need somebody to right those wrongs. In his grace, he makes things right.

through faith - We enter into this life by grace and faith. God reaches out to us. We believe that this is what God wants. That's what faith is. Believing. 

and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - Have you ever been handed a gift? Something that you can't pay back or give back? Paul need to make this clear to his Ephesians readers in a way he hasn't made clear to other readers. You didn't do this. You are not a self-made person. God wants to give you this gift of salvation. It comes from Above, not from yourself. 

not by works, so that no one can boast. - Here's our tripping point. This life begins with grace. We are in this life because God wants us to be here. If it were by our own means or by something we could do then our religion would be no different than any other perspective in the world. Every other religion on the planet is about "doing something" to earn eternal life or a reward in the hereafter. God gives it freely in the name of Jesus Christ. People can boast about what they do, if they are the ones who built or invested in a project or person. The only one with boasting rights here is God. He planned it, provided for it, built it and simply asks us to believe in order to be a part of it. 

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus - Paul would be emphatic to all of his readers - God made you. In a culture with men sitting on thrones claiming to be "god" and a system of works based religion in place, Paul cannot stress it strongly enough. This all rests in the realm of what God can do. And, God does what he does in the name of Christ Jesus. This spiritual life we have was created in Christ Jesus, and because of that...
to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. - The subject comes full circle. Good works are a part of the equation, but just not where the equation starts. We enter into this life by grace and faith. We learn that this life is about God, who created us and gave us life. We learn that Jesus Christ makes a way for us to have this spiritual life. Then we find out there are good things for us to do. Learning how to walk means learning which foot to lead with. Grace. Faith. New Life. Good Works. Not the other way around. God wants us to do good things. He set this plan up ahead of time with the idea in mind that we would do good things, not as a reward system, but as a response to the grace we have received.

As the subject of discipleship unfolds before us in 2014, it is always interesting to see themes that people need to hear and learn, again. This message that Paul shares is one that many should have learned early in their spiritual walk. Grace, faith, then works. But, it's one that needs revisiting because this hustle and bustle world we live in causes us to so wrapped up in what our responsibilities are that we lose focus on what our center is - God. The focus and purpose of our lives is to be his child. That comes first and foremost. Doing good works in the Christian life comes from putting God first. What we do here on Sunday morning is about God, not us. We are not here to fulfill some sort of responsibility. We are here to worship the Creator. When we put our money in this offering plate, it is not to perform some good work or responsibility. It is to worship God and show Him how much he means to us. It's not about us. It's about God. If we get it wrong, it's like we are tripping over our own feet. Putting works in front of grace always leads to giving off the wrong impression about our faith. 

My dad has had to learn this lesson a couple more times in his life.
A few years ago he was up on a ladder out front of the store. He probably should have asked for some help. Dad is known for taking on too much. He feel from the ladder and landed on the sidewalk. He broke his hip, snapping the ball joint clean off the top of the leg bone. Unlike his labored recovery in the 50's he would have surgery to replace the ball and be back on some crutches in a short time. Having to learn to walk again would not be as difficult since he was not off his feet nearly as long.

This past week my father fell again. This time as he went down to the local drive-thru on an errand. He would slip and fall. This time a couple of hairline fractures in the leg down down further from the hip would result in a plate and five screws being place on the bone. He is on crutches, again. He'll be that way for a few weeks as he recovers. Fortunately, there's a chair lift going upstairs that my grandmother used to use. Now, my dad gets some help up and down those stairs.

Grace. It's where it all begins. 

And, it accompanies us through the moments that cause us to trip and fall. 
God's handiwork needs some help now and then.

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