Making a fresh start

art 07The first job of any job is to learn. Tim Gannon knows that. The Outback Steakhouse founder claims he has yet to meet a successful business person who didn’t have a great story to tell about starting off on the ground floor. Chris Kearney, CEO of industrial products giant SPX Corporation, affirms that a successful career is built one step at a time, from the ground up. It’s important to remember the basics.

What’s true in business is also true in life. We need to remember the basics of faith and life if we are to continue growing toward maturity. The prophet Micah reminds us of the basics. He boils ten commandments and hundreds of laws down to three. “What does the Lord require of you,” he writes, “but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

Jesus pares those three down even further. “Let me give you a new command,” he tells us. “In the same way I loved you, you love one another” (John 13:34 The Message). And in his letter to the Romans, Paul restates that simple, basic rule. “Don’t owe anything to anybody,” he writes, “except to love each other; for if you love each other, you’ve done everything God requires” (Rom. 13:8 paraphrased).

There it is, the most basic answer to the most important questions you can ask. How can I please God and do what God wants me to do? How can I have a successful life? How can I live my life fully and feel close to God? How can I be of meaningful service to others and contribute to my community? To every one of these questions, the answer is simple and basic. Love each other. Value each other. Treat everyone you meet like a saint, and you will live the full life God created you to live.

That’s the reason Jesus came, the heart of his message, the aim of his life and ministry: so we can live the full life God created us to live. “I came,” he said, “that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Eugene Peterson, in The Message, paraphrased it this way: “I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”

Whenever Jesus mentions “the kingdom of God” or “the kingdom of heaven,” you can substitute the phrase “more and better life than you ever dreamed of” and have a good idea what he’s talking about.

He offers that “more and better life” not only to his disciples or to the Jewish people or to members of any group who consider themselves chosen and singled out by God. He offers that life to everyone without exception. It is spread upon the earth, and most people don’t see it. But anyone who does see it and who starts living it intentionally, Saint Paul writes, “gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons” (2 Cor. 5:17 The Message)!

I want to invite you to make a fresh start with me, to join me in turning around from wherever that place in life is where you’ve hit a dead end; where the voice of others says you have no value; where you’re stuck someplace and see no way out; where the way ahead is so dark you can’t tell where to take the next step; where you feel fearful or powerless to make a meaningful change; where the song you have been given to sing  in life falls on deaf ears (cf. Luke 4:16-21).

I invite you to explore with me in my next eight messages how you can make a fresh start and begin living abundantly, how you can have more and better life than you ever dreamed of, the life Jesus promises. We’ll do it by looking at the first eight promises in Jesus’ best-known sermon, the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3-10). You know those promises as the Beatitudes, and as much as any other scriptures, they offer the keys to living abundantly. (I’m grateful to Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and author of The Purpose Driven Life, for the outline of this series.)

“God blesses those who realize their need for him,” Jesus says, “for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them.” Next week I’ll offer five practical ways in which you can depend on God every day, every moment.

“God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” The bad things that happen to you are not your choice. But grief is a choice, and on the following week we’ll see how it is a healthy choice.

“God blesses those who are gentle and lowly, for the whole earth will belong to them.” On Oct. 5, I’ll point out some of the benefits of learning gentleness and adding this quality to your life.

“God blesses those who are hungry and thirsty for justice, for they will receive it in full.” Spiritual hunger is not a bad thing, not a sign of God’s absence. In four weeks, I’ll try to help you see that spiritual hunger is the bond that connects you with God.

“God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” On October 26, I’ll tell you about seven ways mercy can transform your relationships with everyone around you.

“God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.” When we observe All Saints Sunday on November 2, we’ll see how those who experience the presence, power, and peace of God are those who live with wholeness, authenticity, and unmixed motivation.

“God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.” Seven weeks from today I’ll give you seven scriptural steps for resolving a conflict and restoring a broken relationship.

“God blesses those who are persecuted because they live for God.” We’ll end the series by considering what you need to remember and what you need to do when you feel pressured by others because of your faith.

In one of his interviews with Bill Moyers in The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell said, “People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”

Jesus came so that we might have the experience and actually feel the rapture of being alive. And he tells us how we can have that experience. That’s what he offers when he says, “Come, follow me.” Let’s answer the invitation. Let’s follow and see what living abundantly can be.

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