Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Free Gift - 3/08/2017

An Arkie's Faith column from the March 8, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.

Recently my wife and I traveled to Louisiana to see my granddaughter compete in the Pathfinder Bible Bowl. Pathfinders are a worldwide organization of young people sponsored by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, though young people of any religion, or none at all, are welcome and encouraged to join the organization. Pathfinders offer a wide range of activities including camping, community service projects, and training in a variety of recreational, artistic, nature, conservation, and vocational areas. In the Bible Bowl, Pathfinder teams made up of kids from Arkansas and Louisiana aged 10 – 16 competed by answering one hundred questions on a predetermined Bible topic. My granddaughter's team was pleased with their second place finish.

The day after the Bible Bowl, we attended the Krewe of Highland parade in Shreveport. A co-worker of my daughter’s had invited our family to watch the parade from her house. The co-worker’s house is on the parade route where the parade starts and ends. It was a fantastic location to see the family-friendly parade.

Over one hundred floats passed by with participants throwing free gifts out into the crowd. Over 11,000 people lined the streets waving their hands in the air and yelling, “throw me something.” Participants on the floats threw the traditional Mardi Gras throws such as beads, doubloons and plastic cups. The Krewe of Highland is famous for unusual throws. This year there were lots of ramen noodles, moon pies, and hot dogs among the throws. Because it is a family-friendly parade throws also included candy, frisbees, mini-footballs, super balls, and a wide assortment of stuffed animals.

Since the first Highland parade over twenty years ago, the parade has continued to be a family parade sticking to its original mission, a family-friendly Mardi Gras parade in the Highland Historical District of Shreveport. This year’s event was witnessed by the largest crowd ever to see a daytime parade in Northern Louisiana.

It is amazing to see how excited people get about the possibility of catching some plastic beads or other trinkets. Everyone is swept up in the idea of being the one to get that special item. Everywhere you look there are kids on their parent's shoulders, giving them a chance to catch some of the free items. Participants on the floats often single out kids in the crowd to give them a special gift.

As I put a large bag of “treasures” in the car when the parade was over, I thought about how everyone at the parade clamored for these plastic items that had no actual value. I thought about how I wished people were that excited about the free gift of God’s grace. Romans 3:24 (NIRV) tells us, “the free gift of God’s grace makes us right with him. Christ Jesus paid the price to set us free.”

The Bible is clear that God’s grace is a free gift. Why don’t more people accept the free gift? If you were to ask one hundred random people, “how do you get to heaven?” you would hear a lot of different answers. You would hear things like, “try to be good and do your best” or “work hard at being a good moral person” or “do more good things in life than you do bad things.” All of these ideas are based on our abilities and actions. They are not based on the idea of a free gift. People that don’t feel the need of the gift see no need to accept the free gift of God’s grace. Many religious people fall into this way of thinking. They feel that they can do it themselves and that they don’t need some free gift.

The Bible is very plain in Romans 5:16 (NLT) “And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins.” Our efforts lead only to condemnation. Isaiah 64:6 (NIV) tells us that,  “all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” It is important for us to understand that we don’t have the ability to be righteous apart from the free gift of God.

Not only do we not have the ability to be righteous, but we are also under a heavy penalty. Romans 3:23 (KJV) says, “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” And Romans 6:23 (KJV) adds, “for the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Every person on the earth is under the penalty of death. But thankfully there is hope, because of Jesus Christ. The book of Acts tells the story of the Philippian jailer. When the jailer asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Paul and Silas answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” Acts 16:30,31 (NKJV)

Gentle Reader, we all need the gift of grace. We all need to have the penalty paid for our sins. We need the gift of God, eternal life. Don’t be too proud to accept the gift. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”  Ephesians 2:8 (NRSV)

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