by David Phelps
“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa
Recently, our ten-year-old daughter, Monica, told my wife, Charlotte, and me that the kids in her school have made some changes in the game of “Rock, Paper, Scissors.” In addition to the classic three moves, some kids have added items like “bomb” and “gun.” The bomb is similar to rock, except that the thumb is extended to symbolize a sort of “fuse.” The idea is that the bomb will “blow up” the rock or paper but the scissors can cut the fuse from the bomb. The gun is formed by extending the index finger, and this item will “trump” anything else. Monica made the comment that there was no reason to change a game that had always worked well by adding unnecessary complications.
The “classic” games—like rock-paper-scissors, tic-tac-toe, and checkers—have something in common: They’re all simple and basic, yet challenging enough to be entertaining. In rock-paper-scissors, each possible move counters another: rock blunts scissors, paper wraps rock, and scissors cuts paper. When you start adding items like guns, that beat anything, it takes the fun out of the game: someone is bound to play the gun every time, knowing it can’t be beaten. What happens if both players choose gun? If they both play gun every time, each match will be a draw or “cat’s game” and nobody will have any fun except a few masochistic types who actually enjoy being frustrated.
Frequently, when we try to “improve” something, we end up making a mess of things. There are some things that simply don’t need improvement. Hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, God gave the people of Israel two commandments: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deut. 6:4-5 NIV) and “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.’” (Lev. 19:18 NIV). These two commandments should have been more than adequate as the foundation of their society. But they weren’t. Over many years, the “law” of Moses came to be the foundation of Jewish society, more important than any other considerations (Mark 7:1-13). One day, one of the teachers of the law asked Jesus, “‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’” (Mark 12:28b NIV). Jesus quoted these two commandments, and then said, “There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:31b NIV).
Unlike the teacher of the law, we don’t need to ask; Jesus has already answered the question for us. Whenever we’re confused or uncertain, God makes it simple: Love God and your neighbor. When we ask, “How can we meet God’s requirements?” we hear, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NIV). Jesus meets all the requirements. We make all manner of conditions. God simply loves. We preach works. God gives grace. No matter how many “improvements” we try to add to the gospel, grace trumps them all. God’s “ultimate weapon” against sin and death can’t be beaten. It doesn’t matter what our burdens are: The rock of rebellion, the paper of legalism, or the scissors of sin, God’s grace trumps them all. God sends grace in the form of a baby in a stable and a carpenter dying along with two thieves. These simple, powerful images are the basis of our salvation and the heart of the gospel. At Easter especially, Jesus rips through our attempts to “improve” our relationship with God on our own and leaves only love and grace.
Someone you know is struggling to “improve” his or her life. Someone you know is searching for the way. They need directions. They need to find their way. You can lead them to the grace sufficient for every need (2 Cor. 12:9), and the love that conquers all hate, fear and sin (1 John 4:18). You can tell them about “the greatest commandment” of all.
“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’ ‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.’” (Mark 12:28-31 NIV.)
Copyright © 2003 by David Phelps