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Keep Your Eye on the Ball

March 8, 2021

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.” Ephesians 2: 8-9

When you play any game involving a ball—whether it’s golf, tennis, baseball, soccer, football or basketball—you need to keep your eye of the ball.  You won’t be able to hit a golf ball, tennis ball or baseball if your eyes are not focused firmly on the ball.  Likewise, you won’t be able to kick a soccer ball down the field, or make a basket in a game of basketball if you don’t follow the ball closely while the game is being played.  That’s what God was telling the Israelites when they strayed from him and began complaining about being in the desert.  Keep your eye on the ball—on God.[1]

The Israelites forgot about the miracles that God had performed to free them from the Egyptians.  They forgot about being rescued from slavery. They forgot that God parted the Red Sea to allow them to pass through safely, and then drowned their pursuers.  They forgot that Moses, God’s chosen servant, led them to safety and ensured their survival.  They took their eye off the ball.  Their eyes strayed from God.

 So God sent a plague of poisonous snakes to bring them back to the reality that he is their only hope.  They begged Moses to ask God to remove the plague. “So Moses prayed for the people” (Numbers 21: 7b). Moses followed God’s instructions and made a bronze snake and put it on a pole for all to see.  Keeping their eyes on the bronze snake healed them from snake bites.   But it wasn’t the statue that healed them.  The statue was a reminder of God’s power.  It was a reminder to keep their eyes focused on God.  It was a reminder to keep the faith.  It was their faith in God—keeping their eye on him—that permitted them to live. 

We can’t really blame the Israelites for taking their eye off the ball, can we?  We are all among the walking wounded whose faith has been shaken or weakened when we stray from the path for one reason or another. It happens to every thinking adult from time to time.  Doubts about our faith creep in and can cause deep despair.  When that happens, God tells us to turn to him, the author of life.  Ask the author of life to finish writing your story.  Keep turning to him to ask for his help.  Keep your eyes on Jesus.   

That’s what Jesus tells Nicodemus when he said: “No one has ever gone up into the presence of God except the One who came down from that Presence, the Son of Man. In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up—and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life.” (John 3: 13-15, The Message).   Jesus was explaining that just as the Israelites were saved by faith fueled by the statue reminder of God’s power,  so we are saved from our sin by looking up at Jesus on the cross.  Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. Look up to Jesus. Trust him and expect him to help you.

Paul continues the theme that we are saved not by what we have done, but by Jesus’s death on the cross —that we are made alive in Christ: “ But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,  made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. . . 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” (Ephesians 2: 4-5, 8-9).  

While genuine faith is expressed by obedience to God’s mandates to love others as ourselves, it was Jesus’ act of taking on our sins that results in our being forgiven and being put right with God. Keep your eyes on Jesus.  

Like me, I’m sure that you can think of many times when you turned to God in concern for yourself or loved ones and God sat with you through your ordeal.  A few years ago, there was an avalanche on Mammoth Mountain in the Sierras while our son Bobby was skiing the mountain with a friend.  After I heard about the avalanche on March 3, 2018, I was praying for their safety, when I received a call from him to let us know that they were safe.  The avalanche was close to where they were skiing, but he and his friend were unscathed.  They closed the mountain right after the avalanche.  I can’t tell you how many times I have prayed for the safety of one of our children, and have received a phone call or a text message that he or she was safe.  

We thank God for his deliverance of our loved ones to safety, and for his presence through all of the ordeals of our lives. Psalm 107 was written to celebrate the Israelite’s return from their exile in Babylon: “Give thanks to the Lord, for his is good; his love endures forever . . . Some wandered in the desert wastelands . . . they were hungry and thirsty and their lives ebbed away. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress” (Psalm 107: 1, 4-6).  

But we don’t always get good news, do we?  And that is when our faith is tested.  Even when you are overcome with despair, turn to the author of life and ask him to carry you. You can be assured that God is with you and will carry you through all of life’s avalanches. Jesus knows your pain.  He suffered an agonized death on our behalf.  He will see you through.

As we draw closer to the Passion of Christ in the coming weeks, the stations of the cross are visual reminders to us of the power of God and what his Son suffered for us on our behalf. We see the completion of God’s work through his Son in the 12th station, depicting Jesus’ death on the cross. 

Bob and I walked the Via Dolorosa (“Way of Suffering) last year, which ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.  The church houses the last few stations of the cross, including the 12th station, pictured above. The Rock of Calvary, where the Crucifixion is believed to have occurred, is encased in glass at the 12th station.  Visitors to the church have an opportunity to touch the Rock in an opening located under the altar.  

Keep your eyes on the cross, when you are suffering from despair over the loss of a loved one, anxiety about your children, your illness or that of a loved one, financial uncertainties, or any other trial.  Draw closer to God as you remember Christ’s suffering for you and that he is with you in your suffering. 

Keep your eyes on Jesus.  God doesn’t promise a problem-free life, but he promises to be there for you.  Keep your eyes fixed on the cross, and he will encourage you.  He loves you more than you can know. He died for you.  He will comfort you.  He will see you through all of the trials of your life. 

Prayer: Lord, we thank and praise you for keeping our loved ones safe.  We thank and praise you for comforting us and for sitting with us through all of life’s trials.  You are the author of life.  Be with us as we try to follow the path that you have written for us on the pages of our lives. You know how our stories end, and we pray that it is with you for eternity.  We ask this in the name of you Son, who died for us. Amen

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Fourth Sunday in Lent are Numbers 21: 4-9; Psalm 107: 1-9; Ephesians 2: 1-10; John 3: 14-21. A similar blog was published on this website in March 2018.

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