Monday, November 29, 2010

The old has gone, the new is here!

2 Corinthians 5:13-21 (TNIV) -

13 If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.

15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

My thoughts -

I've written before about how crazy what we believe really is. Paul says here that some of the church in Corinth are saying that he is "out of (his) mind" for preaching it. Honestly, to me that seems like fair criticism. This is also not the first time Paul has been criticized in this way. Remember how he was told that his "great learning is driving you insane" by Festus in Acts 26.

I would think that being called crazy would be the least you would expect for preaching this Gospel, summed up well in verse 21 here:
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

We can't preach this enough. We can't proclaim this enough. In this Advent season we still find ourselves in need of a Saviour. We still find ourselves in need of a Messiah. We still find ourselves in need of Jesus. The Jesus who was and is God Incarnate, who was sent as an offering for our sins despite knowing no sin, and who was killed so that we can be reconciled to God. If you don't think that sounds crazy then maybe you haven't really considered it enough. God died for us. Life itself became death. Righteousness became sin. Black became white, day became night. The whole universe was turned upside down just to reconcile us, God's enemies, to God.

So be reconciled to God! Jesus did the hard work. Jesus died so that we may all die to our sins and, through the Grace we have in Jesus, chose righteousness. All we have to do now is accept that our way isn't working and follow his.

To die to our sins sounds a little crazy, too, now that I think about it. We who are alive in this world wish to avoid death, but death comes eventually for us all. Let us die together, to our sins so we are free to live in Christ both in this life and the one to come.

If we are dead to sin then, as Paul says in verse 17, the old is gone. We are a new creation. We're approaching the end of the year. We're in the Advent season. Christmas and the new year are right around the corner. Our Deliverer is coming. What better time than now to accept reconciliation to God through Christ and to become a new creation?

Often I feel like I have to do this each day, that God shows me just enough Grace to get me through this one day and then when I wake up the next morning I see just enough for it. Is it crazy to read the Bible every day? Is it crazy to make time for devotion every day? Is it crazy to seek out God's will every day? Maybe, but quite honestly, for me, it's the only thing that keeps me going. It's what keeps me just sane enough to make it through one more day.

If you're anything like me I recommend you try it.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Preparing for worship with Psalm 33

Psalm 33 (TNIV) -

1 Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;
it is fitting for the upright to praise him.

2 Praise the Lord with the harp;
make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.

3 Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully, and shout for joy.

4 For the word of the Lord is right and true;
he is faithful in all he does.

5 The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of his unfailing love.

6 By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
their starry host by the breath of his mouth.

7 He gathers the waters of the sea into jars;
he puts the deep into storehouses.

8 Let all the earth fear the Lord;
let all the people of the world revere him.

9 For he spoke, and it came to be;
he commanded, and it stood firm.

10 The Lord foils the plans of the nations;
he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.

11 But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever,
the purposes of his heart through all generations.

12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people he chose for his inheritance.

13 From heaven the Lord looks down
and sees all humankind;

14 from his dwelling place he watches
all who live on earth—

15 he who forms the hearts of all,
who considers everything they do.

16 No king is saved by the size of his army;
no warrior escapes by his great strength.

17 A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
despite all its great strength it cannot save.

18 But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,
on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,

19 to deliver them from death
and keep them alive in famine.

20 We wait in hope for the Lord;
he is our help and our shield.

21 In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name.

22 May your unfailing love be with us, Lord,
even as we put our hope in you.

My thoughts -

There are a couple of things that I love about this psalm for different reasons, the first superficial and the second significantly less so. As a guitarist who takes great pride in the ability to play the instrument well I love verse 3:
Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully, and shout for joy.

Some of you who know me better may also appreciate the "shouting for joy" bit in there as well, as my "singing" style (yes, the air quotes are necessary) errs on the side of shouting. When my wife and I first met I was leading a worship service at her church and the first thing she noticed about me was my big mouth.

But seriously, when we worship with music we should do it in a way that is both as skillful as we can while also passionate. This is our offering. We should give all that we can.

The second thing I love about this psalm is something that I have found frequently while studying the psalms for the brief amount of time that I have. Again, in this psalm, we find God's concern for justice and righteousness placed directly in the worship. It's all over this psalm. You can't get away from it. I would love for our worship to voice these concerns as openly and often as the psalms. That's something for me to work on.

Friday, November 26, 2010

What is unseen is eternal

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (TNIV) -

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

My thoughts -

While "what is seen" in this passage refers to the troubles and suffering that we face in this life, I don't think it is inappropriate to apply it to anything in this world. We have just celebrate a holiday where we give thanks for all of the blessings that we have. It was a wonderful time to spend with family and reflect on the joy that our loved ones bring into our lives. Now we've reached Black Friday, a day which is appropriately named if you ask me. This is our national retail-stores-need-today-to-get-in-the-black day. It is also, to someone who hates shopping, a dark day; a day to stay home, wait it out, and resurface some other time. On this "shopping holiday" we need to keep in mind that, in the same way that our suffering does not endure, so to does our stuff not endure.

My grandfather passed away in 1988. I spent yesterday with my grandmother remembering him. Funny, though, that all of the stuff that he bought for me (he spoiled us grandchildren terribly) isn't around anymore. I can't remember most of it. We didn't talk about it. What lasted was the love that he had for us, that he gave to us freely. There was no one who could make me feel as loved and as cherished and as special as my Papaw. He was a living example to me of the love of God.

The things of this world don't last. Today's thoughtful gift is rotting in tomorrow's landfill. Today's stress about bills is lost in tomorrow's joy. The things of this world are fleeting. None of this lasts, not even ourselves or our loved ones. Whether we want this season of life to end yesterday or to go on forever; whether we feel especially blessed or especially cursed; wherever we are in life it doesn't last. All that we see is not eternal.

So we fix our eyes like Paul not on what is seen but what is unseen. We place our hope not in the things of this world but on that which created this world and everything in it, that which is not temporary, that which will never waste away. We need God. We need Jesus. We need to live following Jesus's example and loving God and loving others.

We may not get a tangible benefit in this life by forsaking earthly things and doing something crazy like loving our enemies. But when we live according to God's will we begin to acquire a taste of the things to come. We begin to turn our focus away from these things that we see that waste away and toward that which is eternal. And when we do this we find a hope that was lacking here in the earthly things.

I wish I could adequately express the hope that I've found in Jesus. I wish I could find the words that could explain it with all of the power and joy that it fills me with. But alas, though I may talk a lot (ask anyone who knows me) I can't seem to find the right words. They all seem disproportionately weak and clumsy.

But know this: Fixing your eyes on what is unseen works. And usually I find that I can see just enough to get me to tomorrow. And I am filled with enough hope and enough joy and enough love to get me through just one more day. And then when that one more day comes I catch just enough of a glimpse of heaven to get me to the next.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Let light shine out of darkness

2 Corinthians 4:1-11 (TNIV) -

1 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.

6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.

My thoughts -

Paul has, in the first few chapters of 2 Corinthians, described the hardships that he has faced and even his resignation that he may have been facing death. These hardships had prevented him from making a planned visit to the church in Corinth. He even described them as being more than he could bear. And this is coming from a man who survived being stoned!

So how does he respond to this hardship and persecution? Remember Paul is a man who was imprisoned many times and eventually martyred for what he preached. When Paul faced persecution he wasn't made fun of, he was threatened with loss of freedom and loss of life. And yet he says that he will not lose heart because of God's mercy. And he will not be deceptive but preach plainly and openly. Could any of us say that we would do the same thing? When I get beaten down even just a little bit I start to justify all manner of things just to protect my own self interest. Paul wouldn't be protecting some superficial level of comfort but his very life! And even so he will not justify any deception. He will speak plainly, preach openly, and rely on God's mercy.

I love what he writes in verses 8 and 9:
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

I get pretty stressed out about a number of things. I want to be liked. I want to be appreciated. I want to be respected. I want to be well received. I have never faced persecution like those in the early church did. In our culture I never will. But can I rely on God in the same way that Paul did? Can I be open in the face of adversity and plainly speak the truth regardless of the cost? Can I trust God that, though I may be pressed I will not be crushed; though I may be persecuted I will not be abandoned; though I may be struck down I will not be destroyed?

We don't live in a difficult time, really. We have made peace with our culture and fit neatly along side of it. And yet we are to be a light shining in the darkness. Can we be comfortable and happy and still be the light? Can we speak out against a culture that does not care adequately for the lost, the sick, the poor, the broken, and the least and still enjoy our favored position? Can we speak out against a watered down Gospel that offers grace without repentance and doesn't demand righteousness without facing some backlash?

Can we be the light we need to be? Maybe there's a reason no one here is trying to kill us like they did Paul.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The last enemy to be destroyed is death

1 Corinthians 15:12-27 (TNIV) -

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.

19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all others.
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.21 For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a human being.22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.23 But in this order: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.27 For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ.

My thoughts -

Although it may not seem like it all of the time, I'm a pretty optimistic guy. I have faith in God and in God's people. I believe that everything can be redeemed and that we have been called by God to help redeem it. Yes, bad things happen. Yes, there is, despite our best efforts, sin in this world that creates innumerable suffering. Sometimes life seems so full of pain that it's a wonder anyone can live at all in this place, and yet, at it's worst, everything can still be redeemed. Pretty optimistic, right? Almost foolishly so but that's our job. We work to reconcile humanity to God and to alleviate suffering. We work to, even in the worst situations, redeem things.

And then there's death. I've seen bodies go into the ground. I've never seen one come back up. We can speak metaphorically all we want about bringing people back from the dead. There have been situations with people very close to me where we've even written them off for dead and yet their situation was redeemed and they are now restored, redeemed, and full of life in Christ. But we never buried the body. Metaphorically they may have been "dead", but there was still something there to work with.

In the Apostles' Creed we say that we believe in "the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting". In Jesus we claim that we believe that not only was he the human incarnation of God Almighty but he was also, after his body was killed, raised from the dead and is sitting at the right hand of God Almighty now and forever. We believe these things. This is our faith. These are at the core of Christianity. And yet I still haven't seen anything come back after it's gone.

I'd like to. My hope and my faith is that they do. My hope and my faith say that, just as in life nothing is irredeemable so it is also in death. I don't know how this works. I don't know when resurrection happens. I don't know how it happens. I don't know if it's a new body, the same old body restored, or no body at all. I do know that I have buried friends and relatives and stood over a hole in the ground hoping and praying that the whole earth would shake and tear all of our cemeteries apart and restore all of our loved ones to us. I have prayed that we will all rise up and be restored and reunited. I have wept and screamed and begged and yet I haven't seen anything respond.

But this is what we believe. I have seen an awful lot of what we believe proven to be true to me in my life. I have seen an awful lot of God's promises come true. Who am I to question this one?

We all live. We all love. We all suffer. We all die. These things I have seen. My hope is now placed in that which I have not seen. My faith is now placed in that which I have not seen but hope to. Everything can be redeemed. All enemies can be defeated. Even death.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

No post today

I am typing this from my phone. My hard drive failed and so my computer is not functioning. There will be no posting today because of this. There may not be any posts for a while until I can purchase a new hard drive.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A resounding gong or clanging cymbal

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (TNIV) -

1 If I speak in human or angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

My thoughts -

Whatever we have, whatever we do, whatever our gifts and talents, without love they are less than worthless. I could be the best guitarist in the world, I could sing with more beauty and passion than anyone could imagine, I could speak more brilliantly and poetically than anyone else on the planet and without love all of that would be just noise. I could give all that I have, pray every second of every day, and know more about scripture than anyone who ever lived and without love it would just be spiritual masturbation. Without love we are nothing. We should never forget this.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Preparing for Worship with Psalm 63

Psalm 63 (TNIV) -

1 You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water.

2 I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.

3 Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.

4 I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.

5 I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;
with singing lips my mouth will praise you.

6 On my bed I remember you;
I think of you through the watches of the night.

7 Because you are my help,
I sing in the shadow of your wings.

8 I cling to you;
your right hand upholds me.

9 Those who seek my life will be destroyed;
they will go down to the depths of the earth.

10 They will be given over to the sword
and become food for jackals.

11 But the king will rejoice in God;
all who swear by God will glory in him,
while the mouths of liars will be silenced.

My thoughts -

When we worship this morning we will sing praises to God. We should do this not because this is what is expected of us; not because it would be good for us to be seen doing so; not because it is what we have always done; not because we want everyone to see how perfect and wonderful we are; not because we like to sing and are good at it; not because our parents or peers make us.

We should sing praises and offer worship because, like the Psalmist says here, we thirst for God whose love is better than life. We need God and we need God to know it. Let us go and fall on our knees and worship God this morning offering everything that we have and are because doing otherwise just doesn't work for us. We need God right now.

Come Lord Jesus and be our help, our life, our protection, and our king. Let us cling to you and sing in the shadow of your wings. Let us thirst after you and fill us with your love that is better than life. Let our lips glorify you.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Fools for Jesus

1 Corinthians 4:7-16 (TNIV) -

7 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?
8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign—and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you!9 For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings.10 We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored!11 To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless.12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it;

13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.
14 I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children.15 Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me.

My thoughts -

This is an intense message, here. The church in Corinth was full of new believers and, apparently they had a little bit of an issue with pride. Paul refers to them as being "puffed up" or full of themselves in verse 6, right before the start of this passage.

We've already seen how the bickered among themselves about who were followers of Paul and who of Apollos. Paul shot that argument down cold. They're followers of Jesus. Period. But what is Paul addressing here? Is that sarcasm? Can you do that to a church?

Paul is pointing out how difficult the life of an apostle is. He is contrasting it with the lives of the people who make up the church in Corinth. I guess this is his way of "putting them in their place", so to speak. If you really want to follow Jesus, according to Paul here, you're going to have to be willing to look like an idiot. You're going to have to work hard, endure ridicule, and bless those that are ridiculing you.

Verse 9 does not paint an encouraging picture: "For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings." Sounds awesome! Where do I sign up for that?

And yet, Paul is saying this while encouraging the church in Corinth to follow his lead in this. He is telling them to imitate him. He is encouraging them to become fools for Jesus.

What would our ministries look like if we cast of all concerns for how we are perceived and became fools for Jesus, too?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Mere infants

1 Corinthians 3:1-5 (TNIV) -

1 Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ.2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere human beings?

4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?
5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task.

My thoughts -

I have heard people, when describing what another church is doing, say "Well I just couldn't worship like that!" I have heard people lament the loss of a pastor and proclaim that they didn't think that they could follow anyone else. Small changes in the staff and service have caused rifts and the occasional exodus. What would Paul say about this?

Maybe he'd tell these people that they're acting like "mere infants". When we place conditions on how we're able to worship and with whom we're willing to worship we are placing ourselves at the center of our worship and making worship not about falling on our knees before a God whom we acknowledge as being greater than us and the only way we can be redeemed and instead are making it about how we can be fulfilled and affirmed.

Yes, there are some legitimate reasons to leave a church. Yes, there are some legitimate reasons to have quarrels. There is such a thing as bad theology that needs to be combated. But usually our issues are with style and personality. Or even worse, just about the person. When we quarrel over this, when we fight over this, when we are divided over style we are placing our own needs above the rest of the body of the church and over the will of God.

I've seen ministries destroyed when a pastor leaves. I've seen congregations divide over instrumentation. When we do this, we are acting not like we should in the example of Christ, but instead like babies. We are "mere infants".

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Foolishness or insanity?

1 Corinthians 1:17-25 (TNIV) -

17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

19 For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
20 Where are the wise? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom,23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

My thoughts -

Paul calls the message of the cross foolishness here. I think that's being charitable. I'm thinking rather than foolishness it's just stark raving mad. Sometimes I think we're so locked into our own perspective (culturally Christianity has moved from a fringe cult to, in this region at least, the establishment) that we forget what it must look like from the outside. I confess, having grown up in the church, that I have never seen our beliefs from the outside.

Do we ever *really* critically engage what we believe. Have we considered the scandal, the foolishness, the insanity that is the cross. Because we need to. Not in order to disbelieve but in order to understand the depth of God's love for us in Christ and the power of Grace to free us from the chains of sin in our lives.

Here is the foolishness of the cross: We were, as said best by Paul in Romans 5:10, God's enemies. We like to use the word "sinners". We like to say that Christ died for sinners and that's all well and good but doesn't get to the core of what that means. I like the word "enemies" in the TNIV translation. Sin separates us from God. Sin pits our will against God's. Sin makes us enemies of God's. We, in sin, willfully disobey our Creator and live lives outside God's will. That makes us God's enemies.

Yes, it seems harsh but that's what we believe. That's how it is. And here's where the "foolishness" of the cross comes into play. Here's where it all starts to sound really crazy. Unlike what we would do, God didn't destroy God's enemies in Christ at the cross. God became human in Christ to reconcile with us, God's enemies, and in Christ God sacrificed God's own Self in order for us to be able to be reconciled.

So where did I lose you? Where did I lose me? This doesn't make sense, right? God died. That which is Life Itself died. Maybe this wouldn't be that controversial for Nietzsche, but it seems pretty out there to me. How does that even work? And yet, if we believe in the Incarnation, if we do believe not in the goodness, or teachings of Christ but also in the deity of Christ, and we believe that Christ was offered as a sacrifice for our sins then what we do believe essentially is that Life Itself died for us. Up is down. Black is white. Cats and dogs are living in harmony with each other. God died so that we can have life.

Sounds an awful lot like foolishness now, doesn't it? It sounds crazy! And yet that is the depth of God's love for us that is in Christ Jesus. As the institution our beliefs don't go challenged as often as I'd like. I know that sounds weird but if your beliefs aren't challenged how can you critically engage them? How can you consider what they mean? How can you contemplate the scandal that is the cross if no one points out how messed up that really sounds? How can you realize that God's love for us in Christ is so great that it is, quite frankly, absurd?

But once you realize that is the depth of God's love for you and for all how can you not respond to it? How can you not share that love with everyone you encounter? How can you, in being reconciled to God in Christ, not leave that transaction changed?

You can't. It's impossible. You have been reconciled. You have been redeemed. Now go follow God's example in Christ and do likewise with your own enemies. Share God's love with everyone you encounter.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Accept one another in order to bring praise to God

Romans 15:1-7 (TNIV) -

1 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.2 We should all please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.3 For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”

4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had,

6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

My thoughts -

This is a message that, for personal reasons, I really need right now. The biggest take away I get from it is that we really need to be building each other up. We need to be growing and also encouraging, enabling, and empowering those around and under us to grow.

Everything we do is a teaching moment and a learning moment but we must not beat each other down by what we do wrong but encourage each other to do better. We must also trust God enough to know that it will be okay. God's been doing this for a long time and our involvement in the ministry on this planet is a blink. It's not about us.

If we accept each other where we are and encourage each other to grow we raise up a new generation of church leadership and bring glory to God. If we don't we fail in our mission. That's okay. God doesn't need us. God will find another way. The church has been around for a long, long time.

There may be a paradigm shift on the horizon. We may need to change everything we've been doing. We may need to adjust to that. We may, ourselves, go away. But God will be served. The Word will be preached. Our Creator will be praised. In the meantime we need to build each other up, strengthen each other, encourage each other, and make damn sure that our ministry is not about us.

If we can empower the laity to minister rather that to be ministered to, if we can accept and then encourage and empower the next generation of leaders, then we just might make it through this. But if we don't do that there will still be the church, it just won't be us. God will always be in control.

Sorry if my exegesis is a little weird here. I'm reading a lot of my own issues into the text. Please pray for me to be able to do God's will in the coming days, weeks, months, and years no matter what it may be. I know my own will. I know what I want to be able to do. But it's not about me. Sorry if this is too cryptic, but if you read this please pray for me.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Preparing for worship with Psalm 102

Psalm 102 (TNIV) -

1 Hear my prayer, Lord;
let my cry for help come to you.

2 Do not hide your face from me
when I am in distress.
Turn your ear to me;
when I call, answer me quickly.

3 For my days vanish like smoke;
my bones burn like glowing embers.

4 My heart is blighted and withered like grass;
I forget to eat my food.

5 In my distress I groan aloud
and am reduced to skin and bones.

6 I am like a desert owl,
like an owl among the ruins.

7 I lie awake; I have become
like a bird alone on a roof.

8 All day long my enemies taunt me;
those who rail against me use my name as a curse.

9 For I eat ashes as my food
and mingle my drink with tears

10 because of your great wrath,
for you have taken me up and thrown me aside.

11 My days are like the evening shadow;
I wither away like grass.

12 But you, Lord, sit enthroned forever;
your renown endures through all generations.

13 You will arise and have compassion on Zion,
for it is time to show favor to her;
the appointed time has come.

14 For her stones are dear to your servants;
her very dust moves them to pity.

15 The nations will fear the name of the Lord,
all the kings of the earth will revere your glory.

16 For the Lord will rebuild Zion
and appear in his glory.

17 He will respond to the prayer of the destitute;
he will not despise their plea.

18 Let this be written for a future generation,
that a people not yet created may praise the Lord:

19 “The Lord looked down from his sanctuary on high,
from heaven he viewed the earth,

20 to hear the groans of the prisoners
and release those condemned to death.”

21 So the name of the Lord will be declared in Zion
and his praise in Jerusalem

22 when the peoples and the kingdoms
assemble to worship the Lord.

23 In the course of my life he broke my strength;
he cut short my days.

24 So I said:
“Do not take me away, my God, in the midst of my days;
your years go on through all generations.

25 In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.

26 They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them
and they will be discarded.

27 But you remain the same,
and your years will never end.

28 The children of your servants will live in your presence;
their descendants will be established before you.”

My thoughts -

We don't worship God because we're just that awesome and we want God to know it. We don't worship God because we're perfect, well adjusted, happy plastic people and we want God and everyone else to see how perfect and joyful we are. We worship God because we need God, we need God right now, and we need God to know it. We need God to know that we know that we can't do this on our own. We need God to know that we know that our ways, time and again, have failed us and we need that which is greater to save us.

This has been, on the whole, a tough week. I'm broken. I'm tired of fighting. I need to just give everything up and fall into the arms of my Creator/Sustainer/Redeemer and surrender everything that I have and everything that I am.

That's why I love Psalms of lament like this one. They allow you to acknowledge that not everything is super-perky-shiny-plastic-happy-joyful-good-times-praise. If my life is any indication the bulk of our lives, if set to music, would be in a minor key. And that's okay! That's why we need God! If everything were perfect what would we need God for?

So, come Lord Jesus and save me from myself. Let me just give up the ghost this morning and fall down and worship you. I've got nothing left.

The good thing about this Psalm of lament, at least, is that there's hope. We know there's hope but sometimes it's great to affirm that, too. Check out verses 25-28:

25 In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.

26 They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them
and they will be discarded.

27 But you remain the same,
and your years will never end.

28 The children of your servants will live in your presence;
their descendants will be established before you.”

God is still in control. And long after all of us are gone God will still be in control.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

I will sing of your love and justice

Psalm 101 (TNIV) -

1 I will sing of your love and justice;
to you, Lord, I will sing praise.

2 I will be careful to lead a blameless life—
when will you come to me?
I will conduct the affairs of my house
with a blameless heart.

3 I will not look with approval
on anything that is vile.
I hate what faithless people do;
I will have no part in it.

4 The perverse of heart shall be far from me;
I will have nothing to do with what is evil.

5 Whoever slanders their neighbor in secret,
I will put to silence;
whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart,
I will not endure.

6 My eyes will be on the faithful in the land,
that they may dwell with me;
those whose walk is blameless
will minister to me.

7 No one who practices deceit
will dwell in my house;
no one who speaks falsely
will stand in my presence.

8 Every morning I will put to silence
all the wicked in the land;
I will cut off every evildoer
from the city of the Lord.

My thoughts -

We read this Psalm last night at the prayer meeting at Mansfield's house. I have to say, every time I read the Psalms I get a little convicted about what I do.

Verse 1 says it all here: "I will sing of your love and justice; to you, Lord, I will sing praise."

We love to sing of God's love. We love to sing happy, affirming songs. We love to sing about all the wonderful things God has done in our lives. But do we love to sing about God's justice? Do we love to sing about our role in that? Do we love to affirm when we sing God's praise God's call for righteousness from us?

There are some songs that we sing that mention these things in passing but I don't know that there are too many we do or might ever do that hammer that message home with the directness and power of Psalm 101.

I love verse 8: "Every morning I will put to silence all the wicked in the land; I will cut off every evildoer from the city of the Lord."

Are we silencing evil? Are we calling it out and telling it to shut up? Are we willing to? We have a selfish culture that ostracizes ad even vilifies the poor, the downtrodden, and the needy among us. We have a culture that shouts "get a job" and laments human "leeches". We have a culture that treats tax cuts for the rich as a necessity but services for the poor as wasteful spending. We have a culture in which the sentencing for crimes depends less on guilt or innocence and more on race and resources. The same people propagating this agenda are calling themselves Christians and playing up culture war issues to get Christian support. Are we calling this shit out? Do we think God doesn't care?

Can we, within the context of our worship, praise God for God's love and for God's justice? Can we call out the deceit that is pervasive in our political and economic systems as well as in our own lives in our mindless participation in them? Is church just not the place for that? Is worship just not the place for that? Is that a concern for God's justice is or is just politics? Can you separate the two?

Honestly I don't know. But I do know that we have been, in my experience, playing it awfully safe and sticking principally to God's love and if we do call out sin it isn't sin that any of us are likely to commit. We don't want to offend anyone.

But can we speak with a prophetic voice while ignoring God's demand for justice? Can we really praise God while ignoring God's desire for righteousness and demand for justice?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Love does no harm to its neighbor

Romans 13:7-10 (TNIV) -

7 Give to everyone what you owe: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

My thoughts -

I used to have a very legalistic view of how I should live and what I "could" do. Maybe young people need firm boundaries. I had them, at least. And I stayed within them, for the most part. I was a "good" kid. I was a "good" youth. I did what I was "supposed" to do. But there was no love.

Maybe part of the problem was a lack of education. While I went to church, Sunday School, and Youth Group every week I never really read the Bible. Why should I? I knew what it said. I was a Christian. Don't all Christians know everything about the Bible just based on that they're Christians?

Maybe it's age. Maybe it's education. Maybe it's maturity. Whatever it is by the time I hit 30 I realized a few things. The first: I (gasp) don't know everything. In fact, I don't know nearly enough. The second: I don't love. I realize we're called to love but I just didn't understand what that meant. I could never step outside my own wants, outside my own perspective, see the needs of others, and care for them like I would if they were my own needs.

But the more I read and the more I grow and the more I pray and the more I try to be that which I believe God is calling me to be the more I see that what we do and don't do is only important insomuch as we are loving others. If what we do is in love then, whatever it is (and you have to be honest with yourself and with God here, there's no "loving" way to be a selfish jerk, this isn't a "just do whatever you want whenever and however you want" clause) it is okay; it is of God. If what we do is not in love then whatever it is, however noble, however "moral", however "right" (by a legalistic view of right and wrong) it is, it is not okay, it is not of God.

For more insight on this see Romans 14. There Paul discusses primarily what is and isn't okay to eat but the point he makes (at least what I take away from it) is that, while all things may be okay for you and of God you shouldn't be a stumbling block for others just because you are "allowed" to be. Be loving and work for mutual edification. Whatever is "right" and "wrong", we should be building each other up in love.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Basic instructions

Romans 12:9-21 (TNIV) -

9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not think you are superior.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

My thoughts -

How should a Christian live? Paul's got a pretty good list right here. I don't think I can add anything to it. Enjoy a morning that is free from my ramblings.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

One body

Romans 12:1-8 (TNIV) -

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is true worship.

2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function,5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith;7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach;

8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

My thoughts -

I have a nasty habit of simultaneously think too highly and too lowly of myself. If I were to look at myself with the "sober judgement" Paul is asking for here I would have to say that I am, not good, but very good at some things. I am a talented musician. I have dedicated the bulk of my life to playing guitar and know few people that can match my abilities that have both from natural talent and thousands of hours of work. Where I run into trouble, though, is when I value those gifts above or below others. When I allow myself to think of myself as being better or worse than others because of those gifts.

Am I offering myself, my ability to play guitar, my gifts as a musician, as a sacrifice to God in worship? Am I using those gifts as part of a larger body no more or less important than any other part?

We all have gifts. Are we using them together to worship God as one body?

Monday, November 8, 2010

The righteousness that is by faith

Romans 10:4-13 (TNIV) -

4 Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
5 Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “Whoever does these things will live by them.”6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down)7 “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).8 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim:9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him,

13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

My thoughts -

What does it mean to be saved? If we are saved from our sins do we get to avoid the consequences of them? Is that all we get? Why does Paul, when talking about being saved through faith in Jesus mention righteousness?

If I am saved from my sins then, not only do I not receive the punishment I deserve for them, but I don't have to keep living in sin. I have been saved from that through faith in Jesus and that faith enables me to become righteous. I no longer have to live the old way, dead in my sins, but I have been made alive in Christ.

If we believe, if we have faith, then Jesus saves us from our sins (we can't do it) and then we can have the righteousness that is by faith that Paul mentions here. That doesn't mean that we are no longer capable of sin. It just means that we are empowered to become righteous. We learn to love God and to love others and in that love we no longer desire to do harm but instead to do good. We no longer desire our own selfish will but instead God's will. When we do this we become righteous.

It is hard to cause suffering for those we love. When we learn to love through Christ then we no longer desire to sin which causes suffering. It all comes down to having faith, which enables us to love, which makes us righteous.

I may be over-simplifying this, but that's what I'm living with right now. I want to learn to love others like Jesus loves me. I want to learn to see God in all of God's creation and to love all who have been created by God. If I can have faith enough to do that I figure righteousness will happen. In that righteousness through faith I will no longer be a slave to my selfish, sinful nature. I will be saved from myself, saved from my sin, saved from my own will, and very much alive in Christ.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Preparing for worship with Psalm 9

Psalm 9 (TNIV) -

1 I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart;
I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.

2 I will be glad and rejoice in you;
I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High.

3 My enemies turn back;
they stumble and perish before you.

4 For you have upheld my right and my cause,
sitting enthroned as the righteous judge.

5 You have rebuked the nations and destroyed the wicked;
you have blotted out their name for ever and ever.

6 Endless ruin has overtaken my enemies,
you have uprooted their cities;
even the memory of them has perished.

7 The Lord reigns forever;
he has established his throne for judgment.

8 He rules the world in righteousness
and judges the peoples with equity.

9 The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.

10 Those who know your name trust in you,
for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.

11 Sing the praises of the Lord, enthroned in Zion;
proclaim among the nations what he has done.

12 For he who avenges blood remembers;
he does not ignore the cries of the afflicted.

13 Lord, see how my enemies persecute me!
Have mercy and lift me up from the gates of death,

14 that I may declare your praises
in the gates of Daughter Zion,
and there rejoice in your salvation.

15 The nations have fallen into the pit they have dug;
their feet are caught in the net they have hidden.

16 The Lord is known by his acts of justice;
the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands.

17 The wicked go down to the realm of the dead,
all the nations that forget God.

18 But God will never forget the needy;
the hope of the afflicted will never perish.

19 Arise, Lord, do not let mortals triumph;
let the nations be judged in your presence.

20 Strike them with terror, Lord;
let the nations know they are only mortals.

My thoughts -

We sing an arrangement of the first two verses of this Psalm in my church. It amazes me that David wrote this Psalm roughly 3000 years ago and, 3000 years later we're still singing it.

But what I really love about this is that David isn't just singing some ambiguous praise to some kind of a vague notion of something greater than himself. There's some serious theology going on here. Within the context of David's worship he is describing God and thanking God for what God has done and is doing and begging God to more. He even mentions God's concern for the needy and for justice.

Will we, in our worship this morning, articulate what we believe about God? Will we describe the acts of God, and declare God's good deeds in our lives? Will we tell of God's wonders? Will we praise God for God's concern for the poor, for the needy, for the oppressed, and for justice?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Proverbs and caring for the poor

A friend of mine once told me that he didn't care for Proverbs because he has seen it used to oppress the poor and to blame them for their own problems. Maybe I'm just this crazy, idealistic hippie who sees God's mandate to us to care for the needy in everything I read in the Bible, but my own reading has been quite the opposite. Here are some examples:

Proverbs 13:23 - "An unplowed field produces food for the poor, but injustice sweeps it away."

Proverbs 14:31 - "Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God."

Proverbs 17:5 - "Whoever mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker; whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished."

Proverbs 19:17 - "Those who are kind to the poor lend to the Lord,
and he will reward them for what they have done."

Proverbs 21:13 - "Those who shut their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered."

Proverbs 22:9 - "The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor."

Proverbs 22:16 - "Those who oppress the poor to increase their wealth and those who give gifts to the rich—both come to poverty."

Proverbs 22:22-23 - "Do not exploit the poor because they are poor
and do not crush the needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case
and will exact life for life."

Proverbs 28:3 - "A ruler who oppresses the poor is like a driving rain that leaves no crops."

Proverbs 28:6 - "Better the poor whose walk is blameless than the rich whose ways are perverse."

Proverbs 28:11 - "The rich are wise in their own eyes; one who is poor and discerning sees how deluded they are."

Proverbs 28:27 - "Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses."

Proverbs 29:7 - "The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern."

Proverbs 31:9 - "Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy."

If we don't thing God desires for us to care for the needs of others, especially those with less than us, then we are broken. Our theology is broken. We are worthless. But we don't believe that. We do believe that God not only cares for the needy but desires for us to do so not just on an emotional level but physically, as well.

So what are we going to do about that?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

Romans 8:28-39 (TNIV) -

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.34 Who then can condemn? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,

39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

My thoughts -

Paul said in Chapter 5 that Jesus died, not for the righteous but for the ungodly. While we were God's enemies God became human in the form of Jesus and dies as a sacrifice to reconcile us, God's enemies, to God. If we, when we were God's enemies, were reconciled to God through Jesus, what can separate us from God's love? Is there anything that we can do to separate ourselves from God? If so, why would Jesus have been sacrificed to reconcile God's enemies to God?

Is there anything that anyone else can do? Look at what Paul says in verse 35: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?" That's a bad list, and yet he responds that no, these are powerless.

But my favorite is what Paul says in verse 38 and 39. Read this and be encouraged:
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

There is nothing in this world that can separate us from God's love for us through Jesus. There is nothing NOT in this world that can separate us from God's love for us through Jesus. Nothing. Not death, not life. Not angels, not demons. Not present, not future. Not any powers. Not height, not depth. Nothing in creation can separate from God's love for us in Jesus. Not sin, not our past. Nothing we've done or can do, nor anyone else for that matter. NOTHING.

We were God's enemies. We were slaves to our sinful natures. This may not even have been a problem for us, but it was for God. God wanted to reconcile with us, God's enemies (I can't stress that word, "enemies" enough) so badly that God did what I still consider insane, God became one of us, a human, in the form of Jesus. Not only did God do that, but God DIED FOR US.

Think about that. God, the giver of all life, died. That's CRAZY. If God would do that for God's own enemies how can we NOT be reconciled to God through this? How can we undo what God has done in Jesus? How could anyone? How could anything?

Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Spirit gives life

Romans 8:5-11 (TNIV) -

5 Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.6 The mind controlled by the sinful nature is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.7 The sinful mind is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.

8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.
9 You, however, are not controlled by the sinful nature but are in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness.

11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

My thoughts -

Are we controlled by our sinful natures? Are we "only human", with all of our faults and frailties destined to be stuck in our cycle of sin, forgiveness, sin again? Do we HAVE to do what we want not to do and have to NOT do what we want to do? In Romans 7:15 Paul describes this process in a way I identify with all too well: "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." This is sin. I feel powerless to do what I know I ought to, and yet what I know I shouldn't comes far too easily. But does it HAVE to be this way? Is that just human nature and unavoidable? Is there no hope for me; for us?

Maybe I keep harping on this because I'm trying to get it through my thick head but Jesus didn't die for us for AFTER we're dead. Grace isn't our your-sins-are-forgiven-now-you-get-out-of-hell-free card. Grace frees us from sin. Grace breaks this cycle of sin. Grace doesn't just forgive us, but EMPOWERS us. It doesn't free us from past sins, but from present and future ones, as well. WE DON'T HAVE TO SIN. I can't say that enough.

Sure, maybe demanding perfection seems like it's too much. And expecting perfection is a way too be let down. But what about EMPOWERING perfection? Can we wrap our heads around that concept? Can we accept that Grace EMPOWERS us to no longer sin? That we CAN do that which we know God desires from us? That we can STOP doing that which we know is KILLING us?

Do we have hope for this life or just for the next? I need hope now. I need to be better now. I can't keep living like I've been living and I need to KNOW that's possible. I know everything I've done. I am acutely aware of all of my failings, even if I mask them well. I know what keeps me up at night. I don't want to live with it anymore. Jesus died to take it from me. All that I have done, all that I have failed to do, all of my shortcomings. Jesus died to take them from me and to let me live and love in the way that God has intended me to.

So now I have life. And now I GET to love. And now I GET to share that love with others. I don't follow God because I HAVE to, I GET to. I am EMPOWERED to. It's better here, living the way that your Designer?Creator/Sustainer intended. I have new life. More than that, I have LIFE.

What really brings this all home to me is verse 11: "And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you." This life is not for your soul. This life is not an afterlife. This isn't a get-out-of-hell thing. The Spirit gives life to your MORTAL bodies.

Grace that doesn't help us here is no grace at all. Jesus can help us here, right now, to break out of the cycle of sin that brings us this living death, and to help us to live in the way that God intended for us to live. Right here and right now. That this ABUNDANT life is ETERNAL as well is just icing on the cake. Who would want to live forever trapped in this cycle of sin?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

You are not under the law, but under grace

Romans 6:1-18 (TNIV) -

1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
5 If we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—

7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.
8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him.

10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.

14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

My thoughts -

What does it mean to not be under the law but under grace? The way I think of it is this: The law is predominantly what you should not do. There are rules, and you should not break them. When you do break them you need to be forgiven. Repeat this cycle for your entire life. Do something. Break the law. Repent. Repeat.

Now, Jesus summed the law up in Matthew 22 as "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." and "Love your neighbor as yourself." Grace enables us to do that. Grace empowers us to do that. If what we do shows our love for God and our love for our neighbor then it isn't sin. Instead of focusing on what not to do and our obligation not to do it and our punishment when we fail Jesus breaks this cycle and demands that we love. Not be legalistic, just love.

So we are dead to sin. It's not that we can't do bad things, or that we shouldn't do them (though we shouldn't). It's that grace has empowered us to live a better way. We are dead to that old way and alive in Christ.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The gift of righteousness

Romans 5:17-21 (TNIV) -

17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all.

19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
20 The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more,

21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

My thoughts -

Sometimes I wonder how critically we engage what we believe. I know, at least for me, when I think of grace I think of it as forgiveness. We get stuck in this model of sin and forgiveness that is depends on Jesus's sacrifice to cover our sins over and over and over again. We sin. Jesus was crucified for it. Our sin is forgive. Lather, rinse, repeat. Grace covers our sins so that when we die we get to go to heaven. We're forgiven.

My how we can cheapen grace! Paul is talking here about grace and yet he is also talking about righteousness. Death is in the past tense. Life is in the present and in the future. Grace isn't for the forgiveness of sins for AFTER our death so we get to avoid hell. Grace is for living. Grace is for empowering us to move from death into life. Grace enables us to receive this gift of righteousness.

Look at what Paul says in verse 17. He doesn't say we receive this gift when we die. He doesn't say we are made righteous at the moment of death to be able to enter heaven. He says we receive the gift of righteousness IN LIFE. In this life. Right here. This is what grace is for. It is not a "get out of hell free card" but a power for transformation to move us from death into life; from sin into righteousness.

It's not that in order to receive grace we have to stop sinning. Remember from yesterday: Christ died for us while we were sinners. Christ died for the ungodly. But, in so doing, he has given us Grace that enables us to stop sinning. We don't HAVE to be perfect to receive this gift. We GET to be righteous and this gift enables that. We no longer have to be held captive to sin in this life. We no longer have to be stuck in the pattern of sin and death. We can choose life. We can chose righteousness. Grace empowers us to be made righteous.

Are we being made righteous?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Scandalous love

Romans 5:1-10 (TNIV) -

1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.

5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.

8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

My thoughts -

Sometimes I think we're so accustomed to our own beliefs that we forget the scandal of them; we forget how ridiculous they are. We use the word Jesus and it means something to us. We use the word Savior and it means something to us. We use the words Lamb of God and it means something to us. We're so used to what those words mean to us that we forget, I think, how ridiculous that meaning is. In this section Paul comes right out and spells out their absurdity.

Look at verse 6: "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly."

Now, what does "Christ" mean to us? This is God incarnate. We say "Son of God" and this is true, but this "son" is God itself. It's tough to wrap my mind around the concept but that's what we believe. Jesus was God, the Creator, the Sustainer, Being itself, I Am, in human form. And not only did God lower itself to become like us, a human being, but God in human form died for us. Not only did God die for us, but God did so at a time when we were unworthy of this sacrifice from ANYONE, let alone GOD.

We were unworthy of this sacrifice. It was a gift. It was a way, THE way, to be reconciled to God. We were enemies and now are no longer so not because of anything we did or could do but because God sent Jesus, God's own son and not only that but God itself, to die in our place. There is no boasting for us that can be found here. There's nothing we can do to earn it. There's no "entrance exam" to come into God's love. Christ wasn't sent for just us. Jesus was the sacrifice to atone for all of our sins. All of humanity has available to it the grace of God through Jesus Christ. Jesus is not ours to be held on to, hoarded, and lorded over the other sinners. Grace is not ours to keep for ourselves but to share freely with all of God's children.

What does Paul say again in verse 6? I think we need to meditate on this for a while. He doesn't say Christ died for Christians. He doesn't say Christ died for the righteous. He doesn't say Christ died for those Christ foreknew would "receive" that gift and repent. He says "Christ died for the ungodly."

That is the scandal that we believe. That is God's scandalous love not for us but for EVERYBODY. Christ, God in human form, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, died for the ungodly. We didn't deserve it. We can't earn it. And there's no way we can keep it to ourselves.