Thursday, June 30, 2011

You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter

James 5:1-5 NASB

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you.  Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten.  Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure!  Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields,  and  which has been withheld by you, cries out  against you;  and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.  You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.

My thoughts -

What here will last? I have a pretty nice car. Well, I guess it was a pretty nice car when it was new. It's got 10 years and 130,000 miles on it now. I wouldn't say that it's falling apart but it has definitely seen better days.

How much upkeep do our homes need just to not be overtaken by nature? How long do you think they'll be here after we're gone? 10 years? Twenty? How many houses do you see that are over 100 years old? Have you ever seen ruins? If there's anything left of our homes and offices down the road they will be like ruins. I think I'll try to imagine that while I'm at work today.

We used to spend a pretty good amount of money on clothes back when both my wife and I worked outside the home. We had more disposable income back then and we disposed of a good chunk of it at the mall. Just a few years later now I don't know how much of that we still have and wear. Not a lot. I can't keep a pair of pants longer than a year before I wear through the knees at the very least. They just don't last.

In fact, if I think about everything we've bought for ourselves over the years, all of the TVs, computers, bikes, guitars, game systems, toys, baseball gear, grills, coffee grinders; all of the stuff that we've acquired, none of it really lasts. They wear out. They break down. They disappear. We spend so much time, energy, and money getting this stuff and then we have to turn around and do it again because it doesn't satisfy and it doesn't last. Nothing in this world lasts.

We don't like to think of ourselves as rich. No one really does. Of course we have some trappings, we have these things, but we're not rich. There's always someone who has more. That person is rich. We're just getting by. We're just trying to make it and doing the best we can with what we've got, right?

But what we've got is an awful lot of stuff. Stuff we've spent an awful lot of money to get. Stuff that insulates us from the world and makes us feel safe, secure, entertained, protected, and just plain better. We have shiny junk that we use as pacifiers, so we don't hear the cries of the hungry and naked all around us. We're insulated by cable news and reality shows on our big screen, wide screen, flat screen, high definition televisions.

We drown out the noise of the poor starving at home and abroad by cranking up the stereos and revving up the engines in our new cars. We distract ourselves with our beach vacations and our ski vacations and our spas and resorts. We spend our time and money distancing ourselves from the problems of others at the movies and the ballgames and the opera houses. We spend all of our time and all of our money investing in all of these things and none of them last. None of them. They are here today and gone tomorrow.

When Jesus said that the poor would always be with us, did he mean that as a good thing? Or did Jesus know that this was a problem we wouldn't be able to solve because we humans have always been more interested in ourselves than others?

So James is calling out the rich here. He's saying, as ought to be clear to us by now, that their riches won't last. He's saying they haven't cared for the poor. He's saying they have abused their workers. And we're certain that what he's saying couldn't possibly be about us, right?

The next time we're out buying shiny junk made in a sweat shop somewhere and sold for a price that couldn't possibly bring a profit if everyone involved in the production and sale were making a living wage, we should ask ourselves how James could not be talking about us. Sure, our involvement may be more indirect. Sure, we may not think of ourselves as rich or exploitative, but no one else does either. There's always someone with more. There's always someone who is worse. We don't abuse and exploit workers. We just create the demand for cheap shiny junk. And cheaper, shinier junk.

And none of it lasts. Our insulation will go away. The trappings of class and culture will be pealed away. And we will be left standing before our maker explaining ourselves.

Do we really think we haven't been fattening ourselves? Do we really think we haven't lived for our own pleasure? Do we really think this isn't about us? Do we really think it doesn't apply to us?

Do we really want to have to tell that to our judge, who made the people our lifestyle and its demands for cheaper, shinier junk exploits, in His image? Do we want to tell God that we have abused, exploited, and killed his children because we just had to have the shiny junk and we had to have a deal on it, too?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Double vision

James 4:1-8 NASB

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?  You lust and do not have;  so  you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain;  so  you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask.  You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend  it  on your pleasures.  You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.  Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: "He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us"?  But He gives a greater grace. Therefore  it  says, "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble."  Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

My thoughts -

You know, I could really use a new guitar. Sure, I have quite a few, but there's far more I don't have. I've always wanted an early 60s Les Paul, for instance. And who wouldn't want one of those Santa Cruz modeled after the OM Martins? And have you seen what Gibson is doing with the robot guitar technology. There's some exciting stuff going on. I want it in my life. I need it. I have to have it.

I'm not much into cars but I love bicycles. Sure, my bikes are great but you know what? I think it'd be awesome to have one of those carbon fiber racing bikes. Can you imagine how fast I could cruise around on those things? I really wish I had one. Heck, I deserve one. I need it. I have to have it.

But you know, I'm not rich. If I was I'd start with getting a better house. You know, this is an okay neighborhood but one of those gated ones would probably feel safer. Maybe one with a golf course. I don't golf but if I were rich I bet I could. I could find the time. I wouldn't be working my butt off at these two jobs all day every day, that's for sure. You know, I deserve an easier life and more time and nicer stuff. I need it. I have to have it.

There are so many things in this life that distract us from God. It's not that they're bad. There's nothing wrong with a well crafted guitar or a technologically advanced bike or a nice house in a nice neighborhood. But when we place the desire for the things of this world ahead of our desire for godly things then we create conflict.

I really do want a new guitar. I don't need any but I do want one. Several, actually. The desire for these things if left unchecked can become obsessive. And jealously when others have what I desire can be overwhelming. I hate that about myself.

I want the bike and the house too. I really do. Maybe I went a little overboard with the gated community and the golf course thing but a little more square footage and some land would be nice. And other people have these things and I have to admit that I am jealous. This is a real issue in my life. The desire for more and better stuff could consume me if allowed. My jealousy of others who have what I want could as well.

There's always something you can't or don't have. Be it material things or abilities or a sexual partner or whatever. There's always something that is not attainable. Or maybe it is but it is something that you shouldn't have. The desire for these things can be overwhelming. It can also get in the way of your relationship with God and with others. Our wants and desires can blind us to the needs of others and can blind us to the harm we cause others when we pursue the cravings of the flesh.

We are double-minded, dividing our interest between godly and worldly things. We are distracted from the eternal by the things here that don't last. We pay lip service to God while ignoring the call to care for others while we accumulate the things we want, the things we need, the things we have to have.

The solution to this problem is to acknowledge that we do it. I know that I do. I know when I do and what I desire when I do. We need to understand what we're doing in this way. And then we need to repent. We need to stop what we're doing. We need to turn from our worldly lusts and cravings and turn towards God. We need to acknowledge that the best the shiny junk of this world had to offer pales in comparison to the things of God.

God offers peace. God offers contentment. God offers joy. No matter how much stuff we get there's always something we don't have. That we can't have. God says we don't have to want it. We don't have to need it. We can have peace and contentment.

Peace is far better than prosperity.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Faith without works

James 2:14-26 NASB

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food,  and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for  their  body, what use is that?  Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead,  being  by itself.
  But someone may  well  say, "You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works."  You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.  But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?  Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?  You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected;  and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "And abraham believed god, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness," and he was called the friend of God.  You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.  In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?  For just as the body without  the  spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

My thoughts -

I wrote on Sunday about faith and how it requires action. Here James tells us that if we do not do works, if faith does not compell us to action, then it is dead.

I have nothing that I can say to add to this. I will let Rich Mullins do that for me.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

By faith...

Hebrews 11:1-16 NASB

Now faith is the assurance of  things  hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  For by it the men of old gained approval.
  By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.  By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks.  By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death;  and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God.  And without faith it is impossible to please  Him,  for he who comes to God must believe that He is and  that  He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.  By faith Noah, being warned  by God  about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.
  By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.  By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign  land,  dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise;  for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.  By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised.  Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that,  as many descendants   as the stars of heaven in number, and innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.
  All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own.  And indeed if they had been thinking of that  country  from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better  country,  that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.

My thoughts -

I have faith in you. We hear that all the time, right? In movies. On TV. An unlikely hero is about to do something. It may seem impossible. No one else may see the potential. But someone believes. Someone sees just enough in our underdog. Someone says I have faith in you. I believe in you. You can do it. And then our hero prevails. Cue the triumphant music.

But what is faith? What does having faith mean? Is it some empty belief that something can be done? Is it an educated guess based on the available evidence? Does having faith mean the same thing as "knowing" something, even knowing it in spite of evidence to the contrary? More importantly, what does it mean to have faith in God?

The author of Hebrews presents us here with a very good picture of faith. He starts by presenting something of a definition of faith. He says that "faith is the assurance of  things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen". Faith is assurance. Faith is conviction.

I have never seen the face of God. I have never heard the audible voice of God. I have no "real" direct encounters with God. Not in the same way that I do with my wife, or my friends, or my family. I can not touch God. I can not see God. I can not hear God. Not in the same way that I can physical things here in this life.

That does not mean that I have no encounters with the Lord our God. I do. Or I believe I do. I can't prove God. My religion could be a pleasant delusion born out of the despair of death and the fear of being alone in a cold, dark, cruel universe. It could be. But I have faith that it that it isn't.

I am convinced that my experiences with what I perceive as the Creator and Sustainer of the universe are real, that God is, and that I live in a covenant relationship with that God. I am assured and convicted. I am convinced. God is. And I desire to live in a reconciled relationship with God through the grace we have in Jesus Christ our Lord. I have faith.

But does faith stop there? Is faith some kind of academic ascent to something that can not be known or understood or proven completely. If that were the case then this would be a pretty short chapter. But the author of Hebrews goes on, giving us a more complete picture of what faith is and how faith is lived. And faith must be lived.

Here we have examples from scripture of different heroes of the faith and what the did in faith. For brevity's sake I won't rehash them. You can read them above. But you can see both that, by faith these people did some pretty amazing and in some cases rather unlikely things, and that they did them on the promise of things that they couldn't fully see.

From a worldly perspective that seems almost a tragic thing, doesn't it? All of these things done with no real, tangible reason or reward. Just hope and a potentially empty promise. Possibly just a delusion. All of that effort potentially wasted.

And yet the elderly Sarah, against all odds, did conceive. The waters did come and Noah's seemingly ridiculous boat saved him, his family, and a whole bunch of animals. All of these things, though at the time there was no way to be certain, were rewarded.

If the reward is fully tangible then action doesn't really require faith, does it? In the same way, if there is just some empty hope that inspires no action what faith is there?

I have an analogy that I like to us. Suppose there is a chair. You can look at it. Maybe you can't see everything about it, but you can tell some things by looking. You can see that people have sat in it. You can infer from that that it could hold your weight. You can see that it appears to be sturdy and well made. But who can really tell these things? It could be a trick. Someone could be watching, waiting to laugh as this well constructed fake collapses with you in it.

You could decide that's unlikely. When weighing the appearance of the chair, its perceived sturdiness, its comfortable looking cushions, its inviting look, you could decide that you believe that this chair could hold you. Not only that but you could believe that this chair could be quite comfortable. It is inviting. You believe it would hold you nicely. You have faith in the chair, right?

Faith is not found in any belief in the chair. Faith is sitting in it. Belief may lead you to sit. Or you could believe but not feel like sitting. Or you could believe but not strongly enough to sit. After all, you have no real assurance that this isn't some kind of trick or even a delusion. Faith is sitting in chair.

Faith is being convinced, convicted, and then acting it out. Faith is living what you believe. Faith is trusting in a God you can not prove is real and living what that belief demands of you. Faith is being assured of what is hoped for but not seen. And then faith is, in that assurance, living what is believed.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Encourage one another day after day

Hebrews 3:12-19 NASB

Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.  But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is  still  called "Today," so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.  For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end,  while it is said,
"Today if you hear His voice,
Do not harden your hearts, as  when they  provoked me."
  For who provoked  Him  when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt  led  by Moses?  And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?  And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient?  So  we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.

My thoughts -

I could be wrong and I'm definitely generalizing here but I am convinced that, by and large, people know right from wrong. Unfortunately there is often conflict between what we should do and what we want to do. When this conflict arises we tend to go with what we want to do at the expense of doing the right thing.

Often, when faced with a decision to make in this regard I will try to shut out the voice that says what I should do. I don't want to hear it. There's things that I desire. There is satisfaction to be had. Maybe I'm upset at having been wronged and want to retaliate. Maybe I have the opportunity to gain from deceit. Maybe I have a chance to help someone else but would rather do something for myself instead. Maybe I have the opportunity to reconcile with someone but would rather carry a grudge.

Whatever the circumstances may be I usually know what the right thing to do is. Not always, life is complicated, but usually. In these cases far too often I will silence the voice telling me to do what is right in order to listen to my own selfish desires. It is willful. It is intentional. It is sinful. I harden my heart. I choose sin over righteousness.

Here, the author of Hebrews tells us believers not to do that. While I don't think I need someone to tell me that, I know it's wrong, I love what verse two says. We are to encourage one another in this. When I choose to sin I become convicted of my sin. I can kick myself just fine. I don't need anyone else to kick me. But encouragement? That I need. I am convinced that encouragement is something we all need.

Sin entices. Sin speaks with a soothing voice and tells us what we want to hear. Sin woos us and then destroys us. Sin gives voice to our passions and encourages us to ignore reason and pursue our selfish, carnal desires. Sin offers an immediate satisfaction that makes our hearts race, our mouths water, and our minds fantasize about the endless hedonistic possibilities. Sin has us ignore consequences and leads to destruction.

And sin is what we think we want. But it is fools gold. It is a lie. It offers all of the things we think we want in life but it leads to death. And as we listen to its false promises and as we give in to its soothing voice we choose to harden our hearts and ignore that still, small voice of God that tells us what is right, what is good, what is holy, what is righteous, and what it is that will free us from our addiction to sin and enable us to live abundant lives in Christ. We harden our hearts.

Alone we are no match for sin. But through Christ we can overcome it. But we need to do this together. We need to encourage and exhort each other. Too often when one believer falls another one is there, but instead of lifting the fallen one down we will kick him while he lays there. We need to encourage each other. We need to lift each other up.

This does not mean anything goes. This does not mean that we are not held accountable for our actions. Quite the opposite. When we harden our hearts we need fellow believers in our lives to call us on it. When I decide to sin I'm in no position to help myself out. I need someone to call me out for my crap and to let me know that I can do better. I'm better than that. God desires more from me.

But rather than exhorting and encouraging we feel the need to ostracise and punish. Yes, there are consequences for sin. But our first reaction, when someone falls, should be to lift them up, not to shun them. If we break communion over sin how can we help each other to not harden our hearts? How can we restore each other if we break communion? How can we hold each other accountable?

God teaches us right from wrong. God provides a voice that we can learn to listen to that shuts up the voice of sin that woos us. God ultimately judges everything. We need to encourage each other to listen to the voice of God rather than place ourselves in the role of judge. That's not our place.

And ultimately we need to learn how to not harden our hearts. We need to learn how to overcome sin through Christ. We need to learn to listen to that still small voice. And we need to encourage each other in this.

We believe. We need to live like it. And we need to encourage one another to do the same.

Not condemn.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Blessed hope

Titus 2:11-14 TNIV

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

My thoughts -

What is salvation? What is this that Paul says, through the grace of God, is offered to all people?

You don't have to go very far into this passage to answer that. The grace that offers salvation "teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age".

So salvation is for this present age, then. God's grace saves us from sin in this life by equipping us to not sin. We don't have to be slaves to our sinful nature. We don't have to be slaves to worldly passions. We don't have to. We have been saved with the ability to say no, and to live godly lives.

But is that it? I mean, that's a useful thing. Don't get me wrong. But is grace like some self help book offering the ability to "live your best life today"? Is salvation only in this present life?

Paul says that, while we live in this present age, free from our slavery to sin, that we also wait with blessed hope for "the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ". We have hope in Jesus not just for this life but in eternity, the life to come. We have hope in the resurrection. We have hope in God's eternal glory.

Our idea of salvation is often limited to eternity. We think of salvation as being offered a way out of the consequences of our sin and into heaven after we die. This ignores the power of grace in our lives right now.

But in the same way we're looking for ways to live better lives right now. Grace frees us not just from the consequence of sin but our slavery to sin as well. We don't have to live that way! We have been set free!

That's good news but if we limit salvation to that which empowers us to live our best life today then it is little more that some kind of self help guide. Yes, we have hope today. But grace saves us from death into life, both abundant and eternal. We have eternal hope in Jesus.

So we are saved from sin. We don't have to live the way that leads to death. We don't have to be mired in our old sinful ways. Jesus died, Jesus gave himself, to free us from sin. Paul describes us, then, free from sin, as a people "eager to do good". That is salvation in this present life.

But Jesus didn't just die to free us from sin so that we can do good in this life. Jesus was also resurrected, destroying the power of death, which Paul calls "the last enemy" in 1Corinthians. In that resurrection, in the destruction of that last enemy, we then have hope.

Salvation is for this life. Grace frees us from sin and enables us to do good. We are reconciled to God and free to live in God's will in this life.

But salvation is also for the life to come. We are dead to sin. We are dead to death. We are alive in Christ and we have hope in the resurrection and in eternal life with our Lord and Saviour.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Just a little more comfortable

1 Timothy 6:10-19 NASB

For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He will bring about at the proper time--He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.
Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.

My thoughts -

We're not rich or anything, my family. Not even close, really. We live in a decent neighborhood. It's not the nicest but it's safe. It's comfortable. We have two cars. They're not new. They're not that nice. But they're comfortable. They're reliable. I have a decent job. It doesn't pay as much as some but it's enough to live on.

Now we don't get to go out as often as we might like. The kids certainly think we could have a better TV and maybe some kind of cool video game system. And we could definitely use more toys. That should go without saying. It doesn't. They say it all the time, especially after watching that TV that could be a lot bigger.

Sometimes, when things get a little tight with the household budget I wish we could have just a little more. I don't want to be rich or anything. Just a little more. Some more breathing room. Maybe enough for a nice family vacation. Maybe enough so we could fly instead of drive there. Not a lot, mind you. Just enough to be a little more comfortable. Some breathing room.

When I read this passage, when it talks of the love of money, it is easy for me to read it as speaking to someone else. It's not speaking to me. I don't love money. I'm not rich. Far from it. In fact, really, I could use some more money.

And then it hits me. I could use more. I desire more. Heck, I deserve more. What kind of thinking is that? When I desire more material comfort, when I desire the ability to acquire more stuff for me and my family, what kind of thinking is that? Even if I say that we only want a little more, even when I say that we really need it because things are getting pretty tight, how is that relying on God? If I place my hope for a better life in increased income how is that not doing what Paul is warning against here?

If I think I need more money, even if it's not a lot, but "just a little" like so many of us middle class Christians do, am I not placing my hope in the "uncertainty of riches"? Can I say with faith that God will provide for our needs and then place my hope in that God ill provide maybe just a little more money than I've got right now?

And how am I using what I have been blessed with now? I may not be rich by American standards, but by virtue of being a middle class American I have an awful lot more than most people alive on the planet right now. That is rich, whether I like to admit it or not. Am I using what I have been blessed with to bless others or to bless myself?

Am I being generous? Am I sharing what I have? Or am I pining after a day in which I can have more money to meet all of my supposed "needs" first so I can then bless others after I have sufficiently blessed myself? Why would I think that if I am unwilling to give generously now that the solution to my loving money too much to share any is to have even more money?

I think a lot of us think this way. I'll give more when I have more. I just need to be a little more comfortable first. After I have a little more then I'll really be able to help others. You'll see.

I think we have forgotten how Jesus taught us to give.
Luke 21:1-4 NASB

And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury. And He saw a poor widow putting in two small copper coins. And He said, "Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on."
I don't have enough faith or generosity to give from what I have to live on. So I place my hope in riches so that I might be able to give from my surplus.

But I'd probably spend that on a vacation or something instead...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

From sinner to saint

1 Timothy 1:12-17 NASB

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service,  even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief;  and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are  found  in Christ Jesus.  It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost  of all.   Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.  Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God,   be  honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

My thoughts -

What are we saved from? Paul seems particularly aware of who he was outside of a restored relationship with God through Jesus. Paul was a blasphemer. Paul was a persecutor. Paul was a violent oppressor. Paul presided over the stoning of Stephen and was, when he met Jesus on his way to Damascus, looking to arrest and imprison many more believers.

Paul knows who he was. Paul knows that, as far as grace goes, he was not a worthy recipient. And yet he was shown grace. Though he was not the kind of man to show mercy he was shown mercy by God through Jesus. Although he was a sinner such that, in hindsight here he declares himself to have been "foremost of all" or in the King James "chief" or the NIV "the worst".

Paul considers himself to have been as bad as it gets. Whether or not this is objectively true is beside the point. Paul did not deserve the mercy he was shown. Paul did not deserve the grace he was given. Paul did not deserve to be restored to God through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Grace is something that can't be earned. We don't deserve it. It is a gift too precious and valuable for us to be able to pay for. We can't afford it. That's what Jesus is for. We don't deserve it and yet it is freely given to us by God through Jesus. We can't afford it and yet that's not an issue with a gift. The best gifts are things that are given by the giver that we couldn't get on our own. If we could we'd probably already have it.

Grace is a gift from God. It can't be earned or bought. It can only be received with thanksgiving and praise. Grace is a gift that is precious enough that it restores us to God and enables us to live within that restored relationship free from our sins. It enables us to be restored and remade, to be recreated in God's image free to live in God's will.

Paul knew what this precious gift saved him from. Paul knew who he was. And Paul was free to no longer be that guy through the grace we have in Jesus.

In the same way we know our sin. We know who we've been. We know how we've failed. I can't speak for anyone else but I am acutely aware of all of my shortcomings, failures, and secrets. I know how I have not lived how I should. I know how I have willfully disobeyed. I know my sin. And I know that I do not have to be held captive to it any longer.

We like to say that we "accept Jesus". I think the beautiful thing about grace is that Jesus accepts us. Jesus loves us before we love him. Jesus accepts us as we are before we are worth accepting. Jesus loves us before we are lovable. And then Jesus exhorts us to be who we were made to be and restores us to God and enables us to be free from sin. Through Jesus we no longer have to live in sin. Through Jesus we no longer have to be who we were. Through Jesus we are no longer the chief of sinners but instead disciples and apostles. Through Jesus we move from sinner to saint.

Through Jesus, though we can't earn it, can't afford it, and don't deserve it, we are free to live again in grace and peace in a restored relationship with God.

Praise God.

Friday, June 17, 2011

We do not mourn as those who have no hope

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 NASB

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.

My thoughts -

First century believers faced hardships that most of us can't imagine. For me, "persecution" means the time I was teased on the bus when I signed the True Love Waits pledge in high school. I have not faced arrest, prison, and death for my beliefs. I have not seen church members killed for theirs. I do not know hardship.

And yet the spectre of death hangs over the living, even those of us who are not facing it for our beliefs like early Christians did and Christians in other parts of the world still do. We have all lost loved ones. We have all lost friends and family members. We all know what that is like. We all feel the emptiness. And we all realize that is a path the we all must walk down eventually. We die. All of us do.

But what we who believe have is hope in Jesus. When Paul wrote this he didn't have me or you in mind. He was writing to the church in Thessalonica. He didn't have any way to fathom America, or blogs, or computers and tablets and smart phones. But we have some things in common with his original audience. We believe in God. We mourn the loss of our loved ones.

But, Paul tells us that we do not mourn as those who have no hope. Every week when I play guitar at church I remember my cousin Michael. I remember where he stood when he played with us while he was in town. I remember how he looked when he played. I remember worshipping together. I remember his memorial service. And I remember the hope and the promise we have in Jesus. We will worship together again. We do not mourn as those who have no hope.

My son is getting baptized this week. We have all kinds of family coming in. But there are some that did not live to see this moment. There are some who, when we gather, their absence is strongly felt. And yet my son, joining with the body of believers, will worship with them, even those he never had the opportunity to meet on earth, in eternity. We do not mourn as those who have no hope.

Words about meeting Jesus in the air must have been comforting to first century believers facing persecution and death. They all passed on before what Paul describes in this passage happened. They all fell asleep. We will too, unless Jesus comes back first. That event has been described, prescribed, anticipated, predicted, and demanded for centuries. Odds are we will all fall asleep in Christ before it happens. We ought to know better than to continue to try to predict it. God's ways and timing are a mystery.

But we who die, we who fall asleep in Christ, we believe this is not the end any more than the second coming would be. We believe the God who raised Jesus from the dead has the power to raise the redeemed through Jesus as well. We do not mourn as those who have no hope.

I have not been to my last memorial service. Sadly, I will lose many more loved ones if I live long enough. Odds are you will too. We may stand before the open ground, watching what remains of our loved one's mortal body be lowered into the ground, and mourn. We may beg, as I have more than once, for the ground to open up, the dead to be released, and our loved ones to be restored to us. While we can only imagine this here on earth we have hope in this through Jesus.

I don't understand the logistics of eternity. I can't fathom heaven. Not really. I can't see much beyond my own nose. I just don't understand God's ways. It is a mystery to me. But one thing I believe. We have hope in Jesus. We have restoration to God and to each other through Jesus.

And we do not mourn as those who have no hope.

As Paul said, comfort each other with these words.
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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Are we following Christ?

Philippians 2:3-11 NASB

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

My thoughts -

How can one follow Christ and be selfish or conceited? How can one follow Christ and have an inflated sense of self worth? How can one follow Christ and place their own needs above the needs of other? I don't know. But we, who claim Christ, do it all the time.

Jesus set an example for us, though, in that he, while equal to God and in fact God himself, became like one of us. We try to elevate ourselves to reach God. God saw this was impossible and lowered himself to reach us. Jesus, who was fully God, became fully human. And not only that, but he did not use his divine power in pursuit of status or wealth but instead served others and taught us to serve.

If there is a model for a lack of ambition, at least in the way that we think of ambition from a human perspective, it was Jesus. He gave up everything in order to serve. He even gave up his own life to serve God and to serve us in reconciling us to God.

The Incarnation and the Crucifixion are like the opposite of our idea of how to live. Jesus gave up heaven for earth, gave up status for poverty, gave up power for service, and gave up life to die in our place. If we have any ambition it should be to humbly do the same.

How do we live this example? Do we care about wealth and status? Do we care about power and stuff? Do we care about influence? Do we care about the corporate and political ladders? Do we care about success as defined by BMWs and gated communities and bloated salaries? Do we think that Jesus would?

Do we place our needs for material comfort over the needs of others? When we look at our lives, what we pursue, what we desire, what we aspire for, do we think these are things that Jesus cares about?

Do we serve others? Do we sacrifice for others? Are we willing to give up luxuries so others can be fed, clothed, and sheltered? Do we make their needs and concerns as important as our own?

If we don't live like Jesus did, if we don't aspire for godly things over earthly things, if we don't place the concerns of the needy above our own ambitions, if we don't sacrifice anything we can still call ourselves Christians.

But are we following Christ?
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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Alive in Christ

Ephesians 2:4-9 NASB

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Ephesians 4:17-24 NASB

So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.

My thoughts -

We have two passages here. Both are from Paul's letter to the church in Ephesus. I think together they give a pretty good picture of what salvation through grace looks like.

In the first passage Paul is saying that we are saved only by grace and not by works. There is nothing that we can or could ever do to earn salvation. It is a free gift from God through Christ. There is nothing to boast in about salvation. We didn't do it. There is nothing to be proud about in salvation. Salvation is not ours. It belongs to Christ alone. We didn't do it. We can't.

So if we can't earn salvation then salvation demands nothing from us, right? We didn't do it. We can't. We are powerless to save ourselves. We are incapable of earning salvation. It is a free gift. Free means we don't pay for it. We can't pay for it. We can't afford it. There's no way we can obtain salvation on our own. So we, having been given salvation freely, are under no obligation to salvation, right?

Paul addresses this in the second passage. This line of thinking betrays a misunderstanding of salvation. It shows no understanding at all of what it was to have been dead in sin and what it is to be alive in Christ.

To be saved is to be a new creation. Salvation is not just for after this life. To be saved is not to just be able to get out of the consequences of sin but to be saved from sin itself. When we are saved by grace through faith in Christ we are free to live as new creations in Christ. The old, sinful self is dead. The new creation, made alive in Christ, is here. We are free to live in God's will free both from the consequences of sin and from slavery to sin.

Just because we can not earn salvation does not require anything from us. If we were free to live in slavery to sin after we have been saved by grace through faith in Christ then what good would that salvation be? If we remained dead in our sin, still slaves to our selfish, sinful nature then how could that possibly be salvation? What would we have been saved from? What would we have been saved for?

But we are saved by grace through faith in Christ. We are saved from sin. Again, not from the consequences of sin, but from sin itself. We are saved from sin and death and into life in Christ. We are saved from sin and into righteousness. We are saved from sin and into holiness. We are saved from sin, living (or rather, dying) outside the presence and will of God and we are saved into life inside the presence and will of God.

While there is nothing we could ever do to earn salvation, salvation that does not save us from living and dying in sin is no salvation at all. Salvation that does not make us new creations casting off the old one, dead in sin, and bringing forth the new one, alive in Christ, is no salvation at all.

Salvation is not earned by us becoming new creations. Salvation is a gift that enables us to become new creations, no longer dead in sin but now alive in Christ.
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Monday, June 13, 2011

Fruity living

Galatians 5:16-23 TNIV

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

My thoughts -

I think, by and large, we know how we should be. We know right from wrong. We know good from bad. We know what we ought to do and what we ought not do. But in the heat of the moment a lot of times, where good should come out instead bad does.

So I wonder, are we out of practice? I coach youth baseball. We always tell the kids that you play how you practice. There are some bad habits that develop sometimes, especially with a lack of practice, and those bad habits come out on the field during games. Kids will sit back on their heel to field ground balls and get eaten up by them. Kids will drop their arms and throw across their bodies and their throws will sail off and they'll make errors. Practice makes fundamentals habitual so you don't have to think about mechanics during the games.

If you look at the list of acts of sinful nature and acts of the Spirit that Paul has provided here I don't think you'll see any stunning revelations here. Maybe it's just me, but there's nothing on either list that is a total shock. And yet, when I have the opportunity to live and act one way versus the other all too often I'm stuck in my sinful nature. This is especially true if things are not going well for me at the time. They say adversity shows true character. If that is the case then, sadly, my true character is not what it should be.

So how do we practice living love? How do we practice living joy, peace, and patience? How do we practice living kindness, goodness, and faithfulness? How do we practice living gentleness and self control?

We need to be prayerful about these things. And we need to be intentional about them. Paul calls these things "fruit of the Spirit". Do we believe that the Holy Spirit can not provide a way for us to live them? We need to ask. We need to pray. And we need to intentionally practice them.

If we prayerfully and intentionally live these fruits of the Spirit when things are going well then in times of trouble we have developed good habits to act out of. If we do not then we have nothing to fall back on but our own sinful nature.
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Sunday, June 12, 2011

This godly sorrow

2 Corinthians 7:4-12 NASB

Great is my confidence in you; great is my boasting on your behalf. I am filled with comfort; I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction.
For even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within. But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus; and not only by his coming, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me; so that I rejoiced even more. For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it-- for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while-- I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter. So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the offender nor for the sake of the one offended, but that your earnestness on our behalf might be made known to you in the sight of God.

My thoughts -

In his first letter to the church in Corinth Paul sort of opened up both barrels on them. They were divided between followers of Paul and of Apollos, who picked up that ministry when Paul left. Paul chastised them for there division calling them "childish" and "mere infants" and lamented their lack of Spiritual maturity. He lamented that he could not feed them "real food" but instead they were still stuck on milk. They should, metaphorically, be sitting at the big table with a fork and a knife but instead they were still sucking on a bottle.

These were harsh words. This is the sort of thing that no one wants to hear about themselves. We want to think of ourselves as finished products, not as works in progress. And we definitely don't want to think of ourselves as works that are not progressing as they should. It sucks. It hurts. It is not a pleasant message, especially if it's true.

So in this follow up letter Paul addresses this situation. He laments that his previous words brought the Corinthians sorrow. But then again, no he doesn't. Why? Because look at what good this sorrow did! They heard Paul's words and they responded. They heard the call of God tugging at their hearts and they responded.

Titus brought Paul comfort in his struggles. Titus gave Paul great news about the church in Corinth and Paul couldn't be more proud. In their sorrow they responded to God's call and grew up, Spiritually.

Paul lays out the difference here between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow. Sorrow hurts. It doesn't feel good. But worldly sorrow stops there. Actually, Paul says it doesn't. It just keeps on going leading all the way to death. There is nothing good there. Only bad.

But godly sorrow awakens us. It convicts us of our sin and leads us to repentance and to a restored relationship with God. Godly sorrow may still hurt at first but it demands action in response. When you put your hand on a stove burner it hurts. That demands action. You have to get your hand off right now! In the same way godly sorrow hurts, it alerts us to our sin and we have to turn from it right now!

The church in Corinth didn't want to hear, I'm sure, that they we're immature. They didn't want to hear that their division was bad. They didn't want to hear that they needed to grow up. I'm sure both sides wanted to hear that they were completely right and the other side was completely wrong. But it didn't work that way. They were both wrong. And Paul made darn sure they knew it.

This sorrow led to repentance. And repentance led to restoration. And the whole process led to the maturity that they previously lacked. And this led to Paul being greatly comforted by them.
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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Earthly tents v. Heavenly mansions

2 Corinthians 5:1-9 NASB

For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.
Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord-- for we walk by faith, not by sight-- we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.

My thoughts -

I was a Boy Scout. I love camping. You'll never hear me say a bad word about tents. Well, there was that one time we were in West Virginia and, during several days of rain my tent decided to no longer be water resistant. We made jokes about A River Runs Through It but there's nothing funny about sappy Brad Pitt movies or water running through your tent in the middle of the night.

As much as I love tent camping I would not recognize a tent as my "permanent" home, no matter how much time I spent there. David did not think a tent was a good home for the Ark of the Covenant so he made plans to build it a home. God did not allow those plans to proceed under David's rule but the home was built under Solomon. It was a great, beautiful temple. Every detail was meticulously planned and carefully and lovingly crafted. It was truly a sight to behold.

Paul knew a thing or two about tents, as well. Paul was, in a way, what we'd call bi-vocational. He did not make his living in ministry. He supported himself by practicing a craft. While he took no issue with professional ministry he did not choose to receive payment for his ministry in large part to be able to speak freely and prophetically. So, to make ends meet without having to compromise his prophetic voice Paul was a tent maker.

So Paul knows what he's saying when it comes to tents. And here he uses a tent as a metaphor for this earthly life and our earthly bodies. It's not that the tent is a bad thing. The tent is just not a permanent building. It will be torn down. It was not made to last forever.

The things of this life are not made to last forever. Our bodies are not made to last forever. The break down. They get old. They get sick. They get injured. They die. We die. Nothing in this life lasts forever, no matter how much we like it. No matter how much I like the tent eventually, like mine did in West Virginia, it's going to spring a leak, water will freely run through it, and it will no longer be habitable. It will be torn down.

So do we believe what we say we do? Do we believe that these earthly tents that won't last will be replaced by permanent heavenly buildings? Do we long to dwell in them? Do we long to live in our new homes? Or have we become distracted by these temporary things, all of the things of this world that will not last; that can not last?

Have we gotten so accustomed to tent living that we have forgotten where our real, permanent home is? Do the things of this world consume us, and distract us from heavenly living?

These earthly tents may be all we can see now. But we are called to walk by faith. The God who loves us and created us has a permanent home for us. We will not stay in these tents forever. They were not built for forever. Nothing here can take the place of what is to come nor should it distract from what is to come.

Paul wrote these words as he faced death for preaching the gospel. He wrote these words to people who faced death for believing. Though they faced death they still followed Jesus. They were not distracted by these fleeting things. If they were they would not have risked their lives for the gospel.

Most of us, here in America, do not risk our lives for believing. No one's going around arresting and executing Christians here. And yet Jesus demands our lives. Jesus demands that we lay our lives down for him.
How do we do that? We give up our attachment to the fleeting things of this earthly tent. We give up our wealth and our comfort as necessary. We give up our hopes, dreams, and plans. We give up our anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. We give up our selfish, sinful nature. We give up everything that stands between us and God and distracts us from living in God.

We do this knowing that there is a better way. We do this trusting our lives to the Author of Life. We do this knowing these earthly tents are not our homes.

We give up these earthly tents for mansions in heaven.
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Thursday, June 9, 2011

The last enemy

1 Corinthians 15:12-26 NASB

Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death.

My thoughts -

I will die. My body will perish. This is true of me. This is true of you. This is true of us all. I try to ignore that fact. I don't like to think about it. I don't want to acknowledge it. I want death to just go away. Even more than that I want death to never have been.

We preach Christ crucified. That is an amazing thing, isn't it? Jesus, who was/is God in the flesh, died. The author of life itself died. And not just died, but died for a purpose. Jesus died to take away our sins. Jesus died to reconcile us to God.

But we do not just preach Christ crucified. For, as amazing as that is without the resurrection it would be a weird, almost tragic story. Christ died. We're redeemed. The end?

No. We preach Christ raised from the dead. We preach Christ ascended into heaven. We preach Christ at the right hand of God and interceding for us. We preach Christ the Lamb of God come to take away the sins of the world and open the gates to welcome us into abundant and eternal life.

And yet we die. Our loved ones die. Our family members die. People die horrible, tragic, meaningless deaths every day. Death is still our enemy. Death is still mocking us. Death is still taunting us and taking us from this world and all of our friends, family, loved ones, and life.

Paul says death came from one man, Adam, and death has died with one man, Jesus. Jesus lived. Jesus died. Jesus was raised. Jesus ascended. Death is still here. Why? Why hasn't Jesus defeated this last enemy? Why is death still here?

I wish I had all of the answers. I wish I could make this make sense. I could try to spin this as a good thing, for us at least. I could argue that if Jesus had stopped death and time 2000 years ago when he ascended into heaven that none of us would have the opportunity to be here now. I could argue that life here, as short as it can seem, is a blessing. I could also argue that the spectre of death is a blessing in that it helps us to focus on the things that really matter in this life. When my uncle was dying of cancer, while he had horrible moments in his illness, he was as happy and as at peace as I have ever seen him. He was dying. There was no time left to mess around. It was a heck of a thing to see, a man at peace. I envied it. Not the sickness, but the peace that he had.

We are all dying. Some of us are dying more quickly than others. But we have this peace, too. We know that this life will end. We have a purpose. We have a mission. We have people to share the gospel with. We have Christ crucified to preach. We have the forgiveness of sins to share. We have reconciliation with God to offer.

But we also have the hope of Christ raised and Christ ascended. Sometimes that hope is easy to see. In my darker moments it is very difficult. The logistics of life, death, and eternity are too much for me. But I have watched believers leave this life in peace. It is an amazing thing to see. Even in death there is hope and peace.

Jesus has overcome. I don't understand the ways of God. I don't know why death wasn't defeated forever and always immediately upon the resurrection. Maybe death was and we just don't understand how eternity works while we are stuck here in space and time. Forever is an impossible idea in time. It is daunting. It doesn't make sense.

But we believe Christ was raised. We believe Christ has defeated death for us. We believe this and we have hope. We have so much so, in fact, that we sacrifice the fleeting things of this life for the hope of eternity. As Paul said, if Christ was not raised then we are to be pitied. We are a sad, sorry, pathetic bunch. We had one chance to enjoy all that we could in this world before the lights go out on us forever and we blew it. We threw it all away on the crazy idea that we should love our enemies, give everything to the poor, forsake the fleeting material things of this world and instead store up treasures in heaven.

If Christ was not raised then there is no place waiting for us in heaven, no hope beyond the grave, no life everlasting, no happy ending to this story. If Christ was not raised then we are deluded and living a nightmare, silently marching toward death and not even enjoying the view along the way.

If Christ was not raised there is no hope, there is no life, there is no future, there is no purpose. If Christ was not raised then everything is meaningless. If Christ was not raised, rather than being "more than conquerors" through him we are "less than pitiful". We are to be scorned. We are less than useless.

But we preach Christ crucified and Christ raised. We have hope. We have peace. We have joy. I have not seen the actual face and hands and side of Jesus raised like Thomas did. I have not heard Jesus's audible voice and blinding heavenly body like Paul did. I have not stared at the empty tomb like Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James did. But I have seen the hand of the Risen Lord at work in this life enough that I can't help but believe. I have tried it both ways. Unbelief is impossible. There is too much Jesus at work in this world to not believe that he must have been raised.

So, rather than being pitiful I have hope. Rather than being less than pitiful we are more than conquerors through Christ who lived, died, and was raised from the dead and has defeated death. We are alive in Christ now. Our bodies will die. And then we will be alive in Christ for eternity. We have abundant life now. We have abundant life eternally. Our bodies will die. That can not be denied. We see death every day. We know this. We can't deny it. And yet we have experienced enough of the Risen Lord in this life to know, even in the face of death, that we still have hope.

He is Risen!
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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Bike to Battle Hunger recap

We had a good ride yesterday, even if we didn't make it the full 87 miles. By the time we hit Alexandria we'd gone about 75 miles and the heat had climbed up to an intense 98 degrees. That was the air temperature. I'm not sure how much the sun bouncing off the asphalt added to it but the heat was just unbearable. Thankfully Aaron, Jessie, and Shannon all agreed to pull the plug because I had too much pride invested in finishing at that point. Sure, we only had about twelve miles to go but the eight miles before that point I had used both bottles of water on the bike. And I was miserable.

To put that in perspective, when we left Lexington our first stop to refill water bottles was 26 miles out in Cynthiana. And at that point I had only downed one of them. To down two full water bottles in eight miles and to still be suffering like that was something I was just not prepared to deal with.

The hills were another problem. Fresh legs pull hills pretty well. None of us had fresh legs anymore. Our pace on the hills slipped from about 15 miles per hour or so to about 8 miles per hour by the time we'd reach Alexandria. It was tough going. I'm sure a lot of that was the heat, too, but the hills between Cynthiana and Falmouth took a lot out of us and from Falmouth on I think they may have been worse.

While biking I didn't have a great perspective on this. I was just riding, digging in, keeping my head down, and pushing through. When we drove back I got to see what we had ridden through and it floored me. I can't believe that we were able to get as far as we did, especially in that heat.

And let me tell you it was hot. When I ride I'm always hot, even in winter. That I felt hot wasn't that big of a deal to me. I knew during the ride that it was hot but I really couldn't tell how hot it was. Again, I'm always hot when riding. But after we got in the van and got the AC cranked up I cooled down. I felt pretty good. And then we stopped for food on the way back and I got out of the van. The heat, just standing there, was bad enough to almost knock you over. The heat index was over 100 degrees. It was stupidly hot. As soon as I got out of that van I understood why no one was in favor of me trying to gut out those last twelve miles.

We were biking to Northern Kentucky. Technically Alexandria is in Northern Kentucky. Would we have liked to get to Newport or the Convention Center in Covington? Sure. But it didn't work that way. We did bike 75 miles on a day that set record temperatures. That was accomplishment enough. Even if my pride would have liked me to have "finished" the ride.

Now, as for accomplishments: The ride has raised $4800 for the garden so far. I have heard of a few other donations that are planned in support of this vital hunger ministry. While the $4800 is less than our goal it is far more than what I thought we could raise. I am overwhelmed by the response and support we received. Everyone who prayed for us, trust me when I tell you that we felt the power of those prayers. We wouldn't have made it as far as we did without them.

And to all who have donated trust me when I tell you that your donations will have a huge impact. We have raised enough to be able to add water and irrigation equipment to a larger field. This will enable us to grown thousands of pounds more fresh produce than we have been able to previously. All of that will go directly to feeding the hungry in our community.

We have already started planning the ride for next year. We will have several different mileages to hope to encourage more riders. It is a lot to ask someone to ride 100 miles with us (my goal for next year). It is far less to ask for 20 or 50. We will also never again do this in June. We liked the idea of tying it to Annual Conference but there's no reason it has to be and I have no interest in riding that far in near triple digit temps ever again. April seems like a good time to do it. Sure, it might rain then but riding in the rain is a lot more fun than riding in the heat. Trust me. I've done both. There is no comparison.

Next year we'll be better planned and more organized. But I would say that this year was a success, too. We didn't go as far as we'd planned and we didn't raise as much as we'd hoped but we went a long ways and we raised enough to do a lot of good. Many, many more people will be able to be fed by this ministry. And it is all thanks to the support that we received for this ride. That is a success, even if my pride wants me to head to Alexandria today and finish what I started.

No, I'm not going to do that. I'm not crazy. Well... Okay... I'm not that crazy.
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One body

1 Corinthians 12:1-12 NASB

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware. You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus is accursed"; and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.
For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.

My thoughts -

Confession: Most of the time, when I think about what my gifts are versus what others' gifts are (this is a BAD way to think, by the way) I really wish I was someone else. I am sure that I am not alone in this. I am also sure that there are some who are thankful that they are who they are and not someone else.

But what my gifts are doesn't matter. And what your gifts are doesn't matter. What matters is that we use our gifts together for the glory of God.

We don't need to have pride about our gifts. We don't need to be jealous of others' gifts. They are gifts from God. They are not ours to have, to hold, and to keep. They are God's given to us to use for God's glory.

I'd love to perform miracles. I'd love to heal people. I'd love to bring sharp insight in the Word. I'd love to be able to do a lot of things. I mean, how cool would it be to be able to speak or interpret in tongues?

But these things would be me doing them. They would not be for God's glory but for my own.

Paul goes on in this chapter to declare that we are all parts of one body, the body of Christ. The hand is a part of the body no more and no less than the foot, or the eye, or the ear, or whatever. The hand shouldn't envy the eye. If the whole body were just eyes what good would it be?
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Monday, June 6, 2011


1 Corinthians 1:18-24 NASB

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
"I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside."
Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

My thoughts -

The cross isn't the way I would have done it, I can tell you that right now. If I were Jesus I wouldn't have put myself in that position. I'm not saying those that were mocking him were right, but the did have a point. He had the power to save the whole world but wouldn't save himself.

Me, I'd have done a miracle. Something flashy. Something awesome. Something that just sort of screams LORD AND SAVIOUR. I'd have gotten their attention. They'd have never forgotten.

That makes sense, doesn't it? I mean, from a human perspective. Get a crowd. Do something amazing. Prove yourself beyond a shadow of a doubt. Rake in the followers. And the best part is, since you're God, you don't ever have to die. Don't you think people would be impressed after a few thousand years when you're still alive, still performing miracles, still raising the dead, and still teaching in deep, beautiful, albeit a little confusing, parables?

Maybe I can't pass myself off as a wise human, but I am certain that human wisdom would have come up with a different way of being the Messiah. Maybe more political power. Maybe an army. Definitely more flash. Definitely not dying as a criminal, executed by the state, with only a handful of followers and most of your own people hating you. We humans may not be much but we can do better than that, right?

That's the foolishness of the cross. But forget just the cross, incarnation itself is a rather foolish idea. Jesus was/is God Almighty, Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. We can't even comprehend that power. But human frailty we understand. People get hurt. People get sick. People get old. People die. God is eternal, all knowing and all powerful. People are not. Why trade Divine Power for human frailty. It just doesn't make sense. It's foolishness.

And yet this foolishness was God's plan for reconciliation with us fallen people. This foolishness is far greater than the wisest of us could ever accomplish. We were powerless. We were helpless. We were mired in sin and rebellion. We could not save ourselves. So God, in God's limitless power, became weak. God became one of us. And God, as one of us, paved a way that leads us back to God.

In foolish, perfect love Christ was born, Christ died, Christ was resurrected, and Christ ascended into heaven paving a path for us to do the same. It seems, from a human perspective, foolish. That kind of love, that kind of sacrifice, it seems so ridiculous. There had to be a better way. Surely all of that wasn't necessary. Besides, how can anyone love one's enemies enough to die for them? That's crazy. That's foolishness.

And yet we preach the foolishness of Christ crucified. It's ridiculous. It's crazy. It's a scandal. And it's the only way we can be reconciled to our Creator who loves us enough to, despite being life itself, die for us.
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Saturday, June 4, 2011

At just the right time

Romans 5:6-11 NASB

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

My thoughts -

In Romans 4 Paul argues that Abraham was credited with righteousness before being circumcised. Abraham, as depicted in Genesis 15, believed God and it was credited as righteousness. There was nothing that Abraham did, then, that credited him with righteousness before believing. Everything else came after. Belief was first. That was righteousness. The rest were actions based on that righteousness.

Here Paul is bringing that argument forward to the Roman church, and ultimately to all Christians. When did Christ die for us? When did Christ reconcile us to God? It was while we were still sinners.

I love the language Paul uses here. We were helpless. We couldn't reconcile ourselves to God. We were powerless. But while that paints an almost pitiable image, and God had compassion on us pitiful sinners, that doesn't paint the full picture.

We were not just some pitiful, helpless, powerless, innocent creature. We were God's enemies. We were actively, in our sin, working against God.

So in this sinful, rebellious state we were God's enemies and were powerless to reconcile ourselves to God. We were anything but righteous. We did not deserve to be reconciled. And yet Christ came and Christ died for us to enable that reconciliation. It is not deserved. It is not earned. It is not based on anything that we could ever do. The reconciliation came through Christ's actions and not our own. Those actions came prior to our righteousness. Those actions were done on behalf of we who did not deserve them. God, through Christ, reached down and saved us helpless, rebellious, sinful enemies of God's.

Now, like Abraham before us, we believe. And that is credited to us as righteousness. And from there comes the acts of righteousness that follow. If we have been blessed with reconciliation to God through Christ's death how much more blessed can we be through a life of righteousness in Christ? We were God's enemies. We are enemies no longer. We have been reconciled to God through Christ and are now free to live righteous lives in Christ.

But all the blessings we receive from this reconciliation do not come because of this righteous living. Reconciliation comes first, through Christ alone. We didn't do it. We were helpless. We couldn't do it. We were powerless. It was an act of God.

So how do we respond to that? It's awfully hard to be arrogant about what we have in Christ when we know that it came not from what we could ever do, but only from God. It is awfully hard to be arrogant about our reconciliation when we know that Christ's work for us came while we were not only sinners but in that sin we were God's enemies.

Our response to this reconciliation should then be, rather than lord it over others and puff ourselves up as though we are somehow special because of it, to share this reconciliation with others freely. People don't need to be perfect to come to Jesus. Quite the opposite. They need Jesus in their imperfection the same as anyone else.

We can be cold, hard, harsh, and judgemental. We can demand that others live up to a standard under the law that we would, without Jesus, be condemned by. We couldn't do it. We needed Jesus. So does everyone else.

Jesus died for us at just the right time, while we were sinners. There are an awful lot of sinners that Jesus died for, too. There's a whole planet full of them. Jesus didn't come to condemn but to save. Jesus came to reconcile all to God. We need to make the reintroduction. And, we need to have an awful lot of humility about it. After all, we were God's enemies. We didn't change that. We couldn't. Only Jesus can.
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Friday, June 3, 2011

Courtroom evangelism

Acts 26:22-32 NASB

"So, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place; that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He would be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles."
While Paul was saying this in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, "Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad." But Paul said, "I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth. "For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner. "King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do." Agrippa replied to Paul, "In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian." And Paul said, "I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains."
The king stood up and the governor and Bernice, and those who were sitting with them, and when they had gone aside, they began talking to one another, saying, "This man is not doing anything worthy of death or imprisonment." And Agrippa said to Festus, "This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar."

My thoughts -

Paul has been arrested while in Jerusalem. While captured he has escaped multiple assassination plots. The Romans have found nothing wrong with him according to their laws and have attempted to hand him back over to the Jews to be tried by them, but as the Jews are the ones trying to kill him Paul has, as is his right as a Roman citizen, appealed to Caesar.

Paul has been taken before Agrippa before being sent to Rome and has been given the opportunity to defend himself. As you would expect from the Apostle Paul, his defense is less a legal argument and more his personal testimony. Paul's life hangs in the balance here. He has already attempted a rather risky strategy in appealing to Caesar. He has also survive two different assassination plots while imprisoned. He is in grave peril. And he is using it as an opportunity for evangelism.

So he tells Agrippa of his encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. He tells Agrippa about Jesus. He shares the good news. He shares the hope that he has in the resurrection. And at this point Festus can take no more and declares that Paul has lost his mind.

Paul, of course, has done no such thing. He tells Festus something along those lines. And then he explains to Festus that he's talking to Agrippa. Agrippa's a bright guy. He can tell what's up. He can make decisions for himself as to what's crazy and what isn't. Butt out, Festus. This is between me and Agrippa here.

Now, I'm not sure what his intent was but I always read Agrippa's response here as sarcastic. After all, what Paul is doing is a bit absurd. Sharing the gospel, for which he has been imprisoned for years, and also for which people are trying to kill him, with Agrippa, a very successful and powerful man. What need does Agrippa have for this?

"You know, Paul," Agrippa casually supposes, "you're going to persuade me to become a Christian pretty soon, aren't you?"

Of course this is crazy. Christians are, in this culture, a little sect of Jews. They're small, kind of crazy, and being persecuted and put to death regularly. Paul is standing before Agrippa right now in chains for being a Christian. Agrippa is a powerful and important man. The idea that he would be persuaded to join this little "cult" is certifiably nuts. It's ridiculousness should be self evident here.

But that is exactly what Paul is doing. Though he faces death at this very moment, in potentially one of his last acts on the planet, when he should be making his defense or at least offering a bribe, he is sharing the gospel with a man that he knows needs Jesus. While facing death he shares the joy he has in Christ.

"Not only you, Agrippa," Paul responds, "but I wish everyone here could be exactly like me, minus these chains."

Paul's wish is not that they would face the persecution that he has faced. That would be what his accusers and would be murderers would deserve. But his desire is that they would all find the joy, peace, and hope that he has found in Christ.

Agrippa must be impressed by this. He remarks to Festus that Paul might even be free, if only he had not appealed to Caesar. Since he has he must be sent to Rome. Perhaps the legal maneuver backfired. It's hard to say. If he had been set free they very well may have killed him, anyway. But whether or not his legal strategy worked Paul made the most of what he really saw this situation, and all others as; an opportunity for evangelism.
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Thursday, June 2, 2011

This is why you don't fall asleep while the preacher is talking

Acts 20:7-12 NASB

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered together. And there was a young man named Eutychus sitting on the window sill, sinking into a deep sleep; and as Paul kept on talking, he was overcome by sleep and fell down from the third floor and was picked up dead. But Paul went down and fell upon him, and after embracing him, he said, "Do not be troubled, for his life is in him." When he had gone back up and had broken the bread and eaten, he talked with them a long while until daybreak, and then left. They took away the boy alive, and were greatly comforted.

My thoughts -

When people drift off to sleep while the preacher is speaking it doesn't usually kill them. Poor Eutychus just happened to be listening to Paul from the upper room's window sill.

It must have been quite startling to the people below when we fell from there and died. It must have been far more startling when Paul rushed down and raised him from the dead.

It appears that, with death and resurrection, young Eutychus's attention was captured. He talked with Paul, without sleeping, falling, or dying again until after daybreak.

So what can we take from this. If I were preaching it may be that you should stay awake while the preacher is talking. To do otherwise could kill you.

It is pretty cool to see God at work even in strange little passages like this one. This could have been a tragedy. It ended up being something of a miracle. It just passed by so quickly it's hard to process.

Would Eutychus had fallen out the window and died if Paul weren't there? Who is to say? But Paul was there. Maybe Paul bored him to death. Maybe the young man was just that tired. Either way everyone involved had a story to tell. And God is glorified in that story.
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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Prophetic solutions

There have been a lot of conversations around here lately about different issues in the community and how and even if the church can solve them. There are pockets of poverty here and all over. There are hungry, desperate people. There is crime. There are robberies. There are killings. It seems to be getting worse every day, every month, every year. What can the church do? What can anyone do?

The first thing the church can do is the work of evangelism and discipleship. Making more and better Christians is a good way to solve any issue. Do we trust God? Can we do God's will and trust that God will provide? I think we can.

But the church does not have the financial resources to deal with the systemic issues that create these crises. So what do we have? A prophetic voice to culture. We can shape culture using our prophetic voice, or at least we could. What we need is credibility.

How can the church have credibility on cultural issues of poverty, care for the needy, and social justice if we are plagued by the same issues as culture? If we focus our resources on more, bigger, and better buildings and stuff how can we argue that others should care for the needy at the expense of their own material ambitions? We need to check to see how we use our resouces and ensure that they go primarily to building the Kingdom of God and caring for God's children and not just to building our churches and buildings.

If the thousands of churches and millions of Christians in the US got serious about having a credible, prophetic voice about materialism and poverty in our culture can you imagine what we could accomplish?
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God, people, and money

Acts 16:16-21 NASB

It happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, a slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling. Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, "These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation." She continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!" And it came out at that very moment.
But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities, and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, "These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews, and are proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans."

My thoughts -

This is a very interesting healing. First, I wonder why Paul did it. Was it concern for the girl who was possessed by the spirit or was it just because he was annoyed?

Did Paul not want the spirit to proclaim who they were? Is that why he was annoyed? Or was it more that the woman was saying these words over and over again? That could drive anyone nuts.

Whatever Paul's primary motivation here and whatever annoyed him most the end result was that the girl was healed and that made her useless to her masters. Her possession was a cash cow. Without it there was nothing special about her. Nothing they could exploit for profit. There response to this was to claim Paul and Silas were stirring up trouble and to have them arrested.

Was the girl better off without being possessed? I would think so. But this was no concern to her masters. Heck, it may not have even been a concern to Paul. Maybe he just wanted her to shut up. He was only human, after all. But the girl's well being was no concern to her masters. They only cared about her ability to make them money. And it left with the spirit.

This reminds me in a way of Jesus's healing of Legion, found in Mark 5 and in Luke 8. The man was in a bad way, possessed with so many demons that he/they claimed his/their name was Legion, as there were so many of them. He was so stricken that he had to be chained, and even then he would often break the chains.

Jesus heals the man by casting the demons out of him and into a herd of pigs, who proceed to jump off a cliff to their deaths. Now, you'd think that the villagers, this man's friends and neighbors, would rejoice in his healing. You'd think they'd be happy to have him restored to them after all of the years of demon possession and chains. But no. They lost their livestock. This was a big part of their economy. The man was restored but the financial cost to the community was great. And so they tell Jesus to leave. They want no part of this man, healings or no, if it costs them their livestock.

Paul and Silas heal a demon possessed girl and for their troubles are reward with lies being spread about them and jail time. Jesus healed a man and was run out of town. In both instances the people who responded negatively valued money over people. The masters wanted to be able to continue to exploit their slave for the money she could make for them telling fortunes. The villagers may or may not have cared about the man who was called Legion. If they did they didn't care enough to tolerate his healing at the expense of their pigs. In both instances people place money above other people.

How often do we do the same thing? We can see that schools are failing. We can see an epidemic of unemployment and underemployment. We can see the link between health care and employment and identify that with high unemployment and underemployment comes a huge gap in coverage. We can see poverty and violent crime and drug abuse and hunger and homelessness and their relationships to each other and declare that something should be done. But don't take it from my check. Don't make me uncomfortable. I just want the problem to go away. I don't want to have to notice.

What would Paul think of us? What would Jesus think of us? When money becomes a greater concern than people the gospel is not being adequately preached. Where money is a greater concern than people Jesus, who told the rich man to sell all he had and whose early followers did just that (see Acts 2) is not being adequately followed.

The slave masters accused Paul and Silas of throwing the city into confusion, but they were the ones who were confused. They thought that money was more important than one of God's children. They were wrong. And we are, too, when we do the same thing. We are called to care for all of God's children. To be okay with doing anything less is to be thrown into confusion by a world that values money over people and over God.
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