THE FALL

There are leaders in this world and in our own country who have elevated pride above all other character traits. Now, let me be clear. There is a kind of pride that is good as it celebrates compassion, kindness, justice and even achievements in line with virtue.

But there is also a PRIDE that elevates us above others, that boasts in success and pushes for might and power at the expense of goodness and truth. There is a pride that sees no fault of its own, sees no need for forgiveness or even humility before God. There is a pride that provides spacious habitation for evil to roam and thrive. Pride can accomplish much on the world’s stage but in the words of King Solomon:

‘Pride goes before destruction,
and a haughty spirit before a fall.
It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor
than to divide the spoil with the proud.’ (Proverbs 16:18,19)

While Christians are bound to pray for their leaders they are not called to give allegiance to any but God.

Let us pray. Let us be vigilant.  Let us not be led into temptation.

 

LOVE HELD HIM THERE

Christ did not die to remove us from evil by taking us to heaven. Christ died to destroy the power of evil within us. When Christ came to earth he brought the arrival of the Kingdom of God. In the death of Christ the power of evil was defeated. As the Gospel of John explains:  ‘In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ John 1:3,4 (ESV) Paul writes similarly in Colossians 1:13; 14: ‘God has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of his beloved Son in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.’

Jesus did on the cross what Israel of old could not do- be faithful to God and to God’s project of redemption for all creation. Israel had succumbed to evil inclinations and rebellion against God. And so God in Jesus comes to defeat that evil, not Israel but the forces and principalities of darkness. Romans 8:3: ‘For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh’. God wanted a relationship with God’s people. They wanted something more and so they got the LAW through which evil was happy to exert its powers. And then God in Jesus lured evil to its demise and stripped it of its power. Now through Christ the relationship of love has been established for good.

At the cross of Christ all the political and religious forces as well as the power of evil converged upon Jesus to rid the world of God’s saving love. But there on Calvary those forces of evil were led to defeat by God’s love. In the words of theologian N.T. Wright, Jesus bears the taint of evil, taking it away by exhausting its power.

It brings to mind the tactic of a boxer who allows himself to be pummeled by his opponent until his opponent is so exhausted that he is able to be defeated.

Evil tries its best to destroy our relationship with God like it did to Jesus in the Temptation in the Wilderness. God’s love gave Jesus and us a free will to love God or resist God and give room for evil. And the number one tool of evil is PRIDE. It is the living space in which evil thrives. But we need to know that evil cannot ‘take’ power. It can only be given power. Oh, it may whisper in the halls of Congress, on the battlefield, in relationships and in the courts of justice. It may utter a quiet invitation to walk away from God but the real power resides in the weakness of our surrender to Christ, trusting in his faithfulness. And that surrender in this world is necessary every day. It is a surrender to love, a love that never fails.

IT WAS LOVE, NOT THE NAILS THAT HELD JESUS TO THE CROSS. (Anonymous)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arrogance or Assurance

 

I hope it does not seem arrogant or prideful to say that I know I am a child of God, and that I belong to Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and that I will live with The Father, Son and Holy Spirit forever.

To say that I was not sure of that would be to deny all that Christ did for me and said about his work and love for me. For example he says that anyone who comes to him will never be turned away. (John 6:37) He further illuminates that promise by telling those around him that the ones who come to him, who are hungry for his life are indeed brought by his Father. To my way of thinking it means that anyone who has the inclination towards placing his or her confidence in Jesus Christ is already in relationship to him.

If my wife had said that anyone who calls her on the telephone to ask for a date (back when we were not married, of course) would not be turned away, I would have been on the phone in a heartbeat and assured of a wonderful time.

Jesus told the crowds of people to come to him to find rest for their weary souls, burdened usually by bad religious advice and demands. He promised a new way of life working with him. (Matthew 11)

In John 5 Jesus tells people that whoever hears his words and believes in the God who sent him has eternal life, a life that begins the moment we place our confidence in him. I do believe and I do listen to or read his words. Jesus came with a simple message of love from the Father, a love that seeks to embrace humanity and we don’t want to place greater expectation on ourselves than he does.

Paul writes in Ephesians 2 that we are rescued (saved), made whole by faith and not by works. The reason for that is said to be so that we don’t take credit or merit for being reconciled to God. I could also well be so that we don’t become uncertain whether or not we have ‘done enough’ to warrant salvation with God.

Certainly there are challenges for every believer. Jesus often says that to love him includes obeying him. (John 14) He tells his followers that listening to his word includes doing his words, taking his advice, fulfilling his commands and certainly if we love God we are going to want to do what God says through his son. Jesus goes so far as to say that if we don’t forgive others then God won’t forgive us. There’s good reason for that law which we will look at in another chapter. But here’s the thing. His laws are not burdensome. (1John 5:3)

Here’s what becomes burdensome; ten thousand different expressions of Christianity. Layers upon layers of doctrines and rituals become legalistic and not life-giving. Jesus came to seek and save the lost folks of this earth, the people who know they need a doctor. He came humbly and lovingly and he enlists us to join him in his work, his Father’s work. Doing that can sometimes seem hard and even carrying the name of Jesus can bring persecution to the extreme of earthly death. But Jesus is with us, loving us, forgiving us when we mess it all up. He promises that nothing can separate us from his love. And he tells us through the Gospel of John that he will not lose any of us who have come to him (John 6).

Is it arrogant to say that all this we have from our Lord guarantees that we belong to him forever? No, I think it is ‘assurance’ that brings with it humility and gratitude to our God as well as the desire to love others in the way he has loved us.

If we read the Gospels this is the picture we will see. This is the story we need to hold on to. And let us not be detoured by another other message. Let no one try to place us in his or her ‘category’. This is Good News. Let us welcome it and the One who brought it to us.

WE HAVE BEEN LIED TO

 

Call it Satan, evil, powers of darkness or even ‘the secular world’. There is a lie out there that says God doesn’t intimately love or care for his creation particularly his children. It is a lie initiated in the ‘garden’ when Adam and Eve were told there was something more, something better than God. It is a lie perpetuated by people today who point to events in the world, atrocities, natural disasters, disease and humanity’s inhumanity to one another and say this can’t happen under the watch of a good God or a powerful God. It is a lie that would turn our eyes away from God and turn our hearts to the affection of others and other things. It has all the markers of the ‘accuser’ who wants to thwart God’s people away from confident, trust and praise to God. It is an evil from the pit of hell that tried even to distract Jesus from his purpose on Earth when he was in the wilderness faced by satanic forces, tempted to think that God some how doesn’t know how to restore earth, or has left earth on its own.

God’s greatest power is love and he will do anything to convey that love to his creation. He will even allow his creation to groan in order that people will seek and find him. He is near to the brokenhearted not the proud. The lie tells us to be strong in ourselves, to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, to do it our way because we can’t trust the one we can’t see. Jesus says blessed are you who do not see and yet believe.

God is faithful, loving, gracious, kind and every other characteristic we see in Jesus. God is also holy and God knows God’s plans for us and he will not be thwarted to change to accommodate humanity’s egoistic desires. God is happy with his creation because he knows how this whole thing is turning out for our good and his glory. God is saddened by the death of his creation for God’s loving heart is the origin of the love we feel for those who suffer, for a creation, which suffers.

God is good which means that his virtue is impeccable, without sin. Jesus came to prove amidst suffering and sinfulness that God intends good for his creation and will go to any lengths to bring us into community with him now and for all eternity. In some respects we can no more understand the goodness and love of God than a child in the womb can fathom what a parent’s care will be like. The Apostle Paul writes to one of the churches saying that he longs for Christ to be formed in them with all the pains and groaning of a mother giving birth to a child. (Galatians 4:19)

It’s like that with suffering. Until we grasp Christ ‘in us’ we cannot know the complete love of the Father. When Christ dwells inside of us we will know God like Jesus knew his Father, even when Jesus was in agony and felt forsaken and was dying. There is a verse in Colossians which says that Christ being in us is the hope of glory.’ Colossians 1:27.  That means that the life of Christ in us will allow us to see the radiance, splendor, joy and salvation of God.

Now, don’t expect that such revelations happen easily. It is a journey of a lifetime to discover the Christ in you and me. It is a journey worth the taking. We have seen others take that journey, a path that often leads through suffering, that of our own or watching the agony of loved ones or even from a distance seeing it in the world but it is a journey that God places us on when we place our confidence in him. He is doing the work of forming Christ in us as our own will allows. He will not force. His love is patient and long-suffering and there will be times when we feel left alone, angry, shamed but He promises to allow us to see the glory, maybe a glimpse here and there, maybe a flash of insight, a moment of forgiveness, maybe a radiant burst of light that overcomes all darkness. But it will come. He will not leave us nor forsake us. The history of faithful Christians bears that witness. And when the life of Christ grows ever more present in us we will become like him, we will live his life in this world. We will say like the Apostle Paul, ‘it is no longer I who live this life but Christ living in me.’(Galatians 2:20)

It will be sometimes a tortuous journey, sometimes exhilarating but it moves forward, onward, and upward. It is an eternal journey, which begins now.

 

Deadly Distractions

More than 3000 people were killed in 2012 in car crashes attribute to distractions while driving. Many more were injured because when driving our cars we should be focused on the road and the route but many of us do things like drink our coffee, put on our make-up, read bits of the newspaper lying in our laps, use our cellphones and probably worst of all ‘text’.  Even adjusting our radio is enough to take our eyes off the road for that split second that could mean life or death, to us or to another driver.

And now I want to suggest, as part of my series on Road Grace that driving our car is somewhat analogous to our life as a follower of Jesus. Distractions on the journey of discipleship may not seem to lead to a deadly outcome but if they separate us from the walk that we intend with Jesus, well, we might just end up lost or even worse.

So let’s consider distractions to living the life of a follower of Jesus. I suspect that pride is right up there at number one.  It’s hard to think of others when you are too busy thinking about yourself.  It’s hard to listen to others with a sense of respect when all you care about is the sound of your own voice. I know. I have done it and realized too late how uncaring I seemed to the other person.

Anger is distracting. So is lust. So are material possessions. Worry is distracting taking our eyes off our relationship with Jesus and his direction because we are too busy thinking about tomorrow.  Guilt is a distraction from the joy of a relationship with a loving God who forgives so completely.  Busyness and hurrying are distractions to the time we could spend loving others and loving God.

I believe that Satan isn’t as dark and malicious as some movies portray him. He has only to ‘distract’ us for a moment.  I am recalling (I hope correctly) that in one of Screwtape’s letters to his younger colleague he argues that when the patient (a new Christian) is reading the Bible all the colleague has to do is distract him with hunger so he will stop reading and probably not get back to it. How often has that happened to us where our devotions are interrupted never to be visited again that day?

Distraction is what Satan was about in the temptation of our Lord, distraction from the purpose for which Jesus came to our world.

Shame is one of the greatest distractions of the devil. Thinking that God couldn’t love us or care for us because of our character, or some bad deed or something someone has said to us.  Shame takes our eyes off God’s love and places that sight back on ourselves that we are not good enough.

So be careful in your walk with Christ not to be distracted to the right or the left but to stay on the path with Jesus, doing what he has said and trusting his love more than we trust anything else. Let’s keep our eyes on Christ.

Hey, we want to get to our destination whole.

 

 

GRACE ON MAIN STREET

For a long time I have wanted to write a book or a study guide called ROAD GRACE. It’s a counter title to what is otherwise known as Road Rage. I am thinking that my life on the roads and highways of life can actually be a training ground for my life with Jesus. Stay with me now. I believe that most of what Jesus told us to do in living the life of a disciple can be practiced out there on the streets of my town, the interstates, and just about anywhere my car can travel. So I have decided on this blog to begin my writing in hopes that maybe some of you will respond, offer suggestions from your own experience, or make a critique of the content.

Let me give you one example of what I am thinking. There is a little road in my village called Love Lane, aptly named for this experiment. Remember that Jesus told us not to make a show of our good deeds and not to let our right hand know what our left hand was doing. These are his instructions for having a humble attitude about our works and our giving. You can find this in the Sermon on the Mount. So I am riding down Love Lane and this person starts to cross the street in front of me. Mind you, there is no crosswalk where he is but I stop and gesture to him to go ahead and cross. I want to be kind. I then wait for some type of response, some acknowledgment or thanks for my kindness. And then it hits me. Was I doing my good deed to be kind or to be noticed? Why do I need to feel rewarded? Jesus said to do things in secret and my heavenly Father would reward me in secret. It is sort of between God and me.

That day on Love Lane I learned a valuable lesson about my ego, my pride, my need for attention. I confessed my sin and made a vow that from now on when I come to a similar situation I will simply do what I think is a kindness and not wait for any response. I am not owed that. See? In relationships of caring for another I want to do my best to love without thinking the person owes me anything for my action or words. I do what I do because I love God and want to love my neighbor, the one who is crossing the street or the one I live with. I want to empty the dishwasher in my house without needing a pat on my back for my kindness. God loves me. Jesus walks with me and I am doing just fine. Ok, there are times when I look to see if someone acknowledges that I let him or her cross the little street. Hey, I fall. But I get up and try again by the grace of God. And I will get it right eventually. So there you go. Road Grace. Every day there is some opportunity to practice the Christ life on the highways of life. More to come. Thanks for reading.