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Archive for March, 2017

Grace and Reconciliation

For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.”  Romans 5:10 NRSV

Last summer I challenged myself to preach on the Epistles.  I like a challenge, and the letters of Paul and others definitely are rich with teachings and encouragement, as well as calls to accountability.  They also are often full of confusing contradictions (seemingly) and contain what I call the “round-about” passages.  These are the passages that seem to repeat the same words over and over again.  Maybe that’s part of the reason I tend to go toward the gospels and some of the Hebrew scripture passages.

Nevertheless, this coming Sunday, I chose Romans 5:1-11 (I still like to challenge myself!).  Paul’s letter to the church in Rome is rich with assurances and reminders of God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ.  We all need to hear that kind of encouragement.  What struck me the most in this passage were the words “grace” and “reconciliation.”

God’s grace is often hard to comprehend.  When we try to explain it to someone who really doesn’t understand grace, we might hear them respond with “grace isn’t fair.”  Well, I suppose from our “worldly” perspective, it isn’t!  But God’s grace is an inclusive one, and it’s open to everyone, including us.

A friend of mind used to argue with me about the fairness of grace.  She would say that a criminal and murderer who confesses on their death bed is just manipulating God’s grace. How could they spend their lives being so sinful and then be welcomed into heaven?  She would be so frustrated when I would say that it’s possible, but ultimately it’s between God and the person.  We can’t make that judgement; only God can, and God knows what is in the person’s heart.

Verse 10 above reminds us that initially, human beings were separated from God – “enemies” because of our sinfulness.  It is through Jesus Christ that we find that grace of God and are reconciled with God.  Jesus has set things right with God through his life, death, and resurrection.  Reconciliation is an “aaahhh” moment when all those negative feelings, worries, and even anguish are relieved.

John 3:16 reminds us that “God so loved the world.”  God didn’t just love the churches, the early followers of Jesus, the disciples, or a few select folks; God loved the WORLD!  The world – all of humanity was reconciled in Jesus, the Christ.  It’s a joyful thing!  Paul says we can boast, but he doesn’t mean  being arrogant.  Rather, he is talking about that excitement that comes from knowing that we are living in God’s grace.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that we will be without suffering and pain in our lives.  Instead, we have been given the gift of God’s love and companionship that helps us to get through life’s challenges.  We have a strength in Christ that fortifies us and gives us a foundation on which to build so we can keep on keeping on.  By the grace of God, we are reconciled and given life anew over and over again.  Thanks be to God!

How have you experienced God’s grace?

How have you found reconciliation with God that leads to reconciliation with someone else?


Stumbling in the Dark

Nicodemus said to [Jesus], “How can these things be?”  John 3:9 (NRSV)

Nicodemus approached Jesus in the dark of night and began asking questions about how to enter the kingdom of God.  Jesus’ answers were full of symbolism and metaphors, and Nicodemus took what he said literally.  Spirituality is much deeper than what we can see on the surface.  We have to move deeper into our relationship with God and each other before we can truly begin to understand the process of growing spiritually.

Maybe Nicodemus was really seeking answers.  Maybe he was feeling left empty as a Pharisee because there seemed to be something lacking.  Maybe he saw that something in Jesus and wanted to learn more, but he went away confused.

How can one be born again?  The translation in many Bible actually is “born from above,” which makes a lot of sense when we consider the nature of Nicodemus’ quest.  Or maybe his questions were to trick Jesus.  Was he sent by the Pharisees to learn more under the guise of really being interested?  Did he question Jesus to try to find some ammunition against him?  We really don’t know.

Nicodemus did show up again later in the gospel of John as one who tried to defend Jesus at his trial before the Sanhedrin, and then he showed up at the cross after Jesus died to help Joseph of Arimathea in the burial process, but we really don’t know what his intentions were when he went to see Jesus under the cover of darkness.

Darkness indicates something secret; it can also represent not knowing, such as, “in the dark.”  In the scriptures, it also was symbolic of not knowing God and the light was the symbol of revelation and the presence of God.  Wrestling with these images is always fascinating because we tend to also wrestle with our own beliefs and our own faith journeys.

So, what can we learn from Nicodemus?

What do you see in this story (John 4:1-17) that helps in your walk of faith?

How do you identify with Nicodemus?

How do you NOT identify with him?

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”  Matthew 4:1 (NRSV)

In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “and lead us not into temptation.”  Wait a minute – the verse above tells us that Jesus was led up by the Spirit to be tempted!  Um – hmmm.

Maybe God wanted to test Jesus, so led him up to the mountain in the wilderness.  Or maybe Jesus just felt that he needed to get away following his baptism to absorb everything.  The devil might have just seen this as a great opportunity to try to get Jesus to renounce his identity as God’s Son.  Or perhaps Jesus just needed to prove to himself that he was up to the task.

Because I can’t get into the mind of Jesus, I would only be guessing at what Jesus’ intentions were at this point.  However, according to this scripture, Jesus withstood all those temptations of self-aggrandizement, putting God to the test, and the offer of earthly power.

When we think about it, those who tend to think of themselves as magnificent and indispensable, we might realize that most of them topple of the pedestal they had build for themselves.  (Read the story of Mordecai in the Book of Ruth.)  And those who test God by trying to bargain are almost always disappointed because they couldn’t outsmart God.  Power corrupts, and when someone is in a powerful position, they become the target for being brought down.

Jesus’ ministry and purpose on earth were not of earthly things.  He knew that the things of this earth aren’t permanent.  Ultimately, it is relationship with God that lasts, and because of Jesus life, death, and resurrection, it is a “forever” relationship.

Jesus mission and ministry were to bring people closer to God, to bring forgiveness of sins, and to bring life everlasting.  I’m thankful for forgiveness of sins because it means that we can receive a second chance.  For some of us, we need those second chances regularly.  Of course, the key is that when we ask for forgiveness, we are expected to learn from our mistakes, our sins, our turning away from God so that we can keep trying and moving forward.

I’m fully aware of what it’s like to be tempted and to give in.  My biggest issue is eating foods that aren’t the best choices for me, but there are many other temptations.  I really don’t believe that God LEADS us into temptation but that God allows us to experience them and learn how to not give in.  That takes practice and persistence.

Matthew 4:11 tells us that after Jesus was tempted, “. . . the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.”  When we resist temptation or when we repent from giving in to it, I suspect that the “angels” are there to wait on us.  In fact, they were probably there all along, watching over us.  Who knows.  What we do know is that God wants what is best for us, and that is why we have been given a conscience.  Let’s learn to listen more and follow our gut feelings when we are faced with temptation.

How have you been tempted?

In what ways have you been able to overcome them?

How have you found forgiveness when you have given in to them?

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