LentBlog Day 15: Choose.

Romans 6:15-23

This one’s a challenge, I think, when you really read it closely. Essentially Paul says to his hearers: “You will be a slave… to something.” You’ll either be a slave of sin, or a slave to righteousness. Either way, you’re a slave. You’re not your own. And just that quick, the illusion of ultimate personal freedom dissipates like fog on a sunny June morning. Even serving ourselves is still slavery… slavery to selfishness, which is sinfulness. That’s a tough pill to swallow in our culture.

But here’s the good news: We get to choose which path will own us.Image

The path of sin leads to death.. Remember, Paul spent three chapters of Romans reminding everyone how we were all on the “death” path. Don’t forget we are all in the same sinking boat. But by God’s grace, a different path has been offered to us: one that leads to life and sanctification.

It sounds like Paul has made his choice and stuck with it: He is “Paul, slave of Jesus Christ” (1:1).

Which will we choose?

LentBlog Day 14: The Devil Did NOT Make You Do It.

Romans 6:5-14.

It’s one of the lamest excuses for disobeying God ever: “The Devil made me do it.” It has several variations from “I just couldn’t help myself” to “It’s __________’s fault.”

And this passage from Romans 6 blows it away with both barrels (Shotgun reference courtesy of Duck Dynasty’s season premiere tonight.) If this passage is true, then it’s possible for God to do a work in our lives so that sin will have no dominion over us. Sin (or the desire to sin…) does not have to rule our lives. We are not in a position where we sin in thought word and deed every day. Sin, like love, is relational. When we’re in relationship with Jesus, sin loses its grip and we begin to live towards God instead of just away from sinful behavior.

The key, perhaps, is being in Christ… look how many times “with Christ” or “in Christ” appear in this passage. It’s almost as if we have to pull up close to Jesus so much that we’re in him. Again note the relational language here. We have to die with him, then trust to be raised with him. None of this happens on our own. It’s always “with” or “in” Christ.Image

This passage is one of the keys to the Nazarene Doctrine of Holiness– the idea here again is not that sin is a thing that needs to be removed or eradicated from my life, never to be seen or heard from again. It’s that sin doesn’t have to rule us.

So, no. The devil did not make you do it. You chose to. The Good News is that through the power of the resurrection, God can change your desires so your first thought is to do what pleases God. A big part of Lent is opening space for got to make that change in us.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog Day 13: Life After Death…

Romans 6:1-4.eunich baptism

SO much happening in Romans 6. I could post a lot of stuff here, but what’s really on my mind as I read the first few verses is this: Baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus means a lot more than surface-level “christian” religion. (I really want to go on about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism here, but I won’t. Much.)

Church hoppers. Church shoppers. Mile-Wide-Inch-Deep. Church growth. Meeting felt needs. It’s growing so God must be blessing us, therefore what we’re doing to make it grow must be God’s desire for the church. It’s NOT growing so God must be displeased and I must be a failure as a pastor. “I come here to be uplifted.” The 245th version of “Jesus is my teddy bear and wants me to feel good.” Generations of young people (and not-so-young people) leaving the church because most of the previously mentioned are inauthentic.

This passage has something to say to all that. I think it’s something like: Do not forget that while all the blessings of the Christian life are real, they come only through death. And the death is yours (and mine), following Christ. Baptism reminds us again that to be raised with Jesus we must die first.

And death-to-self doesn’t sell. You don’t see “Come and Die!” on too many church marquis signs. One person said to me, “You can’t say that to a new person… they might not come back!” And it’s true. They might not. The scandal of the cross really is a scandal… it’s foolishness to those who are perishing. If we proclaimed the actual Gospel of the Crucified Lord to people, right out there in front of everyone, and then lived as those who have been crucified with Christ, whose only hope is the Resurrection… they might leave. Because in light of that, all the “Me Church” stuff becomes totally irrelevant and insignificant.

So, I’m thinking and prayerfully dreaming tonight. Dreaming of the congregation Stefanie and I are working toward. My prayer and hope is we would be a people who are very much alive because we have been raised to newness of life… after death.

Blessings.

LentBlog Day 12: It’s Relational, Not Positional.

Romans 5:12-21

Tonight, this passage highlights for me one of the big differences between the tradition of which I am a part (the Church of the Nazarene) and some of our more Calvinist/Reformed brothers and sisters. It’s pretty obvious for any Nazarene theologian who might read this, but it’s what’s at the forefront for me tonight: For our tradition, salvation/being “rightified” is a relational thing.Image

For some others, it’s more positional: Humans sinned. They are now in the “sinners/condemned” column, and when God rightifies them, they are moved into the “righteous/saved” column. Lots of theological implications for this, including our old nemesis Eternal Security. Sin is a thing God cuts out of me and separates as far as east is from west. It’s a cancer to be removed.

Not sure that’s what this passage says, though: For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. (v. 19). Paul talks about the trespass of one man leading to death, and the free gift of grace leading to life and salvation. The thing about this passage is its use of relational language. Sin happens as the one man disobeys. Disobedience happens only in relationship one to another. In the same way, salvation comes through the obedience of Jesus. Obedience happens only in relationship. Grace as a gift implies a relation between the giver and the receiver.

I guess I grow weary of positional language, because honestly I think it leads to excuses and cop-outs for full-blown sinful behavior. I feel like I’ll throw up in my mouth a little every time I hear something like, “well, you know… we’re not perfect. We’re just sinners, after all” when it’s used to explain away the sinful behavior of folks who claim to be Christian. Such an argument doesn’t carry much weight in a tradition where “sin” properly-so-called is defined as a “willful transgression against a known law of God.” Is it possible to actually live a whole day and not willfully thumb my nose at God and disobey on-purpose? It better be, or the real moral and ethical expectations of Jesus really don’t matter. And relational theology is a key to understanding that, I think. Sin and righteousness happen in relationship. Relationships are dynamic, changing, growing or declining, messy and beautiful things. There are not a lot of formulas and static propositions that can grow a relationship.

The same is true of being a follower of Jesus. It’s not static, stale, and formulaic. It’s dynamic, alive, breathing, growing, and living… almost like being in love.

Blessings.

LentBlog Day 11: Righteousness and justification. AKA The English Language Fails Again.

Romans 5:6-11.

I guess I’ve been thinking about the topic of this post for a while now. Since I’ve started reading and blogging about Romans, I’m almost continually reminded of the course at Nazarene Seminary I had with Dr. Alex Deasley.

I’ll never forget how many times he said something like, “and here again the NRSV gets it wrong” with his thick, slow, articulate London-ish accent. He taught us a ton in that course right before he retired. One of the things I remember, in addition to several hilarious one-liners, was his treatment of the word for “righteous” or “righteousness.”righteousness

It turns out the same Greek root word is elsewhere translated “justice” or “justification.” Insert Deasley’s words here: “here again the NRSV gets it wrong” along with most other English translations. The problem here is that when it’s used in the verbal form, there’s not really an English word for what Paul is saying here. So Dr. Deasley created one: instead of “justification” or “justified,” he used the words “rightification” and “rightified.”

And while that may seem like a small translation nuance, it was a biggie for me.  I’m conditioned by my native tongue, I guess, but “justice” and “justification” bring to mind courtrooms, penalties, and our old friend Substitutionary Atonement.

Problem is, the words are better translated as variations of “righteous.” Being made righteous or “rightified” is a whole different ballgame than “justified” for me. What would it mean (to badly misquote Luther here, but it’s late, I’m exhausted, and these are devotional reflections, not scholarly research) for the justice of God not to be some standard by which we are judged. What if God’s “justice” is really God’s righteousness that he wants to work in us through the faith of Jesus? Being justified sounds static, final, and stoic to me. Being made righteous, especially when coupled with the reconciliation language Paul uses here and elsewhere, sounds a lot more relational, dynamic, and real-time.

Man, sometimes I wish the English language had better words.

Blessings all. Have a great week!

LentBlog Day 10: Hope That Does Not Dissapoint

Romans 5:1-5

Paul is full-on into his presentation of righteousness by faith. He’s laid out that our faith must be like Abraham’s, who truly trusted God to creates something out of nothing. We are called to the same faith: We’re called to believe the Father raised the Son from the dead, again creating something out of nothing.

The something God creates in us is Righteousness. Paul reminds us that if we boast, we boast about the chance we’ve been given, through grace, to share in God’s righteousness: the hope we have in the Lord that after all this judgment Paul has been pronouncing, we might actually have peace with God. And that leaves me feeling pretty good… until I hit verses 3-4:

 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.hope

Boast in sufferings? Because, according to this, sufferings produce a hope that does not disappoint. But hope doesn’t come easily in this case. One must follow the journey:

Sufferings —> Endurance —> Character—>Hope.

And while it is true hope does not disappoint, it’s a formative, long, sometimes painful road to walk that leads there. God wants to form our character. God wants us to have the endurance we need in the world. He wants the hope we have to be in Him, and not ourselves.

That’s what Lent is about. It’s an intentional crucible of character formation. We walk the way of the cross and end up at the grave. It’s hard. It’s painful. But when Easter explodes onto the scene, we find ourselves better prepared to appreciate it and live it.

LentBlog Day 9: Something from Nothing.

Romans 4:13-25

So, it’s late on Day 9. I’m quite tired tonight, but Romans is still kicking my tail. I like the discipline this blog is helping me develop. I don’t have much clue how many folks are reading this stuff and have even less of a clue if it’s helping anyone. I do know it’s helping me.  So far, Lent 2013 has been a good thing.

What’s really speaking to me this evening from this passage is this:

“in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.  Hoping against hope, he believed…” (vv. 17-18a)faith

Abraham believed God was a God who creates things that don’t yet exist.  The God who creates something from nothing. God promised him he would be the father of many nations, and all the peoples of the earth would be blessed through him. The fact he was an old man married to an old woman didn’t matter to him. Those facts did not cause him to “weaken in faith.”

 No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God,  being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (vv. 20-21)

(The word translated “distrust” here is ἀπιστίᾳ, “a-faith” or “not-faith”)

What’s challenging me tonight is… Do I have anything close to that kind of faith? Here’s a man whose faith did not waiver when God promised him something impossible. He truly believed God could create something ex nihilo. It was that faith… faith that didn’t blink in the face of impossible circumstances… faith that believed God no-matter-what…  that faith was reckoned to him as righteousness.

I’m praying for that kind of faith. Because we are counting on God to create something out of nothing  (and we’re the nothing).

LentBlog Day 8: Getting the Horse Before the Cart.

Romans 4:1-12.

There’s so much I want to say from these verses I don’t really know where to begin…

The faith of Abraham was reckoned to him as righteousness. “Righteousness” here is the same root elsewhere (perhaps poorly translated) as “justice” or “justification.”

Paul’s going after religious (particularly Jewish or Jewish Christian) folks with a chip on their shoulder here. It seems in Paul’s day certain church folks liked to down on others who didn’t follow the law. In their opinion, one had to conform to their prescribed moral, ethical, and religious-cultural patterns before God could really work. What resulted was a continuation of the us-vs-them, insiders-outsiders nonsense that was never the intention of the law to begin with.

 

And when I look at a lot of what passes for “Christianity,” I gotta tell you I see the same thing happening. I am so sick and tired of Christian folks acting as if we are at war with the world. I’m tired of the petitions. I’m tired of the smear campaigns. I’m utterly tired of the one-liners on Facebook (one thing I have not missed these last 8 days…).

Because in the midst of a “Christian” mindset that many times acts as if it has a duty to defend, prove, justify, or militantly promote the faith, the apostle Paul taps us on the shoulder.

And he whispers a question into our ear:

“Don’t you remember when Abraham’s faith was reckoned to him as Righteousnes?”

It was before he was circumcised.

That thought could (should?) be enough to knock us off our high-horses. The faith of Abraham happened before he would have been considered a faithful Jew in Jesus’ day. Before.

Faith. THEN works. 

Faith. THEN behavior change.

Faith first.

Get the horse in front of the cart.

What that means, brothers and sisters, is that we simply must stop being so offended when folks who do not profess to follow Jesus live as if they’re not following Jesus. We are not at war with the world! (I almost went all-caps there but talked myself down from the ledge.)

We must share with people, partnering with God to open up space for the Spirit to work. It’s very difficult to do that when the only way we ever acknowledge their presence is when we’re griping about their “uncircumcised” lifestyle.

I know it’s a hard pill to swallow. But quite simply, our mission is not to change their behavior. That’s WAY to low a goal. Our mission is to see God change lives. Not so we will be comfortable or have one less thing about which to write our senator, but so death can become life. So darkness can become light. So God can change them from the inside out….

Lord, give us the faith of Abraham. The faith that was reckoned as righteousness ahead of time. Help us to rejoice when that faith begins to happen where we might least expect it. 

 

LentBlog Day 7: The Faith of Jesus.

Romans 3:21-26.  Reflecting on Romans 3 again because I simply must. It’s not my goal to get through all of Romans in 40 days, I guess. I’m reminded of the words of Dr. Alex Deasley in his Romans class at Nazarene Theological Seminary when someone asked him if we would get all the way through the book in the semester. (Folks reading this who is an NTS alum from 2002 or before will appreciate this more, perhaps.): “The spirit of prophecy has not been given to me any more than it has been given to you, so we shall press on and see where the Spirit leads.”

Reading through this again and looking a bit at the Greek is reminding me of something very powerful in these verses that gets missed in most English translations, especially if you don’t read the footnotes. It’s in verse 21: “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” The problem is the “faith in Jesus Christ” part. NIV, NRSV, NASB, ESV all translate it this way. However, a quick look at the SBL Greek version shows the words are πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, which could just as easily and perhaps more accurately be translated “the faith of Jesus Christ.”  Now, 11:00pm on a blog is not the place for me to attempt a Greek lesson. It would probably only prove how rusty my Greek really has become (apologies, Dr. Thompson).  Suffice it to say in other places where Paul speaks of something or someone being “in Christ,” such as v.24 in this passage, he uses the Greek word for “in.” Here he doesn’t. And the same thing is found at the end of v. 26. It’s better to translate these as “the faith of Jesus.”

Image

Now. Greek tediousness over. Let that sink in for a second, and you might be in for an “aha!” moment.

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed … the righteousness of God through the faith of Jesus Christ for all who believe…

…he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has the faith of Jesus.

 

What might it mean for Jesus to have faith? I think it means he was fully God and fully human. He’s the new Adam. The new human. Just like us. One of us. 

I think it means at the cross, just before he breathes his last, his last words are really, really important: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” I think Jesus exercises the ultimate act of faith right there. He’s dying a sinner’s death. He cannot raise himself from the dead: he must be raised. And so he must trust. He must believe. He must have faith that can move mountains… or tombstones. Jesus must have faith.

He became obedient even to the death on the cross, trusting the Father to raise him. 

And then here comes Paul, saying that the Righteousness of God is for those who have the faith of Jesus. 

The Father raised Jesus from the dead and brought him to new life. Me must trust him, even in the face of death, to raise us too.

The winter can make us wonder if spring was ever true;
But every winter breaks upon the Easter lily’s bloom.
Could it be everything sad is coming untrue?

(Jason Gray)

Lord God, create in me the faith of Jesus. By the power of your Spirit we pray. Amen

 

LentBlog Day 6: “Buts” Are A Good Thing.

Romans 3.Turn

Human languages each contain certain words that are more powerful than others. Love. Hate. Hope. Lie. Innocence. Go. Am/Is/Are/Was/Were… Colts… Drums… you know, words that carry more weight than others.

I’m beginning to think maybe other than “love,” the word “but” might be one of the most powerful words.

Think about it… If I said to my wife, “Wow, honey. You look amazing this morning, but…” every person reading this would say something like, “Noooo! Do not go in there!!”

The word “but” changes the entire course of a thought, rhetorical argument, or sentence. With that one word, everything that comes before is suddenly cast in a much less significant light, if not negated entirely. Your employer could give you a whole slew of positives, but the second she or he pulls out the word “but…” you know it’s going to be one of those conversations.

The cool thing is the word works the same in the other direction. I could say, “Honey, I know we’ve had a really rough morning and we’re both at our wits end, but…” and the whole conversation can turn just that quick. And the dime it turns on is the word “but.”

I guess that’s why I really like what happens in Romans 3. Paul has spent nearly 2 chapters making the case for how fried everyone is. Jew, Greek, following the law, not following the law, it doesn’t matter. By the middle of Romans 3, everyone finds themselves as objects of God’s wrath and judgment:

“There is no one who is righteous, not even one;
11     there is no one who has understanding,
there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned aside, together they have become worthless;
there is no one who shows kindness,
there is not even one.” (3:10b-12 NRSV)

Paul makes it very clear we’re headed for disaster. All of us, whether we want to admit it or not, are totally hosed.

But.

(Did your mindset just change? Mine did writing it just now.)

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets,the righteousness of God through the faith of Jesus Christ for all who believe…  (vv. 21-22a)

Wait a second. Insert screeching car breaks noise here. We are all totally condemned… but now God’s righteousness has been revealed for all who believe.

I think that’s why it’s one of the more important words in language. That one word becomes the hinge between darkness and light, death and life, Good Friday and Easter, the grave and… resurrection.

I think sometimes I lose track of the “but.” Sometimes I become so accustomed to the dark times we’ve experienced that I forget God has the final Word, and his Word to all of us includes a life-changing, all-encompassing, thunderous explosion of life and love that goes something like this: We are dead to the world… but alive in Christ.

Blessings.