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?

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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).