LentBlog Day 24: Our Hope Is Built On Nothing Less… (AKA: It’s Incarnation, folks)

Romans 8:31-35.

As I read this again this evening, the old hymn goes through my head: “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” I find myself really, really glad that the hope we have as followers of Jesus is not something made by human hands. Lots of folks are finding lots of reasons not to believe. Lots of folks are convinced Easter is a trumped-up myth that humans used to create a religion. Sometimes the church has given them reason to think that way, for sure, but in the end, I respectfully disagree. I really am convinced the best stuff comes from outside of us, and hope is some of the best stuff. JesusIcon

“He who did not withhold his own son…” The incarnation is the source of our hope. The life, death, and resurrection of the Christ is the only thing, I think, that really gives us much hope. It is there that God shows God’s power over death. It is there we are transformed as well. I guess I really do have the audacity to believe that Jesus was really raised from the dead. If he wasn’t, then Christianity really is no different than the other religions that say some good things and call us to a better moral and community ethic of sorts, but are after all is said and done merely human-made systems. But I believe. I believe in Christ, God has suffered and died, and was raised. I believe our intercessor (v. 34) has been there and done that. He lived, breathed, ate, slept, died and was raised in our place– where we are.

Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus, because if it’s built on something or someone else, it’s really no hope at all.

Blessings,

Mark

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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 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 1: On being a Slave to the gospel.

So, here’s my attempt at adding something during the season of Lent. In addition to fasting a few things, I was thinking about adding a couple of disciplines as well. I’m going to be posting the fruits of my interactions with some devotional texts with the goal of engaging more deeply and consistently in my own bible study life.   I prayed and read this passage early this morning, and it’s now 9:15 at night. I want to see what the passage does after mulling it over all day.  I’m writing this steam-of-thought, with hardly any editing, so I retain the right to retract some theologically bogus stuff I might end up saying. So here goes.

paul1

Romans 1:1-7:  Paul, “Servant” of Jesus Christ.  Here’s another in a long list of passages where the NIV and even the NRSV get it wrong. The Greek word is δοῦλος, boys and girls… and there’s only one way to translate that accurately: slave. Not servant or even bond-servant. It’s slave. The same word Paul uses when he says stuff like, “Slaves, obey your masters.” And here he uses it to describe himself in the second word of the book of Romans. Paul: Slave of the gospel.  Normally “slave” has a negative context. “Slave” is the opposite of “free” (and we Americans sure do love our freedom…). Slave implies chains. Forced labor. No wages. Overseers. Whips. Little or no personal, individual identity. Someone ELSE owns you.

And Paul is a slave….

….of Jesus.

Set apart for the Good News of God. He’s a slave of the Good News. He cannot get away from it. It’s almost like he’s not his own anymore. It’s as if he’s been bought. And his life is now the property of Jesus, for Jesus to use as He pleases. It just so happens what Jesus is pleased to do is to appoint him to be an apostle of the Good News.

Then he says something that reminded me of the Ash Wednesday gathering last night: Jesus has been declared to be the Son of God according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead. Resurrection– Easter– was the confirmation of Jesus’ Lordship. And to get there, He had to go through death. Resurrection does not happen without death first.  Jesus had do die, stripped of his personhood, hung with criminals, dying where we are, for Resurrection to happen.

I think we want Resurrection without the death part.  I think we want the joys of Easter and all the blessings of the life it brings without first walking the way of the cross.  I think too many of us, if we go to church, want to be uplifted, entertained, affirmed,  patted on the back and sent out the door with a blessing… without ever dealing with the necessary death that precedes Resurrection.  We want to be buddies with Jesus. We might even try to follow some of His moral and ethical guidelines. We FOR SURE want Him around when the crud hits the fan.

But I don’t think we’re so sure about this slave thing.

We’re not so sure about dying to who we are, so we can be re-made, renewed, and… re-born. I think Lent is becoming my favorite season of the year because I think I need reminded that I can’thave it both ways.  I cannot be made alive in Christ until I die to myself. 

“Be Thou my vision, o Lord of my heart. Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.” Lord, this season, teach me what it means, even more, to be completely dead to myself. I want to be Yours. Only then can You really use me for my intended purpose.