Sunday, April 24, 2011

Week #16 Romans 4:25 "He is Risen"

"Jesus Christ was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification."

Today is Easter Sunday, and I have heard the same quote from Christian author and humorist Barbara Johnson twice, once from the pulpit, and once on Facebook. She describes our Christian faith saying, "We are an Easter people living in a Good Friday world."

Wow. Powerful words, that.

The thought hit me like a ton of bricks. Yes, we are an Easter people. But why don't I realize this but once a year? Why do I need to see Easter lilies, Cadbury eggs and sing "Christ the LORD is Risen Today" in order to celebrate and proclaim that my LORD is risen?

Is He not risen everyday of my life? Do I not have eternal life because He has conquered death and, therefore, allowed me to share in this eternal life with Him?

Romans 4:25 tells us that Jesus died for our sins, and rose again to life for our justification. This is true. Jesus did die a horrific death on the cross because of my sins. And when He died, we believers died with Him. We died to the world and its philosophies. We died to ourselves and our own foolish ways.

But, three days later, He rose from the dead! He did this not because of my sins, or my foolishness. He rose by the power of God. It was that same power that turned those early disciples from fearful men hiding in the Upper Room into God's fearless witnesses.

It is God's power that can take a self-centered wimp like me and make me rise again into a modern woman who proclaims and celebrates His salvation, love and power while living in a violent, hopeless and godless world.

First, let me say that I am in no way minimizing the power or cost of the cross. Jesus' death is why we are able to live. We can never thank Him enough for what He did on the cross.

But, what if, instead of only concentrating on Christ's death, we celebrate His resurrection every day? What if, in addition to the crucifix, the most recognizable symbol of Christianity became an empty tomb?

The Apostle Paul in Romans 4 got it right. Our life of faith is about both the death AND the resurrection of Jesus. We weep over His death, because we weep over our sin and what it cost our LORD. But we celebrate His resurrection. It is what gives us life and gives us cause to rejoice.

I wish every Sunday was Easter. I love proclaiming His resurrection to others. I love telling the world that I don't serve a dead master. I serve a Living God. A God that has risen.

But, if I am an Easter person, I don't need the calendar to tell me when to proclaim He is risen. I can do it every day. After all, every day of my life, He is risen.

He is risen indeed!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Week #15 Romans 12:9-10 "Clinging to Good"

"Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves."

These verses have several ideas and exhortations in them. But there is one particular word that stands out for me. "Hate."

Hate. Here's a word that makes headlines. When it comes to popular culture and media, "hate" is bantered about in social and political discussions across the country. (How I wish I could be inundated with more theological discussions in my social circle. How refreshing that would be!!)

"Hate speech." "Hate crimes." "Hate groups." "I hate (pick the group or attitude of your choice)."
And the list goes on and on...

For a Christian, hating what is evil can be a tricky thing. No one will argue that we Christians have a major PR problem in the United States today. We are regularly condemned for being "un-Christian" if we express any critical thought about society, politics or culture. We are told we are un-loving if we hate anything.

Yet, here Paul exhorts us to hate evil. When we try to explain that we don't hate people, just the evil that can come from some humans and their institutions, we still aren't off the hook. The name-calling continues. Christians are un-loving. Christians are hypocrites. Christians are being un-Christian. Sigh....

So, when it comes to evil, we can't win. We can't beat Satan at his own game, and we can't make the world understand us either. So what's a nice, evil-hating Christian to do?

I think the answer is contained in the second half of the phrase. "Hate what is evil; cling to what is good."

I need to cling to the good. The godly. The God in the world. My love must be sincere. I must be devoted to my fellow believers and honor them in love.

Subtle forms of evil may disguise itself as good, fun and cool. But it ultimately has no power over good. It may not seem like it, if you take a look at the world today. It looks like evil is winning.

But, the opera ain't over. No, the "fat lady" isn't going to sing, but one day the Son of Man will come on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory (Matt. 24:30). At that time, Jesus will set the record straight. Evil will no longer be able to masquerade as cool and enticing. Good will be cool. Good will be praised. Love will win out in the end.

I can't wait for that day. Until then, however, I must strive to cling to good, cling to God. And I must reflect His goodness in my life.

A real challenge, that is. But when I cling to God, it doesn't mean I can rise to the challenge. It means that God rises to the challenge through me. Praise God.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Week #14 Romans 6:23 "Forgiveness Granted"

"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our LORD." is such a politically incorrect term nowadays. No one, Christians included, wants to believe that sin actually exists in us. Some people don't want to think that sin exists at all.

They prefer the word "imperfection" or , when describing a sinful world, "morally relative or ambiguous." Truth be told, I sort of like those terms as well.

But, if sin is simply a word to describe our weaknesses and our "C- behavior in an A+ world," why would God be so unmerciful as to mete out the death penalty for such common and understandable human traits?

Is God an abusive and mean-spirited kill joy? Does he actually expect perfection out of imperfect beings?

I have wrestled with this question for years. During those times in my life when I was painfully aware of my moral imperfections, my "C- behavior" that drove others away from me, I shouted and whined at God about how He made me, and what He really expected out of me.

After years of wrestling and asking, this is what I have learned.

First, God does not call our mistakes and imperfections "sin." For example, if you forgot to pay the light bill and now you and your family live in the dark and cold, that is a mistake. Though it had unfortunate consequences, your forgetfulness is not a sin.

Second, sin is always a deliberate act of rebellion against God and His will. I don't "accidentally" sin. When I sin, I know that I am sinning. Even though I know I am sinning, I sin anyway. There are a variety of reasons for this, but here is one of the chief reasons.

In my life, usually sin occurs when I trust my power to handle life and my short-sighted solutions over what God can do. I fight God over the circumstances of my life. I assume His way is harder and won't work for me. Usually I doubt my own ability to do things God's way, because I see myself as a poor quality Christian who can't make the grade. I also assume that, since I've blown it so often before, God wouldn't come to my aid anyway.

Of course, God knows better than that. Sometimes I do, too, but for those other times, praise God that His gift is eternal life in Jesus. I need Jesus' life. I need Jesus' forgiveness. I need Jesus' priesthood that intercedes on my behalf to God, and assures God's grace to me. In my sinfulness, I need all that. I can't do it for myself.

So, what does God really expect out of me? Perfection? No. Sinlessness? Definitely not.

He expects me to come to Him. In my sin, in my moments of doubt, rebellion, fear and anger, He expects me to remember my sin and come to Him anyway. I'm always welcome, no matter what I've done. My loving Heavenly Father doesn't want me to die. He wants me to live with Him.

I need to remember that.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Week # 13 John 16:24 "Just Ask God"

"Until now you have not asked for anything in My name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete."

Back in the day when I was a new believer, I would read verses like this and think that Jesus was offering me a blank check. All I had to do was fill in the amount with whatever heartfelt wish, material gain, relationship hope or personal goal I wanted Him to give me. Then...voila, the wish would be granted.

Oh, if only life were like that. Jesus, the Fairy Godmother who died on the cross so I could wear a beautiful gown and go to the ball.

Sounds ridiculous, right?

Yes! So, what is this verse actually saying to me? What is Jesus talking about when He said I must ask in His name?

I do know that anything done "in the name" of someone or something else must line up with what that person or institution stands for. When a police officer says he serves in the name of the law, his work must be in line with the law that he enforces. One cannot do something illegally in the name of the law. It would be contradictory.

So, to pray in the name of Jesus means that my prayers must not contradict the person, character and will of God. Hmmm..that doesn't sound so simple.

In fact, it sounds rather intimidating. I'm almost afraid to pray lest I ask in the wrong way. But, that's why it helps me to see prayer as a process, not as a holy state that we should have already achieved.

My prayers don't always line up with the will of God. There are times when I am hurt, angry and confused. At those times, I will find myself yelling at God, accusing Him of not caring or ignoring me. At other times, I hear myself asking God to make my life easy, and to be that fairy godmother I wish for.

Okay, so during times like those, I probably wasn't asking in the name of Jesus. But, the important thing I see in John 16:24 is that Jesus is simply asking me to ask anyway.

When I am lonely, depressed, sick or scared, I know I can go to my heavenly Father and talk to Him about my concerns, complain to Him about my problems and whine at Him about just about anything.

One of the miracles of prayer is that God uses our prayers to help us grow, change and heal. My prayers might begin as whining and crying, but eventually they will turn to thanksgiving and praise. (Last time I checked, thanksgiving and praise were definitely in line with God's character and will!) No, the "eventually" won't happen overnight. That process might take weeks, months, years. But it does happen.

God lets us whine, complain and vent our frustrations. He knows we need to do that for a while. He also knows that our prayers won't stay like that forever. However unflattering some of our prayers might be, it will never make our prayers not welcomed by God.

So, when I read this verse now, I don't expect the cosmic fairy who will grant me all my wishes. I also don't feel intimidated or unworthy because my prayers might not line up with God's will.

I simply read an invitation. It's an invitation to come to God and ask. I don't ever want to be afraid to ask. I am still His child who needs to ask, because I can't provide for myself or solve the problem on my own.

My Daddy takes joy in the fact that I will ask. And, I know that when I ask, my joy will be complete, because eventually, those heartfelt prayers will become exactly what my heavenly Daddy will want to hear.