Sunday, March 12, 2017

No One Ever Changes

A few days ago I got the chance to visit with my best friend Katy in Chicago and she and I happened to meet an old acquaintance.  I had not seen him in thirty years.  It was great to share a meal with him and chat a bit.  But I realized a curious thing after we had parted.  The conversation over our meal had been, at least in its themes, a repeat of the last conversation I had had with him over thirty years before.  But as if this were not extraordinary enough I realized in a flash of insight something even more important although outwardly unrelated to our pleasant mealtime conversation: I had not changed in thirty years; I was still the same destructive, self-destructive, arrogant and cold-hearted sinner that I had always been. Just in case the reader think that I am being too hard on myself, consider that the apostle Paul says as much; he refers to himself in the present as a sinner. (I Tim. 1:13)  But here’s the rub, or more precisely the beautiful dialogue into which the Bible leads us, we are also completely changed, “therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has passed away, look, the new has come”  (2 Cor. 5:17) Paul expands on this good news in another place “ I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me, the life I live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me”  In other words, we have died and the life we now lead is entirely by the faith, the establishment, the “amen power” that raised Jesus from the dead. As Mahalia Jackson sings “I woke this morning!” How? by that faith, a power completely outside ourselves that comes straight from heaven and goes directly into our hearts.  Truly, we walk by faith and not by sight. Do we understand the indescribably good gift that God has given to us? * So you see, we are changed; we are the first fruits of the change, of the immortality that is to come (I Cor. 15), but lest we get on our high horse and ride off into the sunset of delusion, the Bible and life itself reminds us from time to time of what is also the truth; one that is less weighty but revelatory and saving: that we are still what we ever were, as Paul puts it, “Oh wretched man that I am” (note the present tense).  No need to worry about getting a swelled head, our loving Father keeps us from that and all evils. 

*Actually, we can't understand this, if we think we live by our own faith, if we do, the life in Christ becomes not an indescribably great and gracious gift but rather some kind of dubious exchange with God.  But if faith is something quite different, if it is the power with which the Messiah is girded and strengthened, if it is what the King James Bible translates as establishment in reference to Samuel then we learn what gratitude really is, then we learn how boasting is totally excluded.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Result, Not Condition

“God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son in order that all those believing might not perish but have eternal life.”  This is perhaps the most well known verse in the Bible but what does it mean?  Does it mean that unless we believe we will not live eternally?  Certainly we know that unbelievers and many other types of sinners will end up in the lake of fire. (Rev. 21:8) Isaiah tells us, “they shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.”  Sin has no place in the New Jerusalem. The question is, will there be any cowards, or unbelievers or murderers or sinners to throw into that lake?  You see, when John speaks about “all those believing,” he is not setting a condition, rather he is describing the result.  Any believing on our part is the result, not the condition of God’s love and the sending of his son. Remember the Red Sea.  God saved the children of Israel and then they believed.  How could it be less with the Lord Jesus?  Sometimes we are also deceived by our interpretation of Romans 10 where it says that “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved.”  We think that here too, Paul is imposing a condition on salvation, “you have to believe otherwise you will not be saved.”  But what is happening in Romans 10 is different.  Paul is speaking to those at Rome who are anxious.  They're not Jewish; Israel is the apple of God’s eye but what about them, what about people of different ethnicities?  Paul calms them, “your believing, your calling on the Lord is assurance that God has already broken into you life, already saved you and he's faithful and will stick by you all the way!  The “if” is not a condition, it is a comfort.  It turns out that the only requirement for salvation is to be a sinner.  What happens if all your life you have never believed?  The answer is we do not know.  We know that God is good and he sees all the good you have done in your life.  We know too that death is no impediment to Jesus.  He goes down into hell and preaches to the worst of the worst. (I Peter 3:19) As the theologian, Markus Barth said, God is both willing and able to save all men, turning them to the truth.  Some object, “my whole life I have been believing, how is it that someone who in their life never knew Jesus might enter the kingdom too?  How is that fair?”  But isn't this the objection of the workers in Matthew 20? What is the Lord’s answer? “Friend, I am doing you no wrong…Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?  Why do you give me the evil eye because I am good?”

Monday, December 19, 2016

Circle of Love

Jesus says “Ask for anything, I will do it.” (John 14:14)  Really?  For a long time this promise seemed impossible to me; Jesus couldn’t have meant it.  What I didn’t understand was that we have been “transferred from darkness into the kingdom of the beloved son.” (Col. 1:13)  You see, we have become like Abraham, like Isaac, like David and even like Jesus.  Let me explain:  Abraham was drawn into God’s inner circle, deciding with Him, the course of history. (Gen. 18:19)  Abraham was more than God’s servant, Abraham is God’s friend.  And so it is with us,  Jesus says, “no more will I call you servants but friends.” (John 15:15)  We can ask Jesus anything because we are his friends.  Further, we have become like Isaac.  Abraham gave Isaac “all that he had.”  Isaac was Abraham’s darling son whom he loved more than life.  In the same way, all that God has is for us; we have received a spirit of Sonship,”by whom we cry, Abba! Father.”  We ask the Lord for anything and everything because everything is for us.  But there is even more to the story.  In 2 Samuel 7, King David wants to build God a house, but Lord cannot allow this, it is for Him to take care of David not the other way around.  But the Lord gives David the greatest consolation prize ever, He says, “I will build you a house.”  And this house will be a forever house, “I will raise up your seed and establish his kingdom forever…and if he commits iniquity I will chasten him but I will not take away my love from him, your house and your kingdom will be made sure forever before me.”  Now, an objection might be raised here, one might ask, “surely this forever house and this love is for Jesus and not for me?”  Yes, it is for Jesus but as the prophet Isaiah saw it is also for us.  The Lord says in Isaiah 55:3, “I will give you (plural!) the love, the faithful love of David.”  This is poetry but what it means is that everything that the Lord gives to his Son, his David messiah, is for us too, for “ the many” (53:11) as they are drawn one by one into the kingdom.  Moreover, Jesus is without sin, but all too often we fall short.  How many times has God renewed us in his love?  This is nothing less than  the promise of 2 Samuel 7 confirmed in our lives. One more thing: In 2 Samuel 7 after David hears God’s truly incredible promise, David actually prays for the promise!  He explains why, “God you have revealed that my throne will be forever, therefore I take courage and I have pray that this would be so.” This is the final reason why we ask anything of Jesus, because we have been given everything! This is not to say that our lives will be without suffering, on the contrary, Paul says that he and the other apostles are “like sheep for the slaughter” and yet, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come nor powers nor high nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8)