Sunday, July 31, 2011

I Cor 12 - gifts I would give the body if I were God

When I read chapter 12 I see two things that would benefit every body of believers I have ever been part of.

1. Miraculous gifts of the spirit, like healing and words of knowledge and, well, miracles. I am sometimes puzzled and even upset at God for not bestowing these more often. In my wisdom God's banquet table would be better attended if it offered more generous helpings of these delicacies. On second thought, maybe He is less interested in Rice Christians (a term for Asians came to church because the missionaries served rice, not to hear the message) and more interested in disciples of faith and love. And I have to own some responsibility of readiness: why should God trust me with the gift of physical healing when I am lukewarm in the exercise of my common gift of healing by listening?

2. Embracing the concept of universal, mutual need. At Gospelfest we sang, "I need you, you need me, we're all a part of his body. We belong to each other, I need you to survive." Me (the mouth?) really believing I need the pancreas, or the middle toe. Actually I can understand that concept more easily than I can understand needing someone who according to my limited anatomical knowledge of the body seems more like an appendix. They do nothing, just get inflamed and blow up and spread bile and infection. O great physician, do us all a favor - cut them out!

Gosh, I wonder what that "excellent way" is that Paul will tell us about in Chapter 13?

I Corinthians 11 - Head Coverings, and the Lord's Supper

I Corinthians 11 – Head Coverings, and the Lord’s Supper

Cannon to the right of him, cannon to the left of him, into the valley of death, rode the apostle. In this chapter, Paul rides fearlessly onto two bitterly-fought battlefields in the 2,000 year-long internecine War of the True Believers.

First: the roles – one might even say ranks – of men and women. It is tempting to write “men vs. women” or “women vs. men” because gender strife is alas part of the curse of Adam and Eve: Genesis 3:16, “thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.”

I am quoting from the King James Bible because today I am in Hyde Park, minding the Lamoille Woodcraft store operated by the Mennonite Church. I believe I am something of a Righteous Gentile to them, having sold advertising to them years ago and commented favorably on the Scripture verse road signs that they have erected between Hyde Park and Imani’s home in North Wolcott. Today the church is having a wedding, and for the first time ever a non-Mennonite is watching the store! I am honored and welcome an opportunity to build a bridge of fellowship with this branch of the family of God. As for the KJV – it is a 1977 Thomas Nelson Sunday School version hanging around the store. There are no customers, so I am redeeming the time.

The Mennonites look and act a lot like the Amish, to whom I believe they are closely “related” in the faith. (They do however use the 4 C’s of So-Called Contemporary Christian Civilization: Cars, cellphones, computers, and credit cards. No sign of internet use, though.) Their women wear head coverings, not just in church but when out tending their large vegetable gardens or waiting on customers at their many Lamoille county retail operations and farm stands. According to my limited knowledge, they are the only church body in Vermont that seems to require this practice. I suspect the abandonment of head coverings by the rest of us would baffle and upset Paul:

“But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head; for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn; but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman, but the woman of man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.”

And now let the bride say: “Yeah, whatever, Paul.” I mean, what are we to DO with such teaching? Demand head coverings? Explain to the world we (say we) wish to win for Christ that because of what happened in the Garden of Eden, women must wear hats when they pray? Ignore it? Smile with amused tolerance, as at the outdated opinion of a much-loved elder?

I think we are hearing from Saul the Pharisee again. Like any good elder and “link to the sacred past”, he is teaching the Greek Corinthians to understand and honor their Adamic roots and identity. But then Paul chimes in with a Kingdom clarification, explaining this teaching without voiding it: Vs. 15 says a woman’s long hair is covering enough. And oh by the way man came from woman, too, and really they both come from God, so let’s not get too hung up on hierarchy. As he says in Ephesians, as Spirit-led and filled believers let us love and serve each other. This is the same technique as seen in Chapter 10, where Saul first refers to the cautionary history in the Hebrew Bible and then Paul clarifies it with Kingdom teaching of freedom in the Spirit.

And that reference to the angels…..hmmm and hmmm again…..maybe an uncovered, rebellious, serpent-obeying woman is equated with the angels who also rejected God’s plan? A “fallen woman” indeed and likewise “shorn” on the inside?

And then, on to Communion. It’s no big deal today, but Christians were killing each other by the thousands over it in the 1500’s and 1600’s. Catholics killed Protestants, Protestants killed other Protestants, Protestants killed Catholics, in part at least over the “disagreement” (a gentle word) over the understanding of the Lord’s Supper. The bitter irony of brothers killing brothers in the name of communally honoring Christ’s sacrificial death for the sin of mankind is just too obvious to discuss. Some good came of it: the American revolutionaries, of all faiths, looked at the endless European religious conflict and said, “yecchh…..we want a First Amendment.”

Paul’s beef with the Corinthian practice of the Lord’s supper is also tinged with ironic anger. In a supposed celebration of the ultimate act of self-sacrifice, the Corinthans are vying to see who can eat the most food and drink! Some pig out, the unlucky ones starve.  One can just hear Jesus saying, “you call me teacher and Lord, and rightly so for that is what I am. Now that I have washed your feet, you should wash one another’s feet, you should do as I have done for you.”

And fat old Epecticus of Corinth looks up from the Lord’s table and with his mouth full of wine-mushed bread, mumbles, “Quod?” and grabs another loaf.

And overweight Guy grabs another pancake at the youth group fundraiser, while a quarter of the world starves. Some things never change – until I heed the Spirit.

Friday, July 29, 2011

I Cor 10: Saul the Pharisee returns, with a warning

Saul the Pharisee makes a triumphant return in the first part of this chapter (subtitled "Warnings from Israel's past" by NIV), and it's not a bad thing. The Pharisee movement can be roughly traced from Ezra the priest who led Israel back from captivity, and who like Nehemiah tore out his hair upon learning that, once AGAIN, the men of Israel were taking foreign wives - the sin of Solomon and the open gateway to grassroots family-by-family idolatry. At its foundation, Phariseeism was a well-intentioned, determined effort to eliminate the nation's besetting sin.

In the same way Guy the Teenage Unitarian puts in his two-cents worth to my present decision-making. Sometimes he offers good insights that inform my Christian walk. I think Paul himself would be the first to say that his ministry, and the church of Christ, can learn from the past once the Lordship of Christ is firmly established.

Back to Corinthians - Saul the Pharisee tells the church, "flee idolatry. Look what happened when Israel didn't." He does NOT say "separate yourself physically from all Unholiness and spit on those who don't." He takes a more radical view than mere physical separation. He preaches freedom of conscience, humility, and individual and corporate eternal vigilance of our desperately wicked hearts. And in an encouraging way he bids us to humbly rely on divine Providence:

"So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptation[c] has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted[d] beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,[e] he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it."

Unlike the Pharisees, in Christ there is no condemnation. Neither is there boasting, save in Christ. God will make a way, where there is no way, only trust and obey. Paul uses different words than Jesus, but like a good soldier of his Savior and Lord he brushes past the useless Maginot Line of good works and appearances and marches straight for the real battlefield: the hearts and minds. His weapons are the living gospel and the Spirit of the God. And although he sees further than I about the details of the Kingdom Triumphant, I don't think he really knew what total victory would look like. As he says elsewhere, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, what God has prepared for those who love Him."

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I Corinthians 9 – Paul: I Am No Beggar, I'm A Slave!

“Look, you Corinthians,” Paul says sternly, “demanding payment is not the mark of apostleship.”

It appears that in the church at Corinth, trading center of the Roman Empire, the worldly notion of “you get what you pay for” is held in high esteem. Although Paul and Barnabas work like dogs, they don’t even beg for table scraps. They are the original tent-making ministry. And at least some folks in Corinth think that because they don’t expect payment, they can’t be real apostles.

Paul sets them straight, in a tone that could be misunderstood as boasting and whining but is really a call to ministry committed to honesty, simplicity and integrity, and above all to doing whatever it takes to preach the gospel to everyone.

Paul doesn’t care about receiving church support or getting married – and he seems to imply that other apostles do, or that at least the church falsely considers the exercise of these apostolic rights as a sign of genuine apostleship. Paul says he is compelled to preach: “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.” He could care less about the supposed fringe benefits, and to say that Paul’s intentional lifestyle “travels light” is an understatement. No wife, no family, no house, no expectations, no nuthin’. He lives this way not from want or asceticism but because it’s the most effective way for him to preach to Jews, to the weak, to the butcher baker and candlestick maker.  

When I read his example, I think of the itinerant preachers in third world countries, and here too I guess. I think of the Methodist circuit preachers like Peter Cartwright, going from frontier town to town and fearlessly preaching the gospel to the rough and influential alike. I think first and foremost of John Wesley himself, who was unmarried most of his life, and then unhappily married for a while, and who still holds the English all-time record for most miles travelled on horseback in England. I think of Brother Damien of Molokai, the priest to the lepers of Hawaii who improved spiritual and physical conditions there immeasurably before himself contracting and dying of leprosy. All branches of the Christian family contain many such Christ-like witnesses.  

Living simply and steadfastly for the gospel isn’t easy, Paul says. Among other things it requires physical training: “I beat my body and make it my slave.” The payoff is better than filthy lucre: “I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

What would this look like, today? While some ministers ride in limos, Paul rides the bus. Some live in sumptuous homes and eat meals served by others, Paul sleeps where he can and eats what and when he can so as to preach to whomever he can.

I read this passage and ask, “Lord, what could I be doing differently?” Frankly the first thing that comes to mind is to support brothers like Bill Ryan. Here is a Vermont native with a knack for fixing things and a love for souls who has taken his wife and kids to the Moskito Coast of Honduras so that he can preach the gospel and help people. This place is every bit as “godforsaken” as it sounds, except that it’s not, really, because with Bill’s help an indigenous church is bringing family, medical, educational, employment and above all and spiritual healing to Moskito Indians. If you and I do nothing else – and of course there is so much else – you and I can redirect some of our discretionary income towards gospel preachers like Bill. Their support address is Bill Ryan, World Gospel Mission · PO Box 948 · Marion, IN 46952. Their email address for “moral support” is

Sunday, July 24, 2011

I Corinthians 8 - Love vs. Knowledge

Paul says, knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.

At church today, I asked several people what they thought Paul meant. The consensus seemed to be that human knowledge is too easily linked with pride. Pride towards God: “I know what to do, Lord, I don’t need your help,” as our brother Marcel paraphrased. And pride towards our fellow man: “I know more than you do, shut up and listen.” It was pointed out that if “knowledge is power” then the love of knowledge can be a respectable façade for the love of power, a demonic stronghold if ever there was one.

Like all created things, knowledge is good. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,” says  one translation of the Proverb. Paul often urges us to grow in the knowledge of the Lord. Neither Paul nor the Spirit are anti-knowledge. They just hate falsehood and pride. And the opposite of pride, is love.

Our brother Jeff pointed out the contrast between puffed-up knowledge and building-up love. Puffed up knowledge tears down relationship; only love can build it up again. Love of knowledge is the disease, love is the antidote.

Perhaps a few souls have been intellectually argued into the Kingdom. But they are a handful of sand compared to the mighty ocean beach of souls whose who have willingly pulled their intellectual barricades aside from within in surrender, to allow love its gentle, triumphant entry.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

I Corinthians 7 - Be Content

Two nights ago Imani called and through happy tears announced that she and Jason Wheeler, her longtime boyfriend, are engaged. They plan to marry soon after they turn 18, in less than two years.

This came as no great surprise. They have a remarkably mature love. As much as their youth permits, they understand the responsibilities of marriage. In Diane and I and Al and Kim Wheeler, they have good role models of "real life" perseverance in difficulties. They both love God and are committed to raising their kids, when they come, as believers. Jay is an outstanding young man, hard working, sensitive, caring, and utterly willing to throw himself in front of a bus to protect Imani. I couldn't ask for a better person to care for my treasure. But still, but still.....Dad was mumbling "Sunrise Sunset" to himself all day long.

Which brings us to I Corinthians 7, one of Paul's extended teachings on marriage. Those of us who have been married know that marriage provides great support and enjoyment, and equally great challenges. My old friend Bill Oosterman, who knew a thing or two about "real life" as a Marine rifleman in the WWII battle of Okinawa, used to say that marriage is full of "real days". Real conflict. Real disappointment. Real struggle. Despairing of survival sometimes. Not surprisingly Paul is addressing people who desperately want to get married, and then moves on to address another set of people who seem to desperately want to leave it! His message to all, including servants and slaves and circumcized and uncircumcized to boot, is this: "Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches."

There is a general rule in grief counseling: don't make any big changes a year after you have experienced the death of another. Well......have you and I not experienced the death of the Old Man? Are we not the New Man, learning our way around the freedom of being dead to sin and a servant of Christ? It makes sense then that new believers, who have just recently experienced the death of the Old Man, wouldn't take any big, bold new steps in their personal lives. At least not for a while. And Paul even adds the odd stipulation, "I, not the Lord." It's like he is just old Uncle Paul giving advice. He is decidedly not speaking ex cathedra. In Scripture. Weird.

Paul adds that a big part of being a New Man is realizing that time is short and we must work for the Kingdom that is coming soon and will occupy our joyful attention forever. And marriage can be a hindrance to that, Paul said. Except when it's not. Just keep your eye on the prize, bucko.

I used to say a regular bedtime prayer over Joe and Imani, repeated who knows how many times by me, Tevye and others since David wrote it years ago in the Psalms:

"May the Lord bless you and keep you, may He make His face to shine upon you, and may He give you peace." I testify that God honored this prayer for Diane and me, in and through our struggles. May He likewise bless Jay and Imani, and every other couple.

Shower the people you love, with love. If you have another's hand to hold, take it in yours and say "I love you and I'm glad you're in my life."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

I Corinthians 6 - ohmigosh where to start?!

A wise old editor once said that it is easy to write 500 words, very hard to say the same thing in 200. So advised, I proceed:

1. LAWSUITS - not surprising that discussion of church discipline is followed by Christians suing each other in secular courts! A church I know has experiencd this. Rather than suffer wrong, an aggrieved party inflicts wrong on the gospel, eternal consequences be, well, you know. Paul says that if I do that, I've already lost in the only court that matters.

Where are the Christian mediators to whom a disciplined believer could appeal his/her church's decision? Maybe some wise, retired elders and pastors, riding a circuit like the old Methodist preachers? It would save reputation, not to mention money, for all concerned.

As for judging angels, well..... Scripture says they will be judged. Scripture says believers are and will be judges. In the sense that judges are delivers and not merely magistrates, we "judge angels" every time we deliver someone from demonic bondage or rebuke the devil. So we're already doing it on earth; as with all things temporal/eternal, judging of angels in eternity may be more thorough and permanent.

2.  HOMOSEXUALITY AND OTHER SEXUAL SIN - there it is in verse nine - I have been warned - I will not inherit the kingdom of God if I am g - g - reedy. There, I said it. Or a drunk. Or a swindler. Or a slanderer. Or an idolator, or a thief. Or an adulterer or homosexual.

Well. I am not gay. Have I committed adultery in a Sermon on the Mount/Jimmy Carter sense? Yes. Have I ever slandered anyone - in my line of work, yeah, probably, hopefully not maliciously. Robbed Caesar of what is his, or taken a dime off the floor that wasn't mine? Of course. Treated created things with reverence without consciously acknowledging its creator? What comes to mind is that wonderful 19th century "pumper" hymn: "wonderful the matchless grace of Jesus, greater far than all my sin and shame."

3. LIBERTARIANISM - Christian churches are affected by culture which is why we have such a hard time with church discipline and sexual sin - because like Corinth and its population of shrine male prostitutes, we have bought the idea that "everything is permissable for me." And indeed, it's right there in the Constitution, freedom of expression, no law regarding religion etc. As a Kingdom citizen however I will also ask, "is it beneficial? Will it master me?" And then Paul drops the (I am sorry to be so crude) F-bomb that cannot be discussed in church: Food. Well, I will say it, to the song from "Oliver!": Food, glorious food, that's what we all come for!/ Food, glorious food, brings me through the church door!/ While they are praying I'm salivating 'bout food, love the potluck, glorious food!"

The American church has a terrific opportunity to bring a relevant gospel message and build relations regarding a "huge and growing" social and financial problem: obesity. We have the community, the teaching, and the goodwill to bring a positive witness about God and food and whose body is this, anyway? Right now I am a member of a Christian online community at the America's Biggest Loser website. We teach and encourage each other - a week or so ago I posted one of Roxy's comments on my blog about food and fear. Some of these folks have actual weight loss challenges in church! Is that cool or what?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I Corinthians 5: Expel the immoral brother!

Paul is on a roll. Having just, well, whined about his mistreatment by the brethren, he now wants them to all join hands, sing kumbayah, and toss some immoral people out of the church.

As John F. Kennedy used to say, "Let me say this about that":

1. Paul doesn't expect the world to be holy. In modern terms, he's not trying to ban gay marriage in Montpelier, he's trying to stop divorce in the local church.

2. This isn't like forcing other people to not smoke because you oppose smoking and you have the votes. This is protecting myself from the secondhand smoke of someone else's sin. You wanta smoke? Take it outside. Nothing personal, but you are not welcome here if you insist on making the rest of us sick. Make no mistake, sin is a contagious disease, Paul says. Let a little bad yeast work through the dough, and pretty soon it all tastes like, well, spoiled food.

The offending sinner may feel offended. "Don't you love me? Aren't you being intolerant?" He may even threaten to sue! Well, brother, I am offended at your offense, that you would think I love coddling your feelings more than I love Christ or the spiritual welfare of these little ones. When you're tired of eating corn pods with the pigs I will be the first one to run out and greet you, throw a robe around you, and welcome you back.

3. Paul focuses on sexual sin, but at the end of the passage says that greedy, idolatrous etc. also should get this treatment too. I think the modern American church might practice less selectivity on the sins it condemns. On the sins. The sinners themselves are always welcomed back.

Oh, this is a tough subject. Even "getting it right" on paper is really tough, I'm sure I haven't touched all the bases. Walking it out is torture. How easy to toss off a few words in a blog and be done with it. God bless the elders who have to actually expel those they love.

Monday, July 18, 2011

I Cor 4: Recruiting Poster for Christian Leadership

What it's like to lead as Christ led

"We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. 10 We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! 11 To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment."

Only a fool would choose to live like that. Oh wait - that's what Paul says he is, a fool for Christ. I don't want that life. I would never choose to live it. But I hope I would "allow" God to grasp me and choose it for me, trusting in grace. And if I sweat great drops of blood along the way, well..... I'm in good company.

I suppose the real challenge is not seeing the divine grasping in black and white, either Prosperity or Suffering, but instead saying yes to all of the ingredients in the mixed bowl He is intent on pouring out as a sacrifice to Him and for others.

Big holy talk for a whiner!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

I Corinthians 3: getting off the SOFA, and the family that hays together, stays together

Today's blog about I Corinthians 3 and began, fittingly enough, as a response to a sister in Christ who is part of my grief support group, and copied to the whole support group. Here is what I wrote:

Tough day today and yesterday, although there were some good times with my family and Imani's boyfriend's family. The Pages got together for dinner at the family farmhouse in Waterville, and I helped the Wheelers hay (see below). Inside the walls of my mind however I have been stuck on the SOFA:

Sad about still making pending burial, bedroom design decisions.

Overwhelmed by single parent demands on decision-making, money, travel and time, kids in transition, how they are coping, work/house repair/broken car windshield/career building aaARGHHH!!!!

Frustrated anytime something big or little changes my schedule. I'm usually not like that.

Angry at little things like making lunch and the cat jumping up and spilling my plate. From now on I should probably call a BLT & boiled egg the Blue Streak Plate Special.

So anyway in my mind's eye and spirit Jesus sits down next to me on the beatup, sagging, hard to get out of SOFA. He could have just stood over me, hands on hips and demanded that I get my lazy tookus OFF that couch and back in the game. But instead he listens. More Mary than Martha. Sometimes he looks like a weather-beaten semite with ageless, understanding eyes. Sometimes he looks celestial. Sometimes he looks like you guys. And as I kvetch to Him his Word and Spirit communicate, in a non-interfering way, some helpful suggestions. Some are kind of spiritual, some are day to day practical. They all help me get off the SOFA.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a young seminarian once wrote of "Christ existing as church-community." I am a tangible part of His body on earth to you, and vice-versa. Now THERE is a sobering, exciting challenge. Like John the Baptist we are unworthy to tie His sandals, yet we are his beautiful feet. Like Paul we are the worst of sinners, transformed into one who can say "follow me as I follow Christ." Hands that would have slapped the Nazarene now heal and give out bread in His name.

* * * * *

So cool helping (mostly watching) the extended Wheeler clan, three generations of uncles, grandchildren, step-grandfathers, cousins, etc. etc., as they hayed their field up in Wolcott. The elders lead, the mechanics fix things that break, the young follow and learn, by rebuke if necessary (oh Ben you DIDN'T say that!). There are no superstars, just a whole family pulling together to make hay while the sun shines, knowing that when it finally sets, their work would be o'er, and they would all sit down and feast together. (If you have ever eaten Aunt 'Chel's and Kim's blueberry pies and chocolate no-bake cookies, you will know that "feast" is not an exaggeration.)

To paraphrase Paul in Chapter 3 of I Corinthians: We are God's fellow workers, we are God's hayfield, and the fruit of our labors will be stored in God's haybarn. One mows, another bales, another operates the portable barn elevator, but God makes the hay grow. So - the family that hays together, stays

 together! Just DON'T try to build a house with it (see vs. 12). 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

I Corinthians 2 – more boasting

Paul – the student of Rabbi Gamaliel who could draw a crowd in the Greek Areopagus – is not speaking with false modesty when he tells the Corinthians:

 “I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God….My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.”

Standing with one foot planted in Judaism and the other in Hellenism, Paul preached the gospel of Christ with an unspecified “demonstration of the Spirit’s power.” Was it healing? Deliverance? Words of knowledge? Conviction of sin, righteousness and judgment?  He doesn’t say. Paul cares less about the Nightly Signz ‘N Wunders Laser Show, and more about the human heart’s transference of allegiance from human wisdom to God’s power.

And then Paul, the champion of the accessible, universal gospel, rather uncharacteristically starts talking about “God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for your glory before time began.” It sounds like Gnosticism, another kind of religious carnival barking that promises to reveal amazing truths, but only to a selected few. Pay your money and see what’s behind the curtain.

But no – Paul’s twist is that the secret is only a secret to the rulers of this world, who are blinded by their own “wisdom.” But “we” – including the gifted, immature, utterly human Corinthian believers – “have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.” In Christ there is no secret wisdom, no tiers of knowledge dearly-bought. How much more clearly can Paul say it: the Spirit of God, which searches and reveals the Mind of God, is free!  

And then Paul says something that every Christian heading off into college or other spiritually challenging workplace should understand:

“The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment…..we have the mind of Christ.” Simply put, you may want to defend your faith, but don’t feel like you have to defend the wisdom of Jesus against all comers. God has justified – who is he that condemns? But perhaps a little boasting of Christ is in order. I will suggest to this person that the next time some spiritual, political or “lifestyle” salesman tries to make his product look better than or “just as good” as the gospel, ask:

1.       Did his God give people joy and peace as they faced death in the Roman arenas?
2.       Did his God appear in the flesh, on earth, as a real person who still 20 centuries later is worshipped by much of the world and is universally regarded as the greatest paragon of wisdom and integrity that humanity has ever produced?
3.       Did his God’s followers abolish slavery on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, and were they the only German group who under the leadership of saints such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer resisted the Nazis through the whole war?
4.       Do his God’s followers go by the thousands into jungles and third world cities unthanked and unpaid to practice medicine and other good works?
5.       Can his God claim hundreds of thousands of miracles irrefutable, or at least inexplicable, to any rationale, open mind?
6.       Can his God claim deliverance from alcohol and drug addictions for millions of people and the subsequent restoration and happiness of as many families?
7.       Have his God’s followers protected the greatest art and learning of antiquity and supported financially and with inspiration many of the greatest works of painting, music and sculpture since the Renaissance?
8.       Can his God claim to have promoted peace, freedom and prosperity over most of the globe by persuasively teaching the ethical values of the 10 Commandments and/or the Sermon on the Mount?
9.       Has his God promulgated a Book that is the best-read, most influential document ever written in the history of the world?
10.   And finally – and foremost – has his God suffered and died a subhuman death to give everyone who trusts in Him eternal righteousness, hope and joy, regardless of life’s circumstances?

And if the answer is: “well, no, not really, not yet anyway but give me a chance, and what about the Crusades?” – then pray for that person to separate the wheat from the tares and that he or she, too, may someday eat of the Bread of Life.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

I Corinthians 1: Boast in the Lord

It is easy for me as a 21st century Christian to point my finger and snicker at the dumb first century believers who professed to "follow" various teachers. Until I put myself in their sandals. Jew and Gentile alike had made a radical, unpopular departure from the faith, and even culture, of their birth and upbringing. Few if any of them had ever met Jesus in the flesh. And they had no New Testament from which to teach theological proof texts to lisping youngsters in Vacation Bible School. To this day I remember I John 1:9 just as a little girl recited it for me, her 18 year old VBS teacher: "if we confessth our thins, he isth gwacious and justh to forgive usth our thins, and to cweanth usth fwum all unrightusnesth."
What they had were great teachers: Peter, the learned Appollos, Paul. Like the Israelites who exalted the lifted-up snake of Moses, they made the common, understandable error of new believers: "my teacher knows it all, and if I just pay attention and agree with him, so will I." A Christian for 38 years, I can safely say I now follow no For me the watershed moment came at the Institute for Biblical Studies, a Campus Crusade for Christ summer school in Ft. Collins Colorado. Prof. Robert Singletary said something I have never forgotten: "Be a maverick. But be a maverick in the Word."
Since then I have honored many good teachers but never to the exclusion of others. First and foremost my earthly, tangible teacher has been Scripture, I hope.
Paul says that elevating man's wisdom weakens the gospel and robs Christ of His due glory:
"For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.  26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
I think of Jesus, who allowed himself to be abused in every way by the powerful of this world. James, John, Paul, Peter, and Stephen were merely the vanguard of a host of martyrs who renounced the power and glory of this world, looking ahead to a better kingdom. I look at my life's words and values and realize I am missing something. Something so fundamental that I am too worldly-wise to understand.  Lord, am I too much of a grown-up in my learned cleverness? Too childish to thank the Giver as I rip open His gifts?
I will start with making verses 30 and 31 mine:
"Lord it is because of You that I am in You. You have become for me wisdom from God - my righteousness, holiness and redemption. I boast only in You."

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Romans 16: After the main course and dessert, an apres-diner

Romans is a three-course banquet of truth. The main course is God’s plan for universal salvation. Paul serves a large helping of Christian ethics for dessert, concludes with a sweet après-diner of gratitude for the saints in Paul’s life.

A family portrait emerges of the Lord’s People, hard-working, loving and loved, hospitable, suffering, hopeful saints, separated by geography, close-knit in Spirit, identity and mission. They are men and women (MANY of the latter, including leaders); anonymous then and famous now (Timothy), famous then and anonymous now (Erastus, public works director whose name was found engraved on the ruin of an arch); Jews and Gentiles; sisters, mothers, brothers in the family of the Lord; many, many “dear friends”; people who were jailed, risked their lives; house church worshippers; saints born in Christ before and after Paul. There is repeated praise for people who “worked very hard in the Lord.” Paul led a movement, not a social club. Self-identifying himself is Paul’s scribe, a fellow named Tertius. (His name means “Third” in Latin, and was the sometime childhood nickname of latterday scribe Guy Page III.)  Reading Romans 16, one sees the early fruits of Paul’s vision of the Kingdom, as described in Colossians 3: “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”

Paul, being Paul, cannot resist a final exhortation to unity (“watch out for those who cause divisions”) and restating one, last time his mission to lead Gentiles to Christ. In his closing phrase, he leads us in a prayer in which I hear the echo of eternity:

“To the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.”

P.S. - speaking of exhortations to unity - my brother Tim Steiner responded about yesterday's post on the subject. It's worth reprinting and rereading.

I have also had to work long and hard on this one, and won't "arrive" fully in this life, but i have been patiently taught some similar things by the Spirit.

One:  "Esteem others better than yourself."    Though you are sure that you are the best and brightest and most talented deep within the meditations of the flesh when is it happy with itself. fundamentally, and by the Spirit, make a conscious inventory of commendable traits in others that you yourself are weak on, and then admire them earnestly for those.  They are, in deed, better at you in those things, and it is a good thing you can do is give credit where it is due, and humble yourself to learn from it.

Two:  God in his infinite wisdom has given even natural graces to each of us at birth, and not the same graces to each individual.  If I look, I can honestly find, and easily, others, who have graces by nature that I may have to study and work to achieve for years or all my natural life to achieve a similitude of what they have by nature.  So that, even a heavily brain damaged individual to a man like me who admires intellect, can put me to shame and bring on true humility with either a natural grace of one kind or another, or a grace that came early due to the suffering of the individual, a suffering I have not had.

(Above natural graces, of course, come spiritual ones, and here Paul teaches on the Body of Christ, the Church, and the necessity and honor of every part.)

Such things the Lord has used to begin to teach me a true and proper value of myself and other folk around me.

Three:  If I recall, it was Mark Twain who said something like this,  "If we all awoke one morning to find that all people had been made the same; there were no more racial differences, gender differences, national differences, political differences, etc., still, by noon, we would have found 10,000 new reasons to hate and kill each other."  He is surely right.  This is the nature of the Fall, and the believing the lie that each and every one of us is a god unto himself.  What god will tolerate the will of any other who is contrary to his own will?  And so, the Battle begins afresh, day after day, moment by moment.  It is the curse of this Age, and if I have received the grace of Christ, it is now my duty to be a peacemaker even if I cannot accept wrong and sin and have to "wage peace" on the terms and by the Word of God for the rest of my earthly journey.  Tall order.  Only constantly abiding in the Spirit can begin to achieve it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Romans 15: Why can't we all just get along?

I am a Christian. I love my brothers and sisters. But to be honest, I don't like each and every one. In my deceptive heart of hearts I am pretty sure the cause is his or her shortcoming, not my impatience, prejudice, and pride. The problem ain't my flesh.

Brother Paul knows a thing or two about disunity, seeing how his whole ministry involves reconciling people from two antagonistic cultures. Hello, my name is Paul, I've come to Belfast with some good news: you Irish Catholics and Protestants are brothers and God wants you to love each other! Good morning, Jerusalem - Arabs and Jews can give each other the kiss of peace, 'cause if you believe in Jesus you can be one big happy family!

Compared to Paul's challenges, American Christians' differences - hymns vs. praise songs! - seem pretty superficial.

Paul gives at least three directives about unity:

1) "We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of those who are weak."

2) Paul prays for a "spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." One heart and mouth - inside and outside - focused on glorifying God. Sounds like the Body of Christ!

3) "Accept one another then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God." How, exactly, does accepting one another bring praise to God? Well, for one, it makes the accepted person feel very grateful and loved, and so he/she rightfully gives thanks and praise to the ultimate Source of love and acceptance. Second, this kind of loving acceptance is so unexpected that onlookers find it remarkable and praiseworthy.

I am thankful for the countless brothers and sisters who accepted me without rejection and judging, even when I gave them ample opportunity. They have been like Christ to me.

"Not my sister, not my brother, but it's me, Lord, but it's me - standing in the need of prayer."

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Romans 14: Eat, Fear, Love

Paul uses eating all foods as an example of the freedom of believer. Much could be said about what Paul wrote. Instead I will think more globally about the connection between food, fear, and love. A member of my America's Biggest Loser chat room, Roxy, posted this essay. It's good. Real good. Shower the people you love with love.

Avoiding the Void

The more you possess, the less you can love. And love is the door. Or, the less you can love, the more you start possessing things. Things become a substitute.

Let us try to understand it. A child is born. If the mother loves him...psychoanalysts have been studying, much research has been done — if the mother loves him, the child never drinks too much milk; never, because he knows, it is a tacit understanding, that the mother is always available and she’s always ready to share. So what is the fear? If the mother loves the child, the child will drink only as much milk as is needed. If the child is loved, you will never see a big belly in the child.

The child will be proportionate. In fact the mother will be constantly worried that the child is not eating or drinking or taking as much food as needed. But the child has understood that whenever the need arises, the mother is there. He can rely on love.

But if the mother does not love the child, then he is afraid for the future. Love is not there, the tacit understanding is not there, so whenever he gets the opportunity he will eat as much as he can, he will drink as much milk as he can. Now he is already becoming a miser; he has already started accumulating things — in the body. He’s afraid. Who knows about tomorrow? This mother is not reliable; he has to accumulate for emergencies. So he will accumulate fat, eat more.

People who have not been loved in their childhood continue to eat more. No dieting can help unless love arises. They will eat; eating has become a substitute for love. If somebody loves them, they will immediately see that their overeating has stopped.

Love and food both come from the mother’s breast. The first experience of love is from the mother’s breast and the first experience of food is also from the mother’s breast. So love and food become associated. If there is less love, it has to be substituted for by more food.

If love is enough, you can afford not to eat much. There is no need. Have you watched it? Whenever you fall in deep love, hunger disappears. You don’t feel hungry. Love fulfills so deeply that you feel full. Then one starts eating less and less.

One woman was talking to me. She was very puzzled. Her husband had died and she told me, “One thing I have been keeping a secret. I have not told it to anybody because nobody will understand. But you may understand, so I’m telling you. And I will be unburdened whether you understand or not. But please don’t tell this to anybody.”

I said, “What has happened?”

She said, “When my husband died, at night I felt so hungry. The corpse was lying in the house. ‘What will people think if I go to eat?’ The whole family was awake, relatives had come and many friends were there together. And I felt such a deep hunger, such as I have never felt.”

So she had to go in her own kitchen like a thief! In the darkness, she ate. And now, since then, she has been feeling guilty. “My husband had died. Was that the time to feel hungry? His corpse was lying there. I was like a thief, eating in darkness in my kitchen.” She asked me, “What happened?”

I said, “It is a simple fact. The person you loved died. Immediately, you felt empty. Now that emptiness had to be filled by something.”

Since then I have been talking to many people and I have come to the conclusion that whenever you are sad, you eat more. Whenever you are in a deep sorrow, you feel more hungry. Whenever you are happy, flowing, cheerful and loving, and love is showering on you, who bothers to eat much? Even a small amount of food is enough nourishment then, because love is giving so much nourishment.

People who can’t love will always become misers: possessive, accumulators of things.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Romans 13: Free, but not THAT KIND of free

Paul has talked much about the believer’s freedom and being the new man not under law. So it is no surprise that some folks say “hurray, Christ is my King, Caesar isn’t, I can ignore Roman law.”

Not so fast, there, pilgrim, Paul says. Christ the King has established Caesar the emperor, and all his little flying monkeys, too. The earthly ruler is God’s servant to punish wrongdoing, and we must submit to him out of conscience as well as self-protection from punishment. Oh and by the way – pay your taxes, too, to support God’s servants who give full time to governing.

Paul, Paul, Paul. I haven’t even gotten to your teaching about women in Corinthians and already I am asking: “what are you THINKING? Those arrogant, violent pagan bloodsuckers are God’s servants? Pay taxes as an act of conscience before God? I’d sooner die in the arena than help build one.”

But on reflection…… Paul knows that peace and good roads are good for evangelism. And he is realizing that the battle for the hearts and minds of average Romans will go better if believers are not perceived as snooty separatists, the JWs of their era.

And I’m not sure he is opposed to changing the form of government, provided the reform/revolutionary goals include submitting to and supporting the new authority. In fact, one might say that creating a new government of, by and for the people is honored and blessed by God BECAUSE it is the easiest for people submit and support.

Oh, and speaking of paying money – “let no debt remain outstanding.” To me the corollary to this is, “don’t borrow money unless you absolutely must, and pay it off as soon as possible.” This is true on the personal and national scale. America’s habit of spending too much and earning too little and borrowing the difference is already teaching us the truth of the proverb, “the borrower is the slave of the lender.”

As for the rest of the chapter – Paul is often accused of being clueless about the earthly teachings of Jesus. Vs. 8-14 show that to be untrue. The extended discussion of the Golden Rule and the need for holiness due to the impending return of Christ sound like paraphrases of the Lord’s gospel teachings. Whether Paul heard them directly from Jesus, or from Peter and other believers, is unclear and doesn’t really matter.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Romans 12: Memory Verse Heaven

Romans 12 is Memory Verse Heaven. Except the Sermon on the Mount, it is IMHO the greatest distillation of Christian ethical teaching in Scripture. This is what free people under grace behave like.

My personal faves:

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. [NO SHORTCUT TO GOD'S WILL - GIVE GOD MY BODY AND MIND FOR WORSHIP SERVICE AND RENEWAL - AND THEN IN PROCESS I LEARN GOD'S WILL. HANDS ON LEARNING.]

 9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 [LIKE OUR MARRIAGE WHEN DIANE WAS ALIVE.] Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 [THAT'S WHY WE ENJOYED THE LAST YEAR.]

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in Hope, patient in Affliction, faithful in Prayer. [DON'T WORRY BE H.A.P. -PY.]
 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.[c] Do not be conceited. [THE PRACTICAL DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GOD'S AND THE WORLD'S IDEA OF HOW TO PRACTICE 'PUBLIC SERVICE'.]
 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 [PAUL RETURNS TO THE MARRIAGE THEME, OR AM I PROJECTING HERE?] Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[d] says the Lord. 20 [IT IS NOT TRUE THAT REVENGE IS TOO SWEET TO BE LEFT TO THE LORD.] On the contrary:
   “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
   if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[e]
 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. [ABRAHAM LINCOLN SAID 'I DESTROY MY ENEMIES. I DESTROY THEM BY MAKING THEM MY FRIENDS. AMEN, ABE.]

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Romans 11 - Christians and Jews

Historically, we Christians are so messed us about the Jews. Not surprisingly we have to go back to Paul the Pharisee Evangelist to the Gentiles to give us the skinny on the Chosen.

Messed up. Yes. For centuries it has been Christ-killer this, greedy Jew that. Church-enforced usury laws drove medieval Christendom to make the Jews the loan sharks of Europe. Pogroms - the periodic violent persecution of Jews by their Gentile neighbors, of which the Holocaust was the last (until the next one) and greatest - often occurred after religious holidays, the local citizenry being whipped into a frenzy by the preachers. It is incredible but true to think that many Jews preferred rule under Islam! The sword of Allah was apparently more benevolent than the tender mercy of the followers of Yeshua, Miriam's son. Years ago I read how a young New York Jewish man was taught to spit on the gates of the neighborhood church as he passed by. Such hatred saddens me but based on centuries of "Christian" persecution - sometimes violent, always exclusionary - is understandable.

There are really only two stains on the human rights legacy of President Franklin Roosevelt, as reported by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin in her book "No Ordinary Time": 1. Allowing the Japanese internment camps. 2. Not taking in Jews trying to flee Europe. It is sad by true DKG says that until about 1940 Hitler was willing to allow Jews to leave lands under his control. Only after the Civilized West said "no thanks" did he undertake the Final Solution in earnest.

Modern-day ecumenical Christianity has recognized and rebuked the sin of anti-semitism but has allowed the pendulum to swing so far the other way that any suggestion that Jews have rejected their Messiah and would do well to embrace him is treated as "intolerant". The saving gospel is negated.

Here is what Paul said:

1) God has "by no means" rejected His people

2) "At the present time there is a remnant chosen for grace" v. 5 - their numbers have apparently fluctuated over the years but history shows a steady testimony of Jewish people trusting Messiah. The Jews for Jesus movement was founded in September, 1973, by Moishe Rosen, having grown out of the charismatic youth movement of the late 1960's. 

3) They did not stumble "beyond recovery" - v. 11. God gave salvation to Gentiles at least in part to make Jews envious! God has plans for the fulfillment of his plan for salvation of his beloved Israel.

4) Gentiles who boast about being holier than thou, o Jew, should remember that they have been grafted into the family tree of God; other branches were broken off to make this happen; and "if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either." Live in holy fear of the God of Israel, not in arrogance towards His people, "otherwise you also will be cut off." - v. 22. It is no big feat for God the Master Gardener to regraft natural branches. The "hard part" was grafting in the unnatural gentiles; grafting in Israel is like growing green beans in July.

5) All Israel will be saved. After the hardening of Israel and the full number of Gentiles is gathered in, "all Israel will be saved." I am thinking that doesn't mean all Jews, but as Paul says elsewhere in Romans, all those who are both outwardly and inwardly Jews, circumcized of heart and flesh.

6) The Jews may be enemies of the gospel, but they are loved by God "on account of the patriarchs" and God's promise to them. They have become disobedient, so that by grace they can receive mercy "as a result of God's mercy to you." I read that to say, the Jews will respond to the gospel preached by gentiles.

Well, all I can say is that in the history of the Kingdom of God, stranger things have happened.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Romans 10: The Word is near you

God is near. Paul writes:

DO NOT SAY IN YOUR HEART, ‘WHO WILL ASCEND INTO HEAVEN?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), 7 or ‘WHO WILL DESCEND INTO THE ABYSS?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” 8 But what does it say? “THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9 [e]that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

Paul is saying here that eternal salvation doesn't require 1,000 reps of ritual exercises or some kind of gnostic Inside Track on the truth. The Word of truth and your salvation is here, it is waiting to be spoken from your believing lips to God's ear. "Oh Jesus, I believe you are risen from the dead! I believe you are my savior! I choose you as my Lord!" Believe it say it live it. Believe Him confess Him trust Him.

As the song goes: The Kingdom of God is not far off, some castle with tribute you bring/ but the Kingdom of God is among you, for behold now, your Friend is the King.

I can almost imagine how that thief felt. Condemned, alone, he looks over and - he discovers a Friend and Savior hanging there right next to him. God showed His loved for me, that even though I was a sinner, Christ died for me.

The Spirit of grace and praise is wonderfully close. Driving down I-89 towards a two day trip to Boston (Freedom Trail, U.S.S. Constitution, maybe a Red Sox game), I heard something on the radio about being grateful. And I just blurted out "God thank you for my car, thank you for my radio, thank you for my Capitol Plaza parking sticker, thank you for the beautiful state I live in, thank you for my family, thank you for my great mother, thank you for my church, thank you for my singing and writing gifts, thank you for my friends....just thank you." Isn't this great, Dad? Isn't this great?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Romans 9: When God calls, his sheep come - if they choose to

As I sat here at 3:18 pm on Monday, July 4, 2011, pondering Paul’s words about sovereignty and free will, the Truth struck me. Finally, I understood it! Calvin, Wesley, Augustine, eat your hearts out.

But….rather than write it down, I chose instead to go get a glass of lemonade. Hey, it’s hot and it’s the Fourth. So world, you will have to wait.

Juuust kidding! Of course I have as much hope of really solving the sovereignty of God/choice conundrum as I do of making the Chinese women’s gymnastics team. But I will say this: Romans 9:12 says election is by Him who calls (God) and not by works. And the entire Bible, from bowsprit to stern galley lantern, is one earnest plea for the reader to choose God. The Shepherd calls his sheep; his Spirit prompts them; the sheep must choose to respond. In the inner life, in ministry, in everything, we co-labor with God.  Trying to pretend otherwise gives me a headache.

And speaking of choices, I think God wants me to dwell less on this conundrum than on how I might better follow Paul’s example of “my brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they might be saved.”

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Romans 8: Isn't this great, Dad?

I said at the beginning of Romans that I wouldn’t pretend to play the deep thinker. Well – if Romans is deep water, then Romans 8 is its Marianas Trench. A great thinker, scholar and preacher like Jim Stewart (the new pastor at North Avenue Alliance Church, where Joe and I visited this morning) could spend weeks in Romans 8 alone and never come up for air.  Me – I’m content to splash around in it like a toddler in an inflatable pool.

In fact I remember Imani’s first time in such a pool. She was less than two, just splashing around and dripping water on my head, talking nonsense and jus’ lovin’ it. If she could talk, she would have been saying: “isn’t this great, Dad? Isn’t this great?”

And on this warm, slow summer night so much like that blessed evening about 15 years ago, that is how I will read Romans 8.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

“For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, `Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

 “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”

Isn’t this great, Dad? Isn’t this great?

“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

“If God is for us, who can be against us?”

“Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies – who is he that condemns?”

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”

“I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Isn’t this great, Dad? Isn’t this great?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Romans 7: the bitter Fourth

Today is July 2, the first day of Independence Day Weekend. For me, July 4 marks five months. Until today I had never thought that, to the Loyalist Americans, July 4 was not a day of celebration, but a “Day That Will Live in Infamy,” the day the long-resisted, long-feared separation finally occurred. What happened that day changed their identities, their hopes for the future. They had taken oaths of loyalty and kept them in the sight of God and man. Yet their partner – the land beneath their feet, the society around them, the Crown overseeing it all – had been violently ripped from them.

And they must have wondered, as I wonder: God of our fathers, what now?

I mention this because Paul raises the question of the widow being free to remarry because her covenant with her husband died with him. For Paul, it’s an illustration about being dead to the law and alive to Christ. He’s not interested in the real-life details. But I am. His illustration raises some real questions.

Here is what I DO know: I know that I am free to remarry, in the sense that it is not sin to do so. I know that God made man for woman and woman for man, and that short of a special calling to celibate service, marriage is the divinely-ordained “natural state,” a compact for mutual benefit. I know that husbands are called to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

It does not rise to the level of Scriptural authority, but here is what I have learned from reading, reflection and wise counsel, since Diane died:

Grief first, dating and remarriage second. It is almost impossible for grieving people to do the “hard work” of grief AND love a mate or prospective mate “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Instead there is a tendency to “medicate” one’s pain with the analgesic of affection and attention. Ibuprofen is good but not if I use it to walk on a broken foot or ignore an infected tooth. That is not “getting on with life” or “toughing it out” – it is foolish because it only worsens the condition and extends the period of recovery. And to the extent that others are hurt when I use them as painkillers, it is selfish. As my friend Rich Parker says, “one has to remember that there are other people involved.” The scriptures do have much to say on the subject of selfish fools, none of it good. “There is a way that seems good to a man……”

At the Christian coffeehouse in Montpelier last night, I sat next to a brother who told me he remarried shortly after his wife died. Big mistake, he said. The house of cards collapsed quickly, with people he loved trapped inside. He said to me, “I’m not trying to tell you what to do, but……” I tell myself sometimes that I am not That Kind of Person who would make That Kind of Mistake. But again I must invoke a proverb of Solomon the Wise:  “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

And so like the honest Loyalist of 235 years ago, I leave the familiar, beloved ground and set sail for uncertain shores. There is no joy in it, but there is acceptance, and openness to unknown blessing as one life ends and another begins. The Fourth will always be recalled with sadness, but my oath to the King remains, as does my trust in His protection. All may change, but Jesus never, glory to His name.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Romans 6: On the Road with Jesus

A dull theological term (just four words in and already I am redundant) called “identification” describes the link between the life of Jesus and our own, which Paul describes in chapter six.

In the River Jordan, at a desert ford (Salim, perhaps) south of Galilee, John baptized Jesus. The baptism of the Essene monastics and the early church symbolically submerged the old life in dark, airless waters of death; a new life arises, coming up for the Light of Christ and the Air of the Spirit, alive through and to God. 

In baptism, death, and resurrection, Jesus goes before his bride. Walking ahead on the road of life, he shields her at great personal cost from hidden pits, landmines, and highwaymen. The road to eternity is safe for those who follow in his steps: “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

Death no longer has mastery over Christ – nor us.

He is dead to sin – as am I, if I follow behind him on the road, heeding Paul to “in the same way count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus….do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” My savior has given me knowledge, power, encouragement, his example, and his Comforter - how firm a foundation – what more can he do, save take away my personal choice?

I am standing in the road, uninterested in going forward and distracted by something going on in the bushes. Ahead of me, Jesus stops. He turns. He beckons. “Follow me,” he says. “I am the Way.”

I know this. I see that He is a trustworthy protector and companion. Still I say to Him, “I am tired. I need to rest by the side of the road.” Ahead of me he beckons and says, “Come unto Me, Guy, and I will give you rest.”

I say to him, “how can I rest by going forward?” He says, “I am the beginning and the end of your road, Guy, and indeed of all roads. Nothing is impossible with me. Walk and find strength and refreshing.”

Shuffling forward I mutter, “I want a closer look at what’s happening in the bushes.” He says, “broad is the path that leads to destruction, but narrow is the path that leads to eternal life. Remember the darkness of your heart when I first came knocking on its door – what benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of?”

Tonight I sang at a Christian coffee house in Montpelier. Sunday, I sing at North Avenue Alliance. Today, I started writing Diane’s biography. Oh my Way, my Beginning and End, my Rest – sing with me, bring life to my words, help me walk forwards to you and with you, shedding my useless bloated vanity that shuns your way, seeks its own rest, and is an end unto itself. Of all my gifts, the one you treasure most is a tender, loving, obedient heart.

“There is a joy in the journey
There’s a wildness and wonder to life.” – Michael Card