Brother Ibrahim delivered a powerful call to prayer during his message on Sunday, April 15th. We are grateful to have him with us for this year while he continues his education in order to return to his home in Nigeria and invest in the next generation that he calls the hope for Nigeria.
George Burns said, "Sincerity is everything. If you can fake that, you've got it made." It's hard to tell the difference between sincerity and insincerity, isn't it? In Romans 12:9-21, Paul tells us that love must be 'sincere'. But what does that mean? Does it mean you just really, really mean it? That you feel it deeply from the bottom of your heart?
The word 'sincere' literally means 'without wax'. In pottery making, there's a practice of hiding cracks and flaws in cheap pottery with wax in order to make the piece appear worth more than it actually is. Products without wax were stamped with 'sine cera' on the bottom to show it had not been doctored.
In Romans 12, Paul tells us what sincere love looks like, the kind of love God has shown to us to rescue us from the wilderness of this world. Here's what it looks like:
1] It loves what is good (12:21). And how do we know what is good? God shows us. Scripture teaches us that in the latter days, it will be difficult to spot the difference between good and evil, so we need to pay close attention to what God tells us in the Bible so we can know the difference -- and do it. If we are possessed by God's love, we will want to do good. Insincere and unreliable love looks after self -- which has its dark effects on others. Sincere love gives and doesn't indulge self. The selfishness of others has never rescued me.
2] It loves those who need it from you (12:10, 13, 15-16). Later in chapter 13, Paul writes about the 'debt of love we owe' because of Jesus. We owe our families our sincere love. We owe the community of believers our love. We owe those who God has put into our lives our love. We are indebted to God for what He has done for us, and the payment on that debt is how we love others. It follows in the footsteps of Jesus and calls us into sacrificial, transformed living and loving. Love like you are indebted to God.
3] It loves well when you have not been loved well (12:14, 17-20). Check out the words of Jesus in Luke 6:27-36 (and read it slowly, pausing on the implications of each phrase). This is the hardest part of sincere love. We all have stories of not being treated well -- and Jesus is right there with us. And yet he is explicitly clear on how we are to treat those who hurt us. Hint: it's the same way we were treated when we were enemies of God (Romans 5:10).
Sincere love -- interestingly -- looks like how God loves us. And since God is love, He gets to define what it is: 1) It does the will of God (like Jesus), 2) it loves those who need it (like Jesus), and 3) it even loves the enemy (just like Jesus). Compare that with the fluffy, feely kind of love we tend to look for, and see for yourself what measures up in its sincerity.
Love what is good. Love those who need it from you. And love well even when you have not been loved well.
That's the kind of love that has saved my life. Watch what happens when we begin to love like this!
Our little, living church felt a little bigger as we came together for worship on Resurrection Day 2018 (April 1st). Thank you to ALL who worked so hard throughout the week to prepare for our Love Feast, our Easter Breakfast, and our Resurrection worship. So many people did their part to make our annual celebrations so good.
Sunday was Resurrection Sunday, our annual celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ! It also happened to fall on April Fool's Day this year, so I couldn't resist bringing the two occasions together as we read 1 Corinthians 4:9-13.
There's something in me that has always embraced April Fool's Day. I own it. It's as though I've been given permission to prank, gag, and kid around for my own personal enjoyment. I thoroughly enjoy practical jokes. On April Fool's Day in 1957, the BBC did a feature program on their show "Panorama" with covered the story of Swiss women harvesting spaghetti from trees and drying the pasta in the sun. The public bought it, and the BBC was inundated with phone calls from the public wanting to know where they could buy their own spaghetti tree and how to plant it.
But April 1st this year was also Resurrection Sunday. Christians have for a very long time been considered foolish for their belief in Jesus, particularly the cross and resurrection. But Paul embraced the title "Fool". He wasn't insulted by such accusations but was instead willing to cope with looking foolish for Christ. I think to follow Jesus, we have to embrace how foolish it seems to those who do not believe.
Let me explain why I think following Jesus looks so foolish to others:
1] It seems foolish because it is unnatural. Turn the other cheek? Love those who hate you? Do good to your enemy? It seems almost everything Jesus taught us counters what is acceptable in society. It's an unnatural approach to life guided by instincts. Add to that the surrender of the cross, healing the sick, and the resurrection, and Jesus is a mixed bag of very unnatural things.
2] It seems foolish because the majority reject it. Some say belief in Jesus is unreasonable; some say it's insane and want it diagnosed as a mental illness. The teachings of Jesus are always different from the prevailing opinions and philosophies of the time, and scholars (and others) have always tried to poke holes in Jesus. [1 Corinthians 1:21-24] Go ahead, though. Poke. Prod. Examine. Test. Genuinely search for Truth. Many before us have come to Jesus through reason and a genuine search. Our reason can bring us to Jesus, but we will still have to be foolish enough to then embrace him and follow him. Jesus knew he would be rejected, and he told us we would be rejected, too (and we don't like that idea very much). Jesus always challenges the prevailing wind of the day, so we can expect some level of rejection along the way.
3] It seems foolish because it looks weak. Paul didn't always embrace weakness. He was formerly a Pharisee (a persecuting, zealous & arrogant Pharisee) who was hell-bent on annihilating those he opposed. But then he met the risen Christ and was immediately weakened by the encounter. After he met Jesus, he realized just how weak he really was. It's tough to admit our need for something or someone...but that's a starting point for our relationship with Jesus. We need him. I need him...and if that makes me weak, then I guess I can admit it.
Believing God and trusting Jesus makes so much more sense when we accept and embrace the foolishness of it all, and I'd rather look foolish in the eyes of those who scoff than I would in the eyes of my Father.
So here's my Easter confession: I am a stooge, buffoon, clown, idiot, & moron; a nitwit, dimwit, and nincompoop; I am 'one of those suckers born every minute', a bonehead, a clod and dunderhead; I am an ignoramus, imbecile, and simpleton.
And I am in good company.
Christ is risen!
RESURRECTION SUNDAY at Covington Community Church begins with breakfast at 9am! Come and share a meal before our Discovery Study of Daniel at 10am followed by worship at 11am! Following worship, we'll have a creative activity for the kids (and some goodies for them to take home with them). Come and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus THIS SUNDAY!
We celebrated the baptisms of three of our friends on Sunday morning (Jeff, Mark S., and Trava). Of her baptism, Trava said, "The last time I was baptized was out of fear and force; today it's because of love."
When I go to the hospital sick, I want to walk out those doors on a path toward health. Transformation is a gift. I thank God he doesn't lead us where he found us. We do not have to stay where we've been; that place of brokenness and slavery does not have to hold you forever.
Being 'transformed' literally means to go beyond your current form. For the believer who trusts in Jesus, we believe God takes us on a journey of transformation. It can be a slow journey, but remember: it only takes 13 hours to build a Toyota, but it takes 6 months to build a Rolls.
In Romans 12:1-8, Paul uses the phrase 'in view of God's mercy'. God's mercy is a transformative agent. His mercy moves us from where we were to where he wants us to be. Paul wrote about at least three things that are changed (transformed) by the mercy of God:
1] God's mercy transforms how we worship (verse 1). We no longer see our worship as the hour or two we spend 'in church' but instead focus on the life we live 'in Christ'. How we live becomes our worship, In other words, how we live points to Jesus.
2] God's mercy transforms how we live (verse 2). Paul makes a contrast between being shaped b the natural world we were born into and the life shaped by Jesus who we are re-born into. As God's mercy transforms our mind, we will find both how we think and how we feel being changed. A renewed mind helps us to be able to discern the will of God and renews our commitment to following Jesus. Everything in our lives gets transformed in our relationship with Jesus -- and it all gets infused with his purpose.
3] God's mercy transforms our community (verse 3-8). How? Because the mercy of God changes the way you see ourselves and others. When we are changed, our community will change! The mercy of God puts your life in proper perspective (no more arrogance as you learn to prefer one another out of love) and teaches you that you are part of something bigger than yourself (the Body of Christ). When you have been transformed by God's mercy, you'll begin to see yourself, others, and your community differently.
The journey of transformation is a life-changing gift from God. We are not trapped in yesterday. We're not stuck in hopelessness. Life can be renewed, and our state of mind can be transformed.
The owner of a photo studio told the story of a college kid who wanted a copy of the framed glamour shot given to him by his girlfriend. When he took the picture out of its frame to make the copy, he noticed this inscription on the back: "My dearest John. I love you with all my heart. I love you more and more each day. I will love you forever. I am yours for all eternity." It was signed by her and continued with this PS: "If we ever break up, I want this picture back."
When we read Romans 11, we see just how fickle Israel's love for God was. If we're honest, we're fickle, too, and that's why Paul tells us not to judge Israel to harshly. When I read the chapter, I kept getting hung up on verse 22: 'Consider the sternness and kindness of God..." So I considered it.
The Lord called a community of people (who were later called Israel) to live in a special relationship with Him. These people would be a light to the world as they trusted in the One True God and lived by faith. God chose to bless these people, but they didn't always return the favor. The Old Testament is full of stories of their faithfulness and faithlessness. There is one point in their story that the prophet Elijah asked God to do away with them all because they turned away from God in favor of the human-eating fertility god Baal.
But God found a remnant -- a small group of faithful people who had not abandoned Him. In Paul's letter to Roman Christians, he tells us that there will always be people who claim to belong to God but who essentially reject everything the Lord has said to them. It was an on-going problem. It was Israel's problem (read Isaiah 5:1-7), and Jesus said it is our problem, too (read John 15:1-9).
We have the same choice Israel had. Are we going to be a community that belongs to Jesus or not?
We need to consider both the sternness and kindness of God. Considering the sternness of God keeps us from making a lot of foolish choices that lead us away from Jesus. But considering the kindness of God brings us home again when we do. The Old Testament isn't just full of the stories of Israel's failure, but of God's mercy to welcome them back when they realized how far they had fallen.
Romans 11, Isaiah 5, and John 15 all tell us that the branch that does not remain faithful to God (and becomes unfruitful) will be snipped off. But Paul reminds us that we can be grafted in again when we come home. I wonder if the prodigal son would have returned home if he thought he was going to get a royal beat down? He knew his father's heart.
I think both the sternness of God and kindness of God are both a blessing -- because both let us know we are loved.
LOVE FEAST is one of our most important and special worship gatherings of our year. We meet each year on the Thursday before Resurrection Sunday to remember the death of Jesus and serve one another as he served us. We sing together, share an exceptional meal, wash one another's feet (read John 13), and hold communion. You are welcome to observe any part of our Love Feast and participate as desired. We will meet Thursday, March 29th at 6:30 pm. Please RSVP at the church office or this Sunday.
We have a nasty habit of trying to decide who God should be merciful to. We disqualify people all the time based on our feelings. Israel did that when they couldn't accept God would be merciful to their Roman oppressors. We do that when we can't accept God would be merciful to people we don't like. But let's settle it...
Jesus is the only one who has the authority to decide this matter, and Paul says this about it: "Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved" (Romans 10:13). We are in the business of disqualifying each other from the blessing of God's grace, but we are reminded in Romans 9 not to call God's mercy and compassion toward others into question.
Here's a statement of faith that change your day: "God is God, and I am not." In other words, the Lord is sovereign -- and He can do what He pleases. With that in mind, here are a few things that stood out to me in Romans 9:
1] It is not our ancestry that makes us acceptable to God (Romans 9:8). We disqualify people based on our prejudices, but scripture makes it clear that the faces of heaven will be filled with people who don't look like me (check out Revelation 7:9) and all kinds of formerly scandalous sinners who have been redeemed by God's mercy. Israel forgot this at the time of Paul and assumed God's blessing could only come to natural born Jews.
2] It is not our place to tell God what to do (Romans 9:14-15). Isn't it funny how as our kids get older, they start to tell us what to do? As they grow up, their minds develop and they learn to think for themselves. They need little reminders from time to time of who is who. I wonder if that's how a sovereign God feels when we get too big for our britches? Do we know better than God? We get into our biggest messes when we try to live as though we were God.
3] Even wicked rulers are subject to the rule of God (Romans 9:17). Pharaoh gets mention here. Remember, he had enslaved God's people (but they would have starved without him). Empires and rulers rise and fall -- each one of them moving us closer to the return of Jesus. Do we trust in princes or do we trust in a sovereign God?
4] We even try to disqualify ourselves (Romans 9:20). I hear it all the time: "God can't forgive a person like me." What we are really saying is that we cannot forgive ourselves. We get hung up on our past and talk ourselves out of the mercy of God. We are so good at disqualifying ourselves from the blessings of God. Here's the thing: God only shows mercy to inadequate, unqualified, scandalous people! The Spirit of God searched the earth for perfect and well-qualified souls -- and he found only One: Jesus.
So get over yourself.
God doesn't rescue perfect people. He doesn't call the best and brightest to serve him. He thinks differently than we do: he has opened his mercy to ALL who would trust in Jesus. We wouldn't do that.
I started this series "Essentials for the Journey" so we could be more equipped to survive in the wilderness. We've talked about the goodness of the Father, the atonement of Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. But have we surrendered ourselves to all that the Lord has done for us? Or do we still think we are God? If anything, I hope this series has reminded us that we cannot survive in this wilderness on our own. If we want to make it, we need to trust God -- the only One who can qualify us to stand before him or serve him.
God is God -- and I am not.
We welcomed our brother Ibrahim on Sunday morning. He comes to us from Nigeria for his education and will call our church home during his stay in Washington.
There are some parts of scripture that have been particularly life-saving to me. Romans 8:28-39 is one of those. In verse 31, Paul asks a series of questions: 1] If God is for us, who can be against us? 2] Who can bring a charge against us? 3] Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
All these questions are about opposition. Paul knew that if you were determined to follow Jesus, you would at times be worn out by all sorts of opposition. It's a part of the Christian life, and we can expect it. Paul faced all kinds of opposition: death threats, suffering, demonic oppression, the struggle with his flesh and weakness, persecution, shipwrecks, etc. The bad news is we fill face opposition. The good news is that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.
Who can separate us from the love of Christ? He answers his question in verses 38 & 39.
Death can't. Life can't. I had someone say to me once, "I'm afraid of only two things: life and death." Some of us are afraid of death; others are afraid of life. While our fears can keep us from peace and joy and seize us up, those fears can't take the love of God away from us. In fact, the perfect love of God is intended to drive out fear. [1 John 4:18]
Angels can't. Demons can't. Paul is talking about the unseen powers. We often feel attacked by unseen forces, and we use terms like 'oppression' and 'attack' to describe our intense spiritual battles. But those unseen powers are created beings, and they do not have the power to take what God has given. They are not powerful enough to take the love of Jesus away from you.
Present can't. Future can't. What has been written in our story and what is not yet written can take God's love away from you when you are in Christ. Some of us struggle with peace over our past; others struggle with peace regarding the future, but to be 'in Christ' is to be in the eternal nature of Christ. Everything past, present and future are in Jesus. We need to learn to let go of our past and rest in the love of God.
Powers can't. These 'seen' powers are those who hold sway over the world, those who have either been given power or who have taken power. These powers can control your life, imprison us, and even kill us. We've seen the abuses that come from oppressive governments, those who own our debt, and societies influential people. These powers can take everything from you...except for the love of God that is found in Jesus.
Heights can't. Depths can't. The best way I can describe 'heights and depths' is in mysterious and astronomical ways. Simply put, there is nothing in the universe that can take God's love away from you when you are in Christ. There's no place we can go where God isn't. I'm almost certain Paul had Psalm 139:7-12 in mind when he wrote these words. Jesus is in those places beyond our understanding, and there's no place we can go to escape the love of God.
Created things can't. People hold a lot of power and influence over us, but they can't take God's love from us. No created thing can.
"For 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."
That's a life-saving kind of love.
I've said it before: I love the wilderness. When I go on vacation, I don't head for overcrowded resorts or big cities. I like the wild and quiet places where I can see wilderness all around me. The more I thought about that this weekend, the more I realized I've never really ever been lost in wilderness. I am usually on a trail or some sort of road which means somebody else has been there before me. It feels like wilderness, but someone else has blazed the trail.
That sounds like what the Lord has done for us. God is working hard to rescue us from the wilderness. The goodness of the Father, the sacrifice of Jesus, and the gift of the Holy Spirit are all cooperatively working together to guide us through this wilderness.
Romans 8 describes just part of what the Holy Spirit does within the life of the believer who trusts Christ. Here's a glimpse:
1] The HS places us in Christ the moment of our faith (Romans 8:1). Pay close attention to that phrase 'in Christ', because Paul uses it 164 times in his letters. It means being made right with God (justification). Think of it like being attached to Jesus (united with him), like an arm is attached to the body. It indicates a personal relationship that makes our identity immediately different. When God sees you, He sees Jesus! That's why there's no condemnation! He is the God who changes you.
2] The HS lives in us, enabling us to obey God (Romans 8:2-8). Paul admitted in chapter 7 that he struggled with sin, but he reminds us that we are filled with the Holy Spirit who makes obedience possible. The truth is, without the Holy Spirit, it is impossible to do God's will. Years ago when I was teaching high school, I used to do about an hour of team building with my students every day. I used to give the class a nearly impossible task to complete and told them they could use any person in the room as a resource. Very seldom did a class think to use me as a resource. They always tried to do it on their own as I stood back and watched them disintegrate into chaos. The Holy Spirit holds the key for us, our resource for life! He is the God who indwells us.
3] The HS breaks the death grip on you (Romans 8:9-10). I hate snakes. One of the creepiest species to me is the anaconda. The enemy of our soul is like an anaconda -- he puts the squeeze on us until we are dead. Satan always works to undo what God has done. God breathed life into us; the enemy tries to squeeze it out of us. God wants us alive; Satan wants us dead. The Holy Spirit breaks the power of death over us! He is the God who embraces us.
4] The HS will raise us from the dead into eternal life (Romans 8:11). The New Testament uses phrases like 'security deposit', 'guarantee', and 'seal' to describe how the Holy Spirit marks us as belonging to God until the day of redemption. Every person on earth will be resurrected, but not everyone will be resurrected to eternal life. The Spirit of God brought us up from the dust in the beginning, and He will do it again. He is the God who raises us.
5] The HS makes our adoption official (Romans 8:14-16). The Holy Spirit acts like the legal agent making our adoption as children of God official. I've stood in courtrooms to go through the legal process of adoption, but have to tell you that those courtroom experiences were just technicalities. Adoption began way ahead of time in my heart. It wasn't just the legal act that made them mine, but the legal process was necessary. That's the work of the Holy Spirit who adopts us into God's family. He is the God who fathers us.
6] The HS guarantees our inheritance (Romans 8:17). My inheritance from my parents included $21 (divided three ways) in my dads wallet plus a mermaid bottle opener. The inheritance we get from Christ isn't the stuff families like to fight over. Our inheritance is the glory of Christ -- the Father taking great delight in us. The glory of Jesus ours -- even if we're stripped away of everything we have on earth through persecution or suffering. No one can take this inheritance from us. He is the God who gives you His best.
7] The HS helps us in our weakness (Romans 8:26-27). Jesus calls the Holy Spirit our 'Helper'. He even helps us pray when we don't know what to say, translating our prayers to God by reading our hearts. He searches our heart! He knows we are weak -- and he does something about it. He is the God who knows you.
The Father, Son & Holy Spirit are working together to rescue from this wilderness. God does not sit idly back and let us disintegrate without making a concerted effort for rescue. He wants the world to trust Him! He even does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, and He gives us the best of Himself so we can be restored.
He knows what we need -- and He gives it through Himself.
Ibrahim arrives Monday, February 26th from his home in Nigeria to begin his year-long training with Montessori in Kent. During this year, we will be his church family. Ibrahim has quite a story, and we look forward to getting to know him and learn from him. Pray for the coming culture shock and his adjustment to America, but pray also for his wife and 8 children who remain in Nigeria this year.
Sunday as we prayed together, we contrasted what we feel with what we know. Several people asked us to post the prayer here, so here it is:
"We are convinced of your goodness, Father. When we feel uncertain of our identity in this world, we know who we are in Christ. When we feel incapable to do what is right and good, we know you live within your people and you can lead us to follow you. When we feel compressed by darkness and death, we know you are the one who can break death's grip over us. When we feel hopelessness and despair regarding tomorrow, we know you are the One who will raise us. When we feel cut off and isolated, we know you have completed the adoption process and made us your own. When we feel shaken and uncertain about the things we cannot see -- and we struggle to find faith -- we know you have already guaranteed our inheritance. When we feel weak and helpless, we know you are with us to help us. We often feel uncertain, incapable, compressed, hopeless, isolated, insecure, and weak -- but we know you are God and that you are very good."
[Based on Romans 8]
A couple weeks ago, I came down with this nasty flu that is sweeping the nation. It's been over two weeks, but I am still dealing with the effects of it. There's a battle that's raged in my body during those weeks, and I was wiped out by a virus I couldn't see that had invaded my body. It wiped me out. I am exhausted from the internal battle, at times wondering if I was going to survive it! The worst part about it was the isolation from my family as I was quarantined in my bedroom like a leper.
In Romans 7:15-25, Paul writes about his personal struggle and weakness, confessing he was being torn in two directions as though there were two very powerful forces trying to pull him apart. Like Paul, you and I are maddeningly flawed. We struggle with the battle between our old and new selves, and we are saints and sinners at the same time. We can relate to Paul's struggle, because his struggle is our struggle.
Paul teaches us some important things about this struggle between our old and new natures. Here are some things to consider:
1] Intense struggle is a part of the normal Christian life. If you struggle between your old and new self, you are normal. Sometimes we get flattened by the struggle in the same way I was flattened by the flu. Sin is like a soul flu. It's a battle that wipes us out. We can't see where it came from, and sometimes we think we're gonna die. We feel the isolation. Yes, we struggle, but it is a part of the normal Christian life.
2] Despair is necessary. We can hear Paul's despair: "What a wretched man I am!" But we have to despair over our struggle with sin. Until we hate our sin, we will not turn from it. Until we reach the end of ourselves, we will not walk away from it. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said these words: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." These are the people who are humbled by their nature and are dependent upon God. We need to allow our weakness and struggle with sin to drive us straight to God.
3] A lack of despair should concern us. Let me explain what I mean. In 1 John 1:8, we're told that we are deceived and without God's truth if we think we are without sin. If we don't feel the sting of our sin, then our conscience is not under Christ's influence. When we don't agonize over our own sin, we won't turn to Jesus. If you feel the sting of your struggle, that's a sign of health.
4] Jesus frees us from this struggle. Paul asked in Romans 7:24, "Who will rescue me from this body of death?" I asked that question a lot when I was bedbound with this flu! It's Jesus that delivers us from this struggle. Read Romans 8:1-2 and memorize it! It will set you free.
We need to learn from our past so we don't return to it. We need to meditate on God's Word to marinate in God's truth and grace and to be equipped to do God's will. And we need to walk in the Spirit, the Spirit who helps us in our weakness. Yes, the struggle is real! We feel powerless and weak at times, but our deliverance from this wilderness comes from Jesus, the One who rescues us from this body of death.
Not too long ago, my brother took one of those DNA tests to learn more about his ancestry. There were a few surprises. We found out we weren't as German as we thought we were, and he learned that he is slightly less Neanderthal than the average American. Nothing in our gene pool really seemed to stand out. As far as we know, there are no ancestors of noteworthy significance.
You and I -- and I hate to break it to you -- come from a long line of scoundrels. And there's nothing we can do about it. Paul calls it 'death from Adam'. We're all part of the same clan of rebellious, foolish, sinful people. That's not the way it was meant to be, but things took a turn for the worse when the image of God in us what corrupted by Adam's choice. Consequently, he was cast out of the Garden into the wilderness where we've been wandering ever since. Generation after generation has compounded this curse, and I, too, am a son of Adam. I don't have a bloodline worth bragging about.
In Romans 5:6-16, Paul compares the first Adam with the second Adam (Jesus). Here's how Paul describes our corrupted state: powerless, ungodly, sinners, objects of wrath, God's enemies, trespassers, dead and condemned. Yikes! Thank you very much, Adam.
But Paul does a great job talking about our old nature in the past tense: "that's who you WERE." There is a huge difference between who we were and who we are. We need to know the difference. One keeps us wandering in the wilderness and cut off; the other leads to life. In Romans 5:17-19, Paul writes about God's abundant provision of grace, a grace powerful enough to turn us from ungodly, condemned enemies of God to righteous friends of God who are reconciled and restored.
Death came to us through our corrupted nature; life has come through Jesus. While I am a son of Barb and Jerry, I am also a child of God -- redeemed and restored. The abundant provision of grace through Jesus is powerful enough to wipe out that generational curse going all the way back to Adam. That's a lot of sin. If God's grace is that abundant, is there anything in our story that is out of the reach of God's grace?
The first miracle of Jesus was performed at a wedding in the village of Cana. He was attending with his disciples and his pushy mother who insisted he spare the wedding couple public humiliation by turning some water into wine. Jesus gave into mom's pressure and ended up turning 180 gallons of water into premium wine. It was the best stuff -- and more than enough. With Jesus it's always more than enough (think of the leftover loaves and fish).
Whatever we've been handed through our bloodline as we roam this wilderness, know that the grace of God has the power to cancel the curse. Who we were is not who we are in Christ. God's abundant provision of grace is more than enough to restore and redeem our story and take us back to Eden again.
We had a great time at our annual Snow Camp at Camp Koinonia near Cle Elum last weekend!
If I had to summarize the first 2,000 years of biblical history, I'd say this: We think we are like god, and we think we can do this on our own. That's what happened in the garden. That's what happened before the flood. That's what happened when we built the tower at Babel. From the beginning, we decided we were going to do this our way.
In Genesis 12, we meet a man named Abraham. He's already 75 years old when we meet him, and he's married to Sarah -- and they are childless. And God spoke to him: "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you." God chose Abraham and was starting something new with him. Jumping ahead 25 years to Genesis 15, we see God promising the old man Abraham that he and Sarah would give birth to an heir.
At a time when everyone believed they were gods and masters of their own universe, Abraham chose to believe the Lord. And because Abraham trusted God, the Lord declared him righteous.
Don't confuse righteousness for perfection! They are not the same. In fact, Abraham was far from perfect. For starters, he married his niece, threw his wife under the bus to save his own neck, and took the whole heir affair into his own hands. We can see the record of his foolishness and faithlessness. So it's not his own efforts that made him righteous.
Like Abraham, we try to live right, but we forget Whose we are along the way and often make wrong choices. We know the record of our own foolishness and faithlessness. What made the difference for Abraham is what makes the difference for us: Abraham reached out to the God who reached out to him. He was made right with God because he had faith in God!
When I taught high school, I used to take my students to a ropes course challenge to push them beyond their comfort. One element that always proved challenging for them was the Trust Fall. Standing on a raised platform 5-6 feet above the ground, you were expected to cross your arms and fall straight back into the arms of your team. I always tried to prepare my students ahead of time, but even I was caught off guard when our instructor said, "Let's have your teacher go first so you can see how it's done."
Most of my students were less than 150 lbs soaking wet, and some of those kids had been in trouble in my classroom in recent days. And I was supposed to trust them and fall back into their skinny arms?
Hemmingway said, "The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them." I fell back, and they caught me...but I had to let a whole lot of logic go in order to make that leap.
We are so determined to make things happen in our own way that it is really hard to believe God can make the wicked righteous just by trusting in Him. But Romans 4 makes it clear that God doesn't consider us righteous if we try our best or mean well or score 99%. Instead, He saves the wicked and welcomes even the most vile creatures who trust in Him.
Salvation isn't for the good. God's grace isn't for the pure. It's for the messed up, torn up, used up, screwed up whose only hope is to fall into the arms of Jesus and believe God.
Our current sermon series (Essentials for the Journey: Surviving in the Wilderness) has had a running theme: We don't survive because we are good. We don't survive because we are better than others. We survive only because we believe and trust God.
I wonder what's more risky? To fall into the arms of the One who loves me and gave Himself for me or to fall without Him?
We survive in this wilderness only by trusting Jesus. So cross your arms and fall.