Entitled

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:6-8 (NIV)

There appears to be a pervasive altitude of entitlement in the world today. This attitude manifests itself in a common phrase such as, “I deserve (fill in the blank) because…” For a long time people lived according to the idiom, “earn your keep.” This idiom was first commonly said in the 1800s and was in reference to working for room and board which was common on farms. The understanding of earning what one received was prevalent even to the point of going too far at times. Whether one deserves or has earned something depends a lot upon perception.

Paul understands the concept of being deserving or undeserving when he writes to the Romans. As sinners, people who have not lived out God’s love, what is deserved is punishment. According to the covenant which God first established with humans, and then continuously renewed, the punishment for sin is death and full separation from God. Paul points out that humanity did not receive what was deserved because at exactly the right time Christ died for us so we may live. God’s love overpowered what was deserved and instead of death, we received life.

It is great to not receive what is entitled to us or even what we have earned through our actions. We have been given a great gift, grace, in Christ’s death and resurrection. The love of God remains present even when we do not live it in the world. Instead of waiting for us to stop breaking God’s love (sinning), God gave us the gift. Thank you  God for not giving me what I deserve!

A Rising

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

Romans 8:9-11 (NIV)

The process of making food which includes a rising element has always been fascinating. Mixing together the correct ingredients which leads to the food item rising either before or during the baking process contains an element of mystery. Whether it is a type of bread or a cake, the rising is necessary for an enjoyable outcome. As an adult, I understand the chemical process which results in the rising but as a kid I was amazed by it. The key is that the right ingredients must be in the batter to make this possible.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he speaks of having the correct ingredient to produce a rising, the rising of our own mortal bodies after death. Paul tells the Roman followers that if Christ is in them, they are now in the realm of the Spirit and no longer the realm of the flesh. The body is still subject to death but the Spirit gives life. Because the Spirit is in us, we will have a bodily resurrection just as Christ had one.

The key ingredient for us is the Spirit living within us. This Spirit moves us from living just in the physical realm into the spiritual realm. It is the Spirit which is necessary for our physical bodies to be raised after death like Christ was raised. The Spirit lives in each of us, when we believe and acknowledge this, we accept the gift of the promised resurrection.

Released

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Romans 8:1-4 (NIV)

The amazing work of the organizations which rescue and rehabilitate animals is something to be celebrated. When a television show broadcasts stories including the moments one of these animals are released back into their natural habitats, it is heartwarming to watch. As an observer, a person can only imagine the sense of freedom and exhilaration the animal must experience at the moment of release.

The passage from the letter to the Roman believers speaks of being released. This release comes through the actions of Jesus Christ. Christ releases us from the law of the flesh, the law which we who are flesh could not fulfill was fulfilled when the Son became flesh and offered himself for all sin. This law of the flesh is fully met in the flesh of Christ. We are released from any condemnation and placed within the law of the Spirit. We are set free from the law of sin and death. We now live according to the Spirit.

Having the truth in this passage revealed to us should cause a feeling of freedom and exhilaration within us. Like the rescued and rehabilitated animals mentioned above, we have been given a new lease on life. The fear of being condemned had been removed. What has held us and created a deadly situation for us was destroyed by Christ. Let us live our life in the Spirit, free from the power of sin and death.

Making Choices

13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. 14 I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. 15 If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.

19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.

22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

Romans 14:13-23 (NIV)

There are decisions in life which can be difficult to make. The choices which are before us may need to be weighed by the impact upon others. On the surface we may determine that one option carries no negative influence for us personally but as we examine the choice deeper, we see there will be a negative impact on others. If we move forward with the choice, we will personally experience no consequences yet this may result in consequences for someone else. The decision creates a dilemma for us.

Paul writes about such a situation. He presents the scenario involving food. He indicates that he does not view any food as unclean. Having this opinion means that he can eat anything he chooses without having it negatively impact him. However, if someone who has an opposite view witnesses him eating perceived unclean food items and it causes the person spiritual distress then he should abstain from eating the food. Paul tells us that we are to always make choices that will be mutually edifying for ourselves and others. These choices should never cause someone else to stumble in their spiritual journey even if the choice is alright for us personally.

The best example of how this might apply to our lives has to do with alcohol. Many of us can consume an alcoholic beverage without a negative consequence. We are able to drink in moderation and responsibly. We do not drink amounts of alcohol which will impair our judgment or cause us to become ill. After consuming alcohol we do not drive until we can do so safely. There is nothing which should prevent us from choosing to drink alcohol. However, a person who has a disease and is unable to control how much alcohol is consumed, an alcoholic, cannot drink even a little. Drinking in front of such a person can lead to the alcoholic assuming it is alright for them to follow your example. The responsible person will have a conversation in advance to confirm if the alcoholic would be placed in a compromising position if you drink. A lot of this has to do with where the person is on the addiction journey. Each person is different. Just because you can, does not mean you should. 

We have been given many freedoms. God has made all things possible for us. Our responsibility is to make sure in the exercise of our freedoms and God’s gifts, we do not cause anyone to stumble. If choosing to refrain from something will help build another individual up, we should choose to refrain.

Acceptance

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
    I will sing the praises of your name.”

10 Again, it says,

“Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”

11 And again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles;
    let all the peoples extol him.”

12 And again, Isaiah says,

“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
    one who will arise to rule over the nations;
    in him the Gentiles will hope.”

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:7-13 (NIV)

Frequently in life there develops an “in” group and an “out” group. Those within the special group achieve their membership based upon a defined set of criteria. This criteria can be items such as athletic ability, physical attributes, wealth, or even who the person knows. Sometimes being included may even be based on ancestry. Being part of the “in” group affords a person special knowledge, privileges, and treatment. If a person is a member of the “out” group, animosity and resentment can arise towards the members of the other group. There can be emotional and psychological pain experienced by those on the out. Trying to build acceptance among the groups can be a true challenge.

Reading from the letter to the Roman believers, we can see that there has developed a division among them. This division is based on ancestry and history. The Jews had always been considered as God’s chosen people since the time of Abraham and Sarah. This delineation was due to the events regarding Isaac and Ishmael. Ishmael was sent away and Isaac became the chosen one to carry forward God’s promises to Abraham. This would begin the lineage of the

Jews, the “in” group. Those who are not part of the lineage were referred to as Gentiles and were on the outside. Paul points out that God did not intend this to be a permanent separation. In Jesus Christ, this division has been eliminated. The believers in Rome are to understand this as part of their belief in Christ and accept one another. Belief in Jesus Christ unites those who used to be divided.

This type of division still exists today in a different way. Too often today the “in” group is considered to be members of the Church. The “out” group are those who are not a part of the fellowship. There is an attitude of being special among those who worship God together. A special set of words and ritual behaviors have been established among this group. A set of criteria has been adopted which must be met to be allowed in the group. There is even an us versus them mentality. 

Like the believers in Rome, we must learn to accept one another and break through the walls which divide us; no longer in/out or us/them but an attitude and behavior of we. Those who are believers must lead the way by reaching out to those who are not currently part of the fellowship. Going outside the walls of a building or the barriers we have constructed through rules and rituals. Accepting people where they are just as Christ accepted us where we were.

Love In Action

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

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. Do not be conceited.

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 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,” says the Lord. 20 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.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:9-21 (NIV)

” You’re going to come across people in your life who will say all the right words at all the right times. But in the end, it’s always their actions you should judge them by. It’s actions, not words, that matter.”

Nicolas Sparks

Nicolas Sparks is an American novelist who was born in Omaha, NE. He is probably best known for two of his twenty-one novels, “The Notebook” and “Message In a Bottle.” What Sparks says here is a sentiment which has been communicated in a variety of ways over thousands of years. The idea is that people can say all types of endearing words but only if their actions support those words can they be trusted and believed.

Paul is speaking to the believers in Rome regarding love. Paul instructs the people on how to live out love. He gives a list of behaviors which show love to be sincere. All of the behaviors focus on the good, caring for others and avoiding a revenge mentality.

Most of us have become accustomed to not trusting what we are told. Experiences with politicians, advertisements, telemarketers and leaders have caused us to be skeptical almost all the time. When we are told that we are loved, we struggle to truly believe it and are waiting for the catch. Only by seeing these words in action do we begin to believe them at all.

As believers in Christ, we are commissioned to share God’s love with others. The problem that arises is when we try to communicate the message of God’s love using only words. The skepticism mentioned above makes those words ineffective. We must live out the love of God in our lives. What Paul shares with the Romans are examples of how we can live out the love.

Faith

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those
    whose transgressions are forgiven,
    whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
    whose sin the Lord will never count against them.”

Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. 10 Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! 11 And he received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. 12 And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

Romans 4:1-12 (NIV)

What does it mean to have faith? The dictionary states “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” Having faith does not come easily nor does it mean abandoning what common sense tells us. The key to faith is the trust which is necessary. Trust takes time to develop so it is natural that faith takes time to develop. When faith has been established, the confidence one has in someone or something will aid the person in following and/or believing.

In our reading today, Paul writes about the faith of Abraham. Reading Paul’s letters can at times feel like you are on rabbit chase. If you are able to keep on the trail with Paul, you will obtain great insights into faith, Jesus Christ, God’s love and how to live as redeemed children of God. Paul speaks about how Abraham became righteous, or right with God. Paul writes that Abraham was right with God not because of any actions which Abraham did but because he had faith in God. Paul then continues in what may seem a very complicated manner to show that this righteousness is available to Gentile and Jew alike.

For us today, Paul’s connection between Abraham’s faith and the faith of people in Paul’s time is easily transferable to us. Abraham’s faith was in God, our faith is in Christ, the revelation of God in humanity. Like Abraham and the Romans, we are not right with God because of anything we have done or will do but because we trust and have confidence in Jesus Christ. Faith is all we need to have confidence in living as a redeemed child of God.

No Shame

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Romans 1:16-17 (NIV)

There are numerous aspects of life which can cause people to feel ashamed. Mistakes which we make can bring a sense of shame into our lives. The actions of a relative or friend can bring shame to us. Our perceptions of ourselves can lead us to feel ashamed. In specific situations this shame may be warranted. Often the shame is more embarrassment than actualized shame. No matter the cause or legitimacy of our being ashamed, the feeling is real. We may choose to avoid people and/or situations due to our sense of shame.

In today’s reading, we hear Paul make the statement that he is not ashamed of the gospel, or good news. Others have stated that the good news of Jesus’s death on a cross and resurrection was foolish and nonsense. Those who indicated they believed in the salvation found in these events were often labeled as ignorant, idiots, and even blasphemers. So Paul indicating he was not ashamed and saw the message of the good news as a sign of God’s power is a bold statement. Paul sees the gospel as a revelation of God’s righteousness being displayed and imparted upon those who believe in it.

Are you ashamed of the gospel? After all, there is sketchy logic to support the claims of the good news. Individuals today still reject this news and take a dim view of those who believe in it. Do you attempt to excuse away your belief in Jesus’s death and resurrection when others question you or do you make a bold statement as Paul does here? Some say that religion or faith should not be discussed in public settings, maybe not even in private ones. How often is this used to avoid having to declare belief in God and God’s saving actions? Like Paul, we need to stand and boldly proclaim our belief in the gospel without any sense of shame.

Radical Love

38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 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.

Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)

We are accustomed to living in situations where love is fragile and easily taken away. The type of love which we normally experience is dependent upon many factors. Human love requires fulfillment of a set of expectations. This love can be separated from us by outside influences. There is no guarantee in regard to the longevity of human love. However, there is a different form of love which is available to every person. A love which is not unpredictable, fragile, or dependent upon a list of qualifications.

The words found at the end of the eighth chapter in Romans gives insight into a special kind of love. Here is described a love found only with God. This love is immune to the influences of the world or powers which surround us. The immunity even extends to cover our own actions or inactions. It is a love which cannot be taken away by anything. This love surrounds us and is in us.  As the writer states, this love cannot be separated from us.

Because of our experience with love in our lives, we struggle to comprehend the type of love described here to the Romans. In our minds we attempt to find “the catch.” We tell ourselves that this love is not possible. We may even wait with expectation for the point where we will somehow be separated from this love.

The reality is that the words which we read here are the truest words which may ever have been said or written. The unique fact about God’s love as demonstrated in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ is that NOTHING can, or ever will, separate us from it. This love exists within the core of our being and surrounds us without any gaps. God will NEVER remove it from us.  It is a radical love.

Accept the truth of these words. Incorporate them into your life and the views which you have. Respond to them in a way which demonstrates your belief in them.

Lack of Authenticity

Today I am beginning my new series entitled, “Why Does Church No Longer Work?” For background on this series, please reference my post from last week. The response that I lift up to you today is that the church lacks authenticity.

The definition of authenticity is “the act of being authentic.” A Google search for the definition of authentic produces this — of undisputed origin; genuine. For our purposes, I am going to focus on the last part of that definition, the word “genuine.” My view is that the church is viewed today as not being genuine. This is very important because we have come to discover that one of the most important characteristics that Millennials seek in a person is authenticity, or being genuine.

Author, Karl Moore, writing for Forbes an article entitled, Authenticity: The Way to a Millennial’s Heart states this:

“The authentic self is a goal for all four generations alive today: Seniors, Boomers, Xers, but most especially, Millennials.”

Karl Moore

He continues by quoting from a book written by Sienna Zampino which discusses what authentic leadership looks like and why it is so important to Millennials. This is important to the church because we know that Millennials are exiting the church at a very high rate. In the search for reasons, a sense that there is not authenticity within the church appears to be a strong reason.

Is this a fair claim?

I would say that it truly is a fair claim. One reality which our current generation has inherited is the great fear of being seen as unworthy in the church. I was raised with the value of being best behaved whenever I was in the church building. This value is not a wrong one on the surface but it can create a misguided view that those within the church walls must be perfect, at least in behavior. Striving for perfection can be a noble effort but can lead to a masking of some true realities. When people feel they must be viewed as perfect within the church walls, a group of people with a lot of masks comes into existence. No one wants their flaws and imperfections to be known, so they hide their true selves. This leads to incomplete attempts at healing, reconciliation, growth, and honest worship. We put on our best clothes, best faces, and a surface friendliness then head off to that church building for an hour or so of making attempts at our best performance. It is not genuine, it is not authentic.

What amazes me about this dynamic is that it stands so extremely counter to the Gospel and the example of Jesus. All within the church claim to be, and I would say most are striving to be, following the example of Jesus, the Christ. Yet, here is one area where we miserably fail. I think that one of the significant reasons that Jesus appealed to so many people is that he was authentic. Jesus did not wear a mask. Jesus’ actions and attitudes were out there in the very open. In fact, he spoke against putting on masks or airs.

As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

Mark 12:38-40

“I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.”

John 18:20-21

Jesus taught authenticity but the church teaches through actions, and sometimes words, inauthenticity.

The reality is that we are sinners who are in need of the healing and reconciling love of our Lord. Churches should be gathering places where we can honestly and openly admit this truth, not just in a corporate sense found in the worship liturgy with the confession, but in the midst of the relationships we have with one another. A person should come to the gathering knowing they will be there with others who are imperfect, who admit these imperfections, and who experience the forgiveness guaranteed to all in the Gospel. If someone enters the gathering and only sees people who are trying to present a perfect image, how can they ever admit their imperfections and need of God’s grace?

In addition, the attempts to put up a false front does not work, no matter how hard we try. Our attempts to hide our imperfections easily melt away when pressure is applied. Perceptive individuals can quickly detect the fake. An especially wary generation as the Millennials are can see through our facade in a little amount of time. Not because they are any better perceiving than previous generations, who knew all along they were participants along with everyone else in a false image, but because this is a generation which is not afraid to state the truth of what they see.

This pattern of the church MUST change. In order for the church to fulfill the call placed upon it by the Lord, those who are followers of the Lord must strive to be authentic. We must create a space where it is safe to be authentic. Individuals must be able to admit that they are one of those about who Paul writes, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Then together we learn how to be forgiven and to strive to do a better job the next.