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. 

Personal Value

We live in a time when the value of a human life is often considered very low. Most individuals have been reduced to statistics, stereotypes, and unproven opinions. In fact, often the individual is overlooked and seen only with labels. Often there is little effort made to even get to know a person. All this combines to make an individual feel as if he/she has little or no value.

However, this assuredly is not the opinion of the Creator. Actually, the opposite would be true. We learn the view of the Creator from passages found in Scripture. Here are two such passages:

What is mankind that you are mindful of them,

    human beings that you care for them?[a]

You have made them a little lower than the angels[c]

    and crowned them with glory and honor.

You made them rulers over the works of your hands;

    you put everything under their feet

Psalm 8:4-6 (NIV)

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[a] And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ

Romans 8:14-17a (NIV)

It is clear that God, who created us and sustains us, values us highly. Being a child of God gives each person value beyond comparison. Jesus tells parables which show us how God views us as important and thinks highly of us.

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

Luke 15:4-7 (NIV)

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

Luke 15:11-27 (NIV)

The truth is this…no matter what the world says about us, we are children of God. As children of God, we have been searched for while we wandered on our own. We have been crowned with the glory of God and placed as stewards of all God’s creation. We have been made heirs in the Kingdom of God.

A person’s value is not found in her or his successes. A person’s value is not found in having the “right” labels or doing the “right” things. The value of each and every person is found in the reality that he or she is a child of God. Nothing nor no one can ever diminish or take that value away.

What Must I Do

What must I do?

This question is often asked by someone who is trying to earn something or be allowed something. In the context of a classroom setting, the question is usually asked by a student when speaking with the teacher of a course in an attempt to determine how to achieve a certain grade. If the question is asked in a work setting, the employee may be wanting a pay raise or a promotion. When the question is raised in a faith setting, the one asking is usually seeking favor or a reward from a deity. An example of this is found in the Gospel of Mark.

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Mark 10:17

This approach is based on the understanding that works earn favor with God and thus rewards. Humans have come to believe that rewards and punishments meted out by a deity or deities is the way to understand how life is experienced. If you have done something pleasing for (fill in here the name of a god or gods of your choice) then you will be rewarded in such ways as a bountiful crop, wealth, fame, good health, a supportive spouse, a wonderful house, and the list can go on based on desires. Naturally, the opposite is true. If you cause displeasure then you will be punished with natural disasters, poverty, hunger, illness, hatred, abandonment, and again the list can grow. This provides answers to two questions, “How did that person acquire that?” and “Why did this happen to me?” The viewpoint is reinforced by our encounters with other humans and their responses to us.

In theology this viewpoint is often summarized in the phrase, works-based faith. Throughout the Greek, Roman, and Jewish cultures this was the guiding force which led to rules being implemented to aid individuals in navigating away from displeasing the gods and toward bringing pleasure to the gods.

Faith alone

Jesus in his teachings gave us a new understanding which the Apostle Paul would spend most of his life trying to help people understand. This new understanding is that finding favor with God has NOTHING to do with our works but instead with our belief in the relationship we have with God.

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

Mark 10:27

Jesus was responding to the question quoted above. After Jesus gave the man a task which he was unwilling to complete, the man went away feeling defeated and unable to gain the reward which he sought. Seeing and hearing the interaction between the man and Jesus, the disciples also felt it would be impossible for them to receive salvation. Jesus’ response basically says that they are correct in their observation yet adds the “but” which changes the perspective and upends a whole way of thinking.

The first thing to note here is that the “doer” has changed here. Instead of the person doing what it takes to make something possible, God is the one who makes something possible. In this particular situation it is salvation. Now the focus is on God and not on the person.

The truth is that no one has to earn God’s favor. Every person already has God’s favor. Both in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Testament of the New Covenant, the reader/hearer is told of the love which God has for each creature that God created. This love was present even before the person came into existence. Our works, positive or negative, cannot take this love, this favor away from us.

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.

Romans 8:38-39

Works are not the way we receive God’s love and favor because they have already been freely given to us. (This is the concept of grace which I will discuss in a future post.) We need to change the way in which we think. Instead of thinking about how I can achieve the reward of God, I need to realize that I already have it because God has already given to it to me. I need to believe this is true. As Paul states the idea:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9

A different way to live

Living by faith changes what we do and why we do it. We are no longer living a performance-based life. Our worth, our success, our purpose is not based on the work that we do. (Sorry to those with a true Puritan background.) Instead, all these items find their basis in the fact that we are favored, loved, by God. We live in a manner which shows we believe this fact.

Our belief in this fact leads us to respond, a response of gratitude. Living a life of gratitude obtained by our faith directs our actions. We care for the well-being of other individuals not because it will earn us anything from God but a way is available for us to express our gratitude to God. We give of our time, money, and skills not because it earns us anything but because the giving is an act of gratitude. We strive to follow Jesus’ teachings and to learn more about them as an expression of gratitude not to gain some reward.

The answer

I hope that by now you have gained understanding into the first question which started this post. The answer is NOTHING. There is nothing you must do. You already have the favor of God and all the rewards which God’s love provides. Anything which you do you are doing as a response to living in God’s favor.