New Reality

Read Revelation 21:1-5

Today in the Western church, we mark this day as a festival day, Sts. Peter and Paul Festival Day. Christians remember two pillars of the early Church. Saint Peter was the apostle which Jesus said the church would be built upon. Saint Paul provided writings which helped the church discover what it meant to live into being the church. Both of these early church leaders looked toward the day when the Kingdom would exist in fullness in the world.

The writer of John’s revelation gives us a glimpse of the scene when Peter and Paul’s expectations come to fruition. The writer speaks of “a new heaven and a new earth.” This is not a redesign of our current temporal existence but instead it is a perfection of everything in and around creation. The imperfect, which came into existence when humanity unlocked sin in the world, is transformed by the full presence of God. The removal of the sea denotes the end of chaos which sin has unleashed on the world. No longer will suffering be a part of creation. A new, perfect way of existing without death is now the reality of the world.

Just as Peter, Paul, and all believers past and present, we eagerly anticipate this perfected reality. We await God dwelling with all of creation absent of any barriers. Our hope resides in the knowledge that in God’s perfect timing this new way of being will be fully experienced.

Shame Free

Read Romans 8:1-4

A challenge which is ever before us is to move beyond the shame of our past. Each one of us can easily come up with a list of actions we have taken or words we have spoken which we regret. Since not one of us can claim to live a sinless life, there are sins which we can recall without much effort at all. We are instructed, and Scripture clearly states, that when we have sinned we are to confess our sin and seek forgiveness. Most of us follow that instruction regularly. The challenge comes after we have confessed. More often than not, we continue to carry the shame associated with our sin way into the future. When we do, we are forgetting the rest of what Scripture teaches us and the full meaning of Jesus’s death and resurrection.

Paul is attempting to teach the believers in Rome about Jesus’s death and resurrection. He is trying to help them understand that a significant change occurred during that three-day period. Paul wants them to realize that there is no need to carry the shame of their sin into their future. In Jesus’s death, he removed the condemnation of sin. The death associated with sin and the shame associated with sin has been removed. In place of death and shame, a new life led by the Spirit has emerged. This is affirmed in Jesus’s resurrection, a new birth into a new life.

The challenge each of us face is to let go of the shame associated with our sin. Shame is a remnant of death because it kills a portion of our spirit. When we carry shame, we are living our old life. Accept the gift Jesus gave to each of us, the gift of complete forgiveness and a new way of living. Accept the resurrection not solely for the time after your earthly life but now. Leave shame in the old life before your acknowledgement of the Lord. Live in the new, abundant life of forgiven sin, free of shame.

Mediator

Read 1 Timothy 2:3-6

Recently I ran across a meme on Facebook which summarized one of my core beliefs. The meme stated: “When people bring up your past, tell them ‘Jesus dropped the charges.'” This is a helpful way to look at grace and the saving actions of our Lord.

In the letter we refer to as 1 Timothy, we see the idea of Jesus being the sole mediator between us and God. Humanity existed, and still exists, in a state of bondage to sin. God is purely holy so is incompatible with sin. In our sinful state, it is not possible for us to be in full relationship with God due to this incompatibility. Here is where Jesus enters the scenario and through his righteousness, removes the barrier of sin from our relationship with God. Jesus mediates on our behalf and provides us victory over sin’s hold upon us.

I find it helpful to imagine a courtroom  scene. Each of us stands before God to be judged on our worthiness to be eternally in relationship and the presence of God. The Great Tempter prepares to argue why we are unworthy. As the first words of the charges are read, Jesus steps in front of us and says, “Father, I know this person and chose to carry any charges which may be recorded myself. The price has been satisfied and all charges should be dropped.” The Father responds, “Charges paid in full. All charges against this person are dropped.”

Praise be to the Lord!

Mortality and Sin

Read Genesis 3:19

Today Christians in all parts of the world attend services for Ash Wednesday. This day marks the start of the Lenten season in the Western Church. On this day we remember our mortality and the cause of death, sin. It is a day of reflection, solemnity, and humility. As part of the worship service, the person has ashes placed on their forehead or hand in the shape of a cross to serve as a visual reminder of our sin and death, but also the rescue found in the cross. When the imposition of the ashes takes place, the worship leader often says, “You are dust and to dust you shall return.”

When you read the verse for today from Genesis, you see the source of the phrase used on this day. This verse is part of the story of humanity’s choice to ignore God as a first step of disobedience  which we refer to as sin. God is explaining to the first humans the consequences of this choice. One of the consequences is death. God indicates we were from the earth and to the earth we will return. Our mortality is the consequence.

While this is an important day to acknowledge our mortality and our sin which has brought it into the human experience, that is not the last word. As I said, today marks the first day of a forty (Sundays are not included in the count.) day journey to the Easter celebration. The Easter celebration reminds us that Christ claimed victory over death and the cause of it, sin. Jesus’s obedience overcame our disobedience. This is why the cross is placed on us as a sign of victory even in the midst of our humble repentance today.

A Different Peace

Read John 14:25-27

In light of recent events in our world, Russia’s attack and invasion of Ukraine, I went to Scripture for guidance. The desire of most people throughout the world is to live a life in peace and fulfillment. While we have different understandings of what those words mean or look like, the general desire is to have what we need to survive without concern for our safety. This seems to be something which should be easily attainable. The problem is that human sin is a part of life. Greed, deception, hatred, and selfishness inject themselves into daily living. These sins lead to actions which do not ensure the peace and safety of all people.

The passage which I was drawn to today is a portion of a conversation which Jesus is having with his closest disciples. In John’s version of the gospel, Jesus is always trying to prepare his disciples for his death. He seeks to assure them and provide them comfort. Here Jesus promises them the Holy Spirit. He also tells them that he will leave them a peace far different than the world’s peace. This peace is enduring unlike the fleeting peace we experience in our lives. This peace is not just an absence of conflict and physical violence  but a calmness of spirit even in the midst of conflict and violence. The peace which Jesus provides, and the Holy Spirit reminds us about, is one which overcomes worry and fear.

While world leaders attempt to bring the latest eruption of violence and death under control, we are mindful that our Lord overcomes all violence and death. We are offered a peace of spirit and reassurance that transcends our earthly experience. It is wise, and our duty, to continue to pray for Ukraine’s people in the midst of these events. We also pray for the overcoming of human sin and its impact upon us and all people. Even as we pray, we know that what the world offers is fleeting but what the Lord offes is eternal. The peace which Jesus gives to us provides us comfort and reassurance because it reminds us that he has already overcome the sin of this world.

The Right Thing

Read Micah 6:6-8

A reality of life is that at some point, actually at many points, a person is going to wrong another person. This can happen unintentionally or may occur on purpose. After having done something which has wronged another, the question which shows remorse is how might the situation be corrected and/or made right? What is required to compensate for the wrong which has been committed? If it is a legal case, a judge or a jury may make this decision. More often than not, the situation is not a violation of the law so then it falls upon the parties involved to determine how to resolve the matter.

As we look at the passage from Micah, the question above is being asked in regard to a matter between God and the Israelites. God has brought a case against the people because they have continued to be unfaithful toward the Lord. They have worshipped false gods and failed to follow God’s teachings. In spite of all of God’s redeeming acts and daily provisions, the people refuse to listen and follow. Once called out for this wrong, the question of how to respond is posed. Should the people offer sacrifices to regain God’s favor? The response given is that the people have already been told and it has nothing to do with ritual sacrifices. It has to do with how they live their lives. The way to show faithfulness to the Lord is to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” This is the way to rectify the wrong and return to faithfulness.

Not only do we regularly wrong other people, we consistently wrong the Lord. These words from the prophet encapsulate all the teachings from Moses and all the prophets. Our failure to do these three things is what is defined as sin. These life behaviors will keep us from wronging other people and wronging God.

Acting justly is demonstrated by looking out for the welfare of one another. By ensuring each other’s needs, physically, emotionally and spiritually, are met then we fulfill this requirement. Loving mercy is evident in our lives when we are quick to forgive instead of seek revenge. When we accept an individual’s failures as much as their successes, we are showing the compassion which mercy entails. Walking humbly with our God means recognizing the greatness of the Lord. Realizing the power of God is demonstrated in the love and grace of God is truly a humbling experience. Acknowledging we are not God and so we keep our attitudes and attempts to control in check is necessary to walk humbly. The walk is daily and without end which requires time and commitment.

Rest of the Story

Read Romans 3:21-26

During my childhood I would hear in the morning a commentator on a radio show which my mother had on in our kitchen. The commentator would always end his show with the line, “And now you know… the rest of the story.” You may recognize this line as spoken by Paul Harvey. I would listen to the show every school day morning as I ate my breakfast. Paul Harvey would share the background of some story which was about a famous event or person. There was something captivating about his voice. As he told the story in a shrouded manner, you tried to guess about what or who he was speaking. He saved the reveal until the very end. I frequently would be shocked, or at least amazed, when he did the reveal. Knowing “the rest of the story” enriched my understanding. Often I would have a new perspective.

In the passage from Romans, there is an important “rest of the story” component. This passage speaks of the righteousness of God in regard to the Law. Prior to Jesus, righteousness was acquired by fulfilling the Law. Anyone who broke the Law was considered unrighteous. A new understanding is introduced which indicates that now, righteousness is obtained through faith in Jesus Christ. God has utilized the shedding of Christ’s blood as the method of answering for the unpunished sins committed.

The portion of this passage which is “the rest of the story” begins at verse 23, “… for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” If we were to stop with verse 23, then humanity remains in a helpless and hopeless state. But we are not left with the truth of verse 23. The story continues in verse 24 and our status is completely reversed, “and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Chiust Jesus.” For each of us, this is the rest of the story. God gave to us the full righteousness of God in Christ. We are redeemed and sin is forgiven.

Now you know… the rest of the story.

Carrying a Burden

Read Psalm 32:1-5

Many of us carry burdens unnecessarily. There are times we are not even aware that we have accepted a burden; other times we willingly take it up. When these burdens are pointed out to us, we may even choose to continue carrying them instead of laying them down. There can be a strange comfort in holding on to our burden because it is familiar.

In the portion of today’s psalm, a burden is mentioned. This burden, familiar to all of us, is sin. The psalm begins by admitting what a blessing it is to be forgiven. The psalmist continues by saying that while carrying the burden, instead of confessing it, there were negative results which caused torment and weariness. The change took place when the sin was acknowledged out loud and no longer hidden. Forgiveness was given and the burden was removed.

Each of us have reasons why we choose to continuously carry our sin. Fear may drive us, the fear that the sin is unforgivable. We may decide that we deserve to have to carry this load. Our thought could be that if we keep the sin hidden, we can maintain the proper public image. All of these reasons are just excuses which prevent us from experiencing a full life. Carrying the burden of sin destroys our life from the inside out. Our health, self-image, spirit, and mental wellness are negatively impacted by the carrying of our sin.

Confession of our sin to the Lord, and when necessary to others, allows this burden to be laid down. Jesus reminds us endlessly that in him all sin can be forgiven. By laying this burden at the foot of the cross we can experience the fullness of life. We will see improvements in health, spirit and our minds.

Lay down your burden and receive the blessing of forgiveness.

Lord’s Prayer – Part 8

Read Matthew 6:9b-13

Today’s phrase from the Lord’s Prayer which we will look at is a continuation of the petition from yesterday. In this petition, the Lord is seeking from God forgiveness for sin. We know that Jesus is not in need of forgiveness but is providing a model prayer for his disciples who do need forgiveness.

The phrase for today places a caveat on the request for forgiveness. This caveat is “as we forgive our debtors.”

Most often this is interpreted to mean that God should forgive our sin in the same manner which we forgive others. This interpretation creates a problem. The problem is that this would place God in a situation dependent upon our actions and behaviors. God is not dependent upon humans in any way and does not respond as humans respond. Evidence of this is found in places throughout Scripture. In the story of Jonah God is prepared to forgive Nineveh which angers Jonah because he wants Nineveh punished. God shows Jonah that God’s choice to forgive or not to forgive is not linked to Jonah’s choices. (Jonah 3:10-4:11) God also declares, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.”(Isaiah 55:8) Stephen reminds us of God’s independence from human actions when he says, “However, the Most High does not live in houser made by human hands.”(Acts 7:48)

If we do not interpret this phrase to be a link between our actions and God’s actions, we must look at it differently. Jesus appears to be expressing the importance of our forgiveness of others. One possible translation of the Greek word translated here “as” is “because.” The sense maybe that Jesus is telling us our reason for forgiving others is that we have been forgiven by God. This interpretation is supported by other Scripture. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32) “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone, forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13) Luke’s version of this prayer also lends support. “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” (Luke 11:4).

In including this phrase in the prayer, Jesus calls upon us to remember that by requesting and accepting God’s forgiveness, we are to extend forgiveness to others in gratitude.

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!