Isaiah 53:6- Broken Humanity, Missing Pieces, and Who Can Repay?

11 02 2014

exploding-skull-james-mundie

A Beauchene skull.  Fascinating.

I have a hard time taking the creation narrative in Genesis literally, (who is really getting down with talking snakes?) but it speaks an infinite truth even when taken (I believe it was intended) as a metaphor.  Humanity wants to believe that humanity evolves and progresses, but the story of the Fall speaks otherwise.  If anything, humanity has been continually devolving and falling further away from the heart and will of God since the Fall, and if anyone need be convinced of that, just watch the evening news.

lack of beer

The Genesis creation narrative is counter-cultural.  It says (my paraphrase): God made the heavens and the earth, and it was good.  (see Genesis 1-2)

Then it goes on in Genesis 3 to add that we humans, in our disobedience to God and His goodness, screwed it all up.

God made creation perfect, but we couldn’t leave it well enough alone. We have to have what we’re told we can’t have, and that is the Fall in a nutshell.  We don’t want to listen to God, we want to be God.   We all know what happens when a mother of a toddler or preschooler decides to make cookies or cakes.  When he was toddler-to-preschool age my son couldn’t keep his hands off the freshly frosted Christmas cookies, or Dad’s birthday cake, or the Thanksgiving pumpkin pie even though there were Pop Tarts or cheese crackers or other snackies that were OK to nibble on readily available to him.  The special pie or cake just tasted better.  We have to have what we want now, and consequences be damned.

There’s something inherent in human nature (Catholics will call that “original sin”) that insists we cannot resist the forbidden fruit.  Even if it is better if we leave it alone.  Even if partaking of it leads to the death of us.

forbidden-fruit1

The reality is that everyone has that addiction to forbidden fruit.  It’s called sin.  Sin’s not a very popular concept today.  The message coming from most pulpits today comes across more like the old Coca-Cola commercial from the 1970’s.  Let’s all hold hands and sing “Kumbaya” (or “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke“) while the world goes to hell in a hand basket.  Let’s all put up a pretty, moral front and try to earn God’s love and approval- and miss the boat entirely.

letpeaceblossom

It’s not necessarily a bad message, but it’s not the whole message, and it’s not the complete message coming from Scripture.  Flowers and kisses and butterflies and singing pretty songs are all lovely, but how do you deal with the two kids ripping each other’s faces off as they’re fighting over a toy?  There is a reason why God gave humans rules- mostly to keep them from hurting themselves and others.

The Lutheran theological take on that is that there is both Law (the Bad News that we can’t come close to being able to follow God’s rules) and Gospel (the Good News- that God made a Provision to cover for our failed nature) all throughout the Scriptures.

Even though I’m not a Calvinist, I can agree with John Calvin 100% on one of the petals of his TULIP.  Human beings are Totally Depraved. Anyone who doubts this may observe human depravity in its basest forms all around us- a group of toddlers grabbing everything in sight while screaming, “MINE!” or a group of teenage girls gossiping about and backstabbing the girls in the “out” group.

mean girls

Human beings are inherently self-serving.  Many years ago, I had a debate with a psychology professor who contended that there is no such thing as true altruism.  I wanted to believe there was.  I wanted to believe that humans are inherently good and kind.  At first, as I was a young college student and more than a bit naïve, I was shocked at the suggestion that all human behavior is inspired by satisfying a human need. But as I’ve grown older and had the opportunity to observe and interact with fellow humans, I can see exactly where he was coming from- especially when I examine my own heart.  If there’s kindness or goodness to be found in me, that’s the work of the Holy Spirit- NOT me.

I can also understand why younger people have a hard time seeing how being involved in a church is relevant if it’s just a big version of the Coke commercial to them.  There’s plenty of places to get warm fuzzies and play nicey-nice and sing happy songs together.  It’s a little harder to find the Jesus Who wept with His friends when He found out Lazarus was dead.  It’s a little harder to find the Jesus Who says to the woman about to be stoned for adultery, “I forgive you, go and sin no more.”

The big question is, (and probably the big barrier that keeps many people from pursuing God and taking on a life of faith,) why do you need a Savior if you don’t know from what you are being saved from?    In Scripture we learn not only that human beings are Totally Depraved right out of the box, but that there’s not thing one we can do to change our nature or to abide by God’s Laws.  That’s what Jesus came to be- the Perfect Sacrifice to cover for humanity’s egregious and constant sin- and that is the Gospel, the good news that in Christ God wipes our slates clean.

All we like sheep have gone astray.  We have turned every one to his own way.  And the Lord has laid on Him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all.”- Isaiah 53:6

The Bad News:  We are all Totally Depraved sinners, incapable of making ourselves right with God.

The Good News: Jesus took the punishment and paid the price for our sins.

Awesome.

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Playing Hooky – Isaiah 53:5

9 04 2013

 

gravestoneangel

I was never much for rocking the boat when I was in high school.  By the time I’d survived long enough to get to my sophomore year (1983-4) all I wanted to do was to stave off boredom while still keeping up my GPA.  Keeping up my GPA wasn’t much of a challenge, but staving off boredom was quite another issue.  I do have to admit to reading every single issue of  Mad and National Lampoon from 1982-86, as well as a stunning selection of $1.35 each coverless books from the cigar store that were as tasteless as they were coverless, along with the works of George Orwell, Ayn Rand, and JRR Tolkien, a somewhat extensive collection of the classics- including Dante’s Divine Comedy, many of Shakespeare’s plays, as well as a fair number of scientific publications,  and a plethora of non-fiction historical works on WWII.  I may not have had too many challenging classes in high school- with the exceptions of AP English and  AP music theory, but I did some major reading, mostly for my own edification and recreation.  Being a geek had some advantages, namely that on the rare occasion that I considered bending the rules, I was usually able to do it under the radar and beyond suspicion.  I got away with murder (in a figurative way, of course) when I wanted to- quietly and covertly.

maranathabaptist

Since Mom is and was very much a practicing, old-school Catholic, every year on Good Friday, since the powers that ran the school system didn’t really care if Spring Break coincided with Holy Week or not, Mom wrote us an excuse to skip the afternoon so that we could go to the Good Friday service at church that generally lasted from about 1PM-4PM.  No, it is not Mass- the one day in the Catholic calendar that Mass is NOT celebrated is Good Friday.  The service that is held in lieu of Mass on Good Friday is called Tenebrae service, which means “service of shadows.”  The Tenebrae service is also observed in the Lutheran tradition, and includes the reading of the Passion of Christ, and reflections upon His death.  Heavy, heavy somber stuff, as it should be on Good Friday.

“But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.- Isaiah 53:5 (NIV)”

We- meaning my sisters and I- were well acquainted with the Good Friday service, but being both teenaged and very much disinclined toward Catholic religious observances in varying degrees, decided that we would spend the afternoon not in the shadows, but in the bright April sunshine.  We just didn’t have the somber thing going on that day.

That particular Good Friday was very good indeed, weather in the low seventies, bright sunshine without a cloud in the sky, and just a hint of  a light breeze.  Perfect weather in April in Ohio is almost unheard of. My oldest sister (who happened to be driving that day) wasn’t about to spend such a glorious day inside.  The only problem with not going to church was that her car- a bright orange ’71 VW- was readily visible.  We couldn’t hang around in town.

1972superbeetle

My sister was not as good a navigator of the back roads in Marion County as I came to be. I liked to sneak cigarettes out where I knew no one would see me, which meant I took a lot of excursions all over creation to sneak smokes.  Gasoline was about $1 a gallon, and smokes were about $1 a pack, so my smoke-n-drive habit wasn’t terribly expensive.  I miss the random drive for the just the sake of driving, (gasoline is too expensive for that) but I have to admit that back then it wasn’t as much about the scenery as the nicotine.

Even though she didn’t know all the funky hideaways I ended up finding, she did find one of my favorite places- the railroad trestle bridge.  It’s long since been torn down and scrapped for whatever the steel was worth, but in 1984, though the line was dead and the tracks torn up, the bridge was still lingering over the river, a monument to obsolescence, a shadow still standing from a long-ago sphere.

bridge

It’s hard to describe the serenity I found that day.  Even my sisters left me alone for awhile and didn’t threaten to knock me off the bridge where I would surely be sucked into the brackish water and unspeakable muck below.  I would never recommend swimming, wading or touching the water in that part of the Scioto River today (and certainly not back then) but sitting about 30 feet above the river on the trestle bridge listening to the soft breeze and the running water is hard to describe.  It was as if I was everywhere and nowhere at the same time (all points converge here) and I never wanted to leave.  All the things that weighed so heavily on my shoulders were gone (including the paranoia should our hooky-playing be discovered) and for if only a brief moment, I was free.

The world has moved on since then.  Places like that old trestle bridge, those happenstance cathedrals that occur in spite of the crushing hammer of entropy, and  in defiance of conscious efforts to unmake them, are harder and harder to find in a world where the new mantra is structure and order.  Even small children have every minute of their days scheduled and dedicated to a specific purpose.  I know all too well what it is to be locked into the whirlwind of busy- going everywhere and getting nowhere.

busy drug

It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the grace of God.  As much as I should, at the very least, have been in that service of shadows, I was in reality sitting on a railroad bridge without a care in the world.  It’s not so much that dropping out and going to sit on the bridge and watch the world go around is a bad thing, it’s more that everything has a price.  It’s easy for us to say we want to walk with Jesus- until it’s shadow time.  History gives the apostle Peter a bad rap for denying Jesus three times, but isn’t that we humans in our weakness and fallenness do?

One of the beauties of the grace of God is that He knows our weakness.  He knows that our bodies are weak and our moral constitutions even weaker.  Although we are also called to carry the cross, like as not we end up playing hooky instead, spending our lives blissfully unaware and disconnected from the suffering our Savior bore in our place.

The good news is that even when we are faithless He is faithful.  He offers us His grace, purchased with His blood and suffering and tears.  He is the Reason why I can have peace and freedom and serenity, because He took the punishment that I deserved.





John 16:33- Jesus Wins!

4 04 2013

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“(Jesus said:)I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace and confidence. In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world. [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you.]” John 16:33 (AMP)

Jesus understood how difficult life could be for us, and how badly we need encouragement at times.

This life is not the end, even when it is easy to get to the end of hope.  It is easy to be overwhelmed by physical pain, by emotional distress, by all of the problems that plague humanity.  It is easy to be afraid, to withdraw, to try to escape the expectations and criticisms of others.   There is more to life than the routine of: get up, go to work, go home, go to bed.  There is something beyond loss and pain and disappointment.

As a person who struggles with both depression and chronic pain, the reality that Jesus has overcome the world is good news.  Otherwise life would be completely pointless and hopeless, with nothing to look forward to other than ever-increasing physical pain, as well as ever-increasing disillusionment and disappointment.

It’s easy to let circumstances steal our joy, but we learn from Proverbs that it’s not about our circumstances:

“Blessed (happy, fortunate, and to be envied) is the man who reverently and worshipfully fears [the Lord] at all times [regardless of circumstances], but he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity.” Proverbs 28:14 (AMP)

The Apostle Paul echoed this sentiment to the Thessalonians as well:

“Be happy [in your faith] and rejoice and be glad-hearted continually (always); Be unceasing in prayer [praying perseveringly]; Thank [God] in everything [no matter what the circumstances may be, be thankful and give thanks], for this is the will of God for you [who are] in Christ Jesus [the Revealer and Mediator of that will]. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (AMP)

On the surface it seems to me like Paul is saying that we should be slap happy all the time.  When I first read this passage I thought ot the 90’s cartoon Ren and Stimpy, in which Stimpy was a happy-go-lucky fat cat, and Ren was a nervous, paranoid and seething little Chihuahua.  In one episode, Stimpy is upset that Ren isn’t happy.  So Stimpy manufactures a “happy helmet” for Ren, so that Ren can be happy all the time.

ren happy helmet

Stimpy’s invention didn’t work out well.

God never asked us to deny our true emotions, but He does ask that we surrender everything to Him.   He has ways of transforming us and changing our perspective when we surrender ourselves to him.

“You have turned my mourning into dancing for me; You have put off my sackcloth and girded me with gladness,

To the end that my tongue and my heart and everything glorious within me may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.” Psalm 30:11-12 (AMP)

We aren’t going to be happy all the time in this world.  But even through our mourning, our disappointment, our pain, in Christ there is a steady and strong undercurrent of joy- not a superficial, feigned happiness, but a true and lasting joy.

Lord, I pray that we can see through our tears and trials and cling to the joy we find in You, and lift our hearts and voices in praise no matter what our circumstances.





1 Corinthians 5:6-8 Throw Out the Old Dough

2 04 2013

fresh bread

“Your boasting is not a good thing. Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?  Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 (NRSV)

As part of the Jewish observance of Passover, (Exodus 12:1-28) everyone is supposed to clear out all the leavened bread (including bread starters) in their kitchen, which sounds like a weird thing to do- why would God tell people to throw out food?- but it has a symbolic significance.

Most people today don’t bake their own bread.  Those of us who do (and then only for special occasions) generally buy powdered yeast to mix in with the dough so that it will rise, and the whole batch of dough is used at once, but in ancient times there was no powdered yeast.  In order to keep the yeast cultures going, ancient bakers kept a bit of the dough back from the previous batch of bread to leaven the next batch, in the same way that people might make and use starters for sourdough bread today.

Anyone who has ever dealt with sourdough starters knows when a starter has gone south.  A pink or slimy appearance or a bad smell can indicate that the starter is contaminated with bacteria or mold, and then it needs to be thrown out, and then all the utensils and such that touched it need to be thoroughly washed.  If one uses a contaminated starter, any bread baked with it won’t taste good, and the finished bread (if it did actually rise) could also contain rather disgusting things such as salmonella, other bacterias and fungi that aren’t healthy to be consumed.

It was a good idea from time to time for people (especially in the days before refrigeration) to clear out the old bread and starters and start fresh.

Our lives are sort of like that baking cycle too.  Every once in awhile, we need to go clear out the kitchen and get rid of the stuff that’s potentially dangerous, that might make us sick, the stuff that clutters up the cabinets and gets in the way.  This is what the apostle Paul is talking about, only in spiritual terms.

I need to examine my thought patterns and confess that I don’t always bring them captive to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)  More often than not, I resort to the old ways of doing things- letting my anger seethe instead of finding loving ways to disagree, pursuing passive-aggressive revenge, and then I wonder why the only result of sticking to those old patterns is the same old rotten bread.

The rotten stuff, the contaminated thought patterns, have to be thrown out.  We occasionally have to take out the spiritual trash.

take-out-trash

In the Lutheran tradition, we sort of take a dim eye toward the practice of confession, even though selling indulgences is no longer in vogue.  I don’t think that it is always necessary to seek the sort of formal confession that is practiced in the Catholic Church (although there is nothing wrong with the way it is practiced today,) but I do see the value of it in certain circumstances.

“Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” James 5:16 (NRSV)

The sort of confession that is one believer to another, in a context of forgiveness and prayer, is a good first step in throwing out that old starter and bad bread.

Lord, help me to search and be willing to throw out all the things in my heart and mind that are not of You.  Help me to pray for and with believing friends, so that we may think and behave as Your followers should.

IF

“(Jesus said:) For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:20 (NRSV)





Matthew 28:11-15 The Day After: Damage Control?

1 04 2013

RomanGuards

And Pilate had asked, “What is truth?” (John 18:38)

“While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened.  After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, ‘You must say, “His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.”’ ‘If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’  So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.”  Matthew 28:11-15 (NRSV)

The truth shall set you free (John 8:31-32,) which explains why lies are some of the greatest tools of those who wish to keep people in bondage.  The truth of Jesus’ resurrection was a rather inconvenient truth for the elders and priests.  All along they had been calling Jesus a fraud and a blasphemer and did everything they could to discredit His Name.  It would have been rather awkward for them to suddenly change their tune and sacrifice their own credibility, especially for someone they considered to be a two-bit heretic.  Pride is a powerful motivator.  One of the hardest phrases to say is, “I was wrong.”  It’s right up there with “I’m sorry.”

sorry

The priests and elders would have definitely lost face if they admitted they were wrong about Jesus, but the danger to them was even deeper than that.

As time went on, followers of Jesus had ways of turning up dead.

The Romans weren’t terribly fond of any challenge to their power, but, surprisingly, Romans were generally tolerant of a wide variety of religious practices.   The Romans were a lot more tolerant, at least as far as religious practices, than the Jewish leadership of Jesus’ time.  That’s the reason why Pontius Pilate wasn’t particularly anxious to condemn Jesus to death.  Pilate would have probably been quite fine had Jesus claimed to be the Queen of Sheba.  Jewish laws concerning blasphemy or Sabbath rest meant nothing to Pilate.  As long as Caesar got his money, and the Romans kept their hold on power, Rome really didn’t care what individuals believed.

romanbacchanalia

But if those who offended the Jewish leadership could be framed as being a threat to Rome…then the Jewish authorities keep their credibility with the people, destroy their enemies, and keep the Romans happy.  In theory their plan sounded effective, but it didn’t keep the peace for long.  Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed in 70 AD.  Even though they threw the Son of God under the bus to save their own hides, the Jewish authorities could not keep the various rebellions under wraps.

One coverup, one lie, in the name of “damage control.”  How many scandals in history have been swept under the rug in the name of damage control?  How many people have been condemned for the price of the highest bidder?

clinton columbian

The French have a saying: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose- The more things change, the more things stay the same.

The temptation to engage in coverups and damage control becomes more and more irresistable the higher the stakes become.  We see it in the news every day- this or that information was withheld, or spun, or was flat out false.  People will do that- sacrifice the truth in the name of their own hides, in the name of power, and in the name of money.  That hasn’t changed.  Corruption is as old as the Fall and as current as today’s headlines.

Being the cynical soul that I can often be, I find it hard to believe the official spin.   After all, Jesus said we should be as wise as serpents, but as innocent as doves. (Matthew 10:16)   To me that means refusing to take the statements from the “powers that be” as Gospel truth- especially when the “powers that be” have vested interests in purveying lies.

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The problem is that it would be all well and good if I could just sit in an ivory tower and say the Jewish authorities were evil and terrible for the damage control they tried to enact with a bit of bribery and lies.  The problem is that it would be all well and good today if corruption and lies were only confined to the government.

The problem is, I do it too.  I rationalize my behavior.  I do what’s expedient to preserve face, to save my own hide, and to retain what little tiny bit of power I might think I have.

Do I really want to tell the truth- without bias, without spin, without omissions, even when it may incriminate me or show me out to be a hypocrite or a liar?  What if telling the truth means sacrificing my own hide?

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How have my attempts at “damage control” betrayed others, and therefore, Jesus?

SacredHeart

Who am I going to believe?  Who am I going to trust?

Am I someone others can believe? Am I someone others can trust?





1 Corinthians 9:24-25 Race to Win, and Colossians 3:1 My Parents’ Wisdom

20 03 2013

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“Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it.  Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one.”  1 Corinthians 9:24-25 (NRSV)

Today’s question:

Are you “running the race” for a heavenly prize or an earthly one?  What does this imply for how you discipline yourself?

I’ve never been much for competitive sports.  First of all my physical coordination is abysmal, and I have no athletic ability.  I remember attempting to play softball when I was a small child (before I got rheumatic fever and was forbidden from organized sports.)  I was usually last in the batting order and way, way out in the outfield.  Until my grandmother made the school aware that my family doctor had forbidden me from gym class and brought the doctor’s note, I actually did take gym class -until I was in eighth grade and ended up in the ER with a badly sprained ankle from attempting to run laps.  It was not pretty.  Everyone else knew how badly coordinated I was and how bad I sucked at every single activity in gym class, and so I was always chosen last for teams.  Sometimes the kids fought over who had to take me, although if the boys were included in the team activity, I was usually preferred over the not-so hygienic boy who ate boogers and dead bugs.

I do believe in personal fitness, even though I don’t get into organized sports.  The current wisdom for people like me with joint damage and minor heart valve damage is that exercise is necessary and healthy, including plenty of cardio, and preferably no or limited impact exercise. Swimming, walking or bicycling are the preferred types of exercise for me as I have a good deal of deterioration in my joints.   No, I don’t have six pack abs and I will not be doing any biathalons any time soon.

lap-swim

The only one I “compete” against is me.  How many laps can I swim or how many minutes can I put in on the elliptical machine?  Probably not as many as most people, but I know that exercise is necessary for bodily health, so I do it the best I can.

I’ve long since been tired of the always-on mentality this society wants people to have- achieve this, get that, know this, do that.  In the eternal scheme of things, how much do those things really matter?  Not flipping much.  The more time goes by I care less and less about much of what the world deems to be important.

I can’t say that I always live in such a manner that I am working toward the “imperishable wreath.”  I’m not the most disciplined individual.  I have many flaws. I make a lot of mistakes.  And this journey would be completely impossible for me, save for the strength and power of Christ.

 

holy family

 

“So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” Colossians 3:1 (NRSV)

Today’s question:

What attitude taught by your parents do you need to reaffirm?

Mom and Dad have a sort of strange relationship as far as their faith.  Mom converted to Catholicism when she was in high school- before Vatican II.  She is very much a practicing Catholic, including saying Rosaries, going to Confession regularly, praying to various saints and observing holy days and seasons.  Dad grew up as a Regular Baptist, but dropped out of the church when there was a scandal involving the leader of the youth group he belonged to.  Even though Dad isn’t directly involved in a Christian community, he does know the Bible and he does pray, and he lives as a Christian witness. Both of their traditions are highly conservative, and they actually agree on core issues such as the sanctity of human life, but those traditions’ theologies  are strikingly different, to put it mildly.

From one side (mostly my grandmother) I heard that a person had to accept Christ and pray the “sinner’s prayer” to be saved. From my Mom’s side I heard you have to be baptized and believe and then follow all the rules and maybe you’ll be saved and maybe not.  So Mom and Dad didn’t agree on how one is saved, or means of grace, or what sacraments are and aren’t.  (I don’t agree with either of them on the issue of sacraments!) That confused me.  So I had to find these things out for myself, which isn’t easy to do when your parents disagree on important issues of faith.

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As time went on I observed their attitudes toward each other’s faith tradition soften.  Part of that I think was the influence of ecumenism and Vatican II, when it was declared to Catholics that Protestants were no longer to be deemed “heathens” but considered to be “separated brethren.”  I think we are all “separated brethren” over some things, and part of our calling in this life is to agree to disagree and love God and each other anyway.

I don’t see Dad becoming Catholic anytime soon, but I do believe that I will see him in heaven.  I believe I’ll see Mom too, even though I don’t see her at the tent revival running up for the next altar call.   God makes fewer distinctions regarding who’s in and who’s out than we do.

I’ve really been encouraged that they pray together.  It took years for them to actually do that, but they do now.  That’s something that I wish that I could do with Jerry, (I’m always praying for him, whether he knows it or not,) but he is an agnostic and thinks prayer is a lost cause.

If I am really seeking the things of Christ, then I would seek to reconcile myself not only with God, but with those who don’t share my faith.  Sometimes it breaks my heart, but Jesus calls us to love others even when they aren’t lovable, and when we disagree.

 





Colossians 3:6-7 Lead Me Not Into Temptation

15 03 2013

divine comedy inferno

“On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient.  These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life.” Colossians 3:6-7 (NRSV)

Today’s question:

What moral issues that tempted you once has Christ helped you overcome?  Have you thanked Him for these victories?

I do believe in a literal hell.  Some Christians, and even many Lutherans, do not, but I do.  Jesus talked about hell more than anyone else in the Bible, so as far as I’m concerned, there’s your sign– hell is real.  The good news is that hell doesn’t have to be the end of the story.

As a child the very real possibility of eternity in hell scared the holy bejeebers out of me.  As I was raised by a very staunchly Catholic mother, I knew a lot more about hell than my non-Catholic friends.  Catholicism does not teach the assurance of salvation.  A Catholic is considered to be presumptious if he or she claims to be saved- so you’re always wondering where you’re going to end up if you drop dead all the sudden.  The issue I have with not knowing if I’m saved or not is both Jesus and the apostle Paul teach that salvation is all due to the grace of God- not on what I do or don’t do but on what Jesus has done for me.  He took my place- and my punishment.  Because of the grace of God I become a part of His Kingdom forever- today as well as for the rest of eternity.

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The big problem with overemphasizing the reality of hell is that it minimizes the reality of the grace of God.  I learned much about penance and mortal and venial sins as a child, and much about the omnipresence and the wrath of God, but not a whole lot about grace.   Fear is a great short-term motivator, but it’s not so hot in the long term.   Worse yet, attempting to hold someone’s salvation contingent upon anything other the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross is false.  We can’t “earn ourselves saved,” no matter how many good works we do.

busy ants

“We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.  We all fade like a leaf,and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” Isaiah 64:6 (NRSV) 

Nothing we do is ever going to be good enough to earn ourselves saved.

busy

Busy doesn’t earn you brownie points in God’s economy.

Some would argue that, “Well since you’re saved anyway, why don’t you just do what you want?”

The problem with that is, a person who belongs to Christ is going to be transformed by Christ- one way or the other.  The easy way or the hard way.  Take it from me, cynical, stubborn and obstinate fool that I can be- the hard way is not fun.

The Bible teacher J. Vernon McGee (well known for his Thru the Bible five year verse by verse study that is still available on the radio and online every day) puts it like this: “You can take a trip to the pig pen, but you won’t be comfortable there.  A son belongs in the father’s house.”

I understand pig pen sojourns very well.

in-the-pig-pen

The good news is that God loves His own too much to let them stay in the pig pen.

I picked up some not-so-nice habits during my sojourns.  I’m not going to come out and say anything ridiculous such as, “a Christian can’t smoke,” because what a person does is between his/her conscience and God, and there is no “Thou Shalt Not Smoke” among the Ten Commandments, but I was a hard core chain smoker for many years- two packs a day of 120 menthols, down to the filters.  Smoking was something that I put above just about everything.  I planned my day and activities around when I could have a smoke.  Smoking was also contributing to some of my preexisting health conditions as well as costing me money, turning my teeth yellow and stinking up my car and my clothes.  By the grace of God He set me free of smoking over 10 years ago.  I am so very thankful for that freedom, because cigarettes were a huge bondage and source of frustration for me.  When I think about it now it’s hard to imagine that at one time I couldn’t even go to bed without having a pack and a lighter within reach if I would wake up in the night.

The Lord has also brought me to freedom from lust and has brought me peace with living celibate.  That’s been a very difficult road, because I have had deep issues with lust and the trouble it can get one into in the past.  It’s not that there is anything inherently wrong with sex.  It is a sacred and beautiful thing between husband and wife, and it is a gift God meant for us to enjoy, in the proper context.  Unfortunately, my husband has ED, and no interest in doing anything to correct it, so relations are not possible for him.  So whether I like it or not, I have to live a celibate life. The only way I have any chance of doing that is in God’s strength.

If He calls me to something, He will provide the means for me to do it- or in this case, to NOT do it.  I am thankful for being set free of an overwhelming addiction to cigarettes, and for the ability to come to terms with the celibate life and to have peace and joy in the midst of it.

I’m not “there” yet, but by the grace of God, I’m on my way.