April 4, 2021

Happy Independence Day!: an Easter Reflection

Friends and strangers who might read this,

These words are my Easter gift to you.

With affection for you
and all praise to God: Father Son and Holy Spirit,
Heather 💛



Jesus ushered in a new kind of kingdom. He proclaimed the good news that included the language of freedom from bondage.  The more He talked about it, the more curious it became and the less His hearers, even the twelve, seemed to understand the purpose of the newly-arrived/coming kingdom.  Many Jews thought of freedom from Rome and expected Jesus to set Jerusalem free from their tyrannical reign.  In the present day, here in the United States, we too can misunderstand, despite not being under the thumb of a foreign power.

Our origin story is one of shaking off the rule of a monarchy.  Since it's in our DNA, we are always looking to wrap our arms around freedom and liberty - values as precious to us as friends and family.  Unfortunately, that orientation can influence our reading of Scripture as we filter Christ's words about freedom through our specific way of looking at the world - similar to the Jews of Jesus' time.  Indeed Jesus Christ sets free from sin each one who He fills with faith to call on His name.  But it's a dependent freedom, a liberty that binds us to a new master - the all-powerful One who is also the Good Shepherd - and a call to live for His purposes according to His values.  We are set free from a tyrannical ruler into the kingdom of our good Creator, under His authority.  But that rushes us ahead too quickly.  Let's start by taking a look at how it all began.

Holy Week has had me thinking about Eden, that most lovely of gardens, and its connection to Christ on the cross and Christ the risen one.  There, as the world was spoken into being, humankind was created to worship and submit to a leader; their Creator King was in charge of setting the rules and boundaries of His creation.  From then till when Adam and Eve ate the fruit, they worshiped and submitted to their Creator King as He intended it to be.  But He gave them agency as His image-bearers in His creation, to choose to follow Him or not.  In the end, deceived into believing that perhaps their Creator King didn't really have their best interest at heart, our fore-parents looked at and desired the one thing they could not have, and had it.  Thus death became a player in the drama.  We've all been born into it since.

Their Creator King had told them that if they ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would die (Genesis 2:15-17).  Well, we're all here today, so they obviously didn't die-die, but a separation opened between them and their Creator King.  They could no longer serve Him in purity, because they had decided to be rulers of their own lives.  Sin (the condition into which we are born as sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, not individual peccadillos) was the new ruler of human hearts.  According to the Bible, no one has the choice of not being in its service (Romans 3:9-20).  If we are honest in our assessment of humanity throughout history, we see the ramifications of this reality everywhere: from wars, injustice, and abuse around the world to our own inability to control our thoughts and actions enough to consistently be "good people."

Let's go back to Jesus' talk about freedom from bondage then.  One Sabbath day, (recorded in Luke 4:16-21) when He stood up in the synagogue (think church) to be a reader from the Hebrew Scriptures during the service, they gave Him a scroll from Isaiah.  After reading, he told the worshippers that the words were fulfilled in their hearing, that very day.  What did he read?

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because He has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives,
and recovery of sight to the blind,
and to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

 

In the garden of Eden, they were free, abiding in the Lord's favor.  What did that freedom look like?  It certainly did not look like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the way we perceive freedom.  It was a Creator-King-oriented freedom, set within His boundaries, full of sensual delights and shameless intimacy: God to human, human to human, even human to nature.  No shame.  No fear.  No barriers in relationships.  No bondage caused by physical, relational, emotional, or even spiritual baggage or brokenness.

Jesus came so we could get back to that with our Creator King and to ultimately restore all things to their former glory!  The only way was for Him to bridge the gap of the separation caused by sin and death.  God had to enter into our plight, become one of us, die in our place, and rise victoriously in triumph over death.  AND HE DID!

In the Easter devotional Suffering and Glory, Anthony Carter says, "For [Patrick] Henry it was liberty or death.  For Jesus it was liberty by death. ... The death and resurrection of Jesus set us free." p 17   I just love that so much.  The freedom (and joy!) we seek are found through the ugliness Jesus suffered and the power that raised Him from the dead!

All those longings and desires you and I have for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness*?  The Bible tells us those are simply our attempts to escape death, trying to shake off the bonds of sin in our life.  Yet every attempt we make, while we may have some success here and there, never truly set us free.  We continue to encounter the effects of sin and death in our lives, within and without.  There seems to be no escape.


That's because, apart from a Creator-King intervention, there is no escape.


BUT HE INTERVENED: the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ - fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament and the will of the Creator King for His beloved image-bearers - came, lived sinlessly, died unjustly, and rose victoriously so that we too might live, now and forevermore!  In surrender to Him, by taking Him at His word, our hearts are satisfied.


If Easter teaches us anything, it is that death doesn't get the final say; Jesus does.  Christ rose from the dead!  Today the invitation is to, as Matt Maher says in the song below, COME AWAKE!  Every Sunday is a celebration of our Risen King who came:
  • to give life for the walking dead,
  • to atone for the sin,
  • to sucker punch shame and guilt and damn them to hell,
  • to rise to restore us and return us to our Creator King.
Taking Him at His word, we can live now and forever WITH Him, under His trustworthy and benevolent rule.  He makes all things new!  He can make YOU new.  Will you turn to Him today?  His righteousness is yours through faith that He is who He claimed to be: the resurrection and the life.

If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.  The scripture says, "No one who believes in Him will be put to shame."
Romans 10:9-11

Let those verses encourage you if you already belong to God through Christ; death is no longer your master, what a work God has done in your life!  And if you have yet to confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord, I pray today will be the beginning of your journey with Him in newness of life and freedom from death, sin, and shame!  As Matt Maher says in the song below, "Let no one caught in sin remain."  Today is a great day to let Christ declare over you "This one is mine!  This one is free indeed!"

So, good news! Not only today can we say Happy Easter!
We can also declare to one another, Happy Independence from Death Day!

Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again!






*You may not be from the United States, but I do think that phrase from our founding documents summarizes our human longings so well!

January 10, 2021

A Prayer of Repentance Based on Matthew 5

Source


Almighty God,

We come to you today as Christians in the United States after a week of turmoil and we repent.  We repent of misrepresenting you to the world, to our neighbors.  We repent of not embodying the beatitudes Jesus spoke.  We have not humbled ourselves before you to be poor in spirit, to mourn, to be meek, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be merciful, to be pure in heart, to be peacemakers.  Rather we have been afraid, defensive, and proud, unbecoming of your people. We have cried “persecution” when we were not being persecuted for proclaiming Jesus Christ, but rather for promoting your morality before proclaiming the good news that Jesus saves sinners, of whom we are the uttermost.  We are sorry.  Forgive us.


Restore us.  You are our only hope.


We have failed to be salt and light as we have fought amongst ourselves: gossiping, slandering, and hating our brothers and sisters.  We’ve all done it and we’ve tolerated it from others, even retweeting, posting, or speaking others’ gossip, slander, and hate.  We are sorry.  Forgive us.

Restore us. You are our only hope.


Lord, we are lawbreakers, maybe not civil laws, but Your law - the law Christ came and fulfilled.  We fool ourselves into believing we are good.  We clean the outside of the cup and we receive your grace in vain.  You have set us free and we use our liberty to promote worldly power, position, and privilege rather than to proclaim your salvation in humble awe.  We are sorry.  Forgive us.


Restore us.  You are our only hope.


We have been angry, in public and private, murdering one another, most often in the interest of self-preservation or self-interest.  We believe the lie that our anger is “righteous” and gives us a free pass to perpetuate untruths, which damages our ability to share the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  We are sorry.  Forgive us.


Restore us.  You are our only hope.


We are quick to point out the sins of others, or simply how their behavior doesn’t suit our preferences.  We are slow to see our own sin as the Holy Spirit reveals it, because we are too busy trying to play His role in other peoples’ lives.  How we have offended you!  How we have wronged our brothers and sisters!  We are sorry.  Forgive us.


Restore us.  You are our only hope.


We have misapplied, misquoted, and misunderstood your Word, twisting it to fit our agendas.  We have used your Word to harm others, quoting Scripture and Christian platitudes when people needed us to stand up for them or be quiet and sit with them.  We are sorry.  Forgive us.

Restore us.  You are our only hope.


We have not followed the example of Christ by loving or ministering to our enemies. And we have wrongly labeled people as enemies who are not.  We have not cared for the vulnerable, too lost in our own concerns and causes.  We are sorry.  Forgive us.


Restore us.  You are our only hope.


We have tried to “be perfect” in our own strength.  We have listened to lies even in our own Christian circles about what it means to be a “good Christian” rather than listening to the Spirit. We have burdened others with those chains or tried to force them into our mold, rather than pointing them to Jesus, who is our righteousness.  We are sorry.  Forgive us.

Restore us.  You are our only hope.


Lord, have mercy on us.  We are sinners.


Restore to us the joy of your salvation, that we be moved to acts of justice and righteousness for the vulnerable and proclaimers of the good news of Christ to all.  Help us never forget our utter dependence on You.  You are our only hope.


Amen

January 3, 2021

Why I Go to Church*

One early-December Sunday morning, my 2020 devotional of choice had me read Mark 7:14-23.  It goes like this:

And he [Jesus] called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”





Jesus is telling the religious leaders and anyone else listening that their primary problem doesn't exist outside of them, but rather inside.  Following the rituals that God ordained for them was important, but they were designed to point to and instruct them about something much larger than mere obedience to a handful of ceremonial laws.  The law was given to point to their very inability to obey the law and achieve God's standard of holiness.  Paul talks about how once we know the law it's like, "Man, I can't do this!  I need help!" And on the other side of those exclamations, we find a Redeemer, a Savior, Jesus, who came to fulfill the law and set His people free.

Of course, a fulfilled law does not mean we're free to do whatever we want (check out Romans 6-8 today if you have time).  But what it does mean, is that the rescue we're looking for from these troubles which beset us - evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness - won't come from simply trying harder, removing people from our lives, or getting ourselves out of circumstances.  Those things can help a little, but darn it if I don't have evil thoughts even in the most holy of spaces with the kindest of people!  Or even when it's just me, alone.

Gathering weekly in a space with people who I know need exactly what I need (even if they are dressed up and looking fine) to be pointed to our Great God, reminded of the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf, and reenergized by the presence of the Holy Spirit, is like a weekly treatment.  The cancer of sin is still present with me, but its power has been overcome by the death and resurrection of Jesus!  Praising, praying, confessing, and learning together with a bunch of sinners like me reminds me even more of the grandeur of God, the effectiveness of the blood of Jesus (ALL those people taking communion on a Sunday around the world!  C'mon now!), and the glorious hope that is to come that one day the war within us will end and we will see Him and be like Him.  I. Cannot. Even. Imagine.

In summary, (isn't that a classic high-school-term-paper way of beginning a concluding paragraph? ha!), I go to church because in myself I find only that which defiles, but in God - through the death and resurrection of Christ and the power and presence of the Holy Spirit - I find that which makes me righteous and a new heart, new way of living, new hope.  I go to church because of who God is and His worthiness as both Creator and Redeemer.  I go to church because the sick need a doctor, and until the Lord returns, I've got a chronic bent toward sinfulness that finds its treatment at the throne of my Creator.

I go to church because, to borrow from Peter the disciple, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God." (John 6:68)  I go to church because I've tried myself out as lord of my life and that's more of a dumpster fire than 2020.



*by "go to church" I pretty much mean "why I am a Christian", but wanted to emphasize the importance of corporate worship - even if, at the moment, that is happening from the comfort and safety of my home with my family.