Sunday, March 30, 2014

Church as a Place of Rest (Romans 15)

The book of Romans was meant to establish peace between the believing Jews and Gentiles in two ways: By highlighting the mercy of God to both (salvation, justification, sanctification and righteousness), and by showing them their mutual obligations of service. Before Romans 12, Paul wrote about the importance of holy living. 
Next, Paul shifted his focus to getting along in religious matters not essential to salvation (such as eating habits and the observation of holy days).
“None of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone... don’t put a stumbling block or obstacle in anyone’s way… Make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification (building up; growth don’t cause your brother or sister to fall.” (Romans 14:5-20)
This call to service was not a passive call. No, this was a call to actively create a community characterized by people committed to peace as well as helping each other grow, build and encourage each other. What has to happen for a community like this to grow?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

God and Justification

Justification is what happens when we give a reason for something we did (“The sun was in
my eyes. My alarm didn't go off! I had questions about my homework assignment but it was late and I didn’t want to bug you or my classmates”). In a deeper sense, we justify because we want to remind ourselves and others that we are good. Justification is our way of proving that what we do is okay – so we must be okay too. 

In a more formal sense, justification is a legal term. Something that is justifiable is shown to be “just, right, or reasonable.” (Merriam-Webster). It’s that which absolves us of guilt. If the scales of justice were truly balance, our reasons/excuses would counterbalance the bad things we’ve done.

God, Free Will, and Sovereignty

I suspect that all of us, at some point in our life, have asked or heard one of the following questions:
  • Why did God let a person I love die?
  • Why didn’t God save my job (or health)? 
  • Why did God cause the hurricane in the Philippines? 
  • Why didn’t God heal my marriage? 
All of them are some version of, “Why did this happen on God’s watch? What does this say about God’s character and nature?” To answer this, we have to take a look at sovereignty. Sovereignty is simply “supreme power or authority.” A sovereign is a king. It’s not a word that resonates with us. After all, our nation fought to be rid of a king.  Thomas Jefferson wrote to Washington in 1788:

“ I was much an enemy to monarchies before I came to Europe. I am ten thousand times more so, since I have seen what they are. There is scarcely an evil known in these countries, which may not be traced to their king, as its source, nor a good, which is not derived from the small fibers of republicanism existing among them.”

This dislike of a ruling nobility and a longing for self-rule has probably built momentum since then.  We still see it in pop culture (think of the recent hit “Royals”), and we increasingly hear that “nobody can tell me what to do.” When I googled “sovereignty,” these were the top three news stories:
  • “Will U.S. Sovereignty Be Lost at Sea?”
  • “Ukraine Defends Its Sovereignty.”
  • “CIA Drone Violates Pakistan’s Sovereignty.”
They all have to do with self-rule.  Our history, culture and even our definition of words clash with the claim of the Bible: God is the sovereign, the King, the one who created and now rules over everything, including us. He sees all things that can be seen, knows all things that can be known, can do all things that can be done. Nothing in creation escapes is out from under his “supreme power and authority.” The question is, “What does that mean?”

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

"Alive" (ReBuilt: A Modern Parable of the Justified)



It’s not all work. He fishes with you on still waters. You both shoot hoops at the YMCA and join friends at Buffalo Wild Wings for March Madness. Being around him restores your soul even while your callouses thicken.* You realize that you are absorbing his ideas, his language, his priorities, his way of living life abundantly.**

Others join you. Some bring their dead; some have been set free. Some still live in shacks; others are working with the ReBuilder on mansions. The Rebuilder welcomes them all. He didn’t come to condemn the dead to their bare cold shacks. He came to save them and rebuild their lives.*** You invite even more to hang out with you.****

And slowly but surely, your house is becoming a mansion.+ You find that you easily congratulate others whose houses are flourishing, and you compassionately help neighbors who are struggling. The blueprint makes more sense than it used to. You look forward to your alarm clock. The old landlord still comes around, but more than ever you see through his lies.++ He rarely makes it past the bottom step of the porch. Your Dead self stays on the sidewalk.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

"ReBuilding" (ReBuilt: A Modern Parable of the Justified)



You have a hard time believing the changes. No more debt. No more creditors knocking at your door. Now the rain stays outdoors and the plumbing stays in the pipes. Your front door actually latches now. It’s…amazing.*

But the Man – you’ve started calling him the ReBuilder - has a bigger plan than you realized. He wasn’t going to just uncondemn the house and sweep up the garbage. He is planning to turn your shack into a mansion. When he first told you, you said, “Awesome! Go right ahead!” But the ReBuilder smiled and said, “Not without you. It’s our house. We work together. You need to give yourself to this project." **

You’ve got nothing to offer once again, but the ReBuilder is ready for that too. He gives you a blueprint and all the tools you need. He gives you a fund to draw from for building materials, expert advice and help, etc. Since he’s the architect, designer, builder and inspector, He will be available every day – leading, guiding, protecting, correcting.

But you have to set your alarm, get out of bed, put on the tools, pick up the lumber, swing a hammer, get splinters, and break and rebuild a few things. You are going to invest some sweat equity into this house.***

Sunday, March 9, 2014

"Bring Out Your Dead" (ReBuilt: A Modern Parable of the Justified)



The next day a man, a stranger, walks onto the porch. “Bring out your dead!” he calls cheerily.*

You don’t watch Monty Python, so you don’t get the joke. “What makes you think there are dead here?”

“I can smell it on your breath; I hear it in your words;** I see it in your eyes. It clings to you like a monstrous burden. This house has killed you. Your landlord cracked the gas lines and installed the asbestos. Your landlord made sure there are no detectors for smoke or gas. Your landlord likes his tenants dead. But you were meant to be alive.*** And I can get rid of that body of death and make this house livable.”

“How can I trust you?”

“Why do you think you even know that you are dead? You thought you were tired and sick. I showed you what was real. I opened your eyes. You needed to know.**** You can trust me because I bring you truth that will set you free.”

 “Why me?”

“Why not you? I care about you. I seek and save people and situations that seem hopeless.+  Plus, I would like to move into this house,++ and where I am, there is no room for death and ruin,” the Man said with a twinkle in his eye.+++

“Where would I go?”

“Why would you want to go?”

You sit quietly for a long time. Your father always said you got what you deserved and never helped with your house or your health. Your landlord pretended to be your friend while guiding you down a road to death. Your friends had invited you to go with their dead selves to their dead parties on dead city streets.

"The Ruins" (Rebuilt: A Modern Parable of the Justified)

You live in a broken, run-down house in a squalid neighborhood. You’ve been here as long as you can remember. You know nothing else. For a while you were able to at least keep it looking nice on the outside, but it’s always been falling apart.

The landlord seemed like a great guy at first.*  He allowed you to skip rent. He let you host all the parties you wanted – he even helped fund more than one. Sure, your friends trashed the place, but you trashed theirs, so it all seemed fair in a messed up kind of way.

But you slowly realize that the landlord is a hard owner. You thought he was your friend. He isn’t. The landlord keeps promising that you will have a better house and a better life if you will just do one more thing: fix the roof, mend some pipes, hang new drywall, repaint, rebuild the foundation that keeps sinking further into the sandy soil. But all those things cost money that you don’t have, so you borrow money from the landlord. Nothing ever pans out. You end up spackling over holes in the wall and wrapping duct tape around leaking pipes, but you know your house is going down.**

It doesn’t help that you are really sick. You feel as run down as your house looks. Maybe it’s the asbestos in the walls, or the lead in the paint, or the leaky pipes in the stove. There’s something toxic about this house. It’s killing you. But as far as you know, this is all you have. This is the only place to live. You hate the person you have become in the house you’ve allowed to fall apart.

Your house is in ruin. Your life is in shambles. And to make things worse, you realize one day that somebody is following you. Literally. He’s one step behind you everywhere you go. When you are finally able to catch a glimpse in a mirror, you realize… it’s you.