Archive for March, 2017
“For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14).
Consider those occasions when you hear some make the claim, “I’m no longer under the law but under grace.” Seemingly, it’s only when someone is seeking to make an excuse as to why they aren’t doing something in the life of faith that they probably should. As a result, a close examination most often reveals that they are underperforming at both law and grace. Grace is neither a license to do as one pleases nor a banner under which you flaunt the lifestyle you choose for yourself. Grace imposes a greater responsibility upon us than the law ever could.
“For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).
We can each one recall the childhood game of “hide-n-seek.” To be hidden in Christ means we have entered into a game like none other. It is the real game of life; a never-ending chase and pursuit of becoming what will only be attained in eternity. While the world continues to seek, it can no longer find us because we have buried ourselves into a life that can be discovered only by those who join in the quest.
“Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?’” (John 3:9-10).
Those longest in the life of faith should be the ones most familiar with God’s redemptive purposes being fulfilled in unexpected and never before seen ways. Ironically, and tragically, just the opposite seems to often hold true. One of the most telling differences between the practice of religion and the pursuit of faith is the tendency of religion to put God in a “box,” system, or structure that limits the working of God to the confines of our rituals, traditions, expressions, and preferences. Faith embraces the mystery of not knowing and the imagination of possibilities.
“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).
This vivid analogy of the blowing wind and new birth protects the vastness of the Spirit’s working from the likes of me and you, who would seek to impose the limitations of our experience and preferences upon his incomparable ways. Not only are our biases not a prescriptive necessity for everyone else, they can also blind us to the new and refreshing ways that God is working in the next generation. We either celebrate God’s inscrutable ways, or we miss them altogether.
“Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him’” (John 3:1-2).
Recognizing Jesus as a teacher from God isn’t a bad place to start, but if you don’t graduate to calling him Lord, then the knowledge of his teachings is meaningless. Nicodemus exemplifies the precariousness of all those born into a long tradition of religious expression — the things of God become too familiar. The practices, rituals, customs, and traditions of what is supposed to be a living, dynamic, ever-evolving faith becomes a cold, static, impotent religion. Faith is not genetic. One is not born into the family of God. You must be born again.
“Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of salvation” (Habakkuk 3:17-18).
In those times when faith comes hard, we can respond in one of four ways. The first response is to become bitter and resentful; to decree that God is unfair. The second is to seek total intellectual understanding; to demand of God an answer. The third reaction is to life’s difficulties is one of grim resignation; that this is just the way it is. The more faithful response, however, is seen in the words of the prophet — to keep believing, to keep trusting even though everything seems to be failing. Present circumstances are never permanent. Keep believing even though…
“My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples” (John 15:8).
The proof of discipleship is borne out in the bearing of fruit. Fruit is a metaphor for the outward evidence of the Spirit’s indwelling. By this fruit-bearing life, the Father is glorified. The proof is in the fruit pudding.
“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).
How the Lord would have us live isn’t some great, hidden, theological mystery. The favorable disposition expected isn’t the result of conjuring up enough energy to make sure it happens in certain situations. No, that the descriptive verbs are in the present tense means this is to be the unceasing reality of who we are as followers of Christ Jesus. Thus, the action required would fade if dependent upon human determination alone. The good news is that the very thing Paul sets before is but the inclination of the Spirit of the resurrected Christ dwelling within. By refusing to quench the Spirit, this kind of faith expression becomes the reality of our lives.
“Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on’” (Mark 12:43-44).
Jesus considers the offering of the widow to be a significant object lesson for the disciples and their understanding of the Kingdom of God; of what real faith looks like in contrast to self-aggrandizing, and self-satisfied institutional religion. The seemingly generous gift of the rich may have impressed the crowd that day, but it’s the sacrificial gift of the impoverished that has been preserved for posterity, and for 2000 years has inspired the church to levels of giving that have multiplied exponentially her faithful expression of trust in God’s provision.
“Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on” (Luke 21:3-4).
In contrast to the gifts of the rich, the poor widow gave two of the smallest coinage in Roman currency. Yet, in the strange world of Kingdom math, she gave more than everyone else. For all the things that wow and impress us about the affluence human wealth, God measures things differently. He looks not at the amount, but the attitude. He sees not what is given, but what is left. And while the rich will give from their wealth, they will never give their wealth. By God’s standard, the widow’s mite made her the richest person in the room.