Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Romans 8:28-39; Perspective

This week I've talked to a student whose mother died of a stroke when he was in high school, another whose grandfather just died, another whose sister just finished drug rehab and a friend whose mother is in the hospital due to a stroke. So reading "In all things God works for the good of those who love him" just seems to sound odd today.

Then I keep reading and he compares us to Christ, an itinerant man of God who was abused and murdered, and he says we are like sheep to be slaughtered. Those are not very comforting but they are corrective to the misunderstanding that being a Christian makes everything end like a fairytale.

It seems that in the spiritual realm, it is impossible to be more secure in God's hands than we are at present. From his perspective, we are totally cared for. Yet from an physical view, it might still seem quite rough at times.

It is so hard to maintain God's point of view in a broken physical world. Death, sickness, injustice and frustrations scream at us. Yet in the long-term view, they are bumps in the road and not the end of the road. Even death is not the end of the road. For those called by God, he is the end of the road . . . and that confidence changes all perspective.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Romans 8:18-27; Waiting

After reading this section three times all I can hear is John Mayer's "Waiting on the World to Change" playing through my mind. He sings of being powerless and waiting for change to come. So much of this text speaks of the same thing. Creation is subjected and anxious for change. We are striving to patiently wait for redemption. Even our prayer life is incomplete and we must let the Spirit lead us in it.

All my life I've been active and worked hard. Waiting patiently for change is not a description of who I am. In fact, it has often been something that those who have shaped me despised. Perhaps that is because waiting patiently in hope is different from being lazy and distant, though on the outside they might look similar. Yet for me, waiting is work. Waiting patiently takes effort.

I can hear Moses say to the Israelites on the side of the Red Sea as they were being hemmed in by the Egyptians, ". . . you need only to be still." (Ex. 14:14) So today I will work at not working out my spiritual issues. I'll focus my activity on being still before God and waiting for the world to change.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Romans 8:1-17; Spirit Mind

Often I have read this and walked away understanding that we should not live according to the sinful nature. Yet, there is much more being said.

To live by the sinful nature is not a reference to those who gave up on God and turned their lives over to sin. Those were dealt with in chapter one. This is a discussion of each of us who tries to live for God and fails. We often fail because of the way we go about it. Trying to please him based upon doing a list of things to avoid is destined to fail; all it does is focus my thoughts upon what not to do. Then my mind is stuck with negative thoughts and images. It consumes and controls me. The end result is a mind that is "hostile to", "does not submit to" and "cannot please God." All of those are the exact opposite of what I seek by all my efforts in following the rules in the first place!

The text is pushing me to be spirit led. This sounds so ethereal and mystic. Yet Paul says that it involves the control of my mind, living out the righteous requirements of the law in my body and understanding my identity as a beloved child of God rather than a fearful servant trying to live up to a standard.

How counter-intuitive. All that is in me thinks that improvement should come through working harder at completing steps or a list. The text says that improvement comes through a mind and body controlled not be me but by the Spirit of God. My job is focusing upon the lead of the Spirit; the Spirit's job is to control my heart and mind.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Romans 7:14-25; Wretched

Yesterday was an irritating day. It was not a disaster day where major calamity strikes but it was one of those days when everything feels like it keeps going wrong. My father's example of how to handle those days was to get angry. All day I felt a struggle to not respond in anger to multiple situations. I was doing well until someone personally hurt me. Then my ability to handle the little irritations collapsed and my anger rose to the surface.

The text says "what a wretched man I am". Truly that is the feeling when life becomes an internal battle between what I know I want to do and what I seem programed to do. The great consolation that I hold on to is that this will not always be the case. Today I will choose whom I serve and I know that in my Divine Father's eyes he sees me as rescued from the poor example put in me years ago.

I can't get rid of the "wretched man" feeling by my efforts -- that just leads to more frustration. I will live today rejoicing in gratitude of the fact that God does not see me as wretched. I will live relieved.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Romans 7:7-13;

The text seems to agree with the old adage "rules were made to be broken." It is amazing to us that when we find a door locked, our curiosity explodes wanting to know what is behind it. When the road marker tells us the speed limit, we set our cruise control three miles per hour faster than the indicated number. When we are told "you can't", we automatically ask "why?"

The question I ask myself is which moral line is it that I am most drawn towards? Paul used the example of covetousness; perhaps it was something which he personally dealt with. What would my example be? Perhaps I would have written the same. In our materialistic society, covetousness speaks loudly. Obviously it is a limit many of us are drawn to or the US consumerist culture would collapse. Yet I have to wonder what would be the top of my list. Pride. Anger. Negativism. Lack of respecting the image of God in all people. Perhaps I would have written about one of those.

The main issue has to be staying aware of the power of the attraction to the limits.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Romans 7:1-6;

Who is your spouse? The text sees us as wed to either law or Christ. It is an intriguing perspective. Marriage produces changed behavior, traditions, and a lifestyle. Living married to legality and living married to grace both produce changed behavior. I think the hard part is that we are so accustomed to rules in life that we are comfortable with a spiritual life of rules. I don't know if we are comfortable with a spiritual life of relationship only.

The book UnChristian claims that statistically there is no difference in most Christian behavior and that of unchristians. Similarly this text says that "sinful passions" are "aroused by the law". It seems that by teaching the "thou shalt nots" too vehemently, the church has actually gone down the wrong path. The passions inflamed by restrictions work against the end goal of legal teaching. I know that if I focus on "don't, don't, don't" then all I think of is "do, do, do".

Yet my marriage is not based on a list of restrictions my wife gives me. It is based upon a deep concern to live out life to the fullest with her in ways that bless and encourage her. It is about living in a way that brings out the best in both of us. Neither tells the other to fulfill a list of restrictions each day; both of us want to live in ways that bring the other joy.

So the key is truly being in love with your spouse. Hence the key to spiritual life is being in love with Jesus. How sad that church arguments, questions about sin and issues of dogma rarely ask the question of what would bring joy to my spiritual spouse?

May I live under that question and no legal restrictions today.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Romans 6: 15-23; At the Alter

I had to read this section a few times; the slave imagery does not resonate with my experience. Probably that is to my detriment when it comes to fully understanding what God is saying here.

It seems that when we boil down any action in life, it either served good or evil. Every thought, every word serves to promote good or evil. I am not independent of the other forces in this universe. I am not autonomous and in control. Rather I am part of a great play whose movement I influence with my life. What autonomy I have comes only in choosing whom to serve. I get the privilege of offering myself to someone whether God or Satan.

To change my North American mindset and truly live out intentional choice in all I do will take effort. When I am angry at someone, the way I respond is an offering to good or evil. When I am depressed, the words that come out of my mouth are an offering to one or the other. When I am overjoyed, the way I show it is an offering to God or Satan.

My prayer is that when I finish this day and look back, I will find that I spent my day kneeling before the correct alter.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Romans 6:1-14; Offerings

The idea of new life continues to jump off the pages at me. For years I read this thinking of the next life. Somehow I think many of us hear the message of "we die to sin so that after we physically die we will have a new life." I don't think that is at all what he is talking about. Paul is concerned with how people are living in the here and now. He is concerned with their actions today and what living for God looks like 24/7. If that is the case, then "new life" is not about some ethereal experience yet to come. It is about a new experience now.

If the "body of sin is done away with" already, then this new life must be ongoing at this moment. Either that, or we are dragging around dead bodies with us. Honestly, I think that is the way many Christians are perceived, i.e., dragging around death and decay rather than overflowing with life.

The "master" language grabs me here. To whom do I "offer" myself as a sacrifice? The text says "do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but offer yourselves to God. . ." Every action today will be an offering. Every choice, every thought, every word, every behavior will be an offering to one of two gods. Tomorrow morning when I look back at the last 24 hours, my composite offering will tell me whom I truly serve and if I truly lived . . . or just dragged around death for another day.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Romans 5:12-21; Life

The concept is repeated three times, i.e., "reign in life", "brings life for all", and "bring eternal life." Paul was convinced that following Christ meant life. He proclaims it to be the way to be accepted by God and be truly alive.

So how did we as Christians get the reputation of being dull negative rule keepers? I haven't seen research that says we are viewed by society as the people that really enjoy life. I don't read books about how we are viewed as exuberant. Where are the movies that portray followers of Christ as truly alive as opposed to negative, legalistic and hypocritical, e.g., Golden Compass and Angels & Demons for example?

I am tired of hearing churches pursue the silver bullet of evangelism. It seems that congregation after congregation is looking for the one method of how to reach the world for Jesus. In my lifetime the trends include bus ministries for kids, various revival meetings, door knocking campaigns, youth centers, bigger-flashier buildings, TV evangelism, small group ministries, etc. All of those are good things but none will be "THE" thing that reaches society.

How about this for an "outreach method" -- what if every follower of Christ really was one. What would "church" look like if every follower was so plugged in to Jesus that they were overflowing with life. No fears, no pessimism, no rule pounding just life.

So today it starts with me. Here's to life, the true sign of connection to the giver of all life. (Teilhard de Chardin - "Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God."