Archive for February, 2016

Optimistic

February 29, 2016

I found this in my bookmarks bar from a month ago.  Boy, was I optimistic.  Needless to say, I haven’t needed this handy guide.  Tragically.

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Reading Ramblings – March 6, 2016

February 28, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fourth Sunday in Lent – March 6, 2016

Texts: Isaiah 12:1-6; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

Context: Last week’s readings focused us on how God might use suffering and catastrophe in order to call us back to him, to draw our hearts in repentance to him. And what do we find when we repent? Forgiveness. This week is all about forgiveness. Grace. Reconciliation. New creation. Hope. Joy. The Good News is that in Christ, we are reconciled to God – forgiven. There is no reason to run from him, no sin that can separate us from him once we repent.

Isaiah 12:1-6 – The opening chapters of Isaiah are littered with both prophecies of judgement as well as promises of hope. Chapter 11 introduces the shoot of Jesse who will usher in a new age of peace not just for God’s people but for all of creation. It is this promise that Chapter 12 looks back to and gives thanks for. The judgements and sufferings that precede Jesse’s offspring will fade into the background, compared with the great joy creation experiences. The Lord’s anger has given way to comforting, and He is to be praised for the salvation that He has become. There will be nothing left to do but to offer praise and thanksgiving.

Psalm 32 – This psalm beautifully highlights the theme of forgiveness that runs through today’s readings. Forgiveness is the greatest blessing and gift that we can have, because if we don’t have this, no other gifts or blessings can last. We sometimes want to hide away, though, fearful of confessing our sins to God. Our sins can drive a wedge between us, so that we spend less and less time with him, ashamed and fearful and perhaps even angry at him because our guilt boils in us. But how beautiful when we confess, when we lay out our sins and don’t try to hide them from him! The sins are not beautiful, of course – they are ugly and deadly and poisonous. But in confession we purge ourselves of the power of these toxic sins, like a sick patient finally willing to go to the doctor for a cure. And greater than any physician, God grants forgiveness and restores us. As such, it is right to come to God in prayer, and specifically confession. It is healing to receive the forgiveness assured to us through faith in the death and resurrection of the Son of God.

2 Corinthians 5:16-21 – The world has many means and measures for a person – wealth, beauty, age, experience – all these things are used to estimate or judge a person. Through them we render someone worthy or unworthy, important or unimportant, someone to seek out or someone to ignore or shun. However, in Christ, this is not how we treat one another. Having been converted by the Holy Spirit to faith in Jesus as the crucified and resurrected Son of God alters our means of estimating others. These worldly measures are useless and irrelevant, wholly insufficient. Rather, we see one another now as sons and daughters of God, creations for which our Savior died – whether that person realizes it or accepts it or not.

Once upon a time those who followed Christ gauged him by worldly standards – He won acclaim as a healer and teacher and Biblical scholar. But now, through his death and resurrection, such standards are wholly inadequate and inappropriate. Through faith in Christ, each person is a new creation. Worldly standards of wealth or youth or beauty or talents are inappropriate measures of a Christian. The world may still see her this way, but brothers and sisters in Christ now see her as this – a daughter of the King, a sister in Christ. Old standards pass away just as our old, sinful nature passes away in it’s firm control and grip over our life. Newness of life has come, the new creation raised out of the waters of Baptism. How is this possible? It is the gift of God the Father through faith in his Son, Jesus. Jesus is the means by which creation is reconciled to God, by which forgiveness can flow out to those who will receive it, by which we are recreated and raised from spiritual death to eternal life. We now bear this good news, this message of reconciliation, to a world that desperately needs to hear and receive it. We share this good news so that others might receive it in faith, and join us in newness of life and newness of estimating one another. Jesus, the only perfect and obedient man, took on the sin of the world in exchange for his own holiness and perfection so that we might be declared righteous by God, reconciled and forgiven for eternity. What a beautiful message of hope to bear to our world!

Luke 15:1-3, 11-32The story of the prodigal son highlights the amazing grace and forgiveness of God. It is hard to read the story without feeling disgust for the selfishness of the younger son, without appropriating the righteous indignation of the older brother. Yet by the story’s end, it is clear that such righteous indignation is not the appropriate response. We who have already been welcomed home by the Father no longer esteem others in Christ by the standards of the world. We who have received grace and forgiveness should be the first to extend it to others.

The context of the story is given in verse 2, the disapproval of the ‘righteous’ Pharisees and scribes. They know God’s law and pride themselves on keeping it but their hearts are far from his people. They do not see others as fellow creations of God to be loved and lifted up, but as lesser people, not up to their personal standards of holiness and not worthy of the attention of a noteworthy rabbi, not even Jesus whom they dislike. Jesus, in telling the next three parables, highlights the importance of those deemed unworthy by others. The father’s words to the elder brother are intended for the Pharisees and perhaps for you and I – “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” Those already in Christ should already be aware of the Father’s great love and reconciliation through Jesus, of the great sacrifice which Jesus became for us. As such we should be the first to desire that others would receive this great gift that we have.

God’s forgiveness exceeds our ability to fathom it, and oftentimes exceeds what makes us comfortable. We prefer to use our own yardsticks to determine who does and does not deserve forgiveness and grace, as though we were somehow fundamentally better than others. In reality, we are all the prodigals, all the selfish, wasteful, and wanton younger sons, wasting the riches of our Father on self-indulgence which vanishes. God could rightfully ask us to beg, to grovel, to make eloquent speeches of contrition. He does none of these things. He runs out to us to wrap us in his love and declare us still and always his beloved sons and daughters. This should speed us in our ministry of reconciliation, as Paul speaks of it. It should encourage us to share this wonderful news with those who suffer the pangs of guilt and regret, even with those who curse God and are angry at him. As we heard in last week’s passage from Ezekiel (Ezekiel 33), the Lord desires that we should live, not die. He is willing and able to extend his grace and forgiveness even at the last moment, forgiving and blotting out the many sins previous to faith in Jesus Christ.

Missional or Misguided?

February 27, 2016

A good portion of my ministry is conducted in non-traditional venues.  Jails, bars, recovery homes for men and women struggling to overcome addictions.  Many of these people have left the Church (if not the faith).  They have wandered far afield.  Some are returning cautiously to their beliefs in God, others have yet to see that as a goal.  Some have no faith to return to.

Men and women that I don’t – on the surface – have much in common with.  Different backgrounds, many of theirs rough and unpleasant and sad.  I was raised in such comfort, such love, such stability in comparison!  Yet I go and we spend time together and God is at work in the midst of it, perhaps to our mutual surprise.

I liken it to missionary work, going into another culture and trying to learn about that culture in order to be able to speak Jesus to that culture in a way that they can hear him.  The fact that I don’t have to leave the country to do this doesn’t mean that the cultures in these places aren’t as radically different from my Sunday morning pulpit and congregation than the missionaries we know and pray for in far-flung corners of the globe.

My assumption then is that I am not there to convince these men and women of norms of behavior.  My goal is not to have them value higher education or sobriety or fidelity or honesty or whatever other worthy aspiration we might hope for them.  My goal is simply to communicate Christ to them.  I don’t have to like the way they live their lives.  I don’t have to agree with it.  But I assume that passing judgment on those things is not my first and primary goal.  My first and primary goal is to speak Christ.  To convey the ministry of reconciliation, to utilize Paul’s language in 2 Corinthians 5.  That’s what matters most.  To share that there is a man who promised to forgive them their sins and create new people out of them.  That in meeting this man and trusting what He said – based on his resurrection from the dead – they are in fact made into new creations.

Immediately.  Not once they clean up their act.  Not once they’re paroled or off of probation.  Not once they’ve sobered up or quit sleeping around or become better parents.  Right now.  Immediately.  Only through faith in Jesus Christ.  That’s what I want to communicate.  Because in communicating that message, and in their receiving of it and placing their faith and trust in it, all those other things in their lives that I may very much dislike and very much know to be contrary to God’s Law will get taken care of.  In His time, not mine.

Towards that end, my preaching style, my teaching style differ markedly from my Sunday morning or Thursday afternoon preaching and teaching.  Speaking to these people I believe I need to communicate in a way that they can hear me.  I need to catch their attention.  I may do this on Sunday morning with an interesting anecdote or with a new way of hearing a Scripture passage.  But for these other groups, I believe that in order to hear what I’m saying, they have to first of all realize what I’m not saying.

Because I assume they get a lot of men and women – Christians – who come to them and judge their lifestyles and their choices, who exhort them to higher standards of morality, who seek to model better decision-making and holier living.  It isn’t that the moral standards these other Christians want to convey are wrong.  I just think they’re putting the cart before the horse.  I think that when you go in preaching primarily that you have to clean up your life and Jesus will help you do this, what gets lost or ignored is what Jesus has already done for you.  He’s already died for you.  He’s already won forgiveness for you.  And that gift has no strings attached.  It’s free and completely grace and faith.

So my language is more colorful in the jail or in the Rescue Mission or in the bar.  I talk the way these people talk, to a certain extent.  I do it intentionally.  I do it specifically to get their attention so that they hear what I’m not saying.  I’m not saying look at me as a moral model.  I’m not saying look at how I live and pattern your own lives after it.  I’m not saying you make the baby Jesus cry when you talk like that.  What I want them to realize is that I’m simply saying that Jesus loves them.  Right here and now.  While you swear or drink or struggle to stay off drugs.  In the midst of your messy life with multiple boyfriends and multiple children with multiple partners.  In the midst of shattered childhoods and lives spent in ways that would make many of my Sunday morning congregants pale in their boots.

That’s my approach.  Some will say that it’s effective.  I see the eyebrows go up when I let fly with a swear word in the middle of preaching or teaching on a Bible passage.  I see people loosen up a little bit, not worried quite so much whether they’re using proper ‘church language’ when they ask a question or relate something from their lives.  I think my approach has merit, at least for me and my situation.

But it’s certainly also open to critique.

This past Thursday I was called to task by a male client at the Rescue Mission.  I appreciated his firm but respectful objections.  I was setting a poor example for some of the newer Christians in the group.  I was giving them the wrong idea – that they didn’t have to watch their language or avoid talking about certain subjects because, after all, Pastor Paul does it.  I listened respectfully and thanked him for his concerns.

I’d like to say that he’s wrong, but I don’t know that he is.  I’d like to defend my approach as one carefully calibrated to elicit a particular response, but that would be giving me far more credit than I deserve.  I would like to say that he’s just immature or unbalanced, or dismiss him as a recovering addict or a Bible-thumper.  But I can’t do any of those things.  I have to wrestle with the reality that he isn’t wrong, but that I may not be either.  That short of heaven and perfection in Christ, there is no perfect model, no sinless way to do much of anything, even preaching and teaching.   That in protecting some we may lose others, and in gaining others we may offend or confuse some.  That’s not something I like to think about, but it’s something I suspect (or hope) that many pastors wrestle with.

Christ crucified is offensive enough without causing further scandal (as though that were possible, frankly).  And certainly anything that distracts from Christ crucified should be avoided at all costs.  But when preaching and teaching to a group of people from different backgrounds and situations, it is likely impossible to avoid such scandal or distraction completely.  So I am forced to turn to that same scandalous, crucified and resurrected man to plead for forgiveness, to ask for wisdom by the Holy Spirit, and to trust in the very same grace that I preach to others.

In the end, this is what we are all to do in all situations.  Certainly for many situations our path of repentance is clear – go and sin no more.  But perhaps there are times and situations where the path of repentance is not so clear, where we have to trust that much more in the forgiveness offered to us in Christ.  I trust that grace and forgiveness, I just wish that it simplified the decision-making process.  Perhaps that just isn’t possible when preaching across cultures, but I’m grateful for brothers and sisters who cause me to pause and wonder and worry and pray and confess.  That can’t ever be a bad thing, and I trust that if there’s a good, solid, consistent answer, in time I’ll be made aware of it.

Whether I like it or not.

Statistically Speaking

February 26, 2016

In case you like to mix your math, politics, and religion…this is probably right up your alley.

Open Spaces

February 25, 2016

Thursdays I go to the local coffee shop to finish my research/reading for Thursday afternoon Bible study (currently working through the Gospel of John).  This is the same coffee shop I stop at on Sunday mornings prior to final prep for worship.  Over the last five years I’ve gotten to know some people there, at least at a nominal level.  They know what I do, and at times that opens doors for conversation.

But as an introvert, I don’t expect those conversations.  I expect that people are doing their own thing and are preoccupied.  While I’m always interested and curious to talk with people, I’m bad at initiating.  But there are days when simply being there is enough.

The owner came over to talk with me first this morning.  He’s shared a little about himself and his life over the past few years.  As I arrived this morning I noticed him getting a hug from someone outside, but assumed it was just a friendly conversation.  It wasn’t.  His young daughter passed away two weeks ago.  He wanted to let me know because I was a regular and, while we didn’t talk extensively, he knew that I cared, that I dealt with deep things in life.  I don’t think he would describe himself as Christian, but rather very spiritual.  I asked if I could pray for him and he agreed, and I was able to pray for his healing and specifically give thanks for victory over death in Jesus.

A few moments later I spotted a young man who worked at the coffee shop from time to time.  We had last talked in the fall, as he was preparing to join a special deep-sea project.  Turns out he was back in town briefly, en route south for sailing classes while the project was temporarily stalled due to specialized hardware needs.  Since he’s spiritually minded (strong Buddhist influences) we got into deeper water (haha) pretty quickly.  He asked what I was preaching on Sunday – Luke 13:1-5. Jesus clarifies a little to his disciples the nature of human suffering.  This was the jumping off point for our discussion.  He was familiar with the story of Job and drew a correlation to that pretty quickly.  He wanted clarification on the overall Biblical teaching on suffering and Job served as a good example, a further explanation, as it were, of Jesus’ brief teaching in Luke 13.

While we locate sin and our rebellious state against God as the source of all suffering, we cannot peer too deeply into this.  It isn’t as though bad people suffer and good people don’t – I presume that most people’s life experience bears this out to some degree.  But that doesn’t keep us from veering down that road from time to time.  When we hear of someone else’s misfortune, how easy is it for us to quickly come to a conclusion as to why they are suffering – they did this wrong, they lived in the wrong place, the didn’t pay attention to this, that, or the other.  Sometimes we draw comfort, knowing some sinful detail or assumption about their life and finding relief that we haven’t done that sort of thing, as though that will somehow protect us from the difficulties of life.  We are always looking for ways to feel safer and comfortable, and if we can identify why others suffer, we suspect that we will somehow be able to avoid similar suffering.

Jesus’ words emphasize repentance, a turning away from ourselves and our sin and, implicitly, a turning towards him and the forgiveness that his death and resurrection will make possible to us.  It is repentance that transforms the suffering of this world.  It does not remove it – not yet, not until Christ’s return.  But his resurrection and the promise that in baptism and faith we are united with Jesus in his death and resurrection gives us hope that the suffering of this world and ultimately our own death are not the last words pronounced over us.  We are not defined by the suffering we endure, but rather by the life and light we bear within us, and that on the day of our Lord’s return will be fully revealed not just to others but to ourselves as well.

As such, we don’t deny suffering.  When I spoke with the owner, some of the things he said about how he was processing his daughter’s death veered in that direction, an attempt to deny suffering as such and recast it as something good, as something containing the seeds of an even greater joy that will justify the suffering.  Suffering is bad, Biblically.  It is the result of sinfulness on the macro scale, not the micro (as Jesus stresses in Luke 13).  I can empathize and enter (in a limited sense) into his suffering, recognizing and declaring it as such, declaring death as something bad and wrong and contrary to God’s desire for his creation.  This acknowledgement drives me towards the cross and the empty tomb for hope.

Can God work good out of suffering?  Of course!  But that does not change the suffering into something good.  It is a reminder that nothing is beyond God’s power or control, and while we can’t peer behind the curtain to know the intricacies of how and why He does what He does or allows what He allows, we can also expect that in the midst of the suffering a broken and sinful creation fosters, God is there as well.  Romans 5 and Romans 8 are very helpful in this respect.

Loss

February 24, 2016

This afternoon as I read the paper and enjoyed a torta at my favorite little Mexican dive, I lost 1/4 of a molar.  I didn’t feel it go, I just knew there was something much harder than tortilla chip in my mouth.  I knew instinctively what it was even though I wasn’t expecting a loss.

It reminded me of my thoughts on a related occasion a few years back.  Those thoughts are pretty much the same today.

Selfie-Centered

February 24, 2016

In case your kids have smart phones, or you’re contemplating getting them smart phones, this article will likely terrify you (thanks to Ken for the link!).  Something to be aware of, something to talk about.  What is the source of our sense of self-worth?  How do we deal with pressure from others?  How do we deal with the pressures inside of us?  Important topics at any age, but certainly with minors.

Our kids don’t have smart phones yet, and won’t until they can pay for them and the service contracts.  Our daughter (11) is probably the most interested of the three in them, but  less for talking with her friends and more for the cool technology they provide.  She wants to be able to share videos of herself with her cousins – they trade back and forth silly videos where they lip synch to music or movie quotes.  I’m not comfortable with it, but I’m trying to be open-minded.  She’s not allowed to post anything to the Internet – things can only be shared with the private network of cousins.  And since it’s not on a phone or device she has exclusive control of, we can check up on what’s going back and forth.

It’s a scary step but hopefully a healthy one.  I want all of our kids to have a strong sense of who they are and why they have value and merit, so they can handle the increased poeer pressure that it’s hard to get away from with technology.

Back on Campus

February 23, 2016

I was back on campus this morning, enjoying the beautiful sun and ocean breezes and watching students heading back and forth from class.  Bethany was great in organizing another small group of churches from the area to give out information to interested students who passed by.  We had several students stop by to talk and pick up flyers for upcoming events – another lecturer this Friday, a BBQ next week, and in a few weeks, a Taize worship series around town.  Things are starting to take shape, and it’s exciting to think that perhaps we’ll have 2-3 students at the lecture on Friday.

I don’t know if it’s the most efficient way to meet people or not, but in an age where everything seems more distanced via technology, it seems a reasonable effort.  Talking with three or four students was pretty exciting, though it sounds like slow going (and probably is).  Hopefully word of mouth will begin to kick in over the coming weeks as some of these few people begin sharing with others.  That’s the plan at least.

In the meantime I’m working to try and get the web site for Campus Apologetics up.  Thanks to our partnership with 1517 The Legacy Project, we have quite a few friends and followers on Facebook, which doesn’t actually mean much, by and large, but it’s still encouraging to know that people are interested, even if they aren’t local.  Going is slow, but I pray that it’s worthwhile, and that within a year or so we’ll have something fairly viable going at City College!

Gathering

February 22, 2016

I spent the last part of last week at a large conference in Phoenix – Best Practices for Ministry (BPM).  This is my third year attending and my first year presenting.  I’m not the best at sitting and listening, and I go primarily for the opportunity to have conversations with guys I don’t otherwise get to very often – and for that purpose it was very, very good.

I presented two different sessions.  The first was more conceptual.  Many of the people at the conference and presenting seem to be from large ministries with lots of staff and resources.  I wanted to offer a chance for people from small communities to gather and talk a little about what they’re dealing with.  Close to 30 people showed up for that.  It’s nice to remember that you aren’t alone in your situation,  as congregations ranging from 25 attendees to 200 attendees were represented.  There wasn’t much substantial that came from the meeting, perhaps, but at least people could perhaps meet someone that they wanted to have further conversation with.  Next year I might make the session a bit more specific in order to guide the conversation a bit more.

The other session was on jail/prison ministry.  Close to a dozen people showed up for that, including some folks with years and years of experience, which was a great asset.  I had prepared a basic flow of information and sharing, and it was nice to have others giving their input as well.  I think that people gained a good feel for the sorts of things one might do as part of an outreach to incarcerated individuals and their family.

Mostly, I was just impressed by what this church does to offer this event.  Nearly 1900 people were registered to attend this year, up from 1500 last year.  I can’t even imagine how many volunteers are on hand each day to feed and answer questions and provide assistance.  The church has a school that has a half day on Thursday and takes Friday off so that the entire facility can be utilized for the conference.  The conference is completely free to attend.  The church pays for everything by setting aside the money they make each summer on their summer camp.  Everyone is friendly and efficient.  It’s really impressive.

You get a bit of everything at the conference.  A few guys wearing their clericals and sweating in the warm Arizona sun.  Plenty of folks who probably haven’t touched a clerical in years.  A cross section of our denomination and a few folks from outside of it.  Pretty much anybody can present on a topic, assuming they have enough room for it.  Nobody is critiquing or vetting what you’re going to talk about or how you’re going to talk about it, which leaves a lot of room for a great diversity of opinions, practices, and even theology.  The St. Louis seminary had a contingent of faculty and the president on hand.  Everyone seemed to get along pretty well.  And again, most of the purpose is just to be together, creating or solidifying relationships, and that’s always a good thing – especially if you don’t agree on important things.

Reading Ramblings – February 28, 2016

February 21, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Third Sunday in Lent, February 28, 2016

Texts: Ezekiel 33:7-20; Psalm 85; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9

Context: The season of Lent calls us to repentance, and repentance is the acknowledgement that we do not satisfy the criteria of our own consciences, let alone the divine and holy will of God. If we want to rely on our own efforts to secure the love and approval of God we will fail. “But if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

Ezekiel 33:7-20 – Ezekiel is tasked as a watchman for God’s people. He is to faithfully convey the Word of God to the people of God. God’s Word is a word of warning, of preparation – a calling back to faithfulness. The goal of speaking the Word of God to the people of God is so that they might live, as this is God’s desire for all of his creation. But life does not come from our righteous deeds, because God demands perfection, and our imperfection, our sinfulness tarnishes and stains and renders worthless even our moments of nobility. It isn’t that we shouldn’t strive for righteousness, because our world needs us to live such lives. It’s simply that such lives cannot and do not save us in and of ourselves. Likewise, our failures are not in and of themselves enough to separate us from the love of God and the life that comes in that love. Forgiveness is always and constantly extended to those who are willing and able to seek it and accept it.

Do we call this excessiveness? Of course we do. It is not how we deal with ourselves or one another. But it is what God offers to us. It is not that God’s ways in this are wrong, but rather ours are.

Psalm 85 – Another prayer for God to relent and be merciful to his people. The psalm recalls God’s faithfulness to Jacob, making him a rich and powerful man despite the fact that he had to flee from home and his brother Esau with very little to his name. Instances of God’s anger abound in the Old Testament, but also instances of God’s grace and forgiveness, which is what the psalmist prays for. The speaker insists that she will listen to God’s Word, and we should presume that it is this Word that can keep the speaker from turning back to ways and practices contrary to the will of God. It is God’s faithfulness and forgiveness that make peace and righteousness possible – we cannot do it ourselves.

1 Corinthians 10:1-13 – Paul utilizes Old Testament events as a warning to his hearers (including you and I today) about the dangers of sin. It should be noted as we begin that God’s temporal judgement on his people in the wilderness is nowhere spoken of as his eternal judgment. Just because people died in the wilderness does not mean they denied outside the blessings of God’s promise to Abraham.

Rather, the promise they inherited was not enough in and of itself to preserve them from sin and from the death that comes with and from sin. Despite being inheritors of the promise they sinned and suffered the consequences for their sin. So we as inheritors of the promise of life eternal and forgiveness through faith in the resurrection of Jesus as the Son of God sent for this very purpose does not, in and of itself, preserve us perfectly from sin. We who live in Christ do not fear the temporal punishment of the Law, but rather we strive against sin because of the dangerous hold sin can have over us – a hold that might ultimately lead us away from the love and forgiveness of Christ, lost in addition to our sin. Our baptism in Christ is not a reason to boast of our immunity to temptation and sin. Even though our sins are forgiven, we strive against them so that we may not become enslaved to them to our temporal and eternal peril. Furthermore, we have the promise that we can resist sin and temptation. God the Holy Spirit who dwells within us stands ready to assist us towards this end if we are willing to take that promise seriously.

Luke 13:1-9 – Our sinful nature assumes that God operates the way we do, giving his good gifts to those who deserve them and meteing out special punishment for those who do not deserve them. This powerful passage – similar to the book of Job – challenges and refutes our sinful way of conceiving of God’s actions. People suffer and die because they are sinful and live in a sinful world. We should not presume to think that their death or suffering is somehow indicative of God’s special displeasure with them. To do so is to forget what we have received in Christ, and go back to living under the Law. Were it not for the grace of Christ which Jesus comes to offer (the vindresser), all of us would remain under the condemnation of the Law, equally guilty before God and equally deserving of punishment now and for eternity.

It is not our special goodness which is the cause of the blessings in our lives. Rather, we are upheld by the grace and good will of God the Father. It is the love that He pours unsolicited into our lives that is the cause and source of our thriving. God is to receive all the glory if we live lives of abundance and fruitfulness, not us. We do nothing – God does everything!

Again, we are to take sin seriously, and to take seriously the promises of God’s Word regarding spiritual fruit as evidence of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling and activity. We are expected to bear fruit, and we who profess Jesus as our savior should expect such fruit in ourselves! We are not free to determine what the fruit should look like in someone else’s life, though we may be blessed to help them see it for themselves. It is Jesus interceding on our behalf before God the Father through his incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension that provides us with God the Holy Spirit within us causing us to bear fruit.

Sin is serious business, despite the best efforts of the world to deny it exists or to minimize the danger it poses. The danger of sin is not in the sin itself, as though somehow it cannot be or is not forgiven. Jesus’ blood forgives us all of our sins! Rather, the danger is that sin will lead us away from Christ, lead us to the point where we reject his blood, either as necessary for ourselves or as real and effective for anyone. Sin can lead us to insist that our sin is not sin, and therefore not in need of Jesus’ blood and forgiveness.

Rather, we who have been baptized into Christ’s death should expect that our lives will evidence this reality. We have been killed and made alive again in the water and the Word of baptism. We are not the same – we are transformed! We must take this seriously in striving against sin, expecting that we will be provided with the power of God the Holy Spirit to resist sin and temptation.