Can you hear it?

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  -Romans 5:6-8

Do you want to hear a snapshot of the gospel?  Read the passage above again but this time slowly.  Read it aloud and savor every word.   Let it soak in and really dive deep down into your soul!  This Scripture passage ought to change the way you look at God!

If you can’t tell, I love this Scripture passage!  Truthfully, I love Romans because it summarizes most of the Christian faith and provides us a foundation for our lives.  But this passage really does something to me, it describes the earth-shattering, ground-breaking, and mind-blowing good news of God! God demonstrates his love for us because He died for you and me while we were still sinners!

There is so much to this passage but I would encourage each of you to read this passage, over and over and over again.  In my denomination, the United Methodist Church, we take part in the Lord’s Supper and confess our sins at the beginning of the service.  We are left recognizing that we have not loved God with our whole hearts, and we have failed to be obedient to God, and we have failed to love our neighbors as ourselves.  We are reminded that we have sinned against God and neighbor.  Yet, we are not left there because the pastor then proclaims, “Hear the good news! Christ died for us while we were still sinners! This proves God’s love for us!”

So, I ask you, “Can you hear it?”

 

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Has Christ been divided?

As I was reading my devotion in 1 Corinthians 1:10-18 a few weeks ago, I was seized by a single phrase in the text (1 Cor 1:13): “Has Christ been divided?”  Then couple that with this statement from Ambrosiaster (an early church writer), “By believing different things about Christ, the people have divided him.”  I was convicted by this passage because we still divide Christ today by believing different things about Him.

Perhaps, another reason why this Scripture text stood out to me was a quote from Beth Moore I heard that same week:

“You will watch a generation of Christians — OF CHRISTIANS — set the Bible aside in an attempt to become more like Jesus. And stunningly it will sound completely plausible. This will be perhaps the cleverest of all the devil’s schemes in your generation. Sacrifice TRUTH for LOVE’s sake. And you will rise or fall based upon whether you will sacrifice one for the other. Will you have the courage to live in the tension of both TRUTH and LOVE?”

And I think she spoke of something that is slowly becoming a reality in my generation.  It is always “Truth vs Love.”  And when we do that, we divide God by creating an incomplete picture of who God is.

From my vantage point, we divide Christ when we favor His love over the truth; or, we divide Christ when we favor His truth over the love.  Some people are determined to define God as somebody that is a loving, tolerant God who just wants us to be happy.  We say things like, “No need for repentance! No need to talk about sin!  No need to talk about change!  God loves you just the way you are.”  That kind of thinking is seeping into the minds of Christians.  So in the end, we sacrifice truth on the altar of love in order to become more “tolerant.”

The other temptation is to see God as a truth-dispenser without any love.  We see God as a correction to society, or even other to Christians! We continually speak the truth to others through Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter without a conversation – it’s all one way.  Things are said like, “What matters is that the truth gets out – at all costs!  If you hold that view, then you aren’t Christian! It’s a black and white world – why can’t people just see that?”  However, with that kind of thinking, we sacrifice love on the altar of truth in order to make our point.

Each of these views shows us a terribly incomplete picture of the Triune God.  And to be clear, both Christians and non-Christians are guilty of this.  Christians, especially, are guilty of this – both liberals and conservatives, orthodox or progressives, young or old, seminary-trained or not.

Christians have a very different kind of calling from God which is not the comfortable option; rather, it is the harder option.  Christians are responsible for living in the tension between truth and love.  Christians profess in a God who is both prophetic and loving to all people – not just a select few!  We profess in a very particular God who came as Jesus Christ proclaiming both truth AND love.  The Christian life is to live in that tension between truth and love – a most uncomfortable reality.  If we don’t live in the tension between truth and love, then we live a life that divides Christ because we believe different things about him.  God exists as both truth and love! God requires both repentance and grace!  God shows both forgiveness and change!

A Child is Born: A Christmas Devotion

It’s five days before Christmas and I’ll be honest:  I haven’t started my Christmas shopping (but at least I have lists ready to go).  In addition to that, working at a church makes it a very busy time of year.  But I wanted to offer you a brief word during this time of year, hoping that it reminds us of the importance of Christmas.  I think that Christmas can be summed up in the passage that follows:

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6, NIV

When this prophecy was uttered the first time, the Jewish people were facing an attack from a large foreign nation.  Yet, the prophet Isaiah, who earlier spoke of a virgin bearing a son, now speaks of a child who will be born and called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  Clearly, God has some sort of new and different plan.

Isaiah speaks of God’s plan to break into the world of the Jewish people to redeem them, deliver them from the powers of sin and death, and offer them new life.  And God is planning to do all of this through a child who will be called Jesus.  This same God continually breaks into our world in order to redeem us, to deliver us from the powers of sin and death, and offer us new life.   In this process called salvation, God is now taking back what belongs to Him: His people.  And all of this begins, with the birth of a child.  This Christmas, I hope you are reminded of a God who loves you so much that he came as a child to save you from the powers of sin and death.

To close, I offer this prayer from one of the early church fathers:

“Dearly beloved, today our Savior is born; let us rejoice.  Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life.  The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness.  No one is shut out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing.  Our Lord, victor over sin and death, finding no one free from sin, came to free us all.” -Leo the Great

“How did this happen?!”

“How did this happen?”  Those are words that I keep seeing pop up on Twitter concerning the United States presidential election.  Many people are heartbroken, shocked, and frustrated over the results of last night’s election.  I’ve seen some people lash out in frustration calling those who did not vote for Clinton, “sexist.”  Others I’ve seen are rejoicing that, “God has answered our prayers for our country.”  While I think there are clear logical leaps in both statements, it shows the contrasting emotions – both legitimate – felt last night in the election of the next president, Donald J. Trump.

I’ll be honest – I didn’t vote.  I couldn’t bring myself to vote for either candidate.  It’s not the popular stance because many of my friends are hyper-political – as are most Americans now.  This poisonous election cycle has now culminated in the election of someone who is politically incorrect and has shamed countless demographics.  I do not support the election of Donald Trump nor do I support the election of Hillary Clinton. Again, I don’t think this was quite the popular view.

Perhaps, my reasoning behind not voting is littered with “privilege and white maleness” but I genuinely believe that God is still King.  No amount of electoral college votes will unseat Him from His Throne.  Likewise, if this election threatens the United States of America to its core, then what threat of that is the Kingdom of God?  I believe our political and religious focus – both liberal and conservative – is too small and narrow.  The Church has been around for nearly 2,000 years – longer than any other kingdom.  God’s Kingdom, and so the Church, transcends borders and time extending itself far beyond our country, our present time, and ourselves.

I will spare you the Church history lesson (though it is something that I would enjoy) but the Church – and through God’s power in Christ – has overcome tyrants, emperors, dictators, kings, presidents, etc.  Christians should be focused on attaining biblical justice in our world but we also must be alert that we do not lose our hope in the one who is “King of Kings and Lord of Lords”, “Alpha and Omega”, “The One Who Was, Who Is, and Is to Come”, “the Great Yahweh”, “the Good Shepherd”, and “the Paraclete”.  Our hope is not built upon other people, on human constructions of government, or on the rise or fall of nations.  Our is built on the righteousness of God and the blood of Jesus Christ.

I leave this Scripture below in effort to encourage and exhort those who are mourning, celebrating, weeping, rejoicing the election results.  There are no easy answers to what happened yesterday; I hope that this is not seen as an effort of sentimentality.  I intended to reach deep down and grasp tightly onto the hope that we are to embody: that Christians serve a God who is over all.  Therefore, we should live lives like we believe that God is truly King.

“15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.  17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.  19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. 21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.” – Colossians 1:15-23

My Father’s World

Well last week’s debate was… something.  Most of the reaction I have seen is between “Hillary Clinton is a liar and the debate was rigged” or “Donald Trump is the bane of all goodness America is and hopes to be.”  Then there are the people who are arguing over who won and who lost, as if really anyone could win in a debate such as this (or any debate for that matter).  When we compound that negativity with the recent revelations of police brutality in America (whether in Tulsa, Louisiana, and far too many to list), school and mall shootings in Seattle and Townville, SC, and continual news about violence, we are in a sticky situation.

In reality, “sticky situation” is a huge disservice to the problems that we face in our world.  Divisions continue to bubble up to the surface through social media (Facebook), hatred spreads through characters that aren’t nearly enough to explain the whole picture (Twitter), AND we have organizations (read: denominations) that are tearing at the seams because we can’t quite agree on certain hot-button topics these days.  Our world is a mess.  We are living in some dark times; there is no denying that.  Quite simply, people need help and I don’t think that any form of legislation is powerful enough to help with issues that are deeply embedded in all people.

But, obviously, as a Christian, I believe God’s transforming grace is still at work.  However, my primary concern with this blog-post is in the manner in which Christian act in our world more than conversion.  Once, I heard a sermon that had no hope at the end or within it.  The argument was, “There is no hope in the [Scripture] text so there shouldn’t be hope in the sermon.”  I disagree, then and now.  Christians are a people of hope.  This hope is born out of the Resurrection, the radical and transformational act when Jesus Christ was dead, God raised him back to life, and now that same Spirit of God lives inside of us.  And so, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:

“Where, O Death, is your victory?

Where, O Death, is your sting?

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

We have victory through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Through this empowering claim, we become steadfast, immovable, and always excelling and striving for a reward that will last forever (1 Cor. 9:25).  Further, Paul writes that Christians are a people of faith, hope, and love, which we are to live out in our lives (1 Cor 13).

I’m not trying sugar-coat the problems of world.  They exist.  There is hate, both conscious and subconscious.  There is sin that affects us, which requires repentance.  All the -isms exist in our world: racism, sexism, capitalism, relativism, universalism, and whatever else comes to mind.  Yet, Christians are called by God to live under the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and to be assured that, no matter what, this is God’s world.  For God has defeated Death and we have victory through our Lord.

I went to the gym early one morning and I don’t normally listen to Christian music while I work out (it’s not usually motivating or upbeat enough).  But this morning, I switched to the Indelible Grace station and “My Father’s World” began to play.  After all the reactions that followed a certain tragedy that, it offered me assurance that God was still King.  Counter to how some of my colleagues have reacted, it reminded me that no matter the tragedies or evil that we face, this world still belongs to God.  I hope that this offers you some assurance as we continue to live in God’s world.

Stop, Breathe, and Listen

Our world is a noisy place. As I write this, I’m sitting in a coffee shop where there is a meeting between three gentlemen, a busy strip mall next door, and commerce that is happening all around me. On top of all that, I’m listening to music as I type this. Our world has become an increasingly noisy place where there are many things shouting to grab our attention (even other Christians!). Between the headlines on news networks, viral Twitter posts, and constant exposure to our friends and family on Facebook, we are being doused with noise and information. Welcome to the world that we have created and now live in.

This loud world creates problems for those of us who are trying to hear the voice of God, because our ears and minds are being overloaded by the clutter of our lives that we have to sift through on a day-to-day basis. The big problem is, after sifting through all of these voices, we have no energy left to hear the most important voice: God’s. The racket of our world is attempting to deafen and distract us from hearing from the loquacious God.

With all this, I’m reminded of Samuel from Scripture. Samuel was a young child when he heard God calling out to him. When Samuel heard God “the word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread” (1 Sam 3:1). Often, I feel that the same is true for us, even though God is still speaking to us. In our world, we are captivated by other visions for ourselves and captured by the words of superficial advice rather than God’s purpose for our lives.

Scripture shows us a God who loves and speaks to us while desiring a relationship with us. Yet, even though God is faithful and calls out to us, we continue to wander away and ignore His word for our lives. But still God hasn’t run out of words. In fact, God has a very powerful word for us right now: “See, I am doing a new thing… I am making a way in the wilderness and stream in the wasteland” (Is. 43:19). God speaks into our world so that we can know Him, serve Him, and spread the good news of Jesus Christ.

We have to slow down and block out the noise of our world. We have to set apart time so that God and His Spirit may speak to us through Scripture. If we continue to listen to other voices that are opposed to God’s will, we will find ourselves dying of thirst. Whether these false words are innovative ideologies, political dogma, or Christian elitism, we must discern God’s will for us. My hope is that we can slow down, read Scripture, and listen for God. And we must slow down to read Scripture well instead of reading it like another text, tweet, or email. When we slow down and listen for God through Scripture, we, like Samuel, can hear God calling to us and respond, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Rebranding

It was in the middle of a conversation with one of my best friends that I realized, “I’m not sure what I believe anymore.”  This conversation happened a few months ago that covered topics such as church history, Scriptural authority, homosexuality, and faithful tradition.  It was in the midst of the dialogue that I realized I was unable to articulate a faith that I once held.

To be clear, this is not to say that I don’t believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, that God is Triune, and the myriad of orthodox doctrinal statements that are found in the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds.  Yet, I could only find myself rehearsing lines that I had learned in seminary, most of which I didn’t believe either.  Following that conversation, I understood that there was a lot of work left to be done and so this is where this blog begins.

After reading Thomas Oden’s Rebirth of Orthodoxy, I felt a liberation of sorts.  I didn’t feel constrained to believe in contemporary theological discourse or buy into my seminary education or any of the other propositions that were presented to me.  Rather than buying into the new and innovative theology or the new age of Scriptural interpretation, I felt like I could go backwards and dive into the roots of the Christian faith without feeling ashamed.  I wanted the chance to read the Early Church literature, specifically Scriptural interpretations, rather than feel the pressure of being creative and innovative.  I desired to read Scripture recognizing that the contemporary ideologies that are overtaking the church are not the only answer.  I felt drawn to experience how the Holy Spirit offered inspiration to the previous saints and leaders of the church rather than dehumanizing their efforts simply because I was born more recently.  Simply put, this conversation reinvigorated my desire to explore orthodox Christian teaching while resisting the modern and postmodern secularism that is failing us.

This blog, or re-branding of this blog, has been born out of these desires.  This blog is about rediscovering what it means to be an orthodox Christian in an increasingly pluralistic society.  My writings will be about reclaiming the previous works in our Church that have been ignored or torn down.  Finally, if I may be so bold, I hope that these entries and conversations might even begin a renewal in the Church, an opportunity for us to remember our roots and engage the world in a way that embodies the Kingdom of God.

This will be a learning process for me.  I will not get everything right, and I pray for patience, forgiveness, and grace for that.  I’m hopeful that the Spirit will bless this effort in some way, whether it’s just me or others.  Regardless, this blog will be RE: Orthodoxy.