Jesus: Meeting Us Where We Are

I want to look at one of the unreal gods in J.B Phillips’ book, Your God Is Too Small. It is a god that can lead us to paralysis and despair, especially if we are aware of our human condition and have a sensitive conscience. It is a god I have struggled with mightily and unfortunately still do from time to time. I suspect most of you have too. The god I am talking about is the god of absolute perfection and I am convinced this unreal god is partly responsible for keeping many folks away from the love and grace of God we can experience through Jesus Christ.

So how does this work? It’s really quite simple. If we are honest with ourselves, each one of us knows that we fall terribly short of the mark of loving God with all that we are. We remember our failures, the times when we let ourselves down and others. We think about our unholy thoughts, desires, and habits, and perhaps feel guilt and shame over them. We wonder how in the world we can ever live directly in the presence of a Holy and perfect God for all eternity, and deep in the back of our minds we are forced to admit we probably cannot. We resolve to do better, to pray more, to read our Bible more, to repent more, but more often than not we find ourselves just spinning our wheels. You get the point. All this can, and usually does, make us fall into despair.

For you see, this unreal god doesn’t allow us any room to grow or mature because this god demands that we be perfect in every way, and he demands that we be perfect now. And since none of us is perfect, we instinctively know the gig is up when we try to worship this kind of unreal god. So we either fall into despair because we know we can never reach the goal or we simply fall away and go through life whistling through the graveyard, hoping that it will all eventually turn out OK, even when we know it probably will not. In either case, the Evil One can use the god of absolute perfection to make us fall away from the real God permanently and weigh us down with intolerable burdens as we try to find some joy, peace, happiness, and meaning for our lives.

But the god of absolute perfection is not the God of the Bible. The real God, while absolutely holy and perfect, is more than willing to meet us where we are and work with us from there to help and encourage us to grow in our relationship with him. To illustrate this, let’s take a look at a very poignant scene from the Gospel of John. It is the story of Jesus’ restoration of Peter after Peter had utterly failed Jesus on the night of Jesus’ arrest.

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” 17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” (John 21.15-19)

Now at first blush you may be wondering how this story is an example of God meeting us where we are, warts and all. The problem is not in the story but in the weakness of the English translation. As most of you probably know, the original NT manuscripts were written in Greek and when we look at the Greek verbs for love that John uses, we can better see how Jesus reached out to Peter to meet Peter where he was so that he could restore him.

John uses two different verbs for love in his story, agapao and phileo. Agapao is the Greek verb that describes the highest kind of self-giving and devotional love possible, it is the kind of love that seeks our best and it is the kind of love with which God showers us. It is love in action. Phileo is the Greek verb that typically describes brotherly love and affection, the kind we have for our best friends. It is a higher kind of love but does not fully describe the more complete quality of agape love, although the two terms can be used interchangeably. So let’s read sections of this story again using the Greek verbs for love. Jesus asks Peter, “Simon, son of John do you agapas me?” Peter replied, “Yes, Lord, you know that I philo you.” Jesus replied, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus asked, “Simon, son of John, do you agapas me?” Peter replied, “Yes, Lord, you know that I philo you.” Jesus replied, “Take care of my sheep.” A third time Jesus asked, “Simon, son of John, do you phileis me?”

Do you see what’s happening here? Peter, likely chastened, humbled, and ashamed for completely losing his courage and denying his Lord just hours after he had bragged that he would suffer and die with Jesus should that be required, could not bring himself to say that he loved Jesus in the manner in which Jesus asked. Jesus asked about the higher form of love and Peter replied using the lesser form. And what was Jesus’ response? The god of absolute perfection would have found Peter’s reticence unacceptable and would have rejected him utterly.

But that is not what Jesus did.

No, he met Peter where he was, fresh from his failure and in the midst of his sorrow and shame. John reports that Peter became sorrowful but I suspect that’s because, in part, Peter was trying to worship the god of absolute perfection, but who is certainly not the Jesus who confronted him. And just as Jesus met Peter where he was, so he meets each one of us where we are, even (or especially) in the midst of our sorrows, failures, hurts, and fears.

Make no mistake. Jesus meets us where we are and accepts us for who we are, warts and all. But he will not leave us where we are because he loves us with an agape love and wants better for us. He wants us to grow in our love and affection for him so that we might have life and have it abundantly. We see this illustrated in Peter’s restoration because Jesus tells Peter what is coming. He tells Peter that he will one day have to give his life for Jesus but then Peter will be ready to answer the call, and he will be ready precisely because Jesus loved him enough to forgive him and meet him in the midst of his weakness and failures.

And this should make perfect sense to us, especially when we consider that God is a crucified God. The cross of Jesus Christ stands as an eternal witness that the real God is not a God of absolute perfection. If he were, why would he become human and die a terrible death for us to make it possible for us to have a real relationship with him again? The unreal god of absolute perfection would not do that for us. He would expect us to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps to conform to his expectations for us. But that is not the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible is the God we see in the story of Peter’s restoration and hanging on a cross for us. This is the real God in action and this is why we must decisively and forever repudiate the unreal god of absolute perfection.

So how exactly do we do that? The answer is in our Scripture lessons today. The best way to learn to repudiate any unreal god is to start reading our Bible regularly to learn about the real God of this universe so that we can learn to recognize him in action in our own lives and the lives of others. It doesn’t matter who you are, whether you’ve read the Bible thoroughly or not at all. Take your cue from Jesus in today’s lesson and start where you are. If you don’t know how to start, go to and choose a plan you can handle. Resist the temptation to compare yourself with what others might be doing because God does not care one lick about that. He’s not the god of absolute perfection. He is the God of the Bible who cares about you and about helping you grow from where you are right now.

And then pay attention to what Luke tells us in our lesson from Acts today. He tells us that the early church grew because they did exactly what I’ve just encouraged you to do. They paid attention to the teaching of the apostles and you can find those teachings in the NT. They also fed on the body and blood of Christ just like we do each Sunday, and they enjoyed each other’s fellowship. Surely this helped them when they had their doubts and fears because in addition to giving us himself in the Word and sacrament, God blesses us with good friends and fellow believers who will love us through thick and thin, and for who we are, warts and all, just like Jesus loved Peter (and us). If you stay connected to God in prayer, Bible study, the sacraments, and through fellow believers, you can expect to grow, both as individuals and together, just the way Luke reports the early church did.

During our first meeting together, most of us indicated in one way or another that we are hungry to grow in our relationship with God, but the god of absolute perfection will not allow us to do that because anything less than perfection right now is unacceptable to him. That is why we must repudiate this unreal god decisively and begin to worship the real God, the God of the Bible, the God in Christ who meets us where we are. Whether you agapao or phileo God or something else, God will meet you where you are and take you by the hand to help you get to where he wants you to be.

Growing in your relationship with God won’t always be easy. In fact, we can expect to meet massive resistance because the powers and principalities do not want us to have joy, meaning, purpose, and hope in our lives. They want to keep us bound in our darkness and fears. But when resistance comes, don’t be afraid. Take heart and hope. Remember that you have a God who meets you where you are and who will never give up on you. How do you know this? Because we have the witness of Scripture and the very blood of Christ shed for each one of us so that we can have our exile from God ended forever. And when you really understand this, you will discover that you really do have Good News, not only for this season of life here on earth but also for all eternity.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Columbus Dispatch: History Firsthand

Wonderful, wonderful stuff. Kudos to the teacher. This is history teaching at its finest. Too bad it came from a Language Arts teacher. 🙂

“Miss Audrey,” in her wheelchair and with her oxygen, looked at the handwritten poems Diamaunte Hale and Jacob Coverdale had brought to her. They were about her.

“Talk to me,” 80-year-old Audrey Curtis said, pulling the seventh-graders to her better ear. “Tell me what it says.”

When they were done reading, she was wiping away tears. And thanking them over and over. Then they handed her an audio recording they had made of her telling them the story of her life.

More scenes like that played out yesterday in the dining room and courtyard at Scioto Community, a South Side senior-care facility that offers nursing and assisted living. The students from Buckeye Middle School handed over recordings of interviews that, they say, have changed their minds about the elderly and demonstrated the importance of human interaction.

Read the whole heartwarming article (and if you are a history teacher reading this, learn from it. Go and do likewise).

Transformative Love

27 After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, 28 and Levi got up, left everything and followed him. 29 Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. 30 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

–Luke 5.27-31 (NIV)

If you have ever wondered if you are “lovable enough” to be loved by God, this story is for you because the answer to your doubts is a resounding “YES!” A bit of historical background will help us appreciate the power of this story. In Jesus’ day, the Roman Empire would  hire out locals to collect taxes for the Empire. This privilege usually went to the highest bidder and it should quickly be apparent that there was lots of room for abuse in a system like this. Why? Because it provided an opportunity for lots of folks to get rich, usually at the expense of someone else. Roman administrators could get rich by offering tax collection opportunities to the highest bidder. And why would local folks want to bid for this “opportunity”? Because there was tremendous wealth to be had. Each tax collector was responsible to pay his assigned quotient of taxes to Rome. Anything he collected beyond this was his to keep and if the locals didn’t pay what the tax collectors demanded–usually well above what their actual tax bill was–they’d face the wrath of Rome. Can we say made for extortion? Sure we can. This is why tax collectors were despised and hated, especially by the Jews, because they were perceived as being greedy, unpatriotic, and in the case of the Jews, unfaithful to God. Therefore, what a head turner it would have been for those who followed Jesus to see him call a person from one of the most despised groups of society to follow him. It would be like seeing Jesus call a member of Al Qaeda to follow him.

You just don’t do things like that.

But Jesus did do things like that and if we want to follow Jesus, so must we. For you see, no one, and I mean no one, is beyond the radical love that God has for each one of us. God created humans to love and enjoy him, to have a life-giving relationship with him. God did not create us to destroy us. Sadly, there will be some among us who will reject forever God’s gracious love offered to each of us in Jesus, but that is about them and their foolishness and stupidity, not about God.

And of course as the story in today’s lesson unfolds, we see opposition toward God’s great love and grace develop. Sadly this opposition often comes from “church folk” who have appointed themselves to be arbiters of good and proper behavior and God help anyone who gets in their way–even our Lord himself. Funny thing, that. We still have plenty of folks like the Pharisees around today.

Now let me be clear here. I am not advocating an “anything goes” morality. Nowhere in this story (or in any of the Gospel stories for that matter) does Luke give us any indication that Jesus blessed the tax collectors’ behavior or encouraged them to continue exploiting others to satisfy their greed and lust for power. Quite the contrary. Jesus called them to repentance (literally to turn around, to change their course of action) so that they could move from death to life, from their own darkness of sin and self-centeredness to God’s light. It’s hard to do that if you are busy condemning folks right and left and setting yourself up as the arbiter of God’s grace and love for all humans. No, Jesus wants everybody to wake up and smell the coffee and he is willing to get in the ditch with the pigs, so to speak.

In this story, then, we see Jesus putting into action the message behind his many parables, parables like the ones about the lost sheep and the prodigal son. Jesus wants everyone to discover who he is so that he can begin to heal us and transform us into the creatures he created us to be. This isn’t some kind of schmaltzy love because the stakes are high and they are real. Jesus knew better than any of us that God is not just a God of love; he is a God of holy love, and there are dire consequences for anyone who rejects God’s grace and mercy offered to us freely in and through Jesus. Think about it. If it really doesn’t matter what we do in and with our lives because we are “all going to go to heaven” anyway (a gross misunderstanding of the Resurrection in itself), why would Jesus have felt such an urgency to reach out to the least, the lost, and the most hopeless? Consequences there are, both wondrous and awful, and in stories like the ones in today’s lesson, we see the love of God reaching out to those who needed it most.

I can love a God like that. Can you?

What this means for us, of course, is that we can have real hope and a chance to be healed and transformed by God’s amazing love for us. It doesn’t matter who we are or what we’ve done. It doesn’t matter how awful or unlovable we think we are. That’s not the point because it is not about us. It is about God’s love for us and his power to redeem and heal us. No one is deserving of God’s love because we all fall short of the mark. But unlike much human love that attaches conditions to it if we want to continue enjoying it, God’s love does not work that way. He takes us where we are.

But it doesn’t stop there because God loves us too much to leave us where we are. If you dare to allow God’s love for you in Jesus into your life, you had better expect to be changed. It may take a moment. It may take a lifetime, but you will be changed if you let Jesus into your life and decide to follow him instead of following yourself or some other inadequate and unreal god.

What this will do, of course, is typically make you want to share God’s love with others and here we can gain an additional insight from Luke’s story today. We share God’s love in Christ by being real with others, by meeting people where they are, by letting people see Jesus in us in the context of our daily lives–things like acting with honesty and integrity, being respectful to others, taking a real interest in them and their lives, and acting charitably and mercifully toward them, even when they deserve none of it–and by daring to see in them more than might meet the eye. We can only do the latter when we keep in mind that all humans bear the Image of God, defaced as it might be (and in some folks it’s darn near impossible to detect God’s Image at all). We’ve all met folks like this in our lives and typically we run like hell to avoid interacting with them. But this is not the way of Jesus, the way of the cross. You cannot introduce people to Jesus who desperately need to meet him by running from them. You have to engage them in the context of your life and theirs. This takes courage, time, patience, and great perseverance. It also takes a lot of prayer because left to our own devices, we just don’t have it in us to do this kind of work.

But here’s the thing. We don’t have to do this on our own. We have the Power and Presence of the Holy Spirit living in us to help us follow Jesus. And we have each other because this work was never intended to be done alone. We are called to follow Jesus as his Body, the Church, and we set ourselves up for failure if we try to live the Christian life as rugged individualists. If you don’t believe me, read any of Paul’s letters. They were written to real people, to real churches on the ground, struggling to live faithfully to Jesus, and we see Paul urge and remind his churches repeatedly that they are to follow Jesus together, not just individually.

If you are one who is hurting or who feels unlovable, whether you are in the church or not, think again. You are not outside the amazing love of God. Just look at him in action when he became human and lived among us, stories like the one in today’s lesson. He wants to help you abandon everything in your life and in you that prevents you from living life fully and with joy, meaning, purpose, and power. If you really want to find out what it means to be human, Jesus will call you to lose yourself so that you can gain him, and when that happens, you will discover how to live fully as a human being. You have the witness and experience of countless men, women, and children that Jesus is the real deal and he can and will deliver on his promises to heal and transform you, and it will then equip you to share Jesus’ love and power (as well as yourself because he will use you to help him in his work) with others. Take him up on his offer. It is the best thing you ever will do for yourself and for God’s creation.

Agents of New Creation

38 Jesus left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. 39 So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them. 40 At sunset, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them. 41 Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Messiah. 42 At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. 43 But he said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” 44 And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.

–Luke 4.28.44 (NIV)

Today I pick up on the question Bishop Tom Wright has raised. What would it look like if we saw God coming back to put the world aright? Luke gives us two important pieces of information in today’s passage. As we have seen before, Jesus was not the Messiah his people expected. God did not become human and return as a conquering hero or an all powerful being who would wave his hand and suddenly rid the world of all evil. Instead, he returned as a suffering Messiah, one who would confront the evil and brokenness of the world through humble service and love, offering the healing power of God to people who desperately needed it.

We can naturally relate to this story. Luke describes the eagerness of folks to see Jesus and to be healed by him. They naturally wanted to keep Jesus for themselves! But our Lord would have none of it. He tells them that he needed to go about proclaiming the kingdom of God. He did this, of course, through preaching, teaching, telling parables, and through acts of power like Luke describes in today’s lesson. In doing so, we get an insight into God’s plan to restore his creation. As a man, Jesus did this by healing the sick, raising the dead, and offering mercy to those who didn’t deserve it, thus bringing further healing when his mercy was accepted. Yes, there will be a day when Jesus returns in great power and glory to deal with the problem of evil and of his good but fallen creation. That is one of the messages we must take from Jesus’ resurrection. We see in him a glimpse of God’s New Creation.

In the interim, however, we see God dealing with the problem of evil by ministering to his sick and broken people in Jesus. The great thing about that is that we too can follow Jesus in this work. We too can allow the Spirit to transform us into Jesus’ salt and light for his broken and hurting world. In other words, we can be agents of God’s New Creation right here and now, working like Jesus did to put things right where they had gone wrong. We may not be given the gift of miraculous healing or the ability to drive out demons (then again, some of us might), but all of us are capable of bringing God’s tender love and mercy to his broken and hurting creation and creatures.

And how best to do this? Jesus models that for us as well in today’s lesson. Note carefully that before he starts his work, he retires to pray, to get refreshed in God’s presence and to listen for his marching orders. Likewise with his followers. If you want to be a Kingdom worker, you need to get your marching orders and you do that, in part, through prayer. No one can be a legitimate Kingdom worker without it. God, of course, can use anybody to help him accomplish his good will and purposes. That is not what I am talking about. Rather, what I am talking about here is intentionality.

Jesus calls each one of us to follow him and to imitate him, and he tells us how to do that. We are to deny ourselves, take up our cross each day, and follow him. We cannot follow him if we do not listen for where he wants us to go and what he wants us to do. This requires spiritual discipline on our part so that we can learn to listen for and hear the Master’s voice.

Are you ready to embark on the adventure of your lifetime? If you are, follow Jesus and let him transform you into his salt and light.

All You Need is Love–Really

7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

–1 John 4.7-21 (NIV)

16 [Jesus] went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

31 Then he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath he taught the people. 32 They were amazed at his teaching, because his words had authority. 33 In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an impure spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, 34 “Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” 35 “Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him. 36 All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What words these are! With authority and power he gives orders to impure spirits and they come out!” 37 And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area.

–Luke 4.16-21, 31-37 (NIV)

My apology to the Beatles. In today’s Epistle lesson, John continues to flesh out what he told us in yesterday’s lesson. Here he focuses on what it means to love. He is essentially telling us this: If you are worried about your relationship with God, if you wonder whether God really loves you and if your present and future are secure with him, look at whether you love as God loves you. Why is this? Because love originates and comes from God. We have the ability to love only because we have God’s Holy Spirit living in us and empowering us to live as he calls us to live. If you claim to love God but your actions as a whole–I am not talking about the times on occasion where we all slip up or fall short because we are, well, human and broken–are inconsistent with that claim, you are simply a liar and you have reason to be worried about your future. As we have seen many times before, a saving faith in Jesus always manifests itself in action and here John tells us the litmus test we must use to assess the validity of our faith is whether we love, and how much we do so.

John also reminds us that we are to be like Jesus while living in this world. As we have seen before, Jesus was (and is) the Messiah his people did not (and do not) expect. As the above passages from Luke make clear, the kind of Messiah Jesus had in mind was radically different from the popular expectations of people from his day (and ours). They had expected Messiah to come as a conquering hero, in power and great glory. They expected a Messiah who could wave his hand and suddenly and miraculously make everything right (have you ever had this expectation of God when you prayed to him for something hard?).

But as the Gospels make clear, Jesus had a different idea about the nature of power and glory. Power and glory were to be found in loving service to others, in service and humility, not pomp, power, or prestige. This, then, is how we are to be like Jesus and when we do so, we can have confidence that we are manifesting the same kind of love he showed others, a love that will inevitably turn heads and make people ask us, as the did Jesus, “Why are you doing that? On whose authority? This isn’t what we expected and we are not particularly sure we like it.”

Here is a total package for living, one that ensures meaning and purpose for the living of our mortal days and for the sure and certain hope for enjoying a living future with the Source and Author of all life that not even our physical death can sever. We have the promise of God’s Spirit in us to transform us and make us into the people God created us to be. There will be opposition and outright hostility toward us when we follow Jesus because our standards are his standards, not the world’s, and the powers and principalities who run this world are not happy with this.

But take heart and hope because the powers and principalities do not have the final say. They have already been defeated. God has already initiated his New Creation when he raised Jesus from the dead. He calls each of us to follow Jesus and be agents of his New Creation. If you have not already done so and are willing to take the chance, you will find this Kingdom work to be the hardest thing you ever will come to love because not only will you find meaning and fulfillment in your own life, you will bring Christ’s healing and transformative love to others who need it as desperately as you do. And you will find that no matter who you are or what you can (or cannot) bring to the table, God can and will use you to advance his Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. Talk about the opportunity of a lifetime!

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Remember the Cross the Next Time You Ask the Why Questions

I had a couple of interesting conversations today. A friend called to ask a question about trusting God. He had seen a 10 year old boy who was afflicted with epilepsy and wondered what good God could possibly bring out of that terrible situation. I told him I didn’t know but was convinced that God could bring some good from this evil. However, I am simply not privy to God’s intentions for that family, nor is my friend.

Then another friend called to talk about a terrible family burden he is bearing. He said it felt like God was not listening to him and he felt rather abandoned over this. He needs God to help him bear this awful burden and God apparently had gone into silent mode. I could relate to that as well because it has happened to me before, and more than once. I have great empathy for my friend because he too is forced to deal with an evil disease that has afflicted a loved one.

So why does this stuff happen? Why does God allow evil to apparently have its way in the world? If you are hoping to find an answer here you will be very disappointed because I don’t have the answer. Scripture is remarkably reticent on the subject as well. For example, you read Job, which is all about the mystery of suffering, and when you get to the end of the book, you hope God will let us in on the joke. He doesn’t. He basically tells us that we aren’t big enough or smart enough to handle all that God deals with and therefore urges us to be faithful and to trust him because God is big enough to handle evil and suffering. So I didn’t have an answer for my friends today in this regard nor do I have an answer for you.

But here is what I can tell you. When you get smacked in the face by some form of evil and are wondering if God really is trustworthy, or whether he really does love you, then remember the cross.

By all means remember the cross because it is a real antidote to doubt and despair.

The cross will not give you an answer to your why questions. What it will do is to remind you of God’s great love for you and his ability to deliver for you when you are being smacked in the face by evil or suffering.

How so, you ask? The cross is a tangible and powerful sign of God’s great love for you because it reminds you that God has done a terrible and costly thing to end the alienation that exists between humans and God, an alienation caused by our stubborn rebelliousness and our attempt to play God instead of letting God be God. Remember that when Jesus hung on the cross he was not some independent third party whom God had hired out because God didn’t want to get his hands all bloody and messy. This was God himself hanging there and dying for you so that you have a real chance to live, both in this mortal life and in God’s New Creation.

When you look at the spectacle of the cross and remind yourself that it is God himself hanging there, suffering and dying for you so that you have a real chance at having a restored relationship with him so that you won’t die, it boggles the mind–at least it boggles my mind. It also boggles the mind–at least it boggles my mind–to believe that a God who would do this for you does not love you or has decided to abandon you in the midst of your struggles or trials. It just doesn’t make sense–unless, of course, you choose to believe that God is the most capricious being in the whole universe. But then you are not worshiping the real God if you worship a god like that because the real God is not capricious at all.

The next time you are confronted with evil or suffering or any of the nasty stuff that can afflict us, remember Christ crucified. Bring your hurts, your fears, your anger, your anguish, your sense of betrayal, your sense of abandonment and whatever else you have, and lay them at the foot of the cross. If it helps you, make or buy an actual cross so that you have something tangible to lay all that burdens you and threatens to destroy your faith. Take a minute or two (or however long you need) and consciously do this. The God who loves you and gave himself for you in a terrible and costly act is big enough to help you handle anything you can bring to his cross and you are frankly not very bright if you do not let him. He may not deliver you or your loved ones in the way you pray for, hope, or fervently desire, but he will give you (and those for whom you pray) what you (and they) need. You can believe this precisely because you have spent some time at the foot of his cross and pondered his great love for you and all humankind.

And then after you have spent some time at the foot of his cross, open up your Bible and read Romans 8.31-39. Part of what you will read there is this:

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8.37-39).

Reflect on this carefully. Paul is reminding you to embrace your heritage that is God’s great love for you in Christ. Reflect on the breathtaking implications contained in this short passage. Paul reminds us that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Jesus. Nothing. That means epilepsy cannot separate us. Terminal cancer cannot separate us. Blindness cannot separate us. Madness or dementia cannot separate us. Alzheimer’s cannot separate us.

Why? Because all of these evils exist in creation and nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Jesus.

This, of course, brings us back to the beginning of Romans 8 where Paul tells us that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because of what God has done for us in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Notice carefully that no explanation is given as to why evil exists. What is given is a declaration of God’s ability to deliver for us, and his great love for us in and through Jesus. If you do not think Paul is a liar, then you had better be prepared to do something with what he has just told you. Think about this. If God can raise Jesus from the dead, what can God not do? If he is willing to suffer and die for you when you did not want him to do so nor deserve anything like this great love that he has demonstrated for you, why would he abandon you in the midst of your struggles and trials?

Again, you either must believe this and do something about it or admit that you really don’t believe it and do something else about it. In the former case, your response will be hope, real hope. In the latter, you can expect to fall into despair and hopelessness sooner or later because try as you might, you don’t have very much control over the little things in life, let alone the big things. And unless you think you can raise yourself and others from the dead, you don’t have much to look forward to, either now or in the future.

In sum, when you need to ask the why questions, remember to bring those questions along with the rest of the accompanying baggage and lay them at the foot of the cross. Give them to God and ask him to help you bear them. Then do yourself a favor and memorize Romans 8.31-39. Repeat it anytime the stuff hits the fan. You will find the power, the strength, and the love and the grace that will be sufficient to help you bear your burdens. And you will have a real hope because you know that Christ is risen, and where he is so will you and your loved ones be. You’ve also got God’s promise that nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate you from his love for you.

But you cannot be an armchair quarterback. You have got to act. You have got to take the chance and trust Jesus by hanging out frequently at the foot of his cross. Otherwise, you will never, ever know the power that lies behind this truth.

Bet your life on this and dare to trust the God who raised our Lord Jesus from the dead and promises to raise you and everyone who is in Christ too.

Help in Dealing with the Unreal god Known as Resident Policeman

19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

–1 John 3.19-4.3 (NIV)

We are currently looking at the classic old book from J.B. Phillips titled, Your God Is Too Small. In it, Phillips identifies various unreal gods that we construct and attempt to worship–all with quite unsatisfactory results. Over the next several weeks where there are relevant lessons from the Daily Office (as there is in today’s lesson), I will comment on these unreal gods. Today we look at the unreal god that Phillips called “Resident Policeman.”

Resident Policeman is a terribly oppressive god we construct and is essentially equivalent to our conscience, specifically a guilty conscience. People who labor under this unreal god are usually convinced that God is bound and determined that they not have any fun at all because if they do, well, that’s just wrong. Besides, everybody knows God is against having any fun in life–or so this kind of sad (and terribly mistaken) thinking goes–and he will prove it by pricking us with a guilty conscience every chance he gets.

Sound like a god you would like to worship? Me neither.

Of course, God can speak to us through our conscience, but to equate our conscience to God is a serious mistake because our conscience can be morbidly underdeveloped or overdeveloped, depending on multiple factors. Moreover, since our conscience is, in part, culturally conditioned, it is not always an accurate indication of God’s voice speaking to us. We therefore have to approach listening to it with the appropriate caution.

But as we see from today’s passage, John will have nothing to do with this unreal notion of Resident Policeman. He reminds us that if we have an oversensitive conscience, God can quiet it because he is greater than our hearts (which in biblical language refers to more than just our emotions; it also refers to our mind and will, our core being). How can God do that? By knowing our hearts better than we do and by reminding us what he expects from us. And what is that? John tells us this as well. We can tell if we have a saving faith (which could well stimulate an oversensitive conscience) if we do what pleases God. And what pleases God? Two things. First, to believe that Jesus is who he claims he is, that is, God’s Son, and second, to follow Jesus’ command for us to love one another (see the farewell discourse starting in John 14ff). The latter, of course, is consistent with what our Lord himself told us when he summarized the Law for us: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and you shall love your neighbor as you love yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the prophets (Matthew 22.34-40).

In other words, these two criteria should be the controlling criteria when assessing our moral behavior.

We must also remember that when Scripture talks about love it has in mind action rather than emotion. Love always manifests itself for the good of the beloved. It doesn’t necessarily manifest itself in affection for the person, although it might at times. That is why it is possible, for example, to love our enemies because our love is based on what we do (or don’t do) for a person rather than our feelings about the person.

Here, then, is the antidote to the unreal god called Resident Policeman. We believe God loves us so much that he became human and died for us so that we would not have to bear the just punishment of his wrath poured out on us. This should bring us great hope, comfort, and reassurance because we remember that we did not earn, nor do we deserve, this grace offered to us through Jesus’ death. God became human because he loves us and wants us to have the kind of relationship with him that he intended when he created us, and it all starts by having our alienation and exile ended by the cross of Jesus.

And when we are pricked by a guilty conscience we are to do what John advises. Test the spirits using the two criteria he gives us in today’s passage and which he will flesh out further in 1 John 4. This makes it fairly straightforward for us to decide if we are suffering from a legitimate guilty conscience or whether we are suffering from something false and of our own making. We simply must be honest enough with ourselves to ask if the guilt we feel stems from an unloving act we have done (or failed to do).

Of course, as with most things in life, this is never quite as easy as it sounds and we must do some other things to help us in evaluating the legitimacy of a guilty conscience. The best thing we can do is to develop a thorough knowledge of Scripture to help us draw on the many examples of love that are offered there. Toward this end, memorizing as much Scripture as possible is massively helpful. It also never hurts to have faithful Christian friends to help us with this task as well, but for that to happen we need to be real with each other and stop trying to put on a phony front. We must be willing enough and trusting enough to expose ourselves to our friends, warts and all, and then trust that they love us enough to speak the truth in love to us, and that God will use them to help guide us in assessing our moral behavior.

If you are laboring under the false and destructive god known as Resident Policeman, think deeply on these things. Remember the real criteria for assessing the legitimacy of a guilty conscience, something that you can only do with the help of a thorough knowledge of Scripture. Remember too the God who loves you wildly through Jesus Christ. God is indeed a God of justice, but the symbol of God’s justice is the cross. Always keep that at the foremost part of your mind. Finally, ask God to send you a Christian friend who will love you enough to be honest with you and who will help you discriminate between a legitimate guilty conscience and a false and destructive one. Then start enjoying life, abundant life, in Jesus.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!


Anglican Diocese of the Great Lakes Inducts Bishop

From here.

The official installation of Bishop Roger C. Ames as the first bishop of the Anglican Diocese of the Great Lakes signals the continuing development of the theologically conservative parish network created for Anglicans who broke away from the Episcopal Church.

”This sends a very clear message of our commitment to a life together as Anglicans,” said Ames, 68. ”Church planting and growth are at the heart of the new diocese. We expect to be 50 percent larger next year.”

Bishop Ames was installed last Saturday at our diocese’s annual synod. I am thankful that he is my bishop. May God bless him and his episcopate.

Read the whole article.

Real Help When You Find Yourself in the Midst of a Fiery Furnace

1 King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. 2 He then summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials to come to the dedication of the image he had set up. 3 So the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials assembled for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, and they stood before it. 4 Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: 5 As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. 6 Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.” 7 Therefore, as soon as they heard the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp and all kinds of music, all the nations and peoples of every language fell down and worshiped the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 8 At this time some astrologers came forward and denounced the Jews. 9 They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “May the king live forever! 10 Your Majesty has issued a decree that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music must fall down and worship the image of gold, 11 and that whoever does not fall down and worship will be thrown into a blazing furnace. 12 But there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—who pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.” 13 Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, 14 and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? 15 Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” 16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

–Daniel 3.1-18 (NIV)

Here is a story in today’s lesson to which we all can relate. It has all the necessary ingredients for disaster, most notably human pride which is the root cause of the problem here that confronts Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. With great fanfare that often accompanies megalomaniacs, Nebuchadnezzar orders that all should worship this false idol of his and he has the power to make dissenters pay dearly. He has the power of death.

As we read this story, we can relate instinctively to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s predicament can’t we? We may not be faced with being thrown literally into a blazing furnace, but each of us deals with those things in life that have the power to destroy us as effectively as any blazing furnace. It may be the furnace of unemployment or chronic illness. It may be the furnace of watching our loved ones grow old and infirm or being struck down by an incurable disease, and observing the heart-breaking spectacle of their human dignity being stripped away from them in the process. It may be the furnace of losing loved ones to death, or of broken families or relationships, or the betrayal of a once-trusted friend. It may be the furnace of growing old ourselves and the related fear of facing an uncertain future because of it. It may be the furnace of not being able to find a mate with which to journey through life or of repeated failure for the various endeavors we attempt. It may be the furnace of addiction or lust or greed or self-centeredness on steroids. Whatever the particular furnace is that we face–and we all face something or other in our lives that can ultimately destroy us or our humanity–we can appreciate the darkness this story describes. Surely the same kind of hopelessness and despair that these various furnaces of life can produce in us were weighing on Jesus’ disciples on Good Friday when they watched his dead body being taken down from the cross and buried. Things looked terribly bleak and they had no reason to hope for a better day.

But the remarkable thing about today’s story is that our protagonists will have none of it. They will not be kowtowed by the threat of death nor will they succumb to the apparent hopelessness of their present situation. Instead, they refuse to worship a false god and they are quite prepared to pay for their decision with their lives. Notice carefully the great humility and faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They have the ultimate confidence in their God to deliver them from their desperate situation and even if God does not choose to deliver them, that is not a deal breaker for them. They still put their ultimate trust in God.

This is the kind of faith that sustains and it is available to us today.

Why is that? How can we have the kind of faith that sustained Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (and countless others), and in fact even eclipse theirs?

Because we have the promise of Jesus’ resurrection and New Creation.

We have experienced the despair of seeing our crucified Lord but we have also experienced his Risen Presence. We know that he is alive and by his death and resurrection God in Christ has conquered death and the powers and principalities of this world.

Because of this great Truth, like our protagonists, we have confidence that God will deliver us as well. He may not choose to rescue us from our present furnaces as we would like, but he will rescue us nevertheless. Just as God completely violated the first disciples’ expectations regarding the manner in which God rescues, so will God deliver us. Think about it. God did not bring Jesus down from the cross. As we know now, doing so would have meant our ultimate condemnation and God does not desire that one of his creatures be lost. But the first disciples of Jesus did not have that perspective. They only understood power and cause and effect, and based on those criteria God did not ostensibly deliver. He did not rescue Jesus from the cross.

But God did deliver Jesus in a much more powerful way. He vindicated our Lord (and those who follow him) by raising him from the dead. And where our Lord is, so will his followers be. Therefore we who follow Jesus can also expect to be raised from the dead and into God’s glorious New Creation one day. That is ultimately why it doesn’t really matter if God rescues us presently from our burning furnace because we know that he has already rescued us from the only thing that really matters in this life, the only thing that can ever separate permanently from God, and that thing is death.

This is why it is mission critical for Christians to have a real Easter hope, a real hope of new life and New Creation that is firmly grounded in the biblical testimony of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. Hope and trust based on anything else is bound to fail. A firm and real Resurrection hope is why Paul could say the following to the Corinthians when he talked about the various trials he suffered during the course of his ministry:

1 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. 13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. 16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4.1-18).

Here is the secret to living your life with supreme hope and without fear, even when you have been thrown into the fires of a raging furnace. It is the hope that has sustained the martyrs as they went to their death. It is the hope that allows us to defeat despair and all that seeks to destroy and dehumanize us. It is the very Power and Presence of God living in us. It is the Resurrection hope that flows from the conviction that God has acted decisively in history on our behalf to ensure that nothing can overcome us or separate us from his great love for us in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Does this mean that everything will be easy, that our Resurrection faith will allow us to flit through life unscathed or without anguish or struggles? Do you think that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were immune from doubts and fears and struggles? Do you think Peter and Paul were (see above for the answer to Paul)? How about Christians being persecuted around the world today? What about Blandina and the martyrs of Lyons? If you think they were immune from all the human weakness and frailties that beset you, at least initially in their walk with the Lord, think again.

But if you focus on your own weakness, you miss the point because it is manifestly not about you. The point is that they knew their Lord, the Risen Christ, and they made the conscious choice to trust him and rely on his power to sustain them in the midst of their respective furnaces. This resulted in them gaining great power, the power to overcome their fears and failures and brokenness so as not to be overcome by despair and hopelessness.

That same power is available to you today, no matter who you are or what your furnace looks like. This power doesn’t come easily or quickly, but it does come if you are willing to trust and to persevere. You have to take the chance and throw yourself into the abyss, trusting that in doing so you will fall right into the waiting arms of Jesus who is your strength, hope, power, and life. But you do not have to trust blindly. You have the consistent testimony of Scripture and the witness of countless saints throughout time and across cultures who verify the power of the Resurrection hope to sustain.

If you have not done so already, what are you waiting for? Commit your very self to Jesus and learn from him how to draw on his Power and Presence so that you too will not be harmed in the midst of your life’s furnaces. If you want the power to overcome the furnaces of your life, you must develop a real Resurrection hope because only then can you have confidence that you are tapping into the very power of God, a power that nothing in all creation can defeat or overcome.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Knowing the Truth Among Claimant Voices

23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. 24 As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is what he promised us—eternal life. 26 I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. 27 As for you, the anointing you received from him [the Holy Spirit] remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him. 28 And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming. 29 If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.

–1 John 2.23-29 (NIV)

Over the last two days we have been looking at what it means to have a real resurrection hope and what that might look like. We have seen that a resurrection faith will always manifest itself in obedient action and in today’s passage, John continues this theme.

John’s letters were written, in part, to address the nascent gnostic heresy. Gnostics held that salvation came through possessing some secret and esoteric knowledge, thus the name given them (gnosis is Greek for knowledge). Most gnostics–at least the later ones– were quite libertine in their behavior, and held a dualistic worldview in which creation was seen as evil (or at best indifferent) while the world of the spirit was prized. Clearly the early gnostics would have had a problem with the resurrection of the body because as we have seen, Jesus’ resurrection was a powerful sign that God validated his good but fallen creation.

In the passage above, John is reminding the churches, probably in Ephesus, to hang on to the truth that is Jesus and not fall for the dualistic baloney of the gnostics. As our Lord himself reminded us in John’s Gospel, eternal life is knowledge of the Father and the Son (i.e., having our relationship with God restored through Jesus’ death). Note here in today’s lesson the underlying theme. Jesus is raised from the dead and we have the hope of New Creation, the time when he will return and we will become like him. In the interim, we have work to do here on earth, giving ourselves to God in Christ in loving service to our fellow human beings, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ who comprise his body, the Church.

This, of course, requires faith and as we have seen many times before, faith always manifests itself in loving obedience to our Lord. Later in his letter, John says this:

2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure (1 John 3.2-3).

John is reminding us that just as we will become like Jesus in the New Creation, we are to seek to become like him here on earth. We do that best by denying ourselves, taking up our cross each day, and following Jesus, of course with the help of the Spirit because without the Spirit’s Presence we really are not the Lord’s.

As I trust you have seen from these last three days, the hope of the Resurrection is a mind-blowing and life-changing thing. It is almost too unbelievable to wrap our minds around and that is why we must be on guard to preserve the Truth–because it is such a mind-blowing thing. As John reminds us in his Gospel, the Word became human and lived among us to offer us life and truth. To those who believe in him, i.e., have faith in him that he is God’s Messiah, he gives the privilege of being God’s children and if we are God’s children we are heirs to God’s Kingdom and New Creation. It is God’s free gift to us. There is nothing we can do to earn it.

Rather, when we give our lives to Jesus, we seek to obey his call to use us to be his Kingdom workers and agents to help him usher in God’s New Creation that he introduced when God raised him from the dead. This is our future hope and our current marching orders. Our Lord calls each of us to do different things, some great, some small, some easy, some quite difficult, some quick, some quite lengthy. Look around you. There is plenty of work to do and a shortage of workers! So what is Jesus calling you to do? Are you listening and doing the things necessary to put to rest the false claimant voices within and outside of you so that you can hear the Master’s voice clearly? Of course, you don’t do that by yourself. You do that with the help of the Spirit and within the fellowship of other Christians as the content and context of John’s letter above makes clear.

Opposition will come, sometimes terrible opposition. The powers and principalities do not want you to become Jesus’ workers because then they will no longer be in charge of the ways of the world. But take heart and hope. On the cross Jesus has defeated the powers and principalities. Not completely yet, of course (just look around you), but they are finished nevertheless. In the interim you have the mediating help of the Spirit living in you and the much needed human touch from your fellow believers to help you be obedient to your call. And in the end, you have the breathtaking hope and promise of New Creation. You can have confidence that this promise is true because you have seen the heartbreaking spectacle of the cross but have also seen the empty tomb with its mighty vindication of Jesus as God’s Messiah. Jesus is calling you to get to work in precisely that hope and you will best be able to do that by becoming like him. Are you ready to accept God’s gracious invitation to you to live the abundant life?

An Appeal for Help for the Victim’s of Last Week’s Storms

Received via email earlier this week.

Prayer Needed following Devastating Tornadoes in the South

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Anglican Church in North America is calling on its parishioners and member congregations to join in prayer for those affected by the devastating tornadoes that ripped across six states, causing over 340 deaths. News reports indicate the storms resulted in the highest U.S. death toll from tornadoes since April 5-6, 1936.

Alabama was struck the hardest with 250 deaths and more than 2,000 injured or hospitalized. The Anglican Church has 18 member congregations in the state and while reports from clergy and staff are still coming in, no injuries or fatalities within our parishes have been reported. To our knowledge, none of our member churches in the South was completely devastated, but several experienced property damage, including torn off roofs and fallen trees.

While we are fortunate, many others are suffering and we will answer the call to help those in need regardless of whether the individuals and churches are part of the Anglican Church. We humbly request your prayers for all who have been affected and for our parishes as they not only discern what must be done within their own bodies, but reach out to help the grieving and assist in the relief efforts.

For those who would like to contribute financially, Bishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Diocese of the South and Holy Cross Anglican Church in Loganville, Ga., the cathedral church for the diocese, have set up this online donation page. If you’d prefer to send a check, it should be made payable to ADOTS (for the Anglican Diocese of the South) with a “tornado victims” notation in the memo line. The mailing address is ADOTS, PO Box 776, Loganville, GA 30052.

Prayer from Archbishop Duncan: Gracious heavenly Father, creator and savior of this mortal world, we ask your help for those who are grieving and those faced with damage and destruction following the storms that swept across the South. Comfort those whose loved ones have died, bring swift rescue for those who are missing, and strengthen those who are injured. In this crisis, empower your people to be vehicles of the Holy Spirit as they aid in relief and recovery efforts. Let the work of their hands bring Gospel love and courage to those in need. All these things we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Resurrection: Does it Guide and Influence the Choices You Make?

15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

–1 John 2.15-17 (NIV)

In today’s lesson from 1 John, we are told not to love the world, but as we saw in yesterday’s reflection this is not a command for Christians to withdraw from the world or to make their faith some kind of private, introspective, and navel-gazing exercise. To the contrary, because God raised Jesus from the dead and showed us that his creation is important to him, we who profess to follow Jesus must do likewise. We must allow ourselves to be open to God’s guidance so that he can use us to be agents of his Kingdom and New Creation, of which Jesus is the preview of coming attractions.

So what is John talking about here? What does he mean when he tells us that anyone who loves the world does not have the Father’s love in them? Is he contradicting what he wrote elsewhere? No he is not. If we look at the following two verses in today’s passage it is clear that John is talking about the choice each of us must make about who or what we are going to follow in this life. Are we going to make the values of God’s fallen world our master or are we going to make God and his values our master?

If we choose to try and find life, happiness, and security in money or power or fame or sex or drugs or a host of other things, then we are going to make life all about us and we likely will not care who we have to run over to acquire what we see as necessary for our happiness. In doing so, we in effect are making gods out of the things we pursue and this is called idolatry. In the final analysis, we must ask ourselves if these things can raise us from the dead and give us real life, meaning, and purpose, both here in this world and after we die.

If we choose to make God our master, then it makes sense that we will try to be obedient to his wishes, just as we try to obey those whom we love so that we can please them. I am not talking about some unhealthy dynamic here; I am talking about the healthy behavior that flows naturally from our love for another. We must always remember that when Scripture talks about love, it is talking more about action than emotion. True love always manifests itself in action and if we are to love God with our whole being, then the first thing we must do is to acknowledge that we are not God’s equals. He is our Creator and we are his creatures. God created us for relationship, but it is a relationship between Creator and creatures, not of equals, and that will necessarily change the dynamics of our relationship with God. God’s love for us is perfect and we can therefore have confidence in obeying his will for us because we know that God never, ever wishes us harm.

How do we know this? We have seen the cross of Christ and his empty tomb in which God validated all that Jesus said he was and all that he did in his earthly life and ministry.

This, then, is what John is talking about when he is telling us not to “love the world.” He is not talking about people or God’s good creation. John is talking about the values of this fallen world, values that make it all about us and our selfish desires, values that seek to elevate us to God’s level so that we replace him and make ourselves gods, values that seek to dehumanize us and make us slaves to things that will inevitably destroy us. This ongoing rebellion (and that is what sin is at its very core) must necessarily lead to alienation and exile from the one and only Source and Author of all life, which will eventually lead to our death. That is what John is talking about here when he talks about doing the Father’s will. We respond in obedience to God’s gracious initiative to us in Jesus by saying yes to God and his values so that we can live and enjoy life.

Let me give you an example that might be helpful. Last night I was watching a lively discussion on the O’Reilly Factor between Mr. O’Reilly and a Roman Catholic priest regarding the spontaneous celebrations that erupted when Americans learned about the death of Osama bin Laden. What is an appropriate Christian response to this news (I am not talking about the morality of bin Laden’s killing here)? Whose or what values will guide and shape our behavior (which is exactly what John is addressing in today’s lesson)?

If I am indicative of the average American, my first impulse after hearing about bin Laden’s death was to jump up and rejoice. Justice had finally been executed on a mass murderer. But just as I was getting ready to celebrate the news, this verse from Scripture popped into my head: God takes no pleasure in the death of sinners (Ezekiel 18.32). This was quickly followed by the recollection of Jesus’ parable about the shepherd leaving the 99 sheep to seek after the 1 who had strayed away and the scandalous parable of the prodigal son in which the wayward son was restored. Then, Genesis 1.27 came to mind, reminding me that every human being is an image bearer of God, no matter how badly distorted or defaced the image has become (and in bin Laden’s case, I would say that God’s image had been almost obliterated). This reminded me that I dare not gloat over, abuse, or despise any human being permanently, no matter how much I might like to do that. (For a nice summary of verses related to how we might reflect on bin Laden’s death, go to this article at Christianity Today online.)

Now I don’t know about you, but when God speaks to me through his word like this and spoils the fun I was just about to have, I find it quite irritating. But here’s the point. As a Christian, I made a conscious choice in this particular case not to follow my fallen human instincts and instead act more circumspectly in accordance with God’s commands that came to me through my remembering these passages from Scripture.

Make no mistake. I am supremely satisfied that justice was executed on bin Laden and am proud of the President for making a bold and terribly risky decision. I am proud of the SEALs who executed the mission with breathtaking precision and courage and I see both as being in accordance with Romans 13.1-4 in which Paul reminds us that the state is God’s appointed agent to execute God’s wrath on evildoers in this world. I think this is precisely what happened in bin Laden’s case.

I also respect those who did go out and celebrate, even though I do not agree with them. They were following their fallen human instincts just like I was when I first heard the news and I can appreciate that because I seem to follow my fallen nature more often than I like to admit. I don’t agree with the celebrations for the reasons I have already stated but I realize emotions run high when we are talking about justice served on a mass murderer and hate-monger like bin Laden.

So what can we learn from this? First, if we are going to follow Jesus we must obey his commands and seek to imitate his life. As I said in yesterday’s reflection, that means we are to bring his values to bear on the problems of this world. We are not to put our hope in political or economic ideology or anything else of this world. We are to put our hope in Christ and his values and we can only do that by obeying him. It has been my experience that this will result in us being all over the political and economic map because Jesus will not be pigeonholed as a conservative, moderate, or liberal on the political and economic spectrums, and neither should we who claim to follow him.

For example, the passage from Romans I quoted above also has these verses in the chapter before it.

3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your[a] faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. 9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12.3-21).

This passage, along with countless others in the NT, make it clear that as individuals, Christians are not to be hatemongers or seek to exact revenge on our enemies. We are to love and pray for them instead (before his death, had you been praying for the conversion of bin Laden and his ilk that they might be saved from eternal separation from the Source and Author of life? It’s a terribly hard thing to do but if you want to call yourself a Christian you must). The state has the God-given authority to execute justice. Christians do not. We are to be like Jesus and love our enemies and pray for them. This is hard and personally costly work, but we must do it if we want to follow Jesus because that is exactly what he did in his earthly life.

Second, what follows logically from the point above is that we must become biblically literate so that we can better know what is God’s will for us. Scripture, of course, being God’s word can provide us with guidance regarding God’s general will for all people. God’s people therefore cannot be Bible illiterates. We must learn to assimilate as much Scripture as we can into our memories so that God can use this to speak to us in ways similar to the way he spoke to me on Sunday night. Folks who want to take their faith seriously dare not be cherry-pickers of Scriptural passages to try to prove their particular point of view.

Scripture must shape and fashion us. We dare not try to shape and fashion Scripture into our image.

Accordingly, we had better be able to lay out holistic and cogent arguments for our conduct and positions that are based on Scripture if we want to follow Jesus. Why? Because it is awfully hard to follow someone if you don’t know much about that person. This, of course, is going to require a lot of time and effort on our part. Are you ready to take the time necessary and give the required effort to make God’s word a living, breathing part of you?

Finally, the reason we would want to do any of this in the first place is because we have seen the cross of Christ, we have seen God’s great love for us poured out in his blood shed on the cross. We have seen the empty tomb and through the mediating presence of the Holy Spirit we know that Jesus is alive and well in his body, the Church. Yes, we the Church act badly from time to time (perhaps more often than not). But we do so not because of any fault of God’s but because we are at heart stubborn and rebellious people who want to follow our own desires and devices more than we want to follow our Lord. This is precisely one of the points John was trying to make to the churches of his day through this circular letter.

But the glory of the Gospel and of God is that God does not give up on us. He keeps reaching out to us and when we say yes to his invitation and open ourselves up to his Presence in us, we allow him to transform us into the people he created us to be. We allow him to make us like Jesus and when that happens it will turn heads in a big way.

Each one of us has to make a choice about how we live our lives and for whom or what. Sometimes we do not make the choice consciously; we just act. But not choosing is choosing and it will not turn out well in the end for us if we do not choose to follow Jesus. He is the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except through him. If we choose life, if we choose to follow Jesus, he calls us to obey him and make him Lord, not ourselves. As we have seen, this is terribly hard and painful work but we have the hope and promise of his Presence in our lives to help us become his. And we have the glorious hope of being part of God’s New Creation of which Jesus’ resurrection allows us to get a glimpse.

So who’s your daddy? Does the daddy you follow lead to life, meaning, purpose, and hope or does he lead you to darkness, despair, hopelessness, and death? Think deeply about these things because they really are a matter of life and death. And then if you have not already done so, ask God to give you the grace to choose life.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!