Passing the Test

5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD and shun evil.
8 This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.

–Proverbs 3.5-8 (NIV)

1 After Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, “David is in the Desert of En Gedi.” 2So Saul took three thousand able young men from all Israel and set out to look for David and his men near the Crags of the Wild Goats. 3 He came to the sheep pens along the way; a cave was there, and Saul went in to relieve himself. David and his men were far back in the cave. 4 The men said, “This is the day the LORD spoke of when he said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.’” Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. 5 Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. 6 He said to his men, “The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the LORD.” 7 With these words David sharply rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. And Saul left the cave and went his way. 8 Then David went out of the cave and called out to Saul, “My lord the king!” When Saul looked behind him, David bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. 9 He said to Saul, “Why do you listen when men say, ‘David is bent on harming you’? 10 This day you have seen with your own eyes how the LORD delivered you into my hands in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, ‘I will not lay my hand on my lord, because he is the LORD’s anointed.’ 11 See, my father, look at this piece of your robe in my hand! I cut off the corner of your robe but did not kill you. See that there is nothing in my hand to indicate that I am guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion. I have not wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life. 12 May the LORD judge between you and me. And may the LORD avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you. 13 As the old saying goes, ‘From evildoers come evil deeds,’ so my hand will not touch you. 14 “Against whom has the king of Israel come out? Who are you pursuing? A dead dog? A flea? 15 May the LORD be our judge and decide between us. May he consider my cause and uphold it; may he vindicate me by delivering me from your hand.”

–1 Samuel 24.1-15 (NIV)

If you like earthy stories,  you will love today’s lesson. First, some background. Saul, God’s anointed king but who by his disobedience to God has been rejected by God, is in hot pursuit of God’s replacement for him, David. David and his men have fled to the wilderness to escape Saul’s murderous attempts and have been on the run, narrowly escaping Saul’s clutches. This is the immediate context for today’s lesson.

As the writer continues the story, Saul stops to “relieve himself” in a cave and it just happens to be the cave in which David and his men are hiding. David’s men see this as a clear sign that God has delivered Saul into David’s hands and encourage David to finish him off while Saul is relieving himself. So much for the idea that God does not get his hands dirty in the midst of brokenness of his creatures!

But there is a greater lesson to today’s story. Chapters 24-26 are really about the temptations David faced in the wilderness. Unlike Saul, will David pass the tests God places before him in the wilderness, thus validating Samuel’s anointing of him as God’s appointed future king? As with the sacrifice of Isaac it seems that events have to play themselves out before the truth can be known, at least by us finite humans.

As we think about David facing temptations in the wilderness, our minds immediately go back to Israel’s tempting in the desert after God delivered them from their slavery in Egypt and we lament that Israel failed to pass the test. Many failed to trust God’s good will and power and wanted to return to their former slavery, despite having witnessed God’s mighty deliverance of them. Yes, it seems that we can be that stupid and myopic.

We also think about Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness, but this time the story has a happy ending. Jesus did not give in to his temptations. He passed the test. As we look at today’s story, the first of David’s temptations, what will he do? The temptation, of course, is to take matters into his own hands and kill Saul in a moment of great vulnerability. The writer makes clear that Saul and David did not end up in the same cave by accident. This opportunity (or depending on how you look at it, temptation) was not serendipitous. God had purposely manipulated events to test David and David passed the test.

Clearly David came close to killing Saul and as we get to know David, we know that the desire to kill likely was his proclivity. But in this time of testing, David passed the test. He realized that Saul was still the Lord’s anointed king, even though Saul had fallen out of God’s favor. David rightly decided that Saul’s removal was God’s problem, not his. David’s job was to continue to flee from Saul’s murderous attempts until God decided to act.

Don’t let the distance of time cause you to miss how hard this must have been for David. Think of the times you were tempted to take matters into your own hands only to discover later that you should not have done so. For you see, depending on context, sometimes when we take matters into our own hands it betrays a lack of trust and faith in God’s good will and great love for us. Something inside us wants to act on God’s behalf without taking the matter up fully with God. In David’s case, the issue was pretty straightforward–murder was (and is) strictly prohibited by God and David rightly deferred and effectively put Saul into God’s hands.

Yet there are other circumstances in our life that are less clear cut. Should we act or refrain from acting? God does not intend for us to sit around and act snotty while we wait for him to do everything for us. It just doesn’t work like that. But God also does not want us to go around acting willy-nilly based on our own wants, needs, and desires because we are fallen creatures and we never act out of pure or entirely good motives–even the best of us.

And so we are called to wait on God and listen. We are called to trust God in any and every circumstance, something that is impossible if we do not know the character of God. Similarly, we are called to learn the kind of character God desires and work on developing that character–with the help of the Spirit, of course. This will help us ascertain whether to act or refrain from acting in times of testing and we will see how far along in our relationship with God we are (or aren’t). God desires us to rely wholly on him and not put our ultimate trust in our own wisdom (cf. Proverbs 3, especially verses 5-8). Sadly, we sometimes, if not often, refuse to do this. We would prefer to play God instead of being content to be God’s creatures.

But it is to the glory of God that he remains faithful to us, even when we fail the test on occasion. We know this, in part, if we are familiar with God’s rescue plan for his sinful creatures, a story that culminates in Jesus of Nazareth. God does not give us an infinite number of chances to come to our senses and allow him to be our God, but he gives us a massive amount of chances–certainly more than we deserve–and will continue to do so, especially when he sees our heart and sees that our motives are essentially good, even if the execution of our motives is not always perfect. We know this because God has become human so that he could condemn sin in the flesh in himself so that we have a chance to really live.

Like it or not, we often face tests in our lives and many of those tests apparently come from God. This fact in itself gives us a further chance to decide if we love and trust God enough to remain faithful to him and put our whole hope and trust in him. In other words, can we learn to trust a God who tests us? To do that, of course, requires that we trust God and believe he has our best interests at heart and knows better than we do how to help us achieve his interests and will for us. We know this again because we have seen his cross and have experienced his risen Presence in our lives. And with each test that we pass, we can have greater confidence in God’s good providence for our lives. This, in turn, gives us real power for living life with meaning, purpose, and joy, even in the midst of our difficulties and suffering.

Do you enjoy this kind of power? If not, what are you waiting for? You’ll surely have to pass some tests along the way but in doing so, you will find yourself submitting to the God of the universe who loves you and gave himself for you, and that is surely a good thing. And even when you fail on occasion (or maybe frequently at first), you will also discover that God really is faithful to you, even when you do not reciprocate. For you see, God created you to have a relationship with you, not to destroy you, and you can really learn to see the breathtaking love and grace of God in the midst of your failures. That is a God worth loving and trusting with our whole being!

Anticipating That Which is Really Worth Our Anticipation

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

The past two weeks we have looked at Paul’s explanation of God’s eternal plan to rescue his fallen creation and creatures from the consequences of our slavery to sin and the alienation it has caused, both between God and humans and among humans ourselves. We have seen that God did this, in part, by giving the Law to Israel—the people God called to be an integral part of his rescue plan but who were as deeply flawed as the rest of humanity—to expose sin for what it is and then ultimately deal with the terrible consequences of sin by becoming human so that he could condemn sin in the flesh once and for all and give us a real hope and chance to live in a new and restored relationship with him. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! We have also seen that God gives us his Spirit to live in us to transform us into the image of Jesus so that we can be truly human and the creatures God created us to be. In today’s Epistle lesson, Paul continues to lay out for us why God’s rescue plan is indeed Good News and that is what I want to look at briefly.

When I was a boy, Christmas was a big deal for me. As December rolled around the excitement and anticipation grew in me with each passing day almost to the breaking point. Being a kid, of course, I made Christmas all about me and about getting great toys and presents, both from my family and from Santa Claus. I can remember many a Christmas Eve as I would wait impatiently for my dad to get home from the store so that we could eat supper and get next door to my grandma Maney’s to open presents. That was followed by communion at church and then down to my grandparents Shaffer’s house to open more presents with my family. At church, I found myself wanting to get communion over with because there were more presents to open. This, of course, was topped off by waiting to see what Santa would bring the next morning. I could barely get to sleep on Christmas Eve, so great was my excitement and anticipation. Clearly I had a blessed childhood because sadly there are many kids in this world today who will never know anything remotely like the excitement and anticipation I felt.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I hope it will illustrate for you the kind of hope and expectation Paul is laying out for us in today’s lesson from Romans. Paul is essentially telling us that like kids who are blessed with love of family and material abundance, we who are Christians should be waiting in eager anticipation for the fulfillment of God’s ultimate promise to us—the promise of New Creation. But before he gets to that he has to wrap up his argument from earlier in Romans 8 because we are still living in God’s good but fallen world and we are still profoundly broken people.

First, Paul is reminding us that if we are really going to live in the Spirit, we have to be led by the Spirit. Apparently it is not good enough for us to have the Spirit. The Spirit also has to have us! In other words, we have to conform our will to the Spirit’s and be willing to obey him. “Sounds pretty heavy-handed,” you say. “Why would I want to submit to the Spirit?”  Paul might ask these questions in reply. Why would you want to continue to live your life in slavery to the fear of death and of living alone, ultimately bereft, unremembered, and without hope? Why would you want to continue to be alienated and exiled from God, the one and only Source and Author of all life? Why would you still want to live under God’s condemnation and wrath when you have been given the wondrous gift of life in Christ? For you see, when we are led by the Spirit we have the assurance that we are God’s adopted children and have been delivered from slavery to our general pattern of rebellious and self-centered living. We have the assurance that we are going to inherit what Christ has already inherited and we will turn to that in a moment.

Second, Paul encourages us to be led by the Spirit because he is quite aware that God has given us freedom to choose between all kinds of things, and he clearly has in mind the awful lesson of Israel in the desert. We know this because he uses the technical term for adoption in this section of his letter that is used in Exodus 4.22, which refers to God’s adoption of Israel to be his people. Paul was only too aware of the painful reality that once liberated from their Egyptian slavery, many of the Israelites lost faith and hope and wanted to return to their former condition of slavery because it was easier than following God to his promised land! Likewise with us. As we saw last week, being led by the Spirit, although life-giving, is neither quick or easy. We’d much rather live for ourselves than for God. It takes a lifetime for the Spirit to help us overcome our fallen nature and this can cause us to become discouraged and fall away.

And even if we choose to become Christ’s, being led by the Spirit is not an easy thing to do. You cannot possibly love God and your fellow humans and not suffer over what you see. Many of you are bearing the burden of suffering over loved ones who are afflicted with disease and infirmities. You yourself may be suffering from physical or emotional afflictions. We can suffer for doing good in the name of Christ because we invite people’s abuse and exploitation of our kindness, and that never feels good. We cannot look around at the massive suffering in our world and not be afflicted. People are starving to death. Injustice runs rampant. Wars and devastation are widespread. Even Christ’s body, the Church, is afflicted by dissension, schism, false teaching, and sadly by just some downright mean and mean-spirited people who comprise part of his body. It is enough to make any sane person lose heart and hope.

So Paul reminds us again why we want to persevere in our Christian faith and hope.  Paul has already reminded us that there is no condemnation for us who are in Jesus. Now he also reminds us of our ultimate Christian hope—God’s promised New Creation. This hope is so spectacular, so breathtaking, that it makes most of our earthly hopes pale in comparison, hopes like my Christmas hopes with its accompanying anticipation. The hope of New Creation is so spectacular that even God’s creation is longing for it. Paul clearly has in mind Genesis 3.17ff here. God created his creation to be good as Genesis 1-2 make clear. But human sin introduced a curse on God’s good creation and it has been laboring under God’s curse ever since, just like we have.

But God has promised to ultimately put to right his fallen creation, starting with humans, so that we can be the good and wise stewards we were created to be. As we have seen, God has dealt decisively with evil on the cross and confirmed evil’s defeat in Jesus’ resurrection. When Jesus returns again in great power and glory, heaven and earth will be fused into one, we will be raised from the dead and given new resurrection bodies that are animated and powered by the Spirit, which means they will be indestructible.

Creation too will be redeemed and finally get to be the good creation God always intended it to be. Because there will be no more sin, there will be no more curse, either for us or for creation—ever. There will be no more sorrow or suffering or loneliness or alienation or death or decay or sickness or deformity—ever. I don’t know exactly what any of this will look like but surely it will be better than any of us can fully imagine because it is God’s good gift to us and God is the ultimate Source of good. If you cannot get excited by this hope and vision of New Creation, then either I have done a terrible job of painting it for you or there really is nothing that is going to get you excited with anticipation so that you await it like a young child eagerly awaits Christmas morning. This is the inheritance about which Paul speaks in today’s lesson as well as the hope of Christians, and it is all made possible by God’s gracious gift to us of himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. No wonder Paul talked about God’s people eagerly going out to meet our Savior when he returns again (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18)!

So what does this mean for us today? If God loves his creation and intends to redeem both us and it, there is work to do for us right now. We who are in Christ must live in the assurance that there is now no condemnation for us and in the hope of New Creation. That means we roll up our sleeves and use the gifts God has given us to help him put to right the things we can. We feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and speak out when we see people abused and exploited. And because we have the hope of New Creation and are powered by the Spirit living in us, we do this all joyfully and tirelessly. We put God and the service of others at least on par with our own needs and wants. We tell others about our Christian hope when we have the chance. As we have seen before, when we bring the love of Christ to bear on others who desperately need it, God will use our work as powerful testimony to those whom he calls and they will invariably ask us why we do what we do. Not only do we do, we also pray for others and ourselves, and Paul will talk about that in next week’s lesson. So will we.

Of course, you cannot have this hope and expectation if you do not have a clue about the promised New Creation. If you don’t, then go back and look at a couple of key texts in Scripture. For starters, look at Isaiah 55, 1 Corinthians 15, and Revelation 21-22. Don’t study these (and other) passages by yourself but do it together with other Christians. Pick up a good commentary like Tom Wright’s For Everyone series to help you interpret passages you don’t understand. Ask the Spirit to open your heart and mind to God’s promises and to ignite a fire and passion for you to serve him as you await his New Creation. You won’t be disappointed.

In sum, this is the complete package for Christian hope and living. Not only is there no condemnation for those who are in Christ, we also have the glorious hope of New Creation. This, in turn, gives us our marching orders for right here and now. We who love God have work to do. We are called to bring new creation to God’s hurting creatures and creation to the extent we are able, and this allows us to live our lives with meaning, purpose, and power. This means that despite our hurts, sufferings, and brokenness, we have Good News, now and for all eternity, not because of who we are but because of who God is.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Great Expectations in Prayer

1 It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. 3 When he saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. 4After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover. 5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him. 6 The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. 7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists. 8 Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. 9 Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him. 11 Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen.” 12 When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. 13 Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!” 15 “You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.” 16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. “Tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this,” he said, and then he left for another place.

–Acts 12.1-17 (NIV)

In today’s lesson we have a classic case study on the power of prayer. In it we also see some surprising things about prayer and our expectations behind it. The story is straightforward enough. The church is under increasing persecution and we see yet another leader bow to the politically expedient. Herod has one of the sons of Zebedee killed and sees that this is a crowd pleaser for some of the Jews. Never mind about justice and integrity. Just give the folks what they want!

Herod then arrests Peter with the intention of killing him as well. So what does the church do? It doesn’t take up arms, it starts praying fervently for Peter. Luke gives us no indication that the church denounced Herod for his persecution. In fact, it is more likely that they were praying for Herod’s forgiveness. Nevertheless, God hears the church’s prayers and intervenes in a miraculous manner to set Peter free.

“All well and good,” you say. But here the story gets really interesting. In an almost comical encounter, Peter comes to the home of Mary (perhaps the very place where Jesus held the Last Supper with his disciples) and knocks on the gate to get in. The servant girl is so excited that she leaves Peter standing outside while she rushes to tell the people inside the good news that their prayers for Peter have been answered. And their reaction? They don’t believe her!

How often have you prayed fervently without really expecting to have your prayers to be answered? Apparently this was what was going on with some of the folks in that early church. Had they expected Peter to be released they would not have been so surprised or incredulous when they heard the news that he was standing outside. They would not have essentially called Rhoda a liar. But they did. What is that all about?

It is about really having faith in the power and efficacy of prayer. Given the church’s reaction to the news that God had indeed answered their prayers it is a wonder that God did so at all. There is a mystery about prayer. God is sovereign and God will do what God will do. But Scripture clearly exhorts us to pray, not that we will get God to change his mind but apparently to help align our will with his.

Prayer at its best should be a dialogue, not a monologue, and we should always pray with expectant hearts, precisely because God is sovereign and good. I suspect one significant reason that many of us find our prayers go unanswered is because we consider what we are asking for is really too impossible for God to grant and that puts us behind the eight ball immediately. Jesus had no such reservations, in part, because he always prayed that God’s will be accomplished. He knew his place in his relationship with God.

So we pray because God expects us to do so and we pray with humility and expectation. We don’t use prayer as a bargaining tool (God doesn’t negotiate with terrorists). We pray that God’s will be done because we trust his sovereign power and great love for us. We also pray because we love others. James tells us as much in his letter (cf. James 5.13-16). He also reminds us that the character and expectations–the expectations that are a practical manifestation of our faith–of a person matter in prayer. God sees our hearts and knows our motives for praying and I suspect that too often we pray fervently but without great expectations and this will typically have a negative effect on our prayers.

So when you pray, pray with great expectations along with great fervor. Regardless of outcome, have confidence that God is God and his perspective, which is eternal and complete, can be trusted over your own limited and finite perspective in any and every circumstance. Don’t be hesitant to bring your hopes and fears before God in prayer, no matter how big they are. But also do not make your prayers a negotiating tool because that is not why we pray.

Instead, learn from today’s lesson and the early church about how to pray earnestly and expectantly (and always with hope). After all, your life with God encompasses far more than the living of your mortal days. It will go on forever. Therefore you might as well learn how to talk (and listen) to the Living God starting right here and now. As Jesus reminds us, it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom (Luke 22.32).

The question is, do you really want the Kingdom? You can find the answer to that in the way you pray (or don’t pray) and in the substance of your prayers. May your prayers be always filled with great expectations and be big enough for the God of this universe who loves you and gave himself for you!

A Recipe for a Happy Life

 32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.  35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” 38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

–Mark 1.32-39 (NIV)

Mark gives us important insights to those who are interested in following Jesus. He also gives us important insights into how God plans to bring forth his kingdom on earth as he does in heaven.

In today’s lesson, Mark paints quite a chaotic picture. Word has gotten out that Jesus is a healer and after the Sabbath ends, folks in Capernaum bring their sick to have Jesus heal them, which he does. Notice carefully that Jesus gets up early the next morning to pray. Even our Lord needed prayer to be refreshed and renewed each day, to be reminded of his mission and the work ahead of him that day and beyond. Jesus started his day out in prayer because of the day’s heavy demands and so that he could be attuned to God’s will for him. In doing so, Jesus clearly enjoyed peace with God and found strength to do his work every day. Do you start your day thusly?

And then Peter comes to Jesus and says, “Everyone is looking for you!” Indeed. Everyone looks for Jesus as long as we think he can do something for us. But when he makes demands on our time and lives that are not consistent with our needs or wishes, we are not so interested in finding him because suddenly Jesus becomes quite an inconvenience. It is always helpful for us to examine our motives for seeking (or not seeking) Jesus on a regular basis to see if we seek (or don’t seek) him primarily for what he can do for us. I am not suggesting that we shouldn’t ever ask Jesus to do things for us or to help us. But if that is why we follow Jesus, we will soon discover that he is not very interested in having that kind of relationship with us. After all, how do you react toward those whom you perceive are willing to bring nothing to your relationship with them, that they are only hanging out with you because of what they perceive you can do for them?

Last, Mark gives us insight into how God intends for his kingdom (his rule) to break forth on his broken world. It isn’t by force or military might. It isn’t going to come suddenly (at least until the end of time), primarily so that we can be healed rather than destroyed.

No, the kingdom comes through selfless service to others in God’s name. It comes through healing the sick, raising the dead, and having mercy on those who don’t deserve it. It comes primarily through our actions. Look carefully at Jesus’ ministry in all the Gospels and you will see this is exactly what Jesus did. He preached through his actions and then tried to explain those actions to those who would listen in terms of bringing about God’s kingdom here on earth.

The good news for those of us who want to follow Jesus is that we have the opportunity to do likewise. We can deny our selfish desires and be prepared to do the hard things Jesus calls us to do so that we can follow him. We may not be able to raise the dead but we can bring Jesus’ great love for all people to bear on those who need it. We can feed the hungry. We can pray for and anoint the sick. We can advocate for God’s justice to be brought to bear where we see injustice being perpetrated, especially on the least and most vulnerable of our society. That is the whole point behind Matthew 25.31-45. Check it out.

We don’t have to wait to die before we can have a real and satisfying relationship with Jesus. He is interested in us right now. There is work to be done on his behalf and if we are unwilling to do the work Jesus calls us to do, it is quite likely that we are more interested in having a relationship with him that is based on what we think he can do for us. In other words, we aren’t really interested in having a relationship with Jesus.

Of course, Jesus has done quite a lot for us already, but it is stuff that we might not be thinking about. He has taken God’s just condemnation for our rebellion against God from us. He has offered us new life in the Spirit. He offers us the wondrous hope of New Creation where we will get to live directly in God’s presence one day. He offers us rest and refreshment from our work and worries through the ordinary means of grace like prayer, Bible study, the Eucharist, and Christian fellowship. This isn’t a complete list, but you get the point.

Is that the kind of life you are looking for? Do you see where there is potential for great meaning and purpose in your life if you decide to follow Jesus? Do you understand you can tap a power that is well beyond your own to help you in the work God calls you to do? If so, you are ready to follow Jesus–and for all the right reasons.

Life in the Spirit: No Condemnation for Those Who are in Christ

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Last week we looked at a critical strategy of God’s rescue plan for his fallen creatures and creation. We saw the hopeless plight of the human condition in which Paul talked about the wretched man, most likely Israel, who was called to be a key player in God’s rescue plan but who was unable to fulfill its task because Israel was every bit as flawed as the rest of humanity. Paul indeed painted a grim picture for us because left to our own devices, our fallen nature, what Paul refers to as “the flesh,” is unable to keep God’s good and holy Law. And so instead of bringing life to us, the Law inevitably brings death because it exposes our sin.

But as we also saw, this isn’t the end of the story because as we are reminded in today’s Epistle lesson—a continuation of the argument Paul has been developing in his letter to the Romans—God used the Law precisely so that he could expose sin for what it is, draw it out fully and put it on Israel’s Messiah, Jesus, God become man, so that God could condemn sin in the flesh once and for all. This is what Paul means when he calls Jesus a “sin offering.” And because God has taken on sin himself and condemned it in Jesus, there is therefore now no condemnation for those of us who are in Christ Jesus.

This is essentially what it means to be justified by grace through faith. God not only has offered us the only real way to end our alienation and exile from him, he has also dealt decisively with evil by condemning sin in the flesh through the cross of Jesus. If you want to know the heart of the Gospel, do yourself a favor and memorize the first four verses of Chapter 8 because much of the essence of the Gospel is contained in them. We don’t earn this gift nor do any of us deserve it. We are offered this great gift because God is who he is, faithful, just, and merciful. We simply must believe it is true and then live our lives like we really believe it.

But if there is now no condemnation for us who are in Christ, then why do our bodies die? Because of the residual sin in us. Our bodies die but we are not condemned because we are Christ’s through faith and he has borne the condemnation for our sin in his body. When we are Christ’s we will be where he is and be just like him, all with the help of the Spirit. As Paul alludes to in the final verses of today’s Epistle lesson, our final redemption will come when God raises our mortal bodies from the dead and transforms them into spiritual and immortal bodies, just the way God did for Jesus. Here again, we see the wondrous truth contained in the Christian faith. It is no self-help religion. The Gospel is a rescue religion and is available to all of us.

We receive this free gift of God’s grace to us in Jesus and this often happens instantaneously. In other words, we can become a Christian in a moment. But that isn’t the end of the story because there is another essential component to God’s rescue plan. Even if we do become a Christian, we still have to live in our mortal bodies and we still have to deal with our fallen nature. God understands this and again gives us what we need to overcome our brokenness. God gives us the gift of himself in the Presence of his Spirit living in us to help us become the creatures he wants us to be. This is what Paul talks about in the remainder of today’s Epistle lesson and it is worth our careful consideration because it helps us have a richer and fuller understanding of God’s wondrous gift to us in himself: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

When we give ourselves to Christ, he gives us his Spirit to live in us and help us overcome our hostility toward God and our stubborn rebelliousness. But this doesn’t happen overnight. Dr. John R.W. Stott uses this analogy to help us better understand the work of the Spirit in us. Stott likens the transforming effect of the Spirit to growth in a marriage. It takes only a few minutes for a couple to get married but it takes a lifetime of adjustment in the often tumultuous environment of home for two strong wills to dovetail into one. Likewise in our growth as Christians (which is not the same as being saved by grace through faith). We can become Christian in a matter of moments but it will take a lifetime of adjusting to the demands and promptings of the Spirit living in us to become the transformed individuals God wants us to be.

This obviously implies that we will not live mistake-free lives. Nor will we be immune from ever doing anything bad once we become Christian. For you see, the Spirit is gentle and he will never force himself on us against our will. Jesus stands and knocks at the door of our life. He doesn’t break it down. We have to want him to live in us. We have to be humble enough to let him lead us so that he can transform us into the people he wants us to be and we don’t always want to do that. After all, it’s easier to hate our enemy than to forgive him. We’d rather serve ourselves than others, especially those we do not like. All this, of course, means that we learn as we go and grow, making appropriate adjustments along the way.

That is what Paul is talking about when contrasting living life in the flesh versus living life in the Spirit. We all must decide whose will we are going to follow, our own or the Spirit’s? When we say yes to the Spirit’s Presence living in us, we can be assured that he will help us obey him and transform us into the image of Jesus so that we can love and serve God by loving and serving others.

In fact we had better count on the Spirit’s help given what Paul wrote earlier in Romans about the hopelessness of the human condition when left to its own devices and what Jesus warns us about in today’s Gospel lesson. There are plenty of things and persons who do not want us to be transformed into the image of Jesus and who will actively oppose us in our Christian journey to full maturity in Christ. But in the end we need not fear our enemies because we know that God is stronger than any of the powers and principalities and we have God’s very strength and Presence living in us in and through the Spirit.

So what can we do to cultivate the Spirit’s Presence in us so that he can transform us over our lifetime? For starters, the best thing that we can do is to have the essence of the Good News, God’s rescue plan for us and God’s creation, planted firmly in our minds. In other words, we need to give up all our illusions of self-help for rescuing our broken relationship with God and acknowledge fully that only God can do this for us (and has done so in the person of Jesus). When we really understand what God has done for us, it both humbles us and makes us profoundly thankful. Toward that end, I would again encourage you to do what I suggested at the beginning of the sermon today. Take the time this week and memorize the first four verses of Romans 8 because it comes very close to capturing the heart of the Gospel.

Of course, you memorize something by repetition and so a good strategy would be to memorize verse one the first day, repeat it the second day before you learn verse two, and so on. By the end of the week you will have the passage memorized. Then you will need to repeat it regularly to remind yourself of the Good News that there is now no condemnation for you because you are in Christ. You will want to get into a regular pattern of repeating this passage because the Evil One will work very hard to get you to either forget what you’ve memorized or stop believing it. Getting into a pattern of behavior like this will allow the Spirit to help you prevent this from happening. This, in turn, represents a best practice in living a Spirit-led life.

A second practical thing you can do is to look for the fruit of the Spirit in your life. Paul gives us some practical manifestations of the Spirit in Galatians 5.22-25. Learn what behaviors represent the fruit of the Spirit and then look for those behaviors in your daily life. For example, look for the times you are patient in situations that really tax your patience or times when you are joyful when there is no reason for you to be. Look at the state of your relationship with God. Do you experience the sense of well-being that comes with God’s peace? You won’t be able to quantify or measure this but you will know when it exists.

By contrast, you can also look at patterns of behaviors in your living that represent the fruit of the flesh. Look at Galatians 5.19-21 or Colossians 3.5-11 for examples of those behaviors. When you see them emerge in your life, ask the Spirit to help you put them to death and then trust that he will help you do so. Don’t expect the Spirit to do all the work for you. It doesn’t work like that. You’ve got to do your part and make the effort to stop letting your fallen nature control your behavior. But in doing so, you also have to remember you have help.

As you do, don’t forget to give thanks to God that there is now no condemnation for you because you are in Christ, even when your ugly side gets the better of you on occasion. I’m not talking about rationalizing sin—there is no rationalization for sin. I am talking about being profoundly grateful for the costly and wondrous gift God has given you in Christ. If you love God, that should give you additional motivation to stop living your life in patterns that you know would grieve him.

Of course, it is always helpful to do all this not by yourself but in the context of fellowship with other Christians. Remember that Jesus told us he would be with us whenever two or three gather in his name (Matthew 18.20) and the Spirit can and does use our fellowship to help transform us into his holy and called-out people.

In sum, this is the Christian hope. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ. That means having the sure and certain hope that our future is secured by this awesome God of ours. But the benefits of living a Spirit-led life are not confined to the future. We can enjoy immediate benefits. God promises to give himself to us right here and now so that he can teach us to be his Kingdom workers and equip us to bring Christ’s healing love to bear on others who desperately need it. Neither do we have to wait until our body dies before we can enjoy the benefits of living life in peace and harmony with God. That is also available to us right now in and through the Spirit. When we stop and consider that God has acted decisively for us to secure both our present and our future, we realize we have Good News, now and for all eternity.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Remembering Woody Tats

On Friday, July 9, 2010, my wife and I were riding our tandem bike in Woodland Union Cemetery in Van Wert, OH. We came across a little tuxedo kitten who was lying by some bushes and he started to chase us. We didn’t stop because we already had three cats and didn’t need another.

Woody TatsThe next night we rode by the same place and there he was again. Once again he started to chase us and this time we stopped and brought him home. We had him checked out by the vet that following Monday and thought he was OK. But as it turned out he had congenital heart disease and died suddenly five weeks later on Tuesday, August 17, 2010. It was one of the most devastating things I have ever experienced, especially because he was such a friendly kitten and especially because he really did adopt us.

I made a mistake the evening we had him euthanized. We didn’t take his body home and give it a proper burial. I just couldn’t handle it at that point but that was the wrong thing for me to do–on multiple levels. On this the first anniversary of our chance meeting with that kitten, I still grieve for him. It’s just not right for a kitten like that to die so suddenly and prematurely. It represents all that has gone wrong in God’s good albeit fallen creation.

So Dondra and I went out to the cemetery this evening and held a little memorial service for Woody (we named him after the cemetery in which he adopted us). I read Psalms 24.1-2, 36.5-7a, most of 104, and 145.3-21. Each Psalm speaks of the goodness of God as Creator and God’s provision for his creatures and creation.

We said a prayer and asked God to not forget his little creature that was taken from us way too soon. I had an old wooden cross that our neighbors made and I laid it at the site where we first saw Woody. Now before you accuse me of practicing some kind of weird religion, I don’t think for a moment that Christ died for kittens. Christ died for humans. I laid the cross at the site because both Dondra and I needed to be reminded of God’s great love for us and for all his creatures. We needed to be reminded of the promise of the New Creation where hopefully we will get to see that little guy again–this time without heart disease. None of that is guaranteed of course, at least as far as Woody is concerned, but I hope and believe that the God who loves his profoundly broken human creatures so much that he became human and died on a cross to do something about it once and for all will surely not forget a sweet little guy like Woody, who loved us wildly (and we him).

Maybe, just maybe, I can dare hope that God will redeem all his good little creatures in the New Creation. May God use that hope and the memorial service we held tonight as a means of grace to bring us comfort for this and the other burdens we bear.

Fan Returns 3,000th Hit to Jeter, Team Rewards His Generosity

I’m not a Yankme’s fan, but this story is just flat out cool. Congratulations to Derek Jeter on his 3000th hit and to Christian Lopez for being a class act.

As a 23-year-old cell phone salesman, Christian Lopez had thousands of reasons to hold out for the highest bidder on the baseball from Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit. In fact, some estimates put the ball’s worth at $250,000, money that the recent graduate from St. Lawrence University could have certainly used.

And yet when New York Yankees officials found Lopez after he corralled Jeter’s historic home run, the only thing that the big Yankees fan wanted was to return the ball to the man who had hit it.

Yes, Lopez was willing to just give away what seemed like a sure lottery ticket

“No, not really,” Lopez said when Yankees announcer Michael Kay later asked him if he asked for anything in return. “He deserves this, he’s worked hard for this … I’m not the type of person to take this away from him.”

Read the whole heartwarming story.

Bringing the Love of Christ to Bear: A Case Study from Joplin MO, Part 2

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

–Matthew 25.34-40 (NIV)

See my previous post for background and context.

Received via email.

Joplin Day 2,  July 6, 2011 10:11:14 PM EDT

15 of us with 2 bobcats spent 7 hours at ‘Effies’ place separating the debris into metal, tree/brush, or trash and stacking those piles next to the road, as well tearing her subfloor off of the foundation. We will return there tomorrow morning to finish cleaning her property.  There are so many lots/business’s yet to be touched, it is hard to imagine the cleanup not lasting into the Winter months!!!

Being Careful What You Wish For

 14 Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him. 15 Saul’s attendants said to him, “See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. 16 Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the lyre. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes on you, and you will feel better.” 17 So Saul said to his attendants, “Find someone who plays well and bring him to me.” 18 One of the servants answered, “I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the lyre. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the LORD is with him.” 19 Then Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me your son David, who is with the sheep.” 20 So Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them with his son David to Saul. 21 David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul liked him very much, and David became one of his armor-bearers. 22 Then Saul sent word to Jesse, saying, “Allow David to remain in my service, for I am pleased with him.” 23 Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.

1 Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Sokoh in Judah. They pitched camp at Ephes Dammim, between Sokoh and Azekah. 2 Saul and the Israelites assembled and camped in the Valley of Elah and drew up their battle line to meet the Philistines. 3The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them. 4 A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span. 5 He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels; 6 on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. 7 His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels. His shield bearer went ahead of him. 8 Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. 9 If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” 10 Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” 11 On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.

–1 Samuel 16.14-17.11 (NIV)

Last week we looked at what happens when we attempt to take matters into our own hands rather than obey what we know to be God’s will for us. The results usually aren’t very pretty. Today’s story reflects a continuation of that theme. You recall that Israel demanded a king to lead them so that they could be like the rest of the nations around them. Never mind that they were God’s called-out (holy) people who were supposed to be agents of God’s healing redemption. No, they were not particularly interested in their call, just the benefits they would derive from being God’s people. But as we saw, in demanding a king, Israel in effect rejected God’s rightful kingship over them.

Careful what you wish for. You may just get it.

We see this sadly represented in today’s account. Saul had willfully rejected God’s command to him on at least two separate occasions and the second time this happened was apparently the last straw. God took his Holy Spirit from Saul and put it on David, God’s chosen successor to Saul. In place of God’s Spirit, God sent an evil spirit to afflict Saul. This sounds shocking to our modern ears. How could God do such a thing? But it is not hard to guess. Since Saul decided to make himself king over God, God simply gave Saul what he wanted by making it manifest to others that God had rejected Saul’s kingship. Much as we do not like to admit it, there are real and often dire consequences to our rebellion against God.

Yet notice carefully the following chain of events in the first part of this story. After having Samuel anoint David as Saul’s successor, God uses the evil spirit he sent against Saul as a vehicle to introduce David, the future king, into Saul’s court. God did this through music and it should not escape our attention that even when he afflicted Saul, God used Saul’s successor to bring some temporary healing to that affliction. There it is. Another sign of God’s great faithfulness and grace, even in the face of ongoing human rebellion against God.

But the sad story of the consequences of our stubborn rebellion doesn’t end here. We see it come to a head in the story of Goliath. Israel had wanted a king like the other nations and God had given Israel what it wanted. Now that Israel had a king just like the other nations, it was confronted with its own helplessness in dealing with its enemies. When confronted by the giant Goliath, Saul and his men became dismayed and terrified. They knew they had nothing in their repertoire to defeat this formidable enemy who taunted both them and their God.

Thankfully, however, this is not the end of the story because God does not give up on his wayward people. If you continue reading this story, you will see that God gives his people a new king, David, the man after God’s own heart. David will not be terrified of Goliath the way Saul and his men were because David had faith in God’s power to deliver on his word. He trusted God and went on to slay the giant, thus putting human pride and the power of God in their respective rightful places.

And this is what we must take from stories like this. They are part of the overall biblical narrative of how God is putting his world to right, about how God can and does use deeply flawed individuals to help him in his great task. Yes, there is punishment for willful rebellion, but it is always done out of love. God does not want us to choose death. He wants us to choose life and we do that by acknowledging God is God and we are not. We therefore decide to obey him so that he can use us to bring healing to others around us who desperately need to be exposed to God’s great love for us in Christ.

We’ll continue to get things wrong because we are deeply flawed. But the message from today’s story, even as shocking as it might ostensibly be, is that God is faithful and God is in control of things. Unlike the deeply flawed characters in today’s story, we can have hope that God can and will use us to help him accomplish his redemptive purposes if we will simply trust and obey God. It won’t be easy and we will have to sometimes face terrifying enemies. And even though we are as deeply flawed as Saul and his men were, we have seen God’s great love for us poured out on the cross and that gives us real hope. When we have that hope, we also have confidence that we have God’s Spirit working in us because there is work to be done right here and now on God’s behalf.

Let us therefore learn how not to respond to God by learning from Saul’s mistakes and willfulness. God is always faithful but God also loves us enough to go away from us if that is what we want because real love never forces itself on the beloved. Think deeply on these things the next time you are tempted to ask God to make you just like the rest of the folks around you. Consider carefully your real abilities to handle all that life can throw at you, both good and bad, and then choose to say yes to God’s gracious invitation to you in Christ to live life and live it abundantly in joyful and obedient service to God and others. When you do that, you’ll never have to worry about having the wrong kind of spirit in you.

Bringing the Love of Christ to Bear: A Case Study from Joplin MO

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

–Matthew 25.34-40 (NIV)

If you have read this blog with any regularity, you know that I have written often about bringing the love of Christ to bear on his broken and hurting world, about being his agents of New Creation to bring healing to the extent we are able. All well and good, you say. But do you know what this means? Could you recognize examples of it?

I have a good friend who has chosen to go to Joplin, MO. to help with the cleanup there. Joplin is “old news” and thus we don’t hear much about it anymore in the media. But the damage done by the devastating tornadoes that swept through that town this spring is massive and far from being cleaned up. So my friend, Mark, who is a high school principal in NW Ohio, has decided to do something about it. He is spending the week in Joplin to help with the cleanup.

He has sent email updates each day and I am going to post them here, along with the pictures he has taken. I didn’t ask Mark specifically why he chose to go to Joplin, but he is a Christian and I am sure that had something to do with his decision. Most likely, it had a lot to do with it. Whatever his motivation, Mark is indeed bringing the love of Christ to bear on his hurting people in Joplin. So if you want to know what new creation looks like or if you are wondering what bringing Christ’s love to others looks like, look no further.

Pray for Mark and all like him who are doing the Lord’s work and bringing Jesus’ love to bear on his people. Then ask yourself this question: What tangible things are you doing to show your love for Christ?

Via email:

Joplin day 1

July 5, 2011 6:05:39 PM EDT

Am sure that I won’t be able to show you the scale of the destruction…but after driving around upon arrival,  the path covered literally miles of both residential, commercial, as well as a High School.  Will head out for debris clean-up Wed morning….more then!

Learning from Scripture: A Case Study from Luke

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him. 17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 “What things?” he asked.  “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.” 25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. 28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

–Luke 24.13-32 (NIV)

Today we look at one of my favorite and most poignant of all stories in Scripture. It is Luke’s account of the Emmaus walk and there are several things in it that can profit us in matters of the faith.

The first thing that catches our attention is that faith is meant to be shared, not horded and kept as some weird form of privatized spirituality. Notice how Jesus kept his identity hidden from the disciples, at least initially. In doing so he got them to open up about their hopes and fears. When they told Jesus that they had hoped he was going to be the one to redeem Israel, they betrayed their lack of understanding about God’s Messiah. The implication of this statement is clear. They had hoped…but because Jesus ended up getting crucified, clearly he was not the Messiah. Their expectations of Jesus were woefully short and unfortunately many of us continue to lower our expectations when it comes to our relationship with him. And so Jesus chose to keep his identity hidden, in part, so that his disciples would open up to him and give Jesus the opportunity he needed to teach them about what the whole of Scripture (the OT) taught about God’s Messiah.

This brings us to our second lesson. God in his infinite wisdom and providence has chosen human agency as the primary medium through which people come to faith. The apostle Paul says as much in Romans 10.14-17. Jesus used Scripture to correct his disciples’ misunderstanding about him and the nature of God’s Messiah. He never would have had the opportunity to do so had they not opened up to him regarding their dashed hopes and disappointment over Jesus’ crucifixion. They had expected God’s Messiah to be a conquering hero, not a crucified one, and Jesus corrected this faulty thinking by opening their minds to what Scripture really taught. Obviously, Jesus could not have done that if he didn’t know his Scripture intimately. Likewise for us. The less Scripture we know, the more likely it is for us to have misunderstandings about God and his Messiah.

Third, notice carefully the effect that good expository teaching about Scripture has on people who are ready to hear it. Cleopas and his companion acknowledged how their hearts had burned (in a good way) when Jesus taught them correctly about himself. Notice too that once again God used human agency (in this case, Jesus) to bring understanding to his fallible creatures. When we are ready to hear God’s word to us through Scripture, good teaching about it will always have a positive effect on us. This is yet another reason why we need to learn Scripture well because we never know when God will give us the opportunity to be his agents to bring the joyous Good News about Jesus to others in our life who desperately need to hear it. And here the consistent teaching of the Church over time and across cultures can provide us with useful criteria and necessary boundaries regarding the faithful teaching of Scripture. Good expository teaching about God’s word is never made up or invented.

Last, pay attention to Jesus’ interaction with the disciples. He did not force himself on them. Neither does he force himself on us. He was prepared to go on his way had the disciples not invited him to come in and have a meal with them. Jesus wants our allegiance, indeed our very lives. But he will never force himself on us to get that, something that is always the hallmark of a good relationship. Real relationships are always entered into voluntarily and never out of compunction, guilt, or force.

Only after Jesus had made himself known to his disciples by opening their minds up to the truth about him in Scripture and in the breaking of the bread did he reveal himself to them. Likewise with us. While Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances have ended, we can still get to know him in the same manner as his first disciples did–through fellowship, solid teaching about Scripture, and by regularly partaking of the sacraments in Holy Communion. These are called ordinary means of grace (ways in which God communicates to us about himself) and they are available to everyone, not just the “spiritual” or “religious” ones.

If you are looking for ways to grow in your knowledge, faith, and relationship with Jesus, pay attention to what Luke tells us in today’s lesson. As you do, remember that God is once again using human agency to help you do that. True, Luke is long dead. But in his God-inspired writing, the work of Luke’s own hands, heart, mind, and skill-set, you can learn from Luke more about what it takes to meet the Lord of life and the God of this universe. That’s pretty cool if you ask me.