Monday, February 21, 2011

The Gospel made simple

I have these four points on the back of my card and on my blog.  They give the heart and core of the Gospel; indeed, the message of the whole Bible.  Here's a teeny bit of background by way of scriptures, on each one.

1. God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is love; and God loves you.
1 John 4:8  "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love."
1 John 3:1  "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!"

Eph. 2:3-5  "But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions..."
1 John 4:9  "God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him."

2. The Father made plans to include you in his love and life forever.
Eph. 1:3-5 "Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes..."
John 3:16-17  "...God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him."

3. The Son, Jesus, accomplished the Father's plan, and you are already forgiven and included.

1 John 4:9  "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."
Romans 5:6-10 "While we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners...while we were still sinners...our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were his enemies..."
Col 1:20  "and through him [Jesus] God reconciled everything to himself.  He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross."
John 12:32  "And when I [Jesus] am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” 

4. The Spirit invites you to believe this good news; and in believing, to enjoy it! 

John 15:26  "The Spirit of truth...will come to you from the Father and will testify all about me." 
John 16:8-11 "And when [the Spirit] comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment.  The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me..."
Romans 8:1-2  "So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus [note, that's everybody]. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death."
Romans 8:16  "For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children."

The core message of the whole Bible is wrapped up in who Jesus is, what he did for us, and how he has invited us into this glorious life of love.  How about sharing it with someone you love? 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Being Still and Reflecting Jesus

Part of chronic work-ism (or in Christian circles, works-ism) is that we believe it's our effort and accomplishments that make us valuable and loved.  We want to make sure it all looks good, and that others will agree with us that this is obviously the way life is supposed to look, and we measure our success and our own actual worth by whether life goes according to our master plan.  But there's always something that doesn't line up with our rules for the world, so there goes the game. I confess that I'm one of those worker bees who tries to make it all come out, ignoring the lessons of the last 50-plus years when hard work didn't make it come out at all.

Once again I am brought up short by scripture, and helped by The Amazing Joanne to see wisdom.  The other evening, she was drawn by the voice of the Holy Spirit to look at the lights reflected across a quiet river.  The still waters made the lights shine almost as well from the water's surface as they did from the air above.  Except where there was a drain of some kind, pouring water into the river and roiling the surface -- in that spot, one could hardly tell there were lights above at all.  The turbulence completely ruined the reflection. "See there," the Lord said to her, "how the peaceful water best reflects the light?  That's how you best reflect me!"

Jesus said we are to be the light of the world in Matthew 5:14-16, but that we should be careful to let our light shine, not to hide it.  Our light as Christ-followers, of course, is from him, not from our own innards.  If our lives are turbulent through striving, impatience or any other form of trying to force the issue, the light we reflect won't be true to the Lord's light in us. 

In James 1:19-21, the apostle says that our strivings, anger, impatience and the sin in our lives don't help the cause of God:  "Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires" is his core thought in verse 20.

Psalm 46 starts off talking about the Lord being our refuge, no matter how troubled life is.  Verse 10 is the climax:  “Be still, and know that I am God!  I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world.”  The Hebrew translated "be still" is referring to a peace that is beyond silence; it is a surrender to the will of God.  So for us to reflect Jesus' light, like Joanne saw the river water reflect the lights at night, wouldn't it make sense that we too should be 'still' and surrendered?  Then our lives would more truly reflect the light of Christ, "throughout the world."  

Instead of trying harder, how about trying less? 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Adoption and New Life

Li'l Orphan Annie began as a comic strip in 1924, serializing the adventures of Annie, who had grown up in an orphanage, her dog Sandy and her adoptive father, Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks.  Warbucks had adopted Annie as his daughter despite her humble circumstances, brought her home to his fabulous mansion and bankrolled her many adventures.  The Broadway musical and the film "Annie" popularized the story for yet another generation. What many don't recognize is the story's divine roots!

What would it be like if we were brought in from the cold and poverty by a multi-millionaire?  Most of us can't imagine how great it would be.  But Ephesians 1:5 says "God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure."  God, the ultra-powerful, wealthy-beyond-imagining King of the universe, saw us in advance of our own existence, loved us in spite of our sins and has brought us, through Jesus, into his household as adopted children.  Our adventures in life are now powered by the Holy Spirit, through whom we recognize and participate in that adopted life (see Romans 8:15-17). 

But can you imagine Annie, in her new life in the mansion, choosing to live as though she were still an orphan?  Hiding food in her room, in case there's none tomorrow; being suspicious of the motives of the household servants and of Daddy Warbucks himself; trashing the place in fits of anger when she doesn't get her way; refusing to wear her new clothes; and generally being hard to live with?  That behavior would show she really didn't understand or accept her new reality. Conversely, all the good behavior she could muster wouldn't have paid back the cost of her adoption -- and really, by trying to repay Warbucks, she would have insulted his love!

Going back to Ephesians, Paul continues in his letter to lay out what it means to be children of the Father who has so graciously adopted us -- while never confusing grace (God's free exercise of his love, to love us and adopt us) with any sort of earning our place with God.  Instead, he insists, good behavior is a response to that grace, not from a rulebook but from flowing with that love and grace we've been given.  So he writes in chapter 5, "Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children...Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. Carefully determine what pleases the Lord..."  And Paul goes on into more detail about what a life of response to the grace of God looks like. 

These statements are not a new '10 Commandments for Christians,' a legalistic measure of obedience.  That's not how Paul wrote, and that's not what life in Christ is about.  It's a relationship of love, not a list of rules; adoption into new life, not substituting one orphanage for another.  So, welcome to Daddy's mansion!  Have a wonderful time exploring God's love!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Glorious Mystery

A "mystery" is usually in a novel, where you have to read to the end to find out whodunnit.  (And no, I'm not smart enough to figure it out earlier.)  But in the Greek used in the New Testament, it normally means "something that, though once a secret, has now been fully revealed in the gospel" (Expositor's Commentary).  In Colossians 1, Paul writes of this sacred mystery, not as something still hidden, but an open secret:  "And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory." (Col. 1:27).  In this life, it's hard to measure a spiritual presence, so it can still look like a mystery sometimes; but the 'assurance of sharing his glory' is something I can get excited about!  Adding to that blessing, Paul writes "Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault" (verse 22). 

I'm awe-struck by these statements of spiritual fact.  I don't think of myself as 'without a single fault' because I'm too familiar with most of my faults.  But here, Paul says we are holy because of Jesus Christ, not our own right deeds.  We 'stand in God's presence,' he says, through 'the death of Christ.'  And besides that, we have the perfect Christ living in us. 

What that means:  Our future is secure.  On top of that, right now, we don't have to put up with a 'second-best' life anymore.  We don't have to settle for drudgery, ongoing depression or hopelessness.  The mind and will of Christ-in-us can lift us above all the misery and despair we might feel in looking just at physical life.  We have an absolute promise from God of "sharing in his glory" (forever!), and a spiritual sense of that glory already, because of Christ-in-us.  We can't measure it with physical science, but it's there and we can feel it.  And if we stay aware of Christ-in-us, we can let his presence change our thinking and our results. 

It's a different focus than we had when we didn't know Jesus.  People who are unaware of what he did for them don't have this hope, or this living presence in them.  But they could -- if we were to let them see it in us, and tell them about it!  If that joy is in you, why not share it with someone who needs it?  And if Christ is in you, and you're not feeling the joy, then ask him for more of it -- he will answer!