A Slave to Righteousness

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S (Scripture): Romans 7:5 When we were self-centered, the sinful passions aroused through the Law were at work in all the parts of our body, so that we bore fruit for death. 6 But now we have been released from the Law. We have died with respect to the thing that controlled us, so that we can be slaves in the new life under the Spirit, not in the old life under the written Law.

O (Observation): Paul is still riffing about about the Law. Is one under the Law if also under Christ? No! How is this? The Law is for the living. In Christ, especially in baptism, we die and are re-born. Thus, we are released from the Law, and at the same time, are now slaves to righteousness, under the Spirit.

The Spirit’s calling compels us to respond…not just an obligation to pass or fail…but as an opening for doing God’s ministry.

A (Application): I see us constantly using the new Spirit in us as a new Law. We set up markers to see who is “really” doing God’s work. We measure public appearances, an abundance or a lack of social media presence, or popularity to decide who is being “faithful.”

The time that I spend in personal devotion and prayer helps me to remember that God is with me day in and day out, regardless of the standards I mentioned above. When I get away from this practice, I get out of focus.

The time I spend “digging daily” is a way of “mining for God’s presence.” I do this practice with several other folks. Something life-giving comes from doing this work with others. Is this devotion a new Law? Absolutely not! The practice of digging into God’s word daily is a great way to see the Spirit alive and well in my life and all around me…especially in troublesome times.

P (Prayer): Lord, sustain me in my journey as a space to righteousness. Amen.

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The Law…The Rules

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S (Scripture): Romans 3:28b We consider that a person is treated as righteous by faith, apart from what is accomplished under the Law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Isn’t God the God of Gentiles also? Yes, God is also the God of Gentiles. 30 Since God is one, then the one who makes the circumcised righteous by faith will also make the one who isn’t circumcised righteous through faith. 31 Do we then cancel the Law through this faith? Absolutely not! Instead, we confirm the Law.

O (Observation): Paul is once again speaking to the Jewish Christians (those who were Jewish and now following Christ). He points out that their adherence to the Law (or lack there of) had nothing to do with their salvation.

When a Jew expresses the Law, this comes from faith in God. The mark of circumcision is the outward expression of an internal faith.

If that external marker was removed, what then? Could someone…say…a Gentile show faith in God? Yes! And if so, that person would not need the Law to become righteous…for God instills faith in both the circumcised and uncircumcised.

Anyone who believes in Christ has been joined to Christ’s righteousness. This is a free gift. The Law stands as a reminder of who we are called to be as God’s people. The Law was a guide and identity marker, not a path to salvation. Salvation is about faith in God.

So, should the Law be thrown out? Absolutely NOT!

A (Application): What barriers are we putting up as God’s people? What rules do we put in place for members and church leaders that make us stumble along the way? Shouldn’t we throw them all out? Well, not so fast : )

Just like we don’t throw out the Law, we don’t throw out everything that are good boundary markers in organized religion.

Healthy boundaries can be good, so that we can care for each other and build up healthy community. When we don’t trust one another and break down these barriers, we can lean on forgiveness and reconciliation, which we have first received from Christ.

Now, following the rules of the Church is not the goal…faith in Christ is the goal. As such, when the rules of the Church inhibit certain groups of people from access to faithful community, then perhaps the rules need to be updated.

The Law guides us and is an outward expression of what it means to have faith in God. Rules of the Church exist to guide us into community. But faith in God is what makes us righteous. And this righteousness comes through Christ, who gave himself for us. Believing in Christ – thanks to the Holy Spirit instilling faith in us – brings us to righteousness. The Law…the rules…don’t make us righteous. Christ does.

P (Prayer): Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief. Amen.

Pushing Others Down

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S (Scripture): Romans 2:28 It isn’t the Jew who maintains outward appearances who will receive praise from God, and it isn’t people who are outwardly circumcised on their bodies. 29 Instead, it is the person who is a Jew inside, who is circumcised in spirit, not literally. That person’s praise doesn’t come from people but from God.

O (Observation): Most of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome was about reconciling the differences between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. His beef with the Jewish Christians was that they were acting arrogant. They believed that with their outward customs, they were better than Gentiles who became Christian. Or that somehow Gentile Christians should adopt the outward custom of circumcision to be on equal ground with Jewish Christians.

The problem that Paul points out is that nothing is gained from the outward practice. He says that the real change God seeks is one of the heart (or spirit). If someone comes to believe in Christ as Lord and Savior, the change doesn’t come from the outside in. The outside marker is just an indication of the internal change that God enacts in someone’s being.

So do the Jews have an advantage? If they do, it’s only because God established a covenant with them first, and revealed the Law and Scriptures to the Jews first…but this gift has always been available to all people.

A (Application): “They’re not Christian.” Quite often I hear people say things like this about other people. The ones making the accusations go to church (or at least say they do) and act all prim and proper. But when it comes to living like Jesus and acting out of grace, they come up way short. I do, too.

The problem with lifting up one’s self over another usually comes because we are insecure about our own faith. We recognize we don’t do the Law, and so we try to make ourselves feel better than others by pushing them down, rather than asking God to lift us all up.

We do this by class, race, sexual orientation, and other ways. We simply are insecure. And that scares us. And thus, we get defensive.

We don’t do The Law. It is a guide, and it is meant to show us our shortcomings. And in the wake of that realization, God hears our cries and welcomes us back with the Gospel.

What would it look like if instead of hiding the ways we break The Law, we face the music and let God redeem us. Then, maybe, we can do less judging of others and more inviting into relationships so that we can share this Gospel message with others. We can speak from our own brokenness and let God come to others.

P (Prayer): Lord, redeem us and make us whole, as only you can. Amen.

Finite

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S (Scripture): Romans 1:16 I’m not ashamed of the gospel: it is God’s own power for salvation to all who have faith in God, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 God’s righteousness is being revealed in the gospel, from faithfulness for faith, as it is written, The righteous person will live by faith.

O (Observation): Paul speaks of the Gospel to the followers of Jesus in Rome. He is clear: the Gospel is God’s saving power. Not adherence to Law alone, but receiving grace through Jesus Christ. The Law was meant to guide God’s people, not be a litmus test for whether or not God loved God’s people. The Law was never a litmus test to decipher who should be loved and who should be considered an outsider (and thus treated as less than human).

The gift of The Law (which includes the Gospel – God’s saving power) was given to the Jews first. And so as the first recipients of God’s saving power, Paul does not deny access to the Gospel for the Jews. Instead, Paul adds into the list of recipients, the Gentiles who have faith in God.

And Paul clarifies: God’s righteousness comes to us through the gospel, instilling in us faith. This faith is what makes us righteous. Not adherence to The Law. Not being a good person. Not being perfect in prayer or praise. No! Faith comes from God giving us the gospel.

Nothing in us is good or holy, apart from God’s saving grace. Only the gospel saves. Whoever believes this is made righteous.

A (Application): Last night, as I led Ash Wednesday services, I was reminded of our mortality and frailty. I was reminded that my finiteness cannot compare to God’s vastness. As we surrender our lives, through the gift of baptism, we surrender our earthly frame to God’s saving power.

In our weakness, there is Christ. In our sadness, there is joy, for there is Christ. We spend a lot of time covering up our weakness to make us strong.

Instead, let us expose the frailty of our lives to God to let God lead us into healing. We can do this by sharing in faithful community. By prayer and fasting.

Let God care for you in the midst of your brokenness. Let God love you and re-shape you this Lenten season.

P (Prayer): God, you give your gospel gift to all humanity. Help us to let down our guard and embrace it. Amen.

Carry the Light

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S (Scripture): Acts 26:20b [Paul said to King Agrippa:] “My message was that they should change their hearts and lives and turn to God, and that they should demonstrate this change in their behavior. 21 Because of this, some Jews seized me in the temple and tried to murder me. 22 God has helped me up to this very day. Therefore, I stand here and bear witness to the lowly and the great. I’m saying nothing more than what the Prophets and Moses declared would happen: 23 that the Christ would suffer and that, as the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to my people and to the Gentiles.”

O (Observation): Paul stands accused by the Jews of inciting unrest and they make Paul stand trial. The Roman authorities don’t care much for these problems, but when the skirmishes become unrest for a large part of the population, they listen in.

King Agrippa listens to Paul’s claims.

But maybe these words are more for God’s followers.

Paul lays it out: Jesus was always part of God’s plan. As told through Moses and the Prophets, Jesus – the Suffering One for All – was not a backup plan when people “messed up.” People were never perfect, and thus wandering in the dark, fighting for self-preservation and self-interest.

Jesus is the light to all people, a true revelation of God’s glory.

And now, Paul simply witnesses to the light for all who would hear. He bears God’s redeeming word for all the heat.

A (Application): Quite often we feel like we have to defend Jesus and defend our faith in a preemptive way. Like anything we do could rightly defend our God.

I’m not saying we don’t stand up for peace and justice, but we first struggle with the idea that we are first and foremost seeking the light for ourselves. Sounds selfish, but this is the starting point for all of us. To stumble in the dark until the light is revealed to us in the person of Jesus.

In receiving the light, we are then compelled to share our story to any who would listen.

And as we share the light, as Paul does, we also remain humble, because the light is never ours to own. We simply carry the light for God. We give thank to God that we can carry that light that never diminishes.

We humbly, with broken hearts and minds, carry this light into our homes, work places and schools.

May we be the light…humbly thanking our God for brining the light to us in the first place.

P (Prayer): Lord, shine your light on this poor sinner. Amen.

What’s Worth More?

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S (Scripture): Psalm 119

65

You have treated your servant well,

Lord, according to your promise.

66

Teach me knowledge and good judgment

because I’ve put my trust in your commandments.

67

Before I suffered, I took the wrong way,

but now I do what you say.

68

You are good and you do good.

Teach me your statutes!

69

The arrogant cover me with their lies,

but I guard your precepts with all my heart.

70

Their hearts are unfeeling, like blubber,

but I rejoice in your Instruction.

71

My suffering was good for me,

because through it I learned your statutes.

72

The Instruction you’ve given to me is better

than thousands of pieces of gold and silver!

O (Observation): Instruction from the Lord proves useful and challenging for the author of this Psalm. The Psalm points to the ways that God brings community together by helping individuals to realize that they are called to follow God’s Instruction, rather than establishing their own individual ways.

A (Application): Like a really good workout – tearing muscle and allowing it to re-build stronger than it was before – following God’s instructions and ways can prove quite beneficial. The standards God has set forth do indeed guide us and give us hope.

And yet, we must remember the place of these Instructions. Too often we apply these instructions to those who do not believe in God. That is wholly unfair.

I hold myself to the Instructions God has given, but until someone else consents to the same standards, I will not hold others to this standard. Instead, I will allow the Instruction to have a hold on me so that I can (hopefully) trust in God. After all, this Instruction is worth more than the $1.6 billion “MegaMillions lottery” coming up tonight. This Instruction is priceless!

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to follow your Instruction for the sake of others around us. Amen.

God – the Giver of Grace

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S (Scripture): Judges 13:1 The Israelites again did things that the Lord saw as evil, and he handed them over to the Philistines for forty years.

2 Now there was a certain man from Zorah, from the Danite clan, whose name was Manoah. His wife was unable to become pregnant and had not given birth to any children. 3 The Lord’s messenger appeared to the woman and said to her, “Even though you’ve been unable to become pregnant and haven’t given birth, you are now pregnant and will give birth to a son! 4 Now be careful not to drink wine or brandy or to eat anything that is ritually unclean, 5 because you are pregnant and will give birth to a son. Don’t allow a razor to shave his head, because the boy is going to be a nazirite for God from birth. He’ll be the one who begins Israel’s rescue from the power of the Philistines.”

24 The woman gave birth to a son and named him Samson. The boy grew up, and the Lord blessed him. 25 The Lord’s spirit began to move him when he was in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.

O (Observation): So the Lord’s messenger shows up. When this happens, something REALLY BIG & IMPORTANT is going on.

In case any of you sense that the Old Testament is all Law and the New Testament is all Gospel, know this: the Lord sending Samson is “Gospel”! When Jesus sends a messenger, reaching to help God’s people – that’s Gospel!

The Law is that God’s people have erred again and God has released the people from God’s protection. Now the Philistines are in charge. But the Gospel saves: God sends help…in the form of baby. (Hmmm? Where else have I heard that???)

A (Application): How often do we feel abandoned by God? We may fail to see that we have drifted from God and the promises God has made to us in our baptism. We fail to see how God has adopted us. We fail to see how God wishes to bring us life. We try to create new life for ourselves…but that so often backfires.

I’m someone who likes to try new things, because I think that God gives me ideas to enact. But sometimes the way I go about the “new thing” makes it all about ME and how I will bring the Gospel. (Oops!)

Instead, God finds a way to be patient or to act lightening quick…God finds a way to erode away my ego and pride to expose my need for God’s mercy and grace…God finds a way to bring someone into my life (like Samson for the Israelites) who will give me guidance and direction and hope.

Maybe we will see a messenger. Maybe we won’t. But God is still with us: Sending people into our lives to guide us; giving us sustenance in bread and wine; reminding us of how God claims us every time we touch and see water.

P (Prayer): Lord, remind us that you are always beside us. Amen.