The Church: Challenges and Grace

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S (Scripture): Romans 4:21 [Abraham] was fully convinced that God was able to do what he promised. 22 Therefore, it was credited to him as righteousness.

23 But the scripture that says it was credited to him wasn’t written only for Abraham’s sake. 24 It was written also for our sake, because it is going to be credited to us too. It will be credited to those of us who have faith in the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was handed over because of our mistakes, and he was raised to meet the requirements of righteousness for us.

O (Observation): Paul leans on the mark of faith instilled into Abraham as the KEY factor in Abraham’s inheritance of God’s covenant. What God said, Abraham believes. Now, Abraham was not perfect in that belief, but it still stands that God was the one who was making promises and Abraham believed God would make good on God’s promises.

Faith is the factor for inheritance, not works or responses to that grace.

So, both Jew and Gentile could be Christian without giving up the Law (for Jews) and without needing to be held to the Law of the Jews (for Gentiles).

A (Application): God has always been about making room for all who wish to believe. Those considered “outside” of the Church is more often than not a rule generated and implemented by the Church, not God.

In what ways have you seen the Church push others away? When have stumbling blocks been put into place? When have blessings come to pass as people have been reunited with the Church body?

These questions help us to reconcile what it means to be a people of faith. Is there a standard? A Law? If so, what does the corresponding word of Grace sound like?

Is receiving God’s Grace easy for us? A challenge? Necessary for salvation?

Let that stew for a while : )

P (Prayer): Lord, be with us in our faith struggles. Amen.

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Unity or Uniformity?


S (Scripture): Romans 1:1 From Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God. 2 This gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 3 concerning his Son who was a descendant of David with reference to the flesh, 4 who was appointed the Son-of-God-in-power according to the Holy Spirit by the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 Through him we have received grace and our apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles on behalf of his name. 6 You also are among them, called to belong to Jesus Christ. 7 To all those loved by God in Rome, called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

O (Observation):  Paul is thick.  Like fudge brownie mix thick.  These verses are so packed with meaning and relevance.  For today…a 30,000 foot view…

Paul knows that Jews and Gentiles are starting to believe in Jesus Christ, made to be the Son of God, the first of all to be resurrected, and that all who believe in him (as the Messiah and Son of God) are given grace and responsibility (apostleship) to share this news with the whole world.   

The Church in Rome (like many places in Paul’s day) is a mix of Jews and Gentiles who believe in Jesus as the Christ, and so Paul goes about addressing BOTH of them in this letter to the Church in Rome.  He mentions that Jesus is a son of David in the flesh (a part of the Jewish lineage from Abraham) and yet he appeals to the Gentiles, too, noting that the Gospel is extended to them, as well.  

In sum, Paul is addressing Jewish and Gentile Christians of the Church in Rome.  

A (Application): What to do with Paul?   He’s trying really hard to bring a word of peace to a divided church.  He’s making the case for Jewish Christians to respect Gentile Christians and vice versa. 

You’ll have to keep reading through Romans to see what I mean.   Paul calls on Jews to respect the fact that their faith (or even Abraham) is not their ticket to salvation: God’s grace is the key factor.   And he will tell the Gentiles, just because you don’t have to follow the traditions of the Law, doesn’t mean you get to do whatever the heck you want.  You must still respect that the struggle of good and evil still exists.  

The Church in America is very much divided today.   Who follows what traditions?  What is required of the Church and its people?   How do we seek unity without uniformity?

Here is a relevant quote from Richard Rohr in his daily email from today (3/7/17): 

Unity is diversity embraced, protected, and maintained by an infinitely generous love. It takes grace and love and the Spirit to achieve unity. Uniformity can be achieved by coercion, shame, and fear. Unfortunately, most churches have confused uniformity with true spiritual unity for centuries. But church formed in this way is by definition not the church. As Catherine LaCugna says, “The nature of the church should manifest the nature of God.” 

Let’s keep on journeying through Romans this Lent.  Good fodder awaits.  

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us mindful of the “other.”   Amen.  

Do I Have to Get Along with “these people”?

 

 S (Scripture):Romans 12:17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil; consider what is good before all people. 12:18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people…12:21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

O (Observation): Paul has addressed the Jewish Christians  in Rome by now (Romans 4-8) explaining that Gentile Christians are as much a part of God’s family as the Jewish Christians.  Paul has addressed the Gentile Christians (Romans 9-11) explaining to them that the Jewish Christians are not bad for wanting to follow the law.   The Jewish Christians were God’s first chosen ones.  Some of them don’t believe in Jesus Christ, but many do. 

So, what to do???

Paul understands that those who were Jews, but now believe in Christ aren’t getting along with those Gentiles who now believe in Jesus Christ. 

Paul is working out, in Romans 12, what it means to live in community when you come from different backgrounds and you have differing gifts.   Paul urges them to love one another.  Especially if their common gift is a faith in Jesus Christ, a work of the Spirit.

A (Application): Paul’s words quoted above are good in general, but put them in the context of a community that is not getting along.  Makes a bit of a difference, no?

We are a diverse people in this great big dysfunctional family of faith as Christians.  We have a lot of vitriol.  We spew anger and hateful comments towards those who don’t see religion the way we see it.  

Fundamentalists.  Evangelicals. Mainline Traditionalists.  Spiritual, but not Religious.  We all make up a strange group of believers in Jesus Christ.  And…we all have hated or despised one another, at times. 

Taking Paul’s words…we might be wise to listen to one another.  We might be surprised to find some gems of truth amongst our varied beliefs.  I’m not saying you should compromise your beliefs…but we should treat one another with respect.   Maybe we can learn from one another. Maybe we can show humility, by listening to one another, before judging…and if you disagree, do so peaceably.  

P (Prayer): Lord, we can be brutal with each other.   Help us to seek the higher road.  Help us to know that our faith comes solely as a gift from you – that we hold no privilege….only that you sent your Spirit to bring each of us to faith.  Amen. 

Listening to God



S (Scripture): Romans  3:1 Therefore what advantage does the Jew have, or what is the value of circumcision? 3:2 Actually, there are many advantages. First of all, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.

O (Observation): Paul has just been arguing that the Jewish sign of the covenant is circumcision.  But really, Paul argues, whether one acts according to the law or not is the truer sign of the covenant.  And Paul argues that both Jews and Gentiles can act according to the Law, and both Jews and Gentiles and wantonly disobey the Law. 

But in the verses above, Paul shows that the status of the Jews is still significant, since God chose to reveal God’s self most fully to the Hebrew people, first. God chose to reveal God’s own words to the Jews, first. 

A (Application): What revelation I receive from God has not been as clear-cut as Scripture being handed down, but that does not deter me from trying to discern what God is saying to me and what God would have me do. 

In the huddle I’m a part of (a discipling group), we struggle with those two questions:  What is God saying to me? And What would God have me do?

I don’t think enough of us struggle with these two questions, in a small group setting, in which support and accountability shape our thoughts and our ways.  

Mostly, we like to go through life as Christians who don’t care for much change in our personal lives.  We like “church” and worship, but anything causing me to change my giving patterns or actions is too much.  

I get that the struggle is real, and I don’t complain.  God has all of this under control.  I just seek God’s will for me and my family to do our part.  That means taking others in and sharing what we think has been revealed to us and share God’s will the best we can.  

Here’s an article that might be helpful in terms of diagnosing some failings within the Church as a whole.  See if you stand convicted:

The Lure of Nondiscipleship Christianity and What We Can Do About It

P (Prayer): Lord, enlighten us.  Make us wise to your ways, that we might be changed and renewed with a passion for listening to you and acting on your callings in our lives. Amen. 

Swing Wide the Gate

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S (Scripture):  Romans 2:9 There will be affliction and distress on everyone who does evil, on the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, for the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For there is no partiality with God.

O (Observation): The focus here is the fact that ALL people, Jews and Gentiles, will be judged based on their deeds (good or evil) and NOT on their culture or religious background.  Paul, once again, is about the business of tearing down walls and turning them into tables for discussion – tables at which BOTH Jews and Gentiles are called to sit.   Paul wishes to help folks see that, while Jews are God’s chosen people, no one is immune to judgment.  And Gentiles who do good have as much access to God’s grace as any Jew who ever existed.

God is NOT partial.  God sees our beliefs.   God claims us ALL.  Our Obedience can only from from our Identity in God.   What shapes that Identity?  No longer is it your ancestry.  Rather, in Christ, all people are now given full access to become children of God.   God certainly worked through Abraham’s lineage.  But now, in the death and resurrection of Christ, the gates have swung open wide, and all are welcome.

A (Application):  We have so many prejudices.  I do.  I admit it.  But what do we do with those prejudices?

Growing up, I played football.  My dad coached with an African-American man, a very kind man.   In my classes were several children who were of Hispanic or African-American descent.   Not many, but enough to impress upon me that we are a country of varied colors.  My best friend is Jewish.  I was exposed to his family’s faith practices.

Now, I’m not saying I’m from an extremely diverse background, but for those I’ve encountered that are “different” than me, I no longer consider them by any kind of category, but as fellow human beings, capable of both good and evil.

Exposure to those who are different from us is helpful.  Let down your guard.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  My continued talks with the imam down the road from us is a great way for me to see Muslims as human beings, who can do good in God’s eyes.   Mainstream media wants me to jump to conclusions about ALL Muslims.  I won’t do it.  I can’t do it.  The one that I know really well, is a peaceful man.  His family is peaceful.  He and I share similarities with our children (who are about the same age as one another).

Reaching out is difficult, but allow Paul’s words today to be a reminder that we all are created in God’s image.  That we are all descendants of Adam and Eve…we are all part of the same (albeit dysfunctional) family.

What prejudices do you struggle with?  What is God saying to you in the midst of those struggles?  What do you think God wants you to do with those struggles and prejudices?

Prayer:  Lord, help us to blind to color and religion.  Help us to see with cross-shaped lenses.  Helps us to be worthy of the callings to which we are called.  Help us to break down barriers, that we might sit down with one another to simply get to know one another.  Amen.