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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Vacating

Vacating
          This has been quite a season for HillSong church.  We have a new youth minister (#Emily Bailey).  We have as many people going on mission trips as we ever have (both HillSong sponsored trips and trips with other evangelistic groups).  We are adding local mission projects and recruiting new church members to lead some of those works.  Among those in leadership, we have younger members serving as elders and deacons alongside more seasoned members.  We have many new babies in the church family. 
          Personally, I find life at our church to be very fulfilling right now, and at times overwhelming.  A month ago, I was asked about my personal beliefs on the doctrine of Hell, and I couldn’t come up with a great response.  I believe Hell is real and is a part of the New Testament teaching, but I find myself tongue-tied when it comes to filling in details.  For that reason, when we complete our current sermon series on discipleship, we will spend autumn looking at the afterlife. 
          Preparing for a series on Hell (and Heaven) can be confusing and at times even scary.  Coupled with my participation in our mission trip to Atlanta, which affected me profoundly, I am grateful for a few days of vacation.  I will be away August 4-14.  What I most look forward to is unscheduled time. 
          However, I anticipate that as much as I met God in the beautiful faces of Atlanta children who live very difficult lives, I expect I will meet God in the quiet of the lake.  God is certainly in both places.  And God has something to say to me that I will only hear in each place. 

          I hope you get a chance to take some days off, even if just a long weekend.  Whether you do beach, mountains, lake, or a “staycation,” I hope you hear from God.  I am certainly not prescribing a theological agenda for your vacation.  The only agenda items should be fun and relaxation.  But as you are re-created in your time of recreation, I pray that you would meet God.  As we always are when we meet God, I pray that you and I are transformed.  I am going away to rest for a few days, but God is always working.  God will work in me and I pray in you too.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Good Samaritan

No Bad Guys (Luke 10:25-37)
Sunday, July 28, 2013

          I told my oldest son who is 11 about World War II and he wanted to know, “Who are the bad guys?” 
Yesterday we watched one of the X-Men movies, X-Men 2.  Magneto, the enemy of the X-Men, is at times fighting alongside them.  Magneto has moment where he is a complex character and my confused son kept asking, “Is he a good guy or a bad guy?” 
My son has grown up on Star Wars and super hero movies.  He can identify the heroes and the villains.  Discussing World War II, it is pretty easy.  Who are the bad guys?  The Nazis. 
          In other cases, though, it is not so clear.  Who are the bad guys?  Communists?  Today, do we say the Chinese communists the bad guys?  We sure buy a lot of products made by the bad guys.  Our government owes a lot of money to the bad guys.  Are the Iranians the bad guys?  Read a history of the last 50 years of our nation’s dealings with Iran.  Not long ago, we counted on them to be our nation’s Muslim friends in the Middle East.  Concepts like Good guys and Bad guys, enemies and allies, don’t fit well. 
          And with World War II, what happens when we look below the surface?  The worst villain, Hitler, was the leader of Germany.  My greatest World War II hero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was a man of Germany.   Who are the bad guys
          After World War II, the Cold War served as the impetus for most conflicts in the second half of the 20th century.  Who were the bad guys, the Soviets?  Today we call them Russians.  Today’s students would be confused if asked to find the Soviet Union on a map. 
But before 1989, the Soviet Union was the enemy.  When American General Colin Powell commanded a unit in Germany that stood as a buffer against the advance of Russian Communism, he kept one photo on his desk.  General Powell kept the photo of the commander of the Soviet forces.  He wanted to be sure he knew who the bad guys were. 
Back then we pointed nuclear missiles at Russia.  Today we adopt their children as our own. 
Who are the bad guys
On the extremely popular TV show Lost, the bad guys were simply called “the others.”  By the final episode, one of the Others was in love with one of the good guys, and the leader of the Others was on the road to redemption. 
Are there any real “bad guys?”  yes and no.  Followers of Jesus see people as he did.  Did Jesus regard anyone as “other,” as “the bad guy?”  He puts requirements on we who would be his disciples.  This includes the command to love our neighbors.  Alright.  Who are those we would call ‘neighbor?’
Two weeks ago, we followed Jesus and his disciples in their turn from a circuit ministry around Northern Israel to a ministry that moved intentionally South, intentionally toward Jerusalem, intentionally toward a confrontation with the power structures of the day and a confrontation with evil itself.  Jesus would face all the enemies of humanity – Satan, sin, and death.  Paradoxically his fight came about as he surrendered to evil, endured the pain of betrayal, trial, and cross, and went to his death. 
But, we aren’t there yet.  Some of his most important lessons come along the way.  He sent out 70 disciples and they returned singing of their joyous victories which they knew came because of the power Jesus gave them.  They healed the sick.  They cast out demons.  Yet Jesus says, “I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants” (Luke 10:21b-c).
What things of the kingdom of God are more obvious to infants than the great intellects of the day, Jesus day and our own?  When the 70 went out, one such thing was God dependence.  A disciple of Jesus lives in complete dependence on the Holy Spirit actively, daily guiding and empowering his or her life.
In today’s reading we come across another incident that shows what is required of the disciple of Jesus.  It happens along the way. 
A lawyer comes.  His intent is to “test” Jesus.  Is he a follower who believes Jesus will strike down his opponents by passing the test with ease?  Is he an opponent who hopes to shame Jesus with a question that cannot be answered?
“Teacher,” he asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  The topic is controversial.  The Old Testament, which was the only scripture they had, does not contain one consistent teaching about eternal life.  Many then and now don’t believe there is such a thing.  Just as many do.  To answer the question is to take a side.  To take a side is to be opposite the other side.  This crafty lawyer thought he was turning up the heat.
But Jesus forced the theology into real life.  Theology is extremely important.  We need to speak a word (logos or ‘ology’) about God (theos).  A word about God – theology.  Theology becomes real when the word spoken about God informs and directs us in real life.
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the law?” Jesus answers. In the debate between religious leaders of the day – scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees – all agreed that the Law of Moses was the authority.  The debates came in how the law was interpreted and applied.  The same is true today.  Everyone who participates passionately in Christian debates claims their perspective is the Biblical perspective.   All sides say that. 
If that is all Jesus did, tell the lawyer to read his Bible, then Jesus’ words were not special.  But, that was just his beginning.  The lawyer responded, clearly showing knowledge of what Jesus had previously taught.  I don’t if the lawyer’s answer is what he truly believed or if he was trying to give the “right answer” to Jesus.  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”  That’s what the lawyer said.  Jesus commended the man and told him if he does this, he will have eternal life.
Ooops!  Now the hot water is near boiling, but the lawyer finds that he and not Jesus is the one in the pot.  He knows Jesus is speaking truth and not theoretical, but real life truth.  He wants to shine publically in this debate, but things have gotten deeper.  He wants eternal life.  Love your neighbor?  Jesus, who is my neighbor? 
The lawyer asked two malicious questions.  The first was cheap attempt to win a debate.  What must I do to inherit eternal life?  The second question is worse.  Who is my neighbor?  This implies that there are those who not my neighbor, those who are ‘others,’ enemies.  This questioner assumes there are bad guys and he assumes he is under no obligation to love them.  He is a Jew living in the land God promised him and all his fellow countrymen.  That land is in the proximity of unclean Gentiles, is occupied by the offensive Romans, and is next to the detested Samaritans.  None of them – Greeks, Romans, or Samaritans – could be a Jew’s neighbor.
I want to have eternal life.  Jesus is right.  God expects me to love my neighbor.  Who is my neighbor and how do I love him so that I can make sure I am covered?  Parables are literally stories cast along the way.  As Jesus walks along the way to his destiny at the cross, he tells a story that shows who and how.  It is a story about the bad guys.
A man was on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and as often happens, he was attacked and stripped by robbers.  Bloodied, he was left for dead.  He probably appeared dead.  A priest came by.  He was probably headed to the Jerusalem temple.  His duties there required him to strictly observe all laws of cleanliness.  Not only could he not touch a dead body.  He could go near it.  He saw the swelling, bloody mass of a man, and he could not help if he wanted to.  Such an action would disqualify him from his holy work in worship.  He passed by the beaten man as he should have.
Then comes a Levite who also has temple responsibilities.  Go right back to that Law of Moses Jesus so easily referenced.  All the cleanliness laws that applied to the priest applied to the Levite.  These holy men passed the victim on the far side of the road because the Law required it.  But something else is required of Jesus’ disciples.
The next one to come in Jesus’ story is the bad guy.  Cue the ominous music.  It’s a Samaritan.  A half-breed.  He, with no sense of holiness, will go right up to the bloodied man and pick him clean.  Whatever the robbers missed will fill the Samaritan’s pockets because Samaritans are mangy, alley dogs who unscrupulously scrounge the discarded waste. 
No.  He helps.  He tenderly applies medicines to the man.  He walks while the victim rides his donkey.  He diverts his course to take the victim to an inn.  He digs into his own purse to pay the innkeeper.  He pledges to return and see this story through until the man is back on his feet.  From all we’ve seen, we can trust that this dog is a noble man who will make good on his promises.  The bad guy turns out to possess the qualities Jesus is looking for in his disciples.
Then he turns to the lawyer. Who is my neighbor?  The lawyer had asked that question.  Jesus now asks, “Who was a neighbor?”  The lawyer knows and you and I know.  The neighbor is moved by compassion.  The neighbor shows mercy.  The neighbor extends himself and sacrifices in order to love through actions.  Jesus says to the lawyer, “Go and do likewise.” 
Discipleship requires that we love our neighbors as ourselves.  This is what followers of Jesus do.  What began as a theological debate about how eternal life is attained ended with a clear understanding of what neighbor love is.  In neighbor love there are no bad guys. 
Jesus shared this story as he made his way to Jerusalem.  There, on the cross, he would settle all theological debates.  We are all sinners – good guys and bad guys.  We all fall short of God’s holiness.  In his death on the cross, we have life.
The lawyer was left with the reality that he would need to spend the rest of his life discovering and perfecting neighbor love.  We do not practice neighbor love in order that we might have eternal life.  We live in the resurrection age.  We know that after the cross came the empty tomb.  We know that by putting our faith in Jesus, we have eternal life with God.
We go out of our way, sacrifice ourselves, and dedicate our lives to love of neighbor because that’s what Jesus did.  Our motivation is discipleship.  Jesus loves the neighbor, so anyone who wants to be with Jesus must also love the neighbor. 
When we walk in the way of Jesus, no one is ‘other’.  There is no work at a distant temple that matter more than walking with Jesus, living as he did and would if he were here bodily.  His Holy Spirit is here.  When we walk in His Spirit, we see no one as “bad guy;” all are neighbors to be loved.  Why? Because that is what Jesus does and if we are his followers, then that is what we do.

AMEN

Monday, July 22, 2013

The God Dependent Life

The Kingdom Walk (Luke 10:1-11, 16-20)
Sunday, July 14, 2o13

            “One thing is sure,” writes Dallas Willard, “You are somebody’s disciple.  You learned how to live from somebody else.  There are no exceptions to this rule, for human beings are just the kind of creatures that have to learn and keep learning from others how to live” (Divine Conspiracy, p.271).
            Your mom or big brother, a teacher or a coach, a boss on your first job or a Sunday school teacher in the church where you grew up; someone has mentored you along the way and consciously or unconsciously, you do things the way you do because your life is patterned after those who have influenced you.  When I consider my own life, I don’t see myself as a disciple of my drill sergeants or of the pastors who mentored me.  But that is in essence what I was.
            In 2009, our church-wide emphasis was on discipleship.  When I became the pastor here in 2006, I was greeted with this mission statement: we make passionately devoted followers of Jesus.  Shortened, it means we are in the business of disciple-making.  Living as disciples of Jesus and the work of leading people outside the family of God to become His disciples, these comprise our primary work as Christ-followers and our reason for being.  Discipleship is always an important topic and now it is time to again emphasize this topic.  We will spend the couple of months in the middle portion of the Gospel of Luke. 
            Just as our series in Galatians was about grace and not just going through Galatians for the sake of Galatians, our series is about discipleship.  Jesus as we meet him Luke’s Gospel is our teacher.  And the first lesson comes in chapter 10.  Of course there is much to be said about Luke’s Gospel and there is much on discipleship we won’t get to in 8 messages.  Our focus is on living our lives as followers of Jesus and announcers of God’s kingdom in Chapel-Carrboro, Durham-Raleigh, Hillsboro-Pittsboro, and wherever we find ourselves. We learn from Him how to live in the Kingdom of God (Willard, 283).
            Right off the bat, there are problems.  Luke makes it clear there were many more than the 12 disciples normally associated with Jesus.  We think of the twelve, but at the beginning of Luke 8 he refers to female followers of Jesus.  And here at the beginning of chapter 10, there are 70 others whom Jesus gathers and sends out in pairs. 
            Jesus is the initiator.  He claims authority and he sends them out in his name.  This was long before the resurrection, before the community worshiped Jesus and recognized him as savior.  They knew he was special and they believed his coming signaled the end times coming of the Kingdom of God, but they did not know fully who Jesus was.  But they went because he sent them.  The 70 went ahead of Jesus to the towns he would visit.
            None of this is the problem.  The trouble starts with the instructions Jesus gave.  “I am sending you like lambs into the midst of wolves” (v.3).  It does not sound like he’s trying to make this attractive.  A popular book written by a pastor promises Your Best life Now.  Jesus promises if we follow Him we will save the wolves the normal work they have to do in finding food.  I am sending you as week, dumb creatures into the jaws of intelligent, bloodthirsty carnivores; lambs into the midst of wolves.
            How does Jesus prepare his disciples for such a mission?  “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.”  Do wolves have a taste for those who are poor and rude with callouses on their feet?  Come on!            What in the world is Jesus telling us to do?  There is a strange statement about entering a house and extending peace to the house unless those in the house reject the offer and then the peace returns to you (v. 6).
            We should keep in mind that Jesus operated in a different economy and a different culture than us.  Some of what we find confusing can be attributed to cultural differences.  We will drive where we are going, not walk.  We will carry money, unless specifically instructed by God through the Holy Spirit to not carry money.  And that is part of the rub.  For an ancient to travel prepared, he would pack his sack, make sure his sandals were not going to fall apart, and carry any other necessary item he could carry.  Jesus sent the 70 others out and their only preparation was they had been following and listening to him.
            That period of time with Jesus made them ready to jump when he said “go.”  They went as he said.  The journey was not overly far, just to the towns south of Nazareth.  The journey was no overly long, and then they returned to report what had happened.  And the journey fell within a context of two important turns Luke points in chapter nine.
            First, in 9:51 it says, “He set his face to go to Jerusalem.”  Jesus knew crucifixion was on the horizon.  His work as God in the flesh began by teaching and demonstrating works of God’s power through healing and the authority to command demons and nature.  Phase two would come when he was arrested, tried, and executed, dying for the sins of the world.  In Luke 9:51, Jesus turns and the story turns from his example to the movement toward the cross.
            Second, with this turn, Jesus intensifies the call on any who would be his disciples.  At this point, one has to be all in.  A would-be follower asks leave for his father’s funeral.  Jesus responds, “Let the dead bury their dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”  Another applicant wants to delay his entrance into the program.  “I will follow you Lord; but first let me say farewell to those at my home.”  Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
            These passages are misused if one reads them and abandons family claiming it is in the service of the Kingdom.  The point is not that we leave all we love behind or skip family funerals but rather that we commit to Jesus and His instruction 100%.  Willard writes, “It is not enough to ‘sorta’ believe in a ‘sorta’ God.  But with the great God of Jesus squarely in the picture, everything else takes on a different nature and appears in a different light” (Divine Conspiracy, p.383).  Our relationships are defined by our response to Jesus.  We constantly ask, if Jesus where in my shoes, how would he handle the situation I am in.  Following Jesus is not an activity in my life; doing things Jesus’ way is not a nice, helpful guideline.  Jesus and the Kingdom He brings is my life when I decide to be His disciple.
            Of course we go, but not in our own power.  We move in complete dependence upon God both for strength and for knowledge and guidance.  Jesus had more than just these 70 followers.  This specific group was who he sent out and thus these are the one who went.  Without a money bag or fresh clothes or sandals or provisions of any kind.  They were going into hostile environments because Jesus said to go.  They were going unprepared because he said take nothing with you.  And they went.
            One of the things Jesus anticipated was good hearted reception by people who were ready of the kingdom.  Remember, the fields are ready to be harvested.  “Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide.”  He assumed it would be provided.  I remember Matthew Lawrence in Ethiopia throwing caution to the wind and eating the fresh vegetables offered to our team by our hosts at the Mesret Church even though there was legitimate concern that the vegetables had been washed in contaminated water.  I remember living in Arlington, Virginia and being invited as a guest to the home of refuges from Sudan.  The family of seven in a two-bedroom apartment barely had enough to pay the bills.  “Eat what they provide,” Jesus said. 
            In the God-dependent mission, we go when Jesus says to go.  We trust the provision he gives.  We go with the knowledge that he is also at work where we are headed.  If you go on mission trip, God is involved at your destination prior to your arrival.  Your act of discipleship, following Jesus, is to follow Him there.  Those who host you might also be his disciples, and there act of obedience to Him is to you love you when you come. 
            The willingness to go is not a case of the 70 others or you or me acting the part of super-disciples who far exceed our peers in the church in service and devotion to God.  Rather is it our focus on Jesus, being with him and carrying the message of his Kingdom and the salvation he brings.  Joel Green writes that this way of following Jesus and bearing the cross he gives, “must mean embracing and serving in a single-minded way the redemptive purpose of God” (New Testament Theology: The Theology of the Gospel of Luke, p. 109).
            How did things go?  Luke writes, “The seventy returned with joy, saying ‘Lord in your name, demons submit to us’ (10:17).  Jesus affirmed their spiritual victories and acknowledged that as they and we act in the power of God, it is a part of his battle with and victory over Satan.  However, as great as that might feel, Jesus said the greatest joy is that our names are written in Heaven (10:20).  These 70 disciples, without hesitation or complaint, charged into the fool hearted mission.  Filled with the power of God, they returned so happy they could not imagine anything could be better.  Jesus said, just wait.  Your names are written in Heaven.  You exorcised a few demons?  Great!  But you have not seen anything yet
            And it is with us.  The core message Jesus gave for his 70 to proclaim is this.  “The Kingdom of God has come near” (10:9).  That is our core message in our community.  In Jesus, the kingdom of God is so near, we can enter it today by receiving him into our lives and submitting to him as master.  We enter a live of servitude, commit to lives as disciples of Jesus, and we are in the Kingdom and we are charged to proclaim the Kingdom and proclaim the salvation of Jesus Christ.
            We do this in 1000 ways.  Maybe you have a friend you’ve wanted to help find Jesus and you’ve invested years in that friendship.  In our 21st century context, Jesus is at the heart of every blog, tweet, and text.  Each communication we make on social media may not specifically be about the Kingdom of God, but we make none without being influenced by our master, Jesus.  Maybe you are in a situation in a work group where your personal ethics and your morals are the initial way people around you realize you will do nothing that is unpleasing to Jesus.  That is the launching pad of your witness.  Examples abound, but two things are evident.
            We are not the 70, but Jesus did not give everyone around him the assignment that he gave the 70.  What he expected was the willingness and readiness that the 70 showed.  Those things are only in us when we surrender to God and depend on the power of His Spirit.
            God dependence is evident.  Secondly, the on-mission life is evident for one who will be a disciple.  The mission is to proclaim that in Jesus, the Kingdom of God has come.  We are to make this proclamation where we are, where we work and play, in Chapel Hill and surrounding areas. 

            Do you want to follow Jesus?  Do you want to abandon all and submit your life to his mastery?  Do you want to be His disciple?
            If the answer is no, then I challenge you this week to figure out who or what it is that you follow.  We are all someone’s disciple.  Whose disciple are you?  Who are you following?  Where are you being led?  And how is that working for you?
            If your answer is yes, I want to be Jesus’ disciple, you can be.  You can pray right now, asking the Holy Spirit to enter you so that you are filled with willingness and readiness that only come when we empty ourselves and live in complete dependence on God.  As a part of that prayer of commitment to discipleship, ask God to reveal where, how, and to whom you are to proclaim the gospel of salvation and the Kingdom of God this week.
            The seventy returned filled with joy from what appeared to be an impossible mission.  We will be filled with joy as we submit ourselves to Jesus and the God dependent life.

AMEN

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Some Advice for Edward, Aaron, George, and Dzhokhar

I have been browsing the news websites, and the following four people keep coming up.  I am thinking about each, what it would be like to be in his situation.  My thoughts with me happy to be sitting at my kitchen table.

What would I impart if I could sit with each?  I am transported to the transit lounge in the Moscow Airport, and I sit with Edward Snowden.  Edward, I hope you are holding up well?  Have you grown weary of weak borscht?  The good stuff is at a restaurant at the Gum Mall downtown, but I don't suppose you've been sightseeing?  No?  I didn't think so.  Edward, I am going to assume you've acted on pure motives.  You revealed what you did to expose America's practices in the so called 'war on terror.'  I am going to accept that you were driven by your own disdain for our nation's unethical behavior and not by any hope for profit.  Now, you are officially an enemy of the most powerful nation on earth and if our government gets a hold of you, you'll spend a long, long time in solitary confinement. But, suppose that doesn't happen?  What's next for you?  Venezuela?  Bolivia?  I spent a month there.  It is a lovely country.  Ecuador?  Obviously any country that admits you will be one with some kind of ax to grind with the U.S.A.  Most of the world's strongest democracies are our allies.  Wherever you end up, you won't have the freedoms you have enjoyed prior to your extended stay here in Moscow.  I advise you to immerse yourself in the culture in which you land.  Get to know as much as you can about Venezuela (or Bolivia).  Become fluent in Spanish.  Know your new nation's history and culture.  Also, keep a low profile.  If you must write, do it pseudonymously. Every few years, move to a city in another part of the nation.  Set down roots in the country, but not in anyone town.  People will be looking for you.  Don't be easy to find.  Develop your own philosophy of politics and be thorough about it.  If your writings, thoughts, and actions are controversial, then have good reasons for the things you say and do.  Dedicate your life to intellectual achievement and cultural immersion.  And for heaven's sake, don't do any unnecessary traveling outside your new home. 

As I finish the conversation, I am again transported, this time to the exercise area of the jail.  Aaron and Hernandez and I sit down on a bench as guys play basketball and lift weights.  Man, Aaron, do you realize you are one of the 4 or 5 best tight ends in the world?  Yeah, I suppose you do.  Hey don't look at me that way.  Your tendency toward violence got you into this mess and it seems to get worse for you every day.  And any way, this is my fantasy.  I don't get beat up by NFL linemen in my own fantasy.  Or, by accused murderers.  Ooh, that's weird.  In my fantasy, I am visiting four men in serious, serious trouble and giving them advise?  Maybe I need to see someone, get some help.  Sorry, Aaron, this is about you, not me.  At the risk of sounding corny, Aaron, you need to get religion.  I don't know what your life has been about and I am not going to do serious Aaron Hernandez research this evening.  Maybe you believe in God.  Maybe your belief is tattooed all over your massive triceps.  But your belief needs to be a faith that is tattooed on your heart and that defines your life.  If you are guilty, Aaron, you should spend the rest of your life in prison.  That is what I think should happen to murderers.  However, it does not mean your life is over.  Many a convict have found Jesus inside the prison walls and that is what you need more than anything.  It is something everyone has common.  Aaron, you and I do not have much we share, but we have this.  We both desperately need Jesus.  You can turn to him, right now.  Do it.  Don't expend all your energy on your defense.  Give your life, your heart, your loyalty, your energy to Jesus.  Do that and your life will be better in prison than it was catching TD's from Tom Brady.


I don't know what more to say , and anyway, I am being transported again, this time to Florida, a courtroom.  George Zimmerman is about to go in and hear the verdict, and as he waits, he and I have a moment to chat.  Well, since I am writing this, I do most of, no, all of the chatting.  
George, first, let me get this off my chest.  I am ticked off at you.  You should have stayed in your car that night.  I don't know what you were thinking or what you wanted to prove, but I am really mad at you.  I am mad because you are resurrecting all the divisions in our nation that were heightened when O.J. was acquitted.  Why can't we (we Americans) move in a different direction.  George, I am a white guy.  I am part of a generation of American Christians who have seen the orphan crisis worldwide, and especially in Africa, and I have responded with my wife by adopting two boys and a girl.  Of our three adopted kids, two are black (from Ethiopia).  Man, now, every time I see a black boy in a hoody, I think, there goes my son in about 8 or 9 years.  What did it take for me to root out the latent racism that poisoned my insides?  I had to adopt a black child.  That is not why I adopted him, but I thank God for what God did in me when I adopted my Henry.  Now, I no longer see young black men and feel myself filled with fear.  I see young black men and I think, 'there goes my Henry.'  What will it take for you George?  I don't know if you are going to walk out of that courtroom a freeman or if you are going to be led out in cuffs.  But I know this.  You need to dedicate the rest of your life to improving race relations.  You are going to get any credit for it.  Trayvon Martin's parents won't stand to applaud you.  In the public eye, you're bad guy forever.  But, the public eye doesn't matter.  What matters is your heart.  The only way your heart will change is if your entire life is given to healing the wounds of racism that have broken America, time and time again.  George, that is all I have for you.  They're about to call court to session.  When the verdict is read, don't make a show of victorious emotion if it goes your way.  Be humbled.  Know that right now, you are part of the problem.  Know that even if no one notices, you can dedicate yourself to being part of the solution.  But to do so, you need to put your gun down and open up your heart. 


As irritated as I am, I have one more stop to make.  This time, I am in Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's cell.  He is so surprised.  I wonder if he thinks I am an angel or something.  Dzhokhar, calm down.  Don't waste your mental energy guessing how I got in here.  Stop pacing.  Sit down.  Don't try to hit me.  You're still under pain meds.  You're still recovering and anyway, I am not here to fight you or argue with you or even hate or judge you.  A lot of people do.  I have many friends and relatives who live near Boston.  That have no sympathy for you.  And I don't know if what I feel is sympathy.  But I do believe you have been dangerously misguided.  That's why I am here.  You'll spend the rest of your life incarcerated.  That's a done deal.  It may be that your life ends by a lethal injection.  It may be that another inmate does you in.  Everyone dies, Dzhokhar, and your death is going to be unpleasant.  But your life between now and then does not need to be a total waste.  Here is how I think you can best pass your time.  Examine your belief system.  Remove yourself from the fired passion of extremism that led you to injure and kill highly fit joggers.  Root out of yourself all the evil and hatred that led you to harm people who had done nothing to you.  Emptied, look deep inside and also into the sacred books of scripture - Koran, Old Testament, New Testament, and any other you care to read.  Read thoroughly, carefully, and often. Read and reread.  And as you do, pray.  Dzhokhar, ask God to reveal God's self to you in a way that you cannot miss it.  I am sure you think you know the answers about God.  You were committed enough to your ideology (I won't honor it by calling it 'faith') that you spilled innocent blood.  But now, the blood is shed, your brother is dead, and you are in chains.  Now that you have a lot of quiet time, review what you believe to be ultimately true.  The next thing you face, after punishment, is eternity.  I trust God - God's reality and God's involvement with us humans.  Dzhokhar, if you seek God with an earnest heart, God will show you where you went wrong.  And,  God will forgive you.  But if you go to your death without doing the deepest of soul searches, then you are going to face God as an unrepentant murderer.  If you choose that route, your eternity is bleak, to put it mildly.  Seek God, Dzhokhar.  That is all you have left.


As I said, I am relieved to write all this in comfort of my gym shorts in my wonderful Chapel Hill home.  I am thankful to God for the life I have.  But in my prayer, I want to go before Him on behalf of others.  Jesus said to pray for your enemies.  I don't know that any of these four is directly my enemy.  But I am sure God wants me to pray for each, and that is what I am doing in writing this blog.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Feedback - Something I Welcome

I am a pastor, which means one of my main responsibilities is to preach a sermon every week.  It is a responsibility I take seriously.  My goal is to bring the church to the point where the story of their lives intersects and then merges with the story of the Bible.  In this two-part movement of intersection and merger, I hope that people will hear God speaking into their lives.

Many weeks, I get no feedback, or unspecific affirmation.  No feedback is self-explanatory.  People say nothing about the sermon and I thus have no idea how it affected them.  Unspecific affirmation is encouraging but from the standpoint of understanding the effectiveness it is unhelpful.  

Kind individuals say to me, "Good sermon, Rob."  They smile and I smile and say, "Thank you."  I have no idea how the message made any kind of influence or had any kind of impact on that person.  Why was it good?  What about it was important?  Where will it lead?  "Good sermon, Rob," is a nice statement, but unhelpful.  

This past Sunday, I received three comments that I will summarize here.  I feel this feedback has the potential to generate conversation from which all participants can grow in their knowledge of God and practice of faith.

** By the way, to reference the message, just refer to the previous blog post on The Produce of Grace.  All my messages are put into manuscript form and posted on this blog.


(1) In the sermon, I listed steps we can take to open ourselves to the Holy Spirit.  I did say that God comes at God's initiative.   But these steps are things we can do to ready ourselves for when God chooses to fill us.  One listener did not hear it that way.  She felt I was saying we had to do these steps before the Spirit comes.  These steps are prerequisites and the Spirit won't come until we do these things.  I did not say that, but that is what she heard.

(2) In the sermon, I referenced Hell, and I said that it is the condition of being eternally separated from God.  I said that when the Bible talks of lakes of fire or outer darkness, those are metaphors for depicting how awful it is to be eternally cut off from God.  My sermon was not about Hell, but I did make that reference.  One listener was very concerned that I might not think Hell is a place.  Indeed, I found in trying to answer this question that I need to do more work in my own study and develop more thoroughly my understanding of Hell.  I am absolutely convinced that the descriptions of Hell in the New Testament are all descriptions by comparison - metaphors and similes.    But, I find myself without a concise response when asked, "Is Hell a place?"  I appreciate this feedback because it shows me where I need to do additional study.

(3) A third question that came up was about Christians relating to Christians and to non-Christians.  As I mentioned, I offered steps to opening ourselves to the Holy Spirit.  One step was to get the junk out of our lives.  Junk includes addictions, bad behaviors, and also toxic relationships.  Of course, we cannot accomplish this cleansing without much help including God's help.  But we can do our part and try to rid our lives of harmful behaviors and damaging relationships.  Another step I suggested is to fill our lives with participation in worship, missions, and other Christian activities.  One listener said this could potentially be interpreted as a "Holy Huddle" mentality.  People might hear me saying, 'have nothing to do with anyone outside the church.'  I was not saying that and she, the listener, did not hear it that way, but she said my words could be interpreted that way.


Those three pieces of feedback are great for helping me think through things as I review my preaching from the previous week and look forward to this coming week.  I invited seven of our members to review what I said to see if they had these concerns and none did.  

My conclusion at this point in what is an ongoing conversation is that I need to be as clear as possible in my communication, I need to accept that some will disagree with my conclusions but that does not mean I need to change my views, and I do need to do some work in my theology of Hell.

I invite you in the comments section to add your thoughts to this conversation.  I love feedback.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Produce of Grace (Galatians 5:16-26)


Sunday, July 7, 2013

            In this reading, did you find anything confusing or challenging?  We have spent six weeks in Galatians, the letter the first century Christ-follower Paul wrote to churches he planted in Asia Minor.  Paul was in a battle for the hearts of the people.  Other teachers had insisted that the whole letter of the Law of Moses be kept in order for one to be among the people of God whether that one was Jew or Gentile.  Paul responded that God had come in Jesus, and in that coming the law was fulfilled.  Its purposes were achieved.  To be among God’s people, one had to follow Jesus, not worry about the law.
            Now, toward the end of his argument, Paul lists the works of the flesh.  He ends the catalogue of damning behavior when he says, “Those who do such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God” (v.21).  Does it sound like Paul established a new law?  He spent the entire letter hammering the Galatians for being tempted to go back to the Law of Moses.  Now in the end, he lists forbidden behaviors: jealously, anger, dissentions, drunkenness and the like.  He also lists expected behaviors, what we call the “Fruit of the Spirit.”  These include joy, kindness, patience, gentleness, self-control, and others. 
Between the “don’t do” and the “must do” lists, the apostle says those who do what is on the “don’t do” list will not inherit the kingdom of God.  Is a legalist just like those he attacks only with a different set of rules? 
It comes down to grace.  Do we live on our own power or do we live on the power of God?  That statement, that life in the flesh will not inherit the kingdom, is at the heart of this reading and the heart of the Gospel.  We must crucify the flesh as Paul says in verse 24.  We crucify the flesh and live in the spirit.  We die to self and in Christ are born again.  How?  In one sense, we there is nothing we can do to make it happen.  However, in a moment, I will offer some thoughts that can set us up, orient us, for receiving the Spirit. 
I said that the question comes down to grace.  It also comes down to markers.  The contest in Galatians is not only salvation by faith verses salvation by works.  It was about who is in and who is out.  Jews did not think they were saved by keeping the law.  They didn’t need to be saved.  They were already God’s chosen people by virtue of being Jews.  The teachers rivaling Paul in Galatians believed to be God’s people one needed to be Jewish.  To be Jewish, one had to keep the law and be circumcised.  Circumcision and law were markers.  Paul rejects these and instead says the markers of God’s people are baptism and Spirit. 
His entire point is that without the Holy Spirit, all people will fall into the sinful nature, another ways of saying the work of the flesh.  Without the Spirit, we cannot help but impurity, enmity, strife, and everything else he lists.  The reason he says “those who do such things will not inherit the Kingdom” is they don’t have the Spirit.  The expressions of the sinful nature listed in Galatians 5:19-21 are signs that someone has not received Jesus and is not filled with the Holy Spirit.  Only those filled with the Holy Spirit can enter God’s Kingdom. 
The two lists, the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit, are not qualifiers.  These are indicators.  John William MacGorman notes that the works of the flesh are the evidence of the ungraced life (Broadman Bible Commentary, 1971, p. 118).  We cannot earn our way to God.  Salvation is a gift of grace.  I strongly believe God holds this gift out to all humans and some refuse to receive it.  Those who do are in ungraced lives and this will be evident in what their lives produce.
As our six-week series on grace is now in the final message, my hope is we will live out the grace we have been given.  God’s work in our lives should dramatically change us.  This is the second pillar of our church’s foundation.  We believe God has created us to be a safe community where people meet Jesus, become new creations in Him, and are sent out into the world to share his Gospel: Safe-New-Sent.  The second part of that, New, means we become new beings in Christ.  We are born again. 
Along these lines, we may look at Galatians 5, and especially the Fruit of the Spirit list, and we may say, “OK, I need to do these things.  I need to look at my life and figure out how I can love and be joyful and make peace and have patience and exercise generosity.”  We determine that we will take our scripture and work really hard at love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc.  But what such an effort accomplish?  I don’t know for sure, but if it involves me reading the Bible and then putting forth max effort, what will be produced will not be the fruit of the Spirit.  It will be the fruit of Rob.  And I already know that the fruit of Rob might have some love in it, but there is a lot that other stuff, the works of the flesh. 
Working hard at love and peace and patience and the other manifestations of the fruit is good.  It is fine to do that.  But that is not where the graced life starts.  Remember the works of the flesh indicate who I am.  If I am of the flesh, then I am living on my own, apart from God.  Hell is spending eternity on my own, apart from God.
The fruit of the Spirit is an indicator that the person is full of the Holy Spirit of God.  Love, joy, patience, gentleness, kindness – that is not the result of my determined effort.  Those things cannot help but pour out when I full to the brim with the Spirit of the living God.  The key is to be full of the Spirit. 
This gets tricky because this is something we cannot control.  Similarly, in the safe-new-sent construct, we cannot make ourselves new.  We cannot renew ourselves.  We cannot cause anyone to be born again.  God does this.  God has His own agenda.  God sets the timing.  We cannot push it or force it. 
What then is the take-away of all the grace talk?  Do we end just hoping that we are among those God deems to save?  I don’t think so.  I think we have more to go on than just the sense that God will save some and we might among those lucky enough to receive grace. 
I mentioned a moment ago that Paul says, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24).  I offer a process for how that can happen.  What I share here is based on Raymond Stamm’s comments in the volume on Galatians in the old Interpreter’s Bible (1953, p.570-571).
The first step is confession.  We have to recognize that there is in us either fornication or jealousy or quarrels or something else listed in Galatians 5:19-21.  I don’t think there is a human alive that can claim innocence of all that is there.  But if someone looks over it all and says, “I am clean,” we quickly burst that bubble when we point out that this sin list is representative.  Similar lists are found in 1 Corinthians 5:11; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 2 Timothy 3:2-5; and Titus 3:9.  Don’t bother going through all of them!  To be filled with the Spirit, we must confess that without Christ, we are damned in the works of the flesh.
The second step is to put ourselves under the control of the love of Christ.  We voluntarily subjugate ourselves.  The lists are in these passages are useful when, as a part of our spiritual practice, the items on the lists show us the boundaries.  We strive to stay in bounds.  We also put others first.  Obedience and sacrifice are tangible ways we can know we are under the control of Jesus’ love. 
A third step is emptying.  We give up harmful practices – drinking, smoking, drug use.  We stop watching junk movies.  We end toxic relationships.  It doesn’t mean the other person cannot be redeemed.  It just means we recognize that with that other person both and I are headed for trouble.  So, as matter of presenting myself to Jesus, I end certain friendships.  Emptying involves rooting out all the things in our lives that are antithetical to or opposite of the Jesus.  We cannot be filled with Spirit until we are emptied of all other things.
Fourth, we fill life up with missional, gospel-sharing, community-building, church-strengthening activities.  VBS, mission trips, small groups, worship, potluck suppers, Bible studies – these are all examples.  Stamm writes that we become “so busy in the service of others that all flesh works die of starvation.”
Fifth, we deal with our thoughts and actually work to change our thoughts.  This is a collaborative effort.  The individual Christian (you or me), a spiritual mentor working through conversation and feedback, and the Holy Spirit responding to prayer cooperate to help change the mind.  Of course confession is cathartic.  Love discovered in submitting one’s self to Christ begins warming the heart.  Emptying is painful, but then freeing.  Missional service activity fills the days of the individual and we think about what we are doing.  The first four steps help us to begin changing the mind.  Also, thought prayers throughout the day draw us to the one who helps.  As the sinful nature darkens our hearts, we (in our minds and maybe out loud) shout, “lord, help me.  Draw me to you.”
Finally, the last step in crucifying the flesh is vision.  We develop a vision for society that is based on the world’s renewal that will come Christ returns and the Kingdom is finally, fully inaugurated.  This essentially means we develop a Christ-centered, Gospel worldview. 
What part does each one of us play in crucifying the flesh so that we will be filled with the spirit?  We confess, submit ourselves to Christ, empty ourselves ridding ourselves of all that is harmful, fill our time with missional activity, change our thoughts, and develop a Christian worldview.  That is it.  That’s all we can do.  Then we have to trust that God will give us His grace. 
He will.  Recall that Paul began the letter saying “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (1:3-4).  Through Jesus, God is the giver of grace who offers salvation to all who come to Him in repentance.  The produce of grace, the fruit of the Spirit, is the sign of an individual and of a people who are have been born again. 
Paul’s own journey ended with him under house arrest in Rome.  The Bible does not record how things went after he arrived in Rome under guard, nor does the Bible tells us about his death.  But from his writings we know he was as confident as anyone has ever been of anything when he wrote about God’s grace and we can be too.  God’s plan was to save the world from sin and death through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.  God wants you to be part of that plan.  If you have not done so before now, turn to God in faith by confessing your sin and receiving Jesus as your Lord.  If you have, then this week pray about these steps toward becoming Spirit-filled so that when others look to your life they will see the Fruit of the Spirit, the produce of Grace.

AMEN

Monday, July 1, 2013

Humbled

            A month ago, tornados in Oklahoma were pretty big news.  However, for me, it could have been on another planet as easily as Oklahoma.  I have never been to that state and where I live, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, weather is not usually a big deal.  We appreciate mild winters and gripe about how July and August are sticky and hot.  But we do not get blizzards or dangerously cold temperatures.  There are tornado warnings but we rarely see them.  There are no volcanoes or earth quakes. 
            However, recently we have had a lot of rain and on June 30, we had more than usual.  There was even some flooding.  Our associate pastor wisely canceled a Sunday evening event due to the dangerous road conditions. Beyond an explanation any competent meteorologist could offer, is there theological purpose?  Was God trying to tell Chapel Hill something with this hard rain?
            When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, thousands of lives were lost.  A few preachers callously said God sent the storm on America as punishment for our sins.  Such inane interpretation disregards all the nonchristians who survived and all the Christians who died.  Such a foolish response also ignores Jesus’ words in Luke 13:1-5.
            I don’t think God said, I am sending this hurricane to punish America, or, I need to get Chapel Hill’s attention, so I will flood East Gate Shopping Center.  I do not believe it works exactly that way.  I do not believe the line from storms (catastrophic or inconveniencing) can be drawn directly from God’s hand to our situation.  Weather happens and we need to deal with it.
            I do though think the weather, on good days and bad days, is a reminder that we humans are not in control.  Human scientific achievement is remarkable and has been used for previously unheard of acts of healing and disease prevention and disease cure.  Our church is full of scientists who could explain better than me the marvelous advances that have been made in science in just a few years’ time. 
            But we are not in control and last Sunday’s floods may achieve a theological end if they remind us of that.  The world is God’s.  We are His possession.  No matter how independent we would like to imagine we are, in truth, we belong to God.  Rebelling against that brings us great spiritual, physical, and emotional discomfort.  Willingly surrendering our hearts to God’s lordship brings joy. 

            It is not a bad thing to be humbled.  Only in our humility (and humiliation) can we realize the grace God has given in Jesus and gives daily in the Holy Spirit.  That grace raises us up to soar on eagle’s wings (Isaiah 40:31).  I do not know how much God is involved in daily weather patterns.  I do not think it is possible to assert God’s level of control.  Does it happen?  Does he direct everything?  These questions cannot be answered.  But if God uses the rain to humble me and in my humility I reach out to Him and in reaching out I find grace, then I thank God for the rain.


The Commitment to Love (Galatians 5:14)

The Grace to Choose Love (Galatians 5:1-15)


            When we respond to the grace of God by putting out faith in Jesus, we also make a commitment.  To receive the salvation God gives is to pledge to something.  We enter into a covenant in which there is a promise we make.
            What is that promise?  When you and I say, we are with Jesus, what are we committing to do for the rest of our lives?
            Paul makes the following statements:
“If you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you.”

                        And

“In Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.”

            Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; Paul is not talking about a procedure done to the foreskin of boy babies.  That procedure is a representative action that points to the real matter at hand.  The procedure marks someone as a Jew – or it did in Paul’s time and place.  Jews were different and one of the ways they stood out was circumcision.  Sabbath keeping was also distinctively Jewish.  So too was the reading of the scriptures – our Old Testament.  These actions marked the Jews off as strange in the eyes of Africans, Greeks, and Romans in the first century Greco-Roman world.  For Jews themselves, it meant they were special.
            Now Paul, speaking the Gospel of Jesus, says, yes, we Jews are special.  But, the circumcision, the Sabbath-keeping, the law – none of it is needed any longer because all of it has led to this moment.  God has come in Jesus.  Jesus has fulfilled the law.  So what formerly marked us as God’s people no longer does.  Now the marker is baptism – baptism into Christ.
            To remain in the circumcision, the former way, is to fail to enter fully into Christ. Christians sin.  Those who do not follow Christ, occasionally do good things.  Who is in with God, and who is not – these things sometimes are difficult to know.  In terms of identifying people, uncertainty abounds.  I don’t know who in the church is truly with God or is not with God, and I don’t know who outside the community faith I meet in a secular environment is actually a Christ-follower.  I cannot judge people.  None of us can.
But this is certain.  You and I can only be pointed in one direction at one time.  To be pointed toward God is to follow Jesus, even when we fall off the path.  Even when our choices are bad and we appear lost, if we are oriented toward God, we are attempting to follow Jesus. 
            To point ourselves in another direction and to follow the lead of some other authority is to remove Jesus from our lives.  The issue at stake in Galatians was authority.  Someone told the Galatians that they could be of Christ, but the law was still the final authority so circumcision was a necessity, even for adult Gentiles who converted to Christ.  Paul responded with a resounding “no!”  The law cannot be an authority because Jesus is the authority.    To grant authority to the law is to take it away from him.  Hence the assertion in chapter 5 verse 2.  “If you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit.”
            What authorities in our lives occupy the place that belongs to Jesus?  Paul did not say circumcised persons were cut off from Christ.  Paul himself was a Jew all the way.  Jews could keep Sabbath and read the Torah and be Christ followers.  But they had to allow that all authority is his and they had to recognize that Gentiles could come to God through Christ without becoming Jewish.  We have to recognize that Jesus is the ultimate authority.  If he only is a small part in our lives, he is of no benefit.  Jesus is either Lord – master, and we belong to Him as his possession, or we are lost.
             
“If you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you.”

                        The second statement, from Galatians 5:6 is …

“In Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.”

            We are saved by faith.  We are saved by the faithfulness of Jesus and we are saved from sin and death when we put our complete trust in him and confess our sins and give our lives to him. 
            The love acts in Jesus coming as a man and dying on the cross.  God’s grace comes and comes, in waves, as we realize what faith makes possible.  Due to grace we have faith.  Faith leads to salvation, which is freedom from sin and freedom from the demands that we live under the law and make acts of penance when we fail to do so.  This entire movement – from law to faith, from process to relationship – this is the essence of grace.  It leads to love. 
            In God’s new dealings with humanity, now defined by Jesus and our acceptance or rejection of him, the only thing that God cares about is faith working through love.  And we know love by how we treat people and how we see people. 
            Of the many implications the coming of Jesus has for every human being, one is the freedom we have in Christ.  The only obligation on us is love.  As verse 14 states, “The whole law is summed up in a single command, ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  We may suppose in writing this Paul is quoting Leviticus 19:18. 
            However, the Leviticus passage, right out of the law Paul says we no longer need, does not declare that all commands are found in this one.  The Leviticus command is definitely ‘love your neighbor as yourself,’ but Leviticus does not assert that this is essence of the entire law.  Who did that?  Jesus.
            The Gospels were not written until at the earliest, the 60’s.  Paul’s letters were all completed by the time the first Gospel, Mark, was written down.  So how does Paul know Jesus’ unique interpretation of the law?  He could not pick up a copy of Mark and flip to chapter 12 where Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mk. 12:30-31).  He did not walk with Jesus.  He was not there when Jesus taught this way of understanding God’s law.  So how did know?
            In all likelihood, what we read in the gospels, circulated orally in churches before Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote it down.  The similarity of Paul’s teaching to Jesus’ teaching, and even the wording, suggests that the very first Christian communities taught that the totality of Israel’s confession as the people of God came to fruition in Jesus and the essence of the law is love.  This also means we have the teaching of Jesus and it has not changed from the first days of Christianity to now. 
            Thus our life of following Jesus runs along a progression that begins with us realizing how much we need God.  We are sinners and when we know that, then we turn to God are forgiven, released from sin’s hold.  Then we have freedom - freedom only to be found is that given by God in Jesus.  From realization to forgiveness to new life, a new life of freedom we then arrive back at the start.  
            I began saying …
            When we respond to the grace of God by putting our faith in Jesus, we also make a commitment.  To receive the salvation God gives is to pledge to something.  We enter into a covenant in which there is a promise we make.
            What is that promise?  When you and I say, we are with Jesus, what are we committing to do for the rest of our lives?
            We commit to living in love and loving our neighbors.  This is the ultimate end of the freedom we have.  We are free to choose.  Leander Keck calls Galatians a “manifesto of Christian freedom” (The New Testament Experience of Faith, 113).  But this does not mean ‘anything goes.’  That’s chaos, not freedom.  ‘Anything goes’ describes the path of the projectiles when a bomb explodes in a house.  Who can say where the sink will land or in what direction the roof shingles will fly?  That ‘anything goes’ way of thinking that many people think they want ends in destruction.  When humans try go live out the ‘anything goes’ approach to life, it is their lives that get destroyed.
            Freedom comes with a responsibility: the responsibility to make right choices.  For followers of Jesus Christ, there is just one choice.  In whatever situation in which we find ourselves, we have committed to determine what love would do and then do it.  We have committed ourselves to love. 
            Paul says, “[We] were called to freedom brothers and sisters; only do not use freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another” (5:13).  Grace leads to confession, confession leads to forgiveness, forgiveness leads to faith, faith leads to new life and to freedom, and freedom leads us to, in Christ, choose love. 
            Paul’s grand concern was that his readers would not understand what distinguished them as people of God.  He feared that in reaching for the law they were turning away from faith dependence on Jesus.  Turning to the law, they turned to that which does not save and also draws them away from the one does save.
            How will the world know who is of God?  How in our context will those around us know that we belong to Jesus?  Paul answered this directly.  “The Whole law is summed up in a single commandment.  ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (5:14).        
            Jesus also answered directly.  He told the disciples and he tells us, John 13:35, “By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  We have received God’s grace.  We are his.  We don’t need to do anything to accomplish it.  But we have made promise and we need to keep it.  We are to love one another, all people that meet.  Grace is divine grace when it leads us to live in love.

AMEN