To Be Continued

On this Reformation Sunday we are reminded by the apostle Paul that our salvation is a gift from God. Romans 3:24-25 say that we are made right with God when we believe that Jesus sacrificed his life for our salvation. If we connect the dots in these two verses, we can see that we are justified by faith; there is nothing we can do in order to acquire this gift of salvation other than, simply, to have faith.

Faith in God’s ability to give this gift.

Faith in the reality of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

Faith in the power of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross to bring us into right relationship with God.

Faith in God’s ability and desire to affect real change in the messy lives of real people, like you and me.

Now, let’s be clear: Our faith doesn’t make it so – God’s gift of grace is real whether I choose to believe it’s real or not. Our faith simply receives this gift with open arms.

The message we find in Romans 3:28 reveals the fact that humans throughout time have had great difficulty accepting this gift of God on faith alone; there has to be a catch! Right? The skeptic would say that gifts always come with strings attached. The Catholic church in Martin Luther’s day, much like the Pharisees Jesus encountered, preached the necessity of doing the right things and following all the rules in order to be right with God. In order to somehow “deserve” or “earn” salvation. Yet Paul proclaims “that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.”

And Martin Luther picked up where Paul left off, carrying this word and this truth into his own time; through the doors of the churches where he worshiped and into the streets of the places he called home. Martin Luther knew that the work of Jesus’ first followers was only the beginning; this work was To Be Continued – and that’s just what Luther did.

And that’s just what Jesus meant when He “said to the Jews who had believed in him: If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples” (John 8:31). To continue assumes the start of something; and that something for Jesus’ original disciples was a relationship with Him. Jesus’ first followers spent days and months along dusty roads, listening to Him talk, watching Him care for others, learning about God firsthand from the Master. We may not have Jesus’ physical presence, but we listen to Him speak through Scripture, which is amplified by His Spirit’s confirming presence in our hearts. When Jesus tells us, then, to continue in His word, it is clear that He didn’t mean “follow all the rules” in some legalistic way – that was never the spirit of His teaching.

Likewise, to continue in Jesus’ word does not mean resting on the laurels of our salvation, getting fat and happy on His good graces. To continue in Jesus’ word does not mean hanging up a shingle or putting down a stake, as if to say “here is where God acted – let’s set up camp forever,” as if the story has ended and all that’s left is for it to be retold.

Martin Luther and his fellow reformers did what they did as a continuation of Jesus’ word. We celebrate their efforts today! The problem, though, is that many who followed the reformers failed to take up the standard and march on. Instead of raising the rallying cry “To Be Continued!” we label ourselves “Lutheran.” We institutionalize the words of the reformers, and we repeat them again and again, as if the story has ended and all that’s left is for it to be retold, making the church of today look strikingly similar to the unmovable institution that Luther leveraged his life to reform.

But, if we listen to Jesus, and if we consider what the reformers did to continue in Jesus’ word, we can’t help but see our calling as a continuation of the Gospel, as a continuation of the Reformation, as a work of the Holy Spirit To Be Continued in our lives on this day. That’s why we wear red, which represents the Spirit who is moving through the church like wildfire, creating heat and burning off the selfish and complacent chaff.

What begins for each of us as pure gift – grace and salvation and forgiveness in Christ – is To Be Continued as we seek to be true to His word in this church where we worship, and on the streets of the places we call home.

Believing is only the beginning! The life of Christ is To Be Continued in us.

 

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Just Be HONEST

Seriously ridiculous.

It’s PINK Tuesday and I am on the road… again.

In the air, rather, and en route to the gathering of some of my favorite kinds of folks – youthworkers.

Tired. Overworked. A little cranky. A little crazy. (Sounds a LOT like ME!)

 

You can ask them – my family will tell you that this description fits. Sometimes I am pretty unclear about what my gifts are and how to use them in the world, for God’s glory and for the good of others. Maybe you can relate?

If you’ve got about 20 minutes and need to know that your gifts matter, click this link for a video introduction and an audio message, recorded at my home church on Sunday, Nov. 13th 2011:

Just Be Honest

Thank you for flying with Pink Shoes Ministries!

 

Life Together (a PINK Tuesday post)

Life is HARD (can I get an ‘amen’?).

Life TOGETHER can be harder.

I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but today’s topic is DISCIPLINE.
I know – we’re as crazy about discipline as a biting toddler or a teenager whose driver’s permit is burning a hole in the wallet.

Spiritual discipline, as with parental discipline, well – it’s part of being in the FAMILY!
Those of you with children know that kids NEED their LIMITS! Children need to know where they stand and what they can and cannot do, for their safety and for their well-being. Isn’t that what the child development specialists teach – the need for ‘healthy boundaries’?

It’s as if King David had just walked out of a seminar on discipline when he wrote the words of Psalm 119, saying things to God like:
‘Teach me your commands; help me understand your rules; lead me on YOUR path because it makes ME HAPPY! I WANT to follow YOU!’

We, like David, are children in God’s family. And we come together as a family of faith looking a lot like a collection of pottery, formed by the Master’s hands.
Only, some of us are cracked.
Others, chipped.
Broken.
Maybe just a chard or a piece of something that used to hold water; that used to be whole.

We come together AS A FAMILY and we know that LIFE IS HARD.
But LIFE TOGETHER, well, sometimes that’s even HARDER.

I imagine that this is what prompted Jesus to give His followers a ‘prescription’ for how to handle conflict in the church (Matthew 18:15-20). Jesus KNEW what all of us KNOW – that LIFE TOGETHER is HARD.

Any group of people can be a community. Jesus teaches us that the distinguishing factor – the MARK of togetherness in the Body of Christ – is that when we come together IN JESUS’ NAME, HE HIMSELF is here, with us! The idea here is not unlike what happened in the books of Exodus and 2 Chronicles, when the presence of God Himself came to dwell in the midst of His people. The Hebrew word for it is Shechinah, which means ‘the special presence of God’. When God Himself came down to the people, His presence (like a cloud) filled the worship space! His glory was so powerfully present that in these two stories, Moses & the priests couldn’t even enter the sanctuary because God had filled it UP with HIMSELF!

When we gather in His Name, Jesus’ own presence is like that! His glory is so complete that what we thought we were there to do is often consumed by HIS agenda, HIS direction, HIS energy, HIS PRESENCE! When Jesus comes to church, or to Bible study, or to a meeting where the common denominator in those attending IS HIS NAME, He makes our time together something OTHER THAN what we would have made it on our own.

And this is why Jesus’ words in Matthew 18 work – because when 2 or 3 believers get together in His Name, Jesus Himself is there. He fills us with His presence and we become part of what He is doing in the room. Two people who disagree CAN work things out when they both have Jesus’ Name on their lips and His Spirit in their hearts!

But this is not always the case, because sometimes we meet and we have some other name on our lips, some other presence in our hearts, like –
Jealousy. Anger. Fear. A problem or relationship or issue that we’ve allowed to take precedence over Jesus’ Name.

That’s why Jesus gives a Step 2 and a Step 3 – and even a Step 4 in our Matthew text; because even in the church, we sometimes forget why we’re here in the first place. We forget that this isn’t about me, or you, or even US. It’s about HIM.

When we make our gatherings about Jesus, His presence not only changes how we talk and what we find important enough to talk about, but His presence changes US. We’re somehow BETTER when He is here!

But Jesus’ presence goes beyond affecting our behavior toward one another. What Jesus DIDN’T DO is lay out a bunch of rules and regulations and then say, “See ya! Good luck with that!” and walk away. When the Spirit of God comes to live inside of us, He doesn’t coexist with our selfish needs and desires… HE FILLS THE TENT! And in filling us up, we’re left with the PROOF of His PRESENCE – the evidence that He is here and we belong to Him… and that evidence is: LOVE!

We might even go so far as to say:
The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing: and the MAIN THING IS: LOVE!

According to Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, LOVE fulfills the law. LOVE is the only debt we owe to one another. When we LOVE another person as we love ourselves, we can do them no wrong. When we wring out the details and get down to the nitty gritty, ALL of the commandments can be summed up in this word: LOVE.

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing: and the MAIN THING IS: LOVE!
Right?

But I think that sometimes we use our incomplete understanding of LOVE as an excuse to avoid the commands of the Lord…

After all, Paul says all we have to do is love each other & it will be impossible to sin! Sounds great! Simple!

Tempting, though, to throw up the love ‘blinders’ and ignore, well, EVERYTHING ELSE.
And yet LOVE is nothing if not the manifestation of God’s real presence:
Where GOD is, LOVE is.
And where LOVE is, LIGHT SHINES.

Love’s light shining on God’s Word illuminates His teachings, His commands and His ways SO THAT we see the path clearly before us, like David prayed in Psalm 119.

God’s WAY is exposed by the light of love, and by the way – so are the obstacles and the temptations that threaten to trip us up and stop traffic on the road.

Love’s light shining in community makes us BETTER than we ARE!

And it’s BECAUSE of love that we don’t ignore the struggles we have with people. Otherwise, why would Jesus have given us tools to work through these problems with others?

As parents of earthly kids and as brothers & sisters in faith, we WANT each other to be well prepared for life, and we KNOW this means we will all make mistakes. If we’re to learn from our mistakes, well, we have to take responsibility for our part in those mistakes. In this family that is the church, when we excuse one another’s bad behavior and take on the burden of someone else’s poor decisions, we aren’t doing anyone any favors! Instead, we are called through voices like Paul’s to ‘lock in our empathy, love and understanding’ (Love & Logic) from the word ‘go’, BEFORE the consequences of our actions roll out. That way, when all is said and done, we KNOW that we are LOVED. No matter how clumsy we are. No matter how far we’ve strayed. No matter what harm may have been done.

We know – ALL of us know – that LIFE is HARD.
And let’s face it – there are times when LIFE TOGETHER IS HARDER.

But when two or three or more of us gather in Jesus’ Name, His presence can change all of that. And when we’re marked by the proof of His presence – when we are marked by LOVE – the light that shines from the Word into our lives has the power to clear up our confusion, to heal our relationships and to make us BETTER than we ARE on our own.

Now, that’s a message I don’t want to hear again.

I want to LIVE IT.

Listen to this message as recorded on Sunday, September 4, 2011: Life Together.

What’s On Tap? L4L.14

By Clareen BarrettThe WORD

Today’s Literal 4 Lent post is based on John 4:5-42 (click here to read the text online).

For many of us, this is a familiar story. It’s always tempting, with familiar stories, to fall back on what we already know about it. Sometimes these previous learnings can keep us from being open to a fresh, new picture of the truth that God wants to paint with His Word.

I like visuals. If I can connect a learning with a picture in my head, it’s more likely to stick. The picture above is of a painting done by my friend, Clareen Barrett. What I like about this painting of Clareen’s is that it sets the scene for us – it’s actually her vision of what this well in Sychar might have looked like – but you’ll notice that something is missing…

Neither Jesus nor the woman are in the picture.

Whether or not she painted it this way on purpose, I like how it invites me to place MYSELF in this scene – an invitation to step into the story WITH Jesus. To join Him there, sitting at the edge of the well.

We’re going to do a bit of text-weaving today, as we consider the literal applications of Jesus’ words at the well. Exodus 17:1-7 is important to a new understanding of this story, and it begins with these words:

“The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded…”

Which reminds me, I was in Las Vegas last week! Now, I know that the biblical Desert of Sin probably had less neon and fewer temptations than the desert that is Las Vegas, but don’t miss the irony as the story of the Israelites unfolds.

The Israelites’ Desert of Sin DID have temptations; in particular, when they found themselves without water, their intense physical thirst tempted them to demand that Moses GIVE THEM WATER! Things got pretty ugly between them, with Israel grumbling and complaining to the point of being ready to kill Moses if he didn’t come through.

Now, keep in mind that I am remembering Vegas, but this behavior of God’s people reminds me of the way in which we belly-up to the bar to quench our “thirst” (or, if you’re short like me, you elbow-up to the bar…).

Israel had been rescued by God, fed by God, and sustained by God up to this point, yet their THIRST threatened to get the better of them. WE argue with and test God, just like Israel did, sometimes even to the point where we find ourselves asking “is the Lord here with me or NOT?

The people of Israel were not satisfied that their thirst was being met by God, so they looked to Moses – the MAN – as their source and provider. When our THIRST isn’t met to OUR SATISFACTION, we look to quench it with whatever is available, too. And sometimes that means bellying up to the bar for a large draught of what’s on tap.

The place where this happened, in the Desert of Sin, was a place called “Rephidim.” Ironically, “Rephidim” in Greek means “Refreshments,” which is exactly what Israel was thirsty for.

In this story, the good news is that God comes through for Israel, in spite of their complaints and ugliness. God leads Moses to a rock from which He brings fresh, clear water for His people to drink. God IS FAITHFUL to provide ‘refreshment’ to His people, just as the woman at the well provided for the physical refreshment of Jesus by meeting his need for water to drink. But there’s MORE to being ‘refreshed’, isn’t there? More than a cup of water or a cold & frothy brew?

The water that poured from the rock in the desert was refreshment for a physical thirst. Scholars have suggested that this scene out of Israel’s history is the physical representation of a harder-to-grasp spiritual truth, and since we’re into visuals today, get this picture in your head…

The ROCK is Christ Himself, our salvation and the best picture of God we have on earth. The staff or walking stick that Moses uses to strike the rock is the Law – the old covenant – the system of rule-keeping laid out for the Jewish people in the first 5 books of the Old Testament. The act of hitting the rock with the staff is a picture of the crucifixion, where the system of Law lashes out at the human representation of God Himself, and He is pierced.

But as it was for the Israelites, what resulted from the piercing was a cleansing flow of life-giving water. For them, drinking water. For us, Living Water.

Romans 5:5 says that “God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who is God’s gift to us.” The Living Water Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman about IS the Living Spirit of God that gushes up to eternal life! Draughts of love, where what’s on tap will NEVER run dry!

When she dropped her buckets at the watering hole that day, the Samaritan woman brought all of her ‘stuff’ along with her, and she was met by the Well-Tender Himself – the one who knew exactly what would provide the refreshment that she needed, and knew exactly how to get it.

And when He took a seat at the well on that day, Jesus did so in the face of a set of rules and conventions that made even His PRESENCE there a blatant disregard for customary Jewish behaviors and social norms of the time. Not only were the Jews to steer clear of Samaritans, but religious rule-keeping also dictated that men were not to ‘socialize’ with women. To top it off, Jesus was a rabbi and a teacher. No self-respecting holy man of the day would have been caught in the company of a disreputable woman, especially one whose ill-repute had much to do with many men.

Apparently, Jesus had no problem with breaking the rules of men in order to do the work of God, no matter what the consequences might be.

When we belly or elbow up to the bar, we each come with our own set of issues, too – just like Israel in the Desert of Sin. Just like the Samaritan woman at the well. We bring our complaining, our history, our doubts, our wrong turns, our failed relationships, our bad choices.

Physical thirst will be temporarily quenched over and over and over again, but it will always come back. It isn’t a question of whether we thirst, but of what we thirst for. What’s on tap at the bar is going to change, because someone else decides what choices you will have when you ask – ‘what’s on tap?’

What’s on tap at the ROCK is always going to be the SAME – always fresh, always clear, LIVING WATER! Romans chapter 5 goes even further in describing what’s on tap for those of us who need more information – for those of us who hear the words ‘Living Water’ and have to ask, ‘what’s That MEAN?’

When we break it down, there are at least seven things on tap when we belly-up to the ROCK, according to Romans 5:1-11, and they are:

  • ACCESS to God
  • BEGIN to develop the CHARACTER of God
  • KNOW the LOVE of God
  • RECEIVE RECONCILIATION with God
  • ENJOY the SECURITY of God
  • PEACE with God
  • STAND in the GRACE of God

ACCESS. CHARACTER. LOVE. RECONCILIATION. SECURITY. PEACE. GRACE.

A CLeaR SPRinG.

No matter WHO you are.

No matter WHAT you’ve done.

God’s LIFE-GIVING water is always on tap.

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