April 30, 2018 God’s Love- Overcoming the World: 1 John 5:1-5, Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 12:1-2

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Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.  For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 1 John 5:1-5 (ESV)

God’s commandments aren’t burdensome? Really? Who among us can claim to have kept God’s commandments for any length of time?

If we try to go through life keeping score and attempting to will ourselves “good” by adhering to a harsh legalistic interpretation of God’s law, we are setting ourselves up to fail. The apostle Paul teaches us:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)

Faith itself is a gift of God. There is nothing to brag about unless one is bragging about Jesus.

The things we do, or the length to which we succeed in obeying God, is in response to our faith, which is in and of itself a gift. The glory all belongs to God, because we are not capable of love or goodness apart from Him.  John Calvin (a theologian who was a part of the Reformation around the same time as Martin Luther) proposed the total depravity of man, which is to say that apart from God humanity is 100% corrupt, self serving and downright evil. Roman Catholics refer to this concept in a similar way, calling this condition original sin, which is the concept that we humans all inherit the original sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden.

Jesus died on the Cross as our substitute for all the sins of humanity for all time, because the penalty for sin is death. (Romans 6:23) Even though we trust Jesus for our salvation because He became our substitute, as long as we live in these bodies on this earth, we live the paradox of being saints and sinners at the same time.  God in us prompts us to respond to His love, but the old Adam has to be drowned (as we remember our Baptism and confess our sins) on a daily basis.

If we try to love and do good deeds as if those are items on a checklist, we will fail horribly. Yet if we focus on loving God, the fruits of repentance will follow.  A wise Pastor once taught that if a person truly loves God, he or she can do whatever he or she wants, because his or her desires will be God’s desires.  As Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer: Thy (meaning God’s) kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

The apostle Paul also teaches us:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (ESV)

It won’t necessarily become easy to love the unlovable.  Diapers will still stink.  Drudgery will still cause our bodies and minds to be weary.  But as we grow in our faith, and we trust that Jesus gives us our daily bread, we experience joy beyond the drudgery, and we know love in serving others, which is love we share in serving God.   We have the hope of the kingdom to come where sorrow and pain and tears will be no more. (Revelation 21:4)

It has been said that nothing easy is worth doing. Yet it is God behind the action, God granting us the faith and the resolve to love the unlovable, and to endure hardship for the sake of another.  We cannot love or serve others apart from God’s love.

This world can be painful, difficult and hard to endure. But in Jesus we have hope.  Because He loved us first, we are free to love others and find joy in that service.

May 22, 2017 – Surrender? Genesis 22:1-2, Psalm 139:8-12

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“Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he (Abraham) replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”- Genesis 22:1-2 (NRSV)

This is one of those passages in Scripture that should make people squirmy. It sounds like just the opposite of what God would ask of us.  God saying to Abraham, “Take your only son –the one you prayed for and hoped to have for so many years- and sacrifice him as a burnt offering,” just doesn’t make sense.

That is more than just a little strange coming from God. That sounds completely crazy.  What if God asked me to hand over my only son as a burnt offering?  I think it would be reasonable, at least today, to seek psychiatric help at that point.

Is this the same God Who would later hand down the commandment, “Thou shalt not murder?”

Where is God going with this?

The first thing God was trying to accomplish with His request was to test Abraham’s trust in Him. How far was Abraham willing to go to be obedient to God?  It’s easy to sing praise to God and say He’s great when times are good and we get what we want, but sooner or later the times of testing come.  Are we willing to do what God asks of us even when it seems too heartbreaking, too hard, too hopeless, too much to endure?  Are we willing to have the same kind of obedience that Abraham had, trusting that God will provide- even to the same point as Abraham when he was asked to give his greatest gift back to God?

The good news in this is even when it seems God is asking way too much of us, He provides what we need to do His will and be obedient to Him. God wasn’t going to let Abraham go through with the killing, but the fact that Abraham was prepared to do what God told him to do even to such an extreme as killing his own beloved son makes us wonder.  Could we do the same thing in Abraham’s place?  Do we have that kind of trust in God’s provision?

There is a saying that is popular with some in the Christian community- “If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it.” That sounds simplistic and even cruel if we think of people who have lost loved ones in tragic circumstances, or when we have to endure painful losses, illnesses or other dire suffering. This saying could be taken to imply that God enjoys our suffering or that He is imposing suffering upon us at his whim or caprice. However, even in its simplicity, and with what may seem to be callousness, this saying is true. God does go with us no matter where or in what circumstance, but it might not be the best consolation for someone who is in the fresh, raw pain of grief or loss. Theologians and scholars have debated the purpose of suffering and death and evil for countless centuries.  Nobody really has a straight answer.  It’s one of those “trust God” issues, at least in this fallen world, for now.

It’s easy to take a dualistic approach and say that God is nothing but good and that evil and/or Satan are the anti-God, but in truth, God is the author of ALL things. Evil could very well be defined as creation rebelling against God, and creation’s rebellion against God is woven into all creation.  The theological concept of original sin (or, the total depravity of man, to borrow a petal from John Calvin’s TULIP,) is explained in the allegorical narrative of the Fall in Genesis 3. It could be said that the root of all sin and evil is pride, when we think we know better than God, or worse, we have the hubris to put ourselves in His place.  Sometimes being obedient to God is counterintuitive and doesn’t make sense at all to us, and it may never make sense to us, because we aren’t God.  We can’t see everything. There is where trust- and surrender- to God enter in.

If we take God on His word and trust that He is omnipotent (all powerful,) omniscient (all knowing,) and omnipresent (in all places, at all times, all the time,) then we have to trust that He is in control even when He asks the impossible from us, and even when the impossible and unbearable happen to us.  We have to know that He has already entered into our circumstances even before we can acknowledge Him, and even if we refuse to acknowledge Him.

“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast.  If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to You.”- Psalm 139:8-12 (NRSV)

God provides even when we can’t possibly see how. What are we willing to surrender to Him?  Are we willing to trust in His provision?