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AUTHOR: Larry Locke

Who am I?

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. Romans 7:14-15

 In our text for today, the Apostle Paul reveals the personal inner anguish all of us can feel when we fail to do as we know we ought.  We know we should not listen to co-workers gossiping in the break room about a fellow’s life but we we can’t seem to bring ourselves to leave.  We know we shouldn’t watch certain shows on television or visit certain web sites but Facebook knows us well enough to advertise them to us.

The result can be tortuous.  We can feel guilty, ashamed, and locked in a pattern of behavior we feel powerless to change.  Like any creature, we yearn for homeostasis.  We long for personal integration and the failure of our actions to coincide with our identity in Christ can make us, like Paul, wonder “who will set us free from this body of death”.

At that moment we have a God-given opportunity to choose our path.  We can either allow what we do to determine who we are, or we can allow who we are to determine what we do.

If we disagree with God and the work He has done in us, then we will concede that we are reprobates, accept our ill behavior on that basis and conclude that God was wrong. He lacked either the power or the will to cleanse us.

If we agree with God and the work He is doing in us, we can enter into that life of sanctification in which we accept our identity and allow God to lead us in new patterns of living.  Sometimes the change is immediate and joyful, sometimes slow and laborious.  In either case, the trajectory is ever toward God and His holiness.

What determines which path we will take is whether we believe what God says about us.  If we are not reborn, no amount of good deeds can make us like Christ.  If we are, our stumbling will not make us any less so.  Let’s choose to walk in the truth, my friends, and see our path grow ever brighter.

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Genesis 2:8-9

 The tree of the knowledge of good and evil can be understood as a choice of who gets to establish the law.  God wants to be the final arbiter of what is good and evil, right and wrong.  Mankind’s eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is an act of usurping that prerogative for ourselves.  Now we will decide.  We alone get to distinguish the good from the bad.

Even though this was the primordial sin and is described throughout Christian literature as “the fall”, we actually don’t talk about it a lot.

Christians’ disinterest in who gets to choose right and wrong may in part arise from a view that we have already identified with God and his choices.  We already accept that God’s law of right and wrong is correct.  Life is good; death is bad.  Stealing is bad; working for a living is good.  But I wonder if that assumption that we are already in line with God can stand up to scrutiny.

God established that sacrificing for each other is good but we are inclined to indulge ourselves well beyond what we might need for our own wellbeing.  My neighbor may really need my help on a Saturday afternoon but I wind up on my couch instead.  Why?  Any time I make a choice, I reflect my actual law of good and bad.  Even if I try to assuage my conscience with guilt, my actions reveal what I really believe: couch good, investing in neighbor bad.

The law was intended to discipline us and highlight where we miss God’s mark.  But if we become the sole lawmaker, we will find the law will reflect our own shallow morality and self-centeredness.  Let your actions tell you what you believe about good and bad.  Spit out the fruit and let God be the sole lawmaker of your life.

Have you Overcome?

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.  John 16:33

As Christians, we might be very comfortable with Christ’s assertion that He has overcome the world.  We have read the prophecy of Christ’s return in Revelation where He appears triumphant to claim dominion over the earth.  We have read the resurrection story of how Christ rises from the dead and then ascends into heaven where He reigns eternally.

What makes this statement of Christ so interesting is that He makes it when He has not yet done any of those things.  In fact, He makes it when He is about to appear anything but triumphant.  Immediately following this statement, Jesus will pray the High Priestly prayer in John 17 and then in chapter 18 head to the Garden of Gethsemane where He will be arrested by the Jewish authorities.

Following His arrest, Jesus will be dragged in for interrogation and a show trial where He will be convicted and beaten.  He will then be turned over to the Romans for further questioning, condemned, and then tortured to death.  To be honest, it is not a picture of overcoming.  You might understand if a non-Christian, or even the first disciples, thought Jesus was mistaken about having overcome the world.

But in another sense entirely, Jesus has totally already overcome the world.  Jesus has spent the last three years teaching the truth of the Kingdom of God accompanied by signs and wonders that could not be ignored.  In so doing, He has presented such a perfect picture of God, and of what God declares to be right and wrong, that He has thoroughly convicted the religious and political power structures.  They have already determined they have to silence Him.

May we never be treated as brutally as Christ, but God forgive us if we do not present that same picture of the Kingdom.  Is your life so anachronistic to the evil power structures of the world that it exposes them for what they are?  Does your life demonstrate the truth that hypocrisy is a sin and that true religion is caring for the vulnerable?  Have you overcome the world?

He Who Never Cuts His Losses

“Come now, let us settle the matter,”
    says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
    they shall be like wool.”  Isaiah 1:18

There is an old warning in business, “Don’t throw good money after bad.”  You can’t be sentimental about investments.  If it looks like a deal is headed south, you can’t allow your decision making to be clouded by an emotional attachment to a previous decision or insist on proving you were right.

Some of us do the same thing with personal relationships.  We allow our friends a certain number of failures, then we cut them off.  Maybe we call it something like a “three strikes rule”.  If a friend cancels getting together, or doesn’t reciprocate a gift, or says something untoward, then we move on or move back.  Why wouldn’t we?  You don’t want to keep investing time and energy in a friend who doesn’t give back.

This week an old friend reminded me, “God is very invested in us.”  He may not have ever said anything more true.  God does not have a three strikes rule for us.  When we don’t return His investment in us, He never cuts His losses and moves on.  He doubles down on us over, and over, and over.

In our text for today, God is speaking to His people and making them an offer for forgiveness and redemption.  The language is designed to be extreme – from scarlet to snow, from crimson to wool.  We can never be too bad, too unclean, too worthless for Him to love.

When you are feeling at your most worthless, at your lowest point, remember it is at that moment that the Lord chose to give everything for you.

How Do You Rule?

God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars.  God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good.  Genesis 1:16-18

Our text for today can be puzzling to understand.  Some chalk it up as ancient humans trying to make sense of a big, mysterious world in a pre-scientific era.  The text certainly reflects the vocabulary and world view of ancient people.  It is also written in a highly symbolic form that modern man would not typically use.  But to say that it has nothing important to tell us would be to miss out on a gazillion helpful lessons.  (I am not sure exactly how many helpful lessons might be drawn from this text so I am attempting to communicate that the number is large.)

Consider what it means for the sun and moon to govern their respective times.  How does the sun govern?  It provides light and heat that all the earth’s inhabitants rely on for survival.  It is consistent in its provision, never takes a day off or fails to show up at its appointed time.  It is impartial, not selective about who receives its gifts.  It is free to all and neither needs or expects any payment for its provision.  It is a source of inspiration, hope, and joy.  How good does it feel to walk out into the morning and feel the sun shining gently on your face?

What about the moon and stars?  Their paths measure months and seasons that allow mankind to plan its important tasks.  They provide us with wonder at the complicated shapes they form across the night sky.  The sheer number of stars is a sign of God’s endless majesty.  And yet for all their glory, they humbly remain dim enough to allow the world to rest and to cool.

Those observations are interesting and poetic until we consider that 10 verses later God is going to create mankind for a similar purpose.  We were made to rule over the earth.  One of the great quandaries of our time is what that should mean for us.  What does it mean to be “environmentally sensitive” or “sustainable”?  (Ruling and governing are not necessarily the same thing but we only need to assume that one can inform the other.)

When we consider the lessons of the text in that light, there is much we could learn about how to govern our world from the sun, moon, and stars.  Do we act with constancy?  Do we provide what all the creatures of the world need to sustain life and to grow?  Do we offer the world a respite from our provision to allow it to rest?  Beyond the obvious environmental stewardship question, how do we “govern” one another?  Are we constant, generous, provisional, and impartial?

Next time you enjoy the sunshine on your face or gaze up at the moon and stars, allow them to challenge you.  If we were as obedient as they in the tasks set for us by the Lord, the world would be a better place.