Are You Ashamed? Roman Road 4

The Shame of the Gospel

For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. Is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes — Jews first and also Gentiles. (NLT) Romans 1:16

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I love to read this verse in the colloquial paraphrase of the New Living Translation. It’s not that there is a deficit of clarity in the NIV or the KJV; both are very clear in conveying the message. What makes this translation of the verse stand out is the use of the term ‘good news’ in place of the well-known word gospel. I’m stopped short to immediately ask why a person might possibly be ashamed of good news.

Living as a Christian for any length of time means that you have had the experience of antagonism to some degree about your belief. Not unexpected from the modern atheists such as Sam Harris but less so from the humanist forces of modern culture, the flying–spaghetti–monster contingent. Family and friends may be subtler in their disregard or disdain for your faith in Christ, but ultimately the objective of these forces is to call you into questioning your belief.

When Paul records this verse he is facing a much more sophisticated attempt to shame him into silence. To one group of addressees the good news contradicted their belief in salvation by behavioral control. To a deeper level it challenged their assurance in being the chosen people. To the other group, the gospel made no philosophic sense. Why would God require the death of his beloved son in order to atone for the sins of total strangers? That is a weak god who cannot make the problem simply go away and who demands such a high price of expiation.

The gospel is both blindingly clear and wrapped in subtleties. Shame or embarrassment at believing in the power of the gospel unto salvation is often rooted in a weakness in our discipleship. How many of us can explain the gospel of Jesus Christ with clarity? How many of us are prepared to place that gospel in the context of our loved ones or even a stranger? Am I prepared to lovingly explain why a self-sufficient neighbor is in ‘need’ of the Savior?

To be a disciple is to understand why the gospel is offensive. It is to test our own beliefs about the good news. Consider for example that we must accept that salvation is free and undeserved. This means that there is nothing good in us worthy of this gift. This means that we cannot earn this gift. This means that we are so lost that the only means of salvation is via the God provided Son of Man dying. The gospel offends by informing us that we cannot be good enough or spiritual enough or anything enough. Salvation is out of our hands.

Even within the family of God the true gospel is offensive. It is not a promise of prosperity and perfect health. Instead, as Bonhoeffer famously states, Christ bids a man to come and die. The gospel is an invitation to suffer, to die to self and to serve a new lord and master, Jesus Christ. The offense of the gospel to modern culture is that it demands that we leave self behind and become servants of God.

Paul had every cultural reason to be ashamed of the gospel as he prepared to journey to Rome. There is much similarity between the culture of Rome and that of the modern-day. Christians are tolerated so long as they remain in their sanctuary and butt out of cultural issues. But that’s not the gospel. The good news is that because of the sacrifice of Jesus, his righteousness is credited to us. In accepting that credit, we commit ourselves to him as Lord and Savior. He is clear in his command that is servants engage the world, that we not shirk this responsibility because we are ashamed. Buried in this verse is a challenge: to whom will you pledge your allegiance?

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Cor 1:18

A Disciple Walks the Roman Road 3

I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.

That this would be said of me! We’re culturally driven to be noted for our actions, our material acquisition or our leadership and Christ followers are not immune to this temptation. Even those self-styled saints who attempt to mirror the selfless, wanted-to-be-anonymous Mother Theresa but whose ministry is built on being known for their giving-up-everything-to-follow-Christ fall prey to this attraction.

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But to be known for the depth of our faith alone, this is an objective worth pursuing. Known for a faith that perseveres despite persecution. Known for a faith that isn’t swayed by cultural trends or threats. Known for a faith that is a model for others. That would honor Christ.

And it’s dangerous as well. To be known means that we’re known. If we’re following the example of St. Paul we seek not to be known for anything in ourselves. We desire everything we do to point to Christ and away from ourselves.

This is a very narrow wire on which we walk. If I’m not know for my faith am I a failure? If I am known for my faith have I taken what rightly belongs to the Lord? The tension of the Kingdom and the Gospel can be felt but we can also succeed. Follow me as I follow Christ.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 1:8

A Disciple Walks the Roman Road 2

To walk the Roman road is to walk with the Apostle Paul. Not always the most pleasant of company but one who will always make you consider your spiritual state. He told us the kind of company that he would be in a letter he wrote two years previous, “follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Co 11:1) As we reacquaint ourselves, preparing to embark on this journey, the apostle is quick to help us in finding the proper attitude: “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus.”

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We step onto the Roman road not as conquerors ready to declare the edicts of the king. Rather, we start the journey as servants. I find this to be an incredible opening statement for such a rich theological book, especially a book that has been the foundation of so much of the church’s belief and practice for the past two millennia. Paul does not set out to provide a systematic theology meant to be the standard for the church age. Instead, he sets out on a heartfelt mission to declare the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ and its all-encompassing span. Keen students of the Bible will take note of this attitude and it will affect the way in which we hear everything that follows.

A servant brings no message of his own but relays what his master has told him. We know from experience Paul’s heart for Israel and we recognize this will color some of the more impassioned pleas. The gospel underpinnings, on the other hand, are not emotionally recorded but spiritually inspired. The tension between these two voices in the letter contribute to its power.

As I read–as we read—we’re initially called to examine our own attitude with regard to the gospel. Have we lost the awe of what Christ has done on our behalf? Is the gospel become a battleground over which we divided theologically rather than a gift of God given to be shared to the very ends of the earth? I’m humbled to remember moments where I have stood in the camp of the latter or, in my busyness, taking the former for granted. Quietly reconsidering a portion of the letter often dismissed to get to the “meat” I’m deeply grateful that the spirit has slowed me down to consider my worthiness to walk with Paul down this road to Rome.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 1:1 – 7

A Disciple Walks the Roman Road

Part One

In my years as a Christian I have lost track of the number of times I’ve heard the Roman Road referenced as an evangelistic tool. It’s said that the method is simple; point out the shortcomings in a person’s life (3:23), lead them to see the penalty of continuing in that state (6:23), invite them to partake of the glorious promise (5:8) and tell them how this promise can become theirs (10:9). It seems as though it could be effective presented to a heart that the Spirit is engaging. It also seems to leave out much of the glory of the Gospel, pulling out a verse here and there and often using them incomplete to form a logical argument, while failing to engage the soul. This is a shame, because the richness of Paul’s letter to the Roman church contains such a depth of truth that, when shared in greater detail, can answer the arguments of modern man and connect with the souls that are seeking something they’re missing but can’t identify.

A disciple that comes to Romans finds a treasure that far outweighs the application of memory verses. One can examine their definition of faith and have it challenged or affirmed. We can discover and meditate on what it means to fall short of the glory of God. The disciple can find an assurance–a rock solid assurance–in understanding why it is so important to be both justified and reconciled. The disciple can find a new way to examine their attitude towards sin and know the power of freedom rather than constantly operating under the threat of death.

A shallowness of faith grips the modern Church. Too many are satisfied to allow their lives to pass by un-examined. And although this leads to many things, one of the symptoms of this lack of depth is the desire to take the shortest possible route to any goal. Not all things can be explained in four laws or a handful of proof texts. Sometimes, especially with the things of God, the longer, slower more arduous route often brings the greatest benefit.

Over the course of this series of posts I will explore the depths of Paul’s letter as it was intended to be read. There is a clear progression of thought and extraordinary value in taking our time walking with the apostle as he shares the inspired message that God gave him in the middle of the first century so that we could enjoy it in the 21st century. I pray that you’ll join me.

Do I Really Want to Know?

Do I Really Want to Know?

#showyourmarble

Publicly, we almost always encourage others to “tell us the truth.” What we are trying to promote is our open mind and the willingness to be confronted by those things that others see in us. We say that we welcome the truth even if unpleasant.

Until the truth is actually unpleasant. And hurts our feelings because it hits a little bit close to home. And causes us to rethink our open-mind policy.

Though there is a certain ease in maintaining surface level relationships, conversations and social networks, it turns into a kind of prison. Jesus spoke bluntly to those who did not want to hear the truth in John 8:31-32 where he says “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” When we no longer have to hide the things co-habiting our souls we are truly set free. When someone speaks the truth to us—however unpleasant— and it is the key to opening the cell door, they have done us one of the great benevolent acts that can be done. They have loved us.

20170131_080848Will you as a disciple encourage the same searching and revelation on the part of God? Are you willing to let the Holy Spirit root around in your soul, opening boxes and nudging aside secret compartments so that he can bring the truth to the surface? No matter how uncomfortable and even painful it might be? In the psalmists words, inviting God to reveal our myriad hidden secrets is the key to freedom. We’re unable to walk the narrow path unguided and in the dark. We must have one who has gone this way before to lead us and show us where the stepping stones are. We need to the lamp of God’s Word to bathe the path in light.

Even if what he digs up is unpleasant. Even if our feelings are hurt because the things we believed to be hidden are suddenly brought to light.

Because ultimately, life with God is better than life without God. Because life with our rough edges revealed is better than a life consumed with masking and hiding them.

Will you invite God to search you and know your heart?

 

Idaho 2017

Warren Rachele

Patience in Leadership

PATIENCE

“What would you like for breakfast?” mother would ask.

“Ice Cream,” came the reply. The actual food requested was immaterial as it was a cycle of equally inappropriate breakfast items.

“No, I think we’ll have porridge this morning.” Mother did not introduce so much as an extra breath before pulling out the pot in which the oats and water would soon be simmering. She knew–because her mother had trained her as had her grandmother trainer her mother–that a diet of ice cream, cookies or cake was not the foundation of a successful day or life. She was immune to the disappointed voices and saddened faces when the desired bowl of chocolate chip appeared as the mottled beige of oatmeal, perhaps sweetened with a touch of brown sugar. Mother knew her role and she looked to the day when her children would become adults with their own children, perhaps smirking at the fleeting thought of being that grandmother who gave her grandchildren everything they wanted. Even ice cream for breakfast.

But mother said no and meant it. She knew that her role was to nurture and raise you, and she did it. And aren’t you glad she did?

Leaders of God’s people must be equally steadfast in adhering to the promises of God despite calls to ‘turn back’, ‘stay here’ or ‘make us gods who will go before us’. While Moses trembled in the presence of God who outlined the way in which his people would engage Him and worship Him (Ex 20-31), the recently freed people became restless and demanding (Ex 32). Forgetting what they had witnessed in their escape from bondage, forgetting the grace that had secured them from the angel of the Lord, forgetting the protection that God had promised and demonstrated, forgetting the provision of food and water; forgetting. Forgetting, either by lapse or design, but forgetting nonetheless. Forgetting, and demanding that their wishes be satisfied.

Aaron should not have forgotten however. Aaron who had witnessed the miraculous work of Yahweh firsthand. Aaron who had learned to trust God alongside Moses and who, as the interim leader of the Hebrews, needed to stand firm in that trust despite the length of Moses’ absence. A leader needed to stand and say “No!” No, God has given us a vision for the future as His people and we will not deviate from that vision. No, God’s providence will not be denied. No, God’s grace will not be discounted. No, the freedom from bondage given to us by grace will not be ignored.

The leader of God’s people must be patient and steadfast in leading them forward toward the vision that God gives. Many will want to stop along the way citing ample food and water supplies but the leader must continue the march. The leader must not hesitate, even when the siren songs of comfort and tradition tempt people away from the path. Even when trouble appears to be insurmountable and failure sure, like the Red Sea stretched endlessly before them and Pharaoh’s army speeding from the rear, the leader of God’s people must wait patiently for God to move and he must lead the people to do the same.

Because God will move, just as He has promised. At just the right moment and in exactly the right way.