Facing Cavalry Six : Substitute

Lenten Reflections Anno Domini Nostri Iesu Christi 2012

imageWe all, like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. Isaiah 53:6-7

Of the array of forensic categories for understanding the atonement, it is the substitutionary idea that draws our attention. Facing Golgatha, we ask why in seeking to understand the necessity of the Savior  hanging upon the cross. The answer, it seems, is quite simple; He alone was able to do what we could never do. Jesus alone was able to take the sins of all humanity on His scourged shoulders, bearing up the weight unto death and assuaging the righteous God.

The application is more complex. As Cranfield writes in his commentary on Romans:

God, because in his mercy he willed to forgive sinful men, and, being truly merciful, willed to forgive them righteously, that is, without in any way condoning their sin, purposed to direct against his own very self in the person of his Son the full weight of that righteous wrath which they deserved.

The wrath that we deserve for our heinous sins. The wrath that we deserve for our lack of love for others. The wrath we deserve for the slightest transgression that we dismiss without a thought. The wrath demanded by the perfect holiness of the God we serve. The wrath expressed in love; the great paradox of God placing himself in our position. The love we are challenged to understand;

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

Grace and peace to you in the Name of the One who is over all and through all and in all.

image Maurice Koop

Danger Close

 

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A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for.  J.A. Shedd

Moving forward in any meaningful way demands a step in faith. Faith–deep soul-rooted, life-directing faith–may lead to danger. We take the steps of faith because we trust in God for what may come, whether it be into blissful comfort or the first tentative steps into the enemy’s territory, fully aware that sacrifice may be the result. A church that never moves from the sanctuary is safe, but that is not what the Church is for.

Read Paul’s boasting in 2 Corinthians 11:16-33. Contrary to the witness of those who merely call themselves Apostles, Paul has the scourge scars and water marks of one who has walked, trusting God with each step as he fulfilled His calling to bear witness to Christ to the Gentile world. We continue to marvel at his effectiveness thousands of years later as he is held up as the model for our own vocational calling. We marvel, but are tempted time and time again to retreat to the safety of tradition and practice.

Church, this is not what we were created to be or do. We are the last hope of a dying world. We possess the fire of the indwelling Spirit meant to guide our hands and feet in boldly stepping into the darkness to call others out. Like the sailor who knows nothing of buoyancy and displacement but who trusts the Oak, nails and pitch to keep them afloat in the capricious and danger-filled seas, Christians need not know how or why God may lead them into a ministry effort, only that they may trust Him that it will not be in vain. 

Grace and peace in the Spirit to you…

image National Library of New Zealand

The Foundation of Prayer

“Audacious prayer, which perseveres unflinchingly and ceases not through fear, is well pleasing unto God,” wrote Luther. “As a shoe maker makes a shoe, or a tailor makes a coat, so ought a Christian to pray. Prayer is the daily business of a Christian.”  Martin Luther

“God does nothing but in answer to prayer.” John Wesley

imagePrayer is central to our identity as Christians. It is a distinctive that speaks volumes about the singular nature of our faith. We have personal communion with the God of the universe. Our prayers are not issued into the void in hope that some anonymous deity will take pity upon or show favor toward us. We speak directly to God and he will speak to us.

No spiritual discipline has meaning without prayer. Training ourselves to pray effectively is a primary step that is to be mastered before the other disciplines are attempted. When we live a Christian life without prayer we deprive ourselves of the strength, power and transformation that any other discipline might bring about.

To pray is to change.

A foundational truth regarding prayer is that it is simultaneously natural and unnatural. We do not naturally come to prayer and we must be intentional about pursuing it. Prayer requires effort and a long period of apprenticeship. Unlike the apprenticeship of a silversmith however, our initial prayer has power and effect. God knows our abilities and His grace extends his patience with our first, faltering words.

We must sit at the feet of the Master and learn to pray just as His first disciples did. One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1) These will be our words as well, Lord teach us to pray.

Grace and peace to you.

image khrawlings

Faithfulness Despite Appearances–Fourth Sunday in Advent 2010

imageOur Advent meditations have to do with an event that none of us were present for. The life and death of our Lord passed before our era and, despite numerous predictions, His return has yet to come. Our entire system of faith is rooted in the apologia that supplements our intellect and the discernment provided by the indwelling Spirit who tells us that we can trust in the words recorded long ago. Every Christian since that day at Golgotha has had to trust the beliefs passed from one to another through the centuries. We trust in the work of Christ by faith alone.

Every Christian since that Friday afternoon has lived in a world of chaos. The dimensions of this chaotic environment have varied from era to era and person to person. Many have looked upon the severity of their trials or the universality of evil and pointed to these as proof that God does not exist. Many of us might be tempted to believe them when we see the horrors that man visits upon man or in the death and loss caused by natural events. Disease surrounds us, getting stronger in some cases. Limited resources threaten the existence of many. Pregnant women are run down and left for dead in the intersections of our cities. Evil abounds.

Joseph looked upon his pregnant fiancée tempted to act on appearances. His scriptures provided a way out for him and he loved Mary enough that he planned to divorce her quietly. By all appearances, her story was incredible–almost unbelievable–and yet, at the prompting of an angel, he remains faithful.  He trusts the word of God provided for him, despite outward appearances.

There is subtle encouragement in the angels words to Joseph, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife” (Mt 1:20). God does not command him to stay with Mary. Instead, the angel tells him not to be afraid, that despite what things may seem to be all will turn out well. These words echo for us as well.

This Christmas may not be the best time in your life. You and your family may be facing difficulties. It may be the first holiday without a family member at home. Your faith may be being tested to the very limits of your endurance. Despite appearances, there is reason to celebrate. Christians, you know the end of the story. You know that God has proven faithful to his promises time after time through history and He will continue to be faithful until the end of this history. Trust Him, do not be afraid. Celebrate your Savior.

 

Grace and peace to you.

image by VickyV

Hope–Second Sunday of Advent 2010

imageMay the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5-6)

One of the great reminders that our observance of Advent brings, is that we have not been left alone to patiently endure until the Lord returns for us. As Paul wrote in the verse that precedes the passage above, every word of the Scriptures was written that we may be encouraged and have hope. Perusing those scriptures we find that we not only have hope from these words, we are surrounded with like hope in our family, community and church. We are both recipients and providers of this hope, from and to other Christians. Together, we look to the flame that edges closer to His coming with each week and together, we await his second arrival.

Paul uses the scriptures to remind the reader of a promise from years past that applied to them in that day, and which remains applicable to us in our hour:

“The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in Him.” (15:12).

Jesus, the ‘Son of David’ is that root. He is the source and center of our hope. His life provides the model for our endurance and servanthood to others. Others within the church know the source of our hope. Our calling is to take that hope outside of the church and into the world, living lives that exude such joy and assurance that it sparks the spirit in others to seek out the fount of promise.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (v13)

Grace, peace and hope to you.

image Per Ola Wilberg

Psalm 69 : May Your Salvation Protect Me

imageOn the cross at Calvary the perfect innocent was crucified. Though charges were leveled and accusations screamed about Him, there was no guilt in the verdict of the ultimate Judge. The Savior knew and trusted in the ultimate outcome of The Plan.

Though our voices ring with affirmation of our trust in God and His Plan, the immediacy of the struggles we face excite the doubting voice in our hearts. Why God? Why do you allow your saints to be falsely accused while the mockers go free? No answer has ever been given except, “trust me.”

Save me O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.

I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold.

I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me.

I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail looking for God. (Psalm 69:1-3)

Along with Psalm 22, this scripture is found most often in the New Testament. The authors (as well as modern Christians) found the parallels with the innocent suffering of Christ to be the perfect descriptive words. John speaks of Jesus’ rejection by His own people (Jn 15:25) and his motive in driving out the traders from the Temple (Jn 3:17). The other gospel authors heard the words of innocence being put to death ( Mt 27:34; Mk 15:23; Lk 23:36; Jn 19:19-30) and Paul related the meaning of His suffering (Rom 15:3) to this psalm.

for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me. (Ps 69:9)

For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” (Rom 15:3)

Trusting that our struggle is for the greater good is one of the greatest challenges that we face. Our innate sense of what is fair doesn’t have a category into which we can organize our pain in the face of the guilty walking free of injury. We must simply trust.

I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving.

This will please the Lord more than an ox, more than a bull with its horns and hoofs. (vv 30-31)

Grace and peace to you.

image by prilfish

Day 28 in the School of Prayer : I Want but I Will

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“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Mark 14:36

As in any course of study, the lessons come to finer and more distinct points as the class turns to its final days. The Lord has taught the discipline of prayer to us in this fashion, starting with a very broad brush but now switching to a fine point tool dipped in blood red to emphasize the finest points of petition. In this Gethsemane moment, the (we) disciples are schooled through an especially intimate communication between Son and Father as Jesus implores ‘ not my will but yours!’

Our initial prayer will always be self-serving. We know little of God’s will as beginning pray-ers and the scope of our world is limited to our own selfish wants. As our prayer bond grows through maturity and diligent practice, the Lord leads us to understand that all ultimately leads to His will. Our prayers are still honest expressions of our desire but we learn to fashion them in the context of the Father’s will. We say, Lord please for this or that but follow with, if it is your will. We find our place.

Grace and peace to you.

image Daniel Y. Go

Day 24 in the School of Prayer : In My Name

WithChristInPrayer

And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. (John 14:13-14)

Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. (John 15:16)

In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and you joy will be complete. (John 16:23-24)

Evangelicals have made a habit of concluding all prayers with some form of the phrase “in Jesus name” with only a vague notion of why they do so. In many cases, it has taken on the veneer of a magical incantation, as if by including these words the prayer is guaranteed to be fulfilled. Kind of an abracadabra for Christians.

And wrong.

A person’s name is how we know them. Our family and friends are not disembodied beings that we know by their features; the big one, the red haired one. We know them by their names and associate all that they are to us in that name. Say the name of your wife or husband. Not only do you see his or her face in your mind but you get the full sense of your love for that person. You feel exactly what they mean to you.

So it is with the name of Jesus. He’s not just a man. He is Lord. His name represents all that that means to us. Praying in His name says two things. One, we are His representatives, serving Him and what we do carries the full force of His Lordship. Second, when asking for what we need to accomplish His will, we ask in the full force and credit of our Lord. What we ask to fulfill His will is not denied. The empowerment we desire to fulfill His will is not denied.

Lent Spent with the Psalms Day Twenty Four

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Do you really walk alone? It can feel like that sometimes. Those we thought were friends have moved on to other pursuits. Loved ones have issues with us, real or imagined. We echo the thought of the psalmist..

You have taken my companions and loved ones from me;

the darkness is my closest friend. (Psalm 88:18)

The modern church would prefer that this psalm disappear from the Psalter. It doesn’t fit the current paradigm of happy, happy, everything is going to be great all the time forever when I’m a Christian. Believers cannot understand how God would leave His people in the midst of incredibly difficult struggles, perhaps even for the entire span of their lives.

Look to the Cross. Jesus hangs alone. The skies darken like night. No one rises to His defense. The Father alone is in control of a History that we sometimes cannot understand. We must walk toward the Cross despite the darkness, despite the fact that we might walk along. We walk in trust that the Father’s ultimate will is for the good.

Grace and peace to you.

image BostonBill

Lent Spent with the Psalms Day Twenty Three

imageWho journeys with you toward the cross? Jesus surrounded himself with a close-knit band of traveling companions, knowing that one of them would eventually be his betrayer. Despite that, he invested Himself fully in them. King David shared our more human perspective on a similar situation;

But is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with who I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God. (Psalm 55:13-14)

It would be easy to consider the painful betrayals we’ve suffered and decide to walk alone. To walk by oneself means we don’t have to risk betrayal any longer, we’re safe.

Except we weren’t designed to do that.

We were meant to be in community. The travelling companions we surround ourselves with complete us in bringing along those things that we lack. But, we say, I’m not alone, I have the Father as my companion. True, but look to see if He is alone or in communion with the Son and the Spirit.

Grace and peace to you…

image sergeant killjoy