Category Archives: Religion

Finding freedom in grace

Van Gogh, "Harvest in Provence", 1888, Israel Museum, Jerusalem

Van Gogh, “Harvest in Provence”, 1888, Israel Museum, Jerusalem

Romans 10:8b-13
For Sunday, February 14, 2016
First Sunday in Lent

We all know intellectually that we’re saved by grace through faith.  So why then do we  so often get verklempt in our attempts to perform for God?  The internal tape says, “I have to go to church.  I have to go to Bible study.  I have to serve.  I have to pray.  I have to, I have to, I have to …”  Actually, we don’t!

The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart” (Rom. 10:8).  Israel made the mistake of trying to earn salvation through performance.  Paul says earlier in this chapter, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.  For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge…  Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (vv. 2, 4).

Have you believed?  Have you confessed Christ as Lord.  Then you have God’s righteousness.  There is no DO in the gospel, only DONE.  “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (v. 13).

Stop performing in a vain attempt to earn God’s approval.  Embrace the freedom we have to be God’s people given the righteousness we have by faith.  We live in a world starving for grace and grace needs to come alive first within ourselves.  Only then can we extend it to others.

Your Turn
Where is the grace of God leading you this week to experience freedom?
(For me it was calling Birch Creek Music Camp to offer my services as a jazz drummer for this summer’s camp in Door County, WI).

A great resource for Lent
My good friend Jim Van Eerden has put together a fantastic multimedia lectionary called The Pilgrim Year.   The section on Lent could be a great resource for helping you to embrace the freedom of God’s grace leading up to Easter.  I highly recommend it!
(Disclaimer: this paragraph is sponsored content.  For a 5% discount use budget code PASSPORT).

Hope-fueled boldness

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Giovanni Bellini, “Transfiguration of Christ”, Naples, Italy, 1480 – 1485.

2 Cor. 3:12-4:2
For Sunday, February 7, 2016
Transfiguration Sunday

We ought to be exceedingly bold in living out the gospel.  This is the only conclusion we can reach once fueled by the power of this passage.

To understand what the Apostle Paul is saying here we need to start back at v. 7.  Paul is contrasting the ministry of the old covenant with the ministry of the new.  If the ministry of the old covenant, which brought condemnation, set Moses’ face aglow, how much more should the ministry of the new covenant, the gospel, set our faces aglow?  “Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold” (v. 12).

Secular culture tells us that we are free to worship in any way we like, privately.  But there’s the rub.  As Chuck Colson, one of my mentors (and he can be yours too) liked to say our faith is to be personal but not private.  One of Chuck’s favorite quotes was from Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper: “There’s not a single square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Jesus Christ who is Lord of all does not cry out, ‘Mine!’ “.

So what would a boldness reboot look like?  “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.  Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God.  On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (ch. 4:1,2).

Father, may the Apostle Paul’s excitement and passion for the hope and freedom he found in you be so utterly contagious for us that we can’t stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.  Let us be the church in the world.  Amen.

Your turn

  • Where do you most struggle to be bold with your faith?
  • What encouragement do you find in this passage to be bolder?
  • If you succeeded what would it look like?

How bold should we be?

The Apostle Paul’s answer In 2 Cor. 3:7, ff. is very bold.  Paul notes that Moses’ face was radiant after meeting with God (Exodus 34).  Paul then asks, “If Moses face was radiant in carrying the message of condemnation, how much more radiant are our faces in carrying a message of freedom?”  So how bold should we be at work, at school and with friends?

Paul lays it out for us.  “Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness …  We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 3:12, 4:2).

But I’m afraid,” we say.  Wouldn’t it though be refreshing to go all in with the same love and passion for God that Paul had?  To put it bluntly, our fear is misplaced.  “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience” (2 Cor. 5:11).

All in is the very best place to be.  Paul knew it and we know it.  Let’s go.

Authentic leadership manifests in humility

The great passage of Scripture that forms my life verse, Micah 6:8, reads, “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”  The grammar and syntax of the Hebrew original suggest that amongst these three key ideas, the greatest emphasis is on the last, “to walk humbly”.  Within this last phrase, the greatest emphasis is on being humble (Hebrew Hiphil).

God himself modeled humility for us by sacrificing his one and only Son so that we could be restored to relationship with him.

Want to be an authentic leader?  Then model humility as God did for us.

Reclaiming the Joy of the Lord

Scroll of Isaiah from Qumran (Muzeʼon Yiśraʼel (Jerusalem))

Nehemiah 8:1-10
For Sunday, January 24, 2016
Third Sunday After the Ephiphany

This passage is wholly appropriate for the season of Epiphany because an epiphany is precisely what is taking place here.  When a culture hears truth it knows it and will weep with mourning for how far it has strayed.  At the same time such truth is life-giving and the joy of the Lord speaking it will become the peoples’ strength.

It had been a long 70 years in Babylon, Long enough to forget what it meant to have God in the center of the culture.  Yet now, by providence through the Persian conquest of Babylon, Israel found herself home again in Jerusalem, standing before her temple, at the start of the civil year.  This was a State of the Union moment.  Ezra the scribe (a precursor to Charles Krauthammer on Fox News?) brings out the Book of the Law of Moses.

Ezra read from the book with interpretation so that the people could understand the meaning (v. 8).  This is the essence of good preaching.  I once heard Stuart Briscoe, Pastor Emeritus of Elmbrook Church, and one of the most gifted expository preachers in the country, say to a mutual acquaintance, “All I’ve done is found a good book and shared what I’ve read there with all who would listen.”  Transformational preaching is no more or less than this.  Expository preaching will always be relevant because it is the conveyance of transforming truth.

So convicted were the people of how far they had allowed their country to stray that they wept.  Oh that Christians around the world would take ownership for the state of our Unions.  People and nations will thrive when the truth of the gospel is heard and lived by even a remnant.

At the end of the reading, Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the scribe (journalist), and the Levites (priests or pastors) said with one voice, “Go, and celebrate, and share your blessing with those who lack, and do not be grieved, because the joy of the Lord is your strength” (v. 10).

This passage is a call for us as individuals to recommit ourselves to the daily reading of Scripture.  It’s a call as well to preach the Scriptures exposition ally in our churches.  Finally, it’s a call to reclaim the joy of the Lord that our countries and cultures would thrive.  May we neither wander nor falter nor fail to respond to so high a calling.

Brood of Vipers

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John the Baptist Announcing the Messiah, Cappella Palatina di Palermo, Palermo, Italy (mid 12th century)

Luke 3:7-18
For Sunday, December 13, 2015
3rd Sunday of Advent

Crowds were willing to journey into the desert to hear  John the Baptist preach. Yet he must have missed the Seeker Sensitive Memo. He opens with, “You brood of vipers.” Now why would people traipse out into the dusty desert to hear that? It’s because we all thirst for the truth and want to be forgiven and transformed.

John’s point is that there is more to being a Christian than merely “avoiding the wrath to come” (v. 7).  We are called to “bear fruits worthy of repentance” (v. 8).  If I look at my life as a tree where is the fruit?  Is there actually any difference in the way I set priorities, spend money, treat my wife, love my family, and pursue my daily work?  Is there?

John says, “Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees” (v. 9).  See the axe at bottom left within the picture above?  We can pose as Christians all we want but if all we are is dead wood we will be cut down will all the rest of it!  And why not?!

The crowd says, “Ooh, that’s not good for us!  What should we do?” (v. 10).  John as a good pastor provides some great application.  Have an extra coat?  Share it with someone.  Are you a tax collector?  Then don’t over-collect to line your own pockets.  Soldier?  Then don’t use your power and authority to your own advantage.  May I pause at this point to ask the lawyers among us to pay particular attention to that last one?  Pastors, you too!  (Didn’t see that one coming, did you?)

John’s audience might have come out into the desert merely to avoid pain.  (I find I often do the same.  It’s ugly. )  Yet now John’s hearers are truly captivated by his message.  Note that it isn’t contemporary music, stage lighting, or even dry ice that captivates them.  It is his message.  They even start to ask themselves, “Wow, could this be Messiah himself?”

John quickly disabuses them.  “One who is more powerful than I is coming, and the throngs of his sandals I am not worthy to untie“.  Having just been utterly transfixed by the man in front of them can you imagine what it must have been like to anticipate the arrival of one infinitely greater?  Absolutely electric!

This was good news indeed (v. 18).  These people knew their world was broken.  They knew all too well the tremendous injustice, callousness, and selfishness that marked their culture.  And now here before them was a man announcing that the transformation they so deeply longed for was coming soon.

So what’s the bottom line?  For me it’s “Don’t settle for the status quo.  Don’t let your life be defined by mere pain avoidance.  Don’t play at being a Christian.  Lean into transforming faith in every moment and in every relationship.”  I think of my role as father of my family, as a member of my church, and as a business person.  Exciting stuff.

Your Turn
How about you?  Are you also tempted to settle for pain avoidance in place of authentic transformation?   What’s the next action this passage is calling for from you (whether giving away a coat or something else)?

Soul check

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Psalm 25:1-10
For Sunday, November 29, 2015
Year C, First Sunday of Advent

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul” (v. 1).  This act is the essence of a transformed life.  How often is it that I forget or fail in this?  So many other things clamor for my soul’s attention, whether it be the football game, a worry at work, or rank selfishness.  What better way to start Advent than to take a Soul Check based on Psalm 25?

The soul check described here involves two steps.  The first step in a soul check is to understand God’s way (vv. 8-10):

  • he is good and upright (v. 8)
  • he leads the humble in his way (v. 9)
  • his way is steadfast love and faithfulness (v. 10)

To be humble means I recognize that I can’t figure things out on my own and that I open my life to the Lord’s guidance to correct my faults and move one step closer toward living well for his glory.

The word translated “steadfast love” is ‘hesed’.  This is one of the great words of the Old Testament and refers to God’s overwhelming kindness, concern, and generosity to us.  For example, ‘hesed’ is the central theme in the Book of Ruth as we read of Boaz’s ‘hesed’ for Ruth as a reflection of God’s ‘hesed’ for his people including us.

The second step in a soul check is to pursue God’s way (vv. 1-7):

  • Express trust (v. 2)
  • Ask for deliverance from shame (v. 3)
  • Ask to be taught his paths (v. 4)
  • Ask to be lead in truth (v. 5)
  • Ask him to remember his mercy (v. 6)
    • not remembering past sins
    • but remembering your steadfast love

Do you ever struggle to know how best to pray.  If so here is a great list.  How about we try it for this next week and then compare notes here in the comments?

As the hymn says how prone I am to wander.  Thank you Father for this soul check to start Advent.  To you I lift up my soul.  Be glorified in me.  Amen.