Thursday, May 27, 2010

What Faithfulness Isn’t

Jesus is described as “faithful witness” in Revelation 1:5. In Hebrews 3:1, Jesus is called “Apostle” in Hebrews 3:1. I think these two references inform one another. It seems to me that apostles are those who are faithful witnesses, and faithful witnesses are those who are sent on a mission with a message (apostle).
In addition to a correlation of these terms, there is also a strong “faithful” theme in Hebrews 3. And I have been asking, “what does it mean to be faithful?” One way of answering this is to think about what practices do not constitute biblical faithfulness.
Saying the right things without doing the right things is not faithfulness. Our faith is not primarily made of impressions and appearances, nor is it primarily to consist of testimonies and sermons. Faithful living requires regular obedience.

Merely showing up is not faithfulness – we are to “walk in the Spirit,” not merely watch what others are doing in the Spirit. Faithfulness requires our personal  engagement.
Just doing the same things over and over, if they are not the right things, is not faithfulness – Every day brings new challenges which must be met today. Patterns of life must meet the challenges of today, and if they do not, then the patterns need to change.
Staying the same, and refusing to change or grow, is not faithfulness – if God has a plan for your growth, often through trial, then we should not expect that yesterday’s lessons learned will solve today’s tests. You and I must go to God again today to learn how to meet today’s tests.
Neglecting today’s opportunities is not faithfulness – God will give you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity today. To waste it is not faithfulness.

I'm sure many others will have many more ideas and phrases that will help us to see "what faithfulness isn't."

Monday, May 17, 2010


Romans 5:12 says that death spread to all men, and James 1:15 says that sin brings forth death. It is not morbid or negative to address our problem with death. It is on us, and in us, creeping death, a necrosis that works contrary to any principle of life that we presently enjoy and that we like to assume will go on for a good, long time.
Death signals the vanquishing of life. It readily fills the void where life used to be, and moreover, seeks to take over. It involves disintegration of what once used to be united in peace and harmony, and then turns foul as decay sets in. It is not hard to see how death is an apt description not only of biological deterioration, but also of mental, emotional, and relational distress and disintegration. Death shows itself in the breakdown between humans and God, between humans and humans, and between humans and their very own selves.
A most unattractive image presents itself to us. Here we are, redeemed and forgiven. And yet, we still fight the battle with sin and death. It is as though there are remnants of rotting flesh attached to our bodies and our lives, in our minds and on our tongues, stinking up the works and driving out any notion that there might be something good and positive going on. All these remnants of the old life left over from life lived in fellowship with the old, Adamic man are to be nailed to the Cross in the death of Christ. But somehow, we keep stealing back shreds of the sinful self, as though they were or could be beautiful or valuable.
There is a principle of life that must win out, produced by the Spirit as we cling to Christ and as we allow our sin to be firmly nailed to His Cross, released from our hands and our hearts, which now are ready to receive and treasure God's good grace and gifts.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Where Sin Abounded, Grace Did Much More Abound

The Church, and individual Christians, exist in a State of Grace. That is who we are. It is our (new) birthright. It is our frame of reference. The implications of this are huge. And yet, our response oft times seems invisible. It seems as though the Church and individual Christians, including me, fall out of a State of Grace. I don't mean that we lose our salvation. I mean that we forget our salvation; that we "neglect so great a salvation" (Hebrews 2:3).
There are two implications that have occurred to me. I'm sure there are many more. But in light of the Church's state of grace, we must be 1) gracious and 2) generous. As faith reflects itself in faithfulness, so grace will reflect itself in graciousness. And since grace is free, it must be generous.
What does a gracious and generous church look like? What does a gracious and generous Christian look like? And, perhaps more importantly, how have you seen a lack of graciousness and generosity displayed in my life and yours, in our church and yours? Because the act of responding in faith and graciousness necessarily involves repentance, a turning away from actions and patterns that are marked by bitterness, negativity, judgmentalism and selfishness.
Just as the concept of "the love of God" can be distorted by using it as a weapon against God's wrath or righteousness, so "gracious" might be twisted into meaning that we can make no judgments or distinctions, and "generous" means that we can never say "no." That is a problem. But let's let it be a later problem. Our present problem is that I and the church of which I am a part are not so gracious as God is full of grace, and not generous in an abounding sort of way.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

No Man Is An Island

No man is an island entire of itself; every man 
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; 
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe 
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as 
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine 
own were; any man's death diminishes me, 
because I am involved in mankind. 
And therefore never send to know for whom 
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. John Donne

Hebrews 2:14-18 challenges us to think about two types of associations. The first of these associations is "accidental." The second is "on purpose." These associations are critical. they are tied to the issues of life and death, and will determine how we will live our lives.
Fellowship of the Damned
Every human participates in the fellowship of humanity. We are all a part of Adam's race, and share in the privileges and liabilities of that race. According to the Biblical record, we can go back to the Flood, and trace lines of ancestry through the three sons of Noah, but before and beyond that, we still have a common father, Adam.
Whatever distinguishes us throughout humanity is not so important as that which unites us. We have become experts at recognizing the differences of race and nation. We tend to gather according to social levels or fragment due to economic development. But we forget that we are largely all the same, part of the fellowship of humanity, hemmed in by human birth and human death, living a little less than a century, leaving a rather light mark on history.
For all of our intelligence evidenced in communication and organization that sets us apart from animal species, we have our obvious liabilities. We are inventive in new forms of foolishness, and are often entrapped in new kinds of addictions. Our best moments are interrupted by disasters and tragedies of our own making, both on a national and a personal scale. 
What we have "in common" is our fallen humanity, which stands under condemnation. We may not be as bad as we could be, but we surely are not what we were made to be. We are in constant danger of sinking toward that "lowest common denominator," the worst rather than the best, and we do indeed suffer from "guilt by association." We all are born a part of the fellowship of the damned.
Partnership of the Redeemed
Jesus "partakes" of our humanity intentionally. He enters the world of men on purpose, in order that he might introduce a "new humanity" to a brotherhood of which he is the firstborn.
There is a difference in our passage between "fellowship" and "partnership" (partaking). We have no choice in our fellowship. Jesus did. He became a member of what we are by nature. He saddled himself with the limitations and liabilities of our condition. He purposefully sat at the table of those who were unlike him in so many ways, even though he had become like them in so many other ways.
You and I are summoned/invited to this partnership/membership by faith in Jesus Christ. It is not accidental. It is not inevitable. As Jesus entered into this relationship thoughtfully, so will you, or you won't. But he did.
Jesus became like us in all the necessary ways. And yet he remained unlike us in certain ways as well. He had to eat and sleep and work. But he never sinned. Like, and unlike. He reached deep into humanity through his humble service. He refrained from humanity's crudity and impurity. 
For those who are followers of Jesus Christ, we have a pattern to imitate. We reach out to men and women in this world, whether they know Jesus or not, by humble service. But we also refrain from the false worship and pursuits to which the world is addicted, thinking that this is all there is. And because we know Jesus, we know that it is not.