Friday, January 28, 2011

Fridays at 8 Righteous

I liked HuggyBear. Remember him. He was the cool, hip, pimp-like informant friend of Starsky and Hutch. You know, Starsky and Hutch. Don’t tell me that is all before your time. They were the TV detective duo of the 70’s. Cool hair, red and white Torino. You don’t remember Torinos. This is getting us nowhere.

Back to HuggyBear. He had a word that he used when something was so good, so cool, so right on. He would say, “Righteous.” Starsky walks in with a new pair of sunglasses and Huggy says, “Righteous.” Hutch shoots a bad guy and recovers a gazillion dollars from a bank heist. When he opens the case Huggy says, “Righteous.” What a great word!

Imagine my surprise to find out that HuggyBear was not the inventor of the word. Paul says in Romans 8:4, “And so He condemned sin in sinful man in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” A lot of that sounds familiar over the last three weeks, sinful nature, law of the Spirit, but righteous, that’s a new word.

Remember where we are, from verse 1. God does not condemn us even though we are unable to keep His law perfectly because Jesus came and set us free but the slavery of having to keep the law. He justified us (just as if I’d never sinned) by His death and now sees us as though we are pure and perfect.

Here in verse 4 He brings that whole thought to completion by reminding us that the law wasn’t ignored. It was fulfilled by Christ. It’s like this. I get a speeding ticket for driving 70 in a 55. Wait, let’s make this more realistic. Doris gets a speeding ticket for driving 70 in a 55. She goes to court and the judge says, “That will be $130.” Then he says, “I can’t ignore what you did and the fine has to be paid, but I tell you what I’m going to do. I will pay the fine for you and you are free to go.” That’s what God did for us and we are set free from the law of sin and death. Righteous!

Which brings us back to that word. What is the “righteous requirement of the law?” What does it mean to be righteous? What is righteousness? It goes all the way back to the Old Testament covenant that God made with Abraham and with us. “I will be your God and you will be my people.” I am righteous by being in a right relationship with God. When I accept Him for who He is, My Creator, My Redeemer, My Lord, and I realize that He accepts me for who I am, His child that He loves, not because of what I do to please Him but because of what He has done for me then I am in right relationship with Him and I am righteous.

In Romans 4:3 Paul writes, “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.” He was righteous not because of what he did but because of who he believed. And the same is true for me and you. God gave us the law to prove to us that we can never be good enough. Then He paid the price of the law to prove to us that He loves us. And finally, He takes away any guilt or shame of that, no condemnation, and all He asks of us is that we trust Him. Not just to take care of our sick kids or to help us pay the light bill. No He asks us to believe that He loves us so much that He sees us as His own, wonderful, dearly loved kids, even when we mess things up. John writes in I John 3:1 “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that He calls us His little children. And that is what we are!” Righteous.

Over the next few weeks in Romans 8 we’ll start seeing what that looks like and how we respond to it. But for now just believe it. Quit trying to get everything just right. You don’t have to be perfect. Your Abba Daddy loves you so much and you are better than perfect. You are righteous.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Snow Day Grace

Snow Day Grace

Snow Days have to be the world’s best example of modern day grace. Holidays, Spring Break, summer vacation; they are all on the calendar and we have them coming to us. In some way we earn the right to be out of school or off work on those days. But snow days, that’s an entirely different story. Snow days seem like free passes. They weren’t planned for. We did nothing to merit them. Kids sit eagerly in front of the TV set the night before and wait to see their county scroll across the bottom of the screen. (My daughter-in-law does that too.) When our county shows up, HOORAY, a free day off.

The first 4 verses of Romans are about grace, free passes, stuff we get that we don’t deserve. Romans 8:3 tells exactly how that grace came to be. Paul writes, “For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh,[a] God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.[b] And so he condemned sin in the flesh.” Now that does bring some questions to mind. Just what was the law powerless to do? What does it mean that sin was condemned? But the big picture is that we get a huge snow day, a pass, a free walk.

To find out what the law was powerless to do we have to see what God did. The last phrase in the verse says He CONDEMNED sin in the flesh. I asked my guys on Thursday what condemned means. Terry said, “It means it no longer usable, like a house condemned.” Bob said, “It is terminal, final, like being condemned to death.” I think they are both right.

Here’s the deal. God put Adam and Eve in the Garden and said “You’ve got one rule. Don’t eat the apple.” We couldn’t even keep that rule. So He said, “Let me break it down for you a little more. Keep these 10 Laws. Don’t kill. Don’t steal. Honor the Sabbbath.” And we blew that big time. The Jews tried to make it simpler but turning these 10 Laws into 700 rules and regulations. You see where this is going. The laws just kept getting more and more detailed, more complicated, and we kept breaking them. In fact, we came to understand that it was impossible for us to keep them.

And God knew that all along. He had this whole thing planned. So He says, “This law thing is no longer usable. I’m going to put an end to that way of living.” Now the law is still in place. God still needed “righteousness” from His children. (More on that later.) But God, through Jesus satisfies all of the legal requirements of the law and gives us credit for it. He sends Jesus in the flesh, just like me and you, and then uses Him and His sacrifice to pay the price required by the law.

It’s like a snow day. School is still out there. I still have to go to class and take my tests and do PE. But today, I get a pass. Don’t have to go in. HOORAY again. All I have to do is accept that. Now I could still get up. Put on my clothes. Go sit in the empty classroom and do my duty. But really all I need to do is say, “Snow Day. I’m off the hook.” That is grace.

Oh, there is one big difference. I have to go back to school or back to work tomorrow. But what Jesus did, well, Hebrews 9:28 says it was “once and for all.” Lifetime snow days. Sounds good to me.

We’ll talk about this more next Friday but for today, enjoy yourself. Quit trying to keep every single little law and rule and regulation in order to please God. Haven’t you watched your name scroll across the bottom of the screen? He has condemned that stuff and you get to stay in your PJ’s and watch Matlock re-runs. Grace……

Monday, January 17, 2011

Friday at 8 (posted Monday at 5)

Romans 8:2 “because through Christ Jesus, the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”

Last week I had a great idea. Every Friday I’m going to blog about a verse from Romans 8. It was a fun idea, easy to do, full of life. So I started my blog and sent it out 1 week in a row! This past Friday life set in. I am teaching a class on Tuesdays and Thursdays for a church in Nashville. I had to prepare for that. Friday and Saturday was New Life University and I taught the Christian Psychology course for which I needed to do some writing. As soon as it was over Doris and I hopped in the car for Western Kentucky to visit some great friends and to speak for their church. Got back Sunday night to move furniture at Branches and get set up for the Intensive that begins today.

I’m not complaining, (well, maybe a little bit) but I am saying that the whole time the need to send this blog was eating away at me and making me anxious. Call it writer’s block or call it the “law of sin and death” all of a sudden, what started out as a joy turned into a drudgery. In fact I’m pretty ticked writing right now. (I’m kidding!)

On Thursday I met with two men that I believe in and respect, Robert and Bob. We talked about, can you believe it, Romans 8. I asked them, “What is the law of the Spirit of life?” We came up with some amazing answers, a few vaguely resembled what might be true. But we had a great conversation that moved us all to a deeper level of thinking, I think. Like, what is spiritual life and what is spiritual death? Or, how significant is it that Paul says “through Christ” rather than “by Christ?”

Our conversation went two interesting places that I think are somehow connected. We began to talk about the law as Jesus saw it. Bob reminded me that Jesus summed all of the other laws up into two, love God, and love your neighbor. The other place our talk turned was to those people that are really trying to please God by keeping the law, whatever law they choose to keep. Do they have a chance? Is there a way to make it based on the law?

It seems to me that no matter what else you believe about these two laws, you have to admit that loving God and loving people feels joy based while “all the law and the prophets”, ie, the 10 commandments, the Talmud, the Manual, the Church Discipline, look both ways before you cross the street, ALL THE OTHER LAWS WE TRY TO LIVE LIFE BY, can become a drudgery. They freeze us up, take away our creativity, and sap our joy. So that serving God and making it to heaven becomes this very oppressive duty rather than, well, life.

Can you make it to God by a law based, performance center, duty filled, disciplined, structured life that dots every “i” and crosses every “t”? I guess so but it ain’t easy and you better get EVERYTHING right. To paraphrase Wesley, can you serve God without the Spirit of life? Maybe so. You can also get from England to America without a ship (or a plane) but it’s an awful long swim.
Don’t misunderstand. Paul is not removing any sense of holy living or any requirement of the Gospel, In verse 12 we’ll talk about the “obligation” we have to the Spirit of life. Rather Paul is saying that what Jesus did in reconciling us to God was to take away the drudgery (and death) of trying to fulfill all of the law and replace it with the delight of being immersed in love both for and from God, and showing that love in the way we treat those around us. The God life changes from a duty to a desire. It ceases to be a have to and starts to become a want to. Jesus, by paying the ultimate price to fulfill all of the commandments, made it possible for me and you to do our part to live holy and Godly lives as our natural, loving response to Him and His gift. Because of what He did I don’t have to do anything except love Him and love His children. That’s life.

Now there are some interesting ideas about what that looks like in the rest of Romans 8. We’ll talk about that on the Fridays ahead. Oh My Goodness! Did I just say that? I’m sick already…..

Friday, January 7, 2011

Fridays At 8

Golden Voice

If you’ve been anywhere on the planet the last few days you have seen a story unfold that began with a viral video out of Columbus, Ohio. A television reporter filmed Ted Williams, a man that the headlines labeled “The Homeless Man with the Golden Voice.” As the story caught fire Ted was whisked in just a few days from the streets of Columbus to the TV screens and then the hearts of the nation.
(If you have by chance been away from the planet you can see the story here…

We have been delighted to watch the story of Ted unfold with a paying gig at Kraft Foods, a job offer from the Cleveland Cavaliers, national television appearances and a tearful reunion with this 92 year old mother. It seems like a perfect story of redemption as Ted Williams gets a second chance at life. After years of alcohol and drug addiction, a number of criminal offenses, and hitting the bottom, Ted seems to be on his way up. That’s a great story.

It also is a little sad to think about this amazing voice being unused all of these years. This gift from God tucked away and wasted in a broken, bound, body, ashamed to be heard, ashamed to be used. Actually, that’s a pretty familiar story. Most of us, at one time or another, have silenced the voice that God has put in us because of our shame and guilt. We felt like our story did not deserve to be told, like we had blown our chance of being heard, like we did not deserve to speak. Silenced by our shame we stayed too quiet, too long.

I have been reading Romans 8:1 this week. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” I have spent the whole week mediating on this thought that we are truly set free from guilt and shame because of His work in us. And if that doesn’t make you want to use your voice, I don’t know what will.

The “therefore” in 8:1 doesn’t point back to chapter 7 as is often the case with Paul. To see what the “therefore” is there for you have to go all the way back to Romans 5. Verse 1 says, “We have been justified through faith and we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:18 says, “The result of one act of righteousness (the sacrificial death of Jesus) was justification that brings life for all men.” The reason that there is no condemnation is not because we are innately good people or that we have finally chalked up enough good deeds. The reason that we are free from condemnation is that we have been JUSTIFIED by the loving death of Christ for each one of us.

When I was a little kid in Sunday School my teacher would explain being justified by saying God changed me so that it is “just as if I’d” never sinned, justified. In other words, I am free from guilt and shame not because God said, “Oh, you’re okay. I’ll just ignore the sin in your life.” No, He completely took the sin away, healed all of the scars, wiped out the spots, and burned the bandages. There is no hint that I was ever wounded. It is just as if…well, you get the picture. So that there is not even a shadow of condemning, finger pointing, or chastising.

Now, if that is true (and it is) then how in the world can I keep silent about that? How can I let the devil (the Bible calls him the accuser,) how can I let him shame me into keeping my mouth shut? I don’t care where you have been or what you have done you have a story and a voice to tell it with and God delights in hearing you praise Him for His great grace.

I have decided that every Friday this year I’m going to use my voice about one verse in Romans 8. I am spending the whole week meditating on one verse and then on Friday speaking out what God has said to me that week. Not because my voice is golden and not because you need to hear it (you don’t even have to listen) but because what He has done for me (and for you) deserves to be spoken. Scripture says if we don’t use our voices even the rocks will cry out. I’m going to call it “Fridays At 8” (get it, Romans 8) and if you want you can follow along. For now though come in out of your guilt and shame and start using that voice that God has given you. He has taken away your sin and you have NOTHING to be condemned about.

And by the way, if the Cleveland Cavaliers call, give them my number…..

(If you want to see this each week when it is posted you can join the blog at Or you can send that link to your friends. Does that sound self-serving enough? The pictures of Jon-Mical are totally unrelated and you will not be charged extra.)