Archive for the 'Devotional' Category

In Part I of this series, we examined Lamb Selection Day, which we Christians celebrate as Palm Sunday (though technically, since the selection happens on Sunday evening, it is actually on Monday in the Jewish calendar).

In this, Part II, we will examine some more of the traditions of Passover as practiced in the first century – in very similar manner as is done today – with the intention of examining some significant details relevant to Christianity.

Removing the Leaven

For seven days no yeast is to be found in your houses. And whoever eats anything with yeast in it must be cut off from the community of Israel, whether he is an alien or native-born. Eat nothing made with yeast. Wherever you live, you must eat unleavened bread (Exodus 12:19-20)

In Hebrew practice and tradition, on the seventh day before Passover, all families would search their houses for yeast (in some Jewish families, a paternal figure would hide bits of bread for the children to search out and find – which may have been borrowed later by Christians in ‘Easter Egg Hunts’. We do not have evidence, though, that this particular tradition was practiced in the first century). All yeast found in the houses would be brought to a central place and burned.

Yeast is used throughout the scriptures – both the Old and New Testaments – as a symbol for sin. While the elimination of yeast was a remembrance of the Children of Israel leaving Egypt so quickly that there was not time to make bread with yeast, this elimination is also symbolic of systematic removal of all traces of sin in one’s life. Keeping in mind that it is always important to keep sin out of our lives, it is this purposeful searching that it done at Passover that seeks ALL the sources by which it may have crept into our lives.

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[A few years back, I did a series of articles on Holy Week on my personal blog. I'm making a few updates and reposting them during this year's Holy Week.]

Sheep's GateThere are a number of interesting events and “coincidences” that can be examined in the Jewish Traditions of the Second Temple period which hold significant parallels with Christian understanding of the last week of Jesus’ life, leading up to his resurrection.

This is Part I in the series (Palm Sunday), with further parts planned for later this week, to correspond with the days being celebrated.

Lamb Selection Day

On the tenth day of the first month of the year (five days before passover), every family was required to choose a lamb for passover, per the instructions given by God to Moses:

Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. (Exodus 12:3-6)

In order that the families could comply with the instructions from Exodus 12, the lambs were chosen the afternoon of the 9th day of the first month, so that they would be with the family from the 10th (which began at sundown) through the 14th. One reason for this, according to some Jewish sources, was so that the lamb would spend time with the family, becoming a part of it, so that when it fulfilled its purpose, it would take the sins of the family with it.

Jewish historians record that the lambs were brought from the fields of Bethlehem to the south up to Jerusalem and through the Northeast gate of the city by the pool of Bethesda, called the “Sheep’s Gate” (see above). (As we discussed during the the Desanitizing Christmas series a couple of years ago, the sheep of Bethlehem were owned by the Sadducees, and only these sheep were allowed to be sacrificed on Passover – for the purpose of filling their corrupt coffers.)

The year of Jesus’ death, He and his disciples began the trip into Jerusalem on a donkey at Bethphage (which is exactly one Sabbath day’s walk from the city walls). Bethphage is to the east of Jerusalem, and the road travels over the Mount of Olives down to the Sheep’s Gate. There they were met by a crowd of people waving palm branches.

The palm branch was a symbol which some scholars believe was not allowed within the city of Jerusalem, because it was associated with the zealots who wanted to overthrow Rome. The war cry of the zealots was “(God) Save Us!” chanted over and over again. In Hebrew, this would be pronounced “Ho-sha-NAH”, which we pronounce today Hosanna. This comes from Psalm 118:25-26, which is at the end of the Psalsms of Jewish blessings (Ps 113-118) called the hallel, sung during Jewish holidays.

O LORD, save us;
O LORD, grant us success.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.
From the house of the LORD we bless you. (Psalm 118:25-26)

And so, the cry of “Hosanna!” was not one simply of recognizing Jesus as a king – but one of a liberator. It was a cry for revolutionary overthrow of the oppressive Roman government. As an opening to the Passover week, it was a harbinger of civil unrest and violence that put the authorities of the city on edge.

Palm Sunday

This is the setting for Lamb Selection Day – which we Christians call “Palm Sunday”. And it is on this day that the Lamb of God, born in the flocks of Bethlehem, who was sacrificed for all of our sins, entered the city of Jerusalem. This was done at the end of the day (Mark 11:11) which would have been the same time at which the Passover lambs were being selected for each family group (and it is also the time that the disciples would have chosen the lamb for their own Passover Meal, which occured on the evening of the 14th day).

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”

This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

“Say to the Daughter of Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosannain the highest!”

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”

The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” (Matthew 21:1-11)

As Westerners, we may miss this, but to Hebraic audiences, the picture is a stark one being painted here: Jesus is proclaimed a messiah by the people, but in doing so, they were selecting him as the Passover lamb to cover all the sins of the people for all time. He was from the flocks of Bethlehem, as all lambs were required to be in that time. The people waved the Palm branches, declaring Yeshua the Messiah. And so it is that the early Christians understood this day (which we celebrate as Palm Sunday) as the day in which Jesus was selected to be our sacrifice.

And so it is that this perfect lamb would have additional significance 5 days later, on the day of Passover…

(to be continued in Part II: Passover)

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Two young children are sitting in the back of the car shoving, whining, and complaining about each other.

“What’s going on back there?” demands the mother.

“She keeps pushing me!” the younger whines.

The mother asks the older sibling if this is true.

“Yes, but that’s because she keeps putting her arm in front of my face,” explains the elder.

The mother replies to the younger, “If you want to stick your arm up in the air, fine, just don’t stick it in your sister’s face.”

When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable,
But he who restrains his lips is wise. – Proverbs 10:19 NASB

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For my next magical trick, I’m going to steal liberally from my pastor. But seeing as how he gets the vast majority of his material from Someone Else, I think I’m safe.

We’ve been studying Revelation on Sunday mornings at my church. Even if a person takes significant license with the text and/or interprets it all metaphorically, you have to deal with the question, “How can a loving God judge man, bringing about the horrible plagues cataloged in the text and condemning people to hell?”

The easy answer is found in Isaiah 55:8:

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD.

But I think that we don’t really understand the magnitude of that verse the way we ought.

Although we’ve dealt with the question (”How can a loving God. . . “) before, my pastor raised it again this week, noting in Revelation 15:3-4:

They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying:

“Great and marvelous are Your works,
Lord God Almighty!
Just and true are Your ways,
O King of the saints!
Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name?
For You alone are holy.
For all nations shall come and worship before You,
For Your judgments have been manifested. ”

He noted that, “Here, [the singers] are going to be seeing the most devastating judgments on the earth. And is anyone complaining about how unfair it is?” (Obviously the answer is “no”.)

He then went on to give an illustration that helped me better understand this issue:

My two-year-old daughter [is] a very sweet girl. But she has a lot of self-will to her. Now she doesn’t have the wisdom or knowledge or experience or mental capacity that I do or that [my wife] does. But she thinks she does. She thinks she knows the right way to do everything herself. If her shirt or dress is on backwards, it’s “right”. If she doesn’t get Sprite for breakfast, then it’s “not fair”. If candy’s not on the menu for dinner, then sometimes a tantrum will ensue, proclaiming dad’s injustice.

And [my daughter and I] are both humans. When you try to put your capacity and knowledge and wisdom and compare it to God’s — take [the difference between my daughter and me] and multiply it by infinity, and you maybe come close to understanding the difference between what you think and understand and what God thinks and understands.

And yet, as [my daughter] grows and matures, she’ll start to understand why we do the things we do as parents. It’s the same thing [for us] as Christians — we grow, we mature, we gain from God’s Word. We grow in the Lord. We start to understand more of His ways and why He does [what He does]. But there will not be a perfect understanding until we come face-to-face with Him.

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Cemetery Cross at QuiltyThis past weekend, I had the opportunity to travel south to Tennessee for a day to meet some old friends (well – “old” as in from my college days, even though they are just as “old” as me), and to go with them to see my son’s musical group in concert in Greeneville.  It had been twelve or thirteen years (by my recollection) since we’d last seen one another, though we’d kept up on Facebook the past couple of years.

But it was almost like walking into a time warp.

During my three semesters at Milligan, my constant companion was Craig.  We met the first day in the dorm (he was just across the hall), loved music, and shared a number of other interests as well.   We also tended to “push” each other – in some ways good, and in some ways not.  Musically, we grew together, learning how to cooperate in the setting of a band.  We got involved in a number of practical jokes, and spent a good deal of time hiking up into the mountains, into caves, and into some intentionally dangerous situations there.

But the thing I appreciated most of all was our talks together.

Once our homework was done (and sometimes even if it wasn’t), we’d sometimes talk until three or four in the morning about most any topic under the sun.  He loved the Beatles and was a russophile (illegally owning a cat named “Trotsky”, may he rest in peace).  I loved Peter Gabriel imports, movies and fireworks (with a mortar launcher that could be operated from our rooftop).  We also had a number of demons we struggled with.

While I didn’t know what it was at the time, I struggled a lot during the winter (January – March) with depression (something I’ve written about here before) and impulsivity, which don’t mix well.  Our midnight talks certainly helped me get through this, and became some of my fondest memories of my time at Milligan.

Friday, when we met in Greeneville, I had made excellent time, which gave Craig, his wife (who I also knew from Milligan) and I some time to catch up.  One of the topics we talked about was Craig’s conversion into the Eastern Orthodox church, which I found to be incredibly interesting – both because of my relative ignorance on the EOC, and because I wondered how his journey took him there.  Along the way, we discussed all sorts of things, from canonization to orthopraxy to prayer to tradition to repentance.  Even when we might have disagreed, it didn’t matter, because our purpose was communion and encouragement, much of what it used to be.

After the concert, we went back to their house (they were gracious enough to offer me a room for the night), and sat down to talk “for a bit”.  It seemed like we’d only been talking for a few minutes when I looked down and saw the time on my iPod – 3:00 am.

My first thought was: some things never change.

Which got me to thinking.  We had talked about repentance – metanoia (Gr.) or t’shuvah (Heb.) – and how it was – visually – an image of recognizing the direction you are walking, stopping, and then turning back toward God and walking toward Him.  With repentance, it is we who change, not God, and when we turn to Him, He is still the same.  Our relationship with Him is how it was before we turned away.

Something else we talked about was prayer – prayer as something far more than a laundry list of concerns and desires, but a basic building block of our relationship with our Father.  Honestly, my prayer life sucks.  My conversation with Craig, if nothing else, revealed this to me (among some other things I’m trying to right.)  I’ve got some ideas on improving, with one of the basic ones being to just start doing it, even if it feels stilted…

So as I drove back, I thought through all of the things that God might have been trying to say to me over the weekend.

Pray.

Repent.

Love.

Spend time in each other’s presence.

All things I know, but I don’t do – or at least don’t do well.

God speaks in all sorts of ways, and sometimes the most tangible way He speaks to us is through His image in our brothers and sisters.

Shalom.

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This is the third and final part of this series. You can find the first two articles here and here. I would appreciate it if you left a comment about how God has transformed you.

Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception.  Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.  Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body.  And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need.  Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children.  Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.  - Ephesians 4:21-5:2

When I am with close friends, I usually don’t have to filter what I am going to say or plan how to say it. Even so, the people I know the best also have sensitive issues or areas in which I choose to be more careful with what I say and how I say it. There are times when I do not behave the way I should simply because I am comfortable. I’ve hurt other people because of that. So when I am more aware of those around me and thinking less of myself, I filter my conversations and actions.

In ministry, this is something that I refer to as being “on.” Other professions and other people experience similar things. For some people, being on means that they hide their true thoughts, their real feelings, who they really are. For the past few decades this kind of attitude and approach to life has led many a hurt individual to desire and expect authenticity from others, especially leaders. But this is not what I mean when I think of being on. I make every effort to be genuine, authentic, and consistent in every area of my life all the time. I try to be the same person when I write as I am when I preach as I am when I am at home with my family. This doesn’t mean that I’m always as well behaved in private as I am in public, but that I am honest in public about my private choices, failures, and weaknesses. (I don’t do this completely as there are still parts of my life that I hide, areas that I am ashamed of.)

So what does it mean to be “on?”

Recently I was approached by an active member in the congregation that I serve who told me that they were hurt, as was a friend of theirs, by my inaction or failure to strike up a conversation with the friend. First I must say that this member approached me very well (at a good time, in the right way, and with the right attitude). I listened. I asked clarifying questions. I asked for help. I committed to working on my end toward connecting.

It means that I produce smiles when I don’t have the energy to smile, or sympathy for their situation when I just feel like wallowing in self-pity… or when I don’t feel much of anything. It means actively listening (hearing, waiting, thinking, clarifying, probing) when I just want to spew my solutions or my own ideas. Sometimes it means keeping my mouth shut altogether, especially when I want to make excuses. It means praying for others, not about them. It means confronting others instead of letting the problems work themselves out. It means talking with anybody and everybody instead of sitting in my own little introspective world.

All of this is not to show others that I am perfect, that I am somebody I am not. Not to show them that I have it all together or that I know all the answers. I do this to love others as Christ has loved me, with genuine devotion and preference in honor. I do this to help when people are in need and to be hospitable at all times. I do this to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. And when somebody comes against me, hurts me, or even hates me? I do these things so that I can be a blessing to them, do good to and for them. I do this so that I can live in peace with everyone. None of this is easy for me. I have to work at it. Very hard.

This continued hard work is draining on me. My temptation is to seek out moments when I can live unfiltered, where I can say what I want, when I want, how I want. Where I don’t have to constantly evaluate my interactions and my relationships. I am tempted, but I don’t want that. When I am able to live unfiltered, I want it to be because Christ has so transformed my life that others see Him in me. Until then, He is my filter.

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*This article is the second in a three part series. You can find the first part here: Transforming Faith.

Being a student and minister, there are times when I am required to speak or write about a subject or passage of scripture that I don’t feel particularly inspired about. This is especially difficult as my heart for others increases because I want to have tremendous passion, empathy, sympathy, conviction, creativity, etc. about the things that can and should matter in their lives. I know that all scripture is useful to the community of believers in a variety of ways, but it doesn’t always connect with me strongly (or I don’t connect with it) all the time or for every passage. In my own process of growth I have come to the understanding that those strong and loving responses come during the periods I am spending more time reading, praying, and listening and when I am spending more time with others. Despite my efforts to do both, I am experiencing what many would call a dry spell. So I asked for something to write about. Romans 12:15 was offered up and I accepted. Partly because I needed direction, partly because I love God’s Word even when I don’t feel great feelings, partly because I’m looking to regain some discipline, some passion, something, and partly because it sounded like something I might actually be able to connect to right now. It wasn’t… at first.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. – Romans 12:9-21 (Emphasis mine.)

Why did I keep coming back to it?
I wrestle with God’s word to keep from wrestling with others. I actively engage the word to keep from ignoring the world around me. It is through struggling to understand, struggling to connect, struggling to apply that I find deep meaning… not just in understanding intellectually, but in understanding deep inside the heart. Understanding better who I am and how I live. Understanding better who other people are and what steps I need to take to love them the way Christ has loved me. Sometimes that means days of reflection, other times weeks. Usually it means mulling over the thoughts and convictions for months until I am able to digest and internalize the truth.

What have I learned?
I’ve always been kind of an emotionally detached person when it comes to sympathy for others. Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep is hard work for me. That doesn’t mean I am not happy for others when they are happy, or that I am not sorry for others when they hurt. It means that for me, those responses are more intellectual than they are a feeling or emotion. I’m terrible at empathy, and sympathy is often hard work for me. The reason I know this about myself is because I really do care. I don’t care so much about whether or not a person gets what they want. In fact, I’m a little harsh when it comes to that. But I do care about the needs and growth of others and because I care about those things, I care about how my interactions and relationships with other people impacts their lives.

Questions
What causes three adults, whose job it is to look out for the well being of others, to stand around and watch as a young teenage girl is beaten, robbed, and has her head stomped on repeatedly? Their employer said that they are just there to observe and report illegal activity and that they are now revising their employee guidelines/instructions. Are we any better when somebody tells us about a problem or need and we wish them well but do not take action? Is Paul telling us to respond emotionally to the events in the lives of others? If you only act because you respond emotionally, your life will be tossed about by whomever and whatever can make those emotions surface in you. Is Paul being literal, or do you think that he wants us to take time to share in other’s lives? Wedding and funeral customs of the time period were often week long events. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

How have I grown?
Come back Wednesday and read part three to see how this passage connected with me.

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This is the first article in a three part series. Most of what is written below was written over a year ago as the result of a challenging and valuable Seminary class called Shaping the Heart of a Leader. I share it with you as background for the following two articles, Wrestling With the Word and Unfiltered. (Note that references to the present or recent past have been left as they were written back then.)

Listening to God
Reggie McNeal says succinctly in his book A Work of Heart, the function of the Christian leader “is to reflect God’s heart to God’s people. This cannot be done apart from a leader’s firsthand knowledge of God’s heart.” I’ve discovered that a great way to practice listening to God is to be willing to pause and reflect on what is happening right now and how it relates to your own growth. Maybe this has occurred because of a lack of structure in my own life, but I often see/hear God responding to me not when I set aside time, but when I simply set aside my own agenda. To that end, I have spent a great deal of time reflecting, listening, and figuring out what my own “agenda” (desires, wants, dreams, etc.) is. It has been said that you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been. So I am going to look backward so that I can better examine my life now to open up my life to God’s work in me.

The Past Does Matter
The church I attended throughout my youth was conservative and growing. Truth and scriptural authority were highly valued. Emotions on the other hand were mostly ignored. When I was young, I was committed to church, to youth group, and to growing. I sought and was directed toward a leadership role at church in the youth group as well as in starting up a bible study at school. A couple of times as I was growing up I had encouragement to go into preaching by other Christians. The narcissistic side of me thinks that what they saw was pride, self-righteousness, and over-confidence, and those things very well could have been there, but those few comments were a big part in me going into full-time preaching.

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Cage MatchThis past weekend, I had lunch with a good friend of many years, John, and afterward we spent some time discussing Paul and his letters to the different churches (among other things).  John’s in a house with three daughters (the youngest of whom is in college) and my youngest son is a senior in HS this year, so our need for male companionship (outside of the family dog) lends itself to all sorts of interesting conversation.  But I digress…

I was remembering my NT professor’s instructions that when we read any of Paul’s epistles, we need to remember that he isn’t just sending a random shout-out or bantering with the churches he’s writing to, but that he’s actually answering some questions they’ve got and giving advice on specific situations within the church.  So – since we only have the answers, but not the questions, it is important that – if we want to do a deep study of any epistle – the first thing we ought to do is to try and discern the questions posed to Paul.

Somehow, John and I got onto the topic of I Corinthians, and he told me something he’d picked up in seminary regarding the questions posed to Paul that led to this particular epistle.  If you read the context of this letter, and the second epistle to the church in Corinth, it becomes evident that the church in Corinth had a problem that was not all that uncommon today:

1) There was at least one – if not multiple – vocal busybodies within the church who disagreed on issues of both orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

2) The busybodies were calling out those they disagreed with in the church, and playing out their personal grievances in public.  While some might have been legitimate, a number of them were quite petty.

3) They also were instituting somewhat of a hierarchy within the church – possibly based on social status, but more likely based on their “seniority” within the church.

4) One of the busybodies took it upon himself to write to Paul, and most likely (as possibly the first FDDM – “foot-driven discernment ministry”) hand delivered it to Paul.

John suggested I read I Corinthians as if the questions Paul was answering questions from this context, and that it would likely make the entire letter seem coherent in its entirety, rather than a collection of disconnected thoughts.

John suggested I read I Corinthians as if the questions Paul was answering questions from this context, and that it would likely make the entire letter seem coherent in its entirety, rather than a collection of disconnected thoughts.

And he was right.

And what was funny (at least to a nerd like me) was this:  When I got to I Corinthians 13 (the “love chapter”), it took on a whole new light.  It also made me wonder if reciting this chapter at weddings, framing it and putting it on the wall, etc. as a “beautiful expression of what love is” might not be missing the point a bit.  Maybe it’s a little bit more like taking a letter you received from Mom and Dad while away at college, scolding you for problems you’ve gotten yourself into and framing it for public consumption.

If you have time today – or even if you don’t – I think perhaps sitting down and reading I Corinthians with the possibility that the above context was what Paul was replying to might be a good thing for each of us today.

Grace and Peace,

Chris

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This week I have been reading through Romans 1:1-7. There’s a lot there. It is dense, thick with words as Paul writes in every square millimeter of the scroll—trying to cram in as much as he can.

Wright, in his commentary, notes: “Paul has now drawn a miniature map of God’s purpose, revealed in Jesus the Messiah, proclaimed in the apostolic gospel.” See, then, what Paul says.

They are ‘called of Jesus Christ.’ (6)

They are ‘called to be holy.’ (7)

But they are also ‘in Rome.’ (7)

The question becomes, at least in my mind, how can ‘we’ be holy and of Jesus Christ when we live in Rome? Rome is a tough place to be, a hard place to live. Rome is full of the wrath and fury of the dragon. But Rome is also glorious and beautiful and her beauty is captivating. How can we be holy, called of Christ, Israel in the midst of Rome?

I suppose one place to start is by remembering that we are also ‘beloved of God’ and a second place is to remember that he has blessed us with ‘grace’ and ‘peace.’ He loves us! We are his beloved! We are his sons and daughters—those he baptized in the Red Sea as he led us out of Egypt. What glorious wonder is this that we should be called ‘sons of God’?

“For Paul, the ‘call’ was God’s powerful word, creating new life—creating, indeed, the response it sought, as a word of love is always capable of doing. And it is to the love of God that Paul now appeals, not for the last time: ‘God’s beloved in Rome,’ he labels the church, ‘called to be saints.’ Both these phrases, while carrying their own echoes of love and holiness, look back inevitably to the status of God’s people in the past, the people whom Paul sees as now renewed and expanded so as to include believing Gentiles as well as Jews.’ (Wright, TNIB)

Just remember today, wherever Rome happens to be for you (maybe Topeka, Port-au-Prince, Washington D.C.) that you are beloved of God—buried, as it were, in the grace and peace of Christ, called to be holy, called of Christ Jesus, and remarkably blessed as a part of the family of God, even Israel.

Paul writes as if the greeting itself came from Jesus. Read this (Romans 1:1-7) then, not as the words of one man to another, but as they really are: The greeting of Christ himself to you. And he is greeting you with grace, peace, and love.

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