Posts Tagged ‘repentance’

JohnCalvinRepentPrayer


The Prophet’s Story

The story begins with Adam and Eve, who listened to the voice of the devil instead of God. They disobeyed, and mankind’s perfect relationship with God was broken.

They became the first to experience sin and the death sin causes. They tried to hide themselves with tree leaves to cover their shame, but God was not pleased with these coverings. He covered them instead with animal skin garments. God Himself made the first animal sacrifice to cover their shame.

Adam and Eve had two children: Cain and Abel. Cain made an offering to God from the food he had grown while Abel offered an animal sacrifice—a blood sacrifice.

God accepted Abel’s sacrifice but not Cain’s. Why? Because sin demands death, separates us from God, and must be paid for . . . with life. In Cain’s jealousy, he killed Abel and led a large portion of humanity down a dark path.

Hundreds of years later, things had gotten so bad that God said there was no one on earth that deserved to live . . . no one except Noah and his family. God called Noah to build a boat—a big one—and in doing so preach this message: Judgment for sin is coming, and there is only one way to escape and receive the mercy of God—the ark.

They laughed and ridiculed Noah until rain came from the sky and the water burst up from the deep while the people were unprepared. The flood killed every person and animal, and the world perished for their sins. Only Noah, his family, and the animals God had brought to the ark were saved.

Then came Abraham, the Father of Faith. God told him to take his son and sacrifice him on a mountain. Abraham was disturbed by this command, but he obeyed God. He proved his faith with action and took his son to Mount Moriah. But just as Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, God stopped him and provided an animal to take his son’s place. The animal redeemed, replaced, bought back his son—blood for blood, life for life.

Four hundred years passed and God sent Moses to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt. Pharaoh, the King of Egypt, didn’t like this, so God punished him with ten plagues. For the final plague, God sent an Angel of Death to kill the firstborn son of every household. But there was a way out. The people were commanded to sacrifice a lamb and put its blood on the doorpost of the house. If the Angel of Death saw the blood, he knew the children inside had been redeemed by sacrifice. Whether Jew or Egyptian, slave or freeman, if they obeyed the command of God, their child would be saved. If not . . . their child would not be saved. That night it happened just as Moses prophesied and a great weeping went up all over Egypt in any household that had refused God’s mercy by sacrifice.

Later, Moses gave the people the Torah in which God prescribed a ritual for covering the sins of the people. The offender brought an animal sacrifice to the priest, laid his hands on its head symbolizing the way his own sin and shame was transferred to the animal. Then the animal was sacrificed—its blood spilled out—and the offender’s sin was covered. King David and the prophets followed the Torah given by Moses, but they wondered, “Can the blood of animals really cover the sins of a man, or are they signs and symbols pointing to the future?”

David prophesied a Coming One, a King, a Messiah, a descendant of King David who would rule and reign in power, yet be a humble man with a heart of compassion. This Messiah would be sinless, perfect, blameless, innocent. He would suffer and die and be a worthy sacrifice. He would become “the Great Sacrifice.” Jesus was born in a barn because nobody had room for him. Born of a virgin, born pure. A royal, but poor, descendent of King David. Poor country shepherds and wealthy wise men from the East came to honor the child and testify that He was indeed the Coming One, the Messiah, whom the Scriptures had promised.

Jesus preached love, truth, peace, humility. He was a humble carpenter, but brilliant philosopher. He offended religious hypocrites who cared about rituals more than loving God, but He was loved by the poor, the humble, the repentant, the sinner. He healed the deaf, blind, deformed, and demon possessed. He even raised dead men back to life again. A homeless man, a wandering teacher, a revolutionary calling Lovers of God to live full lives. Jesus even called God His “Father,” and showed mankind that “the All Powerful” loves you like a Daddy.

God wanted to relate to humans as His children, but there was a problem. They were still sinful and God is Holy! Man’s sin, starting with Adam, had separated the people from their God, and the Messiah knew what He had to do to bring them back.

John the Baptist prophesied of Jesus saying, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” Jesus was the Messiah, the Chosen One—chosen to become the Great Sacrifice. Having never sinned, He was holy, pure, perfect, and worthy to pay the price for sin. The innocent one in exchange for the guilty. The Holy One in exchange for sinful people. He did this for His Father to pay the price for mankind’s sin, to free them from their slavery to sin, and to restore to them what Adam had lost—a perfect relationship with God. Jesus died on the cross, not because of the Jews, nor the Romans, but by the hand of God, his Father. God sacrificed Jesus to fulfill what was written by the prophets—that He would become the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, yours and mine. But He didn’t stop there. Three days later God raised Jesus, the Messiah, from the dead as a promise to those who believe in Him, that they too will rise again to eternal life. After this, Jesus promised his disciples that He would return again, but this time as Judge and King!

The Messiah is God’s gift to mankind so they would not die in their sins and be separated from God. By receiving Jesus’ sacrifice they could be restored back into a perfect relationship with Him. But like any gift, it’s not yours until you take it.

obedience

The short message was recorded with my new GoPro Hero3 camera!

 

Kerygma

Kerygma

What is kerygma and what does it mean?

During the last seven weeks of the Communication in Ministry course I am taking, we are concentrating on preaching or delivering sermons or messages to our congregations.  We are studying structuring sermons, how to select our passages and how to interpret the biblical passage. We are learning how to relate the interpretation of the biblical passage to our “audience.” We are learning all the ways and means to creating a great sermon.

This brings me to the word kerygma. Dictionary.com gives the definition of kerygma as “the preaching of the gospel of Christ, especially in the manner of the early church, and the content or message of such preaching.”

Kerygma is the Greek word κήρυγμα kérugma, translated proclamation or preaching. Kergyma is the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in spoken words, or even viewed in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. It is the proclamation of Jesus redemptive work. Proclamation was usually followed by teaching and instruction in the elements of the faith, or the reading of a Creed. What Jesus did and taught in His ministry was included within the basic proclamation. Ok, so lets break this definition down. 

1. Kerygma is the preaching of the Gospel.

2. Kerygma is preaching in the manner of the early church.

3. Kerygma has to do with the content or message of what is being preached.

What is the Gospel? It is the Good News of the life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. The Gospel includes the facts of Jesus’ incarnation as the Word. It includes the fact that Jesus is the Son of God. It includes the fact that Jesus was begotten of the Father and not a creature that the Father made. Jesus is in the Father as the Father is in Him. It includes the fact that salvation from sin, sickness, death, and the devil is only through Jesus the Messiah. It includes the fact that we are made right with God, declared righteous because of the righteousness of Jesus the Messiah. The Gospel is Good News!

2. What was the manner of preaching in the early church? The book of Acts clearly demonstrates that the early church preached the Gospel focusing on Jesus Christ; on repentance, faith, baptism and the forgiveness of sins, especially that salvation is through Jesus alone. The early church preached Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The reason is that the Apostles were witnesses to the life, ministry, death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. The early church preached what they heard from Jesus, the Apostles, and what they witnessed – it is the Gospel.

3. What is the content or message of what was being preached by the early church? When looking into the book of Acts we see:

  • All of the messages mention the doctrine of God.
  • All of the messages mention Jesus the Messiah.
  • Seven messages mention Jesus’ death.
  • Seven messages mention His resurrection.
  • Four messages declare that Jesus is now exalted in heaven at the right hand of the Father.
  • Four messages mention the giving of the Holy Spirit.
  • Seven message mention the forgiveness of sins.
  • Five messages mention repentance.
  • Three messages mention the need for faith.
  • Five messages mention Scripture.
  • None of the messages use the word Kingdom, because the Kingdom of God was brought to the earth in Jesus the Messiah.

Therefore, the content or the message preached by the early church included everything mentioned above. The church today must preach the Gospel like the early church. The early church preached the Gospel within the context of her audience, whether Jew or Gentile, or whether it was in Palestine or Athens, Rome or Crete. The kerygma was the same. They preached and taught the Gospel. The early church preached and taught the Gospel as it was given to them by the Apostles. The kerygma is the Apostolic Gospel message. The Church should be preaching the Gospel the same way the Apostles preached it: in the wisdom and power of God.

St. Paul gives an example of the kerygma:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared also to me.” 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (ESV)

In conclusion, based upon the Four Gospels and Acts, there are seven elements to the ancient kerygma of the Church:

1. God loves you and seeks after you.
2. Sin will destroy you.
3. Jesus Christ died to save you.
4. Repent and believe the Gospel.
5. Be Baptized – receive the Holy Spirit.
6. Abide in Christ and His Body the Church.
7. Go make disciples.

Lastly, there are four elements (Acts 2:42) to living the Christian life revolving around the kerygma:

1. The Apostles’ Teaching – The Church steadfastly went on in the study of ancient Scripture and the sacred teachings of the Faith given them by the Apostles.
2. The Fellowship – They were daily interacting within Christ’s Body the Church, frequently gathering for worship, and other gatherings as the Body of Christ.
3. The Breaking of the Bread – This is another way of saying that they faithfully received Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharist and, by extension,  all the Sacraments.
4. The Prayers – Using forms of prayers, in both the personal and community contexts.

mtdThere is talk in some church circles about “moralistic therapeutic deism.” We may abbreviate this ungainly phrase as “MTD,” in allusion to the popular cable channel showing music videos. Many teenagers and young adults are familiar with MTV; however, few would recognize “moralistic therapeutic deism” as playing any role in their lives.

Yet the contention we hear is that MTD, rather than classic Christianity, is the predominant religion among today’s teenagers and young adults. They may not recognize the phrase, but it describes the belief system that they actually profess and practice. And what’s more: We, the parents and other adults around them, are the ones who taught them MTD. This is a serious charge and deserves serious consideration.

An Inarticulate Faith

The phrase “moralistic therapeutic deism,” you will not be surprised to learn, was coined by an academic: Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith. It has been disseminated more widely by Smith’s associates, including Princeton Seminary professor Kenda Creasy Dean. Based on her research with Smith, Dean published a book, Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church. Dean has become a popular speaker at church events. She delivered a challenging presentation at my local church on a snowy Saturday in February, and I was among the large crowd that came out to hear her.

Smith, Dean, and their colleagues did surveys and in-depth interviews in which they queried thousands of young people about their religious beliefs and practices. Very few, they found, were atheists or hostile toward religion. On the other hand, relatively few were able to articulate and consistently practice a faith that resembled classic Christianity.

The vast majority of the respondents found it difficult to articulate any kind of belief system. They mentioned God, but it was a vague and distant God. They didn’t have much to say about Jesus.

What the respondents did seem to believe, as Smith summarized it, was: God functions as an authority who gives us rules to guide our behavior (this is the “moralistic” part). The main point of these rules is to be a nice person who gets along with other people. If we obey the rules, God makes us feel good about ourselves (this is the “therapeutic” part). But God isn’t involved in a personal or direct way in our daily lives (this is the “deism” part). He may show up in a crisis, to make us feel better about ourselves.

Almost Christian

This set of half-conscious assumptions is what Smith, Dean, and associates call “moralistic therapeutic deism.” It’s not necessarily false. We should seek good relations with the people around us. If we obey God’s commands, we will usually end up happier. God is a refuge in times of trouble.

Yet the Good News of Jesus Christ is so much greater than any of this. Dean, in her talk, showed a side-by-side comparison of MTD and the Apostles’ Creed. The differences were stark. MTD is all about myself and my happiness. The Apostles’ Creed is about the Truine God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–and God’s amazing works from the Creation to the Incarnation to the hope of life eternal.

So how did these teenagers and young adults come to settle for so much less than the Gospel? It wasn’t by rebelling against their parents’ religion. On the contrary, survey respondents by and large felt positively toward their parents and shared common values. Many of them reported that their parents had taken them regularly to church and youth group, and they had few complaints about the experience. It’s just that they didn’t emerge with a distinct Christian faith that they could articulate and practice.

Is This What We Teach Our Children?

Dean suggests a disturbing explanation: Perhaps these teenagers and young adults adopted MTD because that’s what they were taught. That’s basically the philosophy of life they have received from and observed in their parents. It’s what they learned in Sunday school and youth group: Be nice to other people and you’ll have a happy life, and God will be there when you need him. All that stuff about Jesus dying for our sins never really made an impression.

Dean’s presentation provoked some self-examination in me and others at my church: Is MTD what we are teaching our kids? When my wife and I lead Children’s Church, is the message the children are hearing the Gospel of God’s great mercy in Jesus Christ? Or is it something less? Are we preparing them to be nice people or disciples of Jesus Christ?

I must admit that some of the Sunday school curriculum we have used has been very moralistic and therapeutic. We read Bible stories, but the takeaway at the end of the lesson often seems to be that everyone is special to God and kids should be kind to their classmates. There isn’t much said about our being sinners to whom God sent a Savior. I have seen this failing not only in old line Protestant curricula, but also in curricula from publishers that have an evangelical reputation.

How would your congregation fare under this kind of self-examination? Maybe you intend to communicate the Gospel–as my wife and I do–but are you sure that’s what the children are hearing? It’s a question worth asking. The consequences go far into the future–indeed, into eternity.

Taken from “Theology Matters” http://www.theologymatters.com/

Written by: Alan F.H. Wisdom

Lent2

Lent

How should I prepare myself for Pascha?

“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”  2 Corinthians 13:5 (ESV)

What is Lent?

Lent is a season of forty weekdays and six Sundays for the church to journey with Christ to Holy Week and Pascha. It is an opportunity for of self-examination, repentance, purgation, and spiritual renewal.

Why may we struggle with Lent?

  1. Thanksgiving and Christmas are so ensconced in secular American culture that a period of preparation during Advent makes sense to us. Most Christians are attracted to this season as a way to rise above the materialism and commercialization of Christmas.
  2. Pascha is so foreign to secular American culture that a period of preparation during Lent just seems weird, threatening, out of place.

I. Lent seems like a dark, foreboding ritualism to some Christians – candles, ashes, fasting, prayer, works, and pilgrimage. Haven’t we been saved from empty, meaningless religion?

  1. Perhaps we struggle with Lent in the same way we struggle with the Psalms of lament, which make up two-thirds of the Psalter. Grieving over our lives (i.e. Lenten repentance and Psalms of lamentation) is foreign from our American way of living and our spiritual experience. We often subconsciously screen out what is dark, awkward, and uncomfortable.
  2. We need a season to prepare for Pascha. Most people think of Pascha as a weekend event, and the main preparation is the purchase of new clothes and a carefully planned Pascha egg hunt. However, Pascha is a forty-day season of feasting and celebration in response to the resurrection and new creation. If we prepare for a wedding, an anniversary, a birthday, a graduation, a vacation, an athletic competition, or any other special occasion in our lives, how much more do we need to prepare for Pascha? The forty days of Lent gets us ready for the forty days of Pascha.

The journey to Paschal joy

  1. Lent is a spiritual journey and its destination is Pascha, “the Feast of feasts.”
  2. Pascha celebrates the death of Death, the annihilation of Hell, the beginning of new and everlasting life.
  3. Pascha celebrates Christ’s resurrection as something that happened to him, is happening, and will happen to us.
  4. God has granted us the gift of new life. The resurrection alters our attitude toward everything, including death. In his death, Christ changed the nature of death from the inside out, transforming the tragedy of tragedies into ultimate victory. “O death, where is thy sting?” God made us partakers of Christ’s resurrection.
  5. We live as if Christ never came, never died, never rose again from the dead, is not the Lord of the world, and will not come again to judge the living and the dead.
  6. This is the real sin, the sin of all sins, the bottomless sadness, and tragedy of our Christian life.
  7. We may acknowledge and confess our various sins, yet we fail to refer our life to that new life which Christ revealed and gave to us. We continually lose and betray the “new life” we received as a gift from God.
  8. We are weak. We forget, we get busy; we become immersed in our daily preoccupations. We focus our material possessions – on what we have or what we do not have. We focus on our experiences – on where we are or where we want to go. We think only of ourselves. We live as if Christ did not rise from the dead, as if that unique event in human history has no meaning for us, as if we will not also rise from the dead. We fail to live constantly by “faith, hope, and love.” We fail to “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.”
  9. Through our failure and sin, our life becomes “old” again – petty, dark, meaningless – a meaningless journey to a meaningless end.

II. Lent is a journey of repentance and return to Pascha.

  1. Lent helps us recover the vision and taste of that new Pascha life which we so easily lose and betray.
  2. The aim of Lent is precisely the remembrance of Christ, a longing for a relationship with God that has been lost. Lent offers the time and place for lamentation of our alienation and the recovery of relationship with God.
  3. The mood of Lent is “bright sadness.” The darkness of Lent allows the flame of the Holy Spirit to burn within our hearts until we are led to the mysterious and radiant brilliance of the resurrection.

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday

  1. The Service (Book of Common Prayer, 264-269)
  2. Prayer and invitation to repentance, both now and over the season of Lent
  3. Imposition of ashes
  4. Psalm 51: the prayer of the penitent
  5. Litany of penitence: a template for self-examination and confession during Lent
  6. The peace and Eucharist: Christ saves us from narcissistic self-absorption knowing that Good Friday means forgiveness and Pascha means joy.
  1. Why ashes?
  2. A sign of our Adamic identity, is that we are “of the earth”

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7)

  1. A sign of our finitude, brokenness, and mortality

“Dust you are and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19)

“Abraham said, ‘I am nothing but dust and ashes.’” (Genesis 18)

  1. A sign of mourning and lamentation, often because of our or another’s rebellion and alienation from God

“But David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot. All the people with him covered their heads too and were weeping as they went up…When David arrived at the summit, where people used to worship God, Hushai the Arkite was there to meet him, his robe torn and dust on his head.” (2 Samuel 15:32-34)

“On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting, and wearing sackcloth and putting dust on their heads.” (Nehemiah 9:1)

“Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:6)

“When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly… In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping, and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.” (Esther 4:1-3)

  1. In the third century, the church began the custom of burning the branches used on Palm Sunday, saving the ashes for the following year, and marking notorious and penitent sinners, such as robbers and murderers, with these ashes. Out of sympathy and solidarity, family and friends of these “marked” persons began using the ashes also, which is consistent with the gospel message that all of us are in need of God’s grace and in need of repentance and restoration.
  2. A Christian vision of the world
  3. Dualism – The radical separation between matter and spirit, profane and sacred, earthly and heavenly.
  4. Sacramentalism – The whole creation is of a piece; physical elements signify deep spiritual realities (i.e. water, bread, and wine; also oil, candles, ashes, palm branches, laying on hands, rings, etc.). We do damage to ourselves, to Jesus, and to the Bible when we try to separate the physical and spiritual, the human and divine, the earthy and the heavenly.

Repent

“Repent, and believe the good news.” (Mark 1:15)

  1. Repent: change, turn your life around, move in another direction.
  2. The first of Martin Luther’s 95 theses was, “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite (Repent ye!), willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.”

III. Repentance is the beginning and continuation of a truly Christian life. Repentance, especially focused during Lent, is a long and sustained spiritual effort.

  1. Lent reminds us (in the words of the Heidelberg Catechism, question and answer #88) that two things are involved in genuine repentance: “the dying of the old self and the coming to life of the new.” New life with Christ involves a daily surrendering of the old life.
  2. “It is not easy, indeed, to reject a petty ideal of life made up of daily cares, of search for material goods, security, and pleasure, for an ideal of life in which nothing short of perfection is the goal: ‘be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.’ This world through all its ‘media’ says: be happy, take it easy, and follow the broad way. Christ in the Gospel says: choose the narrow way, fight and suffer, for this is the road to the only genuine happiness. In addition, unless the Church helps, how can we make that awful choice, how can we repent and return to the glorious promise given us each year at Pascha? This is where Great Lent comes in. This is the help extended to us by the Church, the school of repentance, which alone will make it possible to receive Pascha not as a mere permission to eat, to drink, and to relax, but indeed as the end of the ‘old’ in us, as our entrance into the ‘new.’” (Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent: Journey to Pascha)

Turn from sin toward Jesus via remembering your baptism

“Live in your baptism.” (Martin Luther)

  1. Listen to the Father’s voice in baptism: “You are my child whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3)
  2. Review the baptismal vows and prayers before God (Book of Common Prayer, 302-307)

IV. Remember the practice of baptism in the early church

  1. The baptized turned their backs on the west (the symbolic direction of the evil one and sin), saying, “I renounce the devil and all his works,” and spitting in the face of Satan as a sign of ending that relationship.
  2. The main purpose of Lent was to prepare the catechumen (the newly converted Christian) for baptism, which was performed during the Pascha liturgy. Even though we are baptized, what we constantly lose and betray is precisely that which we received at baptism. Therefore, Lent and Pascha is our return every year to our own baptism, our identity in Christ, our death in him, our life in him. Pascha is the rediscovery and the recovery by us of what we were made through our own baptismal death and resurrection.

Turn from sin toward Jesus

  1. Remember that life with God is a loving, engaging, and demanding relationship. Sanctification (becoming increasingly righteous like God) is a subtle and gradual process rather than dramatic and instant moment.
  2. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addresses the three primary acts of Jewish piety: fasting, – prayer, and almsgiving. He did not reject these practices, but sought to correct and deepen them. Jesus promoted an embodied, lived out piety in order to establish, maintain, repair, and transform our relationship with God, neighbor, and self. Be sure to meditate on Matthew 6:1-18 before Lent.

Fasting: turning away from self

  1. A commemoration of the wilderness experiences of Israel and Jesus and a spiritual reminder that “People do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4).
  2. A reminder that your body is holy and belongs to God – made by the Father, redeemed by the Son, and filled by the Holy Spirit. “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

V. We are a psychosomatic unity. Our souls affect our bodies; our bodies affect our souls (i.e. kneeling, folding, or lifting hands, bowing head, etc.).

  1. To what are we saying “no”?
  2. Food – Saying no to my hunger that is often disproportionate to my hunger for God; saying no to what I enjoy in order to enjoy God more; anticipating the Eucharist (i.e. single day fast, multi-day fast, or extended fast – sweets, meat, caffeine, alcohol, etc.).
  3. Time – Saying no to my busyness, distraction, and noise in order to have extended solitude and silence or time to listen to God through is Word or his people (i.e. limit your extracurricular

Activities and commitments, take a true Sabbath).

  1. Money – Saying no to my greed, my urge to acquire, accumulate, hoard, compare (i.e. no advertising, no new purchases for myself, pursue extravagant generosity).
  2. Words – Saying no to my pride, envy, jealousy, anger, dishonesty, my insecure ego that needs more power, attention, pity, gratitude, approval (i.e. not defending myself, not dominating conversation or talking about myself, not gossiping or slandering, using my tongue, my lips, my words to encourage and affirm).
  3. Sex – Saying no to lust, my unfulfilled desires for pleasure (i.e. look people in the eyes, recognize their personhood and dignity as the image of God, delight in their beauty, mourn for their brokenness).
  4. Are these things inherently evil? Does God not want us to enjoy food, time, money, words, and sex? God made all these things good. In addition, we often enjoy them in sacred and redemptive ways. However, we also have a tendency to forget that these are gifts from God. We may become overly comfortable or bored with them. We may become ungrateful. We may distort and pervert them to self-serving ends. We may use them to advantage ourselves and disadvantage others. We may use them for evil. So one way to sanctify or redeem them as God’s good gifts is to go without them for a time to recalibrate our relationship with God and our relationship with these material goods.
  5. The all-day fasts during Lent are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. We do not fast on Sundays, the day of resurrection and Eucharist.

VI. When you fast you are vulnerable. Do not plan to turn away from self if you do not also have a plan in place to turn toward God (prayer) and toward your neighbor (almsgiving).

Prayer: turning toward God

“Evening, morning, and noon I cry out to the Lord” (Psalm 55:17).

  1. The prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian (306-373)
  2. “O Lord and Master of my life! Take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk. Nevertheless, give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant. Yea, O Lord and King! Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother; For Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.”
  3. Pray it in the morning, afternoon, and evening. In the morning, meditate on the four powers from which you seek to be delivered – sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk. In the afternoon, meditate on the four virtues you desire to experience in your daily life – chastity, humility, patience, and love. In the evening, review the events of the day, confessing where you failed, giving thanks where you have succeeded, and praising Jesus Christ for his righteousness and grace.
  4. “Faith… is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian, I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist, I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods ‘where they get off’, you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with your beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of your digestion. Consequently, one must train the habit of faith. The first step is to recognize the fact that your moods change. The next step is to make sure that, if you have once accepted Christianity, the sum of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time every day. That is why daily prayers and religious readings and churchgoing are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed. Moreover, in fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?” (C.S. Lewis, The Business of Heaven)

Almsgiving: turning toward our neighbors

  1. Combine God-focused prayer and neighbor-focused almsgiving by praying for your apartment complex or your street or the block where you work.
  2. Serve via Project Peace.

VII. Brainstorm simple acts of compassion toward known and unknown neighbors.

  1. Save money during Lent to give to the Pascha diaconal offering, which goes to meet financial and other tangible needs within and beyond the community.

Personal reflection and group discussion

  1. Have you ever practiced Lent? If so, what was your experience? If not, what do you hope to gain from the Lenten journey?
  2. How would you apply the Lenten themes to your life and spiritual journey in the coming season?

What do you need to put off and what do you need to put on?

VIII. Fasting – Could we each commit to giving up something we enjoy on a daily or regular basis in order to deepen our desire for God? What? Could we all commit to fasting the entire day on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday? How about fasting from lunch on Wednesdays during Lent?

  1. Prayer – Could we each commit to at least morning or evening prayer each day during Lent?

Could we spend 15 extra minutes on Sundays praying for the life and mission of the church?

  1. Almsgiving – Could we give up a luxury item during the week (i.e. lunch on Wednesdays) and give the money to a friend in need or the diaconal fund or a social service provider? Could we donate a portion of our weekend to do extra volunteering?

Adapted from Lent at Christ Church, edited by Rev. Gary DeSha

Psalm111

Psalm 111 Observations:

Verse 1:
1. Glory and honor are due unto God
2. Not just ordinary praise, but high praise given to God
3. This high praise comes from all of our being
4. Those who have been made righteous give this praise
5. God’s work in creation, providence, & redemption is exceptional

Verses 2-4:
6. God’s workings are so marvelous they cannot be forgotten
7. Those who love God delight in and seek out His wondrous works
8. The nature and character of God is justice and holiness
9. Memorials: eternal covenant, Law, Passover (Pascha), the Lord’s Supper, Baptism
10. God has tender mercy and is actively compassionate toward us

Verse 5:
11. The Psalmist reminds the people of God’s goodness
12. The God of peace, Who through the blood of the eternal covenant

Verse 6:
13. God’s powerful working is seen in the regeneration of our souls

Verses 7-8
14. God has always had a purpose and design for His works

Verse 9:
15. There is a transition from…
15. The Psalmist declaring the mighty works that Jehovah has done for His people
16. To Mt. Sinai and the commandments that He has given to them
17. “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”(Galatians 5:14)
18. “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
19. “but he became a priest with an oath when God said to Him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind: ‘You are a priest forever.'” Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant.” (Hebrews 7:21-22)
20. Jesus Christ is the surety, the guarantee, the insurer of the eternal covenant

Verse 10:
21. Holy and terrifying is His Name – Yahweh, Jehovah, THE LORD!
22. In vs. 9 awesome or fearful = to stand in awe, to be afraid, to fear, to inspire reverence
23. In vs. 10 The fear of the Lord, = fear, terror, a terrifying thing, to stand in awe
24. “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” (1 Corinthians 3:19-20)
25. Psalm 111 speaks of God’s divine attributes: power, wisdom, faithfulness, and goodness
26. Psalm 111 issues the need for our response to God by: deep inquiry into communion with Him, being in awe of God that He is God, obedience in trusting in and relying upon God, and that true praise and worship flow from our inner most being in the gatherings of the local church, in our special personal times of devotion, and at all times in our hearts

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5CrucialQuestions

covenant-triangleMy New Covenant Relationship with God

I believe that entrance into the Kingdom of God is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. My call to ministry is one based upon God’s faithfulness to fulfill His revealed purpose in my life. I had no ability to acquire salvation on my own. His loving grace granted me repentance and faith. God enabled me to make the choice of trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. He transformed me into a new creation in Christ Jesus, and now His sanctifying grace is making me holy in my daily life.

The Holy Spirit baptized me into the Body of Christ, the Church, of which I am a member. Now, I am a member of the Community of Jesus Christ. God created a community of worship, dedication, and faith in the time of the Old Covenant. Now, the community has changed with the coming of the new and better covenant. Within this community of the Kingdom, I am able to view my calling more clearly. It means that being a “covenant person” of a covenant people (the Church); Called to a mission along with many others, and equipped by God through the Holy Spirit as an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher, I pursue the Missio Dei.

Therefore, I can speak with conviction along with the Apostle Paul when he said in 2 Corinthians 3:6, “ He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” Therefore, I see that those members of the Community of Faith are ministers unto each other, the world, and unto God.

My call and the call of His Church (Matthew 25:35-45) is to minister unto a world that is lost. We are to be beacons of light to those who are blind in darkness. We are to be workers of justice and freedom for the oppressed and captive. We are to demonstrate to the poor the power of His greatness and His faithfulness from which we hope, and to proclaim the Gospel and His Kingdom!

The Promise-Driven Life

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Christ lived the purpose-driven life so that we would inherit his righteousness through faith and be promise-driven people in a purpose-driven world.

What are you driven by? The last time I was sick, it was a Saturday and I flipped on the TV for an extraordinary long time. The whole day was exercise equipment, how to become real-estate rich with no money down, and Suze Orman gave me her steps to financial security. As much as we all make sport of this sort of thing, it attracts us. That’s because we are “wired” for law: tell me what to do and I’ll get it done. That is not just the American spirit, but it is human nature. God’s law is inborn, in our conscience, part of our moral makeup. The average person on the street will tell you that the role of churches and other religious institutions is to provide moral instruction-practical suggestions for successful living for the spirit, just as Suze Orman and Jake are there to help us out with our banking and bodies.

Even human imperatives can be enormously effective at laying out a course of action. If I am sufficiently motivated, a good diet-and-exercise plan can help. I’ve never even come close to being credited with any financial planning wisdom, but even I can recognize that if I follow half of what Suze says, I’ll be a much better steward. (I bought the video. Don’t ever leave your credit card within reach if you spend a Saturday watching TV. I nearly bought three separate gyms and a few things for my wife.) Dr. Phil and Dr. Laura don’t even have to be Christians to provide good, commonsense instruction in daily affairs. At least in terms of raw, general principles, non-Christians have law down. When Christians talk law (“How to … “), non-Christians know that we’re speaking their language. I guess that is why such preaching and teaching dominates in the church today, since “law” (however watered down) is perceived as relevant. However, it is only when we encounter God’s law in its full strength that we are knocked off our horse. Instead of being in charge, answering with Israel and Mount Sinai, “All this we will do!”, we find ourselves in the hot seat, the charade exposed, the spin unmasked. Church shouldn’t be a place where the old self is revived for another week, but where it is killed and buried and the new self is created in the likeness of Christ.

Even as Christians, the law (in its third use) can direct us, but it cannot drive us, except to either despair or self-righteousness. Christians are not purpose-driven, but promise-driven. Purposes are all about law. To be sure, at least in Christian discourse, some promises may be mentioned, but they are usually dangled as the carrot for fulfilling the conditions that have been laid out. If you did that with the real Ten Commandments-something like, “Do this and you shall live” (Lev. 25:18), people would catch on: “That’s legalism!” But the therapeutic version (easy-listening law) flies under the radar: “Hey, here are a few helpful principles based on God’s instruction manual that will help you get victory in your life.” Although Rick Warren’s phenomenal best-seller, The Purpose-Driven Life, for example, differs from the usual pattern of self-help books by insisting that we were created for God and his glory, it offers Fifteen Principles-all of which are imperatives (commands, or rather, suggestions) that promise a life of victory for those who follow them. That, I would suggest, confuses law and gospel. And that eventually leaves resentment of God, not delight, in its wake.

The fact that purposes are about law does not make them wrong. We need purposes! Nobody can live without goals. Yet purposes and goals are always something to be reached, to be achieved and be attained by us. They require tactics and strategies. All of this is fine as long as we realize that they are law, not gospel: commands and promises are both necessary, but they do different things.

Law tells us what we should do, whether we’re faced with the wrath of God (full-strength law) or by the fear of not reaching our full potential (the watered-down version). God’s promise, by contrast, creates true faith, which creates true works. The church father Augustine defined sin as being “curved in” on ourselves. While imperatives (including purposes) tend by themselves to make us more “curved in” on ourselves (either self-confidence or self-despair), only God’s promise can drive us out of ourselves and our own programs for acceptance before ourselves, other people, and God. While the Christian life according to scripture is purpose-directed, it is promise-driven. Both of our passages-Genesis 15 and Romans 4-bring this point home powerfully.

Wrestling with the Promise (Genesis 15)

Even after his military victory and the remarkable event of being offered bread and wine with a blessing from Melchizedek, Abram’s greatest problem is that he has no heir, no one to carry on the calling that God has given him. His world, as he sees it anyway, is bleak. “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great'” (Gen. 15:1). Abram and Sarai had been called out of the barrenness of moon-worship in the city of Ur by God’s powerful Word, which created faith in the promise (12:1). There is the reward of the land of Canaan, but ultimately the whole earth (“father of many nations”), of which the land of Canaan will serve as a type. The New Testament even tells us that Abraham himself was looking through the earthly promise as a type to its heavenly reality (Heb. 11:10, 13-16).

Notice in this opening address, it is sheer promise. This covenant is not like the one that God made with Adam or with Israel, which made the promise conditional on their future obedience. It was a gift to be received, not a task to be undertaken. God simply declares, “I am your shield. Your reward shall be great.” This is what ancient Near Eastern lawyers would have called a “royal grant.”

Yet Abram wonders, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezar of Damascus? … You have given me no son, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir” (vv. 2-3). The empirical facts of the case-what Abram sees, appear to be overwhelming evidence against the testimony of the promise. Nevertheless, God counters again with the promise, offering the innumerable stars as a sign of the teeming offspring who will come from his loins. “And [Abram] believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness” (vv. 5-6). Abram’s response is not one of blind optimism or positive thinking. Abram finds himself believing.

Faith does not create; it receives. It does not make the invisible visible or the future present or hope reality. It receives that which is already given. Grace precedes faith. It is not finally accepting the goodness of the world, or my own goodness, but receiving God’s goodness toward me in spite of the way things really are with me and with the world. Further, there is no way around the forensic or legal character of this Hebrew verb, “declared.” It is chashav, referring to a courtroom judgment, not a process. There Abram stood, wicked and helpless, and yet at the same time-by virtue solely of the promise declared to him, received by faith, was declared righteous. Commenting on this passage, Calvin reminds us, “In all ages, Satan has laboured at nothing more assiduously than to extinguish, or to smother, the gratuitous justification of faith, which is here expressly asserted.” Justification is at the core of the divine paradox: How can I have the assurance that I am accepted before God as righteous when I continue in sin? I see my life. Nevertheless, by pronouncing Abraham just, Abram is just. The promise makes it so. If we can get this right in our understanding of justification, it will radically alter every other aspect of our relationship with God.

Abram goes on to ask how he can know that God will give him the land and God responds in this vision by passing through the severed halves of animals (a treaty-making event of calling down judgment in case of violation) alone (vv. 12-21), foreshadowing the cross of Christ. As Paul would later attest in Galatians 3:19-20, specifically referring to this covenant with Abraham, no covenant could be more firmly anchored in God and his promise rather than in the faithfulness of the human partner than one that God swears by himself.

The preaching of the promise created justifying faith and this sign and seal now confirms and ratifies it. No wonder question 62 of the Heidelberg Catechism confesses, “The Holy Spirit creates it [faith] in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel and confirms it by the use of the holy sacraments.” Out of his confession of faith, Abram now continues his pilgrimage not on the basis of his physical vigor or Sarai’s fertility, but on the sole basis of the Word (again, in anticipation of his greater Son in his temptation). We will either rely on the visible realities we see or the invisible realities we hear preached to us, but we cannot rely on both. Unbelief is unavoidable: either we will doubt the credibility of the divine word in the face of life’s realities or we will doubt the credibility of this world’s so-called “givens” in the face of the divine promise. Faith ignores statistics. The world says we have to save ourselves (and it), offering countless strategies of striving, while the Word slays us in our self-conceit and raises us up together with Christ. God’s promise creates a new world out of darkness and void, fertile pastures of fruit-bearing trees out of the infertile soil of unbelief and ungodliness. This covenant is not a call to claim a future he can control, but to receive a future that God has spoken into being. Sarai’s infertile womb is the canvas upon which God will paint a new creation. And they both get renamed. The promise gives them a new identity.

The Fulfillment of the Promise (Romans 4:13-25)

These passages from Genesis 15-17 form the backdrop for much of Paul’s teaching. Israel had confused the promise-covenant made with Abraham and the law-covenant that Israel made with Yahweh at Sinai. Nobody can be justified by means of a law-covenant, Paul insists, but only on the basis of a promise-covenant. So Paul brings Abraham to the witness stand as an example to us, not chiefly as someone whose holiness we can emulate (have you read the story?), but primarily as someone for whom the promise worked even though he didn’t. If Abraham could not be justified by his own righteousness, how can the rest of us who claim Abraham as our forefather?

Paul is contrasting law-logic with promise-logic. The law is not the problem, but we are, and the law simply points that out. We know the law by nature; nobody has to teach at least its rudimentary principles to us (Rom. 1 and 2). When we turn to our common sense, reason, experience, or what we see in order to determine our relationship to God, it is always the law that has the last word. Law-logic is entirely appropriate for those created in God’s image, designed and equipped to reflect God’s righteousness in every way, but it says nothing about how law-breakers can be saved from its judgment.

In Romans 3:21-26, Paul announces that law-logic can only announce the righteousness that God is and which therefore condemns us who have failed to conform to it. Then we arrive at chapter 4. The question that throws law and promise into a sharp contrast is this: How does one obtain the inheritance of the heavenly rest? The barrier between Jew and Gentile is broken down not merely because the laws of ethnic separation are set aside but because law as a principle was never intended to be the way of inheriting the Abrahamic promise. “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works” (vv. 5-6).

If we read Romans 4 in the light of Paul’s argument in Romans 10, the contrast is even clearer: law-logic ascends to bring Christ down or up from the grave, while gospel-logic receives Christ as he descends to us in the preaching of the gospel. Because the law is innate (in creation) and the gospel is a surprising announcement (after the fall), climbing, ascending, attaining, doing whatever “ten steps” or following whatever “fifteen principles” is natural to us. It is not natural for us, like Abraham, to simply receive a promise, the hearing of which creates faith (Rom. 10:17). But God is never closer to us, says Paul, than when Christ is being preached to us (v. 8). Law-logic strives for what it sees and can possess; promise-logic sits down and listens to the covenant attorney reading the last will and testament, legally enacting the bequest.

Back to chapter 4, then, where Paul uses the same phrase-“through the righteousness of faith” (v. 13) that he will use in chapter 10, where he contrasts the law-logic of our ascent (“go get it”) with the promise-logic of God’s descent (“God gave it to you”). So when it comes to how we are justified-that is, set right before God and made heirs of all the gifts that he has for us, Law and Promise represent antithetical means of inheritance. We know the difference between a contract (“I’ll do this if you do that”) and a bequest (“I hereby leave my estate to … “). That’s the difference here between employees and heirs (v. 4). Christ’s active obedience is the basis and his death is the legal event that distributes the royal estate to all of his beneficiaries. God doesn’t just give us more good advice and exhortation, but the most amazing news in the world: “But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness” (v. 5).

The contrast is either/or again in verse 14: “For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect.” It’s not just that faith is also necessary, but that faith and obedience are absolutely antithetical as means of attaining that which the promise promises. The last part of the sentence (v. 15) reads, “because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.” It is the law that exposes our sin and makes it utterly sinful, counting our wrongs not as “mistakes,” “self-expression,” “foibles,” or even “not being all that we could be,” but as a wicked transgression of God’s explicit command. The law speaks and the old self dies. The law cannot create faith because it tells us what is to be done. It can only announce what we have not done. The promise, by contrast, tells us what has been done by someone else. That is why it brings life.

Then in verse 16 Paul says, “Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure toall the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.” See the logic of the promise? Paul will add one more pearl to the string later.

It is important to recognize that God’s promises are not simply a pledge of a future reality, but bring about that reality in the present. We see this clearly in the way Paul talks about the law doing certain things and the promise doing certain things. In verse 14 of our passage he says, “For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of noeffect, because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.” The promise (or gospel) preached creates faith, just as the law actually brought about our condemnation. The law not only warns us of God’s coming wrath, it “brings about wrath,” just as the judge’s act of sentencing a criminal actually effects the criminal’s condemnation.

Throughout Scripture we are taught that God’s Word is effectual: it brings about whatever God speaks, whether in creation, providence, or redemption. God’s speech is “active and living,” Scripture says. The law is successful in condemning, driving us to despair of ourselves, to seek salvation outside ourselves. The gospel is successful in giving us faith to receive Christ and all his benefits. The gospel doesn’t just talk about a world that might come to be if we all just got our act together; it creates a new world where no capacity existed, and that is exactly the language that Paul uses in verses 17 to 22. God creates death and life by speaking.

This is why Paul returns again to the example of Abraham and Sarah as the construction site of a new creation, produced by the promise. Here is the logic: “For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all of his descendants,” both Jew and Gentile (v 16). He adds, “As it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations’-in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (v. 17). Just as God spoke the world into existence without any contribution from the creation itself, God speaks a new world of salvation into being. And just as Abraham is declared righteous by this proclamation then and there, Paul observes, he was declared then and there “father of many nations” despite all appearances to the contrary. “Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become ‘the father of many nations,’ according to what was said, ‘So numerous shall your descendants be'” (v. 18). God’s saying makes it so. Salvation comes, then, not by doing certain things but by hearing certain things and embracing them by faith, which is itself created by the Spirit through the preaching of the promise. Not all parts of the Word give life, as Paul says later in chapter 7 (v. 10): “And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death.” If Paul were not a transgressor, the law would pronounce him just, but as it is, it can only bring death. The promise, by contrast, brings life-out of nothing.

This is the scandal of justification: How can God declare us righteous if we are not inherently righteous? Isn’t this a legal fiction? Doesn’t it make God a liar? But that’s like saying God cannot say, “Let there be light” unless there is a sun to give it. God himself creates the conditions necessary for the existence of his work. When he says, “Let there be light!”, the sun exists. When he says, “Let this ungodly person be righteous,” “this barren woman be pregnant,” “this faithless person embrace my Word,” it is so. When we really understand justification, we really understand how God works with us in every aspect of our lives before him. Christ lived the purpose-driven life so that we would inherit his righteousness through faith and be promise-driven people in a purpose-driven world. He did gain the everlasting inheritance by obedience to everything God commanded, driven by the purpose of fulfilling the law for us, in perfect love of God and neighbor.

Relinquishing hope in the ordinary powers of human nature, he was given genuine hope in God for the first time. The future was now God’s future, not his own. He didn’t have to work it all out, plot and plan, scheme to bring about the inheritance (as he had done before). Thus, because of the power of the promise, not his own goals or resolve, Abraham could turn his eyes away from “his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb” (Rom. 4:19). “He did not waver,” again, not because of any inherent virtue of his faith, but because he “was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform” (v. 21). In other words, it was because of the object of faith, not the act of faith itself that Abraham could stand firm.

As anticipated above, Paul adds here another pearl in the chain of the promise-logic: If the inheritance comes by faith in the promise and not in the works of the law, then faith gives all “glory to God” (v. 20). Faith gives no glory to self, even to our act of faith. It is directed entirely to God and his promise. Faith is strong only to the extent that the promise is strong. Abraham knew that God could perform what he had promised. “And therefore ‘it was accounted to him for righteousness'” (v. 22).

Conclusion: What Really Drives You?

In the concluding verses of this remarkable chapter (vv. 23-25, and the first verse of chapter 5), Paul writes,

Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not only for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification. Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

Faith is defiance. Abraham’s faith defied every possibility that he saw, in favor of the “impossible” word that he heard. This is why “faith comes by hearing … that is, the word of faith which we preach” (Rom. 10:17). To trust in God is to distrust every other promise-maker. The world makes a lot of promises: “Try this product and you’ll be ….” Constantly buying into new fads or makeovers as so many fig leaves to hide the seriousness of our condition, we hand ourselves over to marketers who persuade us that we can attain salvation, however we define that. Even the church can become a place where people get the idea that they exist merely to usher in the kingdom by serving on committees and being involved in a thousand programs. We have a lot of purposes, a lot of goals-some of them noble. Desperate to save ourselves and our kids from everything but the wrath of God, we fail to realize that, however watered down, these are all nothing but law rather than promise. Eventually, we will become burned out on good advice. What we need is good news.