Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Against All Hope

“Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him.” (Romans 4:18)
Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed.  What he believed was God’s promise that he would be the father of many nations.  He believed against all hope, but he was not na├»ve.  “Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.  Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.” (Romans 4:19-21)
Against all hope, I in hope believe.  What I believe is one of God’s very first promises:
Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood.  And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. (Genesis 8:21b)
When we look at images from Japan, how can we feel anything other than hopelessness?  I cannot fathom the emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical pain being experienced by those in Japan.  The mere idea brings me to tears, and I’m on the other side of the world.  We must grieve.  We must face the realities of what has happened, knowing it will take years for all of the realities of this situation to be realized.  We must weep for the massive loss of life.  We must give and pray.  We must hope.  We must believe.
Against all hope, we in hope believe.  I believe in a God who is love.  I believe a God who made a covenant (i.e. promise) with Noah long ago.  I believe He will keep his end of the covenant…even in the face of hopelessness. 
Against all hope, I in hope believe.

Monday, March 14, 2011

God Gives Life

“…the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” Romans 4:17
This weekend, I took some students and adults on a spring retreat.  As I prepared, I doubted the value of such a feat.  I personally put in 50-60 hours of prep work to get us there, and I’m not the only one who contributed to making the retreat happen.  It costs the church a significant amount of money to rent vans, purchase the supplies, and pay for the band, the speaker, etc.  Only 40 students went.  We have more than that at our 7th-9th grade group every Wednesday night.  I knew it would be a fun weekend away for most everybody; I just wondered if it was the best use of the church’s money and volunteer time.  I also felt crummy the first day of the retreat, which undoubtedly contributed to my uncertainty.
Now that I’ve spent almost 3 hours reflecting today, I’m feeling God’s blessing on the use of money, skills, time, and emotional energy. I’m reminded of a God who gives life to the dead—quite literally in some cases—but also to the spiritually and emotionally dead.  I’m a zero on a scale from one to ten on risk-taking.  I’m safe, predictable, cautious, and conscientious.  This weekend my sister talked me into doing a “giant swing”—think harness, pully, helmet, safety glasses.  Yeah.  I screamed before I ever let go and started swinging.  And then I did…talk about feeling alive.
Even more spectacular for me was watching an overweight 7th grade girl overcome her fear of the swing.  She freaked out moments before; we talked her into going through with it.  She doubted we could get her in the air; we recruited the strongest young men there to hoist her high into the air.  Then she let go—and she laughed and smiled and yelled.  It was beautiful.  She was full of life, not hiding behind hair or weight or a book.
“The God who…calls things that are not as though they were” references when God calls Abram to be the father of many and changes his name to Abraham, even though he’s old and hasn’t had kids yet.  This weekend God called things into being that were not.  “Outsider” became “insider.”  “Stranger” became “authentic woman.” “12th grader” became “man.”  “Fool” became “wise.”  “Teacher” became “pastor.”  “Singer” became “leader.”  “Sinner” became “forgiven.” 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Beatitudes in Romans

There's a famous section of the famous Sermon on the Mount called the Beatitudes.  It's the "Blessed are..." verses.  Those verses proclaim as "blessed" the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, the pure in heart, the persecuted, the mourners, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  I read those verses in the beginning of Matthew 5 and wonder if I am pronounced "blessed" by Scripture.

Then I read Romans today.  I'm a bit embarrased to admit I didn't know there were Beatitudes in Romans.  But there are, and Paul is quoting a Psalm (32) when he includes two beatitudes in his letter to those of Rome:
Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not reckon sin. (Rom 4:7-8)

I may not be meek or a peacemaker, and I'm certainly not persecuted.  But I am forgiven.  Today I will live into the blessing of being forgiven.  And that is enough. 

Most people would call me blessed for having a nice home, a good husband, two healthy kids, a job that puts food on the table.  But the truth is, the dishwasher breaks, I lash out at the husband, the kids scream, work overwhelms...and remembering that I am blessed just because I am forgiven brings me peace.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Venom of Vipers

In Romans 3:10b-14, Paul collects a bunch of lines from the Old Testament—ranging from Psalms to Ecclesiastes.  He may not have been the first to gather these lines.  Regardless, he presents them, and the effect is a bit humbling and very discouraging:
                There is no one who is righteous, not even one;
                there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned aside, together they have become worthless;
there is no one who shows kindness, there is not even one.
‘Their throats are opened graves; they use their tongues to deceive.’
‘The venom of vipers is under their lips.’ ‘Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.’

Six times in this English translation “no” or “not” is used, giving it a negative tone.  (I have a degree in English; I can’t help it.)  Words like “worthless,” “graves,” “deceive,” “venom,” “vipers,” and “bitterness” enlarge this negative tone to one of doom, danger, and death.

What are we to do with this?  How can these words inform who I am and how I live?

They help me be gracious with others by reminding me of my own unrighteousness, ignorance, worthlessness, and capacity to be mean. 

I have a friend who sinned—there’s a shocker.  All sins have consequences; this is one of those sins with significant physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual consequences.  Some sit in judgment of her.  Many gossip about her, some under the name of “prayer request.”  Would Paul call her worthless?  Absolutely.  But Paul would call me worthless, too. 

Hopefully I can prove Paul wrong and show her kindness while others are attacking her with the venom of vipers.  Paul challenges me not to sit in judgment of those vipers either, because I’ve also injured many with my words.