Tuesday, April 19, 2011

In My Sweet Spot

No Bible reflection today--just some personal reflection.  A few weeks ago, our church concluded a worship service with a video challenging us to make the most of the next 7 days, until we were at church again.  One line challenged us to use our gifts, meaning the gifts God has given us.  That haunted me the rest of the week, as I led meetings and did lots and lots of financial work--which couldn't be less of a gift of mine.
Then today happened.  I started my day with my kids, which is usually a simultaneously joyful and challenging experience--getting myself ready for work while watching a 2-year-old and 5-month-old by myself.  Today it was more joyful than challenging.  Then I cooked myself breakfast, something I never do on a workday.  My mostly egg white omelet with red pepper and spinach was delicious and satisfying.  I love to cook.
Then, I got to lead a devotional at work.  It's really not a big deal, but I love it.  I spent way too much time preparing for it, because I got lost in it.  It did my soul good to prepare for Easter, and it did my soul good to use my gift of teaching.
Then, I got to go shopping--for Easter baskets for kids and cancer patients in area hospitals.  Shopping is most certainly a gift of mine.  I think Paul overlooked it in his lists of spiritual gifts in the Bible.  Give me a project and a budget, and I'm ready to go.
Then, I got to spend time one-on-one with a teenager.  I got to hear about where she is in life, and there's little I value more than that. 
So, it's 5:02 p.m., and I'm headed home feeling fulfilled, thankful for my gifts and for opportunities to use them.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Life and Death

Similarly to the way Paul juxtaposes “one” and “many” in Romans 5, he juxtaposes “life” and “death” in Romans 6.  When I hear those words, I think of giving birth to my two precious kids and of the funerals of all my grandparents.  I think of everlasting life in heaven. 
But I’m not sure that’s how Paul means for us to read “life” and “death” here.  “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:4)  Dying and rising again are the image for baptism.  We symbolically die to sin and our sinful lives in baptism, and we symbolically rise to a new life.  This “new life” isn’t about living forever on a cloud wrapped in a white toga; it’s about living a new life right here right now.
Some churches teach and preach in a way that makes it seem like Christianity is all about life and death—meaning what happens when you die, i.e. that you get to live forever in heaven with Jesus if you are a Christian.  Paul is teaching and preaching that it’s all about life and death—meaning metaphorically dying to sin and living for God. 
I get excited by the kind of life and death Paul is talking about.  He says, “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:11)  I don’t get excited about biding my time on this evil, sinful earth for another 50 years, staying focused on the joyous afterlife I’ll have in heaven.  That doesn’t do it for me.  Getting to be alive to God, the author of life itself—yeah, sign me up for that.  Getting to live a new life that’s defined by God, not by my mistakes and flaws—I want that.  I want to joyously live the next 50 years, focused on this beautiful earth and the good and perfect gifts God’s placed on it.
Romans gets quoted extensively by Christians who approach strangers with, “If you died today, would you go to heaven or hell?”  As I read Romans, I see so much about this life and how lively it can be.  Now, that’s good news, or Gospel, and isn’t that what we’re supposed to be preaching?   

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Power of One

In Romans 5, Paul quite redundantly compares Adam and Christ.  Verse 19 sums it up:  For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.  This duality of one to many, or one to all, shows up over and over.  In fact, those 3 words show up 20 times in just 8 verses.  The repetition makes for cumbersome reading, but it gets Paul’s emphasis across loudly and clearly.  Adam, one man, did something that affected all.  Jesus, one man, did something that affected all.
What I read in the redundancy and repetition is the power of just one person.  Obviously, Jesus is no ordinary “person” through whom God works.  But, still, Paul emphasizes that with just one man, God “brings life for all men” (v.18).  Alternately, “sin entered the world through one man,” Adam (v.12). 
The idea that one person could so drastically effect the rest of humanity is awe-inspiring…and terrifying.  I’m not sure I want that much responsibility.  It’s kind of like my seminary professor who said he wasn’t sure he wanted God to call him God’s servant, “blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”  That didn’t work out so well for Job. 
Humanity doesn’t need another fall man like Adam, or another savior like Jesus, so I don’t think any one person will ever have as much influence as they do.  But Paul’s insistence on how one person can affect many haunts me. 
How many people could I positively influence if I fully surrendered to God?    
How many people could I negatively influence if I lived for myself?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Hope That Does Not Disappoint

I recall many times when hope has disappointed me.  I vividly remember hoping to get a position on my college ministry’s leadership team my freshman year, and then not making the cut.  That was eleven years ago, and I remember how that disappointment felt—the tears that fell, the anger that burned.  That’s why we have the phrase, “Don’t get your hopes up.”  When your hopes are up, you are vulnerable to disappointment. 
So Paul must be talking about a different kind of hope here.  He says “that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Romans 5:3-5)  Paul’s both upholding hope and acknowledging suffering.  I know people who remained hopeful as they suffered through cancer, but their hope was ultimately disappointing. 
What is this hope of Paul’s?  A brief survey of others’ ideas shows some think this is hope for an eternity spent in heaven with God.  That interpretation doesn’t seem to fit the text; I find no hinting at eternity in heaven in this section of Scripture.  I don’t think this is hope for anything.
I think Paul is saying we can have hope in all situations, in suffering, against all odds, because we have two things:  love in our hearts and the gift of the Holy Spirit.  God has put love in our hearts and given us the capacity to love him and his people.  Our capacity to love can break our hearts, bring us to tears, and leave us speechless.  In another famous letter, Paul says love always hopes.  I think the love in our hearts is worthy of hope.
The second reason we can hope is the Holy Spirit.  God sent the Holy Spirit to be with us, to pray on our behalf, to guide us.  That’s quite a gift, and one worthy of hope.  When we suffer, the Holy Spirit is with us.  When we cannot find the words to utter to God, the Holy Spirit does it for us.  When we don’t know what decision to make, the Holy Spirit prompts us. 
God, may I be hopeful today, not because of my life circumstances or beautiful weather or the people around me, but because you have put love in my heart and the Holy Spirit in my life.  Thank you that I can love.  Forgive me for not loving the way you do.  Thank you for the direction and presence of the Holy Spirit.  May I follow your promptings, being obedient and faithful.  Amen.