One Thousand Gifts: 21-30

I am traveling this week, but still time for the weekly one thousand gifts, taking time to give thanks to God for all of life:

21. AALC Youth Gathering, Estes Park, CO
22. Great Leadership and Discipleship retreat on Saturday
23. shaving cream, makes it much easier to shave!
24. comfortable bed
25.  wonderful talk with son, DIL, and grand kids yesterday
26.  lively discussion in Bible class
27. receiving the Lord’s Supper yesterday
28. Keith, a wonderful friend and supporter over the past 25 years
29. light bulbs, allowing me to read
30. eyes, as part of God’s creation, marvelous gift of sight

One thousand gifts

a few years ago…

We are in the process of moving, our 28th move in 40 years of marriage. As we come closer to the date for departing, I also have been reflective, considering all that we have experienced. And now, a photo of our tractor brought back very fond memories of farming 55 years ago. It is the photo here: 1939 Minneapolis-Moline R.

Minneapolis-Moline R

I was six years old when my parents bought it (used, of course!). I began driving this tractor that first summer. We were harvesting oats, using a threshing machine. Each neighborhood boy was assigned to a tractor and then the farmers would go out and pitch shocks onto the wagon. Relatively simple driving. Well, it should have been, but… This isn’t one of those fond memories. Maybe that is why it stayed with me.

While driving the tractor with a wagon, we came to a side hill. If you’ve ever driven the tractor you know you had to use a hand clutch, there was no foot clutch. For the most part, if I stood on the platform, and leaned sideways, I could push it forward to get it going. Unfortunately on the side hill, the high school kid who was pitching bundles had me stop. Okay, jump on the breaks to stop! I knew that. But then when he motioned me to go forward, I couldn’t get off the break and push the clutch forward at the same time.

So the tractor and wagon began rolling backward (with a four wheel wagon, that is a losing proposition!), somewhat down the hill. Now what do I do? I was only six years old. I knew enough to yell at the teenager. He came running, jumped on the tractor and began steering the front wheels to get it lined back up so it wouldn’t spring the tongue of the wagon, or worse.

When he grabbed the steering wheel, he was spinning it so fast, that he came down with his arm and cracked my nose. I knew it hurt bad, and was bloody instantly. After he righted the tractor/wagon, I walked back to the threshing machine where the women were feeding crews as they came through.

In those days, we didn’t go to the hospital unless it was life-and-death situations. That was the first of four times I have broken my nose. I broke it the next summer at a baseball game. Hey, look I was seven sitting on the sidelines. How as I to know that the dumb ball would smack me on the nose?

Ah, yes, so many memories. And I still loved that tractor, driving for another ten years before we bought a newer one.

One Thousand Gifts: 11–20

Scroll of the Psalms
Scroll of the Psalms

More gifts in my life…

11. Baptism this morning
12. Indoor plumbing (long story)
13. The refreshing look of Psalm 66
14. Sounds of silence
15. Faithful wife who does the little things that are often overlooked
16. The squeal of delight in our two youngest granddaughters when we talked last week using Facetime
17. Two magnificent hymns in worship this morning
18. Time to read and reflect
19. The opportunity to present at a retreat for three churches this coming weekend regarding discipleship and planning
20. How God has worked out amazing details of a plan even I don’t understand fully

The Rush to Judgment

…or the proper application of Law and Gospel in a current situation. Let’s consider the sweep of emotions regarding the trial of Casey Anthony. Notice that the trial was not for the purpose of determining who killed Caylee; rather the trial was to determine whether there was evidence that Casey killed her. I am rather surprised, almost shocked, at the responses to the Casey Anthony trail. More narrowly, my shock relates to Christians, some who have posted that they hope “Casey Anthony rots in hell” (and other assorted sentiments).

This is an appropriate time to step back a moment and consider how we as Christians can respond. When I teach the seminary class on Law and Gospel and when I teach this in congregations, I set before them a hypothetical situation to see what their responses as Christians will be. To do this here, I will set up the scenario and then see how this might suggest a response to what has happened in the Anthony case. Note: this is not a commentary on the verdict nor on any legal issue, but only a Christian perspective of the current situation.

Definitions

Law: tells us what to do and not do; threatens punishment when we fail to live up to the Law’s demands

Gospel: tells us what God has done for us in Jesus Christ

This seems rather straight forward and is relatively easy to take a Scriptural text and determine whether it is Law or Gospel. It only seems that way because it is not as straight forward as we would like. But for the purposes here, we will leave it as it is.

Law always:

Accuses
Condemns
Threatens punishment

Gospel always:

Forgives
Restores
Renews
Promises
NEVER accuses, condemns, or threatens

Law Gospel Diagram

Application

So how does this work in practice of properly applying each? Let’s look at two Biblical examples

Mark 10:17-21 NAS

As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.”

Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have atreasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.

Some might be confused by the question, thinking that since it speaks about “eternal life” it must be a Gospel question. However, the question is a Law question: “what shall I do…” As such, Jesus answers with a Law answer: “Do these things…”

Acts 16:25–31 NAS

But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped.

But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!”

And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, and after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

Sounds like almost the same situation. The question has an appearance of Gospel because it mentions “Saved”, but the question asked is “what must I do…” hence it is a Law question. We would expect Paul and Silas to reiterate the Law’s demands just as Jesus had done in Mark 10. Instead, it is the Gospel “believe in the Lord Jesus” (note that “believe” is an invitation that extends what it offers, much like a starving person is invited to eat).

So, why the difference? Looking back at the diagram, the man in Mark 10 is trying to achieve eternal life/salvation by what he can do, climbing the Law ladder. On the other hand, the Philippian jailer is at the bottom of the Law ladder with no hope (“about to kill himself”). Thus, the one climbing the Law ladder in Mark 10 expects the Gospel, but needs to hear the Law. The Philippian jailer expects the Law, but needs the Gospel.

Just from these two examples, it should become clear that we often are the least capable of determining what we need to hear. But it is also true that we often cannot determine what the other person needs. Let’s consider an example, keeping in mind Matthew 6:15 [Jesus said:] “But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” What about a parent whose daughter was raped and murdered and the parent screams, “I will never forgive that man!!!!”

So, now the question is: does this parent need Law or Gospel? It’s amazing how the discussion will evolve, some very strongly advocating “Law!” And others equally vocal, “Gospel.” So what’s the correct answer? The answer is: We don’t know enough to determine whether the person needs Law or Gospel.

Now back to Casey Anthony. Regardless of the legal decision and questions about that, many are wanting to immediately proclaim Law to her, and not just Law, but God’s eternal judgment on her. My concern is the same as above: we don’t know enough to determine what she needs. We don’t even know if she committed those crimes.

So, as Christians, what can we do? Let’s pray that God raises up the right person to lovingly speak both Law and Gospel to her in a loving way, so that she might have a right relationship with God. Let’s pray that there are those who are not afraid to love her even when it seems impossible or when the general public opinion wants to cast her aside.

One Thousand Gifts — a beginning

c. 1632
Image via Wikipedia

Ann Voskamp wrote a book called One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, in which she challenges people to give thanks for one thousand gifts. So, here is my start; I may be a little slower at this than most.

1. Savior, Jesus Christ

2. wife of 40+ years

3. Two sons

4. Five grand kids

5. watching the stars on a clear night

6. The sound of a car that starts when it should

7. Time to be quiet

8. My mother

9. My mother-in-law

10. My two brothers.

 

I should add that it is fitting to do this according to the Biblical encouragement (1 Thessalonians 5:18; Psalm 118:1, etc.).

“There’s an App for that!” Romans 7:15-25

Apple has been at the cutting edge of computer and phone technology for 30 years. Most recently, iPhone and iPad have revolutionized smart phones and portable computers. For the iPhone, the catch phrase has been: “There’s an app for that!” If you want to file an accident claim, there’s an application, or app for short, for the iPhone that does exactly that. If you want to track your FedEx package, there’s an app for that! If you want to have a bird guide while in the field, there’s an app for that. If you want to know about food you buy, there’s an app for that! Yes, use your iPhone to scan the HarvestMark code to discover where your food was grown, who grew it, and if there’s been any contamination, recall, or other safety issues.

Latest count, there are more than 425,000 apps for the iPhone. And now there is the iPad with over 90,000 apps for it. Life can be simplified and you can expand what you do with mobile devices. Technology is quite amazing!

In a recent show called “Memphis Beat” the entire force has been upgraded to smart phones. While investigating, two detectives come to a house that is locked. One wonders how to get in; the other takes out his smart phone and says, “I have an app for that!” He then uses the phone to break the window so they can get into the house.

In my spiritual life I wish there was an app for that. Have you ever heard people claim that if you become a Christian everything gets better? I’ve heard it, but it isn’t true, is it! It doesn’t take long to discover that my Christian life is a constant battle ground between my sin and what God wants for me to do. The frustration of living and dealing with my sin seems overwhelming. I want to take out a smart phone and shout, “There’s an app for that!” And my struggle with sin would be instantly resolved.

But such will not happen. In our epistle reading for today, Paul addresses this constant battle between the old person who is still sinful, and the new self in Jesus Christ. Notice the tension in v. 15 when Paul writes: “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Or even more forcefully in v. 19 “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” Paul nails it, doesn’t he? Some days it seems that I can make progress in my struggle, but other days I feel like I’m sliding down a step hill covered with chocolate. I soothe my mind with that last bit about chocolate, because if my life is that bad, then I want to grasp at anything to take the edge off my pitiful condition. At least in defeat I can satisfy my one desire for something tasting good! Of course, all that does is add to my struggle with weight and guilt. Wow, I wish there was an app for that!

Do you find yourself in a similar predicament? Maybe you have a relationship that just isn’t right, a parent, spouse, or child. A conversation can start well, but within five minutes the tension arises, the words become more pointed. And now instead of seeing that person every week, the span is now months. It seems that no matter what you try, you end up aggravating the relationship or frustrating yourself. Good intentions yield to discouragement, defeat, even despair. Do you ever wish there was an app for that?

The reality is that the Christian life is not a simple case of following a set of rules and everything works out right. If that had been true then the Ten Commandments of Moses would have been sufficient. But adding more laws to Law never helps, it only contributes to further failure. The solution is not piling on more Law, nor is it denying the reality of the conflict, nor is there an app for iPhone, iPad, or iSelf to solve the problem. Paul acknowledges the struggle in the Christian life. Left to his own devices, he shouts out “Wretch man that I am! Who will save me from this body of death?” (v. 24). When I focus on my difficulties, my defeats, my despair, then I will always look at the negative, only see problems. Indeed, my cry echoes Paul, “Who will save me from this body of death?

Paul answers his own question with a ringing statement of praise: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” The solution is not an app, not me, not you, but Jesus Christ.

Does that sound simplistic? Perhaps. But Paul has carefully laid out for the Romans Christians — and us — the basis of our faith. Namely what Jesus Christ has done. In Romans 1-2, Paul showed that we all, whether Jew or Gentile, are condemned before God because of our sin, whether by the Law of Moses or the law written in our hearts. He concludes in Romans 3:19, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.”

Then he proceeds to the key in 3:21-22: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” The focus in chapters 3 and 4 is on our right standing before God because of what Jesus Christ has done. No matter your sin, your past, your strength, when you believe and stand before God, you are declared righteous, perfect, holy… all that Christ has done for you has been credited to your account.

But Paul doesn’t stop with that. In chapters 5 and 6, he adds that this salvation has so many components that it is not captured by one word or one phrase. In 5:1 he writes, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul expands that concept of peace by noting that even when we suffer, we have that “peace that passes all understanding.” In chapter 6 Paul brings them back to their foundation in baptism:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized pinto Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:1-4)

That is, while sin is part of this life, we as Christians have been made alive in Christ to fight against sin. Baptism is not something that is a nice event to remember as a family function. By baptism, God has made you his child, he has given you the full gifts of his mercy, including the Holy Spirit. That means we do not have to give into sin at every turn. In Romans 6:11-12 we read, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.”

Now the battle lines are drawn. You are a new person in Christ through baptism; you still live in this mortal life. And that brings us back to Romans 7 and our present dilemma. “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”

Following Paul’s logic here means remembering and reappropriating what Jesus Christ has done for us. As we being every service with these words, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” That is, God knows that our lives are messed up with sin, with failure, with discouragement. But he has covered all that with Jesus Christ. When we hear those wonderful words of forgiveness, we start again with the absolute pure righteousness of Christ. Our sin? Forgiven in Christ! Our failure in relationships? Renewed and restored in Christ! Jesus Christ died for us, and he lives for us.

While you might see all that is wrong, in Christ God sees all that is right. And lifts our eyes above our present temporary struggle to the goal. As Jesus promises in the Gospel reading, Matthew 11:28-29, Jesus said: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

No wonder Paul concludes his lament, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” with that ringing praise and declaration: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

In your sin and your struggle, you don’t need an app for that. You need Jesus Christ for that!