17 November 2010

"become a Christian"

As we're reading through the Gospel of Matthew with some friends, I have been trying to figure out what it means to become a Christian. Or how to do it. I've heard the phrases all my life: become a Christian, ask Jesus in your heart. But how? And what do they mean? Where did we come up with those ideas? Does it happen like that?

Those all sound like items on a check list.

And I'm confused because Jesus doesn't talk like that. Last week we read this in chapter 25. Jesus speaking:
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on his left.
Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you? And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'
Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.... Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
So, there are those that are cursed--"thrown into a fire prepared for the devil and his angels." And there are those that are blessed--"to inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."

And then, in his letter to the saints in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul wrote,
You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience--among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved--and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace and kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Dead in sins, sons of disobedience, children of wrath, goats. He made it clear that all of us start out this way. 

But God made us alive together with Christ. And those of us that are alive, and recipients of great grace and kindness...we should walk in the good works he's prepared for us!

Maybe that's key. Maybe it's not so much that caring for those in need created the distinction between the goats and the sheep, the cursed and the blessed, the dead and the alive, but maybe it's that it shows the distinction between those who know the King and who have received his gift of grace and those who won't.

So what about those who live and love like sheep, but haven't "become a Christian"?

"Praying a prayer" isn't enough to transform a person, is it?
Is it?

This is crazy and inflammatory stuff that Jesus said. And I don't get it. Or maybe I'm starting to get it. I experience it...
but the pieces of this puzzle are all over the floor right now. They were under the rug and we've lifted the rug. I can't quite get pieces back together yet.

Wrestlings? Passages? Thoughts?

10 November 2010

hold fast to hope

Though he slay me, I will hope in him...
God breaks me down on every side, and I am gone,
and my hope has he pulled up like a tree. (Job 13, 19)

No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame. (Ps 25)

The war horse is a false hope for salvation...
Behold the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him,
on those who hope in his steadfast love,
that he may deliver their soul from death
and keep them alive in famine. (Ps 33)

For the evildoers shall be cut off,
but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land. (Ps 37)

My hope is in you. (Ps 39)

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God....
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God....
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God. (Ps 42, 43)

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is from him. (Ps 62)

Rescue me...
For you, O Lord, are my hope. (Ps 71)

Blessed is he...
whose hope is in the Lord his God. (Ps 146)

The Lord takes pleasure...
in those who hope in his steadfast love.
Praise! (Ps 147)

Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life. (Proverbs 13)

...those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength... (Isaiah 40)

...I am the Lord;
those who hope in me will not be disappointed. (Isaiah 49)

I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for peace and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.... There is hope for your future. (Jeremiah 29, 31)

But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
"The Lord is my portion," says my soul,
"therefore I will hope in him."
The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.
It is good...
it is good...
there may yet be hope. (Lamentations 3)

I will make the Valley of Trouble a door of hope. (Hosea 2)

"It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.... I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, having a hope in God, that there will be a resurrection.... And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused." (Paul, Acts 23 to 26)

In hope Abraham believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations. (Romans 4)

Let us rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,
and endurance produces character,
and character produces hope,
and hope does not disappoint us,
because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5)

Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. (Romans 8)

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (Romans 12)

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15)

He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.... Since we have such a hope, we are very bold...the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (Paul, 2 Corinthians)

I pray...that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you. (Ephesians 1)

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to ... live godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2)

We who have fled for refuge might have a strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and certain anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the holy place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever... (Hebrews 6)

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
(Hebrews 10)

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you... (1 Peter 1)

My Analysis and Synthesis

God delights in our hope.

Hope is called upon, tested in the fire of desire, need, affliction, longing, pain, sorrow, trembling.

Hope is blessing. Hope brings peace. Hope is joy. Hope and praise walk hand in hand.

The Spirit flows peace into our hearts.

Hope in the Lord is also translated Wait on the Lord. Hoping looks like waiting.

Our hope in God will not be disappointed. Hope is certain when it is hope in God--not in circumstances, not in relationships, not in any of a million other things. God-delighting hope, hope which will be fulfilled, hope that is blessing--that hope is in God alone.

I think that hope is a paradox of a gift. A gift that brings gut-wrenching tears. A gift so good and so rich and so horrible that it is often left unopened under the Christmas tree. A gift only embraced by the most courageous, most broken among us. A gift that looks like poverty. A gift that looks a lot like a slut pouring out her entire life-savings on the feet of a carpenter, that looks like a shriveled old woman dropping the last of the grocery money into the offering, that looks like living in a foreign country alone, that looks like waiting too long for two children from Africa to come home, that looks like longing for life as a husband is being eaten by cancer.

O, that we would be the remnant who wholly embrace this gift.

07 November 2010

autumn Sabbath

We sat down to eat oatmeal boiled in milk with ginger, honey, apples, cranberries, walnuts. I've finally discovered that I like this mush. The Sunday mugs and coffee. It's bright and sunny and cold outside. The leaves are brilliant.

Today is a day to stop and to worship.