Monday, July 31, 2006

Contemplation #175
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Galatians 5:1

Paul seems to believe that all would accept, at least by this point in his letter, that Christ set us free. However, the question is to what end we were liberated. This he answers clearly: it was for freedom. To not live in the freedom that Christ won for us is to undo what was done for us. This freedom is not simply a freedom from one set of laws so we might live under another, but a freedom from living under the burden of regulations to soaring with and within the way of the Spirit. The use of that freedom within God’s Spirit does not lead us back into catering to sinful desires for the practice of love to one another (Gal. 5:13).

Contemplation #176
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 2 Corinthians 3:17

The very presence of God’s Spirit ushers us into a free existence. In this passage Paul speaks about a veil covering Moses’ face so the people could not see the glory of God that radiated from him because he’d been in the presence of God, and a veil therefore also covered the hearts of the people. The Israelites who were afraid to see the vestiges of God’s glory on Moses’ countenance also missed out on seeing the glory of God. Paul is saying that the barrier to seeing God’s glory is removed, and to see God in his beauty is to live in a new freedom of the Spirit. Our freedom is not from instructions (laws) per se, but from a life defined solely by them and where God is hidden from us.

Contemplation #177
Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. 1 Peter 2:16

Peter’s instruction is that these believers who were being maligned by unbelieving neighbors live as free people. Why is that necessary? There is a powerful testimony to God’s grace and the presence of His Spirit when we live as free men and women. If we live as slaves to rules and burdened by regulations we give witness to a small god. When we live from within the Spirit as people of freedom and inner guidance, God is glorified. So radical is our freedom that is has been and will always be misinterpreted as an excuse for evil. Our witness is that while totally free, our love for God draws us to what is good, righteous, and pure. God’s magnificent work is seen by others in us because while radically free we do good.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Contemplation #172
For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lrod Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:8

Peter knows that it is very possible to know Jesus and yet be ineffective and unproductive. He is not speaking about simply possessing intellectual information, though that is a real danger in our "information age." He wasn't afraid of people knowing about Jesus and yet not knowing him. The apostle is warning against a relationship with Jesus which is sterile . . . discipleship without transformation. The possibility he saw was that though God "has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him" (2 Peter 1:3) we could still be sterile in this knowledge unless we are growing. The danger is complacency.

Contemplation #173
Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. 2 Peter 1:10

Has anyone ever been eager to do that which is burdensome? We are eager to do that which we desire, which is exciting and enjoyable, good and helpful. There is good that is difficult and which we do not approach with excitement. Jesus was not eager to go to the cross. However, this matter of growing in our knowledge to be changed more and more into having these virtuous qualities is a matter of joy. The prospect of escaping the corruption in this world (1:4) and receiving a rich welcome into the kingdom of Jesus Christ (1:11) should make us eager to do all that confimrs our calling and election by God.

Contemplation #174
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 3:18

Peter ends this letter on the same subject he began: growing in our relationship with Christ. We know that the actual nature of knowing Christ implies growing, just as James argues, what should be obvious, that faith implies doing something. We can no more know Christ and not be continually involved in being changed than we can believe and do nothing out of faith. Both are nonsensical impossibilities. Peter wants us to grow in the merciful working of God and in our connectedness with Christ. These are works of humble submission on our part, and active pursuit of what God gives us freely.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Contemplation #169
The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. Romans 16:20

This is a remarkable statement by Paul particularly because it is made to the Christians in Rome. This is the city where Paul, according to tradition, would be beheaded. The persecution had not even begun as it would under Nero, starting in the city of Rome. Was Paul completely wrong about God soon crushing Satan? In the years following the writing of this letter, Satan seemed stronger, not weaker, and no where was that more apparent than in Rome. The crushing of Satan must not have been something that was observable by those looking at day to day events. Paul was not wrong, even though he wasn’t talking about an event that would lessen the Christians’ experience of trouble in this world.

Contemplation #170
The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. Romans 16:20

The crushing of Satan under the feet of these Roman Christians did not mean that Satan would disappear from their world. Instead, in some way they were going to experience a triumph over Satan. Perhaps Paul’s reference first to God as the God of peace and to the abiding presence of Christ’s grace give us insight into the type of victory Paul was imagining. A victory to peace through living in grace may be a triumph that occurs despite circumstances. If Paul could promise impending victory to those who would soon face more persecution for their faith than had occurred previously, perhaps even in today’s world Satan will be crushed under our feet though wars and rumors of wars continue.

Contemplation #171
But I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil. Romans 16:19

Paul's prediction of the crushing of Satan by the God of peace, as he wishes the grace of Jesus to be with these Christians, follows his wish that they be wise regarding goodness and innocent regarding evil. Perhaps what we see is that as these Christians continue to become wiser about good, and more innocent of any participation in evil, they are moving toward the time when Satan will be crushed under their feet in a victory through their lives of faith. Maybe the victory he foresees is not one where he expects the world around them to change, but for them to be changed with respect to the world. Though Satan continues to work, they are on the path to being truly free from him and alive to what is good. The promise of Paul remains true to all people who long to become wise to God’s ways, and innocent of Satan’s – he will be crushed beneath their feet.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Contemplation #166
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:29

The one bringing this question is the expert in the law who asked Jesus about how to inherit eternal life. Jesus had simply questioned him about how he read the law, and the expert had answered with the commands to love God and one’s neighbor. Jesus remarked he had responded correctly – so why did he need to justify himself? If Jesus had complimented him on his knowledge and answer, why the desire to justify himself? How would this further question justify him? He was hoping that the definition of “neighbor” would indicate that he was righteous. How often we want the answer to correspond to what we have already been practicing! We want to be justified rather than indicted. Perhaps the two commands of loving God and his neighbor created a sliver of doubt in his own mind about his justification. He hoped that his neighbor was each person he treated well, and none that he did not.

Contemplation # 167
Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers? Luke 10:36

Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan in order to arrive at this question. It is a much different question than the expert in the law had asked. “Who is my neighbor” is very different from “who was a neighbor to the beaten man.” The first is who is a neighbor to me, and the second to whom am I to be a neighbor. When the focus of “neighbor” ceases to be what makes others those to whom I am obligated, and rather what makes me a person who is obligated to care for others, then we have captured the essence of how Jesus reformulates the question. It is not “who is my neighbor”, but “will I act as a neighbor to others?”

Contemplation # 168
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Luke 10:37

His answer causes us to admire this expert. He does not reply that the one who was neighbor to the beaten man was the one who took him to the inn, paid for his care, bound up his wounds, or anything like that. He goes beyond the actions to identify what was truly different about the Samaritan: he was a man of mercy. There is no indication in Luke’s account that this expert questioned Jesus in order to trap or test him, as we know happened on other occasions. The man’s insight into the centrality of mercy in the parable was so powerful that Jesus did not need to elaborate, but only to encourage him to practice this way of life. The question that began with how do I inherit eternal life is answered in love God and be merciful to others.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Contemplation #163
Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. 1 John 5:5

The question John raises can be answered in several ways depending on what is meant by “overcome the world”. But John, because he has only one idea in mind about what it means to overcome, identifies the only way this occurs. John talks about escaping, not from the world, but from its enticements and ways (1 John 2:15-17). While living very much in the now, to overcome the world is to break free from the dead end and downward paths of satisfying the physical senses, of only meeting fleshly cravings, and to have hope for life which is much more fulfilling. It is to find the larger and richer story which is being told by God, and to discover our place in it.

Contemplation #164
Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. 1 John 5:5

If we are to have horizons beyond those dictated by the limited perspective of a physical existence, entrapped within a world defined by our sensual desires, the way will be opened up to us only through trusting in Jesus as the Son of God. Why is this? To place our whole confidence in the divinity of Jesus, to trust that Jesus was God Himself walking, eating, sleeping, working, and living in this world is to see a way not to escape this world, but to live like God within it. Jesus lived out a story written by God, a story that echoed Israel’s (another story composed by God) and shows us that this greater narrative is possible. Trusting Jesus as God in the flesh means living out a different kind of existence that is beyond, that overcomes, that has purpose far greater than simply this world’s mandate that we satisfy our flesh.

Contemplation #165
Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. 1 John 5:5

John is not telling us that we will go to heaven because we believe in Jesus, though this is true. John is saying that when we believe that in Jesus God was present, then we see how to live in a way that exceeds the world’s destructive self-centeredness. We have to trust the life of Jesus that is presented to us in the gospels. We have to believe the teachings of Jesus about how to live – about loving our enemies, giving without expecting in return, blessing and not cursing; about doing good, about loving God above all while not seeking the necessities of the body. We have to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and so live the life that he taught and modeled if we are to overcome this world. This is no mere mental belief, or conviction of the heart, but a belief that is expressed in daily discipleship to the way of Christ.