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Ezekiel, Paul, and Hard Foreheads.

My lectionary readings today have me in Ezekiel 2, and Romans 1. Oy.

It seems clear that interest in God is declining in the Western world. This, of course, saddens me, because there is nothing but blessing to be found in coming to the Father through Christ, and being filled with the Holy Spirit. God is nothing but good, and living our lives in re-connection with this good God is, well, fantastic. The church is called to proclaim this opportunity to the world. But the world doesn’t receive it. Instead, they often lash back at the church, calling us ignorant, superstitious, killjoys, and even evil.

Why are people so bent against a revelation from God that is such good news? This still surprises me.

It shouldn’t.

ezeThe word of the Lord has come to Ezekiel in chapter 1. After falling on his face before a heavenly vision of the glory of God, Ezekiel is lifted to his feet in chapter 2, and commissioned to proclaim God’s truths to the house of Israel. “The descendants are impudent and stubborn…whether they hear or refuse to hear, they will know that a prophet has been among them…the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me; because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and stubborn heart.” After this warning, it should be no surprise that the people will reject the revealed truths of God.

The Apostle Paul teaches in Romans 1 that man can know, honor and thank God, but instead “they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened…they became fools…they exchanged the truth about God for a lie.” Therefore, “God gave them up” to their lusts, and to debased thinking.

Since Eve passed the fruit to Adam, our world has been broken and bent. There is still glory to be seen everywhere you look. There is still godliness being experienced in the lives of those who believe. But, apart from God’s activity of grace, the brokenness remains imbedded in the “hard foreheads” and “stubborn hearts” of our race.

forehIn short – we’re called to proclaim the good news of God in Christ. But we should have no expectation that people will buy it. Quite the opposite – it should not only not surprise us when we’re mocked and rejected…it should actually boost our faith in the Word of God, which promises this very result.

That’s hard duty. But, as God tells Ezekiel, Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead. Fear them not, nor be dismayed at their looks.”

A hard-headed gospel for a hard-headed world. That’s our call. Let’s roll.

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2015 in Discipleship

 

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Aside

Paul’s memo to Titus: “Good works – make sure they’re being done!”

Grace or WorksAs an Evangelical who’s theology could be described as “Reformed” (by people who love describing, prescribing and labeling theologies … though I wouldn’t do it), I do have the tendency to see grace and works in dichotomy. I highlight grace, and grayscale good works.

But, my lectionary readings have me in the book of Titus this week – during my Lenten journey, as I attempt to be a proactive DOER of Lent, rather than a reactive NOT-DOER. Here are some selections from Titus (see if you can spot the theme):

1:15-16  “The defiled … profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.”

2:7  “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works.”

2:14  “[Jesus] gave himself for us … to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

3:1  “Remind them … to be ready for every good work.”

3:8  “I want you to insist … that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.”

3:14  “And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.”

Why have I never heard of Titus spoken of as “that good works book”?

It’s a pithy Christian cliche, but still very true, and still quite ignored by us Cretans in practice: It’s not just what we’ve been saved from (sin, death and hell) but what we’ve been saved for (holiness, righteousness and good works). Grace doesn’t just extend mercy … it teaches, it empowers, it mobilizes a life full of doing.

Fruitful TreeAnd Paul urges Titus to good works, lest he be “unfruitful.” If a tree is known by it’s fruits (as the scriptures clearly say is the case), and good works are our fruit … well, would people realize we’ve been saved by the grace of God by the things that we do? Or are our testimonies bound strictly to what we know?

Lenten realization: Stopping my sin is not bearing good fruit. It’s just stopping the bad fruit. If I’m going to have a fruitful Lent, I’ve got to do more than just not sin.

The late singer-songwriter Keith Green (a uniquely fruitful man in his day) once said, “If Christians spent more time doing the dos, we wouldn’t have time to do the don’ts!”

Intellectual point taken. Now … what to do?

Stopping My Sin Is Not “Bearing Good Fruit”

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2014 in Lent

 

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Twelfth Day of Christmastide ’14

Number 12 coolWe finish our Christmastide journey through Romans 12 and 13 by coming full circle back to Advent.

Jesus came at Christmas … and He’s coming again soon.

“Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarrelling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Romans 13:11-14)

79 percentThis surprised me: Most people believe Jesus will return! Well, they did in 2006, anyway, which isn’t that long ago. In a Pew Research survey taken that year of thousands of American adults, 79% said they believe in the literal second coming of Jesus.

This surprises me, because people don’t live like it. They hardly talk about it. It certainly doesn’t seem like people are preparing for it. That’s why I’m just not sure we’re ready for it.

Almost everybody missed the first Christmas. Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, some shepherds, Simeon, Anna, and some Iraqi astrologers…that’s who got it. The prophecies were out there. The timing of His coming was spot on (see the book of Daniel). Still, it was an anonymous event.

10 virgins

Then, Jesus told His disciples often that He would come a second time in glory to judge the world. In many of those stories, he describes people who simply were not going to be ready, and who would miss it.

Now, here in Romans, Paul says that there is a position to be taken in light of the upcoming return of Jesus. It’s a moral agenda – the mortifying of sinful desires. Frankly, it’s the opposite of our usual Christmastide agendas, which are fixated on indulging our desires. My wife Karen works at a daycare, and has been asking the kids if they had a good Christmas. The response is almost always a listing of gifts received. A “good” Christmas is a profitable one, not a righteous one. As Benjamin Franklin quipped, “How many observe Christ’s birthday! How few, his precepts! O! ’tis easier to keep Holidays than Commandments.”

Define Good XmasI hope this has been a “good” Christmastide for you all … in the goodest sense of the word “good”! I pray that your meditation on the incredible gift of the Holy Christ has moved you to want to give your life as a living sacrifice to Him in return. To put on Christ. In thanks for His first coming, we prepare ourselves for the second.

The (second) day is at hand! We believe it. Let’s be ready for it!

Merry Christmas … and a blessed Epiphany season beginning tomorrow.

 

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Tenth Day of Christmastide ’14

Number 10 fence

Christmas … and politics? Do we have to?

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but alsofor the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honour to whom honour is owed.” (Romans 13:1-7)

The first Christmas was more politically charged than ours is today. The Jewish people, with their long, proud heritage of freedom fighting and military rebellion, were under Roman occupation. The ongoing hope was for the promised Messiah to come, who would lead them to their political emancipation.

magiherodThe birth story itself is soaked with politics. The very reason Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem was because of the Empire-wide taxation program (you think signing up online for Obamacare is tough duty – try a 50+ mile donkey ride during your 9th month of pregnancy!). Jesus spent some of his childhood in the hated next-door-nation of Egypt because the local ruler felt threatened by religious prophecies. Then, Jesus grew up in Galilee, which was predominantly Hellenistic, unlike the conservatives in Judah, who would find the simple-minded “liberals” from down the hill to be at best pitiful, at worst repulsive.

It was impossible to keep from being embroiled in politics in first century Palestine.

globes ornamentsThis is good for us to hear today. Jesus came into a political situation, and lived a politically-aware life. And the incarnate one gave specific guidance for living out this reality. Be good citizens. Pay your taxes faithfully is you the payer … and if you’re the payee, please collect only what is properly due. And here, Paul echoes these counter-revolutionary ideas: Subjection. Do what is good. Have appropriate fear of the magistrate. But even more than that, it’s attitude! Respect and honor!

Merry Christmas! God has come, and has made it very clear: Life in light of Christmas leaves us inescapably in the politics of our lands … where we, like Him, will be blessed to live honorably. This is a gift of God! For it is “for your good.”

 
 

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