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On this weekend when we honor workers and celebrate the rewards of our work, I am reminded of a scripture passage that encourages us to work out our own salvation: Philippians 2:12-13.  It says, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to work for his good please.”

At first hearing, these two verse may cause panic in the protestant mind: “I thought we were saved by grace.” “I thought it was impossible to work our way to heaven.”  “How can Paul possibly say, ‘work out your own salvation’?”  “Do we really need fear and tremble?”

I think our initial reaction to this verse may be a result of our tendency to view salvation as escape, rather than as an empowerment. Many of us tend to see salvation as something God gives us so that one day in the future we may escape our bodies and earthly situation.  And if we’re not careful, we end up ignoring God’s call  for the present time and in the material world.   In the Bible, salvation is God’s actions to deliver his people.  This deliverance is not for their relaxation, but for their restoration. This restoration begins here and now, as the kingdom of God breaks in upon this world , and accomplishes God’s will on earth, just as it is in heaven.  As God’s restores us through his saving power, he equips us to be his agents of healing in the world.   This is why Paul finishes the verse by saying, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Our salvation isn’t merely for our own pleasure in the sky hereafter. It is for God’s pleasure now and in the future as he works in us and through us to redeem the world.  As his agents on earth, we our called to make sure that we are working out this salvation. We are encourage to hold fast to the word of life, to persevere in the race, confident that it is God himself who is energizing us and working through us.  And one day, we will gladly enter into our eternal reward.

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“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States…”

The first lines of the last paragraph of the Declaration of Independence.

Although the declaration was in the name  and the authority of the people, it was understood that the entire process was under the ultimate authority of God. In the founding document of our nation, our Fathers acknowledged  the “Supreme Judge” of all nations.  The states were to be independent of the British Crown, not independent of the Creator.

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Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree – so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles…..”

What is this curse of the law the writer is talking about? Back in Deuteronomy chapter 28 Moses tells Israel that they will receive blessings for obeying the law, and curse for disobeying the law.  For obeying the law, God would bring blessings of fruitful labor, prosperity, and peace.  The first fourteen verse of the chapter is a picture of human flourishing: blessings of children, livestock, and land.

The next fifty-three verses of curses is a dark portrait of human anguishing. God would curse their labor and their livestock, and cause them to be defeated by their enemies. They would “grope at noonday, as the blind grope in darkness”. They would become a “horror, a proverb, and a byword” among the peoples of the earth. In other words, they would become an object of ridicule and scorn.  Verses 65 – 67 sum it up: “The Lord will give you a trembling heart and failing eyes and a languishing soul. Your life shall hang in doubt before you. Night and day you shall be in dread and have no assurance of your life. In the morning you shall say, ‘if only it were evening!’ and at evening you shall say, ‘if only it were morning!’  because of the dread that your heart shall feel, and the sights that your eyes shall see.”

This is the curse of the law. The curse that Israel deserved, because they did not obey the law. The same law which Jesus said could be summed up in two commands: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  We also have failed to obey this law.  And as a result, we deserve the curses. When we fail to love God, our very source of life, we no longer deserve to flourish as living human beings. We deserve the anguish any living being goes through when it is cut off from its source of life.

Yet, Christ become a curse for Israel and for us on that Friday long ago. He was cursed. His labor of love and healing was rejected by the people. He was tortured by his enemies and nailed to a tree (a curse in and of itself according to Jewish law – see the Galatians verse above).  He became an object of ridicule among both the Jews and Gentiles.  He bore the curse, so that we might receive the blessing.

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In his Image

Our sin is bad not so much because we break a list of rules, but because we misrepresent our Creator. As humans we were created to bear the image of God and to take dominion over the earth for God (Genesis 1:26). As image bearers of our creator, we are called to reflect God’s goodness to the rest of creation.  As dominion takers, we are given the job of maintaining and cultivating planet earth for the glory of God.

However, we were not content to be God’s image bearers. We often want to bear our own image – to glorify ourselves. This is known as pride. And instead of taking dominion for God, we tend to take dominion for ourselves. This is the scandal of our sin: We created to bear God’s image, and we have tarnished that image. Because of our sin, we misrepresent God’s goodness. Further, we were created to be stewards of his creation as dominion takers for God,  and we have twisted this calling to be dominion takers for ourselves.

Fortunately God came to earth to restore us to be his image bearers. The New Testament says that Jesus is the image of the invisible God. Christ came to be what we could not be: the perfect image bearer of God. And through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ – and the power of the Holy Spirit – God is making us into the image of his Son (Romans 8:29). In Christ, we are restored to be the image bearers of God.

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In my last post, I referenced the story of the self-righteous Pharisee and the penitent tax collector. The Pharisee attempted to hide his self-righteous disdain for other sinners behind a veil of gratitude for his own supposed godliness. He was quite happy to report to God that he was not “like other men; extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” Yet, by the end of his prayer of thanks, it is quite clear that he is no much grateful as he is ignorant of God’s own law – the very thing that he takes pride in keeping. He had forgotten what Jesus called the two greatest commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind….and…you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

These weren’t just Jesus’ new ideas – these were actual Old Testament commands. However, Jesus does take them farther than anyone ever had before, saying, “on these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Maybe if the Pharisee had remembered that his first duty was to love God with all of his being, he would have immediately recognized that he had fallen way short, and his prayer of thanks might have actually been a prayer of repentance. But, because he saw no sin in himself, he saw no need for the God who is fully of mercy, abounding in steadfast love, and ready to forgive. And if you don’t know this God, you just don’t know God.

Perhaps he should have prayed this old prayer of the Church:

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.

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Titus 2:11-14 looks at salvation and grace from a different perspective than we normally do:

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and 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.”

God’s grace has been given to enable us to lead self controlled and godly lives in the present age. We often think of salvation as the thing that will give us rest and an easy future in heaven. Salvation does bring rest, but it also brings a challenge as it “trains” us to give up our worldly passions and exchange them for a life of Christian discipline.

Our culture often bulks as the idea of self-control, and I must admit my own guilt in this area. We often find discipline to be a vice – an invention design to suppress  our authentic expressions of our true selves. The gospel brings us back to reality and says that actually much of our “authenticity” is the problem: our true selves are like sheep that have gone astray, with every one going along on his own way.

This gospel of Jesus Christ brings salvation to the lost sheep, with God forgiving them for straying from his path. The gospel also brings transforming grace that enables us to live with more self-control, as we put off our old selves and become his new creation here on earth.

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To Do List

To Do List (Photo credit: Beth77)

Its New Years Eve! So says the calendar. And speaking of calendars, I imagine all the organized, planner types of people already have their 2013 version mostly filled in.  Their New Year’s resolutions for 2013 have long been established.

The planner people are always telling folks like me how easy it is to get organized and to get things done: For the New Year, you need to establish some goals for the coming year.  However, I always forget to do this until December 31, and then I run out of time to think about. This could be overcome by implementing Career Coach Dan Miller’s strategy of setting your New Year goals by the middle of November!  This would be most helpful since I wouldn’t have to set my 2013 goals for 10 1/2 more months. But I’ve heard some talk that he is actually referring to setting your 2013 in November 2012, which would mean I’m already 1 1/2 months late.

After you set your goals, the planners are always talking about getting a calendar. When you have an appointment or deadline, just mark it on the calendar. Oh, yes, just so simple. What happens when you forget to mark your calendar? Or when you lose you calendar? Of course, now we’re supposed to have digital calendars on whatever electronic device we carried on us. However,  I find these phone calendars and  calendars to be tedious and somewhat obnoxious. Its somewhat of a pain to enter all the information correctly, and then you keep getting all these reminders about how late you are on everything.  When I first got my Nexus 7, I thought I would try one of these apps.  And now, a couple months later, I’m getting insulted by my tablet, with the app  implying that I’m worthless for not starting such-and-such task.  At least an old fashion calendar lets you be delinquent in peace.

And then of course, there are the to-do lists. These are the Type A planners favorite weapon. Us disorganized folks are told  that to-do lists are the way to get things done. However, lists are much like calendars: you actually have to remember to write something on the list, and then remember to look at the list when you need to know what to do next. And of course, just like the calendar, you have to do you best not to lose it somewhere.  If you’re very decisive, its easy to determine what to put on your list – Somehow, Type A people always know want they want to do next. However,  its not so easy to determine what to put on your list when there are so many good choices set before you.  Us ADD types who are distracted by everything have trouble narrowing our options down enough to put something down. So, I found the best way to compensate for this is to just not waste your energy trying to decide what to do next, which means that you won’t have much of a to-do list. This of course means that remaining tasks on my list are significantly fewer than those of a Type A planner.  So I’m already making significant progress on knocking out that to-do list. I just eliminate most of the possibilities before they can even get on there. That is some seriously efficient productivity.   Who says disorganize people can’t get anything done?

Happy New Year!!

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