Friday, November 30, 2007

A Dead old Man

This summer, on our boat trip, I visited with a dear friend. We got to talking about this idea:

Can people really change?

REALLY change?

Or, are you stuck the way you were born?

It was an important issue to my friend. He has more integrity than any man I've ever known. But in his business life, he's been stung, by people who repeatedly rip him off, or make bad business decisions which affect his business. He's known scoundrels, and cons. He's seen alcoholics and adulterers. You know the drill. His question is a wise one. He's really asking, "Can I ever trust anyone like that again?"

Good question.

Romans addresses that very question. One of the prominent themes in Paul's book is the issue of man's sin nature. Paul reminds us that we were BORN to sin. Man is basically selfish. Instead of submitting to God, man is born to want his own way. But when we turn to Christ we are set free from that sin nature.

It is as if we are born with leg irons on. We drag around this propensity to sin from day one. It's a heavy burden. We are slaves to our sin nature. Even when we are aware of it and want to do things differently, we can't. Oh, maybe we can behave differently for a while. But my friend is right. Eventually, the good behavior wanes, and the old nature begins to show itself. The bad behavior returns -- or perhaps it morphs itself into some new bad behavior.

Paul says it this way, "I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn I can't make myself do right. I want to but I can't."

So, what hope do we have for change? Check this out!

In Romans chapter six, Paul says this delicious line. "Our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are NO LONGER SLAVES TO SIN." (Romans 6: 5-6)

So, how is that good news?


What happens, when a person comes to Christ, is that GOD CHANGES HIM. I've seen it a thousand times. People who wouldn't care about church suddenly want to find one that fits their needs. People who never cared about others suddenly exhibit kindness. People who were thieves stop thieving. People who swore suddenly don't want to swear any more. People who didn't care about society suddenly care about the poor. People who leave a legacy of broken relationships suddenly want to repair their past. I could go on and on.

I know people can change. It happened to me. When I came to Christ, I'd made a rather tangled mess of my own life. Even though I looked pretty good on the outside, I was living a lie. The lie was killing me.

When I turned to Christ, he set me free from bad relationships that I had no power to break on my own.

It isn't about stopping bad behavior. It's about becoming a different person. God gives you the freedom to become a different person. He starts over IN you. And your leg irons drop off, and you have a new heart, and it has new concerns.

The new concerns move us to new behaviors.

And that is what it means to be FREE in Christ.

When I came to Christ (in 1974) I prayed that I would never regret that decision.

Do you know that I haven't? Not for one instant in the ensuing 33 years. Not one regret!

How's that for free?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Utterly Helpless

This one will be quick. I know that most of you are in the throws of Thanksgiving Celebrations. It's the one weekend all year that I ALWAYS have my kids at home. All four. I insist on pictures; I'll post mine soon.

I'm stuck blogging in Romans 5, where I find two completely disarming statements.

"When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time." (verse 6)


"But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners." (verse 8)

I love that idea. What could be better than "utterly helpless," or "while we were still sinners?"

You see, we STILL ARE! We are utterly helpless. Dependant on every breath. Dependant on the fact that our immune systems work. That our body makes energy from food. That our brains function enough to make a Christmas list, or start the car, or put one foot in front of the other. WE ARE HELPLESS. We can be rich, accomplished, wise, smart, motivated, talented, and we are STILL UTTERLY HELPLESS. Dependant!

God loves helpless people.

Pretty cool, eh?

And, if you are reading this blog today, remember that Christ died BEFORE you were born. ALL your sins were -- at the time of his death -- future tense sins. They had not yet been committed.

He died for the sin you had yet to sin.

So, if he died THEN for you, for sins you had yet to commit. What can you expect from him now? That his love has changed? That he NOW expects you to be perfect?

No way. When you were utterly helpless, and completely sinful, he chose to die for you!

You don't have to perform, to win, to dazzle God. He's completely smitten with you. He was smitten even when you were ugly, selfish, and evil.

Why not sit back and thank him for THAT!

That's worth a turkey dinner, if nothing else is!


Saturday, November 17, 2007

Taking Part in the Process

I've finished Romans and moved on to Judges; but of course, I haven't blogged on it. No excuses. Here's my life:

I spent five days in Portland with Kerrie. She has survived her first chemo, though there were moments she wished that survival weren't an option. Honestly, anyone who does cancer treatment deserves much more than their life. I'm suggesting an island in the South Pacific. What do you think?

Kerrie had a bout of nausea that lasted about six days. The doctor tried to help. But even in the best of moments, she was either barfing her guts out, or completely unconscious. Not good for a self-employed artist. She's only recently started eating again. Just in time. She has her next treatment one week from Thanksgiving Day. This coming Tuesday, she is planning a "shave my head" party. Trying to make the best of it all. She's my hero! I had no idea what chemotherapy involves.

Our Bible study group at church just finished the trial version of the Jeremiah Bible study. They had a great time, and showered me with thank you cards and CHOCOLATE! Now, my goal is to finish editing that version and ship it to the publisher by mid-December. It's harder than it sounds. I've never done anything like this before.

I spoke at a Women's Gig at Lighthouse Christian Center in Puyallup this past Monday. Woke with a sore throat, downed zinc and Airborne. When I walked up to the podium, I didn't think I could do it. But God gave me the strength I needed to do well. He is good!

I'm ready to have my kids home. The oldest returns from California on Wednesday. The middle child perhaps then too? My two WSU students are heading home tomorrow. I've gotten the carpets cleaned and we are re-coating the wood floors in my kitchen. Life is VERY busy.

So, where do I want to stop in Romans? Try Romans 5:1-5. The context? Well that begins in the chapter's first verse. "Therefore, since we have been made right in God's sight bty faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of highest privilege where we now stand and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God's glory."

The context for the next passage begins with our new position in Christ. Because of him, we have confidence and joy about our future. Certainly, some of that future concerns what awaits us in heaven. But there is more. Paul continues in verse three.

"We can rejoice too when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us -- they help us learn to endure. And endurance develops strength of chartacter in us, and character strengthens our confident expectation of salvation. And this expectation will not disappoint ius. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love."

So, what is the point?

Many religions differ on what difficulties mean to our lives. For some, handling difficulties well enables us to achieve a higher status in some future life. For others, handling difficulties well banks good "karma" for the future. The lady who does my pedicure faces difficulty aspiring to disconnect herself from her pain. For her, being disconnected is the highest goal.

But Paul tells us that for believers our difficulties "shape us." They make us better. And because of our new standing in Christ, we have a kind of deep inner peace as we face any difficulty. We know that God controls our future. And more than that, God has INVESTED in our future.

He has given us the HOLY SPIRIT, who lives inside us and HELPS to grow character in our difficulty.

You see, growth isn't all up to us. Neither is it God's sole responsibility. And difficulty is not some random thing that happens TO us. Instead it has purpose. Design. And when we cooperate, we experience the satisfaction of seeing growth in our lives.

Now THAT, my friend is VERY good.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Lifeline

I'm thinking about lifelines today. My friend Kerrie is in the bed nearby, with her port connected to a tube which will give her chemotherapy. The chemo is going to save Kerrie's life.

You could call it a lifeline. It's not unlike the spiritual lifeline that I've found in the book of Romans.

Now, I agree with you. Romans is a tough book. Paul doesn't leave much room to guess about his meaning. Try this for instance:

"For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the Jewish ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not a cutting of the body but a change of heart produced by God's Spirit. Whoever has that kind of change seeks praise from God, not from people."

The whole point of the book of Romans is to answer that one question: How does one make one's heart RIGHT WITH GOD?

In chapter after chapter, Paul will make sure that we understand how it does NOT happen. In chapter two, he makes it clear that being right with God is not about outward things, but rather about inward things.

We don't impress God by our outward appearance. He doesn't care if we are circumcised. He doesn't care if we've been to First Communion, or to Confirmation. God is only concerned by out inward condition. The true Jew, and the true believer are ones whose heart have been made right with God.

In chapter 3 he tells us how this transformation occurs:

"We are made right in God's sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done. For all have sinned; all fall short God's gracious standard."

And later, "He has freed us by taking away our sins."

So, here is the problem.

We want to be right with God. So we try to "act right" enough to get him to approve of us. The problem is that we can't possibly be good enough.

So, he provided a way. That way is Jesus Christ. In Christ, God has taken away all of our sins. And in Christ he has made our inward selves right with him.

It's so simple that even the lowliest of us can understand it. But it's so difficult that only the courageous will grab hold of the lifeline there.

Have you? Have you grabbed onto the lifeline of Jesus Christ?

Monday, November 5, 2007

He is

Welcome to the book of Romans.

I've decided that I'm a "bad blogger." (You should read that like out loud in the same tone that some people say, "Bad, dog.")

It's hard to keep up in the midst of life, isn't it? Right now, I'm in the waiting room at Good Sam hospital in Portland, OR, waiting for my friend Kerrie, who is getting a new port installed. It will be the system her oncologist uses to infuse her with chemotherapy drugs.

And something I observed this morning brings me directly into our blog subject. There is a nurse in the day surgery area who desperately needs Jesus. She is stomping around the hospital with frozen lips -- completely unable to smile or respond to the humanity of the people around her. I know. I made it my personal charge to try to get a smile out of her. Nothing. No response. When someone asked how she was, she said, "I've been better."

Okay, so we all have bad days, yes?

But this lady is definately having a bad life!

And i think perhaps she has no idea that there is more to life than IVs, vials of blood, patients and surgery schedules. In fact, Paul, in the opening chapter of the book of Romans says that there IS GOD! Paul says it this way.

"For the truth about God is known to them instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. Fromt he time the world was created people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see his invisible quqalities -- his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God. Yes they knew God, but they wouldn't worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like."

How does that relate to Grumpy in Day Surgery?

Her problem is that she has made herself the center of the known universe. The patients, the doctors, the orders, the orderly and even the housekeeping lady all revolve around her! No wonder she is so dissapointed when things don't go the way she expects. Every little bump throws her off her own throne!

We were never meant to be the center of the universe.

When we realize that, we are able to smile at our difficulties, to comfort others in their trials, to laugh when appropriate, and to work with a servant's heart.

When we realize that He is LORD, that He is in absolute control over every difficulty of our lives, we have peace. Even as we wait for surgery to end. Even as we anticipate chemotherapy. Even when we realize that our bad hair days will soon be "bald hair days."

He is God. And that is enough to bring peace even to the most chaotic of days.