Saturday, August 16, 2014

Halfway through Grace

"You are halfway through Grace."

That's what the email from the Federal Loan Service that I got this week said. It's, of course, a reference to the fact that there's six months "grace period" after separation from a school before repayment on educational loans begins. But the statement really struck me as somewhat absurd.

You are halfway through Grace.

Gotta love the capital letter there. For those who are very rigid on what the author means by a statement, I'll warn you now that what follows is so loosely-connected, it might give you a panic attack.

How can this sentence make sense to the Christian? How do we even get halfway through Grace? From my own life experience, and growing up in the Church in North America, I know what it's like to wonder if you've reached the mid-point--or beyond-- to the limits of God's grace. It's a symptom of legalism--that constant heresy and temptation of the sinful heart. I know what it's like to wonder if "this next time is the last time" that I can experience grace. I know what it's like to say acknowledge--in my better moments--that grace can't be overcome by sin, but I might end up saved by the skin of my teeth.

And it's a lie. A total lie. Subtle and savory, and fluent in biblical speech enough to pass as native to Christian proclamation of the Gospel.  It's how we so adamantly answer the Accuser's "Did God really say?"

Did God really say you are completely forgiven and receive the righteousness of Christ?

We are completely forgiven and receive the righteousness of Christ, but God did say 'Be holy as I am holy, and do your best to thank me by living a good Christian life.'

Friends, I've got one thing to say to that "and." To hell with it. One of the many presumptions of Eden is the need to add to what God has said to increase our self-assurance in the face of temptation.  To hell with that. Instead, let's consider Martin Luther's example:
“So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: "I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!”
Because the God revealed fully in the person and work of Jesus Christ is not a God who puts us on notice: "You are halfway through Grace." This is the God of infinite mercy, eternal one-way love, and persisting forgiveness that will long outlast our sin. We have only begun to scratch the surface of experiencing Grace.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Cure Thy Children's Warring Madness

This hymn's needed today

Lo! the hosts of evil ’round us,
Scorn Thy Christ, assail His ways.
From the fears that long have bound us,
Free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
For the living of these days,
For the living of these days.

Cure Thy children’s warring madness,
Bend our pride to Thy control.
Shame our wanton selfish gladness,
Rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal,
Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal. ("God of Grace and God of Glory."

The terrors and horrors that are making their way out of Iraq, Syria, Israel and Palestine, where war, persecution, hatred, martyrdom and other evils are dominating the landscape, and even Durham, NC, where an Anglican priest was found murdered. The world is a mess. And the Church doesn't look much better--whether you google "Driscoll and Acts 29", or "Sovereign Grace scandal", or pick your favorite controversy of the day. It's heart-breaking, discouraging, and sometimes raises the question of what good it is being in the Church if this is what happens.

But that's why the hope of the Church is not the people. We aren't better than those outside the Church, but we know the only One who can change any of this, and, in fact, Jesus has promised to change ALL of it. So, we also need this hymn today:

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.
 ("A Mighty Fortress is our God."

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Re-learning to Listen

So I've been in an incredibly weird season since my last post. I finished seminary, graduated, formally began the discernment process for ordination to the priesthood in the Anglican Church (which is an intense, but gracious, process!), was commissioned to take pastoral leadership of a missional outreach of Church of the Savior in Ambridge called Village Church, and started working part-time in a temporary position with the YMCA's Summer Lunch Program. I also started spiritual direction, re-started with a counselor, and meet on a regular basis with the priests in my life. It's all life-giving stuff and God has been doing a renewing, refreshing kind of work in this quiet season.

When I first met with my rector (for those who don't know Anglicanism, a "rector" is basically like the lead pastor of a church) after graduation, we talked about where I was and the theme of that was that I was in the "in-between" times-- the wilderness. All of Bp. Jonathan Martin's sermons about wilderness and the chapter about it in Prototype came screaming back into my head. God brings us to the wilderness to bless us, to shape us, to show his love to us, and speak his words of affection to us without the distractions. That doesn't make the wilderness a place of suffering (evangelicals, take note). Unsurprisingly, the theme of the Easter season sermon series (which I preached in!) was on listening to God. My first meeting with my spiritual director: "What ways are you listening to God?" It's almost like it's a theme or something!

Now, don't get me wrong--it's not as if I felt like I wasn't hearing from God. I felt like the Lord had been quite vocal: in sermons, in the Word, in the ministry opportunities I'd had. He'd spoken to me, through me, for me in all sorts of situations and scenarios. But this was all very utilitarian--it was listening in order to be useful. These past two months have been learning (again!) how to hear the Lord express his love toward me, to remind me of who I am in him, and direct me, not for the sake of use, but for the sake of a Father speaking to his son. I'm excited to see where this goes, and what the Lord continues to speak while I'm in the wilderness.

What I'm learning is that what the Lord always speaks is a word of grace, of love, of righteousness and holiness. It's a word that justifies and vindicates me, against every accusation that I can muster against myself, and against every sentence of condemnation that can justly be given. Jesus, the Advocate, dispels the accusers, and amazingly declares, "Neither do I condemn you." Every time that happens is a holy moment. It's a holy moment that the Spirit breathes repentance into me--giving birth to faith and love that can endure whatever is coming up. Where I used to think of listening to God as hard work, I am learning to receive it as rest. When I'm no longer working, God is free to make that moment of rest holy and speak to me.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

When a guy tears up at Morning Prayer...

"Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”" (John 8:10-11)

These words from the Gospel reading for the day brought me to tears when they were read. Brought me to tears again when they were preached. Friends, never forget what it means that Jesus is our Advocate: no one is left to condemn us, and the very one who could (SHOULD!) condemn us does not, but showers his love on us despite everything we've done, and based on no promise of good faith but his own: "Neither do I condemn you." These words free us, utterly. Now do I, the once-condemned, walk free from the sin I've done and into the life he gave.