The dragon’s tale

Romans 9:30-33

What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 as it is written,

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
    and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

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A recent conversation with a life-long dedicated Christian revealed what I like to call the “dragon’s tale.” In my way of thinking most dedicated Christians do not struggle overly with obvious moral failure. We struggle with our inner self, our thought life. Words sometimes slip out when they shouldn’t. Often enough we will catch ourselves regretting not doing or saying something we ought to have done or said. We all sin, and sin damns us. 

But most committed Christians live a morally pure and decent life – stumbling once in a while, to be sure – but without grave moral failure. When we do sin we repent and get back on the path again of godly living. We abhor also how the world seems to be going farther and farther away from the ways of God. Marriage is a forgotten relic of overly-religious morals. Let’s not even talk about gender issues, sexual preferences, the misuse of God’s name, or irreverence toward God and life. The sanctity of life is dismissed in favor of choice. Women’s rights do not extend to the rights of unborn women (or men for that matter). 

So we strongly reject and object to such a moral slide and abandonment of anything truly good. And that’s when the tail of the dragon gets us. Having been delivered from the destructive power of ungodliness, and resisting the temptation to obvious and outward moral failure, we forget that the devil has a long tail that can snag us and pull us down. 

Remember the scene in the Lord of the Rings movie where Gandalf faces down the fiery Balrog only to be snared at the last moment by the long tail (or whip) of the evil being. Just when you think all is well, and the battle has been won we learn otherwise. 

So too with our struggle against sin. We stand against immorality, indecency, ungodliness, and irreverence only to fall prey to the idea that we are justified by such heroic feats. We pursue righteousness apart from faith. And that’s a fatal failure. If we would, rather, pursue godliness out of faith in God our pursuit would be far less frenetic, far more powerful and productive and effective. 

We do not earn our identity as God’s sons and daughters by means of our morality, but rather in spite of our moral flaws and failures our loving Father in heaven calls us his children. We obey because we are God’s children, not in order to become God’s children. Likewise, if we are to properly reflect God’s character and express his reign in our hearts, our expression of goodness, truth, and righteousness will always be seasoned by grace, love, mercy, gentleness, kindness, and mercy. 

Satan’s long tail entangles all those who would suppose to speak for God in judgment and prideful self-righteousness. But it has no power over those who rest in their identity as God’s sons and daughters by grace through faith in Jesus, and who seek to express the fullness of God’s character of grace and truth. Jesus was constantly confounding the self-righteous and welcoming sinners. That’s because he knew that the tail of the dragon is ready to snag the self-righteous, and has no power whatsoever over the humble and repentant sinner. 

Don’t let the dragon wrap his fiery tail around you!

A Big Step Up

Romans 9:25-26

As indeed he says in Hosea,

“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
    and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
26 “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
    there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”

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I still remember the moment. It was at a church convention where one of the persons there made a point. He was a fifth generation Texas Missouri Synod Lutheran. I am a Texas transplant, raised in the Baptist church, and without any claim of family legacy or standing – at least compared to him. Frankly, however, he knows and believes as I do that God calls those who are not his people, “sons of the living God.” That’s quite an honor and a big step up.

But it is quite dangerous to miss such a step – just as it is dangerous to miss a step walking up the stairs. On the one hand you might be able to fake it when it comes to missing a step on the stairs. The recovery might be relatively easy – especially for a physically-fit person. But if we miss the step up to being called “sons of the most high God,” we will be forever sad. Second to that danger, is that of assuming we have a right to be called the “sons of the most high God.” In fact such an assumption leads to missing the step in the first place. In other words, if we presume that we deserve to be in God’s favor, we are in grave danger of never experiencing it.

There may be many ways to be reminded of the high privilege of being God’s sons and daughters. But the best way is to read the Scriptures and be reminded of our utter unworthiness before God – and with that the incredible favor and grace of God by which he bestows that identity on him. That is a big step up, but required an even bigger step down on God’s part. Thankfully, God took that step, so that we could take it too. We are ushered by his grace into the highest realm of God’s love and grace. Thanks be to God!

1000th Post Milestone

Matthew 11:28-30

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

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Those who have viewed my blog posts over the years know that most often – especially of late – the photos do not specifically go with the reflection’s subject matter in any direct or discernable manner. I look for something at least marginally interesting or photographically strong and simply put the photo in the post. It is simply a way in which I am able to express myself photographically as well as expressing my understanding of a particular part of the Bible.

So as I chose the text and photo for today’s post, I wanted to be certain that it meant something to me. I wanted to display a photograph that I feel is strong as well as share a Bible text that is meaningful to me.

This is the verse that my pastor chose for me when I was confirmed at the age of 20 years at the University Lutheran Chapel of Hope at SEMO University in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Seven years later Pastor Robert Lange (the same pastor who confirmed me) preached on this text at my ordination service – also at the Chapel of Hope. What a great text! I have a needlepoint version of it on my wall – a gift from a member of a church I previously served.

The most important part of this passage for me is the invitation that Jesus offers: to take his yoke upon me and to learn from him, together with the promise and reminder that he is gentle and humble in heart, and the place of rest for our souls. That means that I am most at peace when I am following and learning from Jesus. That means he is not pushing me, nor is he harsh or demanding of me. It also means that he is seeking to engage me in service to him, but that is a sweet and delightful service in the cause and freedom of the gospel. I do not serve to pull a large load of demands, but in the joy and freedom of God’s love and mercy to me and all people. Whenever the burden gets heavy, Jesus invites me back to him, to his easy yoke and light burden. For in his mercy and love, God invites me to lay my burdens on Jesus. Would that I would remember that.

The photo is actually related to this thought: The spokes are to the wheel of a hay rake. Although the rake does not carry a heavy burden, it does provide a means by which hay can more easily be gathered and therefore provided to animals that would have need of it. The gritty texture of the weathered metal show its long-time use, and the realty of its aging. The spokes radiating from the hub move up and out to allow for a larger circumference of the wheel. The treatment as a B&W image give it a gritty and more – aged look. The light coming from the upper left of the image casts a shadow in the inner part of the two pieces of the hub, making one wish to look further into that part of the image. Some things, however, remain a mystery.

I hope this isn’t self-serving, but at the same time, truth be told it is self-serving. I write this blog for my sake as much as for anyone who might read it. If you are edified by it, I encourage you to do the same: start a blog. I don’t have thousands of followers, nor even hundreds. But I do have the discipline of reflecting on God’s word daily for my own personal edification. If somehow that radiates out to others, that is a blessing for which I give thanks to God.

 

Have you seen Noah?

Genesis 6:5-9

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

9 These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.

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Cal Thomas believes the movie is a good sign, but suggests that the book is better than the movie, while others say we ought to go see it. Pastors.com (founded by Rick Warren) says Christians should go see the movie. World Magazine’s Sophia Lee offers a most significant insight. She says the film, “nails God’s wrath, but but misses His mercy.” I believe that to be a significant issue, and worthy of much conversation.

The wrath of God is real but too-often-dismissed characteristic of God. He is often ignored, or rejected, or made into some sort of grandfatherly doter in the minds of many. He becomes merely an old man, sitting in a rocking chair, white hair, and at best watching, but perhaps sleeping. But look at the skies break loose and the waters rushing in to drown mankind. Even better watch as God’s Son bears the brunt of his wrath on the cross. God’s wrath is real, and not to be dismissed lightly.

But God’s love is greater, even, than his wrath. That’s what the cross of Jesus is all about. It’s about God’s love intervening between us and himself, and in love for us, Jesus sacrificing himself for our sins on the cross. If for no other reason than that we appreciate the reality of God’s wrath on account of our sins, Noah the movie is a good start. But since there is far more than just God’s wrath, let’s never consider the job done when we convince someone that the Bible is true, and that a man named Noah and his wife and sons and their wives were saved by God through the ark – together with the animals.

Let’s also remember the great drowning that happened at our baptism: the sinful nature was drown, the body of sin was put to death. We were buried with Christ in baptism, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead, we too may walk in newness of life. Thanks be to God!

Heart’s Desire

Romans 9:1-13

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. 4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

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Ask a Christian parent which a wayward child and you will learn about “great sorry and unceasing anguish” of heart (v. 2). Ask a Christian mom who has lost a little child and you will learn of this deep anguish. Ask a husband whose wife is not a believer, or a grandmother whose grandchild has rejected the faith and you will learn of these emotions in real time and terms. Paul expresses these feelings and emotions regarding the whole nation of Israel, for they had rejected the Son of God, the Messiah. But these were his people. They were his ancestors and compatriots. How would he deal with the fact that his brothers were rejecting Jesus and removing themselves from God’s grace?

We might want to blame poor parenting, meddling teachers, outside influences, or even a poor pastor for times when our children or loved ones abandon the church and the faith. We might want to know who to blame when someone rejects Christ. But it’s all on us; we are responsible for our own rejection or abandonment of God. And in the end, the issue is not blame, but a love for people that yearns for them somehow to experience the grace of God in Christ. In fact, any desire that we may have for the salvation of a friend or family member is a dim reflection of God’s desire for their salvation. After all God gave his son for the salvation of all people.

God wants all people to be saved. Whether we have a long lineage of religious faithfulness, or none at all, God’s desire for our salvation is set in the cross of Jesus and the empty tomb. His heart’s desire is for your salvation and mine. Thanks be to God!

Truth worth holding onto

Romans 8:31-39

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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Romans 8 is a chapter of the Bible with powerful promises and truths from beginning to end. It starts with the bold declaration: “here is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” It ends with these verses of promise that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord. Sometimes we must simply hold tightly to those truths. Sometimes we face danger and challenge from every side. In fact we do so more often than we realize.

Paul knew all about tribulation, distress, persecution, danger, and all manner of difficulty in his life as a servant of Christ. He was imprisoned, beaten, suffered shipwreck, falsely accused, and challenged on every side as he brought the gospel message to the peoples of many places. He would ultimately be imprisoned in Rome, and according to Christian tradition died a martyr’s death there. When he wrote the book of Romans he was yearning to go there, but had not yet been able to do so.

Paul also knew of the grace of God, and believed deeply in the goodness of God and the faithfulness of his promises. So while not yet in Rome, longing to go there, yet to meet his death there, he held tight to the promises of God, and the love of God in Jesus Christ.

Sometimes that love is so sweet and vitally precious. Sometimes I take it for granted. Sometimes I don’t even think about it. But here’s the promise: “Nothing in all creation will be able to separate me from God’s love in Jesus Christ. It is the constant. It is unshakable. It spans time and space, is above all spiritual powers and angels, and is constant in life and death. That is very good news, which I hope to embrace more fully today.

All Things

Romans 8:25-39

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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What a blessing to know that I have such a powerful and purely good prayer partner! While there are times I do know how to pray, there are plenty of times when I don’t know at all how to pray. When I face a big decision and both paths seem good, I need wisdom, and sometimes truly do not know how to pray. When someone is facing a major challenge with trouble lurking in all directions, I don’t know how to pray.

Imagine,though,  how the Holy Spirit knows how to pray! The Holy Spirit knows all things. The Holy Spirit knows the future, the true motives of people’s hearts, the implications of one path over another, and all this with a kingdom perspective! There is never any duplicity, selfish motive, immature desire, or misunderstanding of the true situation on the part of the Holy Spirit. To know that such a One intercede for us is a true comfort.

Some would make this a matter of prayer language. And I suppose there are times when I have simply sighed my prayers heavenward. But the issue for me here is not whether there is a prayer language (AKA, “speaking in tongues”), but that even when my prayers are little more than signs and groans, the Holy Spirit is taking those sighs and groans and translating them before the throne of God’s grace.

Then comes the great Romans 8:28 promise: “…all things work together for the good of those who love God…” The promise itself is a great one. We can face trouble, setbacks, disappointment, and the worst things in life knowing that God has a plan for our eternal good and blessing. Sometimes we see that in bold relief: because we are delayed we are not involved in a terrible traffic accident. More often it is seen only much later, and through the eyes of faith. God has brought good to me, for which I am deeply thankful.

So when we pray for God’s will to be done, or when we ask the Holy Spirit to intercede for us, and he does so “according to the will of God,” we are destined for a blessing and great good. I’m going to try to keep that in mind today. How about you?