Say HIS name

A friend has challenged me to learn and memorize a bible verse every two weeks. Now, like many of you, I am extremely busy so I was looking for something short and simple that I could easily memorize, like “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (I thought about just using that, but figured that may be cheating since that is the only one I already know by heart.) So I grabbed the bible and let it open where it may. The bible opened to Titus. I will admit I wasn’t initially thrilled because I couldn’t think of anything memorable from Titus. My eyes immediately fell on this: “Say these things. Exhort and correct with all authority. Let no one look down on you.” I immediately felt drawn to it — even though I must admit I had no idea what it was saying. I had to look up what exhort meant (for the few of you like me, who struggle with some of the vocabulary in the bible, it means: strongly encourage or urge (someone) to do something). I read these three short sentences over and over, quickly memorizing and also feeling empowered by them — although I still didn’t quite understand what I was supposed to be saying or what I was supposed to be encouraging or correcting. I tried to resist, but was drawn to read the preceding verses, and I am so glad I did:

For the grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of the great God and of our savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good. Say these things. Exhort and correct with all authority. Let no one look down on you.

Titus 2:11-15

I have been struggling with the state of the world, struggling with the godless ways, struggling with all of the worldly desires and what the world says is good. This verse, which falls under the heading “Transformation of Life” has been transforming me ever since, and I cannot get it our of my head. As I read this, I wanted to shout from the rooftops: Thank God for His grace! How blessed are we that it just appears — it’s just there, waiting for us — saving all! Saving me — saving you! Saving all.

We live (just as they did in Jesus’ day) in a world filled with godless ways and worldly desires. But with God’s grace we can learn to live temperately, justly and devoutly. (which my google dictionary search says means: in a thoughtfully measured, regulated manner, according to what is morally right, and in a totally committed and sincere way). Not perfectly. God doesn’t call us, or expect us, to live perfectly (thank God!). What He wants us to learn is how to be thoughtful, regulated, moral and sincerely committed.

And then the 3 words that struck me the most in the verse: “in this age.” In other words, we are here in this age, God wants us to live in this age, to live in the world. God knows the world around us is not perfect. There are godless and worldly temptations around us. I sometimes want to be in a perfect world and lament why it is not, but maybe its not supposed to be. How would I ever understand God’s grace if the world were perfect? How would I ever truly understand His love and glory if I never saw the contrast with what is godless? God’s grace saves us and trains us to deal with the world that we live in, to live temperately, justly and devoutly — as we await the blessed hope — as we await the reunion with Him.

But wait — there’s more! We are reminded that Jesus gave himself for us to deliver us from lawlessness and to cleanse us from our own lawlessness and sinfulness so that we can be His own. Again we are not called to be perfect. We are not expected to be perfect. Even as Jesus gathers us as His own, it is not that we must do good — but that we are eager to do what is good. We may fail — but where is our heart and our intention — do we want to do good, are we sincere in our intentions, thoughtful and eager to do good, even though we may fall short. There is so much good news in this verse!

Now, I know what the next three short sentences mean that initially struck me. “Say these things! Exhort (encourage) and correct with all authority! Let no one look down on you.” We cannot hide this good news from others. We cannot worry about what others may think or how they may look at us. Say these things! Encourage with all authority!

Over the last few years there have been many chants and outcries to “say their names” in remembrance of the individuals whose lives have been tragically cut short by police brutality. The phrase is powerful and a cry of outrage, a call for action. But I cannot help but think as I read this verse from the Bible — and not to take away from any of these movements — but shouldn’t all of our cries be to say His name? To say these things? That God’s grace is there for us? To save us — all of us. That we are called to temperately, justly and devoutly await the blessed hope. That Jesus wants to bring us together as his own — and wants us to be eager to do good — not perfect, but eager. Say these things! Say Jesus’s name — call on God’s name and his great glory. Let this be our cry of outrage and our call to action. A cry that we can all meet in the middle to embrace, because Jesus calls us all as His own. Let us not be afraid of what others think or how others may look at us. Let us cry out with all authority and say His name and share His good news, because it truly is too good not to share.

Dear God,

I cry out to you! I am eager to do what is good. I am outraged by the world around me, but I know I am not perfect. Train me to live temperately, justly and devoutly. I trust in you and anxiously await the blessed hope. I am not worthy of your grace but I cry out to you in thanksgiving for I know your grace abounds. Give me the courage to say these things with authority that comes from you. Help us to come together in your name, as your people, and proclaim your name and your glory.

For there is no distinction

I love tonight’s passage from Romans:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, though testified to by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God.  They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as an expiation, through faith, by his blood, to prove his righteousness because of the forgiveness of sins previously committed, through the forbearance of God—to prove his righteousness in the present time, that he might be righteous and justify the one who has faith in Jesus.

What occasion is there then for boasting?  It is ruled out. On what principle, that of works? No, rather on the principle of faith.  For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law.  Does God belong to Jews alone? Does he not belong to Gentiles, too? Yes, also to Gentiles, for God is one and will justify the circumcised on the basis of faith and the uncircumcised through faith.  Are we then annulling the law by this faith? Of course not!  On the contrary, we are supporting the law.

Romans 3:21-31

“For there is no distinction.”  We are all sinners.  And we are all justified freely by God’s grace.  We have no grounds for boasting.  Our works on earth are not worthy of boasting.  We can not “achieve” our place with God.  It is only by his grace that we are worthy.  It is only through our faith that we realize this grace.

Thank you God for your grace and your love!  You are almighty.  Your grace is amazing and undistinguishing among us sinners.  Help me to not make distinctions among your children.  I know your way is the right way.  Help me to be strong in faith.

God lifts us up for the slam dunk

This morning, I woke up early and decided to open the Bible while I ate some Frosted Mini-Wheats.  The Bible fell open to John chapter 8.  In John 8, Jesus saves the woman from being stoned and reminds her would be assailants:

“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

I have always found this passage very easy to grasp. People in glass houses should not throw stones.  None of us have any room to talk.  Or are righteous enough to judge others.  Easy to grasp, not always easy to live up to.  But today I read further:

Jesus then said to those Jews who believed in him, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone.  How can you say, ‘You will become free’?”  Jesus answered them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.  A slave does not remain in a household forever, but a son always remains. So if a son frees you, then you will truly be free.”

John 8: 31-36

I read this passage over several times, particularly the last three sentences:  “Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.  A slave does not remain in a household forever, but a son always remains. So if a son frees you, then you will truly be free.” At first it was very troubling to me.  And I was filled with this feeling of hopelessness.  “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”  Well, we all know that we are all sinners.  So we are all slaves.  “A slave does not remain in a household forever.”  What does that mean?  We don’t remain on earth?  We don’t remain alive?  Of course both of these are true.  We don’t remain in God’s household?  We are not truly part of His house, His kingdom?  This is where, the feeling of hopelessness set in.  Because I know I am a sinner.  I also understand that all humans are sinners and that we really cannot opt out of being a sinner here on earth.  So is it hopeless?  I want to be able to not be a slave to sin.  I want to remain in God’s household forever.  But from everything I read and hear and understand, I cannot choose to do that — I will always sin — so isn’t it hopeless and why do we try not to sin, if we know we will fail?  Is anyone else feeling hopeless with me, now?

So I put the Bible down and thought — maybe I will try to open it again later and it will be a happier place.

Then as I was driving to church, I had a moment of clarity, or at least I think it was. My hopelessness came, because I was thinking only of myself, and my pride was getting in the way saying if I cannot fix it, then it is hopeless.  If I cannot not sin, then  I am a failure.  I was totally missing the last sentence: “So if a son frees you, then you will truly be free.”  Jesus frees us.  Jesus is our hope. I was putting myself ahead of God.  I was thinking like a child: if I can’t do it on my own, then I don’t want it.  I am not able to do it on my own, but God is.  I just need to be humble enough to accept it.  And I need to be humble enough to ask for God’s grace and mercy — to ask Him to free me.

Ok, starting to feel a lot better.  But I was still struggling with a question that has haunted me before.  Why should we keep trying not to sin, even if we know we will fail and continue to sin.  Because God asks us to try.   By trying we show our love for Him. (This time some clarity came from basketball.)  We all root for the under dog.  (I am watching #11 seed Xavier University trying to beat #1 seed Gonzaga right now in the NCAA Elite Eight.)  Why do we like the under dog?  Because they don’t give up — they keep trying even when the odds are against them.  Why do they keep trying?  Because they love the game, they love their team.  God wants us to try.  And understand that when we try, and when we accept our failure and turn to Him, he will lift us up to the rim, so we can finish with the slam dunk.

Jesus,

I love you!  I do not want to sin.  I want to live in your household forever.  I need your help.  I need your grace and your mercy.  Forgive me for my sins.  Break the chains that bind me.  I know that when you lift me up, I will truly be free.  Lord, Lift me up!

Amen