My friend Carol Cooper and I started something new last week for the good folks at the Downtown campus. We will be talking about spiritual habits mostly but there will also be special guests from time to time. Not sure how often we will record the podcast or how many times. If it is helpful for you we will continue. Would love to hear your feedback and ideas for future episodes.
So catastrophic a remedy demands a catastrophic predicament.Stephen Westerholm
sermon here (starting at minute 38:53)
The cross is difficult to understand. Why was it necessary? Wasn’t there some other way to accomplish forgiveness? It is not until we see, as Westerholm says, the “catastrophic predicament” that we find ourselves in does the reality of the remedy of the cross come into view.
A holy God and an unholy humanity.
That is the predicament.
Why all the fuss? Why can’t God simply wave a hand and be done with it? Because our situation is dire due to Sin and sins. Sin is the evil power which actively sabotages God’s work. Sin also creates an environment in which personal misdeeds (small s – sins) reign. Oh, please don’t hear me say that we aren’t responsible for our actions. We cannot say, “The devil made me do it.” It is more accurate to say that “Evil was my partner.”
And because of this, as strange as it may sound, forgiveness is difficult for a holy God. For God to be true to his character, forgiveness must be part of transforming the unholy into holy. It is simply not enough for God to say you are forgiven and go about your business. God’s nature demands a pardon from our sins and freedom from the Sin that binds us in this broken world. That is why Jesus often said “go and sin no more” along with “you are forgiven.”
That is why this catastrophic predicament needed an equally catastrophic remedy.
Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul. Amen.Book of Common Prayer
Before you head off into your weekend, here is a quick snapshot of three things that made an impact on me this week. Have a great weekend!
He concludes that stories of success and failure consistently exaggerate the impact of leadership style and management practices on firm outcomes, and thus their message is rarely useful.Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
While I know that leadership is an important part of every organization, it is good to be reminded that leaders probably get too much credit for success and failure. This covid season showed me that the best plans will fail if the congregation is not willing to go along and give themselves to new ways of worship, small groups, even pastoral care. It is ultimately the group that determines momentum and success not the leader. So grateful I get to serve a group of people so willing to do what it takes in every season.
If we spoke less about God’s love and more about God’s holiness, more about his judgment, we should say much more when we did speak of his love.-P.T. Forsyth
As we are preaching on the cross of Christ this Lent, I have been in John Stott and Fleming Rutledge’s writing along with many others. The above quote from Forsyth illuminates the need for law and grace; judgment and mercy; wrath and holiness to stand side by side for they are the full expression of God’s love. For a gospel emphasizing one side of the equation above the other leads to a misunderstanding of who God is and what God is about. Do we trust God enough that we believe these seemingly contradictory terms need to stand side by side?
We assess our consolation and determine if our peace is from God by reflecting on our motives, three in particular: the desire for honor, the desire for wealth and the desire for security. Each of these can cloud the issues we face and disable us in the task of discernment.Listening to God in Times of Choice by Gordon T. Smith
My hands down favorite book on discerning God’s will. Are you wanting to make a change in your life or are wanting to NOT make a change? It is important to examine motives along with the long list of pros and cons. Smith says there are three motives that need to bring caution to our soul: the desire for honor, wealth or security. The key is to be objective and truthful enough with ourselves to know if any of these motives may be clouding our discernment.
Mark 8:31–38 (NRSV)
31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?
Suffering. Rejected. Killed. Rebuke. Peter called Satan. Deny. Take up a cross. Lose.
So many emotionally charged and difficult words in a few verses. And at the heart of it is Jesus’ defining word on how to be a follower. Discipleship is not for the faint of heart. And it was never meant to be that way.
Part of the reason I believe discipleship is crafted as a high bar endeavor is that discipleship, in the end, is about drawing close to God. And to draw close to God…you need to get close to God. I know that sounds like double talk…and it is in a way…it is also truth.
Jesus says deny ourselves because he knows that if left alone to our own desires (what we want) and devices (how we want it), we will lead ourselves not to abundant life but something akin to “it’s a good enough existence” at best. Peter in the above passage is a prime example of how quickly our desires and devices can get us sideways with God’s path.
Difficult, yes. I would say impossible by design.
It drives us away from our own strength and instead drives us to God’s. Discipleship is only possible with the help of the Spirit of Christ working in us through faith. It’s not about working harder – it’s about trusting more completely.