Friday, July 29, 2016

Finding Life in Honesty

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:8-10

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1–2

I will start with the bad news first. There is no question about the presence of sin in every one of our lives. If we are honest with ourselves it is obvious. Sure, we can blame our parents or the environment around us. As we will see with Adam and Eve, we can even blame God if we want or turn a blind eye to the “bentness” of heart that produces sinful actions. But if we are honest and practice no deceit, the presence of sin is hard to miss. But here is the good news: the Gospel encourages honesty. Rightly acknowledging the presence of sin in our lives will not kill us. In fact, it is just the opposite: when we keep silent about our sin we waste away (cf. Ps. 32.) But in confession our God is “faithful and just to forgive.” “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Praise be to him.

So as you prepare for worship this Lord’s Day and our initial reckoning with Genesis 3 and the Fall, I invite you pray in all honesty with me, that we might together find the grace of repentance.

Holy Father, whose eyes are too pure to look upon evil, who am I to deny the presence of sin in my life? Surely you see it. You see the annoyance and anger that so easily flashes when things don’t go “my way.” You see my wandering eyes, my greedy heart. If I were to maintain otherwise, I may deceive myself, but I would never deceive you. So rather than go the route of deceit, I would be honest today and throw myself on the mercies of the one who is faithful and just to forgive. I would be found in Christ, where there is no condemnation. What glorious promises you have given. Holy Spirit, strengthen my faith that I may believe. In the strong, sweet name of Jesus, Amen.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Still Resting?

Sabbath is a time to stop. To refrain from being seduced by our desires, to stop working, stop making money, stop spending money. See what you have. Look around. Listen to your life. Do you really need more than this?... You cannot buy “stopped.” You simply have to stop. —Wayne Muller, Sabbath.

I hope you have had good week and had a chance to string along some thoughts from this Sunday’s meditation on Sabbath. Through a creation-ordained, weekly rhythm we are invited to stop (rest and contemplate), shout (worship and delight), and share (mercy and community). Shouting, stopping and sharing don’t come naturally for any of us, but rather are gained through reliance on the Holy Spirit, a reliance born in faith. This is why for some, the Sabbath so embodies the heart of the Gospel (a free gift, received by faith). What a gift it must have been for the Israelites to be told by God in Exodus 20 that one day in seven there was to be a comprehensive, communal ceasing of labor. This was a slave nation who for 400+ years was not allowed to stop, who had to produce more at greater speed. But that is not our God, and it is not the gospel. God said, “Stop. Delight in me. Share with one another. Right the wrongs. Enjoy forgiveness. Eat the fat. Drink the sweet wine. Take a nap.”

So are you ready for Sabbath? It is right around the corner. Be thinking of it ahead of time. Long for it. Prepare for it. And then relish when it comes. Be assured that God will meet you there and transform you, which in itself is a great motive to embrace Sabbath.

But what if your Sabbath rhythms are messed up or you are working through baggage from the past or pressures in the present? As with anything, don’t let past failures stop you from making fresh starts. Lynne Baab, in her book Sabbath Keeping reminds us that, “The goal of Sabbath keeping is not to get it right the first time or even to get it right over time.” It is a gift. Received by faith and to be enjoyed in the weekly repetition, even as we long for the Eternal Sabbath!

Almighty God who, after the creation of the world, rested from all your works 
and set apart a day of rest for all your creatures, grant that I may put away all earthly anxieties, prepare me, Lord, to worship, grant that my Sabbath on earth 
may be a preparation for the eternal rest prepared for your people in heaven. 
Adaptation from the Book of Common Prayer

Friday, July 1, 2016

Our denomination just concluded a momentous week with actions that carry with them a range of emotions. Last week was the General Assembly (GA) for our denomination. For those of you new to Presbyterianism, GA is the “highest court” of the denomination, in which churches throughout the country gather and are represented by pastors and elders to conduct the business of the church. Reports from various agencies like Covenant College/Seminary, Mission to the World, Reformed University Ministries, etc… are made. Often these agencies have business that needs to be voted on by the body. Overtures are also considered. Overtures can come primarily from presbyteries asking the assembly to consider a course of action or statement.

Last year the assembly began a discussion of our denominational responsibility with regards to the sin of racism particularly from the civil rights era and how that has implications for today. Being in the north we do not confront this in exactly the same way that some of our churches in the south do. There are churches and schools connected to our denomination that supported various segregation practices and ideals. Beyond that, last year one of the remaining founding fathers of our denomination confessed that even for those who were not guilty of “sins of commission” the denomination and individual churches did almost nothing to fight racism. This of course, has implications for both those of the majority culture as well as those in minority cultures. To acknowledge these wrongs and their continuing impact on race relations in America the assembly adopted this overture:

Therefore be it resolved, that the 44th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America does recognize, confess, condemn and repent of corporate and historical sins, including those committed during the Civil Rights era, and continuing racial sins of ourselves and our fathers such as the segregation of worshipers by race; the exclusion of persons from Church membership on the basis of race; the exclusion of churches, or elders, from membership in the Presbyteries on the basis of race; the teaching that the Bible sanctions racial segregation and discourages inter-racial marriage; the participation in and defense of white supremacist organizations; and the failure to live out the gospel imperative that “love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Romans 13:10).

The overture is lengthy and you can read it in its entirety here. It goes on to call individual churches to make this known to their congregations, to commit these issues to prayer, and for individual Christians to examine their own hearts for racial attitudes that may need to be confessed, and to strive to pursue Christian love to all.

Just two comments. First, sometimes as majority folks in the north we can be a bit separated from the effects of our country’s racism. This assembly was a very significant moment for many of our southern churches and also for those in our denomination that are in the minority. In a pastoral letter associated with this overture, Christians are encouraged to learn about, pray, acknowledge, relate to the “other” and commit to living out humble, Gospel-filled lives with those around us, regardless of culture or ethnicity. One place to start is simply reading some of the responses from our brothers and sisters in the minority regarding this action. Here is a hopeful, but realistic piece from an African American leader in the PCA. This is a penetrating piece from another denomination leader highlighting how prevailing attitudes hurt the cause of the Gospel.

Second observation. Doesn’t this discussion bring us back to Genesis 1 and the image of God? If we properly grasp the image of God displayed throughout humanity, how can racially predjudiced attitudes survive? “Let us make man (humanity) in our own image,” God says. It is our privilege and responsibility to see that image in all people, regardless of race, culture, ideology, or creed and to seek to love them accordingly. We are after all, in the image God, both that He created and that Christ came to restore.