Saturday, January 30, 2010

Romans: Just a Simple Story

Today is a cold Saturday. So, I am staying inside and thinking ahead to next September. Why so far ahead? Because this fall, I will be teaching Romans. I’ve read this book countless times. I’ve preached on it. I’ve lead Bible Studies on it. But I have never taught it here at IWU. So I thought Romans and I should be intimately acquainted. I decided to read Romans in one sitting; and I failed miserably. I never got past Paul’s greeting.



[a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles, for His name's sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ]

to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom 1:1-7 NAS)


Yes, I know this is simply the Greeting, and I should not get overly excited until I get to the real heart of the matter (at least 1:16 and following). But this opening helps me grasp Romans in a way I never have before. Here is what I saw for the first time and it was always right in front of me. Take note of the extended description Paul gives about himself which I bracketed off above. It begins with “a bond-servant” in verse 1 and goes all the way thru “among whom you also are called of Jesus Christ” in 1:6. All that Paul has said is one long descriptor not really about Jesus…but it describes who Paul himself is! (Technically, if you are interested, all the phrases of this one long Greek sentence are set in apposition to the name “Paul.”) Paul = all that follows in 1:1-6.


So, you might ask, what is the big deal?  Try this; Paul cannot separate his story from Christ’s story. His story and God’s story are so dove-tailed that they become one-in-the-same story.


Let me try to explain what grabbed me that I never saw before. Romans, from the first verse to the last, is not to be read as a theological treatise (sorry Martin Luther). It’s the most practical, almost earthy story about how God’s meta-narrative marvelously intersects with Paul’s own life story (and ours as well) Thus, wherever I preach, teach or live the Book of Romans, my story should and must come out. Yes, it’s all about Jesus. But it’s also about me and how Jesus has affected who I am, and who I am becoming.


This should resonate with many of you today. For you might think that Paul is far too deep a thinker that you can never fully comprehend his theology. Well, no problem, because Paul is simply introducing himself by telling a story. Yes, it is a re-orienting story, a paradigm-shifting story. But a story nonetheless.


If Paul is right (and he is!) our story intersecting with God’s story creates THE STORY. Paul calls it “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom 1:16). Thus, maybe storytelling is the most biblical style of evangelism. Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann agrees when he says, “evangelism means inviting people into these stories as the defining story of our life, and thereby authorizing people to give up, abandon, and renounce other stories that have shaped their lives in false or distorting ways” (Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism).


So, if you want to be a subversive Christian, a biblical evangelist, following in Paul’s footsteps, simply tell your story. But the transformative power of your story is when you invite others to switch allegiances from their old story to a new life-story found in Christ. So, go and tell!



Help us all to be grace-filled storytellers.

May we welcome others to the eternal narrative which God’s is continually writing.

May His It’s-to-good-to-be-true story become the reality of our lives.

Jesus, may your children live happily ever after.



Now, Go with God.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Does Anyone have a witness for the Lord?

In my Inductive Bible Study class this semester, we have talked about the effects of our witness to the power of the Resurrection in our lives. Thus, let's tell our stories to one another. My story is every man's story; let's make that every Christian's story.

At the age of 25, I discovered a simple fact; I had sinned, repeatedly and compulsively.

But I did not realize this until I had been introduced to Jesus by girlfriend (now wife) Angie. She never judged me but simply placed before me a mirror with two images, my own and that of Jesus. No comparison.

My surprise is that Jesus did not condemn me for who I was, He simply offered me the opportunity to be released from the pain and agony which was being carried by the man in the mirror, ME. But the journey to the cross was far from painless.

Many of you who have been in my classes know that I had a terrible time with drinking and drugs in my late teen and early twenties…yet I was instantly and radically "saved." Some of you who have experienced effects of such a lifestyle will know what I mean by "Freedom" from guilt…it was real and it was joyous. My addiction to cigarettes, drugs, and drinking was immediately removed. No withdrawal symptoms, just peace. Sins were forgiven and I began my journey of new life

This new-found joy of forgiveness permeated all that I did for months. There was not a person that I came into contact with that did not recognize a difference in me. Wondrous conversations happened on a daily basis.

Yet inwardly, there was still a battle which I could not come to grips with. I loved Jesus but I often lived like He did not even exist. Poor choices. I just did not look like Jesus, even though I loved Him. The more I came to understand who Jesus was, the more I realized that I was not like him.

▪For He seemed to delight in doing His Father's will and in serving others.

▪As for me, I did it out of "moral obligation" and the social expectations of the church Angie and I had just started to attend. It was not an act arising from an inward love. I asked myself the simple question, "I know I am doing different things than before I became a Christian…but am I really a different person, inside that is?"

I knew I was a better man with Jesus than without; I knew that I would be a better husband, and a better father…but I was hungry to really love as Jesus loved.

I was 25…. And I had three great passions in my life; the Lord, Angie, and one other passion; I lifted weights like a crazy man. Often 10x's per week, which means obviously some days two-a-day workouts. I was 5 foot 10 weighted 155, had a 31 inch waist and could easily bench press twice my weight. Image was everything to me, my image that is.

One night we were in bed, Angie was reading a book and I was reading, at the time my favorite magazine, Muscle and Fitness. It's one of those glossy magazines which tells you how to bulk up your biceps or how to six-pack your stomach. At that moment, I was looking much too studiously at the women in the magazine, who were not clothed with any degree of modesty. The women models in the magazine were showing off every hard-body curve. And they caught my attention. I distinctly remember turning to Angie and saying, "If you worked out with the same level of intensity that I put into it, You can look just like one of these ladies!" To this day, I am uncertain what Angie's reply was, for God's presence overwhelmed me in a manner He had not done previously, or since.

He said clearly,

"There is far more to your wife than something that will meet your needs, or wants or your desires. Will you treat her as one of those two-dimensional work-out ladies or will you strive to assist her in cultivating the unique irreplaceable image which I have stamped on her heart? Will you see her, care for her and love her as I do?"

I knew that this was a defining moment not only in my relationship with Angie but with God Himself. Would I fully obey Him…would I, could I fully love her, as He does?

Angie will tell you that one of the most significant moments in our marriage was the resulting conversation we had over Ephesians 5:25-28, a passage I had been intensively studying

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

I could not love her in that manner on my own. I am convinced that I would have died for her…that is to protect her from others…but was I willing to die to protect her from my own selfish wants, needs, and desires. What was I willing to do when I realized I was her husband, her lover, yet I was caring for her so selfishly?

My divine moment came as God brought to bear His voice, the priceless image of God in my wife, and the call to complete obedience to His Word, simultaneously. At that very moment, God changed my heart; I saw Angie as a gift that God has entrusted into my care, for His pleasure as well as for my own.

Colossians 3:1-10 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

So, what did I do? I put down the magazine, begged Angie for forgiveness, turned out the light, and had the best night sleep of my life. From that point forward, I loved Angie more than I ever had before; not with my love but with His. The next day I wrote out a letter to the publisher of Muscle and Fitness canceling my subscription.

Angie, I love…but I realized at that moment that she simply rolls weights to get them out of her way, never lifting one for exercise. And I rejoiced, for I no longer saw her with any need to change…she did not have to look or act in any way other than the woman God made her to be.

I stated at the beginning that my story is everyone's story. Almost all of us have encountered God in a significant way. But my desire is never to return to the man I was...I want to love her, I want to love my children, I want to love each of you far beyond my own capacity, so that we all may have our image of God fully restored…How can I love with that level of continued passion?

John Wesley, in his writings, makes a direct connection between love and obedience. He says,

You cannot say you genuinely love God unless you obey him…neither can you genuinely obey God if you do not love him.

For the first time in my life I realized that there was joy in obedience. It was not drudgery…it was not work…it was not accomplished by the sheer force of human determination. Rather, it was a simple response to the love He had placed in my heart.

Monday, January 18, 2010


A “Go with God” moment


Epiphany. That is the time of the Church calendar that we are currently celebrating. Epiphany (comes from Greek epiphaneia) which means “appearance” or “make known.” It’s the time period, post-Christmas, when we focus upon the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. This sacred time will continue until we meet Lent on Ash Wednesday (Feb 17th).

Practically speaking, it is also the time of year as the days get longer and the darkness of night begins to recess. Simply, the light shines in the darkness with more regularity. So, at this time of the semester, how do we take advantage of just such as intersection of the sacred calendar with our own practical search for spiritual truth. Can you say, Spring Summit? This is when we intentionally schedule to see the manifestation of God in our often over-busy lives. Obviously , God showing up can never be forced…but I sincerely believe He can be prepared for. How???

·         When we take time to visit the manger like the travel-weary magi (Matt 2). What did they sacrifice to come to the Christ-child?

·         When in awesome wonder, we listen to the angelic chorus singing to the shepherds (Luke 2).

·         When we, alongside of Mary, “ponder” the revelation of Jesus and treasure them in our hearts (Luke 1 & 2).

·         When we cease the truth of the battle tested Son of God who overcomes temptations in the wilderness (Mark 1, Matt 4, Luke 4). His victory makes way for yours.

·         When we drink deeply at the fountain of Jesus’ first sermon of Jesus in Nazareth. Read, if you will Luke 4:19-19 to hear Jesus’ life verses.


I could go on and on about the opening chapters of the Gospels. But let me simply list a few common sense thoughts about finding the Light of the World this week:

1.       Go to the place where you expect to meet Him. Yes, I know that God is everywhere. But there are times and places where He makes Himself known more profoundly (Epiphany). The week it will be in the Chapel.

2.       Have patience. Simeon and Anna waited at the Temple for years to simply catch a glimpse of the Messiah (Luke 2). How long will you wait? Must He come Monday, or will you wait 1-2-3 days?

3.       Make time for God to “invade” your life and personal world. Do you desire (demand?) an instant spiritual high or would you allow Him to begin a steady transformation in your heart? Will you allow your reshaping to be done on His timetable? Will you allow it to include struggle and self-denial? Are you willing to pay the price.

4.       Say “Yes” to His Revelation, in advance of your knowledge of His Revelation. (Please re-read that sentence). Our natural inclination is to listen for His voice…and then decide if we like what we hear. That practice my friends is un-faithfullness at its most subtle core. Instead, make a decision right now (and I do mean now) that the discovery of God’s will and your obedience is the most wonderful adventure you could ever imagine. Simply say, “Yes” and I promise you that God’s voice will be clearer this week than it ever has been in your entire life.


During this Epiphany Summit, walk into Chapel uttering this prayer,


At this holy hour

I come to this sacred place

I will seek You with all I have

I will tarry for as long as necessary

To be molded into Your Image

First, make known to me Yourself

Then, Your will for me

I say Yes to You, even before I know.



Now, Go with God