Everyday Monasticism: Vespers and Compline

monks at vespersVespers and Compline

 

Vespers

Vespers is an evening prayer of the Divine Office. In Latin, vespers means evening. In the orthodox church, Vespers is the liturgical hour which kicks off all the hours. Genesis 1:5 is the rationale for doing so: “…and there was evening, and there was morning, the first day.”

Vespers is a time to reflect on the day that has passed and thank God for all that has happened. It is also a time of praise.

This is when the work day has ended and you are able to sit back and reflect on the ways in which God worked things out for you that day. Perhaps a meeting that you were dreading went well, or you finished your work early, or you finished anything at all. The day was busy with kids, coworkers, finances, and friends. You have a lot to be thankful for even when things don’t go aright.

The basic schedule in which monastics pray vespers is outlined below. I have purposely left out a few parts for simplicity:

Introductory verse: Anything that is full of praise.

Psalm 107:1 “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for the is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”

Hymn: You could sing some worship song you like.

Gospel Canticle: a story from the gospels that will bring encouragement at the day’s end.

Intercession: Pray about issues that arose during the day.

Concluding prayer: think about the Lord’s prayer and how you live that out.

Like praying lauds, praising God for life at the beginning of the day and praying over your day before it begins, take time with vespers to think about those things you praised God about in the morning and the requests you asked of Him. Let this be a time of praise and thanksgiving.

 

Compline

Compline is the night prayer. The psalms that are chosen for reading at compline are those psalms that are full of confidence in the Lord.

Compline is such a special time. For those of us not living in a monastery, but living a monastic life, compline is similar to a child saying his prayers before he drifts off to sleep.

Psalm 90 and 91 are often thought of when thinking about compline. The monastic is thinking about God’s protection during the night during compline. You are thinking about how strong God is and how faithful He is to rescue you from harm. You’re thinking about His love and how while you are resting at night, you are snuggled up in his strong arms. You are, as the Shulamite says in Song of Songs 2:6 “His left hand cradles my head while his right hand holds me close. I am at rest in this love.”

Drift off to sleep thinking about how sure you are in God’s kindness and love and grace and romance. He adores you! He’s going to protect you! Nothing, absolutely nothing, will be able to separate you from His love.

I hope you’ve enjoyed Everyday Monasticism. I hope you’ll choose to live a modern monastic life full of hope in the freedom we have in Christ the Romancer.

Join me this summer for our Summer of Wisdom as we explore Proverbs.

Everyday Monasticism: Lauds

Monks of the Desert
The Monks of the Desert in New Mexico 

Everyday Monasticism Part 2

Last week we defined everyday monasticism. It’s living daily in contemplation of the goodness of our Lord. We discussed how this gospel we are all wrecked over is a Catholic gospel. That’s not to say that we are all Catholic, but that the word Catholic is defined as “all embracing.” The gospel of Jesus Christ is for all. All were included in the gospel.

This week and the following two more weeks we are going to have a brief discussion of the Divine Office–the Liturgy of the Hours.

There’s a lot of whack, a lot of glory on the Liturgy of the Hours. Our Catholic and orthodox friends have quite the revelation when it comes to worshiping God in this way. Where some who have taken a straight shot of grace and continue to do so might call the Liturgy of the Hours religious, others of us are able to see the beauty in the Divine Office.

Those who regularly pray the Divine Office may be doing so out of a religious motivation to “do something” for God or prove their devotion to him. Both of which are unnecessary, rightly agreed; however, those who pray the Divine Office regularly also understand why they are doing it other than religious devotion. By praying the Divine Office each day they are recentering their focus on God during the various hours of the day. They are engaging in active contemplation–thinking deeply about our Lord and committing themselves to him over and over.

Those of us, again, who have as Crowder puts it, have chosen to “drink grace straight”, may look at the act of committing ourselves to the Lord over and over as unnecessary religion, but those who do it often see it merely as a part of their daily lives.

Divine Office

The Monks of the Desert located in New Mexico are part of a Benedictine Abbey called Benedictine Abbey of Christ in the Desert. They are a cloistered, or sheltered, group of men who have given their lives to Ora (prayer) and Labora (work). They live and work at the monastery, which is beautiful, and pray the Divine Office each day between their work.

The following is taken from their website and gives an overview of their daily schedule:

4:00 AM – Vigils – , begins with the verse from Psalm 50, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.”

5:45AM – Lauds – This is the prayer of the Church as light returns to earth, recounting the eternal light bestowed on the world by the Risen Christ.

8:45 AM – Terce – the first of the “little hours” in which the monks come together and pray

1:00 PM – Sext – the second of the “little hours” in which the monks come together and pray.

3:30 PM – None – the last of the “little hours” in which the monks come together and pray.

5:30 PM – Vespers – This includes a half-hour of praying psalms, a hymn, the Magnificat, and a prolonged prayer of intercessions for the needs and intentions of the entire Church.

7:30 PM – Compline – Consists of a penitential rite, three psalms, a hymn, and an antiphon sung to Our Lady that varies according to the liturgical season.

Lauds

Lauds is is morning prayer where the congregation focuses on praise. When praying Lauds, you’re thinking about the goodness of God for keeping you safe in the night. Often during Compline, the last prayer of the day, the congregation will pray Psalm 4:8 “I will both lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” You are spending time praising God for a good night, for life to devote to Him, and asking for the day to be blessed and for your mind to stay in contemplation of His greatness.

A psalm often read or sang during Lauds is Psalm 62.

O God, you are my God, I watch for you from the dawn.

My soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you.

I came to your sanctuary,

as one in a parched and waterless land,

so that I could see your might and your glory.

My lips will praise you, for your mercy is better than life itself.

Thus I will bless you throughout my life,

and raise my hands in prayer to your name;

my soul will be filled as if by rich food,

and my mouth will sing your praises and rejoice.

I will remember you as I lie in bed,

I will think of you in the morning,

for you have been my helper,

and I will take joy in the protection of your wings.

My soul clings to you; your right hand raises me up.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,

as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,

world without end.

Amen

Everyday Monasticism: Lauds

Don’t run out and join a monastery. By practicing everyday monasticism, you can enjoy celebrating Lauds by waking in the morning and sitting with your coffee and think about the wonders of God. Think about the grace we’ve been offered that Paul talks about in Romans 6-8. Celebrate that we’ve died with Christ and because we died with Him, we have also raised to life with Him! (Romans 6:8). Allow your day to begin with praise. It beats turning on CNN the first thing and seeing what else went wrong during the night.

Celebrating Lauds sets your heart on the goodness and majesty and grace of Christ. It helps you to pray about your day and remember that you are an open heaven. Everything you do is blessed because “Christ, who is your life, [has] appeared, and you [will] appear with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:4). There is nothing you can do apart from Him. He’s living His life inside you. The Distilled Translation tells us that Jesus is using our bodies (Galatians 2:20).

Don’t get religious. But do go into this week and practice loving God each morning. See how your days go!

Everyday Monasticism

 

Saint Benedict

Everyday Monasticism

“To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Rev. 1:6 ESV).

The lives of those who have chosen to live in convents and monasteries has always fascinated me. I’m not Catholic in that I’ve gone through catechism and had my first communion. However, I do believe in the Catholicity of the gospel. Catholic is defined as “all embracing” or “including a wide variety of things.” In other words, Catholic is universal.

I’ve often thought that if life had turned out differently for me, and I had not met my wife and chose to have a family, I think that today I may be a dominican monk spending my days in contemplation and working at a university or in some school teaching young people.

Ora et Labora

Saint Benedict is the founder of Western Monasticism. He was born about the year 480 at Nursia near the Umbrian province in north central Italy. He “was renowned for handing on to his monks a balanced way of life – particularly with respect to contemplative prayer and active work, ora et labora” (http://www.dominicanajournal.org/oralabora/).

Ora et Labora is translated as Work and Prayer.

This is where I am most actively drawn to the lives of monks. They live their lives in contemplation while they go about their daily tasks. For some, the very thought of spending even 15 minutes in solitude and silence is frightening. But I think it sounds wonderful. Staying in contemplation of the goodness of God, thinking about the romance we have with Jesus, contemplating the whack! It seems like the perfect life. And to add work to that–to go about some laborious task like beer-making while contemplating the grace and salvation of God, would be best life ever status! The monks at St. Benedict in Italy, the birthplace of Saint Benedict, make Birra Nursia in order to support themselves.

Thus, everyday monasticism.

Everyday Monasticism

There’s no real reason to jump ship and join a monastery. You can, if you want. It’s a noble calling. There are obvious objections I’d have, objections over the religiosity of many of the practices, but it’s noble nonetheless.

God has already called us kings and priests. Revelation 1:6 is one place in scripture where we’re ordained into the holy priesthood. The Greek word used for priest in Revelation is hiereus.

In Revelation it’s used figuratively. Christians are called priests because we have offered Him spiritual sacrifices. We minister to the world, performing the sacred rite of telling others about the grace given to us through Christ. We are, therefore, priests who carry the whack!

As Song People living lives of active contemplation, we are blessed with the ability to live Ora et Labora each day. Saint Benedict taught his monks that their work was also a prayer since everything we do as Christians is to the glory of God.

You can work at a bank or teach a group of kids or work in a hospital or be a stay-at-home mom and make your everyday work an offering of prayer unto the Lord. We can walk the dog and be in contemplation about our engagement we have with Jesus. There is no need to jump into a religious life inside the walls of a convent or monastery in order to live a life of uninterrupted bliss with Jesus.

We are, therefore, everyday monastics. As John Crowder often says, “this is the drunkest day of your life.” You are an open heaven. You are a monk living a contemplative life in the glory of God. You are a nun of the order of whack! We are Christians living out a very Catholic gospel…the gospel that is for everybody, the gospel that is universal, the gospel where all are included in the life and resurrection of Jesus.

Creativity in the Mundane

Creativity in the Mundane

inspired man

Last week I wrote about how there is glory in the mundane. All our average weekly experiences are just as spirit-filled as going to some big conference with high profile speakers and professional worship teams.

There’s nothing wrong with conferences and professional worship teams…but there’s nothing more spirit-filled about them compared to your average everyday life of picking up the kids from soccer practice or spending an evening balancing your checkbook.

Creative Conception Boredom

Although there’s glory in the more boring parts of life just as there’s glory on being a missionary or a popular itinerant preacher, it’s not a lot of fun to be bored. Living a normal life of doing the laundry, going off to work, and playing the same board game with your kids every evening can get monotonous.

But being bored can be a tool.

We teach our children that boredom is a blessing. Unless we get bored, we’ll never have an original idea to keep us entertained. Although I’ve not done the research, I can imagine that some of the most profound inventions were created out of some aspect of boredom. The late Steve Jobs, although wanting to revolutionize the world with the personal computer, likely would never have had the idea to build that first computer in his garage unless he was sitting around bored wondering what to do.

The mundane is a blessing in that it causes us to look deep into our hearts and discover just what it is that makes us tick.

For many Christians, the notion of “God’s will” is an elusive one. To know God’s will for one’s life is the principalis finis — or the main goal — in Christian living.

Knowing God’s Will

God’s will is not a mystery. It’s simply a matter of looking deep inside yourself and figuring out what it is that you want to do. Wait. That doesn’t sound very spiritual. It doesn’t. That’s because it’s not. Not really.

When I was fresh out of high school I joined a ministry based out of Texas that, for it’s primary function, existed to be a place for young people to spend a year seeking God’s will for their lives.

There was so much talk back then, maybe even more than today, about getting a vision for God’s will for your life. The idea was to get the vision as early as possible, create a 5 and then 10 year plan, and never give up. That way a person wouldn’t waste any time in doing what it was that God wanted them to do.

I remember the leaders made it so difficult. It was like chasing the elusive white rabbit of destiny. We took classes, we fasted, we prayed, we memorized scripture, and had lengthy discussions about just what it meant to gain God’s will for our lives.

For me, I wa convinced that God was uninterested in showing me his will. I couldn’t get it. Like so many young people, I was too interested in too many things to really nail it down. And like so many young people in the church, I was absolutely convinced that it would not be God’s will for me to have a secular job and make money. That was heresy!

The general rule of thumb back then was that if you didn’t want to do something. If it was the one thing you couldn’t imagine doing with your life, you were likely being called to do that thing.

It was such bondage. We’d say, “I have no desire to move to Africa and live a lonely life out in the bush, so that’s clearly what God wants me to do. I have to kill the flesh in order to wrap my head around God’s will for my life.” Then we’d fast longer, pray harder, memorize some obscure scripture taken fully out of context…you know…something about suffering or going lower and lower in order to be accepted and loved by God.

God’s will is not elusive.

It’s not some fantastical idea that you have to strain and strive for in order to get it.

You can get it right now. That’s right…right now you can get God’s will for your life.

Just rest.

Sit back. Close your eyes. And think this thought: What would you do with your life if money didn’t matter? What’s the one thing (or group of related things) that you would like to do every day or every week? If you could make money doing something, anything, what would you like to do?

The answer to those questions will be God’s will for your life.

See. You didn’t have to fast or strive or memorize Leviticus in order to attain it. God’s will was right there inside you all along.

John Crowder, in an article titled Christological Ecstasy, writes this on the subject: “We have considered the will of God to be against our human will–quite often pictureing our deepest desires to be in direct conflict or contradiction to God. But in reality, there is a heavy duty ecstasy that comes along with doing His will because we are created for a divine synergy of the deepest levels of our longing.”

Generally speaking, we are taught that if we enjoy something, it’s probably not from God. But that couldn’t be further from the truth! God is a ravenous LOVER of people! He’s been hijacked by his love for us! Gladness is at the center of His heart (Heb 1:9).

Crowder goes on to write, “What if He is the one who has kindled our core desires, while the gnomic twist simply offered us cheap, unsatisfying fixes to those infinite longings? Let me clarify: when I speak of the will, I am speaking of our deepest heart’s desire that results in action.”

God has placed his will inside you and it looks a whole lot like the things you love to do. Do you love doing ministry and helping people? That’s God’s will for you. Do you enjoy starting businesses and making money and employing people and encouraging them and mentoring them? That’s God’s will for you! Do you want to be a stay at home mom or dad and raise kids and manage a home and personal finances? That’s also God’s will.

God has planted his will deep inside you so that you will do the very thing that He has willed for you to do! Going out and being a miserable missionary to Nigeria because that’s the Christian thing to do is against His will.

You cannot make God like you any more than He already likes you! You can’t work up any more favor by sacrificing your desire (God’s will) for something that you don’t enjoy.

For the sake of length, we will finish this post next week when I write about work and enjoyment and how both are the will of God.

For this week, go into your work week meditating on how good God has been to you. Take a few moments each day and ask yourself the questions I provided for you. I bet by Friday you’ll be closer to the will of God than you’ve ever been in your life.

Glory in the Mundane

bored-at-work

Life and Boredom

Fun will always trump boredom. I cannot stand to be bored. I need to be moving, doing something productive, or I need to be using my brain and thinking deeply about a topic. Aside from some late evening viewing with my wife, sitting around on Netflix waiting to be entertained by the next Netflix original kills me inside.

There is nobody who likes boredom.

But boredom is good for you.

There’s glory in the mundane parts of life. There are few people who are constantly entertained, always on some adventure, and engaging their minds in deep, meaningful thinking. Life gets monotonous sometimes–and it’s what we do with that boredom that will make all the difference.

Two Types of Boredom

There are two types of boredom:

  1. The Everyday Mundane (which we will discuss this week)
  2. and Creative Conception Boredom (which we will discuss next week)

The Everyday Mundane

This boredom is the everyday life of the average person. There’s laundry piled high in the laundry room; the kids’ rooms are a mess; the dog shat on the living room floor last night and nobody bothered to pick it up or “didn’t see it”; the baby (or babies, if you’re like us and you have twins) won’t stop crying, getting into things, escaped, etc…; bills need to be paid…

These are just a few examples of the Everyday Mundane. It’s work, and kids, and housekeeping…and LIFE.

For so many (myself included), we look at other people’s lives and wonder how they got to be so lucky. How they managed to always be on the go, living an adventure, and successful. It seems like they can up and create an adventure anytime they please! They’re always in some far off country doing something amazing, or in an airport waiting to do something amazing, or they’re on Facebook talking about the amazing things they’re planning…it can take a toll if you don’t watch out.

But there’s hope!

Our lives are relevant even if we aren’t preaching to ten thousand people in some amphitheatre in Australia. Our lives are relevant even if we haven’t written a national bestseller or some award winning blog. Our lives mean something…even if that something is that we managed to find ALL THE MATCHES to our kids’ socks in the dryer (GLORY! That’s a miracle…call the archdiocese or whoever you call. It’s like finding a weeping Virgin Mary statue).

It makes me think of the Greek word for life…or at least one of them.

Zoe (Strong’s G2222): simply it means life or the state of one who is possessed of vitality or is animate.

This is all of us. We are all living a Zoe life. We are alive, we are vital, and we are animate. Even if it’s folding socks or picking up toddler mess, we’re alive. And there’s WHACK on it! There’s glory in living this kind of life.

But there’s another Greek word, the root word that comes from Zoe, that catches my attention even more.

It’s Zao (Strong’s G2198): It’s meaning is packed with glory! It means to live, breathe, to be among the living (not lifeless, not dead); to enjoy real life; active, blessed, endless in the Kingdom of God.

This is the life we’re living. Zao. Our lives are active and blessed. We are breathing and living. We are living a life that is endless in the Kingdom of God.

Living Zao

The next time you are tempted to be down about your boredom, look around the room (or the playground, or the boardroom, or the classroom, or the front lawn scattered with toys) and remember that you’re living Zao! God has put you in a place and has declared it good!

There is nowhere we can escape the love and power of God. There is not a place on earth we can get away from the goodness and romance of our Lover. Nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ (Romans 8:39).

You are an open heaven. Christ died and placed his life inside you in order that you would co-labor with him. For some, that means that they’ll travel the globe and preach to far off people groups. For others, that means that you’ll work and encourage your co-worker. For even more, it means that you’ll be a stay-at-home mom or dad and raise good, healthy, loved kids.

Live Zao — enjoy this real life that you are living. See how you are blessed and endless in the kingdom of God. You ARE endless. You are never going to die…not for real. You’re life is eternal.

Next week we will talk about Creative Conception Boredom and how it can completely revitalize your living.

In the meantime, check out a book by Lily Crowder about living a regular life full of glory while doing the normal, everyday mundane tasks most of us do. It’s a real eye-opener and quite encouraging.

Interview with Nathan Horst: Contemporary Worship

Wall_painting_depicting_saints_at_worship_-_Google_Art_ProjectWorship; noun. The feeling and expression of reverence and adoration of a deity.

Christians are well acquainted with worship sets in the church. Two up tempo songs followed by a reverent one and then a  contemplative song. Some days that one is followed by a spontaneous song with the worship team singing around a specific theme. We enjoy worship. Finding ourselves lost in the music, introspectively examining who God is in that moment, allowing divine inspiration to spark something new–it’s good.

But is the worship music we enjoy during services biblical?

The Gospel according to Paul tells us that salvation came at the point of Jesus’ death on the cross. This Gospel, this good news for all nations, is universal in that it’s meant for everyone and no one who wants it gets left out. We see in Romans 6:5-6 that we have been united with Christ in his death so we have been unified with him in his resurrection and that we are no longer slaves to sin. Paul has given us our death certificate again and again and removed our old identity of sinner without hope of salvation to saint because of the finished work of the cross.

Where does that leave worship lyrics that call us to agree that our identity is not one of freedom but of still being a sinner, dazed and confused? In an email interview with Nathan Horst, who is pretty busy in the worship world–he was a former band member of Farewell Flight and the worship band Sister Brother–he’s also owner/operator of a music studio called Attic Studios in Harrisburg, PA, and is a worship leader at Life Center in Harrisburg. I asked for his thoughts on the theological soundness of worship in today’s modern culture.

“Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) tends to glean from the various stories we as Christians represent,” writes Horst. Because much of the music we listen to, and in turn sing during worship services, tends to focus on the Christian lifestyle — like times of questioning and doubting — some could pigeonhole Christian music as depressing. But Nathan sees some light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. “I’ve seen a recent trend in worship becoming more introspective, in hopes, I presume to make worship songs honest, relatable, and less distant feeling,” he wrote. Which is definitely good since so many in church culture talk about being real, being honest. But being real or honest is not the root of why we worship. According to Nathan, who not only writes worship music but rubs elbows with some of the top musicians in the industry, “worship is about pointing people, and their attention, to the goodness and nature of God.”

This is where many in the church find their theology that they glean from the Bible collide with what they hear from the worship team. Paul’s gospel message is unarguably grace-driven–he clearly writes that Jesus finished the work of salvation on the cross. Often said by John Crowder of The New Mystics, “Paul gives us our death certificate over and over in Romans 5-8” saying that we are dead to sin and free to righteousness in Christ; however,  so many popular worship songs we sing don’t seem to reflect this message at all; rather, they have people agreeing in song that they are still sinners lost in a sea of evil.

The grace message, and many “grace preachers”, have gotten a bad rap in recent years because many in the church find the message dangerous. To some it seems that singing or preaching grace is giving an open license to sin freely with no eternal consequences. Nathan was able to shed some light on this for me from his unique perspective. “The pure grace message is freedom,” wrote Horst.  “More songs should point back to the revelation that the work is finished; we don’t have to earn God’s approval, or strive to attain status in the kingdom of God.”

Yet so much worship music seems to be striving for holiness and begging for God’s favor. In addition to that, many songs are apologetic for our sin rather than celebrating what we have in Christ–freedom from a sin-dominated nature. And what about the songs that seem to justify sin? “The idea that even though I’m a sinner and will always fall short but God still loves me is not enough,” Horst wrote.  “We’re called to live above that ideal.  We should be dwelling more on his gift of righteousness than our sin nature.” Theologically speaking, songs that focus on Jesus’ righteousness, him becoming our sin so we could be made holy, would be more theologically sound than songs that explain away our sinfulness or apologizing for what we’ve already been forgiven. “These types of songs, according to Paul’s message, should be about how He’s adopted us into His family and how we’re now all welcomed to the table to feast on the Lord,” Nathan wrote.

There’s nothing wrong with modern worship. I don’t know anyone who wants to go back to hymnals and tambourines. But the message of the cross, and the implications of the cross on our lives, is what’s at stake in modern worship. The theology that entwines itself in our worship music must correlate to what the writers of the Gospel meant when they wrote it. Are we merely sinners saved by grace or were we once sinners now living in the freedom of Christ? It’s unimaginable that we can be more than one thing at a time. We cannot be both sinner and saint. Paul, in Ephesians 1:4, uses the word saint to describe his audience. The Greek word Paul used is hagios. It means morally pure, upright, blameless in heart and life; holy.  “There needs to be a stronger emphasis on the implications of the cross,” Nathan wrote during our interview. “We are alive in Him, raised to life, seated in heavenly places. These are topics I’m continually coming back to in my own writing.”

Worship is vital. We adore our Father. We sing and contemplate the fatness of what we have in Christ. There’s a sacred charge, though, to keep in step not with what sounds good or makes people comfortable, but to keep our worship theologically sound. Perhaps there can be a stronger shift from making the focus on ourselves and more of a celebrant beat of what Christ has done and who he became for us.

To learn more about Nathan Horst and his work go to www.atticrecordingstudio.com

 

Guilt and Shame Continued: Not Guilty

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Not Guilty

In order to be fully righteous and guilt free we need to be justified and have our sinful nature eradicated. The law tells us exactly what we must do in order to please God and be holy.

But keeping the law isn’t all that easy. I’ve heard John Crowder say it like this, “if you’re going to clean yourself up, you’re going to have to mutilate yourself.” God’s law requires you to chop off body parts that cause you to sin, pluck out your eyes, and punish yourself.

Self-help religious practice will never get you to your goal though. There’s nothing you can do to clean yourself up enough.   You’re guilty.

Or at least you were.

Romans 3:23 tells us something we know: all sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. What’s unfortunate is that so many stop here. They wear vs. 23 as their identity. But our identity is in vs. 24.

We “are justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (ESV).”

We are justified through Jesus.

It’s interesting to note that the word gift used here means something far greater than how we use it in English. In Greek the word that is used is dorean and it means more than just a birthday present. Dorean is without payment; or for no reason. 

This verse could easily be read this way: We are justified by his grace for no reason through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

We’ve done nothing to deserve a gift of this magnitude. At least with a birthday you were born…there’s a reason for a gift. When it comes to the business of salvation, the gift is free for you. You didn’t pay for it in any possible way. It was given to you for no reason at all.

C.S. Lovett offers commentary on the gift in his book Lovett’s Lights. He writes, “The gift of God is not a DECREE of righteousness. The real gift is JESUS. When a person receives Christ, he gets a package deal. In that package is a death of the believer did not die. It is someone else’s death, though ow it becomes his. Also in the package is a righteous life he did not live. It too was lived for him. Because of the living union between the believer and Christ, the Christian shares in all that Jesus has DONE and IS (77).”

You’ve been declared NOT GUILTY because you share in all that Jesus has done and all that Jesus is.

“When Christ offered himself on the cross, God was declaring that our failures and futile efforts to fulfill our lives are completely forgiven through his patience and love (Rom 3:25 BCJ).”

You don’t have to live another sinful day of your life. It’s a demonic lie that says you have to struggle with sin because you live in an adamic body. Can a Christian Sin? Of course a Christian can sin. But he doesn’t have to!

Everything evil that was done in the past is completely gone for the believer. We were “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed…(Rom 3:24-25 NKJV).”

I really like this word that Paul uses when he says “God had passed over the sins that were previously committed…” because, again, the Greek says it so much better for clarity-sake. The word for passed over is paresis – it means overlooking or absence of punishment. But it doesn’t JUST mean the absence of punishment. The word goes further meaning the removal of guilt.

Let’s read those verses anew: in His forbearance God removed our guilt over the sins that were previously committed.

You don’t have to live guilty anymore. Whoever you took advantage of, whatever horrible thing you did, is all gone through Christ.

Lovett writes it another way. He explains that redemption means “the release of prisoners of war or deliverance from a state of danger or misery by the payment of a ransom (77).” Our ransom is Jesus.

We are delivered (past tense) from the GUILT of sin. We are delivered from the POWER of sin, if we want to be. And in the very end, we will be delivered from the PRESENCE of sin (Lovett 77).

You don’t have to sin if you don’t want to. That’s grace. You get a choice in the matter. You’re good! You get to act like it.

 

 

Guilt and Shame

paul-writingYou never have to feel guilt or shame again. Ever. Guilt and shame are not your portion.

Romans 3:19-29 makes it clear. Man tried to earn salvation through obeying the law and failed. The only remedy was for God to give a free gift — Jesus Christ, our salvation, would take away the sins of the world and justify us.

Today we are going to dive only into the first couple verses in the portion I mentioned above.

Law

“Now we all know that everything the Law says applies to those who are under the Law. Who, then, can offer an excuse for his sin? The Jew?…The Gentiles? No. Every mouth is closed. The entire human race stands guilty before God (Lovett’s Lights).”

But you thought we weren’t guilty. Right?

We’re getting there.

Under the law we are all guilty. The law, according to Romans 3, shows us clearly that we are sinners and guilty. “No one can ever be made right in God’s sight by doing what the law commands. For the more we know of God’s laws, the clearer it becomes that we aren’t obeying them…(Rom 3:20, Living Bible).”

There are many in the church today who are striving to show God just how much they are willing to love and obey him. So many offer their lives as sacrifice, their time to service, all their free time to clocking in their hours of prayer and study each day in an effort to prove something to God and earn their keep…and usually to prove something to all those who are watching too.

C.S. Lovett paraphrases verse 20 this way: There is no way, you see, for anyone to make himself righteous by doing what the Law asks. The Law is merely a straightedge to show people how crooked and corrupt they are in God’s sight. 

The law was simply God’s way of showing people that they needed something (someone) a whole lot bigger and wiser and kinder than themselves in order to attain salvation for themselves. In fact, what God was doing with the law was to simply say that mankind cannot possibly act right enough to attain anything, not even a jot or tittle of salvation.

Lovett, in his commentary on verse 20 goes on to say, “…there is no way for a person to become righteous by keeping the Law…the Law can save no one–it was not given for that purpose. It was not designed to save people or deliver them from the power of sin. Its job is to show men and women how sinful they are, and that’s all (74-75).”

Law is simply a mirror in which mankind can look at itself and realize that they got it all wrong! Have you ever checked yourself out in the mirror thinking you probably looked decent enough to run out and go to the grocery store only to realize you looked like a hungover ogre?

You had some work to do. You had to run a comb through your hair; brush your teeth; wash up a bit until your face had a bit of shine to it. Perhaps you changed from the ratty sweatpants you were wearing and put on a nice pair of khaki chinos and a grey button down. Then you blew your nose and headed out the door.

Law vs. Grace

And grace wins!

This is the difference between law and grace. The law has you clean yourself up, obey it, and look nice and clean to prove something to God and everybody that you’ve got it together.

Grace is totally different. And it’s a whole lot easier.

The Mirror Bible helps us understand. “…the gospel unveils what God did right not what we did wrong!…Jesus is what God believes about you! In him the righteousness of God is on display in such a way that everyone may be equally persuaded about what God believes about them, regardless of who they are; there is no distinction (Rom 3:21-22).”

The Living Bible says it this way: …God has shown us a different way to heaven — not by “being good enough” and trying to keep his laws, but by a new way…Now God says he will accept and acquit us–declare us “not guilty”–if we trust Jesus Christ to take away our sins.

The plan all along from the genesis of creation was for mankind to be united to God. Jesus could be the only answer. God didn’t make some cosmic mistake, like some mad scientist, when he created humanity. He wasn’t offended at our lack of ability to keep the rules. God knew it was impossible from the beginning.

Where so many of us have gone astray in this whole thing is thinking that we needed to actually keep the law in order to stay in God’s good kindness.

But the whole time all we had to do was let Jesus do it for us! Where we can’t keep the law, Jesus can. This is grace.

Jesus steps in and does all the work for us. Think back to my story about looking at yourself in the mirror. The reality is that you look at yourself in the mirror (the law) and realize that you’re sunk. You’re too far gone to clean yourself up with some self-help religiosity. Instead of you picking up that comb and toothbrush, Jesus does it for you. He gives you a complete upgrade! He shines you up and makes you not only look new, but makes you a whole new person!

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (Rom 6:3-4 ESV).”

You died with Christ and he raised you with himself as a whole new creation!

You need to be guilty no more. You need to stop feeling like you need to make retribution for your sins. Retribution has a name…Jesus. Jesus made retribution for you.

We’ll continue this next week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mystery of Union

union-with-godEcstatic Union and Separation from God

To say that we’ve had a one track mind when it comes to the ecstasy of our life with Jesus would be a gross understatement. Once I got the revelation that God, in all his holiness, was also an ecstatic lover, I was ruined.

And what a way to be ruined.

Coming into the revelation of my (and our) union with God was the next chapter in my divine ruin.

Before we get into just exactly what this union is that we have with Christ, it’s pertinent that we explore where we came from: separation.

For quite a while now the church has wrongly believed that God separated himself from humanity because he couldn’t stand being around sinners. Citing Habakkuk 1:13 where it says that “[God is] of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness (NKJV)” many believe that our separation originated from God.

But this couldn’t be more wrong.

It only takes one to read a bit further in that same chapter to see that although God is holy and cannot even look on wickedness, he does that very thing! “Why do you look on those who deal treacherously, and hold your tongue when the wicked devours a person ore righteous than he? Why do you make men like fish of the sea, like creeping things that have no ruler over them?” 

Though God is holy and cannot look upon sin…he does! And not only does he look upon it, he tolerates it. And makes men “like fish of the sea.”

In writing that God tolerates sin, I’m not saying that he’s okay with a sinful humanity. I’m not suggesting that it’s okay to go out and sleep with your grandmother or do strange things with your stepmother.

I am suggesting something far more scandalous. 

God did not separate himself from humanity. We separated ourselves from God, and that separation existed in our minds.

Colossians 1:21 puts it this way: “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind,  doing evil deeds… (ESV)…”

Our separation was on us. Not on him.

The rest of that verse goes on to say “He has restored persons like you through Christ’s self-giving act. He intends for you to be complete, guiltless, and free of negative judgment in your relation to him (BCJ).”

Ecstatic Union

This leaves us at only one conclusion: God the Father, knowing our sinfulness and wickedness, chose to come among us anyway because of his love, mercy, and grace. And his method was union.

Romans 1:17 in the Mirror Bible says this: “…there is no good news in [the gospel] until the righteousness of God is revealed! The dynamic of the gospel is the revelation of God’s faith as the only valid basis for our belief.”

It was by God’s faith, not our own, that saved us. We could not put faith in him without his faith motivating us. God’s faith in himself is what draws us to him. It is his righteousness that makes the gospel work!

And what is God’s righteousness?

The word righteousness here is derived from the word “rightwiseness” fro the Anglo Saxon. The Greek word for righteousness is dikaiosune.

From Dike (Dikay) referring to what is right; it’s a relationship word that indicates “two parties finding likeness in each other (Mirror Bible notes).”

God’s righteousness points us to harmony in our relationship with him.

This righteousness makes union with God possible.

“Because we are now in right relationship with God through trusting his promise to accept us, we are united to him through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:1 BCJ).”

The Gospel is Simple

Our loving Father (not maniacal, egotistical, or demon possessed) sent his son, in whom all his fullness was in (Colossians 1 & 2) in order to save all sinners from death. Jesus died our sinners death for us. Jesus died once for all.

The finished work of the cross says this: all mankind was saved at Calvary.

This means that each person you come into contact with has already been set apart for the Lord. They’re saved in other words. They may not know it yet; they may not have had the revelation of their salvation, and they may not be living like they are in right standing with God, but they are saved because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross. Jesus doesn’t save some and then save some more later. Blood was shed, the veil ripped, and dead were raised.

More Union

Romans 5:11 tells us that “We are not only glad about the future (we’re going to Heaven!), but at this very moment we are happy because God has made us one with himself through Jesus Christ (BCJ).”

Jesus and his righteousness brings us union. We are one with the entire Trinity because the entire Trinity is one with each other! We have fullness because of Christ.

This whole thing boils down to this very message: it’s all about Jesus; he brings us union, salvation, freedom, and grace. We are no longer living a sinful, beat-up lifestyle because we have freedom from that old way of living through him.

Grace is the ability to choose differently.

I hope you enjoy this mysterious union we have and come to realize that the mystery is solved: the answer is always Jesus.

The Currency of Heaven

Heaven’s currency is praise

And everyone is rich!

When our circumstances are not so good and all around us it seems as though we are going to fall away into destruction, we praise the Lord. We sing a song of thanksgiving, we shout his praise. This is our weapon of choice, praise is the key to victory in our warfare.

Psalm 37:4 tells us to delight ourselves in the Lord. If we make God our utmost delight and pleasure of our lives, every longing within us will be fulfilled.

Delight in who God is will be the key to unlocking every victory and winning every battle. No matter what the circumstance it is that we are facing, going into a place of praise and deliberate thanksgiving will be our choice weapon.

This is Heaven’s currency. It’s the way in which all transactions are made in the Heavenly realm. As new covenant believers we have full access to the accounts of Heaven. We get to make withdraws at any time, day or night.

Fighting the Good Fight

David knew about fighting battles. He’d been anointed king and was being hunted by Saul. His life was in a constant state of danger. At every turn, David’s life was close to death. But David learned to praise God in the midst of his circumstances. In Psalm 27:13 he writes, “I am expecting the Lord to rescue me again, so that once again I will see his goodness to me here in the land of the living.”

David held onto a promise

He knew God was good. And if God was good, nothing bad was going to overtake him. Again in Psalm 18 we clearly see David hanging onto promise: “All I need to do is cry to him — oh, praise the Lord — and I am saved from all my enemies.”

David rejoiced, he praised, and he was saved from his enemies.

David had unlocked a surefire way to place himself in the safety and comfort of God: praise.

In the past, whenever I’d read the words cry out to the Lord, I assumed these Biblical heroes were doing what I do: freak out; panic; whine and complain; shout.  But this is not at all what David was doing.

The scripture says, “All I need to do is cry out to him”…and then David tells us what he cried out: “oh, praise the Lord…”

David, in the middle of his circumstance, began rejoicing and praising God! He held a worship service in the middle of his problem in order to find safety and get clear perspective.

I’ve been really into the promises of God lately. I keep two cheap notebooks, one named Teaching and Promises and one called God’s Thoughts. In Teaching and Promises I record everything I’m learning about God and all the promises I can collect in scripture.

Collecting promises does two things: it allows me to clearly understand the nature of God right now and when the time comes, it will allow me to go back and meditate on what God has already said so that I can have fodder for rejoicing and thanksgiving in the middle of whatever circumstance I’m in.

 

Circumstances used to completely freak me out. I thought it was my goal to avoid negative circumstances at all costs, and when I found myself in one, I was paralyzed with fear and begged God to get me out. “Rescue me!” I’d cry out. “Come on, get me out of this!”

Circumstances and Process

If we avoid the process of going through negative circumstances, we will never gain a proper perspective of the heart of God.

So many Christians want to experience the supernatural reality of God. They want to have fun stories to tell and experience God in unique and powerful ways. But most Christians don’t want to go through tough times.

It’s in the tough times, our circumstances, that we are going to get those great stories of God’s supernatural power working in our lives.

I’m not suggesting we go on demon hunts and try to put ourselves in harm’s way just to have an experience with God. That’s foolish.

I’m simply saying that when we find ourselves in the middle of a problem, we should find joy in it because we are getting ready to see Daddy thunder into the room and break the teeth of the enemy before us!

But it all starts with praise

The very minute we start to smell a problem, we should set aside the time to praise loudly and fill our minds with all the promises he’s given us. It’s smart to begin getting God’s promise on all sorts of issues that could crop up, like health and finances, so when those circumstances rear their ugly heads we’re ready for them.

God doesn’t hide us away out of sight from our enemy. Psalm 18 tells us that “He rescues [us] from [our] enemies; he holds [us] safely out of their reach and saves [us] from these powerful opponents.”

We aren’t hidden away and out of sight. We get to see the whole show so that we can gain perspective of who God is in the midst of adversity. We are out of the enemy’s reach, but we are in clear view. All we’re doing is rejoicing and holding a worship service, rejoicing in God’s ultimate goodness, while the fight rages around us. We rest, God fights for us, and we get a good story to tell.

So don’t shirk process; don’t run from circumstances. Praise, and praise loud!