Romans 3 – The Incredible Gift of Grace

Romans 3:1-2 – So, if we are all law breaker, is there any advantage in being a Jew? “Absolutely!” says Paul. The equivalent today would be, since we all need to go through a conversion experience, what advantage is there in growing up in a Christian family?
God’s word is not without effect, even when imperfectly followed (thankfully). So, when it plays a role in our lives, we are blessed by whatever sin it helps us avoid. Just because it cannot make us whole, does not mean it cannot make us better.
Romans 3:20 – “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” This one gave me fits in my younger years, still does a bit. The law, the written commands of God, where we find the good that God wants us to do, ultimately just reveals us as sinners. Sure, with every command we follow, every good deed we do, we become more like God, but the more we study it and dig into it, the more ways we see that we have missed it.
It seems that for every new Godly discipline learned, there are multiple revelations of my sin. So, yes, I continue to learn and grow, yet in the process, ironically, I see myself more and more inadequate, in need of salvation.
Romans 3:23-24 – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift” (emphasis mine) In view of the humbling and depressing knowledge that comes from the study of the law – namely that we are doomed to fail – the gift of grace, complete purity, absolute righteousness, total sanctification, ought to repeatedly both drop us to our knees in humble reverence and lift us to our feet in joyous celebration.
Romans 3:255 – The ESV says “[Jesus] whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.’ A what? So I looked up propitiation on dictionary.com and found this:

The act of appeasing the wrath and conciliating the favor of an offended person; the act of making propitious. (Websters)
the act of atoning for sin or wrongdoing (especially appeasing a deity) (WordNet)

OK, that makes sense, until you realize that it’s the offender who offeres the sacrifice to the offended. We, the offenders offered nothing to God, the offended. In fact, the verse here that it was God who offered the “propitiation” (Jesus) to Himself on our behalf.
So why then, Christian, are you unhappy? Do you really get what has been done for you?

More Grace Than You Can Handle

From C. John Miller’s The Heart of a Servant Leader as seen on Jared’s blog, The Gospel Driven Church (emphasis mine):

Let me urge upon you the importance of cultivating faith if you are to be able to walk in love and spiritual power. Without faith it is impossible to please God, but those who believe are given more grace than they can handle. Believing is to expect God to be with you and change you and to change others…When the work is dull and routine or people are slipping away, go forth with new boldness and preach Christ until you are filled with faith yourselves and God works faith in others.
Think of it this way. All the powers of hell and earth are ranged against the gospel and your ministry. They will not compromise. Therefore don’t expect it from them. Don’t expect the enemy to coddle you. He will continue to attack from every quarter. At night. On the streets. In your meetings. Wherever. This is a take-no-prisoners kind of war, and we must not compromise with the uglies and with evil in any form.
Therefore resist, fight with all your heart against evil in yourself and others, seek holiness through faith in the blood of Christ, and live boldly out of your union with Christ. You are in Him and He is in you. Don’t doubt it. On that basis keep at it.

When things are going badly, or the simply the routines of life are dragging you down, preach Jesus until you are again filled with faith. It seems to be addressed to ministers, but I think it applies to all of us. If life sucks, focus intently on Jesus until your faith is revived.
Then again, if life is good, focus on Jesus too. It can’t hurt. 😀

Ben Folds A Capella

Check out these guys – the Rochester Midnight Ramblers – doing the Ben Folds song Army. Man, they look like they’re having fun.
Actually Ben folds has been going around to college campuses and is coming out with a new CD this week titled Ben Folds Presents: University A Cappella, a collection of the best college A Capella groups doing his songs. Want a taste? Click here to download the University of North Carolina at Greensboro Spartones doing Not The Same. Awesome stuff.
This sounds like a cool disc and I’m planning to pick it up. Listen to what Ben said about it:

“I’m incredibly proud of this album,” Ben says, summarizing the year-long, coast-to-coast endeavor. “If this were Ben World,” he says, “this would be my greatest hits album. I’d rather this be my greatest hits record than someone collecting my masters and slapping on a photo of me leaning against a piano. This is a better way. I’m a songwriter, and these are my songs.”

Oh, and he had over 250 auditions for the project and I think they’re all on YouTube.
Fair warning: The CD carries a parental warning for language, so some of the videos are likely to have less than Christian language.
Via: Stereogum

Romans 2 – Grace and Repentance, The Value of the Law

I started Romans back at the end of February, but then shifted to read Nehemiah through March as my church studied it. Today I return to Romans.
Romans2:1-5 – I can remember smugly reading this passage condemning the hypocrite who judges but assumes they won’t be judged, as if Paul was claiming that Christians are perfect or that I somehow was. No, rather he’s calling us to humility and repentance. Verse 4 says “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” Of course we presume on God’s kindness and forbearance, how else could we be saved? But, do we do so allowing it to humble us and lead us on that never ending journey towards repentance?
For too long I smugly counted on God’s blessings without thinking too much about my need to repent. Then, when confronted with my arrogance, I flipped it around, striving hard to repent but refusing to presume that He’s be kind to me.
No, the Gospel is both. We are constantly reminded that we sin, so we rely on Him to raise us and His grace in doing so prompts us to repent. With out the grace that we rely on, repentance is a never ending, ever faster treadmill, and grace that does not produce repentance is a hollow shell promising fulfillment yet delivering none.
Romans 2:12-16 – The law at one time divided the world into Jew and Gentile, those of the law of God and those not. Merely possessing the law, however, did not make the Jews righteous any more than lacking it made the Gentiles evil. it’s the content of their hearts, expressed in how they lived, that will God judge them on.
Romans 2:17-29 – Paul here points out the elephant in the room for those Jews who boast in having the law – none of them follows it. It is essentially of no value to them because they all are law breakers. In fact, some apart form the law follow better than some who have it, and God will treat tehm accordingly.
He’s setting them up to see that the law isn’t what they need, they need Jesus. He’s laying the foundation of the gospel, that we’ve all sinned

Hi, Remember Me?

Yeah, it’s one of those “sorry I’ve been away” posts. I’d love to say I’ve been too busy serving at the homeless shelter or building houses for Habitat for Humanity or even finishing my basement (OK, that’s partly true) to blog. Oh if that were true.
The simple truth is lately I’ve sort of lost the will to blog. I dunno why, but there it is.
I am fairly active lately on Twitter or Facebook, so look me up there if you’d like. Someday I’ll get a link to those places up here.
I hope to return to regular blogging at some point, and I will keep up my Quiet Time Journal here.

A Better Alternative to Consumer Reports

I got my annual Consumer Reports survey in the mail. You know the one where they ask about, mainly, issues with your cars over the last 12 months. In this one they also want to know about prescription eyeglasses and, as usual, I get to vote on the board of directors. I found it interesting for a couple of reasons.
First, I’m no longer a subscriber, haven’t been for a few years. Why am I still getting these things?
Second, they aren’t interested in my Odyssey anymore, no vehicles older than 2000, taking my 1999 Odyssey EX out of the picture. It seems to me that older vehicles can tell us a lot about an automaker’s commitment to quality, perhaps more so than new ones.
Third, inside was a special little slip marked ‘Important Note’. In it, CR basically asks me to pay for the privilege of submitting the survey. It’s expensive to send these out (especially when you’re sending it out to non-subscribers), so please send $6.75 with your survey to “help us continue this valuable service”. Pay to join and and pay to play?
Fourth, I find it a little bit of wishful thinking to expect the average car owner to remember everything that broke on their car over the last 12 months. I’m a bit over the top in my maintenance records and I still would have to go back and look. At least I have the records, most folks likely don’t keep that stuff. How many folks are going to get it right when they report?
Last, since I think that their auto issue was just published, the results from this survey won’t hit the stands until 2010. By the time it does, the data will be nearly a year old covering things that happened up to a year before that.
Add to that the confusing (what’s the difference between ‘top picks’ and ‘good bets’?) and vague (what is the real difference between a red dot and half a red dot?) nature of their data, and I think that CR, at least in terms of auto data, has out lived it’s usefulness. If I need a new blender, dishwasher or lawn mower, they are great, but not so good anymore for cars.
I’ve been participating in a new automotive research effort from True Delta for a couple of years now. They are doing several things, including real world fuel economy, simple price comparisons and why people choose not to buy a certain car, but the biggie is their reliability research. They have members submitting data on 43,000 cars with more joining all the time. How is it different than CR?
First, the survey comes via email, monthly. All I have to do is follow a link and enter in whatever the car went into the shop for last month. No shop time? Then most months I simply click a link to check in and I’m done. The monthly survey means it’s easier to remember for me (and therefore the data is better) and having it online makes it easy to do.
Second, they are still interested in older cars. I still enter info on my ’99 Odyssey, in fact they’re actively looking for more.
Third, if I participate I get full access to the results. Non-participants will pay, I won’t.
Fourth, I get fresh results every month. True Delta already has results on brand new models like the 2009 Jaguar XF that CR won’t have info on until next April.
Last, their goal so to provide quantifiable results, not vague colored dots. Their ratings show the average number of trips a car model has spent in the shop per year per 100 cars making it easy to compare two vehicles. For example, I’ll be replacing my Odyssey in a a couple of years, likely with a newer Odyssey. True Delta shows that a 2008 Odyssey has 32 trips to the shop per 100 cars while a 2008 Dodge Caravan has 99 and a 2008 Hyundia Entourage has 60. Valuable information. Turns out buying the Caravan almost guarantees a trip to the shop each year while only 1 in 3 Honda owners get to visit with their mechanic.
If you’ve ever been frustrated with the inability to find solid info on which cars are more reliable than others, I’d encourage you to join True Delta. It’s simple, free and you get access to valuable reliability information that you can’t get anywhere else (and no, I didn’t get anything for writing this, I just like what they are doing).
Consumer Reports’ data was great when it was all we had, but now it isn’t good enough. True Delta is better.

Nehemiah 13 – Re-direction

Nehemiah 13:1-9 – I’m unclear on the time line here. Verse 1 seems to indicate that they discovered the part of the law about associating with the Ammonites and Moabites on the same day as the events of chapter 12. Verse 4 inidcates that Tobiah was given the room before that, but the rest of the paragraph seems to indicate that Nehemiah had been away for some time and this had happened then.
So, was this just more reform that Nehemiah participated in, or was a a slip into old ways after Nehemiah left?
Nehemiah 13:10-13 – This passage seems to support that Nehemiah had returned to the King for a time and returned to find that people had slipped into their old ways.
It points to a challenge any leader has. Nehemiah’s heart was for God’s honor in all this, that seems to be what motivated him. It was a dishonor for the wall of Jerusalem to be broken, that lead to further restoration of the temple practices, following the law, etc. While he restored all these actions and behavior, based on what happened after he left, it’s clear that he didn’t instill in them the passion he felt for God and His honor. Those practices seemed good to them at the time, but once Nehemiah left and took his conviction with them, they felt no conviction to maintain them.
The bottom line is that it is easier to use your passion to create change in behavior than it is to create a change in heart. but a change in heart produces the change in behavior on its own, even if you leave.
Nehemiah 13:18 – Once again, they’ve forgotten the consequences of the sins of their fathers and are perpetuating them, thinking the same will not befall them.
Nehemiah 13:23-27 – The people had forgotten who they belonged to, they forgot the price that was paid by their ancestors and by God in His bringing Israel to the promised land and removing the pagan peoples from it for them. They no longer saw themselves as chosen, but simple another resident of the land. The blended in.
As disciples of Jesus in America, we do this all too often. There is no difference between us and the non-believers. We intermarry with them, thinking nothing of it. We allow our children to build unhealthy relationships with those who have no fear of God at all. We forget the price that was paid for us and in doing so we act just like Israel. The answer is not forming communes or closed, isolated communities, but we live a long, long way from that.
Nehemiah 13:14, 22, 29, 30 – Four times Nehemiah pleads for God to remember what he has done on His behalf. You can almost hear the frustration and the pleading. I can understand it, he’s trying his best and the people aren’t getting it. But I wonder if maybe there’s something in that repeated plea (and it’s happened elsewhere in Nehemiah too). Perhaps his focus was to much on the doing instead of teaching them to want to do on their own. It’s hard to say, but I wonder if perhaps he had done more to instill his passion on a few leaders if perhaps they could have carried the torch while he was away, and instilled that passion in a few more. Then they would do the same and the passion would spread leading to a longer lived revival.
Sound familiar?

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