Down to Earth: Love Comes Down

The season known as “Advent” is a time of “spiritual pregnancy,” as we wait for the arrival of our long-anticipated savior.  At the same time, we are Christmas people, and the baby of the manger is already alive and amongst us by the presence of God’s Holy Spirit.  So the season of Advent is a time of waiting, a time of remembering, and a time of celebrating.

We live in a culture of deep divisions.  Social ideologies compete with each other for a place at the table, partisan politics (which so many people seem to dislike) still makes top headline (which so many people seem to watch).  When the apostle (which means “one who is sent”) Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, he was unable to visit them in person because he was stuck in prison.  But his concern over some divisive issues went ahead of him in the form of his letter, the inspired wisdom of which we still benefit from today. 

In Philippians 2:1-4, Paul begins with an indirect question: “Has your faith in Jesus made any difference?”  Because if it has, that difference should be noticeable in people’s lives.  In particular, in the way Jesus’ people treat each other.  Advent and Christmas introduce an entirely new way of living that imitates the character of the one born in the manger, the one called the Prince of Peace.

But even many of Jesus’ followers today are trading in the peacemaking narrative of Christmas for an unfulfillable promise of material comfort that places us on the busy hamster wheel — all our efforts amounting to so little by the time January rolls around.  What did you get for Christmas last year, after all?

So let’s be counter-cultural and consider a couple of things on this first week of Advent.
1) We do not always have to agree because there is a love we can agree on.
– Speaking of hamster wheels, if we think agreement on “issues” is the path to peace, we’ll be spinning that wheel until our last days.  That kind of agreement has never been a prerequisite for peace.  But the new way of living that Christmas calls us to is an agreement that the one love of God in which we share transcends and unites us all, in all.
2) We do not have to win in order to win.     
– Putting others’ interests before our own is truly counter-intuitive.  But consider the freedom within it.  And consider the harm we do in the name of “winning.”  The incarnation of God in the humble feed-trough is a revolutionary reminder that winning based on God’s criteria looks very different than winning based on the world’s.

For reflection: 
1) Think of someone with whom you have a fundamental disagreement.  What would have to happen for you and that person to find agreement in God’s love, so that you’re not divided by your disagreement?  Make a move to make it happen this week.
2) What would it take for you to “come in second place”?  In your next argument?  In the parking lot at the mall?  In the dangerous game of “who gave the best gift?” 
3) What kind of reward might you get from being “second place”? 

Many blessings this Advent season,
MM

 

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Easter 2018: The Cross of Christ Saves

Are you good enough?

 

One of the most popular truisms of our time is the notion that “good people go to heaven.”  Of course there are dozens of subtly different takes on this idea, ranging from complicated systems of karma to the simple axiom that you get what you pay for.  But the core of the idea is the same: good people get rewarded, even in the afterlife.

The problem with the idea is that the definition of “good” is so blurred that one can never know if one is good enough.  Where is the line?  How much good must outweigh the “bad?”  How much lawfulness outweighs lawlessness?  And what happens if you were 49% good, but 51% bad?  Does it seem fair to be 100% condemned if you weren’t 100% bad?  And even then, what if just tipping the goodness scales (i.e. 50.1% “good”) still isn’t good enough?  What if dwelling in the presence of God requires 100% goodness?

Well here’s the bad news — it does.

So here’s the good news — Jesus was.

And here’s the truth — good people don’t go to heaven.  Forgiven people do.

In Luke 23:39-43, the thief that hung on the cross beside Jesus fully admitted his own guilt.  Still, he hoped Jesus would have mercy on him.  Unfortunately for him, he was long past any chance to be good enough for it, and he knew it.  So when he asks Jesus to remember him, what would be a “just” response?  What would have been fair for Jesus to say to him?

The Cross of Christ is scandalously unfair, in fact.  Good thing it’s unfair in our favor.  Just as Jesus’ crucifixion was unfair against him.  But he was willing to endure that injustice so that he could give the thief the answer that we would all want to hear: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

The glory of Easter is simply this — Jesus is the first born of the resurrection life, never to die again.  And by his mercy and grace, he invites us to partake in it with him by faith.

For reflection:

  1. Have you ever heard that “good people go to heaven?”  Where did you hear it?  Did you believe it?  How do you feel about that idea today?
  2. If we do have to be “good enough” to be saved, what does that imply about the character of God?
  3. Many people have heard the gospel before but choose not to believe and follow Jesus.  What might be standing in their way?  Is something standing in your way?

For meditation:

Imagine that you are the thief on the cross.  There is no longer any denying that your mistakes have caught up with you.  And Jesus is so close you can speak to him.  What would you say?

A blessed Easter to you,

Pastor Mike