Roman Road Less Traveled: Outrageous Love

“Live as one who is outrageously loved.”

This line comes out of the prayer that Pastor Beau read at the end of Sunday’s message. It is where he finished, but it feels like the right place to start this week. What does it mean to live as one who is outrageously loved? What would that look like? I think it might look a lot like the life Paul is exhorting followers to live in his letter to the Romans. In fact, it might be his whole point…

Paul emphasizes throughout this letter we are studying the extravagant grace lavished upon us through Jesus. Why? Could it be that lavish, unrestricted, unhindered grace given in response to broken and sin-filled humanity is the best example of the love that propels it? Could it be that grace, freely given, best shows us the nature of our God? Could it be that outrageous love really is that nature, really is what God is like? I think it would be totally on-brand for Paul to emphasize exactly these points. Earlier in his ministry, in his letter to the Ephesians, he wrote:

Then, by constantly using your faith, the life of Christ will be released deep inside you, and the resting place of his love will become the very source and root of your life. Then you will be empowered to discover what every holy one experiences—the great magnitude of the astonishing love of Christ in all its dimensions. How deeply intimate and far-reaching is his love! How enduring and inclusive it is! Endless love beyond measurement that transcends our understanding—this extravagant love pours into you until you are filled to overflowing with the fullness of God! Never doubt God’s mighty power to work in you and accomplish all this. He will achieve infinitely more than your greatest request, your most unbelievable dream, and exceed your wildest imagination! He will outdo them all, for his miraculous power constantly energizes you. (Ephesians 3:17-20, TPT, emphasis mine)

I think Paul wanted the Ephesians to know that they were outrageously loved. I won’t go into every letter he wrote, but as I write I have other passages from Galatians, Colossians, both letters to the Corinthians, and Philippians floating through my head. Paul wrote about the extravagant love of God a whole lot. And as Luanne and I have written during this Romans series, we have, too. In fact, there hasn’t been a week yet that we haven’t written something about the love of God. Here are some snippets from the last six weeks…

One letter, bathed in grace, bathed in equity, bathed in inclusion, bathed in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit–bathed in God’s unconditional love. Paul’s letter to Rome

God allows us to make our own choices, and God allows us to reap the consequences of our own choices, but God never stops loving us. God never stops expressing kindness toward us. God never gives up on us. What if God’s nature really is love, and we’ve misunderstood this wrath thing? Our sin made us all ‘deserving of wrath’–of the intrinsic consequences of turning away from the mercy and love of God–and that wrath led us all the way to death. Butbecause of his love, God came to us again–all the way around to where we stood with our backs to him, arms crossed in defiance–and stood facing us in the person of Jesus, who conquered death by his life and now holds the keys to every grave...

The self-giving love of Jesus showed us a different way of being in the world, showed us how to live a life rooted in love, not law. He also revealed what has always been true of God–He is love. He is kindness. He is grace. He is not disappointed in us. He is not ashamed of us. He doesn’t see us in the shadows of our failures–He sees us in the light of his love. God loves us! God loves us! God loves us! When we allow Jesus to be the foundation of this faith called Christ-ianity, we are grounded in God is love! The barriers come down. This agape love leads us to love God in return and love others as a result. Paul knew this. The overall message of Paul’s letters are about inclusion, grace, and God’s love...

Seeing‘ God is the reality of our faith. Jesus shows us God. He shows us what God is like. Perfectly. This is the faith that begins in us upon encountering Jesus. It is the faith that grows in us and leads us on. When we see him, we believe him. When our faith shows us the person and the character of God–his goodness, his love, his grace–we trust him. Our faith is in who God is, not what he does for us...

God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) lavishly loves us. God the Son opened the door to relationship with God the Father; we were given the gift of God the Spirit–the very breath of God–so we can live with the life of Jesus–his energy, his vitality–coursing through our spirits. We have been and are being saved–made whole, healed, safe. We can flourish in wholeness through God’s shalom. We live in the place of God’s full and complete acceptance. We are fully embraced–completely loved and nothing will ever change that. When we truly believe this, how can we help but to outshine God’s love to everyone around us...

This is the love of God. A Love that sees us as both complete and in process simultaneously. A Love that would rather keep us intact and transforming than replace our identities entirely, because God values each story and every stroke of the pen that writes it. A Love that even allows us to resist the transformation process because it is patient and kind. This Love that is the guarantor of seeing us through to completion, because Love is the one doing the good work, not us…

I think the message has been pretty consistent, don’t you? Six weeks of Romans. Six weeks of writing about the love of God. It is not the only thing Paul writes about in Romans, but it is the root of everything else, and I think Paul really wanted people to grab ahold of that truth. Everything about God is rooted in love, because love is what God is like. And everything about us, as followers of Jesus, is to be rooted in love also–we are to reflect, or “outshine” as Luanne so beautifully explained it a couple weeks ago, God’s love to those around us. This is what is means to, “Live as one who is outrageously loved.”

With the outrageous love of God as our foundation, let’s look at what Pastor Beau brought to us this week, in week seven of our series. Beau led us into Romans chapter 7. It’s a tough section of Paul’s letter–one of many, it turns out–and it can be hard to understand. But in the context of a complete letter that points us to lavish grace and the extravagant love of God at every turn, it makes a little more sense. My word count is already high, so I won’t go into all that Pastor Beau shared with us–hopefully Luanne will cover what I can’t–but there are a few things I’d like to highlight.

Because we are studying a letter that was not broken up into chapters and verses, let’s look briefly at the end of last week’s portion:

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:22-23, NIV)

With those words in mind, let’s look at the beginning of this week’s passage:

You shouldn’t have any trouble understanding this, friends, for you know all the ins and outs of the law—how it works and how its power touches only the living. For instance, a wife is legally tied to her husband while he lives, but if he dies, she’s free. If she lives with another man while her husband is living, she’s obviously an adulteress. But if he dies, she is quite free to marry another man in good conscience, with no one’s disapproval. So, my friends, this is something like what has taken place with you. When Christ died he took that entire rule-dominated way of life down with him and left it in the tomb, leaving you free to “marry” a resurrection life and bear “offspring” of faith for God. (Romans 7:1-4, MSG)

Paul told us in last week’s passage that we are no longer slaves to sin and death, that we have the gift of life through Jesus our Lord. He goes on to explain to his readers, in ways they would understand, what it means to be dead to sin and alive in Christ. He uses the example of a marriage, and how a widow is free to marry another because her husband has died. As Pastor Beau said, those he originally wrote the letter to understood. It made sense to them. And in the Message paraphrase that I used above, the same version Beau read on Sunday, it sort of makes sense to us, too. But Beau clarified it further when he said,

“Our marriage is to Jesus, looking at the law; not a marriage to the law looking at Jesus.”

The people Paul wrote to–and I would assert this is also true for us today–struggled to reconcile the demands and requirements of the law with the freedom and life being offered to them through Christ. Paul struggled with it himself–he writes about it a little further into this week’s chapter–as he wrestled with what he did and did not want to do not matching up with what he actually did. I won’t include the whole passage here, as it is lengthy, but it’s important to note that Paul was identifying a common struggle. We have been baptized into new life in Christ, as we discussed last week… AND, we are imperfect humans who are in process. New life has begun to grow in us, but we wrestle with living how we want to live. We struggle with living free, living in the Spirit, because sometimes we choose to live bound up in our own flesh. Sometimes we hold tightly to a leader, a belief, an ideology, and we let that one thing be our moral compass. We look to ourselves and to what we know for the wisdom that can only come from the Spirit. We are no longer slaves, but we don’t always know how to live free…

And so we struggle. Within ourselves. Against one another. Even against God. The world breaks, and breaks again. Hopelessness threatens…

But there is another way. Pastor Beau shared that part of Paul’s goal in his letter to the Romans was to unify groups of people that held different beliefs and did not understand one another. That feels applicable to the days we’re living in, does it not? These days are hard, as Beau identified. He encouraged us to lean into lament, to grieve the losses and the pain, to not avoid the highs or the lows of life because doing so keeps us trapped. He also encouraged us to move through lament, guided by the Spirit, into hope.

He concluded his message by encouraging us to see that we’re all struggling together. He reminded us that living in the freedom of the Spirit is what brings everyone to the same table; we can have differing opinions, but with Jesus as our filter, we can love each other despite those differences. And he also reminded us that loving our neighbors as ourselves is something we keep learning how to do as we go. As we journey with Jesus, we become more like him, and his outrageous love grows within us. We learn this new way of living, of loving, as our metamorphosis continues. The law and the rules–they’ll never get us there. They’ll leave us disappointed in ourselves and others, trying hard to measure up and full of shame that we never can. If we vow our “I do” to the law, we will not live as one who is outrageously loved, because the law can’t love us. But if we make our vow to Jesus, we join ourselves to Love. And…

Then you will be empowered to discover what every holy one experiences—the great magnitude of the astonishing love of Christ in all its dimensions. How deeply intimate and far-reaching is his love! How enduring and inclusive it is! Endless love beyond measurement that transcends our understanding—this extravagant love pours into you until you are filled to overflowing with the fullness of God! (Ephesians 3:18-19)

–Laura

Our marriage is now to Jesus and we look at the law through him; we are no longer married to the law…

Marriage to the risen Christ changes everything!

I love The Message paraphrase that Laura used above. I also love Romans 7:4 in The Passion Translation: So, my dear brothers and sisters, the same principle applies to your relationship with God. For you died to your first husband, the law, by being co-crucified with the body of the Messiah. So you are now free to “marry” another—the one who was raised from the dead so that you may now bear spiritual fruit for God.

Verses 5 and 6 say: When we were merely living natural lives, the lawthrough defining sin, actually awakened sinful desires within us, which resulted in bearing the fruit of death. But now that we have been fully released from the power of the law, we are dead to what once controlled us. And our lives are no longer motivated by the obsolete way of following the written code, so that now we may serve God by living in the freshness of a new life in the power of the Holy Spirit.

What does it mean that the law awakened sinful desires within us? As an illustration from my own life, every time I decide to rein in my diet, my mind only thinks about the foods that I’m trying to cut out. As I think about those foods I am tempted to abandon my good intentions. The “law” of my eating plan actually awakens the desire to eat everything that isn’t included in the plan. Anyone else?

Paul tells us in this passage that the law is not the problem, our sinful nature is the problem, and there is a better way. The better way is what we wrote about last week–baptism into death with Jesus and resurrection to new life in the Spirit.

Life in the Spirit is completely different from life in the flesh. Life in the Spirit comes from being connected to Jesus (I am the vine you are the branches, if you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5) That’s the “pickle” illustration that I wrote about last week. The cucumber, once immersed, remains in the pickling solution, and is transformed over time. By remaining, it becomes something completely new. When we “remain” in Jesus, we are transformed, over time, into something completely new. We bear much fruit, or as Paul points out in our passage, being married to the resurrected Jesus, means we bear the offspring of spiritual fruit.

What is spiritual fruit? Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatian church: The Spirit… produces in human life fruits such as these: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, fidelity, tolerance and self-control—and no law exists against any of them. Those who belong to Christ have crucified their old nature with all that it loved and lusted for. If our lives are centered in the Spirit, let us be guided by the Spirit. (Gal 5:22-25, J.B. Phillips)

You can see Paul’s Roman’s message in the Galatians passage as well-our “law” based lives has been crucified with Jesus, and our new, resurrected lives are centered in and guided by the Spirit. There is no law that exists against the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Pastor Beau put it this way–once we are married to Jesus, Jesus becomes our filter and everything gets covered with love. This is what life in the Spirit looks like.

Life in the Spirit is greater than life in the law. Does the law have purpose? Of course, but it’s not the foundation of our lives any more. I recently finished a beautiful book by seminary professor, author, and Anglican priest Esau McCauley titled Reading While Black (African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope). In the section called Bible Reading, Slavery, and God’s Purposes he writes about the Pharisees questioning Jesus on the practice of divorce (Mt. 16:21; Lk 24:25-27) The Pharisees want to know if it’s lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason (that was the practice of the day and the law of Moses allowed it as long as the woman was given a certificate of dismissal). Jesus completely bypasses the law in his response, and goes all the way back to Genesis the era before the law.

“Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female’, and said ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh…therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate’.” So the Pharisees then asked, if that’s the case, why does Moses allow it? Jesus answered: “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” (Mt. 19:3-8)

McCauley goes on to write:The question, for Jesus, is not what the Torah allows, but what God intended...Moses instituted these laws because of their hardness of heart…Jesus shows that not every passage of the Torah presents the ideal for human interactions. Instead some passages accept the world as broken and attempt to limit the damage that we do to one another….[we must ask, do these passages] present a picture of what God wanted us to be or do they seek to limit the damage arising from a broken world?”

Let me try to tie this all together.

In the beginning, when God created humankind, he created male and female and gave them both the same role:

God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it…(Gen 1:27-28)

He provided for their every need and they lived in complete dependence on, and beautiful fellowship with God. They made the choice to abandon the plan, and instead of choosing to eat from the tree of life, they chose fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That choice changed the state of humankind on earth forever. Guilt, shame, hierarchy, oppression, relational and spiritual separation, violence, etc. all became part of the human condition. The “law” came into play in order to curtail the damage we do to one another. Even The Ten Commandments have to do with how we are to treat God and others. When Jesus is asked which commandment is greatest, he says all the commandments hang on this: Love the Lord your God will all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…, and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt. 22:37-38)

We cannot “law” ourselves into love. Love is a fruit of the Spirit. We bear fruit by staying connected to the vine. As we wrote last week:

God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) lavishly loves us. God the Son opened the door to relationship with God the Father; we were given the gift of God the Spirit–the very breath of God–so we can live with the life of Jesus–his energy, his vitality–coursing through our spirits. We have been and are being saved–made whole, healed, safe. We can flourish in wholeness through God’s shalom. We live in the place of God’s full and complete acceptance. We are fully embraced–completely loved and nothing will ever change that. When we truly believe this, how can we help but to outshine God’s love to everyone around us…

Pastor Beau said it like this: Jesus loves us. When we grow in our understanding of that truth, our love for others will flow…

Pastor Beau reminded us that Paul’s letter to the Romans was a plea for unity–not uniformity. The law separated people into circumcised and uncircumcised; kosher, not kosher; Jew, Gentile; etc. Paul was abolishing all the categories that separate us and reminding us that we are all in the same boat–all have sinned–AND, the glorious truth –all are outrageously loved by God. God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)

Our part:

Don’t owe anything to anyone, except your outstanding debt to continually love one another, for the one who learns to love has fulfilled every requirement of the law. For the commandments, “Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not covet,”and every other commandment can be summed up in these words:

Love and value others the same way you love and value yourself.”

 Love makes it impossible to harm another, so love fulfills all that the law requires. (Romans 13:8-10 TPT)

The law and its dead fruit have no power over us anymore.

Our marriage to Jesus produces the offspring of spiritual fruit.

The fruit of the Spirit is love... Against such things there is no law.

–Luanne

Roman Road Less Traveled: Life

Jesus was radical. Jesus was a revolutionary. Jesus was unlike any other teacher that had been, or ever will be. Those who encountered Jesus face to face, who walked with him, lived with him, learned from him, mourned his death, first doubted–then celebrated his resurrection, watched him ascend and received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit after his ascension, knew this.

Paul knew of Jesus, but saw Jesus’ ministry and mission as a threat to all he had built his life on–namely the Jewish law. Jesus, in Paul’s view, was a threat to his scripture-based life. If you know Paul’s story, you know that he was present, and gave his approval to the stoning of Stephen. Acts 9:1 tells us Saul (Paul) “was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers, so he went to the high priest…” and gained permission to head out on a mission of arresting and persecuting followers of Jesus. If you are familiar with the story, you know that while he was on his way to fulfill his self-appointed mission of violence, Jesus knocked him off his high-horse, blinded him, and introduced himself to Saul (Paul) as the one whom Saul was persecuting. That encounter with Jesus forever changed the trajectory of Paul’s life. Paul had been an agent of death–now he would be teaching what God’s radical love and grace look like, and what abundant life truly is.

Last week we looked at Romans 5:1-11 where Paul highlights the good news about hope and life and reconciliation. This week we move to Chapter 6. Paul, a trained attorney, is continuing to make his case for life. As a quick reminder, the “book” of Romans is actually a letter to a group of believers in Rome. It wasn’t divided into chapters and verses when Paul wrote it, so even though we are highlighting verses each week, we are taking into account the whole of the letter. With that said, I am going to back up to the part of chapter 5 that we didn’t cover last week. In 5:12-21 we learn that sin and death entered the world through one man’s poor choice. Paul writes: death followed this sin, casting its shadow over all humanity, because all have sinned…(however) there is no comparison between Adam’s transgression and the gracious gift that we experience. For the magnitude of the gift far outweighs the crimehow much greater will God’s grace and his gracious gift of acceptance overflowthis free-flowing gift imparts to us much more than what was given to us through the one who sinnedthis gracious gift leaves us free from our many failures and brings us into the perfect righteousness of God—acquitted with the words “Not guilty!...condemnation came upon all people through one transgression, so through one righteous act of Jesus’ sacrifice, the perfect righteousness that makes us right with God and leads us to a victorious life is now available to all! (5: 15-16; 18 TPT).

Note that the emphasis of the passage is not Adam’s or our sin–it’s mentioned, but Paul’s emphasis is God’s gift of grace, of acceptance, of exoneration and he continues this theme in chapter 6 which begins with a question: Now what is our response to be? Shall we sin to our heart’s content and see how far we can exploit the grace of God? 

Paul’s answer to his own question: What a ghastly thought! We, who have died to sin—how could we live in sin a moment longer?  (J. B. Phillips)

How would you answer Paul’s question? What does it mean that we have died to sin? What does it look like to not live in sin?

Paul continues to drive home the point that we must resist the temptation to revert to our own strength and live as moralists, legalists or “cheap grace” proponents. Moralists divide the world into good and bad behavior and try to be “good for goodness sake”. Legalists believe following all the rules and measuring their success by comparison to others makes them good–(and when they can’t meet their own standard they feel guilt and shame). Those who choose “cheap grace” believe Jesus’ full forgiveness means they can live any way they want to. All of these methods leave out a relationship with Jesus. Each one is focused on self and human effort (or lack thereof)–I can be good enough to be accepted, I can be better than everyone else and be accepted, or I am accepted and therefore can live however I want.

What does Paul, based on his own radical experience with Jesus, teach? Verses 6:3-4 say…don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were…buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life....

…or as the NLT translates it: …we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.

What does that mean? What does “baptism” mean? The actual definition of the word is:

  1. to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge (of vessels sunk)
  2. to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water, to wash one’s self, bathe
  3. to overwhelm

That may not be new information to anyone, but what I love is the history of the word that can be seen in the pickle recipe written in 200 B.C. by a Greek poet and physician named Nicander. The recipe contains two Greek words, the first being “bapto” which means to dip, and “baptizo” which in a moment will become more clear. To make pickles, first you “bapto” the vegetable in boiling water. Then it is removed and is “baptizo” into a vinegar solution where it stays and becomes something new–it is transformed–permanently changed. (blueletterbible.org)

The word Paul is using in Chapter 6 is “baptizo”–the type of immersion where one resides and that leads to permanent change. I’m reminded of Naaman in the Old Testament. He was a Syrian commander who contracted leprosy. His Jewish servant told him there was a prophet (Elisha) that could heal him. When Naaman sought Elisha, Elisha sent someone to tell Naaman to go immerse himself 7 times (the number signifying wholeness) in the Jordan river. Naaman was mad, he wanted Elisha to wave his hand and heal him instantly, so he decided he wasn’t going to do it–he was choosing sickness over immersion. His servants asked him, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” (2 Kings 5:13). So Naaman swallowed his pride and did as Elisha suggested, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy. Total transformation.

Paul is telling us, in Romans 6, that the death of Christ is our gateway to total transformation. We are baptized into his death and then raised to live new lives as transformed people. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians tells us in 5:17 that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! (NLT)

Christianity is about life–it’s not about our sin or how wretched we are; it’s about our forgiveness, our healing, our transformation into Christlikeness…

Jesus tells us in John 17:3 Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent

…and in John 10:10  I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John wrote of Jesus: In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. (John 1:4)

Paul goes on to tell us: our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin…When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God.  So…consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus. (6:6; 10-11)

And lest you be concerned that the work of transformation comes from human effort, remember that Abraham believed God, and God credited it to Abraham as righteousness.

Our part, in the journey of transformation is to believe God–not in God, but God. Part of believing is to renew our minds. Jumping ahead in this letter, Paul reminds us: Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. (Romans 12:2)

And Jesus’ brother James tells us in James 4:8 to draw near to God and he will draw near to you.

I don’t know how it works–but I know in my own life, when I began to embrace the truth that God wasn’t disappointed in me, wasn’t mad at me, but loved me, accepted me, forgave me, saw me as right because of what God in Christ has done–not because of my own effort to be good enough– I began to really fall in love with God and to immerse myself in God. As that happened, I spent more and more time with God–and I am absolutely not who I used to be. I have been changed. I am still changing. God, who began a good work in (me) will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phil. 1:6)

This God, who already sees us fully acceptable, breathes Jesus’ life into us through the Holy Spirit and gifts us with a beautiful, holy, inviting life-light, as he makes us whole, healing us along the way, and using us to invite others in.

God’s free gift of overflowing abundant Spirit-filled life begins as we get to know God the Father and Jesus whom he has sent. Immersion in God’s gift of life through death leads to transformation.

–Luanne

I had never heard about the pickle recipe until Luanne shared it above. I love it so much. She shared with us that when the vegetable (for the purposes of my next point, I’m going to call it a cucumber) “is “baptizo” into a vinegar solution…” it, “…becomes something new–it is permanently changed.” Permanent change. The pickle cannot be un-pickled. It cannot go back to its cucumber form. That’s the nature of transformation. Luanne used versions of this word at least seven times in her writing, according to my unofficial count. It is also the word I couldn’t stop thinking about as I listened to the message on Sunday morning.

When Pastor John talked about baptism signifying that we have a new life to live, transformation was all I could think about. That led to me thinking about metamorphosis–and, more specifically, about how metamorphosis turns a caterpillar into a butterfly. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you already know that Luanne and I like to write about butterflies. And you might also know that we have written about metamorphosis before–but not in the context of baptism. To refresh our memories, here is what I wrote two summers ago regarding this miraculous process:

“A caterpillar is hidden within the cloak of its cocoon. And while it’s in there, it literally dies. Its organs disintegrate, and from that soup of cells, a butterfly is born. When the time is right, the cloak of the cocoon falls away, and the beautiful butterfly is free to fly. Death and resurrection.” 

Death and resurrection…

Luanne wrote, “We are baptized into his death and then raised to live new lives as transformed people.”

The origin of our English word metamorphosis is in the Greek word metamorphoō. It means transfigure, transform, change. It is found four times in scripture. The second half of the compound word, morphoō, is found only once. Luanne already included one of the verses our word is found in, Romans 12:2. Here it is again in the Amplified Bible translation:

And do not be conformed to this world [any longer with its superficial values and customs], but be transformed (metamorphoō) and progressively changed [as you mature spiritually] by the renewing of your mind…  

Here another occurrence of the word in a verse that has been on my mind since Sunday:

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed (metamorphoō) into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18, NIV)

These two verses use the word metamorphoō in relation to Jesus’ followers. The other two times it is used, it describes Jesus’ transfiguration in Matthew 17:2 and Mark 9:2:

And His appearance changed dramatically (metamorphoō) in their presence; and His face shone [with heavenly glory, clear and bright] like the sun, and His clothing became as white as light. (Matthew 17:2, AMP)

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured (metamorphoō) before them. (Mark 9:2)

The one time the word morphoō shows up is in Galatians 4:19. Paul writes,

Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed (morphoō) in your lives. (NLT)

Before we put all of this together, I want to show you two other translations of 2 Corinthians 3:18:

And we all, with unveiled face, continually seeing as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are progressively being transformed (metamorphoō) into His image from [one degree of] glory to [even more] glory, which comes from the Lord, [who is] the Spirit. (AMP)

Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured (metamorphoō) much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him. (MSG)

Metamorphosis is not instantaneous. It is a process. This is true for the caterpillar as well as for us. For the caterpillar, it is literally transfigured, which means “change the shape of” in its original Latin form (Oxford Languages). The caterpillar, hidden inside the cocoon, falls apart–all the way down to the cellular level. There, in that place of death where it is not what it was nor is it what it will become, its cells are restructured and its components are reconfigured. When the process is complete, the cocoon falls away and the brand new creation–the butterfly–is revealed.

What about us?

I want to go back to one of the definitions Luanne gave us for baptism earlier. She told us it can mean overwhelmed. Anyone other than me feel overwhelmed lately? Do we know what the word overwhelm actually means? “Whelm” by itself means: engulf, submerge, or bury (someone or something). That sounds pretty bad, right? Who decided we needed to add “over”? The definition for “overwhelm” is: to bury or drown beneath a huge mass, to inundate, to defeat completely. (Definitions from Oxford Languages) Yikes. Bury… drown… defeat completely. Sounds like death to me. Which is unlovely in every way I can think of except one. The way it explains what happens in baptism…

Our submersion in baptism–when we are engulfed, inundated with water all around us–it symbolizes the in-between, the “caterpillar soup” stage of metamorphosis. It symbolizes how, when we submit to the transformation process, who and what we used to be completely falls apart–down to the soupy, cellular level. It would appear that all is lost in that moment of defeat. But it is not. Instead, it is liminal space–the initial stage of what will be an ongoing process, where we occupy a position on both sides of a threshold, however impossible that seems. In that place, the energy of the life of Jesus infuses every cell, every broken piece, all the components of us–the good and the bad. When we are raised out of the water, it symbolizes the bursting free from the cocoon, as brand new creations. Death to resurrection.

Notice I said that Jesus’ energy, his life, infuses ALL of the components of who we are. We emerge with our stories intact–we are still who we are–and we are also brand new creations. The cells of the old us are the cells of the new us–same as the caterpillar/butterfly. But they have been altered, infused, transformed. We emerge the same person, but we are not the same.

This is what baptism symbolizes. Does all of that really happen in the short moment we are submerged in water? Yes… and no. I can’t explain it because it is beyond what we can know or understand. The act of baptism is an outward expression of inner change. I won’t pretend to know the order of things, nor do I believe one has to be immersed in water to experience the baptism of the Spirit that ignites the changes I described above. What I know is that baptism as we understand it is symbolic of the lifelong metamorphosis we experience as followers of Jesus. The caterpillar to butterfly change is not instantaneous. It is a process.

The verses I listed above tell us what our metamorphosis will look like over time:

We are transformed and progressively changed [as we mature spiritually] by the renewing of our minds. We are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. Our appearance is changed dramatically, and our lives are gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him. This process will continue until Christ is fully developed in our lives.

This is the transformation process that baptism symbolizes. The Spirit is the cocoon that holds all the parts of us as the life-energy of Jesus continually transfigures us into the image of his love. Once we say yes to being immersed in him, once the process of transformation begins to infuse every cell with his life, we cannot go back to the before. We are in the pickling process, and there is no going back. Once our components are altered, they cannot be unaltered.

This is the love of God.

A Love that sees us as both complete and in process simultaneously. A Love that would rather keep us intact and transforming than replace our identities entirely, because God values each story and every stroke of the pen that writes it. A Love that even allows us to resist the transformation process because it is patient and kind. This Love that is the guarantor of seeing us through to completion, because Love is the one doing the good work, not us…

Luanne wrote this:

Christianity is about life–it’s not about our sin or how wretched we are, it’s about our forgiveness, our healing, our transformation into Christlikeness…

Our journey with Jesus is one of continual metamorphosis. We don’t get to fly out as a fully-formed butterfly in the middle of the story, yet we do experience the beauty of soaring under other wings from time to time. There is a both/and to our experience of death-to-life. But the moment we say yes to Jesus, the moment we are brave enough to fall apart, trusting that transformation is on its way, is the moment we begin to know–intimately, at the core of who we are–that, “Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we’re going in our new grace-sovereign country.” (Romans 6:5b, MSG)

–Laura

Roman Road Less Traveled: Rejoice!

Rejoice.

What does it mean to rejoice? What do you think of when you hear that word?

As I prepared to write, I assumed I would find the “rejoice” I was familiar with when I looked up our verses in the original language–the chairō form of rejoicing from which the word chara was derived, the joy that is one of the fruits of the Spirit. That is not what I found.

In chapter 5 of Romans, every time we see the word “rejoice” or something like it–translations vary on which word is used–the original word is not chairō. It is kauchaomai, a word that is translated “to glory” or “to boast” 33 times in the New Testament, compared with the 4 times it is represented with the English word “rejoice.”

Okay. Well…that changes the direction I thought I was going with this post. When I hear the word rejoice, I do not naturally associate it with boasting, or glorying in something. When I think of rejoicing, I think of joy, of celebration, of re-joying–celebrating again, or remembering the joy of days gone by. But that’s not the kind of rejoicing Paul calls us to in this week’s passage. As I study his words and what they convey, I am finding some relief in being wrong in my original understanding. We’ll discover why together, as we dig in. First, let’s look at our passage, Romans 5:1-11. It’s long, but important to our discussion that we read all of the verses together. For the sake of freshness and our overall understanding, I am combining the verses from different translations:

Since, then, it is by faith that we are justified, let us grasp the fact that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have confidently entered into this new relationship of grace, and here we take our stand, in happy certainty of the glorious things he has for us in the future. But that’s not all! Even in times of trouble we have a joyful confidence, knowing that our pressures will develop in us patient endurance. And patient endurance will refine our character, and proven character leads us back to hope. And this hope is not a disappointing fantasy, because we can now experience the endless love of God cascading into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who lives in us! Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. If, when we were at our worst, we were put on friendly terms with God by the sacrificial death of his Son, now that we’re at our best, just think of how our lives will expand and deepen by means of his resurrection life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Verses 1-2, J.B. Phillips; 3-5, TPT; 6-8, MSG; 9, NKJV; 10, MSG; 11, NIV)

Pastor John showed us five reasons for rejoicing–for boasting, glorying–found in this passage. I think you’ll see as we move through them why Paul chose the word he did. From here on, I’ll use the meaning of the word Paul used in place of the word rejoicing.

I am starting with the fifth point first, because it connects us to last week’s message and seems the most appropriate jumping-off point…

We glory and boast in who God is. Last week we discussed Abraham’s faith–his faith was in the person of God, not what God could do, and not in Abraham’s own ability to keep the law perfectly. His faith was rooted in the person of God. Our boast, likewise, is never in ourselves as though we have somehow secured our own salvation. No, we glory in and we boast only of Christ, and him crucified; Christ, and his victory over death and the grave; Christ, and his resurrection life, alive now in us.

Paul writes further on this subject in his letter to the Galatians:

But far be it from me to boast [in anything or anyone], except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14, AMP)

And all the way back in Psalms, David, experiencing the rescue of God, sang:

My soul will make its boast in the Lord; The humble will hear it and rejoice. (Psalm 34:2, NASB)

I love that. Our souls boast in our Lord. Those who have ears to hear will rejoice. Beautiful.

So, we glory and boast in who God is. First. His character is unchanging. His posture toward us is love, grace, acceptance. Now we’ll go back to Pastor John’s first and second points, which connect so beautifully to what we’ve just discussed:

We glory and boast in our present position and in the hope of the glory of God. In the translation I used above, J.B. Phillips, verses 1-2 tell us,

Since then it is by faith that we are justified, let us grasp the fact that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have confidently entered into this new relationship of grace, and here we take our stand, in happy certainty of the glorious things he has for us in the future. (emphasis mine)

Again, our glory is his glory. We boast in what Jesus has done. He has invited us into peace, into a relationship of grace–and here, we can take our stand in hopecertain of what we hope for, assured of what we don’t yet see. (Hebrews 11:1)

Pastor John’s third point is the one that is most difficult for me, and I assume it will be for you as well. It is why my new understanding of the definition for “rejoicing” in this passage is so important to my own heart. Here it is:

We glory and boast in our sufferings. Umm… ew. No, I don’t think I glory and boast in my suffering. Do you? Maybe rejoice does fit better here after all? I don’t think so. Here’s why…

Paul is not advising us to elevate our suffering, or to glorify the difficulties, pains, and pressures of life. Not at all. He is reminding us of Jesus’ words in John 16:33, “. . .In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” And what does it mean that Jesus has overcome the world? Let’s take another look at verses 3-5 in our passage:

Even in times of trouble we have a joyful confidence, knowing that our pressures will develop in us patient endurance. And patient endurance will refine our character, and proven character leads us back to hope. And this hope is not a disappointing fantasy, because we can now experience the endless love of God cascading into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who lives in us! (emphasis mine)

We can glory and boast in our Lord even in the midst of our sufferings, because Jesus has overcome the world–all of it: sin, pain, death, even the grave itself. And as we patiently endure the pressures of this life, we’ll be led back to the hope we have in the One who has overcome. Tangible hope that lives and breathes in us as a result of “the endless love of God cascading into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” Yeah. I can boast and glory in that all day long!

Finally, we can glory and boast in what we have. What do we have? We have identified that we have God on our side because of who he is. We have peace, and a relationship of grace. We have hope. We have the love of God, and we have the Holy Spirit. What else do we have? We have what holds it all together, what delivered God’s love to us: the person of Jesus, and his willingness to die so that we could experience his life. The beginning of verse 6 from The Message paraphrase tells us, Christ arrives right on time…” Pastor John said on Sunday, “At just the right time…Jesus.”

How do those words sit with you? Do they resonate deeply, as you remember when you first encountered the love of Jesus in your own life? Do you feel like you’ve been waiting for him and he still hasn’t come? Have you prayed during a time when you really needed him show up on time… but he didn’t?

At different points in my life, I’ve answered yes to all of these questions–sometimes all in the same day. I know that Jesus is always coming for me, he’s never late or absent. But sometimes, the pressures and sufferings of this life block him from my view. Sometimes, I’ve dammed up the flow of living water and I’m swimming instead in stagnant waters, full of death and disappointment. Maybe that’s you, too. If so, don’t fret. There’s tangible hope, even on the hardest days. His offer to each of us stands, even when we’ve convinced ourselves he’s not there. Sometimes, we only need to be reminded of all we have in him…

On the final and climactic day of the Feast, Jesus took his stand. He cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink! Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me this way, just as the Scripture says.” (John 7:37, MSG)

The scripture Jesus referenced is Isaiah 55:1:

“Listen! Are you thirsty for more? Come to the refreshing waters and drink. Even if you have no money, come, buy, and eat. Yes, come and buy all the wine and milk you desire— it won’t cost a thing.” (TPT)

Jesus is the river of life. When we drink of the water he offers, rivers of living water fill and flow from us who believe in what we have–Jesus himself. He is the river of living water, the one that flows from the sanctuary in Ezekiel’s vision: “Wherever the river flows, life will flourish. . . because the river is turning the salt sea into fresh water. Where the river flows, life abounds.” (Ezekiel 47:9, MSG)

We can glory and boast in who our God is–revealed in Jesus. We can glory and boast in his endless love that positions us in a place of peace and in a new relationship of grace that allows us to stand in hope. That same hope is why we can glory and boast in the midst of our sufferings, as we remember that our hope is secured in the truth that Jesus has overcome the world. And we can glory and boast in the person of Jesus, that we have him as our own, that he lives and breathes within us, and that the river of his life fills us, heals us, and brings our souls to life. So we can say, like David did, My soul will make its boast in the Lord; and as we boast and glory in him, our hope is, The humble will hear it and rejoice.

–Laura

we can now experience the endless love of God cascading into our hearts…

we can now experience the endless love of God cascading into our hearts…

... we can now experience the endless love of God cascading into our hearts…

Ponder the fact that it is God’s desire for us to experience his endless, all encompassing, unconditional, cascading, pouring, shed abroad, filling us to overflowing love flooding into us through the Holy Spirit. (5:5)

It’s God’s desire…to anoint my head with oil (symbol for the the Holy Spirit), (so that) my cup overflows

You all, God is for us! God is for us! God is for us! The good news of God’s love (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is too boundless for us to ever fully comprehend, yet it’s true. Let it cascade over you, and in you, and through you. Be awestruck again.

I love the definition that Laura discovered regarding the word “rejoice” in this passage. She informed us that this “rejoice” is more often translated as “to glory” or “to boast” than “to rejoice”. Knowing that definition gave me the direction I feel led to write this week–and I’m grabbing onto rejoicing as “to glory”.

Some years ago, I was reading a book by Jennifer Kennedy Dean (I can’t remember the title) in which she defined “glory” in a new way for me. She said that “glory” can be translated as “outshining”, and explained it something like this: When we are sitting in a dark room, we can’t see what’s around us, but as soon as someone turns on a light–it all becomes visible. It becomes visible because light rays are bouncing off the surfaces–the objects are “outshining” — reflecting the light. As a result, what was unseen is now seen.

The glory of God is the “outshining” of God. Paul eludes to this in the first portion of his letter to the Romans when he writes, For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities— (Romans 1:20). All of creation brings “glory” to God–it outshines God’s greatness and majesty.

Our lives bring glory to God when they bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit– or “outshine” the fruit of God’s character and heart through us.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12). There has never been anyone else in human flesh who outshined the exact representation of God. Jesus IS the glory of God; the full display of the outshining of God. Jesus is the light who shows us who God is, what God’s nature is, what friendship with God looks like, what God’s attitude toward us is. Jesus is the display of God’s full-on, fierce, active, cascading LOVE.

Take a second. Inhale that truth. Feel the cascade. Don’t try to understand it. God’s love is not logical–it just is. Our part? Believe it.

I love Laura’s mashup of different translations above and may write it out in my journal later, but right now, I’m going to go back to the NIV for a minute. It’s the memorized version in my head–and it took me a long time to comprehend what it was saying, so I’m going to try to break it down. The italicized portions belong to either me or Strong’s Concordance…

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith (we believed God and that was enough for us to be rightly and perfectly related to God), we have peace (shalom, flourishing, healing) with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith (Jesus is the open gate–everyone is welcome) into this grace (kindness, acceptance, fully embraced, completely loved, holy place) in which we now stand (our position, the place from which we live). And we boast (outshine) in the hope (anticipation) of the glory (outshining) of God (who is transforming us from glory to glory, outshining to outshining).  Not only so, but we also glory (outshine) in our sufferings (pressure, trouble, anguish), because we know that suffering produces perseverance (patient unswerving continuance) perseverance, character (the process/effect of proving–becoming proof); and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love (agape; a feast of charity) has been poured out (cascaded) into our hearts (the center of all physical and spiritual life) through (by, for the sake of) the Holy Spirit (the Breath of God), who has been given (a gift) to us.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless (strengthless, weak), Christ died for the ungodly (all of us-Paul’s bad news). Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, (true) though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die (maybe) But God demonstrates (exhibits, proves, stands with) his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners (separated from relationship with God and deserving death-the bad news), Christ died for (the sake of) us. ( making it possible for us to experience the love and acceptance of God–the good, good news!!).

Since we have now been justified (rightly related) by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s (important note–in the original language the word “God” is not in this verse) wrath (punishment–self inflicted by sin) through him (Jesus-hallelujah!)  For if, while we were God’s enemies (opponent; on the other side), we were reconciled (brought into favored relationship) to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved (I love this word: sozo–made whole, made safe, healed) through his life (Zoeabsolute fulness of life; real, genuine life; vitality) Not only is this so (as if that’s not enough!), but we also boast (outshine) in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now (and forever) received reconciliation.

Let me summarize: God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) lavishly loves us. God the Son opened the door to relationship with God the Father; we were given the gift of God the Spirit–the very breath of God–so we can live with the life of Jesus–his energy, his vitality– coursing through our spirits. We have been and are being saved–made whole, healed, safe. We can flourish in wholeness through God’s shalom. We live in the place of God’s full and complete acceptance. We are fully embraced–completely loved and nothing will ever change that. When we truly believe this, how can we help but to outshine God’s love to everyone around us.

You are the light of the world–let your light so shine before all humankind that they see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. Rejoice! Outshine! Let’s light this place up with the cascading love of God!!!

–Luanne

Sunlight Beam Bursting In Erliao by Sunrise@dawn Photography

Roman Road Less Traveled: Abraham’s Faith

This week we continue building on the case Paul is making in his letter to the Roman church — “the righteous will live by faith…” (Romans 1:17). Paul introduced that concept in the first chapter, then dipped briefly into the “bad news”–none of us are righteous; and now, for the rest of Paul’s letter, we’ll focus on the “good news” of God’s unconditional love, manifested in Jesus, which makes us fully acceptable, and rightly related to God. This truth includes everyone, everywhere. The only thing required of us is to believe it to be true.

Each week of this series, we’ve written about the word righteousness (dikaiosynē) and what it means. I’m not going to write the definition out again, but it is imperative that we understand it, because in Paul’s letter to the Romans it appears in noun, adjective, or verb form 45 times! It’s a key theme.

Righteousness (dikaiosynē) is not self-righteousness. God’s righteousness leaves no room for comparison.

Luke chapter 18:9-14, highlights this very thing by teaching:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ ‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified (dikaioō) before God.”

This week, in Romans 4, we learn how Abraham became rightly related to God. Our key verses are 16-22, but I’m going to briefly summarize verses 1-15. Paul makes the case that Abraham, the father of of our faith through the genealogy of Jesus, was not righteous because of his actions, but because of his faith: Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:6). It wasn’t obedience to “the law” that connected Abraham to God. It had nothing to do with his behavior. It had everything to do with his faith. He believed the Lord. Period. That’s the key to being made right in God’s sight. It’s that simple.

Paul wrote in verses 14-16:

If God’s promise is only for those who obey the law, then faith is not necessary and the promise is pointless.  For the law always brings punishment on those who try to obey it. (The only way to avoid breaking the law is to have no law to break!) So the promise is received by faith. It is given as a free gift…(TPT)

Since Paul is using Abraham as an example to follow, what can we learn from Abraham’s example? Pastor John gave us some things to consider:

Abraham’s faith was in the person of God. We can each choose to relate to God as far off, unapproachable, ethereal–or we can draw near to the person of God. Abraham did not have the revelation of God in Christ that we have; however, he walked with God, heard from God, spoke to God, believed God–there was a real relationship there. Through this relationship, God made a promise to Abraham–sonless Abraham would be the father of many nations and all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him. Abraham believed God.

Paul doesn’t go into the entire story of Abraham in this passage, but if you are familiar with it, you know that Abraham wasn’t perfect. He became impatient and made some poor decisions as he sought to “help” God fulfill the promise. He bore the consequences of those actions, but God didn’t hold it against him, because God doesn’t hold our sins against us–and instead of highlighting that portion of Abraham’s story, God reminds us, through Paul, that Abraham believed God, and was therefore in right relationship with God.

Abraham had faith, yet was aware of the problem. The NIV translates it like this: …he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead…(4:19). Believing God doesn’t mean we deny the facts of a situation. It means we fully address the facts, but instead of focusing on the facts, we focus on God.

Years ago I did Henry Blackaby’s Bible study “Experiencing God” In that study, Blackaby taught what Jesus as Truth looks like. In the gospels, Blackaby asked us to identify what was “true”–what the facts were, and then what became True when Jesus stepped into the scene. For example: a widow’s son was dead–that was true; however, when Truth in the person of Jesus intervened, the widow’s son was raised to life. God’s Truth is ultimate, and, no matter what the facts are, he always has the final say.

A word of caution here–let’s not give in to the temptation to use “God has the final word” as a way of dismissing real suffering and pain. Jesus knew he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, yet he wept with the mourners. Acknowledging the facts means acknowledging the emotions that go with the facts, even while believing God always has the final say. It’s not helpful to say to a person whose marriage has just exploded “I can’t wait to see how God uses this.” Or to someone who’s just lost a loved one, “It must have been their time” or anything else that is dismissive. We face the facts and feel the emotions that go with those facts, even while acknowledging that God always has the final word.

Abraham’s faith was consistent. Abraham knew the facts, yet even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping (v. 18); Abraham’s faith did not weaken (v. 19); Abraham did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God (v. 20).

It can be immensely difficult for us to hold on to hope when we know “the facts”. It can be difficult to hope when there is no reason for hope. Wavering makes sense in these seasons–however, wavering is more than questioning. The King James Version says of Abraham: “he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief”. I like that translation. To stagger means walk or move unsteadily, as if about to fall (Oxford Dictionary). Abraham staggered not. He stayed steady.

Remaining steady reminds me of Jesus. In Luke 9:51 we read: As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. Jesus was steady in his walk with the Father even as he faced an incredibly difficult journey. As we know, Jesus agonized and asked God to remove the cup of suffering that was coming his way, yet he sought God’s will above his own and declared not my will, but yours be done. (Mark 14:36) Steady.

Paul knew this kind of journey as well. In Acts Chapter 20, Paul tells his friends in Ephesus that, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.  However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace…and they all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. (22-24; 37) Paul stayed steady despite hardship–his faith was in God, not the facts of his circumstances.

Faith faces the facts, holds on to hope and stays steady. The object of our belief is God; therefore, no matter what is going on in our lives, we can remain steady.

Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. The Passion Translation clarifies that phrase a bit:… Abraham’s… faith transferred God’s righteousness into his account Love that!

Notice that Abraham believed God. Beth Moore wrote a Bible study called Believing God in which she highlights the difference between believing in God, and believing God. We get a hint of what that difference looks like by going back Jesus’ words at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus closed that sermon by saying; Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice (acts on what they believe) is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock (it stayed steady). (Mt. 7:24-25, parenthesis mine)

We put into practice what we believe–all the time. We sit in chairs because we believe they will hold us. We press buttons (or turn keys) to start our cars because we believe they will start. We don’t fret that the sun will rise and set–we believe it will; therefore we plan our days. But when it comes to the things of God, do our actions reflect we actively believe him? Is God the object of our hope? Is God the object of our desires? Do we believe God is here, near, loves and accepts us (and those around us) right now? Do we complicate this beautiful simplicity by adding a list of requirements? Do we believe in God and live static lives, or do we actively believe God in every situation and live dynamic, hope-filled, fruit-bearing, God-loving and others-loving lives in the power of the Holy Spirit, despite the facts?

Do we believe God is who he says he is, and that he is 100% on humanity’s side? Do we believe God has gifted us with a beautiful relationship, and has deposited his righteousness (dikaiosynē) into our “account”? Do we believe we can draw on this account for life? Do we believe?

I believed God, and it was credited to me as righteousness. It’s really that simple…

–Luanne

In the presence of the God who creates out of nothing and holds the power to bring to life what is dead, Abraham believed… (Romans 4:17b, VOICE)

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed… (Romans 4:18a, NIV)

Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. (Romans 4:19, NIV)

And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. (Hebrews 11:12, NIV)

Paul, in sharing about the God in whom Abraham believed, wrote in verse 17 that he has the power to bring dead things to life. Paul, who knew the stories of Dorcas, of Jairus’ daughter, of Lazarus, and ultimately, of Jesus, wrote about God’s ability to bring the dead to life. He wrote about Abraham in hindsight.

But Abraham had never seen the dead come back to life when he believed…

Verse 18 tells us, “Against all hope,” he believed. Verse 19 says, “. . .he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead. . . and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.Hebrews 11:12 reiterates that Abraham was. “. . .as good as dead.” Yet, he believed. Why?

Abraham had never seen God speak life into something that was dead… but Abraham had seen God. His faith was in the person of God. Luanne wrote, “Abraham did not have the revelation of God in Christ that we have; however, he walked with God, heard from God, spoke to God, believed God…” He did not focus on the hope of a child. Nor did he ruminate on the impossibility of God’s promise to him being fulfilled in the natural–the scriptures make it clear that he saw the reality of death in himself and in the womb of his wife. His faith was not in an outcome.

He couldn’t conceive of how God would fulfill the promise. So he didn’t focus on the promise. He focused on God. He had “seen” him throughout their journey together, experienced him in undeniable ways. So he trusted that the God who had revealed himself to him so many times before would be that same God, even when all hope seemed lost and death loomed large.

What about us?

The path we walk is charted by faith, not by what we see with our eyes. (2 Corinthians 5:7, VOICE)

We look away from the natural realm and we fasten our gaze onto Jesus who birthed faith within us and who leads us forward into faith’s perfection… (Hebrews 12:2a, TPT)

Faith does not come from ourselves, but is birthed by the life of Jesus within us. As we “fasten our gaze” on Jesus, we are led by him into “faith’s perfection.” What is faith’s perfection?

Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. (Hebrews 11:1, NLT)

Faith shows us that what we hope for is real; faith provides the evidence within us of what we cannot see with our eyes. So, then, what is it that we hope for? What does the life of Jesus within us–our “faith”–provide evidence of?

The outcomes and expectations we’re naming-and-claiming? The fulfillment of our declarations of healing? The answer to our financial predicament? The spouse we’ve longed for? The prosperity we’ve dreamed of? The results we have worked for? These are all things we have hoped for, but not yet “seen,” right?

If these things, things not yet realities in our lives, are what we hope for–what we long to see become a reality as a result of our faith–we are living from a faith not rooted in the person of Jesus. The faith that is birthed in us by Jesus shows us the reality of God. Jesus, living in us, is the evidence of the God we cannot see. If God is what we hope for, what we long to see, our faith–made alive by the life of Christ within us–will grant us what we long for! We will see God!

We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen… (Colossians 1:15a, MSG)

Seeing‘ God is the reality of our faith. Jesus shows us God. He shows us what God is like. Perfectly. This is the faith that begins in us upon encountering Jesus. It is the faith that grows in us and leads us on. When we see him, we believe him. When our faith shows us the person and the character of God–his goodness, his love, his grace–we trust him. Our faith is in who God is, not what he does for us. We can trust in his character and believe in his goodness, even when things look hopeless. Even when things don’t turn out the way we had hoped. Even when, as Abraham’s story illustrates, something is “as good as dead.”

Have you found yourself there? In the middle of a story that feels impossible? Facing hopelessness? Feeling that something you long for is as good as dead? Maybe you’re there now. It’s a hard place to be. It can suck the air out of a room. It can drive us to despair. It can also reveal what is unseen…

My mom died six and a half years ago. There were two things I heard her say over and over again in the weeks leading up to her passing. The first was, “I love you.” She was extra generous with those words. But the other thing she repeated–I can still hear her voice as I type the words–was:

“Glory to God for the life that I’ve lived. I choose to live for him–whether it’s here or in heaven.”

She really, really believed God was going to heal her. She believed she had more life to live–here, with us. She also knew that the facts said otherwise. She faced the truth of her situation, acknowledged that her body was, “as good as dead,” and with a smile and sometimes tears, she’d say again,

“Glory to God for the life that I’ve lived. I choose to live for him–whether it’s here or in heaven.”

Mom’s faith was in the person of God. She had seen him because the faith Jesus had birthed and grown in her heart had revealed God to her time and time again. Her faith was in the person of God–not in her healing. Not even in his ability to heal her, although she believed in that, too. Her faith was rooted, grounded, steadied in who he is. Period.

I struggled during my mom’s last months and weeks to pray for healing. I knew that he could heal her. I wanted that. More than anything, I wanted her healthy and whole and with me for many more years. But as the disease progressed, I found I couldn’t pray the words. The reality of her failing body stared me in the face as her illness gained ground at a merciless pace. As her caretaker, I saw the realities. And praying for healing felt impossible. So I didn’t.

Instead, with shaky insides, I prayed for mercy. Over and over again, as I listened to her jagged, gasping breaths, I said only two words:

“Mercy, Jesus…”

And I trusted God to answer that fragile prayer according to who he is.

For a long while after we buried her, I felt the icy grip of shame and guilt squeeze my heart. I wondered if I should have prayed harder, believed more, found more faith somehow…

But here’s what’s true–real faith is not quantifiable. More faith doesn’t equal better results. Because the idea that faith can be measured is a lie. Faith is, or it isn’t. We have it, or we don’t. We don’t earn it, work for it, or “find” it somewhere. Faith is birthed in us by Jesus. Full stop.

My mom prayed that God would be glorified in the life she lived, and she believed in her healing–whether here or in heaven–because her faith was in the person and character of God, revealed to her by Jesus living within her, not in a particular outcome.

I prayed for mercy. Because my faith was in the person and character of God, revealed to me by Jesus living within me, not in a particular outcome.

Her faith wasn’t “big.” My faith wasn’t “small.” We were both steadied in the face of death by a faith that was in the person and character of God. HE is what we both hoped for. HE is who we longed to see. Our faith wasn’t contingent on seeing her healed. It was in the person of God, revealed perfectly in Jesus.

As we face an unknown future, friends, may the path we walk be charted by faith, not by what we see with our eyes. May we look away from the natural realm and fasten our gaze onto Jesus who birthed faith within us and who leads us forward into faith’s perfection. May we look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. May our hope be in our God alone, and may we, by faith, realize what we hope for; may we see him who we cannot see. And as we live in the presence of the God who creates out of nothing and holds the power to bring to life what is dead, may we believe, as Abraham did, that against all hope–there is still hope. Because God is still God. And our faith is in him. (Portions of: 2 Corinthians 5:7, Romans 4:17-18, Hebrews 11:1, Hebrews 12:2, Colossians 1:15)

As you face the days ahead, whatever they might hold,

May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord show you his kindness.
May he have mercy on you.
May the Lord watch over you and give you peace.
(Numbers 6:24-26, ICB)

–Laura

These flowers are growing after wildfires ravaged the landscape. Life out of what was dead…

New Growth after forest fire, Sand Dunes National Monument | Photo.net