2 Corinthians 5:18-21 – “Mr. Fix-It”…

2 Corinthians 5:18-21 – “Mr. Fix-It”…

“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” – 2 Corinthians 5:18-21ESV

I’m a problem solver. Like… a huge one. I see something wrong, and I feel like since I notice it, I must be responsible for fixing it or at least getting involved. I know the jokes are usually about men always wanting to “fix” things, instead of just listening, but sometimes when people share their life challenges with me, I have to mentally force myself not to jump into “fix it” mind.

When that comes to ministry or relationship issues in my own life, that means I tend to go straight to relying on my own intelligence or experiences to find a solution. I look at what outcome I’d like to see and start strategizing out how to get there. See what’s going wrong, already?

Me… I’m what’s wrong.

You see… what if God cares more about the outcome than I can imagine? What if He is actually working toward a solution, and my arrogant interventions to “save the day”, without reference to Him, are actually just causing grief for myself and the very people I am trying to help? What if, instead of relying on myself and my intelligence, I relied on God?

You see…we cannot have healthy relationships, healthy self-image, or meaningful lives relying on our own abilities. That is why in 2 Corinthians 5:18-21, God calls us to be reconciled to Him. Before we can even be reconciled to others, we need to be connected and woven into who He says we are. We need Him. We need Him to heal us, we need Him to guide us, we need Him to help anyone else.

So you fixers are now already fixing, aren’t you? You’re trying to figure out how you can reconcile yourself to God so you can get on with business! But the reality is God has already done that work in Christ. While we were “enemies of God”, Jesus let His broken body die on a wooden cross in ancient Palestine (Romans 5:10ESV).

In this Christ, we “become the righteousness of God”, able to live in reconciliation with others and bring healing to our world (2 Corinthians 5:21ESV). Yes…you read that right. We are God’s righteousness on earth; we are an image of a life made in relationship to the God who made us. And that is a life laid upon you by God to set you free to let Him lead. He’s the one who fixes it…and He lets us join in.

  1. Looking at your own life, how are you a “fixer”?
  2. What do you tend to rely on to fix things in your life?
  3. If we’re really just going along with God in His great work to fix all things, how does that change how you look at the “broken” things in your life?
  4. Challenge for the Week: On a sticky note or note card, write the words “Pray First” and put it where you will see it daily. Use it as a reminder to lay the things you want to fix in God’s hands, first.
Matthew 26:26-30 – Blood of life…

Matthew 26:26-30 – Blood of life…

“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’ And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” – Matthew 26:26-30ESV

In the United States, it seems like Christians are kind of in love with the idea the United States was a Christian paradise at one time. We were once this place where it was safe and okay to live out our lives in obedience to Christ without criticism from the world around us. But is that really true, or is that a rationale we have to deal with how sidelined Christian values are becoming in our culture?

Certainly Christianity was less controversial in our country at one time. It was expected people were part of a church community as a social norm and subscribed at least publicly to Christian ethics. But does that necessarily translate to it being “easy” to be Christian “back then”? Does that mean the lifestyle of one who follows Christ was ever anything but controversial? I’m not sure it does. Even in 1940s and 1950s America, a man who didn’t curse, didn’t smoke, didn’t “chase skirts”, and maybe even didn’t drink was a shocking anomaly. Go back even farther to the British Empire, and while the gentry and nobility were expected to attend church on Sunday, it wasn’t “fashionable” to be fervently religious.

In fact, a life modeled after Christ is perhaps designed intentionally to be the very opposite of “comfortable” at any time in our world. After all, the one we follow tended to shock people. Even the most religious of the day. Even those who thought they had a finger on what it meant to follow Him: the disciples.

In Matthew 26, we tend to gloss over some of what was really going on in this scene. Jesus establishes the practice of communion, offering a cup of wine as his blood and a loaf of bread as His body. This practice, where we believe, in some way we can’t understand, that Jesus physically comes to us in wine-that-is-also-blood and bread-that-is-also-flesh, is central to our faith. We focus on this as a comfortable, familiar piece of our life in Christ.

Yet this communion was anything but comfortable for the disciples…because Jesus said, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood.” 

This single phrase would have been shocking… disturbing… especially from the one they followed as the Son of God. And it’s not because of them merely finding it tasteless to drink blood. It’s because God expressly forbade the drinking of blood in Leviticus 17:14. The very idea of drinking blood was anathema.

And Jesus never explains Himself. Never explains away the controversy to make the disciples more comfortable with it. As far as we can tell, He proceeds with this First Communion. And the disciples go with Him, stepping boldly into the breech without any recorded objections to what He offered them.

That, perhaps, is the unifying truth about Christianity we can point to at every instance in history. Not that it was easier once or less controversial. I don’t know if that’s ever been true. Rather, what we can say with confidence is Jesus has always called us to a life of controversy. To be Christian is to, in some way, defy the rules society tries to bind around us. Christians answering the call of Christ have fought to free slaves in defiance of the entire British government, shared Christ and His forgiveness with Japanese war criminals, sheltered Jews against the Nazis authorities, gave voice to the unborn when the law does not, and a million other acts of defiance for the sake of Christ and His work here.

Yet we don’t pursue controversy for the sake of “making a scene”. Rather… it is a side effect of holding out in our trembling hands the life of Christ we have been given. We bring Life to our world when we serve Christ because we point people to the God who inspires us.

Just as Jesus did. For as Leviticus 17:14 states, “the life of every creature is its blood”, and whose blood is offered in Matthew 26 and in every communion ever since? The blood of Christ, the Son of God.

In offering this controversial cup… Christ offered us His blood. The life of Jesus Messiah, Son of God…Creator.

  1. How is Christianity controversial in our society? Try to avoid politics and stick to what about Christianity itself people disagree with.
  2. What values of Christianity do you agree with, but struggle to openly follow in our culture?
  3. If being Christian is, and always has been, controversial, why is it often portrayed as the “boring, normal path”?
  4. Challenge for the Week: Pick one of the values of Christianity you subscribe to that other people find controversial. In a non-political, non-argumentative way, find one way to live into that value in an open way this week. Then do it!
Isaiah 64:6-9 – I’m doing all right

Isaiah 64:6-9 – I’m doing all right

“We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Be not so terribly angry, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people.” – Isaiah 64:6-9ESV

I was raised in the foothills of northern Colorado. Contrary to how much of it is now, when I was a child is was a quiet place. You didn’t often hear cars going by, and you could be woken up in the night by packs of coyotes running down the street. Even mountain lions would come down to terrorize peoples’ dogs and horses.

What I remember most about that part of my life was the wind. The wind can be powerful, even dangerous, in the foothills. Storms build up on the peaks, sending wind tearing down from thousands of feet, down the face of the mountains to create microbursts of wind up to 100mph. To give you an idea, it took my dad three tries to put up a flag pole strong enough to not bend in half due to the winds. We raised chickens when I was growing up, and it wasn’t uncommon to look outside and see the wind blow a chicken (upside-down) across the back yard to the fence line. We’ve had sustained winds in Colorado blowing fast enough to match even a Category 5 hurricane. We don’t joke about wind around here.

So when I read in Isaiah 64:6ESV, We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away”… it gives me pause. As Christians, we spend a lot of time trying to figure out what God wants us to do. We’re very preoccupied with “living right” and “avoiding sin”. And admittedly, when our motivation is love, these are important things to pursue. Love for God and others should drive us to battle sin and live as God has called us to live. How can we, who have been so freed by God, bow to the power of sin without a fight?

But therein also lies the temptation to another sin: arrogance.

As our external messes come under management, it’s easy to acquire a sense of satisfaction in our own righteousness. I’m not even saying the kind of self-righteousness which elevates itself above others, but just the sort of self-satisfaction that says, “I’m doing all right.” In other words, we are tempted to congratulate ourselves on all the ways we have succeeded in managing our sinfulness. The danger is then, when we step before the altar to confess our sins before receiving the Lord’s body and blood at Communion…we can’t think specifically of anything to mention. And if our sin is small…so is our Savior. When we are unable to recognize how desperately we need Christ, He is inevitably diminished in our eyes… a situation ripe for Satan’s meddling.

Yet the power of our sin is compared to the wind. Wind that throws over trains, rips off roofs, and throws hikers to their deaths. Wind is what leads to the destructive power of hurricanes. Wind, over time, even wears down the very peaks of mountains. And, “like the wind our sins sweep us away” (Isaiah 64:6bNIV). Before the power of sin, we are helpless to stand. It tears at us, takes our feet out from under us…and drags us where we do not want to go. To death.

And we have no power to stop it.

But there is One who can. Who did. Who does.

Outside little Bethlehem, two thousand years ago…a teenage girl and her new husband huddled together in a cave, surrounded by animals sheltering from the cool of an early spring night…to usher the Savior into the world. Angels announced His coming. Starlight shone in brilliance to draw His witnesses. And overshadowing it all was the cross at Calvary, the place where our sins would finally be stopped by the work of Jesus Christ.

He is the bulwark against the wind. He is the only one through Whom we defeat the power of sin in our lives. It is not our doing.

It is Christ alone.

  • When was the last time you confessed your sins and truly felt you had something worth confessing?
  • Do you find it easy to feel your are “doing well” when it comes to sin management?
  • Where in your life do you think you have been dishonest with God in your struggle with sin?
  • Challenge for the Week: Pay attention for moments when you find yourself resisting sin successfully. Instead of focusing on yourself, intentionally stop and focus on praising and thanking God for the power of Christ and His forgiveness.

Luke 13:1-9 – The Patient God

“About this time Jesus was informed that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple. ‘Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?’Jesus asked. ‘Is that why they suffered? Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God. And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too.’ Then Jesus told this story: ‘A man planted a fig tree in his garden and came again and again to see if there was any fruit on it, but he was always disappointed. Finally, he said to his gardener, ‘”I’ve waited three years, and there hasn’t been a single fig! Cut it down. It’s just taking up space in the garden.” The gardener answered, “Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer. If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down.”‘” – Luke 13:1-9NLT

When my parents bought the house they live in now, I was five years old. There were maybe ten trees on their property in rural Colorado, part of the fence was falling down, years of junk and old branches were piled in the pasture, there was almost no living lawn left, and there were years of cigarette stains on the walls and in the carpet. My parents certainly bought into a lot of work, and while some buy fix-up properties and pay others to transform them into dreams come true shortly afterward, that wasn’t an option for my family.

Instead, my dad made something that became notorious in my family… “the List”. I don’t know if it ever actually existed in a written-down form or if it was merely in my dad’s head, but we referred to “the List” with the same familiarity of having written copies. This list detailed all the things my dad wanted to do or dreamed to do to transform our home into what he knew it could be. It was a vision, a goal of what our home could be like that we all patiently worked toward year after year.

Motivated by his vision, we planted hundreds of trees (and hand-watered them for years until he got drip irrigation!), cleaned out the pasture, repaired the fences, replanted and sodded the lawn, painted the house (inside and out), remodeled the bathrooms and kitchens…”the List” goes on. Even today, my dad still has more he wants to do, dedicatedly continuing the process of transformation to make his home something wonderful. From those first days, he saw what could be in our little home…and he had the patience to take years to make it a reality.

If only we had so much patience for ourselves…for one another. When it comes to our own growth or the growth of people around us as believers, we tend to have less patience. It’s almost as though we view God as this angry, ominous figure, either sitting off in the distance looking down at us with disappointment, or looming over us, ready to send his cosmic fist down through the atmosphere to pile-drive us into oblivion. We tend to view Him as only a “righteous judge”, keeping tally of how well we are avoiding (or at least hiding) our sin and being “good Christians.”

You may protest, that you know God doesn’t judge us by our sins but by the love of Jesus, who died and rose from the dead. I won’t argue that you know it, but rather…that we so often effectively live as though God is angry with us or about to be. We look at suffering in our life, or in our world, and we say, “God is punishing us.”

But in the end of Luke 13:1-9, Jesus tells an entirely different narrative about who God is. In this parable, God the Father is the owner of the garden, we are the tree, and Jesus is the gardener. Like the tree, we are nurtured in the shelter of God’s garden. Yes, there are storms in our lives, just like weather can come to a garden, but unlike wild trees, gardened trees are nurtured and giving nutrients to make it easier for them to grow. They are protected from people who might try to cut them down. The gardener and owner pay attention to the needs of the tree of a garden.

Now this particular tree (a fig) is three years old by the time the owner of the garden is frustrated that, after years of work and gentle care, the tree still shows no sign of the care it has received in fruit on its branches. Not even a single fig! It should be noted most fig trees begin fruiting in their second year, so the owner has already given this tree an extra year to fruit when he goes to the gardener to cut it down. Even then, the tree receives even more patience, for the gardener (like Jesus for us), intervenes with the owner to give the slow-growing fig tree another year. Not only that, he promises to give the fig tree even MORE attentive care to try and bring it to fruit. And fig trees need a lot of care. If they grow too fast, they can also split, killing the tree.

We do not have an angry God-in-the-sky looking down at us, disappointed we aren’t better people, punishing us for failing to live up to perfection. We have a patient God, who spends each day with us, eager to see us grow and bear fruit and willing to do the work to help us get there. Yes, He wants our lives to reflect the loving, caring relationship He has with us. He wants our lives to show the fruit of knowing Him, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22&23). But this fruit doesn’t come from us “being perfect” to avoid God’s wrath. This fruit comes from a God who comes “again and again to see if there [is] any fruit” and gives us “special attention and plenty of fertilizer”. In other words, transformation is a gift we receive as we know and walk with the Master of the Garden, the Savior of our souls.

  1. Look at Galatians 5:22&23. Have you ever tried to be more of one of these characteristics? How successful were you?
  2. Have you ever wondered if God is punishing you for something you’ve done wrong? How did that impact your relationship with God?
  3. If a changed life comes from increasing intimacy with Jesus, where do you think you could make more time to connect with Jesus in your daily life?
  4. Challenge for the week: whenever you get in the car to go somewhere this week, spend part of the drive talking to Jesus as though you were talking to your best friend about what’s going on in your life.