I went to find a pitcher in the cupboard in the garage and saw a plastic jug that looked just the right size. I was in a rush, we were all thirsty. I needed tea, water and ice cubes. Then I remembered fondly the kids’ bath routine and how that jug used to wash little kids heads. I remembered the shampoo and soap that was stored there. As I picked it up, I saw soap scum on the handle. Ew. Very quickly, I snapped back in the moment and started looking for a clean, glass pitcher in the house. Our sweet lemon tea was prepared and placed on a freezer shelf for chilling.
Throughout the day I was thinking about the first plastic pitcher – I could not see this pitcher in any way other than a bathtub accessory and certainly did not want to fill it with lemon tea to drink. If however, it was cleaned out, it too could be an excellent vessel for our summer beverage. I had to look forward to it’s possibilities and not backwards to what it used to be or used to contain. I wonder if we do that to people as well? The believers at Pentecost must have been a crazy integrated bunch. They were not well thought of, even some viewing them as drunks, at least on that one day.
I think Pentecost was politically and spiritually kind of messy. The context was religious people murdering one another, factions, sects all keeping to their own camps, disciples hiding in an upper room, people fighting over holidays….Then love breaks through and everything changes. Some just could not see these folks reaching the world, they were unlikely, ordinary and from different walks of life. Maybe if they hadn’t spoken about being “world changers” people would have had lowered expectations of them.
Ice tea on a hot sunny day sure would be nice. A little elbow grease and that plastic jug could have watered many. When we only “see” things one way, we limit the vessel and the viewer. We look at the filthy jug instead of the thirsty people. We get stuck when we can only see things for what we are familiar with seeing. Take Romans 1 for example. Many have taken this passage to focus on others. The conversation quickly turns into “those” unsavory people doing unspeakable things. What if we looked at our part instead?
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.
Paul does not distance himself from the OT, in fact in 7:22 he says in his inner man he delights in the law of the Lord. He states that he will preach to the Greeks and the non-Greeks. Knowing the theological traps set before him and yet wanting to reach all the groups with the gospel he boldly says,
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to EVERYONE who believes, first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last (not static identification with any ideology, cause or group), just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
Martin Luther said “the Just shall live by faith”. He was one that chose God’s word rather than his political parties ideas. He stood out like a sore thumb but changed the course of religion as we know it today. I think that means we follow Jesus and not the herd. I think that means our loyalties are with the Christ instead of a denomination, political or spiritual group of people. We do what’s RIGHT rather than what is popular. Recently I felt the sting of not being part of the “us” and was treated like a “them” and it deeply hurt. Paul stayed in the middle ground and loved on everyone. Paul’s power came from the Gospel, his connection with Christ, not his traditions or habits.
What I saw this time reading Romans 1, floored me. We are told there, the ROOT cause of the sin. It wasn’t Netflix, Budweiser or the casino. It was:
- They suppressed the truth.
They talked about lesser gods and lesser things, omitting and covering the truth.
- They did not glorify or give thanks to God.
No reason is given but any reason will suffice, if it blocks your praise.
Tithing, church attendance, sabbath or communion practices are all voluntary spiritual activities, they are not salvific meaning they do not and cannot save us. We can add worship, fasting, acts of service in that mix as well. However, used as spiritual formation disciplines, they sure can put our minds in remembrance and our hearts in good posture to bless God. They can assist posturing us under the faucet of God’s grace, but they do not bring salvation – only the gospel does that. My literal friends would add only the cross of Christ and His payment is effectual.
So, preaching the Word and worship is premium–really important. Not just for warfare but for our emotional health as well. No wonder Paul wasn’t ashamed of the Gospel, it was salt (prevention) for society. Without those things people, even saved ones would begin to dissolve into gross darkness and lusts of every kind. It takes time to saturate in Gods’ word. The Psalmist David asked,”How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word.” (Psalm 119:9) GIVE ME SOME WORD! should be our daily cry.
If that is the antidote for not slipping into futile thinking – we need it in large doses.
Vulnerability is not my strong suit but I will share that one recent Sunday I made up my mind to not go to church. (It was a rough morning!) I had a good excuse no one would have questioned. Each Sunday I wake up and spend time in the word and worship, asking God to use me as His vessel in any way He chooses. Then I posture my heart by listening to worship songs and ask Him to direct me to people who need encouragement. Sometimes it’s a scripture, sometimes it’s a hug. I love Sundays! It has been thrilling to see God meet needs, give fruit, etc. But not this particular Sunday. I had valid hurt, a valid cause. A kind saint prayed with me and once again my heart was open to worship. There are times when you are so broken that triage is necessary. Reading Psalm 100 did not help that day as I read, “enter His gates with thanksgiving in your heart, enter His courts with praise.” After years of getting to church early, before the people showed up, I had taken on new habits. I had forgotten the importance of being a prayed up parishioner. God has grace for ministers too and if I could replay the morning I would have cried out to God in my van instead of coming into the sanctuary. I did not want to further disrupt anyone with my tears so decided to not go to the altar. Between physical aches that would prevent kneeling and emotional aches too distracting for public consumption, I decided to not take up anyone’s time that others might need. Oh the enemy of our souls is sneaky.
What I found however, is that there were a bunch of hurting people crying out to God and we all got loved on anyway. That day was my day to just fall into God’s grace. Loyal families surround, support and encourage those who are hurting. Healthy families are those who hear all voices, surround all members and each one is received whether rejoicing or grieving. Worship pries open the doors of our heart so love can rush in. Worship heals what the world, sin and culture wounds.
The pastor sent minsters out to the congregation to pray that day. He did not seem to care one bit it messed up his fancy altar. He did not pause to consider the choreography of the prayer team or the interruption of the praise team. He wanted every member reached. It’s almost like he followed a playbook from a higher leader. Lord Loyalty vs. religious rules. I’m not sure why we come forward for prayer or salvation when the biblical model is Jesus coming to meet us. I guess it’s a habit that we started thinking was sacred, so it was reproduced in American churches. Frail folk and disabled are expected to just jump in. Many don’t, even fearing such journeys so much they stay home. It might be time to “see” those processes in a new light too. Living by faith seems to be a flexible rather than stagnant model. What if our hearts rather than our altars were full each week?
“Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.” They did not think it worth their time, worthwhile, appropriate or valuable to (EXW, pronounced e-xoh) – a greek word that means to retain, remember, hold close or cling to the knowledge of God. In otherwords, they trivialized its efficacy and power.
They lessened the value of the knowledge of God.
How does the world learn how to retain the knowledge of God? Who will tell them what the knowledge of God means? Who will go and proclaim that the Gospel is power and needs to be read, heard and understood? The missing element is clinging to God’s word. They can’t retain something they’ve never heard first. Why isn’t it being preached, taught, loved and adored more in our churches , parks, homes or culture? When there is a famine of the Word, which there has been in America for some time, that void gets filled with the things listed in Romans 1. The word lessened means it is not learned, memorized or retained. Cause/ Effect. We suppress the word – the enemy of our souls provides a substitute. If we blame the substitute we must ask why is there a void in the first place.
Bible memorization is great but it can easily turn into boasting and competition. I’m not suggesting yet another ritual to add to the list. It also is not salvific. We need to live where we have a love for the word and things of God. All additions will either distract or impact depending on our heart posture. The things mentioned in Romans one are sometimes used to flog those who do not act in holy ways. However, Paul did not spend his time just looking at others sins but calls US to not be ashamed to present the truth. That’s the HUGE thing we are to note as a solution. Instead of pointing out others errors, we need to acknowledge our part. When the Church suppresses or diminishes the word, education of the word, study of the word, memorization of the word, etc. we are guilty of causing the void which transitions into futile thinking and carnal living. “Those guys” are not ruining America. According to Paul, WE are — guilty of suppressing the truth and lessening the value of the Word. That’s a chilling, startling thought.
Next time you want to judge someone else’s carnality ask yourself when you have suppressed or maybe mocked the truth, or those who present it? Do you promote the study of the word or suggest that it is not necessary? Do we rely on the “spirit” as a cover for fleshly or lazy lives? Do we donate to Bible colleges, evangelists? Next time you’re (we’re) tempted to feel superior let’s ask God to evaluate our gratefulness and thankfulness level. If word and worship fuels the holiness of a culture and provides a barrier from it eroding, then what part will we play in promoting rather than dissing it?
In order to see God clearly, we need the word. In order to see ourselves clearly, we need to worship. In order to see others clearly, we need to not be ashamed of the Gospel and share it. Popular, contemporary, cultural, epic, trendy…. are only fine if they are promoting the main thing – the Word.
Just how thirsty are you to see the culture, people and yourself change? It’s time for the Word, because it (the Gospel) is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel, the RIGHTEOUSNESS of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” That deep sweet peace that comes from resting in His payment, from living in His righteousness produces fruit and satisfies even the thirstiest soul.
When God gives the world a sweet fruit tree – we best be/find vessels, put us, them under the faucet and get to pouring. The folks are thirsty! Wash, Fill Drink – ya’ll it’s tea time.