Doing What We Hate

By Chuck Griffin

In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul takes note of a strange situation Christians will find themselves in from time to time. We continue to sin despite feeling deep revulsion afterward.

Before finding salvation, we sinned in ignorance. After our conversions, we should know better, and yet we ignore what the Holy Spirit whispers to our hearts.

 “I do not understand my own actions,” Paul writes in the seventh chapter of Romans. “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

His ensuing meditation, using terms like “sinful flesh” and life “according to the Spirit,” can be a bit confusing to interpret and understand. Think of his argument this way: There is the way the world without Christ worked, and there is the way a world redeemed and restored by Christ works now.

Unfortunately, the old world still creeps in, largely because our not-yet-resurrected bodies still carry within them a brokenness that Christ will one day completely drive out. If we’re not careful, we find ourselves conflicted, doing what we know is wrong, even doing what we hate.

I think most of us instinctively relate to what Paul is saying. For each person, the sin may be different, but its commission inevitably brings a sense of physical sickness, shame, and the question, “Why on earth did I just do that?”

The sin could be as simple as haughtiness or sudden flashes of anger, or as elaborate and dangerously progressive as greed or lust.

Here’s the interesting twist in Paul’s letter: He doesn’t offer some elaborate plan to escape this problem. Instead, he shows us a simple two-step solution.

First, we have to admit our brokenness, in the process giving up what is perhaps one of the great sins of American culture, extreme self-reliance.

“Wretched man that I am!” Paul writes. “Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

Second, remember the one who has saved you, the one who continues to mold you and change you and make you a little more holy each day, if only you will let him.

“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Paul writes.

I note in particular that Paul’s statement is celebratory, a reminder that Christ already has defeated Satan and the eternal death he otherwise would impose on us.

We simply have to accept the spoils of a battle already won, the power God grants us through the Holy Spirit to resist sin. Those spoils are there for the taking, stored in Scripture and the direct access we have to God through prayer.

Dear Lord, move us toward consistent and conclusive victory over sin, and let times of temptation be when we turn toward you, not away. Amen.

What Must Be Done

Ezra 9:5-9 (NRSV)

At the evening sacrifice I got up from my fasting, with my garments and my mantle torn, and fell on my knees, spread out my hands to the Lord my God, and said,

“O my God, I am too ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. From the days of our ancestors to this day we have been deep in guilt, and for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been handed over to the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as is now the case. But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the Lord our God, who has left us a remnant, and given us a stake in his holy place, in order that he may brighten our eyes and grant us a little sustenance in our slavery. For we are slaves; yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to give us new life to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judea and Jerusalem.”


By Chuck Griffin

Ezra dropped to his knees to do what must be done from time to time, to do what the people as a whole had failed to do. He repented and sought forgiveness.

Because of their sins, God’s chosen people found themselves enslaved, their way of life decimated. But a glimmer of hope had appeared, the potential to rebuild what had been a glorious temple. And yet, Ezra observed, the people of Israel continued to defy God.

The specific sin causing Ezra grief sounds strange to us today. The Israelites were to be a people set apart, a lesson in holiness to all the world. But instead they had begun to intermarry with the people around them, in the process adopting other gods and unholy practices. The real problem was that they had moved away from God and toward idolatry.

The principle remains the same for us. We are to search for what pleases God and what displeases God, practicing the former and avoiding the latter. Our Holy Bible gives us our baseline for understanding sin, something our broken minds cannot sort out on their own. In our New Testament, we receive refined guidance about sin from Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit working within the early Christian church.

Ignoring this guidance brings grave danger. Our best response is to search our actions and even our thoughts to see where we may deviate from what God desires. We truly practice a religion of the heart.

Such an examination of ourselves should lead us where Ezra went—on our knees, in a state of repentance. Living much later than Ezra in God’s grand story of redemption, we know that because of the work of Jesus Christ, forgiveness, change and hope lie ahead.

A call to such piety is not popular, I know. Sadly, there are people among us who have established themselves as preachers while preaching the opposite.

Their opinions do not change the word of God, however, and they do not remove the need for thoughtful searching of our souls and serious repentance.

Lord, reveal to us through your holy word and directly in prayer where we displease you, and then show us a better way. Amen.

Confident Hope

Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.

—Romans 12:12 (NLT)


By Chuck Griffin

If we are able to understand what our confident hope is, this becomes a simple verse to live by.

Paul wrote these words in a chapter of Romans where he also talked about making our bodies a living and holy sacrifice. Paul regularly spoke of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross as the central message of Christianity, and it is clear he wants us completely “sold out” on the idea, committed to its meaning in good times and bad.

The cross, of course, means freedom for us. Think of your sins for a moment; briefly experience them as the crushing weight they should be. (I feel a slight shudder when I do this.) Now remember, that weight has been lifted by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross! Sin should lead to death, but both have been defeated by Christ.

Thus, the resurrection, the Easter event. It is our proof the cross is effective, and a promise of what is in store for us.

The cross also is the source of our confidence. We certainly will experience negative and even frightening moments in this life, but the fear they are somehow terminal, a full-stop end, is unjustified. We will pass through—life goes on, even after our bodily deaths.

This great truth of Christianity should shape every moment of our lives. Even in sorrow, joy lingers nearby because the truth of our salvation is constant.

Romans 12:12 is a simple Bible verse worth memorizing.

Lord, keep the cross before us in all circumstances. Amen.

All

Romans 3:21-26 (NRSV)
But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.


Politicians and social media participants happily point out which group is at fault in these divided times.  No matter where we are on the political spectrum, we can blame the other side for the wrongs done in our society. In doing so, we might even feel as if our very existence has been justified.

When our local church reopened for in-person worship recently, we tried something different for the pews.  We decided to use ribbon to mark off which pews we can use.  The ladies who tied the bows for the ribbons did a marvelous job, but after thanking them for their work, I noticed something peculiar.

Earlier, when I had shown them what I envisioned, I had used a roll of blue ribbon to demonstrate.  They had other colors available, too: pastel green, pastel pink, and red.  When they were finished, we ended up with blue ribbons on the left side and red ribbons on the right. It was not a preplanned political statement; it just happened that way.

I mentioned this when we were back in our first in-person worship service.  I lightheartedly said that the Democrats did not have to sit on the left, nor did the Republicans have to sit on the right.  I finished my remarks by saying, “All sinners are welcome here.”

The only way we can be justified is by faith in Jesus Christ.  All of us, no matter the political persuasion, can receive redemption that comes through him.  Being lumped together by faith in Jesus Christ surely gives us a different perspective on life, even our political life.

Lord God, you want all to believe in Jesus Christ so all may be in your kingdom.  Our arbitrary divisions of political class do not change the fact that all of us are sinners.  Use the righteousness that you have given us through faith in Christ to heal the relationships in our local church, our community, and our nation.  For we realize we can only be found in your kingdom by being in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Not Much Has Changed

Daniel 9:1-14

In the first year of Darius son of Ahasuerus, by birth a Mede, who became king over the realm of the Chaldeans— in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to the prophet Jeremiah, must be fulfilled for the devastation of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.

Then I turned to the Lord God, to seek an answer by prayer and supplication with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying,

“Ah, Lord, great and awesome God, keeping covenant and steadfast love with those who love you and keep your commandments, we have sinned and done wrong, acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and ordinances. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.

“Righteousness is on your side, O Lord, but open shame, as at this day, falls on us, the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. Open shame, O Lord, falls on us, our kings, our officials, and our ancestors, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him, and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by following his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.

“All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. So the curse and the oath written in the law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against you. He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our rulers, by bringing upon us a calamity so great that what has been done against Jerusalem has never before been done under the whole heaven. Just as it is written in the law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us. We did not entreat the favor of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and reflecting on his fidelity. So the Lord kept watch over this calamity until he brought it upon us. Indeed, the Lord our God is right in all that he has done; for we have disobeyed his voice.”


It was a different time and a different nation.  Yet, the prayer that Daniel prayed is one that can be prayed by each generation and each nation. 

Daniel’s prayer is called a prayer of confession.  We can have shame upon our nation for we have sinned against God.  From our rulers to even the ones reading this devotion, we all have sinned.  Paul will even remind us in Romans that we are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God.

As Methodist Christians, we realize the importance of repentance.  For when we repent, we are responding to God’s prevenient grace. 

Our confession of our sins, iniquities, and wickedness allows God to give us new birth through faith in Jesus Christ.  It is hard to realize that we have brought calamity upon ourselves.  Yet, thankfully, turning to God in faith we find the forgiveness that he has already prepared for us.

God, we are sinners here in America.  We have not listened to you.  Now, we are listening to you.  We admit we have done wrong by you and our neighbors.  Let us know your forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Do No Harm

For at least a few weeks, I want to try something a little different with our Monday devotionals. Monday should be a good day to focus on a Christian behavior we can then practice throughout the week.

Here’s our text for this Monday:

Romans 12:17-18 (NLT): Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

John Wesley summarized the Christian life with three simple rules for living, rules emphasized heavily in the early days of Methodism. They remain just as valuable today. Let’s consider the first one this week.

Rule No. 1: Do no harm.

The first rule sounds more like avoidance than action, until you consider how intentional a person must be to live it out in full. The world is full of evil, and it’s not unusual to find ourselves wanting to compromise our Christian standards to combat that evil.

In rare situations, such compromise is unavoidable. Otherwise, all Christians would have quickly begun to live as pacifists. I’m going to assume and pray, however, that none of you will find yourself in such a rare circumstance this week.

Going about our everyday lives, let’s try to assess each of our decisions with “do no harm” in mind. Who around us is touched by our actions? Where we gain, does someone lose?

What might we have to surrender to avoid doing harm? A little self-denial might be an important part of our week.

This all sounds a bit cerebral, but what we’re aiming for is an attitude that infects others. As “do no harm” becomes the standard within a community, its members begin to find themselves in a state of mutual care, and from there, those rare, compromise-inducing situations should become even rarer.

In many ways, this is a kingdom-building exercise, the first of three common to Methodism.

Lord, we pray this so often, but let our eyes see and our ears hear. Amen.

Fight My Enemies

“The Angel Michael Binding Satan,” W. Blake, circa 1805

Psalm 35:1-10

I hope you’ll take time to read these verses from Psalm 35, which can be found by clicking the above link. You can examine the psalm in different translations, if you want.

If you are someone who believes others are working against you, acting as your enemies, this psalm makes an excellent prayer to God for assistance. It creates a stirring mental picture when read; imagine the eternally powerful and wise Lord of All arming himself for battle and coming to your aid.

A word of caution, though. Praying this psalm is no magic trick, no casual incantation. Our God cannot be trapped and contained the way people believed (and still believe) pagan, little “g” gods can be controlled.

There are some serious actions that must accompany such a prayer. First and foremost, people who would lift it need to do some deep soul-searching, examining whether they have aligned themselves with the Lord. Scripture would be their best source of guidance, of course. Is what they desire precisely what God desires?

Do their tormentors, as unrighteous as they may seem, have anything resembling a valid point to make? Might they, too, be in at least partial agreement with God, and might that mean there is a place for reconciliation, for middle ground?

As Paul reminds us in Romans 3:10-12, “There is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, there is not even one.”

We are all dependent on Jesus Christ and his sacrifice on the cross for salvation. Any righteousness we have flows from our belief in the cross. Any success we might have in praying this Psalm 35 prayer would be rooted in our faith, and a willingness to also pray for our enemies, just as Jesus taught us.

Dear Lord, as we meditate on our relationship with you, may we find ways to escape hostility and be rejoined to our enemies, seeking peace. Amen.

Faith in Jesus

Romans 9:6-18 (NRSV)

It is not as though the word of God had failed. For not all Israelites truly belong to Israel, and not all of Abraham’s children are his true descendants; but “It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as descendants.

For this is what the promise said, “About this time I will return and Sarah shall have a son.” Nor is that all; something similar happened to Rebecca when she had conceived children by one husband, our ancestor Isaac. Even before they had been born or had done anything good or bad (so that God’s purpose of election might continue, not by works but by his call) she was told, “The elder shall serve the younger.” As it is written,


“I have loved Jacob,
but I have hated Esau.”


What then are we to say? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses,


“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”


So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy. For the scripture says to Pharaoh, “I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he chooses, and he hardens the heart of whomever he chooses.


God has mercy. God has compassion.

God has called all of us to himself. That is mercy.

Some of us have believed the Lord. We live in the promises that God has for those who have faith. We live like Abraham, and like Rebecca. This life of having faith is how we receive God’s compassion.

When we refuse the mercy of God, then we do not receive his compassion. We harden our hearts when we refuse God’s mercy. It behooves us to believe in Jesus Christ so we can not only know mercy, but so we may know and receive compassion from God.


Lord, sometimes we hear people say that you are mean. Yet, because we believe in Jesus, we know that you have mercy and compassion for us. May our lives be filled with your compassion as our faith in Jesus grows deeper and stronger. We lift people to you who have refused your mercy. Use our lives to show your mercy to this world. May our friends and family accept your promises in Jesus Christ. It is in the name of Jesus that we pray, amen.

Peace

Romans 5:1: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Let’s continue exploring the four big themes of the season of Advent. Today, we will consider the concept of peace.

When we talk about biblical peace, we don’t just mean a feeling of bliss. Biblical peace is more akin to peace between nations that have been at war. When they agree to peace, they end hostilities and seek new possibilities for their relationship.

Through his sacrifice, Jesus ended the state of war between God and humanity. Humans brought on this terrible situation by sinning against God, creating a state of unholiness that called for our destruction. Through Jesus Christ, God made a unilateral offering of peace, restoring our ability to relate to our creator.

To accept the offer, we simply look to the cross and believe, accepting that the work done there is complete and irrevocable.

Now, don’t get me wrong, a state of peace does also bring a feeling of bliss. The threat of destruction is removed.

In terms of emotional responses, there’s more, too. But that’s for tomorrow.

Lord, thank you for the tremendous offer of peace made to us when you had all the power and divine privilege. Amen.

Hope

For the rest of this week, let’s consider the four themes of the Advent season—hope, peace, joy and love—which are usually captured in readings during the lighting of candles on the Advent wreath each Sunday.

As odd as it might seem, Romans 5:1-4 ties hope among the believers to suffering:

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

I find it helpful to realize that suffering can have a point, so long as we continue in our faith that God’s promises have come true and will continue to come true.

Whatever we are experiencing, we learn to say in stronger and more authoritative ways, “Yes, this situation is bad, but it is temporary. God has promised that evil and all of its effects will be overcome.”

The light at the end of the tunnel isn’t a train. There’s no trick in store for us. The light of Christ is bearing down on us, coming to our rescue.

Hope also serves as a great evangelism tool. When people look at a Christian and say, “I want what that person has,” odds are the believer is exhibiting hope. People long to know that there is a potential happy ending to every story, and they particularly want to know how to ensure they can take part in that ending.

It is the basic role of every Christian to project hope where people may find themselves in despair. Where will we demonstrate hope today?

Lord, we don’t like to suffer, but thank you for being there in the midst of suffering, helping us to turn it into something good on behalf of your kingdom. Amen.