Monthly Archives: April 2014

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Wednesday, April 30, 2014 – In Spirit and in Truth…

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.  You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.  But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”         – John 4:21-24

The conversation between Jesus and the Woman of Samaria turned to worship.  The Jews and the Samaritans were divided in many ways, including by where and how true worship takes place.   When the woman recognized that Jesus had spiritual insight, she wanted to know who was correct.  Jesus’ response reframed the woman’s question and focused on the greater issue, the spiritual aspect of worship.  “The hour is coming and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth,” Jesus told her.

Just as in the previous chapter Jesus informed Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews, that a true life of faith – eternal and abundant – is possible only through spiritual re-birth, so too he tells this outcast woman of Samaria that the only way to worship God authentically is in spirit and in truth.   The teaching is clear, that worship is not about the place, not about the type of music, not about the preacher, not about the ritual – true worship is a matter of the heart and soul.

Jesus does not reject temple worship in this teaching.  Instead, he simply redefines the temple.  The temple was considered sacred space because God’s presence dwelt there.  In like manner, as believers come to faith and receive the Holy Spirit in their lives, their bodies become a dwelling place of God, a temple of the Lord.  Whereas in the Jerusalem Temple animals were sacrificed, so too there is sacrifice in spiritual worship – the old nature, the sin nature, the human nature is sacrificed, and lives are transformed by the work of God into the likeness of Christ.

New life is at the heart of true worship, Jesus teaches, and that worship is in spirit and in truth.

Good Father, lift my spirit above the things that distract me from true worship that I may open my life to worship you in spirit and in truth.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014 – When the Gospel Gets Personal

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”  The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly.”  The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.” – John 4:16-19

After attempting to engage the Samaritan woman in a conversation about spiritual matters, Jesus turned the conversation to a personal level.  “Go, call your husband, and come here,” Jesus said.  It seemed that Jesus knew the area of her life where there was pain and brokenness and neediness.  By asking about the woman’s husband, Jesus took the encounter to a deeper, more intimate level.

Don’t be surprised by Jesus’ inquiry.  The gospel always gets personal.  That’s part of what the incarnation is all about.  God gets personal.

It’s one thing, and relatively easy at that, to discuss theology, to talk about beliefs, even to probe the scriptures in an objective way.  It’s something altogether different to relate to the gospel on a personal level – to let it affect your passions, to challenge your prejudice, to elevate your loves, to inform your choices, to deepen your relationships.  Of course faith is not really quickened in our lives so long as we keep it at arm’s length, when it’s just a matter of discussing doctrine or debating dogma.  Faith comes alive when it gets personal, when it leads us to make changes.  That’s what happened with the woman of Samaria; that’s what happens with you and me.

Jesus moved the conversation from the theoretical to the personal, and faith came alive.  That’s pretty much the way the gospel works.

Lord Jesus, forgive me for trying to keep you and my faith at arm’s length.  Help me trust you enough to let you get personal with me.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

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Monday, April 28, 2014 – A Need-to-Know Basis

The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water?  Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?”  Jesus said to her, “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again,  but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” - John 4:11-15

As we read the encounter between Jesus and the woman of Samaria, it seems that the two are having completely different conversations.  Jesus is talking of an eternal spiritual kingdom of light; the Samaritan woman is talking about the harsh reality of her hard-scramble life.  When Jesus uses imagery of abundant water to offer her new life in God’s kingdom, she is ready to settle just for the water.   “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw,” she replies with great hope.

This kind of thing happens all the time.  There is a huge human tendency to seek comfort more than healing, ease more than insight, riches more than righteousness.  When offered a fulfilling life of meaning and purpose, healed of brokenness, redeemed from sin’s claim, this woman (as perhaps most of us would) just wanted life to be a bit easier.

Perhaps we understand the Samaritan woman because we too have a variety of needs.  Abraham Maslow posited a hierarchy of needs, which we ascend as our lower-level needs are met.

need hierarchy

Our needs for immediate survival overpower our needs for meaningful relationships.   Our needs for security overpower our needs for achieving excellence.  Once we have food and water, we can seek friendship.  Once we have meaningful relationships, we can seek self-esteem.  It seems to me that this woman responds to Jesus in genuine faith at her level of neediness.  Jesus does not denounce her for being needy on such a base level.  Instead, he uses her recognition of her need as an opportunity to claim the blessings of a life of faith in Christ.  It seems those aware of their needs are the ones most open to Christ’s offer of abundant life.

Good Father, you are the fount of every blessing, help me acknowledge my needs and find deeper faith in Christ.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

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Friday, April 25, 2014 – The Well Is Deep…

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”  The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep….” – John 4:10-11

John tells us that Jesus used his own physical thirst to reveal the spiritual thirst of the woman from Samaria.  He had asked her for a drink when she arrived to draw water from Jacob’s well.  When she expressed surprise that he had engaged her in conversation, Jesus invited her to seek the living water which he alone could provide.  Before acknowledging her spiritual longings, she pushed back Jesus’ offer in a way that revealed both misunderstanding and insight, “You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep.”

The Samaritan woman was misguided in her assessment of Jesus’ inability to provide water, for the water he was talking about required no bucket.  “Living water” springs from the heart of those who seek it through Christ Jesus, and it becomes a source of life in them just as a river provides life in a dry land.

The unnamed woman was correct, however, when she remarked that Jacob’s well was deep.  While she was speaking of the physical well, Jesus redirected her thoughts to show just how deep Jacob’s well of faith was – deeper than the divisions between the Jews and the Samaritans, deeper than the social norms that held men and women apart, deeper than the brokenness that brings pain and the sin that brings defeat.  Jesus’ offer to this woman was to drink deep from the well of faith to experience the deep, deep love and grace of God.

Good Father, remind me in the shallowness and limitation of life that your great love runs deep.  Amen.

a Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

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Thursday, April 24, 2014 – Caring and Carrying

There came a woman of Samar’ia to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”  For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.  The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samar’ia?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.   – John 4:7-9

John tells us that while Jesus was resting, a woman came to the well, and Jesus asked her for a drink of water.  It appears that Jesus was not only weary, he was also thirsty.  While these expressions of Jesus’ physiological needs are important, we can’t help imagining that they point to something greater.  Perhaps Jesus was weary of the prejudice and hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans, and maybe he was thirsty for reconciliation, justice, and peace.  On the other hand, perhaps Jesus’ neediness simply served to reveal a greater neediness of this Samaritan woman, who was weary from her hard life of disappointment, brokenness, and shame; and who was thirsty for acceptance, forgiveness, and love.  It could be that Jesus so identified with those who had been hated, mistreated, and cast out that he fully experienced the pain and burden this woman was carrying.

Whatever the back-story, Jesus entered into this woman’s world by expressing his own neediness.  He, a Jewish rabbi, asked this Samaritan woman for a drink of water.  She was shocked by his gentle intrusion into her life.  She had been told all her life that Jews had no dealings with Samaritans.  Jesus’ conversation with this outcast Samaritan woman challenged her worldview and changed her life.  It would have been comforting for Jesus simply to affirm that God cares about Samaritans.  It would have been amazing for her to hear that God cares about outcasts.  It was life-transforming for her to learn that Jesus carries her burden with her, feels her weariness, and knows her thirst for something more.

John Newton, the writer of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” said late in life as he approached death, “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things – that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior.”

Lord Jesus, thank you for caring about me and for carrying my burdens.  Amen

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…” – Isaiah 54:4

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014 – Rest for the Weary…

So he came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.  Jacob’s well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. – John 4:5-6

Jesus rested.  That’s what John tells us about Jesus as he journeyed across Samaria.  He was weary from his travels, and he rested.  Sometimes we can overlook the human side of Jesus, and, quite frankly, the gospels don’t tell us much about Jesus’ humanity.  In John we read that Jesus was tired, that Jesus wept over the death of his friend Lazarus, and that Jesus cried out on the cross, “I thirst.”  These are about the only glimpses we see of Jesus’ humanity.  All of this can cause us to consider what it means that Jesus was fully human and fully divine.  After all, if Jesus did not feel human emotions or struggle with the aches and pains of life, then surely he could not be like us.  Most of us could negotiate life effectively if we always knew the future, always knew the right answer, and only had to speak a word for a miracle to be performed.

But we read that Jesus grew weary under the noonday sun and he rested.  John tells us that Jesus shared our human experience, but he did so without sharing our human nature.  That is, his orientation was not toward self-advancement or personal pleasure.  His motivation was pure love – love for God and love for others.  It is his nature that makes Jesus divine, and his miraculous powers were simply manifestations of God’s work through him.  Of course, even here we find help for living.  When Jesus was weary from the world, he rested in his father’s care and keeping.  His was not an anxious rest, a fitful rest.  His was more a true Sabbatical rest, resting in God.  Likewise, Jesus rested in faith and trust.  It is not by accident that John tells us that Jesus sat down by Jacob’s Well.  Jesus was resting in the faith of all who had come before.  It is to this same rest that Jesus calls us when he says, “Come unto me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Lord Jesus, I know you must grow weary with me.  Continue your work in me that I may live like you, love like you… and even rest like you.  Amen.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014 – Breaking Down Walls of Hostility

He had to pass through Samaria.  So he came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.   – John 4:4-5

John tells us that Jesus travelled from Jerusalem to Samaria on his way to Galilee.  Note the geographic progression of Jesus in John’s Gospel.  After his baptism “beyond the Jordan,” he travelled to Cana of Galilee, a city unknown to the other Gospel writers and of uncertain location to scholars today, though many scholars place it close to Jesus’ home of Nazareth.  From there Jesus travelled to Jerusalem for the Passover, to the center of Judaism.  He then travelled along the Jordan and came into Samaria.  The setting often offers insight into deeper meaning in the fourth Gospel.  John writes of Jesus’ performing a transforming miracle (water to wine) in Cana then tells that he offers just such transformation to Judaism, first by cleansing the Temple, then by offering Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews, the life-transforming power of birth “from above” with the Holy Spirit.  Now, John reports that Jesus moves from the center to the fringe with the same offer.

The Gospel tells us that Jesus “had to pass through Samaria.”  Such is not necessarily the case, at least not logistically.  It is true that Samaria, home to hated half-breeds who claimed to be descendants of Jacob’s son Joseph, was geographically located between Judea in the south and Galilee in the north.  To go from Jerusalem in Judea to Cana of Galilee, the traveler would either have to pass through Samaria or journey on the east side of the Jordan River.  So great was the division between the Jews and the Samaritans that most pious Jews walked along the river to avoid setting foot on Samaritan soil.  John speaks of Jesus and his disciples being at the Jordan River just before they began their travels to Galilee, so it would have been expected that the group would follow the common practice of travelling along the east of the river, avoiding Samaria altogether.

Not so.  John tells us that Jesus “had to pass through Samaria.”  This requirement does not appear to be dictated by geography so much as by purpose, by intent, by commission.  Jesus journeyed on purpose from the center of the Jewish world into the misunderstood, hated, suspect world on the fringe – from Jerusalem to Samaria.

As faith is institutionalized, it is easy – almost natural – for it to spawn division, to create insiders and outsiders.  Even the disciples of John the Baptist and those of Jesus experienced such friction, as John tells us in the previous chapter.  God’s intention in sending Christ Jesus into this divided world was to “break down the dividing wall of hostility,” Paul writes in Ephesians, “so making peace.”  In order for him to do that, Jesus travelled to Jerusalem, and after that, “he had to pass through Samaria.”

Good Father, in the spirit and power of Jesus, help me to break down walls of hostility and to build bridges of trust.  Amen

“He is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility…” – Ephesians 2:14

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

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Monday, April 21, 2014 – Increase, Decrease

He must increase, but I must decrease.”  – John 3:30

It is not surprising that the followers of John wondered about things when Jesus launched his work.  While some people had responded to John, a far greater buzz surrounded Jesus.  John’s disciples expressed concern when Jesus’ popularity seemed to surpass John’s.  It must have bothered them that John had been preaching before Jesus, but now Jesus was getting all the attention.

The followers may have wondered about all of this, but neither Jesus nor John did.  They did not view each other as competitors.  Instead, they recognized that each of them was advancing God’s plan.  John expressed to his followers that Jesus’ rising popularity was actually a good thing, a God-directed thing.  “He must increase, but I must decrease,” John said in beautiful humility.  John told his followers that Jesus was the bridegroom, and he was merely the best man.  He knew Jesus to be the Christ, and he understood himself to be the prophet preparing his way.

This saying by John is not merely an expression of humility from the Baptizer, it is also an expression of the essence of coming to faith in Christ.  Entering into a saving relationship with our Lord requires us to subjugate our will to the greater will of God.  And as we grow in grace, we daily seek to allow Christ’s presence to grow stronger in our lives, that we might be transformed by Christ’s presence and become more like him every day.  “He must increase,” each of us confesses, “but I must decrease.”

Lord, I want to be like Jesus in my heart.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

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Sermon – “Take What You Want”

Take What you Want
a sermon about God’s Judgment by
Gorman Houston
Isaiah 5:1-7

Preached at First United Methodist Church
March 23, 2014

“Take what you want,” the sign in the quaint shop said, “Take what you want… and pay for it.” I wanted the sign.  They told me it was not for sale.

“Take what you want and pay for it.”  You can live by that saying; you can prosper by that saying; you can understand a whole lot about life just from that saying.

I see it all the time at the University in my talks with students. Some of them come to talk with me about their hopes and dreams and plans for life.  They have high goals, lofty ambitions, tremendous talent.  I remind them that every decision they make today has an impact on those long-term dreams.  They study for the test; they work hard on a project; they labor over a paper.  It’s not just for the grade – it’s the next step toward realizing their dream.  It’s not easy chasing a dream.  “Take what you want.”  “Take what you want in life… and pay for it.”

Of course there are other students I meet with – those who have spent the first part of the semester doing something other than studying.  They stay out too late, let deadlines slip by, spend too much time playing video games, sleep in rather than go to class…. But about this time of year, they realize that trouble is coming.  They come in looking for some help.  There is no help to be had.  I have coached several students this very week to withdraw from my class, because at this point even if they make a perfect score on the final, they will not pass.

The first year I taught, when students failed my class, I felt that I had failed as a teacher to engage them in the subject.  Jeanne is the seasoned teacher in our family.  She told me that by allowing the slackers to fail I was teaching them a valuable life lesson.  The lesson?  “Take what you want.”  “Take what you want… and pay for it.”

Of course this lesson applies not just to students but to us all, does it not?  Most of us want a comfortable, happy life.  What’s wrong with that?

Well, I have just about decided that happiness is the wrong pursuit.  Seeking a comfortable life and a happy family is simply a veiled expression of base hedonism.  It’s tough to make the hard decisions, to do the right thing when we’re just seeking happiness, when we are just trying to be comfortable.  Rarely do we find comfort in employing self-discipline, or when we are experiencing healthy grief or when we are struggling against our will to do the right thing.  Pursuing happiness can lead us down a broad way to dysfunction, and easy path to destruction.

I rather think that the right pursuit is a healthy life.  A family where our communication lines are open, where we have space to be who we are, where we are loved and nurtured and cared for, where dreams are shared and empowered, where we are held to high expectations – and where grace abounds.  Healthy lives.

Of course it costs a lot to have a family like that.  It’s not comfortable; it’s not easy; it’s not fun.  We have to invest ourselves in each other; we have to take time for each other, to listen to each other, to care for each other.  It takes time and self-sacrifice and endurance.  Often it’s easier just to just settle for “a comfortable, happy life.”  “Take what you want… and pay for it.”

Well this morning we are in the midst of our study of Noah, this wonderful story of a friendly ark builder and his floating zoo, this terrible story of a zealous prophet proclaiming the judgment of God, this frightening story of torrents and floods, this hopeful story of salvation and covenant and life.

The saga of Noah tells the story of salvation history.  When we talk about salvation, we are really talking about four distinct movements.

God creates
Sin destroys
Jesus redeems
The Holy Spirit perfects.

That’s salvation, and we see it all in the Noah saga.  That’s why this is such a great story for us to study during this Lenten season.  We see evidence of the creating, redeeming, and perfecting work of God in the midst of and in response to the deadly destruction of sin.

So how about the judgment of God?  We Methodists don’t preach on God’s judgment too terribly often.   For the most part we embody the old Piggly Wiggly brand of optimism, “As you go through life, my brother, what e‘er may be your goal, keep your eye upon the doughnut and not upon the hole.”  There’s no question we preach far more on grace than on sin, on forgiveness than on judgment.  But the problem is that if we don’t have a strong theology of sin we can never have a strong theology of salvation.  If we don’t grasp the judgment of God, we really can’t experience the life-giving grace of God.

And we find both in the story of Noah.  In Genesis 6 we read, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.So the Lord said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.”

Wow!  “I am sorry that I have made them.”  If you live with that one verse very long, it can bring you into deep self-reflection, into deep repentance.

In the story of the flood, we find the judgment of God.  God was sorry that he had created humans.  That’s God’s judgment.  God was grieved.  But in terms of the flood, how do we understand that in terms of God’s Judgment?

The ancient Hebrews understood that the earth was formed in the midst of water.  That God hollowed out space and held the waters back from above and from below to create earth.  Maybe you remember from Genesis 1 where we read that God “separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament,” and how God caused the dry land to appear.  To these ancient Hebrews, the earth existed only because God actively held back the waters from above the earth and the waters from below the earth from flooding it.  The story of the flood, then, is an expression of the judgment of God – that God just quit holding back the waters, that God allowed the waters to do what they would do without his active protection.

This is important for us to understand, because we can think of God’s judgment as being God’s action to strike us down, to destroy his creation.  But over an again in the scriptures we find that God’s judgment is not so much God’s active work to destroy, as God’s passive work of letting nature have its way….of letting us have our way.  You see, it’s sin that destroys – not God.  God simply allows sin to have its way.  God’s judgment is simply this, “Take what you want…and pay for it.”

Isn’t that what we heard in our passage from Isaiah this morning?  It’s a story of God’s judgment.  Did you hear it?  It is, of all things, a love song.  The prophet Isaiah tells of how the vinedresser prepared a vineyard on a fertile hill.  He speaks tenderly of how the land was cleared of all stones and weeds and vines, of how a hedge was built round about it to protect it from the wild, of how a watchtower was built in the midst of it to care for it, and of how choice vines – luxuriant vines – the finest vines were planted. And he tells how the vinedresser cared for the vineyard and kept it clean and beautiful, awaiting the choice grapes to ripen.  But alas, the vine produced sour grapes, wild grapes, perhaps even poisonous grapes.

The vinedresser did not create this garden for toxic grapes.  So what will he do?  What more could he have done?  If care and attention and protection were what was needed, the vine would have produced an abundance of good grapes, but poison was produced instead.  But notice that the vine dresser did not destroy the vineyard.  He did not burn it.  He just said, if you want to be wild, you can be wild.  “I will remove its hedge,” the vinedresser said.  “I will break down its wall…it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns.”

Isaiah is telling us that God’s judgment is that God is heart-broken.  And then, it’s not that God acts to destroy.  God doesn’t have to act to destroy.  Our sinful nature destroys.  God simply pulls back, let’s us have our way, let’s us choose our course, let’s us reap what we sow, let’s us take what we want… and pay for it.

God creates…. Sin destroys

Sometimes we can think that the grace of God simply means that God doesn’t care about our sin.  That it really doesn’t matter at all.  Friends, if our sin doesn’t matter at all, then the cross of Christ doesn’t matter at all.  If our sin doesn’t matter at all, then Easter doesn’t matter at all.  If our sin doesn’t matter at all, then Jesus died for absolutely nothing.

Surely our sin matters.  Surely our sin grieves God’s heart.  Surely, we cannot simply wink at our sin or rationalize our sin or walk away from our sin.  Don’t overlook God’s judgment.

“Take what you want… and pay for it.”  That’s God’s judgment to you and to me.  “Take what you want… and pay for it.”  There’s great truth in the simple statement.

But here is my problem.  I can’t pay.  I can never pay for it.  Not unlike you, I’m a sinner by nature and by choice.  I cannot pay for it.  When it comes to my salvation, I’m bankrupt.  I’m in over my head.  I’m upside down.  I can never pay the price.  How about you?

When I was growing up, our family not only went to church on Sunday mornings, we went back to church on Sunday nights, for a second helping, I guess.  Some of you know Sunday night church.  It was in Sunday night church where I learned the hymns in the old Cokesbury hymnal.  A lot of the times, the congregation would call out the hymn number, and “Miss Lillie” would play it and we would sing along.  Often someone, like Mr. Atlas Molnar would call out, “Number 103.”  We all knew number 103, “Rock of Ages.”  I never really liked “Rock of Ages,” but there is one stanza of that hymn that has incredible power, especially the way it is laid out in the Cokesbury hymnal.

Could my tears forever flow,
Could my zeal no languor know,
These for sin could not atone
Thou must save, and Thou alone:
In my hand no price I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling.

“Take what you want,” the sign said, “And pay for it.”  That’s a life lesson for us.  We do well to heed it.  But when it comes to our sin, when it comes to God’s judgment, we do well to look to the cross of Christ Jesus.  “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.”

The cross tells us that God is a God of judgment; the cross tells us that sin destroys; the cross tells us that Jesus redeems; the cross tells us that 2,000 years ago Jesus Christ settled your debt and mine right there on Calvary.  He became the sacrifice, he paid the price.

Take what you want, and pay for it.

In my hand no price I bring.  Simply to thy cross I cling. 

Monday, April 14, 2014 – No Condemnation

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”    – John 3:17-18

Sometimes people hear bad news when good news is offered.  When the gospel tells us of God’s offer of new life, some people come to the conclusion that God has issued an ultimatum – either they accept God’s gift or God will condemn them to torment.  Such a view makes salvation comparable to spiritual extortion and paints God as a spiritual dictator.  Though widely held, these beliefs could not be farther from the image the scriptures give us of God and his offer of salvation.  “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him,” we read in John 3:17.  God’s purpose was not to bring judgment and condemnation but rather to offer life, hope, and salvation.  And God did this for two reasons – God’s great love for creation and creation’s great need for God.

It is important to note that God doesn’t have to condemn humanity, that’s the natural human state.  We read in John, “Those who do not believe are condemned already.”  The truth offered here is that God comes to us in our state of condemnation.  Both scripture and experience make it clear that humans are born into a sinful nature.  As egoists we naturally pursue our own best interest, often blindly and in ways that show little regard for anyone else.  As hedonists we actively seek personal pleasure and avoid personal pain.

Religious law, moral law, and even the laws of the state serve to constrain sin, to manage sinful nature.  The best the law can do is to transform our self-interest into enlightened self-interest, but the law is powerless to transform our hearts and motives and lives.

It was for that very purpose that God sent his son into the world.  Through the power of God’s grace and through the work of God’s own Holy Spirit, human hearts are changed.  By working deep within us, God’s grace can raise our purposes, our pursuits, and our passions.  No longer bound by natural instincts for survival, we are freed by God’s grace to seek out the highest, the purest, the noblest, and the best.

The Gospel assures us that God comes to us not with a frightening threat of condemnation but with a gracious offer of freedom and life – salvation through Christ Jesus.

Just as I am without one plea
but that thy blood was shed for me
and that thou bidst me come to thee.
O Lamb of God, I come.  Amen.

“For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.” – 1 Corinthians 15:22

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston