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Tuesday

Christian cross-pollination can be refreshing




The Body of Christ is a remarkable thing. And a little mixing and matching of traditions and Christian cultures can shake and wake and invigorate us in remarkable ways … if we are open to it.


“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4, NIV)


This past weekend, I had the privilege of visiting a church that is very different from the one we usually attend. Our church is very simple in service and structure, in d├ęcor and decorum. This other congregation meets in a much more ornate and old-fashioned edifice and follows a long-lasting liturgical arrangement that follows the high church calendar for each week of the year. Instead of wearing neatly pressed khakis and crisp button-down shirts, the clergy members don glistening vestments.

And did I mention they had a wonderful choir? (Our church has a worship team, which generally includes about a half a dozen singers and musicians. They are gifted and serve well. But, oh. I love a good choir.)

Very different indeed.

Upon entering the sanctuary, I gazed at the gorgeous woodwork and the remarkable stained glass windows, which pictured Jesus and His 12 apostles in action. I found this incredibly stirring.

As the service progressed, I must admit I struggled a bit to keep up with the sitting and kneeling and standing and the juggling of the pew Bible and prayer book. But the words struck me, again and again.

The printed confession, which we read aloud, was spot-on and convicting. The pastoral response, recounting God’s great grace, soothed my soul. In the end, I was most impacted by the recitation of the Apostle’s Creed.


I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic* Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.


*This didn’t happen to be a Catholic church, although perhaps it could have been. Generically, the word “catholic” means diverse, varied, and universal.

The order of worship also included the Lord’s Prayer. Another highlight was the Passing of the Peace, perhaps the most casual portion of the rather formal proceedings. Although we’ve attended our current church for more than two years now, I was amazed to find that more people (by the dozen) greeted me than ever do in our home congregation. I cannot remember shaking so many hands in one setting.

Surely, this church visiting experience brought back sweet memories of my childhood in church, as I was raised in a congregation that visited these classic Christian contents weekly. In the past few decades, I’ve mostly attended churches that rarely included them. It’s not that these churches didn’t embrace the meanings of them. They simply focused on other means of expression.

But the richness of truth in tradition was not lost on me this week.

I began pondering how many times I recited the Apostles Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and even familiar Bible passages robotically, rather than meaningfully.

Cross-pollination can be healthy sometimes, I think.

Technically, cross-pollination occurs when two plants share genetic content to produce altered offspring. It cannot occur between species, only between two varieties of the same species. Beans can cross-pollinate with beans, but not with Brussels sprouts.

In the church, this happens when different denominations mix and bless one another.

I was blessed to catch a little glimpse of what that feels like. And I look forward to an eternity of it someday, when all our tenets and traditions are swallowed in fully revealed truth. For we will see Him as He is and know as we are known and worship in full spirit and understanding.


“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24, NIV)


Image/s:
Graphic title from public domain artwork
Stained Glass Window – public domain


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Saturday

Will God let everybody into Heaven?




This earnest question comes up again and again. Theologians and philosophers have debated it longer than history can record.

How can a loving God refuse to welcome anyone into Heaven?

Maybe we’re looking at this from the wrong angle. I used to ask this question a lot. Then, rather suddenly, a thought stopped me cold.

Bear with me, while I unpack this.

God is love. The Bible says so in hundreds of ways. (See 1 John 4:8 and 4:16.) He created man in His own image for relationship. (See Genesis 1:27.)

God doesn’t want anyone to miss out on Heaven. (See 2 Peter 3:9.) Yep, that’s because He loves us. And He wants nothing more than for us to love Him back.

But love can’t be forced. It’s gotta be a choice, or it’s not really love.

Imagine a lover that sets his sight on the object of his affection. He captures his beloved and drags her into his home to live with him forever. Is that love? (It sounds sort of scary.)

What if God did that?

Would a truly loving God snatch us against our will and hold us as prisoners, even in such a magnificent spot as Heaven is sure to be? If God really loves us, how could He insist that we spend eternity with Him, if we don’t want to?

God’s invitation has already been issued.

First, let's be real. Heaven is God’s. The whole thing is totally up to Him, no matter how we try to wrangle the possibilities.

Yet, in His great love, God offers Heaven to all who earnestly desire to recognize our fallenness, accept His immeasurable gift of extravagant grace (bought by the Lord’s own sacrifice), and look forward to everlasting life in His presence.

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. (Romans 1:16, NIV)

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Romans 10:9-10, NIV)

What about hell?

Despite its many depictions in art, books, movies, and other media, we don’t actually know a lot about what hell is like. (Maybe we don’t need to.) What is hell, but the total absence of God and all that is beautiful and good and loving and pure and right?

We don’t have a clear image of Heaven yet, either. Still, no matter how we try to paint pictures of Paradise, its most important feature is the glorious presence of the Ancient of Days. Nothing else matters.

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live. (Deuteronomy 30:19, NIV)

It seems the choice is pretty straightforward. Each person must decide: Do I want to spend eternity with God or without Him? Do I want to love Him and be loved by Him or go it alone, wherever that leads?

Image/s:
Adapted from public domain artwork


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Friday

What if we had to wear our sins like labels?




It’s hard to graduate from high school without reading The Scarlet Letter. Many have seen movie adaptations of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel. That’s the story in which Hester Prynne was made to wear a bright red “A” on the front of her clothing to display her sin of adultery. (Her partner in crime, so to speak, had not been found out, so he was not subject to the same public shaming.) As if Hester’s protruding pregnant belly did not sufficiently telegraph her condition, the dreaded scarlet letter made her situation clear to all.

All around her, the presumably pious turned up their noses at Hester, pointing their fingers and wagging their tongues at her visible sinfulness.

It’s easy to hear such a story without personalizing it. We can skim along, swiftly turning the pages and thinking we are altogether different. We like to think we are worlds apart from Hester and the haughty townspeople.

But we’re not. Maybe we carry less obvious sins. But any one of us could wear a letter or two.  How about “E” for envy? “G” for greed?  “P” for pride?



What if we all wore our sins for all to see?

Thank God we do not. In His mercy, He does not expose us in such a way. At least, He usually doesn’t. Most often, He draws us back with kindness. If we don't respond to that, He follows up with  loving discipline, aiming to restore us to walking with Him.

And we are relieved that our sins have not been broadcast.

But we wonder about the really wicked people. We recoil from those who do the most dastardly deeds and seem to get away with their crimes. Why is hypocrisy so often kept covered? Why doesn’t God expose sinners for who they really are?

Ouch. Maybe that’s all of us –to some degree.

God doesn’t measure righteousness in degrees. Either we’re righteous, or we’re not. And we’re not – not on our own.

Although we may seek a semblance of comfort in keeping certain sins private, the Bible clearly says no sin is hidden from God. He is fully aware of everything we do, every word we speak, and every thought we roll about in our minds. He knows our attitudes, whether or not they come out in our actions.

Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy. (Proverbs 28:13, NIV)

In vain, we try to stash our rebellions, refusing to confess them to the Almighty. Because of His absolute righteousness, sin cannot fellowship with Him. We may fool ourselves, and we may even fool one another, but we’re not fooling God.

 My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from me, nor is their sin concealed from my eyes. (Jeremiah 16:17, NIV)

We’ve gotta have grace.

Truth does come out in time – in God’s time.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8, NIV)

Why does God seem to allow sin to be secret, even for a time?

Maybe He refrains from trumpeting our sins all about because He graciously awaits our turning to Him. And it’s a fair bet He doesn’t want to give sin any extra airtime.

But I am pretty sure the Lord knows us all well enough to know that we’d likely judge one another even more harshly, if we all wore our most secret sins like nametags. Then we’d have to wear extra name tags that read:

“holier-than-thou hypocrite”

“Pharisee wannabee”

 “pretender at perfection”

“self-appointed judge”

and the like.

The world would run out of nametags.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9, NIV)

Glory to God, who tears up the nametags of sin, when we come to Him. He writes His own Name on our hearts (see Hebrews 8:10) and writes our names in His heavenly Book of Life (see Revelation 13:9). And He calls us by much better names that those dirty old sin labels. He calls each of us:

blood-bought

child of the living God

healed

joint heir with Christ

loved

precious

ransomed

redeemed

restored

saved

and so much more.

Image/s:
Adapted from public domain artwork


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