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Futility & Decay

woman sitting on brown ledge while holding book

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. [Romans 8:19-22]

My car has some rust on it. I guess it should be expected; it isn’t new. It isn’t even close! It probably won’t be too much longer before something breaks, and a little while after that it will be done. That’s what happens with cars, though. They eventually break down and decay.

It isn’t just cars. It’s “all creation,” as Paul makes clear in Romans 8:20. All of creation has been subjected to futility and decay. Nothing lasts forever, not even people. We can plant a tree that might outlast us, but even that will eventually come crashing to the ground.

What’s the point of all this hardship, vanity, emptiness, decay, corruption, and rot? It is hard to believe, but God uses it to get us to hope in Jesus. All the bad is to ground us in hope. If we looked at the history of humanity and saw only progress and humans continuing to improve in every way all the time, we would be even more self-reliant than we already are. But as we look back in history, we see that all the great empires came to an end. We see that all great leaders died and gave way to not-so-great leaders. We see that corruption and decay and death is a universal problem.

And our universal problem anchors us in the universal hope of the Resurrection. On the 8th day, the first day of the new week, Jesus rose from the dead as a sign and guarantee that we can earnestly yearn and hope for the same reality.

But our world is still governed by futility and decay. How do we live, then? Well, the same way the creation does: yearning. We yearn for God, earnestly seeking and desiring God’s will and God’s ways. Even if the rust spots shine through or our cars break down, let us yearn for and seek out the Hope of the world.

Dear Father, we experience pain and loss and futility and decay. Yet we know that You are still God. Allow these things to drive us deeper and deeper into Your will. We yearn to see Your kingdom come and Your will be done. Guide us always in the light of Christ, Amen.


Accept No Substitutes (Part 3)

white ceramic teacup on white ceramic saucer on table

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

The genuine article, the original product, usually begins with a wonderful idea that comes at the right time. However, that original idea usually costs more than its imitators. But that’s all right if it works. If it works better than anything else, it’ll sell and we’ll be glad to tell others about it.

You’ve done this. You read the reviews, you asked your friends and you debated if you should buy it. You finally take the plunge and get it. And it works!  It works so well, you invent new reasons to use it. The new vacuum works so well, and it’s so light and easy to use, for the first week, you vacuum every day. The new dishwasher works so well, you make Tator Tot hot dish, just so you can put that pan through the wash cycle and see how clean it gets. I once won a pair of Snap-On screwdrivers and was amazed at how well they worked. That first day, I walked around the house, looking for doorknobs I could unscrew and then screw in again just for the fun of it.

When God gives us the genuine Gospel, we have this same three-part sequence:  An original idea, a great cost, and a wonderful result. But with the Gospel of Jesus, all three of these are unique. We have the amazing God who takes on human flesh to live among us—the ultimate original spiritual idea. We have the great cost of redeeming the world, but God pays that cost himself through the priceless death of his Son. And the result is as Paul says in our verse, we are set free by his work. We are delivered from the fear of death by his being willing to die. He gives us freedom from the demands of the law by fulfilling the law for us. And he lives within us and promises that this life is just the beginning. Heaven and eternity are waiting for us. This freedom changes us every day. We’re not endlessly trying to make amends to God or hoping to avoid him altogether. We’re the children he has adopted and the people he’s joined by taking on our human nature. And we’re the people he’s purchased so that we can stand in awe of the price but never stand underneath its debt. Instead we live with him in the freedom of his original Gospel message. This Gospel is unique and works like nothing else. That makes all the difference.

Heavenly Father, remind us of the unique gift of your Gospel. Remind us of the freedom that comes because of your sacrifice and help us to live lives that celebrate with thanks all that you’ve done for us. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.


Freedom Through Faith

assorted books on wooden table
“For freedom, Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”  Galatians 5:1
What is the high school class you would never take again? Maybe it was the subject, or maybe the teacher just didn’t connect with you.  Maybe you found you really have no rhythm, no artistic talent, and no eye-hand coordination.  So, do you want a second helping of Calculus, another semester of Senior Choir, or another eighteen weeks of Phy. Ed.? 

Absolutely not.

That is the mystery for Paul with the Galatians.  He has announced their freedom through the death and resurrection of Jesus. They are done with any attempt on their part to earn a right standing with God.  Now by the Gospel they’re free, released from jail.

So, who would go back to jail or to their worst class?  No one. But, still we’re tempted to do exactly that along with the Galatians. Whenever we think that all our patched-together promises will be kept, we’re stepping back into the worst failed class ever.

But we’ve learned better than that.  The only One who can keep the promises of a perfect life has already lived that life for us. He has passed every heavenly exam.  He was affirmed by God to be the perfect Son in whom the Father was pleased.  Now he gives that perfect standing to each of us. 

So faith says we can walk past that old classroom of broken promises.  We are already in relationship with God by his work alone.  Now enjoy the freedom of walking out the classroom door with the One who was perfect for our sake.
Our Heavenly Father, so often we foolishly try to go back to school, promising to get it right this time.  We imagine that that’s how we stay with you.  Remind us that we have a new freedom through faith.  You have kept every promise and filled every assignment for us.  Let us walk with you in the freedom of faith and trust in your perfection, In Jesus’ name, Amen.


Accept No Substitutes (Part 2)

Holy Bible on black wooden bench

 “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Galatians 4:4-5

The thing about original ideas is that they are usually expensive. Whoever first invents something and patents it gets to name the price. If it’s a great idea, it’s going to be expensive. Eventually someone is going to make a generic version of the same thing, but often it’s not the same. The substitute will be cheaper, but will it work the same? 

An example from years ago:  My Honda 750 motorcycle needed four new spark plug wires. The Honda dealer had only two original equipment wires from the NGK company, but he had two more wires from an after-market company. He promised me they were just as good. With no real choice I bought the two originals and the two after-market.

All four wires worked on sunny, dry days. But when it rained, the bike began to run on only two cylinders because the substitute wires short-circuited to the frame. Only the original NGK wires worked when soaking wet. I learned there was something to be said for original equipment, even when it cost a bit more.

That’s what we expect of original ideas. They’ll work but they’re going to cost more. Isn’t the wonder of the Gospel the fact that God pays the entire price for his original idea? Notice in the text that God’s Son, Son of God and born of Mary, comes to redeem us out from the burden of the law. He redeems us by paying the price himself. The purchase price of our souls would be beyond the payment plan any of us to imagine. So, God pays it entirely himself. This is another reason that the Gospel of Jesus is completely unique. Only Christians believe that we are saved completely by God’s work, God’s payment, and not our own. He doesn’t cost more. He doesn’t charge us less. God pays the entire ransom amount for us. That’s why Paul insists that we never accept a substitute belief that puts the burden of payment back on ourselves. God’s amazing original idea is to pay the entire price himself.

Heavenly Father, thank you for both the amazing plan to rescue us and for your willingness to pay the entire price. We can’t imagine the full cost of our redemption and we couldn’t come close to paying it. But thank you that you have already done this through Jesus. We pray in in his name, Amen.


Simple Life

photo of gray and black touring motorcycle on asphalt road
“I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  Galatians 2:20
Life should be so simple. I’ve been riding motorcycles since I was 14 years old—a long time ago—and I remember a motorcycle ad from the 1980’s that showed a virtually empty kitchen with only an old fridge, a plain, chrome leg kitchen table, two chairs and, in the middle of the kitchen, a beautiful new motorcycle.  The caption read:  “Life should be so simple.”
Now, I have never moved a motorcycle into the kitchen, but I understand the appeal.  Let’s get down to what matters and celebrate what we really love. 

Paul has this same direction in our verse.  He says that his life can be summed up in this one relationship.  He has joined his life with Christ and so many things that used to matter are gone.  Paul, the former Pharisee, gave up his pursuit of keeping a perfect record before God and admitted he would never achieve that.  Instead, he saw himself and his failures killed in the crucifixion of Jesus.  And the resurrection of Jesus was the resurrection of himself, a new person in God’s sight.  Good Friday was Paul’s death also and Easter was his start of a new life.

In the end, it comes down to love.  You only move the bike into the kitchen if you really love motorcycles—and you probably also live alone. Love is what makes this relationship with Christ, this new-every-day life.  Paul makes the simplest statement for us:  “The life I live, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.”  This is a love that doesn’t empty our lives; this love is what fills life.  Life is simple—with his love, life is full. 
Heavenly Father, thank you for the simple life.  When everything is busy and too full, thank you that you have one thing in the center of our lives.  You let us start new every day by faith with you. Make our relationship with you the one thing that matters. Fill the empty space in our lives with this truth:  You love us and have given yourself for us.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.