Freedom IN CHRIST

Monday, September 25, 2017

Romans 8-1-2

Romans has always been one of my favorite books of the Bible. God speaks through Paul so powerfully and his words paint such a beautiful portrait of the Gospel. Romans 1-7 seems to just lay it all out and to sum it up, he shares the Gospel story like this: holy God, sinful man, coming wrath, perfect Savior, Jesus Christ crucified and risen, justification by faith, sanctification by faith.

Paul drives home his message in Romans 8:1-2.

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, because the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin in death.”

That’s it. That’s the central, foundational message of God to the world. The message that we preach. The message that we take to the nations and to our neighbors. The message that we lay down our lives for: there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because Christ has set us free.

If you have grown up in church like me, we can sometimes get used to this message. We hear over and over again the message of “freedom in Christ” and too often discount the weight of that phrase. Freedom in Christ– this message should never grow stale! Every day that we walk this Earth, we should be reminded of our freedom found only in Christ. We are free. We are free from death. We are free from finding our satisfaction in this world. We are free from the weight of sin, just as we are free from the eternal consequences of sin. And it’s only because of Jesus Christ that we are we are free.

And although we strive to obey God and walk in the Spirit, we will constantly find ourselves falling short. It is at these times that we must remember the beginning of Romans 8:1 that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” But because of Jesus’s great victory, there is now no condemnation for believers. Our sins and failures do not cause the Lord to give up on us or to love us any less, because we are secure in Christ.  In this security found in Christ, we live a life of faith and repentance, continually serving the Lord and putting sin to death.

Tomorrow, we will continue to dive into Romans 8, talking about what it means to put sin to death. It is my prayer that today we will rejoice in our freedom that is found only in Christ.

-Jennie Montgomery

 

And, in case you missed Jennie’s Sunday intro video (sorry for that techie glitch) …

Here it is – enjoy!

Advertisements

A Vibrant Conversation with the Living God

Jeremiah 29-13

Closing (Saturday)

 

It’s been another fun week of digging through scripture to hear the word that God is speaking to us today. When we dive into the Word and start investigating the trail of inspiration and hope that it has left throughout the years, we are engaging in a vibrant conversation with the living God. We are engaging the One who is alive and active still. This week, our look at Mark 9-16 has brought out a number of themes that I’d like to just tie together quickly for us.

First, the gospels are texts that were written to be heard and to be engaged with as a whole – much like a novel. Like any good author, Mark is weaving together numerous strands of thought and repeating patterns for us to pick up on as we engage with the story of Jesus’s life. Knowing this, we can bring together the various things that Mark is trying to teach us.

In Mark 9, we are encouraged to acknowledge and embrace the places where we question and have doubt. It’s a part of the life of faith. We are pushed to not just accept our unbelief, but to express it and call out for a grace that will see us through it. In Mark 10, the request for help is answered. With the end of the messianic secret, Jesus restores sight and illuminates the darkness (the darkness of unbelief). In Mark 11 & 12, Jesus starts turning over tables. He challenges injustice and urges us to do the same. We are called to use our new sight to break the cycles of brokenness in the world and give all that we have to aid those who are in need. In Mark 13 & 14, we are urged to be on the alert. To remain vigilant in our new sight and be prepared for the suffering that will come our way. In Mark 16, Mark urges us to new life beyond suffering and tells us to go out into the world to find where Jesus has already gone and is currently waiting.

Mark’s gospel lays out a call to life that is tangible, realistic, and filled with hope for believers. My hope for you is that your life is filled with as much grace and love as this gospel commands.

-Graysen Pack

Searching for Jesus

Mark 16:1-8 (Friday)

Mark 16-6

On the Sunday after Jesus was crucified, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James & Salome went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body.  They went first thing, right as the sun was rising (as early as they could and still respect the Sabbath).  When they reach the tomb, they find the stone rolled away and a young man in white telling them Jesus was raised from the dead and was no longer here.  He tells them go and tell Jesus’s disciples and Peter that “He is going ahead of you to Galilee to meet you there.”  So the two women fled from the tomb in astonishment and trembling, saying nothing.

And that is how the oldest versions of Mark end.  That’s it.  All the rest of chapter 16 (verses 9 – 20) were added afterwards.  No appearances of the risen Jesus.  No commission to the world.  No ascending up to heaven.  Just an empty tomb and silence.

What in the world is Mark doing?!  If this were a movie, it would easily be one of the worst movie endings of all time.  And that includes some pretty unsatisfying movie endings (Inception, X-Men 3, Matrix Reloaded…).  BUT, as we’ve seen, Mark isn’t a crummy writer.  Remember his artful use of “stay alert” and his plot timings in the Temple?  Mark knew how to craft a remarkable story and to tell it with purpose.  I believe that Mark was up to something here that makes me like this older ending more than the extended one (it’s like the original vs the extended edition).  Here’s my take on Mark’s original ending.

First, we – as the reader/audience – are in the know.  From the very beginning we know that Jesus has been raised and that the church emerged as his followers continued his work.  So we know what happened.  Because we know that the church exists and that the disciples continued the work, we know that Mary & Mary weren’t silent forever.  The word spread and the gospel message grew.  I think that Mark is using our knowledge of this as a way to emphasize the irony of this moment and as a challenge for the audience to do what they know wasn’t done: DON’T BE SILENT!  Spread the good news!  From the first verses, Mark is preparing us to speak out; to be the voice in the wilderness shouting out.  We are meant to take the message forth to take up the responsibility we know we have but that is left unfulfilled in the text.

Second, the audience is meant to experience the suffering and despair of the crucifixion – not just for Jesus but for his followers as well.  Mark leaves us unsatisfied as a tool for helping us step into the shoes of those who were living this out in real time.  We experience the uncertainty and trepidation that comes with uncertainty.  BUT we still must move in light of that uncertainty.  Which then becomes faith.  Faith is belief in things unseen.  In Mark’s gospel, that faith is put into the text literally with the absence of the risen Christ.  If Mark wasn’t written until the disciples and witnesses of Jesus were all dying, then it was for an audience that would have never seen Jesus face to face.  Their faith isn’t based on some encounter with a man but an encounter with his love in the community he started.  Mark’s original ending helps us feel the void of uncertainty (what happens in our lives all the time) but also move us to a faith that is open to uncertainty and still demands that we act anyways.

Finally, I think that Mark is leaving the story in our hands.  The man in the tomb says, “Jesus is going ahead of you; there you will see him.”  Jesus isn’t in heaven in this story.  Jesus is out there – in the world.  Waiting for us.  We have to go find him.  We have to search for him.  We have to take this story and find Jesus in the love and grace and truth of a community that is searching together in the world.  This is my favorite idea in Mark; that this ending calls us to go forth and live a life for Christ so that we might find him.  But where can we find Christ?  We’ll find him in the orphan we adopt, the prisoner we visit, the poor we protect, the immigrant we give refuge, the sick we heal, the hungry we feed, and the oppressed we redeem.  I know that Jesus is in heaven now, and I can’t see heaven.  But I can see the Kingdom of God – the good news he came to spread – break into this world bit by bit when I live out the life I was created to live.  Jesus is out there, waiting for us to come and serve and find him.

Now Mark says, what are you going to do?  Will you remain here, quiet?  Or will you go and be a part of the work God is doing?

-Graysen Pack

What to Do with Doubt

Mark 9:14-32 (Monday)

Mark 9 24

None of Scripture was intended to be read.  Although that may seem strange to us today, the ability to read was incredibly rare.  For today, it’d be like having a doctorate.  There are a number of professor’s out there, but you don’t run into them every day.  Reading just wasn’t something most people needed to be able to do to get through their day.  The agricultural and craftsman lifestyles didn’t need to keep many notes themselves.  As a result, the writings, when they were used, were usually read aloud in a collective setting – and this is key.  Because Scripture is meant to be heard – not read!  All those with EARS, let them HEAR.

Because of this, there weren’t any of the nifty little headings that we find in our Bibles today.  It was just one long story without breaks or chapters.  So, the nice breaks that we often get around stories didn’t exist except for the past few hundred years.  For today’s reading, both of these things are really important.

These two vignettes in Mark 9:14-32 (the healing of the child and the misunderstanding of the disciples) come back to back and would have been heard that way by Mark’s original audience.  So, what I’d like you to do is try it.  Take just a second to read these verses out loud. If you’re somewhere public, just try whispering if you want.  But read it out loud and see what sticks out to you.  I’ll wait here and I’ll do it too…

[waiting]

So, how was it?  Awkward? Weird?  Probably a little.  But when I did it something new really stood out to me about this passage.  In the first story, a man comes to Jesus asking for healing for his son. Jesus responds ‘oh you faithless people…how much longer do I have to put up with you.  Bring me the boy.’  The father, distraught over Jesus’ seemingly kinda cruel response, cries out – ‘I want to believe! Please help my unbelief!’  He wants to save his son and will do whatever it takes to save him.

The next story is between Jesus and his disciples.  He’s teaching them about what’s going to happen to him when he reaches Jerusalem.  But they don’t get it.  They don’t have belief/faith, just like the dad in the previous story.  However, instead of putting aside their pride and asking for Jesus to help their unbelief (lack of understanding), they stay silent.

Here, in these few verses, a man from “this faithless generation” reaches out, pleads, and finds Jesus meeting him in his unbelief while the ones who are part of Jesus’ own inner-circle remain unmoved in their faithlessness.  And this at a time when Jesus’s time with them was literally drawing short.

The problem with this is never unbelief.  The problem is how we respond to it.  We won’t have all the answers.  We will doubt and question.  Jesus doesn’t lament our struggle – it is one that he himself walked through (for he shared in all things but without sin).  Embrace the places where you are unsure.  Lean into the spots where the struggle is the most real and you are shaken like the son in the story.  Push forward and call out for a help, a grace that will fill us in our uncertainty and bring healing.

-Graysen Pack

The Storms of Life

Mark 4

Mark 4 41b

As I write this, masses are evacuating Florida in the anticipation of Hurricane Irma. By the time you read this, I hope that the storm has passed and that the loss will be minimal. I pray for the recovery teams who will be in the areas doing their best to help families begin to put lives back together.

 

In Mark 4 we read about another storm. One that scared the disciples beyond anything that they had ever experienced before. This huge squall was both a test and a teachable moment. Jesus was testing the men’s faith and trust in the Son of God. Jesus also used this time to teach the men the extent of His great power. If these men had any doubts before about who Jesus was and what He was able to do, His calming the winds and the waves certainly would have clarified any misconceptions, don’t you think?

 

I think that we all have to experience a storm or two in our relationship with Jesus in order to find out what our faith is made of. I can think of several of you who I personally know and the storms that Jesus has lead you through and how it has reinforced your faith. I too have been tossed about in a violent storm and the only thing I knew to do was to call out to Jesus. I’ve had my share of nights where the only thing that brought my mind enough peace was to sleep with an open Bible on my bed and my hand literally resting on God’s promises. I’ve had days when anxiety was so great within me that the only thing that could keep the negative thinking at bay was to read Scripture out loud for hours on end.

 

If you are not currently experiencing a storm, then now is the time to make sure that you are in the Word daily and living out your faith while the waters are calm. 2 Timothy 1:14 says, “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”

 

If you are living through a storm right now, hang on tight. Hebrews 4:14 encourages us with this: “Therefore, since we have a great High Priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith that we profess.”

 

I many not know the details of your personal storm, but I do know the One who is powerful enough to keep our boats from overturning. And He certainly will bring you through to the other side. Believe. Trust. Love. Obey.

 

-Bethany Ligon

 

Wanna Go Fishin’?

Mark 1

Mark 1-17

I used to own a pair of fish that my best friend gave me. I thought I was a decent fish owner. But then I went off to Australia for three weeks and when I returned, I came home to find that the slow-release food supply that I put into the tank, didn’t dissolve. My poor fish starved to death. Oops.

 

So your reservation to take seriously any of my mentioning of fish, fishing, or fishermen would totally be understandable.

 

But I ask that you hear me out, just this once, for this particular topic. Afterall, I did my due diligence and Googled some information.

 

Mark 1:17 says, “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”

 

Being a fisherman was way back then and continues even today to be a daily job. Likewise, as we follow Jesus daily, our casting of nets should happen every day we are around others. If we are called to be fishers of men, all of our interactions need to be with the purpose of building relationships and showing others, verbally and nonverbally, what life with Jesus as our Lord looks like.

 

Peter and Andrew knew when the best time to go fishing was. According to www.takemefishing.org (I’m totally serious… ) the best time to fish is usually later on in the day. I know that there are probably a gazillion other variables that should be considered, so don’t go dismissing the bigger picture here. Later in the day, the fish are primed for feeding because their metabolism and digestion are roaring. There is a lesson for us here – in order for people to win others to Christ, they need to be primed. In God’s own timing, a person’s heart will be open to receive the Gospel. As fishers of men, we need to be praying for those opportunities to present themselves so we are able to discern what to say and when to say it.

 

We know from verse 16, that Simon (later called Peter) and his brother Andrew used nets for fishing. Not a pole, line and lure, but nets. They caught hundreds of fish at a time. When Jesus says that he will make us fishers of men, I think His intention is that we not just teach a few people about Jesus, but that we influence hundreds of people, over our lifetime, to consider what life as a follower of Jesus would look like.

 

We also know from verse 16, that fishing was not a solo effort. It demanded at least a pair to get the job done. Our faith is meant to be in a community. Yes, Jesus goes off to a solitary place in verse 35 of Chapter 1, but that doesn’t mean we live in a vacuum. Working and serving with other believers is how our faith is supposed to be carried out.

 

I fully admit that sharing the Gospel is not my strength. But as I read this verse, I became convicted that this is something that I need to take more seriously. That’s partly why I chose it to be the verse to memorize for the week. So even though it is a short verse and easy to commit to memory, it’s potential to change my life and the lives of those around me, is significant.

 

Wanna go fishin’?

 

-Bethany Ligon

 

2500 Years Later

Sunday Intro by Graysen Pack

God's Word RemainsLiving & Active

As we continue our readings in Proverbs (Chapters 22-26 this week), we are going to be leaving a collection of sayings by Solomon that contrast the wise and the foolish.  We’ll then move into a new section of Proverbs, the sayings of the Wise.  These proverbs, unlike previous ones, aren’t written down by Solomon directly but put down to paper by the servants of King Hezekiah years later.


This reveals one of the defining characteristics of Wisdom literature as it’s found in Scripture: it is a product of the dynamic tension that ancient people faced in their day to day lives.  These are sayings that were passed down for generations from the time of Solomon to the days of Hezekiah and then put to paper.  Unlike some portions of the Hebrew Bible, the Wisdom literature found in Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, Job, and Ecclesiastes are intrinsically shaped by the ways that the Jews of ancient Israel were trying to understand the role of faith in their daily actions.

 

This is what makes these scriptures deep, meaningful, and particularly relevant to the struggles we still face today.  So, as we explore the Proverbs this week, I encourage you to not see them as a detached set of sayings from a time long gone, but as markers laid out by individuals of faith who found themselves in older variations of the exact same challenges we encounter in our own lives some 2500 years later.