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Monday, 20 October 2014

Being a disciple and obedience

I'm reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship again and every time I read his book, it gets me thinking. Some would say that's a good thing, some might say it's kind of scary, but here's what Bonhoeffer has me thinking about today.
I'm struck again by his emphasis on obedience as a key part of being a disciple of Jesus. In fact, without obedience to God, there is no faith. This is striking a chord in me. Granted, the institutional church has gotten a bad name because of its focus on rules over grace and on believing the right doctrine over right living together, yet obedience is still relevant and important.
I'm thinking about hockey and how, if you don't obey the rules the coach makes, you don't play, and if it goes on long enough, you get thrown off the team. This weekend in the NHL, a player has been suspended because he hasn't obeyed society's rules on how to treat a woman. He allegedly beat her and now is off the team for a time, and if found guilty, he's off the team for good and everyone says that's a good thing. But now if you relate this to faith and following Jesus, people want to keep their options open. They want quick forgiveness with little or no consequences when they don't obey God; after-all, isn't God all about grace? It seems kind of odd to me that many people want sport organizations to have higher standards than the church or God, with the excuse that we need to show grace. Yet rebelling against God is a life or death act.
Can you be a real follower of Jesus without radically obeying his teachings? I guess you can if you accept him only as teacher, but can you not do everything you can to obey and follow Jesus' teachings if you accept him as God?
One last thought, Bonhoeffer asks whether you try to get around Jesus' teachings by spiritualizing them or turning them into metaphors so you can say you are obedient without really obeying? God created us with imaginations, and I'm often amazed at how we use our imaginations to get around God's call on our lives instead of using them to discover even more ways to obey him. Don't get me wrong, I believe in grace; in deep radical grace, and I need this grace more than anyone, but I wonder if we understand what this grace is really all about and how much it cost God? I wonder if we've read so much of the forgiveness and grace passages without reading the passages about the extreme life Jesus calls us to when he says, "Come, follow me."
How would your life be different if you really obeyed Jesus? I've got a long ways to go still; are you willing to join me in this journey? We do this better together!

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Grace Saved Me

Do you think of yourself as a sinner? What a strange concept for so many people today. We live in a time where everyone wins and everyone gets praised for normal everyday achievements. I don't normally watch shows like American Idol, but I did appreciate one of the judge's comments to a singer who was especially bad, "Hasn't anyone ever told you that you cannot sing?" When the person in question answered  that her mother always praises her singing, the judge replied, "She did you no favour in lying to you." When no one is willing to tell you that you that you might be horrible at something like singing, however could they tell you that you're a sinner in the need of forgiveness?
Yet, when we're honest with ourselves, we all realize that not all out thoughts, all our actions are right; that we can be awfully self-centered most of the time, easily ignoring others and failing to help when we have opportunities to help. These are sins of omission, and then there are all those times we actively sin by our words or actions. It's actually healthy to acknowledge that we are sinners; it makes us more open to recognizing our need for someone to help us deal with our sins, because if we could deal with them ourselves, we would have. Simply having sinned shows us we cannot deal with sin ourselves.
I appreciate the Apostle Paul's honesty when he admits that he does the things he doesn't want to do because he knows  they're wrong, and all those good  things he wants to do, he way too often doesn't do them. It puts me in good company. This is why I've embraced the hope found in Paul's words in his letter to the people in Ephesus, "But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions---it is by grace you have been saved."
These words have transformed lives from drudgery to joy and beauty, from worrying if God loves you and you are worthy of God's love to experiencing God as your father, from needing to work at earning God's attention and favour to resting in God's hands because he's taken care of the sin you've done and fallen into, picking you back, washing you clean and declaring that you are now princesses and princes in the world as daughters and sons of God saving you from death. This, all from God with nothing needed from you, based in his love and mercy, his grace. There is nothing you need to do to be saved, there is nothing you can do to be saved, it's all in God's hands, based on his love and kindness. For this reason alone, we need not worry about whether we are saved from death and eternal separation from God, instead we can focus on life and living.
So on this Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, give thanks, but not just for your stuff, but for the grace and forgiveness from God that brings real living.