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Monday, February 23, 2015

More than a subtitle

In most Bibles today, there are little sub-section titles which give you some idea what the chapter or section you are reading will be about.  These section or chapter titles help to focus us and get us "set" for the passage we are about to take in.  There are time when I just ignore them entirely because I find they might "sway" my opinion of what I will find in that section, though.  For example, if I think the section deals with the feeding of the five thousand, I just see this as a miracle of the fish and loaves being multiplied and a bunch of hungry people being fed.  I miss some of the detail within - like the fact that the only one in the group of five thousand who had any food being a little boy! The five thousand were just the men - you mean all the women in the group left home without packing even "snacks" for the day?  Or how about the fact that the disciples have all these empty baskets to put the food in - what does this say about empty "vessels"?  The empty basket only serves the purpose for which it was created when it is filled and used in service to those it was designed to serve!  You see, as we just focus on what we "think" might be there in the section, we could easily miss some of the delightful truths! So, as we read, we need to remain open to the little "finds" deep within the passage. In the passage which I have taken our reading for today from, the subtitle reads: "What it means to be acceptable to God".  I think this is a good place to start, but let me assure you, there are a whole lot more truths within this passage than "what it means to be acceptable to God".  Yep, the passage speaks of being "made acceptable" and then we "live at peace with God".  What about the truth of being really and genuinely "happy" because of this transition?  What about the benefit of "suffering" being part of this "acceptance"?  Huh?  We come to Christ and we get the "benefit" of suffering?  Yep, it is a "benefit" - probably not one "advertises" in the "portfolio" of reasons someone wants to become a Christian, right?  Yet, it is a "perk" of the "position"!

By faith we have been made acceptable to God. And now, because of our Lord Jesus Christ, we live at peace with God. Christ has also introduced us to God’s undeserved kindness on which we take our stand. So we are happy, as we look forward to sharing in the glory of God. But that’s not all! We gladly suffer, because we know that suffering helps us to endure. And endurance builds character, which gives us a hope that will never disappoint us. All of this happens because God has given us the Holy Spirit, who fills our hearts with his love. (Romans 5:1-5 CEV)

Let's unpack this passage a little.  We are "made acceptable" - it is not something we accomplish in our own power.  This is the beginning point of our journey into "acceptance" - something which begins "outside" of our own ability and often even outside of our own desire!  Even the desire to pursue Christ's offered gift of salvation is something which is fanned to life within us by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, even the desire to believe is a gift.  We are indeed "made" acceptable - nothing we do or believe is what causes us to be acceptable.  

As we begin this journey with Christ, we learn what it is to live at peace with God.  Our condition prior to being made acceptable was one of continually trying to "make peace" with a variety of things, most of which were not God!  For example, we try to make peace with past decisions (good or bad) which now placed new demands upon us as we realized the outcome of those decisions. Some of those demands were easier than others to live up to - such as when we decide to be five minutes later to work because we stopped for gas when the tank was low.  If we got a speeding ticket because we decided to ignore the speed limit on the way to work rather than being late, we might be kicking ourselves now for not leaving five minutes earlier or buying gas on the way home last night!  We have to make peace with the decisions we make all the time.  The decision to follow Christ is kind of different, though.  We are "brought into peace" - we don't have to make our own peace!

It is by Christ we come to know the "undeserved" kindness of God.  We all kind of get what it is to experience grace - undeserved kindness.  Yet, do we miss the next part of the passage?  The part where it says this is what we actually "stand upon" in our relationship with Christ and with God the Father?  Read it again - we "take our stand" or "stand upon" grace!  Grace is our "footing", so to speak.  It isn't just a gift to us - it is something upon which we actually find "foundation".  Foundation is literally defined as the basis or groundwork of anything.  So, grace is the "basis" or "groundwork" of even greater things in our lives.  It is the starting point by which all other good things can be "built into" our lives in Christ Jesus!

What comes next is something of a conundrum for us because none of us enter into this relationship with Jesus saying we hope he takes us down the path of suffering!  Many of us even came to Christ in a period of time in our lives when we were suffering a great deal because of the decisions we made in our lives! We actually hoped he'd help us actually rise above those not so pleasant experiences!  Now we find out we can not only expect suffering, but it is something "built into" this relationship we have with Christ because it helps us develop this thing called endurance.  

Hmmm....not sure I'd have signed up for the experience if I had known that one up front!  But...don't lose sight of how this all develops in this passage.  We are "made acceptable" by receiving something which gives us all the "groundwork" we need in order to become strong and worthy participants in the family of God. It is this groundwork which gives us the ability to endure the "building process". No foundation is ever laid which is not meant for something to be built upon it! If you have ever watched a building go up, you will notice there are phases in the building.  Each phase "connects" the building to the foundation upon which it is built.  So, all we endure in this life actually connects us more and more with this "groundwork" which was originally laid in our lives by the Spirit of God at the point of our salvation!

The purpose of any building is not to just look pretty.  People don't build buildings to just stand there and be uninhabited.  In fact, they are built to be filled!  Even a shed is built to house some tools, store supplies, or the like!  The building is created to be filled.  The same is true of us - we are built upon the groundwork of grace so that we might be filled with the love of God!  The things we endure connect us to the foundation which was laid.  Those things create a framework into which God can place his love in ever increasing proportions. This is indeed the meaning of what it is to stand acceptable to God - a dwelling for his love to inhabit.  Just sayin!