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Remodeled Sinners

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It’s almost a universal principle that having a car in high school makes you popular.  I didn’t have one, but one of my best friends did.  I still remember the day I first laid my eyes on it.  It was an older car but it looked impeccable.  From the new coat of paint to the aftermarket rims, his car was a sight for the sore eyes of high school kids who were tired of taking the bus.  After the final bell rang on one fateful day, my friends and I piled into his car and rolled down the windows in eager expectation.  Unfortunately for us, our ride that day was a short one. 

We didn’t make it to the end of the block before the car came to a sputtering halt.  As dark smoke plumed from the hood, we slowly rolled our windows back up knowing that the fun was over. In disbelief, my friend got out of the car and kicked the front tire in frustration.  He had bought a lemon.  With little to offer in the way of comfort, the rest of us slowly made our way to the bus stop, digging in our pockets for bus tokens.

The idea of conversion is something that has traditionally confounded people.  Is the change we see in ourselves as Christians due to white knuckled adherence to a new pattern of behavior?  Was the untangling of our sinful mess done of our own accord? Those who have adopted this line of thinking have ultimately been left in patterns of failure and bitterness.  The truth is that to simply try harder is no different than to put a new paint job on a 1980 Ford Fiesta…you'll inevitably be left stranded on the side of the highway.

As we look to scripture, we’re able to gain a clearer understanding.  In the third chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus, in the midst of a conversation with Nicodemus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God” (John 3:3).  What a profound statement.  Christ makes clear that in order to enter the kingdom, we don’t simply make changes to who we are, we are utterly different in kind.  In this newly presented paradigm, our first birth, and all that came along with it, are essentially rubbish.  This statement likely left the Pharisee Nicodemus dumbfounded…

The response to such a proclamation is predictable though…How? (John 3:4) 

Nothing short of a gracious gift of God.  Paul writes in Romans 3:23-24, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”  To be justified, or declared righteous, is not an act of sheer willpower or merit, it is an act of God alone.  Nicodemus placed his religious hope in his lineage and law keeping.  Christ turned his world upside down by informing him that none of that was enough. For us to claim any credit for being born again not only posits an unearned contribution on our end, it diminishes the very nature of God.  

We are not sinners remodeled, we are new creatures altogether (2 Cor 5:17) and temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19) who are justified and continually sanctified by the unearned grace of God.  Living in the humility this knowledge produces will rightfully lead to the truthful understanding of who we are, and more importantly, who God is.

Posted by Shawn Thomas

'Tis the Season

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It’s that time of year again.  The Christmas season is upon us and the big day is drawing near.   At this point, you can’t go down a street without seeing homes lit up and inflatable reindeer on front lawns.  Neighborhood streets are crowded with Amazon delivery trucks as far as the eye can see.  But what does this season mean for us as the church?  As we are in the season of Advent, it is important for us as believers to reflect on the miracle of the birth of Christ in context.  We must ask ourselves a simple question…Why did Christ come?  

One of my favorite worship songs has always been In Christ Alone.  The lyrics are theologically rich and God-honoring.  The hymn has understandably become a staple in many churches across the world.  In 2013 though, there was some controversy surrounding the song.  The Presbyterian Church U.S.A. (PCUSA), seeing how popular the hymn was, desired to include it in their hymnal.  There was one problem, they wanted to change the lyrics.  The second verse included the line, “Til on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.”  The PCUSA Hymnal Committee decided that they would only include the hymn if they would be able to change the lyrics to “Til on that cross as Jesus died, the love of God was magnified.”  (Original lyrics below)

"In Christ alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save
'Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live, I live"

Thankfully the writers of the song, Stuart Townend and Keith Getty, denied the request and kept the original lyrics thus keeping the hymn out of the PCUSA Hymnal.  It begs the question though…Why would PCUSA want the lyrics changed?  The culture in which we live shutters at the thought of “wrath”.  It’s an abrasive term that connotes pain and suffering.  It doesn’t mingle well with the concept of a socially accepting, tolerant, and “loving” God who allows people to wantonly live out their base desires.  Sadly, even churches, in hopes of being inclusive, have given into this way of thinking.  

We must hold fast to the truth.  It was God’s perfect holiness (1 Sam 2:2) and wrath (Rom 1:18), in harmony with His love (John 3:16) that deemed the incarnation of Christ necessary.  Christ came, that to the glory of God, He would be our substitute.  He and only He, could satisfy the wrath of a Holy God and impute to us His righteousness.  This Advent season, we should know that the Word became flesh for a reason…and it wasn’t for bellies full of ham and hanging mistletoe.  May we celebrate the birth of our Lord in the fullness of this rich understanding.

Posted by Shawn Thomas

Easter's Over...Now What?

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Easter Sunday is the most significant day on the liturgical calendar for a Christian.  It is the culmination of an entire week focused on the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Christians around the world join together to worship and celebrate the risen Lord and their adoption into the family of God.  All too often though, the festivities of Easter are followed by an adrenaline dump and a sense of malaise for believers.  For most churches, attendance is traditionally low the week after Easter. We must ask ourselves if this is appropriate.  Is there biblical precedent for this waxing and waning?   How did the disciples carry on after the resurrection?

The first Easter for the disciples was not necessarily the end of something, it was the beginning.  Acts 1:3 show us that, after the resurrection, it was another 40 days until Christ gave the Great Commission and ascended into heaven.  From all accounts, the passion of the disciples only grew from that point on.  It is important to note that the disciples, before spreading out to different areas of the world, only knew Jesus for 3-4 years.  That short time left an indelible mark on these men.  Their zealous impact for the Kingdom was realized in the years and decades after the resurrection and ascension, not before it. 

What exactly did the future hold for the disciples? History offers us some insight.  According to historical record, the apostle James was beheaded in 44 AD under the authority of King Agrippa and was the first recorded martyred apostle (~10 years of ministry).  Simon Peter died a martyr’s death between 64-68 AD under the persecution of Emperor Nero (>30 years of ministry). The apostle John died in 100-105 AD after being exiled to the Isle of Patmos and finally traveling to Ephesus after his release (~70 years of ministry).  The disciples went on to lead ministries that lasted decades in most cases.  Suffice it to say there was no shortage of fervency among the disciples after the first Easter.  They certainly did not rest on the laurels of the previous 3 years.  They traversed the globe by land and sea to share the gospel of Christ, and often met gruesome ends because of it.

What kind of an effect has Easter had on us?  It’s so common for us to treat Easter like any other holiday, forgetting the historical event that it commemorates.  The encounters Christ had with those during his life and after His resurrection effectuated meaningful change that had the power to endure.  The modern day “church fatigue,” that most seem to experience is more likely the product of buying into a secular understanding of Easter.  A biblical understanding produces something very different in the life of a believer.  This year, may we line ourselves up with Romans 12:11, so that the typical fatigue we have grown so accustomed to would be replaced by an irrepressible excitement, fervor, and zeal to serve our Lord.

Posted by Shawn Thomas