When we have the choice between salvation as a free gift of grace, requiring only gratitude and acceptance, or salvation as an earned prize, requiring obedience and constant striving, why do we always choose the later?  The Jews did it though they followed and worshiped the same God that we do.  And we still do it today.  We would rather live in a world where God is the judge handing out first, second, and third place ribbons.

But this constant striving, this earned salvation, is just the opposite of grace.  And that is Paul’s point here in Romans 3.  While the Jews lived in an earned salvation world, Jesus came bringing the truth, that salvation is a free gift for everyone, not earned through our own righteousness but received with gratitude.

So how hard did your brain just balk at that last statement?  How many “but…” statements flew through your mind?  “But you still have to follow Jesus’ rules, right?”  “But you can’t just preach a no-strings-attached salvation or people will just say they accept it and then go on sinning.”  “But… but… but…”  If this is where your brain goes, you’re not alone.  That’s why Paul had to write this book of Romans.

“All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  It’s like we are all striving to have the perfect figure skating routine before God our judge, and every one of us just keeps on falling.  And falling.  And falling.   Yet as we sit waiting for scores, God gives us a perfect 10 every time. Why?  Because He’s not even watching us skate.  He’s watching a replay of Jesus’ perfect routine and scoring us based on that.  It’s called imputed grace, and it means that Jesus took our imperfections, our sins, our falling and falling and falling… and gave us His perfect 10.

What part of “salvation by grace through faith” do you not understand?

One of the biggest schisms in the church today boils down to repentance.  Determining which sins require repentance, what repentance really looks like, and whether we’ve “repented enough” or not suck up the majority of some people’s spiritual lives.  Do we have a time of repentance in worship every week?  Do we need to lead people in a prayer of sincere repentance before Communion?  How do we determine whether someone’s repentance is sincere or just lip service?  We have a deep need to control other’s repentance, don’t we?

While David writes Ps. 51 as a psalm of repentance, in it we can learn much about repentance that we may be confused about.

First, repentance is not the act of saying the right words, uttering the magic mantra, “Lord, forgive me, a sinner.”  I have been told, in a conversation about suicide, that since the person does not have time to repent of killing themselves, they are going to hell.  Inevitably, they then go on to describe a situation where they can repent – taking pills with a delayed effect, jumping off a tall enough building – and decide that this is the way to go for those who wish to do so.  It displays a deeply flawed view of repentance, one that is common but unspoken, that of the “magic mantra”.  As long as I say the right words, God forgives and I’m heaven-bound.

Second, repentance is not the act of self-hate, realizing how low and scummy and sinful we are and hating ourselves for it.  A video by an artist called SomeGreyBloke speaks to this well from an atheist’s confused perspective.  Repentance is not about how horrible, sinful, or low we are.  In fact, it isn’t about us at all.  It’s about…

Repentance is the act of proclaiming the truth that God is perfect, I am not, and I need Him to be the person He created me to be.  Repentance is not a focus on me at all; it is focused on God and His greatness.  When I take my eyes off myself and my decrepit state and instead focus them on God, I have hope that things can be better, and vision to work toward making them so through God’s will.

On Aug. 10-12, we gather together at Conference Point Center in Williams Bay, WI for a weekend of fun, worship, singing, campfires, fireworks, games, and a whole lot more.  This year our theme is “He Knows My Name”.  Please sign up here by July 8 to reserve your room.  For a full, printable brochure, click here, print a few, and use them to invite your friends and families.

What does God get mad at?  We know we serve a God of grace, love, and forgiveness, but we also know that He gets angry.  At what, or who, does God get mad?

Most of us are terrified that it is us that God is angry at.  We know the depravity of our lives and minds and wills, and we know that He knows, too.  We are usually angry at ourselves for those thoughts, so we are sure that He is, too.

In Romans 1, Paul gives us a clue about what God gets mad at.  First, we see that God gets truly angry at “the suppression of the truth”.  God is not only about truth, He IS Truth.  To deny the truth is to deny God Himself.  And our culture is all about the suppression of the truth.  From our government leaders to our everyday workers, if it leads to our betterment, improvement, wealth or power, we will gladly “suppress the truth”, meaning lie, deceive, or obfuscate.  And this makes God mad.

And when God gets mad, His common punishment is to allow us to follow the path we’ve chosen leading to our own death, physically and eternally.  “God gives us over…” is Paul’s common phrase used here.

God gives us over to the sinful desires of our hearts (v.24), to our shameful lusts (v.26), and to our depraved mind (v.28).  These things present themselves as idolatry (v. 25), homosexuality (v.26), and every kind of wickedness (v.29).

But the key to this part of Paul’s passage is that we are not acting out of ignorance, but are ignoring what they know, “suppressing the truth”, and actively turning away from it.

Our natural tendency is to figure out who “those people” are, but it is far more helpful for us to see ourselves in this description.  How are you “suppressing the truth”, ignoring what you know to be true about God and living for yourself instead?  How is your life displaying idolatry, improper sexuality, and other forms of wickedness? And most importantly, what are you going to do about it?  God grants grace, even when He’s angry.  “Repent and believe the Good News”.

As we approach the final of our LCC Cares themes, “Engagement”, we need to get final numbers for each of the four ministries that engage our community.  They are…

Thursday Aug. 2, 6-7:30pm — FMSC Packing Event
Saturday Aug. 4, 8am-12:30pm — Love INC Furniture Delivery
Sunday Aug. 5, 2:30-3:30pm — Winchester House worship service
Tuesday Aug. 7, 9am – 12pm — Food Pantry

As one of our Core Values as a church, engaging the community is part of our DNA, so our hope is that every person connected to LCC will participate in at least one of these ministries.  To sign up for any of the four, click here or on the logo.

Our July/August newsletter is now available.  To download it, click here.

I have a few favorite, go-to Psalms and Ps. 46 is one of them.  In it, the Psalmist both recognizes the deep pain and fear this life causes us and God’s power to overcome those fears.  In fact, this Psalm is almost schizophrenic as it vacillates back and forth between the power of God to shape this world and the peace that comes to every Christian heart.  I cannot read this Psalm without hearing it in my head in two totally distinct voices: one of quiet calm and peace, the other of overwhelming power and authority.

We all have times when it feels like the earth is giving way, the mountains are quaking and falling into the sea, and the waters are roaring and foaming all around us.  It may be illness or finances.  It may be family issues or job related stress.  It could be anxiety or depression.  This world is filled with news and situations and people who will gladly convince us that the world is ending any minute now.

And then we pray, or go to church, or sing songs and hymns and hear of the quiet, bubbling river that runs through us, God’s holy place.  We sing of God’s eternal presence and protection.  And we are told again and again, “Be still and know that I Am God.”  And what is happening outside the church’s walls and what is happening inside are mutually incompatible, impossible to reconcile.  When times like that come, read once again Ps. 46 and hear this dichotomy sung again and again.  Be still, quiet yourself and the voices of terror around you, crawl up into God’s holy and never-ending lap, a lap that can hold us all, and hear the words of calm and peace coming from the LORD Almighty who is with us, who is our fortress.

Ps. 44 is a remarkable Psalm of trust in God, though reading it at first glance leads to other conclusions.  Initially it looks like a Psalm of lament.  God’s people, through the Psalmist, are crying out in confusion.  “What have we done that you have abandoned us,” they cry.  They cannot understand that though they have been faithful, God has left them to their enemies.  Lament indeed.

Yet the underlying belief system is one of faith and trust.  To ask God why He seems to have abandoned them is to assume that God is just.  If we follow, they reason, we know You will bless us, yet You haven’t.  What gives?

To ask God why He hides His face is to assume that this is unusual, and that normally God reveals His face to His people and watches over them.

To ask God why He sleeps is to assume that His absence in the fight, His lack of blessing upon His people, means something has happened to turn Him away because He is always there.

The very questions they ask God in their lament reveal their trust in Him and His care for them.

Do you ever find that your faith reveals itself in your lament?  When you cry out to God for abandoning you, does this reveal that God is normally with you and that abandonment is unusual to the point of terrifying?

We know that God is with us.  We know that God is just.  We know that God does not leave us without reason.  We can cling to that in faith even when they are disrupted for a time.  Perhaps especially then.

In his book, Anxious for Nothing, Max Lucado takes this passage as an example of how not to be anxious.  He examines Paul’s statement at the end of the passage and breaks it apart.

“You should have listened to me…”  Sometimes the right thing to do is to stand and face God’s rebuke.  Did you realize God rebukes us sometimes?  When our anxiety is due to our sinfulness, God rebukes us.  When we are facing the consequences of our sinful actions, God rebukes us.  “You should have listened to Me…” God says, and He’s right.  But knowing our loving God well tells us that the rebuke is neither hateful, wrathful, or dangerous for us.  It is loving if stern, and ultimately for our own good.

“Keep your courage…”  Max encourages us, which literally means “to make courageous”.  God’s reminder in our anxiety is to remain, regain, or find courage.  And this is easier when we know our loving God who has power over storms and sicknesses and anything else that may come our way.  While not promising to deliver us from everything we face, God does promise to be with us, and that is reason enough for courage.

“And angel stood beside me…”  God is active and at work in this world.  And God’s plans will not be foiled.  When God calls us to a task for Him, that task will not go undone if we refuse.  He will simply call someone else to do it instead and we’ll miss out on the opportunity to be part of God’s plan.  And if that is not rebuke enough, then we need to be sure we’re truly following God.

“We must run aground…”  Sometimes the solution to our sin-made problem brings hardship.  God’s forgiveness does not negate the effects of our sinfulness.  Sin has consequences.  I can forgive my son Isaac for jumping in the puddle when I tell him not to, but he will still have a wet foot.  The good news is that we can face those consequences because we know that God walks with us as we do.

A speaker was sharing about a conversation he had with a Millennial last year.  The Millennial was going to leave his job and find a new career.  “I’m just not finding my current job fulfilling,” he said.  When asked how long he’d felt this, he said it was since he began the job… three months earlier.

We can complain that “kids today” don’t understand that you have to stick to something for a while before deciding if it is worthwhile.  We can complain that they are terminally impatient and can’t keep their attention on one thing for more than 30 seconds.  But the reality is that we all have a problem with patience, with temporal perspective, and with waiting as long as we should.

The Psalmist today gives us hope that though the wicked seem to flourish in this life, their flourishing will be short-lived and then will fade to nothing.  Our persecution and lack of wealth will be equally short lived and then we will become all that God has in store for us.  But we have to be patient.

And patience is one of our weakest points.  We’ve been sick, or afraid, or hurt for a few days, a few weeks, even a month and we question God’s love, His power, and His nearness.  We see the corrupt grow in wealth and power for a year or two and we question God’s promise to bring justice to our lives.

But God calls us to see with His perspective.  He calls us to look with eternal eyes.  If we could see millennia as He does, we’d see that wealth and power are fleeting and don’t last, and that righteousness and love last forever.  But since we cannot, we have to trust Him, to live by faith, and know that He is acting justly, lovingly, graciously… but seldom as quickly as we’d like.