Saying Goodbye, part 1

Okay, so this is hard.

It’s one thing to have the idea to leave. It’s another to begin the process of separating by looking for what’s next. When it comes to saying goodbye, that is where the rubber hits the road. And we had to do it twice in one transition. I know pastors don’t normally get to publicly speak into these things. If you’re a pastor, please, read through. If you’re not a pastor, hopefully this will help you see we’re just as human as you are. There’s some unwritten rule not to talk about this, and for the life of me, I can’t understand why. The faith of the church isn’t in me or in any other pastor. It’s supposed to be in Jesus. He’s perfect, and He’s working on me.

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When I made the decision to leave my previous position in the August before I left. I was making a painful decision that I had previously been determined not to take. When I have seen some ministers leave in the past, I have been tempted (not knowing everything) to think that they weren’t giving God enough credit or authority because they had some idea that they couldn’t see something through. It was a sign of weakness to me. It was a lack of faith, and it upset me.

And then I was the one in the hot seat. Funny how things happen to change when you know all the details, when you’ve experienced all the emotions. Things look different when you’re the one who feels neglected or beat down or doubted or whatever else bad stuff you might feel. Personally, again transparency here, I was feeling pretty worthless and ineffective. People were leaving and I found myself jealous of their freedom to go. That’s not a good place to be when you’re supposed to be the one leading and pastoring them. They saw the leadership stall out, they saw my attitude shifting. I accept my part.

I wanted to go to the big church down the street. I wanted to just worship and have no responsibilities. I was worn out. I had faith. I felt it, but I was dealing deeply with disappointment and rejection. When fear on our part stalls out the things that God wants to do, it’s hard to reconcile. When you’re energized and ready to go and your teammates in leadership are the ones dealing with trepidation, it can be incredibly frustrating. It creates friction. It can make things volatile. It can hurt.

You need a release. You need a God-honoring pressure valve, and looking back, I wish someone had pressed me into a place where I would have reached out even more. But so often, frustration can drive us deeper and deeper within ourselves. It cripples us, slaps blinders on our heart and eyes, and keeps us from seeing options that might be right in front of us. When you’re an introvert who can pretend to be an extrovert 2-3 times a week, retreating into quiet becomes a very attractive and comfortable place.

When your counselors press you to step away, to move out from toxicity, it makes anything and everything else look good. Again, this is not a good place for a pastor to be. I should have taken a vacation, gone on a retreat, sought out an extended coaching time. But since I was planning on leaving, it was more about being in survival mode rather than being effective with the time I had left. Again, just pointing this out, my attitude was not in the right place. The pressure and need for revitalization within the church was a constant pressure and I felt very alone.

But hindsight is often 20/20, and those blinders we wear in frustration can be really, really effective. There’s danger in the echo chamber they create, and I walked into my goodbye from within this echo chamber.

So, December rolled around and the pressure was building. It was the first Christmas season, the first Advent, I have celebrated where I just wanted it to be over. The careful approach to anticipation was gone. The reverent remembering was relegated to ‘maybe next year’ status. So, after Christmas wrapped up, we had an elder’s meeting, we had a very frank conversation and I resigned my position.

Have you ever seen one of those scenes in a movie when an EMP goes off and there’s a pulse of energy that presses out from the device? That’s what happened with my stress, my frustration, and my withheld tension.

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The elder sitting next to me said, “Did you feel that?” Seriously, he felt it physically come off from me. Don’t tell me that there wasn’t an unseen spiritual component at work here during this. He asked again, “Really, did you feel that?” he was amazed and concerned. I told him that’s what I had been carrying for months and months. I told them I was sad there wasn’t some attempt to walk through the hardship together. After all, this wasn’t their first time we’d had tough conversations. We had talked through this, or attempted to,  many times. I said a few other things from that, they let me vent a little, and I expressed my hope for what might still come there. Some of the guys in the room started crying, some apologized. One sat stoic, unmoved by my departure.

We wrapped up quickly at that point. They committed to providing for my family for the next 90 days, which was amazing, and I promised them that I would continue to operate with complete integrity and without drama. They didn’t ask me to do that, that promise was mine. They reassured me they weren’t worried about me in that regard (which was nice to hear, they at least knew my integrity mattered to me), we prayed and parted ways.

When I got to the car, I called my wife, told her I was coming home and then called my parents and played everything out from the evening to them as I drove. The mixture of relief, sorrow, confusion and hurt washed over me through the following days. I told the staff, one by one, I kept it quiet until the following Sunday. I wasn’t going to drag this out.

I jump into the cold pool. I rip off the band aid. I don’t stretch out unpleasant circumstances. I wasn’t going to drag the church through this with some prolonged leaving. I once saw a minster take six months to leave and it was painful. I was determined to let everyone move on as quickly as possible…but that’s for the next post.

I have to tell the couple of hundred people that I had served and served alongside of for almost a decade. That was going to be the hardest part, and the next post.

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Our Present Father

Do you think that the Queen of England ever forgets her status? Do you think she ever gets up in the morning, looks around the royal bedchambers, notices a staff member setting up the tray for her morning tea, opening the curtains, laying out her things and wonders, “Well, who is this and why are they doing all this?”

No. Of course not. She’s the queen, and that life is what is afforded for her. It is part of her rank and status that she would be so cared for & so well attended. While she may have no real power, she is still beloved by those who are hers.

We often forget what we have been afforded in Christ. We look around at the world God has created, at he provision He has laid out for us, we forget how dearly loved we are. We forget =Whose= we are and we fall into the trap of disbelieving just how deeply and how greatly we are loved.

Galatians 4:1-11

4 I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years! 11 I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

God has made provision for =you= in Jesus Christ. He has shown the depth of His love, and breadth of His grace. He has given us a wonderful gift beyond measure. But so often we see and observe, and we turn back to what we once had. That is what Paul is dealing with in this portion of his letter to the Galatian church. Why would we turn back to the life that once had us, to the pain that once ensnared us? Why would you turn back to death once you have been brought back to life?

But we do it every day.

We leave behind the rich appointments of grace to wallow in the filth of our own sin.

This is why we are daily glad for grace, and for the presence of the Holy Spirit that corrects us.  There is mourning that comes with this realization, but it is a mourning that is infused with hope.

Lamentations 3:19-26

19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings,

    the wormwood and the gall!

20 My soul continually remembers it

    and is bowed down within me.

21 But this I call to mind,

    and therefore I have hope:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;

    his mercies never come to an end;

23 they are new every morning;

    great is your faithfulness.

24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,

    “therefore I will hope in him.”

 

25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,

    to the soul who seeks him.

26 It is good that one should wait quietly

    for the salvation of the Lord.

You are deeply loved and dearly bought when you are clothed with Christ. You are afforded a richness that comes with being drawn into the presence of the Living God. Jesus gave proof to His disciples after He was resurrected by doing something simple, He ate with them. He wanted them to see that this was the new reality, the new normal. The life they had been appointed to was past and there was something new on the way. This is what Jesus does for us, this is what God has laid out for us. It’s all for =His= glory, but as heirs, we share in the glorious promises of righteousness.

Luke 24:36-49

36 As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them.

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

God will take great care to clothe us, care for us and shower us with His love. We are His children, deeply loved, dearly bought. Just as Christ did simple things, like eating fish, to convince His disciples that things really were as they were, even thought it was beyond hope, maybe even beyond belief, He was alive again and there, present with them. Just as He did that, we need to remember that every day, through many convincing proofs, God reminds us that He is present with us, loving us. He is our Abba, our Father, our Daddy & He cares very much for us.

Rest in His arms today. Let Him sing over you. May the joy of the Lord be your strength.

The Lowest Moments Begin

Sovereign Lord, I must confess there are things I do not understand, & events that are difficult for me to fully comprehend. Betrayal by a close friend, a compatriot, a partner in ministry is such an abhorrent thing, but Jesus experienced it, too. Divisive, poisoned thoughts, selfish prioritizing, & an apparent refusal to express what was on his heart to Jesus…this all led to his downfall. The world is full of this type of behavior, but that doesn’t make it easier to accept. Father, give us strength to be honest & open with one another in love. Give us the grace to walk in the light as You are in the light. Release us from selfishness & pride as we walk with Jesus. May we glorify You. It is through Christ we pray, amen.

Luke 22:1-6
1Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people.

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd.

So the Passover celebrations were beginning, a day of remembrance & delivery from slavery. So much speaking to freedom, a removal of the yoke of oppression & there is no doubt that Judas had felt that yoke from the Romans for as long as he thought he could stand it. He saw what he thought was the perfect timing, the perfect opportunity to stand up & point things in what he thought was the right direction. He felt his motives were right, he was convinced that he knew best & there was no way that he could mess this up.

I know some people speculate that Judas betrayed Jesus in order to provoke Him to do something miraculous, something that would force His hand so He might begin the overthrow of the Romans. Others say he did all this because he was tired of seeing Jesus refuse the kingship that the people were trying to press on Him. He made his own plans for the Messiah. There are plenty of other ways to attempt to explain the actions of Judas Iscariot, but no matter how the events came together in his heart & mind, he still wound up betraying Jesus & it resulted in His death by crucifixion.

It seems like everyone was aware that something was coming. Judas knew, the chief priests & scribes knew, the people had picked up on it & things were coming to a conclusion of some sort. Desperation comes into play. Social pressure leans heavily on people & impatience becomes a minute-by-minute struggle. Justifications are made & evil’s presence is secured. Judas was entered by Satan, who is always looking for opportunity, & things were set for this most horrendous betrayal, this ultimate rejection of God by humanity.

Betrayal is ugly. There is no way to make it less than what it is. It is painful. It is cruel. It is unfeeling. It is soul-wounding. But Jesus came to bear it all for us. He wasn’t spared anything. Judas would betray, a stab in the back by a close friend. The High Priests would betray God, the final snub that expressed their desire for self over submission. The people would shout “Crucify,” their voices echoing the hollowness in their spiritual walk. Even His closest friends would abandon Him. And Jesus would experience every moment of it.

This is the love of God poured out for us. That Jesus would come, take on our flesh & all the suffering that comes with it. The Prophet reminds us that He is a man of sorrows & acquainted with suffering, David saw His bones exposed through skin & God the Father had spoken of this moment from the beginning with Adam & Eve at the Fall of humanity. Everything was coming to a climax, & God allowed what needed to be allowed while He orchestrated our release from death & the bondage of sin. Pride & betrayal began it all & pride-laced betrayal would bring about the solution.

Father, give us eyes to see & ears to hear the correction that comes from You & in Your love. Teach us to obey You & reveal the intentions of our own hearts to us as we walk in the rhythms of Your grace & in the power of Your Holy Spirit. Open our eyes so we might see, open our ears so we might hear. Open our heart so we would be aware of our own struggles & receive the light of Christ as our daily guide. Please forgive us our pride-filled weaknesses & poor judgment. In Jesus Name, amen.

Free means Free

Sustain us in the struggle Lord, and raise us to Your life. Amen.

Galatians 5:1-15
1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11 But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!

13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

Let’s read that last bit again:

13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

When we hear the word freedom, we probably have several different images pop into our mind. Mel Gibson pops in first as William Wallace, face painted blue, war worn, tied to a table and suffering his last. It is a gasping final breath, a cry for something that mattered most, that was worth dying for, a cause that was meant to bring hope to others.

Then I think of people like Harriet Tubman & Sojourner Truth, people who worked and struggled and did things both stealthy and public to draw attention to the plight of their people, desiring freedom from oppression & slavery. They didn’t care what man’s opinion was on the matter, they did what was right. Dr. King echoed their hearts on the other side of the Emancipation Proclamation, while men and women still struggled for equality because of the color of their skin, and many still echo their cause today, and rightfully so.

I think of Moses standing in the court of Pharaoh, staff in hand, and Charlton Heston’s beard hanging down on his chest demanding that Pharaoh let God’s people go. A power struggle between two men, one who thought himself a god, and another who was on a mission from God. Moses stood representing a people who were oppressed, taken advantage of, beaten down and suffering. Freedom seemed like a pipe dream to them, suffering was their companion.

But God has different plans.

All of these examples of freedom that pop into my head center around people who were willing to stand up to that others might have freedom, and I think that’s only right. People who fight for their own freedom, but neglect the needs of others around them do not understand the true nature of freedom. And this thought is found in this passage from Galatians 5 today. We have been granted a great freedom in Christ, yes. But we cannot, not even for a moment, keep that freedom to ourselves. It is counter-intuitive, truly free people want non-free people to truly be free, and they will point the goals of their life toward that work.

Freedom isn’t an idea. It’s not a rough concept or construct that we work under. Freedom is a state of being, and it shapes everything we have license to do. Paul was pointing this out, too, when he reminded the church in Galatia that their freedom was given so that they might serve others. It isn’t a freedom for self, but a freedom to serve. That’s what freedom is for, freedom is for freeing, and people who are free, and understand their freedom, having engaged with it, will seek freedom for others. They will ‘go’ as Jesus called them to go, bringing freedom to the captives.

Luke 4:16-21
16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

If this was Jesus’ mission, then it belongs to us, too.
Freedom if for everyone. Free means free.
Go set someone free today.

You are known by God

Do you think that the Queen of England ever forgets her status? Do you think she ever gets up in the morning, looks around the royal bedchambers, notices a staff member setting up the tray for her morning tea, opening the curtains, laying out her things and wonders, “Well, who is this and why are they doing all this?”
No. Of course not. She’s the queen, and that life is what is afforded for her. It is part of her rank and status that she would be so cared for & so well attended. While she may have no real power, she is still beloved by those who are hers.

We often forget what we have been afforded in Christ. We look around at the world God has created, at he provision He has laid out for us, we forget how dearly loved we are. We forget =Whose= we are and we fall into the trap of disbelieving just how deeply and how greatly we are loved.

Galatians 4:1-11
I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything,
but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years! 11 I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

God has made provision for =you= in Jesus Christ. He has shown the depth of His love, and breadth of His grace. He has given us a wonderful gift beyond measure. But so often we see and observe, and we turn back to what we once had. That is what Paul is dealing with in this portion of his letter to the Galatian church. Why would we turn back to the life that once had us, to the pain that once ensnared us? Why would you turn back to death once you have been brought back to life?

But we do it every day.

We leave behind the rich appointments of grace to wallow in the filth of our own sin.

This is why we are daily glad for grace, and for the presence of the Holy Spirit that corrects us.  There is mourning that comes with this realization, but it is a mourning that is infused with hope.

Lamentations 3:19-26
19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
    the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
    and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”

25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul who seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.

You are deeply loved and dearly bought when you are clothed with Christ. You are afforded a richness that comes with being drawn into the presence of the Living God. Jesus gave proof to His disciples after He was resurrected by doing something simple, He ate with them. He wanted them to see that this was the new reality, the new normal. The life they had been appointed to was past and there was something new on the way. This is what Jesus does for us, this is what God has laid out for us. It’s all for =His= glory, but as heirs, we share in the glorious promises of righteousness.

Luke 24:36-49
36 As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them.

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

God will take great care to clothe us, care for us and shower us with His love. We are His children, deeply loved, dearly bought. Just as Christ did simple things, like eating fish, to convince His disciples that things really were as they were, even thought it was beyond hope, maybe even beyond belief, He was alive again and there, present with them. Just as He did that, we need to remember that every day, through many convincing proofs, God reminds us that He is present with us, loving us. He is our Abba, our Father, our Daddy & He cares very much for us.

Rest in His arms today. Let Him sing over you. May the joy of the Lord be your strength.

No more loneliness, no more labels

There are days where we feel vulnerable. There are days where we feel, open, exposed and there seems to be no place to hide. We doubt our identity, and we aren’t really sure that we have the strength to stand. We begin to wonder if the world even knows that we’re a real, live human being. There’s an emptiness that comes from standing alone, or even perceiving that we stand alone. There’s an imprisonment of the heart, a captivity of the spirit that keeps us from really living, when we stand alone, we are very aware of that solitude, it can be completely overwhelming.

Praise God for Christ Jesus who draws us away from these terrible feelings,perceptions and lies. What we felt while in sin is exposed, where we felt alone, we find that God had been there the entire time, His hands outstretched toward us, ready to take us in. We didn’t see the divine attention that was pointed our way, the reception of heaven’s host that was poised for celebration when our heart would be turned toward Jesus. Listen to Paul’s description of this wonderful news!

Galatians 3:23-29
23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Jesus specifically said that He came to set the captives free, to proclaim this wonderful news:

Luke 4:16-20
16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

There is no delay, no lingering in the promise. When we come to Christ, we find forgiveness, freedom, and we are given a new identity in Him. We need to remember that on these hard days, the days when we feel alone, vulnerable and exposed. He has taken away our isolation, He has removed any other labels that may have been placed on us, any other names that we may have called ourselves. Anything that would have degraded us, pulled us away or perpetuated harm in our hearts, to our identity, He has removed by His grace-filled presence. We are now those blessed heirs of an eternal promise.

Let yourself live in this freedom. Walk in the knowledge that He covers you if you have submitted your life to Him, been baptized and walk in new life. Your identity in Christ doesn’t change based on how you feel on a given day, on how difficult a situation might be. Your identity in Christ isn’t determined on how blessed you feel, on how you might ‘rank’ in the eyes of another person. No other human being can give or take away from your value. You belong to Christ, you have put on Christ. So when God Himself looks at you, He doesn’t see who you used to be. Instead, He sees His Son.

2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Romans 1:1-7 // The Focus of a Disciple’s Heart

“1 Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle and singled out for God’s good news — 2 which He promised long ago through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures — 3 concerning His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who was a descendant of David according to the flesh 4 and who has been declared to be the powerful Son of God by the resurrection from the dead according to the Spirit of holiness. 5 We have received grace and apostleship through Him to bring about the obedience of faith among all the nations, on behalf of His name, 6 including yourselves who also belong to Jesus Christ by calling:

7 To all who are in Rome, loved by God, called as saints.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Romans 1:1-7

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Paul’s primer on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ begins with a greeting that does everything he can to point the focus at Jesus Christ rather than at the reader. All in all, in just this way of saying ‘Hello, it’s me Paul,’ contains close to 20 references to God and only 6 to the reader. There is no doubt, from the first moment, that this letter has an agenda. That agenda is to direct believers, new and old, toward the undeniable truth that God is the center, Christ is the focus and the Spirit is the One who draws us there. 

There is such a relief, such a freedom, that comes from having the focus shifted off of us and onto Jesus Christ. The first steps of discipleship then echo that call to come and die to self, and to then, inturn, live to Christ. Even in saying hello, it is apparent that this new endeavor of the soul is going to create a rhythm that is based in Him, on Him and for Him. This life of being a disciple isn’t anything that might look like our old life, that might resemble whoever it was that we used to be. Instead, we begin in that first step to do what we will be doing in eternity, namely kneeling and confessing His Lordship over all. We begin by confessing Whose we are, as Paul does in the inaugural 6 words, “Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ.” and in being owned by Jesus, again, we find such freedom. The weight and responsibility of ownership shifts off of our insufficient shoulders and rests firmly on the shoulders of the One who carried the weight of humanity’s sins on His own shoulders. So, in our kneeling, He makes us able to stand. In confessing His Name, He gives us a new identity. In submitting to His Lordship, He makes us Hiis grace-covered ambassadors to the nations. 

All of this confirmed in a simple greeting by a man the readers haven’t even met yet. 

As we greet each new day, week, month, moment, opportunity or year, as Christians, we a compelled to remember our discipleship and where the focus of our life really rests. Each day is meant to be a practice of His presence and a rememberance of His grace-filled love. As disciples, we cannot look to self, but to our Master. This new life is a complete retooling of the entirety of our being. We are being reset, recast, into His image, His likeness. All of life then, has its lens adjusted, focused and dialed in to the heart of God by the blood of Christ and the direction of His Holy Spirit. We gain a new direction and in turn find contenment in Him. We give over the controls for the lens of our heart to Him, knowing that He knows better than we ever could what will bring richness, joy and purpose into our lives. 

Paul’s introduction echoes these senitments, and so much more. This is about Him, not about us. The rhythm of grace that compells us to GoLove others in His Name finds it foundation in the beating of His heart, not in the compulsions of our flesh. The struggle that ensues, between flesh and Spirit, will wind up being a major topic of conversation as this amazing letter progresses. But as for us, let us greet this day with the rememberance of Whose we are, and use these moments we have to draw the hearts of others around us to see what we have found when we come and die, finding life abundant in Jesus Christ.