Saturday, March 24, 2018

Costly Grace

Post by: Mwangi Ndonga

By far (arm lengths, miles, light years), my favorite book on the Christian life is The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I have an old copy that a former pastor lent to me. On the cover it says “A powerful attack on ‘easy Christianity’”. Is your Christian life easy?

I’m not asking if you becoming a Christian was easy.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” John 3:16

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8

I’m asking about life ex post facto.

Bonhoeffer distinguishes cheap grace from costly grace in his first chapter:

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

He goes on to say that, “It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘ye were bought at a price’, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.” I don’t think that Bonhoeffer is saying that we “owe” Jesus for his sacrifice nor that we all have to enroll in seminary tomorrow. But we must recognize the cost at which our privilege was purchased.

A long time ago, I used to think: “So what’s the big deal about Jesus giving his life up? Firemen run into fires to save lives – giving up their lives for others at times. What’s so special about Jesus?”

Paul clarified this for me in Romans 5:6 “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Would you step in and serve the sentence of a criminal? Would you lay your life so that a death row inmate is not executed? Would you sacrifice your child to bear the sin burden of the entire world and suffer? I wouldn’t. But Christ did. But God did.

And that is radical. And that is free. And that is costly.

Because of costly grace, Christianity isn’t a spectator sport.

“Are ye able,” said the Master,
“to be crucified with me?”
“Yea,” the sturdy dreamers answered,
“To the death we follow thee.”

Mwangi Ndonga currently lives in Broomfield with his wife, Talesha, and son, Kamundia. They have been members of BUMC since 2010. Mwangi primarily serves on the Worship and Arts Ministry by playing piano and bass guitar during the Contemporary Services. He works as an environmental, health and safety professional in the oil and gas industry. An avid reader, Mwangi loves discussion on almost any topic, especially music and theology.

Friday, March 16, 2018

A Time for Gentleness

Post by: Thomas Cross

In our discussions of Anxious for Nothing, I ran across a word I had not noticed before. The word is “gentleness,” and it is a word that Paul uses in Philippians 4:5. “Let your gentleness be known to everyone,” Paul says. Paul also lists “gentleness” as one of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. As you know, I am fascinated by the Greek words used in the New Testament, so I looked it up and found that the Greek word for “gentleness” is epiekes, which is derived from the word “appropriate.” Epiekes means “gentle, moderate, patient, stable, steady.”

Gentleness doesn’t preclude exuberance, but it does describe a person that is not easily rocked, a person that has a strong center of gravity, a person that doesn’t fly off the handle when things get difficult. The best antonym for epiekes is “erratic.”

In Galatians 5:22-23, the fruit of the Spirit are arranged in three triads, moving from inner character qualities (love, joy, peace), to outward qualities that strengthen our relationships with others (patience, kindness, goodness), to character qualities that allow us to continue growing and following Christ for the long haul. One can see how the emotional constancy of gentleness helps us to keep our balance and composure. Our gentleness flows from our inner character, it is manifested in our relationships, and helps us to finish the race of faith in a way that glorifies God.

The last three fruit of the Spirit are qualities that mark mature believers in Christ who have abided in Christ over a period of years. Our part is to abide closely in Christ, as Jesus says in John 15:4: "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me." As we abide in Christ, it is the nature of the Holy Spirit's work to begin by changing our inner character, to manifest this transformation in our relationships, and finally to equip us to persevere in our faith by grounding us deeply in Christ's steadfast love.

It is the nature of Christ's character to be constant, unchanging, and enduring in nature, and it is Christ's desire to call forth the same in us, from our human spirits, from the true self, as we let go of our ego attachments that are tied up in what is fleeting and transitory. Paul discusses this transformation in Philippians 3:1-14, in which he lists his "resume" of all the accomplishments he was so proud of as a young man, and then concludes, "More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ” (vs. 8).

What Paul discovered in Christ was not "a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith" (Philippians 3:9). With our new birth in Christ, this righteousness from God forms the basis of our identity and mission. We become "imitators of God, as beloved children, and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you..." (Ephesians 5:1-2). Our ongoing challenge is to claim this true identity which is ours in Christ, and to keep asking Christ to help us when we find ourselves resisting or rejecting the truth of who we really are. The Lord is always eager to answer this prayer and help us when we need to reaffirm who and whose we are.

I can be gentle because I’m not terribly impressed by my own credentials and accomplishments. What impresses me is that I have a God who loves me, a Savior who helps me, and a Spirit who guides me. I didn’t do anything to earn these gifts, and I receive them humbly and joyfully. My overwhelming response is gratitude to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In our own time, I believe biblical “gentleness” is a gift worth cultivating. We live in a time of dramatic change. It is said that every 500 years or so, God does a new thing, and we seem to be right on schedule (500 years after the start of the Protestant Reformation). The changes of our time are too numerous for any of us to track or fully understand. In the midst of events we may find unsettling or befuddling, it is important to have a strong center of gravity in Christ so we are not rocked by the events of the day. In a time when many people seem more focused on winning arguments than friends, it is also important to offer the gentle word of encouragement and hope. We can do so because we trust that God is sovereign over history and our lives, that God has good plans for us and our planet.

How do we cultivate such gentleness? Our gentleness springs from our relationship with Christ. As we abide in Christ, depend upon his Spirit, and own our identity as God’s children, his gentleness will become one of the marks of our character. We will become people who are not easily rocked by the vicissitudes of circumstances, but rather people who find deep balance, stability, and composure because our character is built upon the foundation and Chief Cornerstone of the Living Christ. This constant gentleness allows us to treat others as Christ treats us, with love, whether we agree with them or not. As the hymn writer Edward Mote puts it, “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”

Thomas Cross is one of the pastors at BUMC, starting his ninth year here.  He loves to help people grow in Christ and start new small groups.  He says his passion is ‘to introduce people to the God I know through Jesus Christ, the God who is merciful and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.’  He enjoys hiking, reading, cooking, going to movies, working out, collecting art, listening to jazz music, and watching the Broncos for fun.  And he has a blast meeting with the diverse small groups he facilitates! 

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Deal Breaker

Post by: Theresa Mazza

What side of the issue are you on? What do you stand for? What are your core values?

These questions are quickly becoming the litmus test for friendship and connection. Answer any of these questions wrong or hint at the wrong answer and you may be looking at a deal breaker. Our differences have somehow become unforgivable sins. You believe coffee should be enjoyed black? Deal breaker. You believe the most recent Star Wars movies are better than the original Star Wars movies? Deal breaker. Seems like an extreme position, right?

Agreeing to disagree may be a thing of the past. Now, I know the examples above don’t really represent the most serious deal breakers of our time but you get what I’m saying. The space to coexist with those who have different values or views is getting smaller and smaller with each passing day. Have we deemed our differences unforgivable offenses against friendship and community?

Is it okay for us to have such little space in our lives for those who challenge us to our core?

Maybe it’s okay when there is no potential for a civil and meaningful conversation. Maybe it’s okay if we seriously feel our life is in danger. Maybe it’s okay if nothing productive can take place and both parties are achieving nothing.

But maybe it’s not okay if we just don’t like being uncomfortable. Maybe it’s not okay if we’ve become addicts of “being right.” Maybe it’s not okay if we’re playing God and self-determining what is a sinful act and what is not.

So how much space should there be to coexist and even potentially respect and love those “other” people? Well, how much space has God allowed for us to abide in him in all of our sinfulness and imperfection?

In the book of Matthew, Peter asked Jesus, “how many times should I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven? Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.”

So maybe we can create more space for one another in our hearts. Next time you face a deal breaker, remember the space Jesus creates in his reply to Peter. 70 X 7!

If we can forgive someone 490 times (okay Jesus is amazing so let’s cut that number in half because we aren’t Jesus, if we can forgive someone 245 times, nope that’s still too much for me, let’s cut that in half again, if we can forgive someone 122 times) maybe that gives us enough space to see them through the eyes of Jesus and to love them as we love ourselves.

Theresa is a youth advocate, writer and speaker, as well as the Volunteer Coordinator for Hope House of Colorado, an organization empowering teenage moms to strive for personal and economic self-sufficiency. She sings with BUMC's worship team and is married to Worship Arts Director, Joe Mazza.