The Reign of Sin & Death, The Reign of Grace, Part 1

This past week we talked about how we are recipients of the holy love of God through Jesus, the friend of sinners. If you will bear with me I will offer a deeper perspective of sin and why we must move away from thinking that sin can be understood as behavior. Sinful behavior is not humanity’s problem. The reign of sin and death is humanity’s problem. At least that is what I think Paul is getting at in Romans. So, this may appear a bit “heady” but please stick with it. Feel free to email or respond with any questions or reflections. I cannot stress how important I believe wrestling with the apostle Paul’s point of view is for us if we are to faithfully follow Jesus, the friend of sinners. Here we go:

As a recipient of God’s holy love I invite you to think about the world in light of two reigns (or you might say “kingdoms”).¹ One reign is what the apostle Paul referred to as the reign of sin and death. This is a comprehensive description of not just the human condition (beyond behavior) but also the condition of society (principalities & powers).² It is the sphere of human existence where violence and fear is both justified and accepted as “the way things are,” and where power is most often expressed through self-assertion where one person is positioned over another (think of hierarchies in society where people are lorded over, whether in marriage or elsewhere). Life lived in this sphere makes us prone to creating various forms of injustice and oppression due to our disregard for the Lordship of Christ. It is the place where I, or a society, feels free to determine what is right, wrong, good and just for all humanity. We easily devalue others or consider others messer than another. Consequently, it leads to an ongoing rebellion against God and His intentions for humanity and the world. The results is a way of being and doing in society that runs contrary to the peace (shalom), compassion, righteousness and love God offers the world through the reign of Christ. Humanity is imprisoned in this reign of sin and death and principally deals our more sin and death. This is not to say that those living under this reign are “bad” people. Not at all. It is ultimately what Paul is getting at in Romans 3:9 (from Romans 1:18-3:9) and summarized in 5:12-20. It offers an explanation of why we and this world is in the shape that it is in. On our own there is no way out.

The other reign is what the apostle Paul calls the reign of grace. This too is a comprehensive (systemic) description of the human and social condition. It is the sphere of our human existence where violence and fear is trumped by love, reconciliation and peace (shalom), and where power is expressed only through humble, self-giving love (think the Cross). It is the place where humility gives birth to generosity and hospitality. It is a place where faith is the light by which those living in this sphere both see and walk. But it is not a generic faith. It is a faith that rests singularly in a trust (not just a belief) that Jesus of Nazareth is Lord and King, and that as Lord and King He alone determines what is right, wrong, good and just, because it is believed that He is what God looks like.³ As the apostle John once said, Jesus is “the divine Logic (logos in greek) of God made flesh,” and He—his way of being and doing life in this world, including his death and triumphant resurrection–is what God has to say to humanity. God had so much to say to the world He loves that He couldn’t say it all in a collection of pages, so He had to say it in the form of a Person, specifically in and through His own Incarnation.4

Those who live under the reign of grace are summoned to pursue humility and trust that there is no need to resort to the old ways of violence and fear found in the reign of sin and death. Their hope, identity, and security rests solely in a kingdom that will never be in trouble. Those living in the reign of grace have nothing to prove and can let go of the defensive postures the reign of sin and death encourages because they are learning what it means to love and be loved. We are freed from the role of condemning and can offer compassion and kindness because after all, it is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance.5 They remain aware that they share responsibility in the brokenness prevalent in society and are committed to living in God’s presence where their way of being in society makes His reign tangible in the midst of the reign of sin and death. Finally, because those living under the reign of grace are a reconciled and forgiven community they are commanded to do whatever it takes to become a reconciling and forgiving community. They should become a community that refuses to be schooled in denial and readily admit that the reign of sin and death upholds systems of injustice, violence, shame-dealing and fear. They do not bury their heads in the sand or separate themselves from the world. They enter into it to love with a holy love, a set-apart love much like Jesus the friend of sinners offered others, because they have received this holy love. This kind of love refuses to do what is easy and prepares to move into the suffering and violence because this is what their Lord has done. This way of being and doing in society–in Williamsburg Virginia–becomes their way of bearing witness to their Lord’s reign of grace.

Whew! Got it? If not, read it again. If I’ve made this clear as mud please email me as I will do my best to clarify. I believe it is that important, especially in light of the conversations we are having a church family.

Tomorrow I will publish a personal reflection based upon this “worldview.”

Much love you to brothers and sisters. I am grateful for each and every one of you beyond words. I am grateful to share in fellowship, this common life, with you.

~ Fred

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1. Romans 5:12-21 & Colossians 1:13-14

2. Ephesians 6:10-12

3. Colossians 1:15-20; 2:9-10

4. John 1:1-4, 14-17; 21:25

5. Romans 2:4

Childlike Faith and Reflections from Some of You

Wow. This past Sunday was a gift as we welcomed children among us and joined with them in a special way. It was a joy to have all our children ages four to fifth grade join with us in singing to God, proclaiming our shared values, confessing the realties of our faith through the public reading of Scripture, and publicly praying together with one voice. But it was a special joy to participate with the children as they heard about God’s redemptive through the Scriptures (Luke 15). To see many of you joining with the children to “love the sheep” was beautiful. Hearing many of you shout with the children “I found it!,” when we found the ‘lost coin’ hidden in our seats.  But I must say, the best part was seeing some of you tilt your head back, smile big, tuck your arms in to your side, and join with us in the happy dance as we all participated in each story’s celebration. What a gift to join the children in imagining a world where God’s redemptive love breaks in among us and works between us!

This new practice is not something we are doing for the children, it is something we are doing with the children before they leave the gathering for their small groups to explore what they’ve experienced through age-appropriate discussion and creative art. As I said Sunday, one of the primary reasons we are making changes to have kids join us in our Sunday gatherings for the first 20-30 minutes is because is that our children need to know they are loved and known by us and that we are all in this together. Another reason is that we adults need God’s Spirit to form within us a biblical imagination and a childlike faith. The best way to do that is to let the children draw us in. There is something they can teach us.

From now on until the Spirit determines otherwise, each week we gather on Sunday we are going to obey the Lord Jesus and be sure to not do what the disciples attempted to do and ‘shoo them away‘ to classrooms from the very beginning. In their presence we are going to affirm that we are with them by our presence and participation in this moment, this holy moment. We are going to join them in dancing, in the playfulness and beauty and imagination of the story of God, and they are going to be raised up knowing there’s no such thing as ‘big church,’ ‘small church’ or ‘children’s church.’ There’s just Church.

Enough from me. Listen to others from within our church family and how they were impacted by what they experienced this Sunday. I want to start with Jon Sprankle, one of our shepherds and our worship leader, because he was able to see from my vantage point the beauty of childlike faith:

“D.L. Moody once said, ‘If I could relive my life, I would devote my entire ministry to reaching children for God!’ Personally, I’m not sure I would go that far, but it sure was a privilege to sit up front this Sunday and watch every eye on every child glued to Fred as he shared the same stories that Jesus shared with us. To see the amazement of God in those little one’s eyes was a reminder that we should all look at our Savior’s gift that way. With childlike eyes that are amazed by the amount of love He has for a sinful man like me.”

“There is a beautiful sense of helplessness in relinquishing control to our Father in a childlike faith. The past few days, in the middle of my responsibilities to study for tests and organize an overwhelming amount of things, I clung to the burdens I had put upon my own shoulders. What is so amazing is that all Jesus says is simply “come”. “Let the little children come to me”. “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.” I don’t have to prove anything to anyone, because I have already found favor in the eyes of my Father. All I have to do is answer His beckoning to come in faith of the promises He makes. And He never lets his children down.” ~ a college student

“For me, it’s fairly obvious when the Holy Spirit is bringing the message and His timing is always right. It’s especially challenging when He says something that goes against the popular beliefs at the time. I love it when I have to give thought to something that I thought I already knew and Sunday was an example. To grab the children early and have them feel included is marvelous…whether or not it is comfortable at first for us or them. KEEP THEM CLOSE!!” ~ a senior adult

“When we got home I asked the boys how they liked going upstairs to church service with us. They both loved it. I asked if they want to do it again and they said yes. My five year old asked why they get to go upstairs now. I told him it was because he and the other kids could teach the grown ups a lot.” ~ a wife and mother

“Our church answered Jesus’ call toward taking bigger steps to become an intergenerational church this Sunday. I am so proud of how the adults welcomed our children by participating in our “Big God Story,” finding lost coins, doing the happy dance, and embracing them with their smiles of encouragement. As we continue this practice, I can’t wait to see how God will work in the lives of our adult members who “…humble (themselves) and become like children” and in our children as they feel more a part of our extended family. I pray that connections will be made that will strengthen our church family relationships and bond our generations in Christ’s love; after all “God redeems!” ~ an adult small group teacher for Kidz Connect, wife and mother

“As children joined us, and we joined them, God’s Spirit is at work teaching, comforting, and removing barriers. We got to see what God can do when we learn from children how to imagine, and how to enjoy God and his gathered people. This is another step toward seeing the full picture of Christ’s body- when we gather with all of our differences to become one in Christ.” ~ Garrett Laubscher, Family Minister

“I was excited about our Kidz Konnect children joining our worship gathering! Our families would worship together and all generations would hear God’s word together. I was not disappointed. I saw smiles on many faces children and adults alike as they heard how God redeems! I heard laughter from all as the Big Idea for Kidz Konnect was listened to by 4 year olds through 84 year olds. Our WCC family celebrated our God together as one.” ~ Erin Otis, Children’s Minister

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Healing Sunday and the Faith of a Child

This Sunday we gathered to call upon the name of the Lord to bring healing, his peace (wholeness), into our lives. You can read about it here. Thirty-nine people (representing thirty-one families) came to the elders to receive prayer and anointing.  Garrett Laubscher, our family minister, offers this reflection on an encounter with God that came through the faith of a precious child. Please take the time to read it. May your heart be stirred.


On Sunday, I had the opportunity to join with individuals and families in calling on Yahweh Rophe–the Lord who heals. It was a humbling experience to join others in their suffering and to seek our Healer together.  I entered in to this Healing Sunday with some expectations and preconceived ideas about how it would be, what i would do, and how God might move, but as usual God shattered my expectations.

Now, I went into this experience praying that I would be able to show God’s love to those who came forward for prayer, that I could be a representative for Jesus, leading them as together we went to our Healer.  But as I was seeking to bear witness to Jesus for them, they were bearing witness to Jesus for me.  Jesus was present to teach me and he made his presence known through the heart of a child.  I was blown away by Jesus once again because of His heart for children, and His ability to teach me through children. 

This child came forward for prayer with her mother. She squirmed in their seat as she looked at me with bright eyes and said, “Will you pray for my friend? He’s been so mean to me, and I don’t know why.”

So the protective parent in me wanted to talk to this mean kid, and his parents, probably in a ‘mean’ tone with some ‘mean’ things to say.  I’m sure I could make this meanness stop.  But there was this beauty in her heart–a sincerity, and a humble posture– something pure that made me pause.  She didn’t just want the meanness to stop, she wanted wholeness for someone treating her less like a friend and more like what we might call, an enemy.  

My first thoughts of more ‘meanness’ to make this meanness stop were not her first thoughts, or something she ever thought.  She simply ‘didn’t know why.’  Why are people mean to each other? Why are some people our enemy? Why can’t we all love each other? And in that moment I didn’t know why either- in that moment I forgot all of the reasons why we hate, or participate in violence, or treat people like products, or seek revenge, or are controlled by fear, greed, and selfishness–I forgot why we are mean. 

She didn’t say enemy, she (prophetically) said friend.  My cynical mind immediately thought ‘frenemy’ at best, but she probably meant enemy. Or maybe she doesn’t even know what ‘enemy’ means, or maybe she can’t fathom the idea of calling a fellow child (human) an enemy, or maybe she knows everything there is to know about following Jesus.  Because what she revealed to me is a glimpse into the Kingdom of God, a snapshot of what the good news looks like that says God is making right what has been made wrong through the reign of sin and death.  When that good news, that kingdom, comes fully, we won’t know what  ‘enemy’ means, only that there was once an enemy (not human, not flesh and blood) who has already been defeated. Those we call enemies are seeking wholeness (like us) in all of the wrong ways, and we know the only One that will actually make them whole. The healing and wholeness that Jesus offers can make friends out of enemies.  Jesus even gives us instructions on how to make this a reality, instructions this child seems to be following better than most of us. 

“You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”                                                                                          ~ Matthew 5:43-48

Jesus also said to welcome the kingdom of God like a little child, maybe a like little child who comes forward for prayer from the Shepherds (elders) of the church, one who says ‘friend’ when we assume ‘enemy.’ Maybe we are to welcome God’s kingdom into our lives like this little one who wanted wholeness for her enemy–for this enemy to come to know Love, that they might discover they were created to be loved, and to love.  

Some people were even bringing infants to Him so He might touch them, but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. Jesus, however, invited them: “Let the little children come to Me, and don’t stop them, because the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I assure you: Whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”                                                                                                                                ~ Luke 18:15-17 

~ Garrett

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