Wednesday, October 28, 2009


(The piece below was published in the current issue of American in Britain, a magazine for the American expat community. The series on Romans continues next week)

The calendar tells me that this is the season to be thankful. Kids are back in school, the air is a bit crisper, and the leaves are clogging up the drains near our flat. That can only mean one thing: Thanksgiving is coming. ‘Tis the season to be thankful.


So much has happened in the last year or so. The economy (in a stunning understatement) has struggled, conflicts around the world have dragged on with tragic losses, and we’ve seen the ways that partisanship in both Britain and America can stifle progress across a wide range of issues.

Sometimes it’s hard to feel thankful.

First off, before I write anything else about this, let me be very clear. Being thankful doesn’t mean we close our eyes to the problems around us that need solving. Being thankful doesn’t mean that we fail to hear the cries for help and mercy in our midst and around the world. I say that because too many people equate faith with a lack of awareness or realism. Too many people will assume that to believe in a God with a plan, or a world with a purpose, is to be ignorant somehow of what is really happening around us.

I don’t think that’s true.

Challenging times make it difficult to experience the joy that springs from feeling thankful, but rejecting thankfulness altogether isn’t exactly a helpful response. Challenging times, more than any other, remind us that thankfulness is a discipline and not a feeling. Uh-oh. I know I’ve said a bad word there, so since it’s out of the bag already I’ll say it again.

Thankfulness is a discipline.

Thankfulness is a discipline that takes practice to fully enjoy. It’s not dependent upon a feeling that blows through us whenever it wants to, like some Romantic inspiration, only to go away until it magically reappears. Thankfulness is something that we practice—something we train ourselves to do as a regular part of healthy, hopeful living. In other words, thankfulness is our responsibility to learn and to develop and to share.

John Calvin may be the least popular theologian of the Protestant Reformation, but 2009 is the 500th anniversary of his birth and so I’ve been reading more of his writing. He wrote:

“The contemplation of God’s goodness in his creation will lead us to thankfulness and trust.”

Now that statement has one major leap of faith in it—the belief that God’s goodness is something we can see around us. It’s a leap of faith, I know, but I believe it to be true. Say what you will about the bad news we hear every day—on balance this life still offers far more beauty and wonder than anything on the other side of the ledger. As much as it might pain us to say it, Calvin is 100% right here. When we allow ourselves to think—to contemplate—on the parts of our lives we know to be good, the end result is thankfulness and trust.

Calvin’s point is that thankfulness is the product of knowing—or struggling to believe—that God loves the world and everything in it. Calvin would boldly say that faith like that makes it possible for us to live through our times of struggle:

“Gratitude of mind for the favorable outcome of things, patience in adversity, and also incredible freedom from worry about the future all necessarily follow upon this knowledge.”

What are you thankful for this season?

As we prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday, with all the food and fellowship (and sports) that it represents, how can we discipline ourselves to think about God’s goodness in our lives? Believing that takes practice—it requires us to take some big and small steps of faith to connect the blessings in our lives to their source. It takes practice, but it makes all the difference in the way that we approach every single day.

My prayer for you—and for me—this season is that our awareness of God will lead to gratitude of mind, patience in adversity, and as much freedom from worry about the future as we can muster.

From our church to all of you, may God bless you with a tangible sense of gratitude during this holiday season.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Just in Time

(This message is part of a series on Romans titled "Based on a Promise, Called for a Purpose.")

Romans 5:1-11

On Monday night Ian and I watched the new BBC series called ‘Life’. It’s the latest from David Attenborough—it took 4 years to shoot all the footage and edit it into 10 episodes. The show was amazing. The focus was on the different ways animals survive in their environments. There were penguins and cheetahs and monkeys—all of the staples of a good nature program.

There was a great sequence where some bottleneck dolphins showed how they catch fish that swim faster than they do. They herd them into shallow water, then one dolphin swims a circle around the fish, kicking up a circle of mud in the water. The fish panic and start to jump out of the circle, only to jump right into the mouths of the hungry dolphins.

We were inspired by the Strawberry Poison Dart Frog of Costa Rica. This tiny little creature, about the size of a thumbnail, produces a litter of 5 or 6 tadpoles. But in their part of the forest, the ponds dry up before the tadpoles grow into frogs, so the mother will put a tadpole on her back and start to climb one of the trees where bromeliad plants store pools of water.

She carries the tadpoles up one at a time—each into their own little pool. It’s the equivalent of a human mother carrying a baby to the top of the Empire State Building. She does it six times, then revisits each tadpole to bring it food until it’s ready to face the world on its own. For each litter, this tiny frog climbs more than a half of a mile—barely an inch at a time.

But the mother of the year award goes to The Giant Octopus. She lays thousands of eggs, then covers them for protection and to pass on nutrition. She never moves during the entire time the eggs are getting ready to hatch. She doesn’t eat or take on anything for herself. By the time the eggs begin to hatch, the Giant Octopus dies—she gives her life to make it possible for her children to live.

It’s a truly amazing example of the lengths a loving parent will go to in order to ensure life—to protect and nurture her children.

1Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
6You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
9Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! 10For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

As we begin it will help to remember the point of Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Romans was written to convince one group of people that God could be trusted because of his faithfulness to another group of people.

Let me say that another way:

The letter to the Romans was written to convince the Gentile Christians in Rome that God could be trusted because he kept his promises to his Jewish covenant people.

Over the past few weeks we’ve talked about the meaning of the Christian life. We’ve seen in Paul’s letter to the Romans that our faith is based on a promise, and that in our discipleship we’ve been called for a purpose—to live in close relationship to God, and to share the message of the gospel with the world around us.

The next week we talked about our need for forgiveness, and the way we learn to live the message of the gospel with boldness and passion. We stop being ashamed of the gospel when we accept the fact that the gospel isn’t ashamed of us.

On Communion Sunday we learned that God offers signs of his presence and love all around us—that he’ll never lose sight of us or stop loving us. There is no shortage of ways we can find ourselves lost, but nothing we’ve ever said or done or even believed before this moment can separate us from the one who made us and loves us.

And then last week we were reminded that we are people who’ve been bought with a price, and that learning to live that way changes everything, from our earning and spending to our parenting and the way we live in relationships—from how we value others to how we define what our own lives mean.

Living as people who’ve been redeemed through Christ’s sacrifice changes everything about us.

And so that brings us to our text this morning. I said on our first Sunday in Romans that a lot of people have favorite parts of this letter. Our text is one of the more popular passages—I remember learning it in my youth group about 30 years ago. Paul is still making his argument here that God can be trusted because he’s already proven himself to be faithful to his promises.

What he’s really describing are the lengths God will go to in order to give us life—how far he’ll go to protect and nurture each one of us.

Paul begins with a reminder that our reconciliation to God is based on faith alone, and not on anything we’ve done to earn it. ‘Since we have been justified through faith,’ Paul says, ‘we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’

I’ve said before that I think this is one of the hardest things for us to grasp. We have to earn just about every other thing that matters to us, and when we come to God and he offers us this amazing free gift, it’s as if we don’t speak the language.

In the Reformation this was one of the key sticking points between Martin Luther and the Roman Church. In Luther’s eyes the established church had created a false sense for individual believers—a sense that they had to earn their forgiveness—to earn their salvation. But that didn’t mean he thought that people didn’t need forgiveness. Luther’s views grew out of a pretty clear understanding of human brokenness, something we can see clearly in our passage this morning.

Paul has three words to describe the state of humanity in this part of his letter, and none of them are very pretty. He calls us:

‘Powerless’: Weak, incapacitated by illness, impotent, paralyzed by the inability to act.

‘Ungodly: Guilty of outrage, giving divine honors to the creature instead of the creator, distorting the relationship between God and his people.

‘Sinners’: Sin in this sense is what we do and also who or what we choose to serve. This is Paul’s catch-all term for people who have allowed something to get in the way of their link with God.

But all this ‘bad news’ of our condition is followed by the ‘good news’ of Christ’s work on the cross—what Paul calls a demonstration of God’s own love for us.

Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. The good news comes after Paul’s description of our need for it, but the point if you read it carefully is that God accomplished his redeeming work before we even knew we needed it. God didn’t schedule a meeting to talk about the problem of sin—he did something amazing—something sacrificial—to solve the problem.

In the musical ‘My Fair Lady’, Eliza Doolittle is tired of listening to her young suitor talk about all the things he wants to do. One of the classic songs in the play is called ‘Show Me’, where Eliza sings:

"Don't talk of stars, burning above; If you're in love, Show me! Tell me not dreams, filled with desire. If you're on fire, Show me!"

Maybe the point of all this is that God isn’t just talk. The God we worship is a God of action—the one who has acted decisively to bring all of his creation back to himself.

There’s no need for us to look up at God and demand a sign—to say ‘show me’—because he’s already shown us how far he will go to bring us close again. What Paul’s really describing are the lengths God will go to in order to give us life—how far he’ll go to protect and nurture each one of us.

While we were still sinners Christ died for us.

Before we even knew we had a problem, God was already working to provide a solution through Jesus Messiah.

God demonstrated his own love for us, just in time.

What does that mean for us? How do we respond to this gift of forgiveness and reconciliation and restoration?

We celebrate our forgiveness together in fellowship. That may be the single most important difference between Christian fellowship and any other gathering of people. We come together knowing we’ve been forgiven and restored and reconciled.

We worship as a community. As we sing these songs and offer these prayers—even the ones that might not be as familiar to us—we join with people across boundaries and cultures and even across time, as we praise God for the ways he loves us.

We welcome the Holy Spirit into our lives to shape us into the people God made us to be. This is really the key of discipleship—the ways we grow in our personal knowledge and experience of Jesus Christ, and also the ways we grow together here and in Bible studies and in meaningful conversation.

Finally, we reach out in mission to a world that is desperate for this message, whether it knows it or not. We reach out in service to our neighbors not as people who are superior in any way, but as powerless, ungodly sinners who have been forgiven through God’s love and Christ’s sacrifice.

We reach out because God first reached out to us. What God asks of us is that we let go of anything that holds us back.

John Ortberg, in his book Faith & Doubt (which is on your reading list in the bulletin)—Ortberg describes God’s call to faith like this:

“What are you to let go of? Anything that will keep you from God.

Let go of relationships if they dishonor God.
Let go of your attachment to money.
Let go of your power; be a servant.
Let go of your addiction. Admit it. Get help.
Let go of that habit.
Let go of that grudge.
Let go of your ego, your pride, your possessions, your reputation, your disobedience.

God comes, and he asks us to let go.”

What do you have to let go of today?

What keeps you from experiencing the gift of God’s grace and forgiveness this morning?

What prevents you from getting to know the one who was willing to die to get to know you?

What keeps you from accepting the one who was willing to put you on his back and climb a tree and take you to a place where you can thrive?

The good news is that it’s never too late. The good news is that the one who made us and redeemed us and loves us in spite of ourselves, even Jesus Christ himself, wants to live in you and through you.

He took the first step, before we even knew we needed him, but the next step is up to us.

Let’s pray together.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Too Good Not to be True

(This message is part of a series on Romans titled "Based on a Promise, Called for a Purpose.")

Romans 3:21-26

John Bradshaw is a psychologist who wrote some important books about families and relationships back in the 1980s. His lectures were broadcast on PBS for a while, and I remember how he used to talk about troubled families in those programs. He used a large mobile—you know, an oversized version of what might hang over a baby’s crib. He would add a piece for each member of the family, but when he start to add extra pieces representing things like addiction or abuse, you could see the mobile twist and contort as it was thrown out of balance. In the end that was precisely Bradshaw’s point: these problems or dysfunctions could throw families completely out of balance.

Think about that as we continue our journey through Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul’s main point is that the world has been infected by sin—that the human family had been thrown out of balance—and that only Jesus Christ could make things right again.

21But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

As we begin it will help to remember the point of Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Romans was written to convince one group of people that God could be trusted because of his faithfulness to another group of people.

Let me say that another way:

The letter to the Romans was written to convince the Gentile Christians in Rome that God could be trusted because he kept his promises to his Jewish covenant people.

It was also a reminder to the Jewish people that they hadn’t left their old faith behind for a new one, but that Christ was the completion of the faith they’d held all along.

Our text comes right after an extended discussion of God’s faithfulness, and just before a familiar passage about Abraham’s faith. Note the ‘Jewishness’ of the context within Romans—it’s all about the Law and Abraham’s faithfulness.

What should we notice in our text?

“Righteousness by faith alone.”

There is nothing here that is earned by human effort. A lot of times this is the hardest part for people to accept about the Christian faith. We live in a world where we have to earn everything—our pay, our security, even our love sometimes. All of that gets turned on its head here. The greatest gift we can ever imagine—by a long way—comes to us free of charge—free from measuring up—it comes by faith alone.

This is NOT like the end of the movie ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ where Tom Hanks’ character’s dying words to Private Ryan are: ‘Earn this!’ Christ doesn’t ask us to earn anything—he just asks us to believe.

“There is no difference.”

Part of this is about the ancient division between Jew and Gentile—this is Paul consistently making the world-changing case that God has entered the world for the entire world—no one has the inside lane on this. The differences that separate us from each other have been set aside.

Paul’s teaching here points to our shared identity as people who go running after other gods. ‘There is no difference’ becomes ‘we’re all in the same boat,’ or maybe ‘misery loves company.’

What it means is that when we talk about what the gospel means and what it requires, no one is excluded, but no one is exempt, either. This is for everyone.

Proof that God is faithful to his promises.

Remember that the promises God made to the people he chose were simple: Be faithful and I will bless you and make you into a blessing for the whole world. That’s what’s happening in Paul’s letter to the Romans. Through Christ we see not only the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel, but also the keeping of the promise to bless the entire world through them.

This is one of those moments when we have to step back and consider just what it meant for God to come, to become human with all its weaknesses and problems, to suffer pain and torment and to die.

How does Christ’s death mean that was God faithful?

All of this is part of a bigger story called the Atonement. We spent some time on that earlier this year: The Atonement is a drama in three acts—the Cross, the Resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The point of this drama is that we’ve been offered reconciliation to God, to ourselves, to each other and to the earth.

But it all begins with Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross.

What we learn through the Cross is that there is a common plight and a common solution for all of humanity.

Our common plight is what the Scriptures call sin: anything that separates us from living and loving and serving in the presence of God.

The common solution is Christ’s atoning work. Listen to how Scot McKnight describes the meaning of Christ’s death in his book on the Atonement.

McKnight suggests that “we see the achievement of the cross in three expressions: Jesus dies ‘with us’—entering our evil and our sin and our suffering to subvert it and create a new way; Jesus dies ‘instead of us’—he enters into our sin, our wrath, and our death; and Jesus dies ‘for us’—his death forgives our sin, ‘declares us right’, absorbs the wrath of God against us and creates new life where there was once only death…A life shaped by the cross is a life bent on dying daily to self in order to love God, self, others and the world”

The Cross changes everything.

This passage is nothing less than a radical redefinition of what it means to be the people of God. What does this mean for us?

The human family is out of balance—like in that mobile John Bradshaw used to talk about the family. But the atonement puts us back into balance with God—literally, justified by him, through him, and for him.

So what do we do now? Two things:

First, live as people who have been bought with a price. Live as people who are trying to understand the gift we’ve been given in Jesus Christ.

Living that way changes everything—from the way we earn and spend, to the way we love and serve. From our parenting to our business practices—from what we look for in relationships to our treatment of the poor.

Living as people who’ve been purchased with a price becomes the way we define our lives. It replaces our education and careers, the achievements of our kids and the coolness of our cars.

Living as people who’ve been bought with a price transforms the way we fellowship with each other, the way we worship together—it changes the way we focus on growing into mature disciples and eventually the way we reach out to others.

Second, the call is on us to share that good news with the people in our lives. That looks different for each of us, but the principle is the same for everyone:

Experiencing God’s forgiveness in our lives in a real way leads naturally—inevitably—to sharing that forgiveness with the people around us. We do that individually, but we also do it as a community of faith—as this church family.

In ‘Deep Church, the book I mentioned last week, the author talks about the central role the gospel of Jesus Christ has in their church. He writes:

“The gospel is at the center of all we do. The 'gospel' is the good news that through Jesus, the Messiah, the power of God's kingdom has entered history to renew the whole world. Through the Savior God has established his reign. When we believe and rely on Jesus' work and record (rather than ours) for our relationship to God, that kingdom power comes upon us and begins to work through us. We witness this radical new way of living by our renewed lives, beautiful community, social justice, and cultural transformation. This good news brings new life. The gospel motivates, guides, and empowers every aspect of our living and worship.”

Just to close: If the story ended with the pronouncement that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,’ then we would live lives of hopelessness and despair.

But that’s not the end of the story. The promise God makes to all of us is that no matter who we are or what we’ve done—no matter what we’ve said or even what we’ve believed before this moment.

No matter who we think we are, God sees us as the people he made and loves and gave himself up to save.

Whatever else you think about yourself, the good news is that when you come to him in faith, God sees you as perfect and spotless and shiny and new.

That’s the good news—that’s the gospel of Jesus Christ offered to each one of us, every day.

What’s left for us is to accept it—to live it—and to share it with the world Christ came to save.


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Clear Enough?

(This message is part of a series on Romans titled "Based on a Promise, Called for a Purpose.")

Romans 1:18-20

It’s one of the great, often true stereotypes about men in our culture. Here’s the stereotype: men usually don’t like to ask for directions or even read maps. I know, I know, some guys aren’t like this, but they just stick out and prove the rule most of the time. Is there a more iconic beginning to a fight in books or movies or TV? The wife says: We’re lost. The husband says: No we’re not. The wife asks the husband to stop for directions. The husband refuses and we’re off to the races…

Julie and I went to Normandy last year, and even though neither of us speaks French, we always knew where we were because the signs were so clear. Everywhere we looked there were arrows pointing to exactly what we wanted to see, and at the very least there was always one large sign that said ‘OVERLORD,’ the operational name for the D-Day invasion. Seriously, I remember thinking to myself that you’d have to be blind to get lost along that northern Normandy coast.

18The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Before we get into that it’s worth a reminder of the point of Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Romans was written to convince one group of people that God could be trusted because of his faithfulness to another group of people.

Let me say that another way:

The letter to the Romans was written to convince the Gentile Christians in Rome that God could be trusted because he kept his promises to his Jewish covenant people.

It was also a reminder to the Jewish people that they hadn’t left their old faith behind for a new one, but that Christ was the completion of the faith they’d held all along.

Last week we heard Paul say ‘I am not ashamed of the Gospel,’ and the point of that for us as we move deeper into this important letter is that we stop being ashamed of the Gospel when we accept the fact that the Gospel isn’t ashamed of us.

So what about our text this morning?

It introduces a section on the state of things when the world rejects God. It starts with an ominous sentence: ‘The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against godlessness and wickedness’…let’s come back to that one.

Then there’s a section listing a broad range of examples of what happens when people lose sight of God, followed by an explanation of God and people and sin and judgment that is rooted in the Jewish tradition—in the Jewish world view.

So let’s talk about how Paul addresses some of these things in our text this morning.

The first thing that jumps of the page is this business about the ‘Wrath of God’. We all have an image in our minds of what that might be. Lightning, plagues, hail, floods—there are all kinds of images we conjure up when someone mentions God’s wrath. For some people it confirms the worst about what they think about God and the Bible and Christians. Why give your life to a faith that’s rooted in fear of the wrath of a God you can’t even see?

But as you read through the rest of this chapter you’ll find that what Paul is actually describing is scarier than that. He says that when people choose to reject God…God lets them do it. Paul says: ‘Therefore God gave them over’ to whatever it is they wanted to do instead of worshipping and serving God. What? No fire…no brimstone? That doesn’t sound very wrathful.

But it does sound strangely loving. It’s the tough love that people talk about sometimes—when a parent has to make the painful choice to let a child make their own mess…and take the consequences. It’s when we stop enabling someone to keep on living in any form of self-destructive behavior—when we stop shielding them from the consequences—in the hopes that they’ll be shaken back into their senses.

God’s wrath is simply that he allows his people to go their own way—the way they choose for themselves.

That leaves a pretty comprehensive list covering everything from slander and gossip, questions of sexuality, and even arrogance and boastfulness. Let’s be clear about this part: none of the individual sins here are worse than any of the others. It’s the idea of sin itself—the things we do that separate us from God and from God’s ways—that’s what Paul is teaching us in this section of his letter.

But then we’re left with what God tries to do to bring us back to him—this idea of the ‘Visibility of God’. Through it all God tries to make himself plain—even obvious—to the world he made. The call to notice and follow: God’s ‘eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen’, Paul says, ‘being understood from what has been made.’

Most of us at some point or another, as we have struggled to know God and to believe that he really exists—most of us have said something like: ‘O God, I’d believe in you if you just showed me a sign.

That’s what’s behind those stories we see every so often about someone seeing Jesus or the Virgin Mary in a piece of fruit or a ham sandwich. It was the foundation of the controversy over the Shroud of Turin. It’s that moment that everyone has experienced where we’re sure we would be the people God called us to be if he would just show himself to us.

Does that ring true for you? Wouldn’t we all love to see a sign that proved beyond any doubt that God existed? What sign would be good enough?

Frederick Buechner imagines a story in his book, The Magnificent Defeat. After hearing the collective cries of his people for a sign, God reaches into the heavens and rearranges the stars so that they spell out ‘I EXIST’ in every language. The response is dramatic: Stadiums and arenas can’t contain local churches; elderly Christians weep at the confirmation that their faith has not been in vain; doubters and scoffers turn to God in passionate faith. After a period where the the Gospel spreads to every corner of the earth, a man walks with his young son to look at the night sky. As they stand together, hand-in-hand, reading God’s unmistakable self-revelation, the boy turns to his father and says,

‘So what?’

The signs that pointed to God’s existence had become so commonplace that those who had not known life without them failed to understand their message.

The point here is that the real question isn’t about whether or not we get to see a sign. The real point comes in the form of a question: Will we see the signs for what they truly are? Remember where our passage comes from—it’s a part of the introduction to an argument—to Paul making the case that God could be trusted in Rome and beyond because he had been faithful to his promises to Israel.

But even that’s not the heart of the matter. At the very core of this section of Paul’s letter is something that’s true for every person whether we admit it or not, and here it is:

Something or someone is going to be lord in our lives.

Bob Dylan said it a different way, of course: ‘You’re gonna serve somebody.’ Either way it’s true—each of us will make something lord in our life. The question that each of us has to answer is ‘who or what will it be?’

There’s no shortage of choices. People turn all kinds of things into gods for themselves: wealth, power, sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, even safety. Money as a god has taken a beating in this past year, but even that one is always going to make a comeback.

We’re all going to choose something to be the lord of our life—it’s the way we’re wired. Remember that Paul has a goal in this letter—he’s trying to get Roman Christians to trust God because God has been faithful to his promises in the past.

He knows that God gives us all the freedom to choose whatever we want to follow as lord. Paul’s goal is to convince as many people as possible to choose Christ for that important job.

But first we have to notice him. First we have to see the signs.

The call on us in this passage is to see the indications of God in the world around us—not just in nature but in the beauty and creativity we see in the culture, too.

The call is to see all of that—to see the way that God communicates says ‘I EXIST' through the world around us—to see all of that and not respond by saying ‘So what?’

The call on us is to seek out what we can learn and experience and even know about God through our interactions with Creation, with each other and with the culture.

But even that isn’t enough. Today especially, as we remember World Communion Sunday, it’s important for us to remember that the practice of the Sacraments in worship is one critical way we experience God—experience the sacred—in our regular lives.

In the book that guides the worship in my own Presbyterian tradition, this is what it says about Communion—about the Lord’s Supper.

“The Lord’s Supper is the sign and seal of eating and drinking in communion with the crucified and risen Lord…On the day of his resurrection, the risen Jesus made himself known to his followers in the breaking of bread. He continued to show himself to believers, by blessing and breaking bread, by preparing, serving and sharing common meals…The New Testament describes the meal as a participation in Christ and with one another in the expectation of the Kingdom and as a foretaste of the messianic banquet.”

Communion is just one of many ways God makes himself known to us. We’re going to talk about more of those in the coming weeks and months.

But for now, maybe we have to train our eyes to see—maybe the signs have been there all along and we’ve gotten out of the habit of seeing them. Maybe we’ve chosen other gods and we don’t know how to get out from under those decisions and change our lives.

Whatever might be holding you back, the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that it’s never too late—there’s no place you can go that’s too far.

There is no shortage of ways we can find ourselves lost, but nothing we’ve ever said or done or even believed before this moment can separate us from the one who made us and loves us.

As we come to the Table today my invitation to you is to experience the presence of the Risen Christ in a real way. To see this meal as a ‘participation in Christ and with one another’ in the expectation of the Kingdom, and as a foretaste of the Great Banquet God promised.

The invitation to all of us who are coming in faith is to see God in the bread, in the cup, and in each other as we share this small feast.

It’s only appropriate that as we come to the Table we remember the one whose Table it is. We come as faithful people to worship and adore Christ the King. As we prepare our hearts today, let’s stand and sing another hymn out of season: 'O Come All Ye Faithful'