Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The desperate need for the teaching of grace

My heart went out to a woman who called into a national Christian talk radio show last week. I sensed a lot of confusion in her voice, and a complete lack of peace. I think her lack of peace truly had a lot to do with the very problem she called about... but I also think her lack of peace had a lot to do with what I believe is her false perception of the Christian life and all that Jesus has already accomplished.

First, her problem is that she is married to an unbelieving man who curses at her and is not very nice to her overall. This would truly be a sad and depressing way to live, and I truly sunk as I listened to her rather lengthy explanation of her problems in her marriage. But it was her questions to the show hosts that made me sink even deeper. All I could think of is, "what is the church teaching today!?" The question that started it all off was, "Is divorce a 'generational curse?'" In a sense I think she asked the question hoping that it was true, so it could possibly be her way out of this mess. After all, if I'm doomed to a generational curse, what else can I do, eh? I've been guilty of that way of thinking before! Using a bad interpretation of the Bible as a loophole to have my own fleshly way. Anyway, that's only my perception of why the woman possibly asked the question. God surely knows the heart. I don't.

But that the question even had to be asked, along with a few similar questions... that's what gets to me. Where did she get this idea of generational curses in Christianity? What is the church doing teaching about Old Covenant curses, when Christ has completely redeemed us from any and all curses! Jesus "became a curse for us... that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus." The only person who is under any curse is the person who is under the law. "For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse." The curse is 'broken' when we come out of that system into the blessing of Abraham - which is not a system at all, but it's a life of faith. Fortunately, although the hosts didn't come right out and say "No, it's not a curse," at least they did lead her away from that concept and gave her other ways to look at it.

That said, as their advice continued, I could see that they truly wanted to help this woman, but yet the problem, at least as I see it, is that they went directly into telling her all about how she needs to be forgiving and loving to her husband. It's TRUE that if she was forgiving and loving, there would be a much better chance of things turning out in such a better way! However - and this is simply where my thinking has been lately, so perhaps I'm just supersensitive to it (am I?) - I think they dealt with some symptoms rather than first getting to the root. This woman was obviously confused about Christianity, and I could just tell that she was very unstable in her identity in Christ. How can she even start being forgiving and loving to an abusive man if she doesn't even know the love and forgiveness of God? I guess she could always try the Christian version of "fake it till you make it." Not. "Fake it till you make it" means nothing more than, "let your flesh try and try until your flesh perfects it." Faking anything is never, ever, ever by the Spirit.

I don't mean to berate these well intentioned radio show hosts. I've gleaned some great advice from them as they try to help people in their marriages. But this particular story is simply one more reason why I believe the church today desperately needs the message of grace to be taught, and to be taught well, and often. How often? It can't be done too often, in my opinion! :) I truly believe we need to be grounded, established and deeply rooted in grace.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Never Been Unloved

Irregardless of anything we've ever done, we can't make God love us less and we can't make Him love us more...

I'm so glad I found this video for Michael W. Smith's song "Never Been Unloved." It's very well done.

Nothing could make God love you more...

Loved this recent blog post at The Grace Project.
Nothing could make God love you more than He does right now
The Grace Project, Christian teaching resources, teaching Gods amazing grace - Monday, 30 July 2007

Sunday, July 29, 2007

"Assembling" blog guest: Why church hurts

I have a few new blogs ready to post, but I first wanted to share something that's been heavy on my heart for a long time. I believe there are a lot of "good" churches in the United States, Canada and around the world. By that, I mean people who are operating out of God's love and grace and who are serving God and man in imperfect but genuine ways and who are truly nurturing and supporting each other as members of the worldwide body of Christ. I'm truly thankful for the people who have shared God's love and grace with me and who have helped me along the way as I grow in grace. I continue to need that support, and I hope to continue to support others in their grace journeys as well.

A large part of my heart is dedicated to finding ways to communicate the message of God's love and grace with those who are hurting, struggling, burned out, beaten up, etc, as a result of their interaction with other members of the body of Christ. I've personally experienced the pain of legalism from others, not to mention that I've dealt out my fair share of it, and I'm always finding out about how legalism is hurting others.

The story I'm going to link to is a real life example of how a family has been hurt deeply by people in the church - especially so-called "church leaders." I don't share this gratuitously. That is, I'm not sharing it for the sake of complaining or grumbling. This is real life, and I'm sure this story is much more common than we would think. My heart sinks when I hear stories like this, but yet it leads to hope as it causes me to pray more and more that God would continue to use people such as you and me to be true ambassadors of His love and grace, as we grow more and more in it ourselves.

I've linked to Alan Knox's blog, The Assembling of the Church, once or twice now. A reader of his blog, "Mrs. Anonymous," shared her story with him, and it's found here: Guest Blogger: Why I Said Church Hurts.

If nothing else, may this cause your heart to pray for the worldwide body of Christ to find the true grace of God, and to give it as they've received it. This is my prayer for you and for myself, for sure.

Ekklesia this morning

Matt 18:20 "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them."

I work as a courier for a hospital, and my work schedule includes a few hours on Sunday mornings. Having had a wonderful time of prayer on the road this morning, I was now done with my work and I was headed out of the hospital to go home. Looking down a long hallway, I caught a brief glimpse of a man who works in Housekeeping, as he disappeared down another hallway. I've stopped to chat with this man now and then, but I can't say we know each other really well. I'm not sure how old he is, but I'd guess he's got 15 or 20 years on me. Long story short, I yelled "Hey!" down the hall, and he popped his head back and the two of us walked towards each other and started talking.

At first, it was just talk about "nothing." But it's amazing how the Lord sets things up. (That's a huge understatement). Even though my plan was to get home, the Lord had other plans. My friend started talking about how a lot of people work full time at the hospital and also have another part time job. I mentioned that up until about a year ago, I had worked two jobs, and my other job was at a Christian radio station. His eyes lit up and his ears perked up, and we talked a tiny bit about what it was like to work in Christian radio. From there, he then began to share with me that he had composed some lyrics to a song, and it was completely from his heart, and he has a dream to find someone to put music to it and maybe even to sing it himself in front of people or to have a professional singer or band record it. We talked about this for quite a while, and he even pulled me aside and got out the paper on which he had written the lyrics and he began to sing the song to me. He said he had asked the Lord to give him the song, and that he had written it while walking the halls of the hospital, where he's seen much pain and suffering, but also a lot of hope. I could tell it was from deep within his heart.

All of this was exciting, in and of itself, just to hear this man - who I really don't know all that well - share his heart like that. But then he began to share even more from his heart and I began to see how the Lord had orchestrated this entire get-together. There were two things in particular that I'd like to share. First, he started talking about how he really, really wished he could "be in church" on Sunday mornings. He feels so bad that he has to work two jobs to make ends meet, and that it means he has to be at work on a Sunday morning. I listened to him and then I spoke up and I motioned back and forth between me and him as I said, "You and me, right here - This is 'church.' Where two or more are gathered, there Jesus is - right in the midst of us." I also shared that as we go about our jobs, each and every day, even if we want to be home with our families or 'in church' or doing something else, we're living and moving and having our being in Christ ALL the time! He's in us and we're in Him. He's got it all worked out, and we can just leave it to Him to do what He wants to do with our lives, even if it doesn't fit into some ideal "model."

The "church approved" model or formula for how life and "church" should work did not apply today! It was quite the opposite. If not for me and my friend both working on a Sunday morning, this "ekklesia" never would have happened! Two men "gathering together" to share life in the Lord. I told him we never would have planned this! But God did. I also commented that I would bet that real church (ekklesia) probably happens like this more often like this than any other way. Perhaps unplanned. Usually informal. Etc. Anyway, I really think my friend was encouraged as he openly shared his heart and as I shared with him, and I know I was greatly encouraged too.

The second thing about our meeting this morning was that as my friend was sharing his heart with me, a lot of what he said paralleled a lot of what I had been praying about just 30 to 45 minutes earlier! I mean, some of the exact or near-exact phrases that he used were the phrases I had used as I was praying. This not only confirmed to me that the Lord had arranged this meeting, but it also lifted some weights off of me in other ways too.

You know how sometimes, or maybe often, you don't see how the Lord is working in your life? You have dreams and desires, and you wonder if and how they will ever be fulfilled. I'm sure Abraham went through a lot of that during the many, many years that passed between time the Lord promised him a son and the time it actually happened. Apart from God's grace, we may even be like Abraham in trying to fulfill His call in our own ways. It can be confusing and wearisome at times. You wonder if something you've done has really been your own fleshly attempt at making God's plan work out, or you wonder if perhaps some sin is keeping God's plan from coming to fruition. But then out of the blue, in ways we could never plan nor orchestrate, the Lord comes and refreshes us and gives us fresh hope and confirms that He is faithful to fulfill the work that He began in us.

I can't say that I've been feeling "frustrated" lately about His call on my life (although I've definitely been there plenty of times), but rather I've been prayerful and contemplative. My conversation with God this morning out on the road was a handing over of my dreams to Him, and this "chance" encounter that He set up was a very refreshing confirmation of His faithfulness to complete any and all work that He's begun, whether it's seen or unseen.

Prov 3:5-6
Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.
NKJV

Same passage from the Message:
Trust GOD from the bottom of your heart;
don't try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for GOD's voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
he's the one who will keep you on track.

Prov 20:24
How can we understand the road we travel? It is the LORD who directs our steps.
NLT

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Roots

What is your life established with? What is the foundation that you stand upon? What is the cornerstone of your life?

Are you rooted in the things you do, whether "good" or "bad?" In other words, is the core of who you are, in your heart - the way you see yourself - based upon your performance before God and/or man? Are you trying to establish your life by "how well" you're living by biblical principles? Do you find yourself checking your heart daily (or many times a day) to see if your thoughts and deeds are lining up to a certain value system that you've established as result of being a Christian? Is your thought life or your self-worth (your perception of yourself) based upon anything that has to do with your own righteousness or lack thereof?

I think one reason I "stayed away" from God for so many years, mainly during my teenager years, was because I didn't think I'd have the strength or conviction to really maintain any of the above. As I've previously shared, there were times when I thought I could do it, but those times were short-lived, and I would go back to "my own life," thinking that the Christian life was simply something I would never be able to do.

And the thing is, I was right! What I was really doing was basing my whole life upon my performance, and I essentially thought that my performance was bad and that I couldn't change it, so I stayed away from God! If only I'd known then what I know now!

I don't live in "what ifs." But as I think about how my life could have been different, it keeps my desire alive and well to always want to grow in the good news of the grace of God and always share it with others. I'm sure I wouldn't have lived a perfect life had I known that Jesus was truly my Savior and not my task-master. I live a far from perfect life as it is now, having been consciously growing in grace for over a decade! However, if I'd have known that God was for me, and that HE wasn't waiting for this one great day when I would finally get my act together, I think my roots could have begun to become truly established in grace a lot sooner. I wouldn't have been avoiding God, had I known that what He really wanted to do was to lavish me with His love and grace!

Hebrews 13:9 says "it is good that the heart be established by grace." Rooted, grounded, established, in the fertile soil of grace. Grace will never fail. We fail when we make principles and our performance our foundation. I'm certainly not against biblical principles that can truly guide us along the way, as we become more and more established in grace. But I've just seen so much in the church over the course of my 38 years (I know - to some of you I'm just a pup!) that shows me that many, many church people, for all intents and purposes, pretty much know the "Christian principles." But yet they have no clue who they are in Christ. They are not established in Christ or in grace, but rather they are established in performing.

I'm generalizing, of course, but for those Christians who are not established in grace, there are two general categories that they might fall into. They are either self-righteous, due to their "excellent" Christian performance (or at least that's their self-perception), or they're on the other end of the scale, struggling to make the Christian principles work right in their lives, because although they hear them taught week after week after week, and they know them well, they simply aren't finding the strength and power to walk in them.

I know that I need the daily encouragement to grow in grace. To dig deeper and deeper into the fertile soil of God's boundless grace, given to us freely in His Son, Jesus. There's no stronger foundation. There's no other foundation!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

My Coming to Christ (Part 3 - January 7th)

As I began to think further about how my life changed drastically on January 7th, 1992, many thoughts came to mind. First... I realized that I had already blogged about this - six months ago! So instead of rehashing all of that, I'll have you follow the link if you're interested.

Secondly... in Part 2 of "My Coming to Christ," I said that a lot of the experiences that I had in my relationships are what brought me up to this date in my life. I don't think I made it completely clear though, that those experiences were few and far between. They were very significant happenings, but most of my life was lived without much thought for God, even though I really believe I was saved.

January 7th, 1992, was a Tuesday. On the previous Friday or Saturday, I had gone to visit some friends who were managing a small motel in Allison, Iowa. They lived at the motel, and I had gone to see them for the specific purpose of partying with them. We really did have a great time, just the three of us. My point here is that, even though I'd recently ended a relationship with someone in which I had begun to take God more seriously, I really wasn't pursuing a relationship with Him. It was life as usual, partying and all, and I had absolutely no clue that within just a few days, my life would change forever. I was NOT pursuing it!

The post I linked to really says it all, but if I were to add anything to it, or if I were to really try to highlight the point I've essentially been trying to make all along, I would say that I "came to Christ" at a very young age, even though I really had no clue what it meant for the longest time, and even though I never realized how God was working in and through me, even in my complete ignorance. I guess January 7th is a day that sticks out as the day that God drew me a whole lot closer, experientially.

The Bible is wonderful... It gives us principles, understanding, wisdom, knowledge, etc. I'm very thankful that God inspired the writers and that we have this inspired book of wisdom and understanding to look to in order to get to know God, and who we are in Him. But I want to say that, even apart from the written word, Jesus is the Word of God. The Word of God is a Person, not a book. We can trust the Word, even when we don't see Him or understand how or what He's doing!

Why

Michael Card - "Why"

My Coming to Christ (Part 2 - Girlfriends)

Almost a month and a half ago, in an Introspective, Thankful post, I mentioned a few things about my life that I know are completely by God's grace. At the time I said I wanted to write about some of these things, and since then I've written about My Parents (Part 1 and Part 2), My Marriage, Panic Attacks and My Coming To Christ (Part 1). There's just no denying that I am what I am by the grace of God.

Continuing with the story of how I came to Christ, I'll first say that it wasn't because I recited the "sinner's prayer" and I didn't have any sort of visible, emotional or tangible "salvation experience." I didn't even start "living a good life" at the time. In fact I have no idea what the "date" was when I came to Christ. Here's the thing... as far as I can remember, going back to my young life, I've always been a believer. I didn't "accept Christ." I simply believed, and faith has always been there, even when I haven't been actively involved in pursuing any sort of "relationship" with Him. What I'm saying is that I was saved a long, long time ago, by faith, but I just didn't know what it all meant! I really believe that all throughout my young life, into and including my teenage years, even when I was out "drinking and partying," and "hanging with the wrong crowd," I was a saint of God, a new creation, who simply didn't yet know it. I had not been taught who I was in Christ.

I remember praying once or twice. Such as when my first girlfriend broke up with me. "GOD, WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME!!!" (That was my prayer. Really, it was vain repetition). :) But seriously I think it was the first time I really cried out to this God that I'd known about for all those years. And that gets me to the point of this post. As I look back at my relationships with people, a large part of my coming to really know Christ came through my relationships with girls. I don't mean to be egotistical at all, and it wasn't until I got to this point of writing this post that I realized where it's going. I believe with all my heart that God used these experiences as a big part of the ongoing process of helping me to know Him.

Although that breakup was hard for this sixteen year old boy, I quickly "moved on" and began going out with another girl (a friend of the girl who broke up with me) who had recently become pregnant by a 21-year-old man who had then quickly departed from her life. I was young and dumb. But as I look back, I remember that I "witnessed" to her - without ever having been told that I was "supposed" to be a witness for Jesus, and without even realizing that I was being a witness in the first place! I have NO IDEA where these words of comfort came from, but I remember consoling this girl by telling her that God loved her and was always with her and that He would see her through. That's just not the way I talked when I was hanging with this "wrong crowd!" I really stunned myself! I could have been shot down and rejected right there and then - and I wasn't even trying to "be bold for Jesus." "I" didn't have the guts to share something like that with anyone - not to mention that that type of thinking just wasn't really what went on in my mind! But I remember her reaction... tears, and relief. This teenage girl, who I would never have thought would have any interest in God, was responding to the message of gospel coming from a teenage boy who never would have thought those words would come out of his mouth!

I guess the work of the Spirit goes much deeper than we know and realize. In Him I lived and moved and had my being, even when I didn't know it and even when I wasn't "trying."

The summer after I graduated from high school, I began dating a girl who clearly told me she didn't want a "relationship" with anyone. But I spent the summer with her and kept dating her for four months after I moved away to college. She said I was the first person to ever treat her the way I did, and I think that's why the "relationship" actually meant something to her. She even asked me if I would marry her, several times. Well, every weekend I would come back from college, just to be with her. But on many of my trips home I heard all kinds of rumors about her, most of which turned out to be true. Let's just say that she definitely had a hard time being a one-man-woman. I broke up with her and got back together with her at least twice. My reason for getting back with her? Well I specifically remember the last time we got back together. I was sitting there with her, balling my eyes out, telling her that God had forgiven me every single time I'd ever messed up, and so I forgave her.

Again, I had no idea where all that came from, but it was my true, heartfelt reason for taking her back. I wanted to forgive as I believed God had forgiven me. Believe me, I wasn't following some "Christian principle." I believe this was simply the Lord at work in my life, even though I didn't know it at the time.

In my very early 20's, I still wasn't "walking with God." A friend of a friend, who I'd had sort of a crush on, took me to a party one night. I couldn't believe she had actually picked "me" to spend time with, and I wasn't about to say or do anything foolish to ruin her perception of me! Well, there we were, in the midst of a bunch of people who were partying like it was 1999. Through a "miracle" (according to my perception at the time), we actually began to talk about the two of us going out. All the more reason for refraining from saying anything that might taint her perception of me! "Religious" talk was the farthest thing from my mind.

However... as we spoke, I suddenly felt compelled to tell her that I really wanted to have a "Christian home." As those words came out of my mouth, I thought to myself, "You NUT, you RUINED IT!" But she began to tell me she felt exactly the same. We didn't date for very long, but this experience, along with other experiences that I already mentioned, really got me to thinking more about what I was going to do with my life and in regards to a relationship with Jesus. I now "knew" that that's what I wanted. In the most awkward of times and places, when my "instincts" told me that talking about the Lord should be the LAST thing I should do, that's what came out of my heart.

See what I mean, that this is all about GRACE? In these circumstances, I wasn't trying to witness. I wasn't trying to live a Christian life. In a huge sense, the outward appearance of my life, and even most of my internal thinking, was not directed in a "God-centered" direction at all. But God was always inclined in a Joel-centered direction.

The pinnacle of all this came in 1991, and early 1992. I had been dating another girl, and we ended up going to the same college, about 80 miles from home. We got an apartment together, but after about only one month, we broke up and she moved back home. There I was, sitting in the apartment, feeling kind of lonely. Well, I "rebounded" rather quickly. I knew of a woman who had dated a friend of mine back home. He always called her a "Bible-thumper," and on the one hand that turned me off, but on the other hand it got me kind of interested in getting to know her. I called her that same day and we talked for 2 1/2 hours, mostly about the Lord. I moved back home and we began to date. It was very interesting, to say the least. At first, I thought she was "the one." We would talk a lot about the Bible, but really we were two people who had absolutely no clue what we were talking about! She was really down on her ex-husband, who always "took the name of the Lord in vain." She was very, very disgruntled about that. But yet her own sins... smoking, fornication... and everything else... were ok to her. ;)

Over the course of time, we had lots of "fights" about the Bible. She had her views and I had mine. Funny, one of the things we fought over was grace. ;) Anyway, towards the end of our relationship, in December of 1991, I really began to become more and more displeased with my own way of life. I had begun to pray prayers with more substance... although my life wasn't really changing on the outside, yet.

All this leads me up to January 7, 1992, when my life changed for good. All these relationships played a big part in getting me to that day. I'll share more about that day, but the main thing I wanted to communicate here, if it didn't come across, is that I am what I am by the grace of God. As I learn more and more about who I am in Christ, a huge part of "letting go" of trying to make it about my efforts to be a good Christian comes from remembering these experiences. I didn't "give myself to God." I wasn't actively seeking Him. God drew me to Himself, gently and methodically, so to speak. He hasn't changed!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Coincidence?

While thinking through all this, as far as how to present it, I found that Terry Rayburn had posted his latest podcast/Grace Walk Radio program called "Stop Calling Christians Sinners." :-D

(I've noticed that sometimes the mp3's haven't downloaded correctly for me when I'm viewing Terry's blog posts as individual posts, but when I click "home" at the bottom and view the blog from its home page (www.graceforlife.com), it always works).

Sarxful Nature?

Does anyone have the insight/inside information that the translators of the NIV had when they translated the Greek word "sarx" as "sinful nature" twenty three times in 6 of Paul's epistles?? If so, I'd just like to understand it so I can wrap my head around the idea of how a righteous person can have a sinful nature!!

This is kind of a follow up to my last post ("New, or Improved?"), as well as the comments made there by Matthew and Bino. I may have to come back to this another time, because right now I'm not feeling too well (mostly tired), and my mind is spinning with all the things I'd like to address here and I just don't have the energy or the desire to get too deep here! I want to, which is why I started this post, but yet I don't want want to. LOL.

It's really not all that difficult of a concept for me, but yet it takes some effort to explain the difference between "flesh" and "sin" (and "sinful nature").

Right now I'll just say that in Christ, we have become partakers of the divine nature! (2 Peter 1:4). We have become "one spirit" with Him. (1 Cor 6:17). God does not co-exist nor dwell in union with sin. If we had a nature that was sinful, He could not indwell us. What happened, then, is that our sinful nature that we were born with, in Adam, was crucified with Christ on the cross. It was nailed to the cross, and it died, never to be brought up again or brought to life again! We were then resurrected with brand new life - with a brand new nature. Not a sinful nature, but a nature of righteousness, holiness, blamelessness. Our nature in Adam was sinful. Our new nature in Christ is righteous. I don't believe for a moment that we have two natures coexisting together - a sinful nature and a righteous nature. It's one or the other, brother. :)

When Paul talks about sin in regards to Christians, he says that sin dwells in our "members" (bodies). (See Romans 7, especially verses 17 and 20). Sin is not our nature; rather sin dwells in our temporary, corruptible bodies. Our bodies are not who we are. Our bodies are not our identity. Our bodies do not define who we are. Our bodies will eventually be put in the ground or burned into ashes, but "we" will live on. "We" will live on, because "we" are spiritual! We are spiritual beings with a righteous nature who happen to live temporarily in sinful bodies.

The way to overcome, and to live in victory over the sin that dwells in our bodies is not to think of ourselves as "sinners saved by grace." We are not "sinners." We are righteous saints who sometimes submit to sin that dwells in our members.

Paul, even when writing to churches who had very obvious problems with sin, never referred to them as "sinners saved by grace." He didn't say "you're not perfect, just forgiven," either. No, Paul referred to them as saints. Saints are holy people, set apart, righteous, justified, cleansed, purified. Paul addressed them as who they really were - saints - and if you read what he tells them about their sin, he in essence tells them that since they are righteous, since they are saints, since they've been forgiven, since they are holy, since they've been washed and cleansed and purified, and since the very life of Jesus lives in union with them, then by the grace of God and by the Spirit they should put to death their sinful deeds.

Again, he does not call them sinners. He doesn't ever say they have a sinful nature. Rather, he brings to light the truth of their God-ordained holiness and tries to appeal to their already-secure righteous nature as the means by which to overcome and put to death the deeds of the flesh. Even when Paul refers to himself as the "chief of sinners," remember that he's not talking about his current condition. He's referring to his past. If anyone had the right to crown themselves the chief of sinners, it was his past life that would reign supreme! But now, having become a partaker of the divine nature, Paul and those he wrote to, and you and I and anyone else who has been born again simply through faith, can never call themselves "sinner" again!

Why get into this, Joel? So what? Isn't it just semantics? Some say we're sinners saved by grace. Some say we're saints saved by grace. So what? We all sin in the end, right?

The reason I bring this up is because I believe that knowing who you are - your true nature, your true identity as a saint in Christ - makes all the difference in how you go about living your daily life in Christ. If you're just a "sinner" who's begging God daily for grace, then I believe you've missed the whole point of the life that God gave us. God didn't come and dwell in us so that we could say we're merely sinners saved by grace. He deposited His VERY LIFE into us! His life has become our life. His life is divine. We have become partakers of the divine nature! If we see ourselves in this light - the light of the truth of who we really are - then we will begin naturally growing in ways that "sinners" can never grow. What shows on the outside will begin to match the true reality of what has already taken place on the inside. Peter called this "growing in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

Well, I said more than I intended! Any thoughts that anyone would care to add to what I've said, or clarify what I've said, or shoot what I've said to pieces??? :)

Monday, July 23, 2007

New, or Improved?

I get a kick out of those commercials with products that they say are "New and Improved!" If something is "new," then how can it be "improved" (and vice versa)? :) I've actually heard the technicalities of the "truth in advertising" rules that explain how this phrase can be used legitimately. A quick example of a "new and improved" product would be a certain type of toothpaste that has new packaging! And perhaps they've changed one ingredient slightly, to give you "whiter teeth" or "sparkling cleansing action." The point is, it doesn't take much at all to advertise a product as "new and improved."

What about Christians? Can we legitimately use terms such as "new" and "improved" to describe our life in Christ. Yes, on the first one. No, on the second one.

Just taking a look at one verse in particular that tells us about the reality of who we are in Christ:

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation." (2 Cor 5:17a)

In Christ, we've been made NEW. We haven't been "improved." We've been made new.

To make the point, let's substitute various words in place of "new" to see if they really tell us the truth of who we are in Christ.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a repaired creation.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a fixed up creation.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is an overhauled creation.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a polished up creation.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a reorganized creation.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is an improved creation.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a PhotoShopped creation. LOL

How about using these words: reconditioned, refurbished, mended, patched, adjusted, renovated, recalibrated, tuned up, enhanced, modified, revised, altered, corrected, balanced, refitted, revived, refreshed, rejuvenated, made over, covered, doctored, reshaped, spruced up, changed. I'm sure you can think of more.

All of those words seem to work well in some "brands" of Christianity, but I personally don't believe they have any place in describing the reality of who we are in Christ! When we came to Christ, did God begin a process of "fixing us up," and then helping us to "improve" our lives to be better people?

Let's try another verse, using the same words above in place of two missing words. Do you know what the real missing words are?

For you were fixed up, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who mended our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

For you were enhanced, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who revived our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

For you were spruced up, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who changed our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

For you were refurbished, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who improved our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

For you _______, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who _______ our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

What are the missing words?

For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. (Col 3:3-4)

If you're a Christian, at one point in your life here on earth, you died and were created anew. Paul obviously isn't talking about physical death, but about the core of who we are - the reality of who we are - our spirits. God didn't take the "old us" and change us into a "better" or "improved" us. Rather, we died ("I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live" - Gal 2:20), and we were born again as a brand new creation. We haven't been revived. We've been regenerated ("re-created," "produced anew") completely! In other words, God didn't take the old us and pump some life into it. Rather, we died and God made us into something completely and utterly new. A new creation. Our old life wasn't changed. It was exchanged with a real life - the very life of Jesus!

God didn't just "cover" us, or our sins, with the life of Jesus. The Old Testament sacrifices "covered" sins, but could never actually take them away (see Hebrews 10). But, "behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29).

The person we were in Adam was dead to God. There was nothing God could do with that old creature. All the work in the world, all the touching up, all the revising... could never produce real life. So we died, and we became a new creation. Righteous and holy, clean, purified, justified. You can't improve on that! Our "job" in this life is not to become a better person, because God has already made us into a new person. Rather, I believe our daily walk with God is a matter of growing daily in the understanding of who we already are - who we've already become as a new creation by God's grace - and walking more and more "in" that.

We are truly His workmanship, not our own workmanship.  It's a life that's so much better than having merely been "improved."

Friday, July 20, 2007

Sparks

As I said in my previous post, I had been thinking about a certain passage for the past few days. I was having a hard time trying to put it into words, and then I got an email from someone that included a passage from T. Austin Sparks' book "The On-High Calling - Volume 1." You can find the complete collection of Sparks' works here for free, and the particular passage quoted below can be found here, towards the bottom. The email "sparked" my last post, and of course this one! Thanks RoG!

This is the passage that was in the email:

Here is something that you and I must dwell upon. Personally, I am constantly brought to this: I have not yet learnt thoroughly to believe what I believe in! I believe in the finished work of Christ, yet sometimes I am just as miserable about myself as any man could be. I am often almost at the point of giving up because of what a wretched kind of thing I am. If there is anything in this world that would cause me to give up the Christian ministry, it is myself. Do you understand what I mean? Oh, how we are discouraged by what we find in ourselves! And so, we don't believe what we believe in. We believe in the finished work of Christ, and that God puts all that finished work to our account. God does not see us in ourselves - He sees us in Christ. He does not see us, He sees Christ in us. We don't believe that! If we really did we would be delivered from ourselves and would indeed be triumphant Christians.

Of course, that does not mean that we can just behave anyhow. We may speak and act wrongly, but for every Christian there is a refuge - a mercy-seat. It has not to be made; it is there with the precious Blood. That has not to be shed; it is shed. There is a High Priest making intercession for us. There is everything that we need. The work is finished, completed. Oh, we Christians must believe our beliefs! We must take hold, with both hands, of the things which are of our Christian faith.

Lay Hold

A particular thought has been going through my mind the past few days, based upon this passage of scripture:

Phil 3:12-14 NKJV
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (NKJV)

(The wording of this passage in The Message: "I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don't get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward — to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back.")

I had a friend who tried to use the phrase "press on" in an encouraging way, but the truth is that his use of the phrase was, unbeknownst to him, very legalistic. He was always "pressing on" - as in working harder and harder to become a better Christian. Actually, as I look back, it was really a constant focus on sin. The focus was always on trying to overcome sin so that he could lay hold of Jesus! This may sound good, and I'm sure it would preach well in a lot of churches, but isn't that backwards? It's most certainly disguised as a focus on Jesus, but it lacks the power thereof, and it misses the point of what Jesus took hold of for us. Anyway, my friend was always exhorting others to keep pressing on in this same manner. Due to this, my own working out of Paul's words to press on to "lay a hold of that for which Christ has also laid a hold of me," became a very hard and tedious process. In the end, it was all in vain.

If you read what Paul had just finished saying, from verses 3 to 11, what exactly was he letting go of - putting behind him - so that he could lay hold of Christ? Was he putting "sin" behind him to that he could gain Christ?

"Confidence in the flesh" is what he could brag about in his former legalistic life (vs 4-6). "But what things were gain to me, these I count for loss for Christ" (vs 7). This is what he was putting behind him, so he could "reach forward to those things which are ahead."

All the confidence he had in his former fleshly ways (good, positive flesh - which can certainly appear good to people) - he counted as rubbish, as dung, and he suffered it all as loss.

Most of us are at least "pretty sure" (though I would really hope "confident") in verse 9. That I may "be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith." We all agree that we're saved by grace and not works, right?

But what about vs 10-11, "that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead."

This leads up to the passage I started with, in which Paul says he "hasn't already attained it," but he presses on to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has laid hold of him. Something we have already attained, by grace alone, as a gift, is the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ. But experientially, we have not walked in the fullness of all that Christ purchased for us. We have our old mindsets to battle with. We do have indwelling sin (Rom 7:17,20), the flesh and the devil as real enemies, that would keep us from knowing the fullness of all that we have in Christ. How is it that we overcome all this? Is it through a fleshly "pressing on" to overcome sin so that we can then have Jesus?

First of all, we already have Jesus! We did nothing to "attain" Him and we do nothing to "retain" Him. It's all a gift. He became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. We're not lacking in having the life of Christ and His righteousness. We are fully complete in all of this! So, to experience it more and more, by faith we press on to lay hold of that for which Christ laid hold of us. Our enemies, again, are "the world, the flesh and the devil." But our friends - our precious, precious friends - are so much more powerful! Our friends are God's righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation and the "sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God," which includes the Holy Bible but is much, much more than that. (Read about "The Whole Armor of God" in Eph 6:10-18). We have the living Word of God Himself - Jesus - living and breathing in us, all the time!

Press on! That really is an encouraging thing for me nowadays!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

That evil syncopated beat :)

Something lighter (at least for most people)...

Audio Adrenaline takes on the debate of the evils of rock 'n roll... and what really matters most. :)

Seems like lots of people have come up with their own videos for this song from Audio A's "Underdog" CD. Here are a couple that I found.

The Houseplant Song


God's Treasure

As I meditate more upon God's love in action, which I believe is really the only way we'll ever even begin to walk in it ourselves, a couple more examples that come to mind are based upon two parables.

Steve McVey of Grace Walk Ministries (see his blog), when he was visiting my church a couple of years ago, shed light and opened my eyes to the beauty of God's love demonstrated in the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price. I'll put it in my own words below.

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Matt 13:44)

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matt 13:45-46)

I've always, always, always heard that the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price is JESUS, and that we're to sell all we have so that we can have Him. But hold on a minute. How can we purchase what God gives us freely? And to think about it a little further, isn't there a price that Jesus paid so that God could have us? "For God so loved the world (the treasure, the pearls) that He gave His only begotten Son..."

...our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us... (Titus 2:13b-14a)

For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all... (1 Tim 2:5-6)


Let's be real about this... Did we ever do a thing to seek out or to earn any of this? "There is no one righteous, no not one..." "There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God."

The pearl of great price. The treasure in the field. Isn't Jesus talking about us? And again, the price that was paid - isn't that what Jesus did? Isn't it Jesus who went looking for the lost sheep? All we can really do is to respond to what He has done for us! We cannot treat it as a debt, because He gave all this to us freely. And even our response is by His grace. How we've forgotten that the coming of Jesus wasn't about what we could do for God, but it was ALL about His love for us, and how He considered us so precious that HE did all this for us!

One of my favorite passages that gets to the heart of God's love in action is found in Philippians 2. We're encouraged to love one another, be of one accord, be of one mind, etc, by looking to the example of Christ:

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:5-11)

By all of this we know God's love for us. He demonstrated it fully and perfectly.

When Jesus told the rich young ruler, "sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven," He Himself was in the very process of demonstrating it, by giving up His rights to deity ("selling all He had") and becoming one of us, coming in our likeness, being obedient to the point of death on a cross (giving Himself to us, the "poor")... and ultimately being exalted to the highest place, and receiving the ultimate treasure in heaven...

Us.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

I Want To Know What Love Is

Lou Gramm and Mick Jones of Foreigner, along with orchestra and choir, in a live performance from 2002. Beautiful song. Brought me to tears.

Agape in action

An older friend of mine, "Grandmother Lois," who I haven't seen for a few years, one time shared with me how the chorus of a song by Foreigner played a big part in the process of her coming to know God's love. (We affectionately called her "Grandmother Lois" because of the reference Paul made to Timothy's grandmother Lois in 2 Tim. 1). :)

Lois told me she was driving in her car one time when the song "I Want To Know What Love Is" came on the radio.

The chorus goes, in part, "I want to know what love is. I want you to show me."

I can't recall Lois' story with complete clarity, but I remember she said she was brought to tears and that this song caused her to cry out to God to know His love. I recall that she also cited some of the other lyrics that echoed parts of her life:

In my life there's been heartache and pain
I don't know if I can face it again
Can't stop now, I've traveled so far
To change this lonely life

The answer was, is and always will be love. For the past few days I've been sharing a little bit about agape-love, and I've been trying to dig somewhat deep into what it really is. Agape is HUGE! Agape goes deeper than what we really think. Far, far deeper. And agape is not agape if there is no "action." (If agape is not demonstrated, it's not agape).

My main purpose during the past few days was to show how agape is something we're completely incapable of doing, in and of ourselves, apart from the life of God Himself - who is agape - dwelling in us.

So, how do we humans even begin to think we can "do" agape? I think we must first look to the source Himself, and then keep looking to the source Himself! We must realize that He is agape in and through us and that He has always demonstrated agape perfectly.

"God demonstrates His own agape toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom 5:8)

We looked at the parable of the Good Samaritan. The very "brothers" of the man who was beaten and robbed - the priest and the Levite - did the opposite of agape. But the Samaritan, who at the time was the enemy of the Jews, is the one who showed agape to the hurt man. Is this not what God did for us?

"For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life." (Rom 5:10)

While we were enemies of God, God saved us.

Jesus tells us about the greatest demonstration of agape:

"Greater agape has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends." (John 15:13)

He talked the agape talk, and need I even mention how He demonstrated it to the full?

What I really want to point out here, and always continue to point out, is that in order to know agape, experience agape, and ultimately live out the agape life, we look to Him. If we don't know His love for us, and if we don't understand His love in action, then how can we even begin to love as He loves?

"In this is agape, not that we agapao-d God, but that He agapao-d us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 4:10)

(Agapao is the verb (action) form of the noun agape).

I'm telling you, I've only just begun to understand God's agape! When I compare myself to His demonstration of agapao (love in action), my "human" reaction is to fall flat on my face, embarrassed by how far I've fallen short. But then I realize that in His perfect demonstration of agape, He is, as Paul says first about agape in 1 Cor. 13, patient. Love is patient. Agape is patient. God is patient. Agape is not keeping a record of my wrongs. He nailed it all to a cross in His Son Jesus, and me along with it, and gave me a brand new life.

My only "job" now is to look to Him in faith, and learn more and more of His perfect agape, and grow in it... one day at a time... one human failure at a time... and complete victory realized in Him over the course of a lifetime. He Himself gives us the victory! (1 Cor. 15:57). Learning to walk in the already-accomplished victory does take time, and the focus must always be Him, not what our flesh thinks it has accomplished or failed in.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Are Jesus' commands "law?"

I went on a bit of a blog-hop morning. Looking at one blog, following a link or a comment to another blog, etc. I came across several blogs that I'd never seen before, some of which I'll be checking out more often. Anyway, one of them has a post that I think goes along well with my "That 'Love Thy Neighbor' Thing..." series. Julie of Voice of Grace talked about Jesus' commands, such as "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you." Are such commands "law" for the Christian? See what Julie says.

Monday, July 16, 2007

That 'Love Thy Neighbor' Thing... (Part 5)

This will be the culmination of this little series. Up till now I haven't generally posted in series' like this, but I knew this would make one looooong post if I did it all at once!

I hope by now I've made the point that to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself, is no small task. In fact, it's an impossible task! In this fifth and final post, I hope to address two things: "Why" would Jesus teach impossible laws and "how" are the commandments ultimately fulfilled in us?

Years after the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, many things would be revealed to Paul that weren't necessarily understood during Jesus' life of ministry and teaching. Something that I think we often fail to grasp from Paul's writings is his teachings on the true purpose of the law.

Rom 3:19-20 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. NKJV

Gal 3:24-25 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor . NKJV

I've made a habit of often pointing out that the law's purpose is to stop every mouth and to make the world guilty before God. By the law is the knowledge of sin, but not the power to overcome sin, so no one can be justified by the deeds of the law!

Remember the lawyer, who "wanted to justify himself" by asking, "who is my neighbor?" And remember the rich young ruler, trying to justify himself by his law keeping with his words, "all these I've kept since my youth." When he found out the true depths of the meaning of the law, he went away sad. The law's purpose was indeed to produce sorrow, and much more. I like how Matthew (Daelon) commented on the previous post: "Jesus is laying such heavy loads of the law on these people so they will scream "I give up!", not so that they will try harder." That's well put.

But yet Jesus said He came not to condemn, but to save! (John 3:17) Why then would He teach the law, which only produces guilt and condemnation? We return to Paul's revelation of the purpose of the law from his letter to the Galatians. The law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. In order to come to Christ, the tutor of the law must first do its work! Jesus wanted people to come to Him in order to be justified by faith - didn't He? The law then had to first do its perfect work!

But somehow we have looked at the law and not seen it for the true condemning factor that it is. We've looked at it as a "moral guide." We've tried to keep it, and we've changed it and amended it and made our own interpretations out of it so we could try to justify ourselves with our own keeping of it. Jesus, I believe, came and laid down the true depths and meaning of the law, so that it would do its perfect work and fulfill its perfect purpose: to condemn and bring guilt, so that people would then turn to Him and be justified by faith. Once the law has finally done that in the life of an individual, he comes to this place: "After faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor."

There are many, many examples of Jesus using the law, which the church today has turned into "teachings" or "principles" for Christian living. One example would be His words, "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matt 5:27-28)

We've "Christianized" Jesus' words that He spoke to those under the law, and since we see that adultery comes from the heart, and not just the physical deed, we've invented our own Christian principle by saying that we need to be very careful to obey Jesus' words to not lust. After all, what holy person would argue that lusting after someone else's wife is a good thing? But yet we miss the whole point! There are many, many people, even such as the rich young ruler, who have never committed the physical act of adultery. According to a simple knowledge of the law, they've "kept" that law. But Jesus says, "not so." This teaching of His, I would say, is a mouth-stopping, guilt-producing teaching to every person in the world who would justify themselves by their keeping of the law.

Jesus' words to the rich younger ruler, "sell all you have and distribute to the poor," were mouth-stopping, guilt-producing words to this man who considered himself justified by his law keeping. Jesus' words to the lawyer were mouth-stopping, guilt-producing words.

No one can be justified by keeping the law. That is the whole point of the law!

That 'Love Thy Neighbor' Thing... I meant that.
-God

Yup. He meant it alright! He meant it more than most people will ever realize!

So, how do we then walk in love? How do we fulfill 1 Corinthians 13? How do we agape God and agape others as we agape ourselves?

The answer isn't really a "how." It's a "Who." As Christians who have died to the law in order to be married to Christ, by faith, that we may bear fruit to God (see Rom 7:4), we seem to quickly fall back on law and principles as the means by which we live our lives and fulfill the call to love God and one another. But a person can know - and know well - all Christian principles in the world - and still have no power and still have no life and still have no love!

The "how" is really a Person - Jesus Christ. He is in us, and we are in Him. His life is our life. We are one spirit with Him. In Him we live and move and have our being. When it came down to the truth of living a godly life and bearing godly fruit, Jesus didn't say, "follow all these laws and principles and you'll bear fruit." He said, "He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit." Under the law and principles, we could bear no fruit. In fact, Paul says, "the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death!" (See Rom 7:5). But now that we've died to what once bound us (the law), we serve in the newness of the Spirit! The good fruit that comes forth is the Spirit's own fruit that He produces in and through us as we simply abide in Christ, not struggling to fulfill commands and principles. Maybe I'll put it this way: The commands of God and the principles for Christian living are fulfilled in us, not as we set out to try to do them, but as we rest in Christ and let His life in us take over and produce all of it. All of it!

I hope this has been an encouraging "series." I purposely tried to not give it all away at once. Imagine the perfect patience of Jesus, who was asked how to obtain eternal life, and He simply replied, "You know the law" - without going on to further explain the "full gospel!" Rather, He waited patiently for the law to fulfill its purpose in the lives of those He spoke with! I could barely wait two days to "top off" what I was trying to share here. :)

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5

That 'Love Thy Neighbor' Thing... (Part 4)

Ok, so I'm about ready to round this thing out. But first I want to dig the knife in just a little bit deeper on this subject of love. To love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself - those are pretty simple, right? J.O.Y. Jesus First. Others Second. Yourself Last. Mmm Hmm. Yep, it's that simple!

Until...

A "certain man" (often identified as "the rich young ruler") comes up to Jesus (beginning in Luke 18:18), asking Him, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"

Jesus answered the man, "You know the commandments..." And He specifically mentioned five of the Ten Commandments. The man said he'd kept all those from his youth.

Pretty impressive!

However, we then see Jesus' reply to the man, and the man's ultimate response. I really believe says it all when it comes to showing all of us how far we've fallen short of loving the Lord our God with all our hearts, with all our souls and with all our strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

"You still lack one thing," Jesus said. "Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come, follow Me."

The man became very sorrowful.

I really don't think this all sinks in. In our lives today we see this as a simple "call" to give. Simple give some of your money away and you'll have treasure in heaven. We think that if we give a certain portion of our income to "the church" or charities, and if we volunteer our time in ministry or in helping at the soup kitchen, and if we do all kinds of things to "help others," then we've fulfilled the commandment to love our neighbors. Not that any of that stuff is "bad!" But the commandment doesn't say, "Do a lot of good things to show love to your neighbors." It says, "Love your neighbor as yourself."

Agape your neighbor as you agape yourself. What does that look like? First, what does it look like if you love yourself? You do all kinds of things for yourself. You work and accumulate money so you can pay your bills and buy things for yourself. I won't get too deep into this, although it really might help to make the point - but ultimately, for yourself, you live. You do the things you do to make sure that you keep yourself alive and happy. Sure, you help others too. Maybe you've even helped others since your youth. Maybe you've done a lot to help others! But have you loved others as you've loved yourself? To fulfill this commandment, not just in part, but in full, I believe would involve selling all you have (because you've accumulated all that you have for yourself) and distributing it all to the poor (those who don't have the means to provide for themselves), and to give up your life and follow Jesus. This would be what it means to not just "do your best" at loving your neighbor, but rather to love your neighbor as yourself. Giving it all away. Forget a measly 10%!

I'd seriously like to hear from someone who has truly followed these commandments!

I'm almost to the pinnacle of the point I'm trying to make with these posts, but I hope that right now the point has been made that because of the sinful nature of those who are still in Adam, and who haven't been made into new creations by coming to faith in Jesus, and because of the flesh that leads even new creations away from the ways of the Life of the indwelling Christ, these two commandments are impossible for us to try to live by. That's right... God commanded what is impossible for us to do!

And that's the whole point of the LAW! These two commandments are part of the law. I'll get a little more into that in the next post. We've certainly "Christianized" these laws through our very weak applications of "Put God First and Others Second." But again, think about what it really means to love the Lord your God with ALL your heart, with ALL your soul and with ALL your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.

Previous to His encounter with the rich young ruler, Jesus had come across another man, a lawyer, who had asked Him the same question, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 10:25). There was an exchange of law talk, very similar to the conversation with the man in Luke 18. In this case, the lawyer quoted the "Big Two" laws to Jesus. Jesus told the man, "Do this and you will live," which is exactly what the Law itself said all along.

But it gets interesting. The man, "wanting to justify himself," said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

Yeah, really, who is your neighbor? Is it just those you like and those you socialize with? Is it your coworkers? Is it those you get along with on your street? Those in church? Christians?

What about those who don't like you? What about those who don't treat you well? What about your "enemies?"

Jesus' answer to the lawyer probably shocked a lot of people. We all know the story. Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. Speaking this parable to a crowd of Jews, who most certainly understood the characters in the story, He tells them that the two people who passed by the man who had been robbed and left for dead were a priest and a Levite. But it was the sworn enemy of the Jews in that day - a Samaritan - who took care of him and provided for his well-being.

In short, I think the only definition of who your neighbor is, is "anyone and everyone."

So, as to the commandments, with further clarification from Jesus as to the depths of what they really mean, how ya doing? :)

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5

Sunday, July 15, 2007

That 'Love Thy Neighbor' Thing... (Part 3)

That "Love Thy Neighbor" thing... I meant it.
-God

Well of course He meant it! Duh! It was one of over six hundred commandments that He absolutely meant! Not to mention all the prophets that He sent and spoke through. It's not as if He slipped and accidentally commanded some things and sent out words that He didn't really mean! He was dead serious.

Again, here are the two commandments on which hang all the Law and the Prophets:

"You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength." (Deut 6:5)

"...you shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Leviticus 19:18)

Not that this will be a complete study - far from it - but in this post I want to take a look at what it really means to love. In the next post we'll look at a couple of parables that illustrate real love in action. As you read through this, think about how well you're doing in living out the two greatest commandments. (There's a reason for all this!)

When reviewing these two commandments, Jesus uses the word "agapao," which is simply the verb form of the noun, "agape." Agapao and Agape are not "emotional love," "physical love," "brotherly love," etc. Rather, we're talking about love from the will, not the emotions, and it's God's very nature. When John reminds us twice in 1 John 4 that "God is love," he says, "God is agape." In case you don't already know where I'm eventually leading to in all this, as a teaser I'll just say that the commands to "love" are commands to love with the agape nature of God - to love as God loves.

Yeah, how's that working for you?

Agape is used in "The Love Chapter" - 1 Corinthians 13. Many couples pick this scripture to be read during their wedding (probably with each partner having high hopes that he or she will somehow actually live these "qualities" out in their marriage, or at least expecting that their partner will). :) Anyway, if we're to agape God with all our hearts, souls and strength, and if we're to agape our neighbor as ourselves, then here's what it looks like, according to the words from this chapter:

Agape is patient
Agape is kind
Agape is not jealous (does not envy)
Agape does not boast (does not brag)
Agape is not proud (is not puffed up, is not arrogant)
Agape is not rude
Agape is not self-seeking (does not seek its own)
Agape is not provoked (is not easily angered)
Agape does not take into account a wrong suffered (keeps no record of wrongs)
Agape does not rejoice in iniquity (unrighteousness) but rejoices with the truth
Agape bears all things (always protects)
Agape believes all things (always trusts)
Agape hopes all things (always hopes)
Agape endures all things (always perseveres)
Agape never fails

(Exact words taken from the NKJV, NIV, NASB)

You've perhaps heard the above "principles" taught week after week. So, how's that working for you?

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5

That 'Love Thy Neighbor' Thing... (Part 2)

Yesterday I brought up Jesus' response when He was "tested" with the question, "Which is the great commandment in the law?" Jesus answered the question by quoting from two sources: Deuteronomy and Leviticus.

"You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength." (Deut 6:5)

"...you shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Leviticus 19:18)

Jesus said that all the Law and Prophets hangs on these two commandments. He wasn't just talking about the Ten Commandments, but "all" the Law and "all" the Prophets. Anything and everything that we find in the 600-plus Old Testament Laws and in all the words of the Old Testament Prophets, can be summarized and boiled down to these two commandments.

And so I asked the question a couple of times, "how are you doing with these two commandments?" After all, God commanded them! And if you think about it, all you have to do is just love God and love others, and you've fulfilled the whole thing! Well, let me pull a quick "Dr. Phil" on you. :) I've never seen a second of Dr. Phil, except on TV commercials, but I've heard that one of his lines is, "How's that working for you?"

So, forgetting for a second all the other commandments and all the words of the prophets... In regards to loving God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength, and in regards to loving your neighbor as yourself, "How's that working for you?"

Maybe not so good? Maybe you can just try a little harder? Maybe one day you'll be able to do better at loving God and loving others?

Or... Maybe you're doing pretty good! Maybe you've got the "Loving God" thing down pat, and you're doing your very best at "Loving your neighbor!" Maybe God's got YOU on a crusade to get other people to start obeying these two important commands!

No matter how you are evaluating your performance - from "very poorly" to "trying harder" to "getting there" to "doing a great job" to... whatever - I want to take a look into God's very own definitions of "love," including some parables and other scriptures that might be a good basis for truly determining exactly what it is to love God and to love others.

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5

Saturday, July 14, 2007

That 'Love Thy Neighbor' Thing... (Part 1)

Today I drove by one of those "-God" billboards. You know, the billboards that have a saying on them and are "signed" by God, such as:

What part of "Thou Shalt Not..." didn't you understand?
-God

Don't make Me come down there.
-God

The one I passed today said:
That "Love Thy Neighbor" thing... I meant it.
-God

And, well, it's true. It can't be denied. God meant it. It wasn't a mistake. It wasn't a slip of the tongue. Moses, after having reviewed the "Big Ten" that he had previously received on the mountain (given in Exodus 20, reviewed in Deuteronomy 5), went on to further proclaim the word of the Lord:

4 "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.

6 "And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deut 6:4-9)

Well, how ya doing so far on those "shall's?"

As we read through Leviticus, we find more commandments! Yay, more commandments! LOTS of 'em. In Leviticus 19:18 we find the commandment that says, "you shall love your neighbor as yourself."

The two commandments mentioned above are the "Top Two," according to Jesus. ALL the Law and the Prophets hang on them, He says (scripture below).

So, again, how ya doin'? If you're a good Christian, I think there's probably no worries, eh!

"Well, I try to put God first in my life. I try to give of my firstfruits. I pray and read my Bible. I try to help others when I can."

Maybe you're even better than that!

"God is absolutely Number 1 in my life! Nothing comes before God! I give ten percent of my income and also give multiple love offerings! I've memorized all kinds of scriptures so I always have the word of the Lord in my heart! I witness to all my friends and neighbors and all those I work with! I volunteer of my time to help less fortunate people and I really have done my best, since I've become a Christian, to keep all of God's commandments!"

Wow, that's pretty amazing! I mean, if you're doing your best to fulfill them, especially the "Big Two," then you must be pretty darn happy with yourself!

After being asked by a lawyer who was among the Pharisees and Sadducees, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?", Jesus answered:

"'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." (Matt 22:37-40)

If you're keeping those - that is, if you're loving God and loving others - God must be pretty impressed with you, huh! After all, He commanded it!

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5

Thursday, July 12, 2007

I am Free

If you've got nine minutes and thirty-seven seconds, you might find at least one thing inspiring in this video. :)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Drained!

Just thought I'd pop in and say HI! This past week has been emotionally and physically draining for me, so I haven't "felt" much like writing here. The busy holiday week, plus working a few extra hours at work have been the source of the physical drain. The emotional drain (and some of the physical drain) has been the result of spending a great deal of time sharing the deep parts of my heart with some people from my church (one pastor in particular) who don't really see things the way I do in regards to the grace of God. It's been stimulating to discuss some issues, but at the same time it's been a drain on the heart, since the deep things of my heart that I've shared haven't been fully received, understood or accepted.

However, iron sharpens iron - so even though the conversations (done through email) have been somewhat intense, it's all been good. I'm not just saying that. The conversations haven't been argumentative or accusatory. Intense, yes, but quarrelsome or contentious, by no means. No one is trying to "prove" anything to anyone else, so that's been a plus.

I grow as I share life with others who don't see things the same way. It's not something I would want to make a daily practice of, just because of how it drains the heart, but from time to time it can be fruitful.

I hope to be back with more encouragement in the grace of God very, very soon!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Dependence Day

"Adam and Eve didn't sin against God by breaking the Ten Commandments, as these didn't appear on the time line until Moses' day. So what was the offense for which they were banished from God's presence? As previously stated, Eve made the suggestion, and then Adam made the first declaration of personal independence from God. His action said, in effect, "I'm in control here! I'll determine good from evil. I have my own ideas about such things, and I intend to do things my way." Alas, most of us are under the deception that independence is a virtue worthy of our pursuit! We seek in for ourselves and teach it to our kids, failing to realize that God hates independence. He designed us to depend upon Him.
From What God Wishes Christians Knew About Christianity by Bill Gillham, Chapter 5, "Birth, Not Performance, Determines Identity."

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Bang the Drum - Let your freedom ring!

Independence Day - Yeah!

I've been waiting for this day to post some lyrics from a band that came right out of Waterloo, Iowa - my home town! And the band members were even part of the church I've been part of for 7 years.

I wish - I really wish - that I could provide video, or at least audio for this song, but I just can't find it in a format that I can post. But at least I've got the lyrics. This is a totally cool anti-legalism, pro-freedom-in-Christ song! It's the title track to Fighter's 1992 "Bang the Drum" album.

Fighter - Bang the Drum

You don't remember me but I know you all too well
I lived inside your legalistic prison cell
Caught in your religious talk
Your rules became a stumbling block
And I fell

Too many years I sat behind your bars of doubt
That held the fear and bondage in
And joy of freedom out
Till I heard the drums of liberty
And grace revealed the key that left no doubt
So let me out!

Bang the drum - Let your freedom ring!
(Oh let your freedom ring)
Bang the drum - Let your freedom ring!

You taught me well to cross my t's and dot my i's
What looked so good to men would soon begin my own demise
I worked to keep my record straight
But all I learned was how to hate my life

I lost my balance on your rope so high and tight
When I fell I found a knife of condemnation in my eye
Then I felt the blade go in my back
And a noose around my neck to hang me high
But you told me a lie!

Bang the drum - Let your freedom ring!
(Oh let your freedom ring)
Bang the drum - Let your freedom ring!

I live in liberty in light of what I saw
This covenant that Jesus made
You turned into a law
That law was there to show my need
But he who God sets free is free indeed - yeah!

Bang the drum - Let your freedom ring!
(Oh let your freedom ring)
Bang the drum - Let your freedom ring!

One year ago, I wrote an article entitled Let Your Freedom Ring for my church that was based upon this song and how I relate to the lyrics.

Happy Freedom Day!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Matthew

I've been reading a lot from Matthew lately. And I haven't even opened my Bible to do so! Hehe... I'm talking about email exchanges that I've had with someone named Matthew, as well as his blog. Matthew came to the Lord about a year ago and has recently really begun growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

I just wanted to share something he wrote to me yesterday. (I received his permission to quote him here). Matthew has shared openly with me and on his blog how he struggles to simply let go and live in the grace of God, and I can certainly relate! A lot of this has to do with our perception of God. Do we see Him as angry and wrathful towards us, or do we see Him with abundant grace, being our strength when we are weak, rather than our enemy when we are weak? Do we understand that "weakness" is the very best we have to offer a holy God! And therefore, do we simply accept the free gift of His abundant, ongoing, never ending grace, for every moment and square inch of our lives?

What Matthew shared with me really has a lot to do with changing perceptions about God:
"That is another thing that is amazing about grace. I thought I had my doctrinal puzzle nearly completed, but when I finally gave up on anxiety,worry and condemnation as motivation for changing myself...Grace flipped my board over and scattered the pieces and now I have about 2 that fit. It is very exciting...It's like reading the Bible all over again, learning about God all over again, and this time I actually like Him! Haha"
The person given one talent in the parable of the talents perceived his master to be "a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid..." (Matthew [hehe] 25:24-25). Do you perceive God to be "a hard man?" Does God "reap where He has not sown" and "gather where He has not scattered seed?" Are we so afraid of God because we have the wrong ideas about who He is?

What if, like my friend Matthew, we begin to see the God of the Bible as being rich in grace (Eph 1:7), kind toward us (Eph 2:7), our comforter (2 Cor 1:4)... that He Himself is our peace (Eph 2:14), and that He delivered us from the ministry of death and condemnation (2 Cor 3:7,9) and has made us "alive together with Him, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us." (Col 2:13-14). Do we see that in Christ "dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily - and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power." (Col 2:9-10).

If we see God as a harsh master, it is very hard to like Him, never mind love Him. But if we see Him through the lens of the grace that He gives us so freely and abundantly, we can read the Bible and actually like and love the God we're reading about and getting to know better and better. And if we understand that God's patience is everlasting and without end (unlike our human patience that ultimately snaps), then we see that He's not in the same hurry that we are to conform ourselves to His image. I honestly don't believe that He's as worried about our behavior modification as He is concerned that we learn to simply trust His goodness. I don't mean that we don't change and I don't mean that we just stay as we are. I just mean that while we're in a hurry to grow and to change, God knows better! Being weak in and of ourselves, the only thing that can truly change our behavior is GRACE! And I fully believe that trusting in His goodness and kindness is just the start of walking in grace. We can come to the throne of grace boldly, and yet in weakness, because it's there, and only there, that we find real life and strength. Life and strength that is the ongoing gift of our God who is love, and not something we are struggling to offer to some harsh master.

I also like Matthew's puzzle piece analogy. The Bible hasn't changed (well, unless you count all the different versions). I mean, God's word hasn't changed, but our understanding of it is always changing. My own doctrinal understandings got entirely flipped upside down as well, and I've been enjoying watching God put the pieces back together in truth. It reminds me of Paul's words to the Colossians:
"Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints; because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth..." (Col 1:2-6)
"Bringing forth fruit... since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth." My prayer for myself and anyone else reading this is for us all to continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18) and that we would know the grace of God in truth, and the fruit that comes from it!