Friday, January 31, 2014

Blast From the Past: Another Lesson Learned

This was first posted on May 30, 2010. The circumstances have changed but the lesson still remains.

This morning, after our gathering, we were waiting for some food to be delivered. I was on the front porch of the house talking with a friend. Partway through the conversation the food that we were waiting for arrived, and help was needed to carry it into the house. Without thinking, I immediately left in the middle of the conversation to help. There were others there who could have helped, so it wasn't like it was absolutely necessary for me to get involved. A bit later I thought about that and realized that I had abandoned my friend right in the middle of our conversation, and I wondered why I did that.

Part of it could be that I'm not a great conversationalist, so it was more comfortable for me to help out in a way that didn't require talking. That's something I need to continue working on, although I am better than I was. Part of it could be that I feel like I have a reputation as a servant to uphold. That is one of my gifts, and I do feel more comfortable behind the scenes than out front, so of course I don't want people to think I'm being lazy. Regardless of the reason, I should have stayed on the porch and not abandoned my friend.

I think that a bigger reason is something that most of us deal with in our walk with Jesus, and that is the tendency to feel that we have to do something all the time rather than just be in the moment. I know that I sometimes will let things to do draw me away from spending time with the Father or with my brothers and sisters. A lot of evangelicalism, especially the fundamentalist branch, is built on "doing something for God." Great churches are built on the efforts of the leaders and members. Christians are made to feel guilty if they aren't involved in one of the programs of their church. Pastors burn out because they feel that it's their job to build a great work. In the midst of all this busyness, churches find that their members are not being discipled and are not growing in their walk with God.

The thing is, many of the programs and things that we try to do for God can be done without the Holy Spirit. Huge, "successful" churches and ministries can be built completely on human effort. Some of those come tumbling down, some get even bigger, but they really don't have much impact for the Kingdom. We bemoan the fact that people aren't knocking down the doors of our churches, and young people are leaving as soon as they are able. I think one reason is that we have presented a gospel that claims to be all about grace and a relationship with God, but is really about working. Not for salvation, but to please God.

God invites us into relationship with him. He tells us to be still and know that he is God. God is our Father, not our employer. It is true that we serve God and others. It is true that there are things that each one of us is called to do. But, do we do them in our own strength or in the power of the Spirit coming from just being in a close relationship with the Father? It is out of that relationship that we walk in God's love through our day-to-day. It is in that relationship that we learn the Father's heart and find out where he is working so that we can join in. The closer we draw to our Father, the more sensitive we will be to his agenda, and the more we may realize that we need to let our agenda go. Our efforts will be to join God's work rather than trying to get him to bless ours.

Joining in God's work might just mean that we continue a conversation on the front porch and let someone else help with the other stuff.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Free Grace or Come and Die

The message of free grace is becoming more and more widespread in the church these days. It is a message that resonates with many who feel beat down by legalistic messages they have heard in churches. There are many proponents of free grace, such as Steve Brown, author of Scandalous Freedom and Three Free Sins, and Tullian Tchividjian, author of  Glorious Ruin and One Way Love. At the same time, there is a push back from those who believe the idea of free grace cheapens the gospel and produces folks who just feel free to sin all they want. These people would refer to Bonhoeffer's writing that Jesus calls us to "come and die," and against "cheap grace."

I believe that the message of the free grace of God to sinners and the calling to die are not incompatible. In fact they are parts of the same message. Jesus tells us that we cannot follow him if we don't take up our cross and die to ourself. Scripture also tells us that the finished work of  Christ on the cross frees us from the law of "do and live." We are not under condemnation if we are in Christ and we have been made brand new. In Romans 6, Paul anticipates the arguments of those that say teaching grace leads to lawlessness and of those who say that grace allows us to sin more and more. In the first two verses, Paul asks if we should sin more in order for more grace to be given and then answers his question with, "No way! We've died to sin! How can we live in it?" In the rest of that chapter Paul goes on to tell us that we are to count ourselves as dead to sin and no longer under it's control.

In Galatians, Paul says that he has been crucified with Christ, but that he lives because it is now Christ living in him. When grace captures us, we die to our self and begin to live in Christ. Unfortunately, because we still live in a broken world and sin is still present in us to varying degrees, we have to continually take up our cross daily. That taking up our cross is not striving to make ourselves acceptable to God by keeping the law. It has to do with giving up our interests because of what God has done for us.

One way of looking at it is to look at our relationship to God and our relationship to others. The grace that God freely gives us is what makes us his beloved children. There is nothing we can do to earn it or lose it. In response to this grace and because Christ lives in us, we then do those things which show that same love and grace to others. We love because God first loved us. We die to ourselves by putting others first. Jesus said that the greatest love is to lay down our lives for others. We only do that through the grace of God in our hearts.

So, God offers us his free grace which will make us right with him and his beloved children. That grace causes us to give up ourselves, to die, in order that we may show that same grace to others. In the words of the song, grace calls us to "come and die, and find that I might truly live."

I pray that you are resting in that grace.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Weekend Wanderings

Is it the weekend already? This week flew by, as the whole month has. This time next Saturday will be the first of February. The problems caused by the harder than normal winter continue around the country. Some school districts have cancelled enough days due to snow that the students will be going longer into the summer or giving up break days this semester. We have been fortunate here in the sunny South. It's just been colder than normal.

Well, enough small talk about the weather. On to the links:

Praying in the midst of crisis.
Congratulations Coach K.
A love stronger than "Sirens"
Why Christians should create.
Remaking God.

Kansas Bob rants. He has a point.
Philip Yancey has a list of hip Christian books.
Chaplain Mike on developing pictures. (Sort of)
Andy Stager has 2 substitute evangelism questions.
Wayward Son has a tale of two Christians.

The hazards of sitting.
A long way from the lake.
A review of " The Prodigal: A Ragamuffin Story."
Old Erich proverb.
7 signs.

Would you ride this?
Daniel Wells has some thoughts on sports.
Good post from Keith Giles.
Zack Hunt on hope and peace.
Matt Appling on first world and real world.

Have a blessed week!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Blast From the Past: Motive

This was first published on November 17, 2009.

The other day, I heard someone say that the motivation for the Christian life is not in gaining what we do not have, but in living up to what we do have. I immediately thought, "That seems kind of legalistic." The emphasis is on what we can do, what we need to do. Knowing the background of the speaker, I am sure that many of the things we must do to "live up to" what we have in Christ include things like going to church every time the doors are open, avoiding things like tobacco and alcohol, and keeping ourselves "separated" from those outside. If the "Christian life" consists of sins to avoid and certain practices to embrace, then it makes sense that we are to be motivated by a desire to live up to a certain standard.

My fundamental disagreement is with the implied definition of the "Christian life." I believe that life in Christ is not a set of "standards" that we must keep. It is not a set of "truths" that we must give assent to. There are certain things that we believe, and certain things we will or won't do, if we are followers of Jesus, but the motivation behind that is not an attempt to live up to anything. I believe that the motivation for the Christian life is found in God's grace through the Holy Spirit. The Spirit teaches us and takes what we learn and changes us. Our knowledge becomes somethng more than just something rattling around in our brain. It is something we experience, something that becomes who we are as the Father's love and grace fill us.

As we spend time with Jesus, and the Spirit works in us, we will be changed so that the things the Father wants us to do will become more and more natural for us. We're not perfect, and there is a certain amount of responsibility on our part to put ourselves in the place where God can work, but doing what God desires and becoming more like Jesus is something that God must do. It is not a case of trying to live up to what we have in Christ. If that is our motivation, then we will fail, because it is impossible for us to lift ourselves up in that way.

If you are in Christ, rest in God's grace for you. Trust that everything you have in Christ is everything you need, and that the Father loves you and sees you as he sees Jesus. It is already accomplished. Let the Spirit guide you and teach you, and change you in the way the Father wants you to change. It's all about God's grace, not our own puny efforts.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Weekend Wanderings

It's time for another edition of Weekend Wanderings! *cue wild applause* It's a long weekend for many of us as Monday is the holiday for Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. The weather here in the sunny South is sunny, but colder than normal. Much of the country seems to be colder than usual as well. It's been so wet here on the weekends that I haven't been able to chop up the leaves in the back yard. Hopefully, it'll stay dry this weekend so I can do that on Monday. Saturday, Jan and I went to the NASCAR Hall of Fame here in Charlotte with Josh and Jan's dad. I'm not a huge fan but it was fascinating to see how racing has grown from a bunch of moonshine runners to the huge business it is today, and what goes into the process of having a successful team.

On to the links:

Tales of the New Creation.
There is no way this is right.
Good post from Meghan Tschanz.
Goodbye Metrodome.
Things are getting real down in Texas.

For the cat lover.
Beautiful photography.
Nate Pruitt on creativity.
Yezzianity? Really?

Wayward Son is feeling the smile of God.
Preachers pulling stunts.
Melody says black is a good color.
Learning from atheists.
Chaplain Mike is drawn to the religionless.

Take a stand?
The power to love and forgive.
Grace is a funny thing.
Matthew Paul Turner's thoughts on a t-shirt.
A lie that Cole Brown's pastor told him.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Wonderful Opportunity

On January 31 and February 1, an event will take place in Rock Hill, SC that you should attend if you are anywhere in driving distance. It is the third in a series of art forums put on by the Friday Arts Project, a group of artists committed to pursuing truth, beauty, and goodness with their work. The event is titled "Dazzle Gradually: The Allure of Poetic Truth-Bearing," and will definitely be worth your while. Registration closes January 25, so you'd better hurry. I'd love to see you there.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

World Vision Wednesday

In case you were wondering, here is a description of where the money goes when you give to World Vision.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Something Different

I am going to try and write some poetry from time to time. Enjoy. Or not.

The knees ache, the hips hurt
There's pain in the thumbs when I grasp
The hair is no longer wavy, it's waving
I'm a bit bigger and softer
Around the middle

They say I'm getting older
At times it feels that way
But I also feel younger
At times so alive!
I hear about the Restoration
I see it beginning

Learning to see the past
Adjusting to the present
Anticipating the future
Learning to trust
Accepting grace
Extending grace

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Weekend Wanderings

Another week has gone into history. It was our first week back at school after Christmas break. It was hard getting up on Monday morning! The polar vortex has retreated back to where it belongs and the weather seems to be getting back to normal.

On to the real reason you're here. The links:

A new type of addiction.
Something is wrong here.
Pretty cool.
Waiting on God.
Significant others.

Lori Ventola resolves to be shameless.
Linda Brendle wishes you a messy new year.
Michelle Van Loon on community.
Zack Hunt on grace.
Damaris Zehner asks us to consider the dogs.

What kids say.
In what way?
50 countries where it is hardest to be a Christian.
The baptism of Jesus.
Some winter comic relief.

Scot McKnight on the best age for leaders.
Circuses, monkeys and the new year.
Could the Bible be written today?
When Niagara Falls freezes over.
Good question from Jared Wilson.

Have a blessed week!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Blast From the Past: The Truth Hurts?

This was first posted on September 24, 2009.

Last night I saw a church sign which read, "If the truth hurts, it must be working." Well, maybe. It is true that there are times when the truth does hurt in order to work, times when hard changes need to be made in our lives. We can all think of times when truth was spoken to us, causing us pain that, in turn, caused us to change.

Unfortunately, many times the truth is used as a club. Some have an idea that they know God's truth and that it is their responsibility to make sure everyone knows it. They claim to be "speaking the truth in love," saying that they are showing love simply by speaking the truth, no matter how harshly the message is proclaimed. Of course, sometimes the "truth" that they loudly speak is nothing more than their interpretation.

There is also truth that does not hurt. The message of God's grace and mercy is one example. The promise of resurrection is another. And while it is true that we all struggle with sin, it is also true that the Father loves us unconditionally, has given us the Holy Spirit to work in us, and is forming us into the likeness of Jesus Christ.

The reality is that truth transforms as the Spirit takes it and uses it in the life of the Christ-follower. It may hurt, but then again it may feel wonderful.

Monday, January 6, 2014

And Another Year Passes

Another year is upon us. It seems to happen on a regular basis, no matter what we try to do. Along with a new year, there comes something called New Year's Resolutions. This is when people determine that they are going to do certain things and accomplish certain goals in the next 365 days. That is why you see special deals on weight loss programs, fitness center memberships, and home fitness equipment. Other resolutions include career, financial, relational, or spiritual goals.

I have nothing against resolutions as such. It is good to have goals for the coming year. My problem is I tend to make resolutions and then not keep them. It seems that is a problem common to the human condition. It is very easy for us to see resolutions as devices to make us better people, much like the 5 steps to ________________ that you can hear in many churches on Sunday mornings. If we fail to keep these resolutions, we can become filled with guilt and frustration. If we are able to keep them, we can become self-righteous.

Pam Hogeweide has written a good article on what she wants for the coming year. It is titled, "Soaring into Everday Loveliness With One Word." Pam writes that, rather than making resolutions, she has chosen the word "soar" as what she wants to do in 2014. She also asks her readers to comment with what their one word would be. I chose "grace."

In the last couple of years, I have been learning what grace is. The idea that Abba loves me no matter what and sees me as his beloved son is liberating. As I learn, it is becoming more and more clear that absolutely nothing I can do will ever change the Father's love for me or my standing as his child. I'm not saying that nothing I do matters, because it does. I'm saying that my actions can not make me a better person inside, that they can not make me righteous. I am righteous because of God's grace through what Christ has done. It is finished, and there is nothing more for me to do.

I want to live every day in and from my Father's grace to me. I want to do everything out of love and gratitude, not out of a desire to earn God's favor or stay right with him. I want to walk looking at Jesus and his finished work, and not fearfully looking over my shoulder or around me, worried that I might screw up. Because I will screw up, sometimes royally. But, it's okay because it doesn't change who I am in Christ. It also doesn't change the settled fact that God is redeeming everything in my life for his kingdom and his glory. I want to live out of that reality.

I also want to live a life that extends that same grace to others, to those whom I love and to those who are difficult to love. I want to love my neighbor (who just happens to be everyone) as Jesus loves me. I want to love others without putting conditions on them. No reciprocity, no demanding, and certainly no "exacting a pound of flesh." I know I can only do that as I am able to rest in the grace of Abba. Otherwise it becomes just another one of those resolutions that I can't keep.

My word for 2014 is grace. I'd love to hear what word you would choose.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Weekend Wanderings

It's the weekend again! During this Christmas break, the weekends haven't seemed quite as important. School begins again on Monday, so they will once again be greatly anticipated. The whole country, with just a couple of exceptions, is in the grips of some very frosty weather. My heart goes out to those who are facing negative double digit temperatures and dangerous wind chills. It is getting down into the teens at night here in the sunny South, but that doesn't begin to compare with what others are facing. Pray for protection and provision for those folks.

On to the links:

You know you wanted this bit of information.
Make sure you keep your coffee straight.
What is the church's biggest problem?
Grace or hamster wheel?
A tree for each of the twelve days of Christmas.

A reject tree.
Eric Carpenter on love.
The new creation.
Encouragement from Jon Acuff.

Len has a recipe for clearing snow.
Pam has one word.
Keith Giles pledges allegiance.
Zack Hunt's struggle.
Melody on confidence.

Cold but beautiful.

Have a blessed week! May your year ahead be full of grace.

Moving On

It's been a while since I've written here. Life has been happening the past few months. I have decided to start fresh, so I'm mo...