Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Grace Scandal: Grace Because Your Life Depends on It

Galatians 5:2-6
Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

In the OT it was a requirement for all men within the Israelite community to be circumcised. Jesus was circumcised and Paul was too. The issue is not with circumcision but with what following religion leads too. it leads to being alienated from Jesus. The greatest threat to grace-living is religion-honoring.

We don't look at grace-living as a life or death issue but it really is. Once I allow religion to start playing a role in my relationship with God I begin to feel that I don't need His grace. I start looking at my goodness like the Pharisees. When I live as though I don't need God's grace I take God out of my worship, my prayer life, the intent of my reading and understanding Scripture.

People that are religion focused point out the faults in others without remembering that they need, and still need, God's grace. The grace we've received is not a badge to wear to show how holy we are. If anything grace does quite the opposite it points out that I am like everyone else; in need of a Savior.

Hebrew 12:4
In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

I don't know anyone who has ever hated their own sin to the point that they were willing to shed their own blood for it. In the OT countless animals were killed for mankind's mistakes. Then Jesus the perfect Son of God came as the last and final sacrifice so that we could live. Still we have yet to shed our own. It is so easy to point out the sin in others and ignore the secret battle raging inside one's own soul.

What Jesus did so long ago was to shatter religions death grip on humanity. You can read of His criticism towards the religious leaders and teachers of His day in Matthew 23. One of my favorite, if I can call it that, is this verse.

Matthew 23:15
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.

They made people fear their religious power rather than let them experience the redemptive freedom of God's grace.

When dying on the cross Jesus completed God's plan to have a personal relationship with His creation that He had missed since Adam and Eve.

Matthew 27:50-51
And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He gave up His spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split.

God is tired of religious hearts. He doesn't need any more bad press. God was tired of playing hide and seek with His children. He could now make Himself known to each one who sought after Him.

God wants people to realize that they can accomplish nothing outside of His grace and freely live as though their life depended on it.

Every part of your life needs to be dependent on God's grace. Without it your life in Christ will fade to just religion.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Love God

God is love. Therefore love. Without distinction, without calculation, without procrastination, love. - Henry Drummond

Mark 12:30
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

A family member and I were talking about this the other day. Many times we divert to our strength in knowing God. If you are an intellectual person it may be very easy for you to build a relationship with God with your "mind". You can read theological books and become enamored with God. If you are an emotional person than you would find your relationship built with your "heart". You turn your iPod on and begin to listen to Jesus Culture and the culture around you surrenders to your starvation to be in His presence. And so on.

But what about, lets say, the intellectual who is very emotionally challenged? They find it hard to even talk about their feelings; let alone build a relationship with them. Is it ok for them to neglect the "heart" part of this command? I mean they love God with all their "mind". Shouldn't that be good enough?

I would have to say, "No, it's not good enough." You don't do one of these you're not loving God with your whole being and that is what we are called to do. Love God with every portion of your being. Your passions, your personality, your perceptions and your power are all meant to end on God.

Here's an argument:
But I'm not good at the "mind" thing! I like to feel God! (or whatever the weaker portion may be)

That may be the case but your worship of Him is incomplete. Just as in any relationship our communication has to be built. For instance, if I only loved my wife because of our physical attraction to each other sooner or later there is going to be a fall out in our relationship if I don't begin to try to know her more intimately. If I just say, "Well Honey, that's the way I am so you're going to have to deal with it" will only start a fight. Here is a good example for the fellas. If I am passionate about sports but don't show that same passion toward my wife she begins to feel less important to me. And I would get questions like, "Do you really love me?"

I believe that is what God asks when we only desire to know Him where it's comfortable, "Do you really love me?" I need to be at a place whether it's easy for me or not to want to know God in every single way possible.

Don't just pursue a love for God with your strength, make your pursuit perfect by enjoying a relationship that is complete.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Grace Scandal: No Right to Be Ungracious

Matthew 18:21-35 contains the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant that was in response to Peter's question, "How many times shall I forgive my brother?" A servant in this parable was forgiven of a tremendous debt he owed his master only to turn around and have an argument with another servant who owed him very little. When the master heard about this he became angry with the servant and had him thrown in prison until he could pay back what he owed.

In The Grace Scandal:  Grace Abuse I said that we are not meant to keep a count of peoples' sins against us. Here is why:

Our debt to God far outweighs the debt any man can owe us; and God forgave us of it all.

What if you've been abused mentally, emotionally, physically, and/or spiritually?

You still need to give grace.

Our actions toward others should always reflect the grace that we've been given. Not one of us is worthy before God without His grace. So we do not have the right to be ungracious.

What about people who take advantage of you?

It's not about playing dumb to peoples' actions but not allowing their influence in your life. If you know a person is abusive than that person needs to have limited access into your life. You have been given a brain so respond with intelligence and act with grace. Honestly, what rights do you really have? If your life is lived in Christ what can people rob you of here?

Matthew 6:14-15
For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

That is one of the toughest and pointed statements about forgiveness I believe in Scripture. It clearly says that my forgiveness depends on if I'm forgiving.

That servant should have been very generous toward his friends. He should have forgiven every single debt that his fellow servants owed him. This is a major fault within the church where we received our righteousness from God and so think, whether intentionally or unintentionally, that we are better than the sinners around us. We don't have a special place in God's eyes that isn't offered to every person.

So in our search sometimes to find fault with others so we can feel better about our own faults we become angry and bitter towards those who have hurt us. It's easy to forgive someone of something insignificant; but those who leave wounds that cut deep are rarely easily forgiven. The forgiveness we're meant to show is toward all.

Matthew 5:43-48
You have heard that it was said, "Love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I tell you:  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

The Kim Phuc Story (pronounced "fook") is an amazing story about forgiveness. You may not remember her name but you probably have seen this picture of her:

She was 9 years old when her small village had a napalm bomb dropped on it during the Vietnam War. This picture shows her running down the street naked because the clothes she was wearing had burned off. She had to have 17 different operations. She was angry and bitter towards those who caused her such suffering. She envied those who were "normal".

At age 19 she became a Christian. When she read the words "Love your enemies" she didn't know how. It didn't happen over night. She eventually learned to count her blessings instead of thinking negative thoughts: 

"Why did I get the scars?", "Why did I get burned in the fire?", I thought, "Kim your face and your hands are fine; and your feet weren't burned! You were able to run out of that fire and live!"
Kim went through hellacious pain and agony and carries quite literally the scars of her past. She could easily use them to remind her of the evil of those that did this to her. But instead those scars remind her that her freedom comes when she forgives.

Don't hold a grudge.
Don't be bitter.
Don't live in anger.

Don't let the sins of others be the thing that prevents freedom and grace in your life. You must show grace because you've been shown grace. You have no right not to.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

99-1 Principle

Today I was asked, "Why are there so many different churches?"

My reply, "Because the churches are building their kingdoms instead of God's"

My thought is foundationally (I don't want to use the word fundamentally) all true Christian churches believe in the same crucial theology and that being Jesus Christ is the Son of God and paid our debt of sin so we can have a relationship with God. Simply put that is the only thing that matters.

I feel that we (mankind) want church done our way so we seek out churches that fit us. If a church moves more in the Holy Spirit than what makes a person comfortable they go somewhere else. If the music isn't as sacred they go somewhere where it is. If the pastor is too boisterous they look for a more reserved reverend. These are bad things but if we get to comfortable anywhere we risk being ineffective.

Pleasing parishioners has been a big focus in the church. I remember in Bible college hearing what I'd call sound advice at the time that, "Many people aren't willing to change. So you have to take it slow or you'll risk people leaving." I made this mistake at the first church I pastored. The people wanted and knew change needed to happen. They weren't sure where to start. I had an idea but in my compassion for them I brought some change about very slowly. Not willing to completely raddle their chains and take off running.  I wasn't trying to build my kingdom and I know the people weren't wanting their kingdom established so out of mutual consideration we journeyed slowly.

That advice while good is deathly. It can cause a church to become stagnant and lifeless.

I'm about the 99-1 PRINCIPLE. The 99-1 Principle is based from Jesus' Parable of the Lost Sheep. The Shepherd leaves 99 sheep to look for the 1 that is missing. See the 99 are where they should be. So there is isn't a concern for they're comfort, joy, or security. But the missing 1 is gone out of the view of the shepherd. The 99 are ok (at least for now) so the one that needs to have the focus of the shepherd is the 1 missing. I've got to be more concerned about those I'm trying to reach on the streets than with those filling the seats.

So if people leave a church because I am unwilling to cater to them by all means they can get their grub on somewhere else.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Grace Scandal: Grace Abuse

Matthew 18:21-22
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked,"Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins agains me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

The idea behind this scripture is that we, mere humans, aren't meant to keep count of a person's sin against us. So if that is the standard that Jesus made for us humans by all means God's standard is greater.

If God's grace is limitless can I abuse it?

A human life is filled with many stories. Some of those stories are completely joyful and wonderful. Like the story of when a man and woman marry. However, in every human life there are some stories that we wish we had never encountered. Many of those stories bare a cold and dreary question; can God forgive me, can God forgive what I have done, can God forgive what I'm about to do?

And these are the questions of the ages. The truthful and simple answer is, yes. God can and will forgive. Because we're all jacked up Jesus had to be raised up. Ever since then we can find forgiveness from God every day, all day, and till our vary last day. God's grace is meant to be abused. We shrink at that thought but God wants us to run to Him instead of away from Him because of our sin.

Because God's grace can be abused doesn't mean it should.

The problem we have is that we confuse overlooking and forgiving. Overlooking sin is simply ignoring it or treating it as ok. That is not what grace does. Forgiveness, on the other hand, needs to be accepted and that acceptance requires a change in my relation to that sin.

Romans 6:1-2
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?

When we ask, "Can God forgive me," do we really want that forgiveness if it requires repentance?

Grace pushes us towards repentance. Grace that is followed through with repentance makes me free. Grace that is misunderstood makes me fear. When I abuse God's grace I constantly worry if God will truly forgive my sin.

What we go through to commit sin breaks our relationship with God. And because of that we change; and there is no guarantee that we will ever come back to God.

See many people in these situations who abuse grace and when they are confronted about their actions say, "Only God can judge me." God is the judge but the reality is that they wouldn't want Him to judge them at that moment.

Romans 6:14
For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

None of us are sinless but grace should cause us to sin less not more. God's grace dictates that I can sin and He'll still love me but my love for Him and His grace towards me should prompt me not to sin.

A sinner sins; it's their nature. Sin is not a choice. Even their good deeds are sin based. But for a Christian sin is a choice. A Christian who is not struggling with sin but is addicted to it says, "I have more faith in the power of sin than the power of Christ's sacrifice." And I would have to wonder about the genuineness of their salvation.

At the heart of this issue isn't can I abuse God's grace but why would I. The closer I come to the Light of the World the more evident becomes my need for His grace. The closer I come to Him the more I am in love with Him and would hate to cause anything to come between us.

Are you asking, Can God forgive my sin? Yes.
Can I abuse God's grace and be forgiven? Yes.
Should I? No.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Say It If It's Worth Savin' Me

Nickelback has a song entitled:  Savin' Me. The chorus of the song says:

             And say it for me, say it to me
             And I'll leave this life behind me
             Say it if it's worth saving me

The video of Savin' Me has a guy who gets saved from a near death situation. His salvation makes him aware of the countdown looming over people's heads. At the end of the video that guy sees a young woman whose countdown is plummeting and he rescues her; which makes her aware of the countdown.

Although it's to illustrate the message of the song, there really is a countdown looming over everyone. We don't know when we'll breathe our last breath. We don't know what tomorrow holds for us. I don't know the time that I will die, but I am confident that whenever that time comes I'll be headed to heaven.

That confidence is great but it should push me towards giving others an opportunity to have that same confidence.

Every single True Christian should be running the streets in an attempt to let people know about the salvation that we have. But we're too comfortable in our church pew. We don't want to give up our seat to make room for another. So in affect we tell Jesus to take His Great Commission and shove it. Can I tell you if we neglect to tell others I feel what we are saying to them is "You are not worth saving".

We are not saved to take up a seat at the church. We are saved to reach others.

Just say it if it's worth saving ____________ (insert name).

Why do you call me, "Lord," and do not do what I say? - Luke 6:46

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Church is a Relay Race

1 Corinthians 12:12
The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.

I believe the church is a lot like a relay race. Where you have a team composed of different people (backgrounds, cultures, world views, etc) but they have the same goal.

The baton race tips are from Coach Nigel Hetherington, the Scottish National Sprints and Hurdles coach.

  • The race is about the baton, not the runners. The objective is to keep the baton moving at maximum speed at all times throughout the race.

Somewhere along the lines of the modern church we've made it about us. It's never about us. It's about God getting His glory out of us and us being obedient to the mission of Christ.

When you hand the baton to the next generation what condition will the church be in? Healthy? Unhealthy? How would you be missed? What would change? What difference does your presence make? What if everyone was as committed as you are? How would the church look if everyone studied the Word, prayed, and served exactly like you?

Your faith is not an add-on. You play a intricate role.

This generation of teenage and young adult Christians need to see tangible compassion in the lives of the people who make up the body of Christ.

  • The relay brings out the best in everyone. The relay should increase, not decrease, the speed of the athletes. A properly trained 400 meter relay team will post a time that is less than the four runners' combined 100 meter times.

You can be a good Christian and not go to church. But you cannot be a great one. The church is meant to create an opportunity for people to reach their God given potential. We're not meant to be Lone Rangers.

Have you reached your full potential? Are you helping someone else reach theirs?

  • Practice until the handover becomes instinctual. Athletes must learn to trust one another; no looking back.

It's important that we understand that the church is made of imperfect people and if you are in search for the perfect church and find one don't go there because you'll jack it up. What we do here in our worship is mere practice for all eternity. So we better learn how to worship, love, and show grace to others now.

  • The baton exchange should occur at very close maximum speed. The incoming athlete should not be overstretched or they will be off-balance when making the exchange. The outgoing runner must focus on reaching full speed.

Here's the deal. We often segregate the people in the church into age brackets and gender (youth, young adult, experienced adults, men, women ministries). At times these are good but healthy churches have the older or spiritually mature influencing the younger or spiritually immature. We need to allow these walls to fall in order that the next generation of believers have a better introduction to the church.

How many of you were mentored by someone besides a parent or pastor? We need this in the church. This is why experienced adults can get frustrated with the younger. "They don't know how to act in church." Has anyone come along side of them to teach them how?...and with more than a "stop it".

  • A baton drop does not automatically disqualify a team. Whoever had the baton when it was dropped may retrieve it and continue the race. If the incoming runner drops it, they may pick it up and complete the pass.

Like I said earlier we are not perfect. Because of that we need to allow room for things to get dropped. We may not do everything right in the eyes of every person, but we should allow room for those dropped batons and encourage each other to finish strong.

2 Timothy 4:7
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.