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Judgmental Grace?

Grace is receiving the wonderful gift of forgiveness of Jesus Christ and pouring it out to others. If we spend most of our time arguing about grace to those who are legalistic, or in licentiousness, then we are probably not walking out grace. Grace is love expressed in all we do. Speak with your love first, then with your words.

What does it mean to “take up your cross”

In Matthew 16:24-26, Jesus says:

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”

This verse is almost always used by religious people as an introduction to suffering, and “trying harder”. If you want to be a disciple, then follow this path, and suffer. But let’s break this down and see what Jesus really wants. When Jesus says to “take up your cross”, that is not an invitation to suffer, it is an invitation to death. And it is not an invitation to martyrdom.

This is the grace of Jesus expressed as a true understanding of the cross. He starts by saying “you must deny yourself…”. Typically that gets taught as give stuff up, and be miserable. I don’t think we are getting the full weight of this. After the cross, Paul says:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Now, put these two verse together, and you will see what Jesus was calling you to. For us to live in Christ, our old selves must die. In fact, they have (we HAVE been crucified with Christ). We have to deny the flesh (greek sarx-the faith on our self), and take up the life of Christ (living by faith in Him). Denial of the flesh s to not allow the dead flesh rise up again – leave it at the Cross. Paul is saying over and over in His epistles that “you have died”, and “you have been crucified”. It’s a done deal. We now a positioned in the heavenlies seated with Christ. That who we are now.

If you really take him at the religious interpretation, he is not calling you to suffer, he is calling you to die. The suffering and misery idea waters down the words of Jesus. If we interpret Jesus’ words as try harder and suffer more, then we will actually be working by our own flesh, and or own abilities. We will not be walking by faith. But, if we trust the we have picked up the cross, and have been crucified, then we can leave the old dead  flesh behind and start living the life of Christ. Only then will we live the life that Jesus promised:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

If we walk by the flesh, the thief will rule our lives. If we walk in the Spirit of newness of life, we will have life, and we will have it in abundance.

 

 

 

 

The post that is way outside my comfort zone

Normally, I like to keep blog posts strictly to the grace of Jesus. It’s the most central thing in my life and what I most like to talk about. Typically I avoid things like Calvinism/Arminianism, Eschatology, and things that tend to be secondary, and often inflammatory (although, strangely a lot of people even get mad about grace). But I had such a great experience this week and I had to share it. [Special note – make sure you read to the end]

I teach a bible Study at a prison every week. Last night I was teaching James chapter 4, and somehow got to discussing how do we live by faith and how do we show the love of Jesus to others. Long story short, I mentioned how I had been listening to a teaching on getting words of knowledge [look it up in 1 Corinthians 12], specifically how it relates to encouraging people in the love of Christ. Now, I know this can be an area of abuse, like when a lady says God told her to marry you, and God didn’t let you in on the secret. In fact, all the gifts get abused. But let’s not throw them out, let’s use them like we are supposed to.

So, I thought I would show the men in prison an example. I turned to one of the guys and said “does February 18th mean something to you?”. Honestly, the date just came out – I wasn’t trying to make something up. He said it was His discharge date for his sentence. That’s when he would be completely done with prison. That was very important to him, and I got to encourage him that God cares for him, and that God remembers him, and the date shows that.  It was very impactful to him. I think God likes to encourage us and let us know that we are not forgotten.  This is one of the reasons we are given spiritual gifts–to encourage and build up one another,

This was great, because it was the first time I had ever tried this, and God gave me a date, and it was important. I think we often shrink back from walking in the gifts, because we worry about “what if I’m wrong?” — “What if I don’t do it right?” These are great questions. The answer is, take a little risk to share love with someone. If your “word” is incorrect, just say thanks for letting me talk, and try again some other time.

We often hold gifts like words of knowledge to a strangely higher standard than other gifts, like pastor/teacher. Do we expect our pastors to roll out of seminary (or wherever they come from) and speak a perfect sermon each time, every time? I have yet to meet a pastor who didn’t wish he could erase the tapes of some of his early sermons. I have heard pastors say some really dumb things, and then speak sermons to correct earlier sermons.

Now, I am not calling for people to be sloppy of careless, but rather to realize that starting out in your giftings is a little risky. But, do you know what is way worse than making some mistakes? To never try. To never walk in the great things that God wants to have you be a part of.

OK, here come the total out of the comfort zone part of this. As I was out mowing my lawn and pondering these things, I felt God give me a date: January 17, 1972 (usually I would not worry about the year, but it seemed to be part of the impression. It also helps make it more unique.) Now, is this a guess, or is it from God? I’m not sure, but if it means something to you, let me know in the comments, or by email. If not, no worries. Some who are reading and might find this date will say: “Hey, tens and tens of people read this blog, so it’s bound to match for someone”

Now here comes the double extra discomfort part: I will tell you why I think the date is for the person to whom it is significant. I think it has to do with your father. And the message God wants to give, is that He (God) is your Father in heaven who does not change like shifting shadows. He is watching over you, and loves you dearly. He will never leave you or forsake you.

Now, I may have imagined all this in the hot sun while mowing, or perhaps someone needs to here this. Let’s find out! Please let me know if this is for you.

p.s. I am not claiming to be a prophet, I just feel like God may have a little something to bless someone. Keep in touch, and know that God loves you!

 

 

 

Disappointment after feeding the 5000?

In John chapter 6, Jesus feeds the 5000. After doing so, the people wanted to make Jesus King:
After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
You might wonder why Jesus reacted so significantly. On the surface, you might just think it was bad timing, or something like that. After all, wasn’t Jesus coming to be King?
I think the problem is how they really viewed Jesus. After the feeding, they saw the miracle, but what they wanted from Jesus was to get their problems fixed–get rid of the Romans.  Here is our great revolutionary guy to save us from the evil overloads.
Jesus came to bring us to Him, not to fix all of our problems, and then sit on the sidelines. He came to be our Lord. He came to make us children of God. He came for fellowship with us.
Now, will he fix our problems? Generally speaking, yes. But that is not the point. That is a an additional benefit. We get the God of the universe as our daily companion. We get Him!
Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.
God comes down and offers Himself to us. We have a choice. Do we want Him, or just the stuff He brings along? When we search for the stuff, we end up empty, when we search for Him we get it all.

What’s the Point

From XTMG chap 7

The primary goal of this book is to get you to know how passionately God loves you and the great lengths He has gone to in order to be with you.  Grace is the love of God being freely poured into us.  If you are like me, this will generate some real excitement when you start to see that God really does love you and that He is not chasing you with a hammer waiting to pound you when you mak a mistake.

Ultimately, we will know we have really been overwhelmed with grace when it starts to pour out of us.  We will start to see people differently.  Strangers are no longer scary.  Conflict becomes less about the people involved and more about how we can love them in any situation.

We will begin to see people as God does, with love and deep compassion.  Our hearts will desire the best for others and we will not walk in shame or in fear, because we are secure in our relationship with Jesus Christ.  We know that we have a Father that lavishes all good things on us (I John 3:1) and loves us no matter what.

Too Much Grace

From XTMG chap 1

There are those who speak about hyper-grace and the “abuses of grace.” Someone wrote a book on it, and I’ve heard a few sermon fragments and discussions here and there.  The problem is that they use the word incorrectly.  In the words of Inigo Montoya: “You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.”  Grace is the love and favor and powerful presence of God.  The Greek word is charis, or gift.  We can’t get too much of that.  We can’t use too much of that.  Grace is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Grace is what the entire Christian life is composed of.  Grace is the love of Christ empowering us to walk in freedom.

Some people feel that if we completely walk in grace, then we will start sinning a bunch as a celebration of grace.  Even in Paul’s day, there were some who came to this conclusion (Romans 6:1.)  The problem is that these people are using the wrong word.  The correct word they are thinking of is not grace, but license or licentiousness. The concern is that grace will lead to sin, so we better rein in the grace to keep people behaving correctly.  This is living under the law.

In simple terms, Grace is Christ, legalism is the Law, and license is ignorance of the saving life of Christ.  The legalistic person is under the impression that we need the law to keep people under control.  They have no understanding of grace.  The Law was designed to drive us to Christ because we can’t do it on our own.  The licentious person does not understand that they have been freed from sin. They have no understanding of grace.  They are still trapped in their sin.

The Bible does not advocate a balance of grace and law.  It teaches grace for the believer and the law for those who wish to be under the curse of the law (Galatians 3:10.) The true understanding of grace is that I have been reconciled to Christ (Colossians 1:22), and have been made free from sin and its bondage.  I have also been freed from the law.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (Galatians 2:20.) I am led by the Holy Spirit and empowered by Christ.  If I return to sin, then sin becomes my master (Romans 6:16.) In Christ, I am freed from God’s penalty of sin and the penalty of the law, but I am not free of the consequences of sin.  If I choose to go on sinning, I am still fully loved by Christ, but I am living in bondage and will suffer the natural consequences of that behavior.

Sin is not the result of grace.  It is the lack of grace.  In fact when people say that grace will cause sin, they have a latent belief that sin is actually good and they just don’t do it because they might get into trouble.

For example, I lead a Bible study at a prison and one of the men said, “I gave up drugs for Jesus.”  I replied, “No, you did not.”  My explanation was this:  When you say “I gave up drugs for Jesus” what you are actually saying is, “Drugs are good and I was willing to sacrifice the goodness of drugs so that Jesus would benefit from my action.”

This of course, is a complete misunderstanding. The real situation was: “I was in bondage to drugs and they were destroying me.  Christ freed me from the slavery of sin.”

When we have the right perspective, we can have the right attitude.  Sin is not something I get to do because of grace, but rather sin is what I have been freed from by grace.  I cannot abuse grace, but I can be abused by sin.  The Holy Spirit will lead me in all truth (John 16:13) and will show me what to do and when to do it.  That is walking in freedom and grace.

Faith

From XTMG chap 4

Faith is completely crazy, except when faith is in God. Thoreau said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” These are the men who will not walk in faith. These are the mass of people who walk by the flesh and never see the joy that God promises.

Faith is not about us trying harder with God. It is RESTING in what God has done, and staking your future on it.  When we walk in faith, we will have peace instead of turmoil.  We will have rest instead of striving.  It is a release that is initially scary, but results in joy like never before.

Sowing and Reaping

From XTMG chapter 6:

“When we plant good seed we get a good harvest.  When we plant bad seed (lies, deceit, violence, etc.) we reap a bad harvest. Put another way, God desires to lead us in good things, but sometimes we choose something else.  When we do so, we open ourselves up to a host of negative influences and consequences.  We can’t blame this on God – He is not bring a trial into our lives.  He is not testing us.  We are just reaping what we sowed.

So rather than walk in fear of the judgment of God, instead walk in dependence on God and avoid the schemes of the evil one whose goal is to steal, kill, and destroy.  The desire of God is life and life abundantly, so walk in that instead.  God is the one who is bringing us good things (James 1:17.) God is for us, (Romans 8:31) He is not against us.  But even when we make mistakes the sequence can often be redeemed like this:

  1.  Plant a seed from the flesh.
  2. Bring it to God (repentance)
  3. Reap the harvest of Christ

Jesus will not magically fix all of our mistakes, but rather as we are dependent on Him, He will bring healing and life, even to the things that we have messed up.  He has a great and abundant love for you, and He desires to see you grow in life, health, and love.”

Reading beyond the Narrative

Unmerciful servant
Unmerciful servant

When we read the Bible, sometimes it’s easy to get stuck in the narrative. By that, I mean we read the story, and follow the “plot line”, but we miss the real point. For instance, in Matthew 18, Jesus tells the “Parable of the Unmerciful Servant”. TLDR; version: A guy gets forgiven of vast debt by the king (think mega millions) and walks away only to shake down his buddy for a minor debt (hundreds of dollars).  So the king gets mad and makes the guy pay back the debt and punishes him. Jesus finishes his story with the ominous statement “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Yikes! that’s terrifying. If we just read that narrative, we read something like:

I was forgiven. If I don’t forgive someone enough, God will renege on His forgiveness and throw me in prison.

Wow, Jesus is rough and the forgiveness is like a Yo-yo that comes and goes. So let’s read it with some context, and go beyond the narrative. Immediately preceding this story, Peter asks Jesus a question:

 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Hmmmm, what’s behind that question? Well, just before that Jesus was discussing sin, and how to deal with those who sin against you. He is emphasizing unity among people, in fact Jesus says in verse 19:

 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Wow, we will get whatever we ask, and He is in the midst of us. Is this the same guy that is throwing us into prison a few verses later? With this new information in our heads, lets return to Peter’s question. Why was he asking it? It seems legit, but it is more likely that Peter was really asking “How long do I have to keep on forgiving someone who really bothers me.

The motivation of Peter is not love, and it is not forgiveness. Rather it is obligation. He sees forgiveness as an obligation or duty that he has to do. Peter still does not get this whole “love” thing. Jesus calls us to love. Period. Love is from Christ and loves is poured out freely. Peter is really talking about putting up with, or merely tolerating problem people. He is not yet to the point of LOVE. With this as our background, now lets return to the parable. It starts out:

 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

So far, so good. The servant asked for mercy, and the nice king gave it to him. What follows is key. How would you respond to such a debt? Would you rejoice? Would you tell everybody how great the king was? Would you tell your family and friends what a wonderful king you have who removed all you debt? I hope so. However, the servant worked a little differently:

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 

So, we get to the fateful end of the story:

31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

So, we already discussed the usual reaction to the story. But what if we looked deeper. What is Jesus really talking about in this parable? Is it just as the level of forgive, or else you’re in big trouble? I don’t think so. That is not consistent with the nature and character of God. So let’s look deeper.  Peter asked Jesus about the obligation to forgive, not what forgiveness really is, or how we should forgive. And as Jesus often does, Jesus answers the question that was asked, not the question you would really like the answer to. So Jesus gave Peter answer which was about obligation.

But hidden in the story is the real answer. On the cross, Jesus removed all sins:

He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. [Colossians 2:13-14]

Jesus forgave all sins, but not all have received, or walk in the forgiveness He has provided. In the parable, it is clear the servant never truly “received” the forgiveness that he has given. He went away from the King unchanged and untransformed. He left the presence of the King the same as he was when He arrived. He was forgiven, but did not live in forgiveness. In our vernacular, even though the debt was paid, he was not saved. So let’s make a different summary of the story:

God forgave our great debt. If we don’t truly receive forgiveness and live in His forgiveness, all that remains outside of Him is torment and debt.

That’s a little more consistent with the God I know. He is the great forgiver of debt. He wants us to live lives of love where forgiveness flows freely, not by obligation. If we will not live our lives empowered by Him, walking with Him, and loving like Him, we will choose to live in a debtors prison.

 

 

The proper use of feelings and emotions

Feelings and emotions can sometimes get a bad rap. We can be a little hard on them. Sometime, we live by our emotions, and that is a problem as well. So, how shall we then live?

First, emotions and feelings are a gift from God. They are part of who we are. There are “good” feelings like happiness and ecstasy, as well as “bad” feelings like pain and sorrow. Both of these serve important parts of our lives. Feelings are both part of the richness of our lives, and they are indicators that we might need to pay attention to.

Your car has a little light that indicated when you are out of oil. That light is an indicator that a bad thing is happening. You could just disconnect that light, and you would never be annoyed with it again. But it serves a purpose. It tells us that there is a problem we need to deal with. If we ignore the indicator, the problem doesn’t go away.

Likewise, we are given feelings that are much more delightful. We can experience pleasure. But when we pursue the feeling of pleasure without the complete package (relationships, growth, maturity, etc), we end up as addicts to the feelings. We miss the richness for which God has designed us. It’s like eating sugar instead of food. It has some of the ingredients, but it leaves so much out.

Sometimes, we pursue the pleasure to mask the pain. That is a terrible place to be. We ignore the indicators, and lose the richness of life we are designed for.  We are made to be princes and princesses in the kingdom of God. He has destined us for goodness and pleasure in Him. And we will experience that in this life. We will also have things that come into our lives due to this fallen world that will bring pain and sorrow. The question is, “what will we do with it?”

God has designed us to lean first on Him, and to share our burdens with one another. We are to be people of joy and passion, and we are to share it with others. We are to bring our pain to Him, and to receive His help, and the help of those around us.  When we try to “fix” life on our own, we head down a path where we look to just avoid pain, and seek pleasure. The end of that road is not pretty.

Delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you. God is not a means to an end, He is the end. He is the reward, and all joy is ultimately found in Him.