Category Archives: Grace

All things are lawful…. oh really?

“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are expedient: All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything”. (1 Corinthians 6:12).  This passage has astonished me for decades.  How could it be that ALL things, (that’s clearly what it says in the Greek), are lawful to me, a follower of Christ?  The whole idea feels so dangerously close to license that I’ve avoided it for more than thirty years.

I’m certain such a verse would never be found in the “New Pharisee Study Bible.”  It constitutes seizure material to the religious mind, (which may well explain why I’ve avoided it).  “Warning!” My mind would flash!  “A fatal error is occurring in the religious sector.”

But now that I’m finding deeper roots in the grace of God, it’s making more sense.  Grace understands that the sin issue has been so thoroughly solved at the cross, that the law no longer has jurisdiction over us.  (Romans 6:14)  We have been changed into something new, into sons and daughters defined not by what we do, but in who’s we are.

A son might say, “I’m a prince.  It doesn’t matter how I live because my Father is the king.” And in one sense that might be true, especially if the good King, by some unthinkably selfless act has preemptively taken all of his son’s punishment upon himself, and canceled all requirements of the law over him.  (Colossians 2:13-14)  But the son’s words betray the fact that he knows precious little about being a prince.

When you and I finally realize the extent of the work of Christ on the cross – that ALL of our sin is gone, and that we are no longer under the law, we might say with Paul, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are expedient, because I am a child of God.” When a man finally realizes he’s a beloved prince, his behavior won’t be far behind.

The inevitable consequence of legalism

Among the abandoned jewels of the Church, none is so winsome and glorious as grace.   When her sweet presence is ushered out, court convenes, law takes the stand, and the inquisition begins.  I know all about it, you see, because I’ve lived on both sides of that street.

Someone should do a scientific study of legalism and grace.  They could compare blood pressure, anxiety and dopamine levels, heart rate, and life expectancy.  I’ll bet the contrast would be shocking.   Of one thing I’m certain: a life of legalism will invariably push a person towards either self-righteousness or shame.

The self-righteous legalist appears relatively successful in keeping the law: she’s not divorced, not addicted, not sexually confused, and has never struggled with outward vices.  She looks good, and when judged by the law she presents the paradigm of an upstanding believer.  “What’s wrong with those people?” she thinks. “Why can’t they just pull their lives together like I have?” Judging herself by the law has turned our sister into a self-righteous, judgmental, pain-in-the-backside who teaches Sunday School and sings in the choir.

The other kind of legalist hasn’t been nearly so successful.   Though he feels profoundly convicted, he’s never been able to break free from cigarettes, sneaks behind the sanctuary for a quick drag between services, wrestles with overeating, and has a little pornography issue that he can’t bring himself to mention.  He carries a shame so deep that he can barely look at himself in the mirror.  Self-righteousness, when it appears successful, puffs us up with pride.  And self-righteousness, when we fail, suffocates us in shame and condemnation.

When a church falls into self-righteousness it becomes a grand masquerade with the squeaky-clean legalists parading their plumage on one side, while the loser legalists hide behind masks of pretense and fear on the other.  “Masquerade!  Paper faces on parade.  Masquerade!   Hide your face, so the world will never find you!”

The answer, of course, is to utterly renounce law-based righteousness.  The law was never intended to justify us in the first place, but only to show us our need.  And the happy truth is that though none of us deserve it, all of us are invited into the sweet presence of grace who says, “You can take your mask off now.  I know who you are, and I choose to love you anyway.”


(Note: I don’t know how to properly credit the first photo, but the second photo, “Guilt” is from Mark Nickels. It is an oil on linen. http://www.marknickels.com/large-single-view/More…../176148-8-14585/Painting/Oil.html)

 

Do outsiders understand Him better than His own church?

A little thought provocation from my current reading: The Misunderstood God, by Darin Hufford.  This seems especially appropriate in light of some comments I’ve read in the news lately.

“I am quickly coming to believe that this is the first time in history that people outside the church have shown more signs of knowing God’s heart than do the people within the church.  People in the world shake their heads in disgust at the things we teach about God.  They know we’re wrong, but for some reason the majority of Christians don’t see it.  I have found that the common bar-dweller knows more about the true heart of God than the dedicated churchgoer.

Christians think they know God because they read about Him in a book.  We’ve been taught that the more we read the Bible, the more we will know Him.  The Pharisees knew Scripture like the back of their hand, but when God stood in front of them, they didn’t know Him from Adam.”

Last Sunday in Amarillo, Texas, a group of church-goers gathered at the courthouse steps to burn a Quran.  As the preacher held the book in front of him and stoked the crowd, a young skateboarder whizzed by, snatched the Quran, and shouted back over his shoulder, “Dude, you HAVE no Quran!” What’s wrong with that picture, and how much more damage can we possibly do to our witness of the “friend of sinners”, (Luke 7:34), and the “Prince of Peace”?

The Real Test

“Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper.” (And for the sake of making a point, suppose it regards a politician you dislike!)  “Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out.  Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible?  If it is the second then it is, I’m afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into little devils.  You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker.  If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black.  Finally, we shall insist on seeing everything – God and our friends and ourselves included – as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed forever in a universe of pure hatred.”

C.S Lewis, from Mere Christianity

Lewis’ brilliant point seems especially fitting in today’s polarized America.  I certainly had to stop and repent when I read it yesterday.

Only six more days before I return to Maryland and unpack my bags.  Since my last update I’ve had a splendid journey that’s reunited me with friends in Bosnia and Croatia, teaching at YWAM, Lausanne, (Switzerland), and then high in the Rockies above Denver in a School of Worship.  This week I’ll teach in a Discipleship Training School in Arvada, Colorada.  The trip has been full of grace and sweet surprises at every step along the way.  (And I never lost any luggage!)

Some of you will remember a year or so ago when I wrote about Nick Vujicic, the young Aussie who was born with no arms and legs.  He remains one of my heroes, and I hope to meet him one day.  But in the meantime, a friend just forwarded this extraordinary 20 minute film, The Butterfly Circus, that features Nick as the lead.  Grab some tissues before you watch, and be prepared to feel a WHOLE lot better about life at the end of the film.

Missing pieces: grace and government

Grace is God’s empowering presence at work within a person to justify him and make him what God intended him to be.  It was always the plan of the Father to govern men by grace, by His love written in our hearts.   And the more a culture, a community, or a nation is governed by grace-full hearts of love, the fewer external laws are necessary.   In such a case, all that is needed to maintain the common goals and good of the community is a minimal civil government.  It might look like this:

But when grace is abandoned, and the love of God and others runs dry, the civil government by necessity must step up and expand in order to maintain order:  Laws replace love, courts replace courtesy, policemen replace parenting, and freedom is lost.   This is the sad condition of western civilization..

What’s needed in today’s culture is a return to the simple law of the Kingdom.  If we were to once again embrace the love of God and others, much of the government’s burden would be handed back to individuals, and the cry for a nanny state would cease.

Deuteronomy 1:13 instructs us in several additional principles of Civil Government:  “Choose some wise, understanding, and respected men from each of your tribes, and I will set them over you.” Notice these three principles:

  • The people should choose their leaders.  (That’s democracy).
  • They should choose leaders from their tribes: (This is local government, leaders who are known.)
  • They should choose leaders of wisdom and good character.

What I’m trying to show in these simple posts is that God’s kingdom plan addresses all of life.   Kingdom people understand that the gospel is more than forgiveness alone; It is a way of life that includes everything from business to baseball, from homelessness to health care.

On a personal note, I’m back in Maryland after a delightful weekend with the men of Shepherd Gate Church in Chantilly, Virginia.   I spoke on “Identity and the Kingdom of God,” and had a rich time of friendship and challenge with these amazing brothers.

Ranting about grace (a quick detour from “missing pieces”)

The past four weeks I’ve been teaching a class on the scandalous, outrageous, shame-scrubbing, mind-boggling, spirit-enabling grace of God.  It’s diverted me for a moment from this present focus on the missing pieces of the gospel.  But then again, the neglect of grace rightfully ranks as possibly the most important “missing piece” of the gospel.

We speak poetically of grace, and offer it in generous portions to our wayward friends. But too often the grace-well dries up about the same time the church door closes behind us.  “That was for then, brother.  Now we’ve got standards to keep.  You gotta work hard, stay sanctified, tow the line, and put on a happy face now that you’re a church member.  We’re not interested in your issues, addictions or dirty laundry, and if you can’t measure up, then you’ll just have to either leave or pretend.   (Uh… most of us choose to pretend, by the way).

One of my friends recently told me about driving through the rural South and coming upon “The Perfect Church.”  No kidding,  the sign was right out in front declaring it before God and everyone else.  That’s definitely not the church for me.   I’m a saint with issues, and I need boatloads of grace every day of my life.   I’d be heaps more comfortable in the leaning chapel next door.

If I can move past grace we’ll return to the missing pieces next post.

Adding to grace

I’m always wanting to add to grace.  You gotta admit it feels good to think you’ve done something to make yourself a little more acceptable, a little more lovable in God’s eyes.  But it just can’t be done.   Although a proper understanding of the Kingdom means I can “earn” greater rewards for my faithfulness, that’s entirely different from the grace that seats me squarely and eternally in the Father’s embrace.

In most of His works God chooses to partner with man:  We plant seeds and He causes them to grow.   We lay hands on the sick and He makes people well.  We teach and preach, and He changes lives.  But grace is different: it’s the one work that is entirely His.   In our helplessness He does EVERYTHING necessary to bring us home.

Grace is like the moving sidewalk at the airport.  Whether you walk or stand, you’ll arrive at the same place either way.  Grace carries me home and seats me so completely before the face of the Father that there’s nothing left to add.

Treat him like you would a tax collector

“If a brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault just between the two of you. If he listens, you have won your brother back.  But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you so that every word may be verified by two or three witnesses.  If he ignores these witnesses, tell it to the church. If he also ignores the church, then treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (Matt 18:15)

The obvious question here – which I never once thought about until recently is, “How did Jesus treat pagans and tax collectors?”  Hmm….

Today I return to Maryland for two days before flying to Hungary on Friday to teach in the School of Worship at YWAM Budapest.

The fellowship of believers here in Florence is becoming more beautiful by the day.  I seriously hate to leave such rich conversations and affectionate friendships.

Nick Vojicic – a giant of a man.

Haven’t been able to pull up any original inspiration today. So let me recommend a dose from Nick Vojicic. He’s got a Croatian name, an Aussie heritage, and a kingdom story. People like this leave me shaking my head at the wisdom and grace of God.

Click this link:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0DxlJWJ_WfA&feature=related