Archive for the ‘Grace’ category

Stop Making it Difficult

March 17, 2014

The first church fight addressed issues we grapple with today.

Who can be part of us?

What do you have to do to belong?

don't make it difficult

The issue, back then, was do you have to keep the law to be/become a Christian?

The fight is recorded in Acts 15. After the fight, James summarizes the key principle in verse 19 (NIV):

It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.

In other words, make it easy. The rule applies to those who have and those who are turning.

Make it easy:

  1. Invite people to turn TO God. It’s easy to point out what’s bad. Turn away from drugs, sex, and rock-n-roll, for example. But, the gospel is good news, not bad.
  2. Forget about fixing people. Let God fix.
  3. Err on the side of grace. When in doubt choose compassion over confrontation.
  4. Avoid arguments on peripheral issues. Trusting Jesus is THE issue. Nothing else matters until that issue is resolved.

Four rules:

The four rules James gave gentile believers in Acts 15:20 (NIV) illustrate the “make it easy” rule.

Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.

  1. No “idol” food.
  2. No sexual immorality.
  3. No strangled animals.
  4. Drain the blood.

Why these rules? Acts 15:21 (NIV):

For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.

James says the principle of “don’t make it difficult,” applies both ways. Jewish believers in Jerusalem are working to make it easy for Gentiles to turn to God. Gentile believers should be concerned for the Jews in their communities. Make it easy for them to turn to God, too. Avoid offensive behaviors for the sake of the Gospel. 

No Demands – No Obligations

February 18, 2014

dancing

Christianity is not about demands and obligations. It’s about love and love can’t be demanded.

Life, on the other hand, is filled with never ending demands. Do…do…do, go…go…go, work…work…work. But, grace can’t obligate.

The only demand of grace is receiving it by faith. The more I talk about grace the more I enjoy grace and the more I want to talk about it. I’m addicted.

Grace means gift. Gifts exclude compensation.

Any attempt to pay for grace blocks it. 

Rewards:

God protects free grace by rewarding service. Rewards remove any hint that obedience is payment for grace.

God pays for service – rewards – so no one can brag they are paying for grace.

Illustration:

Think of God as a graceful dancer. Our maker dances His way to us. The melodies of grace permeate His presence.

He risks looking foolish by dancing alone. All we do is take it in. As the music sinks into our hearts, He invites us to join.

He leads. We follow.  We respond. It all starts and ends right here in the dance of grace.

Grace cannot demand love.  Grace enables love.

How to be a Friend of “Sinners”

February 10, 2014

friends

It’s a great compliment to have self-righteous Christians complain that you’re too friendly with non-Christians. The religious elite made a similar complaint about Jesus – the friend of sinners (Lk. 7:34).

But there’s another side to this issue.

1 Corinthians 15:33 (ESV) “Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” Our friends predict our future.

How can you be a friend to “sinners”?

The inner circle:

Cultivate and develop an inner circle of three deeply committed believers. One of them should be a visionary like Peter. One should be a doer like James. And the other, should be a lover like John.

Questions to ask before becoming a “friend of sinners”:

  1. Do you know who you are?
  2. Where do you look for approval? Or, who are you trying to please?
  3. Are you deeply connected to committed believers?
  4. Can you explain the gospel quickly, simply, and clearly. (The best way to do that is tell your own story of trusting Jesus.”
  5. Do you deeply love “sinners”? If God loved the world, so can you.

Three attitudes:

Every believer who aspires to be a friend of sinners knows they are:

  1. “One of” not “one above.” Christianity isn’t morality. Christianity is Jesus. Everyone is in the “falling short” bucket. The fact that you may sin less doesn’t make you sinless.
  2. Not trying to change or reform “sinners”. Your job is sharing Jesus. Changes are his business. Getting people to sin less, might make life better, but it doesn’t help in the long-term.
  3. Dedicated to serve others, not be served. Jesus came as one who serves and you aren’t above Him. The path to influence is the path of service. Solve a problem. Meet a need.

Embrace these attitudes or you’re doing more damage than good.

Be a friend of sinners. But, fasten your spiritual seat-belt. You’re in for a challenging ride.

The Tongue Rule Challenge

February 3, 2014

horse's tongue

Of all the people in the world, Christians should use words more skillfully than anyone.

Ephesians 4:29 (GNB)

Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.

Sadly, we have a reputation for speaking against things rather than for. Frankly, we are often known for negativity.

Positive speech, in some Christians circles, seems like a sin. We go so far as to suggest that railing against something indicates strength and holiness. In reality, tearing down is unbiblical, misguided, and weak.

Yes, there are exceptions. Jesus hammered the religious elite. If you’re inclined to fight, attack denominational leaders who choose law over grace. Call them pretty coffins full of dried up bones.

But, the tongue rule may be a better option.

The tongue rule:

“Only open your mouth to make something better.”

Other than that, be quiet.

Even if you’re pointing out a problem, only point it out so you can explore how to make it better.

Sounds simple enough. But, James, the brother of Jesus said,

But no one has ever been able to tame the tongue. It is evil and uncontrollable, full of deadly poison. James 3:8 (GNB)

Developing a graceful tongue:

If you enjoy challenges, adopt the tongue rule challenge.

  1. It’s a journey.
  2. Receive and enjoy God’s favor.
  3. Treat others the way God treats you.
  4. Find some friends who are on the “tongue taming” journey with you.
  5. Start again after you screw up. Grace is beginning again, again.
  6. Talk less. But, realize silence isn’t the goal, building up is.
  7. Only speak to make things better.

The Long Holy Nose

January 22, 2014

nose

Christians, under the guise of holiness, judge and condemn “sinners.” When we do, we condemn ourselves.

What makes you better than others?

  • You don’t murder. But, you hate.
  • You don’t rob banks. But, you steal another’s reputation with gossip.
  • You aren’t a drunk. But, you disobey your parents.

I’m not trying to make you feel bad. I’m trying to help you see that Christians aren’t above others.

Stop looking down your long holy nose at people God loves.

The long holy nose makes us ugly. I’m convinced that the ugliest people in the world are self-righteous, good-living, religious people. The truth is, “We” need God’s love as much as “they” do.

Holy living is not an excuse from compassion, respect, or kindness.

Holiness:

Lets call fellow believers to holiness. The issue isn’t should we live holy lives. The issue is how we grow in grace by faith.

Inviting Christians to holiness requires transparent connection. Apart from connection, calling fellow believers to holiness is self-righteous and arrogant. When you call someone to holiness, get in it with them.

Faith:

Lets call people who aren’t believers, to trust in Jesus. The issue isn’t moral reform. It’s Jesus.

Inviting people to trust in Jesus requires connection. Connection empowers the call. Disconnection makes us look like arrogant fools.

Let’s call fellow believers to trust God in new ways. We need to trust Jesus today like we did when we trusted Jesus for the first time.

The people “out there” didn’t make Jesus dirty when he rubbed elbows with them. They won’t make you dirty when you connect with them, either.

Love:

Love is not rude or arrogant. Love is kind, patient, hopeful. Love endures. You have permission to live a holy life and treat people who don’t know Jesus with Love.

No Outsiders Allowed

January 11, 2014

keep out

Casually read the life of Jesus and you’ll see Him persistently extending grace to outsiders. He’s an outsider-focused individual, living an outsider-focused life. Even the training of the 12 occurs within an outsider focused context.

On the other hand, a casual review of church programs reveals a decidedly insider slant. Churches typically expend their time, energy, and resources on themselves. Frequently these activities don’t enhance believer integration into the community. Rather, they are segregated or limited to a small, comfortable number of outsiders. In brief, these activities are barriers not channels to extending grace to others.

Note on Integration.

I was taught that good Christians lived separated lives. Separation meant isolation. However, Jesus never lived in isolation, nor should we. Graceful living drives us toward integration. In this case, separation is demonstrated by distinctions like love and compassion not isolation.

What if?

What would happen if churches did fewer insider facing programs and decided to integrate into community programs that already exist? Could Christian fellowship occur in an outsider context? Could spiritual growth take place while participating in a YMCA program?

On the other hand.

Jesus spent time alone with His disciples. Churches should have alone time, where shared values dominate conversations and the freedom of sameness is fully embraced and enjoyed.

Now what?

Since it’s comfortable and natural to build programs for ourselves, I suggest grace-oriented Churches resist the drift inward by intentionally limiting exclusive insider-only activities.

*****

What’s hindering believers from living outsider focused lives?

How can graceful believers live outsider focused lives?

New Years Resolutions

December 29, 2013

2014

Most of my friends don’t make resolutions. One recently said, “The only resolution I’ve been able to keep is the one not to make resolutions.”

We know they don’t work and we don’t want to get depressed when we fail. What’s the use?

A history of failure is the reason you don’t try again. Why bother? Nothings going to change.

Grace is all about starting over, again.
Those who can’t start over never get there.

Peter wasn’t planning to start again. He planned to go back to the fishing business. The, “change the world idea,” that Jesus planted in him didn’t pan out.

Those who don’t start again, quit.

Jesus came to Peter, after his denial, in John 21:15 to offer a fresh start.

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Starting again:

#1. Don’t start with something to do. Start with your heart. Starting again is first about the heart then about the hands.

“Do you love me?” is an invitation to start again.

#2.  Focus on the future. Jesus didn’t bring up Peter’s past denial. He turned him to the future.

A person:

Peter wasn’t looking to start again. He’d failed. It was time to quit.

Jesus kick started Peter.

You may be too discouraged to start again. But, someone who believes in you can give you courage to try.

Surround yourself with people who believe in grace – starting again. Better yet, be a person who helps others get up again.

If you do start again in 2014, begin with the heart.

Rahab the Believer

December 18, 2013

plungers

Rahab, the Canaanite prostitute from Jericho, was a believer. She didn’t know much but she knew enough.

Joshua 2:8-11 Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof 9 and said to the men, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, … for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.

Rahab refers to God as LORD. Most Bibles use lord in all capital letters to indicate the personal name of God, Yahweh. Rahab called God by his personal name.

Second she identifies him as the God of the universe, “heaven and earth.” She said, “Yahweh is God.”

The writer of Hebrews includes Rahab in his great hall of faith, chapter 11. The names in Hebrews 11 appear in this order:

  1. Abel
  2. Enoch
  3. Noah
  4. Abraham
  5. Sarah
  6. Isaac
  7. Jacob
  8. Joseph
  9. Moses
  10. Rahab

Others are mentioned in Hebrews 11, the parents of Moses, for example. But they aren’t named. The last person named is Rahab.

The footnote section concludes Hebrews 11 in verses 32 – 40. Individuals like Gideon and David are mentioned. But their stories aren’t developed like the 10 people listed above.

The people in the great Hall of Faith are messy. Abraham lied about his relationship with Sarah and puts her and himself in mortal peril. Moses had an anger problem. Jacob was a shady business man all his life. Rahab carries the label “prostitute” right into the New Testament.

Rahab has another label, one she had even when a prostitute, Rahab the woman of faith.

Acceptable Service

December 13, 2013

bowing flower

The “why” of service matters more than the service itself.

Christian service is an expression of love and gratitude, nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.

Ungrateful service is arrogance in disguise.

Arrogant servants think:

  1. I deserve better.
  2. I’m not appreciated.
  3. What about them?
  4. Whose serving me?

Ungrateful servants whine and complain. Grateful service, on the other hand, frees us.

Service as response is privilege and opportunity.

Service as obligation is a burden.

Focus:

The focus of grateful service is Jesus, not the people you serve.

Arrogant service focuses more on results than response. Results matter. Serve where you have impact. But, results come second to response.

Engaged:

Those who aren’t serving haven’t seen grace. Law may pressure into service. But, law never produces acceptable service.

Perfect gratefulness:

How grateful is grateful enough?

We all always falling short. Sometimes you serve out of obligation, other times out of love and gratitude.

When you see the signs of arrogance I listed above, don’t try to be humble. Instead, refocus on Jesus. Remember his grace.

Give yourself space to respond.

Gratitude can’t be demanded or manipulated. But, you can let it happen. When it’s absent, keep on serving. But at the same time acknowledge your brokenness and believe in his grace.

Let gratitude rise in you. If it doesn’t, know you have forgotten how Jesus served you.

God Makes “Bad” Choices

December 8, 2013

bad choices

God’s choices make him uncomfortably different and entirely unexpected.

Matthew:

The choice of his followers is unusual and unexpected. Matthew the tax collector, defector from Israel and loyalist to the Roman government, is a case in point. How can a Roman sympathizer be a follower of Jesus?

Not only is Matthew a Roman sympathizer, making a living by collecting taxes for the occupying Romans, he is also one of four people to record the life of Jesus.

His gospel begins by defending the right of Jesus to be the king of the Jews. His genealogy of Jesus goes all the way back to Abraham, the father of the Jews, and intersects with King David.

Matthew’s genealogy includes shady characters.

Judah:

Judah, one of the men in the genealogy, is unexpected. Judah is the brother of one of the Old Testament’s most famous characters, Joseph. We have more personal information about Joseph than any other character in the Old Testament. (Genesis 37 to 50) His faith, discipline, positive attitude, character, and generosity are above reproach.

If Joseph is one of the 12 sons of Jacob, why isn’t there a tribe called Joseph. You might think it’s just an oversight. But, it isn’t. Joseph is also excluded from the bloodline of Jesus. But guess who made it in?

Judah, the brother of Joseph, made it into the bloodline of Jesus. Judah, the one who conspired with his brothers to kill Joseph and influenced his brothers to sell Joseph into slavery, made it in.

Judah, the influencer, led his brothers to fabricate a story that broke their mom and dad’s heart. “An animal killed Joseph.” The body was destroyed. All that remains is a blood soaked coat. Mom and dad couldn’t even give Joseph a proper burial. But there’s more about Judah.

Later, Judah had sex with is widowed daughter-in-law, Tamar. He thought she was a temple prostitute. Read it in Genesis 38. When he finds out that Tamar is pregnant, he goes ballistic and sentences her to burn at the stake. Only after Tamar proves that Judah is the father of her unborn children does Judah relent.

Really?

Judah is a footnote in the story of noble Joseph. He’s unethical, hateful, self-serving, immoral, vindictive, and deceptive. But, Judah is in the bloodline of Jesus.

There is not tribe of Joseph. Jesus didn’t come through noble Joseph. He came through ignoble Judah.

God is unexpected, even disappointing. He makes “bad” choices. It’s not fair that Judah is included and Joseph is excluded.

God chose to work through Judah just like he chooses to work through people like you and me.

If there’s hope for Judah and Matthew, there’s hope for you and me.

Merry Christmas!


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 225 other followers