Posted tagged ‘theology’

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!

Why So Much Self-Righteousness

October 22, 2012

I often see self-righteous believers who think they are better than others. I’m not proud of it, but I’ve felt that way too.

Worse yet, unbelievers often complain that Christians are self-righteous – holier than thou – people.

How do we get that reputation?

We become self-righteous when we reject faith and grace and embrace law and works. Legalists are always arrogant. Grace always humbles.

Justification:

Even if you don’t feel it, all believers are declared righteous – JUSTIFIED. God’s declaration of your righteousness isn’t a fiction. He’s not closing his eyes and pretending. Justification isn’t a fairy-tale  It’s a validated verdict by God the judge. (Rom. 3:23-25)

How many of your sins has Jesus taken away? Is your guilty conscience greater than God’s verdict? Can you accept what God says?

Justification is a grace-benefit received by faith alone. It’s not a behavior-based benefit like rewards.

Self-justification:

Even though justification is a grace-benefit, nearly everyone feels a need to earn it. Jesus says there are two attributes of those who validate their own righteousness.

Two qualities of the Self-Righteous:

First, they look down their noses at others.

Second, they compare themselves with those they deem less worthy.

Read Luke 18:9-14 to get the word from the horse’s mouth.

Self-justification – self-righteousness – forces you to find a point of comparison below yourself. You need to compare yourself with someone less worthy in order to feel better about yourself.

Condemning:

Who has judged you as “less worthy?” I’ll tell you who judges me, Christians. Sure, there are a few unbelievers who love to gossip and put down. But, by far, it’s people who claim to be Christians who are putting other Christians down.

Why do we condemn? If Jesus is right, we are self-validating, self-righteous Pharisees.

Note: There is a difference between thinking someone is wrong and using their wrongness as a point of self-righteousness.

There is No Merit in Unmerited Favor

October 15, 2012

Merit badges are great when it comes to awards for achievement in Scouting. But, merit is repulsive when it comes to grace.

Any benefit received from God based on behavior – merit – is not a grace-benefit. ALL grace-benefits are irrevocable gifts received by faith alone.

Grace always comes before and excludes the recognition of behavior or works. It cannot take into account our evil deeds or our good works. Grace is UNmerited on the good side and the bad.

If God extended grace to you because of some good work, you would take credit for His grace. Something He’ll never allow anyone to do. Especially you.

There is no, if you do this for me,
then I’ll do that for you, in grace.

Works and grace:

If you say, “God did this for me because I did that for Him,” it’s not a grace-benefit. It’s merited benefit.

Rewards are always earned by works. Grace-benefits are always, only received by faith alone.

Result:

Grace is always disruptive; even disorienting to the legalist that lives within. Even as I type this, my inner legalist is grasping for something more concrete than grace to grab hold of. Something that satisfies my arrogant need to compensate God for His goodness.

Pride needs to feel like it deserves things. But, grace never considers what’s deserved.

Grace-benefits include:

  1. Nearness
  2. Justification
  3. Reconciliation
  4. Spiritual gifts
  5. Access

Grace frees; legalism obligates.

Grace enables the Christian life. We never begin living the Christian life until we realize we don’t have to.

Religious legalists have one goal in mind, controlling God – getting Him to do what we want – to “bless” us. In this regard, religious practices are nauseating manipulation.

Response:

Grace is an expression of God’s love. Live up to love not down to law.

Living up to love is loving in return.

Believers Always Move Second

October 8, 2012

Obedience is never a standalone thing. Life would be simpler if it was.

Obedience, from a Christian point of view, is only meaningful as an expression of love. Jesus put it this way, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” I’ll say the opposite. If you don’t love Him, don’t bother. Oh, go ahead and still lead a “good” life. But…

It’s degrading and insulting to call
obedience without love Christian living.

Paul explains the centrality of love when he explains that love gives meaning and worth to everything we do. On the other hand, without love it doesn’t matter what we do. (1Cor 13:1-3)

But how can we love Jesus?

The Bible’s one answer to loving Jesus is be loved by him. The reason we don’t know the love of God is we cling to self-sufficiency. We wrongly hope we can earn God’s love. It’s hard to be loved for no good reason.

Brokenness lets love in; sufficiency keeps it out.

The believer’s first privilege.

God always moves first, especially when it comes to love. God loves us before we love him. God loves us because of himself not because of us. It’s our privilege to believe in God’s unimaginable love.

The believer’s second privilege.

Christians always move second – in response. Our second moves are called many things, worship, gratitude and in 1 John 5:3, obedience. “This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.”

Love transforms obedience from burden to privilege.

Religious systems are evil when the focus on conformity and compliance while leaving out what really matters.

Do You Serve or are You a Servant

September 9, 2012

Service is about who you are not what you do.

When serving is something you do, service becomes an optional point of convenience or inconvenience. People who “do service” check their schedules, timelines, and agendas before serving. Leaders convince, cajole, or guilt people who “do service” into serving.

When serving is who you are, service is the only option.

Servants aren’t inconvenienced by service. The only question is, “Where is your most useful place of service.” Servants never ask “if” they should serve, only “where.”

Jesus didn’t simply perform acts of service. He was a servant.

Philippians 2:5–7 (NIV84) 5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

Grasping:

Jesus didn’t grasp for high position. He made himself low. What are you grasping? Do you grasp to be like God? Adam did. Or, are you making yourself nothing.

The God who made the world from nothing can make something of you.

Free to serve:

Jesus’ serves us so we can serve each other.

John 13:5 (NIV84) 5 After that (after dinner and before the crucifixion), he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

John 13:14 (NIV84) 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, …

It’s normal to complete verse 14, “You wash my feet.” But that’s not how servants operate. Jesus actually said, “Wash one another’s feet.”

His service frees us to serve.

Think how Jesus served the unworthy. Servants don’t embrace the worthy and ignore the unworthy because serving is who they are not what what they do. Legalism makes us serve. Grace makes us servants.

Pony Express Churches

August 18, 2012

The Pony Express was the brainchild of William Russell, Alexander Majors and William Waddell. It operated for only eighteen months from 1860 to 1861.

The Pony Express died because it defined itself too narrowly and failed to adapt. Technology – the telegraph – killed the Pony Express.

If the Pony Express defined itself as a communications company rather than a letter carrying company it might still exist, only in a different form.

Churches can give artificial respiration to dying ponies or learn to define themselves in ways that align with transcendent Biblical truths; truths that don’t change even though the way they are expressed must.

God adapted himself to our context when he became man. Yet, he didn’t lose himself. His appearance changed but he didn’t. He never changes.

Transcendent Truths include:

  1. Grace alone.  We always freely receive provision from God. That’s how we become believers and that’s how we live, by grace. Christianity isn’t a self-help program. It’s a grace enabling program.
  2. Faith alone. We never work our way to God. He worked his way to us. Our responsibility is to believe. All commitments in our walk are expressions of learning to trust him alone.
  3. Jesus alone. He’s not one of many ways to rich relationship with God. He’s the only way.
  4. Response alone. All expressions of Christian living are response to God’s love and grace, that includes, service, worship, obedience, evangelism, and everything else we do.
  5. Love alone. Love is the only thing that makes life meaningful. Without it, life is empty, like clanging cymbals. The only way to love is to be loved. “We love because he loved.” (Back to #1) Even confrontation expresses love or it’s wasted, useless effort.

Most of the things Churches do in their gatherings are completely adaptable, consider music. There are no Christian notes or rythmns, only Christian lyrics.

What would you add or modify on my list of transcendent truths?

What is adaptable when it comes to Church gatherings and ministry?

The Day I Heard Dad Sing

June 29, 2012

My dad was a quiet man; not weak, just quiet. We had his funeral yesterday, June 28, 2012 at 1 p.m. He was 84.

He trusted Jesus at the funeral of his best friend, Gene Niles, about 40 years ago. I remember the day when he walked to the front during the public invitation, knelt down and became a believer.

It was one of the few times he spontaneously embraced me. The only person he persistently expressed affection to was mom and he did it a lot.  I’m not complaining. We never doubted dad’s love.

One summer morning, when I was a teenager and dad was finishing the chores in the milk room, (the place we kept all the milking equipment). I heard dad sing. It was early yet and I was just waking up. From across the driveway I heard a god-awful baritone voice belting out, “Amazing Grace…”

He sang like no one could hear. But I did. Now that I think about it, he was probably singing to God.

I checked with family and friends; no one ever heard dad sing, ever. And, I never mentioned it to him.

He was a regular at church but during the singing his lips never moved. You might have thought he didn’t love Jesus or that he had no passion.

Truth is the quiet man from Maine – the man I call dad – was passionate about grace. Over the years, with typical tenacity, he studied grace. We talked about it, from time to time. He didn’t run around like a cheerleader; he lived it. Grace touched him and set him free.

The same passion he brought to his work he brought to Jesus. Even though he worked harder than anyone I ever knew, he always faithfully served. Grace changed him.

I’ll never forget the day I heard dad sing “Amazing Grace …”

The Myth of Distance

June 13, 2012

Walk into church on a Sunday morning and it’s likely you’ll hear a message of self-improvement, good works, and moral development. All three are fine but they never bring anyone nearer to God, ever.

Unbelievers, atheists, and infidels – people who are our friends not the enemy – can improve themselves, engage in good works, and learn not to lie. That doesn’t make them Christians, far from it. Many Christians are shocked to hear that Christianity isn’t morality, it’s Jesus only.

No distance:

Doing something to close the distance between God and man is irrelevant and repugnant.

It’s irrelevant because there’s no distance between an unbeliever and Jesus. He couldn’t be nearer or more available. They may feel distant but He is not. They may reject Jesus but Jesus hasn’t rejected them. There is no “far” or “near” when it comes to becoming a believer. There is only faith.

It’s repugnant to think we can close the distance between God. It insults Jesus by devaluing His work on the cross. Satan must love it when religious knuckle-heads undermine the work of Jesus by working to reform sinners. Dry drunks, apart from Jesus, are just as lost as wet ones.

Apply:

Does the message of the gospel for sinners still apply to us after we’ve become believers? Or does it mystically change? After believing, do we maintain nearness by our goodness and lose it when we’re bad?

Truth is, when believers run from Jesus, He runs after them – think Peter. If they persist in running, He anxiously waits for them – think the Prodigal.

Arrogance:

It’s our arrogance and doubt that motivate us to believe nearness depends on good works, self-improvement, and morality.

Daily faith:

Step back and trust Him again today. Don’t think you’re becoming a Christian again. Think you’re being a Christian anew. Humbling isn’t it?

Life and Death in the Tongue

May 23, 2012

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29 (ESV)

Grace builds up. When grace grips us we build up.

Saying good:

The Angel of the Lord said, “Mighty man of valor,” to cowardly Gideon. Jesus told defecting Peter, “Feed my lambs.” Graceful words give life not death.

Grace sees what could be. The angel could have confirmed the obvious-present to Gideon. You’re defeated. You’re hiding in a hole. You’re a nobody. That’s what Gideon thought of himself. But words of grace lifted him.

Graceful words teach us who we really are and who we can be. Saying graceful words produces vitality.

Why don’t we:

We don’t say the good to others because we remember their bad. We hold the past against them or we fret they won’t be worthy in the future. In either case, narrow legalists withhold good words. Grace builds up. Law tears down through attack or neglect.

Perfectionism is another performance based reason we withhold life-giving words. We expect more from others. However, the best way to help others become more is by celebrating progress and potential not criticizing past performance. Our past is it’s own billy club. We need words of life not death.

Example:

I’ve noticed that constantly saying good things to my wife makes both of us feel better. Funny how that works? The more good you say the better everyone’s life is. Lifting people is better than correcting or tearing down.

I’ve noticed a correlation between problem-focused talk and happiness. The more I talk about problems the more problems I see and the darker life becomes.

Law points out problems. Grace gives life. In the day to day, the tongue has the power of life.

Stand With not Against

May 21, 2012

Christians are notoriously great at standing against and tragically weak at standing with. Here’s a surprising “standing with” story.

Deceit:

Joshua 9 explains a peace treaty that was executed based on false information. The Jews – even though decieved – honored the agreement. In Joshua 10 the Gibeonites – dishonest treaty makers – are attacked by surrounding cities. They call to Joshua – the one they just deceived – for help.

Just deserts?

At this point in the story I’m thinking; see what happens to deceivers, you’re getting what you deserve. Liars will be friers! But Joshua marches God’s army all night long to stand with and defend deceivers. In addition, God miraculously “stands with” by joining in. He kills Gibeonite enemies by throwing giant hail stones from heaven.

With:

God and Joshua stood with “sinners.” More than that, Jesus stands with sinners. He serves them, gets uncomfortably close to them, and ultimately sacrifices His life for them. Or should I say, “For us?”

Contaminants or companions:

Legalistic Christians believe sinners are contaminants to be avoided, corrected, or improved. It’s pathetic, safe, and self-serving. Improved unbelievers end up in the same place as unimproved. It’s all about Jesus, nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else. (You might need to read that last sentence again.)

They called Jesus a “friend of sinners.” It wasn’t a compliment. It was an insult from the righteous elite.

There’s a legalist in all of us. For example, when I see “friend of sinners,” I think them not me. Law prompts me to stand against, apart, and above. Grace prompts me to – serve, get close to – stand with.

Note: I’ve used the term “sinners” in this piece to create an “us/them” dynamic. It’s an artificial distinction.


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