Thursday, June 17, 2021

The Good of Law; The Better of Grace....

 I've always been a rule-follower. 

It's just easier.

In fact, I like rules: the structure, the stability, the safety.

I like living in that comfortable zone with good guardrails.

So, this last week, when I decided I needed to work a little harder at eating in a manner that might help fight some inflammation issues I've been having, I looked for a diet that clearly spelled out THE RULES. 

Lots of research led me to an anti-Inflammatory program that has good, measurable, doable "laws..."

For one whole week I've adhered to these rules and am beginning to see the rewards.

XXXXX

HOWEVER, I recognize I, also, do this in my Christian life.

I want the "program" all spelled out for me.

The do's and do not's bother me NONE!

BUT, as I study the book of Galatians, I realize Paul's biggest heartbreak is over proclaimed Jesus-followers who put the do's and do nots ahead of faith. 

Paul scolds them with no little frustration in his voice; and, as he does, I recognize he's scolding me.

In my desire to "do the program" of Christianity, it's easy to slip across that blurred line of pleasing God with my faith to pleasing God with my good works.

Paul wasn't the only one who addressed this problem, and the writer of Hebrews reminds with an entire chapter (11) on what people who lived by faith looked like, because "without faith, it's impossible to please the Lord.."

When Paul calls the Galatians non-thinking, senseless and brain-dead (ahem! in so doing, he says the same about... "moi!"), he asks them how they became so easily "bewitched," or "fascinated," by law after having found saving grace in Jesus...

Well, perhaps the question is rhetorical, but it also requires some pondering (which I know is exactly what he wanted them/me to do)... We are fascinated, because:

  • Good works/law - it's easier! it's measurable! From it, I think I know what a Jesus-follower looks like and how they act (this however leads to judgment...ugh!)
  • Good works/law - it's objective. I wake up with a "to do" list already made for me, and all I have to do is check off the boxes.
  • Good works/law- gives me some good, reliable guardrails of "safety..."

But...when it becomes the measuring-stick for pleasing the Lord or a means of judging others.... THEN:

Good works/law - leads to pride! When I do "right" my ego is stroked. When I don't do right, ego deflates and I look for more positive pats on the back to rebuild my ego. So, then I have to do more and more and more... 

Through this whole ordeal, I compare myself to others - and we all know what comparison does: 

It is the chief thief of JOY!

Living by Law will always lead us away from the joy of grace when it becomes our measuring-stick for pleasing the Lord. 

AND....Good works/law - leaves no room for the Spirit of God to do His work of maturing me from within.

Living by Law will always keep us from living by the Spirit when it becomes our measuring-stick for pleasing the Lord.

This led Paul to ask another question, which he addresses:  WHY, then, do we even have the law? 

Reason says, couldn't God have just skipped Sinai? The 10 commandments? The other 400-some tedious rules?

Don't miss the point, Paul says. There's a purpose for the law...and it is GOOD!

(Are you confused, yet? 'Cause my first thought was that Paul couldn't make up his mind... But, WAIT FOR IT...hopefully, this all comes together!)

Here's the good...The Law serves like a school teacher for young children. 

OK? (Well, think this progression through and maybe the confusion will clear - it definitely helped me.)

Law teaches me about my sin... I simply can't follow it all. Every day, I break one of God's rules, which is exactly why I needed a Savior. If I try to live by good works to get to heaven, well, I'll never get there!


So then, Law renews in me a greater gratitude and a deeper understanding of God's grace. 

This then, leads to a renewal of my commitment to "walk by the Spirit" in order that I might look more like the One in Whom God the Father was well-pleased...

I want to be more like Jesus...the One who saved me by grace. 

Now, this deeper understanding of grace gives rise within me a "want-to" to do good works.  After all, I was created for good works, just not saved by them....

Here's the difference:

Because of Grace, I don't have to please God by doing good works...

He is already pleased with my faith (even if it is as small as a mustard seed)...

BUT, I GET to do them as an expression of my faith in Him...

And, these "good works" serve the purpose of bringing others into the Kingdom...by grace, through faith in Christ Jesus! Why? Because they see a difference in me...

Just like that anti-inflammatory diet - we will see results....The Lord calls it "fruit."

And this...changes everything! 

Thursday, June 10, 2021

"He's Not the Kind of Person One Should Try to Make Bargains With"

 I'd not read The Magician's Nephew, by CS Lewis, until about a year ago.

I'd always thought Chronicles began with The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

So, I was a wee bit surprised when I dug into the series to re-read.

The story records the adventures of Diggory and his friend, Polly, who are given magic rings by Diggory's wild-looking Uncle Andrew (who dabbles in magic...and, isn't as professionally skilled as he might like to think).

Diggory and Polly find themselves in several strange other-worlds, exploring lands they never knew existed.

All's well until they find themselves in Charn, where the curious Diggory awakens an evil queen, who tricks her way back to England with the children when they try to escape her realm with their magic rings.  

Of course, this leads to an uproar in the grand city of London, until the kiddos use the rings, once again, to attempt to take the queen back to Charn, and instead find themselves in Narnia, just as it is being birthed....AND, they come face to face with Aslan, to whom Diggory has to explain the current circumstances.

All this background to say that Diggory, whose mom is very ill, and who is certain Aslan can do something to heal her, finds himself in a position to ask for help.

Instead:

"Son of Adam," said Aslan, "Are you ready to undo the wrong that you have done to my sweet country of Narnia on the very day of its birth?'

Not knowing what he can really do to assist, Diggory says, "Yes...."

And for a split second he had some wild idea of saying, "I'll help you if you'll promise to help my Mother," but he realized just in time that "the Lion was not at all the sort of person one should try to make bargains with..."

XXXXX

Quite often, without even realizing it, we do this with the Lord. 

We may not say it out loud, but we hold certain expectations of Him...

Spoken or unspoken rules we live by that if I do _________________(name the condition), then He, in turn, will do ______________ (name the blessing)...

Author, Larry Crabb, called this "presumptive sin." 

Somehow we have this idea that if we do everything just right, the Lord, in turn, will have to bless us with what we want. 

And yet, we are forgetting God is not a puppet easily manipulated.

We forget that He is a Sovereign King, and has a plan that can't be thwarted by evil, or controlled by us.

In doing so, we attempt to make Him our own personal "magician."

But!!!! He is not at all the sort of person you should try to make bargains with...

He is God!

XXXXX

I've had several conversations around this thought as of late...and, more...I've watched as dear ones, who "expected God to act a certain way based on their good work," walked away from Him, because in their minds, He didn't live up to His promises.

Another gal commented that in her experience there came a point where she said she entered into what she calls her "I did all the things right and it still didn't matter, so maybe following the rules isn't worth it" phase. 

Like many, she questioned her faith. 

Fortunately, God not only restored, but increased, her faith as she "reconstructed" it through the truth of His Word.

Our Life Group even discussed this same topic last Sunday as we carried on our study of Galatians.

The topic of God's Grace is such a huge part of this epistle from the Apostle Paul.

Sometimes, as believers, we start taking grace for granted; and, then, we make certain assumptions...

....this whole concept smacks of striking "bargains" with God...

In this we are just as bewitched as the Galatians.

Somehow I begin to think that if I do this Christian life JUST-right, God will bless me in return; and, it is such a lie from the enemy.

Oh, how he tricks us.

Paul says, "Pay attention! Let's think this through..." 

Once saved by grace through faith in Christ, live the same way...by faith and not "counting on" what we do for the Lord!

In all things, we trust God with an assurance He does what is best for us (even if it seems HARD in the moment)...  

In fact, Paul's saying - The God who supplied the Spirit for you...is "choreographing" your life (that's what the Greek word translated supplied means)... Galatians 3:5!

He is working your life-story in ways you don't even understand.

So, we allow Him room to do so - without manipulation....

Paul wants the Galatians (as well as you and I) to see just how GRAND GRACE is...

He wants us to recognize that we've done nothing to deserve salvation, BUT JESUS...

He, who so loved the world...

He, who willingly died for us...

...will also complete and perfect us as we journey through life (His way! His timing!). 

We don't DO anything else.

It's been DONE ✅


And, what's more - we need remember: there is no entitlement in the Kingdom of God.

We simply trust and obey just as the old hymn says...

If along the course of our life, God pours out His blessings upon us, it's just icing on the cake.

I never deserved anything to begin with...

Paul says - in no way, never-ever pick up works again (for any reason), once we've picked up grace. 

We can't hold both in the same hands. 

Do I trust His grace with each and every step of each ordinary day of my life? 

or...

Do I attempt to manipulate Him to work to my advantage? 

He is not the kind of person one should try make bargains with....

He's God!

Thursday, June 3, 2021

The "Evil Eye"....and the Gospel.

Each January, during the years we served at Rift Valley Academy in Kenya, Africa Inland Mission held their annual conference at the school.

During the conference, other missionaries reported on what God was up to in their areas of service, and Bay and I always enjoyed hearing the stories of how our Lord was making His great presence known!

Sometimes, there were crazy stories, almost unbelievable, except for the fact we knew a lot of these folks... They were credible people.

I'll not forget the conference, that friends (with whom we'd been to orientation school before arriving in Africa) spoke of some of their experiences attempting to plant churches in a very remote unreached tribal village.

They told of animism, still actively recognized as a religion in many parts of the Dark Continent. 

They spoke of the witch doctors, still greatly respected among the people, men meant to heal and treat ailments brought about by curses. Powerful men. Men, who often held more clout with the people than even the tribal chief.

And, they shared of those who had the ability to give the "evil eye." 

(typical evil eye amulet used world-wide to prevent a potential curse)

This is way beyond giving a "stink eye!"

Reports of folks with this ability go back as far as 6th century BC in classical Greek antiquity.

Those who utilize the "evil eye" tend to cast looks with malevolent intent on another, causing misfortune, injury, or harm via some supernatural force of evil.

The report I recall from our missionary friends was coming across the path of a man from their village who had been given the evil eye, gluing him in place, like a living statue. 

This villager was so frozen in place he could not move, and had literally stood, unmoving, throughout the entire night. 

You can imagine how dangerous this would be in a country like Kenya, where most wild things either bite you, sting you, or eat you...

Obviously, the lesson the missionary expounded on was grounded in 1 John 4:4 - "BUT, greater is He who is in us, than he (our enemy, the devil) who is in the world..."

But today's blog post isn't exactly about this kind of "evil eye"... 

In my study of Galatians, I finally reached chapter 3. 

As is the case most of the time, when someone presents one view point, there is quite often a push-back from yet another side. 

This happened in first century Christianity.

There was definitely push-back by a group of Jews who basically told Paul that he was making Christianity too easy....so easy, in fact, ANYBODY could believe and be saved....even Gentiles (say that with disdain in your voice).

They wanted Jewish law to be added to the gospel... 

As soon as Paul planted a church, got it going, put a pastor in place, and set out to start new churches, these Jews would follow behind and "preach another gospel." 

Their gospel.

The distorted gospel.

It made Paul furious.

We see some of his great frustration in the first verse of Chapter 3.

"O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?"

Remember there is often more to the Greek than what English translates...

So, here's what Paul is really saying:

"Who have you allowed to give you the evil eye, making absolute fools out of you!" 

 (Bewitched: Greek word transliterated baskaino - to bring evil on one by affecting them with an evil eye.)

"In fact," says Paul, "You are acting as if you haven't any ability to think for yourselves."

"Don't be so dull-minded!"

My first thought on reading this was that Jesus said, "Call no man a fool (Matthew 5:22)!"

So, I had to check out whether or not Paul was contradicting Jesus.

Two totally different Greek words.

Jesus used the term raca, which was an insult. 

Paul used a different word, which meant dull-minded, slow to think. 

Paul used the word not as an insult, but as a rebuke of those who disregarded God's obvious revelations.

Don't miss this: 

The Galatians had fallen under a hypnotic spell of false teachers!

Sometimes, I find myself in the same position of the Galatian churches.

I'd rather let someone else do all my thinking for me. 

It's much easier to listen to someone else expound on God's truth, especially from those who are better educated, enthusiastic personalities, passionate teachers.  

I'd far rather believe what they say than to check out for myself if what they are preaching is TRUTH. 

When I do, I put myself in a position to be bewitched;

...and, this, my friends, is a foolish, and dangerous, place to be!

Like those in the Berean church, which Paul founded, we should examine the Scriptures eagerly to see if the things that are taught are so (Acts 17:11)!

It was so important in first century Christianity...

BUT, it is FAR MORE important in the culture of today.

There are many who would just as readily give us the evil eye, making fools out of us all, rather than give us the TRUTH of the GOSPEL.

These would rather base their truth on what feels right, rather than what is right...

To this Paul says:

"Be on guard!"





Thursday, May 27, 2021

Growing Up in a Theater....and a Lesson on Justification

 


Awwwwww...dear Martyn Lloyd-Jones,

This is the story of Galatians.

The story of our JUSTIFICATION.

Thank you for the reminder this morning.

XXXXX

I lay awake for a lengthy amount of time on Sunday evening, stewing over my own disappointment in myself. 

Often I find myself in that place, knowing....

I could have said something a little differently, or more clearly, or...

I should have prepared myself more for...

I allowed myself to run off track so easily, and this could have been prevented by...

I fell short, because I...

I didn't quite measure up to the expected standard, and could have.....

Here's what I could have/should have done differently...

You might relate to these types of musings.

As I let that pot in my mind bubble and boil, just before it spilled over, a comforting reminder played out, as the Lord pulled from the movies stored up there in my brain a random picture-show.

I've mentioned before that I "grew up" in a movie theater. This one...

(Perhaps someday I should write an exposé on lessons learned...)

However, in the midst of my stew-fest, I found myself in the old projection room, upstairs, overlooking the theater below.

I didn't go up there often, as it could be a hectic place during those times my dad frantically switched reels (manually), making certain there wouldn't be any lag time resulting in skips or hesitations of the current movie.

(my dad also ran the movies in Point Barrow, Alaska where he was stationed in the Navy during WW2, circa 1944)

Cluelessly, those in the seats downstairs watched with no idea what went on behind the scenes.

But, Dad's skill and expertise kept their big-screen-experience humming.

Most of the time.

Occasionally, of course, glitches happened and chaos ensued...

...especially, when the film broke. 

When that happened, the reel of film would spill out all over the floor - piles of film, miles of "video tape" running rampant around that narrow space where the magic of the movies played out. 

(OK, so there's nothing comforting about this so far, but I'll get there.)

That's when Papa Jack might load up a cartoon he had on hand, as the folks waited for him to "do his thing."

After dismantling the lacerated film, he'd take the two reels to his work bench behind the two monster-projectors. 

There he would slice, dice, tape, and repair the problem.

Because each scene of a movie is comprised of multiple frames, once repaired, Papa could load that movie back up and resume with nary a missed moment...and the audience, while grumbling about the inconvenience of the pause, went back to their Friday/Saturday/Sunday night entertainment.

This is what was comforting...

As my dad gave movies a "do again," so my Heavenly Father offers me "do agains," too...

Sometimes there are glitches, breaks, inconveniences, and a failure to meet expectations in the current running movie of our lives. 

However, the Lord, the one who runs the projectors that are showing our life stories, can easily slice, dice, tape and repair the issues of our hearts.

He's a God of second opportunities...and He often gives us the gift of making things right (more for our sakes than His).

John 1:9 uses this word for the process:  confess


Confess - to speak a word of admission that's in agreement with another (in this case, the Lord); to admit or declare the ways in which one has missed the mark of God's standard...

That's the beauty of justification...when we confess, God (the JUST ONE) looks at us and says, "What sin?" 

All sin was taken care of (sliced, diced, taped, and repaired) at the Cross....

But for our sakes, we keep running to the Father, again and again and again, to be reminded of just how GREAT justification is. 

And over and over and over again, the Lord says, "Innocent. Yes, even this one was taken care of at Calvary."


And there in the projection room of heaven, the film continues - no skips, hesitations, or noticeable problems connected with the event that left all that mess piled up on the floor...

It's DONE! ✔



Thursday, May 20, 2021

When Hawaii is a Nightmare

Sometimes traveling to Hawaii can be more of a nightmare than a vacation to paradise...

Let me explain.

As I bumble my way through the morning news, I am starkly reminded of the biggest problem our world faces today.

It is not a global pandemic; not a broken immigration problem; 

not terrorism, nor threat of war;

not the out-of-control social media, nor the world's liberal media agenda;

it isn't a lacking educational system, nor is it the incredible plight and repercussions of poverty;

it isn't the dire need for clean water world-wide; and, it certainly isn't the lack of wise governing across the continents....

From as far back as I can think, ingrained in me is the essence of the real problem:

The sin that resides in the hearts of mankind.

It is an "anthropos" problem (Greek word for man-faced). 

Put simply, if you sport the face of a human (and, surprisingly, this horrific affliction does not show partiality), you are diseased. 

Defined, sin is knowing what to do and not doing it.

Conversely, it means I know what not to do and still do it.

Illustratively, sin is attempting to swim the distance from the California shores to the Hawaiian islands... THAT WIDE!

It doesn't matter if you are Mark Spitz, Caeleb Dressel, Adam Peaty, Regan Smith, Katie Ledecky......or Peg Forrest -

None of us can swim the distance. 

We all fall short of the goal. 

The "anthropos" goal and the solution for our problem has been set before us in Scripture. 

Our man-faced solution came to earth with a man-face (!), dressed in flesh and blood, and lived a sinless perfect life.

His name was Jesus.

Every so often, what Jesus achieved on my behalf flattens me. 

The gospel story never gets old.

It drips into my soul like coffee into an old fashioned drip-pot, until it is so full coffee spills over.

That was my story this week.

It came simply, as mentioned, one drop at a time, until I saw again the beauty and the magnitude of this simple little theological word: 

J U S T I F I C A T I O N

Sometimes I am blinded to its significance.

Sometimes I stand on the shores of Cali and look toward Kauii and think to myself,"I betcha with just enough training, I can swim there...." 

(Not really; NOT EVER!)

But, that's what I'm saying, when in reality I think, "I'm not so sinful...I'm not THAT bad...I mean, I'm no terrorist; and, I do some pretty good things!"

(by the way, that's not just me...all of us minimize our sinfulness, trying to "justify" ourselves in our minds....)

This week, though, the weightiness of my problematic heart descended into my soul. 

It arrived as a GIFT from above, a glimmer of light, reflecting in the corners the cluttered debris that I shoved there - very much like the junk that used to hide under my bed as a kid (until I moved out of my childhood room). 

And as I stood looking at it all, I heard a commotion.

Turning, I saw myself in a courtroom, the judge entering, the court attendant saying, "All rise..." 

I was on trial; and, there I stood condemned, my "filthy anthropos-heart" uncovered for all the world to see...

When someone held it up right next to the perfect anthropos-heart of Jesus, I knew damnation - moreover, I knew exactly what that meant.

The judge, the RIGHTEOUS JUDGE, raised the gavel in His hand, ready to strike....

When someone said, "Wait!" 

Jesus stood in front of me, blood ran red, spilling over me...and, in that moment, I believed as never before that what exploded from His broken heart was ALL I NEEDED to be cured of my man-faced-disease.

I heard the gavel land from up on the bench; and, I heard the words of the JUDGE, though I couldn't see His face for Jesus grounded between us, "Sinner, you who have believed on my Son, you are RIGHTEOUS!"

Go in peace... (Romans 5:1)

It was an immediate and final transaction....

...that all might know, but especially me....I am INNOCENT! 

"NOT GUILTY."

There will be no penalty - ever.

Here-in is the solution for us all.

No matter who tries to minimize sin with their pretty words...we need JUSTIFICATION.

Even if the most influential person on earth tells us sin is NOT THE PROBLEM, believe that it is! 

We can never swim to Honolulu.

Justification is not just a pardon.

Not just forgiveness.

It is the righteousness of Jesus imputed to me...

No grounds for punishment, for the temple that is my heart was swept clean - a fit and Holy Place for the sweet Spirit of the Lord to dwell. 

And, I know why Paul's heart so strongly beat for the gospel to remain pure; why he fought so hard for salvation by grace alone through Christ alone in faith alone. 

Without Jesus, Hawaii is just a nightmare - not a dream! 

(hope you catch the metaphor...)

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Looking Ahead Through All the Fog...

Thursday rolled in this week rather like the fog used to roll in to the Oregon coast as I was growing up...

...meaning, way too fast, covering the landscape around me. 

There was no fog horn of warning.

I woke up and all I saw was gray vapor.

It's been a busy week, and I've had no clarity on this morning's blog, and now that Thursday is here (sure enough), I can't see the "Son" for the fog hovering around my brain...

So, I've silently waited for the Holy Spirit to "brood over the waters (see Genesis 1:1-3, TLB)" of my finite mind and bring some sort of light.

As I begin to type, there's a small sliver of it, just barely beginning to break through...

I reckon we'll see if it's brightness actually burns the fog away...or not.

In the meantime, it seems I'm typing blind...

#####

I continue to be surprised (and, not in a good way) at the new "twists and turns" within the Christian faith. 

After reading to Bay, yet one more post, from the heart of a young woman with whom I'm acquainted, we  verbally ping-ponged back and forth about what the best approach might be when we come up against this new branding in Christianity.

In Paul's letter to the Galatian churches, Paul mentions that when another "new brand" tried to influence the gospel in Antioch, Peter seemed to get sucked into the drama even though he knew better. 

The Lord had already given Peter a vision freeing him from dietary restrictions years earlier;

...nevertheless, those who wanted the Jewish law to be included in salvation, totally affected Peter's reasoning, and Paul called him out on the fact his behavior DID NOT match his convictions. 

So, to his face, and in public, Paul opposed Peter for his inconsistency. 

After all, the preservation of the gospel was at stake.

Considering other passages in this little letter, I'm certain Paul called Peter into question with affection (Gal 4:12) and with an anguished heart (4:19).

I'm convinced, he followed his own instructions (Galatians 6:1-3), attempting to restore Peter quickly, by rebuking him in a "spirit of gentleness....and, in humility," being filled with the Holy Spirit of the Lord (Gal. 5:22). 

Interesting (yes?), to think about rebuke, gentleness, and love in the same context...

But, true love often needs to use that effective tool of rebuke to garner attention.

In these days, "love" would never rebuke; because loving means agreeing. 

So, for this reason, Bay and I both decided, we can state our convictions with honesty and kindness (a "spirit of gentleness"), but not much good would come from "opposing" - at least, not in the Apostle-Paul-sense. 

Peter, by his very nature, tended toward impulsivity. 

Giving him the benefit of the doubt, he may just not have thought about the consequences of his actions - 

It probably didn't cross his mind that others might be led astray down a dangerous path....

Or that his decision to no longer eat with the Gentiles, for fear of the Jews, might send a mixed message and hurt others in the process...

I can't say the same is true in progressive circles.

Overall, those I've talked with, and asked questions of, sincerely believe they've found a better way...and, that those who still lean "evangelical" are trapped in bondage and shame. 

With both sides deeply and emotionally ingrained, it's difficult to dialogue openly; and, when said and done, any discussion would end at a frustrating impasse... 

So, if we cross off our action-list the word "oppose," then what's an evangelical, Christ-follower, supposed to do when the gospel is in jeopardy of losing its preservation? 

The answer isn't quite as foggy as my Thursday morning began. 

Instead of attempting to change minds:

We take the Word of Truth to those who are coming behind...

We look to the next-gen, bringing the simplicity of the gospel to them... 


We make course corrections, as needed, and be Jesus to those who are still listening... 

We prepare to answer questions - no matter how confusing or difficult - to those who are asking...

We walk alongside those who are hurting...

And, above all, we pray, pray, pray for the Lord to do as He's done before....to bring revival..

I've set an alarm on my phone to do exactly this.

Every day at 4:00 PM, it buzzes and a notification reads:

"Pray for the next-gen." 

What if we all did the same?


So, as I began today's random "just a thought," praying that the Spirit of the Lord would brood over my heart and mind, as He did over the waters at the beginning of time, speaking light into existence, I end somewhat the same way. 

I'm asking the Lord to break through the fog hovering over this world:

"Oh, Spirit of God, be active!

Oh, Spirit of God, breathe life!

Oh, Spirit of God, brood over the waters of our finite world,

and call into being new stories of redemption.

Oh, Spirit of God, breathe life!"*

*(Modified from Every Moment Holy, Volume 1)