The Gospel Lens ~ Speaking Gospel Truth

Badness contained is not goodness. It is simply badness that is not leaking out yet. ~ Lee Venden

Most of us have no experience in the realm of speaking Gospel Truth to each other. In general it seems our interactions tend to land at one extreme or another. Either we say nothing at all when we see another person struggling in life, or we’ll swing to the exact opposite and tell them what they should be doing and how they need to change their behavior.  We might even read a Bible verse to show them it’s not just us who says they should be doing what we’ve told them, but God. And we call that speaking truth. But I am finding that at its heart, Christianity is not a behavior modification system, and the overarching message of the Bible is not good advice about living. So what does it mean to speak truth and how do we incorporate that into our relationships?

What I’m sharing here are some summary thoughts from a presentation by Jeff Vanderstelt (click here to watch his presentation).

Using the Biblical metaphor of our lives being trees that bear fruit, what we believe about who God is makes up the root of our tree. We have decided who God is based on what we’ve read and have experienced of the person Jesus (the Bible tells us that Jesus is the revelation of the Father). From that we decide who we are in Christ, which is displayed by our actions – or the fruit of the tree.  Speaking truth is a process of leading others (or even ourselves) to understand what they are believing based on how they are acting and to repent of their false beliefs about God.  By realigning their beliefs with what Jesus has shown us to be true about God, their fruit (behavior) naturally changes.

In the video presentation Jeff walked through an example of how he applied this process to a real-life situation. His wife was struggling with anxiety. The Fruit of the Spirit is peace. Her life was not showing the fruit of the Spirit. I’ll share with you a brief synopsis of the conversation as he shares it on the video.  His actual conversation with her lasted several hours.

Jeff – When you are experiencing anxiety, what does that tell you about who you believe you are?

Wife – I am the one in control.

Jeff – If you believe it is all up to you, what does that say about what you think God has done?

Wife – He has stopped loving me. He is not in control. He has abandoned me.

Jeff – Then who do you believe God is?

Wife – I believe God is unloving, impotent, and distant.

His wife understood that the fruit of her life revealed the root of her faith. In that moment she was acting as though she believed in herself and she was honest enough to speak the beliefs she was holding as truth about God. Those were not consistent with the beliefs she intellectually held to be true about God and she quickly repented of the beliefs she was acting on. She actually believes God is loving. She knows this because Jesus died for her while she was still His enemy. Because God is loving and cares for her, she does not have to be in control and can have peace.

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Repentance is the turning away from false beliefs we are holding about God and turning toward what we know to be true as revealed in Jesus. As you may have noticed, the discussion was not “you need to get more peace”. While peace is what she needed, telling her she needed to get peace for herself by trying would have only reinforced the root belief that was already bearing the fruit of anxiety in her life ~ namely, that she was in control of life and that it was all up to her. We don’t bear the fruit of the Spirit by trying hard to bear the fruit of the Spirit.

The fruit of the Spirit comes automatically as we seek Jesus.

Empathizing with others in their time of distress helps them know they are not alone and is beneficial to the one hurting. Giving good advice about choices to one who is asking has its place. But only Christianity offers the Good News of the gospel. Only God is able to change us from the inside. Do we believe it? Why don’t we remind each other of that more often? Why do we try to fix our external fruit problem instead of addressing our internal root problem?

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The Gospel Lens ~ An Evolution of Theories

Over the years I’ve had some defining moments that have prompted me to put my beliefs into words. The first was about this time six years ago. My late husband was on hospice. He and I, and our kids, signed a family pledge. It went like this: “Because Jesus is coming again to take His friends to Heaven, we will, therefore, dedicate our lives to Him.”  I had a considerably longer version written out, but the challenge of writing it in calligraphy on a 12 X 16″ sheet of paper inspired me to distill it down to as few words as possible. So when push came to shove, the essence of my beliefs landed on, “Jesus has something I want, so I’m willing to give Him something back in order to get it.” I will always treasure that piece of paper with all of our signatures on it, but I find my gospel view… well… interesting.

About two years ago I had occasion to give a synopsis of my life view again. This time it read: “Because of all Jesus has done for me, I am a bond servant to Him.”  The essence of this statement sounds more like “Jesus has done something for me… and I will work at paying Him back.”  Again… interesting.

But I’ve come to some stark realities in the more recent past. These realizations are based on words that I’ve known for as long as I can remember being.

  • Jesus/ God doesn’t need my work. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He can command the rocks to cry out. All things are at His disposal. (Ps 50:7-10, Luke 19:40)
  • He doesn’t want my work. He’s not interested in any performance.  “Going through the motions doesn’t please you, a flawless performance is nothing to you. I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered. Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.” (Ps 51:16,17 MSG)
  • I can’t give Him any good works of my own.  Every good and perfect gift is from Him. (James 1:17)  Anything I do on my own is as filthy as menstrual rags. (Is 64:6) That’s disgusting.

The 4 Gs

So, if that’s what the gospel isn’t, then what is it? I like this brief summary based on “The Gospel Primer” by Caesar Kalinowski (2013 Missio Publishing):

God is Great ~ so I don’t have to be in control. I can rest of my worries.

God is Glorious ~ so I don’t have to fear others. God is important, or “weighty”. In fact, He is the “weightiest” person in my life.  I can let go of seeking the approval of others.

God is Good ~ so I don’t have to look elsewhere for my satisfaction. People and things eventually fail to deeply satisfy my soul. Jesus is the better fulfillment of my every need.

God is Gracious ~ so I don’t have to prove myself to myself, to others, to God. While I was yet a sinner, God sent His son Jesus to die in my place. I don’t need to earn His love. He proclaims me worthy.

God is the hero.

He graciously gives. I gratefully receive.

Because of the gospel, I am free.

My burden is light.

That’s Good News!

The Gospel Lens ~ Studying to Know God

Do you find the Bible boring or irrelevant? Do you try to read and study but get bogged down in details and facts? Many of us have been taught to read the Bible looking for factual information. What can I get from God? What does He want? What should I believe? What do I have to do? But the Bible isn’t just a collection of facts or good advice about how to live. It’s full of Good News and Gospel Truth.  It’s an invitation to a relationship with the living God.

I’m going to walk you through a Bible study method that has shifted my focus from learning information or even appreciating an interesting story, and allowed me to brush against the hem of Jesus. The example I’m going to walk you through is based on my reading of Mark 3: 7-19. Briefly, in this passage of scripture Jesus finds Himself pressed in with crowds of people wanting to be healed. He then took His disciples to a mountain top where He chose 12 apostles. His plan was to teach them, and then send the apostles out to proclaim the Word and free people from the power of demons as He had been doing.

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Question one of the gospel lens:  What does this story tell me about the characteristics of God?

God is generous.

Question two: What has Jesus done in this story to express it?

Jesus healed all who came to Him and selected other apostles so they could do the same work in greater numbers.

Question three: Who are we in the gospel story* because of this story?

Because God is generous, in the gospel story we are needy. After encountering Jesus, we become well cared for.

Question four: What do I now do with this belief? How do I live differently?

Because God is generous and I am well cared for, I can afford to give lavishly to others.

You will notice that my answers to the questions are probably not your answers. There are no “right” answers. Your story and where the Holy Spirit is leading you will affect what you gain from the Bible reading. Your image of who God is will be different than mine because of your perspective and your unique personal relationship with Jesus. It is in studying and sharing with others that we can begin to get a bigger picture of God. It is a process of learning who He is, which then informs me of who I am in Him, and in turn changes how I live.  I don’t behave in a certain way so I can do something for Him, prove something to Him, get something good or avoid something bad from Him. As I practice focusing my eyes on Him, my external life becomes a natural response to the power of God working in my heart.

*The Gospel Story is God’s story of creating a perfect world, having Adam and Eve disbelieve His goodness, and His response of love and grace in His quest to rebuild the broken trust. Through the gift of His Son, He provided a way for mankind to reconnect with Himself and will one day return to erase the blight of sin and restore a face-to-face relationship with His redeemed sons and daughters. The gospel story has been played out over the ages, but is also repeated in each of our lives. 

Whatsoever Things

We know the drill…

“Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Philippians 4:8

Having trouble with your thoughts? Do that. We’ve heard it. We know it. And we feel inadequate and ashamed when we can’t do it.

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But I didn’t quote the text quite right. I left off the first two words- and perhaps those are the words most essential to successfully implementing the text.

“Finally, brethren…”

Finally. Finally, after all these other things. After you’ve gotten to know Jesus. After you’ve devoted your life to Him. After you’ve seen His power in your life and know He is real. After you have been willing to give all for Him. Then. Then you are ready for what I want to tell you next.

Brethren. Friends. Co-travelers. Bonded together deeper than blood. Here within this community of support. Shared with deep regard and compassion. “I get it. I’ve been there. I know where you’re at. I understand the journey. I’m not just telling you what to do. I’m in it with you. I’d do anything for you. This instruction will bring such positive change to your life, I can’t restrain myself from telling you what has been helpful for me on my journey. Now here it is, my friends.”

Now it’s not a drill. Now it’s not a check list filled with condemnation. Now it’s meaningful and filled with abundant life.

Making Music

The young lady walked into the college music hall surrounded by silence. It was after-hours. She slipped onto the piano bench and quickly opened her sheet music. Perhaps she could play for a while in the big hall before supper was finished and others arrived to use the practice rooms.  The song started softly but grew to a crescendo, the notes reverberating off the walls and filling the space. So consumed was she in her passion of playing that she didn’t see him arrive. His heart swelled with the music.  He also loved to play and knew the passion and dedication required to play as she was. He immediately liked that about her and found himself drawn not just to the music, but to her as well.

Nervous but determined he approached the bench watching her fingers dance on the keys. The young lady, unaware of any change in her surroundings, finished the song.  Her eyes closed in peaceful bliss as the notes drifted away and silence once again surrounded her.  Suddenly the silence was interrupted by a single person clapping right behind her. Simultaneously her body and mind spun.How had he gotten in here? How long had he been standing there? How dare he interrupt her solitude like that! Are his eyes really that blue? No – Wait! How dare he? … He has a sweet smile! … But he could have at least knocked or something before intruding into my space like that.” 

The young man’s smile broadened as he sensed her reluctant pleasure at the attention she was receiving. “Wow!” he exclaimed. “That was beautiful!” He extended his hand in greeting.  “My name is Ted, by the way.”

She regained her composure and clasped his out-stretched hand for the obligatory shake. “Oh, thanks! My name’s Sandy. I’m in the music program here at the college. Someday I’d like to perform on stage.”

“Then I’m sure you will one day.  You are very talented,” Ted replied in support.  When Sandy blushed but didn’t speak, Ted continued on. “I love to play piano as well. Would you be interested in trying a duet sometime?”  She agreed with a nod. That sounded … interesting.

The two began to meet in the music hall every week. The hall had two grand pianos facing each other – a perfect arrangement for playing duets. Their timing, as their conversation, was a bit awkward at first. But their shared passion and dedication to the music drove them on. After a few weeks they found the experience so enjoyable they decided that waiting a whole week between duets was much too long and agreed to meet in the middle of the week as well. And then soon they were sitting at the piano benches at every possible opportunity they had.

A year of making music together quickly slipped by. Then one day Sandy arrived at the hall to find Ted sitting at her piano bench. She tilted her head in an unspoken question. His eyes danced to the rhythm of the song beating in his heart. He rose to his feet as she approached. He was nervous, but yet not. He couldn’t imagine the rest of his life without her. As she arrived in front of him, he dropped to one knee and extended his hand to her once again. But this time his hand was not empty. It held a little box. As she dared take her eyes off of his to look at the box, he opened it wide. The diamond sparkled in the lights of the music hall. “Will you marry me, Sandy? I love you and want to make music with you for the rest of my life!” Her squeal of absolute delight made a reply unnecessary but she spoke it, sang it, and then shouted it for all to hear over and over, “Yes!”

Now, I don’t know if that’s how it really happened. I didn’t ask. But here’s what I was told when I asked an elderly lady how she was adjusting to her move to a retirement home. “Well, there certainly are a lot of changes to get used to. But probably the hardest change has been the piano. My husband and I have been married 60 years, but we’ve been playing piano duets for 62 years. Our new place only has room for one baby grand and we’re having to learn to play on the same piano.”

She found it to be an adjustment. I found it to be sweetly romantic that they were so dedicated to each other as to continue making music together after 62 years. I could imagine them at the bench, their fingers now intertwining on the keys, sometimes awkward, but ever learning and growing, laughing and loving.

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There is a love story in the Bible of which we know very little. Perhaps it was too intimate to reveal in detail. Perhaps it wasn’t shared because we each need to learn our own duet with God rather than focusing on how someone else did it. What we know about the relationship goes like this:

When Enoch was 65 years old, he became the father of Methuselah. After the birth of Methuselah, Enoch lived in close fellowship with God for another 300 years, and he had other sons and daughters. Enoch lived 365 years, walking in close fellowship with God. Then one day he disappeared, because God took him. (Genesis 5: 21-24 NLT)

What a beautiful duet that must have been! What a perfect rhythm they must have developed – a oneness of mind and spirit.

During this season when there is special attention and focus on romantic love, let us also daily remember and grow in our romance with our Savior, our Redeemer, our Lord, Jesus Christ.  I challenge you to a year of making music with God. Even if you don’t think you know how to play your part, show up. He’ll be there. The Master Musician is anxiously waiting.

The Woman

Broken.

The woman lay sprawled on the cold, unforgiving marble floor. Her body ached from her fresh scrapes and bruises, but she did not tend to them. She was hardly mindful of them. What she had just experienced had been horrible, but she knew what she had coming would be even worse.  As she gasped for breath, dust filled her mouth. She choked and coughed. She wished she could cough her insides out and crawl out of her skin. She was filled with anger and hatred, certainly toward the men who had put her in that position, but mostly toward herself. In her gut she had always known it would get her into trouble one day. But she never imagined it would be like this. Not here. Not like this.

Their voices drifted far away as if in a tunnel. The harsh words they shouted were true. She screamed them at herself internally. She was dirty. She was shame-filled. She was worthless. She slowly moved her hands and curled them over her head – partly to block the sounds, and partly to provide what little protection she could from the blows that were sure to follow. She was somewhat grateful for her long hair to provide partial covering for her body. But what did it matter anyway? So many of the men standing there had already seen all of her.  But who was she to stand up and accuse them? She was just a woman.

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She waited, but the strikes never came. The noise slowly quieted until there was just awkward silence. Was she alone? For the first time in several minutes she dared look up. He was there. His eyes were locked on hers. He was taking off His coat to cover her. His eyes. They weren’t like most men’s eyes. His eyes never strayed from looking into hers. And the depth. The tenderness. The compassion. He held out His hand toward her. She began to reach for it but then realized He must not really know. She couldn’t risk the hurt of Him turning her away after He knew. “You know I…” she started in. But He cut her short with a finger to her lips. “Shh… I know. I already know.” And His eyes said He really did. “That’s so good that you know that about yourself, too. But let’s not stay there. It’s your past – not your future. Take my hand and walk with Me. Let’s do it different this time – together.”

And the woman took His hand.

Restored.

Religiosity

A poll completed nearly one year ago by Gallup shows that 77% of Americans consider themselves to be Christian.  The largest group, 52.5% of the polled population, considers themselves to be Protestant/ non-Catholic in their beliefs. Of that group, 79% stated that religion was important in their daily lives. What exactly is religion? What does that question mean?

According to the Meriam – Webster on-line dictionary, religion means the following:

re·li·gion

 noun \ri-ˈli-jən\

: the belief in a god or in a group of gods

: an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods

: an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group

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The way I see it, there are actually three things at work in the question: religion, traditions, and spirituality.  We’ll consider the second definition first. “An organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods.”  I will call that “traditions” or “religiosity” [Religiosity, in its broadest sense, is a comprehensive sociological term used to refer to the numerous aspects of religious activity, dedication, and belief (religious doctrine).] .  It says, ” Here are the rules for our group. If you want to fit in with us, you will look like this, act like this, speak this way, wear your hair like this, etc, etc, etc.” In my experience, it makes people more prone to compare themselves with others and to cause superficial lifestyle changes without a heart change. It may help with your emotional well-being. It may give you a place to feel good about yourself (or not – depending on your level of self-control). And it may help keep you out of trouble, which will improve your quality of living. But I find no Biblical support that outward actions will provide eternal life. Comparing Matthew 7 with Matthew 25 you will find that the saved and lost will have done many of the same things.  It is not saying that there is anything wrong with traditions or good works – in fact, there is a place for them and they are expected to be the natural out-flowing of a follower of Jesus – but they aren’t the ticket.

The first definition of religion – “the belief in a god…”, may spark a relationship that I would call spirituality.  This spirituality will also cause a change in behavior, but the relationship came first. Some say it is a behavioral change that we choose out of our love for God and what He has done for us. The more experience I have with life, people and God, the more it seems our behavioral changes themselves are only because He brings about the change in us. Our behavioral changes are gifts from the Holy Spirit. The only choice we really have is where and when we will be willing to submit our lives to Him and allow Him to change us.  The Bible tells us that our best is equivalent to filthy rags. The Bible provides no differentiation between the “best” of a sinner or the “best” of a saved person. So if something good comes of us, from us or through us, it is a gift from God.  All good and perfect gifts come from the Father above.

“Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.” Ephesians 2: 7-10 The Message

Casting out Fear

Nary a wise decision was made whilst motivated by fear.

I’m no stranger to fear. I remember that feeling I had when the Trooper felt tipsy while driving the switchbacks on the mountain side of Clark’s Fork Canyon about a thousand feet up from the river below. I got out, taking my baby girl with me. The Trooper subsequently rolled one and a half times and landed on its roof, thankfully still on the trail, with Jeff inside. I had made a good decision. And that was fear. But it’s not the fear I’m talking about.

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What happens when the foundation you built your life upon gets taken away? What happens when the core of who you identify yourself to be disappears into thin air? When the “healthy” is found to be “unhealthy”, the “functional” actually “dysfunctional”, and the “perfect” is very “imperfect”? What happens then? I’ve been there. I’ve been afraid.

“Perfect love casts out all fear.” I’ve read it. I believe it. So I have no answer but to look back on my life and realize there have been times I’ve not been connected to the Source of perfect love because my human fear was very present.  Friends, family, counselors, therapists, books and even medication – they are all supportive, good and helpful (if indeed they are supportive, good and helpful). But there is no complete healing of the soul without the presence of the Healer.  That darkest and most fearful time of all is when we are too afraid, too ashamed, too proud, too self-righteous, too confused, too dark, too burdened down… too brokenly human… to bare the most raw part of our souls to Him.

During my first round with fear, it took me fifteen years to hand it over. I haven’t become perfect at it. It isn’t my built-in, immediate response. But it becomes easier, faster, and more automatic every time I choose to give it to Him.  And when I do, His love is so comforting I always wonder why it took me so long.

If you are afraid in the deepest part of your soul today, I pray for the perfect love of Jesus Christ to wash over you.  Look up to Him. He’s waiting. And I pray that you will find the strength, vulnerability and discernment required to reach out to a safe person who can be His hands to you. You are not alone. The very act of facing your fear will frighten a majority of it away. Go ahead. Cast it out.

Then get on with living.

“For God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.” 2 Timothy 1:7

Bought with Blood

Bright red blood dripped from the blade. The old man looked down at his bleeding flesh. Pain seared through his body. He slowly sank against the terebinth tree and slid his body to the hot sand to avoid fainting. Beside him was his boy. His boy.  But not the boy of promise. Surrounding them were over 300 men. Some were moaning. All were bleeding just like the old man.  He thought back to the conversation he’d had that morning…with God.

God: Didn’t I promise you that I’d make you a great nation?

Abe: Yes. I am an old man now, God, and my wife is way beyond childbearing years. So I helped You out and got a son for myself – You know, Ishmael…

God: I know Ishmael, Abe, and I will take care of him. But he’s not the boy of promise. Abe, when I make a promise, I keep the promise. That’s how I am. Now here’s the deal. You can’t keep my promises for me. Do you understand?

Abe: I understand.

God: To help you remember, Abe, I need you to do something for me.

Abe: Sure God. You say the word.

God: Cut the tip off of that thing.

Abe: What? I’m not understanding anymore, God. What thing?

God: The thing that you used to try to keep my promise for me. Cut the end of it off.

Abe: THAT?!

God: Yep, THAT! I want you to always remember to rely on me. What I say, I will do. The only thing you need to do is believe. Got it?

Abe: Got it.

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Despite the pain, Abraham smiled as he relaxed into God, and it was accounted to him as righteousness.  Praise God, for He changes not and the deal is still the same. All I must do is believe … and quit trying to do God’s work.

The inspiration for this blog was a sermon preached by David Asscherick on 3ABN. Click his name for a link to his Facebook page.

I Understand

I have heard the story so many times over the past 15+ years, I admit I have to force myself to ask for more information after the words “Heel pain” are spoken. Ninety-five percent of the time it turns out to be the same, common problem: Plantar fasciitis.  I know it hurts. I’ve heard the story, seen them wince, watched them limp. It hurts.  I know.

Last spring I went on a class trip with my daughter. It involved a lot of walking on cement. I was wearing good shoes. I can’t say why I “deserved” the pain, but it started. Just a twinge at first but intensifying as I did what I tell all my patients not to do. I wore those cute sandals – and my heel hurt worse – and the sandals matched my outfits – and I kept wearing them. I finally took my own advice and quit wearing them. But, wow! It hurts! I KNOW!

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I don’t know how you view God. But I am very comforted by the fact that Jesus lived here on earth. He faced trials. He had difficulties. His feet got dirty walking down the roads.  He needed to eat and sleep.  He had to prioritize. He had people say and do unkind things to Him. He needed to be refreshed. On the cross He was separated from His father and felt the pain of separation from the Source of Life. He was all God, but all person. He KNOWS.

“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15 NASB