Life Beyond the Law

So many times I’ve said myself or heard other Christians say, “I wish I hadn’t done that. I’m going to ask Jesus to help me do better with that in the future.”  While there’s nothing explicitly wrong with that prayer, I’ve come to believe there’s really not much right about it.

Jesus didn’t come so we could obey the law better. He came to show us the love of the Father and to draw us to Him. Then, as a result of our personal connection to Him, our lives will be transformed.  We will not be an improved version of ourselves. Not better. But transformed entirely.

Imagine standing around the proverbial water cooler at work. What would it take for you to not join in the gossip about an annoying coworker? Perhaps exercising your willpower? Concentrating on something else? Reminding yourself that good Christians wouldn’t act that way? Biting your tongue hard enough to pierce it? Any of those approaches might work. And certainly it would not be wrong of you not to gossip.  That’s making use of a couple of double negatives to say, sure, it’s a good thing to avoid gossiping by any methods. Not gossiping decreases the harm done to others. But does biting your tongue to avoid gossiping make you a Jesus-follower? Does it give evidence of being a Christian?  Does having enough will power to control yourself hold weight with God?  Not gossiping is in line with the moral law.  Doesn’t that count for something?

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God’s way is not our way. His thoughts are not our thoughts. Jesus didn’t simply come to show us an example and instruct us on right-living. He came to show us the Father. He came to restore a broken relationship – one where we didn’t trust that He had our best interest in mind. He came to establish a kinship where He calls us friend and brother. His life was one of restoration and healing.

Jesus told us in many different ways that it’s not what is on the outside of a man that matters – but what is in his heart. A life transformed by the Holy Spirit will live beyond the law -in the spirit of the law – not focused on obedience to the letter of the law. A Jesus-follower will have a spirit of humility – knowing they are not intrinsically better than the person who is being gossiped about, empathy – for both the frustration of the speaker and his/ her subject, compassion – sorrow for the weakness of the human race, and grace – giving kindness where none is deserved.

Will the disciple of Jesus be a gossiper? Surely not. But the reason will have little or nothing to do with the law. The Jesus-follow wants what is best for the other person and has a desire for their healing and their well-being. Tearing the other person down with gossip is not an option – not because they can’t or shouldn’t, but just because they won’t.

Not gossiping doesn’t require trying hard not to gossip. It requires a transformation of your heart.

There are many very hard things Jesus asks us to do. Focusing on trying hard to obey the law is not one of them.  But if we do the hard things He asks, our lives will show the fruit of His work in us.

Create in me a clean heart, O God. And renew a right spirit within me.  Ps 51:10

Jesus is the hero and it’s good news!

 

 

 

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Of Ice-Cream, Mountains and the Gospel

“How was your trip to the mountains?” my friend asked.

“Oh, AMAZING! I had a chocolate twist cone. It was the best!”  I replied.

Wait. What? What is this nonsense conversation we walked in to? My friend asks about a trip to the mountains and I tell him about ice-cream. Nonsensical! But what if I told you there is a Maverick gas station on the way to the mountains that sells ice-cream?  Does the conversation seem reasonable now?

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I don’t think it does. While it’s true there is a Maverick on the way to the mountains and it really does have tasty, inexpensive ice-cream that I’ve indulged in many times, the ice-cream is not the highlight of the trip. The highlight of the trip is, of course, experiences that can be found only in the mountains. The sound of the wind in the pines. The brilliance of the Aspen leaves. The ice-cold river with slippery rocks in the bed.  Any of the things exclusive to the mountains ~ that’s what makes the trip to the mountains amazing.  Ice-cream is easily available in lots of places. The mountains may enhance my ice-cream experience, but it’s still not the ice-cream that makes the trip to the mountains amazing.  It’s the mountains.

Yet how often do we do this with the gospel? We frequently say we’re talking about the gospel, but then focus on things that are available elsewhere. Moral lessons and teachings. Self-improvement. Social justice. Values. Civil behavior. These things certainly are in the Bible and a part of the faith journey.  But they aren’t exclusive to a faith in God and they aren’t the point of the gospel or Christianity. They are simply things that we experience as we make our way to the Point. They are important only in light of the gospel. It’s nonsensical to converse about those things void of the gospel itself.

Central to the gospel message is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the redemption He freely offers. That message contains rest and peace for the soul not available any where else. And that message sweetens all the other things we encounter along the way.

By His wounds we are healed. 

Jesus is the hero and it’s good news!

That’s the Gospel.

Experiencing Grace

No matter of religious persuasion, or no persuasion at all, we inherently understand the powerful freedom that comes when we find a safe person to whom we are able to admit our guilt, speak our shame, and cut the cords from the demon-burdens we bear. I was recently introduced to the following table to help people work through their past grievances and failings. It was described something like this:

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Now, because I was at a religious meeting when I heard about this, we used more religious terms than what I’ve got on the table. The first column was titled “sin” and the process was called “confession”.  And in religious terms we would call the final column “repentance” – or turning away from prior actions, desires, or beliefs.

Anyone of any faith or no faith at all can go through this process and find some level of relief and feel like they’re starting with a clean slate.  They can get up the next day, read the list, remind themselves of the kind of person they’d rather be, and make choices that work toward that end.

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But through the power of the death and resurrection of Jesus, so much more is available to the believer.  Listen to this good news:

Make your list. And as a believer in Jesus and His gift of grace, tear away the first two columns and destroy them. Shred them. Burn them. Have your dog eat them. You get the idea. God remembers your sin no more.

Now read the words in the last column out loud and let this sink in: Because of the gift of Jesus, God already sees you this way and He promises to  remake you into what He already says you are.  That’s right. It’s not just a clean slate – but a complete slate.

You don’t deserve it and you don’t have to work for it.

It’s a gift.

That’s forgiveness. That’s love. That’s grace.

If you don’t know Jesus and the place you have in His story, or if you have been a Christian and this is new to you, I invite you into God’s reality today.

By His wounds we are healed. 

Jesus is the hero and that’s good news!

When Love Supersedes

How many hearts have been broken by love ended? And how many faith journeys have been shaken when God has seemingly not answered the prayers for peace and harmony in a struggling relationship?  God is all-powerful.  His Word says that He places a very high regard on marriage. So why would He allow a marriage to fail when there has been much prayer asking Him to save it? Those are very real questions in this world of brokenness.

What do your prayers look like in those situations? I can tell you the gist of my prayers in the past. “God, it hurts me when he ____. Please make him stop. Make him ____ instead.”

While the desired end result (a more loving, peace-filled relationship) was certainly healthy, the means by which I wanted God to achieve that goal were not healthy. When we take our broken understanding of love and try to apply it to God, we can come up with some very unloving ideas about what He ought to do on our behalf.

But God doesn’t make anyone do anything. His kingdom is about love – and love requires free-will. He is not interested in coerced love. He doesn’t manipulate, condemn, or shame.  He doesn’t do that to you to get His way with you, nor will He do that to your spouse to get His way (or your way) with your spouse. His kingdom is built on earning trust through sacrificial love. Yes, God is all-powerful. But He values non-coercive love more than He values power.

So I invite you to change the tone of your prayers. Shift your perspective. Ask God to empty you of your broken self and fill you with more of Him. Ask Him to teach you how to communicate clearly, love gently, and to know Him better. It is through beholding Him, contemplating His love, and understanding what He’s about that you will naturally change on the inside so you can begin genuinely acting differently on the outside. And the bonus is that as you are changed, those around you will see a reflection of Jesus and will be impacted in a positive way.

Hemerocallis Gentle Shepherd 6805I pray that today you catch a glimpse of the tender love God has for you. If you don’t know Him, I invite you to read this blog and this blog to learn how to know God in the scriptures.

Jesus came to show us the Father. He came to save, not to condemn.

Jesus is the hero. And it’s good news!

Who Deserves the Praise?

Imagine working for a boss who never thanks you for your effort. Say there is an important project with a looming deadline, and the whole team makes personal and professional sacrifices to make certain that the project gets completed on time and with superior quality. The owner of the company arrives and throws a big celebration party for your boss – but the team isn’t invited. You hear rumors of awards and bonuses being lavished upon your boss – but the team gets nothing. You see your boss in the hallway and congratulate him on the job well done – but he does not acknowledge that you or the team had anything to do with his accomplishment.  I think you get the picture. And what do you think of your imaginary boss?

You might stay at that job if you have devotion to the work the company does. You might stay because you need to provide for yourself and your family. But I’m pretty sure you won’t stay out of love for your boss. And the sense of injustice you feel toward the situation is not caused from a lack of humility or selflessness on your part. It rubs you wrong because the boss is prideful and the situation isn’t an honest representation of the work that’s being done.

Contrast that with a story a friend of mine shared yesterday. She had worked at a thankless job for years – often fielding complaints and rarely hearing gratitude. She was a teacher. At midlife she made a career change and came to work for a man who recognized the value of each person who contributed to the success of his business. He went out of his way to appreciate the “least” with simple words of thanks.  And he noticed and was thankful for the good work my friend was doing. That happened years ago, but it holds deep meaning for her even now. She said, “I would have done anything for that man.” His appreciation for her effort caused her to want to freely give more effort.

Now listen to this:

I looked again. I heard a company of Angels around the Throne, the Animals, and the Elders—ten thousand times ten thousand their number, thousand after thousand after thousand in full song:

The slain Lamb is worthy!
Take the power, the wealth, the wisdom, the strength!
Take the honor, the glory, the blessing!

Then I heard every creature in Heaven and earth, in underworld and sea, join in, all voices in all places, singing:

To the One on the Throne! To the Lamb!
The blessing, the honor, the glory, the strength,
For age after age after age.

The Four Animals called out, “Oh, Yes!” The Elders fell to their knees and worshiped.

The saved in heaven are a part of that crowd. And they are all, of one heart, praising the Lamb of God. There are several such descriptions in Revelation of this type of praise session bursting out around Jesus. This one is recorded in Revelation 5. And that leads me to believe this:

He alone is worthy of all the glory and all our praise.

“Well, of course!” you might say. “Any christian knows that.” We know it in our heads, but do we know it in our hearts?  Is that what comes out of our mouths?

Have you heard “God helps those who help themselves”? Or a similarly themed, “I have to do my best and God will do the rest.” Or “If you want to be saved, you have to keep all of the commandments – or at least try.”  Now I’d like you to consider this: If  when I get to heaven I’ve done 10% of the work to be saved and God has done 90%, where’s my praise? Or if I’ve been very strong-willed and able to pull off 45% and God picks up the other 55%, don’t I get more accolades than the person who could only put in 10%?  Or if I’ve disciplined myself severely and become perfect, obeying every commandment, don’t I deserve … all…the praise?

If I deserve some level of praise and instead all the glory and praise goes to Jesus, God would be dishonest, prideful, and unjust at best.Why would we want to spend eternity with a God like that? Why would we go along with that… for ever? The problem isn’t that we’re currently too selfish to accept that arrangement. The lopsided praise seems wrong because it would be against the very proclaimed nature of God for Him to accept that kind of praise if He wasn’t actually worthy of it.

However, if … if indeed we are in heaven 100% because of the gift of Jesus Christ, then and only then is He worthy of all the glory and all our praise.

And then He is a good, good God for being worthy of the praise and for accepting it.

So, if Salvation isn’t at all tied to what I do, “What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase? ” Paul asked that very question in Romans 6.  And here was his immediate response, “Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

As we consider the love of Jesus, the Holy Spirit will increase our understanding of the Father’s heart, and we will respond to His love (John 12). We will desire to spend time with Him, and He will work in our lives to change us as we do so (Philippians 1, John 15). As we look to Him, we will be healed (Numbers 21, John 3). Our desires will be changed (2 Corinthians 3) and doing the will of our heavenly Father will be a natural response (Psalms 37).

So what about the law? It is a tutor, teaching us the nature of God and showing us how it differs from our own nature (Galatians 3). It is a mirror, allowing us to look at ourselves and realize our need of Jesus (James 1). That isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime look in the mirror. It is a daily look, a daily repentance, a daily dependence on Jesus. When we contemplate our lives and recognize where we’ve fallen short of the mark, a God-dependent response isn’t “I should be a better Christian than that. I need to try harder at that tomorrow.” But rather a God-dependent response sounds more like, “I failed to rely on You, Jesus. I believed a lie about You when I acted in opposition to Your way. I have sinned against You. I repent of my self-reliance. I repent of not trusting You in that area of my life today. I want to know You more, Jesus. Draw me to You. Help me to see You more clearly. Create in me a clean heart.” (Psalms 51) You see, we don’t spiritually mature out of our need for Jesus. But rather we realize our need for Him more as we grow (John 15).

There certainly is a reward for choosing to be a rule-follower and acting in kindness toward others. You are much more likely to live a life of freedom rather than imprisonment by doing so. You bring peace to yourself and to those around you. You enjoy a sense of stability and harmony with the world. But if you were hoping to do good things in order to contribute to your salvation, Jesus says, “You’ve already gotten your reward here on earth.” (Matthew 6)

Yes, in Revelation we are told “Here are they who keep the commandments of God” (Revelation 14:12). But I take that as a statement, not instruction. One cannot decide to keep the commandments in order to be in that group – or we would indeed deserve some of the praise that is lavished on Jesus in heaven. Rather, by deciding to follow Jesus every moment of every day, He will work in our lives to cause us to keep the commandments of God. For the commandments will be kept, but they are to be kept in spirit and in truth – not just in letter. (Romans 7, 8)  No amount of personal effort allows us to keep the spirit of the law without a new life in Christ. It is Christ in us, the hope of glory (Colossians 1).  It’s not that the glory I deserve pales in comparison to the glory Jesus deserves. It’s that He deserves all the glory.

Jesus is the hero of every story.

He deserves the praise!

And that’s good news!

Jesus is the Better…

The woman’s life was in shambles. She’d been abused by men in every way since childhood. Her brokenness left her searching ~ searching for love in all the wrong places. Her name was Nikki. “Nikki, I’ve got the perfect man for you,” Jeff said. Nikki shrugged and turned away, certain she’d just be disappointed one more time. “No really,” Jeff insisted. “You should meet him. He listens. He’s patient. He is tender and compassionate. He gently pursues. I’ve never met a more genuine man.” He had Nikki’s attention. “Yes! I want to meet him!” she exclaimed.  Jeff smiled. “His name is Jesus. I’d love to introduce you.”  Nikki eventually did meet Jesus. And she found Him to be the perfect man. He met all of her longings.

As I heard Jeff tell the story, I began to understand how Jesus is the answer for our every longing on an entirely different level. But unless we take the time to get to know Jesus, the solution sounds blind and shallow. “Don’t worry. Jesus is enough. Be happy.”

Another of the stories Jeff told involved a man who was searching for his father’s approval. Unfortunately the man’s dad died when he was 16 and he never experienced his father’s approval. Now as an older man, he was still longing for it. Jeff shared with us some of what he had shared with the man ~ and it was good news!

The man in Jeff’s story is not unique. Our unmet needs from childhood seem to be a very common source of brokenness. All of our parents are imperfect humans doing the best they can. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) their imperfect best will always leave gaps. I’d like to practice speaking gospel truth with you by walking through that particular area of hurt, looking at it through the lens of “Jesus is the better…”. How is Jesus the better parent and what kind of healing can He bring to you and me?  What is the identity He offers?  How did He live out what we are craving?

My first step in this process is to ask, what is it that we need from our parents?  Protection, food, clothing, shelter, affirmation, affection, attentiveness, forgiveness, patience, instruction, unconditional love, medical care, inclusion. The list could go on. If I was talking with someone who was hurting in regards to their parents, I would listen for a recurring theme to discover what area they felt their needs had not been met. The man Jeff was talking with had not gotten approval and affirmation from his father.

The second step is to ask how we can know that Jesus is able to meet that need. What do we see in how He treated others as recorded in the Bible that would indicate He is able to give what we need? What experiences have we had of Him in our own lives? How about in the lives of our friends? How do we know Jesus is the better parent? What kind of parent/ child relationship did Jesus experience that becomes my new identity when I am in Christ?

The good news Jeff shared with the man he was talking with sounded something like this: “I have good news for you! When Jesus was on the earth, before He had even begun His ministry, His Father announced to everyone that He was proud of His Son. He said, “Look everyone – this is My Son! I’m so pleased with Him!” Jesus offers that acceptance to you. It’s not just that Jesus will accept you, but He is willing to trade places with you. He is willing to give you the connection He has with His father, as your own to claim. When God the Father looks at you, He sees Jesus. The admiration and acceptance given to Jesus, becomes yours even though you’ve done nothing to deserve it.”

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By claiming our identity in the gospel, we can let loose of our unreasonable expectations of others because Jesus has already perfectly experienced it and provided it. As we believe that God sees us ~ right now ~ as He sees Jesus, we can let loose of our unreasonable expectations of ourselves because Jesus has already obtained it. We become more loving, not because we tried hard to be loving, but because Jesus is the better answer. He is enough.

Jesus is the hero ~ and it’s good news!

That’s the gospel truth.