When measuring is a snare

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Get out of jail free

Romans 6:14 uses words to describe our ‘freedom’ card.

The first translation is from the NIV and the second is the Message

 

 

  • For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
  • Sin can’t tell you how to live. After all, you’re not living under that old tyranny any longer. You’re living in the freedom of God.

I’m reading a book that Graham gave me for Mothers’ Day.   Here’s the link  –  Punch Fear in the Face – Start

Jon Acuff Bk Punch Fear...
One of the author’s premises is that people have these internal voices that authoritatively talk to us in messages that are anything but positive.  And…(here is the kicker)..we BELIEVE them!  They are particularly active anytime we entertain a new direction like:

 

 

  • start an exercise program
  • go back to school
  • research a possible business idea
  • ask for a raise
  • confront another person who has hurt us
  • stop a bad habit
  • ask someone out for a date
  • audition for a part
  • apply for a job
  • dust off a dream
  • change churches

His remedy is to articulate out loud what the voices say, think about the message in the light of day and speak truth back to them, thereby quenching their power……for the time being. I actually had the courage, yesterday, to do just that and it was liberating. woman in the shower       I don’t like washing my hair because it means staying in the shower longer than normal which means I have to confront what I think is a poofy tummy (I know…TMI!).  For the first time, however, I recognized this thought as ONE OF THOSE INSIDIOUS VOICES!!.  So I talked back to it and said – “Wait a second.  A tummy is NOT a shoulder bone.  Shoulders are hard, tummies are round and soft – that’s just how they are made.  So what if it feels poofy?” And that was that – the voice went back into hiding and I was left feeling free!

I had read the above verse in Romans the other day and suddenly made the connection.  Anytime I MEASURE myself vis-à-vis others using an imaginary standard in my mind, I EITHER feel superior or inferior.  And what I have done for that moment is to step back INTO the prison cell of the Kingdom of Darkness where Law reigns and sin is the norm.

Measuring and comparing oneself to others is to forget that we have already been sprung from the World’s Way.  We have been transferred into the Kingdom of Light, by Grace.  We didn’t collect enough brownie points to EARN our way into it. We were liberated from our dark prison cell.  The door swung wide and we walked out into the Light where we have

  • value because God chose us and paid for our release
  • an inheritance we don’t have to earn
  • freedom NOT to play the ‘measurement’ game

In essence – we now live in OPEN space in the LIGHT under a completely different system that uses the currency of grace, not merit.

And….we find ourselves frequently running back to that dark prison of measuring ourselves in comparison to others, a system familiar to the point that it’s almost comforting.

prison bars

The good news is that the door stays open and we can turn around (repent) and walk back into the light.

Knowing that is like sticking your hand in your pocket and finding that Get Out of Jail Free card!

When a fellow Christian hurts you

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“She’s gonna pay!”

Have you ever been THAT kind of mad at a sister/brother in Christ?  I have!

You could have caught me ‘speechless’ the other night, after reading John Piper’s daily reflection on my iphone app called “Piper Devotional” (excerpted from his book Future Grace).

What stopped me in my tracks and made me reconsider the times when I’ve been mad at others was reading Piper’s thoughts on Romans 8:1

There is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

What that means is that when someone else in the Church hurts me and they rightly deserve to pay for that offense, the payment has already been made – in the past – on the cross by none other than Jesus.   It HAS to be that way for them NOT to be condemned by God.  The other alternative would be for God to say, “Susie has hurt you?  Just forgive her – ‘cause she’s your sister-in- Christ.  Period!”

That, actually, would NOT be fair!  And God is the God of justice, or else he is NOT God!  Someone WILL pay or HAS paid or DOES pay.  One of the privileges of being in the King of the Universe’s family is having Big Brother Jesus cover our deliberate AND inadvertent mean or thoughtless words/ actions toward one another.  How?- in his flesh, on the cross.

When I want to make Christian sister Susie pay, I’m actually saying that I want Jesus to suffer STILL MORE for the harm done me.

Reading Piper’s piece, I actually pictured Jesus softly saying, “That’s okay, Maria, I can take it.  If that brother-in-Christ needs to pay for what he did to you, then I’ll pay for him.  Lay his iniquity on me.  I’m here to suffer the rightful punishment for what he did to you!”

In my scenario, I found myself saying almost with tears:

‘No, Lord, I don’t want You to suffer any more; I will let my brother go, I won’t hold IT against him anymore.”

Talk about injustice!  If my twisted desire, to see him or her PAY, means Jesus has to suffer more, then I don’t want that, especially not just to make me feel better.

Now THAT’s a sure, quick way to drain off self-righteous anger!

So what am I saying?  That they should get off, just because they are Christian?

–      Well, you and I have ‘gotten off’, haven’t we?

–      Are we aware of all the ways we have hurt someone else, another family member of God?

–      And what about all the many ways we have ignored God or rebelled against Him?

Jesus HAS paid it all.  And it did cost Him.

I HOPE that the next time I start to feed some righteous indignation due to wounds from a fellow member of the household of Christ that I can PICTURE Jesus asking me, “How much do you want them to squirm…however much you think they deserve, I’m ready, in their place. Your call, Maria!”    

Therefore, let us keep the feast…

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Heard a great explanation of what it means that God loves me.

First I have to descend the ladder of how I view myself:

…..go beneath my projection –  a cultivated ‘Maria as lovely Christian woman’

….to that place where only I know what I’m really like. (Please don’t project my thoughts in 3 D living color w/ high sound fidelity for all to see!)

….go deeper – supposedly Jack Miller was fond of saying, “Cheer up!  You’re a lot worse than you think.”

Now get ready to be lifted up out of despair:

In my ‘pittiest’ pit, my omniscient Father loved me knowing all that I had done –  am doing –  and will do that is despicable…and He rescued me, sprang me, freed me.

The well-deserved death sentence NO LONGER hangs over my head.  As a gift, Jesus became Condemned Maria.  Think Dickens –  Tale of Two Cities .  Sydney Carlton assumes young Charles identity and will die in his place.

(Besides being freed from the penalty of death, I ALSO get Jesus’ résumé of righteousness accredited to me! No need to work to earn God’s approval)

So….

  1. Since I didn’t earn anything, I can’t ever lose anything – i.e. my salvation and good record
  2. I get to walk.  (You mean she just ——–WALKS?   Totally free?  out of prison?  How is THAT fair?????? – you call that justice!!!!?????)

I am free to go…so now it’s time to celebrate.

That’s the doctrine behind the liturgical response in an Episcopal worship service, “Therefore, let us keep the feast.”

We should be dancing, with a delighted smile on our faces….it’s party time!

**Two Questions

  • Who can I invite join me in this cosmic celebration?  Joy is multiplied when shared.
  • A more difficult question – why don’t I really believe this?  After all, our actions communicate our true beliefs.  My face betrays my identity.  I may be truly free.  But I sure act like I’m in prison.  And if I stay in my prison…then, that’s MY fault.  The door is wide open and can’t be shut!  

 

Limitless good news

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Le Hic”, (the thing) about the Gospel is that there are SO many things about the Gospel.  Who can ever be bored, when there are treasures to be discovered?  I sometimes thank God that He is both bigger & better and truer & more real than anything I can imagine.  I don’t have to fear running out of new knowledge about God.  I don’t have to fear that one day I’ll hear of proof that Christianity isn’t true after all.

Here are some recent thoughts, new to me, about God and what He has done for us:

  • Justice has been meted out in my cosmic criminal case, so I face no more penal judgment. Payment for my sins is truly behind me, a fait accompli. There is no double jeopardy in God’s kingdom.
  • I’ve already been punished when Jesus was punished
  • I’ve already died. I was crucified with Jesus at the cross.
  • Therefore, with nothing to fear, my relationship with the Father has been restored.
  • If the worse thing to fear is death, and since I’ve already died, there is nothing more to fear.   Do I lack anything?  Remember Paul’s logic.  If God the Father has given me the ultimate (Jesus), won’t He just as readily and easily provide for my lesser needs?
  • What about people’s approval?  If God is for me, what do I care what others think?  I don’t need anyone’s praise.   I’ve been declared cherished and worth dying for, so much so as to be united to Christ. (Who would want to share His nature with worms?)
  •  Not needing to please man, my time and energy is now freed from the tyranny of always having to convince others how great and unique I am.
  • If I have peace with God forever, I can graciously endure temporary hardship, drawing on the strength of the One with whom I’m united.

During this final week leading to Christmas 2011, let us savor our Savior. Let us treasure the innumerable benefits that are ours in Christ.  And let us not hesitate to explain the riches available to all those who turn to Him. The next time someone asks, “Are you ready for Christmas?” why not flip the question around to? :

Yes, thanks for asking.  What about you?  What thrills you about the birth of Christ?”

Maybe the different response might give them pause long enough to hear some good news.

Forgiveness and freedom from guilt

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The other day I saw a distinction that was new to me.  The word ‘to forgive’ and the French word ‘pardonner’ both have the root or meaning to GIVE (French – donner, like donate).  God gives us a way back to a restored, right relationship with Him after we have violated one of His laws.  It’s 100 % from Him. We do nothing on our own.  Contrariwise, the sacrificial system of the Hebrews was built on the action of the sinner.  You broke God’s law, YOU gave up a valuable, unblemished part of your wealth & sustenance (livestock) and your relationship with God was restored.

Therefore, when God says in the letter to the Hebrews in Chapter 10, “….’their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more’.  And when these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin. Therefore brothers, since we have confidence to enter the most holy place by the blood of Jesus (17-19)….having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience (22b)…”

What does this have to do with how you and I live and what we do with our sin?  If you and I are in Christ, that is, if we are part of those called and offered “….the promised eternal inheritance – now that he(Christ) has died as a ransom to set (us)  free from the sins committed under the first covenant” (Hebr 9:15), then there is nothing left for us to DO.

If we were still under the rules of the Mosaic Covenant, we would have to give up goods and perform sacrifices to cover our sins.  But now, as members of the new covenant, we exercise the privilege of heirs. We still sin, but we claim the covering effect of the paid ransom.  More meaningful to me is the freedom from guilt.

If we accept as FACT what God’s word says, then per verse 22b in Hebrews 10, we have been cleansed from a guilty conscience.  When did that happen?  When the Son was killed as a ransom to set us free from the penalty of all our sins (past, present and future) guilt was also removed.

So how does this work out?  My struggle with guilt comes more often from not living up to my standards for myself.  Over the years, I have come more and more to bring those standards in line with God’s law.  When I overeat, when I break a confidence, when I say something negative about another family member or brother and sister in Christ, when I choose to be selfish instead of following the prompting of the Holy Spirit, I feel guilty.  And I can wallow in guilt which turns me in on myself, away from God, away from others.  But face to face with the truth that my guilt has been removed, it is getting easier to talk to myself and say,

“Maria, you don’t have to stew in guilty feelings.  They are not necessary.  Guilt has been removed. So stop it!  Remember, there is NOW NO condemnation from God because I am an heir of the eternal inheritance along with my older brother Jesus. In fact He suffered so I don’t have to feel guilty.  Are you saying, by wallowing in your self-indulgent guilt, that it wasn’t ENOUGH for your older brother Jesus, son of the Living God, to willingly be punished for you, for THIS sin?”

I do listen to myself.  And the other day, it only took about 2 hours of stewing and self-talk for me to release myself from the prison of artificial guilt.

How about you?  Are you ignoring such a great benefit?  “Oh bless the Lord, O my soul and forget not all His benefits, He forgives all your sins!” (Psalm 103: 1a, 2-3a)

 

“Your faith has saved you; go in peace”– or whose faith is it?

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First some context : Here is the tail-end of Jesus’ remarks in Luke 7:50 to the Pharisee who invited him to dinner      Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven — for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”  The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

I’ve been learning about what faith is and what it is not.  In the above story one could commend the woman for having faith.  After all, Jesus refers to it as HER faith.  Something she possesses.  But did she originate the faith?  Should she be praised for something that she stoked, nurtured and exercised in seeking out Jesus?

What would we think of a person who enters a marathon in a wheel chair and completes it entirely thanks to someone who pushed him?   Would we say, “Congratulations!  Your fast finish has qualified you to place!”

No, we would clearly see that his finishing the race was entirely due to this other person.

So it is with the faith of the ‘sinful’ woman.  This pistis (Greek) or faith was given to her by God.  That is what regeneration is, what being born again is all about.  It’s when God opens our eyes and ears and deposits faith in our soul.  Then we can see the need and feel the compelling desire to repent; then we can feel safe in approaching Jesus.

What is remarkable is that since WE ourselves don’t generate this faith, we don’t have to fear losing it.  It is a gift placed in us by God. Furthermore, He deposits the Holy Spirit in us, to assist our use of that gift.  If you have faith no bigger than a tiny seed, it is enough.  Imagine nuclear power and the miniscule fission process that spontaneously occurs.  But the outcome is huge.  So it is when God makes us alive, gives us faith and provides the Holy Spirit as a helper.

I’ve been meditating on Jesus’ prayer to His Father in John 17.  He commends the disciples as those whom the Father gave to him and men who obeyed God’s word.  We quickly think of Peter and his denial of Jesus and the brothers James & John who were concerned about their right-hand positions in the Kingdom and the fearful group in the boat faced with the threatening waves.  Do these actions qualify as obeying God’s word?   Of course not.   So what could Jesus mean?

I think Jesus is referring to the fact that the disciples retained their faith.  They continued to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, God’s son.  Their actions didn’t always comport with the behavior one would imagine of a proper disciple.  But in God’s book, they were men of faith and that is the grid through which He judges us.

But….it’s a rigged system!  We can’t possibly fail!  God gives us faith.  He gives us supernatural help, guaranteeing our success exercise of it.  Finally, He commends us for keeping this faith.  It’s a win-win situation!

There’s a verse in Jeremiah 31: 6b where God promises His people that, “…. your work will be rewarded……”    We have the best deal possible.  What God requires of us, we can’t possibly fail to do, because His constant resources, although invisible, are a guarantee that we will please Him.  On top of His approval, He will also reward us.

The supreme work we are to do for God is to believe Him, to exercise the faith with which He gifts us.  All else is subsumed underneath that raw trust.  We have to get the order correct.  Believe, rely on Him and do what He commands, trusting that He will enable us to please Him.  We can’t measure the outcome and determine if we have pleased Him, if we have exercised faith ENOUGH (whatever THAT means!).  But we can trust that what warms His heart and makes Him rejoice and beam as a proud Father is our toddler-like stabs at faith. Picture Him applauding us for walking in faith while our hands are being held by the Holy Spirit.  Selah!

Why can’t God just overlook or forgive our sins?

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But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. Romans 3:21-25

Why couldn’t God just keep on passing over our sins, i.e.  FORGIVE our sins, without Jesus having to die? I was thinking about the nature of sin the other day during a Chapel talk at my school.  I suddenly realized that we have to accept that a property or feature of sin committed in God’s world is that it automatically incurs God’s wrath.  We can’t get away from that aspect.  It’s incontrovertible – not open to being challenged.  God set up the world and is the final authority on what everything means and what the rules of the ‘game’ are.  And since He says that sin has to be paid for – ultimately, then He can’t just forgive it.  The whole package of sin includes this wrath-incurring aspect.

When a friend fails to do what she says and lets you down, you experience at the very least the pain of disappointment.  Even if you forgive her, you still suffer.  Suffering can’t be separated from sin.  God’s active, avenging anger is the same way.  It is part of the nature of sin.

So when Paul tells us that God is righteous, it means that He acts consistently with the nature and consequences of sin.  He doesn’t go against the system He established – there is actual wrath to be dealt with.  We normally would absorb that wrath as a consequence of being the instigators of the sin.  But the amazing, outside of the box, reality is that Jesus in covenantal agreement with the other two members of the Trinity, absorbs that wrath in our place.  That is what ‘propitiation’ means.  God the Father accepts the work of his Son in absorbing the entire wrath due us for our sin.

It’s not that we are declared not guilty. We ARE guilty.  It’s that our debt or penalty to God has been paid for and we get to walk out of jail free.  It is incorrect to say that it is though we never sinned.  We DID sin.  Appropriate punishment was meted out and paid for/absorbed by Jesus.  And now we are welcomed back into society.

But our reentry into the community is far better than going back to ‘normal’.  Think about a man charged with being a sex offender who spends time in jail and then when his sentence has been completed, he is released.  The problem for him is that no one wants him living in the community near them.  He lives with shame the rest of his life.

Our crimes against God are FAR WORSE than the sex offender.  We rebelled against the very One who created us in the first place.   But God does not leave us to stew in our shame.  He invites us to a NEW normal.  We are actually given a place of honor, the opposite of shame.  God, the Father, invites us to share in the privileges of children of the King with full inheritance rights.

May we meditate on this unexpected grace.  May we revel in thoughts of the inheritance waiting for us.  May we frequently daydream about the full fellowship we will enjoy when we are face to face with the One we sinned against and the One who absorbed the punishment due us.

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