Sticking to my word is costly

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But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes ‘ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil. Matthew 5:37 (NASB)

I bet you’d agree with me, that it’s easy to fall into trouble through what comes out of our own mouths.

Just a couple days ago I had one of those pop quizzes from God. It wasn’t new material; in fact it was a review of a character trait that he is working to form in me – that of being true to my word. Apparently, I still need the reinforcement!

I have a cousin in another state. Let’s call her ‘Sue’. Sue and her husband ‘Pete’ and I usually check in with each other by phone once every couple of months. She works during the day, so our catch-up calls are in the evening. The least convenient time for me.

When Mike gets home from work, I focus on him during our ‘sacred’ happy hour/dinner prep/sharing prayers and dining part of the evening. Then when the dishes are done, I enjoy sipping my tea, nibbling on my 100 % cacao dark chocolate and reading – ‘Maria Time’.

I knew that Pete’s oldest grandson was to start college this fall, so while I was cooking blackened salmon on Monday night, I texted Pete and asked for an update. He immediately called back, but I didn’t answer because it was time to flip the blackened salmon in my cast iron pan. Once safely searing on the other side I texted back: ‘Can’t talk now, I’m cooking salmon!’

He texted back: Call us when you finish dinner and I’ll tell you about the grandkids.

I inwardly grimaced and said, ‘How about tomorrow night!’ And so, it was settled.

The next day, my selfishness started kicking in. The urge to postpone grew stronger and stronger. Finally, I decided to ‘just be honest’ and propose a different time, maybe during the day (when it isn’t so costly to me to spend time with someone on the phone). But if it were during the day, I knew it would have to be a chat just with Pete who is retired, because Sue works full time still.

After dinner I texted Pete with that proposal. We ate dinner. I was relieved that I had been forthcoming with Pete, sharing that the reason I wanted to reschedule the chat to a day time was because I focused on my husband during the evenings, (leaving out the ‘Maria Time’ part of the truth).

But God began to chide me! I was not at peace.

Ignoring the lack of peace while we cleaned up the kitchen, I made some tea, sat down to check my texts and emails before settling in to read. I saw a response from Pete.

He simply had texted back: “Call Sue’s cell, mine is dying.”

There it was…foiled by God! Cornered into keeping my original word to Pete.

So, I called Sue’s cell. The three of us chatted, catching up. Toward the end of our call Sue asked me to pray about an important meeting happening the next day. I realize that had I allowed my selfishness to rule, I would have missed knowing about Sue and her need. I even took the opportunity DURING our chat to pray out loud for her.

When she wrote me after her meeting, she thanked me and reported that knowing that I was praying for her had kept her calm and at peace. Pinged!!!

Had it NOT been for the persistent nagging of the Holy Spirit I would not have kept my word. Thank you, Father!! I think I understand why keeping one’s word is important.

But I don’t think the Father believed I had REALLY learned my lesson. Two days later, He gave me another opportunity to practice faithfulness to what I had assured a friend I would do. She had asked me to listen to one of her pastor’s sermons. I replied that I would the next time I was on the treadmill.

I did set my iPhone to the podcast and started to listen to the 40-minute sermon once I hopped on the treadmill. But halfway through Satan ganged up against me WITH my natural selfish bent and whispered: ‘You can stop now, halfway through and shift to what you rather listen to. As long as you are honest and tell your friend that you listened to a good chunk of the sermon…..’

My response THIS time was immediate. I spoke back: ‘But I TOLD her, my words were explicit, that I would listen to the sermon during my treadmill time!’

This time it felt good to stick to my word, the FULL intent of my word. And you know what? I finished the sermon and STILL had time to listen to the podcast I wanted to hear.

God is SO good and gentle. And I am SO selfish, but…..I take comfort in his promise in Phil 1:6: And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in ME will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (ESV)

Confidence in God’s word for your salvation

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Magnet  Do you ever fear that you might not be a true believer?  Do you question your salvation because you feel so discouraged by a ‘losing fight’ with sin?

The other day, we talked about this, a young believer and I.  She shared that she often wonders if she indeed is one of God’s own.  As you and I struggle with recurring sins that weigh us down, so does she.

Actually, I find the very FACT that I’m bothered by my sin as EVIDENCE that I am saved. And when my Biblical glasses are on and the Holy Spirit confronts me, the ensuing chagrin prompts me to go to my Father, yet again, for Christ-earned forgiveness and cleansing from sin.

Pouring over 1 Peter 2, my friend and I parked on a couple of truths to understand better what frightened her in the first line, highlighted in red below:

Verse 8b: They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

She fears that she might be one of those unhappy people destined for disobedience.

To give her some concrete help, we reviewed some diagnostic questions that would demonstrate that indeed she is one of God’s chosen:

  • Did she recognize that her sinful condition and sins automatically make her an enemy of God?
  • Was she trusting Jesus as the only saving means to reconcile her to God the Father?
  • Was she overjoyed that she had been redeemed, forgiven and adopted by God to be His forever and favored daughter?

With YES to all 3 conditions, we looked further in 1 Peter 2 at our status per God:

Verse 9:  But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

How amazing it is that our heavenly Father chose us just to HAVE us as His people!

On my walk this morning, I stoked and warmed my heart with this fact,  that God FIRST and FOREMOST wants me to belong to Him. Full stop!

Thinking of unbelievers or fragile new Christians, I searched for an image that simplifies the entire wrath of God and atonement combo, I pictured Jesus on the Cross as:

THE GREAT SIN-WRATH MAGNET

His willing atonement or dying in our place draws and absorbs forever two substances foreign TO Himself as the God-Man:

  • our sin
  • God’s wrath 

With our sin removed and God’s justifiable wrath toward us averted or appeased, we are FREED to see Jesus as beautiful and receive His righteousness accredited to our account! I’m not a science person, but the way I imagined this exchange like the polarity in a magnetic field.  Unburdened by sin, and without God’s impending judgment, our polar attraction changes so that we are drawn NOW to Christ’s beauty and inestimable worth. Without effort or merit we fly to Him out of desire, like paper clips to a magnet.  Christ’s work on our behalf is a ‘no-brainer’, not something we decide or choose.

This conversation with my sister-in-Christ and subsequent thinking makes me realize how important the Lord’s Supper is for believers.  We need to be regularly reminded of the FACT, that because of Christ’s willing and intentional living and dying in our place, we DO belong to God, our Father.  The cross of Christ is objective proof or evidence.

 

Perfection and futility

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clay pot  “There I go again!”  as hammering self-condemnation reprised.  I had just done what I didn’t want to do, overeat.  Nothing really sinful in that per se, except that overeating is a gateway to my sin of self-centered, interior moping. More familiar than any other melody is my original adaptation of the human ‘Ode to my Pitiful Self’.

But thanks be to God and Bible-centered preaching and writing! Pastor and teacher John Piper rescues imperfect sheep prone to turn inward by proclaiming a recurring life-giving message of: “Don’t waste your disappointments, trials, suffering, failures,……”

God must have thought it was time to break my bent towards control and perfection with this sovereignly ordained ‘trip-up’.  So what galls me the most?  What sends me into despair each time I let myself down and overeat? Certainly not His condemnation, but MY disappointment with myself.

Here’s the rub:  Why am I even surprised that I can’t do what I want to do?

Like Paul, I wail: I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. Romans 7:15

“Stupid!,” this home-grown expectation or gateway toward self-chastisement. A recent podcast drove that home.  The speaker had been in therapy for a broken marriage and started to heal when she made the connection between her:

  1. Assumption that I CAN be perfect (do what I want to do)
  2. Anxiety over the burden of trying to be perfect
  3. Bondage to control in order to gain perfection

I suddenly saw the futility when I realized that we were never meant to strive for perfection.  In fact, God has intentionally designed us the opposite!  The human model comes with abundant limitations.  We see them as flaws; He ordains them as gateways for God’s glory and grace to show.

...we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. 2 Cor 4:7b

Breakable clay is the term for earthenware. In Paul’s time, vessels, plates, jars, cups were made of a clay mixture containing oyster shell pieces. God has purposefully made us out of crumbly stuff.  The Almighty Father and Creator made us delicate and fragile so that we would depend and rest on Him to do all that He calls us to do.  He didn’t aim to populate His kingdom with self-sufficient, sturdily consistent perfect little beings.

That is good news, brothers and sisters.  Let it go, all those expectations of how you want to act.  Yes, we are called to be imitators of Jesus, to be holy because God is holy.  But He knows we are going to blow it, multiple times a day.  Why are we the last to accept that?

Holy Spirit, remind me straight away when I miss the self-assigned mark I naïvely think will make me feel good about myself.  Grow me a new song,

a melody of music“Here I go again, a perfectly designed child of my Father who just sent me a love note that says, ‘Maria, come to me with your mess; don’t be surprised, you just need to give it a rest and flop down and swim in my grace and love!‘”

 

 

Bringing up past mistakes

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Satan Accuses

Isaiah 43:24b-25  God tells the Israelites….

You have wearied Me with your iniquities. “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins.”

When I read this verse the other morning, I immediately thought about voices that DO remember and RE-CALL my sins.  If it not be God, then who might be the source of those accusations?  

Satan for one.  He is called the ‘accuser’ of Christians in Rev 12:10:

Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.

But there’s someone else who hurls those attacks: ME!!!  All the times I beat myself up for something I did.  Either I indulge in that hurtful practice instead of repenting and accepting God’s forgiveness, or I replay the sin/mistake/offense DESPITE having repented and been forgiven.

What stopped me cold, however, this morning was the sinking thought:

Am I being like Satan when I, myself, bring up a past, covered-over and forgiven sin or hurt done to ME by a neighbor, friend or family member? It matters not whether I fling it at the person or just  fume in resentment.  It’s still satanic.

Maybe I should copy my older Brother Jesus instead.  You know Him – God who was slaughtered unjustly on the cross AND still forgave his murderers and loved them?

Hear the good news about God as promised in 1 John 1:9:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Fatal False Guilt

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You might be a fellow member of the False Guilt Club.  I actually don’t remember being invited to join.  I think I just woke up one day and realized I was already a practicing adherent.

I spend SO much of my mental energy feeling guilty for not living up to the expectations and thoughts I imagine others have about me.

How do you know if you’re a member?

You’re a member if  SHOULD is an active part of your self-talk.

“I know I should……. (but I don’t want to)”

  • call my family members & friends more often
  • go back to church for the evening service
  • join a small group
  • attend more student extra-curricular functions at school
  • share more  time and life with neighbors
  • engage with my students in the hallway more
  • be a better wife to my husband in ways I think he must want
  • plan more creatively for holidays, birthdays…..

I spend so much energy and a good portion of my thought life dialoguing back and forth with ME about how I’m not the kind of person that I think others would like me to be,  and about how I don’t measure up to their expectations.

I’ve been asking God to help me get a handle on this, because it drives me nuts and depresses me.  I used to engage in this a lot as a parent.  That’s why I never wanted to read parenting books – they were fodder for more guilt.  Now that guilt-ridden self- talk has been renewed since I have become a grandparent.  I don’t measure up to my peers who are already grandparents.  I don’t sew clothes, Skype frequently, spend a lot of time helping the parents (our kids) out.

As I have prayed through this and thought about what the Bible has to say about guilt, I am exploring the difference between conviction of sin (result of Godly guilt) and misplaced fear of man.  This wrong ‘fear’ of man instead of  the healthy ‘fear/respect/awe of God’ is a plot straight from the pit of Hell.  Satan loves to get us so knotted up, focused MORE on us and less on God.

God speaks through Paul when He assures us that as adopted members of His family,

  • ‘there is now no condemnation for those who are united to Christ by faith’ (Romans 8:1).  With that GREAT news as a foundational truth, we are ready to hear more from God.  Through Peter, God instructs us
  • to…… put away …. all deceit and hypocrisy and envy.” (1 Pet 2:1)  The Message refers to deceit & hypocrisy as pretense.

It IS pretense when I DO something in order NOT to feel guilty for NOT doing it.  When I pretend that I want to do what I THINK you want me to do that’s just plain false.  My sole motivation is to avoid guilt and to project a certain image so you’ll approve of me and  think well of me.

Isn’t it better to be honest in a tactful and loving way and ask God to give us the desire to do what HE wants us to do?  Maybe there’s a Holy Spirit reason we gravitate towards some activities and not others.

Last year I was asked to substitute in the nursery at church for a friend.  I’m glad I didn’t have much time to angst about it. I said straight away, “Sorry, I don’t like serving in the nursery. I’ll gladly sub for you in MS or HS Sunday School, or in the kitchen or even cleaning bathrooms at church!” I know she was shocked by my confession of not really being into babies. ( I loved MINE and I’m prejudiced toward our grandkids, even if I don’t think I’m as good a grandparent as everyone else.  And there’s a reason why I teach kids aged 11 on up!)

How do you handle the imagined ‘shoulds’ in your life?  Have you come across any Biblical references to this kind of emotional turmoil?

Wrong kind of guilt

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Romans 12:6-8   We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Familiar scenario – compare yourself to someone else and……voilà!

I was feeling guilty again, like I SHOULD be doing what this other sister-in-Christ ENERGETICALLY and capably does with her über-confidence.  She had laid out a convincing argument that you could not consider yourself a Christian UNLESS you showed your love for God by seeking out ‘neighbors’ whom you could bless with a type of pay-it-forward gift.  I was feeling convicted and selfish and burdened all at the same time.  I saved her blog post and her ‘modus operandi/ MO’ for this kind of gifting so that I could reflect prayerfully about what she had written before adding it to my TO DO list.

I’m glad I did.

What bubbled up to the surface of my conscious mind over the next 2 days was this:

  • Doing kind things intentionally for the poor does not excite me
  • Big hospitality as outreach isn’t something I find joy in doing
  • I enjoy & seek openings to bring up Jesus and eternal matters with everyone I meet
  • I read and study to understand doctrine and reasons why Christianity is true and credible
  • I find pleasure in articulating and honing  what  I learn with like-minded Christians
  • I like praying for others
  • God calls us with very general commands to love Him and our neighbor
  • God calls us with very specific commands to care for the widow/orphan in the body, to pray and encourage each other in the body, to share the gospel and disciple nations, to give financially for the support of the Church and to have an answer ready to explain the reason for our faith when asked (to name just a few)
  • Christians are blessed with at least one specific gift to support the body of Christ

So I concluded:

  • I do NOT need to add more to my To-Do list by seeking out strangers to bless
  • However, when I encounter anyone in my path whom I can help, I should
  • I have God’s blessing to exercise my gifts in HIS power and grace with joy and thanksgiving

Finally, here is the subtler lesson I gleaned – it is wrong for me to look down on a sister or brother who doesn’t share the same passion/gifting that I do.  Likewise, I need to remember that what ‘comes naturally to me is actually from God, to be used faithfully and gratefully for His glory and the advancement of His kingdom. There is no reason to boast or to criticize.

Thank you, Father, for loving me with patience!

Guilt and the American Way of Life

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The American way of life makes me feel guilty!

I get suckered into thinking I should be more goal-oriented.  (Thank you Charles Sanders Peirce!) )

This pragmatic, can-do philosophy has even pervaded American Christianity.

I was reading an article last night whose premise was that we often plan a 2- week vacation with more intentionality than we do our Christian life. The author suggested that if we wanted to DO BETTER than waste our life, we should implement some systematic backward planning.  Something like, “Picture your funeral – what do you want to be remembered for having done as a Christian?”  And the advice was:  with THAT goal in mind, just plan the necessary steps to reach it.

I was left with the feeling that I am just a selfish drifter, wasting my life!  And shame on me for having chosen to move somewhere SIMPLY because it’s a pretty part of the country (Smokey Mountains of western North Carolina).

Thankfully, in church this morning recollections of some writings of one of my mentors (Martin Luther) reached the conscious level of my thoughts and I regained some clarity.   How Luther blesses us is in his re-iteration of Paul’s view of work and life.  We are to do ALL for the glory of God, whether it is serving up meals, changing diapers, repairing a car or preparing coffee at Starbucks.  NO work is ‘merely’ a job to endure, with no connection to Christ.  Work was commanded by God BEFORE the Fall.  We are made in the image of God and God WORKED and continues to work/uphold all creation/ direct all creation.

Hence we are to labor WITHOUT guilt but with gusto & gratitude. There doesn’t have to be any grand goal, other than the moment-by-moment abiding in Him AS we live out our 3 score and ten.

Jesus boiled down the entire  Law to Loving God and Loving our Neighbor.  If living with gratitude and in God’s power is how we love Him, then what does it look like to love one’s neighbor?   Here is my sense drawn from Scripture:    

Loving others is wanting God’s best for them.  What could be better for any human being than to know that the God who created them designed them for His glory and to be in an intimate relation with Him?   Loving the people we come in contact with through our work/daily errands means being willing to share the good news of what Jesus has done.

I was running a potential conversation through my mind this morning:

Me slowly, deliberately and with enthusiasm:  – Have you heard what Jesus Christ has done?

My ‘neighbor’: – yes, no, tell me, who cares……

Me: Because we have rebelled, each one of us, against God – our Creator, we deserve death for that treason. But Jesus stood in the place of condemned humanity to take our punishment!

My ‘neighbor’:  – So? Your point is? What does that have to do with me? Really?

Me: good question and yes it IS important to YOU!  There are only 2 kinds of people in this world: a) those who are poor, needy and grateful to be rescued from the punishment for their guilt AND….b) those who are poor, needy but intend to face God on their own, standing on their own merits.

My ‘neighbor’:  – Hmm, I don’t believe that; That’s so judgmental; that’s not fair; everyone goes to heaven; there’s nothing after we die; that’s just YOUR opinion! Whatever….

Me: That’s not all!  Besides being rescued from having to pay for our guilt on our own….. God the Father, solely because of what Jesus has done for us, offers us ADOPTION into the royal – forever family!  Now that is GOOD news.  Had you heard that before?

*

Anyway, that is what I am praying I will courageously offer with those people God brings across my path HERE in WNC (western North Carolina). 

I’ll leave you with a question.  Isn’t it ‘kinda’ PRE-SUMP-TU-OUS to think that WE are in charge of our lives and therefore, should set life goals?

The Logic of Massive Wrath or Massive Rescue

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There is a fallacy in logic called Bifurcation, – the Either/ Or Argument.  It goes like this:  “Mom says that I must choose an in-state school if I want her to pay for college.  I guess that means I have to go to either Thomas Nelson Community College or the University of Virginia.  I don’t want to go to a rinky-dink school and I probably won’t get into UVa.  I’m doomed!

This high school senior has purposefully and unnecessarily limited her choice to between 2 options unacceptable to her.   People indulge in this form of fallacious reasoning usually to make someone look bad.   In this case, she wants to paint her mom as being unfair.

But in the case of eternal life, there TRULY are only two options.  And they are as different from one another as night and day, war and peace, life and death.

Today in church, our pastor preached from Hebrews 10: 19-39.  We’ve been making our way through the book of Hebrews.  I have always viewed this New Testament book as the most difficult in the entire Bible.  But it is slowly but surely becoming my favorite.  Although the author is unknown, I think Paul deserves the honor – or at least someone who shares his excellent writing and thinking skills.  As in Ephesians 1 or Romans 8, each phrase leads to the next in tight logical fashion that makes it a pleasure to follow.

Here is what I took away from today’s sermon that filled me with awe:

  • Every sin we commit (by not loving God with our whole heart, mind, strength and soul) requires the death of someone.  In the OT, God provided His people, the Jews, a system whereby animals died in the place of sinful people.  Pete, our pastor, made the point that before Christ’s death on the cross people were NOT saved because they obeyed the law.  They were saved because they believed God when He said that He would expiate or cover their sin with the blood of an acceptable animal, a live spotless creature slaughtered in their place!!!  To the degree they believed God, they were saved.
  •  When Christ died on the cross, there was no longer any need for animal sacrifices to reconcile people to God.  Christ IS the once and for all sacrifice sufficient for all those who trust Him.
  • Jews today have a SERIOUS problem – what to do with their guilt!  The celebration/ceremony of Yom Kippur does nothing to take away their sin.  No blood is shed.  And even if temple sacrifice were still practiced & animals were slaughtered to ransom each person, the shed blood wouldn’t count since Jesus has come and made obsolete the previous method.  God declares through Paul in Romans 10:4 that Christ is the end (completion/fulfillment) of the (sacrificial) law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.  (my emphases in parentheses)
  • My overwhelming thought as we moved from Pete’s sermon into Communion was this:  There are only 2 realities in life that matter.  And they loom more massively and breathtakingly than I ever realized:

On one side hovers                                                           On the other side shines forth

Everlasting Destruction              vs                          The most creative BLOW- 

& Judgment                                                                          -your- MIND Rescue Operation

For everyone on earth                                                  Sufficient for Repentant Rebels

 

There is no other option, no 3rd way.  This description of reality does NOT commit the fallacy of bifurcation or false dilemma.

When we diminish our sin and guilt as in this hypothetical but fairly typical rationalization,

(sure I have ugly thoughts about people from time to time, and sure I have blown my cool and taken out my frustration on the kids or other drivers and sure I have taken office pens and hidden taxable income, and maybe I even had an affair behind my spouse’s back, or still indulge in occasional unhealthy coping mechanisms…….BUT I’m no worse than the average person)

we minimize what God means when He calls us to be holy and perfect as He is. Moreover, it follows, then, that we diminish the merits of Christ’s sacrifice and perfectly-lived life available to be applied to OUR account.

In conclusion – we have a big problem.  And we can’t help ourselves.  As much as we resist being helpless and NOT in control, we live in God’s world.  Jesus is the only savior, the only rescuer.  That’s not fair, you say?  Fair is that we all get what we deserve.  And no one deserves heaven.  But mercifully God has made a way. Something is true whether we like it or not, whether we believe it or not.  Wake up and THINK!!!  Make a rational, logical decision based on the evidence.

Final thoughts worth praying on –

Acts 4:12 – Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.

I am so grateful to God for providing us Jesus…..

Rev 1:5… who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood,

 

What is the core teaching of Jesus?

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A good friend of mine recently handed me an invitation to think through and identify the core belief or doctrine of Christianity.  In pointing me to a recent article in the Huffington Post (see link at the end) I read an apologist for the Episcopal Church attempt to downplay declining membership rolls by pointing to parallel exits from both the Southern Baptist and Catholic churches.

Before I share what the Huffington Post author thinks is the number one teaching of Jesus, I want to explore why I think she is correct in mentioning shrinking church membership.

There comes a point when all of us get tired of being implored to do more.  We get that at both work AND home.  All of us probably can name ways in which we could do more ‘good stuff’.  So when the church preaches the same message as a predominate theme from the pulpit, we reach a point where we ask ourselves, “Why am I choosing to subject myself to this To-Do List week after week?  Where is the good news? ”

The Baptist version of some legalistic churches often comes across this way by asking:

  • How long are your quiet times?
  • Have you joined an accountability group?
  • Which missions’ trips are you going on this year?

The Catholic version sounds like this:

  • How can you be pro-life and support capital punishment?
  • You need to march for anti-capitalistic, environmentally sound policies.
  • Since you can’t know for sure if you are good enough to warrant entry into heaven, DO this or GIVE X amount of money as penance.
  • You better not miss mass and confession; how else will you know if you are ‘good’?

And liberal Protestantism preaches:

  • Feed the poor, reach out to your neighbors, whoever they are.
  • Fight for judgment-free acceptance of all values.
  • Celebrate the many ways to God.

Hear me carefully.  I am NOT saying that Bible study, small group participation, feeding the poor, mindful use of earth’s resources and kindly serving others here and abroad are unworthy activities.  There is a place for these practices.But what is missing and what leaves people weak, thirsty and discouraged is the lack of Good News preached.

What is Christianity’s main teaching or core value?

That Jesus Christ saves sinners

This proposition presupposes that someone needs saving?

The Bible, throughout its 66 books, teaches that life’s ultimate problem looming over every human being is GUILT (and I’m not talking about guilty feelings, although they are sometimes present but actually judicial guilt.)  If you or I were to die right now and face our Creator and Sustainer, Almighty God, He would rightly judge, “Guilty – you deserve Hell.”   We are born sinful (Psalm 51:5), thanks to our first parents Adam and Eve.

And no amount of the Baptist version of good works, or the Catholic version of good works or the liberal protestant version of good works will SAVE US.

We are up a very dangerous creek with no way out.  And God has our attention.  Now we are ready to hear the GOOD NEWS:

– that Jesus came to save sinners by dying in our place, thus satisfying the eternal sentence against us, thereby saving us from HELL

– that Jesus lived the perfect life, thus giving us the gift of un-earned righteousness, thereby gaining entry for us into HEAVEN

What were Jesus’ first words when he burst onto the scene in Galilee?

  • Love everyone and feed the poor!

Nope, Mark records God the Son’s striking command:  The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; Repent and believe in the gospel.  (Mark 1:15)

Later on, in verse 38 of the same opening chapter, Jesus confirms his mission. Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, in order that I may preach there also, for this is what I came out for.

Whether conservative or liberal, all of us church-attenders need to hear what God has already done for us, through Jesus.  The more we learn how much God loves us and what motivated Him to die for us,

Jesus…. as author and perfecter of our faith…. for the JOY set before him endured the cross and scorned its shame and … sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2)

the more we can drop our drivenness.  It’s from that place of not being good enough that come many of our ‘good works’.  “I must be a good-enough Christian if I do…….”

I promised that I would let you in on what the defender of the declining Episcopal Church declares is the core value in Christianity:

Introspective liberal churchgoers returned to the core of the Christian vision: Jesus’ command to “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” As a result, a sort of neo-liberal Christianity has quietly taken root across the old Protestant denominations–a form of faith that cares for one’s neighbor, the common good, and fosters equality, but is, at the same time, a transformative personal faith that is warm, experiential, generous, and thoughtful. This new expression of Christianity maintains the historic liberal passion for serving others but embraces Jesus’ injunction that a vibrant love for God is the basis for a meaningful life. These Christians link spirituality with social justice as a path of peace and biblical faith.

Where do I think good works fit in?  Aren’t we supposed to have a consistent quiet time, go on missions’ trips, and confess our sins one to the other?  Aren’t we supposed to practice neighbor love, feed the poor, discern and proclaim Biblical truth?  Of course, but ‘good works’ come  AFTER  the primary call of REPENT and BELIEVE what Jesus teaches.

Those who are saved are saved in order to do certain work.  And these activities are not ones that we choose in a vacuum; they have been predestined/planned out by God from before the creation of the universe. (Ephesians 2:10)

God’s order of events prevents boasting on our part.  How can He be ‘rich in mercy’ and ‘give us grace’ if we earn our way into heaven? And if we think we can earn enough brownie points so God will HAVE to let us in, we can easily wear out with fatigue and just quit. Any church, not just liberal protestant ones will lose members over time if their pastors do not feed their flocks with rich gospel-saturated food.

Today in church, one of the readings was from Ephesians 4.  The primary role of pastors and church teachers, those whose calling is true spiritual formation is described.  This job description of those who are to feed us regularly is worth reading:

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Sufficient and correct content, delivered in love, builds unity and equips the body of believers to do the work God calls them to do.  I am ONLY motivated to do, when I am amazed at what God has first done for me.  Skip that part, the blow-my-mind-He-did-THAT for ME????, and false manipulative guilt will only motivate me so far.

I will leave you with a prayer that really stokes my love for Jesus.  It’s written by pastor and author JD Greear, from his book Gospel: (page 44)

“In Christ, there is nothing I can do that would make You love me more, and nothing I have done that makes you love me less.

Your presence and approval are all I need for everlasting joy.

As you have been to me, so I will be to others.

As I pray, I’ll measure Your compassion by the cross and Your power by the resurrection.”

For the original essay in the Huffington Post, go to:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/diana-butler-bass/can-christianity-be-saved_1_b_1674807.html

 

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)

 

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