Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Greatest Divide—Ezekiel 36:25-27 Part 3

So here we are, God's kids by faith, rescued by this great ship alone, nothing we had to do with it other than being lost and needing rescue! And nothing we can do to stay rescued, either. Once rescued, we are rescued! Once your kid, always your kid.

Doesn't performance matter at all, then? Do we have a responsibility?

Let's first fully understand who we are. This is the most important thing of all and affects every other aspect of our lives. If you believe that you must continue to earn God's favor, it becomes a burden that one day you will not be able to carry, and your failures will finally lead you to conclude that you must not even be saved. If, on the other hand, you accept that He loves you just because He loves you, and that your failures don't count against you now, it frees you to rest.

Here's one of the purest forms of the gospels, from the OLD Testament! Ezekiel 36:25-27: I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (ESV)

Notice here who is doing all the work. Is it you? Or God? And also note that we get a NEW heart to replace our old and defiled one. Finally, how is it that we begin to obey His commands? It is because HE MOVES IN! It's HIM living in us that now causes us to obey His rules. It's not about us. It's never about us. It's Him working in us to accomplish His own  purposes. And I know, your first question is, "How do I do that?" Which is the point. You don't do. There is no do. We merely let Him live. We stop fighting it and letting Him drive where He wants to, cooperating with Him.

We have been changed, and are continually being changed. And what He's begun in you will grow up, no matter what. You can slow it down or speed it up, but it's going to happen. Now, we have a responsibility. Let's talk about our kids again. Do we really want them worried that one day they won't be our kids? That we won't love them? Of course not. So once they fully understand that we love them, what should they do? How should they act? Does that give them the right to abuse our relationship knowing that no matter what, we love them and they can come home? Or does it free them to become all that they can be and live with joy and peace knowing that we're there directing their path? They can only really be fully themselves, when they know that we love them all the way and in every way.

Of course some will choose to abuse the relationship. But those living by works can do the same by practicing evil and wearing the mask of righteousness. So it's a false argument to suggest that freedom gives permission for sin.

God does have a job for you, something prepared from way before. And He calls us into the fight with Him against all the spiritual dark forces arrayed against us and the rest of our world. Think of it as Father & Sons (and Daughters!), you're already in the family business, for good. Stop trying to earn your way in.

This may sum it up better than I can:

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Greatest Divide—Galatians 3:2-11 Part 2

We need to break from the thinking that Paul condemns in Chapter 1. And it takes him a while to get there, but finally, in chapter 3 of Galatians, Paul asks some questions to help clarify our thinking.

v. 2-5: Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? (ESV)

The trouble is that performance matters in every other aspect of life. We learn from birth that if we coo and smile, we'll get tickles and laughter. A bit later, if we do well, we'll get toys and ice cream from mom and dad. If we don't, we'll get grounded, spanked, or put in time out. We learn in school that unless we're Einstein, we'll have to study, do our work and turn it in to get good grades. In sports or the arts, excellence doesn't come by accident, but by paying the price with endless practice. When we get to work, we quickly discover that if we're going to get raises and promotions, we need to work hard and smart. So our effort, our performance, is a big deal in every aspect of our lives!!

Except with God.

v. 7-11: Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons. . .So then, those who are of faith are blessed. . .For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse. . .Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”

And in Hebrews it says that without faith, it is impossible to please God. God has removed performance from the equation. (Works means self-effort, trying to please God and earn His favor and love by doing our best and being obedient.)

Consider this: Do you only love your kids when they're doing well? (Really...!) Your love for your kids is not dependent on them. It's because they are your kids that you love them. And you will love them no matter what. (Which will often cause us great pain...) But if we, who often suck as parents, if we can be honest about it, and can yet love like that, how much more can God? Once we're His, nothing we do will make Him love us more, or make Him love us less. Crazy, isn't it? But that's exactly Paul's point: Jesus has already done what needed to be done. That part is over, finished. Forever. We're His kids now and no matter what, He loves us. We became His kids by faith, by His grace, and by nothing we did. Now that we are His kids, do we remain His kids by working our tails off? Of course not, but that's the message we seem to hear from church. You got saved by faith, yes, but you better work your butt off now or you're doomed.No soup for you!

But any sort of self-effort is so reprehensible to God that Paul condemns such thinking and those who teach it. That you think that you can solve your problems, or work hard enough to earn His favor, is such an affront for what He's already done and dismisses the work of Christ. If we could perform well enough, then we wouldn't need a savior at all, right? But we fail, and we do need a savior. Imagine that you're lost at sea, floating around in a raft, when a ship pulls along side to rescue you. And you start trying to paddle to get to the ship and tearing your clothes in order to make a ladder... It's ridiculous! The ship will do the rescuing, thank you very much. So it is with God. Our paltry efforts are merely ridiculous and betray our failure to understand how lost we really are without Him.

So Paul here makes the clear point that it is the same faith that first saved us that continues to save us. That we don't first come to God by faith, and then better start working our tails off in order to please Him and now earn that salvation that He already gave us. We just can't do it.

So what does this all mean, then, if we've already received what we're so desperately trying to achieve? We'll need one more part....which is the best news of all. Next time.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Greatest Divide—Galatians 1:6-9 Part 1

No, it's not Republican or Democrat, though that is a great divide. It's not white or black, though that sadly remains a great divide. It's not even Packers or Bears since we can both agree to despise Vikings.

It's in the church. And it's not Protestant or Catholic, Reformed or Weslyan, Charismatic or not.

It's about grace or self-effort. There's a book in the New Testament written by the Apostle Paul where he gets so angry that he actually says, in our language today, "They can go to Hell!" Galatians 1:6-9. Why would Paul, who traveled the whole middle East sharing the gospel wherever he could, enduring shipwreck, arrest, and ultimately death, be willing to condemn someone to Hell? For preaching a 'different gospel' which is no gospel, or good news, at all.

There were those who were teaching that the good news of Jesus had to be united with obedience. And as you read that, most are probably agreeing and saying, "Well, of course." It make sense that if we believe in Jesus we better clean up our act and do the dance of what Christians should look like. And there's the problem: it's an act, a dance, a look-alike. We put on the mask of religiosity to hide our failures and inadequacy. We cannot live up to the standards, so we pretend to, even though inside, we're anxious, afraid, depressed, and eventually, hopeless. We know that we cannot do the dance well enough, that we fall far short. We hide behind masks, trying to convince others and ourselves that we're doing okay. Our pains and failures leak out, though, and we begin to doubt our salvation as the enemy whispers to us that we alone are the ones who cannot get it right. If we were Christians, we'd get it together and we wouldn't be such a mess.

And so often what we hear from our churches doesn't help. Our modern message, summed up? God is good, You're not, Try harder. Isn't that the message we've learned, intended or not? We know God is good, so He cannot be the problem. We know we're not good, so we are the problem. And when it's not working, we're not trying hard enough. We need to work harder, buck up and suck up, commit more, give more, do more, pray harder, get to church more. And stop doing all the wrong things. End 'those' thoughts, stop drinking and smoking, stop wasting money, stop yelling at the kids and the drivers around us.

And Paul says, No, you've missed it. That's not any Good News, that's not a Gospel at all.

And he sends the teachers of that message to Hell.

Where does that leave us? What is the good news, then? If you're tired of trying and failing, there is Good News, a real Gospel. And it's so revolutionary that we still can't believe it. Next time, in Part 2...