Tag Archives: grace

Are you open to Manipulation?

(I will be traveling and internet will be less available for the next couple of weeks. Please enjoy these posts from the archives. It’s Narcissist Friday posts will continue with new posts during this time. Thanks for being here!)

 

 

From time to time I read Seth Godin’s blog.  He has some great insights about marketing and people.  The most recent blog entry is an interesting item on what makes some people more open to being manipulated.  Read the blog for yourself, but here are some of the things I found interesting in his list.  His blog is not intended to be Christian in any way, but these things are more than worth our consideration.   I will insert my comments, particularly in relation to the religious/performance manipulation I have seen.

  •  Believing something because you heard someone say it on a news show on cable TV.   (Or an unreasoning acceptance of the authority of the guy up front.)
  • Repeating a mantra heard from a figurehead or leader of a tribe without considering whether it’s true.   (Again, an unquestioning attitude toward perceived authority.  So many of these teachers have no evidence for the assertions they make, but their followers accept every word as truth.)
  • Trying to find a short cut to lose weight, make money or achieve some other long-term goal.  (“Seven easy steps to being more spiritual than others.”  “Five ways to make God love you.”  “How to raise your kids the right way.”)
  • Ignoring the scientific method and embracing unexamined traditional methods instead.  (The key word here is “unexamined.”  There is an obsession among many homeschoolers or conservatives for the “old ways.”  Some of the old ways are gone for a reason!)
  • Focusing on (and believing) easily gamed bestseller lists or crowds.  (If the teacher can fill the bleachers, he must be true, right?”)
  • Inability to tolerate fear and uncertainty.  (This is the big one.  The desire to control the fears and uncertainties of life opens many people to the manipulation of leaders.)
  • Allowing the clothes of the messenger (a uniform, a suit and tie, a hat) to influence your perception of the information he delivers (add gender, fame, age and race to this too).  (What, judge someone by what he wears?  You’re kidding!)
  • Reliance on repetition and frequency to decide what’s true.  (If you hear it often enough—say, that Cabbage Patch dolls have demons—it must be true, right?)

There are other characteristics that open people to manipulation at Seth’s Blog.  What do you think?

 

Thanks to:

http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/

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Perfection

One of the most important teachings of the church is that God is one.  This was a truth revealed in the Old Testament and held highly by the Jews, especially as the other nations looked to many gods.  When the revelation of the Son and the Spirit came, the people of God had to understand three Persons in one God.  This remains one of the fundamental doctrines of the faith.

So, if I were to ask you where the Father dwells, what would you say?  Heaven?  Everywhere?  How about in you?  No, you probably wouldn’t say that because you weren’t taught that.  We were taught that the Spirit dwells in us.  Maybe Jesus.  Not the Father.  The Father is holy and separate and majestic and big.

But the Scriptures clearly teach that the Father is in those who belong to Him.  He dwells in us.  He is far greater than us, of course; but God the Father dwells in us.  That’s what Jesus meant for us to understand when He said:

At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. John 14:20 (NKJV)

There is a oneness between the Father and the Son and a oneness between Jesus and us.  That means, by simple logic, that there is a oneness between the Father and us.  And that’s exactly what Paul tells the Ephesians:

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. Ephesians 4:4-6

If I died with Christ on the cross (Colossians 3:3) and rose with Him from the dead (2 Tim 2:11) and He is now my life (Galatians 2:20), then I am what He is.  And if Jesus is one with the Father (John 10:30) and Jesus is one with us (1 Cor 6:17), then the life of the Father is now in us.  We share in His holiness, His righteousness, His life.

Keep this context in mind as we look again at that verse that has been used in such a deceitful way to discourage so many.

Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. Matthew 5:48

Now follow me here: if the Father is perfect, then so are you.  Those who belong to God through a relationship with Jesus, have the Father’s life in them.  The Father is perfect.  Therefore those who belong to God are perfect.

Jesus is not telling the people to become perfect.  They couldn’t do that.  They might have interpreted Him that way, but they couldn’t have done it.  No, He is saying that if God is their Father they are already perfect and they should live like it.  Whether God was their Father was the real question.

So here’s the point: those who are in Christ are perfect, as He is perfect.  Because He is perfect.  Do we live that way?  Absolutely consistent with who we are?  No.  But that’s the call He gives.  Live according to who you are.

No one will ever become perfect by living a good-enough life.  That’s the clear message of the Scriptures.  Christ is the perfection of the Father in us.  He has already given to us what we could never gain for ourselves.  His love accomplished that for us and in us.  And He gave it as a gift to those who would receive it.

So the call is for us to live according to who we are.  Be who you are.

 

Comments?  Questions?

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But what about…

Grace 101

There are times when the preacher goes from preaching to meddling.  Some people might think of this post as meddling.  You might be right.

Jesus told us to treat others in the way we would want to be treated.  I think there’s a reason He said that.  It’s because you will never receive what you are unwilling to give to others.

You see, the hardest part of the path is not what we find in the church or even in our judgment of ourselves.  The part of the path that is least likely to receive the message of grace is our judgment of others.  We see the sins of others more clearly than we see our own.  We sometimes have less patience and forgiveness for others than we would like to experience ourselves.

Often, when I talk with people about grace, the fact that God has dealt with our sins and no longer holds them against us and has done everything necessary for us to be saved, I get a response like this: “That’s nice but what about…?”  The example given is usually some behavior observed in others that is offensive to the person.  Usually it’s something the person doesn’t see in himself.

Can you live with your girlfriend and still be saved?  Can you drink to excess and still be a Christian?  Can you be a part of XYZ church and still go to Heaven?  Can you smoke, cuss, look at porn, cheat on taxes, steal cable TV, lie, drive badly, or have doubts about some facts in the Bible?  If these behaviors won’t keep a person out of Heaven, what will?

It is very difficult for us, even with an understanding of grace, to let go of the judgments we learned.  We have invested in a game that measures success on the basis of doing better than others.  Notice that it is not doing well, not really.  No, we have trouble believing that we can do well, but we sure can do better than some of the people we know.

Listen, I do this.  I suspect we all do.  I know grace teachers who proclaim boldly the love of God and sufficiency of the person and work of Jesus but criticize and complain about other people’s behavior.  I know that there are certain things that trigger my irritation and are hard to ignore when it comes to letting Jesus deal with His people.  After all, they are only accountable to Him, not to me.

Why do we judge?  Some of it comes from the values drilled into us by parents, church, or life.  We see certain behaviors as wrong, simply because we were taught they were wrong.  Some people, according to our prejudices, are unacceptable because of those behaviors.

And some of this comes from the energy and frustration we spend trying to avoid the passions and temptations that come along in our lives.  We work to stay away from sin, and then we become frustrated when we see others who don’t seem to try to avoid it at all.  We are especially tested when we are supposed to understand that Jesus accepts them just as He does us.

But listen: how will we ever really accept the truth about the way the Lord accepts us if we can’t believe that He accepts others the same way?  If He rejects one because of a certain behavior, then why would He not reject us when we do the same thing—or anything else that is sin in His eyes?  We will not receive the joy and peace of knowing the love of God if we don’t see that He accepts all people just as He accepts us.

Yup, that’s meddling.  Lord help me to remember this throughout the day!

(Since I wrote this post, I have received a comment on the previous post that has prompted me to add this paragraph.  When others hurt us, they are accountable to God for their sin.  If they truly belong to Him and He chooses to forgive them, that’s His business because He is their Master and they answer to Him.  But that doesn’t make their actions less evil or sinful.  God is not the Author of evil nor does He condone evil done by the hands of His people.  We can acknowledge this without being legalistic or unforgiving.  It is certainly true that Christians can hurt each other and participate in the work of the evil one as we operate in the flesh.  There are many admonitions against believers hurting each other in Scripture.  If we fail to understand that Christians can do things which are evil, we will misplace the blame for that evil.  Instead, we must allow the Lord to love and forgive as He wills and trust His servants to His hands.  He may discipline or change them, but He will not stop loving those who are His.  And remember, not all who claim His name are His.)

 

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Salvation

 

Grace 101

Almost the first thing anyone knows about as a gift from Jesus and through Jesus is salvation.  In fact, many of those who refuse to look deeper into the package still accept and appreciate the fact of salvation.  The gospel message is about salvation and the message of the church is about salvation.  Even those who think you have to earn Heaven by good works talk about salvation. 

The one thing most church people know about grace is that it is for saving us.  We are, they know, saved by grace.  They might even add that we are not saved by works, but so many don’t seem to believe that with their hearts.  If they don’t strive to obtain salvation, they strive either to maintain it or to deserve it.  After salvation, much of the church forgets about grace.

Salvation, at least, is a clear work of grace.  But does anyone know what we are saved from?  Most people would simply say that we are saved from hell, I suppose.  Children often say that we are saved from our sins.  Some people think we are saved from the evil one.  There is a sense in which each of these is true.

It seems to me that the important thing is not what we were saved from, but what we were saved out of.  We were stuck in a realm of darkness and evil, a river that flowed too strongly for us to escape.  We could not overcome the current of that great river as it bore us ever closer to hell.  There was no way for us to save ourselves.  Nor could anyone in the river with us save us.  They were as stuck as we were.

So we needed a Savior.  Someone from the outside.  Someone not in the river, not in the realm of darkness and evil.  Jesus came from God.  He was God Himself in human flesh, and He came to save us.  In a sense, He waded into the river, unaffected by the current, and brought us out. 

Now that’s important.  It isn’t just that we were saved from a negative final destination, although we were.  It isn’t just that we were saved from the things our sins deserved, although we were.  No, we were saved out of all of it.  That realm of darkness and evil is in our past, but no longer in our present.  That world is no longer our home and we are no longer bound to its influences.  Sin no longer has dominion over us (Rom 6:14), and we no longer must do what it suggests.   Since the law was given into the realm of darkness and sin, judging it and moving people to cry out for salvation, we can no longer be under law.  There’s so much more. 

I also believe it is just as important to proclaim what we have been saved into, as what we have been saved out of.  We have been saved into Christ, brought into relationship with Him.  We were not simply rescued from darkness and left on our own.  We were brought into the light.  Sin is no longer our master, but Christ, the righteous One who loves us, is our Master.  And we are no longer under law, but we are under grace.

This is, of course, a simple presentation of the idea of salvation.  The point is that salvation was a gift.  We did nothing to earn it, nor could we have done anything to earn it.  God, in His love, offered it to us and we received it.  It was in the gift.

I know that some people use salvation to denote everything we received in Christ.  That’s fine, but I think it lessens the wonder and joy to focus on only one aspect of the gift.  So we are going to look deeper into the package.

Get ready.  There’s a lot more in the box than salvation!

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Grace Plus?

I once heard a preacher say that he was 90% grace and 10% law.  He was, of course, concerned about the behavior of those who claimed they were under grace.  It fascinates me that so many people are so concerned about behavior in the lives of those who trust in Christ alone for life.

Frankly, I haven’t seen all that much difference between the behavior of those who claim the sufficiency of Christ and that of those who say that we must maintain our salvation by our behavior.  We who know that we are under grace still struggle against the flesh and the ways of the world.  We still do things the Lord calls sin.  And law hasn’t really helped behavior throughout the centuries, has it?  It seems to me that legalists are just as compromised as we are.

Behavior isn’t the issue.  The issue is life.  The grace message says that life does not come through good behavior but through the love of God in Jesus.  The grace message says that we can add nothing to nor take anything away from the work of Jesus on our behalf.  In other words, we are saved, and kept saved, by His behavior, not ours.

The message we reject is the one that suggests we need to watch ourselves or else we will lose the gift Jesus has given us.  If we do certain wrong things we may wake up one day and find ourselves on the outside.  We reject the idea that anyone has to maintain his own salvation by his behavior or add to the work of Jesus in order to be “really saved.”  We reject the idea that some people are more saved than others on the basis of their good works.  We reject the idea that saved people walk through life with sin yet to be forgiven or washed from their lives.  We reject those things because we believe Scripture rejects them.

Are there people in the grace community who think that sin isn’t a big deal?  I suppose.  But saying that there is no sin on the account of a believer is not the same as saying that sin isn’t a big deal.  Anyone who has read my writings should know that I teach sin is always hurtful and always foolish.  God does hate sin and that’s because He love us.  Sin hurts us. 

And, again, the problem of sin is not a grace issue.  Under the law, people continue to struggle with sin.  Who could deny that? 

The difference, of course, is that those who are under grace walk forward through their lives with the knowledge of God’s love and forgiveness.  We don’t have to look over our shoulders, wondering whether we have done enough or been careful enough.  We can trust the finished work of Jesus.

Listen: If my behavior will keep me out of Heaven, then I am doomed.  You are too.  My salvation has to be completely outside of me, because there is nothing of me that can earn it or keep it.  I am being transformed in my thinking, but I continue to look to the flesh for my responses in life.  I find that I walk in the Spirit more and more; but, if perfect behavior is required, I’m not going to make it.

So if it is grace plus behavior/law, then what percentage is necessary?  Is it 90% grace and 10% behavior?  Is it 99% what Jesus does and 1% what I do?  Maybe 99.9% a free gift of God’s love and .1% a work of my flesh?

No.  No one is good enough to earn .1 % or even .001%.  The stain of sin runs throughout my flesh, even after I come to Jesus.  The flesh is what remains of my old thinking, built and damaged by years apart from the Lord.  If my hope is built on grace plus any amount of good from my flesh, there is no hope. 

When you examine the objections people bring against the message of grace, you will almost always find a desire to place some level of trust in the work of the flesh.  They will almost always say that we still have to behave ourselves or else.  Even those who don’t say what the “else” is, steal hope from the believer.  And if hope fades, victory fades.

Victory in the Christian life, even victory in behavior, comes from the assurance that the work of Jesus is sufficient and permanent in our lives.  Sin is a defeated enemy.  It no longer identifies us, controls us, or condemns us.  In those times when I do something sinful, I can get up and move forward again in the certain knowledge of the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

That’s the message of grace!

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What I know about you . . .

. . . you are clean!

 

Somehow, we instinctively know that sin stains our souls.  Something about sin is dirty.  So many people find it easy to accuse themselves, to view themselves as unworthy, because of their sin.  Young people may see themselves as broken or stained because of choices made in youth.  Older people see the accumulation of bad choices and view themselves as tarnished.  And there seems to be nothing we can do about it.

I used to have a bar of special soap that made your hands dirtier while you used it.  It would lather up, like regular soap, but it left a black stain on your hands.  Of course, I used it to illustrate the futility of trying to clean ourselves.  When we draw from the world of sin and the perspective of sin to cleanse ourselves of sin, we are doomed to failure.  Like washing our hands in mud.

Apart from the pure righteousness of Jesus, there is no way for us to make ourselves clean.  But He can cleanse us.  There is wonder and mystery in this, but it is effective.  Somehow, His righteousness replaces ours.  We are clean because He is clean and He is in us and we are in Him.

So when you remember what you did, or what someone did to you—and you feel dirty—consider this:  you have been washed and all sin has been carried away from you.  No sin clings to you, now or forever.

In a town I know very well there is a wall near a railroad track.  It is a college town and a large expanse of blank wall is an invitation for graffiti.  But there is no graffiti on that wall, nor have I ever seen graffiti on it in the 25 or so years it has been there.  The claim is that the wall is treated with a special chemical which will not allow the paint to stick.  If someone does decorate the wall, the rain simply washes the paint away.  Nothing sticks to it.

Nothing sticks to you either.  It isn’t that you never sin or that people will never sin against you.  It is that you will never again be made dirty by sin.  Sin simply no longer sticks to you.

This is why we should never refer to a believer according to his or her sins.  I cannot point to a believer and say, “That man is an adulterer,” or “She is a liar.”  He may be committing adultery and she may lie, but those who belong to Jesus cannot be defined by their sin.  We are defined by our relationship with Jesus.  Churches and teachers who see only sin when they look at people are ignoring the truth about what happens in the life of the believer.  There is a new creation, the old has passed away, and sin no longer defines us.

When Peter wanted to wash Jesus’ feet, in John 13, Jesus told him that it was more important for Jesus to wash Peter’s feet.  But then Jesus says that the disciples who have received His word were already clean.  They were clean because of their faith in Jesus.  (Add to the mix John 15:3)  Yet, Jesus makes an important statement:

“…you are clean, but not all of you.”

There is a sadness there.  One of the disciples, the one who would betray Jesus, did not believe the word of Jesus and did not have faith.  So he had not been washed of his sins.  He was not clean.

So two statements are necessary:

First, only Jesus can make us clean.

Second, those who have come to Jesus are completely and forever clean.

That’s why they call it good news!

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Dynamic Grace

I believe that the grace of God is dynamic.

Something that is static just sits there.  It is positional, rather than relational.  That means that a person receives grace by doing something or being something.  If you belong to a certain church, you receive grace.  Because of your position as a member of that church, you have grace.  If you clean your room, you receive grace.  You have come to the position held by one whose room is clean and thereby you receive grace.  Static grace is like the power held in the electrical system of your home.  It kicks in when you do something to turn it on.  Otherwise, it sits in readiness, waiting for you.

Some people like that idea, of course.  They like to be in control of what happens in their lives and it makes sense to them that grace should be tied to the things they do.  The idea of static grace gives these folks goals and excuses and a system of understanding their lives.  It gives them a sense of hope.  If they can just achieve the next level of performance, they will receive the grace they desire.

The problem, of course, is that this is not the grace of God.  God has no interest in being controlled or made into a system.  Static grace isn’t grace at all.  It is a lie.  Many of those who have worked hard to reach higher and higher levels of “spirituality” have expected to receive more grace and have found nothing.  They had no more than they had before.

The grace of God is dynamic.

Dynamic grace is grace that moves freely and vigorously.  Dynamic grace is unpredictable and uncontrollable.  Dynamic grace comes out of relationship.

Because God’s grace is a Person, it is outside of our control.  It moves as He moves.  It is given as He gives.  It comes from His mind and His heart.  We cannot command it or control it.

For several years this ministry has had one goal, to proclaim Jesus as God’s grace for the heart.  When I came to understand Jesus as a real person who loved me, I wanted Him.  When I understood that He was forever my life and strength and I could trust Him in all things, everything changed.

Is it easier to trust in dynamic grace?  Not for my flesh!  My flesh wants to hold something, to be in charge of something.  This idea that someone else is in charge is frightening.  But, yes, ultimately it is much easier.  I am not responsible for the results.  I am not responsible even for maintaining my position.  I have a Friend who loves me and cares for me.  He bears my burdens, if I will let Him.

Knowing what I know now, I would choose dynamic grace anytime.  I need someone who is greater than me, someone who loves me enough to protect me from myself.  I want someone who will be there when I fail and forget.  I would never return to legalism and a system of trying to earn points with God.

Yet, I admit that this dynamic grace is still a little uncomfortable at times.  Jesus is not the genie in the bottle that I can command.  Often He tells me that I don’t need what I want.  Often He waits to act until my deadlines are past.  Often He chooses results for me that I would not have chosen.  He is always right and always kind, but He does things His way, not mine.

But through it all I know that He loves me and from that love I draw my life.  All that I need for relationships with others and for peace in life is in Him.  And He will never leave me.

That’s dynamic grace!

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What is Grace? pt.1

(This blog will be offline for a couple of weeks while I travel.  Please enjoy these posts from the archives.  Feel free to comment or ask questions.  I will be able to respond when I return.)

I have studied grace for over 30 years, particularly asking the same question for the last 15, and I still ask.  I have studied several answers, most of them the standard ones, but the concept of grace is always bigger. 

The best I have come up with is that grace is what God does.  Putting it another way, grace is the activity of God’s love.  The concept of “unmerited favor” is one I accept, but grace is more than just favor.  We need and appreciate the favor of God, but it may not be appropriate to say that God shows favor to everyone.  He does show a certain grace to everyone.  “The rain falls on the just and the unjust.”  “God is not willing that any should perish.”  “God so loved the world that He gave…”  Over and over we read of the love of God for all people and the fact that God acts on that love in some way toward all. 

I have come to understand that this activity is, in fact, grace.  Thus, there is grace shown in the giving of the Law and grace shown even in God’s wrath against sin.  The Law was a gift of God’s love and, unless we are willing to disagree that God’s fundamental motivation is love, even His final judgment against sin and those who choose to remain in sin is somehow an expression of His love.  I would say that this is grace.

I would never leave grace in a negative sense, however.  God’s love is a desire to live in relationship with His people.  His activity of love always has that as a primary goal.  It may seem negative for Him to judge or punish, but the only motivation is love.  This is why I am left with the idea that anything God does out of love is grace.  He seeks to draw us into a relationship with Him. 

–more coming–

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Walk in the Light

O house of Jacob, come and let us walk In the light of the Lord.   Isaiah 2:5

I began to understand the ugliness of legalism when I realized that lying was such an important part of it.  So many people were so critical of others while doing many of the same things themselves.  One small example that happened several times was when the children of a family answered the door because mom happened to be wearing jeans.  Since women were always supposed to wear skirts (so they remained separate from the men ;) ) mom couldn’t be seen in jeans.  Rules were important, but the importance was to pretend you kept them better than others.  Be sure to point out violations of rules when you see them, but cover up the fact that you bend the rules yourself.  So much of legalism happened in the darkness.

Of course, most of the examples I would share would be relatively tame.  Some of them were not tame at all.  Incest, adultery, abuse—these things happen in the darkness.   Once the lying starts, it provides a cover, a system, that allows sin to grow.  How different is it—really—from lying about having a television and lying about abuse?  The family structure that allows lying, the fear and the intimidation, is in place already because of legalism.  No wonder ugly things happen.

The Lord invites us to walk in the light.  Only under grace will we ever have the freedom to enjoy walking in the light.  It is uncomfortable sometimes to let others see our mistakes, to tell the truth about our struggles.  Under the law, we want so badly to look good.  But under grace, we can simply be thankful to know the One who is good.  We trust in Him, not in ourselves.

Remember that the difference between legalism and grace has nothing to do with sin.  We both sin.  Both those who are under the law and those who are under grace do things that God calls sin.  The difference is what we do about it.  Under law, we are stuck with trying to cover our sin, to hide it or atone for it somehow; under grace, we simply own the fact that we continue to struggle with the perspectives of the flesh and sometimes fall.  Then we praise God for His love and acceptance and forgiveness in Jesus.

Walking in the light is better!

Love to get your comments!

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Grace?

Every once in a while I feel the need to stop and define grace.  When I do that, I try not to read what I have written before.  I just want to state again, for the record, what I believe grace to be.  I usually say that grace is what God does.  It is the activity of God’s love.  Because He loves us and because we need everything, He reaches out to us and supplies it all.  That’s grace.

Understanding grace is understanding our need and His love.  Living in grace is embracing our need and accepting His love.  Showing grace to others is admitting that we can never be better than they are and that the Lord who is so generous in love toward us loves them just the same.   

Grace is not just being kind to others, although God’s grace moves our hearts toward kindness.  Grace is not just forgiving others, although God’s grace permits us to forgive.  We have allowed our definitions of grace to be limited to the effects of grace.  Grace is more than a list of symptoms.  Grace is real and good and big.  Grace is as big as the heart of God. 

In fact, the best place or way for us to see grace is to look to Jesus.  He is God, in human flesh, reaching out in love to supply that which we could not supply for ourselves.  Jesus is the activity of the love of God.   Jesus is God’s grace for our hearts.

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