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Support

Grace 101

 

One of the most unfortunate ideas that seem to come out of legalism is that we begin to believe God’s commands are arbitrary.  He tells us to do things that have no real value, just to see us fail so we can be further in debt to Him; at least that’s what some seem to think.  Or the rules are made to make us holy and the more difficult the rules are or the less they make sense to us, the more holy we will be when we keep them.  In any case, God becomes a rather cruel Person.

But, under grace, the Scriptures and the commands open up so we can see the almost overwhelming love of God and His care for us.

For example, many of us have had the idea of “be of one mind” forced on us to keep us in line.  In other words, we shouldn’t disagree with the teacher or voice our concerns to others.  We were reprimanded and encouraged to search the Scriptures until we found our agreement.  If we couldn’t find that agreement, we were supposed to stay quiet and submit.

But is that what the Lord meant when He expressed His desire for the people to be of one mind?  Were we supposed to blindly adapt our thinking to that of the teacher for the sake of peace and unity?  I don’t think so.  If we remember that the motivation of the heart of God toward us is always love, then a command like this must be seen in that light.

One of the aspects of the “good ground” that has been compromised by the deception of the evil one is the idea of support.  In church we called it “fellowship.”  Yet, when the goal was conformity, rather than true unity, fellowship had either no meaning or it meant something negative.  For the person who has questions under legalism, fellowship is hard to find.  In fact, many found more fellowship outside the church than inside.

The longing of our hearts is for support and camaraderie.  We want to walk with like-minded people.  There is a special joy in finding someone who believes in the love of God as you do.  We can worship together, serve together, even grieve together.  Those who understand grace can come alongside the ones who struggle.  We all understand that it is easy to fall back into self-condemnation and judgment.  When we walk with others who understand the truth, they help us to find our joy again.

When the seed falls on good ground, the seed of the message of grace, it is very important that it find support and nurture.  And, of course, it is very important to the evil one to destroy that support and nurture, or at least inhibit it so the seed does not grow.  So it should not surprise us that the fellowship of the church is compromised.  For too many who find grace, the fellowship of the church becomes a problem.

Yet, the concern of the Lord is still in our favor.  He knows that we need each other.  He knows that we need safe people with whom we can express our doubts and fears, even our struggles.  If the motivation of those people is the love of the heart of God, then we can grow and our strength in grace increases.  It is certainly good for us to be of one mind—one mind with the Lord who accepts us, who does not hold our sins against us, and who sees us as valuable to Him.

The message of grace is a message of the love of God, worked out sufficiently on our behalf in the Person of Jesus Christ.

So we seek out people for support.  We have to be careful, of course, but there are online communities, small groups, even home churches where we can find that support.  And, if we learn that we were deceived, that the message of grace has been compromised in the group, we simply seek another group.  It isn’t fellowship that’s the problem, it is the lie.  The lie pulls us away from Jesus and away from the support of those who understand the truth about who He is and what He has done.  Don’t give up on finding support.

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But What About…?

Grace 101

In the parable of the sower, Jesus spoke of three primary enemies of the sower’s intention for the seed.  I have used this little story as a structure for teaching about the enemies of grace.  First, there was the trodden ground, the hard path, where nothing could grow.  Then there were the predators, the birds of the air that swoop in to devour the seed before it can grow.  Finally, there are the distractions, the thorns that grow up and choke the life out of the new growth.

One of the most common things we experience once we begin to understand this amazing message of grace is that we forget.  It seems so easy to be distracted and to fall back under the shame and pressure of performance.  Fortunately, the Lord reaches in and reminds us from time to time.  But wouldn’t it be better to avoid those distractions?  Wouldn’t it be nice simply to walk in the light of grace?

Maybe thinking through some of these distractions will help.  At least we might know a little better what to watch out for.

I suspect that most heresies and unorthodox ideas begin with the words, “But what about…?”  Years ago I took the training of a popular evangelism program.  They taught us that we should be prepared to pull the discussion back to the gospel when we heard those words.  I have experienced this often as I have shared the good news of salvation.  People will say, “But what about my loved ones who have died?” or “But what about the dinosaurs?”  or “But what about politics?”  These might be worthy questions or discussions of their own, but they are distractions from the main point.

Lately the grace message has been greatly distracted by the universalist debate.  Before that it was the demonic debate.  Before this it was the charismatic debate.  Before that it was the Calvinist/Arminian debate.  Some of these things are never settled.  They are still distractions from the wonderful message of grace.

And the result of the debates is that those who love the message of grace are divided and discouraged.  In spite of all we know to be true about the unconditional love of God in Jesus, we still add things to the message.  “Grace is nice, but you have to see it from xyz perspective.”  The distractions choke the life out of the message.

Don’t let yourself get distracted and discouraged by these debates!  If you know the message of grace, proclaim it boldly and cleanly.  Tell people of the love of God and put the debaters into a room where they can only distract each other.  There are too many people who need to know the truth of love and grace.  We don’t have time for distractions.

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Avoid them

 

What good is having a blog if you can’t use it to rant just a little? 🙂  I have been in a discussion on another site with someone who is arguing against the grace and love of God by telling believers they should be focused on sin and condemnation.  It is frustrating, time consuming, and fruitless to get into these arguments.

You know the people I mean.  They just can’t stop.  Their logic is stretched and their words are cutting.  These guys pull out verses and claim certain Greek skills and ignore any real challenges to their ideas.

Paul met these folks, probably much more often than you or I do.  His advice?

9 But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless. 10 Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned. Titus 3:9-11

17 Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. Romans 16:17

Avoid them!  Don’t let them suck you into their traps.  It’s hard.  I find that I want to speak out against their lies and errors.  But it is a trap.  It distracts you, upsets you, and you don’t win.  They will have the last word, no matter how stupid it is.

Yes, sometimes I do speak up.  I seem to think that I can get a word in as a teacher.  But I have learned that it will be unfruitful.  The best I can do is help others see the foolishness of the other’s position and statements.  I confess that I almost always come away feeling used and dirty somehow.

In the discussion I have been in this morning, the arguer referred to the pain and struggles of those who have come out of legalism as “dog poop” and “dog piles.”  I shouldn’t have been surprised.  When logic fails, be prepared for the jabs and depersonalization.  Like the narcissist, the legalist will use whatever means he can to “shut you up” so it can look like he has won.

Then, if you ever do manage to paint him into a corner, he cowers and cries and wonders why you are so mean.  He ignores his own attacks and cruelties and projects that on you.  By trying to counter his statements, you are hurting him.  And, again, he wins.

So Paul says to avoid them.  That makes a lot of sense to me.

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“Grace as a Tool for Hate”

 

Did that title grab you?  The words grabbed me when I first saw them.  Each day WordPress tells me the search phrases people use to get to this blog.  They aren’t necessarily searching for this blog, but they have a topic and Google directs them here, among many other suggestions.  I like to read what people are asking about.

So a couple of days ago I came across these words, “grace as a tool for hate.”  What?  That is so foreign to me that I find it hard to read.  When I learned grace, I learned love.  How can anyone connect grace to hate?  It is hard to find any sense to these words.

But then I stopped to think about it.  Yes, it is certainly possible to use even grace as a pretext for hate.  In fact, I can think of three ways someone might see that happening.

First, there is a sense of elitism when we begin to understand grace.  I have commented on this in a variety of groups, but most find it hard to acknowledge.  Grace people sometimes think of themselves as above those who are “still stuck under the Law.”  They believe they have reached a higher plane and they mock those who don’t understand the truth they have found.  Yes, some pretty nasty things are said about legalists and certain churches—even friends and family.

What we forget, of course, is that we can’t take any credit for discovering the meaning of grace.  If we understand grace at all, we should be able to admit that our understanding is a gift of God’s love.  Our prayer and our mission should be to help others understand the incredible message we have learned.  No matter how much legalists have hurt us, we cannot hate.

There is no hate in grace.

Second, grace is a popular word today.  Legalist churches use it all the time.  I remember one teacher who claimed to have the only right interpretation of grace, one that put his people in bondage to standards and rules and laws.  The most legalist organizations and people use the word, “grace,” because it connects them with the New Testament.  Rejection, shame, condemnation—all in the name of grace.

But that isn’t grace.  There’s no condemnation in grace.

Finally, I have rarely seen more hate in theological discussion than what I see between the Calvinists and the Arminians.  These two groups came from the same movement just a few hundred years ago, but you wouldn’t know it today.  Labeling someone an Arminian seems to allow all kinds of name-calling, rejection, even charges of blasphemy.  And, of course, the reverse happens as well.

But the center of that battle is the meaning of grace.  Both sides use grace as a weapon and charge the other with its misuse.  The Calvinist idea of grace is an abomination to most Arminians; and, again, the reverse is true as well.  So, in the name of grace, one man calls another apostate and seeks to remove him from ministry.  Not that long ago in church history, people were killed for not believing what the other side believed.  All in the name of grace.

But there is no rejection or murder in grace.

Now, I don’t know what the seeker was looking for as he/she wrote those words.  It might have been one of these situations that was in mind.  It might have been something different.  But, I have to say, it breaks my heart to think that anyone could link grace and hate.  If that’s you, please respond to this post or write to me through the blog contact page.

You see, I believe grace is “the activity of God’s love.”  That’s a definition I have used to explain grace.  God has used the message of grace to show me His love and to open my heart to love others in ways I never would have before.

Grace is all about love.

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Filed under grace, Grace definition, Legalism, Theology and mystery

“Really” Saved

How would you determine that someone is saved?  In most of the churches I have been in the primary requirement for membership is to be saved.  Of course, everyone who comes to the church says that they are saved, but how are the elders or the pastor supposed to know?

I made a comment recently about people who call themselves believers without trusting in Jesus.  In response, someone told me that he agreed and said the evidence was that so many failed to live by godly standards.  So, in this person’s mind, the measurement is how well someone lives by the standards.

Another brother and I were visiting recently about doctrinal divisions.  For some people, some organizations, the factor that determines if someone is saved is what that person believes.  If he or she believes according to a certain teaching, then he or she is saved.  If not, then not.  You know what I mean.  In some churches anyone who speaks in tongues cannot be saved.  In other churches anyone who doesn’t speak in tongues cannot be saved.

Sometimes people want to be gracious and don’t like to think of others as not saved, even though the other person doesn’t fit their criteria.  They might refer to the people who attend another church, not of the right denomination, and say: “Well I know they are believers, but I don’t understand how they can be really saved.”

Sometimes people look at other believers and judge their lifestyles to be less than acceptable.  They might say: “I know they trust in Jesus, but sometimes I wonder if they are really saved.”

To be “really” saved is to fit the criteria.  Never mind that the criteria are different from church to church or even from believer to believer.  How good does someone have to be in order to be “really” saved?  What percentage of the church doctrine does a person have to understand and agree with in order to be considered “really” saved?  Chances are that no one has quite determined the exact requirements.

And how is “really” saved better than just plain old regular saved?  Does the person get a bigger mansion, a closer seat to the front, a better spot in the heavenly choir?  Are there levels of salvation?  Can someone be less saved than someone else?  We could imagine a hierarchy, I suppose, where some are just barely saved while others would be more secure and still others would be “really” saved.

In fact, if this were allowed to go on, we would have all kinds of different churches with different standards and different doctrines.  Each would think the others were wrong and some would think that they were the only ones “really” saved.  Wouldn’t that be crazy?

Oh wait.  That’s what we have.

Maybe we should just let Jesus decide who is saved and who is not.  That way we don’t have to just focus on people enough like us to be acceptable.  That way we could learn to enjoy others who think and act differently.

So, here’s my bottom line: Anyone who proclaims Jesus as his or her Lord and hope for salvation gets my vote.  I could be wrong sometimes, that’s okay.  I think Jesus would rather have me welcome a sinner than reject a brother.

 

Your thoughts?

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Seems Right, But…

Brainwashing.  What do you think it means?  It is actually a new term, first used in about 1950 in reference to the Communist Chinese process of adapting the thinking of those who continued their imperialist values to the new communist way of thought.  Through a variety of methods, most of which involved pain and deprivation, the communist workers slowly changed the thinking of individuals and the culture as a whole.  So you can call it brainwashing, or mind control, or indoctrination, or whatever you want.  Once it is accomplished, it’s hard to go back to the truth.

Suppose God gave a message to the people He loved and that message became twisted by the evil thinking of the people.  Suppose that, instead of love, the people saw anger and rejection.  Suppose that, instead of grace, people read only law.  Suppose that, instead of learning to trust the Lord who loved them, the people learned performance standards.  And then these things were twisted so that they sounded like love and grace and trust.

The true gospel would be perverted into something else and the people of God would miss the whole point.  Instead of enjoying their relationship with Him, they would be working hard to earn His favor.  And the people of God would fight and be discouraged and share a weak message with the world.

Yes, I think we have been brainwashed.  The whole system we knew was set up to reinforce the lie.  We were not told that God loved us just because He does.  We were told that He loves us when we do well.  We were not told that He provides all we need for eternal salvation.  We were taught to do things to earn and keep our salvation.  For the most part, this constant message of error was concealed using the words of Scripture so that even the Word of God, read according to the thinking of the system, supported the lie.

But now we are free.  The light has broken through the darkness and has shined on us.  We see the truth and we know our Lord loves us.  We know that we were never able to earn the love He freely gives, nor will we ever deserve it.  We know that our salvation is in His hands alone and we are safe in Him forever.

We know these things, right?  But sometimes the old thinking creeps back.  The indoctrination was strong.  We learned well.  “It can’t really be that easy, can it?”  “But what about…?”  “The message of grace seems right, but…”

Who benefited from the lie?  Only the evil one and those who served him.  Only those who would pull us away from joy and peace and love.  Only those who would hurt us.

Keep going forward.  Eyes on Jesus.  The truth has and will continue to set you free.

Your thoughts?

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Filed under Freedom, grace, Grace definition, Legalism

Drinking at the Mall on Sunday

One of my favorite stories is about the missionaries who went to Europe and were shocked to see believers drinking wine and beer.  Knowing that all consumption of alcohol was sin, these missionaries couldn’t connect with their brothers and sisters in Europe.  However, they noticed that the believers there often looked at them and made comments under their breath.  When the truth was finally revealed, the European believers were scandalized that the Americans went shopping on Sunday.  (I suppose they eventually compromised and determined that they could fellowship as long as no one drank alcohol at the mall on Sunday.)

You see, this is what happens when we try to live under a religious flesh system.  Whose system do we use?  How specific should we get?  How do we relate to those who do not share our system?  The Church has spent a great amount of its energy fighting these battles.  The only thing that happens is that our religious flesh system becomes more a part of us as we justify it in relationship with others.

We were never supposed to follow a system.  The systems, whether religious or not, are part of the broken world.  We are called to a relationship with the One who will lead us personally.  Yes, He has given us His Word, wonderful information to help us through our days, but even His Word was never supposed to be taken apart from Him.  He spoke to us as our Friend, our Father, our Redeemer, our Lover, our King—but never outside of a relationship.

He loves you and He wants you to come to Him.  Ask Him His will.  Tell Him your concerns.  Listen for Him to respond to you in love.

Questions?  Thoughts?

 

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Filed under Freedom, grace, Legalism, Relationship