Tag Archives: God’s grace

The Yoke – 2

It was never God’s desire that we should place our hope in our own performance.  The message of the gospel is for us to place our hope in His performance!  He is the One who called us.  He is the One who was offered for us.  He is the One who died for us.  He is the One who sets us free.

 
 It shall come to pass in that day that his burden will be taken away from your shoulder, and his yoke from your neck, and the yoke will be destroyed because of the anointing oil.  Isaiah 10:27 (NKJV)   

 

Now, I can’t stop there.  I know that many people think that Jesus set us free so that we have a new chance to “do it right”.  They teach that we are saved by His grace, as a gift, but that we are sanctified by our effort/performance.  If we want to keep what He has given and grow in what He has given, then we better get to work.

Jesus knew that we would be susceptible to this.  He knew that the performance lifestyle (or the flesh, if you will) would continue to pull us away from His love and His peace even after salvation.  So He invites us to join Him in His yoke:

 
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.   For My yoke is easy and My burden is light   Matthew 11:29-30 (NKJV)

 

The yoke of Jesus is easy and light, not quite what most Christians have found to be the case in their lives.  They think they have to pull their side of the yoke.  It is still performance to them.  But the truth is that they have never really taken the yoke of Jesus.  If they had, they would have learned that He does all the work.

You see, the yoke Jesus invites us to share is a yoke of intimate relationship.   We are allowed to participate in His work, with no burden of expectation.  We are not responsible for results, just for walking with Him and even that is an easy and joyful part of relationship.

Over the years I have been so amazed at how the Scripture shows all of this to be true.  Once you believe that God honestly loves you, that His only motivation toward you is love, you can begin to see that love everywhere.  Once you believe that we were made to depend on Him and His gifts of grace, you begin to see how active He has been.  Once you believe that all He wants is for us to live in relationship with Him, enjoying the love He has for us, that’s when the whole thing opens up.  Everything is different from that perspective.  You can see that Adam and Eve’s sin was in trying to do for themselves what God wanted to do for them.  You can see that the Law was given to show them that they could never be holy on their own and to pull them back to Him.  You can see that He is never disappointed in His people, never surprised by their sin, and that He never stops loving them.

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The Yoke

We all battle with the performance yoke in our lives.  We were taught from the earliest ages that success and failure are based on our performance.  If you do your work well, you will be rewarded.  If you perform poorly, you will find no reward and perhaps even punishment.  Performance appears to be the key.

Since reward is positive and punishment is negative, it became very easy to interpret relationships in the same way.  Positive relationships come from good performance; negative from bad performance.  I am accepted if I do well; rejected if I do poorly.  I am loved if I do well; “unloved” if I don’t do well.  You see how the process works.  We could refer to this as “performance-based relationship”.  Many people understand that from their families.

Add to this the fact that I can never really know the thinking of another person and I am forced to try to keep these relationships while never knowing whether my performance will be good enough.  Every time I think I have something figured out, something new comes along.  Eventually this leads to depression and anger.

When we were introduced to God, the performance system was already in place in our lives and in the lives of those who told us about Him.  The most natural thing was to infer that the same performance system was in the mind and heart of God.  Almost everyone else in our lives was part of that system and they assumed God was also.  In fact, they could see it everywhere in the Scriptures and decided that it must be right.  That led them to believe some gross inconsistencies and to mistrust the heart of God.  After all, we learned that the performance system in life is full of unexplained expectations, arbitrary pronouncements of success and failure, and manipulation for the personal desires of others.  If God is part of that system, why wouldn’t we mistrust Him?

But the most damaging part of the whole system is what it does in us.  If I believe in the system, I am doomed to failure, discouragement, and depression.  I must measure up, but I cannot measure up.  I must succeed, but success is always just out of my grasp.  I must live by the highest standards, but my highest are never high enough.  As I said earlier, eventually this leads to serious depression, even the “self-loathing” that some feel.  In this system there is no hope and there can never be.  We know it in the depths of our hearts.

Then, along comes Jesus.  He knows that His people have been under a spiritual yoke, a bondage of expectations and failure.  He loves us without expectations and woos us to Himself.

 I drew them with gentle cords, with bands of love, and I was to them as those who take the yoke from their neck.  I stooped and fed them.   Hosea 11:4 (NKJV) 

It was never His desire that we should place our hope in our own performance.  The message of the gospel is for us to place our hope in His performance!  He is the One who called us.  He is the One who was offered for us.  He is the One who died for us.  He is the One who sets us free.

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Performance Spirituality

In nearly every part of life, performance is vitally important.  In school, in sports, at work—performance is what it’s all about.  When we don’t perform well, we wish our acceptance was based on something else.  Yet, we accept the judgment and rejection that comes with poor performance.  We understand the system and yield to its values.  Football players, business employees, factory workers, medical personnel, and so many more, expect to be judged and accepted on performance.

Then, when we consider our spiritual life, we are so used to the performance system that we assume it must be the same thing.  When the Law is added to the church’s message, we get the idea that we must measure up or we will not remain part of the church.  Manipulative churches and teachers add their own items to the Law’s list (and take away ones they don’t like) in order to control their people.  The sad thing is that it seems so normal, so natural, that we don’t question whether it is right.  Performance spirituality is just the way the system works.

But here’s the good news: your spiritual life is not based on your performance; it is based on your relationship with Jesus!  He loves you and has called you to Himself.  He has offered the only sacrifice necessary and sufficient for your reconciliation with God.  He is Himself your eternal life.  He has initiated the relationship, made it possible, and has committed Himself to keep it secure.

You can’t perform well enough to be acceptable to Him.  You can only be acceptable to Him because of His love.  This isn’t a football team or any kind of business.  Your performance is not the measuring tool for determining your acceptance.  He has already decided to accept you. The question is whether you can accept that you are accepted.

When the accuser comes to challenge your faith and reminds you of your sin or your lack of performance, do you crumble in shame and feel unacceptable?  Do you agree with him that God should kick you out of His family?  Do you worry whether God has already rejected you?  Well, you don’t have to have these feelings.  Jesus wants you to know that you are acceptable and accepted, just because of His love.  He won’t reject you if you fail or if your performance is less than best.  That’s the world’s way, not His.  He has chosen to cover your sin with His own blood.

I am convinced that the primary compromise of the church has been to look at spirituality through the grid of performance.  The people are discouraged, defeated, and depressed—because they know they can never measure up to the ever-changing standards that are placed on them.  Their work will never be enough and their sin will always be too much.  We tell people about Jesus and His love and then force them under the bondage of performance and take away their joy and peace.

This ministry, for the past nine years, has helped hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people who have felt trapped under the burdens of performance spirituality.  Our goal for the future is to reach even more with the truly Good News of the gospel.  The grace of God in the person and work of Jesus is enough.

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I am Strong

Words of Grace  

Life is filled with challenges.  Sometimes they are battles we have to fight.  Sometimes they are burdens we have to carry.  Sometimes they are fears we have to push through.  And sometimes we don’t know what they are yet.

To face these challenges, we are supposed to be strong.  But what if we are not strong?  What happens then?  What if I look around at all the confusing challenges I face and I feel very weak?  What if I have no idea how I could possibly do what I am expected to do?  Sometimes we don’t feel very strong.

Perhaps you find yourself alone and you feel weak.  Perhaps things are expected of you that you don’t know how to do.  Perhaps others have taken away what little strength you had.  And now you are afraid.  You don’t want to admit it to anyone, but you just don’t see how you can do what you are expected to do.

Once again, the word comes to us from outside.  We don’t have to gather up our strength when it isn’t there.  We don’t have to pretend to be strong.  We don’t have to lie to ourselves or others.  The Lord tells us that we are strong because He is our strength.

David understood this as much as anyone ever has.  He said, in 2 Samuel 22:33, “God is my strength and power.”  How strong are you if God is your strength?  The Psalms are full of affirmations regarding the strength of the believer.  God is our strength.

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. Psalm 18:2 (NKJV)

 

If the Lord is your strength—and He says He is—then you are strong enough to do all that you must do.  Then your strength is great and will overwhelm your enemies.

Paul understood.

 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13 (NKJV)

 

I am strong.

God is my strength.

I can do anything He calls me to do.

He is my Power

I am strong.

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I am Good

Words of Grace   

 

The problem with words of affirmation is that you can’t just make them up.  Telling yourself good things to believe about you might feel good for a little while, but it usually sounds phony.  Many motivational teachers use self-produced words of affirmation to move us to some change; but, if we don’t really believe those words, how can the change be real?

Real words of affirmation, those that make a difference in us, are those that come from the outside.  We might still doubt the words, but we can’t control them and we are not producing them.  You can tell yourself that you did a good job; but, when the boss tells you or the client tells you, that makes a difference.

It isn’t bad to affirm yourself.  In fact, there may be times when you are the only one and you have to believe your words to keep going.  But words of self-affirmation are most effective when they are in agreement with the words from outside.

So, when I say the words, “I am good,” it matters where I get them.  If I just produce them out of my own desire to feel good, then I remember the things I regret and know the words are not true.  If others say them about me, that feels better, but I still know things about myself they don’t know and I still doubt the words.  But when the One who truly knows me and knows the only standards of goodness that matter, when He says I am good, that’s something I can hold onto.

Yes, sin has been a part of all our lives and we were taught that sin made us bad.  That’s why we needed a Savior.  But once the Savior came into our lives, He brought His goodness into us.  He washed away the stain of the sins and filled us with His love and His life.  We are good because He is good.

The idea of goodness is hard to apply to our lives because of what we were taught about ourselves.  We feel that we must reject any affirmation of goodness in us because of what we have done.  But if our goodness is not judged by what we have done, if it is judged by who He is in us, then we are truly good.  Those who belong to Jesus, who are filled with His life, are good.

 

So Paul could say with assurance:

Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness… Romans 15:14 (NKJV)

I am good.

Jesus is good and He is my life.

Because He is in me and I am in Him, I am good.

God has given me goodness.

I am good.

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Why the Formula “Works”

I don’t often get theology from television shows, particularly a show like House.  But Dr. House has a helpful saying when we are trying to understand why the formula works for some people.

You know what I mean.  “Ever since we began studying the Bible early in the morning the discipline issues in our home have stopped.”  “Our children love to do their chores.”  “They always eat joyfully whatever is set before them.”  “No one complains at our house.”  “Our children made a commitment to stay pure by xyz method and their first kiss will be at the wedding altar.”  “If you just follow the “teacher’s” teaching, your home will be righteous and happy.”  “No, we never argue.  Our marriage is wonderful ever since we went to this conference.”  “All my struggles with sin went away when I started doing this.”  The testimonials are endless.

But, when you try the same things they did, nothing happens.  No changes.  The wonderful conference, the new commitment, the great habit, the superior teaching—all of these are parts of formulas guaranteed to work.  At least they seemed to have worked for so many others.  Why don’t they work for you?

Well, as Doctor House would say, “Everybody lies!”  Yes, that seems like a pessimistic outlook.  Yes, it may be an overstatement.  But it explains what we have experienced.  The formulas don’t work for us because the formulas don’t work.  The testimonials are not true.

Why do people lie about these things?  Some lie to cover up their failure.  They believe the formula works and they cannot admit that it didn’t work for them.  Like the emperor’s new clothes, their “success” is imaginary.  But they don’t want you to know that.  They want you to respect and honor them.  They want to be better than you.  So they lie.

And some lie because to say that the formula didn’t work seems like blasphemy.  They want so badly for it to work that they “name it and claim it.”  Never mind what they see.  Never mind the failures.  The formula is working and they will promote that success.

Some lie because they are part of the promotion.  They have a vested interest in getting you to the conference or doing the activity.  They look good when they bring friends or they believe God will somehow reward them with the success they seek.  Like the “honest” review online about the weight loss product (the one where the product is sold on the same website) the buyer should be aware of the compromised position of the one giving the testimony.

I am increasingly convinced that lying/deception is an integral part of legalism.  As long as performance is the key to spirituality, the lie will be present.  It has to be . . . because the formula doesn’t work.

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I am Accepted!

Words of Grace 

(This morning begins a simple and important series of posts that will offer words of encouragement to begin the week.  The weeks of the holidays and winter can be discouraging, even depressing, as we struggle to find the joy.   We all seem to have negative words stuck in our heads, telling us lies about ourselves.  These “Words of Grace” will be for believers, those who have come to God through faith in Jesus.  Watch for these posts each Monday.  I hope you are lifted up!)

 

When identity is based on performance, you can never do enough.  When identity is based on appearance or talent, you can never be good enough.  The most successful people often feel as though they lack something to be accepted.  The most beautiful people or popular people think of their flaws.  So how could the rest of us have any hope?

We strive not so much to better ourselves, but to feel better about ourselves.  Perhaps because of the way we were raised, perhaps because of the competitive world into which we were thrust, or perhaps because of the betrayal and rejection we have experienced—we can find it very hard to believe that we are finally accepted.  The negative words ring in our ears.

Where do you go to find acceptance, real acceptance that settles the matter in your heart?  To work?  To your family?  To your friends?  We want to be accepted in all those groups; but, even if we are, we can still feel that something is lacking.  There is only one opinion that brings the satisfaction and closure we need.

So many go to church on Sunday and hear all about what they have done wrong.  They come away believing that God does not accept them, that they will never be good enough.  Their sin and weakness lie heavy on their hearts, made even heavier by the preacher’s words.  Surely acceptance is not to be found with God, they think.

But the good news is that we are accepted!  One of the basic definitions of grace is to make someone or something accepted, to accept someone.  God accepts you!  When your identity is based on His love, you are finally good enough.

We have learned through experience that love is not quite the same as acceptance, so we might believe God loves us and still doubt that He accepts us.  We have learned that He has saved us, but we have been taught that He does so in spite of His feelings about us.  Some people think that God will tolerate them because of Jesus.  They believe that they are “dirty rotten sinners” in His sight and that He must look at Jesus to receive them into His presence.  But the truth is that God accepts you and me, as individuals, because of Jesus.

Paul understood.  He said:

3  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4  just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5  having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6  to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved Ephesians 1:3-6 (NKJV) 

“He has made us accepted.”  Notice that it does not say He will accept us.  Nor does it say He has made us acceptable.  He has made us accepted.  It’s a done deal.  It doesn’t even say that He accepts us.  That would feel weaker to us.  Yes, God accepts us, but that’s because He has to, we might think.  No, He has made us accepted.  His grace has been sufficient in us.

This is a big deal!  You can stop trying to measure up.  You can stop striving to find acceptance in the world around you.  Whether it is the negative voices that come from your past, the rejection of a loved one or friend, or the fear of failure in spiritual things—the decision has been made.  You are accepted.  You are good enough.

So, through this week, tell yourself the truth:

I am accepted.

I am good enough.

God has said it.

All because of Jesus.

I am accepted.

It is finished.

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Grace makes the difference

Grace 101

When I talk about grace, I usually mean the whole message of God’s love and provision.  Grace is the activity of God’s love.  Because God loves us, He reaches out to us and brings us in.  He provides all we need for salvation, sanctification, justification and more.  Forgiveness, victory, and Heaven are ours because of His initiative and His work.

If we remember that God loves us and acts for our good, then prayer becomes a positive thing in our lives.

Many of us were led to believe that confession was the most important part of prayer.  Whenever we prayed, even if it was an emergency, we were supposed to stop to confess our sins first.  We had to confess that there was no reason God should hear us because we were so evil in our hearts.

So, think about that.  How easy is it for you to go to someone and apologize?  How easy is it to ask forgiveness?  It’s hard work, isn’t it?  I am not saying it isn’t important, but it certainly isn’t easy or pleasant.  And how easy is it to build a relationship when you constantly have to apologize?  Especially when you believe the other person is angry with you?

When many people pray, they feel they have to come to Lord groveling and shamed.  They are supposed to recount as many of their sins as they can remember since the last time they prayed and always know that they have missed some.  Then they have to ask God for mercy and hope that He doesn’t hate them as they ask for what they need.  How sad!

Grace tells us that God already loves us.  Grace tells us that He has already forgiven us.  Grace tells us that we are already accepted.  It is good to come to Him.  Grace turns prayer into something positive.

You see, God already knows about your sins and He has already forgiven them as you trusted Christ.  Those who belong to Him never have to worry about their sins separating them from Him.  We don’t have to confess in order to be forgiven.  In those times when we feel the need to talk about what we have done, we simply agree with Him that it was wrong and thank Him for working in our lives to move past it.  Forgiveness of sins—past, present, and future—was accomplished at the cross.

So you and I can come to the Lord as we would come to our very best friend.  We know that He loves us and it is good to focus on our heart connection again.  We will never be separate from Him, but sometimes we let ourselves get distracted.  Then we talk with Him again and feel His love and peace.

No wonder Paul encouraged us to pray without ceasing.  This is walking with Jesus.  It isn’t a difficult thing at all.  Prayer is a wonderful lifeline that keeps us connected to the Lord who loves us.

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What to do?

Grace 101

What do you do when God is silent?

Yes, I think there are times when God is silent.  I really don’t think that happens often, but I think it does happen.  So let me put in my caveat first and then talk about God’s silence.

You see, most of the time God is not silent.  We are just not listening.  I wrote about that before.  Sometimes we just need to shut up and listen.  We go to Him with our problems and dump the load on Him, almost as though we expect Him to jump at our command.  In those times, His silence is our own fault.

And sometimes we try to paint God into a corner.  He has to solve our problem in a certain way.  Anything else would be unacceptable or unrecognized.  Maybe healing is what we want, but healing isn’t the only good option.  Maybe that new job or new love seems the best to us, but there is a better one out there.  By telling God what He must do, we set ourselves up for missing His answer.

But there are those times when we pray in submission and come to Him in quietness and we still hear nothing.  In those times we are to wait.  Trust that something is happening.

Sometimes children come to their parents in tears, maybe even screaming, and parents are supposed to help.  But, in order to help, the child has to stop screaming, stop hyperventilating, and simply calm down.  We tell them to “take a deep breath,” and we do nothing until they are ready to receive.  There is great value in that deep breath.  The world gets crazy.  Evil and danger press in, trying to overwhelm us.  Yet, it rarely is what we see; and taking a deep breath, pausing to settle our hearts, changes our perspective.

So, when God is silent, take a deep breath.  Calm your heart.  Yes, there is danger and you are worried.  Yes, you are upset.  Yes, you feel that you need an answer right away.  But you won’t be ready to hear until you settle into the rest He has already given you.

Then you may begin to understand that He has already given you the answer.  You haven’t been able to hear Him because you haven’t accepted the answer He has given.

Or you may see that your request is misguided.  Not wrong.  He knows your heart and your fears.  He understands what you ask, but His best is something different.

And maybe you will see that your heart has been wrong.  You have forgotten that He is God, wise and strong and wonderful.  The best thing that can happen is for you to step back and stop demanding your way.

In all of these, God may simply wait.  Your stress and confusion are stopping you from hearing Him or accepting His answer.  So He waits for you.  In fact, when you don’t hear from Him, ask Him if He is waiting for you.

The point in all of this is that grace allows us to find peace when God is silent.  Trust in His love and His power.  Trust in His wisdom and authority.  Trust that He is able to do what is needed and wise enough to know what is needed.  Believe that He hears your prayer and loves you.  Then rest.

No, it isn’t easy.  The craziness pushes and threatens.  But ask Him for peace, even though you don’t yet have your answer or your miracle.

Ask Him to help you rest in Him.

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Default Mode

Grace 101

My good friend, Lee LeFebre, has recently written a good book entitled, “The Shackling of Grace,” where he says that the “Mother of all Obstacles” to grace is pride.  Lee’s right.  I haven’t talked much about pride on this blog, but I have talked about the source of pride, the flesh.  Make no mistake about it; your flesh is an enemy of grace.

Your flesh has been trained, throughout your life, to “do-it-yourself.”  It is your default mode.  You and I have learned certain behaviors that work for us.  They might seem weak or they might be labeled avoidance instead of strength, but they have worked for us in the past and we expect them to work in the future.  In fact, when a difficulty comes our way, we jump to those behaviors without thought or plan.  These are the things we just do.

And grace is not part of the flesh’s equation for how to handle life.

Now, I would call the flesh the source of pride, but it might also be true that pride is the source of your flesh.  Basically, this is the inclination to do the work of God ourselves.  For some it is the expectation that they can be good enough by the actions of their flesh to satisfy God.  For others, even God doesn’t matter.  And, for others, there is the decision that they will never be good enough because they can’t do it for themselves.  Whether the outlook is positive or negative, the root of the problem is the same.

Most of us grew up thinking that money leads to happiness.  If we just had more, we could do this or that, buy this or that, attract him or her, and thereby be happy.  When we have money, we feel successful and proud.  But when we don’t have money, we feel like losers and are sad.  Never mind that we know better.  Either way, having money or not, the focus is wrong.  We know that money does not lead to happiness, but it took us a while to decide that in our lives.  Many have still not learned that truth.

In the same way, if I think I have the responsibility to be morally or spiritually good on my own, either for God or for society, then my focus is wrong.  If I do well, I may think of myself as better than others and worthy of God’s notice—and I would be wrong.  If I do poorly, I may think of myself as worse than others and believe that God could never accept me—and I would be wrong.  The focus, on either side, is still on what I can accomplish.

And, as long as I insist on that focus, I will miss the joy of grace.

Grace tells me to focus on what Jesus has done for me.  I am to take my eyes off myself and my efforts, whether good or bad, and trust in His work.  In fact, the message of grace tells me that my only hope for success and peace and joy is in letting go of my efforts and trusting in Him.  This is more than just a good idea; this is the source of life.

If you start your computer and go to the internet and the same page pops up first every time, that’s because that page has been set up to be a default page.  It is simply the first page your browser takes you to and you go from there.  But what if you don’t like that page?  Well, you have to go into your settings and change your default page.

Think of the flesh as your default “thinker.”  When something happens, that’s the first place your mind and heart will go.  That’s what developed as you have gone through your life.  Now, if you want that to change, the default mode has to be replaced with something else.  The Scripture reveals the division between the flesh and the Spirit.  We are called to walk according to the Spirit, now that we are in Christ.

Computers can change default modes with just a few keystrokes, but we are not so fortunate.  For us it takes time and will.  Desire the Spirit.  Ask the Lord to lead you first, before the flesh kicks in.  Learn to recognize the flesh so that you can choose to reject it and trust the Spirit.  This new life will grow in you more and more as you seek Him.  Trust the message of grace.

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