Tag Archives: God’s love

What must I do?

Sometimes we learn a great deal from what isn’t said in Scripture.

When Paul and Silas were in prison in Philppi, there was a great earthquake and the chains of the prisoners fell open. The jailer, who was responsible for the prisoners, had been sleeping and woke to see that the prisoners were free. He prepared to kill himself for his neglect, but Paul told him that all the prisoners were still there. Apparently, he had been listening to the message of the gospel before he fell asleep and he asked Paul a simple, but profound, question: “What must I do to be saved?”

So there it is. The question. It almost seems incredible that we would still be asking it when it is answered so simply.

In some churches today you have to become members to be saved. Or be baptized. Or obey some list of rules. Or live a good life. Or give time or money. Or pray a certain prayer. In some you have to be good enough before you can be saved. In some you have to become good enough after you are saved in order to stay saved. In some you can never be sure. And in some, you have to be among the “elect,” the chosen ones.

But the jailer didn’t hear any of that in answer to his question. He just heard:

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”

That’s it! Nothing about obedience or personal righteousness. Nothing about joining anything. The man wasn’t even a Jew!

Just believe. Just trust Jesus. That’s it.

Of course, some have a vested interest in complicating the simple gospel message. They can control those who come to them if they set up the right requirements and structure. And others just think it seems right to expect certain lifestyle changes and behaviors when giving such an important privilege. But anything more than “believe” is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Now, I have to add that Paul also did not tell the man he was already saved, like some would say today. He did not tell the man that all people were saved but they just don’t know it and that nothing is required. Paul had the opportunity to do that, if he believed it. No, he said that the man simply had to open his mind and heart and believe.

You see, the gift of salvation is already paid for and available to anyone who is willing to receive it. Jesus doesn’t force anyone to be saved. He offers the gift. If you believe Him enough to receive it, it’s yours. He wants you to have it.

Yes, everything changes from that point, but the changes are good. The jailer “rejoiced” because he had believed. No doubt the Spirit led him to a much different life, but that was after he believed and was saved.

The gospel is really that simple. Beware of those who add to the simple message. The lies are everywhere. The truth is found in Jesus.

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Filed under Church, grace, Relationship, Theology and mystery

Why does God allow it?

 

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 

If God is good and God is strong and God knows everything, why doesn’t He change the circumstances that hurt us so much? This question haunts many believers and non-believers. Some would say that they became unbelievers because of this question. If they were honest, some may say that they became unbelievers because of the answers they were given.

 

In our comments this past week this question has come up in the context of the painful narcissistic relationship. How can God allow some people to use and abuse and cause so much pain to others? How can God stand by while we lose so much? Why doesn’t God deal with the abusers?

 

What I have found over the years is that the pat answers, no matter how good they sound to the one who gives them, rarely give real help to those who are hurting. Here are a few:

 

  1. It’s because of sin in your life. If you obeyed better, these terrible things wouldn’t be happening to you.
  2. It’s for your good. God loves you and sent the abuser to make you what He wants you to be.
  3. God is preparing you to be strong because something worse is coming.

 

Now, I don’t find any of those to be helpful. The first one makes evil my fault. The second one makes evil God’s fault. The last one makes my future seem dreadful. There is no comfort in any of these.

 

Please understand that this is one of the great mysteries of the faith. The answers we have do not come easily. This post will take a topic that could encompass many pages and boil them down to one, and that will be less than satisfying for any of us.

 

So here’s what I know:

 

  1. God is good and He loves me. He is not malicious or wrathful. He does not send trouble into my life to hurt me.
  2. God is strong enough and wise enough to stop the pain and change the circumstances. The fact that He doesn’t, does not change the fact that He could.
  3. God does not initiate evil, nor does He send it on us. His plan for us is good. The abuser is responsible for the evil he does.
  4. The world is broken, not working the way it was meant to work. Evil is a natural part of this brokenness. Those who do evil, narcissists and other abusers, participate in evil without any prompting by God.
  5. God does use difficult circumstances to draw us to Himself and He is able to turn curses into blessings. While He is not the author of the evil we suffer, He can use it for good in our lives.
  6. There are worse things than the pain we suffer. In the moment it is very hard to feel the reality of this, but it is true. The loneliness and confusion and emptiness of life apart from God’s love is one thing I would consider worse.
  7. All evil is temporary. Most of it will end in this life, but all will be gone in the next. That which is broken will be re-created and pain will be gone forever.
  8. In my pain I am never alone. The Lord is always with me, always near when I cry out to Him. Even when I cannot feel His presence, I can take comfort in knowing that He is with me.
  9. Those who look to Him and trust Him in the midst of their pain do find a special grace, an ability to live above their circumstances and to find their identity apart from their suffering.

 

Does this help me? Yes, it does. It reminds me that I don’t need the pat answers. As much as I want to understand, I really don’t need to. My desire to understand is usually a desire to control. I want to approve of my circumstances, even the difficult ones. If I know the purpose, then I might be able to give permission. But that is not my place. When I am able to trust Him, I find the peace He wants me to have.

 

No, I do not find this easy. I wish I could just live this way consistently, no matter what happens. But I am just as weak as anyone, just as fearful and just as doubtful. The only thing I have is the one thing I know—Jesus loves me.

 

Do I still wish He would change things sometimes? Of course! I pray against pain and suffering, in my life and in the lives of others. But as long as we are in this world, the brokenness will affect our lives. Sometimes, some amazing and wonderful times, God reaches in and changes things. The pain ends and life is good again for a while. I praise Him and rejoice in my peace. But I am learning to find that peace even in the times of struggle. Learning slowly, but learning.

 

No more pat answers. Don’t blame evil on me or on God. It just is. There may be causes and explanations, but none of them help my situation. What helps is to look on the One who loves me and trust Him.

 

That’s my prayer for each of you. Look to Him and trust in His love. Do what He leads you to do. If you can leave the narcissistic relationship, do it. If you cannot, then look to Jesus and find His overwhelming love in the midst of your struggle. He is there for you.

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The Real Message

There are so many reasons I consider the message of grace to be the central message of the Scriptures and the ultimate doctrine of God’s love. The Scriptures tell us over and over that God loves us and that He is the only one who can do what is necessary for us to be saved—and sanctified—and glorified. He does what we need. That’s grace!

There are many messages that have come to and through the people of God. Some say that we have to work for our salvation, either to earn it or maintain it. Some are saying today that all are already saved, no matter what they have done or what they believe. But God sent only one message of love to us—Jesus. And, I believe, the only message that allows Jesus His true position in the world and in our lives is the message of grace. It rings true throughout the Scriptures because it is the right message, the message God wants us to hear and to tell.

So here it is: God loves you and offers all that you need for “life and godliness” in the gift of His Son, Jesus. Your part is simply to be willing to receive, to take what He offers, to let Him love you. The day will come when we will see Jesus at the center of our existence, the source and goal of our lives, and that will truly be Heaven.

The message of grace is the message that keeps our eyes on Jesus.

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It’s all ours!

Imagine inheriting a beautiful estate, fully furnished, in the location of your dreams. The house is massive, full of rooms and treasures. There are outbuildings and what seems to be unending land with fields, trees, water, and paths. It’s all yours.

The caretaker welcomes you to your new home and offers to show you around. He wisely shows you just the places you will need and then leaves you to discover the wonders of the rest on your own. At any time, you can call on him for help or information; but he understands the special pleasure you will have in discovering these things on your own.

Something like that happens when we first enter into the knowledge of grace. We are told the basics, but there will be a lifetime of discovering the wonders and privileges of our relationship with Jesus.

This is the kind of experience I have had as I have learned about grace. I read the Scriptures and pray and more is opened almost every day. I read and listen to people who understand and am in awe of the new treasures I find. Some of the things I could see faintly, but when I looked closely I found them even more wonderful than I had thought. Some of the things I could almost expect as I reasoned through what I already knew, but some were amazing surprises.

You and I are loved by the Lord God Almighty. He has done all that is necessary for us to be with Him forever. He has provided, through our relationship with Him, everything we need for life and godliness. Jesus is our Friend. He is with us and He will never let us go. The rest of our lives will be spent learning more and more about what all of that means. As we learn, we will see more truth and feel more freedom and peace with every new day.

Perhaps it is true that we will never fully understand the grace of God in this world, but we are on our way. We listen and watch and more is revealed all the time. And we don’t have to distort the Scriptures or make up new doctrines or ideas. Instead, we will discover the beauty of the things that were plain all the time, except that we were not able to see them. We didn’t realize they were ours.

The old song says, “Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before!” I am beginning to understand.

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Filed under Freedom, grace, Relationship, Theology and mystery, Uncategorized

In the beginning was Jesus

“In the beginning was Jesus, and Jesus was with God, and Jesus was God.”

I know that’s not exactly how the gospel of John begins, but it is certainly what John means. Jesus is the Word that John talks about. There is a lot of deep theology here, mystery that we may never understand, but the truth is really quite simple: In the beginning was Jesus.

The theology can be confusing and can pull us away from the simplicity. Perhaps we should say that in the beginning there was the Son. Some would rather we said that in the beginning there was God in three Persons. But John says that the Word was there in the beginning and the Word was Jesus.

And when, exactly, was the beginning? We don’t even know that. Before the foundation of the world? Was there history before creation? These are the deep and wonderful mysteries, fun to think about, but the simple truth is still there: in the beginning was Jesus.

I write and speak a great deal about relationship with Jesus. He loves us and He is with us. He cares about our lives and He knows us. Yes, He knows the wanderings of our hearts, the doubts and temptations and compromises, and He still loves us just the same. Jesus is real—a real person, just like you and me, but even more.

Jesus was in the beginning.

When I walk with Jesus through my life, I connect with the One who loved me from the foundation of the world, from the beginning. I connect with the One who made the world and everything in it. The One who designed the intricacies of the atom and the immensities of space. The One who created the human soul and set it free. The One who watched as our first parents brought us all under subjection to the darkness. The One who set in motion a sacrificial plan where He would pay whatever it took to bring us home.

Jesus is not the afterthought of God. Jesus is not the creation of God. Jesus is not the means God came up with to save us when we had sinned. Jesus is God.

And He loved you and me from the beginning. Jesus didn’t decide to love us after we decided to accept Him into our hearts. He loved us before. He gave Himself for you and for me long before we lived and sinned. He called to us in love from the cross. When we believed, we found that He was already there, that He had always been there.

When you and I walk with Jesus, we walk with the Creator. He is the source of life. He is the One who was in the beginning and He is the One who is with us today.

That’s Jesus!

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Is it Legalism?

 

Occasionally I get a challenge on my use of the word “legalism.”  Some say that I don’t use it right, that I am just using it to categorize people in a negative way.  They think it is unfair for me to use the word to describe those who hold to higher standards or certain kinds of behavior.

What these challengers don’t understand is that I have been where they are.  In fact, years ago, I wrote a little pamphlet entitled, “The L Word,” in which I debunked the challenges of those who pointed at my church and called us legalists.  I said that legalism was only properly used in reference to a system teaching that people can be saved by keeping the Law.  Since I always believed that salvation came through Jesus alone, by grace through faith, I could not have been called a legalist.

Have you ever been right and wrong at the same time and about the same thing?  Well, I have been.  The above assessment is technically correct.  Legalism teaches salvation by law.  What I didn’t understand then is that all forms of performance spirituality stem from and return to legalism.

Now, let me give you a little of the theology I believe.  There is one requirement for salvation and it isn’t something we do.  It is receiving, by faith, the gift God has given to us in Jesus.  That’s it.  Just saying yes.

And that’s where some people disagree.  Yes, it’s faith, they say, but it is also obedience.  It is also doing the things God says.  If you don’t do what God says, then you aren’t really saved, they say.  And I reply: that’s legalism.

If my behavior is a requirement for my salvation, then I am under the law and saved by works.  If it is 90% Jesus and only 10% me, then I cannot be saved because I can never measure up even to that.  It doesn’t matter what ratio you bring out, if it isn’t 100% the love of God through Jesus, given freely as a gift to those who will receive, then it’s legalism.

Still, most performance-based people would agree with this.  And that’s where I was.  But then I began to hear people say things like, “Well, real Christians don’t ___.”   Or even, “I have to wonder if so-and-so is still saved.”  And sometimes, “We have no fellowship with people who don’t ___.”  I began to understand that we still had some requirements in addition to Jesus.

If the teaching produces feelings that some are “real” Christians while others are not; or that a person could lose his salvation on the basis of some evil act or the lack of some good act—how is that not legalism?  It is still under the law and not dependent on the grace of God in Jesus.  It’s grace plus whatever rule or standard the teaching promotes.  If you have to speak in tongues or be baptized a certain way or wear certain clothes in order to be a real Christian, then Jesus doesn’t make real Christians.  He only makes potential Christians.  We have to do the rest.  And if you have to avoid smoking or divorce or television or alcohol in order to be a real Christian, then Jesus can’t keep what He has made.  It’s up to us to keep ourselves in the kingdom and keep ourselves saved.

And—listen—if it’s up to us to keep ourselves saved, then we are under law and not under grace.  And those who are under law are legalists.

So what does your church or organization teach?  What do the people around you say, particularly about others who are not like you?  Are some people “real” Christians while others who profess Christ in some other category?  Are some people you talk about in danger of losing their salvation or of never having been saved because of something they do or don’t do?

Legalism is the antithesis of grace.  It pushes the love of God into a side category considering it something like an influence, rather than the answer and hope of the believer.  The cross of Christ is not enough for the legalist, we must do our part.  And the legalist will tell us what our part ought to be.

The truth is that the cross is enough.  The work of our salvation was accomplished by the love of God in Jesus.  That’s the past work, the present work, and the future work.  All that is necessary, He has done.  Our part is to believe and receive.

And about now the objections are being shouted.  “But what about sin?”  “We have to do our part!”  “What about the commands?”  “What about those people?”  Go my blog page and type the word “sin” into the search box.  You can read my many answers to these objections.

My mom and I used to play cribbage and she often said, “No matter how many times you count it, that’s all you get.”  Count it any way you want.  The truth is still the same.  All the challenges and objections and qualifications boil down to a simple fact:

If Jesus is enough, that’s grace.

If Jesus is not enough, that’s legalism.

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

The Break

 

Ever have a friend who was not exactly a friend?  I remember as a boy that I had a friend who seemed to take pleasure in hitting me or stealing my lunch or some other mean thing.  Yet, I stayed with him because he was my friend, right?  Why?  Because I knew him and we were from the same town and we grew up with each other.  We actually did a lot of things together from junior high through college.  But, I have to admit, when we finally separated, I was relieved.  I suppose I missed him, but not much.  I don’t think he was really a friend.

Performance spirituality is so familiar to us that it is like a long-time friend.  The idea that I have to work hard to please God, to get Him to love me and accept me, is a mean idea.  It never satisfies.  It never gives what it promises.  It hurts.  But I accepted it because it was what I knew.  We were together in church, in the family, in the world.  Performance spirituality, no matter how disappointing it was as a teaching, was an old friend.

Then I found grace.  I learned that God already loved me, long before I could do anything for Him.  I learned that my greatest efforts for Him were really me trying to measure up and He didn’t need them.  I realized that performance spirituality, which was cruel and fickle, could never lead me to what Jesus offered me just because He loved me.

But it took a long time to forget my old friend.  The words of performance, of measuring up, were the first to spring to my thoughts.  I had to think about grace, but performance seemed to come naturally.  Jesus called me to conform my thinking to His, to accept His acceptance of me, and to trust Him.  I have had to learn a new way of speaking and responding and hoping.

When did the break happen?  Actually the break that came between performance spirituality and me happened when I first understood what Jesus had done for me.  As I learned more, the break became wider.  There is a progress in this, but the break does grow.  Sometimes I slip and act as though my old friend is still in charge, but then I remember and I can relax.  Jesus is in charge now.  My performance is not the focus.

The truth I know today is that performance was never really my friend.  And when I think about it, I really don’t miss it.

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Free to Sin?

“Okay, so you are telling me that I am already perfect in Christ because He is my life.  So then I am free to go out and sin as much as I can and still be perfect?”

 

Every teacher of grace gets this objection.  If you don’t, you probably are not teaching grace. 

 

“If the work is already finished on my behalf; if I am as spiritual as I will ever be; if I already have the love and acceptance of the Father because of Jesus—then what is there to stop me from sinning?”

 

And if you don’t know the answer to that, you don’t understand the grace of God. 

 

For some reason, the legalist thinks that rules and standards will stop people from sinning.  But it hasn’t worked so far.  It didn’t work for the Pharisees in the time of Jesus and it doesn’t work for the legalist today.  But the legalist says that’s because the sinners don’t actually live according to the rules.  He points out compromises and failures and doubts in the lives of those who sin. 

And he’s right.  There are compromises and failures and doubts in all our lives.  That’s why we need a Savior.  That’s why we still need Jesus, even after He reached into our lives and saved us.  And the legalist still needs a Savior, just like the rest of us.

The rules were not enough to make us perfect before we came to Jesus and the rules are not enough to keep us perfect after.  The rules, God’s rules, are there to warn us of the suffering we will encounter in certain situations.  Do we really need the threat of losing our salvation to keep us from adultery or stealing?  Are there no other reasons to avoid those things? 

When Bobby was little, his mother warned him about touching the hot burner on the stove.  He seemed to like playing around the stove, so she told him he had to stay away in order to be safe.  Bobby didn’t listen.  So Mom told him she would punish him if he came close to touching the hot burner again.  He did and she did.  She used whatever means she could to keep him safe.

But when Bobby grew up to be a young adult, he came home one day and told his mom that he was going to touch the hot burner.  Her days of giving punishment were past, he said.  Now he would do what he wanted, and he wanted to touch the stovetop.  What would you expect Mom to say? 

She said, “Go ahead.”

If Bobby couldn’t do what was right because he trusted her wisdom and love, then he would have to do what he wanted and suffer the consequences.  Does this mean that Mom would reject her son?  Of course not.  She still loved him as much as ever.  But he would have to understand that it was her love that gave the prohibition in the first place.  He would have to find out for himself that the hot burner would bring him pain.  She had wanted to spare him.  Mom still loves Bobby, even when he learns that the hot burner hurts. 

God loves us and wants to spare us the pain of certain actions and attitudes.  Even after we become believers, He wants us to avoid the trouble sin causes.  But He doesn’t reject us when we sin.  Nothing that He has done for us or in us will go away.  We still belong to Him and His life still is in us.  We are still perfect new creations in Him. 

Does God actually say that we are free to go out and sin all we want?  Read the story of the prodigal son.  He never says that He will keep us from the trouble our sins will cause.  He never says that sin won’t hurt.  But He allows us to do what we want.  If we cannot trust Him and His love for us, perhaps the consequence of our sin will bring us home.

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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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