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Guilt

Grace 101

Ever feel guilty for doing something and then realize that you are already forgiven?  And then you feel guilty for not remembering that truth before?  We are creatures of guilt.  We are so familiar with guilt that we don’t recognize it as it creeps into our hearts and destroys our days.  It feels so right because it fit so well in our lives for so long.

But guilt and shame can distract you from the joy of grace.  They come when we forget that we are no longer under law, but they also come when we chastise ourselves under grace.  Many of us were taught to think of ourselves as stupid or weak or foolish.  Remembering the message of grace in a world (or in a church) that does not support that message can be hard work.

Some people who have had limbs amputated struggle with what is called, “phantom pain.”  Phantom pain is more than a memory that can simply be blocked out with effort.  Phantom pain, pain in a hand that is no longer there, for example, can be very real.  Something like 80% of amputees report some kind of phantom pain.  It hurts.  No one knows exactly what is happening, but almost all theories center on the continued functioning of nerves that used to extend to the absent limb.

Well, I don’t want to push the analogy too far, but you and I have nerves that are very used to experiencing shame and guilt.  In fact, most of us would worry about ourselves if we didn’t feel guilty for doing something wrong.  And we kind of want to have a reminder or a nudge when we do something wrong, don’t we?  But then, when we do feel guilty, we fall back into the self-condemnation and the oppression we experienced under the law.

So let me suggest a new tactic.  I think the nudge from the Holy Spirit is good.  There are things that we do that are hurtful to ourselves and others.  We don’t want to do them.  If we do them, we want to be nudged.  But we don’t have to feel shame and guilt.  That is something different.

If we could interpret the nudge from the Spirit as a blessing, as something good, then we could win.  Instead of the pain of shame, we could feel the attention of the Lord and the influence of His Spirit.  That’s not a bad thing at all.  In fact, we could go so far as to rejoice at our renewed awareness of His presence.

The next time the Holy Spirit nudges you with the mindfulness of your wrong action, just say, “Thanks!”  Believe that His only purpose is to help you and His only motive toward you is love.  There is no condemnation in His nudge, no shame, and you carry no guilt.  But He simply is telling you that this is not going to be profitable and He loves you enough to make His presence known.

Now, I know that someone will say that people will just sin more then so they can feel good about their interaction with the Spirit.  Listen: that’s dumb.  No one who wants to walk with Jesus will sin more so that they get more attention from Him.  What will happen is that the distraction that comes with the earthly consequences of sin and the false guilt will end and their hearts will be even more at peace in their relationship with Him.

You see, we no longer need guilt to guide us.  We have love.  God’s love for us is active and involved.  He speaks to us and leads us.  That is a very good thing.

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The Church – enemy of grace?

Grace 101

 

I have spent my adult life serving the Lord through the organized church.  That’s why this post brings me grief.  I am certainly not against the church as Jesus led in the beginning.  In the beginning, the church was the community of grace.  It was where people could come from all kinds of backgrounds and find their unity in Jesus.  Slaves and masters, rich and poor, moral and immoral—all came because of Jesus.  And all were accepted in the same way.

Whoa!  Really?  Well, maybe at first, the very first.  By the time James wrote his letter to the church, the people were already segregating themselves according to social status.  That was about AD 49, according to many scholars who believe that James is the earliest of the letters.  Now, let’s see: if we say that Pentecost happened in AD 30 (that’s about the earliest date suggested), then it took just 19 years for the “community of grace” to become corrupted by fleshly perspectives.

But does that really surprise us?  Wouldn’t we expect that the problems began much earlier than that?  In fact, in Acts 6, just a couple of years after Pentecost at most, there is a division between the Hebrew-speaking Jews and the Greek-speaking Jews.  Divisions between the people of God are nothing new.

It is in the nature of an organization to establish hierarchies, traditions, and standards.  Who gets to lead?  Who gets to participate?  Who fits and who does not?  These are questions organizations almost always ask.  So the manipulations and values of the flesh often prevail.  Grace is pushed aside.

When I suggest that the church is an enemy of grace, I don’t believe that it has to be that way.  That’s just the way things seem to happen most of the time.  Old battles have established boundaries of doctrine and style, perhaps even race or nationality.  It is difficult to welcome those who don’t quite fit.

So when you come with your new joy and enthusiasm because of the message of grace, you shouldn’t be surprised that the church seems a little offended.  After all, the church has been charged with telling the Good News and has decided what that “good news” entails.  Baptism, church membership, service, attendance at worship, certain lifestyle values, tithing, receiving communion—these things may be added because of history and tradition; but the church still considers itself to have the Good News as the core of its message.  When you suggest that these things mean little or nothing to the true message of God’s grace, the church can become defensive.

The trodden path where grace cannot take root is found in many organizations.  The church, of course, but also the mission organization or the homeschool group or the men’s fellowship.  Wherever the organization itself is of more importance than the One who is supposed to lead it, grace will not be very welcome.

Now, please understand.  I continue to serve God through the church and I expect to do so until I die.  Almost all of my friends have been church folks.  We have been greatly loved in the church.  I believe in associating with the people of the church.  And I believe in calling the church back to the pure and simple message of grace.

Just don’t expect to find the grace message broadly embraced by the church or by any other organization.  It is too personal, too radical; no matter how true it is.

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Straw Men

“My friend over there does not believe you.  He does not think you can do what you say.  I believe you, but he does not.  He says he has twenty dollars that he will bet against you.  Do you want his bet?”

With these words the speaker prodded the soldier into trying to stick his sword into the wall from ten paces.  He put twenty dollars on the table and threw his sword.  When it didn’t stick, he said loudly that he wanted another chance.  The little man ran over to his friend and came back with the word that another twenty dollar bet would be granted.  But again the sword did not stick.  The soldier wanted another chance and laid another twenty on the table.  Again he failed to stick the sword. 

The little man snatched up the twenty dollars again and said, “My friend thinks you are a liar.”

With that the soldier gave way to his anger and charged the friend who sat in the dark corner of the bar.  But the stranger did not stand or flinch.  And when the soldier saw him clearly the truth was revealed.  The “friend” was made of straw.  Just a form of a man in a dark corner.  The little man, however, was nowhere to be found.

Straw men cause a lot of problems, don’t they?  They seem to be everywhere, in almost any argument.  You hear from them in church complaints: “A lot of people I talk to think . . . .”  You hear from them in gossip: “Did you hear that there is someone in the church who . . .?”  You even hear from them in doctrinal disputes:  “Those people believe . . . .”  But when you look for them, they aren’t really there.

Sometimes the straw men are just lies.  But sometimes they are distractions that allow a person to make a point while you are upset about something else.  And sometimes they are unrepresentative samples used to discredit a whole group.  This last one is what I have been seeing lately.  Find someone who believes what you are against, someone with strange ideas and teachings, and use that person to discredit others who hold remotely similar teachings.

Here’s what I mean: I know of a very small group of people who embrace the grace message and engage in offensive behavior.  These folks like to get drunk, think cussing is cool, and flirt with the most aberrant ideas of doctrine.  Then they write about loving the Lord and being thankful for His grace.  So the people who write against “hyper-grace” use them as examples of why the grace message is wrong.

I just listened to one young man explain why he believes the Biblical message about Satan is outdated and no longer applicable for our day.  He happens to believe almost the same as I do about grace.  But are we the same?  Suggesting that the grace message is discredited because of this man’s errors is a straw man fallacy.  It is no different from bigotry against a certain group of people because of the behavior of a few who happen to be part of that group.

The grace message—the teaching that the work of Jesus Christ is sufficient and complete for our salvation—is firmly supported by the Scriptures.  Any addition to the work of Jesus, any requirement that you or I are supposed to do in order to get saved or stay saved, is error.  No matter how far someone who believes this strays from the truth in other ways, their heresy or nonsense does not negate the truth of God’s grace.

Now, to be fair, using straw men is wrong when we do it as well.  If I watch a group of legalistic church people sneak into the bar in another city and listen to them tell dirty jokes and get drunk, and then suggest that this is what all legalists are like, I would be wrong.  Every idea has proponents who do not represent the whole.

Let’s talk about real issues and stay away from straw men.

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