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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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Giving and Getting

Grace 101

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”  That is a quote from Acts 20:35.  It has been hammered into us for so many years that we tend to think it is a life principle.  But is it true in every situation?

The reason I ask is that there are many Christians who seem to think it is more blessed to give to God than to receive from Him.  They are more about what they are doing for Him than what He is doing for them.  In fact, they have formed their religion around what they do for God and they expect to be blessed because of the things they do.  Since it is more blessed to give than to receive, and they want to be blessed, they choose to focus on what they are giving.

Over the years I have heard about the “deals” people have made with God.  ‘Me and the man upstairs, we have an understanding.”  “I work for God and He works for me.”  “I told the Lord I would do that for Him if He would do this for me.”  Besides the fact that these “deals” seem pretty one-sided, they also put the person on an almost equal footing with God.  In other words, they seem arrogant and presumptuous.

Now, most people don’t do this, at least most church people.  But in their minds they still bargain.  They still expect God to keep deals.  I know this because I hear them express their disappointment with Him.  They say things like, “I have tried to be faithful, to do what I was supposed to do, why couldn’t He do this for me?”  Sometimes they are angry.  Sometimes they feel betrayed.  Sometimes they feel unloved.  When they needed Him, God failed.

When we suggest that God has let us down, that we somehow deserve better from Him, or that He has failed to take into account our giving—we betray something of a flesh religion in our own hearts.  When we blame God for our pain, we suggest that He is somehow responsible for making sure we get our way.  We are in charge.  He is the servant.  He is our divine caregiver and He isn’t doing His work.

The flesh system we create as we go through life is all about us.  It makes us look good, feel good, and get good.  If spiritual blessings come through spiritual service, then we understand that we are supposed to work.  And if we are supposed to work, we certainly want that work to be noticed.  Even when it isn’t spoken, the deal system is implicit in the flesh religion.

Let me make this clear.  The flesh system is all about giving because it sees giving as the way to getting.

But grace isn’t about what you give.  It’s about what you get.  God is the Giver because He loves you.  God is the Giver because He doesn’t need what you can give.  God is the Giver because you need what He can give.  You are the one with the need and He is the one with the “everything.”

So grace is about getting and religion is about giving.  Does that sound backwards to you?  That’s okay.  When you are able to rest and let God give to you, then you will begin to understand the truth.  And that truth will set you free.

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Religion Today

Grace 101

 

So what do you think—has religion changed?  I have suggested that people operating in the flesh take the things of the Lord into their flesh system and make religion.

The things God gave for the good of humankind, because of His love, were twisted into rules of behavior upon which people would be judged.  Faith and relationship mattered little because of the system.  The religious person who kept the rules would be judged on the basis of his obedience.   This was the system Jesus exposed.

The Pharisees were the epitome of this system.  They were the separatists, the legalists, of their day.  They made rules to keep people from breaking rules so they had to keep the commandments of God.  Yet, they built loopholes for themselves so they wouldn’t be burdened by the system.  But, even without the corruption, this was never what God intended.  He had given good things for the good of the people.

So now we are in the Christian era.  We know those old Jewish rules aren’t for us.  But we have new things.  The child who can memorize Scripture is considered spiritual no matter what he does to the other kids during break time.  The elder who can pray with eloquence is spiritual even though he cheats the employees of his business.  The mother who serves faithfully in the church is spiritual even when she uses her connections to gossip.  The corruption certainly hasn’t gone away.

Nor has the ability to twist the good things of God.  The flesh continues to incorporate the things of God in its attempt to find spiritual success.  Bible memory, faithful giving, worship attendance—these are things that are used to judge spirituality even today.  Not bad things, but things misused by the flesh.

The point is that religion is the flesh’s substitute for a relationship with the Lord.  The Lord loves us and wants us to walk with Him.  The flesh cannot understand that walk, but tries to create something similar.

It is particularly sad that so many preachers and teachers and churches have been focused on the flesh’s religion for so long.  Religious flesh is still flesh.

Religion hasn’t changed.

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Perhaps Not So Foolish

Today is “National Atheist Day.”  At least that’s what some say.  The idea is based on a familiar Scripture quote, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” (Psalm 14:1)  Since this is April first, April Fools Day, some have deemed it fair to point out how foolish it is not to believe in God.

But before we accuse atheists of being fools, perhaps we should find out what god they are rejecting.

Over the past few years I have heard from several people who find it very hard to believe in God.  They, in fact, seriously doubt that He exists and want nothing to do with Him if He does.  In their minds, God is cruel, distant, and arbitrary.  He is kind to some and mean to others.  He judges on the basis of sin, yet lets the oppressors get by with almost anything.  His judgment looms for those who try hard to please him, but there seems to be no judgment for those who don’t try at all.  This god is someone they reject.

But this is not the God of the Scriptures.  This is the twisted image of God presented by the flesh and the religious system.  People operating in the flesh expect their efforts to be noticed and their “mistakes” to be overlooked.  They want to be judged on what they intended or on what they wanted to intend to do.  They developed a religion that has a god who operates like we do.  The flesh expects God to bargain, to recognize our works, and to turn His back as we hurt ourselves and others.

This is the god many churches present.

This is the god many who call themselves “atheists” are rejecting.

If God is impressed by the rich, like some churches are;  if God finds pleasure in catching us in sin and holding that over our heads, like some churches seem to teach;  if God rejects whole groups of people because of the struggles of their hearts, the color of their skin, or the culture of their birth, like some churches have taught;  and if God is so focused on His anger that He killed His Son just because He had to kill someone—then I don’t think I would want Him either.  But none of that is true.  That is not the God of the Bible.

Don’t misunderstand me.  I have read the Bible and I have seen the consequences suffered by those who turned away from God.  But I have also seen His continual invitation for deliverance and protection.  I have seen, throughout the Bible, His attempts to reach out in love to anyone.  And I have seen that He respects each one enough to allow them to go their own way.

The Bible presents a God who loves people enough to call them from sin and the consequences that will hurt them and others.  And, even when they fail and continue to sin, He still calls them to come and be washed and saved.  This is the God who loves.

Most of the people who have told me they no longer believe in God have never really known Him.  They have known only the god of the flesh and religious system.  They have never met the God who loves them.

Before you think of the atheist as a fool, be sure he is rejecting the true God.  It isn’t foolish at all to reject a false god.

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The People’s Plan

Grace 101

 

When Adam and Eve decided to do things their own way, they left the Garden where God had provided and protected.  I don’t think they believed they would die, but the life they lived was certainly gone.  I think they thought they could have both God’s blessing and their own will.  But the Lord had warned them and they listened to the lie of the serpent and they chose poorly.

God called the tree “the knowledge of good and evil.”  That has puzzled people for a long time.  What does it mean to know evil?  I would suggest that it means they knew evil intimately.  They lived in it.  They explored it.  They wrestled and played and embraced with it.  Just as they had lived immersed in good, they now found their existence immersed in evil.

And many of them turned their hearts and thoughts away from the Lord to explore this new existence.  In fact, it seems that the normal, the natural, path for people to take after the Fall was away from the Lord.  So universal was this that, by the time of the Flood, the Lord’s observation of man was that “every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”  All they thought about was evil.

But evil is lonely.  Inherent in evil are things like mistrust, greed, abuse, and hatred.  Emotions like fear, anxiety, jealousy, sadness, anger, and confusion flooded the human soul.  Nothing was right and nothing was easy.  How were they to live without God?  They had turned away from the source of good, but evil provided a cruel world.  What were they supposed to do?

Apart from God, they developed a system of living that made sense to them.  Based on trial and error, cause and effect, they began to see that certain actions brought certain responses or consequences.  As life went on, they began to remember the system and teach it to their children.  The system became part of their lives, part of their world.  It became so integrated with their daily lives that Paul would later refer to it as “the flesh.”

The flesh is a strange mixture of things learned from the world, from parents, and from the individual’s own experience.  It consists of evaluation and judgment of these experiences.  Apart from God’s guidance and in the realm of fear and death, the flesh offered the only survival tool available.  The fact that it rarely worked only served to cause people to look deeper and work harder.

Fear seemed to be the primary motivation, but greed/lust and isolation were close behind.  The reasoning is familiar to all of us because it was there at the beginning of our lives as well.  Why do more people admit to a fear of public speaking than to a fear of death?  Because exposure makes one vulnerable and vulnerable people are used and abused by others.  This is what the flesh learned.  But some learned it differently.  They learned that those who hold back exhibit vulnerability, so they grab attention and opportunity before others can get it.  But those who grabbed the attention and those who avoided it both still felt vulnerable and afraid.

The human heart focused on meeting its own needs and developed a way that seemed right.  In fact, it seemed like the only way.  But it organized and learned to cooperate within a spirit of fear and mistrust and built systems of politics and morals and laws to mitigate the evil.  The strong ruled because they needed to be on top and the rest allowed it because they were afraid.  Morals were based on what was good for society and what pleased the strong.  But at least there was a system that attempted to lessen the pain and suffering of being alone and without God.

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death. Proverbs 14:12

The real need was still not met.  The real fear came from inside.  The emptiness of the human soul could not be filled by any system of government or morals.  A person might survive, but still feel dead inside.  There was a longing for God that would never be met apart from Him—but they tried.  And there was an instinctual knowledge of judgment that entered the heart whenever death was considered.  How could they face death apart from God?

Religion was designed by humans to meet the spiritual emptiness of their souls.  The act of worship made them feel connected to something bigger than themselves.  The responsibility of obedience made them feel better about their hearts.  It didn’t seem to matter what they worshiped or who they obeyed.  Some worshiped animals, some made idols of wood or stone, and some created gods much like themselves.  Religion became a part of their system of flesh.

But then they connected their plan to God’s plan.

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