Monday, January 26, 2015

I Don't Get Mad...I Get Even! (Where is the grace, part 2)

We've all seen the bumper sticker:

In fact I even ran across a book on Amazon for sale by the same title. Maybe our cars don't have this sticker. Maybe we'd never read a book on getting even. My guess is that we've all at least thought this. We have all wanted people who have wronged us to "get what's coming to them." It's possible we have even prayed for God to help in this endeavor (I mean didn't David pray that way? We are just being spiritual right?) 

We tend to see our sins as very small while sins that are committed against us as very large. This is in contrast to Jesus' teaching in Matthew 7 where he states that we are the ones running around with planks in our eyes trying to remove specks from the eyes of others. His comical point was that if we looked at our own sin as a bigger problem than the sin of others, then we will be in a better position to dispense grace. You know...grace. Loving someone who is unlovable. Forgiving someone who is unforgivable. You know...those very things that God has done for us in Jesus. 

There is a famous quote by rapper Eminem that I have seen make the rounds on facebook and on memes. I don't know if he said it, but this is what is attributed to him, "I don't care if you're black, white, straight, bisexual, gay, lesbian, short, tall, fat, skinny, rich or poor. If you're nice to me, I'll be nice to you. Simple as that." I will say that it is very admirable to be nice to people no matter their race, gender, physical appearance, or sexual orientation. However, this quote still doesn't go far enough to escape ungrace. "If you are nice to me...then I will be nice to you." Jesus took it much, much further:

32 If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do what is good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners to be repaid in full.  Luke 6:32-34

Grace doesn't only do good to those who do good to you. Grace does good to everyone, no matter what you get out of it. Grace is kind even to it's enemies. Our world is full of ungrace. We live in a "you get what you deserve" kind of culture. Thankfully that is NOT how God is. Eminem (and others) say that it is enough to be nice to people who are nice to you. What if they aren't nice to you? Well, we have a bumper sticker for that...

I can't tell you what you need to do in every specific situation in your life. All I know is that if God took the attitude, "I don't get mad, I get even!" then we would all be doomed and without any hope at all in this world or the next. 


Part of A Little R and R's LINK PARTY

Friday, January 23, 2015

Where Are You, Grace?

I recently read Phillip Yancey's Vanishing Grace which has led me to re-read his What's So Amazing About Grace many years after I first read it. I must admit, I am heartbroken not only in the amount of ungrace found in the church today but also the amount of ungrace in my own heart. Yancey tells the story of a group of leaders from various world religions who were once discussing what unique contribution Christianity made to the discussion. In other words, what makes Christianity special? The group could not come up with an answer. Reportedly, C.S. Lewis entered the room and asked what all the hubbub was about. When they posed the dilemma to him, he replied, "That's easy, grace."

Grace. We sing about it. We preach about it. We say it before meals. But do we really believe it? How do we really feel when Jesus tells the story of the land owner who paid the guys who worked one hour the same amount he paid the guys who toiled for 12? Why do we so easily empathize with the older brother who stayed home when he was upset that his father accepted the wayward younger brother back no questions asked in Luke 15, even throwing him a party?

Yes, grace is scandalous. Everything in our culture and even in most of our churches is built around a "you get what you deserve/earn" kind of mentality. Truthfully we expect people to "get themselves right" and then Jesus will deal with them. A no questions asked acceptance and love that is truly unconditional is not how most of us live, and sadly we do not see God in this light.

But that IS how God is. He loves not because we are lovely, but because He is love. Just as the father in Luke 15 was happy (that is an understatement) when his prodigal son returned, so is God happy (again this is an understatement) when a wayward lost child returns to Him. God is not waiting to zap anyone, He is waiting to welcome them home. That is the picture Jesus continually gives us of the Father. That is the picture even the Old Testament gives of the Father.

I plan to spend some time the next couple of weeks really delving into the treasure that is grace. The world around you (and you) don't need more judgment, we need more grace. That's what we all crave, because God made us to need Him. He loves us, just as we are. The sooner we realize this, the more stable our lives will become.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Restriction Driven Church: Conclusion

If you find church more restrictive than are not alone. We can make so many rules. We are experts at "keeping people in check." I wanted to end this series with a look at what should restrict each one of us as followers of Jesus. The answer is surprisingly freeing.

The short of it is this: every individual believer has the indwelling Holy Spirit and His Word to restrict him or her. No man or woman or church or religious system can ultimately tell any of us what we can or can't do. I may be sounding a bit like a rebel...and I am cool with that. I leave you with a few illustrations, two from the Scriptures one from church history.

A Confused Eunuch

One my favorite accounts in the Bible is an encounter Phillip had with a traveling eunuch who had been worshiping in Jerusalem and then returning to his home of Ethiopia. You can read the account yourself in Acts 8. The eunuch was in his chariot, reading from the book of Isaiah. It is possible this text was the subject of the worship service he had just attended but he left wanting answers. Here is the passage that had him in disarray:

"He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so He opened not His mouth. In His humiliation His justice was taken away, and who will declare is generation? For His life is taken from the earth."  Acts 8:32-33 (quoting Isaiah 53)

Now I should point out that this eunuch didn't have the benefit of the New Testament or modern translations which correctly capitalize He and His. So the eunuch's question to Phillip is not only important, it's a very good interpretive question, "...of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?" (Acts 8:34)

The answer to this question makes all the difference in the world! Phillip explains that this text and the entire Old Testament point to Jesus Christ. Isaiah was predicting the crucifixion of the Savior hundreds of years before it actually happened. The eunuch believed, was baptized, and Phillip sent him on his way.

Just like that. No further instructions. No guidelines. No church manual. Not even a command to start the "right kind of church" or any church for that matter. This man received Jesus, and thus receiving the Holy Spirit, had a copy of the Old Testament (although perhaps ONLY Isaiah), and Phillip had NO PROBLEM turning this man loose on a land that had never heard of Jesus!

Don't miss this! The only restraint this man had was the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures in His hand. This is how it's meant to be. We are restrained...but we are free!

A Passionate Missionary

There is no doubt that the Apostle Paul had more passion for seeing lives transformed by Jesus in his little pinky than most of us do in our whole bodies. But what controlled Paul? What was his "method"? It might surprise you that the evidence is that he didn't really have one. Check out this account from the book of Acts:

"Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Spirit to preach the word in Asia. After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. So passing by Mysia, the came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying 'Come over to Macedonia and help us.' Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them." Acts 16:6-10 (emphasis mine)

How many times do we see that kind of reliance on the Holy Spirit in our churches today? How about in our lives? We trust organizations and people more than we trust the living Spirit of God! Just in case you might think this is a one time deal, this kind of thinking came across in Paul's letters as well, here are a few examples:

"And do not be drunk with wine (controlled by wine), in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit." (controlled with/by the Spirit) Ephesians 5:18

"For 'who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?' BUT WE HAVE THE MIND OF CHRIST." 1 Corinthians 2:16 (the context clearly indicates that Paul is talking about the Holy Spirit teaching those He indwells, see especially verse 13)

I am not trying to sound harsh or calling you to anarchy (though a little rebellion may be what the church needs now). What I am saying is that the Scriptures are clear: no man or church or religious system can be the Holy Spirit to you or to me (and we can't be the Holy Spirit to others).

"But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact I don't even judge myself. For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord." 1 Corinthians 4:3-4

A Rebel 

Martin Luther is known as the Father of the Protestant Reformation, and rightly so. But have you ever thought about why the Catholic Church of the day wanted his head? Luther's biggest crime? Translating the Bible into German. That's right. Luther wanted everyone to be able to read the Bible for themselves and with their own guidance by the Holy Spirit decide for themselves what it meant and what God wanted them to do in response to it.

I know, what a novel idea! Luther's critics raged, "but what if they make all kinds of mistakes, the common people need the church to tell them what the Word means." Bibles in those days were literally chained to pulpits and written only in Latin (which the common people would not have been versed in). They had no way to determine if what "the church" was telling them was even right. Luther understood that it is better to give everyone the right to make their own mistakes rather than make mistakes for all of them at once.

God is about setting people free, not restricting them more than they were before they started following Jesus. I have been the victim and perpetrator of this kind of law in the past. No more! 

I close this series with a quote from Paul Tournier from his book Guilt and Grace:
"I cannot study this very serious problem of guilt without raising the very obvious and tragic fact that religion -- my own as well as that of all believers -- can crush instead of liberate." (as quoted in Phillip Yancey's What's So Amazing about Grace?)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Restriction Driven Church: Part Three

Nobody likes being restricted or trapped. As I continue my series on the Restriction Driven Church here are some observations/conclusions that I have made over the years of my study of the Scripture and my experience in local churches.

Church should be about freedom not guilt.

So much in what we do in church is guilt driven. I have run into countless members over the years at Wal-Mart who after missing the previous Sunday would spend 20 minutes of my time shopping trying to excuse themselves for missing church. The only problem is I didn't really care. I don't say that to sound harsh. It's just I don't see a problem with missing church every now and then. It's not a cardinal sin to miss church, I am not even sure it is a sin at all!

The big area we see guilt is the area of money. So many churches set aside whole months of the year to make their people feel guilty about not giving more money. We mask it well...we call it "Stewardship Month" or "Stewardship Sunday." I even had a pastor preach on tithing on all four Sundays of Advent one year saying, "If you don't tithe to this church, then shame on you if you get Christmas gifts for your kids." Yes, he actually said that and yes I am sure there are guilt driven people all over who would "Amen" that nonsense. If you walk into a church and they are having "Stewardship Sunday" then do yourself a favor and walk out until next me. 

The big problem of course is that Jesus came to set people free, not to burden them with more restrictions and make them feel guilty when they don't measure up (again see John 8:32).

Church should be about helping not hindering. 

One church required three committees to approve any kind of monetary help for any individual or family. Another time I received a phone call because some homeless folks showed up at our church Wednesday dinner (I had actually invited them when they came by our food pantry). I was astonished by the question I was asked, "What do you want us to do with them?" I know these are just two examples and not everyone in the church hinders ministry. However, it does demonstrate that there is much confusion and hesitation when it comes to helping others. I long for the day when churches once again do not have to think twice about helping those in need (read the book of Acts). In other words our gut response to those homeless folks should be to hand them a questions asked.

Church should be about grace not rules.

We say we are about grace but as Johnny Helms has written about here, we often believe not in grace, but in GRACEBUT. Johnny writes, "Gracebut obviously comes from two words that are commonly said within the same breath but heretofore have been separated by a respectable space or a pregnant pause. "Yes, we're saved by grace, but..." Now we can skip the niceties and say what we're really thinking, "we're not really saved by grace, after all. I ultimately have the final say. 'If it's goina be, it's up to me.'" Sorry, Dr. Schuller."

We sing Amazing Grace...but that person made their own bed. We say we are saved by grace...but God can't really expect us to help these folks. We are under grace...but we have to be extra careful with "God's resources". Hate to break it to you...even when we screw it up they are STILL God's resources. My observation is that our churches are FULL of people who are confused when it comes to stepping out in faith and helping others, even to the point where we often feel guilty for it! 

It seems we have forgotten the Pharisees. God's laws weren't enough so they had to make more laws to make sure they didn't break God's laws. Of course we fool ourselves if we ever think we CAN keep God's laws. The law was never meant to be kept by was meant to show us how far we all fall short and need God's grace. Let's not complicate things by adding rule after rule after rule. Many of our "rules" are unwritten of course and the "church elite" know them and enforce them. Let's be children of grace and if  "church" keeps us from that...then we need to abandon that form of church.

Tomorrow I will wrap this series up by looking at what or who does and should be our only restriction.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Restriction Driven Church: Part Two

"Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven." -James 5:14-15

It almost pains me to say this but one way many "Bible Believing" churches restrict is by restricting the Bible. We pick and choose the things we want to focus on and ignore or get angry when someone obeys a part we don't like. Divorce and homosexuality...oh, and tithing are the most important topics in the Bible and every year we need a sermon series on them. Other areas are completely ignored and tucked away because they don't fit the "way we do things.One story comes to mind.

I was serving as a youth pastor in Charlotte, NC (in a church that has since died, no surprise). The pastor of the church believed that God still could and would actually heal people of physical sicknesses (go figure) but he was not a name it and claim it Word of Faith preacher. One Sunday morning he decided to open up the worship service to pray over those who were sick.

One person in particular had been having a really rough go, there were all kinds of issues going on in this persons body. I will never forget as I watched the pastor call the deacons forward. They then laid hands over this dear church member, prayed for her healing and then anointed her with oil. Even if no healing took place, it was a beautiful picture of faith in the Great Physician...and I knew there would be fall out.

Following worship I was standing at the front with the pastor as I did every Sunday. One lady, who happened to the the Associational WMU Director (red flag right there) made a b-line for the pastor and I swear you could see the smoke coming off the top of her little head. I knew she wasn't coming for prayer, she was coming to attack the pastor.

Turns out she was infuriated that the pastor would dare do something like anoint a sick person with oil. But her argument took me off guard. She didn't say that James 5 was "symbolic" (though it's not), what she said was, "We don't do that because we are Baptist." I will never forget the pastor's response, it has in many ways shaped different areas of my ministry. He said, I don't do it because it's Baptist, I do it because it's Bible."

You see that pastor took the bible seriously (not just literally). The Bible freed him to REALLY minister to people. The Word also freed him to say what needed to be said in love to the angry Don of the blue haired mafia.  I don't know if the person we prayed over ever got healed. What I do know is you can never take away that moment from all of us. We were full of faith, we were unified, we were free. Do not let ANYONE restrict your walk with Jesus. Don't let anyone put your faith in a Baptist box or a Methodist Box or any box. God does not live in a box, he lives in the hearts of His children.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Friday, January 09, 2015

The Restriction Driven Church: Part One

Jesus said, "And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free...if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed." (John 8:32,36)  One of the problems in the church today is that we aren't really in the business of setting people free. In fact, often times local churches are far better at restricting people from being the people God has called them to be. I remember my frustration at one church where I had to go through three separate committees to get approval to help one person with some physical needs!

Maybe we have come to this point "accidentally", I don't know. Yes, there are churches that are indeed setting people free, but in my experience this is the exception to the rule. Churches restrict women (a woman's place is in the home). Churches restrict youth and children (seen not heard). Churches restrict church members and squelch their dreams of ministry (You need to go through the proper channels). Churches restrict pastors (we may not be able to pay you if we do that ministry you are suggesting). Each of those quotations represent things I have actually heard, and I have heard much more.

Our worship services are stifling. Don't rock the boat. Keep the status quo. Great ideas and dreams are shot down by the "power people" in business meetings. Sure, we need to seek the Word of God to keep us in check, but that is not normally how we say no to someone. This has really bothered me this week. No, I am not happy with the current way MOST churches operate in America. We care more about propagating the institution's existence than we do provoking the individuals excitement. Who cares about the buildings and programs if our people never are set free?

Jesus came to set us free, not to add more burdens to the ones we already carry. "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)  So many people are refusing to worship with us or abandoning church all together because there is nothing that resembles this in the way that we do church. I will spend the next several posts elaborating on this topic. Yes, it will be a series of critical blogs, but my prayer is that someone, somewhere will read this and be set free. Or better yet, entire churches will change their perspective.

HT: Thanks to Korrine Britton for sharing this POST that got me thinking on this topic.