Faith

This page will host posts that concern the “Faith once and for all contended for by the saints” as Jude puts it.  Theology and Christian life issues will addressed.

 

Observations from the Valley

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As I have been walking through this valley over the last month, there are a few observations that I have discerned.

  • God’s church is alive and well. Contrary to popular opinion, His people care and can put aside differences when necessary.
  •  Eyes of Faith Stock PhotosIt’s sad how many believers struggle with severe anxiety, depression or obsessive compulsive disorders. Many of these believers suffer silently because of the stigma that we have placed upon it. I recently received a message of prayer for Kierstin from an amazingly faithful missionary. A missionary that would put most of us to shame with her walk with God and fruitfulness in His service. This dear lady expressed to me that she has been taking medication for the last year due to anxiety and depression. She also shared with me that she couldn’t share it with many people for fear of retribution from some of her supporting churches that would condemn such a use of medication as a lack of faith.
  • There are many good people that mistakenly have adopted an either God or medicine and counseling mentality. I think this has been hoisted upon them by good intentioned but poor teaching. It borders on the false doctrine of Christian Science. These people are looking for the magic faith pill to put them over. I knew a bi-polar man once that thought he was doing well with Philippians 4 as his “medication”. The fact was that his faith, while real and true was not healing his mental illness and everyone but he saw it.  Because of this he lost just about everything. Our faith is not what heals or restores us, it is God that does or does not and he will at times say NO and lead us to seek medical help. I recently heard that in one of our small groups a woman rejected any kind of attempt at postpartum relief was a lack of faith, or that the symptoms of this postpartum was God trying to get their attention. What trite garbage.
  • I think that there are pastors that could benefit from some professional counseling instead of going it alone. I have seen some pastors that very likely suffer from some form or mental illness but believe that if they seek help it will signify a lack of faith. This is heartbreaking, because they suffer and at times may even take it out on their families or flocks. They are faithful men and have endured so much and need to be ministered to, but stubbornly or fearfully refuse to seek help.

So what’s the point? It’s time to move on from these destructive ideas and positions. There are many good doctors and even godly counselors that we might avail ourselves to. As pastors, we had best check ourselves when we renounce mental illness as a lack of faith or even say such things as “there may be a time for that kind of help, but few really need it…”.

Let’s care for the flock responsibly and tenderly and recognize that not everything we encounter in the flock is sin, some and maybe even much in the area of mental illness simply is not.



Yeah but… it Hurts:-/

1It seems to me that we all want to avoid suffering, and we will do pretty much whatever it takes to avoid it. But what happens when you can’t? What happens when God calls you to suffer? What then?

I wish I had a magic pill that I could recommend. At the moment the Lord has called me and my wife and children to suffer once again with the ailments of our eldest daughter.

Kierstin was a healthy child in the womb. She was everything you could hope for right up until her birth, near death, resuscitation and consequent diagnoses. Kierstin has Cerebral Palsy. She has never taken a step on her own. She has never spoken clearly without difficulty. She will never advance intellectually beyond the sixth grade (at 21, she might be at about a third grade comprehension level). She will never marry, or have a real boyfriend, she will never pursue a career and she will never be independent. Tough to write all of this out… she has had only two surgeries, thank God, at 7 years old, (for those with children like her you’ll understand) hamstrings, heal cords, and adductors were lengthened. She was then in a spica cast for weeks.spica Later at about 14 years old, due to her windswept legs she needed to have a thigh de-rotation surgery where they opened her left thigh up and sawed through her thigh bones rotated them and plated them up. We then had to commit her to a rehab facility an hour away while Trisha was 5 months pregnant for the next 4 months or so. That was difficult.

Oh, by the way I get it. There are worse cases out there. Much worse. To that I say… so what. Most people that say that are not the ones in the thick of the fight. Sometimes I wonder if the good intentioned think before they speak. I’m hitting the wall. So does it really help to know that there are people hitting it worse than I am? No… that hurts as well, those poor people! Or it seems like you have just dropped a mountain of guilt to the load we’re already carrying.

It does help to know we’re not alone. That helps more than you could possibly know. Hearing from people that are suffering and getting a word that it gets better or bearable is a wonderful salve. 1 Peter does this when Peter reminds his readers that there are others suffering with you and you are not alone. Hearing from those that are walking with you and love you and having a shoulder to lean on is immeasurable comfort.

Now we have entered a new phase of difficulty. In some ways it seems worse than the physical stuff. The Lord has increased my compassion for those suffering with mental illness probably one-hundredfold. Out of nowhere Kierstin has developed an unreasoning fear of death and going to hell. She is fixated and obsessing over this at times to the point of panic. It has stolen away the joyful and engaging person that she has always been. This from the girl that inspired the song “I’ll Run When I get to Heaven”. She knows that this isn’t like her. She knows something isn’t right. We have been to the medical doctors and ruled out physical illness, with blood tests, medicine interactions reports, etc… nothing. She simply fixates on going to hell. She knows it’s not true, that Jesus loves her and has promised her eternal life, she knows that God doesn’t lie, she knows that people are praying for her, but none of this seems to help. It all came to a head on a Sunday morning before church when Trisha found Kierstin’s face and hands covered in blood, wild eyed, panting on the verge of hyperventilation and chanting between labored and gurgling breaths that she was going to hell. She had begun to strike herself in the lip repeatedly until she gashed it open and filled her mouth with blood. This has been our world for the last month. No answers, no relief. She asks me to help her and I have nothing left. She asks when she will get better, when she will feel normal, when she will get past this, and I have no answer. Top it all off with the loss of sleep in her and us and you have the ingredients for a disaster.

So now what? We will seek a specialized counsellor that works with disabled people. We have begun a dose of new medication that may or may not help. What do we do when there is no relief? What do YOU do when there is suffering, and it seems like the Lord is calling you to suffer? This is my story, maybe it’s therapeutic to write it out. Maybe some of you will think that I am something of a weak and immature Believer. Well so be it, maybe you’re correct. However, I’ve been against the wall before. I’ve faced the giants before, I’ve failed before, more times than I can honestly count, I even failed this morning before coming into the office. I still don’t know how to help Kierstin. I will keep trying to find her the help she needs. She’s my baby after all. But how will I continue to walk through this valley of dead dry bones, how will I hold my marriage and family together? Read on my friend, read on…

·         God is more than an idea

·         The Bible is more than a book

·         The Church is more than a place

These three things are the things that the Lord reminds me of and drives me back to. It’s His GRACE that shows me these simple truths. I thank Him for it, without Him I would surely give up. I have seen so many people forget these things and run away from God because He has called them to suffer. But God is good and suffers with you. Times like these the Bible opens up new vistas for me and it’s times like these, that the Lord works off the rough edges of my life. These are the times that the church universal comes alive in my sight. From calls, to texts, to messages and emails we feel the love of His body. Then there is the local church. At Emmanuel, when Kierstin was born, we found the shoulders, the strength and the wisdom that we did not have. Once again this magnificent body of Christ has come together to carry us, and to care for us. From babysitting and loving on our younger children, to offers of staying with Kierstin through the long nights, we are blessed.

 

So to my suffering brothers and sisters; run in the right direction. For those that can, hold them up and love them without adding to their guilt or grief.

Psalm 34:18 (NKJV)

The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart,

And saves such as have a contrite spirit.



Non-Christians Open and Honest Comments About Christians

Hit this link and then come on back to read my initial thoughts…
http://thomrainer.com/2013/07/31/four-thoughts-from-non-christians-about-christians/

Laying on of Hands Religious Stock Image

This is a powerful look behind the eyes of the people we are told to reach out to. It leads to the question of what and how we should do what we do. It also leads me to wonder, how sincere are we and how much like Jesus are we?

  • How we do what we do… Here we need to be ever so careful not allow such opposition to the Gospel to keep us from sharing it. We must take care of our charge and be faithful with it. However, we may learn from these folks, as we hear from them the impression they have of so many of us. I am reminded of the Proverb “A soft answer turns away wrath” I wonder how combative some of have become.
    • Evangelism needs to be concerned with both our commitment our Savior and His word and our fellow men. It seems that what these antagonists are seeing is the lack of sincerity, the lack of genuine concern for them as a person. Why is this? Have we become mechanical? Is the truth of Heaven and Hell lost on us? Are simply doing things because we feel it is our duty? Is there no devotion to the Lord or to the Lost?
  • How much like Jesus are we? I recall many older conservative folks lamenting over how much the government is doing for the poor and how the church once did it. Well, what happened? It reminds me of a quote from Charles Wesley “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” Is this heart mission from our churches today, from believers?Jesus cared. He cared about 5000 people that were hungry. We are never told whether these people trusted Him to be their Messiah.
    • So how do we approach our need for evangelism? I would say that we all need a fresh view of Jesus and how He did what He did. We need to love Him and our fellow men, whatever they may be involved with.
    • When we share the Gospel does it fall flat in our hearts before it ever drops flat from our lips? Has the Gospel ceased to stir our hearts and excitement to share it? The lost or at least many of them have  the Bull sensors on high. If our Lord and His Gospel has lost its movement in our hearts, then how can we expect it to move others.

Just a few thoughts, maybe you can help find the answers…

 



I Dream of a Church

Face of Jesus Website SidebarI dream of a church where the membership understands the love of God in Christ and lives out the words of Christ in our present day world.

I dream of a church where we are more a part of each others lives than when we meet on Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights.

I dream of church that is actively engaged in reaching her community with the gospel of the WORD and the gospel of DEEDS.

I dream of a church where every member contributes and is invested in her success with their gifts, talents, skills and monies.

I dream of a church where Jesus is first and last and our love for Him is shed abundantly in all that we do or think.

I dream of a church where children grow up loving the Savior that so loves them.

I dream of a church that is more concerned with what God thinks and what  the Bible says than anyone or anything else.

I dream of a church that I see Emmanuel becoming like more and more every single day. God bless you!



The Dissapointed Pastor… (repost)

Pastoring looks easy to some, but it’s not. Pastoring is difficult.

It is hard to convince non-pastors that pastoring is a weighty responsibility. Any attempt to discuss the issue seems like self-promotion and self-pity. Uncaring individuals label pastors as complainers but simply calling a pastor a “whiner” reflects an ignorance of the facts and meanness of spirit. I have discovered that the opposite is true. Pastors are generally optimistic, dedicated, and willing to serve without complaint.

Pastors sit under judgment, daily. (I wish people would stop judging what they don’t understand.)    Blame always seems to be put squarely, and only, on the pastor’s shoulders. Pastors are judged on the basis of how good they make their people feel. Their livelihood requires them to be entertaining, friendly, popular, and well-groomed. Even the conduct of their spouse and children impact their job. People can be unkind. Pastors can be bullied. God can seem absent. Growth can feel miles away. The mission feels far off the radar.

Why can’t some people realize that sometimes their pastor’s world is also filled with trouble and hardship–sometimes big hardship–just like other humans. They just can’t be as verbal about it because of the expectations that exist. I know of pastors who have suffered through near-death surgery, intense grief, mental breakdown, sickness, sin, and near marital collapse, and their congregation knew nothing about it. Now you may say, it was the pastor’s pride that kept him or her silent but likely that was not the case. The real reason is that he or she could not trust others with their pain.  To say it bluntly, there are some people would silently celebrate the suffering of their pastor.

The Schaeffer Institute, in a survey of American pastors, discovered some interesting findings. You can access this information by visitinghttp://www.truespirituality.org. Here are a few that I found interesting:

Hours and Pay – 90% of the pastors report working between 55 to 75 hours per week, 50% feel unable to meet the demands of the job, and 70% of pastors feel grossly underpaid.

Health and Well-Being – 70% of pastors constantly fight depression and 50% of pastors feel so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.

Marriage and Family – 80% believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families, 80% of spouses feel the pastor is overworked, 80% of spouses feel left out and under-appreciated by church members.

Church Relationships – 70% do not have someone they consider a close friend and 40% report serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.

Longevity – 50% of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years, and only 1 out of every 10 ministers will actually retire as a minister in some form.

There are extended seasons of dissatisfaction in the ministry lives of modern pastors. This doesn’t mean that there is despair and pessimism, but some days they feel disappointed or dissatisfied with the way things are. There are at least three areas of such disappointment that make pastoring particularly difficult. Disappointment occurs when something falls short of what was anticipated or hoped for. It is the painful gap between what one expects and what is experienced.

Pastors are disappointed with God.

I’ve never met a pastor who was satisfied with the amount of new believers, the health of their church, or the level of its community impact. Alexander Pope said, “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” Pastors are victims of their own optimism.

Every pastor has heard the silence of God and felt the deafening of their faith. Many pastors have prayed, for many years, for the hand of God to move. And, while God has done significant things, many of their prayers feel unanswered. They have interceded for the lost to be won, people to be baptized, and leaders to rise up. But most haven’t seen the results for which they have been begging.

I appreciate all of the theological arguments for “unanswered prayer” and I fully subscribe to the sovereign will of God, but I’m talking about the way pastorsfeel. This can be different than what pastors know or believe. It’s this feeling that makes pastors frustrated or depressed. Unmet expectations always breeds despair. Pastors, who believe they have honoured God with their lives, can feel dishonoured by Him when pain comes. They work hard to do their job but some days it feels like God and man are screaming, “More bricks! Use less straw!”

Pastors are disappointed with their congregation.

Pastors, in every church, want their people to go to the next level. Even in the healthiest churches, the pastor has a positive dissatisfaction with the state of their congregation. Sometimes this makes congregations feel that their pastor is too judgmental and makes the pastor feel like people don’t want to change or are uncommitted. Yet, both feelings are untrue. Because ministry is a pastor’s life, they sometimes feel that church ministry should be a greater focus in members’ lives. This causes conflict.

Recently I sat on a discussion panel at our Master’s College and Seminary. The first question, which was directed to me, was from a student who asked, “What has been your greatest disappointment in ministry?” I didn’t speak of salary, failure, comforts, insults, or missed opportunity. I spoke of people. People whom I had seen fall away from God. Then, each panel member after me, told stories of the same disappointment—individuals who traded faith for sin. At the end of the day nothing crushes a pastor more than to see a person fail and fall.

Pastors are disappointed with themselves.

Beyond the expectations placed on pastors and their spouse to be perfect, there are professional expectations that are broader than they were even a decade or two ago. Even the most basic list of duties include preaching, counseling, administrating, fund-raising, chairing meetings, correcting, teaching, socializing, visiting, reporting, analyzing financial statements, praying, vision casting, carpentry, and cleaning the church. And, they are expected to be good at ALL of them. Everyone has an unwritten job description for his or her pastor. I read recently that the present-day pastor tries to shoulder the fifty-eight New Testament “one another” exhortations alone.

Perhaps part of the problem is that pastors are fulfilling a position that has evolved into something that is outside of what is defined in scripture. The contemporary role of pastor is invented. Pastors operate in a broken institutional system and faulty ecclesiology. Contrary to Scripture, the pastor has become a religious specialist. He or she is the sole doer. Fewer “laity” (an unbiblical term, by the way) are able, or at least more unwilling, to use their gifts within the assembly. So the members are left to evaluate how well the doer is doing.

There is little hope of avoiding hurt and conflict in our current model. This is the curse of the institutional church – the loss of the priestly participation of the members. For example, the New Testament letters show that the presentation of the Word came from the individuals present at their gathered meetings. Even the “sermon” as we know it has no precedent in Scripture or in early church history. It’s not that it is wrong; it’s just an addition to what is shown in the New Testament.

So, what does this information mean for pastors and non-pastors? It means that congregations need to cut their pastor some slack, and pastors need to get up, go to work, and be the best model they can be—nothing more, nothing less.

Here are three ways individuals can help:

1.            Examine your personal expectations for what you anticipate from your pastor. Make sure it’s biblical, realistic, and seasoned with grace. Don’t bring them someone who wants to come to Christ. Instead, you lead them to Christ. Don’t tell them to visit a sick person unless you have visited them yourself. Don’t point out the un-mowed grass. Mow it! Only after you have invested your own time, money, and energy, to the extent that you are able, will you have the right to voice your concerns.

2.            Shoot the Pointer Dog. These dogs point to where the hunter should shoot. These creatures sniff out the prey and point to the problem. The hunter is then expected to take action. Every church has someone who feels it is their job be the eyes and ears for the pastor. They usually are people who victimize the pastor by being people who see being right as more important than beingnice. They have a clear opinion of what the pastor should be doing. In particular they are judgmental toward others. As Philip Yancey writes, “Christians get very angry toward other Christians who sin differently than they do.”

3.            Be guilty of over-affirming. The truth is, there are more affirmers than critics in most churches. It’s just that the critics are more vocal. Don’t be afraid to affirm your pastor, and I don’t mean the sneaky kind of affirmation that one tends to give when the pastor does something we feel is important. Give encouragement liberally. Your pastor can essentially be affirmed into becoming the pastor/person God and you want them to be.

4.            Trust their motives. Each of these disappointments is devastating for an individual who loves people and wants to minister to them. You will serve them and the Kingdom by being brave enough to be loyal and patient. If it is difficult to trust your pastor’s actions, trust their heart. They do want to serve you and the Kingdom, but like each of us sometimes the want becomes can’twhen life takes its toll on us. Someone once said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

I’ve been reading copies of Mother Teresa’s letters lately. Most consider her a hero of faith and a model of compassion. What many do not realize is that she struggled for years with discouragement and disappointment. Maybe today your pastor feels the same way as her. She wrote, “That darkness that surrounds me on all side. I can’t lift my soul to God—no light or inspiration enters my soul. I speak of love for souls—of tender love for God—words pass through my lips and I long with a deep longing to believe in them. What do I labour for? If there be no God, there can be no soul. If there is no soul then Jesus, You also are not true. Heaven, what emptiness—not a single thought of Heaven enters my mind for there is no hope. I am afraid to write all those terrible things that pass in my soul. They must hurt You. In my heart there is no faith, no love, no trust; there is so much pain—the pain of longing, the pain of not being wanted.—I want God with all the powers of my soul—and yet there between us—there is terrible separation.—I don’t pray any longer. I utter words of community prayers and try my utmost to get out of every word the sweetness it has to give. But my prayer of union is not there any longer. I no longer pray. My soul is not one with You and yet when alone in the streets I talk to You for hours of my longing for You. How intimate are those words and yet so empty, for they leave me far from You. The work holds no joy, no attraction, no zeal.”

Even in pain, Mother Teresa kept ministering. Perhaps you could be that person who helps your pastor to do the same.

http://leaderscripts.wordpress.com/2011/09/27/the-disappointed-pastor-for-non-pastors-only/



Bridezillas?

Amazing grace! The message of Jesus and His grace never goes out of style.

The number people that have been harmed by churches seems innumerable. Once again I was confronted by the reality that there are many wounded believers out there. This past Sunday I was privileged to preach away from home. The church I preached at is a wonderful body of believers that gets grace. As such she is finding people coming through her doors that are weary and wounded from churches and pastors that don’t get grace. They are healing to be sure, but the wounds run deep when they are given by someone or something that is supposed to be trustworthy and Christlike.

It amazed me that a message on “being as He is in this world” should bring some to tears and yet once again it happened. As I was preaching and encouraging the church to be the kind of supernatural church the world needs to see, some began to weep over how things had been before they found this church and before this church found grace. Following the service as I was listening to the testimonies of these precious people, I was shown how much these people actually feared their former pastors. This continues to drive me to be the kind of man that God wants me to be. It drives me to be careful in my preaching and in my leadership. It reminds me to take the charge of caring for the Bride of Christ seriously.

bridezilla2I will often aim my blog at preachers and pastors because I am one and as such I think that I can be of service. However, this also needs to aimed at churches as well. There are many men in the ministry trying to lead their churches to the grace of God and Biblical behavior and standards, but are being torn apart in the process. There are church members that stir up strife and division instead of following the Word and approaching the pastor face to face. As much as I try to encourage pastors to be Christlike in carrying out their ministry, I sense the need to challenge the churches to let them! There are churches that think the pastor shouldn’t be anything more than a figure head and one that should just preach and teach what they agree with. The time has come for these troublesome members to come to their pastors with their concerns directly and stop stirring up strife. There are some in the church that are abusive to other members and it’s time they examine their own hearts in the matter and recognize where God has placed them in the body and focus on being the blessing to others instead of wounding others. There are some churches and members that are so inward focused that they have forgotten the blessing of being the blessing. There are some that seem to take pride in sowing discord and division. There are yet others that are still so caught up in man-made traditions and standards that they walk about with disdain toward their brethren’s freedom in Christ. They are filled with pride and instead of walking in humility, they patently reject their pastors attempts to correct the course of the church.

Ultimately the message from the other night asked the question “why is the world shaking its head at the church”. Is it because they are disdainful and disgusted at the Bride because of her petty backbiting and abuse? Or do they shake their head in dismay and wonder at the Brides unity and love for one another? I’m sorry to see so many Bridezillas out there and yet yesterday, I was so encouraged to find a church and pastor that are doing life and ministry together in such a way that the world is beginning to… Wonder.



The Grace in Differences

Black and White HandshakeI got a call from a friend today.  He had heard my sermons had been following my posts on grace.  Instead of accusations he asked questions.  Instead of disrespect he listened and shared.  This was a refreshing attitude from someone that is still in the Independent Fundamental Baptist movement. He was a man of grace and integrity that I am glad to call a friend.

Do we have differences? Yes, we do. Do have Jesus in common and the gospel in common?  YES, we DO.  My friend, he understands the fruit of the Spirit vs the works of the flesh. Instead of talking about me and cutting my church down, he called me to see where and why I have made the changes I have made. My friend may not hold the same preferences as I do, but he sure does look a lot like Jesus.  It’s kind of funny, how we think that agreement on every point is a must in some circles. It reminds me of the child with the ball, if you don’t do exactly what he wants and play by his rules, he runs off and takes his ball home.

We have so much more at stake as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ today that a playground game. We have a mission to live out in a world that is increasingly hostile against us. Let’s be careful that what we might seperate over is actually clear doctrine.

God bless!



Context the Bane of Man’s Message

Over the last several years, I have been on a journey, a journey to freedom and to a stronger respect for the Bible itself and the truth that it proclaims.

The title of this post comes from one of the spurs that led me to question some of the Independent, Fundamental, Baptist Movements positions. I had heard so much Scripture taken out of context to support a man’s message or opinion and I simply began to become fed up by it. This poor preaching and teaching is not tied to one pulpit; it was at pastors meetings, listening to chapel sermons from IFB colleges and other places that finally sent me searching the Scriptures to see if these things be so. I began to mimic the Bereans from the Scriptures. Paul applauded them for looking into the book to check the message of Christ that Paul brought them. Sadly today, these Cultural Fundamentalist’s will brook no argument, and they will continue to misquote churches and pastors like me.

landmark

Now onto a few verses that legalists and abusers enjoy using to support anything they feel is old enough to deserve it.

Proverbs 22:28 Remove not the ancient landmark, Which thy fathers have set.

Proverbs 23:9–11 Speak not in the ears of a fool:  For he will despise the wisdom of thy words. Remove not the old landmark; And enter not into the fields of the fatherless:  For their redeemer is mighty;  He shall plead their cause with thee.

Find the first mention of landmarks (you will find them in Deuteronomy) and you will find that they were used to establish landholding boundaries. Each time the Lord mentions these landmarks the take away is honesty and uprightness and proper dealing with and treatment of one another. Never do these verses entail, clothing, music, translations, etc… and yet, with a lot of butter you can grease them up and squeeze them into whatever preference you might favor. I have often heard and read these verses in connection with music or dress. Simply because the landmark was used to mark a boundary, a legalist will use the verse that instructs not to remove the ancient or old boundary to support unbiblical or extrabiblical positions. The entire adomonition that God intended is left forgotten on the editing room floor. In their zeal to protect their untenable positions they leave out the meaning of these verses. They leave out the strong warnings that God has left for us about not abusing the helpless and hurting. Widows and orphans.

What am I saying? Maybe there are still some IFB pastors out there that will care to read this post. Maybe you are a member of my church. Maybe you teach a class or preach in a church once in a while. Whatever you do… Be careful that you take care with the Words of the Living God and that you don’t wrest His Word to support YOUR message.



Embrace Grace Even When it Costs You, After all It Cost Jesus Too

Amazing Grace CrossThere are some that will say when a church embraces grace that they lose all standards. This simply is not true. We will and do have standards, they are found in the pages of the Bible. If they aren’t in the book or clearly supported by the book then they shouldn’t be standards, at least not standards to conclude righteousness (there are standards for the sake of order and excellence which are by no means standards of righteousness). There are those that will say that a church like ours that embraces grace is a church that cares little for holiness. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Those that say such things appear ignorant of true grace. Grace is the only thing that will lead to inner righteousness and heart change. It is grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved, how precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed!

Grace shows me that I have a choice. I now know that when I sin, I have made a deliberate choice to do wrong and I am brought low and cry out for mercy and faith. It is changing my heart, bit by bit. It is showing me where my flesh has lied to me; told me I had no choice. It is showing me where the world has lied to me and where the deceiver has deceived me. It is freeing me from sin in experience, because it has already freed me in position. Grace doesn’t lead to sin, it frees from sin; it frees most of all from the sin of self-righteousness. To God be the glory. It is by the grace of God that I am what I am and that I am not what I am not. The truth is that grace is what glorifies Jesus most. It is what makes pleasing Him a priority. It is the real attraction of Jesus. His grace to free from law and from sin.

So, while I’m no Paul or Jesus, I gladly join them in being criticized and maligned and misrepresented. I gladly join in the fight to free sinners from sin and saints from self-righteousness. I gladly make much of Jesus and gladly look forward to His coming.

 



Legalism Man’s Default Position

Today I want to briefly extrapolate from Genesis 3:6–7 what I believe to be the cause of so much confusion in the Christian church today. Namely that our fallen natures default position is one of legalism. Where you find legalism you will find every kind of work of the flesh and namely the worst kind of worldliness “the pride of life”.

Legalism in the classic theological sense is man’s attempt to appease God’s wrath through his own righteousness. There is a general sense that God is always angry in some circles of Christianity and I personally wouldn’t want to live in the house with a father that seems to impossible to please. God is made to look like an old angry man in heaven and pastors often take this same persona.  There is no winsomeness, and little kindness found in this type of oppression or religion.

ball and chain closedLegalism in Christianity today is found in extra-Biblical (which is really unbiblical) standards enforced by the pastor or church to control or conform the membership to that particular sects view of what a Christian should look like. In most cases, I believe that there are actually good motives for such behavior. One problem with such standards is that they are changing every so often as the world around us changes, because they are not really rooted in the Word but in the world and so there is an uncertainty in the lives of those under such charge. Another problem with such standards is that they are powerless to change the heart. The letter of the Law kills but the Spirit gives life!

Now why have I said that legalism is the default position of the fallen flesh?  Look again at Adam and Eve. They fell and immediately went about trying to fix themselves, they sought to clothe themselves in their own righteousness. They had lost the righteousness of God and their spirits died. Instead of seeking the Father, the sought to fix themselves.  What was God’s reaction to their attempt? He removed their clothes and slew animals shedding their blood and in an act that pointed to the coming Savior, clothed them Himself. Follow the line of the fallen human race and you will find a continual attempt to appease God, or the god or our own choosing. Study the religions of the world and you will find that they all feed the beast of pride.  The sad, sad, fact is that while many Christian churches have and preach salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone and would die on that hill, (and should) will often move from that position to one of a fear mongering and threatening and guilt-tripping the children of God into a conformity to their self-constructed version of Christianity, a version of Christianity that exalts preference over Scripture.

Where Scripture speaks we should speak.  Where God is silent, we are silent. We never make little of sin, but we must make much of grace and its place in freeing a person from sin. Legalism is nothing more than a work of the flesh. It is following the rules instead of the ruler. We have a new Lord and master and who our master is will determine who we are. As we understand who and what we are we begin to look and act like it.