Tag Archives: Christian: Redefined

Grace, Truth and Audacious Dreams

Beth Moore’s new book “Audacious” was inspired by two questions:

1) What is your dream?
2) What is your vision for the future?

Those two questions lead me to a statement by Pastor Tim Keller which I’ve heard quoted over and over again:

“The gospel is this:  We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” 

I completely agree with that statement, but at the same time, I feel very condemned by the first half of it.  Yes, I know that I am sinful and flawed.  I get that.  And I get stuck in it.  But when I read the book “The Cure” this past April, I was overwhelmed by the amazing grace and love of God.  I felt like I might actually be able to live in the second half of Tim Keller’s statement that I am “more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ” than I ever dared hope.

But some will read that “The Cure” is about God’s grace and immediately the flags go up.  You can’t teach people to live in grace!  Won’t they:

  1. Have permission to sin?
  2. Stop praying, serving, giving and reading the Bible?
  3. Get lazy and stop striving for excellence?
  4. Treat God like their “buddy” instead of the Holy Creator of Everything?
  5. Lose their drive to “be all they can be”?

However, the “grace police” need not be concerned.  God’s grace is not a “get out of jail free” card because living in grace is not complete without also living in truth.

Chris Zarbaugh did a beautiful job explaining how Grace and Truth work together in our “Christian Redefined” series back on March 8, 2015 in a message called “The One Two Punch” (unfortunately, there is no video for this message, but the audio is posted).  Here’s the picture and explanation you’re missing without the video:

High Grace + Low Truth = Enabled

Low Grace + Low Truth = Unloved

Low Grace + High Truth = Judged

High Grace + High Truth = Loved

Grace + Truth = Enabled, Unloved, Judged or Loved
Grace + Truth = Enabled, Unloved, Judged or Loved

Chris quoted John 1:14:  “The Word (Jesus) became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  And Chris was very specific that “full of grace and truth” doesn’t mean that Jesus balanced grace and truth, but that He was the full measure of grace and truth.  So, what does that mean?  Here’s how Chris put it:

Grace says “you’re forgiven”.  Truth says “you’re accountable”.

Grace says “it’s gonna be alright”.  Truth says “you’ve got a lot of work to do”.

Grace says “I love you just as you are”.  Truth says “please change”.

I’ve always heard, “God loves you just as you are, but He loves you too much to leave you that way.”  But that always sounded like a back-handed compliment to me, until I read “The Problem of Pain” by CS Lewis.  Here’s how he put it in the chapter called “Divine Goodness”:

“We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest “well pleased”. To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God: because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us He must labour to make us lovable. We cannot even wish, in our better moments, that He could reconcile Himself to our present impurities — no more than the beggar maid could wish that King Cophetua should be content with her rags and dirt, or a dog, once having learned to love man, could wish that man were such as to tolerate in his house the snapping, verminous, polluting creature of the wild pack. What we would here and now call our “happiness” is not the end God chiefly has in view: but when we are such as He can love without impediment, we shall in fact be happy.”

Living in the full measure of God’s grace and truth allows us to mature into who God sees we can become.  For God to say that we’re fine as we are and that we can stay that way would not be loving.  That would be enabling.  Yes, God loves us immeasurably.  He could not possibly love us more.  But in loving us, He sees our potential.  He sees the beauty that is in store.  And He longs to see us blossom into that beauty.

“Consider the caterpillar.  If we brought a caterpillar to a biologist and asked him to analyze it and describe its DNA, he would tell us, “I know this looks like a caterpillar to you.  But scientifically, according to every test, including DNA, this is fully and completely a butterfly…. The caterpillar matures into what is already true about it.”  –“The Cure” Chapter Three

As human beings loved by God, we, like caterpillars, also have the potential to mature into what is already true about us.  Living in a continual state of false guilt, thinking we “gotta do more, gotta be more” (remember “Dead Poets Society“?) is paralyzing.  I know I can’t do it, so feel like my only option is to give up.  Living in a continual state of God’s Grace, knowing that He loves me and that I am fearfully and wonderfully made and that He’s not waiting for me to get it right and be perfect, frees me to be who He created me to be.  That’s the Truth part.  Taking personal responsibility for the gifts He has given me.  Being a steward of this body, mind and soul that He’s allowed me to borrow for a little while.

So, what about those two questions that inspired Beth Moore?

1) What is your dream?
2) What is your vision for the future?

So many non-Christians feel that their lives are “just dandy” without Jesus, not realizing that they’re living outside of their full potential.  And so many Christ-followers, paralyzed in our fear that we don’t deserve Jesus, don’t realize that we’re also living outside of our full potential.  So no one acts.  Passivity reigns.  The result?  Look around.  Too many people live ineffective lives and the world goes to hell in a hand-basket.  That’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

My dream and my vision for the future is two-fold:

1) That those who don’t yet know Christ could fully grasp and act upon the first part of Tim Keller’s quote: we are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe. Truth: we need Jesus.  

2) That those who do know Christ could fully grasp and act upon the second part of Tim Keller’s quote: we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.  Grace: Jesus needs us.  

If every person in the world lived in the full measure of the Grace and Truth of Jesus, what could this world become?

What to do, what to do… (“Christian Redefined” part 3)

When you think of “Christians”, what words come to mind?  Kensington asked that question on Reddit and here are some of the responses they received:  “rude, ignorant, unthinking, thick-headed, delusional, gullible, doomsday cult, dummy, hypocrisy, cruel, blinkered, judgmental, stuck-up wealthy white people who work harder to preserve their image rather than their souls.” 

Ouch.  And why would I want to call myself a Christian?  That’s why Kensington’s current message series is called “Christian Redefined” (click those red words to watch the first message from 3-1-15).  When I found out that this series was coming, I started writing about what I think it means to be a Christian.  I intended it to be 3 parts, and I wrote about training ourselves to say Thank You (part 1) and Bless You (part 2).  

But whenever I started to write this third part, I couldn’t finish.  Every time I asked, “Lord, what’s next?  What is the best thing for me to do right now?”, the answer was never “write”.  Three weeks ago, the answer was “pack for Disney World!”  But now we’re home and caught up and it’s finally time to write.

The third area of training I’ve been wanting to write about is asking “what am I to do?”  For me, that question isn’t about what to do next week or next year as much as it is a constant, moment by moment activity.  Well, at least I want it to be that way.  But my mind wanders and I forget.

I forget to count my blessings.

I forget to say thank you and bless you.

I forget that the world doesn’t revolve around me.

I forget that God loves me more than I could ever imagine.

Almost 300 years ago Samuel Johnson said, “People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed” and I believe that’s even more true today.  I get so distracted.  I need God’s Holy Spirit to remind me to come back to Him.  My goal is what Brother Lawrence called “The Practice of the Presence of God“.  If I want to follow Jesus, I need to be aware of his presence every moment of every day.  I need to remember that he is always with me.  And I need to be asking what it is that I should be doing.  There are so many good things that we could spend our time on.  How are we supposed to know what the BEST things are?  One word:

Ask.

Jesus teaches us to be shamelessly persistent in asking for what we need in Luke 11:5-8 (click the red verse if you’d like to read what he said).  He then continues with the following:

“And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for.  Keep on seeking, and you will find.  Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.  10 For everyone who asks, receives.  Everyone who seeks, finds.  And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”  Luke 11:9-10

In John 5:19, Jesus said that he did nothing by himself, but did only what he saw his Father doing.  He was in constant communication with God the Father.  I believe he wants the same for us.  He gave us his Holy Spirit so that we too can be in constant communication with God.

So, as I am reminded, I ask.  Sometimes I hear things that I should do (help the kids get ready for school).  Or things I shouldn’t do, or just shouldn’t do right now (don’t do the laundry right now – it will make you late for your appointment).  Sometimes I hear things that I should say (send a note of encouragement).  Or things that I shouldn’t say (keep your mouth shut, Beth).  Sometimes it’s as simple as keeping focused on the task before me and not letting my mind spiral off into anxious “what if”s of future scenarios that may never happen (what if John dies and leaves me with two kids and a tackle store to run?).

What am I to do?  How can I live my life so that the word “Christian” means what Jesus would have wanted it to mean?  I certainly don’t have all of the answers, but I believe I know the One who does.  But I need to slow down to hear Him.  I need to be patient and listen.  I have two ears and one mouth for a reason.  I should be listening at least twice as much as I’m talking.

If you know the story of the woman caught in adultery from John 8, you may have wondered why Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust.  The Pharisees (the “religious” scholars) were demanding an answer from him.  They had their case against this woman and they were trying to trap Jesus by his words.  He could have just blurted out an answer to the Pharisees, but he didn’t.  He stooped down, drew in the dirt and waited.  I believe he waited because he was listening for what God wanted him to say.  And when he stood to speak, his reply was one of the most profound statements ever formed by human lips:

“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  (John 8:7)

And, one by one, they all dropped their stones and walked away.  What if Christians (the “religious” people) listened to God like Jesus did and responded with God’s grace and truth?  Would we be called rude, ignorant, unthinking, thick-headed, delusional, cruel, judgmental, stuck-up hypocrites?  Or would a whole lot of stones never get thrown?

 

 

Thank You (“Christian Redefined” part 1)

Our church is getting ready to start a weekend message series called “Christian Redefined“, looking at what Jesus really said about the religion that bears his name.  What was he expecting from us when he came to visit this planet?

I’m not in on the church’s planning meetings, but the new series announcement got me thinking about what it really means to be a Christian.  I’ve written a lot about the importance of our posture towards God.  We can either live our lives turned away from Him or turned towards Him.  But what does that look like in practical terms?

In my post Moment by Moment, I talked about how I had turned away from God and stopped saying “forgive me”, but ended the post talking about thankfulness.  It wasn’t until I did a “mini-series” on Forgiveness that I realized what was really going on.

We only ask for God’s forgiveness one time: at the moment that we acknowledge that Jesus has saved us from ourselves by dying for us and coming back to life again.  In that “lightbulb” moment where it all comes clear, we see that we need God’s forgiveness.  But God forgave us long before we turned away from Him.  He forgave us before we were even born.  Now, I don’t understand how all of that worked, and I wrote about that, if you’d like to read more: A Forgiven Atheist?  What I do know is that we don’t have to keep asking for forgiveness over and over again, and I wrote about that here: Garbage Truck Confession

So, if Christianity isn’t about asking forgiveness over and over, what is it about?  I think it’s about developing new habits, not “trying harder”, but training our minds to respond wisely.  I’d like to talk about 3 specific training areas:

1) saying thank you

2) saying bless you

3) asking “what am I to do?”

I have too much to say about each of those, so I’m going to break them up into 3 different posts.  Let’s start here, with saying thank you:

Yes, we’re human, so we’re selfish and we want to be in control.   We’re going to turn away from God and do what we want to do.  Over and over and over again.  But God did something really beautiful.  When Jesus died and was resurrected, he said it was good that he was going away because he would send us his Holy Spirit (John 6:7-11).  He calls his Spirit the Advocate, the Counselor, the Helper, because He will help us and counsel us.  What happens if we go to a counselor for help and then don’t listen to them?  Can they help us if we’re not listening?  Nope.  The Holy Spirit will tell us when we have turned away from God, but we have to be listening.  And when we hear Him and turn back to God the Father, what’s the most appropriate response?  “Thank you!”  All day long, every time our thoughts are turned to God, thank Him.

I was driving to get my taxes done yesterday, which is almost an hour drive each way.  Thankfully, the roads were clear, but there were a few snow showers that seemed to come out of nowhere and disappear almost as quickly as they started.  There were big trucks that were entirely too close to my car for my liking.  And there was a headache behind my eyes that just wouldn’t go away.  But every time my thoughts came back to “Thank you, Lord”, “Thank you, Jesus” or “Thank you, Lord Jesus”, my body calmed down and the drive was smoother.  There is something healing and freeing in the words “thank you”, especially when they’re directed towards God.

When I was in counseling 3 years ago, working through the aftermath of a nervous breakdown, my counselor told me, “Stop saying “I’m sorry” and start saying “Thank you”.” I had gotten myself into a crazy pattern of needing help, getting help, feeling guilty for being a bother, falling apart and saying “I’m sorry” over and over and over again.  I was surrounded by people who wanted to help me, but I felt so guilty for causing such a mess.  But my counselor was absolutely correct.  If I someone helped me and I immediately said, “Thank you”, the guilt never came , I stopped falling apart and my pitiful, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry” cycle never started.  Thank you, Jesus!!

In the Apostle Paul’s 1st letter to the church at Thessalonica, he gives them these instructions:

“Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

If we don’t know what God’s will is for our lives, now we do:  joyful, thankful prayer in all circumstances, all day long, no matter what happens.  “Happiness” depends on what “happens” to us.  Joy is a gift of the Holy Spirit.  And what does the Holy Spirit remind us to do?  Turn around and say “Thank you!”

As I’m writing this post, this song is playing on WOW  Cable’s Music Choice channel 534.  Something tells me I should include it here.  🙂

33 Miles – “Thank You”

What if I looked at my life in a different way
Took a little more time to stop and pray
I know it would change all the moments in between