Friday, December 30, 2005
From John Angell James:
"'The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.' Gal. 2:20
To live and walk by faith, is to come daily to Jesus in the exercise of fresh dependence, fresh expectations, and fresh devotedness.
To live and walk by faith, is to see more of His glory and grace continually, and to rejoice greater in His unsearchable riches, and inexhaustible fullness.
To live and walk by faith, is in all our conflicts, sins, fears, weaknesses, and woes--to resort afresh to Jesus, with a full persuasion that we are welcome, and thus ever to derive strength and courage from Him."
I would humbly add to these rich words:
1. The beginning of the Gal. 2:20 verse James quoted, "I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me..."
2. To live and walk by faith, is to so commune with Jesus as to have Him evidently living His life out through me.
Listen to "Grace For Life" Radio Program.
Thursday, December 29, 2005
I love science. I'm not a scientist, but I love the observation of "the way things are".
And one of the "way things are" is that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14).
And one of the ways we are fearfully and wonderfully made is in how our soul (mind, emotions and will) affects our body.
And one of the ways our soul affects our body is in the devasting effects of unforgiveness.
We might assume this from the Scriptures, and rightfully so, but it is science which has actually demonstrated that the following is true:
"Resentment is like taking poison, and waiting for the other person to die."
Self-interest is not as high a motive as Spirit-filled obedience to our loving God, but it doesn't hurt to hear the words of scientists who have studied unforgiveness. They have universally found that unforgiveness, bitterness, anger, etc., cause increases in heart rate, blood pressure, cortisol (a fat-producing hormone), nervousness, adrenalin, restlessness, sadness, cardiovascular disease, relationship problems (duh..), and immune deficiency.
But forgiveness is only possible as we draw near to our Lord. As we commune with Him, as He expresses His Life through us, as we are filled with His Spirit, and as we walk by the Spirit, forgiveness is as natural as the fruit of the Spirit, which is love. Fellowship with Him. Practice His Presence. Let go of the resentment.
Oh, that Grace and forgiveness would govern our relationships. Healing balm for our souls and bodies. Isn't science something?
Listen to "Grace For Life" Radio Program.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
I have a theory. I'm not the originator of the theory, but I subscribe to it. It goes like this:
If a believer in Jesus Christ has not "appropriated" the love and acceptance of God for them, that is, if they have not grasped in their very heart the utter unconditional way that God loves them and accepts them, then they can't really grasp the love and acceptance of other people for them.
Let me say that in another way.
If a person feels unloveable, or...
If a person feels that others can't really love or accept them, or...
If a person feels that if someone really knew them, then they wouldn't love or accept them, or...
If a person feels like if they only could do such-and-such or be such-and-such, or accomplish such-and-such, or be good enough, THEN someone might be able to love and accept them...
Then I believe that person has not understood their acceptance in Christ by God.
They may be born again, saved from their sins, and biblically knowledgeable, but they haven't grasped the basic understanding of what their relationship is to the God Who loves them unconditionally. They may even know about God's acceptance of them intellectually, or logically. But they haven't "appropriated" it spiritually, in the heart.
Sometimes they just need to be taught it from the Scriptures and they blossom as the light dawns in their hearts. But other times it seems that a person must come to some crisis in their lives, some hopelessness in their own self-righteousness, some discouragement from imperfect people, some "whatever", before the Lord opens their heart to the glorious truth that He doesn't have a relationship with them based on performance. But it must be spiritually discerned, and so it must be taught over and over and over. Faith even for that, comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.
Meanwhile, if you have that gnawing feeling that you just don't measure up to the standard that would allow God to really love and accept you, if you are striving to please Him, and feel like you're failing to do so, listen: He loves you. Yes, you. Not just enough to die for your sins. Enough to dwell in you. Enough to "justify" you, to declare you righteous, just as if you'd never sinned. Enough to no longer have any condemnation for you. Enough to take you in His arms and comfort you with the truth that He fully, fully accepts you in the Beloved. Enough to call you His beloved, the apple of His eye.
And if you have that gnawing feeling that people can't really love you, or they sure wouldn't if they really knew you, understand that you feel that way because you have yet to really grasp God's love and acceptance for you.
Those who have the Spirit of God surely can love and accept you, even if you have a hard time accepting it, because love is a fruit of the Spirit. And you will be sky-walking when you come to the knowledge of God's love so strongly that you can say with all sincerity, "Even if no one else loved me, my Savior and my God loves me, and that's enough." And the irony is, that's when you may first be able to accept the love of other people like you never have before.
And then you can love like you never have before.
P.S. Critical: This is not psychology, this is theology. It falls under the heading "...Truth shall set you free." The application is "If you really appropriate the Truth of the love and acceptance of God for you, then you will be set free to receive the love and acceptance of others (and to love and accept others)."
Listen to "Grace For Life" Radio Program.
Saturday, December 10, 2005
If you are not in a small group Bible study at your church I highly recommend it. Sometimes known as "small group", "home fellowship", "cell group", etc., they are often where the real "Church" takes place. Especially if you are in a church so large that you can't really get to know too many people.
The key is not to have it merely academic. That is, if it is just "study", you are missing perhaps the greatest blessing of "assembling together". You can thoroughly learn the Bible, but go away cold, unfed, unblessed, and having not blessed others.
What's the alternative? Nothing specific, but the following things help:
1. Plenty of Time.
If it's 30 minutes of structured "study", ending with, "Well, time's up, folks. Let's rush out into our lives. Have a nice day," spiritual assembling isn't going to happen. You may need to be sensitive to the time schedule of some, and give an opportunity for those to leave who need to (without guilt that they're not staying for 7 hours). But if feasible, set it up such that those who can "hang around" will do so.
2. Some "Chat and Snack" Time, or Even Better, A Pot-Luck Meal.
If it's all formal, there won't be a chance to really get to know each other. When it's formal, people tend to put their "adequate masks" on, and you seldom find out what's really on someone's mind. It's also difficult to give individual counsel to one another, without the loose time to do so. You may say, "I'm not a counselor", but the truth is you are. It may be informal, but we should be "counseling" one another on a regular basis, with spiritual, biblical, common sense truths.
3. Understanding What "Fellowship" Really Is.
Fellowship is the Greek word "koinonia", which means "common". So fellowship is sharing in what we have in common. And the most important and satisfying thing we have in common is Jesus Christ Himself. So when we "fellowship" in small groups, it's critical that we have our minds on Him. It's critical that we "feed" each other with Jesus Christ Himself, and not just the academic study of the Scriptures.
Jesus said to the Pharisees, in John 5:39: "You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me." The point is that without relating the Scriptures to Jesus, Who is the key subject of those Scriptures, it becomes just academic, or even worse, just a book of legalistic, condemnatory rules to follow.
Prayer for one another. Prayer for ourselves. Prayer for others. Adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication, etc. This is not to be rushed or tacked on to the end of the meeting, squeezed into a fleeting time frame. This potentially can be as spiritual as it gets.
The tried and true method of asking for "prayer requests" can be wonderful. But additionally, the group should be encouraged to pray "as they are led" by the Holy Spirit Himself. Prayer is a form of fellowship itself, as we share something very precious that we have "in common", that is, access to "the throne of grace, for help in time of need."
5. Bible Study.
Yes, we don't want to neglect this, after we've put it in it's proper framework of Plenty of Time, Chat and Snack Time, Understanding Fellowship, and Prayer. It's best if there is at least one gifted "teacher" among you, to avoid the "this is what it means to me, how about you?" syndrome.
Most scriptures have an actual meaning, not a flexible rubber meaning that can be stretched to suit anyone's untamed thought. So studying should be studying, but always with an eye and heart to Jesus Christ. Better to draw near to Him, than to have the exact exegesis right, but miss Jesus and His Holy Spirit. That's what I call Spiritless Exegesis.
6. Fervent Love for One Another.
I wish I could shout this, without being rude. If you don't remember anything else, remember this. Maybe this should be listed first, but I saved it for last for two reasons:
a) Without love, all the rest leaves us nothing, a sounding brass, a clanging cymbal, profiting nothing (1 Cor. 13:1-3).
b) Love covers a multitude of sins. We will sin against one another. That doesn't surprise you, does it? We will sometimes neglect one another, or insult one another, or hurt one another's feelings, and on and on. Unforgiveness and even a root of bitterness can result, UNLESS...we "have fervent love for one another, for 'love will cover a multitude of sins'." (1 Peter 4:8)
Listen to "Grace For Life" Radio Program.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
6. Legalism is rampant in the Churches.
The largest responsibility for this lies with the Pastors (and the Seminaries which crank them out) not understanding the very nature of the New Covenant, and not understanding the centrality of Jesus Christ in every passage.
But the congregation, too, has a responsibility. Too often the congregation actually welcomes moralistic, performance-based preaching, while they suffer severe malnutrition because they are missing the Bread of Life, Who is Grace, Who is Jesus.
In not "rightly dividing" or "cutting straight" the Scriptures, they mix Old and New Testaments, Old and New Covenants, Natural Israel and Spiritual Israel, Law and Grace, Blessings and Cursings, and a whole hodge-podge of Theological Chili results, where one can't tell when the tomatoes end and the beef or beans begins.
7. The answer at least partly lies in a vigilant watch for legalism, and slaying it's dragons with the clear Word of God at every opportunity.
We may start with really taking Galatians at face value. If teacher or student gets a handle on the radical nature of Galatians, three things will be clear:
a. there is no law or performance involved in initial salvation
b. there is no law or performance involved in retaining salvation
c. there is no law or performance involved in God's loving His children, and bestowing His favor on those who have already been given "all spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus".
8. There are two useful personal tests for legalism, even when it's so slippery that it fights definition:
Do I think I'm "better" than some other guy or gal, or do I think I'm "worse" than some other guy or gal?
If I think I'm better, I am not understanding Grace. I am not understanding "that nothing good dwells in me, that is in my flesh." (Rom. 7:18) True, I have a new spirit, a new nature, but "what do you have that you have not received?" Or as the common proverb puts it, "There but for the Grace of God go I".
If I think I'm worse, I am not understanding Grace, because I'm denying what God has done in making me a new creation, old things having passed away and all things becoming new.
Test 2 --
Do I think God will love me more if I perform in such-and-such a way? Then I don't understand
that by Grace, God loves me unconditionally. He set His love on me before I was even born. Nothing I do can make Him love me more, and nothing I do can make Him love me less. He loves me...period.
9. "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore, keep standing firm, and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." (Gal. 5:1)
"But now we have been released from the law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit, and not in oldness of the letter." (Rom. 7:6)
"For through the law, I died to the law, so that I might live to God." (Gal. 2:19)
1. Theological Error tends to resist definition.
So you have to wrestle it to the ground like a strong dragon and force it to define itself, then stab it through with the sword of truth.
2. Legalism, as theological error, resists definition.
But we must wrestle some definitions out of it anyway, so we can spot it when it raises it's multiple destroying heads.
3. New Covenant Scriptures allude to legalism in three genres or forms:
a. legalism for INITIAL salvation, e.g., baptismal regeneration, or "you must be circumcised", or the most popular among pagans, "do more good than bad in your life".
b. legalism to RETAIN salvation, for example, the Seventh-Day Adventists, who officially teach salvation by grace, but then teach that we must follow certain laws and practices or we lose it.
c. legalism to earn God's love and favor after we're born again, too common even among Reformed believers, and may be the slipperyest dragon of all to wrestle a definition from.
4. All legalism can best be defined by what it is not, i.e., Grace.
If it's not Grace, it's legalism.
Grace is the element that most defines the New Covenant, a unilateral work of God which not only imputes His righteousness to us, but actually "reborns" our spirits, making us new creatures who love Jesus and hate sin in our new natures.
1 Cor. 4:7 says, "What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?" If it's not All of Grace, it's partly of legalism.
5. Legalism is more insidious, more destructive, and more evil than is commonly thought by believers.
It's not just a "difference of opinion" or a "different slant" on things.
Rom. 6:14 makes a profound statement that the Church in general has missed: "For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace."
Legalism literally robs us of the very ability to keep sin from being master over us. When law is used in any way in regard to the above three genres of legalism (for intial salvation, to retain salvation, or to earn God's love and favor), then one has "fallen from Grace" (Gal. 5:4), gotten on the ground of law, and two things happen:
1. One quenches the Holy Spirit by spurning His Grace, and
2. One inflames sin, since the law is the "power of sin" (1 Cor. 15:56).
When one gets on the ground of law, off of the ground of Grace, there are two typical results:
1. One thinks they are performing pretty well as compared with others, and becomes prideful, or,
2. One thinks they are perfoming poorly as compared with others, and despairs or loses the joy of their salvation.