By Faith Alone

What drives you? Are you working for the weekend (like everybody)? Do you run from fears of failure or inadequacy? Does social censure silence you? Are you paralyzed by worry? Does a need to please pull your strings? If you answered yes to any of these, then you are a sinner. In Romans 14:23, Paul declares that whatever is not of faith is sin. Now, you might say, “Wow, that’s a pretty stringent standard.” I’d agree. And yet, it’s not just a standard but a living reality with a definite experience.

I look at Paul’s indictment of most of my default motivation as stringent because I’m mired in a view of Christianity which just peers over the top of the hedonistic flood of our world. I am accustomed to the religiosity and moralism that masquerade as faith in Christ. The false religion that I’ve always taken for granted has given me ample excuses for my rejection of Christ. I’ve not seen any inconsistency in flailing about while elbow deep in “ministry.” I have been much like Peter, Christ’s most enthusiastic sycophant. But how did Peter deny his Lord or fall beneath the waves? Faithlessness will always produce unfaithfulness. The drive to survive will drown us every time.

Though Paul’s standard seems to border on impossible to the American Christian mind, he simply was describing a spiritual truth which could never be otherwise. Faith (implicit trust and loyalty) is the one thing that God requires of us. Through faith our ancient aspiration to supplant our creator reverses and creation begins to renew. In the garden, our native state was faith and to it there was but one alternative. Now, the alternatives have proliferated beyond number and there is but one place to find faith, at the foot of Christ’s cross. There the Son of Man (“adam” in Hebrew) rejected all other options and hung his fate on his God. Having been vindicated, he requires all who are his to accept his brand of faith.

God deserves our implicit trust but he doesn’t require it only for his satisfaction. Galatians 5:6 declares that the only thing that matters is faith working through love. Love is the goal and faith is the means. The eternal Godhead bound by self-giving love has poured out that love upon us inviting us into their fellowship. But we can’t give self without faith. Fear and worry, the antitheses of faith, pull all of my attention onto my own well being. Within that tunnel, the best I can do is damage control. I can feign love if it will advance my situation or forestall negative consequences. Without faith, I succumb to this world’s counterfeit for love, lust. As St. John says, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

I want to ask you as I’ve been asking myself, can you abandon fear and worry? Can you abandon yourself to God’s faithfulness? Can we release back to Satan any version of Christianity that would excuse faithlessness and compensate with outward conformity? Can we confess that we’ve been no better than unbelievers as we’ve lobbied and campaigned against certain behaviors all in response to a fear mongering political machine? What if we did our best at work out of worship to our God rather than aspiration or intimidation? What if we loved our family rather than appeased them? We can. We must. It is the essence of our profession, not some state of super sainthood. To enter the experience of God’s kingdom under Christ, we must repent.  That is, we must turn away from our problem solving and pleasure seeking to hang our fate (both immediate and ultimate) on the faithfulness of our Abba Father. Go to the cross and once again be saved from this present evil age by the faith of Christ.

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Posted in Christianity, Religion, Spirituality

Mere Christianity – Chapter 8 – “The Great Sin” – C.S. Lewis

I know a man who is haunted by Matthew 7:21-23. He won’t declare with 100% certainty that he is destined for eternal life and there is nothing anyone can say to assure him. Having read this quote this morning, I wonder if he is not plagued with spiritual pride.

Don’t get me wrong. He’s not a bad person or an overtly arrogant man. I just wonder if he like so many others of us has been marinated in religious performance for so long that he has no idea that there is a difference.

My prayer for this man, myself and for you this morning is that all of us would have an encounter with the real and living God which would shatter our every illusion that we could merit his acceptance. That bereft of our relative worth we could come to the confidence that is also known as humility.

How is it that people who are quite obviously eaten up with Pride can say they believe in God and appear to themselves very religious? I am afraid it means they are worshiping an imaginary God. They theoretically admit themselves to be nothing in the presence of this phantom God, but are really all the time imagining how He approves of them and thinks them far better than ordinary people: that is, they pay a pennyworth of imaginary humility to Him and get out of it a pound’s worth of Pride towards their fellow-men. I suppose it was of those people Christ was thinking when He said that some would preach about Him and cast out devils in His name, only to be told at the end of the world that He had never known them. And any of us may at any moment be in this death-trap. Luckily, we have a test. Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good—above all, that we are better than someone else—I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is, that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.

via Mere Christianity – Chapter 8 – “The Great Sin” – C.S. Lewis.

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Posted in Anthropology, Bible, Friendship, Religion, Spirituality, Theology

Reflections

I don’t talk about Jesus primarily because I feel sorry for anybody who doesn’t know him or because I would feel guilty if I didn’t. I talk about Jesus because I can’t keep it in. I talk about him because he’s just so wonderful that the idea of a person disregarding him, misunderstanding him, or not knowing him is nearly intolerable to me. It’s like trembling before the majesty of a gorgeous ocean sunrise only to look around at so many facing inland.  Perhaps they’re consumed with concern over what the day might hold or perhaps they think they’ve seen it already. But they’re missing it and in a very short time it will be too late. Maybe you’re one of the people who’s missing it. If Jesus hasn’t wrecked your life, if he doesn’t consume your thoughts and dreams, if he isn’t the reference point for every decision you make or desire you have, then you’re missing him. I don’t have any light to give you but I hope to reflect him so that you might just turn (repent).

I’ve been attempting to follow Jesus for 28 years. I came to him because he was the only one who offered to give meaning to my life. Even as a child, I had little tolerance for self-deception. I want to see things as they are and to my way of thinking most people were living in denial over the one unavoidable reality of life that it would end. I couldn’t fathom the end of my consciousness. To describe it as “darkness” would not do annihilation justice since darkness describes the perception of the absence of light. Not only would such concepts cease to have meaning, they would never have had meaning from my standpoint. Other ideas about the afterlife such as reincarnation or nirvana were functionally the same outcome since they involve the utter loss of self. So, I pursued the One I’d heard about as a child in Sunday School but this time I sought him in the text of the New Testament. The man who shown from those pages was the one my heart had longed for. Jesus didn’t just offer pie in the sky by and by; he brought heaven to earth as he defied the pressures and pleasures of this existence for another plane of living that he called “blessed.” I gave myself to him and he reciprocated.

Sadly, the Dragon was there waiting for this child to be born and he quickly took me into custody with the promise of moral certainty. Satan used the very church in which I was baptized to lace the pure milk of the word with arsenic. My once-vital faith became feeble and sickly. My joy turned to disdain and the glorious picture of my Savior became hideously distorted behind a legalistic lens.

My Savior, it turned out, was more loving than I was self-righteous and he saved me again from my efforts to save myself. I discovered through the trial  of my errors that the faith that saves must be alone since anything else must be mistrust. At his cross my guilty plea released me from the guilt of my past. The power of his resurrection, the blessed Holy Spirit, is freeing me from the sinfulness of my present. It is this Spirit at work to make me like Jesus, that assures me that he will return to claim me for himself.

Today, I am more amazed at grace than the hour I first believed. My life in Christ is not one of fear, failure, guilt or judgment. That any of these experiences could be identified with the kingdom of God is proof positive that there are forces at work in this world to slander Christ Jesus. The word “gospel” means, “good news.” To be “gospel” a thing must be both good and news. The gospel of Christ is not a set of religious or moral injunctions. That would be neither good nor would it be news. The gospel is good because it bypasses the substances we repeatedly apply to cracks and fissures of our individual and collective soul to hydrate us from within. As an ongoing expression of Christ’s resurrection, this inner healing results from and results in noteworthy actual events in the world, in other words, news.

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Posted in Religion

Blame You

Christ’s commands us to love each other. It’s such a simple rule and yet we can’t do it without him. This is why he calls it a new command even though it was the one the Jews had heard from the beginning. Christ came to love and he left a community of love which he expected to remain and spread. Praise the Lord it has! On the night of his betrayal, Christ prayed that we would be one so that the Father would be glorified in the Son.

Conversely, this world and its Prince continue to conspire against God’s project by sowing bitterness among God’s people. In Ephesians 4:26, Paul warns his audience to forgive quickly lest they give the devil (blamer) a foothold among them. Nothing arrests our progress toward oneness like bitterness. When a fellow believer does something careless or even malicious (as will inevitably happen), we must at the foot of the cross offer them forgiveness. Why? Because mercy lives at the foot of the cross. In order to harbor bitterness, we must abandon the hope of our own forgiveness and flee the cross for exile in the solitary seat of judgment. In that realm “they” come to offer us aid and comfort as they help us build our case against our offenders and eventually the entire world.

Though this demonic program carries especially grievous implications for the believing community, every person on the planet has encountered it. The animated feature, “Meet the Robinsons,” offers one of the most poignant examples of the dynamics of bitterness and its power to ruin lives. At the end of the clip, the advice, “Let it go and keep moving forward,” is useful if we can understand where we can let it go to and which direction is “forward.” Those answers have been released in the gospel of Christ.

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Posted in Anthropology, Bible, Friendship, Philosophy, Religion, Self help, Spirituality

Everyday Evangelism

Life Teams Support

arguing-evangelism13 photo credit: theology21.com

How do you react when you hear the word, “evangelism”?  Me too.  I want more than anything to see people come to faith in Christ and have their lives turned right side up by him.  I’ve positioned myself to share the gospel many times and yet I often get blank stares.  I’m not good at it.  Sadly, the advice I have received from well-meaning leaders in the church has come out of one of two camps that I find equally inapplicable. First, there’s the relational evangelism camp. They say that any canned presentation of the gospel is inauthentic, manipulative, and demeaning to the lost person. The relational camp counsels believers to form significant relationships with unbelievers in order to “earn the right” to share the gospel.  When the brilliance of my lifestyle overwhelms my unbelieving friend, he or she will fall down and ask, “What must I…

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Message from Steve Timmis on Acts 4-5:16

Life Teams Support

Once I sat down to write a book on church. Then I read Total Church by Chester and Timmis and therewith I laid down my pen.  Here is a powerful message on church by Steve Timmis.

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Posted in Religion

Holistic Holiness

We can’t manufacture new life. All we can do is plant seeds and nurture them to maturity.

Life Teams Support

growthwheelThe living message of the gospel spreads like all other living things on the planet through multiplication.  Plant life reproduces as a seed takes root, the plant that results then must bear fruit of some sort, and finally the fruit must deliver the seeds within it to produce the next generation of growth.  So it is with the seed of the gospel message.  For that seed to take root in a person’s heart, they must hear and accept it.  The new life that springs up must then bear fruit through redeemed relationships as people live out the implications of the gospel in their everyday lives.  A life so radically changed will inspire questions among those still in the world.  These questions open opportunities for the message to grow to other people as the redeemed person proclaims it through his or her answers.  Whether or not the second generation of hearers…

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