Monday, August 31, 2009

The 10 Promises Video

Friday, August 28, 2009

Ruler or Baker?

One of the meanings of "lord" is bread keeper, loaf kneader, .i.e. baker, or bread maker. I think this ties in nicely with Jesus proclaiming himself to be the "bread of life". Since He said "I no longer call you slaves (servants) but I now call you friends", perhaps this meaning should have more significance to us than the definition that typically associates with ruler or master.

Maybe He is with us to feed us and to nourish us, not to command us.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Grace: A license to sin?

By Mike Feazell

Reprint from Christian Odyssey
Used with permission from Grace Communion International

It is a constant wonder how we guardians of the true faith can become so adept at gumming up the greatest news in the universe. We hold in trust the Good News of all good news—God gives free grace to sinners for Christ’s sake—and then we break our necks to hide it behind a great wall of rules, regulations and laws.

“You must not take grace too far or you will turn it into license to sin!” we admonish one another, as though lack of license has ever stopped anybody from sinning.

Hasn’t anyone noticed? We are all sinners, for crying out loud, even all we religious, God-fearing, church-going Christians. Always have been, always will be, in this life. It is only by God’s pure and unfettered grace, as demonstrated once for all through Jesus Christ, that we are made something else—righteous—and not by avoiding sin, but by trusting him.

It seems that our vigilant efforts to prevent anyone from “turning grace into license to sin” has resulted, ironically, in our managing to turn sin into a barrier to accepting grace.

The church disguises its moralistic hook with gospel bait, reels in the unwary catch and plops him or her into the hot greasy frying pan of salvation by works.

The church promises grace, then delivers condemnation. The church headlines the gospel, then preaches hellfire. The church disguises its moralistic hook with gospel bait, reels in the unwary catch and plops him or her into the hot greasy frying pan of salvation by works.

Consider how the gospel is plowed under by the relentless glacier of denominational “rightness,” doctrinal “exactness” and behavioral “standards.” Christian church against Christian church, warring over phraseology, terminology, dress codes, political stands, seating arrangements, music styles, architecture…the list seems endless.

We all seem to have at least a mild case of the “our-way-is-God’s-way-die-you-heretic” virus.

Certainly, right doctrine is important. But surely we need look no farther than the Nicene Creed or the Apostles Creed for those doctrinal “issues” that really matter. Yet, many Christian churches still refuse Communion to fellow believers who don’t belong to the “right” denominational brand name or haven’t jumped through all the required theological hoops.

The underlying message of religious behaviorism, “Behave right (according to our particular standards), or go straight to hell,” buries the gospel under layer after layer of religious hair-splitting, nit-picking and measurement-taking.

That isn’t the gospel. It’s religion. It holds out salvation like some phantom carrot-and-stick reached only through a lifetime of unquantifiable good deeds. It is a soul-sapping lie against the truth of God.

Jesus did not bring some “new and better” brand of religion. He brought the gospel, which is good news for sinners, which we all are.

For the sake of Christ, God has thrown away all the report cards, homework records and detention notes in the world and given everybody a 4.0 GPA and a gold-plated invitation to eternal life.

Only some of us, it seems, “don’t want no charity.” We’d rather feel like we have been—or through discipline and devotion have become—the right and proper sort of person upon whom God could appropriately bestow eternal life.

We have been good Christians, and we don’t want to be lumped in with a bunch of immoral losers who do nothing more than put their trust in the Christ we have worked so hard for so long to imitate and obey. (We thank you, O God, that we are not like the rest of people—greedy, dishonest, adulterous or, for that matter, like this embezzler.)

Suppose we take up a challenge: give up the charade. Drop the legalism and the fear tactics. Quit pretending to be worthy and righteous, admit we are hopeless sinners without anything to our credit, and put our trust in Jesus Christ, for whose sake God justifies the ungodly (Romans 4:5).

And drop the nonsense about how that would mean we could “just go out and sin all we want since we’re already forgiven.” Nobody who trusts God wants to sin. When you trust God to love you and forgive you, you want to be like Jesus; you don’t want to sin. But when we do sin, in spite of the fact that we don’t want to, we have an advocate with the Father, 1 John 2:1-2 tells us (and he tells us that so we won’t sin, not so that we will, verse 1 says).

It’s like Paul told Titus: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:11-14).

It’s grace that teaches us to say no to ungodliness. It’s grace that makes us eager to do what is good. Knowing we’re already forgiven and accepted does not lead us into the devil’s workshop, but into deeper fellowship with our Lord and Savior.

The gospel really is that simple. It really is good news.

Friday, August 7, 2009

A little chat to clear things up

This is a transcript of a recent conversation. This is not intended to be a complete theological treatise, it is a fictional representation of how I believe Jesus might respond to some questions.

Me: It really is amazing to finally to get to talk directly with you, face to face. I have so many questions I really don’t know where to begin. What shall I call you?

Jesus: Jesus is fine. I don’t really care what people call me. My mother called me Yeshua. Sometimes when she was mad she called me other names.

I remember this one time when I wandered off at temple. When she caught up with me she was in a real tizzy. She grabbed me by the ear and drug me all the way home. Joseph, my dad, just laughed but that only made her madder. Do you believe it, I got grounded!

Me: You are kidding? The Son of God got grounded?

Jesus: Well she calmed down after a bit when I told her I was, “about my Fathers business.” That line got me out of a lot of trouble when I was a kid.

Me: So you called Joseph your “Dad” and called God your “Father”?

Jesus: Yes, that seemed to work out best at the time. It’s pretty much like you do today I think. Father is me and I am Him and the Spirit is in us and I am in you. Kind of blows your mind doesn’t it?

Me: Yes, the concept of the “Trinity” and union has been hard to comprehend so most people don’t even think about it.

Jesus: They were actually two of our best ideas. But like most of our ideas some self-righteous, religious type people managed to create a lot of confusion and chaos out of them. We love them anyway but they sure put a lot of people through the wringer with their beliefs.

Me: You sound a bit critical of religion?

Jesus: Hey, religion was not our idea. For us it has always been about relationship, with each other and all that I created.

Me: So you are saying that dressing a certain way or behaving a certain way or participating in religious rituals or believing certain things are not necessary to get close to you or gain your favor?

Jesus: Exactly, but you look so serious when you do that stuff, it is kind of cute. We usually get a pretty good kick out of it.

Me: But what about the 10 commandments, the “Golden Rule”? What about repentance and confession? What about going to church? What about not drinking, not smoking and not dancing? What about lust and pornography and fornicating?

Jesus: You know why Baptists are so against pre-marital sex?

Me: No.

Jesus: They are afraid it might lead to dancing! Love that joke, wrote it myself.

Me: Very funny, but you didn’t answer my question.

Jesus: I am sorry. I forget that you guys are always so serious about “spiritual” things. I had really hoped you had gotten past that a couple thousand years ago.

Ok, here it is, one more time. Listen up, I am only going to say this a few trillion more times, I love you man!

Me: Just love? What about justice? What about holiness? What about sin?

Jesus: I took care of it.

Me: What do mean you took care of it?

Jesus: We, Father, Spirit and I, planned it all before time even began. You think we were surprised by Adams disobedience and unbelief? This has always been Plan A, to involve ourselves into your existence and let you know we love you. Always have and always will. Did you actually think we expected you to be perfect before we could love you? King David will get a real charge out of that idea.

Me: Well maybe not perfect, but surely those who are trying should get more credit then those who do not.

Jesus: You remember when I jumped on my disciples because they tried to prevent some kids from being near me?

Me: Yes, I read that in the Bible.

Jesus: Why do you think I said my Kingdom will be made up of children such as these?

Me: Because children are innocent, pure, and trusting?

Jesus: Well they are that, but they are also selfish, noisy, fickle, messy, largely ignorant and much more prone to play rather then work. They exhibit all the stuff that I put into them when I created them. So do you.

Me: But don’t we have to believe in you? Don’t we have to believe correct things about what the Bible teaches?

Jesus: You have to trust me to live in the power of my love, but whether you believe in me or not, whether you trust me or not, I still love you.

I think you can trust me when you realize that I have already forgiven you, already believe in you, already chose you and already received you into Our embrace.

Me: But your Book, your Word has all those rules and regulations?

Jesus: Unless people use those words to love each other better they are missing the point entirely. They might as well be reading a dictionary. You can’t really think we inspired those words so that it would cause people to separate themselves from each other do you?

Me: Well, no, but a lot of people say they understand the Bible perfectly and that we should think and act like they do in order to gain your favor.

Jesus: I get a rash when people think they know Our mind and what they say about us does not reflect our unconditional love for all of you.

Look, it is not about striving for perfection, it is about love, and you can best love me by loving each other. And others can best know My love by the love that you show them.

Me: Don’t we at least have to go to church?

Jesus: Church is not something you go to, it is something you are. Don’t get me wrong, going to a meeting house with others who trust me is fine, just do not get so obligated there that you miss opportunities to love outside of those walls. Showing love to those who do not trust me yet will bring you enormous joy.

Me: You make it sound so easy.

Jesus: When people can grasp that it is much more about what we have already done for you, in you and to you then they will find the true peace and love we want to share with them.

Me: But what about our free will? How can you do things for us, to us and in us without violating our free will? Don’t we have to “receive” you or accept you and your gifts? Don’t we have to make you our personal Lord and Savior? Aren’t you standing at the door knocking, waiting for us to let you in?

Jesus: That’s a good one, personal Lord and Savior, that kills me. Wait until Brother Paul hears that one. I was kind of under the impression that Father, Sprit and I were ALREADY THE LORD OF THE UNIVERSE. DO YOU REALLY THINK THAT WITHOUT MY INDWELLING PRESENCE WITHIN YOU THAT YOU WOULD EVEN EXIST? IS NOT MY VERY BREATH THE SOURCE OF ALL LIFE?

Sorry for shouting, I just think I already earned the title of the Savior of the World.

Me: Please forgive me

Jesus: I already did, long time ago. That’s exactly my point. Why do you find it so easy to believe that we “violated” your free will to condemn you, but so hard to believe we will not “violate” your free will to redeem you?

Why is it so hard for you to trust that I was more successful at my mission then Adam was in his failure?

Besides once you can see Us for who we really are and not the false image and misguided caricature that religion has made us into you will be able to trust in Us.

Not all gifts have to be “received” to be beneficial. Suppose I went to your bank or mortgage company and paid off your house. I do not need your permission to do that. My gift was applied to your account. Your debt has been paid without any action at all on your part. In fact you didn't even know it happened until you sent in a payment and it was returned along with the deed. You may continue to send in house payments but that would just be silly and unnecessary.

My gifts for you are like that.

Me: So you are saying everyone is saved? Everyone is going to Heaven? No one is going to hell?

Jesus: Shouldn't you at least hope I succeeded in what I came to earth to do?

I am saying it has never been all about attaining rewards or avoiding punishment, it is about life. Life with me, life with us and life with each other. You are wasting your time thinking the goal is somewhere out there, up there or at some time in the future. Quit living in the past or waiting for the future, live now! I am here with you now. I have always been with you. We will always be with you, even when you choose to ignore us. We have always been for you. We will always love you.

Me: What about judgment day?

Jesus: Did I not already pay the price? Did I not already conquer sin and death? Our justice is not about revenge; our justice is about restoration and reconciliation. Our justice is about making things right, not getting even.

Our justice is not waiting for some “big day”, we are always just. Unlike you, we can see end result of our actions. What you may perceive as unjust or unfair in the present may well change over time. Trust us.

Me: Is everything I thought about Christianity wrong?

Jesus: First of all, I never intended to start a religion. That was some mans idea, and not a very good one at that.

Secondly, anything you think you know about the Father, Spirit and I that does not reflect our unconditional love and affection for you is wrong.

Thirdly, RELAX! We always have your best interests at heart, quit worrying about things that you cannot possible comprehend in this lifetime.

Me: That is really good news!

Jesus: Exactly!