Mocking Grace?

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It’s Holy Week. Thursday, to be specific. This was the day Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples and then took the bread and wine, and told them to eat of the bread, his body, that would be broken and drink of the wine, that was the new covenant–his shed blood poured out for the sins of the world.  This sacrifice, this shedding of blood that had to take place if you or I (or anybody) could have atonement for our sins,  by the grace of the Father. That fact that we even have a chance at salvation is purely because of the great grace of God.  We sure don’t deserve it. But that’s what grace is–getting something you don’t deserve.

The sheer magnitude of this grace should overwhelm you. If it doesn’t just try to comprehend, though I’m not sure we can even scratch the surface of it, what it must have been like for Jesus to hang on the cross and take on the full wrath of God for your sins and mine.  I can’t even begin to imagine. Yet Jesus did it. The human part of him, mind you. The part of him that was flesh and bone. The part that felt physical pain and human emotion. The humanness of Jesus hung on that cross.  Yet in his humanness, perfect and sinless.

That day the world was ushered into the dispensation of grace. We were freed from the law. We no longer had to try in vain (Romans 7) to uphold the Law that we just could not.  We have grace, through Christ Jesus. And this grace frees us! But to what? To live with reckless abandon and shout “grace” and know that God will cover all of our sins?  Paul may start off Romans 8 with “there is now no condemnation”, but he also says if the Spirit is in us (which it is in all believers), then we should not operate in the realm of the flesh.  In Galatians 5:1 Paul says Christ liberated us, so we should not go back and take up the yoke of slavery. This is to say, don’t go back to the old manner of life you lived, in bondage to sinful ways and  habits.

Here’s the deal. I’m a little saddened. Recently another big name in Christian circles has stumbled.  People stumble, I get it. I don’t hold that against this person. People make mistakes. People can be forgiven and people can be restored. But two things really got me, and I don’t think they are unconnected. The first was some pictures surfaced which show  poor judgment at best. I’ll leave it there.  The second thing is so many people on social media explaining away these behaviors either by 1) manipulating the word of God (i.e., it doesn’t apply anymore, that was so long ago and our culture is different) or; 2) playing the grace card.

Here’s what I’m going to say about the first. God doesn’t change, nor does his word. You can fool yourself into thinking he only meant it for some people but not you. You are being deceived, my friends. Make your choices based on the truth–the Word of God. Can’t really go wrong there.

As for the latter…the grace card. Yes, by all means our God is FULL of grace and mercy.  But he is also a righteous judge. He has also made some things clear about how we are to conduct ourselves SO AS to separate ourselves from the culture of today, whatever time period that may be. Are we always going to get things 100% right? Of course not! And that’s what grace is for! I submit to you, grace is NOT for you to live how you choose, thumbing your nose to the truth , all the while claiming grace will cover you. The theological term for that is antinomianism. It’s often called “cheap grace” or “hyper grace”.  And it’s wrong.  The apostle John says if we say we know Christ but fail to keep his commands, we’re lying–we don’t know him. Ouch. (I John 2:4).  But I saw comment after comment effectively saying “just do you”. NO! NO NO NO! We aren’t called to live like that. We are called to deny ourselves. Your flesh is still going to want to do a lot of things contrary to what the Spirit of God leads us to do. That is why we deny ourselves. That is why we must pick up our crosses and die to ourselves daily. And for a high profile person to be making choices that very much suggest impropriety, whether it’s happening or not, leads people to think it’s okay. Even if it’s subconsciously.  (Not to mention the witness this is to non-believers! Ugh!)

So if you even contemplate for a moment the concept of grace being a permission slip to live in any manner you choose, and you can even bring me back your doctoral dissertation why antinomianism is not dangerous, then I would submit to you for your consideration simply this: Let’s go back to imagining our perfect savior hanging on the cross, bearing the full wrath of God so that we might live. So that we might have freedom. Let’s ponder the magnitude of this Jesus, fully God but fully man in a human body, feeling that crown of thorns dig in to his head. The pain he took from the scourging. His hands and feet with nails driven through them. Every breath excruciating. But he chose that for you. And for me.

So I ask you, this Jesus who thought you were worth all that, is he worth more your mocking his grace?

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The Problem With Cultural Christianity

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Are you familiar with the term “cultural Christian”? Even if you aren’t, you are likely surrounded by them. A “cultural Christian” is a person who defines or identifies themselves as a Christian, but is not a ‘Biblical’ or practicing Christian. These are people who grew up in a society that largely identifies itself as Christian, or grew up in a family that identified itself as Christian, but they never actually embraced convictional or Biblical Christianity. And perhaps has never even taken the step of faith to profess Christ as their personal Savior. Is this starting to sound familiar?  If this hits close to home, I want you to hang with me. Just hear me out on this.

Adopting the identity of “Christian” because you were born into that society doesn’t truly make you a Christian. It makes you one who conforms to what’s around you without much thought. Just as if you had been born in Utah, there is a greater chance, practicing or not, that you would identify as a Mormon, or if you were born in Saudi Arabia, you would identify as Muslim.

You can’t inherit your salvation. Even if your father was the best preacher in your town. Salvation isn’t just passed down.

And that’s the problem with the folks who identify themselves as Christians because they believe in God and, well, their family was Christian or in their mind, they’re just…Christian. They think they are, but…are they?

The thing is, it doesn’t work that way.  The first part of becoming a Christian is recognizing that we have to be, as Jesus explains to Nicodemus in John chapter 3, born again. Okay so what does that mean in real words I can relate to, you ask? It means we all are unrighteous , we follow our own desires and lusts, and we don’t seek after the ways of God.  (Romans 3:10-11).   We have to ‘die’ to the old self so we can put on the new self  (Ephesians 4:21-24). Dying to the old to be born into new life with Jesus is what it means to be born again. You’re starting again. And that’s the difference between cultural Christianity, just giving yourself the moniker of “Christian”, and Biblical Christianity–actually repenting (turning aside) from your old ways to follow Christ.

Some will say that all you have to do is say a prayer and you’re done.  I know there is a verse or two that says that, but we must remember that the whole will interpret the parts, and the whole in this case is always that Jesus preached (and the apostles confirmed) that a true repentance came with a true change. Not just a prayer and back to the same you that walked in the door. But, I did not get promoted to the Judgment seat, so you can take your chances if you wish.  I can pretty much promise you that if that route gets you a ticket to eternity with God, it short changes you on the abundant life Christ promises for you here. (John 10:10). And it also doesn’t set you up so well for that day when you will stand before God to give an account of what you’ve done with what you’ve been given. But that’s a different post for a different day.

See the problem with cultural Christianity is that the cultural Christian may not really be a Christian by Christ’s definition at all.  Wouldn’t that be tragic to figure that one out a trumpet blow too late?  So how do you transition from cultural to Biblical Christian?

Well here’s what it isn’t: it’s not about how often you go to church, how loud you sing, how many activities you join, how much money you give. All of those things are great. But that’s not what it’s all about. It’s not about going through the motions of religion.

Here it is…ready?  Jesus wants your heart. He wants your mind. He wants your soul. He wants you to stop living with you as the king on the throne of your world so you can put him up there. He wants you to worship Him above everything and everyone else in your life. He wants you to take it seriously when he says to love others like you love yourself.  Don’t worry, that will be a whole post, too.  He wants you to open yourself up for what HE has for you, even if it’s a little scary and challenging. He wants you to follow his ways.

I know looking at that, it looks like you’re giving up every right to personal freedom.  Here’s the thing though, and you may not believe me quite yet, but check out what Paul tells the Galatians. “It is for freedom that Christ set us free. Stand firm, then and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatian 5:1 New International Version).  The old things, those things which separated us from God, prior to our gaining righteousness through Christ, made us slaves to sin. Paul is telling the Galatians (and you and I) that Christ purchased our freedom from that burden on the cross!!  See, what you might first see as giving up your freedom is really actually releasing you TO freedom! This is how things work with God.  He’s just cool and awesome like that!  Paul does go on to warn us that though we are given freedom, we have to be on our guard not to abuse this freedom or we will fall right back under that yoke of slavery to that sin. That’s a perfect example of why we don’t do this journey solo. We do it in a community of believers who lift each other up, admonish, teach, etc.

He gives us this handy book full of teaching and wisdom and history. It’s how He talks to us and how we figure out what following him actually looks like. It’s called the Bible. It’s kind of awesome. I’ll talk about it next time.

For now, are you ready to pick up your cross and follow Jesus?

How far are you willing to go?

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   Pastor Saeed Abedini, released January 16, 2016. Praise the Lord!

This morning, as the technician was at my house installing my new beefed up home security system, I started sobbing and couldn’t hide it. When he asked what was wrong, I said “Nothing! Saeed is free!” And Pastor Saeed’s imprisonment provided an opportunity once again to bring God great glory!  What a day to rejoice!

If you aren’t aware, Pastor Saeed Abedini is an Iranian born, now American citizen, former Muslim now preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He and his wife Naghmeh were responsible for starting over 100 house churches in Iran, however he was arrested for this and changed his efforts to starting an orphanage in Iran. On his last trip he was arrested for no apparent crime and spent the next three-plus years in Iranian prison, subject to abuse, lack of necessary medical care (stemming from the abuse), solitary confinement, and more that I’m sure we will find out in the coming days. Say what you will about Iran and this mish-mash of a deal that’s been agreed to, broken, more negotiations, etc. But today, I praise God because Saeed and three others are free.

So let me ask you, how far are you willing to go for the gospel?  Do you think Pastor Saeed was operating on the fringe and should have known something like that would likely happen and therefore avoided it?  Let’s be honest here, what he did was risky.  But he was dangerous for the cause of Christ, and Christ calls us to be risky.  When was the last time you were even BOLD for Christ?  Not everybody is called to travel to distant lands to be a missionary. Not everybody is called to be a street preacher. Not everybody is called to be a pastor or church planter. But everybody, every last one of us who made a real confession of faith in Christ as our savior and Lord is called to live for him. To die to self and live for HIM and HIS cause. Not to sit meekly in the shadows and hope nobody notices where we go on Sundays.

There are some who would have you believe that being a Christian is all about getting your physical needs met (health, monetary gain) and place far less emphasis on your spiritual needs. Way too many who would have you believe that’s what God wants for you.  Now, no, God is not desiring that we all walk around in sackcloth and ashes living miserable existences. But never once is there are promise that by giving your life to Christ and follow him will you get all your little heart desires. And don’t try and argue Psalm 37 as proof of that or we can meet under the bleachers for a hermeneutical smack down. 🙂 No, what we are told repeatedly is to expect trials and tribulations.  When Paul and Barnabas were traveling around doing the equivalent of church planting, after having met when plenty of pushback themselves for preaching the gospel, we learn in Acts 14:22 the two men spoke to the new converts  and “strengthened the souls of the disciples  and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, “We must enter the kingdom of God through many persecutions.” Now THAT’S a pep talk!!!  I dare say you aren’t going to hear that on TBN anytime soon. But Paul and Barnabas were not saying anything that Jesus hadn’t already said. He told us if the world hates us it’s because it first hated him, and we are not greater than our master. So if the world persecuted him, it will persecute us, too. (John 15:18-20).

So let’s revisit Pastor Saeed for a minute and talk about being bold for the faith. He’s already in prison for his faith, subject to beatings and poor treatment all the way around. By the way, if you weren’t aware, as a Muslim if you renounce your faith you are subject to being put to death. Saeed was threatened with that at one point. So did he keep his mouth shut? Nope.  When an opportunity arose, he shared the love of Christ with those around him.  According to his wife Naghmeh, his heart was so sold out to Christ, it was more a compulsion to share that saving grace with people in dark places. And he was surrounded by lots of people in a very dark place.  One can’t help think of Paul, writing from jail to his beloved church family in Philippi, when he said “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.” (Philippians 1:12-13). Paul knew, as I am convinced that the Abedini’s know, that God doesn’t let a opportunity slide by wasted. The take away from Paul’s words and Saeed’s example, is no matter what circumstance you find yourself in, no matter if you planned it all out or it’s a giant life-altering change in course, comfortable and easy or the bleakest, darkest of circumstances-if you are willing to be used for the cause of the kingdom of Christ, you will be used. But not if we cower back in the shadows, wringing our hands and questioning why God is doing this TO you.

But here’s the next part of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Think about this when you see stories of those people who are being martyred and jailed and brutally treated for their faith. And I’m not talking about wedding cakes.  Paul’s next line: Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.  I pray that when you hear of these things it gives you courage to go speak the word of God fearlessly.

Because friends, particularly my American friends, we sit in a such a comfortable world of easy Christianity. We go to church where, sadly, for the vast majority of us, we are mere consumers. We put on our Christianity on Sunday morning, go in for a good sermon and a some fellowship (maybe), go home and probably take our Christianity off before we pull in the driveway.  This is not denying yourself and picking up your cross to follow Christ.  This is “having it your way”. We are going to give an account one day, you and I, of what we did with what He gave us.

I challenge you, no matter where you are in your walk with Christ, to think about how far you are willing to go. Pray to God and ask him to show you where he would have you go next. Deny yourself this week in order to follow Christ. How, you say? Here’s an easy one: sleep a little less, pray and study the Bible a little more.

Father God, we thank you today Lord for the deliverance of Pastor Saeed from the physical chains that have held him, and pray continually for your healing work in his body and mind as the chains that may still hold him there will fall at your hand. Lord we pray for your mighty hand in the reuniting and restoration of his family, that your healing work and abundant peace be ever-present through this transition.  Father, I pray that we all seek you and ask that we open our hearts before you and ask you to search them and show us those places we hold back from living 100% sold out for you. You are a good, good Father!  In Jesus great and glorious name!