Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Outworking of Grace

In the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last. (Romans 1:17) God will give to each person according to what he has done. (Romans 2:6) It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—  not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8–9) Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:17)

It is a hard task for many of us to reconcile the duel realities presented in the Bible: 
  1. We are saved the grace of God, not by anything that we have done or will do; and, 
  2. We will be judged by what we do. 

On Sunday I asked folks if they had ever struggled with how to reconcile the seemingly  different messages found in these passages. The near universal nods indicated that most had. 

So, which is it? Do we need to do good deeds or works in order to be saved? Or, are we saved by Christ’s work alone, regardless of what we have done. The answer really is quite simple. We are saved by what Christ has done, period, end of discussion. And the things we do from a heart transformed by Christ are the evidence that we have appropriated what he has done, the evidence that we are indeed his. 

Let's go back to the basics: What is the goal of Christianity? It is not a trick question. The goal of Christianity is Chris. As we seek after him and get to know him more fully, we long to spend time with him, to do the things that bring us close to him and that reveal his heart in us. Jesus is not a means to an end, he is the means and the end. Jesus is not a ticket to go to heaven that we “accept” and then we hold until we need it for the afterlife. Rather he is the end, heaven is about Jesus our King and our life with him in his Kingdom, hear in the now, and forever when we die. Jesus is the means, he purchased our way into a restored relationship with him and he empowers a life that moves toward the way of his Kingdom, lived in and with him. This way of being, the things we do as citizens of his Kingdom, do not earn our status as citizens, but reveal that we are indeed citizens. 

On Sunday I mentioned the story in 1 Kings where two woman asked King Solomon to decide between them who was the true mother of a child. (Read 1 Kings 3:16–27 if you are not familiar with the story). When King Solomon threatened to take his sword and split the child in half, giving each woman a piece, the reaction of the true mother -- her action -- revealed to him the true relationship. It was not that the woman became the mother by her actions, but rather that her actions revealed that she was indeed the mother all along. It is like that with our works, deeds or behaviors. They do not make us fit for an eternity with Christ, they reveal whether such an eternity is really what we desire -- or, tragically, if we are just going through the motions.  So, what do you do with this? 
  • Do you see evidence in your life that indicate allegiance to God? 
  • Do you allow yourself to be shaped by him? 
  • Do you ever make decisions that but for the reality of Christ would not make sense? 

If the answer to these questions is no, the invitation is a simple one. It is not do do more, but to seek more. The solution is to draw near to Christ, to his ways, to his life in you. If you do not know how to go about that, let me know. We are all on the Journey with Jesus together, it is a journey toward life, and it was meant to be traveled together.

Peace, hope and love,


Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Land of Nowhere

Where do you live?
I'm not talking about where your mail is delivered, where you eat dinner or where you sleep at night. I'm talking about the place where your heart, dreams and imagination live at each moment of the day. I suspect that if you are like most people, there is really no one place but rather a moving target of places, tragically few of them where you are at any given moment. If you are like most people, you live in The Land of Nowhere.
Most of us are rarely fully present in the moment, in the here, in the now. When things are not going well we cast our eye toward a time when things will be better -- or harken back to a time when things were. In the good times we quickly move towards wondering what will be next, how the goodness of now might become greatness to come -- or we cling in fear that the goodness of now might vanish in the days that follow, as it has in the past. And so we miss the fullness of the now, the time we are in; preoccupied with land of the past and land of the yet to come, not really present, living in The Land of Nowhere.
I am in the midst of a particularly difficult couple of months of surgery and radiation, replete with side effects that include painful sores throughout my mouth and throat, difficulty eating and talking, lack of mental clarity, and a general drug-induced fuzziness. It would be natural for me to want to be done with it all, to be on the other side. And I do (as of this morning, I have completed 21 of 30 treatments)! I cannot wait to be done. At the same time, I have to wait. But, if it is only a waiting season, how much will I miss while camped in that waiting.
I don't want to just "get to the other side." I don't want to lose these three months of living in the now because my focus is only on the goodness that I expect when I am through the now. I don't want to miss the uniqueness of this time. In the midst of pain, there has been wonderful sweetness and grace. I have experienced an increased empathy for people in difficult times, a special sweetness in my times with God, an amazing prayer life and the revelation of how short I can be with others when I am in pain -- how pain highlights my already existent selfishness and how God wants to refine that. These experiences and revelations among so many others are gifts of God only realized as I choose to live not in The Land of Nowhere, but in The Land of NowHere.
God's plan is for each of us to live in The Land of NowHere, to be fully present in the moments he gives us as we live the moments of our lives with him. It is only with such an intention to the NowHere that we can live the life that Jesus envisioned; a life without worry, a life without anxiousness about anything, a Kingdom life, fearless as we dare to fully live it, moving into the future with a dependence on God in the present. Jesus said that this Kingdom life requires the characteristics of childhood. Perhaps it is because children live in The Land of NowHere. Brennan Manning in his book Ruthless Trust, writes:
 Almost all children are born with a natural inclination toward contemplation -- toward long, loving looks at the Real -- and a tendency to moments of thoughtful silence. A simple thing may absorb children for a long time. Wriggling their toes, for example, is such an engrossing experience that it is difficult to divert their attention to something else. However, their gift starts to wither when we insist, "Hurry up, I don't have all day."
None of us is guaranteed a tomorrow; by God's grace you will have one. Instead of "hurry up, I don't have all day," perhaps we should say, "slow down, I may not have tomorrow." As it is, we hurry through the now to get to what's next and in the process we miss the joy and the grace of the moment.
There are a thousand yesterdays and a thousand tomorrows, but there is only one now. It is only in The Land of NowHere that we can really meet God. It is only in The Land of NowHere where we can truly live.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Kingdom Inbreaking, Kingdom Outflowing

“This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” Mark 4:26-29

When Jesus walked onto the pages of Scripture, he announced it right off:: "The Kingdom of God is at hand." He brought good news, he was good news -- the old ways of doing things are done he announced, the new ways of doing things are here: 

  • Light, not darkness 
  • Courage, not fear
  • Laughter, not tears 
  • Hope, not dispair
  • Life, not death. 
"The Kingdom of God is here," he declared, "and it's available to anybody who wants to be a part of it." And, this is what it is like -  it is like a treasure that is better than all competing treasures, it is like a pearl of great value, it is like a net that is broadly cast out, it is like yeast that spreads, it is like a small seed that grows big, it is unpredictable and uncontainable, it is organic, beautiful and untamed. It is something that we are caught up into, something that we are not called to be spectators of, but to be participants in -- here and now, and forever when we die. “Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message,” (Mark 1:15 MESSAGE) change your life and enter into it with gusto. 

This is good news! Do you believe it is? Not just good news in general or for some people, but for you. Do you believe it? 

Our actions belay our beliefs, the content of our lives convey our convictions. Do you believe it? Maybe you believe it a little bit, but you hesitate to appropriate it in the actual stuff of life -- the letting go of worry, the control over the things you can't control, the change you want to make but don't believe you can, the sharing of your faith, the inviting of people join you as  you live out your faith. Jesus once was asked by a man to heal his son. Jesus asked him if he believed he could. In one of the most honest answers I can imagine, the man said in essence, "well, I believe a little bit, help me to believe more." And that's what Jesus did. 

This Kingdom life is good news, and Jesus is not keeping it to himself. He wants you to know it, to believe and to step out in it in action -- in our own lives, in the service of the least, the lost and the left behind -- and to share it with others. Take a look, step in, step up and see the reality that God will meet you there. Because, he is already at work in the places you are led to go.