You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2008.

The prince of darkness is a gentleman.

-William Shakespeare, King Lear (Edgar at III, iv)

    

A friend of mine was telling me tonight about her aunt who is in town visiting from California this week.  Her aunt has a friend out there in the Golden State who knew a lady who was going about her business at her local high-end modern-day fruit stand—one of those organic shrines I’m guessing.  The market has a penchant for these big over-sized bins of fresh cilantro.  Not realizing the hidden danger that lurked in the piles of green, the lady went ahead and dug down to get her share only to draw her hand back up in surprise as she was pinched by something—so she thought.  She suddenly felt queasy, excused herself, and went out to her vehicle.  Her husband became concerned ten minutes later when she didn’t return and went out to check on her only to find her—dead.  She had been bitten by an Arizona Black Rattlesnake without even knowing it.

It got the writer in me thinking, as is the case twenty-three hours a day.  Religion is both respectable and poisonous.   It’s venom can go undetected, is fast working and kills it’s victim quickly.  And the strange thing is how much so religion is able to grab hold of our hearts without our even realizing it’s happening.  What I find fascinating if not alarming is that we are all not only susceptible to it—we are prone to it. 

We’re drawn to religion much like the waves are drawn to the shore.  It is both naive and foolish to pretend we aren’t. 

 Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping.           (1 Peter 5:8, The Message Bible)

Being bitten by the terrible killer snake himself can happen to any one of us—it’s only a matter of time when we become lazy in remaining solely dependant upon the grace of Christ which is the sure and proven antidote in opposing the forces of religion upon our own hearts. 

Elizabeth Browning was on to something when she said The devil’s most devilish when respectable.  We just miss him all wrapped up in the cloak of religion—that’s all I am saying.  

Advertisements

Do you know why most Christians don’t get any better or why you don’t get any better? It’s because you’re doing it wrong, dummy! You are obsessed with sin and your faith has become another ‘system of laws’ whereby you feel guilty and try and try and try to do better. It doesn’t work, never has worked, and never will work…

-Steve Brown

  

If I had this freedom thing down pat I wouldn’t bother writing about it.  But I want to breath it with every gasp of air I have left before they box me up and stick me in some stuffy cemetery.

A few days ago I returned from a weekend away to see my oldest daughter graduate from high school.  It was exhilarating and frightening all in the same swoop.  Maybe you can relate to my feelings—she’s my first-born and makes me one proud dad.  Anyways, I woke up the other morning and headed into the bathroom after putting my morning coffee on just to be greeted by a big red spot on the tip of the end of my nose (and for those who haven’t seen me—I don’t have the smallest beak in the world).  The thing was irritating and it hurt too.  Figures Id’ get one—my dad gets the pesky buggers every once in a while and I make fun of him.  I thought by the time you were so close to forty these little ego deflaters would be history for good—let alone a man in his mid-sixties.  I suppose I have something to look forward to besides streets of gold. 

Nobody likes zits, or least no one has told me any different.  Zits are like sin if you ask me—although those of you lucky enough to never get a zit can’t say you never get a sin.  Sadly, some times it seems like I hate zits more than I hate sin.  I also got to thinking about the fact that I didn’t touch my big zit—not once, and it disappeared within a day (to my satisfaction).  Sin is like that I have found, and although my sin nature hasn’t taken any extended vacations lately to my dissatisfaction—my sins do seem to have a way of being less of an issue when I don’t obsess about them but rather trust that God meant it  when he said he forgives every last one of them.   

 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.    (Romans 13:13-14, ESV)

I think the idea here is to starve the flesh—my sin nature has trouble surviving let alone prospering when I don’t feed it.  Like my big zit, I have this thing for obsessing about things that are better left alone and I am slowly but surely learning that it helps to stop thinking about my sin and start focusing on the one who has delivered me from it’s penalty. 

Temptation has a  way dissipating when it isn’t messed around with.

And then she understood the devilish cunning of the enemies’ plan. By mixing a little truth with it they had made their lie far stronger.  

-C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle    

           

Deadly snakes don’t  do much discriminating in terms of their victims and our enemy isn’t about to cut us a break just because we’re not much in the mood to run into him today.        

Religion is sneaky.  It’s covert and cunning.  It doesn’t raise it’s ugly head and humbly announce Here I am.   Religion is always saying things like hath God said—twisting, perverting, and eventually getting us to settle for something akin to a nasty artificial sweetner in the place of the real freedom that life in Jesus entails.  It’s as old as sin and goes back to the very beginning with the first cave-man on record—Adam.                   

 The serpent was clever, more clever than any wild animal God had made. He spoke to the Woman: ‘Do I understand that God told you not to eat from any tree in the garden?’

The Woman said to the serpent, ‘Not at all. We can eat from the trees in the garden. It’s only about the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘Don’t eat from it; don’t even touch it or you’ll die.’ 

The serpent told the Woman, ‘You won’t die. God knows that the moment you eat from that tree, you’ll see what’s really going on. You’ll be just like God, knowing everything, ranging all the way from good to evil.’     (Genesis 3:1-5, The Message Bible)       

Truth is—we are afraid that our biggest fears will be realized in embracing freedom—so we reluctantly hang on to religion.  Ditching the law and order (control and manipulation) that religion represents and the supposed protection that religion seems to offer is a very frightening proposition.  In many ways we see religion as safe, when in fact in it’s rawest form religion is our enemy’s most seductive poison.  It can look so good.  After all—it’s sin that looks so bad.  Drinking, killing, and cussing—these are no-brainers for us who are mature to identify.  But we can’t see past the end of our own noses when it comes to envy, gossip, jealousy, hate, pride, or lust of every flavor—these look delectably tasty to the indiscriminate eye.  And when we do see the offense to God in these minute lapses in judgement, we pass them off as if they were the smallest of small infractions or worse yet we just don’t see them at all.    

The serpent’s fruit is always carefully packaged and presented, making it almost impossible for us to discern.  It should come as no surprise that Satan carefully construes many of his most harmful lies in the form of harmless religion and in a light that fails to show any signs of being worm-ridden and rotten to the core—just like the first fruit he picked to begin with.          

He won’t stop at anything to rob our freedom.

free·dom:   1: the quality or state of being free: as a: the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action b: liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another
   
-Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
 
  
Alright—we’ve been on this topic of freedom for a few days now and there must be a couple of dissenters wondering when I am going to hurry up and get back to the truth.  Well, I hate to disappoint anyone, but the message of freedom is the simple truth of God’s Word and any counter-message is a lie.  
  
How often we compromise our freedom and settle for some cheap imitation—we were not meant to live like some torpid chicken on a fast-track to slaughter, beak and feet removed, wings clipped off, steroid injected, anti-biotic ridden, disease infested—and force fed through a hose.  That’s a picture of what religion can do to us when we get caught up in it’s web.  It chokes everything that has the potential to be alive right out of us. 
   
  My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?   (Galatians 5:16-18, The Message Bible)  
        
God’s design is that we are to be able to move and roam about, sort of like free-range chickens are apt to do.  Healthy-active-organic chickens cost a bit more down at the corner market and taste far better on the barbecue for a reason—they are raised the way chickens were meant to be raised. 
   
Being caged up by religion isn’t the life for you and me.  
     
And we can’t very well follow Jesus if we are all couped up by religion like frustrated mass-production chickens.

Now we shall possess a right definition of faith if we call it a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

-John Calvin

 

I hate silly religion.

If I only had a nickel for every time I have traded the freedom I could have had for a lie and if I could have another nickel for every time religion has conned me into believing it would give me the very thing it couldn’t—I’d be sitting on my own island sipping a cold drink making afternoon plans to play a little golf. Religion for many of us has become our security blanket—some of us would prefer good old-fashioned religion over having Jesus any day of the week. After all, without religion our teenagers will get tattoos—and have babies while they are at it. Without religion our husbands will find new brides or our wives will divorce us and run off with younger men.

And ultimately—without religion—believers will leave the fold.

I suppose these are legitimate concerns. But the approach—much less the solutions (that religion has to offer), only worsen matters. Just when you are hurting, angry, lonely, doubting, or need it most—religion is no where to be found.

David wasn’t all too fond of what religion had to offer either:

I hate all this silly religion,
but you, God, I trust.
(Psalm 31:6, The Message Bible)

At best—religion is a time waster, an emotional hymn, a good pot-luck dinner, and pretty stained glass windows—in other words, religion is nothing we can’t live without. And at worst—religion robs people of the truth of God, which is just one more reason I hate silly religion so much.  God never demanded that we love religion or join it’s loveless parade of works.

Instead, God has invited us to a wedding feast of endless bliss.

When men and women get their hands on religion, one of the first things they often do is turn it into an instrument for controlling others, either putting or keeping them ‘in their place.’  The history of such religious manipulation and coercion is long and tedious.  It is little wonder that people who have only known religion on such terms experience release or escape from it’s freedom.  The problem is that the freedom turns out to be short-lived…

-From the Introduction to Galatians, The Message Bible (Eugene Peterson)  

    

Religion is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. 

If Jesus came to bring us freedom from anything he came to bring us freedom from religion—he came to deliver us from it’s death-grip.  It wasn’t restraint Jesus came to deliever us from so much but it was from the old code of rule-keeping and polishing up our own spiritual resumes if you will.   And nothing has changed—plenty of the same old thing goes on today.

Do you ever wonder why non-believers find us so difficult to get along and converse with?  Maybe one of the big glaring reasons is our fascination with passing out a thousand rules instead of simply sharing the glorious freedom offered within the gospel message?  Jesus didn’t suffer and die so that we would have the freedom to merely keep a couple of rules. 

 Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.    (Galatians 5:1, The Message Bible)

I am convinced that religion is largely responsible for a good number of church people who are straight on their way to hell.  So much for the separation of church and state—I’m one person who would rather see religion get the you know what out of the church.

Upon a life I did not live, upon a death I did not die; another’s life, another’s death, I stake my whole eternity. 

-Horatius Bonar   
 
  

Jesus is who we run to when we escape the clutches of religion. 

I have some Christian brothers I will call them—who share my faith in Jesus and just happen to be very dear to my heart.  I have written about these guys a time or two in days gone by.  These are the same guys who hugged me when the one person I loved most in this life walked away from a lifetime together—and more painfully, from me—never to return.

These guys are true-blue guys.  And what I mean by that is simply this: They are sports-minded, red-blooded, beer-drinking, and girl-liking guys (several are married mind you—so they would be one-girl-liking guys).  I know I said they were Christian brothers—and to tell you the truth (I do write about Christian spirituality—you wouldn’t expect me to lie), I’m not so sure if I have ever met too many men over the course of my adult life that I have enjoyed the company of more than these guys.  The group was born out of (at least in part) a shared discontentment with religion—it’s limitations, trappings, and barriers in regards to meaningful relationships.  Religion can be very isolating and some of you reading this know very well what I am talking about.  The group’s rise and success in large measure has been in simply responding to those recovering from the damaging effects of religion and a dire need for true community.   

What I took away from my time with these guys was real—a new appreciation for the freedom Jesus came to bring us in his coming to earth two-thousand years ago. 

I do have reason for pause however—my concern is that my friends don’t get so caught up in their new found comradeship and shared authenticity, humility, and anti-religious sentiment—that they leave Jesus in the dust in the process of their  rebelling against toxic religion and in turn forget the very freedom they celebrated to begin with.  We must never forget that true freedom begins at the foot of the Cross and that any lasting freedom must remain there to continue—to forget Jesus would be to abandon the very freedom of God.

To see Jesus is to look freedom in the face—in all it’s fullness.

 There were some Greeks in town who had come up to worship at the Feast. They approached Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee: ‘Sir, we want to see Jesus. Can you help us?’    (John 12:20-21, The Message Bible)

Do you want to see Jesus?

You can—he’s not hiding from you.

…To obey the law of the land leaves us our constitutional freedom, but not the freedom to follow our own consciences wherever they lead.

To obey the dictates of our own consciences leaves us freedom from the sense of moral guilt, but not the freedom to gratify our own strongest appetites.

To obey our strongest appetites for drink, sex, power, revenge, or whatever else leaves us the freedom of an animal to take what we want when we want it, but not the freedom of a human being to be human.

-Frederick Buechner, Beyond Words

  

Some times I get the feeling that I am supposed to be a stone statue when nothing could be further from the truth.  I think God would rather we mess up once in a while than never attempt to live at all (and no—for the record and those who consider themselves God’s policemen—I am not condoning that we go out and commit some big fat sin because God has no problem with it—because he does). 

We have rules all around us that ask us to do that which we can’t do or to abstain from that which we most want to do—and even when we can accomplish or live up to half of these self-sanctioned rules—adhering to these dictates would mean our ceasing to be human.  God never demands we check our humanity at the door—it is religion that asks us to do that.  God’s idea of following Jesus doesn’t include doing away with fun, desire, or even good sex for that matter—in it’s proper place of course.  Following Jesus is to be a life of joy—not sadomasochism.

As I read my copy of the New Testament I am ever reminded that Jesus went to parties and the like—despite the ire of the religious establishment. And I’m certain that some within his own ranks wished he’d have stayed at home in the Synagogue (but Jesus lived among the people).  It could even be argued that he was the life of the party (no pun intended, I promise).  Jesus laughed and he really made some people mad (and I’ll go out on a limb and say his laughing had much to do with their being so upset—stiff-necked religious people consider it their God given duty  to stop any fun before it begins you know).  Jesus may have even teed it up a time or two in his sandals over at the country club—although, I’m not so sure that playing a round of golf in a toga in the middle of the desert heat would have been all that comfortable.

We see Jesus being the first guy out in the morning to go fishing and also read of him taking a nap in the stern of a boat—so it’s not hard to imagine him getting his beard trimmed up or him polishing off a stack of pancakes and going back for seconds. 

Although Jesus was fully God—he was also fully human.

 This is the family tree of the human race: When God created the human race, he made it godlike, with a nature akin to God. He created both male and female and blessed them, the whole human race.    (Genesis 5:1-2, The Message Bible)

We do well to remember that we are free to be human ourselves—as a matter of fact—it is us Jesus-followers who should be most human.   

There are some who have no understanding to hear the truth of freedom and insist upon their goodness as means for salvation. These people you must resist, do the very opposite, and offend them boldly lest by their impious views they drag many with them into error. For the sake of liberty of the faith do other things which they regarded as the greatest of sins… use your freedom constantly and consistently in the sight of and despite the tyrants and stubborn so that they may learn that they are impious, that their law and works are of no avail for righteousness, and that they had no right to set them up.    

-Martin Luther

 

Some of you must to be shaking your heads and saying by now—Come on Ken, there has to be some rules, you are giving people the idea that they can live any way they choose and still be a Christian.

I have said nothing of the sort.  I will concede—the gospel of grace is abused—but we don’t pull the medicine off the shelves just because some would use it recklessly.  What I have said is that we want rules instead of relationship.  We like religion over Jesus.  We’ll take self-serving outward religious fashion shows  over inward and uncomfortable revivals.    It’s much more difficult to be genuine than it is to be religious.  And it’s much more advantageous when it comes to our fragile and attention-starved egos to follow a man-made code than to follow the Son of the Living God.  Let’s face it—we want people to pat us on the back when it comes to our being so religious, so giving, or even so Christlike—we’ll trade the freedom that’s ours for an ata-boy not even thinking a split second about what we are giving up to get the small worthless token.

 11-12 The obvious impossibility of carrying out such a moral program should make it plain that no one can sustain a relationship with God that way. The person who lives in right relationship with God does it by embracing what God arranges for him. Doing things for God is the opposite of entering into what God does for you. Habakkuk had it right: “The person who believes God, is set right by God—and that’s the real life.” Rule-keeping does not naturally evolve into living by faith, but only perpetuates itself in more and more rule-keeping, a fact observed in Scripture: “The one who does these things [rule-keeping] continues to live by them.”

13a Christ redeemed us from that self-defeating, cursed life by absorbing it completely into himself.    (Galatians 3:11-13a, The Message Bible)

God understands something that we just can’t seem to get through our thick skulls: A heart set free doesn’t need rules any longer.  If you want the unadulterated-unfiltered-cold-hard truth—our hearts never needed rules to begin with.  Our hearts were plenty lost without any help.  Rules or no rules, we were wretched without Jesus. 

You see, a heart set free wants to follow Jesus—it doesn’t need seventy-five rules about how to do anything.  Rules got us no where before Jesus and I can’t understand what on earth makes us think they will post-Jesus.  Seriously—it’s like learning where to get a spectacular gourmet meal and then returning to the place we were paying the same money to get a maggot covered plate of slop—as if we never found the new restaurant.  Maddening behavior really. 

What possesses us to return to rules and religion when we have Jesus? 

The reason we’re so bad is that we’re trying so hard to be good.

-Steve Brown 

Have you seen these invisible fences they have for dogs?  I have to imagine that an invisible fence would make a good candidate to ruin your life if you were a dog. 

You can’t see these things driving around your subdivision because they are invisible after all. They have become quite popular and it’s no wonder—what a great concept.  We had a dog some years ago that was a prime candidate for the invisible fence thing.   We didn’t end up getting one for several reasons and looking back I’m not so convinced our dog wouldn’t have run right through the thing no matter how many shocks it would have zapped him with.  Max and I were pals on day one, we were two peas in a pod.  Like me, he liked to move around and he wasn’t much excited about being told he needed to conform.  

The spacious yard we had so kindly provided for our new dog was not even close to sufficient for him.  I guess it didn’t help that we had one of those stupid metal stakes you put in the ground so your dog can run around in circles until he makes you so dizzy watching him that you need to scarf down a box of Dramamine to handle it. 

It didn’t help that Max was a bird dog either.  He’d just about rip off anyones arm that dare try to walk him.  Even with one of those cruel choke collars on, he was a terror.  It might explain the pain I have in my shoulder lately and it’s been almost five years since I saw the crazy dog.  If there was something within a mile to chase—you might as well have attached yourself to a telephone poll.  Max even decided one spring that he wanted to redecorate our backyard with crater’s he decided to dig—our yard resembled the moon when he was done with it.

I felt sorry for Max.

Looking back now, I think obedience school or Ritalin would have only made Max more frustrated.  The reality is, we got the wrong dog to fit the bill.  What we had in mind was a nice little pet for our kids.  It didn’t work out that way.  Sitting still and taking orders wasn’t the dog’s strong suit.  And I’m not sure that dog was even capable of it.  He was a dog after all, and dogs aren’t made to be couped up in an 4′ by 2′ cubicle all day long.   Invisible fences have to make dogs resentful I figure, I mean how fun is to see a female two lots over you’d like to frolic with and have a straight shot at her and then all of a sudden you remember that you have a stupid invisible fence that you can’t jump over? 

Dogs were made to run free without a leash tied around their neck when you think about it.

I think it’s reasonable to say that religion is a lot like the invisible fence thing.

While we were in conference we were infiltrated by spies pretending to be Christians, who slipped in to find out just how free true Christians are. Their ulterior motive was to reduce us to their brand of servitude. We didn’t give them the time of day. We were determined to preserve the truth of the Message for you.   (Galatians 2:4-5, The Message Bible)

When we set up rules to keep and all sorts of regulations in regards to our life in Jesus we end up serving the same purpose an invisible fence serves; the moment no one is looking or the fences come down we are off and running to some place we have no business going.

Invisible fences aren’t for us Jesus-followers.  Come to think of it, they aren’t much good for dogs. 

If you but love God you may do as you incline.

-Augustine

  

I’ve stumbled across a story from the life of President Abraham Lincoln a time or two now about an appointee within the president’s cabinet that would try to challenge and stimy the president every chance he got.  A friend of honest Abe’s finally came to him and asked why he didn’t have the pesky man replaced.  Lincoln, in turn—told his well-meaning friend a story about walking down a country road one day and coming upon a farmer who was busy plowing his field with a horse-drawn plough.  As Lincoln approached the farmer he noticed a jumbo sized horsefly on the back-side of the working horse and figured it couldn’t be helping the poor horse concentrate on the task at hand.  Lincoln—in an attempt to help the farmer out, went to simply brush off the little pest.  As Lincoln raised his hand to take a swat, the farmer protested—Don’t do that, friend.  That horsefly is the only thing keeping this old horse moving.    

The moral of the story for today’s lesson is simple: Religion is nothing more than a jumbo horsefly and there are those within certain circles of the church who’d like you to do anything—and I stress anything—other than contribute to freeing people from living under the irritating and deadly oppression that religion represents.  Those caught up in the facade of religion do not like any one who messes with their religion and they are not afraid to tell you so—to mess with religion is to mess with God.  Many church leaders feel the need to use religion to do the same exact thing the farmer was doing with the  horsefly—use religion and the endless rules that accompany it as a means of motivating others to live the Christian life.  

These preachers of bondage wouldn’t know freedom if it hit them upside the head.  In his letter to the Galatian believers—Paul had something entirely different to say than what the peddlers of religion in his day were preaching.

 What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a ‘law man’ so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not ‘mine,’ but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.    (Galatians 2:19-20, The Message Bible)

There is a better way. 

It’s called freedom—and it can be a rare commodity in some circles.

Luther, in speaking of the good by itself and the good for its expediency alone, instances the observance of the Christian day of rest—a day of repose from manual labour, and of activity in spiritual labour—a day of joy and cooperation in the work of Christ’s creation. ‘Keep it holy’, says he, ‘for its use’s sake—both to body and soul! But if anywhere the day is made holy for the mere day’s sake—if anywhere anyone sets up its observance upon a Jewish foundation, then I order you to work on it, to ride on it, to dance on it, to feast on it—to do anything that shall reprove this encroachment on the Christian spirit and liberty.’…

-Samuel Tayler Coleridge (1772-1834), Table Talk

 

The enemies of freedom are many—but I’d have to say that religion is it’s fiercest.  If that surprises you it shouldn’t.  

Religion has never been about the love of God but about the works of man.  Nothing has changed since the inception of man’s oldest institution.  More is done in the name of religion to keep people down and hold them back from actually following Jesus than any other single thing.   For a people who should be as free as anyone—us Jesus-followers—we sure can be a pretty bound up and tightly wound people.  It’s one thing for our younger brothers and sisters in the faith to be all hung up on keeping a list of rules that they feel they must follow to please God—but it’s altogether for us who ought to know better by now.  Shouldn’t we be following a person instead of a set of steps to spiritual success after all?   Doesn’t any measure of spiritual success for the Christian come down to following Jesus?

Jesus has written his law of love on our hearts if we know him at all—we can toss aside our note-pads.

It’s a bit disheartening to read about all the rules we should be keeping when Jesus said nothing of the sort.  He summed up the new law of love in a single sentence.  We, on the other hand—have volumes and volumes about the traditions and religious dogmas of man.

 Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.   (Galatians 2:21, The Message Bible)

Is it time for you to stick a fork in religion and get back to pursuing your relationship with Jesus?

Freedom is transformative.

-President George W. Bush, May 1st, 2008 (Celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month)

 

No matter your political persuasion—or non-persuasion—there is no arguing the effects that freedom can have on a country (of course it’s not so smooth at times or unopposed as we are seeing in other parts of the world—and then there are the blatant abuses of freedom here at home that may very well prove to be the undoing of our great democracy).  More specifically though—I’d like to look at the impact that freedom can have on one solitary human heart.

Like the slave girl that Lincoln purchased (see previous post) and her subsequent decision to stay with him after learning she was free to go where ever she pleased—freedom is a liberating and moving force.  Freedom has the power to transform a life like no other power on earth.  Just ask a prisoner upon their release from prison.

God loves us with a love that sets us free.

 15-16 We Jews know that we have no advantage of birth over ‘non-Jewish sinners.’ We know very well that we are not set right with God by rule-keeping but only through personal faith in Jesus Christ. How do we know? We tried it—and we had the best system of rules the world has ever seen! Convinced that no human being can please God by self-improvement, we believed in Jesus as the Messiah so that we might be set right before God by trusting in the Messiah, not by trying to be good.   (Galatians 2:15-16, The Message Bible) 

Some of us are up to our eyebrows in legalism—so caught up in the snares of rule-keeping that we don’t even bat an eyelash at it’s death-hold on us anymore.

The religion God promotes is never about rigid rules but it’s always about transforming freedom.

Sin will always keep you longer than you wanted to stay, make you pay more than you ever wanted to pay, and take you further than you ever intended to go.
 
-My friend Blaine Bartel
  
  
A few years ago I ran across a story that still moves me every time I read it.  The story is re-counted in Steve Brown’s riveting book, A Scandalous Freedom. 
  
Abraham Lincoln went to a slave market.  There he noted a young, beautiful African-American woman being auctioned off to the highest offer.  He bid on her and won.  He could see the anger in the young woman’s eyes and could imagine what she was thinking, ‘another white man will buy me, use me, and then discard me’. 
 
As Lincoln walked off with his ‘property’, he turned to the woman and said, ‘You’re free’.  ‘Yeah.  What does that mean?’ she replied.  ‘It  means that you’re free.’  ‘Does it mean I can say whatever I want to say?’  ‘Yes,’ replied Lincoln, smiling, ‘it means you can say whatever you want to say.’  ‘Does it mean,’ she asked incredulously, ‘that I can be whatever I want to be?’  ‘Yes, you can be whatever you want to be.’  ‘Does it mean,’  the young woman said hesitantly, ‘that I can go wherever I want to go?’  ‘Yes, it means you are free and you can go wherever you want to go.’ 
 
‘Then,’ said the woman with tears welling up in her eyes, ‘I think I’ll go with you.’ 
 
Brown continues…
  
That is what God has done for us.  It is what the Christian faith is all about.  We have been bought with a price, the price of God’s own Son.  We now have a new master, one who, once he paid the price, set us free. 
  
Do you realize that you are free?  Jesus never twists our arm—and he never does a hard-sell on us.  He simply sets us free and lets us decide what we will do with that freedom.  The question each of us must answer is: Will we turn and walk away—or will we, like the slave girl—follow him? 
   
 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.   (John 8:36, ESV)
   

Every man must do two things alone; he must do his own believing and his own dying.

-Martin Luther 

 

There is no salvation by osmosis.

We can’t bank on our spouses relationship with Jesus—and the same applies to our mom or anyone else for that matter.  We may have the best pastor in our city—he can’t believe for us.  God makes no provision for riding right on into heaven on someone else’s coattails.  We must trust Christ for ourselves.  The only coattails that can bring each one of us into right-standing with God are those of Jesus Christ and him crucified.  It is the greatest miracle of all—a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ his only Son—is by far unsurpassable.

Nicodemus, the secret seeker I will call him (he did come at night to speak to Jesus after all)—came to Jesus to find out more about the spiritual teachings of Jesus.  Jesus didn’t waste any time with the prestigious and religious man.

 3 Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’    (John 3:3-5, ESV)

Notice that Jesus didn’t inform him that one of his contemporaries could stand in proxy for him.

You must be born again.

The guy you sit next to at work can’t pass his relationship with God over to you like he might his sandwich he offers to share with you.  Sitting in a garage won’t make you a car.  Hanging out in the locker room of your favorite NFL football team won’t make you a professional football star. 

The prophet Ezekiel faced a people caught up with the notion that somehow they wouldn’t personally be held accountable for their own sin.  They were tossing around a saying quite regularly along the lines that suggested that sons somehow were not responsible for their own sins because of their fathers sins.  God wasn’t going to have any of it any longer—he instructed Ezekiel to warn the people—“As sure as I’m the living God, you’re not going to repeat this saying in Israel any longer. Every soul—man, woman, child—belongs to me, parent and child alike. You die for your own sin, not another’s (The Message Bible).”

We will each stand by our lonesome before the judgement seat of Christ and we won’t be given the opportunity to blame our fathers for our own dis-belief when it came to Jesus Christ.

No one else can have faith in Jesus for you—you must have a personal relationship with Jesus for yourself. 

Anything that one imagines of God apart from Christ is only useless thinking and vain idolatry.  

-Martin Luther

 

As we discussed yesterday—Jesus is the Savior, not the judge, for those who trust in him alone.  And yes—the news is most terrible for those who don’t. 

If you have ever been married you understand the need for exclusivity.  Most marriages that are more than simple arrangements won’t last if not.  The vast majority of husbands don’t want their wives having a pool boy and the same applies to wives—they won’t tolerate a mistress.  If you want your marriage to last—let alone enjoy a good one—there’s only room for one.  

I recently watched the film Fracture which featured Anthony Hopkins (a favorite of mine).   Hopkins plays a husband who catches his wife in an affair only to have her lie to his face about it—he then murders her in cold blood and ends up framing her lover who just so happens to be the detective who arrives on the crime scene.   You’ll have to watch the movie to find out how it turns out.

Some things don’t leave room for two.

The exclusivity presented in the Gospel and the subsequent Epistles of Paul and others goes directly against the grain of modern thought—that thought which runs rampant and says there are many paths to God.  There is no tolerance within the Scriptures—or biblical Christianity I’d say—for any such notions of plurality when it comes to salvation.  When it comes to Who we must get to heaven by trusting solely we can’t have Buddha and Jesus—or even Jesus and Mary for that matter. 

You don’t have to go any further than the most popular television personality on the planet to get a dose of what I am talking about.  Oprah shares her views openly:   

One of the biggest mistakes humans can make is to believe there is only one way. Actually, there are many diverse paths leading to what you call God.

He says I am the way–not one of several diverse paths.  

 11 ‘This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.’   (Acts 4:11-12, ESV) 

The gate remains narrow—It’s Jesus plus no one.

I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.  If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.  The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.    -Jesus Christ  (John 12:46-48, ESV)  

Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world—it’s already condemned.

We can remain right where we always have been—in darkness—or we can come to Jesus.  It gets no plainer than that.  I remember coming to Jesus the first time.  And now it is a way of life.

I can’t count the times he came to me.

That Jesus didn’t come to point fingers at all of us sinners may not sound like news, but it is.  It’s news that needs repeating over and over and over again.  We can be sure that to present Jesus as the one who will forgive us no matter what—even if we fail to trust him—is not to present Jesus at all.  But presenting Jesus as the grand condemner as the soap-box preachers do—as some sort of hell-bent nut intent on sending as many people to hell as possible—isn’t the Jesus of the Bible either.  But the good news will never change no matter who attempts to re-write it—Jesus came to save sinners and to somehow make saints out of them—not to throw stones at them.  John 3:16 could easily be the most recited verse in the Bible—but the verse that follows is as good as any in the Holy Scriptures. 

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.    (John 3:17, ESV)

He came to save those who would simply trust him enough to come to him.

Period. 

For those of us who wish to put Jesus into a box and somehow fit him into the small ideas we have about him—we need to think again.

God is willing to go to the length of suffering and dying to enter into fellowship with man. There is a misunderstanding of the Christian doctrine of atonement that goes something like this: God is an angry God, angry at men because men have sinned, and he decides to condemn mankind; but Christ intercedes for man, and God’s vengeance is sated by punishing Christ instead. Although this is a travesty of the Christian position it has unfortunately been too often suggested by interpreters of the atonement as well as by their critics.

-Robert McAfee Brown, P. T. Forsyth: Prophet For Today

 

There is a common misconception I find that many young people—and some of us aged folks—hold on to.  It is the notion that God is up in heaven storming mad and just itching to do something about it (as if he couldn’t if he wanted to).  It’s the assertion that  somehow Jesus’ visit to earth was an afterthought (a sort of plan b), or that it was God’s attempt to somehow mop up his mess—mankind that is.

Brown continues:

But Forsyth, who said, “The doctrine of grace and the doctrine of the atonement are identical,” the true interpretation is that the atonement flows from grace, it does not “procure” grace. This extremely important insight means that our reading of the atonement is more like this: Because God loves men, he suffers on their behalf, bears himself the weight of their wrongdoing, and this restores fellowship, or reconciles. Grace is not something Christ earned for us from God; grace is rather something God gave us in Christ. “Do not say: ‘God is love. Why atone?’ Say: ‘God has atoned. What love!’

I don’t often repeat the same exact words in a blog entry mind you (on purpose anyways)—but these bear repeating… “Because God loves men, he suffers on their behalf, bears himself the weight of their wrongdoing, and this restores fellowship, or reconciles. Grace is not something Christ earned for us from God; grace is rather something God gave us in Christ.”

What we must not do is think that God the Father and Jesus his Son are at odds with one another—they weren’t—they aren’t—and they won’t be.  They are one in the same and God the Father was the one who sent his Son Jesus here in the first place and all because he—just like his Son—loved us.   

 16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 17 comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.    (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17, ESV)

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need in Thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

-Lyrics from hymn—Just as I Am (Charlotte Elliott) 

We never come to Jesus with our shirt pressed and our shoes shined.  We are more like an unkept and destitute beggar when we finally call out to Jesus.  Very few of us ever come before we have tasted the pleasures of sin for a season.  It takes looking—and unsuccessfully—for salvation in things, power, money, and people we look up to before we are resigned to surrender. 

And when we do—the relief is unspeakable.

 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…   (1 Timothy 1:15a, ESV) 

If you ever attended a Billy Graham Crusade or have seen one on television—you have no doubt heard the hymn—Just as I Am.  For every television tele-evangelist phony, Billy Graham has served as proof year after year that men of God do exist and that not every popular preacher has to sell snake oil, have goofy hair, make pitiful appeals for cash, have a corny smile, worhip a positive attitude, or have a Jesus-less message.     

The former slave trader John Newton and mentor to William Wiberforce came to Jesus just as he was.  Newton was a terrible sinner and a man with unclean hands—a life defined by abuse and filth (you don’t have to trust me—he tells on himself in his own writings).  After a miraculous conversion, Newton went on to write the most widely sung hymn of all-time—Amazing Grace.  Newton lived to be eighty-two years old and mantained an active ministry until he was laid up by failing health the last two years of his life. 

Newton—unshaken in his faith before his death—told his friends:

My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things; That I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour.   

If John Newton could come as he was—there’s no sin too great and no person too bad to simply come, and come just as we are.  

Jesus hasn’t turned anyone away yet and he’s not looking to start.

Christ, however, declares here: ‘Let it be your one concern to come to Me and to have the grace to hold, to believe, and to be sure in your heart that I was sent into the world for your sake, that I carried out the will of My Father and was sacrificed for your atonement, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, and bore all punishment for you. If you believe this, do not fear. I do not want to be your judge, executioner, or jailer, but your Savior and Mediator, yes, your kind, loving Brother and good Friend. But you must abandon your work-righteousness and remain with Me in firm faith.’

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 23: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 6-8

 

We can have our cake and eat it too when it comes to some things.  When it comes to the salvation of our souls—it’s one way or no way.  You can’t cling to Jesus and to your good works.  One will save you while the other will see to it that you are lost. 

Jesus won’t be a part of any equation—he is the equation or he acts as the gavel.  And it’s not only our good works we can’t trust—it’s the good works of any one we might assume one-ups us in the good works department (or two-ups us for that matter).  For some of us to find someone else to trust in besides ourselves it might not be too tall of an order, for others, well—I hope you see the light.  I realize that to say that Jesus is in a class of his own may not sit well with my friends who’d like to seat Buddha—Mohamand—Joseph Smith—or the Jonas Brothers on the same platform with Jesus.  While Jesus will stoop down and wash the feet of his followers, make no mistake—Jesus doesn’t share a platform with anyone.  Being politically correct never was Jesus’ strong-suit.  The day is coming when Mary—Moses—Pope-whoever—and Mahatma Gandhi will all kneel before Jesus. 

 16 ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.   (John 3:16, ESV)

We read that and we can think I have that down.  But like the item we are looking for on the shelf and cannot see because we are almost on top of it (which just so happens to be staring us square smack-dab between the eyes)—we need only step back and look at the verse from a healthy distance to see it as it is.  It might be quoted so much for a reason.  The simplicity of the gospel message is so simple we feel some insatiable desire to complicate it.  God said we must believe in Jesus—of course the belief that results in salvation takes on the form of more than mere agreement.  I’m not going to expound on dead faith (the same kind that Satan himself has and will condemn us) or living faith (the kind that only Jesus can author and serves to save us) here in this entry—but there is a world of difference.  But what I want to point out here is that God makes no provision for trusting ourselves one iota for our own salvation—or anyone else for that matter.

God doesn’t give us three curtains to pick behind when it comes to our eternal destiny.  There is no secret about who or what it is that God has selected to provide rescue from the entire weight of our sin.  He didn’t let his Son be crucified in some remote location for no one to see, rather—he set him on the top of a hill so all would witness.  Don’t you think if God intended for us to trust anyone or anything other than Jesus for our salvation he would have told us?  Jesus is the only Savior we need—all others we must detest. 

And that includes every last effort on our part to save ourselves.

Jesus is the curtain, the stage, and the entire play.

a blog about radical discipleship, the gospel of grace, a theology of the cross, Christian spirituality, the mission of the church in this world and whatever else on the same wave length that may be running around the brain of a hopeful Protestant.

follow me on twitter

My Blogs Elsewhere

Photo Credit

...just to be safe and ethical—there is a Creative Commons liscence on the photo. Here's the link to give credit where credit is due—thank you. http://www.flickr.com/photos/ shoebappa/1080642528/