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A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.   

-Martin Luther

 

Two of my best buddies upon graduation from high school decided to head on down to local recruiting office and sign up to be proud soldiers in the service of the United States—one opted to go with The U.S. Marines and the other with The U.S. Air Force.  We were raised during a time in which many considered patriotism to have been at an all-time low (post Vietnam), only to see a dramatic turn around during the Reagan years as we grew older.  By the time my friends and I escaped high school it was the tail end of such an era, and if you ask me, it was also the end of a climate in which the president of these United States was honored by a good portion of it’s citizens despite ones political party—you didn’t refer to the president as Smith, and if you did, you were quickly reprimanded by your parents or your teacher and told to correct yourself and say President so and so.  

When you sign up (or are involuntarily told to sign up) to enter The U.S. Armed Forces some things are explained to you.  To go off to boot camp you are doing more than going away for so many weeks on some grueling survival of the fittest, you will be  changing everything just short of changing your name.  You become property of the U.S. Government.  You sleep where they tell you, eat what they feed you and get to slide on the underwear they provide for you.  Your vacations are planned around a schedule other than your own and any enemy of the United States, you are to treat as such.  Essentially, you are no longer your own person, you are subject to being told your every move and nothing can come between you and your new identity—not to mention a code of conduct that demands utmost attention.  And when it comes to your own family, if they aren’t kosher with any of that, they have a choice to make—either your family lives with your new life or they move along.  

It gets me to thinking—following Jesus isn’t up for debate—we don’t get to make our own deal.

A soldier on duty doesn’t get caught up in making deals at the marketplace. He concentrates on carrying out orders. An athlete who refuses to play by the rules will never get anywhere. It’s the diligent farmer who gets the produce. Think it over. God will make it all plain.  (2 Timothy 2:4-7, The Message Bible)

Maybe us Jesus-followers ought to take a page out of an officers manual the next time we need some advice.

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The society in which we live suggests in countless ways that the way to go is up. Making it to the top, entering the limelight, breaking the record—that’s what draws attention, gets us on the front page of the newspaper, and offers us the rewards of money and fame.

The way of Jesus is radically different. It is the way not of upward mobility but of downward mobility. It is going to the bottom, staying behind the sets, and choosing the last place!

-Henri Nouwen 

 

For some us, our stage is a stage—while others of us have been hand selected to serve behind the scenes and unseen enemy lines.  Either way, the thing that every last one of us has been called to do is to serve others. 

My dad’s pals down at the local homeless shelter or my mom’s friends over at the crisis pregnancy center who are slaving away for Jesus aren’t doing what they do to make a name for themselves—and they are doing a pretty good job of remaining undecorated.  These folks could surely go out and do a better job of selling and raising more money.  They could certainly put on quite a show considering just what it is that they do.  The beauty is that neither is doing what they do for money or fame.  The folks I know who serve Jesus best don’t do it for monetary or temporal purposes—they are serving Jesus and making a name or a fortune for themselves isn’t on their list of things to accomplish.  

Then those ’sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’    (Matthew 25:37-40, The Message Bible)

It could be pointed out that while Mother Teresa’s life as a servant has been held up as model to follow, thousands of others like her have served the destitute and gone practically unnoticed by a good majority of us  self-enamored  Americans while Jesus hasn’t missed a thing. 

How could he?

It’s Jesus they have been waiting on all along.

If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.

-Augustine

 

The gospel really is quite upsetting for the vast majority of us.  I caught one of those warm and fuzzy commercials a few weeks back as I was watching my Detroit Red Wings win another Stanley Cup (yes, they do play hockey until June).  The spot features hockey player tough guy Stu Grimson.  Grimson is shown still donning his jersey after coming off the ice, in his skates, and drenched in sweat as he dials up his daughter—it’s kind of cute really.  The big-bad-burly Grimson gets caught by his teammates singing her the Itsy Bitsy Spider song and the moral of the story is one that I’m guessing is suppose to motivate us to reach for the virtues of better living.  It’s put out by The Foundation For A Better Life—whoever they are?  

I suppose there is a place for feel good television commercials—I’m not about to throw stones at whoever is behind a message designed to inspire us to be more thoughtful, with all of the mindless and degrading stuff that finds its way to the airwaves I’d certainly pick on some other commercial if that were what I was attempting to do. 

The Foundation For A Better Life may not be an enemy of the message of Jesus, but I am afraid there are many messages that we take as gospel truth that are not, and some times I get the feeling that we fall into thinking that just because we ascribe to good morals or promote wholesome movies that must mean we are Christians.  You can send James Dobson and his Focus on the Family all of your income and then some, but that makes you no more Christian than the Aflac duck. 

 I can’t believe your fickleness—how easily you have turned traitor to him who called you by the grace of Christ by embracing a variant message! It is not a minor variation, you know; it is completely other, an alien message, a no-message, a lie about God. Those who are provoking this agitation among you are turning the Message of Christ on its head. Let me be blunt: If one of us—even if an angel from heaven!—were to preach something other than what we preached originally, let him be cursed. I said it once; I’ll say it again: If anyone, regardless of reputation or credentials, preaches something other than what you received originally, let him be cursed.    (Galatians 1:6-9, The Message Bible)

Any other message is foreign no matter how good it makes us feel—the devil never packages his message in a black jump suit and pitch fork, he’s more likely to use an apple.

The gospel is Jesus replacing our utter darkness with his glorious light. 

What shall I say to the commendation of Christ and His Cross I bless the Lord He has made my prison a palace to me. And what am I that He should have dealt thus with me? I have looked greedy-like to such a lot as this, but still thought it was too high for me when I saw how vile I was.

-Isabel Alison—in regards to her own execution in 1681

    

Do you believe in Jesus enough to go to a cross of your own if it meant doing so?  In Paul’s parting words to the Galatians he speaks of the Cross of Christ Jesus.  For Paul, the Cross  was the basis for examining his own life and loves. 

 For my part, I am going to boast about nothing but the Cross of our Master, Jesus Christ. Because of that Cross, I have been crucified in relation to the world, set free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate.   (Galatians 6:14, The Message Bible)

What do you boast in?

It is at the Cross alone that we find not an ounce of condemnation but grace untold, and it is at the Cross that we were put to death in relation to the world.  For Paul, the central issue comes down to what God has already done on the Cross—never to be done again.  The Cross doesn’t impact our lives, it totally changes our lives.  It is by what was done at the Cross that God takes what was trash and makes it art, takes what was filthy and makes it clean, takes what was pitch-black and makes it into a rainbow, and takes what was a stench and makes it a bed of roses. 

He takes those of us who were nothing and he makes us something. 

This is what it is to live in the shadow of the Cross. 

Grace is something you can never get but can only be given.  There’s no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about any more than you can deserve the taste of rasberries and cream or earn good looks or bring about your own birth.    ~Frederick Buechner, Beyond Words 

One of my favorite movies is Les Miserables and friends who have seen the musical version have told me it made a lasting impression on them as well and for good reason—the film is steeped in grace.  I can’t say I have ever seen grace more profoundly displayed on the big-screen.  Philip Yancey tells of the following scene in his book What’s So Amazing About Grace?  

Sentenced to a nineteen-year term of hard labor for the crime of stealing bread, Jean Valjean gradually hardened into a tough convict.  No one could beat him in a fistfight.  No one could break his will.  At last Valjean earned his release.  Convicts in those days had to carry identity cards, however, and no innkeeper would let a dangerous felon spend the night.  for four days he wandered the village roads, seeking shelter against the weather, until finally a kindly bishop had mercy on him.

That night Jean Valjean lay still in an uncomfortable bed until the bishop and his sister drifted off to sleep.  He rose from his bed, rummaged through the cupboard for the family silver, and crept off into the darkness.

The next morning three policemen knocked on the bishop’s door, with Valjean in tow.  They had caught the convict in flight with purloined silver, and were ready to put the scoundrel in chains for life.

The bishop responded in a way that no one, especially Jean Valjean, expected.

‘So here you are!’  he cried to Valjean.  ‘I am delighted to see you.  Had you forgotten that I gave you the candlesticks as well?  They’re silver like the rest, and worth a good 200 francs.  Did you forget to take them?’

Jean Valjean’s eyes had widened.  He was now staring at the old man with an expression no words can convey.  

Valjean was no thief, the bishop assured the gendarmes.  ‘The silver was my gift to him.’

When the gendarmes withdrew, the bishop gave the candlesticks to his guest, now speechless and trembling.  ‘Do not forget, do not ever forget,’ said the bishop, ‘that you have promised me to use the money to make yourself an honest man.’

The power of the bishop’s act, defying every human instinct for revenge, changed Valjean’s life forever.  A naked encounter with forgiveness—especially since he had never repented—melted the granite defenses of his soul.  He kept the candlesticks as a precious memento of grace and dedicated himself from then on to helping others in need.

Just as was the case with Valjean—you and I can’t earn that which is undeserved and that is the beauty of what we call grace.

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.   (Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV)

In working out our callings, we are to perform for one audience, the audience of One.

-Os Guinness

 

Many of us personaly know several fine-upstanding and well-respected individuals and preachers—some of them have touched our lives beyond mention. 

While I am aware that God has diametrically different plans for us than our becoming a bunch of rowdy-trouble-making-hoodlums—some times I get the feeling that we stop short in what we define as who we should be, or to put it another way—what kind of a legacy we should be building as Jesus-followers.  It seems to me that a size-able portion of us are much too concerned with leaving the sort of legacy in which we will be honored.  I am still waiting to meet someone who says I want every one to re-count at my funeral what a mean person I was.  Some of us will be remembered a hundred years from now I suppose and others of us who served God just as sincerely may be all but forgoten by every living human on earth within that same time span. 

Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of ‘the brightest and the best’ among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these ‘nobodies’ to expose the hollow pretensions of the ‘somebodies’? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, ‘If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God.’   (1 Corinthians 1:26-31, The Message Bible)

What I fear is that we have become much too obsessed with the impression we will leave on others while we remain too little concerned with the legacy God wishes to let us participate in leaving.  Maybe, I need to speak for myself—but I have recently had to ask myself some tough questions.

The way I figure it—the only legacy worth leaving is a legacy of grace.

If you judge people, you have no time to love them.

-Mother Teresa

 

The Associated Press reports this morning: 

A woman charged in the drunken-driving death of her son went to a bar after his funeral instead of reporting back to jail, state police said.  A judge had given Erin Howard, 26, of Corry, permission to leave the Erie County Prison for 24 hours to attend her son’s funeral in Ohio, with orders to return to the lockup by 3 p.m. Saturday.  Instead, Howard went to a bar in Hamilton, Ohio, about a mile from the church where the funeral for 6-year-old Samuel Carpenter was held, police said.  Calls to Howard’s public defender went unanswered after business hours Monday.  Howard had been in prison in lieu of $75,000 bail on charges that she was driving drunk when she crashed into a creek bank near Corry, killing Samuel on June 14—her 26th birthday.  Pennsylvania police found out Sunday morning that Howard had been arrested in Ohio after her son’s father allegedly tipped off authorities to her whereabouts. She was being held in Ohio awaiting extradition to Erie.  Howard has now been charged with escape in addition to involuntary manslaughter, drunken driving, child endangerment, and other charges related to the crash.

What a tragic story and what deplorable behavior.  This mother is going to have a tough time getting over this.  Some of us, after reading this report might be saying, Good—she needs to think about what’s she’s done.  Maybe so.  The reality is this however: Erin Howard will need a lot more than time to get over what she’s done.  This woman will need grace, and for those of us who find it easy to point a finger and say How could she even think about going to the bar after such selfishness—let me suggest—the same way we could without the grace and mercy of God. 

 Talk and act like a person expecting to be judged by the Rule that sets us free. For if you refuse to act kindly, you can hardly expect to be treated kindly. Kind mercy wins over harsh judgment every time.   (James 2:12-13, The Message Bible)

This woman’s story isn’t much unlike a lot of people’s stories we rub shoulders with every day, and you don’t have to visit the local jail to meet folks who battle with the same kind of guilt this woman is sure to deal with soon.  People don’t have much trouble getting themselves into a pile of guilt—what they do have trouble finding is those rare people who would show a woman like this a shred of grace.   All the time in the world this woman may spend in jail won’t be worth one second of grace.  It’s a story like this that makes me wonder how many of us haven’t had to do the time we should have done for our transgressions?  Maybe I’m just a softie, but I’d just assume leave the justice part to the authorities, it sounds as if they will show her plenty. 

The question for us is quite simple: If we don’t share grace with a woman like this—who on earth are we going to show it to?

Lord I come to You
Let my heart be changed, renewed
Flowing from the grace
That I’ve found in You
And Lord I’ve come to know
The weaknesses I see in me
Will be stripped away
By the power of Your love

-Lyrics by Rebecca St. James, The Power of Your Love 

 

I never signed up to blog so I could complain—but that doesn’t mean I won’t share my opinion.  With that being said, I will say this—I’m wore out with hearing about how good so and so is—what a great organization such and such is—and what a great country America is, can be, should be, or was at such and such a time and could be again if it would only heed the advice of doctor whoever.  Hey—I value my American citizenship, but it pales in comparison to my citizenship as a Jesus-follower.  The two aren’t even worth mentioning in the same sentence—but I do it nonetheless.  Yeah.  I’ve had it.  Mostly, I have had it with me—so please don’t take this the wrong way. 

When does anyone talk about how good God is? 

God is good to one and all; everything he does is suffused with grace.     (Psalm 145:9, The Message Bible)

We are so quick to question and doubt God due to the pain, disasters and evil in the world—so when do we give him credit for all of the wonder?  I’ve had more than my fill of all the feel good stories about this, that and the other.  We are a bunch of rebels when you get down to it.  The so called best of the best among us (that I know anyways, and I know a few)—have sinned mightily and the sins they (keep me out of it) have committed haven’t been done as some far away from God heathen—but as followers of Christ.  And for the rest of you who say Not me—I will keep praying God helps you get real.  If you want to maintain your innocence at the expense of the kindness of God, please spare me the email.  I don’t need to know how holy you are or how holy I could be if I just was more like you—besides, I won’t be very nice in return.

We don’t like readily admitting it, but our dishonesty won’t change reality—we are much better at telling one another how loving and caring and sharing one another is.  It’s so precious.  But when is some one going to stand up and speak out about the grace of God and be a bastion of mercy?  People go nuts when you talk about the unadulterated and undeserved grace of God.  Ask me, I know firsthand—I have very few friends (never did) any more now that I speak about God’s grace in the terms I do and it doesn’t hurt that I can’t afford to throw the barbeque’s any longer.  I don’t even own a cheap charcoal grill these days—and please don’t fret for me—I’ll get mine with streets of gold and all the golf I can stomach one day.  Come to think of it, I kind of like it actually—I sleep better and enjoy the few obvious friendships I do have.  My phony friends had an easy out and got out—and for those of you who don’t like me saying so, well, maybe you never experienced the sting. 

I get more flack when I talk about God’s patience and my depravity then any other time I write.  And why?  I need some schooling here.  We need to recover how bad off we were—are—and would be without Christ.  I get the comments on my blog and I converse with a few people—and what I gather is that we are almost clueless really when it comes to what raw grace is.

Undeserved grace—that’s what grace is, isn’t it? 

How we need it.

God creates out of nothing. Therefore, until a man is nothing, God can make nothing out of him.  

Martin Luther

 

For as long as I can remember I have mantained that if you have no enemies you are doing everything wrong.  On the other hand, having a pile of enemies can’t possibly be the proof that you are doing anything right just as living on a golf course doesn’t make you Arnold Palmer. 

So, either I am doing every thing wrong or I am doing some thing right, and besides, I’m for getting it right rather than being right after all.  

I have been accused of being a grace freak—it is a name I’ll gladly accept.  In response (and some times we do well to respond, rather than to ignore for the sake of our listeners), I do have a term for my detractors—grace minimizers.  The best definition I can provide in regards to what I mean by that phrase is this; grace deprived and rule-based living that my enemies try to enslave whoever they can with—plainly a sort of thinking that we can live the Christ-empowered life on our own merits or in our own energy. 

Give me a life of grace, grace and more grace. 

 God can’t stand evil scheming, but he puts words of grace and beauty on display.   (Proverbs 15:26, The Message Bible)

I’ll let my enemies continue to go on in their fruitless and endless efforts to get into heaven as the ancient E.F. Hutton commercial used to say, the old fashioned way—they can keep trying like hell to earn it.  In the meantime, I have given up on my hopes of getting any ataboys from God by my being a good boy—instead, I’ll settle for trusting in and spouting off about the wonders of sheer grace.

I was born a child of grace
Nothing else about the place
Everything was ugly but your beautiful face
And it left me no illusion

-Lyrics from U2, All Because of You

                 

I know, after my last post some of you might be thinking God’s gonna finally get Ken.  Maybe you are right—it has been a long time coming.  The truth is I have some enemies.  Some of these opposers have been lying in wait just hoping and praying for my demise.  Now you are saying, Come on Ken.  Well, I wouldn’t say so if they hadn’t have told me so.  I guess I just believe people. 

The grace of God is scandalous to those of us who don’t understand the nature of grace.  For the record, I tried really hard to make amends with the enemies I am aware of, going over and over again about my many sins and begging for forgiveness.  In the end, I needed grace from my enemies and all of the pleading and self-depreciating I participated in got me no where.  I have learned in the process that some folks don’t have the capacity to give grace—or at least don’t want very much to practice it if they do.  You can apologize until you are blue in the face and some folks will just use your doing so to rub your sins in your face all the more.  Hey, maybe they haven’t learned to forgive themselves yet, I don’t know—but I have given up on trying to figure these people out. 

 The grace (the unmerited favor and blessings) of our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah) be with you all. Amen, (so be it).    (1 Thessalonians 5:28, The Amplified Bible) 

Trying to deserve grace (an oxymoron I realize) from people who do not understand the nature of grace is an exercise in futility.  God never forgives us or accepts us based on our showing him we deserve either—but to the contrary.  Plainly speaking—grace is not something we earn, and there are those unfortunates who will tell you they agree but in secret they don’t know the first thing about grace.  I have done everything short of offer my body to the flames and somehow I don’t even think that would make my enemies happy.  I must admit, and regretfully, that I have broken a few promises to God (and it looks as if they haven’t).  Unlike my enemies, I believe in grace for Ken (a prime candidate)—though I realize I am awful bold and appear greedy to do so.   But after all, what good would grace be if it weren’t for our worst sins? 

If there is no such thing as scandalous grace I figure I’m flat out of chances.

The sin underneath all our sins is the lie of the serpent that we cannot trust the love and grace of Christ and that we must take matters into our own hands.

-Martin Luther

            

Recently I was praying and I ended up having one of those uncomfortable moments—but it was one I needed to endure nonetheless.  I’d call the instance a personal Come to Jesus Meeting.  I had promised God not too long ago that I was going to stop doing something I needed to dis-continue a good while ago and it hadn’t worked—my promising that is.  The failure to keep my promise had left me feeling shameful and had slowly grown into a source of pain, frustration and resentment—directed at no one other than myself.

I was going around and around with this struggle of mine—one that I had thought I’d have whipped into shape by this point in my life.  I hesitated to talk about it with anyone because the last time I did—it cost me.  I really hadn’t even wanted to face it and was hoping that for once, my ignoring it was going to make it disappear.  But there it was, staring me in the face.  My broken promises to be better had landed me in a pile of self-pity and I was tired of being sick of it.   

Basically, I told God I was wore out with trying to handle a battle I wasn’t very well winning—and that promising him I’d just quit doing that which I knew he had warned me about wasn’t working for me like I thought it might.  Obviously—the answer had to be something other than making another one of my half-hearted desperate promises.  He knew it and I knew it.  And to hide it or pretend it were different wasn’t going to help either.  I suggested he just flog me for being so presumptuous to make a promise I wasn’t serious enough to follow up on.  I certainly deserve it (the flogging at least), but I just have trouble believing God is gonna rake me over the coals or show me the  door at this point. 

The way I look at it, I can take one for the team and be the one guy my teammates can look to and say: If Ken gets grace, there has to be grace for the rest of us!  

  Remember what you said to me, your servant—
      I hang on to these words for dear life!
   These words hold me up in bad times;
      yes, your promises rejuvenate me.
   The insolent ridicule me without mercy,
      but I don’t budge from your revelation. 
   (Psalm 119:49-51, The Message Bible)  

My broken promises haven’t gotten me too far but I get the sense that trusting God’s promises will get me a whole lot farther.

Grace is given to heal the spiritually sick, not to decorate spiritual heroes.

-Martin Luther

 

I look at the father of the prodigal and I have to wonder what possesed him to go so easy on his pig-sty project.  Here’s a guy with a kid who broke all the rules.  And then one day his lame excuse for a son comes dragging his sorry self out of the slop and back to the house just as pitiful as a dog who has just messed all over the Persian dining room rug.   And what does his father do? 

Does he read him the riot act?  Does he remind him of the rules he’s made a mockery of?  Does he send him out to the back alley to go and do some penance before he’s allowed to re-enter the house? 

No—he doesn’t.

 “When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’

“But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.”    (Luke 15:20-24, The Message Bible)

Despite the fathers own personal pain and embarrassment he runs out to greet and cover his smelly-broken son in kisses and does the unthinkable to follow—he throws him an all out bash!  

Maybe it’s time some of us realized that God’s love isn’t near as tough as ours.

For if man has lost his freedom, and is forced to serve sin, and cannot will good, what conclusion can more justly be drawn concerning him, than that he sins and wills evil necessarily?

-Martin Luther 

 

Beware: This entry is written for those who are serious about living lives in opposition to sin.

We can be sure that any freedom worth a dime is at odds with sin.  It’s worth noting while we are talking about our freedom in Christ that some people upon hearing the message of freedom get it all backwards—they think freedom signals a licence to do whatever they wish, when that’s not the purpose of freedom whatsoever.  Freedom, like many things, can used for good—and yet, God still gives us the freedom to take our freedom and be as bad as sin.  Just as our hands can used to administer a healing touch to a leper, they can also be used to gouge out our brother’s eyes—freedom wouldn’t be freedom if it couldn’t be used for evil. 

The freedom we abuse quickly becomes a bondage to something we end up serving other than God—and we don’t become more free in this instance, but always less free.  Those who have struggled with a besetting sin will know exactly what I am getting at here.  Before we had been set free by Christ himself we lacked the power needed to walk in any lasting freedom to speak of.  In other words, when we exercise our freedom for God’s good purposes in our lives we experience not less freedom—but we walk in more freedom.  But how quickly that can change!

We were otherwise known as what Paul termed slaves to sin.

I’m using this freedom language because it’s easy to picture. You can readily recall, can’t you, how at one time the more you did just what you felt like doing—not caring about others, not caring about God—the worse your life became and the less freedom you had? And how much different is it now as you live in God’s freedom, your lives healed and expansive in holiness?

As long as you did what you felt like doing, ignoring God, you didn’t have to bother with right thinking or right living, or right anything for that matter. But do you call that a free life? What did you get out of it? Nothing you’re proud of now. Where did it get you? A dead end.

But now that you’ve found you don’t have to listen to sin tell you what to do, and have discovered the delight of listening to God telling you, what a surprise! A whole, healed, put-together life right now, with more and more of life on the way!   (Romans 6:19-22, The Message Bible)

Now that we have been freed from the sin that once held us we better be prepared to face the battle of our lives.

Sin never gives into freedom without a fight.

Many Christians think stoicism is a good antidote to sensuality.  It isn’t.  It is hopelessly weak and ineffective.  Willpower religion usually fails, and even when it succeeds, it gets glory for the will, not for God. It produces legalists, not lovers.

-John Piper, What Jesus Demands from the World

    

Religion is powerless in offering to help us with our fallen condition and it can’t give us victory over sin.  Religion merely offers to kill our longings by doing and saying all of the right things and that doesn’t kill the desire of a flea—besides it’s not the death of our desires God is after but rather the redemption of them.  Let me repeat myself here, God’s not about putting to bed our desires—he gave us desires to begin with.  It is the religious garbage we get caught up in that  God is about extinguishing.  Consider this: Religion hasn’t infused our spirits with an inch of strength , it hasn’t enlivened our souls with an ounce of life and it hasn’t added one single encouragement to our hope-thirsty hearts.   

It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.    (Romans 7:21-25, The Message Bible)

If anyone ever tried religion, Paul surely did—and here he admits religion failed to do what Jesus finally did.  For Paul—religion was nothing but an enemy of the glorious gospel of freedom in Jesus Christ. 

I’m not so sure a flea has a prayer in regards to his desire to avoid being swatted to death—but one thing I do know is this: If we have any chance at all in terms of getting a hold of ourselves and seeing our desires under the lordship of Jesus it lies within the freedom only Jesus can infuse within our beings.

[We are] not grim pilgrims on a death march to personal holiness.  ~My friend Nate Larkin

Following Jesus means a bit, but what it doesn’t include is doing away with desire—a bowl of chocolate ice cream with almonds and the thrill of a kiss in their proper place of course. Following Jesus is not some Christian version of sadomasochism.  How easlily we become religious and shrink to label that which is to be holy—ordinary, bane, and even wrong. 
    
Self-mortification is a strange form of religiosity that the bible never teaches although you can find it running rampant in much of what passes for godliness.  The Devil’s counterfeit can be awful close to what God invented, but the differences are stark.  Simply denying ourselves pleasures under any guise other than the purpose of God’s glory doesn’t serve to please God, it offends him.  Trying to be religious and live up to some wigged out ideal mandated by man as the road to holiness only serves to suppress or stymie our desires, it doesn’t sanctify our efforts to be pious.  God tells us to have some good and needed laughs, he ordered one day of rest for every seven, and relaxation is something he invented. 
       
If you ask me, lust is merely the abuse of healthy God-given desires.  The Devil’s counterfeit ever comes down to trying to surpress and kill altogether the desires we possess, God-given or not, innocent or lustful .  It lies to us and tells us to forfiet our hungers for the appearance of godliness even if it is God gave who us the hungers (that is, what he intended we enjoy in a God-honoring fashion).  It’s no wonder that since the inception of time as we know it we have seen the invention and rise of every religion under the sun of which tout self-mortification as the end all—it’s a predictable and easy path to what may assume is godliness.  But the curbing of hunger isn’t godliness.  Pretending as if  we can kill our desires and somehow tame our capacity to sin by so doing is like declawing a wild tiger and thinking it will make him a bunny rabbit.  You see, we can only suppress desire, a beast isn’t dead just because you cage him—he’ll just be a more relentless beast when he escapes. 
      
Odd thing is, we’ll pick saying no to pleasure rather than submitting to the lordship of Jesus, and how quickly we deny that very lordship when it means sharing in his joy and partaking of his abundance.  There are things we must deny ourselves (our own way to be specific) in following Jesus no doubt—he never would have told us to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him if it were not so.  But there are times that as Jesus-followers we should be enjoying ourselves silly instead of denying ourselves to death. 
 
A person without self-control is like a house with its doors and windows knocked out.    (Proverbs 25:28, The Message Bible)

In the end, we shove our desires aside only to rebel with a vengeance later (and rebellion does come in all shapes and sizes).  You can only starve desire so long before it becomes a ravenous 3 headed monster.  It’s then, when we deny our healthy hungers instead of starving sinful appetites, when the enemy of our souls circles about us ready to feast—able to craftily seduce us and tempt us to go all out and indulge in something we have no business doing, and since we haven’t enjoyed a stinking thing in who knows how long, we fall for the bait—and fall flat on our face at that.

…for freedom is a delicate and subtle gift, easily perverted and often squandered.
                 
-From the Introduction to Galatians, The Message Bible (Eugene Peterson) 

       

We are afraid to give our children too much freedom because if we do, they’ll get crazy, go off the deep end, and lose all control.  But how often do we stifle and quench our children’s creative spirit, zest, and energy all in the name of being orderly?    When you think about it—we have done the same with our own lives and so it just makes sense we do it with others.  
                                 
I am convinced that God is all about passionate followers hard after him who stumble from time to time versus having just a bunch of yes men all walking single file, never daring to step out and do something that might be taken the wrong way by his contemporaries—such thinking hinders us in stepping out into the freedom we have to love, share, laugh, cry, serve and hurt.  Daring to live free does take courage.
    
 I am emphatic about this. The moment any one of you submits to circumcision or any other rule-keeping system, at that same moment Christ’s hard-won gift of freedom is squandered. I repeat my warning: The person who accepts the ways of circumcision trades all the advantages of the free life in Christ for the obligations of the slave life of the law.    (Galatians 5:2-3, The Message Bible)
                
If Christ has given us freedom—shouldn’t we practice, cherish, promote and rejoice in that freedom rather than waste it? 

Prostitutes are in no danger of finding their present life so satisfactory that they cannot turn to God: the proud, the avaricious, the self-righteous, are in that danger.

-C.S. Lewis

 

Let’s face it, religious people look down their nose at the rest of us—as they should.  They read their bibles in public more than we do, attend church services five times a week,  pray on the street corner, stand on their soap boxes witnessing to sinners and school evildoers in the ways of holier living.  They flat out serve God more, just ask them.  These are the religious miserable people, and if we aren’t on our spiritual toes, we can be just like them.

It is easier to fall into the throes of religion than we bother to notice (I struggle with it quite regularly and can speak intelligently here).  Being religious is easier to do than batting an eyelash.  We seem to be born with a propensity for whatever makes us feel better about ourselves and religion in it’s most undiluted form does just that—better than anything I’m familiar with.  Religion is all about elevating man.  On the other hand, the gospel message goes light-years beyond that—the gospel redeems man and sets him free to worship God instead of himself.

Jesus warns,

 ‘Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.’   (Matthew 7:13-14, NIV)

There is no wider path than religion.

Religion’s path looks so good that it’s travelers are among the most convinced and die-hard folks you will meet, their intolerance for Jesus makes perfect sense when you consider the deception they have immersed themselves in.  Meet a religious person and you will quickly find out that they are much more resistant to the Jesus we see in the Holy Scriptures than any common run-of-the-mill  sinner is. 

Father God—please spare us from being religious and make us more like your Son who delighted in you rather than in religion.

O, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
Between their lov’d homes and the war’s desolation;
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land
Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!…

-Lyrics by Francis Scott Key, The Star Spangled Banner

 

Over four million people annually visit the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.  Reports say that over 290,000 men and women who did battle to defend freedom are buried there.  I would assume for a good many that make the trip to Arlington—they do so to visit the final resting place of a dear loved one or even a distant relative.  I have driven by the massive cemetery that sits on the banks of the Potomac River while making a late night visit to the Pentagon with a friend on duty there—looking back now I only wish I would have taken the time to visit the cemetery myself.  

When I see a soldier’s casket on television or hear about a brave soul who has been wounded serving in my country’s military I often stop to consider the blood that was shed in order to make it possible for me and hundreds of millions of others to enjoy the benefits of living in a free society.  Have you ever wondered how much blood has been spilled so that you don’t have to be subject to the wraps of oppression but can instead live free?   

So, since we’re out from under the old tyranny, does that mean we can live any old way we want? Since we’re free in the freedom of God, can we do anything that comes to mind? Hardly. You know well enough from your own experience that there are some acts of so-called freedom that destroy freedom. Offer yourselves to sin, for instance, and it’s your last free act. But offer yourselves to the ways of God and the freedom never quits. All your lives you’ve let sin tell you what to do. But thank God you’ve started listening to a new master, one whose commands set you free to live openly in his freedom!   (Romans 6:15-18, The Message Bible)

The ring of true freedom is no more clearly heard than among those who have been truly set free.  

When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 

Jesus isn’t going to leave us to ourselves and he isn’t going to let us go on living our lives the same old way we have been living all along.  He wants to be our sufficiency and he will stop at nothing to help us see him as such.  Jesus-followers are not self-sufficient—Jesus would merely be a side-bar if it were so.  Jesus is the entire shooting match or he is nothing.  Jesus takes a back-seat to no one and he is not fond of riding shotgun in the front passengers seat either.   

In an era of self, a message of freedom that begins by dying to the self is foreign and odd.  But even so, it is staggering to consider the hoards of folks who throw caution to the wind—and with it all restraint—and live exclusively for themselves just to crash again and again into a deeper and deeper pit of despair.

Jesus and his disciples were having one of their family times one afternoon as Jesus had just returned from one of his usual prayer walks—they were now engaging in a discussion about just who it was that he was:

 Then he told them what they could expect for themselves: ‘Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat—I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? If any of you is embarrassed with me and the way I’m leading you, know that the Son of Man will be far more embarrassed with you when he arrives in all his splendor in company with the Father and the holy angels. This isn’t, you realize, pie in the sky by and by. Some who have taken their stand right here are going to see it happen, see with their own eyes the kingdom of God.’    (Luke 9:23-27, The Message Bible) 

It’s in living for and because of God that we begin to live free—only when we get out of the small little world of me  can we celebrate any sort of true freedom.  Selfishness is no substitute for the liberty found in following Jesus and the joy of following him in being free enough to share our lives with all of those within our reach.                

Freedom is measured by death to self and aliveness to God and others.

Most of [us] think it’s very important that people think [we’re] mature, pure and spiritual.  I would suggest it’s far more important [we’re] not.  We’re so worried that our Christian witness will be hurt by our lack of obedience.  That’s not true.  Our witness will be hurt by a pretense of obedience.  I don’t think I ever met a person who found Christ because a Christian was pure and righteous.  More often it makes them think this thing is only for good people.    As I understand it, we are only beggars who have found bread, pointing other beggars to the place where we found it.  Disobedience hardly ever turns people from Christ.  Dishonesty does.  

-Steve Brown

         

We can’t liberate oursleves very well so what gives us the crazy notion that we can liberate another human being?          

Faith in ourselves, the church, a patron saint, a creed, our prayers, or even an angel of heaven isn’t the freedom God gives—but rather it is the bondage of religion.  Any other recipe for immediate rescue or road to heaven other than the One prescribed by God himself is destined to lead to death in every sense.   Am I saying to my Catholic friends that you cannot find salvation in the sacraments, being Confirmed, giving up pizza for Lent or frequenting the confessional booth?  Yes, I am.  Am I suggesting to my reformed friends that we don’t place our hope in being dedicated as an infant, memorizing the Holy Scriptures or even being water baptized?  Yes, I am.

These may be good, and even things our Lord Jesus commands—but to place our hope in our obedience is to negate our hope in the Cross.  We must not forget the thief on the Cross who had not a minute to do anything but repent and believe.  And Jesus wasn’t kidding around when he assured the scoundrel that he’d be in Paradise with him that very day. 

You may ask—How do you know religion is worthless in saving anyone, Ken?  I am aware that answering a question with a question is not proper or preferred in some circles but it’s appropriate to ask—Who has religion saved?  Who has it delivered from the claws of sin and the faster than fast coming Judgement in which those who are not found in Christ will be thrown into the everlasting lake of fire?

Don’t put your life in the hands of experts
      who know nothing of life, of salvation life.
   Mere humans don’t have what it takes;
      when they die, their projects die with them…

   God frees prisoners—
      he gives sight to the blind,
      he lifts up the fallen…                                                 (Psalm 146:3-4, v8, The Message Bible)

Jesus is our only liberator.

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.

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