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There’s no story within the entire bible that is more gospel rich if you ask me, and this story is personal for me, as it should be for all of us who know Christ.   I posted this a couple months back on another blog I do.  If you didn’t see it grab some Kleenex…

It’s for those of us who find ourselves wandering away from our loving heavenly Father in our every day lives from time to time.

Thoughts?

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Grace substitutes a full, childlike, and delighted acceptance of our need, a joy in total dependence. We become ‘jolly beggars.’ ~C.S. Lewis

There is something about those rare birds who have learned to soar above the ho-hum life many of us have become accustomed to living, knowingly or not.  Maybe you don’t know the ones I am speaking of here.

Philip Yancey shares the following:

Not long ago I received in the mail a postcard from a friend that had on it only six words, ‘I am the one Jesus loves.’ I smiled when I saw the return address, for my strange friend excels at these pious slogans. When I called him, though, he told me the slogan came from the author and speaker Brennan Manning. At a seminar, Manning referred to Jesus’ closest friend on earth, the disciple named John, identified in the Gospels as ‘the one Jesus loved.’ Manning said, “If John were to be asked, ‘What is your primary identity in life?’ he would not reply, ‘I am a disciple, an apostle, an evangelist, an author of one of the four Gospels,’ but rather, ‘I am the one Jesus loves.'”

What would it mean, I ask myself, if I too came to the place where I saw my primary identity in life as ‘the one Jesus loves’? How differently would I view myself at the end of a day?

Sociologists have a theory of the looking-glass self: you become what the most important person in your life (wife, father, boss, etc.) thinks you are. How would my life change if I truly believed the Bible’s astounding words about God’s love for me, if I looked in the mirror and saw what God sees?

Brennan Manning tells the story of an Irish priest who, on a walking tour of a rural parish, sees an old peasant kneeling by the side of the road, praying. Impressed, the priest says to the man, ‘You must be very close to God.’ The peasant looks up from his prayers, thinks a moment, and then smiles, ‘Yes, he’s very fond of me.’  (What’s So Amazing About Grace?, pages 68-69)

I too, was reminded about this kind of simple dependance upon God yesterday when I stumbled across the following verse that one of my daughters had posted.  

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes (Matthew 6:34, The Message).

The full life Jesus speaks of is a life of learned dependance .

Whenever faith seems an entitlement, or a measuring rod, we cast our lots with the Pharisees and grace softly slips away. 

-Philip Yancey, Soul Survivor      

                 

Pastor Mark Driscoll has laid out what I believe to be the best list I have run across in some time on the distinct differences between the Gospel and religion.  Jesus delivered the very Gospel we preach today within the context of his earthly ministry and his fulfillment of the Holy Scriptures.  It was the religion of the Pharisees (and any other man-devised system of connecting with the Almighty) that he came to abolish with his very life. 

When you get down to brass tacks—Jesus is the Gospel and Jesus is about setting us free.   And since I have been outlining what freedom is and what it isn’t (the Gospel shouts Freedom! after all)—I figured it would be fitting to share Driscoll’s list while we are taking the time to expose the fallacies of religion that are constantly at work to undermine the message of freedom.

Religion says, ‘If I obey God, God will love me.’  Gospel says, ‘Because God love me, I can obey.’ 

Religion has good people and bad people.  Gospel has only repentant and unrepentant people.  

Religion values a birth family.  Gospel values a new birth. 

Religion depends on what I do.   Gospel depends on what Jesus has done. 

Religion claims that sanctification justifies me.  Gospel claims that justification enables sanctification. 

Religion has the goal to get from God.  Gospel has the goal to get to God. 

Religion sees hardships as punishment for sin.  Gospel sees hardship as sanctified affliction. 

Religion is about me.  Gospel is about Jesus. 

Religion believes appearing as a good person is the key.  Gospel believes that being honest is the key. 

Religion has an uncertainty of standing before God.  Gospel has certainty based on Jesus’ work. 

Religion sees Jesus a the means.  Gospel sees Jesus as the end. 

Religion ends in pride or despair.  Gospel ends in humble joy.      

As Driscoll so explicitly points out, the Gospel of freedom Jesus embodies and the religion he came to expose are at polar ends of the spectrum—they are at diabolical odds with each other.

Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.    (Galatians 5:23b-24, The Message Bible)

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.

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)
   

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.

Nails were not enough to hold God-and-man nailed and fastened on the Cross, had not love held Him there. 

-Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) 

 

Not all of us grew up in Sunday School watching teachers slave over flannelgraphs and having them patiently put up with our constant cries for the morning snack.  We weren’t very spiritual back then you know—and some of us still aren’t.  As I remember, I wasn’t one of the kids pushing the other ones around for the coolest toy to play with, but I can’t say I was perfect either.  And don’t call my teachers, they retired after having me as a regular.  I responded to a friend today—after jokingly being told I was a mess—that I just need Jesus a little more than most.

And I’m glad.

If you did go to Sunday School you must remember singing the all-time classic Jesus loves me.

One of my favorite stories concerns theological giant Karl Barth (1886-1968)—who many consider the most influential and greatest theologian of the 20th century.  Barth’s monumental life-work (Church Dogmatics) consists in excess of 6 million words and  was written over a 35 year span—Barth stated that he had made it his work To take all that has been said before and to think it through once more and freshly to articulate it anew as a theology of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. 

After a lifetime of studies and teaching Barth was surrounded by a group of students and scholars at a press conference and the deep thinker was asked—Dr. Barth, what is the most profound truth you have learned in your studies?  Without hesitation Barth replied—Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.   

 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.   (Jude 1:21, ESV)

My own dad has served me well in reminding me more times than I can remember when life has been anything but easy or I have been almost overwhelmed with the world I find myself entrenched in and sometimes at war with—Don’t forget the love of Jesus, Ken.

The next time you are mired in a mess or weighed down with heavy thoughts you might do well to remember—Jesus loves you too.

The essence of sin is we human beings substituting ourselves for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for us. We—put ourselves where only God deserves to be; God—puts himself where we deserve to be.  

    

-John Stott (The Cross of Christ)

 

 

Jesus took our place.   

 

It’s called substitutionary atonement.  Truth be told, we deserved to be in his shoes and the fact that he put himself in our shoes makes all the difference.  If he had passed—we’d be in a hell of a  different position.

 

Suststitutionary atonement is a doctrine in Christian theology which states that Jesus of Nazareth died—intentionally and willingly—on the cross as a substitute for sinners.  This doctrine presents Jesus’ death as a supreme act of love for mankind, and a heroic act to save people from hell.  It stresses the vicarious nature of the crucifixion as being ‘instead of us’.   (Wikipedia)    

 

The perfect giving himself for the unworthy.  The clean taking the place of the filthy.  The sinless standing in proxy for the wretched.  The spotless serving the penalty for the guilty.  

He suffered our death, our torment, and our defeat. 

 

And we get to walk free.

 

 4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.   (Isaiah 53:4-6, ESV)

It is an exchange of incalculable proportions.

Sin cannot tear you away from him [Christ], even though you commit adultery a hundred times a day and commit as many murders.  ~Martin Luther  
   
A good buddy of mine told a story years ago about spanking his oldest son and in doing so he explained to his son that it wasn’t something he wanted to do as much as it was something he needed to do because he loved his son.  His son responded I love you too daddy, can I spank you?
 
None of us were  fond of going to our bedroom and writing until our fingers fell off, I won’t rip the hair out of my sisters Barbie Doll during this lifetime ever again.  It never did help anyways.  The only way to punish me was to take away my baseball privelages. 
 
Many of us got the wrong idea at an impressionable age that because our mom or dad didn’t just let us get away with murder that somehow they didn’t care about us.  Remember feeling that way?  I do.
 
Well, they did care. 
 
 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.   (Hebrews 12:8-11, ESV)
 
Maybe it’s because we have somehow gotten the impression that God is fond of kicking bad kids out of his family that we get uncomfortable over topics such as discipline?  If so, I hope you would read the scriptures to dispel your fears.  God doesn’t expel his children from his family to be sure.  He never has and he’s not about to start now.  But, just because God’s loving enough to not kick us out of the family doesn’t mean he’s not loving enough to see to it that when we need a good lick or two—he won’t stop at sending us to the detention center for a brief stay or the wood-shed for a re-introduction with the family paddle to get our attention. 
 
We have to trust that when it comes to discipline or any other family matter—as the old dinosaur of a television program most of us are too young to remember went—Father knows best.  Aren’t you glad he’s the one deciding how and when we get a spanking—I know I sure am—if not, I’d have been hung a thousand and one times by now.
 
When you sense you might be in for some punishment of your own, remember, nothing in this world can separate us from his love—even his rebuke is out of love.
Ye contracted with Christ, I hope, when first ye began to follow Him, that ye would bear His cross. Fulfill your part of the contract with patience, and break not to Jesus Christ. Be honest, brother, in your bargaining with Him; for who knoweth better how to bring up children than our God? For (to lay aside His knowledge, of the which there is no finding out) He has been practiced in bringing up His heirs these five thousand years; and His bairns (children) are all well brought up, and many of them are honest men now at home, up in their own house in heaven, and are entered heirs to their Father’s inheritance. Now, the form of His bringing up was by chastisements, scourging, correcting, nurturing; and see if He maketh exception of any of His bairns (children); no, His eldest Son and His Heir, Jesus, is not excepted (Rev. 3.19; Heb. 12.7-8; 2.10). Suffer we must; ere we were born God decreed it, and it is easier to complain of His decree than to change it. Forward then, dear brother, and lose not your grips.   ~Samuel Rutherford (Scottish Presbyterian theologian and author), Letters, VIII. To John Kennedy on his deliverance from shipwreck ANWOTH, Feb. 2, 1632 (taken from an expert).  
 
I’m quite sure I am not the only kid who was reminded about his or her last name while growing up from time to time.  Shoot—kids with parents that make Al Capone look like a choir boy still get the treatment—Johnny, why can’t you just be a good gangster like all the other little boys?  I may not have heard the exact words, but I can still hear them anyways—Kenny, you are a Stoll—now act like it—can’t you see that you are disgracing the family name.  
 
If you were from the typical family with average parents you probably never had your parents lash out and tell you that you’d be kicked out of the family for your bad behavior—and neither did I.  No, that wasn’t gonna happen.  But I was scolded mind you–and for good reason when I think about it.  My sister and I (our brother was not around yet) were even told on occasion when we got really out of line that we were gonna be dropped off at the Indian Reservation—whatever that meant and wherever that was—I still don’t know?  Being that we are part Cherokee Indian it sure seemed like a valid threat though.  So, rather than pack up the bags under our beds and take a trip in the wood-paneled family station wagon—we’d straighten up for a couple hours and get along.  Of course, if it were something my dad used all the time we’d have laughed at him—but it wasn’t—my dad seemed to know just the right time to use just the right trick.
 
God doesn’t play any tricks with us on the other hand—family business isn’t monkey business with him.  He never fails to prescribe just the right medicine for what ails us.  Our tendency is to either see God as a big soft teddy bear or a cosmic impersonal hall-monitor just waiting to whack us when we get out of line—when he is neither.
 
He is a loving Father and that makes us his loved children before anything else.
 
And like any loving father he deals with us in ways we don’t prefer from time to time.
 
 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’ 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?    (Hebrews 12:5-7, ESV)
 
If he’s disciplined you it may just serve as a good reminder that he loves you.     
 
The thing we need concern oursleves with is this—are we honoring the family name?
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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