Grace Overflow

May 27, 2016 § 2 Comments

overflow

“I thank Him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because He judged me faithful, appointing me to His service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 1:12-14)

Paul describes the grace of our Lord as overflowing. If you’re a parent, then you have likely looked at your child and felt as if your heart was going to burst. I wonder if this is what brings out God’s grace, and if the perfect version of this kind of love is what God feels for us. As His image-bearers, though limited and sinful, we also have grace to spare. Kids do bad things, and I don’t love mine any less when he does. In spite of our sin, God’s heart overflows with grace and His love never stops.

“For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:17)

God’s grace must be in abundance, because if it were given in proportion to our merit, we would never see it. Thank Him for that.

 

 

Practice Makes Perfect

April 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

Mere“Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbour; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”

~C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity

Love for God and Neighbor Revisited

January 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

With the arrival of the new year, I wanted to revisit one of the core aims of this blog, what Jesus calls the greatest commandments in Mark 12:30-31. Here is what I hope to be a defining and practical analysis of our call to love God and people. The greatest commandment: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Bullet points from God, outside a chiropractor's office in Ellijay, GA

Bullet points from God, outside a chiropractor’s office in Ellijay, GA.

The heart is our volition, from the Greek kardía, meaning the affective center of our being, where desire lives, produces choices that make up who we are. Kardía is found over 800 times on the Old and New Testament and exclusively in the figurative sense, not once referring to the organ in our chests that pumps blood.

The soul is our life and self, from the Greek psyxḗ, (the root of psyche and psychology) meaning to breathe, also a person’s individual personality or personhood. Some also view soul here as our emotional expression.

The mind is of course the human intellect, from the Greek diánoia, to use the mind. The term is rich and encompasses critical thinking, thorough reasoning, incorporating both sides of a matter to reach a meaningful and personal conclusion.

Strength is our physical might, from the Greek isxýs literally meaning to have force. This includes visible love in action and the many forms of service.

If you’re keeping score, those aspects of God’s people encompass everything we have to offer in love, and they are rightly His.

Loving neighbor as we love ourselves of course requires the consideration of how we love ourselves.

We love ourselves by taking care of ourselves, by feeding, bathing, clothing, training, strengthening, protecting, healing, and resting our bodies. We feed and train and protect and strengthen our minds also. We guard our hearts, our dignity, our freedom, and our reputation. We believe in self-defense and justice for our name. When we love our neighbor as ourselves, we project that self-love onto others. This is not so difficult to do with family and friends.

“But I say to you, love your enemies…” (Matthew 5:44)

Uh oh. Our enemies qualify as neighbors too. But if we hear of tragedy or misfortune occuring in the life of our enemy, don’t we often rejoice inside? Does it give you satisfaction to speculate about all the evil an evil person may have done, even if it’s more evil than what he’s actually done? If so, you’re certainly not alone.

But think about your awareness of evil in your own life. We know we’re messed up too, but how do we love ourselves in spite of all there is to hate about ourselves? We seek restoration for ourselves. We want to be better. We try to kick the habit, heal the scars and make things right so we can recover. When we love our enemy as we love ourselves, we do the same thing, separating the sin from the sinner and earnestly desiring their restoration. CS Lewis wrote, “love for the man makes us hate the sin that infects the man.” I can hate some of the things I (and others) do, but love myself (and others) for my (and their) good qualities and because as God’s creation we are all worth keeping clean.

God demonstrated His love toward us by sending His Son Jesus to separate us from the sin that enslaved us. If love seeks what is best for another, we demonstrate love for neighbor in the greatest form by wanting redemption for them as well. We want them to know Christ too.

Love for God and neighbor, as is true with anything else, comes easier with practice. Even when you don’t feel like loving someone, act as if you do. True loving will eventually follow. And, of course, ask God for help. He is love, enables love, and wants you to succeed in it.

Before You Leave Your Church…

November 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

The purposes of the church, according to Acts 2:42, are teaching Biblical doctrine, fellowship with one another, remembering the Lord’s sacrifice, and prayer. The church is also the body of Christ in this world—the hands, mouth and feet of God (1 Cor. 12:12-27). The church must glorify God by being like Christ, to love each other as He did (John 13:34).

This post isn’t for promiscuous church-hoppers. If you’re a committed church member considering leaving the congregation you’ve been a part of for another church, think on the following four things first. If you can honestly address them, you may be ready to make a switch to a new church, or you may be ready for a mistake. Whether you stay or move on, the main thing is to be like Christ. But certainly don’t leave church if…

1. Your church isn’t perfect.

This should almost go without saying. If you have come to discover you are surrounded by a congregation of human beings deficient in organization, communication, consistency, faithfulness, etc., that is what you’ll eventually find at any other church too. Perfect churches don’t exist. In fact, corporate failure is a requirement for any church—hospitals are not full of healthy people either. Don’t leave a church for that reason alone. Stay, remove the plank from your own eye, and love your flawed congregation with the same grace Christ has shown you. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8b)

2. You are splitting over a non-essential issue.

This is where the need for real discernment comes in. I would suggest reading Fundamental, Important, and Non-Essential Issues (A Suggested Method for Resolving Differences in the Assembly) by Bill MacDonald for a good grasp on how to classify doctrines of the Christian faith in terms of whether we should divide over them. Does your church have too many Persons in the Trinity (a fundamental issue), too many points in its Calvinism (an important issue) or too many guitars in the band (a non-essential issue)?

On such conflicts, Bill MacDonald concludes:

“Leaving an assembly over a non-essential matter is never the ideal. There can be fellowship without total agreement on these topics. Where there is love and brokenness, prayer and patience, humility and forbearance, differences can be settled amicably. Believers can disagree without being disagreeable. The only times when it is better to leave is when a person is convinced that in staying, he is being unfaithful to the Lord or unable to remain without disturbing the peace of the assembly. Even then… in everything, love.”

Sometimes a non-essential issue is in the church environment, for example, there aren’t enough members close to your own age or station in life. By leaving you then become part of that problem. Why not fix it by staying, adding to the incentive for the small number of your generation that are present in the church, and newcomers, to stay? Why not invite your peers to church? It’s hard to imagine that one’s personal need for fellowship with their own generation is so great that they really must leave over the issue, but I suppose it’s possible. Still, if love rules, don’t leave before considering the opportunity to grow your generation in the church, as well as the wealth of opportunity to learn from older generations and teach younger ones.

3. You haven’t considered the Golden Rule.

“In everything, love.” (1 Cor. 16:14) Young or old, it’s easy to get lost in your needs that aren’t getting met or your feelings that have been hurt. We don’t truly live out love for God and neighbor when we don’t consider the needs and feelings of others, when we don’t practice doing unto others what we would have them do unto us (Matt. 7:14). Remember the good you received from this community in various forms—prayer, financial, in word or deed—and imagine how they may feel about the timing and manner of your departure. If you’ve been a part of this church for a long time, know that you are deciding not to help grow and support the body of believers that helped grow and support you.

By extension, make sure you’ve thought about committees and ministries you serve on and the voids that will be left if you leave, assuming you’re an active member. If you’re not involved in a particular ministry because one that could utilize your gifts and passions doesn’t already exist at your church, consider talking to the leadership about starting one rather than blending into an existing ministry somewhere else. Ultimately, be part of a solution rather than a problem, keeping the bigger picture of the kingdom in view in your decision to stay or go.

4. You haven’t talked to the leadership.

If after prayerfully contemplating 1, 2 and 3, you feel leaving church is the answer, do the minimum courtesy and tell your church leadership privately why you are leaving. Don’t leave a Dear John letter, but opt for dialog, being open to the idea that as the leadership learns of your situation, there may also be something that you need to learn from it. Many differences are just misunderstandings. Either way, they deserve to know why people want to leave. If there is a genuine problem in the church, the leadership needs to know about it. In a reasoned discussion, chances are they won’t try to talk you into staying in spite of your convictions. Members sneaking out the back door don’t serve the purpose of God’s church on earth.

Love, period.

There are legitimate reasons to leave a church, most of which center of on irreconcilable (implying that effort has been made to reconcile) differences over fundamental issues of Christian doctrine. Sadly, I’ve seen may people leave church over far lesser issues. (And sadly, many don’t join another church). In many cases, an eye on the purpose of church and the love we are called to have for our church will resolve the disunity. Regardless, let love rule over the decision of not only whether you leave but how you leave.

“In fundamentals, unity. In non-essential matters, liberty. In all things, love.”   –Bill MacDonald

What Would a Loving and Forgiving God Do?

August 31, 2012 § 1 Comment

A post on an atheist’s Facebook page makes the following claim:

If god is all loving and forgiving, would he forgive someone for not believing in him, without being asked? If not, then he is not all loving and forgiving. If so, no one need to believe nor worship him.

Christian response:

The first assumption is flawed because it implies that God is only loving and forgiving. He is also righteous and just.

If a loving and forgiving judge lets a criminal go free without retribution, would he be a good judge, or a criminal himself?

Atheist:

Hebrews 10:17-18: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more. And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.” And Hebrews 8:12: “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

…the Christian god lets criminals go without retribution all the time. That’s pretty much his biggest selling point.

Christian:

The central point of Christianity is that Christ took on the retribution we deserved, in our place. The payment for our sin was paid in full, “once for all.” (Hebrews 10:1-18)

Jesus Christ was God, so the payment was adequate to cover our crimes, and He became a man so that He could suffer on our behalf.

The righteousness and justice of God requires that the penalty for sin must be paid, but His love is what caused Him to make that payment for us. Our willing acceptance of that free gift is where forgiveness comes in.

Atheist:

God can do whatever he wants, there is no rule book that he has to follow…he writes the rules (theoretically). Isn’t it more admirable to forgive unconditionally than to require a payment to be made? Real forgiveness doesn’t require payment. I think you might be confusing justice with forgiveness. I could go on and on about how crazy it is that a god would create humans with free will and then eternally torture them for actually using it…

Christian:

Thanks for the reply, these are great things to think about. I can tell you have. 🙂 God can’t change what is logically necessary (1+1=2) because logic is part of His nature (so if that is a “rule,” then no, God doesn’t “write” them, rather they’re conditions that extend from who He is). That crime must be paid for is actually a logically necessary state of affairs, and this makes sense when we look at where law comes from.

Only God can forgive sin (Mark 2:6,7 & Luke 5:21) because sin is a violation of God’s moral law, which is rooted in the nature of God. His law was broken and only He would have the authority to forgive. But even when God forgives, a payment must still be made. So of course there are conditions to God’s forgiveness. A guilty sinner can pay for his crimes by God’s judgment, or he can accept the payment that God provided through the atoning sacrifice of His Son on the cross (1 John 2:2) by repentance and faith. Either way, the debt is satisfied.

When a government makes civil laws (usually based on an understanding of an undergirding moral law, but that’s a separate discussion), we fully expect there to be payment for breaking those laws too, in the form of a fine or retribution. When it doesn’t happen, we cry foul. That’s because being made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), we have an innate understanding of justice and the truth that crime requires payment.

On a personal level, we can forgive people, but not their sin. In the case of, for example, a physical assault, we can “let it go” and forgive the offender “unconditionally”, but the laws they have broken in their offense are a separate issue. Breaking God’s moral law is an offense against God. Breaking civil law is an offense against the state. Forgiveness is a renunciation of the violation, which happens within the context of justice (so yes, they are separate doctrines) but the violation must always be addressed in order for justice to be done.

It’s also logically necessary for there to be the possibility of sinful choices in the context of free will (and we would not want to imagine a world without freedom). “I could go on and on about how crazy it is” that God, moved by love for sinful people, provided a perfect Solution to the problem that everybody faces. Payment for sin is required, but the good news is it’s available from Christ, because we can’t come up with it ourselves.

Atheist:

I love how god and be forgiving and unforgiving, loving and unloving, just and unjust, logical and illogical depending on what verse you read in the Bible. You can pretty much use it to say whatever you want. But a big thing that bothers me about this god is that he would eternally punish a morally good person forever, but lavish blessing and paradise on a mass murderer for what? Belief. What is so good about belief? And really, what ‘sin’ is so bad that it would warrant eternal torture? That’s not true justice. I can understand serving a few lifetimes, but infinity? You lost me…

Christian:

God can be forgiving of repentant sinners and unforgiving of unrepentant sinners. There is no problem there, just as there is no problem with Him loving sinners but hating sin. Nowhere in Scripture though do we find God being unjust or illogical. (I am curious by what standard on atheism or naturalism that you would consider God to be either of those anyway).

In reality, there is no such thing as a “morally good person” because all have fallen short of God’s standard of good (Rom. 3:10,23). For those who want nothing to do with God, being eternally separated from Him in hell is really just a continuation of that person’s desires in this lifetime—God is really giving the sinner what he wants. I almost wonder if damned souls would actually get used to “torture” after a while. Either way, I think the severity of hell matches the true severity of sin, but it would take a heart that was ready for repentance to actually see the true severity of sin against a holy God.

Forget about earning your way to heaven, as your question “what is so good about belief?” implies. The message of the gospel is that there is nothing we can do to earn our way to a perfect God. I certainly don’t deserve it. That’s why He provided a way through Christ, the only perfect sacrifice. Belief is not something we use to buy our way, but the way we, using our free will, choose to follow Christ, recognize that sin has been paid for and enter into a relationship with Him—something that God desires all along. We can get hung up on the severity of God’s judgment and the simplicity of belief in Christ as the answer. Or we can recognize that yes, judgment is severe, but belief is simple: A loving and forgiving God made a way out of God’s judgment and into His presence that is simple enough for anyone to understand.

Love: An Old Truth with a New Lesson Plan

August 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

As schools fire up again, I’m reminded of a note I once wrote to a neighbor, who is now a teacher, about a new lesson plan that Jesus taught.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)

John 13:34 has Jesus giving a “new command,” but doesn’t the Old Testament show that loving your neighbor is a very old command?

 “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.” (Lev. 19:18)

 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbor’s house or land, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Deut. 5:21)

According to Jesus and later affirmed by Paul, loving God and neighbor was a summary of the Law.

“And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt. 22:39-40)

“The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Rom. 13:9-10)

Why did Jesus call this a “new command”? What was new was not the principal but the example. His example, never before fully realized before Christ came to live with and die for us. “As I have loved you…“. Jesus didn’t come to change or eliminate the Law, but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17), which He did by providing a living example of how we should love our neighbor. I guess you could say that it was the same lesson, but a new lesson plan. Want to know what loving your neighbor is all about? Take a good look at what Jesus taught and lived in front of His neighbors.

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