Tag Archives: five solas

Are you using the Bible in ways God never intended it to be used?

19 Oct

Image result for bible as doorstopHave you ever tried building a complicated Lego set without using the instruction guide?

Even using a the guide can be complex enough.  All it takes is to put one brick one spot off, and within a few steps you realize that your model doesn’t look like the one in the picture.  So you turn the model around in your hand, seeking to figure out where you went wrong.  Then you start pulling bricks off one by one, comparing the model to the instruction guide, still turning it around.  It can be maddening when you are unable to find out where you went wrong.  But sure enough, in time, pulling off bricks, looking at every angle, holding it up to the instructions, you find your mistake.

But what you would never do is use an instruction manual for bicycle to try to build your Lego set.  You wouldn’t even use a manual from another Lego set.  There is only one purpose for each of those manuals.  The purpose is build the set, or the bike, they were designed for.

The same goes for the Bible.  And yet we might not realize it.  Is it possible that we have ever expected the Bible to do more than it was intended to do?

What should we do with these Bibles of ours?

It goes back to what we have been looking at all week.  Sola Scriptura. Scripture Alone.  What does it mean?  I’ve taken a long time to say what it doesn’t mean in my previous posts this week.  Today I want to start looking at what Sola Scriptura means.

What did the reformers mean when they started using the words Sola Scriptura? They meant that the Bible, not tradition or a church, is our final authority.

To explain this further, they talked about Scripture as having clarity and sufficiency.  Let’s look at each.

First how does Scripture have clarity?

A church council that met in 1529, the Diet of Speyer, said that Scripture “shines clearly in its own light.”  Scholars tells us that the reformers meant four things about this:

  1. The Spirit illumines our minds to understand Scripture.
  2. Clearer portions of Scripture illumine passages that are less clear.
  3. If there is a part of Scripture that is hard to understand, it is because of our lack of knowledge of the original languages and original context.
  4. If we have been enlightened, it is impossible to miss the meaning of Scripture.

There is much we could discuss about each one of these principles, and many others have done so in book after book.  If you want to learn more about any of these four points, I’d be glad to point you in the direction of some resources.

For today, I’d like to comment a bit on the first and fourth ones, enlightenment by the Spirit.  It should sound familiar.  If you’re thinking, isn’t that what got Anne Hutchinson in trouble?  The answer is yes, she thought she had clarity and the Puritan leaders did not!  But there is something critical that Anne and Puritan leaders were each missing.  Humility.  We need the ability to be teachable.  Whenever we arrive at an interpretation of Scripture, at a moment of clarity, we need to be able to say “I think this interpretation is correct, but I may be wrong.”  The principle of Scriptural clarity must always take into account our human propensity to err.

So how do we know if we are enlightened?  In Ephesians 1:18, Paul says he is praying for the Christians in that city of Ephesus “that God the Father of the Lord Jesus may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you may know him better.  I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you.”

Are you praying for that enlightenment? Are you praying for a clear understanding of Scripture?

We should pray for that clarity as we study Scripture, but along with it, may we always stay humble and teachable.

Second, after clarity the reformers used the words Sola Scriptura to refer to the sufficiency of Scripture. 

Scripture is sufficient for everything.  But like a Lego set instruction manual doesn’t work for building a new bike, does Scriptural sufficiency mean the Bible will help us figure out how to fix the cracks in our church parking lot?  Can Scripture tell us what to do if we fall off that bike and skin our knee?

We need to be careful that we don’t expect Scripture to do what God did not intend it to do.  The Bible can become an idol.  If we expect too much of Bible, and start revering it beyond what God intended, they we are guilty of creating a idol out of the Bible.  People call that the idol of Biblicism.

Instead we need to answer the question: “What did God intend for his Word to do?”

Isaiah 55:11 says “…my word that goes out from my mouth…will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

What is that purpose?

2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that “All Scripture is God-breathed and useful to teaching, rebuking, training and correcting in righteousness.”

The Bible is not sufficient to be used for every reason we think it should be used for.  But the Bible is sufficient for every reason that God intended it for.  What is the Bible sufficient for?  One scholar I read said that the Bible is enough to learn about Christ and the Christian life. 

That means Scripture is extremely important.  God, in the Bible, has given us an amazing gift of being able to learn about him, and principles for how to live out his Kingdom in our world.

Tomorrow we conclude this week’s examination of Sola Scripture, looking at how to apply these principles to our interaction with the Bible.

The time our church was accused with the words: “That’s not worship!”

18 Oct

“That’s not worship.”

The person speaking the words was really frustrated at our church.

They were talking about a change we made to our worship service.  In that person’s view, the change had turned our worship service into something that was not worship.

What change could we make that would take a worship service and no longer make it worship?  How did this person know what worship is?  Were they right?

As I look back on that situation, I see evidence of the tendrils of tradition, sneaking their way into the hearts and minds of people unawares.

This October 2017 at Faith Church we are looking at the Five Solas of the Reformation, because it was 500 years ago this month that a German Catholic monk name Martin Luther sparked the Protestant Reformation leading to sweeping changes in Christianity.  The Five Solas are summaries of the teachings of Luther and his fellow reformers.  After Sola Gratia (Grace Alone) and Sola Fide (Faith Alone), we have begun to look at Sola Scripture (Scripture Alone).  I started by asking questions about the Bible and Sola Scriptura here and here.

To begin to answer those questions, I said yesterday, we need to attempt to understand the religious culture Luther lived in.  I am no church historian, so this summary is basic at best.

Luther was trained in the Medieval age of the church, during which time the church placed a high value on tradition alongside of or even above the teaching of Scripture.  In Rome, which was the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church, there is something called the Magisterium, the group of leaders of the church including the Pope.  What the Magisterium said in Luther’s era was given equal or greater weight than what Scripture said.

The problem is that so often the line between Scripture and tradition starts to blur.  We can assume that a certain tradition is taught in the Bible.  Luther confronted his Medieval church about these blurred lines.  He said that if a doctrine or practice is not taught by scripture, it must be seen as just an opinion.  He held the writings of the church fathers, and the creeds, church councils, in high esteem, but said they too must be judged by Scripture.  Luther taught that Scripture birthed the church, not the other way around.  Therefore Scripture should be more foundational than the church.

To demonstrate this, Luther translated the Bible into German, and some believe that was his greatest contribution.  He wanted German farm boys, for example, to feel the words of the Bible in their hearts, and that was only possible in their own language.

Prior to Luther, the Bible was in Latin.  You had to be a priest trained in Latin to read and teach the Bible.  Of course the rare Latin scholar could read it as well.  But most people didn’t know Latin.  They were Germans who knew German.  They were French who knew French.  English who knew English.  They would go to church, however, and the church service, including the Bible reading would be in Latin!  Copies of the Bible were too expensive to own, so in the Medieval age, most people did not have a copy of the Bible, and thus they couldn’t be like the Bereans in Acts 17:10-15 and test out what the priests and church magisterium said.  They just followed along.

That meant the church had tons of power.  Luther felt they abused their power.  One way they abused their power, and this really got under Luther’s skin, was the practice of indulgences.  Indulgences were pieces of paper that the church sold to people.  The paper was a certificate saying that a person had purchased forgiveness of sins.

The church leaders in Rome were trying to build a big new cathedral.  They were strapped for cash to build this monstrosity, so they sent representatives around Europe to sell indulgences.  These reps told people that paying money can get your sins forgiven.  Would it surprise you to learn that the church made a lot of money?  It reminds me of this In Living Color skit (starting at the 9:00 minute mark):

Luther seethed at this.  As he should.  The church was seriously abusing its power.  They were creating a tradition that was not supported by Scripture.

This is very reminiscent of Jesus’ concern with the Pharisees.  Jesus would say to the Pharisees “haven’t you read the Scripture?”  “Don’t you know what the Scripture says?”  Imagine that scene.  Jesus telling the Bible experts that they need to go back and read their Bibles!  (Matthew 12:3 and 19:4 are a couple examples.) How did this happen?  How could Bible teachers miss out on the true teaching of the Bible?  It happened because the Pharisees were so concerned about their traditions that they allowed the tradition to be more important than the heart of the Scripture.

But thank goodness we don’t do this anymore, right?  We don’t lay any traditions on top of Scripture.  We have the Bible in our own language.  Like the invention of the printing press made it very possible for Luther and other reformers to get the Bible in the language of the people, we have the internet making it even easier yet!  So that means we don’t have any problems with tradition and false teaching, right?  We have this Sola Scriptura thing are cared for, right?

Wrong.

That takes me back to the situation I mentioned at the beginning of this post where someone at my church said, in response to worship changes, “That’s not worship.”  Here’s what happened.

In 2006-7 we participated in a church health survey sponsored by our denomination, the EC Church.

We took the survey in 2006.  Results came back saying that we needed to work on our worship service.  So we started making little changes here and there.  One of the changes was that we opened the accordion dividers separating our fellowship hall and sanctuary.  The dividers are there in case our sanctuary is so full we need overflow space.  Normally they are closed.  As a result of the survey, we opened the dividers and invited people to sit in the fellowship hall during worship if they wanted.  Our thought was that maybe some people wanted a less formal setting.

The accordion dividers were open for one month, and then closed again.  Why?  Because some people reacted negatively against them being open.

That’s not worship?

It was in a worship committee meeting, as we were reviewing the changes and negative response that the person said, “That’s not worship.” They were adamant about it.

But think about that.  “That’s not worship?”

What did that person mean?  They meant that a worship service, in their understanding, should only take place in a sanctuary with all the trappings of a sanctuary.  And they wanted the accordion dividers closed.

Where did they get their idea of what worship is, that it can’t be in room that has pews on one side and tables and chairs on another side?  I can tell you they did not get it from the Bible.

You read how the early worshiped in the New Testament, in the book of Acts and the Epistles.  They met in homes.  They worshiped on riversides.  There were no church buildings and sanctuaries in the Christian church for a couple hundred years.  Worship is not about a building, we read in the Bible, but worship is about worshipers, people, who are worshiping the Lord.  Not a location.

So what did this person mean when they said, “That’s not worship”?

That person was talking about tradition!  They had grown up in and become comfortable with and appreciated a certain kind of worship.  There is nothing wrong with worship services in buildings that have rooms with pews and pulpits and pianos or organs or praise bands, or movable chairs, or any of the many variations that sanctuaries in church buildings have.  There is nothing wrong with it, but we cannot say that the Bible tells us to worship like that.

That person had elevated tradition over the Bible.

Years ago we did a summer reading club and read Frank Viola’s book Pagan Christianity.  It is eye-opening about how much tradition we have placed over the Bible.

Sunday School is another example.  You won’t find that in the Bible.  But I once had someone tell me Sunday School is the backbone of the church, insinuating that we better not mess with it.  That person was elevating tradition over the Bible.

I could go on and on, but instead I encourage you to read Pagan Christianity.  Perhaps we are just as guilty of elevating tradition over the Bible, though 500 years Luther warned us of this very thing.

So what do we do with these Bibles of ours?  What is Sola Scriptura?  By Scripture Alone.  What does it mean?  I’ve taken a long time to say what it doesn’t mean.  Now that we have asked the questions, showed Scripture’s primacy over tradition, we can examine Sola Scriptura, and that is where we’re headed tomorrow.

Is Sola Scriptura broken? (or Can we really read the Bible and hear from God?)

17 Oct

Image result for sola scriptura is broken

When you read the Bible, do you think that God will speak to you through it?  How do you know that you will understand it properly?  What if God wants to tell you X and you believe he said Y?

Does Sola Scriptura mean that any Christian can just open up the Scriptures and understand it by the work of the Holy Spirit in their minds?  Do we need the church to interpret Scripture for us, or can we interact with Scripture alone?

We might say, “Yes! We can definitely read the Bible for ourselves and hear from God.”  Take a look at 1 Corinthians 2:12.  Paul says that we have been given the Spirit of God so that we might understand what God has given us.  Seems like that could really apply to understanding the Bible.  Actually, it does apply to the Bible.  When we read Scripture we can and should pray that the Holy Spirit will help us understand it.

But let me push back on this idea a bit.

Anne Hutchinson’s example is a case about how this view of Sola Scriptura didn’t work.  Why?

She felt the Holy Spirit was helping her understand the Bible.

Her Puritan religious community also felt that the Spirit was helping them understand the Bible.

You see the problem yet?  They both claimed the Spirit’s help, and they came to different interpretations.  Now do you see the problem?  If they both had the same Spirit’s help, then shouldn’t they have arrived at the same interpretation?

Would the Holy Spirit give them conflicting interpretations?  No.  So what was going on in Boston in 1636?

The reality is that Christians arrive at conflicting interpretations all the time, and we have done so from nearly day 1 of the church.  So if the Holy Spirit isn’t giving out conflicting interpretations of the Bible, what is going on?

I think there are many possible ways to answer that question:

  • Maybe there are Christians who claim to have the Spirit’s interpretation, but they actually don’t?  I’m sure that happens more than we realize.  But how would we ever know who had the Spirit’s interpretation and who didn’t?
  • And shouldn’t preference be given to church leaders who go to seminary and get ordained, because they have training?
  • Is it possible that the Puritans were not correct in their teaching of Sola Scriptura, or maybe Anne Hutchinson just misunderstood what it meant?

More importantly, what does all this mean for us?

How many of you own a Bible that is printed in English that you can read on your own?  How many of you have the Bible on your electronic device, like the Bible app on your phone?

We believe that we can read those Bibles and understand what God is speaking to us, right?

Are we wrong to believe that?  Perhaps we should be a lot more cautious?  Should we only get our interpretations of the Bible from ordained pastors, from those who have gone to school to learn the Bible?

To answer those questions, it will be very helpful for us to go back to Martin Luther.  His 95 Theses pretty much set things in motion for us to ask all these questions.  So to arrive at some answers, we first need to get an idea of how Martin Luther’s religious culture looked at the Bible.  And that is where we’re headed tomorrow.

How to grow your faith

12 Oct

 

Image result for how to grow your faith

In Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus tells what I think is one of the scariest stories in the Bible.  It is a story of people who thought they had faith.  But their faith was primarily intellectual, belief.  Jesus says to them that something important is missing.  They did not have the kind of faith that he said mattered.  They didn’t having saving faith.  Their intellectual faith was not matched with physical faith.  Saving faith has both!  How does Jesus describe saving faith in Matthew 7:21-23?  People who do what the Father says.

If you say that you have faith, but you do not do what the Father says, you only have an intellectual faith, not a life of faith.

This is why James says “faith without works is dead.”  And dead faith will not gain you entrance into the Kingdom of heaven.

And it is in James 2 starting in verse 14 where we learn about this important element of faith.  Notice how different James’ conception of faith is.  It is not just intellectual belief.  James says, even the demons believe.  The demons know that Jesus is Lord; they know in their minds what is true.  But clearly that doesn’t mean that the demons are a part of the Kingdom of heaven.

The point that James is trying to make is that faith must go beyond belief.

Faith goes beyond belief when we keep pursuing Jesus, when we learn from him how to live.  When we place our faith in Jesus, we are saying to him, “Jesus I want you to change me.  I am not just believing things in my mind about you.  I want my faith in you to be the impetus, the spark of a total life change.”

That change might be over night. But it could also, and I think should also, last a lifetime.

This past week our Faith Church Nominating Committee had the privilege of interviewing candidates for our Leadership Team.  We’ve been doing these interviews for three-four years now, and each year during the interviews I am reminded of how they are one of the favorite things I get to do as a pastor.  Why?  Because we hear the stories of how faith in God has transformed people.

Sometimes the candidates tell a dramatic story of how God radically changed their lives in a moment.  Sometimes they tell an equally powerful story of how they were raised in faith from a young age, and they gradually slowly placed their faith in the Lord.  When we place our faith in God, there are many ways he works transformation in our lives!

I want to ask you, therefore, to evaluate your faith.

Have you ever really, truly placed your faith in Christ?  Can you say that you really believe in Jesus, that he is God, that he died for our sins, that he was raised to life victorious over death?  Maybe you’re reading this now, and you’d like to accept the gift of God’s grace by faith. I would love to talk with you about how to do that.

But maybe you’ve already placed your intellectual faith in Christ.  You would say that you believe in him.  I also ask you to evaluate your faith.  Is it just intellectual?  Just in your mind?  That is not saving faith.

Faith learns from Jesus how to live.  As I said last week, and now again, study Jesus’ life, watching for how he demonstrated faith.

Seek out someone whom you would say has great faith.  Ask them to teach you how to grow your faith.

Read those stories in the Bible in Hebrews 11 about people who had great faith.  Search out the original telling of those stories in the Old Testament, and see if you can learn why the author of Hebrews included them.

Finally, take a step of faith. You can grow your faith by doing something that stretches your faith, your trust in God.  Maybe serving in a position in your church, a position you might feel iffy about.  Maybe starting up a conversation with a neighbor who you’ve always wanted to talk with about faith, but you’ve been shy.  Maybe give a financial gift of faith to the Lord.

Get a faith accountability partner.  Each of you make one faith goal, and hold each other to accomplishing that goal.

Know this. Faith is not faith if it only resides in the mind. Faith without works is dead. But you can grow your faith!

Does God require faith that is 100% without doubt?

9 Oct

Image result for faith and doubt logo

Faith Church. That’s the name of our church. Back in 1968, when they got this church started, why would people choose to name a new church, Faith Church? I wonder what they were thinking.

What is faith?  Most often we think faith is belief. And for good reason. Faith does mean belief.  It means that in our minds we agree with certain statements or facts or ideas.

But we also read in the Bible, in James chapter 2, that “faith without works is dead.”

Think about that.  Faith is belief. But it also must have works, James says, or it is dead.  So what is faith?

Just belief in our mind, or must faith also have some kind of work?

As I mentioned last week, this October at Faith Church we’re commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation by talking about the Five Solas of the Reformation.  The Five Solas or Alones are what many scholars consider to be the best way to summarize the teaching of the Reformation.  Last week we looked at Sola Gratia, or Grace Alone.  The second one is Sola Fide.  Fide in Latin means faith.  Today we are talking about Faith Alone.  In Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul combines Sola Gratia with Sola Fide: “it is by grace you have been saved through faith, not by works, it is the gift of God.”

So somehow, Paul says, we receive the gift of grace by faith, and not by works.  But as I mentioned above, James said faith without works is dead.  See the apparent contradiction? This brings us back to the question I started with?  What is faith?

In Hebrews 11:1 we read, “faith is being sure of what hope for, certain of what we do not see.”

Does that clear it up for you? I have to admit that on first reading, that definition of faith doesn’t really help me.  So we have to look a bit deeper.

The writer of Hebrews describes faith two ways.  Let’s look at each:

First, Faith is being sure of what we hope for.  We have hopes.  We want them to come true.  It may be a promotion we hope is coming.  It may be hopes for our children and grandchildren.  It may be hopes that we will get out of debt.  It may be a hope that eternal life is in our future.  What hopes do you have?

Faith is being sure of those hopes, that they will become reality.  It is saying, “I know that I know that I know that what I hope for will come true.”  But if we’re honest, we rarely feel that certain.  The opposite of being sure is being unsure.  Uncertainty also goes by the name “doubt”.

Frankly, when we read the Bible, it can be a bit tough to understand how the interplay of faith and doubt works. On one hand we read Jesus teaching that if you have faith, you can move mountains.  On the other hand we read the psalms and the psalmists express their doubts quite a lot.  Does that mean they are lacking in faith?

Is the writer of Hebrews saying that the only true faith is a faith that doesn’t have even one little tiny iota of doubt?  Is that even possible?  Haven’t we been told that expressing our doubts is healthy, and that God welcomes us to converse with him about our doubts?  How would we know if our faith is totally without doubt?  What would that feel like?

Before we can answer that, let’s see what else the writer of Hebrews says about faith.

Second, faith is being certain of what we do not see. What the writer of Hebrews is saying is that there is a side of life that is beyond what we can perceive with our five senses.  You can’t touch it, smell it, taste, see or hear it. It is the spiritual side of life. The realm of God, angels, demons, heaven and hell.  Faith believes it is real, though we cannot see it.  Again, though, the writer says that faith is certain of this. And I ask the writer, “how certain?”  Is it okay to doubt a little bit?  Is it okay to wonder or speculate?  And don’t we all do that at least a little bit?

As I wonder about the tension between faith and doubt, James the brother of Jesus says in chapter 1:

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

“He must believe and not doubt”?  If 100% belief is required by God to answer our requests for wisdom, then it seems to me that very, very few of us will ever receive wisdom from God.

Does faith require 100% perfect belief, with no doubt whatsoever?

I don’t think so.  Here’s why.  I personally appreciate the honesty of a guy Jesus once encountered whose child was really in a bad way.  The child was possessed by a demon.  The man brought his child to Jesus, but ran into Jesus’ disciples first.  They tried hard, but couldn’t cast out the demon. When Jesus shows up a bit later, the man is desperate, pleading with Jesus to help.  You know what Jesus says to the man?

“If you can believe, all things are possible for him who believes.”  Wow. All things?  I like the sound of that, but I also think, “Whew, I don’t know if I can believe like that.”  It seems similar to what the father of the demon-possessed child might be thinking too, because he says back to Jesus,

“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

I love that line. It resonates with what I so often feel.  The tension between faith and doubt.  The knowledge that while I have faith, I don’t think it is perfect faith.  Jesus knew this about the man, and you know what Jesus did?

Maybe Jesus said, “Wait a minute, you have some unbelief in there? Sorry, man.  Game over.  Take your demon-possessed child elsewhere.”

But Jesus did not say that.  He saw the man’s tension of faith and doubt, and he healed that man’s child.

Let’s remember this man’s tension between faith and doubt, and think about it in light of the definition of faith in Hebrews 1.  God doesn’t require us to have perfect faith.  He does require faith, though.  And tomorrow we’ll talk more about what it means to place our faith in God.

For now, I think we should be like the man who brought his demon-possessed child to Jesus, and say “Lord, I believe, help me in my unbelief!”

How to become more gracious

6 Oct

Image result for responding graciouslyHave you ever had an encounter with someone who was less than gracious?  Have you been accused?  Confronted?

Or maybe you’re in the store, waiting in line at checkout, and right in front of you is a family with young children.  Just then one of the kids start freaking out because the parent won’t let them have candy.  Is it hard for you to be gracious?

What if the parent is you and the kid is yours?  Are you able to graciously stand firm while your offspring is throwing a tantrum?  What if the other customers around you start acting frustrated with you, as if it is your fault your child is losing it?  So you’re being hit with your child’s poor behavior on one hand, and the poor behavior of adults on the other.  Are you gracious then?

What if your boss cuts your hours?  Gives you a poor performance review?  It can be very hard to be gracious.

I use the app IFTTT on my phone.  “If this, then that.”  It is an app that automates your phone to do tasks.  I have found it to be amazing.  For example, IFTTT helped me set up my phone so that I send myself a text message reminding myself to take out the trash on Thursday nights.  It sends me a text each 1st of the month to remind me that the mortgage is due.  IFTTT can do so much.  One interesting feature it can do is a rescue call.  And by “rescue”, I don’t mean rescue from danger.  Instead IFTTT will rescue me from one of those conversations when I badly need to go, but the other person won’t stop talking.  Or maybe they’re talking about something awkward, maybe politics, and I want to get away, but I don’t know how to do so graciously.  All I need to do now is tap the IFTTT phone icon on my home screen, and within seconds, IFTTT makes an automated phone call to me.  All I have to do at that point is say to my conversation partner “I’m so sorry, I need to go and take this call.”  Gracious!

There is hope!  Not only can we use technology to graciously rescue us in difficult situations, we can learn to become more gracious.  If you know there is bitterness or a habit of poor responses coming out of you, then you can be changed from the inside out.  You can become a more gracious person.  Read on!

This week we’ve been talking about grace.  When we accept God’s gracious gift, we are not only taking on a whole new family name, but we are also saying that we will live like a child of grace, to live like Jesus lived.

If you want to know how to live a life of grace, study Jesus.  In 1 John 2:6 one of Jesus closest friends, John, says “Whoever claims to live in Jesus must walk or live as Jesus did.”  Accepting God’s gracious gift, then, is not just saying “I believe in and receive the gift of God’s grace”.  It is living a life that looks more and more like the gracious life of Jesus.

But a life of grace is not always easy.  In fact, when calling us to a life of grace, God calls us to something that can be difficult.

I recently read the book, Messy Grace, by Caleb Kaltenbach, and I highly encourage you to read it as well.  Caleb is a pastor who parents are gay.  They were married, divorcing when he was 2yrs old.  Soon after the divorce, his mom started a lesbian lifestyle, and she raised Caleb in that community.  To him, therefore, it was normal.  His dad remained single, though years later Caleb learned that his dad was gay.  So Caleb grew up in a family environment, mostly with his mom and her partner, that normalized the lesbian lifestyle and felt the pain of hate and discrimination from less-than-gracious Christians.

But something unexpected happened.  Caleb, through friends, a youth group, and reading the Bible, learned about and received the gift of God’s grace.  As he studied the Bible, he changed his mind about same-sex relations.  Caleb then had to come out to his parents.  But it was a very different coming out.  Instead of announcing to his Christian family that he was coming out as gay, Caleb announced to his gay parents that he was coming out as a Christian and he no longer agree with their lifestyle.  It was brutally difficult for Caleb to live out the gracious life of Christ in his family.

Living in families is like that.  We all know this.  Sharing life together as a church family is like this.

Grace is not easy.  Grace can be very difficult when people are unkind to you.  Grace can be difficult when people make bad choices that affect you.  Grace can be difficult because people can be difficult. But as we learn from Jesus how to live the gracious life, we’ll notice how, time and time again, he chose grace when people were being extremely difficult to him and others.

Another difficult aspect of living a gracious life is that it doesn’t mean you get to do whatever you want because, “God is gracious, and he’ll forgive me.  His grace covers it all anyway!”  One of the writers of the New Testament, Paul, referred to this thought process in Romans 6.  There he asked, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace will abound?”  Have you ever thought something like that?  That you can do something sinful “just this once” because God will forgive you anyway?  If we’re honest, I suspect most of us have thought that about God’s grace.  Guess how Paul answers his question.  “Should we go on sinning so that grace will abound?  By no means!”  Accepting God’s gift of grace means that we surrender to our way of doing things, and we give our lives to do things God’s way.

In another writing, Paul says to Titus who was a pastor friend of his, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”

What this means is that we respond to God’s gift of grace by living lives of grace.  A graceful life is one that pursues self-control, purity, and treating others with grace.  That’s where this grace thing gets messy.  Imagine what it is like for God to be gracious to us when we are regularly thinking, doing, and saying things that are not self-controlled and pure. Imagine how he feels. He was so gracious to us, to the point of sending his son to give his life for us.  And how do we respond to that grace?  We choose to ignore it by sinning.

And just as we can messy to God, others can be messy to us.

So what will it look like to be gracious to people in your life? Sola Gratia means that we are children of grace, and we should be known not only for receiving God’s grace, but also for showering that grace on those around us.

I want you to think.  Who do you have a hard time being gracious to?  Remember that grace is undeserved favor.  Who rubs you the wrong way?  Who do you need to be actively gracious to?  Have you allowed yourself to develop a less than gracious attitude to people in your church family?  What about in your own family?  Is there anyone for whom grace is very messy for you?

What will you do to show more grace?  What will you do to demonstrate that you are a child of grace?

  1. Evaluate yourself. Have people ever told you that you are less than gracious?  That you are intimidating or difficult or argumentative?  Have someone who is able to speak the truth in love to you evaluate you.  Don’t trust yourself to give yourself an accurate accounting.  Some of us are too hard on ourselves.  Some of us are too easy.  Get a true perception of whether or not you are living as a child of grace.
  2. Learn to live graciously. Study Jesus’ life in the Gospels (the four accounts of Jesus’ life, recorded in the Bible), Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  And as you are reading, ask God to help you to learn to be gracious from Jesus.  Write down the ways you see Jesus being gracious.  Then seek out someone in your life who is known for being gracious, and ask them to teach you.  Get the book Messy Grace.  It is excellent.
  3. Practice. Are their people in your life who you have been less than gracious to?  Do you need to go to them and ask forgiveness?  And to show that you are seeking a new gracious pattern with them, what is a gracious act you can to do to start treating them differently?  Maybe a small gift, maybe a nice card, maybe a compliment?

The one word that will help you step off the hamster wheel of not feeling good enough

4 Oct

Image result for ever felt like you are on a hamster wheel

Have you ever felt like you are not good enough?  Maybe you’ve wondered if God is disappointed with you?  Are you tired of your failures?  Do you feel like you are on a hamster wheel, struggling to make progress in life, stop a bad habit, become more whole and healthy, be more consistent, stop a sin, think more purely?  But you watch yourself mess up again and again.  Ever been there?

I’d like to ask you to continue reading this post, to learn how to get off the hamster wheel.  One word is needed: grace.

This week here and here I’ve mentioned that the concept of grace was so foundational for Martin Luther’s decision in 1517, and the years that followed, to make a break from the Catholic church.  But what is grace? “Unmerited favor” is a very common definition. As I researched grace, I found so many wonderful definitions that expanded this definition. Maybe one of these will really be meaningful to you.

Grace is:

“God giving what is not owed.”

“God extending himself toward others.”

“God sharing his Fatherly love for creation in the Son through the Spirit.”

“God sharing his own perfect life with those who are not perfect.”

“God remaining fully himself, yet freely taking the initiative to share or communicate himself with those who have turned their backs on him.”

“The way in which God extends himself to the world so that creatures can come to know and love him.”

I think my favorite is from John Stott, who said that grace is, “love that cares and stoops and rescues.”

As you read those conceptions of grace, maybe you’re thinking, “Those are nice, but I was already pretty familiar with the concept of grace.  What is the big deal?”

If you think something like that, I wouldn’t fault you. We Protestants have been exposed to it for 500 years. But for Luther, this was a major eye-opener.  One of Luther’s main concerns was how to understand a concept the early Christian writer Paul talked about in the Romans, the concept of “the righteousness of God.”

In Luther’s era, which was the late Medieval period, it was common to understand righteousness as what a person did to make themselves acceptable in God’s sight.  In other words, if you follow God’s Law, they thought, you will be OK. But all his attempts to be a good Christian, to follow God’s Law, left Luther with a nagging fear that he wasn’t doing enough to truly make himself acceptable in God’s eyes. Luther’s response: try even harder. So Luther practiced spiritual disciplines like you would not believe. If prayer and fasting were Olympic events, Luther would get a gold medal. But still it never felt to him like he was righteous enough.

Martin Luther himself once noted, “The Law says, ‘you must do this,’ and it is never done.”

But something amazing happened as Luther was studying Romans.  Right in the middle of his fear that he was not righteous enough, Romans suddenly took on a new meaning to Luther.  In Romans 4, through Paul’s teaching of the story of Abraham, “righteousness” is described as credited to those who have faith.  Righteousness, therefore, is not something we can earn.

Remember the verse I mentioned yesterday, Ephesians 2:8-9? “For it is by grace you have been save through faith, not by works, it is the gift of God.” Paul’s teaching in Romans 4 and Ephesians 2 transformed Martin Luther’s perception of Law, righteousness, and grace.  That meant his relationship with God was changed.  God’s grace wasn’t something that Luther could manufacture.  God’s grace is a gift to be received.

Earlier in this post I said that Martin Luther himself once said that “The Law says, ‘you must do this,’ and it is never done.”  That was only half the quote.  Luther adds, “Grace says, ‘believe in this’ and everything is already done.”

Maybe you have found yourself on the same hamster wheel as Luther, trying so hard to be good, but never feeling like you make progress.  You can get off the wheel by accepting the gift of God’s grace. Think about that.  God wants to give you his grace!

Want to talk further?  Just post in the comments below.  Tomorrow we’ll keep looking at God’s grace and how he wants to save us.