Tuesday, January 30, 2018
One major area tradition abounds in is the subject of sin. In the next few posts, we will expose the truth over tradition in this area. When we speak of sin it seems to some, sin is much more powerful than Grace. Sin is the proverbial "kryptonite" of God. Meaning God sees sin and He is weakened, unable to help or heal you, to move on your behalf, or to answer prayer. Others see God responding to your sin the same way the movies show vampires reacting to sunlight. God sees it and He flees. He must disconnect from you. He must break fellowship from you.
This is a very real concern for many Christians. This is where so many of us live. Often it isn't sin in general that concerns us. Moreso than not its the frequency of our failures and misdeeds. It is that one sin we seem to be struggling with and keep repeating.
We can get into fear, worry, and concern about our relationship with God. At times we create a scale from bad to worst sins. If we commit a real bad sin just once we fear instant judgment. Then we go to the other extreme looking at the same sin we keep struggling with. We wonder if we keep repeating this behavior will God really forgive us? We wonder if we can cross some proverbial line and then God will say "that's it, you've sinned once to often you're gonna get it!"
What is the truth? Does God punish us? Is He angry with us and disappointed in us when we sin? Is He standing by just waiting to strike if we blow it?
To answer this, let's look at Christ's redemptive work at the Cross. What did He actually do on that Cross? What did He accomplish?
Isaiah 53:4-5 MSG
Jesus bore our sins. He took the pain, punishment, and judgment for our sins. If God is punishing you for your sins then God would be saying Jesus' sacrifice and Finished Work wasn't enough. It didn't complete the payment for sin and redemption. That would mean our salvation is not complete, the work is unfinished, and we, therefore, have no eternal hope.
Thanks be to God, Jesus did Finish the Work. Thank God the price was fully paid and completely accepted by Father God. There is no more punishment for sin. Jesus paid the price. God isn't going to charge your sins to you and expect you to pay for them when Jesus already paid for them. How just is it for a merchant to expect additional payment for an item that has already been purchased and paid in full?
Tradition has some nonsensical ideas about God. They can't grasp the goodness of God. They can't understand His mercy. They fail to comprehend the very nature of Grace.
Does this mean God is ok with Christians living in sin? That He merely winks at those who abide in sinful living? That He is celebrating our moral failures, misdeeds, mistakes, and sins? That our Father isn't grieved when He sees the pain and hurt and misery sin causes?
God is absolutely perfect and holy. He is purity. Certainly, He doesn't celebrate sinful choices and habits. Sin grieves His heart because He doesn't want us hurting ourselves and others. He doesn't desire us to live and act contrary to our true identity in Him.
We need to see this issue from God's perspective. Nothing you could ever do will cause God to love you less or make Him want to distance Himself from you. Look at the newborn infant. The parents love that child unconditionally. All that child does is sleep, eat, spit up and urinate and defecate. It cannot perform in any way. Yet the parents continually show love and affection. Even when the baby messes up the furniture, the floor, the vehicle or their crib, good parents are right there cleaning up the mess and still showing love, acceptance, affirmation, and adoration.
Do parents withhold food or shelter or warmth when the infant spits up staining the furniture or carpet? We know parents that have done such things because they make front page news. We call them loveless, abusive people. Even lost sinners condemn this behavior. Sadly, religious tradition views God as being this way. Withholding blessings, affection, and love because of people's sins.
They say God will get you for sinning too much. They say God is punishing you. They will cite Hebrews 12 to substantiate this claim. In the complete context, this Epistle to the Hebrews who were on the fence about fully receiving new life in Christ and embracing Grace or staying with the Old Covenant Law. The writer is correcting their thinking about Grace and Law, the Old and New Covenant, and the supremacy of Jesus and the Finished Work. In doing so the writer reveals that those whom God loves He corrects.
Correction and instruction are not punishment. When we look at New Covenant correction we see it is God by His Spirit reminding people of who they are and whose they are. God corrects and instructs with His Word, not with punishment or harsh circumstances. He lovingly reminds us of who we are and He never stops loving us or distances Himself from us. It's His goodness that brings us to change not punishment.
When we miss it or keep sinning that same sin, often we look at our life and can see bad days or trying situations and conclude we deserve it. That God is punishing us and we are displeasing to God. Often the result is we back away from God. God doesn't want our behavior to determine our identity, but who He made us in the Finished Work. He wants us to awaken to Him and our new identity in Christ and not distance ourselves when we sin.
The truth is there is only one punishment for sin and that is death. It is not unanswered prayers or God breaking fellowship with us. Jesus already paid the price. He died so we wouldn't have to. We need not fear or shrink back from God. If we think God is punishing us for our sins, we are not fully receiving and abiding in His perfect love for us.
Image courtesy of iosphere at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Today, I sensed the leading to examine an idea that seems to be prevalent in the Body of Christ. I'd like to ask you a question, to begin with. Have you ever sat in a Christian assembly and after listening to the worship and sermon came to the conclusion that as a believer it must be possible to be separated, divided, even disconnected from God? What do I mean exactly? Look at some of the lyrics of some popular Christian hymns and worship songs.
"Draw me close to you, never let me go."
"Open up the doors to Heaven and let us enter in."
"Savior, while on others thou art calling, do not pass me by."
"Come by here my Lord, come by here."
"I just want to be where you are."
"I just want to be near your heart."
Let me first say this. Music is an artistic expression. It is a beautiful gift God gave mankind. Perhaps many of these songs sung are just an extension of the artist's expression during times when their emotional state sensed a separation or divide. So we aren't attacking the artists. The problem is too often we take these hymns and songs as truth and build a theology around them.
There exists in the Body of Christ today an idea, a concept, a theology, if you will, that connotes the idea that a believer at times is somehow apart from God. That they are far from the Father's heart. That they need the Spirit of God to usher them back to God's presence. That our sins, our poor performance, our lack of spiritual fervor removes us from our Father's fellowship, communion, and presence.
In many Christian circles, it seems the presence of God is like some magic trick. Now you see it, now you don't. That God is so temperamental, so easily offended, so quick to depart if we don't have our program just right. This stems from the traditional concept that God merely tolerates us and is often displeased and disappointed in us and our lack of faith, commitment, and passion.
Because of this, we must work hard to ensure we create an atmosphere for God to be "comfortable" in. We strive to create the perfect mood. In our meetings, we turn down the lights. We demand children sit still. We demand certain songs be sung. We pray or rather beg for a half an hour or so before a service begins for God to show up. What are we doing? We are hoping God finds us pleasing enough and the atmosphere conducive enough for Him to come and visit us.
What are we doing Church? We are reinforcing a concept and idea that God doesn't want anything to do with us until we satisfy His impossibly strict standards or He won't be in our midst. We are creating the concept that if our own spiritual life is in disarray or out of order in any way He won't want to be with us, that He will be far from us.
These concepts have become a prevalent stronghold in the minds of so many in the Body of Christ. This is why we see so many fasting, abstaining from food and foregoing natural pleasures such as watching movies, listening to music or engaging in a hobby. They aren't taking time to fellowship with God and celebrate the intimacy He already made possible. Instead, they are striving and performing in order to be found worthy of God's presence to visit them. In their mind, we can only visit His presence. It is not something we abide in.
Is a Believer ever disconnected or separated from God?
The truth is so much better than this tradition. The good news is you are His beloved child with whom He is well pleased. The truth is you are not far from Him. You don't need to be "taken into the Father's heart." In Christ, you are already in the Father's heart. You're engraved in the palm of His hands. He loves you with an everlasting unquenchable love. He isn't looking for ways to disqualify you from His presence. Your Father rejoices over you with joy. Because of Jesus, He is in you and is with you always.
We need to uproot this stronghold from our thinking. Allow the washing of the water of the Word to renew your thinking in this area.
Tuesday, January 16, 2018
In tithes and offerings.You are cursed with a curse,
But then some of the believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and insisted, “The Gentile converts must be circumcised and required to follow the law of Moses.” Acts 15:5 NLT
We must understand that this being ancient times people couldn't just go to the local library and check out the Law and read up on it. People couldn't fire up their Mac and look up the Mosaic Law. So these Gentiles would have no learning in matters of the Law. When did they hear the teaching of Malachi and Leviticus commanding the tithe? Where would they read about the command to be circumcised?
Keep that in mind as you read and study Acts 15 in context. The legalists wished that the Church specifically keep the Law of circumcision. Note however what gets lost in the debate. They strongly desire that the Church be required to follow the Law of Moses. In this Law, there is the command to tithe. So they wanted to ensure the Church continues in the tithe.
What is the conclusion the Apostles reach?
Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, “ be circumcised and keep the law”—to whom we gave no commandment Acts 15:24 NKJV
The Apostles say in one accord that we never gave a command to continue in the Law. This would include tithing. The reason there is no command to stop tithing is that there was never a command to start in the New.
Did the tithe filter through the Cross? No! That is the thinking of legalists who wish to merge the Old and New Covenant together. Fair-minded believers will acknowledge that there are a few similarities in the New and the Old. What I mean is there are universal truths that reveal the Character of God.
Adultery was wrong before the Law, during the Law, and under the New. It is obvious because God is love. He isn't about breaking Covenant and betraying those He loves. So there are some moral similarities between the Old and the New. However, when you look to the Old to see principles of receiving blessing, favor, and goodness you've missed it.
So are we cursed for not giving ten percent of our income away? Absolutely not. We give to be a blessing and to advance God's influence in this World. There is no curse awaiting those who choose not to give.
Some would say the tithe is the way God blesses us. My response to that is what about the believer in war-ravaged lands? What about the Christian in drought-ridden lands? What about the single mom struggling to put clothes on her children's back and food in their mouths?
Is God looking at that single mom who struggles to get by with arms folded in disappointment and displeasure? Is He saying, "I wanted to pour my favor out upon you but you haven't given me exactly ten percent of your gross income?" I know tradition says yes. They say "you can't afford not to tithe." To say something like this means you believe there is an attached curse for not tithing.
Relinquish the lies of tradition. Cast down the fears tradition brings. Stand fast in the Finished Work. Follow God's giving plan for your own life. God may, in fact, tell you to give ten percent. He may tell you to give two percent. He may even tell someone else to give 90 percent. The point I am making is, don't allow any man or ministry to dictate to you how much or how often you should give. We also shouldn't try to put God in a box concerning a specific amount and no one should put guilt, shame, fear or condemnation on others for their giving amount. Just follow God's guidance for your life when it comes to giving.
Father God is a big God. He is a good Father. His divine hand of favor rests on the lives of His children. If we trust Him, if we lean on Him and follow His guidance He will lead us into paths of wisdom, favor, and blessings. This also means as we follow Him, He will use as instruments of blessing. He may lead us to pay for someone's gas. Buy their groceries. Help them with their rent. What an impact we can make when we flow with His Spirit. We are blessed to be a blessing and in Christ, we are never under a curse.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Tuesday, January 9, 2018
A Dangerous End-Time Message?
Whenever the Church begins hearing a revelation of God's goodness and great love and mercy, tradition is quick to try and extinguish the flames of revival. In the 1940s and 50s, one minister began to boldly proclaim that God is a good God. You can't imagine the controversy this created.
People would tell ministers and fellow believers they didn't like it when this minister said this. Their reasoning? "people would get the wrong idea about God." Religion and tradition fear when the people know more about their Father. Perhaps this is because their controlling grip of fear will loosen on the minds of the people when they better know their Father.
Tradition resisted the Charismatic move, surely God can't move by His Spirit today and certainly couldn't bestow a personal prayer language to His kids. They fought hard against the move of Faith. Surely people couldn't simply take God at His Word. Surely God Would never answer the believing prayers of His people.
Today, God is doing it again, restoring the true Gospel to the Church. He wants to reach the World. Now we see religious tradition in a panic and doing all they can to resist this move. To them, Grace is an end-time deception that is leading that captive in its grip down the road to eternal damnation.
Some are even going so far to call this the great crisis of our time. That the Grace awakening is a mere distortion of the Gospel. That Grace does away with holiness, obedience, and repentance. They say Grace is producing and promoting lust driven immoral, remorseless living.
The True Crisis of Our Time
The true crisis of our time is the fact that religious tradition has abandoned and forsaken the original Gospel. They've replaced it with a gospel of mixture. They've embraced a gospel of works and performance. They add our efforts and performance to the simple Gospel of salvation by Grace alone through faith alone.
6 I am shocked over how quickly you have deserted the grace gospel and strayed away from Christ who called you to Himself by His loving mercy. I’m frankly astounded that you now embrace a distorted gospel of salvation by works! 7 That is a fake “gospel” that is simply not true! There is only one gospel— the grace gospel! Yet you have allowed those who mingle law with Christ’s grace to confuse you with lies. Galatians 1:6-7 Passion Translation (first edition)
Paul rightly exposes what is the true crisis. The changing of the Gospel from the Gospel of Grace to the gospel of works and efforts. Tradition can't seem to accept the concept that salvation is begun by Grace and completed through Grace.
To them, once salvation is received, Grace's job is done so to speak. Now that you've been counted worthy to receive salvation, you need to get busy earning it and proving you were worth it. In essence, tradition's gospel message is God starts it with Grace and you finish it or bring it to completion by your performance.
The only time Grace is referred to is when they define Grace as some empowerment concept. In other words, God still has portions of the Mosaic Law that need to be observed, but don't fret He gives us the Grace to accomplish this task. If people don't walk this moral observance out? Either they were never saved, they are in rebellion or are just not "tapping" into this available Grace.
The traditional gospel starts with God's Grace. It begins with people sharing how much He loves and accepts you just as you are. Once you accept Him in your life then the message changes. Belief and acceptance are replaced with requirements and expectations. This is why so many find the Christian life to be too hard.
Let's stay with the true Gospel;
8 Anyone who comes to you with a different message than the grace gospel that you have received will have the curse of God come upon them! For even if we or an angel appeared before you, to give you a different gospel than what we have already proclaimed, God’s curse will be upon them! 9 I will make it clear: Anyone, no matter who they are, that brings you a different gospel than the grace gospel that you have received, let them be condemned and cursed! Galatians 1:8-9 Passion Translation (first edition)
Tradition can't accept this because they are so desperate to contribute to their salvation. When they get to Heaven, I half suspect they will be looking for Jesus to hear Him say, "Thanks for helping me save you. I couldn't have done it without you!"
Is Grace a dangerous message? Is the Grace awakening the crisis of our time? Absolutely not! Grace is the Gospel, not a message. Grace is the unearned, undeserved, unmerited favor of Almighty God. This favor received in and upon our lives will produce an empowerment to walk in victory. However, this victory is accomplished in different stages in every believer's life.
God sees the end from the beginning. He already knew you would be struggling with pride or anger throughout your lifetime. He has already seen how much you struggle with that sin or addiction. He still chose to save you and enter into an everlasting relationship with you. He will always encourage us and love us pointing us in the right direction. Sometimes we will follow Him and sometimes we fail. The good news He is still there and He isn't angry. He is their beaming with pride, looking at His child, flaws and imperfections and all because His love for you is eternal and unconditional.
Yes, God desires us to lead lives of moral excellence but He isn't holding our sins and flaws against us. He isn't walking away from us when we fail. He isn't demanding results or we are "fired." We need to have this truth established in our hearts and minds so we can fully benefit from a loving relationship that will be fruitful. This is the Gospel and Good news!