Monday, August 26, 2013

Thanks For Nothing

I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Romans 8:39

“Thanks for nothing!” I’ve said this before and my tone and attitude didn’t ooze gratitude. Romans 8:39 provides a fresh perspective for this phrase. There is no-thing, nothing that separates me from God’s love. On my worst days, amid my greatest failures and defeats, God still loves me. I need to know this when I’m tempted to give up on myself. There is One whose love never quits.

“So God, thanks for nothing!” When it came to my salvation it cost me nothing. You paid for it in full with the life of your Son, Jesus. When I need healing, it costs me nothing. Jesus bought that for me by the stripes on his back. There is nothing, no-thing that separates me from Your love. My whiny, snot brat attitude doesn’t deter Your affection for me. When I lose my temper and act more like the devil than Jesus, You’re still madly in love with me. I’m amazed. During those times I don’t even like me. When I’m ready to give up on myself, You refuse to follow suit.

Nothing ever comes between us and God’s love. Paul had his own version of a most excellent adventure when he came face to face with the Lord on the road to Damascus. He went from prominent, powerful member of the Jewish religious community who championed the persecution of the early church, to a man rejected by the Jews and viewed with suspicion by Christians. From the limelight to the backside of the desert overnight, this educated Pharisee returned to elementary school for re-education. Paul often worked to support his ministry and suffered rounds of abuse from those who rejected his message. He worked miracles, spoke before rulers and authorities and single-handedly wrote most of the New Testament, compliments of an extended stay while under arrest by the Roman government. He learned that during the very best and the very worst of times God’s love remained constant and unconditional. He could truly say, “God, thanks for nothing!”

To be grateful for nothing seems odd. Love and appreciation are a response to something we’ve received or experienced. Nothing now takes on new significance. There are no barriers, no impediments, no circumstances, no-things that can come between us and His love.

           Like the Energizer Bunny, God’s love, “keeps going and going and going!” Hey God, thanks for nothing!”

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Take a Break

Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. Hebrews 4:1 (emphasis mine)

Well what do you know…it’s not all about me! That’s what the apostle Paul thought. Don’t you hate to be knocked off of center stage and out of the limelight? “Look Paul, I’ve got my hands full keeping myself straight. Why am I responsible for others to enter God’s rest? Gimme a break!”

When I read that verse with a focus on me, I didn't like it and I missed the whole point. Jesus is the head of the body (singular) not bodies. We the church, believers, whatever title you attach to yourself, are not Lone Rangers for the Lord. We’re meant to work together as a cohesive unit the same way our physical bodies operate. When I work in my yard my hands don’t go outside and my feet stay indoors propped up on my footstool relaxed. All of me gets involved in the project. This also applies when we rest. To be refreshed and renewed every part needs to participate and take some down time.

Usually my “to do list” outweighs reality but that doesn’t suppress my attempted pursuit of the absurd. I push myself to exhaustion and end up too tired to rest. Had I heeded the signals my body sent I wouldn’t be worn out and depleted. Accomplishments can be addictive and to chase them sends my life out of balance. In the end I’m too tired to enjoy the pleasures of life or respond to emergencies or unexpected surprises.

As Christ’s body, we need to watch out for each other. Great emphasis is placed on spurring each other on to good works and we should. It’s equally important to encourage and facilitate one another to be human beings and not human doings. We need to help other body parts avoid the performance trap. Let’s remember that to “be still and know that I am God” in important to maintain health. To make this happen we should lower our expectations of each other and shoulder their load so they can rest. The standard formula that 20% of the people do 80% of the work won’t cut it if we want to see the kingdom of God manifested here on earth. When we all work together, no one carries an inordinately large load. Those in need of a break can take it and the wheels won’t fall off the wagon.
          God never intended for a few to do all the work anymore than He designed our hands to do everything while the rest of us chill out. In his book, Thinking Fast and Slow, author Daniel Kahnemen offers this thought. “Indeed there is evidence that people are more likely to be influenced by empty persuasive messages, such as commercials, when they are tired and depleted.” Could fatigue cause us to miss God’s truth? It’s in times of stillness, when we're quiet, that we hear His voice clearly. We need His directions and instructions to find the best path from A to B. Notice I didn’t say the shortest. When we work as a unit. the Body will be strong and healthy because it receives the rest it needs to recharge. If you’re presently disengaged, get back in the flow so that those carrying the load can finally take a break.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

School Days

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions. Titus 2:11-12

“School days, school days.
Dear old rules for fools days.
Reading and writing
and ‘rithmatic. 
Each one selected to
make you sick!"

For a child, nothing is as liberating as the last day of school and breaking free from the confines of classrooms and homework. We’ve all had teachers who made our educational experience a joy. Then there were the teachers from hell…you know the rest of that story. To our astonishment, Graduation Day didn’t end the cycle of learning. We moved to a different venue with a more self-directed approach. Failure here can be catastrophic and makes the F in biology or any other subject look like a cake walk.

A similar phenomenon occurs when we embark on a relationship with God. The stakes are even higher and the results last eternally. We have two instructors, Law and Grace. 

I consider Law our teacher from hell so to speak, and absolutely essential for our growth and development. The Law provides the entrance exam we need to pass in order to be in right relationship with God. Quickly from the Law we learn this important lesson.

So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we may be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. Galatians 3:24-25

Honestly, we need someone or something to jerk the slack out of our chains. Harbor delusions of grandeur about your goodness and the Law sets you straight. Here are the rules and regs. Break even one and you’re disqualified. Guess what? The bar is set so high we all fail the entrance exam. And that’s ok.

The Law’s done its job and taught us what we needed to know. In and of ourselves we miss the mark by more than a country mile. We all know how long they can be. Fortunately, we have a Savior who took the test for us and aced it. When we accept what He did on our behalf we enter the school of Grace.

Back in the 90’s the Christian group Jacob’s Trouble recorded a song, Church of Do As You Want To. The catchy tune’s chorus went:
“It’s at the church of do what you want to,
the church of do what you please.
The church of do what feels good baby,
and believe what you want to believe.
No absolutes, no wrong or right, just ambiguity.”
Though not the original intent of the song, this is a widely held misconception about life under grace. Grace doesn’t hand out licenses to sin, as if they're needed. Titus tells us that grace teaches us a new way of living. I had a pastor who used to say, “I can drink (or whatever, you fill in the blank) as much as I want to. I just don’t want to.” That’s the finished work of grace. We’re in a re-education process not a pixie-dust factory where “a little dab will do ya” and presto, instant transformation. There are those times when we experience an immediate radical change but more often we find ourselves back in school for a refresher course. Grace leads us to the place where we can do whatever we want to, we just don’t want to do it anymore. What a relief!
         The ability to “do all things though Christ, which strengthens me” Philippians 4:13 comes in steps. Grace empowers us to do what we normally wouldn’t or couldn’t do because our desires now are aligned with God’s. This portion of our education will last for the rest of our lives. Get out your paper and pencils boys and girls. School’s in session now!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Make a Statement...Churn Some Butter

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 1 Peter 3:15-16

It’s important to be able to deliver an intelligent response to questions about our beliefs, especially in a hostile environment. It’s easier to lash out in a similar fashion and not with gentleness and respect. No one enjoys being made of fool of or being verbally attacked. It feels good to stand up for our convictions. If we cross the line over into animosity and disrespect, we lose.

Verse fifteen contains an often overlooked key that is applicable to more than just sharing your faith. “Give an answer to everyone who asks (emphasis mine). Does this mean that unless queried we should remain silent? I don’t think so. There are times its appropriate to share our faith when not specifically asked to. Gentleness and respect go a long way to a help the listener hear what we say.

Not everyone who’ll challenge our faith does so with an open, truth-seeking heart. At times their attitudes can be accusatory and mocking. When this happens, here’s a tip to help you maintain a cool head under pressure, think of a butter churn.

Back in olden days housewives didn’t need Zumba dance, step aerobics or the AbDuctor. The butter churn provided a vigorous workout. Look for it to be the next new fad on late night TV shopping channels.  In order to make butter, milk was poured into a confined space and subjected to violent blows with a churn. The result-sweet butter was extracted from raw milk. When under pressure we can allow our circumstances to bring out the best we have to offer. Anyone, ourselves included, can shoot off their mouth and wind up looking like a fool. Our position may be correct, accurate and even good but our delivery destroys credibility and negates the message. We’re obnoxious. An opportunity is squandered because our attitude stunk.

It’s not what we say, but what others think they hear that matters. A gentle answer paves the way for our words to be heard and understood. There isn’t scripture to support the use of the Bible as a hammer (or electric nail gun) to drive home our point. It’s more effective to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) than to beat the opposition to a pulp. To do this in a hostile environment is like being milk in a butter churn. The supernatural grace of God empowers us to stay calm, cool and collected when under fire.

If you want to really make a statement about your beliefs, use gentleness and respect, two hallmarks of Jesus’ ministry. Whatever the situation, let your words and actions demonstrate His love. You may not win the argument, but you will ultimately win the lost.