Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The anatomy of a changed life

In the end, it was not the dangers and sinful self-destruction
that brought about the change,
nor was it a visionary moment of super-powered reversal.

It was forgiveness.

Forgiveness preached, forgiveness confessed,
forgiveness sung, and forgiveness bestowed

over all my tears and failed attempts

[which] propelled me one day to wake
with my self-destructive habit far enough behind me
that it hasn't entrapped me again.

But I make no mistake: my sin is not gone,
nor will it be this side of the Last Day.
Nor do I believe for a moment that I came closer to God
by segregating myself from one addictive corner of this world.

It was because God had already come close to me,
just as I am,
that He was able to bring His success
in doing the one thing we in the world need most --

we need to be killed.
He killed me,
and He raised me in the person of His Son.
Right now. Already. By faith alone.

--Jonathan Fisk
"Broken - Seven "Christian" Rules That Every Christian Ought to Break as Often as Possible"
(formatting mine)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The cross is not a ... "good idea"

 Audio (3 min)

Your human agendas no longer hold water when it comes to what is finally important, and that's why [Paul] said in the same breath, "far be it from me if I preach anything but the cross."

The big mistake that the church has struggled with for twenty centuries when it comes to the crucifixion of Jesus, is thinking that the cross simply means something.  (We have to figure out what it means.) ... It wouldn't be wrong to say God loves us, but that's not what the cross is about.  The new testament tells us that the cross brings to an end ... human prospect.

The reason Jesus had to die is because we have to die.  And it was not in the meaning of the dying that we were to see what is happening, it was in the dying itself.  There is no way out.  The patient must die.  The great power of the cross is not that it's a message about how loving God is, although that's true!  It isn't even a great message about how giving Jesus was, although that's true as well!  The great power of the cross is that it shows you your future, no matter what you do in this life, no matter how high you climb, how much you amass, how beautiful you are, how big your bank account is:  The cross says, "this is your future".  Make no mistake about it.

You see, and that is why for centuries the gospel was actually good news.  Because you don't start from the standpoint [which says], "You know I have all of these little penultimate realities and I have to somehow prop them up... maybe God can help me do it."  It starts from the standpoint [which says], "I don't have any leg to stand on ... now what?"  And then God steps in and says, "Jesus ... that's now what."  The one who died and suffered as you must ... is the one who God raised from the dead.  And there is the promise that the christian faith has held out for all these years.

Of course nowadays ... we're spinning it other ways, aren't we.   Because the cross as a "good idea", as a nice symbol of what God means, is a lot more palatable to our generosity and our reason and our own projects.  That fits in a lot better with the way we go about doing things.  And so God in His grace saw fit not to set before us an example, but in His grace saw fit to die.  So that there would be no illusions left for us to hide behind and to play around with for these few short decades we dance here on this earth.

-- Pastor Mark Anderson

Listen to the entire sermon in context:
Audio (19:30 min)

Thursday, July 4, 2013

What's so sufficient about Grace?

On Sunday I heard a sermon.  The topic was "The Real Gospel: It's Grace".  A summary statement printed in the bulletin went like this:

"What separates the real gospel from all other messages is grace which alone puts sinful man eternally right with a holy God."

In the actual sermon, the sufficiency of God's grace to believers was a topic that came up, and I'd like to use the words I heard on this topic as a starting point to try to touch upon the subtle wonders of the Good News.  Here is part of what I heard from the sermon to describe the sufficiency of God's grace for believers:

"It's all of grace... It's grace for unbelievers and it's grace for believers ... God's ongoing power through His indwelling spirit to say 'no' to sin, and to say 'yes' to righteousness - over, and over, and over again.

And to hear Him say, "my grace is sufficient for you" to be able to do that.  My grace is sufficient for you to say 'no' to sin, and to say 'yes' to righteousness.  I have given you my spirit.  He has circumcised your heart.  You are no longer under the tyranny of sin.  If the Son has set you free, you are free indeed - to say 'no' to sin by His amazing grace, His all-sufficient grace.  And to say 'yes' to righteousness."

My purpose in writing this post is not to tear down these words in any way.  I say let them stand.  Let them stand as a window that lets in precious light for believers to walk by.  And I say 'Amen' to that light.  But a window that lets in light is not always the same as a window that lets in fresh air.  And while it is light that I need to direct my path, it's fresh air that sustains me for my walk.

And so like a breath of fresh air, there is another kind of "sufficiency" to God's grace on behalf of believers that I would like to touch upon.  Perhaps a more "subtle wonder" if you will.  But first, let's look at these words from Paul in 2nd Corinthians:

"So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, to keep me from becoming conceited.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me."
(2 Cor. 12, 7-9)

Herein lies a subtle wonder.  What did Paul ask for?  He asked for power to render a thorn removed.  He wanted that which he could not say 'no' to ... dealt with.  What God provided, however, was an empowering breath of fresh air, and a sufficiency that comes not from a power sent, but by a promise given.  As in, "My grace is sufficient for you", and "It is finished" and "Your sins are forgiven for Jesus' sake". Period.

There is a kind of sufficiency to God's grace that does not depend upon a pathway for power to run into our daily lives.  This other kind of sufficiency lies in a reality completely external to you and me, concerning what God has done, outside of us.  We call this, The Good News.  We call this The Gospel.  And believing it is far more important than utilizing it.  Jesus is not just a sufficient means.  He is the sufficient end.  I was crucified with Him and it is no longer I who live.  It's not about me.

And as we walk in the light of sound doctrine, let us breathe in the new, the resurrected, the always fresh life giving reality that sin is not "dealt with" because I say 'no' to it over, and over, and over again.  Sin is dealt with because it was nailed to a cross in the body of Jesus.  And that's where true freedom in me is born. The Son has set me free, and so I am free indeed.  Does there reside in me "a freedom to" walk by the light that is given in His word?  Yes!  But there is "a freedom from" my sin that was accomplished long ago, and to which I contributed nothing, and continue to contribute nothing, and never will contribute anything, but my sin.  It's not about me.

So what were Paul's very next words in 2nd Corinthians? After receiving the promise of a sufficiency embodied, not in a means, but in an end:

"For the sake of Christ, then, I am ... content..."

Finally then, let us end where we began. "What separates the real gospel from all other messages?"  "A grace which alone [and all-sufficient] puts sinful man eternally right with a holy God."  Not by a sufficiency of power in me, but by a sufficiency of  promise in Him, concerning which God says, "it is finished".