Joy…Even in these Chains

even_in_these_chainsEven though he faced harsh circumstances, hurtful people, and the ever looming shadow of death, the apostle Paul found joy in all these occasions. His joy rested firmly on his view of God and not on a horizontal plain. His chains may seem incredibly restrictive but in reality they served to advance the gospel and encourage fellow believers.

“Now I want you to know brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.” (Philippians 1:12-14)

We too may find ourselves opposed… and even in chains. Certainly not our choice, but God’s. And, He is always up to something amazing! So, we can confidently say with Paul, “I will rejoice” (Philippians 1:18).

Christian Work Now Evading Christ?

“Christian work may be a means of evading the soul’s concentration on Jesus Christ.” – Oswald Chambers. He expands this thought:

“Goodness and purity ought never to attract attention to themselves, they ought simply to be magnets to draw to Jesus Christ. If my holiness is not drawing towards Him, it is not holiness of the right order, but an influence that will awaken inordinate affection and lead souls away into side-eddies. A beautiful saint may be a hindrance if he does not present Jesus Christ but only what Christ has done for him. He will leave the impression – ‘What a fine character that man is!’ That is not being a true friend of the Bridegroom; I am increasing all the time, He is not.”

“In order to maintain this friendship and loyalty to the Bridegroom, we have to be more careful of our moral and vital relationship to him than of any other thing, even of obedience. Sometimes there is nothing to obey, the only thing to do is to maintain vital connection with Jesus Christ, to see that nothing interferes with that. Only occasionally do we have to obey. When a crisis arises we have to find out what God’s will is, but the greater part of the life is not conscious obedience but the maintenance of this relationship – the friend of the Bridegroom. Christian work may be a means of evading the soul’s concentration on Jesus Christ. Instead of being friends of the Bridegroom, we may become amateur providences, and may work against Him whilst we use His weapons.”

From My Upmost for His Highest, March 25. Oswald Chambers.

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Growing Together

Just this past week Diane and I recorded a brief video where we look back at how we have been continually challenged to keep growing and digging into the Word. This has been challenged and fueled as we have attempted to disciple our own children and now an entire college student body. There has never been a time that we have more fully realized that we ourselves are still in the process of being conformed to the image of His Son. I guess that reinforces the idea that the best teaching comes from the overflow of what God is doing in your life.

Free to Live

Institutional rules, regulations, guidelines, and policies can serve a purpose. We all have them as a functioning part of life—whether home, church, or institution. Rules have the ability to protect, structure, and control behavior but they cannot produce spiritual life, real growth, or lasting fruit. Authentic Christianity can only be realized through Christ, by means of His Spirit and His Word, as faith is exercised. There is nothing to add. If you do, you have another gospel. Having rules and standards does not make a person a legalist,  but making rule keeping as a means or a measure of spirituality does. That is the point.

There is another danger that should be discussed. Some, in their fear of driving into a legalistic ditch, can easily swerve off course and into another ditch. It is called license. Satan is out to destroy our lives and if one thing won’t work, he’ll attempt another. We can be snared and enslaved by legalism or license. Both of these are attractive to our sinful flesh and we are so easily seduced.

We, however, are called to live free! Paul says in Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Some Galatian believers, who had been saved by grace through faith, were now turning back to their “works of the law” as a means of growth (Galatians 3:1-6), and others Paul had to warn about a return to the “acts of the flesh”(Galatians 5:19-21). When we say that these problems are in all of our churches it is because these tendencies are in all of our hearts! Only by keeping our eyes fixed on Christ can we stay true to a life radically centered in Christ and avoid the ditches.

So, what does “living free” look like?

  1. “Living free” does NOT look like this: “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).
  2. “Living free” DOES look like this: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22, 23a).

That is what it looks like. It is the “means” that I am most concerned about. It is possible to end up in “self righteous legalism” or “self indulgent license” and both are results of giving into the flesh and not living by the means of the Spirit. Neither will ever lead to a life that pleases God. Pleasing God can only be accomplished through Christ, by means of His Spirit and His Word, as faith is exercised.

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13). Few times in history has there been a greater need or opportunity for a new generation to rise up and “live free.”

Recommended reading: Tim Keller’s book Prodigal God. It is simply outstanding!

I would love to connect with you! If you have any questions or would like to connect please use the contact page.

The Attraction to Legalism

Why is legalism so attractive? It is attractive because it feeds the sinful flesh. It may not feed the flesh in the same way that sexual perversions, alcohol, drugs, and promiscuity do, but it does feed the flesh. And, I will argue that it does so in a more dangerous way, because it deceives a person into thinking he is doing the right thing while in fact he is destroying his life and the lives of those around him. Legalism feeds our fleshly bent toward self-righteousness.

The problem is that we can’t see it. We see it in others but not in ourselves. Who has ever said, “I am legalistic” or “I am a Pharisee”? No one. But we sure are good at pointing out people who are—proving the point that self-righteousness is like bad breath (everyone notices it but you).

Legalism preys on orthodox, well-meaning, passionate, committed, fired-up young people who want to live for God with all their hearts. They get attracted to legalism because:

  1. It is something they can do. Quick and easy.
  2. It is an image they can adopt and manage. It is a “look” they can quickly establish.
  3. It allows them to write more rules that protect from sin and make them even “better Christians.”
  4. It provides a checklist that helps them feel good about themselves when they check it off.
  5. It provides a checklist for them to measure how other people are doing.
  6. It brings clarity with new rules that show how to separate from others when they are “disobedient.”

I have heard the argument, “I am not a legalist, because I believe that salvation is by grace through faith and not of works.” Wrong. Legalism is more than just a false doctrine of justification; it is also false doctrine of sanctification. Paul made this very clear in Galatians. They had begun “by means of the Spirit” and were now attempting to live their lives “by means of the flesh.” It is possible to be an orthodox Christian and still be a legalist. The same error that plagued the Jews, and early church, is alive today—in all of our churches.

Paul said in Galatians 3:1-5;

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing—if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?

What makes our own legalism hard to see is that on the surface we can be doing a lot of things right. Remember that the Pharisees were also highly regarded in their day. They were very committed to orthodoxy, teaching, fellowship, evangelism, tithing, charitable deeds, separation from the world, etc. But underneath they were motivated by the law and not by grace. That is all the difference. Keeping the law cannot please God, but “believing” does. Only grace can produce real fruit. Everything else is plastic.

How do I know this? I have seen it it in my own life! Sadly, as a young man, I was attracted by legalism because it played into my zeal for God and my desire to be used of Him. I didn’t see it until I started teaching new believers about the Christian life. Being in the business of training young people has forced me to dig deep and to be honest with what Jesus is saying in the Gospels. I began to see that many of my rules, regulations, and guidelines could not be supported by Scripture and that was why new believer’s weren’t “getting it.” However, the things that were there and the things that really mattered they did get! Then I began to see with real clarity that only grace through faith produces what is holy.

Have you considered that what you have been doing just might be self worship coming through the back door? You just didn’t see it? It does happen to good orthodox, and well-intended people. I think the seeds of it are in all of our hearts.

For further reading on this subject I would like to recommend a book that has really helped open my eyes to my own condition: Extreme Righteousness: Seeing Ourselves in the Pharisees by Tom Hovestol. It is out of print right now, however, there are used copies available through many used book stores.

I would love to connect with you! If you have any questions or would like to connect please use the contact page.

People and Pain

This past week I had the opportunity to speak at a family camp in Forest Glen, Nova Scotia, Canada. While I really do enjoy ministering the Word of God through preaching I probably feel I make a greater contribution afterward in the “one on one” settings with people. It gets personal. We go deeper. People open up and tell their stories. And almost without exception their story is filled with pain, struggle, and the working of the grace of God.

As I think back on my own life, I cannot remember a time that I enjoyed any measure of growth without a significant amount of accompanying pain. It seems that pain is what really gets my attention. I think it is true for all of us. Pain sends us on a search for answers. Our first response is to escape. If that doesn’t work we try to “suck it up” and “endure to the end.” When it comes to be more than we can bear we are broken enough to take the first step in real spiritual growth. The only place things get resolved are in Christ and His super-abounding grace.

Honestly, I wish there was another way. It’s hard to hear stories that are told through tears. And yet this is the way that God has chosen to grow us and to communicate His grace to the world. You can hear it in Paul’s voice when he says, “… I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.” (2 Corinthians 12:7b, 8) I love Paul’s writings because so often I find myself right in the same place – then he helps me work through it. He doesn’t leave me hanging. “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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in pesecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10)

I do hate pain. But it has become the stimulus that drives me to Christ and His grace and it is what sets the stage for Him to write “another story” that tells the world about HImself. So, I thank Him for the pain. And, I lift my eyes in hope.