Lead me not into…

Are you more tempted by:

Amazing dessert or awesome pizza?

Fame or Money?

James 1:14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.

Temptation, which is actually the same Greek word as Trial from earlier in James, is a fruit of our heart’s passions. Every one of us have a God-given need (not want) for fulfillment, value, wholeness, completeness, satisfaction. Temptation comes when our hearts weight the different potential sources to achieve our deepest desire for satisfaction.

  • Cheating tells us that we can succeed through dishonesty.
  • Greed tells us that we can solve our problems by buying our way out.
  • Sexual looseness tells us that physical pleasure equates true satisfaction.

    These lies are infinite, and they all are built upon lies, that we saw in the garden:

Genesis 3:1-6
(The serpent) said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?…You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate…

The lies are:

  1. God cannot be trusted
  2. True satisfaction can be found elsewhere
  3. You are on your own

But our hearts are horrible liars. The truth is that we are MADE to be satisfied and our efforts to find satisfaction in anything but Jesus is the equivalent of drinking salt water…it may feel satisfying for a second, but it only leaves us thirstier for the real thing, which is freely and fully offered by the Grace of God. When Jesus proclaimed his “thirst” on the cross he was simultaneously revealing that He Himself is the Living Water that is a wellspring of eternal life, pouring into and through us.

Spiritual Dysmorphia

None of us have an accurate view of who we are spiritually. Many of us are enamored with our greatness as we  show off our shelves full of participation trophies. Others of us sit in the dark and musty room of misery, overtaken by what a wretch we are. Reality reveals that most of us swing on the wrecking ball that bounces between both extremes, each one only holding onto half of the Gospel.

In James’ letter to the infant persecuted churches we are told:

1:23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

We all “look at ourselves” through a myriad of mirrors in our lives – friends, faith, social media – perpetually deciding what we think we “look like” based on them. And, here’s the kicker, we will behave based upon what who we’ve decided we are and what we’ve decided we “look like.”

James invites us away from the house of mirrors and to the True Mirror of the Gospel. He invites us to stare deeply (his word for “look” involves a deep almost archaeological inspection) into The Word, The Law. He is not saying to go back to the Old Testament and see all the rules we’ve failed to live up to. He’s telling us to look at the Perfect Law that his half-brother Jesus perfected…perfected by telling us it’s all about Love; perfected in how he completed it perfectly in his life and imputed his record into our souls. We are being invited to see he we absolutely fall 100% short of the perfect law, causing us to fall 100% onto his mercy. AND THEN to see the Liberation of this Law because we have been transformed and reborn back into His Image, set free to love because we have been and are forever loved.

This recounts the glorious phase from Jack Miller:

  • We are More Sinful than we Dare Face;
  • And More Loved than we Dare Hope.

 

The Heart…

The Heart. What a conundrum. We have really gone weird with this word. Everybody has their classic two-handed heart sign on their social media (am I the only one super tired of this thing?) and a heart emoji signifying some shallow degree of “love” which is more akin to “that’s kinda cool.”

But biblically speaking The Heart is the core of our whole person; the root of our intellect, emotions, behavior and faith; our personal operating system made in the image of God and broken in the image of man, filled with more malware than we could ever detect, much less remove. This is why scripture constantly comes back to The Heart about 1000 times (literally).

God’s people are “after his own heart”, yet it is also “deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9-). Our hearts are the roots of our being, producing every other fruit. So to learn about your heart, look at what it is producing. Look at your roller coaster emotions, and divided intellect. Look at your actions, where you give selflessly while simultaneously speaking murderous gossip. Look at your faith that is a strong cornerstone, until the storm hits and you ask “Where are you God?”

You see, we perpetually get blinded by the fruit. We try to adjust our behavior; work at our emotional connection with Jesus; study more so we can be better theologians; pray harder so that our faith will be built. All of these are excellent, but they are fruit. Doing these things will certainly go backwards and grow the heart, but, taken by themselves, they are whitewashing tombs. Isaiah reminded us 29:13) And the Lord said: “…this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men…” We can easly fall into the religion of fruit-management rather than the Gospel of Heart-Transformation. But this Transformation is exactly the point and promise, and will end up leading to Spirit-Fruit. This Transformation is what Jesus purchased for us on the cross. Remember our heart-state before Christ: (Proverbs 19:3) “When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the LORD.” The hope and healing found in the Gospel is that God decided to not rage back against us as we raged toward him but instead focused his rage onto Jesus on the cross so that Ezekiel 36:26 could become true: “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”

So today, where is your heart? Ask the Holy Spirit to remind you of Who and Whose you are. Ask the Father to reveal how valued and accepted you are because of His Son. Tell Jesus thank you for exchanging his heart of flesh with our heart of stone so that now we can have the adoption as children of God.

Gospel Financial Advisor

I just heard a story about a pastor in a very poor part of Africa that was asked about the biggest issue plaguing his village. He shockingly and simply said “materialism.” Not hunger, mortality rates, sexual sins, theft. Materialism. He said that a guy in the village got a cow, not all the other men were coveting the cow and trying to figure out how to get their own cow.

This issue of money and possessions has been (and always will be) a universal disease. In the very beginning God gave all of creation to mankind, for our benefit and his glory….with the one boundary of “the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:17). But Adam and Eve were persuaded that they could (and should) use God’s gift for their own glory…exactly how we treat money and possessions.

The Book of Proverbs is saturated with financial wisdom, like these two:

13:11 Wealth gained hastily will dwindle,
but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.

23:4 Do not toil to acquire wealth;
be discerning enough to desist.

Solomon, the world’s wealthiest man, is being a Gospel Financial Advisor, trying to keep us from the traps that encircle him while leading us to a place of freedom where we are not slaves to wealth, whether it’s never having enough or obsessed with keeping what we have. The real issue under the issue is idolatry: we want money to give us what can only be received from God. We want value, security, acceptance and security, and it truly feels like money will give us those things. And, in a shallow and short-lived way, it does. Money can get us to a place where we can “buy our way out” of most any problem. We can buy enough things to make us comfortable and happy. We can convince ourselves that we are better than others that have less. But this is as fleeting as being popular in high school. It works for us, for a minute. Until it doesn’t.

The heart of what we are truly looking for can be found in Proverbs 22:

22:1- 2
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
and favor is better than silver or gold.
2 The rich and the poor meet together;
the LORD is the maker of them all.

We want a GOOD NAME, but that can only be truly given by Jesus who was essentially disowned by the Father on the Cross so that we could be adopted into his royal family, given His Name forever. The “favor” of man is always conditional, while the FAVOR of God is permanent, based upon Jesus and what he’s already accomplished.

But, honestly, the problem is that we don’t really have a proper filter. Our definition of “need” is horribly skewed, our view of the purpose of money is misplaced and our view of God’s goodness and generosity is anemic. We think we “need” the comforts of life that our neighbors have. We think that we “deserve” all that we have and it’s ours. We think that we need to acquire and acquire because God is likely to let us down and leave us in the ditch. So in light of this, we need to keep coming back to the outrageous trustworthy generosity of the King. Jesus, at great cost, gave up heaven and his Royal Riches in order to share his inheritance with us. He has proven over and over that he immeasurably loves us and desires to give us all good things, even though sometimes his (correct) definition of “good” is different than ours. And so we have to keep coming back to Jesus , asking him to loosen our tight clamp on this world as he has tightens his grasp on us. And as this slowly happens, we can start to live open-handed generous lives as God graciously invites us to join him as he blesses others with and through the finances that he has loaned us in this life.

Living Wisdom

Every moment of every day we look for, find and answer this question: “What do I do with my resources?”

  • What do I do with my time today?
  • How do I spend or save my money?
  • How do I use my talents?
  • How do I utilize my stuff?

To be honest, we almost always answer this with sheer instinct, or with what we are “supposed to do.”

  • We hit the snooze button because we determined that the best use of the next 7 minutes, which we will never get back, is to get a tad more sleep.
  • A cup of coffee for $2.50 is better than saving that money or giving it to the guy on the corner.
  • Using 24 specific words to comfort a co-worker is better than using 46 words online to prove that somebody is wrong.Wisdom, as we will see in the Book of Proverbs, is the real-life working out of Truth. The real question is…which Truth? When our “truth” is that I need to build and keep my value, then it will be worked out in a “me first” avenue. When Truth is that Jesus has wooed me and given me infinite love and value, then it will be worked out in a “God first” and “others first” avenue.

In life we constantly ask “what should I do” in an infinite number of situations (parenting, job, pain, success, church etc). The first question should actually be “what do I believe?” because  it’s out of our belief that we will make decisions.

In the midst of that, there are still countless situations, circumstances and questions that simply don’t have simple and clear answers. It is in these real-life scenarios where we have freedom and are empowered with the very Spirit of God inside of us to speak, guide and even carry us moment by moment. So the real question under “what should I do” is “what do I believe?”, and the real question under that is “can I trust God?” Can I trust that God is for me and has the power to make all things work for the good of those who know him and are called by him? The answer to that is simply found here:

Romans 8-32
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

Breakin the Law

Are you a rule-breaker or rule-follower? Where do you fit on a scale from 1 (totally breaker) – 10 (total follower)? What you think of somebody who is the opposite of you?

If you were the Supreme Commander, what law (that doesn’t currently exist) would you create? What curret law would you immediately do away with.

We all have a dysfunctional relationship with rules. We love the ones that we agree with (and find rather easy to follow) while detest the ones we disagree with (and don’t want to follow). And when we find ourselves breaking these rules (legal, relational, spiritual, HOA etc) we tend to give ourselves a pass, convincing ourselves and others that 1) we had a valid reason for breaking the rule, 2) that this breakage doesn’t make me a bad person, yet 3) if you break rules, you reason isn’t valid and 4) your breakage in fact makes you a “bad person”.

C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity actually uses this natural, univeral, ingrained sense of “right and wrong” as proof that there must be a higher power that has created and rules the universe with moral laws just as surely as he has created and rules with physical laws (gravity etc). With extremely few and typically superficial variations the world has generally agreed on what is right and what is wrong. Lewis would go on to say that no civilization has EVER celebrated a person that breaks promises and even become a traiter. That’s because the perfect and pure God (that we now know is Jesus) has created us in his image to live perfectly and purely. And every last one of knows with great clarity that there are universal rules, and that we all break them repeatedly. We also all demand justice. Real Justice. But we don’t see our justice-scales as being “that” tipped while adamantly insisting that the overtly tipped scales of “those” people (insert what you see as a really ugly sin here, like sexual and physical abuse). We are partially right. “Their” scales MUST be leveled. But, so do ours. Just as much! You better read that again. JUST AS MUCH. What if the scale-maker truly is “perfect and pure” and we are not compared to one another but to Him? Would we still want pure justice? Maybe not, but we certainly NEED it, or else there would be no hope and all would be lost. Then we will either have to pay justice penalty ourselves, or be humbled as Another pays that payment on our behalf. That’s why Jesus’ perfect and pure life ending with his Ultimate death on the Cross is so so much bigger than we can possibly realize. Jesus had to level the scales for every believer. And with his leveling our standing before God, we have been freed not just from the just penalty, but from the burden of the Law that we somehow try to use to achieve wholeness.

This is where Paul was going in Galatians 3:23-25 ”Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian…” This Law reveals the character of God (because they describe what perfection and love look like), reveal how far from perfection and purity that we are, how much Jesus paid to make us perfect and pure, and what it looks like to live out of our new re-created and imputed identity.

Read THIS if you’d like to see what has become known as the “Three Uses of the Law”. I think it’s very helpful, freeing and encouraging to know what God’s Law is actually designed for so that maybe, just for a minute, I’ll stop misusing it to do something that it wasn’t designed for and cannot do (i.e. create my own personal righteousness).

Gospel Amnesia

Are you forgetful? How often do you forget where you keys are? What that guy’s name is? Where you parked? The answer to that test question (that you just read in  your book)? What that smell reminds you of?

 

Us people have memory problems. Even if you have a pretty solid memory for the logistic things in life, when it comes to deep heart-memories, we have spiritual amnesia.

Going through the book of Galatians we see Paul reminding us over and over and over about the heart of the Gospel: Jesus Plus Nothing. And the leaders of the church, the ones that actually spent years and years with Jesus himself, fully agreeing, and then forgetting. Look at Galatians 2:11-14

But when Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Let’s be honest. Peter and Barnabas are far smarter and spiritually knowledgeable than we will ever be. Yet they forgot. They KNEW the Gospel, but were deeply influenced by what others thought and acted out of step with the Gospel that they knew.

When and How do you forget the Gospel of Jesus?

1) When you are tempted to pursue your own satisfaction in a relationship rather than realize you are fulfilled in Jesus?

2) When you refuse to forgive yourself for a sin for which Jesus has fully paid?

3) When you drop names and your spiritual resume so others will think more highly of you rather than leaning on Jesus’ resume.

4) When you envision God’s looking at you with a scowling or at least disappointed face instead of believing that he looks on you as His adopted, beloved, valuable child?

 

Paul is inviting us to live “in step” with the freeing Gospel of Jesus rather than “in step” with hopeless self-performance. But first we have to continually know and re-know the hope of Jesus, because it is really easy to forget.

Us/Them

Galatians 2:3
But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.

We are an insider/outsider people, having hearts filled with various “us” and “them” filters ranging from gender, school allegiance, education, race, political affiliation, social class and, of course, spirituality. Us church-folk can be brutal in this. We have learned all the loving and unifying Bible words to use, but in our hearts we crucify those who disagree, relegating different Christ-followers to either second-class spirituality, or, even worse, to hell itself. When we do this (and we are usually sly enough to only do it in our hearts, not in our words or overt actions), we are might be mistaking fruit for root. We list different behaviors (many of which God has clearly commanded while others are more cultural distinctives that we’ve elevated to universal truths) as mandatory for a person to be adopted into God’s family, rather than realizing that the only requirement for being adopted is to believe that our only hope is in Jesus alone, the very Son of God, has come to live, die, raise and ascend so that our treacherous sins can be forgiven and Jesus’ life can be our own. Full Stop. Plus nothing. But we get the ingredients inverted, making the fruit that God’s love produces in us the requirement of God’s love.

In this passage Paul has gone to Jerusalem to meet with the church leaders so they can be of one mind regarding the Gospel because there were “spies” who had infiltrated the church, saying that salvation comes from Jesus, but you have to become a Jew first in order to then be a Christian and be acceptable to God. In their church meeting (everybody’s favorite thing) the leaders unanimously agreed that God’s love and gift are offered without string (5b “the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you”). This is because they realized the ultimate and true “us vs. them” is not horizontal between us, but between all of humanity and God. In our rebellion we’ve rejected the One True King, pitting us against him. But God didn’t treat us the way we treat others, Thank God!

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners (the ultimate outsiders), Christ died for us.”
Romans 5:8

God shattered the barrier that we created which justly divided us from Him in the person of Jesus so that membership in The Family is secured by Him, not by us, making the Family of God wildly and ridiculously diverse. Firmly keeping to the Essentials of Jesus as our Foundation and Cornerstone, we can now live and move through disagreements, diversity and freedom. We can sing differently, pray differently, baptize differently, eat differently, vote differently, play differently etc etc. This by no means waters down our firm belief and conviction in Jesus, neither does it water down our beliefs about the other aforementioned points of theology. Rather it draws us into more dependence and trust in Jesus, who is the author of our faith. Not only do Christians not have to be all alike, we SHOULDN’T be all alike. We need to listen to the Spirit of Christ personally, but also corporately (which is what Paul was doing when he went to Jerusalem). We need a miraculous spirit of humility and discernment to live out this motto:

In Essentials, Unity
In Non-Essentials, Liberty
In All Things, Charity

 

Yes, this is super messy, and scary. It forces us to deeply ask “What is essential?” Here’s a hint, not everything you believe is essential, even things you are extremely confident about.

Let’s finish with this story. In John 9 a blind man was healed by Jesus, which infuriated the Religious Elite because Jesus wasn’t following what they thought were essentials (they were wrong). When they asked the blind man for a testimony against Jesus, all he said was the Gospel:  “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

  • What “us vs. them” dominates your average day?
  • Who is inside and who is out?
  • What things do you treat as “essential” that might not be?
  • What “cultural distinctives” do you treat as “theological imperatives”?

Enter your value here ____.

If you were an app, what would your rating be?

We are all value-seekers in desperate need of being affirmed and approved. Every one of us. It is super obvious in some of us, while others camouflage it by acting very confident, even arrogant. But it still just as true. I know this because not only is it true for me too, but full-approval and inner-peace is in our original  human architecture. God made us to be with Him and each other will full confidence and transparency. But we wanted more, and wanted to somehow make it “better,” which introduced a vicious and fatal virus to our operating system, sending us spinning out of control as we perpetually try to get our personal rating higher and higher (or at least higher than others around us) because “my value is determined by what I think you think about me.” What a mess we are in.

Paul in Galatians 1:10 was being accused of living this out when it comes to his preaching of the Gospel, as the religious people were telling other that he was only preaching Gospel Freedom so that he’ll be liked by the crazy Gentile sinners:

10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

But what Paul knows and is trying to convey is that, unlike every other religion that has ever existed, our performance does NOT lead to our value. God’s view of you is determined NOT by your actions, but by Jesus’! He has taken his people as his bride and has adorned us with his wedding dress of perfect righteousness. Get this: If you’ve accepted Jesus’ gift of value in exchange for your insecure self-centered-value-seeking, which was made perfect and permanent on the cross, God is not mad at you!

Even more, God is not even DISAPPOINTED in you!

He looks at all his adopted children and his dress-adorned bride with joy because he has given us the value of his own Son. Despite my behavior, he tells me “well done, Good and Faithful Servant.”

And now I am invited to live out of my new value; my new identity. I am invited to put down the scoring app, both the one I use to score others and the one that I am trying to increase my score. I am invited to believe that I am a beloved child of God and that he dances over me with singing (Zephaniah 3:17).

To help with living this out, I invite you to think about where you fit on these continuums:

I’ve Got Good News

Galatians 1:6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel

“Gospel” — this word is unbelievably over-used…and under-used. This word “Gospel” is derived from the Greek word “euangelion”, which simply is the word “good” plus the word “message” (or “news”). It is the proclamation of a glorious truth. We’ve often turn this word into an invitation or a point of advice, or into a secret handshake that makes us feel elite because WE are the REAL gospel people. But the reality is that The Gospel is  not primarily a fact, theology, philosophy or even way of life. The Gospel is a person. Jesus is The Gospel made flesh. He IS the good news that has come to us in the hurricane of our deepest need to give himself in our place so that we can be brought to life from now and forevermore (verses 1-5 pretty much explains the entire core of what The Gospel is).

But even saying this, we can see the Gospel as the baby-food of Christianity. But in fact The Gospel is for the believer and the non-believer. The Gospel is the beginning and the end; the way in, the way through and the final conclusion. We never for one moment outgrow the gospel and into deeper points of theology and truth. We don’t believe the Gospel to become a Christian and then turn to all the minutia of theology to grow. The Gospel is the Truth of our need and Jesus sacrificial gift, and it is what permeates every atom of our specific personal lives. This gospel freedom, which tells me that my identity is secured because of Jesus’ actions rather than mine, speaks hope when I’m insecure; when I fail and when I succeed; when I make my year-end goals; when I am criticized or flattered; when I am betrayed and when I betray somebody else.