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.

 

From Tent to Palace

I love to go backpacking. I love the whole process of packing my backpack, getting the dogs and food, hiking into the woods and setting the campsite up. I tend to go overkill and make a nice spot with hammock and a comfy tent (and I even bring 2 pillows because I’m like my comfort, even when camping). Yup, camping is sweet. But it’s not where I live, thank the Lord! For me, when I’m out in the wilderness, it’s a mixture between enjoyment and longing. I really enjoy being out there because it is so peaceful, fun and simple. But it’s also fun because it’s short term. If I had to live out in the forest, it wouldn’t really be much fun.

This is the illustration Paul uses in 2 Corinthians 5 when talking about this world and the next:

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

Our current “tent” (our physical bodies and this current form of creation) is brokenly beautiful. And utterly temporary. Yet we all spend the vast majority of our resources making our tent comfy, with extra pillows and hammocks. We spend our time, money, obsessions etc etc on that which simply cannot last. On the one hand we ought to enjoy and dance in this “tent” we’ve been gifted, while also not worshiping it and acting like it’s the end-all, be-all. We have a greater tent God is preparing in advance for us. A “realer” tent that will swallow up this tent. What we have here won’t just vanish, it will be ingested into the REAL creation when God re-creates this broken beauty (our bodies, forests, relationships, animals etc). One day the clock will stop ticking and LIFE will overwhelm, overcome and overtake the fallen world. We saw this in it’s initial phase on the cross when Jesus, who was/is LIFE in the flesh, allowed darkness and death to overcome him so that, when he rose again, his LIFE would reverse the curse of sin and bring hope to our otherwise futile world.

So on the one hand…enjoy! This “camping trip” we are on can be beautifully bitter sweet. But what makes it even more enjoyable is knowing that it is temporary. I can give my entire self away because before the blink of an eye, it will be transformed into something more “real” that will reveal our current world as a fleeting shadow that is being transformed into glory .

See C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce for an amazing little short story that illuminates this concept.

 

Advent 3: Joy – Nostalgic Anticipation

Luke 2:10-11 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

Peace on Earth? Joy to the World?

It’s easy (and natural) to be overwhelmed by life and all the craziness that swamps our time, heart and relationships. It’s  easy for fear to sneak up on us and joy to elude us. To be honest, even knowing what Peace and Joy even are is the real issue. We typically (even inadvertently) allow our current circumstances to determine the quantity and quality of peace and joy we have. But the truth behind the facade is that peace and joy are not circumstantial but relational; not in flux but permanently acquired on our behalf; not an emotion but a faith-perspective. Peace at it’s root means being whole and complete, the way we’ve been Designed (in Eden) and the way we are Destined (in Heaven) to one day be again. Joy at it’s root is the perspective to see this peace that Jesus has purchased on our behalf on the cross as he fully paid for God’s righteous anger, and to live it out regardless of the ebb and flow of circumstantial emotions that often dictate our perspectives. But this is so far beyond our abilities. We cannot just tighten our faith-belt and believe better. We need, like the shepherds in this passage, need to have heavenly voices sing over us and remind us of the True Gospel; that God himself came to heal all that is broken; bring life into all that is dead; to draw near all those who are far off. Jesus is God himself as a baby, come to be our Ultimate King to lead us back (even through stormy seas) to our Home of Peace. Joy is NOSTALGIC ANTICIPATION: the ability to live in the present while looking backwards with nostalgia at who we were in Eden and simultaneously looking forward with anticipation our Life to come (which C.S. Lewis calls an “insatiable longing”)…like when you see Christmas presents under the tree and think about what that was like when you were a kid as well as what it might be like this upcoming Christmas morning when everybody is together enjoying the celebration.

This is actually more natural for us than we think. Do you remember a time you unexpectedly were overwhelmed by a specific nostalgic scent? Maybe a perfume or a food that instantly brought you back to a glorious time in life? I was sitting downstairs this past week when Amy (my wife) was surprising me by making some toffee. The scent wound it’s way down the stairs and into my heart. I was immediately transported to a time when I was a kid in the grandmother’s kitchen during Christmas. It also transported me to the time when I would feast on the toffee currently being made. That is Joy! It wasn’t the scent itself as much as it was the nostalgia of what it meant to me and the anticipation of what it would soon be. That is the life Jesus has for us that is based on how we were originally designed and destined to one day fully be.

Advent 2 – Peacelessness


Peace, man.

The world would be such a better place, if only ____.
If that person would just _____, then things would be ok.
If ____ gets elected, the world would be a better place.
We all desperately search for and attempt to bring about “peace,” as defined by us individually. Some of your answers to the above little pop quiz might in fact make life and the world a better place, but that’s not the point. The reality is that there are endless opinions on those answers, and many of them are the opposite of yours (to which you say “well, if that person would just see things my way, then the world would be a better place”.) And the reason is that we all want peace, harmony and love. We are designed for that from the very beginning and spend our whole lives trying to make it back to Eden. But we do it by trying to rebuild Eden here, in this broken world among broken people. It is absolutely true that we are called to be agents of love and peace in this world, fighting for the oppressed and against darkness. But we do this not in an attempt to make heaven here and now but as an act of love spilling over from the just righteousness of our God who cares for His creation. And though we are called to be agents of peace, every worldly step forward will be temporary (though we are still called to do it).
And this is why Jesus came as the Immanuel, God With Us. He came to bring actual, perfect, eternal peace to all of creation firstly by bringing peace between us and God. Sin is our treasonous attempt to overthrow our King as we declare ourselves Lord of All. So Jesus came as a Child King from Nazareth so that, in his death, all the just-judgement that stems from our Peacelessness has been paid. How ironic that the sign that hung above Jesus’ head on the cross (“INRI”) said “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”…which mimics Luke’s account of Jesus birth:
Luke 1:26-27
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.
Jesus came full circle, from Heaven to Nazareth as the Ultimate King in the line of David to bring his people back home into perfect Eden-Shalom, into peace and rest, which motivates us and even empowers us to Live-Eden now.
Clearly this doesn’t mean that life in the here and now is easy and “feels” peaceful. Life can be really hard, but the Great War is OVER. Jesus has made a peace-treaty on our behalf. In this world we will have trouble, but Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33)!
Dig Deeper: The Bible Project is an excellent resource for young and seasoned people to engage and learn about Scripture and it’s application to real life. This link will take you to 4 Advent videos that unpack the Hebrew and/or Greek words for Peace, Hope, Joy and Love…the 4 Sundays of Advent.

Advent 1 – Eucatastrophe

I know this is awkward, and I hope you aren’t too squeamish, but this is my shoulder after my third surgery. I have the problem of being built with gymnast joints (flexible) but an obsession for competitive (and contact) sports. When you combine those two traits, the result is a myriad of bone dislocations. This scan shows the result of shoulder surgery #4 with some glorious screws holding my bones together. The thing with dislocations is that, when that bone is out of socket, you (pretty much) look normal from the outside, but the inner stuff is totally out of wack and causes horrific pain. After too many dislocation episodes I have now figured out how to get the bone back in, even if I am by myself (though that one was pretty tough, and the words that were uttered may have made some animals on the bike trail blush). But…once that bone goes in, I can’t begin to tell you the instant relief that courses through your body. It’s almost like your whole body gets put back into socket. And this is the Gospel. In our sin we are “out of socket” from the “image of God” in which we are made. We may look “normal” but we are disconnected and causing horrific pain. So Jesus became dislocated from the Father so that we could be “re-located” into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.

This idea came from a letter (#89) of J.R.R.Tolkei: “I coined the word ‘eucatastrophe’: the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce). And I was there led to the view that it produces its peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth, your whole nature chained in material cause and effect, the chain of death, feels a sudden relief as if a major limb out of joint had suddenly snapped back. It perceives – if the story has literary ‘truth’ on the second plane (….) – that this is indeed how things really do work in the Great World for which our nature is made. And I concluded by saying that the Resurrection (and BKL would also say about Advent) was the greatest ‘eucatastrophe’ possible in the greatest Fairy Story – and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love.”

ThanksReceiving

Before there can be Thanksgiving, there needs to be ThanksReceiving. But ThanksReceiving is actually harder than we think. To receive something is obviously a breeze. Hold out your hands and enjoy. But to truly give thanks, from the depths of your heart and not the syrupy plastic thanks, is an act of dependence and humility. It is putting the gift-giver in a place of honor and reverence, which by definition puts us “below” and somehow “in need”, which is about the last place we all want to be. It’s too vulnerable. Too childlike. Too helpless.

But this place of dependence is one of the cornerstones of the Gospel. As long as we believe that we aren’t in shocking and paralyzing need of Jesus and his Grace, we don’t really get the unfathomable extent of Jesus’ love and gift to us. We believe that, at least to some extent, we don’t really need THAT much grace and forgiveness; we need God’s gift of forgiveness, redemption and life, but not as much as _______. (see Jesus parable in Luke 18 about a Pharisee that thanks God he isn’t like these other people.)

In truth, the Gospel is so much better than we think. The gift is so so much bigger and more valuable than we realize. And as we realize this truth, we are drawn deeper and deeper into honest, worshipful passionate thanks-giving. But Thanksgiving only comes after ThanksReceiving as we hold our needy hands open to the Gift God has given.

2 Corinthians 4:15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.