Archive for January 9, 2012
Here is a great, challenging quote from Martyn Lloyd-Jones. It is drawn from his Studies in the Sermon on the Mount and it does away with that false notion that the heights of Christian experience are reserved for the few and exceptional Christians who take on Christian work as their vocation.
Read the Beatitudes, and there you have a description of what every Christian is meant to be. It is not merely the description of some exceptional Christians.
I pause with that for just a moment, and emphasize it, because I think we must all agree that the fatal tendency introduced by the Roman Catholic Church, and indeed by every branch of the Church that likes to use the term ‘Catholic,’ is the fatal tendency to divide Christians into two groups—the religious and the laity, exceptional Christians and ordinary Christians, the one who makes a vocation of the Christian life and the man who is engaged in secular affairs.
That tendency is not only utterly and completely unscriptural; it is destructive ultimately of true piety, and is in many ways a negation of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no such distinction in the Bible. There are distinctions in offices—apostles, prophets, teachers, pastors, evangelists, and so on. But these Beatitudes are not a description of offices; they are a description of character. And from the standpoint of character, and of what we are meant to be, there is no difference between one Christian and another.
Let me put it like this. It is the Roman Catholic Church that canonizes certain people, not the New Testament. Read the introduction to almost any New Testament Epistle and you will find all believers addressed as in the Epistle to the Church at Corinth, ‘called to be saints.’ All are ‘canonized,’ if you want to use the term, not some Christians only. The idea that this height of the Christian life is meant only for a chosen few, and that the rest of us are meant to live on the dull plains, is an entire denial of the Sermon on the Mount, and of the Beatitudes in particular.
We are all meant to exemplify everything that is contained here in these Beatitudes. Therefore let us once and for ever get rid of that false notion. This is not merely a description of the Hudson Taylors or George Mullers or the Whitefields or Wesleys of this world; it is a description of every Christian. We are all of us meant to conform to its pattern and to rise to its standard.
I’ll never forget hearing Dr. Doug Kelly (one of my theology professors in seminary) saying in class, “If you want to make people mad, preach law. If you want to make them really, really mad preach grace.” I didn’t know what he meant then. But I do now.
The law offends us because it tells us what to do–and we hate anyone telling us what to do, most of the time. But, ironically, grace offends us even more because it tells us that there’s nothing we can do, that everything has already been done. And if there’s something we hate more than being told what to do, it’s being told that we can’t do anything, that we can’t earn anything–that we’re helpless, weak, and needy.
The law, at least, assures us that we determine our own destiny.
The law does promise life to me, If my obedience perfect be. (Ralph Erskine)
This we understand. And we like it. We like it because we maintain control–the outcome of our life remains in our hands. Give me three steps to a happy marriage and I can guarantee myself a happy marriage if I follow the three steps. If we can do certain things, meet certain standards (whether God’s, my own, my parents, my spouse’s, society’s, whatever) and become a certain way, we’ll make it. Law seems safe because “it breeds a sense of manageability.” It keeps life formulaic and predictable. It keeps earning-power in our camp.
The logic of law makes sense.
The logic of grace, on the other hand, doesn’t.
Grace is thickly counter-intuitive. It feels risky and unfair. It turns everything that makes sense to us upside-down. Like Job’s friends, we naturally conclude that good people get good stuff and bad people get bad stuff. The idea that bad people get good stuff seems irrational and wrongheaded on every level. It offends our deepest sense of justice and rightness.
Grace is not rational…The gospel of grace throws our glory train off its tracks. Instead of calculating, mastering, and determining, we find ourselves completely helpless, left with no option but to fall into the everlasting arms of the God who could consume us in his wrath but instead embraces us in his Son. (Mike Horton)
So, it doesn’t surprise me at all when I hear people react to grace with suspicion and doubt. It doesn’t surprise me that when people talk about grace, I hear lots of “buts and brakes”, conditions and qualifications. That’s just the flesh fighting for its life, after all. As Walter Marshall says in his book The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, “By nature, you are completely addicted to a legal method of salvation. Even after you become a Christian by believing the Gospel, your heart is still addicted to salvation by works…You find it hard to believe that you should get any blessing before you work for it.”
Because we are natural born do-it-yourselfers–God-wannabes–(and have been since Genesis 3), the vitriol reaction to unconditional grace is understandable. Grace generates panic because it wrestles both control and glory out of our hands. This means that the part of you that gets angry and upset and mean and defensive and slanderous and critical and skeptical and feisty when you hear about grace is the very part of you that needs to be reckoned dead. That’s where mortification begins–it begins with that part of us that hates grace.
But while I’m not surprised when I hear venomous rejoinders to grace (the flesh is always resistant to “It is finished”), I am saddened when the very pack of people that God has unconditionally saved and continues to sustain by his free grace are the very ones who push back most violently against it. Some professing Christians sound like ungrateful children who can’t stop biting the very hand that feeds them. It amazes me that you will hear great concern from inside the church about “too much grace” but rarely will you ever hear great concern from inside the church about “too many rules.” Why? Because we are by nature glory-hoarding, self-centered control freaks. That’s why.
It’s high time for the church to honor God by embracing sola gratia anew–the “high-octane grace that takes our conscience by the scruff of the neck and breathes new life into us with a pardon so scandalous that we cannot help but be changed…For many of us the time has come to abandon once and for all our play-it-safe, toe-dabbling Christianity and dive in” (Dane Ortlund). It is time, as Robert Farrar Capon put it, to get drunk on grace. Two hundred-proof, defiant grace.
It’s scandalous and scary, unnatural and undomesticated…but it’s the only thing that can set us free and light the church on fire.
Less than a month after a North Carolina Pagan woman caused a stir because her son’s middle school allowed him to take a Bible from the school’s office, some area pastors are speaking out, saying that if it was the other way around, and their children could get books about Paganism from the school, they wouldn’t mind.
Rusty Smart, an associate pastor at Calvary Worship Center in Marshall, N.C., told the Citizen-Times that if his son brought home a Pagan spell book he would use it as a “teaching moment” to share his Christian beliefs with his child without bothering the school.
“All these other religions claim to coexist, but they don’t want to coexist with Christians,” said Smart. “They want to drive us out.”
Smart’s son attends North Windy Ridge Intermediate School in Weaverville – the same school that found itself at the center of a controversy after Ginger Strivelli, a practicing Pagan, complained that her son received a Bible.
School officials say the Bibles were brought to the school by Gideons International and were placed in an open box from which students could take them if they wanted to. Following the complaint, the school’s principal, Jackie Byerly, said she would allow other groups to offer their religious texts in the same way.
“If another group wishes to do the same, I plan on handling that the same way as I have handled this,” Byerly said in December.
But when Strivelli brought Pagan spell books to the school on Wednesday, the Citizen-Times reports, she was told that they are not allowing any religious materials to be made available to students at this time.
“It’s not fair for them to get away with changing after they already passed out their Christian propaganda,” said Strivelli.
Gray Little, pastor of North Point Baptist Church, told The Christian Post on Friday that a Pagan is the “antithesis of a Christian,” but says he would be okay with the school putting Pagan texts side-by-side with the Bibles.
“Go ahead. Make it available … Because when you put God’s Word beside anything else I don’t have to defend it. I don’t have to … it will defend itself. It will rise up and do what it needs to do, and that is show the truth,” he said.
Jan Blunt, communications director for Buncombe County Schools, told The Christian Post on Friday that the school district doesn’t have a written policy with regards to whether or not religious texts can be offered in schools, but is currently reviewing the legality of the district’s practices.
“We’re very sensitive to our community in all directions,” she said.
“We’re quite a strong Christian community here. We’re the home of Billy Graham so we certainly have all of that community here. Where the school is located is also … a strong Wiccan community,” she explained, adding that the district must be “sensitive to those folks too.”
Although Strivelli was upset that her books weren’t immediately made available to students, Blunt says it was important to deny her request until the district is confident it hasn’t broken any laws.
“I think it just makes common sense, two wrongs don’t necessarily make a right. So, in that vein, we’re not taking any materials from anybody,” said Blunt.
Although the school has not yet released its final decision in this case, Blunt says there is a possibility that the district’s attorney, Christopher Campbell, will present his legal advice at a Feb. 2 meeting of the board of education.
“Nothing can ever separate [me] from God’s love.” Ro 8:38 NLT
Overcoming the fear of loneliness requires understanding God’s commitment to you. His fatherhood isn’t based upon mood, sentiment or emotion; it’s based on His unchanging character and reputation. Everything He is, and claims to be, stands or falls apart, depending on His faithfulness to you. “For the sake of his great name the Lord will not reject his people, because the Lord was pleased to make you his own” (1Sa 12:22 NIV). Notice two things in this Scripture: Concern for His good name, and the pleasure He takes in being your Father, are why He will never turn His back on you. Your problems don’t mean that God is judging or disowning you. Satan would love to convince you of that. He will tell you that you’ve failed God, or that God has failed you in order to make you feel unworthy, hopeless, disowned by God and abandoned. No, generations of believers have sung through their soul’s dark night, “Great is thy faithfulness, O God, my father.” In your circumstances and suffering, “God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness!” (Lam 3:22-23 TM). Suffering and adversity don’t cancel His faithfulness, He’s “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb 13:8 NKJV). He can’t love you once, and not love you always. “After you suffer for a short time, God, who gives all grace, will make everything right. He will make you strong and support you and keep you from falling” (1Pe 5:10 NCV). Today declare, “Nothing can ever separate me from God’s love.”