Thinking Out Loud

October 21, 2013

Which Comes First? Conforming to Spiritual Requirements or Receiving Grace?

From the book, Look to The Rock, by Alec Motyer (p.41)…

…Nevertheless, law is really and truly law. The terrors of [Mount] Sinai were real and palpable (Ex 20: 18-21, Heb 12: 18-21). This was no contrived display of religious fireworks designed merely to cow and awe. The cause of the whole manifestation of fire and cloud, earthquake, thunder and lightning was simply this: that “the Lord descended in fire.” (Ex 19:18). This is what he is like. His holiness is not a passive attribute but an active force such as can only be symbolized by fire, a force of destruction of all that is unholy. At Sinai this holy God came to declare His holy law.

It is at this point that the sequence of events in the great historical visual aid bears its distinctive fruit: In the Old Testament as in the whole Bible, the law of the Holy God is not a ladder of merit whereby sinners seek to come to God to win His favor and climb “into His good books;” His holy law is rather His appointed and required pattern of life for those who by redemption have been brought to Him already who already belong to Him, and are already “in His good books.” The Law of God is the lifestyle of the redeemed.

Somewhere in the middle of reading that section, I started thinking about the difference between law and grace in terms of the “How Do You Spell Religion?” presentation which I’ve outlined here. I see this as another way of looking at man’s attempts in more of a chronological method:

If each of the checkmarks below represents the keeping of one or several commandments and the cross represents acceptance by God, many people feel that their story should unravel something like this:

Keeping the commands to earn God's favor

 

…and many church people force people to conform to this pattern.

In fact, what the Bible teaches is that living “a ten commandments lifestyle” is more of the fruit of experiencing the grace of God. The commandments were never requested of Israel’s neighbors, they were the cadence of a life lived in fellowship and communion with God. While they are phrased in a “Don’t do this” manner, they could be interpreted — or lived out — in more of a I Cor 13 way: “Doesn’t kill, doesn’t steal…” etc. That’s also in keeping with a “before and after” way of looking at life that incorporates life transformation. So it looks like:

Keeping the commands in gratitude for grace received

…that’s mercy; that’s grace.

When we have been the recipients of such love, we will of course want to respond; we will want to offer something back to please the One who gave Himself to redeem us.  If we understand that, we understand the good news of the Gospel.

Of course, there is always the issue that most of the general population can’t name all ten commandments, and if they do, they tend to focus on the “second tablet,” the ones having to do with interpersonal relationships, and neglect the first four, having to do with our relationship with God. In either model people will strive to make God happy through various means relating to that second group of commands and will forget that what makes God happiest is when we put Him first, honor Him with with our worship, honor His name, and honor His day.

 

September 27, 2013

Sin: Don’t Even Think About It!

tempting

 

On Tuesday I was speaking with someone who is heading off to a small Bible college in Eastern Canada. I asked him if he needed help with textbooks, and he said that the school tends to write their own curriculum as they have a unique take on how they approach some Bible subjects. Sometimes this can be a red-flag, so I asked him to give me an example, and it actually turned out to be something I found challenging and want to share here.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says,

NIV Matt. 5:27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Not all the teaching in this section specifically references the Decalogue, but what if we applied that “Don’t even think about it” standard to all of the other Ten Commandments? He told me that’s exactly what they did in their discussion of this passage. That got me thinking. Instead of “Thou shalt nots” it might look like this:

  1. Don’t even think about putting any other interest, hobby, passion, person, pet, or other god-to-be-worshiped ahead of me (or even on an equal place).
  2. Don’t even think about giving special place to any physical representation of something (existing or in fantasy) that then occupies a central place in your life.
  3. Don’t even think about using God’s name casually or disrespectfully.
  4. Don’t even think about doing some chores or work for pay during the time you know should be set aside for God and for the rest He commands. If it is within your power, don’t compel others to work during this time, either.
  5. Don’t even think about how, given other circumstances, you’d love to kill someone if you thought you’d get away with; or harbor the anger that rises to that level.
  6. Don’t even think about going against the values your parents taught you, or doing something against their wishes. Their values and wishes and the proverbs they taught you will lead to long life.
  7. Don’t even think about having sex with someone who is not your wife; those thoughts will consume you and furthermore, it’s not likely to ever happen, you’re just driving yourself crazy!
  8. Don’t even think about taking something that isn’t yours.
  9. Don’t even think about misrepresenting someone else or putting spin on a story so it makes them look bad.
  10. Don’t even think about comparing yourself to what your neighbor, or co-worker, or extended family member has, or to his or her spouse, and wishing you could have that life or lifestyle.

Feel free to refine what I’ve written in the comments, or take the list in Exodus 20, and rewrite it in your own personal style or adding things you feel conform to the intention of the text when combined with the application of Matthew 5.

Another thing that struck me as I studied this was how The Voice Bible rendered the “You have heard it said” sections of Matthew 5.

This translations also breaks down specifically the origin of “You have heard it said…”

  • 21 As you know, long ago God instructed Moses to tell
  • 27 As you know, long ago God forbade His people…
  • 31 And here is something else: you have read in Deuteronomy that
  • 33 You know that…
  • 38 You know that Hebrew Scripture sets this standard…
  • 43 You have been taught…

The Voice puts its “You have heard…” sections in italics in this version to indicate that yes, the translators have taken a liberty with the original text in order to provide clarity. What is especially worth noting here is that we generally read these with the inference that Jesus is now introducing something new, but these readings imply that the wider implications of what Jesus taught have been implicit in the text all along, if only we could see it that way.

  • 22 But here is the even harder truth
  • 28 You may think you have abided by this Commandment, walked the straight and narrow…
  • 34 But I tell you this: do not ever swear an oath. What is an oath? You cannot say, “I swear by heaven”—for heaven is not yours to swear by; it is God’s throne. 35 And you cannot say, “I swear by this good earth,” for the earth is not yours to swear by; it is God’s footstool. And you cannot say, “I swear by the holy city Jerusalem,” for it is not yours to swear by; it is the city of God, the capital of the King of kings.

Jesus’ teaching is clear: Don’t even consider wandering from the path, from God’s default settings, even for a moment!

NIV II Tim. 3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus

 

 

image: Toon Pool

February 4, 2013

The Other Gods We Worship

With his book Not a Fan currently riding high atop most lists of Christian bestsellers, Southeast Christian Church pastor Kyle Idleman is back with his second title, Gods at War: Defeating The Idols That Battle for Your Heart   (Zondervan).

This is a book about the various things in life we idolize, creating idols which compete with God who does not want to share top spot in our lives with anything else.  You get a sense of that in this excerpt, part of which reads:

…When we hear God say, “You shall have no other gods before me,” we think of it as a hierarchy: God is always in first place. But there are no places. God isn’t interested in competing against others or being first among many.

Gods at War - Kyle IdlemanGod will not be part of any hierarchy.

He wasn’t saying “before me” as in “ahead of me.” A Better understanding of the Hebrew word translated “before me” is “in my presence.”

God declines to sit atop an organizational flowchart. He is the organization. He is not interested in being president of the board. He is the board. And life doesn’t work until everyone else sitting around the table in the boardroom of your heart is fired. He is God, and there are no other applicants for that position. There are no partial gods, no honorary gods, no interim gods, no assistants to the regional gods.

God is saying this not because he is insecure but because it’s the way of truth in this universe, which is his creation. Only one God owns and operates it. Only one God designed it, and only one God knows how it works…

Kyle Idleman – Gods At War pp. 23-24

While there are definite echoes of things you’ve read elsewhere, Kyle is writing for a new generation of Christian book readers; possibly some for whom Not a Fan was even their first cover-to-cover read of a Christian title; and others who are or will be doing the related six-lesson curriculum study or will be watching the live simulcast on February 27th from City on a Hill Productions.

Kyle Idleman 2013He divides the various gods that compete for our affection and attention into three categories according to where we find them: In the temple of pleasure (food, sex, entertainment), in the temple of power (success, money, achievement), and in the temple of love (romance, family, self-worship). 

The book is a tapestry of contemporary and Biblical stories and for the current ones, QR codes and websites link you to original interview content on video. My only complaint is the lack of a wrap-up chapter, the book ended all too abruptly, but Kyle did warn us that the final god he considers is somewhat at the heart of all the others.

Watch a book trailer for Gods at War here

September 18, 2011

Sunday Isn’t Another Saturday

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:29 am

If we would stop treating Sunday as a second Saturday, one more day to run to Home Depot, one more day for the kids’ soccer games, another day for getting ready for Monday, if we would rediscover Sunday as The Lord’s Day, focusing on him for just one day each week, what would be the immediate impact between today and one year from today?

By one year from today, we will have spent 52 whole days given over to Jesus.  Seven and a half weeks of paid vacation with Jesus.

He’s a good King.  Maybe we should put him first in our weekly schedules.  Not fit him into the margins of our busy weekends, but build our whole weekly routine around him.

Just a thought.

~Ray Ortlund

October 17, 2010

Toiling on the Sabbath

Filed under: Religion, theology — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:45 pm

We have a washing machine but not a dryer.   We’ve never owned one.  My parents never owned one.

So on days like this where it’s too warm to turn on the radiators — we don’t have a furnace, either — but too cool and overcast most days to hang laundry outside, wash days have to be chosen carefully.

So one load got done yesterday, but two loads needed to be done today.  We hung one out before leaving for church, and did the other one after lunch.

However, my youngest decided that the dust in his room is what’s bothering his allergies and embarked on an all day cleanup that involved removing great amounts of fabric-bearing furniture to the outdoors, and then hauling out the central vacuum, which I thought we were done with yesterday.   But since it was out already, I figured I might as well touch up a few things that got missed the day before.

My oldest decided to do some cleaning in his room as well.   My wife’s transgression of the sabbath was limited to working on her newest cross-stitch.

I did observe my computer sabbath until around 5:00 PM, when the first e-mail that greeted me was work-related.    And then, because we’re flat broke, we spent about a half-hour rolling coins;  quarters, nickels, dimes and pennies that were accumulating around the house, which is strange because we pay for everything using plastic.

At one earlier point I did manage to take 30 minutes to crash out in a garden chair, and stripped to nothing but shorts, soak in the last of the sun’s warm rays before the snow starts flying in a few weeks.   I tilted my head to the sun, closed my eyes, and prayed:  “Okay, God; what exactly did you have in mind for this day to be set apart for you?”

I’m sure he meant more than the 90 minute church service we attended.   Last week at this time I had some books to review, but today my reading consisted of catching up on a week’s worth of newspapers.    Other than the phone not ringing so much, this day isn’t much different than all the others.

I believe strongly that a day set apart for the worship of God should consist of more than simply not working. There ought to be a positive that balances out the negative; a commission that balances out the omission.

Any thoughts?

# # #

Prayer request:  Pray for J. and B.   J. is on her way to the hospital to deliver the baby who apparently no longer is showing vital signs.   I can’t imagine the emotions that would go with that.

April 17, 2010

The Tree in the Garden

It was a simple test.   Other than this, you can do anything you want to, just don’t touch that tree over there.   Yeah, that one.

Adam and Eve lived in less complex times.   It was a good time to be alive if you were bad at remembering peoples’ names.   Or not so good at history.   And the only moral law they had was “The One Commandments.”  Thou shalt not touch the fruit of the tree in the middle.

You know the tree.  The one that looks so inviting.  The one thing you can’t have.   The big fluffy tree that’s like a giant “Wet Paint” sign that’s just begging you to touch your finger to it.   Except they didn’t have paint back then.

Anyway, you know how that story ended.

I believe that throughout history there has always been a tree in the middle of the garden.   It’s there in the garden of our world.   In the garden of our society.   In the garden of our nation.   In the garden of our community.   In the garden of our families.   In the garden of our hearts.

There’s always a tree.

The warning not to touch its fruit is given to some by direct command, though others believe that the idea of not tasting of its bounty is written on the hearts of people; they simply know.

Some people say that everyone knows this, some people think people do need to be commanded, to have it spelled out for them; while others spend long hours drinking hot beverages wondering what then of the people who haven’t heard of the command.

In some cases, there is always one large tree to confront.   In other cases there are several trees which must be avoided.    Some reach a point where they simply lose interest in the forbidden fruit, it no longer tempts them, only to find themselves looking squarely at another tree, which holds a similar prohibition.

“Why, when I have lived my whole life never having been tempted to touch the tree in the middle of the garden, do I find myself now, at this stage of life, looking squarely at another tree in another part of the garden which is so very captivating, but apparently so equally off limits?”

Many, therefore, succumb.

Meanwhile others say there are no trees that are verboten.   The time of such restrictions has passed, and one is free to enjoy all the fruit of all the trees.   They entice others to eat, and the penalty for such as trespass doesn’t seem to befall these, though the eating of the fruit does leave a kind of stomach ache that lasts for a long, long, long, time.

At the other extreme are those who manage to transcend all of the temptations and all of the trees.   These people enjoy a kind of regret-free, stomach-ache free existence.   They are above such weaknesses.  They don’t eat the fruit.   They don’t touch the tree.   They stay away from all the trees in all the gardens that might be simply wrong to taste, touch or even look back on.

They are however, rather quick to condemn those who who do succumb.   “We warned them;” they say.   “We put up signs that pointed people to the other trees; the safe, practical trees; the open spaces free of vegetation.”

They do this, not realizing, that their response is their tree.

Their careful analysis of the condition of gardens inhabited by weak people who do in fact stumble, who do in fact fail; their commentary on the nature of human weakness; their lack of compassion for those who have been unable to resist the appeal of the tree and its fruit… somehow… in some way… that became their tree.

They have gazed at it.   They have touched its trunk, its branches and its leaves.   They have tasted its fruit.

They are really no different.

For all have missed it; coming up short in understanding of the true nature of the creator and his expectations.

They forgot to look at the tree they were standing next to all along.

May 15, 2009

The Law and the Gospel

One of the joys of blogging is that you get to experience sectors of the Christian world that you might otherwise miss.    Even if you’ve been walking with Jesus for years — or in some cases, like mine, decades — there is always something new to learn.

Deborah DrapperSeveral weeks ago I linked to the YouTube postings of a BBC documentary on 13-year-old Deborah Drapper.    Her story is a mixture of elements:  A somewhat isolated, innocent, homeschooled girl in rural England who somehow has no fear when it comes to wading into a group of partying teens on a Friday night to ask them some serious faith questions.    Her style is forceful and direct; a style gained from listening nightly to podcasts from Ray Comfort’s Way of the Master website.

So when I learned this week that Deborah had a blog, I took a few minutes to scan it, and in that short time a phrase somewhat jumped out at me several times:

The Law and the Gospel

Having seen the entire BBC show helped here, and if you haven’t you’re at somewhat of a disadvantage,  but Ms. Drapper’s style begins — always — with the Ten Commandments as an example of how peoples’ beliefs that they are “good” can never possibly line up with God’s “Big Ten.”

That’s a fair approach.    I’ve heard Bill Hybels and Andy Stanley do the same, and I was on the same track a few weeks ago when I preached in a Toronto church on the story of the rich young official (or rich young aristocrat, or rich young bureaucrat, or rich young ruler.)   He felt he had kept all ten commandments, but then Jesus helps him to see the impossibility of human righteousness — “there is none good but God.”

But watching Deborah, I got a slightly different vibe.    I’m not sure if it was just a reaction to her formulaic approach — she is only 13, after all — but I think it was her total reliance on the “big ten” as the basis for her verbal witness.   The British Teens she spoke with would wake up the next morning  remembering the message of the Ten Commandments, and not the grace of God in sending Jesus, or the ability of Jesus to meet us at our point of need.

(As an aside, this is why we don’t hire high school students where I work.   There are too many complex “life issues” that people are facing that younger people haven’t necessarily dealt with.)

Unsure what vibe I was sensing, I was finally able to articulate it when I saw the phrase “The Law and the Gospel,”  or “The Ten Commandments, The Law and the Gospel” so clearly printed on her blog.   The nuances of adding “The Law” so distinctly to the presentation are not part of my previous experience.  (Google the phrase for examples of other places where it’s used online.)

Again, don’t get me wrong.  I don’t want to quench everything that God is doing through Deborah.    And I’m not here to debate the effectiveness of The Way of the Master, or even The Four Spiritual Laws, or even apologetics in general.

The only point I want to make today — and ask your response to it — is that there seemed to be something awkward about going out for an evening of evangelism with the premise that you’re going to share “The Law” with people; and I say that recognizing that “The Gospel” is only good news in light of the condemnation that the law puts everyone under.   There seemed to be something definitely not postmodern about it.     Read the first page currently up on her blog, and tell me if I’m over-reacting.

Visitors:  You may not be here by accident! If you got here from a WordPress or search tag and you’re not a Christ-follower, please understand that in critiquing the approach I’m not minimizing the message or its urgency.   All of us are constantly looking for ways to help the broader population confront the eternal questions that need to be faced.    At the end of the day, Deborah, Ray Comfort and I would have you reach the same conclusion, namely that Jesus’ claim to be God was true, and therefore his message needs to be clearly heard and individually applied.     God is a righteous judge, but also rich in grace,  mercy and compassion.   To hear a presentation like Deborah’s, continue to this site.

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