Saturday, November 28, 2009

To the Legalist Who Yearns for Freedom

Broken Chains - The Immigrants - Battery Park ...

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(Please go back and read the previous post to get the background for this one.  Also please note that this entry refers only to so-called "grey areas" in Christian behavior.  At no time do I advocate disobedience to clear commands or principles.)

Do you feel guilty about desiring to do what you see other Christians doing…things which you can't do because you've been taught that God would disapprove?  Have you found that the Scriptures really don't forbid certain activities, but your conscience still won't let you engage in them anyway?  Are you wondering how you can get the freedom to indulge as others do?

Are you hoping that someone will tell you how?

I can think of two directions to take this problem, depending on where you are spiritually.  So I'm going to start by giving you a little diagnostic quiz. 

Please tell me honestly if the following describes your current experience of Christianity:

I'm not sure I'm saved, but I'm trying to act like I am,

I don't love God, but I'm supposed to behave as if I do,

I do love sin, but I'm supposed to behave as if I don't.

Now look at the description of "license" (sinful self-indulgence) below, and tell me if it fits the way you wish you could describe your life:

I don't love God, and I wish I could act like I don't

I do love sin, and I wish I could act like I do.

If that sums up your religion, you have far deeper things to be concerned about than whether or not you can enjoy a glass of wine.  The soul described above is in mortal danger, no matter how many cigarettes it does not smoke.  What you have is mere human religion, and what you need is a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit.

But what if that does not describe you?  What if you truly are a believer; one whose love for God and hatred for sin are imperfect but growing?  What do you do if legalism holds you in its grip?

How do you find freedom?

First, I suggest you make sure you're looking for true freedom.  And true freedom is just as free not to do as it is to do.  There are many who are free to drink alcohol, but there are also many who have lost the freedom not to.  They are enslaved.  If it is truly freedom that you seek, you will not limit your search to "the freedom to do such-and-such desired behavior."  You will search for the freedom to do it and be thankful, or to abstain from it and be thankful.

He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. (Rom 14:6 NIV)

Being gratefully happy either way…either doing or not doing…doesn't that sound wonderful?

How do you achieve such freedom?  By seeking an ever-increasing love for God and an ever-growing satisfaction in His delights, so that whether you do or don't do certain fleshly activities, your heart will still be content in Him.

Is this the sort of freedom your soul longs for?  If so, I highly recommend the book that started it all for me.  It's "Desiring God," by Pastor John Piper.  You can read it online for free here, or purchase it at any Christian bookstore or online book retailer.  You may also want to read anything truly God-centered that you can get your hands on. 

Again, resist the urge to seek freedom to do a specific thing.  As long as you feel your happiness depends on your "freedom to do that," then your heart still lacks the freedom to abstain from it.  You are in chains to that desire, and your abstinence (if you manage to abstain) is joyless.

As long as your conscience forbids you to do something, do not indulge in it (Rom 14:23).  But if your heart aches for what you cannot do, bring that ache to the Lord as one who believes (or at least wants to believe) that He is the source of all the deepest joys.  Ask Him to increase your love for Him.  Seek freedom in Christ by seeking to delight first and foremost in Him.  Then trustingly obey Him so He can lead you in the right paths.  As your delight in Him grows, you may find yourself liberated to do things that you could not have safely done before.  Or, you may find yourself liberated to abstain without any serious pain.

When Christ becomes your life, your joy, your all, you will not be enslaved by anything you have, or by anything you lack.  You will not be enslaved by anything you do, or anything you cannot do.  You will be affected (sometimes profoundly) by your circumstances, but you will not be owned by them.

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Php 4:11-13)

If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed! (John 8:36)

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Monday, November 23, 2009

The Confused Conscience

La Conscience (d'apr├Ęs Victor Hugo)

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In response to my last post, a dear reader named Karin posed the following question:

Some folks have a wrongly calibrated conscience, i.e. it is sin to see a movie, to dance,to play sports or even shop on a Sunday, etc. etc. It would be wise not to do anything that goes against their conscience, but they see other godly believers doing it. That's where their struggle begins and their feelings of guilt about having their particular weakness are not based on truth. Not sure if I explained this well enough. What are your thoughts on that?

Karin, that's quite a good question.

Legalism is a deadly thing, and it often keeps its grip on people even long after they've begun to understand grace and freedom in Christ. On the other hand, some people throw off legalism and exchange it for sinful self-indulgence...just trading in one wrong for another.

Maybe before we can discuss this problem, it would be helpful to define what we mean by "legalism." I don't know what anyone else's definition is, but this is the one I've come up with that best expresses my understanding of it:

Legalism is an attempt to make the lost act like the saved;

to make those who don't love God behave as if they did,

and to make those who do love sin behave as if they didn't.

When people cast off legalism and turn to sinful self-indulgence, what we see is more honest, though not more admirable living:

those who are lost act like the lost

those who don't love God act like they don't

and those who love sin act like they do.

By contrast, when we are truly saved, grace changes who we are (gradually at times, and suddenly at other times), to give us hearts that delight in doing good. We are freed by God...not to do evil and get away with it, but to do good and love it. That is the truest form of freedom.

When it comes to matters of conscience which are not "black and white:"

I have met miserable and/or prideful legalists who don't do certain things, but I have also met joyful, free lovers of God who don't do those same things. The legalists are under compulsion not to do them, and the grace-led ones are free not to do them. (And still other joyful lovers of God are free to do them!)

Those who tend to have legalistic consciences may feel a great deal of guilt because of the attraction they feel towards the "forbidden" item or activity. And yet they desire to find the freedom that Christ promises.

(Allow me to stress again that I am not referring to clearly-defined sin, which all Christians should scrupulously avoid. I'm referring to matters which Scripture leaves up to individuals, but about which some Christians have tried to force their own convictions onto others.)

What should the guilt-ridden person do in this instance?

Scripture forbids us to do anything that we believe may be wrong (Rom 14:23). The heart which looks at something it believes is wrong, and chooses to do it anyway, is by definition a heart that is willing to sin. It doesn't matter if the activity was truly allowable. What matters is the attitude that said, "I think it's wrong, but I don't care if it's wrong or not. I'll do it anyway."

So how is the person trapped by legalism to be set free? Should he focus on the behavior in question, examining it from every angle to decide if it can be justified? Should he go see a Christian counselor to get cured of his hang-ups?

Perhaps. There may be some benefit there for some people. But look again at the definition of "legalism" above, and the definition of "honest self-indulgence" just below it.

Think it through. How would you counsel the person trapped in legalism who wants to be free, but is afraid of freedom?

I'd love to hear your feedback, and next time I'll give you what I believe I would say to such a person.

(P.S. While I would dearly love to have lots of comments on this entry, I do not want anyone to hijack it and turn it into a forum for arguing over whether certain "grey areas" are really black or really white. I will moderate all comments in the spirit of Romans 14.)

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Faith: A Work and a Fight

Boxing is a traditional Western combat sport.

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We are saved by grace through faith, and not by works.  Nothing could be clearer in Scripture (Eph 2:8-9).  The faith that saves is a gift from God (Eph 2:8).  It is He who draws us (John 6:44), it is He who keeps us (1 Pet 1:5 NKJV), and it is He who circumcises our hearts to love Him that we may live (Deut 30:6).

And yet we are told that believing on Jesus is a work that the Father has given us to do (John 6:29), and that faith is a fight (1 Tim 6:12). 

How can that be?

I'm in need of that good fight right now.  I'm struggling with a particular temptation.  It doesn't matter what it is, and it's best if I don't tell you, because I want you to put yourself in my shoes with your own struggles, and fight the fight along with me.

If the Spirit of God does not yet reside in you, what I'm about to write does not apply.  What you need is a different, yet still miraculous work of the Holy Spirit.  I hope you'll start your journey by clicking on that link and reading more about it. 

When God brings a dead soul to life, it changes everything.  But nothing can really change until He does that work in you.

It is vital to understand that the fight of faith is not a struggle to believe out of thin air.  It is not a blind leap.  It is not closing your eyes and saying, "I do believe, I do believe, I DO believe!"  Save that nonsense for Peter Pan.

The fight of faith is a struggle to believe in what God has already revealed to you within your heart when He placed His Spirit there.  It is fought by those who are already made new from above, but are wrestling with the remaining weakness and foolishness and darkness which continue to plague us all in our mortal flesh.

How is this battle fought?

First we must understand that all sin is a failure of faith.  All wavering is a weakness of faith.

Here's where I'm weak, and where I often fail.  I'm tempted to believe that sin will give me much-needed relief.  I bet that's where your faith stumbles sometimes, too.

I can preach against my sin using Scripture (as in, "Thou shalt not…"), but that's likely to lead to one of two possible outcomes, neither of which is what I desire. 

  • I can rebel against the commandment
  • I can hold myself back from the desired behavior, but with resentment and a sense of "missing out on the best."

Both responses lack faith.  They completely miss the boat.

I want to use Scripture to preach my soul toward Christ.  I want to remind myself that at His right hand are pleasures forevermore (Ps 16:11), that He is my Life (John 14:6, Col 3:4), that my joy is found in Him (Neh 8:10), that He is truly my deepest desire (Ps 42:1-2).  When I re-connect with these truths (which I already know to be true, because I have experienced Him), I find the strength to fight off temptation with the power of a greater desire.  And in this victory God is honored, desired, and glorified, not resented as inferior to some sin I'd really rather have.  

I don't have to make-believe.  I just need to renew my belief right now, at this moment, when my flesh is weak.

That is the good fight of faith.

Or what about this other facet of my unbelief?  I want to rationalize that my sin will just be a brief jaunt…so short it will be harmless.  How do I fight that?  By reminding myself that God's Holy Word describes sin as a snare or trap (2 Tim 2:26), and as a fiery dart (Eph 6:16).  It warns me that a momentary lapse can cost me for a lifetime (Gen 25:29-34, 2 Sam 12:10), and that God will expose everything on Judgment Day, if not before (2 Sam 12:12).  I can remind myself that dabbling in sin is like throwing rocks at a Tyrannosaurus, because I'm engaging myself in a macabre dance with powers far stronger than myself, bent on my destruction (Eph 6:12).  All of these truths are helpful, but I want to take my fight further.  Anyone, even the unsaved, can restrain themselves if they fear the consequences enough.  There is some faith in believing God's warnings, but the good fight of faith is so much more than that.

The good fight of faith always reorients us to God through Christ, and results in His honor and glory.

How do I fight this "It won't really hurt me" mentality towards sin?  By realizing that what happens to me isn't even the paramount issue.  The question is not, "What will my sin do to me?" but "What will it do to the glory of God?"  Can I claim to have true faith if I don't care about His glory?

True faith always glorifies God, but all sin belittles Him.  Do I believe He deserves to be revered as Holy, and to be publicly proclaimed as superior to sin?  Do I agree with His attitude towards sin…an attitude of hatred so severe that it led to Calvary?  If I don't take sin seriously, then what on Earth does Calvary even mean to me?  What's the basis of my Christianity if it ignores what Calvary means?  What kind of faith do I have if I want to make a pet of the viper whose head Christ has crushed?  Will I so dishonor Him as to try to waltz with His mortal enemy?

If I am not moved by such arguments, I need to do some serious examining of my faith.  I may have believed some facts about what Jesus did in history, but I cannot truly believe that He is all that He said He was, that He is the holy Son of God, and still believe that it's a trivial thing to spit in His face "just for a moment."

All of these thoughts are good, but if I seek to apply them in my flesh alone, I'll still not be fighting the good fight of faith.  And so I pray:

Lord God, in this time when I feel weak, please help me to believe what I already know to be true; to remember what You have already revealed of Yourself and Your worth and Your glory.  Help me to overcome the deceitful allurements of sin with the truth of Your superior delights.  Help me to refuse sin as only the first step of this fight, and to embrace You more tightly as the second.  Be glorified in my life today.  In Jesus' Name, Amen!

 

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Note to a Discouraged Friend

A friend has kindly given me"Ship" by marindbk permission to reproduce this note here (with personally identifying content omitted).  I'm sure there are lots of folks facing discouraging situations in this world.  If you're one of them, or know someone who is, I pray you'll find some encouragement here.

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Remember, a successful day cannot be measured by any of the gauges that the world uses. Success in God's eyes is measured in only one way...faithful dependence with love.  Even if you can't feel those things, just the stubborn act of seeking them is success. No one can prevent you from seeking Him, and He will be found by you when it's time.

(Of course you have truly found Him for salvation...but there's a day-by-day "finding" because we're all so blind!)  All of your other plans and hopes and dreams can be thwarted, but if your heart's cry is, "To whom else shall I go...You alone have the words of eternal life," then you have succeeded.

I know that you know there's nowhere else to go but to Him. And that's why I know He'll get you through.

Believe it or not, that stubborn dependence on Him, when all of life's trials scream at you to look elsewhere, will be a more powerful witness of His worth than any stroll down a spiritual "Easy Street." Demonic forces tremble at His presence, and He is tangibly present with those who depend on Him.

Seeing your dependence may be the most valuable lesson your daughter will learn in homeschool. She will feel the impact of your faith, perhaps more powerfully when it's hanging on by its fingernails than when it's resting in a hammock. She has a fight ahead of her, and it's good for her to see that God can bring someone through the tough times. She needs a God who is a mighty anchor for the weak, not just someone who cheers on the strong from the sidelines.

She'll know she can depend on Him because of what she sees in you. Right now it may be more important for her to see your dependence than to see any brilliant victory without obvious dependence. She'll see plenty of victories from you in the future (as she has seen them in the past)...but right now she needs to see that dependence is the path that will lead her there. You can show her your dependence right now with a tearful, end-of-my-rope prayer that refuses to acknowledge any other source but Him.

You have no idea how greatly you can honor Him in your weakness. But it's true. That's why Paul gloried in his weakness...because that's when God showed Himself strong. We tend to think of that "showing" in only one way...God strongly makes me a spiritual superhero despite my weakness. But that's not the only way He shows Himself strong.
He often shows Himself strong by bearing our weight...by being the very rope we're at the end of...and not letting us drop.

His "superhero" victories have their place, but they discourage many onlookers who have never experienced such things and aren't ready to believe that they're possible. But His "rope" victories... they speak to everybody. I believe He wants to speak to your whole family that way today.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A New Venture – And Why I'm Ready For It.

Ready to Fly (1) by Marcel Germain

This is mainly a theological blog, and it feels like the wrong venue for posting a whole lot about our new homeschooling adventure.  But I know that many of you are interested, so I've decided to resurrect an old blog of mine and give it a new identity.  My old "Betsy's Facebook Blog" (which really needs a new name, but I don't know if that's possible) is now going to provide updates about our homeschool.  I hope you'll bookmark it or subscribe!

It's late at night, and I have a ton of dishes to take care of, but I want to write a bit anyway about a subject that is close to my heart right now.

How do I know I'm ready to homeschool?

This isn't a question about homeschooling, but rather a question about readiness in general.  Other people may experience things differently, but I hope some of you will find my experiences helpful.

How do I know I'm ready?

  • Because I know I'm not ready.  Back before I knew my kids had special needs, I pictured myself as a homeschooling mom.  I had every intention of doing it.  The problem was, I had all the wrong attitudes and motives.  I was pretty arrogant, frankly, thinking I knew everything I needed to know, and I would be a perfect parent, and…well, I'll quit before I make anybody truly ill.  Bleh!  What a mess I would have made of it in my own strength!  Now, on the other hand, I know I can't do it, and I'm fine with that.  I know Who can do it through me, Who is leading, Who is providing, Who is my strength and joy and wisdom.  Without Him I can do nothing…but He's here!  And His command is His provision.
  • Because God really did insist on this.  There have been few times in my life when His guidance has been this clear.  Very few.  Even when the thought of homeschooling brought waves of terror, I could feel Him coming alongside with assurances.  No "pep talks," believe me.  Those come from the flesh.  This was His quiet Presence, and His calm assurance in the midst of my storm.  So perfectly clear.  To tell Him "no" would have been unthinkable.  All right, I confess, I did think about not going through with the homeschooling, but that was only when I mentally left Him out of the picture.  He wasn't willing to be left out for long, though, and whenever He tapped my shoulder (so to speak), "no" went out the window.  He's just too good, too trustworthy, too loving to refuse!
  • Because I'm no longer motivated by fear.  Back in my early days of homeschool dreaming, I was motivated by terror.  If the public schools got hold of my kids, they'd ruin them for sure!  (And of course the flipside was the same old arrogance, because I believed that if I was in charge, of course my kids would turn out as perfect angels.  HAH!)  Anyway, I'm no longer run by that fear.  The elementary schools that the kids went to were wonderful blessings from the Lord.  But even if they hadn't been, the schools still aren't in charge of my children's souls.  And neither am I.  My children's souls are completely in the hands of my sovereign God.  I am homeschooling now because I believe God has called us to do so at this time, not because I'm afraid of not doing so.  I think that's much healthier.

So you see, I'm ready for one reason, and one reason only.  I know I'm going to blow it plenty of times, I know I'm going to have times of tears and frustration, and I know I don't have what it takes.  I'm sure I'll be writing plenty of discouraged-sounding entries.  But God has willed this, and He'll see us all through it.   

What more could we possibly need?

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Family Matters and a Request for Prayer

September-at-Homeschool.

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Those of you who follow me on Facebook or Twitter have seen my requests for prayer lately.  You know that something is in the wind.  And it would seem that now is the time to update everyone on what's going on.

As most of you know, our two older sons are on the Autism spectrum.  The oldest is in 8th grade, and the other (who also has bipolar disorder) is in 6th.  That means they're in middle school.

As one person so aptly put it years ago, middle school is the armpit of life.  And you can multiply the "stink factor" by 200% when you throw in socially-ostracizing special needs.

My boys go to a good school, and I don't mean to imply otherwise.  But it seems that something has to change.  And to my utter amazement, the Lord has been laying something on my husband's and my heart.

Homeschooling.

I had originally pictured myself as a homeschooling Mom, back before I knew we had special needs to deal with.  Once I knew that, I ruled it out completely.  And so far public schooling has worked out well.  We happen to live in an area that has fabulous autism programs with passionate teachers, and we thank God for them all.

But like I said, middle school is tough.  Social ostracism, reading material that is often disturbing, and other factors combine to add tremendous levels of stress to one son's life.  Another son seems to be incapable of coping with the schedule, and has been sleeping like a rock through all of his early classes almost every day for weeks on end.  He checks out perfectly healthy, and we've tried adjusting medications, but nothing works.  He's missing tons of school, because the school can't flex with its schedule, and it seems that he can't, either.  To top of our list of problems, the boys have learned to play the system to their advantage, leaving things at school which should have gone home, failing to communicate vital information between parents and teachers, etc. 

Homeschooling sounds like a very logical solution to these problems.

I found "Switched on Schoolhouse" (SOS) through the wonderful homeschooling supply company "Timberdoodle," and it looks like it should be a good fit for our family.  It is computer-based, which is one of its biggest advantages.  My boys work well with computers, and are motivated by the little games and so forth that reinforce the learning.  I'm terrible with paperwork, and SOS will take care of most of that for me.  It also does the lesson planning based on our needs, and has what appears to be a stellar curriculum.  In addition, it's a Christian curriculum, so I will have far fewer concerns about the type of reading material the children are being exposed to.  And they're actually going to be studying the Bible as part of their coursework, which is wonderful!

It sounds perfect, but…

John and I swing back and forth between feeling really enthusiastic about this and feeling, frankly, scared!  Just dealing with homework often turns into a nightmarish ordeal with the boys, especially one in particular (who shall remain nameless to protect the loved).  I often feel emotionally abused after dealing with them.  My children are wonderful human beings, but they find their own anger to be  overwhelming and uncontrollable.  So it expresses itself to me in screams and sobs, fists pummeling the air in my direction, verbal cruelty, and other rage-filled actions.  And all of this can be the result of simply being told to sit down and work.

Can I bear homeschooling?

My hope is that the computerized format will help a great deal, since the boys relate to computers so well.  And the go-at-your-own pace lessons should also help.  But things could still get pretty ugly sometimes.  We just don't know if it's going to work for us or not.

So for a little while we're going to be testing this out.  Thanks to Timberdoodle's incredibly generous return policy, we have up to 60 days to return it if it doesn't work out for us.  We will spend considerably less time than that to make our decision, however, because until we're sure, we won't be withdrawing the boys from school.  So that means they're going to be testing out the homeschool curriculum AND going to school for a while. 

Gasp!  Extra work!  Not a double-load, by any means, but at least enough experimentation after school hours and on weekends so that we'll get a fair idea of how it will work out.  I should mention that both boys are very excited about homeschooling in general, but when it comes to the extra work during the trial period, things aren't quite that rosy.  Son #1 seems okay with the idea, but son #2 is less than enthused.

We're planning to go to a local Homeschool Group meeting Monday night, and hope to make helpful connections there.

I don't know how this will affect my blogging.  That will depend largely on how well the boys work independently.

Anyway, we need prayer.  Prayer for wisdom and clear guidance concerning the direction of our children's schooling, for patience as we try out our new roles, for a calming of our fears, for God's very best for our family.  I know I can count on you guys to lift us up.  And I'd love it if you'd drop a note sometimes to let us know you're praying!

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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Out of His Heart Will Flow Rivers of Living Water

"Jarra" by L_Avi

My last post was based on the story of the Woman at the Well (John 4:7-42).  This section of Scripture is usually treated as an evangelistic passage, and of course that's primarily what it is.  So why did I use this passage to talk about how we serve God?

It was simply because, for the first time, I recognized the logical flow of the passage.

It's easy to look at Jesus' interaction with the woman and think that He abruptly changed the subject.  They started out talking about His request that she serve Him, and then switched to talking about eternal life.  But is that the way she would have heard it, without the benefit of the hindsight and Christological knowledge that we bring to the story when we read it?

I don't think she perceived anything about eternal life at first, in her strange conversation with this unusual man.  When the talk left the realm of mundane service and became religious, she still thought of it as religious service

Where should we worship?

In hindsight, we know Jesus was talking to her about the gift of His Holy Spirit and eternal life.  But does that negate the element of service that permeated their conversation?  What if salvation and service are not really such different topics?  What if, in fact, they're intimately related? 

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

(Eph 2:10) 

Jesus' request of the woman was a simple one, and one that she could provide.  And this was a woman who was accustomed to providing for men (John 4:17-18). Drudgery was very much a woman's lot in those days, and it was far more grating work than I've ever known.  She knew all about waiting on someone hand and foot. 

She didn't think Jesus' request itself was strange.  Drawing water was women's work, after all.  His request was strange only because of who He was, and the fact that their cultural constraints should have kept Him from talking to her at all. 

If He had made a different request of her, she would have thought it just as bizarre.  So at first the issue was all about service in her mind.  Not water, as we tend to think, but service.  And it was a service she was confident she could provide, even if she found the circumstances awkward.

How many lost souls are confident (or at least hopeful) that they can provide what God wants?  How many strive to earn His salvation?

That's where Jesus meets us with an offer, just like He met her.  An offer that, to a listening ear, lifts everything to a higher plane.

You see, water may have been the desired outcome of the service…but the woman could only have given Jesus physical water.  What He offered to give her was much more than that.  It was living water.  He was the one who showed that it's the type of water, not the service itself, which makes all the difference…and that He only wants what He Himself can provide.

The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4:14)

If you read yesterday's entry, you know that Jesus gives us what He demands of us, so we can meet His demands by His grace.

When Jesus changed the subject, it was not so that he could make her forget about serving.  It was so that she could see Him as the source of all eternally meaningful service (and of course, as the source of eternal life as well).

Once He gave her His living water, the tenor of her service changed.  While she no doubt continued to perform womanly tasks for his benefit during the two days that He stayed in Samaria, her works no longer came just from her hands.  They flowed from her heart.  And they came not from the dead, dirty heart which she had originally brought to the well, but from the very spring that He Himself had placed within her when He gave her a new heart (John 7:38).

This service is like living water that does not need to be drawn.  It flows, naturally.

Legalism draws by the sweat of its brow, and all it can bring up is the same water that will leave you thirsting once more.  A saved heart overflows because of the limitless Spring at its source, and the water it pours out is alive with God's own power.

Salvation and service are intimately related, but not for the reasons that many people believe.  No amount of sinful drawing can bring up living water.  But no history of sin can stop the Spirit's flow.  (Current sin may provide a temporary bottleneck, but the Holy Spring will soon clear that away and continue its drenching work.)

When Jesus talks about looking at our works as proof of our salvation (Matt 25:34-36), he doesn't look at our bucket-hauling.  Any lost soul can do that.  After all, Jesus was often a guest in people's homes.  Many hands waited on Him.  No one was saved by bringing Him a drink or latching his sandals.

Jesus looks at our Spring-flowing.  He looks at His own work in us, the outpouring of His own Spirit.  The works do not save.  They are legal evidence that we are saved.  Human eyes may or may not be able to see the difference between dead works and Living Outflow, but God knows the ones who are indwelt by His Spirit (John 10:14, John 10:27-28).  He sees the source of our works.

Only the children of God can do works in God (John 3:21).

Eternal life and true service are both the natural results of the Holy Spirit's presence within us.  One is His work within us, and the other is His work through us.  Both are His works.  So if we have the Spirit, we have both salvation and true service.  If we do not have the Spirit, we have neither salvation nor true service, no matter how many good works we try to do.  The difference isn't the labor…it's whether or not the water we dish out is earthly or Spiritual.

That is why the Apostle Paul described his own endless toil for the Gospel as, "striving according to His working which works in me mightily" (Col 1:29, emphasis added). 

And that's why Isaiah said, "LORD, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us (Isa 26:12, emphasis added).

And that's why Jesus could say, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matt 11:28-30).”

I have occasionally felt the Spirit clearly working through me, and it has been a joyous thing.  But too often I still labor on in my flesh.  Oh may I learn to stop sinfully bottlenecking the Spirit's flow, so that my burden would be exchanged for His light one, and He would work more freely through me! 

Thursday, November 5, 2009

What Jesus Said We Would Do If We Knew

ChristAndTheWomanAtTheWell

I'm supposed to serve in the mundane.  Scrubbing floors, cleaning toilets, scraping boogers off the walls (autistic kids do strange things), pre-treating stains, sorting laundry, washing-drying-folding washing-drying-folding washing-drying-folding, cooking the meals, washing the dishes, tidying the messes.

Why should I have to do this?  My heart is the heart of a writer, after all.  Why do they all expect this of me, and take it (and me) so much for granted?

If you knew…who it is that is saying to you, "Give me a drink…" (from John 4:10)

Jesus called for the mundane.  Give me a drink.

He did it two thousand years ago, and He does it today. 

Give them a drink.  Give them a clean house.  Give them My love.  Do it all in My name.  You will not lose your reward. (See Mark 9:41 and Matt 25:40)

My heart just does not get it.  I still can't embrace the drudgery.  There must be something missing…some secret I don't know.

If you knew…who it is that is saying to you, "Give me a drink…"

Lord of the Universe.  Author of Creation.  Alpha and Omega.  Lion of Judah.  Lamb of God.  The Holy One.  The Lord of Hosts.  The King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. 

He is the One Who says to me, give them a drink.

Then I guess I'd better snap to it, right?  Shape up!  Know your place, servant girl!  Get the water, do the chores…who cares how you feel about it?  Don't you know Who is telling you to do it?  Get off your lazy backside and do it RIGHT NOW!

Is that what the verse says?  Let's look and see.

If you knew…who it is that is saying to you, "Give me a drink," you would have asked Him…

I would have what?  How did we jump from "being commanded" to "asking?"

Oh, I get it.  Maybe He says, "Jump," and I ask, "How high?"  Is that it?  Time to look at more of that verse.

If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you…

Oh…it's not about asking for clarification, then.  It's asking for an actual thing that He can give me.  But why?  I don't get it.  How can the knowledge of Christ make me want to respond to His commands by asking Him for something, instead of just jumping up to obey?

What is it about knowing Him that changes how I serve?

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

Ok, now I'm even more confused.  If I really knew who He was, I would respond to his command to "Give water" by asking Him to give water?

Huh?  Why would I ask Him to give me the very thing He's telling me to give Him?

Ohhhh…

What if the only way I can serve Him…truly serve Him in a way that pleases Him…is if He supplies the very thing that He demands?

If I really knew who He was, I would understand that no offering made by my sin-killed flesh could ever please Him.  And if I really knew who He was and knew the Gift of God, I would know that He is graciously pleased to give us the very things that He demands from us. 

Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” Genesis 22:8

King David understood this concept clearly.

But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly as this? For all things come from You, and of Your own we have given You. (1Ch 29:14 NKJV, emphasis added)

David knew that he could only give because God had supplied what he gave.

Many of you, like me, have felt the difference between our soul-wearying hauling and the refreshing outflow of His Spirit.  But so often we stay in lugging mode, laboring to give Jesus water instead of letting Him give it to and through us.

If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked…

We know that we often don't have what we want or need because we don't ask (Jas 4:2).  But why don't we ask?  Could it be that we don't know the gift of God well enough?  Are we not intimately enough acquainted with the Savior to recognize that He is the only possible Source to whom we should turn?

Lord, please help us to know You better, to know You so well that it will seem only natural to turn to You for the resources we need to serve You and others.  Don't let us settle for the intellectual knowledge that we "need your help," but rather let us feel the glorious, joyous outpouring of Your Spirit through us, so we'll never misunderstand what it means to serve You again…even when serving You means cleaning toilets and doing laundry.  Amen!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Taxes and the Christian Conscience

The tribute penny mentioned in the Bible is co...

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Del Tackett (the wonderful host of The Truth Project) has addressed an interesting question on his blog. In light of the fact that the new government health care plan will fund abortions, how should we as Christians wrestle with the concept of paying the taxes which fund those abortions? Should we pay them, or refuse? He words his questions very thoughtfully, and opens his blog up for comments so that others can help bring clarity to the issue.

I ended up writing two comments there (one has been posted at the time of this writing, and one is still awaiting moderation). Since this is a touchy subject, and one that we must all deal with in the near future, I thought I ought to reproduce my comments here for your consideration. I encourage you to read everyone else's comments at Del Tackett's site as well.

As always, your comments are appreciated!

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(1st Comment)

I believe that Jesus’ “Render to Caesar” (Matt 22:16-21) is very relevant to our question. Caesar was not a godly man, and his government did many horrible things with tax money. Jesus paid it anyway (Matt 17:24-27), and commanded it to be paid.

I am very Pro-Life. I am horrified by what has become of America by every moral measurement, not just the issue of abortion. I believe I would have been horrified by Caesar’s government if I had been alive in those days.

Why did Jesus say, “Render unto Caesar?”

Tell me, what good did Caesar’s money do against the cause of Christ? Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. It cannot be bought with money, nor defeated by it. Do we really believe that obedience to Christ’s command to “Render unto Caesar” will cause Christ’s purposes to be thwarted? Would Jesus naively command the very thing that would bring about the Kingdom’s destruction? Or does His command force us to take our eyes off of the power of money and put it on Him, trusting Him to conquer those who have the world’s mammon?

There are clearly battles to be fought and won, but they are not fought with the weapons of this world. If we want to change our world, we have to deal in hearts, minds, and spirits, not in fleshly things (2 Co 10:3-4). If we settle for the latter, we may someday end abortion, but we won’t see souls saved. By all means, fight the abortion battle, but fight for the hearts and souls of those who would kill, and fight in a way that brings glory to Christ. We do not glorify Christ when we disobey Him (Render to Caesar), and we do not glorify Him when we fear money’s supposed power to defeat Him. We glorify Him when we serve Him in humble, trusting, loving obedience; and when we serve our fellow man the same way Christ served.

The same Christ who confidently paid His taxes to the very government that would crucify Him.

I don’t pretend to understand it, but isn’t that the point? We walk by faith, not by sight. And faith obeys.

Whose power do we trust more…God’s, or mammon’s?

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(2nd Comment)

I feel the need to add a little to my previous comment.
Scripture makes it clear that we are not to trust in money. We are to trust in the Lord our God. Most of us would agree with that when it comes to spending money…but how many of us agree when it comes to withholding money? If we see our power coming from the withholding of money, then our faith is still in money’s power. If we withhold it from them, we win, because victory comes to those who have the most greenbacks.
Really?
The kings of the Old Testament were often evil, vile men, and Scripture tells us they exacted taxes from the people to support their wickedness. Yet in all the canon of Scripture, do you find people being chastised by God for paying taxes?
Let’s think about the well-known story from 2 Kings 6:15-23. Elisha and his servant were isolated and surrounded by the best that their evil king’s tax monies could buy for him. Armies and chariots in numbers sufficient to surround the whole city…all focused on capturing just two men.
The servant was terrified, but Elisha was calm. The prophet prayed for his servant’s eyes to be opened, and suddenly, the servant was able to see piles and piles of shekels all around them. Woo hoo, they were saved!
Of course, if you know the story, you know that’s not how it went. The servant saw angelic hosts arrayed in their defense, not piles of money. But I fear that in our current Western mindset, we’re hoping to see my made-up version rather than Scripture’s. The servant might have been happy if he’d seen gobs of earthly treasure instead of angels…and he never would have known what he missed out on seeing.
I wonder if that’s why we’ve been losing this battle all along. Has our trust been in carnal weapons? What have we missed out on seeing?
How Spirit-filled are Christ’s people? How open are our eyes?
I know there are good honest Christians who will disagree with me on this. And while I may not understand what seems to me like pure disobedience to a clear command of Christ’s (render to Caesar), I can at least respect the heart motive. I love to see faithful obedient hearts, trusting Christ as they best understand Him. Even if I think they’ve misunderstood Him, I would rather see that than either paying OR withholding done with misplaced faith…faith in the power of money. So that is my plea. Whether you choose to pay or withhold, be sure you do it with your faith focused on Christ, not on the money.



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Please note: Del Tackett has posted an interesting (and probably quite valid) rebuttal to my view on his blog here.

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