Out of Focus

All at once, the law shows us God’s holiness and our own sin. And it doesn’t just reveal sin, it stirs it up.

Now, let’s be clear, the law doesn’t cause sin. Sin is already there. At best, its buried in a shallow grave where it can easily claw its way out. But the law brings to the surface what we find hard to see. It shows what a Holy God requires. And it shows me that I’m really bad at it.

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. Romans 3:20

But the law not only reveals sin, it stirs it up in us, too. The law actually antagonizes the sin. It aggravates it. Draws it out of us like an Epsom salt bath.

The law is holy and just, but sin works its way in when we hear it. It actually makes us want to sin. Think about it. What happens when someone tells you that you can’t so something? Naturally, you want to run right out and do it. Try telling a toddler (or teen) what they can’t do and see what happens. Then look in the mirror. Because every human is hard wired with authority issues.

lightstock_128424_medium_blake

The law tells us what to do- our hearts rebel at the thought of someone in authority over us, who knows better than we do what’s best for us- and sin has its way.

The answer- adjust your focus.

Focus on the law alone and you’ll fail. And even if you are a little successful, the tiniest voice will still whisper, “good job.” That’s works righteousness, i.e. sin.

So apart from Christ, any good work starts us down the road to earning it. And that doubles down on our sin. For then, even when we do good, we are doing bad.

Law out of focus is law done out of the sight of Christ.

You can only properly approach the law through Christ, in whom we can and want to do all things as we remember what he has done for us.

You can never do law out of view of Christ. You must always hold the law in one hand and Christ in the other.

(un)Thankfulness

lightstock_128167_medium_blake

Oftentimes, we’re thankful toward God generally: like when we marvel at things like his goodness or his majesty- or creation.

But scripture also tells us to be thankful specifically:

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thess 5:18

So yes, in all of it, good times and bad. But its easy to say “Yay God!” when you get the big promotion- but when I can’t pay the bills- Yay God? Or- when that relationship is over- yay? I’m so lonely, but thanks!

Life is hard- but we make it harder. By stopping short.

Because that verse ends- “in Christ Jesus.” Because thankfulness “in Christ” should be insulating us from the ups and downs of life.

So when the good news comes- I’m even more thankful- because I know that I don’t deserve it. It’s only Jesus who has made me righteous. Anything after that is icing on the cake.

And when the bad news comes? I’m even thankful then, because I remember that my worth isn’t decreased; God still loves me. And I’m even thankful he didn’t give me what I really wanted- because he knew that the company would be closing its doors right after I got hired anyway.

So, “in Christ”- in all circumstances- becomes this relief.

You can trust that if we knew what he knew- we wouldn’t want it.

But did you know, that Jesus is thankful for you? Jesus is thankful that God revealed Himself- to us- through Him- and we believed. (Matt. 11:25-26)

We are the apple of his eye. Jesus was so thankful for us that he suffered horrible circumstances so we wouldn’t have to. He didn’t get what he wanted, that the cup would pass from Him, because he wanted you more…

Being more worried about the circumstances of life rather than what those circumstances mean “in Christ”- says that your circumstances are more important than Christ and the gospel principles that go with him, like mercy and grace.

Gospel principles that have been applied to us and that we can then turn around and apply in any circumstance. That’s unthankfulness.

An Un-hypocritical Love

TenCommands

Law starts with love. Because how did Jesus say we are to do the law? By loving God and neighbor as ourselves.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Romans 12:9-10

“Love must be sincere…” And then Paul continues in the chapter with all these things we should be doing: hating evil, clinging to good, being joyful, patient, blessing those who curse us, etc.

And not just love, but sincere love. If we’re focused on the list, box checking, refrigerator list Christianity, even though they are all things you should be doing: you are practicing hospitality or sharing with those in need…there’s a danger- we may have a secret ulterior motive.

One of our motivations is the hope that we’ll be loved back.

So, in that case, you’re really doing it for yourself. It’s self-love.

  • What can I get out of it?
  • Will people like me more?
  • Will God love me more?

Self love is not sincere love. Sincere means without hypocrisy. And if we’re not sincere, we’re hypocrites. Self love is hypocrisy.

We’re not really doing it because we love others, we’re doing it because we love ourselves.

Check out how we learn to do it the right way, in love, here:

Desert of Sin

lightstock_61984_medium_blake

We’re all told to do something we can’t.

In Numbers, God’s people are told that in order to obey the law, they are to make all kinds of sacrifices to God. But they can’t.

They are told to make grain, oil and and wine sacrifices and offerings, but they don’t have any of that.

They’re in the desert.

And there’s no Desert Costco where they can get it. But Numbers also envisions a future where they will be able to obey. The promised land.

  • We, too, are told to obey and can’t. But scripture envisions a future where we can, too.

We don’t have to stay no-growth stuck. Israel was stuck with just manna. But someday they would enter Canaan and have the ability to obey.

Despite their failures and sin.

In the same way, we’re able to obey. Because we have a sacrifice that allows us to. Jesus.

Hopefully, more and more each day, our failure and sin turns to loving obedience as we grow in our love for the ultimate sacrifice.

The gospel takes us on this journey from having to obey to wanting to obey.

And obedience is the gateway drug.

We may not even want to at the time, but after we do- we’re like wow, that was pretty cool. And then we act shocked and surprised that God really does know what’s best for us… and our heart changes a little more.

The Wall Between Us

lightstock_79757_medium_blake

One thing your going to find in Christian community- and its going to be unexpected- it might be surprising. Your going to find a strange mix, this strange brew of people. People that you normally wouldn’t be hanging out with. Different ages than you, backgrounds, nationalities, family types.

The gospel does that. It takes away all the boundaries and groups that we tend to clump ourselves into and uses the most unlikely people in our lives. And it makes for an unlikely church.

Now, if Christ is your Savior, God has broken down the wall of partition between you and God. A consequence of that, a side effect- is that partitions between people, walls between nationalities and tribes, skin color- rich/ poor, red state/blue state- those walls are also torn down.

Because we should no longer be identifying ourselves like that- those things are no longer most important- where we go for our acceptance. Now- our identity- is supposed to be found only in Christ and in what He accomplished for us. In other words, groups aren’t so important. So we no longer find our worth and accomplishments there.

In Paul’s time- a wall similar to what we see today, separated Jews and Gentiles. We often refer to this in theological terms- but in simple terms, they really just hated each other. Some of them would’ve been fine throwing down at a first century version of Charlottesville.

Here’s what Paul wrote about that- speaking of Christ- he says in Ephesians 2:14:

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…

Will You Rest?

lightstock_11372_medium_blake

 

In Hebrews 4:1-13 the author alludes to the rest God offered to the Israelites entering the promised land. But can Christians enter that rest today?

According to the author of Hebrews, the answer is yes. This rest is a place where his audience (Christians) have the opportunity to enter “today.”

Interestingly though, he writes that some may have fallen short (v.1)- (not meaning that they are not saved.)- while others have entered the rest already (v.3).

So you can be a Christian who rests- or you can be a Christian who doesn’t rest.

Depending on when you catch me, I’m both.

The key is in v.2: the ones who rest and the ones who don’t-both have had the “good news” (gospel) proclaimed to them- they are Christians- but its their response, with/without faith, that determines whether they are able to rest.

Do you really practically believe, in every area of your life, every day, that your acceptance is found in Christ?

What rest means for the believer today is this: you can rest in Christ today because of His work. Or… you can march on in your anxious frenzy.

You can only rest when you don’t feel that you have to seek acceptance anyplace else, whether its through following the law like a set of rules, or seeking approval from vocation, wealth, friends, parenting, or whatever else drives you.

Most of the anger I have as a parent stems from the pressure I feel to solve everyones problems, provide for them and put my own time aside for their time. When I’m angry, I’m not so much angry at others as I am angry in myself for the potential for failure- either as a parent- or in all the other things I spend time on- like writing this blog:)

But if I’m resting in Christ, those pressures are off, because in Christ, the believer is loved without exception by the God of the universe. And my anger gets short circuited when I remember that whether I fail or not, God still loves me and the sun will rise tomorrow.

  • That may shock. What? No Ten Commandments for me? And I can be a deadbeat in my life too?

Au contraire, mon frère. We are to uphold the law even more now (Romans 3:31)- but in a different way. The believer is now free to follow the law, not out of fear of rejection, but out of love for what Christ has done for us in following it himself. The pressure is off in our own success or failure. We can rest.

And in following that law, the other aspects of our lives: work, parenting, relationships- become easier, precisely because I don’t need to be accepted for my success or failure in any of those areas. And I can find rest. I’m no longer worn out worrying if I miss a swim practice drop off.

So I am actually even freer to follow the law and resist the culture even more.

I’m not so pressured for acceptance by others that I have to break God’s laws to conform to the culture’s laws.

That is rest today. Will you rest?

Difficult People

lightstock_140776_medium_blake

Life together is hard. And wouldn’t you know it, people are the leading cause.

We have difficult relationships with people, because we have a difficult relationship with God. We cannot be reconciled to humanity until we are reconciled with its creator:

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:10-11)

When we disconnect our desire for acceptance from the only true giver of acceptance- God- it distorts every other relationship in our life.

It causes me to see people only as a means to that acceptance. I’m using them. Life becomes all about acceptance. And because I’m desperate to be accepted I’m:

  • Over-competitive: I have to be successful at all costs- even if I have to cheat or lie.
  • Prideful: I want others to see.
  • Judgmental– put others on defense to take the spotlight off of my own flaws.
  • Offended: I virtue signal. I must be more virtuous than you since I have standards.
  • Addicted: to social media- every time my phone chimes with a like or fav a little blast of dopamine squirts into my brain- ahhh.

When we over desire to be accepted by anyone but God- its that very separation from God that is the cause.

All of our relationships our out of joint, and we need to be rescued. (Romans 5: 8 and 2 Corinthians 5: 20). Therefore, the first and primary focus of any real relationship rescue is to have our relationship with God put right again.

The gospel is news about what has been done by Jesus Christ to put right our relationship with God.

Becoming a Christian is about a change of status. You are either accepted through Christ or you are not.

If you’re not a Christian– that’s where the drive to get better comes from- that pesky morality that rears its head called your conscious.

And if you are a Christian– we still have issues. Because even though we agree that Christ died for our acceptance by God- we go on acting like it isn’t enough.

There should be a deep security in knowing we are accepted by the Lord of the universe through Jesus- so we should be looking at people in a whole new light.