Wednesday, December 6, 2017

COUNTERFEITS: LIFE IS FULL OF THEM. CAN YOU SPOT THEM? #1

Why Counterfeits?


Life is a real experience that is full of surprises and meant to be enjoyed. To be human is to be a moral creature bearing the image of the personal creator of the universe. To be human means to be a person of heart, mind, soul, and spiritall of which are intermingled and inseparable. Thus spirituality is a natural and inseparable part of what it means to be human. Spirituality is connected to our moral sense of what is good and evilwhat makes for good human relationships and what makes for violation of goodness. This moral sense is pliable; it is molded by our family, culture, and experience of life. Atheists tell me that no child is born a racist, but rather trained to be one by culture. A shallow glance at this variation in moral understanding has led some to wrongly conclude that culture and experience create our moral sense. But something that doesn't exist can't be molded into something real.

Real or true spirituality is the experience of being in harmony or at peace with what it means to be human. This is a real experience of life. False spirituality is the opposite of that—anything that denies, suppresses, or violates what it means to be human. Because we have an awareness of what it means to be human, and a sense of need to experience that reality, the alternative to real spirituality is counterfeit spirituality. It is a pretended sense of moral harmony, a mask we wear to fool ourselves into thinking that we are in harmony with who we are. Pretending something to be real doesn't make it so.  



A counterfeit has some degree of appearance of the real, but is lacking a critical element. Counterfeit currency lacks the authority of the government that the currency claims to be backed by. A counterfeiter may fool me into accepting his counterfeit currency. If I in good faith take it to the bank, I likely will receive the unpleasant news that I have been tricked and therefore the bank will not deposit the expected funds into my account. Authorities don't like this kind of activity and may use my unpleasant experience to seek to find and punish the counterfeiter. Authority is the key to understanding what separates the real from the counterfeit. Poorly printed but authorized currency may look inferior to carefully crafted and printed counterfeit currency, but the issue is not one of quality, but rather one of authority. The authority in the moral world that separates the real from the counterfeit is the mark of goodness. This mark of goodness is highly nuanced to be appropriate for every aspect of human activity.


What does it Mean to be Human?


To be human is to have a sense that life has meaning. This applies both in the moment in every relationship, as well as in a general way about life as a whole. I suggest that both senses are reflected in the question: What is our place in the world? 


Viktor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist, describes in Man's Search For Meaning, the human struggle to find meaning in life, even when trapped in the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp. He also tells of his counseling method, which he called logo-therapy. He states that logo is the Greek word for meaning. Thus his therapy method focused on helping patients look for meaning in whatever situation they were troubled about. When I first read his label, I wondered if Frankl might help clarify my shallow thinking about the New Testament statement that Jesus was the word (logos) of God. It has been a simple and enlightening step to fill the word "word" with the meaning "meaning". Jesus is the meaning (word) of God. Jesus is the meaning (word) of life. Jesus is meaning (word) of truth. Jesus is the meaning (word) of peace. Jesus is the meaning (word) of righteousness. Jesus is the meaning (word) of wisdom. Could it be that every word in the New Testament is full of meaning, and thus full of surprises for us humans who tend to bumble through life unconcerned to discern the counterfeit experiences around us? I highly recommend Frankl's short, accessible, and insightful book.   



What is Our Place in the World?


This year an illustration came to my attention. The sun and moon both light our world. The Bible declares that this was the purpose of their creation. The sun is the source of the light that it shines out in all directions. The moon has no light of it own, but does reflect well the light of the sun. In the same way God is the source of all goodness. He created us to be his image bearers in this world, to know and reflect goodness, which comes from Him. Dependence describes the human relationship to goodness. It is good to be a source of goodness if one has the ability to be that source. God does, but we don't. The role of a dependent person is to be satisfied being a receiver of goodness. 


There is a cascade of surprises in this satisfaction. This is a result of the nature of moral goodness. Moral goodness is about the meaning of relationships, which is all about community. God is community (trinity) and created humans to be in community with Him and to be satisfied with His goodness. When we are content with His goodness, then we naturally overflow with (or reflect) His goodness to those around us, treating them with goodness, and delighting to do so. 



Sin is Rebellion Against Our Place in the World


Community is a beautiful and natural place to thrive in life. Why would anyone rebel against that good and proper place? If we understand what it means to be human we will realize that it is very easy to rebel. Adam was created with the imprint of God's goodness so as to naturally and freely experience and reflect that goodness in all directions. As mentioned above, that imprint includes the nuanced distinction that it is good to be a source of goodness, if you one has that ability, and good to be content being a receiver and reflector if one doesn't have that ability. Adam and Eve reflected well God's goodness in all directions all the time. It was a simple matter for Satan to suppress this distinction and trick them into thinking that since it is good to be a source of goodness, they too were or could be a source of goodness. To seek goodness in themselves was rebellion against their proper place of dependence as receivers and reflectors. This was a real and traumatic experience. They failed morally and suddenly were in desperate need for restoration (justification). Something became twisted deep in their nature, and this deep twisting has been inherited by all their descendants except Jesus. We all were born with a rebellious desire to find goodness in self and with a real and good need for resolution for this rebellion. G.K. Chesterton wrote humorously that this inherited rebellious nature is the only empirically provable Christian doctrine.



Restoration of Proper Dependence


God came to the two rebels and spoke a blessing over them, that one of the descendants of the woman would bring crush the head of the serpent (who had deceived them). God anticipated and promised that He would provide restoration for humanity, which He did provide 4000 years later. But for 4000 years it was good and proper for humanity to be content with God's anticipation of that restoration. The Old Testament and the gospels are a record of discontent with that anticipation—with some notable exceptions. That initial place of good dependence where human faithfulness was in the equation of life, vanished with Adam's first sin. The world was broken by that one act of rebellion. There was no going back. A new kind of dependence was needed, one of death to personal faithfulness so that humans could love without external pressure or impure motives. Isaiah said much in anticipation of that new kind of dependence on God's goodness. His words climax in Isaiah 53:11, circa 700BC.


"Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied. By his knowledge my righteous servant shall make the many righteous, for he shall bear away their transgressions." 


A century later, Jeremiah boldly declared this anticipation from the human experience of what God would provide. I find this to be the theme of the New Testament.


"I will fill the souls of the priests with abundance, and my people will be satisfied with my goodness, declares the Lord." -Jeremiah 31:14


At Pentecost God poured out the experience of this anticipated satisfaction. The cross had just prior been the experience of Jesus dying the death that rebellion deserved in order to create a good, fitting, and glorious place of dependence where God would do all the work and get all the glory. What had been in God's heart from before the creation of the universe was now a reality in the world. The death of the faithful one had become the door into death to, and thus freedom from, human unfaithfulness. He in His delight was now free to live in His people. 



Why Rampant Counterfeit Spirituality?


Above was mentioned the ease with which one can fall into rebellion against our proper place in the world. Do you agree that this is true for you? In case this is not clear, here are a few simple questions. Is it good for you to be irritated with your spouse, parents, children, friends, and fellow humans who happen to interrupt your plans for the moment? Is it good for you to hold a grudge, withhold forgiveness, or keep score on those who have hurt you? Is it good for you to minimize, or excuse away your sins or the sins of others? Is it good for other people to seek to manage your failings? Is it good for you to seek to manage the failings of others? Have you violated any of these principles (the ones which you agreed with) this past year, month, week, or hour? Socrates, who died about 400BC, said that one should rather die than violate one's conscience. That is serious. No wonder we feel guilty so often. 

Some years ago I had an enjoyable conversation with Haley (23) at our "Are you a good person" booth at the local fair. She failed the the test and received the dollar coin as a surprise gift. In the course of the conversation she declared that she had left her religion of birth and become an agnostic. As she was leaving I asked her a few questions to encourage her to think more deeply about life. Here is a short dialog representative of that exchange.


Me: Haley, I have a few questions about your boyfriend (he was with her).

Haley: Okay
Me: If I see him sin, is it good for me to let him get away with it? 
Haley: That is wrong. You shouldn't do that.
Me: Okay, here is another one. Is it good for me to be his judge when I see him sin?
Haley: You shouldn't do that either.
Me: Okay, then what should I do when I see him sin?
Haley: I don't know.
Me: What about this? What if I let God be his judge?
Haley: (smiling) That's it. That is good. 
Me: My role in life is to agree with God's judgment when I see your boyfriend sin. The cross is the only place that resolves sin. and I need to be content with what God has provided. When I think that way, then I am glad that Jesus died for him and I am careful to be gentle in helping him notice what he did wrong. If you know that rape and child abuse are wrong, then deep inside you know that Jesus had to die to bring justice into the situation. I would encourage you to think about these things.

 Haley knew intuitively that sin is not good and needs to be resolved. She also knew that it is not good to act as judge for others. With my help she realized that these two good things leave people in a quandary of what to do about human moral failings. Without the surprise that I offered her, we humans are left stumbling in the dark about how to manage sin. Sin needs management, and we all know it. It is near impossible to resist the urge to become sin managers. Some people manage the problem by sweeping it under the carpet. They deny the existence of the moral world and declare that right and wrong are imaginary. It is just tough luck for those who get raped, abused, or enslaved. Other people create lists of what needs to be done to overcome evil. Some manufacture gods to help harmonize the sin problem. All these are counterfeit solutions that dishonor what we all know intuitively about the meaning of life. It is important to realize that we need sin management solutions every waking moment every day. Counterfeit solutions are lurking in every situation we face.


Christians are not Exempt from Confusion


Socrates' shocking statement above
that one should die rather than violate one's own consciencepredates by centuries the apostle Paul's similar statement (Romans 1:32) that every person knows the righteousness of God, that every sin deserves death. This is moral knowledge, part of our intuitive knowledge of the meaning of life. Every human is born with the need for justification for their own rebellious longing to find goodness in self. We criticize others for justifying their failures, all the while doing it ourselves. Everyone I have asked has told me that it is wrong to self-justify for moral failure. One USU student agreed that he and I had both failed morally and needed justification. When he declared that it was wrong for us to justify ourselves, he suddenly burst out with emotion, asking, "If I don't justify myself, then how do I get it?" This led to clear conversation about the cross. We all are so sensitive to our need for justification for failure, that we would rather deny our humanity than honestly declare our nakedness. This is a huge blind spot. 

A close cousin to this is another blind spot related to our understanding of life. Because life is full of meaning, it is easy to think that I have to be able to explain that meaning to not be guilty of failing at being good. This thinking leads back to the potential for self-justification. This time the real issue is suppression of our ignorance. We talk in circles to avoid honesty about our confusion. Some weeks ago a new grad student friend (not a Christian) laughed at me when I shared my slowness to notice my ignorance. He declared that I was just like everyone else, thinking that I knew everything and oblivious to my need to ask questions. I laughed with him.


We all are confused at some level, and it is not good to be confused. We all have blind spots, and it is not good to have them. Whether you are a new Christian or a seasoned Bible school professor, you are confused and have blind spots. By definition we can not see our blind spots. Noticing them in others should make us aware that we have them, too. It is not good to be apathetic about out confusion or blind spots. It is good to seek to notice them and to want, request, and welcome help from other people to reduce our confusion and notice our blind spots. This is one blessing of community. Glad thankfulness is a good response to a person who cares enough to help us in this matter. Do you gladly thank those who criticize you?


Are you insecure about your confusion and blind spots? Insecurity means that you are confused about satisfaction in life, as quoted above from Jeremiah. It is good and fitting to find your satisfaction in God's goodness. All other satisfaction is fleeting or impaired. Begin thanking God that He is everything for you. Declare openly that you are confused and have blind spots. Thank Him for loving you anyway. Tell God that only perfect freedom from confusion and blind spots is good. Thank Him that it is good for other people to offer you help in this matter and that it is good for you to want and welcome their help. Invite God to send helpers your way. Get ready for answers to this prayer. One blessing of this prayer is that all critics and complainers become answers to prayer rather than being an opportunity for defensiveness resulting from self-justification. 



The Key to Begin Spotting Counterfeits


If you had a magic key that would open your understanding to notice many of the lies, counterfeits, points of confusion, and blind spots around you, would you be interested in at least hearing about the key to see if it might possibly be real? Jesus stated in Luke 11:52 that there was a key to understanding. Have you ever heard anyone talk about it or tell you what it is? 

"Woe to you experts in religious law! You have taken away the key to knowledge! You did not go in yourselves, and you hindered those who were going in."


First, I suggest that what is entered is life
God's life—life in God's goodnesseternal life. Second, I suggest that the key is the simple understanding that perfect love is the only good way to see life. This means that perfection is how we should evaluate all things moral. Jesus is the only place we find perfection in this world. Therefore, He is the only good reference point and we should always compare ourselves and all others to Jesus. When we do this much confusion disappears quickly. Are you an obedient Christian? Not, when compared to Jesus. Are you holy? Not when compared to Jesus. Are you a good person? Not when compared to Jesus. Are you confused? Yes, when compared to Jesus. Comparison to Jesus leaves us with nothing but Jesus as perfect love to cling to.  All other things lose their appeal and we find ourselves drawn toward other people.

Awareness of this key is highly motivational. Isaiah saw the perfection of God and was stripped of his pride and prepared to gladly preach to hardened and unresponsive Israel for 50 years. They couldn't hear him because they had rejected the key and were drunk on their own righteousness (Isaiah 29). With practice one can see how perfection fits every situation of personal relationships and helps clear away our confusion. I further suggest that it is very helpful in understanding many confusing Bible passages. I experience hundreds of witnessing conversations annually. My principle is to carefully use the key of perfection to help people honestly and properly evaluate themselves and realize their intuitive awareness of their need for the death of Jesus as the only good way of righteousness and the only good way to perceive life in every moment. It still surprises me sometimes to see the surprise on a person's face as the person hears their own mouth declare that they should always compare people to Jesus (or perfection, in the case of agnostics). My goal is to sensitize people to their intuitive knowledge that only perfection is good in all aspects of personal relationships (including with God). My hope is that this new awareness will take root in their hearts and the cross will become unavoidable for them. I also use the key of perfection in conversations with Christians to help them realize the simplicity of God's way of life and begin renewing their minds to perfection as the place of God's delight.



Application


Do you see life as a spiritual battle? Do you see life as full of counterfeits? Do you want to grow in sensitivity to them so as to be less often tricked by them? Might you be unwittingly embracing some counterfeits right now? If you were, would you want to know about it? This is the first in a series of posts on counterfeits. I suggest that every Christian concept has a counterfeit to watch out for. Satan is a counterfeit Jesus. Paul declares that he counterfeits light and righteousness (2 Cor 11:14-15) Below is a list of some of the counterfeits that I have spotted and plan to write about. They are set as questions because I find that questions help me notice where I have been tricked. The first one is set first intentionally (others are in random order) because it has been my biggest surprise (that I am aware of) and seems to have accelerated my awareness of other counterfeits. It will be the focus of the next in the series.

  • What is the flesh?
  • What is righteousness?
  • What is holiness?
  • What is worldliness?
  • What is walking in the spirit?
  • What is love?
  • What is a Christian?
  • What is a sinner?
  • What does it mean to die to self?
  • What is sin?
  • What is forgiveness?
  • What is grace?
  • What is law?
  • What is light?
  • What is the discipline of the Lord?
  • What does it mean to endure to the end?
  • What is repentance?
  • What is the fruit of being a Christian?
  • What is the alternative to laziness?




Monday, June 26, 2017

GRACE AND THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD: SOME SURPRISES

Is Grace Unmerited Favor?


Christians often and rightly say that grace is unmerited favor. This is a beautiful declaration. However, we Christians easily get tricked into forgetting grace when we we look at our relationship with God and with other people. To say that Christians have a relationship of unmerited favor with God means that merited favor has no place in that relationship. 


What Is Merited Favor?


Merited favor means that some personal performance is in the equation of the relationship. If my wife has to perform properly in order to avoid my displeasure, then I perceive her as needing to merit my favor, in part or in whole. If I were her employer that would be fine, but good personal relationships are free from merit. Since it is never good to lower the standards of goodness, merit in a personal relationship would necessitate moral perfection. Let's be real: none of us are perfect. Thus merit cannot be part of a good personal relationship.  Is a personal relationship about doing good things?

The Symptom of Merited Favor


In your relationships with other people, do you have check lists for them--do you require them to merit your favor? If you say that you don't because it is not good, then it seems reasonable that you would want to know when you violate your own principle. Here is the symptom that reveals that you (or someone else) have been tricked to include merited favor in a relationship. I would like to approach this from a different angle to increase clarity. Have you ever had others irritated, impatient, frustrated, or angry with you for something you did wrong? Of course your failure was not good, but did you appreciate the other person's reaction? We all have been on the receiving end of such treatment and know that it is wrong. But it is also wrong when we have these reactions. And these reactions have only one source: some flawed human faithfulness is perceived to be in the equation of the relationship--some check list must be met--some work done--satisfaction is not in God's goodness alone. Remembering to exclude flawed human faithfulness from the relationship creates peace with God and peace of heart in the moment. It is good to do good and it is good to be faithful, but it is never good to find satisfaction in sin, which is what you are doing when you perceive flawed human faithfulness to be a part of a good relationship. Sin is any violation of moral goodness. Let's be honest: human faithfulness is always flawed and thus is not good. So why not exclude merited favor from relationships? Faithfulness is good and necessary to put our minds at ease. But whose faithfulness? Perceive your relationships through the lens of God's faithfulness and goodness and you will be free to notice human sin in a razor sharp way with no bad reactions.


Does Merited Favor Belong in Parenting?


 Have you ever cringed when observing parents express disappointment, frustration, anger, or harshness toward their children? Did you ever receive such treatment from your parents? Was it helpful to you in learning love, forgiveness, trust, and good behavior? Hardly. Parents are entrusted with the lives of children and given the great privilege of helping those children learn to understand life, goodness, and how to thrive in relationships. Children are born with physical and moral senses that are immature and need development. They need to learn to walk and talk. This is a natural process. In the same way, it is a natural process to learn to navigate the moral world. And that process is shepherded by parents, relatives, and extended community. It doesn't happen in a vacuum. Good parenting is about shepherding a child's heart, realizing that right thinking results in right living. 

It is tragic when parents fail to realize that right behavior flows naturally out of right thinking and bad behavior flows naturally out of bad thinking. It takes practice for parents to notice bad behavior and not take that bad behavior personally. "How dare that child not do what I say." Alert parents will have been preparing themselves by applying this principle to themselves first and then to other people. This is intuitive knowledge and one need not be a Christian to grasp it. Personal maturity is skillfulness in applying this principle in its all-encompassing application to life. Identifying the principle clearly, helps us evaluate and understand our experiences and reactions. Because bad behavior is bad, it is so very easy to get distracted from the principle and then criticize human behavior as the problem. But the root cause of bad behavior is bad thinking--always. 

It is also tragic when parents don't realize that a child is born with a moral sense that needs nurturing. I think and teach that frustration, impatience, manipulation, rage, and abuse are always out of place in parenting, as well as in the rest of life. These reactions are the natural fruit of the parent being offended that the child is not conforming to the parent's wishes. This is a symptom of forgetting the child's common humanity, moral sense, and tendency to make excuses. All of us make excuses, so why be surprised if a child does it? The child's moral sense is very real and touches all aspects of goodness. It is a great privilege for a parent to help a child learn to be honest about that moral sense and to learn to honor it and not suppress it. A child is not his behavior. Realizing and remembering this frees a parent to have a compassionate, tender, and firm response while identifying clearly the wrongness of the child's bad behavior. A parent has no authority to dispense merited favor just as I have no authority to dispense merited favor in any personal relationship I have. The parent is not the child's sin manager, but rather an advocate to help the child learn that sin is managed fully and solely at the cross. Therefore, being disappointed (frustrated, impatient, angry) with your child is always wrong because it is a sign that you perceive that your child needs to merit your favor. 


Where Does God Find Satisfaction?



God is not an impersonal force or vending machine. As the creator of the universe, He is the source of what it means to be a person. He is the ultimate person--good, perfect, and righteous in all ways. We are made in his image, but that image has been distorted by human pride. Since God is a divine person and good, he desires a good personal relationship with people. To be a Christian means to have such a relationship. God initiates and maintains the relationship without our help, otherwise our flawed faithfulness would distort the relationship. 

God does want something from us, and it is good for Him to want it. But it is not our faithfulness, goodness, obedience, or works, for they are all flawed. If you are a Christian then you have done only one thing perfectly, the only thing that a person can do that is not a work. It is to rest in the work of another person--Christ. Paul declares this explicitly in Romans 4:5: "But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness." Christian faith is confidence, trust, rest, and satisfaction with Christ's faithfulness as all one needs to be in a good relationship with God. Our initial conversion was a pure rest in Christ's faithfulness. Jeremiah anticipated the Day of Pentecost when he declared: "I will fill the souls of the priests with abundance and my people will be satisfied with My goodness, declares the Lord." (Jeremiah 31:14) To be satisfied with God's goodness excludes finding satisfaction in your own work or in the work of other flawed humans. Is God fully satisfied with His goodness in the work of Christ on the cross? Are you fully satisfied with God's goodness? Isaiah also anticipated unmerited favor flowing naturally from the cross when he prophesied, "Lord, You will establish peace for us, since You have also performed for us all our work." (Isaiah 26:12) Do you see peace as a fruit of God doing all the work for you and other people? Conversion is entrance into this new mindset, but it is easy to revert back to the corrupt mindset of seeking some satisfaction in flawed human faithfulness.


Christians are Royal Children of God


All Christians have the great privilege of being adopted into God's family. In Christ we are God's royal and righteous children. Our righteousness is real and present, but it is not our own; it is the righteousness of Christ. He has taken our identity as lawbreakers under the law and given us His identity as children under the authority of grace. This is very difficult for us democratically-minded people to understand. Read here the testimony of a Jordanian Muslim attorney friend who did not become a Christian. He understands what grace means at a deep level because he has a real king with real authority. He told me that his impossible dream was to be adopted into the royal family. He added that if that came true, then he would be above the law and free to do whatever he wanted. He then made the amazing declaration that he would be so happy for what the king had done for him that he would never do anything wrong again. I pressed him and was finally able to shake his confidence. He admitted that he might do something wrong if he forgot what the king had done for him. He saw that remembrance of that great gift would motivate him to do good always. I suggest that this is what the New Testament teaches Christianity to be: that the death of Christ is what turns the world right side up to provide both a way of royal adoption and a way of good, pure, and sufficient motivation for good works, where they flow naturally and effortlessly out of a vision of love received. Does this seem to you to be too good to be true? 


Is God Ever Disappointed, Frustrated, or Angry with Christians?


Forgetfulness by an adopted royal child can have bad consequences, as my Muslim friend stated. But that forgetfulness and its consequences are not part of the relationship with one's king because human performance is excluded. This is not to deny that consequences can be tragic, but it is to establish satisfaction with the goodness of God as the center of the universe. "God passed over the sins previously committed so that he might demonstrate His righteousness at the present time [the cross]." (Rom.3:25) The cross resolves all evil not just the small stuff. God calls all people to be satisfied with that resolution and He leads the way in being satisfied with it Himself. If God is ever disappointed, frustrated, or angry with a Christian, then He is not satisfied with sin-bearing love at the cross and He perceives merited favor to be in the relationship. There is no way around this fact. In theory, merited favor has had no place in my parenting of my five children. I was tricked to put it in sometimes, but God is a perfect parent and thus never puts it in. This means that God has no disappointment, frustration, impatience, or anger toward any Christian. NONE! If you disagree, then there are two options: either I need to be corrected, or you are unwittingly reading the Bible upside down. If you were, would you like to know it?


Does the Lord Discipline Christians?


The Bible clearly teaches that God disciplines Christians. Have you noticed that the Bible also clearly teaches that God disciplined Israel under law? Discipline simply means training. The question we need to ask is this. What is the purpose of the training? In the Bible the purpose is clearly something moral and not anything like skillfulness at some musical instrument or sport. This leaves only two options for understanding what the purpose is: 1) to take sins seriously and control them, and 2) to grow in skillfulness in seeing life through the lens of righteousness (perfection). If my observation of scripture is true, and my Muslim friend's understanding of motivation is true, then sin by a Christian is always a result of forgetting righteousness. Therefore the two options are not equally valid. The latter is true, real, and good, while the former is counterfeit. If the latter is true then the former plays into the hands of Satan. Satan appears as an angel of light; he is the father of lies; he is a master counterfeiter. And he seeks to deceive us with his counterfeits. Do you ever get tricked by them? I do. What does he counterfeit? I have lived 85% of my Christian life, 33 years, in the den of master gospel counterfeiters. My Mormon culture uses Christian terminology and spins it to make life all about you becoming a better you, rather than about you getting a new identity as a royal righteous child in Christ. For Christians here, the conflict and contrast are very real. Still we get tricked sometimes. Paul declares in 2Cor. 11:15 (see the context of 11:3-15) that Satan counterfeits righteousness. 


Counterfeit Righteousness


I discuss the gospel with hundreds of Mormons annually. In a typical gospel conversation, a Mormon will tell me some or all of the following things about righteousness.

  • It is not good to sin, therefore we should try not to sin.
  • It is good to be righteous, therefore we need to try to be righteous.
  • Righteousness is trying.
  • God said to be perfect, which means that we need to try.
  • God doesn't expect perfection, only that we do our best.
  • It is unrealistic to stop all sins now, so we work on them one by one.
  • Repentance is a slow process of turning from sins and obeying God.
  • God forgives us for the sins we repent of.
  • God will not give you righteousness as a gift. You have to try to be obedient.
  • If you get righteousness as a gift, it will make you lazy. 
Do you see any counterfeits hidden in these statements? The focus is on me, my behavior, and my efforts. Merited favor is here. Mormons tell me that life is a process of learning to make right choices. They say that the discipline of the Lord is about getting people to be serious about their sins individually. All Satan's counterfeits are really just different nuances of the same thing: God's perfect goodness is turned into something manageable--something less than perfection. This is a suppression of righteousness (Rom. 1:18). It is fair to summarize the battle lines in my conversations with Mormons as identity versus behavior. They are striving to get their sinful thoughts and behaviors under control so as to be righteous. They openly declare to me that righteousness goes up and down with obedience and disobedience. They are their own sin managers. I declare to them that compared to Jesus we all are failures and therefore righteousness can only be perfection (all or nothing) and thus only available as a gift. This is the titanic struggle of the universe.  

Have you been tricked into the counterfeit thinking of my Mormon friends: that God's discipline is about controlling your individual sins? Of course your individual sins are bad, but the whole of your sins are bad. Of course it is good to be honest about your sins and take them seriously, but to be fully honest means that it is good for you to deal with them ALL immediately and simultaneously. Anything less is not good. Do you want to take them that seriously? Or do you want to be your own sin manager? You can't manage perfection, but Christ can and did at the cross. Also, your sins are not random actions. They are the simple result of perceiving life in a way that is not good. Read my articles on this: simplicity in Christ,  holiness as a way of seeing, obedience: success or trying? You sin only when you don't see life through the lens of righteousness (perfection as required and given freely as a gift). 


God's Discipline is Always About Righteousness


God's discipline is always about righteousness. The letter to the Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians living between Pentecost and the destruction of the temple. They were under intense pressure from their Jewish culture to go back to the law. From beginning to end, Hebrews is a reminder of the simple gospel to weary Jewish Christians who were giving in to that pressure. They needed encouragement to stand firm and not be intimidated. They needed a long refresher course in the simplicity of the gospel that had come to them at Pentecost and freed them to be righteousness by the work of Christ without their own works. They needed to hear again that though sin is bad, going back to the law is tragic. The Law is all about externals as part of what it means to be fully acceptable before God. The whole letter is about this conflict over righteousness. Hebrews 12 is the go to passage in the Bible on God's discipline. Since this teaching is in this context, do you read discipline in light of this conflict, or as my Mormon friends do? For 25 years I read it as my Mormon culture does. I am living proof that it is very easy to get distracted from identity to behavior and not even notice having been distracted. I still prove it every day. Have you realized that you do it too? Therefore, according to the context of Hebrews, the sin that so easily entangles (12:1) is going back to the law. The race (12:1,2) is about always considering Jesus (His work as all we need). Endurance (12:1) is needed to not give in to the pressure to go back to the law. The sinners (12:3) who were applying the pressure were the super religious Jews, not the prostitutes and irreligious people. Resisting them (12:4) meant resisting going back to the law, not resisting doing bad things. Joy is absent or suppressed while one is not considering Jesus (12:11). Christians are righteous by faith alone; we have a new identity as righteous children in Christ independent of our behavior. God disciplines, or trains, us every waking moment in every situation, to be alert to remember what this identity means and to live out of that identity. God wants us to always see and evaluate every situation in light of His goodness, of righteousness as perfection, not some manageable performance expectation. He wants us to grow in wisdom, and His wisdom is skillfulness in the word of righteousness. (5:13-14) 


Israel was Disciplined to Righteousness as Perfection


The discipline of the Lord is first mentioned explicitly in Deuteronomy 4:36. "He let you hear His voice to discipline you; and on earth He let you see His great fire, and hear His words from the midst of the fire," Was God's word to them some form of do your best, try harder, or partial obedience? No. We see this earlier in the chapter. "You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you." (4:2) We also read, "It will be righteousness for us if we are careful to keep all this commandment." (6:25) "All the commandments that I am commanding you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply and go in and possess the land which the Lord swore to give to your forefathers." (8:2) Notice that God's word is inflexible--zero fudging by adding or taking away--it must be kept in full as it is. This means that God wanted Israel to keep their eye on His perfection and not compromise His perfection in thought, word, or deed. To be righteous required perfect obedience. The Old Testament is the record of God's compassion and Israel's dishonor of His perfect law. Their history is an ugly one. Finally Jesus arrived among them. He preached in such a way as to reestablish the honor of the law, that it required perfection. Israel hated that message and killed him for it. Jesus knows (taught, believed, understood) that God wants you and all people to keep all the commandments perfectly now and always, no matter the situation. If you don't believe this, by what authority do you compromise God's expectation of goodness and make it something manageable? 


Honesty About Sin


Let's be honest about sin. John declares that sin is lawlessness (dishonor of the law). (1John 3:4) In other words, sin is violation of goodness--any violation. Life is a spiritual battle to honor God's goodness. If you are not doing it fully, then you are not doing it, and you are a violator. God has brought resolution to this problem by making the cross the place where all sin has been put away by the sacrifice of Christ. (Hebrews 9:26) This concerns the power of sin as well as its guilt. The cross does not make people into robots. Rather it frees them to live in a good way, in a new identity in His righteousness without any need to find justification or satisfaction anywhere else--no matter how great the violation they commit, receive, or observe. God declares, and we all know, that it is not good to seek justification for any human failure in any human action. God is satisfied with Christ's sacrifice of Himself. Therefore, why be satisfied with a vision of God's discipline that does not honor God's goodness (perfection) or His satisfaction with Christ? Let Jesus be the sin manager of the world. Embrace His clarity about sin: that only perfection is good. Embrace His righteousness (perfection as required and given freely as a gift) as the point of His training for you and all other people. Embrace forgetfulness or rejection of righteousness as the cause of all sin. Embrace remembrance of righteousness as the place of restoration, healing, life, truth, peace, and joy. Let's together embrace and celebrate satisfaction with God's goodness and His good training of us. 

God's discipline or training is all about growth in skillfulness in seeing Jesus as ALL our righteousness, holiness, and redemption--our wisdom from God.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

CAN YOU DRIFT AWAY FROM GRACE? SOME SURPRISES

"Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it." -Hebrews 2:1

I have had true Christians tell me that reading the Letter to the Hebrews troubles them. Some have called it scary. If I remember correctly, some have even admitted to avoiding it. Have you ever had these thoughts or heard others say such things? If the gospel is so beautiful and so powerful, then why do true Christians have this response to reading this inspired letter? I have heard this about the letter of First John as well.


Who is the Audience?


The Letter to the Hebrews was written to the community of Jewish Christians living around Jerusalem between Pentecost and the destruction of the Jewish temple and its rituals. That community had been previously under the law of Moses for centuries and had recently been freed by Jesus to live in unmerited favor. They were surrounded by pressure to go back to the old ways. 

Which Message is Superior?


The message of Jesus is about His faithfulness and His work of "putting away sin by the sacrifice of Himself." The message given by angels to Moses at Mt Sinai was of personal faithfulness and the work of the temple system to take away sin. Jesus sits in authority and the angels are merely servants. Therefore since Jesus is greater, His message overrides the old message. 

Is it Good to Get Confused about the Two Messages?


It is never good to be confused about anything, but since Satan is the author of confusion, it certainly is possible to get muddleheaded about what is good. It is easy to get fooled about how law and gospel fit together. It would have been especially easy if one lived in the neighborhood of the beautiful Jewish Temple with its old, respected, and inspired system of sacrifices and rituals.

Confusion in the Word Must


The little word must has two general senses. It is commonly used as some form of threat. "You must give me your money or I will shoot you." "You must clean your plate or you won't get ice cream." "You must give that back because I had it first." "You must change or I won't forgive you." Do you hear the threat in these statements. Another common meaning, that isn't so noticeable, relates to what is natural, fitting, or proper. "You must get here before noon if you want to see your grandmother, as her ride to the airport leaves at noon." There is no threat in this kind of statement. It is simply a declaration of how consequences naturally follow actions. The latter is the true sense in our verse. Those who unwittingly read this verse in the threat sense, can easily turn this verse into a command from God. But this verse is simply helping to set the stage for the first command (3:1). That command naturally follows chapters one and two.

Is it Possible to Drift Away?

 Is it possible to drift away? How confident are of your answer? Let me paraphrase this verse, but set it in the negative for emphasis and clarity. "In light of the above reasons, it is not good, fitting or right for us to not give more careful attention to the message of Jesus, that He has put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, lest we drift away." I suggest that drifting away is a far greater and more common problem than we think. Have you ever wondered if you or someone else might be guilty of drifting away? Have you ever thought that you need to be careful to not drift away? Have you ever thought that you can't drift away? The surprise is that it is not something that we do but rather something that happens to us naturally.  

Notice that the verse states that drifting away is the fruit of neglecting to do something else. That something is to give careful attention to the message of grace. In short, drifting away is the natural consequence of not considering the work of Christ. To be even more blunt, you do drift away when you don't consider grace. I drift away often every day. I don't intend to drift away, but it is the natural result of forgetting to see in the moment through the lens of grace. It takes practice to notice that it is this simple.


Here are some examples. When a preacher declares that people must be careful to not drift away, he has already drifted away himself, because he has unwittingly not considered that it is Jesus' job to keep a person from drifting away. When you sin in any way, you have already drifted away from grace. When you are looking at life through the telescope of grace, it is impossible for you to sin. You can't keep yourself from sinning or drifting away, but God canWHILE you are considering grace properly.


Where Does Salvation Fit?


Salvation is like marriage. Marriage doesn't end with the ceremony; it begins there. In the same way salvation is a new kind of life, relationship, or identity with Godone of unmerited favor. It begins in the moment of conversion and continues on forever. It begins when one for the first time finds satisfaction in God's goodness or faithfulness without holding in reserve any satisfaction in one's own faithfulness. We are all born with our faithfulness in the equation of life. After conversion, only Jesus' faithfulness is in the equation. Thus Christianity is life in the faithfulness of Christ free from the pressure of pretended personal faithfulness. No one is faithful when compared to Christ, so let's get over ourselves. 

Since all Christians have their identity purely in Christ's faithfulness, it is impossible to drift away from one's own identity in grace. Period. If you think otherwise then you have been tricked into thinking that there is some merited favor in the Christian life. It is Jesus' job to keep you from drifting away and, unlike you, He handles His job perfectly. Satan has created many counterfeits and many of God's dear children have been tricked to see counterfeits where there is pure grace. I am currently preaching through Hebrews and in my first sermon declared that I plan to shine the bright light of the gospel on every scary verse so as to reveal the glory of the cross and remove all scariness for the Christian, all the while maintaining that God is a consuming fire. This includes chapters 3, 4, 10, 12, and especially 6:4-6. An article on the last one is almost finished and should appear here soon. Counterfeits, counterfeits, counterfeits. Let's put the blame where it belongs: on us for being fooled by the counterfeits. I have much experience here. Do you?


Whose Faithfulness Do You Consider?


Let's get real. Whose faithfulness are you considering right now? It is never good to be unfaithful. Therefore only perfect faithfulness is good. It is not good to have expectations that are not good. Therefore goodness includes expectation of perfect faithfulness. This makes it simple to realize that 1) only God's faithfulness counts, and 2) it is a deception to expect flawed human faithfulness to count. But the spiritual battle ragesthe flesh versus the spiritflawed human faithfulness versus God's faithfulnesstrying to do good versus success at doing good. In the heat of the moment the pressure is on to drift from a vision of perfect faithfulness into Satan's counterfeit of flawed human faithfulness. We need to retrain our minds to what is good if we are to stand firm in God's faithfulness and not drift away into valuing counterfeit faithfulness. If you want to prepare your mind for battle, I would suggest frequent prayer of thankfulness for what God declares to be good, for example:

"Father in heaven, thank you for calling me to always value what is good. Thank you for making your faithfulness is to be all my satisfaction even when I fail or other people fail. Thank you for calling me to remember your faithfulness and to remind others of your faithfulness. Thank you for making Christianity to be the community of satisfaction in your goodness. Thank you that it is your job to keep me from drifting away. Thank you that your Son fully put away sin by the sacrifice of himself, and that he did this without my help. Thank you for making sin to be overcome easily by a vision that only perfect faithfulness counts. Thank you for making my job to be simpleto consider your Son's faithfulness at the cross as the only hope for anyone in any situation."   

Consider Jesus the high priest of our confession, that "He has put away sin by the sacrifice of himself."


Thursday, May 25, 2017

OBEDIENCE: IS IT ABOUT SUCCESS, OR JUST ABOUT TRYING?

How Do You Read the Bible and Life?


In the New Testament we run across the words keep, do, and obey in reference to a proper response to what is good in life or to what God commands. Below are but a few examples. 

  • “If you love me, you will keep my commandments." -John 14:15
  • "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” -John 14:21
  • "You are my friends if you do what I command you." -John 15:14
  • "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments." -1John 5:2


When you read the above passages, how did you understand the words do, keep, and obey? Let me clarify. When you read the third statement that to be a friend of Jesus requires doing what He commands, did you interpret the word do to mean: feel good about, to unsuccessfully attempt to do, or to succeed at doing? Likely you resonated with the statement and felt good about Jesus' call to do what He commands. This response of yours was good but insufficient because Jesus is calling a person to action beyond just feeling. Do you see yourself as a friend of Jesus? It is good to be Jesus' friend, but have you done what He said is required to be His friend? Do you do what Jesus commands? Think of what you consider that Jesus commands you to do. Have you done it? Do you do it? Has your doing been successful or unsuccessful? In other words, is success in action important to Jesus, or is He simply interested that you put in an effort even though you fail? 

Obedience: Victory or Failure?


In sports competitions, one person or team wins the competition. The winner declares that victory was achieved. The losers declare that they tried to win, but failed. The loser's attempt was unsuccessful. When you think of Jesus' call to keeping, doing, or obeying His commands, have you achieved victory, or been unsuccessful? I suspect that more clarity is needed. First, is Jesus declaring that His friends keep, do, or obey what He desires just when it is convenient, or all the time? Second, does Jesus want us to evaluate success by looking at our effort or the lack of success of others? Many non-Christians have told me that for moral issues, comparison to other people is never good. 

  • Does God desire you to succeed at being righteous, or just that you try to be righteous?
  • Does God desire you to succeed at being holy or only that you try to be holy?
  • Does God desire you to succeed at being free from sin or merely that you try not to sin?
  • Does God desire that you succeed at keeping all His commands all the time, or simply that you put in an effort?


The Standard of Evaluation


It is good for God to desire that you always do what is good. It is not good for God to think or declare that it is satisfactory that you only imperfectly do what is good or only do good part of the time. Thus God's expectation for you (and all other people) is that you always do what is good. No compromises. Do you agree? Are you succeeding at doing good always?

Let's apply this to obedience. Do you agree that imperfect obedience is disobedience? Let's say that God gives you a glass of pure water and commands you to drink all of it. Let's also say that you drink 60% and decide that that is enough for you, and so you don't finish the glass of water. Did you obey God? No you didn't. Imperfect obedience is not good and thus not satisfactory to God. 

Jesus came into this world to reveal what is good. On all moral issues, it is good to compare ourselves and all other people to Jesus. It is never good to compromise that standard of evaluation. Compared to Jesus how are you doing in terms of holiness, obedience, and keeping the commands of Jesus? Are you an obedient Christian? 

Honesty About Confusion



The first step in understanding God's ways is to notice our confusion about what God desires. I have the privilege of living in a culture that is overwhelmingly Mormon. It is a
surprise blessing because they use our words, but with different definitions. This helps us to think more critically about what we believe. As we here are challenged, we at least occasionally realize that we have lies in our own minds. This is a wonderful revelation. Until I notice a lie that is in my thinking, I am unaware that I need to discard it. I witness to hundreds of Mormons annually and in nearly every conversation I hear words something like, "Since it is good to do good, this means that we need to try to do good. God doesn't expect us to be perfect, but only to do our best." People commonly tell me that the commandments are a goal to shoot for, not something to expect success at now. Therefore, I commonly get corrected for telling people that God expects immediate success at doing good, being righteous, and obeying His commands. When I tell them that God always expects perfection now, the conversation opens to the gospel. All people know that I am not perfect in my thoughts, words, and actions, and so how can I so gladly and confidently preach that only perfection counts with God? I preach to myself first this message of perfection now on all topics of the Christian life. I find it in all of life and everywhere in the Bible. Thinking this way makes life a joy and makes it easy to preach non-hypocritically to others. 

Do you preach to yourself first that God expects from you perfection now on all aspects of the Christian life--say holiness, obedience, keeping the commandments, and loving others? If you don't preach perfection now, by what authority do you compromise God's goodness, or what verses or reasoning do you use to correct me to embrace your view that God doesn't expect perfection now--that, for example, He doesn't expect complete holiness now? I have commonly heard Christians (including pastors) talk about obedience, loving others, keeping Jesus' commands and more, and have wondered how they could speak so positively since it was impossible for them (or me) to be succeeding at what they were preaching since what they were saying was clearly about behavior. It is clear to me now that they were not meaning successful obedience but rather an attempt (unsuccessful) at obedience. We Christians know that we shouldn't say try to obey because obedience really includes success. But we have been tricked into a pretense. We mean try but don't say try because that is not good. It is okay to use the wrong words as we express ourselves. But it is deceptive to use good words when we mean something that is not good. God sees the heart. 

The critical issue for you to consider concerns how you use words. It can be painful to be honest, but honesty is important in order to embrace change. When you talk about obedience, doing what is right, or loving others, do you mean success when compared to Jesus, or do you mean just putting in an effort? Is success important to you like it is important to Jesus?


The Next Step: A New Question


If perfection now is God's expectation and imperfect obedience is disobedience, then you need a new question when you read the Bible and when you think about life. I suggest that not asking good questions has us in much confusion in seeking to understand both the Bible and life. If the Bible and life are to be trusted, then either God is confused, the writers of the Bible didn't hear clearly from God, these writers were confused, the Bible has been radically changed all over the place, or you are seriously misunderstanding the Bible and life. Is it possible that you are confused about what Jesus meant by keeping the commandments, obedience, holiness, and much more? Is there even a slim possibility of this? It is true for me. It seems to me that we Christians often talk like God is confused. I suggest that both all of the Bible and all of life are perfectly consistent with God's call to perfection now. The big question I ask myself and I urge you to consider is this: Is it possible that you are confused about what Jesus (or the other writers) is talking about? 

As stated above, my Mormon culture has confronted me much and taught me to daily check myself for confusion. Just because I don't notice any today doesn't mean that it isn't there. My principle it to pray every morning that God would bring to me during the day a Mormon, atheist, or child to say something that would reveal another lie in my thinking, that I might discard it. Please join me in this prayer.


"Do or Do Not, There is No Try." 




This quote by Yoda of Star Wars fame is on a wall at Oasis Books. It gets laughs but also affirmation from everyone I ask about it. Do you affirm it? If you do then it is a wonderful tool to use to cleanse your mind of the polluting affect of manageability--of worldliness--of do and try harder--of the flesh--of human glory--of quenching the Spirit. Yoda's words point to Jesus, since only Jesus succeeded in always doing what is good. 






As you read the Bible or think about your behavior and that of other people, I encourage you to seek to read every verse in light of God's good expectation of perfection now. Think of Jesus. Think of Yoda's words. Learn to notice failure clearly in light of perfection. I predict that you will begin to enjoy the people who previously have rubbed you the wrong way. Also your reading of the Bible will be like a treasure hunt for new riches. It may even feel like you are reading the Bible right side up.

The focus of this post is to tease you to notice that almost certainly your mind is infested with trying where success should be. This is for life and for reading the Bible. I have sought to only hint at fresh ways to understand both. In other posts at this blog you can read my views on what complete holiness now means and the simple way to do it (perfectly), what Jesus meant by the fruit that reveals certainly if a person is a Christian, and much more. Soon I will post an article on how I know why you have done every sin that you have done as a Christian. Do you know? Are you surprised that I claim to know this about you, even if we have never met? Watch for it. Here is Jeremiah's hint (it foretold of Pentecost) "I will fill the priests with abundance, and my people will be satisfied with my goodness, declares the Lord." (31:14)

Let's celebrate God's goodness as our full satisfaction!