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Legalism or Progressivism: Which is Deadlier to Faith?

Since 2002, I’ve been advocating for religion-free Christianity, as well as warning of the dangers of allowing legalism to invade our faith-walk. Over the years, I’ve been accused by fundamentalists of being “soft on sin,” preaching “greasy grace,” and failing to understand the importance of the Law.

I’ve been physically assaulted on two separate occasions, I’ve been labeled a “radical” and a “heretic,” placed on false teacher websites and have been blacklisted from several churches due to my views on sovereignty, the believer’s authority, and faith-righteousness.  Through all of that, I’ve stood strong for the message of the New Covenant, the finished work of the cross, and the righteousness of the believer through faith.

Recently though, I’ve received a new form of opposition. Despite my very public (and considered in some circles to be “radical”) stance on grace, I’ve now been accused of being a legalist. How did this happen you may wonder?  Let me explain.

For the last several years, I’ve been addressing a theological phenomenon known by some as spiritual extrapolation.  Spiritual extrapolation is the process by which one attempts to discover a deeper revelation of the Word by starting with a biblical truth, but over time extrapolating the revelation of that truth, until the end doctrine has progressed beyond what is found in Scripture, and the individual ends up in error.

The main concern of spiritual extrapolation is not simply that one now holds to the error, but that he has let go of the value and importance of the Word in establishing a right belief about God.  This form of extrapolation, rooted in Gnostic thinking, gives preference to reason and logic over biblical inerrancy.  Thoughts such as, “If God is really good, then there would be no hell,” sound good on paper, but they violate foundational truths of the Bible, such as freewill, personal responsibility, and the empowerment of the believer. Don’t be fooled, a God that gives no choice, cannot be truly good.

I understand the attraction to this line of thinking, especially by my grace brothers and sisters, many of whom have been deeply wounded by denominational thinking and Pharisaical Christianity. Like many in the grace community, I too, have experienced firsthand the negative effects of legalism, adherence to tradition, and the damage that a faulty view of God can cause to one’s emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.

It makes sense to me that those of us who have been wounded by religion would have the tendency to set sail for greener and freer theological pastures.  And in many cases, this has proven to give birth to wonderful theological renewal.  New insights into the meaning of the cross, a greater understanding of the purpose of the Mosaic Law, and powerful personal revelations of the unbreakable and everlasting covenant with our God through Christ abound. But not all “so called” revelations are good, as is the case with progressive thinking that inevitably leads to extra-biblical extrapolation.

Think of doctrine like a buoy floating in the ocean. Fixed to the bottom of the ocean floor by a strong cable, the buoy is free to float along the surface of the water. It can float a little to the left or a little to the right, but ultimately, it remains safely anchored to the seabed.

In the case of doctrine, our opinions regarding specific scriptures may float, if you will, between various individual interpretations and theological variations, but assuming we are still connected to the Bible and the Lordship of Jesus, we can remain fixed within the broader bounds of orthodoxy, free from the devastating effects of heresy.

However, if our belief and connection to the infallibility of the Word of God is somehow lost, like a buoy ripped from its foundation, we, too run the risk of floating out into the life-threatening waters of false doctrine. This is exactly what happens in the case of spiritual extrapolation and it is the trademark of progressivism.  (For more on spiritual extrapolation, click HERE.)

Verses that used to serve as the final authority on a given topic, are now treated with contempt – marginalized, criticized, or suggested to be inapplicable to a New Covenant believer in the modern era.  All this is just a vain attempt to justify holding onto false doctrines and man-made opinions over the Word of God.

Furthermore, since our new doctrines inevitably violate the Word of God, our belief system creates a tension in our heart.  The need to resolve this tension only further propels us into distancing ourselves from the Bible.  If we begin to hold to a particular belief and wrongly elevate it over the truth of the scriptures, eventually, something has to give.  Unfortunately, our pride usually prevents that from being our own belief system, so by default, our dependence on the scriptures is often the first to detach.

“But isn’t progressivism better than legalism?” I was asked recently. To be completely honest, I had to think about that question for a minute, until I eventually found myself answering it with a resounding, “No!” Here’s why.

In Romans 3:19, Paul writes, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.”

Additionally, Paul adds in Galatians 3:23-24,

Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.”

According to Paul, the purpose of the Law was to silence man before God and to reveal his need for a savior.  In fact, any real effort at attempting to fulfill the Law, should eventually lead a person to a deep surrender to the lordship of Jesus.

If man were truly to attempt to fulfill the whole law, he would quickly realize that he could not, and therefore, would call out to God for help.  In reality, mixture is infinitely more dangerous than adherence to the Law, because the worshipper falsely believes that with just a little bit of law and a little bit of God’s grace, he could accomplish righteousness on his own.

But in the case of progressivism, the worshipper must reject allegiance to the written Word of God, which is supposed to confirm and validate the person of Christ and the truth of God. Through humanistic thinking, a progressivist simply follows his own vain imaginations and theological ponderings.  Floating detached from truth, he begins interpreting Scripture with what feels like divine inspiration, yet with each new wave of “revelation,” he floats closer to the shores of agnostic skepticism, before eventually running aground on the rocks of atheism.

These theological drifters have exchanged the Holy Spirit’s prompting for the comfort of their own wit, and by doing so, have lost the opportunity to be reined in by spiritual conviction and God’s rebuke.  Though once enlightened, the tether that was at one time attached to their source of truth has been severed – cut by their own egos.  As a result, progressivists exist in an extra-biblical world, outside of the covenants and separated from the Word of God.

For example, some progressivists suggest that the apostle Paul had only a partial revelation of grace, thus, “his words can’t be fully trusted.”  Anyone who adheres to this thinking is like one who makes the “doctrine of the month” his new authority. His own lack of confidence in the word testifies against him.

Contrast this with the legalist, who, even though he preaches a “ministry of death,” remains loyal to the very law that was intended to lead a man to Christ.  Ironically, through this strict adherence to the Law, there’s actually an opportunity for faith to lead such a person to the hope found in the Gospel.

Does this mean that we should stop speaking out about the hazards of legalistic thinking, because it’s not as dangerous as progressivism?  Personally, I’m not even sure that this is the right question.

Whenever legalistic thinking and/or progressive thought present themselves as an affront to the message of the cross, we do speak – but not with humanistic partiality.  As New Covenant believers, our purpose should not be defined in what we are against, but rather in what we are for – and that is the reconciliation of the world to God.  As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:20, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.  We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

The frequency with which grace-oriented believers are turning a blind-eye to the grievous errors of Universalism, yet vehemently splitting hairs over minor doctrines such as the tithe is appalling.  It is like jumping over a canyon in order to condemn a crevice.

Some might falsely think that I’m proposing that it’s never right to challenge tradition or to distance ourselves from so-called orthodoxy, but anyone who has read any of my past works knows that I often challenge traditional commentaries on various passages and present “new” meanings to verses. True orthodoxy, however, should never be mistaken for deceptive interpretations or a misrepresentation of God’s intentions.

So how can we as believers protect ourselves from the blind oppression of legalism or the subtle deception of progressivism?

Here are a few questions to consider when approaching doctrinal differences, both old and new.

  • Is my understanding of this belief based upon the sum of God’s Word?
  • In order to believe some new idea, am I forced to ignore certain scriptures or invalidate entire books of the Bible?
  • Is my belief based upon scriptural context or shaped by my pre-formed assumptions?
  • Does my embrace of Jesus as the Word of God force me to distance myself from the Bible as the Word of God?
  • Does my view of God’s goodness rob man of his own right to choose?

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Making Sense of Psalm 119:71

In my pursuit to reveal God’s goodness and true character to the world, I often spend more time studying passages of scripture that seem to contradict his goodness, than those that validate it.  To put it another way – I focus on studying what I call the “problem passages”, so that I can understand them in context and help people see that God is in fact, better than we think he is.

In my recent book, Good God, I dealt with literally dozens of these problem passages, such as: the book of Job (yes, that’s right, the whole book), James 1, Hebrews 12, John 9, Romans 9, and so many more.  Although I tried to make Good God as exhaustive as possible in dealing with the questions that people might have about God, every now and then, I come across an additional verse that didn’t make the cut.  Perhaps I’ll release an updated version down the road that might include some of these, but in the meantime, that’s what my blog is for.

One such verse is Psalm 119:71.  It states,  “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes.”

Out of context and by itself, it’s easy to spot the apparent contradiction to the character of God that I present in Good God.  It appears that the writer is thanking God for afflicting him, so that he could learn his ways.  If you’re a student of the message of grace, or if you’ve read my book, then you know that this can’t be the true intention of the writer.  So what’s going on here?  What does the passage really mean?

As usual, context is king.

Let’s take a look at the full passage from a different translation.

Before I had trouble, I strayed from the true path, the path of righteousness, but now I live according to Your word. You are truly good, and Your acts are too; teach me what You require. The proud smear me with their lies; I will keep Your instructions wholeheartedly. Their hearts are dull and callous; I am delighted to study Your teaching. It is a good thing that I was humbled because it helped me learn Your limits.
-Psalm 119:67-71 VOICE

In context, the writer clearly states that his pain was as a result of his own choice to stray from God’s path.  Never is he accusing God of doing anything to him, but rather he is simply acknowledging that he was thankful that he experienced humility during his rebellion, otherwise he wouldn’t have turned back to God.  God didn’t bring him through bad things to humble him, but because he went through bad things and humbled himself – he was thankful.

Just another perfect example why context is so important in reading scripture.  Remember, when you come across a verse or a passage that seems to contradict what you know about God; take the time to study it out and see what it really says.

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Full of Knowledge and Lacking in Love: And Other Reasons You’re Not Getting That Promotion

job-promotion

“One can easily judge the character of a person by the way they treat people who can do nothing for them.” – Source Unknown

As a pastor and also film producer, I’ve had the opportunity to lead and develop a wide array of people and personalities in my going on close to twenty years of experience in the work force. Recently I was asked, “What separates people who make it from those who don’t?”

Hmmm….the temptation is to start rambling off an unending list of reasons why some fail to achieve success and why others don’t. Lack of knowledge, lack of resources, missed opportunities, and a million other reasons could be cited. But what is behind all of these reasons? What really dictates someone’s success?

To begin with, it might be necessary to define success. By success, I don’t mean “becoming famous” or “making lots of money”, though these things may follow someone’s success. For me, success is much more holistic and all-encompassing. I define success as “discovering and living your full potential”, something I believe is God-given and rooted in our identity in him. As the Bible says, “There is a way to prosper that is not of God.” Certainly, there are those who gain wealth without character, but I find that they are never satisfied and often find themselves completely unfulfilled at the end of their life. So what separates the two?
Recently I was speaking with a business owner of a mid-sized finance firm who was dealing with a disgruntled employee. The owner had poured countless hours over the last year into personally training one individual only for the employee to be frustrated that he wasn’t allowed to “do more”. As I understand, technically the employee had the certification to perform the tasks, but the owner felt that this protégé needed a little more time shadowing him before he could fully release the employee on his own. “He has more financial knowledge than any of my employees,” the owner confided in me, “But there are a couple areas of customer management and social maturity that I would like to see him grow in first. Knowledge isn’t everything in this business!”

From the employee’s standpoint, he feels ready, but the employer isn’t sold. So what causes the disconnect?

I’ve seen this same scenario with literally hundreds of leaders. The mentor pours out his knowledge and, with much zeal, the mentee absorbs it all. Often though, frustration sets in. Why? Because knowledge was gained, but character was not. The employee or protégé may possess the ability (knowledge), but lack the capacity (character).

Take a water balloon for instance. The amount of water that can be retained is limited by the strength of the skin of the balloon. Fill the balloon too much, and the skin bursts. The same is true for the relationship between knowledge and character. Our depth of character determines our ability to hold and master the increase of knowledge. Sure you can turn on the faucet full-force, but you’re going to end up with a mess if you’re character isn’t strong enough to contain and utilize all of the information.

As a young pastor, I too experienced this same phenomenon. I remember attending a session led by one of my mentors along with a dozen other men. After hearing one middle-aged gentleman open up about his personal struggles and conclude with an elementary question about the topic, with a big smile I chimed in with the right text book answer. (I was only 22 at the time.) When the session concluded my mentor pulled me aside, I assumed to congratulate me on my understanding of the subject matter. Instead I received a compassionate explanation on how my answer was right, but poorly delivered and wrongly timed (and most likely offensive to the man more than twice my age I was schooling). I was devastated at first by my mentor’s words, but in hindsight, it was a major turning point in my personal development and practical understanding of emotional intelligence.

In the book of Romans, we learn that “endurance produces character” . This should be distinguished from “experience building character”. Experiences can’t teach you anything. Many people go through trying times and learn nothing, but others seem to become stronger. Why? The reason is endurance! Endurance is the ability to persevere in the face of a challenge. It is how we strengthen our character. You can only learn so much through knowledge, eventually it must become experiential.

So what then is character? It’s many things, which is why some have trouble developing it. It isn’t just a task to complete, but rather a thing to embody. I love this quote from Abraham Lincoln, “Reputation is the shadow, character is the tree.” Character is about how you treat people, whether or not you complain, how you fill your time, it’s about your moral makeup, your compassion and feelings for other people, your values, it’s about whether or not you can be trusted; character is about your heart!

For Honest Abe, the definition of our character is found in our reputation, what he called “the shadow.” Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” Unfortunately, in zeal and youthfulness, it’s easy to overlook the importance of character in pursuit of the value of success. In reality, true success is found in the embodiment of true character; they’re inseparable.

To the mentees, trainees, and protégés of the world I say this – don’t just grow in knowledge, but take the time to also grow in character. Develop a reputation that is defined by honesty, compassion, morality, integrity, and love. As the Apostle Paul says, “knowledge puffs up while love builds up.” Bottom line, you’re never “ready” for the next opportunity, but you can prepare. Gaining opportunities or becoming elevated in life, prior to preparing your heart, can cause irreversible damage on those around you and ultimately within your own person. So before you get frustrated and start talking bad about your mentor or boss who is holding you back, keep in mind, they may very well be doing you a tremendous favor. As you prepare your mind, don’t forget to take time to prepare your heart!

For more leadership thoughts and biblical insight, follow @lucasmiles on Facebook, Twitter, and now Periscope!

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Human Connection: Additional Thoughts 10

Today I’m wrapping up The Human Connection Part 3. Together we will discover that God wants to bring out into the open that which has been concealed and to touch us on a heart level. It is on that level that he desires for us to walk out lives that are fulfilled and meet the potential he has placed in all of us.

So, finally Jesus gets through in Mark 4:24-25.  Jesus asks if we bring a lamp and put it under a bowl? Instead, don’t we put it on a stand? Because whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed. And whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. Consider carefully what you hear. With the measure you use it will be measured to you. And whoever has – will be given more. And whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.

Now, if your Bible is like mine, those verses have a header and they are put into a different category under a different title. But Jesus is actually using those words to answer his own rhetorical question. He tells us this first secret to the kingdom. He says – Look – if you don’t get this one, how are you going to be able to get any of them? And he shares the parable of the seed that was sown.

In the end he says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

And he shows us that what has been hidden is meant to be disclosed and what has been concealed is meant to be brought out in the open.

Then he says that whoever has – more will be given to him. And he who doesn’t have – even more will be taken away. And essentially, what Jesus is saying is the secret of the kingdom. It’s that God is always in the business of revealing himself. He is always in the business of giving you life.

There’s not one version of this parable where the sower stops sowing the seed or the sower saw the soil and decided not to toss it there. The sower is generously unveiling and revealing and disclosing his truth, his power. Jesus says – if  you can’t understand this simple fact, that God is in the business of revealing himself and God is in the business of revealing truth, how are you going to understand anything?

This is the crux to understand all the other truth that is revealed. God wants to reveal himself to us. He wants to show himself to us. He wants to unveil what has been hidden in the past and he is in the business of doing this.

God says take note of what you hear – and he’s not just talking about our ears. He’s talking about our heart level. Take note of what seed you allow in and what you embrace. Because sometimes we embrace stuff that is capable of killing us and ideas that choke life and twist our hearts while completely contradicting the straight pathway that God wants to give us. God wants to create this in our lives in order to allow him to flow through us.

God says whoever has will have more and he says and whoever does not have – more will be taken from him. Basically what this means is – you get more of what you have.

You get more of what you have.

You get more of what you have.

But, you say, “I don’t deserve anything.”

Guess what! Then you probably won’t get anything. It isn’t saying that God is going to do this. It is saying that your heart will create its own reality in this way. And what you believe about God and what you believe about yourself will shape your life. And if you believe that no one is going to like you and that no one wants to be your friend – you’re probably not going to have that many friends.

But the person who believes, “I’ve got value and I know God made me as an individual. I have gifting here.”

That person is going to prosper in that area.

Every single thing we hold onto and we believe – we will get more seed planted according to that guide. We get more of what we’ve got.

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Human Connection: Additional Thoughts 9

We’ve learned why Jesus used parables and how our hearts can possess different kinds of soil according to where we are at in our faith. Today I’m going to share why we, at times, find ourselves offended by the very truth God uses in our lives.

In Mark 4:16-17 pressure arose because of the Word. Persecution arose because of the Word.

I always thought the word was preached and people were persecuted and because they were persecuted they backed away.

But the word in the Greek simply means pressure. What happens is that sometimes we are that thorny soil where the Word is preached. And it creates pressure in our lives and we can’t handle it, so we run from it. We back away.

That pressure is sometimes external and sometimes it can be persecution. But sometimes it’s that we’re not able to hear it.

I’ve shared this before, but it bears repeating: The truth that has the most potential to set you free has the most potential to offend you as well.

Sometimes we get a word that is preached to us and it causes pressure. It creates offense. It creates something that we’re uncomfortable with, so we back away from it. And these thorns and thistles come in and choke that truth out because we can’t handle it at this point in our lives.

I shared with someone this year. I invited them to sit down and explained that I was never this direct – but they were setting up this unhealthy scenario. We have this softball team and people ask me all the time, “Have you won yet?” And it’s like this perfect pitch you can’t let this go by. And it was like that with this person. He had set me up with this perfect opportunity.

So, I told this person, “I’m going to be very direct with you. If you jump on this it will totally transform your life.”

I just put it out there – and they couldn’t touch it. They couldn’t deal with it. They couldn’t hear it. They had to argue every single way around it. I’ve seen this 100 times before. I’ve told people if they’d just do this one thing – whatever that thing is pertaining to them and I’ve added that it will transform their lives…They just couldn’t touch it yet.

So this offense is created by the word because it’s the word they need but it’s like that thorn in your foot. You know it needs pulled out, but you don’t want anyone to touch it because it hurts – really bad. And we push back.

But we don’t have to. If we seek God in all things and open our hearts to what he has for us – we will find that we become less offended at the truth and more open to what God wants for us and how much he wants us to experience his best – all the time.

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June 15, 2014 · 12:35 pm

Human Connection: Additional Thoughts 7

Today we are going to learn how to raise the ceilings of our hearts – how to walk in God’s best for us.

The man who lives by righteousness, which is by faith…

In our old language, in our charismatic language we basically say, “The Holy Spirit left me for a short time. I backslid. The Holy Spirit left.”

You might have kinked your heart. You might have gotten in this twist.

But God did not leave you.

He did not reject you.

He is not against you.

You might be starving the life out of your body at this moment, but God is still there.

And Paul points out that God is there and he is ready at any moment you want help straightening this thing out. It begins anew.

The analogy I use is a water hose that is flowing with water. The hose collapses a little bit and as soon as you straighten it the water is re-pressurized and the water flows. It’s almost instant after the kink is removed.

Paul says the Word is in you and in your heart. If you confess Jesus is Lord, he tells us in these verses that it is the thoughts of our hearts and not just of our minds.

There are a lot of people who cognitively can understand the concepts that don’t believe something to be true on a heart level.

You might understand when you go out that you will never earn more money than you think you’re worth. You will never get more love than you think you deserve.

We never will ever outgrow the ceiling we place on our hearts until we change where the ceiling is. And the only way we do that is to spend time with God, meditating on the word and being with him to see the ceiling on our hearts raise and expand. Then we see that he wants to give us all things. He wants to give us life. We have value. There’s reality IN Him.

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Human Connection: Additional Thoughts 6

So far in this series we have learned the importance of staying connected to God in order to live in the fullness of Christ. We learn how to do this through his Word and by relying on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We also learn to glean God’s truths from the world around us.

This week we will dig deeper into the importance of salvation and how to have hearts that are a garden of good soil in which God can plant his truths in our lives.

Luke 17:20

One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?”Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs.

The kingdom of God is within you. We have Christ in us. We have the Holy Spirit as our helper in this process.

My hope is that we can see our heart more as something connected to a pathway. We need to keep that pathway open and not allow it to get kinked or turned or twisted as opposed to the heart being something that is about did we do right or wrong today.

What is our physical heart connected to? It is connected to vessels and arteries that blood flows through. If they get blocked, bad things happen. They get damaged. You don’t say, “Shame on you, artery.” It’s not like that. It’s about – are you getting life?

Romans 10:1-17

Dear brothers and sister, the longing of my heart and my prayer to God is for the people of Israel to be saved. I know what enthusiasm they have for God, but it is misdirected zeal. For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law. For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God.

For Moses writes that the law’s way of making a person right with God requires obedience to all of its commands. But faith’s way of getting right with God says, “Don’t say in your heart, ‘Who will go up to heaven?’ (to bring Christ down to earth). And don’t say, ‘Who will go down to the place of the dead?’ (to bring Christ back to life again).” In fact, it says,

“The message is very close at hand;
    it is on your lips and in your heart.

And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: If  you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. 11 As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced. 12 Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. 13 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

14 But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? 15 And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”

16 But not everyone welcomes the Good News, for Isaiah the prophet said, “Lord, who has believed our message?” 17 So, faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.

These verses tell us a lot about salvation and Paul’s thoughts on our need for it. The first verse speaks of Israel. If Paul understood the Gospel as everyone is saved, then he doesn’t have to write this. It takes this one verse to disprove universalism.

I want everyone to be saved. But I know that salvation comes by putting faith in Jesus Christ. The work has been done. But we have to put our faith in him. There are a lot of people in grace who are getting on this slippery slope. They are falling into universalism and reconciliation. But Paul understood the Gospel, that it is urgent because there are people who know Christ and who are experiencing him in their lives. And there are people who don’t and who are in danger. We need to take this message to them. There should be an urgency in our gospel.

He goes on to say that the man who lives by the law will live by the law. What that means is if you try to live by the law and you don’t measure up you will live by the consequences of the law. It means you are not good enough. You don’t have what it takes.

If you do good you get good.

If you do bad you get bad.

And guess what? Because the law is perfect and you’re not, according to the law, you are always going to fail. There is no curve with God. God doesn’t grade on a curve. He doesn’t say, “Well, you are better than 90% of the population. So, I’m going to let you in.”

What he does say is – it’s based upon your work or it’s based upon my work. You choose.

Paul begins sharing that you don’t have to go get God. You don’t have to find Christ.

He is in you.

 

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Human Connection: Additional Thoughts 5

So, we know now that behavior modification doesn’t create heart change. We have to understand that when we connect to God we realize – it’s about what He has done on our behalf – not we have done.

Let me share an analogy with you. I had this kid on my shoulders in the pool and I slipped into the deep end. The kid on my shoulders had Aspergers and was having a great time. He was laughing and kicking and splashing and enjoying himself. He didn’t realize what had happened.  He didn’t know I couldn’t get air and that I was taking in water below him while he was having a good time with his legs wrapped around me.

And the more I pushed to the surface, the less capable I was of getting there with an 85 pound kid on my shoulders. So I did what was the most counter intuitive – I pulled his legs and pulled him under. Immediately he kicked off of me, realizing then what was happening and I was able to come up for air.

This is like the kingdom of God. Jesus lost his life in order to save us. We have to die to self in order for him to raise us up. And the usual method is behavior modification. But behavior modification is incapable of producing the results we want.

Another analogy involves the house my wife and I recently bought. The house has a Koi pond. The pond was really cool and came with fish and we really enjoyed it. Then? Algae.

The pond turned really green and was out of control. The water turned leprechaun green. So we went to the store and bought the proper solution to get rid of the algae. What I wanted to do was just take the skimmer and pull off the algae.

You ever do that? It’s like gardening. You pull the weeds and they come back again. That’s behavior modification. You can pull your weeds, but they’re going to come back every single time.

If I want to get rid of the algae I have to change the nature of the water – the chemical makeup. You have to create a balance on a deeper level and not just skim the surface.

Eventually we’re going to fail if we do this on our own. But if we begin to straighten our heart in order to get connected with God – something happens.

Thankfully, we’re not alone in this. It’s not up to you, by yourself, to straighten out your heart. God is in the business of giving us new hearts. That’s what new birth is. That’s what born again means. Once you put your faith in Christ, the old you dies on a spirit level and the new you comes to life in Christ.

Next week I will wrap up part 3 of this series with more truths God shares with us in his word and in our world – empowering us to live a life that is free in Christ.

 

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Human Connection: Additional Thoughts 4

I kept yesterday’s section of The Human Connection Series Part 3 short to focus on the life giving points found in today’s portion of this sermon.

The Christian mass in this country sees Christianity as a rules and regulations for moral Christian living. They’re broken because they don’t have the permission to talk about it because they don’t understand grace. We’ve got people that don’t know God at all who are freer with their faults than Christians.

While it’s just a generalization, Christians are some of the hardest people at times to get to admit we screwed up. Stuff can be dealt with so quickly if we just know and recognize and acknowledge God in everything.

Instead, we’ve made it about morality. When most people talk about connecting with God they have made it about trying to change their behavior and they think the outward is good. The inside must be good.

There’s a difference between looking fit and being healthy. You can do a lot of things that make you fit that don’t necessarily make you healthy. For instance, performance drugs give the impression of being fit but they screw up the nervous system.

It’s the same with people who are performance based Christians. They just act like they see other Christians act and do it – out of fear of retribution. But inside the heart is still screwed up.

Your will power only lasts for so long. It’s like exercise. Eventually you give out. Your muscles stop working. Eventually your strength – your will power – will fail. And you won’t be able to do it anymore.

The Kingdom of God is a marathon – not a sprint. It’s not about being holy this week. It’s about walking in relationship with God and knowing him.

When most people understand the grace message, which is God loves you independent of your actions and his grace is what powers us – not our own efforts – what happens is they realize they’re behavior gets worse for a time. They realize God is no longer investigating their lives. It doesn’t feel good to be investigated – ever. This is especially true if you haven’t done anything wrong. And it’s especially true if you think the one investigating you is God.

1 John tells us our hearts can be at rest and we can have confidence on the day of judgment. When people realize this truth, all that stuff – the service, the morality – it falls off because the only reason they were doing them is because they thought it was necessary in order to be righteous. And now they realize they’re righteous because of what Jesus did and not because of what they did.

They think, “Well, I don’t have to do that stuff anymore.”

And there’s this initial tank in their behavior and they think – wait. This grace message was supposed to make me better but now I’m worse.

No, you’re not worse. This is how you really were when you were doing things out of obligation. You are the same as you were. Your heart hasn’t changed. But now we’ve exposed the real you.

That stuff was on your plate before and is now exposed. Stuff you didn’t want to deal with.

And it’s at this moment that you start to connect with God and realize:

  • It’s not about me.
  • I don’t have what it takes.
  • It’s about Jesus.
  • It’s about what he has done.

So now our hearts start changing. Our hearts become unkinked and life starts flowing through them and growing branches in areas we didn’t even know we could. And things start developing. It becomes effortless.

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Human Connection: Additional Thoughts 2

Yesterday I mentioned that physical truths often point to God, but they aren’t our soul teacher. Ideally Scripture and the Holy Spirit are the main guides that we have. But it doesn’t mean we can’t learn through other means as well. Scripture even tells us that we can.

When connecting, sometimes as Christians or while at a church service – we’re so afraid to talk about anything outside of Scripture. We feel like we need to talk about the Bible all the time. And we do need to talk about the Bible all the time. Let’s talk about Jesus all the time. Let’s fellowship with Him.

But, if we don’t understand how this world works – we’re not going to be able to relate to people. We won’t have opportunity to relate to people. If you’re talking to someone and their feet are pointed toward the door  – then you need to be in tune with that. We need emotional intelligence. If we’re going to take the Gospel – this too good to be true news – it’s got to be real to be true news – we have to know how to connect.

We have to know how to empathize and how we can we project some of those emotions on ourselves – of what that must be like. And can we treat them accordingly. How do we respond to that?

These are all examples of physical, psychological and spiritual connections. And I point this out because these tie together.

Going into part 3 of The Human Connection series, I want to take a look at Proverbs 23:7 using the King James version.

As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.

The principle is as a man thinks in his heart – so is he.

The interesting part here is the word thinks. Thinks, as used in this verse, means a portal or a gate keeper. The thoughts of the heart is the gate –the gate keeper. What you experience in your life.

If you grew up with a charismatic background – there’s a lot of abuse and one of those misnomers starts in “words have the power of life and death”. The fear that has been produced with it is that if we think or say something – everything we say is going to happen.

We turn “break a leg” into some horrid curse. I don’t believe God made this world so volatile. Our words have power –they’re not nuclear. It doesn’t mean you can’t handle them. It doesn’t mean every word is a hand grenade. Idioms are okay. It doesn’t mean live in fear. You should still be careful of your words, but you don’t have to be afraid.

Thoughts often come in that shock us and then we over analyze. Chill out. That’s a thought of your mind –not a thought of your heart. We can’t always control what comes in – what we can control is what we do with it. We take that weird thought that just seems to jump into our brains and choose not to dwell on it and absorb it. We simply discard it, using the power of the Holy Spirit to separate what is worthy of meditating on and what is not.

The Bible says the word of God is capable of separating soul and spirit. It’s capable of separating what the reality or the deepest level of who we are – from the reality of who we are that’s just in our minds.

The thoughts of the heart are the gatekeeper for what you experience in your life.

What you believe on a heart level is what is shaping your life. Not those random thoughts, but what you believe on a heart level.

You might look in the mirror and see yourself in a certain light and think, “I look alright.” But on a consistent level you might believe just the opposite. No one can love me, etc. runs through your head on a loop. But that moment in the mirror – was a moment that contradicts what you really believe about yourself.

On the flip side, you may have positive self esteem, but walk by the mirror and think, “Okay, this is rough.” It doesn’t mean that the random thought is suddenly you speaking ugliness into your life. It just means that it was a fleeting thought. You need to brush your hair.

What I’m interested in seeing is change and life on a heart level. God is a heart God. He speaks a heart language.

Proverbs 17:20

One whose heart is corrupt does not prosper;
    one whose tongue is perverse falls into trouble.

The greatest deceit you can speak with your tongue is speaking contrary to God’s truth. God says he has made you whole and you’re the righteousness of Him through Christ. Then you contradict that with this lie “I’m a dirty sinner.”

That is deceit. We’re speaking something other than what is true in the Gospel.

This word “perverse” can also be read as “crooked” or “bent”. A prism will bend a light, causing a shift in it.

 

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