Category: Grace

Is Paul another Dale Carnegie?

Paul begins several of his letters by being very complimentary to the recipients….and then later, subjecting them to sharp correction. Does this mean that Paul is simply following the principles for giving a corporate performance review, where you must say positive things before you come forth with a negative?

No, Paul is not trying to “win friends and influence people.” Instead, we are seeing something profound about how Christian love works. Paul’s compliments are not saying what fine upstanding people the recipients are, but rather they express how thrilled he is that that the risen and glorified Christ is alive and at work in their lives.

At the start of Colossians, Paul says:
In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. (Colossians 1:6)

This wonderful truth of Christ-in-them is so powerful that it vastly outweighs their negatives that need correction. Paul’s compliment is honest, even though he is fully aware that many in the congregation are not living up to their calling the way they should be.

So later, Paul turns loose with a sharp rebuke of the Colossians:
 Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules (Colossians 2:20). He’s yelling at them for obeying a bunch of bogus rules that have nothing to do with being a Christian.

The same pattern repeats in 1 Corinthians. Early on, Paul says:
I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. (1 Corinthians 1:4)

But then later he has a sharp rebuke:
Your boasting is not good. (1 Corinthians 5:6a) Here, he’s furious at them for bragging about overlooking some raunchy misbehavior within their congregation.

These examples help us as we look at our fellow Christians today. The pastor of my church is not lying when he says we have a healthy church, while yet being aware that some of our people are struggling or even are in rebellion. We can be fully aware of each other’s flaws and faults — yet rejoice that we are all touched by God’s grace. And when we do have to correct each other, we keep in mind that we are all Christ’s people, not adversaries to pummel!

Our rebukes are given with hope that they will guide people to change.  Our flaws are tiny compared to the gloriousness of Christ! Together, we know that God is at work and the gospel is spreading.

Should Volunteering Drive Us Bats?

bats

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.”  Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:28-33)

I started work on this post on a strange morning for me. I was sitting here with an enormous floater like a vampire bat fluttering in my right eye. Not a typical Tuesday morning! But upon reading the passage above and seeing how much stronger Jesus is than any vampire bat, I started singing out loud, “Jesus you really are the son of God.”

Thankfully, the vampire in my eye has since flown away! It faded out.

But today’s passage can drive you bats. Because it’s been used for many, many sermons saying “Get out of your boat.  Get out of your comfort zone.”  These have not always been condemnatory sermons, but they generally do come at times when church leaders want people to be more involved in ministry activity.

“We need more volunteers for the nursery.” “We need more ushers.” “We will have to shut down some Sunday School classes if we don’t get more teachers.”  The message: If you aren’t involved it’s because you are stuck in your comfort zone and you must leave that pampered place.

But that exhortation misses the mark when it is more concerned with getting people to do stuff than with who they are in Christ.

Peter was overcome by fear and challenged by Jesus to be a man of faith. We have fears too. Fear of losing a job. Fear of getting sick. Fear of what people will think of our decisions. We need to ask God to fulfill his promise that we will get a new heart, one that’s alive and not stone, one that’s filled with faith instead of fear.

Big danger here: The “Comfort zone” lecture risks short-circuiting heart change, shaming you to act without a renewed heart.  We need to have God-given grace-filled volunteers, not people being manipulated and shamed into volunteering.

We may or may not join the usher team or teach Sunday school. But when we do, we are much less likely to go bats and burn out and quit when we act from a willing, Spirit-filled, renewed heart!

Mandatory donations?

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  (2 Corinthians 9:7)

In this verse we give out of thanks for who God is, without expecting or demanding to get anything back. This is different from the teaching that says, “If you give to this ministry then God will pay you back much much more money than you gave — guaranteed!”

In truth, our good God may graciously give even more back than we gave but he is good whether or not he does that. Our God isn’t a heavenly ATM machine and does not give an ironclad guarantee to make us whole like FDIC deposit insurance does! 

What is a cheerful giver like? The cheerful giver donates without being cajoled or manipulated. At our church we call this grace giving. Free grace giving gets rid of the transactional quid pro quo that often creeps into teaching on giving.

A couple of years ago we had a guest speaker at our church who took a collection. His cause was good, but I disagreed when he said, “Forget about what you planned to give — now give what God wants you to give!” But wait a minute — if someone has prayed and decided in their heart what to give, aren’t they a cheerful giver before God? Isn’t it a form of manipulative compulsion to say that the amount someone decided was bogus because it was too low? What good is it if someone gives some more because they were made to feel guilty ?

Cheerful giving gets rid of the fear of “What happens if I don’t give enough?” Some claim that it is mandatory to give at least 10% of your income to the church and they drag in some Old Testament verses to say that if you don’t give that percent then you are “robbing God.” How different that sounds from the grace shown in today’s opening verse!

 Ironically, people in my church end up giving more over the long term because we are not being cajoled, frightened and bullied into giving more! Indeed, as we grow in Christ, we have less acquisitive lives.  Note that we are not told to never spend a penny on our own pleasures but rather we see that the drive to strive to get more and more to spend on our own pleasures is toned down. As that happens, we simultaneously richly enjoy God’s provision for our own needs andwe cheerfully set aside a sizable chunk to give for the Lord’s work.

Do rules make me good?

Unlimited unconditional overflowing grace makes it less likely that we would sin; and using rules and regulations to control our behavior makes it more likely that we would sin.  How can this be?

When I was younger and I knew everything, grace was alien to me. After all, someone as wonderful as I was certainly did not deserve punishment!  But thankfully, God didn’t let me remain in this mistaken belief.  He shocked me by showing me  that yes, I did deserve punishment — but also that he provided me a way out of what I deserved :  to my great relief, I had my eyes opened to see that Christ took on the punishment that I deserve. I learned a good acronym for grace — G.R.A.C.E —- God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.

But even so, I did not really understand grace very well.  So instead of a heartfelt and deepening trust in and thankfulness for what Christ did, I fell into an unfortunate error: I had to follow the rules to stay in Christ’s good graces. If I did enough, then I could stay on God’s good side. But if I didn’t do enough, God might be ticked.

Sickeningly, that put human rules and regulations measures in control, not the Lord.

And when I see human rules, I want to break them. Indeed, in the book of Romans, Paul says that the law shows me what a rebel I am.

Did you ever not care whether you did something or not, then someone told you not to do it and then you wanted to do it? If you saw the trail sign above, wouldn’t you at least be tempted to enter and see what’s happening on the trail? I know I would. That is how the law works! And then once I snuck down the trail, I would feel that I had to do enough good to try to pay back what I owed by disobeying the rules.

Now, Jesus did say “Obey my commands.” But guidelines and commands can’t be viewed as being mandatory rules to get God to approve of me. No, God showed his approval of me outside of anything I ever did by permanently sealing me in Christ. So following wise guidelines and commands may help me to keep reflecting God’s loving glory — but they do not earn anything!

Knowing I can’t earn approval from God, I am free to live a grace-driven life instead of a rules-driven life.  Freed by grace, secure in God’s approval, I can finally start to do some genuinely loving deeds.