Monday, October 16, 2017

Looseness & Legalism

Got 4.5 minutes? You’ve heard a lot about being too loose or too legalistic. Which term best describes you, and what can you do about it?


Sunday, October 15, 2017

A Double Scoop of Yes (Looseness & Legalism)

You know that verse that essentially says, “I can do whatever I want” but is immediately followed up with a sort of, “Yeah, but you’d better not”? The apostle Paul went for a sort of double dip with that because he said the same thing to the Corinthians two times in the same letter: 1 Corinthians 6:12, and 1 Corinthians 10:23.

In my experience, most of us need plenty of freedom and encouragement in navigating life with Jesus—the life of our days and the life that He is. I am no longer surprised that we go through pretty great swings of belief and experience, and I’m probably more relaxed about that now than I was in the past. Some of our swings go to the lawful, “I can do whatever I want” side: “Wow. Now that I’m a Christian, I am permitted to do whatever I want with no fear of payback from God. Isn’t that amazing?” Some swing to the other: “Wow. Now that I’m a Christian, I must live a life where I do only what glorifies Him. I’ll be held accountable.”

So which is it? My answer: Yes.

I think it’s healthy and to my benefit to occasionally ask the Spirit if I am too much one way, and too little the other. At times He has shown me that I can know Him better and find grace more evidently if I would commit to join Him in prayer, Bible reading and fasting, for example. “Ralph, you’ll like what you find if you’ll tighten up a bit. You’ll be better for it, so come with me.” He has my attention, and on we go together.

At other times, He has answered by showing me that I have become too much in control of my personal growth, and I’m blocking Him from doing for me what He would love to do on His own. “Relax, Ralph. Trust me with you. I’m going to surprise you with how capable I am in you, because I am better with you than you’ve been thinking lately.” He has my attention, and on we go together.

In both situations, I am living by faith in the One who lives in me—we’re connected—and there’s nothing better than that. We’re good, and I’m growing in knowing Him.

While some people identify all this as the struggle between looseness and legalism, I think that too quickly forces us into camps—without actually asking God anything. We’re then set up to throw verbal rocks at each other, angrily hurling our interpretation of certain passages in the hope that a bruise will grant repentance. That’s so Christian.

So don’t be afraid of asking God questions. He will always respond in a way that reveals Him to be just what you need—and more—every time. Yes.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Togetherness is the Thing

As a son of God, I can do whatever I want—I am that kind of free—and what I want most is to know God. I am His child, but that doesn’t mean immaturity; it means offspring. His delight (and my joy) is to grow us up with Him in such a way that we find out how perfect He is with us and for us. In that way, dependence or independence isn’t the thing, togetherness is the thing; and that’s most satisfying for both.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Knowing Him

To “know” Jesus means more than to know “about” Him. It means to experience Him in a way that expresses the reality and fullness of relationship. To me, that is much of the value found and the purpose of reading the Bible. The same is true for prayer, for fasting, for giving, for serving, and for most everything we encounter in our days. If Jesus is humanity’s best, most perfect friend (and He thinks He is), then I want to know Him—and to help you to the same. What’s better than knowing Him? Nothing that I have ever known.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Your Money & the New Covenant: LOVE WORKS

Does it seem to you that the primary motivators in life today are fear, guilt and anger?  I think that motivational trinity has crowded out what God intended—the motivation of love.

It’s happened to the church, too.

We seem ever to want to be motivated by crisis, by calamity, by a good cause and a good appeal, by a big need, or by a big kick to our backside.  I know the church doesn’t really want that, but it seems like it does.  And I sure don’t like it.  It’s not that we shouldn’t be motivated by a sudden event; it’s just that we can become addicted to the energy and appeal of the moment.  And there is something much better, something more true and constant, something given by God Himself.  The church was made for it.  That means you were, too.

God’s love produces confidence, daring, assurance, peace, rest, hope and, well, everything we need for life.  God’s very being is love, so if we, His sons and daughters, attempt to do much of anything apart from love, we fumble and act unnatural.  We feel it, too.  Like something’s seriously out of whack in us.  And it is.  When the behavior of the Corinthian Christians went seriously crazy, the apostle Paul pointed them back to the love of God because it is the prime motivator—it rescues, refreshes and compels the people of God (2 Corinthians 5:14).

God’s love works.  That’s the New Covenant way:  God in us, and God toward people and God toward situations that would involve Him in us.

I’m reminded of what love did to the Macedonian Christians not long after God first lived in them.  God gave an amazing grace to these people who lived in “extreme poverty” such that in their joy they gave what little they had so others could hear the gospel.  The Macedonians were in love with God, having first been won-over by His love for them.  And that love “welled up in rich generosity” (2 Corinthians 8:2).  Do you get the combination?  They hit the big time!  God was in them toward some kind of brilliant display—in this case, giving.

There’s no need and there’s no room for laws about your money, because you’re ruled by the grace of God in you, not law.  Laws hijack love, stuff it in a closet and tell it to “Shut up!  You’re too sloppy and unreliable!” and instead offer you method, calculated and loveless measurement, and ultimately, condemnation.  That is not the New Covenant way, and that is not what the Macedonians had.  They had the love of God Himself, and that moved them. He moved them in love.

Paul then wrote to the Corinthians that they, too, should “excel in this grace of giving. I am not commanding you (In other words, I have no law!), but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others” (2 Corinthians 8:8, parenthesis mine).  Was it a test of whether they would give or be stingy misers?  No!  It was a test of love—love was the issue—and Paul was concerned about how love was issuing forth from the Macedonians.

That’s why the Macedonians gave – they were in love!  They didn’t give motivated by an appeal to sacrifice, they didn’t give to make sure their tithe was on time, they didn’t give because others were in need, and they didn’t give because it was the right thing to do.  They gave because they were in love, and that made their giving “acceptable” (2 Corinthians 8:12).  Their gift wasn’t acceptable for any other reason except that love brought it forth. 

(By the way, God’s love might compel you to actually give nothing sometimes.  Are you okay with that?)

The foundation of the New Covenant is that you have no covenant to keep—Jesus took care of that—you have the Holy Spirit in you to notice and to follow.  And He loves you!  Love is His primary evidence in you.

And that’s what drives me bonkers for the church, frankly.  I want believers to know and be motivated out of a burgeoning love affair with God.  I don't mean that we should never give unless we're right then invigorated by a love we can feel, but I fear we've gotten used to giving without it.  We've learned to motivate and to be motivated by something else.  That's what makes pushy pastors and manipulative motivators out of our leaders.  And I don’t think they like it any more than we do.

So let me sum it up:  If we're not behaving well and doing good, it's because we're missing God’s love.  That’s it.

If your motivation is low right now, what should you do?  Go get some love.  You need it and can’t live without it—not well, anyway.  If your giving lacks, if your service is stunted or reluctant, if there is gossip in the church and “sin in the camp,” go get some of His love, because for you, love works.

(This is a transcript of the video, “Your Money & The New Covenant:  LOVE WORKS,” and is for those who might rather read than watch.  To see the video, click http://youtu.be/XzZZdSRGQus, or scroll down this blog page.)

Monday, October 09, 2017

Your Money & the New Covenant: LOVE WORKS

What makes giving or keeping our money godly?  How can we know?  Do we need standards by which to estimate the authenticity of what we do with money?  Here’s a pure and simple way to know God and His leading concerning money. It’s easier than you think, and you were made for this. 


Monday, October 02, 2017

A Prayer in Suffering--by Humanity & Storm

Father, we are undone. Many of us are suffering by storm and by humanity. We are so frail, and our need of you is stunningly evident. Since you are the “treasure in jars of clay”, we know you will be motivating your people in love, grace and kindness, and we are those people. Help us, Holy Spirit, to embrace our life with you today, and see the fruit of Christ in us. He is the antidote in this world, the champion of people beset by evil.

Help us to go forward in humility and the focus that comes from acknowledging that, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

We know who we are—your sons and daughters—and we know what’s going on.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Be obvious to us and through us today, Jesus. That would be great. Amen.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Resting In Christ

“Resting in Christ” does not mean a blissful state to which one can arrive, where all is good and easy, and not a single anxious nerve ending bothers. It’s a confidence that there is nothing you have to earn from God because His gift of righteousness and salvation has provided the eternal security of grace. You’ve been given everything for free.

Ask the apostle Paul if “resting in Christ” meant that he had not one fear as his ride to Rome sank (boat #3 goin’ down!); ask him if he had the cherubic look of a well-fed and burped baby when he was being stoned and left for dead; ask him if those prison chains always felt like gorgeous and glorious style points on the fashion runway of resting in Christ; ask him if his attitude was a happy-faced “It’s alllll good!” when yet another guy with a whip laid into his back, and I think he would laugh out loud.

“Are you kidding me?! I want nothing more than to get outta this torture chamber existence and to be with Jesus in heaven! But I doubt that today is the day that I have entrusted to Him, so I’m going to work—probably long hours in difficult, dangerous and unrewarding circumstances. That’s how it is until the One who secured me brings me home where I belong. He and I are good—He has seen to it! There’s nothing I have to do to be better off with Him. I’m at rest concerning all that, but my remaining days of trying to get others to believe in Christ’s offer of rest for themselves are going to hurt. My own people often refuse to stop trying to earn blessings and righteousness from God, rejecting His gift and the rest that comes from Him. But what can I do? I am charged with the gospel of Jesus, which is the power of God, so I will keep offering it, though turmoil and the pain of rejection await me. I am at rest in Christ, but my days will be difficult.”

“My advice to you? Remember to rest as you press on.”

Monday, September 18, 2017

What New Testament Submission Is All About

(If you wonder what Biblical submission is all about, this will be very encouraging for you.)

When reciting her wedding vows to me, Sarah looked me in the eyes and said, “I promise to submit to you.”  There were a few people in the audience who later told us that they were bothered by her promise to submit to me, until I made the same promise to her.  “Well, as long as it’s mutual, I guess it’s okay,” they said grudgingly.  It was almost as if we’d exchanged curse words.

“Submission.”  How does that word grab you? 

Here are a couple of not-so-popular Bible verses I’d like for you to consider today: 

1 Peter 1:13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.

If you’re an American, then it’s very likely that you’ve got thoughts and feelings about our current “king.”  And if we consider the “king” previous to him, well, just about everyone has experienced a high “cringe factor” when commanded to “submit” to the king and to his governors, let alone to a spouse.  Right?

But here’s the thing:  Paul’s command for submission is not a stand-alone-demand of surrender, as if God loves a grand capitulation.  “I just love it when my people bow down and give up.”  That’s not godly submission—not ever

New Covenant “submission” always comes loaded with reasons *why*, and great benefits for the one who submits.  Whether submitting to a worldly authority, to a spouse or to one another in relationships, offering myself in deference to another is so that I can be aware of God in me, for me, and for the situation I’m in.  In other words, submission is yet another way to know and to enjoy God in me, and for His kingdom in me to collide with and to affect the kingdom of this world. 

Jesus never did or said anything except what He “saw” and “heard” the Father do and say (He was tuned in to the Father), and He left us the perfect, most stunning example of submission in dire circumstances because of His awareness of God and the affect to come: 

1 Peter 2:22-23 ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’  23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

The “entrusted himself” part made all the difference!  And why did Jesus submit Himself to the cross?  Was it sheer obedience?  No, it was not.  Hebrews 12:2-3 tells us that He did it “. . .for the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” 

In my view, the only way we will not grow weary and lose heart in submission is if we do it for the same reason Jesus did.  Human Jesus submitted to unjust torture and torment because He was knowing the Father, who revealed to Jesus “the joy set before Him. . .”  That resulted in faith that led to obedience.  Do you see it?  Knowing God keeps us from becoming weary in well-doing.  Anybody can do “well-doing,” but it’s the knowing God part that produces grace that’s perfect for the moment.

We’re not to go blind and un-feeling into submission!  Jesus certainly didn’t.  He walked knowingly into it, and He reaped the grace-sufficient benefit of living by faith that something good and greater was happening right then—God was happening, and Jesus was aware of Him.  He knew it, and that propelled Him into the most lovingly submissive act in history.  That’s our example.  Submission alone is not our example:  awareness of God plus submission is Jesus’ incredible example for life.

This is why Peter first wrote extensively about our life and identity in Christ, and then followed that with our natural way of knowing God by living in submission.  The order is important.  We are entirely and forever secure, as is our inheritance, having been born of imperishable seed (1 Peter 1:3-4; 23); we are God’s house and stage of evidence that He cares about everyone (1 Peter 2:4-5, 9;) and, in view of God’s grace to us, we are to live toward righteous deeds, which is our god-given nature and motivation (1 Peter 2:12; see also Romans 8).

After building up the church concerning who and how secure they were with God in chapter one and much of chapter two, Peter then moves into How The Plan Works from there:  God-aware and submissive aliens in whom dwells the Kingdom of God, walk into the day.  What a plan.  The great collision was coming:  the kingdom of God in sons and daughters would meet the kingdom of this world, and the evidence of God reaching for people would be clear. 

Before the New Covenant in Christ’s blood, our conscience, our “inner knower,” was fouled and not free from guilt (see Hebrews 9:9).  But after His act of eternal cleansing and forgiveness, the Christian’s “inner knower” is new and clean, and by our awareness of Him in us does He lead us into acts in keeping with His will and purpose and glory.  That’s how it works, and it’s a big deal.  (See Hebrews 9:11-14.) 

You can take a deep breath and shut your eyes as you go into submission if you want to—it’s okay.  But it’s far better (it’s alive!) when you stay open and alert and aware of God as you go in.  This is how we keep knowing God as we enter into challenging obedience, embarrassing confession of sin and error, and difficult honesty in relationships and see what He does in the sometimes chaos of our submitted lives.  Trusting and knowing God, we take our hands off of the presumed handlebars or steering wheel of control and instead know the rest and grace produced by the Holy Spirit in us. That’s the best!

This is often our way forward—submission so that we can know God, and so that people can know Him, too.  And there’s nothing more important or better.  Right?

(This is a transcript of the video, “Why ‘Submit’ Is Not A Curse Word,” and is for those who might rather read than watch.  To see the video, click http://youtu.be/4voPIzn9wqU.)

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Heart of Man

Although I had no idea what to expect (other than that John Lynch previously told me it would be terrific), I was tremendously impressed with this movie. It poignantly portrays the deep trauma and sin that drives men and women into the ugly captivity of fear and shame, as well as the ongoing and unrelenting love and grace of Jesus for the sons of God. Frankly, “The Heart of Man” shines upon the screen what I have known and been motivated by since Jesus first rocked my world in 1980.  “With me and because of me, you are well, Ralph! You will always know yourself truly when you look at me, and you will delight and find joy and life and freedom in me. I AM perfectly what you might otherwise search for and never find. And I will work with you to prove myself perfect, so that you will not suffer any idols. This is my pleasure with you.”

My first book is all about this, combining lots of scripture with personal experiences that add up to God’s pleasure with man.  My forthcoming book is an allegory for a diverse audience that I hope portrays God’s desire to reveal Himself as perfect for everyone, especially you. It is the first of a series of books to come—for parents, for kids, for singles, for couples. I would appreciate your prayers and support for the work ahead.

In short, I am cheering because of this movie—wildly, recklessly, happily. I recognized God’s love and effort for us throughout, and that’s the best thing I have ever found. Get as much of that as you can.

(I’m not sure how you can see this movie in the future, but I’m confident that you can. Here’s the link to the web site, which may soon provide details about a DVD, etc.  https://heartofmanmovie.com.)

Friday, September 08, 2017

It's All Free

In my experience, the best of life happens on the inside as a result of knowing—again and again—that God in Christ has justified me. That means that He has made me literally and authentically good, and that He has given me His righteousness, holiness, redemption, sanctification, and every blessing as a gift of His love.  How cool is that?

Jesus earned entirely everything for you for entirely nothing from you. In Him you have been given every blessing already for free. Knowing that is going to affect you, and that’s His plan. Believing that fact is the challenge, but earning it is not.  Anything that teaches less than that makes you crazy.  Maybe you’ve noticed.

The gospel loses its dazzle when you believe that you must work or serve or tithe in order to earn blessings from God.  There are too many of us who have been turned into something like the elder brother of the prodigal, believing that we have to earn what is already ours because of the grace of the Father. Now that’s crazy, and we act a little crazy because of it.

However, you live best when you live by faith in the complete sufficiency of what Christ did for you—not just forgiven as a result of His sin removal system, but given everything that He has.  Everything from God for you is all for free.  The earning is all done, and you can rest.

Taking dictation from God, Isaiah wrote what Jesus fulfilled centuries later: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!  ("Well, if I have no money, how can I buy?"  Believe and come near in order to see that it’s all yours for free.)
 Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost” (Isaiah 55:1, italics mine).

The apostle Paul, himself dazzled by “it’s all free,” wrote to the Ephesians, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3).

Your life with God is not about a sacrifice you make, but a belief and a trust and a rest in a sacrifice He made.  Because of Him, it’s all free for you.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Labor Day the Best Way

On this day when we honor labor in the USA, may I remind you that the best, most authentic labor comes from rest? Not rest in the sense of inactivity or sleep, but rest as a result of being re-secured, re-confidenced (I made that up) in believing that Jesus is your life, your motivational pump, your fruit-producing zest and zeal for labor.  This means, “Indulge yourself in your great relationship with Jesus,” and the Spirit will provide the result of Christ in you. 

Colossians 1:28 We proclaim Him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. 29 To this end I labor, being struggled with all His energy, which so powerfully works in me.”

Enjoy Jesus—and He will take care of the rest.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

No Wonder

After reading or watching a strong dose of news, all too often I start judging the people on paper or on the screen in my mind instead of in my heart, where they are not condemned.  If God lives in my heart, then that is our primary meeting place.  It is there that He influences and affects me.  I’m sure glad for that.  I don’t know what I’d do without those meetings.

If you’ve been angry and judgmental lately and thinking, “This world’s going all to Hell!” well, so it seems.  Yet the One who came not to condemn but to save and to cure is living in you, and that makes you compatible with how He is, with what He thinks and why He came.  You’re a lot like Jesus.  That’s pretty good, you know.  If lately you’re more acquainted with the reasons that Jesus came, but not so much with the cure, you’re set up for revival. 

Many of us are starting a long weekend today.  Why not see to your heart by laying aside this world’s news—we know it’s bad since Jesus came for a reason—and ask the Spirit to spend the weekend with you in a way that He loves.  He will revive you.  He knows how your heart works because it’s just like His.  You fit together.  On purpose.

Enjoy.

Friday, September 01, 2017

God's Favorite Event Today

One of my favorite events is God’s unveiling of me to me. He unclutters my thinking; He detoxes my mind, particularly regarding how He and I are doing together. When that happens, I’m amazed by God . . . and a lot happier, actually.

If that seems selfish, bear with me. Oftentimes the pressures and strategies of this world result in a virtual blindness of ourselves to ourselves. This is not pleasing to God, who has made an incredible change to us through Jesus’ cross and resurrection. He wants everyone to know—especially you. To the extent that we remain unseeing and unconvinced is the degree to which we are hindered in our love affair with God and in our approach to people. What’s the cure? A proper view of His mercy and grace that pulls the cloak off of our minds, revealing the transformation.

What’s God’s favorite event of the day? It might be revealing you to you. He’s rather pleased with His work.