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Ideally, however, the church itself is not made up of natural “friends.” It is made up of natural enemies. What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs, or anything of the sort. Christians come together, not because they form a natural collocation, but because they have been saved by Jesus Christ and owe him a common allegiance. In the light of this common allegiance, in light of the fact that they have all been loved by Jesus himself, they commit themselves to doing what he says – and he commands them to love one another. In this light, they are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake.

D.A. Carson, Love in Hard Places

We have a problem in the church, a problem that is growing because we are not recognizing and addressing it. Our problem is we are moving away from truth and toward our own wisdom. We have taken up moralizing and psychologizing issues and not looking at our issues as a result of a distorted understanding of God where we have hold other things as idols that take the place of God in our lives.

This information is quoted from Galatians: The Law and the Gospel by Timothy J. Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, NY:

  1. Moralizing: Basic analysis: Your problems is that you are doing wrong. Repent!
    This focuses on behavior but doesn’t go deep enough. We must find out the why of our behavior. To simply tell an unhappy person (or yourself) to repent and change their behavior is insufficient, because the lack of self-control is coming from a belief that says, “Even if you live up to moral standards but don’t have this, then you are still a failure.” You must replace this belief through repentance for the one sin under it all – your particular idolatry.
  2. Psychologizing: Basic analysis: Your problem is that you don’t see that God loves you as you are. Rejoice!
    This focuses on feelings, which seem to be deeper than behavior but it also fails to go deep enough. We must also find out the why of our feelings. To simply tell an unhappy person (or yourself), “God loves you – rejoice!” is insufficient. The unhappiness is coming from a belief that says, “Even if God loves you, but you don’t have this, then you are still a failure.” You must replace this belief through repentance for the one sin under it all – your particular idolatry.
  3. The Gospel: Basic analysis: Your problem is that you are looking to something besides Christ for your happiness. Repent and rejoice!
    This confronts a person with the real sin under the sins and behind the bad feelings. Our problems is that we have given ourselves over to idols! Every idol-system is a way of our-works-salvation, and thus it keeps us “under the law.” Paul tells us that the bondage of sin is broken when we come out from under the law – when we being to believe the gospel of Christ’s-work-salvation. Only when we realize in a new way that we are righteous in Christ will the idol’s power over us be broken. “Sin shall not be your master for you are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). You will only be “under grace” and free from the controlling effects of idols to the degree that you have both repented for your idols and rested and rejoiced in the saving work and love of Christ instead.

Grace, a word and concept we don’t understand. Christ saved us by faith and grace, not by works. Grace frees us because it does not condemn and shame us, but it points us back to the work that Christ did for us. It tells us that the law will not, can not, was never meant to save us. It just shows us the contrast of what the Lord did for us and how we are liberated and free.

Moralizing and psychologizing will not save us, but the Gospel will. It is all about Christ’s work and not ours.

I just finished rereading Faithquake by Doug Herman. Doug was a pastor when his wife was diagnosed with HIV. Later his daughter also contracted HIV and he and their son Josh lost wife/mother and daughter/sister within a short time period. The HIV came through a blood transfusion, through blood donated by someone who was participating in homosexual partnerships. The illness, journey, and loss of his family shook his faith and left him questioning things he had never looked at before.

There were times Doug wanted to give up.

There were times Doug was unsure about what he believed.

There were times when Doug was shaken.

“Quitting seems all too common today. Look at the divorce and suicide rates. Obviously many people are not content with their lives.  The actions range from dramatic to insignificant, but they are indicative of people who do not follow through.  And tempting though it was to give it all up during our Faithquake, Evon and I decided to stand.  For us that meant enduring the thoughtless a reactions of people.  It meant to we would continually seek medications and treatments in conjunction with our prayers for healing.  We had decided to stay and in our faith, continuing to seek god and worship him as Lord even though we didn’t understand him.  We could easily have given up, and though we were greatly tempted at times to do so, we stood instead.  Above all, in our efforts to stay, we had to fight another enormous temptation: spiritual anemia.”

“Anemia is a condition of the blood where a deficiency of hemoglobin accompanied by reduced red blood cell counts causes of weakness and breathlessness.  Anemia is expressed physically in decreased power, vigor, and vitality.  Spiritual anemia has parallel symptoms.  They are even more serious than the physical ones because they are soul-deep – of eternal significance.  This spiritually anemic person lacks the power, enthusiasm, and endurance of soul required not only to endure a Faithquake but to rebuild after having one.” (p70-71)

“If, in the face of crisis, you and I are anemic in the spiritual sense, we need a transfusion.  This must come from one who has already encountered the disease of sin and subdued it.  We need the blood of and overcomer-Jesus Christ.” (p73)

“When we experience a shaking in life, we feel it emotionally and struggle with that intellectually.  But spiritually we can survive intact when we live our lives in God’s presence.  This is the deep, inner communion with God where spiritual truths are found and strengthened.  It is here that we abide in the presence of Christ.  It is here that we cannot be shaken.  Sad to say, we often allow our spiritual security to find its foundation in elements other than Christ himself.  We may have all the training and heritage of Christianity, but we have never personally anchored our soul onto this immovable rock.  This is a situation I found myself in when we discovered that Evon was HIV positive.  I had been taught about Christ.  I knew him as savior and lord but not yet as Rock.  Thus, I was shaken.” (p88)

Doug chose to stand, stay, and believe. So should we!

Do you believe in Christ as Lord and Savior? Have you anchored your life to him as the rock that provides you stability in the storms of life?

You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.

Winston Churchill

I recently read this story by Steve Brown which also reminded me of the movie Seabiscuit. These stories remind me of those of who have been hurt, abused, broken, disillusioned, and battered in the church. Because of our experiences are we now believing we are bad or broken? Have we forgotten what God has made us for? This was definitely part of my story for the last four years, and at times I could even see it in myself but I couldn’t escape from it until others walked along side me and helped me out of my entrapment. Are you believing you are bad or broken? There is a way out! Are you at a point to help others out so they can find the freedom, love, grace, and healing power of God? If you are, please reach out to those around you because you are desperately needed. There are far more people around you who need your help than you probably realize.

“I once had a German shepherd. His previous owner had beaten him.  His name was Calvin, and he was one big, strong dog.  He just didn’t know it.  I gave him the name Calvin because I thought it would help him with his extremely bad self-image.  It didn’t.  In fact I’ve never seen a dog expect punishment more than Calvin.  It wasn’t that he had done anything wrong; it was just that he had somehow gotten the idea he was a bad dog and that my sole purpose in life was to beat up on him because he was such a bad dog.  No, I never hit Calvin.  I didn’t raise my voice to him.  I praised him, petted him, scratched behind his ears, gave him treats, and did everything I know to foster a good self-image.  Nevertheless, Calvin flinched every time I came near him.  Do you know what happened?  He became the bad dog he thought he was.  German shepherds are supposed to protect and defend their owners – Calvin ran and hid under the bed.  German shepherds are supposed to lie at the master’s feet – Calvin wouldn’t come near me.  German shepherds are supposed to be strong and courageous – Calvin was a weenie.  I really believe Calvin felt sort of uncomfortable and abnormal because I didn’t do what he expected me to do – punish him.” (Scandalous Freedom by Steve Brown, p222-223)

Seabiscuit is one of my favorite movies because it represents such a real image of life, especially for anyone who has been abused, rejected, or battered emotionally. I am not a horse racing fan, but the overall message of hope and promise in the movie really touches me. It is a story about three men and a horse who are all banged up and broken. Like us, these men and this horse have walked through hardships and they show the scars and pain of that. Seabiscuit had been bought and sold repeatedly, had failed to perform, and had taken to heart that failure and worthlessness. He was actually trained to lose so he would help others win. He was frightened, bruised, and defiant until trainer Tom Smith and jockey Red Pollack come along.

Here are some quotes from Tom about Seabiscuit.
Tom Smith: “You don’t throw away a whole life just ’cause it’s banged up a little.”
Tom Smith: “You don’t throw away a whole life just because it has a few bumps.”
Tom Smith: “He just needs to learn how to be a horse, again.”
Tom Smith: “He’s so beat up it’s hard to tell what he’s like. He’s forgotten what he was born to do. He just needs to learn how to be a horse again.”

All of us get beaten up, bruised and damaged in the course of life. We need to believe that we are not defined by that. We may be misunderstood and mishandled, we may even lose our way for a time, but God has created us with purpose. God doesn’t “throw away a whole life just ’cause it’s banged up a little.” He believes our lives are worth redeeming. He believes we are worth another chance. We may have to learn how to be a man/woman again, but he is willing to walk through that with us.

Those who believe they believe in God but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God and not in God himself.

by Miguel De Unamuno

Have you ever questioned what grace and forgiveness really look like? What is the standard that God wants us to live by? Are there times that it is okay to not forgive?

As I read scripture I see a message that forgiveness and grace should mark the lives of believers and everything we do should come from a heart that has been transformed to overflow with love. This story is a great example of what love and grace look like, even to an enemy that would take your life if you were standing in a different location.

 

On Palm Sunday morning, April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee put on his finest dress uniform, mounted Traveller, and rode away from his tired and tattered troops to Appomatox, where he would surrender his beaten army to General Ulysses S. Grant.  As Lee rode to meet his conqueror, he fully expected that his men would be herded like cattle into railroad cars and taken to a Union prison and that he, as their general, would be tried and executed as a disgraced traitor.

In the tidy living room of the home where the vanquished and the victor met, Lee asked Grant what his terms of surrender were to be.  Grant told Lee that his men were free to take their horses with them and go back to their little farms and that Lee too was free to go home and create a new life.  Lee offered Grant his sword; Grant refused it. Lee heaved a sigh; he came expecting to be humiliated, and he left with dignity and honor.  As he watched General Lee mount Traveller and ride back to his troops, Grant took off his hat and saluted his defeated enemy.  It was a gracious grace.  And it deeply affected the defeated general: as long as he lived, Lee allowed no critical word of Grant to be spoken in his presence.  Grace graciously given honors our worth as it overlooks our undeserving. (From Shame and Grace by Lewis B. Smedes, p.120)

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