Friday, April 30, 2010

Not under law

“Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. But the Scripture has shut up all men under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” Galatians 3:21-29, NASB.

The law, according to the writings of Paul, has its purpose, but it isn't the purpose we may think. I have grappled with all kinds of metaphors to illustrate this, such as forest for the trees, clanging cymbal in a symphony, carburetor in an engine, anything that shows that too close a focus on one thing alone out of context makes understanding it impossible.

The law very much has its place, it is just that the place isn't a personal resolve to obey. The law is a flashlight that shows the skeletons in the closet, but a flashlight cannot lift a single mote of dust with its light beam. Does that make the flashlight bad or wrong? Of course not. God doesn't just point the law at us and say, "aren't you foul!" He points to say, "you might need some help there."

So we have this spelled out in Galatians. Look at v. 24 and 25, read it close. The law has become our "tutor" - what does he mean? It leads us to Christ, because it sets up a moral standard that we have trouble fulfilling, pointing us to the need for something better, something beyond that. He is quite clear in this passage that we are no longer under this tutor, now that faith has come, we are NO LONGER UNDER A TUTOR!

Which law is he talking about? By what standard are we to pick and choose which laws are obscure and no longer to be applied to Christians and which laws are still in force? We're probably still under the ones that make sense to us now, right? Just the real important ones. All those weird old-fashioned ones are the ones he is talking about here, we're not under those weird ones. On what basis do we distinguish? If you think back to all of your teaching and learning as a Christian person over the years, this point has always been a little fuzzy hasn't it? It is fuzzy because PAUL DOESN"T DISTINGUISH. The ENTIRE LAW is our tutor, the ENTIRE LAW is the thing we are no longer under because of faith. He doesn't just mean, you no longer have to get circumcised and you no longer have to observe the feast of booths. He means you no longer HAVE to observe ANY of it.

See why this question arises over and over in Paul's writings - "Is the Law bad then? You mean, we don't have to do the law? You mean we can simply do anything we want? Should we sin more so grace can increase?" If you are grokking this correctly, those are precisely the right questions. The answer is not, "Oh, I didn't mean that, of course you have to do the big important laws. Only certain laws are the ones you are no longer under, and you'll have to figure which ones out since Paul is so ambiguous about what he means." He isn't ambiguous - he says "the Law", and he means the WHOLE LAW. So the answer is, no, you don't have to be under the law, any of it. It simply doesn't work that way any more, if you are under faith/grace/Holy Spirit. It doesn't mean you look at your skeleton laden closet and say, wow, I just love skeletons! It means, I won't be condemned for them, and I can be certain of help cleaning them up.

Doesn't this passage, and all the rest of Paul's writings, start to make sense now? When Jesus nails us all for even having an idle angry thought as being murderers, he is pressing the law as a tutor to lead us to the place of the tax-gatherer who couldn't lift his head when he prayed, and said "have mercy on me, a sinner!" This is how Jesus had such exact harsh moral teachings and yet just as clearly pressed teaching about mercy and grace and had sinners throwing parties for Him. Jesus isn't schizophrenic, He just happens to think exactly along the same lines as Paul does. Why is that weird? The law takes us to that place that says, "I really do need help, I don't want to do this any more." And it is this tax-gatherer/sinner, not the self-righteous pharisee, who went away justified. When he tells them, go and learn this, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice, He means it in a most personal and profound way. He wants us to let the law corral us to the place of grace.

So, Robert Krause :), we are no longer under the law, it is spelled out here and in many places in the writings of Paul. Grace puts the law in perspective, but we find that the law does not really attempt to put grace in perspective. That would be the wrong way around.

In the end, we are deliriously, deliciously free. Free indeed. When our motorcycle falls down, grace helps us back up. Despite our glaring and horrible faults, God remains our Father who welcomes us back, who always loves us, who quickly restores our dignity, who celebrates us. We are ever His pearl, His precious obsession. The law only serves to lead us to this place, this great romance. The gospel, this real gospel, the gospel which is according to the whole message of scripture, is really really great happy stuff. It makes me genuinely glad to be a believer, I have something real and beautiful and substantial to believe, something true.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

motorcycle metaphor

My friend Dave Wilson relayed the story that he was stopped at an intersection behind a car and a motorcyclist. The motorcycle had fallen over sideways as it had rained and the road was slick. The guy was having a difficult time getting the motorcycle back right because the road was slick and it just slid over when he tried to right it.

On top of this, the guy just behind him was sitting in his car, mad, and honking. Finally Dave got out, walked over, and helped the guy pull his motorcycle back up, and away everyone went.

This is a perfect metaphor for law and grace. Yes, it is a problem to be down on your cycle stopping traffic. The law has power only to sit and honk - to tell you that you're wrong, to condemn. It has no power to help. Grace gets out, without judgement, and helps you get on your way, without anger or criticism.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

everything is different

everything in the world is different
your own fingerprints on your own hands
are different
every blade of grass
every tree
every thought
every second
every birth and death
every dog is different
I learned this from my 8 year old son
who is quite different from his brothers.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

summing up so far

I wanted to pause for a few minutes and review what is being said. If you get excited about any of this (and I hope you are) and you want to explain these ideas to a friend, I want you to have this ready on your lips; you should be able to walk away from this with the ideas firmly in your mind and ready to verbalize and explain to anyone who asks.

TREASURE. First, the kingdom of God is about desire and love and wreckless abandon. Sacrifice comes from joy over it. Remember the parables of the treasure and the pearl of great price. Not only is God a treasure to you, you are the pearl of great price to Him.

Love's source. "Not that we love God, but that God loved us." The pressure is off! He already knows that you can't keep the commandments, even the big one. You don't love God, you don't have to. Love isn't in that place. He loves YOU, first. When you fail, when you stop loving, it isn't dependent on you. Your first calling is to realize that YOU are unconditionally loved, and the response will come.

The scandal of real grace. If you really take what Paul is teaching, the question is going to arise, just like it did for him, "What are you saying? Can we just sin all we want because of grace? Is that what you are saying?" If you aren't getting that question then you probably aren't talking a strong enough message. Do 'sinners' like to hang out with you? If not, maybe you need to rethink which camp you are in.

Not advocating sin. By saying so, we are not becoming 'antinomian' or 'Calvinist' or whatever. We don't have to answer to brainwashed seminarians who seem to have little regard for the scriptures but tons of regard for obscure arguments from church tradition. Does that sound familiar? His kindness leads us to repentance, His kingdom is always about welcoming the prodigal, He forgives when you actually need forgiveness. Grace and mercy are the constant warp and woof of the Christian experience. The unconditional love of God is the soil in which true holiness grows.

Difficult passages. Harsh law-pushers want to take certain passages, such as James 2, and twist them against Paul's writings, to nullify grace. Very simple reading and thinking about what James says causes such difficulties to vaporize. The whole message of scripture leads us to grace and grace again. It is what Jesus came for, the point of it all. Believe it!

There is so much more to say from here, even these points beg to be fleshed out and defended more. I also want to say that I need to hear your thoughts, your questions, your objections, don't be shy. It only strengthens things to have a real dialog.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

james vs. paul

There is a passage in James that is a classic stumbling block to serious belief in the full-bore grace of God that Paul teaches. Even Martin Luther wanted to excise this book from the Bible, because he viewed it as being so antithetical to the message of salvation by faith alone apart from works of the law. I think that upon examination there is no problem.

Let's delve into this passage now:
James 2
13 For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.
14 ¶ What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?
15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.
16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?
17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.
19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that--and shudder.
20 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?
21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?
22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.
23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.
24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?
26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.


The first thing to notice in this passage is that James is talking about faith, authentic faith. It isn't really about works, it is about authentic faith. Read it again and decide if I am right, or if I am twisting something; in fact, you probably skipped reading it so go back and read the passage carefully.

As an experiment, consider someone who has works but no faith. This would be like Richard Dawkins (the famous atheist, author of "The God Delusion") visiting a homeless shelter. That would not be to James liking here either, would it? He does not require only works, he is looking for authentic faith. He is saying that true faith will show itself in action somehow. If someone builds a chair, and asks, "what do you think of my great chair?" You might look at it and determine that it is a rickety mess; however, to avoid hurting their feelings, you say, "that's fantastic, great work!" Then they will say, "have a seat." If you won't sit in it, you don't really believe what you say, do you? Isn't that the point?

James is saying, if you actually believe, you will naturally sit in the chair. The point is still faith. Can you imagine Paul taking issue with this? They are completely on the same page. Let's take a peek at Romans 8:

8:1* ¶ There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
2* For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.
3* For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,
4* in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
5* For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.
6* For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace,
7* because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so;
8* and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9* However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.


For being supposedly so opposed to each other, isn't it amazing how closely these passages harmonize? Paul says, like James, that you can look at outward fruits and see whether or not there is a true indwelling of faith, of the Spirit, of a work of God in someone. The whole key is the authenticity of faith, the faith in the work of God that leads to the indwelling of the Spirit of God, the kind of work that really does produce fruit.

The thing that happens that is so wrong is that people come and put these passages at odds. They interpret James to say, run around and do stuff whether you have faith or not! Forget all those strange things in Paul's teachings that are so hard to understand. What the heck is "the mind set on the Spirit?" James is simple, it gives me something to DO. Then you prove you have faith, you get faith by doing stuff. Give me that practical religion, I can't understand all this ethereal stuff.

James is not advocating faithless deeds, he is advocating authentic faith. Can you imagine that James is saying to ignore the work of the Holy Spirit and instead just do a bunch of works? James' question is, is your faith real? Faith proves itself in actions, but truly effectual actions are rooted in a full-bodied faith born of the work of the Holy Spirit. In the same way, Paul raises the question, of whether there is an authentic work of the Spirit. If you take James here in a way that doesn't harmonize with Paul's writings, you end up making the exact error that Paul is talking about in Romans 8 - you try to perform acts of the law by the flesh, by personal resolve, by limited human power.

Neither of them are saying that deeds are the ultimate point. They are both talking about faith, and they are both talking about the fact that true faith will manifest itself in its fruit. What I'm saying is, if you want real fruit, James style fruit, Holy Spirit born fruit, enduring real righteousness, YOU HAVE TO LOOK TO GETTING REAL FAITH! If you start off running around feeding orphans, as wonderful as that is, you will end up nothing more than a resentful mess in real life and do more damage than good if it is not done from the perspective of a true living work of God in you.

Let's put this another way. If you were to have a conversion experience, and come to faith in Christ, and seek and receive a real transforming work of the Spirit, would you hope that it would have absolutely no effect on your day to day actual life? Or would you hope that it really did transform you, heart and soul, deed and truth? What kind of "gift" would a faith like that be? Nobody wants a fake veneer walk with God! We all want what James AND Paul are saying. Why is this a controversy? Does any of this nullify grace, nullify mercy, nullify God's patience with us as imperfect sinners? Of course not.

The kingdom of God, and its works, will always look like the guy who found his treasure, who from joy over it sacrifices things and does works. FROM JOY OVER IT. JOY. If James' teachings don't look like joy to you, I guarantee you aren't understanding it right. Go get the true faith, go find your treasure, find your joy in it, and your beautiful works, your fruit, will flow. Follow Jesus' example:

Hebrews 12
2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.


Monday, April 19, 2010

not advocating sin

I need to put one thing to rest. I am not advocating sin. This seems to be everyone's chief fear when I talk to them. Pastors, friends, close people, people who see my imperfections and ridicule the message of grace, actually almost everyone I know, disputes the message because they think I am advocating sin, or what is called in theological circles "antinomianism." I can't even seem to finish a sentence before I am interrupted and corrected and rebuked for this. In fact I am pressing on with this work despite the fact that I am terribly discouraged right now because the obvious and wonderful message here is so universally opposed because of this fear.

Let's look at the way Paul approaches this. In Romans, Paul spends 11 chapters setting the stage, in which there are very few if any direct imperatives. Go thumb through Romans 1-11 some time and check it out - very few imperatives. He spends 11 chapters describing what it means to NOT be a believer, what it means to BE one, and the Christian's place in the dealings of God with the Jewish nation. He explains grace for 11 chapters! In chapter 12, when he begins to press into practical the practical applications of this identity, he starts by saying:

"I urge you THEREFORE, brethren, BY THE MERCIES OF GOD, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service fo worship." (Romans 12:1, NASB)

We are so worried about not being antinomian that we just like to skip all that drivel about our identity in Christ, about being identified with His death, all of that stuff that is so hard to understand, and jump straight to the good stuff, the convicting part, the application. We like to hear the convicting stuff. Yet, look how strange his list of applications are:

- think humbly of yourself
- exercise your gifts humbly, such as:
-- prophecy, service, exhortation, giving, leading, mercy
- unhypocritical love
- love good and abhor evil
- brotherly love and honor
- etc.

It never really gets to any seriously convicting part, I guess Paul didn't enjoy trying to make people feel guilty and terrible about themselves. In fact once he gets through this list, he launches into an entire section about being in subjection to the governing authorities, which at the time were actively anti-Christian.

What exactly am I saying? I am saying that real belief in grace, real belief in "the mercies of God", is the kind of belief that inevitably raises the question "what - should we just sin more? There are no rules at all???" (Rom 6:1) If you aren't getting that question then you probably aren't advocating as strong a message of grace as THE BIBLE is! Do sinners like to hang out with you? Then you probably aren't in the right camp. And it is just this message of dangerous levels of grace, outrageous levels of mercy, total and sustained forgiveness, that is the real soil for genuine holiness.

We see the same pattern in the other letters of Paul. For example, in Ephesians, He spends 3 chapters without any imperative at all, just going on about Christ and our identity in Him as a believer. Starting in chapter 4, he says

"walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called." In other words, get it straight that you are the beloved of God, called by grace, given tremendous gifts by grace, and walk practically in the light of that. But we want to jump straight to Eph 5 and beat married people over the head with loving and serving the spouse. Guess what? None of it makes any sense until you get the first 3 chapters straight!

Ministers with lots of theological brainwashing inevitably try to couch everything in terms of its danger for antinomianism or arminianism or 5 point Calvinism or some other theological mumbo-jumbo, instead of reading the ACTUAL TEXT of scripture for what it obviously really says. I am tired of all the guilt-inducing thinly veiled pseudo-grace double-speak. I believe in a God who truly loves me, in fact who likes me quite a bit. I am going to live from that place, and everyone who feels compelled to dispute it can try that if it makes them happy. I stand today in need of mercy, and I'm getting it!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

In this is love

Another of my favorite verses:

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” 1 John 4:10, NKJV.

The greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, mind soul, and strength. And yet, not Paul, but John, tells us, that love is not in this. However we make the rest of 1 John work for us, it all has to jive with this verse, does it not?

Here is the message: love begins with God. NOT that I love God. It is NOT that I love God! The pressure is off! That's right, He doesn't expect me to fulfill this greatest of commandments on my own. He loves first. If not this command, which command does He require? Being a Christian is not about entering a universe full of rules and conditions. All other human society is about fulfilling expectations and rules. Even complete hedonists have their own society of rules and conditions to be a part of the party. Becoming a Christian really primarily means, belief that God first loves us, and sends His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Faith in Christ is a condition in the same way that it is 'required' for you to be at the party in order to enjoy the party. Yes, you have to go. Yes, you have to believe, you have to receive the propitiation. However, couched in the frailties of human language and colored by the human condition, in which we are only used to living under laws and expectations and rules since the time we were infants, it is difficult for us to see what this all means.

Now does this mean that we do not love? We just sit around not loving and being loved by God, it is all a one-way street?

Let's say, hypothetically, that it does. Yes, we just sit around not loving, being completely horrible and self-centered, expecting and hoping that God somehow loves us anyway. Isn't that the way it is anyway? If God expected us to change first, to love first, we have a distinct problem don't we? Have you ever made a resolve that you need to love God more? It doesn't really work does it? You can pretend and pose and talk the talk. At the back of it all is a real irritation with all of the interruption and work that it represents. Life becomes all like a trip to your in-laws when you would rather be fishing or something on a beautiful day. I confess: I am all a sham. No, I do not love God very well, I am quite terrible at it.

So, I would say, yes, it does indeed mean that we do not love. Just settle in and admit it, start there. Until you have worked it out that the first thing is that GOD loves YOU, even YOU, whatever you do, you are quite useless, and worse than useless. Your first thing is to stop posing and start being honest. You don't love God, you don't know where He is, you have other interests and problems, His laws and requirements are all an intrusion into your little party. He knows the real you anyway, He is quite OK with it.

This is the thing to get straight, here is what this is saying. He loves you. HE loves you. He LOVES you. He loves YOU. YOU are the one He loves. Do you get it? Forget about sin and performance and serving and the whole world of all of it. It will come later in the right place and time. HE LOVES YOU. The 'kingdom' of God is all about real honest desire and passion, and it starts with Him. You are the pearl He seeks, the sheep He went to rescue, the long-lost son He longs for. HE ACTUALLY LOVES YOU. This is the beginning. Once you stop all your fake posing and stop whitewashing your loveless dead tomb of a heart and let this just soak in, you will see it. And then you will see that this is actually all about love, it is not a demand or a moral requirement.

THEN, you will begin to see that an honest response of love will start to form in you. He loves me, you will say in your heart, He knows everything about me and still He loves. And real affection, real joy, real simple honest delicious love begins to come to you. It is a response to His love, not what he requires but what He longs for!

And this is the context from which to read the rest of 1 John, to understand love in general.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010



the architect envisions
    the site
    the purpose
sits at the table
    with pen and tools
            draws lines
            crafts letters
    sips coffee
    scratches his head
erases things
pauses to think
soon the plans are finished.

hot persistent terrible burning
suffocating relentless cruel shame
horrible anguished sleepless nights
the architect envisions
the dying agony of millions
which adorn this most historically important
architectural space

70 years later
we find the beautifully lettered blueprints
for Auschwitz.


I went to Auschwitz
    as a seer of sights
    as I walked
        my faith
            was shaking slipping
        as I witnessed the remains
            of carefully engineered cruelties.
    I entered
        with fear
        Block 11
            "The Block of Death"
        If you walk down the stairs
            there are cellars underneath
                less than 7 meters square
                where up to 38 prisoners
                    would be stuffed naked
                        to starve
                        to die
                        to be experimented upon.
        These are the darkest pits
        of one of history's worst places.
    Years ago a person
        was shoved into one of these cellars
        who knows how long he was there
            before an idea occurred to him.
        Pushing his weak and trembling elbow
            into the naked bony sides
                of his companions,
            with a small stone
                or with his fingernail
            he etched into the hard wall
                in the darkness
                a picture of Christ
                    dying on the cross.
        I saw this canvas with my own eyes,
            and my mind received instruction:
            "I can do all things
                through Christ who strengthens me."
        They could do every evil thing
            to this man
            but they could not conquer his faith.

I went to Auschwitz
    as a seer of sights
    a tourist to the spectacle of tragedy
and I saw
    a mound of eyeglasses
    I remember it as a mountain
and I saw searing like the sun
    that it was not
        nameless faceless millions
        who were murdered
    a person was murdered
        a person
            with vision
        a real person
The world still bleeds from the loss
We will never know what they saw.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Joy Over It

This is one of my favorite passages:

““Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, “who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” Matthew 13:44-46, NKJV.

There are two parables here, and while at first glance they are similar, in fact they are very different, like two bookends, or a left and a right hand. The first is from the human perspective, the second is from the divine perspective.

In the first, we have a man, someone walking through a field he does not own. One might say, he is trespassing. He is poking around a bit. Unexpectedly, he finds a treasure hidden in the field. No one else knows about the treasure, no one else sees it. Everyone else looks at this field and says, 'there is a worthless scrubby rocky piece of land!' It is such a bad parcel that the owner doesn't even know there is a treasure in there somewhere. However, our man, by sheer accident, has found it. It is invaluable treasure, the fortune of a lifetime. He is THRILLED! Note, that he maybe should have gone and told the owner, but that isn't what he does, because he is greedy for it. He WANTS the treasure badly, he really wants it.

And here is the key: 'from JOY over it' he goes and sells all that he has and buys the field. The whole field, which no one else wants. He sells everything, sacrifices everything, from joy. His joy leads to sacrifice because he has perceived value hidden in that field that no one else can see.

And so, the non-believer looks at our field, and doesn't see the treasure. All that is evident is the weird right-wing churchy people, the buzz-kill stop-the-party attitudes, dressing up early on Sunday, fake weird people, guilt-inducing sermons, the whole rottenness of Churchianity culture. And They Don't WANT It!!! Of course they don't! I didn't buy the field, personally for the field, and the field is nothing like what it looks like from afar anyway; I bought it for the TREASURE, which they can't see. There is treasure, sweet treasure in most of those hated right-wing churchy people. Notice that the whole field isn't treasure, there is a lot of scrub and rock and bluff. A lot of stuff in the field is just churchianical bilge, but there is treasure in there. More importantly, there is treasure in there; there is God in that field. What kind of God?

The next parable gives us the absolutely shocking nature of this treasure. Notice in the first parable, if you read it carefully, the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure. In the second, the kingdom is NOT like a pearl, it is like the merchant who seeks. In the first, we have some bumbling fool who trespasses and stumbles over a treasure quite by accident. But here we have a merchant who is an expert, and who is always searching, searching his whole life, for this great pearl. He knows pearls, he is an expert, he knows what he is looking for. This person IS the kingdom of God. In other words, God is the merchant, and we are the pearl. This is the intent of the message: we are a rare and sought after treasure in the eyes of God. He really really likes us; he wants us; he perceives enormous beauty and wealth in us.

In both parables, we have sacrifice, deep sacrifice. However, it is not a grudging martyr-syndrome long-faced obligation. It is a sacrifice born of real desire, of intense greed. These are people who see what they want very very clearly, who could care less what others think, they see something that no other sees. And they go for it. They do whatever it takes, they sell everything, to get the thing they want. Apparently the kingdom of God has far less to do with being tricked into being bleached colorless and being inoffensively moral and good, and far more to do with wreckless passion for treasures. And these are secret passions, hidden treasures, perfections and beauties which only they see.

And so the kingdom of God is like an intense cosmic romance, a coming together of the two genuine desires with a sacrifice born of utter disregard for everything else in the world. God doesn't forgive because it is His job; He forgives because he so greatly loves, and sacrifices all else. The secret 'force' or intelligence that has caused the universe to spring into existence, and who has caused life in all its complexity and mystery and ferocity and wonder, has been searching the universe, and he found ME. I am His pearl, I am the one He loves. I am important, far more important in His eyes than I would have believed myself.

I am walking today, you are walking today if you have seen your treasure, as one who is greatly loved by the God who is real. In His eyes, according to this, you are a pearl worth sacrificing all else for. To God, you are worth dying for. God sees something in you that no one else sees, and He is the only expert whose opinion matters. Forget trying to be good, and worry about real desire, and instead walk in the joy of being the one who is very greatly loved. This is the soil, this is the seed, that bears all other fruit.

Is this not something wonderful, something exciting, to believe? Don't you really hope it is true?! It is true.

Starting a book about GRACE....

I am starting a new book about grace; as my wife Betty knows it is my constant soapbox, my idee fixe. I wanted to post some things as I'm working toward it here so I can reference it on FB and such and get some reactions from friends. This is not really a chapter, but a sampling of some of the ideas I want to reference.


Grace and forgiveness and mercy are the real and central message of God, the core gift and offering of Jesus Christ to the world. They are the key difference between Christianity and every other system of belief. The gospel is actually really good and happy news. Grace encloses and extends and reinforces mercy. It is not necessary or even possible to be forgiven once in the past, and to move on to a maturity which does not lean on grace and mercy day by day. There is none worthy, none righteous, including the religious and Christians. We become Christians by being delivered out of a universe of law and retribution and earning favor or punishment, to a law of love and liberty and grace, based upon belief. All acts and works of righteousness stem from the root of grace, not from the root of law. The law as understood in Romans cannot be narrowly defined as some weird historic ritualistic animal sacrifice; it means, really, the whole law, loving God and fellow man. We are not under obligation, even for these things. The purpose of the law is not in fact to obligate anyone.

Christian law, the law of Jesus in the sermon on the mount and such, is much much harsher than Jewish or Islamic law. It demands impossible things from the heart, impossible sacrifices, impossible perfection in subtle points of ethics and motivations. Christian law does not just apply to behavior, it applies to the secrets of the heart and mind. It is cruel and impossible, to a ridiculous and extreme degree. If we aim to discard Jewish law only to replace it with Christian law, we do not present liberty or good news. We present condemnation and despair. Those seeking true freedom, true happiness, correctly run from such ‘good news’.

We must form our day to day and practical doctrine from the whole message of scripture. The scriptures speak as a unified whole, a monolithic message. You cannot take the harsh sayings of Jesus only, and throw out the passages which indicate patience and mercy and kindness and softness toward the sinful. Jesus is not schizophrenic, Jesus is in fact very much in line with the message of Paul.

Justification, as well, is not a one time gift for past sins, at which point the Christian enters into a harsh world of moral perfection and obligation. Maturity does not leave grace and mercy behind. Blood is perhaps an apt metaphor; it circulates not only to constantly bring oxygen and nourishment to the body’s tissues, but to remove the wastes which accrue as a product of living. The result of belief in mercy and forgiveness is that there is a an open door, always, to press on to holiness, holiness which is desired as a result of being loved and blessed, not a veneer of holiness pressed upon an unwilling slave who longs to be free from its demands. We stand, new Christian and “mature” Christian, together, as sinners in need of grace and mercy, and always getting it. True holiness is born of grace, not law. It is absolutely and thoroughly Biblical, as we shall see.

Many would say, this is nothing more than a license to sin. As Paul says, shall we sin all the more that grace may increase? Many pastors would say, that may be true, but if you stood up in the pulpit and said so, everyone would take it as a license to sin. I’m so glad that we have moved forward and past the wisdom and revelation of the apostle Paul, whose teachings we can so easily ignore and toss out with the garbage. Obviously he didn’t understand the needs of the modern congregation. We should be clear that his message was so strong concerning grace that he was compelled to answer the question, “What then? Shall we sin all the more that grace may increase? may it never be!” We will explore his answer in more detail later, but rest assured that he spends EIGHT CHAPTERS in Romans making this point. It is quite important, and anyone who thinks they can ignore Paul’s message in Romans and interpret any other passage in the Bible is headed into deep and terrible waters.

I want to emphasize that I believe this is an error of a large percentage of mainstream evangelical Christianity. The saving work of Christ on the cross has been marginalized to a one time past experience for the believer. We see this in countless sermons from kind and well-meaning pastors, who sweetly give sermons that make the whole congregation feel convicted and condemned for things they will never really comply with, and tack on a completely unrelated call to belief in Jesus at the end. Our holiness seems to be wholly disconnected to our salvation. I do not believe it can ever work that way, and I do not believe it is Biblical.

You can either choose to read the Bible from the perspective of a pharisee, and make the 'nice' parts uneasily fit into your hard world, or you can read it from the perspective of grace, and interpret the condemning parts from the perspective of Paul’s teachings in Romans. You cannot hang your hat on James’ statement that faith without works is dead, without reference and harmony with Paul’s statement that we are justified by faith, not works. Either the whole Bible is true, and it is happy, or it is contradictory, and you should go elsewhere.

The true Christian has left the universe of the obligated, of slavery to the law, of unwilling morality, and has entered the universe of grace, of favor beyond merit.

The Christian doctrine does not exist solely to trick or scare people into being more moral. Christ came for liberty, for truth, for love, for forgiveness. It is a message in which God loves us with a very strong and enduring love, and in which righteousness is grown patiently and waited for as a fruit, not demanded by a harsh slave master. It waters, it nourishes, it waits patiently, it says, “there is no fruit yet, but indeed, it will come.” It is a message of God-initiated love, not a message of condemning messages of “hope” which are all about cleaner harder-working protestant work-ethic principles to live by.

Righteousness is a gift, not an imperative. It is to be taken with gratitude, not demanded under threat of punishment. Otherwise, the message in which Christ came to save the world, not to condemn it, becomes meaningless and ridiculous, and we start to avoid the ‘easy’, the ‘nice’ passages.