Pushing Against Grace

Pushing Against Grace, Jonah 4

 

What’s that one heinous sin that lurks in the forefront of your mind as the ultimate offense? The attitude and actions for which forgiveness is totally inconceivable? The red flag in someone’s life which is the dead giveaway that person “can’t be Christian”? Even after his isolation on the sea, Jonah had much to learn about grace, as do we.

Webster’s defines grace as the manifestation of favor, mercy, clemency, or pardon.  Tullian Tchvidjian defines grace as “unconditional acceptance granted to an understanding person, granted by an un-obligated giver.” It is forgiveness coupled with restoration. God’s grace is immeasurable and liberally covers all who will embrace it; regardless of their offense or our opinion.

Jonah ran from God’s command to go and proclaim truth to Nineveh out of fear. He feared the negative reaction of Nineveh on himself. He feared God’s offer of grace to Nineveh, should he succeed, with equal intensity. Jonah’s hate for Nineveh was rooted deep in a history of violence and oppression aimed at his homeland, Israel. Jonah’s desire for justice rivaled his fear for his life. The thought of Nineveh being forgiven of their deplorable sins committed against God and His people turned Jonah’s stomach. He preferred death over life in a world where Nineveh was in equal standing with Israel in God’s eyes.

Grace erases any inclination to believe you are superior. Self-righteous people have wandered far from God because they have allowed their love of righteousness surpasses their understanding of grace. Being righteous is a good thing, if your understanding of righteousness is rooted in the gospel and not religion. Righteousness without grace is bigotry.

The grace God offers is bigger than any sin, including yours. Once we ‘get’ grace, our obedience shifts from being driven by guilt to driven by love. Love for our God, our savior, and each other. Pushing against God’s grace as it sweeps toward anyone you deem “unworthy” is like trying to push back a tidal wave. Your efforts aren’t only futile, they make you look like a fool. But, in the end, God’s grace surrounds you as it rushes past to embrace that which you were trying to keep it from.

As Lauren, Zac, Caley, and the rest of the worship team guided our spirits this morning:

Lay yourself down,

to be the light,

for none but Jesus.

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Rest

4-21-13, The Authority of Jesus, Rest on Jesus' Authority

Rest in the absolute power and absolute authority of Jesus. Jesus failed if his mission was absolute peace on earth.  – two phrases that hit me like a 2 x 4 when they left Dean’s lips. Most striking for where I am at in my life; rest. Matthew continues showing us examples of Jesus’s divine authority over sickness, debilitation and death in chapter 9. After each miracle, Jesus is clear to ask its witnesses not to speak of it again. Seems a bit counter-intuitive for a discipleship mission objective. We can understand this request better when we put it into period context. Countless impostors roam the streets, showing off their tricks to gullible citizens in the marketplace. These guys have a good act, a little diversion here, some slight-of-hand there, a rehearsed sales pitch and voila; you gain a following. Jesus does not want himself associated with these pretenders. He wants followers who pursue him for who he is, not people looking for entertainment.

What today’s message and drawing communicate is that many have turned following Jesus into precisely what Jesus disassociated himself from. We know how to put on a good show. Our bright colors, modern music, and progressive attitude draw huge crowds. We know how to plan a great party that gets people walking through the door, but if lives are not changing what purpose does the church serve?

Authority over death, disease, your comings and goings, your sickness all rests on Jesus’ shoulders because his shoulders bore the cross and he did not fail. Along with the aspects of life you’re comfortable acknowledging divine authority to control are the areas that aren’t so easy to keep from trying to control yourself; your marriage, your finances, your business, your whole life.

The word across today’s drawing may be familiar from the drawing two weeks ago, it is the word ‘authority’ written in Greek. Jesus’ torso supports ‘authority’ on his shoulders. You the viewer are the figure chillaxin’ on the theta, resting on Jesus’ authority over our circumstances. Our attention is directed above, away from Jesus’ supporting frame. If we are not careful, our rest will turn into complacency and we’ll take Jesus’ authority over negative circumstances for granted while trying to usurp his authority over the rest of our lives.

Rest in Jesus’ authority, but don’t miss it.

Why Not?

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We’re starting a new series today titled, It’s Not About You. Over the next few weeks we’ll take a look at the narcissistic side of modern spirituality and learn how our attitudes need adjusting. Drawing one from this series took longer than usual to get started, but came out simple and concise.

If I asked you to define the attitude of American society using a single characteristic, what word would you come up with? Patriotic? Compassionate? My observations require a different adjective; entitled. Everyone deserves something. A raise, a vacation, a positive outcome to whatever situation. Of all the things we could feel entitled to, the one that reigns above all is answers. Answers to any question we can fathom, explanations for other people’s actions, reasons for our failure to receive some other thing we’ve “earned”. No matter who the question is directed towards, modern society stands vehemently static until we have this information. Heaven forbid the answer given is not the preconceived response we’ve determined the question deserves!

In 2 Kings 5, Naaman nearly missed being healed from leprosy because he didn’t like his question’s answer. Naaman was a commander in the Syrian army and a leper. During a raid in Israel, a girl was captured and began working for Naaman’s wife. Learning of his disease, the girl compassionately encouraged Naaman to visit the “prophet of Samaria (a.k.a. Elisha)”, he would be healed. Naaman’s entitlement to healing begins. He pulls rank and has the king of Syria send a letter to the king of Israel, setting up a formal meeting between Naaman and the Israeli king, with the ulterior motive of meeting Elisha and, BAM! No more leprosy. The scheme unfolds as planned, until the actual healing process takes place.

The king of Israel, upset that this diseased Syrian commander usurped his authority to get into his court, reluctantly agreed and Naaman’s date with destiny was set. Avoiding the normal pleasantries, the king sent Naaman directly to Elisha’s house. Bonus for Naaman! The meeting with Elisha, however, did not go as Naaman envisioned. Naaman expected some holy words and spiritual sleight of hand, a flash of burning magnesium would have been a nice touch. Instead, Naaman received some bathing instructions and directions to a less than desirable river to bathe in! In order to wash away his leprosy, Naaman had to submerge himself into the Jordan river seven times. Hearing this infuriated Naaman. Despite expressing his disappointment (showing his tail in front of Elisha) and offering cleaner alternatives for the location of this bath, Elisha calmly shuts the door in Naaman’s face and Naaman storms back to his entourage. His posse looks at him in bewilderment and says, “Seriously, dude? The guy just told you to take a bath to be healed and you’re mad because the water is dirty?! Naaman caves and takes a swim in the Jordan, coming out with skin “like that of a newborn”, completely healed.

God calls us to tasks by planting in us a vision for a specific project and an insatiable passion to see it through. What often frustrates our efforts is our own hesitation as we wait for a popular Christian buzzword from God, confirmation. We continually ask God to reveal why He’s given us a passion to x,y,z and why we should follow through with our idea. Apparently, if we don’t know why we are serving in a particular capacity, the notion must have originated from a questionable source and following through would mean certain demise. Taking a meal to that couple who just brought home a baby and we only know as acquaintances may be awkward and ruin any chances of friendship since they did not invite us. Offering a cold bottle of water to the ragged man at the intersection on a sweltering July day may be offensive because his sign doesn’t mention being thirsty. The point of today’s drawing is we are asking the wrong question. God does not owe us an explanation. He’s worthy of our affection and obedience just because he’s God. An idea is the most resilient parasite known to man. Once an idea strikes, our question should not be why, but why not?

Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself in him. John 14:21

I’ve Been Working on the Railroad

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I mention work? Do you think of sweat and strenuous exercise? Pride may be the inspired emotion in some, pride in their position and their productivity. Others react the opposite, feeling abhorrent toward their place of employment; discouraged by the thought of another business day. God did not intend work  to be something we dread, much less avoid. As we saw last week, God created work when he created man. God placed Adam and Eve in Eden and told them to cultivate the rest of the earth by the garden’s example; he created work as an avenue to worship. The fall changed our perception of working from being a voluntary way to worship God to an inescapable form of punishment.

Men, in particular, walk a fine line between being defined by their work and defining themselves through their work. If you compare the average hours a man spends at work versus quality time spent at home with his family (taking into account time to sleep) in a single work day, his priorities seem vastly disproportionate. For most, however, quitting to devote all your time to being at home with the family is not an option. Even if you left the day job, own your home out-right, and grow or hunt your own food, there’s still work required to survive. Having to work is not where men get in trouble, the problem is being defined by your work. Our identity, as men and women, is not defined by our position, but rather in a person. Once we begin to define ourselves by what we do or how well we produce, we hand over the reigns of our emotional well-being to the one we’re producing for. This only brings disappointment and frustration when the boss who is impressed by your productivity responds by raising the bar a little higher. Happiness at one’s job is determined by a combination of the work environment and apparent value in the job. When intrinsic value is extrinsically dependent, happiness is a volatile subject because it depends on the day. Belonging to Jesus frees the supervisor from self-importance and the supervised from self-pity. Finding intrinsic value by realizing the One who made you is pleased even when your best efforts fall short attains the freedom to work hard and work well without the yoke of insurmountable expectations. When our work becomes part of our worship, our job becomes a joy. We tend to divide things that are secular from things that are sacred. We forget we are created beings working to please our Creator; everything is sacred!

Ephesians 6:5-9 teaches us the attitude we should adopt to find joy, but keep our priorities straight, in our jobs. The first word in verse 5 is most accurately translated as ‘bondservants’. In the first century, a bondservant was a person who worked for another and was compensated as a result. Sound familiar? Paul goes on to encourage bondservants to work not to be seen or as people-pleasers, but as if their work was directly for Christ. He then changes his  focus to the masters, imploring them to lead fairly, knowing their employees are working for Christ, not for them.

In my life since college, I had to learn a lesson about work that specifically relates to what Christians label their “calling”. God calls people to do certain things and have certain attitudes. Many young Christians believe determining their specific calling in life is a prerequisite to selecting a career, as I was. Believing this way leads to a lot frustration, a constant search for greener pastures, and extended college careers. So much effort goes toward finding our elusive “calling”, we procrastinate ourselves into what we fear most, insignificance. Paul encourages us in Colossians 3:23 to do what we do well, as if it is for God, no matter what it is we’re doing. Our “calling” is to a life of excellence, consistently serving our God through loving people, our way of making a living is of less significance to Him than our efforts toward doing the job well. Calling does not equate to career.

Today’s drawing has several levels. The background is a black and white swirl. The description of the relationship between master and bondservant inspired this swirl, the colors never mixing but pushing each other in the circular motion instead. I initially thought of drawing a long, flat road that disappeared into the center of the swirling background. I was not happy with this imagery because most roads carry traffic in both directions. The sign along the road reads, ‘The Way – Keep Following’, encouraging travellers to stay the course despite the road getting rough. That’s when a song from my childhood came to mind, I’ve Been Working on the Railroad. Eureka! I left the road sign, but changed the asphalt road to a railway; unquestionably a one-way path and much more demanding on the workers who construct it! The railroad track disappears into a shining light that blends the master and bondservant together, the light at the end of the tunnel.

Work well, fearing God more than man.

Kill Your ‘More’ Button

Luke 12:16-20

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

   18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

I heard a news clip this weekend reporting a political debate on rising gas prices; one side compared the amount of fuel production to consumption in America compared to the rest of the world while the other followed up with the size of the American GDP versus that of other countries. If there’s one thing we can link to America, it’s consumerism. A second story I heard last week reported the results of a study on the values among the Millennial generation’; here’s a quote from that story:

While “there are certainly individual exceptions” to this image of young adults, she says, “overall, the pattern is pretty clear.The trend is more of an emphasis on extrinsic values such as money, fame, and image, and less emphasis on intrinsic values such as self-acceptance, group affiliation and community.”

The state of “having” is among the top ten of American idols. The more we have, the more we want. The more we see our neighbors get, the more we think we deserve. We are constantly comparing ourselves to others, angling to find something we’re lacking. Finding out what ‘it’ is initiates an insatiable desire to get it.

Paul revealed the key to happiness when he wrote these words:

Philippians 4:11

11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.

Happiness is not found in having more than the other guy. Happiness is being content with what you already have. Break the switch inside you that clicks on every time you start to feel content with your belongings, your salary, your family, yourself; whispering “you deserve better”. Kill your ‘more’ button. In the words of Bobby McFerrin, “Don’t worry, be happy.”

Jonah 4: Pride

Jonah chapter 4 brings the story back to a place where we see Jonah’s heart and realize his experience has been more about refining his spirit than redeeming Nineveh’s. After Nineveh repents and God aborts destroying the city, instead of celebrating that victory, Jonah’s thirst for vengeance brings him to anger and bitterness. How could God take such horrid, violent people at their word? He should smite them to teach the rest of the world a lesson! This anger reveals the true state of Jonah’s spirit. He is no better than his enemy, he hates what he cannot forget of their past and longs to see it brought back to them ten fold; but that is not how God works.

The image depicts Jonah’s head in much the same ashamed, reluctant position it was in for chapter two’s drawing, after it took three days of exile in the ocean for him to accept his mission to Nineveh. In contrast of chapter 2, the surrounding background is white, cleansed by Nineveh’s repentance. The darkest part of the drawing is the growing cloud within Jonah’s mind, the spirit of bitterness towards Nineveh’s new-found salvation without immediate tangible consequences for their past. What Jonah has yet to realize is this growing attitude is what created Ninevah’s world view, an attitude based on selfishness and pride. Jonah is at a point now, if he does not acknowledge and repent of his own faults, he risks being by the darkness growing in his mind.