Stamp of Approval

Worship is more than physical action.

This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.  Matthew 15:8-9

God never intended obedience to one command to nullify another. Each command from Him correlates harmoniously with every other. The moment you are faced with an unfamiliar “Biblical command” that prevents you from fulfilling another that you know to be true, you can guarantee the new command is false.

The root of legalism is tradition, adhering to a singular way of doing things for the sake of avoiding change. Legalism is not a recent phenomena, not even in the last century. Legalism has been alive and well since the dawn of religion, it is the loophole around religious Dogma that allows a person to claim a religion without having change themselves. The crowd Jesus was speaking to in these passages is the staple child of religious legalism, the Pharisees. These religious leaders used legalism to manipulate the common public and relive themselves from uncomfortable responsibilities at their convenience. The specific dance here involved what was referred to as the Corban. The Bible commands families to support each other. Specifically, children are to care for their parents when the need arises. Corban law allowed a person to will all of their assets to the church, releasing them from having to use their own money to help anyone (including their folks) by the religious excuse “I’ve committed everything I have to God, so giving to you would be stealing from God.” Naturally, their religious propriety would not apply when the individual was personally in need. Using “God’s money” on themselves would then be example of God’s provision. The hypocrisy is blatantly obvious.

Today’s culture is no less hypocritical, regardless of religious profession. We are an intrinsically driven culture, that is to say we are out to gain the world for ourselves at the expense of whomever gets in our way. This attitude has slowly infiltrated through our personal lives, into our social lives and business personas. We are at the point now selfishness is even promoted from church pulpits. Self-called “preachers” allot entire sermons to promoting man-invented, legalistic rules while completely ignoring the truth of the Gospel.

Stamp of Approval

 

Interpreting today’s message, I drew this in the style of a political cartoon. The stamp engraved with the word “tradition” has marked the Bible VOID with a single swipe. In the background, a stereotypical traditional preacher standing in a pulpit (a modern day golden calf), arm raised in a shout of legalistic condemnation for outsiders. I can almost hear the the “amens” echoing off the page! In a twist of irony (you all know how I love irony) a Peace Lily is placed on either side of the pulpit. Flowers that represent peace surrounding a platform of bondage.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not condemning all forms of tradition. I take issue when tradition contradicts the gospel. Do not be afraid to question tradition. When questioning the norm results in anger and opposition, you know it’s time to move on.

God is concerned about your heart and He wants your only concern to be His.

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Gospel Stockholm Syndrome

Stockholm syndrome – a paradoxical psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

Our study of Paul’s letter to Galatia has shown he wrote to plainly lay out the Gospel of Christ and clear up the muddy theology that had corrupted this church. In chapter 5, Paul is warning these followers that they have let themselves become enslaved by religious legalism and turned to embrace their captor. We must be careful not to fall into the same trap. We can easily allow ourselves to embrace a gospel that takes small tastes of Jesus and twists them into a strict set of rules instead of simply loving others. Like a victim who falls in love with their kidnapper, we can experience a Gospel Stockholm Syndrome, vehemently defending the twisted theology we’ve been taught to accept as truth when faced with the real truth of Jesus’s desire for our hearts.

Today’s drawing visualizes Stockholm Syndrome. A figure falls to one knee to embrace the standing figure made of chains. Chain-linked tentacles slither from the standing figure to wrap around the kneeling figure, entrapping him in his embrace, turning his offer of affection into submission into slavery.

If you have fallen victim to this captivity of your mind, know you can break those chains. Let go of your captor by loving people, starting with yourself. Embrace the freedom offered to you through the Gospel and you will be free.

Those who’ve avoided being tangled in a web of insatiable legalism, it is your responsibility to lead others to freedom by loving them out.

Keeping the Cross Central

Here we are at the third week of our series, Jesus +; half way into our walk through Galatians. Paul is still giving the church in Galatia a good chewing in the first part of chapter three. He calls them fools twice, refers to their conversion experience as vanity and basically calls their holding to old religious law ignorant. He explains that even Abraham, who was the lynch-pin for arguing for strict adherence to the law, was sanctified through faith in God (v.6)! Those who have faith since Abraham are called “children of Abraham”, fulfilling God’s promise that “all nations would be blessed through him.” (v. 7-9) This group in Galatia wanted to work their way into the family by following the law, but doing so negates the need for faith. (v. 10-14)

The law is commonly recognized through the icon of a balancing scale, symbolizing balanced justice for two sides of one issue. I have chosen to make the focal point of this week’s drawing a balancing scale to represent the church, particularly the one to which Paul wrote. The Galatian church was performing a balancing act with the gospel of Christ with the ancient law of Abraham; in this act the law was winning. This is not uncommon in the modern church. Stick with me here. I’ve not come across a church who enforced Abrahamic law combined with the gospel in my life time. What I have experienced is churches who present the gospel but then set an “understood” list of minimum guidelines a person must follow as well as having faith. Rules about church attendance, acceptable food and drink, volunteering, your place on social issues, and on, and on, and on.

The list alone is exhausting, much more working to stay on the correct side of it all! Paul sees the church in Galatia doing this and his immediate response is; “FOOLS!!” I expect that would be a different word if Paul were in today’s culture (gullible idiots?). Alas, ‘fools’ and ‘bewitched’ is how the ESV translates his assertion. When the central focus of the church is not on Christ, his sacrifice, and faith through his gospel, our eyes turn from an extrinsic focus on impacting the world to an intrinsic focus on not becoming “like the world”. The gospel is not the diving board into Christianity, it is the pool itself. Just as we’re saved by faith in Christ, we also mature through that same faith.

Getting back to the drawing, the focal point is a balancing scale. The center pedestal mimics the shape of a cross, alluding to keeping the message of the cross central. On the left side of the scale is a locked cage, a small jail cell. This represents working to hold to the law, imprisoning ourselves by self-imposed regulations. The Bible is pretty clear how impossible keeping His original law is (Romans 3:23), much less everything else we’d add. This side weighs down the scale, just like this kind of theological philosophy weighs down the church. There is a rag on the top of the cell. This rag is the blindfold, removed from the eyes of justice. The most effective way of gauging how well we’re keeping the rules ourselves is through comparison, self-righteousness requires seeing and dissecting our fellow church member’s actions (or lack thereof).

The right side bounces in the air from the force of the bird who just launched freely into the sky. Resting in the right plate is a small wooden cross, the gospel. In the wake of the bird’s flight path is an ear. The gospel-centered church is the bird, hearing and receiving releases it to then go apply the gospel elsewhere. The gospel is the updraft on which we can soar, but clearing the ground requires faith.

The secret to freeing yourself from a try hard-do good-fail cycle of trying to live by a set of religious rules? Faith. Young Christians often struggle with the concept of faith because their understanding of “faith” is defined by being “good” (keeping the rules). Keeping the rules is not the key to faith, faith is the key to free yourself from trying to keep the rules.

Before I sign off today, living by faith in the gospel and not by following the law does not prevent us or free Christians from responsibility of calling out and repenting from negative, destructive, anti-gospel behavior. The “Christian” stereotype is often defined by what we’re against, the “worldly” stereotype is usually tied to not being against anything. Neither are accurate representations, but shouldn’t scare us off from making our voices heard either way. As we’ve seen thus-far in Galatians, Paul didn’t hold back from calling out false doctrine, neither should we. People may play the ‘love’ card on us, saying “Jesus taught you to love people, calling my actions sin or my ideas wrong is not being loving toward me!” Contrary to popular belief, the opposite of love is not hate, the opposite of love is indifference. Apathy toward a human you see running head on into disaster, that is hate.

Distorting the Gospel

For the next few weeks, we will be working our way through the book of Galatians in a series titled Jesus+. The focus of this series is on following the Gospel and what rules we’ve tacked on to make ourselves “good enough” to receive it. Jesus lived, Jesus died, he was buried, he rose three days later and is alive today. This is a simple summary of the Gospel. Believing this chain of events is Biblically true, acknowledging the first-hand accounts of these events by the Bible’s authors is historically accurate, then living by the morals and values Jesus taught; this is salvation. Many who have grown up in the church, and many who only know the stereotypical mainstream definition of Christianity, understand evidence of following the Gospel as much more complex. Various circles within the church have created their own gospel by legislating rules only found in Old Testament law, if they’re in the Bible at all. Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia addresses just that, distorting the gospel by adding certain criterion to not only accepting, but also adequately following the Gospel of Jesus.

We can hear Paul’s blatant frustration with the church of Galatia in Galatians 1:1-10. Paul calls out the church for their gullibility in allowing any change gospel message, no matter who calls for it. Paul attests we should not let even an angel change the gospel in any way! Galatia had their toes stomped on pretty hard when they received this letter. The church in Galatia had begun requiring anyone interested in Christianity to first convert to Judaism. A Gentile had to meet certain spiritual and physical requirements then adhere to a list of regulations set forth by the Old Testament law. Paul vehemently condemns the church for adopting this twisted theology.

In today’s drawing, I created four icons to represent the Gospel of Jesus; a cross, a tombstone with INRI (Latin acronym for Jesus, King of the Jews), an empty tomb, and Jesus in human for with an outstretched hand. This represents the cycle of Jesus’s life and purpose; life-death-burial-Resurrection-life. Concentric ripples distort these images until they’re hardly recognizable.

Two great modern-day perversions of the Gospel are this; it’s too easy to be true and I can do whatever I want because He has forgiven me. These represent two opposite extreme distortions in today’s church. The Gospel does not need any more effort or righteousness on our part than the price Jesus paid for us on the cross. It really is that easy. After accepting the facts, we are then inspired to live following Jesus’s example. This (and only this) is what sets Christians apart in the world. At the other end of the spectrum, we are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners. Claiming you’ve been forgiven does not allow you the freedom to set your own standards for living.

We need to shift our thinking to avoid a drift from the gospel.

What examples of Gospel distortion have you encountered?