Grace AND Truth





There is a disturbing growing trend in society today, people seem to be polarizing themselves from anyone who does not think like they do. We only associate with, listen to, and learn from people who think like us. We have stopped listening to opposite points of view. We don't debate any more. We reject and push away and isolate ourselves from anyone who differs from our point of view.

This is dangerous, because what if we’re wrong? How would we ever find out? How could we ever learn anything differently?

This is especially dangerous for us as Christians. If we isolate ourselves from people who don’t think like us how are we to reach them?

Jesus said to “go into all of the world”. How can we go into ALL of the world, if we only associate with those who are like us?

Mark 16:15 (NIV)

15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.

Jesus modelled something much different.

Jesus was unlike any religious leader, before or after. We can see the evidence of this difference by who were members of his crowd whenever he preached.

Luke 15:1-2 (NIV)

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

In fact, when John was first introducing Jesus to the world in his book, the Gospel of John. He made a remark that Jesus was different from anyone they had ever seen. Look how he described Jesus in John 1.

John 1:14 (NIV)

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Full of grace AND truth. They had never seen anything like this before. They either knew people full of grace but no truth, or those full of truth with no grace.

How did Jesus strike the balance of grace AND truth?

John 2:9-17 (NIV)

9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

12 After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days.

13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

The book of John seems to be written in such a way to show the contrast of grace and truth.

Who did Jesus give grace to? Sinners and those honestly seeking him - like Nicodemus

Who did Jesus give truth to? The religious, the know-it-alls, the self-righteous

Truth without grace breeds self-righteousness and legalism. Grace without truth breeds deception and moral compromise. The key to true Christian spirituality is to integrate these two qualities into life, imitating the character of Christ.

Today’s Takeaway:

Truth without grace breeds self-righteousness & legalism. Grace without truth breeds deception & moral compromise. #thepowerofAND #myvictory

Messy Christianity

One of my spiritual hero’s was John Wimber. He is widely known as the founder of the Vineyard movement of churches. One of the things I respect most about him is that it was said of him when he pastored his first church, he created the substantial growth of 7 other churches in his city because he was leading so many people to the Lord. He was a very enthusiastic evangelist, right from his own conversion in the early 1960’s.

John Wimber was a famous producer in the music industry in the early ’60’s before he became a pastor. Within a few years of his conversion to Christ, he was approached by the Beatles and asked to produce one of their albums. He consulted with the church he was attending and was told that he shouldn’t associate himself with them and strongly advised to not accept the offer. Knowing the type of passionate believer and evangelist John was, what if he had taken the gig? What could have happened if he had been allowed to work with and influence the world’s most popular and listened to group?

Have you heard the statement, “We are in the world, but not of the world?” What does it mean? I grew up in a Christian school. We were taught it meant to remain separate from the world. We were not allowed to dress like them or look like them. I was told that my hair shouldn’t touch my collar. We were taught to never listen to the world’s music. In fact, we were taught that rock ‘n roll in general was evil, even if it had Christian lyrics. It created an us vs. them mentality.

Of course, my teachers had many scriptures to back up their claims. Verses like 1 John 2:15, "Do not love the world nor the things in the world If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him."  And James 4:4, "You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."

But what do we do with scriptures like John 3:16-17, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him."  Or John 9:5, "While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world."

Is the Bible setting a double standard? Have you ever battled this tension? Have you ever felt that to be more “holy” you had to further distance yourself from the world and especially those who think like the world? I know I have. And then I read about Jesus, who was called a “friend of sinners”, and hung out with those who were some of the most worldly thinkers of the day. And He led his disciples to do the same!

I know for me, I’ve always been afraid of being tainted by the world, of slipping into sin, of backsliding, of losing holiness and of disappointing God. But in the Bible we get an incredible insight into the private thoughts of Jesus. We get to listen in on one of his prayers in John 17:13-18. He doesn't share these same fears. Instead He prayed, "But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.”

There it is! There’s the tension we’re talking about. The tension of being “in the world" but "not of the world." What do you think it means? How do we effectively reach the world without being tainted by it? Does Jesus expectation of us living clean mean that we avoid the messiness of the lives around us?

Are You Serving as Your Own Saviour?

In his play Amadeus, Peter Shaffer tells the story of Antonio Saleri, a young musical prodigy who prayed this prayer to God: “Lord make me a great composer! Let me celebrate your glory through music - and be celebrated myself! Make me famous through the world, dear God! Make me immortal! After I die let people speak my name forever with love for what I wrote! In return I vow I will give you my chastity, my industry, my deepest humility, every hour of my life. And I will help my fellow man all I can. Amen and amen!”

In his younger years he strictly kept his vow to God. He kept his hands off women, he worked diligently at his music teaching many musicians for free, and he tirelessly helped the poor. His career began to blossom and he was thrilled that God was keeping His end of the bargain. All was going well for him until Mozart appeared with musical gifts far above Salieri’s. His genius had obviously been bestowed on him by God. Amadeus, Mozart’s middle name, means “beloved by God,” and yet he is vulgar and self-indulgent. The talent God lavished so prodigally on Mozart begins a crisis of faith in the heart of Salieri. And he pens these words:

“It was incomprehensible...Here I was denying all my natural lust in order to deserve God’s gift and there was Mozart indulging his in all directions - even though engaged to be married - and no rebuke at all!”

Finally, Salieri says to God, “From now on we are enemies, You and I,” and spends the rest of his life seeking to destroy Mozart. All of his efforts to be a good Christian were ultimately revealed to be profoundly self-interest. God was just a useful instrument. He told himself that he was sacrificing his time and money for God’s sake, but there was actually no sacrifice involved. He was doing it for his own sake, to get fame, fortune, and self-esteem.

“I liked myself,” Salieri said, “till he came.” Soon the moral and respectable Salieri shows himself capable of greater evil than the immoral, vulgar Mozart. While the Mozart of Amadeus is irreligious, it is Salieri the devout who ends up in a much greater state of alienation from God, just like the elder brother in Jesus’ parable in Luke 15. In the story Amadeus, Mozart of course is like the younger brother and Salieri is remarkably like the elder brother.

Dr. Timothy Keller said in his book Prodigal God, “If you believe that God ought to bless you and help you because you have worked so hard to obey him and be a good person, then Jesus may be your helper, your example, even your inspiration, but he is not your Savior. You are serving as your own Savior."

Unfortunately, when I hear the description of the elder brother in Luke 15 and in the story of Amadeus, I see a part of myself and my own tendencies.

Questions: Do you see some of the same traits in yourself? Have you ever tried to bargain with God? Have you ever tried to use your goodness to get what you wanted from God?

Redesigning Church - Part 3

Acts 4 shows us clearly that the early church was outsider focused! However, like most churches, it didn't stay that way for long. As I have said, the natural gravitational pull for every local church is to gradually become insider focused. And the early church was no exception. In Acts 15 we read of the first major church conflict. It was so serious that they called all of the church leaders to Jerusalem for a special meeting to discuss the issue. Look what the issue was about.  "Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” Acts 15:1 (NASB)

Can you imagine the reaction from the new believers? "Uh, Paul didn’t tell us about that part!" I can picture the complaints from the leaders, "For some reason, our new believers class is all women!"

But seriously, this was their issue. The tension was between grace and the law. And before we get too critical about how absurd this thinking was, we must be careful because this kind of tension can easily creep into our churches today, too. No, we're not arguing over circumcision, but have you ever heard these comments in church? "Look at what he’s wearing" or "what’s that thing on his face?" or "look at that ink on her body" or "they don't look like a Christian to me."

If we’re not careful, we all settle into our comfortable version of Christianity and what a person in our church should look like and act like and anything outside of our comfort zone is criticized. The natural pull on a local church is to keep it's insiders happy. It tends to focus more on those it's trying to keep than on those it's trying to reach. This was the problem Paul, Peter, James and the rest of the early church leaders had to solve.

After much discussion, James the brother of Jesus, stands up and makes a declaration. He said, “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” Acts 15:19 (NIV)

I love this statement! We should not make it difficult for people to turn to God. This has become one of my life verses. If there is anything that makes it difficult for people to have a relationship with God, we should remove it! Often times, we are the ones standing in the way of an individual's relationship with God. Our natural desire as pastors to keep the insiders happy and comfortable can result in methods that repel the very ones we are placed on this planet to reach.

The story concludes with the church leadership sending a letter to all of the Gentile churches. I can imagine the tension in the room as the church gathered to read the declaration. The men gathered around, anxiously wondering "surgery or no surgery." Here's what the letter said.

"Greetings. We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul—men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell." Acts 15:24-29 (NIV)

That’s it?!

The letter basically covered 2 things:

  1. try not to offend the Jews, and
  2. abstain from sexual immorality!

In light of everything that was on the table, that's not too bad. And then comes the biggest understatement in the whole Bible. Verse 31 says, "The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message." I would guess so!

The church avoided the first split and effectively managed the tensions between moral imperatives and grace, methods of outreach and discipleship, the requirements of the insiders and souls of the outsiders! Every church throughout the generations has struggled with these same issues. To resist the natural gravitational pull towards an insider focus we must remember that the Message is sacred, the methods are not!

Question: Is your focus more on who you are trying to keep or on who you are trying to reach?

The Story of Amazing Grace

One of the most fascinating parts of the history of  the song “Amazing Grace”, is the formation of the last verse. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote the classic novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” only a few years after the tragic death of her son Charley. Her baby died of cholera, and she grieved miserably. Now she understood what it was like when slave women had their newborn children ripped from their arms and taken away from them forever. She had an emotional link to the American slave.

The book was published in 1852. More than any mere speech or tract, it would be this sensational book that would personalize the issue of slavery for many Americans. Readers identified with the slave Uncle Tom and his cruel master Simon Legree as if they were real people. And just like the antislave movement had grown in power from its origins in England, led by John Newton and his protege William Wilberforce, in America Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel spread the same fire. Within a few years, the American Civil War would be fought over the issue. Abraham Lincoln would later meet the author and joke, “So you’re the little woman who wrote a book that started this great war.”

In the story, the main character Uncle Tom, has a vision one night where he sees Jesus and looks into the eyes of grace and mercy. As the vision fades and Tom is suddenly awake he remembers the “triumphant words of a hymn” from happier days and begins to sing the first two verses of John Newton’s famous hymn, but he continues with a third verse, one that Newton never penned.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise, Then when we first begun

Tom is a changed man now. He gives up any idea of physical freedom and embraces the eternal freedom that is his legacy as a follower of Christ. He devotes himself wholeheartedly to sharing this hope in Christ with his fellow slaves. The outcome is not hard to foresee. Simon Legree, Uncle Tom's vicious owner, has Tom whipped to death. Yet, his legacy lived on.

This is the first use of the final verse of “Amazing Grace” that can be found. Most scholars believe that it was Uncles Tom’s Cabin, therefore, that finished the work that John Newton had done. It was the book that inspired America to take a stand against slavery, just as Newton, through Wilberforce, had done in England. This is the path of grace. It begins at the foot of the cross and leads to your present day freedom.

Newton’s hymn, of course, has easily outlived him. People wonder at the power of “Amazing Grace.”  What is so amazing about it? The hymn is an anthem that crosses cultures and races, it’s heard at Olympic ceremonies and presidential inaugurations. It’s considered essential in a time of disaster; a crisis such as the one of September 11, 2001. Shoppers at may choose from among 3,832 separate recordings of the hymn. It comes in every style, crosses every line, and reaches any and every ear. And when it is announced in a church service, people stand a little taller to sing it. They lift their voices a bit higher. Some of them feel that, just for a moment, they are catching a glimpse through the gates of heaven.

We can only imagine what John Newton would make of all of this. He would point out that his verses do no more, and no less, than tell the old, old story - the one that never grows old. They speak of the incredible joy of salvation from the clutches of sin, of the amazingness of grace.

Perhaps it is not the song after all; perhaps it has never been the song but the idea - and the fact that this hymn is simply the one that best captures the lightning. The lightning is grace.

As Martyn Lloyd-Jones has written: “There is no more wonderful word than ‘grace.’ It means unmerited favor or kindness shown to one who is utterly undeserving...It is not merely a free gift, but a free gift to those who deserve the exact opposite, and it is given to us while we are ‘without hope and without God in the world.’”

What the world hates is religion. What they crave is grace. Jesus dealt harshly with the religious and offered grace to the outcasts. If we desire to reach the unchurched we must learn to offer them grace, not religion.

"Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?" Romans 2:4

Questions: How does this song effect you? How do you see grace? Do our churches reflect the "lightning" that the song so powerfully captures?