Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Got Grace?

In considering the idea of what it is to live by the Spirit, I have been thinking about grace. It is by grace that the Spirit is available to us, and that we can access His power to live in a way that pleases God.

I wonder if we just make it all more complicated than it should be. Paul says in Galatians, "Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature." Like it's a done deal. Like it isn't really possible to mess it up.

I find that the conversation about living by the Spirit often turns to a discussion of getting rid of sin. And no wonder that's the case, with teaching like the aforementioned Galatians passage all over the place in the Bible for us to beat ourselves with. But that very passage seems like the whole grace thing is supposed to be simple. Just don't gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

I find that when I do gratify whatever the desire/temptation of the day is, I find the need to punish myself. I can't imagine that God would actually forgive me that freely and quickly. And so, I find it difficult to accept the forgiveness He gives.

But when I don't just accept that forgiveness, I am saying to God that His grace isn't actually good enough, or strong enough, or big enough. So, aren't I really engaging in unbelief when I don't simply accept His forgiveness and move on like it never happened?

Some people say that's "cheap grace." But I don't think so. Cheap grace is when you are confronted by temptation - by your own desires, and instead of calling on the Holy Spirit to help you resist, you figure you'll just go ahead and sin and get forgiveness later.

That's cheap. That is treading mud all over the gift of God.

Real grace is believing that God actually has forgiven you, and just going on. It's not rehashing the issue, and beating yourself up enough, or anything like that.

Real grace forgives, and gives freedom as a result. Because if I am all tied up in trying to punish myself for my sins, I am saying that the punishment Jesus took on the cross wasn't enough, and I am putting myself into a debtors prison from which I could never earn my way out.

I think I'll take the real thing.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The intellectual side of faith

A realization I came to recently is that I have quite an intellectual faith. Not that I have “head knowledge” without “heart knowledge,” but that the way I am most often amazed by God is when I make an intellectual or academic connection between two things I once thought too diverse, or find out something new about a passage I thought I knew, or get a deeper understanding of the implications of a theological concept. Does that make sense?

So I love the gospel, the good news that it is, and that it is being taught through preaching and music all over the place in so many ways. And I love the more basic worship tunes, and think it is incredibly important to continue doing those songs, and preaching that basic message.

But sometimes I just want something to blow away my brain. The seminar I went to in November with NT Wright at the seminary reminded me of the amazing scope of God and the intellectual side to my faith. I felt like my brain got switched back on. In fact, one of the things I would love to do is to quit working and go back to school – preferably seminary. (So much of the learning I have to do is stupid hoop-jumping so I can keep my teaching license. I'd love to study what really fascinates me instead - currently that would mean theology.)

Sometimes I feel like there are those who would hold the opinion that this is somehow a lesser kind of faith. I don't know if that is just an impression I get from how people talk about faith in general. But it is an impression I have.

Anyway, that's just what I was thinking today.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


I am in an interesting conversation over here about church, and whether it is necessary.

I post this link trusting that people will read carefully before making any assumptions about the post and the comments, and that people will know I am not advocating quitting church.

It was just an interesting topic, and I inserted myself into the conversation. That's all.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

All About Love

The topic of love has come up several times in reading and conversation of late.

Yesterday, I had a great conversation with a dear friend about love, and how often we mistake it for an emotion. That is to say, the movies teach us that love is when you meet someone and there are fireworks, or your stomach flips over, or something electric like that. But that isn't love - that's infatuation and sentiment. And a silly thing on which to base a life with someone.

Then today I checked out another friend's new blog, where he was talking about much the same thing.

And then today's sermon was about how God is love, and that His love is real and complete and unconditional and he showed it by taking residence in human flesh and dying for us. And that the sentence stops there - God loves us. No "but..." at the end of that.

Love is an action. Or maybe it's better said that it's a series of actions and choices. When I am angry with a friend, I choose to love anyhow. I don't break off the friendship. When a person is angry with his or her spouse, he or she chooses to love that person - through forgiveness, through discussion, or even just by staying.

Sometimes I wonder about how we make things rocket science that aren't. You choose love or you don't. Seems simple, right?

But it isn't. Because sometimes it costs us something - some time, some money, the right to be right, our pride. For Jesus it cost his life. That's the example we are supposed to follow.

I hope people see in me that kind of love.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Hello, 2009

I started 2009 with good friends in a comfy place, watching Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve, playing a game, with great food and lots of laughs. The kind of laughs it is very difficult to explain, because whether a thing is funny or not can have a lot to do with circumstances. In short, it was location humor.

At any rate, we're off to a resounding start.

I can't remember a time when Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve was not on TV. I was born in '66, so it is actually possible that within my lifetime there was never a New Year's Eve without it.

Today I shall attend a movie with friends. I don't think I have seen a movie in a theater since last New Year's Day.

As far as 2009, I think we are all in for some challenges. Economically, we are in trouble - more trouble than we have had since World War 2, which, oddly, helped get us out of the Depression. And I don't always know that we can trust those who are high up in business and government to always tell us everything, and I have noticed that those people will take care of themselves first. If that were not the case, we would not see them getting their exorbitant bonuses.

And, according to my aunt, the oil companies, who have been posting record profits through this whole thing, should be the ones bailing out the car companies, who helped them post those profits by purposely building inefficient vehicles when the technology has existed for YEARS to give us 50 or more miles to the gallon.

The oil company/car company marriage is one that should take care of itself.

Yet, I cannot help but feel some optimism that we will come out the other side of this better than what we are now. Our president-elect has called on us to be our brothers' and sisters' keeper. Shouldn't the followers of Jesus lead the way in that?