No Other Savior: Galatians 5:2

I’m reading through Galatians this summer, at a very leisurely pace, I might add, when along came this verse in 5:2. “If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you.” Christ…will be…of…NO BENEFIT….to you. Those words rolled over me like a snowplow. When has my relationship with Jesus Christ been ineffective, distant, useless, impotent as far as I am concerned? When has He, Lord of all, King of the Universe, God of my heart’s cry, Father of my fatherless soul, when has HE been rendered useless, of no benefit, to me?

I think this happens subtly, before I really know it. I wake one day and realize that my fire is a pile of spent fuel, my passion is a faded picture of desire, the cup of sweet intimacy with Jesus Christ Himself is diluted. I am lukewarm. Christ has become of no benefit to me. I belong to Him forever, and yet I experience none of the delight He rescued me to know.

I am resentful of those whose innocent joy spills over into everyday life. I try to quench their childlike desire with “mature” and “sober” thoughts. Underneath this is a sense that I have lost something they have so easily found, something precious I can’t  recover on my own. I become envious and covet their happiness.

Often these lapses come during my most productive times in ministry. When I retrace my steps to the hours and moments before I lost the cup of joy that is life with Jesus, there is a consistent pattern. In place of “circumcision” in the verse, I’ll put a blank space. “If you are counting on ___________ to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you.” You can add anything you like that makes you feel right with God, anything that makes you think God’s favor rests on you, anything other than the purely irrational love of Jesus for you, and at that moment God’s grace in Christ has no effect.

The Galatians placed “circumcision” in the blank space of their life thinking this addition would put them in the “favored of God” position. Along with circumcision came a whole way of life: ceremonies, celebrations, laws, regulations. Every aspect of interaction with God and humanity was prepackaged, ready to adopt, right living with God. This kind of Savior substitute was even instituted by YWH Himself, to show us just how far we can run on our own righteousness. Diluted fuel indeed.

If our knowledge of being good in God’s eyes, pleasing to Him, is only discernible through the things we do, or give, or are working to become, we have lost connection with our Savior, Jesus, the Head of the Body of Christ; a lamp without oil, a glove with no hand, a car with no engine. We find ourselves resentful of those who seem to experience freedom with little restriction, and secretly wish them some difficulty that would clip their wings. Then they’d see its not all freedom and no responsibility in Christ. Still as their joy flows on and His favor still refreshes them, we may feel resentful and struggle not to wish them some ill, “for their own good.”

In the story of two brothers Jesus told, we are the older brother and work for Father’s favor, never missing a day and never knowing His blessing that only comes by faith from grace.

The cure? Retrace your steps. Return to the very spot where you replaced His all-consuming smile and presence with Any. Other. Thing. For the Galatians it was circumcision, inclusion in the family of Judaism with all its rituals and laws, feasts, and family obligations. For you it may be church membership, a ministry you love, work that makes you seem better than you really are, or the love of family and friends. You were born into the Church of which Jesus is Lord and Leader the moment you trusted Him, yet have added doctrine and practice, work or a lifestyle instead of Jesus Christ’s love and rescue alone to give you a sense that you are safe, whole, effective, important in Him. This is idol worship. This is the deception of false gods.

Come home. Grace keeps a candle lit in the window of Zion’s House, the heavenly Jerusalem, your heart’s true home.



Saturday Blues

Between the work-week and the day of worship there is a quiet day when stress fades and rest looms like the mast of a loaded supply ship on the horizon gazed upon by shipwrecked mariners. That’s what Saturday is in my dreams. In reality, Saturday is when all the dirty clothes, and all the dirty […]

via Saturday Blues — Simple Church Yakima

Saturday Blues

Between the work-week and the day of worship there is a quiet day when stress fades and rest looms like the mast of a loaded supply ship on the horizon gazed upon by shipwrecked mariners. That’s what Saturday is in my dreams. In reality, Saturday is when all the dirty clothes, and all the dirty dishes, all the dirty bathrooms, and all the empty cupboards must be washed, folded, scrubbed, loaded, filled and restocked for the next week’s labor. Saturday is childhood’s halcyon mirage, the space between work and wonder, only occasionally reclaimed by force and the distance of a long black ribbon of roadway and the siren allure of fast food.

Synthesize the dissonance and place it between desperation, disaster, and the triumph of the Trinity, and you have the Holy Week’s sandwich. Saturday on this weekend like no other is when all the work of being a disciple is really done.

Think about it. If you’ve placed your hopes in a man of this world, one who promises big and ends lifeless, you’ve lost nothing on Friday. He is another imposer in a long train of false messiah’s and you’ve just got to wait until the next spin-master shows up. If you’ve believed He is God, and hope to continue on believing, you have some heavy lifting to do. The dirty clothes of doubt, the mess of disappointment, the false security of cynicism have to be taken care of. How? How does one reconcile the fact that at the darkest moment in history, God was silent.

Into every life a little Friday night must come. Like Father, we are asked to lay down our beloved Son, our precious hope, our life’s work, our daily joy, the soft cheek of our favorite human, the emptiness swallowing up every ray of light. And in that silent pain our false gods are tested.

The gods of human hope, human expectation, human success must fall so that the God of Sunday morning may reign over us in truth. Until Friday, Jesus’ disciples were on an easy path. They followed a Man they could see. After Good Friday, Jesus’ disciples were in the crucible of a faith under fire. Peter’s denial was the dirty laundry that had to be aired, repented, chastened and cleansed if his faith was to endure.

Then there follows Saturday. Why is it more sermons aren’t preached about waiting? About the silence before hope that produces the profoundly moving faith that holds on, and having done all, to stand. It certainly lacks glamour.

And into every life a little Saturday must slough along, the day of reckoning that tests our endurance, that fits us for the race that ends with victor’s crowns. The life of faith is just that, patience when in pain, holding on when we wish we could just let go, Saturday between the death and resurrection. He is silent. He is patient. He is yet to come that we might grow up and be strong while we wait the ultimate Sunday morning, the one that lasts forever.

So hold on. Read the gospels through. Cheer a lonely traveler. Welcome an outcast and wait with all your doubt and fear and wonder for what must yet come, though does not appear over today’s horizon. In that day we will all share something in common with Jesus, our older brother: an empty tomb.

Judas or Jesus? Matthew 27:1-10

broken-bread1.jpg“Very early in the morning the leading priests and the elders of the people met again to lay plans for putting Jesus to death. Then they bound him, led him away, and took him to Pilate, the Roman governor. When Judas, who had betrayed him, realized that Jesus had been condemned to die, he was filled with remorse. So he took the thirty pieces of silver back to the leading priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he declared, “for I have betrayed an innocent man.” “What do we care?” they retorted. “That’s your problem.”

This grips my heart. I read how a follower of Jesus, someone who purported to love and announce the Kingdom of Heaven along with the other 11 radical disciples, became so offended by Jesus that he felt He must be stopped. I know it fulfills prophecy. I know this was all part of God’s plan. I know He works all of this into the marvelous tapestry of His resurrection story. I also know I’ve been a Judas..

Judas had his own ideas of how Jesus should usher in the Kingdom of God. He loved the business side of the equation. He counted and stewarded the coins. He kept close tabs on the success of Jesus’ ministry. The numbers didn’t add up to his liking. Jesus was too generous, too unconcerned with the bottom line, too holy for Judas, and this mystical, merciful man gave Judas a headache. Bitter resentment crept in. A little silver, a little gold re payed the resentment debt. After all, Jesus owed it to Judas to prove He was Messiah. Like Jonah, Judas was angry with God at His mercy.

How have I been Judas? I’ve kept score, adding up the side of all I’ve given up for the Kingdom, weighed it against all He has done for me, and found it wanting. I’ve kept track of the wrong things, built a case against Jesus in my heart of how He should have used me, how He should usher in His Kingdom, how blessed I should be.

Judas rubbed up against Jesus and all his flaws popped up like chicken pox on the surface of his soul, painful, open sores of self-interest, oozing expectations. To save Judas Jesus lived before him in light that made Judas see himself as he really was and wince. Did Judas come to realize his rebellion, his inner anti-Christ too late? I appeal to the mercy of God, and to the wisdom of Heaven’s Lord on this one. I only know myself, that I have often come to see the truth and repent late in the day, far too late to make amends, and I have been forgiven. For some answers we will have to wait.

I’ve also been like Jesus. By the mercy and grace of God, I have walked before others in Kingdom light and produced gratitude, freedom, and peace in some, resentment, bitterness, and conflict in others. You have too. For some, the light is a painful reminder of inner rebellion. Jesus said, “The servant is not greater than His Lord.” He reminded us to rejoice when we are persecuted for being righteous. This is what He means.

Let’s not focus on whether Judas was forgiven in the end. Let’s not be distracted by questions we will ask Father when we are able to know as He knows us. Let’s ask questions of ourselves today that produce in us a harvest of grateful praise to God: How am I like Judas, expecting something from God, disappointed with the Answer He has sent. How am I like Jesus to others? Am I forgiving toward those who resent the light? Is the light in me exposing darkness around me in others?

Some will draw close to God, fall at His feet and worship. Some will hate and abandon both Him and us. Glory to God in the Highest! May His peace come on earth.

Simple Church: So Now What?

Now that we’re a Simple Church, free to worship and serve Jesus outside the constraints of the traditions that have defined us, what next? Where do we go from here? How then will we live in Jesus’ new life, a life led by the Spirit and not just by the habits we have learned from our church lives?

What is the Way of Jesus? What Is Not?

This new life we have received is not a life of idle indulgence, ease and pleasure. Rather it is a life of sacrifice, of praise, of worship, of joy, of deep sorrow over sin, of intercession on behalf of those who stray, of warfare against an insidious, vengeful enemy who would rob us of the pure thought and sincere affection that is the hallmark of the follower of the Way of Jesus. The life of Christ produces holy fruit.

Following Jesus’ Way is both easier and more difficult than just doing one’s duty in a religious system; simpler and more profound than moralizing and practicing a program. It involves death to self to the degree that our decisions become subject to His will, our attitudes to His attitude and our perspective to His Perspective. And we must hear His voice.

We must know Him intimately through His Word by means of His Spirit. We must reject every other voice which would shout and whisper and coax and cajole us away from the path that lies in the shadow of the cross. Victorious, yes; victorious over self-interest, over self-gratification, over self-glorification in a world which exalts the base and abases the exalted. Ours is a lasting, eternal victory over the temporary, futile world we now inhabit. Ours is a Way of peace that seems foolish to the wise and fulfills the deep longings of those who seek peace.

What does the Way of Jesus look like?

Our walk with Him progresses along three planes which intersect in the heart of the believer; an upward plane toward Father God, an outward plane toward our fellow man, and a uniting plane among fellow believers. Freedom or bondage in any of these spheres will hinder our witness, damage our credibility, and hamstring our expression of faith.

Worship is our upward devotion, our intimate connection with a Father who created us for the praise of His glory. We have been made “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” to fulfill this purpose. If this is all we do in our lifetime, we will have pleased God and fulfilled His will.

Worship is both individual and corporate, both private and public, both quiet and expressed vocally. Each one of us must worship in our daily lives. Waking, sleeping, eating, drinking, walking, sitting down, we are to meditate on His ways and rejoice in His love. We are to remember and communicate to everyone around us in word and with actions that He is good, that He is faithful, that He is Lord. Worship is more than a song; it is a life that makes music to God in praise.

Worship like this when joined in like worship with others whose life-song sings to Jesus is a refreshing river! (Casting Crowns, 2005) It becomes a force which draws others into communion with the Object of worship. It saves both our lives and the lives of those who hear us. The joy and power of praise is limitless, but there is more fulfillment and joy than just this pleasure which emanates from the heart of worship.

What is Fellowship?

Fellowship, that unity and peace which both encircles and upholds the believers as one Body in Christ, is also our work in the Father’s family. Jesus so closely identifies Himself with his people that when he arrested Saul, blinding and incapacitating this warrior of the Jews, He said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me.” (Acts 9:4) Life in Christ along this plane can only be expressed and experienced as we are in connected community with other believers. We cannot do any of the blessings of fellowship in isolation, nor can we begin to experience the soul-healing joy of love expressed in the family of God until we die to the willful independence our culture exalts.

Here is a list of the 59 “One Anothers” of the New Testament, taken From Carl F. George, Prepare Your Church for the Future (Tarrytown: Revell, 1991), 129-131.

1. “…Be at peace with each other.” (Mark 9:50)
2. “…Wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14)
3. “…Love one another…” (John 13:34)
4. “…Love one another…” (John 13:34)
5. “…Love one another…” (John 13:35)
6. “…Love one another…” (John 15:12)
7. “…Love one another” (John 15:17)
8. “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love…” (Romans 12:10)
9. “…Honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12:10)
10. “Live in harmony with one another…” (Romans 12:16)
11. “…Love one another…” (Romans 13:8)
12. “…Stop passing judgment on one another.” (Romans 14:13)
13. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you…” (Romans 15:7)
14. “…Instruct one another.” (Romans 15:14)
15. “Greet one another with a holy kiss…” (Romans 16:16)
16. “…When you come together to eat, wait for each other.” (I Cor. 11:33)
17. “…Have equal concern for each other.” (I Corinthians 12:25)
18. “…Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (I Corinthians 16:20)
19. “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (II Corinthians 13:12)
20. “…Serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5:13)
21. “If you keep on biting and devouring each other…you will be destroyed by each other.”
(Galatians 5:15)
22. “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” (Galatians 5:26)
23. “Carry each other’s burdens…” (Galatians 6:2)
24. “…Be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)
25. “Be kind and compassionate to one another…” (Ephesians 4:32)
26. “…Forgiving each other…” (Ephesians 4:32)
27. “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” (Ephesians 5:19)
28. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21)
29. “…In humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)30. “Do not lie to each other…” (Colossians 3:9)
31. “Bear with each other…” (Colossians 3:13)
32. “…Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.” (Colossians 3:13)
33. “Teach…[one another]” (Colossians 3:16)
34. “…Admonish one another (Colossians 3:16)
35. “…Make your love increase and overflow for each other.” (I Thessalonians 3:12)
36. “…Love each other.” (I Thessalonians 4:9)
37. “…Encourage each other…”(I Thessalonians 4:18)
38. “…Encourage each other…” I Thessalonians 5:11)
39. “…Build each other up…” (I Thessalonians 5:11)
40. “Encourage one another daily…” Hebrews 3:13)
41. “…Spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24)
42. “…Encourage one another.” (Hebrews 10:25)
43. “…Do not slander one another.” (James 4:11)
44. “Don’t grumble against each other…” (James 5:9)
45. “Confess your sins to each other…” (James 5:16)
46. “…Pray for each other.” (James 5:16)
47. “…Love one another deeply, from the heart.” (I Peter 3:8)
48. “…Live in harmony with one another…” (I Peter 3:8)
49. “…Love each other deeply…” (I Peter 4:8)
50. “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (I Peter 4:9)
51. “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others…” (I Peter 4:10)
52. “…Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another…”(I Peter 5:5)
53. “Greet one another with a kiss of love.” (I Peter 5:14)
54. “…Love one another.” (I John 3:11)
55. “…Love one another.” (I John 3:23)
56. “…Love one another.” (I John 4:7)
57. “…Love one another.” (I John 4:11)
58. “…Love one another.” (I John 4:12)
59. “…Love one another.” (II John 5)

How is your fellowship, your communion with His people? How can we live out these commandments together in everyday life?

(More to come…)

Casting Crowns. Lifesong. Club Zoo Music, 2005. Web.

Nored, James. Missional Outreach Network for the Missional Church. 2012. Web.

The Beautiful Pink Horse

Saturday night a few friends and I gathered in our living room. Our son who is three years old and another child who is two were happily coloring pictures while the grown-ups sang a few songs to Jesus. While we were doing this, Mason slipped over to see how little Paisley was coloring her picture. She had made a very pink choice for her horses’ coat and Mase was clearly interested. He was about to comment when we noticed him stop himself mid-sentence. “That’s a funny… I like your beautiful picture. I like brown horses, but I like your beautiful pink horse.” Paisley has had enough encounters with little boys to be leery of them, so up until this moment she has been shy about joining Mason in the playroom during our grown-up Bible discussion time. This time things were shifting and all the adults in the room were watching out of the corner of our eyes. With a big smile she said, “Thank you,” found a small soccer ball and passed it to him. They were happily playing within minutes and for the first time Paisley felt at home.

I’ve been thinking about this ever since Saturday night. From a parent’s perspective, there is nothing more satisfying than watching your child love beyond himself. Clearly something of the love of Christ is reaching his heart and mind, directing his thoughts and leading him into life. The weight of joy in that moment, and the small moments throughout the rest of the days of his life outweighs the other, less Christlike moments. The Holy Spirit’s leadership of our meetings is often expressed in ways we don’t immediately recognize.

Could it be that Father watches our small attempts to love each other with just such joy? As we serve each other, reach out beyond ourselves in the power of the Holy Spirit, do we recognize His work among us in the small, quiet ways love changes our lives? They add up to soul-satisfying fellowship and I, for one, am deeply grateful.

Questions to think about:

1. Do I feel at home where I meet with God’s people?
2. Do others feel at home with me wherever we are in relationships; at home, at school, at work, at coffee?
3. What are some small, quiet ways I can serve to make others feel at home in Jesus’ presence?