Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Grace Goggles

Whoever pursue righteousness and kindness, will find life, righteousness and honour.  Proverbs 21:21

We have this tendency to sometimes look at what the bible says without the filter of who Jesus is and what he did to rescue us.  That's especially tricky when we look at book like proverbs, when on the surface it looks like advice on how we should live.  The problem is when we look at things apart from the finished work of Jesus, it puts the work back on us.  Instead of bringing life, it becomes an endless cycle of trying harder and harder until we eventually give up because it's impossible. Take this Proverb for instance.  Without Jesus and the empowerment and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, it becomes try hard to be righteous (that is truthful and justified before God)  and kind (that is loyal, good, faithful).  The thing is, scripture tells us no one is like that, no one is good, no one can be justified by his own works before God, no one can earn anything.  Our brokenness would tell us otherwise. Consequently, our religion has gone off in all kinds of tangents to try and come up with a system (much like the old system of the law) to keep us on track and moving in a right direction so we can attain that second part of the verse where we find life, righteousness and honor.  But in our own attempts it all leads to frustration and failure and guilt and death.

So lets slow this train wreck down and see what it looks like through the lenses of Grace.  It's so good that Jesus has restored our sight so that we can see the word through the reality that Grace has come to set us free from the nonsense of religious trial and failure.  Romans 3:21 says, "but now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the profits bear witness to it - the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe."  According to Paul, all that the law ever did was point out our sinfulness, in fact not only point it out but stir it up.  But Jesus came, without sin, to show us what righteousness really looked like.  So if we are to listen to the wisdom of this particular proverb in the light of Jesus, it means we pursue Jesus because he is the righteousness of God revealed to us so that we can understand it.  If you want to know what the righteousness looks like look at Jesus, he's the visible image of the invisible God.  So get to know him, talk to him, read his word, let the Holy Spirit whisper his love into your heart.

Now of course Jesus went back home, so the way we now pursue him is through the Holy Spirit who he so generously poured into our hearts to reveal his love to us.  The second pursuit in this proverb is kindness, which has a far deeper meaning in the original than being nice to people.  It's actually a picture of the fruit of the spirit, those things that don't come naturally to us because of our brokenness but exude out of us when we're living by the the power of the spirit.  Love, joy patience, kindness, goodness... all the things in Galatians 5:22 that are promised in a life lead by the spirit.  These don't come from us, we can try hard and pretend, but human love, human kindness, human goodness, doesn't hold a candle to the overwhelming reality of those things empowered by the holy spirit.

So, now that we know what we are actually to pursue out of this little tidbit of wisdom from Solomon, enlightened by the truth of the Gospel and and power of the Holy Spirit, let's look at the promise because if we don't know the realities of the promise through the lenses of Love and Grace, they become self-serving falsities that distract us from the reality of life in Christ.

First promise: life
If we pursue Jesus and life in the spirit, we get life; new life, abundant life, restored life, healed life, whole life - something far beyond the shadow of life that we know before meeting Jesus.  The emptiness of what the world has to offer in trinkets and treasure and momentary pleasure get blown out of the water when he heals our broken sense of reality and opens our eyes to the reality of whole life in him.

Second promise: righteousness
If we pursue Jesus and life in the spirit we get Jesus - the righteousness of God.  He actual gives us himself, he replaces our broken nature with his perfect nature.  He clothes us in his righteousness and destroys our filthy rags.  He makes us his brother.  He gives us our inheritance as full heirs in the kingdom of heaven, "so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor 5:21)

Third Promise: Honor
If we pursue Jesus and Life in the spirit we get honor.  Not earthly honor, not the esteem of people who raise us up on a pedestal because of our abilities or accomplishments, but honored before God.  We get to share in his glory.  We get to have our dignity restored in front of a perfect loving God who sees us, because of Jesus completed work, as holy, blameless and above reproach (Col 22)  God is not going to look at you and say, look at all your failures, look at all the times you let me down, look at all you sins.  He's going to look at you and say, hello my beloved in whom I am well pleased.  He's going to let you experience the reality of life with Jesus.

So pursue him. Open yourself up to the free gift of reconciliation and healing he has for you through his Spirit and watch him transform your life into what he designed it to be, an abundant whole life, in the presence and power of the the one who loves you and makes you righteous in front of your Father, dignity restored and forever established in the mystery revealed, the hope of Glory, Christ in you, who accomplished everything at the cross you never could and set you free from trying harder to do it on your own,

You are forgiven
You are free
You are loved

So pursue Him and the life in the spirit he offers and you'll find abundant life, the love of God revealed in Jesus and the Hope of Glory, Christ in you.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Compassion Radar

Jesus seems to have a heightened sense of compassion when he finds himself in a crowd.  It was kind of like when Dr. Xavier went into Cerebro and an could detect all the mutants in the world, he could see into their reality, he could feel their pain.  Well maybe it wasn't exactly like X-men, but there's something about seeing a group of people who are broken, oppressed, afflicted and desperate stirs the kingdom of heaven in Jesus, causes him to identify with them.  Imagine, leaving a perfect place with no brokenness, no oppression, no sickness, no evil to step into this mess we find ourselves in.  But he did, he step out of heaven and in to our mess.  He walked around, saw and experienced first hand just how far we've fallen.  No wonder it caused him to be sick to his stomach.  That's what the word we've translated 'compassion' meant, by the way, "moved to the bowels", the part of the body where his contemporaries believed love and pity were situated.  I know that's weird, but that's what it meant when he had compassion on them.  So those butterflies you feel when you first fall in love and that sickness you feel when you see some great injustice seem to be where the Holy Spirit hangs out.  When someone tells you to trust your gut, maybe what they really mean is, live by the Spirit.

My fear is that I've become dull to that thing inside me that was inside Jesus causing him to have compassion on the crowds, and that thing that compelled and empowered him respond to individuals in the crowd.  There is something about getting up close and personal with the crowd that causes that dullness to disappear, it changes the reality of suffering.  The 24hr 'news' networks blasting us with the suffering and brokenness in the world has had the opposite effect that it should in many cases.  The videos of war torn countries, refugee camps and hungry kids have become just another TV show rather than the cruel reality that we've help create in many cases.  We've become immune to that which should move us with compassion.  But something is different when you get in the crowd.

I got to go to Ethiopia for 10 days and meet some of those kids in person.  I got to play soccer and share their food and tell them about the Jesus.  Their faces got tattooed in my brain, their stories got written in my heart.  Something changed when I got to walk in the crowd.  The compassion got stirred up in me, it made me sick to my stomach that these kids were orphans by no fault of their own.  It made me want to do something to heal them, and set them free and show them there's a God who loves them more than anything, thou their circumstances tell them different.  I had no desire for them to believe my doctrine.  I had no hope that they would trust my theology.  I only wanted them to experience my faith, a faith that was given to me by Jesus through the Holy Spirit that has revealed to me that my Father in heaven loves me no matter what my circumstances or my failures may try to dictate to me.  He is love, I feel it in my gut.

But compassion isn't just for poor African orphans.  I had to come home.  I live in Cape Breton not Addis Ababa.  It doesn't seem like Jesus compassion was limited by circumstance and location.  Matthew 9:35-36 says, "Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."  Everywhere Jesus was he recognized the brokenness and he responded as the Holy Spirit stirred compassion in him because it's all around us.  If we don't see it we really are blind.  I live in a place where most of the people have never heard the Good News that Jesus came to rescue them and give them real life, healing and freedom.  If they have heard about Jesus, it's some kind of half truth that's lead them into religious gobbledygook that puts them further into a hole they can't dig out of.  Not only have they probably not heard it, they've probably never seen it put into action.  Our churches are good and meeting and teaching and preaching and talking.  Maybe we're not as good at healing and feeding and freeing and caring for people who are 'harassed and helpless'.

If we're really living by the Spirit, as Jesus told us we could, we have to listen to Him when he stirs compassion in us.  We have to listen to our gut.  If you get those butterflies in your stomach when the Holy Spirit is stirring you up to something, do it.  That is the power of the Holy Spirit in you trying to get you to let him out so the Kingdom of Heaven can come to earth through the love he's poured into you.  Maybe that looks like you "proclaiming the good news" to someone.  Don't worry, you don't need a soap box, just tell them God's not angry and he loves them, that's a pretty good starting point.  Or if you see some injustice or brokenness and your gut is telling you, 'this makes me want to vomit', that also is the Spirit stirring something up in you.  Respond by doing something.  If God is stirring you to action, he will be the presence and the power that enables you to be the solution.  Maybe it means praying for someone to be healed (he still does that) or giving someone some food or clearing out your bank account to buy a well in Africa.  He just wants to use you to be his conduit for the Kingdom of Heaven to come to earth.

We've become much too 'careful' and 'discerning' and concerned with appearances in our culture when it comes to being the hands and feet of the Kingdom. What if we offend someone?  What if that's not a wise use of our money?  What if God doesn't come through and we make him look bad?

Really, some of us think like that, as if most of things Jesus said aren't true.  He offended lots of people for the sake of them having an opportunity to hear and see the Kingdom, so offend away. the Gospel is offensive to our sense of self-righteousness.  The Gospel that says you can't earn it and you can't pay for it is opposite to everything culture and religion tries to tell us, but it's true.

He told people to give up everything, go out without a nickel in their pocket, leave their careers as high paying tax collector and fishermen behind.  Stop worrying, he'll take care of you if he tells you to do something that looks foolish by the worlds standards

Make him look bad?  He made the universe and he's perfect, you can't make him look bad, that's just silly. His perfection and righteousness is really big, your mistakes and failures are really itty-bitty.

John 1:14 says Jesus came 'full of grace and truth."  Jesus default mode was grace (goodwill, loving-kindness, favor)  and truth (what is true in things appertaining to God and the duties of man).  He then gave his life to show what that looked like.  When he was moved with compassion, grace and truth looked like him extending the power and presence of the kingdom of heaven through acts of mercy to people who were suffering the brokenness of a broken world, people who didn't earn or deserve it, people who had no where else to turn.  The Grace and Truth of the Kingdom of Heaven was dished out in loaves and fishes, more than they could eat.  The Grace and truth of the Kingdom of Heaven was revealed with broken eyes being opened to the light.  The Grace and truth of the Kingdom of Heaven was spoken with simple world like, you're forgiven, your faith has made you well.

If you find your compassion radar is weak, take a minute to go somewhere there's a crowd.  Leave your religious hat in the drawer and listen to the Spirit.  Wait for him to show you what he showed Jesus when he looked out on the crowd.  You might find your in a place where brokenness it painfully obvious and people have missed the Grace and Truth of the the kingdom and need to know the simplicity of the good news, "God's not angry at you, Jesus came to rescue you.  Leave the mess behind and go in freedom, the truth will make you free."