Flashback Friday: Holy Grace

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A revised reprint of a timeless article from May 11, 2007.

grace of god

 

The Church is a family, not a daycare. Yet many churches say “when you’re here, you’re family” à la the Olive Garden. While we focus on numbers like a business, some in our churches today have been raised in church their whole lives and still have little understanding of the gospel.

The surrounding culture says, “there are no absolute boundaries of right and wrong. We each get to create our own, and all of our contradicting boundaries are valid as long as we’re each doing what is right for us.”

gracethornHow should we respond in the Church? By explaining the gospel like this? “Bad news, you were born on the wrong side of the boundary, and are incapable of getting on the side where God lives. Good news, Jesus died to remove the boundary.”

While this may sound good, what the post-modern soul makes out of such teaching is, “By saying a little prayer, you can live however you want and still go to Heaven.”

The only difference the unchurched postmodernist sees between that and what they’ve already got is the prayer of salvation and getting up early on Sundays to get hit up for money. And quite a few of them did say the prayer once, back when their parents dragged them to church as kids. This gospel is attractive to those looking for a commitment-free eternity-insurance policy, not a life-changing relationship with a Holy God. In this business transaction, the throne of their hearts rarely comes included.

We are born sinners on the wrong side of God’s boundary and incapable of changing that on our own. Jesus died to make a way for us to cross over the boundary, transform from sinners into saints. He nailed our sin to the cross, yes. And as Ephesians 2:8,9 says, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:Not of works, lest any man should boast.” The common cultural misunderstanding comes in with our understanding of grace.

Grace isn’t a static thing where Jesus accepts us as-is by enabling us to commit our pet sins consequences-free for all eternity. On the flip side, Jesus also isn’t a far-away-tyrant demanding we do what the Bible teaches we’re incapable of in our own strength.

When we’re born again, God freely places within us a new spirit–-a new heart–-one that lives on the right side of the boundary and wills to act in accordance to His will. This is a gift solely of God’s craftsmanship. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

At the same time, we still live in a body of dead flesh that’s just as wrong-side-of-the-boundary as ever.

At every minute of the day, Christians face a choice whether to walk in the ways of our dead flesh, or in the Spirit, with Christ’s grace actively giving us the will and the strength to live in accordance with God’s ways. Let’s ask for it, step back, and let God change us.

[tweetthis remove_twitter_handles=”true” remove_hidden_hashtags=”true”]The Church is a family, yet many churches say “when you’re here, you’re family” à la the Olive Garden.[/tweetthis]

 

 

A Brief on Homosexuality

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How many of us have chosen which temptations our flesh is drawn toward? We’re all born sinners. What any of us chose is to walk in the sin and to embrace that tendency as an important-to-us piece of our identity. That is a difficult stronghold to break, whatever the sin is, and it can make it not feel at all like a choice.

Disrespecting someone’s feelings is not an effective way to persuade them. Do we feel the need to ram it down every sinner’s throat that their feelings are wrong and they choose to give in to sin, even if they didn’t choose to desire it? Do we always act like it should be easy to choose to break a stronghold and choose to go free?

We shouldn’t go to the opposite extreme of simply making people comfortable and happy on the way to Hell, either. We do need to speak the truth in love, but let’s try not to forget the love. The only thing as grievous as the false teachings that “lovingly” validate sin are when the Church sounds as hateful as we’re accused of being.

If someone takes what I said personal (it isn’t) and feels a need to go off, vent to the Lord, thanks. Peace to you all.

That Offensive Gospel

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“I hope this doesn’t offend you, but . . .” Whenever I hear phrases like this, I can almost guarantee you what will follow will be unkind, hurtful, and rude to the point of offensive.

It’s pretty much an apology in advance meant, we hope, to excuse us for daring to speak our minds. Sharing an honest opinion isn’t wrong in and of itself, but apologizing for it while taking a tone and posture that dares the person to get offended is problematic to say the least. So is speaking without any regard for the other person and how they might be benefited or hurt, but simply out to demand/defend our right to think for ourselves and have our own opinion.

I am sympathetic to those of you who struggle with this, believe me. I’ve done this plenty myself.

In fact, I’ve often left off the apology in advance and just stated my views in an unconscious dare to loved ones to get offended at me for having a mind of my own. See, as a kid, it seemed like a simple difference of opinions could lead to me being punished, ultimately, for not going along with the dominant position/view in the family. If my perception was at all accurate, it seems my kin were all raised to value group think and feel threatened by individual thought.

While I am grateful for everyone in my life today for whom this isn’t true, I see too much of this kind of thing in our society, especially in relation to politics and religion.

Don’t get me wrong. Truth is absolute. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the father but by him. God never changes and neither does the Truth. There is a right and a wrong.

The thing is, we’re not God. He is the holy, unfailing definer of Truth, of what is right and wrong. We are not. We are all imperfect human beings and flawed seekers of Truth if we are following Christ. We can seek to be secure in the revealed truth of God’s word and to be confident in who Christ is. If we grow in these qualities enough, we can stand firm on this solid foundation in how we conduct our own lives and also allow others to be wrong, to allow sinners to be sinners and not be threatened by it.

We can learn to listen respectfully and to compassionately ask, “Why? What’s your story?” If we are secure enough in what we believe to do that, and listen to their testimony respectfully, we will have a stronger case when we politely ask them to respectfully listen to our testimony. I am not sure I know what we can do to change ourselves, but I know who can change us if we ask with a sincere desire to grow. Let’s stop making excuses to offend unnecessarily and ask God to teach us to give the respectful listening we want to receive.

[tweetthis]God, teach us to give the respectful listening we want to receive, lest we offend unnecessarily.[/tweetthis]

Subtle Evangelists v. Explicit Christ-Followers

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As a Christian writer, I want to make a positive spiritual impact on my readers. Some insist the best way to do this is to hide my beliefs while trying to subtly influence the reader’s beliefs. As I understand the Bible, a faith that is hidden can’t touch anyone in a way that will draw them closer to God. What can touch people is a plain-spoken, humble faith that is neither fake nor forced but lived out naturally. When we do that in any setting, the only non-Christians we’ll offend are folks too hardened for the Holy Spirit to draw them by any means. In my experience, aside from those guys, it’s Christians you most have to worry about offending.

That said, the Bible does present one potentially subtle form of Christian story telling known as the parable, which is an allegory with a religious symbolic meaning. My Web Surfer books have at their core a modern version of Christ’s parable, “I am the vine and you are the branches,” which were familiar and common place to a first century audience.

In modern times, computer networking and blood-borne retroviruses are handy models to show what God is like in an entertaining fashion. I went beyond what is available now to co-opt the Singularity, an artificial intelligence that humanists expect to build and place messianic hopes in. In the Web Surfer universe, this entity is an AI-Human, fully AI and fully Human, who rejects being worshiped to follow Christ. Sander is a flawed model of the Trinity who struggles to be faithful to his calling to reign over cyberspace as Christ’s ambassador, since he knows the price: persecution and tragedy. These are touched on in Users of Web Surfer, a collection of ten shorter works, and fully played out in the novels.

Parables aren’t necessarily always subtle. The God that Sander serves is explicitly a real presence in the Web Surfer books, one I’ve sought to represent as faithfully as possible.

Further, even when they are subtle, parables are for people with ears to hear. Before a parable can touch an unbeliever, they have to be able to figure out what it means. The atheists I’ve heard from feel like Christians who write subtle are trying to trick them. No one likes to be tricked. If we don’t want to rudely cross that boundary, it’s best to be direct, respectful, and to wait until they indicate interest in hearing our logical, rational case for Christ’s existence with an open mind.

In fact, most humans prefer it to be made clear up front what philosophical, political, or religious perspective a media item takes. This lets us make an informed decision whether we’re interested in being “reached,” persuaded to switch to an opposing viewpoint. If we’re not interested, with a few vocal exceptions, the question becomes whether the story is good enough to merit overlooking that. If it is, we will read to the end, then we will go on with their lives with what we’ve read having made little or no impact on our beliefs.

Christians know this when we’re evaluating materials advocating non-Christian beliefs, but we seem to forget it when we’re producing materials advocating Christian beliefs. I suspect this is because it pokes holes in our “evangelism” excuse for writing to please a market where we’ll make more money.

If God has called someone to write fiction for evangelism purposes, that fiction’s target audience is open-minded unbelievers. It’s only a bonus if anyone else tolerates or enjoys the religious content. This is most effective if it organically arises due to the POV characters being “seekers of Truth” who find Christ near the end of their full story lines and convert for believable reasons in a non-canned way. It’s also wise to have an external conflict that can be enjoyed by anyone who reads the book’s genre. This audience seeks Truth from non-fiction and reads fiction for sheer pleasure. However, everyone appreciates a hero we can personally relate to who is doing cool stuff.

Of course, there is another option: pre-evangelism fiction.

Effective pre-evangelism fiction would feature a non-Christian POV character with a problem they solve with the help of a Christian who is quietly living his or her faith in front of them. Alternately, the Christian could be the POV character’s adversary. Either way, due to the Christian character showing the POV character love and respect while living out his/her faith, the POV character changes from being indifferent or hostile to Christians to respecting them without changing his or her own beliefs. Christianity isn’t even on the POV character’s radar as a possibility until the end. Fiction may be more suited for pre-evangelism than evangelism, but if God has called anyone to that, do it.

Andrea  Graham studied creative writing and religion at Ashland University, has been envisioning fantastic worlds since age six, and has been writing science fiction novels since she was fourteen. She’s signed a contract for her Web Surfer books with Helping Hands Press and has co-authored novels that were primarily by her husband, Adam Graham. She encourages readers at christsglory.com and offers assistance to writers at povbootcamp.com. Andrea  and Adam live with their cat, Joybell, in Boise, Idaho.

Find me on:

facebook.com/alightchild           pinterest.com/alightchild/

twitter.com/povbootcamp         amazon.com/author/andreajoygraham

Unity: “To be in Harmony and in Agreement”

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“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17)

This comes in the middle of the Lord’s prayer . . . in the garden of Gethsemane. The part most of my pastors have focused on is where he prays for unity. I’ve seen plenty of churches’ pastoral staff water down the truth and ignore doctrinal disunity in the name of unity. We seem to think being one means ‘the more the merrier!” Uh, no, it means those who are in your pews being of one mind and in one accord. We can’t have that unless everyone in the local body is functioning together, each using their individual gifts and natural abilities towards the same goals, which should include, biblically, for us all to grow to be more like Christ and worshiping him in Spirit and in Truth.

I think part of this comes from a common misunderstanding that the Church is all about making spiritual babies. No, evangelism is all about making babies, and for that Jesus sent his disciples out from where he gathered them together to teach them. Did he stop others who didn’t follow him from showing up when he sat down to teach his own? No, but he didn’t modify his message to appeal to them, he kept his focus on the spiritual babies he already had in his care to raise. In fact, he deliberately spoke in confusing parables when the crowds gathered around–exact opposite of what many churches do today.

Maybe that’s why we’re growing fat in numbers, but most of us aren’t growing up in the Lord, but rather still messing in our diapers. Brothers and sisters, on the judgment day, God’s not going to be counting how many babies we made and left to spiritually starve while we were busy focusing on making more. He’s going to be counting how many members of our churches grew up to full maturity and produced the spiritual fruits: love, joy, peace, goodness, gentleness, etc.

If you’re called to be a pastor or a teacher, your primary job isn’t to make new disciples. Your primary job is to train your existing disciples with the preaching of God’s word, to be their human coach as the grace of God flows through you to change those he’s already entrusted to you from sinners into saints. If you truly feel God’s call to be a full time evangelist, and you’re holding a pastoral or teaching position in (or out of) a church,  step aside so someone can raise your babies properly and take your good news out to the folks it is intended for, by any means but making everyone eat an exclusive diet of gospel-seed and milk.

If you’re laity, and you wish your leaders would read this, or you know you are not a doctrinal good fit within your local body, don’t wait for them to see things your way or to start feeding you properly and don’t ignore the disunity. Go find a church properly focused on discipleship who you feel you can trust to teach you right, if you’re sure it’s  your current body that’s in error and not you.