Monday, June 20, 2011

Are you earning or expressing?

Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out many demons and perform many miracles?" Then I will tell them plainly, "I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers."

It may sound harsh, but I think Jesus was trying to wake them up and set them free from their religious treadmills. The religious leaders of His day were all about trying to earn their way to heaven. They thought they needed to prove that they were worthy of heaven by their good deeds. Jesus wanted them to see, it's not about what you "do", but who you "know". We can do a lot of religious acts and not even know God. In fact, often all the religious activity can be a distraction from really knowing Him. 

We were created for a relationship with our Father, not for religion. Religion puts the cart before the horse and encourages us to perform acts of righteousness to prove that we are good enough to go to heaven. Jesus says, He is the vine and we are the branches and if we remain in Him, we will bear much fruit.  Fruit is a natural extension of remaining in Him. A tree doesn't need to try to bear fruit. It happens organically because it's what it was created for. We were created for good works. He is the tree of life, the source of all life, and as we stay connected to Him, His life will flow in and through us.

Legalism says, you must, you should, you ought... The pharisees were obsessed with doing all the right things. They worked so hard on their outward appearance to prove themselves before God and man. They missed the point completely. Today we can fall into the same trap by trying to prove that we are good christians by our church attendance, faithful quiet times, knowledge of scripture, and acts of righteousness... But God says, the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. Jesus was pointing out to the pharisees that all their acts of righteousness didn't derive from love that flowed out of a relationship with Him, but instead from performance.

Authentic christianity causes us to bear fruit without trying. Jesus will do in and through us what religion can never do. As we get to know the true God, we begin to experience His love. As we experience His love, it reorients us. It changes our perspective. It changes the way we see and relate to the world around us. When we see the face of God through Jesus, a veil is lifted and we experience the world around us in a different way. As we are transformed on the inside, we can't help but be transformed on the outside. Real fruit isn't manufactured, it grows out of a healthy relationship with the Father. The Lord isn't concerned with the outward appearance of man, but the heart. He cares about our motive. If our actions don't come from love, they're not sincere. 

God is not impressed with our busyness, but invites us to be still and get to know Him. He wants us to walk with Him, talk with Him, and listen to him. That's the point. He wants a relationship with us. As we get to know Him, His heart is transplanted into ours. The things He loves become the things we love. The things that cause Him pain, cause us pain. We begin to see the world through His eyes and as we do, our hands become His hands, our feet become His feet, our mouth becomes His mouth to the broken and hurting world around us.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The third Narnia movie really got me pondering...

I watched Chronicles of Narnia, the Voyage of the Dawn Treader this morning with the girls. I loved what Prince Caspian said... "I've spent too long wanting what was taken from me and not what I was given." We've all lost things/people dear to us in this life, but if we never take our eye off of them, we'll miss what is in front of us. Since everything in this life is temporary: our possessions, our youth, our health... we need to be grateful for what we've been given at the time, grieve the loss when it's gone, and then continue to live and enjoy the new seasons we enter into. It's much easier said than done though.

That line in Narnia reminded me of a passage in The Message bible (Mathew chapter 6). It says... "What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so that you can respond to God's giving... Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow (or what happened yesterday~my 2 cents). God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes." 

In the movie, Lucy longs to be beautiful like her older sister. She's so preoccupied with comparing herself with her sister and trying to capture the kind of beauty her sister has, that she misses her own unique beauty. Meanwhile, a little girl is looking at Lucy saying, "I want to look just like you when I grow up." We miss what has been given to us when we long for what someone else has.

As a parent, I'm delighted when my children enjoy the gifts that I give them. It makes me sad when they look at what someone else has and become ungrateful for what they've been given. Their ingratitude saddens me not because it offends me, but because it hurts them. It keeps them from recognizing and therefore enjoying what they've been given. 

I'm beginning to realize something about Father. He's not offended by our sin. He's not mad or disappointed in us. He only hates sin because it hurts the objects of His love... us. God is Love and love is not self seeking, He is "others" oriented. When we see Him in our fallen image, we see Him as a self-centered God who is easily angered and offended by our sin. That couldn't be further from the truth.

We don't serve a proud God. He made Himself nothing and put Himself beneath us to rescue us from our self destruction. He stooped down to our level and spoke our language so we could know Him. He came into our world in the flesh to show us who He really is. He demonstrated what it looks like to live in His kingdom while we're here on earth awaiting His kingdom to be fully restored. He held nothing back from us... He gave His very life to rescue us and bring us back to Him. Christianity is not about appeasing a God who is offended by our sin, but about a relationship with a loving Father who wants to rescue His children from self destruction.

Anything God warns us about or asks of us is only for our own good. He adores us. If we could see ourselves as He sees us... as we truly are, we'd see our worth and wouldn't be so preoccupied with trying to get it. In the movie there is a green mist, temptation, that creeps toward each character and speaks to a desire within them. It lies to them and promises to deliver what they want if they will compromise. What each person desires is what they perceive will give them worth:  beauty, wealth, power...  When they believe the lie, they miss the truth that they already have unsurpassable worth and that nothing this world offers could give them anymore worth than they already have. They exchange the truth for a lie and bring destruction upon themselves. Our God rescues us from sin, he doesn't punish us for it. Sin itself is it's own punishment. The natural law that comes with freedom of choice is, we reap what we sow. Natural consequences come from the choices we make. God wants us to avoid sin to avoid reaping the destruction it brings. He wants us to sow good because it brings good into our lives.

When Jesus left our world, He didn't leave us alone to battle the green mist (the evil). He deposited His Spirit in each of us, the Spirit of Truth, the Counselor. His voice always speaks truth to our inner being. He offers us a way out of temptation. Jesus says He is the shepherd and his sheep hear His voice. We can hear His voice of truth in us, but will we listen? Will we trust our Shepherd to protect us from what hurts us and lead us to the green pastures and still waters that restore our soul (Psalm 23)?

One last quote from Narnia that caught my attention was, "To defeat the darkness out there, you must first defeat the darkness inside yourself." We think the way to defeat the darkness inside ourselves is to scold and shame ourselves and keep trying harder. But that never works, it just keeps us focused on the sin. The only thing that dispels darkness is light. We don't need to confront the darkness in us and try to change it, but instead, embrace the light in Him and let Him untwist what is twisted in us. When we grasp that He accepts us as we are, His love begins to transform us, heal us, make us whole.  Sin is bondage. There is no freedom in it. God wants to set us free from it, not condemn us for it. There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. As we learn to trust Father's love, we aren't afraid to bring our struggles to Him so He can shine light on them and expose the truth to us. At the root of every sin are lies that we've accepted. As He shines his light on those lies and replaces them with truth, the knots begin to untangle one by one all the way to the root of each sin, and little by little we are set free.