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The Only Way That Works

I love Whataburger. I could eat at Whataburger twice a day every day for weeks. I think I’ve done that a couple of times. They know me when I walk in. They know my order: Number One with cheese and everything on it and extra onions. Hot french fries and spicy ketchup. A big booth with my Texas Monthly or Sports Illustrated. That’s my happy place. It makes me feel good.

But it’s not good for me. In fact, it’s probably killing me. I know it. My doctor knows it. My whole family knows it. Whataburger is bad for me.

So Carrie-Anne lays down this law: No more Whataburger. Eat at Subway. Get a six-inch Black Forest Ham, no cheese and no chips. Get the apple slices. Now, that’s a good rule. That’s a good law. That commandment is holy, righteous, and good. If I eat at Subway, it’ll benefit me greatly. I’ll enjoy greater peace with my body and the freedom to tuck in more of my shirts.

But I’m here in the office and I’m doing meetings and I’m on the phone and answering emails and reading and planning and studying and it’s 12:30 and I’m starving. And I get in my truck and I drive south. When I get to the red light at Washington and I-40, I can go straight and Subway is right there on my left — I can see it from the light. Or I can turn right and Whataburger’s on Georgia Street.

If the light is green, I’ve got a better chance.

If the light is red…

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do; but what I hate, I do! I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing! So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.” ~Romans 7:15-21

I can’t keep the law because I’m human and because I’m hungry. That doesn’t mean the law is bad. It’s a good law! It means I’m bad and weak and faulty. And Carrie-Anne’s going to look it up online and see my Whataburger receipt before I can even get back to church. I know all this, but I do it anyway. The law is not bad — it’s just that the law cannot save me. No matter how good and righteous and holy the rules are, the rules can never save me.

“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!” ~Romans 7:24-25

Christ Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. This is the only way that works. And this is a big deal.

In Galatians 5, Paul says, “In Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value.” Well, if it doesn’t matter, why’s he making such a big deal about it? It’s the reason for the circumcision. If the Galatians go ahead with circumcision because of the pressure from the Judaizers, then they’ll be confessing by submitting to this ritual that Christ alone isn’t enough. They’ll be saying, yes, you have to become a Jew if you want to be a child of God. Circumcised Christians are better than uncircumcised Christians. They’re more right, they’re more saved. They’re a “cut” above the rest (sorry-bad Scot McKnight joke).

So Paul lays it out: This is the only way that works. If you allow yourself to be circumcised, “Christ will be of no value to you at all.” You’re severed from Christ, you’re alienated, separated from Christ, you have fallen from grace!

This isn’t just a minor ritual requirement that you do right alongside your trust in Jesus. This isn’t a both/and. This is a definite either/or. If you get circumcised as a way to salvation or even as part of the way of salvation, you’re committing yourself to that whole way. You’re putting your trust in that whole temple/synagogue system with the sacrifices and food laws and cleanliness codes — the whole way. Paul illustrates by reminding us that a little yeast, a little leaven, goes all the way through.

You give in on this one extra requirement, you add this one extra ritual as necessary, and you’ve added the whole way of works-based religion, the whole way of law-based salvation. And that way does not save. Christ alone is the only way that works.

I am a recovering legalist. A lot of us are recovering legalists. I was raised a certain way in Churches of Christ and I behaved a certain way for more than half my life.

Less than 20 years ago I was arguing with my friends against small groups. You can’t meet in homes on Sunday nights, that’s dividing the body. Seriously.

We were at a church years ago that was looking to hire its first-ever children’s minister and they put me on the search committee. At our very first meeting, the chairman said, “We need to talk about whether we’re going to consider female candidates.” I said, “Why do we need to talk about that?” He said to me, “Do you think we should consider a woman?” I answered, “Absolutely not — not for a paid ministry position!” He asked the guy next to me, “Do you think we should consider a woman for the children’s minister position?” He answered, “I think it has to be a woman!” And the chairman turned back to me and said, “That’s why we need to talk about it.”

Fifteen years ago we were at the Tulsa Workshop and they were doing some unity stuff with the Christian Churches and the Disciples of Christ. The speakers were dynamic, the worship was inspiring, people were being baptized, and we were standing together and singing on the floor of that huge coliseum. A guy behind me tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Man, isn’t this great?” And I replied, “Yeah, but I’m not sure about letting these denominations in here with us.”

That was me. I said those things. I believed those things. I behaved that way. Because I thought that’s what saved me! To paraphrase Paul in Galatians 1: I was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. I thought my salvation and my righteous standing with God was connected to all that. But it’s not! Praise God! And we know that! We understand that! We’ve been freed from all that! Christ alone is the only way that works!

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” ~Galatians 5:1

Peace,

Allan

The Only One Who Frees

We are a free people. Our freedom is a done deal, it is our reality. And that freedom we enjoyed is delivered by Christ Jesus. Christ has set us free. Christ has set you free. We are free. You are free. Because of Christ and Christ alone. Jesus is the only one who frees.

And we do enjoy our freedoms, don’t we?

Freedom means a lot of different things depending on who you talk to and where and when you talk to them. Freedom means being able to vote in a democratic election. It means being able to read a newspaper the government’s not controlling. It’s being able to choose your own profession or your spouse or your religion. Freedom can also be the absence of oppression — social or economic or political. When a tyrannical dictator is overthrown or an unjust law is overturned, that’s freedom. A driver license and a set of car keys is freedom. We can be freed in a psychological sense by being healed of past wounds or by breaking through emotional barriers. Freedom is what all people aspire to and value. It’s something all humans have in common whether we’re talking about freedom from a cruel government or freedom from shopper stalkers in the furniture store.

When the Bible talks about being set free or freedom as a state of reality, it’s about freedom from our slavery to sin and our slavery to self and our slavery to the world.

“Jesus Christ gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age.” ~Galatians 1:3-4

Our sins – this is about us. Present evil age – this is about the structures and values and ways of this fallen world. We are in bondage to these things and Jesus is the only one who sets us free.

“We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin — because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.” ~Romans 6:6-7

“Thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin!” ~Romans 6:17-18

“Now that you have been set free from sin… the benefit you reap leads to holiness and the result is eternal life.” ~Romans 6:22

“There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free!” ~Romans 8:1-2

In Christ. By Christ. Through Christ. Because of Christ. Jesus Christ is the only one who frees. So for all who are in Christ, we are free indeed! We are free from sin, free from guilt, free from condemnation, free from punishment. We’re also set free from the grip this world has on us and we’re freed from the clutches of the devil himself.

The Bible talks about the worldly powers and the rulers of hell being stripped of their clothes and weapons — they’re humiliated by Christ’s work on the cross. We are freed from the kingdom of darkness to walk eternally in newness of life. We were lost, but now we’re found. We were dead and gone, but now we’re alive forever. We were in chains to sin and to self and to the world, but now we are free!

In Christ Jesus it is already accomplished. In Christ Jesus it is already done. No matter what things look like or feel like around you, this is your reality. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.

Peace,

Allan

Two in Oklahoma

Our youngest daughter, Carley, joined her middle sister, Valerie, at Oklahoma Christian University this weekend and we’re just hoping that campus is big enough for the both of them.

Moving a girl into a freshman dorm today is a whole lot different from when I moved into those OC dorms as a college freshman back in 1985. I had all my worldly possessions in the back seat of my ’74 Monte Carlo: a suitcase full of jeans and T-shirts, two pair of shoes, an electric typewriter, and a boom box. It seems I remember it taking about an hour to get unpacked and organized. With Carley, it was an almost ten hour ordeal that included unloading multiple storage totes, hanging lights, plugging in refrigerators, water dispensers, and coffee makers, raising beds to an ideal height, and setting up complicated shelving systems.

To their credit, she and her roommate, Hayleigh, did transform a drab cinder-block cube into a somewhat livable abode.

It was good to see some great old friends from our Legacy days moving in their kids, too: David and Shanna with their son Dawson, Ron and Stephanie with their daughter Brighton, and David and Krista with their daughter Maddie.

Emotionally, moving our youngest child into college was a little more difficult than I had imagined. Maybe I hadn’t thought about it much or hadn’t thought about it in the right ways. But it all kind of snuck up on me in the past week. Waving goodbye to Carley from the gas station parking lot — she heading east back to campus in her little Jeep and us heading west to Amarillo — was strange. If you’ve done it, you know. A weird mix of pride and concern, excitement and hesitation. It’s really weird not having another one coming up behind Carley. She’s our last one. This is it.

Carley and Valerie, we love you both. Give each other plenty of space, but be sure to take care of each other, too. May God bless you both with good grades, great friends and a wonderful semester.

Peace,

Dad

Salvation in Being Known

“Now that you know God — or rather are known by God…” ~Galatians 4:9

The apostle Paul corrects himself here. He realizes the salvation emphasis should not be on you knowing God but rather, or more importantly, on God knowing you. He’s got it backwards, so he fixes it. Salvation is not found in knowing God.

But I feel like that’s the way I was raised. A lot of us were. I needed to know God and know things about God in order to be saved. But somewhere along the way it turned into knowing things about God in order to be right. Or to be better. That’s probably to be expected in the world and time in which we live. But knowing became the most important thing. And what we knew made us right. And saved. We were right about church, right about God’s will, right about baptism, right about worship, and right about who’s going to heaven and who’s not based on what we thought we knew about God.

We failed to realize that this desire to know in order to be right kept us from being truly known. It kept us from being truly loved.

We think we know everything about God, but it’s only the God we believe him to be or want him to be. The mystery’s gone and so is the need to trust. The more I know and the more I’m right, the less faith I need. When my relationship with God is based on the facts I know about God, I can also get really judgmental about others. While that may make me feel safe and protected, it can also separate me from others and increase my isolation.

So, I know a lot of things but I don’t allow myself to be known in ways that make me feel truly understood and forgiven and encouraged. By other people or by God.

And we keep hoping for God’s magic wand to change us, to just sweep over us and transform us and take away our sin and guilt and fix our broken relationships and heal our psychological wounds. But that won’t happen as long as you make knowing God and knowing facts and knowing doctrine and knowing what’s right and correct more important than surrendering to the Lord who knows you — the God in Christ who chooses you and understands you and brings you to himself to belong to him forever.

“We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The one who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the one who loves God is known by God.” ~1 Corinthians 8:1-3

This is a major part of the problem in Corinth and Galatia and it’s one of the major things that’s hurting us today. These Christians in Galatia are not going back to their pagan gods, they’re not returning to idol worship. But they are going to observing the law as their ticket to salvation. Paul sees observing the law of Moses in order to be saved as the same thing as being enslaved by idols. That’s a radical thing Paul is saying here: Judaism and paganism are the same thing! Paul says whatever leads you away from a sole reliance on Christ alone, adding anything to faith in Christ alone whether it’s by good intentions or depraved desires, is not Christian and it’s not the Gospel.

We’re not Boy Scouts trying to make Eagle Scout. We’re not trying to earn 27 merit badges and getting people to evaluate and sign off on what I know and what I can do. We’re not checking off a list or climbing a ladder. We’re not Boy Scouts! We are the redeemed sons and daughters of God! We are chosen by God, we belong to God, and we are heirs of God’s faithful promises! Why? Not because we know God, but rather because we are known by God!

Maybe you’re not known by your boss and you’re invisible to your colleagues. Maybe your spouse doesn’t understand you. Maybe you feel like an outsider in your own family. Or your church. Maybe you don’t even know what you know about yourself. What you know about your thoughts doesn’t match up with your actions. What you know in your head is not what you feel in your heart. Maybe you can’t make sense of the continuing sin or the nagging doubts or the undefined guilt or the insecurity. Maybe you just feel stuck. And maybe nobody knows any of this stuff. You’re the only one who knows what’s really going on with you and how it all makes you feel.

Well — you and God. God knows you fully and perfectly.

He knows all the stuff swirling around in your head and your heart that you don’t even know how to say. He knows you. And he knows exactly what kind of forgiveness you need. He knows exactly what kind of love you need and what kind of assurance you need. He knows where to place you and how to bring you along. He knows how to care for you. You are known by God.

Peace,

Allan

 

Belong To God

“Now that you know God — or rather are known by God…” ~Galatians 4:9

This short, jam-packed phrase come in the context of our adoption by God as his sons and daughters. We are children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. We are one in Christ Jesus. We are Abraham’s seed, we’re heirs according to the promise, we have rights as God’s children, we have the gift of God’s Spirit, we have an intimate relationship with God as our ‘Abba’ Father. To be known by God is to belong to God.

“God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his.'” ~2 Timothy 2:19

Paul is quoting from the Old Testament here, from somewhere in Numbers, I think. The foundation of who we are in Christ is solid, it’s rock, it’s forever. The seal is about ownership, who owns us, who we belong to. The seal and the foundation mean that God is enough to sustain us no matter how bad things get. No matter the destructive forces attacking us, no matter the evil that threatens to overwhelm us, God knows you and you belong to him.

Jesus says the same thing in the fourth Gospel:

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them… I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” ~John 10:27-29

During World War I, the British were trying to figure out how to designate the remains of soldiers they couldn’t identify. Rudyard Kipling suggested that every grave of an unidentified British soldier be marked with the words “Known Unto God.” For those of us in Christ, for all who are connected to Jesus by baptism, that is a message of hope and assurance that we are known by God and given a value and a security that not even death can take away.

Peace,

Allan

Understood By God

“Now that you know God — or rather are known by God…” ~Galatians 4:9

Paul corrects himself here in the middle part of his letter to the churches in Galatia. Knowing God is good and it’s important, but it’s not the main thing, it’s not the main point. Rather, Paul says, or more importantly, you are known by God. That’s the primary thing. Yesterday we suggested that, in the language and context of Scripture, being known by God means to be chosen by God. Today, I’d like to explore today the idea that being known by God is to be understood by God.

“O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.” ~Psalm 139:1

Psalm 139 and others like it insist that God knew me before I was born: “Your eyes saw my unformed body.” God knows everything that’s going to happen to me before it happens: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”  You know what I’m thinking before even I fully know what I’m thinking. You know what I’m going to say before I can even organize my words. “You have laid your hand upon me.” You know me. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, it’s too lofty for me to attain.”

You know me, Lord, better than I know myself. You understand me.

The psalmist doesn’t see that as scary. He sees it as a tremendous blessing. A great comfort. God perfectly understands me.

God understands you. He knows the true you, inside and out. He gets you.

Yes, God sees your sin. He sees it clearly. And he understands what makes you sin. He knows how you were raised, he knows the things that have happened to you, he knows the pressures you feel, he knows about your frustration and your guilt. God knows how hard you try, he knows how remorseful you feel when you fail, he knows all about your inner confusion, and why you have good days and bad days. God knows all the stuff swirling around in your head and your heart that you don’t know how to articulate. He knows you. He understands you.

Richard Baxter said, “To be known by God is to be approved and loved by him and to be assured that all your concerns are perfectly known to him and regarded by him. This is the full and final comfort of a believer.”

I know the way I was raised and where I grew up and what’s in my DNA and the things I’ve done good and bad and the things that have happened to me good and bad have all shaped who I am. I know all those things influence how I think and act and respond. For good and bad, it’s who I am. But I don’t understand how all of that actually works. And I don’t know much at all about how to accentuate the good things in me and change the bad things in me. But God does. God has searched me and he knows me, inside and out. He understands me.

And he understands you. That means he knows exactly what kind of forgiveness you need. He knows precisely what kind of love you need. He knows what kind of assurance you need. He knows exactly where to place you and how to bring you along. He knows how to take care of you.

“Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” ~1 Corinthians 13:12

Peace,

Allan

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