When Christians Keep On Sinning

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“No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.”  1 John 3:6, ESV

There are two directions we can go with this verse:

  1. One direction is to read John as saying that if you sin you are not a Christian.  In other words, this passage is a call for perfectionism, i.e. Christians do not sin.  But if John meant to encourage Christian perfectionism, then he contradicts what he wrote in chap. 1:8, “ If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
  2. The other direction is to read this verse as saying those who “keep on sinning” are those who regularly, or habitually sin.  Of course we all sin, but it is those who habitually sin who do not abide in Christ, or who do not know him.  This direction seems the more common interpretation, the one I hear taught.

But I have questions. (more…)

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A song that will not pump you up – but it will!

michaelangeloThis Sunday we introduce a new/old song, From the Depths of Woe.  It’s a new song for our church, but not a new song to the world since it was written by Luther in the 16th century.  Based on Ps. 130, this hymn is brutally honest with our true anthropology.  It sings of our weakness, our secret sin, and our deepest need for mercy and absolution.  It tells us that even when we’re at our best, it’s never good enough (“Our works, alas! Are all in vain; | In much the best life faileth.” v.2).

Some would ask why sing such a depressing song?   (more…)

Your Best Life Now

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The promise that you can have your best life now is very appealing.  Who wouldn’t want their best life now in a world that is going off the rails?  Even churches are filled with people hearing messages about how to get this life by pursuing your destiny, discovering your purpose, identifying your calling, and living up to your potential.  And when things aren’t going your way, you’re encouraged to keep your head up, believe for the best, and trust that God has greater things in store for you.

I mean, I get it. (more…)

#lovewins

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After the SCOTUS decided to legalize homosexual marriage social media has been flooded with the hashtag #lovewins.  The sentiment behind #lovewins can cause Christians to feel conflicted about same-sex marriage because God is love, and Jesus told us to love, and it seems loving to allow two people who love each other to legally marry, regardless of gender. After all, aren’t Christians supposed to be on the side of love?  Isn’t it hypocritical to say “we love you” but then deny them the right to marry?  Here are some brief thoughts about love. (more…)

My thoughts on Tullian

This past Sunday Tullian Tchividjian confessed to having an affair.  You can read about it here.  I follow Tullian pretty closely.  I read his books, listen to his podcasts, and went to his Liberate conference in 2014.  (Liberate is now closed.)  Here are some thoughts about the situation:

  • My concern is this situation gives the message of grace a black-eye.  It’s not that grace becomes less beautiful, but this gives people more ammunition to say that too much grace leads to debauchery; that speaking about grace too much gives people license to sin, with Tullian serving as the most recent example.  Grace already sounds like a foreign language to us (Swedish?), and this situation doesn’t help.
  • However, I can’t help but think that this situation helps the message of grace.  The brilliant beauty of the Good News of grace is best seen against the black backdrop of our sin.  The best way to see a diamond is to see it against the jeweler’s dark material.  What Tullian did was sinful and he has hurt many, many people, but because of the Gospel of grace, this doesn’t change one degree of God’s love, acceptance, and forgiveness of Tullian.  I think this situation doesn’t tarnish grace, but actually brilliantly displays grace.  Tullian has always said that grace runs downhill and meets you at the bottom.  Well, here he is, at the bottom.
  • I’d still go to the 2016 Liberate conference if it didn’t shut down.  I like to listen to Tullian, but I’d go fully knowing that Tullian will be out of the pulpit, probably forever.  I’d go because it’s about the Man who the message is about, not about the man giving the message.  In spite of Tullian, the Good News of grace still stands. What Tullian did has nothing to do with the message of grace, and has everything to do with the sin in his heart.
  • The nature of grace is wild, untamed, even dangerous.  Grace always flows to the wrong people like hookers, and addicts, and half-breeds, and slutty women, and lame guys.  My fear is preachers (and I am one) will try to tame grace, to put grace on a leash.  Preachers will say, “Yes, grace, BUT…” Grace’s wings will be clipped with a 1000 qualifiers.  “Yes, grace, but you have to do your part.”  “Yes, grace, but keep up your end of the deal.”  “Yes, grace, but do what it takes to transform.”  Nervous pastors will always need to keep grace in a cage otherwise they lose a sense of control and manageability over their congregations, and ultimately themselves.  Rule-keeping gives you a sense that you’re pulling it off and that God is grateful that he didn’t waste his grace on you.  But in reality, grace threatens moral superiority because grace tells you that you’re just like — Tullian (gasp!).  The Gospel of grace first knocks you on your back and exposes you for who you really are, but let’s not go there.  God forbid that we actually see the “first Adam” in us, always trying to cover our shame with the external fig leaves of good works.
  • What about obedience?  I think we mistakenly connect grace with obedience like connecting eating ice cream and wearing shoes, or going swimming and scratching your elbow – one has nothing to do with the other.  The grace of God we have through faith in Christ has nothing to do with our obedience; it has nothing to do with us, period.  But you don’t throw out obedience like you don’t stop wearing shoes or scratching your itch.  Because of grace we can actually hold obedience in its proper place.  Because grace has nothing to do with our obedience, we can now obey, not for God’s sake, but for the sake of others and ourselves.  Stop trying to prove yourself to God and to others.  Believe  and rest in the obedience of Christ.  Know that in your feeble attempts at obedience, God looks at you in Christ and says, “That’s my kid!!”  And know that in your fantastic failure to even come close to the obedience that God’s Law requires, God looks at you in Christ and says, “That’s my kid!!”

Grace and good works?

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Sermon Summary | 06.21.15

(Gratefully, these summaries are faithfully written by someone else, thus, the third-person POV.)

Pastor Mike began this message by giving a roadmap of where we are in this series. Today we are concluding the portion of our series titled, “He Will: The Work of the Holy Spirit” where we have been in the book of Acts, examining what the work of the Holy Spirit is. Starting next week, we’ll continue on in the book of Acts, focusing on the work of the Holy Spirit in building and multiplying his church in a series titled, “He Will: The Church Built and Multiplied”.

The passage from this past Sunday’s message is Acts 9:32-43:

[32] Now as Peter went here and there among them all, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. [33] There he found a man named Aeneas, bedridden for eight years, who was paralyzed. [34] And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” And immediately he rose. [35] And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord. Dorcas Restored to Life [36] Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. [37] In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. [38] Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, “Please come to us without delay.” [39] So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. [40] But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. [41] And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. [42] And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. [43] And he stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner.

These two stories are back-to-back, and as we look at them together, we can learn much about God and us. First, as we look at the similarities, we see that both stories have a person who was once well but was in need of healing. In both stories, it is Peter who heals. In both stories many believe and turn to the Lord.

Next, we can look at the differences. Tabitha is a girl who is full of good works, caring for widows who could not support themselves. Aeneas, on the other hand, has been paralyzed for 8 years, and has done no good works.

When we look at these two stories together, we are reminded that God’s grace is a gift. It is never deserved. It is never earned. As soon as we think that grace is given to those who deserve it, it is no longer grace, no longer a gift.

Pastor Mike shared an example of this. If he gave his wife Julie a vacuum cleaner and said, “honey, because of all your hard work, you deserve this vacuum cleaner, so it is yours”, then it would not be a gift. It would not be grace, because she would be getting this vacuum cleaner because she earned it.

Pastor Mike shared a quote about grace by Paul Zahl: “God’s grace is a love that has nothing to do with you the beloved. It has everything and only to do with the lover. Grace is irrational in the sense that it has nothing to do with weights and measures. It has nothing to do with my intrinsic qualities or so called gifts. It reflects a decision apart of the giver and negates any qualifications the receiver may personally hold Grace is one way love.”

Pastor Mike talked about how it may be difficult for you to see God’s grace in your life. Maybe things are not going as planned. Maybe you feel like you do not have the strength to go on. It is in these moments that our biggest need is not for a physical miracle in our lives, but for us to once again look to Christ and see God’s grace towards us. Pastor Mike mentioned that in these two stories, the conclusion is always that people turned to the Lord and believed. The true miracle is the fact that people were able to see God’s goodness, God’s grace towards them in Christ.

As we examine this book of Acts, we see that the work of the Holy Spirit is to witness this gospel to us. The Holy Spirit’s job is to shine the light on Jesus Christ. As He shines the light on Christ, we see once again that God’s grace means that no situation is too low, too gross, or too sinful for the long-reach of God’s one-way-love.

Pastor Mike emphasized that the miracle in these two stories are the many who saw the goodness of God towards them in Christ. If the emphasis was on the physical miracle, then why didn’t Peter raise more people from the dead? There is a room full of widows who’s husbands are dead. It is because that was not the emphasis. That was not the point. The emphasis was on God’s one-way-love towards people who were seeing it for the first time.

When we see and believe this gospel once again, when we are given faith to believe in Christ and what He has done for us, we are set free. The Holy Spirit reminds us once again that all conditions of the law were met in Christ. We no longer obey to get love and acceptance from God. We obey because we have been given love and acceptance from God. Our obedience is no longer for God to get, it is for others because we have.

Your spouse will never complete you. Your job will never complete you. Your friends will never complete you. Your children or your possessions will never complete you. The only thing that will ever complete you is what God gives through Christ: God’s 100% acceptance and love for you. When we see this, believe this, and receive this, we are free to love and serve others.

Pastor Mike shared an example of what this looks like. Imagine if you went out to lunch and got stuffed at a buffet. You come back to work, and someone offers you a plate lunch. You’re so stuffed that you cannot eat another bite. What do you do? You give it away. You don’t get mad if someone takes the best piece of Kalbi. You don’t just offer the old Mandoo on the bottom of the plate. You give the best because you are full.

It is when we are full in Christ, when the Holy Spirit bears witness to the gospel once again, that we give to others. Because we are satisfied, we are free to give and serve and love. So the gospel frees us from the need to work for love and acceptance, and now we are free to love others.

The gospel also frees us from wondering if our good works are good enough. See, when our work is done in faith, all work is good, no matter how big or small. On the other hand, when our trust is in the work itself, then we become concerned with the results, and are always worried if our work is good enough.

Pastor Mike asked the question, “have you ever done something for someone and they didn’t respond with gratitude? For example, have you ever let someone cut in front of you in traffic, and they didn’t throw the shaka, so you got upset?” See, when we do good works because of the expected result, we are trusting in the good work itself. We are looking to the good work itself to give us what we already have been given through Christ – God’s 100% love and acceptance.

In Christ, the work itself is good, regardless of the result. This should free us and help us tremendously. For example, take evangelism. The good work is proclaiming the gospel. The results are up to God. It is no longer about whether or not we get recognition or whether or not we get the right response anymore.

Pastor Mike closed by saying that the highest and best work is for us to have is faith in God’s favor and acceptance of us at all times. He turned to John 6:29 where Jesus says that the best work is to look to Christ and believe. Martin Luther says that it is from this work of believing the gospel, that all good works precede. Faith must be the captain or master workman in all work because without faith, our good works become idolatry. Our good works become the thing which we look to for salvation, the thing we look to for love, for acceptance. Our good works become the thing we worship.

So today, as with every other day, let us participate in the highest and best good work that we could do as Christians, the work most pleasing to God, the work of looking to Christ, believing the good news of the gospel, and receiving God’s grace, His one-way love towards us.