The Voice of Sanity

I am presently engaging in that dubious task called writing a novel. Now one might wonder how anyone can have the presence of mind to write a novel at a time like this, with — as one family member called it — “the chaos and uncertainty affecting us all” right now. Call me crazy, but I feel the very opposite.

I just keep thinking it is especially at a time like this that the world around us needs a clear voice of sanity, and that voice is (or at least should be) the church. For some of us, that is a voice to our friends and neighbors; for others, a voice on social media. For others, a voice in places of influence and leadership. For strange folks like me, it is a voice that requires hours of preparation in a writing closet. 

Now the uncertainty we feel, if we feel uncertain at all, is most likely the crumbling of the foundation we built on something other than Jesus, which I get. I have had many seasons where I saw foundations I did not even know I was standing on crumble before my very eyes. It is always a bit unsettling. But we do belong to a Kingdom that cannot be shaken. And Jesus always meets us in the those places. He is the foundation underneath the thing we were trusting in: He always catches us.

Hell fears the one who has nothing to lose and everything to gain. And I can think of no better definition for the church. Consider yourself then one who is not about to lose something, but who is about to gain something. And from that place of perfect security, the voice of Heaven will rise up within you and be heard.

Photo by Jess Bailey on Unsplash

Hypergrace and Other Myths

The other day I had the fortune (or misfortune) of doing an internet search on the term “hypergrace”. It is a term I had heard in church discussions, mainly by those bringing attention to a dangerous new doctrine. But I had never taken time to find out exactly what those who used the term actually meant by it. All I knew is that the contention was that people who believed in hypergrace were teaching something that did not line up with what the Bible said. And so I decided to check things out.

As with most things internet, it takes a while to sift through people denouncing a thing but never getting around to what they really mean, but I finally stumbled on this comment from Dr. Michael Brown, who has been a critic against hypergrace, and this is what gets down to the heart of it:

[My] principle area of disagreement [with hypergrace advocates] remains [the] teaching that the moment we are saved, our future sins are pronounced forgiven.

When I read this, I was like, “Wait — what?” And then I realized Dr. Brown simply believes that as believers, we are not fully forgiven. Because of this, “hypergrace” advocates, in his mind, are promoting a dangerous doctrine. And it was in that moment I realized “hypergrace” is nothing more than the doctrine of grace, and of its advocates, I am chief among them.

In case the term “future sins” has you confused, let me do my best to explain. In Dr. Brown’s world — and others — God did not forgive us at the Cross: He forgave our sins. And “our sins”, by necessity only being the sins we had committed up to that point, are the only sins that were covered at that time. So it is possible, in Dr. Brown’s world, for us to find ourselves in a state where we are not forgiven, and according to Dr. Brown that is the state between committing a sin as a believer and “bringing the sin before God.” Up to that point, that sin is not forgiven.

Which, of course, might make you wonder what would happen if you died before bringing that sin before God. Dr. Brown does not mention anything about eternal security, but based on the Bible’s teaching on the severity of sin, I would have to think at least theoretically one’s chances of going to Heaven are in jeopardy here — after all, we are heading right for God’s presence with unforgiven sin.

But I digress. The real problem here is Dr. Brown’s understanding of what got forgiven at the Cross. He thinks its individual sins — which is why he makes distinctions between “past” and “future” sins” — when in fact what got forgiven at the Cross was us. Whenever the Bible talks about our forgiveness, it ties it to who and what we now are, not our sins themselves. Consider Ephesians:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us

Notice in this passage we are told who we now are (bold), then how this was made possible (underline). In other words, at the Cross God has made us holy and blameless in His sight and has adopted us as sons and daughters; He accomplished this through the Cross by which we were forgiven from our sins. It does not say God made us potentially holy and blameless in His sight or potentially adopted, provided we make sure to bring our future sins before God. Nor does it even focus on the sins themselves. Its focus is on what is now true about us: We are holy and blameless in His sight. In other words, it is not our sins (up to that point or otherwise) that got forgiven: It is we who have been forgiven.

By faith we have been transferred from the Kingdom of darkness to light, from a state of law to a state of grace in which our sins are no longer counted against us. This agrees with what we read in Colossians:

When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross

More than our sins being forgiven, the Law, consisting of decrees against us and was always hostile to us, has been removed. Because of the Cross, it is impossible for us to be punishable.

One wonders why anyone would make complicated such a clear teaching of Scripture. But I think the reason can easily be found by what those who have preached against hypergrace (can we please just call it grace?) are saying: They are afraid of what believers might do if they realize they are, in fact, fully forgiven. They may use it as a license to sin. The may live lives of unbridled debauchery, immorality, and corruption.

Now if our goal is to control behavior, I think this concern is totally legitimate. After all, if you tell your teenager your car is in the garage with keys in it and they are legal age to drive, there is no telling what they might do. But if our goal is to bring others into a deeper understanding of truth as well as a deeper experience of God’s grace, calling what is true not true just seems like a really bad idea.

Besides, what does it say about those who feel that if we knew how forgiven we are, we would use it as license to to sin? For one, it says they believe the only reason believers seek holiness and righteousness is fear of what might happen if they don’t. That they need that fear to be better people.

I have a different view. When Jesus went to the Cross, He went to forgive me completely: Making me holy, blameless, perfectly loved and perfectly accepted in His sight. And that transformation has put inside me a holy desire that cannot be satisfied by any earthly thing. Sure I can do as I wish. But what I want more than anything is to be where Jesus is, doing what He is doing. And fear of not being fully forgiven is one thing that I do not need to make sure I pack for that journey.

Photo by Caleb Jones on Unsplash

Redemption and Rest

Christianity is, above all, permission to be at rest. When God comes into the soul, His intention is redemptive. He does not come into the soul to give you more work to do, nor does He come into the soul to make you forever wonder whether you are doing enough. He comes into the soul having wiped the slate clean, and having thrown away anything that could possibly count against you as far as you and He are concerned.

Failed Christian lives are not those that have disappointed God; they are lives that think they have. For God has removed the possibility of disappointment. People have said it is impossible for God to be disappointed because that would mean He would have to come to know something about you He did not already know. Which of course is impossible because God knows all things. More than that, however, God knows all things and still chose to love, still chose to accept. To make blameless. This is a product not just of God’s knowledge but also His mercy. God cannot be disappointed in us not because He knows all things about me but because knowing all things about me, He has chosen to love me anyway.

And that exchange cost Him His life. Have you ever wondered why we, as human beings, have this fear of not being enough? Of not being worthy of love? Of being a disappointment? Of being, before God, condemnable? That does not seem like a beneficial evolutionary trait. The human soul seems to be aware of its need for redemption, and everyone is looking for it: Some, by demanding what they are, believe and do be acceptable in they eyes of society (and condemning those who do not agree); others, by embracing the idea that God is an illusion and so there is no such thing as acceptable. Christianity has a different solution: God, becoming a man and dying in our place and paying for the penalty we rightly deserve.

I read a book recently by a Christian author who claims that our need for redemption is not real, and the Cross was not really necessary apart from our own distorted view of God. Jesus went to the Cross, in other words, not because it was necessary in the eyes of God but only in our own. He went to the Cross ultimately to demonstrate how unnecessary going to the Cross was. Not only is such an idea not Biblical, it is also nonsensical. God sent His own Son to die a horrific death over a misunderstanding: What does that say about God?

Not only this, but it is not helpful. This is an attempt to find redemption not through consensus or denial but in a belief that God is simply too nice to condemn us in the first place. Like the others, it is belief that our need for redemption is merely an illusion.

And that is a problem, because the soul needs redemption. It needs truth in the innermost parts if its being. When faced with its own sinfulness, it needs to know a God who was good enough to pay for it by His own blood, not too nice to care about it. Manufacturing a redemption of our own apart from the truth will never satisfy the soul. 

The beauty is that redemption has been provided. We can either find a way for our own redemption, or accept the free gift of redemption Jesus purchased for us by dying on a Cross for our sins. Sometimes the hardest thing for us is to accept a gift we do not think we deserve — or need. But that gift is the only path that will establish in the soul that we are not only loved and forgiven but truly free. This is the rest the soul desires.

Weathering the Storm

Does God promise us a blessed life, or does God promise us peace through the storms of life?

The answer (in my humble opinion) is that God promises us a blessed life in every moment of life, and that very expectation grants us not only the peace to weather any storm but also the power to overcome every storm.

Whatever the storm that faces you, its power is not its presence but what it seeks to convince you of: That you are on your own, that it is in control, that God is nowhere to be found. The truth, however, is that you are not on your own, that God is in control, and that God is right here with you.

The storm only has the power God allows. And that means there is no telling what God might do in the next moment on your behalf. When Jesus says, “In this world you will have troubles. But take heart: I have overcome the world,” he was not saying “life will suck, but here’s a consolation prize: Ultimately I win.” No, He was saying, “Troubles are not what you think they are: In their midst, I am bringing about your deliverance.”

Photo by Victor Rodriguez on Unsplash

Dodging Forest Fires

When not devoting myself to life’s duties, I have spent my waking moments these past few months crafting a novel. Writing a novel is like remodeling a home: You have to keep at it, even when you are working through the tedious, difficult parts like sanding the cabinets you wish to repaint or figuring out why there is a quarter-inch crack in your foundation while installing flooring and what to do about it. Writing a novel takes persistence: You got to keep at it. It must become the priority.

Despite this, I have made exceptions. Like last weekend, I joined my son and daughter on a camping trip that nearly ended in disaster. While we were away from our campsite for the day, a forest fire erupted out of nowhere. And by the time we returned, the only road back to our campsite was blocked. We started to think of what we left behind: Camping gear, of course. Oh but wait: My business laptop. Oh that’s not good. And wait: My son’s car! It has been a full seven days now, and the fire is still burning, holding our precious belongings hostage.

The ironic thing is the trip was still really good. We just switched gears, got a hotel room, awoke the next day and continued our itinerary, which was to visit Sequoia National Park with my oldest daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter. We were a bit tired and inconvenienced but overall, we had a fantastic time.

After the trip, the question came to mind why the forest fire did not kill our joy. I honestly was scratching my head about that because it definitely put a dent in our plans and, let’s be honest, our overall sense of peace and well-being — or at least it should have. After all: We had worked really hard to put this trip together; how dare Nature ruin our trip! How dare it be anything less than perfect!

But as I thought about it, I realized we had been given a gift. I mean, I would like to take credit for our response, but I think I have to give credit where credit is due here: It was a gift from God. And that gift might be called the gift of peace in the storm which looks something like this:

  • Be Willing to Adapt: Sometimes we have a perfect idea of what our vacation should look like, but some of the best vacations are those that do not go perfectly as planned.
  • Stay Focused: When our campsite was held hostage, we simply got a hotel room and continued on with our plans. How we achieved the objective was not as important as that we achieved it.
  • Embrace the Adventure: Speaking of perfection, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that it is the Kingdom of God to which we belong, not the Kingdom of Earth from which we are being saved, that cannot be shaken. If we confuse the two then our vacation is always in for a shaking. But if we don’t, the the shaking is merely the adventure we are a part of.
  • Be Willing to Leave Your Precious Possessions Behind: Our camping gear (and yes, even the laptop and car) can be replaced. We can value our possessions as a gift but we need not depend on them for ultimate happiness or security.
  • It is not the Vacation You Are On: It is the People You are With: Looking back on our trip, I realize our vacation was a success because we made people the priority. We gave grace to those who needed it when they needed it; we were open and honest with what we needed. We were slow to anger and quick to understand. In short, we loved one another. That was probably the greatest gift of all.

If you read between the lines here, you will notice these are not just good vacation lessons: They are good life lessons. In a way, we are all this year in the midst of the worst vacation ever. A global pandemic is holding our precious campsite hostage. Or is it? Be willing to adapt, stay focused, embrace the adventure, be willing to leave your precious belongings behind, and above all: It is not the vacation you are on but the people you are with. For the Kingdom that matters cannot be shaken. The apostles would agree.

Now back to that novel . . .