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Trespassing, skinny-dipping, and being in Christ

Posted by Mike Heady on March 7, 2017 with No Commentsas , , , , ,

One summer day when I was about 13, some of my friends and I got together to spend the day in the woods. It was land owned by the family of one of the boys.  I don’t remember the exact number but there were about 6 of us.  We explored, climbed trees, fished, and just generally did what boys did.  We got hungry and decided to fix our own lunch.  We caught a chicken, killed it and cooked it over an open fire.  Well, we half-cooked it; it was still almost raw next to the bone; it’s a wonder none of us got food poisoning.  After lunch we continued our activities.  Mid-afternoon, we came to a barbed wire fence.  We crossed it and fairly soon came to a stock tank.  For you non-Texans, that’s a pond.  We were hot and sweaty so decided to go swimming.

We knew we were trespassing. We began stripping off our clothes.  I was just about to get in the water when we heard a pickup coming our way.  Somebody yelled “Run!” and we did.  We scooped up our clothes and shot across rocks, sticks, and prickly pears.  I think I still have stickers in the soles of my feet.  We made it into the trees and bushes and hunkered down.

The pickup approached along a ridge above us and stopped. The driver yelled, for he knew where we were hiding: “Come on up, boys!  I just want to talk to you!”  We didn’t believe that.  We knew we were in trouble, so we stayed still and quiet.  After a short while he left, leaving us a warning: “Don’t come back here!”  We got dressed and went home.

Several years later, I was married. One summer weekend, my wife and I visited her parents.  We frequently went fishing when we were with them.  This time my father-in-law said he wanted to take us to a new place to fish.  A friend of his had invited him to come to try his luck on his ranch.  We loaded up and drove over.  We drove through the gate and stopped at the house.  My father-in-law’s friend took us down the dirt road to a stock tank.  We got out and started getting our fishing tackle ready.  As I looked around, suddenly the place seemed mysteriously familiar.  Then I realized – this was the land my buddies and I had trespassed on!  This was the tank we had started skinny-dipping in!  These were the woods we had hidden in!  This was the place we had to run from and never go back to!  I felt a little startled at this, but I knew I was not in trouble.  Didn’t have to run.  Didn’t have to hide.  Didn’t have to be ashamed.  I was with the owner and was freely welcome to enjoy my time there.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”  He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” (Genesis 3:8-10)

 For the joy set before him he [Jesus] endured to cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right had of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

 …He [God] raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:20-21)

 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:6)

 In him [Christ] and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. (Ephesians 3:12)

 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him [Christ] will never be put to shame.” (Romans 10:11)

 In Christ, you don’t have to run, don’t have to hide, don’t have to be ashamed.

 

Radicalized Christians 2

Posted by Mike Heady on February 12, 2016 with 1 Commentas , , , , , , ,

No condemnation

      A man pulled up and stopped his car in the street next to my home in a small town in Texas.  I had just parked my own car and gotten out.  I didn’t know the man.  He knew I was a pastor, maybe because I was living in the parsonage of a church. He looked distressed as he stood next to his car.  I don’t remember all of his exact words but the gist of what he said was, “Can God forgive me for what I’ve done?”  He seemed desperate.  I assured him of God’s love and willingness to forgive any wrongdoing.  He started getting back in his car, shaking his head.  I do remember his last words: “No, God can’t forgive me!”  He drove away and I never saw him again.

Some people see God like that: I’ve done things so bad and so often that God cannot or will not forgive me.

I think many more people see it a little differently: there is something I need to do that will make a good enough impression on God or will meet his requirements well enough that he will forgive and accept me. That something may be a religious rule or ritual or activity that God has put in place for us to perform.  Or it may be practicing a general everyday life of treating other people well – most others anyway; there must be a few exceptions – “17 miles out in the ocean and I still can’t get away from lawyers” (Jethro Gibbs, NCIS).  Another way that seems would make us acceptable to God is to live by the principle expressed as “I do the best I can” or “I stay true to myself” or “I follow my heart.”

This idea of how to be accepted by God is the religious form of the cultural idea of making it on your own: work hard and earn what you get, there’s no free lunch, you get what you deserve, be worthy of love.  It is the well-worn and often-praised principle: pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.

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      How will a radicalized Christian see this?  Is Christianity any different than other religions and viewpoints?

Many Christians will quickly answer, “Yes, God accepts us by grace.”  Okay.  How are we putting that into real life?  How far are we taking that?  How radical is God’s grace?

This radical: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 8:1, NIV)  “No.”  None.  Nada.  Nil.  Zero.  Zilch.   No condemnation.

Let’s be clear.  This applies to all people “who are in Christ Jesus.”  “No condemnation” is true for every person who is united to Jesus by faith.  Verse 3 explains why this is true: “For what the law was powerless to do…God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.”  The law did not have the power to make us acceptable to God.  Jesus did.  He made us acceptable by taking away our guilt by offering himself to death on the cross.  So anyone who depends on Christ and his offering to be acceptable to God is not condemned.

No condemnation from God – no put down, no judgment, no rejection, no disapproval.  God completely accepts and totally approves.

There is no time when God condemns.

There is no situation in which God condemns.

There is no place where God condemns.

There is no action that brings God’s condemnation.

There is no inaction that brings God’s condemnation.

There are no words that bring God’s condemnation.

There is no thought that brings God’s condemnation.

There is no person whom God condemns.

No blame, no shame, no denunciation, no censure, no scorn for anyone who has faith in Christ.

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      So, there is nothing that needs to be done to get out from under condemnation.  There is nothing for you to do or not do for God to accept you – and acceptance is not God reluctantly putting up with you; it’s God gladly welcoming you as his own.  The Message translation of Romans 8:1 says, ” Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud.” There’s no condemnation, there’s no low-lying black cloud, so there’s nothing to do to get out from under it.

Nothing.  You don’t need to promise God that you will do better so he will accept you.  You don’t have to make up for your wrongdoing for God to approve of you.  You don’t have to repent for God to start favoring you.  You don’t even have to ask God to forgive you to get him to forgive you!  You’re already forgiven (Ephesians 1:7).  There’s nothing to do.  God fully, completely, absolutely accepts you with no condemnation.

Yes, this is radical, far-reaching, too much for some people.  In Brennan Manning’s book “The Ragamuffin Gospel” he teaches this radical idea of God’s grace.  You should read it.  Ten years after it first came out, Manning added a chapter to the original and described some of the reaction that had come his way:

I have been denounced publicly and privately as a heretic, schismatic, universalist, and cockeyed optimist… I have been labeled unbalanced, spiritually immature, and intellectually unhinged.  The gospel of grace continues to scandalize.  The legalists, puritans, prophets of doom, and moral crusaders are having a hissy fit over the Pauline teaching of justification by faith.  They take umbrage at the freedom of the children of God and dismiss it as licentiousness.  They do not want Christianity to help us become whole but to feel wretched under its burden.” 1

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     Some think Christianity is a religion of rules, performance, achievement, control, and hard work.  They default to that way of thinking because it seems like the responsible way to live faithfully and pleasing to God.  It’s the way the real world works, right?  But it’s not the way we follow Jesus.  It can’t be.  If we attempt to make ourselves acceptable to God by pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps, we will discover the bootstraps are broken. We can’t do it.  We don’t have to.  The heart of radical Christianity is the radical love of God in Christ Jesus.

I went on a spiritual retreat, alone in the mountains of northern Colorado.  I was going through a hard time, struggling with some issues in my life. I spent most of the first day reading Scripture and a book.  That night I built a campfire and looked up at the star-filled sky.  The Lord grabbed my soul and reminded me that the Jesus who made all that loves me personally even when I struggle.  He didn’t just say he loved me – I felt his love pouring into me.  There’s a worship song that says, “In moments like these I sing out a love song to Jesus…”  I started to sing that, but God said, “No, don’t sing.  Let me sing to you.” (See Zephaniah 3:17)  I didn’t hear with my ears, but I felt with my heart Jesus singing: “in moments like these I sing out a song, I sing out a love song to Mike, singing ’I love you, Mike,’ singing ’I love you, Mike,’ singing ’I love you, Mike, I love you.’”

The really astonishing thing is even when I am at my lowest, vilest, most guilty and shameful, God “rejoices over me with singing.”  God loves and accepts and approves of me with absolutely no condemnation.

This is radical Christianity.  Be radicalized.  Believe that there is no condemnation for you in Christ Jesus.  Release your bootstraps.  Instead of asking God to forgive your sins tonight, just thank him that you are forgiven.  Accept God’s acceptance.  Embrace the Father’s grace.  Allow Jesus to apply all that he has accomplished to your mind and soul.  Permit the Spirit to sing his love into your spirit.

 

1 Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel (Multnomah Publishers, Sisters, Oregon, 2000), p.223