Before you call me legalistic… do you even know what it means?

Grunge-Under-Construction-SignboardThe word ‘legalism’ seems to get thrown around in the church with alarming frequency. Having been a “good Christian girl” (heavy on the inverted commas there) all my life, I’ve certainly come under the heavy fire of legalist accusation in my time.

What really distresses me about the over-use of this word, is how drastically wrong we’ve got it. See, the majority of the time, all you’ve got to do to be called legalistic is stick your neck out as someone who actually tries to live by the teachings of the Bible.

It doesn’t take much digging to see that much of our Church culture has redefined legalism this way: “You choose to adhere more closely to what the Bible says than I do, therefore, you probably think you’re more righteous than me, therefore, you must be legalistic.”

There are plenty of issues with that way of thinking, but one of the scariest is how it’s labelled. Because legalism is actually a really big deal.

The dictionary defines it, in a theological sense, as ‘the doctrine that salvation is gained through good works.’

To accuse someone of legalism is to accuse them of trying to earn their salvation apart from grace.

I’d say that’s just about the heaviest charge you can lay against a Christian, because, if it’s true, it mean’s they’re probably not a Christian at all.

So, before we throw the word around based on preferences, we should probably know what it means.

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Does God Only Give Good Gifts?

During a time that I was very sick, a friend told me that ‘God doesn’t want you to be sick,’ and that ‘God only gives good gifts.’

I wrestled with this for a long time. I struggled with the passage in Matthew 7 which says “Which of you fathers, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?… How much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him.” I read Psalm 84:11 which says “…no good thing doe he withhold from those whose walk is blameless” and I wondered why God was holding out on me.1050853_30933761

If God is good, and gives good gifts, why do I hate so many of the things He gives me? Either God does not always give good gifts, or my perception of what is ‘good’ is warped.

I’ve come to believe the latter. So often my perspective is confined to the here and now. I look at my circumstances and what God has given me, and feel that they really aren’t all that good. However, when my perspective doesn’t line up with that of scripture, it’s me who needs to change.

Sometimes God gives us things that are hard to bear, but if we trust His word, we can see that ultimately He works ALL things together for our good. He is good and he gives good things, sometimes it’s us who need to recognize that what is ‘good’ does not always feel gratifying now.

Jesus was never all about you.

proud_21072161Today I’m pondering the humanistic nature of… well… humans. We seem to believe that the whole universe revolves around us, which is, of course forgivable if you take God out of the equation. What bothers me though, is how much we still seem to believe it, even with God in the equation.

 As we approach Christmas, we do take the time to focus on the birth of Jesus, but I’ve been wondering – why do we think that Jesus came?

He came to redeem us (of course); because he loves us (He does)… but was it really all about us?

I think too often we think it was and we reflect that in the way that we attempt to emulate Him. Our mission on earth, in an attempt to reflect His, often becomes very human focused.

I’m convinced that Jesus was never all about us. He was all about His Father. His entire purpose on earth was to do the will of His Father; to serve and glorify Him, even to the point of death. The amazing thing about this was that it was the will of the Father that we should be saved; that Jesus should serve us and suffer and die for us.

As we aim to follow Christ, I think it is important that we follow him in this; that we realize that Jesus was all about glorifying the Father, and that his focus on humanity was a glorious byproduct of that.

When God Takes Away

138261Some time ago, I posted one of my favourite segments from the book Stepping Heavenward, by Elizabeth Prentiss. This has been a hugely influential book in my life, and I’d like to share another section that I copied out into my diary several years ago.

‘God does nothing arbitrary. If He takes away your health, for example, it is because He has some reason for doing so; and this is true of everything you value; and if you have real faith in Him, you will not insist on knowing the reason. If you find, in the course of daily events, that your self-consecration was not perfect – that is, that your will revolts at His will – do not be discouraged, but fly to your saviour and stay in His presence until you obtain the spirit in which He cried “Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from me: Nevertheless not my will but Yours be done.”(Luke 22:42)

Every time you do this it will be easier to do it; every such consent to suffer will bring you nearer and nearer to Him; and in this nearness to Him you will find such peace, such blessed, sweet peace as will make your life infinitely happy, no matter what may be its mere outside condition.’

I hope this inspires convicts and fills you with hope in the way in which it did for me. I can attest to the truth of these words. Our God is faithful. He does nothing arbitrary.

Money: When the Empty Cup Runneth Over

I know it’s not considered polite to talk about money. But I’m not entirely a stranger to the art of openly talking about social taboos, so today’s blog is about money.

I was talking last night to a friend about that amazing paradox that she and I and many others have experienced: that the more you give to God, the more you seem to have.

SAMSUNG TECHWIN DIGIMAX-340I’m not talking in some form of spiritual metaphorical jargon. I have actually personally experienced that sense of confusion on realizing that the numbers just don’t seem to add up. That there must be more money going out than coming in, and yet, somehow, my cup runneth over.

One of the best lessons that my parents taught me from a young age was to give first to the Lord. Not first when I think of it, or when I can afford it, or when I ‘feel led,’ but first every time. First when I can’t afford it. First when it means sacrifice.

I do not give in order to receive. I give as a reflection that God comes first in my life. And yet the amazing paradox is that somehow, the more I give, the more I seem to have. And I know it’s not just me.

 

How can I trust God when He gives no guarantee things will get easier?

cliff-drop-warning-sign--information_19-133742Anyone who has come face to face with the call to trust God in the midst of suffering will understand these feelings of trepidation.

The Christian, never having been promised an easy life, is still supposed to trust God, knowing that He may lead us into hardships. Sometimes it feels like you’re standing at the top of a cliff, fearfully putting your trust in someone who may well push you off, against your wishes and with no warning.

I remember wrestling with this during one of my most unwell times. ‘How can I trust someone who may allow me to go even deeper into this pit of suffering?’ It’s a very real question. If I can’t trust a God who loves me to protect me from what I fear most, then what can I trust Him for?

Sometimes I think we forget what it means to be a Christian. It means that we’ve been crucified with Christ. Crucified! We have given up all of our earthly rights in the hope that we can be restored to relationship with God; that we have a home in heaven; and that all things will, ultimately, work together for our good.

We do not chiefly trust in God to make our lives easier. We surrender our lives, to share in His sufferings, because we believe it is the greatest possible trade we could make. Our trust is in God, not for earthly pleasures, but for the glory that will one day be revealed.

10 Things the World Needs to Know About the Church

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  1. You can try to squash us, but you will never succeed, because even the gates of Hell will not prevail against us.
  2. You can hurt us, embarrass us, and bring out the worst in us, but you can never take our lives, because they are hid with Christ in God.
  3. You can try to discredit us with academics or human reasoning, but we’ll believe the God who created the brain.
  4. You can accuse us of hypocrisy or the most grievous of sins, but you cannot shame us into hell, because we were never trusting in our own righteousness to keep us out of it.
  5. You can hang around us, and sing with us, be loved by us, and pray with us, but only accepting Jesus as the sacrifice for your sins and the Lord of your life, makes you one of us.
  6. You can despise us and reject us, but you will not surprise us, because it was done to Jesus first.
  7. You can scatter us, but not one who belongs to Jesus will be lost.
  8. You can tell us that our God does not exist, but we know Him in whom we have believed.
  9. You can come to us, and we will embrace you, because despite our unworthiness, Jesus embraced us.
  10. We will not always get it right, but we serve the One who cannot get it wrong.

 

What is the Immaculate Conception?

mary-figure_21252044If you’d asked me yesterday if I believed in the Immaculate Conception, I’d have said ‘Yes, absolutely.’ But that was before last night.

Following up from a conversation about the apocrypha with a Catholic friend, I was doing a quick browse of the internet. I kept noticing the phrase ‘Immaculate Conception’ coming up, but something about the way it was worded wasn’t sitting right.

Finally, for the first time in my life, I actually looked up the meaning of the phrase. And I was very surprised at what I found.
Like many people, I was familiar with the term. It seems to be used particularly often in regards to unwed girls getting pregnant: “Well this was hardly the immaculate conception!”

Everyone knows the Immaculate Conception refers to the Virgin Mary becoming pregnant by the Holy Spirit, right? Wrong.

According to Wikipedia (the fount of all knowledge, though I did cross check with other sources) the Immaculate Conception refers exclusively to “a dogma of the Catholic Church maintaining that from the moment when she was conceived in the womb, the Blessed Virgin Mary was kept free of original sin.”

Immaculate Conception has nothing to do with the deity of Christ, but rather the perfect nature of his mother; and in that, I don’t believe.

It has reminded me to be careful before laying claim to a belief, because if I claim it, I have a responsibility to know what it entails.

Give Me the Truth that Hurts, Over a Lie that Makes Me Feel Good.

916513_28615130I’ve always had a passion for truth, but I know that sometimes it hurts. Sometimes facing the truth is like getting out of bed on a cold morning. You really don’t want to, but you know you’re not going anywhere until you do.

It bothers me how many people are willing to hide from the truth behind weakly spun webs of emotional reasoning and self-gratifying feelings.

Sometimes the truth tastes bad, but like medicine, it gives strength and healing in the end.

I think that’s one of the reasons I love the Bible. That book can pack a punch. It doesn’t bend to feelings or indulge human egos. It stands before us like a mirror and shows us our reflection: the good, the bad and the ugly. It is the best piece of human anthropology ever written.

So many people reject the Bible because it doesn’t feel good; because it doesn’t ‘sit well’ with their human reasoning. I encourage you to be open to the fact that the truth might hurt, but that its value is beyond measure.

When Depravity Makes Me Mad (and it’s a good thing I’m not God)

I have to admit, sometimes depravity makes me so mad. When I talk to someone who openly loves everything that God hates; who blatantly scorns His word and mocks His name, I sometimes feel a deep, bubbling anger rise in me.

Some would call this righteous anger, and sometimes it is; but sometimes it’s not too. Sometimes I feel aggressively angry, sometimes I wonder why God still offers these people grace.

foggymorning_2201323A couple of months ago I was flying over one of Australia’s cities at night. I remember looking down and seeing the tiny cars zooming along the highways like glowing ants, and I thought about how small we all are when viewed from afar. I thought about how easy it would be for God to reach down and squish us with as little thought as we give to stepping on an ant that has bitten us.

And then I encounter depravity and I wonder why He doesn’t; sometimes I even wish He would. It’s a good thing I’m not God.

When faced with total depravity, God’s grace abounds even more. I should know, because He’s bestowed it on me. When I look at someone who curses God’s name, I must remember that ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’

And those who continue to despise and reject Him must remember that ‘today is the day of salvation,’ and they cannot assume that there will always be a future chance for repentance.