Thursday, October 29, 2009

Unpacking Forgiveness

Based on the entries I've post on grace (here, here, and here), this book looks like a wonderful resource.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Training Effective Teachers Part 2 -- Communicating Your Objectives

WARNING: If the student hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught.

This is a good saying from a long time dean in the school of education where I was first taught the need to communicate your objective. The truth is that you cannot call it teaching if your class/audience/students don’t walk away having understood your primary point. You can call it lecturing. You can call it giving a talk. But it’s not teaching. You may have TRIED to teach, but if the student doesn’t get it, you haven’t accomplished your objective.

You can prepare the best content in all the world, but if you don’t speak to your audience in a way that connects with them, they’ll never get it. In that case, it’s nice that you learned something for yourself, but you’ve squandered a great opportunity to communicate truth to the next group. Of course, we know that we are utterly dependent on the Holy Spirit’s work to truly enlighten the hard hearts of any of us to spiritual truth. What I want to do is simply give some practical thoughts to help you remove barriers to effective communication. We want to teach in a way that removes unnecessary hindrances and paves the way (as imperfect as our best efforts may be) for the work of the Spirit. As Paul says in Ephesians 4, our words have the potential to minister grace to the hearer, and it is a precious privilege to join with Him in His work.

With that said, here are some practical points.

1) Communicate your OBJECTIVE. What one main idea do you want students to walk away with? Don’t walk in with an overabundance of points to communicate. The 18 point outline is overwhelming. People often can’t remember any one thing because they are overwhelmed trying to remember every different thing. Also, don’t allow yourself to wing it or to just speak a stream of consciousness from the heart. That kind of talk has its place in certain circumstances, but it’s usually not the mainstream teaching environment of a class or retreat. You need to know the specific principle from Scripture you want to communicate and gear your outline to reinforce it to your class.

2) Teach to the back row. This may sound weird, but let me explain. In the stereotypical class setting, the easy students sit at the front and stare at you with attentive eyes (madly taking notes) the whole lesson. The temptation is to focus there. The back row has the stragglers, those likely unsure about being there at all. Teach to them. In a large group setting when you are speaking from a podium, make eye contact with the back row. Talk to your audience as individuals rather than a mass. If you work to reach the back row audience, you will also reach every audience in between.

3) Less is more (handouts, powerpoint, gimmicks, cutesiness). Often, an audience remembers a gimmick but forgets the message. I discussed this in part 1, but it is worth repeating here. Don’t underestimate the power of the Word itself to change hearts. Use as much in the way of powerpoint or handouts that will support and communicate your main objective, but guard yourself against using gimmicks that end up distracting instead of supporting your points.

4) Consider other modalities of learning. Not everyone learns best the same way you do. What communication style works best for you? You may need to actively concentrate on reaching students with different learning styles. If you can, incorporate multiple modalities (auditory, visual, tactile). For some people it is really helpful to have room to write notes. For others, it’s most helpful to have the notes already written down for them so they can just look at you and listen. I am a literal, logical, analytical thinker and speaker. I tend to drop the ball when it comes to global thinkers who need to see the big picture. It's a place I have to actively work.

5) Think about the best teacher you ever had. What did you like about their teaching style? How did they communicate their objectives?

6) Figure out the base line of your audience. This is REALLY important. Define your terms. Get your audience on a level playing field. Proverbs 14:6 says, “A scoffer seeks wisdom and finds none, But knowledge is easy to one who has understanding.” Knowledge is easy to one who understands! Don’t talk over the heads of your audience. Don’t impress them with theological terms they don’t need to know. They will understand your objective when you communicate your points in clear words your audience understands.

7) Consider all of the ways your words can be misinterpreted. Don’t be na├»ve. It’s a cruel world out there, and some victim of it is sitting in your audience ready to challenge you out of their pain. Know your audience. Think through their issues. One of my current pet peeves is the wealth of teaching to women on being a wife and mother as their highest calling that completely ignores the state of a very large percentage of godly Christian women who are single or infertile. If you don’t acknowledge this issue and paint it correctly in light of the gospel, you can hamstring women who are already struggling with the goodness of God and His sovereignty over their circumstances. Think hard on how your specific audience will receive your words and what you can do to make sure you (and more importantly, the Word) are not misinterpreted.

8) Humor, honesty, and sincerity. Redeem the pain in your own life. Be honest about your struggles (without revealing too much). Don’t set yourself up as the expert, but recognize that by default you will become a living example of what you discuss.

9) Finally, teach it to the microwave first. This is a really practical point. Don’t just prepare an outline. Teach your outline. To the microwave, your dog, or whatever piece of furniture in your house or tree in your yard that you can do it in peace. I watch the timer on my microwave because the time of your lesson is important in so many settings. I can’t tell you the times I finished in 20 minutes what was supposed to last 45. I hadn’t done appropriate prep work and didn’t make use of the time the people listening to me allowed me to have. I have learned to teach through it several times from beginning to end visualizing my audience as I practice—not memorizing it because that always comes across as insincere (in my humble opinion).

So those are some practical things that have been helpful to me in the past. I am personally well out of practice, and I review them now in preparation for my own re-entry into the world of teaching. May we all as teachers prayerfully consider how we can remove barriers and stumblingblocks that will distract our listeners from the God-given objective we most need to communicate.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Training Effective Teachers

I have taught a quick 3 week intensive on teacher training several times over the years, each in an effort to identify and train women to teach the Bible effectively. This training was not aimed at small group leadership. It centered around teaching the Bible to larger groups. I thought it might be valuable to share some of this with you the reader as I reviewed it myself before some teaching I get to do at a retreat next month.

The first post will focus on the two-fold foundation for teaching Christ—knowing your doctrine and then teaching it and living it with grace and humility. The second will focus on practical methods. But first, there is no greater warning I can think of to give myself or other teachers other than this: you need to know your stuff even as you guard yourself from the inevitable pride issues that surface when you know your stuff.

1 Corinthians 8:1 NASB Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.

Proverbs 6 NIV 16 There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: 17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, 18 a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, 19 a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.

James 3 NASB 1 Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. 3 Now if we put the bits into the horses' mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. 4 Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. 5 So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. 7 For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. 8 But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.

The tongue is powerful. Before you ever say a word of a lesson, you need to understand its vast power for both good and evil. You can win the doctrinal debate from Scripture and still lose the heart of the person to which you are speaking (or those who are overhearing your words). There is a reason that Paul exhorts believers to “speak the truth in love” in Ephesians 4. It is because speaking truthfully from Scripture is not automatically loving. We must speak the truth in a way that is consistent with I Corinthians 13’s precise definition of Biblical love. We are kind, not rude; patient, not demanding; we bear long instead of stomping off when we don’t get the response we wanted.

Here are some other general big ideas to keep in mind when preparing content to teach.

ONLY the Word of God and the Holy Spirit can transform lives. Sharp presentations and memorable stunts don’t change lives. The Word changes lives. 2 Cor. 10:3-4; Jer. 23:29

I Cor. 1 NIV
18For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written:
"I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate."
20Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.
26Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things -- and the things that are not -- to nullify the things that are, 29so that no one may boast before him. 30It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."

People may remember your stunt but forget your message. A friend once told me about a message he heard in which the preacher gave out Band-Aids to all those in the audience with some instruction on how to use them. My friend recounted in detail the Band-Aid, its use, the participants response, his response, and so forth. But when I asked him what the message was about, he couldn’t remember. Memorable stunt. Unmemorable presentation of Scripture. Bells and whistles are much more likely to distract from your message than enhance it. Never underestimate the power of God Himself through His Word alone to get His message across exactly as He intends.

The Word of God is SUFFICIENT to thoroughly equip us for all God has called us to do. Extra-biblical steps and methods are at best minimally helpful. The force for transforming lives is “holding fast to the Head” (Col. 2:19 NASB) which is Jesus Christ.

2 Timothy 3 16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Col. 2:23 23Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

When I say extra-Biblical, I mean those things that seem good ideas to you but that the Bible doesn’t specifically prescribe. Guard yourself against offering the things that worked for you as the only choice that all wise believers make. If you have content that is outside of Scripture, consider either cutting it or carefully teaching it in context of the sufficiency of Scripture on any given topic. Point people to Christ as both the ONLY model to which they need to be conformed and the ONLY method that will transform them.

The greatest command is to love God with all our hearts. The second is to love our neighbors as ourselves. ALL OTHER LAWS HINGE UPON THESE FIRST TWO.

Matthew 22 36"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" 37Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

If you are teaching on sin, repentance, holiness, or righteousness, make sure you clearly link whatever content you present on righteousness to the foundation of all righteousness—Biblical love. Moral improvement that is not founded on a love for God and I Corinthians 13 style love for others is NOT righteousness. Never forget that! This may be the greatest pothole into which Christian teachers fall.

The gospel of Christ is the offending element of our message.

Romans 9 33As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed.

Romans 14 13Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way.

I have heard my fair share of offensive, in your face teaching by various Christian speakers over the years. Many justify their ungracious, offensive methods because both Jesus and Paul at times spoke very pointedly in ways that offended their listeners. However, if you examine the times that Jesus’ listeners were offended by His message, it is always some aspect of the gospel that was the line in the sand that they could not hear or accept. We must clear out all other rocks of offence in our speaking that our audience may be confronted with the only rock of offence that matters—Jesus Himself. The most offensive element of the Christian message is that Jesus is the ONLY way to God. It is grievous when a speaker sets up their own agenda as more important than the gospel, allowing unnecessary offensive teaching to cause listeners to stumble and drop out well before they ever get to Jesus Himself.

BOTTOM LINE: We teach SCRIPTURE, not PERSONAL AGENDAS; we preach CHRIST, not HUMAN WISDOM; and we change lives through RELATIONSHIP, not METHOD.

The next post will cover practical helps for connecting with your audience.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Grace To You, Grace To Others Part 3 (Treat them as an unbeliever)

I am monthly (or weekly or daily) confronted with people and ministries that have appointed themselves watchdogs for the abuse of God's grace. Sometimes, it's legalistic people scoping out long hair or pants on women. Othertimes, it's legalistic people scoping out mean people who take issue with long hair or pants on women. In other words, both sides of the aisle are pretty good at appointing themselves watchdogs. Since I have at times been that person and a member of those groups, I have been thinking about this for several days. My thoughts have centered around 3 main questions: what is grace (discussed in part 1 and part 2 of this series), can we abuse God's grace, and what do we do with those who continue in sin?

1) What is grace?

When a friend recently asked me how I would define grace, I was at a loss to come up with words that didn't sound trite and shallow despite all the study I've done and posts I've written. So I answered them with pictures from Scripture.

Jesus washing Judas' feet

Joseph embracing his brothers

Our pastor recently preached on a little piece of Exodus 15. Right after God has worked marvelously to part the Red Sea and free the Israelites once and for all from Egypt, the very next scene is of them grumbling because the only water they can find is bitter. Grumbling--murmers of discontent because they don't believe that God is good and worthy of their trust. And God's response is not to backhand them for such backtalk but to make their water sweet. That is grace.

2) Can we abuse God's grace?

Here is the question that we need to explore. Because there are MANY Christians who believe that their one job in life is to guard against the abuse of God's grace in their realm of influence. I've seen this in the blogosphere. I've seen it in homes. I've seen it in churches. And based on whatever perceived abuse of God's grace they see, they then justify acting ungraciously in their response.

But the truth from Scripture is that we all are abusers of God's grace. Like the Israelites, He shows us grace, and we forget it and grumble and don't trust. And if you copy and paste that sentence a few more times in this paragraph, you will have accurately summed up the whole of our existence. The problem with those who appoint themselves as guardians of God's grace is that they typically don't realize how they daily, hourly abuse it themselves. They may be diplomatic or polite in how they word things when they call out others, but they lack the ONE thing that is the dividing line between those who get God's grace and those who don't--humility.

3) What do we do with those who continue in sin?

Biblical grace as the Bible uses the term involves bearing long with those who sin against you, washing the feet of the betrayor, embracing in forgiveness those who willingly sold you to slavery, and so forth. Yet we know from Scripture that we are not to continue in sin that grace may abound (Romans 6:1). We know we are to confront sinners and guard against false teachers. Are these contradictory instructions? Not at all! Our problem is that we often read and teach these instructions out of context with the whole of Scripture.

We must first examine ourselves--do I have a firm grasp on my own sinful, selfish tendencies? Do I agree with Paul that I am the chiefest of sinners? Is it just an accepted Christian saying to me or do I have a firm grasp on the depth of my own personal need for God's grace? It is only those who fully grasp their own depravity and the depth of God's grace toward them despite their own abuse of it who have any power to speak to another about their sin. And, then, the root of any confrontation must be the gospel of grace.

I'll conclude with some thoughts from the clearest passage on confrontation of sinners--Matthew 18. For years, though knowing this passage quite well, I have missed the heart of what Christ is teaching here. What do you do with the brother who continues in sin despite appropriate confrontation? He's abusing God's grace, right? What's the answer? What's the last resort?

"Treat him as an unbeliever."

That means we point fingers, shun, and cut him off, right? If you have any experience in conservative churches, that is EXACTLY what is taught. That's because many churches have never understood how to treat unbelievers. But how did Christ treat unbelievers in the gospels? How does God treat unbelievers throughout the narrative of Scripture? He pursues them. With the gospel. The end result of church discipline is that we determine we don't need to instruct this person on adultery or gossip or lying. We need to pursue them with the gospel! We need to return love for hatred. We need to give unconditionally. We need to be merciful to them in the way that God has been to us that they would come to Him and receive His free grace. And when they start grumbling after the parting of the Red Sea, we return with grace and mercy.

The cure to Israel's problem was more gospel--more undeserved kindness in contrast to the audacity of their forgetfulness after the Red Sea. God doesn't curse them. He blesses them. Abundantly (with 12 springs of water and 70 palm trees--see Exodus 15:27).

I don't believe we can abuse God's grace. Or maybe it is more accurate to say that I believe that the abuse of God's grace is all that ever happens. And that's what, after all, makes it grace. And what I'm advocating here, at least according to Scripture, doesn't result in more and more sin--for it is the very recognition of God's longsuffering with our abuses of His grace and His subsequent mercy toward us that is the thing that roots out our sin and transforms us into His image.

To quote my pastor, in the midst of the hardships of discipleship, the thing that must consistently be speaking loudest and clearest to us through the cacophony of life is the gospel. Day in, day out. The only hope for not continuing in sin that grace may abound is really getting the good news of God's grace to us personally in the first place.

In case you need some very practical guidelines for applying all this (as I do), I'll end with practical thoughts from Scripture on applying grace in conflict.

First, I submit that it’s impossible to demonstrate grace in any other situation. Grace assumes sin—you have a legitimate right to extract payment from this person for their debt against you. Otherwise, it’s not grace--you’re just being nice.

2 Timothy 2:24-26 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

From this passage, I get 4 thoughts on grace in conflict.

1) Grace understands the truth of someone’s condition—they are ensnared by Satan and DECEIVED. They really don’t see things the way you do. (you understand this person’s condition because you have a good understanding of your own. You too have been at times ensnared by Satan. You too, in the right situation, are capable of some pretty heinous acts. When you understand the truth of this person’s (and your own) position, you can move from bitterness to compassion. You can weep for them.

2) Grace is in it for the long haul—it patiently endures evil. Biblical grace doesn’t cop out. It doesn’t give up on people. Because you understand your own hardness of heart. You know your own propensity toward stopping your ears against truth and following your own way. What was it that wooed you to repentance? Did someone faithfully pursue you despite your resistance to them? Did Christ?

3) Grace corrects (so the truth is not subverted or glossed over) but it corrects gently (with strength well under God’s control). This reminds me of I Peter 4:8, “love covers a multitude of sins.” The Bible repeats this principle in the Old and New Testament. What does it mean to cover sins in love? It almost sounds like we are ignoring sin and not dealing with it altogether. Here is the phrase that I use to help me distinguish between the two.

"Love doesn’t sweep sin under the carpet, but it keeps others out of the room until it can be cleaned up."

4) Grace’s goal is not self-acquittal or vindication or that people would come to see things your way. Grace’s goal is repentance with God that leads to knowledge of the truth.

Concluding thoughts:
There is grace, and then there is everything else. And everything else leads to death. If you don't get grace, you don't get the gospel. If you don't exhibit grace to others, it's evidence you don't understand it for yourself. If grace doesn't dominate your relationship to God and your obligation to others, your religion will suck the life out of you and others around you. Grace is meaningless without truth. But truth will kill you without grace. The worst thing we can do in conflict is engage in it when we don't understand grace for ourselves. But once we really understand God's undeserved favor to ourselves, then we can minister grace to others who have sinned against us in whatever way we can with the prayer that God would draw them to repentance and the knowledge of the truth.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Grace To You, Grace To Others Part 2

In part 1 of this repeat series on grace, I talked about the definition of grace from Scripture. In this post, I want to look at the many Scriptures that link God's grace to us with our grace toward others. Luke 6:32-36 is one of the clearest teachings to me on both what God means when He uses the term grace (Greek word charis--also translated credit and benefit in this passage) and how our grace to others is a necessary part of being conformed to His image.

Luke 6 32"If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

My default mode is to think of grace as circular. I show grace to someone, they show grace to me, and so forth. But that is NOT consistent with how Scripture uses the term. The very definition of grace assumes that the other person is not being gracious. It stops being grace altogether if it's conditional on some reciprocal gesture by the other person. Biblical grace starts with God, never with others. It is His grace to us that is our source and supply for showing grace to others. Here are some other Scriptures on this subject.

Luke 23:34 Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

From the Lord’s prayer—Mt. 6:12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Ephesians 4:32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Colossians 3:13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

Mark 11:25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses."

It's important to note both the close relationship between God's forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others while also distinguishing it from a work that earns us salvation. Paul spends the entire book of Ephesians clarifying this in detail. In chapters 1-3 he details all that Christ has secured for us in salvation based solely on Christ's merits and sacrifice alone, fully separate from any good work we might try to contribute. It is clear that we have not earned or worked for this great salvation--this glorious gift of grace to us from God. But then Paul also clearly links in a one-to-one correspondence God's grace to us with what this gospel demands we show to others. Consider the opening to Ephesians 4.

Ephesians 4 1Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the (H)bond of peace.

"Therefore", Paul says. He is clearly linking the exhortation in verses 1-3 with the gospel of grace he has taught in the previous chapters. He in fact says that these next instructions (which end with the exhortation at the end of chap. 4 to forgive as Christ has forgiven us) are about walking in a manner that reflects correctly the truth of our own personal salvation--walking worthy of this calling.

Some of this Scripture is scary. Forgive others SO THAT God will forgive me? I don't want my bitterness and unforgiveness of others to be a litmus test for God's forgiveness of me. My encouragement is that you would read these instructions in light of the whole teaching of Scripture on salvation through Christ alone. We know our forgiveness doesn't earn our salvation. But you can not deny from Scripture that it is a FRUIT of our salvation.

As I said in the last post, if you struggle here, preach the gospel to yourself anew. Don't try to muster yourself up to do a work you can not do on your own. If the fruit of forgiveness is nonexistent for you, the place to begin is meditating on your connection to the Vine. John 15 is a good place to start. In the next post, we'll look at the Bible's instructions on dealing with someone who abuses grace.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Grace To You, Grace To Others

If you've read this blog for any length of time, you may remember my series of posts on grace. I hesitate to revisit them since it's only been a year since I first posted them. But this blog is primarily a lecture to myself, and I need to revisit them for myself. I've been preparing material on it for a women's retreat in a few weeks and am convicted anew of my need to meditate on, first, God's grace to me through Christ and, second, Scripture's clear connection of my grace toward others as an important indicator of how well I understand the first.

I'll deal with grace in the next few posts. First, what is grace? Second, what does the Bible teach as the connection between God's grace to us and our grace toward others? And third, what do you do with people you perceive as abusers of grace?

What is grace?

From Dictionary of Theological Terms by Alan Cairns
Grace is "a mode of the goodness of God, often described as undeserved favor. It is more than that. It is underserved favor bestowed upon those who are positively deserving of the wrath of God…."

Note that it isn't just God's positive favor on those of us who were neutral in His sight. He is putting His positive favor on us when we deserved His full punishment. This is what makes His grace so stark and different than what we normally perceive as nice, kind behavior. In our world, God wasn't being kind. He was being stupid.

The Greek word translated grace is charis, which in short means loving-kindness, favor, or gift. However, those three words don’t really plumb the depths of how Scripture uses the term. Hebrew, Greek, and English dictionaries each give really long definitions of grace from multiple angles. But the common thread in each use of the term is that it is NOT about giving what is due.

Verses using charis

Romans 4:4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.

(If you work for it and get what you are due, it is not charis)

Luke 6 32"If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

(If you give good back to others who are good to you or extend charity to those who can repay it, it is not charis)

Summary of what grace IS: When you give back what is earned or deserved, it is not charis—it is not grace. It is not favor or benefit and it is not credited toward you as anything other than exactly what you are expected to do. Instead, grace does what is unexpected, undeserved, and out of line with reasonable responses. Grace is an unreasonable response—unreasonably good, but unreasonable nonetheless. And (Luke 6:35) when we give grace, this undeserving favor that does good to enemies and lends expecting nothing in return, then we give evidence to our relationship with our Father in heaven, because THIS is his calling card. He is good to those who don’t deserve it. He is full of grace.

What grace is NOT: It’s not being diplomatic, generally friendly, or polite. Don’t mistake personal politeness or good manners for this altogether different thing named grace to which God has called us. Grace isn’t a character trait inherited from friendly and polite parents. Real biblical grace in us toward others is evidence of the image of God bursting forth in us as He redeems and transforms us.

Grace and humility are intertwined theological concepts. When we get grace, the only choice is humility. Grace is an unreasonably lavish response to those undeserving of it. And it is based on our own understanding of God’s great, undeserved favor toward us.

In the next post, we'll look at how Scripture clearly links our understanding of God's grace to us with our extending grace to those from whom we have a right to extract payment. It's both scary to consider but also potentially the most freeing, life giving teaching in Scripture.

**If you are already feeling convicted (and maybe condemned) because you are angry and bitter against someone who has legitimately hurt you, please don't dwell in self-condemnation. I encourage you not to try to talk yourself into forgiving them. Instead preach the gospel to yourself. Explore God's grace to YOU again and again (Ephesians 1-2, Hebrews 1-4). My belief is that the only thing that will equip you and free you to extend grace to this one who has hurt you is to let God's grace to you saturate you. Understand the weight of your sin. Get a vision for His plan to adopt you into His family and lavish a great inheritance on you through Christ. Understand how He has fully and completely paid the price for your sins on the cross. YOU OWE HIM EVERYTHING, AND YET HIS BALANCE SHEETS SHOW THAT YOU OWE HIM NOTHING. If you get that, you then begin to unlock the door to true forgiveness and grace to the one who owes you.**

Saturday, October 03, 2009

What do I know of Holy?

Sometimes I feel like my blogging, at least lately, may come across as a downer. "Life sucks, but buck it up because God is good." Well, there is a sense in which that sentiment is quite true. God has spent a good bit of time working out of me the prosperity gospel that I didn't know I believed. God has done that by revealing to me His beauty, goodness, and transcendence even in the very moment of my pain, questioning, and wrestling with Him. I would hate for anyone to get the perspective that my answer is simply to buck it up because God is good. Because what God is teaching me is so much deeper than that. It isn't "buck it up." But it certainly is that God really, truly is so much bigger and more beautiful and more awe inspiring than my ongoing, persistent, nagging, doubt-inspiring troubles.

Maybe I've been living in a cave and everyone else in the world has heard "What Do I Know of Holy?" by Addison Road. But I just heard it for the first time this weekend driving home after a deep conversation with a hurting friend. I almost had to pull my car to the side of the road and stop for a while. The artists summed up my thoughts quite well. I try to be in relationship with You, God. I say I want to hear Your voice, but I end up doing all the talking. Then at some point, You get my attention and expose to me how very little I understand of You. But that's not bad!! Once I get past my discomfort of realizing that You are far bigger and deeper than I can imagine and that I've only begun to plumb the shallowest parts of Your deep well of beauty and goodness, only then can I begin to swim in Your vast ocean of ... Holiness. You are holy, other, set apart, unique, and different from all. You don't do things like the rest of us would if we were god. Yet you've created me in Your image and called me back (through this long, often painful road of sanctification) to be like You and to fellowship with You. And the deeper I get in this journey, the more I realize how vast the ocean of Your character, and I have only just begun to swim Your shores.

Nicole Nordeman sang of this a few years ago in her song, Holy. "Somehow all that matters now is that You are holy." That song played over and over on the radio during the season when my young husband was having his heart surgery. It became my anchor. I had no perspective to give myself for what we were going through. It was unexpected. It knocked me off my foundation and left me treading water grasping for something on which to hold myself steady. God's word to me was that all that mattered in that moment was that He is Holy. And that is enough. That wasn't a trite or simplistic answer from God. That really was the only thing in that situation that could anchor me.

What do I know of Holy? Only the very tip of the iceberg. But the most important thing I know of Holy is that it is worth knowing, whatever path knowing it takes.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Moral Outrage and False Zeal

Here's a thought provoking quote from the Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards.

And so as to hatred and zeal; when these are from right principles, they are against sin in general, in some proportion to the degree of sinfulness: Psal. 119:104, "I hate every false way." ... But a false hatred and zeal against sin is against some particular sin only. Thus some seem to be very zealous against profaneness, and pride in apparel, who themselves are notorious for covetousness, closeness, and it may be backbiting, envy towards superiors, turbulency of spirit towards rulers, and rooted ill will to them that have injured them. False zeal is against the sins of others, while men have no zeal against their own sins. But he that has true zeal, exercises it chiefly against his own sins; though he shows also a proper zeal against prevailing and dangerous iniquity in others.

I am burdened by the tone and direction of those in Christian circles who stand in moral outrage over whatever particular ill has caught their attention. I read my fair share of blog headlines or facebook updates expressing a "How dare they" indignation over some evil (often in the context of politics or entertainment). But I never see any facebook updates that say "How dare I!" To be honest, today I am personally morally outraged and demanding of repentance. But it's of myself. The object of my outrage today is the old man in me that I want out of my life for good. I am the chiefest of sinners, and God has called ME to repent to Him and my children in particular in very specific ways this very day.

My point is not that we should dwell in shame or self-flaggelation or put on some kind of false piety. The beauty of godly sorrow over our OWN sin is that it points us to Christ and leads us to the foot of the cross. There, we don't find condemnation, but forgiveness. And only then can we turn to others and offer them a correct perspective of their own sin. Only then can we humbly serve as salt and light with others as Christ has commanded. I'm all for moral outrage. Let's just get the target right.