IDENTITY OR ACTION? OR BOTH?

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians chapter 2, verse 20; from the New Living Translation (NLT)

Just exactly who are you? What determines the essence of you? What is the bottom line? Fact Time: Everyone has a, call it, bottom-line identity. It is what you are known by to others. Are you identified by your roles? Dad? Mom? Lawyer? Plumber? Preacher? Son? Daughter? Sister? Brother? Accountant? OR is your bottom-line identity in what you do? Kind? Helpful? Patient? Caring? Friendly? Empathetic? Energetic? And when it comes to your spiritual life (and everyone has one of these), what is the singularity that marks your life?

Do you consider yourself a Christian? Maybe I should ask a tougher question: What makes you a Christian? Is it an identity based on things like confessing and repenting of your sins and saying the sinner’s prayer? Being baptized? That you are a member of a particular church? That you read your Bible and say your prayers? That you avoid certain vices? Or is it because you show love to others? That you volunteer at the local homeless shelter? That you support the local food bank? That you demand justice for animals? That you cry out for equality for all people? So tell me, which is it? What you say or what you do?

That it’s both? Being a Christian is more than a title or a label. It’s more than a statement about what you did. And it’s more than actions we think makes us a Christian! It begins with the recognition that it’s something we are totally powerless to become. It requires that admission that we ARE sinners. And more than admitting we ARE sinners, it’s being honest enough with self to say we are tired of being sinners! It demands a total surrender of heart, mind, and will to Jesus. Then, we trust that what Jesus did on the Cross was done purposefully by Him for us sinners. And that a whole new life is now in front of us!

And as difficult as they may seem for some, it’s only the beginning. Being a Christian isn’t a matter of personal holiness or social holiness. It’s both!!!! (Notice the extra exclamation marks!!!!) This is exactly what Paul was trying to tell the Galatian church. Following Jesus begins with faith. It continues with faith in actions. And to the Church in the United States, Jesus didn’t live, die, and rise up from the death to create a Christian nation. He did all this to call us to storm the strongholds of Satan and reclaim the territory he stole for the Kingdom of God. No, actions don’t save us. But our actions do determine if we are or are not saved.

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CUPCAKES!

 “You have minds like a snake pit! How do you suppose what you say is worth anything when you are so foul-minded? It’s your heart, not the dictionary, that gives meaning to your words. A good person produces good deeds and words season after season. An evil person is a blight on the orchard. Let me tell you something: Every one of these careless words is going to come back to haunt you. There will be a time of Reckoning. Words are powerful; take them seriously. Words can be your salvation. Words can also be your damnation.”

Matthew chapter 12, verses 34 thru 37; from The Message (Msg)

Cupcakes! We are living in a world of cupcakes! No, not the kind one sees at parties! It’s people I’m talking about. When I was young, I often wondered why “old people” were always so. . .so blunt. They didn’t mince or sugar-coat their words. And now that I’m old, I understand. As I get older I know that my time here is getting shorter and shorter. Thus, my opportunities to speak the truth are becoming fewer and fewer. I realize that I just don’t have the time to draw pictures to explain the things that are really important. It seems my ability and talent to be snarky has come into full bloom. I define snarky as a mixture of satire with a heavy dose of sarcasm. But here’s the thing–I don’t use it very often. Some may say otherwise, but they’re wrong. I refrain from using my snarky more times than Carter has little pills. (You have to be from the south to know what that phrase means!)

My previous post brought out my snarkiness. And as snarky tends to do, I offended at least one person. (click here to see the post) Someone thought my insights worthy of passing along to several people via email. And I am humbled they thought so. Apparently one of the recipients did not like my blunt honesty. And had this to say about my post: It’s insulting and immature to speak to grown people who can think and decide for them self. To point I think it’s low class to say suck it up buttercup.”

Allow me the kindness to pull out one part of that comment for further reflection: It’s insulting and immature to speak to grown people who can think and decide for them self.” Yes, people can think and decide for themselves. Got no problem with that premise. Our problem as a church, culture, and society is HOW people think. I.E.–people are all to quick and easy to be offended–especially with The Truth. It goes beyond the insane concept of political correctness. It’s rooted in how people respond. And the United Methodist Institution is an excellent case study.

People are so afraid of hurting someone’s feelings that it has become more important to be nice than it is to be truthful. Somehow it has become mean and ugly and hateful to be truthful; that somehow if we disagree with someone that we can’t and don’t love them. Where did this idea come from? I KNOW! I KNOW! From the heart and mind of Satan! Yes, Virginia, there is a Satan even if you think there isn’t. Nowadays the only way you can love someone is to approve, bless, and sanctify how they think. And if you can’t–well you are just plain ol’ mean and insulting.

I sigh a deep sigh when I think that it’s more important to make people feel good than it is to be truthful. Did you notice how Jesus responded in the passage I opened with this morning? You have minds like a snake pit! Did I miss something here? If Jesus said that today, people would demand an apology from Jesus! And IF Jesus was present like He was then, then by their views, Jesus should have said afterwards: “Oh, I’m so very sorry I offended you. And so that you can feel better about yourself, I renounce those words and I agree with you. Feel better now? Good! Here’s you a cupcake.

HAVE YOU CHANGED YOUR ADDRESS?

So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good?

Romans chapter 6, verses 1 and 2; from The Message (Msg)

Being a pastor, I know something about this “change of address” thing. Today, it’s not a big thing. Go online, notify whomever, fill out a form, and PRESTO! The address has been change! But at the risk of sounding old I will say, “Back in the day, we had to fill out a form with the post office, and then write letters to those others who sent us mail notifying them of our change of address.” Moving isn’t easy. I still remember to this day what the late Bishop Sanders would always say before the reading of the appointments: “When you move, take everything! Take the piano and the dog!” Oh, one other thing he would say: “And don’t go back!”

Why all these random thoughts about moving and change of address? Before one is about to leave their old home or apartment, they make one last round to make sure that they haven’t left anything behind. But when it comes to following Jesus–it takes a complete break from what use-to-be and step into what-it’s-going-to-be. We cannot carry our old baggage with us if we are truly following Jesus. As a matter of fact, we can’t take anything with us from that old address! Nothing! Nada! Zilch! Alas! We have too many preachers and teachers who do not believe that God wants us to make a complete break with our old life. And these apostate teachers and preachers are leading folks into the life of Deception! Yes, I called them Apostate! Like Horton the Elephant, “I meant what I said and I said what I meant!”

Teaching and saying that you can still do the things you use to do and still be a Disciple of Jesus is akin to an addict who says: “I’m not an addict anymore. Although from time to time I still allow my addiction to control me. But I’m a follower of Jesus, so that doesn’t matter anymore.” Grace forgives us of our sins–but Grace Never Sanctifies Our Sins! Yet there are so many who have been taught that this is how it works; especially within the LBGTIQ community.

To be a follower, I mean a REAL follower of Jesus is disruptive! It’s the call and life of leaving everything else behind. It’s not always easy to leave the old address. And the temptation to “move back” to that old house is very real–and often very powerful. But the same Grace that invited us to move away from that old address and into this New Address, is the same Grace that is available to help us from that temptation to go back to that old home. God’s definition of “sin” hasn’t changed; nor will it ever! But thankfully He is always here to help us to keep moving forward–and to help us from wanting to move back to that old address. You just can’t carry that old baggage from our old life and follow Jesus. You just can’t! And that, my friends is the best news ever!

WHAT ARE THEY TEACHING???

So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will.

Romans chapter 8, verses 6-7; from the New Living Translation (NLT)

Recently I had a conversation with a fellow United Methodist clergy on Facebook. It was focused on a post this individual had made. It was surprisingly civil (up to this point)–still, I couldn’t help but think: What are they teaching now in United Methodist Seminaries? Here’s the screenshot of that comment:

This person compared understanding Scriptures to a 3-legged stool. The top is the Scriptures and the 3 legs are tradition, reason, and experience. Thus, without tradition, or reason, or experience, one cannot adequately understand Scripture. The primary (and often times “sole determining factor”) way to understand Scripture is through tradition, reason, and experience. Now, before you call me that dreaded “fundamentalist”, hear me out. We do not study the Scriptures in a vacuum. There are traditions. We all have experiences. And God created us to be able to reason, or think if you prefer.

But it seems that many of our clergy are using reason as the final determining factor. In other words, if it doesn’t make sense to us, or if the culture tells us something contrary, then we are free to change or ignore what the Bible clearly teaches. This is what many seminaries are teaching. Not all of them, mind you; but enough of them are and the result has been the dilution and devolution of the power of Scripture to guide us and form in us the life of Holiness demanded by God for His Image Bearers. Go back to the writer’s analogy of that three-legged stool.

The writer is correct in stating that for a three-legged stool to be secure enough to sit on, it needs all three legs. And, by implication, those 3 legs need to be the same length. Otherwise it is unstable. But do not overlook the other implication–that Scripture (the seat of that three-legged stool) cannot safely support us until all three of those legs are the same length. In other words, Scripture is to be formed by OUR traditions, experiences, and reasoning.

Can I be frank with you? I know, my name is Randy. But I need to be FRANK with you this morning. Using the writer’s analogy of that three-legged stool, when those who are supposed to be our Spiritual Leaders are taught that human reasoning overrides the Scriptures and that we need to change our beliefs about anything in the Bible, then the result is the chaos and soon to follow destruction of the United Methodist, and any other church that follows the same primrose path. And to my fundamentalist friends, if you allow your traditions to determine your beliefs about the Bible, then your three-legged stool is just as unsteady.

Hear me out! Yes, reason, tradition, and experience are helpful tools when it comes to understanding Scripture! But they do not determine what is THE TRUTH! The Truth is set by the Bible for all matters of faith, life, and conduct. But none of them gives us the permission to change The Standard clearly set in The Bible! From my perspective, many seminary professors took a bite of that apple Satan offered Eve and Adam, and unlike Eve and Adam who recognized the shame and mistake, they “reason” that the apple is good, and that Satan was right. Is there any doubts now as to why the United Methodist Tribe is imploding? It looks like that three-legged stool analogy doesn’t work after all.

An S.E.C. KInd Of Grace

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.

Matthew chapter 16, verse 24; from the New Living Translation

Those who know me know that I like college football. Now mind you, NOT over-inflated ego NFL football. College football! And I love the Conference that all other Conferences like to hate–the Southeastern Conference or S.E.C. And I’m passionate about the Team that most folks absolutely hate–ALABAMA! ROLL TIDE! I got to thinking this morning that THE Season begins in less than a month. And those 3 letters that most folks hate began rolling around in my gray matter. S.E.C.! S.E.C.! And I started thinking about Grace!

Many folks want a S.E.C. Grace! I opted in for S.E.C. Grace because the term Cheap Grace was already taken. So, what’s a S.E.C. Grace? Glad you asked. It’s Simple, Easy, Comfortable Grace! And I’ve noticed this about the S.E.C. Grace crowd–they are found in both the conservative camps and the progressive camps. In fact, the theological belief systems don’t really matter. Many people, way too many people, think of grace as that Get Out Of Hell Free Card!

Granted, it sounds good to say Grace is Simple, Easy, and Comfortable. After all, doesn’t God keep us Safe? Isn’t it so Easy that a caveman can do it? Just have faith? And doesn’t it take away the misery of guilt and make us feel Comfortable? But then there’s these words from Jesus:

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.”

Those who want the S.E.C. Grace fail to understand that in accepting God’s Grace mandates that we also follow Jesus! Now, let’s do high school biology anddissect what Jesus says. First He says “you must give up your own way”. Sounds simple, but it’s not exactly simple. Here’s the truth: we WANT our way and will fight to keep our way! We have this inherent thing called sin; and it wants to be in charge of us. And it will fight against us tooth and nail to win. Then He says: “take up your cross”. I don’t know about how you feel, but to me there’s nothing that sounds Easy about carrying our cross. Sounds like to me that I need to be dying every day.

And finally Jesus says: and follow Me! Does it sound comfortable to you to go the places where messy and broken people live, work, and play? While Jesus promised us the Comfort of the Holy Spirit, He never promised that He would make us Comfortable. Following Jesus is going head-long into the battlefield! It’s about making sacrifices. I know many combat veterans, my son and son-in-law included. But never once have I heard any of them describe their battlefields as making them feel Comfortable!

Grace doesn’t mean we get what we want. Grace doesn’t mean we get to keep what we want. And Grace doesn’t mean we get to choose where we go. Now, for some, this may sound like an argument against Grace. It’s not! It’s the reason why not just any “grace” will work. God’s Grace includes His presence and power to help us overcome the sins that hounds us to death. His Grace isn’t a one-and-done thing. It’s a lifetime of growing, being stretched, and discovering the exciting things He has for us to do. And the joy that is waiting for us, on the other side. Grace that doesn’t challenge us–well, it’s just a S.E.C. kind of grace. And that’s simply not worth having; it just doesn’t give us what we need.