Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Measuring Up -- Amos

I realize that we are fully and completely saved by God's grace and that is nothing we can do to earn or work for our salvation. That being said, I also know that the grace that is lavished upon us in Jesus Christ is not an excuse for inaction on our part.

One could argue that the Word of the LORD through the writings of the Prophets was for the people of the Old Testament. That was the time of the Law and this is the time of Grace. But, if God is the same yesterday, today and forever, than those things which God held His people to in the days of Amos, He would old us, His people, to today. Right?

In Amos 7:7-9, God holds a plumb line to Israel and finds it off-true. The walls are beginning to show signs of slippage. Years of neglect are causing decay.

But, as the LORD measures and finds trouble, He also offers hope which comes through restoration. Through a rebuilding of the foundation. And it is at the foundation that the rebuilding must begin. Too often we settle for a shoring up of the leaning walls, but that is only a stop-gap measure.

In reality, what may need to take place is a removing of the walls, so that the very foundation can be worked upon and new walls, stronger walls, can then be rebuilt.

As I give thought the writings of the Prophet, I am asking myself the question, "What are the walls that need to be taking down and rebuilt in the church today?" And with that question, "What work needs to be done to our foundation so that stronger walls can be rebuilt?"

I have some ideas, but I would love to interact with yours. How would you answer those questions? What rebuilding needs to take place within God's people today?


Jan said...

I think the foundation definately needs to be the Bible, God's word, with the cornerstone Jesus Christ. Most of the rest is fluff, pomp or pride that causes division in churches, as I see it anyway.

Anonymous said...

Please forgive me for yet another lengthy - need to get this off my chest post. But this is an issue that is near and dear to my heart because I see too many people getting freed from compulsion in AA without the additional benefit of eternal life through Jesus Christ.

Speaking of foundations, often I hear sponsors in AA honestly and accurately telling newcomers to stay away from church during their first year or even years of sobriety until they get a firm foundation of sobriety beneath them lest they relapse.

Why is that? As a Christian, I sometimes had a knee jerk reaction when I noticed how common it was for sponsors to give advice like that to their new Christian sponsees.
I no longer have a knee jerk reaction though because I’ve lost count of the number of people I have met during my own 14 years of sobriety who found that not only did the church not offer them the tools they needed to be set free from their compulsion (sin), but they had to literally stay away from most Christian churches until they did in fact have a very firm foundation under them or find themselves relapsing. Every time.

I find myself wondering what is wrong with this picture? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Wasn’t it, in fact, the other way around in the early church and when Christ himself preached and taught?

Wasn’t it the most rebellious, the worst sinners of all that sat at Christ’s feet learning the truth that did indeed set them free? And didn’t his teachings effectively motivate and enable and empower them to drastically change their lifestyles?

Aren’t the twelve steps really nothing more than the beatitudes in plain, western type English? Why then do the twelve steps work if you work them but so many people try as hard as they can and work as hard as they can in church failing miserably until they are finally desperate enough to throw up their hands, walk into an AA meeting and admit they are powerless over their compulsion -- in spite of regular church attendance -- no matter how uncomfortably sac-religious they feel by having to admit that?

The conclusion that I have come to is that one of two things goes wrong.

Many churches teach dead works and need to begin again with the proper cornerstone. Because if the wrong cornerstone is used, the whole foundation is faulty. Christ is either the cornerstone of a church or he is not. And if he is not the cornerstone, the whole foundation is faulty. In these cases, it always comes down to the same thing. Dead works versus grace. Faith in Christ versus self-reliance.

Because the cornerstone is not about how often we say Christ is our savior. The cornerstone is about admitting that by relying upon our own human, carnal abilities, we do NOT HAVE THE POWER to resist sin. We are in fact slaves to sin. We are powerless. We are spiritually bankrupt. We are fighting a war with pathetic human power against the supernatural powers of darkness until if and when we really realize what kind of supernatural forces really are opposing us, until we come out of denial and admit that our only hope is to put our faith in a power greater than ourselves – A power strong enough to fight the demons that we are powerless over.

Because no matter how good our intentions are, no matter how much we want to walk the walk. No matter how sincere we are. No matter how hard we try, try, try and try again, we are powerless over sin. We are slaves, in fact, to sin. Faith in a power greater than ourselves is essential. We cannot just turn over a new leaf. Self-reliance has kept us tripping over the cornerstone instead of setting it in place and building upon it.

Other churches begin with the cornerstone, but once the cornerstone is in place, the rest of the stones are never put in place so people wander around after making that alter call wondering why they still feel lost and empty, wondering why compulsion or sin still overpowers them. Christ is the miracle. They know that. He died to set them free. They believe that, but the church doesn’t seem to get the rest of the message across which is namely – what they do to reach out and accept the free gift of grace or what steps they take to obtain victory over their compulsion (sin). So they stumble and bumble falling in and out of sin in spite of their sincerity, their good intentions, their fervent desire to obey God because no one teaches them step by step how to accept God’s free gift of grace one step at a time. No one teaches them how to go from radiance to radiance. Not overnight perfection. Or as we say in AA, progress not perfection.

So they either give up because they cannot “be good enough” or pretend to be as perfect as they can.

I tell new sponsees. It’s a free gift. Like a Christmas time, but you have to walk into the living room step by step, reach under the Christmas tree, pick up the gifts, unwrap them and use them. And it’s a gift that keeps giving if you keep walking up, reaching out accepting the gift and continue using the gift instead of sitting it on a shelf and just admiring it or even worshipping it.

Worship is important. Gratitude is important. God deserves to be worshipped, especially if by the grace of God, we have been taught how to rely upon His power to deliver us from something that we were powerless to overcome themselves. And we all are. Slaves to sin, that is. Only the truth can set any of us free, and he who the son sets free really is free indeed.


Pastor Randy said...


Thank you again for your sharing your heart.

This morning, while preparing for our weekly prayer meeting, I was studying Ephesians 2:1-10, the old "saved by grace" passage. I was intrigued by how we quote this passage so freely and in the process develop not a "saved by grace" theology as much as a "anti-works" theology. Let me see if I can put my thoughts into words.

We focus so much on God's grace (which is vital and with which we cannot be saved) but in the process we make it seem like "works" have nothing to do with our standing in grace. I guess this is where the Letter from James to the church comes in.

Your analogy about Christmas morning and getting the gift is a proper one, but I would like to take one different step. Instead of going back into receive the gift again (and I do get your important picture) I would like to add that once we open the gift we need to put it on. It's not just about receiving, it also has to do with using what God has given to us. Grace given. Grace shared. Forgiveness given. Forgiveness shared. Love given. Love shared. The list goes on. I suppose ending with Jesus given. Jesus shared.

Maybe this is where the church has "dropped the ball." We believe whole-heartedly in grace. We preach it well. But we tend to hang it in the closet with the other "gifts" we have received. The gift that was given was not given to be horded, but to be given away. This is one of the foundational truths the church needs to learn to live by. And it's not just about "getting people saved," it also includes issues of justice and mercy and love.

Those are my jumbled thoughts for a Wednesday morning.

Peace to you.

Anonymous said...

I had the same thoughts about going back for more gift as I was writing it, but left it because I can never seem to stress enough the need to rely upon God instead of self. Pride dies a hard death and has a sneaky way of disquising itself so it doesn't look like pride. Kind of a lame analogy, but I always feel the need to stress God dependence instead of self-reliance.

The hardest step always seems to be admitting they are powerless in AA. Even Christians cannot see the invisible spiritual war that is going on and fall into thinking they should be able to do it themselves.

And that's where the shame comes in. "Ohhhh, I've failed God so many times." But no one can work hard enough to please God. They failed themselves by not relying upon him instead of themselves. That cornerstone as Jan pointed out is so essential.

But the miracle doesn't just fall down on us like fairy dust out of the sky which I believe is the point you are trying to make. We have to do something to receive the miracle because faith without works is dead.

We have to turn from sin or as we say in AA, "Put the plug in the jug" - only then will we be forced to learn a different way.

I use the chopstix analogy. I learned to eat with chopstix in a chinese restaurant in San Francisco where the waiter flat (and rather rudely) refused to give me a fork. Always before, I tried the chopstix and failed, then resorted to using the fork. Only when the fork was no longer an option did I learn to eat with chopstix.

Of course, lots of people learn to eat with chopstix without having their forks taken away, but the only difference I suspect is that in their own minds, they refused to resort to their fork whereas in my case, the waiter had to literally take my fork away.

Unfortunately, the enemy will always make sin readily available to us as an ever present option and temptation.

So we have to make sure sin is not an option in our own minds so we will be forced to use the right tools (continual confession and cleansing, forgiveness, fellowship, prayer and meditation, sharing the gospel and so on).

License to me is a whole 'nother topic. I reckon there is usually not much point trying to convince someone they are interpreting grace as license. The consequences of sin usually have to convince them before they can be reasoned with. In AA, we call that rock bottom.

Anonymous said...

Hello Pastor Randy and gentledove and Jan,

Mind if I slide into the discussion? I guess it's okay.

I think God’s "free gift of grace” includes receiving the free FRUIT of God’s free gift of grace. However if this free fruit of the Spirit, received by grace, is not exercised - for example “self-control” – then God’s free gift of grace is like having no free gift of grace. Logical?

Gentledove got into this when she said: “…and it’s a gift that keeps giving if you keep walking up, reaching out accepting the gift and continue using the gift instead of sitting it on a shelf and just admiring it or even worshipping it.”

Pastor Randy’s comment fits in with my own thoughts: “I would like to add that once we open the gift we need to put it on. It's not just about receiving, it also has to do with using what God has given to us.”

I smiled as I read gentledove’s later remark which read, “But the miracle doesn't just fall down on us like fairy dust out of the sky which I believe is the point you are trying to make. We have to do something to receive the miracle because faith without works is dead.”

Good discussion, I thought. Congratulations to gentledove on her 14 years of sobriety ... "one day at a time!"

By the way, I think another name for God should be added to our vocabulary. Why not call God “Salvation”? When we receive salvation what are we receiving if not God’s own Spirit?