Category Archives: Truth

What did Jesus think of religion?

Jesus had an uncanny ability to infuriate people!

No_20Religion_20for_20siteOn several occasions Jesus went toe-to-toe with the religious leaders and one of their “hot buttons” was what constituted work on the Sabbath. (Mk 2:23-28; 3:1-6)

Jesus used the Sabbath to heal and bless others which, while keeping with God’s original intent, angered the religious elite because it violated their rules. What we see in these encounters is Jesus putting on display two radically different spiritual paradigms. A paradigm is simply a particular way of viewing or approaching something.

One paradigm is religion, which is merely a person’s efforts to follow advice about how to secure God’s favor. It take’s many forms but all boils down to this: I receive from God what I work for or earn.

The other paradigm is the Gospel, which begins and ends with news. Something truly amazing has been done for us and we simply need to embrace it.

It’s sort of like this…

Suppose you had a loved one who needed a heart transplant to live and I possessed a heart that doctors could use to save them.

If I said: “If you do everything I tell you to do and do it well enough to earn my favor then I will allow you this heart to save your loved one.” That’s religion.

If I said: “Here is a heart for your loved one. I want you to have it as a gift. In fact, I’ve allowed my own son to die so that your loved one could live.”  That’s the Gospel.

The Gospel is so much better than religion but the Pharisees couldn’t handle it. After one such encounter “the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.” (Mk 3:6) This is staggering because the Pharisees and Herodians were arch enemies!

The Pharisees fought to preserve the integrity and purity of God’s word while the Herodians were Jews who compromised in order to get along with King Herod – the Roman ruler. Their approaches to life and God were polar opposites! Tim Keller in Jesus the King sums it up well.

The “traditional values” approach to life is moral conformity—the approach taken by the Pharisees. It is that you must lead a very, very good life. The progressive approach, embodied in the Herodians, is self-discovery—you have to decide what is right or wrong for you. And according to the Bible, both of these are ways of being your own savior and lord. Both are hostile to the message of Jesus. And not only that, both lead to self-righteousness. The moralist says, “The good people are in and the bad people are out—and of course we’re the good ones.” The self-discovery person says, “Oh, no, the progressive, open-minded people are in and the judgmental bigots are out—and of course we’re the open-minded ones.”

Do these two approaches to life and God sound familiar? They should! They are how most people do life today. But Keller goes on to describe how the Gospel is different.

The gospel does not say, “the good are in and the bad are out,” nor “the open-minded are in and the judgmental are out.” The gospel says the humble are in and the proud are out. The gospel says the people who know they’re not better, not more open-minded, not more moral than anyone else, are in, and the people who think they’re on the right side of the divide are most in danger.

Which of the following are you putting your trust in?

  • The keeping of certain moral standards… (Pharisees)
  • The right to determine your own moral standards… (Herodians), or
  • The Gospel… that we are all sinners (truth) in need of God’s forgiveness (grace) made available through Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection!

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© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2013. All rights reserved.

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Filed under Christianity, God, Grace, Jesus, Religion and Spirituality, Truth

Real Church

“I want to go to a church that reaches my heart with truth.  Of course, truth must reach my head–I need to know what the Bible says–but if it stops there, the truth I hear and perhaps believe will lack power.  It will not be living and active.  It will not set me free.  It will not provide what I need to shift my addiction from less than God to God.”     ~ Real Church, Page 82

Question for Reflection:

  • What do you think a church might look like that reaches your heart with truth?

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Filed under Bible, Christianity, Church, God, Heart, involvement with the church, Religion and Spirituality, Truth

More conversation… less condemnation

From a blog post by Perry Noble who says it so well.
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Ben & Jerry’s, Chick-fil-A & Political Correctness

Let me begin by saying I absolutely LOVE Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. (Gonna go ahead and tell you that Oatmeal Cookie Chunk is THE BEST flavor I’ve EVER had!!)

A few years ago I went to Wal Mart (the closest thing to hell I can imagine…that and the DMV), found my favorite flavor and decided to tweet that I was purchasing some Ben & Jerry’s ice cream…and doing so “unleashed the hounds” in a sense. Honestly, I’ve never experienced anything like it, “Christians” began @ replying me on twitter condemning me and scolding me for buying this product because apparently Ben & Jerry’s supported gay rights/same sex marriage.

Honestly, it bothered me. Because, first of all…I wasn’t trying to make a political statement I was simply trying to get some chunky monkey and some oatmeal cookie crunch. I like ice cream…I believe it will be served in heaven (with ZERO calories)! And second, it has broken my heart the way that many who claim to follow Christ have treated those who are homosexuals. We’ve yelled at them, ignored them and in some cases damned them to hell without EVER sitting down and actually having a conversation with someone who is gay.

“But Perry,” you say, “the Bible says that homosexuality is a sin.” Let me put my cards on the table and say that I agree; however, for too long the church has seemed to be obsessed with the sins that we do not struggle with; after all, if I am pointing out the sins of others I don’t have to deal with my own.

People have taken me to I Corinthians 6:9-11 before and said, “look, the Bible says that homosexuals will NOT inherit the kingdom of God.” I always try my best to point out that also included in that list are…

  • The sexually immoral (anyone been watching porn?)
  • Idolaters (anyone love anyone or anything more than Jesus?)
  • Adulterers (see Matthew 5:27-28)
  • Thieves
  • The greedy (uh oh!)
  • Drunkards (tailgating season is quickly approaching)
  • Slanderers (uh oh, a lot of bloggers and women’s Bible studies are in trouble!)
  • After looking at this list I would say we are all pretty much screwed unless Jesus intervenes.

And…while I am at it why don’t I just go ahead and throw out that gluttony is way more of a problem in the church today than homosexuality!!! (Please see Proverbs 23:2…pretty intense!!! ONLY in the church can people that are huge condemn people who are homosexual and somehow feel like that they are spiritually superior!)

Do I hate homosexuals or have a “homophobia?” Absolutely not! (And, let me be VERY clear that as a child I was molested…TWICE…by men who were older than me. I have no idea if they were or are practicing homosexuals…but I can honestly say that I have forgiven them and do not think that because of what they did to me that homosexuals are bad people!)

So, if a company or an organization wants to support gay rights/same sex marriage I don’t believe that Christians should boycott and/or protest them (come on people, has that REALLY worked for us in the past?) Jesus went after the hearts of people far from Him through conversation, not condemnation. Yes, sin must be called what it is, even as the risk of offending people: however, when it is done so with a hateful spirit then Jesus is NOT exalted, thus making the confrontation of sin sinful!

We live in America…and people have the right to say what they want to say…

Which brings me to Chick-fil-A…

I love Chick-fil-A…I probably eat there no less than five times a week (no, I am not making that up!) The fact that Truett Cathy has built a business from the ground up and has sought to honor Jesus every step of the way is an inspiration to me. Every Chick-fil-A I’ve ever been in has excellent food and excellent customer service…and I believe I read the other day that they made 4.1 billion dollars last year (not bad!)

Recently Dan Cathy (the current CEO) was asked about his stance on same sex marriage. He did not issue any inflammatory remarks. He did not attempt to call anyone by any derogatory names. He was not hateful in his comments. He did not say that people who are gay would not be hired and/or served at Chick-Fil-A restaurants. He simply stated that he holds to the traditional/biblical view of marriage (which is his right as an American citizen.) And it seemed the world lost its mind.

It’s quite sad really that those who scream for tolerance seem to be intolerant of anyone who does not hold to their particular view.

No one in the media screamed “foul” when corporations came out in support of same sex marriage; however, when one company spoke out against it in a non condemning tone people were calling for a boycott…even provoking the mayor of the city of Boston to say that Chick-Fil-A was not welcome in the city. (Uh…wow, talk about tolerance! Honestly, I believe the city of Boston needs Chick-fil-A way more than Chick-fil-A needs the city of Boston!)

All I am saying is this…I believe as an American everyone has the right to free speech. I also believe as a Christian we have the right to speak the truth in love as it applies to the Scriptures and should not fear doing so because we may be perceived as politically incorrect. Biblical truth (IN LOVE) always trumps political correctness. Honestly, I respect and admire Mr. Cathy as he took a very unpopular stand on one of the most controversial matters of our day. AND…as I’ve stated before, he did it with a non-condemning attitude.

It simply needs to be pointed out that people on both sides of this argument have been way less than civil with each other…which does nothing more than proves the insecurity in us if we feel like we have to “lower the boom” on people who do not see exactly as we see.

Honestly, it is my prayer that people on both sides of the argument would stop yelling at each other and talking about one another and actually sit down and talk to one another understanding that just because two people do not agree on an issue does not mean they have the right to hate one another for it. Conversation is NOT compromise…it’s actually Christ like! And our world would be a MUCH better place if those who called themselves Christians would step up and lead the way in this, understanding John 3:17 is the attitude that we are called to have!

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Thanks Perry! May we give ourselves to more conversation and less condemnation.

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Filed under Christianity, Conflict, Culture, Freedom, Freedom of Speech, Homosexuality, Marriage, Political Correctness, Truth

Not an excuse to abuse God’s grace

There is a fine line between living by grace and abusing it. As Paul concludes his thoughts at the end of chapter 5 in his letter to the Romans he speaks of how we are lavished with grace through Jesus Christ. In fact, he even states that “where sin increased, grace increased all the more.”

But you can tell that Paul is aware that this could lead some to take advantage of grace and abuse it because he opens chapter 6 of Romans with this statement:

“Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace?Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?” ~ Romans 6:1-2

God’s lavish grace is no excuse to live as we want but rather makes us acceptable to a holy God and then empowers us to live differently. Larry Crabb says it well…

“I might mention in passing that my acceptability in Christ is no warrant for careless living.  Scripture also teaches that I am accountable to God for how I live. 

If I understand accountability, but not acceptability, I will live under pressure to behave well in order to be accepted.  If I understand acceptability, but not accountability, I may become casually indifferent to sinful living. 

When I understand first my acceptability and then my accountability, I will be constrained to please the One who died for me, fearful that I might grieve Him, not wanting to, because I love Him.” ~ Larry Crabb in Effective Biblical Counseling

May we be fully embraced by acceptability AND accountability, in that order, so that we can live in such a way as to demonstrate the grace and truth (John 1:14) that flowed from Jesus when He lived among us.

And in doing so, may we reflect the glory of God!

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© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2012. All rights reserved.

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Filed under Accountability, Christianity, Forgiveness, Glory of God, God, Grace, Jesus, Religion and Spirituality, Sin, Truth

Who is this Jesus?

Jesus is…

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© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2012. All rights reserved.

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Filed under Christianity, Grace, Hope, Jesus, Mercy, Peace, Truth

Zombies? Really?

This is reblogged from a fellow writer. I’ll leave a link at the bottom in case you want to check out her blog. (Highly recommended!)

If I were to compile a list of possible topics for this blog on connecting dots to God, zombies would never enter my mind.  Ever.  But, after reading an Associated Press news article yesterday about a recent internet interest in ”zombie apocalypse,” I’m going to connect some dots between zombies and God.  Work with me here…

Apparently, the phrase ”zombie apocalypse” is (or was) #2 among Google’s trending search terms

Why? 

Tamara Lush, in her AP article, suggests that recent bizarre and gruesome events have sparked a fascination with a scenario in which a mutant virus, on the loose from a government lab or introduced in an act of bioterrorism, turns people into zombies. It is preposterous of course, but we live in an age in which many absurdities have become reality.

So, whether Google searches for “zombie apocalypse” are done in comic book type fun or out of genuine fear, they reveal a sense of foreboding as described in Lush’s article:

“Symbolic of both infection and evil, zombies are terrifying in a way that other horror-movie iconography isn’t, says Elizabeth Bird, an anthropologist at the University of South Florida.

Zombies, after all, look like us. But they aren’t. They are some baser form of us — slowly rotting and shambling along, intent on “surviving” and creating more of their kind, but with no emotional core, no conscience, no limits.”

Creepy.

Lush goes on to write, “For some, the news stories fuel a lurking fear that, ultimately, humanity is doomed.” 

I find Lush’s article insightful, because there is some truth in the fears she describes. Humanity, in a self-gratifying sinful state, is in fact doomed.  Foreboding is justified.

Zombies are a fitting metaphor for the cultural rot, heartless self-gratification, and soul-less existences that are increasingly evident in this world.

It is creepy.

Thankfully, zombie fiction notwithstanding, sin will not devour humanity because  of the day that the Living God defeated death on a cross.  Jesus Christ offers eternal life in place of spiritually dead flesh and a loving heart instead of an empty emotional core.

Christians understand that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, the antidote for sin and the source of life, and we can share this hope in the face of foreboding.  Maybe zombie stories are an opportunity to do just that.

“‘I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”  John 5:24

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My thanks to Judy for letting me share her insightful article. You can visit her blog here.

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Filed under Christianity, Culture, Death, End Times, Faith, Fear, Hope, Jesus, Sin, Truth

Our need for honest feedback

The Last Czar is a biography about the life of Czar Nicholas II, the last emperor of Russia. While his generals were brutally suppressing dissent, they told him civil unrest was the result of foreign influence and assured him his own people loved him.

The Czar didn’t have any other source of information so was completely unaware that his generals were not being truthful with him. Not a good position to be in.

When the Communists took over, he was caught by surprise and forced to abdicate. Sadly, the Bolsheviks eventually executed him and his entire family. It is a sad and tragic story.

Few of us are czars, but the same lack of honest feedback can be devastating. We need truth tellers around us in two critical areas.

The first area is horizontal and pertains to our relationships with people. We fill the role of friend, spouse, son or daughter, parent, employee or boss, coach or teammate.

The second area is vertical and pertains to our relationship with God. Our core identity is that of being a child of our Creator; embracing a new identity in Christ.

Maybe it’s because I hit 50 last year or maybe it’s because I have two grown sons living far from home, but I’ve been reflecting more and more on what got my attention in the last 30 years. Relationships are what make our lives rich and we all need feedback to make them as strong as possible.

The area of our relationship with God is perhaps even more critical. All of us live with a gap between what we profess or live outwardly and what is really going on in our heart. For some, this gap is small but for others the gap is rather large.

The danger is that this largely invisible gap is easy to conceal because we tend to focus on managing our external behavior with a highly trained filter. Dress nice, smile and be nice around church friends, drop some money in the offering plate and help out occasionally.

All those things are good but they don’t always accurately reflect what is going on beneath the surface. We need traveling companions who will ask us the hard questions and give us honest feedback.

“As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” ~ Proverbs 27:17

God’s design to make us more like Jesus happens best when we journey together and engage in honest feedback.

Who are your traveling companions?
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© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2012. All rights reserved.

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Filed under Accountability, Authenticity, Children of God, Courage, Discipleship, Fellowship, Friendship, God, God's Will, Heart, intimacy with the Lord, Morphing, Relationship with God, Spiritual formation, Spiritual growth, Truth

Fitting the pieces together

The Bible displays an Upper Story and a Lower Story. 

The Upper Story tells the big picture, the grand narrative of a loving God seeking relationship with mankind as it unfolds throughout history.

The Lower Story contains the details of particular people, the episodes we’ve become familiar with: Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the flood… even our own stories.

This Upper Story is really a framework around which we approach and apply any one part of the Bible.  It unifies God’s whole message to us and helps guide us through the difficult times in life by doing two things:

  1. Reminding us of God’s eternal, long-range plan and,
  2. Putting our experiences into a divine context formed by a perfect, loving Creator.

God’s agenda in the Upper Story is to reach every man, woman and child, all around the world, with His grace and truth. Eternity with God is a divine party; a celebration to end all celebrations and God doesn’t want anyone to miss it.

Our agenda in the Lower Story tends to be comfort and enjoyment. Such longings are not inherently wrong or evil, but they seldom serve to advance God’s Upper Story agenda. And quite often, they are directly opposed to it.

Jesus’ death on the cross could be described with many words, but comfort and enjoyment would not be among them. Yet He endured such pain and agony to fulfill His part in advancing the Father’s Upper Story agenda.

So, by putting all we read from Scripture into the larger picture, we can make modern-day applications that take into account the grand, mysterious ways of God, and guards us from misapplication that can result from an isolated “what this verse says to me” approach.  In other words, the Upper Story creates the context for the Lower Story.

For example, without the Upper Story, a lost job could be seen as an event without hope.  But put into the context of the larger chronicle of our lives, and God’s perfect design, that lost job can be seen in a very different light, perhaps as an opportunity for God to advance His kingdom agenda.

So when you seek to understand something from the Bible, or the events and circumstances of your life, remember… there is a bigger, Upper Story being written into which the smaller details fit.

We may not always understand how they fit, but we can trust the One who is writing The Story!

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If you’re journeying with us through The Story then read Chapter One this week. If you’ve not heard about The Story you can check it out by clicking on the page tab above.

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Sam and Valerie’s big adventure

A week ago last Tuesday, Sam – our Marine – took off with Valerie and Aaron for San Diego. After completing his second phase of training they were finally able to settle in together as a family. Once they completed the 2200 mile drive!

This was the first time either of them had driven that far let alone with a baby on board and a trailer in tow. Sam was careful with his preparations, we got road advice from my brother Bob regarding the mountains in New Mexico and I covered as much “trip/towing advice” as I could think of.

Whatever obstacles they ran into would be a first for both of them so even though we bathed them in prayer and invited others to do the same, I still had a tremendous urge to be with them. Not that I could have prevented or solved anything but having someone with travel experience is always a plus.

No one knows for sure what this new year holds in store for us. We may have brought existing issues from last year with us but even their outcome is unpredictable. With each new day we are traveling uncharted territory.

But we are not alone!

“If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth…I am telling you these things now while I am still with you. But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.” ~ John 14:15-17, 25-26

Truth is not just some abstract list of beliefs or doctrines. Truth is God’s perspective and will in every situation of life. And no matter what we encounter this day, this week or this year; God’s Spirit is always with us to offer guidance and direction towards living out God’s truth.

Are we asking for and responding to His assistance?

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P.S. – The trip went great! Thanks for the prayers!

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Filed under Divine presence, God's Will, Holy Spirit, Life in General, Truth

Did Jesus forget what day it was?

Have you ever gotten grief for doing the right thing? You thought it was a kind or helpful or considerate thing to do and yet it seemed to backfire. Someone didn’t agree with it or even appreciate your good intentions.

We’ve all been there to some degree but not like what Jesus experienced. In John chapter 5 Jesus heals a man lame for 38 years. No small feat! And yet some people got upset.

“So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him.” ~ John 5:16

You see, the law taught that it was against God’s commands to work on the Sabbath. So did Jesus forget what day it was? Not likely! Especially since He healed someone on the Sabbath on SEVEN DIFFERENT OCCASIONS!

So why did Jesus do it? Because while God specified that it was against the law to work on the Sabbath, it was Jewish tradition that added countless restrictions to the nth degree and made it something other than what God intended. In Luke 14 on one of the other occasions when Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath He reasoned with those who were critical of His actions:

If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?”  And they had nothing to say. ~ Luke 14:5-6

Traditions are not inherently good or bad. Some are beneficial, some are not. The danger comes when we elevate our preference, our tradition, and give it the same value as God’s Word. Jesus purposely healed on the Sabbath to confront this very unhealthy practice that turns following Him into something oppressive and burdensome.

So, what do you consider acceptable or unacceptable in terms of doctrine or specific practices both in and outside the church building? Make a list of all the things you consider important and then ask yourself one question.

Why?

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