Living with Free Will for Eternity

I get to preach on one of my favorite topics this Sunday — how the Cross changed the Law. It is something I have written about elsewhere, and it is a topic that is endlessly fascinating to me. By tracking how Jesus upgraded, reinterpreted and ignored various categories of the Law, I feel like we get a much clearer picture of the heart of our Father. I’m certain I’ll expand on that in future posts, but I’m pretty anxious to write about what I’ve been meditating on this morning.

One of the categories in the Law is something I call moral law — the actions, attitudes, thoughts and beliefs that God expects of those made in his image. In the Old Testament, those laws were things like “Do not murder. Do not steal. Do not commit adultery. Do not lie. Don’t scheme to get something that isn’t rightfully yours (covet).” Since many of those are in the 10 Commandments, we are pretty familiar with them.

In the New Testament, Jesus upgrades this portion of the Law. He says things like “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder…’ but I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment… and anyone who says ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” He also said “You have heard that is was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” In the Old Testament, as long as a man and woman didn’t actually have sex they were OK, but in the New Testament, Jesus talks about the condition of our minds and hearts — the seedbed of our actions. Indulging in thoughts and feelings of anger acclimates us to it and allows us to progressively take steps towards acts of violence. Similarly, indulging in a lustful fantasy life makes it that much easier to do things we otherwise wouldn’t. It is said that if you put a frog into boiling water it will jump right out, but if you put it into room temp water and slowly raise the heat it will stay in until it cooks itself to death. I don’t think people are much different.

What I find fascinating is that, in so many areas, Jesus looses the restrictiveness of the Law or ignores it completely and yet, in the area of character and integrity, Jesus intentionally sets the standard beyond anyone’s ability to reach on their own. Of course, as Christians, we understand that this was so that we would be perpetually dependent upon the Holy Spirit. Indeed, as those reborn as the children of God and those who have the Spirit of God living inside of us, we should look more like our Father than anyone. But Jesus is also doing something else, he is teaching us to live in freedom with free will for eternity.

Would you consider something with me?

When God created the world, everything was good. There wasn’t sin, sickness, demons or death. We don’t know how long the world remained in that state, but we do know that Satan eventually came to tempt Adam and Eve.  And let’s pause right there. Satan. Where did he come from?

Those who have far more interest in this than I do have pieced together various portions of Scripture and come up with a storyline for Satan. He was originally created as Lucifer, one of the three Archangels alongside Gabriel and Michael. Some traditions say that he was the most beautiful and the most glorious of the Three and the worship leader in the Throne Room. Eventually, Lucifer decided that he wanted to receive the same kind of praise as he was giving. He convinced one third of the angels to rebel against God in hopes of setting up their own kingdom. He failed in his revolt and was banished from Heaven. Supposedly, this happened before Adam and Eve were created and Satan then worms his way into the Garden.

But here is the point I want to make — when Satan was created, he was created good and with a free will. He didn’t have a sinful bent, nor did he have anyone entice him towards sin and rebellion. He came to that choice out of his own free will. He coveted God’s glory and praise and schemed to take it for himself. He indulged in the fantasy of what it would feel like to be on the receiving end of that angelic worship and it ended with him in rebellion against God. Does it make more sense now why Jesus cares so much about the thoughts, attitudes, emotions and opinions of our hearts?

In order for love to flourish between people, there must be freedom. Freedom to make good choices as well as bad. In upgrading our understanding of what it means to be made in God’s image, Jesus is teaching us how to make good choices. He is teaching us how to nip evil in the bud before it grows up into sin in our lives. He is teaching us how we are to look at and feel towards those around us who are also God’s sons and daughters. Jesus is teaching us how to be free and how to live in his Kingdom before it has even fully arrived.

Thanks for reading friends.

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Eternal Rewards

Yesterday, Erik taught out of Luke 6:20-26, Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount. One of the ideas that Erik touched on was “living for a reward.” I wanted to expand on that idea a little more here.

Several places in the New Testament, we encounter this theme of heavenly, or eternal, rewards and we’ll get to those passages in just a minute. First, I’d like to discuss the idea of a “reward.” What does it mean and is it right to persue them?

Defining Reward

Merriam-Wester defines reward as “giving money or some other form of payment to someone for something good that has been done.” This is pretty much how the New Testament uses the word, but it also uses it in a negative sense (i.e. punishment). Reward simply means “wages” or “the fruit of one’s actions”, good or bad.

What rewards mean for you

The whole idea of eternal rewards implies that God sees and takes into account the things you do in this life and repays you for them in eternity. 

Now, the ultimate eternal reward is salvation – life with God in his Kingdom forever. The action that secures this reward is submitting your life to Jesus, acknowledging him as your Lord and Savior. Of course, the truth of that decision is played out over time as you “bear fruit in keeping with reptentance” to use John the Baptizer’s phrase. Choosing solidarity with Jesus in his life mission, love for God, love for people and identifying with him in suffering and persecution results in his confession on Judgement Day “This one belongs to me.” What Jesus says about you in that Day is the most crucial thing you can imagine – eternal salvation or damnation is in his hands.

In light of such immense consequences, one might be tempted to think of any other rewards as petty, even inconsequential. In many ways, that is correct. And yet, over and over again, God holds out this promise of reward.

For many of us, the decision to follow Jesus comes well before our death. What do we do with that time? Do we sit idly by, secure in the knowledge of our salvation? Do we continue on as before – doing some good things and some bad things and not really concerning ourselves too much one way or the other? Or, do we embrace the idea of loving and sacrificial service, realizing that we were made to do good works and that those good works have both temporal AND eternal rewards. One this side of the Judgement Seat, eternal rewards seem petty. However, on the other side they will mean a whole lot more.

Let’s look at one passage and then move on.

1 Corinthians 3

In this passage, Paul is talking about the life we live after choosing to love and follow Jesus. He uses the analogy of a building a house with Christ as the foundation. Then judgement comes, a house fire. Here is the passage:

12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

The time we have between our confession of Jesus as Lord and our death is all the time we have to “build our house.” Obviously, the younger you are when you begin to follow Jesus, the more time you have… theoretically. Many times, people who grow up in Christian homes don’t live with the passion and zeal one would expect – it is almost as though they have been innoculated against the Gospel. Conversely, people who come to faith later in life realize their time is short and their singleminded determination to live differently oftentimes allows them to make a far greater impact in the world than someone who has been following Jesus for much longer. The point is, it doesn’t matter when you choose to follow God, there is ample time to make your life meaningful now and in eternity.

Paul likens Judgement Day to a house fire – will what you’ve built remain? The things you did in life, did you do them for yourself, for others, for God? With all the time God gave you, how much of it was used doing things that really matter and how much of it was spent frivolously? I am NOT saying that following Jesus is joyless drudgery – quite the opposite! Interacting with the Living Gd on a daily basis is invigorating and fun. Knowing that he is taking all this into account and is going to reward me for it later is simply over the top.

Verse 15 is a verse that haunts me (in the best way possible), “If anyone’s work is burned up [meaning it can be, not everything I do garners reward], he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”

I don’t want to enter eternity smelling like smoke. I don’t want to look back on my life at Judgement Day and see it all burn away to ash. I don’t want to live my entire life on the earth and have nothing to show for it in eternity. That is tragedy, THAT is loss. Yet it will be the case for some people – they themselves will be saved for they were in fact followers of Jesus, but they will feel the pain of loss keenly as they look back on their life and wish they could have lived it differently.

The idea of receiving a reward for your efforts is not unspiritual, rather, it is what makes long term effectiveness and faithfulness possible. Living with an eye on our eternal reward is what keeps us from becoming apathetic, lethargic and sleepy. Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Your heart is designed to follow after treasure, to follow after reward. If you are not purposefully trying to store up treasure in heaven, if you are only trying to fully fund your retirement and investment acconts, what hope do you have of actually loving God? “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God…” “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your [only] consolation.” It isn’t bad to want to retire or have wealth. It IS bad to pursue that as your main goal to the neglect of your eternal destiny. 

Living for a reward is crucial to a life of faith

Unless you have a clear understanding and desire for eternal rewards, you will not live life without regret. What is  even more sobering is that we can’t please God unless we live for eternal rewards. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” 

Faith stands on two legs – (1) that God exists and (2) that God is Good. We can’t draw near to God if we don’t think he is there – that much is easy. But how do we draw near? Tentatively? Fearfully? No! Confidently we come before the throne because of Jesus’s sacrifice on our behalf. We trust that God is Good, that he lavishes rewards on those who seek to know him, love him and obey him. We believe that God is kind and generous. We believe that every command is for our benefit. 

Let’s face it, very few of us actually do the things God asks us to do because we’re just such good people. Case in point – evangelism. The Great Commission is pretty much the only task Jesus gave to his Church. To paraphrase, “Make disciples – it is the most important thing for this time. It is the main thing I want you to do once you start following me.” … and how many of us do it? It is really our only job, yet we’ve developed tremendous theologies to excuse ourselves from the need of it. I put very little stock in my willingness to do what Jesus commands unless I see a significant benefit to myself for doing so. I don’t have any youthful illusions of my own magnanimous nature, passion or zeal.

Simply put, I won’t do what Jesus tells me to do unless I get a reward for it. 

I know that sounds harsh. I know it sounds childish, foolish and ungrateful. I know that in saying it, I wish it were different… but it isn’t. That is the truth of my heart. AND GOD KNOWS IT. He doesn’t know it and react with disgust. He knows it and appeals to it – how wild is that?  ‘You don’t want to pray, I get that, but if you do I’ll reward you.’ ‘You don’t want to fast, but if you do and don’t make a big deal out of it, I will heap blessings into your lap.’ ‘I know money is tight, but if you will trust me and tithe and give some away to those who have even greater needs than you do, I will increase your buying power far beyond anything you can imagine. You will be better off finacially with 90% blessed by me than if you kept the whole lot.’ Those are the kinds of offers God gives us. In case you think I made them up, read through Matthew 6 very carefully.

Those that think they can live a fruitful, effective and pleasing life to God without living for an eternal reward are kidding themselves. It may be a well intentioned delusion, but it is fantasy none the less. Living for a reward is not unspiritual, it is the key to mature spirituality. Even Jesus didn’t embrace the cross selflessly. Even he was looking for a result, a reward. He was looking to ransom people from death. He was looking forward to the joy of being the firstborn of many brothers. Isaiah, prophesying about Jesus says, “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied… I will give him a portion among the great.” Because Jesus was willing to set aside his Godhood and embrace the role of a servant, he has received a name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord. If eternal rewards helped to steady Jesus in his life and mission, how much more do we need them? 

Sabbath

I’ve written elsewhere about how Jesus interacted with different aspects of the Law. I’d like to revisit that topic and dig a little deeper into the issue of Sabbath, the day of rest, and how Jesus reinterpreted and revealed it.

A little history

We first encounter the idea of a day of rest in Genesis 2:2. After spending 6 days creating the world, God took a day off. He wasn’t tired, but he decided that a day spent leisurely enjoying his creation would be a good thing. God thought this was such a great idea that he blessed the seventh day, making it holy.

While it was God’s model to rest on the seventh day, we don’t have any indication that anyone observed it from Adam to Moses. The Patriarchs seemed to treat each weekday alike, though they did have a few festivals and holy days they observed. The Sabbath, as we know it, was codified by Moses in Exodus 20:8-11

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

After 400 years in slavery, working hard all day every day, God liberated his people. Sabbath was a deliverence of their souls as much as the exodus was a deliverence of their bodies. God commanded his people to celebrate freedom and to trust in his ability to provide. The Israelites were freed from having their identities wrapped up in how hard they worked or how much they could produce. They were forced to reckon with a God who provided for them abundantly – no longer were they living hand to mouth, paycheck to paycheck. Sabbath was a celebration of freedom and prosperity.

Sabbath is about rest and freedom

Sabbath was a gift God gave to his children and to everyone who was a part of the nation. No one could work on the Sabbath day – wives couldn’t cook or clean, slaves couldn’t serve, even animals had to stay in their stalls. Even foreigners in Israel were required to rest, they couldn’t buy or sell or conduct any business in the nation. 

Sabbath was intended to lead the nation of Israel into increasing freedom. It was supposed to help them enjoy God, his creation and one another. It was supposed to remind them of their captivity and how they had been set free. It was supposed to remind them that there are far more important things than earning a paycheck. Most importantly, Sabbath was supposed to get the people thinking about God — God didn’t need to rest after creating the world, he is Almighty after all, so why did he? Jesus gives us a hint – “sabbath was made for man,” Mark 2:27. Sabbath was God’s gift to humanity, to set us free, to keep our spirits alive and vibrant. But it quickly got turned into a tool to manipulate and control. The true meaning of Sabbath was lost and it became a dead ritual.

Sabbath is about setting other people free

In Luke 6, we see Jesus beautifully reinterpret Sabbath law in two instances.

First, Jesus and his disciples are walking through a wheat field and the disciples, presumably hungry, pick some of the grains of wheat and eat them. This greatly offended the religious elite, for harvesting grain was forbidden on the sabbath. In turn, Jesus tells a story from 1 Samuel, when David was on the run and took the Bread of the Presence off of the altar and ate it. His point in sharing this story was to say that, if ever human need and religious observance collide, human need comes out on top. It doesn’t rightly represent God to let someone go hungry so that you can “follow the rules.” Jewish rabbis have often asked the question: If someone is drowning at the time of prayer, what do you do? You go and help that person – they need your help, God does not. Jesus stands in this tradition.

The second instance is when Jesus comes to synagogue and sees a man with a withered hand sitting there. Since it is illegal to do work on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders were watching Jesus to see what he would do. If he healed the man, he would be breaking the law and, therefore, could not possibly be from God.

Knowing their hearts, Jesus calls the man to the front of the room and asks the congregation a question, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good, or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” Jesus looks each person straight in the eye and proceeds to heal the man. The religious leaders are furious and begin to plot Jesus’s death.

Jesus says that doing good is lawful on the Sabbath. He also implies that not helping someone, when it is well within your power to do so, is evil. The reason for this is simple: Sabbath is about setting other people free – free from hurt, hunger, homelessness, oppression and injustice. Jesus stands in the prophetic tradition of Isaiah 58, reinterpretting Sabbath to mean freedom just as Isaiah reinterpreted fasting to mean justice. 

“Us” and “Our”

Jesus taught his disciples a radical understanding of community in the Disciple’s Prayer, he taught them to pray in the plural. “Our Father… give us today our daily bread…” In community, I can’t truly be full if someone else is hungry, I can’t really be warm if someone else is without clothing or shelter and I certainly can’t rest when  someone else is oppressed or enslaved. There is no “me/my” in Jesus’s model prayer, there is only “us/our” and the yearning to see God’s Kingdom manifest on the earth. 

As followers of Jesus, we are called to live with this wonderfully reinterpreted understanding of Sabbath. Should we each take a day off each week for leisure and enjoyment? Absolutely! We should also understand that Sabbath, setting people free from the tyranny of sin, sickness, demons, death and worldly systems of oppression, is a lifestyle to be engaged in every day, not just talked about once a week.

Jesus, our Lord, is Lord over the Sabbath. He is our Jubilee, the cancelation of our debts, the restoration of our inheritance and the power we need to overcome every work of the enemy. May God bless you with good success in your efforts to set people free this week.

Thanks for reading friends.

Understanding “The Law”

Hi friends, I got the following email this morning from someone and I thought it asked some great questions. There seems to be a lot of talk right now in Christian circles about the Law, the Gospel, Grace and how those things all fit together. I thought I’d chime in with my thoughts. First, the email:

Morning Ben-
I am reading Luke Chapter 5 and the man with leprosy was healed by Jesus and He tells him to present an offerring for his purification. Why don’t we do that now? I know that was part of the law, right? But when in the Bible does this become something we as Christians don’t practice.  Does that make sense? I am really trying to understand these details better. 

What is “the Law”?

Whenever Christians/theologians talk about the Law (capital “L”) they are talking about the first five books of the Bible, otherwise known as “the Torah” or “the books of Moses.” The first five books of the Bible were written by Moses during the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. They describe the story of God making covenant with the Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and, finally, the people of Israel. “The Law” refers to the commands that God gave to the Israelites as part of his covenental agreement. The Law was supposed to distinguish the Jewish people from every other people on the face of the Earth and consisted of 3 types of commands: ceremonial laws, moral laws and religious observances. There were 613 different laws that a Jew needed to abide by in order to live under the covenental blessing of God. To break one of them was to be guilty of breaking them all. In order to try and protect the (illiterate) people from breaking one of God’s laws, the priests/levites/rabbis/scribes created additional laws called “the hedge.” These are the “rules taught by men” that Jesus so strongly criticized.

An example of “the hedge” is found in Genesis. In Genesis 2:16, God said to Adam, “You are free to eat of any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…” However, just one chapter later, the serpent quizzes Eve about God’s commands, her response? “The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees of the garden, but God did say, “You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it…”” Genesis 3:2-3.

God didn’t say they couldn’t touch the tree, Adam did. Adam was trying to protect his wife from eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and breaking God’s command, so he told her to not even touch it or else she would die. Well, that was an easy door for Satan to exploit. Eve only needed to touch the tree (which was perfectly permissable) and not die, then she was easy pickings. She broke a man made rule which then gave her confidence to break a God made rule – not good.

By the time Jesus enters the scene, many of the Jews had stopped trying to obey the Law. God’s rules and man’s rules were so confused and conflated that many people just gave up trying. Jesus reinterprets many of the Laws and totally ignored others. He gave people hope that they too could live a life pleasing to God.

The 3 categories of Law 

As I mentioned before, there were 3 categories of Law: ceremonial law, moral law and religious observances.

Ceremonial law dealt with the issues of being clean or unclean. One needed to be ceremonially clean in order to worship at the Temple. Ceremonial, or cleanliness, laws included kosher dietary laws, what to do with certain types of illnesses, infections and molds, how to interact with women on their periods, what to do about dead bodies and many other kinds of things. Being “clean” or “unclean” was a HUGE issue for the Jewish people. To be “unclean” was to be excluded from worship, family and community life and there were involved rituals and sacrifices needed in order to “get clean” and be reinstated to the community.

Moral law dealt with how the people should behave as God’s covenental people. I use “moral” in this sense to mean “accurately reflecting the character and nature of God” not in the sense of “good/bad”. Laws that represent the Moral law category would be, “Don’t bear false witness. Don’t covet. Don’t steal.” God doesn’t do any of those things, so the people who bear his image shouldn’t do them either. Moral law is an interesting category because it requires an intense study of the character of God and how we live in the tension of being called to be like him, yet still falling short this side of the Resurrection.

The final category, what I call Religious Observances, are the Laws given by God specifically to the Jews to make them unique from any other people. Some Jewish dietary laws fall under this category, as does the Sabbath, the Jubilee and various other Feast days. The most famous of these Laws is the prohibition to the Jews of worshipping any god than YHWH. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, religious observances are what caused the Jews the most amount of persecution when they followed them.

How Jesus interacted with the various categories of Law

As Christians, it is vitally important to understand what ended with Jesus and the Cross, what changed and what carried through virtually intact. It is also essential to understand the the Old Covenant is fulfilled in the New and that the New Covenant interprets the Old. Basically, this means that if you are reading through the Old Testament and come across a Law, then you must go to the New Testament to study how Jesus and the authors of the New Testament dealt with that particular subject. The New Testament understanding of the Law supersedes the Old Testament understanding.

Jesus and Ceremonial Law

Jesus demolished ceremonial Law with his understanding and teaching of sonship and intimacy with the Father. Jesus was so in love with God, so filled with the Spirit, that he was undefileable. Nothing, absolutely nothing, could make Jesus unclean or unworthy to be in God’s Presence because he was and is God’s Beloved Son. In the Old Covenant, if a leper touched you, you became unclean. With Jesus, when lepers touched him they got healed! Jesus’s radical understanding of Grace and the Love of God allowed him to effectively set aside the requirements of ceremonial law. As Christians, our lives are hidden in Christ, we are filled with his Spirit and the power of Jesus’s resurrection flows in our veins – we are God’s beloved sons and daughters and nothing, absolutely nothing, makes us unfit to be in God’s Presence. We can come with confidence before the Throne of Grace because of Jesus’s sacrifice on our behalf.

Jesus and Moral Law

Jesus was and is the fulfillment of moral law – he is the perfect representation of the Father. Every moral law in the Old Covenant finds its fulfillment in Jesus. Jesus is our model and standard in terms of character and, while he set the standard high, it isn’t beyond our ability to duplicate by the power of the Holy Spirit.

In many ways, Jesus intensified the demands of moral law. In the Old Covenant, as long as you didn’t actually have sex with a woman who wasn’t your wife, you could oogle her all day and be just fine. But Jesus says that to look at a woman lustfully is the same as having comitted adultery with her. Similarly, in the Old Covenant, as long as you didn’t physically assalt and kill someone you could despise them in your heart all you wanted, but in the New Covenant, simply cussing someone out internally puts you in danger of the fires of Hell – why? Because free will doesn’t go away in eternity.

Think about it, in the beginning, God created everything and everyone absolutely PERFECT. How, then, did  Lucifer fall?  Lucifer had free will and used it poorly. He indulged in internal fantasies of what it would feel like to be the one worshipped, rather than the one worshipping. Satan wasn’t created evil – he became evil as he used his free will to create a wicked fantasy of himself sitting in God’s place. Jesus set the standard of moral law so high so that we would have to engage in a lifelong pursuit of being conformed to his character and bearing the fruit of the Spirit. Jesus gives us ample opportunity in this life (and in the Millenial Kingdom) to learn to distinguish Good and Godly thoughts from carnal and sinful desires. We are being trained to live in ABSOLUTE FREEDOM for eternity as we obediently respond to Holy Spirit convicting us of sin and less-than-pure motives.

Jesus and Religious Observances

Jesus embraced his Jewish roots and identity, but on his own terms. Jesus did observe certain rituals and feast days, but other things, like the Sabbath, he reinterpreted  so that they would be more life-giving.

In the book of Acts, we see the Church wrestling with Jewish culture and religious observances. As the Gospel spread like wildfire across the Roman Empire and thousands upon thousands of Gentiles (non Jews) entered into God’s family and eternal life, the question arose “what do we do with them?”  Some people wanted “Christian” and “observant Jew” to be one and the same thing. They wanted to circumcise the Gentiles and make them live like Jews. Others, notably the Apostles Peter and Paul,  argued that God’s Spirit was given to the Gentiles, and to the whole Church, as a gift, not because they had been faithful to obey the Law. The compromise was to create some distinctly “Christian laws” that would differentiate the Christian church from other Gentile religions and protect the intent of the Law to set apart a people holy to the Lord. The four laws the Jerusalem Council agreed upon in Acts 15 were: 1) To abstain from eating food sacrificed to idols, 2) from blood (presumably from eating food with blood in it, but some have argued that it means from violence or “shedding blood”),  3) from the meat of strangled animals  and, 4) from sexual immorality. Paul seems to have theological disagreements with numbers 1, 2 and 3 later on, arguing that all food is clean if it is received with thanksgiving, but he vigorously upholds number 4.

Ultimately, it appears that if you were a Gentile when you became a Christian, you should remain a Gentile and if you were a Jew, then you should remain a Jew (culturally speaking of course). And in instances where Jews and Gentiles are part of the same congregation, they need to be gracious to one another and try to do whatever they can to minimize offense and celebrate freedom. They must trust that each person is doing what they feel God is asking them to do and to not quarrel over “disputable matters.”

How Grace and Law Interact

Depending on which category of Law you are referring to, Grace means different things.

No Christian need concern themselves with ceremonial law. We are forever clean because of Jesus’s sacrifice on the Cross. We never have to try to be “good enough” to get into God’s Presence or righteous enough for him to hear our prayers. In fact, we are the Temple, for God’s Spirit lives in us – so we can never be excluded from his Presence. We are undefilable, able to walk into the messiest circumstances and set people free. Grace means we never have to work for God’s acceptance or favor, it is a free gift given to us at salvation because of Jesus’s obedience and sacrifice. It means that we are God’s Beloved Sons and Daughters and that nothing can ever change that.

Every Christian needs to concern themselves with obeying God’s moral law. Grace, in this instance, is God given ability to bear the fruit of the Spirit and be conformed to the character of Christ. Grace is God giving us the mind of Christ, infilling us with the Holy Spirit and giving us a heart that longs to love him and serve him. Obeying God’s moral law is the process of sanctification – it requires effort and results in doing righteouss deeds, but should never be confused with salvation. We do good works BECAUSE we’re born again, not so that we CAN be born again. Grace empowers us to obey God’s moral commands and to represent him accurately, it doesn’t excuse us from being sanctified

Gentile Christians do not need to be concerned with religious observances. If you want to follow some of them, like the Sabbath or the tithe, then I think that is great. But please, don’t get silly about things. Unless you were raised in an ethnically Jewish home you have no business pretending to be something you are not. It isn’t a small thing in God’s sight to be Jewish. Don’t mess around with something you dont understand because you think it it “cool” or “biblical”. Grace, in this instance, allows for people from a wide variety of backgrounds to do life together. It allows us  to humbly love, serve and honor those who are different than us and recognize that God’s family is large and diverse and that we are just one small part of it. Grace allows us to live out the weightiest matters of the Law, to love God with all that we are and to love others with the same type of sacrifical love with which Jesus love us.

Closing Thoughts

I realize I worked through this complicated issue quickly and using broad strokes. My intent was not to do a detailed analysis of every Law in the Bible. Rather, I wanted to give you a mental paradigm to go about researching these things for yourself. You must be absolutely convinced from responsible use of Scripture of your own opinions about the Law, the Gospel and Grace. You can’t take my word for it or anyone else’s.

Good luck in your study my friends!

Ben

Busting Some Myths About LGBT People

This is the second installment of my thinking relating to how I believe Christians should think about and interact with the LGBT community. Yesterday’s post laid out the foundational concepts I use to think through and process this issue. Today is going to focus more specifically on breaking down myths and stereotypes some Christians have about LGBT people. For many LGBT people reading this it is going to seem archaic and possibly silly to hear a pastor talking about these things, so I appreciate your patience. I’m trying to start from Ground Zero and build up from there.

Response to Yesterday’s Post
Thank you to everyone who read and commented yesterday. The response was, frankly, overwhelming. I’m thankful you take the time to read what I write and benefit from it.

One friend posted this video in the comments section of my Facebook page. The video itself introduces us to various members of the Body of Christ who also identify as LGBT. I thought Huff Post’s title of the section was wonderful – “LGBT Christians aren’t an ‘issue,’ they are ‘the Church’.” That sums up what I was trying to say yesterday in much fewer words. 🙂

Overcoming Prejudice
I argued yesterday that prejudice is the driving force behind many Christian’s beliefs, attitudes and actions towards the LGBT community. Prejudice is when one group of people with certain defining characteristics elicits a fear response in another group, usually the group in power. The group in power then seeks to dominate and control the first group in order to feel safe. Prejudice allows fear to masquerade as wisdom and control to be mistaken for love.

Fear clouds our judgement and makes us act irrationally. My hope in this post is to dial down any anxiety you may have about LGBT Christians and expose some myths the Christian community has about some people. I’m certainly not the best person to do this, but hey, its my blog. 🙂

Truth Telling
1) LGBT Christians are not “an issue,” they are “the Church.”
The Body of Christ encompasses a large number of people from all sorts of backgrounds and life experiences. Part of the beauty of the Gospel is that, in Christ, God reconciled humanity to Himself. God’s family is large and diverse – we need to remember that. The Glory of the Church is the ability to take people from all walks of life, love them and teach them to obey all Christ commanded. In the midst of that we see God at work, changing and transforming hopeless sinners into the beautiful Bride of Christ. Where we are when we start our journey with Jesus is largely irrelevant for we are all called to press on in faith-filled obedience.

2) It is totally possible to love Jesus and be LGBT.
Being gay and being Christian are not mutually exclusive. I’ve had the privilege to know a few members of the Body who self identify as LGBT or with those tendencies and they love Jesus whole heartedly. Of the people I’ve interacted with, all of them share the view that actively pursuing a homosexual lifestyle is a sin, so they talk about being LGBT using the word “struggle.” Since I share that view, I will probably use the word “struggle” from time to time, but I also acknowledge that some LGBT Christians don’t feel any struggle with their sexuality and are at peace with where they are.

3) LGBT people are not better or worse parents than heterosexual people.
There is a myth perpetuated in some Christian circles that gay or lesbian parents are unfit to raise children due to their issues. I disagree that being an LGBT person is something that disqualifies you as a good parent – there might be other issues that do, but being LGBT isn’t one of them. While I don’t personally know or interact with LGBT couples that have children, I imagine that they are as loving, kind, gentle and stern as any other parents. I believe they are concerned with raising their kids right and that they will succeed and fail in that as well as heterosexual parents.

Bad parenting is bad parenting, no matter who you are. And good parenting is good parenting, wether it comes from a lesbian, gay, straight or transgendered person. Prejudice is what makes us think a gay or lesbian couple can’t raise a child because we believe they are so deeply flawed in their moral, ethical and spiritual faculties that they cannot possibly function in society, let alone raise a well adjusted child. Well, some do. And others don’t. Just like the rest of us.

4) Homosexuality is not a communicable disease.
Some people don’t want to be around LGBT people because they are afraid that being gay will “rub off.” This is especially true of straight parents who have never interacted with LGBT people. These parents don’t want their children to be taught or tutored by LGBT people because they don’t want their children to grow up to be gay. (This is one of those instances where fear looks like wisdom.)

Do you worry about your child’s teacher being fat because you don’t want your kid to grow up to be fat? Do you worry about your child’s teacher being divorced because you don’t want your child to grow up and be divorced? If not, and you are worried about an LGBT person teaching your child, then you have just discovered prejudice in your heart and it is time to repent.

5) LGBT people are not predators.
LGBT is not pedophile. LGBT people have the same revulsion to predation as you and I do. We have two unrelated adults in our Sunday School classrooms at all times to ensure that our kids are safe from pedophiles, not gays.

By no means is this an exhaustive list, but I think it covers several main concerns I’ve heard voiced within the Christian communities I’m a part of.

As always, thank you for reading and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Ben

Sin, Sexuality and Sanctification

Several weeks ago, I was asked to voice my opinion on how Christians should think about and interact with the LGBT community. It has taken me a long time to sift through my various thoughts, and what I present here simply represents the best of my current thinking. While I feel satisfied with my position, I reserve the right to change it as experience and insight dictate.

I initially thought I could address this topic in a single post – I was wrong. This first installment lays out my theological framework for thinking about the issues of sexuality and sin. Later installments will address more practical issues of loving LGBT persons and pastoring a community where LGBT persons are loved and welcome.

Also, for the record, this is my opinion, not the official stance of my denomination. As bizarre as I think it is to need a position paper on this topic, you can find it here.

With the disclaimers out of the way, we’ll move on…

My Goal
I want to love the LGBT community as radically and passionately as Jesus loves me. I want to love them in such a way that they set their hearts to love and follow Jesus for themselves. I trust that God, who is the Perfect Leader, will address any issues that need addressing in their lives at the right and perfect time. The Holy Spirit is the one who convicts us of sin (John 16:8), I don’t really see that as my job.

We’re All Sinners
I believe the Bible’s assertion that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We’re all in the same boat, which is great, because Jesus came as the atoning sacrifice for sinners. No matter how Sin manifests in your life, Jesus died to take away the guilt, shame and punishment associated with it. Even more, through the waters of baptism we believe that our old Sin-filled self died and the life of Christ was planted inside of us. We now live as Christ Incarnate – His life and character permeating and saturating our being in increasing measure until, one day, we will think, act and speak just like Him.

Please notice that, in the above paragraph, there is only ONE category – sinners. There are not heterosexual sinners and homosexual sinners as though the two were fundamentally different camps, requiring different sacrifices. Your sexuality is not your identity, therefore, Jesus only died once, and He died for all.

Sin and sins
When I talk about big “s” Sin, I am talking about the disposition of the human heart to disobedience and rebellion against God. Sin manifests in many different ways, small “s” sins. Small “s” sins don’t concern me as much as big “s” Sin for the same reason that dandelion flowers don’t concern me as much as dandelion roots – cut of the flower and it grows back, dig out the root and the flowers are gone for good.

The thing is, most Christians focus on individual sins, the least important part of the whole deal. When someone else’s sins look different than ours, we are quick to judge, punish and shame. Conversely, when someone’s sins look similar to our own, we tend to overlook and excuse them to protect ourselves from shame or punishment.

When we get hung up on the sins of others we reveal superficial thinking, fear and prejudice. When church leaders get hung up on the sins of others we have a tendency to put people on sin-management programs. We try to tire people out with cutting off flowers hoping that weariness will wither the root. It doesn’t work and we have cut people off from the Gospel – the good news that the same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead in Glory is now at work in us who believe.

Holiness and Sanctification
Holiness (righteousness, perfection, conformity to the character of God) is Father’s main goal for His children. To paraphrase what Paul says in Ephesians 5:25-27, “Christ died to make us holy, cleansing us by washing us with water through the word. Christ died to present us to himself as a radiant church, a Bride without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish. Christ died to make us holy and blameless.” That promise will be and is being fulfilled – partially in this Age and fully in the Age that is coming.

In this life, we grow increasingly in holiness, a process called “sanctification.” Sanctification means that we start in one place and end up in another, “glory to glory” is the Biblical phrase. This is why I believe Center Set thinking is so essential for understanding Christian faith and discipleship. Yes – we may believe in God, be baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit – but we still have a long road ahead of us as we walk out what those things really mean. The road ahead likely has twists, turns and setbacks we can’t anticipate right now.

As we progress in righteousness, Holy Spirit peels back the layers of our hearts, exposing attitudes and sins we were previously unaware of, but that He knew were there all along. This is why we must trust in God’s leadership and timing! God promises us in the Bible that He WILL deal with our Sin and sins. However, we often want Him to deal with things we aren’t really ready for yet. It is like trying to run a marathon when you can’t walk around the block without getting winded – sure you can try, but you’ll likely faint along the way and do yourself more damage in the long haul in addition to feeling like a failure. Our Good Shepherd really is Good, and good at His job. You can trust Him to lead you into battle when you are equipped to win and to keep you from the ones you aren’t ready for yet.

Each of us is in process as we follow Jesus. Hopefully, the sins we are overcoming now aren’t the same ones we were dealing with decades ago when we first started following Jesus, but if they are – oh well. We just continue following Jesus to the best of our ability day in and day out. As long as we aren’t intentionally rebelling against His work in us, then we trust He will complete it at the right time. Righteousness is the inevitable result of obedience – the life of Christ within us compels us to that end.

Many Christians want to segregate LGBT persons into their own group, as though LGBT people are some special class of sinners to whom Father’s love, Jesus’s sacrifice, Holy Spirit’s leadership and the process of sanctification do not apply. That is nonsense. An LGBT person is no more beyond the reach of Father’s Love than a heterosexual person.

Is homosexuality a sin?
Yes, performing sexual acts with someone of the same gender (homosexuality) is a sin and a manifestation of Sin. The temptation to preform sexual acts with someone of the same gender is not a sin, it is a temptation to let Sin manifest in a particular way.

Now that we have clarified that homosexuality is a sin – the big question is, so what? So is divorce, gluttony, pride, lust, cowardice, lying, anger, envy and unbelief. I don’t want to dismiss the severity of sin, but I do want to show that homosexuality is just one sin among many. Why, then, do we make such a big deal of it? Why do we treat people who manifest Sin as homosexuality differently than we treat people who manifest Sin as divorce, or lust, or gluttony? I think the simple answer is prejudice. We think Sin manifesting as homosexuality is disgusting and dirty, and we don’t want to be around it.

But Jesus does.

Jesus loves sinners and He isn’t disgusted by sin. He doesn’t get hung up on the superficial manifestations of Sin, but goes for the root. When Jesus touches sinners, He doesn’t get dirty, sinners get clean. The love and life of Christ are simply undefileable. As Christians, we are called to be the same.

We can do much better at showing love to the LGBT community. But that has to start with us overcoming our fear and prejudice. LGBT people aren’t dirty or disgusting, they certainly aren’t a special class of sinners that we need to control or protect ourselves from. They are people in need of Love and salvation. They aren’t any different than us.

My next installment in this series will cover some common pastoral issues/concerns that arise as a leader of a congregation. Looking forward to sharing with you soon, Ben.

Center Set Thinking

In recent weeks I’ve stumbled back upon the notion of “Center Set Thinking.” It came as I was reading an article on the Blue Oceans website, you can find it here. The information I found pertinent is below:

Bounded Set VS Center Set Models

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Bounded sets are best pictured as circles. You’re either inside of them or outside of them. Centered sets are best pictured with a big dot on a page with lots of smaller dots. The issue there isn’t being inside or outside of anything. It’s motion. The big dot represents what holds the set together and the little dots are you, me, and everyone else. Are we moving towards the big dot or away from it?

As applied to following Jesus, the Bounded Set model is very dogmatic. You are in or out based on a certain set of behaviors. For instance, you become a Christian and are saved when you believe, say the Sinners Pray, and are baptized. Once you perform those behaviors, you cross over the line and are “in”. This certainty of being “in” is amazing comforting and stablizing. The downside is that it can lead to complacency because you are no longer concern with following Jesus because you assume he hasn’t moved.

In the Center Set Model, the only thing that matters is motion – are you moving towards Jesus or away from him? If you have attended a congregation for any length of time you have encountered people who are Christians according to the Bounded Set Model, but whose lives indicate that the direction of their hearts are pointed away from God. This is why repentance is such a huge deal. We must be constantly repenting, making course corrections, so that Jesus remains our goal.

I love the Center Set Model because it allows me to love and pastor people (without an agenda) who aren’t “Christians” but ARE Christ followers. The Center Set Model allows me to walk with impunity into the messiest circumstances and bring the Light and Love of Christ to bear. It doesn’t matter what sin is currently dominating someone’s life, if they turn their heart to follow Jesus then they are closer to him than someone sitting in church, but whose heart is disengaged or disinterested.

We have a few people who worship with us regularly who freely confess that they are not Christians and that they have doubts. I love that! I pray more people like that will join us, because even though they haven’t yet submitted their lives to Christ, they ARE following him. They want to know. They want to connect. And they are. God is working in each of their lives in tremendous ways, in large part, I think, because of their honesty.

Center Set thinking allows people to be in process. It allows people to be human, fragile, bold and courageous. It allows for freedom, doubt and miracles. A Center Set environment allows Holy Spirit to take a gangly group of sinners and transform them into little Christs, sons and daughters of God, through the power of Love. For the Word of the Lord is clear – He will wash us, He will cleanse us, He will present us to Himself radiant and spotless. Our job is to keep pursuing Him so that He can do His work and not keep running away because we think we’ve “made it.”

A word on belief and baptism
In no way to I mean to imply that belief and baptism are unimportant in our lives – they are essential ingredients in salvation. They are also just steps along the way of following Jesus, not hoops to jump through to get in the club. Getting baptized, confessing Jesus as Lord, and then living a life of rebellion will not save you, even though you fulfilled the “requirements”.

The idea of being “once saved, always saved” has done untold damage in the Church. It is totally possible to lose your salvation. It is totally possible to walk away from Jesus, even after having tasted of the Age to Come. For the Center Set mindset, this is no problem, because the issue isn’t “being in” so much as it is “getting close to Jesus”. Bounded Set people have real issues with the idea of losing salvation because they are looking for works to save them, not Jesus. If your aim is to passionately follow Jesus every day of your life you are in no danger of Hell, but if your aim is to do as little as possible and still make the cut, you are lost already, for you haven’t understood what Jesus came to do.

Being a Christian (following Christ) is about giving up everything that hinders us from loving Jesus fully and obeying him completely. It is about loving him and trusting that HE is the One who will save us, not our works or our theology. Amen.

The Fathering Spirit of Elijah

As far as we know, John the Baptizer performed no miracles. That fascinates me because he was supposed to operate in “the spirit and power of Elijah,” Luke 1. Elijah doesn’t get much air time in the Scriptures, just a few chapters really, but those few chapters are overflowing with the miraculous: withholding rain, the flour and oil that never ran out, raising the widow’s son, the confrontation with the prophets of Baal, supernatural sustenance by the brook, encountering the manifest presence of God and so on. All of that points to the power of Elijah’s ministry, but one event points to his spirit – raising up a young man to take his place.

The spirit of Elijah is the Fathering Spirit – the desire to see our sons and daughters surpass us. The spirit of Elijah is wanting our children to inherit a double portion, for our ceiling to become their floor. It is the desire to see our children equipped for every good work, spared from our mistakes and secure in their identities. Fascinating that just before God reveals Himself as Father to Israel He raised up a messenger to go before Him to “turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the [disobedient] children to the wisdom of their [righteous] fathers,” Luke 1. First the physical restoration of fatherhood, then the spiritual revelation of God the Father.

Every leader must carry the spirit of Elijah. Leadership is based on call, sacrifice and service and not on gifting, knowledge or even maturity. If leadership were based on the later, then everyone who is more highly gifted, more highly educated or more mature becomes a threat to our leadership and we will cut them off. That is anti-Christ. Jesus, our head and leader, serves as our platform. He says, “you will do even greater things than me.” Presumably, this is because his leadership accelerates our progress.

Every leader is a father or mother. That means that their desire must be to see the people under their leadership surpass them. A church doesn’t thrive when it can’t function without its leader. A church is thriving when everyone honors the leadership for how they have invested, served and sacrificed so that the “kids” can go places the parents never dreamed of.

The spirit of Elijah is the desire to father/mother, mentor, disciple and grow those under our care. It is a prerequisite for a manifestation and move of God.

Parenting, mentoring, discipleship, small groups – these are not small things. They are the tangible precursors to what God is doing in the Spirit. If we want to live to see the days of revival fire then we must take seriously our call to raise up a generation that can steward and grow what we have worked for.

“Preach my word, not your experience.”

On May 8, 1977 John Wimber started preaching to his fledgling congregation out of the Gospel of Luke. Four months later, John was at a crossroads. The “problem” is that Luke, as one scholar put it, is the Charismatic Gospel – meaning, there is more about the work of the Holy Spirit in Luke than in Matthew and Mark combined. Preaching through Luke, John Wimber was confronted with the healing ministry of Jesus, the “show and tell” of Gospel proclamation.

John prayed and felt the Lord’s invitation to learn to preach, teach and minister like Jesus did. So they began praying for sick people to be healed. The results were disasterous. The first couple Sundays, the people on the prayer team actually caught the sicknesses of the people they were praying for. No one was healed.

For the next ten months John continued to preach out of Luke, almost every sermon was on healing. After the sermon, a ministry time was offered. People who wanted to receive prayer would go to the designated ministry area and the prayer team would pray – sometimes for hours at a time. One particular time, John had been praying for several hours for a man to be healed and nothing was happening. John fell to the floor and cried. He said something to the effect of “Lord, we’re doing what You’re saying and it isn’t working. It isn’t fair. Why aren’t you backing up Your word?”

(By the way, this is a paraphrased version of the account taken from John’s testimony in Power Healing. I’m doing my best to report it from memory.)

Then, John had two encounters. One was after his first successful healing – as he was driving home, he saw a giant honeycomb imprinted across the sky. Honey was dripping down from heaven and falling on people who were in a variety of postures. Some people were on their knees, gladly receiving and sharing while others brushed the honey off in an aggravated way. The honey symbolized God’s mercy, which includes physical healing. God was saying to John, “My mercy is there, you need to learn how to position yourself under it. The problem isn’t on My end. Don’t beg me for healing again.”

As John was meditating on the Honeycomb Vision he felt the Lord saying to him, “Preach my word, not your experience.” So John continued to preach that God was a healer, that Holy Spirit was still at work and that we, as disciples, were called to carry on the mission and ministry of Jesus. Shortly after this time, God began to do amazing things in their corporate gatherings and what we now know and The Vineyard Movement was born.

John’s story has encouraged me greatly, especially his Honeycomb Vision and God’s command to preach His word and not our own experience. I’ve been as guilty as anyone of elevating my experience above God’s word, of building a case file against God and letting that weigh most heavily on my heart. It has only led to depression, discouragement and wanting to quit pastoral ministry. My experience really only matters when it is in alignment with who God says He is. Otherwise it is just noise.

As John saw in his vision, the problem isn’t on God’s end. The problem is in our inability to posture ourselves to receive what God is wanting to give. I’ve committed in my heart to never again beg God for healing or the healing anointing – it has already been given. Instead, I’ve committed myself to learning how to posture my heart to receive God’s mercy and to learn how to co-operate with Holy Spirit in advancing God’s Rule and Reign on the earth.

One thing that has helped me in this endeavor is watching my son Emory learn to walk. I want him to walk. I model for him every day what walking looks like. I hold him up so that he can practice moving his legs. I hold him by the hand so that he can keep his balance.

But when he took his own independent steps, I was overjoyed.

It didn’t matter that they were wobbly and weak. It didn’t matter that he fell down and cried. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t do it perfectly right off the bat. I was happy he was trying, learning, growing. And that led me to help him less. I started offering my finger fewer and fewer times. I let him struggle and fall more often because getting up on his own made him stronger and gave him more opportunities to practice his skills.

It is the same way with all of us who are learning how to do the things that Jesus did. Father is overjoyed with our weak, wobbling steps. He isn’t grumpy that we aren’t doing it perfectly right off the bat. He is letting us fall so that we can get back up, so that we can practice our skills and get stronger.

God is a healer. God commissioned us to heal, it is one of the things Believers are supposed to do. We can ignore that for our own convenience, or, we can embark on the painful, humbling, even humiliating journey of learning how to posture our hearts and co-operate with Holy Spirit.

What we can’t do is bring His word down to the level of our experience. We can’t dumb down what He says and we can’t elevate what we experience. What we do is seek to experience what His word says. It may not happen all the time, even most of the time… and we set those experiences aside. Then we stand up and try it again.

Captives, Prisoners and the Year of Jubliee

God is better than we think. He proves this time and time again. Every time we put a limit on His mercy and grace, He reveals another facet of His character that is at first offensive, then consoling, then transformative.

I had this experience made clear to me last week when I was prepping for yesterday’s sermon. I was reading through Isaiah 61, taking it slow and trying to process what it was that God was speaking to us. Then I came upon this part of verse 1,

“He sent me… to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…”

I’m indebted to Bill Johnson of Redding, CA for giving me the germ of this insight – that captives and prisoners are two different kinds of people.

Captives are people suffering because of someone else’s sin. Captives are people who were sinned against – attacked, overpowered, enslaved. They are people who were taken captive.

Captives wear many different faces in our culture. They are the molested and abused, the raped, forgotten and mistreated. The aborted, the neglected, the abandoned, the alien and the orphan. It only makes sense that a God of mercy, grace, goodness and justice would act to make these wrong things right, to heal their hurts and set them free.

Prisoners are a different ball game. Prisoners are those paying the price for their own sins. Humanity loves to punish, God does not. Humanity loves to see sinners beaten down, God loves to see prisoners set free.

Anyone who embraces current suffering for past mistakes is a prisoner. A woman wracked with health-destroying guilt over a past abortion is a prisoner. A man who accepts his chronic pain as a just reward for his lifetime obesity is a prisoner. Anyone, for any reason, who never asks God to heal them because they believe their suffering is deserved is a prisoner. And Jesus came to set them free.

We often want prisoners to earn their release. We want the fat man to lose weight before his hip stops hurting. We want the abuser to have his self-worth totally destroyed before we even think of releasing him. We want our prisoners to suffer… and then some.

I understand that response – it is a natural human response. But, as Christians, we are no longer allowed to think about things naturally, for we have the mind of Christ. We have to think about things from God’s perspective.

In the Law, God said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” This was to limit carnal man’s desire for vengeance above and beyond the hurt that was caused.

More compelling, in Isaiah 55 God says,

Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will freely pardon. ‘ For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the Heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts [higher] than your thoughts.’

I love that the famous passage “My thoughts are higher than your thoughts” is in the context of forgiveness and mercy. An evil man can turn and be completely forgiven – that is totally Divine, not a human response at all. And it is possible because of the sacrifice of Jesus.

Isaiah 61 goes on to say that this is the year of the Lord’s favor, another way of saying “Jubilee.” The year of Jubilee was the year of canceling debts, restoring inheritance and livelihood. It was a year that offered hope for the next generation, a Divine course correction for the entire nation.

It didn’t matter why you were in debt when Jubilee came around, all was forgiven. It didn’t matter if calamity had overtaken you or if you had been a terrible manager and spent yourself into debt you could not pay. When the shofar sounded you got a new lease on life, a chance to do things better.

Jesus is our Jubliee – our forgiveness of debt, our reclaimed inheritance, our new lease on life. Whatever you were before you came to Jesus – captive or prisoner – you have the assurance that it has all been paid for. You no longer need to punish yourself nor look to punish others. God will restore your fortunes, heal your hurts and offer you a life far more glorious than punishment or revenge.

It is time to let the Lamb receive the reward of his suffering. It is time to turn over our ashes and receive his beauty bestowed on us. It is time to let go of our mourning and enter into his joy. It is time to reject depression and despair and embrace the hope he offers to us.

Continued punishment only cheapens Jesus’s sacrifice. Please trust me, what he suffered was more than enough. It is time to trust and believe in what God has accomplished for us. It is time to forgive and receive forgiveness. It is time to submit ourselves in humble reverence to a God who is so much bigger and so much better than we could ever possibly imagine.