Law and Grace

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)

This morning I had to make my annual trip to the Kootenai County courthouse to drop off a guardianship report for Aaron.

And, as always, I’m always struck by the sights and sounds I encounter.

For starters, it all began with going through the metal detector, reminding me that such a facility can be a place of anger and frustration. So, to protect against any violence, each person must be screened to ensure no weapons enter the building.

As I walked through the main hallway, I passed groups of people, mainly attorneys getting their clients ready for court. The docket must have been full, because the hall was quite crowded. I imagine the judges would soon be hearing about cases dealing with everything from theft, assault, drug possession, etc.

Downstairs at the civil court counter, I waited in a long line. At the counter, two men were separately dealing with some domestic issues with the clerks. One was looking to serve a summons on an ex-spouse, the other, new to divorce, was fresh to the world of family law. He had a lot of questions about his rights.

Truth be told, a court house can be a bit depressing. Humanity often seems all-to-adept at violating and hurting one another. We have a bent toward lawbreaking (even if its just the seemingly small, insignificant laws).

And because justice must be served, the court system exists. And day after day, year after year, cases are presented and dealt with.

But as I surveyed all the machinations of the law taking place, something caught my as I waited to take my turn at the counter.

Christmas decorations.

Lights, garland and wreaths.

Which all speak to the wonderful reality of grace.

So, at the same time people were dealing with the heavy law issues, lights continually twinkled.

A reminder that God’s mercy is celebrated at Christmas.

The truth is our sins are deserving of punishment. Justice must always be served.

We may be able to resolve a court case by paying a fine or serving a sentence.

But our sin separates us from God, and as Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.”

On top of that, Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of sin is death! That’s the sentence sin serves us.

But Christmas is the reminder that God sent His Son, Jesus, to be born, live a perfect life, and die in our place, so that we might not be found guilty of sin, but rather justified in Christ.

And God does this as an act of grace and mercy. He gives us what we don’t deserve. It is truly a grace gift.

A courthouse can seem like a hopeless place of heavy burdens and rigid justice.

But because of a small display of Christmas decorations, I was reminded that God’s grace overcomes the weight of the law, and His mercy triumphs over sin’s sentence of death.

How good and wise it is to cling to these words of Jesus, not just at Christmas time, but all year long: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

For in Him we can be justified of our sin, and completely freed from it’s penalty.

 

Santa and the Consistent Christian Life

“Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” C.S. Lewis

I’m a firm believer that most things dealing with Christmas ought to wait until after Thanksgiving. (Poor Thanksgiving, always being squeezed out by Halloween and Christmas!)

But in this case I will break my “rule” and post a pre-Thanksgiving blog about Santa. And not just any Santa. A particular Santa who lives in our community.

So, here goes.

Every year our fair city of Coeur d’Alene kicks off the Christmas season with a parade, fireworks and a tree lighting at the Coeur d’Alene Resort.

At the same time, the resort hosts a fundraising event called Festival of Trees, which takes place in one of the large hotel ballrooms. And, every year the Festival of Trees supplies a Santa Claus for all the kids to visit. (And one 26 year old adult with Down syndrome.)

Yep, Aaron is a huge fan of visiting Santas.

I took this photo the very first time Aaron met the Festival of Trees Santa in 2014.

Aaron with Santa

Aaron humbly approached this Santa, sharing his Christmas present dreams, and Santa patiently listened to every word. I’m no judge of Santas, but this one really seemed to be kind and caring with every child he spent time with. I was particularly impressed with how he appeared to value each interaction. For me, this Santa was top-notch.

Every year since their initial meeting, Aaron has made the pilgrimage to visit Santa at the CDA resort.

Now fast forward to 2018.

Last Sunday after church, we made a dash over to Cafe Rio to grab a quick lunch. And, while we were munching on our meal, who came into the restaurant? The Festival of Trees Santa!

Except, he wasn’t in Santa mode. He was a “plainclothes” Santa, if you will. He was off-duty, just grabbing a meal with his wife. But the natural, long white beard gave him away.

Now, for Aaron Santa is Santa even if he’s not dressed up in the official regalia. And as Santa stood in line, Aaron asked us if he could go over and greet him.

We wanted to be respectful of Santa’s time off-the-clock, but we figured a quick hello would hurt. So Aaron, hopped up and connected with Mr. Claus.

What amazed me was how this this off-duty Santa responded to what could have felt like an intrusion. He greeted Aaron with a big smile and a big hug. I might wager to say I saw a twinkle in his eye. And then they chatted. Aaron talked about his Christmas list. The wrapped things up with another hug and Aaron returned to our table. And when I looked over to Santa to offer up a “thank you,” he looked at me with a compassionate smile and held his hands over his heart, as if to say he was touched by the encounter.

Just like their very first meeting in 2014, it was a touching moment.

But what struck me most was the fact that this Santa was consistent whether on-duty at the Festival of Trees or off-duty at our local Cafe Rio.

The dictionary defines the word integrated like this:

Combining or coordinating separate elements so as to provide harmonious, interrelated whole.

On this Sunday afternoon, I witnessed an integrated Santa! He was consistent in his character and dependable in his actions.

For which I am eternally grateful! The glow on Aaron’s face when he returned to our table was remarkable. And as we chatted about the encounter, Aaron (who has seen his fair share of mall Santas) offered his opinion.  His exact words, “That is the real Santa.”

(Little did I know that the real Santa lives in Coeur d’Alene and gnoshes on Cafe Rio tacos!)

Now, whenever I tell a story like this, there is usually a principle I’m wanting to communicate. So, here it is: In the same way our local Santa displayed consistency and integration in his actions, so the Christian is meant to live their life as a follower of Jesus.

Our life is supposed to line up. Our beliefs are meant to match our attitudes, and our actions are meant to correlate with our words. We are to display consistency wherever we are, whether at church or at work or on the golf course.

Bottom line, we have an obligation to practice what we profess! Otherwise, we leave people confused.

Too often, we can tempted to compartmentalize our lives. Or we choose to base our actions depending on the group of people with whom we are hanging out.

But our pursuit should be the same person, no matter our situation or the people we spend time with.

Such consistency can often seem difficult to attain. In some cases, the more we pursue consistency, the more we realize how inconsistent we are!

So we will often fail and come up short. Thanks be to God for His patience.

But may we not be satisfied with inconsistency. May we desire and pursue a more integrated, harmonious, consistent expression of our Christian life.

 

The MANDATE of Evangelism

I have three basic goals for this blog series:

  • To help people gain a better understanding of the art of evangelism
  • To give us a clearer understanding of the importance of evangelism
  • To motivate us toward more involvement in evangelism

So, what is evangelism?

Here’s my shot at a working definition:

Sharing/explaining/teaching/declaring the message of the saving Gospel with the intent the message be understood, received and utilized.

This process of evangelism can take shape in many forms, but the basic message is always the same: Jesus is fully able to save us from our sins and bestows upon us new life. To use a pair of theological words, the Gospel message is one of justification and regeneration.

But, here’s a dose of reality: many Christians are not participating in reaching others for Jesus.

Several reasons for this include:

  • Fear
  • Lack of confidence
  • Introverted
  • Don’t feel qualified or equipped
  • Don’t want to hurt/offend/anger someone
  • Don’t possess a strong burden for those without Jesus
  • Too wrapped up in the world to think much about spiritual realities
  • Laziness/disobedience
  • Sometimes GOD’S sensibilities and values give way to OUR sensibilities and values (think Jonah)

That’s a long list! But nothing on this list negates the Bible’s teaching about evangelism.

So, where in scripture do we find the clear-cut directives that Jesus’ followers are supposed to be going out, rather than hiding out?

Consider these three passages of scripture. The first one comes from Jesus Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5:13-16: “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Jesus chose two of the most basic elements of our world to make a point about influence: salt and light. Both have a way of getting our attention!

Ever been served a dish that was over-salted? As much as you tried to enjoy the meal, you just couldn’t get around the saltiness! It’s dominating!

And how about light? How many of us have had a hard time sleeping because a light is on and we just can’t seem to fall asleep

Jesus used these metaphors because they bring great power with their presence.

Now when it comes to these earthly elements, we can also see how they provide us pictures of we are supposed to provide the world with spiritual influence and impact:

  1. Salt makes people thirsty! The Christian’s presence in this world has the potential to stoke spiritual curiosity.
  2. Salt acts as a preserving agent! The gospel message we share holds the ability to reverse the dying and decaying that typifies much of what we see going on in the world. A world without Jesus is bound to fall apart!
  3. Salt helps heal wounds! The gospel message we both share and model can take our deepest hurts and greatest struggles and bring about peace, forgiveness and restoration to our souls!
  4. Light helps us determine reality! Light clears up a lot of mysteries. It also helps us know the difference between truth and falsehood.
  5. Light helps us know which way we should go! Consider the wonder and usefulness of a flashlight. In the same way, Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

Bottom line, Jesus wants his followers to going out and representing His gospel message in both word and deed. We are to bring influence and impact to the world around us.

Here’s the second passage of scripture, perhaps the clearest call for believers to actively share the good news of Jesus:

Matthew 28:18-20: And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The word used for “go” in this verse literally means go and keep going!

The instructions are crystal clear. Jesus says to his followers:

  1. Make disciples
  2. Baptize disciples
  3. Teach disciples

Of these verses, Warren Wiersbe wrote:

The Christian faith is a missionary faith. The very nature of God is not willing that any should perish. Jesus death on the cross was for the whole world. If we are children of God, and share his nature, then we will want to tell the good news to the lost world.

Responding to Matthew 28:18-20, Jonathan Hayashi made this challenging point:

“You are either making disciples or making excuses. Which one are you?”

The final scripture passage reminds the reader of the reach of evangelism:

Acts 1:6-8: So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He (Jesus) said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

These are the very last words of Jesus, spoken right before he ascended into heaven. And my hunch is that when it comes to famous last words, Jesus chose his very carefully. He wanted to imprint upon the minds of His disciples that one thing that should serve as their preoccupation!

They are to be his witnesses and take the message all around the world. Meaning, the gospel was never intended to be localized. It’s meant to invade every cranny and crevice of the earth. It’s meant to either fall upon the ears or be taken in by the eyes of every human on the planet.

So, thus far we’ve looked at three primary passages that focus on the importance of outreach and evangelism: Matthew 5, Matthew 28 and Acts 1.

Putting the message of these verses in a nutshell, I would put it like this:

Go…Go Everywhere…Go and Make an Evangelistic Impact for Jesus!

And I imagine us see this and we applaud!

But let’s be honest: in our current culture, this doesn’t seem to be happening much.

Meaning, only a small percentage of Christians are telling people about the good news!

As I shared early in this post, there are several reasons why this might be the case.

But our reasons (or our excuses) don’t minimize God’s call for us to spread the Good News.

What can be challenging for many of us is that some people are so good at going out and striking up conversations that inevitably turn toward spiritual matters. We might say that you are the people the Bible describes as having the gift of evangelism. But even if we don’t possess the spiritual gift of more easily bringing people to Christ, we aren’t off the hook! All of us are called to be involved in the great commission of Jesus that tasks us with taking the Gospel out into our world.

So, what is that will bring about a change in the percentage of believers?

As with everything else in the discipleship journey, it will demand our sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and our obedience to the Word of God.

Remember what the book of James says? We are to not only be hearers of the Word, but doers.

(In the more literal NASB translation, James calls it being an effectual doer!!!)

Until then, things won’t change, because we aren’t allowing the promptings of God to have their effect on us.

The calling is clear to evangelism is clear. The implementation is often a little more challenging.

 

 

 

Everyday Evangelism: Intro

I will proclaim the name of the LORD. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! Deuteronomy 32:3 (NIV)

Some people feel really comfortable being involved in evangelism.

But, my experience tells me many people find evangelism landing somewhere between challenging to excruciating.

For these, evangelism seems like an activity best left to the pulpit professionals, or those specifically endowed with the spiritual gift of evangelism.

Yet the Bible doesn’t limit evangelism to a few gifted individuals. No, evangelism is an activity meant for every believer to pursue.

So, what do we do with the gap that often exists between the Bible’s commands and our willingness to share Jesus with others?

We close it.

For that to happen, I believe we have to cross two bridges.

One is the bridge of motivation. How do we go from dreading evangelistic involvement to the place of actually being excited about it?

The second bridge is the bridge of skill. It could be said that, to some degree, effective evangelism is an art. An art to be mastered! We just have to learn how to sharpen our skills.

Think about it: if we possess the motivation to share Jesus, coupled with the ability to more effectively communicate the Gospel, I imagine that the task of evangelism won’t appear so daunting, but will be much more interesting and inviting.

Over the next few weeks of blogging, I’ll work through the six “M’s” of evangelism:

  • The Mandate
  • The Motivation
  • The Mover
  • The Model
  • The Method
  • The Message

My goal is simple: that this template, designed for the implementation of more courageous, effective evangelism, will turn hearts away from being plagued by fear and timidity, and replace such feelings with boldness, excitement and anticipation.

Up next: The MANDATE of evangelism.