Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Traditions of Men

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat." He answered them, "And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, "Honor your father and your mother," and, "Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die." But you say, "If anyone tells his father or his mother, "What you would have gained from me is given to God," he need not honor his father." So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ""This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men."" (Matthew 15:1-9 ESV)

Jesus has no problem telling it like it is. 

"for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God."

What's a Tradition?

Traditions in this context is describing a set of beliefs and values that are passed down from generation to generation. Each generation has an obligation and privilege of passing on to the next what they esteem to be most important, most valuable. The passing down of traditions is a means of preserving values and beliefs with respect to many things, including culture, family, and faith.  They are like containers, that encapsulate what we think is most important for the next generation to believe and to do. 

So traditions in and of themselves are neither good or bad because they are just containers. It's the things we put inside the container, the things that a given tradition is comprised of that, when measured against an objective moral standard, are determined to be good or bad. 

It's What's On The Inside That Counts

In this interaction, Jesus is making it clear that the objective moral standard for determining if a tradition is good or not is the commandments of God- the Bible.  And this is the very basis for which he uses to judge the teachings of the religious teachers of his day. 

The scribes and pharasies were teaching a tradition with respect to children giving honor to their parents. It is a good thing to give a tradition that instructs how children should think of and interact with their parents. But if that tradition violates the teaching of the objective moral standard, then that teaching is determined to be a bad tradition. 

So seems simple enough right? Bad traditions are bad, and since no one wants to pass on something that is bad to others who we esteem, then why anyone ever pass on a bad tradition? It is for the same reason that Jesus came and gave his life: our sin. 

The Problem

As the saying goes, we are not sinners because we sin, rather we sin because we are sinners. We like to do what We like to do. We rely heavily on emotion, on what "feels" right to us, and because we are absolutely convinced that we know best, we close our minds to all other supposed authorities and do what we want to do, because we want to do it, because it makes sense to Us. 

It is because we are sinners that we look at the bible and say, "hey God thanks for the advice, but I don't really like what you have to say about "x". I think your teachings are a little dated; your ideas may have been good back then, but not in the 21st century. We really know better now, and are going to make sure that the next generation knows better like us too."

The Rebuke

And the rebuke of Jesus is to the heart of the issue: since your tradition is so good, and God's is so unuseful/irrelevant/whatever, then why do you continue to bother with all the worship and praise for God and his word? Jesus is rebuking them for two things: their blatant hypocrisy, and their blindness of heart, their ignorance, as they are the teachers of the Law and are unable to discern that they are teaching traditions that nullify the word of God. 

"for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God."

So what?

A couple of key takeaway applications:
  1. The scribes and pharasies were not perfect. They were sinners just like you and me. They needed a savior just like everyone else. So be careful to not judge them for their sin without also judging yourself for doing the same things. 
  2. Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and illuminating His Word when we read it, we too are capable of inventing all sorts of ill advised traditions that would contradict the word of God. We need The Lord to illuminate his word in our lives daily, moment by moment, or we too will be like blind guides. 
  3. Pray. Pray that God would reveal our sin in this area so that we would confess it and repent from it. When God reveals the hypocrisy in our lives, adn the things that we have believed in ignorance, then acknowledge it, confess it as sin, and stop doing it. Otherwise we too will continue in the sin of the scribes and pharasies by passing on the commandments of men as doctrine, above the Word of God. 
What other points or takeaways do you have from this passage?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Still in need of a savior

Time has a way of making the heart forgetful.

If you are a true believer in Christ, don't ever let this reality escape you: Apart from Jesus, you are dead in your sins. No amount of bible reading plans, quiet times, church attendance, reading Christian books, listening to Christian radio, keeping a list of "do's and don'ts" or any other religious activity will get you any further into God's grace than you already are. Your salvation, your standing with God has everything to do with what Jesus... the one and only God, Holy and blameless... did for you... a hopelessly lost sinner that is totally unable to gain salvation apart from Jesus.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

We are all sinners and are in need of a savior. Before you believed, you were a sinner in need of a savior. And this never changes, even after you first believe- no matter what good works you do, no matter what sins you continue to wrestle with and succumb to. Your salvation has everything to do with what Jesus has done, and nothing to do with what you have or will ever do.

"The only thing of our very own which we contribute to our salvation is the sin which makes it necessary."
William Temple

For all believers, I pray that you would not let your heart forget what our Lord has done for us. Do not forget- apart from Christ, we are lost, dead in our sins. Jesus is our savior, now and forever. We never out grow our need for him, we never out earn our need for salvation. Though you may sin less, you are not sinless.. you and I are still sinners, still in need of a savior... Do not let your heart forget what our Lord has done for us. Live from His salvation everyday, moment by moment. The war is over, the victory over sin and death is Christ Jesus's. His rest is ours.

For all who not sure about all of this Jesus stuff, or maybe who flatout reject Christ, I pray that your heart would hear the call of hope, of life... I pray that you would understand that you and I are sinners and are totally unable to earn God's approval, his favor, his forgiveness. It's only found in Jesus, who freely gives to those who believe, who would receive the free gift that He offers all who would come to him. Do not let your heart continue to believe the lie that it's too late. You're not too bad to be saved, you're not too far for His reach. There's still time on the clock, there's still breath in your lungs. If you are ready to receive this free gift, or have questions about it, please email me- I'd love to see how I can be of help!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Doubting Faith

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?" (Matthew 11:2, 3 ESV)

Life is full of unmet expectations, of disappointments, of hurts, and pains. And when life wounds us, we inevitably ask the question (or at least acknowledge that it is there): "God, are you still there?"

John the Baptist had been put into prison for doing the work that God had called him to do. We don't know for sure, but scripture gives clues that perhaps, like many others, John expected that the Messiah would overthrow the Roman government and restore Israel to its former glory. And so Jesus enters, and one by one begins to fulfill the prophecies of old about the coming messiah. Finally! It's finally happening!

But... John is in prison. Jesus is active in his ministry, but doesn't seem to be doing anything about the Romans, or establishing his kingdom. "Maybe he's not the One... Maybe there's another coming... "I'm not sure I can wait for another... Jesus, are you the promised Messiah?"

What do we do with unmet execrations of God? With the best intentions, we all form different ideas about what we think God should do, how He'll do it, and when. But what happens when He doesn't follow the script we've made for Him?

We first have to check our work. Did God really say (fill in the blank)? How did I come to that conclusion? What source am I relying on for that information, and is that source time-tested and proven to be reliable? There may be many other questions to consider, but the point is don't simply dismiss the possibility that you're wrong. Check your work, and let other trustworthy and objective people check it too.

Jesus replied to John's disciples:
And Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me." (Matthew 11:4-6 ESV)

Jesus was reminding John of all the things that he was doing, thus proving to John that he was in fact the Messiah. He was communicating to John: "I'm the man, John. I'm about my Father's business, not yours or anyone else's. Everything promised will come, when it is supposed to. I know you're beginning to doubt, but you gotta trust me bro."

No one has perfect faith. No one trusts God perfectly. And without His Spirit, none of us can trust Him at all. When (not if, but when) doubt comes, remember that God is in control, that He loves us, an that He is able to do what He has promised.

The following is from a song that I think really captures the heart of doubting faith. I hope it stirs your heart to return to The Lord and restore your hope in Him. He is able. He is faithful. He is our strength, always.

I’ve tried to stand my ground
I’ve tried to understand
but I can’t seem to find my faith again

like water on the sand
or grasping at the wind
I keep on falling short

please be my strength
please be my strength
Cuz I don’t have anymore
I don’t have anymore

I’m looking for a place
that I can plant my faith
one thing I know for sure

I cannot create it
I cannot sustain it
It’s Your love that’s keeping (captured) me

Please be my strength…

at my final breath
I hope that I can say
I’ve fought the good fight of faith

I pray your glory shines
through this doubting heart of mine
so my world would know that You

You are my strength
You and You alone
You and You alone
Keep bringing me back home

Please be my strength- Gungor, Beautiful Things

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Notice of Termination: Pride

Dear pride,
Your services are no longer desired or necessary. Your permissions to control my decisions and emotions are hereby revoked. You must cease and desist immediately. Your presence in my life is no longer welcomed and is hereby terminated.
Chris Gray

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Preparing my mind: A different perspective on worry

We are just finishing up a great series at church through the book of Philippians on the topic of Perspective. The concept of perspectives is huge to me, and so I need to write out and process what I learned today, and hopefully pass on to you something of value along the way.

1. Do. We always should be doing something. Our actions can't always fix everything, but worrying will never fix anything.

2. Remember. There's no way to stop anxious thoughts from entering your mind, but you can redirect your anxious energies by reminding yourself that the Lord is in control, that He cares for us, and that He wants us to cast our cares and concerns on Him. When we've done all that we can do, do not cease to remind ourselves that the Lord does all things well- for His glory and for our joy.

3. Pray. Pray while you're doing all that you can do, and pray some more once you've done all you can do. Pray for God to do what you cannot do.

4. Trust. Place your cares, your trust in God. He's faithful to accomplish His good and perfect purposes through our bad circumstances and imperfect actions.

Seems easy enough; just remember those four things and all is well, right? If it were only so easy...

We all know these things to be true but have trouble remembering them and putting them into practice when the rubber meets the road. It's like we have spiritual amnesia, forgetting those basic and essential truths that we need the most when life takes over, and the illusion of our control over our life quickly vanishes.

"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."(Romans 12:2 ESV)

Anxiety and worry are knocking at our door, waiting for us when we get to work, and when we wake up each day. But if we take time to renew our mind and realign our perspective with God's, then we are less likely to be caught off guard when things don't go as planned, or when we get some disappointing or unexpected news.

"Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 1:13 ESV)

Every day, our minds are under attack from our flesh and from our advisary with an unrelenting effort to get us to worry. As the scripture above says, we need to prepare our minds for action. We need to do what we can do, remember who is in control, to pray for the Lord to do what we cannot, and to trust God with the results. These things are like pieces of spiritual armor for our minds. When we don't take time to renew our minds and to prepare our minds for action, our minds will become hopeless casualties against our foe of worry.

So as we go about our lives in the days ahead, let us be mindful of the battles we face for our thoughts, and understanding that the battle is eminent, prepare our mind for action as do, remember, pray, and trust.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Leaving the gray... right where it is

Over much of the last ten years, I have spent a lot of time learning about apologetics- the part of Christian theology that seeks to provide compelling and sufficient answers for skeptics outside the faith and to those who are struggling with their faith within Christianity. I was beginning to ask questions that I had never considered before like, how could God create the world in six days, or why do we have the books we have in the bible. These and many others like them were important questions that my mind needed answers to- more than sufficient answers. I was in search for concrete bullet proof answers- not to answer others, but to answer the biggest skeptic I know- me.

And so my journey began. I found many a book that focused on providing such answers. I read as many of them as my sleep-deprived eyes would let me, and listened to as many sermons and apologetics talks that would fit on my mp3 player. And as I went along, I noticed my confidence was soaring! I had satisfied my doubts so much that i was starting to try place doubts in others and wistfully and thoroughly remove them from within others! (or so I thought)

I began writing this blog three years ago with the purpose of trying help believers become as passionate about their faith in Jesus as I was. Through my search to remove all of the doubt, all of the "gray" in my theology, I had unwittingly removed many parts of the theology that God had intended to remain. Questions like, what happens to babies and young children who die and are unable to understand and receive salvation? Or, how does God truly choose us for salvation or do we choose him? I found no bullet proof answers to these and many like them in the scriptures because the absolute answers I was looking for are not contained in a black and white way on the pages of scripture. Scripture was written to communicate to us God's plan for salvation, not to answer our every theological question.

Many of the answers I was looking for were not black and white, but gray. They were not contradictions, but either-or, both-and answers that wanted to stretch my theology so that I might see the beauty of God's sovereignty, untamed and without boarders, and still know and have full confidence that He is good, that He is faithful, and that I can trust Him with my entire life- even my theology. And if I can trust Him to continue to develop and deepen my theology, I can also trust Him enough to leave the gray, right where it is.

"The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 29:29 ESV)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

He even uses angels

Reading Hebrews chapter 1 today in my bible reading plan. Never studied this passage much before, never realized that this was an apologetic to those who thought that Jesus was just another angel. It's pretty clear after reading this that Jesus was no angel- he was and has and always will be God.

Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:14 ESV)

I never really gave much thought about angels before today. (guess today is a first for several things). Just kinda ignored the concept. And I'm glad that I haven't spent too much time on them- scripture makes it pretty clear that they are just servants and not worthy of our worship- only God is worthy of our praise. But it struck me as I read the above passage that God created the angels for a purpose, and that purpose is to minister to those who belong to Jesus.

Its not the angels that are important here, but the heart of God, that cares about us and is diligently working out his plan, preparing us for the wedding feast in heaven, and taking full responsibility and ownership of us his Bride, making sure that we finish the race He marked out for us, and that we would persevere with and by and through a spirit of hope and faith that is not our own, but given to us through the Holy Spirit, through faith.

So many things unseen. 8 billion people in the world, unique individuals with their own thoughts and perspetives on how they see the world they live in. Our souls are lulled away from seeing and perceiving the beauty and majesty and holiness of God, fully distracted by the cares, concerns, troubles, comforts, and vain and fleeting things of this world. Yet the Lord is still on His throne, careful to ensure that the Son shall lose non that the Father has given Him, and knowing that we are like sheep, easily lead astray by the lies and deception of this world, in need of our patient and loving God to comfort us, to lift up our heads, and cause us to persevere to the very end. And this great loving and holy God uses whatever means he sees fit- be it faithful men and women sent and equipped to encourage and edify His church, or angels in the realm of the unseen, going before us to accomplish the purposes directed by God, for our good, and for his praise and glory.

He is good. He accomplishes His plans. He gives us the grace that we need for today. And like the dawn of each new day, he renews his mercies toward us, so that his loving kindness would complete its purpose to draw us to repentance, and perfect us in Christ.

Monday, May 7, 2012


Theoden: I will not risk open war.
Aragorn: Open war is upon you whether you would risk it or not.

I love The Lord of the Rings movies. The imagination of Tolkien to dream up these amazing worlds and characters is fascinating to me. And like with every fictional story, there are numerous issues and themes that surface, paralleling real life where we all live.
Sometimes they are by design of the author, as hints and clues are strung out for the audience to discover. Other times, they are general statements like the one above that contain massive ideas, that communicate far more than meets the eye, if we are thoughtful and willing to stop and to ponder, to simply get lost in a thought, an idea, that transcends beyond the silver screen and into the depths of our hearts, into reality. And this was the case for me regarding this exchange between King Theoden and Lord Aragorn.
A great and evil army was being assembled for the destruction of mankind. And Aragorn and his party were trying to unite rival kingdoms to fight against the forces of evil and to save the people of Rohan. But king Theoden did not perceive the army as a direct threat and was convinced that he could sit back and remain on the sidelines and not get involved. What he failed to realize, as lord Aragorn was trying to explain, was that the war was coming, and there was no way to avoid it. To sit idle and wait for the battle to come to Rohan would have been disastrous. They would have to flee to Helms Deep where they could defend themselves and have a chance at avoiding annihilation.

It's strange how the mind works, how it recalls things from the past. I haven't seen this movie in months, but for some reason this quote surfaced in my mind tonight.
I currently find myself in an interesting chapter of my life. Massive change is going on in my career and in other areas of my life. For a moment I seemed to be in control, authoring some changes that I wanted to see. But then reality showed up, wadded up my plans and lit them on fire and then urinated on the ashes. (sorry).
Things, they are a changing. And I knew that this day, this season would come, but I though it would be on my terms, when I was ready. What I came to realize was that change comes when God is ready for it, not too soon, not too late, and most definitely not on our timetable.
As I find myself in the midst of a storm of change, my mind flashes to this quote, to remind me that in spite of our efforts to mitigate and avoid change, God brings it about, whether we want it or not, whether we would risk it or not.
But change is not a bad thing. While it can be incredibly painful as it happens, it can give us incredible perspective to see what God is doing, and how He uses our struggle and adjustment to grow us and to teach us to depend on Him, and help us to see a bit more clearer our circumstances, as God sees them.
For me, I have been longing for some specific changes in my life, and have really been very miserable in the waiting, very wearysome waiting for God to make His move and solve all my problems, the way I want Him to, and when I want Him to. And while the changes are not exactly what I had in mind (understatement), there is a bit of relief, of contentment, knowing and trusting by faith that It is now time for change; that God is ready to show me what He has been doing all these years that He has been so silent and seemingly inactive.
Seeing my wife go through three pregnancies, I have observed some pretty obvious things: being pregnant near the end of the pregnancy is zero fun, and that delivery is painful and scary. While I'm pretty sure that I'll never really know what it is like to be pregnant, I feel like I can relate, at least in part. For 9 years now I have been burdened for change in certain parts of my life, and the grief and frustration and hope has grown as the years have increased. But as with a pregnancy, every season has an end. It is definite and eminent change. And when the labor pains come, there is a mixture of dread and fear over the pain that is coming, yet there is also a sense of excitement and relief, that FINALLY this is coming to an end, and it is all going to be worth it when it is over.
That's kinda how I feel about the change i'm in. A lot of dread, but a lot of hope, knowing and trusting that God is at work, and is bringing about his plan, not too soon, and not too late.
Change is upon us all, whether we would risk it or not. But we who are in Christ can embrace the change and the One who is bringing it about, for His glory, for our good, and for out joy, in the fullness of time.

Theoden: I will not risk open war.
Aragorn: Open war is upon you whether you would risk it or not.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Remembering what we need to remember the most

Sin is a wretched and deceitful thing. It draws us away from Christ by its false promises of happiness and plays on our flesh's desire to seek pleasure and gratification for ourself. sin is fun. if it were not, why would anyone do it? But we also know that sin has many consequences, first and foremost that it leads us to death. Sin focuses on the instant gratification, irregardless of the consequences. 

Sin takes something that God intended for good, and perverts, twists, and distorts it to become something that appeals to our flesh sin nature, and when accepted, we find that it is filled with the deadly poison which ultimately separates us from God.

4 But God, who is abundant in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, 5 made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. By grace you are saved! 6 He also raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavens, in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— 9 not from works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:4-9

Our enemy wants to condemn us when we fail, when we sin. He takes a truth and twists it into a lie. Yes, because of our sin, we are condemned. But because of the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross, our sin- past, present, and future- was justly dealt with on the cross, and we are now clothed in righteousness and seen as blameless in the eyes of God, if we put our trust in Him and if His Spirit lives in us!

When the Holy Spirit dwells in us, we become a new creation, made holy and blameless before a holy and righteous God. Because of Christ sacrifice and the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, we are justified before God, just-as-if we have never sinned, for all time! We experience the grief and guilt of sin so greatly because it troubles the heart of God, and Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 2:16 that we have the mind of Christ! As followers of Christ, the Spirit dwells in us and makes us conscious of sin in our lives.

However, just as Paul explains to us in Romans, God's mercy and grace does not give us a free license to sin just because we are covered in His grace. Because the Holy Spirit dwells in us, we have received a new nature, one that wants to please our Heavenly Father, and one that despises sin.

I know many of you reading this probably already know all this, and are wondering why i am writing this... Here is why: because as Christians, we can easily be led astray to believe that we are saved because of the good things we do, and falsely believe that the sin we commit will somehow undo the salvation that Christ Jesus has freely offered to us. I do not want you to be held in bondage to that false belief. "By grace you are saved!" And if it is by grace that you are saved, then your performance, or lack there of, has nothing to do with your permanent adoption in Christ. We can't undo our salvation. it is a gift of God. His grace is sufficient for me, for you, for all that put their trust in Him. When we sin, we should as Christians feel deeply troubled and be filled with remorse for our choice to sin. But at the same time, we must remind ourselves that our performance, whether good or bad, has no part in our salvation. As we mature in Christ, we will see the evidence of God working in us, producing the fruit of a fully devoted follower of Christ, as we pursue Christ (not the fruit) with everything we've got! Christians are not sinless, but the do sin less.

Receive His grace. it is sufficient. it is more than enough. we cannot out sin the sufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ, nor can we run out of grace. 

Margin serves us well because it provides us a boundary to keep us from those dangerous places that subject us to temptation, to sin. But we do not live in a bubble, and our best efforts to construct safe boundaries from sin are unable to insulate us from the sin nature of this world. Sometimes, we have to follow Joseph's example, and just RUN! Do whatever it takes. avoid those dangerous places, those temptations at all cost. when attacked, do NOT see how long you can withstand it. You will be captured by the lure of temptation, and apart from the supernatural protection and/or empowerment of the Holy Spirit, you will not be able to resist sin.