Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Classic: Tidal Wave

It's an odd (and enjoyable) footnote of my time at NewLife Community Church that I took kids to the State Youth Conference (called Tsunami - which explains my initial reference) by myself the first year... and then took youth by myself (again!) to STRAM Camp in my last year. The following Grapevine article was my reaction to that trip as I tried to process what I felt like God was teaching me.

I wish I could say that I was "done" with this particular issue, but that would be lying. God used a book called Gracewalk late last year to bring it home again to Shari & I.

"Tidal Wave" is not the literal definition of 'tsunami', but it's the one I'm going to use for now. (Somewhere in the back of my head, I can hear a small voice saying that there's something cool about the literal translation from Japanese, but I can't bring that memory to the front of my mind right now. Guess it got stuck in behind the line of other thoughts that are fighting for attention, including "take out the garbage" and "don't forget to clean up your game room.". BTW, if anyone does know the literal translation of tsunami, e-mail me!)

Anyway... the last three days of 2003 were a tidal wave for me. 10 hours of driving (Fresno - Anaheim in a borrowed Suburban + a stop on the Rose Parade parade route on New Year's Eve to drop off a couple of youth.) 4 huge general sessions with some amazing speaking from David Nasser. 3 hot topic classes. Feeding 6 teenagers... which included a quick trip for pizzas, of course. Some great conversations. Getting to know some of the very cool youth we have here at NewLife. Very little sleep.

Sorting all of this out is going to take a few days... but I wanted to share one of my personal highlights of the week with you.

God has been hammering home some theological truths in my life for the last few months. (I don't know how you experience this, but for me, God has this amazing tendency to coordinate everything in my life - the books I read, the sermons I listen to, the conversations I get in - to reinforce what He wants me to learn.) So, over the late fall & early winter, I've been hearing about the grace of God & the dangers of legalism from what seems like a hundred different sources.

I wouldn't have told you I was a legalist. I'm a Baptist who dances (OK, not very well, and mostly not in public, but I have been known to "bust a move" on occasion. We'll take a short pause here for those of you who need to roll on the floor laughing, as you've seen me "dance" before.) The church I pastored before NewLife was a laid-back coffeehouse of a church. I chose not to boycott Disney when the Southern Baptist Convention voted to do so a few years back (and I'd be happy to explain my reasoning to you, but that's not a rabbit I want to chase right now.)

Like I said, I didn't consider myself a legalist. In fact, I still have a hard time using the word to describe myself - everything that's in me screams "But I'm not a Pharisee!" and wants to pretend that this whole conversation isn't happening.

God, however, has kept pointing out that legalism isn't simply creating a set of rules... it's turning my relationship with Him into a performance game. It's score-keeping with God... trying desperately to earn the salvation I was freely given by doing stuff to make God happy. It's mentally & emotionally throwing my personal performance (Bible study, prayer, pastoring, service, giving, etc.) on a metaphorical altar in front of God as if that will (a) appease Him if He's ticked off at me, or (b) buy His favor so I can have a happy/peaceful life.

And, by that definition, I'm a card-carrying legalist. I want to think that my actions can purchase the blessing of God... that I can clean myself up enough to be "worth" the gift of my salvation. And, as God keeps reminding me, that's nonsense.

I don't deserve my salvation. Nothing I do - as a pastor or simply as a believer - will earn me the love of God.

I've already got it.

God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatsoever to him.
     Romans 5:8 (The Message)
To quote David Nasser, the guy who spoke at Tsunami, "I'm as righteous as I'll ever need to be." (Yep, as a card-carrying legalist, that statement makes me flinch. But the more I look at the Scripture, the more I think it's true.)
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!
     Galatians 2:20-21 (NIV)
In other words, Christianity is not about trying to live our lives FOR Jesus. (Take a look at that Galatians passage again: if we could be good enough - "gain righteousness" - through doing the right thing, then Christ didn't need to die! Wow.) Christianity is about Jesus living our lives WITH us. ("Christ lives in me!")

To get back to this week... David Nasser said something this week in one of his messages that reinforced all of this one more time. (Repetition IS the power of learning.) He said, "We do stuff for God because we HAVE God's favor... not to GET God's favor."

My first response: "Ouch." (I've spent way too long on the ol' Hamster Wheel of Performance for that not to sting a bit.) My second response: "Cool." My third response: "Thank you, Jesus."

Quote of the Week

Stop trying to impress God.
     David Nasser
Look, I could have picked a lot of other quotes on the grace of God... but this stopped me cold when he said it Tuesday night. If God is really God - creator of the universe, savior of mankind, the essence of love & goodness & holiness & all that... how in thee heck am I supposed to impress Him?! I can serve Him, love Him, honor Him, and so on - but impressing Him is about trying to perform/tap-dance my way into his good graces... which, like I said a minute ago, is unnecessary. In Christ, I am LITERALLY in His good grace(s).

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