Posts Tagged With: Epistle to the Romans

The Bricks and the Scale

WILL MY GOOD DEEDS OUTWEIGH THE BAD?

“Nothing at All”

“I have done nothing at all in my life, to earn your favor
I have done nothing at all in my life, to earn your love
I have been broken and bruised by my sin and my folly
But you have been broken for me redeeming me with your blood

And how is it that I am accepted?
How is it that I am made clean?
Why should you even care for a wretch like me?
And how is it that I am made righteous?
And how is it that you have saved me?
Why would you choose to die for a wretch like me?

You have been longsuffering, as I have tested your patience
You have been calling to me, as I have wandered from you
But you go to great lengths to prove that you still care
And you went to great lengths to woo my heart back to you

Your blood cries out Father forgive them
Your blood cries out Father I love them”

(Lyrics to “Nothing at All” – a song by Daniel & Catherine Lovett which appears on their latest album, “I Will Bring You Peace” – See the Support our Music link above to learn more about this project! Or visit: www.reflectworship.com)

Here is a video of this song on Youtube:

Several years ago, I had an epiphany – an insight into something that was ingrained in my thinking patterns. I know that I had learned this same lesson on several occasions before, but a dialogue I had with my wife drilled it home once again. Here is how that went down:

My wife and I were visiting with my sister-in-law Stacy. During our visit, Stacy told us that she had felt ill for the past few months and after many visits to the doctor she was just told that she has cancer. The doctor had given her about a year to live. Of course this news was a blow to my wife and I. We couldn’t imagine how they were handling the fact that she was facing imminent death.

The thing that amazed me the most was that she was more worried about her husband having to raise the kids by himself than the fact that she was going to die. During our visit I did not sympathize as I should have. Instead I said something like, “Well, we all are going to die.” I went on to philosophize about death and how we are all living on borrowed time anyway and how fragile life really is and what a miracle it is that any of us are breathing. It was very eloquent.

On the way home my wife confronted me about my lack of compassion. I became instantly defensive, and then went into a tirade of how I must be condemned because I have no love in my heart and where is the activity of God in my life anyway that I should be such a heartless jerk? I was being slightly facetious because, in fact, I really did love myself and thought very well of me. I must humbly admit in retrospect however, that I was very wrong. Anyway, most of what spewed from my mouth left me feeling terrible and alienated from God.

The next day I started once again in the new mercies of God, but I had to ask myself why did I react in this way? Then this thought hit me:

“Will my good deeds outweigh my bad?”

I realized then that I had been carrying around this idea of a “scale” that weighed and measured my good deeds against my bad deeds. My worth depended on how well I performed and how well that scale was balanced.

This mentality was so deep-seated in me that I reacted badly when anyone dared to confront me with a fault. It was as if they were adding one more brick to the ‘bad deeds’ side of the scale. For this reason, I hated taking responsibility. In fact, I hated words such as “responsible” and “accountable”. I didn’t want to face the punishment for my own sins, much less be held responsible for someone else and have their blood on my head. This was why I, in the past, I didn’t function so well as a worship leader in “church leadership”. I felt that I was responsible for people’s souls and I could not cope with that. I would even wish for sickness or a broken down car at times to escape the constant pressure. Of course this is just one of the many ungodly beliefs that over my lifetime have become embedded in the gray matter.

I began to recognize that I was not alone. Many people operate out of this mentality in which they “hope” that their good deeds will outweigh their bad in the end. Whole religious systems of thought are based on this idea. As I thought this way it led me to try to seek approval through doing good and performing well. I thought that by just adding more good bricks to the good side of the scale that things will all work out in the end, and in the meantime, I will feel better about myself and be accepted.

My good bricks were my good deeds. For instance, if I played spiritual concerts for the elderly at nursing homes, then I would finally be accepted and approved by God. Each “successful” concert left me feeling much better. In fact I only considered a concert a success if it left me feeling better about me. I had to feel good.

It was thrilling for me when I preached my first sermon, because in my mind this was a good and heavy brick. I would definitely be in God’s favor now! I called my mother and left a message for her, “The most exciting thing had happened to me! I just preached my first sermon!” A few days later she called me back and told me how proud of me she was. As she was telling me that, I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. As I reflected on my initial reaction to “my first sermon” and how excited I was about it, I realized that yes, I could be excited about it, but not for the reasons that I was. I now see that the Lord is just as offended by the good bricks as he is by the bad ones. Trying to earn God’s favor is an insult to his grace.

Radical New Perspective

I have come to see that God doesn’t want us burdened with any bricks (good or bad) that weigh us down and keep us from following him. Besides, the constant balancing act is no way to live. Jesus wants to liberate us and he invites us to drop all of our “bricks” at his feet and learn to walk with him and live for him as we are meant to.

At one point after about nine months of playing hymns for the old folks several times a week the Lord asked me, “So when are you going to start doing these concerts for me?” Wow. His question cut me to the heart.

I was playing these concerts for me. It is true that I became free from a long seven year stretch of chronic depression when I first began to bless the elderly with music. How could I not be changed by a constant interaction with, not only the liberating truth that is in so many classic hymns, but also the love and support of so many of my elders? How could I not be blessed when I have a hundred year old lady shake my hand and say, “God bless you”?

In spite of all the good things that came from all my good deeds, my performance mentality still stood in the way of the relationship that the Lord desired to have with me.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul comments about his Jewish brothers. He says, “I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:2-4 NIV)

I could identify with this Scripture but I didn’t know how to change. Ever since I became a “Christian” I was always trying to establish my own righteousness. It’s not even that I was raised to think this way, but perhaps this is just a universal human default mentality to want to (or feel like you have to) earn God’s favor. I even once caught myself praying, “Lord, make me worthy of your grace.” I was missing the point of grace altogether.

My own grandfather was once presented with the good news of Jesus by my parents. At the time he told them, “If I can’t have a part in my own salvation, I am not interested.” He has since passed away, and it burdens me now more than ever to think where he might be.

Why is it so ingrained in human nature to want to earn our own way? Why is it so difficult for us to receive God’s saving grace – his unmerited favor and blessing? Our own pride is the enemy of our own salvation.

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6 NIV)

We must humbly admit that we cannot do a thing to save ourselves (be “poor in spirit”). We must humbly admit that we cannot even add an ounce of our own righteousness to the scales that will somehow make us acceptable to God. On our own, the scales will always be out of balance and never in our favor. Thank God that he does not leave us on our own.

Of course the Lord knows our desperate situation and has given Jesus as his answer. I believe he is telling us to abandon our scales and bricks once and for all and then simply come and follow him. Jesus will teach us how to truly live. He will teach us the “unforced rhythms of grace”. See Matthew 11:28.

THE EXAMPLE OF THE APOSTLE PAUL

The apostle Paul had a pile of good bricks. He was a pure blooded Israelite. He was able to say that he kept the law faultlessly. He was a Pharisee, the most zealous and strictest sect of the Jewish spiritual leaders. By all appearances he was a model example of spirituality. Yet he says, “Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” (Philippians 3:7-9 NIV emphasis mine).

Paul abandoned his bricks for a new approach to spirituality. A spirituality based on and flowing out of an affirming love of God that is entirely separate from any good deeds.

Think about it. Before Jesus had even begun his ministry, his Father spoke from heaven affirming him with his love saying, “This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life.” (Matthew 3:17)

As you trust in Jesus, the Father will speak those same words over you. You become the delight of his life. As you trust in Jesus, you become his beloved. As you trust in Jesus, you become a member of Christ’s body – part of Christ himself! As you trust in Jesus, the Father says that he loves you as much as he loves Jesus! Because you are one with Christ and in Him!

This is the ‘mystery’ that Paul keeps referring to throughout his letters. This is what Paul was so excited about that even imprisonment, beatings, persecutions, and all the other sufferings and hardships that Paul experienced did nothing to dampen this flame of Christ within him! This was Paul’s cause to live and to die for – Christ, the one new man – “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3 NIV).

———–

O God, thank you for Jesus. Thank you that we no longer need to sweat about our own efforts and our lack of “measuring up”. Thank you for Jesus, your gift to us, who did all the measuring up for us on our behalf. Thank that as we simply trust Jesus, we are included in all that you have planned – all of the wondrous and beautiful and glorious blessings that you delighted so much in planning for us to experience.

We trust you. We trust in you our kind Creator and our good shepherd. We trust your good intentions for us and in your salvation which runs far deeper than we can even or ever imagine. We thank you that our salvation is not depended on our own efforts, but that you have freely given salvation to us all who least deserve such a gift. Help us to receive your grace well and learn to, once and for all, lay down the scale and the bricks at your feet… at the cross.

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Categories: Exposing Self-Righteous Religion, Redemption | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Beauty of Redemption

by Daniel Lovett on Wednesday, February 16, 2011 at 2:33pm

(I am finally sharing this post after years of having a particular movie come back to mind time and time again. It continues to bless me with a glimpse of God’s redemption.)

The Razor’s Edge is a movie in which Bill Murray plays Larry. Shortly after WWI, Larry goes on a quest to find truth, to find something worth living for, to find a purpose to life. He was not content to simply be who everyone else expected him to be, living the status quo life he saw all around him. No, he wanted more.

And so he parts ways with the girl he was seeing at the time, Isabel, and goes off for a year to tour the world, eventually finding himself up on a snowy mountain peak in Nepal. At the end of the year he returns to London to learn that Isabel had married one of Larry’s wealthy and influential friends.

One night, while all three of them were out to dinner together they saw in the restaurant an old friend of theirs named Sophie. Isabel related the gossip about her. Evidently she had gotten mixed up with drugs and alcohol and even worse had now resorted to prostitution. Right then and there Larry decides to rescue Sophie.

Larry takes Sophie home with him, to save her. He convinces her to stay with him each new day and they spend the days just enjoying life. Picnics, outings on the lake, long walks, good conversation… Soon the light comes back to Sophie’s eyes. She remembers what it was to have fun, to laugh again, to really be alive. She has hope.

Cover of

It was in this unselfish daily outpouring of redeeming love, giving worth to Sophie, and restoring the beauty of her soul that Larry finds what he was looking for all along. He finds it in true love. He never so much as makes a reference to her past. But instead he gently woos her, wins her confidence and trust and eventually her heart.

After many days Larry and Sophie become engaged, but Isabel, though married to another, is jealous and sabotages Sophie. She cuts her down with snide remarks and tells her that she doesn’t deserve to be loved by Larry. She doesn’t hesitate to remind her of her past and her words find their mark. Sophie is devastated and begins to drink a bottle of alcohol, a gift from Isabel.

Sophie leaves. When Larry learns that she is gone, he is soon in desperate search of her. Sadly, he learns that Sophie had returned to her old life and finds her at the brothel, drugged up, drunk, and surrounded by wicked men. He pleads with her to come home with him and she replies, “Don’t you see, you’re better off without me.” The men throw him out and beat him up as he struggles to rescue her.

The next day Sophie is found dead, floating in the river.

——–

In this story, I see the heart of God for us. We are “Sophie”. We all need a Savior to come to our rescue, sweep us off our feet, and show us how to live, laugh, and love again. But, our story could end as tragically as Sophie’s if we aren’t careful. We have to fight to embrace the love of Jesus. While it may be true that we don’t deserve God’s outrageous love, that doesn’t matter to him.  It isn’t about what we deserve at all. It’s all about his passionate love for us.

There is a verse that saved my life found in 1 John 4:18:

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” NIV

or, as another translation puts it:

“Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.” NLT

This verse gives me hope, that though I may still fear, it’s only because I haven’t quite yet grasped God’s perfect love for me. His love is still there. It still remains to be discovered, embraced and that’s encouraging! And then there’s that whole thing about punishment. Let me ask you, are there any sins left to be punished if Jesus took them all at the cross?

What remains then is, will we receive his love? Will we fight for that love, to hang on to that love?

God will indeed receive you and lavish such love on you, never to mention the ways you went wrong in the past. But, you must not allow the devil to lie to you, and tear you away from the one who loves you so much that he would die for you (and he did). You must hang on to the hope that Jesus offers you. You need to believe!

There is a similar story found early in the book of Hosea in the Bible. Through this story God tells Hosea to marry a prostitute. Hosea’s wife then leaves him and gets mixed up with other men. Hosea searches for her and when he finds her, he even has to pay a ransom to buy his own wife back.

God orchestrated this story in Hosea’s life to represent God’s relationship with his people. That even though we have been, and are, unfaithful to him, as Hosea’s wife was to him, and even though we cheat on him with our sins, God still loves us. He will not divorce us as his people but will restore us and redeem us… if that’s what we want.

“God has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”” Hebrews 13:5 NIV

He doesn’t even wait for our hearts to turn toward him to redeem us. He redeemed us even when we still loved our sin. Even when we are still pursuing our wicked ways, he died for us. This is what Jesus has done for you and me at the cross.

Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrated his love toward us in this, that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”

It is Christ’s death that redeems us from death. It is Jesus who came to our rescue while we were still “in the whorehouse”. He will restore life and beauty to our souls.

One more note. We also must be careful not to play the part of Isabel in other peoples lives. Jesus wants everyone to come to the table of his love and grace. We cannot be obstacles to people coming to Jesus. There is room for everyone and we must not make it about who deserves to come and who is more righteous than the next and who deserves his approval more. No one deserves the extravagant love of God.  But God is desperate that everyone knows his generous love and redemption.

Redemption is such a beautiful thing!

Always remember this: you are loved outrageously by an outrageously loving God!

ps. Read Luke 15. This is the Father’s attitude toward us, and relates perfectly to this post.

This video will bless you: Love, by Jaeson Ma: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73kZ6wBoqTk

Categories: Redemption | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fool’s Gold – A look into legalism – Part 2

by Daniel Lovett on Tuesday, February 1, 2011 at 9:04pm

(This was originally titled “Legalism – Just another form of rejecting Christ?” which in retrospect was a terrible title! Who would want to read that? I really am trying to get to the good news here, but sometimes you have to wade through some bad news to get to it… or rather, perhaps to fully appreciate it. I would appreciate your feedback and would be delighted to have a discussion about this topic. Please share your thoughts.)

Fool’s Gold

Legalism. Self-righteousness. You could call it a “religious spirit” or a “spirit of religion”. Many today simply refer to it as “religion”. Jesus warned his disciples, calling it, “the leaven of the Pharisees”.

Paul refers to it in Romans 10:13:

“For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law.” NLT

In a recent facebook status I posted, “It is my belief that legalism is and always has been the single greatest threat to the Christian faith. It is just another form of rejecting Christ.”

This blog post is elaborating on that premise. I also believe that this is a problem that is rampant in the church (and in the heart of every man) and needs to be addressed.

Paul writes the letter to the Galatians warning people of the false “gospel” of trying to attain righteousness by working for it. This is really no Gospel (or good news) at all. He writes:

“I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.”

~ Galatians 2: 19-20 The Message

Did you notice that Paul says, “my ego is no longer central”? That’s what self-righteousness does. It makes it “all about me”.

Some of the marks, results, and warning signs of self-righteousness or legalism include:

  • Judgment – Harsh judgment of yourself and others becomes the modus operandi.
  • Perfectionism – Because you are desperate to avoid the harsh judgment of others.
  • Pride – Legalism is based in Pride. Legalism says, “I can make it on my own, I don’t need you Jesus.” (Though as someone who read this pointed out to me, many use legalism as a form to try to please or win God’s favor, to earn his grace, and are, in all sincerity, trying to please Christ by their own efforts. This reminds me of a verse from Eugene Petersons paraphrase, the Message, “Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.” Romans 12:2)
  • Hypocrisy – Since you have no freedom to be yourself, you have to pose, pretend and hide.
  • Separation & Division – Paul confronts Peter to his face in front of everyone for his hypocrisy when he separated himself from the Gentile believers to save face with his Jewish friends from Jerusalem. Galatians 2 ( Hear a sermon about this that really blessed me here: http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/adullam-vineyard-podcast/id376094976)
  • Fear & Bullying – Peter caved to his fear of the disapproval and scowls of his Jewish friends. People are kept in line by fear of disapproval – perhaps of another Christian friend, perhaps even by a pastor.
  • Lack of Freedom – Galatians 5:1 “So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.” NLT
  • Insecurity – You are always second guessing where you stand with God if it is dependent on your performance.
  • Condemnation – Because without Christ, condemnation is all you have left. If we insist on standing in our own righteousness, in effect, we reject the righteousness God provides and so are doomed.
  • Depression – If you are under condemnation, you will certainly feel depression as well. That’s not to say that the saints of God don’t also from time to time experience forms of depression.

Also, it is very encouraging that nothing need be permanent. If you’re on the wrong road, you can choose to turn around and find the right one.

You wouldn’t believe how much of the Bible is written just to correct this fatal error on the part of humanity. I am sure that this self-righteousness or legalism is in the heart of every man. C.S. Lewis refers to it as the “diabolical” pride of man. We just noted above how it was in Peter (see Galatians 2) – and this was after Pentecost. Jesus truly was the only exception, the only one immune to this hellish depraved disease of self-righteousness.

And now, I’m going to bring this whole discussion way closer to home. I am a recovering legalist. If I am an expert in anything, this would be it. I could write the book on legalism.  For the last few years, Jesus has been opening my eyes to it and I now have a whole new clarity about what has plagued me for so long.

I could identify with the whole ego thing that Paul mentioned. I was the center of my “Christian” faith. It was all about me. I experienced that list of things I mentioned earlier. I judged myself and others and I assumed that everyone judged me as well.  I experienced seven long years of severe depression as I experienced the results of being alienated from Christ.

Galatians 5:4 “For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.”

There is a great deal more that I can and will write about in upcoming editions. But for now please pray with me:

“Jesus, please set us free from our self-righteous ways, we need you to be our righteousness and so we trust you to be our righteousness and we thank you that you areour righteousness. Thank you for keeping your beautiful and holy law of love on our behalf, thank you for taking away our condemnation for breaking your law when you died on the cross.

“Please teach us and lead us to the place of freedom that Paul found where he could say: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless.” NIV

“Thank you that because of your sacrifice, we don’t have to earn your grace or perform our way into your favor. May the grace of God become everything to us, and let us live free, for you came to set us free.” Amen

Categories: Exposing Self-Righteous Religion | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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