Tuesday, April 29, 2014


I have come to greatly respect the writing of Paul Burleson, who recently wrote about “The Race of Grace”.

His article set me thinking about the word “GRACE”: It's an attractive word. Don't you think?

Why else would some folk name their congregation Grace Bible Church, or something similar? Surely, those who name their children “Grace” wouldn't do so if they didn't consider the word attractive.

I suspect there is much more to it than the word being attractive, which it no doubt is. I suspect that followers of Christ who name their congregation “Grace.......Church” are wanting to promote an image, especially to unbelievers, that the grace revealed in the act of God giving Himself as the incarnate Son, to live, die, and rise again, inaugurating the New Covenant age in which we now live, will be found there in the congregation.

What if we were to take a broad sample of these Grace congregations? Will we find genuine Christ-like grace there?

I'm sure you know what I mean: The kind of graciousness which arises from being the recipients of God's great grace in Jesus Christ! Being treated as Christ has treated us, and treating others likewise.

After a lifetime involved in church life, most of that as a growing Christian (old now, but still growing), am I being ungracious to say, speaking generally, that the answer to the question,"Will we find genuine Christ-like grace there?", is a decided  “NO!”

I recently read a quote from Philip Yancey :
“Christians get very angry toward other Christians who sin differently than they do.” 

Now! Isn't that an amazingly true statement?

 I grew up in a traditional Protestant congregation, and was taught to be like the other folk who acted as they were expected; dutifully self-righteous and sanctimonious when it came to sins that we didn't commit,but others did, and there was always a good Scripture quote to justify our ungracious attitudes.

For others to sin in a way that was different to ours,was clear justification for us to be extremely critical towards those who did, and to avoid them, even though they were truly brethren in Christ (surely reader, you don't believe that genuine Christians do not sin?).

It causes me great sadness to reflect on my own attitudes in those days as I remember that “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” which was very evident in those with whom I sat, and sang with on Sundays, was no different in me.

The attitudes which Paul identified in Romans 1:29-30 were (and are?) clearly evident, and the accusing finger of people who had the secret unwritten rules about  unmentionable sins was equally evident.

It wasn't the wrath of God that was feared, and still isn't. It was the fear that someone would find out about a particular failure (many congregations still haven't a clue as to what God's idea of grace is), and knew that any repercussions would show not even a scintilla of genuine grace, but condemnation.

I came across a quote from Brennan Manning,in which he hit the bull's-eye,
To put it bluntly, the American church today accepts grace in theory but denies it in practice. We say we believe that the fundamental structure of reality is grace, not works–but our lives refute our faith. By and large, the gospel of grace is neither proclaimed, understood, nor lived. Too many Christians are living in a house of fear and not in the house of love.”

No matter how much we might protest, things are no different in Australia, and most countries where church traditions, rather than Scripture set the scene for faith and practice, even though we claim Scriptural instructions which we interpret to suit our purpose. 

Exercising grace is the hardest task in the world.

I must admit, I still struggle to be gracious in my thinking about some matters that have deeply affected my family, knowing full well the exceptional example of grace that has been revealed to us in Jesus Christ Jesus, as He poured out His grace/love for me, a stained sinner. And that grace was totally undeserved, because that is what grace is; undeserved love.

That's what moved John Newton to write his “Amazing Grace”.

I don't think I'm the only one who has a hard time offering grace to those who affect us in negative ways, but , let's be honest, we have a hard time being givers of grace to those who’s sin is different to ours, and therefore worse, and more offensive to us.

The fact that their sin is not like our own is the reason, we who claim to be Christian, have graded some sins as compared to other sins. Their sin is always worse than mine.

We need to wake up to the fact that God is offended by SIN, missing His mark of righteousness. He must be judicially satisfied over every sin,a fact which was achieved in the life and work of His precious Son,for those who believe and trust in Him.

It's a fact. Is it not? That in our eyes, the sin in our life is not as serious, or culpable as that of those we judge and point our fingers at. How can we offer grace to others whose sin is worse than ours?

Is it also not true that we preach grace to others (after all, we want them to be gracious towards us), but find it so difficult to offer grace to those who sin in a different way to us?

At almost 75 years of age, as I said earlier, I am still learning what the grace walk (or marathon, as my friend Paul says) is all about.

One thing I have noticed over this nearly three-quarters of a century, is that when we do not exercise the grace that has been showered upon us, we are teaching others, by example, that the work of Jesus Christ as He inaugurated this New Covenant age in which we live, was of no real value.

The reason? We choose to still live under an Old Covenant system which was ruled by law rather than grace, and reject the New Covenant Person and His completed work of great grace.

What a waste were those years; yes, some in pastoral ministry, when James 2:10 was invisible to we ungracious law keepers : “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it”.

Don't tell me you haven't done just that, and often!

What do we make of Jesus' words when He says, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 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” (Matthew 5:21-22).

And how we have interpreted Jesus words to the Pharisees who prided themselves in keeping the law, at least publicly: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).

But we don't do sin as serious as this! Do we?

Well! John says we do: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

We need to remember John's warning and start being realistic rather than living in some spiritual cloud cookoo land.

God sees SIN, not sins!

I have come to realise that a quote of George MacDonald is so apt to the practice of much church life today,
I understand God’s patience with the wicked, but I do wonder how He can be so patient with the pious.”

Having spent many years with a certain evangelical denomination, I've come to realize the safety I feel knowing that I’ll be judged by Jesus Christ and not those whom I have heard judge some in this life:

They would say to a sinful greedy-guts, “Welcome well-fed healthy appetite Baptist.”

To one such sinner aspiring to great riches, “Congratulations Methodist for trying to get ahead in life. Let her in.”

To the avaricious, “Being a good Episcoplaian, he once paid for a new organ for the church.”

Having heard the justifications of these judges , I have also heard them look askance at at adulterers, murderers, drunkards and say, “What utterly rotten folk they are! Terrible sinners. They deserve nothing better than hell.”

You and I better acknowledge that, as natural born men and women, we DESERVE the same, but Judge Jesus will look at them, and observe that having become His brethren through adoption into God's family, He will mark their charge sheet, SAVED BY GRACE.

Why do we think the shed blood of Jesus Christ is limited in its efficacy to cleanse all sin?
Sin is sin. There is no gradations or distinction, and, Grace is Grace with no exceptions for those who have come to the Saviour.

Don't enter the carnal world of grading sin. 

Those who do will find that Jesus was most aggrieved by the self-righteous, pious, condemning, judgmental Pharisees, those self-appointed law-enforcement officers who oversee other people’s righteousness, or lack thereof.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:12 ESV)

Having lived in this world for almost three-quarters of a century, a large part of that in the traditional institutional church scene. As one would hope I awakened to a few things, especially during the last 20 years or so.

One stand out matter is the fact that the relationship between the principles of what is naturally of this world and the principles of the religious world, which imagines itself as “Christian”.

There is no discernable difference between the two, because the difference is only a matter of perceived place, and not of nature.

Both the world and what I like to call “Christianism” use the same methods of rhetoric and theatrical skills to elevate the emotions, moving, stimulating, craving, which often among hearers becomes an addiction.

Pathos, tears, contempt, hatred, anger, melancholy, pleasure, and all the plethora of human emotions are the same, but presented in a different context. We sit through these performances (for that is what they are), and leave, with little effect, if any.

As I heard a church musician once say as he left the building,”That was a better jam session”. Excellent music, a fresh face in the pulpit, maybe a change of place to break the monotony, etc., but what has really been going on?

About thirty years ago a denominational newspaper had a headline, “Guess Who Was in Church with You this Morning?” The answer was,”SATAN”.

Was that newspaper discerning something we who name of Christ are missing?

If so,how Satan must laugh behind his religious mask of “Christianism”!
One of the marks of current “Christianism” is the expectation of a highly cultured mind with a keen sense of the beautiful and the fashionable, and the idea that this must be seen to be apart from such as the mundane, plain, and unsophisticated, ordinary seaminess of those who are convicted otherwise.

The mundane, plain, and unsophisticated is unpleasant and offensive as far as this world is concerned, but, we forget it is not the mindset of one who has a personal living relationship with God, through the finished work of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

We cry to God to do a “new thing” among us, when the “new thing” has already been done, in and through the Son of God. Everything in the life and service of the Apostle Paul was the the result of the fact that he received the Gospel he preached and lived by "by revelation", not simply by intellectual assent.

Preachers and teachers, as well as you and I, may know the Bible word for word, as we may another book (one fellow I knew could quote several books of the Bible, word perfectly), and yet we may still be spiritually dead in our sin, whilst living the the lie of beautiful and the fashionable, religious people.
Scriptures reveal a lot about the knowledge of God and,the truth regarding His Son, as the foundation (cornerstone) of eternal life, resulting in being set free, doing the works He does. They also reveal clearly that simple intellectual assent to facts found by academic study,research and reading, will not find that relationship with God.

Above all Scripture makes it clear that it is this “revelation” of which Paul speaks, a revealing by the Holy Spirit (John 16: 7-11), which takes what we know intellectually, and brings it to living reality deep in our being.

The best knowledge of the Scriptures, an amazingly accurate comprehension of Christian doctrine, and the constant “doing of Christian work”, no matter how “holy” we imagine it to be, using only our natural talents, will get us no further towards God, than if we knew nothing, and did nothing.

By the same token the clever rhetoric, and writing, skilfully presented by using Bible content and themes, may cause, both speaker and hearers to remain wrapped in the shrouds of spiritual death.

People cannot be argued into the presence of God, no matter how well reasoned. They may be captivated by the skilful presentation of the orator, and they may even be touched emotionally (as I have occasionally been).

Only the Holy Spirit can instigate spiritual new birth and the quickening (bringing to life) of the spirit in humankind.

It would seem that the Apostle who authored our text was a very ordinary, unsophisticated, even ugly, little military man, who had an encounter with the living Christ, and became a potent force in the Family of God, and yet, would be frowned upon by the many who assume they have reached some religious high note of holiness in today's world.  

Monday, April 7, 2014


Whomever said the following words may not have known the spiritual implications of their words: “every story has an ending. But in life, every ending is a new beginning..”

Seeing them again this morning I couldn't help but apply them to the impending Easter weekend.

The Western world anticipates Easter with an insatiable appetite for self indulgence; the shops begin advertising their a few days after Christmas ( hot cross buns were on sale before New Years Day in Australia), soon followed by the Easter bunny replacement, chocolate bilbys (Macrotis lagotis – a native Aussie), and, to some degree at least the intrigue, politics, power struggles of both the religious scene, and secular society, fade for a brief interlude.

The Easter Egg is still very evident in a vast array of forms and colors, but still recognisable as eggs!

Eggs: The emblem of new beginnings!

What has a “new beginning” got to say to the majority who look forward to Easter? Probably not much!

That's possibly true for many who call themselves “Christian” who see Easter as a time to escape the drudgery of work, a time to catch up on unfinished, or not yet begun, domestic jobs, with the possibility of a cursory trip to a religious service: After all it is Christmas, or, Easter, or, something.

Most would have some understanding about a crucified, dead and buried Saviour, who, in this amazing act, gave them a “new beginning” which enabled them to anticipate resurrected life for eternity.

But they still haven't grasped what Paul exulted about in Galatians 5:1,For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

So many are still struggling through life wearing the grave clothes of the Old Covenant, they are still under the old bondage of the religious systems and rules, with the expectations and demands of habit and legalism

What Paul had discovered in His amazing experience of becoming a Christ follower was not only that the grave clothes of the Old Covenant were taken removed, but the free, fresh air of spiritually emancipation from the Old Covenant was experienced in the inauguration of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ!

Not only to be raised with Christ, to a “new beginning” but to have a “new beginning” under a New Covenant.

The One who was promised as the person of the New Covenant (Isaiah 42:6) pleaded with a nation whose relationship with God was stifled under the burden of a human directed religiosity, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Matt. 11:28-30).

Why did these people need “rest”? From what?

The Old Covenant heavy burden and domination of authoritarian, rules oriented, legalistic religion, with all of its “do's” and “do nots”.

Speaking of their religious leaders,Jesus said,"The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you—but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others.” (Matt. 23:4).

How familiar this scene is today, as we see dear folk still struggling with obedience to rules, regulations and laws, which they have been led to believe will ensure eternal life for them, which in one way or another, is regularly reinforced.

Easter says something far more profound than that God, just taking upon Himself the form of mankind (incarnation) living, dying, and rising again, to pay for our sin, and for us to continue pretending we don't have any sin  to deal with, or being under condemnation for the rest of life because we find that we still sin.

Easter says that Almighty God, who made the incredible act of putting aside His rights as God, to fulfil ALL the requirements of the Old Covenant, on behalf of all who would come to Him, is an Almighty God who fulfils ALL of His promises to give a servant who would, in His exclusive, exquisite timing, introduce a New Covenant age, “for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind,....” (Isaiah 42:6-7; cf. Luke 4:18-19)

So many religious people still see the light dimly; many still blind, to what God has done through His precious Son.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power”. 2 Tim.3:5

I recently saw a photograph of a church door, upon which was written something attributed to a follower of Christ by the name of T.Austin-Sparks: It said, “Religion can be the greatest enemy of God's true thought, because it is Satan's best deception”.

That is so very true, but, I must confess that it took me many years of ministry as a pastor to fully understand what this chap was talking about.

At the age of twelve,I had come to a limited understanding of what God was about in the incarnation and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. I was a Christian, by all intents and purposes, and received into church membership. Zeal was not lacking, which continued well into middle age.

You see, I had the spiritual disease of which Paul warned, “a form of religion”. I was strong on the particular doctrine I adhered to. I was very literal in my application of “what the Bible says” without consideration of other aspects such as context, the situation to which the words were applied,etc. I held firmly to the many teachings ( which I later learned were false ) of unquestioned tradition which I had been taught,which elevated the pastor, and what he said from the pulpit, to a person and place of heavenly indisputable authority.

I was called to lead a congregation who had been taught, and were equally accepting, of all of the above. I was well encouraged because they applauded everything I said, a fact which caused me much discomfort, although, at the time, I dismissed such discomfort as false humility. How wrong I was!

Often,during my preparation for a message I was arrested in my thinking by the fact that I did not believe the Scripture I was studying, actually taught what tradition and the “approved” experts and commentaters said it did.

One Sunday, after carefully, and thoroughly, studying a passage, I spoke what I had received from my studies. That was the beginning of a few months of hell on earth.

It was during this time I experienced, and saw so clearly, the lack of grace which accorded well with what Paul spoke of in 2Timothy 3:2-5,”.....people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance ( “a form of” KJV) of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

Sadly, it wasn't only me who had to experience how religion for religion's sake uses evil for its own ends as an accusation of sinful behaviour caused me to be given the opportunity to resign, or else be dismissed with no appeal or question as to the accusation.

It's so easy, and even comfortable to have the appearance, or form of godliness, a religion. When joined to a group of people who profess this religion,and in membership with what they assume, like I did, is the church, it is very difficult, in the unquestioning mindset that accompanies religion, to think, much less voice, any doubts about the teachings.

Albert Barnes wrote,”The most regular and bigoted adherence to the forms of religion, furnishes no evidence in itself that there is any true piety at heart, or that true religion has any actual control over the soul. It is much easier for men to observe the forms of religion than it is to bring the heart under its controlling influence”.

This was the spirit of the Pharisees, who were very adept at pointing the finger of accusation at any who didn't conform to the religious and moral laws they professed to rigidly hold to.

They were the epitome of self-righteousness, displayed by their judgemental and condemnatory behavior, as they proudly separated themselves from contamination they supposed dirty sinners might spread.

The Pharisees were so out of touch with the Spirit of God that their hypocrisy was hidden behind their religiosity, as we see in Matthew 5.

They held themselves as righteous men, an example to the many Jews who were there, yet the Beatitudes, which shone clear light on their failure to be truly righteous, had no effect.

There could be no doubt, “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.”

What do you think? Had these salt of the earth people lost its taste

Then another pointed remark from Jesus,“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.”

If we look at Jesus message correctly, surely the implication is that there was very little light to be seen in the religious behaviour of these people.

Where was the light? Safely stored in a religious basket where it was hidden from a needy society!

Were these religious people actually salt, and light to a sin sick world?

These were the ones who were so vehement about obeying the Mosaic law, as a result one could be forgiven for thinking their conscience would have been severely pricked when Jesus said,For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”?

The problem was that their traditions, regularly reinforced by the scribes and Pharisees, caused these fellows to believe they were the absolute model of righteousness, yet Jesus is saying to them that the righteousness of the Pharisees must be exceeded,For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”.

He's telling them that if they are going to depend on righteous behaviour as the key to entering the Kingdom of God, they would need to be far better than the Pharisees, more holy and law abiding than they are, otherwise they cannot be saved?

Does that sound familiar to you? In today's context?

It does to me, as I take note of the religious sheriffs do their heavy lifting exercise of removing splinters from the eyes of others whilst carrying a great log of wood in their own eyes and hearts.

And as Jesus goes over the commandments which I read, hear, and observe being wielded like a soul wounding battle axe, not one self-righteous religionist listens to what Jesus said to religionists who found a woman had committed adultery, “You, who are without sin, cast the first stone”.

Oh! Yes!”, the religionist will quickly say, "the law must be obeyed"

Then they will quote Jesus words without any thought for what He was actually saying: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets (the O.T); I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law...”

Do you ever wonder why they with-hold the next vital words,“....until all is accomplished.”

Were they deliberately ignoring the truth? Were they so blinded by their religious traditionalism that they simply could not see?

I don't think so!

It would be not too long to wait “until all is accomplished” as Jesus said He would do, “.. I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them”.

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30)

Was Jesus wrong in that amazing statement?

What an insult to Him, to think we can add some act to improve what He faithfully completed!