God’s Not Fair

God is not fair. Did you know that?

Wait. What? Surely God is fair! Above all things, God is fair.

Not really. God is just. That is for certain. He is a God of justice. You can bank on that. Everyone will get what they deserve. Well… sort of.

But God is not fair. Jesus tells a parable to illustrate and, you can find it in Matthew 20:1-16.

You may already know it…

A wealthy landowner needs workers and he goes to the marketplace to find some. He hires a group in the morning and puts them to work, hiring them at a standard wage. He evidently discovers he needs more workers, and so he goes back to the marketplace and hires some more at midday. He even goes back near the end of the day and hires more workers. As the day ends and it’s time for everyone to be paid, the landowner pays everyone the same amount. Those hired at the emd of the day get paid the same amount as those hired when the day began. Of course the workers hired at the beginning of the day cry bloody murder at the owner’s unfair treatment. They thought they worked more and should be paid more. Sounds fair, right?

Jesus says this is how the Kingdom of God is! Grace is above all things, unfair. It is radical. It is offensive. It makes people angry.

I remember a friend of mine talking about her alcoholic father who mistreated her mother and was a horrible, absentee dad. She had a deep-seeded, seething anger that worked its way into other aspects of her life. She told me one day that she hoped her dad never got saved. She said it just wouldn’t be fair after all he did to her mom, her brother, and herself. He deserved Hell.

She’s right. He does. We all do.

Thank God we serve a God who is not fair.

“All the persons of faith I know are sinners, doubters, uneven performers. We are secure not because we are sure of ourselves but because we trust that God is sure of us.” — Eugene Peterson

Spiritual Growth…

In his book The Easy Yoke, Doug Webster tells a story about an idealistic college student who ended up on a mission trip to one of the more dangerous housing projects in Philadelphia.

A brand-new Christian, this wide-eyed urban missionary didn’t have a clue how to evangelize the inner city. Frightened and anxious to share his new faith, the young man approached a very large tenement house. Cautiously making his way through the dark, cluttered hallways, he gingerly climbed up one flight of stairs to an apartment. He knocked on the door, and a woman holding a naked, howling baby opened it. She was smoking and not in any mood to hear some white, idealistic college boy tell her about Jesus. She started cursing him and slammed the door in his face. The young man was devastated. He walked out to the street, sat on the curb, and wept.

“Look at me. How in the world could someone like me think I could tell anyone about Jesus?” Then he remembered that the baby was naked and the woman was smoking. The plan forming in his head didn’t seem terribly spiritual, but…

He ran down the street to the local market and bought a box of diapers and a pack of cigarettes. When he knocked on the door again, he showed the woman his purchases. She hesitated and then invited him in. For the rest of the day, he played with the baby and changed its diapers (even though he had never changed diapers before). When the woman offered him a cigarette, even though he didn’t smoke, he smoked. He spent the entire day smoking and changing diapers. Never said a word about Jesus.

Late in the afternoon, the woman asked him why he was doing all this, and finally he got to tell her everything he knew about Jesus. Took about five minutes. When he stopped talking, the woman looked at him and said softly, “Pray for me and my baby that we can make it out of here alive,” so he did.*

*Doug Webster, The Easy Yoke (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1995), 136–37.

This is an excerpt from Michael Yaconelli’s book, Messy Spirituality. It is from a chapter on spiritual growth.

Food for thought.

Christians Need Good News, Too

Brennan Manning says in The Ragamuffin Gospel…

“The saved sinner is prostrate in adoration, lost in wonder and praise. He knows repentance is not what we do in order to earn forgiveness; it is what we do because we have been forgiven. It serves as an expression of gratitude rather than an effort to earn forgiveness. Thus the sequence of forgiveness and then repentance, rather than repentance and then forgiveness, is crucial for understanding the gospel of grace.”

This really resonates within me. Maybe that’s because I don’t think we – as Christ-followers – truly understand that. I don’t think we’re taught that. I don’t think we’re shown that.

Instead, we are taught or shown the steps to Christian growth. We are given the different stages of Christ-likeness. We are told that we aren’t sinners any longer. We are encouraged to do… to try… to strive… toward acting like Jesus. We even have worn bracelets, reminding us What Would Jesus Do as we go about our day… all in an effort for us to produce something or someone that looks like Jesus.

In the process, we inevitably fail. We don’t live up to the standard that is set before us. We, exhausted with broken hearts and crushed spirits, find we can’t live up to that standard.

Thankfully, that is where a sinner like me finds God with open arms.

Understanding the Gospel of grace helps me to grow in grace. When I truly grasp what has been done for me and understand the Good News that God loves and accepts me, it sets me free from the unspoken requirement by the those around me to get better. As Manning says above, repentance is a natural byproduct of a sinner who truly grasps God’s love for him or her. As Romans 2:4 says, it is His kindness that leads to repentance.

We say that we know that God is love. We’ve read that in the Bible. (1 John 4:8) What I don’t think we truly grasp is that God loves and accepts each of us in such an unconditional, unchanging, and unrelenting way. As Pastor Shane Lilly says, “God loves you and there’s nothin’ you can do about it!”

Truly understanding that love and acceptance has the power to set the captive free, even if the captive is a Christian like me caught up in a world – even a Christian world – of performancism.

Out of a grateful heart pours the Spirit of Jesus into a world straining to find meaning, purpose, and peace.

And that Spirit is love and grace.

Every. Single. Day.

Guilt trips. That’s what we all are on. Guilt trips.

There are thousands – no millions – of Christ-followers who are walking with their heads down, ashamed of what they did last night, last week, or last year. They live their lives defeated, with guilt and shame hanging around their necks like a millstone, or worse yet, a grave stone.

What millions haven’t discovered is the freedom found in Christ. It’s freedom from our guilt and shame because of God’s forgiveness through Christ Jesus. It’s forgiveness from what you and I did last night, last week, and last year. As Christians, we know that. However, we don’t live like we do. Why? And why haven’t we grabbed hold of the freedom found in Christ?

Part of the reason is that we hear, week after week, what we must DO to live the Christian life. We are taught to DO this or DO that. Live like this; avoid that. 12 easy steps. 6 keys to Christian living. Try harder. Do more. Is there any wonder why we haven’t found freedom?

Plain and simple, it is not about what we do or don’t do; it’s about what Christ has done.

We are not only forgiven, but we are accepted. Exactly as we are. Exactly where we are. We sing, “Come As You Are” and revel in the thought that God accepted us exactly as we were when we initially accepted the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins. But I don’t think we grasp that He CONTINUALLY accepts us, no matter the pig pen we find ourselves in. We realize we can’t live the perfect life (which God requires, by the way) and we never will. And we end up defeated.

Because God gave the perfect sacrifice, His Son, His requirement for perfection was fulfilled once and for all. Not only for all of us, but for ALL our sin as well: past, present and future.

What about obedience? What about repentance? Won’t this unbridled, radical grace lead to spiritual laziness? Isn’t it a license to sin?

Hardly. Once this thoroughly curative grace is fully known and internalized, it leads to an ever-changing life. Once this unbelievable, unconditional love is realized… really comprehended… the inner life is changed and it is truly reborn. Once this come-as-you-are acceptance is discovered, the result is freedom. It is not the whip of an overbearing master that will change our hearts to follow Him. No, it is His kindness that leads to repentance. (Romans 2:4) It is His love that draws us to follow Him. It is His unconditional acceptance that leads us to stop looking for it elsewhere.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1a)

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. (Galatians 5:1a)

The Gospel is not just Good News for new followers of Jesus. It is Good News for you and me.

Every. Single. Day.

Something to Ponder

I asked many folks several months ago, “Do you think God is diappointed in you?”

The overwhelming answer was, “Yes!”

As I think about that this morning, I ask those of you who felt that way then, and perhaps still do, “Why? Why do you feel God is disappointed in you?”

Then listen — really listen — to your answer.

If you think God is disappointed in you because of something you did, something you said, something you felt, or… something you didn’t do, say, or feel… then I ask you to examine that further.

Or maybe you answered that way because you feel like you aren’t doing enough for God, but I would ask that you examine that further as well.

Let me ask you another question: If you did more for God… or were more obedient to Him… would He be more pleased with you?

If you answered, “Yes,” then it would stand to reason, with that logic in mind, that the more obedient you are, the more pleased God is. Therefore, God is most pleased with super-saints like Billy Graham or Mother Teresa, and on this grading scale, you and I are far, far down the heavenly social strata.

Does this sound valid to you? Is this how God really acts and works? The answer is a resounding, “No.”

With that kind of thinking, you’d have to continue to ask, “How good is good enough? How much service or obedience is enough to please God.”

God’s Word answers that for us:

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

Perfection. That is what God is looking for. That is what He requires. God is not pleased without perfect obedience… without perfect actions… perfect words and perfect thoughts.

Perfection. How’re you doing with that? How’s that perfection thing coming along? Not so well, I assume. Me neither.

Thankfully, when God requires perfection, He supplies perfection in His own Son, Jesus. God shows us we have a dilemma. And then, praise Him, He provides the deliverance. Jesus, while He lived on this Earth, was perfect in word, thought, and deed. It was His perfect obedience that took Him to the Cross. He was the perfect sacrifice for our sin.

And because of that God said to Jesus, “This is my son with whom I am well pleased.”

And because of Jesus and what He did, God says to you and me, “This is my son (or daughter) with whom I am well pleased.”

Good News indeed.

Something to ponder.

For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (Hebrews 10:14)

(For those who think I’m saying that you shouldn’t be obedient to God, you’re missing the point; I’m not. I’m just asking you to examine WHY you think God is disappointed in you.)

Perfection Required

We all know the story of the rich, young ruler who approached Jesus and asked what he had to do to be right with God and inherit eternal life. (See Mark 10:17-27)

Jesus gave him a to-do list, straight from the law: don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, no stealing, no lying, no deception, honor your mother and father…

The young man responded that he had fulfilled the law perfectly, but Jesus looked deeper into this young man’s eyes and into our hearts as well. He digs down to the motivation of our hearts. And He does this to show us something, but it may not be what you think.

He does this in the Sermon on the Mount when He equates hatred with murder and lust with adultery, but on this day with this young man, Jesus shows him (and us) that what God requires is perfection. He tells the young man to go and sell all his possessions and then come back and follow Jesus.

When we read this, we wonder to ourselves, “Is Jesus asking me to sell all I own? Is that what being fully surrendered means?” And we – correctly – talk ourself out of it, by concluding that’s not what Jesus is trying to get across. What we conclude is that Jesus is stating that we must fully surrender our hearts to Him and leave our allegiance to this world behind.

While I agree with the idea of surrender and admire any motivation with following God and God alone, what I think Jesus is actually reminding us of follows in the next few verses.

We see the rich, young ruler walk away sad, presumably, we think, because he doesn’t want to sell everything… because he wants what the world offers. But as he walks away, the disciples (who HAVE left everything to follow Him) even wonder, “Who, then, can be saved?” And how does Jesus respond?

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27)

Salvation doesn’t depend on our actions. Because none of us have pure, holy, and honorable actions all the time.

Salvation doesn’t depend on our surrender, because – How much surrendering is enough?

God requires perfection. Thankfully, He also supplies all the perfection we need in Jesus.

Eternal life – “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

God made a way. It was Jesus’ actions, not ours, that made a way.

It was Jesus’ surrender, not ours, that made a way.

Remember that as you worship today.