The Most Dangerous Word

Nicodemus

Many times to better understand something, it is helpful to learn what the opposite of that something is.

I’m a student and proponent of Grace. But Grace can be a squishy word. So I would like to talk about the opposite of Grace, which is LEGALISM.

Pastor Tullian Tchividjian writes “Legalism says God will love us if we change. Grace says God will change us because He loves us.”

Nicodemus was a legalist. He was a Pharisee.

Max Lucado writes “It’s a fact of the farm. The most fertile ground remains barren if no seed is sown.”

This defines legalism. Legalism is obsessed about soil preparation but totally misses the point of the seed. This is how legalism thinks. Faith is an outside work. How you speak, act, pray, the image you portray.

If Nicodemus would have been a farmer, he would of had a degree from the University of Farming in cutting edge soil preparation techniques.

The Pharisees were really good at making the soil look good but they had one problem, (How many of you would love to have one problem? But it was a big problem) they produced very little fruit.

Nicodemus, was tired of his fruitless, shallow, look good on the outside life, so he is drawn to Jesus. He sees the fruit, passion, love and humility of Jesus. He sees Jesus breaking the rules so he can touch the untouchable and love the sinner that the religious leaders had shunned.

Nicodemus’ spiritual life has become a charade and it’s shrinking his soul, so the Gospel of John says that he came to Jesus at night. He’s drawn to Jesus, but he has a reputation to uphold, so he sneaks out to see Jesus at night.

Which is very symbolic of legalism. Legalism offers no light.

Legalism robs your freedom. It sets your standards so high that it leaves you paralyzed.

Legalism damages relationships. Nobody wants to spend time around people who feel they are spiritually superior to everyone else. The Bible says, “Love forgets mistakes. Nagging about them parts the best of friends.”

Legalism puts rules in front of people. I recently met a couple who were teaching a high school Sunday School class and they took some high school students to an elderly widows home to paint, clean and bring her a meal. The youth were reprimanded and the couple asked to leave the church because they happened to do these biblically good deeds on the Sabbath. The rule was more important than the person.

Legalism ultimately destroys your joy. Because there is always a gap between what you want to be and what you want others to think you are and who you really are! The gap destroys your joy.

And here is Nicodemus, he has no freedom, all his friends are legalists, he is putting rules ahead of people and his joy is gone, so he comes to Jesus.

In the dark of the night, Jesus tells him, “Nicodemus, I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God (No one can be good enough, no one can have flourishing relationships, no one can love people the way I love them, no one can experience a joy that is indestructible and liberating, no one can have eternal life) unless he is born again.”

Jesus gets right to the point “Nick your problem is legalism. Your soil looks good, but you have no seed.”

This meeting in the dark is a meeting between two opposing views on salvation.

All the world’s religions can be placed in one of two camps: LEGALISM or GRACE.

Either man saves himself or God saves him.

Legalism is a dark world. Fear (Have I done enough?) Arrogance (I have done enough!) Failure (I’ve made too many mistakes.)

Jesus goes on to tell him, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit give birth to spirit.”

Jesus says that salvation doesn’t come from church attendance, a certain set of rules or perfect theology.  

Jesus tells Nicodemus that Salvation is God’s business, Grace is his idea and it is at His expense.

In the dark of the night, Jesus looks at Nicodemus and shares these revolutionary words, “For God so love the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (And you thought the guy with the rainbow, curly wig who sat in the endzone of NFL football games holding a sign of John 3:16 made this saying up, but this comes from the very mouth of Jesus.)

Nicodemus, the legalist, had had a lot of conversations about salvation. But not like this. This was the first time no rules, systems or secret decoder rings were needed.

“Everyone who believes can have eternal life!” Not “Everyone who achieves or succeeds or agrees.”

EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES!

When Nicodemus heard those words, his life was changed forever!

GRACE CHANGES EVERYTHING!

It gets you off the perfectionism treadmill, because as the Psalmist wrote “Nothing is perfect except God’s word.” I hate treadmills, because you run and run and run and you sweat, you get beaten down and tired and when you are done, you are standing in the exact same place you started. That’s legalism!

Plus, trying to be perfect is not only tiring, it’s narcissistic. Pastor Tullian Tchividjian goes on to say, “To focus on how I’m doing more than what Christ has done is Christian narcissism.”

Pretending to be perfect is also hypocritical. The Greeks used to call actors, hypocrites, because an actor is someone who pretends to be someone or something he or she really is not. This is the same word Jesus called the Pharisees.

Jesus told Nicodemus, “Your soul is tired and worn out because you have been on this perfectionism treadmill. Jump off, because salvation comes from me, not from your works. My Grace is available.”

Grace changed Nicodemus. How do I know?

A while later, Jesus was killed on the cross, by the legalists, and the disciples were scattering like cockroaches when the lights go on, but a man named Joseph of Arimathea asked permission to take Jesus’ body down from the cross and John 19 records that: “Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night, came too…” and he brought embalming ointment and he helped lay Jesus in the tomb.

Nicodemus, the one who came quietly, fearfully, secretly at night now comes boldly, courageously and confidently in the day.

Grace has liberated him!

Nicodemus had received the seed of Grace and now plants the seed of salvation, Jesus into the tomb and 2 day later that seed burst forth and defeated death once and for all!

Legalism Kills.

Grace liberates and brings forth life!

Our world is being destroyed by legalism.

Grace is our only hope.

EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES!

I pray you get off the perfectionism treadmill and receive grace!

You don’t have to pretend anymore!

You are loved and accepted.

 

Funny How People Are

judging

Funny how people are
They talk with force yet live in fear
They laugh in public yet cry private tears

They ask for truth yet avoid the light
They teach abundance yet hold on tight

Funny how people are
They walk with confidence yet are deceivingly unsure
They offer weak opinions yet hoping others concur

They care when others are watching yet their love is calculating
They are addicted to admiration yet their self-esteem is fleeting

“He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it.” ― George Orwell

Funny how people are
They say let’s change the world yet are frozen in comfort
They lecture struggle and sweat yet their efforts fall short

They read the statistics yet their hearts stay cold
They see the pictures yet their habits remain old

Funny how people are
They make people feel good yet it’s not what they need
They agree to aid yet vanity wins over deed

They convince their peers yet fool themselves
They betray their minds yet deceive no one else

“A mask can hide you from others, but not from yourself.”
― Marty Rubin

Funny how I am
I create caste-systems of wrongdoing, while self-pride rules
I ignore my own deception while pointing out fools

While judging other people, my eyes lose sight
My transgressions are unfathomable and my sin dark as night

Funny how I am
My plank is seemingly invisible, their speck obvious and huge
Hypocricy has become my identity, my ignorance is my refuge

I love mercy for me and judgment for their evil times
I want revenge for my enemies and acquittal for my crimes

“The fierce words of Jesus addressed to the Pharisees of His day stretch across the bands of time. Today they are directed not only to fallen televangelists but to each of us. We miss Jesus’ point entirely when we use His words as weapons against others. They are to be taken personally by each of us. This is the form and shape of Christian Pharisee-ism in our time. Hypocrisy is not the prerogative of people in high places. The most impoverished among us is capable of it. Hypocrisy is the natural expression of what is meanest in us all.” ― Brennan Manning

God in a Box

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Henri Nouwen once said, “We cannot expect God to speak to us in our narrow corridor of thinking. As scripture shows us, He may speak to us through a saint or a sinner. Through a conservative or a liberal. Through a man or a woman – or a young child. Through an old person or a young person. Through an educated or an illiterate person… Through a local person or a foreigner. We have at all times to be ready to listen with an unprejudiced mind and heart.”

I was thinking about my life and how God has spoken to me through so many diverse voices, with differing opinions and backgrounds, yet they have all compelled me closer to the heart of Jesus.

From a liberal sociologist named Tony Campolo, to a conservative preacher named Franklin Graham, my heart has broken for the poor.

From an Irish rock star named Bono, to an agnostic brilliant business man named Bill Gates, my urgency to end extreme poverty has increased.

From an alcoholic priest named Brennan Manning, to a 90 year old saint named Mother Rose, I have been overwhelmed by the gift of Grace.

From an African American, born in the ghetto, named Ricky Bolden, to a 75 year old, rich white man named Doug Coe, I will forever be burdened and invested in the inner city.

From a conservative business man named Jim Copeland to a more liberal mother committed to public health around the world, named Kim Dixon, my life has refocused on the rights of children and women around the world.

From an Albanian Roman Catholic nun named Mother Teresa to a cancer research doctor named Scott Todd, my life is now compelled to show up, look extreme poverty in the face, and defeat it.

I have a very close friend who is gay and whenever I am with him, I leave having a deeper passion to follow Jesus and a more convicted heart to serve the marginalized and forgotten in my community.

The important question for people of faith today is this: Can we see past the surface, the titles, the labels and see the wisdom underneath.

When John the Baptist came to proclaim the coming of the Messiah, he was described as a locus-eating, leather-wearing, adultery-condemning prophet.

When Jesus walked this earth, he was described as a party-going, wine-making, heart-healing, sin-forgiving savior.

John would have been labeled a conservative and Jesus would have been labeled a liberal.

Jesus told the pharisess, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.” Instead, you said, “John has a demon and Jesus is a glutton”.

The gospel came looking two different ways, but they could not see it.

WHY? Because the Pharisees had put God in a box.

The strength of FAITH is the diversity of God’s wisdom.

That is why people should travel, so you can see the image and creativity and vastness of God.

The Pharisees are not the only ones who have put God in a box.

I think, in America, we are in that danger today.

In order for our faith to be rich and our hearts to remain soft and pliable, we must continue to be overwhelmed by the vastness of God.

Jesus was not an American, he was not a Californian, he was not a republican or a democrat and he was not a Presbyterian, Methodist, Pentecostal or Baptist.

He was not a member of the NRA, Greenpeace or the local moose lodge.

He did not have a preference of musical worship style, because his worship had to do with spirit and truth.

He was anti-war, anti-revenge, and anti-hate.

He said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesars, and give to God what is God’s!”

He was the creator of the universe and it was his idea to make the stars and the moon and the seas and the mountains.

RED, YELLOW, BROWN, BLACK and WHITE, they are all equally precious in his sight.

Every color, creed and culture is a part of his image.

He loves our enemies and he prays that the terrorist will find salvation like the terrorist Saul who became a champion of Grace.

He loves YOU even when you walk away.

He loves ME even when I choose my own ways.

Jesus is bigger than any of our big ideas and heaven will be a much different place than our middle class, American ideas.

When Peter quotes the Prophet Joel in Acts 2 and says, “All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” He meant ALL!

It is Jesus + nothing!

Not Jesus + politics.
Not Jesus + denomination.
Not Jesus + lifestyle.
Not Jesus + American.

Let us allow Jesus to be bigger than any of our big ideas and run towards his radical, counter-intuitive, compassionate Grace.

May we pray the prayer of Pope Francis:
“And so we ask the risen Jesus, who turns death into life, to change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace.”