Last Sunday morning I woke early as the sun was rising. I could not help but notice how gorgeous the wildflowers looked at the back of our lot. So I grabbed my camera and snapped a few pics. I especially liked the way this one turned out and used it to update the header on my blog. Sometimes the most beautiful scenes are right in front of us. The play of the sunlight through a window, or the sun rising through the wildflowers. We simply have to open our eyes to see it, and be willing to take a moment to appreciate it.
You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
Galatians 5:4 (NIV)
I’ve always been a movie lover. There are movies that I can watch over and over and over again and each time I do I seem to catch little things I’d never seen or heard before. Lines from the film seem to enter conversation. For Wendy and me, one of those movies is Princess Bride. A favorite line of our is when Inigo Montoya tells Vizzini, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.’
Among the community of Jesus’ followers the phrase “fallen from grace” is often used to refer to those who at one time were followers, but seemed to leave the path of faith to follow after sinful appetites. Other believers will say that this person has “fallen from grace.” In fact, these are the only circumstances in which I hear this phrase used. To quote Inigo Montoya, “You keep using those words. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Paul does not use “fallen from grace” to describe those who have left the faith to pursue sinful appetites! He uses the phrase to describe those who have left the path of simple faith and have pursued legalistic religiosity. In Galatia, those whom Paul described who had “fallen from grace” were those who were telling non-Jewish believers that they had to follow all the Jewish legal, religious rules.
This is a huge distinction. Walking the journey of faith is a balancing act from which you can stumble and fall in either way. Certainly you can stumble and pursue unhealthy appetites. That’s why Paul says a a few lines later: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” But you can also stumble and “fall from grace” by pursuing a path of rigid, religious rules in which you judge a person’s faith by how they measure up to your religious yard stick.
To quote another famous movie line that creeps into my conversation on a regular basis: “Daniel-san. Must learn balance.“
Archaeologists recently uncovered this gem (I found it in a tub of my parents’ family photos) from c. 1983. An early work by photographer Reed Davis (www.reeddavisphotopraphy.com). Anyone from the Des Moines area will recognize the iconic Traveler’s insurance sign that is a signature piece of the Des Moines skyline. The Traveler’s umbrella has been in a few different photos over the years.
About ten years or so after the first photo was taken, it was photographer Eric Smoldt (http://ericsmoldt.com) who snapped this black and white photo of me under the umbrella on a downtown Des Moines photo safari.
Add another ten years or so, and it was Jeff Bokhoven (http://www.designerimagesphotography.com) who took this awesome photo of me and my best men on New Year’s Eve 2005, just before Wendy and I said, “I do.”
What’s really cool is that in the late 1970s and early 1980s my dad was partner in Eagle Sign Company who, at the time, owned and leased the Traveler’s Umbrella sign. So not only is the umbrella an iconic landmark, but I kinda get to claim it as a family heirloom.
What can I say? I love Des Moines.
But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.
Galatians 4:4-7 (NIV)
I was blessed to grow up in a strong, nuclear family. The whole concept of adoption was fairly foreign to me. It was through a college roommate that I was first exposed to the realities of adoption. Married to Wendy, I have gained a greater understanding and respect for those families who have walked the path of adoption.
Wendy was adopted, twice. Her family includes five adopted siblings when you count her father adopting her. Family pictures with Wendy’s family are awesome. It’s a motley crew, to be sure. It has been great for me to be a part of their family. It has opened up for me a whole new area of understanding.
In today’s chapter, Paul uses the metaphor of adoption to discuss the spiritual relationship we have with God. Jesus established the metaphor after His resurrection. Before His death He referred to the disciples as “friends,” but when the ladies met the risen Christ Jesus told them, “go and tell my brothers that I am ascending to our Father.” The implication was clear, when we follow Jesus and receive Him into our hearts we are spiritually adopted as a child of God. We become co-heirs with Jesus.
An adopted child is not a servant. An adopted child is not “less than” his or her siblings. An adopted child does not continually earn his or her membership in the family. And still, many of us who follow Jesus act as if we are in the employ of God rather than the fully adopted children of God. We work, we strain, we worry about our performance review. That’s not love, that’s indentured servitude.
Today, I’m thankful for my adoption into God’s family. It’s high time I stopped clinging to the idea that I’m in God’s employ and started embracing the reality that I am God’s heir.
For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God.
Galatians 3:3 (MSG)
While in college, I had two other guys with whom I began to share my life journey. We met on Saturday mornings in the Great Room of Volkman Hall right after PeeWee’s Playhouse. It was the first time in my life that I’d met regularly and intentionally with other guys just to talk about our respective life journeys. We waded into, what was for us at the time, the deep weeds of life. We shared openly about our hurts and confessed our sins to each other. For me, it was monumental.
When college was over, the three of us each took our own paths in divergent directions. One of the guys I have continued to keep up with through periodic phone calls and Facebook. As I read the chapter this morning, I struck me that the other friend went the of the “crazy” Galatians.
The third member of our trio contacted me a few years after college. He’d found his way to a group who taught him that only by following their rigid religious rules could anyone truly call themselves a follower of Jesus. He accused me of not measuring up, of not truly being a follower. It sounded insane; The kind of insanity Paul was confronting among the Galatians. Having once followed by simply believing, my friend was now convinced that only by following a strict set of doctrinal beliefs and behavioral rules could he be “holy” and acceptable to God.
Today, I’m offering sincere prayers for the other two members of my college trio. I have such good memories of Saturday mornings with my Judson College homies wrapped in blankets, listening for Pee Wee’s secret word, and moose slippers. It was an important stretch of life’s journey for me and I will forever be grateful for that time and these two companions. I trust that whatever crazy Galatians-like path my one friend followed, God has been faithful in helping him find his way back to the simplicity of Jesus’ message: faith, grace, love, and forgiveness.
On “Remember When” Wednesdays I like to look back at some great posts of yesteryear and re-blog them for newer subscribers. This was originally posted in July, 2007.
Wendy’s four-month-old laptop crashed last Friday. The past ten days have been some of the busiest for Wendy’s job and the loss of the computer was agonizing. We took the laptop back to the Greek Squad on Friday and they immediately started the process of trying to recover the data off the hard drives. It would be a process of days to get the lap top back and even then Wendy would have to restore all of her software, all of her settings and rebuild her on-line life from scratch. Needless to say, she was angry, frustrated and depressed all weekend.
The situation only got worse on Monday when the Geek Squad called to inform her that they needed her “restoration disks”. Just an hour earlier I had left for meetings in Des Moines. Bad timing. This meant that she would have to drive to Des Moines and personally wait for up to five hours for the computer’s system to be restored so she could take it home. Wendy reluctantly took her book and found herself sitting on a bench outside of the Jordan Creek Mall reading as she waited.
A girl approached Wendy and asked to use her phone. Wendy obliged. Upon completion of the call the girl commented on Wendy’s tattoos. A conversation started. Wendy felt that still, small voice in her heart telling her this was not an ordinary conversation. This was a divine appointment. Seemingly, for no reason, the girl started to share the intimate details of her life to Wendy.
The girl had been abandoned by her parents and lived in a series of foster homes and orphanages. Wendy knows abandonment. She could relate. The girl had been adopted. Wendy knows what it’s like to be adopted and to live in a family with adopted children. The girls adopted parents raised her in the Open Bible Church. Wendy was raised in the Open Bible Church. The girl had run from her family. She ran from God. Her life was a mess. Wendy knows about running from God. She knows mess. She also knows God’s presence in mess.
Wendy didn’t need to mention God. The girl raised the subject. Seeing “Rev. 21:5” tattooed on Wendy’s shoulder, the girl asked about the verse and then asked “Are you a Christian?”
The discussion continued. Wendy silently prayed that the computer guys wouldn’t call her to pick up her computer until after this conversation was over. The two sat on that bench for a long time. The girl inexplicably poured out her heart to a stranger whom she met on a park bench outside of a mall. Wendy listened, related, and loved, reminding her that no matter where she runs in life – God does not let go. God has a plan for her life, and He won’t let go of her – even as she tries to let go of Him. The divine appointment ended with a hug, and with Wendy’s promise to pray for her. The girl walked away.
Within ten minutes her phone rang. The computer was ready.
To the uninitiated, business travel may seem kinda cool and glamorous. Perhaps for some professions it is, but the reality is that I rarely see more than the inside of my client’s office and the inside of my hotel room. I’m usually tired by evening and just want to go somewhere reliable for a decent meal.
Here are the Top Five restaurants I like to frequent as a frequent traveler:
- Despite my less than stellar experience in Texas last week, my favorite the past few years has been Buffalo Wild Wings. The naked tenders are reasonably healthy and I can usually watch the Cubs on one of the 3,293,492 televisions at every location.
- Another favorite is Chili’s. Chips and Queso are always a winner, and if I have the will power to resist that, the guiltless grill options are pretty good too.
- If it’s lunch time, I’ve recently been looking for an Applebee’s. They have a great tortilla soup which they serve in combo with half a turkey sandwich. Usually quick and not too filling before a long afternoon of meetings.
- If I’m really feeling tempted to ignore my diet by eating a great burger that’s really bad for me, I’ll head to Famous Dave’s and have a Devil’s Spit burger.
- If Wendy is with me on the road, and I’m blessed that she gets to join me at least a few times each year, we always look for Buca di Beppo. It’s too much for one, but the Italian food served family style in a fun and festive atmosphere has become one of our favorites as a couple. Ever since they inexplicably closed their West Des Moines location, we look forward to any opportunity to diner there.
This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. Galatians 2:4 (NIV)
As an actor, I was trained to dig into a character’s motivation and what makes him or her tick. Why do they act the way they do? What is it that he or she wants? What drives him or her to do that? The result is that Wendy and I find ourselves constantly observing people and discussing what it is that seems to motivate them. It’s not about being critical, in fact it’s just the opposite. Rather than observing a person’s behavior and immediately judging the person based merely on our reaction to his or her behavior, we try to genuinely gain a better understanding of why that person behaves the way they do.
Wendy and I were just talking over the weekend about a person we have observed who seemingly chooses to be shackled to their legalistic, religious rules. Our discussion led to that people who choose to be enslaved to legalistic, religious rules are motivated out of a fear of what others will think. It would seem that they are so worried about appearing good, pure, upstanding, holy that they will tie themselves up in knots to keep up the appearance of propriety (and will try to force their loved ones to do the same). The result? Uptight, joyless people enslaved to rules and perceptions.
This is exactly what Paul was touching on in today’s chapter. Experiencing the spiritual freedom to follow Jesus’ teaching without jumping through the legalistic hoops of Judaism, Paul now had to confront the uptight, joyless legalists who wished to put, and all other believers, him back in shackles. “No thanks,” I hear Paul saying and my own soul echoes the sentiment. I walked the path of legalism for several years and it twisted my soul to the point that love, joy, and peace were wrung out of my life – the very things that matter most.
To the legalistic, religious, rule following Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
The discussion Wendy and I had led us to feel sorry for our shackled friend. “We need to pray for them to experience real freedom,” Wendy said. Indeed. And, so we are.
Speaking of traditions, our friends came down from Des Moines last night to join us for Fiddler on the Roof and see Suzanna performing in the chorus. After the matinee performance we all came back to the house for a traditional Iowa summer cookout. Burgers on the grill and freshly picked Iowa sweet corn.
For those of you not from Iowa, late July and early August are a very special time of year around here. The sweet corn is finally ripe and the landscape in every community is dotted with pick-up trucks in lawns and parking lots selling beds full of freshly picked corn on the cob. I have often said that a pint of Guinness tastes different and better in Ireland than it does anywhere else in the world. So I would tell you that sweet corn on the cob tastes different and is better in Iowa than anywhere else in the world. It’s nature’s candy and it comes on its own ready-made stick.
Between my sophomore and junior years in college I interned as youth pastor of the Community Church in Kamrar, Iowa (population 110, SAL-UTE!). I lived that summer with a sweet retired couple named Stoffer and Vianna Gelder. I will never forget the late July weekend when the sweet corn was finally ripe. Vianna cooked up several big pots of sweet corn and we feasted on sweet corn on the cob. That’s all we ate for two evenings straight. Cob after cob of juicy, sweet corn dripping with fresh, melted Iowa butter and salted to perfection.
If you’ve never had it like that, just swing by in late July or early August and let us know you’re coming. We’ll buy a dozen ears of peaches n’ cream sweet corn out of the pick-up truck just off the town square. It’s the honor system, by the way. Just take a dozen ears and put your money in the box. Then we’ll boil ’em up to perfection and have a feast.
Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Galatians 1:10 (NIV)
Wendy and I went to see Union Street Players’ production of Fiddler on the Roof yesterday afternoon. It has been a long time since I’ve seen the show. I was a bit surprised how the musical, about changing times within a small, Russian Jewish community in the early 20th century, resonated with me.
We live in a small community with very deep Christian convictions, and our “Traditions” are very much like those of Anatevka, the community portrayed in Fiddler. For many, our Christian traditions provide a deep sense order and temporal peace in a rapidly changing world. When our traditions are threatened by change, it usually meets with loud and passionate objections fueled by anxiety and fear. As with Anatevka, there has historically been strong societal pressure to conform to the community traditions.
Paul was dealing with a very similar situation when he wrote to Jesus’ followers in Galatia. Most of Jesus’ early followers came from Jewish traditions which were then being threatened by non-Jewsish (a.k.a. Gentile) believers. The changes this wrought within these fledgling communities of believers was immense and the passionate divisions it stirred was intense. Those from Jewish traditions saw their faith in Jesus as a mere extension of their Jewish traditions. Those from Gentile traditions did not wish to adopt Jewish traditions to be followers of Jesus.
Paul, addressing these divisions, makes it clear that he has no interest in doing things simply to bow to human traditions and become a people pleaser. As Tevye and the residents of Anatevka discover in Fiddler on the Roof, the times, they are a changing. Paul makes it clear that he will follow Jesus, even if it means abandoning many of his traditions and raising the ire of the society in which he was raised and from which he came.
Today, I’m thinking about my own traditions, the ones passed down to me by family and community. Some I honor and obey because I feel Jesus clearly commands His followers to do so. Some I honor and follow because I find them beneficial to me and to my life, relationships, and community. Some, I find silly and don’t care about whatsoever. Traditions are a good thing right up to the point they become more about keeping up appearances and pleasing the community than they do about sincere faith and personal spiritual benefit.