Tag Archives: religion

photo courtesy of Crazy Ivory via Compfight Creative Commons

Understanding Grace

By Kevin Howell

grace
photo by Crazy Ivory via Compfight Creative Commons

 

As a young Christian, I struggled with sin. I understood it was part of the process of growing and maturing in God, and though I was no longer a sinner, I would still have to deal with sin for the rest of my life. In fact, I was told that in some way, every day, we all sin. So each night, before I went to bed, I reflected on my day to figure out how and when I sinned, because for sure, I did at some point.

I was sin-conscious, and more than bad habits, human depravity, my own lust, or temptations in the world, that’s why I sinned. Because sin and repentance was on my mind, daily.

There’s a theory in sports, whether shooting a basketball or a pistol, bowling, throwing a baseball or football, that whatever you focus on, that’s where the ball will go. Likewise, when my mind was focused on sin, avoiding sin, and repenting of sin, sin remained in my consciousness. So in spite of efforts to avoid it, I’d always come back to the same sins. Why? Because I was focused on them. I was trying to overcome sin by denying my flesh and building my spirit, based on principles we hear within Christian culture. However, I’ve found that to be ineffective and unbiblical.

I don’t have to try to overcome sin because sin has already been overcome.

My efforts were futile trying to win a battle I was incapable of winning. That’s why Jesus fought it for us already. Grace has taught me to accept the finished work of Christ. Do I still sin? Of course. But I’m no longer looking for it. I don’t try to figure out if and how I sinned every day. The Spirit of God will bring conviction to an area I need to address. I decided to live in grace instead of live in fear of sin.

Grace has become a controversial topic lately. As some people are leery of a hyper-grace message that is accepting of sin. But a true understanding of grace motivates us to live righteously.

“Amazing Grace,” the classic hymn by John Newton, has a verse that illustrates the power of grace:

“T’was grace that taught my heart to fear,

and grace my fears relieved”

Grace teaches us the fear and reverence of God. It gives us understanding of His power, sovereignty, authority, and dominion. It reminds me that I exist, breath, and am not consumed because of grace. Yet at the same time, that same grace relieves me of the fear of sin and its consequences. I don’t have to fear judgment; I don’t have to constantly repent to be accepted. Grace has taken away those fears.

I no longer struggle with sin. Not because I’m perfect, or because I don’t care about how I live. I’ve taken my focus off the negative and put it on the positive. That’s why I’m moving toward grace.

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What I Hate About the Bible

By Kevin Howell

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photo by john dukes

I can’t front, there are certain times when I really can’t stand the Bible. I know it sounds more evangelical to say I love God’s Word, every scripture and phrase, but that’s not the case. I certainly believe the Word is faultless, essential, God-inspired and all that, but certain things don’t sit well with me.

Sometimes I wish I could pull a Thomas Jefferson and cut out the verses I don’t like (contrary to political posturing, our founding fathers weren’t so fundamental/evangelical). Like the “bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you and pray for those who use you” stuff? Yeah, that would have to go. I rather pray like King David and ask God to “vanquish” my foes.

The Bible is great as long as it’s uplifting and teaching me things. But when it cuts to the heart, convicting me of wayward behavior, it sucks. Well, sucks to my flesh at least.

TOUGH LESSONS

I was reading the book of James recently, and everything was sounding cool until I got to chapter 3. The first verse was hard enough to swallow: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we teachers will be judged by a higher standard and with greater severity.”

Obviously, the apostle wasn’t referring to academic teachers, but rather Bible teachers, Sunday school instructors, ministers, etc. Being someone who teaches the Word, I pulled a Biz Markie (see right) when I read it (you mean I have to actuallyoh snap live what I teach? Just kidding. I do… most of the time… seriously…don’t judge me).

After that scared me straight, the next few verses seemed tame. It talks about how we should watch what we say because the tongue is a dangerous weapon. I thought I had this one down pat. I always watch what I say, I’m positive, uplifting — I’m pretty much a black Joel Osteen. But then God smacked me with a dose of reality. I may not say negative things directly to people, but how often do I take part in the gossip at work? When co-workers complain about our boss, do I join in the criticism? Do I laugh at jokes that disparage others? Guilty on all three counts.

The Bible is so good — annoyingly good — at exposing our weaknesses. Just when we think we have it all together, we get smacked with conviction. As much as it hurts, and sucks to realize you’re not all that, it is necessary — necessary for growth. As much as the uplifting scriptures encourage me, the challenging ones sharpen me. They smooth the rough edges of my character. They make me a better man.

But these benefits can happen only if I choose to change. I always teach students the key to spiritual growth is how you respond to conviction. Now I’m challenged to practice what I preach. So as easy as it is to participate in the rants and raucous jokes at work, I have to remember I’m held to a higher standard. I represent more than myself. I represent Jesus and a family of believers. I can hate the truth or let it change me.

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What scriptures get under your skin? What have you been challenged with in the Bible lately? Leave your thoughts in the comments. Thanks.

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Religion Isn’t a Bad Word

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By Kevin Howell

A popular cliché within the church is that Christianity is a relationship, not a religion. There’s plenty of truth in that statement. I’ve said it several times myself. And for the most part, I live it. My faith is more of a personal and intimate connection with God than a system of beliefs, practices, and rituals. The emphasis should be on the personal relationship, but the beliefs, practices, and rituals do matter.

In the last generation or so, we as Christians have been trying to steer ourselves away from religion because of the cultural connotation of the word. To many, including myself, religion is associated with dogma, rules, regulations, and rigidness. It’s depicted as a restrictive, empty, and unfulfilling institution. Things such as hypocrisy and conniving televangelists are associated with the term. But at its core, religion is none of that. Our society has turned it into that over the years, and unfortunately, that’s how the church has portrayed it in the past.

In the Bible — which should be the basis of our definition anyway — James writes: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).

So, in truth, religion is not about systematic beliefs, rules, and rituals, but rather about action. It’s about compassion. It’s about love. It’s about devotion and discipline. And I wonder if those of us who claim that we hate religion but have a relationship with God are living the practices God accepts. Are we so caught up in the “personal relationship” with God that we ignore the religious duty to care for those in distress?

This is not an indictment… OK, yes it is. It’s a self-indictment as well. We have allowed society to redefine religion for us. We say we won’t let society redefine marriage from what God intended, but we sure let them smear religion. And maybe that’s our fault. Maybe the church became more known for the wrong things, and not the things that God intended. If pure religion is the compassionate care for orphans and widows (i.e. those who are abandoned, lonely, destitute, and poor), that should be our primary function. This theology is consistent with Jesus’ words and actions, as He declared He is anointed to preach the gospel to the poor, heal the brokenhearted, and free those who are oppressed (Luke4:18). Throughout His ministry, that’s what He did: He practiced true religion.

I understand the need to illustrate the difference between the negative caricature of religion and what you live and believe when someone asks you if you’re religious. But next time, ask them what they mean by religious. Then give them the true definition of religion, and explain how and why you live it.

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