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Never buy a lawnmower from Sears

by john o'keefe


The story:

In the process of moving we are gaining land.  Now, that is not a big deal for many people, but by moving across country we are gaining "land" in the new house.  While that may seem cool, one needs to remember that now I have to spend Saturday mornings mowing a bigger lawn.  What was once done with a nice craftsman push mower, will now take a riding mower.  Which brings me to my story.


While looking around our new town we stopped by the local Sears to see what a "riding mower" would cost.  While we were there, a couple of sales people came up and wanted to help, which was cool.  So, we started to ask questions.  Not being from the area, we had a lot of questions. However, before any of my questions were answered, one of the sales people asked how long we had lived in the area.  I mentioned that we were interviewing with a church and that if all went well, we would be out at the end of July.  With that, the following conversation took place:


"You're a pastor?" he asked (with a big emphases on the "you're")

"Yup."  I replied, looking over at Tina.

"Where are you interviewing? 

"We are talking with Connection." (By the way, this is the best church in the world)


"Are they a 'Christian' church?"  he asked.  This confused us, because I said nothing before to imply that it was not, nor did I say anything to imply that it was.  All I had mentioned was the name of the church. Then it hit me - the church is not the "1st" or "2nd" anything, nor does it have a "traditional church name."  So looking over at Tina, and looking very lost, I answered, "Yes, it is."


"What denomination?"  he asked (again, I was wondering if I was falling into a trap, and at that time I saw Tina stepping back from the conversation)

"Well, I think it's more 'multi-denominational' than anything, but no 'denomination.'" I answered.

"So, who is in control?"

"Jesus." I said, kind of sheepishly and just waiting for the hammer to hit.


"Well, I hope so - but, do you believe in 'the law?'"  He asked, with the term "the law" being more like, "the laaaaaw."  And with that, I knew, I fell into some kind of theological trap. And with that I looked and saw that Tina had made her escape to the other side of the department looking at socket tools.


"Well, I am a guy of grace, not law. So, I am not sure you will be happy with my answer. Let's let it go."  I answered.  But, that was not going to be the case.  He looked at me, with his friend standing in complete agreeance beside him, said, "The law is important and if you reject the law you are rejecting Jesus."  With that, I started the search for Tina. I spotted her and she was calling me over - giving me the perfect escape.


"Well, thank you but I disagree" I said, at my most humble.  "I came here to see about a mower and really do not desire to have a theological debate.  So, about this mower..."  Then, I was cut off by his friend, who said, "So, you are denying the law?  And you call yourself Christian?"  


"Yes," I said, "now about the mower..." but then it became a tag team attack.  "So, you’re really not a true Christian because you do not believe in 'the law.'  How can you call yourself a pastor if you are not teaching the law?"


I tried to answer, but again realized I was in the theological trap that I did not desire to be in - a discussion concerning "grace" and "law" with some fundamentalists who work at Sears.  My desire has nothing to do with my not being secure in my opinion, but more in the fact that I was at Sears, buying a lawn mower, and really not interested in debating.  I also find it hard to have an open discussion with people who want to spam you with their points, never allowing you to get your point in.  At about this time, Tina returned to take me to safety.


"Gents, it's all good. You think as you like, I've got to run."  I said as I was trying to make my way to Tina. They followed and just kept spamming.  I thanked them again, but they kept coming. The one who started this all, looked at me and said, "I have been a senior pastor.  I am currently an elder in my church, and I have two masters degrees in theology.  I can tell you are wrong."


With that, Tina grabbed my arm and we started to head out of the department.  Which, by the way, is the easiest way to get rid of fundamentalist Sears sales people on a law kick. It's like a chained dog, they can't leave their departments.


As we were walking away, Tina looked at me and said, "Who gets 'two masters degrees in theology'?"  With that, we laughed and went on.


Law or grace? 

 Jesus’ teachings, Paul’s letters, and I are pretty straight forward in that God is primarily concerned about our intent, and the quality of our relationships, and grace, not law.  Jesus said that the entire law was based on two principles; loving God, and loving others. I believe that as long as we do this, we are not bound by any specific legal code. We are called to a free, non-legal approach to following Christ.


But, those who differ, and agree with a "legal code" as a rule of faith say that ideally a Christian who is following Christ perfectly should not need a legal code. His heart should be so filled with love, and his mind should be so in tune with God that he would do the right thing naturally. This is always the Christian ideal. However, because we remain imperfect in this life, most Christians would say that law has a role to play, even if it isn't precisely the same as it was for the Jews.  Now, I find this a weak and abusive use of God's word, and that we are 100% under grace and not at all under law. (Romans 6:14-15; For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace)



Three uses of the law:

I believe that most churches that demand "law" do so abusively and for control.  They see the law as a way to "make people act right" forgetting that when one is a Christian acting right is the responsibility of the holy spirit. If a person is not a Christian, we are not to demand they follow any rules.  Here are three factors I believe most churches use the law for, and biblical support for a very different point of view.


(1) As an external discipline, necessary to restrain those who are not saved (and in some cases, those who are saved, because of their remaining temptation to sin).


The first problem with this idea is that it is not our place to demand those outside the church act a certain way because, they are "outside" the church.  One of the biggest problems we seem to have as Christians is the idea that all must follow what we believe is right. Then, we force them to live by our "rules." However, if we keep scripture in mind we are reminded that, "I'm not responsible for what the outsiders do." But, don't we have some responsibility for those within our community of believers? God decides on the outsiders, but we need to decide when our brothers and sisters are out of line, and if necessary, clean house (1 Corinthians 5:12-13).  We also need to remember that no one is "saved" via the law.  The law does not lead to salvation, "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law." (Romans 3:28).  In fact, I believe that the law keeps us from salvation, stops people from wanting to know about Christ and stops us from learning how we are to be in Christ.  If you look at Galatians 3:19, I think you will see what I mean, " The purpose of the law was to keep a sinful people in the way of salvation until Christ (the descendant) came, inheriting the promises and distributing them to us.  Obviously this law was not a firsthand encounter with God. It was arranged by angelic messengers through a middleman, Moses."  I love the way Paul puts it in his letter to the Romans, "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men." (Romans 14:16-18).  I wonder what to do with scripture like this,  " In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:11)."


(2) As a standard that convicts us of sin, and makes us realize our need of God's grace.


The "standard" that convicts us of our sins is Christ on the cross, and not the law.  I think Peter said it best (and in many places Paul and others have his back on this), when he said, "He used his servant body to carry our sins to the Cross so we could be rid of sin, free to live the right way. His wounds became your healing (1 Peter 2:24)."  The law cannot lead to grace; because by it's nature the law does not have grace in it.  In many cases, the law is seen as "supervision" and "controlling" and Paul thinks this is a very bad thing to be under, " Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law (Galatians 3:25)."  Paul also adds in his letter to the Hebrews, [Jesus Like Melchizedek] "If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come—one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?" (Hebrews 7:11).


(3) As a standard for those who are saved, to help them in living in accordance with God's will.


Who defines that standard?  The pastor?  The elders?  My "standard" is not the law. "Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law." (Galatians 3:25) My standard is the life of Christ ("because the law leads to death, and Christ to life. Once I was alive apart from law, but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died; as Paul says in Romans 7:9).  One of the biggest problems facing churches today is the fact that we are not teaching people to be "Christ-like," but rather to be "Moses-like".  The truth is, to know who Jesus is, and follow with an open heart. I love the way Paul addresses the law in Romans, "But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify (Romans 3:21)."   


"You shouldn't have any trouble understanding this friends, for you know all the ins and outs of the law - how it works and how its power touches only the living. For instance, a wife is legally tied to her husband while he lives, but if he dies, she's free. If she lives with another man while her husband is living, she's obviously considered an adulteress. But if he dies, she is quite free to marry another man in good conscience, with no one's disapproval.


This is something like what has taken place with you.  When Christ died he took that entire rule-dominated way of life down with him and left it in the tomb.  Leaving you free, to "marry" a resurrection life and bear "offspring" of faith for God.  For as long as we lived that old way of life, doing whatever we felt we could get away with, sin was calling most of the shots as the old law code hemmed us in. And this made us all the more rebellious. In the end, all we had to show for it was miscarriages, stillbirths and divorce. But now that we're no longer shackled to that domineering mate of sin, and out from under all those oppressive regulations and fine print, we're free to live a new life in the freedom of God (Romans 7:1-6)."


Those three areas lead us to some very interesting conclusions.  One, is that the heart of those who desire that we follow the law, cheapen grace and seek control and long to be "the answer-man" of the faith.  Also, that the law is truly over and the standard of grace is the way we are to live in our faith.  While both of these points are points I truly believe in, they are supported by a vast number of scripture.


Yet all this still brings out one question. How is a person to know the difference between right and wrong?  To some, this is not a very hard question. They jump in with "the law".  People, who demand we follow the law, say that while we all have a generalized idea of right and wrong. You say, "Who says that stealing is wrong, while honoring your parents is right?"  They answer, "the ten commandments, of course."  Yet, they forget that Jesus' answer is that we love God with all our heart and soul, and others as ourselves. When we do those, we do not steal, kill, harm, cheat, abuse, or cause pain in any way.  What this does, is places our actions in relationship to Christ, and not a list of rules.  We must walk in the shadow of Christ, and not in the rules


Motives of those who demand law:

I often wonder why pastoral leaders demand that people follow "the law".  Then I have to ask myself about the hearts of pastors who do.  You see, if there is a "law" then there must also be a "priest" to help interpret that law.  That is the way scripture demands the relationship.  There in lies the problem; power and control.  Most pastors do not see the grace of the spirit, and all they can see is their "priestly role" and demand people follow laws.  But, that is not what we are to be as pastors.  They see their role as being "the one who determines what the law means and how it must be followed."  For example, if you want to hang out with buds and have a beer and you ask your pastor if is all right to do so, and he says, "No, you can not drink any alcohol and you must not have friends that do." - what do you do?  Given the fact that there is no "law" against drinking a beer, how do you handle this?  What we need to remember is that Paul tells Timothy that there is only one priest (1 Timothy 2:5 that there's one God and only one, and one Priest-Mediator between God and us--Jesus). Now, this may not be a popular view if you are looking to build a power base, but then again, we aren't.  Pastors that require that you follow a set of laws are going far beyond their role as a pastor.  Paul shares that when he says, " These people, who are attempting to force the ways of circumcision on you, have only one motive: They want an easy way to look good before others, lacking the courage to live by a faith that shares Christ's suffering and death. All their talk about the law is gas" (Galatians 6:12).  You see, to live by faith is to take courage and take faithfulness to the work of God.  It is not taking the scriptures and turning them into a bunch of "you can't do this" rules with no bite, and only harm (Romans 6:14-15; "For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.").


No matter our hearts, our motives or our desires we need to remember that the law is over (Romans 10:4 Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes).  Even if we think we are helping others with rules, we are not - we are harming them.  Paul shares a warning, one that I will close with, concerning having people live in law.   As Paul says, " For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law" (Hebrews 7:12).  The law is over, Christ came and grace wins. 


A warning:

For me, I have no desire to sell my soul to the law.  I desire to live in Christ and know his love, peace and grace.  When we see law as an answer, we become slaves to what is.  Remember what Paul says, " I repeat my warning: The person who accepts the ways of circumcision trades all the advantages of the free life in Christ for the obligations of the slave life of the law (Galatians 5:3)."




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