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Three Minutes…

Take three minutes to read this before going to church. Then worship the One who gives this amazing gift…

From One Way Love by Tullian Tchividjian:

“Jesus came to liberate us from the weight of having to make it on our own, from the demand to measure up. He came to emancipate us from the burden to get it all right, from the obligation to fix ourselves, find ourselves, and free ourselves. Jesus came to release us from the slavish need to be right, rewarded, regarded, and respected. Because Jesus came to set the captives free, life does not have to be a tireless effort to establish ourselves, justify ourselves, and validate ourselves.

“The Gospel of Jesus Christ announces that because Jesus was strong for you, you’re free to be weak. Because Jesus won for you, you’re free to lose. Because Jesus was Someone, you’re free to be no one. Because Jesus was extraordinary, you’re free to be ordinary. Because Jesus succeeded for you, you’re free to fail. One way to summarize God’s message to the worn out and weary is like this— God’s demand: “be righteous”; God’s diagnosis: “no one is righteous”; God’s deliverance: “Jesus is our righteousness.” Once this good news grips your heart, it changes everything. It frees you from having to be perfect. It frees you from having to hold it all together. In the place of exhaustion, you might even find energy.

“No, the Gospel of grace is not too good to be true. It is true! It’s the truest truth in the entire universe. God loves us independently of what we may or may not bring to the table. There are no strings attached! No ifs, ands, or buts. No qualifiers or conditions. No need for balance. Grace is the most dangerous, expectation-wrecking, smile-creating, counterintuitive reality there is.

“Grace is a bit like a roller coaster; it makes us scream in terror and laugh uncontrollably at the same time. But there aren’t any harnesses on this ride. We are not in the driver’s seat, and we did not design the twists and turns. We just get on board. We laugh as the binding law of gravity is suspended, and we scream because it looks like we’re going to hurtle off into space. Grace brings us back into contact with the children we once were (and still are)— children who loved to ride roller coasters, to smile and yell and throw our hands up in the air. Grace, in other words, is terrifyingly fun, and like any ride worth standing in line for, it is worth coming back to again and again. In fact, God’s one-way love may be the only ride that never gets old, the only ride we thankfully never outgrow. A source of inexhaustible hope and joy for an exhausted world.”

———

Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.

I am emphatic about this. The moment any one of you submits to circumcision or any other rule-keeping system, at that same moment Christ’s hard-won gift of freedom is squandered. 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.

I suspect you would never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace. Meanwhile we expectantly wait for a satisfying relationship with the Spirit. For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love. (Galatians 5:1-6, The Message)

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“A great battle…”

“Philo of Alexandria is quoted as saying, ‘Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.’ ” — James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful God

Part of my responsibilities at Love In the Name of Christ (Love INC) include scheduling deliveries or arranging the pick-up of items that our “neighbors” have requested and are in need of. After an interview and verification process which begins building a relationship and determines the scope of each person’s needs, we gather the things needed from our warehouse of donated items. These may include appliances, furniture, clothing, curtains, dishes, and pots & pans. (By the way, we are always in need of good quality items)

Anyway, after the items have been gathered, my job is to contact the neighbor to arrange for a pickup, if possible, or a delivery. Deliveries are back-logged because, as more and more folks find out about us, the needs increase, and we have limited volunteers able to deliver items during the day. Therefore, if someone is able to pick their items up, they will receive them sooner. (By the way, we are always in need of volunteers at the warehouse, in the office, or to do deliveries)

Yesterday, I made a phone call, telling a woman that her items were ready and she could pick them up. She said that she had just come home from the hospital and was still in pain. She had no transportation. I told her that if we delivered, it might take longer for her to receive her items. She was angry and frustrated about this and begrudgingly said that she would call her god-daughter who might be able to pick them up for her. A few minutes later, her god-daughter called and said that she doesn’t have any transportation either and impatiently and angrily said that we should deliver the items. I then called the woman back, who was even more agitated by this time, seemingly ungrateful that we were meeting her needs. I could feel my flesh rising up within me when I somehow remembered the quote from the book above which I had read a year earlier. I remembered that this woman had just been discharged from the hospital and was in pain. It was the pain that was making her angry and impatient. She was indeed fighting a great battle.

I asked her how much pain she was in and she said she was in considerable pain. I asked if I could pray with her over the phone and she said that she needed prayer. We prayed together and when I said, “Amen”, her demeanor had changed totally. Her tone of voice had become more gentle and kind, and before she hung up, she thanked us profusely for helping her and praying for her.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.

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He’s The One…

I was prompted to read 2 Kings 6:8-22 yesterday morning. It’s the story of Elisha the prophet predicting the attacks that were happening to the army of Israel. Because of Elisha’s predictions, the Israelites had the upper hand. The enemy was so incensed by this that he sent an army of assassins to kill Elisha. If Elisha was dead, the enemy’s superior forces would then be able to overrun the Israelites.

The enemy found where Elisha was staying, surrounded the city at night, and when Elisha’s servant saw what the predicament was, he panicked. But the man of God, Elisha, told his servant to look to the hills, where, after Elisha prayed, he saw the “hills full of horses and chariots of fire.” Elisha says, “Don’t worry. The army that fights for us is greater than the one against us.” (v.16)

Of course, that brings great comfort when we couple it with New Testament passages like Romans 8:31:

“If God is for us then who can be against us?”

and 1 John 4:4 which says,

“Greater is the one in you than the one who is in the world.”

God fights for us. He’s been fighting for us since the beginning of time and has gone to incredible lengths (understatement!) to fight for us and redeem us.

I was then somehow reminded of the song borne out of the Brownsville Revival of the last 1990s, “Enemy’s Camp.” We used to sing it with great enthusiasm. It was a fun song to sing. It went like this:

Well, I went to the enemy’s camp and
I took back what he stole from me (x3)
I went to the enemy’s camp and
I took back what he stole from me

You know
He’s under my feet (x6)
Satan is under my feet.

However, in thinking about those lyrics, I’m not the one who went to the enemy’s camp. Jesus did. He took back what the enemy, Satan, stole. He’s the One who is the victor! He is the One who has Satan under His feet, foretold in the first prophesy in the Bible, as God curses the serpent in the Garden after the Fall:

So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
“Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.
And I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
(Genesis 3:14-15)

I am saved… I am protected… I am redeemed… I am comforted… by the Victor — Jesus — and His army.

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Reason to Shout!

But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

(Colossians 1:22-23)

The Scripture above makes it clear that:

1) As believers, you and I are holy. You may not feel like it. I certainly don’t. But faith isn’t always about feelings. In fact, it’s rarely about feelings. Faith is being “sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1) Faith is about trusting and walking in it. In this case, it’s knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are holy. And you didn’t have anything to do with it! It’s only by the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus. You are free! You are declared NOT GUILTY in the Highest Court of All. And it’s all because of Jesus and His death on the Cross.

2) Secondly, the only thing we have to do is continue to walk by faith in this Good News: by faith alone in the work done by Christ alone, it is finished! This is your hope. This is my hope.

It is the Good News that brings freedom. It’s not a freedom to just accept the gift of God’s grace, and then go on with the rest of our lives as if nothing has happened. No. Once you understand what has been done for you and me, it changes you. It changes everything! As a captive set free, you can walk… no, run, with hands lifted high to the One who loves you and accepts you.

This is Good News that sets us free from having to work for God’s favor. It sets us free from trying to remain in God’s good graces, as the saying goes. We are loved and accepted! It is this firm hope that brings liberty and joy.

It gives us the freedom to shout with joy of the coming of our King this Chistmas.

He truly is the (only) Hope for all the world.

 

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Desperate… Still Desperate

Do you miss them? Have you even noticed that they’re not there? If you attend a church in Augusta County, then I know you’ve noticed that they are not at the first corner you come to as you exit church.

Yes, I miss the panhandlers.

And, yes, I know that they made more money on their corner than many of us make in a year. Yes, I know that they may have financed their drug trade by panhandling. I realize that. Yet I still miss them, but not in the way you think.

Panhandlers, for me, helped keep my social conscience in check. They were a constant wake-up call to the desperate plight of society. More than anything, they reminded me of my own desperation. Without them – to some extent – I grow numb to my desperate need for God’s grace. I believe that I’m doing just fine, thank you very much. I’m reading my Bible, memorizing my Scripture, being obedient, doing my good deeds, and filling my mornings with “quiet time.”

Yet, I’m reminded that all this self-sufficient, self-righteousness is like filthy rags… like menstrual cloths, as the Hebrew actually translates it. (Isaiah 64:6) When I remember that my supposed “righteous” acts don’t get me any closer to God, I echo the cry of the disciples, “Who, then, can be saved?!?” (Matthew 19:26)

No one. That’s the answer. No one. No one can be saved outside of God’s amazing grace. No matter how well you’re doing on this journey called faith, your goodness doesn’t get you in. Your obedience doesn’t get you in. (Read Matthew 19: “All these I have done since I was a child”) Your presence in your pew on Sunday or your prayer closet on Monday doesn’t get you in.

Likewise, no matter how poorly you’re doing on this journey of faith, your failures, doubts, and questions don’t keep you out of the Kingdom. That’s right. Because in the eyes of our holy God, we ALL are doing poorly at being perfectly holy… which is what He requires. We ALL have sinned and fallen short. (Romans 3:23) We keep falling short!

Praise be to God, He has given us this wonderful, astounding, radical gift of grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus is the only One who can save us, if we’re desperate enough to realize it.

His grace is sufficient for a panhandler like me.

Now, that’s Good News!

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)