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How to respond…

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13 NIV)

Brennan Manning says…

“This is a passage to be read and reread because every generation has tried to dim the blinding brightness of its implications. Those of us scarred by sin are called to closeness with Him around the banquet table. The kingdom of God is not a subdivision for the self-righteous or for those who lay claim to private visions of doubtful authenticity and boast they possess the state secret of their salvation. No, as Eugene Kennedy notes, ‘It is for a larger, homelier, and less self-conscious people who know they are sinners because they have experienced the yaw and pitch of moral struggle.’ The men and women who are truly filled with light are those who have gazed deeply into the darkness of their own imperfect existence.”

As we look out into a culture which seems to be slipping into the abyss, we should keep in mind…

1) That we should not be surprised. This has been predicted for over 2000 years (2 Tim 3:1-5; 4:3) and will continue to get worse, not better. Each day, we are one day closer to Jesus’ return.

2) Nor should we think that God has lost control or been taken by surprise. God is on His throne. His Word will endure forever. The gates of hell will not prevail against His Church.

3) That we should pray for all people. Our friends and our opponents. The leaders and the followers… everybody and everyone because “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4)

4) Find another way of reaching those we need to reach beside Bible-thumping and doctrine-thumping. Although, unfortunately, there will be plenty of “hellfire and brimstone” preaching this Sunday, those that need to be reached won’t be in attendance. It is God’s kindness that leads to repentance (Romans 2:4). It is God’s kindness, love, grace, and mercy expressed through the Cross of Jesus Christ that will change hearts. Shaking heads and pointing fingers will not soften hearts. But the love of God can and will. As Christians, we need to love better, plain and simple.

Also, in good conscience, I cannot shake my head, point my finger, and stand aghast without looking in the mirror. When I look in the mirror, I do the same: shake my head and stand aghast at my own heart… and then – in desperation – cry out to the One who supplies the love, grace, and mercy to us all.

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The Ripple-Effect

Yesterday I discovered that another nationally-known, prominent Christian pastor has fallen to “moral failure.” In other words, he committed adultery. I was heartbroken for him, his wife (revealed to also have an affair), and his kids. After meeting with his church’s leadership, he resigned. His mega-church will be shaken to the core, as will the national ministry he founded. The ripple-effects will be widespread.

This is Billy Graham’s grandson, Tullian Tchividjian. Not only will his immediate family, his megachurch, and the national ministry, Liberate, be shaken, so will his extended family. Although there they don’t always agree theologically or politically, I’m sure the entire family is broken.

The effect doesn’t end there, of course. I find myself grieving as well.

This is a man who has always said how desperate he is for the grace of God. No more so than now, I suspect. He is a man who knows (hopefully, now more than ever) “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) But he has tweeted an apology to all who would hear it that he knows sin has its consequences.

His wife.
His children.
His extended family.
His church family.
His ministry.

His witness.
His credibility.

I think about all who listened to his eloquent preaching and beautiful writing and I cringe and shake my head. It’s tragic.

If you’re reading this and are contemplating an affair or are hoping that your flirtations might lead somewhere, just think of the consequences. They are lifelong. Believe me, I know. Rightly or wrongly, they will affect your credibility and influence for the rest of your life. Is there grace? Praise God, yes! But the ripple-effect of the consequences are far-reaching, too.

You may think I’ve put Tullian Tchividjian on a pedestal. I don’t think I have. Was I influenced by him. Oh yes! Thankfully, yes! I don’t set aside my love for the Gospel and know we all need it everyday. I will continue to be impacted by his ministry. Partly because of his preaching and writing, I have truly discovered the love of God and the true nature of the Gospel. Although another Christian leader has fallen, Jesus Christ and His love remain steadfast.

His love endures forever.

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The Worst

Do you remember Jim Bakker? Of course you do. To be honest, I had to look up how he had “fallen from grace.” It was a sex scandal and accounting fraud that led to his imprisonment and divorce, according to Wikipedia (the source of all knowledge – ha!). He is now out of prison, remarried, and pursuing ministry. He is being used by God again.

I recently heard of a pastor preaching a sermon entitled, “I am Jim Bakker.” In his sermon, he detailed, to the horror of his wife, kids, and congregation, how sinful he truly was. He was not guilty of the infamous sins that Jim Bakker was imprisoned and “defrocked” for, but, in no uncertain terms, let it be known how sinful he was — in word, thought, and deed.

The apostle Paul did the same thing in an even more open forum, the Bible. He is, from the grave, constantly reminding us of who he was and what he had done. He persecuted Christians, leading to their imprisonment and death. He was a not-so-innocent bystander at the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:58). He was a murderer or at least an accomplice.

He reminds us of this in his first letter to his mentee, Timothy:

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15)

The writer of almost half of the New Testament tells us how bad he is. “The worst,” he says.

Somehow, I think we ALL can say that. I know I can. When faced with the holiness of God, I know I can call myself a sinful man. If you only knew. Like Paul and like that pastor who preached the sermon, I can declare that I am a sinner. Everyday. Plain and simple. Cut and dried.

But Paul continues and thankfully offers hope and shows us our purpose at the same time. He continues:

“But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” (v.16)

God wants to use me and you to show His love, patience, and glory. He uses our brokenness to minister to others. What the enemy means to destroy us, God can and does redeem for His glory! I’ve seen this in my own life and in lives around me more times than I can count.

In a recent interview, Jim Bakker said:

“I’m glad it all happened. Now I can go anywhere and be with anybody in the whole world, and there are no raised eyebrows. I can go into any bar — any social circle of outcasts — and nobody tells me that I ought to be careful because ’people will talk’ and that I will ’hurt my reputation.’ People have already talked, and I don’t have any reputation to hurt. It doesn’t matter anymore. I’m free!”

That’s what walking in the light does. When we bring our secrets out in the open for God to see, we can walk in freedom. When we admit that we’re no better than the next person, we don’t need to point out what the next person did. There are no more masks. No more pretending to be good. We can praise God and His Good News. We can thank Him that He was the only Good One. We can praise Him for what He’s done for us.

And we can join the apostle Paul when he continues in the next verse, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (v.17)

Yes. Amen!

An Innocent Man

I’m reading The Gospel For Real Life by Jerry Bridges and one of the chapters is about God’s justice. For me, knowing that God is the ultimate Judge, Jury, and Jailkeeper allows me to rest, not wanting to seek retribution or revenge on those who treat me wrongly or in some way, lie and cheat their way through life. I know that, in the end, ultimate justice will prevail.

If you’ve ever been the victim of a crime or know someone who has, you wants justice. You want the person who committed the crime to receive justice and to pay the penalty for the crime they committed against you, your family, or against society at large. You want them to pay, plain and simple. Like you, I want justice to be swift and I want it to be severe.

But what if you’re the person who committed the crime? You don’t want that. In fact, you hope for mercy or even a miscarriage of justice. A miscarriage of justice. Let that sink in a bit. That would be the wrong person paying the price for someone else’s crime. It would mean that an innocent man would pay the penalty.

Now, place yourself as the criminal. You are the one who committed the heinous crime… and yet, somehow, there has been a miscarriage of justice… an innocent man is paying the penalty for your crime. Do you cry out to save this man? Do you contact the authorities and let them know that they’ve got the wrong man? Probably not. The law of self-preservation is at work and you (and I) remain silent. Got to save our own skin, after all.

Now, right in front of you, the sentence is being carried out… the death penalty… and you’re being forced to watch. Well, maybe not forced, but you can’t miss it. It’s right in front of you. It’s up there… there He is… hanging on a cross.

To understand the grace of God, you and I must understand the justice and holiness of God. God hates sin, but loves you and I. A penalty had to be paid… and in an unfathomable act of love, God sent his own Son to carry out His justice and to show us His love.

It was His justice being served ON HIMSELF… on an innocent man.

Today, mindful of that, I am thankful for and worshipful of that man: Jesus.

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Resting in His Presence

A friend of mine and I are working our way through The Good and Beautiful God, a wonderful book by James Bryan Smith. It is framed around the premise that we have many false narratives about God, His character, and His nature that need to be replaced by the way Jesus saw and knew His Father. In essence, we need to renew our minds. Its subtitle is: “Falling In Love With the God Jesus Knew.” I highly recommend it.

We are on Chapter 4: God is Generous. At the end of each chapter is some homework: a “Soul Training Exercise.” The exercise for this chapter is to memorize the already familiar Psalm 23 and recite it as many times as possible throughout the week (two weeks in this case, since my friend and I meet every two weeks).

So here it is from memory:

The Lord is my shepherd.
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil,
For you are with me.
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil.
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

I’ve meditated on those verses, on each phrase, and in most cases, on each word. I have mental pictures of each verse or phrase, such as “green pastures” and “still waters.” Those word-pictures are easy to envision. However, as I meditate on “You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies,” I have trouble with that imagery.

As I conjure up an image in my mind, it is one of confident defiance of any enemy, or of the Enemy of my soul. It is a confidence of knowing that I am a child of God, with Christ dwelling within me, and I live in the unshakeable Kingdom of God. There is nothing that the Enemy can do to ULTIMATELY defeat me. God is mine, and most importantly, I am His. No matter what lies ahead, even in the darkest valley, God is with me.

How is it that the Lamb of God, who died for me and you and who takes away the sins of the world, now is the Good Shepherd!?! My mind almost cannot comprehend that kind of love!

I can truly rest in that generous love. He DOES make me lie down in green pastures. I CAN rest beside still waters.

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God Will Never Give Up On You

I recently saw this photo posted on Facebook and as I read the words and thought about it, the more and more I disagreed with those words. Although I am so thankful for my Savior and the work done on the imageCross, and know that I did nothing to deserve it, my disagreement with those words stem from how I now think of God.

You see, I spent years and years thinking that the more I did for God, the more pleased He would be with me. I think I projected what I thought about my earthly father upon my Heavenly Father. Achievement was highly valued in my family. I discovered this growing up, especially when I fell short of expectations or failed. I felt the displeasure when I failed and I felt the comparisons to the achievements of my older brothers. Even as a young boy, I grew to fear the anger and wrath of my father. Don’t get me wrong: He was an excellent provider for my family and taught a work ethic that seems to be lost on later generations. My point is: I projected these feelings upon my Heavenly Father; I felt the same way toward God. The more I prayed, studied my Bible, served others, and worked for God, the more pleasing I thought I was to God. I would suspect that I’m not alone in feeling that way.

If you or I feel that God could give up on us, based on what we’ve done (or not done), then we must not have faith that what God – through Christ – accomplished on the Cross was sufficient or that His grace is enough. If you or I feel that God could give up on us, then it says volumes about how we view God.

I (recently) discovered that God’s love IN NO WAY depends on me. His love was a “one-way” transaction, resulting in my salvation, deliverance, healing, and wholeness. That heart-knowledge has brought me tremendous freedom. That is what the Gospel does.

Now I am deeply rooted in God’s love, knowing that nothing can separate me from that love (Romans 8:38-39) and knowing that no one or nothing can snatch me from His hand (John 10:1-18; 27-30). There is nothing I can do to make God love me any less than He does right now or did when Jesus hung on the Cross. God delights in me, not because of what I do or don’t do, but simply because of who He is and the fact that now, by faith, I am His. I didn’t do anything to earn His love or delight, nor can I do anything to make him shun me. He loves me, not as I love, but as He is, because He is love.

He won’t give up on me (or you, Christian) because that is not His nature or character. His love is eternal. His love is unfailing. His love is enduring. His love never fails. (1 Cor 13:8)

If you are His, God will never give up on you.

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God Isn’t Mad at You

God is not mad at you.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied,” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ ” (Matthew 22:36-37)

There it is: The greatest commandment is to love God with all that we are. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t come naturally for me. I suspect that it doesn’t come naturally for most. Since it doesn’t come naturally, I guess I’ll just be obedient and muster up some love for God because that’s what I’m supposed to do.

No. That’s not it at all. We can’t just muster up love… for God, for our spouse, or for our enemies (as Jesus tells us to do as well). No, we love because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19) We can respond with love for God when we realize how much He loves us and delights in us.

James Bryan Smith states in his book, The Good and Beautiful God:

“What if God… responds to us with absolute delight regardless of how we look or feel, or what we have or have not done? The only possible response would be to feel ‘absolute delight’ in return. If God is delighted in me — regardless of my performance -— then my immediate response is to feel love in return. And in so doing, I fulfill the greatest commandment.”

So many Christians are taught that God responds to us by how we respond to God. That is, many of us are taught that God will be more pleased with us if we would pray more, read our Bibles more, and serve more. Throw in a little fasting on the side, and you’ll have the favor of God.

But that is not the generous, giving, gracious God that Jesus tells us about. Remember the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard? (Matthew 20:1-15) No matter when they were hired, they received the standard wage. It didn’t depend on how long or hard they worked; they all received the same wage from their generous employer. Jesus says that the Kingdom of God operates the same way.

Smith goes on to say:

“Two of the most important verses in the Bible, in my opinion, are 1 John 4:10-11. They are the verses that began my own transformation by the renewing of my mind: ‘This is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.’ These verses became the bedrock of my dominant narrative about God. Our love for God does not determine God’s attitude toward us. God loves us first, and we see that clearly in God’s Son offering his life in order to reconcile us to God. And that love propels me to love God and others in return.”

God is not mad at you.

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Good News… Finally!

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:3 NIV)

I can remember teaching on this verse (and on holiness) in men’s group a few years ago. In essence, I taught: “God has equipped you with everything you need to live godly lives — it says it right there! Now go out and do it! If you fail, keep trying! In fact, try harder! If you don’t think you can do it, then you’re saying that God’s Word is not true. We all know that’s not the case, so you ought to be able to live holy lives.”

Mishandling God’s truth is a scary thing, and I did it over and over again. But here’s the Good News…

Yes, he has given me everything I need for life and godliness IN CHRIST JESUS. In Christ alone, I have life! New life. Eternal life. Abundant life! I am a child of God with Christ dwelling in me and I live in the unshakeable Kingdom of God! My hope is secure because His promise is sure. His love endures forever. Hallelujah! I have life… REAL life!

In Christ alone, I have godliness. I am clothed with Christ, in the robe of His righteousness. My sins – past, present, and future – are covered by His blood. Through the Cross my punishment has been cancelled. I have been bought back from slavery by Christ. I am redeemed! I am free from guilt, shame, and condemnation! Yea! Shout for joy! I have godliness… His godliness!

I have those wonderful things in Christ alone, not because of my merit or not because I am living a good life. It is only by His divine power, given as a wonderful, amazing gift of love and grace in Christ Jesus.

As I’ve heard one author say, “Holiness is not what God wants from you; He wants His holiness in you.”

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His Sweet Presence

Have you ever felt the closeness of Jesus? I mean, TRULY felt He was right there with you? Have you ever felt the sweetness of His Presence… as if He were touching you or touching the person you were talking with? Yesterday, I felt the closeness of Jesus unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.

Yesterday, at Love In the Name of Christ (where I work), we gathered items to help a woman get back on her feet after spending time in a shelter. We gathered furniture, pots and pans, dishes, glasses, curtains, blankets, sheets… all coming to Love INC through generous folks like you. She was so appreciative. She had a friend with her who was providing the transportation, and as she was helping load the items for her friend into her vehicle, she mentioned she was trying to do the same thing: come out of the shelter, get an apartment, and get back on her feet as well.

Before they left, we all prayed together, hugged, and they went happily on their way, saying they would come back for the couch they couldn’t fit into the vehicle. Later that afternoon, sure enough, the friend came back, and together, we loaded the couch into her vehicle. She was alone this time, without the woman for whom she was transporting the couch. After loading it, we stopped to catch our breath, and with one simple statement, the floodgates opened.

All I said was, “So tell me about the shelter.” I was wanting to know how it was helping her and trying to discern how I could pray for her before she left. She explained the reason she was at the shelter, and all that had transpired while she resided there. She was a mother of two young children. Now without her kids, she was heartbroken without them. She had a head trauma which had rendered her incapable of defending her rights as a mom and she had lost her kids in court. Now, nearly fully recovered from the injury, caused by abuse, she was completely broken.

As I listened to her story, my heart broke, too. I was able to briefly tell her that Jesus didn’t come to help the folks who have it all together; He came to minister to the broken and battered… the forgotten and forsaken… BECAUSE THAT’S ALL THERE IS! We are all broken. We have all been battered. We have all seemingly been forgotten and forsaken by everyone we trusted, we befriended, and we believed in… except Jesus. He came for the brokenhearted, because that’s all there is.

We prayed together in the parking lot, hugged, and… she wouldn’t let go.

In that simple conversation, I have never felt closer to Jesus.

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Surprise Me!

Yesterday (Saturday), I read a few posts on Facebook alluding to the fact that although “Good” Friday was dark and gloomy, Sunday was coming. The posts said that the joy of Resurrection Sunday is on the way. It’s only right around the corner and we can celebrate the eternal life found in Christ’s resurrection.

It’s easy for us to look ahead to Easter Sunday. We know the story. We know how it all turns out. We know the happy ending. But the first disciples didn’t know that.

Were they surprised? An understatement, to be sure. Shocked? That’s more like it, but certainly stunned as well. That partly described the disciples. I wonder about the gloom they must’ve experienced and the despair they must’ve felt. Scattered in Gethsemane and most watching the trial and execution from a distance, the disciples would wander the streets and hide away, together and separately, for Friday and Saturday. They would not only wander, but they would wonder… at what might have been.

What happened?!? Jesus was being proclaimed King of the Jews. The winds of change were blowing. The people were fully supportive. A revolution was brewing and they were front-and-center. It was all going so well. What happened?!?

First surprised by Jesus’ clear announcement that he would have to die, and then surprised by the Roman detachment in the garden, the disciples were overwhelmed by the announcement that Jesus was to be executed. How could this be!?!

Now reality had hit home and they were finally together. Hiding out partly from fear of reprisals from the ruling council and partly from despair, the disciples lamented their fate. What would they do now? Matthew wondered if he could be a tax collector ever again. No way, he thought. His life had been changed. Peter could always fish. But things would never be the same.

Imagine their surprise Sunday morning when they heard that the stone had been moved! Imagine their shock when Jesus body was said to be gone. What a surprise awaited them when Jesus would join them in that room!

As I sat there reading the resurrection accounts yesterday, I wondered if there is still room in my faith for Jesus to surprise me.

Could He do the unthinkable?
Could He really move that mountain?
Could He touch those who are seemingly untouchable?
Could He clean those who we would deem “unclean”?
Could He save those we fear are too far gone?
Could He open the eyes of the blind and make the lame leap like a deer?
Could He resurrect those who have been given a death sentence?
Could He bring life from death? Victory from defeat?

Sunday is here! Surprise me, Jesus!