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Love Bends Down

“Grace always runs downhill. It always meets us at the bottom.” — Tullian Tchividjian

I was listening online to a sermon from Pastor Tullian when I heard that. It reminded me of a sermon series preached at my old church entitled, “Love Bends Down.”

I remember a lot of things about that series, one of the most memorable being a mini-drama with young woman in the congregation portraying the woman caught in adultery and so beautifully showing the joy and freedom that woman must’ve felt after she encountered Jesus and the forgiveness she received that day. (See John 8:1-11)

I’ll always remember that sermon series. Maybe it’s because, as the series title conveys, God’s love always bends down… down to where we are… down to the pit we find ourself in… when we find ourself at rock-bottom.

It’s a beautiful picture of Jesus bending over to the woman, bending down to spit in the dirt to heal the blind beggar (John 9:1-12), and bending down to touch each of us and make us whole.

Pastor Tullian also said, “God is promiscuous in distributing His love and grace.” So true. He lavishes His love and grace on all of us, not caring about the pretenses of rank, status, income, education, position, race, gender, or any other way we might determine who is deserving and who isn’t.

We all don’t deserve this grace and love. None of us.

Yet Love bends down…

… Down to where you and I are today.

 

(Incidentally, the series was based on a wonderful, enlightening book by Michael Lodahl, When Love Bends Down)

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The Glory of God

“If I knew then what I know now.”

How many times have you said that? How many times have I? Many, many times.

Hindsight is 20/20 is how the saying goes. It’s true; if you have eyes to see, that is.

The entire church prayed many, many times the words of John 11:40. We prayed for the Lord to show us His glory. If I would just believe, I would see His glory. That’s what the verse said. I didn’t really know what I would see if I did see His glory. What would it look like? Would I know it if I saw it? What would it require of me? More faith?

I didn’t see it for a year and a half. I felt like I didn’t believe enough. No glory; therefore not enough faith, right? Through a series of events, I had to leave that church. I had been there for 15 years, but I had to leave for reasons that are irrelevant now. What matters is what happened as a result.

Out of the tragic departure from a church I loved so dearly came heartache, many, many tears, broken dreams and shattered promises, and even anger. But through this season came a new perspective. From the ashes came beauty. Through the teaching and counsel of a great pastor at my new church — Brandon Williams — God gave me a fresh perspective of His love.

This is no small thing.

This was – and is – monumental. It changed (and changes) everything. It provided (and provides) a new freedom, a new lightness, a new trust, and a new passionate love for Him who first loved me.

Pure and simple, this was God’s glory shining into my life. This is what I had longed for! This is what I had agonized over in fervent prayer! Through hardship and adversity and heartache, God’s glory was (and is) seen.

I’m not sure I can explain God’s glory, but I know it when I experience it.

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (John 11:40)

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Drowning

Have you ever taken a water safety course with lifesaving skills? The instructors teach you skills that they would teach a lifeguard. I was thinking about these skills and instructions when I read a headline about a drowning.

You’ve probably heard that when you jump in the water to save someone from drowning and swim to the scene, you spin them around with their head above water and their back facing you. Then you pull them, swimming back to dry ground, with your arm wrapped under their chin.

Sounds easy, right? I’ve never had to use those skills, but I can imagine that it would NEVER be easy. The most common obstacle in saving someone who is drowning is the person themselves. Normally, experts say, when you arrive on the scene, the drowning person is flailing away, trying desperately to keep their head above water. In their desperation to save themselves, they drastically hinder the efforts of the lifeguard. It’s only when they are disarmed, that the lifesaver can pull them to safety.

So it is with our spiritual lives. It’s only when we come to the end of ourselves that we realize the need for the Savior. It’s only when we stop our flailing that our Lifesaver is able to save us. It’s only when we stop trying to save our self that the One who can save us can do what He came to do: seek and save the lost. It’s only when we realize that we are drowning that we can allow the Lifeguard to save us.

This not only applies to our initial encounter with God’s grace, mercy, and salvation, but also to our everyday walk with God as Jesus-followers, allowing the Holy Spirit to have His way in our lives. It’s only in weakness that God shows His strength. It’s in adversity when God gets to show His glory. Again, it’s when we realize that we are drowning without Him that He can rescue us. It’s only when we allow Him to have His way that He can show us who He truly is.

All our own efforts can’t. All our flailing can’t keep our head above water. Believe me; I know.

We can only be rescued when we allow Him to wrap His arm around us and pull us to dry ground.

“My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9, The Message)

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. (Isaiah 43:2)

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The weight of the world…

Do Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:30 really have any effect on you?

He says:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Do those words do anything to you? Do you ever feel that you’re carrying more than you should? Do you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders? Do find yourself trying (and trying) but things aren’t improving?

I’ve been there. I’ve felt that it all depended on me. If things fall apart, it’s my fault. It’s my responsibility. I’ve felt the need to work harder, try harder, re-double my efforts, and pull myself up by my bootstraps. I’ve felt like I needed to be the strong one… the rock… the one who doesn’t waver. I’ve felt like I needed to keep it together.

It’s exhausting. It makes you weary.

Until… the Good News:

“Because Jesus paid it all, we are free from the need to do it all. Our identity, worth, and value are not anchored in what we can accomplish but in what Jesus accomplished for us.”*

You may think that’s over-simplified. You may think, “You don’t know the pressure I’m under. You don’t know about my debts. You don’t have a clue.”

You’re right. I don’t. But Jesus does. And He came to release you from carrying ALL the burdens you carry: financial, relational, religious and spiritual, marital… you name it, He came to free you.

Allow Him to carry these burdens for you. Allow Him to set you free from having to do it all yourself. You don’t have to earn His favor. You don’t have to curry His blessing. Doing more for God won’t make Him love you more. Walk in freedom and allow Him to have free rein in your life.

Allow Him to work in your life for your own good and for His glory, whatever that looks like. It may not be all fun and games. It may be painful, but He is molding and shaping you into Christlikeness, so He can show you off to a world that needs to see what He looks like.

As pastor and author Mark Batterson would say:

“Work like it depends on you and pray like it depends on God.”

And I’ll add: “Because it does.”

* from One Way Love, by Tullian Tchividjian. David C Cook Publishing. 2013.

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Wear Nice Clothes…

I answered the phone yesterday, “Love In the Name of Christ, Tim speaking.”

On the other end was a precious woman who was looking for clothes for herself and was trying to schedule a time when she could come by our rows of clothing in our warehouse and look for something for herself. After I went to see when that could be done, I came back on the phone and she said that she just wanted some nice clothes so she could go to church.

When she said that, I told her that she didn’t need to dress any special way at many of the churches around the valley, and that many come to church in t-shirts and jeans or shorts and a t-shirt. I told her my church is like that. She said that she still prefered to look nice when she came to church, and if she came any other way, she would feel self-conscious. I told her I understood completely, that we would call her back to arrange a time to talk further, and we hung up.

This morning, I was listening to one of Pastor Tullian Tchividjian’s sermons from his series on Romans (available to hear at Liberate.org) and he said:

“There are lots of reasons people avoid church and one of them is that, sad to say, Christians… preachers… churches… have given off this impression that church is for good people… moral people… clean people, competent people… people who pretty much have it all together. But there are a lot of honest people out there who know they’re not good… Who know that there’s something seriously missing, that they’re not clean… they’re not competent… who know that they are dirty and their hands aren’t clean. And so there are lot of people out there who think, ‘We just don’t “fit” inside church.’ “

When I heard these remarks, it took me back to my phone conversation. Did this woman feel that way? Did she feel that she didn’t measure up? Did she feel that she wasn’t good enough to enter a church on Sunday morning? Did she feel that she just didn’t “fit”?

The truth is that none of us is good enough. None of us are clean and competent. All of us have dirty hands. We are all depraved. All of us. We all need Jesus desperately. I know I don’t measure up. I know I have failed. I know I am lost.

The Gospel says,

God’s demand: “Be righteous.”
God’s diagnosis: “No one is righteous.”
God’s deliverance: “Jesus is our righteousness.”*

If this precious woman felt she wasn’t good enough, she was right! She isn’t good enough. I’m not good enough. You’re not good enough.

But Jesus is.

And that’s Good News.

* I highly recommend reading Tchividjian’s book, One Way Love.

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Who’s Responsible?

I’m struggling with something. It’s not a sin that is a thorn in my side, or some problem of epic proportions. No, it’s theological, I guess.

I’m struggling with something I’m calling “My Responsibility vs. God’s Responsibility.” It’s related to faith versus works, but’s more all-encompassing. First, here’s how I got here. Here’s the backstory.

There was a Scripture that my former pastor was clinging to throughout his year and a half at my former church. It was John 11:40, which reads:

“Did I not tell that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

That’s Jesus speaking. It’s written in red in my Bible. I pay special attention to the passages written in red because they are coming from the lips of the Son of God.

In this context, Jesus is speaking to Mary and Martha, whose brother has died while Jesus took his time in coming to see his friends. He didn’t rush to the bedside while Lazarus was sick and his sisters are miffed.

And we know the rest of the story. The stone was rolled away and Lazarus was resurrected from the dead. It may have been the second-most dramatic miracle by Jesus. And because of the words of Jesus in John 11:40, (and because of the “baggage” I carry from my former church and probably my own past) I see a cause and effect. Am I the only one who processes this Scripture this way?

My thinking is: Because of the sisters’ “belief” or faith, God’s glory was shown in the resurrection of Lazarus. If you believe enough, therefore, you will see God’s glory. If you have enough faith, God will show Himself, God will breakthrough, God will work His miracles. Right??

And if God doesn’t breakthrough… if that miracle doesn’t happen… then I guess you don’t have enough faith. That was I processed through that Scripture and that teaching.

I left the church in August of 2013. Then I discovered freedom. I found freedom in the message of God’s one-way love. I found new freedom in the Gospel. Here’s what I wrote in my journal and blog on May 25th:

I know some of you think I’ve “gone ’round the bend”, because I keep posting about this “new” or “fresh” encounter I’ve had with God’s love. It is an encounter with the finished work on the Cross by Jesus. It is the love of Jesus that has changed me.

But some of you think I’ve gone crazy. You think I’m nuts because I keep posting stuff like:

Because Jesus won, I’m free to lose.
… because Jesus was strong, I’m free to be weak.
… because Jesus was someone, I’m free to be no one.
… because Jesus was the ultimate leader, I’m free and content to be a follower.
… because Jesus was (is) extraordinary, I’m free and content to be ordinary.
… because Jesus succeeded, I am free to fail.
… because ‘It is finished’, the work is done.

There is such freedom in those words, but there’s more.

I’ve said it before but I have to say it again and again because it is such Good News: There’s nothing I can do to make God love me more and nothing I can do to make God love me less. There is nothing I can do to repay God. There is nothing I can do to curry God’s favor, including surrendering more.

All of us so easily fall into a trap of measuring our own righteousness. We measure it by how much we pray. We measure it by how much we read our Bibles. We measure it by our behavior day-by-day. We measure how we talk, what we drink, and even by how much or what we eat. We measure ourselves against others. But when we measure, by definition, we are self-righteous. We become legalists. We become like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day.

I don’t want to keep falling back into a trap thinking that IT depends on me. “IT” may be salvation, favor, answers to prayers, miracles, or God’s glory manifesting itself among us in some way. My job is to remain faithful. God will always be faithful, even when I’m not.

The only time or the only way IT depends on me is when I receive a fresh revelation of God’s one-way, unconditional love found in Christ Jesus. When I finally understand… REALLY understand… then I am changed. I am compelled by the love of God (the Holy Spirit) inside me to live my life differently.

That’s Good News.

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Shameless Audacity

I’m reading Draw The Circle, a devotional written by Mark Batterson, who wrote the companion book, The Circle Maker. I’m on Day 6, which is entitled, “Shameless Audacity.” It’s a thought-provoking chapter, to be sure, referencing the man who answers the persistent knocking at his door in the middle of the night in Luke 11:8 simply because of the person’s “shameless audacity.” Throughout the chapter, Mark talks about prevailing prayer, the type of prayer that is persistent and bold. He offers a number of sound-bytes to help you get the picture:

“God won’t answer 100% of the prayers we don’t pray.”
“When we are acting in faith, we aren’t risking our reputation; we are risking God’s reputation because He’s the one who made the promise in the first place.”
“Why do we mistakenly think that God is offended by our prayers for the impossible? The truth is that God is offended by anything less!”
“But God honored that bold prayer because that bold prayer honored Him.”

As I read through that chapter, I became convicted that I don’t pray bold prayers anymore.

It’s not because I lack the faith. I believe that God is the same God that I’ve seen save marriages. I’ve seen Him lovingly draw a lesbian from her lifestyle into His plan for marriage and motherhood. I’ve seen him heal a hole in a newborn’s heart. I’ve seen Him answer prayer time and time again. I’ve witnessed His glory. I haven’t forgotten. I still have the faith.

What I think has prevented me from praying “audacious” prayers is the fact that I don’t think he will answer them when they come from ME. I somehow have been convinced that, because of my daily sin and failings, God won’t turn His ear toward me, but instead would turn away because, frankly, I’m not worth listening to.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t really have any besetting sin and I’m not involved in any criminal or lascivious activity. I’m just like you. I get impatient in traffic. I get angry at my wife every now and then. I get frustrated when things don’t go exactly like I want them to. And because of all that, I feel like I’m not the example of a Jesus-follower that I should be. In turn, I wonder why God would even listen to my prayers.

If I have thoughts like these, I wonder how many of you have similar thoughts.

These are the kind of lies that keep the Body of Christ from being truly effective. Because Satan has twisted the truth into a lie from the pit of Hell, we are kept at bay, shrinking back into mediocrity. The truth is that we are unworthy. The truth is that we are sinful. Not one of us escapes that spotlight. But then he skillfully twists the truth, getting us to believe that God won’t listen or respond.

The truth is we are weak, unworthy, sinful and desperate, AND THAT IS WHY GOD ANSWERED AND STILL ANSWERS OUR CRIES! Can you hear me yelling?!?

There is no one worthy. No one righteous. (Ephesians 2:3,9; Romans 3:10)
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
We are now seated with Christ in the heavenlies. That is where our identity is found. (Colossians 3:1; Ephesians 2:6)
When we are weak, then we are strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
When we humbly come before God, He responds. (Psalm 51:17, Isaiah 57:15, Isaiah 66:2)

That’s the truth.

It’s time to pray.

With shameless audacity.

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Consecrated…

Day 3…

As I read through today’s Draw The Circle devotional, Mark Batterson talked about consecration. Consecration, as he put it, is death of self. It is a lifelong journey of surrender in total dedication to God. It is the process of not holding anything back from God.

As Batterson puts it:

“I know there is a fear that if we give more of ourselves to God, there will be less of us less, but it’s the exact opposite. It’s not until we die to ourself that we truly come alive. The more we give to God, the more we have and the more we become. It’s only in losing our lives that we truly find them.”

He tells of great men God like Dwight L. Moody and Jonathan Edwards who, when fully dedicated to the Lord, did amazing things for God during their lives. He tells the story found in Joshua where the Lord tells the Israelites to “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do amazing things among you.” (Joshua 3:5) They did; and the Lord did: He parted the Jordan River and crossed on dry ground.

But I found myself bristling against some of what he said. For instance, the very last sentence of today’s devotional reads:

“If we give more of ourselves to God, God will give more of Himself to us.”

God gave all of Himself when He gave His one and only son, that whosoever would believe in Him would not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16) How much more can He give!?! It also sounds like a formula for performance. The more we give = the more we get. There’s something about that which is true. But there’s something that’s not quite right, too.

What about those that struggle? You and I have issues. Face it. We do. We all are sinners. Each day. Every day. I am desperately in need of God and His grace. With the formula above, I could easily believe that if I fail at giving God my all today, or if I give something to him one day in complete surrender and then take it back the next day, I’m a complete loser and a total failure. There are thousands of folks walking around believing that today. Thousands.

Because Jesus succeeded, we can fail.
Because Jesus surrendered, I can fall short in my surrender and not feel like a loser.
Because Jesus won, I’m free to lose.

When I fully grasp the freedom found in Jesus and what was accomplished on the Cross, I am humbly compelled to live my live wholly and completely for God. It’s isn’t a matter of me willingly surrendering. It’s not a matter of the will. It’s not about me. It’s about Jesus… and surrender just happens.

Yes, it is still a process. But, for me, it is not a process of surrender, it is a process of fully realizing the love God has for me in Christ Jesus. As I fully comprehend this complete, satisfying, all-encompassing love that heals all wounds and fills all voids, I find myself more and more completely consumed by His love… and more and more completely in love with Him.

I become more and more completely His. If that’s being consecrated, then so be it.

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The Maestro’s Concerto

Sometimes I wish I was a scholar of Greek and Hebrew. Although, the classes, on the surface, sound like they could be as dry as the Mojave Desert, they would yield a deep well of refreshment, if only we dig a little. Here’s what I mean…

In Day 2 of Draw The Circle, The 40-Day Prayer Challenge, the author, Mark Batterson, relates how God sets divine appointments for us each day. He sets the appointments. It’s up to us to keep them. He creates the opportunities; it’s up to us to seize them.

He tells the story of a gentleman on a cross-country trip to Las Vegas. During his trip, he read the opening chapter of one of Batterson’s other books talking about this very thing: seizing the opportunities God creates for us. He was convicted that he should be more attentive to his surroundings, and after he switches planes in Phoenix, he sits next to a girl who, when he makes brief contact, shuts him down and gives him a look which meant, “Don’t talk to me again the rest of the flight.” Unable to shake the feeling that he needed to talk to her, he said, “I’m sure it’s none of my business, but you seem so burdened. If talking to a total stranger would help, I’m all ears.”

This seventeen year old girl opened up and revealed that she was pregnant and running away from home. Her boyfriend told her to get out and go “fix it.” She was headed to Las Vegas to get an abortion. After talking to her, he convinced her to call her parents when she landed in Vegas. She did and her parents convinced her to come back home. By seizing the opportunity and keeping the divine appointment, this man saved one life and maybe two.

Now, back to the Hebrew. Proverbs 16:9 says:

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.

The Hebrew word for “establishes” is “kuwn.” It is a rich word, dripping with meaning. If you have a Greek-Hebrew Bible Dictionary, you’ll see what I mean. Mark Batterson expounds on it further:

“The Hebrew word ‘kuwn’, translated in Proverbs 16:9 as ‘establishes’ can also be translated as ‘determines’, ‘prepares’, ‘provides’, ‘sets in place’, ‘directs’, ‘firmly decides’, ‘makes secure.’ It is a meticulous word that involves careful planning right down to the smallest detail. It’s a redemptive word that celebrates God’s ability to redeem past experiences and recycle them for future opportunities. It’s a calming word that imparts confidence in the fact that God has everything under control. It’s a creative word that hints at God’s artistry.”

God’s Word says:

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

It is a rich word indeed, telling of the Maestro’s creative masterpiece concerto which is your life today.

And it sounds beautiful.

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Structured Persistence

I’m a regimented person. I know it. I like structure. A lot. To a fault. Sometimes this quality serves me well; sometimes it doesn’t.

One of the ways it doesn’t is when I’m in a season of life or in a situation in life where things are chaotic. My new job at Love In the Name of Christ (Love INC) is like that right now. They’ve never really had someone doing the things I’m doing (and going to do), so there’s no blueprint on how to do the job. There’s no job manual and no job description, per se. That really doesn’t mesh well with my structured personality, but with God’s help, I’m adapting.

But one of the ways this trait works well for me is when I participate in structured programs, like memorizing Scripture while reading a 30-day devotional book which coincides the memorization. I’ve succeeded at others that were similar, like 40 Days of Purpose by Rick Warren, 90-day exercise programs, and now, The 40-Day Prayer Challenge – Draw The Circle by Mark Batterson.

Tomorrow will be Day 1 on this 40-day journey, done with all the folks at Love INC, all of whom also have the book Draw The Circle. We are doing it together, believing that God will do great things in us and through us. We expect to be different on Day 40 than we are on Day 1.

Mark Batterson, the author of Draw The Circle says:

“The goal of the 40-day Prayer Challenge isn’t to get what you want by Day 40. In fact, the goal isn’t to get what you want at all. The goal is to figure out what God wants’ what God wills. Then start circling it in prayer and don’t stop until God answers.”

That’s what I’m going to do and that’s what we’re going to do at Love INC.

(Love In the Name of Christ [Love INC] is a national network of non-profit organizations which are committed to meeting needs and transforming lives by the love of Christ through the Body of Christ, His church. To find out more, visit our local ministry Facebook page HERE, or hear the story behind the ministry HERE)

Click HERE to find the book, Draw The Circle by Mark Batterson on Amazon.com.