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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.

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And be thankful…

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts since as members of one body, you were called to peace. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:16)

From time to time I’ve seen posts on Facebook entitled “30 Days of Gratitude” or something similar, and each day the person posts something they’re thankful for.

I was reminded of that as I remembered the verse above. “And be thankful,” the apostle Paul says. Why? Why should we be thankful? Why do people post on Facebook something they are grateful for each day?

In his devotional book, Hidden In Christ, James Bryan Smith gives a couple of reasons why we should and some reasons why some folks believe they should.

For instance, are you among those who believe that God is mad at you if you aren’t thankful? Smith gives the example of how we raise our children. When our children receive something, we say to them, “What do you say?” At times, we transfer that thinking to our God, believing that He is looking down at heaven screaming at us, “What do you say?!?” As Smith points out, God is complete in Himself. He doesn’t need anything. He loves us genuinely and with pureness of heart. He requires nothing in return. After all, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

Secondly, Smith says, sometimes we mistakenly believe that thankfulness is the “secret ingredient” to prayer, which sways God to answer. We are told to “enter His gates with thanksgiving…” (Psalm 100:4) and “in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6) However, if we think we can manipulate God, we are missing the point.

No, as the folks who post on Facebook would probably tell you, when you count your blessings, when you find things to be thankful to God for, and when you look at life closely and discover little (and big) things to be grateful about, life begins to come alive, so to speak. Your attitude changes. You begin to savor every day, not taking anything for granted, as you and I sometimes do.

As we see every day through the news and elsewhere, we are not guaranteed tomorrow. Life can change in the blink of an eye. Our loved ones here today can be gone tomorrow.

Savor this day. And be thankful.

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I’m not satisfied…

I was listening to the song “Believe” by Hillsong as I was riding my motorcycle home last night, and the familiar lyrics struck a chord within me yet again. Here’s most of the lyrics:

I say on Sunday how much I want revival
But then on Monday, I can’t even find my Bible
Where’s the power,
The power of the cross in my life?
I’m sick of playing the game of religion
I’m tired of losing my reason for living
Where’s the power, the power of the cross in my life?

I’m not content just to walk through my life,
Giving in
to the lies, walking in compromises.
Now
 we cry out as a generation that was lost
But now is found in the power of the cross

I’m not satisfied doing it my own way
I’m not satisfied to do church and walk away
I’m not satisfied there’s no love in my life but You
I’m not satisfied living in yesterday’s hour
I’m not satisfied to have the form but not the power
I’m not satisfied. Lord I am crucified in You.

Chorus:
We believe in You
We believe in the power of Your Word that is true
We believe in You
So we lay down our cause
That our cross might be found in You

I was riding home after having the privilege of meeting with a woman I’m mentoring each week as part of the New Image class offered by Love In the Name of Christ (Love INC). It is a 12-week class and mentors/mentees meet in-between class dates. This is Level 2 of the classes. My mentee has already gone through 12 weeks of classes, and, after these classes are over, she wants to take another 12-week session. God has done and is doing an amazing work in her, and I have the privilege of witnessing it. (This is what makes Love INC great — meeting needs and transforming lives with the love of Christ through the Body of Christ)

Anyway, as I was riding home, this song was playing and I was thinking about the great work God has done in this precious woman (and her family as well). The lyrics hit home.

No more playing religion.
No more Sunday-only Christianity.
No more living in the past.
No more having the form but not the power.
I’m not satisfied with that! There’s so much more!
Where’s the power of the Cross in my life?

It’s a good question to ask.

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Broken and Undone

In the song, “Take Me As I Am”, which my step daughter, Christy, wrote for her band in 2005, the chorus is:

‘Cause I’m broken and undone,
Living naked in your truth.
I’m surrounded by your love.
Come and take me as I am.

As I listen to that chorus this morning, I find myself reflecting on that first line.

I’ve begun a new job at Love In The Name of Christ, (Love INC), which brings the love of Christ through the Body of Christ, meeting needs and transforming lives… to those that allow God to come into their lives.

I have the privilege of mentoring a lady who has allowed God to come into her life. She has firmly said (to God and to those that are supporting her) that her old ways weren’t working. And now she wants help — from God and from Love INC.

We always pray for God to intervene… for God to step in and exert His will into our lives or into the lives of those we pray for. But my experience is that God won’t force His way into our lives.

He may draw us to Himself. He may woo us through circumstances. But He will only come into our lives if we invite Him in. And normally that invitation comes through saying (or singing), “I’m broken and undone, living naked in your truth. I’m surrounded by your love. Come and take me as I am.”

And He always does.

(Shameless plug: Here’s the Chick Band’s album where the song can be found:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/chickband/id196393021)

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Perfection!

“The problem in the church today is not cheap grace, but cheap law.” —Tullian Tchividjian

The law requires not that you make progress in your Christian walk… That you progress toward Christ likeness… The law requires perfection. Perfection is what God requires.

God requires obedience. God requires holiness. Yes! But God requires NOT partial obedience or progress. He requires NOT growing obedience; God requires PERFECT obedience!

And thankfully, God fulfilled his requirement in his son, Jesus.

It is finished! Rejoice!

Good news indeed.

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Significant?

We all want to do something in our lives that is significant. We all want our lives to count for something. For some, this desire goes to a different level, and they want to be famous. For others, significance comes in the form of being a good parent.

For me, I wonder sometimes if my desire to live a life of significance is a matter of my pride coming to the forefront. I have to ask myself questions such as:

1) Would I be content living a life where I wouldn’t be recognized or respected?
2) Would I be content living a life where my only contribution to ministry in this world would be as an intercessor, behind the scenes?
3) Is my desire to be “significant” about me feeling good about myself or about helping others?

Certainly these aren’t the only questions to ask, but they are the first to come to mind. My answers to those questions and those similar aren’t glowing, to say the least. But I’ve come to realize a few things about our God:

1) I am profoundly significant to God. You and I are priceless in the eyes of the Father. We are worth the price of His Son, Jesus, dying for each of us in order to enjoy an intimate relationship with us, both here and now, and for eternity. Because Jesus is the epitome of significance, I am free to be insignificant by the world’s definition.

2) When it comes to being significant, valuable, or loved by God, my performance doesn’t matter. Whether I fail or succeed, I am loved, valuable, and significant. My value or significance to God is not determined by what I do, but by Whose I am. I am free to fail because Jesus succeeded.

3) God not only loves me, He likes me. He knows my flaws, baggage, and hang-ups. He knows my pet-peeves, my idiosyncrasies, and nervous habits. He knows the secrets from my past and my secret thoughts from yesterday. And He still likes me! He knit me together in my mother’s womb and knows every thought that crosses my mind. He knows how I am made… because He made me! Because He likes me (and of course, loves me), I am freed from living to please people. I am freed from always thinking about what other people think of me. I am content to be loved by God. I am content to be liked by God. Because Jesus was and is perfect, I am free to be imperfect. I am also free to allow others to be imperfect. (I’m still working on that one)

Living a life of significance is something I desire. It’s something that I think we all desire. But growing up in a performance-based culture has skewed our definition of significance.

We are significant not by what we do, but by Whose we are.