image

R-rated Grace

The following post is long but worth a read when you have time. It’s an allegory of Ezekiel 16 and a picture of all of us and God’s amazing grace toward us. Again, it’s All. Of. Us. (Caution: It’s R-rated, but so is Ezekiel 16, the Book of Hosea, and many other books in the Bible)

“Your father was a pimp and your mother was a prostitute. Your mom found a lucrative way to fund her drug habit by having sex with multiple men, until your father took her in (and a few others) to live under his roof. When a pimp lives with a prostitute, one thing leads to another, and that’s where you came in. With the help of some crack and a bottle of Jack, you were conceived and immediately unwanted. Too scared to have an abortion, your mother waited until you were born, then casually dumped you— her newborn daughter— in a nearby garbage can. Minutes later, a stranger walked by and heard the squalling from inside the bin. He opened the lid and found you— squirming in your blood, expelling your last breath of life. The stranger’s 911 call miraculously summoned an ambulance within minutes, and you were saved. But still unwanted.

“The stranger couldn’t bear the thought of sending you to a foster home, so he signed some papers and took you into his home. But ‘home’ is an understatement. Your new father was the CEO of a multimillion-dollar business. Your new home was a small castle, and your future life would be paradisiacal. And he was a good man too. Humble, strong, generous, and honest. Your new father possessed an unusual joy, which he never failed to shower on you. His time, his money, his affection, his attention— they were all yours. There was nothing you lacked. All the storybook tales combined could not compare to your utopian life. You were the envy of all your friends and the prized possession of a father who had it all. From his perspective, though, ‘having it all’ meant having you. You were the source of his uncanny joy.

“But something snapped when you turned sixteen. The boys at school started noticing your body and didn’t hide their stares. Stares turned to comments. Comments turned to caresses. And caresses opened the floodgates of a different kind of love — one that was both exhilarating and empty, but too addicting to resist. So at the age of sixteen, you moved out of your father’s house, leaving him in pools of tears. You didn’t hide the fact that you were happily leaving him in order to fornicate with your new boyfriend. The more he wept, the more you laughed, as you skidded off in your boyfriend’s Camaro.

“Your adolescent love affair was only the beginning. Before long, your boyfriend’s buddies took a liking to you, and the flirtatious cycle was revisited. Soon, mere sex with your boyfriend became boring, so his friends were added to the mix. But even orgies became dull over time, and drugs, alcohol, and other men — older and creepier — joined in the hellish dance. Your dream of freedom and love had turned into a nightmare.

“But nothing can compare to the pain of the day when your boyfriend decided to mail a picture of you to your father’s house. Delighted to catch a glimpse of his princess, your father laid his eyes upon a sullied whore. Your once silky hair was frayed and knotted. Your eyes — the windows to your soul — were dark and sunken. Devoid of life. And the bruises on your face revealed that your boyfriend’s love had run dry. Daddy’s baby girl was the not-so-prized possession of half a dozen drug-infused teenagers. And there was nothing he could do.

“Sex, drugs, and imaginative acts of depravity piled up as you lived the next two years satisfying your misguided lust for life on nameless boys who used and abused you. Yet you still used them to satisfy your craving to be loved. You gave one boy the car Daddy bought you on your sweet sixteen. Your boyfriend’s other girlfriend took the dress your father made. And you sold the necklace that belonged to your grandmother to buy heroin for another man. Yet the beatings continued. Soon your bank account ran out, and you took to the streets to sell your body in order to keep a steady flow of heroin pumping through your veins.

“And heaven began to rumble with furious excitement.

“Now, you’re sitting in your room. Your ‘friends’ are gone and you are all alone. Coming down off a high, you begin to feel depressed and lonely; your humanity is slipping away. So you head for another hit to numb the pain. Just then, someone kicks open the door and a burst of fear squeezes your heart. The bruises on your body are tender reminders that your new home is never safe. Kicked-in doors are a regular occurrence, and they lead only to pain. Or sex. Both, actually. The fear runs deep. Maybe it’s the suddenness of the blast. Or maybe you just need to feed your starving addiction.

“Your pale stare quickly changes as you see the man standing at the threshold. It’s your father. Your fear intensifies. You recall the day you sped away from his house laughing as he stood on his lawn weeping. How did he find you? Why has he come? Is he, too, going to beat you after all you’ve done? His tears speak otherwise. His face glistens with joy. His hands tremble. You can hear his heart thump through his chest. Tears cascade down his cheeks, but now they look different. These are tears of adoration and triumph. And they are flowing because your daddy has found his baby girl. The one who found you wailing in a dumpster has once again taken the initiative to redeem you and enjoy you again.

“Confused, enthralled, terrified, overjoyed — you can’t move. But your father can. He races across the room to swallow you with an embrace — the first nonsexual touch you have felt in years. A touch that radiates more love than all your sexual encounters put together. You finally feel safe. Loved. Forgiven instantly, as your dad gathers your face in his hands and declares:

” ‘I’ll restore the relationship we had when you were young, only this time it will be better. It will last forever, and nothing will lure you away from me again. You’ll remember your past life and face the shame of it, but when I shower you with the good life you had as before, it will make your shame fade from your memory. Don’t try to fix it. I’ll fix it for you. I’ll make everything right after all you’ve done, and it will leave you speechless.’ (Ezek. 16:60–63, modified from MSG )

Grace. This stuff never old.”

(From Charis: God’s Scandalous Grace For Us by Preston Sprinkle)

image

Scandalous

I’ve often thought, “What is it like to be ‘a man after God’s own heart’, as King David was called by God? What qualities do you have to possess? Why was David called that by God?” (See 1 Samuel 13)

I ask those questions because, frankly, I want the same God-moniker. I want God to say that about me as well. But what’s it gonna take?

There are a number of wonderful qualities and characteristics about David, both before and after he became king of Israel: He is humble, brave, loyal, and zealous. He is an unrestrained worshipper of Elohim Yahweh, our transcendent, yet intimate God of the Universe. David is self-effacing, courageous, faithful, and faith-filled. He has an unrelenting passion to see God’s great name upheld at all costs.

And he is addicted to sin.

Wait. What?!?

Yep, just like you and me, David is addicted to sin. As Preston Sprinkle puts it in Charis: God’s Scandalous Grace For Us, “Within seconds, the man after God’s own heart turns into a man after the woman next door.” He, literally, can’t help himself. Like you and me, he heads down the slippery slope. (See 2 Samuel 11)

And yet, God declares him to be a man after His own heart BEFORE this scandalous episode (which continues by having her husband killed in war on Israel’s front lines). How could God make such a mistake!?! Or was David STILL a man after God’s own heart?

David was, throughout his life — through the victories and defeats… through the good, bad, AND ugly — desperate for God. He was desperate for God’s presence and power to show through his life. He was desperate for God to produce that humility, bravery, loyalty, and zeal in him. He was desperate for God to be preeminent in his life. He desperately wanted God to take center-stage, to be renowned, to be known in “all the earth.” (1 Samuel 17:45-47)

And God accomplishes all of this throughout David’s life, including this heinous episode of sin, adultery, murder, and deception. God didn’t turn His head during this time in David’s life, thinking, “He IS a man after my own heart… well… um… except for this time.”

No, God shows his unrelenting, scandalous grace to King David and to the rest of the world for the ages to come. It’s a grace shown in the bloodline of the Savior. Deceivers. Liars. Murderers. Whores. Prostitutes. Adulterers. These are the kind of descendents we would hide away! But in order to show to “all the earth” the grace and mercy of Jesus, God uses these ragamuffins to bring Good News time and time again, throughout the Old Testament, and ultimately, in the culmination of this checkered ancestry: Jesus the Christ.

As Sprinkle puts it:

“This is why your divorce, your addiction, your enslavement to porn, or years of sticking your finger down your throat to match up to some arbitrary standard of beauty can all be woven into the fabric of God’s plan of redemption. God doesn’t cause sin. He mourns it. He despises it. But through His gracious power, He’s able to use it. No one and no sin can outrun God’s grace. Charis (grace) has no leash.”

If you are continually desperate for Jesus and His grace, then you no longer have the label of adulterer, harlot, convict, failure, loser, or even murderer. You are a man or woman after God’s own heart.

And He is after yours.

image

The Only Hope…

While reading my Bible and Charis: God’s Scandalous Grace for Us by Preston Sprinkle, I was thinking, and actually became overwhelmed. I am distraught and dismayed because I am becoming more and more aware of how sinful I really am. Seriously. I am SO selfish. I don’t naturally think of others first. I think about what I have to do. I think about my agenda first.

I am depraved. My mind wanders. I have trouble “setting my heart on things above”, as Colossians 3:1 says I should. My heart constantly wanders off course, settling on earthly, temporary things.

I find this somewhat astounding because I purposely try to surround myself with the things of God. I wake up each day and think about God. I ponder and study His Word. I memorize Scripture from time to time. I journal occasionally. I listen to Christian music (for the most part). And, of course, I faithfully go to church.

My little Christian checklist doesn’t seem to work.

I even work for a Christian non-profit organization and am surrounded by wonderful, godly people, also passionate for the things of God. We, along with the Body of Christ, serve the needy and as needs are met, God transforms lives. I witness that first-hand.

And yet, here I am, amazed at my depravity.

This is not false humility. I genuinely echo Isaiah in the temple of God, “Woe to me! For I am a man of unclean lips!” (See Isaiah 6:5) And like the apostle Paul, I cry out:

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? (Romans 7:24)

If I had to venture a guess, I’d say you’re not much different.

Thankfully, this question doesn’t have to hang in the air hopelessly, because Paul answers it immediately:

Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (v.25a)

Do you hear the relief in those words? Do you see the exclamation point at the end of the sentence!?! It’s also Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians, Chapter 12 that give me more hope when he, with the Lord’s help, gets a revelation (the lightbulb comes on) about his “thorn in the flesh”.

Many scholars have spent considerable time theorizing on Paul’s thorn and what it might have been. Some have even supposed that it was his poor eyesight or that he was somewhat meek in stature. Somehow, I don’t think that was his “thorn.” Paul was possibly the most mature Christ-follower this planet has ever seen, so I don’t think he would have referred to a God-given malady, like poor eyesight, as “a messenger of Satan.” (2 Cor 12:7)

Although we’ll never know this side of heaven, I believe Paul’s struggle was more of his “inner life.” He, like all of us, struggled. He was faced with his sinfulness, but most of all, with his weakness. But because he knew he couldn’t handle “it” alone — whatever “it” was — he knew it was an opportunity for Jesus to shine and show Himself.

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9b)

For me, that gives me hope.

It’s not about who I am nor what I am becoming.

It’s about who Jesus is and who (or what) He became for me and you.

God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1)

And finally:

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)

image

Beautiful

“Rich, poor, successful, homeless, healthy, disabled, black, white, brown, young, old, famous, abused, abusive, pervert, or priest— whoever you are and whatever you have or have not accomplished— if you are human , then you are cherished and prized and honored and enjoyed as the pinnacle of creation by a Creator who bleeds grace. If you are reading this, you are infinitely more majestic and beautiful than the glimmering peaks of Mount Everest, the soothing turquoise waters of the Caribbean, the commanding cliffs of Yosemite, or the well-titled Grand Canyon, which God carved out of Arizona.

“Beauty is formed in the eye of the beholder. Your Beholder is God. He made you in His own image.”

(from Charis: God’s Scandalous Grace to Us by Preston Sprinkle)

image

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)

image

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)

image

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)

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.