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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.

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The Natural Response…

Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13b)

In his devotional book, Hidden In Christ, James Bryan Smith makes a thought-provoking statement, in essence saying that many Christians think that God’s forgiveness depends on us forgiving others, or that we will be forgiven by God in proportion to the extent we forgive others. He points out that is simply not true. While we were sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8) Before we even knew God, Christ died for us. Before we had a chance to forgive others, Christ died for us. We forgive as a natural outpouring of what Christ has done for us. In Smith’s words…

“So what is Jesus telling us when He instructs us to forgive others? And why does He connect it with the forgiveness of God in Mark 11:25? He gave several illustrations, through parables, about the necessity of forgiving others because we ourselves have been forgiven (See Matthew 18:21-35). We can easily make the mistake of thinking that divine forgiveness is determined by human forgiveness — in other words, to think that God only forgives me if I forgive others, and in the exact measure that I forgive others.

“We cannot say, ‘I accept God’s forgiveness for my sins, but I refuse to forgive others.’ This is actually impossible, not just theologically but psychologically. If we truly know – in the depths of our being – that we have been completely forgiven, then we naturally forgive those who have harmed us in some way.

“When we do find ourselves struggling to forgive someone, we should not grit our teeth and merely try harder to forgive them. Instead, we should dwell on the fundamental reality that we ourselves are people who need forgiveness, and then set our minds on the reality that God, in Christ, has forgiven us completely.”

For me personally, this is the essence of forgiveness. And I need to be reminded of it constantly. It is understanding how flawed we all are. It is understanding how depraved we all are. We all have baggage. We all have issues. We are all broken. We all have sin. As Smith says, “We are all fighting a great battle.”

And we all desperately need the healing touch of the Savior.

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DIY?

Are you a “do-it-yourselfer”? Do you like doing home projects? Do you like houses that are “fixer-uppers”? Many of us do. We like to see the reveals. We like to see the “Before” and “After” photos. We love it when they yell, “Move that bus!” to unveil the transformed home.

We are fascinated by do-it-yourself projects. There’s even a DIY Network on cable TV. We like to see that we’ve accomplished something. We feel good that we did it. We feel good about ourselves. We did it ourselves, after all. We admire our work and smile. “Git-er-done”, that’s our motto. It’s the American way. It’s part of what makes our country the best in the world.

This fascination with do-it-yourself carries over to other areas of our life, namely our spiritual life. We feel better about ourselves when we go to church weekly, pray harder, study our Bibles more, and are deeply involved in the seemingly countless programs and projects the church offers. We may not consciously think about it that way, but most of us, truth-be-told, subtly believe it.

If we fail or fall, we try harder. We re-double our efforts. We pick ourselves up and carry on. Consciously or sub-consciously, we hope in ourselves and in our own efforts.

Pastor Tullian Tchividjian says, “The only hope for ourselves is to give up hope in ourselves.” He goes on to say:

“The Gospel is the good news that Jesus has not only done what you could not do for yourself, and He not only has achieved for you what you could never achieve for yourself, and He has not only given you what you could never get for yourself, but He also UNDOES everything you’ve done to mess things up! The Gospel is ‘while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:8) The Gospel declares that while we were at our worst, God gave us His best. The Gospel is NOT humanity, and it improved; the Gospel is Christ, and Him crucified.

“The Christian life is a love affair with a unloseable lover. We are clothed in an irremovable suit of forgiveness. We don’t have to go out and try to buy love, earn peace, achieve joy… these are things that are given! For free! Jesus earned those things so that we could freely receive those things. Sinners like you and me are recipients of descending, no-strings-attached, one-way love.

“You are forever loved. You are forever vindicated. You are forever forgiven. Score-keeping with God is over! You are made righteous by what Jesus has accomplished for you.”

This is not “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” This is not self-improvement. This is not you better try harder, turn over a new leaf, or re-double your efforts to be a better Christian. This is not “do-it-yourself” religion. The fascination with do-it-yourself ends here.

Freedom in Christ should really make you free… don’t you think?

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)

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Better Than Counting Sheep

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…” (Colossians 3:16a)

As I’ve written many times recently, for the past two and a half weeks, I’ve been memorizing a passage of Scripture, Colossians 3:1-17. I finally finished a couple of days ago, and am still thinking about the verses as I go through my day. I normally recite it silently when I go to bed at night and when I first open my eyes in the morning.

Last night, I discovered one more thing about memorizing Scripture. Not only do you think about it constantly as you go about your day, being reminded of various verses in different instances. Not only does it seemingly permeate every fabric of your being. Not only do you find yourself reciting it over and over. But last night, as I tried to recite it yet again, I only made it through the first four verses before I fell asleep. When I opened my eyes this morning, I realized that fact, and began reciting again, beginning with verse 5. I made it all the way through, but I noticed myself ready to fall asleep again.

I’m not saying reading or thinking about the Word of God is boring. Far from it. But instead, there may be nothing better than falling asleep basking in God’s Word. It’s like falling asleep in the Father’s arms.

It’s much better than counting sheep!

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Especially Chosen…

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved…” Colossians 3:12a

In his devotional book, Hidden in Christ, James Bryan Smith tells the story of Tim and Lori Gillach, who were sitting on the couch one evening when a thought came to Tim and he asked Lori, “What do you think God has put us on earth for?” After thinking, Lori answered, “To be parents.” Tim agreed. They are exceptional parents of two children, Smith relates, but that night, felt led to do more. At this stage in their lives, being a parent again would involve adoption.

So Lori began the research. After much searching, she discovered that baby girls in China were being abandoned to orphanages in large numbers. She did her research, which led them to plan the adoption of a little girl. Lori made the long journey to China, taking various forms of transportation, lasting a number of days. Finally, Lori met her little girl, which she and Tim had already named Chloe. Chloe had a shaven head because of lice and was thin. Lori immediately took Chloe into her arms and began the journey home. When Lori and Chloe reached their home airport, Tim and the other two kids were waiting with a sign that read, “Welcome Home Chloe!”

Chloe is now a grown young woman, and she knows, as many adopted children know, what it really means to be chosen. She is cherished and she knows it. She was in a dark place devoid of hope, and is now in a place of virtually boundless blessing.

In the verse above, when Paul says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people…”, he refers again to what God has done for us in Christ. We were in a dark place, without hope and destined for death, but are now alive in Christ. We were ALL chosen by God. “For God so loved THE WORLD that He gave his Son…” (John 3:16) He went to extreme lengths to demonstrate His love. We are loved with a boundless, undying love, and as I said yesterday, there’s nothing we can do about it! We cannot sin enough to stop it. We cannot run away from it. And we did nothing to earn it or merit it. God loves us because that is who He is. We are chosen, plucked from a world of darkness, and brought into the light of His Son… a world of hope and boundless blessing.

As Colossians 3:12 above says, we are holy and dearly loved. We are holy not because of our behavior (certainly not!), but because we are chosen. If we are Jesus-followers, we are children of God, with the Spirit of Christ dwelling in us. We are sacred. That is what holy means: sacred, uncommon, set apart for special use. You may have a family heirloom that is very special and you treat it differently than your other possessions. And just as you wouldn’t throw it into a mud puddle, a life full of sin isn’t befitting us either, since we are sacred, chosen, and dearly loved children of God. It is beneath us.

Really grasping the love of God is a game-changer for me. Knowing that I please God and that He loves and accepts me has changed me. I don’t have to try to earn God’s acceptance. I don’t have to clamor to please people. I am a child of God with Christ living in me and I live in the unshakeable Kingdom of God. I know my identity. I know who I am. I know whose I am.

And I am chosen, holy and dearly loved.

So are you.

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Delighted!

God is delighted with you.

No, God is not disappointed with you. He delights in you.

He is not delighted with you because of who you are or because of what you’re becoming.

He is delighted with you because of what Jesus did and because of what Jesus became.

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)

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)

No, God is not disappointed in you. As I’ve said many times, there is nothing you can do to make God love you any less and there is nothing you can do to make God love you any more. As Pastor Shane Lilly said yesterday, “God is madly in love with you and there is nothing you can do about it!”

He loves you with an enduring, steadfast love and because he delights in you, He sings over you! (See Zephaniah 3:17)

Listen to His love song today.