Eighteen inches…

My former pastor used to (and probably still does) sign his correspondence — his letters, cards, emails — “You are loved, Pastor Jeff”. I always thought that was his way of saying “I love you.” But he might also have been trying to convey a profound truth that is the one thing that has the power to transform. It is the one thing all humans long for. To know…

You are loved.

Love is the one thing that can change everything. Love never fails, as Scripture says. (1 Cor 13:8) It is one thing to love something or someone, but quite another to know you are loved. To be loved is what makes life complete, and yet even if we are blessed with a relationship that conveys human love to us, there is still an emptiness… an incompleteness that only God can fill.

The most famous verse in the Bible is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, that whoever should believe in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That verse tells us that God loves us. A lot. We get that. But do we really?

Until the knowledge of God’s love and acceptance of us travels the 18 inches from our heads down to our hearts, we remain the same. We may know Bible verses. We may know theology. We may be slightly smarter, but we don’t really know God’s love. Otherwise we would be changed. We wouldn’t yearn for more. We could be content in any circumstance (Phil 4:11). And most of all, we would love others differently. We wouldn’t be as hard or cold to those who are so different from us. We would be changed and it would be obvious.

In 1992, the former president of the American Psychiatric Association noted, “We’ve had a hundred years of psychotherapy — and the world’s getting worse.” There is an emptiness that lingers despite therapy, counselling, medication, exercise, alcohol and drugs, plastic surgery, support groups, psychic readings, and yes, Sunday school classes and sermons. The emptiness… the yearning for more… still persists for most people.

“What the world needs now is love, sweet love.” It’s more than a sleepy little Burt Bacharach song from the 1960s. It’s truth. And we need more than the love that we can provide one another. We need God’s love and we need it to penetrate our hearts.

The truth is that you and I are loved more than we can comprehend. It’s an unexplainable love because it’s other-worldly. It’s patient, kind, wanting-nothing-but-the-best-for-you, steadfast, never-wavering, passionate, deep love. When we receive it — fully receive it — it is fulfilling, healing, and transforming. It’s brings a completeness and wholeness that we’ve never known before and that we’ve been searching for our entire lives.

But even more than being loved, we are accepted. We are accepted as we are right now. We are accepted despite what we’ve done. We are accepted, and embraced, and God even sings over us. He smiles when he thinks of you. Is that hard for you to believe? It is for most of us. That’s why God’s love never moves that 18″ I mentioned, from our head to our heart. We somehow can’t accept it.

But believe it… because it is the truth. Just listen to the words of the prophet:

“The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”
(Zephaniah 3:17, NIV)

Loving someone or something is easy. Knowing that you are loved is difficult. But it is the truth.

You are loved.

The deepest chasm…

“Religion is the human search for God; Christianity is God’s search for humans.” — James Bryan Smith

Have you ever seen the ceiling of The Sistine Chapel? I haven’t either – personally – but I’ve seen pictures. One of the amazing paintings by Michelangelo is The Creation of Adam, depicting Adam reclining and reaching toward God. God, surrounded by angels, in turn is reaching down from heaven toward Adam. They reach and reach, seemingly straining toward each other and are only separated by what seems like an inch.image

Except that inch would later become a chasm of endless width, breadth, and depth. It is filled with my deepest, darkest thoughts. It is filled with my most wicked acts and deeds. It is filled with secrets. It is filled with sin. My sin. Your sin. Our sin.

In His great love for us, God gave us the gift of eternal living through the death and life of His Son, Jesus Christ. He came to us. He wanted us. He made a way. We owe it all to Him. We didn’t go looking for Him. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. We were stuck drowning in our own chasm of darkness. It’s all His doing. We have tried reaching for Him for millenia. In one instant, He reached out for us and bridged the widest canyon in human history.

And He still is reaching for us today.

That’s why it’s called the Good News.

(Thanks to my friend Nancy Jo for posting in Facebook the short sentence at the top of this post. It’s from the book we’re all reading at church written by James Bryan Smith. Actually, over 250 people are reading from the same chapter of the same books each week for the past nine months, and that is a powerful thing. Lives have been changed… mine included. I highly recommend them. You can find them HERE.)

Conversations with God…

This morning I didn’t know what to read or where to start, so I prayed, “Lord, what’s on your mind today? What’s on your heart today? I want your thoughts to be my thoughts. Show me what you want this morning.”

I then prayed for my friends Donna and Amanda, brave women enduring a lot and glorifying God while doing it. I then opened a devotional book and the day’s devo talked about unity with God and His will, not becoming double-minded with hidden motives or agendas.

Then I looked at a pamphlet that one of my favorite authors wrote, entitled, “Reading With Your Ears – How to Hear the Voice of God in the Bible.” It’s basically a study guide teaching how to read the Bible conversationally. He begins by saying,

“Have you ever stopped to think how amazing it is that God wants to talk to you? The creator of the universe, God Almighty himself, wants to talk to you! He loves you. He is concerned about every aspect of your life. He has something to say to you every day. And he wants to hear from you every day, too. As followers of Christ, we can all have conversations with God. We just need to learn how to listen.”

He goes on to talk about how to read the Bible conversationally, and encourages to read “for depth, not distance.” Find a passage, either by using a devotional, the material from Sunday’s sermon, or one you’re fond of, and read it. It shouldn’t be overly lengthy, nor – if you’re just starting out – difficult passages. (Difficult to understand, difficult to pronounce, difficult to read)

Read it once all the way through. Then read it again, stopping at anything that catches your attention. Read it emphasizing certain words, then read it again, emphasizing different words. Reading it aloud helps here.

Then let it seep in. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” (Colossians 3:16) Be a hot cup of water and let the Word be a tea bag. Let it steep and allows its color, flavor and aroma to saturate you. Ponder the meaning of words. Let the Holy Spirit guide your thoughts. Let your mind wander but be mindful of what you’re thinking about. If thoughts about today’s work or activities pop up, have a pad of paper handy to write those thoughts down and then come back to the Word.

I did that this morning, and went back to the calling of Matthew, the tax collector, in Matthew 9. I wrote about his encounter with Jesus yesterday, but just felt the passage might hold more for me. As I read the end of the scene, Jesus says in verse 13,

“But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

In my Bible, there’s a footnote after the sentence, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” and it refers me to another verse, Hosea 6:6 in the Old Testament. Jesus just said, “Go and learn what this means,” so I turned to the passage.

Hosea is a prophetic book that talks about the “adulterous” people of Israel, who walked away from the God of their forefathers, pursued other gods, or were just going through the week-after-week motions of their religious lives. They may have gone through their daily or weekly rituals, going to the synagogue, singing their songs, praying their prayers, and making their sacrifices, but their hearts weren’t in it. Sound familiar?

And then God speaks through the prophet and says:

O Israel and Judah, what should I do with you? asks the Lord.
For your love vanishes like the morning mist and disappears like dew in the sunlight.
I sent my prophets to cut you to pieces – to slaughter you with my words,
with judgments as inescapable as light.
I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices.
I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings.
(Hosea 6:4-6, NLT)

The Message paraphrases verse 6:

I’m after love that lasts, not more religion.
I want you to know God, not go to more prayer meetings.

Today’s message to me: God wants me to know Him more. He wants to talk to me. He wants me to know His thoughts and His heart.

He wants to have a conversation. I need to (re)learn how to listen.


Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.
(Romans 11:33-36, NIV)

This is called The Doxology. Doxology means it is a formal, liturgical praise to God.

It speaks of God’s vast greatness. It truly is beyond description, but Scripture writers and all authors have been trying to describe it for millenia. God’s greatness is really beyond description. It is beyond measurement. God Himself is beyond measurement or description, so to worship and praise Him within liturgical restraints seemingly doesn’t make sense.

However, Paul wraps it up beautifully in verse 36. “From him.” “Through him.” “For him.” “To him.” Graceful poetry to describe it all.

I heard my friend James Spruill preach on these verses once, and in his wonderful wisdom, made it so simple…

“From him”… God is the source of all things. He created all things. He gives us all things. He is The Source.

“Through him”… God is the power. In our weakness, he shows himself strong. Without him, we can do nothing.

“For him”… God is the purpose. The first sentence of The Purpose Driven Life finds its origin right here. It’s not about you. It’s all about God. It’s all for him. Living completely for him brings the abundant life that you and I read about in John 10:10. It’s what this world so desperately is searching for.

“To him”… Why do we live “for him”? To bring him glory. For all he’s done. For the living hope that is ours. For this great salvation that is ours… all the glory is his. So others might come to know our wonderful God!

A little bit of liturgy does the soul good.

Acceptance is a powerful thing…

I visited another church Sunday and the pastor delivered an excellent sermon built around the calling of Levi in Matthew 9. Levi, of course, is Matthew, the writer of the gospel. He was tax collector when Jesus encountered him on the road at his “toll booth.” The pastor pointed out that Matthew, as a tax collector, was hated by his own people, the Jews, not only because he was working for the IRS, but in those days, he was seen as a traitor because he was working for the Romans who occupied the region at the time. He also cheated and extorted money to make his living. He charged an exorbitant amount at his toll booth, and, most likely, was wealthy (and despised) because of it.

He was no doubt a loner. He had “friends”, if you want to call them that, but they were fellow tax collectors and other riff-raff who couldn’t be trusted. I’m not sure Matthew would call them real friends. So when Jesus comes along, and invites Matthew to come along with him, Matthew had to be looking around behind him and saying, “Who? Me?!?” You’d think there was more interaction between Matthew and Jesus during this encounter, but if there is, it doesn’t show up in Matthew’s gospel, nor the two other gospels where this story also appears. Matthew simply gets up, leaves his toll booth behind, and joins Jesus.

As the pastor shared, acceptance is a powerful thing. It pulled Matthew from his toll booth. It pulled him away from his old life in an instant, without any reasoning or convincing. Acceptance is a powerful thing. As the pastor continued, he said it’s acceptance that convinces youngsters to join gangs. It’s acceptance that makes peer pressure so powerful. Acceptance is a powerful thing. Just ask Levi the (former) tax collector.

Knowing that God accepts you no matter where you are in life, no matter what you’ve done, no matter how you’re doing in your journey with God… if you’re riding high or down in the depths… on the mountaintop or weeping bitterly… knowing that God accepts you and loves you… well, it has the power to transform you. It did me.

When I discovered in my heart what I knew in my head: that God loved me and accepted me when I succeeded and when I failed… when I prayed a lot or when I prayed very little… when I go to church every single week and say “yes” to every invitation to serve or help or when I skip church, spend time home alone with family… that no matter what, He loves and accepts me, it brought new freedom into my life. As I’ve said before, not freedom to live my life selfishly or lazily, but freedom to trust God with every fabric of my being. It is a freedom from performancism (is that even a word?) that makes me so grateful, I naturally want to seek more of God.

All God wants is for us to come. He invited Matthew that day along the roadside. And he invites you and me.

Acceptance is a powerful thing. Just ask Matthew… or me.

Gone ’round the bend

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.” (Posted May 3rd)


“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.” (Posted May 15)

Because I said these things, those of you who know me think I’ve fallen off the doctrinal wagon. Some may think that I’m espousing some kind of radical license to sin or to be lazy. Some may even think that I have fallen into some kind of sin; otherwise why would I talk about grace so often?!?

I’m not saying:

Don’t pray.
Don’t read your Bible.
Don’t go to church.
Don’t serve in the Kingdom somewhere.
Don’t be grieved when you sin because you’re going to heaven anyway.

What I am saying is that my (and your) only hope is Jesus. If we truly understand what Jesus has accomplished on the Cross, we are set free from the pressure of striving and trying so hard to “be a Christian.”

Once we really understand the love that God has for us in Jesus, we are free to fully and completely trust Him. We pray because we want to know Him more. We read our Bible to know His character (John 1:1, Hebrews 1:1), His truth (John 14:17), His instruction and His correction (2 Tim 3:16). We go to church because that is where we find community with like-minded Jesus-followers. We serve because that is how we show the love of God to those outside our community who so desperately need it.

We don’t do those things because it’s our duty or we need to repay God, but in doing them, we know God more fully. And knowing God more fully is what you WANT to do when you truly understand what God has accomplished just for you and me in Christ at the Cross. Desiring to know God more fully just simply flows from a life which understands the freedom and victory the Cross has brought.

Lastly, some may think that I’ve adopted some form of “once-saved, always-saved” doctrine. Those four words have come to mean something else than what was originally intended. They’ve come to negatively portray a theology of license. In other words, once you’re saved by grace, you’re free to live any way you want, because God’s grace will forgive you in the end. The apostle Paul makes it clear that simply isn’t true in Romans 5:20-6:7. Instead, those four words “once-saved, always-saved” or the words, “eternal security” should bring freedom and take the pressure off. Once you truly understand the love of God in Christ and truly embrace the work done there, you don’t want to live any way you want. You want to live any way GOD wants. If you or I are living another way, then I wonder if we truly understand God’s love.

So… have I gone ’round the bend? Yep.
Have I gone crazy? You better believe it.

I have encountered the good news of the Good News. If you find that you feel worse leaving church than when you entered, something’s wrong. You need the Gospel. It brings freedom. It takes the pressure off. It’s brings joy and peace like never before.

And you’ll want to tell everyone.

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14, NIV)

If it seems we are crazy, it is to bring glory to God. And if we are in our right minds, it is for your benefit. Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. (2 Corinthians 5:13-15, NLT)

Keeping Score

Have you ever played a game and not kept score? Maybe it was pick-up basketball game or a round of golf. I was reading in Galatians this morning and I thought of what it was like playing without keeping score.

Some folks like it. They like the freedom of not having to keep score while letting “it all hang out” on the playing field or the basketball court. It helps them perform better. Personally, I don’t like it. I’m not wired that way.

I like keeping score. I like measuring my performance, whether it’s trying to lower my score playing golf or beating the other player in Madden NFL video game. I like competition. I like keeping score. Most of us do. It’s built-in. It’s why sports are so popular worldwide.

We naturally want to measure our performance. We do it in sports and in school. This week, children are taking SOLs… and being measured against Standards of Learning, benchmarks of performance. They’ll continue to keep score of their performance by the grades they get and the scores they receive, and some of their lives will seemingly hang in the balance when they take their SAT tests late in their high school careers.

We also tend to do it in our religious life. We measure our devotion by how much we read our Bibles, how often we go to church, and how much time we spend in prayer. Not all of us do that, mind you, but those who like to keep score certainly do. I should know. I’m one of those people.

But a fresh encounter with grace has freed me from that and I truly am free! I was reminded of it again as I read a passage in Galatians:

Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.” For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law-I stopped trying to meet all its requirements-so that I might live for God. My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die. (Galatians 2:16,19-21 NLT)

The requirements of keeping score are exhausting. But thank God His grace is inexhaustible! I don’t need to keep score. I don’t need to keep track of how often I read my Bible or how long I pray or how many weeks in a row I’ve been to church or how often I’ve served in the church nursery. Now all those things happen (super)naturally, because Christ lives in me, as Paul says in the passage above. Grace doesn’t give me reason to be lazy or give me a license to sin, but it frees me to live for God fully and freely, loving him and others extravagantly.

The only score that matters is: JESUS 1 SIN/DEATH 0

He is bigger…

I’ve mentioned it several times before, but I’m a child of an alcoholic. Actually both my parents were. (Disclaimer: Before you think I’m not honoring my father and mother, I loved my parents. They gave me all I needed growing up. I had a good childhood, albeit in the midst of alcoholism.)

But as a child of an alcoholic, I hate chaos. I pursue peace, calmness, and control. You’ve heard this before, I know, but when moments of peace come… when they happen… they are so refreshing. I feel like I’ve trained myself to recognize them. For you it may be different, but for me, they are almost always found outdoors.

I’ve had a rough week at work… actually a rough couple of months. Because of personnel problems in the office, I’ve been handling all the office duties. I’ve had some help here and there, of which I’m grateful, but now we’ve hired someone to help and I have to handle the training, in addition to all the other jobs, which can’t humanly be done in a normal workday. I can just feel the tension as I type this.

Anyway, back to finding peace. Yesterday, after a full day at work, I rode my motorcycle for an hour before going to men’s group. After men’s group, I came home to walk Bella, our precious little dog. I love our walks, because, for the most part, they allow me to pause and be still. As Bella was sniffing one of a thousand places where she stops and sniffs, a Great Blue Heron flew overhead. It was past sunset but still light enough that you could easily make out his silhouette and he flew so low, you could hear his wings gracefully flapping and carrying him across the sky. He was majestic.

When those moments happen, I can take a deep breath and know that God is with me. Maybe it sounds silly to you, but for me, those moments are gifts from God. Gifts designed to remind me of the peace that He alone brings (for me, through His majestic and magnificent creation), and to remind me that He is bigger than anything I’m going through.

That’s why I get up early in the morning and read, write, and think as the sun rises. It’s peaceful. It helps me be still. It helps me hear His voice. It reminds me that He is bigger than anything I’m going through.

Not enough faith to persevere?

I recently listened to a snippit (definition: a very short portion of a video or audio) of a recent sermon some pastor was preaching. What I heard was enough to make me push “STOP”. When speaking of those folks who had recently left his church, he used an analogy and said they were like the Israelites who didn’t have enough faith before they reached the Promised Land and perished. The folks who remained were those who had enough faith and were further encouraged to persevere.

Perseverence through trials is one thing. Saying that someone didn’t have enough faith to persevere is another. Saying that so many didn’t have enough faith is absurb. I find that offensive and so should you. It is so wrong on so many levels. It is dangerous teaching and it hurts the cause of Christ. It has the power to damage the faith of many, and I’ve seen this teaching cause people to lose heart and walk away from God altogether.


Read more here: http://wp.me/p4hpe8-y

I have faith in the One who persevered and He’s all I need. All the focus is on Jesus please.

Holy love meets holy fear

I have a friend that I’m praying for this morning. He is struggling in his faith. He is struggling with apathy toward the things of God. He wants more but he doesn’t know how to get there. He wants God to light a fire in him. He says he doesn’t really have any besetting sin in his life, any sin that he seems to fall into time after time. He just seems stuck in neutral, he says. Sound familiar? It does for me.

I was in that place recently. It took a fresh encounter with God’s love to show me the meaning of His grace toward me (and you) that drew me to Him and ignited a flame within me to tell others about it. I want to tell everyone about the finished work of the Cross and the true freedom found there. I’ve been posting about it for weeks. You can read more at FaithOnTheRoadAgain.com. But back to my friend…

I have him reading some things, hoping he’ll have a fresh encounter with God’s love, too, but he wrote to me after reading a chapter and he said that he thought he had full, mature understanding of the grace of God. Instead, what he thought he needed was a healthy fear of God. I’m trying to discover what he meant. I just sent him an email asking him, telling him that I’m praying for him. Thirty seconds later (literally!), he sends me one, saying that he’s praying for me! I love how God works!

Anyway, I wonder what “fear of God” means to him. Does he want to be “scared straight”? Does he need “shock therapy”? Or does he need a full revelation of the fullness and awesomeness of God? How do you get to the place of being filled with holy reverence and awe toward God, which would define a “healthy fear of God”?

Could it be that what he and I are talking about are the same things? Could it be that a full revelation of the love and grace of God toward me, you, and the rest of humanity is the same thing as the “fear of God”? Most people would think not, but I’m not so sure this morning.

As I watch the amazing colors of the sunrise this morning, I’m reminded that His mercies are new every morning. That’s what the Bible tells us. I turned to that passage in Lamentations. Its author, the prophet Jeremiah, is grieving over the destruction of his beloved city, Jerusalem. It lies in ruin. Here is what he says:

He has walled me in so I cannot escape; he has weighed me down with chains. Even when I call out or cry for help, he shuts out my prayer. He has barred my way with blocks of stone; he has made my paths crooked. Like a bear lying in wait, like a lion in hiding, he dragged me from the path and mangled me and left me without help. He drew his bow and made me the target for his arrows. He pierced my heart with arrows from his quiver. I became the laughingstock of all my people; they mock me in song all day long. He has filled me with bitter herbs and given me gall to drink. He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in the dust. I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. So I say, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord.” I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. (Lamentations 3:7-20, NIV)

Sounds like a terrible state to be in. He is so grieved by his situation (the situation of the exiled Jews and their beloved city) that it seems like he can’t even pray, or that God is simply not listening. But then something changes:

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: BECAUSE OF THE LORD’s GREAT LOVE, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. (Lamentations 3:21-26, NIV, MY EMPHASIS)

Who are we, that God is mindful of us? That’s what David said when he wrote the Psalms. That’s what Jeremiah is pondering here. More than that, God loves us so much that, despite our failings… our pride… our sin… our apathy… He doesn’t consume us. Sounds like a holy fear of the Lord.

He is compassionate. So compassionate, in fact, that He sent His Son to take our place. We should bear that penalty. We should be punished. God’s love saves us.

Holy love meets holy fear.

I’m praying.