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.

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)

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!

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.

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.

No Identity Crisis

As you may or may not know, I’ve been memorizing a passage of Scripture for the past couple of weeks. The passage is Colossians 3:1-17. I finally finished memorizing the final verse this morning. Of course, the test really comes tomorrow (and the next day and the day after that, etc), to see if I really remember.

Memorizing Scripture is an interesting exercise. I’ve seen how it has worked its way into my life in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. I find myself thinking about a certain verse or being reminded of a certain verse as I encounter a situation in my day. This sounds cliché, but it seems to have worked its way into every fabric of my being. I think about it when I wake up. I recite it driving down the road. I’m reminded of it as I live out my life and I think about the verses or recite them as I lay down at night.

One other thing that repeating the same verses over and over does — whether aloud or silently — you really get the overall meaning of the passage. You really understand it as a whole. Instead of concentrating or zeroing in on one verse and “standing on it”, as Christians are apt to do, you get the big picture.

Colossians 3:1-17 would seem to be the apostle Paul’s practical instructions on how to live… what to do and what not to do. There is a laundry list of things to avoid, as well as a list of virtues. “Do this, and life will be good; and be sure to avoid…” is what it sounds like.

But it is so much more than that. What Paul is talking about here is your identity in Christ. There are several words such as “Since, then,…”, “because”, and “therefore”, and when I see words like that in the Bible, they are referring to something previously stated or to a previously implied condition.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ…”
“Put to death, therefore…”
“But now…”
“… since you have taken off…”
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people…”
“… since as members…”

Our identity is now in Christ. Our old self is dead. Our new life has come alive in Christ. The Holy Spirit dwells within and is growing. I am a child of God with Christ dwelling within me. I live in the unshakeable Kingdom of God. The pitfalls listed in the passage are not only to be avoided, they are beneath me. That kind of living is not suited for a child of God. I have taken off my old, stinky laundry and am now clothed with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (v.12). This is the kind of living that is more suitable for Kingdom-living.

Because of what God has done for me in Christ: a forgiven past, an abundant life lived here and now, and a secure hope and future, the old Tim is dead. As Paul says in Galatians,

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Amen.

Nothing More You Need To Do

There is nothing more you need to do to be a Christian.

That should get your attention. Not only is it an attention-getter, it’s true, too.

“Wait,” you cry. “What about obedience? What about living for God?” I’ll get to that, but, first, let me explain the first sentence of this post.

All that you need to do to be a Christian is believe and receive. Believe that Jesus paid the price of your sins and my sins, once and for all, on the Cross. Believe that He was raised from the dead, defeated death, again – once and for all, and is now seated at the right hand of God. Believe that He lives to intercede for us. Believe. But now comes the crucial part.

Receive. Receive this seemingly unbelievable gift of God’s overwhelming love.

Maybe I have it backwards. Maybe it should be Receive and Believe.

Receive the amazing show of God’s enduring love and then believe. But not only believe what I’ve already mentioned, but so much more.

Because of the love of God in Jesus, you are now accepted as you are right now. Believe that. There’s nothing more you need to do. Jesus Himself said, “It is finished.” It’s already been done. Rest. Take a deep breath. Believe that. Relax and receive. Oops. There it is again. Receive. Believe. Receive. Believe…

Now, about obedience…

Obedience comes from a thankful heart. A grateful heart obeys God’s commands because the grateful heart knows all about God’s love. God’s love has already paid the price. God’s love is always looking out for my best interests. Because of God’s love, I want to obey. He knows best.

I am free of all the requirements. I am free of all the checklists. I am free of trying to prove myself worthy of His love or His sacrifice. I am free of trying to pay Him back. The work’s already been done. He’s done the heavy-lifting. I am free. Because of the overwhelming love of God and the freedom that it brings, I am compelled to live my life for Him.

As Tullian Tchividjian says:

“Legalism says, ‘Obey, so God is pleased with you.’
The Gospel says, ‘Obey, BECAUSE God is pleased with you.'”

This is the Gospel. It was… and IS radical. It is good news not only to those who first believe and receive (or receive and believe). But it is also good news to those who’ve already believed and received.

There is nothing more you NEED to do.


 

“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)

In The Message, it reads:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

The Gospel is Still Changing Me

The Gospel changed me.

It is still changing me.

Did you think the Gospel message was just for sinners… just for folks that don’t believe in Jesus or haven’t accepted God’s gift of forgiveness?

Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah when He began teaching in the synagogue:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
(Luke 4:18-19)

“Freedom for the prisoners,” He says. Some translations say “captives.” Captive to what? Prisoners of what? Freedom from what!?!

Freedom from the power of sin? Yes.
Freedom from the power of death? Yes!
Freedom from the power of sickness, the power of bondage, the power of addictions? Yes!

But also freedom from the yoke of religion and the law.

He quoted the prophet Isaiah to those who would know… the religious law-makers, the rabbis, the legalistic Pharisees and Sadducees, the self-righteous… like you and me.

Truth be told, we all have a bit of self-righteousness in us. Yes, all of us. Don’t get mad at me here. You can’t help it; it’s your default setting. We all do it. Since the fall of man, we’ve been doing it. Look it up; you’ll see.

I do it and you do it. Unfortunately, we may not recognize it. We may have even subtly passed this teaching on to those who would listen. I know I have. It goes something like this…

If you pray more, God will bless you more.

Or…

If you read your Bible more, God will bless you more.

We all do it. We think it. Be honest. Isn’t there a tinge of that somewhere inside you? I’d bet there is. (Wait, I can’t bet as a Christian; God might not bless me. Oops… there it is again!)

We think that if we do good, God will bless us more, show more favor to us, or worse, love us more. We also think that if we do bad, God will bless us less, show less favor to us, or worse, love us less.

That simply is not true. That is self-righteousness. And that is one of the things Jesus came to give us freedom from.

Jesus proclaimed in His dying words, “It is finished.”

Pastor Tullian Tchividjian says:

“God’s demand is: Be perfect.
God’s diagnosis is: Nobody’s perfect.
God’s deliverance: Jesus was perfect for you.

The flesh is always resistant to ‘It is finished.’ Always. You want to talk about the mortification of sin? Start there. Start with that part of you that resists, ‘It is finished.’ That’s unbelief.

The litmus test on whether the Gospel has been communicated in a sermon, book, blog post, or tweet is: If you don’t feel lighter or freer after it’s been communicated, it wasn’t the Gospel.”

The Gospel is still changing me.

Once…

You used to walk in these ways in the life you once lived. (Colossians 3:7)

Once. Once upon a time. Used to. Past tense.

I’ve heard a lot of dramatic conversion stories: folks who’ve killed others or been destitute, deep in drug addiction, radically changed by God in an instant. It happens. All the time. Praise God.

For me, it wasn’t that dramatic. I had tried virtually everything to try to satisfy the emptiness in my heart that only God can fill. I had used almost every kind of drug available during my formative years. I had been with women. I was motivated to climb the ladder of success and would do most anything to get there. Been there, done that. I used to walk in those ways in the life I once lived.

Then one day in a church service, I heard an old man’s story about what it meant to live in a community of followers of Jesus. I heard about the things that God hates and I was guilty of them all. I gave my life to Christ that day.

I was changed but I wasn’t sure how or why. I didn’t long for the things I once did. I had a different mindset toward life and people. It wasn’t because I decided to be different, turned over a new leaf, or decided to follow a set of rules or guidelines. I was different. Period.

As I was memorizing my verses in Colossians 3 this morning and reading the accompanying devotional, the author, James Bryan Smith said,

“Being an apprentice of Jesus is not about rules and laws, it is about identity and place. Christian life is not an if-then obligation (‘If I do this, then God will do that.’) It is a because-therefore opportunity (Because I am one in whom Christ dwells, therefore I will…”). The better way to encourage change is to remind people who they are now, in contrast to who they once were… we should say to ourselves, ‘I am a Christ-inhabited person. What does that look like in the world I live in?’… Simply put, I am called to live differently because I am not the person I once was… It is not a matter of salvation. It is a matter of being authentically who we are.”

I used to follow my own indulgent, selfish desires. But now I’m not the same person. It’s the lifestyle I used to walk in. Not anymore. Don’t get me wrong; I still struggle just like you.

But I know who I am and I know whose I am. Currently. Present tense. Now and forever.

Renovations and Laundry

As I’ve mentioned a few times, I’m memorizing a passage of Scripture, Colossians 3:1-17. To date, I’ve memorized the first twelve verses. Memorizing Scripture has an effect on the way you think, both in day-to-day life, and having something to draw from later in life. I find myself thinking about the verses or being reminded of the verses as I go through my day.

Also, as I work my way through each verse, memorizing the phrasing and even the placement of commas, I begin thinking about the meaning of certain words.

For instance, in verses 9-10, the apostle Paul says:

Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

One of the words that catches my attention is the word “renewed”. Once I am “in Christ”, after accepting what God has done for me through His Son, I have “taken off” the old Tim and have “put on” a new Tim, which is in the process of being renewed in knowledge. It’s almost like I’ve taken off my dirty laundry and put on clean, fresh clothes. In fact, Paul uses that exact metaphor later in verse 12.

The word “renew” shows up elsewhere in Paul’s letters. In Romans, Paul exhorts:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)

Again, the renewal of the mind. In Colossians, our new self is to be “renewed in knowledge”. In Romans, we are “transformed by the renewing of the mind.” But how does this renewal happen? What does God do? What part do I play? I believe that Colossians and Romans both give us the answers.

In Colossians 3:1, Paul says, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ…”. In other words, “Since Christ has done this for you…”, this is how you ought to live. In Romans 12:1, Paul says, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy…”. Again, what he is saying is, “Since, through Jesus, God has been so kind, gracious, and forgiving…”, this, then, is how you should live.

The first step is to realize where we would be without God. Most people never get to this point. They openly refuse His help or deny His existence. They want to run their own lives. They don’t want to appear weak, leaning on a “crutch”. But what they don’t realize is that, in the paradox of God’s wisdom, through weakness, we gain strength. Through what seemed like a dismal defeat at The Cross, came the victory over death, sin, sickness, loneliness, and so much more. It starts with an attitude of gratitude.

Secondly, after seeing how gracious and kind God is, we must trust Him and surrender our lives to Him, to be used however He sees fit. In Romans 12, Paul says, “Therefore… offer your bodies as a living sacrifice…” In Colossians, he says, “… set your hearts on things above (v.1)… set your minds on things above (v.2)… put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature (v.5)… since you have taken off your old self with its practices and put on the new self… (vv.9,10)” It is a conscious decision. It is an act of worship, trusting that God knows how to run our lives better than we do, and surrendering our hearts and minds to Him.

Once we do, He begins to do a work anew in us. We become a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). It is both an instantaneous occurence and an ongoing work in progress. At our initial conversion at salvation, it is instantaneous. But as Colossians and Romans tells us, it is an ongoing, lifelong process of allowing God to have more and more of our lives. In fact, the Greek word used in both places implies that a renovation is taking place. As He fully takes over, He continually shows us where we need more of Him in our lives… where we haven’t allowed Him full access… and as we allow Him in, the renovation happens.

We allow Him access through our prayer time with Him, allowing the Holy Spirit to show us areas of our lives which need renewing. We allow Him access by reading His Word and allowing it to penetrate our hearts. As we allow Him to work, we become “renewed”. We begin to think differently. We begin to see others differently. Our hearts begin to feel the same things Jesus’ heart feels. We lose our old habits. We lose our “stinkin’ thinkin'” (as Joyce Meyer would say). As we follow Him and His lead, we are gradually transformed into the image of Christ.

As I memorize the passage in Colossians, that renewal is taking place. My laundry is being done. I’m being renovated!