Every. Single. Day.

Guilt trips. That’s what we all are on. Guilt trips.

There are thousands – no millions – of Christ-followers who are walking with their heads down, ashamed of what they did last night, last week, or last year. They live their lives defeated, with guilt and shame hanging around their necks like a millstone, or worse yet, a grave stone.

What millions haven’t discovered is the freedom found in Christ. It’s freedom from our guilt and shame because of God’s forgiveness through Christ Jesus. It’s forgiveness from what you and I did last night, last week, and last year. As Christians, we know that. However, we don’t live like we do. Why? And why haven’t we grabbed hold of the freedom found in Christ?

Part of the reason is that we hear, week after week, what we must DO to live the Christian life. We are taught to DO this or DO that. Live like this; avoid that. 12 easy steps. 6 keys to Christian living. Try harder. Do more. Is there any wonder why we haven’t found freedom?

Plain and simple, it is not about what we do or don’t do; it’s about what Christ has done.

We are not only forgiven, but we are accepted. Exactly as we are. Exactly where we are. We sing, “Come As You Are” and revel in the thought that God accepted us exactly as we were when we initially accepted the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins. But I don’t think we grasp that He CONTINUALLY accepts us, no matter the pig pen we find ourselves in. We realize we can’t live the perfect life (which God requires, by the way) and we never will. And we end up defeated.

Because God gave the perfect sacrifice, His Son, His requirement for perfection was fulfilled once and for all. Not only for all of us, but for ALL our sin as well: past, present and future.

What about obedience? What about repentance? Won’t this unbridled, radical grace lead to spiritual laziness? Isn’t it a license to sin?

Hardly. Once this thoroughly curative grace is fully known and internalized, it leads to an ever-changing life. Once this unbelievable, unconditional love is realized… really comprehended… the inner life is changed and it is truly reborn. Once this come-as-you-are acceptance is discovered, the result is freedom. It is not the whip of an overbearing master that will change our hearts to follow Him. No, it is His kindness that leads to repentance. (Romans 2:4) It is His love that draws us to follow Him. It is His unconditional acceptance that leads us to stop looking for it elsewhere.

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

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. (Galatians 5:1a)

The Gospel is not just Good News for new followers of Jesus. It is Good News for you and me.

Every. Single. Day.

Something to Ponder

I asked many folks several months ago, “Do you think God is diappointed in you?”

The overwhelming answer was, “Yes!”

As I think about that this morning, I ask those of you who felt that way then, and perhaps still do, “Why? Why do you feel God is disappointed in you?”

Then listen — really listen — to your answer.

If you think God is disappointed in you because of something you did, something you said, something you felt, or… something you didn’t do, say, or feel… then I ask you to examine that further.

Or maybe you answered that way because you feel like you aren’t doing enough for God, but I would ask that you examine that further as well.

Let me ask you another question: If you did more for God… or were more obedient to Him… would He be more pleased with you?

If you answered, “Yes,” then it would stand to reason, with that logic in mind, that the more obedient you are, the more pleased God is. Therefore, God is most pleased with super-saints like Billy Graham or Mother Teresa, and on this grading scale, you and I are far, far down the heavenly social strata.

Does this sound valid to you? Is this how God really acts and works? The answer is a resounding, “No.”

With that kind of thinking, you’d have to continue to ask, “How good is good enough? How much service or obedience is enough to please God.”

God’s Word answers that for us:

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

Perfection. That is what God is looking for. That is what He requires. God is not pleased without perfect obedience… without perfect actions… perfect words and perfect thoughts.

Perfection. How’re you doing with that? How’s that perfection thing coming along? Not so well, I assume. Me neither.

Thankfully, when God requires perfection, He supplies perfection in His own Son, Jesus. God shows us we have a dilemma. And then, praise Him, He provides the deliverance. Jesus, while He lived on this Earth, was perfect in word, thought, and deed. It was His perfect obedience that took Him to the Cross. He was the perfect sacrifice for our sin.

And because of that God said to Jesus, “This is my son with whom I am well pleased.”

And because of Jesus and what He did, God says to you and me, “This is my son (or daughter) with whom I am well pleased.”

Good News indeed.

Something to ponder.

For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (Hebrews 10:14)

(For those who think I’m saying that you shouldn’t be obedient to God, you’re missing the point; I’m not. I’m just asking you to examine WHY you think God is disappointed in you.)

Perfection Required

We all know the story of the rich, young ruler who approached Jesus and asked what he had to do to be right with God and inherit eternal life. (See Mark 10:17-27)

Jesus gave him a to-do list, straight from the law: don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, no stealing, no lying, no deception, honor your mother and father…

The young man responded that he had fulfilled the law perfectly, but Jesus looked deeper into this young man’s eyes and into our hearts as well. He digs down to the motivation of our hearts. And He does this to show us something, but it may not be what you think.

He does this in the Sermon on the Mount when He equates hatred with murder and lust with adultery, but on this day with this young man, Jesus shows him (and us) that what God requires is perfection. He tells the young man to go and sell all his possessions and then come back and follow Jesus.

When we read this, we wonder to ourselves, “Is Jesus asking me to sell all I own? Is that what being fully surrendered means?” And we – correctly – talk ourself out of it, by concluding that’s not what Jesus is trying to get across. What we conclude is that Jesus is stating that we must fully surrender our hearts to Him and leave our allegiance to this world behind.

While I agree with the idea of surrender and admire any motivation with following God and God alone, what I think Jesus is actually reminding us of follows in the next few verses.

We see the rich, young ruler walk away sad, presumably, we think, because he doesn’t want to sell everything… because he wants what the world offers. But as he walks away, the disciples (who HAVE left everything to follow Him) even wonder, “Who, then, can be saved?” And how does Jesus respond?

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27)

Salvation doesn’t depend on our actions. Because none of us have pure, holy, and honorable actions all the time.

Salvation doesn’t depend on our surrender, because – How much surrendering is enough?

God requires perfection. Thankfully, He also supplies all the perfection we need in Jesus.

Eternal life – “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

God made a way. It was Jesus’ actions, not ours, that made a way.

It was Jesus’ surrender, not ours, that made a way.

Remember that as you worship today.

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)

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)

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.

Starvation Diet

As I’ve mentioned, I’m memorizing a Scripture passage, Colossians 3:1-17. In doing so, it has me thinking about the meaning of certain words and phrases, prompting me to dig deeper.

In verse 5, Paul says,

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” (NIV)

As I was reading and reciting this verse again, I wondered what he meant by “Put to death.” How am I supposed to kill whatever belongs to my earthly nature? The devotional book I’m reading that partners with the memorization explains it well this morning.

James Bryan Smith in his devotional “Hidden In Christ” explains that the phrase “put to death” is translated in the King James as “mortify”. It has the same root in Greek (and Latin) as mortgage. “Mort-” means death. A mortgage is the slow death of your home’s debt. When we mortify or put to death our earthly nature, it is a slow death. It is not done overnight. It takes time. It is intentional. It takes purposeful planning.

I’ve often heard that our spiritual nature and our earthly nature (our spirit and our flesh) are like two dogs. The one we feed is the one which survives. If we starve the earthly dog, our flesh, it will eventually die off. This takes planning and intent. It takes time.

There are sins that a few of us struggle with every day. We’ve struggled with them for years and they keep tripping us up. You would consider them “besetting” sins. These are the sins that have been “fed” over and over again, and to be free, now require intentional planning. Will power never works. But doing your part by planning to avoid the situations where they begin tempting you is the beginning. Avoid the temptation and you avoid the sin. (See James 1:14-15)

In our strategy, in addition to starving our flesh, we must also feed our spirits. We have the Holy Spirit inside us and He desires to show Himself more and more. However, He is a gentleman and won’t force Himself on you. You must invite Him into your life by prayer and reading His Holy Word, the Bible. The more you “feed” your spiritual nature, the more your spiritual nature will grow.

Something else to remember: If you are in Christ, then you are a child of God who has Christ dwelling within you and you live in the unshakeable Kingdom of God. You were bought at an extreme price, by the death of Jesus, God’s Son. You are priceless in the eyes of God.

Frankly, sin is beneath you. Kingdom living is your right and inheritance. Walk in it. Revel in it. Experience the joy and wonder of eternal life right now while participating in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

Abundant living is waiting.

I just can’t get past it…

There is something in Christianity I can’t get past. It’s something I’ve discovered fairly recently and I just can’t stop thinking about it; I just can’t get past it. I’m sure my wife is tired of me talking about it, because it dominates my thoughts. Even my friends have noticed my obsession with it. Maybe you have, too.

It’s the love of God.

“Oh, brother,” you think, “Here we go again. I know about the love of God already. After all, John 3:16 says, ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son..’. I know that. That’s Christianity 101.”

Yes, that’s probably the most famous and well-known verse in the Bible. Yes, you probably know that verse by heart. But do you really know the depths of God’s love? Do you really understand what it means for you everyday? Do you know why the Gospel is really Good News?

I think not. Well, at least some of you reading don’t. Because if you REALLY understood the love of God, it would be a game-changer for you. (And I see a lot of sour-faced, defeated people out there who claim to know Jesus and the love of God.)

First, the love of God is not the kind of love you and I are used to. It’s not based on our performance, our attitudes, our actions or behaviors. God loves us the same today as He did yesterday… and the day before… and the day before that. He knows all about the bitterness you still hold on to. He knows all about the lies you told last week. He knows all about your pitiful prayer life and the fact that you don’t read your Bible as you should. And He still loves you with a dance-on-the-rooftops, swing-on-the-chandelier-kind-of-love! He sings over you, Scripture says. Despite all your daily screw-ups, failures, blunders and mistakes, He loves you the same as the day you were born. Unbelievably, He loves you and I the same as He loves super-saints like Billy Graham or Mother Teresa.

In turn, this means that He won’t love you more if you become a super-saint yourself. He doesn’t love you more for reading your Bible two hours every day and spending two hours in your prayer closet each day, although you may get to know Him better. It’s startling to think about, but even though you may do that, He doesn’t love you more than He does any terrorist or pedophile or murderer.

For me, this kind of love ends all my “checklist religion”. It is (or should be) the end of performance-based living, which dominates our world, and dominates how we give and receive love. We love those who love us in return. We love those who do nice things for us. But God, while He wasn’t even on our minds at all… while we were living our own selfish lives… while we even cursed His Name… loved us and died for us. In doing so, He wiped the slate clean… and He continues to wipe the slate clean – with the blood of Jesus – every day. Since my life is “hidden” with His, my soul is secure. I don’t have to strive and strive and strive to earn God’s love, His favor, His gifts, or His blessing. I have Him. And He is all I need.

Lastly, this is amazing, Good News! If you were to ask someone what the Gospel is all about, they might reply that Jesus died for our sins and now we have eternal life. Yes, but that’s only scratching the surface. Eternal life is not just life after death.

It’s eternal living, too. The love of God doesn’t end with sending His Son to the Cross. While it’s true, that is where the amazing grace of God is discovered, His love endures through all generations. He loves you as much right now as He did when Jesus went to the Cross. What this means is that He is with you right now! He knows what you’re going through right now. And He is working things out for your good right now, even though you may not think so. Even if you are suffering right now, He promises to be with you through it all and turn it into something that makes you more like Christ, giving Him resounding glory.

Not only that, but in the end, you, I, and Christ WIN. Evil will be defeated. There will be no more pain or sorrow, and God Himself will wipe away our tears. This is where Christian hope comes from. It’s not a pie-in-the-sky, wishful-thinking kind of hope. It’s a sure thing, a certainty, and Rock-solid. It’s the hope of a better tomorrow, no matter what today looks like. We are living in the unshakeable Kingdom of God!

All because of the love of God. Good News indeed!

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

The Power of Love

Ephesians 3:18 NLT says:
“And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.”

This is a prayer of Paul’s… that his readers would know and understand about God’s love. He knew that if we really – and I mean REALLY – understood the love and acceptance of God, we would be changed… we would be transformed… we would be made whole and complete.

For he goes on to say:

“May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” (v.19)

“Fullness of life.” “Power.”

The fullness of life Paul speaks of and the abundant life John talks about (John 10:10) are one in the same. Being loved by God makes us lovable. That understanding in itself is liberating for some who feel unloved. It is what the human heart was made for: to be loved and to love. Once we really understand that we are loved and embraced by God despite our flaws, shortcomings, sins, and failings, it enables us to love and serve others with the same kind of love. That is abundant life.

The power we then experience, knowing that we are loved, accepted, embraced, and even rejoiced over, is the power to live with abandon for God and God alone. We are able to then completely trust Him without needing to know the reason why certain things happen. We just trust. And it is the power to live above sin and temptation. In short, it is power to live victoriously.

May we all have the power to understand and experience God’s love today.

It is Good News. Go to church today. Chances are, you’ll hear more about it.

Is there life BEFORE death?

“God, how can I make you more known?”

That’s a question I’ve been dwelling on for several days. Since March 13th, in fact. I wrote it down in my journal on that day.

Some people have told me privately that my writings each morning have helped them. That’s certainly one way I can answer the question at the top of the page. But in what other ways can I answer that question? And there are a couple of questions that accompany the main one.

Like, “Why is it that the first question I ask myself each day ISN’T that question? Why don’t I think of ways to make you more known? Why isn’t that my goal? I seem to want to make MYSELF more well-known. Why is that?”

Okay, that’s more than a couple of questions.

But as I write each day, that is a question I feel compelled to ask. Because if I write and post it somewhere, I must have the motivation of making God more known. If that’s not my motivation, then it is self-indulgent dribble. It serves no one but me. If it doesn’t make someone know God just a little bit better or a little bit more or is not redemptive, as God is redemptive, then it should be tossed into the garbage.

In fact, I need to be asking the question at the top of the page each day as I wake up and start my day. If my actions, motives, words, and behaviors don’t attempt to make God more known, and then each day has been no more than self-indulgent dribble… a waste of energy… a waste of… life.

I know that sounds harsh, and you may say, “God wants us to enjoy our life, too. What’s wrong with living life to the fullest?” My reply would be, “Who says that can’t be done by making God more known in the process? In fact, I would say that enjoying life and living life to the fullest comes from making God more known.”

In fact, I believe that Jesus words about “abundant life” in John 10:10 were all about living for God and others. I believe that the abundant, fulfilling life in which Jesus shows us is a life which channels God’s living water into the lives of everyone around them. This can happen in so many ways, whether it’s sitting by the bedside of a sick friend, feeding the hungry, adopting a child, a smile and a hug to someone who needs it, or typing words on a page. It can be loving your spouse as God intends it, or raising a godly family, or working with integrity on your job.

When Jesus said these words…

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

… He wasn’t just talking about life after death. Shane Claiborne writes about this when he says, “Few people are interested in a religion that has nothing to say to the world and offers them only life after death, when what people are really wondering is whether there is life before death.”

Making God’s love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, justice, hope, healing, friendship, wholeness, acceptance, victory, freedom more known brings life… true life.

So my day begins with the question: God, how can I make you more known?