Surrendered?

I attended a church service in June or July of 1996 and I was never the same afterward. I’m ashamed to say that I don’t know my “Re-Birthday”, but I think it was July and it was definitely ’96. I was changed. That was nearly 18 years ago and I think that those who knew me in college and high school would say there’s been a change. I would have been voted “Most Likely to Waste Their Life” because I was getting wasted all the time. It’s an apt description… what a waste! I nearly did waste my life; that is, until 1996.

Thereafter, I hungered for the things of God. I devoured the Bible in six months. I knew what I was supposed to do. I had the knowledge. But the obedience didn’t follow. I fell into sin, and as is the unfortunate case with most Christian failings, the perpetrator is ostracized or shunned. Those that knew about my sin tried to get me to turn away but after a couple of tries, they would have nothing to do with me.

Normally sin will keep you from the desire to seek the things of God, but not so with me. I still hungered and at the same time, was tormented by what Christians would call the conviction of the Holy Spirit.

I discovered grace (again) in February of 1997 when I first attended a new church, Community Fellowship Church of the Nazarene. It felt like a safe place from the very beginning. I had lunch at Captain D’s Restaurant with its pastor, Jeff Griffith, and he showed me the true meaning of love, forgiveness, grace, and restoration. Through his leadership, I found that, incredibly, God could use my failings and brokeness to bring encouragement, healing, and victory to others. And God did, amazingly. I still shake my head in amazement.

I attended that church for 16 years, and being the Type-A personality that I am, served as hard as I could. Looking back, maybe it was God’s burning desire rekindled in me or maybe it was an effort to repay God for His forgiveness and restoration. Maybe it was both. I was constantly trying to do more, learn more, study more, work more, and even surrender more.

My wife and I sadly left that church last August. It was the hardest decision of my Christian life. Looking back after seven months, I’m glad we left. I miss the people terribly, but without leaving, I would have never discovered the liberation I now have after finding another facet of God’s grace.

Every Sunday, Christians hear a message of forgiveness and surrender. They are encouraged to surrender or to surrender more, and some pulpits will even declare a message of trying harder. I can’t remember a message of trying harder, although I know that it’s preached. I’ve preached it. I’ve taught it. “Read more.” “Pray more.” “Serve more,” is the mantra.

As I’ve struggled in my journey of faith, I’ve always thought my problem was that I hadn’t surrendered fully. There must be areas of my life that I haven’t fully turned over to God. I haven’t fully yielded to the leading of the Holy Spirit. That must be the problem, I thought. That’s what I’ve been taught and that’s what’s been preached (at least that’s what I thought I heard).

That may be true, but to a Type-A personality and perfectionist like me, surrender then becomes an obsession, and actually becomes – in some crazy way – a work. It becomes something I must do in order to become more like Christ. Maybe that sounds crazy to you. Maybe it sounds strangely familiar.

For me, liberating victory has (again) come through the Gospel. Yes, the Gospel. The Good News.

Knowing that Jesus paid the price for my sins is one thing (and yes, the MAIN THING), but there’s more to it than just that (although that’s great news by itself).

It’s also knowing that…

… 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.*

Surrendering more is something that occurs naturally by getting the statements above the 18 inches from my head down into my heart. Surrendering more is something I don’t have to do; it just happens. As I discover the full revelation of God’s love and grace, it fills me more and more with the things of God. He’s all I think about or want to think about. I see the futility of living any other way and see more and more my need for Him everyday… mostly to save me from ME. It’s still a constant battle, but one that Jesus has already won for me.

I’m not sure if any of this resonates with you, but it is life-changing with me. Isn’t God’s grace truly amazing!?!

 

* to read a better description of this liberation, read any of Tullian Tchividjian’s books, such as One Way Love or Jesus + Nothing = Everything

I thank God for his fresh teaching on the subject.

What lies beneath…

There’s a guy in a group I’m a part of who’s very quiet. He’s very thoughtful; that is, he’s a thinker. But he is seemingly unfriendly and aloof. When he talks, he speaks articulately and he makes you want to listen. He speaks with passion, but almost with anger. He seems sad. Angry and sad. Or just plain sad.

If you were to meet him on the street or in the store, you might be offended by his gruff attitude. You might just write him off. He wouldn’t be the ideal person to try to befriend, or even have coffee with. He just sort of rubs you the wrong way.

Everything I’ve described is about a real person and yet it may describe someone you’ve encountered. I think we all have. But the thought process I’ve just gone through is something that Jesus warns against: judging others.

Jesus replied, “I did one miracle on the Sabbath, and you were amazed. But you work on the Sabbath, too, when you obey Moses’ law of circumcision. (Actually, this tradition of circumcision began with the patriarchs, long before the law of Moses.) For if the correct time for circumcising your son falls on the Sabbath, you go ahead and do it so as not to break the law of Moses. So why should you be angry with me for healing a man on the Sabbath? Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.” (John 7:21-24, NLT)

There are other verses in which Jesus warns against judging, but in this passage, he says that sometimes we have to dig deeper. We have to use some discernment. There’s probably more happening than first meets the eye.

So it is with the folks we encounter each and every day. The grumpy cashier behind the counter. The waitress that seems frazzled. The guy in men’s group that seems aloof. They all have stories and some of those stories involve tragedies. Some of their stories involve divorce. Some of their stories include getting a bad test result or the sudden passing of a loved one.

As James Bryan Smith says in The Good and Beautiful Life, “Philo of Alexandria is quoted as saying, ‘Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.’ ”

Sometimes, I simply have no clue. Lord, give me eyes to see what you see, ears to hear what you hear, and a heart to feel what you feel. And then, the obedience to respond to your leading.