“A great battle…”

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

Part of my responsibilities at Love In the Name of Christ (Love INC) include scheduling deliveries or arranging the pick-up of items that our “neighbors” have requested and are in need of. After an interview and verification process which begins building a relationship and determines the scope of each person’s needs, we gather the things needed from our warehouse of donated items. These may include appliances, furniture, clothing, curtains, dishes, and pots & pans. (By the way, we are always in need of good quality items)

Anyway, after the items have been gathered, my job is to contact the neighbor to arrange for a pickup, if possible, or a delivery. Deliveries are back-logged because, as more and more folks find out about us, the needs increase, and we have limited volunteers able to deliver items during the day. Therefore, if someone is able to pick their items up, they will receive them sooner. (By the way, we are always in need of volunteers at the warehouse, in the office, or to do deliveries)

Yesterday, I made a phone call, telling a woman that her items were ready and she could pick them up. She said that she had just come home from the hospital and was still in pain. She had no transportation. I told her that if we delivered, it might take longer for her to receive her items. She was angry and frustrated about this and begrudgingly said that she would call her god-daughter who might be able to pick them up for her. A few minutes later, her god-daughter called and said that she doesn’t have any transportation either and impatiently and angrily said that we should deliver the items. I then called the woman back, who was even more agitated by this time, seemingly ungrateful that we were meeting her needs. I could feel my flesh rising up within me when I somehow remembered the quote from the book above which I had read a year earlier. I remembered that this woman had just been discharged from the hospital and was in pain. It was the pain that was making her angry and impatient. She was indeed fighting a great battle.

I asked her how much pain she was in and she said she was in considerable pain. I asked if I could pray with her over the phone and she said that she needed prayer. We prayed together and when I said, “Amen”, her demeanor had changed totally. Her tone of voice had become more gentle and kind, and before she hung up, she thanked us profusely for helping her and praying for her.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.

Reason to Shout!

But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

(Colossians 1:22-23)

The Scripture above makes it clear that:

1) As believers, you and I are holy. You may not feel like it. I certainly don’t. But faith isn’t always about feelings. In fact, it’s rarely about feelings. Faith is being “sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1) Faith is about trusting and walking in it. In this case, it’s knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are holy. And you didn’t have anything to do with it! It’s only by the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus. You are free! You are declared NOT GUILTY in the Highest Court of All. And it’s all because of Jesus and His death on the Cross.

2) Secondly, the only thing we have to do is continue to walk by faith in this Good News: by faith alone in the work done by Christ alone, it is finished! This is your hope. This is my hope.

It is the Good News that brings freedom. It’s not a freedom to just accept the gift of God’s grace, and then go on with the rest of our lives as if nothing has happened. No. Once you understand what has been done for you and me, it changes you. It changes everything! As a captive set free, you can walk… no, run, with hands lifted high to the One who loves you and accepts you.

This is Good News that sets us free from having to work for God’s favor. It sets us free from trying to remain in God’s good graces, as the saying goes. We are loved and accepted! It is this firm hope that brings liberty and joy.

It gives us the freedom to shout with joy of the coming of our King this Chistmas.

He truly is the (only) Hope for all the world.

 

God’s Not Fair

God is not fair. Did you know that?

Wait. What? Surely God is fair! Above all things, God is fair.

Not really. God is just. That is for certain. He is a God of justice. You can bank on that. Everyone will get what they deserve. Well… sort of.

But God is not fair. Jesus tells a parable to illustrate and, you can find it in Matthew 20:1-16.

You may already know it…

A wealthy landowner needs workers and he goes to the marketplace to find some. He hires a group in the morning and puts them to work, hiring them at a standard wage. He evidently discovers he needs more workers, and so he goes back to the marketplace and hires some more at midday. He even goes back near the end of the day and hires more workers. As the day ends and it’s time for everyone to be paid, the landowner pays everyone the same amount. Those hired at the emd of the day get paid the same amount as those hired when the day began. Of course the workers hired at the beginning of the day cry bloody murder at the owner’s unfair treatment. They thought they worked more and should be paid more. Sounds fair, right?

Jesus says this is how the Kingdom of God is! Grace is above all things, unfair. It is radical. It is offensive. It makes people angry.

I remember a friend of mine talking about her alcoholic father who mistreated her mother and was a horrible, absentee dad. She had a deep-seeded, seething anger that worked its way into other aspects of her life. She told me one day that she hoped her dad never got saved. She said it just wouldn’t be fair after all he did to her mom, her brother, and herself. He deserved Hell.

She’s right. He does. We all do.

Thank God we serve a God who is not fair.

“All the persons of faith I know are sinners, doubters, uneven performers. We are secure not because we are sure of ourselves but because we trust that God is sure of us.” — Eugene Peterson

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.

Think again…

Do you think that God loves you more because of your devotions, prayer time, or obedience? Do you think He favors you more because of your “quiet time” or good deeds?

Think again.

He loves you because He is God. Love is who He is.

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6)

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands. (Isaiah 49:15-16a)

And our response?

We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

Bathe yourself in God’s love for you today and worship Him.

Because He loves you.

(Despite what you did or thought last night, last week, last month, or last year)

#GoodNews

Beautiful

“Rich, poor, successful, homeless, healthy, disabled, black, white, brown, young, old, famous, abused, abusive, pervert, or priest— whoever you are and whatever you have or have not accomplished— if you are human , then you are cherished and prized and honored and enjoyed as the pinnacle of creation by a Creator who bleeds grace. If you are reading this, you are infinitely more majestic and beautiful than the glimmering peaks of Mount Everest, the soothing turquoise waters of the Caribbean, the commanding cliffs of Yosemite, or the well-titled Grand Canyon, which God carved out of Arizona.

“Beauty is formed in the eye of the beholder. Your Beholder is God. He made you in His own image.”

(from Charis: God’s Scandalous Grace to Us by Preston Sprinkle)

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.

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.