Desperate… Still Desperate

Do you miss them? Have you even noticed that they’re not there? If you attend a church in Augusta County, then I know you’ve noticed that they are not at the first corner you come to as you exit church.

Yes, I miss the panhandlers.

And, yes, I know that they made more money on their corner than many of us make in a year. Yes, I know that they may have financed their drug trade by panhandling. I realize that. Yet I still miss them, but not in the way you think.

Panhandlers, for me, helped keep my social conscience in check. They were a constant wake-up call to the desperate plight of society. More than anything, they reminded me of my own desperation. Without them – to some extent – I grow numb to my desperate need for God’s grace. I believe that I’m doing just fine, thank you very much. I’m reading my Bible, memorizing my Scripture, being obedient, doing my good deeds, and filling my mornings with “quiet time.”

Yet, I’m reminded that all this self-sufficient, self-righteousness is like filthy rags… like menstrual cloths, as the Hebrew actually translates it. (Isaiah 64:6) When I remember that my supposed “righteous” acts don’t get me any closer to God, I echo the cry of the disciples, “Who, then, can be saved?!?” (Matthew 19:26)

No one. That’s the answer. No one. No one can be saved outside of God’s amazing grace. No matter how well you’re doing on this journey called faith, your goodness doesn’t get you in. Your obedience doesn’t get you in. (Read Matthew 19: “All these I have done since I was a child”) Your presence in your pew on Sunday or your prayer closet on Monday doesn’t get you in.

Likewise, no matter how poorly you’re doing on this journey of faith, your failures, doubts, and questions don’t keep you out of the Kingdom. That’s right. Because in the eyes of our holy God, we ALL are doing poorly at being perfectly holy… which is what He requires. We ALL have sinned and fallen short. (Romans 3:23) We keep falling short!

Praise be to God, He has given us this wonderful, astounding, radical gift of grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus is the only One who can save us, if we’re desperate enough to realize it.

His grace is sufficient for a panhandler like me.

Now, that’s Good News!

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.

Wear Nice Clothes…

I answered the phone yesterday, “Love In the Name of Christ, Tim speaking.”

On the other end was a precious woman who was looking for clothes for herself and was trying to schedule a time when she could come by our rows of clothing in our warehouse and look for something for herself. After I went to see when that could be done, I came back on the phone and she said that she just wanted some nice clothes so she could go to church.

When she said that, I told her that she didn’t need to dress any special way at many of the churches around the valley, and that many come to church in t-shirts and jeans or shorts and a t-shirt. I told her my church is like that. She said that she still prefered to look nice when she came to church, and if she came any other way, she would feel self-conscious. I told her I understood completely, that we would call her back to arrange a time to talk further, and we hung up.

This morning, I was listening to one of Pastor Tullian Tchividjian’s sermons from his series on Romans (available to hear at Liberate.org) and he said:

“There are lots of reasons people avoid church and one of them is that, sad to say, Christians… preachers… churches… have given off this impression that church is for good people… moral people… clean people, competent people… people who pretty much have it all together. But there are a lot of honest people out there who know they’re not good… Who know that there’s something seriously missing, that they’re not clean… they’re not competent… who know that they are dirty and their hands aren’t clean. And so there are lot of people out there who think, ‘We just don’t “fit” inside church.’ ”

When I heard these remarks, it took me back to my phone conversation. Did this woman feel that way? Did she feel that she didn’t measure up? Did she feel that she wasn’t good enough to enter a church on Sunday morning? Did she feel that she just didn’t “fit”?

The truth is that none of us is good enough. None of us are clean and competent. All of us have dirty hands. We are all depraved. All of us. We all need Jesus desperately. I know I don’t measure up. I know I have failed. I know I am lost.

The Gospel says,

God’s demand: “Be righteous.”
God’s diagnosis: “No one is righteous.”
God’s deliverance: “Jesus is our righteousness.”*

If this precious woman felt she wasn’t good enough, she was right! She isn’t good enough. I’m not good enough. You’re not good enough.

But Jesus is.

And that’s Good News.

* I highly recommend reading Tchividjian’s book, One Way Love.

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.

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.”

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)

I hear You call my name…

I’m listening to a song by B.J. Putnam entitled “Here For You” and the “bridge” of the song is repeated over and over. It simply states:

“I hear You call my name.
I’ll never be the same”

If you ever had God call you (and most of you reading this have), you know this is true. Once you grasp the moment in front of you… once you heed His call and take His hand… once you give your life to Jesus, everything changes. You are never the same.

It’s not that you all of a sudden have to follow all the Christian rules. That would be religion. That’s not it. At all. It’s not that you have to stop cussing, or drinking, or smoking… or start giving to charities or helping little old ladies across the street. Again, if you’ve never heeded the call of God in your life, trust me… that’s not it either.

It is recognizing that your way isn’t the right way. It’s allowing God to wipe the slate clean by the blood of Jesus, giving you a fresh start and eternal life. It’s a refreshing freedom not found anywhere or in anything but Him. It is simply surrendering your life to God, moment by moment, more and more. Romans 12:1 in The Message paraphrase of the Bible really says it well:

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.”

That’s what it means to embrace the call of God your life. That’s how you worship God everyday, moment-by-moment.

Beside the initial call that makes you come forward in a church service (or bow your heart somewhere/anywhere else) to accept the free gift that God offers, namely eternal life, there seems to be other opportunities to give more and more of yourself. Different doctrines call it different things: Consecration, Baptism of the Holy Spirit, Entire Sanctification, and other terms. Different strokes for different strokes, I guess. However, for each denomination, it includes yielding… surrendering… submitting… to more of God’s leadership in your life.

B.J. Putnam talks about it in his own words in the video below. It’s the guitar tutorial of the song, but he also gives a brief backstory behind the song.

It is answering the call.

Here’s the lyrics of part the song:

“I am here for You…
To worship You.
This moment will not pass me by.
‘Cause I’m in love with You,
In awe of You,
I’m giving everything…
I’m giving everything away.

I hear You call my name.
I’ll never be the same.”

I hear Him. Do you?

What is He saying to you?

Need a Spark?

I’ve talked to a few people recently who feel they are struggling spiritually. They feel they are just going through the motions. They are believers; that is, they believe that Jesus, the Son of God, died for their sins, and they’ve accepted the gift of salvation. However, their spiritual life has no real life to it. It’s blase and lacks any vibrancy at all.

They read their Bible, but not consistently, and their infrequent devotion time with God is dry and barren. Their prayer-life is virtually non-existent, and any prayers seemingly hit a glass ceiling. Lastly, going to church is a chore. It’s something they do because they know they should, but they would rather be virtually anywhere else on a Sunday morning. And for the most part, they ARE anywhere else; they haven’t been back to church in quite a few weeks.

This isn’t what they want. They desire more. They want a spiritual life that is alive, and where God speaks and answers prayer, and where they experience God’s power – spiritual power – in their lives to live victoriously.

Does any of this sound familiar? It does to me. I’ve been there. Many times. I think we all have. So, how do we “snap” out of it? How do we turn our spiritual life around so it comes alive again?

I don’t know much, but I’ve come to realize that although we call it a “spiritual life”, it is not a “thing”; it is a relationship. It is a relationship with God. It is a relationship with Jesus. It is a relationship with the Holy Spirit. Not three relationships, but just one… with God. And like any relationship, if we choose to ignore it or neglect it or betray it, it will slowly (or not so slowly, with betrayal) wain or die out.

However, God is passionate in His pursuit of you. You are just what He’s looking for. You are just who he wants. And He will go to no end to have a relationship with you. And unlike human relationships, He will forgive you no matter what you’ve done and no matter how many times you’ve done it. He accepts you just as you are and loves you just as you are. He loves you just as much as He loves Mother Teresa or Billy Graham.

All you need to do is come back to Him.

It takes humility to come back. It requires saying that you’re sorry and that you want to do it differently this time. You have to tell Him this. You have to tell Him that you need His help. This is where it starts. God’s Word says,

For this is what the high and exalted One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite”(Isaiah 57:15)

This is where the spark is ignited.

Secondly, because it is a relationship, you have to nurture it. You need to start doing the things that bring you closer together, and stop doing the things that push you apart. Going back to church, where there is worship, where others are drawing close to God, where you will hear the Word of God spoken, the Good News proclaimed, and where like-minded folks are pursuing the same relationship will help you. As Rick Warren says, “You were formed for fellowship.” You need other believers in your life, for encouragement, for friendship, and for accountability.

You need to begin rekindling your prayer-life and Bible-reading. This is so crucial. This is where the relationship blossoms. Start small and slowly grow it into a time you can’t live without. But you must start. Even if it seems dry and lifeless, continue doing it – by faith. Tell God that it seems dry. Tell Him that you’re going to continue to ask, seek, and knock, because He promises to answer… He promises that you will find Him… and He promises that the door will be opened. Be persistent. Be relentless in your pursuit of the relationship.

Lastly, treasure this time with God. Guard it. It is the most important time of every day, whether it’s done in the morning or evening. You will find that it’s not just the morning or evening that He will be with you, but throughout every moment of every day.

For me, it was hard to realize that this time devoted to God is not just another thing on my To-Do List. It’s not another thing that I need to get done to make me feel better about myself (or think that God will feel better about me). It was a way to nurture the relationship, to get to know God better. It’s a way for me to yield more and more of my life to Him, and have His life lived through me more and more.

But as God says through the prophet Isaiah in the Scripture above, it begins with a humble and contrite heart. That is the starting point for revival.