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.

Eighteen inches…

My former pastor used to (and probably still does) sign his correspondence — his letters, cards, emails — “You are loved, Pastor Jeff”. I always thought that was his way of saying “I love you.” But he might also have been trying to convey a profound truth that is the one thing that has the power to transform. It is the one thing all humans long for. To know…

You are loved.

Love is the one thing that can change everything. Love never fails, as Scripture says. (1 Cor 13:8) It is one thing to love something or someone, but quite another to know you are loved. To be loved is what makes life complete, and yet even if we are blessed with a relationship that conveys human love to us, there is still an emptiness… an incompleteness that only God can fill.

The most famous verse in the Bible is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, that whoever should believe in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That verse tells us that God loves us. A lot. We get that. But do we really?

Until the knowledge of God’s love and acceptance of us travels the 18 inches from our heads down to our hearts, we remain the same. We may know Bible verses. We may know theology. We may be slightly smarter, but we don’t really know God’s love. Otherwise we would be changed. We wouldn’t yearn for more. We could be content in any circumstance (Phil 4:11). And most of all, we would love others differently. We wouldn’t be as hard or cold to those who are so different from us. We would be changed and it would be obvious.

In 1992, the former president of the American Psychiatric Association noted, “We’ve had a hundred years of psychotherapy — and the world’s getting worse.” There is an emptiness that lingers despite therapy, counselling, medication, exercise, alcohol and drugs, plastic surgery, support groups, psychic readings, and yes, Sunday school classes and sermons. The emptiness… the yearning for more… still persists for most people.

“What the world needs now is love, sweet love.” It’s more than a sleepy little Burt Bacharach song from the 1960s. It’s truth. And we need more than the love that we can provide one another. We need God’s love and we need it to penetrate our hearts.

The truth is that you and I are loved more than we can comprehend. It’s an unexplainable love because it’s other-worldly. It’s patient, kind, wanting-nothing-but-the-best-for-you, steadfast, never-wavering, passionate, deep love. When we receive it — fully receive it — it is fulfilling, healing, and transforming. It’s brings a completeness and wholeness that we’ve never known before and that we’ve been searching for our entire lives.

But even more than being loved, we are accepted. We are accepted as we are right now. We are accepted despite what we’ve done. We are accepted, and embraced, and God even sings over us. He smiles when he thinks of you. Is that hard for you to believe? It is for most of us. That’s why God’s love never moves that 18″ I mentioned, from our head to our heart. We somehow can’t accept it.

But believe it… because it is the truth. Just listen to the words of the prophet:

“The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”
(Zephaniah 3:17, NIV)

Loving someone or something is easy. Knowing that you are loved is difficult. But it is the truth.

You are loved.

Gone ’round the bend

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.” (Posted May 3rd)


“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.” (Posted May 15)

Because I said these things, those of you who know me think I’ve fallen off the doctrinal wagon. Some may think that I’m espousing some kind of radical license to sin or to be lazy. Some may even think that I have fallen into some kind of sin; otherwise why would I talk about grace so often?!?

I’m not saying:

Don’t pray.
Don’t read your Bible.
Don’t go to church.
Don’t serve in the Kingdom somewhere.
Don’t be grieved when you sin because you’re going to heaven anyway.

What I am saying is that my (and your) only hope is Jesus. If we truly understand what Jesus has accomplished on the Cross, we are set free from the pressure of striving and trying so hard to “be a Christian.”

Once we really understand the love that God has for us in Jesus, we are free to fully and completely trust Him. We pray because we want to know Him more. We read our Bible to know His character (John 1:1, Hebrews 1:1), His truth (John 14:17), His instruction and His correction (2 Tim 3:16). We go to church because that is where we find community with like-minded Jesus-followers. We serve because that is how we show the love of God to those outside our community who so desperately need it.

We don’t do those things because it’s our duty or we need to repay God, but in doing them, we know God more fully. And knowing God more fully is what you WANT to do when you truly understand what God has accomplished just for you and me in Christ at the Cross. Desiring to know God more fully just simply flows from a life which understands the freedom and victory the Cross has brought.

Lastly, some may think that I’ve adopted some form of “once-saved, always-saved” doctrine. Those four words have come to mean something else than what was originally intended. They’ve come to negatively portray a theology of license. In other words, once you’re saved by grace, you’re free to live any way you want, because God’s grace will forgive you in the end. The apostle Paul makes it clear that simply isn’t true in Romans 5:20-6:7. Instead, those four words “once-saved, always-saved” or the words, “eternal security” should bring freedom and take the pressure off. Once you truly understand the love of God in Christ and truly embrace the work done there, you don’t want to live any way you want. You want to live any way GOD wants. If you or I are living another way, then I wonder if we truly understand God’s love.

So… have I gone ’round the bend? Yep.
Have I gone crazy? You better believe it.

I have encountered the good news of the Good News. If you find that you feel worse leaving church than when you entered, something’s wrong. You need the Gospel. It brings freedom. It takes the pressure off. It’s brings joy and peace like never before.

And you’ll want to tell everyone.

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14, NIV)

If it seems we are crazy, it is to bring glory to God. And if we are in our right minds, it is for your benefit. Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. (2 Corinthians 5:13-15, NLT)

Life before death?

Eternal Life.

Think about those two words for a minute. How would you define them?

Kingdom of God.

Again, what do you those three words mean to you?

Many Christians would say that eternal life is what happens after they die. A life in heaven. And they would be right.

Many Christians would say that the Kingdom of God is where they will reside after they die. And they would be correct.

But there is so much more to eternal life in the Kingdom of God! The moment we come to trust God with our lives, placing our trust in the shed blood of Jesus, who took our sins upon Himself in the most blessed exchange ever to cleanse us and give us His righteousness, we are given the gift of eternal life. But this isn’t just life after death. He doesn’t just save us and then meet us again after we die. There is so much more!

Jesus Himself said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” (Luke 4:18-19, NLT)

Does that sound like He came to just give us a ticket to heaven? No, He came to give us eternal life NOW. It should be called “eternal living” because we are given God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, who lives inside us leading us, guiding us, teaching us, and even chastising us as we live out this life of freedom. We are free from trying to do everything right, because Jesus did everything right. We are free to fail, because Jesus succeeded. We are free to lose, because He won. We are free to be weak, because He is strong. We are free from having to perform, because all the work has been finished. This is true freedom.

Living in the Kingdom of God is not something that just happens after we pass away. Kingdom living happens (or can happen) every moment of every day. It is not a state of mind but a state of being. It is both a conscious decision and a surrendered condition. It is a place of trusting in the sovereign King of the universe, knowing that He is aware of all that is happening, and that He is using it all to grow us and shape us to be more and more like Jesus. It is a condition of living that brings true freedom and joy. Because we reside in this Kingdom, we are able to trust God for all our needs. Therefore, it is a place where the focus is no longer on ourselves but on God and others. This is abundant life (John 10:10). This is living in the Kingdom of God.

And this is tremendous news to a watching world which is looking for hope and searching for the one and only strategy for successful living. This is it! If you are a Jesus-follower, you have found it! We only need to start living like it.

Shane Claiborne said,

“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.”

Eternal living. Kingdom living… Good News indeed!