God Will Never Give Up On You

I recently saw this photo posted on Facebook and as I read the words and thought about it, the more and more I disagreed with those words. Although I am so thankful for my Savior and the work done on the imageCross, and know that I did nothing to deserve it, my disagreement with those words stem from how I now think of God.

You see, I spent years and years thinking that the more I did for God, the more pleased He would be with me. I think I projected what I thought about my earthly father upon my Heavenly Father. Achievement was highly valued in my family. I discovered this growing up, especially when I fell short of expectations or failed. I felt the displeasure when I failed and I felt the comparisons to the achievements of my older brothers. Even as a young boy, I grew to fear the anger and wrath of my father. Don’t get me wrong: He was an excellent provider for my family and taught a work ethic that seems to be lost on later generations. My point is: I projected these feelings upon my Heavenly Father; I felt the same way toward God. The more I prayed, studied my Bible, served others, and worked for God, the more pleasing I thought I was to God. I would suspect that I’m not alone in feeling that way.

If you or I feel that God could give up on us, based on what we’ve done (or not done), then we must not have faith that what God – through Christ – accomplished on the Cross was sufficient or that His grace is enough. If you or I feel that God could give up on us, then it says volumes about how we view God.

I (recently) discovered that God’s love IN NO WAY depends on me. His love was a “one-way” transaction, resulting in my salvation, deliverance, healing, and wholeness. That heart-knowledge has brought me tremendous freedom. That is what the Gospel does.

Now I am deeply rooted in God’s love, knowing that nothing can separate me from that love (Romans 8:38-39) and knowing that no one or nothing can snatch me from His hand (John 10:1-18; 27-30). There is nothing I can do to make God love me any less than He does right now or did when Jesus hung on the Cross. God delights in me, not because of what I do or don’t do, but simply because of who He is and the fact that now, by faith, I am His. I didn’t do anything to earn His love or delight, nor can I do anything to make him shun me. He loves me, not as I love, but as He is, because He is love.

He won’t give up on me (or you, Christian) because that is not His nature or character. His love is eternal. His love is unfailing. His love is enduring. His love never fails. (1 Cor 13:8)

If you are His, God will never give up on you.

Valuable…

As most of you know, I work for the non-profit ministry Love In the Name of Christ (Love INC) in Fishersville. Our mission is “to mobilize the church to transform lives and communities in the Name of Christ.” We meet needs and transform lives by the love of Christ through the Body of Christ (the Church). It’s a great organization which brings unity to the Church and where God works every single day.

If you’re like me (and virtually everyone is), you want to do something of value in your lifetime. Whether it’s raising your children or finding the cure for cancer, we all want to do something of value. We want our lives to matter. I really think that is a universal quality of mankind. Yes, there are some whom are oppressed in one form or another and never get to live out that kind of hope, but I think every human wants to do something that is of value. I chose to work at Love INC because I want to do something of value, too.

However, I think we all get caught up in performancism. We fall into the trap of believing that the more value we contribute to society, the more valuable we are. Tullian Tchividjian writes:

“Performancism is the mind-set that equates our identity and value directly with our performance. Performancism sees achievement not as something we do or don’t do but as something we are or aren’t. How we look, how intelligent we are, how our kids turn out, what people think of us — these things are synonymous with our worth. In the world of performancism, success equals life and failure equals death.”

Think about it. We do this. All of us. It may be subtle, but we do it. We value those who are successful. We treat them better. We cozy up to them. We want to be just like them. If we have a success, we feel like a success. If we fall and fail, we feel like a failure. We create identities based on our behaviors. Tchividjian writes:

“In other words, we’re exhausted because we’re trying to rescue ourselves from a meaningless existence by what we do. We’re weary because we feel the burden to create our own validation. But broken people cannot fix brokenness. We need divine intervention. We need validation, but we can’t muster it ourselves. What an amazing thing, then, that the holy God of the universe, who set the standard for validation higher than we could ever reach, reaches down to us and proclaims over messy sinners who can’t ever get their own act together, ‘Justified!'”

We are ALL of equal value and worth, based on the fact that we all are made in God’s image. We are all incredibly valuable simply because Jesus chose to die for each one of us… and all of us. “For God so loved THE WORLD…” John 3:16 says. All of us. Each of us.

You are loved. You are accepted. You are PRICELESS!

That is the Good News.

Revolution, Not Resolution

It’s coming you know.

Yep. New Year’s Day. A new beginning. A fresh start. Time to turn over a new leaf and begin anew. It’s time for a New Year’s Resolution.

Phooey.

I wonder how many folks follow through on their New Year’s Resolution. Wait… let me look it up… (Google is a wonderful thing) … Care to hazard a guess? 40%? 30%? 15%? What do you think?

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but the fail rate of New Year’s Resolutions is about 92%. Whether it’s a diet or exercise program, chances are that 9 out of 10 will not follow through. If you’re reading this, you may not be climbing the mountain of endless exercise or eating rice cakes, but you may be thinking of starting a Bible reading plan or beginning a new devotional. I’m afraid the same statistics apply to you as well. However, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Most of our New Year’s Resolutions are done in our own strength. We exert our willpower to overcome the obstacles. We try harder. We begin again. We love do-overs. A fresh start. A chance to wipe the slate clean. And most of the time we fail because we do so in our own strength.

What if I told you that you needed NO strength whatsoever?!? What if I told you that the spiritual transformation would come with no effort at all? What if I said that, as a Christ follower, the good work He began in you would be finished eventually — by Him… by God?!? (See Philippians 1:6)

The only work required is to receive. No re-doubling your efforts. No more vows to God to read the entire Bible in one year. No more beating yourself up because you don’t pray an hour every morning. Let me explain.

When you truly receive the love of God into your life and understand — really understand — what it means, you are freed from having to worry about yourself. You can now focus on God and others, which are the only commandments to follow now. (Matthew 22:37-40, Galatians 6:2) When you know that your fate is now secure and that no one or nothing can snatch you away from God (see John 10:28), a burden has been lifted and you can walk in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. It becomes (more) automatic. The more you understand your identity in Christ, the more automatic it becomes. The freedom will spread to every area of your life, and as it does, you’ll avail yourself more and more to God. You can abandon yourself to God completely without fear, because His love and unconditional acceptance eliminates the fear. (See 1 John 4:18)

Will you fail and fall? Of course. From time to time (edit: every day), it’ll happen. But as you understand God’s love, you’ll come running back to His arms, not fleeing in guilt and shame. You understand that nothing can separate you from the love of God. You understand that your obedience doesn’t make God love you more. You understand that everyone is disobedient. Everyone is unrighteous.

Correction: There is One who was (and is) obedient. There was One who was, and is, righteous; and because of Him – Jesus – all our spiritual resolutions are unnecessary. The focus isn’t on what you and I do; it’s on what Jesus has done.

The work’s been done. It is finished.

No more resolutions. It’s time for a revolution. Receive the Good News.

(By the way, Bible reading plans are wonderful. Beginning a new devotional on January 1st is a great idea [Here’s a good one]. Just cut yourself some slack. Quit measuring your progress and growth. Remember, it’s not about you.)

Three Minutes…

Take three minutes to read this before going to church. Then worship the One who gives this amazing gift…

From One Way Love by Tullian Tchividjian:

“Jesus came to liberate us from the weight of having to make it on our own, from the demand to measure up. He came to emancipate us from the burden to get it all right, from the obligation to fix ourselves, find ourselves, and free ourselves. Jesus came to release us from the slavish need to be right, rewarded, regarded, and respected. Because Jesus came to set the captives free, life does not have to be a tireless effort to establish ourselves, justify ourselves, and validate ourselves.

“The Gospel of Jesus Christ announces that because Jesus was strong for you, you’re free to be weak. Because Jesus won for you, you’re free to lose. Because Jesus was Someone, you’re free to be no one. Because Jesus was extraordinary, you’re free to be ordinary. Because Jesus succeeded for you, you’re free to fail. One way to summarize God’s message to the worn out and weary is like this— God’s demand: “be righteous”; God’s diagnosis: “no one is righteous”; God’s deliverance: “Jesus is our righteousness.” Once this good news grips your heart, it changes everything. It frees you from having to be perfect. It frees you from having to hold it all together. In the place of exhaustion, you might even find energy.

“No, the Gospel of grace is not too good to be true. It is true! It’s the truest truth in the entire universe. God loves us independently of what we may or may not bring to the table. There are no strings attached! No ifs, ands, or buts. No qualifiers or conditions. No need for balance. Grace is the most dangerous, expectation-wrecking, smile-creating, counterintuitive reality there is.

“Grace is a bit like a roller coaster; it makes us scream in terror and laugh uncontrollably at the same time. But there aren’t any harnesses on this ride. We are not in the driver’s seat, and we did not design the twists and turns. We just get on board. We laugh as the binding law of gravity is suspended, and we scream because it looks like we’re going to hurtle off into space. Grace brings us back into contact with the children we once were (and still are)— children who loved to ride roller coasters, to smile and yell and throw our hands up in the air. Grace, in other words, is terrifyingly fun, and like any ride worth standing in line for, it is worth coming back to again and again. In fact, God’s one-way love may be the only ride that never gets old, the only ride we thankfully never outgrow. A source of inexhaustible hope and joy for an exhausted world.”

———

Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.

I am emphatic about this. The moment any one of you submits to circumcision or any other rule-keeping system, at that same moment Christ’s hard-won gift of freedom is squandered. I repeat my warning: The person who accepts the ways of circumcision trades all the advantages of the free life in Christ for the obligations of the slave life of the law.

I suspect you would never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace. Meanwhile we expectantly wait for a satisfying relationship with the Spirit. For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love. (Galatians 5:1-6, The Message)

R-rated Grace

The following post is long but worth a read when you have time. It’s an allegory of Ezekiel 16 and a picture of all of us and God’s amazing grace toward us. Again, it’s All. Of. Us. (Caution: It’s R-rated, but so is Ezekiel 16, the Book of Hosea, and many other books in the Bible)

“Your father was a pimp and your mother was a prostitute. Your mom found a lucrative way to fund her drug habit by having sex with multiple men, until your father took her in (and a few others) to live under his roof. When a pimp lives with a prostitute, one thing leads to another, and that’s where you came in. With the help of some crack and a bottle of Jack, you were conceived and immediately unwanted. Too scared to have an abortion, your mother waited until you were born, then casually dumped you— her newborn daughter— in a nearby garbage can. Minutes later, a stranger walked by and heard the squalling from inside the bin. He opened the lid and found you— squirming in your blood, expelling your last breath of life. The stranger’s 911 call miraculously summoned an ambulance within minutes, and you were saved. But still unwanted.

“The stranger couldn’t bear the thought of sending you to a foster home, so he signed some papers and took you into his home. But ‘home’ is an understatement. Your new father was the CEO of a multimillion-dollar business. Your new home was a small castle, and your future life would be paradisiacal. And he was a good man too. Humble, strong, generous, and honest. Your new father possessed an unusual joy, which he never failed to shower on you. His time, his money, his affection, his attention— they were all yours. There was nothing you lacked. All the storybook tales combined could not compare to your utopian life. You were the envy of all your friends and the prized possession of a father who had it all. From his perspective, though, ‘having it all’ meant having you. You were the source of his uncanny joy.

“But something snapped when you turned sixteen. The boys at school started noticing your body and didn’t hide their stares. Stares turned to comments. Comments turned to caresses. And caresses opened the floodgates of a different kind of love — one that was both exhilarating and empty, but too addicting to resist. So at the age of sixteen, you moved out of your father’s house, leaving him in pools of tears. You didn’t hide the fact that you were happily leaving him in order to fornicate with your new boyfriend. The more he wept, the more you laughed, as you skidded off in your boyfriend’s Camaro.

“Your adolescent love affair was only the beginning. Before long, your boyfriend’s buddies took a liking to you, and the flirtatious cycle was revisited. Soon, mere sex with your boyfriend became boring, so his friends were added to the mix. But even orgies became dull over time, and drugs, alcohol, and other men — older and creepier — joined in the hellish dance. Your dream of freedom and love had turned into a nightmare.

“But nothing can compare to the pain of the day when your boyfriend decided to mail a picture of you to your father’s house. Delighted to catch a glimpse of his princess, your father laid his eyes upon a sullied whore. Your once silky hair was frayed and knotted. Your eyes — the windows to your soul — were dark and sunken. Devoid of life. And the bruises on your face revealed that your boyfriend’s love had run dry. Daddy’s baby girl was the not-so-prized possession of half a dozen drug-infused teenagers. And there was nothing he could do.

“Sex, drugs, and imaginative acts of depravity piled up as you lived the next two years satisfying your misguided lust for life on nameless boys who used and abused you. Yet you still used them to satisfy your craving to be loved. You gave one boy the car Daddy bought you on your sweet sixteen. Your boyfriend’s other girlfriend took the dress your father made. And you sold the necklace that belonged to your grandmother to buy heroin for another man. Yet the beatings continued. Soon your bank account ran out, and you took to the streets to sell your body in order to keep a steady flow of heroin pumping through your veins.

“And heaven began to rumble with furious excitement.

“Now, you’re sitting in your room. Your ‘friends’ are gone and you are all alone. Coming down off a high, you begin to feel depressed and lonely; your humanity is slipping away. So you head for another hit to numb the pain. Just then, someone kicks open the door and a burst of fear squeezes your heart. The bruises on your body are tender reminders that your new home is never safe. Kicked-in doors are a regular occurrence, and they lead only to pain. Or sex. Both, actually. The fear runs deep. Maybe it’s the suddenness of the blast. Or maybe you just need to feed your starving addiction.

“Your pale stare quickly changes as you see the man standing at the threshold. It’s your father. Your fear intensifies. You recall the day you sped away from his house laughing as he stood on his lawn weeping. How did he find you? Why has he come? Is he, too, going to beat you after all you’ve done? His tears speak otherwise. His face glistens with joy. His hands tremble. You can hear his heart thump through his chest. Tears cascade down his cheeks, but now they look different. These are tears of adoration and triumph. And they are flowing because your daddy has found his baby girl. The one who found you wailing in a dumpster has once again taken the initiative to redeem you and enjoy you again.

“Confused, enthralled, terrified, overjoyed — you can’t move. But your father can. He races across the room to swallow you with an embrace — the first nonsexual touch you have felt in years. A touch that radiates more love than all your sexual encounters put together. You finally feel safe. Loved. Forgiven instantly, as your dad gathers your face in his hands and declares:

” ‘I’ll restore the relationship we had when you were young, only this time it will be better. It will last forever, and nothing will lure you away from me again. You’ll remember your past life and face the shame of it, but when I shower you with the good life you had as before, it will make your shame fade from your memory. Don’t try to fix it. I’ll fix it for you. I’ll make everything right after all you’ve done, and it will leave you speechless.’ (Ezek. 16:60–63, modified from MSG )

Grace. This stuff never old.”

(From Charis: God’s Scandalous Grace For Us by Preston Sprinkle)

Scandalous

I’ve often thought, “What is it like to be ‘a man after God’s own heart’, as King David was called by God? What qualities do you have to possess? Why was David called that by God?” (See 1 Samuel 13)

I ask those questions because, frankly, I want the same God-moniker. I want God to say that about me as well. But what’s it gonna take?

There are a number of wonderful qualities and characteristics about David, both before and after he became king of Israel: He is humble, brave, loyal, and zealous. He is an unrestrained worshipper of Elohim Yahweh, our transcendent, yet intimate God of the Universe. David is self-effacing, courageous, faithful, and faith-filled. He has an unrelenting passion to see God’s great name upheld at all costs.

And he is addicted to sin.

Wait. What?!?

Yep, just like you and me, David is addicted to sin. As Preston Sprinkle puts it in Charis: God’s Scandalous Grace For Us, “Within seconds, the man after God’s own heart turns into a man after the woman next door.” He, literally, can’t help himself. Like you and me, he heads down the slippery slope. (See 2 Samuel 11)

And yet, God declares him to be a man after His own heart BEFORE this scandalous episode (which continues by having her husband killed in war on Israel’s front lines). How could God make such a mistake!?! Or was David STILL a man after God’s own heart?

David was, throughout his life — through the victories and defeats… through the good, bad, AND ugly — desperate for God. He was desperate for God’s presence and power to show through his life. He was desperate for God to produce that humility, bravery, loyalty, and zeal in him. He was desperate for God to be preeminent in his life. He desperately wanted God to take center-stage, to be renowned, to be known in “all the earth.” (1 Samuel 17:45-47)

And God accomplishes all of this throughout David’s life, including this heinous episode of sin, adultery, murder, and deception. God didn’t turn His head during this time in David’s life, thinking, “He IS a man after my own heart… well… um… except for this time.”

No, God shows his unrelenting, scandalous grace to King David and to the rest of the world for the ages to come. It’s a grace shown in the bloodline of the Savior. Deceivers. Liars. Murderers. Whores. Prostitutes. Adulterers. These are the kind of descendents we would hide away! But in order to show to “all the earth” the grace and mercy of Jesus, God uses these ragamuffins to bring Good News time and time again, throughout the Old Testament, and ultimately, in the culmination of this checkered ancestry: Jesus the Christ.

As Sprinkle puts it:

“This is why your divorce, your addiction, your enslavement to porn, or years of sticking your finger down your throat to match up to some arbitrary standard of beauty can all be woven into the fabric of God’s plan of redemption. God doesn’t cause sin. He mourns it. He despises it. But through His gracious power, He’s able to use it. No one and no sin can outrun God’s grace. Charis (grace) has no leash.”

If you are continually desperate for Jesus and His grace, then you no longer have the label of adulterer, harlot, convict, failure, loser, or even murderer. You are a man or woman after God’s own heart.

And He is after yours.

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)

The weight of the world…

Do Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:30 really have any effect on you?

He says:

“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)

Do those words do anything to you? Do you ever feel that you’re carrying more than you should? Do you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders? Do find yourself trying (and trying) but things aren’t improving?

I’ve been there. I’ve felt that it all depended on me. If things fall apart, it’s my fault. It’s my responsibility. I’ve felt the need to work harder, try harder, re-double my efforts, and pull myself up by my bootstraps. I’ve felt like I needed to be the strong one… the rock… the one who doesn’t waver. I’ve felt like I needed to keep it together.

It’s exhausting. It makes you weary.

Until… the Good News:

“Because Jesus paid it all, we are free from the need to do it all. Our identity, worth, and value are not anchored in what we can accomplish but in what Jesus accomplished for us.”*

You may think that’s over-simplified. You may think, “You don’t know the pressure I’m under. You don’t know about my debts. You don’t have a clue.”

You’re right. I don’t. But Jesus does. And He came to release you from carrying ALL the burdens you carry: financial, relational, religious and spiritual, marital… you name it, He came to free you.

Allow Him to carry these burdens for you. Allow Him to set you free from having to do it all yourself. You don’t have to earn His favor. You don’t have to curry His blessing. Doing more for God won’t make Him love you more. Walk in freedom and allow Him to have free rein in your life.

Allow Him to work in your life for your own good and for His glory, whatever that looks like. It may not be all fun and games. It may be painful, but He is molding and shaping you into Christlikeness, so He can show you off to a world that needs to see what He looks like.

As pastor and author Mark Batterson would say:

“Work like it depends on you and pray like it depends on God.”

And I’ll add: “Because it does.”

* from One Way Love, by Tullian Tchividjian. David C Cook Publishing. 2013.

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.