When Nothing Makes Sense, Probably Including My Thoughts.

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Evil reared it’s ugly head again. It never really goes away–that’s a reality of a fallen world–but sometimes it manifests itself in such a way that nobody can ignore it, and everybody feels it’s ugly sting.

49 people were innocently gunned down just as their night of fun in a nightclub was winding down. 49 human souls. 49 men and women. 49 sons and daughters.  49 people, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers.  All left behind people they loved and who loved them. And every one of them was loved by the God who created them.

And while the layers of the gunman’s ultimate motivation are still being peeled back and pieced together, it is clear that he at least wanted those in the club, law enforcement, the media and social media (so, everybody) to believe it was motivated by his allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  That he targeted one group, the LGBTQ community, adds a layer beyond the normal atrocity of terror. It was a hate crime.  But, because of the stated allegiance to the terrorist regime, one simply must ask if this hate crime was motivated by the dogma of Islam.  But somehow, in so many venues, things have become so bizarre, the dogma being challenged isn’t even that of the perpetrator.

I’m rather baffled, I have to be honest.

So first, let me be very clear about something.  I’m not here to pick a fight. In fact, that’s why I am here posting something a bit out of character for this blog. Because I’ve seen way too many fights picked (or attempts) and ridiculous claims being made when this is the time to come together to grieve, to serve our brothers and sisters, to heal as a nation and as human beings.

Chick-fil-a opened some of it’s Orlando locations on Sunday to cook and serve food to people lined up to donate blood.  Chick-fil-a franchises are never open on Sundays as a nod to their Christian traditional beliefs.  I saw a handful of folks amazed that the organization actually did “good works”. Easy to let that slide when social media is the playground of folks talking authoritatively and loudly about what they have not researched.  But I then saw a gentleman who actually stated that this was now evidence that the organization was going to “actually live out James 2:17”.  Let’s just overlook that fact that there is no ‘corporate’ faith in what James is talking about in that verse.  After I pointed out that this was not the first good thing they’d ever done, they in fact do a lot, the poster remarked that it wasn’t about doing good works at all. Apparently, in his mind, having ‘works’ with faith (the Christian beliefs held by the founders of the organization) meant they were to now shift their earlier position on traditional marriage because they were doing good works for a tragedy that targeted the LGBTQ community. HUH?  I suggested that made absolutely no sense and it was strange exegesis. But that’s what he believed. In order to make these good things really qualify as good, Chick-fil-a’s owners (the Cathy family) must change their position or it doesn’t count AND they have no faith according to James 2. That hurts my head, it’s such a stretch.

Enter Anderson Cooper and his, um…interview with Pam Bondi.  I like Anderson Cooper. I think he’s an excellent journalist. But somehow, he went sideways. If you missed the interview or haven’t heard about it, here’s a brief recap:  Mr. Cooper was interviewing Ms. Bondi, the Attorney General for the State of Florida. Instead of actually interviewing her, he really just spent his air time tearing her to shreds over her position on gay marriage. And here’s the only reason I even bring any of it up…Mr. Cooper believes that if you don’t support that, then you can’t really be helpful to the LGBTQ community at all. Ever. Not in a time of crisis. Not after a terrible tragedy.  Frankly, it boggles my mind.

While I really, truly do not understand the seemingly collective agenda to turn THIS tragedy on the Christian community (hey guys, WE DIDN’T DO IT!) and the misquotes and terribly misinterpreted Scriptures I see that are being used to fuel that fire, to the mocking of prayer as useless by people who truly seek a God who sees and cares (even if you don’t believe the same), fine. I get it. I mean I don’t get it, but I get it. Despite what you do not want to believe, you aren’t always as tolerant as you think. But that’s okay.

But here’s where you’re ridiculous. When people are hurting–when your community is hurting–why, WHY are you trying to shut ANYBODY out? Why broaden the chasm?

There’s a story Jesus told in the 10th chapter of Luke about The Good Samaritan. You may have heard it?  It’s a story to us believers and it talks about a man (implied a Jewish man) who was beat up and left an the road.  The focus of the story is for us, as one of those in the crowd asked Jesus who was the man’s neighbor, trying to figure out who was really supposed to take care of him.  So the religious folks came by and did nothing. Went out of their way to do nothing, actually. Then a Samaritan comes along. Did you know that the Jews (Jesus’ audience) and the Samaritans HATED each other. Kind of like how they think it’s supposed to be between us? So the Samaritan is the one who takes care of our friend who was beaten, stripped and left for dead.  Which was the neighbor? According to Jesus, it’s not about the one in your group. It’s not about the one who believes everything exactly like you do, or does everything the same way you do. It’s the one who shows you mercy. Now hey, I get it, not every one who claims the label of Christian has been very merciful.  And I’m sorry. Often we need to be reminded who is the good neighbor.

But right now, when your brother or sister is robbed, stripped and left for dead, why do you circle the wagons and assume that only those who are exactly like you can show you mercy and kindness?  I don’t understand why we can’t love each other and heal together.

The thing is, you and I don’t need to be exactly like each other or think like each other or agree with each other on everything to be good neighbors, to care about one another in our time of need, and to serve each other with love. That’s what people do. Does it really matter what label we wear?

Jesus, come quickly.

 

Let’s start wiping down some tables.

Orlando…a tragedy of proportions we have not seen before, at least in our lifetime. No matter your stance on sexual morality, traditional roles of gender, or LGBT+ issues, human lives were ended. Early on a Sunday morning, just a few days ago, someone who can’t be asked for his motives, took the lives of numerous…

via Orlando needs more waiters… — tonyvance

The Sacrifice of Praise

Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. (Isaiah 48:10 ESV)
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. (Isaiah 48:10 ESV)


She stood there, her eyes transfixed on the flames that jumped into the air with no sign of relenting. Though they had long since delivered the death blow to the victim, they would not soon give up their prey.  The home she grew up in, the home her mother and family still lived in, was disappearing before her eyes.  Yet the tears she shed and cries of anguish she made could not and would not silence her praise. Through it all, she knew in the middle of pain and tragedy, God would not leave her side. She knew without doubt in the middle of heart wrenching tragedy and loss, He was worthy of all her praise, no matter the outcome. Standing in the midst of the chaos, in the midst of her devastation, she lifted her hands and her voice and praised the One who is worthy of it all.  No matter what. And it was the most beautiful, inspiring thing to witness.

There are few things guaranteed in life.  We can do everything in our power to stay healthy, put money away in the bank, live our lives fully submitted to God’s will. And yet, there are still no guarantees that this life will be free of trials and hard times. In fact, Jesus told us we will have hard times. (John 16:33).  It think it’s pretty safe to say that every one of us will face a few things that shake us. The loss of a job, a catastrophic illness, the death of our parents, or a fire wiping out the family home. We will go through trials of varying degree, no doubt. But Jesus said as certain we can be of troubles in this world, we can be certain we have one who walks with us though them who has overcome sin and death–he has overcome the world!

After I left my friend that night, I asked myself if my faith was that strong? Sure, I know God is with me in all things. Sure, I know God works out all things for my good. But in the middle of the raw emotion when tragedy first strikes, will my first reaction actually be to praise Him? Or will I have to wait to make sure God came through on the promise first?

Praise is easy when things are, well, easy. We have no problem (at least I hope!) giving God glory and praise when things are going great! Or how about when you’ve come out on the other side of a trial. We can praise God then, because He got us through. But how many of us truly stop to give God heartfelt praise and adoration the minute the trial starts? I’m going to be honest with you, it takes me a minute to get there.  But how could things change for me, for us, if we trained ourselves to have that as our reflex reaction? Our natural reaction is fear. What if we asked the Holy Spirit to help us to reprogram that?

I spend a great deal of time in the Psalms during my devotional time. The psalter contains hymns written from the various authors that hit pretty much every human emotion. Joy, dread, fear, anguish, anger. It’s all in there.  But of the 150 psalms, about 2/3rds of them are what’s called psalms of lament. In other words, words written to God when the writer was having a pretty tough time.  Many of David’s psalms are his words crying out to God, asking ‘where are You in all of this?’ That’s right. David, the king. David, that man after God’s own heart.

Our friend David wasn’t just handed the keys to the castle. (If you haven’t spent much time reading the richness of the Old Testament, I high encourage it! You can read all about David starting in 1 Samuel 16.) David spent a lot time on the run, fearing for his life, before he got to be king.  After he became king, he had another batch of challenges. David had real reasons to be crying out to God.

The psalms of lament generally follow a pattern, and it’s a pattern we can all learn from to help cultivate our prayer life in difficult times. Of course the pattern from psalm to psalm may be in different order, or the order may jump back and forth a bit, but the elements are generally consistent.

Let’s look at Psalm 22 in the New International Version as an example.

  • First, the writer is cries out to God in his distress. There is no pretense, no trying to clean up before going to God. Just messy, raw emotion.
                  My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
                     Why are you so far from saving me,
                      so far from my cries of anguish?
                    My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
                     by night, but I find no rest. (verses 1-2)

Many bulls surround me;
                                  strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
                                    Roaring lions that tear their prey
                                  open their mouths wide against me.
                                    I am poured out like water,
                                 and all my bones are out of joint.
                              My heart has turned to wax;
                                  it has melted within me.
                                   My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
                                  and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
                                  you lay me in the dust of death. (verses 12-15)

  • Second, the writer entreats God for help.  Come, LORD, to the middle of this mess and get me out of it! (Sometimes the request is imprecatory, where the writer asks for God to bring retribution to his enemies.)

                             But you, Lord, do not be far from me.
                                You are my strength; come quickly to help me.
                                  Deliver me from the sword,
                                my precious life from the power of the dogs.
                                   Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
                                 save me from the horns of the wild oxen. (verses 19-21)

  • Lastly, the writer includes in his petition thanksgiving and praise to God.                                                                                                                                               I will declare your name to my people;
                     in the assembly I will praise you.
                  You who fear the Lord, praise him!
                    All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
                    Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
                   For he has not despised or scorned
                    the suffering of the afflicted one;
                 he has not hidden his face from him
                     but has listened to his cry for help. (verses 22-24)

These psalms, especially those of David, are like a sneak peak into his journal.  If you look through these psalms of lament you will see real people struggle with real feelings, sometimes asking God “where are you?”  Does that surprise you? Don’t ever feel like you can’t take your raw emotions straight to the throne room of God in prayer. He can handle it. What kind of genuine relationship would you have with your best friend if you couldn’t really be honest with your feelings, always saying what you thought was the ‘right’ thing? That would get old pretty fast. God knows your struggles. He is okay when we say “where are you?!” But even in our doubt and despair, we can always, always rest on God’s promises when it doesn’t feel like He’s there. Because of His promises,  in our struggles and doubts, we can praise Him because of the truth that cannot change. The God that does not change. And that God, our God, is worthy of that praise!

David knew that. Even when his enemies were on his tail and closing in, he knew that. So in the same breath he could ask where God was and still give him praise.

Maria knows that. It’s why she can stand in front of a surreal scene of fire trucks, news crews and the charred remnants of the home her family has known for close to 50 years and still lift her hands to praise God for His goodness. Even when the good seems hard to see.

I pray we all have a faith so deep that, should the kind of world-shaking trial come, and it will, that in our anguish we instinctively offer God our praise. For He is worthy!

If you feel so led, a GoFundMe page has been set up to raise funds for Maria’s family.

 

Fear…and why it should scare you.

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Jesus tells us that the devil, comes to “steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10). Peter warns us that he prowls around like a lion, “seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  Yikes. Sounds like serious business. And it is! The devil, who has many names in the Scriptures to describe his various character traits and job duties, has one main purpose–to be your adversary. Let’s be clear–he’s got lots of tools in his arsenal and he knows just how to use them. He knows your weaknesses and how to exploit them. But let’s be clear about something from the beginning, and I want you to get this deep, deep in your spirit. He cannot prevail against you. I don’t think you heard me. HE CANNOT PREVAIL AGAINST YOU.  I know you may feel like it sometimes (there we are with the feels…they are not the standard of truth!!), but he never will against a child of God. In those times you need to make sure you are calling on the weapons in your arsenal. You know, the ones that are stored in heavenly places. You need to be prayed up and suited up with your armor from Ephesians 6.

Now, if I were your adversary and I was trying to shut you down short of killing you, do you know what I’d do? I would leave you in fear. I would work on that fear angle so well that after awhile, I didn’t even have to stick around to do the work, I’d have you trained to do the work for me. It’s a beautiful plan. So good, that the devil does it all.the.time.  He has done this so well that we too often become conditioned to have fear be our go to reaction for anything and everything. God may be calling you to step out into something big or even something small, but we’re scared of failure. Before we even give it much more than a passing thought, we’ve dismissed it as too hard, too big, too much for little old me.

Fear will cripple you or it can just slowly stagnate you. Fear keeps you in that false sense of comfort. You know that place where you want more, you feel stuck, things are not quite all that you dream of or aspire to, but they’ll do. But really deep down you’re not all that happy with things as they are. But you’ll stay there because it’s easier to be uncomfortable than to be uncertain. Or worse, try and fail.

I could be way off here, but in my experience the problem is that fear stems from the inability to control the outcome. And the anxiety and trepidation that comes from the uncertainty of not knowing the outcome is usually because the more I’m trying to control outcomes the less I’m trusting God.

This is something that’s been part of the evolution of my prayer life in the last six months. I used to pray specifically for the outcome I wanted, and tack on “but Your will be done” at the end, genuinely hoping my requests aligned with that. But having had to deal with more in-your-face scary things than I ever wanted to,  it’s transitioned, particularly when I’m praying in times of fear, to asking for the outcome I’m hoping for, but just sincerely telling God how much I trust him and thanking him for his faithfulness NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS. If that seems like a no brainer to some folks, good on you! It was not for me. I was too scared of the unwanted outcome to verbalize my trust to the God of the universe to carry me through the unwanted outcome. Possibly my trust wasn’t as strong as I thought. Smart one, that God.

Fear keeps you in the boat. Or in the job you hate. Or from starting that homeless ministry. Or the Bible study at work. Or signing up for the New Testament Greek class (just sayin’). Fear says just don’t try. Jesus says, “Come”, calls you out of the boat, and grabs your hand if you get overwhelmed and things get scary. (Matthew 14:28-31)

Fear tells you all the reasons why not. Jesus tells you nothing is impossible with God. (Mark 10:27)

And though the Bible says “fear not” some 365 times,  do you think God expects us to somehow eject that part of our humanity that makes us react to unnerving or dangerous situations with fear? Of course not. It’s not possible. Why then, the command not to fear? ‘Fear not, because I’m the Great I Am, and I’m going to let you go through this all by your puny little self. Sucka.’   No way!  God does not call us to do things, or let us go through trials, and just turn is back and hope we figure it out. “Fear not for I am with you.” (Isaiah 41:10). Be strong and courageous….because the LORD your God goes with you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)  “‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’  He got up and said to the wind ‘Peace, be still.’ He said to his disciples ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?'” (Mark 4;39-40 NIV)  Get the picture? He’s not really asking you to not ever be afraid again. He is asking you to trust him. There’s a big difference. If I trust in me, I have ever reason to hold on to my fear. If I trust in God, I know he’s got my back.

Still don’t believe me?  Every situation that brings you fear, rather than let it immobilize you, analyze it to it’s worst possible conclusion. Every time I do that, it leads to Jesus walking me through it. Or death. And death leads to…yup. Jesus. Really, take the sting even out of death. Afraid you won’t get the job? Trust God to know what’s best. What if the business fails. Yup, it might. Trust God if it does for provision and direction.

Being so afraid to fail and never trying crushing to your spirit.  And if you never even try to do what God is asking you to do, score one for the adversary! That’s what he wants.

It boils down to a choice. Trust God in everything, even the scary, uncertain stuff, or stay put and live in a small circle controlled by your fears.  You have the power to step out of the circle any time you chose.

What’s it gonna be?

That was then, and this is now.

photo credit: Nick Thompson (Instagram: nat.ural_photography)
photo credit: Nick Thompson (Instagram: nat.ural_photography)

 

Everybody has a past.  When we come to Christ, we come with our flaws, hurts and stains from the burden of sin we’ve carried. We may look at ourselves in comparison to another and think we’re pretty good, but make no mistake, the only comparison God looks at is how you and I measure up to His standard.  Not how I do compared to you, or you to me.  And by the holy standard, we all have some pretty messed up pasts!

But at the cross, God arranged for an exchange for those who would take him up on this free gift of his grace. We can exchange that past, which with absolute certainly will lead us to condemnation, for righteousness–Christ’s righteousness.  That is a pretty sweet deal.  (If you have not taken advantage of this deal yet, please click here.)

But that past. Maybe it was bad. Maybe it brought you shame. Maybe you did hard time for it.  Maybe you think it’s so bad that even though God forgave you, you can’t get past it. Whatever it is, the past doesn’t seem to be staying in your past.

So first let’s look at a where your past stands with God.  Paul tells the Corinthian church, and all of us,  that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has past away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV).  Our old selves, our past, is gone. BOOM. We’re new creations!  In Psalm 103 David tells us that “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgression from us”. That’s far enough away that God stopped keeping score. Finally, Colossians 2:14 says our legal debt (sin) was cancelled. The book in the ledger that was used to keep account of our sin? It was torn out, stamped with cancelled (in Jesus’ blood) and nailed to the cross.  Getting the picture yet? God doesn’t see that sin in your account anymore.

So if God, has stopped holding it against you, why do you hold it against yourself? You are not who you were. Remember, you are a new creation. In Romans 12, Paul says we can avoid conforming to the world by transforming our minds. That means it’s possible to transform your mind by how you think about things, including yourself and who you are. Start seeing yourself as the child of God and co-heir with Christ that you are.  Stop buying into the lie of “I was always, so I always will be”.  You don’t have to live in that past, no matter who would have you believe that, including the devil.  That was then, and this is now.

Now, one caveat before we move on. Sometimes our actions hurt other people. If you have something that God is leading you to go to that person to seek forgiveness for, that’s another issue.  If you feel doing that may actually do more harm to the other person, please seek wise counsel from a pastor or elder.

So now that we agree that once our faith for salvation is firmly placed in Christ for the forgiveness of our sins that our account is clear, we can walk free of the guilt and condemnation of that past.  Romans 8 is a great read for the freeing up from life in the flesh to life in the Spirit.

And that righteousness of Christ that covers our past sins? It’s the gift that keeps on giving! Why? Friends, have you ever felt burdened in your walk that you’re not doing enough,  not serving enough, not sanctified enough, not a lot of things enough? I know I have.  On more than one occasion I’ve lamented on how I’m just not “good enough” as a Christian.  Oh boy. I am not hanging out in this wire alone, either!

Somehow, the wires got crossed or there was a short circuit. We are more than down for trading our filthy rags for Christ’s righteousness when it comes to salvation and eternity, yet in this life, we revert back to thinking we’re on our own to work it out. Or was I the only one who fell for that?   That’s right, we have spent too much time and energy back in the power of “me”, haven’t we?  Have you tried to be “good enough” and just found you couldn’t do it?  This is exactly why! Because we slipped back into working our own way instead of letting it be the righteousness of Christ that defines our goodness and worthiness.  This really came to light for me when I saw a follow of Christ concerned that they weren’t going to be ready for Christ to return, and did they need to “do” more.  Actually, it woke me up like a bucket of ice over the head. Can you see if you break it down in those terms, though perhaps extreme, that “readiness” was became the responsibility of the redeemed, NOT the Redeemer? This is a works based salvation disguised as sanctification.

Our righteousness as believers is imputed from Christ. It is our only righteousness. If you’ve fallen into the trap of walking out your faith as a continued path towards righteousness, please realize you are walking outside of what Christ did for you on the cross. You’re adding to it. All we need is faith alone in, in Christ alone, “not as a result of works, that no one may boast”. (Ephesians 2:9)

If you ever feel like you’re not good enough because of, well, you fill in the blank, stop that too. You’re also overlooking the present and continuing covering of Christ’s righteousness. You don’t think you’re as pious as Friend X? That’s fine. You have the righteousness of Christ. You just can’t seem to have the heart to serve others the way Friend Z does? That’s okay, you have the righteousness of Christ. You weren’t perfect? First, welcome to the club. Second, that’s alright. You have the righteousness of Christ. The devil may try to drag you down and make you think you should be more, or be like somebody else. Whatever. You have the righteousness of Christ.

Whatever that past may have been, that was then. And this is now. Walk boldly!

Mocking Grace?

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It’s Holy Week. Thursday, to be specific. This was the day Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples and then took the bread and wine, and told them to eat of the bread, his body, that would be broken and drink of the wine, that was the new covenant–his shed blood poured out for the sins of the world.  This sacrifice, this shedding of blood that had to take place if you or I (or anybody) could have atonement for our sins,  by the grace of the Father. That fact that we even have a chance at salvation is purely because of the great grace of God.  We sure don’t deserve it. But that’s what grace is–getting something you don’t deserve.

The sheer magnitude of this grace should overwhelm you. If it doesn’t just try to comprehend, though I’m not sure we can even scratch the surface of it, what it must have been like for Jesus to hang on the cross and take on the full wrath of God for your sins and mine.  I can’t even begin to imagine. Yet Jesus did it. The human part of him, mind you. The part of him that was flesh and bone. The part that felt physical pain and human emotion. The humanness of Jesus hung on that cross.  Yet in his humanness, perfect and sinless.

That day the world was ushered into the dispensation of grace. We were freed from the law. We no longer had to try in vain (Romans 7) to uphold the Law that we just could not.  We have grace, through Christ Jesus. And this grace frees us! But to what? To live with reckless abandon and shout “grace” and know that God will cover all of our sins?  Paul may start off Romans 8 with “there is now no condemnation”, but he also says if the Spirit is in us (which it is in all believers), then we should not operate in the realm of the flesh.  In Galatians 5:1 Paul says Christ liberated us, so we should not go back and take up the yoke of slavery. This is to say, don’t go back to the old manner of life you lived, in bondage to sinful ways and  habits.

Here’s the deal. I’m a little saddened. Recently another big name in Christian circles has stumbled.  People stumble, I get it. I don’t hold that against this person. People make mistakes. People can be forgiven and people can be restored. But two things really got me, and I don’t think they are unconnected. The first was some pictures surfaced which show  poor judgment at best. I’ll leave it there.  The second thing is so many people on social media explaining away these behaviors either by 1) manipulating the word of God (i.e., it doesn’t apply anymore, that was so long ago and our culture is different) or; 2) playing the grace card.

Here’s what I’m going to say about the first. God doesn’t change, nor does his word. You can fool yourself into thinking he only meant it for some people but not you. You are being deceived, my friends. Make your choices based on the truth–the Word of God. Can’t really go wrong there.

As for the latter…the grace card. Yes, by all means our God is FULL of grace and mercy.  But he is also a righteous judge. He has also made some things clear about how we are to conduct ourselves SO AS to separate ourselves from the culture of today, whatever time period that may be. Are we always going to get things 100% right? Of course not! And that’s what grace is for! I submit to you, grace is NOT for you to live how you choose, thumbing your nose to the truth , all the while claiming grace will cover you. The theological term for that is antinomianism. It’s often called “cheap grace” or “hyper grace”.  And it’s wrong.  The apostle John says if we say we know Christ but fail to keep his commands, we’re lying–we don’t know him. Ouch. (I John 2:4).  But I saw comment after comment effectively saying “just do you”. NO! NO NO NO! We aren’t called to live like that. We are called to deny ourselves. Your flesh is still going to want to do a lot of things contrary to what the Spirit of God leads us to do. That is why we deny ourselves. That is why we must pick up our crosses and die to ourselves daily. And for a high profile person to be making choices that very much suggest impropriety, whether it’s happening or not, leads people to think it’s okay. Even if it’s subconsciously.  (Not to mention the witness this is to non-believers! Ugh!)

So if you even contemplate for a moment the concept of grace being a permission slip to live in any manner you choose, and you can even bring me back your doctoral dissertation why antinomianism is not dangerous, then I would submit to you for your consideration simply this: Let’s go back to imagining our perfect savior hanging on the cross, bearing the full wrath of God so that we might live. So that we might have freedom. Let’s ponder the magnitude of this Jesus, fully God but fully man in a human body, feeling that crown of thorns dig in to his head. The pain he took from the scourging. His hands and feet with nails driven through them. Every breath excruciating. But he chose that for you. And for me.

So I ask you, this Jesus who thought you were worth all that, is he worth more your mocking his grace?

Daddy’s Little Girl

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Have you ever struggled with self-image? Or battled wanting to be accepted by others? Or just wondered how God really, truly sees you?  If that has never been an issue for you, I applaud you! Tell us your secret!  You belong to a rare breed.   Most of us, though, have dealt with these issues in varying degrees. For some it’s not been a big challenge, but for others, it’s been a stumbling block. I fall into that last category, and I know I’m not alone.  There are times when I go for pretty good stretches where the I tamp it down and keep it under control, and at other times, it seems to dominate too much of my thought process.

I haven’t written a post in a couple of weeks specifically because I fell right into that hole of self-doubt. But as it would happen, we just started the Armor of God study by the amazing Priscilla Shirer. It took just a couple of days to realize what was going on, and now the train is getting back on track.  As the study points out, and as any follower of Christ needs to not just know, but grab hold of and never let go, is that we must funnel everything through the filter of truth. TRUTH. Not what I think is a convenient truth. Not what the world is manipulating into it’s convenient truth, but THE truth. The unchangeable word of God.

Much of my life I have felt just plain not good enough. And I assume nobody else thinks I’m good enough, either. And it makes me want to just give up. God can’t use me! God wouldn’t want to use me! I actually had somebody, many years ago, tell me God would never use ‘somebody like me’.  Here’s the thing: he wasn’t authorized to speak for God, but I let those words knock me down as if God himself spoke them to me from the burning bush. Why? I never compared it against the truth!

This last week of contemplating all of this, and realizing all of the lies I fall prey too has made me come to one conclusion. That stupid devil managed to turn me into a weapon against myself! And I KNOW I’m not alone! Ladies in particular, we can be our own worst enemies with these battles we fight over self image.

And speaking of image…we all have a desire to be accept and belong. God didn’t create us to fly solo, we are meant to do life in fellowship with others. But as much as my own beating of myself is leaving me in defeat, so is spending a lot of energy worrying about gaining the approval of others. Of course it’s nice. Until it becomes something we are putting so much effort (including emotional energy) to get, and beating ourselves up if we don’t. Then it’s taken a position in your life that’s unhealthy and perhaps pushing the boundary of a little false idol?  Emotions can start to take on an unhealthy place in the order of things we worship, and it’s so subtle you hardly notice until the balance is so out of whack, everybody around you is noticing. That’s never good!

So we want to belong, and we want to be thought well of, and that’s all great. Until it consumes you. Until it robs you of your peace.  So how do we get the peace back when we aren’t getting the things we thought were going to give us the peace in the first place? Keep praying and begging God for them? I guess you can try that.  But let’s consider something else. Maybe He wants you to use that filter we talked about. Truth.

Maybe we need to stop striving for all of that for a bit and sit down at Jesus feet with our Truth and figure out who we really are? My self-image is not serving me well. Your need to get others’ to approve of you hasn’t panned out quite like you’d hoped. Somebody tried to make you feel small with hurtful words. But what is the TRUTH? Jesus said the truth (holding to his teaching) would make us free. I think if we can grasp the truth of who we are in Christ, how our Father truly sees us, and let that saturate into our hearts and minds, then we won’t need to worry about the approval of others. And when the enemy comes with the lies to make us believe we aren’t good enough, we’ll already know what our Daddy thinks. And stupid comments people make? The more we know the Truth of God’s word, the less those words will even penetrate our airspace, friends!

We are beloved children of God! Do you know how much he loves you?  If you are following Jesus Christ, having proclaimed him as your Savior and Lord, you already know that God loves you enough to have given you the gift of salvation by way of sacrificing his own son, by his grace alone. We didn’t do a darn thing to earn that. That’s love!  (If you have not taken the step of faith and confessed Christ as your savior and lord of your life, did you know that God loves you SO much, that he gave his only son to pay the penalty for your sins and my sins? That penalty is death. But Jesus paid it for those who would accept the gift. Want to learn more? Go here. )

So how does God see you and me? Check this out. You and I are truly his kids. Not just because he created humanity. But because when we call on Christ as savior, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit and the Spirit brokered our adoption as sons and daughters. (Romans 8:15). We are now co-heirs with Christ! (Romans 8:17). Co-heirs! That means we have are partakers of the divine nature. That means we will one day rule and reign with Christ. Colossians 3:23 tells us we receive the inheritance of the Lord as our reward. THAT is how highly God looks upon his children. But let’s not forget, this isn’t about how super awesome WE are so that we think we have reason to be prideful. This is ALL about how super awesome Christ is!

Let’s go back to verse 15 for a second, because this is really cool. Paul (the writer of the letter to the Roman Christians) says we cry out to God as “Abba, Father”.  Every major translation uses this word “Abba”.   This was an Aramaic word (the language spoken by Jesus and the apostles) which best translates to “papa”. It’s sometimes translated as “daddy”.  Can you think of a more tender way that a child refers to the father that they look to for their whole world? For unconditional love, provision, to chase away your fears?   Now I ask you, do you think of God that way? Is that weird to you to think of the Almighty God, perfect and holy, as your daddy? It was a little strange to me at first. I actually thought it might be slightly sacrilegious. I did run it by somebody much wiser than me to be sure I was not out of line when I was just starting on my walk of faith. (Thanks, Misty!) If it’s odd to you, know this: that’s the tenderness and affection with which God looks at you. You don’t earn it. You don’t have to scramble for it. You don’t have to prove anything to him. He just loves you like that. He is still a sovereign and just God, but He is a God of great love for us. I would encourage you, if you find this strange, to work on this in prayer time.

So that’s our first truth. No matter what, God loves us. Unconditionally. I can’t make him love me more as a follower of Christ by the stuff I do to serve him. I can’t make him love me less by the stuff I don’t do. His love for me isn’t going to change. He calls me daughter and I call him Daddy and I have an inheritance because of my adoption through Christ, not by anything I have done to earn the privilege. Truth.

Second truth: striving for the approval of the world/others and the approval of God is the same as serving two masters, and cannot work. Jesus said in the parable of the shrewd manager (Matthew 6, Luke 16) we cannot serve two masters or we will end up hating one. He was speaking specifically about money, but this applies to anything that would divide our loyalty from our master, Christ Jesus. If you are so busy pleasing other people and doing everything you can to get their approval, where is seeking God and his ways in all of that?  Paul tells us pretty plainly in Galatians 1:10 that if we are trying to please man, we CAN’T be a servant of Christ. He’s telling us right there it just doesn’t work.  James goes even further. He has some pretty harsh words, actually. He says “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)  Paul, James and Jesus are all pretty clear on whose opinion really matters.  So if you are living by the Spirit, loving and serving the Lord, loving and serving others and you aren’t getting the approval of others? So what! In the words of Princess Elsa, let it go. Your God in heaven sees you.

One other note on the approval of others. This also goes for the approval of other Christians. It’s nice to have it, but it’s still not what our motivating force is. Or it shouldn’t be. And to that end, may I just suggest we all check ourselves in light of this gem of a verse for some deep soul searching:

      Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by  them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,  so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-4, ESV)

What is Jesus warning us about here? Are we not supposed to let anybody know that we do good deeds? No, not at all. The above scripture reference is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Also in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says to “let your light shine before others so that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16, NIV)  So which is it?  It’s your motivation, and it’s your method. Jesus is saying when we are letting our lights shine, naturally good things will flow from that. And people will naturally notice them. We won’t need to call attention to ourselves. And when they do notice, the glory, every last bit of it, goes to God and not us.  He is saying if you are doing anything to get noticed by people, you are also getting noticed by God and it’s NOT in a good way. If you’re going out of your way to make sure people know what great things you are doing for God’s kingdom (and it’s tempting, I know. Trust me, I know), I ask you to pray about it and ask God to reveal anything to you He would desire you to see about your motivation. As a recovering people pleaser and approval addict, I can share with you something I categorize as a “Holy Ghost Smack down”.  Are you familiar with crowns we have the potential to earn as rewards? Among other rewards we will get, there are five crowns available to believers mentioned in the New Testament. (Here is a good summary.) But here’s what got me. I heard somebody say recently they believed the only reason we are given crowns is because we will have nothing we can carry over with us to present to Jesus. (Think about the 24 elders in Revelation 4:10.) It really got me thinking about motivation for every act of service. Because I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to shower Christ with the adoration he is due. I want my works to be for his adoration. 

Another truth? Jesus tells us pretty plainly: seek first the kingdom of God. (Matthew 6:33) Seek first thing kingdom of God and then what? All things will be added unto you! So what is the truth here? If you are striving for the things of God, walking in his ways, sticking to his side, THEN all things will be added unto you. What kind of all things? Well, let’s with an easier yoke and a lighter burden. (Matthew 11:30). Sound good to anybody? How about life and one more abundant at that? (John 10:10).  Still not quite convinced? How about treasures stored up in heaven that cannot be destroyed? (Matthew 6:19).  Sisters (and brothers!) you can gain all the approval you want from this world and the people in it. You can have cars and big houses and best selling books and fame. And not a single lick of that is going to matter on judgement day. And none of it is going to cross over with you.

We can’t seek the approval of God and the approval of the world. Truth. If we seek first God and his kingdom (with undivided hearts), then he will add good things to us. Truth.

We have to learn to seek out the truth. Paul tells the way to avoid being conformed to this world is by the renewing of our minds! (Romans 12:2) How do we do that? By saturating ourselves with God’s truth! We thought we had it all figured out, that our ways were working, but they didn’t bring us much peace, did they? They didn’t bring us peace with God, that’s for sure! And when we fall prey to the lies of the enemy about our identity in Christ, or our need for the approval of anybody but God, that is a huge breach in our peace. So we follow the advice of Proverbs 3:5 and we “Trust in the Lord with all our hearts (forget our ways and negative thoughts) and lean not on your own understanding” (but lean on the truth of the word of God!) TRUTH!

Heavenly Father, thank you that you call us your sons and daughters and that we can call you our daddy. Thank you for your tender love for us. Thank you that as our earthly fathers do, your love provides not just love but correction. There is truly no God like you. I am so in awe that I love and serve you, the God of all creation who spoke all things into existence, the eternal God, yet I can cry to you and know you hear and love me with such great tenderness and care. I pray all who have been adopted as your sons and daughters through Christ Jesus would know and experience this love of yours.  In Jesus’  Name.

 

 

 

 

Good teacher, what must I do?

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In Matthew 19, we hear the story of the rich young ruler who asked Jesus what he must do to receive eternal life.  It’s an interesting an exchange, and one which we still see replayed over and over today.  First, we want to know what we can do to earn it. (Teacher, what good thing shall I do?)  In this world of ‘every kid gets a trophy’, there is no good that’s good enough.  After Jesus points this out, he tells our rich ruler friend to keep the commandments. How does he respond? “Which ones” (verse 18). The negotiation phase. This is a telltale sign. The writing is on the wall. If you want to go buy a new camel, test out your negotiation skills. If you’re asking the Messiah how to gain eternal life, perhaps just take what he says and go with it!  But not our friend here. He wants a list of dos and don’ts. (Sound familiar, anybody?) Jesus goes down the list, and our friend seems to be ticking off every one.  He might just have it made! Jesus has got one more thing for our friend, though. For all of us. He’s going to perform a heart check now. He tells our fine friend, the one with all the worldly wealth, to walk away from all that, to lay it down and give it away.  Well, now hold on there Jesus! You’re going just a tad too far there, don’t you think?  The rich young ruler did. He was willing to trade away eternity and a life with Jesus for worldly wealth. For stuff.  Stuff that isn’t going to last beyond this life and sure isn’t capable and of taking him on to the next one.

The story of our rich young ruler friend is a good overview of how many of us approach a relationship with God. First, like our friend the young ruler, we think if we are “good enough” by our own standards, we should have access to God. Then we want to just show up and be given a list of rules to follow. Just go through some motions.  Here again it’s clear–our good works and checking off lists whole going through the motions don’t cut it. That’s not what Jesus wants from you and me.

We are still trying to bargain with Jesus. Not just the financial end of things, either. And not always those things that might be first and foremost on your throne. Sometimes they are even more subtle things. Often they are things that seem perhaps not that big a deal on the surface (for example, dressing provocatively) but the underlying issue isn’t if God still loves you if you’re showing a lot of cleavage (He does). The issue is when we start locking heads with Jesus over control, pushing the limits of how our choice of dressing honors or dishonors God, pushing for what we want under the banner of “there aren’t any rules!” See, for the most part, when Jesus established the New Covenant, most of the rules of the old covenant were set aside. So we get into this little game with ourselves called “Do I have to“.  We’ve all played it at some point.

Do I have to:

tithe/give money to the church;

go to a church every Sunday;

stop cursing;

stop dressing a certain way (or start dressing a certain way);

stop going to clubs;

stop having sex if I’m not married;

stop watching R rated movies;

read my Bible every single day;

pray every morning;

serve others; 
I could go on and on and on.  The thing is, if we are looking at things from the perspective of, “do I have to”, there’s already a problem.  Remember that heart check Jesus had for our rich friend? Well, the “do I have to” is usually a good indicator it’s time for us to go to Jesus for a heart check.

Let’s just look at the money issue as our example off that list. It’s a good one for a lot of reasons.  Money is stability to us, isn’t it? So we naturally want to hold on to it. Our first reaction isn’t to give it away. Neither was it the reaction for our friend the rich young ruler. Our reaction is we earned it, we need it, and if we give it away, what happens if we get in a pinch? There are so many good nuggets in there. First and foremost, is trust. Trust God with His money. But I want to get back to the heart check. When we are setting up our relationship with Jesus as a list of what we have to do, we actually just killed the relationship and turned it back into religion.  Jesus wants your heart. I think I’ve said that in almost every post. He didn’t come to redeem us, giving his life in the process, so we could just check off the boxes of what we should do to get that golden ticket to heaven.  Giving of your money is not supposed to be a duty in the new covenant. It’s an act of worship.  It’s a way to honor God.  Just with everything else we try to filter through the “do I have to”, if we have truly met with the unrestrained grace of God, our reaction should be “it is my honor to…”.

If your heart still filters through a sense of obligation, I urge you to seek for God in this.  Ask the Spirit to show you your motivations and re-frame them if they need to be!

Our Great God! How could we respond to all that you have done for us but to give you all of ourselves? How could we not come before you with our hearts open, giving you freely of all that we have? We know that all we have to give you that is not already yours, is our hearts. I lay my heart before you, Jesus.

 

No Greater Love Than This….

dreamstime_m_61060211Today is February 14th. Valentine’s Day. The day we celebrate love for that special person in our lives. And if the marketers are successful, we’ve spent lots of money to prove it.

But what IS love, really?  And what did Jesus (and the Bible) say about loving others?

In Matthew 22, we see the Pharisees and Sadducees trying to trip Jesus up. One Pharisee asked him what of all the commandments was the greatest. Not because he was curious about Jesus’ take on it, but because he was hoping to catch him in a trap of words. As we know, He answered that the first and greatest commandment is to love God with all our hearts, souls and minds. But he added, “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. (Matthew 22:39).  I think that pretty tidily answers any questions about what Jesus says about loving others, don’t you?  And let’s note here, he does not qualify “others”.  He doesn’t say “others who look like you”, or “others who vote like you do” or “others who agree with you about things” or (hold on to your knickers, folks) “others who sin in a way you find acceptable”, or even “others who believe the same things about Me that you do”.  Nope, he said “others”.

So before I get any deeper in this, let me just be blunt here. JESUS SAYS LOVE EVERYBODY. That does not mean you endorse everything about them or what they do. Got it? Good.  Jesus says that is how we are set apart to be known as his disciples, by our love for one another. (See John 13).

How can we do this? Because God first loved us. (1 John 4:19).  The love of God abiding IN us isn’t supposed to stay there and stagnate. It moves you to action. Loving others is an action.

Let’s just pause here and talk about social media. I love it as much as anybody.  But it can be a minefield. I know I’ve stepped on some mines and I will admit to having set one or two off. It will not take you very long to go find a site where people are fighting, bickering, or just being downright ugly in the name of Jesus (or religion). May I suggest this flies in the face of being known by our love? We may think we are tearing others down anonymously, but don’t think for one moment that God doesn’t have access to Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and everything else. It’s ugliness and it turns off non-believers and they have every right when they see it to call us hypocrites. Jesus told us to go and make disciples of all nations. He never told us to go win arguments.

Rewind back to love as an action.  I would hazard a guess that most folks are at least vaguely familiar with 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and the “Love” statements. But for those who aren’t, here is what the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth:

” Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant  or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  (English Standard Version).

Paul, by the way, is not sending the Corinthian church a Valentine’s Day card. Here is telling the church, who was getting a little bit worked up about seeking and striving for spiritual gifts, that while the gifts of the Spirit are great, there is one thing that they must have or the gifts are meaningless–love.

So look at Paul’s words. Paul isn’t saying that love is being nice to somebody who is nice to you. Or that love is when you get the fluttery feeling in your stomach. (That might just be bad sushi, anyway.) Love is action. Love is work. Whether this is love between spouses, parents/children, friends, or people you’ve never met, loving others is more than a feeling. It’s doing things you don’t want to do. It’s sacrificial.  It’s thinking of others more highly than yourselves (Philippians 2:3). It’s carrying each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:20).  It’s laying down your life for that of your brother. Jesus was our great example in that. But when you relinquish your need to be “right”, or have it “your way” and yield to another, that’s a way of laying down your life, too.  That’s the kind of love Paul is talking about.

The last verse in 1 Corinthians 13  says “love bears all things, love believes all things, love hopes all things, love endures all things.” Believes, hopes and endures are pretty self explanatory. But I want to point out “bears”. The Greek word used here is stego (and that doesn’t have the right accents to write that correctly, so you can go verify it here) and it means “to cover” as in a roof, or thatch covering, or to cover with silence, or cover against something threatening.  Just think about that in the context of your relationships. Are you “covering” those you love and God has entrusted to you? I don’t mean just your close, immediate family. I mean something  you heard in a prayer request….are you “covering that with silence”? Would you want yours to be covered in silence?  I’ve got gossip and idle talk in my sights here. If you see somebody who needs bearing up, are you turning a blind eye and hoping somebody else will do it? Or are you getting your hands dirty and doing the bearing?

See, Hallmark and Hershey want you to think love is that squishy nice feeling that’s all nice and sweet and reciprocal.  The love Jesus says is second only to loving God? It’s dirty and messy and often comes with no rewards from the person your loving. But your Father in Heaven sees it. And when you love like that it changes you in a way no Hallmark card ever will.

Abba Father, thank you for your steadfast love for us.  Soften our hearts, Holy Spirit, to let love flow through us for everyone around us. Real, active love. Let us love like Jesus calls us to love, in whose mighty, matchless name I pray.

 

Follow Me

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Last week we looked at the difference between cultural Christianity and actually being a follower of Jesus.  So for the next few posts let’s look at a few key points in a little more detail.  Today I want to talk about what Jesus meant when he said “Follow Me”.

On several occasions throughout his ministry, Jesus told his disciples to follow him. I’m sure most of you are familiar with Jesus’ words to Simon (Peter) and his brother Andrew in Matthew 4:19 when he found them fishing on the Sea of Galilee. He said “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” We all remember that line.  But do you recall what Simon and Andrew did? The Bible says “Immediately the left their nets and followed Him.” (Matthew 4:20, English Standard Version).  And how about Matthew, who Jesus found at his tax collector’s booth. He simply says “Follow me.”  Matthew’s response? He got up and followed Jesus. No hesitation.  (Matthew 9:9). Another disciple asked if he could go bury his deceased parent, but Jesus told him too let the (spiritually) dead deal with burying the dead, and follow him right then.

But what about us? Do we drop everything and follow Jesus?  Certainly some people do. But I think for the vast majority, when we repent and receive the gift of salvation and ask Christ to be our Savior, we ride a spiritual high for a bit. We enter a honeymoon phase. It may last very short time or a little bit longer. But what happens when that wears off and you’re back to feeling the normal grind of the daily routine. You don’t feel super spiritual. You may not feel much of anything at all. (Feelings are all well and good, by the way, but the basis of your faith should not be on your feelings. Ever. The basis of your faith should be on the indisputable truths of our unchanging God. Feelings are fleeting and sometimes misleading. The heart can be wicked and deceitful, after all.) So now what?  Now is when we get serious about following Jesus. Without hesitation.

There’s another example of going all-in to follow the calling of the Lord. And this guy meant business. In 1 Kings 19:19-21 we learn about the prophet Elijah who is seeking out Elisha in order to anoint him to eventually take his place as the go-to prophet.  Elisha is in the field, plowing with his team of oxen when Elijah throws his cloak on him. Elisha knew that was the sign of something big.  He killed the oxen and burned the plows. He just removed anything to go back to. He was jumping full on into his calling and removed the safety net of a back up plan.

Does this mean Jesus wants us to sell everything we own so we can follow him? Well, unless you’re planning to go on a long-term overseas mission, probably not a wise idea.  But what he does want is for you to kill the oxen and burn the plows of your past and jump into your future in him. Don’t leave anything to go back to that will keep you from living in the fullness he has for you.  I get it, that’s not always easy. You may have to leave behind friends who influence in bad ways. These kinds of things are not cookie cutter, so it’s for you and the Lord to work out in prayer. I also highly recommend a mentor and/or a pastor or elder you can talk to for guidance. But know that God doesn’t ask us to give things up just to be a jerk. That’s not who he is. Personally, I had to walk away from the only friends I had that weren’t 2000 miles away. I was scared to death to have no friends. But God looks for obedience, and he rewards that with giving us better things in exchange for what we gave up. I know that was true for me.

In Matthew 10:38 (ESV), Jesus said “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” So what He is saying here is not that you are not supposed to love your mother and father, etc. He’s saying be careful not to love them MORE than you love him. And that goes for spouses, boyfriends/girlfriends, children, money, cars, fame…you name it. He wants your WHOLE HEART.  The greatest commandment starts with loving God above all things.  He continues to say “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  (Mathew 10:39). Does that have you scratching your head?  No worries.  It’s simply this: when we hang on with a white knuckle grip to our old self, wanting do everything like we always have, and basically retaining the lordship over our own lives, we haven’t gained anything. And he says we aren’t worthy of Him. (Now, I’m not going to suggest you need to have a lot of expertise in Biblical interpretation, or do hermeneutical hopscotch to figure that one out. And I’ll let you decide how you wish to interpret that. But in my limited training in hermeneutics, it means “we aren’t worthy”.) But, when we let go and surrender ourselves completely and let Jesus be Lord, following His ways, we may have lost our old life for his sake, but hallelujah, we will find a brand new one in him. And it’s SO MUCH BETTER.

This surrendering, by the way, is a daily thing. Sometimes more than that. It’s an intentional handing over the control and saying “not my way, but Yours”.  On paper that might sound easy, but the flesh we still carry around makes it a challenge. Get in your car in rush hour. Or the slowest checkout line at the grocery store when you’re in a hurry. Or on a three hour flight with the person behind you kicking your seatback every two minutes. Jesus’ way says patience and grace. Your flesh says something entirely different. Luckily, we are given the fruit of the Holy Spirit (see Galatians 5:22) to help combat the flesh. But it’s not an automatic response at first. We have to develop these good habits of yielding to the Spirit and not the flesh. Just like building a muscle by working it out.

We also have the great gift of the power to transform to be more and more like Christ through the renewing of our minds. Paul tells us in Romans 12:2 that we are not to behave like the rest of the world, but be “transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Part of following Christ means we strive to become more and more like him.  So how, exactly, can we renew our minds?  READ THE BIBLE!!
“Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth.” (John 17:17, New Living Translation).

Following Jesus means things are going to change. You’re going to change. And that’s a good thing. We all came to Jesus because we needed a Savior. If we were completely fine on our own, then there would be no reason to change.  But we come to him broken, or with a yearning in our soul for something we’ve tried to fill with any number of things the world promised us would satisfy that desire, but never did. If we agree that we all ended up at the cross because we need Jesus, then can we agree there is no shame in admitting that it’s time to stop trying to live this life by our own rules and plans?  What have you got to lose by jumping in the deep end of the pool and going all in, and completely selling out for Jesus?

Sweet, sweet Jesus! I am eternally grateful to have heard your voice, the voice of my shepherd, calling me to follow you. I am grateful that as a shepherd gently tends to his flock, so you tend to each sheep in your flock. You guide with a sure, steady hand. You keep your flock safely in your arms. You are Lord of all of my life. Remind me, nudge me when I start to take over. Thank you, above all, for your steadfast love. I pray all who call you Savior will also call you Lord.  

 

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