Leave None Behind

CC BY-NC-ND, U.S. Department of Defense Current Photos, Flickr

CC BY-NC-ND, U.S. Department of Defense Current Photos, Flickr

We are a church culture that ranks sins. A few get to tell glowing testimonies of how they were freed from their flaws while others know not to breathe a word about their past misdeeds—at least not the whole story—for fear of being scorned by some or investigated about the extent of their freedom.

This is shameful. It demonstrates that some of us have not understood the nature of sin, that we all stand under the same curse and that the mite of sin is as great as the vilest and most flagrant. We have also not understood the holy nature of God, his seamlessly pure moral character, or the extravagant grace that rescues us all from equal depravity.

Keep the Main Thing…

I like the way Paul addresses the fact—and how do we miss the point?

“Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor practicing homosexuals nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

So profound! Paul highlights issues that were specific to Corinthian society and his hearers; so we gain a telling picture of Corinth. What I love here is that one’s particular “sin background” is non-essential; instead, believers now stand redeemed by the work of Christ—and that’s all that matters, not the once-but-delivered ailment.

If we’re not careful, we will make a big deal about sin and lose love for sinners and fellow believers who wrestle with internal conflicts. We would do well to remember the words of Hebrews 12:15: “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God.” Make sure, the writer explains, that no one—sinner or saint—lacks of the Lord’s great kindness.

Assessing Our Approach

Therefore, our churches must be spiritual communities where harbored sin in people’s lives breaks our hearts and where we have mastered a quick prayerful, loving, and restorative response, in the same way a body heals itself.

Compassion is the key. It characterized Jesus’s approach with others. And Paul, in Galatians 6:1, reminds us to compassionately restore those in indiscretion mindful that not only are we too susceptible to sin, but also to their kind of sin.

Sin will (and should) always be an affront to God’s holy nature in us, yet we must stop being surprised and shocked by the personal matters family, friends, and peers share with us. We are all human and err. Amazement only makes one feel bad about divulging their troubles; it also makes them question if God really cares about them.

Sin ain’t pretty. Yours wasn’t. So we dare not offend the Lord by being insensitive to others and impede ministry before it starts.

This isn’t just about sinners bearing all, if you’re still missing the point. Christians trip up and get bound, too. The context for Galatians 6 is the believing community; so Paul continues, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (v. 2, NKJV).

So our churches must be havens where certainly the godly can unpack their burdens and receive guidance and healing prayer. We should think this normal, but it isn’t hardly the case. It is sad that some Christians are scornful, judgmental, untrustworthy, and unloving toward their own—how can the lost ever be saved!

A New Culture

I’m concerned we err because we take our cues from the non-Christian culture around us, not the word of God. But the kingdom of God is our culture, a new and shockingly transformative one, and its implications are monumental. No, we don’t think and act the way the world does; our actions and responses will indeed be revolutionary and countercultural and make non-Christians wonder about our dissimilarity.

And our difference should be most evident in our relationships, the one aspect Jesus seems to deem the very purpose of our lives (cf. Mark 12:28-34). Thus, we take none for granted, neither those with the most need for an assurance of grace nor those who already possess it but need strengthening.

We will best love others and be most real with ourselves when we stop cherry-picking sin and esteem the marvelous grace that rescues us all.

More on this topic: The Need for Transparency

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God, Our Contender

CC BY-NC-ND, Michael Heilemann, Flickr

CC BY-NC-ND, Michael Heilemann, Flickr

Jacob and Peter seem like spiritual brothers in my mind. Both carried a profound calling in their lives but didn’t quite grasp the process it would require to develop them in order to maximize it. Thus, we read about their lives with fascination and some puzzlement, at least I do.

Jacob, with a godly heritage, is that guy in every church who respects God and spiritual things but resists the calling he knows is on his life; he isn’t quite ready to give up his game. It’s not his M.O. right now—“I’m not ready for all that”—that is, until God has to get in his face.

Is not that encounter at Jabbock one of the most riveting accounts in scripture? All of Jacob’s years of impartation and resistance come to a singular moment of judgment. I believe the fight actually occurred, but it isn’t difficult to allegorize and deem that here was a moment of crisis in which God gripped Jacob’s heart and gave him the psychological and spiritual fight of his life.

Have you ever fought to the death of your will? Has the call of God ever overwhelmed you…pinned you to the wall?

But what grips me about the story is Jacob’s surrender. In a flash he goes from self-reliance and stubbornness to “I won’t let you go until I have all of you!”

Do You Love Me?

Sounds a little like Peter—“Then wash my hands and head, Lord, not just my feet!” This is Simon whom Jesus renames Peter, don’t forget that. (Didn’t that happen at Jabbock, too? Hmm.)

I really cherish Peter in the scriptures. Some people find their own humanness in the Psalms, Paul’s transparency, and elsewhere; but I discover myself in Peter. I’m not sure if there is a more honest biblical character. I read about him and think, I am Peter.

Peter spent a few years as the closest to Jesus of the disciples. Yet he reminds us of a toddler just learning to walk, sometimes standing, even running, other times stumbling and falling. Peter shows us glimpses of enlightenment—“Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” and “If it is you, bid me to come”—and equal measures of ineptitude and failure—“Even if everyone else deserts you, I never will!”

Still, Peter may have had one of the deepest loves for Jesus.

I recall him outrunning John to the tomb after the report of Jesus’s body being gone. Then, while he and a few of the disciples fished, John identifies the resurrected Christ by his instruction to them to cast their nets to the other side of the boat: “It is the Lord,” John says.

And at that this rough-hewn fisherman wraps his garment around him, leaps out of the boat, and swims to where Jesus stood. Although Peter was at times unstable and insecure, Jesus had made an indelible impact on him.

God’s Will with Our Pain

Like Jacob and Peter, I’ve discovered that the life of faith is not convenient, especially to the imperfections of my heart that ultimately resist the best God has for me. Sometimes I wonder, however, if God doesn’t allow the disappointments and internal conflicts to surface in us to bring us to a place of surrender.

Hosea says, “Come, and let us return to the Lord; for He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up” (6:1). Only if you’ve gone through such hardship yourself or with others can you understand how a person’s insolence and weaknesses may actually accomplish the will of God.

After denying the Lord the third time, John relates that the cock crowed and Jesus turned and looked straight in Peter’s face. That had to be the worst moment in Peter’s entire acquaintance with Jesus—and he runs away and cries his eyes out.

But where we might ridicule and excoriate him, God is getting his way with Peter. In fact, he just might have him…and Jacob…and your brother, daughter, or co-worker exactly where he wants them—broken and in submission. They have wrestled with God long enough and now God will wait no longer to prove his sufficiency for them. God gets the best of us to get the best out of us.

The late Dr. Adrian Rogers used to say, “The will of God is the thing we would want for ourselves if we had the sense to want it!”

Thank God that he’s patient with us and uses even our mistakes and hang-ups, our malice and carnality to break our own hearts and wrestle us into submission, as only he can. Our assurance lies in a grace that rescues us from ourselves.

So we can have hope that our friends and loved ones, perhaps out of control right now, are, by prayer and the mercy of God, being steered into the very heart of the kingdom.

Read more on the topic: John the Baptist

What to Do About Grace

CC BY-NC, Enokson, Flickr

CC BY-NC, Enokson, Flickr

“He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” (Eph. 1:5-6)

I drove down the highway one morning listening to a version of Don Moen’s classic hymn “Give Thanks,” and the Holy Spirit turned a light on within me.

“Give thanks with a grateful heart

Give thanks to the Holy One

Give thanks because he’s given Jesus Christ, his Son.

 And now let the weak say, ‘I am strong!’

Let the poor say, ‘I am rich!’

Because of what the Lord has done for us.

Give thanks.”

Truthfully, I wanted to cry because I saw a clearer picture of the gospel, but I didn’t want to appear weepy-eyed where I was headed.

The Gospel Message

The scripture above refers to the grace of God having been bestowed upon us in Christ. The King James Version says, “…he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” I thought of that phrasing when I heard the declarations—“I am strong! I am rich!”—and realized how truly profound the gift of Christ is to us.

It means Jesus is enough.

Now that may not seem like anything cataclysmic to you, but it’s a weight off all our shoulders. We have gained acceptance with God in Christ. All our efforts at earning God’s approval and working our way into his favor are finished. We can cease feeling inadequate and marred and like we have to get our act together to please him. “Lord, I know I haven’t…God, I’m sorry but I…”

No, we are not condemned and need not wear guilty consciences. He lifts our chins and tells us it’s okay and invites into his joy. He did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves.

But What Am I to Do?

Still, we feel like we have to do something. We loathe and punish ourselves because we cannot accept the thought of simply receiving God’s selfless love and attention. We feel that we have to work our way into so rich a gift. What about our raging tempers, lying and cheating, illicit sexual habits, and various dependencies? How could he still accept us when we are yet unsure that Jesus is the way? After all, we’re still mad at him for things that happened to us all the way back in our childhood.

What are we to do with these inconsistencies?

Right here is where sound teaching is so important because we’re prone to walk away from God or live beneath our spiritual privilege. We may hang onto God, but we’ll always be trying to fix ourselves, always trying to pay a debt that has already been forgiven. If we don’t realize that the burden has been removed, we’ll continue dealing with the agony and frustration—the guilt—that comes with trying to lift it, never experiencing freedom.

A Gospel Parable

Let me show you what our responsibility looks like. Think of a person, maybe even yourself at one time, with a great financial burden—a debt. He (or she) struggled with that debt for a long time, and the debt determined so much about his life. But one day a benefactor paid off the entire bill; the indebted man owed not a cent to anyone. Then, the benefactor gave the man $10,000 to get back on his feet. All the man had to do was accept the gift.

Now the man would probably need some time to get over the incredible goodness that had happened to him, but he would be foolish not to accept the gift. There would be no need for him to stand and argue with the benefactor about all the misfortune and bad choices he made that got him to that point.

The man accepts the gift and the benefactor’s simple request that he never again return to debt. The responsibility of the man is simple. It is to prove his exceeding gratefulness by improving his knowledge about money and finances, guaranteeing the request of the benefactor.

Now…Right Now

The man with the debt, although he had been freed from it, bore a responsibility to amend his behavior and attitude toward money. It is no different with us, except our works of faith now are acts of worship to God. Let me show you.

We still have hang-ups and sin issues, but they don’t negate Christ’s work for us and in us. Our responsibility with those issues now is to understand our freedom in Christ and to rely on God’s enabling grace to build godlier character. Thereby, we love God by transforming the vile areas of our hearts into the very fruit of the Spirit. We worship him with the beauty of holy lives. But instead of doing this to earn God’s favor, we do it because of his favor already bestowed upon us.

I get emotional about this because there are many people around us, people we couldn’t guess, who secretly wish to serve God and be among the saints but feel that their lives are so bad, so messed up, that God doesn’t care to deal with them. They feel condemned and sometimes are condemned by churches and Christians that haven’t truly grasped the message of grace. But these are the weak God is calling to strength in Christ.

What shall we do with grace? Just accept it. The debt is gone. We need to get the point: we are actualized in Christ. You have wholeness now. You possess all the worth God designed for you now. Give God thanks and let your life honor him.

Also on the topic: Where Freedom Ends

His Need, Our Privilege

CC BY-NC, S.Kakos, Flickr

CC BY-NC, S.Kakos, Flickr

God inherently needs nothing and no one. Yet we would fling him beyond reach should we forget that he has done us a favor obligating himself to us. He “needs” us only because he desires us and requires himself to us.

Moreover, he has created a place for us in his plan.

He commands our worship because it benefits us and not because he lacks adoration. Ultimately, his purpose is accomplished with us and we get the joy.

Could he offer a better deal?

God shall forever be the Great Giver, limitless and generous. And I gladly resign myself to the honor of being needed by him.

Where Freedom Ends

CC BY-NC, srietzke, Flickr

CC BY-NC, srietzke, Flickr

Most of us know exactly where we’d be if we didn’t have the Lord in our lives. We like to act as if sin were so obscure and a bygone issue for us. You know—“there’s no telling” what or how many things we could be caught up in. I usually don’t buy that from people, however, because our flesh hasn’t forgotten the taste of sin and we repeatedly trip over certain indiscretions. Don’t feel bad about it.

It’s important to be aware of our relation to sin; it will make us watchful of vice and keep us relying on grace. It’s also good to know that our deprave nature doesn’t impinge on the work of Christ for us. We are free in him despite our sinful condition. I’ll explain by using an illustration.

My elementary school was three separate buildings. Outside the main building and field area was a fence. That fence protected the space and kids from a few things: a busy street, railroad tracks on the other side, and any possible bad person who could enter the schoolyard.

Children had the freedom to play within the yard safely as long as they remained on the yard, the protected space. Further, the fence granted everyone freedom to learn and play, even children who may have had curious or mischievous desires to run off, who were no less free for having those desires. But no such freedom (to learn and play) existed outside the fence.

The Choice to Stay Free

Galatians 5:13 expresses this concept perfectly: “It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom” (Message).

I’ll use myself as an example. I am no saint. (Surprise!) I love God with every part of me, except those unlovable parts that cannot love him—features of my person permeated with sin and craving of sins Michael fights. I’m okay acknowledging this, and it’s why I say we know where our hearts could lead us.

But just because I battle impulses averse to my calling in Christ and sometimes wish to venture beyond that “fence of grace,” it doesn’t negate the grace of God in my life, or in yours. It means that we have to teach ourselves how to walk in the Spirit in order not to gratify the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16).

Let me point out something from the illustration. We possess freedom only within the guidelines of holiness, for we have been freed to live for God. It is not ironic that Paul uses legal language and refers to the law of the Spirit of Christ freeing us from the law of sin and death (Rom. 8:2).

One’s freedom exists in obligation to the person or thing that frees. A government permits individual liberties according to the laws of the land. Ours is a holy obligation to our Savior to live with love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). But leaving the play area ends our freedom to enjoy these things.

Participating in sin doesn’t mean we cease belonging to God. His grace will still keep us in our sinfulness—as mercy—but why leave ourselves to the mercy of God and risk consequence?

Let’s fight to stay free. Let’s love our freedom too much to leave it for the briefest moment in which Satan can take advantage of us. Let us cease viewing the grace of God as barring us from something and instead see it as liberating us to relish all good things. Stop obsessing over the fence and what’s beyond it and enjoy the yard.

In your time of temptation and struggle, stop, think, and say aloud to yourself, “This is where my freedom ends.”

Hail the Morning Light

CC BY-NC, M.RICHI, Flickr

CC BY-NC, M.RICHI, Flickr

What is it that makes the God of the Bible greater than all others?

Ever since humankind fell into sin, however it occurred at the dawn of human existence, God, who anticipated it all, responded in un-godlike fashion, if we believe the historical characterizations of deities.

He did not become intemperately furious and rain down destruction to wipe humans from the face of the earth; he did not scorn his creation and leave them without divine support. Instead, he chose to communicate himself and a grand design for restoring the race that was blind to its need.

The salvific nature of God—that he redeems—is among his greatest characteristics. God has committed himself to a plan of reconciling all things to match his wonder. No other god takes the time to deal with sinners more than to exact punishment upon them. But God seems to specialize in processing and refashioning what is broken and repudiated and presenting it to a watching world gloriously restored.

Is this not the story of so many biblical characters? Better still, could it not be your story? Our life’s journey bears the twists and turns that only bend at the permissive nod of a God who loves us extravagantly. We climb mountains and plow through valleys, experience the heat of drought and the refreshment of the stream—are they all not teaching moments? Do we merely live and die? I dare not believe that life is a circle lacking of real purpose in my experiences.

Contrarily, I know that every experience builds me in some way and anticipates a greater moment, not only for me but also for those who should enter my life. Every good and bad moment is a teaching moment of how to ride the waves being disciplined and true to God. You see, God redeems the brokenness of our lives and life itself.

Proverbs 4:18: “The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” This verse is proof to me of God’s purposeful intention in our lives. The one who stands and raises his or her hands atop the mountain is the one who with strength and determination, cuts and sweat, conquered not only the mountain but every mental foe that threatened their resolve.

When that person takes in the view, perhaps a sunrise, they cherish every moment in the process it took to get there. Our redeeming God is eager to get our attention so we don’t waste our time. Many people don’t have a clue that they’re on any kind of journey or, sadly, don’t wish to climb the mountain. Some mountains don’t move because they’re not meant to move—we are. But it is never about the mountain.

In the end, the joy belongs to those of us who ascended. We may not have been perfect, but that certainly wasn’t the point. It was that we were committed to God and loved him back as richly as he first loved us. We acknowledged him and his plan in every high and low of life, and we served others with the knowledge we were blessed to experience. His reward to us is a view from the top, an uninhibited look at his goodness, the grace that all along pushed us higher and higher. This is the glory of God.