I Want to See You Be Brave

There’s something they don’t tell you about this Christianity thing when you sign up.

I’m not saying it would be a deal-breaker if you knew about it on the front end, but I am saying we’d think longer and harder about declaring Christ to be not just our Savior but also our LORD – our Master, our Ruler, the One from Whom we will take our orders forevermore – if a seasoned believer took the time to share the secret only they can know while they were sharing the Gospel with us.

When we meet Christ for the first time, when we realize He is what we’ve been looking for our whole lives and that we need Him more than we’d ever known, we tend to focus on the benefits we will receive if we accept Him. Namely, Heaven.

And that’s definitely not something to gloss over. Heaven is a huge deal, and Christ’s getting us in is something we should thankfully reflect on regularly. It should soak into our bones and spur us on to unashamed devotion and obedience to Him.

But what most of us miss when we accept Christ is that we are choosing a hard road.

What’s so hard about a free pass to Heaven?

It’s not free.

And I don’t mean that in the it-cost-Christ-everything kind of way most people say it.

I mean that in the it-will-cost-US-everything kind of way.

John said it like this, “We know that we have come to know [Jesus] if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him… Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did,” (1 John 2:3, 4, 6).

Calm down there, John, buddy. Alls I want is a get-out-of-hell-free card.

And that’s all most of us think we’re getting when we choose to believe in Jesus.

But we get so much more! You’ve heard it said Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship, and as much as I hate tired catch phrases, it expresses the truth that there is give and take with Jesus if you want to call yourself “Christian”.

Jesus gave His life for us, and we are to give ours for Him. Not on a cross, hopefully, but in daily obedience to what He says.

Which is fine and dandy until He starts asking us to do some things we don’t want to do.

And that day will come. And it will be H-A-R-D. Which is why no one includes that on their tracts.

The truth? If you want to follow Christ, you have to be brave.

I am raising two little girls who are terrified of animals. They both scream and cry and climb me like a tree if they see a dog… the size of a tea cup… 100 yards away… on a leash. They have broken into hysterics upon seeing a dog WHILE WE WERE IN THE CAR. If we go to someone’s house, they choke up and make me go ahead of them to ask the people if they have a dog and if they have put it away. We can’t go for walks or ride bikes in our neighborhood because a dog – what if we see one?!

We have regular conversations, then, about courage and bravery and what that means. And I always underscore something for my daughters.

Bravery is not the absence of fear; it’s the willingness to do what is right even when you are scared out of your mind. 

We cannot wait until we no longer feel afraid to act; we’ll never act.

My daughters cannot wait until the Lord supernaturally removes their fear of animals to go outside. Not to mention, there is something to be said for having a healthy fear of dogs they don’t know.

So it is with us. We cannot wait until the Lord takes away our fears of doing whatever it is He is asking us to do that makes us want to refuse to obey. We’d never get around to the obeying part. Which, thanks to our blunt friend, John, we know we must.

The Christian life is only for the brave. 

I want to see you be brave.

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Choosy People Choose God

A concept that fascinates me in the scriptures is the idea that God chooses people. 

In the Old Testament, He chose a lot of individuals to do a lot of different things (2 Samuel 6:21, 1 Chronicles 15:2, Nehemiah 9:7), but, overall, He chose the nation of Israel to be His people (Deuteronomy 10:15, Psalm 33:12).

In the New Testament, Jesus chose the 12 disciples (John 15:16). And ever since the resurrection, God has been choosing Israelites and Gentiles alike to believe in Christ and become His sons and daughters (Romans 11:5, Ephesians 1:4-5, Colossians 3:12).

The thing about choosing is God doesn’t have to choose anybody. He isn’t forced or required to show any of us grace or favor. He just does.

And if you are a follower of Jesus, that means God chose you. Personally (1 Peter 2:9).

I can’t tell you why God chose me. It is true there is no good thing in me apart from Him (Psalm 16:2). So I certainly didn’t merit choosing. Quite the opposite. Before God chose me, I was as blasphemous as they came. I denounced Christianity vehemently, used His name in vain frequently, and had no use nor respect for the Church or the Bible.

By all accounts, God shouldn’t have chosen me. 

And by all accounts, He shouldn’t choose you either.

You may not have the sailor mouth I once boasted or the outwardly rebellious heart I once wore like a badge of honor… you might be a “pretty good” person… You might even go to church on occasion… but if you haven’t lived a perfect life by His account, you have a problem. Your imperfections have earned you something… death (Romans 6:23).

More specifically, you’re a dead man walking into eternal separation from God. And so was I. It’s a double whammy, really. You pass through this life having never really lived, blind to the reality of God all around you, never experiencing the joy that is doing life with God. And then you die physically, and you get what you always wanted… eternity without God. I’m sure words don’t do it justice, but John attempts to describe hell as a lake of fire. Those who want nothing to do with Jesus are thrown into that lake for eternity (Revelation 20:15).

Choosy People Choose God
image via arztsamui/freedigitalphotos.net

Unless.

Unless you choose differently.

God didn’t like this idea that all the people He created to know and love Him would be separated from Him eternally on account of sin. So He remedied the situation. Himself. Romans 6:23 says, “The gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The bad news is every single one of us has earned death. The good news is God wants to give us the gift of eternal life – Heaven. 

It doesn’t make sense, honestly, that it works this way… God in the form of Jesus Christ lived a perfect life, volunteered to take the punishment for our imperfect lives, and God the Father accepts that arrangement for anyone who signs up for the deal. I don’t pretend to know how that works. But I’ve experienced it to be true in my daily life through personal interaction with God that wasn’t possible before I accepted Jesus.

God chooses people, yes. But the irony is that He offers each one of us a choice as well. Do we want what we earn, or do we want the gift He offers?

God wants to choose you. Will you choose Him? 

Why I Think Judas is in Heaven

Today is Good Friday, the day Christians mark the anniversary of Jesus’ crucifixion. To focus my heart on the event, I cracked open Matthew 27 to read about the details. I got 5 verses in and stopped to ponder Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus to the Jewish leaders who wanted Him dead.

I think a lot of Christians assume Judas is in hell. After all, he betrayed God. That’s kind of a big deal sin. He also committed suicide, which some brands of Christians wrongly consider an unforgivable sin. For these reasons, I think if you polled your church, the majority would say there is no way Judas is in Heaven.

But I think they’re wrong.

When he realized the Jewish leaders weren’t just going to give Jesus a talking to, Judas freaked out.

When Judas, who had betrayed him, realized that Jesus had been condemned to die, he was filled with remorse. So he took the thirty pieces of silver back to the leading priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he declared, “for I have betrayed an innocent man.” “What do we care?” they retorted. “That’s your problem.” Then Judas threw the silver coins down in the Temple and went out and hanged himself. -Matthew 27:3-5

Judas screwed up. He let greed get the better of him. He chose to turn on his friend for money. Several sources on the Google tell me 30 pieces of silver in New Testament times was the equivalent of about 4 months’ wages, so a few thousand dollars, depending on the profession to which they are referring. It would have been a nice chunk of change, but nothing too life-altering. But money wooed, and Judas’ true allegiance won out.

To be fair, Judas didn’t seem to realize he was turning his friend over to be executed. He probably was thinking Jesus was going to get some church discipline for bucking the established rules, like healing on the Sabbath and speaking out against traditional Pharisaical thinking. Judas may have envisioned Jesus being put in religious time out, but being put to death was not on Judas’ radar. A few thousand dollars in exchange for Jesus’ chastisement seemed worth it. Judas may have even rationalized that the disciples were poor and could use that money to minister to even more people once Jesus got ungrounded.

But once the reality of the situation set in, Judas was filled with remorse. He called his sin what it was – sin. He confessed his belief in Jesus as Messiah by calling Jesus innocent of the charges – namely, that He was falsely claiming to be the Messiah.

In my estimation, Judas repented and acknowledged Jesus as God. And scripture tells us that’s all we have to do to be saved.

I cannot wait to get to Heaven and see Judas and Jesus laughing together. That picture of grace overwhelms my soul.

How great is our God that He would forgive even the likes of Judas!

(Shortly after I published this post, I changed my mind. See the comments below to understand why.)

How to Deal with Pain Well

It’s not often I read the same book twice in a year’s time, but it happened this year. Partly because it is an excellent book. And partly because I am quick to forget what I “learn”. (Have we really learned something if we forget it?)

If you’ve read this blog before, you can probably guess the book is Ann Voskamp‘s One Thousand Gifts. I may not know you, but I know you need to read this book. Which says more about the book and human nature than it does about my arrogance.

The summation of the book is this: Life goes so much better when we remember we are not entitled to ANYTHING; all is grace, all is gift.

I forgot this for a few days around Christmas. And in crept a spirit of sadness, emptiness – a sense of just how broken this world is and how it won’t be fixed until Christ returns. I dwelt on that too long, developing a discontent rooted in the idea that I deserve perfection now.

I went down this rabbit trail: I feel pain because I lack something. The lack is bad because it causes pain. Fix the lack, fix the pain. There is no fixing the lack permanently in this broken world. Hopelessness.

Do you see the entitlement in this thinking?

I’m not entitled to not feel pain this side of Heaven.

Nowhere in the Bible is this mentioned. In fact, the opposite is harped on quite a bit. There will be pain, there will be trials, there will be suffering. A pain-free existence is incongruent with how the world works.  It’s a logical impossibility. Therefore, feeling entitled to such bliss is absurd.

That’s a kick to the gut.

We cannot have a continuously pain-free life, no matter what we do, what god we worship, or how well we serve Him.

It’s almost enough to make you want to give up on the whole thing… religion… God… life.

And that’s what Satan would have us do. He would have us zoom in on our present lives and dwell on the hopelessness of now.

But God zooms us back out so we can consider the eternal value of our present perseverance.

The author of Hebrews puts it like this:

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. (Hebrews 10:35-39)

There is an eternal reward for those who continue to serve and obey the Lord in the middle of the hopeless feelings of our painful lives. Salvation – eternity in a pain-free Heaven – awaits those who believe and press on.

We are not entitled to anything, least of all a pain-free now. Count all as grace – as gift – and it will help you press on through the pain and take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of you. 

 

 

Now is our Time for Grief

My kids and I talk about Heaven a lot.

My 3 year old is just trying to wrap her brain around the concept of Heaven. She knows it is a place where God lives, and if you love Jesus, you get to go there. When I remind her of these facts, she inevitably says, “I love Jesus! When can I go to Heaven?” I always tell her the same thing, “When God decides it’s time.” And she always tells me the same thing, “I want to go right now…”

My 5 year old has more complex thoughts about Heaven. She mostly wonders what it will be like. She wants to know details and  wishes God had given us more descriptions of Heaven in the Bible. She wonders if we will all live in one big house, or if there will be lots of houses… She wonders if the houses will be made of gold… She wonders if we will walk or float in Heaven… She wonders if we will be singing praises to God all the time or just some of the time… She wonders if there will be Burger King in Heaven… I don’t tell her that would be my version of Hell.

I like my older daughter’s imagination. I like how she daydreams about eternal life with the Lord. I can’t tell her for sure what Heaven will be like other than Heaven will be all good and no bad (which is why I’m pretty sure Burger King won’t be there…).

I am more on my younger daughter’s plane, longing for Heaven, no matter what the details are. I know it’s good, and I want good now. I know it is pain-free, and I want pain-free now (Revelation 21:4).

But it’s not time yet.

Jesus was talking to His disciples right before his murder, and he told them, “I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy… Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy,” (John 16:20,22).

The immediate context of the passage is Jesus describing the Jews’ joy over finally killing the “blasphemer”, Jesus, while the disciples grieve over the gruesome loss of their Friend and failure to understand the spiritual victory that was taking place. Jesus is telling the disciples their grief will turn to joy on the third day when He rises and proves Himself God by defeating death.

The broader context, I suggest, is the modern world enjoying their sin while the modern believers grieve over the state of brokenness we find ourselves in. People are broken. We don’t work right. Bad stuff happens. Pain is the norm. And believers grieve because we know in our hearts and from the scriptures THIS IS NOT HOW IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE!

But just as Jesus told His disciples, He tells us today, “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice.”

The believer knows Jesus is coming back. We’ll either go to Him or He will come to us, and our joy will be unbounded!

But it’s not time for that yet. Sure, we can experience joy today while we daydream about Jesus coming back. But that joy is limited. Bounded. By the confines of broken people in a broken world.

No, now is our time of grief. Expect it. Accept it. But don’t get stuck in it.

Instead, learn to view the pain differently.

I’m learning by revisiting One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp.

Now is our time for grief, and we will not waste that grief. We will use it to experience the Father more deeply.

Soul Sick

Some things about life suck.

This has nothing to do with my natural bent toward pessimism or my forgetting to take my depression medication.

It has everything to do with the Fall.  (The event, not the season.)

When sin entered the world, it ruined stuff.  And ever since then, stuff has had the propensity to suck.  Deep, no?  This sucking takes on two forms: 1) some stuff has bad components, and 2) some stuff is good, but it can never be as good as it was meant to be this side of Heaven.

The first kind of stuff is the clearly bad/evil stuff.  I don’t have a hometown, but if I did, it would be Collierville, TN.  And right now, there is a high school student there who was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.  That cancer is BAD.  There is nothing good about the cancer itself.  That component of Trey’s health is an evil, destructive result of the Fall.  And that sucks.

The second kind of stuff is the good stuff that can’t reach it’s fullest potential because we live post-Fall.  Relationships come to mind.  Relationships are generally good things – good things that can’t be best things because sin limits them.  Dysfunction taints them.  Conflict strains them.  And a myriad of complicated reasons can limit them, even though the two people care about each other.

When I think about these kinds of effects of the Fall, I get sad.  I am bummed that things can’t be as great as they were meant to be because of that crappy day in the Garden.  I used the phrase “soul sick” to describe my feelings about these kinds of things today.

It’s not depression – no pill or talk therapy will change the fact that we live in a fallen world, stained with sin.

It’s not a matter of being more optimistic, trying to look at things differently so I don’t see the bad.  The bad IS there – it’s not dependent on my outlook.

It’s soul sickness.  It’s a weariness that comes from understanding what the world was supposed to be like and grieving the fact that it can no longer be that phenomenal, no matter how hard I try.

Some days it is hard for me to get past the reality of soul sickness.  It is comforting to know that this reality is only for a limited time.  Heaven gets closer every passing minute.  And that will be the perfection I long for.

But the waiting isn’t easy.

Does God Care HOW We Worship Him?

image via westmainbaptist.com
image via westmainbaptist.com

There is a popular idea out there that it doesn’t matter how you choose to worship, as long as you are sincere.  Within this idea is an unspoken conclusion that, somehow, no matter which religion turns out to be right, the god(s) of that religion will honor the valiant efforts of those who believed falsely, as long as they believed with passion and commitment.

(Why a god would reward wrong is beyond me.)

It is true that God cares about the heart.  He is deeply concerned with our motivations, our intentions, and our emotions, especially in worship (Deuteronomy 10:12).

But is God also concerned with the way we worship?  Sure, we need to be sincere, but does the how also matter?

Well, the Old Testament has two entire books – Leviticus and Deuteronomy – dedicated to laying out the means by which Israel was to worship God.  God is painstakingly specific and is serious about the Israelites worshiping Him in just the right way.

Why?

To distinguish the Israelites from the idolators around them (Deuteronomy 12:31).

God wanted the surrounding nations to know that the Israelites were not worshiping just any ole god – they were worshiping the One True God.

But there came a time in Israel’s history when they lost sight of the prescribed ways they were to worship.  Frankly, they just weren’t important to them anymore.

And, as a result, “…everyone did as he saw fit,” (Judges 17:6).

Even Israel’s first king, Saul, decided it’d be okay to come worship God however he wanted to.

In 1 Samuel 15 we read that God commanded Saul to totally destroy the Amalekites and everything that belongs to them (1 Samuel 15:3-4).  But Saul says to himself, “I will kill everyone except the king, and I will kill every animal except the best ones, and then I will sacrifice those best animals to the Lord!  God loves animal sacrifices; surely, He will pleased with me!” (1 Samuel 15:15).

What is Saul doing?  He is justifying disobedience.  He is worshiping God the way he wants to, not the way God told him to.  And he is mistaken that God doesn’t care about how people worship.

As a result, Saul loses the kingdom (1 Samuel 15:23).

And Saul is not the only Israelite to ever lose sight of the importance of the proper way to worship God.

In Numbers 3:4 two of Aaron’s sons – ordained priests – “…fell dead before the Lord when they made an offering with unauthorized fire before him…”

Aaron’s sons knew what the Law said.  They knew the proper way to approach the Lord.  That was their job.  But they made the same mistake Saul did – the same mistake you and I make – and decided to worship on their own terms.  And they paid for that choice with their lives.

What does this mean for us Christians?

God is the same today as He was in Old Testament times.  God cares how we worship Him.  He cares that we call Him Jesus and not any other name (Acts 4:12).  He cares that we believe He is the only God (1 Timothy 2:5; 1 Corinthians 8:4).  He cares that we worship Him only and not any other “gods” (Luke 4:8).  He cares that we worship in truth – not falsehoods – no matter how sincere we might be (John 4:24).

It simply isn’t true that we can worship any god in any way and earn eternal salvation on account of our sincerity.  God has a certain way He wants us to worship, and only that way will do.