The One Thing We Can’t Lose

My heart fell as I watched this pastor whom I’ve never heard preach, whom I’ve never met personally, whose books I’ve never read, and whose church I’ve never set foot in tearfully apologize to his congregation for, in his own words, choices he has made that were “wrong”.

Yes, his humility struck me. In this day and age, our ministry leaders are quick to offer excuses and self defenses, but not public apologies, and certainly not recorded public apologies for the entire world to watch.

But his humility is not what spoke to me most.

I found myself tearing up when Mark Driscoll teared up during his statement, not because I in any way have an affection for or a connection to him, but because I can identify with the truth represented in his statements about both his failures and the immeasurable grace and forgiveness of Christ.

The truth is we are ALL one choice away from losing our families and our ministries (no matter how small or large), but we can NEVER make a choice that will cost us our Jesus.

I think Mark’s tears were indicative that he gets this at the most personal level possible. I get it, too, and it a) scares me to death that I am FULLY capable of making one choice that could cost me my family and ministry, and b) humbly thankful that I can never make a choice that would ever cost me EVERYTHING – nothing I do will ever make me lose Jesus.

So I am wondering, how do I – how do we – balance this fear that comes from an acute awareness of our own propensity to sin with the promise that Jesus will not leave us (Matthew 28:20)? 

We don’t want to be paralyzed by the fear. Yes, our ability to sin and to sin in extremely destructive ways faster than we can blink should be a reality that is always in the forefronts of our minds. Foolish is the person who believes he would never do ______. We must have a healthy respect for the fallen nature that still roars its ugly head in each one of us every day of our lives.

But we must guard against the temptation to condemn ourselves for having this nature and operating out of it from time to time. I’m NOT saying sin is okay. I’m saying self-condemnation – punishing ourselves mentally or otherwise – over our sin is not okay.

God is the only one in position to condemn us for our sin, and if you’ve accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior, God has decided NOT to condemn you. That’s His choice, as laid out in the well-known verse “…there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 8:1). And if God isn’t condemning you, then you shouldn’t be either. (Confess and repent, yes, but condemn, no.)

And why must we not condemn ourselves? Because when we sit around thinking about how much we suck on account of our sinful choices/nature, we are effectively paralyzed. Our focus is no longer on going and making disciples (ya know, our main job on this planet) nor on loving and worshiping the Lord (ya know, the very thing our hearts were created for). The focus is on ourselves.

No, instead of living in the paralysis that can come along with our understanding of our abilities to sin, we must balance ourselves out with the second truth: we can never sin to such a degree nor too many times to cause Jesus to give up on us. That’s grace, folks. We can’t out sin God’s grace. Once we’ve accepted Christ, He’ll never reject us. He is the one thing we can’t lose.

When we’re feeling the weight of our bent to sin and are tempted to kick ourselves, maybe we ought to pray something like this:

“Lord, I know at any given moment I am capable of great sin. Protect me from making choices that dishonor you and hurt me and the people I love. Empower me to never make choices that could cost me my family or the ministry you’ve entrusted to me. And thank You, Lord, that, although there are choices I could make that might cost me everything tangible in this life, there is no choice I could make that could cost me You. Thank you that you will never leave me but are with me always, even until the end of the age. Help me walk in that confidence instead of sit in the self condemnation that comes so easily. Nothing can take me from Your hand – not even my own sinful choices.”

 

 

The Power of Grace

Today at 12:30 PT, a couple plans to abort their 20 week gestation daughter. The doctors told them a couple weeks ago she has a pretty serious heart defect. So they’re choosing to end her life in the hopes they will get pregnant with a healthy child instead.

If you know anything about abortion procedures, you know a 20 week baby is too big to be “discarded” humanely.

I’ve prayed long and hard that the Lord would change this couple’s minds. This morning, as I was in the shower, I told God I hope He doesn’t allow them to get pregnant again. As I was thinking this thought, I immediately felt the ugliness of it. I recognized it as not from the Lord in any way, it was purely my human way of thinking.

I rationalized that this couple doesn’t value life and have already proven they will choose to kill any baby that isn’t perfectly healthy. They don’t deserve a healthy child, and they can’t be trusted with another pregnancy, I thought to myself and to the Lord.

I knew I was wrong to think this way. Such a thought shows no grace whatsoever toward this couple. And Jesus is all about grace.

I felt God say, “What if I give them a healthy baby immediately after they abort this child, and what if that gift opens their eyes to how gracious and forgiving I truly am? Then will you still feel the way you feel now?”

“Well…no…” I replied, embarrassed of myself.

The Lord went on, “What if I show this couple grace even though they’ve aborted a child in the past, and they come to love me as a result?”

Yes, I thought, that is a response Jesus would have in this situation – grace.

No one gets saved because they “get what they deserve” or experience divine retribution. They get saved because the Lord continues to reach out in grace and mercy and love even when they know they don’t deserve it. They get saved when they experience a divine love they’ve never seen anywhere else.

That’s how it happened with me. The Lord showed me grace, and I responded in faith. Who am I to tell Him not to show grace to someone else – for any reason? Shameful.

Abortions are going to happen in this world. And they are going to break our hearts and the Lord’s heart. But He won’t allow that evil to be wasted. The best we can hope for is that He will use such atrocities for His glory, someway, somehow.

In the meantime, He commands us to love people with abortions in their pasts as ourselves because He knows that as we are conduits of His grace and love, people are drawn to Him. And that’s what matters most.

How to Receive God’s Mercy

Yesterday we looked at Jeremiah 2 and saw ourselves in Israel’s rebellion. Like the Israelites, sometimes we choose to abandon God and go find substitute gods. We stop trusting the Lord and trust ourselves instead. We lose our awe of the Lord; we harden our hearts; we refuse to call sin sin.

We leave God with every right to abandon us. We have not loved Him well. In some cases, we have not loved Him at all. He has given us everything we have, including our lives themselves… but our twisted hearts have chosen to dishonor Him. We’ve opted to do things our way instead, loving ourselves and others more than God.

The Lord would be totally justified to wash His hands of Israel and of us forever.

But He doesn’t.

Instead, He says, “Return, faithless Israel…I will frown on you no longer, for I am merciful…I will not be angry forever,” (Jeremiah 3:12).

What kind of God is this that loves the undeserving? How can anyone, much less the GOD OF EVERYTHING, extend this kind of mercy to the very people that have abandoned Him?

My brain cannot process this love. It makes no sense to humans. We don’t practice this kind of love, so we’ve never experienced it. It cannot be real. There must be some kind of catch. The verse says “return”… but that can’t be all one has to do to receive God’s mercy.

God goes on to say, “Only acknowledge your guilt–you have rebelled against the LORD your God, you have scattered your favors to foreign gods under every spreading tree, and have not obeyed me,” (Jeremiah 3:13).

Jeremiah 2 gives us the two-step plan to commit idolatry.

  1. Abandon God
  2. Find God Substitute

And Jeremiah 3 gives us the two-step plan to receive God’s mercy.

  1. Return to God
  2. Acknowledge Your Guilt

Simple. But not easy.

Oh, how my pride flares up at that second step! I know I have sinned, but I refuse to admit it. God knows I have sinned, but I still refuse to admit it.  WHY?

I am not the only one who struggles with step two. Many people will never accept Jesus’ gift of salvation because they staunchly refuse to acknowledge their guilt – their need of such a gift.

I’m sure a psych major could confirm there are several reasons why we dig in our heels when it comes to acknowledging guilt. Some of us have egos the size of China, and we are actually unwilling to believe we can do wrong. Some of us have the self-esteem of Eeyore, and we are afraid people won’t love us or value us if we admit we did something bad. Those of us who are particularly depraved oscillate between these two extremes.

But if we get hung up on “acknowledge your guilt”, we miss God’s heart in all of this.

Hear what God is saying.

“Return, faithless people…I will choose you…I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding…No longer will [you] follow the stubbornness of [your] evil hearts…How gladly would I treat you like sons and give you a desirable land, the most beautiful inheritance of any nation…Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding,” (Jeremiah 3:14, 15, 17, 19, 22).

Look past “acknowledge your guilt” and see the mercy and love God offers us! I want Him to choose me. I want knowledge and understanding. I want to stop following my stubborn heart. I want the blessings He has for me. And I want to be cured of my backsliding!

When we begin to understand the richness that can be ours, acknowledging guilt doesn’t seem so terrible. And when we start to realize, “Surely the [idolatrous] commotion on the hills and mountains is a deception; surely in the LORD our God is the salvation of Israel,” the less we want our own idols (Jeremiah 3:23).

Whatever idol you are choosing – yourself, another person, another thing – it is a DECEPTION. Salvation is in the Lord. Return to God. Acknowledge your guilt. And feel His mercy and love wash over you afresh. He will frown on you no longer. He is merciful.