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? 

You and I in Psalm 106

Israel.

Throughout the Old Testament, the nation of Israel is reamed for failing to worship God the way they were supposed to. Sometimes they forgot. Sometimes they remembered but refused.

You and I are just the latest models of Israel. We may wear better clothes and have superior technology – more bells and whistles, if you will – but underneath we’re the same old thing – prone to wander, prone to run.

So when we read about Israel’s shenanigans in the Old Testament, we can sub our names in the text for some pretty powerful Bible reading.

Take Psalm 106, for example.

It starts out innocently enough:

1 Praise the Lord.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.

2 Who can proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord
or fully declare his praise?
3 Blessed are those who act justly,
who always do what is right.

4 Remember me, Lord, when you show favor to your people,
come to my aid when you save them,
5 that I may enjoy the prosperity of your chosen ones,
that I may share in the joy of your nation
and join your inheritance in giving praise.

But then it takes a turn for the worse:

6 We have sinned, even as our ancestors did;
we have done wrong and acted wickedly.

We who? We Israel. We you and me. WE have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly. We can all probably rattle off at least 5 ways today we have sinned.

7 When our ancestors were in Egypt,
they gave no thought to your miracles;
they did not remember your many kindnesses,
and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.

This is our story, too. We faintly remember God doing something cool in our pasts… years ago… what was it? We can’t recall… Instead, we rehearse the ways we think He could be doing better by us these days. We feel the indignation stirring up distrust in our hearts.

8 Yet he saved them for his name’s sake,
to make his mighty power known.
9 He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up;
he led them through the depths as through a desert.
10 He saved them from the hand of the foe;
from the hand of the enemy he redeemed them.
11 The waters covered their adversaries;
not one of them survived.
12 Then they believed his promises
and sang his praise.

There was a time He saved us. All of us followers of Christ can point to a time or a season in which our initial salvation occurred. He saved us for His name’s sake, and His mighty power was made known. And we believed His promises. We sang His praise… at least for a little while…

13 But they soon forgot what he had done
and did not wait for his plan to unfold.

My lungs choke on this verse. My spirit surges with adrenaline. I know only disaster will come of this for the Israelites… for me. I want to scream, “NO! Don’t forget! Wait for Him!” as if I could spare them – me – from the disaster that necessarily follows such carelessness.

14 In the desert they gave in to their craving;
in the wilderness they put God to the test.
15 So he gave them what they asked for,
but sent a wasting disease among them.

Their flesh won. My flesh wins. When we choose to sin, we’re daring God to discipline us. We call His mercy-bluff time after time, becoming increasingly brazen, “How far will You let me go? Surely I can get away with this ‘little’ sin…” He may let us have whatever we’re craving… but not without consequence. Visible or invisible, the wasting disease always follows on the heels of our choosing sin.

16 In the camp they grew envious of Moses
and of Aaron, who was consecrated to the Lord.
17 The earth opened up and swallowed Dathan;
it buried the company of Abiram.
18 Fire blazed among their followers;
a flame consumed the wicked.
19 At Horeb they made a calf
and worshiped an idol cast from metal.
20 They exchanged their glorious God
for an image of a bull, which eats grass.
21 They forgot the God who saved them,
who had done great things in Egypt,
22 miracles in the land of Ham
and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.
23 So he said he would destroy them—
had not Moses, his chosen one,
stood in the breach before him
to keep his wrath from destroying them.

Envy. Destruction. Consumption. Idolatry. Spiritual amnesia. The Lord’s ire. Nothing good follows our giving into our cravings. God said He would destroy us – you and me – had not Jesus, His chosen One, stood in the breach to keep God’s wrath from destroying us…

I still can’t understand that kind of love. I believe in it… but I don’t comprehend it. And despite having been ransomed in the grandest of fashions through Christ’s death and resurrection, on this side of that incalculable forgiveness, my reaction is often no better than the Israelite’s reaction to Moses’ saving them:

24 Then they despised the pleasant land;
they did not believe his promise.
25 They grumbled in their tents
and did not obey the Lord.

I am redeemed. Blessed in every sense of the word. And I still find a way to despise the pleasant land. I treat the cross with contempt when I take matters into my own hands and disobey God. I’m not thankful enough for His blessings. I don’t trust His words. And I choose to go my own way.

26 So he swore to them with uplifted hand
that he would make them fall in the wilderness,
27 make their descendants fall among the nations
and scatter them throughout the lands.

28 They yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor
and ate sacrifices offered to lifeless gods;
29 they aroused the Lord’s anger by their wicked deeds,
and a plague broke out among them.

Israel yoked themselves to their idols… no one forced them into idolatry. They chose to attach themselves like dumb animals to other gods. I chain myself to God-substitutes too. They may not be carved idols, but I give them my heart before I give my heart to the Lord all the same…

30 But Phinehas stood up and intervened,
and the plague was checked.
31 This was credited to him as righteousness
for endless generations to come.

And Jesus intercedes for me once again, reminding the Lord that the plagues I earn have already been endured by Jesus Himself on my behalf.

32 By the waters of Meribah they angered the Lord,
and trouble came to Moses because of them;
33 for they rebelled against the Spirit of God,
and rash words came from Moses’ lips.

34 They did not destroy the peoples
as the Lord had commanded them,
35 but they mingled with the nations
and adopted their customs.
36 They worshiped their idols,
which became a snare to them.
37 They sacrificed their sons
and their daughters to false gods.
38 They shed innocent blood,
the blood of their sons and daughters,
whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan,
and the land was desecrated by their blood.
39 They defiled themselves by what they did;
by their deeds they prostituted themselves.

Round and round the sin pattern goes with Israel. On and on the cycle whirls with me. Sin, salvation, sin, salvation. When will it stop?

40 Therefore the Lord was angry with his people
and abhorred his inheritance.
41 He gave them into the hands of the nations,
and their foes ruled over them.
42 Their enemies oppressed them
and subjected them to their power.
43 Many times he delivered them,
but they were bent on rebellion
and they wasted away in their sin.

God allows consequences for our wrong choices. We experience pain as a natural result of not worshiping the One we were created to worship. You’d think pain would teach us… but we can’t seem to keep our eyes fixed on Him. We’re bent on rebellion, drawn to it like a moth to a flame. And we waste away in our sin.

44 Yet he took note of their distress
when he heard their cry;
45 for their sake he remembered his covenant
and out of his great love he relented.
46 He caused all who held them captive
to show them mercy.

Grace. That God would even listen to our cries after all we’ve put Him through. And why? For our sakes. He relents and shows love and has mercy on us not to make Him feel better but to benefit us. Oh, what love!

47 Save us, Lord our God,
and gather us from the nations,
that we may give thanks to your holy name
and glory in your praise.

He saves. He saves us from ourselves, from the Enemy of our souls, from every threat. And our response must be to give thanks and to glory in His praise – to relish in who He is. Worship.

48 Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,

from everlasting to everlasting.

Let all the people say, “Amen!”

Praise the Lord.

Why I Can’t Love My Neighbor as Myself

A common misconception is that Old Testament Jews were saved by keeping the law. A lot of people think if those who lived before Christ obeyed all the Jewish rules and/or made all the appropriate sacrifices when they did wrong, God would let them into Heaven. Wrong.

image via Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net
image via Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net

Keeping the Law never saved anyone. Paul, who kept the law faultlessly (Philippians 3:6), tells us the truth about the law, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin,” (Romans 3:20).

So the 613 commands given in the Old Testament were given, in large part, to prove how inadequate humans are. We can’t keep all the rules. We fall short daily, which proves to our prideful selves that we have a real need for a Savior.

(Note: Our friend Paul, who claims his “righteousness based on the law” was “faultless”, is prone to exaggeration. One commentator puts it this way, “Paul achieved the standard of righteousness which was accepted among the men of his day – though this standard fell short of God’s holy standard,” (Guzik).)

Knowing this about the law, fast forward to a peculiar verse in Galatians. Paul says, “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself,” (Galatians 5:14).

But what do we know about our ability to keep the law? WE CAN’T!

So, putting two and two together, we CAN’T love our neighbors as ourselves. When we try, our inadequacy quickly becomes apparent. Our need for a Savior to help us love well becomes glaringly obvious.

Realizing this, I can give myself a little grace when I don’t love well. I’m human, and I can’t expect myself to have the capacity to love well given that fact.

But much more importantly, I would do well to remember how utterly dependent I am on Jesus.want to love others well. I want to consider them more important than myself (Philippians 2:3-4). And I want to please God by obeying the commandment to love my neighbor as myself (Matthew 22:39).

But I need Him to help me. And He will. All I have to do is ask (1 John 5:14-15).

Hope in the Struggle

I was all set to write an article about how there’s no such thing as a “good Christian.” It was going to be all about how oxymoronic that phrase is – none of us are good, that’s why we need Christ in the first place.

Except I didn’t actually write the article. I just thought about it a whole lot. I never made the time to sit down and hammer it out. So you know what happened? Someone else beat me to the punch.

A friend who knew nothing of my latest blog idea shared an article called The Myth of the ‘Good Christian Girl’ on Facebook. And aside from the fact that my article wouldn’t have been gender specific, this article said a lot of what I was thinking, and it said it much better than I imagine I would’ve said it.

Good writing, for me, always has to have a fresh phrase that sticks with me days later for it to be worthy of the adjective “good”.

This piece had this little nugget in it: the “real you/me/us” is a “struggling saved sinner.”

I love the phrase because each word depicts a part of me in a unique way.

I struggle. I struggle to discern right from wrong. I struggle to get this rock of a heart to choose right on a consistent basis. I struggle to flee temptation and pursue righteousness. I struggle to make sense of pain and evil. I struggle to understand what I struggle with.

But just because I struggle doesn’t mean the offer of salvation and relationship with God is revoked.

I am saved. I have asked the Lord for grace through Jesus, and He gives me more than I can stand. I am saved from eternal damnation, but I am saved for so much more than “just” Heaven. I am saved for living, breathing relationship with the God of creation. I am saved for interaction with God this side of Heaven. I am saved for the pleasure of the One who says to me, “Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life,” (Isaiah 43:4). (For us AD folks, substitute Jesus for “men” and “people”.)

Just because I am saved, however, doesn’t mean I don’t struggle. I wish it wasn’t so, but it is so. Why?

Because of that last word – sinner. I am a sinner. It’s what I do. I was born sinning, and I’ll die sinning. There’s not an hour that goes by where I don’t choose selfishness over service (Matthew 20:26-28), or laziness over the good I ought to do (James 4:17), or think curse words instead of blessings (James 3:10).

Just because I am saved doesn’t mean I don’t sin. But just because I sin doesn’t mean I am not savedThe author of Hebrews tells us, “[Jesus] is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them,” (Hebrews 7:25). Completely!

I am a constantly struggling, completely saved, carnal sinner.

And I hope you are too.

Because the only other option is a constantly struggling, completely lost, carnal sinner.

I was that once.

Do you want to know the difference, besides all that Heaven/Hell business?

Hope.

Being saved allows me to have hope for the now as well as the future (Romans 15:13, Titus 3:4-7).

Being lost left me devoid of any reason to believe this life mattered at all or that it could get any better, and there was no “next life” to bank on (Ephesians 2:12).

I hope it’s clear I’m not promising roses and sunshine to you if you choose Christ today. The world will still be broken and so will you, making for some pretty rough days. But with Jesus, there is hope in the struggle.

 

One Question You Should Never Ask Yourself

image via Lifeway.com

This semester I am teaching James a la Beth Moore, and let me tell you, it’s not for the faint of heart. James is a pretty blunt guy who doesn’t seem to put up with any excuses.

Thursday we were discussing the infamous faith and works verses the made Martin Luther want to tear the whole book right out of his Bible.

The verses say this:

“…faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? …You see that [Abraham’s] faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead,” (James 2:17-20, 22, 24, 26).

A woman in my group brought up an interesting question. She said she often wonders, “Am I doing enough?”

My initial response, and the response I gave in class on Thursday, was we all kind of know intuitively whether we’re doing what we can or we’re slacking off. If we’re honest with ourselves, we can answer that question. And if we are still unsure, we can ask friends if they think we’re doing enough. Sometimes outside parties can evaluate that kind of thing more objectively than we can ourselves.

As I thought more about it today, though, I wish I could go back in time and answer the question differently.

She didn’t express it this way, but I think what the woman was really asking was, “Am I doing enough for my faith to count?”

And that is a dangerous question.

It’s a trap.

It’s a trap set for believers by the Devil himself, hoping it will cause us to spiral into uncertainty about our salvation and how we got it in the first place.

It’s a question Jesus doesn’t want us to answer because He doesn’t want us to even consider it.

We cannot earn our faith. We cannot do enough to make our belief in God salvific. Only one thing saves us – the whole-hearted belief that Jesus’s holy blood more than makes up for our sinful choices.

If I can be so bold as to speak for James, I’ll say he never intended his letter to make believers wonder if they’ve done enough to earn Heaven. Rather, James challenges us to consider where our affections lie.

If we really love Him, we will love the things Jesus loves. We just won’t be able to help it. We will care about the widows, the orphans, the less-thans, the outcasts, the lost, and the otherwise broken (read: everyone). Our hearts will be drawn to them, and we will compulsively serve them out of our affection.

If we don’t really love Him, though, we won’t care about the things Jesus loves. We’ll care more about ourselves, our loved ones, and that’s about it. We won’t be moved to service unless it’s convenient or sporadic or somehow beneficial to us. Our affections will lie within.

Jesus is not interested in the quantity of our good deeds. He’s interested in the heart behind them. Never ask yourself, “Am I doing enough to make my faith count?” Instead, ask yourself, “Why am I serving?”

Align your heart with His, and your faith will count.