Pain is a Gift

According to John Newton, legalism is weariness. Justification is joy. We are forgiven and accepted through the work of Another. It’s done. Our job is to rejoice in that truth and serve God out of gratitude.

I think he was onto something. Paul expressed the same sentiments.

Even though we may know this, we don’t live this way. Instead we live in the mirage of self-sufficiency. It’s our default position. We really do believe there’s something we can do without God’s help. A lot of things. Broken

It starts in childhood. Babies learning to walk shove their parents away and tumble. Toddlers running into furniture when they think they have a clear path for wandering. High-schoolers who think they have the future mapped out only to make huge course corrections when they get to college.

Never mind the daunting tasks of choosing a spouse, the right job, buying a home.

Do we consult God?

No, we’ve been told it’s up to us to hit these milestones.

Some people succeed but many don’t. How many people do you know who are doing everything they want in life? Who are the happy ones in their work, with their children, and their body image?

Maybe you’re one of the unhappy ones. Have you settled in a job because of the security it gives you more than anything else, but now it’s strangling the life out of you? Are you in a loveless marriage with no way out? Or maybe you’re struggling with your health? As a friend told me recently, “I want my old life back.”

Life rarely turns out the way we envisioned it.

Thank God for that.

It’s God’s gift to us. If life turned out just as we wanted it to, we wouldn’t turn to him for anything. It’s a mercy that we struggle and suffer. It’s God’s language reminding us we were made to turn everything over to him because he cares for us. It’s his way of saying that what we long for is not here, but in the new heavens and the new earth, when Jesus comes back.

In the meantime, even as forgiven sinners, we suffer with our fellow human beings, knowing that Jesus himself also suffered for us so we could share in his glory one day.

Talk to me.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Solution to Our Need

The bible teaches us everywhere that we are sinners and that we owe God our devotion. The truth is, not one of us has made good on our obligation. The main thing we owe God is to love him with all our hearts, souls and minds. This is our baseline responsibility. How are we doing with this? If you’re like me, not so good. In fact, most days my heart, soul and mind is riveted on me. My feelings. My expectations. My wants. Even at my best, which doesn’t exist, I have never loved the Lord this way. I break the first commandment  every hour of every day. FullSizeRender (42)

What can be done for this kind of life? Never mind the really bad things we’ve done, but even the good things we’ve done, which aren’t really good enough. Our warmest and most heartfelt moment with the Lord falls short of the standard of perfection that God requires.

If we can’t even live up to our new year’s resolutions – in my case I don’t make them anymore because of past failures – what hope do we have to do better in the sight of God? Self-improvement won’t get us nearer to God. Despair isn’t the answer either.

The only solution is to run to Jesus who purchased our acceptance with God through his perfect life of obedience lived for us, and his death on the cross in payment for all our sins. Both have been credited to our account in God’s eyes.

Even if we can’t live up to our best intentions, Jesus has for us. He’s all we need!

Talk to me.

The Pain of More Fruit

Being a pilgrim and a stranger in this world is totally biblical. As Christians we are resident aliens. We are out of step with the world. We will never fit in so we should quit trying. If we feel homeless, that’s okay. We are strangers in a strange land. The world tells us to place our hope here, but we can’t because our hope lies elsewhere. This world is not our home and we will always feel like outsiders. We need to get used to it.

Hope is not a positive disposition towards life. It’s not Disney or Hollywood or your latest music video. If that were the case, very few could say they feel happy. Most people are fighting their demons. A lot of people are struggling and suffering. Even those who look on the outside as having everything. Even they are miserable.

Our hope as Christians is wrapped up in the blood of Christ, which transforms us and makes us new people. Our hope comes from the resurrection of Jesus. It draws us to heaven. There is where our true inheritance lies, never to be stolen or damaged or taken away. God himself guards it. Image result for vineyard

Our daily trials become bearable because we have this hope waiting for us. We will suffer here and may not know the reason why, like Job, but we know this, that no suffering occurs without purpose. There is no senseless suffering for the Christian. It is God ordained. It connects us to Jesus. We might feel God is against us in our suffering, but that’s not true. Our trials expose our faith – is it false or is it genuine? Do we cling to God or walk away? Are we real or a faker?

Suffering produces growth. God is removing everything false and superficial. He’s pruning us like branches in a vineyard. It’s not meant to kill us, although it feels that way. On the contrary, it’s meant to produce more fruit. And when he’s done, we will be amazed. We will live with stronger faith and hope in what awaits us.

Talk to me.

It’s Yours for the Taking

Christ died so we could be justified. We have all our sins forgiven. He has made us new creatures in our union with Christ, and now God sees us like we had never sinned or had a sin nature. This change allows us to come home to the Father, where we stay forever. God never kicks us out.

Now, as wonderful as this is, I still had a nagging question: Why couldn’t I trust these truths about me? Why couldn’t I settle into God’s love and stay there? What happens to me when I sin again, which I do all the time? Does God stop loving me? Is he disappointed in me? Does he pull out my picture from his wallet and tear it up?

lily12I asked the Lord these questions recently, and this is what the Holy Spirit brought to mind:

If God held even one of my sins against me, he’d be declaring the blood of his Son to be insufficient to cover and blot out that sin. God can never go back on his Word because then he’d be saying his Son’s sacrifice was not good enough, that there was something lacking that I would have to make up for.  And he cannot do that. It cost the Father everything to send Jesus to the cross where all of God’s wrath for sin and sinners was poured out on him. The Father crushed Jesus for me. Everything I deserved from God’s hands was put on Jesus. How then could God hold any sin against me?

Not believing this with my whole heart is the greatest sin. It reeks of unbelief. My flesh wants to participate in self-salvation strategies. It wants to contribute to my salvation. It wants me to despair, fear and struggle. It delights in doubt.

But faith says otherwise. The greatest act of faith is to believe God and the Son he has sent! He is the solution to our estrangement from God. He is the answer to our love problems. The longing of our heart is fulfilled in accepting what the Father says of us – we are his beloved children.

Talk to me.

Not Here

I have two friends who are suffering physically and mentally. One suffers excruciating pain down her right leg as the result of a stroke. The other is bipolar and refuses to take any medication for it. Both insist that God heal them directly. So far he hasn’t even though they pray fervently for it.

Both suffer from believing a lie. That type of mental anguish is worse than the physical ailment. This lie is dispensed every Sunday in church like the drinks at the coffee bar. It’s called having your best life now. It’s a theology of glory. God is supposed to keep us healthy, wealthy, and satisfied Christians.  Broken

But God has promised no such thing this side of heaven. What we long for – perfect health, perfect harmony in our relationships, perfect families and perfect joy – will be a reality when we’re living in the new heavens and the new earth, but not here.

While the longings of our hearts are right, our timing is off. This is the wilderness we’re trudging through, just like the Israelites did. Canaan was their destination, not some plot of sand with a well and a palm tree. Like them, we are headed to where all our longings will be fulfilled, but at the moment we keep our sandals on and keep walking.

The only one who had his best life was Jesus because he lived in heaven. But he willingly left that behind to live his worst life for 33 years. There’s reason why Isaiah describes him as a Man of Sorrows. We never read of Jesus laughing or telling a joke. He lived with suffering every day. The worst kind in the rejection of his own people he came to save. Day in and day out he suffered with people’s unbelief and hatred.

He owned nothing except the clothes on his back. He went hungry. He wept. And yet with this example we’re taught to expect God to give us everything he never gave his Son.

We hate living ordinary lives. We crave notoriety, we demand to live our potential, we love unearthing the divine spark within. Except there’s nothing biblical in any of it. It’s worldliness disguised as philosophical fast food.

The only Person who lived up to his potential was Jesus. We can’t because sin holds us back.

The only One whose life was not ordinary was Jesus’s. Ours are routine and unexceptional every day.

The One who lived by God’s every law was Jesus thereby meriting heaven. We live to break every law and merit hell.

Knowing this, we still demand our best life now. It’s insanity. No wonder we’re depressed and despairing.

The only course correction is to read the bible with fresh eyes and ask God for new understanding of life under heaven. Who is with me?

Talk to me.

 

I Can’t Hear You’re So Loud

I got off the phone with a caller that never stopped talking. He’s someone I’ve never met and yet he felt the need to tell me about his life, never taking a breath to see if I was interested or even listening.

I’m sure you’ve had those experiences with people.

As much as that caller irritated me, I had to admit I had done the same thing over the years.

I’m a fix-it-all kinda person. You come to me with a problem and I have a solution for you and I’m happy to tell you about it.

Don’t we all.  painting24

I’ve realized over the years that maybe that’s not what people really need. Maybe it’s something else.

Maybe Jesus is calling us to a different kind of help. Help as in listening to the person. We’re so prone to listen with a mind that is more attentive to what to say next to the person. We miss the cues, the body language and facial expressions that way.

Even more importantly, we miss what God is showing us about himself in that person’s life.

I often forget that when someone asks for my counsel, she comes to me with Jesus in her life. It’s my job to listen well. I’m quick to fix, he’s not. I want to come across as helpful, when Jesus is already her helper.

What people need most of all is someone who will listen to them with a full heart that is not rushed, and who can help locate God in their lives so they can rest in him. This won’t happen if we’re preoccupied with what to say next, or if we’re in a hurry to get the visit over with.

We all need to enroll in the school of active listening. I know I do.

Talk to me.

What’s in Your Church Lately?

Have you ever wondered what the purpose of the church is? Is it a place to get your needs met? A place to hang out with like-minded friends? A place to get a shot in the arm for the week ahead?

Nowadays more and more churches are like that.

I hate to say it but we’re not allowed to re-purpose the church to our liking or to meet the needs of the culture. God didn’t give us pastors to be inspirational speakers, or comedians, or storytellers. And he certainly didn’t give us pastors to be our life coaches either.  For that you have movies, TV shows, and TED Talks.

So what’s the purpose of the church anyway if they’re not clubs for the cool, support networks for tech families, or places for therapy?

According to the bible, God has given the church three mandates:

  1. The worship of God
  2. The maturing of believers
  3. Bringing sinners to faith  img_8865

If our churches aren’t doing this, then we need to ask if it’s a true church.

What tools is the church to use for the worship of God, maturing the saints, and bringing sinners to faith?

The gospel.

The teaching and preaching must be the gospel. It’s the only tool God promises to use that is powerful and accomplishes its purpose.

The gospel is not inside of us by nature. That’s why we need to hear it from the outside. The church is where this is done in song, in prayer, and in preaching.

It’s not only the pastor’s responsibility, it’s all of ours. We need to be specialists in the gospel so we’re able to share it, counsel it, and tell it to others.

As private Christians we have many assignments in life, but the church has only one: the preaching of the gospel.

And we need to be reminded of the gospel every week, no matter how old we are in the Lord.

The gospel is not only for sinners but for Christians as well.

Talk to me.