The Needy Life

The success-driven life is a cancer to your Christian life, like smoking to your lungs, alcohol to your liver, and drugs to your veins.

Am I against succeeding in a career, a personal goal or a dream you’ve had all your life? No, unless you’re achieving it by your own will and determination. And that’s the point. As a Christian, whose life are you living?

“You are not your own, you were bought with a price,” Paul says to the Corinthians. (See 1 Corinthians 6:19-20) In context Paul was urging holiness, but since the Holy Spirit lives in us we can also say that looking for soul satisfaction in broken cisterns, relying on Brokenrule keeping for God’s approval, and battling our demons by our own efforts is just as repugnant as unholiness.

Neglecting our true dependence on Christ is equal to living in unbelief.

It makes the Christian life a burden. By looking inward I kill myself. John Newton calls it “soul weariness.” There’s nothing there to commend itself to God.

So get used to being needy. Learn to feel weak. Become helpless like a little child. The world will scream at you, “No! You can’t do that. Flee from such beliefs, instead believe you have the potential to achieve anything you want!”

Jesus was the ultimate little one. He was 100% dependent on his Father. He did nothing on his own accord. “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” John 5:19 NLT

We must do the same if we expect to “succeed” as Christians. That’s why Jesus tells us that apart from him we can do nothing. John 15:5

By looking to Christ for everything and in everything we will be released from ourselves and be put into joy and freedom.

We are needy.

We are weak.

Hooray!

Boast in that because you have a Savior who will take care of you!

Talk to me.

 

 

 

 

 

Re-Write Your Story

Once upon a time stories were for children. Now they seem to be usurped by almost everybody – big business, airlines, pharmaceutical companies, the automobile industry, everything is fair game even down to the toothpaste yuo use.

The truth is we’re wired for story. Our brains respond to them. And for some of you, you are a slave to your story. It’s the one you play in your head everyday. It can be a traumatic event, an emotional decision, a deep hurt, an unfairness, whatever it was that left a wound in your soul.

Instead of replaying it over and over again, replace it with a better story.

Sounds crazy?

It’s not.

What better story, you ask?  IMG_1415

The one that has you in Christ’s story. It’s the one that starts like this:

Once upon a time God created a perfect world and handed it over to his children, Adam and Eve to take care of it, but then they disobeyed him and plunged themselves and everybody after them into sin. When God saw the mess they had made, he realized only he could fix it. So he sent his perfect Son to earth in the form of a perfect man to live and do what Adam and Eve and the rest of us failed to do. Jesus lived to please God and then died on the cross to pay the price for your sins. His perfect life and record is now yours as a gift from God to you. All you need is faith in Christ to get it. The moment you receive that gift you step into Christ’s story.

What is true of you now?

You have a new Father who loves you. He is unlike any earthly father you’ve ever known.

You have a Savior who fixed your biggest problem – your sin that kept you from God.

You have a new identity – you are a child of God with all its privileges, including an inheritance.

You have a new family – your brothers and sisters in Christ.

You have a new future – living in the new heavens and the new earth for an eternity.

You have new support – the church.

You have a calling – the Holy Spirit has given you spiritual gifts to serve God with.

So what are you waiting for?

Dump the old story today and start telling yourself the new one!

Talk to me.

Getting Down on Yourself

The essential mark of a Christian is love. Love for Christ, church members, neighbors, family, authorities and people who don’t know the Lord yet.

But let’s be honest. We don’t do this very well.

I don’t. You don’t.

Why do  I say this with such confidence?

Because we are lovers of ourselves first. I prefer myself over you, and I suspect the same is true of you.

Unfortunately we deceive ourselves into thinking we love better than we do, and our friends will do everything they can to convince us we’re doing okay.

Try this experiment next time you’re in a group: Say something that lowers yourself in your own eyes, like, “I wasn’t very patient with my mother the other day.” Then wait for people’s responses. Several will try to rescue you from your low-self esteem. Why? Because if they didn’t attempt the rescue operation they would have to face their own lack of love for others.

We settle for half-hearted attempts. Listening with half an ear; putting off calling that pesky friend who talks too much; holding on to revenge because the person who hurt you still hasn’t admitted it. IMG_6921

Our hearts are deceitful and compromised by the world, the flesh and the devil. If one doesn’t cause us to trip, the other will. Maybe all three at the same time.

And the biggest trap we fall into is looking inside our hearts to find those evidences of love, good feelings and caring.

Except that’s the wrong direction.

Nothing good resides there.

Love must come from the outside. Not as a sensational feeling that sweeps us off our feet, but in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.

We are members of his body and united to him. Love flows down from him to us and then out to our neighbor.

That’s why the apostle Paul exhorts us to put on Christ. Not once or twice but everyday.

What does that look like?

It’s realizing his love is 100% perfect and it’s ours as a gift.

It’s being grateful that he loved perfectly when he was here on earth and his perfect record God has been put into our account.

From God’s perspective, we love perfectly because it’s Christ’s love he sees there.

From our perspective, we live a life of transparency before the Lord, where no secrets are tolerated. We no longer give ourselves permission to sin. We throw out old grudges and hatred and forgive the other person, a hundred times if we have to.

Sounds impossible?

It is!

It reveals how much we need Christ, which is exactly where we need to be. It’s confessing our sins and admitting our inadequacy. “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

And what does God think of this display of lowliness?

Take a look.

“For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
‘I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
and to revive the heart of the contrite'”. – Isaiah 57:15 ESV

Talk to me.

 

 

 

 

This Is Not Our Best Life

Nobody wants to die.
We cling to life like a drowning man on a splinter of wood in a vast ocean.
But if our best life is not here but in the new heavens and the new earth, we should be willing to die when our times comes.
We all have expiration dates, but they’re for others, not us. For some reason we can’t really believe we have one, and so we don’t think about it.
Today a young friend of mine, 30 years old, a husband and a father of two little girls, is dying of leukemia. It’s over for him here on earth. IMG_1685
I’m finding it difficult to talk to him. Instead of reaching out even more, I’m pulling away. Instead of ministering to him and offering him hope, I’m fighting thoughts of my own death in his dying. Watching someone you love die brings up your own mortality, no matter your age. I’ve seen both my parents die, two uncles, and several friends. You’d think these experiences would have tenderized me and the impact of the reality of death would have made me that much more compassionate and understanding. Instead, after the shock wears off, I eat ice cream.
We believe we’re going to live forever.  In a sense that’s true if we’re  Christians. In another sense it’s not true if we don’t know Jesus as our Savior. Then our hope for the future is bleak. We have no future. It’s as simple as that.
Now’s the time to think deep thoughts about where we’re headed. Are we in Christ? Is he our Savior? Do we believe he lived and died for us on the cross to pay the penalty of our sins? Have we given up our self-salvation strategies and embraced Christ by faith as the only Savior we’ll ever need?
Believe and live!
That’s what my dying friend is doing.
What about you?
Talk to me.

Remember

I have the tendency to identify with my sins. If things go wrong in a relationship, or there’s some misunderstanding, or even worse, if I am criticized, I tend to brood over that to the exclusion of everything else. In other words, I’m completely self-absorbed. Even on good days, I’m focusing on myself and keeping Christ at the fringes. Living like this gives me a level of depression. I’m often broody and serious. Being joyful, thankful and seeing things to praise God for are rare. I’m more comfortable in the valleys and among the shadows of life. Even in pictures of myself as a child I see that dark expression on my face.

I’m aware that some of it is due to how I’m wired. I’ve never been the life of the party or the kind of person that draws everyone to herself. And the older I get the less likely I will ever want to be that sort of person. I’m very happy with myself.

But is God? IMG_1238

I may identify myself with Paul as the chief of sinners, but indwelling sin is not my chief identity as a Christian. My identity is is my union with the Chief Shepherd.

That’s what saves me.

God won’t credit my sin to me or deal harshly with me because he credited my sin to Christ and dealt harshly with him.

So while I groan over my narcissistic tendencies and broodiness, (even that is self-focus) I need to remember to yank myself out of the pit and look at my Savior. And I need lots of reminders to do that, so while I’m reminding myself today, I’m reminding you, too.

Talk to me.

The Bondage of Being Free

Freedom is not an end in itself like everyone seems to think.

Think it through with me for a minute.

Let’s say you are free to commit adultery.

It might feel good for a while, but then something begins to change.

You discover your freedom consists in lying about the affair.

You’re now covering your tracks.   Guilty

You’re having difficulty remembering what you said to whom and keeping the lies straight so you don’t contradict yourself.

There’s the fear of being caught.

There’s the unknown reaction of your spouse if he or she finds out.

Before you know it you’re living like a criminal.

You thought you’d feel alive and young again. Instead you’re walking around with the burden of your guilty conscience and it’s a heavy weight.

Where’s the freedom in that?

In truth, freedom from God’s law means bondage.

We all live guilty lives. We were born guilty, did you know that?

That sweet little baby, all wrapped up in his mother’s arms, has a label on him.

Guilty!

That’s why we need a Savior.

Christ came and died on the cross in our place, bearing our punishment, absorbing the fullness of divine justice for us.

He died so he could free us, not to indulge the flesh,  but to delight in serving God.

God has no slaves, only grateful sons.

Now that’s a life of true freedom.

Talk to me.

 

 

 

 

 

Not This Time

This past Sunday the sermon was brilliant but wrong.

While the pastor hit all the high points, he missed the intent of the passage.  Cross & Church

Instead of leaving us with the joyful reminder that through faith alone in Christ we are forgiven and loved by God, he left us with an application to live better as Christians.

We got good advice instead of good news.

I went home feeling heavy. The law does that to me. I walked away from church with the weight of my sins on my mind and felt wretched because my joy had left me.

It wasn’t until the next day that I went back to the same passage to read it in its context (rule #1 of bible study), and then I carefully read the verses that were the theme of the sermon. When I read the last verse of the chapter, the truth of the gospel exploded in my heart and I was set free again. The entire point of the passage was having faith in Christ!

The pastor longs to shepherd a healthy church. I get it. We can all improve, I know that, too. But the only way to do that is to go deeper in the gospel, marvel more at what Christ has done for us which would lead to loving him more.

We didn’t need an application lesson.

That’s the Holy Spirit’s job anyway.

I tell this story because if you’re not watchful, you might go home with law instead of gospel. It happens in most churches these days. There’s a huge push to be relevant, practical and captivating. People expect a take-away every Sunday.

What is more significant?

Coming to church to serve others or coming so God can serve you from his Word, bread and cup?

Coming for the fellowship with other Christians or communing with God through Word, sacrament and prayer?

Opportunities to work and serve abound, but on God’s day, he summons us to sit and listen and eat and take delight in him. He has prepared a table before us and he is host and server.

Don’t let anybody take that away from you.

Talk to me.

messychristians@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Condition Alert!

Have you struggled like me with knowing how to respond to the circumstances in your life? How you’re never prepared really even if you think you are? And how shocking sometimes they can be and you ask yourself the question, “How did I get here?”

Well, you’re not alone. The Apostle Paul faced the same thing, but he didn’t stay stuck there. He learned some valuable lessons. He said, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:10-12 ESV

Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his book Spiritual Depression says, Van Gogh2

“Paul had come to learn this great truth by working out a great argument. I think that the Apostle’s logic was something like this. He said to himself:

“1. Conditions are always changing, therefore I must not be dependent upon conditions.

“2. What matters supremely and vitally is my soul and my relationship to God – that is the first thing.

“3. God is concerned about me as my Father, and nothing happens to me apart from God. Even the very hairs on my head are all numbered. I must never forget that.

“4.God’s will and God’s ways are a great mystery, but I know that whatever he wills or permits is of necessity for my good.

“5. Every situation  in life is the unfolding to some manifestation of God’s love and goodness. Therefore my business is to look for this peculiar manifestation of God’s goodness and kindness and to be prepared for surprises and blessings because ‘His ways are not my ways, neither His thoughts my thoughts’. What, for example, is the great lesson that Paul learned in the matter of the thorn in the flesh? It is that, ‘When I am weak than I am strong’. Paul was taught through physical weakness this manifestation of God’s grace.

“6. I must regard circumstances and conditions, not in and of themselves therefore, but as a part of God’s dealings with me in the work of perfecting my soul and bringing me to final perfection.

“7. Whatever my conditions may be at this present moment they are only temporary, they are only passing, and they can never rob me of the joy and the glory that ultimately await me with Christ.”

It took Paul a lifetime to learn this and it will take that long for you and me, too, but we can trust God to teach us this secret of contentment while the chaos swirls around us.

Talk to me.

messychristians@gmail.com

 

 

The Steady Hand of Faith

Have you asked yourself, “What is faith and how do I know if I have it?”

So often we confuse faith with feelings and when we do that, we’re in trouble.

Faith is a steady belief in Christ and the work of salvation he accomplished on the cross for you.

Feelings, on the other hand, change like the weather. One minute you’re happy, the next you’re upset.

Here are some good reminders of what faith is: IMG_8004

1) Your spiritual life is a work of God. You didn’t produce it and you don’t maintain it. See Ephesians 2: 8-10

2) Faith is your spiritual DNA. Abraham is your father by faith and you inherit all his promises. See 1 John 3:9

3) Faith is life from the dead. God’s work in you, not what you do for God. If you think you roused yourself from the dead I’d like to talk to you! See Ephesians 2: 1-4

4) Faith sees beyond what is seen physically to the unseen that’s coming. And what’s coming defies imagination. See Hebrews 11:1

5) Faith is strengthened by your trials. Nobody is exempt. Examples abound: Abraham and Sarah without a child, Hannah without a son, Moses delivering the Israelites from Egypt, Esther interceding for her people, David fighting Goliath, Daniel in the lion’s den, and Mary pregnant before marriage. See Genesis 17:15-21; Genesis 14; Esther 4: 13-17; 1 Samuel 17; Daniel 6; Matthew 1:18-25.

6) Faith glorifies God. It pleases God to strengthen your faith. See Romans 5:1-5

7) Faith justifies sinners. It’s the only means by which you can be saved. See Romans 4:5

No matter what you’re facing right now, know that God has his hand on you, he sees you, knows your every circumstance, and you can rely on him to take you through your trials just like he did Abraham, Moses, Esther, David, Daniel and Mary.

They were in good hands and so are you.

Talk to me.

messychristians@gmail.com

 

 

Does God Love You When You Sin?

How often are you disgusted with your life of faith?

If you’re like me, very often.

I seem to live in unbelief more than in faith.

Even as a Christian I live my life as if God didn’t exist.

I don’t take him at his Word.

I’m impatient waiting for the fulfillment of his promises.

I’m so far away from rejoicing in his goodness and faithfulness it’s disgusting.

The stunning fact is that while God hates sin and grieves over the suffering we endure in our lives, he is not angry at us!

He doesn’t hold grudges, he doesn’t bring up the past, and he certainly doesn’t abandon us to figure things out on our own when we’re at our worst.

How can I say this?

Because of the gospel, of course.

Think theologically with me for a moment.

Does God have any negative emotions towards Jesus? Does he get fed up, exasperated and lose patience with him? Does he get angry and walk away?

Absolutely not. God has nothing but delight and love for his Son. He adores him.

And God delights and adores you and me, even when we sin!

Read that again. It’s true. dance

Jesus paid for those sins. God doesn’t see them anymore. He has wrapped us in the glowing white robes of his Son’s perfection. We are united to him in all that he is, and Jesus’s perfect record of faith and patience and obedience is now ours.

God’s scandalous love in Jesus makes us dance and sing, even in our weakness and failure and sin!

Soak your heart in this truth today.

Talk to me.

messychristians@gmail.com