Don’t Even Think About It

We’re inching closer to 2015 by the day.

And the gurus are marketing their webinars, books and videos to show us how to make new year’s resolutions. And then charging us for their experience!

Are you kidding me? I can make resolutions galore for free! IMG_0436

What they’re peddling is a self-help course for those of us who make goals and don’t keep them.

And there’s millions of us out there.

So how do they fix us? By giving us more rules!

Here are some examples of the course titles:

A Goal-Setting Course

Live with Intention

Create Your Life Plan

You get the idea.

It makes me want to laugh or cry.

This doesn’t make sense for anybody, and especially for Christians.

First of all, the one life plan you need comes free – God gives it to you. It’s to glorify him and enjoy him forever.

Second, goal setting is fine if you set the right ones. Jesus had one goal when he lived here, to please his Father. And he did it spectacularly well. And as a free gift to you, he gives you that successful record as if you had lived it perfectly yourself.

And third, you can live with all the intention you have and still blow it. What is intention but purpose and drive. But those are traits for those who don’t have the Holy Spirit living inside them. The Holy Spirit’s purpose is to reveal Jesus to us. He directs our lives, so we don’t have to worry about it. What we must do is obey and rest.

So don’t fall into the temptation of changing yourself next year.

That’s God’s job and he does it really well.

Talk to me.

messychristians@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

A Lesson from a Priest

December is the month when we hear a lot about Mary, the mother of Jesus.

She was an unwed mother who gave birth to the Savior of the world.

Those two things don’t belong together, do they? You’d think God would have chosen a woman from the ruling class in a palace with a jeweled cradle.

In fact, he chose the opposite. IMG_7835

Mary was ordinary.

Mary was poor.

Mary was humble.

And she was chosen.

God chose her. Of all the women in that day, he chose her. Why? For the same reason he chooses us. Because he wanted to. Out of love. To show forth his glory.

And what made Mary stand out was her faith. She believed the angel Gabriel’s outlandish message that she, a virgin, would conceive and bear a son and he would be “great and will be called the Son of the Most High.”

I wish I could be more like Mary and say everyday, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

But I’m more like Zechariah, the priest when the angel told him he was going to have a son. (Luke 1)

If only Zechariah had noticed the parallels of his angel’s visitation and announcement with the one Abraham had back in Genesis 15 when God promised him an heir. And buoyed up by Abraham’s faith Zechariah should had followed suit. After all he was a Jew. He was clergy. It says he and his wife, Elizabeth were both righteous before God, but they had no child because Elizabeth was barren and now they were well advanced in old age.

The story begins when Zechariah’s shift came up and he was in the temple serving God. His assignment was to burn incense while the multitudes outside the temple were praying. How much more spiritual can you get? (Incense is mixed with the prayers of God’s people. See Revelation 8:3-4) That’s when Gabriel showed up, Zechariah was paralyzed with fear, and Gabriel told him to relax. Perhaps Zechariah thought he wasn’t adhering to the rules of burning incense quite right. Or maybe he was scared Gabriel would find him unworthy for the duty he was performing. Instead, Gabriel reassured him that he had come to deliver a pretty cool message. That God had heard his prayer. What prayer? The man was old. He must have prayed a zillion prayers in his lifetime not only for himself and his wife but for the nation of Israel. No, it was one specific prayer that was in view here – that of having a son. Now, I’m sure at both his and Elizabeth’s old age, they had given up praying for a son. When you’re old and grey and your bones creak, you don’t keep praying for things that are way past your prime. And yet here we hear Gabriel telling Zechariah that he and his wife would conceive and bear a son. (As an aside, God doesn’t forget any one of your prayers! However, don’t expect his timing to necessarily fit your calendar.) So does Zechariah jump up and do a dance? No. He questions Gabriel and wants to know the details. Just like me. Instead of clinging to the promises of God by faith, no matter how many examples I have in Scripture of others having done so, I question God. So Gabriel mutes Zechariah for his unbelief and during his wife’s last trimester he’s forced to communicate in hand motions and a tablet. I should be living life flailing my arms and writing text messages, too.

But God loves me. He chose me like he did Mary to be filled with a new life in Christ. Mary gave birth to the Son of God so that the Son of God could give birth to me. And you. And then give us his perfect record. And die for our sins. And clothe us in his righteousness. And adopt us. And love us. Forever!

Go out and tell somebody and dance with them!

Talk to me.

messychristians@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Awful Struggle of Prayer

If you’re like me, you want to know you’re praying biblically and in a way that pleases the One who saved you.

Also, if you’re like me, you struggle with your prayer life. I do all the time. I spend way too much time praying for things that are important to me to the neglect of things that are important to God.

What’s important to God? It’s certainly you and me and our burdens, but it also includes the whole body of Christ – the Church at large. IMG_7835

Most of our brothers and sisters in other countries don’t fare as well as we do. Most barely make ends meet, many have no homes, a lot of them are ill, mistreated, malnourished, persecuted, and in jail.

And what about the hundreds of missionaries serving in obscure outposts nobody has ever heard of? Those who never write a book or a blog? Who prays for them?

You and I may not be called to the field, or to live deprived lives, but we are certainly called to pray for one another.

Here’s a prayer not only for yourself, but for the body of Christ that God will answer:

“Holy Spirit, open my eyes to see myself more clearly and free me from the bondage to myself. Replace my self-deception with your truth. Enable me to understand what you’re showing me when you convict me of sin. Help me to survive the filth of my sin when you show it to me. Help me to be grateful for the revelation. Remind me you do this so I can delight in Jesus who paid the price for that sin.

“Lord Jesus, I pray the same for my brothers and sisters all around the world so we can, together as one body, be more humble and dependent on you and delight more and more in you who rescued us from this world, the flesh and the devil. Enable us to know you more deeply and with greater love and thankfulness. Amen.”

If this resonates with 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Slave Trader to Singer

I know. This makes two quotes in a row. This one is outstanding, too and so I wanted you to have it.  John Newton

“We want victories without conflicts and the crown without fighting for it. And while we lament many evils, we overlook the chief of all – the impatient workings of self, which wants everything it’s own way. We are, we must be, sinners while we remain here, but if we are sinners believing in Jesus we may rejoice and sing. We must fight, we may be wounded, but we cannot be overcome. We may complain to the Lord, but when we write or speak to our fellow Christians, we should encourage each other and say, ‘Let us love and sing and wonder.'”

– John Newton (1725-1807)

 

 

How to Live the Future Today

This morning I read Isaiah 65.

I was struck by two thunderbolts.

1) The chapter is directed to Israel as a nation. And how does God describe them?

As those who do not ask for him, do not seek him, a rebellious people who follow their own devices, who provoke God continually, serving idols, and worst of all, God describes them as “a nation that was not called by my name.”

Israel has become worse than the unbelieving nations all around them.

That’s a horrible indictment.  Strategy2
2) Further into the chapter God, in his mercy, tells them that he will bless his servants while the rest will face destruction. Who are these servants? People of faith!

And what awaits them?

Everything their hearts longed for – pure joy, satisfying relationships, gladness of heart, eternal life, fellowship with God and one another – but they won’t have these things until they are living in the new heavens and the new earth.

So what does that mean for us?

It means we should not look for perfection in our work, our relationships, our purpose in life while we still live on this planet.

The world has not been redeemed yet.

We continue to wrestle with sin.

We don’t have our new bodies yet.

All that we crave will be ours after we die or when Jesus comes back again, whichever comes first.

So how should we live then?

We live in the tension of the now and not yet.

We keep our eyes on the future while we live and love and serve our Lord in the present.

We do this because we know where we’re headed and what awaits us.

Our future is secure!

These truths were a great reminder for me after a tumultuous weekend. (See blog post Weakness Is Better Than Strength)

Question: How does knowing that God will give you all your heart’s desires help you live today?

Talk to me.

messychristians@gmail.com

 

 

 

Weakness Is Better Than Strength

I just returned home from doing a week’s worth of ministry in New York City. I was training a group of people how to do evangelism to Jewish people. Not an easy task since most Jewish people are programmed from birth not to believe Jesus is the Messiah.

I’ve done this enough times to know that as soon as I get home the devil will hurl his fiery darts my way to demoralize me and get me off track.  Charlie2

Sure enough, this time he stirred up my sister and husband to blow-up at each other. It was so bad that by the end of the day everybody headed to their respective bedrooms, slammed the door and stayed there until the next morning.

The next day wasn’t much better. My husband left the house early and went hiking. My sister woke up angry. Her husband didn’t know what to do.

I like to fix things, so here was a grand opportunity to plot and strategize a way to end the war. As I thought I kept hearing the phrase I often tell others: the gospel changes everything. Oh yeah? How’s the gospel going to change two believers who hate each other right now?

I took a quick inventory of my successes in meddling in the Lord’s business. I didn’t like what I saw. Instead of finding faith, I found fear, embarrassment, shame – in other words, unbelief.

The war between my husband and sister was nothing new, so how was I going to bring reconciliation this time when I hadn’t succeeded in the past over lesser battles?

I chose to not get involved. I prayed instead. I told the Lord I was empty, that I was inadequate, incompetent, lacking in wisdom, and if he didn’t show up and do something to set these two stubborn people straight, it was going to be a fiasco and I would lose a sister.

Then I went to lunch with my sister and her husband while my husband continued to let out his frustrations on the mountain.

My husband returned home, showered, dressed and joined us in the living room. For two hours, we talked about the dynamics of our relationship and what it was that made it go off the rails so often. And what did we find out? That none of us listens well, that we need to be loved and not judged, and that there are huge areas in our lives that need cleaning up. In other words, we’re messy Christians and the Holy Spirit is still chiseling the image of Christ in us.

We came away with a renewed love for one another and a deeper understanding of who we were as people.

I could never have accomplished that with my fix-it tool belt.

The gospel indeed changes things!

How about you? Talk to me.

messychristians@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living with a Broken Heart

Contrary to every thing you hear in the media, your life is not your personal possession to do with as you please.

If you’re a Christian, you belong to Jesus. You we were bought with a price – his blood – to no longer serve yourself, but him.

How are you doing with this?

If you’re like me, not so good.  love

I’d rather continue being addicted to myself. It’s easy. It’s comfortable. I’ve been doing it all my life.

I also like burrowing into my world of entertainment – my favorite TV shows, sports, painting, writing and photography. None of those things are sin in and of themselves, but when they push out Jesus in favor of them, then I have a problem.

And I push out Jesus a lot.

I can spend a whole day without thinking about him or talking to him.

I don’t do that with the people I love, but I do it with him.

I don’t keep short accounts of my sins with him either. I tend to bunch them all together at the end of the day, if I remember, and then confess them. When I think about it, that’s pretty stupid and laughable. What I’m doing is just discharging a duty without any heart work, and I know it and so does Jesus.

I’m reminded in the gospels, Jesus was not autonomous. He could have been. He didn’t need help from anybody, he knew who he was and where he was going. And yet he was 100% dependent on his Father, from what to say to people to what to do for them. “So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.'” – John 5: 19

That dependency led him to the cross to die for me and you.

And I’m pierced through the heart.

I admit I fail miserably to live a dependent life. It’s foreign to me. But I don’t despair because I have hope. First, God makes me aware of my sin and depravity and I getting better at talking to him about it. Second, I don’t want to be like that any more and I tell him so. And third, in Christ I am becoming more like him. He’s doing the work he promised to do even if I don’t see it. “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” -Philippians 1:6. And for that I rejoice!

Where are you on this road? Talk to me.

 

 

 

 

 

How the World Cup Teaches Me about Jesus

Tuesday I watched the US vs Belgium soccer game.

It was intense.

For 90 minutes neither team scored, but they did a massive amount of running across the field.

Belgium had more shots on goal than we did, but because of Tim Howard’s talent, our goalie, we blocked all the shots.

Then came overtime…

That’s when it unraveled.  Brazil Soccer WCup US Portugal

Both teams were exhausted, but nevertheless they rallied for a last ditch effort and with it came the goals.

Things ended up 2-1 in favor of Belgium.

So we’re out, they’re in.

How like life.

It’s in the overtimes of life where you discover if you have what it takes to live with your eyes fixed on the goal and to do it with grace and perseverance.

That’s where most of us fail.

Instead of a fixed gaze, we flounder in our choices.

Instead of grace, we get impatient, or cranky, or downright ugly.

And instead of persevering, we give up.

Just think what would have happened if Jesus hadn’t fulfilled his mission and instead thrown in the towel and walked off the field.

“Looking to Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:2 ESV

If Jesus hadn’t lived and died for us, none of us would have a chance at a relationship with God.

And none of us would be forgiven of our sins.

But thanks be to God, Jesus stayed the course, set his mind on completing his mission, and was rewarded by a resurrected life which he now lives in heaven.

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” – Acts 1:11 ESV

It’s a comfort to know that everywhere we fail Jesus has succeeded for us.

He lived a life of perfect obedience to God’s commandments for us and died a painful death to pay the price for our sins.

By putting our faith in him, we too can score those perfect goals in life.

Want to play the game right?