Is Loneliness a Sin?

Creepy Forest

Is loneliness a sin?

I found myself asking that question in prayer recently.  In retrospect, it sounds a little bit silly, but at the time it didn’t. It was a raw, serious question.  As a single, middle-aged Christian, loneliness is not an unusual occurrence for me.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a total loner. I have a lot of acquaintances. I have some friends. But I have few deep connections, particularly with people who love and live for the Lord. I’ve found at my age it’s just plain hard to make real, authentic connections.

And last week was just one of those weeks I felt it.  Surrounded by people everywhere, yet alone.  (Make that a few weeks ago. I had to let this marinate and decide if I really wanted to go public with this one.)

We know that all we need we find in our relationship with our loving Father, right? He is our sustainer, provider, confidante. He calls us “friend”.  So when I do get lonely, I have at times felt guilty, like I shouldn’t.  Well-meaning people will tell you to just pray and it will all be okay.  I’ve decided that most of those people go home to their families and haven’t got a clue.

But does God desire us to live lives in social isolation, as long as we’re seeking Him daily?

So let’s start with the basics. Like, right back to Genesis basics. God didn’t really think making us for a solo flight was the best idea. He cracked a rib right out of Adam so that he would have a helper and companion. God could not find a suitable helper in all other creation for Adam. I’m not even getting at the whole male/female thing here. Just the people/people thing. If God felt like Adam needed companionship aside from himself (and mind you, this was in the idyllic, pre-fall, walking with the Lord in the cool of the day phase), then I’m pretty sure God doesn’t think life is meant to be lived in (relative) isolation from other humans today, either.

What about Jesus commanding us to love others as ourselves? Do you think that has any application to seeking community? How can you actually love others as yourself if it’s just you and God in your prayer closet, shutting out the world? No, God designed us as relational creatures.

So if you still aren’t convinced and think no, Jesus really is all we need, then loneliness could be a sin. Failing to trust in God completely and all that, right? So what shall we say, then, about King David? He dealt with his fair share of loneliness. In Psalm 25:16 he says “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted,” (NIV).  What about Elijah hanging out in a cave, believing he was the only surviving prophet? I’d be willing to bet he felt some loneliness. I guess if you think having feelings of loneliness at all is a sin, then they were guilty of it, and the Bible proves it.

I say loneliness by itself is not sinful. (Or any emotion, for that matter.) It’s what we do in that emotional state that has the potential to become a problem. Even sinful. Loneliness, or any emotion, brings us the opportunity to draw nearer to God or take us farther from God. In all because of unchecked, unbalanced emotions.

In the frenzy of my unchecked, unbalanced emotions, do I try to deal with them in prayer like David did? Do I cry out to God and lay that messy and raw, but very real, bucket of feelings at the cross and bring Him into the middle of it? Or do I just go straight into enemy territory (really, it’s the territory the enemy is just waiting for me to venture into) and let the emotions take over completely, dictating my next thoughts and actions, watching them tumble like perfectly lined up dominoes?

How many times have I not even paused before I suddenly realize I’ve given in, yet again, to the lies of my emotional state? And when I do that, I often go one step further and use something other than God to fill the void. Now my loneliness has turned into sin.

God knows me. God knows my situation. Everything about it. He also knows that we have emotions. He wants us to come to Him with everything.  Everything. And that’s a learned behavior, but it can be learned.  Thank you, Jesus!

 

Psalm 25

Who is the man who fears the Lord?
    Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose.
His soul shall abide in well-being,
    and his offspring shall inherit the land.
 The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him,
    and he makes known to them his covenant.
 My eyes are ever toward the Lord,
    for he will pluck my feet out of the net.

Turn to me and be gracious to me,
    for I am lonely and afflicted.
 The troubles of my heart are enlarged;
    bring me out of my distresses.
 Consider my affliction and my trouble,
    and forgive all my sins.

But Your Mess Is Messier Than My Mess!

 

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Not too many days ago I stumbled across a comment on social media somebody had made about their repugnance for the choice of sermon prepared by the pastor that morning and how it was clearly not the best use of her time. The sermon’s topic? The Prodigal Son.

If you don’t know this parable, you can read it in Luke 15 (and please do, it’s a beautiful story), but here is a brief synopsis: A man has two sons, one is the good son, who does everything right-a real daddy’s boy. Then there’s the other son. This kid is selfish and demanding. He decides he doesn’t want to follow the rules, so he’s going to go out on his own and do it his way. Oh, and by the way, Dad, give me my inheritance now. Can you even imagine asking your parents such a thing? But the father gives it to him, and he uses it to get in all kinds of trouble. All kinds. Until the money runs out. Then he decides to go back home and see if  Dad will let him be a hired servant. Meanwhile, the other brother is back at home being the perfect and awesome son that he is.  But, when Dad sees the younger son coming down the road, the son who was took his money and squandered it, the son who was disrespectful in a time where disrespecting your parents was SERIOUSLY uncool,  he takes off running to meet his son. Terribly undignified for the dad to run, by the way. But run, he did! Then he tells the servants to start preparing a party. A massive blowout. Dad welcomed back his son, who the Bible refers to as the Prodigal, not as a servant, but as his son, just as though he’d never left.

And his older brother was ticked off. He was the one who stayed to help dad. He was the one who followed the rules. ALL of them.  He didn’t squander anything. And HE never got a party.

And so was the person who posted about the sermon being a waste of her Sunday morning. She wasn’t just arguing that her pastor was giving the prodigal too much air time, she had a beef with the Bible putting him in such a favorable light.  Light bulb moment here: the prodigal isn’t shown in a favorable light. He is a mess. But this parable isn’t so much about the character of the sons, it’s about the character of the father.  It’s to show us the character of THE Father, despite the character, or especially in light of, the character of His creation.  God is is overjoyed when we, the hot messes, make our way back after telling him we can do it our own way. So for my friend who made the post, I sadly think she has completely forgotten, or never really understood, the amazing grace of God that He shows through redeeming us from our mess.

But let’s go back to the older brother. We all have to be mindful of the Older Brother that has the potential to lurk within us. When we encounter people who don’t know Christ, living like prodigals, we have to remember that they don’t live by our ‘code of ethics’. So don’t place that on them and cast your judgment for how poorly they perform. Remember that we all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and need a Savior. There are some messed up people out there, folks! We are living in times where people seem to be exchanging the truth of God for lies at a record pace. Evil is not idle. But there is still a God who redeems the lost and hurt, and He can reach the worst of them! Praise His name for that! So when they come walking through the door, instead of demanding your goat (read the story!), go help get the party ready for the prodigals who have come home. Welcome them in! Whatever is in their past, do not it compare to yours. Jesus’ blood still has cleaning power.

But what about what we do to each other? Or have you completely mastered the art of not judging and comparing yourself to anybody else? Don’t lie.

I had a very humbling moment a last week.  I have her permission to share this. A couple of weeks ago a young woman I know, Bethany, who loves the Lord with all her heart, announced via posting pictures on Facebook that she was expecting a baby.  She looked so happy in her pictures. But I couldn’t bring myself to say anything. She’s not married. In my mind, all I could think of was, ‘doesn’t anybody pursue holiness anymore’?  Every time I saw her post for about a week, this would go through my head. Folks, this is classic older brother. Her sin is bigger than my sin.  This one is often subtle. But after about a week, the Holy Spirit wasn’t so subtle with me. I was sitting in our Bible class at church and it hit me. She didn’t even know. But I knew. And God knew.  Even though she didn’t know I had sinned against her, I knew I had to ask her to forgive me.

The Older Brother is made possible because of something called “comparative righteousness”.  It’s pretty simple, really. If you get any sense of righteousness by assessing how you stack up compared to somebody else, that’s comparative righteousness. (This also works in reverse–if you believe somebody, compared to you or another, is more righteous in their standing with God.) We do not earn righteousness in comparison to others.  There is only one standard of holiness by which we are compared and that’s God Himself. And every single one of us falls terribly short. Thankfully, Romans 3:22 tells us that for those who put their faith in Christ, we receive his righteousness. Whew! 

So after a week of lamenting about one girl’s choices that could have been time spent dealing with my own poor choices, the Spirit gave me a smack down (as he is apt to do once in a while) and said “Ahem! She is not your problem! YOU are your problem!”

Oh yeah.  All of MY sin. Worrying about another’s sin doesn’t do anything to help me confront my own. It just adds to my own with my judgments and harsh words.

We will never become more holy by attempting to mitigate the sin in our own life by putting a spotlight on the sin of another, or showing how farther on the scale of “bad” their sin is. It doesn’t work that way.  God deals with us individually.  And yes, there is room to approach a brother/sister with a sin issue (see Galatians 6:1-3), but that’s not really the issue we’re dealing with here. We’re dealing with good, old fashioned judgment and deflection.  It keeps you from giving grace to the one you judge, and it keeps you from seeing the need for grace in your own life.

Let’s take one last look at the story in Luke 15 for some perspective. It’s about a loving father. Okay, we know that’s representing God. And the prodigal is representing sinners. But since we are all sinners, why is there a good brother and a bad brother? Who does the older brother represent? The Pharisees. These guys felt entitled to the kingdom of God based on their own righteousness, through their actions. NOT through their love for God and others. Nope. By showing how good they were, by having all the right moves and making sure everybody knew about it. They were the kings of comparative righteousness!  They didn’t need grace, or so they thought.

How can we keep from falling into that trap? Be free with grace. When you are free in your grace towards others, there is little room for self-righteous judgment. And when we do that, we are open to the Holy Spirit to move in and work in our own lives. We can work on our own mess. And thank the Lord that He promises to keep working on our messes until we are complete!

Bethany was full of grace for me. I’m thankful for that. I am grateful for a God who has enough grace to lavish on anyone who seeks His face.  So the next time we find ourselves letting that inner Pharisee come out, seek His face in that very moment. Praise Him for his grace and mercy. I’m willing to bet that voice of judgment slinks away with nothing to say.

 

 

 

That was then, and this is now.

photo credit: Nick Thompson (Instagram: nat.ural_photography)
photo credit: Nick Thompson (Instagram: nat.ural_photography)

 

Everybody has a past.  When we come to Christ, we come with our flaws, hurts and stains from the burden of sin we’ve carried. We may look at ourselves in comparison to another and think we’re pretty good, but make no mistake, the only comparison God looks at is how you and I measure up to His standard.  Not how I do compared to you, or you to me.  And by the holy standard, we all have some pretty messed up pasts!

But at the cross, God arranged for an exchange for those who would take him up on this free gift of his grace. We can exchange that past, which with absolute certainly will lead us to condemnation, for righteousness–Christ’s righteousness.  That is a pretty sweet deal.  (If you have not taken advantage of this deal yet, please click here.)

But that past. Maybe it was bad. Maybe it brought you shame. Maybe you did hard time for it.  Maybe you think it’s so bad that even though God forgave you, you can’t get past it. Whatever it is, the past doesn’t seem to be staying in your past.

So first let’s look at a where your past stands with God.  Paul tells the Corinthian church, and all of us,  that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has past away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV).  Our old selves, our past, is gone. BOOM. We’re new creations!  In Psalm 103 David tells us that “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgression from us”. That’s far enough away that God stopped keeping score. Finally, Colossians 2:14 says our legal debt (sin) was cancelled. The book in the ledger that was used to keep account of our sin? It was torn out, stamped with cancelled (in Jesus’ blood) and nailed to the cross.  Getting the picture yet? God doesn’t see that sin in your account anymore.

So if God, has stopped holding it against you, why do you hold it against yourself? You are not who you were. Remember, you are a new creation. In Romans 12, Paul says we can avoid conforming to the world by transforming our minds. That means it’s possible to transform your mind by how you think about things, including yourself and who you are. Start seeing yourself as the child of God and co-heir with Christ that you are.  Stop buying into the lie of “I was always, so I always will be”.  You don’t have to live in that past, no matter who would have you believe that, including the devil.  That was then, and this is now.

Now, one caveat before we move on. Sometimes our actions hurt other people. If you have something that God is leading you to go to that person to seek forgiveness for, that’s another issue.  If you feel doing that may actually do more harm to the other person, please seek wise counsel from a pastor or elder.

So now that we agree that once our faith for salvation is firmly placed in Christ for the forgiveness of our sins that our account is clear, we can walk free of the guilt and condemnation of that past.  Romans 8 is a great read for the freeing up from life in the flesh to life in the Spirit.

And that righteousness of Christ that covers our past sins? It’s the gift that keeps on giving! Why? Friends, have you ever felt burdened in your walk that you’re not doing enough,  not serving enough, not sanctified enough, not a lot of things enough? I know I have.  On more than one occasion I’ve lamented on how I’m just not “good enough” as a Christian.  Oh boy. I am not hanging out in this wire alone, either!

Somehow, the wires got crossed or there was a short circuit. We are more than down for trading our filthy rags for Christ’s righteousness when it comes to salvation and eternity, yet in this life, we revert back to thinking we’re on our own to work it out. Or was I the only one who fell for that?   That’s right, we have spent too much time and energy back in the power of “me”, haven’t we?  Have you tried to be “good enough” and just found you couldn’t do it?  This is exactly why! Because we slipped back into working our own way instead of letting it be the righteousness of Christ that defines our goodness and worthiness.  This really came to light for me when I saw a follow of Christ concerned that they weren’t going to be ready for Christ to return, and did they need to “do” more.  Actually, it woke me up like a bucket of ice over the head. Can you see if you break it down in those terms, though perhaps extreme, that “readiness” was became the responsibility of the redeemed, NOT the Redeemer? This is a works based salvation disguised as sanctification.

Our righteousness as believers is imputed from Christ. It is our only righteousness. If you’ve fallen into the trap of walking out your faith as a continued path towards righteousness, please realize you are walking outside of what Christ did for you on the cross. You’re adding to it. All we need is faith alone in, in Christ alone, “not as a result of works, that no one may boast”. (Ephesians 2:9)

If you ever feel like you’re not good enough because of, well, you fill in the blank, stop that too. You’re also overlooking the present and continuing covering of Christ’s righteousness. You don’t think you’re as pious as Friend X? That’s fine. You have the righteousness of Christ. You just can’t seem to have the heart to serve others the way Friend Z does? That’s okay, you have the righteousness of Christ. You weren’t perfect? First, welcome to the club. Second, that’s alright. You have the righteousness of Christ. The devil may try to drag you down and make you think you should be more, or be like somebody else. Whatever. You have the righteousness of Christ.

Whatever that past may have been, that was then. And this is now. Walk boldly!

Follow Me

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Last week we looked at the difference between cultural Christianity and actually being a follower of Jesus.  So for the next few posts let’s look at a few key points in a little more detail.  Today I want to talk about what Jesus meant when he said “Follow Me”.

On several occasions throughout his ministry, Jesus told his disciples to follow him. I’m sure most of you are familiar with Jesus’ words to Simon (Peter) and his brother Andrew in Matthew 4:19 when he found them fishing on the Sea of Galilee. He said “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” We all remember that line.  But do you recall what Simon and Andrew did? The Bible says “Immediately the left their nets and followed Him.” (Matthew 4:20, English Standard Version).  And how about Matthew, who Jesus found at his tax collector’s booth. He simply says “Follow me.”  Matthew’s response? He got up and followed Jesus. No hesitation.  (Matthew 9:9). Another disciple asked if he could go bury his deceased parent, but Jesus told him too let the (spiritually) dead deal with burying the dead, and follow him right then.

But what about us? Do we drop everything and follow Jesus?  Certainly some people do. But I think for the vast majority, when we repent and receive the gift of salvation and ask Christ to be our Savior, we ride a spiritual high for a bit. We enter a honeymoon phase. It may last very short time or a little bit longer. But what happens when that wears off and you’re back to feeling the normal grind of the daily routine. You don’t feel super spiritual. You may not feel much of anything at all. (Feelings are all well and good, by the way, but the basis of your faith should not be on your feelings. Ever. The basis of your faith should be on the indisputable truths of our unchanging God. Feelings are fleeting and sometimes misleading. The heart can be wicked and deceitful, after all.) So now what?  Now is when we get serious about following Jesus. Without hesitation.

There’s another example of going all-in to follow the calling of the Lord. And this guy meant business. In 1 Kings 19:19-21 we learn about the prophet Elijah who is seeking out Elisha in order to anoint him to eventually take his place as the go-to prophet.  Elisha is in the field, plowing with his team of oxen when Elijah throws his cloak on him. Elisha knew that was the sign of something big.  He killed the oxen and burned the plows. He just removed anything to go back to. He was jumping full on into his calling and removed the safety net of a back up plan.

Does this mean Jesus wants us to sell everything we own so we can follow him? Well, unless you’re planning to go on a long-term overseas mission, probably not a wise idea.  But what he does want is for you to kill the oxen and burn the plows of your past and jump into your future in him. Don’t leave anything to go back to that will keep you from living in the fullness he has for you.  I get it, that’s not always easy. You may have to leave behind friends who influence in bad ways. These kinds of things are not cookie cutter, so it’s for you and the Lord to work out in prayer. I also highly recommend a mentor and/or a pastor or elder you can talk to for guidance. But know that God doesn’t ask us to give things up just to be a jerk. That’s not who he is. Personally, I had to walk away from the only friends I had that weren’t 2000 miles away. I was scared to death to have no friends. But God looks for obedience, and he rewards that with giving us better things in exchange for what we gave up. I know that was true for me.

In Matthew 10:38 (ESV), Jesus said “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” So what He is saying here is not that you are not supposed to love your mother and father, etc. He’s saying be careful not to love them MORE than you love him. And that goes for spouses, boyfriends/girlfriends, children, money, cars, fame…you name it. He wants your WHOLE HEART.  The greatest commandment starts with loving God above all things.  He continues to say “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  (Mathew 10:39). Does that have you scratching your head?  No worries.  It’s simply this: when we hang on with a white knuckle grip to our old self, wanting do everything like we always have, and basically retaining the lordship over our own lives, we haven’t gained anything. And he says we aren’t worthy of Him. (Now, I’m not going to suggest you need to have a lot of expertise in Biblical interpretation, or do hermeneutical hopscotch to figure that one out. And I’ll let you decide how you wish to interpret that. But in my limited training in hermeneutics, it means “we aren’t worthy”.) But, when we let go and surrender ourselves completely and let Jesus be Lord, following His ways, we may have lost our old life for his sake, but hallelujah, we will find a brand new one in him. And it’s SO MUCH BETTER.

This surrendering, by the way, is a daily thing. Sometimes more than that. It’s an intentional handing over the control and saying “not my way, but Yours”.  On paper that might sound easy, but the flesh we still carry around makes it a challenge. Get in your car in rush hour. Or the slowest checkout line at the grocery store when you’re in a hurry. Or on a three hour flight with the person behind you kicking your seatback every two minutes. Jesus’ way says patience and grace. Your flesh says something entirely different. Luckily, we are given the fruit of the Holy Spirit (see Galatians 5:22) to help combat the flesh. But it’s not an automatic response at first. We have to develop these good habits of yielding to the Spirit and not the flesh. Just like building a muscle by working it out.

We also have the great gift of the power to transform to be more and more like Christ through the renewing of our minds. Paul tells us in Romans 12:2 that we are not to behave like the rest of the world, but be “transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Part of following Christ means we strive to become more and more like him.  So how, exactly, can we renew our minds?  READ THE BIBLE!!
“Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth.” (John 17:17, New Living Translation).

Following Jesus means things are going to change. You’re going to change. And that’s a good thing. We all came to Jesus because we needed a Savior. If we were completely fine on our own, then there would be no reason to change.  But we come to him broken, or with a yearning in our soul for something we’ve tried to fill with any number of things the world promised us would satisfy that desire, but never did. If we agree that we all ended up at the cross because we need Jesus, then can we agree there is no shame in admitting that it’s time to stop trying to live this life by our own rules and plans?  What have you got to lose by jumping in the deep end of the pool and going all in, and completely selling out for Jesus?

Sweet, sweet Jesus! I am eternally grateful to have heard your voice, the voice of my shepherd, calling me to follow you. I am grateful that as a shepherd gently tends to his flock, so you tend to each sheep in your flock. You guide with a sure, steady hand. You keep your flock safely in your arms. You are Lord of all of my life. Remind me, nudge me when I start to take over. Thank you, above all, for your steadfast love. I pray all who call you Savior will also call you Lord.  

 

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Happy New You!

Welcome, 2016!

resolutions

The coming of a new year often brings a time of contemplation…did we accomplish all that we’d hoped during the last year? And what are we resolved to accomplish the next year?  Studies reveal about half of all Americans usually make new years resolutions.  But of ALL the people who make resolutions, only 8% actually achieve their goals.  Those are pretty terrible odds for our success!

But you know there is one rock solid opportunity for change with a 100% success rate.  All over the Bible we are told of how we are transformed. I love what Ezekiel tells the Israelites in Ezekiel 36.  He tells them that their sins against God have been purified and The LORD will give them a new heart and a new spirit. God says he will remove their hearts of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh!   In Psalm 51, beloved King David, who has just been confronted with his sins, is now pleading with God to forgive his sins, cleanse him, and create a clean heart.   And Jesus’ shed blood not only restores us to right standing with God, but we become new creatures thanks to the Holy Spirit with whom we were sealed when we were born again. There’s the biggest change.  Paul says it best: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

So what makes the difference between the 92% failure rate of succeeding at those resolutions, designed to make you better, and the 100% success rate, of complete life transformation in Christ?  Well, the resolutions we make we do based on our desire, on our schedule and on OUR POWER to accomplish them.  When we become a new creation in Christ, we just need to simply believe that we need a savior and Jesus was it. BOOM. Now God is doing the work. He has sealed you with his Spirit. His power, the same power that raised Christ from the grave, now resides in you.   Now there is an option to choose the hard way and despite having those things, not allow them to work in you and for you. It’s quite a popular choice, sadly.  And okay, I might have fibbed a tiny bit in saying you have no work to do. You do need to work at yielding your ways to His ways.  That’s what dying to self means. We give up the control and self-centered living to live for Christ. And it’s a choice with have to make every day.

So, am I telling you not to make resolutions? No. If that’s what works for you (though statistically, they probably don’t for the long haul), go for it.  But instead of making resolutions, how about we make an intentional choice to ask God to help us deepen our relationship with him, starting right now.  And if you also make non-faith oriented resolutions, remember, those things which we try to do solely on our own power are statistically shown to have a dismal success rate. So ask God to be in it with you. That makes him happy when his kids ask for him to join in!

Every time we start a change in habits, the success rises with our planning. Set alarms. Maybe find a friend for accountability. Find what works for you.

Here are some ideas for new ‘faith habits’:

–Read the Bible daily.  You can try a 365 day reading plan, but if you find this pace has you just reading and not mediating over what you’re reading, then switch to something else like a two-year plan, or a 365 day New Testament plan. If you’re just reading and not getting much out of it, you’re not getting the most of your time and efforts.

–Make regular prayer time daily. It doesn’t have to be an hour-long session. You will figure out your rhythm. Some people will tell you that you MUST do it first thing in the morning.  Hogwash. Personally I can’t form a complete sentence the first hour. I don’t even start talking to God until I’m in the car on the way to work.  And the Bible says to pray without ceasing. Not to pray in the morning first thing without ceasing. There are several ways to work out a prayer routine. Journals, notebooks, prayer walks. Whatever you need to do to get yourself into the habit of consistent prayer is what you need to do. Pray not just for your needs and desires, but pray consistently for others. Pray for your pastor(s) and their families regularly. I consider that one huge. The enemy targets our leaders so we need to be covering them with prayer. Pray for your school, workplace, city. Pray for your government on all level. In all things, pray His will be done.

–Be consistent with church attendance. It’s vital to our growth. Lots of people say church isn’t for them and they’ll do it alone.  I think everything after the book of John fell out of their Bibles. That is not what God wants for his church. We were not meant to go it alone. We are designed for fellowship. Discipleship is vital. Fellowship by yourself can’t happen, and discipling doesn’t really work out that well when we are accountable only to ourselves. We need others to do this walk with us! If you are someone in that position, let’s chat about it.

Serve in your church.  Regardless of how big or how small your church is, church was never designed for your pastor (and his family) to do everything.  There’s a sad non-scientific statistic about serving that says 90% of the work is done by 10% of the people. What that means, simply, is your church needs YOU.  If there’s a specific area you’d like to serve, ask how to get involved. If you’re open to anything (as we all should be), just ask where they need you.  Somebody needs to clean the church. Somebody needs to teach the children. Somebody needs to greet people as they come in. And so much more. Our churches really do need all of us to serve somewhere.

–Serve your community.  There’s a mission field that starts right where the parking lot of the church ends. Consider finding a program in your community were you can give of your time regularly and bring the love of Christ to those you serve

BE BOLD! What have you had placed on your heart by God to do but just haven’t taken the plunge?  DO IT!!  If you believe God has called you to this, and it lines up with the word of God, then go for it! God doesn’t give confirmation by putting a burning bush in your backyard and asking you to take your shoes off and have a chat. God gives you a desire that doesn’t go away, and he will give you some things that seem to show you you’re on the right track, but he’s not usually going to hand you a business plan.  He wants you to trust him and take that step of faith. So go for it!

–Live in constant Gratitude. I cannot stress this one enough. There will be a post coming shortly on this. But make a point to live intentionally in a state of constant gratitude for all He has done. Look around you. There is evidence everywhere of big and small things.  I try to live in this state, but hey, we all slip.  But about 12 days ago, I was sound asleep when I woke up to the sound of what turned out to be a home invasion. I live alone. This is why have not met my target of blogging every week–my brain is mush.)  Now I am beyond grateful for the immediate protection, but every day, though my anxiety and fear are a constant (but waning) presence in my life, I praise Him and tell Him how grateful I am not just for what he did then, but for everything. For the beautiful day. For the people I got to see that day. For the smile from a normally grumpy co-worker. Because He has blessed me. Because He is.  Being grateful, even in the bad times (hate your job? Praise him and thank him that you have one) will change your whole attitude.

That’s just a few ideas.  Resolve this year to get closer to the One who matters the most. The One, the only One, who can truly change you and the quality of your life.

Blessings to you and yours for 2016!!

 

Naughty or Nice?

StreetsignIt’s that time of year when we start hearing much talk about who’s been naughty and who’s been nice.  If you grew up in the U.S.,  the early part  of your childhood Christmas hopes were based not on Santa’s kindness, and not even the kindness of your parents, but on whether you were going to make the cut for the “nice” list.   Eventually, though, we grew up and realized what “Santa” brought really wasn’t dependent on how good or bad we were. We got the goods because our parents wanted to give us good things.

So as we quickly approach Christmas, when the greatest gift of all was given to all who would simply receive Him, I have seen a lot of talk about being good in the context of Christianity.

All the Christmas lore says we have to be good to get Santa to lavish us with gifts.  And just recently, the American Atheists Association paid a nice chunk of change to put up the following billboard in North Carolina:

billboardHere’s the thing about the gift of Christ and salvation that you need to realize when it comes to being “good”. You can’t be good enough to earn it.  Staying home or going to church doesn’t really make a difference in your good points.  Going to church makes a huge difference in your growth points, but not your “good” points.

Let’s back up a few steps.  Let’s talk about why we need Jesus in the first place.  I’m going to give this a really quick treatment, but for highly suggest digging in to Paul’s letter to the Romans to get a good grasp on this subject.  The basic overview is this: God is perfect and holy. Like, indescribably so. We are are so innately sinful and unholy that we cannot approach him in that state. (Just for fun, go read up about the old temple procedures in Leviticus, and how only one priest could enter into the Holy of Holies one time a year. And that guy? He had to have a bell on him and a rope tied around him, so that if the bell stopped ringing, they knew he had died in there and would be able to pull him out. His death would have been due to his not being correctly prepared in his unholy state approaching the presence of the perfect, holy God and that is something that can’t happen–the unrighteous cannot stand in the presence of God.) The prophet Isaiah, when he was called into the presence of the LORD, said (and I paraphrase here) ‘uh oh! Woe is me. I’m a sinner, my people are sinners, and here I am before the king!” Go read Isaiah 6:5 and see how he was cleansed for his encounter.

So by now am I losing you in what sounds like gloom and doom? Old-time hellfire and brimstone preacher stuff?  Wait, it’s not that bad!  But I do want to share this about my journey. Way back in high school when somebody first started talking to me about Christ and sin and repentance, I agreed with it all in theory, but I didn’t think I was that bad of a person. And compared to axe murderers, animal torturers, bank robbers, etc. I wasn’t. I was a great person when I was comparing myself to the standards of this world.  It took me many years before it really sank in what the standard of “good” was.  (So just as a side note to our friends who put up that billboard, they have no standard by which to judge good. They set their own standard. That doesn’t work out so well, ultimately when everybody gets to set their own standard. But that’s another topic altogether).

So here we are, separated from a perfect holy God. And many people think we can get to God just by being “good enough”.  We cannot. We just can’t. My buddy Paul in Romans says that no one is good, not even ONE. (Romans 3:12). He goes on to ask why he doesn’t do what he knows he should and does do what he knows he shouldn’t. (Romans 7:19). And this is after his conversion.  See, on our own, we can never attain the perfection required to get near a perfect God.

But God knew we couldn’t. So one evening some 2000+ years ago, he made a way to bridge the gap. A baby. A tiny baby was going to save the world and bridge this eternal rift between man and God.  That baby grew up and lived a perfect life. He had to in order to be the perfect sacrifice to atone for your sins and my sins that we can’t atone for with our own goodness. See, good isn’t part of the equation at all.  I’m not telling you not to live morally. Far from it. But I’m telling you if you think you’re salvation, your roadmap to eternity with God, has anything to do with your goodness, you’re mistaken. It’s all about the goodness of Christ. And when you accept him as the sacrifice for your sins, you can let huge sigh of relief. It’s like sucking in your stomach for ten minutes of family pictures and then letting it go! You’re now free to live in the knowledge that this gift of salvation is not of your goodness. It’s nothing but pure, unrelenting grace. Unrestrained grace. (Ephesians 2:8-9).  If you have put your hopes for a relationship with God in a basket labeled with your efforts, I ask you now to put that basket down. Get in prayer with God and confess to him your mistake in thinking you had to do something to earn this, then thank him for the immeasurable grace that his given you this gift of his Son for your salvation, just based on your faith alone.

And since we’re talking about being good enough, I want to mention one more thing. If you are worried that you have been on the naughty list too long, you’re so very wrong.  Just as much as we can’t be good enough to earn God’s love and grace, we can never be bad enough to be out of the reach of his love and grace. I don’t care how long it’s been or how bad you think you are, He is waiting for you to come home.  Go read the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. God is waiting to throw a party for you, wanderer. Won’t you come home?

 

Heavenly Father, I thank you for your indescribable, immeasurable grace. The grace brings me close to you through nothing of my own doing. I pray that I be a giver of that kind of grace to others. I pray for your covering of those who struggle today to think that even in their condition you could love them, that your great love invade every part of them in this moment, and that great love leads to broken chains and strongholds.  In Jesus’ Name

We Want More

Pier

During worship recently, there was a refrain in the song that stood out to me: we want more, we want more, we want more. This is not an uncommon lyric in worship songs or even in many sermons. We do want more! I’m constantly praying that I want more, more, more of the LORD and all He has for me.

But that night, as I was singing, that still small voice starting talking to me in the middle of all that singing. He said, you know, you want more of Me, but what that really means is you have to give more of yourself.  I actually stopped singing and had to take that in for a second. What could that mean? I’m decreasing here, Jesus. You are increasing. I want more of YOU. I don’t understand.   He said “I already gave you everything. Have you given Me everything?”

Woah. Have I? Have you?

So we say we want more. But to do that, we have to give more. We have to give up our choice to box God in to a Sunday God and invite Him into every part of our lives. We can’t put on our Sunday show for the church crowd and wonder why on Monday everything is falling apart.

We have to give up our choice to keep Jesus at arm’s length concerning some parts of our lives and invite Him in to have His way in every part. Even the deep-rooted hurts we hold tight to, or the parts of our lives that may be comfortable but we know do not honor Him. That thing we keep doing and think we can handle on our own? We need to take that to Him.  That hurt we just can’t let go of from so many years ago? Give that over to Him, too.  That unhealthy way you see yourself or your abilities? Yup. His domain to work out in you, if you open it up to Him.

We say we want more of Him, but are we taking the time to get to know Him through His word? Do we talk to Him, really talk Him regularly? Or do we figure listening to somebody else talk about God for an hour (if we’re lucky) once a week is good enough?

We say we want more, but do we follow His example of serving those around us? Or do we make ourselves and our desires the rulers in our lives?

We say we want more of Him, but if we’re being honest, are we expecting to do nothing and have a great relationship with Christ and see huge changes in our lives?

I often think of Jacob. The schemer. Jacob, who wanted more of God so badly that he fought all night, hanging on and refusing to let go until more was exactly what he had—a completely changed destiny. How hard are you willing to hold on to God and fight? God is still in the destiny changing business, you know.

We say we want more of Him. But if you have already given your life to Christ, then getting more of Him probably means you will have to give HIM more of YOU.

We say we want more, but we have to give more. Are we willing to give this a chance and go all in with Jesus, living the life as His follower His way instead of a little bit His and mostly ours?

Are you willing to give Him more of you to get more of Him?