The Biggest Lie I Ever Told

Got your attention, didn’t I? True confessions always do.

While the nature of my reveal is far from salacious, it is dangerous. Here goes:

“I’m a pretty good person.”

Seriously? That’s it? Big deal.” If that’s your response then read on, friend. The truth in this case is a life-or-death matter. You see, this lie creates some eternity-sized problems.

Compared to What?

The first problem is the standard I’m using to measure. Whenever I judge myself to be a pretty good person it’s because I am looking at others and judging them to be “less than” me.

We tend to judge others’ weaknesses where we are strong.

We tend to judge others by their actions, while we want to be judged by our good intentions.

After all, I rationalize, I’ve never committed murder. I go to church on Sundays and Bible study on Thursdays. And I really try to do the right thing in this life.

But this is the warped perspective of a pride-filled sinner, not the holy view of a righteous God. Sin is rebellion against God. Actions are the symptom; the disease is a heart problem. For that reason God looks right past these outward signs into our hearts.

God knows that yes, I attend church on Sundays, but he also sees when I spew green venom on my family trying to get to there on time. He knows that I can spend more time checking out fall fashions in the communion line than offering thanks for the gift I’m about to receive. And he has heard me mentally critique the sermon like it’s my job. So is that really the gold standard for keeping the Sabbath holy?

When you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?

Romans 2:3

 Here’s another problem. I like to compare myself to the world, preferably hedonistic Hollywood. But those in “the world” by definition don’t know Jesus yet; I do. And I have attended enough Bible studies to know the law and God’s standard of righteousness.

God holds each of us accountable to the truth we have been given.

You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

Romans 2:22-23

A Rebel’s Heart

You’ve heard a fish doesn’t know it’s wet? Because it has only ever lived in water.

Well, that’s how I sometimes view my relationship with God; I don’t remember not knowing him, even though our relationship has evolved over the course of my life.

Yet sometimes, rather than feel grateful for this gift of faith, I hunger for the delight and ecstasy of diving into the water for the first time, the chance to relish wetness in the way you do when you are parched.

The risk of being raised knowing Jesus is taking this sacred gift for granted. And the result is being surprised by sin.

I backstroke along, confident in my ability to swim and my knowledge of the right path…until I tumble over a waterfall and the world falls out from under me.

I am not sure I have experienced deeper grief than when confronted by an area of sin to which I was blind. It evokes the guttural heart cry of Isaiah:

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Isaiah 6:5

The Truth

There is no one who is righteous; not even one.

Romans 3:1

If this is the truth — I am not a pretty good person, but a woefully sinful one — then I am hopeless; humanity is doomed.

And yet isn’t Christianity good news?

Fortunately the greatest truth ever told has the power to dispel my lie:

For only when you recognize your sinfulness, your complete inability to “be good” (even when you want to be) will you yearn to fully submerse yourself in the Living Waters (John 4), to be washed clean and covered by the righteousness found only in Jesus:.This righteousness is given through faith in[h] Jesus Christ to all who believe.

 

And that makes for one happy little fish.

 

 

There Will Be Blood

I used to cringe at the song, “Nothing but the blood of Jesus,” or if I heard someone refer to being covered by his blood; it sounded so, well, gory.

Why blood for goodness’ sake? Why is God so punitive? Why couldn’t He just clear the board and forgive our sins without blood?

Blood is at the very heart of Jesus’ story and thus our salvation story. Rather than continue to avoid it, I began to pray for greater understanding, and slowly I’m growing to a deeper understanding, although I still have a long way to go.

(I offer my learnings here with the caveat that this is a cornerstone of faith, and there are far better sources than me on this topic. I hope my post will serve simply as a starting off point to your own exploration.)

God is love. God is life.

The wages of sin is death.

Romans 6:23

Sin is death. Sin by its nature is a separation from — and if uninterrupted by repentance, a severing of — our connection to our life source. I believe that those wages the Bible speaks of are not so much “collected” by God as they are the inherent, inevitable cost of sin.

God is holy and just.

I’m watching the Netflix docuseries,”The Keepers,” and I am sickened by the sadistic acts of one man who abused and exploited many innocent girls at a Baltimore High School. If he had been brought to trial and simply given a slap on the wrist, those whom he harmed, and all people of goodwill, would be legitimately outraged.

We yearn for justice to confront evil and set the world right. We desire and expect God to be just in his response to sin, especially toward those who injure us.

“Vengeance is mine says the Lord.”

Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19

Counting the Cost

When we are in need of forgiveness, justice also must be served. Here is where our misunderstanding of sin leads us to say, “But what if I’m a basically good person?” “And what about little sins like telling a white lie; surely that doesn’t lead to death?”

When we consider ourselves or others to be “good” we are deceived about our true sin natures. In response to being called “good Teacher” Jesus said:

“Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”

Mark 10:18

When we acknowledge the darkness that lurks in all our hearts, the dastardly things we have done or know we are capable of doing when we are not fully surrendered to God, then we begin to see that there is no such thing as “a little sin.”

Sin is not an act so much as a state of mind. It is just a manifestation, a symptom of inward decay, a cancerous rebellion that attacks and eventually kills its host if unchecked.

There is no stasis in life; we are either moving toward God and dying to our sin natures daily, or we are turning from God, moving deeper into sin, indulging our flesh, which leads to death.

Once for All

So…if all sin leads to death, then the only remedy for sin is death, which requires the shedding of blood…blood symbolizing the essence of life.

God proclaims this truth from the very beginning. In Genesis, after Adam and Eve fall, God sacrifices animals as a covering for their sin.

In God’s covenant with Abraham He followed the social convention for sealing a contract. Animals would be sacrificed and the carcasses split in two, laid facing each other. Each party would pass through as a physical sign that proclaimed: “If I break this covenant, may the blood be on my head.”

Abraham prepared the sacrifices for his covenant with the Lord; however; he “fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.”

“When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking fire pot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces.”

Do you see what is happening here? God passes through twice, symbolically taking the consequence not just for himself but on Abraham’s behalf as well. By passing through for each of them God was saying: “If I fail to keep the covenant I will die, and if you fail to keep it I will die for you.” (Read more about this amazing moment.)

Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up….

“You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.”

John 11:50

Caiaphas unwittingly prophesied the rationale for Jesus’ substitutionary death in advocating for his execution to the Sanhedrin.

Yet in order to be a just sacrifice for the sin of humanity, Jesus himself had to be without sin…otherwise he’d simply be dying for his own sins. The message of the Gospel is clear:

Jesus came and led a perfect life; he suffered and died in our place, for our sins, so that we could be forgiven and reconciled to God.

That is why Jesus’ shed blood and his resurrection — his victory over the death that sin brings to the world — is the only hope for us all.

 

Keep Discovering

Genesis 15: God confirms the covenant with Abram: http://bit.ly/2s9q7uD

Learn the Bible: Blood Sacrifices: http://bit.ly/2s9xQIX

The Blood of the Lamb, by Timothy Keller:  http://bit.ly/2s9r0TT

Lamb of God, by Jill Carattini: http://bit.ly/2s9qRzU

Foolish Hearts

My nephew is the ultimate Daddy’s boy; in his three-year-old way he makes it clear that he is only interested in his father’s time, attention and opinion. It sounds and looks something like this:

“Son, would you like to have special ‘Mommy Time’ today?”lukey

“No thanks, I’ll wait for Daddy to get home.” 

Or:

“Mommy loves you so much. Do you love Mommy?”

“Nah, I just love Daddy.”

You’re laughing; I know you are. I am too; I can’t help giggling every time I hear these stories, mostly because the little guy has no idea what he’s talking about!

He only has the luxury of his perspective because he has such an amazing momma. What he fails to see through his toddler eyes (maybe it’s his gorgeous long eyelashes getting in the way) is that she makes his world go round: She makes his bedroom cozy, prepares his meals, gets him to and from school, takes him to the doctor, and shapes his experience of the world on a daily basis…not to mention that she loves him to the moon and back.

Excruciating

At the risk of sounding like a “Jesus Juke” the analogy of my nephew came to mind  as I was contemplating Jesus’ suffering on the cross and how we as humans have no idea what true separation from God would look and feel like.

But we can glimpse it through the work Jesus did on the cross. For the longest time I only saw his physical suffering because it was so excruciating. (In fact, the word excruciating is derived from two Latin words: ex cruciatus, or out of the cross. Crucifixion was the defining word for pain. (Ravi Zacharias))

But that’s not the full story. Jesus took on the sins of the world (1 John 2:2). Having existed eternally in perfect union with God, Jesus experienced total separation from God in our place. Because it was spiritual in nature–exiting outside of time and space–he experienced it eternally with infinite pain. And he did so once for all of us. (Hebrews 10, 1 Peter 3:18, Romans 6:10)

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Matthew 27:46 (NRSV)

It is by Jesus’ example that we can come to understand that true separation from God renders all other suffering trivial and irrelevant by comparison. Paul grasped at this:

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Romans 8:18-31

Easter People

The fullness of this truth is still remote to me, just barely perceptible, and yet it is changing me.

It provokes me to consider how many people, myself included some days, go about life as if we are of this world, in control, and God is simply a useful and occasional accessory.

When we do so we display the same naïveté as my young nephew–but on a spiritual scale. Like fish who don’t know they are wet we often seem blissfully ignorant to the God who created the world and all that is in it, the one who shapes our experience of the cosmos and gives life to each breath we take.

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man.

Romans 1:20-22

We only have the luxury of our delusion because of Jesus. Thanks to him we never have to experience true separation.

Evangelism

I worry that an insidious passivity is creeping into our culture when it comes to God. Similar to baseball, God is being rendered as a sweet, nostalgic idea that belongs to generations past, yet enjoys some lingering support out of sentimentality for an innocence that has long since passed away.

But just as my nephew’s momma loves him too much to cajole him with all the good things she does for him, how much she loves him and how lost he would be without her, God expresses His love for us with similar patience.

Each day He allows us to choose anew whom or what to worship. But one day we will make our choice for a final time; one day we will choose  life and love or separation from God–the source of those things–for eternity.

If I am aware that people are fooling themselves into living as if there is no God, what am I willing to do about it?

Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”

Psalm 14:1 (NRSV)

 

The bottom line is if I really grasped Christ’s suffering on the cross I would make a fool of myself if it meant ensuring that even my worst enemies got every opportunity to see and experience the good news.

We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ.

1 Corinthians 1:10

“What is Truth?”

As a recovering people-pleaser I can relate to Pontius Pilate. This Holy Week, as we revisit the story of Jesus’ Passion, I’m discovering his story anew. And as I look at him, I see myself and my own weaknesses reflected back.

Outside the Governor’s palace, Peter, one of Jesus’ closest followers, denies three times that he knows Jesus. Meanwhile inside the palace Pontius Pilate, who had never met Jesus, three times proclaims His innocence and three times proclaims his kingship.

Yet, ultimately, Pilate fails to act on the truth he has been given…and that decision comes at a cost.

The Cost of Others’ Approval

Most of my failures in life have resulted from my desire to gain others’ approval, so I totally get why Pilate squirms under the crowd’s pressure to make a decision about Jesus.

At first he tries to duck the issue altogether. When the opposition forces his hand Pilate has a personal encounter with Jesus, who delivers a heavy dose of truth:

“My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?”

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18: 36-38)

 

What an invitation Jesus has just offered Pilate: to hear and follow the voice of the Good Shepherd.

You can sense Pilate’s yearning as he leaves Jesus and darts out to appeal to the Jews again, this time suggesting that he free Jesus as part of the Passover custom–a creative, but futile attempt. Next, he has Jesus flogged thinking this will satisfy them. But they sense his weakness and his need to appease them, so they refuse to compromise.

I know from personal experience, and perhaps you do too, that pleasing others is an elusive goal. Pilate is so desperate for this approval that he forsakes his own conscience, his judgment, his wife’s warning and the truth he has been given by God Himself.

When God reveals truth in our lives, He calls us to act on it.

Truth: How often have I been so desperate to be liked, to be recognized for my effort, to have my good intentions acknowledged that I’ve made an idol of others’ approval? 

Am I now seeking human approval or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Galatians 1:10 (NRSV)

The Cost of Self-Protection

Pilate might have risked the wrath of the crowd if he could have done so without such a high personal cost. Jesus’ claim to be the King of the Jews was one thing, that was manageable, it wasn’t really Pilate’s issue, after all.

But then the crowd told Pilate that the man standing before him had claimed to be the Son of God, the title given to Tiberius, son of Caesar and Pilate’s direct superior.

And worse yet they now threatened Pilate directly by saying, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.” (John 19:12)

If word got back to Tiberius that Pilate had released a man who posed a direct threat to his authority there was no telling what the cost might be: his social standing, his governorship, quite possibly, his life. Pilate convinced himself he had no choice.

Truth: I am tempted to approach the hard places God calls me to half-heartedly(The Rock and the Hard Places) , tip-toeing into such assignments in hopes that I can “do the right thing” without risking my reputation in the world…even in small things (“If I offer to pray with a stranger will she dismiss me as a ‘Jesus freak’?”) Is it possible to serve God without personal cost? 

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Luke 12:34, Matthew 6:21

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.

Romans 8:18

The Cost of Compromising Truth

The bottom line for Pilate that fateful day–and the bottom line for us today–is that there is a choice to be made about Jesus and it is a choice with significant consequences on either side.

When Jesus told Pilate, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice,” Pilate’s next words betray the condition of his heart, “What is truth?” (John 18:38)

After that Jesus does not speak to Pilate again except to make a final assertion regarding the folly of his choice:

You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above.

John 19: 11

Truth: Like Pilate I find myself tempted to take the easy way out. But my prayer as I approach the cross of Jesus this Holy Week is to invite more of Him to overtake me so that I can be faithful to the Truth, fearless in my obedience and relentless in love to the end.

When Jesus knew that all was now finished, He said (in order to fulfill the scripture), ‘I am thirsty’….When Jesus had received the wine, He said,

“It is finished.”

John 19:28-30

No More Mr. Nice Guy

A friend of mine wore a T-shirt one day with a big Buddha on the back.

“Why Buddha?” I asked.

“I love Buddha. Don’t you like Buddha?”

“Hmmm. I love Jesus.”

“I love Jesus–and Buddha,” he replied jovially.

There is an inclination today to place people in one of two buckets: religious or not. After that the specific flavor of religion seems unimportant, a matter of cultural exposure, family tradition or personal preference.

Yet, as I’ve spent time in the Bible, especially as I’ve focused on Jesus’ own words, I’ve been surprised by how explicitly and deliberately He sets Himself apart from other “great teachers.”

The Choice is Yours

A thoughtful reading of the red-letter Bible (versions in which red is used to denote the words Jesus spoke) points to only two possible conclusions:

  1. Jesus was an insane heretic, deluded by an epic god complex
  2. He is who He says He is: God in human form.

…No room for Mr. Nice Guy. Jesus consistently says that everything He did was through God’s power, to glorify His Name, and He calls God His Father. If His source turns out to be untrue, then it calls into question the trustworthiness of all that He said and did. Just imagine how we would react to someone other than Jesus who made a claim like the following:

“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father living in me who is doing His work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.” (John 14: 9-11)

A Life-Changing Decision

This is a life-changing, but deeply personal decision. Some folks, like Philip, make it immediately upon encountering Jesus. Philip was so affected by Jesus that he went directly to Nathanael, a scholar and Jewish leader, and boldly declared:

“We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” (John 1:48-49)

Nathanael, on the other hand, didn’t believe Jesus until he experienced His omniscience in a profoundly personal way. Jesus spoke cryptically of seeing Nathanael under the fig tree before Philip even came to him. While it’s not a meaningful observation to the reader, it clearly moves Nathanael at his core. We don’t hear from him again until the final chapter of John. He’s there with the apostles when the resurrected Jesus appears on the shore, filling their nets for a symbolic final meal together. Nathanael’s decision to act on the truth lead him deeper into relationship, allowing him to experience an even greater revelation of Jesus’ divine nature and purpose.

We also see people in the Bible who make a different decision. Judas Iscariot is the most infamous example. A member of Jesus’ inner circle throughout His three-year earthly ministry, Judas witnessed His miracles, heard His teachings, enjoyed the physical nearness of His presence, yet ultimately rejected Jesus as the Christ.

Another interesting example is Pilate, whose words belie his inner struggle:

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. (John 18: 37-38)

Unfortunately for Pilate he doesn’t stick around for the answer. Later, when the Jewish leaders inform Pilate of Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God, he becomes fearful and approaches Jesus once more, asking where He came from, but this time Jesus gives him no answer. (John 19: 9)

When we fail to act on the truth we’ve been given, we move away from relationship and receive less truth.

Throughout the New Testament we see Jesus call people–from His closest companions to those He has just met–to decide for themselves:

  • To the man blind from birth: “Do you believe in the Son of Man…You have now seen Him; in fact, He is the one speaking with you.” (John 9:35-41)
  • To the Samaritan woman at the well: She said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am He.” (John 4: 25-26)
  • To His closest friends: “But what about you?” [Jesus] asked. “Who do you say I am?”Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” (Mark 8: 29)
  • To those in Doubt: Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.  If you really know Me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him.” (John 14: 5-6)

Jesus also invites you and me to “come and see.” He calls us to make that same radical, life-changing decision about who He is. Our very lives depend on our response, not because what He taught is “better than” what other great teachers had to offer, but because what He did is greater than what any other human being could do, since we all are sinful by nature. He took our place–condemned to die–so that we might live.

The truth of Jesus is as simple as that…and as divinely complex and mysteriously beautiful:

If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

Romans 10:9

I AM…

Whether you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior as a youth or are just now getting to know Him, it is good–and important–to know what Jesus says about who He is:

“I, the one speaking to you—I am He,’ the promised Messiah, the Christ.” (John 4:26)

“I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.” (John 8: 23-24)

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8: 12)

“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in Me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in Me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in Me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples.” (John 15: 5-8)

The Promised One, The Son of God

[The Son of Man] is the one speaking with you. (John 9: 35-37)

Do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, “You are blaspheming,” because I said, “I am the Son of God? If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me and I in Him.” (John 10:36-38)

“My Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6: 40)

“Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; He can do only what he sees His Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:19)

On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them. (John 14: 15-21)

These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. (John 14:24)

Still Not Sure? Take Heart.

If you’re not sure what you think of Jesus, that’s okay; just commit to take action to do something about it. Find a church (or a new one if need be). Join a Bible study. Start a Bible study with some friends who are further along in their walks. And pray for God to open your heart and mind, and draw you near to Him.

He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

 

 

 

God Intends Good

Joseph was dealt a bad hand in life by most standards: Betrayed by his own brothers, sold into slavery, taken far from home with little hope of returning, falsely accused of rape, wrongly imprisoned and then, heaping insult on top of injury, forgotten by the cupbearer he helped free who promised to seek clemency on his behalf.

When our worst-case scenarios happen we are forced to confront the question of evil head-on: “If God is good why doesn’t He do something about the evil in the world?”

As we wrestle with this question, as I have for the past several months (read Unforgiven for the back story), peace can be found in these Biblical truths.

Truth #1: We have an enemy.

If this were not so we would have no need for a Savior.

In fact, our Savior warns that our enemy “comes to steal, kill and destroy.” (John 10:9) You know he is at work wherever you find broken hearts, broken bodies, broken spirits, broken relationships, broken trust, broken confidence…and broken lives.

Joseph experienced all of these, yet God did not rescue him as we might expect a loving God to do:

  • God did not lift Joseph from the pit.
  • He did not smite the traders who enslaved him.
  • He did not expose the lies of Pharaoh’s wife to spare him prison.
  • He did not whisper to the cupbearer of his promise to intercede with Pharaoh on Joseph’s behalf.

In fact, the only thing Scripture tells us God did was this:

The Lord was with Joseph.

Genesis 39:2, 5, 21

Terrible things happen as collateral damage in a fallen world, and even worse, as intentional acts by people fully given over to evil. Looking evil in the eye is terrifying and can cause us to quickly lose heart. Jesus knew this:

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

Truth #2: Where the Spirit of Love is there is Freedom.

So why does God allow evil in the first place? In His omniscience He addressed this problem right up front; it can be found in Chapter 3 of Genesis, and it’s called The Fall.

I hear your heels tapping. I realize that in the face of tragedy it seems inadequate to point to what you may consider to be “a folk tale about the first man and woman” as the source of universal truth (because we all know Adam and Eve predated the pen and paper, not to mention the advent of social media, so how could their story be preserved or true?)

And yet, no other explanation will do.

The only way I can get my head around it is to employ a parenting paradigm. Whether you have children or not, imagine with me that you created a home with your children in mind. Even before you birthed them, you designed it with and for love of them, so they could spend a lifetime discovering and delighting in it all, and thus experience your boundless, unconditional love for them.

Perfect. Or so it seems. Yet, no matter how wonderful it is, if you do not offer your children the ability to leave, they are no more than slaves. There is simply no getting around this. And if they are not free, then whatever affection exists between you is not love.

Love is a decision and it must be reciprocal: freely given and freely received. Any break in that infinite cycle cannot be love, and ultimately, it cannot be good.

So as a loving parent you open the door and give your children the freedom to go. Of course, you hope they can see what you see: that there is absolutely no reason or need for them to depart from the safety and beauty and comfort you offer them.

Yet, the universal and individual story of humanity is that we are rebels at heart. As soon as we see the door open we walk right through, without exception. And that is where we now find ourselves, east of Eden.

 

Truth #3: Jesus suffered the worst-case scenario in your place.

God knows what our hearts are prone to forget: the ultimate worst-case scenario is to continue our separation from Him for eternity.

Jesus’ suffering and agony on the cross were physical, but even more so they were spiritual. As He took on your sins and mine, He stepped into the abyss, experiencing the ultimate, infinite agony of eternal separation from God for you and for me. In so doing, he opened a path for us to return home again, forever.

When we accept Jesus’ offer of salvation no earthly scenario, no matter how evil, has the power to deliver the true worst-case scenario to our lives:

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

Romans 8:31-39

Truth #4: God is Sufficient

Throughout everything Joseph suffered he experienced the presence of the Lord, and he endured. As he learned to lean on the Lord in all things, God began a good work in him, using what others intended to break him to remake him, turning the precocious, boastful young man into a humble, wise and obedient servant of the Lord. God’s sufficiency in Joseph’s life is apparent in his reconciliation with his brothers:

Then the brothers went in person to him, threw themselves on the ground before him and said, “We’ll be your slaves.”

Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid. Do I act for God? Don’t you see, you planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good, as you see all around you right now—life for many people.

Genesis 50:20

Unless we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus we will fall into despair when we fall into the pit in our own lives. In such times we must remember that God doesn’t fix broken things; He creates entirely new and more glorious ones, intended to save not just us — but if we allow Him to use our suffering — many others as well:

 

 

“Do You Want to Get Well?

Throughout Scripture and today we see stories of God bringing life and healing into the dark corners of our world and our lives. It happened to me.

In late July I published Surprised by Sin, where I shared how God called on me transform my broken relationship with my youngest child.

I had tried to change things on my own, but had failed. I had prayed about it, but my prayers came before repentance; I had not invited the Lord to chasten and refine my heart. After so much time and so many failed attempts I told myself “it was what it was.”

Get Up

One man had been an invalid there for 38 years. When Jesus saw him stretched out by the pool and knew how long he had been there, he said, “Do you want to get well?”

The sick man said, “Sir, when the water is stirred, I don’t have anybody to put me in the pool. By the time I get there, somebody else is already in.”

Jesus said, “Get up, take your bedroll, start walking.” The man was healed on the spot. He picked up his bedroll and walked off….

A little later Jesus found him in the Temple and said, “You look wonderful! You’re well! Don’t return to a sinning life or something worse might happen.”

John 5:1-14

The sick man’s malaise thrived in his stagnant refusal to believe he could be other than what he had always been. He had many excuses, few involving personal responsibility.

Jesus’ question exposed his denial, “Do you want to get well?”

Maybe when he first arrived at the pool he really did have a hunger for change and healing, but failure opened the door to discouragement and discouragement to complacency.

Then that familiar voice inside kept him there by reminding him that he was “less than the others” (otherwise why else would he continue to be passed over?), “Things will never change.” “It’s not your fault.” “It is what it is.”

As he watched the others emerge healed he tried to imagine what lay ahead for them. Walking was only the first step. There would be so much more to do. Learning. Working. Striving. And failing 1,000 more times as he worked to close the gaps from 38 years of paralysis. It all sounded so exhausting; perhaps he was better off to just stay put.

Take up your bedroll.

John 5:8

The Greek word for “take up” is airo, literally “to take upon one’s self and carry what has been raised up, to bear.” Jesus is speaking about more than the bedroll; He is commanding him to take responsibility for himself, his circumstance, his joy and the life to which he was called.

See, You are Well

When Jesus brings healing it is complete and abundant. Shortly after that day in July my heart for my daughter, and our relationship, was completely renewed. I see her in a new light, and that light is beginning to shine all around as she sees herself reflected in new and positive ways.

Her attitude about her capabilities and responsibilities is improving, and with it her grades. Our household is more cohesive. And I feel better too, free of the shame and discouragement of what I had considered to be an intractable situation. As Jesus said,

With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

Matthew 19:26

Stop Sinning

With his final words to the now-upright man Jesus offers a valuable warning to him and to us:

Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.

John 5:14

You see, God accepts and loves us in our brokenness, but He is faithful to lead us to the right path, the way to life. We then have a choice to make: get on the right path or continue to go our own way.

At a distance the choice seems obvious: Why in the world would a sick man opt to sit on the sidelines rather than leap into a full and abundant life? Why did I refuse to surrender my relational brokenness to God for 14 years?

  • What sin in your life have you learned to live with?
  • Will you seek His word, invite His Spirit’s conviction and listen to truth spoken by fellow followers to uncover where God is calling you to change directions?

And lastly, but most importantly:

 

Do you want to get well?

Blessed Assurance

I sat beside a friend recently as she waited to learn if a wrong she had done would lead to jail time or a lesser consequence. She’s not the first person I’ve know to face legal judgment recently, and as I’ve been exposed to this microcosm I’ve realized how closely it resembles the views I’ve held about salvation for most of my life.

I grew up in a religious family; we never missed church on Sundays (check that box). Starting at a young age I was taught to serve others (another check). And I did my best to avoid committing a mortal sin… although it was unclear if all those little sins could glob together on my soul as one big, sticky, black mark.

Come on Heaven, No Whammies!

In my mind salvation played out something like this: After 80 or so years of living I would be called before the heavenly throne. God would then review my life — sins and good deeds balanced on a scale — and determine if I had lived a life worth saving or should be condemned for eternity for my wrongdoings.

His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

Matthew 3:12

I loved God, and I knew He loved me. So I struggled to reconcile how a good God could issue an eternal death sentence for a short life here on earth, no matter how failed. As I matured I began to look more broadly at the world and question who among us deserved eternal damnation? Most of the worst people had suffered greatly; behind their stories of evil was a story of brokenness….Did God take that into account?

It felt like a spiritual game of whammy, and it scared me.Whammy.gif

With no assurance I worked hard to build my spiritual resume. I controlled what I could and strived to be good enough; yet sometimes late at night I would be gripped by fear of going to hell.

How could a loving God condemn me for doing my best?

That was the question that plagued me. I found myself tempted to blame God; after all, He created us humans. If He made us flawed and sinful, then how could He be surprised when we behaved accordingly?

Good for Goodness’ Sake

As I reflect on the younger me and how I lived out my faith under this paradigm I know that even my good works were tainted by self-interest. Sure I wanted to help others, but I also wanted to become worthy in God’s eyes. If I served another in order to gain something for myself was that good at all?

The other thing this outlook created was a lot of judgment. Without understanding the heavenly standard for righteousness I was left with a comparative one: “Certainly I am better than that one.” “I never miss church like they do.”

If salvation relied on a quota system I was determined to finish in the top quartile.

For God So Loved the World

I cannot say for certain that God waited 40 years to answer me; He may have been trying all along and I just wasn’t listening. But then again, He did allow the Israelites to wander lost for exactly that long, so maybe it was divine timing.

Regardless, when I reached my forties God opened up two paths to truth on this question: The first came through a young pastor at our church who listened to my questions, fears and doubts without judgment. He offered me insight and resources in a gentle manner that allowed me the freedom to discover and discern the answers for myself.

And then a neighbor invited me to Bible Study Fellowship.* There I began to see God’s Word come alive, creating vital connections between Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and my personal salvation. Passages like these took on rich, new meaning:

  • “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. (Mark 10:1)
  • For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. (John 3:17)
  • It is finished. (John 19:30)
  • If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)
  • He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

God so loved the world that he sent his only son

that all who believe in him might not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

One Way to Be Saved

Slowly the truths I had heard all my life began the long journey from my ears to my heart and mind: Indeed, Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, not in that “no-other-religion-is-good-enough” way that the world seeks to characterize it. It is richer than that: Jesus loves us so much that He offers a free invitation to eternal life that allows us the freedom to choose:

To accept this gift of grace is to say “yes,” to Jesus’ offer to cover our sinfulness in His righteousness. When I stand before God Jesus will be by my side, and He will testify that my sin, my debt, has been paid by His sacrifice.

To reject this gift is to choose to be your own god, to live for yourself and your desires, to stand or fall on your own merits. I heard it suggested recently that no one in hell asks to leave. Perhaps this perpetual, self-determined rejection is the road to hell. (Read The Rich Man and Lazarus with this idea in mind, and you will see that the rich man never does ask to join Lazarus in heaven, he simply seeks to continue to be served as he was in life.)

So if all I need to do in order to be saved is accept Jesus’ gift of grace, then why worry about sin or even about doing good? (James thoroughly unpacks this question.)  In my life it has come down to three things:

  1. Gratitude. As I gain a fuller understanding of what God did for me I have a deep desire to express my gratitude in whatever small measure I can. Loving others is the one thing Jesus asked us to do and the only acceptable offering we have to give.
  2. Gospel = Good News. When I discover something that makes my life better I feel compelled to share it with others. So how could I possibly keep this a secret? After all it is infinitely better than the secret of Dawn + hydrogen peroxide, the best-stain remover on the planet, and I must have told at least 100 people about that! As we live to be His hands and feet in the world we do so in the hope that they will see the good that we do and give glory to God. (Matthew 5:16)
  3. Love. And the last of these is the greatest and underpins the rest. As we come to know Him better and love Him more fully, our desire is to give more of ourselves to Him: He must become greater; I must become less. (John 3:30)

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul

and with all your mind and with all your strength.

Mark 12:30

 

 

* A brief plug: BSF International is a unique, powerful bible study that serves both men and women, skeptic and scholar. Even if you’ve never opened a Bible consider visiting a welcome class this fall!