Tag Archives: sin

Yes, enough.

6 Jan

At our church’s Christmas service two weeks ago, I couldn’t concentrate. I had been listening to Christmas hymns, reading the Christmas story, researching Jesus’ genealogy, and preparing my heart for what I expected to be a beautiful and captivating service. And while the service was that, my heart was MIA. I couldn’t even focus on the truth we were celebrating.

Instead, I was brimming with ingratitude. It took me a little while to recognize it as such. At first, I just felt unhappy. I wished my outfit was cuter, and wondered how much other women spend on their clothes. I wished I had only put things on my Christmas list that I really wanted, since I received other things. I wished for the life of a stay-at-home mom who didn’t have to go to work everyday. I wished for a body that was naturally thinner. I wished for longer, prettier hair. I wished to be more outgoing, to have more friends, to be more encouraging.

As the service went on, I grew sick with discontent, like I had been reading in a car winding down the road for hours.

I tried to turn my thoughts back to God. Back to Jesus. He’s human! Celebrate!

But even on Christmas, I couldn’t forget self.

“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” Everything I need for life and godliness. I said it wasn’t enough, much like Eve in the garden who ignored every blessing to focus on the one thing withheld.

Ingratitude chokes the heart.

Since that morning, this knowledge has seeped into the pages of my life, revealing ingratitude written with invisible ink. Putting all struggles in their proper context, like beams of light through cobwebs of issues I thought had been put to rest.

That’s why…

Imagining God as my parent or husband, delighted in having spent hours upon hours picking out the perfect gift for me. Imagining me scoffing, stomping, and demanding more.

Isn’t that what I’ve been doing? Hasn’t God perfectly and lovingly hand-picked every circumstance, aspect, and facet of my life?

My throat swells when I think of how I’ve shunned Him and His blessings. How I’ve said No, not enough.

But Grace…

All is not lost. He does not withdraw His blessings from the ungrateful recipient. This God pours out more, so that we might know the truth of Who He is and who we are.

More… always more.

Gratefulness for repentance spills over into watercolor sunsets, fast runs on warm evenings, personality quirks, quiet moments to read, unique tastes, and Jesus, human and humble.

“The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD…”

…by saying Yes, enough.

…by trustfully accepting their divine appointment in life.

…by accepting their reality as God’s deliberate and loving gift.

Ingratitude makes us miss the gift.

God has seen my lifelong ungratefulness. He stayed. He drew closer. He gave more grace. And now I see it too.

So this is what I want to spend the rest of my life doing – Finding new ways to thank Him. New things to praise Him for. New blessings to pass on to others.

………………………………..

If you want more thoughts on thanksgiving, I highly recommend reading One Thousands Gifts by Ann Voskamp, who influenced many of my thoughts above.

Learning to Rely on God – Part Three

5 Nov

Yesterday and the day before, I shared Part One and Part Two of what I’ve been learning it means to rely on God. Last but not least…

3. Relying on God means trusting Him and surrendering to His plan.

As I think back over all the different things I had struggled with over the years, things like taking a shopping hiatus, giving away more money, spending more time volunteering, sharing my faith, talking to strangers, and being intentional in getting to know people at church, I realize that in most cases, I didn’t take any action because I was scared. I was scared that if I couldn’t have more clothes, I wouldn’t be happy. I was scared that if I committed to volunteering, I wouldn’t like it and it would feel like a burden. I was scared that if I invited a girl I didn’t know out to coffee, I wouldn’t know what to say and it’d be awkward. So I did nothing – except feel guilty. And condemned. And pathetic. And overwhelmed. And that’s where my pessimism and perfectionism got the best of me and it all spiraled out of control.

Anyway, I got to thinking the other day, what if I surrendered to God’s leading and said yes, in faith, to all of His promptings? What if, like Jim Carrey in Yes Man, I acted on every thought or crazy notion I had that I thought was from God? And what if the criteria I used to determine whether or not a thought was from God was as broad as “Would God be pleased with me doing this?” That would include a lot of things I’ve avoided doing: saying hi to strangers out running, hosting a table at our church’s Christmas tea and inviting co-workers, give more of my money away to charities, sharing the gospel with the clerk at the grocery store, encouraging someone at church I don’t know very well… the list goes on.

As I pondered the implications of that, my old fear reared its head and I realized –  my quest for answers had really been my way of controlling how much I gave to God. I had wanted answers instead of God Himself because I was afraid of what He would demand. I had had a small taste of what He demands and it was hard to bear. He pushes me past my boundaries of comfort. He asks for sacrificial giving and service. He doesn’t let me retreat into the unredeemed areas of my personality and hide from convictions that are revealing and challenging. Specific answers would have allowed me to remain in control of what I would give and what I would reserve.

I thought the questions I wanted answers to were, How much money should I give away? How much should I serve? How much should I pray? How much should I evangelize? But the questions I was really asking were: How much can I keep? How much can I relax? How much can I ignore others? How much can I not care? And the ultimate question:

How much do I have to do to stop feeling guilty? What’s the bare minimum? Just tell me what I have to do, and I’ll do it. 

But if I instead surrender and say, “Yes, Lord, you can ask anything of me,” suddenly my demand for answers doesn’t seem so urgent. I would be more content to discover the answers with God, while living life, rather than having Him hand me a set of rules to carry out in my own strength.

And I believe that is what God has been teaching me all along. It has taken me literally years to get here and I in no way think that I have everything figured out. But I have arrived back at the same place I started: the unconditional love of God revealed in Christ’s death on the cross.

May I never be moved from this place for the rest of my life.

………………………………………

I hope you enjoyed my thoughts about relying on God. I’d love to hear any feedback or thoughts you have. Next up is a special surprise in honor of my blog’s 400th post (not this one, the next one)!

Learning to Rely on God – Part Two

4 Nov

Yesterday, I shared with you the first part of what learning to rely on God means to me. Here’s the second point.

2. Relying on God means having a humble, teachable spirit.

Several years ago, I prayed and asked God to help me live radically for Him. He has slowly answered that prayer by changing the way I approach spending my time and money, and helping me to focus on other people more than myself. But the practical changes He has prompted me to make over the years involved sacrifice and inconvenience. So instead of humbling myself and following God’s leading in faith, I rejected His promptings and proceeded to look for a different answer, an answer that was more convenient and would fit neatly into my nice little life. When I didn’t find that answer, I got frustrated, cynical and resentful. Of course, I didn’t see any of this while it was happening. At the time, it just seemed like God was making me question everything and giving me no answers.

Just the other day as I was typing out my rantings, I wrote,

“Just tell me how to live and I’ll live that way.”

God replied, “I am telling you how to live and you’re rejecting it.”

“Oh, that whole living by faith thing? Yeah, I meant the specifics.”

“You mean the ones that you could accomplish without me?”

“Um… yeah, those.”

“There aren’t any. The only way to truly live is with me. Living without me is death.”

“Hmmm… Still not the answer I was looking for.”

I’m beginning to realize that living radically for Christ is like working for a non-profit ministry. It sounds exciting. I imagine it making me feel deeply satisfied, fulfilled and reassured that I’m contributing to something bigger than myself. But while all of that may be true, when you’re actually working at the non-profit (as I did for 3 years), it just feels like a job. You come in the morning, sit at a desk for 8 hours, and then go home. The same feels true when God is actually showing you how to live radically – it feels very pedestrian and trite. Almost annoying. Like I want to groan and say, “Really? Does it really matter if I spend $10 on a pair of pants? Why can’t I have this one thing?

God has obviously been telling me, “Yes, it does matter. Obey me even in the small things and I will bless you.”

Stay tuned for Part Three…

Learning to Rely on God – Part One

3 Nov

I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of my post You Can’t Object to Grace. In fact, I spent all day yesterday reading sermon transcripts from John Piper’s series on Galatians (which he delivered the year I was born…1983) and typing out the questions and thoughts swirling through my head.

And I stand corrected.

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While I still believe that God’s love is completely unconditional toward us in Christ, and that our obedience to God is for our own good, it’s not entirely true to say that God doesn’t have any expectations or standards. It’s a little hard for me to comprehend how God’s grace fits in with the law, and how God has expectations of me even though Christ has fulfilled the law on my behalf, but my friend Cathy explained it using the analogy of her and her kids – she loves them unconditionally, regardless of whether they obey or disobey, but she still has expectations of them. She expects them to be nice to others, to share their toys, to learn math and spelling, to go to bed without throwing a hissy fit, etc. But whether they obey or disobey in those things doesn’t affect the deep love she has for them, because her love is based on her relationship with them as their mother.

I read a similar idea in a book called The Grace of God by Andy Stanley. He pointed out that God gave Moses and the Israelites the Ten Commandments and the rest of the law after He had already established a relationship with them by miraculously leading them out of Egypt and providing for them in the desert. Because the nation of Israel had been under Egyptian rule for the previous 300+ years, they had no idea how to govern themselves. The only kind of leadership they had witnessed was the tyrannical decisions of power-hungry Pharaohs. They lived in a society where many humans had no more rights than animals. So the law was actually God’s blessing to them. Instead of shackling them with rules, He was actually showing them how they could maintain the greatest freedom and live in a theocracy instead of under a king.

I’ve been having a hard time viewing God’s rules and expectations as freedom. They’ve actually felt more like a burden of guilt and a constant reminder of how much I suck at life. But I praise God for John Piper, who never compromises God’s holy, righteous, and just character. He never sugarcoats the gospel or the radical demands of Christ. And Christ’s demands are radical. They are jaw-dropping, mind-bending, comfort-destroying, and pride-shattering.

By listening to Piper, I have realized that God has purposely designed the Christian life to be impossible for us to accomplish on our own. 

God does have expectations and standards for us, but they’re not to make us strive harder and harder and fall on our faces in defeat, only to get up and try even harder, but to force us to realize that we have to rely on God for everything, including any growth in sanctification or success in “living the Christian life.” Even the Mosaic law wasn’t meant to promote salvation by works but to make us realize that we have to rely on God.

Since that is a phrase often thrown around, I want to elaborate on what relying on God means to me (and how I’ve been wrong for the past 4 years).

1. Relying on God means having faith in Christ’s atoning work on my behalf. 

This is the biggest realization I have had. Christ is the Answer. It always goes back to Christ’s work on my behalf.

Piper said something profound in another sermon I listened to last night: “The main battles in life… are battles to believe [in the person and work of Christ on the cross]. I mean really believe it—trust it, embrace it, cherish it, treasure it, bank on it, breathe it, shape your life by it.”

What I love the most about Piper’s sermons and books is that he emphasizes over and over that the inspiration, motivation, ability, strength, and passion to live the Christian life flow out of a heart that has been transformed by the gospel. I have to stop worrying about my life and trying to control everything, and go back to the basics of the gospel – that Christ died for me while I was His enemy; that He has paid for ALL of my sins and reconciled me to God; that I am God’s beloved daughter and He delights in me; and that His love for me in Christ is unconditional. Understanding that truth is where real freedom comes from.

Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3…

 

 

You Can’t Object to Grace

26 Oct

I’ve realized something in the past couple of weeks.

In all of my focus on living out my faith practically, I had left God’s grace behind. I didn’t believe that God loved me, as I was. I felt like the only way God would approve of me is if I had it altogether and was doing everything right. Anything less meant I was a failure, a disappointment. God had high standards, expectations, responsibilities for me. And I fell short. So very, very short.

But there’s a reason why we have the saying, “For every look you take at yourself, take 10 looks at the cross.” Yes, on the cross, we see how utterly sinful we are (nothing new there) but we also see, and should focus much more on, God’s love for us. He, in love, sacrificed His Son to win us back, and now, delights in us completely independent of anything we do. No matter what, His love for us is unconditional. And by unconditional, I mean exactly that. There are no conditions.

Are you thinking of any objections? Any qualifiers? “Yeah, His love is unconditional, but we can’t just do anything. I mean…”

Those are the very objections that have been popping into my head, for a very long time. And I’m beginning to see that those objections aren’t true.

What is the risk we run in declaring that God’s love for believers is unconditional? Why are people so quick to qualify that statement or make disclaimers?

I think the Apostle Paul stumbled onto a similar situation in his ministry to the Roman church.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 5:15 – 6:4)

Paul made the bold statement that the law was valuable because it increased sin, which in turn increased God’s grace. Sin abounded but grace abounded more.

Paul anticipates the objection, “So are you saying we should sin more, so that grace abounds more?”

“By no means!”

That objection completely misses the point of grace. Why would you want to keep sinning in the face of God’s endless and boundless love and grace for us? The person making that objection has obviously not actually been impacting personally and transformed internally by grace – they’re merely observing this outpouring of grace. Because no one can drink deeply of God’s grace in Christ and use sinning as a way of going about getting more of it.

I think the same false objections are being applied here with God’s unconditional love for us. Is it audacious to say that God demands nothing of us, that His standards and expectations have been satisfied, and that we have complete and utter freedom in Christ? That we can do anything we want? Does that seem brazen or presumptuous? Are you squirming off your chair with objections that need to be heard?

Consider this: if our freedom flows out of a deep knowledge of God’s love for us, why do we need to be concerned that we would “take advantage of” that freedom in the wrong way? When we look at God’s grace abounding for us as sinners, why are we scared that we’ll dive off the deep end into sin?

Why can’t we say, with 100% certainty and absolutely no qualifications, that God’s love for us is unconditional?

Because we feel sure, somewhere deep down, that something is required of us. Something has got to be required of us. Right?

But the truth is, God doesn’t need our good intentions, our heartfelt desires or our well-developed plans. He doesn’t need our service, our tithing, our words of encouragement, our sacrifice. He doesn’t need our busy schedules, hours of Bible study and prayer, meals delivered to families in need, hospitality, or generosity.

All of those things are for us. They are His blessings to us.

“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25).

Here are a few beloved quotes that illustrate this very well:

“This is how the ‘giving God’ gives—with a selfless, total concern for us and with an exclusive preoccupation as if he had nothing else to do but to give and give again.” (Alec Motyer on James 1:5)

“We actually slander and dishonor God by our very eagerness to serve Him without knowing Him.” (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest)

And my favorite (it’s long, but you really should read it – John Piper states it far better than I do):

Can we give anything to Christ?

When the psalmist cried out, “What shall I render to the Lord for all of his benefits to me?” the reply was, “I will lift the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord” (Psalm 116:12-13). Jesus gives us the gift of himself and we ask, “Now what can I render to Jesus for all the benefits of his fellowship?” Answer: Ask him for his help. That’s the gift he wants.

The reason Christ wants this is because he always wants to get the glory while we get the benefit. Glory comes to him when we depend on him rather than try to enrich him. If we come to him with gifts—as though he needed something—then we put him in the position of a needy person, and we’re the benefactors. He always wants to be the one who is infinitely self-sufficient. Therefore the only gifts that we can bring Jesus are gifts of praise, thanks, longing, and neediness.

A fountain is not glorified by us hauling buckets of dirty water up the mountain and pouring them in. A fountain—a spring in a mountain—is glorified, rather, by us lying down at the edge of the stream, putting our face in, drinking our fill, and getting up and saying, “Ah!” That’s called worship. Then we take a bucket, dip it in, walk down the hill to the people in the valley who don’t know that the spring exists, and we say, “Taste this! It’s right up there, and his name is Jesus!” The kind of gift that the fountain wants is drinkers, because then he looks truly overflowing, rich, and self-sufficient. And that’s exactly what he wants to look like.

But aren’t we giving to God when we give to the poor (Matthew 25:40)?

Yes, but what is the something? Jesus is clearly in heaven today, risen, triumphant, and supplying everything we take to the poor. That’s an absolutely clear teaching: “My God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

So if you have anything to take to a prisoner, any clothes to put on the naked, any drink to give to the thirsty, any fellowship to give to the refugee, you’re getting that from Jesus. You can’t be enriching Jesus. So what are you giving Jesus? You’re giving him honor, tribute, and glory.

Remember also that in this text Jesus calls these beneficiaries “my brethren.” That means that if you give to the poor then you’re choosing to bless, at your own cost, the brothers of Jesus. You’re treating them with honor because they belong to Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t need the food or the clothing. What he delights in is receiving the honor that his name gets when we chose to say, “It’s his brothers that I’m going to love and sacrifice for.” So as long as we talk about giving to Jesus—in terms of Matthew 25:40—we should understand that what is happening there is that Christ is being honored, glorified, and valued, because these are Christ’s brothers that we are willing to serve.

God’s love for us in Christ is unconditional. We don’t have to (and can’t) do anything to deserve it, ever. We can’t even make progress toward deserving it, or pay God back in any way for it. So let us be life-long drinkers of the fountain of grace and not undermine it with objections.

 

Blaming God for what I did.

14 Mar

I had a momentous realization on Friday morning of last week.

It started Tuesday night at my women’s book study. We’re reading A Praying Life by Paul Miller and the chapter was about viewing every event of our lives through the lens of God weaving His story. There was a little chart with two columns – one for not believing there was a story and the other for believing there was. With no story, we would be bitter, angry, cynical, and hopeless. With a story, we would be waiting, watching, hoping, praying and submitting.

The question was, Which of these do you see manifest in your life? My initial instinct while preparing for the meeting was that there was a story. Even though I didn’t really understand why God had used the things He had to tell His story in my life, I believed that there was one. But then during the meeting when we were discussing this, I all of a sudden had the thought that I struggled with seeing God’s story in the early years of my marriage. I had struggled so much with my own sin and being a person I didn’t want to be, that it was really hard to see how and why God had chosen that struggle to accomplish His purposes.

I ended up getting really emotional and asked the other women what they thought. One woman said that God never causes us to sin – we choose to sin. Another said that God disciplines us for our own good and that seeing our sin is a form of discipline. The whole time they were talking, I wanted to interrupt and say, “Yeah, but you don’t understand.” I felt like my problem went deeper than that.

After the meeting was over, I had no desire to even attempt light-hearted chit chat so I left abruptly. As I drove home, I wondered, “Why does this still bother me? I mean, I felt like I was over this. It was a hard time but God used it to bring me here.” I could see how my struggle with sin and my consequent accusation that God wasn’t helping me led to my decision to take control of my life. I could see how taking control of my life led to disillusionment and depression, and how that led to my realizing my dependence on God. I could see how it all worked together. Maybe that was all.

I mentioned it to Travis when I got home. He asked the same question I had – “Why does this still bother you? I mean, it’s in the past.” I started giving him an answer, but realized that I had none. I explained the sequence of events to him but it didn’t seem like the answer as to why it still bothered me.

The next morning, I was surprised to find an email in my inbox from a woman I had met during the book study. She said that she had an encouragement for me from the Lord and wanted to confirm my email address. I replied, saying it was the correct one. When I checked my email later that day, the woman said that she knew what it was like to struggle with God’s purpose when your own sin caused the situation. She wrote about how she had been angry with God after her parents died and had slipped into sin out of rebellion and anger. Even though she should have ended up “divorced, miserable and broke,” God’s grace had been “undeniably present” right “in the midst of the situation” and redeemed the situation.

I was again unsettled. I felt like the email signaled that God wanted to say something to me about this situation but why? I had dealt with this… I understood that God used it for my good. That was enough, wasn’t it? I wrote back that I could see how God had used the struggle in my life but that since it was relatively recent, I was just beginning to see that I was still mad at God for putting me through that. I felt like singing the song by The Fray, “Where were you when everything was falling apart? Why’d you have to wait?”

The next morning, I read the reply from the woman to my email and that got me thinking again. I still felt unsettled about the issue, like I was restless and wanted to go shake off the stiffness. I had to get dressed for my coffee date with my friend, Cathy, so I walked into our bedroom, still thinking, and I said, “Well I guess I’m wondering why You had to use my marriage. Why couldn’t You have used a problem at work or something, instead?” I felt God say, “It wouldn’t have broken you enough.” My complete brokenness had been God’s plan and purpose. I needed to come to the end of myself. I understood that I had been accusing God of abandoning me during that time, when He had been there all along. I re-read the woman’s first email, where she talked about God’s grace being undeniably present in the midst of the situation. God had been there. He had seen and gone through it all with me. I cried a little, thanking God for the insight.

Then during coffee with Cathy, I shared my realizations with her but didn’t get the reception I had expected. She said that she didn’t believe God used our sins in order to teach us lessons, that sins were part of living in a fallen world, and that He redeemed and freed us from our sins. She shared about one of her experiences of not seeing God do what she had wanted and how she had realized that she needed to first let go of the bitterness and anger she felt toward Him before she would feel release. She was the one who had been holding on to sin. I told her that in my first year of marriage, I had cried out to God for Him to help me, for Him to sanctify me and give me love for my husband, but that He hadn’t. And then one day, without any correlating realization or experience, things had gotten better. I couldn’t explain it. Why would I have gone through that if He hadn’t planned on using it? Why would He allow me to continue to struggle with sin if He didn’t have a purpose behind it? I don’t think Cathy and I ever really got on the same page—more just like we agreed to disagree. When she left, I felt unsettled again, like something just wasn’t right. I felt that way all day.

Friday morning, I was praying and thinking about what Cathy had said. The unsettled feeling returned. I tried to think through what I meant about God using it for a purpose. I understood it was my sin that caused it, but I kept thinking, God allowed it to happen; He could have stopped it if He had wanted to. Since He didn’t stop it, He must have had a purpose in it. That answer didn’t satisfy me—I still had the unsettled feeling—but I was sick of thinking about it. My brain hurt, I felt like I was going in circles. Finally, I asked God, “Why does it matter how I feel about the situation? What happened, happened, right? The situation is what it is. I mean, does it really matter?” I felt like God said, “Yes.” So reluctantly, I continued to think.

I started typing my thoughts. And the realizations started pouring out of me. I was blaming God for my sin. I was saying that my life would have been fine if God hadn’t caused me to go through that struggle, that I would have been fine without His plan. But the truth was, I was denying that I had desired for my marriage to go my way, to fulfill my own expectations, and for Travis to be the exact husband I wanted him to be. I was denying my selfishness and unbelief in God’s promises and plan.

I had tried to solve my marital problems on my own. I had run to God, yes—but only after all of my own efforts had failed miserably. Once I was done crying, what had I done? I went back to living in my own strength, only to fail again and wonder why God wasn’t blessing me. That’s the real story. It wasn’t that God had abandoned me—He just wouldn’t bless my efforts to live apart from Him.

And why would God bless my efforts to live apart from Him? That wouldn’t be for my eternal good. He would only be reinforcing my natural propensity for self-sufficiency and independence. It was God’s grace to me in that time that I was not successful in sanctification, because I wasn’t seeking Him in the midst of it. I was only seeking the solution to my situation, not the Solution for my soul.

The truth about walking in dependence on God showed up in my journals for the entire three and a half years of this struggle – God was trying to teach me that lesson the whole time. He was telling me the truth. But I refused it. I refused it. I said that it was too easy. Surely there was more to the Christian life than that. God stuck with me, through all of my sin and my misery and my refusal to believe the truth. And finally, I got to the place where  I was so broken, exhausted, and disillusioned that I could finally accept the truth. I had to try out all the solutions I could think of to life. I had to test out all of my theories, everything I could think of to be the meaning of life, before I could accept God’s definition and meaning. I would not accept God until I had proven everything else wrong. I was SO pig-headed! God was SO faithful and patient!

As I realized all of this, I started crying. This awesome truth humbled me to the core.  Even the way God revealed it to me had His fingerprints all over it. I am absolutely amazed at the way God works in the lives of those He loves. Amazed. This discovery further proves that God’s glory is our joy. The more I think about the situation, the more I am convinced that it could be no other way than this: me being humbled and God being exalted. I need to be needy and God needs to be sufficient. I need to admit my sin and see God in all of His shining, brilliant holiness. I am fickle, finite, and wretched; He is faithful, forgiving, and loving.

It’s funny – it seems counter-intuitive that such release should come from understanding that the whole situation was my fault. I think my flesh was resisting the discovery of the truth for that very reason – it puts the blame squarely on my shoulders. But that is slight compared to how it magnifies God. I had been tarnishing His character and reputation. I had been questioning His goodness, faithfulness and wisdom. I had been doubting His love for me. But now, I see God’s character, reputation, goodness, faithfulness, wisdom and love for me utterly magnified and shining in all its eternal brilliance. There is no reason to doubt His character or purpose – God is even MORE amazing than I could have fathomed! Not only has He used my struggle to bring me into a deeper relationship with Him, He demonstrated utter faithfulness and patience to me when I could not have deserved it less.

This realization has had implications that reach even farther into my Christian walk but I will save that for another post. For now, I will just say Praise the Lord for revealing my sin to me!

Where the rubber meets the road

27 Feb

One of the main points of the book I’m writing is that reminding oneself of the gospel as motivation for living the Christian life isn’t enough. It’s definitely a start. And I totally believe that the gospel is the foundation of the Christian faith. But we can’t stop there. We need to press on into a living, intimate relationship with God that pervades every facet of our lives. I am mystified by the number of God-fearing Christians who say that they exist to glorify God and yet still struggle with having a daily quiet time and praying. If our “beliefs” aren’t translating into tangible actions, then we’re not really believing them. And if we’re not really believing our beliefs, the place to start is an intimate relationship with God, not just jumping to activities because we’re guilted into them.

Another one of my main discoveries has been that Christians’ hearts are redeemed, and therefore, good. We have good desires. Our innermost beings desire and delight in God. We are holy and righteous in our hearts because the Holy Spirit dwells there. Christ reigns in our hearts. But there is this thing still living in the rest of our bodies called sin. We therefore still commit sins. In that sense, you can say that we are still sinful. But in our innermost beings, we are no longer sinful because of Christ’s presence. Think about it: Christ literally dwells inside of us (a point which the Bible makes very clear) but since He is holy, He could not do that if our hearts were wicked and evil. But since Christ does dwell inside of us, the only possibility is that our hearts are good.

I am by no means a theologian and there is much a biblical scholar understands that I do not. But these realizations have been proven in my own experience (and others’) and have brought me immense freedom and joy in my relationship with God. Without these truths, Christianity is just based on a bunch of events (the cross) and we have no hope for ever growing in our resemblance to Christ. I truly believe that an intimate relationship with God and our redeemed nature are fundamental truths, without which our experience of God will be drastically limited.

There is a mentality among God-fearing Christians that the more we are aware of our sins, the more we glorify God. I whole-heartedly reject that thinking. I agree that the more we know God, the more we will be aware of our sin – the contrast between our depravity and God’s holiness will be increasingly obvious the more we see of God. I also agree that God is glorified when we know and are satisfied in Him. But to seek to know our sin more in order that we may more glorify God is masochism. Believe me, I’ve been there. I’ve been so confronted with my sin that I thought to myself, “If this is what the rest of my life is going to be like as a Christian, I don’t want it.” And I know that I barely even skimmed the surface of how sinful I really am.

Perhaps for those who struggle with self-righteousness and thinking that they’re actually doing pretty good at the Christian life, reminding themselves of their sin is helpful. It keeps them humble and in recognition of their need for a Savior. But there is another kind of person. A person who tends to be self-condemning, to lament who they are, and to feel like they can never do anything right. Reminding this person of how sinful they are is only putting salt in the wound. It is not helpful. Additionally, reminding that person that their self-loathing is just another form of pride is not helpful either. It is kicking them while they’re down.

The antidote to self-loathing, rather, is being reminded of God’s love, His infinite, abounding, overflowing love for people who are broken and needy. This, too, is part of the gospel. Only when the self-loathing person sees how very loved they are by God, can they see that their efforts to “be good enough” were a form of pride . But you can’t start there. This person needs to know that God is on their side because of Christ’s death, that they do have the power to change because of Christ’s resurrection, and that they are assisted daily, moment by moment by the Holy Spirit living inside of them. There is hope. There is victory. They don’t have to dwell in despair over who they are naturally.

But the self-loathing person doesn’t seem to be addressed much when talking about the gospel. Usually, the gospel truth goes something like this, “You are more sinful than you ever imagined, but you are more loved than you ever dreamed.” I agree with that statement. But while there are many, many sermons at my church on how sinful we are, all the different ways we are led astray, and what we need to do to fight for holiness, and there are some sermons on God’s love as demonstrated on the cross in forgiving our sins, I haven’t heard many sermons on how God’s love enables us to live differently. And not just the idea of God’s love (as in, I’m reminding myself that God loves me and as such, I change my behavior), but God’s love living and active inside of me, accomplishing in me what I cannot do for myself.

I’m basing these statements on my current church, not Christian churches in general. So it probably comes as no surprise that I am becoming more and more discontent with our church and its teaching. At first, I felt like the preaching just wasn’t that challenging. But I chalked it up to having become a Christian listening to John Piper preach, so most preaching would be a step down from that (because Piper is a very gifted preacher). But now, I am flat-out disagreeing with what our church is teaching. I don’t think that they’re blaspheming or teaching another gospel. I just think that their focus on our depravity isn’t helpful to everyone – but they hold that it is.

I also feel like in the challenges they issue us from the pulpit, they’re in a way assuming that we’re living half-heartedly for God. That we’re dabbling in known sin on the side, or letting sin run rampant, or keeping areas of our lives separate from our relationship with God. And I hate to say it, but I think there are a number of Christians in our church who are doing those very things. Like I said earlier, this mystifies me. Why the apathy and indifference? Why are we fooling about with the things of this world, making mud pies in the slums, when we have been offered a holiday at the sea? I dare say I’ve discovered my passion: to see apathetic Christians desiring God with every fiber of their being.

I don’t want to be an argumentative, divisive Christian and I do believe that our church still has some good things going for it. So I don’t necessarily feel called to move on. But I am interested in investigating other God-fearing, biblically sound churches in our area, just to see what other pastors are preaching. How do other people approach living the Christian life? What do other people think about reminding ourselves of sin as motivation for loving God and a basis for glorifying God?

What do you think about all this?