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Built on Grace

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None of us are immune to brokenness. We are all in need of grace. We all struggle with something. Your struggle may not be my struggle but it is no better or worse – just different. The key word here, is the word “struggle”. If you are struggling then that means you are suffering and are trying like hell to do something about it. If you are struggling then that means you hate your addiction, hangup or affliction just as much, if not more, than those who are closest to you. Some of us struggle with fear, pride, narcissism, broken hearts, mental illness, self-hatred, doubt, addiction, chronic pain, a troubled childhood, anger, depression, weight loss, forgiveness, trust, physical ailments and disease.

But true grace always endures these struggles and even more. The kind of marriages and relationships that stand the test of time, storms and tribulations are those that are built on grace and not performance. A relationship that is built on the expectation of good behavior, image, money, security, stability or appearance will always loom in the shadow of fear, expectation and disappointment because those things will change and go missing at times. Some couples who make it work on performance may stay together but it will either live or die based on performance.

But, those relationships that are built on grace and grace alone will not only endure (as it maybe for a time), but will eventually thrive once those who are in the relationship are able to know for sure that their spouse, friend or parents are not going anywhere. There is not a more beautiful picture of God’s unlimited transforming grace than the ‘parable of the prodigal son‘. The Father waited and waited; looking everyday into the distance to see if His son would return. The Father was not going anywhere.

“Wait a second!”, some of you may say. “I tried giving my spouse (or friend) grace but it did not work. The more grace I gave, the more they abused it.” Sadly, there is not a person on this side of heaven that does not abuse the grace that God gives him or her (thank God that He does not reconsider). I believe that if we all saw clearly just how badly we abuse God’s grace then not one of us would ever refuse to pass it on again.  There is not a believer or unbeliever who, at times, abuses the grace that we receive from others. Some abuse it more than others but grace never ceases to be grace.

But let’s be real. If you have “tried” grace with the intention of limiting it based on someone else’s performance then you have never really given to another what you have received from God. Conditional grace is not grace at all. Scripture makes it clear that we do not receive grace based upon our behavior. It has nothing to do with our works (good or bad).

Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”

The same grace that saved us is the same grace that sustains us. It is also the exact same grace that we must give to others.
“…But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant.” Romans 5:20

Now clearly Paul was not advocating that we sin more so that grace would increase. He goes on to say that this kind of thinking would be ridiculous. The message that Paul was trying to convey is that God’s love and His grace is not temporary or limited based on our performance. But scripture says that we can “fall from grace“. We do this by either rejecting it for ourselves because we do not think we deserve it based on our works or we refuse to pass it on to others because we believe that they are not deserving of it either.

I am in no position to take the moral high ground when it comes to granting others true grace. I am just as guilty as any one else at withholding grace at times and doing my part in building relationships based on performance. But, I have experienced the power of transforming grace from a few very close friends and more importantly from God Himself and it is a beautiful thing to experience. It is truly transforming. It has been the only thing that has sustained me over the last year. I do not deserve it, but if I did deserve it then it would not be grace. I seek and pray that God will give me opportunities to be on the giving side of grace.

Dwight Edwards said it best, “Nothing arrests and transforms the soul of man like the power of true grace…While it is true that grace can be abused (Rom.6:1): let us never forget that it turns people’s lives inside out for the glory of God like nothing else… A full dose of grace goes infinitely farther in producing godliness than all the fences and stop signs in the world.”

This is why God never approves of divorce. He makes allowance for it because of the hardness in our hearts (in only two instances) but He never blesses it.  He never blesses it, because in our decision to break up God’s most cherished institution besides the church, we have neglected to pass God’s transforming grace on to our spouse. In fact, Jesus makes it clear that divorce was never the original plan (this, He says, is just as true for unbelievers). When God “divorced” Israel it is was always with the intention of drawing Israel back to Himself and once again showing the Hebrews nation both mercy and grace.

There is not a better picture of God’s grace as it applies to marriage then that observed in Hosea 3:1-5. God used Hosea as an example of the kind of grace that he gives Israel regardless of the fact that Israel was behaving like a prostitute in its relationship with God.

And the Lord said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.”2So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley.3And I said to her, “You must dwell as mine for many days. You shall not play the whore, or belong to another man; so will I also be to you.” 

We seek results in America. We love to win and we want to show the world how blessed we are. We live in a performance driven society that awards selfish ambition, personal victories and winning. We want more and this mind frame is just as evident within the walls of the church (if not more) as it is in corporate America. If you do not believe me then just scroll down your Facebook page and you will see Christians showing off how God has “blessed” them with a winning victorious life. Born out of this way of thinking has become what many know as the “prosperity gospel“.

An excerpt I found in   boldly claims “...the prosperity gospel is a spiritualization of the American Dream. Quite what the American Dream is precisely is a moot point, but this definition from the relevant Wiki page seems helpful enough:

The package of beliefs, assumptions, and action patterns that social scientists have labelled the American Dream has always been a fragile agglomeration of (1) individual freedom of choice in life styles, (2) equal access to economic abundance, and (3) the pursuit of shared objectives mutually advantageous to the individual and society[1]

When you start saying not only that this is available to you, but that it is precisely what God wants for you, you have the lethal cocktail of a Prosperity Gospel. No wonder it sounds like good news! No wonder it is attractive!”

I read a recent article of a well-known T.V. evangelist who advised a man to leave his wife because her Alzheimer’s was getting in his way of having the life, that he knew, God had intended for him to have. This man was not winning by the worlds definition and neither was his wife. He believed (and so did the T.V evangelist) that God wanted him to have more – a winning marriage and a quality life. In other words, if your marriage is not winning and your spouse is not experiencing victory in their struggles then you deserve better. Like the Nike Ad says, “Just do It”.

I am absolutely certain that if we applied the same kind of unconditional transforming grace that God provides for us that there would be NO divorces among believers. I have read testimony after testimony of marriages that were completely doomed and irreconcilable (rocked with infidelity and abuse) that were transformed and made whole because of true unconditional grace. And it is these grace-filled relationships that are the greatest testimonies to God’s power and love. Just a simple google search of these kinds of testimonies should be convincing enough. In fact, more can be said of God’s amazing love and power in a transformed marriage healed by God’s all empowering grace than any other miraculous healing or gifts of the spirit that we are able to access.

Why do you think that Satan goes after marriages at a level of intensity like nothing else? Why do you think that Christian marriages have just as high a divorce rate as secular marriages? This is why I would never advise a friend of mine or even a family member to get a divorce. That is just playing God. It would certainly bring judgement upon myself because “what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Mark 10:9. Church pastors who remarry a couple who have divorced their previous spouses are just as guilty before God. I would certainly suggest separation in situations that could cause harm, but grace has the power to heal every person, every situation and every marriage and every true believer and pastor should know this.

Some relationships are just messy. But isn’t our relationship with God just as messy, if not more? Anyone can love someone when they are at their best. Where do you go when your loved one is at their worst? Do you come along side of them? Do you stay and fight? I believe Eric Church captures the essence of a relationship built on grace in his new song; “Like Jesus Does“.

Like Jesus Does
I’m a long-gone Waylon song on vinyl
I’m a back row sinner at a tent revival
But she believes in me like she believes her Bible
And loves me like Jesus does
I’m a lead foot leaning on a souped-up Chevy
I’m a good old boy, drinking whiskey and rye on the levee
But she carries me when my sins make me heavy
And loves me like Jesus does
All the crazy in my dreams
Both my broken wings
Every single piece of everything I am
Yeah, she knows the man I ain’t
She forgives me when I can’t
The devil, man, no, he don’t stand a chance
‘Cause she loves me like Jesus does
I always thought she’d give up on me one day
Wash her hands of me, leave me staring down some runway
But I thank God each night, and twice on Sunday
That she loves me like Jesus does
All the crazy in my dreams
And both my broken wings
Every single piece of who I am
Yeah, she knows the man I ain’t
She forgives me when I can’t
And the devil, man, no, he don’t have a prayer
‘Cause she loves me like Jesus does
Yes, she knows the man I ain’t
She forgives me when I can’t
That devil, man, he don’t stand a chance
She loves me like Jesus does
I’m a long-gone Waylon song on vinyl
God does expect us to give to others what we so graciously received from Him as this parable strongly suggest:
Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor

21 Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone[a]who sins against me? Seven times?”

22 “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven![b]

23 “Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him.24 In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars.[c] 25 He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.

26 “But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ 27 Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.

28 “But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars.[d] He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment.

29 “His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. 30 But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.

31 “When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. 32 Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ 34 Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.

35 “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters[e] from your heart.”

God please help me to see the magnitude of the grace that you have given me so that I never question passing this grace on to others. Help me to never question the unconditionality of grace ever again. 

A Better Way to Heal

jude-beck-546471-unsplash2019 has not been a good start. Last week, I was hit over the head with news that brought me to my knees. I have had moments in my life when I was so broken that I could not sleep, but rarely have I been so distressed that I could not even pray. This has been one of those times. When the anguish becomes to much I simply sit at the edge of my bed hoping that God will intercede for me in prayer.

In my past, I’ve tried to escape the pain and trauma in my life by numbing or avoiding it. It is no surprise to me, that out of an act of desperation, I have thought about ways to manipulate or sabotage the current situation before me. If my attempt to control the situation does not work, then I can always seek some form of escape. But, these attempts to short-circuit the healing process are futile and end up causing more destruction in the long run. So, the question becomes – what am I supposed to do if I cannot change my circumstances or circumvent the pain?

During my quiet time yesterday, I came across this passage from Psalm 77:4 – “You don’t let me sleep. I am too distressed even to pray!” It completely amazes me how rigorously honest David is during times of suffering. He did not hold back. But that is not the end of the story for David. If you know anything about David, you know that much of his distress was self-inflicted and he would be the first to admit it.

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
2Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

3For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
4Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are proved right when you speak
and justified when you judge.
5Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me… 

David regularly admitted his guilt before God and confessed his sins. But, it is not just within his own brokenness and unrelentless honesty that I find healing in the Psalms. I noticed something this time that I did not see before. No matter how painful the suffering, David never attempted to escape it. He hid from his enemies at times, but never hid from his pain. He leaned into it, trusting that God would carry him close to His heart – like a shepherd does when he finds an injured lamb that can no longer walk on its own. David thanked God for his suffering no matter how hard or how painful and walked right through the darkest of moments while simultaneously singing praises to his Father in heaven.

“My suffering was good for me, because through it I learned your statutes.” Psalm 119:71

There is a better way for us to heal who have only known one way:

David’s healing process:

  1. Confess before God your sin
  2. Cry out to God in unrelenting honesty – any fears, doubts, shame or brokenness
  3. Lean into the pain
  4. Thank God for his discipline (if the pain is a result of your own sin)
  5. Be thankful and praise God as he carries you through

The Case for Humility

rawpixel-769319-unsplash“I believe that the first test of a truly great man is his humility. I don’t mean by humility, doubt of his power. But really great men have a curious feeling that the greatness is not of them, but through them. And they see something divine in every other man and are endlessly, foolishly, incredibly merciful.” John Ruskin

For as long as I can remember, humility, to me, has been the most attractive virtue that one can possess. I do not say this as one who possesses it, but as one who desires to attain it. It is the most desirable of human traits and it is most beautifully personified in the life of Christ. A good case can be made that without humility no other virtue can truly be attained.

The Bible has a lot to say about humility. All of the great prophets, kings and characters throughout the Bible exemplified some form of humility during their lives. The greatest examples of humility were personified in the life of David in the Old Testament and Jesus in the New Testament. It may have well been their most attractive and outstanding attribute. God incarnate humbled Himself by dying a criminal’s death even though He had lived a perfect life. Jesus was under no obligation to be humble. After all, He was and is the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).

Theologian Andrew Murray, said it best: “Humility, the place of entire dependence upon God, is from the very nature of things the first duty and the highest virtue of His creatures. And so pride—the loss of humility—is the root of every sin and evil.” 

It is then, no surprise that God repeats on multiple occasions that He opposes the proud and exalts the humble. It was then, and it still is today very important to God that his sheep stay humble. It is the most important virtue that a Christian or Christian leader can have.

“God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” James 4:6

“I am persuaded that love and humility are the highest attainments in the school of Christ and the brightest evidences that He is indeed our Master.” John Newton

Paul exemplified humility in ways that we seldom see today in our pulpits across America: “For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle… Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst.” or “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” 

Why is this kind of language missing from our Christian leaders today? Dwight Edwards said, “Paul saw his sin more, not less, as he matured. As we are growing in Christ, we should be increasing in the humbled awareness of how desperately sinful we still remain. Though our sin does not define us as believers (II Cor. 5:17); it nevertheless remains a very real and active part of our entire make-up. And the closer we get to Christ, the more profoundly aware we become of the how desperately far short we fall of His perfection.”

The writer of half the New Testament went so far at times as to publicly admit his own weaknesses and abandon his high profile standing before men. In fact, Paul boasted of his weaknesses so that God’s glory would be center stage. Paul was not into some kind of self flagellation and nor did he lack confidence; although his confidence and identity were not in his own abilities or talents.

Moreover, Paul did not hide his own struggle with sin (as a believer) and at times openly admitted the daily battles lost in his flesh (Romans 7:14-25). From the start of his ministry to the end Paul never had a top down view of others because he was convinced that he was nothing without Christ. In Paul’s own words, “…in humility consider others better than yourselves.”

“Humility is the only soil in which the graces root; the lack of humility is the sufficient explanation of every defect and failure. Humility is not so much a grace or virtue along with others; it is the root of all, because it alone takes the right attitude before God, and allows Him as God to do all.” ― Andrew Murray

It is popular today within Christian writings to blame the moral decline within our country on secular humanism and our tolerance of sin and relativism. We claim that our culture has abandoned God by teaching that there is no right or wrong – that we have accepted the secular idea that there are no absolute truths – that we as a nation are no longer concerned with sin and biblical authority. I would agree that our nation is on a moral decline, but I am convinced it has less to do with our cultures acceptance of relativism and certain behavioral sins and more to do with the body of Christ’s lack of humility and authenticity.

“meekness and lowliness of heart are to be the distinguishing feature of the disciple, just as they were of the Master. And further, that this humility is not something that will come of itself, but that it must be made the object of special desire, prayer, faith, and practice.” ― Andrew Murray

What is causing Generation Z to abandon its churches and the Christian God is that the church is more concerned with being right and less concerned with being real. Americans love winners ; we love being right and we embrace that which makes us powerful and strong – even though Jesus and Paul told us to do just the opposite. We see the broken and contrite as losers and the rich and powerful as winners. We are padding the pockets of pastors and kissing the feet of politicians; even though Christ taught us, through His own actions, that we should be washing the feet of sinners. This is the great sin of this generation.

Ken Boa said, “The modern notion of the “self-made” man, pulling himself up by his own bootstraps and, by the sweat of his own brow, climbing to the pinnacle of success is so deeply imbedded in our consciousness that any other possibility seems foreign. It’s humbling to recognize that God is more responsible for the achievements of our lives than we are, that we are people who have been given our abilities, time and opportunities. These things are not our possession; they are gifts from God and we will ultimately give an account for what we do with what we have been given.” 

What I love most about the bible is it’s unrelenting honesty. Other than Jesus, every single hero of the Bible was deeply flawed. Can you imagine how the church would respond to the sins of King David today? Solomon wrote three books of the Old Testament and yet, he lived in habitual sin until his dying day. However, we are no less wicked. David was “a man after God’s own heart” not because of how righteous he was, but because of how desperate he was. Edwards summed it up this way, “God doesn’t reveal our sin to make us feel bad, but needy. Desperately needy. Desperately needy for forgiveness we cannot provide for ourselves. Desperately needy for victory over sin we cannot provide for ourselves. Therefore, deepened sin awareness should always lead to heightened cross appreciation. And renewed Spirit dependency. Ultimately what should overwhelm us most as believers is not the staggering immensity of our sin, but the even more staggering magnitude of our forgiveness.” It was his desperate deep unrelenting dependence upon a loving God that moved the heart of his loving Father. He was humble and honest about his own doubts, fears, guilt, pride, and failures; feeling the weight of his sins without being crushed by them. The more we grow and mature in Christ, the more aware that we become of our neediness and dependence upon the Cross.

The absence of humility within the Christian community is, in my opinion, the greatest challenge we face today. A good case could be made that the high rate of divorce within the Christian community is the direct result of the absence of humility within the relationship. Without humility there is no vulnerability, honesty or faithfulness. Without humility each spouse within the relationship will only be able to see their own wounded heart and not the other. I am very cautious of Christians who walk without a limp; who show no signs that they have been broken. To be broken one must have wrestled with God at some point in their lives and – like Jacob – come out limping. I do not write this as one who has somehow mastered humility. In fact, I would say that it is my own constant struggle with pride that inspired me to write this post. I can only pray and hope that one day I will somehow attain the kind of humility (as opposed to false humility) that pleases my Father in Heaven. I am inspired by today’s Christian leaders who do carry themselves in a humble matter; always pointing their followers to the cross as they – like Paul – boast of their weaknesses. It is these men I will gladly follow as they follow Christ.

Lord, I repent of my selfish pride. Please do not give up on me as I travel down the road paved with brokenness and humility. Help me to recognize my own depravity and intervene in my attempts to look down upon others. Without you I am a “wretched man”. 

“My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” Psalm 51:17

“Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly;
    though lofty, he sees them from afar.” Psalm 138:6

“He mocks proud mockers
    but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.” Proverbs 3:34

“He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.” Luke 1:52



What is the “Gospel” and why is it good news?

There is no better news than the Gospel! In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul lays out a clear description of the “gospel”:

15 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Notice that Paul goes straight to the cross and never waivers from the cross throughout his letters:

For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” 1 Corinthians 2:2.

The Cross for Paul was the good news and it still is the good news today. It is the “cornerstone” of our faith and nothing could be better news than Christ substitutionary atonement for our sins even “while we were still sinners.” The problem today is that there is less emphasis on the cross in the presentation of the gospel and more emphasis on escaping hell and what we are to contribute (surrender, commit, turn away from all sins, invite Jesus into our lives) to our justification as believers in Christ. This is NOT the gospel.

There is no formula that is either directly or indirectly given that one must follow in order to be saved – the thief on the cross for example. The fact is, that we offer nothing that helps our cause before Christ other than to humble ourselves enough to accept a “free gift” – as my pastor likes to say. It is 100% Christ’s work from start to finish. It is Jesus perfect life and perfect sacrifice that are the only acceptable means of justification for the salvation of our souls. Paul says that we are accredited with the righteousness of Christ that is not of our own doing. Nothing else would be acceptable because God’s standard is perfection. We could not lose our salvation if we tried:

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” John 10:28

God saves us and He keeps us no matter what. 2 Timothy 2:13 says, if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” In other words, there is absolutely nothing we do to cause God to disown us. Can you imagine a father disowning their own child based on performance?

No other religion offers eternal security upfront to the entire human race based entirely on God’s work and love for ALL who are created in His image. God does not call some and not others as some would have you believe.

 “The LORD is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9

What also makes Christianity unique among all other religions is the fact that God loves all men equally without exception  (yes, He loves even the wicked). Sadly, there are some Calvinists (such as D.A. Carson) that rob Christianity of this uniqueness. This is not only unbiblical, but it is terrible news for those who are created in God’s image. God’s word is clear:

We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19 

And who is us?

For God so loved the world (this is us) that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever (us) believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16


William Lane Craig puts it well, “…the Qur’an assures us of God’s love for the God-fearing and the good-doers; but He has no love for sinners and unbelievers. Thus, in the Islamic conception, God is not all-loving. His love is partial and has to be earned. The Muslim God only loves those who first love Him. His love thus rises no higher than the love which Jesus said even tax-collectors and unbelievers exhibit.”

The concept of grace makes no sense to people who live in world where acceptance and worth is based primarily on performance. When performance is a condition that is mixed in with God’s grace it always leads to either debilitating shame or boasting in our own works. In 1 Corinthians 1:31 Paul says, …Let the one who boasts boast in the LORD.” When we boast in our own works it always leads to “fruit inspection”.

“Fruit inspection” means to inspect one’s good works to prove one is saved. This is very common among evangelicals today and it does more harm than good. Nowhere in the New Testament does it say that we are to be “fruit inspectors.” This is especially common in Reformed and Arminian religious circles. Jesus says that there is only one work (notice that this work is singular) that justifies us before God (John 6:29). But, even John Calvin taught that one should not look to his works for assurance of salvation. We are to examine ourselves (or take a personal inventory) to see if we are being obedient and then return to the Lord. But not as a measuring stick to see if one is saved.

Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord!” Lamentations 3:40

Today a common error among many of the reformed Christian leaders (Chan, Washer, Cameron, Piper, MacArthur) is that they qualify faith or the command to “believe” by adding works; or faith plus. Faith needs no qualifier. The Bible does mention a faith that is dead (useless) but this has absolutely nothing to do with our position in Christ. However, any works that stem from a useless (dead) faith will be burned up in the end (1 Corinthians 3:13-14).

The theologian, Charles Bing, says “To make works a necessary condition of faith confuses grace with merit. The Scriptures are clear that we cannot confuse grace with merit lest we boast (Eph 2:8-9). It confuses Christ’s work with what we are required to do. We are required to believe in order to be saved. Who did the obedience for our salvation? It was Jesus Himself who obeyed.” Romans 5:19 says, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (italics added). “It’s not our obedience that saves us, it’s Christ’s obedience that saves us. We are the recipients of the blessing of the work that He has done for us. The only command for an unbeliever to obey is the command to believe the gospel.”

To put this all into perspective, I think it is important that we see the parallel in Luke 18:9-14:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness (insert fruit inspector) and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

If the only source of information that we have regarding the holiness or good works of a particular Christian leader is through their own writings or sermons then be very cautious. Be very cautious of Christians who walk without a limp. The fact is that if you are condemning others because of the lack of fruit in their lives, you are in essence saying that your fruit is acceptable before God which is a good indication that you are “looking down on others” no matter how you try to frame it:

For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.” Galatians 6:3-5

What was Jesus response to the adulterous woman after her sins were exposed by her accusers in John 8:1? – “Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”  “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

What a beautiful picture of God’s love for the broken and for those living in a sinful state. This is the way that we should approach those who are struggling with a life of sin (Galatians 6:1) for “There is no such thing as a believer who avoids habitual sin.” Bob Wilkin – see here and here. If Jesus does not condemn an adulterous woman who was caught in the very act itself, then what gives us the right (who sin every single day) to be a fruit inspector?

We have to be very careful in the way we present the good news to others. No where in the New Testament does it say that we are to do anything other than to change our mind about our sinful state and “believe” on Him who justifies (John 3:16, 3:36, 5:24, 20:31, Acts 16:31, Titus 3:5, Romans 4:5-6). To say that we have something to offer that justifies us is not the good news and it does not save – whether at the beginning, during or at the end of our journey with God. How would that be good news?

So what role does “fruit” play in our relationship with Christ and is there any evidence within the New Testament that some believers can live “carnal” lives even to the end.  We are definitely created to do good works once we become believers and those of us who “overcome” and live fruitful lives are promised rewards once we get to heaven. Living fruitful lives also helps us to avoid God’s discipline (which I have had plenty of in my own life) and it does wonders for our fellowship with our Creator. Paul makes it clear that not all of the “brethren” will be fruitful. If being fruitful were an automatic response (as Calvinists would say), once we emerge as “new creation in Christ”, then there would be no need for Paul to admonish, remind or exhort those who continue to live in the flesh and not the spirit. Paul even says that it is possible for a believer to backslide and get out of step with the spirit:

Since we live by the spirit, let us stay in step with the spirit, Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying one another.” Galatians 5:25

Notice, what Paul is saying. He is warning believers that it is possible to live sinful lives if we continue to live in the flesh. Why would he warn believers of committing certain habitual sins if being fruitful was an automatic response. It is sad, but it is possible and there are many examples of believers throughout the old and new testament who showed very little evidence (if any) of a life of good works (Solomon, Saul, Lott, Samson, the carnal Corinthians, and the thief on the cross for example).

 “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” John 5:24

This verse is good news because Jesus makes it clear that those who “believe” have (not will) passed from death to life at a single instance in time. It would not be everlasting life if it depended on some kind of “final salvation” as John Piper likes to add. This kind of error only causes confusion and it robs the believer of the joy that comes with the “simplicity” that is in Christ. If Piper’s assertion is correct, then there would be no way of knowing whether one is saved until a few seconds before they die. But 1 John 5:13 says that we can know: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” 

The gospel is simple. We cannot rob others of that “simplicity” just because we are afraid that some people will take advantage of grace. Paul was accused of being an antinomian three times because he preached grace to the edge. He preached grace in a way that could easily be misinterpreted to mean that it does not matter if we sin because “where sin increased grace abounded all the more”, (Romans 5:12). However, he goes on to say we are not to abuse grace:

“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Galatians 5:13

Reformed theologian Paul Washer says that …”those who have professed Christ and are living in continuous state of carnality without the least evidence of Holy Spirit convicting them of sin – it is because they are not saved…”

This is a clear example of back-loading the gospel with works which always leads to fruit inspection. Always! I read recently the following quote from a anonymous blog: “Paul Washer sets himself up as the Lord and judge, determining whether or not he can see a person is a believer by their actions, even after the person has professed his faith in Jesus Christ. He completely ignores the clear teaching of the carnality of the Corinthian believers,  contentious, etc.”

“And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.” 1 Corinthians 3:1

“What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness? 1 Corinthians 3:1

“It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife.” 1 Corinthians 4:21-5:1

Washer’s message is essentially preaching the Lordship salvation message of John MacArthur, which is, if a believer does not turn from sin before and after he trusts Christ and does not live the “Christian life,” according to their rules then he cannot be a believer.

And to the one who does not work but believes in[a] him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from worksRomans 4:5-6

Theologian Jody Dillow was once asked by a co-worker (who strongly denied that the Bible teaches the existence of the carnal Christian):

Jody can you show me even one verse that proves that a born again believer will not persevere in a life of good works until the final hour.” I said, sure and turned to the following words from Christ, “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches other to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

He goes on to say, “Jesus had been accused of abolishing the Law. To the contrary, He says that even the least important laws must be obeyed. He says that the individual in this verse will be “in” the kingdom, that is, saved; but he has not only disobeyed even the least of these commandments, but he has also actively taught others to do the same! He himself not only “disobeys” the Law (abolish) but he actually causes the little ones to stumble (as in Matt 18:6). He is a dangerous teacher for he is saying that God said things He did not say, thus incurring the judgement of James 3:1. He is a saved person, but will have the lowest status. He finished life a failure – he is a carnal Christian.”

” …To the degree that someone bases his assurance on his works, he moves from a God-centered, grace based perspective of his security to a man-centered, performance-based perspective.” Roger Fankhauser

There is only one thing that is required of those who seek to be born again and that is to “believe” or put another way to humble oneself enough in order to receive God’s free gift of salvation; to say “God have mercy on me, for I am a sinner”. There is no formula or magical words that we can add. I once heard someone say, “If only I had down sized to a smaller house and fed the poor like Francis Chan, surrendered everything with a heart felt sorrow like Paul Washer, persevered to the end in order to receive “final salvation”  like John Piper, or were as fruitful as John MacArthur then I would be saved.” This is Lordship Salvation and it is not the gospel. The psychological effects of Lordship theology can be devastating – see here. I believe these men of faith have much to add to our walk as believers but are confused about our position in Christ.

Jesus said to her, “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. Do you believe this?” 27“Yes, LORD,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” John 11:25-27

Notice Mary knew exactly what Christ meant by “believe” and Jesus neither admonishes her or corrects her for her answer.

if you still have questions and want to be sure you have eternal life then this is a good place to start:

Thank you Jesus, have mercy on me for I am a sinner! Help me to never again be subject to the yoke of slavery and help me to never grow weary of doing good.









A Grace That Defies Logic

Grace doesn’t make sense. It is not instinctive, and it is not fair. We want people to get what they deserve. An eye or an eye makes much more sense to me than “love your enemies” or “turn the other cheek”. God’s scandalous gift of grace is difficult to comprehend. Karma I can comprehend, but not grace. The lead singer for U2, Bono, put is so well:

You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics; in physical laws every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “as you reap, so you will sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff.”

I love it! “love interrupts” and grace knows no boundaries. God never withholds his grace, for “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more(Romans 5:20).

If your preaching of the gospel of God’s free grace in Jesus Christ and it does not provoke the charge… of antinomianism (that grace gives us a license to sin), you’re not preaching the gospel of the free grace of God in Jesus Christ.” D. Martyn Lloyd- Jones

In other words, we will never really see how alluring, intimate, magnificent, and awe-inspiring grace is unless we hear it preached to the edge. You cannot out sin grace; we must resist pulling back on its reins fearing that some people will take advantage of it. A wimpy legalistic grace has no power to transform. Some pastors are so afraid that people will misuse grace that they hold back by changing the meaning of grace which only serves to keep people in bondage. Paul preached grace to its fullest. That is why he was accused three times of antinomianism. Yes, some people will take advantage of it, but most people will be changed forever when we let go of the reigns. If you have been touched by grace in this way why would you abuse it?

The amazing thing about grace is that no matter how many times you fail, grace is only one step away. You can’t escape it! It pursues the broken, the marginalized, the poor, the proud and those rejected by society. To approach the throne of grace we must come with empty hands and a bended knee. If we do not come broken, with nothing to offer, then “grace ceases to be grace”.

Psalm 139:7-8 I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. 

In my own experience, I have witnessed Grace restore the hardest of hearts the most dysfunctional of relationships that were once “lost causes”. There are NO lost causes when it comes to God’s transforming grace. 

Just recently I got involved in a prison ministry called Jubilee. No training or bible study could have prepared me for what God was going to do at the Scott Unit in late September of 2018. The Scott Unit in Angleton, Tx is one of the oldest prisons in Texas and as our team drove up to the unit at 6:00am on Friday morning I could not help but think of the movie, “The Green Mile”. It was everything I imagined and worse. Every hurdle that we had to go through to get from one part of the prison to the next was slow, primitive and in some ways shaming. It was dark, defiled, violated, soulless and inhumane beyond description. But every inmate or “brother in white” that we met was looking for the same thing that we all do – to experience all that God is; his unconditional love, mercy and grace.

Imagine a bunch of grown men jumping up and down, throwing up high fives and low fives as each individual inmate made their way through our pre-game introductions ESPN like tunnel (music blaring).  By the time each of these inmates made their way through it was like a light turned on. They were no longer outsiders or forgotten human waste. From that point on I witnessed God’s unconditional love change lives. By the end of the three day retreat former enemies at the Unit were praying for each other – some crying for the first time in years. No longer was there an us and them; only brothers coming together and experiencing the unconditional love of Christ; most of them for the first time ever.

Some inmates (just like all of us) will take advantage of it, but that should never causes us to give pause. Does God withhold His grace from us even though some of us will take advantage of it? Grace restores all that are touched by it. Grace always wins the day!

“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

 “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

Jesus, the Great Equalizer

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[b] and hate your enemy.’44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:38-48

Just out of high school, I remember that I prided myself that I was not one of “those” druggies or alcoholics who could not control their drinking or drug use. Oh, the irony. I remember telling one of my best friends from high school (in our late 20’s) that he was a real disappointment to me because he smoked pot. I mean after all, I personally implemented the “One Way to Play” drug free program at a nearby high school and set the bar at a level just beneath me, even though in my heart I was committing the very sin that caused the enemy to fall – pride!

Self-exaltation is still alive and well today. Sometimes it creeps up quietly back into my life that I barely take notice of it. It can be as blatantly obvious as road rage or as subtle as a thought –  “I am better than __________ because he or she struggles with___________ and I do not”.

I believe that it was Billy Graham who once said, “All ground is level at the foot of the cross”.  I have heard this before – and I believe it, but do we (all of us) really get it. What does it really mean to be level?

I believe it means that neither self-righteousness, condemnation or self exaltation of any kind can survive at the foot of the cross. It is all too often common for Christians to add behavior modifications to the gospel (or salvation). Even Christ Himself, said that His mission was not to condemn, but to save. In fact, Christ always leveled the playing field whenever the accusers would appear in the gospel accounts. Self-exaltation (or those who look down on others) can come in many forms as we shall see in Christ teachings – Luke 18:9-14:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get…”

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Notice, that the tax collector was not justified before God because he out-performed the Pharisees in good works – nor was he justified because he sinned less. The Great Equalizer had again leveled the playing field when it came to the outward performance gospel. It was humility that justified the tax collector, not the absence of sins.

Self-exaltation can also be subtle, such as the disciples who asked Jesus which one of them would be the greatest in heaven.

Every time this occurred in the New Testament, Jesus immediately made all things level; equalizing the distance that every one of us is from the cross whenever it was about our performance or lack there-of.

Martin Lloyd-Jones puts it plainly? “It doesn’t matter if you have almost entered into the depths of hell. It does not matter if you are guilty of murder as well as every other vile sin. It does not matter from the standpoint of being justified before God at all. You are no more hopeless than the most moral and respectable person in the world.”

“…Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” Matthew 18:1-5

In John 8:1-11, the adulterous woman who was caught in act of adultery was guilty as charged and deserved to die according to the law. But Jesus saw it differently. He instantly leveled the playing field by pointing out that the accusers had no right to condemn her because they were also sinners in need of a savior. Jesus message, in this instance (as in so many others), was that the accusers were no closer to God than the adulterous woman. The ground, for all who were at the scene, was level, but the broken have an advantage that the accusers did not. C.S. Lewis says it perfectly:

Prostitutes are in no danger of finding their present life so satisfactory that they cannot turn to God: the proud, the avaricious, the self-righteous, are in that danger.” C.S. Lewis

The point is not that Jesus did not take sin seriously. He told the adulterous woman, “go and sin no more”. He very much took sin seriously, as should we. The point is the way in which he confronted her. Before Jesus said anything at all about the woman’s sins, he rebuked her accusers and He told her that He did not condemn her either.  How can we not love a God like that?

In every case in which false prophets boasted about their works (Matthew 7:21-23) or the Pharisees pointed out publicly how good of job they were doing at keeping the law, Jesus exposed their hearts by raising the bar to a level that no one could attain:

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

We all fall short of the glory of God and we will continue to fall short as long as we live in our earth suits. Jesus never said that the false prophets in Matthew 7 did not do the works they claimed to do, and Jesus never said that the Pharisees were without good works. Jesus and Paul made the case that anyone can be honest, tithe, fast, go to church, pray, help the poor, be committed to your marriage, have great faith, visit the prisoner, meditate on God’s word, be completely disciplined and live a life of purity and still be full of pride, looking down on others. In fact, some of us do these very things so that we are not like “those” people. Any fruit that does not come from broken soil is “filthy rags”.

If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

What is most important to Jesus is not some specific behavioral sin (or sins). What matters most is how we treat people. The question is – how do we see ourselves and our sins in relation to God and to other people?

Some may object and say what about those who commit the big sins like adulterers, homosexuals and the like who will not inherit the kingdom (1 Cor 6:9-11; Gal 5:19-21). In other words, true believers never commit the big sins.

Theologian Bill Wilkin, says that this argument does not hold up because, …”For one thing the vice lists of 1 Cor 6:9-11 and Gal 5:19-21 contain sins which many don’t think of as “big sins.” Those lists include, for example, the sins of strife, envy, jealousy, covetousness, hatred, and selfish ambitions. I have never had anyone ask me if a covetous or jealous or selfish person could get into the kingdom. Instead they ask about sins on the list like murder, drunkenness, and homosexuality. Why? The answer is because it is easier to feel smug about one’s performance in external areas than it is in matters of the heart... and the verses in question do not concern kingdom entrance. Rather, they concern kingdom inheritance. That is a big difference.”

I heard a famous pastor/book writer recently make the comment that there were many Christians in his audience that were hell bound because of their performance. There are a few reasons why this approach is not biblically sound. One obvious problem is that our works do not play a role in salvation. We are saved “apart from works” (Romans 4:5, Titus 3:5). Secondly, how is this pastor’s attitude any different than that of the Pharisees? To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else…” In order to judge another person based on their performance means you are very ‘confident of your own righteousness’.

Some would argue that this celebrity pastor is just “telling it like it is”, but even if that were true look at the way in which Christ “told it like it was” in His response to the sins of the adulteress woman in John 8.

When the accusers hearts were exposed, “they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. 10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

11 “No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

David Johnson, “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse”, said “It takes only a superficial reading of the New Testament to see that Jesus was not at odds with “sinners” – the prostitutes, lepers, and the demonized – but with the religious system of today.”

Just recently the Christian artist Lauren Daigle performed on the Ellen Degeneres Show. Almost immediately Lauren was criticized for performing on a show whose host was an openly gay woman. Lauren merely acted in love and decided that God could use this platform to reach the lost through her words and through the bigger message – which was “God Loves Ellen Too”! Since that performance I have read tweets and posts viscously attacking Lauren for going on the show AND for not condemning homosexuality when asked what her beliefs were about the subject. This is not the good news that Christ died for. I have no doubt that Lauren did what Jesus would have done.

Whenever we take a sin (prostitution, gluttony, addictive behaviors, stealing, lying, etc.…) and prop it up to show ourselves and others that we are better than “those” people because we do not struggle with those same sins, then we are as far from God as anyone else – maybe further. When we kneel to pray, the distance between our hearts and “those” other people are the same distance away from the cross for all who accept Christ as their savior. And for those who have not found Christ yet, I believe our response should be to move our butts over and make room for the lost; sharing the good news as “one beggar telling another beggar where to find food” as pastor Dwight Edwards likes to say.

False prophets and legalist appear on the outside to represent God but instead they stand in front of the wide gate marked “Great Are My Works”, but this was the gate of religious performance and self-exaltation and there is nothing but grandiosity or debilitating shame on that side. But the one true prophet along with the broken and the meek stand in front of the narrow gate – the one that says, “Come to me, all who labor…” You can only come through this gate if you drop all your baggage (works and pride) and “trade up” by entering the gate with nothing but a bended knee and a contrite heart.

Dear God, help me to see my own sins before I see the sins of others. Help me to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above myself“. Have mercy on me God, for I am a sinner. 


A “Light” to the World?

Christians are not called to do as the world does, but as Christ does. So, what does that look like? What did Jesus have to say about this and what examples did He give us to follow? Jesus said “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.Matthew 5:14-16. I once looked at this verse very differently. A light to the world, I thought, were good Christians who had it all together engaging in American normative Christianity. Maybe what Jesus had in mind looked more like, what my pastor likes to say, “surprising Christianity”. Or, messy, risky get your hands dirty scandalous Christianity’

Surprising Christianity is just that, surprising to the world. It carries with it a shock factor so strong that those touched by it are never the same. Surprising Christianity is messy, risky and complete nonsense to a graceless world. It is throwing birthday parties for prostitutes. It is a pastors wife giving life back to a homeless drunkard by hugging him for 20 minutes in front of the congregation. It is loving the prisoner by maintaining an ongoing relationship with a “brother in white. It is offering a job to a felon or helping a newly released prisoner start a new life. It is mentoring a fatherless teenager who has lost hope in people or tutoring a kid stuck in poverty whose education has failed them. It is adopting a new born baby or a teenage orphan. It is taking in strangers and providing aid to refugees seeking asylum. It is what drives someone who was abused to forgive their abusers. It is the church feeding the poor and washing the feet of sinners. It is caring for those who you would not normally be seen with, maybe setting aside your social standing to stop and listen to a drug addict, a homeless man or a mentally ill person tell their story. It is loving the unlovable and touching the untouchable. It is the transformation of a life that has not just heard, but has seen the gospel lived out through game changing unconditional acts of love.

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. Isaiah 56:6-9

Amy Simpson, in her book, “Troubled Minds“, examined the churches issues with the mentally ill. She has observed that churches are quick to make meals for the sick, if it is a sickness like cancer or heart disease. She goes on to say, “No wonder several people I have talked to call mental illness the no-casserole illness”. In other words, whether you are mentally ill or an alcoholic, “it won’t land you a home cooked meal from the church caring committee.”

“On the last day…many of us will be bloodied, bruised, battered, and limping. But, by God and by Christ, there will be a light in the window and a “welcome home sign” on the door.” Manning

Risky Christianity is about forgiving others that have hurt us by seeking the reconciliation and restoration of a broken relationship. Even the world can forgive! Even the world can love those who love them back: “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same”?Matthew 5:43-48. It takes risky unrelenting “spirit filled” Christianity to endure marital hardships and seek reconciliation even if they see their spouse as the enemy. Yes, Christ said to love our enemies. We are never asked to forget the wrongs others have committed and building trust does takes time, but love was the answer in first three centuries and is still the answer today; love endures all things. At times it looks impossible – but truth be told, it was this kind of love that made no sense to the pagan world during the first three centuries of Christianity and it makes no sense today:

…Julian the Apostate, the last pagan emperor of Rome, clearly understood the power of these Christians when he wrote the following:

“These impious Galileans (Christians) not only feed their own, but ours also; welcoming them with their agape, they attract them, as children are attracted with cakes… Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated Galileans devote themselves to works of charity, and by a display of false compassion have established and given effect to their pernicious errors. Such practice is common among them, and causes contempt for our gods.”

In Rodney Stark’s book, The Rise of Christianity he says:

…”To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachment. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fire, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services. . . . For what they brought was not simply an urban movement, but a new culture capable of making life in Greco-Roman cities more tolerable.”

And then finally an excerpt from an article in patheos titled: “How Christianity conquered pagan culture”:

These early Christ-followers did not organize special interest groups or political parties. They never directly opposed Caesar; they didn’t picket or protest or attempt to overthrow the ruling powers. They didn’t publicly denounce or condemn the pagan world. Instead, they challenged the ruling powers by simply being a faithful, alternative presence—obedient to God. Their most distinguishing characteristic was not their ideology or their politics but their love for others. They lived as those who were, once again, living under the rule and reign of God, a sign and foretaste of what it will be fully, when Christ returns.

They expressed their opposition to infanticide by rescuing the abandoned children of Rome and raising them as their own—an enormously self-sacrificial act at a time when resources were limited and survival was in doubt.”

“I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations (Isaiah 42:6)

Sometimes being a light meant healing the sick or giving sight to the blind. But in the end, being a light is about interacting and loving messy people in the most unexpected places. It is putting our social standing aside and getting our hands dirty. Christ was never concerned with how He appeared before others. As an example, Jesus allowed a prostitute to wash His feet with her perfume. By aligning himself with this woman, Jesus opened himself up to the disgust of others. “Jesus let her sins go, but in the process took on the stigma of her reputation. He paid a price to love her”. (Paul Miller, Love Walked Among Us)

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

Yes, Christianity should be anything but normal. It is not neat and clean. It does not look for quick clean victories and it will not be found in prosperity theology. I sometimes fail at it miserably, but with Gods grace all things are possible. It can get risky loving those with a societal stigma; the prisoner, addict, immigrant, homosexual, outcasts, Muslim, etc…Of course, the greatest example of all of ‘surprising game changing Christianity’ was Christ death and resurrection on the cross. Nothing was as messy and surprising as that. It was histories greatest act of love. Jesus humbled himself enough to die a criminals death. Jesus is the light that we should seek to imitate.

God, I pray that I will see people the way you see people. I pray that I will be willing to be a light to the world by loving the unlovable today and to not seek the approval of others, but only an audience of one. 

Remember “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.”


Clinging to the”mud and mire”

“He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.” Psalm 40:2

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10)

My pastor once said that the trials we face because of our own making are the hardest and the most painful to overcome. That is certainly true for me. My life has more than enough holes that I have personally burrowed deep below the surface. The deeper the hole and the more frequent it occurs, the more difficult the climb and the harder it is to keep from slipping back into the abyss.

I had a roommate in college who was the proud owner of a bulldog named Dutch. I asked him if Dutch was potty trained. He said he tried numerous times but was not successful. I don’t know what dog training manual he was using but the method he used was both cruel and comical at the same time. Every time his bulldog would poop on the rug my roommate would rub his dogs face into his own feces. I found this method very disturbing but was curious as to how the dog responded to such a cruel method of potty training. Oddly, he said Dutch started to rub his own face in his own poop immediately after he went. I couldn’t help but think of Proverbs 26:11 “As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly.”

Dutch and I have a lot in common. When I dig my own holes my response is to distance myself from God and return to the unclean, defiled “mud and mire”. Like the prodigal son, ‘I long to fill my belly with the pods that the pigs are eating’ and eventually return to the only hope I can find for spiritual healing; on my knees at the very steps of the throne of grace. That is not always easy.  I have walked away from grace on many occasions, either because I felt undeserving of it or I decided to return to a performance based mindset in my relation to God and to those closest to me (either way it is a form of pride). The power of shame is a formidable foe. Whether we are addicted to food, money, power, religion, sex or alcohol the cravings are real and only a power greater than ourselves will offer any kind of lasting hope. I call that higher power Jesus Christ.

It can be a long painful road to travel all the way from shame to grace; through many trials and temptations. There also can be distractions along the way promising quick fixes driven by a prosperity theology. These distractions only serve to prolong the journey; bypassing the path that is paved with brokenness and humility.  If our goal is to achieve wholeness and spiritual growth we must resist the temptation to avoid this path. We must rely completely on God’s sufficient grace. (2 Corinthians 12:9). For hole diggers  our default is to self destruct. Self-destructive behaviors are usually an attempt to manage overpowering, painful feelings that only lead to more shame, escalating the self-destructive cycle. So what is the proper response to such madness? How do we stop this never ending cycle?

Grace is for the desperate, the needy, the broken, those who can not make it on their own. Grace is for all of us.” Phillip Yancey

The proper response to such trials is not self mutilation; nor is it either to avoid suffering, but to pray, lean into our pain as we lean into God and most important embrace grace. Carl Jung once said, “If you kill or silence pain before you answer its questions, you inadvertently kill yourself.” There are two verses that have given me hope and courage in the face of trials born of my own doing: James 1:2-4 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Do you understand what James is saying? He is saying, do not short circuit the path of trials and tribulations. “Let perseverance finish its work”! Then Paul says in Romans 5:3-5 “…but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” In other words, not only should we walk through the fire, but it can be the very catalyst that brings us wholeness and a spirit filled life. A beautiful picture of this is the way in which the eagle responds to the violent winds of the storm. Once it finds the wind, the eagle uses the raging storm to lift itself above the clouds. This response results in an effortless glide and a welcome rest. 

As with the Cross, our darkest hour may be God’s finest moment. It may be there that he does his greatest work—albeit unseen to us. Thus instead of letting circumstances consume us, we are to be consumed with God. To that end, we pray without ceasing, trust in his sovereignty, and find comfort in his hope.” Mark Yarbrough

Going back to the mess we have created is our default. In AA it is called a relapse. It is where we find comfort and in a strange way it is momentarily satisfying. There are so many ways in which we can medicate to avoid suffering, but there are no shortcuts. It is crucial that we understand that the very thing that we are convinced we deserve (self-destruction), drives us right back to the pit. We actually can come to a point where we believe that we belong there. That is why cynicism, abandonment, and rejection are absolutely devastating to us. That is why it is so important to surround ourselves with other broken people who are willing to come alongside you and help carry your burdens during this chapter of your life (Galatians 6:1). Those people could be your church, small group, AA or your Celebrate Recovery family as well.  And most importantly allow God to love you and remind you of who you are, especially when you feel unclean and defiled. You are a child of God, created in His image with inherent worth and value. You matter! You are His!

So there is good news! Our trials, struggles and temptations have a purpose and God promises us that He will be right there in the furnace with us. Was there not, after all, a fourth man in the furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego?

But what are we looking for when we go back to our holes? Are we conditioned just like Dutch or is shame alone enough to bury us in our own filth. Or could it be, that we are also looking for something else? George MacDonald once said, “The man who rings the bell at the brothel, unconsciously does so seeking God”. Augustine put it like this, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”. Dwight Edwards says “Sin has introduced the insanity that God-given longings can be met in a God-absent direction… If we do not allow the cry of our soul for worship to be answered by God, we will begin dialing other numbers.” 

To finally get to the place where we want change in our lives we need to embrace our brokenness and feel the weight of our sins. Fruit grows best in broken soil. The road from shame to grace is paved with brokenness and humility and it is impossible without God and without the warriors that God has placed in your life to fight alongside of you. Struggling is a sign that you are alive and that you are trying to change. Paul tells us to boast of our weaknesses so that Christs power will rest on him and even Paul admits that he also, at times, has tread in murky waters. The bible is full of messy broken saints and game changing sinners. Every biblical character, outside of Jesus, is terribly messy, terribly flawed and magnificently broken. That’s why they became saints! Confused? So am I.

I love the way Phillip Yancey puts it:

“Having spent time around “sinners” and also around purported saints, I have a hunch why Jesus spent so much time with the former group: I think he preferred their company. Because the sinners were honest about themselves and had no pretense, Jesus could deal with them. In contrast, the saints put on airs, judged him, and sought to catch him in a moral trap. In the end it was the saints, not the sinners, who arrested Jesus.”

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17)

So how should the church respond to those stuck in the ‘mud and mire’?

The sad part is that the we (the church) are known for killing our wounded. We tend to draw a hard line when it comes to messy people. Good people are thrown into a human waste pile because of their messiness and then written off as outcasts. But, in Jesus ancestry you have murderers, drunks, prostitutes, liars, adulterers, broken messy families and outcasts. The most common question that Jesus was asked is, “Why do you run with those people”? Jesus answer was always, “because I love them, I have come to save them from their selves and give them rest.” We are not only to love unconditionally like Jesus, but we are told to take it a step further and leave the flock, and our social standing that brings us so much comfort, and go and find the lost sheep and carry him or her home – Luke 15:1-32. I believe we as individuals and the body of the Christ have really dropped the ball in caring for these lost messy sheep. Jesus says, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

At the end of the day, it will be broken people that God uses to change the world. It was broken people who wrote the Old Testament and the New Testament. I am very cautious of Godly “spirit filled” people who walk without a limp.

No man who wrestles with God and his own sins and comes face to face with the magnitude of Gods grace will stay unbroken. If there is no brokenness then there is no fruit. If we believe that we have nothing to be broken about then we will never grow spiritually. When I see a man who walks with a limp, with an unassuming confidence and humble disposition.. who is not afraid to follow Jesus where the world tells us not to go – that man I will follow anywhere.

“And when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collector​s​ and sinners, they said to His disciples, “How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answers, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Mark 2:13-17)

God, please give me the strength to cling to you through the trials and temptations that come my way everyday. Help me to love myself so that I can love others the way you love me.