The Scales

WILL MY GOOD DEEDS OUTWEIGH THE BAD?
THE BRICKS AND THE SCALE

“Grace (Nothing at all)”

“I have done nothing at all in my life, to earn your favor
I have done nothing at all in my life, to earn your love
I have been broken and bruised by my sin and my folly
But you have been broken for me redeeming me with your blood

And how is it that I am accepted?
How is it that I am made clean?
Why should you even care for a wretch like me?
And how is it that I am made righteous?
And how is it that you have saved me?
Why would you choose to die for a wretch like me?

You have been longsuffering, as I have tested your patience
You have been calling to me, as I have wandered from you
But you go to great lengths to prove that you still care
And you went to great lengths to woo my heart back to you

Your blood cries out Father forgive them
Your blood cries out Father I love them”
(Lyrics to “Grace” – a song by Daniel & Catherine Lovett)

(The following was written awhile ago)

A few years ago, I had an epiphany – an insight into something that was ingrained in my thinking patterns. I know that I had learned this same lesson on several occasions before, but a dialogue I had with my wife drilled it home once again. Here is how that went down:

My wife and I were visiting with my sister-in-law Stacy. During our visit, Stacy told us that she had felt ill for the past few months and after many visits to the doctor she was just told that she has cancer. The doctor had given her about a year to live. Of course this news was a blow to my wife and I. We couldn’t imagine how they were handling the fact that she was facing imminent death.

The thing that amazed me the most was that she was more worried about her husband having to raise the kids by himself than the fact that she was going to die. During our visit I did not sympathize as I should have. Instead I said something like, “Well, we all are going to die.” I went on to philosophize about death and how we are all living on borrowed time anyway and how fragile life really is and what a miracle it is that any of us are breathing. It was very eloquent.

On the way home my wife confronted me about my lack of compassion. I became instantly defensive, and then went into a tirade of how I must be condemned because I have no love in my heart and where is the activity of God in my life anyway that I should be such a heartless jerk? I was being slightly facetious because, in fact, I really did love myself and thought very well of me. I must humbly admit in retrospect however, that I was very wrong. Anyway, most of what spewed from my mouth left me feeling terrible and alienated from God.

The next day I started once again in the new mercies of God, but I had to ask myself why did I react in this way? Then this thought hit me:

“Will my good deeds outweigh my bad?”

I realized then that I had been carrying around a “scale”, so to speak, that weighed and measured my good deeds against my bad deeds. My worth depended on how well I performed and how well that scale was balanced.

This mentality was so deep-seated in me that I reacted badly when anyone dared to confront me with a fault. It was as if they were adding one more brick to the ‘bad deeds’ side of the scale. For this reason, I hated taking responsibility. In fact, I hated words such as “responsible” and “accountable”. I didn’t want to face the punishment for my own sins, much less be held responsible for another and have their blood on my head. This was why I, in the past, I didn’t function so well as a worship leader in “church leadership”. I felt that I was responsible for people’s souls and I could not cope with that. Of course this is just one of the many ungodly beliefs that over my lifetime have become embedded in the gray matter.

I began to recognize that many people operate out of this mentality in which they “hope” that their good deeds will outweigh their bad in the end. Whole religious systems of thought are based on this idea. This way of thinking led me to try to seek approval through performing well. I thought that by just adding more good bricks to the good side of the scale that things will all work out in the end, and in the meantime, I will feel better about myself and be accepted.

My good bricks were my good deeds. For instance, if I played spiritual concerts for the elderly at nursing homes and assisted living places, then I would be accepted and approved by God. Each “successful” concert left me feeling much better. In fact I only considered a concert a success if it left me feeling better about me. I had to feel good.

It was so thrilling for me when I preached my first sermon, because this was a good and heavy brick. I would definitely be in God’s favor now! I called my mother and left a message for her, “The most exciting thing had happened to me! I just preached my first sermon!” A few days later she called me up and told me how proud of me she was. As she was telling me that, I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. As I reflected on my initial reaction to “my first sermon” and how excited I was about it, I realized that yes, I could be excited about it, but not for the reasons that I was. I now see that the Lord is just as offended by the good bricks as he is by the bad ones. Trying to earn God’s favor is an insult to his grace.

I have come to see that God doesn’t want us burdened with any bricks (good or bad) that weigh us down and keep us from following him. Besides, the constant balancing act is no way to live. Jesus wants to liberate us and he invites us to drop all of our “bricks” at his feet and learn to walk with him and live for him as we are meant to.

At one point after about nine months of playing hymns for the old folks several times a week the Lord asked me, “So when are you going to start doing these concerts for me?” Wow. His question cut me to the heart.

I was playing these concerts for me. It is true that I became free from a long seven year stretch of chronic depression when I first began to bless the elderly with music. How could I not be changed by a constant interaction with, not only the liberating truth that is in so many classic hymns, but also the love and support of so many of my elders? How could I not be blessed when I have a hundred year old lady shake my hand and say, “God bless you”?

In spite of all the good things that came from all my good deeds, my performance mentality still stood in the way of the relationship that the Lord desired to have with me.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul comments about his Jewish brothers. He says, “I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:2-4 NIV)

I could identify with this Scripture but I didn’t know how to change. Ever since I became a “Christian” I was always trying to establish my own righteousness. It’s not even that I was raised to think this way, but perhaps this is just a universal human default mentality to want to (or feel like you have to) earn God’s favor. I even once caught myself praying, “Lord, make me worthy of your grace.” I was missing the point of grace altogether.

My own grandfather was once presented with the good news of Jesus by my parents. At the time he told them, “If I can’t have a part in my own salvation, I am not interested.” He has since passed away, and it burdens me now more than ever to think where he might be.

Why is it so ingrained in human nature to want to earn our own way? Why is it so difficult for us to receive God’s saving grace – his unmerited favor and blessing? Our own pride is the enemy of our own salvation.

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6 NIV)

We must humbly admit that we cannot do a thing to save ourselves (be “poor in spirit”). We must humbly admit that we cannot even add an ounce of our own righteousness to the scales that will somehow make us acceptable to God. On our own, the scales will always be out of balance and never in our favor. Thank God that he does not leave us on our own.

Of course the Lord knows our desperate situation and has given Jesus as his answer. I believe he is telling us to abandon our scales and bricks once and for all and then simply come and follow him. Jesus will teach us how to truly live. He will teach us the “unforced rhythms of grace”. See Matthew 11:28.

THE EXAMPLE OF THE APOSTLE PAUL

The apostle Paul had a pile of good bricks. He was a pure blooded Israelite. He was able to say that he kept the law faultlessly. He was a Pharisee, the most zealous and strictest sect of the Jewish spiritual leaders. By all appearances he was a model example of spirituality. Yet he says, “Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” (Philippians 3:7-9 NIV emphasis mine).

Paul abandoned his bricks for a new approach to spirituality. A spirituality based on and flowing out of an affirming love of God that is entirely separate from any good deeds.

Think about it. Before Jesus had even begun his ministry, his Father spoke from heaven affirming him with his love saying, “This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life.” (Matthew 3:17)

As you trust in Jesus, the Father will speak those same words over you. You become the delight of his life. As you trust in Jesus, you become his beloved. As you trust in Jesus, you become a member of Christ’s body – part of Christ himself! As you trust in Jesus, the Father says that he loves you as much as he loves Jesus! Because you are one with Christ and in Him!

This is the ‘mystery’ that Paul keeps referring to throughout his letters. This is what Paul was so excited about that even imprisonment, beatings, persecutions, and all the other sufferings and hardships that Paul experienced did nothing to dampen this flame of Christ within him! This was Paul’s cause to live and to die for – Christ, the one new man – “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3 NIV).

———–

O God, thank you for Jesus. Thank you that we no longer need to sweat about our own efforts and our lack of “measuring up”. Thank you for Jesus, your gift to us, who did all the measuring up for us on our behalf. Thank that as we simply trust Jesus, we are included in all that you have planned – all of the wondrous and beautiful and glorious blessings that you delighted so much in planning for us to experience.

We trust you. We trust in you our kind Creator and our good shepherd. We trust your good intentions for us and in your salvation which runs far deeper than we can even or ever imagine. We thank you that our salvation is not depended on our own efforts, but that you have freely given salvation to us all who least deserve such a gift. Help us to receive your grace well and learn to, once and for all, lay down the scale and the bricks at your feet… at the cross.

Cracked to the Core, Yet Not Without Hope

I found myself thinking about the scales again today. I wrote about this idea awhile ago. This kind of thinking that somehow we will be alright on judgement day when we stand before God if our good deeds outweigh the bad on his scales of justice. Those who are concerned about this spend a great deal of time trying feverishly to please God, appease God, to somehow win his favor by good deeds.

And while this thinking forms the basis for every other world religion, this is the antithesis to the good news (Gospel) of Jesus.

What if I was 51% good and 49% wicked. This would work just fine if talking about owning shares of the kingdom of God. However, this would be a failing grade in school… unless God graded on a curve. As I thought more about this I realized that according to God’s way of reckoning I would have to be 100% good to inherit the kingdom of God. Even if I somehow managed to be 99% good, he would still call me to account for the 1% – and the price to pay for my sin would be more than I could bear.

(When the bible talks about being good it isn’t just talking about an avoidance of evil but of a very actively loving life – pure altruism.)

I came to the conclusion from my last excursion through the Bible that God doesn’t even give us a 1% chance of being good. We are indeed evil through and through – cracked to the core.

“As it is written:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12 NIV)

Cracked to the Core, Yet Not Without Hope

I have a confession to make. I lied to someone the other day. They had been reading my blog and they were worried about me. I told them that my blog is “delayed” and that it reflects things I used to think and where I used to be (albeit just a few short weeks ago). But, to say that I am “all better now” or that I have somehow “arrived” is simply not true… nor will it ever be… until God perfects all believers together one day in glory.

The simple and yet profound truth is that I will never be able to glory or boast in my flesh. As a Christian mentor once told me, we are cracked to the core. But this need not lead to hopelessness and here is why: because, as believers, we don’t for a moment depend on ourselves or our own merits for salvation. We are not our saviour – Jesus is.

If I did depend on myself as my saviour, I would live in absolute stark terror at any given moment (as I did for seven long years of severe depression). But as it is, I no longer give way to fear, but instead, I depend on Christ’s mercies. I no longer grasp for control… I just simply trust. This lack of control is deeply unsettling for the ego and this is precisely why many still suffer from anxiety. We must let the ego go. I have been saying again and again throughout this blog that the ego must be put to death. It must die just as Jesus said it must.

I focus on this problem of ego in most of my blogs because I still deal with this on a daily basis. Don’t we all? Isn’t this same ego in everyone? Paul writes that this is the sin that lives within us (Romans 7). The way I see it is that everyone seems to be attempting to glory in their flesh and inciting others to do the same. We flatter one another and we flatter ourselves. The Scriptures, however, are designed to expose this pride and set us free from the sin within us. Psalm 36:1-2 says:

“I have a message from God in my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin.” (NIV)

Yet God envisions a life for each and every one of us that is free from sin. This is the life of faith! Now instead of blindly following the commands of the old master of sin, we have a new master – Christ! We now get to be slaves to love’s impulses. We get to do whatever love prompts us to do! We get to be slaves of righteousness, slaves to God, and finally free! (Does it seem odd to anyone else that slavery to God leads to freedom?)

Fortunately, for believers in Jesus Christ, the ego (sin) has already been crucified with Christ. Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20 NIV)

It may seem that I am too hard on myself as I often use myself as an example in my blog. It would be unkind to use anyone else. But I cannot emphasize enough how profoundly sick and broken I am as a human being… but nevertheless, I have hope. Can you explain that? I have a hope in Jesus and this pulls me forward. It causes me to grow in Christ and in love. It also gives me the courage to forgive myself and find grace.

The Christian life is simply this: Christ in us, the hope of glory. (see Colosians 1:27)

When we find this hope at work in us this shows us that God’s love is at work in our life – for love always hopes. Hope calms our fears, tenderly forgiving and cleansing us from every wrong. Hope picks us up, dusts us off, and puts us back on the path to life.

It’s all about Christ now – Christ in us! Christ, who alone is holy perfect love, who alone never sins (always loves).  So we have a choice to make. We can choose to cling to our own righteousness (which is on par with filthy rags – menstruel cloths) and perish forever seperated from God and love and hope and all things good. Or we can cling to Christ who is our righteousness and so be saved in the fullest sense of the word. Clinging to Christ is the essence of true faith.

Jesus didn’t come to sell us fire insurance. Salvation is not about God distributing “get out of hell free” cards. No, salvation is a transformed and Spirit led life. And THIS is glory!

Prayer:

God, teach us again to die to ourselves and to submit to your Holy Spirit’s leading. We trust that you, who began a good work in us, will be faithful to complete it. Thank you that salvation is all your doing.  We give ourselves to you. We give ourselves to love in Jesus name.

Genesis, Forgive 77 Times?

Happy New Year everyone! I had a great start to the new year. I woke up at 6:30 and started reading Genesis. I almost never get out of bed that early, especially since staying up till midnight is not just reserved for New Years eve… it’s a common occurrence!

My wife Catherine and I (and our 19 month old daughter Ellie) stayed over at Catherine’s folks house. I had a nice conversation about Genesis with Cindie, my Mother in law, while sipping some really good coffee. I had considered giving coffee up for the new year but decided that I will instead become a full blown coffee junky!

Something interesting happened as I was talking with Cindie that caused a few things to jump out in my reading. I had just read about Cain being marked by God so no one would kill him and that anyone who did would be punished seven times over. A minute later I sneezed several times and then Cindie pointed out that I had sneezed seven times. I thought, ‘Hmmm… I think I just read something about seven in here’. I resumed reading and came to this verse:

“If someone who kills Cain is punished seven times, then the one who kills me will be punished seventy-seven times!”  (Genesis 4:24 NLT – Lamech said this after he had killed someone in retribution – possibly in self-defense)

Immediately I thought about something Jesus once said:

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

(Matthew 18:21-22 NIV – see article on Matt 18)

Isn’t this interesting? Is there a connection between what Jesus says and Cain and Lamech? I don’t know… somehow I doubt it. (If anyone does see a connection – leave a comment!)

Nevertheless, perhaps this is something that the Lord was highlighting for me and wants to start out the new year with… forgiveness. Sounds good to me!
There is this song, “Let There Be Peace On Earth” that has a line that says:

“Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me…”

Forgiveness really is the only thing that will heal our broken world. It’s the only thing that mends hearts and relationships.

Forgiveness brings peace.

How I loved forgiveness in my first year of marriage. It made everything better again. And it really worked! I was so surprised by the power of forgiveness.

Now the thing about forgiveness is that God would never ask us to do something that he doesn’t already do for us. We have to know just how forgiving God really is! I could blow it 77 times (this could also read 490 times) in a day with the very same sin and come to him and sincerely ask forgiveness and he will forgive me. But, He requires us to do the same!

If we don’t forgive as he asks, we will not be forgiven either!

Jesus tells a very sobering story in the rest of Matthew 18:

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (Matthew 18:23-35 NIV)

If you can think of anyone you haven’t forgiven yet, take some time right now and forgive them from your heart! It might be your father. Maybe it’s your mother. Perhaps a friend or coworker or your ex. Whoever it is, forgive them today!

“Unforgiveness is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.” – Anne Lamott

Forgive!

As always, I’d love to hear back from you… so Leave a Response!

Reflections & Thoughts, the Bible in 66 Days

I read through the Bible in 66 days! In this video I share a few of the life changing discoveries along the way including, but not limited to, the secret to the Christian life!

This is a rambling reflection of my experience through God’s Word that I deem worthy of 17.65 minutes of your life. I know… arrogant of me isn’t it?

Enjoy! (If you can get through it)

Daniel Lovett  =0)

Reflections & Thoughts, the Bible in 66 days from Daniel & Catherine Lovett on Vimeo.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Now, I am tackling the Bible in 90 days! It was such an amazing experience the first time around I am now sharing this experience with some good friends. Want to join us?

90 Day Bible Reading Challenge!

Eat His Flesh, Drink His Blood… What?

I woke this morning with Jesus words on my mind.

“Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:53 NIV)

Let me tell you that first of all, Jesus is not talking about some bread and some wine, or “communion” as we commonly misunderstand it. He is talking about a whole different level of communion – a real communion – with him. To think he is talking about wafers and wine actually becoming his flesh and blood is only a sad distraction that only serves to rob Jesus words of their real power.

Jesus uses this hyperbolic language to powerfully drive home a point. One of the most important points that we need to hear is in this statement. Jesus intent is to shock his Jewish listeners  – with this talk of eating flesh and drinking blood – into really paying attention… into adopting a whole new mindset and worldview… or not.

As it was, most who had been following Jesus stopped following Jesus after this teaching. It was hard to “swallow”. He explains later that these words are spirit and they are life.

Here is a link to a really good and very insightful presentation of what it means to eat his flesh and drink his blood: http://loveintruth.com/amf-docs/flesh1.htm

In the above article (the link) he says at one point: “Jesus is teaching us that we need to depend on Him utterly, moment by moment, in order to survive.”

Just as Jesus taught in John 15 that He is the vine and we are the branches. He supplies our life, moment by moment dependence and trust. It isn’t like gas in a car, as if we just stop in every once in a while to get refueled, but a plant. We all know the moment you sever a branch it is dead. It may look alive for a while – like a rose in a vase, or a christmas tree – but it is dead. It is cut off from it’s source of life. So, two things are important:

  1. To be connected to our source of life – Jesus.
  2. To stay connected to our source of life – Jesus.

What connects us to the vine – to Jesus – our source of life? What can we do to stay connected? Leave a comment below!

I Read the Bible in 66 Days… So What? Now What?

I read the Bible in 66 days… so what?

The truth is, if I am not a more loving person; more obedient to Christ and more like Christ; if I haven’t really changed for having read the Bible, then what was the point?

I think we all have an amazing capacity to disregard the most important things in life (such as paying attention to what our Creator and Savior has to say to us). Just consider the fact that we all just have one short life to live and yet we twitter it away entertaining ourselves. We waste our lives watching T.V. or movies or playing solitaire or facebook games or by watching youtube videos of cute kittens and other such time-wasting nonsense. Or even worse, we misspend our lives pursuing sin.

 If we don’t obey the word and really live the word, then can we really say that we are the “good soil” that Jesus talked about in his parable of the soils? (Read the parable here). Aren’t we instead the hard soil, thorny soil, or the rocky shallow soil? But only the good soil produces the fruit of the Spirit – which is love.

Jesus own brother James tells us:

“Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”
(James 1:21-25 NIV emphasis mine)

So this is what we must do:

We must confront ourselves, and keep on persistently confronting ourselves with the Word of God until we change… until we become like Christ in every way… until we truly love and God’s Spirit is glad he made a home in us (if he indeed has). Incidentally, the Bible tells us that we aren’t even saved if the Holy Spirit is not in us! I once shared that fact with a few Christian friends and they argued with me! But this is what God’s word says!

“Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.” (Romans 8: 8-9 NIV)

In subsequent posts, I plan to give the top highlights of my journey through the Bible, but this blog is about taking a frank look at the seriousness of taking God and his word seriously.

THE BIBLE IN 90 DAYS CHALLENGE!

Even though I have just finished reading through (and praying through) the entire Bible I am going to read it again starting January 1st.

Why am I going to read through it again so soon?

While I definitely learned a great deal about God and grew in my relationship with him, I know there is so much more work to be done in my heart. As I read through God’s Word this time it grated against my pride and ego (as it is designed to do) and for portions of the time that I was reading it, I reacted with resistance and fear. In many ways I was still running away from God. This is what sin does! It runs from God! But we must not let sin have its way to the detriment of our souls. We must keep coming to God!

But here is some really good news: We can change! It just requires perseverance and persistence to come to God and to really listen to what he has to say! Jesus will conform us to his image by his Spirit if we just keep coming to him and obeying him! Jesus said, “make a tree good and it’s fruit will be good”. Jesus can and will “make our tree good”, but he alone can change us. We can’t change ourselves!

There is a REALLY AMAZING episode of the show Person of Interest (Watch it here) that really spoke to me recently about change. I loved the last few moments of this episode! (If you must, just skip to the very end to watch it).

Jesus once said:

“But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” (Luke 13:5-9 NIV)

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be fruitless! Jesus warning is real! If we remain fruitless (loveless) we are in very real danger of being condemned. (Incidentally, there was an actual real fig tree that Jesus condemned and it withered instantly. He had likely looked for fruit on this tree every time he passed that way on all his trips to Jerusalem and never found any.) The Bible warns about people who are “ever learning but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth”.

I don’t want this to be true of me, do you?

Jesus said, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free. And if the Son sets you free, you shall free indeed!”

This is not a matter of reforming our flesh (the sin that lives within us). No, sin cannot be reformed, but must die every day as we pursue a life of following Christ. Our victory over sin is found as we simply receive the victory Christ gives us, by faith. It’s that easy! Yet our pride does not allow for something as simple as victory by faith, does it? If we didn’t work really hard to kick our habit, if we didn’t overcome anything on our own, then our pride cannot accept it. This is why people pass up their victory over sin. They are too attached to their pride.

I sense that there is still a transforming work God wants to do in my heart and life and so, starting on January 1st, I will be reading through the Bible once more, but this time, I will do all I can to obey, live, and act on what I read and not resist God. (I will also be reading it in 90 days this time). Who will join me?

(Bible in 90 Days Challenge!)

Please leave a comment below! Disagree with me about something? Tell me! Challenge me!

How am I supposed to grow if no one ever challenges me? How are you supposed to grow if you never allow yourself to be challenged? Read the Word in the new year and let it challenge you to change!

More Than I Dreamed Of

Zechariah 3 tells of a man named Joshua who was the high priest. He is standing before the LORD dressed in filthy clothes (representing his sin) and Satan is there to accuse Joshua. What is the LORD’s response? He rebukes Satan and refuses to listen to his accusations. He removes Joshua’s filthy clothes and provides him with clean garments.

Was Joshua guilty of all Satan was accusing him of? No doubt he was, but the LORD overrules Satan anyway and says, “Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?”

Have you ever felt like that? Like a stick snatched from the fire?

A long time ago this passage of Scripture was shared with me by two separate people within the same week. I was the “firebrand”. Not exactly flattering to be called a firebrand, but yet, it is still hopeful. I am worthy of the flames, but instead I am rescued from the flames. Not only that but God takes this dried up worthless scorched stick and grafts it into the vine and causes it to bear fruit. Because he can. Because he’s good. Because redeeming and restoring is just what he does.

I just read how Paul said he was the chief of sinners and God chose to show his grace to him so that the very worst sinners could be encouraged and say, “Perhaps there’s hope for me too.” And indeed there is. But we must still take hold of that hope and do something with hope, don’t we?

My question is, do we want to continue living varying degrees of ruined lives? Or do we want to finally discover what Christ was talking about with offer of an abundant life?

He says, “I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10)

Do we really want this? To what lengths will we go to get it? To what lengths must we go? These are all questions I am asking of myself.

The following song is one I wrote inspired by the Scripture in Zechariah 3:

 

Self Esteem, and Why We Avoid the Bible

In third grade, my elementary school started a self-esteem program. My mom was concerned about the humanistic values that she suspected would be in this program and so had me excused from attending these seminars. So, while everyone else in my class went to the self-esteem seminars, I was left alone in the classroom.

And I have struggled with self-esteem ever since… if only she had let me go!

I’m totally kidding! My mom was probably right. After all, what does the world know about how to truly find value and worth as a human being?

Doesn’t God Want Me to Have a Good Self-esteem?

My little girl Ellie has discovered Veggie Tales. She is 18 months old and has never watched television or videos… up till now. We thought it would be fun to play her some veggie tales and now she is hooked. When she is in the living room she will point to the dark tv screen and say, “Bob? Bob? Bob?” (asking for Bob the tomato – I was just now reminded of Bill Murray in “What About Bob?”).

One of the episodes we watched together last night was  called, “A Snoodles Tale”. Written in the style of Dr. Suess, it is a lesson in self-worth.  I was touched. The story talks about a snoodle who struggles with self-worth and is brought down by all the other snoodles who belittle him because he isn’t good at anything. When he is finally told his worth by his creator, he is transformed from being burdened and weighed down by all the pictures others have painted of him to being so lighthearted and free that he begins to float above the ground and finally makes use of those wings he was given.

Watch “A Snoodles Tale” HERE on Youtube

This is what it’s like receiving our worth from God and hearing from him how he really views us and how he really loves us… unconditionally. He alone can give us purpose and a glorious destiny. When we believe and receive that purpose and destiny, we begin to fly above the confines of everything we have thought and might think of ourselves and also above all the ways others have defined us.

After reading as much Scripture as I have thus far (now in Hosea) I am absolutely convinced that God isn’t at all interested in bestowing upon us a good self-esteem. In fact, I would propose and submit to you that God doesn’t want us to have self-esteem at all… good or bad. God has something far more precious and totally awesome to give us then merely good self-esteem.

Our worth is only meant to be found in God and was never intended to come from within ourselves, independent of God. In fact, independence from God is how we lost our worth to begin with. Our pride is independence from God and is a vain attempt to find self-worth apart from him. Instead we build our self-made identities based on abilities, accomplishments, possessions, self-improvement, etc…

“Self-esteem” is how we see ourselves and it is largely influenced by how others see us, or how we perceive that they see us. Self-esteem is based on the principles of pride and on our performance, not on the grace and unconditional love God extends to us. God is the one who made us and it goes without saying that he wants us to care more about how he sees us and to set us free from this trap of self-esteem. He does this by giving us what I will call God-esteem.

When we take our eyes off of ourselves altogether and fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, we are then liberated to be the people he always intended for us to be, and it is beautiful!

Why We Don’t Read the Bible

Unfortunately, we are all bound, confined, and limited by our opinions of ourselves and of others opinions of us, that we don’t even think to go to God to find our worth. We are so caught up in the trap of self-esteem that we surround ourselves with only those who speak and think well of us, and we avoid everyone and everything that might cast us in a negative light… including the Bible.

While there is a glorious identity waiting for us to take hold of in Scripture, God must first break off and crush all our false ideas about who we are. We must first be humbled before we are even able to receive grace… before God can show us and free us with the truth of who we really are… in him.

God’s word is designed to deal a devastating blow to our self-righteous ego and kill any possible chance of a good self-esteem. This is why we avoid reading the Bible! It’s why I avoided it. It made me squirm like a worm on a hook. I felt cornered. Exposed. Undone. I mean, who wants to feel crummy about themselves? Who wants to be faced with all the various ways they have failed and the fact that at the very core, that you are a rotten person?

According to his law of love, God convicts the entirety of mankind and exposes us all for the self-centered, loveless creatures that we are. He then makes it abundantly clear just how much all our wretched sinfulness and rebellion has deeply offended him and incurred his wrath. We are all sinners and stand (or rather grovel) before him convicted, doomed, and damned because of sin. Apparently, sin is a really big deal! We would all be lost forever without someone to intervene and come to our rescue. Thank God Someone did!

All of this makes the good news of Jesus so much sweeter and more amazing! We are not without hope! The good news of Jesus is that he is our Savior. He is our hero who came to take the bullet for us. He became our sin and was condemned for it. On the cross, He absorbed all the wrath of God for sin! Jesus was convicted, doomed, and damned in our place that we might be saved as we trust in Jesus and follow Jesus! This is pure grace.

The Humbling Effect of God’s Word

Just the other day in Ezekiel I came across another contemptible sin I was guilty of. Upon reading it, I was so upset that I started swearing in my head and thinking, “Do I have any alcohol in the house?” I then remembered I had one beer left in the closet. I was planning to down the thing as quick as possible.  All while I was thinking this the Lord was speaking to my heart. In a very comforting voice he gently whispered, “Just come to me, just come to me.” As if to say he had all my sin covered and that it was alright.

I tried to have the beer anyway cause I still felt like crap. I opened it, took one sip and then poured the rest down the drain. I didn’t trust myself not to still attempt a bit of drunkenness. Then, as I sat at my kitchen table with my head resting on my Bible I said, “Okay God, now what?”

Any last flickering flames of self-esteem were thoroughly extinguished as I read for the umpteenth time of yet another way I had deeply offended God and I had to agree that I deserve his wrath. I just can’t win! And just maybe, this is the point.

I loathed myself just as Ezekiel wrote: “Then you will remember your past sins and despise yourselves for all the detestable things you did.” (Ezekiel 36:31 NLT)

This is the humbling effect of the word of God. It humbles our pride. But, does God want to keep us in a perpetual state of loathing ourselves? No, of course not! He wants us to find our worth in Him and find pure unadulterated joy in our restored relationship and our new identity with him! He wants to show us a new way to be human and how to be what he always intended a human to be. Loving. Gracious. Kind. Forgiving. Free.

And yet, I foolishly still find myself attempting to find my value and worth in and of myself apart from him. I still try to think of myself as a good person. Every day my pride tries for a bit of glory and a bit of recognition. Every day I must, once again, die to myself just as Jesus said that we must. Every day we as humans still struggle with pride.

The Lord tells Jeremiah that, “the human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NLT)

Jesus once said, “No one is good but God alone.” (Mark 10:18 NIV)

I don’t know about you but I am always attempting to make myself appear better, smarter, and more spiritual than I really am. Can you relate? Some of us do this by hiding our sin as best we can and then projecting a sanitized image of ourselves to the world (on facebook or twitter) trying to convince everyone that we are likable decent human beings who have important things to say.

I have seen thus far in my journey through the Bible that the entirety of the law and the prophets is designed to assassinate our pride, and then to lovingly restore us and yes, even resurrect us to a new way of life – a life marked by trust and love. I read the following verses today which just served to underscore this:

1 “Come, let us return to the LORD.
He has torn us to pieces
but he will heal us;
he has injured us
but he will bind up our wounds.
2 After two days he will revive us; 
   on the third day he will restore us, 
   that we may live in his presence. 

3 Oh, that we might know the Lord!
Let us press on to know him.
He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn or the coming of rains in early spring.”

4 “O Israel and Judah,
what should I do with you?” asks the Lord.
“For your love vanishes like the morning mist
and disappears like dew in the sunlight.
5 I sent my prophets to cut you to pieces—
      to slaughter you with my words,
with judgments as inescapable as light.
6 I want you to show love,
not offer sacrifices.
I want you to know me
more than I want burnt offerings.
7 But like Adam, you broke my covenant
and betrayed my trust.

(Hosea 6:4-7 NLT emphasis mine)

Pride is the source of all sin. It is like that black tar that afflicted spiderman. It’s tenacious clawing, grasping, and wanting to possess us. To control us. Pride is our greatest enemy and we must fight it… but how?

What is the antidote to pride?

Confession? Repentance? Humility? Love? All of the Above?

(I can’t help but remember one of my first blog posts I ever wrote which I entitled: Baring My Soul. )

What are some ways you have found that are a good antidote to pride? Leave a reply below.

No Fear With Christ

A friend of mine reminded me today of the fact that Jesus actually did accomplish something on the cross. Just think about this: Jesus, once and for all, fully satisfied the wrath of God for sin! This was something I really needed to hear. I still have some false beliefs about a God of wrath who just might send me off to a dungeon and forget about me for awhile (or forever) because I pissed him off again with my sin.

Rather, God is someone I can come to (and run to) with all of my weaknesses and failings, because Jesus has compassion for all our weaknesses.

I wrote a blog just before last Christmas in what felt like a moment of inspiration entitled, “Why You Never Have to be Afraid Again”. As you have noticed by now if you have been reading my blog, I struggle with fear. I know I’m not alone in this. I hope to move past my fear into the love of God and hopefully help others do the same.

Why You Never Have to be Afraid Again

Love. This is what God is. That’s what the word of God tells us. “God is love”. The same letter John wrote that tells us God is love also tells us that perfect love casts out all fear. Because fear has to do with punishment.

This is why you never have to be afraid again… ever.

Remember Jesus, sweating blood in the garden? Remember that opening scene of the Passion of the Christ? Jesus is trembling with dreadful anticipation. What has gotten him so worked up? Then the devil comes along and whispers, “No one can bear the weight of sin. No one. Not ever.”

Resolute, Jesus faces head on what the coming hours hold. He knows exactly what’s coming. Luke records that Jesus was told about all that he would have to endure by two of his closest and oldest of friends, Moses and Elijah… on a mountain. On this mountain he enters the awesome glory of his Father and experiences a transfiguration. His clothes shone pure white. Whiter than snow. And here, his friends tell him of the suffering he will face.

They told of how he would suffer for love. For redemption. For the rescue of his beloved. You and I. And resolute he faced it. He overcame!

And this, this is why you never need to be afraid.  Ever.

When we fear, it simply just shows that we have not been made complete by his love… yet.

When we fear, we forget that yes, the suffering and the cross Jesus bore did in fact accomplish something.

You were forgiven that day. Yes. ALL your sins erased. The sin debt you owed, cancelled. You are now “face to face” with God. A restored child. Loved for exactly who you are. For who he made you. Loved so unconditionally, with such ‘reckless’ abandon, that knowing this love cannot help but heal your every hurt, bring hope to all that is hopeless, bring comfort, redemption, and yes, even joy.

Accept it. Believe it. This is the true message of Christmas. Jesus came for you. He loves you. He loves you. He loves you! So say ‘so long’ to fear and live… believing in his perfect love that casts out all fear.