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.

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!

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!