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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Obey or Else!



Sadly, this is how a lot of people view Christianity. It is not only people outside of the church, but many Christians inside the church grew up believing that the only way to make God happy was to obey, and if you didn't, watch out. Now we're adults, and even though we might not say it, we still believe that in some way this is true. God is watching and waiting to discipline those who miss the mark. If that is true then God is only in the discipline business because we all miss the mark!

 A Death Threat

A call to obedience and reminders about discipline might be helpful but neither has any power to bring forth life. They are essentially death threats. Obedience for the sake of obedience leads to death. Talk of God's discipline brings forth fear leading to death. Think about a time when you were "encouraged" to obey. Did it make you want to obey? Recall a time when you heard about God's discipline. Did it stir in you a warm and loving feeling toward God? If you answered no it's because they are absent of love. They are sterile and cold like a morgue. They are caskets housing lifeless corpses.


For the Christian, a call to obedience is usually sprinkled with the carrot of blessing.

However, no matter how enticing the promise of blessing looks it will lead to certain death because it is based on conditionality. 

Obey and you will receive. The gospel breaks that equation and radically declares that you receive before one iota of obedience is ever put forth. It is one way and unconditional love bursting forth life for dead people.

Obedience Does Not Stir Up More Love

Obedience is good. God's discipline is good. However, conversations that dwell on our responsibility to obey God's commands and His discipline of us when we don't are dead ends apart from the life giving message that, "While we were yet sinners, Christ died" (Rom. 5:8).

He didn't say, obey then I'll die for you. He didn't remind us that God's discipline is for our good as he was headed to the cross. He said "He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives" (Luke 4:18)Paul exhorts Christians in Galatia, "So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don't get tied up again in slavery to the law" (Gal. 5:1).

He is pleading with them to remember the freedom that Christ died to bring them.

They don't have to earn it. It is a done deal. 

Now, they can live. 

They can love. They can serve. They can sacrifice. They can obey. But, no part of their sacrifice and service has any bearing on God's love for them.

We see these reminders in the New Testament often. It's because the early Christians were just like us. Forgetful people. We forget the good news. We go back to our old ways of trying to obey our way out of our messes. We regress and find ourselves cowering with fear over what God thinks of us and what he is going to do to us as a result of our disobedience. No joy. No love. No power. Only death.

God Loves You Even Amid Your Sometime Obedience

If you only hear one thing today, hear this. God loves you not because of your trying. Not because of your sometime obedience or your happy thoughts about him. God loves you because of Jesus. Jesus obeyed perfectly. For you. He accomplished for you what you never could or would. If you have any regret right now you can know that Christ has done everything for you - perfectly. You can be done with the regret and the guilt. Did you screw up yesterday? I did. We can be done with wringing our hands over that because Jesus did not screw up yesterday. His day was perfect and now we have that record of perfection for our yesterday, and every other yesterday.

This is spectacular news!

When conversations turn to obedience, remember first and foremost Christ's obedience on our behalf.

When we hear talk about God's discipline for those he loves, let's remember God's love for screw-ups like us. Let's remember how Jesus responded to Peter when he denied his savior not once but three times. He looked at him with love. Let's remember what Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery; "Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more." It was Love compelling obedience, not the other way around.

Jesus is speaking to you my friend - "Neither do I condemn you."

Saturday, October 18, 2014

2 Imperfect People = 1 Imperfect Marriage


If you followed A Gospel Marriage Moment - 30 Days of Gospel Encouragement for Marriages, thank you!

In the introduction of AGGM I explained that the tidbits of encouragement did not come from a place of success, but rather, a place of failure. I have been married 32 years and I can honesty say that everything I have learned about marriage (that's worth keeping) I learned in the last couple of years since my marriage fell apart. Please do not hear me say that your marriage has to fall apart before you learn anything, that is my story. However, there is something to be said for struggle and difficulty and losing what you think you need in order to be happy. 

Gut-wrenching experiences have a way of softening your heart and opening your eyes.

Two and half years ago my husband left - five days before Christmas. For far too long we had pretended that everything was fine. But we knew the truth....

...our relationship was unraveling and eventually the last thread broke.

As painful as that time was, we both look back and know it was the best thing that could have happened. It does not make sense. We would not have chosen to go through it. But we can say without a doubt that the death of our old marriage had to take place in order for God to give us a new one.



Nothing can make the pain of a difficult marriage go away. What can make it a bit easier is knowing that you are not alone. I have talked with enough husbands and wives to know that marriage difficulty is everyone's story. It must be because we are sinners living life side by side 24/7.

Two imperfect people make an imperfect marriage. Together, you can clasp hands and laugh at your imperfections while thanking God for his perfect son.

His grace really is sufficient.




(For more, follow AGGM on facebook and twitter)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Independence and the Deception of Freedom


A friend sent me a message the other day that began:

You've been miss independent your whole marriage. In recent years you've found yourself needing to be more fragile, more taken care of. Basically just less stand alone-able. Advice?

Those words...every last one of them...were like daggers to my heart. I felt a sharpness and a stirring of regret. I told her that I felt as though she somehow knew my deepest darkest secrets. I told her I thought she was writing about me! Those words described me for most of my life. 

I'm posting (below) most of what I shared with her as a result of her confession because, I know we are not the only ones. In the days that followed I read parts of this to other friends. They looked back at me and said, "That's me too." I'm sharing this because I want women to know there is a way out.

A Way Out

There is a way out of the lie that says independence promises freedom.

It's not easy...

...it does not happen overnight...

...but there is hope.

(Disclaimer: This is a gospel response to women who have struggled with a desire to maintain independence in a marriage relationship. It is not an attempt in any way to promote an agenda for or against women who work or pursue interests outside the home, and it is not meant to promote an agenda for or against any "biblical model" of family, womanhood or manhood.)

Here is what I wrote...

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Oh my…when I started reading this I thought you were writing it about me and somehow you knew my deepest darkest secrets! This was me. I was raised in the “You can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never never let him forget he’s a man” world! My mom was independent, a "never let them see you sweat" self-made woman and successful business owner. Combine that with a culture that shouted feminism and I was left with the notion that I didn't need anyone. Not a good recipe for marriage. And not gospel…I joke and say that I trained my husband well…on how to “stay away” because I can do it all! It has taken hard work these last couple of years to repair that. It does not come easy or quick. And it takes dying. Slow little deaths of giving up control and independence and territory.

What has happened is your husband has been a good student of yours...learning all the ways to silently step around your independence. He knows where he can go and he knows where the land mines are. It will take an excavation of the mine field plus time and patience, to wait on him to trust that the land mines are gone.

(You wrote; “Your husband is so stressed you feel like if u asked him to dote and covet u more  he'll fall apart.”) He is not stressed because you are moving from independence to dependence. He is stressed because of work, kids, life etc. and feeling like he does not measure up. I guarantee you he feels like he is failing. If you tell him you need more doting and coveting he very well could fall apart. That is not what you need and it’s not what he needs to do. 

What you both need is freedom – more than anything!

You need to be set free your independence and he needs to be set free from feeling like he is failing. 

Honest confession and transparency – those are the keys to unlock freedom. 

(You wrote;“what if he just can't handle it at this season of life?”) He can handle it because it will come from a posture of admission, not need. You’re not asking him to do anything other than be weak with you. That is attractive and always compels love. I know your inclination is to communicate your need. That repels, not compels. Communicate your weakness. That compels love.

Instead of telling him you want doting, show him. Show him by your confession. Show him by your honesty and transparency. Confess your independence without demanding his attention. You are realizing for the first time in your life that you need someone. Tell him. Tell him how difficult it is for you to admit. Tell him you have always tried to be strong but now you realize you are not all that strong. Tell him you know you’re getting older and things don’t come as easily. (When I tell my husband about my menopause issues he is sympathetic and caring, not overwhelmed and burdened by it) Our husbands have a natural desire to protect and take care of their family. Let him. It won’t overwhelm him. It may actually help him to put his life in perspective. 

The bottom line is this – you can’t change him. 

You can hardly change yourself. Pray that as you come to him in a transparent and honest posture, grace will reign. It always does. You might be amazed at how he responds when he realizes you really need him. Not just to help with kids. But YOU need him. That is not a clingy or whiny need. It is the need a wife as of her husband and the need a husband has of his wife. As you both get older this need will grow. We are only human and the years wear on us. We can’t do the things we used to do, we don’t’ look like we used to look. Peter and I joke all the time about all that! We are happy now to have this in the midst of our marriage – it humbles both of us and creates a mutual dependence we are grateful for. Remember, strength is admirable, but weakness is attractive. Strength gets attention from a distance. Weakness attracts others and compels their interest and their attention up close because it tells them they are not alone – they know their weakness all too well and now they can relax knowing you are weak too.

Imagine how freeing it will be to share this with your husband. But even more, imagine how freeing it will be for your husband to hear your weakness. Now, he can be free to be weak. 

Be weak together! 

There is nothing more freeing than an unconditional relationship. You don’t demand. He doesn't feel obligated. You both admit weakness and frailty and together rejoice in Jesus.

By the way, STAY AWAY from anything that sets standards or promotes comparisons. You and your husband are unique. Your marriage is one of a kind. Stay away from "how-tos.” Run from marriage seminars and instructors who want to give you an easy way out. 

Here is your instruction. Pray and ask God to set you free and to set your husband free. Pray God’s grace to come clean, admit weakness. Pray God’s grace for your husband to come clean, admit weakness. Pray for grace to trust God with this. You have to know that God is up to something here. It was not your idea to all the sudden move toward dependence! God is teaching you dependence on him and he is using your marriage to do so.


************************************************************************************************

Celebrate Dependence

My friends, if you can relate to this it's because there is nothing new under the sun. We have all struggled with the desire to be independent. It began in the garden and it is reinforced by our culture. Even one of our most celebrated holidays is nick-named Independence Day. It is cause for much celebration and merry-making. It is exalted as we, the citizens, look to our independence with honor and pride.

However, maintaining independence in your marriage is not a cause for celebration. It is not something to exalt. It kills relationships. It will snuff out intimacy. Maintaining an "I don't need you" posture is a sure fire way to achieve "room-mate" status in your marriage.

Clinging to your independence is a lonely way to live.


The gospel reminds us over and over again that dependence on someone outside of ourselves is a counter cultural message. It is revolutionary, upside down, and opposite from all the world shouts at us.

So live, work, celebrate the 4th of July. But, as you live, work and celebrate, lock arms together.

Rejoice in the gospel that frees you both from enslaving independence.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Gospel Marriage Moment


30 days of encouragement for marriages started this week!

If you missed any of the the posts so far, you can find them all here.

You can also click on A Gospel Marriage Moment in the sidebar at anytime to find all recent posts. Below is an introduction to the series. I hope you find encouragement here!


Marriage is beautiful. Marriage is hard. The irony of this relationship is incredibly difficult to understand. How is it that something so pure, lovely and exciting on your wedding day can turn into something so challenging and frustrating days, months and years later? Most couples overlook or forget two fundamental truths.

One, we fail to realize our spouse is a sinner – and so are we.
Two, we fail to realize that God loves us in the midst of it all.




I have hesitated to write on such a weighty topic. Many have provided far better insight. I am not an expert in marriage, that’s not where this comes from. Rather, this comes from a place of failure. Failure to get my marriage “right.” Failure to see my own sin. Failure to admit my weaknesses. Failure to confess I’m not perfect. Failure to own my own struggles. You see, failure is probably the only thing we need to get right.

This series of brief gospel marriage moments is not meant to provide anything other than a gospel perspective on marriage and the struggles we all have. It is not a feel-good light-hearted attempt to make you feel better about the good job you’re doing in your marriage. It is an honest gospel-centered assessment based on the truth that you are a great sinner, but God is a great Savior. It is not comprehensive nor conclusive. These words cannot replace a need for prayer, counseling or intervention. It does not speak to the issue of abuse in marriages. If you and/or your children are in an abusive situation, do not stay. Seek help from a friend, pastor or law enforcement authorities in your area.

Here is the spectacular good news about your marriage. The pressure is off, for both of you. God loves you not because you always get it right, but because Jesus got it right for you. In the midst of your worry, anxiety and fear, God comes for you to free you from being shackled in that prison.

"The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free.” Luke 4:18


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Apparently, My Stride Is Screwed Up


What is the one thing you absolutely want to hear when you are giving it all you got, when you are pushing it to your limit and when you feel like you have nothing left to give? How about this one?

She Has The Worst Stride Ever!

said running shoes
That is exactly what I heard last night as I ran past a group of teens standing in their driveway. Let me first say...

...it is probably true

Yes I run. But I'm a newbie. I am reading up on running, I even have the running shoes to prove I'm a runner and I'm following a prescribed running program. However, that does not mean I have good form when I run - it more than likely stinks. I think I'm getting better as I get stronger but I have a long way to go.

As I continued running I thought, he knows nothing about me. He doesn't know I just started running. He doesn't know I'm 55 and just trying to do the best I can. He doesn't know my right knee is sore and I know I'm favoring it with each step. He doesn't know me, my story and where I've been or where I'm headed.

As I pushed through my intervals I kept thinking about that comment.

Isn't that what we do to each other? 




We see how others are running the course and we become sports commentators. "Oh no, look at that - a little slow to the finish." "Wow, just couldn't get the height he needed." "Man, a little short of the green!" "So sad, she just couldn't go the distance."

Only, instead of sporting related comments we analyze their spirituality.

"They're just not in the word as much as they should be." "Their prayer life isn't consistent." "You know, she's not in a Bible study right now." "I'm not sure he's a committed Christian." "She's walked away from the Lord." "They're just not acting in a way that's pleasing to God."

We look at another person's circumstances and quickly make conclusions based on what we see. We sum up their "walk" by connecting it to whatever it is they're going through.

We make the assumption that they are disobedient because, well, everybody knows that obedience brings blessings and if someone is having a rough time of it they must not be obeying God.

I wonder what we would have said about Jesus' "walk." Clearly, if anyone should have had a decent stride it was him. However, one quick peek into the gospels and you're bound to come away thinking, "He got it all wrong."

"His stride was the worst ever." 

Because if you really want to make a run for this King thing and be a winner in everyone's eyes, messing with religious people is probably the wrong step to take.

I mean, lounging at dinner with the super-religious small group while letting a FEMALE PROSTITUTE wash your feet. What?!? How does that translate today? I don't think I have words for the ways we would condemn his "walk."

We would certainly assume that he had not had his quiet time that day.

But more scandalous than that was the way Jesus marched toward the cross. Whoa, wait a second. What kind of stride is that, Jesus? It looks horrible from this vantage point. You're going to hurt yourself walking that way. And, it's certainly no way to win. Like when he entered Jerusalem...on a colt. Or when he ticked off the the temple peeps by damaging their property, or when he ignored the rule keepers who said his disciples had to wash their hands. He really messed with them when one of his disciples cut off a soldier's ear and he put it back on - a soldier who was trying to arrest him! What in the world was he thinking? He may have covered some ground when his disciple defended him but he totally gave away any progress when he jumped to the other side of the block with that move.

Not only did Jesus get it wrong from the perspective of the religious gurus of his day, he got it wrong from our vantage point too.

We want him to walk a little straighter, be a little more polished, a little more religious, a little less in your face and definitely a little bit more predictable. 

We want him to at least be a model for obedience, yet he pretty much went around breaking the rules not keeping them. What kind of example is that?

Jesus, you have the worst stride ever! 

Don't you know it won't get you very far? Don't you know it will hurt you?

Jesus, don't you know you're sprinting toward death?

Thankfully, what this tells me is my stride is just fine. To others it looks wobbly. It looks lopsided - and truth is, it is. But, according to Jesus I'm running well.

Because it's never been about how things look on the outside. 

That's good news. Contrary to what everyone thought, his stride was actually the only perfect stride there's ever been. 

For all the ways we get it wrong, fall down, get up and stumble again, Jesus sprinted toward death. 

For all the ways I call people out, make assumptions and feel superior for my "better than yours" stride, Jesus sprinted toward death. 

For you and for me, Jesus got it right...

...despite what everyone thought.

"For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart" (1 Sam 16:7).




Thursday, August 14, 2014

One Thing I Want My 18 Year Old To Know

This is the time of year when we say goodbye to our young adult children. It is the time when we forget the "young adult" part and mostly remember the "children" part. Anxieties are high - will they get in with the right group of friends, will they study hard and get good grades? Some moms are hoping their children will at least shower, brush their teeth and do their laundry. Have you spent this final year at home with your teen rehearsing and reminding? Rehearsing all the right things to say in any given situation, and reminding them of all the do's and don'ts you've taught them over the years? 

Here is some good news.

Everything you have taught them from 0 to 18 they still know. You don't need to tell your 18 year old to make it to class on time or to get plenty of sleep. They already know that. This is good news because you can stop with all the reminders and advice. Just love them.

The one thing you want them to know and the one thing you should tell them over and over and over is this:

{source - google}
God loves them so much he sent His son to die - for them. Not because they were "getting it done" and "walking the walk." Because truthfully (I know you think their perfect) they are sinners just like you. Sinners in need of a Savior. 

Remind them of such a great love - one that condescended to them in the midst of their rebellion, their sin and their disobedience. 

For all the ways they have gotten it wrong, Jesus got it right - for them. He lived the perfect life they couldn't and wouldn't - for them. Now his perfect record is theirs. Jesus has done for them what they cannot do for themselves.


Encourage them with the spectacular news that as they go off to college, God loves them. They will make some good decisions and some bad decisions but none of that has any bearing on God's love for them. No good they do can earn more love from God and no bad they do can forfeit love from God.

One thing they need to know - God's love for them is unconditional, one way, forever and ever and ever.



Saturday, August 2, 2014

Thoughts On Equipping Our Christian Children

As I sat listening to a mom lament her failures I could not keep quiet!

In those moments when we are drowning in self-condemnation we need others who will pull us out of the quicksand of lies, guilt and regret. It's not always easy for me to do that, especially when I'm dealing with regret myself. However, it is usually in those moments that I end up preaching the gospel to myself because I need to hear it again.

First, I reassured her. She is an amazing mom. Not because she is perfect, but because she loves her kids. Friends, that is enough. Your kids don't need to see perfection. They need to see weakness and dependence on Another. I've said it before but it bears repeating:

Our kids don't need to see us staying strong in the midst of chaos. They need to see us falling apart into the arms of the Strong One who redeems the chaos of our lives.

Second, I corrected her. She has not failed her kids. It is funny how we know we don't have the power to save our kids, but somehow we think we have the power to ruin them! It's just not true. 

How To Be A Good Christian (stay away from these!)

dailymail.co.uk
Third, I encouraged her to not be so hard on herself. We can mentally destroy ourselves when we are wrapped up in comparisons or we cave under the expectations of others, the church included. One of the things that prompted her anxious thoughts about child rearing was an article she read on equipping our youth so they don't leave the church when they go off to college. ugh. I hate those articles. Can we all just agree to stop reading the myriad of books and blogs (like this wikihow post How To Be A Good Christian Child) that tell us how to keep our Christian kids Christian after they leave home? 

What this mom needed was a fresh reminder of the gospel, not another list of child rearing tips.


Spitting Out Church Deacons

I pointed out that:

"Defining the Christian walk by church involvement is a narrow interpretation of what it means to be a Christian. The author of that article asked, “How can I spend four years with this kid, helping him become the best church deacon and sixth-grade Sunday school class teacher he can be, ten years down the road?”
We don't need to spit out church deacons and Sunday school teachers - we need to make room for the gospel to do its saving work.
If we define what a "success" is by the fact that a young person is a deacon or leader in the church, that leaves out millions upon millions of Christians who are faithfully serving in their homes, at their workplaces, in the armed forces, in hospitals, in education...etc. So, a better question is, how have we communicated the gospel in a way that impacts their hearts? How do we assure them that no matter what they do God loves them so much he died for them in the midst of their sin. Because truly, the only thing that changes hearts and lives is love - one way love. My son had the benefit of equipping. He knew how to lead a study, how to read his Bible. At 24, he is not a leader in the church. He lives on his own, fully supporting himself. He works hard and so many hours that it is difficult for him to make it to church let alone serve there. Is he a Christian? Or does the church view him as a failure because he is not a deacon or Sunday school teacher?
The author is right when he says there is no formula. I think we take our cues from Jesus. Love unconditionally - on that we don't shilly shally (in the words of Steve Brown)."

Fruit Inspecting vs. Gospel Preaching

Parents, we really can stop wringing our hands over our kids. Do we want them to know Jesus? Yes. More importantly however, is that he knows them. That he is holding on to them despite what "fruit" they bear, what their "walk" looks like, how "trained up" they've been, or "how vibrant their relationship with the Lord is."

Don't shilly shally with them. Tell them the truth that God loves them and will never forsake them. It is finished...for our kids too.

They can be done with trying to measure up and we can be done with trying to measure them. 

Whew!

Now, that's good news!