Sunday, February 17, 2013

We Have

I often contemplate the things I think I need, but rarely do I consider the things I already have. This was a fresh reminder, a returning to and a preaching of the gospel to my weary heart today.

We have assurance that God will complete the good work in us Phil 1:6
No hand wringing is necessary. You can be done with questioning if you are doing enough or not doing enough. It is up to God (not you) to complete what he started in you. Now you can rest, and out of the overflow respond spontaneously and with love!

We are filled with the fruit of righteousness Phil 1:11
You can do no other than bear the fruit of righteousness. Your problems and my problems begin when we try working form self-righteousness. Filled with Christ's righteousness, the fruit we bear is not burdensome but joyful.

We believe Phil 1:29
It's a done deal. In Christ, we believe. In other words, Christ rescued us from the grip of sin and death and raised us to newness of life. We never have to worry about our faith. Though it may waiver and though it may feel like it has dried up, Christ has hold of us - we believe. It has been granted to us as a gift.

We have encouragement, comfort and love Phil 2:1
Friends can offer sincere words of comfort and they can bolster your spirit with encouraging gestures, but divine encouragement, comfort and love are like nothing on this earth. Encouragement from God says "I will never leave you or forsake you". Comfort from God says "I will give you a peace that passes all understanding". Love from God says "I have loved you with an everlasting love".

We have God in us working Phil 2:13
Take this whole list of present benefits - that's what's working in you and in me...mercy, righteousness, strength and peace. All our needs are met and we have adoration and love from our heavenly Father. Now let's go - and work out of the overflow.

We are children of God Phil 2:15
You are not just treated as a son or a daughter. You are a son/daughter! Given a new name - Christian. Given a new identity - child of the Most High King. Given a new status - adopted into the family and given all the rights as a family member and an inheritance in the Kingdom of God.

We have received mercy Phil 2:27
Forgiveness, redemption, grace upon grace. We are deserving of every punishment - we are receiving of every good gift instead.

We have the righteousness of God Phil 3:9
Incredible! Although we live life still sinning, our bankrupt account is actually full. Our messes and regrets are actually as if they are perfect. It's not only as if we have never sinned, but it's as if we have always obeyed.

We have a heavenly citizenship Phil 3:20
We are just passing by. We're on a trip towards our final destination. Where are we headed?
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. Rev 21:1-4

We have the Lord at hand Phil 4:5
The LORD is your keeper. Read more about how the Lord is at hand here.

We have the peace of God Phil 4:7
Not an earthly kind of peace that is conditional, flimsy, and easily lost; but shalom. Pastor and author Tullian Tchividjian writes about this peace:

"Tim Keller observes that Christ's miracles were not the suspension of the natural order but the restoration of the natural order. They were a reminder of what once was prior to the Fall and a preview of what will eventually be a universal reality once again—a world of peace and justice, without death, disease, or conflict.

To be sure, when Christ comes again, the process of reversing the curse of sin and recreating all things will be complete (1 Cor. 15:51-58). The peace on earth that the angels announced the night Christ was born will become a universal actuality. God's cosmic rescue mission will be complete. The fraying fabric of our fallen world will be fully and perfectly rewoven. Everything and everyone "in Christ" will live in perfect harmony. Shalom will rule." Read more.

We have the strength of God Phil 4:13
The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him. Psalm 28:7

We have supply for all our needs Phil 4:19
Our discontent comes from not having what we think we need. We are unsatisfied with what we have, always looking for the next thing to fill our deepest desires. The truth is, nothing other than Christ can give us what we really need. He is everything we need which is why Paul can confidently pray that he will supply all our needs. He is it. Look at this list again and be reminded of the riches that are yours in Christ Jesus!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Moving Forward Always Begins With Going Back

So often we look around at how we are doing as Christians, as employees, as spouses and friends and we rightly conclude things are broken. In light of the mess we see we set out to make changes. However, we go off in the wrong direction when we look to ourselves for change. Our problems are compounded when we move ahead without first going back. Pastor and author Tim Keller talks about how real christian change happens in his expository guide Galatians For You: For Reading, For Feeding, For LeadingHe writes:

Our failure to obey and conform to Christ’s character is not a matter of simple lack of willpower, and so we cannot treat our failures simply by “trying harder”.
We need instead to realize that the root of all our disobedience is particular ways in which we continue to seek control of our lives through systems of works-righteousness.
The way to progress as a Christian is continually to repent and uproot these systems in the same way that we became Christians—by the vivid depiction (and re-depiction) of Christ’s saving work for us, and the abandoning of self-trusting efforts to complete ourselves.

We must go back again and again to the gospel of Christ crucified, so that our hearts are more deeply gripped by the reality of what He did and who we are in Him.
Read the full article How Real Christian Change Happens

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Gospel? A Feel Good Message?


The superlative feel good proclamation is the truth that God in Christ, has set you free forever from guilt, shame and despair by dying on a cross for your sins past, present and future.

He has cleansed your conscience, given you a new life with a new name and a new identity.

He has made you an heir of his kingdom together with Christ, your friend - one who sticks closer than a brother.

He has sealed your eternity and it's a done deal. You cannot be separated from God and His love for you knows no end.

There is a lot of news out there that is good. There is a lot of racket in our world today that makes us feel good. But the good news on t.v. and the things that make us feel better are fleeting. The news will eventually turn bad. The pleasures of this world that soothed your weary soul will fade away like shifting sand. You'll end up with nothing to hold on to.

How will you not say "I feel good" knowing that God has given you Christ, your Savior, the rescue of sinners? Don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying feel good as in happy shiny people feelings even though your world is crumbling around you. I'm not talking about "turning your frown upside down" in the midst of suffering or trials. I am talking about the peace that passes all understanding when God demonstrates his abiding love for you in the person and work of his son Jesus Christ.

Let these gospel truths sink deep into your heart...

The gospel is good news because it frees me to love imperfectly knowing that in Christ, I am perfectly loved.

The gospel is good news for vow-breakers because God is a perfect vow-keeper.

The gospel is good news for the doubting and depleted because God's sustaining love demands nothing in return.

The gospel does not just make an appearance from time to time. The gospel is the good news that Jesus is with us always.

The gospel is the best feel good message out there!

Therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. Acts 2:26

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Que Sera Sera or God's Sovereign Purposes?

Have you wondered what the purpose of suffering is? If you have been on this planet for any length of time you have surely asked that question. Why am I going through what I'm going through? What good can come from this? What in the world is going on?

God says; I’m with you and this has purpose. However, in the midst of suffering we are blind to what that purpose could be.

Dr. David Powlison, biblical counselor and teacher on staff at CCEF, helps us to understand God's purposes for suffering by taking a look at a powerful hymn written specifically to assure us of God's presence in the midst of "deep waters". In writing about the fourth stanza of "How Firm A Foundation" he makes these pastoral observations:

“When through the deep waters I call you to go,
the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
for I will be with you, your troubles to bless,
and sanctify to you your deepest distress.”

Words from Isaiah 43:2 weave through this stanza. Your troubles are envisioned as ‘deep waters’ and ‘rivers’. Isaiah alludes to when God’s people faced the Red Sea with enemies at their back, and to when they faced the Jordan River at flood stage. No human being could carve a path through such difficulties. God restates his core promise with an eye to the future:

“I will be with you.”

That itself is significant, because the effects of most significant sufferings extend into an indeterminate future. We need much more than help in the present moment. What exactly does it mean that God will be ‘with’ you amid destructive forces? In promising this, God explicitly does not  mean that he will give you mere comfort, warm feelings because a friend is standing at your side through tough times.God plays a much more active and powerful role. This stanza fills in the meaning with four vast truths. 

God himself calls you into the deep waters in your life.
• God sets a limit on the sorrows.
• God is with you actively bringing good from your troubles.
• In the context of distressing events, God changes you to become like him.

This is heady stuff. High and purposeful sovereignty. A big God – who comes close to speak tenderly, work personally, make you different, finish what he begins.

In other words, your significant sufferings don’t happen by accident. No random chance. No purposeless misery. No bad luck. Not even (and understand this the right way) a tragedy. Tragedy means ruin, destruction, downfall, an unhappy ending with no redemption. Your life story may contain a great deal of misery and heartache along the way. But in the end, in Christ, your life story will prove to be a ‘comedy’ in the good old sense of the word, a story with a happy ending. You play a part in the Divine Comedy, as Dante called it, with the happiest ending of any story ever written.

Death, mourning, tears, and pain will be no more (Rev. 21:4). Life, joy, and love get the last say.

High sovereignty is going somewhere. People miss that when they make ‘ the sovereignty of God’ sound as if it implied fatalism, like Islamic kismet, like que sera sera, like being realistic and resigned to life’s hardships. God’s sovereign purposes don’t include the goal of getting you to just accept your troubles. He’s not interested in offering you some perspective to just help get you through a rough patch.

This stanza expresses the kind purposes of the most high God. But it does not make light of your hardships. There is no chilly objectivity in God’s words. He carefully refers to the pain of deep sufferings in every line. He speaks poignantly, not matter- of - factly: deep waters, rivers of sorrow, troubles, deepest distress’. In fact, the original hymn (with ‘thee and thou’) put the second line even more graphically: “The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow.” Woe is the keenest edge of anguish, the extremity of distress, sorrow raised to the highest degree of pain. Those rivers of woe sweep many good things away.

Your deepest distress is deeply distressing. But the God who loves you is master of your significant sorrow. 

He calls you to go through even this hard thing. Though it feels impossible and devastates earthly hopes, he sets a boundary (not where we would set it). He convinces you that this hard thing will come out good beyond all you can ask, imagine, see, hear, or conceive in your heart (Eph 3:20; 1 Cor 2:9). You will pass through the valley of the shadow of death filled with evils, but you will say that goodness and mercy followed you all the days of your life.

(excerpt taken from David Powlison’s essay “God’s Grace and Your Sufferings,” which was published in Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (which can be read online for free).

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Can You Forgive Me For Being Me?

If you have not seen the movie Silver Linings Playbook, go. You will not be sorry. 

The interaction between Pat and Tiffany below is my favorite scene in the movie. I sat in the theater captivated by these words as they tumbled out of Pat and Tiffany's mouths with raw emotion and grit. I was shocked at first. Not at the foul language (some of the words below have been "edited"), but at the intense reality and transparency of the characters and their feelings. At one point early on in the movie, Pat tells Tiffany she has poor social skills and she has a problem. She responds with "I have a problem? You say more inappropriate things than appropriate things." It is all very refreshing and delightfully raw.

A scene later, Pat and Tiffany are walking home. Tiffany attempts to "hit On" Pat and he resists...she responds...

Tiffany: Hey! 
Pat: What the heck? I'm married! 
Tiffany: So am I! 
Pat: What the heck are you doing, your husband's dead! 
Tiffany: Where's your wife? 
Pat: You're crazy! 
Tiffany: I'm not the one who just got out of that hospital in Baltimore. 
Pat: And I'm not the big slut!... I'm sorry... I'm sorry... I'm sorry. 

Tiffany: I was a big slut, but I'm not any more. There's always going to be a part of me that's sloppy and dirty, but I like that. With all the other parts of myself. 

Can you say the same about yourself jerk? 

Can you forgive? 

Are you any good at that? 

How would you respond to those questions? Can you forgive? Are you any good at that? If we're honest with ourselves we would have to admit we're lousy at forgiving...ourselves and others. We don't forgive ourselves because we think we need to somehow continue to "pay" for our past mistakes. We don't forgive others because we want them to pay for their past mistakes. The problem is that we are the ones who continue to pay in either situation. We live with guilt and shame over our own mistakes and with bitterness and anger over the mistakes of others.

I love this character Tiffany because she is honest about who she was (a slut) and who she still is (sloppy and dirty). There is something that resonates with me about her sheer guts to admit that about herself. I hear her heart longing to be free - free of the shame and regret. Listen closely - can you hear her cries for freedom? For forgiveness? It's as if she is asking the questions;

Will you be the one to accept me the way I am? Will you take me as I am? Will you be the one to not dwell on where I've been and to not expect me to be someone I can never be? 

Can you forgive me for being me?

And aren't those the questions that haunt us all? I've asked those same questions myself because really, at the end of the day I just want to know I'm accepted.

That is why the gospel is such good news and why it never gets old or stale or monotonous. It's why we can never stop talking about grace because grace is the only thing we can hold on to.

Grace and the gift of forgiveness it brings is the one thing we need and the one thing we can never have enough of because as Tiffany says, "There's always going to be a part of me that's sloppy and dirty." 

My greatest times of joy and peace come when God reminds me that in the midst of my sloppiness and in the midst of my mess He loves me.

In answer to Tiffany's questions Can you forgive? Are you any good at that?, Jesus replies "yes, I'm really good at that. I paid it all." Now that's a silver lining...

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace. Eph 1:7

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Good News Of White Robes

“Because salvation is by grace through faith, I believe that among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands (see Revelation 7:9), I shall see the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me that she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son.

I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with grueling alternatives; 

the businessman besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions; 

the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love; 

the sexually abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last 'trick', whispers the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school.

'But how?' we ask.

Then the voice says, 'They have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb.'

There they are. There *we* are - the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life's tribulations, but through it all clung to faith. 

My friends, if this is not good news to you, you have never understood the gospel of grace.”

-Brennan Manning, 

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Eph 2:8-9

Monday, February 4, 2013

I'm Calling My Attorney!

How could she do that? Doesn't she know that suspending my son from the swim team in mid season eliminates any possibility of him going to the State Championships?

Surely, she must know it could ruin his opportunities for college recruitment. 

As I sat in my room my anger rose. I was clearly right and the phone calls to the newspaper and an attorney would help turn this nightmare around! No one was going to do this to my son.

With a plan in place I thought I would feel better. The problem was I felt sick. Fear and anxiety grabbed my heart. I was bubbling over with anger.

I had an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. As much as I tried to ignore it, it persisted. There was nothing to do now but wait for help and pray that the meeting at the school in three days would shine the light on the truth.

I was not prepared for happened next. I grabbed my bible and sat down to read. I asked the Lord for help. This is what he said:

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God  Psalm 20:7

My child, why are you running around anxious and fearful when everything you need is already yours? Don’t you know I am good, I am with you, and I have this under control? You are exasperated and you are relying on the strength and power of people. What is their power or their wisdom or their love compared to mine?

God met me where I was and through his gentle and caring comfort he reminded me that all my hand wringing was unnecessary. He broke my heart with his love for me, while my tears of sorrow mixed with gratitude spilled onto the pages of scripture.

I shared this verse with my son that afternoon. I told him how God broke in and rescued me from all my attempts to control the situation. We prayed and waited. Three days later we went to the meeting and apologized to the athletic coaches and the principal for our headstrong response to the situation. We told them we trusted the Lord with whatever the outcome was, and then we sat silently – fully expecting them to uphold their decision. 

Chariots and horses never stood a chance against the grace of the Lord Jesus.

My heart was bent on self-preservation. I was relying on my own abilities. Thankfully, my strength and my power were no match for the infinite power held in Christs' nail pierced hands.

God's grace had wrecked me. God's grace intervened. God's grace did not wait for me to clean up my act and stop acting like a crazy woman. God came down, met me and changed my heart. 

No human strength or power can do what God does. God's grace alone has the power to change hearts.

p.s. The school made the decision to let my son back on the swim team...God had this thing the whole time.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Teaching Character Traits [A Self Salvation Project] Part 3

(Part 3 of a 3 part post on Teaching Character Traits - Read Part 1 and Part 2)

This series began with a look at what character means and how an extreme focus on character education and training in our culture has seeped into the church and Christianity. We are so mesmerized by good behavior and positive character traits we equate it with godliness.

The second post in the series examined the false belief that things are worse now than they have ever been. History has proven otherwise. Even still, we are shocked by the degradation and immorality and we panic. We believe we have to fix the tidal wave of a culture gone mad. We truly believe we can turn it around with educational programs that teach good character and a standard of morality.

What does the bible have to say about character? 

Many people throughout the bible are portrayed as displaying good and strong character. Honesty, hard work and kindness are distinguishing marks of a person set on God's ways.

However, no where in the bible do we see that good character describes the whole person and a person's whole life. We never read about a person who is able to sustain good character. Adam sinned and his son committed murder. David, a man after God's own heart, was an adulterer and a murder accomplice. Jonah, called by God to go to Nineveh ran the other way in fear. And on it goes. Even those who had the best intentions possessed character flaws. Peter doubted and questioned and outright lied. The disciples argued over who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. From these examples it seems clear that,

God does not rely on the completion of a character training program to qualify his people for entrance into his kingdom.

Think about it. Who were the people of high moral values and seemingly flawless character in the bible? Wasn't it the pharisees and religious leaders who possessed all the principles of right living? Clearly they had excelled in the rigorous moral upbringing they received as children.

Contrast these stellar citizens with those Jesus called to be his disciples. Of the twelve closest to him, some were fishermen, one a tax collector and another a religious fanatic. While there is nothing wrong being a fisherman, chances are none of them received the kind of training and education the religious leaders received.

The contrast could not be more apparent. If good character and moral upbringing qualified the disciples, they would not have been called.

God's grace qualified the disciples.

Grace alone.

Over and over again, the bible makes it clear that good behavior and moral uprightness mean nothing in the kingdom of God. If it did, this whole thing would be about us and our accomplishments and our ability to act according to a set of standards. That is called slavery and it is a form of self salvation.

How Does Character Education Impact Our Children?

A friend in my community has an elementary aged child who is well behaved. She is the one who receives stars for her good conduct and she is recognized at school wide character program events. All this seemed innocent enough, and even something to be proud of, until this precious one lost control one day. I don't meant acted crazy, just talkative in the classroom. There went her star. She was devastated. Believing she was a failure she became despondent. Her pride was sorely wounded and she was embarrassed and ashamed. Meanwhile, her brother was at the other end of the spectrum. He learned very early on that attaining recognition for conformity to a standard outlined by the school was out of reach for him, so he gave up trying. He despaired of ever making a "good" impression on his teachers. As time went by he reveled in his disobedience and nonconformity.

Focusing on good character produces pride in those who can perform and despair in those who can't.

The more dangerous result of this kind of training is the self salvation aspect. Children believe that as long as they meet the standard for conduct and morality they are getting it done. This removes any need for God and the power of grace in their lives. At some point however, the burden and responsibility for their own salvation will crush them. Although some may achieve an outward obedience, inside they realize something is terribly wrong. The hypocrisy and dark shadows haunt them because the truth is,

character training can produce conformity but it can never change a human heart.

Another friend of mine is disappointed in her child. She is angry that her daughter acts disrespectfully toward her. She assures me that she raised her daughter to know right and wrong and that she set a standard for right character. At the top of the list was respect - especially towards parents and adults. But now, as a young adult, the daughter has had enough and my friend is incredulous as she continues to demand respect and in return receives contempt. It's a sad situation.

In both of these scenarios the gospel must break in and destroy the lies that have set these families up for sure disappointment and despair.

Only the gospel can crush our idols - the idols of pride and reputation and significance. Only the gospel can free us of the need to be recognized for our achievements.

Pointing To Christ vs Training in Character

Turning to the pages of scripture we read in Genesis the account of Abram (Abraham) and his nephew Lot. Abram has just won a battle and rescued Lot. Abram makes a hard but necessary decision to separate from Lot because he knows the land they are on can not possibly sustain all of their herds. According to the culture of that day, Abram would have had every right as the patriarch of the family, to choose the land he wanted. Instead we see a shocking gesture on his part. He defers to his nephew and says:
Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.” And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other.
Genesis 13:8-11

Reading this with our children, we're tempted to moralize the story. We say "Abram was a man of character and see how he put his nephew Lot before himself? God must be pleased with him! Be like Abram and God will be pleased with you too." Or maybe in a squabble between your kids you intervene and remind the kids of their devotion that morning about Abram and Lot. Have you ever caught yourself saying something like this: "Remember Abram and how he shared the land with his nephew Lot? He didn't have to give Lot the best land, but he did anyway because he loved God. God blesses us when we share with others."

Pointing out Abram and his good character misses the point of the story. Pointing out Abram's kind gesture is not bad, but if we stop there we miss Jesus. Every word of the bible whispers his name and every verse and every story is meant to point us to Christ. When we focus on the moral of the story we make it about us and what we can do to be better people. The truth is our children are sinners and what they need most is a savior.

Our children don't need to be better people, they need to be rescued by a Savior.

The truth is Abram was a sinner too. God's love for him motivated his love for Lot, plain and simple. Read the account of God's love and protection of Abram and his family in the face of his fear and deceit (Gen 12). God's love for us us always precedes our love for others. Our ongoing sin and rebellion points to our need for rescue, for a Savior, for the One who loved us to death that we might live. Every story whispers his name...

Check out these parenting resources:

Give Them Grace - Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson

Give Them Grace (website)
Grace Based Parenting - Tim Kimmel
Instructing a Child’s Heart – Tedd & Margy Tripp
The Jesus Storybook Bible - Sally Lloyd-Jones
Thoughts To Make Your Heart Sing – Sally Lloyd-Jones