For This, Lord, We Repent

A prayer for myself and fellow Christians.

In as much as we have allowed, expected and even required a select paid few to participate in spiritual duties and to share Your story, we have believed You do not allow equal access to Your throne. For this, Lord, we repent.

You also are like living stones, and God is using you to build a spiritual house. You are to serve God in this house as holy priests, offering him spiritual sacrifices that he will accept because of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:5 ERV

In as much as we have lived a life burdened by fear, guilt and obligation and called it “following You”, we have not believed Your message of freedom. For this, Lord, we repent.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11: 28-30 MSG

In as much as we have required others to understand countless points of doctrine in the precise fashion that we do prior to allowing them to be baptized, we have believed You require spiritual growth absent of Your power. For this, Lord, we repent.

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your entire household.” They spoke the Lord’s word to him and everyone else in his house. Right then, in the middle of the night, the jailer welcomed them and washed their wounds. He and everyone in his household were immediately baptized. Acts 16:31-33 CEB

In as much as we seek to occupy the high places man has created and feel pride in knowing others who do, we have set aside the order of Your kingdom.  For this, Lord, we repent.

Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you. James 4:10 NET

The fear of people becomes a snare,
but whoever trusts in the Lord will be set on high. Proverbs 29: 25 NET

In as much as we have closed our eyes to the boundary-crossing of those with prestige and tenure against the weak, preferring to allow some to suffer rather than risk offending the powerful, we have forsaken Your Spirit. For this, Lord, we repent.

He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?  Micah 6:8 ESV

In as much as we have excluded ourselves from mingling with others who believe differently than we do or are of a different socioeconomic status, we have been prideful and robbed others of the blessings You wished for us to share.  For this, Lord, we repent.

You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 2 Corinthians 9:11 ESV

In as much as we have believed we are a special people, morally superior to others, we have supposed You play favorites. For this, Lord, we repent.

For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. Romans 3: 23-25 ESV

In as much as we present Your grace as being available to the outsider, but remove it from the reach of those who have confessed Your name, we deny the reality of being human. For this, Lord, we repent.

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me…Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.  Romans 7: 18-20,  24, 25 ESV

In as much as we have used baptismal status or desires for such as a manipulative force to change behavior in others, we have twisted the gospel, placing the onus of sanctification on ourselves. For this, Lord, we repent.

God is working in you to make you willing and able to obey him.  Philippians 2:13 CEV

In as much as we have taught that You have a single plan for our lives which we must search for, find and accomplish in order to live a life acceptable to You, we have believed You to be a controlling micro-manager and inept at bringing good out of all circumstances. For this, Lord, we repent.

We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 CEB

In as much as we have claimed that following You leads to a life void of troubles, we have caused doubt in the lives of those facing trials. For this, Lord, we repent.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 ESV

In as much as we have asserted to know the unspoken intentions or thought-processes of another and deemed the person righteous or evil, we have removed You from the throne of judgment. For this, Lord, we repent.

The Father loves the Son and shows him everything that he does. He will show him greater works than these so that you will marvel.  As the Father raises the dead and gives life, so too does the Son give life to whomever he wishes. The Father doesn’t judge anyone, but he has given all judgment to the Son so that everyone will honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever doesn’t honor the Son doesn’t honor the Father who sent him. “I assure you that whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and won’t come under judgment but has passed from death into life. John 5: 20-24 CEB

In as much as we have believed we have no moral struggle or downfall in common with an alcoholic, prostitute or murderer, we have fed our self-delusions. For this, Lord, we repent.

So what are we saying? Are we better off? Not at all. We have already stated the charge: both Jews and Greeks are all under the power of sin. Romans 3:9 CEB

In as much as we have clung to our pride over authenticity, we have denied ourselves of the healing You want to provide. For this, Lord, we repent.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. James 5:16 ESV

In as much as we have mistook leadership for power rather than service, we have adopted an earthly world view. For this, Lord, we repent.

Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. John 13:14,15 NIV

In as much as we have come to think that we can and absolutely must do it right, get it right, believe it right, understand it right in order to please You, we have imagined You to be exacting. For this, Lord, we repent.

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
    you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.  Psalm 51:16,17 ESV

 

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In as much as we have followed You for what we want from You, we have devalued Your pursuit of our hearts. For this, Lord, we repent.

I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart. Jeremiah 24:7 ESV

In as much as we have refused to open the painful places of our hearts and allow You to do the hard work of healing, we have chosen bondage over freedom. For this, Lord, we repent.

So now there isn’t any condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1,2 CEB

In as much as we have closed the door to a progression in spiritual understanding, we have denied Your desire to further reveal Your character. For this, Lord, we repent.

In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
    Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
    Your young will see visions.
    Your elders will dream dreams.  Acts 2:17 CEB

In as much as we have been unable to extend compassion toward others, we have not trusted Your compassion toward us. For this, Lord, we repent.

God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
    his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
    How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
    He’s all I’ve got left. Lamentations 3: 22-24 MSG

In as much as we have responded to Your commands by saying “All that You have said, we will do”, we have trusted in our promises over Your promises. For this, Lord, we repent.

I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6 CEB

In as much as we have belittled others in conversation or in our thoughts so that we could comparatively lift ourselves up, we have rejected the value You have already placed on us. For this, Lord, we repent.

As indeed he says in Hosea,

“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
    and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
“And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
    there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”  Romans 9:25,26 ESV

In as much as we have accentuated the weight of guilt in another’s life, thinking we were doing the work of God, we have misunderstood Your mission. For this, Lord, we repent.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:17 ESV

In as much as we have tried to control others, we have considered You incapable of guiding them on their own journey. For this, Lord, we repent.

If you stray to the right or the left, you will hear a word that comes from behind you: “This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 30:21 CEB

In as much as we have felt obligated to give of our time, money or energy while holding resentment in our hearts for our sacrifice, we have been striving to impress You. For this, Lord, we repent.

Each one of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give. You should not give if it makes you unhappy or if you feel forced to give. God loves those who are happy to give. 2 Corinthians 9:7 ERV

In as much as we have doubted our own salvation, we have judged You impotent to save. For this, Lord, we repent.

So he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.  Hebrews 7:25 NET

In as much as we have nurtured an atmosphere of fear in regards to the end of time, we have rejected Your message of peace and Your self-sacrificing love. For this, Lord, we repent.

The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. … I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.  As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. John 10: 10, 11, 14, 15 NKJV

In as much as we have monitored and corrected the explicatives spoken by others while living a Christian life void of Your transformational power, we have taken Your name in vain. For this, Lord, we repent.

But the fruit that the Spirit produces in a person’s life is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these kinds of things. Galatians 5: 22, 23 ERV

In as much as we have thought You were more concerned with the form of our worship than the condition of our hearts, we have adopted paganism and set up our home in Babylon. For this, Lord, we repent.

“I don’t want your sacrifices—I want your love; I don’t want your offerings—I want you to know me. Hosea 6:6 TLB

In as much as we have made religion about behavior modification and doctrinal beliefs and not about knowing and trusting You, we have committed idolatry. For this, Lord, we repent.

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. John 5:39,40 ESV

In as much as we have sought after a leader worthy to follow rather than seeking after You, we have had other gods. For this, Lord, we repent.

Christ gave you a special gift. You still have this gift in you. So you don’t need anyone to teach you. The gift he gave you teaches you about everything. It is a true gift, not a false one. So continue to live in Christ, as his gift taught you. 1 John 2:27 ERV

In as much as I myself have believed and acted on these very things, I have strayed from Your way. For this, Lord, I repent.

 

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Life Beyond the Law

So many times I’ve said myself or heard other Christians say, “I wish I hadn’t done that. I’m going to ask Jesus to help me do better with that in the future.”  While there’s nothing explicitly wrong with that prayer, I’ve come to believe there’s really not much right about it.

Jesus didn’t come so we could obey the law better. He came to show us the love of the Father and to draw us to Him. Then, as a result of our personal connection to Him, our lives will be transformed.  We will not be an improved version of ourselves. Not better. But transformed entirely.

Imagine standing around the proverbial water cooler at work. What would it take for you to not join in the gossip about an annoying coworker? Perhaps exercising your willpower? Concentrating on something else? Reminding yourself that good Christians wouldn’t act that way? Biting your tongue hard enough to pierce it? Any of those approaches might work. And certainly it would not be wrong of you not to gossip.  That’s making use of a couple of double negatives to say, sure, it’s a good thing to avoid gossiping by any methods. Not gossiping decreases the harm done to others. But does biting your tongue to avoid gossiping make you a Jesus-follower? Does it give evidence of being a Christian?  Does having enough will power to control yourself hold weight with God?  Not gossiping is in line with the moral law.  Doesn’t that count for something?

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God’s way is not our way. His thoughts are not our thoughts. Jesus didn’t simply come to show us an example and instruct us on right-living. He came to show us the Father. He came to restore a broken relationship – one where we didn’t trust that He had our best interest in mind. He came to establish a kinship where He calls us friend and brother. His life was one of restoration and healing.

Jesus told us in many different ways that it’s not what is on the outside of a man that matters – but what is in his heart. A life transformed by the Holy Spirit will live beyond the law -in the spirit of the law – not focused on obedience to the letter of the law. A Jesus-follower will have a spirit of humility – knowing they are not intrinsically better than the person who is being gossiped about, empathy – for both the frustration of the speaker and his/ her subject, compassion – sorrow for the weakness of the human race, and grace – giving kindness where none is deserved.

Will the disciple of Jesus be a gossiper? Surely not. But the reason will have little or nothing to do with the law. The Jesus-follow wants what is best for the other person and has a desire for their healing and their well-being. Tearing the other person down with gossip is not an option – not because they can’t or shouldn’t, but just because they won’t.

Not gossiping doesn’t require trying hard not to gossip. It requires a transformation of your heart.

There are many very hard things Jesus asks us to do. Focusing on trying hard to obey the law is not one of them.  But if we do the hard things He asks, our lives will show the fruit of His work in us.

Create in me a clean heart, O God. And renew a right spirit within me.  Ps 51:10

Jesus is the hero and it’s good news!

 

 

 

Maybe it’s Abuse

“I have a praise,” the middle-aged woman raised her hand. “A christian friend of mine had a husband who wasn’t very nice. She sometimes would put the kids to bed at 6:30 and sneak supper to them so they wouldn’t have to be around their dad when he got home from work. He could be pretty mean to them, so she protected them. This went on for years. He passed away not long ago, but before he died he gave his life to Christ. He knew he hadn’t been nice all those years and for her to put up with him, well, he decided there must be something to this Christianity thing. Her kindness all those years was a witness to him. Praise God!” Others chimed in, “Yes, praise God!” and “A-MEN!”

Dear Conflicted Christian,

I’m sorry you were there for that conversation. You’ve been deeply hurt and confused by this relationship you’re in. And you’ve been listening – listening because you want to do the right thing and make the right choices. I know you’ve heard that true Christians turn the other cheek and keep their promises no matter what, but sometimes doing so feels wrong in your gut. It feels like a wrong against you, or perhaps your children. And you think it is your sinful, selfish flesh that makes you think of leaving instead of staying and sacrificing. You’re more afraid of being a bad Christian than you are of being mistreated. Please keep listening.

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Jesus loves you. You’ve heard it so many times perhaps you didn’t really hear it just then. Jesus loves you. The Creator of the universe, the Savior of mankind, your Redeemer – He loves you. Not only that, but Jesus loves you. He adores you. He was willing to give up His home, His power, His position in heaven to heal His relationship with you. And further more, Jesus loves you.  Perhaps you’ve been told in words or actions that you are not lovable. Or perhaps you believe that Jesus loves the institution of marriage and the character traits of purity and commitment more than He loves you. You and I understand that people are more important than things. So don’t you imagine that God, whose very character is the definition of love, prioritizes people over things even more than we do? Jesus loves you.  Now walk forward in this conversation from that point of safety.  Please keep listening.

Jesus is your Savior. Jesus is your spouse’s Savior. You don’t need to sacrifice your life in hopes of saving your spouse. Jesus already provided that sacrifice. I’m sorry for the messages within the church and among  Christians that have informed you otherwise. Please keep listening.

The cross that Jesus asks you to bear is not the abuse, it’s not your marriage, and it’s not your vow of silence. I know you’ve heard preachers tell you it is. But it’s not. Jesus tells us that His yoke is easy and the burden He places on you is light. You need to carry your cross so you can die daily as Paul did. That means your selfish desires – including your urge to cleanse your life by being good – must be nailed to that cross every day. Please keep listening.

No one can help you unless you’re honest. That means being honest about everything – even the things that don’t reflect well on yourself. You will have the strength to do this only if you’ve accepted in your heart the things I’ve already said. Maybe you’re easily manipulated. That will need to be admitted for your own healing. Maybe you’re ashamed of things you’ve done that were not consistent with the person you want to be. Betrayal of self is perhaps the deepest of injuries. But there is compassion, grace and healing in Jesus. In the presence of a safe person, allow that wound to be opened so He can heal you.

There will be people who are not safe and may create obstacles to your healing. They may say things like:

  • “That doesn’t seem likely. I’ve never seen your spouse act anything like what you’re saying.”  Spare your breath. Their response doesn’t negate your experience or make them a bad person. They just can’t hear you right now. That’s ok. Find someone who can.
  • “You’re being too sensitive.” If you’ve lived with abuse for years, you probably believe that’s true. So let’s just say it is true. A loving spouse and friend respects – and dare I say even admires – a sensitive spirit. Find someone to talk with who isn’t going to condemn you for that character trait.
  • “You’re the one who decided to marry them. You’re just going to have to deal with it.”  No one signs up for abuse. You didn’t choose to be abused.
  • “You just have to put up with some things in order to have a long term relationship.” Yep, you sure do. You’ll experience differences in likes, priorities, and ideas. There will be a lot to work through. However, that does not include putting up with habitual mistreatment or manipulation.
  • “You’re not being forgiving enough.” Forgiveness relates to your attitude toward another person and impacts your motives. Forgiveness does not equal embracing destructive behavior.
  • “Your spouse probably has reasons for acting that way. You need to be more understanding.” There are always reasons for what human beings do. But understanding why a thing is so does not necessarily make it healthy or acceptable.

While there may be some element of truth in all of those statements, it still may be abuse that has you on edge and your stomach in a knot. Find someone who will believe you and give unbiased feedback. A counselor is a good option or follow this link to talk with someone at the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Just because you and your spouse go to church every week doesn’t mean abuse can’t happen in your home. Studying religious beliefs and doctrine doesn’t automatically give you an understanding of the love and compassion Jesus has for you or equip you with the tools to share that love with others in a healthy way. Please get to know Him!

Talking about what you’re experiencing doesn’t necessarily mean your marriage is over or that your spouse is a horrible person. But it does provide a doorway to a future that is more peace-filled and less chaotic. Now walk through it.

Be strong and of good courage.

Much Love, Me

Church – Do we not realize that our words are encouraging domestic abuse to continue in our midst? Yes, praise God the man in the story gave his life to Christ. Praise God He is able to take a bad situation and bring about good. But no, not “praise God” that the wife’s “kindness” witnessed to him. Where did we get the idea that God requires us to enable abusers and how did we come to see it as kindness?  What is kind or loving about habitually shielding our abusive loved ones from the natural consequences of their actions?  Where is the growth in their journey when we do that? How will they come to the end of themselves and see their need for God when we run perpetual interference? Yes, relationships are complex and there will always be more give than take. But let’s not confuse that with abuse.

Please allow Jesus to be the Savior of mankind.

He is the hero.

And that’s good news.

 

Dear Christian Porn User

Dear Christian Porn User,

I know what you’ve been up to. I’ve seen the browser history, the credit card bills. I’ve found that stash of magazines you thought you hid in the basement. I’ve heard your stories when you thought I wasn’t listening. You may think you’re being clever, but you’re not.

You’ve probably said you think there’s nothing wrong with it – that no one is harmed by it. But your attempts to hide it and your defensiveness when caught betray that your heart knows differently. We do not hide that which is right and just and pure.

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I know you go to church every week and have called yourself a Christian all your life, but don’t fool yourself with your title. Do not let who you think you have to be blind you to who you really are. And listen up, because I’ve got some things to say to you!

Jesus loves you.  

Yes, I know. I know you’re a hypocrite. God knows, too. And He’s crazy about you – right now! He loves you. It’s not conditional. He doesn’t ask that you change your ways before you accept His love. In fact, accepting His love is the only way to change your heart.

The gospel is for you.

You’ve often heard about how we need to tell the unchurched about Jesus. But, the good news is, the gospel is for you, too. While you were an enemy of God, Christ died for you. He took on the wages of sin for you. On the cross, He  freely chose to die, forsaken by His Father and without hope for Himself, to give you the right to a new life.

You are valuable.

The cross tells of your value. The God of the universe – the one who can create stars or tell mountains to rise up or to fall down – He offered His Son to bear the price of your sin and mine. Do not reject or scorn the value He places on having a relationship with you.

Now, leave it!

Walk away from it. You know the fleeting moments of pleasure are a high price to pay for the dysfunction it’s brought to your home and the chaos in your heart and soul. So leave it. You’re tired of the scramble for more and feeling like it controls you. So leave it. But you actually can’t, can you? You’ve tried and it pulls you back every time. Perfect! Yes, perfect! You are in the perfect spot to drop your pride, stop the charade and proclaim your utter helplessness.

Call out to Jesus.

I know you are in the church, but call out to Him from the broken place you find yourself. His mercies are new every morning. Now is the time for salvation. Allow His love to soothe and heal those hurts of your past that have been so influential in where you find yourself today.

Pray these words:

Lord God, I acknowledge that I am unable to control my desires. You know the brokenness of my life. I need you, Lord. I am a sinner. Please forgive me. Thank you for displaying Your love and might on the cross through the death and resurrection of Jesus. You overcame the power of sin on my behalf! Sin no longer has to reign over me. Jesus, I want my old life to die with You and Your risen life to live in me. Holy Spirit, remind me of this love and new life throughout my day. Thank You for loving me even while I am a sinner. You are a compassionate God, full of mercy. In Jesus name, Amen.

I urge you to find two or three Christ-followers who will not condemn you, but will walk with you in humility and uplift the cross of Christ to you daily. In His strength is your freedom. In His love is your healing. You cannot do this alone.

Now, to you other Christians still reading because you wanted to see what cursings might be called upon the sinning pornography users, I hope you realize that a good many things could be the topic of this blog. Exchange pornography for pride, workaholism, gossip, greed or self-exaltation. It’s not as easy to count the victims of those acts, but they are destroying others and ourselves just the same. They are a violation of the law of love – out of harmony with God.  My message to you is the same.

People” don’t need Jesus.

WE need Jesus.

Perspective

Thursday morning I stepped out of my car into the sweltering heat. My glasses fogged as I walked into the office building where I work. Without effort, my thoughts headed down a well-worn path.  I rehearsed the why’s of my current location, the what’s of nature I’d rather be surrounded with, and the how’s of potential change. But the when is not now and the where isn’t settled, so I redirected myself to my work, grumbling a bit and enduring on.

Saturday afternoon I slid into the driver’s seat of my car – literally – slid – onto the seat as my legs were so sweaty the usual struggle of sticking was long past. My face was beat red from the couple of hours I’d spent walking on the concrete in the sun and heat surrounded by the buildings of downtown.

And what was that I felt?gratitude?

I was thankful for the option of turning on the air conditioner, blocking out the sun with a visor, and getting ice out of my freezer at home anytime I wanted to. It was hot, at least as hot as Thursday. But spending a couple of hours serving others who aren’t as fortunate as I am, made all the difference in my heart.  I’m sure the people we met appreciated the ice-cream sandwiches and cold water we shared. But interestingly, none of them were grumbling about the weather. And once again my heart told me it is true: It is more blessed to give than to receive.

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May you find the blessings in your own life as well no matter your situation.

 

A Love Story

I snatched the book out of my mail box Saturday morning before heading out for a day of camping. And I’d finished it before I headed back home today. It’s the easiest hard-to-read book I’ve read in some time. And I was so moved by the story that I think everybody really ought to read it.

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The title suggests the pages will speak of peace and grace. It certainly has that, but it’s also full of love and redemption.

Kara’s story starts as a youngster in a home with an angry father whom she struggled to please. After rebelling from the pressure and unattainable expectations, she was introduced to Jesus. His love drew her in and her life took a drastic turn away from the destiny she had been carving for herself. Shortly afterward she met a young man, Jason, who became the love of her life and the story unfolds as the two of them, and eventually their four “littles”, learn to love in a way she had never experienced previous to that. The same vulnerability that was required for her to walk that journey with him is what makes the story so compelling for the reader. She openly shares so much of her raw struggles of humanity that her story becomes all of our stories.

The depth and love of the story is beyond beautiful. The ending – tragic. The particular “hard” for Kara mentioned in the book title was breast cancer. She found a  deeply grace-filled, loving God along that journey.  Her “hard” eventually took her from this here, this now. She passed away about a year ago.

The book presents an amazing quality of relationships that few of us experience. Her marriage to Jason really seems to have been blessed and rare. They were endlessly focused on loving with kindness. But as Kara points out in her book, the best we have here is simply a shadow.  We are living in Shadowland. The real love story that can fill our hearts without compromise or end is available to all of us. It is the love of our Savior, Jesus.

So while I would wish for you a marriage and relationships filled with grace and peace, above all I would wish for you a relationship with Jesus. It is through the author of Love that we can learn to know Love. And when we allow Him to be the hero of our story, grace and peace are promised – even in the midst of hard.

A New Heritage

As I listened to their description of what it means to provide hospitality, my first response was to tell myself some lies. “I don’t know how to do that. The family I came from never taught me that. This is going to be hard.”

While I enjoy having friends over and have prepared countless meals, the kind of hospitality they were talking about was at a whole different level. It involved welcoming the stranger into my home, relieving their burdens and providing for their needs for the purpose of sharing the good news of Jesus with them. Wow! Yeah – I’ve never seen that done. … Or have I?

While Jesus was on the earth revealing the love of the Father to us, He went about doing good ~ healing the sick, relieving physical maladies, lifting emotional baggage, and feeding thousands of strangers at a time. He gave hope to those who could never repay Him. He expressed love and forgiveness for people who spat in His face.

I have seen that kind of hospitality.

The gospel tells me that I am seated at the right hand of God (Eph 2:1-10) with Jesus. It says that Jesus agreed to trade places with me in order to heal what I am unable to heal for myself (Isa 53:5, 1 Pet 2:24). If I accept the gift that Jesus has offered, I have the most amazing heritage of hospitality!  John 14:12 tells me that, empowered by the Holy Spirit, made possible by the gift of Jesus, I will do the things Jesus did while on earth in order to bring glory to the Father.  It’s already a reality. I just have to claim it as mine and choose to live in that reality.

Jesus is the hero. It’s good news! And that’s the gospel!

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What I was shown or not shown, what was done or not done to me or for me, is a part of my story. But it does not define me. In the gospel story, through the exchange of Jesus, I am offered a new heritage. I can grieve whatever I need to from my past, but I am given the option of grieving with hope. I can acknowledge the hurt of any past events, without any part of it determining my future. So when looking strictly at family of origin, it would be true to say I have not been shown how to be hospitable. However, Jesus has inserted a new story line into my life and has provided all I need. In Him, my story changes.  In Him, I am whole and complete.

Jesus is the hero. It’s good news! And that’s the gospel!

The Gospel Lens ~ Speaking Gospel Truth

Badness contained is not goodness. It is simply badness that is not leaking out yet. ~ Lee Venden

Most of us have no experience in the realm of speaking Gospel Truth to each other. In general it seems our interactions tend to land at one extreme or another. Either we say nothing at all when we see another person struggling in life, or we’ll swing to the exact opposite and tell them what they should be doing and how they need to change their behavior.  We might even read a Bible verse to show them it’s not just us who says they should be doing what we’ve told them, but God. And we call that speaking truth. But I am finding that at its heart, Christianity is not a behavior modification system, and the overarching message of the Bible is not good advice about living. So what does it mean to speak truth and how do we incorporate that into our relationships?

What I’m sharing here are some summary thoughts from a presentation by Jeff Vanderstelt (click here to watch his presentation).

Using the Biblical metaphor of our lives being trees that bear fruit, what we believe about who God is makes up the root of our tree. We have decided who God is based on what we’ve read and have experienced of the person Jesus (the Bible tells us that Jesus is the revelation of the Father). From that we decide who we are in Christ, which is displayed by our actions – or the fruit of the tree.  Speaking truth is a process of leading others (or even ourselves) to understand what they are believing based on how they are acting and to repent of their false beliefs about God.  By realigning their beliefs with what Jesus has shown us to be true about God, their fruit (behavior) naturally changes.

In the video presentation Jeff walked through an example of how he applied this process to a real-life situation. His wife was struggling with anxiety. The Fruit of the Spirit is peace. Her life was not showing the fruit of the Spirit. I’ll share with you a brief synopsis of the conversation as he shares it on the video.  His actual conversation with her lasted several hours.

Jeff – When you are experiencing anxiety, what does that tell you about who you believe you are?

Wife – I am the one in control.

Jeff – If you believe it is all up to you, what does that say about what you think God has done?

Wife – He has stopped loving me. He is not in control. He has abandoned me.

Jeff – Then who do you believe God is?

Wife – I believe God is unloving, impotent, and distant.

His wife understood that the fruit of her life revealed the root of her faith. In that moment she was acting as though she believed in herself and she was honest enough to speak the beliefs she was holding as truth about God. Those were not consistent with the beliefs she intellectually held to be true about God and she quickly repented of the beliefs she was acting on. She actually believes God is loving. She knows this because Jesus died for her while she was still His enemy. Because God is loving and cares for her, she does not have to be in control and can have peace.

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Repentance is the turning away from false beliefs we are holding about God and turning toward what we know to be true as revealed in Jesus. As you may have noticed, the discussion was not “you need to get more peace”. While peace is what she needed, telling her she needed to get peace for herself by trying would have only reinforced the root belief that was already bearing the fruit of anxiety in her life ~ namely, that she was in control of life and that it was all up to her. We don’t bear the fruit of the Spirit by trying hard to bear the fruit of the Spirit.

The fruit of the Spirit comes automatically as we seek Jesus.

Empathizing with others in their time of distress helps them know they are not alone and is beneficial to the one hurting. Giving good advice about choices to one who is asking has its place. But only Christianity offers the Good News of the gospel. Only God is able to change us from the inside. Do we believe it? Why don’t we remind each other of that more often? Why do we try to fix our external fruit problem instead of addressing our internal root problem?

The Gospel Lens ~ Studying to Know God

Do you find the Bible boring or irrelevant? Do you try to read and study but get bogged down in details and facts? Many of us have been taught to read the Bible looking for factual information. What can I get from God? What does He want? What should I believe? What do I have to do? But the Bible isn’t just a collection of facts or good advice about how to live. It’s full of Good News and Gospel Truth.  It’s an invitation to a relationship with the living God.

I’m going to walk you through a Bible study method that has shifted my focus from learning information or even appreciating an interesting story, and allowed me to brush against the hem of Jesus. The example I’m going to walk you through is based on my reading of Mark 3: 7-19. Briefly, in this passage of scripture Jesus finds Himself pressed in with crowds of people wanting to be healed. He then took His disciples to a mountain top where He chose 12 apostles. His plan was to teach them, and then send the apostles out to proclaim the Word and free people from the power of demons as He had been doing.

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Question one of the gospel lens:  What does this story tell me about the characteristics of God?

God is generous.

Question two: What has Jesus done in this story to express it?

Jesus healed all who came to Him and selected other apostles so they could do the same work in greater numbers.

Question three: Who are we in the gospel story* because of this story?

Because God is generous, in the gospel story we are needy. After encountering Jesus, we become well cared for.

Question four: What do I now do with this belief? How do I live differently?

Because God is generous and I am well cared for, I can afford to give lavishly to others.

You will notice that my answers to the questions are probably not your answers. There are no “right” answers. Your story and where the Holy Spirit is leading you will affect what you gain from the Bible reading. Your image of who God is will be different than mine because of your perspective and your unique personal relationship with Jesus. It is in studying and sharing with others that we can begin to get a bigger picture of God. It is a process of learning who He is, which then informs me of who I am in Him, and in turn changes how I live.  I don’t behave in a certain way so I can do something for Him, prove something to Him, get something good or avoid something bad from Him. As I practice focusing my eyes on Him, my external life becomes a natural response to the power of God working in my heart.

*The Gospel Story is God’s story of creating a perfect world, having Adam and Eve disbelieve His goodness, and His response of love and grace in His quest to rebuild the broken trust. Through the gift of His Son, He provided a way for mankind to reconnect with Himself and will one day return to erase the blight of sin and restore a face-to-face relationship with His redeemed sons and daughters. The gospel story has been played out over the ages, but is also repeated in each of our lives. 

Dare We Believe?

While growing up I attended many an evangelistic series. This was not as a result of any intense spirituality, but was my lot in life. The evangelistic series I attended were presented by my dad. His sermons were full of the good news of God’s love. Often he would end his sermons with an altar call, providing a chance for people to commit their lives to Christ. Generally at least once during each series of meetings a favorite hymn of mine would be sung during the altar call.

Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bid’st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

The song is full of good news! Yes! What a safe harbor! What a welcome reprieve His love provides!

However, be it my own flawed perception, or be it the teaching of the day or the church, it seemed that hardly had the good news landed on the ears when the unsuspecting convert was hit with a left hook. It went something like this, “Now, here’s the deal. God loves you for sure, but you need to stop smoking. That’s not too much to ask since you know smoking’s bad for you anyway, right?  Ok. Great. Now, there’s more to the deal. God says if you love Him you’ll obey His commandments. So here, I’ll read them for you. Got it? Great. Now, hang on. Not everything you have to do is listed in the commandments. There’s some more over here. Let me read it for you. … Got it? Great. Just a few more and then we can talk about your being baptized so you can join the body of Christ. I’m so excited for you!”

The bottom line sounds something like this, “If you love God, convince Him and the rest of us by the way you act.” Immediately the list of must’s and should’s grows long and the good news becomes very burdensome and really not good news at all ~ because “now you know better, and now if you don’t ‘do it’ you’re really going to be lost!” (James 4:17)

Salvation in that setting becomes twisted into things I must do rather than a relationship I live with a God who loves me.  Immediately self fights to keep hold of the prospect of salvation and heaven. I start looking around instead of up, and comparison thinking comes to my defense, sounding something like “Well, at least I….

Furthermore, a works oriented model of salvation creates bondage (Gal 5:1) to fearful insecurity where I am plagued with questions.

“Have I done enough yet?”

“Is God pleased with me yet?”

“Have I asked for forgiveness of all of my sins?

“What if I misunderstand what God is saying and do this wrong even though I want to follow Him?”

I would sum them up in two words. “OH NO!”

The good news is, God doesn’t want more of my efforts. He offers me an entirely different quality of life grounded in the life of His Son who was the fulfillment of the law (Mat 5:17-20). Dare we allow God’s message to actually be good news?

The good news is, God says His love for me does not depend on what I do (Rom 5:8). Dare we stop scrambling for His acceptance and instead allow His peace to wash over us?

The good news is, in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15), the father does not ask the son to do anything. Coming home to be with his father was enough. Dare we believe God is anxious to welcome us into His family just because He is love?

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The good news is, a leopard cannot change his spots – nor can we change our sinful nature (Jer 13:23). Dare we believe our best efforts are a waste in regards to our salvation and sanctification?

The good news is, in the lives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the founding fathers of the Biblical people of God, outright premeditated sin was present in their lives. And God did not leave them. Dare we believe He will continue to work with us in the midst of our imperfections?

“Yeah, but…” I hear some church folk saying, “if you’re going to be a Christian, you’ve got to…”

I hear Christ saying I must seek first His kingdom of love and His covenant faithfulness with all my heart, and hang out with Him, then all the other things will come in time (Matt 6:33, Jer 29:13, John 15:1-8). 

Rather than being required, obedience to God’s law is inevitable as I spend time with Him. (2 Cor 3:18)

Living a life right with God is not a test of my relationship with Him ~ but it will be the natural long-term result of my relationship (Romans 10:4). Forcing it to happen the other way around may change the outside of me if I am determined enough ~ but it will never change the inside. Only basking in His perfect love and acceptance will change my core.

It is God who does His work in me and in you. (Phil 1:6)

Dare we believe the good news?