Computers are either the most useful pieces of technology ever invented or “the biggest piece of crap in the world”! What makes the difference?
It all depends on what day you walk into my office.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had a computer “lock up” on you. But, if you’re breathing in 2011, chances are pretty good that you’ve sat there in front of the screen… just… waiting… forrrrr… ANyThINNNNGG to happen!!! The trick, I was told, when this happens, is to hit Ctrl-Alt-Delete to interrupt the program that’s “not responding” and get yourself out of whatever loop has the computer stuck in an endless cycle.
Lately, I’ve had more than one conversation about something with guys I’m meeting with and Cristine’s brought up the same topic at our staff meetings – “people are getting stuck in conflict and can’t seem to get out”. Someone’s been rude, been overbearing, been demanding, been thoughtless and the other person is refusing to let them back in before they “apologize first”!
One of the most difficult spirits to overcome in the Christian walk is the spirit of entitlement – “you owe me an apology” it’s rooted in pride, chief of all sins. But, when we look at scripture, we see that God is the only one who can lay claim to someone owing an apology, yet He gave us Jesus – slain on the cross, punished for our junk, sacrificed as lamb to end all sacrifices. One of my favorite quotes from Louie Giglio was this: “God owes us nothing… but judgment.”
Alright, I didn’t like it when I first heard it. But, it keeps things in perspective. “…Christ died for the ungodly… While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5.6b,8b)” Last week, my friend, Ron shared with a bunch of guys a letter that Jesus dictated to John the Baptist in the book of Revelation. 90 years after his death, they were already off track. Not completely, though, just enough. He commends them for the things they were doing right – calling out the phonies who came in God’s name, working hard, persevering, etc.
“But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. (Rev. 2.4)”
If you can’t say “amen”, you’d better say “ouch”!
Discipleship at Work
The point is, Jesus gives them a very scathing reminder that it’s easy to get wrapped up in a lot of Christian activity and miss Christ. No wonder the world looks at us as hypocrites – we’re starting with Christ and following through with self! This week, I’ve been able to talk to a number of guys about loving their wives as Christ loved the church, considering others better than themselves, etc., all through the lens of “getting unstuck”. God didn’t need to make the first move when it came to reconciling us to Himself. Yet, He did. He sent Jesus to a messed up, prideful, sinful world and gave Him what we deserved – judgment – and gave us what Jesus deserved: forgiveness and sonship.
If you and I didn’t deserve someone taking the first step, but got it anyway, who are we to demand it from others?!
As we’ve talked in discipleship this week, a number of the guys have made a resolve to do what Jesus suggests in the next line of Revelation –
- Remember – who you are and what a mess I brought you out of
- Repent – turn away from the tendency to worship your agenda and to do list over the Creator of all agendas and all there is to do
- Return – to the work you used to do by living by the Spirit (see Romans, chapter 8 – the whole thing.)
Repeat after me – “remember, repent, return”. “Remember, repent, return”. “Ctrl – Alt – Delete.”
Lest Ye Be Judged…
Fighting an uphill battle? You might be a Christian… One of the hardest things about being a professed Christian is that the world will judge you based on the standard God no longer condemns you for. Some of you are judging me right now for ending a sentence with a preposition! The second hardest (in the flesh) is fighting against old patterns and habits you’ve been steeped in for many years. After all – “train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it” doesn’t just refer to the good stuff we’re taught, right?
I believe we will be held accountable and rewarded (or ineligible for reward) for what we have done or left undone (2ee 2Cor. 5.10), we are no longer condemned for our sin because we are no longer sinners, but saints – saved by the grace of God. In fact, we are referred to as saints over 60 times in the New Testament. This does not mean we no longer sin, but that the outstanding theme of our life is not one of sin, rather of sanctification. This is a big bible word for “being transformed into the likeness of Jesus”.
Those outside of Christ often look in and pick out our hypocrisy. What’s funny to me is not only are they judging us for being “judgmental”, but they’ve also overlooked the fact that we worship an omniscient God whose Spirit informs and reminds us when we’ve done wrong. We are hypocrites, but not intentionally. We will struggle with things we don’t want to do because our flesh has programmed us to do them. Though our “old” man is dead, our new creation still walks in his grave clothes and God is transforming the outer parts of our inner self, while the old, dead self, tries to get us to worship smaller, rival gods like “my agenda”, “my stuff”, etc., etc.
Everyone of us who has ever “walked in the footsteps of the faith of our Father, Abraham” and has confessed with their mouth that Christ is Lord and believed in their heart that God raised Him from the dead is now a new creation that is being sanctified until the Lord returns or calls them home. This means our life will be difficult in many cases, because we’re fighting a war on five fronts – against an enemy who accuses us (Satan: “accuser”), flesh that follows us and reminds us of who we used to be, a world system that manufactures a worldview counterfeit to God’s truth, and believers in Christ who may lead us astray from time to time and unbelievers in Christ who will condemn us where God does not.
Are we still together?
Today, I saw one of those warm, fuzzy videos about some college kids who did the right thing. They’re softball players who didn’t have to do what they did. But, watch what they did, think about this scripture
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
and try this at home. Remember – there’s a reason why there’s no law against these things.
Do You Naturally “Crucify the Flesh”?
When there is no law against doing something, do you naturally tend to do “the right thing”? I don’t. Yeah, I drive on the right side of the road most of the time. I know, “it’s not safe to do otherwise”. (Self serving, aren’t I?) In the natural, forgiveness is not what I’m bent on when someone wrongs me. I just watched my 11 month old boy standing himself up, reaching for a colorful toy that caught his eye, and his 2-1/2 year old sister shoved him out of the way (rather forcefully, I might add, to her own ignorance and my chagrin) and thought – “outside of Christ, we are all entirely self-serving!” Do you naturally tend toward “patience/forbearance”? When there’s no law nor threat of retaliation/punishment, do you suspend your own agenda because you know it’s the right thing?
If you do, scripture teaches that you are witnessing God’s thumbprint of justice and righteousness on your life. There is within our spiritual DNA a meter that knows the truth of what is right and wrong – just read through Romans, chapter 1. The great news is, we’re free. The hard news is, we’re free. What will you use your freedom to do? Much of the same that you did when a slave to sin? Or, will you do something remarkable? Will you reach out in your sin, reach past your natural proclivities, surrender to the perfect law that gives life and call on the indwelling Spirit and power of God to keep your hands to yourself, keep your eyes off that page, leave that cash in the till, swallow those carefully sharpened words, reach across the aisle in earnest to do a thing that might hurt you in the short term, yet reward you in eternity?
Tall order. But, Jesus promised a helper – parakletos – “one who comes along side as an advocate/helper” who can aid us in this fight.
My prayer for all of us today (in and out of Christ):
May the Lord draw you to Himself and show you the truth of who He is, how great He is, how He loves you so much He would send Himself to receive punishment for you and die in your place, and how truly depraved you and I are apart from Him. May you know in every cell of your being that you and I do not need saving from what we do, rather from who we are outside of His grace.
It’s not what we do, but who we are – nothing without Christ, with Him, saved and being perfected. It’s not what we do, but what we let Him do through us that makes the greatest impact. What are we to do when there is no law against love, peace, joy, kindness, etc? Let God do the walking, the talking, the living, the breathing for you and watch the fruit of your spirit.
Try this at home. It works.
Since the time I’ve become a follower of Christ – some ten years, now – the biggest flashes on the radar screens of the men around me have fallen into three categories – struggle with purity, struggle with God’s will for their life, and struggle with consistency in quiet time with Him.
Know anyone like that?
This morning, I thought I’d pass on a piece of scripture that hit me in the back of the head pretty hard and jolted me back into alignment with Christ. It comes from chapter 4 of Hebrews. The first century Jews that the writer was addressing were well aware of the holiness of God if they were pressed to consider it. God is Holy – we are not. No one unclean like that could possibly stand in front of his Holiness and not be obliterated. It was a light too intense, a purity too awesome to comprehend, (and thanks to Christ, we will all stand there someday…) In the temple courtyard there was a division. In the temple proper, an even greater division – the “Holy of Holies” – a place where no one, save the High Priest would dare enter, and even then only after proper sacrifices had been made on his own behalf and proper “clean” attire had been donned.
God’s holiness was a big deal.
Is it still?
Have we become so lost in the love story of how God desires us to call Him “father” and become so familiar with Him that we take the depth of His holiness for granted? I think so. Otherwise, if we’re struggling with purity, God’s will for our life, and are drifting into busyness instead of time with the Lord we’d revere Him as sovereign and go to Him instead of back to our to-do lists, our agendas, and our efforts. But, so often, we don’t. We forget He is holy, capable, and willing to walk us through this, so we turn to our own works.Other times, we look at our mess and think “God’s got to be a little busy with the two earthquakes, tsunami, meltdown, and volcano over there in Japan… He can’t be bothered with my little quiet time struggles…” Read the scripture lately? That dog just doesn’t hunt.
“…we do not have S)’>tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us V)’>confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4.15-16)”
This week, as you’re preparing to disciple someone, preparing for small group, or just rolling out of bed to get your day going, would you consider this verse and the sheer AWESOMENESS of a Holy God who would not only reach down and take care of our problems Himself, but from this point forward grant us unlimited access to His throne, his empowerment (grace), and assurance that He knows the ins and outs of what tempts us, wracks us with guilt, and drives us off course?
He’s seen temptation and passed it by unscathed. (Alleluia)
He’s got a plan for us and He’s under no obligation to tell us every detail or we’d probably mess our pants when we realize how BIG He is and how great this plan is. (Alleluia)
He’s got the power (called “grace”) to fuel our engine and bridge the gap between impossible and “done”. (Alleluuuuia!)
He’s willing to generously give us the wisdom we need without criticizing us for asking (James 1.5). (Alleluuuuuuia… GLO-RRHAY!!!)
Yet, He’s still holy…
So, with all of our junk, all of our struggles with temptation, all of our control-freak-power-grabs for sneak previews of His will that will only lead us to running off on our own steam to accomplish what He plans for us to do on His power, I have one question:
Why wouldn’t we want to approach that Holy throne, when the confidence to do so is available, and throw ourselves at His feet for wisdom, understanding, empowerment, and direction every moment of every day?!
A friend of mine recommended a great book to me once – the Bible. Since that was a bit too daunting for me to digest in one sitting, another friend recommended “Good News for Those Trying Harder“. It ripped the lid off my faith. Later, I read Crazy Love and have since been even more impacted by how Holy He is and how much I desire to commune with Him. My prayer is that God will guard me from the ills of self effort and the lie of self sufficiency and He’ll do the same for you.
The gospel – the “Good News” is that God’s kingdom has come and He’s given us access to Him by faith in Christ, but we have to quit walking away from him in fear, complacency, and doubt or we’ll never experience His empowerment, wisdom, and mercy.
At one of the lowest points of my life about 5 years ago, my mentor said to me “you’re never more than one prayer away from access to the full resources of Heaven”. If he was right, (and I believe this scripture bears that out) why wouldn’t we pray, read, seek God every moment of every day?
in it with you,
As the nation of Israel was completing their 40 year holding pattern in the desert and approaching the Promised Land, we see this encouragement given in the opening chapter of Joshua: “be strong and courageous”. Later, the same Bible tells us things like how Christ’s power is perfected in weakness (2 Cor. 12.8-10) and as I’ve blogged before “blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Mt. 5.4-5)”
Well, first, as I’m discussing this with some of the people in discipleship – Christ may be King, but context reigns with Him. In Joshua, God was speaking to a nation about a promise He’d made to that nation.
Watching the turning points in the lives of the people around me is one of my favorite parts about life before Christ returns. There are guys and women in our life who have been heading for disaster that have turned 180 degrees on a dime when God said “about face”. There are selfish places in my own heart that have been liberated from greed, anger, and worship of the counterfeit god of “progress” because of the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. It’s easy to walk away from the mirror and forget what you saw, when you’re complacent and comfortable. Not so when you’re horrified by the reflection you see…
This Sunday, we went to a great church service – I brought some junk in my heart and He cleaned it up in a matter of minutes. Glory to God. After church, we ran over to our new favorite thrift store where we got a bunch of clothes for our oldest, Mommy got two shirts, and I got an awesome pair of jeans and two suits – one that was in the exact color I wanted and fit me so well it won’t need alterations… all of this for under $50. Okay, glory to God, again. We were so excited that you couldn’t shut us up on the way home.
Until Cristine saw a homeless guy crossing the street and wandering off onto a side road.
He was probably in his forties, looked much older, no teeth on the top at all, clearly hadn’t showered in a long time and had the smell to prove it. You could tell this guy had been through a tough time and as he stuttered to get words out, words weren’t the only think exploding off his lips. There was plenty of spit and stink to go with them. Incomplete sentences, fragments of words he tried to recall. “Do you need something to eat?” we asked.
Fed him. Prayed for him. Went on our way. Humbled…. Praise God.
Later that night, we’d gotten a sweet deal on tickets to a Broadway show playing in Atlanta. Our tax return had come and we’d purposely planned to put a little aside to invest in some “marriage time” away from the kids, work, and everyday urgencies. I’m a deal guy – can’t get a deal on it, I don’t wannit, you know? So, here I am, stuffed full of pride that in 4 years of being together we’d never been to a live theater event and we were finally seeing it happen. It was a great show and despite the fact that I’d surprised my wife with it (which, she hates surprises), I turned out to be a bit of a hero that night.
Of course, when I step into hero shoes, often I step uninvited into God’s shoes.
Out of the Woods? Not Yet…
There, on the street corner on the way back to the parking deck, is a guy standing in 34 degree weather wrapped in a sleeping bag with a cup for donations in his hand. Try walking away from God on that one and you’ll be wearing Jonah’s flip-flops in the belly of a big fish, right? Now, I don’t carry cash as a rule. But, you can’t get down GA-400 to Midtown without paying the toll and I’d planned to take my already happy wife out for a cup of decaf while we still had a free babysitter for once. I’d planned to. Then, God steps in and reminds me it’s not my money – plastic or paper – and He had a divine appointment for us.
I’m a little aggravated with God for a moment – happy to give to the guy in the sleeping bag… and the next guy on the corner blowing a mean trumpet, but annoyed that He’d take away my cup of Joe with my dashing bride at the local overpriced coffee boutique. After we pass the guy on the horn, we’re stuck for a moment waiting for a “walk” light, standing behind an older couple – the woman dressed in a fur coat. Now, I’m not mad at God – no, I’m too spiritually mature for that, right? Now, I’m mad at this lady thinking – “it took two dead animals just to make the hood on that coat and you two stinkin so-and-so’s can’t drop a couple of bills in a homeless guy’s cup?!”
Thankfully, God reminded me that there’s a fine line between righteous indignation and self righteousness.
I backed off.
What I loved most about the night could easily have been what we did for that guy in the sleeping bag. It could easily have been the carefree, good time we had knowing we had 4 able babysitters watching our youngest three kids. Or, it could have simply been the time spent with my wife watching some of the most talented people on earth bang out complex rhythms in mixed meter with astounding dynamics and choreography on a stage filled with trash cans, broomsticks, and drumsticks.
What took the cake that night was the conversation we had on the way out of the parking garage on the way home about what we could sell to do more for the homeless. To see God capture the deepest, sometimes forgotten places of our hearts and pierce them with some finely sharpened perspective. God pulled my selfish @$* past my own arrogance and into gratitude – what can we do with the rest of our tax return to take care of the people downtown? What if we only got our kids one present this year and blew the rest of the shopping money on homeless kids? What would happen if we stopped raising funds for Seasons of Life and just asked people to give backpacks, toothbrushes, blankets, and shoes? What if, instead of trying to replace our ailing TV, we kept watching the failing bulb in our living room but we fed Jesus by feeding them?
“‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’”
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ (Mt. 25.44-45)”
“Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses. Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses.(Prov. 28.27)”
I know some of you have been reading this the whole time, sweating the ask. I’m growing to be more of a bold “asker” than ever and this has just bothered me to the point that I’ve got to ask. But, this is a simple one and if you’ve ever heard that voice that bothers you without being judgmental or reproachful, you’re already halfway to doing the right thing.
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. – James 1.22
Sometimes I hate that verse. Sometimes, I just want my plan to go uninterrupted. I want people to get out of my way, use their turn signal, give me my third slice of chocolate cake, give me my way, etc., etc., etc. Then, that verse smacks me in the head. God doesn’t desire sacrifice as much as He delights in obedience. Grrr… “Lord, pry my white knuckles off my stuff, my plans, and my agenda…”
Would you consider one of the following courses of action:
- Give to 7 Bridges to Recovery – either in tithe, time, or stuff. Go to 7 Bridges’ site and find out how to intersect with them at the point of greatest need. Or, check out City of Refuge, locally.
- Consider your assets – we got a full tax return this year and while we know we have debt and are paying some of it off, while we know we’ve already tithed on this money and it could rightly go to us for stuff that we want, we just can’t ignore what God’s impressing on our hearts. Dig into that family vacation. Downsize your “date night” like God did to us. Sell something you own on Craigslist. Use the money to invest in a street ministry like 7 Bridges, a sex trafficking rescue ministry like NightLight or Wellspring.
- Join us in caring for the homeless. This month, we’ll be sending a team downtown under the bridges to care for those who live on the street. We’ll be accepting donations of shoes/boots, backpacks, blankets, raincoats, tarps, ZipLock bags, toothbrushes & other toiletries (travel soaps/shampoos from hotel stays), and lots of bottled water. You can contact us and deliver them to us by Saturday, March 19th. Or, you can contact us to rendezvous downtown on the day we step into action.
Just do something – make a sacrifice. I’m thrilled that God could be the one behind the conversation Cristine and I had. I also can’t imagine Satan telling us to sell stuff “to give to anyone who had need. (Acts 2.45)” So, I trust that He’s calling us to give up something for His Kingdom. I also trust He’s calling us to share this with others. Please don’t mistake the intent – we’re no more righteous than the next guy who’s saved by God’s grace. I’m not blogging this so that people will think “how holy is Aarron?!” I’m blogging about this because it’s breaking our hearts and it’s broken God’s heart, but there’s something we can do about it, something we should do about it.
Will you join us?