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Confessions of the Forgiven

Christianity is not about being good.

This won’t be news to you, but we Christians often pretend to have everything together even though we mess up as much, if not worse, than other people. My pastor recently said if we were more honest about our faults, rather than always trying to cover them up and put on a good show, then maybe more people would realize Christianity is not about being a good person and more about receiving forgiveness.

It made me wonder what I’ve hid from view so that I would give a better impression to people. Sometimes I have to laugh when friends describe their perspective of me because I realize what aspects of my character they don’t know. Intentionally or not, I’ve filtered what they see.

So let me make myself clear: I only look healthy from the outside. Jesus meant me when he said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Mark 2:17).

As much as I look put together, I often:

  • Become easily jealous if someone doesn’t have time for me because they are busy with their other friends.
  • Resent when my housemates forget to invite me along in their fun plans even if I wouldn’t want to go anyway.
  • Lose patience with kids at my agency who complain about being bored because they don’t like (or won’t try) any of the cool activities I have planned.
  • Judge program participants who don’t respond to my repeated emails and phone calls.
  • Consume far too much sugar on a daily basis in order to care for the body God gave me.
  • Obsess over my interactions with attractive young men, reliving them in my memory and fantasizing about what future fairy-tale scenarios may result.
  • Tithe to my church only on the rare occasion that I am not fearful of bankruptcy and yet buy coffee and ice cream on a whim.
  • Pray inconsistently and often forget to pray for others even when they have requested prayers.
  • Stop myself from talking about Jesus when I feel like it would make the conversation awkward or even produce a disagreement.
  • Resist telling people what the Bible says is truth because I’m worried about appearing judgmental or unaccepting.

Wow. Did I just publish all that for the world to see? Hopefully I won’t regret it.

Depending on your standards, you may say none of the points on my list—or very few—make me a sick person in need of a Savior. These are just the typical struggles of any normal person. You might relate to more than a few. And since I didn’t name any of the “biggies”—say lying, stealing, or adultery—then I am a pretty good person overall, right?

The thing is…it doesn’t matter how I rank in the line-up of all human beings living and dead. This isn’t a beauty pageant, and three lucky girls won’t go home with flowers and crowns.

All that matters is what God sees. He is the one judge, and his standard is perfection. So he judges all people using the standard of one, the only perfect human to have ever lived. The only one who was 100% human and 100% divine. The only one since Adam and Eve who was born free of sin. And the only one to live in perfect obedience to God’s will, not sinning even once, not even on the point of death.

When the standard is Jesus Christ, “pretty good” is not good enough.

Thankfully, there’s such a thing as forgiveness. More on this next week.

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Posted by on March 27, 2015 in Other thoughts

 

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“The One” Doesn’t Exist

Acquaintances and casual friends think I’m so stable. They make me laugh. Inside, it’s a non-stop tilt-a-whirl ride.

But just last week, I attended a seminar that helped to ground me. How? The speaker rejected the myth of “The One.” Addressing a small crowd of singles looking for love, he said, “There are literally hundreds of people you could have a very happy marriage with.”

I wanted to shout, “Hallelujah!” But this is the Northwest, not the Bible Belt.

Even though I consider myself a romantic, I gave up a long time ago the idea that there is only one person in the world to make me happy. I believe that having happiness in marriage has less to do with destiny and more so stubborn effort and a whole lot of grace. So an arranged marriage could be as fulfilling as a love marriage. Theoretically. But my actions have not matched my beliefs.

Listening to the speaker, I suddenly realized I have acted as if afraid to miss “The One.” I overthink, overanalyze, and overly obsess over the young men I meet and our every interaction. Sometimes it’s all I can do to whimper to God the monosyllabic, Help.

Other times I am more like the disciples shouting, “Don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:38).

Credit: Abaconda Management Group, https://flic.kr/p/bdq7j6

Credit: Abaconda Management Group, https://flic.kr/p/bdq7j6

Then Jesus stands up, tells off the wind like disciplining a naughty child who knew better, and commands the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” (Mark 4:39).

Suddenly there is peace. The clouds are still there, but it has stopped raining.

I sit down with Jesus in the gently rocking boat, and he asks, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40).

At the seminar, the speaker’s words had the same effect.

The One doesn’t exist. And if that’s true, how should that change my fear? How should that impact my faith?

I’ve believed for so long that there was no Prince Charming coming to rescue me. Now the realization finally came that I can stop worrying about missing the prince’s white horse. There is no white horse to be waiting for.

What if marriage is more like a train leaving at 12 o’clock sharp? The train will leave without me if I’m not there when the conductor shouts, “All aboard!” But the thing is…there will be another train tomorrow.

The lie is that I need to seize onto every opportunity that comes along, any eligible young man who looks my way, or risk missing the one who is meant to be my life partner. If I don’t smile just so…walk over there…start a conversation…laugh at his jokes…look pretty… So what? Qué será, será.

It’s been fifteen years since I trusted my pastor to dip me in the river as a sign of my new life in Jesus. Rounding so many years of faith, I’m still learning to trust God. Every morning, I have to let myself be dipped in the waters all over again. Let go, he tells me. Why are you so afraid?

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2015 in Other thoughts

 

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Why Customer Service is a Virtue

Credit: Laura Weis, Creative Commons (https://flic.kr/p/2U6gt9)

Credit: Laura Weis, Creative Commons (https://flic.kr/p/2U6gt9)

At my retail job, my name tag labels me as a “Customer Service Associate.” My training included watching video scenarios of good and bad customer service, which analyzed even body language and tone of voice to use with customers. Out on the sales floor, it became quickly obvious why good customer service is important.

When customers see my name tag and blue employee shirt, I am not just an individual person anymore. I am the literal face of the company. By my words and actions, customers immediately begin to judge whether they like the store as a whole and if they want to shop there again.

The company hopes sincere, beyond expectations service will keep customers coming back, therefore all of the employees have to embody that customer service day to day, from opening to closing. My managers remind us to welcome every customer, proactively offer them help, ask if they have questions, and do everything possible to serve the needs of customers–because what we do is what the company does. With that name tag and blue shirt, I represent all of the retail chain. The store is manifest in me.

One day at work, I realized being a “Customer Service Associate” is a lot like being a Christian. When I associate myself with Christ, I no longer stand for only myself; I represent Christ. Customer impressions of me will affect their impressions of the store, and how people view me will affect how they view Christ.

It’s tempting to argue, “But I’m only human! Don’t they get that? It’s unreasonable for people to make wrong assumptions of Jesus because of my screw-ups and my faults. My weaknesses have no reflection on who Jesus is.”

Oh but they do.

Paul wrote to the Colossian church, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17). Personally, Paul considered himself an ambassador of the gospel (Eph. 6:20). And what does a royal ambassador do? He speaks for the king. This is what Christians do. And when someone doesn’t know Jesus personally, can we really expect them to tell the difference between our words, our actions, and our King’s?

The night before he died, Jesus told his first disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

In other words, Jesus wants his disciples to be known for extraordinary service. We should love others as he loved us so that people will see Jesus through us and keep coming back until they know him for themselves.

Are you representing Jesus well? Or is your service poor?

 

 

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2014 in Other thoughts

 

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It’s Not About Me: Part 2

If you didn’t catch the previous post, read It’s Not About Me: Part 1.

Max Lucado’s book It’s Not About Me calls into question the human tendency to believe the universe revolves around us. “We’ve been demanding our way and stamping our feet since infancy,” Lucado writes. “Aren’t we all born with a default drive set on selfishness? I want a spouse who makes me happy and coworkers who always ask my opinion. I want weather that suits me and traffic that helps me and a government that serves me.” 

The book demands honest re-evaluation of both self and God, but what particularly spoke to my heart was the chapter on life’s struggles. Lucado makes the case that even our sufferings are not about us.

When his friend Lazarus fell ill, Jesus said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4). Instead of immediately going to his friend’s aid, Jesus waited. He stayed where he was until Lazarus died. How could he allow such suffering? Because he knew it would bring greater glory to God if Lazarus not only recovered from illness, but returned to life.

At another point, Jesus and his disciples came across a man who had been blind since birth. The disciples assumed his blindness was punishment for sin. Jesus then replied, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3).

If Jesus could use the suffering of Lazarus and the blind man, then Lucado asks, “What about your struggles? Is there any chance, any possibility, that you have been selected to struggle for God’s glory? Have you ‘been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake’ (Philippians 1:29)?”

By Rennett Stowe from USA (His Light Shines on Us Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Credit: Rennett Stowe, Wikimedia Commons

One of the most difficult arguments against Christian faith is: If a good God exists, then why does pain? Suffering leads us to question God’s character. If God is loving, then he must not be almighty, otherwise he would prevent tragedy. Or if God is almighty, then he must not be all-knowing, because only ignorance can explain his blind eye to grief. Or if God is both almighty and all-knowing, then he must be indifferent. 

Lucado responds, “Your pain has a purpose. Your problems, struggles, heartaches, and hassles cooperate toward one end–the glory of God.”

It may appear like the world is full of senseless pain, but God uses it, bringing good out of evil. He does not waste it. Sometimes it’s used for God’s discipline. Sometimes he’s teaching you to rely on him and not your own strength or ability. And other times the testimony of his people under suffering brings more children to him than could have been saved by a prosperity gospel.

Lucado encourages his readers to discover how their problems can be used for God and his glory. But I would add that we should not be content with saying, “It is God’s will.” I don’t believe it is God’s will for anyone to suffer. Pain is a derivative of evil. We suffer because we are separated from God and live in a world that has been corrupted by sin. Jesus won over evil at the cross, but the war wages on with the world caught in the crossfire. Because suffering will continue until Jesus vanquishes over all, we should turn suffering in God’s favor, as an opportunity to reveal him ever more to this world. At a funeral of a loved one, we can show other people our assured hope of life after this one. When bed-ridden by illness, we can display how we trust God for his comfort and control.

What sacrifice are our temporary sufferings when we have an eternity to look forward to when there will no longer be grief or pain? Revelation promises, when God is finally reunited with his people, “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” (21:4). The Apostle Paul adds, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

As long as we have God with us through these painful days, what more can we ask of him? Contrary to popular belief, he owes us nothing. The reverse is true; we are the ones who are indebted. What right do we have to complain when life really isn’t about us?

We are like the child who just begins to feel the hunger pangs before dinnertime. He complains to his father, crying that he will die of hunger. The father knows better. Can anyone blame the father for making his child wait half an hour until dinner is served? The child may at first think the father is cruel. But if the child trusts his father, he might go outside to play with the neighbor kid while he waits. And he might tell that kid, “I’m hungry now, but I know Dad will call me for dinner soon.”

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2014 in Books

 

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It’s Not About Me: Part 1

Sometimes I imagine myself as the star in a movie about my life. I’m the main character in a novel of adventure and romance. I’m the heroine, the protagonist, the leading lady. No one can steal my spotlight, because this life is my story.

The funny thing is … God thinks this way too.

If you study the Bible closely, you’ll realize the primary goal of missions is not about saving people. Salvation and redemption are secondary motives that contribute to the first, which, believe it or not, is about God. The Great Commission commands us to spread the gospel so that God may be known and worshiped. God wants everyone in the world to hear about him and praise his name. 

When I first heard that God’s highest priority is his own glory, I rebelled. My immediate thought was, God’s a narcissist. I admit it: the idea repulsed me.

But God isn’t the narcissist. I am. 

I didn’t want to hear that God’s primary objective isn’t about me. In my mind, Jesus was entirely loving and selfless for my sake. Jesus died to save me, right? Days before his crucifixion, though, Jesus declared, “But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” And a voice from heaven answered him, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again” (John 12:27-8). Jesus was on a public relations campaign, amping up the masses to praise God. By his death and resurrection, he planned to honor God and show off his Father’s greatness. This is what he was all about. He didn’t come for my sake, but for the Lord’s. Jesus knew what I didn’t: life isn’t about me.

Mt2abpFmUTQCMax Lucado makes this case in his aptly titled book “It’s Not About Me.” He references how people used to believe the sun, stars, and planets all revolved around the earth. When Copernicus disagreed, no one wanted to listen. Lucado argues that our self-centered nature has not progressed much since. We admit we are not at the center literally, but our lives would say it’s figuratively true. “Could a Copernican shift be in order?” Lucado writes. “Perhaps our place is not at the center of the universe. God does not exist to make a big deal out of us. We exist to make a big deal out of him. It’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s all about him.” 

We are not the sun in God’s universe; his son is. Jesus is the star of the show. The rest of us are supporting roles. To resist taking center-stage, Lucado recommends less navel-gazing and more looking upwards. The universe is a massive expanse of solar systems and celestial bodies, and here we are, just pinpricks on an orbiting rock somewhere in space. If staring into the night sky has a self-diminishing effect, how much more does meditating on the greatness of God?

God is powerful where we are weak. He created the universe and maintains it. He exists outside of time and is unchanging; we are time-bound and fickle. God’s love saves us when we cannot save ourselves. His love is limitless; ours runs short. The appropriate response to such greatness, like when meeting a mighty monarch, is to bow down and praise him. “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and he is to be feared above all gods” (1 Chronicles 16:24-25). 

If life isn’t about me, then how does that change the way I live? Lucado compares our role to the moon. We have no light of our own, but we reflect the light of the son. Everything that we say, do, and are–it’s all for God. “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Our message should proclaim him. Our salvation should praise him. Our body should honor him. Our struggles should magnify him. Our successes should exalt him. Lucado details in his book how each of these life areas can and should bring God glory. 

Lucado writes, “May God rescue us from self-centered thinking. May we have no higher goal than to see someone think more highly of our Father, our King.”

Jesus’ job on earth was for God’s glory. Just before his arrest, trial, and crucifixion, he prayed, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4). If Jesus lived for God’s glory, and died for it, then why should I do any differently? If I claim to follow Christ, then I must live and even die as he did. My problems become insignificant, just tiny threads in the greater tapestry. My life is a subplot in God’s story. I am less than a single brushstroke in his masterpiece. I exist to serve his pattern, his plot, his vision.

Note: “It’s Not About Me” gave me so much food for thought that it can’t be fit in a single blog post. Keep watch for another post coming soon. I will zoom in on the idea that even our struggles are meant to glorify God. How does this work and what does it mean for how I bear my suffering?

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2014 in Books

 

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Why Christianity is Exclusive

This morning a Scientologist began to explain to me the basic teachings of his religion. When I told him I believe in God and Jesus, he assured me that Scientology has no conflict with any religion people want to choose and that it in fact works together with other religions.

I don’t know much about Scientology, but I do know Christianity does not cooperate with other religions. People accuse Christianity of being exclusive, and I will openly admit the Bible rejects any way to God and eternal life except through Jesus. Christianity refuses to give ground to any religion that does not accept Jesus as the only God and Savior. Many religions include parts of truth, but without Jesus, Christianity teaches that these religions cannot give life. In the end, they lead people to death. 

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

I am unashamed to hold to Christ even more tightly because of his exclusivity. He is as exclusive as the captain of a ship offering rescue to someone adrift in the ocean.

The castaway clutches a floating piece of wood rather than trying to swim on his own and drowning before he can reach land. Yet the wood alone is not able to save him. It offers no protection against starvation, dehydration, freezing, or shark attacks. In the middle of the ocean, it would take a miracle for the wood to carry the man to safe land before he died. The wood only gives the man hope to survive long enough for rescue.

Credit: Adrian Pingstone, commons.wikimedia.org

Then a ship comes by, and the captain finds the castaway in the water. The sailors on board wave their arms in the air and shout that his rescue is there. But the castaway refuses to listen, clutching even tighter to his wood. “He’s delirious!” the sailors cry. They wonder how long he must have been adrift to not recognize his need of rescue. They say to each other, “Perhaps dehydration and exposure to the elements have already destroyed his mind.”

Next the captain of the ship comes out on the deck and throws a lifeline to the castaway. “Grab a hold of this!” he urges. The sailors shout, “Take it! Take it!” If only the man would exchange the wood for the rope, then the captain promises to pull him to safety. “If you don’t take the line, you’ll die!”

“Don’t be so exclusive!” the man responds with a parched voice. His throat is cracked and his stomach sick from gulping sea water when waves came over his head. But he hangs onto the wood with the meager strength he can muster. Pulling his body further onto the wood, he says, “You have your way, and I have mine. Why should your truth be better than mine?”

With exasperation, the captain says back, “Because yours leads to death, while mine gives life!”

Now is that an exclusive statement? Sure it is. But it is also true. Christianity is exclusive to other attempts at rescue, like the wood. Christianity insists there is no other way to life. Yet there is good news in all this. Christ is inclusive when it comes to who he offers to rescue. He didn’t start a country club where only the privileged can apply for membership. Like the captain, he wants to save those adrift, and he reaches out to the whole world. Christ threw the lifeline so that all a castaway needs to do is grab on and not let go.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

 
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Posted by on January 13, 2014 in Other thoughts

 

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Bedtime Reading

Every night before I sleep, I pick up a little book a friend gave me over a year ago for a birthday gift. Jesus Calling by Sarah Young is a year-long devotional, but I’ve continued to read it even after reading all 366 devotions. I have been caught by the mystery that no matter what kind of day I’ve had, the day’s devotion seems to speak directly to me and my circumstances.

I recently found out two friends also read this devotional as part of their daily routines. We read the exact same thing every day, but we never knew until now. But it gets stranger. One of these friends told me that the daily readings always have some application to her day. Even though my friend and I may have completely different days, we both can connect to what we read in Jesus Calling, and it tells us just what we need to hear.

It doesn’t matter what my day is like, this book leaves an impact, calling to those deep achings of the heart. Each devotion is written as if it is a personal message from Jesus, supported by Bible verses listed underneath. This format helps me to realize the Bible as God’s words transcribed for me. Instead of reading dry text, I start to hear his voice coming through, that whisper on the wind.

The devotions also emphasize God first, as the primary priority before my goals, work, and worries. Each day’s passage reminds me to refocus on Jesus and center myself on him, letting everything else weighing me down to fall away. Jesus Calling is about resting in the presence of God, the one who invites you into peace and joy. I cannot imagine a better comfort as I fall asleep.

Tonight’s devotion reads:

“Leave outcomes up to Me. Follow Me wherever I lead, without worrying about how it will all turn out. Think of our life as an adventure, with Me as your Guide and Companion. Live in the now, concentrating on staying in step with Me. When our path leads to a cliff, be willing to climb it with My help. When we come to a resting place, take time to be refreshed in My presence. Enjoy the rhythm of life lived close to Me.

“You already know the ultimate destination of your journey: your entrance into heaven. So keep your focus on the path just before you, leaving outcomes up to Me.”

Which devotionals do you enjoy reading? What time of day do you prefer to read them?

 
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Posted by on November 17, 2013 in Books

 

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