Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Why I am Glad that I am Depressed

"But [Jesus] said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."... For when I am weak, then I am strong."

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."

"All things work together for the good of those who love God, and are called according to his purposes."

I take this to be truth. It is what gets me going. Because even though my human strength is gone, God is strong enough for me. And depression is that exactly, it is a season in my life when my own strength is so far gone, that I continue to breathe literally only for the grace of God. I understand it, and even though it hurts, in the moments of deep anguish, I am strong. I cannot imagine going through depression without the love of a sovereign God, and the sovereignty of a loving God. Because those are my joy, not the fleeting moments of man made happiness I strive for, and fail to gain all too often. 

The more deeply I understand the true meaning of God's grace, the more willing I am to trust Him in the darkness of this valley. God has me where He wants me and will lead me where He wants me. I do not need clarity; I need trust: hope and faith. Hope for good, and faith in good. Together they become trust that God is good. That He is planning good and doing good on my behalf.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Freedom Through Christ: The Gift and Good News of Grace

         Freedom in Christ is not freedom to sin but freedom from sin. And by that, I do not mean, when we accept Christ we will never sin again; rather, when we sin we are free from the eternal consequence of condemnation. Grace is a merciful acquittal. In Christ, there is no condemnation; and God's forgiveness will always be more that our failures.
       "Grace is not license to sin; it is license to live and love freely without fear."
Can a righteous king show grace to his undeserving servant? Can a just judge  show mercy to a criminal? God is both just and merciful. Where sin increases, grace also increases. God will forgive exponentially. Grace is the sinners' privilege; the self-righteous are deluded into believing they don't need it. All who accept forgiveness are forgiven.

"I feel like the message of grace is not that all are good, but that Christ is God's goodness for all." There are 2 major points in the Gospel. 1) Christ came for the sick. 2) Everybody is sick.
         Repentance is not a means of earning forgiveness; rather, repentance is out of acknowledgement that we have been forgiven. Jesus is proof God did not set us up for failure while expecting perfection, but rather God set us up for perfection and expected failure.
         Evil exists to create contrast for God's goodness. Like light which seems that much brighter in darkness.   If love stood unopposed, it would not really win. If there was no wrong, doing right would not be so amazing. It is when we choose, right over wrong that God is working in us.
         Getting along with sinners is good; Jesus did it, without judgment, extending grace and mercy. But let us not forget, we are all sinners.

"Even though my head knows Christ has won the war with sin and death, the battle in my heart rages on." God fought the war against sin and death which he won. Now he is asking all of us which side we want to be on. Are we for God, or against him?
         Fear of negative consequences, fear of shame, and fear of pain. These things, if we allow them, will paralyze us and stunt our spiritual growth. Comfort and familiarity are so often what we seek even as they are often at odds with God's desire for our lives.  Independence and self-righteousness are not true to God's calling for us. Rather we must depend on Him and find righteousness through Christ.

  Salvation is free; discipleship costs you everything.
         We all choose our second death; we die to our flesh and live in spirit eternally, or we live in our flesh and die spiritually for eternity.
I have not the right, ability, or desire to condemn. Only to love, forgive, and show mercy. If you are Christian, take this to heart. Live like you're already dead. There is nothing to fear. Because of God’s sovereign nature and our eternal life, we are either always in danger or never in danger. I believe it is the latter. Even though I am young, my body is falling apart. And that is alright. My flesh (human nature) died years ago. And if my heart stops, I will live on in God. Dying is the only way to live. Dead people have nothing to fear, no reason to doubt, nothing to lose and everything to gain.

        Unless you hunger for righteousness, you will loathe it. But if you do hunger for it, even the hardest parts will satisfy you.
         If God is love, and created love, doesn't that mean he defines love? If he does anything, it is out of love. We should match our love to his. I think that culture sometimes sees the gospel as Jesus saving people from God. But it isn't. It's God saving people from sin through Jesus. God claims He is love, that He is just, that He is faithful, and that He is sovereign. One thing He never claims to be is simple. God's too big to be held down by the principles of an era.
  God says, "I know what I want; I like what I want. I want somebody to praise me."
We struggle to understand Jesus' dual nature because we struggle to accept our own. The flesh and spirit are engaged in battle, separated. The duality of Jesus' nature: His spirit is God's Spirit, his flesh is of man. In the same way, our flesh is human, our spirit is of God. 
“It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” 
“So now it is no longer I who [sin], but sin that dwells within me.”
         Love is unlimited, and economics only matter when there is scarcity. Love is not a commodity because there is more than enough for everybody.
God's character is extravagant love and abundant life. The wages of sin have been paid. Get out of the checkout line. Live a life of love. Culture tells us to withhold our love, giving it only to those who deserve it. That is powered by the false ideal that our love is limited. God's plan isn't Christ asking us to split the check. We can never earn salvation. We do good because we love God and love people. The Christianity that is about moralism or condemnation is a false religion. True Christianity is to love God and be loved by Him. Our relationship with God should be communal, personal, and intimate. Family of, friend of, and bride of Christ. God unifies all loves.

The context of "being all things to all people" is a context of love. Without love as the motive, behavior does not matter. GOD wants love.
         As Christians we tend to forget we are only bound to one law: Love. We keep adding rules and we forget to love God and each other. Love never fails. But failure is not falling; failure is not getting back up. Love is hard. We will stumble and fall. We must get back up.
When you begin to understand the magnitude of God's love shown through Christ, sacrifice becomes a reasonable act of worship.
God is a God of both justice and mercy. Truth and grace. He will give what you deserve or what you deeply need. Desire mercy, desire grace.
True love must include honest vulnerability. Despise immorality. Hold on to the things which are right as though your life depended on it.

In The Garden With God

All of nature tells of Your salvation
God, the wind whispers Your love
And Your grace rustles through the leaves
The branches dance to the music of Your joy
And the trees bow down before Your might
Your voice is in the thunderclaps
And we wait in anticipation for You to speak
Your mercy covers us like storm clouds
You inspire the flowers to beautifully bloom
You conduct the choir of the birds in their song
You are a master painter, working with the colors of the setting sun
But of all creation's wonders, You chose mankind
 To make in Your own image
And the whole world You have made
You gave to us as a gift
In the garden you have given us
You ask only for us
To walk with You
To talk with You
And to call You
Father, Friend, and Love

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Forgotten Grace: God is not a Deadbeat Dad

God’s message is one of love. Love for all people. Regardless of circumstances, all people are loved by God. If we are to hate what is evil and love all people; people are not evil. Evil is in us not by our effort or desire but because of the Law of God which is in us, part of our nature since the Fall. The Law is our knowledge of good and evil, and by knowing good and evil, we have succumbed to evil. God has created us each in His own image. His image is perfect, and His will is perfect.

Love is a high calling, and it does not keep track of right and wrong. Love forgives and continues to forgive beyond what is natural, beyond the requirements of the Law. Love is extended into grace, which is goodness in place of deserved punishment
We focus so much on our innate evil, and on the fact that all separation between sinner and saint comes down to grace alone. There is no work we can do to attain more favor, more love, or more grace from God; if there were, grace would not be grace but works.

We need to be hospitable to sinners, to the poor, sick, hungry, broken people. To offer a place at our table is to say, “You are forgiven, you are accepted, you are loved.” When we consider ourselves to be messengers of the Gospel, do we know what that good news is we carry?

It would not be good news if we were to be judgmental, to hate sinners, to wage a war on culture and sin. Christ alone was without sin, and he did not even throw the first stone. The implications of that go deep, and they should move us to tears. We have forgotten how wretched we are without God’s grace. I can have no part of a religion where the need to appear righteous before man causes us to refrain to show ourselves as broken and in need of grace before God.

The adulterer, the addict, the homosexual, the promiscuous, the glutton, the liar, the thief, the murderer, and the idolater have a place with Christ at his table. Together they can sit and be friends, sharing life with each other. With them is Abba Father, God. He is a sovereign creator, but he wants to be intimate with us.

When we are hurt and broken and messy, we can come to Him and cry, “I don’t know what to do.” And he will comfort us with an embrace. Even though we are covered in our messiness and he is so clean, he approaches us and holds us and lets us sob. He does not try to fix us or tell us to clean up first. He holds us in His arms until we are ready to talk to Him.

I don’t know many Christians who have that. We talk about grace, and we accept it theoretically. But when it comes down to it, we don’t put it into practice; not for ourselves and not for those around us.

So do we bear a message of grace, or one of condemnation? Are we puffed up, letting our egos tell us that somehow we have achieved a state of being in which we are better than the “lowly sinners.”? We talk about grace, but I intend to start living it because healing does not come from church politics, or missions funds, or manifestos. It comes from the grace of a loving God, poured out freely; loving God because He loves us and forgiving others because He first forgave us.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Saintly Sinner's Prayer of Abundant Grace

My eyes are red and teary
For I worship men and idols
But do not turn to You, the Living God

Turn my heart away from iniquity
God, revive me even as I turn from You
You are a merciful and gracious God
Your Kingdom reigns over my heart

I have been consumed by my own consuming
I have been owned by the things I own
I have fooled myself into believing
That you accept my idol worship

Redeem me in this place
Break my heart again
For my lack of justice
Because I have forgotten compassion

Put fire in my heart to refine it
And tear down the strongholds within
Bring me to ruin before Your great mercy
Because my heart has turned from You

You, the God of my father
Who offered to redeem me
While I was yet a sinner
I have laughed at You
And spit insults at Your name

My hardened heart needs to be broken
Bring me to my knees, O God
Give me hardship; persecute my body
So my heart may rejoice
As I turn my soul back to You

I cried out to you at night
And fasted for many days
But my prayers were a foul odor
Because of my self-righteous hypocrisy

I will cry out loud
"You promised never to forsake me!"
But I have forsaken You
For the idols my hands made
I have consecrated offerings to material things
And raised others above Your name

I will say to You, O God
"I am of Your people
I am Your very body."
But You saw the poison in my bones
And the cancer in my heart

Your servant is made small
And I will ask You,
"Where are the sheep I am to feed?
Where have they all gone?"

And You say to me,
"Shepherd boy, cry out.
Turn your eyes back
to the cross and
you will be healed again.
I will return to you many more sheep
than you or your father have seen.
I will make your soul and body awaken
 with the joy of grace,
the mercy of peace,
 and the Law of Love"