Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Chasm of Self-deception

I John 1:8–10
“If we claim not to have sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, then, since He is trustworthy and just, He will forgive them and purify us from all wrongdoing.” 

In order to be in a right relationship with God, we must understand who we are and who God is. Compared to the holiness and awesomeness of God, we are blackened by selfishness, pride, deceit, malice, bitterness, greed… need I go on? The Bible says there is absolutely nothing we can do to make ourselves right enough to enter into the presence of holy God. It is only by God Himself that we are made pure through our trust in Jesus, our redeemer. 

For any Christian, this is not news. It is the very foundation of our faith. 

But do we really understand it? Do we understand how much we have been—and are being— forgiven? Is it for a little or for a lot? It’s so easy to deceive ourselves into thinking that we only need God to help us smooth over a few rough patches. But thinking this way only reveals pride. And that’s no small thing. I am convinced that pride is a far greater sin than the obvious culprits—sins of the flesh—because it can so easily mask itself as a virtue. 

Jesus addresses this in Luke 7:37–47. He is the special guest at a meal with a Jewish leader named Simon. A prostitute, desperate for forgiveness, bursts into the room, finds Jesus, and falls down at his feet, weeping and washing His feet with her tears. She surrenders any false dignity she may have had and makes a complete spectacle of herself. She is well aware of what a great sinner she is, but she also knows what a great savior Jesus is, so she bares all to him and trusts Him to love her and give her grace.

And Jesus does not disappoint. He forgives her and loves her. He communes with her at the deepest possible level, and her life is forever changed.

Simon, on the other hand, is disgusted and shocked. Not only has this filthy sinner entered his house and embarrassed him in front of his guests, but Jesus is allowing it! Doesn’t Jesus realize that she’s a sinner?

Simon, you see, is deceived by pride. He thinks he is righteous already because of his title and his respectable standing in the community. He probably even follows the Torah better than most other Jews. But he has no compassion or love for this woman, only disgust. His pride has blinded him to his own desperate need for Jesus—the only one in that room who could forgive him for his stony, self-righteous heart. But Simon doesn’t see his need for a savior. He thinks he’s doing just fine on his own. 

Jesus’ response to him is crucial:
“Someone who has been forgiven only a little loves only a little.”

The truth is that we all need to be forgiven for much—and that doesn’t stop after the sinner’s prayer. If we truly want to abide in Christ and walk with Him through this life, we must be able to see our need for Him daily, hourly, minute by minute.

Don’t be blinded by self-righteousness and pride. Understand that the chasm of sin that separates all of us from God is massive, but God’s grace and love for us through Jesus Christ is deeper still!

“God made this sinless Man be a sin offering on our behalf, so that in union with Him, we might fully share in God’s righteousness. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Clear the Mechanism

Read Psalm 33 

It’s so easy to get distracted when praying. I’ve made it my daily liturgy to get up early and make prayer and Bible reading the first part of my day. But even when the house is quiet and there are no distractions, my mind has a hard time being still. I’m fighting sleep, I’m thinking about what I’m expecting from the day ahead of me, if I watched a movie or TV show the night before, the story may still be running through my mind. And when I finally settle down to pray and focus on God, there is my prayer list calling out to me. If I’m not careful, my prayer list becomes my priority and my prayers soon become remote and cold. When this happens, I’ve missed God. I haven’t spent time abiding in His presence because I’ve taken over control of the time and have missed His loving embrace.

Do you ever have this problem? I’m not saying that praying for people and needs is bad. Absolutely not! The Word of God tells us to make our requests known to Him, to pray for the sick, etc. But if your list is getting in the way of you seeking God’s heart, then something is wrong. Your list has become a distraction and a hindrance. You may need to surrender it to Him.

I’m reminded of the movie For the Love of the Game with Kevin Costner. This movie was about a professional baseball pitcher who pitched a perfect game when everyone thought he was washed up and ready for retirement. Every time the pitcher went up to the mound, the fans of the opposing team would heckle him from the stands, blow loud horns to distract him, yell insults. To focus on the task at hand, the pitcher would say, “clear the mechanism,” and the entire stadium would become perfectly still and quiet. All the pitcher would see was the batter. His mind was now focused and he was ready to pitch. This is how we need to train our minds when we come to God. Like the pitcher who focused on the batter in this movie, we need to see only God when we pray. We should see that He is right here in the room with us, waiting to commune with us. If the list starts calling out to us as we approach the throne room of grace, we need to clear the mechanism and refocus on God. If our mind is skipping around to all kinds of thoughts that are taking us away from our heart touching God’s heart, we need clear the mechanism. Look at the Father. God wants to meet with us in our innermost being—that is His priority. He wants to commune with us—with you! Hold you in His arms, pour His love into you as you pour out your love to Him. Don’t you think God knows what is on your mind and what is on your list? If and when He wants you to pray from that list, He will lead you to it. But wait for His lead. Don’t rush in and take over control to get to your list.

Look at it this way. If God is not the Lord of your prayer life, how can He be the Lord of the rest of your day? If you can’t give up control to Him when you are in His presence seeking His face, how easily will it be when you are out in the world, rubbing shoulders with the unsaved? Our time in the morning with God is the most important time we have for God to lead us and teach us to surrender and abide with Him. He wants to teach us to let go of our priorities so that He can direct us—even in our requests. If we can learn to love and adore Him during our quiet times with Him, then His joy, His Spirit, His abiding love, will begin to spill out into our everyday lives.

So clear the mechanism today and seek only to touch the heart of God. Let God direct your prayers and he will direct your life.

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Friday, July 29, 2016

Who Is My Enemy?

“Have you any idea what’s going on in the world?!”

The older man’s face is red with anger and a look of disgust is evident in his eyes. I recognize the anger. It is the same angst I witness daily whenever I check my Facebook wall.

It is the same anger I have often felt in my own heart.

But this isn’t Facebook and it’s not Fox News. It’s a Bible study.

The young pastor sitting next to me has opened up this can of worms by suggesting that this may be an opportune time to reach the Muslim people for Christ.

The response? People go ballistic.

But I remember a challenging sermon from the book of Jonah. And so I offer...

“The Assyrians in Nineveh were even worse than ISIS, and God loved them enough to send Jonah.”

Now four people start voicing strong opinions against the pastor and me.

They are acting just like Jonah, I think to myself.

But who can blame them? Or Jonah, for that matter? Jonah hated the Assyrians in Nineveh for much the same, justifiable reasons we hate Muslim terrorists today. They were doing very evil things. He hated them so much that he disobeyed God and took flight (or ship) to the farthest city in the known world.

But he didn’t get very far. We all know the story.  

“Jesus says to love our enemies—” I begin.

“So you think we should just let them come over here and bomb innocent people?” The man with the red face is incredulous; he’s shouting, leaning forward in his seat, nearly standing up.

“Those people place NO VALUE on human lives,” an older woman next to him joins in. 
 “They torture innocent women and children. They are killing Christians in the streets—cutting off their heads!”

According to historical records, the Assyrians were feared throughout the world for their brutality and ruthlessness, such as skinning their victims alive and hanging their skins on the walls of conquered cities.

No wonder Jonah tried to run away.

“I’m not saying we should just open our borders and allow dangerous people in,” the pastor replies in a calm voice. “But most of these people have lost everything because they wouldn’t go along with ISIS and are fleeing for their lives. They are the victims of ISIS. And they have nowhere to go. This is the first time in known history when we have a chance to reach these people with the love of Christ.”

I find myself nodding in agreement, but I seem to be the only friendly face in the room.

There’s so much more to say, and my fingers are itching to dig into the Word, my mouth to start quoting verses. But tempers are running hot and fear has replaced truth.

And then I realize why Jesus said we each must lose our life in order to save it.  Because, as long as we care more about our own safety and security than we do about saving the lost, we will never really be His hands and feet on this Earth.

Am I advocating any kind of public policy on this issue? Certainly not! I’m hardly qualified to tell a whole country what to do. All I’m suggesting is that we tap into that source of love and grace that goes beyond all human understanding before we start attaching labels and condemnation to people.

And if our leaders allow some refugees a safe haven in the United States, will the church push them away or will we show them the love of Christ?

What would Jesus do?  

Go and do likewise.