A Morning Meditation

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

brokenchainsThis is an amazing passage, especially in light of the fact that Paul has just concluded chapter 7 by talking of the war that wages within us; of the struggle, as Christ-followers, to do what we want to do, all the while finding ourselves doing what we don’t want to do as it relates to sin.  His conclusion is that of wretchedness as he declares his imperfection before a holy God…but then immediately follows with an answer to the question of who will deliver him from this body of death with spontaneous praise to God through Christ!  Why?  Because he knows it is not based upon his own righteousness, which does not exist (Isaiah 64:6), but upon that of Christ.  Paul admits the continual struggle between serving Christ in his mind and with his will, desiring to always be faithful, but wrestling with the law of the flesh (sin) that is always close at hand.

That is a struggle with which I am familiar.  That is something that I can identify with.  I desire to follow Christ closely; desire to obey with my whole heart, but I find that I am often found horribly lacking.  I have wrestled with fear and doubt and depression over the condition of my life…why can’t I be a better dad or husband or pastor…a better follower of Jesus?  The enemy is always close at hand, seeking to devour me (1 Peter 5:8), to destroy me (John 10:10), to accuse me before the Father (Revelation 12:10).

What do I do?  I keep reading!  Because of what Christ has done in me, redeeming me from the penalty of the Law of sin and death, there is no condemnation!  NONE!  The Father does not look at me as the failure that I am, but the new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), the child of the King that Christ has made me (Romans 8:15-17).  The Father looks at me and sees the righteousness of Christ that has been imputed to me (2 Corinthians 5:21); credited to my account to such an extent that I shine righteously in the Father’s presence, the only way He can look upon me with pleasure…and He does!

I still struggle with sin and I am to always be at war with my sin nature, but I am not defeated by it.  I can never be defeated because the law of sin and death was destroyed by the means of a Roman cross (Colossians 2:13-15), never to have victory over me because in Christ, I stand redeemed!

No Room For Compromise

I had the opportunity to hang out yesterday with a couple of young adults whom I have great affection for and was able to hear from them what some of the general attitudes are regarding right and wrong and was is considered acceptable among their age-group. I wasn’t the least bit shocked, but still deeply troubled.

NoCompromiseI am convinced all over again of the need for disciples of Jesus to be rock solid on our commitment to Truth. I believe that if we compromise at all, we have compromised completely and the stakes are so high. I’m not talking about things that are left to the individual conscience (Romans 14, which, of course calls for limiting ourselves in certain circumstances even if our conscience doesn’t convict us!), but rather those things that are very clearly universally wrong for all people at all times.  Keep reading, I’m not calling for protests, militant take-overs, boycotts, or “take our Country back” rallies.

I’m neither a legalist nor a pharisee. I do not believe that being morally upright will get anyone to heaven. I believe that it is the work of the Spirit of God working in an individual to reveal the Son of God who provides salvation through grace alone apart from works of the Law. I believe that this justifying work brings a change in us that causes us to want to live a righteous life (not have to), because it is Christ’s righteous life in us.  Further, I do not believe that everything that has been called sin by the pharisees among us is necessarily sin. What I do believe, though, is that Scripture is very clear on what IS sin…on those things I am unwilling to compromise.

On that last point I should be clear: being unwilling to compromise on what is and is not sin is not to say that I am perfectly delivered from all that falls within that category. What I must never do is to change the category of that thing that I struggle with from sin to mere “preference” simply because I like it. I must still call it a sin.  Changing my mind on it doesn’t change God’s.  If I know that Scripture is clear and I take an “oh, well” attitude, I’M STILL RESPONSIBLE FOR IT because God is the judge, not me.  What is DEMANDED of me for forgiveness is to recognize it for what it is and repent of it (which involves turning away from it).

What I must also do is to unconditionally and authentically love those who are completely engulfed in sin without judgment or pride.  I must also never make the mistake of believing that loving them enough not to judge is the same thing as being unwilling to confront them regarding that sin.  Sin kills.  If sin kills and I am unwilling to address that with someone I love, the last thing I am really doing is loving them.  Confrontation peppered with grace is incredibly loving and strong…and difficult.  But important.

We are all victims of the same cancer called sin.  None of us can live perfect lives this side of heaven, but what we can do is live lives that are pleasing to God through acknowledging and repenting of those things that have offended His holiness and caused separation between us. Then forgiveness, healing and restoration comes.

With that at stake, there is no room for compromise.

Conflicting Times: Handling Relational Challenges

conflictsConflict happens. There is no way around it. If you care about someone or work closely with someone, you spend more time with them. If you spend more time with them, you have more opportunity to annoy each other or miscommunicate. If you have more opportunity, conflict happens. So, the question is not whether or not you can always avoid conflict, but how to prevent relational casualties when conflict arises.

Here are a few suggestions to help us wade through the mire of conflict management:

1.  Start with YOU.

Chances are, you are at least partially responsible for any conflict you’re in.  Honestly identify your role.  If you’re a follower of Christ, pray that your level of culpability will be revealed.  Humble yourself to the point where you are prepared to repent and make the necessary changes to minimize the potential for conflict over the same issues in the future.

2. Expect the best.

If this is someone you know well and care for, there is a really good chance that what they said or did was not intended to do you harm.  Sure, in anger, we say things that are intended to sting or offend.  Yet, even in those times, it is usually raw emotion rather than a calculated effort to harm you.

A dog that is otherwise a loyal pet, will often snap at her owner if she has been injured.  Her instinct of self-preservation tells her to protect at all cost, even lashing out at someone she normally “loves” (to whatever extent that applies to dogs).

We often act in the same way if we feel personally or emotionally threatened or hurt.  In those cases, we need to show that person grace.  Even criminals are given the benefit of a presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.  Surely those close to us expect at least that much consideration.  Expecting the best takes us off of the offensive and allows us to reflect on what we know about the other person. (Philippians 4: 8)

3.  Forgive ahead of time.

Don’t wait for the apology (which hopefully will come), but determine that the relationship is more important than this incident.  This will put you on a good footing to fight for the relationship.  Even if the other person is not ready to apologize, communicate your hurt honestly but determine to let the offense go.

Any time we harbor bitter feelings, we suffer as much as the person we’re upset with: lost sleep, anxiety, lack of focus on anything other than the offense.  Harboring ill feelings are destructive on so many levels that it is not worth whatever “satisfaction” we get from holding a grudge.  (Ephesians 4:32)

4.  Talk it out!

The most natural thing for us to do when we are offended or hurt is to avoid the other person at all cost.  We wait for them to come to us, which makes reconciliation impossible if there is a stand-off.  Act like an adult, confront the fear, push aside the awkwardness and deal with the issue head-on.  Remember, the relationship is worth it!  Even if you know it’s going to be a lengthy and painful confrontation, the relationship is worth it.  The longer you wait, the harder it gets and the more likely that thoughts, feelings and emotions that weren’t initially a part of the situation will be brought into our thinking which simply makes reconciliation more difficult.

The passing of time following a disagreement rarely, if ever, make the situation better.  Yes, sometimes a “cooling off” period is helpful, but rarely should that take more than a few hours.  Follow the biblical mandate to not let the sun go down on your anger! (Ephesians 4:26; Matthew 5:23-24)

Stronger Than Ever

Working through conflict is rarely easy, but when it’s done and reconciliation happens (which, sadly, doesn’t always happen), you will experience a stronger relationship with that person than before the conflict occurred.  We often find an increased respect and trust in the individuals whose friendship has now been “tried by fire” and proven to be stronger than before.  Yes, it’s hard work, but if it’s a relationship that was worth building in the first place, it is always worth the work it takes to sustain it!

Are there some other steps that you would take in resolving conflicts?  Let me hear them in the comments section below.

 

Walking in the Shadow of the Resurrection

Life's enjoymentEaster’s over, the crowds have dispersed, eggs found, rabbits eaten, services conducted, Monday came and went…now what?

Maybe the answer lies in how Monday went.  Did it seem like Easter to you?  Were you walking in the shadow of the Resurrection?  Was it filled with hope and grace, forgiveness and joy?

It’s so easy to forget that Easter is not a one time a year thing, but for those who have been transformed by the power of the Spirit of God because of the satisfaction of the Father’s righteous wrath towards sin, every day is Easter!  Everyday is marked by the forgiveness of Christ so that today I can take a deep breath and, with hope rather than dread, embrace the adventure that is “today”.

Whatever you’re dealing with today, if you’ve trusted in the One who overcame death, deal with it with the resurrection power that is able to say, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

Death couldn’t defeat Christ and, because of that, you and I “are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37, with context)

Giving Pause: Taking Action When Conviction comes

ImageSomething happened to me Sunday just before I got up to speak at The Gathering.  Clearly, the Spirit of God was working through the time of worship and I had the impression that we needed to pause…I knew I needed to pause.  Things weren’t right.  Earlier that morning, I had gotten upset with my 12 year-old son because he was acting like a 12 year-old.  The nerve of that kid!  I’m ashamed to say that I was, too.  Thankfully, I’m the only dad who does that kind of thing.  What would the world be like if every father responded to their kids in a less-than-mature way?

I was reminded of Matthew 5:23-24:

23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

I fell under heavy conviction that morning in worship and had the feeling there were others who had, as well, for one thing or another.  I took a few minutes after a very moving time of worship to deal with these things in silence, during which I went to my son and begged his forgiveness.  It’s one thing to feel remorse, but that is worth little unless it drives us to acts of repentance and restoration.  It seems others in worship that morning experienced something like that, too, as at least a few people moved towards others within worship to address personal issues.

I don’t know about you, but I find it so easy to become wrapped up in pride to the point that relationships become strained or damaged as a result sometimes.  The beautiful thing is that, when we decide to repent, both to God for a childish attitude, and the other person we had the issue with, forgiveness generally flows easily.

My son was quick to forgive me as I repented and gave my assurance that I am going to work much harder in submitting to God’s leadership in making me a godly role model for him. I want the legacy I leave to be a positive one.

So, do you struggle in this area, too?  Do you find yourself acting the juvenile in relationships sometimes?  How quick are you to repent?  How quick are you to forgive when wronged?  What are some things you do to maintain an attitude of humble submission and repentance when you are wrong?

Saving Daylight, Part 2: Loving Well

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Over the last few days, my thoughts have been consumed by a lovely lady within our church who is nearing the end of her journey on earth.  I’ve thought about the relationship she has had with her devoted husband for 63 years and the love they have shared.  I’ve thought about how over the last six years that I have known them, they have loved well.  What a great thing to be able to say!

Will I be able to say that of the relationships in my life when the time comes to say goodbye?

Saving daylight is not just about time-management as in making sure that the priorities in my life are getting the attention they deserve, but HOW that time is then spent.  How often do we waste time getting upset over pettiness and bickering or giving each other the silent-treatment, even though that relational priority is getting plenty of time?

How often do we get so upset with someone we once cared deeply for that the relationship is damaged to the point we, at best, question whether or not it can even be restored?  How do we get to that point?

Perhaps we seriously need to re-examine the gift of time.

Once time is spent, it is gone forever.  It cannot be re-claimed.  It can only be redeemed.  How are you handling the time you have been given with the relationships in your life?  Are you being responsible or more like an individual who has gotten behind the wheel having had too much to drink?  Are you driving recklessly over all the people you claim to have loved?  If we’re honest, most (if not all) of the problems in our relationships arise because of self-centeredness.  Rather than living according to the biblical directive to “do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but in humility count others as more significant than yourself,” we get upset when the other person doesn’t bow to our expectations (often because they are looking after themselves).

Maybe it’s way past time to hold up the mirror in front of our own faces to see how well we are doing with the fleeting time we have been given in the area of our relationships.  Are we loving well?  Are there relationships in our lives that are damaged or, in our view, dead because of failing to love well…sacrificially?

These are questions I am asking myself.  Am I loving my wife as Christ loves His church: sacrificially, completely and unconditionally?  Am I loving my children, not just by saying the words, “I love you,” which I do constantly, but with quality time and quantity time?  Am I showing them I love them by creating a godly lifestyle pattern rather than simply a long list of cold rules?

This can be a painful process.  We may find that we’ve actually wasted the precious daylight that we have.  If so, change! Ask the important questions:

What attitudes need to be changed in my life?

What habits or practices need to be altered or stopped altogether?

What activities or time-thieves need to be confronted and eliminated?

What relationships do I need to revisit and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, renew.  This may be the toughest one to accomplish!

Daylight is burning, but as long as the sun is still shining in your life, you have time.  Redeem it!  The sun will be setting soon enough.  Don’t allow that last little ray to fade, wondering if you could have done more.

Love well.

(Read Part 1 here.)

The Amazing God of Manasseh

To read the account of Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:1-17, 20) is absolutely amazing in regards to the mercy of God. Manasseh did everything he could to provoke God. Reading about his faithlessness and sin toward God is like watching a fatal train crash. I found myself actually getting angry at him myself as it was mentioned he went as far as burning his own sons as sacrifices to idols. How could God ever forgive someone for something so vile?! Besides that, he “led Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem astray, to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel.” God spoke to them and they refused to listen and “he did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger.”

And yet…

There’s that phrase…and yet. It often follows when talking about God. I can read about the horrible way God’s people act and of how faithless we can be, then follows, and yet.

Manasseh was entirely faithless…completely faithless, AND YET God was faithful. The following is a remarkable passage in light of Manasseh’s depth of depravity:

12 And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers.13 He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.

Look at that! God was moved by his entreaty and forgave him. Is there really no depths from which God cannot restore? Is there really no one too far gone that God cannot bring back. If God can bring Manasseh to restoration after such amazingly depraved actions, surely there is hope for anyone…there is hope for us.

The Lord, my God, is an alarmingly merciful God. Yes, a God of justice and judgment, but of mercy and grace. Thank you, Father, for your abundant and sufficient loving-kindness. Your mercy endures forever!

What are some ways God has shown you the “and yet” kind of grace?

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

You may not know the children’s book that bears that title, but it really doesn’t matter – it says it all.

I awoke this morning with high expectations for the day in spite of some important and possibly difficult meetings today.  I spent time in the Word and praying and climbed out of bed ready for the day.  Then it all hit: the shirt I rummaged to find and so carefully ironed turned out to have a big stain right on the front I never noticed before I so carefully ironed.  After again rummaging around for what seemed like an eternity, I finally found another one to my satisfaction.  Then the kids.

Is there a full moon out?  Have we been invaded by space aliens, cause my kids are psycho.  I mean, seriously.  Within minutes of dealing with them, I had to go into the bathroom to try a couple of different comb-overs to try and cover up the area where I had pulled my hair out.  Soon after, I came upstairs and had to tear the bathroom apart to find something Karen failed to tell me I was going to need to find for a friend…before she left the house to volunteer at Jacob’s school. Sigh.

Licking my wounds while coming up stairs to hibernate in my micro-office at home, I sat down at the computer, breathing heavily, and looked at the clock…

8:00 A.M.

Seriously?  All that happened before the day really even started?!

I am amazed at how good days go bad so quickly when circumstances are allowed to control me.  I awake with a great attitude only to be knocked in the side of the head by all the forces of evil who have other ideas.

What do I do?

I slow down.  I stop.  I breathe.  I pray.  I embrace grace.  I ask for forgiveness.  I move on.

Circumstances do not have to control me (or you).  I do not have to succumb to a bad start.  I can still have that good day, because greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world. [1 John 4:4]

I will rejoice and be glad in it.

How about you?

The God of Manasseh

To read the account of King Manasseh of Judah is absolutely amazing in regards to the mercy of God. Manasseh literally did everything he could to provoke God to fury. Reading about his faithlessness and sin toward God is like watching a fatal train crash in slow motion. I found myself actually getting angry at him myself as it was told of him going so far as burning his own sons as sacrifices to idols. How could God ever forgive someone for something so vile?! Besides that, he “led Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem astray, to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel.”  Seriously??  God spoke to them and they refused to listen and “he did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger.”

MercyAnd yet…

There’s that phrase…and yet. It often follows when talking about God. I can read about the horrible way God’s people act and of how faithless we can be, then follows, and yet.

Manasseh was entirely faithless…completely faithless, AND YET God was faithful. The following is a remarkable passage in light of Manasseh’s depth of depravity:

12 And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers.13 He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God. (emphasis mine)

Look at that! God was moved by his entreaty and forgave him. Is there really no depths from which God cannot restore? Is there really no one too far gone that God cannot bring back. If God can bring Manasseh to restoration after such amazingly depraved actions, surely there is hope for anyone.  There is hope for us.

The Lord, my God, is an alarmingly merciful God. Yes, a God of justice and judgment, but of mercy and grace. Thank you, Father, for your abundant and sufficient loving-kindness. Your mercy endures forever!

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