Looking for joy in all the wrong places

Is anyone else stressed out? I’m a wreck most of the time. Tis the season, after all. There’s something about fall that makes people want to socialize. Parties and potlucks and coffee and dinner. And that doesn’t count church activities.

NewSpring, of course, does Judgement House, but really preparations for Judgement House start in July or August. Everything comes to a head in October, though. And then there’s Thanksgiving and Christmas and all the relevant social events in between. This is the time of year I get so busy I can hardly remember my own name half the time. I gave up trying to remember how old I am years go, but my name is usually the next thing to do in the autumn.

And on top of that, work is a madhouse. So between work and church stuff and family stuff and social stuff, by the time the fall is over, I’m usually one step away from a nervous breakdown. And that’s normal. That’s my schedule every fall every year. 

But should it be?

Probably not. So why do I do this to myself? Why do other people do it to themselves? Why do we, as a culture actually, get so busy and stressed out during the time of year where we should be thankful and rejoicing?

Well, for me, I do it because a part of me wants to. I like the craziness of fall to a certain extent. Maybe I’m a masochist. I don’t like the stress, but without the stress it doesn’t feel like fall, if that makes any sense.

But I think I mostly run myself ragged doing the things I do during fall because it makes me happy. It makes me happy to see people and do things for people. It makes me happy to do dramas and put on plays. It makes me happy to be with my friends and my family. But many many times the stress overwhelms the happiness. Those people closest to me know what I’m talking about because when stress and pressure get the best of me, I turn into a bear. I know some of you can’t imagine that, but trust me, I can be truly unpleasant when I’m overwhelmed and too busy.

So what the heck?

I wonder, on some deeper level, if I do this to myself because I’m looking for joy. I wonder if deep down inside I think that stressing myself out to make everyone happy will bring me joy. In my head, I know that’s silly, but I have the heart of a people pleaser. So sometimes I wonder. And then I read a verse like today’s, Psalm 119:143.

143 As pressure and stress bear down on me,
      I find joy in your commands.

Where are we supposed to find joy? According to this verse, joy comes from God’s commands. I’ve blogged before on how God’s commands should bring us joy because they give us opportunities to receive blessings. But it’s one thing to know that God’s commands bring us joy; it’s something else to turn to them as the source of joy.

Another translation says that God’s commands give us delight. Whether you’re finding joy in God’s commands or taking delight in them, neither one is the natural response to scripture most of the time. And that’s probably the point.

Our human natures tell us to look for joy in what makes us feel good, whether that be in some sort of addictive behavior or, in my case, making other people happy. But that doesn’t bring true joy.

So what’s the use of a verse like this, though? What does it mean for my day today? Well … I live a fast-paced, high octane kind of life. I don’t think it’s a big life, but it’s sure not a small one either. There’s a lot going on. I have a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it. And I’m excited about get-togethers with long lost friends. But I need to stop trying to glean joy from them. Because people can be our focus without being our source of joy.

And I need to remember that when the day starts getting to me, when I get overwhelmed with everything that’s happening in my life, I need to turn to God’s commands and remember that He gave them to us so that we could delight in them. Worship. Give. Love. Memorize Scripture. Love our enemies. Forgive our friends. Forgive ourselves. Trust God. Honor. Obey. Submit.

Obey His commands and take joy in them because by obeying you’re giving God the chance to bless you. So don’t stress. And don’t let the pressure get to you. Just focus on God’s commandments.

Your blood pressure and your hair color will thank you. =)

A gift is a gift

Why is it that some people feel like they can lose their salvation? I’m curious. I’ve never really had the opportunity to speak with anyone who believed this on a face-to-face level. So I’m not sure where the concept comes from.

I have always figured it’s either pride or lack of knowledge about the Bible. Or maybe a combination of both. Because if you know the Bible, you would know that God says over and over again that once you’re saved, you’re always saved.

Like today’s verse, 1 Peter 3:18 —

18 Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit.

I’m not sure how much plainer this could be. The word suffered there actually means “died” in case you were wondering. This verse says it. Christ died for our sins once for all time.

He died for all our sins all at once.

If we were able to lose the salvation He offers us, wouldn’t it stand to reason that He would have needed to die more than once?

And this isn’t the only verse. Scripture is full of verses talking about how no one can take us out of God’s hand and how those who believe in Christ will never never never never die. There’s evidence all over the Bible. So why do people people that salvation is something they can lose?

Personally, I think the idea came about because we crazy human types have this problem with accepting free gifts. We think there’s something we have to do to earn it or to be worthy of it. Now, granted, gratitude is never misplaced when someone gives you a gift. But you don’t have to be worthy of a gift. You don’t have to earn a gift. If you have to earn it, it becomes a reward and the Bible says clearly in Ephesians 2:9 that salvation is not a reward.

A gift is free, no strings attached, no ifs ands or buts.

But salvation is such an amazing gift. And accepting a gift like that takes humility because to accept it means we are admitting we’re not good enough to get to heaven on our own. So we add bits and addendums to God’s word, telling ourselves that the better we act or the more good things we do, we will make ourselves worthy to receive God’s salvation. But you can’t live like that.

Yes, it’s right to live a life according to the Scriptures. And it’s right to do good things for other people. But what is your motivation? If you’re trying to be good enough to earn salvation, you won’t ever achieve it because no one can be good enough. And eventually you will crash and burn because no human being can live up to those standards, and not only will you bring yourself down, you’ll bring everyone around you down too.

But when you realize that you can’t ever be good enough, you understand God’s love for you. Sort of. I don’t really understand how God can love me. I’m a major screw up most of the time, and He never fails me. So I’m not sure how His love works. I just know it does.

And when you understand that there’s nothing you can do to earn God’s salvation, you also understand that there’s nothing you can do to lose it once you’ve accepted it. People get so mixed up and confused about God and the Bible, but if they would just sit and read it, they would understand so many things that culture has misinterpreted.

I didn’t do anything to earn my salvation. There is nothing I could have done to have been worthy of it. All of my good works and everything I have strived to do right in my life amounts to nothing in the face of God’s pure perfection. And that’s not me being overly dramatic or self-deprecating. That’s the truth. God is perfect. I’m not. So when imperfection tries to be perfect, the only result will be frustration. That’s why God doesn’t ask us to be perfect. He asks us to believe.

God gave me salvation when He gave Jesus to the world. My salvation is through Christ alone, believing He is who He said He is and trusting that His perfection is the key to my relationship with God. And no one can take that away from me, not even myself.

Ephesians 2:8-9 says, 8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.

The world is not enough

You only have one heart, figuratively and literally. Have you ever seen those cheesy romantic movies where some guy or some girl tells their significant other that they couldn’t fall in love with anyone else because they already gave their heart away? There you go.

When you give your heart to someone, it’s not really easy to take it back. So you have to be careful who you give your heart to. And, no, I’m not going to talk about romance and love or whatever this morning. Giving your heart to someone has a lot more to do than being romantically involved.

In Western culture, the seat of the emotions is in the heart. We talk about our heart being broken. We talk about putting our whole heart into something. We talk about wishing with all our heart. What we mean when we say that is that we put our whole self into something.

In other countries, the seat of the emotion is in other vital parts of anatomy. It’s not the heart, but the concept is the same.

There’s only one you. So be careful who you give yourself away to.

I thought about this when I read todays verse, 1 John 2:15-16.

 15 Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. 16 For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.

You can’t give your heart away to God and to the world at the same time. It doesn’t work because the two are diametrically opposed. What the world wants from you will hurt you and leave you broken and empty and unsatisfied. But what God wants for you is truly in your best interest — though our own pride and vanity convinces us that He’s just out to spoil our fun.

You can only do one or the other. And if you choose to give your heart to the world, you will learn sooner or later that it can’t provide you with the things you need. Maybe it will give you everything you want at first, but eventually you’ll understand that it demands from you more than you can give. And what it takes from you is unequal to what you invest.

I guess I’m being metaphorical this morning. My coffee isn’t working yet.

When I say the world, I’m not talking about people. I’m talking about the base conditions of life that our world exists in. Drinking to get drunk. Having sex with anyone and everyone. Pornography. Anxiety. Gluttony. Laziness. Selfishness. Pride. If you give yourself over to behavior like that, it will seem fun at first but eventually it will come back and destroy you. Because, as James Bond’s family motto says, “Orbis non sufficit“: The world is not enough.

The world takes all your energy and your passion and your good intentions and drains you dry. And maybe at the beginning you will experience the physical pleasure you were seeking, but eventually that’s going to fade and you’ll be left with nothing but a craving for something you can no longer feel. The world makes you a bottomless pit, you want everything but nothing makes you happy.

Does anyone want a life like that?

I don’t.

I chose a long time go to give my heart to God because all He asks from us is faith — and even on the days when faith feels impossible He doesn’t leave us. And while giving your heart to God may not feel good or may cause you to make decisions sometimes that hurt, the end result is satisfying. Because you’ve invested yourself in something that is truly making a difference.

So if you’ve given your heart to the world, can you give it to God? Of course. But it can’t be a half-hearted attempt.  You only have one heart. And tearing it in two pieces never works, either figuratively or literally. And even if you’re in pieces when you give yourself to God, He still wants you. He works better with broken pieces anyway.

Am I talking about trusting in Christ? Sure. But this is a problem that Christians have. They choose to believe that Jesus saved them, but they leave their heart with the world. It shouldn’t be that way.

So check your motivation. I am. I only have one heart and I want to make sure I give it to the right person because taking it back hurts more than just me.

Greatness

God and I are pretty close. We talk on a regular basis, and even though I know I have a long way to go still, I’d like to think that I understand His heart. God is the one Person I have always known I could count on, my true best friend and the one person who has never let me down. So I feel comfortable around Him. I feel like I can tell Him anything because I know He’ll understand what I’m feeling — because He felt it too.

But sometimes I wonder if I’m too casual with Him. I always try to remember who God is, but can a regular, normal, living, breathing human like me really comprehend who God is?

No.

Today’s verse is Job 37:5-6.

5 God’s voice is glorious in the thunder.
      We can’t even imagine the greatness of his power.
 6 “He directs the snow to fall on the earth
      and tells the rain to pour down.

It’s beautiful language. The figurative speech in these two verses is rich and vivid. And then we realize that it isn’t figurative.

When this verse talks about God’s voice in the thunder, that’s where it is. It’s not being poetic when it’s talking about God controlling the weather either. He does.

Can we grasp that? Does anyone on earth truly understand how great God is?

We think we do. We think we can imagine enough. We convince ourselves that we know God so well that we can be casual with Him, to the point of not giving Him the respect He deserves.

I saw a sermon once by Louie Giglio. By the way, if you ever have an opportunity to hear him speak, you should go for it. He’s amazing. But in this message, he talked about how Christians don’t respect God.

We live in a culture that has brought God down to our level.

Now, let me stop for a moment and just say that God did come down to our level. Christ came to Earth as a human, lived as a human, died as a human. He was just as much human as though He had never been God. But, on the flip side, the side that many people forget, He was just as much God as though He had never been human.

God did come to us. And though He understands everything about us, we can never understand everything about Him. Because He’s God. And He is great.

We think we know awesome. We think we know greatness. We don’t have a clue. Any earthly greatness fades in comparison to God. And the sights and sounds of Earth that we call awesome were created by God.

I think it’s part of the human condition to take what we don’t understand and bring it down to our level. Because we’ve done it with Satan and we’ve done it with God. Satan has become a cute little imp in a red suit with a forked tail and a pitchfork. And Jesus has become our homeboy, a character spoofed on television shows and made fun of by the media.

And it’s not right.

Because someday soon, Jesus is coming back. And then everyone will be able to see that the Bible isn’t joking when it calls Him great. And then we’ll understand what greatness is.

But until then, we have to do the best we can with what we have and what we know. I don’t understand God or His love for me. I don’t know how He controls everything in the universe. I don’t know why He chooses to do things the way He does. But I know this: I don’t have to understand God to know how much He loves me. And I don’t have to understand God to realize how awesome He is. Just the fact that I can’t understand Him makes Him amazing.

And while He wants us to be brutally honest with Him, to be real with Him, and not stuffy and arrogant like so many church people are, we can never forget that He is great. We can never let ourselves treat God casually or take His kindness for granted.

Why?

Because if we don’t get this straight, we won’t live the way we’re supposed to. If you think God is some fluffy little promise maker floating in the sky who gives everybody what they want when they want it, you won’t respect Him like you should. If you think Jesus is just for comic relief or that He’s only around to make sure God knows what it’s like to be human, you won’t respect Him like you should. And if you think the Holy Spirit doesn’t matter, you won’t respect Him like you should.

God is great. Jesus is great. The Holy Spirit is great. God is great.

He loves us. Yes. But how we treat God tells other people what we think about Him.

My God created the world. He speaks in the thunder. He tells the snow and the rain when to fall. He deserves my worship, my heart, and my life. He deserves more than I can give Him in return for what He has done for me. And I want my life to represent that.

Seeing red

Today’s verse is Isaiah 1:18.

18 “Come now, let’s settle this,”
says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
I will make them as white as snow.
Though they are red like crimson,
I will make them as white as wool.

Do you know how hard it is to wash the color out of fabric? I mean, it can be done. But no matter how much you bleach it and bleach it, some of that color remains. You can always still tell that it always used to be one color and now it’s not anymore.

I have always found it interesting that Scripture has used colors to identify people and actions and emotions and ranks. Of course, since Scripture started it, literary folks picked up on it. The best example I can think of at the moment is Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter (which is fantastic, by the way).

Colors always mean something to us. Sometimes they can stir patriotism. They can make us sad. They can make us happy or feel at peace. They can bother us.

I remember watching a behind-the-scenes featurette on The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan’s first movie (which is also fantastic, by the way). But he used the color red to signify that something important or shocking was going to happen in the movie. Whenever you saw red in a scene, you could expect that something unusual was going to happen — mainly because red is one of those colors that people react to noticeably.

The color red can mean so many different things. It’s used for passion and romance. It’s used for hate and anger. It’s used to represent the supernatural sometimes. And in some cases, like our own American Flag, it’s used to represent the blood that people spilled to make our country what it is.

In this verse, red means sin. And I think it’s interesting that a color that has so much emotional baggage is what Scripture has always used to represent sin. I’ve always wondered why. Because red is striking. It’s shocking. It’s blinding sometimes. And it’s really really hard to turn to white because even if you bleach it, oftentimes it’ll just turn pink.

But this verse says that God is able to take something that is red and turn it white, completely white. So white that it’s like snow.

If you want to be scientific about it, white is a color that is created when all other visible colors are reflected. White is the combination of all seven colors, red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet (indigo used to be in there but people say that it’s not a color . . . I don’t know, though). White is the reflection of all color and Black is the absorption of all color.

The symbolism there is amazing.

But in any case, only God could take something that is completely and totally red and make it white. And not just a pink-hued white. True white. Truly clean. Maybe you could say God is the ultimate stain remover.