Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Loving good Christians with God’s grace

I experienced a really difficult situation with some really good Christians when I was younger. You know the type. They are the first to tell you that your loved one you lost is in a better place. They’re the first one to point out what they think is sin in your life. They’re the first ones to comment on how someone else isn’t living for God. They’re the ones who tell you you’re struggling because God is punishing you.

When I was younger, I had no patience for it or them. They actually just made me angry, and a lot of that came from my own experiences with hyper-religious Christians. I was bitter and resentful inside for a long time, and that anger manifested in a general dislike of anyone who came off as “too good.”

I still struggle with it, but I think I’ve mellowed as I’ve gotten older. Or maybe, the longer I live, the more I realize just what Christ did for me and how lost I would be without Him.

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are John 3:1-3.

There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

Everybody needs God’s grace, whether it’s the druggies in the gutter or the Bible-thumper in the church pew. Nobody can make it without Jesus. And something that I’ve begun to realize more and more is that a legalistic Christian is in just as much bondage as someone who doesn’t know Christ.

Maybe you’ve studied the Bible. Maybe you know who Jesus is. And maybe you’ve even given your life to Him. That makes you a Christian. But if you are living with the idea that your outward appearance or your behavior will make you a better Christian or that it will make God happy with you, you’re being deceived.

You can clean yourself up all you like, but if the motivation of your heart is to look like a good Christian and talk like a good Christian so people will know that you are a good Christian—your focus is wrong.

No Christian is a good Christian. I’m so sick and tired of people calling me a good Christian. People have told me that all my life, and I’m not good. I stumble. I lose my temper. I put myself first. I have a whole long list of things I do that make me bad.

But being a Christian isn’t about how you dress or how you talk or whether or not you keep the Ten Commandments. Being a Christian is recognizing that you aren’t good enough but that God loved you enough.

Christians locked in this lifestyle of dress code and behavior standards and what you can eat and what you can’t eat and when you go to church or where you sit—that has nothing to do with being a Christian. But it’s a lot easier to put rules and regulations on yourself than it is to accept the fact that you owe God more than you can ever, ever repay—and that He doesn’t want you to repay Him. Just to accept Him.

So many Christians cling to this idea that we have to have standards. Maybe none of them will say that they’re depending on their standards or the standards set by their church to make them good—but that’s what it seems like. So how do you deal with that?

If you are a Christ-follower, freed by the blood of Jesus, justified by faith, holy in God’s sight, how do you handle “good” Christians who are trapped in the chains of their own standards?

I used to get angry at them. I used to walk away from them. I didn’t want to waste time and energy on someone who thought I was a heathen.

But what did Jesus do? Jesus ran into the religious elite of His day all the time. And, yes, most of the time He accused them or He challenged them. But when those religious folks weren’t yelling at Him, when they came to Him seeking, He made time for them. He talked to them. He showed them that He loved them as much as everyone and demonstrated that they needed Him more than they needed their religious traditions.

So isn’t that what I should do too? Just because someone is preaching at me that wearing pants is of the devil or that listening to country music is evil (that’s nothing compared to this), that doesn’t mean they have rejected God’s grace. That may just mean they don’t understand how much they need it. And who am I to turn against them because they don’t know the way?

I can be patient with them. And if I can’t be, God can give me patience. I am confident in who I am in Him and what He has called me to do, but that doesn’t give me a reason to be angry with anyone else. That just gives me a responsibility to live God’s grace and freedom.

View from my hotel room window, Chicago, IL

God wants to bless you a lot!

I didn’t plan to post this morning because last night went so late, but I had a thought in my head that wouldn’t leave me alone. So if this is rambling and strange and disjointed, blame it on a late night and no time for coffee yet this morning. =)

View from my hotel room window, Chicago, IL

View from my hotel room window, Chicago, IL

Today’s verses are Ephesians 3:14-20.

When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.

We ate at a pretty swanky restaurant last night. Usually folks just call it Joe’s, but its full name is something like Joe’s Seafood, Steak and Stone Crabs. It was nice. When your servers all wear fancy suits with bow ties and take fifteen minutes describing the menu, you can usually tell it’s a pretty upscale kind of place.  What they did that was different from other swanky places was that when you ordered crab legs, they actually brought them out, showed them to you, and then they broke the meat out for you. So all you ended up with at the end was a big plate of truly delicious crab.

And that was followed by another round of crab claws. And that was followed by blackened Madagascar shrimp the size of my hand. Followed by wedge salads the size of my head, covered in egg and bacon and onion and avocado and tomato. Followed by entrees that ranged from bone-in filet mignon to seafood. I ordered sole, mainly because I was curious about it. But the waiter put the wrong order in, and I ended up with parmesan coated halibut instead. So he gave me the halibut AND brought me the sole too. And then he brought out two slices of key lime pie. And everyone ordered a round of coffee and cappuccino.

So. Much. Food. I couldn’t eat it all. And it just kept coming.

The really ironic thing about my meal last night is that the wrong parmesan halibut was actually better than the mushroom sole I ordered. It was so cool because I didn’t expect any of it. I knew we were going to a nice restaurant. I’ve been to nice restaurants before. Usually they’re very stuffy and proper, and while the waiters are normally pretty gregarious they don’t go beyond what’s needed to make a good impression. This place was amazing. And it didn’t hit me until I got back to my room at Midnight (ugh) that God wants to treat us that way too.

I think we have this idea of God as a benevolent genie in the sky, sometimes. He’s there to grant our wishes, and when we hit that third wish, we can’t ask for anything else. Or we don’t want to bother Him with our petty little problems. Or we don’t want to always be asking for stuff because when the day comes that we really want or need something from Him, He’ll remember that we’re low maintenance and grant us our request by default because we haven’t asked for anything else.

Is that really how God is? I don’t think so. Check the verse again. God has unlimited resources. And He is able to accomplish more through us than we can even imagine. Does that sound like a God who will stop at three “wishes” granted?

God wants to knock us off our feet with His love and goodness. He wants to bless our socks off. He wants to give us so many blessings that we can’t carry all of them.

And I’m not saying that God hasn’t already blessed us. absolutely not! We’re the most blessed people in the world. If you woke up this morning, you’re blessed. If you have family that loves you, you’re blessed. If you have a car to drive and a job to work and food to eat, you’re blessed. But while I’m thankful for those blessings, God doesn’t want to stop there. He wants to give us more. He wants to bless us exceedingly above what we can imagine.

We just have to let Him. And sometimes blessings don’t come the way you think they will, but they come. Sometimes they’re not easy to accept, but if you accept them, you’ll find yourself way better off than you ever thought you could be. And the beautiful thing about God’s blessings is that they keep coming and coming and coming, even though you’ve done absolutely nothing to deserve any of them. If you show yourself faithful with what you have now, God will bless you with more.

View from a family palace throne

The only throne room where boldness won’t get you flayed alive

One of my favorite places in the world is the Mayan ruins of Tikal in Peten, Guatemala. I love history and ancient cultures, and Tikal is a spectacular place to study both of those things, an amazing reminder that no matter how great a civilization may become they are still vulnerable when they have no moral foundation. There are a number of palaces standing in Tikal where ruling class families lived. Palaces are kind of like apartment complexes where the whole family lived.

Every ruling family had a skill or had some form of knowledge that they hoarded, astronomy for example or medical knowledge. Something that the rest of the culture needed to survive but that the family wouldn’t share with anyone else. In the palaces, there is a throne area with a long, wide courtyard in front of it. I took a picture from the throne when I was in Tikal in July 2011.

View from a family palace throne

View from a family palace throne - Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

What’s really cool about this is the acoustics. The guy in the red shirt is my friend, Jim Dinsmore, and from where he is standing, he could speak in a quiet voice, and I could hear him clearly. This area was designed so that the person sitting on the throne could hear everything that was whispered in the courtyard.

I can only imagine what it must have been like for people to approach the head of one of these families. I’ve never been in a situation where I had to address anyone like this. But I have an active imagination, and I can feel the fear and trepidation something like this might cause. To be so small and so far away from someone so much bigger and more powerful than me would terrify me. I’m not sure how these situations played out in Tikal, but I know that the Mayans weren’t exactly known for their mercy. So putting one toe out of line probably resulted in a particularly painful death.

Today’s verse is Hebrews 4:16.

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.

This verse is out of a passage in Hebrews that is talking about Jesus as our High Priest. In the Jewish religion, there was a High Priest who was the intercessor between God and people, who followed a strict set of guidelines and fulfilled all required expectations to be able to approach God on the peoples’ behalf. When Jesus came and died for us, He became our High Priest. He is now the intercessor between God and Mankind. And what the end of Hebrews 4 and the beginning of Hebrews 5 is talking about is our ability to come before God and speak to Him.

If you have chosen to follow Jesus, that means you have full access to God Himself. He isn’t some distant ethereal being floating out in the universe somewhere who doesn’t care about your everyday life. He is a real, living Person who wants to help you and who wants to know you.

Hebrews 4 says was can approach God’s throne with boldness. The Amplified Version uses the adverbs fearlessly and confidently.

Think about that. And think about this photo from Tikal. If I were in a Mayan’s position, there would be no boldness in me, not in approaching the head of a family on a throne like that. I would be as far away as I possibly could be. Put that in perspective and imagine approaching the throne of the God of the universe. It doesn’t even compare. But Hebrews is saying that we could walk right up to the throne of God and talk to Him.

And we won’t be shunned. We won’t be mistreated. We won’t be punished.

We will receive mercy and grace when we need it most.

Can you wrap your head around that? Because I can’t.

So wherever you are today, whether you’re having a good day or a bad day, just remember that as a follower of Christ, you have free, open access to God Himself. You can walk boldly up to His throne and tell Him what’s going on in your life. Yes, He already knows, but He wants to hear it from you, in your own words. And He’ll help you.

If what you’re going through is something you don’t deserve, He’ll help you. If what you’re going through is something you do deserve, He’ll help you. Even if the trouble in your life is of your own making, He’ll help you. There may still be some consequences, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have to face them alone.

Be bold. You can. God wants you to.