You don’t have to be the best for God to accept you

While I was sitting eating Pei Wei honey-seared chicken and rice in the international concourse of the Atlanta airport, I noticed a young man with a strange t-shirt on. I’m sure it stood for something like a school or a club that he was in, but the slogan associated with his club is what caught my attention:

“God only takes the best.”

The first time I read it, I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant. I’m still not entirely sure what it’s trying to say, especially since I suspect it has to do with a sports club. So I admit I’m reading into it quite a bit. But one sure-fire way to understand a statement is to reverse it and see if it’s still true.

If God only takes the best, than that means He turns away those who aren’t the best. That means He rejects the unworthy. Is that true? Not according to the Bible, it isn’t.

beatup_carToday’s verses are Romans 5:6-11.

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

The Bible says over and over and over again that you don’t have to be good. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to be righteous. God loves you even though you can’t be any of those things. And you can’t be.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but nobody is perfect. Nobody is good. Nobody is righteous. We can’t even be good enough for the world’s standards most of the time, let alone God’s. Yet somehow we still have this idea (and people still make t-shirts apparently) stating that you have to reach some level of perfection before God will accept you.

We didn’t have to be perfect in order for God to save us. No, Romans tells us that while we were imperfect, Christ came to save us. While we were sinners, Christ died for us. While we were enemies with God, Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice to give us the chance to be God’s friends.

That’s a gift, pure and simple, and you can’t do anything to earn a gift.

God’s grace is a gift. It’s free for us. And anyone who tries to add to that gift isn’t telling the truth. Anyone who says God’s grace is something you have to earn isn’t telling you what the Bible actually says.

You don’t have to get your life in order before you come to Him. You don’t have to clean up your act. Just come to Him now. You’re all He wants. Yes, God deserves the best, but you don’t have to be the best for Him to take you. God wants you just the way you are.

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Rules matter, but grace matters more

I’m home. Finally. After two weeks of crazy travel and general insanity, my folks braved the construction traffic and picked me up from good old Mid-Continent airport yesterday evening. The journey home from Chicago was somewhat ridiculous, since I couldn’t get a direct flight, so I got from Chicago to Wichita by way of Minneapolis. And something happened on that first flight from Chicago to Minneapolis that’s somewhat embarrassing….

I couldn’t get my seatbelt fastened.

Like, not at all. It was like somehow the belt in my airplane seat was designed for a stick person. Now, I’m not in denial here. I know I’m not a small person, and thanks to two weeks of eating trade show food, I’m pretty sure I didn’t lose any weight, no matter how many miles I walked every day. But this has never happened to me before.

My first reaction was utter horror. How humiliating is it to be unable to buckle your seat belt on an airplane? My next reaction was terror. I’d never been on an airplane before without a buckled seat belt. What would the flight attendants do if they found out? Would they throw me off the plane? Would they make me stand up and have to explain why I couldn’t get the belt fastened?

I actually sat and prayed because I didn’t know what to do. I could tell them that I couldn’t get the belt fastened, but what good would it do? There were no empty seats. We were already getting ready to take off. And–let’s face it–if the plane crashes, is a seat belt really going to help all that much? I mean, maybe it will. I don’t know. I’ve never been in a plane crash.

In any case, I didn’t see that they would be able to do anything about it, other than just tell me to sit still and not say anything. So that’s what I did. I pulled the belt across as tightly as I could, so as far as anyone could tell, I was buckled. Even though I wasn’t.

Nobody asked me about it. Nobody gave me any trouble. Nobody threw me off the plane or made me stand up and promise to lose weight before I fly again. And as I sat there rigid as a post through the whole flight, the only thing I could think about was yesterday’s post–about following rules.

Rules are important. They’re essential. We have to know the rules so we know where the boundaries are. God gives us rules so that we know what’s right and wrong, what’s good for us and what’s bad for us. But what happens when you can’t obey the rules?

The rule on this plane was to wear your seat belt when you’re sitting down, and I couldn’t get my seat belt fastened. Maybe the belt was too short. Maybe I’d had one too many cookies at the trade shows. Either way, I was going to have to disobey a rule. So what did that make me? Willfully disobedient?

Sometimes, life happens. Sometimes you make a decision to break a rule because you don’t see that you have another choice. Nobody can obey all the rules all the time. So what happens when you break the rules when you knew better?

Aircraft_SeatbeltToday’s verses are Romans 3:20-24.

For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God freely and graciously declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.

Nobody can obey the law all the time. Nobody can be perfect. God knows that. That’s why He gives us grace every day.

That doesn’t mean we’re free to run around breaking God’s rules just because we can. No, that’s not the point. The point is God wants to have a relationship with us. He loves us so much that He wants to be a part of our lives, but we are separated from Him because of our sin. We can’t be close to Him on our own merit because He’s perfect, and we’re not.

That’s where Jesus comes in. Jesus creates that bridge between us and God so that we can walk side-by-side with God, can speak to God, can make requests of God, can call Him Daddy. That’s grace. That’s unconditional love regardless of performance. And God offers it to us free of charge.

You’ve screwed up. You know that, right? I’ve made a mess of living. I’ve wrecked relationships and friendships. I’ve hurt people, and I’ve disappointed people. But God doesn’t look at the failures and shortcomings of my past. I’ve given my life to Jesus, so all God sees when He looks at me is Christ.

That’s grace.

So when you break the rules, you don’t have to be afraid. Be sad. Recognize that you messed up. Acknowledge that you failed. But don’t forget, if you belong to Jesus, God has already freed you from the guilt of your sin. So you can pick yourself and keep on walking.

Peace with God is something only the blood of Christ can buy.

Don’t live to break the rules. They’re there to help you, to protect you, to teach you, but when life happens and you screw up anyway, God will be right there to help you stand up again. So don’t push Him away.

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.

Sunrise behind the clouds at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Why repeat experiences aren’t always bad

Rochester, MN, is a nice little city. I’m not sure what the population is, but it’s big enough to have a decent downtown area–although I’m fairly certain most of the downtown is the Mayo Clinic.

That’s why we’re up here again, the third time this year. Visiting the Mayo Clinic. It’s a long, complicated story that’s taken up the better part of two years, but we’re hoping this trip will actually provide us with answers regarding my mom’s health.

What is really interesting to me this third time visiting Rochester is how not-stressed I am about the whole thing. Six months ago, I was uncertain. Seven months ago, I was a nervous wreck.

The first time we came up here, it was winter. Minnesota in March. Just where you want to spend vacation time, right? The snow drifts were taller than my car. Without the wind chill, it was 30 below outside. None of us knew where we were going. We didn’t know where to check in, who to talk to, where to eat or even what we could eat.

But now, in September, we’re all very comfortable in Rochester. Not like it’s a second home or anything, but it certainly is more familiar than it was. But that’s how life works. The things we’ve already experienced don’t stress us out like the things we haven’t, and because we’ve experienced all of this before, we know what’s coming.

Sunrise behind the clouds at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunrise behind the clouds at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Romans 5:3-5.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. 

One thing I’ve learned about life: Oftentimes you have to experience the same things over and over again before you learn anything. Looking back, it blows my mind how many times God has had to put me through the same frustrating circumstances just to get me to pay attention.

But if I can get over being frustrated, if I can look past having to go through the same stuff over and over again, I can start to see part of what He’s doing.

You don’t build endurance by running one race. You have to run a lot of races. You don’t build character by making the right choice once. You have to make the right choice many times. And you don’t truly understand God’s grace the first time He steps in to Help you when you don’t deserve it. You have to experience that many times before it really sinks in just how much He loves you and just how little you deserve His love.

Just because you have to go through the same frustrating circumstances over and over again doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. Granted, it may mean you aren’t paying attention to what God wants you to learn. Or it may just be that you need training.

So if you’re experiencing the same trial for the second, third or even fourth time, take a step back and do a heart check. Make sure your attitude is what it’s supposed to be. Make sure you’re open to learning or accepting what God may want to show you. And if you are, then just sit back and wait because God has something to teach you. He won’t bring you somewhere to leave you there without teaching you something.

Just because you have to go through something more than once doesn’t make you wrong or doesn’t mean God is punishing you. It could just be that He’s preparing you for something awesome.

Swan on the water at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Give grace away because nobody is perfect

How often do you get frustrated with people? I wish I could tell you I was the epitome of patience and forgiveness. But I’m not. Not even on my best days.

Some people just have a gift for finding every button I have, and they seem to thrill at pushing it over and over and over again. Sometimes I think they do it on purpose. Most of the time, I don’t think they even realize that they’re doing it.

Seriously. Think about it. Not every person who drives you nuts is a jerk. It could be that they are oblivious to how they are bothering you, and in that case, it’s in everyone’s best interest to talk it out.

What it really comes down to is understanding that nobody’s perfect. We say that. We say it about ourselves. We say it about each other. But do we really believe it?

Swan on the water at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Swan on the water at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Colossians 3:13.

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if we lived in a world where nobody screwed up? Where everyone loved each other? Where no one hurt each other?

That world is coming one day, but it’s not here yet. For now, we’re locked into this world where people with the best of intentions still end up walking all over other people. People who may just be trying to do the best they can end up hurting people around them. People who are just people make a wrong move and cause irreparable damage.

And what can be done about it? Well, if something wrong was actually done, then learn from it. If mistakes were made, correct them. But what if there was no mistake? What if there was no wrong? What if the only thing two people have against each other is their personalities? What do you do then?

Is one person’s personality wrong?

People come in all shapes and sizes and moods and shades and flavors, and God made them all that way for a reason. He’s got a special plan in mind for every person He’s made (whether they accept that plan is up to them), and while we all do need to do our part, just because your personality doesn’t mesh with someone else’s doesn’t make them wrong. And it doesn’t make you wrong either.

Some people just naturally rub each other the wrong way. But that doesn’t mean you can’t love them. That doesn’t mean you can’t forgive them when they drive you crazy. Believe it or not, you probably drive them crazy too. Remember that next time they have you climbing the walls.

The plain and simple truth? Everybody needs grace. Not one person is sufficient to make it through this life without God’s grace. And if God is good enough and big enough and great enough to give us grace for the things that we have done, don’t you think we can give grace to the people around us?

Now, giving grace doesn’t mean you restore someone who screwed up to a position of high authority right away. That goes into trust issues. But what it does mean is that you don’t hold it over their heads. You don’t keep bringing up their screw-ups and you move on.

That’s what God does for us, and that’s what we should do for each other.

So the next time that family member or coworker or fellow church attender does something to make you angry, take a moment and ask yourself if he knows he’s doing it. And if you feel strong enough, ask him about it. If he knows that what he’s doing drives you crazy and he does it anyway, you might want to rethink that relationship. But most likely, he won’t have any idea.

And in that case? Offer some grace. Forgive him and let it go. Life is too busy and too big and too awesome to spend your life fretting over tiny little upsets.

Give grace away. Everyone needs it.

Blossoming lilacs at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Grace when we make mistakes

Grace. We talk about it, but do we really get it? We’re thankful for it, but do we really understand what it means for us and our lives?

Blossoming lilacs at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Blossoming lilacs at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Ephesians 2:4-9.

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus. God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.

I hate making mistakes.

No, you don’t understand. I hate making mistakes.

I. Hate. It.

Sometimes the mistakes I make turn out to be something that couldn’t be avoided. Other times, mistakes turn out to be issues that I could have stopped if I’d thought about it or worked harder or dug deeper. And that just happened the other day. If I had only dug a little deeper, slowed down and asked one more question, I could have prevented this rather large and expensive mistake from ever occurring.

But I didn’t. I forged ahead, confident in what I was doing. Or so worried about the clock I just chose not to take the time to think about it.

It’s one thing to make a mistake that embarrasses you. It’s another thing to make an embarrassing mistake that costs money. And that’s where I ended up. Not my best day ever.

It was obviously my fault. I made a judgment call and it was wrong, and the people affected had every right to be angry with me. But they weren’t. And believe me I tried pointing out different ways I could have prevented it and then suggested suitable punishments to atone. And they wouldn’t hear of it.

That’s grace. People hurt by my carelessness choosing to pay for it themselves instead of holding it over my head—when they have every right to.

We appreciate grace when people extend it to us. But do we appreciate it enough to extend it to others? That’s the question staring me in my mind right now. If the situation were reversed and someone had cost me time and money, would I respond the same way? Would I extend grace to them?

I hope I would.

And all of this just comes down to one unavoidable truth: God forgives us for so much more than mistakes. God forgives us for sin.

I was miserable for hours after I realized what had happened with this, until I found out that nobody hated me, that nobody was holding it against me. But for those few hours, I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t concentrate on anything. All I could think about was how I’d screwed up and how they were well within their rights to punish me or dock my pay or something—anything.

And when I finally calmed down, the only thing I could think about was how my life would look without God’s grace? If I couldn’t have peace until I’d experienced by boss’s grace, how much more of a wreck would I be without God?

Do we ever think about that? I mean, seriously. I take it for granted all the time. I’ve gotten used to the idea of walking around living life forgiven. That’s my life. I’m forgiven. I’m free. What do I have to worry about?

That’s so true, but let’s never—never ever—forget what Jesus had to go through so we could live that kind of life.

Don’t forget what it means to you and never hesitate to extend it to someone else. Nobody deserves it, but God hands it out freely. So we should too.

Don’t take it for granted.

Irises in bloom at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Searching for grace

Thanksgiving is this week, and it’s normally this time of year when everyone starts talking about the things they’re thankful for. And as much crap as I give people about the 30 Days of Thankfulness routine on Facebook, I will admit that it’s pretty cool to see and read. And it really does make a difference if you let it. If you wake up and you’re thankful immediately, it does tend to change the way you look at the rest of your day.

I don’t want to wax uber-spiritual, but when I think about what I’m thankful for, the very first thing that comes to mind is grace.

Irises in bloom at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Irises in bloom at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 12:8-9.

Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.

This is one of those verses that you can find all sorts of different opinions. What was Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”? I’ve heard just about everything you can imagine and probably some you can’t, but whatever it was, it brought Paul a lot of trouble. It upset him and tormented him and made him beg for God to take it away, but God only replied that His grace was sufficient and that His power worked best in Paul’s weakness.

Grace is a terribly misunderstood gift, I think. We sing about God’s grace in church, and we talk about it in our Bible studies. But do we really grasp it? Grace. What is grace?

Grace is understanding that you can’t do anything to make God love you more or less than He already does. Grace is God’s presence in our lives helping us get through a day that just won’t stop pounding us. Grace is seeing how badly a situation could have gone and rejoicing when we see that it turned out better than we feared. Grace is the courage to face the impossible with courage and faith. It’s the certainty in the uncertainty. It isn’t something you can put your arms around exactly, but it’s something none of us could live without.

Did something go right for you today? That’s grace. Remember, our world is broken. Nothing works the way it’s supposed to, so if anything in your life works out, that’s grace.

Did something go wrong today? Grace kept it from being worse. And no matter how bad it is, it can always be worse.

I’m not a bad person. I never even really went through a rebellious phase in my life; I’m still waiting for that to hit, I guess. Most people would probably call me a “good” Christian, although I’m not quite sure what that means. But at the end of the day, I’m just another person like everyone else trying to make it in our screwed up world. And if my eternity depended on me, there’d be no future joy to look forward to. No, I’m not a bad person, but I’m not perfect. And perfect is what I need to be–so I’m thankful for God’s grace in sending Christ for me so I don’t have to be perfect.

Without God’s grace, I couldn’t make it through a day. And it shows up in so many places, places I’d never expect to see it, and it overwhelms me every time. I’m not surprised exactly; I’m just amazed that God could love us so much when we’ve given Him nothing, when we can give Him nothing in return. Not really.

Take a moment today, even if it’s just a few seconds, to identify the grace God has in your life. If you’re at work, don’t think too long on it, or you’ll end up in tears. That’s what happens to me. I just start thinking about how awesome God is, and pretty soon I’m bawling. I didn’t used to be so emotional … but then I didn’t used to understand exactly how much God has forgiven in me, how much He gave to purchase me, how much He had to love me to do it.

Sometimes His grace can be hard to see, especially in the dark times, but it’s at those moments when we need to seek it more. It’s in those difficult moments when we don’t know what the next step is or where we’re going or how to handle the tidal wave of trouble that is intent on knocking us over–it’s then that we need to be aware of His grace more than ever. The irony is that His grace isn’t hard to find; we just have to open our eyes to see it.

So look for God’s grace today. I promise it’s not far away. And while you’re looking, listen to this song by Matt Redmond. It’s my new favorite.