Grace for your heroes

Who is your hero? Don’t think about it too long. Who’s the first person that comes to mind? A teacher? A mentor? A parent or grandparent? We all have heroes. Some are older than us. Some are even younger than us. Others are our same age. And even though we know they are “only human” we still elevate them because to us, they’re larger than life. It’s not that we put them on a pedestal (though some of us do), it’s just that we have such high expectations for them.

So what happens when your hero falls? What happens when your hero makes a judgment call that hurts someone else? What happens when your hero sins?

Does it shake your world? Does it rock your faith? Or do you deny it and stand with them regardless of the truth? You know what I’m talking about. You exclaim that the stories can’t be true. You insist that your hero can’t have done anything wrong. How could they? They’re heroes. They know better. They know people are looking up to them, following them. They wouldn’t have made such a horrible choice. They couldn’t have.

I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but everyone fails. Even your heroes.

8ZB9C03AIJToday’s verses are Romans 3:10-20.

As the Scriptures say,
“No one is righteous—
not even one.
No one is truly wise;
no one is seeking God.
All have turned away;
all have become useless.
No one does good,
not a single one.
Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave.
Their tongues are filled with lies.
Snake venom drips from their lips.
Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.
They rush to commit murder.
Destruction and misery always follow them.
They don’t know where to find peace.
They have no fear of God at all.”
Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God. 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.

The truth about following Christ is that everyone needs grace, from the worst of us to the best of us. No one is perfect. We know that, but knowing it and living it are two separate things.

It’s really, really easy to fixate on the “good” Christians, the ones who know the Bible, the ones who talk to God, the ones who have the answers. They’re the people we go to when we have questions. They’re the ones we ask when we’re afraid or uncertain or when our faith is faltering. And in our minds we think there’s absolutely no way that they would ever turn against God. They would never disobey. They would never do anything God says is wrong.

No one is righteous means that no one always does the right thing. Does that mean you shouldn’t trust anyone? Does that mean you shouldn’t build relationships with people? No, that’s not what it means at all.

It means that even your heroes need grace. They need the same grace from you that Christ offered to them.

Not excuses. Grace has nothing to do with making excuses. Grace doesn’t live in denial either. Grace recognizes that you’ve screwed up royally yet doesn’t hold it against you.

It’s good to have heroes. It’s good to have people in your life to run to when you’re scared or feeling vulnerable. Just remember that people are people. Don’t put your trust in people. Don’t build your foundation on any person other than Jesus Christ. Because He is the righteous one, and He doesn’t change.

Trying to get on the train with the wrong ticket

I’ve spent the last two weeks running around England and Scotland, in and out of the rain, on just about every form of transportation you can think of. But mostly trains. Trains are one of the top modes of transportation in this part of the world, whether they’re overground or underground, but one thing is certain. Regardless of what kind of train you’re traveling on, you have to have a ticket.

There was one point in our travels where my dad had the wrong card or something had gone wrong with his card in general, and he couldn’t get on the train. And it had to be sorted out before he could get through.

Aisle of the train from Manchester to Carlisle

Aisle of the train from Manchester to Carlisle

Today’s verses are Romans 3:21-24.

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.

The predominant idea in our world is that you can earn a ticket to heaven by living a good life. And that’s an interesting concept, but the Bible says the complete opposite. You can’t earn a ticket to heaven. You can’t deserve it. It’s a gift you have to accept, and Jesus gave His life to pay for it.

Nobody is perfect. We all know that. So nobody can be good enough to get into heaven. But Jesus lived that impossible perfect life, and then He gave it up to pay the fee for us to have eternal life. All we have to do is say yes to Him.

That’s the good news the Bible talks about from beginning to end. There is hope, and that hope is found in Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ alone.

But trying to get to heaven using your own good deeds to pay the price is like trying to board a train with the wrong ticket. Like trying to get through the tube turnstile with a depleted Oystercard. It won’t work.

So don’t get stuck on the wrong side of the tracks. You have everything you need at your fingertips to find out how to live a life with Jesus. Don’t let another day go by without taking the time to ask the important questions.

The only thing worse than missing the train is missing it while you actually had the right ticket all the time and just didn’t use it.

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.

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.