Stone bridge at Glen Eyrie Castle, Colorado Springs, CO

Nothing perfect about us–except Christ

I’m a people pleaser to the nth degree. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been working in customer service for so long or if I got into customer service to begin with because I’m a people pleaser. Either way, that was the first thing I had to learn when I started working a marketing job; I wasn’t in customer service anymore. So I couldn’t work like I was.

But I suspect I was just born that way. What about you? Have you got any hang ups or habits that you were born with or that you developed over time and just haven’t been able to break? Assuming that your personality quirks aren’t dangerous to yourself or others, there’s nothing really wrong with them.

So why are we afraid to be who we are? I’ve had a couple of conversations this week with people who hide their real selves away for fear of rejection by others.

Now, when people say you should just be who you are, a lot of the time they’re talking about doing what you want or behaving in a way that doesn’t accept accountability or responsibility. But that’s not what I’m talking about.  I’m talking about being real, being genuine with people regardless of what they think about you. Because the only Person who matters in that situation is God, and He’s already told us what He thinks about us.

Stone bridge at Glen Eyrie Castle, Colorado Springs, CO

Stone bridge at Glen Eyrie Castle, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Romans 5:8.

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.

Think about that. What does God think about us? He loved us enough to send Jesus to die for us while we were sinners. Read that: while we were His enemies.

He loved us enough as His enemies to die for us so that we could become His family.

He loved you, the real you buried underneath all the posturing and posing and faking and words, enough to die for you. God knows the real you, and He loves the real you. He loved you before you were born. He died for you before you were born.

So why are you afraid to be you in front of other people? Why are you afraid to be yourself?

I’m talking to myself here. I have hidden away for so long because I didn’t want to bother people with my problems. I didn’t want to worry people or upset people. I was afraid to share my doubts and my failures and my flaws because I didn’t want people to think the wrong thing about me.

But people can think the wrong thing about you whether you put on a perfect face or not. It’s so much better to live life without secrets and be genuinely yourself. There aren’t any skeletons in the closet to find if you carry them around in the open.

So the next time you’re tempted to answer the dreaded question: “How are you?” with a lame: “Fine,” think about it. Are you saying you’re fine when you really aren’t? Who cares if they didn’t really want you to tell them what’s really going on? If you answer them honestly and they didn’t want an honest answer, that’s not your fault.

Just be truthful. Just be genuine. Don’t hide your problems. We’re all flawed people. We’re all failures. We’re all forgiven. Not one of us is good enough to make it without God’s grace, and not one of us is strong enough to walk through life alone.

Let’s start sharing our loads. Let’s start being open and honest with each other, and maybe the world will realize that there’s nothing perfect about Christianity except Christ.

Sheep grazing in pastures along Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

Living life like a sheep

My brother and I raised 4-H market lambs for two years, and during that process, I learned a lot about sheep. And I learned why the Bible compares people to them. Sheep are pretty stupid, even though they think they’re awfully smart. They fall prey to the herd mentality. They will gorge themselves if allowed. They always think they know where they’re going, and they’re very, very stubborn about changing their minds.

Sound like anyone you know? I think every person needs to have experience raising sheep, especially if you’re a Christ-follower. It will open your eyes.

Sheep grazing in pastures along Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

Sheep grazing in pastures along Hadrian’s Wall, Northern England

Today’s verses are John 10:11-18.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.

“The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.”

I never had opportunity to sacrifice my life for any of my sheep. I can’t say that I would have, honestly, because their purpose was to go to market. They existed in my life for experience and education and hopefully a decent premium at auction that would jumpstart my puny savings account. In that context, my sheep weren’t worth my life.

But shepherding in Jesus’ day was different than it is today. Around here, my neighbors “shepherd” with four-wheelers and a lot of shouting. In Jesus’ time, shepherds led their sheep. Sheep were their livelihood, and you didn’t need to raise sheep for the experience of it. It was a full-time occupation. So if anything ever threatened the sheep, it was worth it to the shepherd to intervene. Why? Because they were his sheep. They were his life.

To a sheep, a shepherd is everything: guide, provider, protector, friend. The shepherd is the one who knows where the best grazing is. The shepherd is the one who knows the safe paths to travel. The shepherd is the one who leads. The shepherd is the one who makes the plan. It’s up to the sheep to follow. The sheep don’t have to do anything else. They just have to keep up, and even if they can’t keep up, the shepherd won’t leave them behind.

Thinking about our relationship with Jesus in that context leaves me speechless. I am very much like a sheep in my life. I really think I know what’s best for me. I think I know where I can find the best prospects for my life, and I am certain I know how to handle the opportunities that come at me without help. I convince myself I know when I push myself too hard, and I’m incredibly too stubborn about everything, especially the things I don’t actually know.

Jesus is patient with me anyway. He gently corrects, carefully guides, consistently provides, and always protects me no matter where I go and no matter how often I bite off more than I can actually chew.

A shepherd who’s in it for the money can always find another opportunity for cash if the sheep are in danger. There’s no need to risk life and limb. But the shepherd who’s in it for the sheep will do crazy things to keep them safe, and that’s what Jesus did for us. No one compelled Him to sacrifice His life for us. Yes, God the Father sent Him, but Jesus didn’t have to do what He did.

So what does all this mean for our lives today? It means a lot, honestly. It means that we don’t really know best, even though we think we do. It means God has a plan, and it means our job is to follow and not worry about things we can’t control. Yes, do your best. Use your gifts to their fullest extent. But Jesus wouldn’t lead you down a path without a reason. Just like a good shepherd wouldn’t lead his sheep to an area without good grazing.

Maybe your life hasn’t turned out the way you expected. That’s okay. God still has a plan, Jesus is still the Shepherd, and you’re still the sheep. The roles haven’t changed, even if your location has. So rest. Find some nice grass to munch on. Live. Enjoy the view. And take it easy until Jesus calls you again. Then follow. If He’s willing to lay His life down for you, He’s not going to lead you wrong.

Mayan ruin - Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

How do you live at the end of the world?

I don’t trust the Mayans. So when I see a lot of people up in arms about the world supposedly ending on December 21 this year, I don’t exactly roll my eyes, but I certainly don’t take them seriously. People thought there would be a catastrophe in 2001 too. Remember Y2K? And I think it was this year or maybe last year when someone started assuring everyone that the end of the world would come then. But it didn’t. And unfortunately, those folks have been made into the Boy who cried wolf.

It’s unfortunate because the world as we know it will end someday soon. The Bible promises that it will, but the Bible assures us that no man knows the day it’s going to happen. Not sure how this is possible, but even Christ said that only God the Father knows that date (Matthew 24:36).

So where does that leave us? It leaves us on the cusp; that’s where we are. I’m no scholar, but if I’m right, there’s only one prophecy that remains to be fulfilled. And that is for the whole world to have the opportunity to know Christ. Folks are still working on that because there are still some areas of the globe where Christ hasn’t been shared, but once that happens? Everything else the Bible has prophesied would happen has happened.

And this isn’t like some wild-eyed prophet preaching about the end of the world. It’s not like a blockbuster movie where the world experiences all sorts of crazy natural disasters. It’s not like a computer bug that will send our culture rocketing back to the stone age. This is a promise in a Book that was written thousands of years ago by more than 60 different authors over a period of thousands of years, a Book that doesn’t contradict itself once and that has remained relevant to culture in spite of radical changes in the world. It’s not a promise made in chaos; it’s a promise that comes from a trustworthy, consistent source. And actually, it’s not even the end of the world; it’s the beginning of the end of the world, and the only thing we know is that it’s going to happen sooner rather than later.

Mayan ruin - Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

Mayan ruin – Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verses are Romans 13:8-11

Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law. This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.

The Ten Commandments were given to the Israelites so that they would know what God expected of them. If anyone can follow the Ten Commandments word-for-word perfectly every day of their lives, they are worthy to have a relationship with God. But no one can do that. That’s the true point of the Ten Commandments, to show us that we need God and that we need His forgiveness if we want to walk with Him. So the Ten Commandments show us what God expects from us and how to live, but since we are incapable of meeting His expectations and He offers us forgiveness for that, the Ten Commandments represent a lifestyle instead.

But who can keep track of ten laws? Maybe that’s lazy of me to say, but that’s a lot, especially in day-to-day life. I’m all for summaries, although I’m sure you would never believe it because of the length of these crazy devos.

The Ten Commandments can be summarized in two phrases: Love God. Love people.

God should come first in our lives. No one should be a higher priority than He is. Our lives belong to Him anyway, and the least we can do is give ourselves back to Him. That’s salvation. That’s why Christ came and died for us.

But what about the rest? Love people. That’s how we show we’re different from people who don’t believe. That’s how we demonstrate that what we believe is real. We love people who don’t deserve to be loved, because God loved us when we didn’t deserve to be loved. That’s what this verse is saying: love people.

Why? Well, other than the fact that God has commanded it, because we don’t have a lot of time left. Yes, Romans was written a very long time ago, and, yes, Paul was saying even then that we didn’t have a lot of time. But look how long it’s taken to get the word out. Thousands of years have passed and the whole world still doesn’t know.

So what does all this mean for today?

I’m tired. I’m bone weary of our culture and the darkness. I’m tired of being looked at funny when I talk about living the way Christ has told us to. And I’m tired of being sad and grieving for a world (and even other believers) that has turned their backs on the God who gave so much to save them. But I can be encouraged because I trust Scripture and I trust God, and everything points to the fact that Christ is coming back soon. Very soon.

So I’m going to keep pressing forward. I’m going to love people, and I’m going to love people now more than I did yesterday because if God can use my love to turn someone’s heart toward Him in these last days, it will be worth it. And love has a better chance of that than pounding them on the head with a Bible.

And who knows? Maybe December 21 is it. Because, seriously, who really does know for sure?

Pink rose in the Glen Eyrie Rose Garden - Colorado Springs, CO

God rescues those who cry to Him

God is so good. He’s the kind of friend who never gives up on us, the kind of friend who pursues us when we’re being stubborn, the kind of friend who won’t let us get away with being less than we were created to be.

If you’ve been overwhelmed with work or family difficulties or anything else going on in your life, take a moment to thank Him for being who He is. Think about what it took to save you, the sacrifice He had to make, and thank Him for it. It would have been easier for God to just leave us, and we would have deserved it.

But He didn’t.

Pink rose in the Glen Eyrie Rose Garden - Colorado Springs, CO

Pink rose in the Glen Eyrie Rose Garden – Colorado Springs, CO

Psalm 107

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
His faithful love endures forever.
Has the Lord redeemed you? Then speak out!
Tell others he has redeemed you from your enemies.
For he has gathered the exiles from many lands,
from east and west,
from north and south.

Some wandered in the wilderness,
lost and homeless.
Hungry and thirsty,
they nearly died.
“Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble,
and he rescued them from their distress.
He led them straight to safety,
to a city where they could live.
Let them praise the Lord for his great love
and for the wonderful things he has done for them.
For he satisfies the thirsty
and fills the hungry with good things.

Some sat in darkness and deepest gloom,
imprisoned in iron chains of misery.
They rebelled against the words of God,
scorning the counsel of the Most High.
That is why he broke them with hard labor;
they fell, and no one was there to help them.
“Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress.
He led them from the darkness and deepest gloom;
he snapped their chains.
Let them praise the Lord for his great love
and for the wonderful things he has done for them.
For he broke down their prison gates of bronze;
he cut apart their bars of iron.

Some were fools; they rebelled
and suffered for their sins.
They couldn’t stand the thought of food,
and they were knocking on death’s door.
“Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress.
He sent out his word and healed them,
snatching them from the door of death.
Let them praise the Lord for his great love
and for the wonderful things he has done for them.
Let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving
and sing joyfully about his glorious acts.

Some went off to sea in ships,
plying the trade routes of the world.
They, too, observed the Lord’s power in action,
his impressive works on the deepest seas.
He spoke, and the winds rose,
stirring up the waves.
Their ships were tossed to the heavens
and plunged again to the depths;
the sailors cringed in terror.
They reeled and staggered like drunkards
and were at their wits’ end.
“Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress.
He calmed the storm to a whisper
and stilled the waves.
What a blessing was that stillness
as he brought them safely into harbor!
Let them praise the Lord for his great love
and for the wonderful things he has done for them.
Let them exalt him publicly before the congregation
and before the leaders of the nation.

He changes rivers into deserts,
and springs of water into dry, thirsty land.
He turns the fruitful land into salty wastelands,
because of the wickedness of those who live there.
But he also turns deserts into pools of water,
the dry land into springs of water.
He brings the hungry to settle there
and to build their cities.
They sow their fields, plant their vineyards,
and harvest their bumper crops.
How he blesses them!
They raise large families there,
and their herds of livestock increase.

When they decrease in number and become impoverished
through oppression, trouble, and sorrow,
the Lord pours contempt on their princes,
causing them to wander in trackless wastelands.
But he rescues the poor from trouble
and increases their families like flocks of sheep.
The godly will see these things and be glad,
while the wicked are struck silent.
Those who are wise will take all this to heart;
they will see in our history the faithful love of the Lord.

Pelicans flying together - Galveston, TX

Follow God’s heart

How can I say that we can’t trust our hearts? The number one reason is because the Bible says so. Maybe that’s simplistic, but I have chosen to believe the Bible word for word. I believe the Bible is the literal Word of God, the absolute truth.

So what happens when the Bible contradicts “science” and “logic”? What happens when the Bible contradicts popular culture? What happens when the Bible contradicts the way I feel?

Is truth any less true because someone disagrees with it? No. Truth is bigger than any of our petty disagreements. But that’s a really deep answer to a pretty simple question. Can we trust our hearts? No. Because the Bible says so, and not just in Jeremiah 17:9-10.

Pelicans flying together - Galveston, TX

Pelicans flying together – Galveston, TX

But let me play devil’s advocate for a moment. If we can’t trust our hearts because they are wicked, does that mean that we as people are wicked? Well, yes. But what about Christ? Did Christ’s sacrifice mean anything to our hearts? The Bible is full of examples of the fact that the sphere of influence and knowledge of God comes through the heart, but if the heart is wicked how can it seek after God? If our hearts are depraved, why do they mean so much to God?

And what about 2 Corinthians 5:17? “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” Does this verse not reference our hearts too? If we’ve chosen to follow Christ, that means we have become new people. Are our hearts exempt?

Just as I believe that the Bible is word-for-word, literal absolute truth, I believe it never contradicts itself. And if you study it, you’ll realize it never does. If we ever think it does, it’s always a lack of understanding on our part.

So, are our hearts wicked? Yes. Are our hearts new if we believe in Christ? Yes. How can those two truths be true at the same time?

Before I go any further, let me say again that I am not a scholar. I don’t speak Greek. I’m not a historian or a cultural expert. I love the Bible, and God has been my best friend for longer than I can remember. And this is an issue I have struggled with, but please don’t take my word for it. This is just my opinion on what the Bible says about this topic. It’s so much better (and it means so much more) if you work out what you believe on your own rather than trusting what I say or what someone else says.

That being said, also remember that this devotional today is directed at Believers. If you haven’t made the choice to follow Christ, that’s your prerogative. But just so you are aware, Believers have a lot of choices to make even after they choose to follow Christ. It’s not just a box you check on a form. Yes, our lives and our spirits are redeemed, but we aren’t made perfect. We don’t always make the right choices by virtue of our faith in Christ. That’s why we have the Bible, to help us know what is right and true. That’s why God has given us His Holy Spirit so that we can understand God’s will for our lives. So if you haven’t accepted Christ, none of this will make any sense to you. But if you have, this is probably an issue you struggle with or at least it’s a question you ask frequently.

The first thing to remember, Christians, is that every Believer is two people. Even if you have given your heart to Christ, that doesn’t mean that you are perfect. Not yet.

The best example I know about the sin nature of a Christian comes from Romans 7:14-25, where Paul is talking about his frustrations with sin.

So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.

Right now, as we are living on earth as Believers in Christ, our lives have been redeemed. When God looks at us, He doesn’t see our sinful pasts or our bad choices; He sees the blood of Christ, who died to forgive us and justify us.

But within every Believer is the capacity to do horrible things. Still. Even though our hearts and our spirits are redeemed, we can still choose to do what we know is wrong. Why? Because we have the choice to be led by the Spirit or led by the Flesh. Those are really theologically biblical terms, and they sound kind of freaky. So let me try to find another way to say this.

The Flesh is your human nature. It’s your pride. It’s the “if it feels good, do it” mentality. It’s the pragmatic, the-end-justifies-the-means outlook on morality and ethics. It’s the eye-for-an-eye, grudge-holding, stony-hearted perspective on life. The Flesh is relying on your own understanding. The Flesh is living life by listening only to your emotions.

The Spirit is your second nature, if you believe in Christ. The Spirit is what God has put inside you and healed inside you so that you can be connected to Him. It’s that part of you that knows what is right and what is wrong. It’s that part of you that helps you understand Scripture, the part of you that communicates with God. It’s the whisper at the back of your mind that what you’re about to do will make God sad.

There’s no in between option. And Christians can still make decisions based on the Flesh, even though we are all called to make decisions based on the Spirit.

Okay, so where does the heart come into all this? In the devotional I posted yesterday, I said it was never a good idea to follow your heart. I probably should have been more specific. What I should have said is that it’s never a good idea to follow just your heart.

There are times when God will put a desire in our hearts. In those moments, when your heart moves you to do something, you should do it. But before you do it, you need to make sure that the desire really comes from God.

Why? Because we are two people, remember? As Believers, we have two natures living in our lives, and all too often, they get jumbled up. But there’s a way to tell when a desire comes from God or from your Flesh:

A dream that comes from God will always put others first and always bring God glory.

This is an excerpt from The Love Dare written by Stephen and Alex Kendrick:

King Solomon said, “A wise man’s heart directs him toward the right, but the foolish man’s heart directs him toward the left.” (Ecclesiastes 10:2). Just as your heart can direct you toward hatred, lust, and violence, it can also be driven by love, truth, and kindness. As you walk with God, He will put dreams in your heart that He wants to fulfill in your life. He will also put skills and abilities in your heart that He wants to develop for His glory (Exodus 35:30-35). He will give you the desire to give (2 Corinthians 9:7) and worship (Ephesians 5:19). As you put God first, He will step in and fulfill the good desires of your heart. The Bible says, “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). But the only time you can feel good about following your heart is when you know your heart is intent on serving and pleasing God.

A great friend of mine (who really is a Bible scholar) posted a response to yesterday’s blog that I thought was pretty awesome and explained the root of the issue succinctly.

Proverbs 4:23 says “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything else flows from it.” Some versions say it’s the “wellspring of life.” This does not mean put your heart under lock and key and never share it with anyone, but actually more the opposite. It’s telling us to be careful what we let IN to our hearts because everything else/life flows FROM it! Once something gets in, it corrupts what flows out, whether for good or for bad. So the problem of letting sin into our hearts is that we can no longer trust our hearts. However:

“When you make God your primary passion, He transforms all the passions of your heart. The result of this transformation is that it will be God’s pleasure to fulfill those passions. Beyond this wonderful promise is the realization that when this transformation occurs, your passions become your best compass for your spiritual journey. When God is your desire, you can trust the passions of your heart.” – Erwin McManus (Uprising)

So in essence, it’s better to make the term “Just follow God’s heart.” Because everything else (life!) flows from it. Literally.

And I like that. Follow God’s heart. Because you know you can trust God’s heart. And if you are truly intent on doing what God wants, if you are truly seeking Him first and following the Spirit’s lead in your life, you probably can trust your heart too … but only because those qualities represent God’s heart in your life. And it’s a daily (hourly, mintely?) choice to keep following God’s heart because it’s not our default setting.