Posts Tagged With: Lord

The Bricks and the Scale

WILL MY GOOD DEEDS OUTWEIGH THE BAD?

“Nothing at All”

“I have done nothing at all in my life, to earn your favor
I have done nothing at all in my life, to earn your love
I have been broken and bruised by my sin and my folly
But you have been broken for me redeeming me with your blood

And how is it that I am accepted?
How is it that I am made clean?
Why should you even care for a wretch like me?
And how is it that I am made righteous?
And how is it that you have saved me?
Why would you choose to die for a wretch like me?

You have been longsuffering, as I have tested your patience
You have been calling to me, as I have wandered from you
But you go to great lengths to prove that you still care
And you went to great lengths to woo my heart back to you

Your blood cries out Father forgive them
Your blood cries out Father I love them”

(Lyrics to “Nothing at All” – a song by Daniel & Catherine Lovett which appears on their latest album, “I Will Bring You Peace” – See the Support our Music link above to learn more about this project! Or visit: www.reflectworship.com)

Here is a video of this song on Youtube:

Several years ago, I had an epiphany – an insight into something that was ingrained in my thinking patterns. I know that I had learned this same lesson on several occasions before, but a dialogue I had with my wife drilled it home once again. Here is how that went down:

My wife and I were visiting with my sister-in-law Stacy. During our visit, Stacy told us that she had felt ill for the past few months and after many visits to the doctor she was just told that she has cancer. The doctor had given her about a year to live. Of course this news was a blow to my wife and I. We couldn’t imagine how they were handling the fact that she was facing imminent death.

The thing that amazed me the most was that she was more worried about her husband having to raise the kids by himself than the fact that she was going to die. During our visit I did not sympathize as I should have. Instead I said something like, “Well, we all are going to die.” I went on to philosophize about death and how we are all living on borrowed time anyway and how fragile life really is and what a miracle it is that any of us are breathing. It was very eloquent.

On the way home my wife confronted me about my lack of compassion. I became instantly defensive, and then went into a tirade of how I must be condemned because I have no love in my heart and where is the activity of God in my life anyway that I should be such a heartless jerk? I was being slightly facetious because, in fact, I really did love myself and thought very well of me. I must humbly admit in retrospect however, that I was very wrong. Anyway, most of what spewed from my mouth left me feeling terrible and alienated from God.

The next day I started once again in the new mercies of God, but I had to ask myself why did I react in this way? Then this thought hit me:

“Will my good deeds outweigh my bad?”

I realized then that I had been carrying around this idea of a “scale” that weighed and measured my good deeds against my bad deeds. My worth depended on how well I performed and how well that scale was balanced.

This mentality was so deep-seated in me that I reacted badly when anyone dared to confront me with a fault. It was as if they were adding one more brick to the ‘bad deeds’ side of the scale. For this reason, I hated taking responsibility. In fact, I hated words such as “responsible” and “accountable”. I didn’t want to face the punishment for my own sins, much less be held responsible for someone else and have their blood on my head. This was why I, in the past, I didn’t function so well as a worship leader in “church leadership”. I felt that I was responsible for people’s souls and I could not cope with that. I would even wish for sickness or a broken down car at times to escape the constant pressure. Of course this is just one of the many ungodly beliefs that over my lifetime have become embedded in the gray matter.

I began to recognize that I was not alone. Many people operate out of this mentality in which they “hope” that their good deeds will outweigh their bad in the end. Whole religious systems of thought are based on this idea. As I thought this way it led me to try to seek approval through doing good and performing well. I thought that by just adding more good bricks to the good side of the scale that things will all work out in the end, and in the meantime, I will feel better about myself and be accepted.

My good bricks were my good deeds. For instance, if I played spiritual concerts for the elderly at nursing homes, then I would finally be accepted and approved by God. Each “successful” concert left me feeling much better. In fact I only considered a concert a success if it left me feeling better about me. I had to feel good.

It was thrilling for me when I preached my first sermon, because in my mind this was a good and heavy brick. I would definitely be in God’s favor now! I called my mother and left a message for her, “The most exciting thing had happened to me! I just preached my first sermon!” A few days later she called me back and told me how proud of me she was. As she was telling me that, I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. As I reflected on my initial reaction to “my first sermon” and how excited I was about it, I realized that yes, I could be excited about it, but not for the reasons that I was. I now see that the Lord is just as offended by the good bricks as he is by the bad ones. Trying to earn God’s favor is an insult to his grace.

Radical New Perspective

I have come to see that God doesn’t want us burdened with any bricks (good or bad) that weigh us down and keep us from following him. Besides, the constant balancing act is no way to live. Jesus wants to liberate us and he invites us to drop all of our “bricks” at his feet and learn to walk with him and live for him as we are meant to.

At one point after about nine months of playing hymns for the old folks several times a week the Lord asked me, “So when are you going to start doing these concerts for me?” Wow. His question cut me to the heart.

I was playing these concerts for me. It is true that I became free from a long seven year stretch of chronic depression when I first began to bless the elderly with music. How could I not be changed by a constant interaction with, not only the liberating truth that is in so many classic hymns, but also the love and support of so many of my elders? How could I not be blessed when I have a hundred year old lady shake my hand and say, “God bless you”?

In spite of all the good things that came from all my good deeds, my performance mentality still stood in the way of the relationship that the Lord desired to have with me.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul comments about his Jewish brothers. He says, “I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:2-4 NIV)

I could identify with this Scripture but I didn’t know how to change. Ever since I became a “Christian” I was always trying to establish my own righteousness. It’s not even that I was raised to think this way, but perhaps this is just a universal human default mentality to want to (or feel like you have to) earn God’s favor. I even once caught myself praying, “Lord, make me worthy of your grace.” I was missing the point of grace altogether.

My own grandfather was once presented with the good news of Jesus by my parents. At the time he told them, “If I can’t have a part in my own salvation, I am not interested.” He has since passed away, and it burdens me now more than ever to think where he might be.

Why is it so ingrained in human nature to want to earn our own way? Why is it so difficult for us to receive God’s saving grace – his unmerited favor and blessing? Our own pride is the enemy of our own salvation.

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6 NIV)

We must humbly admit that we cannot do a thing to save ourselves (be “poor in spirit”). We must humbly admit that we cannot even add an ounce of our own righteousness to the scales that will somehow make us acceptable to God. On our own, the scales will always be out of balance and never in our favor. Thank God that he does not leave us on our own.

Of course the Lord knows our desperate situation and has given Jesus as his answer. I believe he is telling us to abandon our scales and bricks once and for all and then simply come and follow him. Jesus will teach us how to truly live. He will teach us the “unforced rhythms of grace”. See Matthew 11:28.

THE EXAMPLE OF THE APOSTLE PAUL

The apostle Paul had a pile of good bricks. He was a pure blooded Israelite. He was able to say that he kept the law faultlessly. He was a Pharisee, the most zealous and strictest sect of the Jewish spiritual leaders. By all appearances he was a model example of spirituality. Yet he says, “Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” (Philippians 3:7-9 NIV emphasis mine).

Paul abandoned his bricks for a new approach to spirituality. A spirituality based on and flowing out of an affirming love of God that is entirely separate from any good deeds.

Think about it. Before Jesus had even begun his ministry, his Father spoke from heaven affirming him with his love saying, “This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life.” (Matthew 3:17)

As you trust in Jesus, the Father will speak those same words over you. You become the delight of his life. As you trust in Jesus, you become his beloved. As you trust in Jesus, you become a member of Christ’s body – part of Christ himself! As you trust in Jesus, the Father says that he loves you as much as he loves Jesus! Because you are one with Christ and in Him!

This is the ‘mystery’ that Paul keeps referring to throughout his letters. This is what Paul was so excited about that even imprisonment, beatings, persecutions, and all the other sufferings and hardships that Paul experienced did nothing to dampen this flame of Christ within him! This was Paul’s cause to live and to die for – Christ, the one new man – “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3 NIV).

———–

O God, thank you for Jesus. Thank you that we no longer need to sweat about our own efforts and our lack of “measuring up”. Thank you for Jesus, your gift to us, who did all the measuring up for us on our behalf. Thank that as we simply trust Jesus, we are included in all that you have planned – all of the wondrous and beautiful and glorious blessings that you delighted so much in planning for us to experience.

We trust you. We trust in you our kind Creator and our good shepherd. We trust your good intentions for us and in your salvation which runs far deeper than we can even or ever imagine. We thank you that our salvation is not depended on our own efforts, but that you have freely given salvation to us all who least deserve such a gift. Help us to receive your grace well and learn to, once and for all, lay down the scale and the bricks at your feet… at the cross.

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Categories: Exposing Self-Righteous Religion, Redemption | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

My Hitchhiking Adventure With God – Part 2

As with any story, it is best to start at the beginning:

Here is Part 1 of My Hitchhiking Adventure With God (not to be missed!)

PART 2:

too funny

too funny

The first ride, oddly enough, took me from the Colony, where we lived, and placed me just a few blocks away from the church where my mom was at her Bible study. I thought for a moment how easy it would be to give up and just catch a ride home with my mom, but I pressed on, walking down the side of Interstate 75.

(My mom told me later that some friends of hers from that Bible study drove past me as I was walking and thought I looked like an angel.)

The next person to pick me up swerved across a few lanes of traffic in his old beat up Volkswagen. He was nice enough to take me to the East side of Dallas to Hwy 80. Once there I didn’t have to wait long before a van stopped.

I had recently read No Compromise, which is the biography of Keith Green (Which I would recommend you read – it looks like you can pick it up for a penny at Amazon). Keith and his wife had started a ministry called Last Days Ministries near Tyler, Texas (about 80 miles East of Dallas). I felt that the Lord was telling me that this was my next stop.

Well, after asking directions I ended up at the place where Last Days Ministry used to be and where Teen Mania now is. This was the ministry I had mentioned where my friend Neal had found the Lord and freedom from drugs. I was turned away immediately at the front gate and was directed down the street to the YWAM (Youth With A Mission) Mercy Ships Ministry.

The YWAM Mercy Ships training facility was fairly empty at the time because all the students had just left for a mission. Two women named Marilyn greeted me. I thought this was funny because my mom’s name is Marilyn as well.

After explaining my story, one Marilyn thought I was off my rocker and needed to go home. The other Marilyn actually believed I was following God’s call, even as crazy as it seemed.

Finally they drove me over to the other YWAM Twin Oaks Ranch in Garden Valley and got me set up in a bunk house and introduced me to some of the guys in the Discipleship Training program.

We had some really great fellowship for the rest of the day. When I shared what I was doing they were excited for me and told me about the YWAM base in New Orleans. They called them up, told them I was coming, and gave me their address. Then they invited me to join them on a witnessing mission they were planning for that evening.  They were planning a trip to downtown Dallas to witness on the streets in Deep Elum.

I then called my mom. When she heard I was coming back to Dallas, she said, “Great, I will come and pick you up.” I told her that I wanted to see this thing through to the end and that I couldn’t back out now.

So there I was, back in Dallas, witnessing on the streets with my new-found friends. We had such amazing fellowship that night! Let me tell you that the friendships we can have with other believers are like no other friendships you will ever have. With Jesus as the bond between you, friendships can happen quickly just like when you made friends as children. It’s such an amazing thing when the Holy Spirit brings us together in perfect harmony!

The next morning I set out on the road once again. The first ride took me as far as Shreveport. But this was only after I walked a long time. As I walked, I talked with the Lord, and sang Christian songs. It was then, as I walked along that road that the Lord told me to buy a bus ticket and move to Wisconsin when I get back home.

Once I made it to Shreveport, getting a ride South out of Shreveport proved difficult. I walked for most of the day and I was exhausted. As the sun was setting, a man finally stopped to pick me up. He was on his way to an evening worship service at a Pentecostal church in Alexandria. I agreed to go with him and he said that he would do what he could to fix me up with a place to stay that night at the homeless shelter called the Grace House.

The church was bizarre to say the least. There was a woman playing the keyboard with several other people dancing around on stage. As she played, there was another woman saying something about Ruth’s sister-in-law becoming the great-grandmother of Goliath while Ruth went on to be the great-grandmother of David (which is pretty ridiculous).

There were a large number of people at the front of the church all jumping up and down and yelling, supposedly speaking in “tongues”. Though “la, la, la, la” doesn’t really seem to say much of anything – not even for a toddler. Forgive me for saying so, but it just seemed like madness to me. While all this was happening on stage, there were many people in the back just looking on seeming disconnected. I went back to visit with them.

After the service another man drove me to Grace House. Along the way he asked me the details of how had I been baptized. He wanted to know what was spoken over me when I was baptized and I told him, “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” He then went on to explain to me that this wasn’t good enough and that what needed to be said was, “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

He then offered to take me to get baptized right then and there so that I could get my salvation put in order. As I started to decline his gracious offer of salvation, he became quite hostile with me just as we were walking into the Grace House. I started to try to explain where I was coming from but he cut me off and started yelling at me. “If you don’t let me baptize you proper, then yer faith is worth less than a nickel!” he told me.

Exhausted from the day’s walk as I was, this confrontation put me over the edge emotionally. I pulled out my Bible and was starting to share with him what Peter had to say on the subject. “But Peter says, baptism is not the removal of filth from the body – about taking a dunk in some water – but of an answer of a clean conscience toward God.”

“…and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ…”  (1 Peter 3:21 NIV)

(Even as I write this I am struck with a new insight into the significance of what Peter has to say and what this means. I remember the apostle Paul talked on several occasions that he strove to maintain a clean conscience before God. It seems to me that this is the essence of healthy spirituality – maintaining a clean conscience.)

On the verge of tears, I finally found and read the Scripture verse in 1 Peter. I looked up, however, to see that the man had already left and that about twenty guys were staring at me wondering what in the heck I was ranting about. It was in that moment that the subject of baptism became very important to me.

To be continued…

Stay tuned for a blog on Baptism and then the continuation of the story. If you have enjoyed this story, feel free to share it and subscribe to this blog! Leave me a comment below!

Categories: faith adventure | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Holy and Acceptable to God?

On the way to play some concerts in nursing homes this morning I was listening to Romans in the car and feeling pretty crappy.

You see, last night I had wasted several hours watching movie previews and reviews on Youtube. I had not given God a thought and hadn’t prepared my heart to be useful to anyone, much less the Lord, (I have a “job” which requires me to be spiritually healthy – I encourage residents at nursing homes with Gospel music) and then, as I drove, I listened to this verse:

Romans 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

I paused the CD and prayed (feel free to pray this with me now if you like):

“Lord, I offer my body, my fingers, my hands, my voice… all of me Lord, as a living sacrifice which is now, somehow, holy and acceptable to you.”

I must confess, I struggle with ever feeling acceptable to God, so this was a pretty big deal… a profound moment.

me: ‘I am holy and perfectly acceptable to you God? Really?

God: “Yes. Really. You have my word on that.”

Categories: Love of God | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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