LenBanks

a continuing story of trust, grace and community

Tag: spiritual growth

The  Beautiful Paradox

Over the years I’ve heard from many who don’t understand why so many in the Church appear to have a “woe is me” mindset. I can see their confusion, because if anybody should be joyful, it should be the Christ follower!  And yet there is a paradox that exists in our faith.

In fact there are many!  We’re already saved yet are working out our salvation. We are at the same time both in eternity and yet also bound by time. We are righteous but know full well we are being sanctified. This last one leads to the what I think is the most beautiful paradox of all. It’s the place where mourning and joy exist in their fullest at once. It is in that state where grace is realized in such beauty!

The Sermon on the Mount is a powerful and core teaching by Jesus that can be found in Matthew 5-7. The first section has become known as the beatitudes and has challenged and transformed me as I have wrestled with what seems like an impossible way to live.  We know Jesus came to set us free from the “law” and yet at first glance this sermon calls us to a life even more severe. And so one is compelled to look deeper to reconcile the apparent contradiction.

The first section of the beatitudes is where the tone is set.

““Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”  Matthew 5:3-6 NIV

I used to think of each of the Blesseds like individual traits to attain.  “I like the peace maker, but mourning, not so much.”  Sort of like a buffet.  But I’ve come to realize it’s more like a 6 course meal.  It’s not a buffet, not individual attributes that we pick and choose from, but a layering, a building to become the person Jesus calls us to.  And the first is necessary to move on to the next.

When you are poor in spirit having come to the end of yourself, acknowledging you have nothing to bring to God, it’s then you mourn deeply for the reality of sin and it’s destruction in your life. It’s then that the power of meekness, the control of yourself is able to set in. The choosing of God’s control rather than sin’s.  And at that point one is spiritually bankrupt, desperately hungering, desperately thirsting for God’s righteousness!  The promise?  We are filled. God imputes, or puts in us HIS righteousness!  Then and only the does the rest of the sermon makes sense. Then and only then can any of us begin to live the sermon out!

For example, take the passages on murder and adultery (Mt 5:21-30). It’s easy in our righteousness to live a life of fidelity and never murdering someone. Most succeed in that!  But by age three we’ve all called someone a name in anger and by 12 we’ve all lusted.  And so in my abilities I am a failure. And if we haven’t come to the end of ourselves and realized we have nothing, we are nothing apart from Christ, then we will never live the life God has made available to us through Jesus.

Do I have a purpose and potential?  Of course!  Do I have gifts I bring to the table?  Absolutely!  Are they of any value?  For this life and the common good?  Sure.  But for eternity, no!  My righteousness is nothing and His is everything!  And in His hands those gifts and potential will become something wholly different, better.

So the beautiful paradox, the sweet spot…is being both mournful and filled with joy at the same time.  Not dwelling in ashes, but acknowledging my capacity and propensity to sin.  Not “woe is me” but most definitely full on mourning.  “Woe is me” is a self-focused declaration. The mourning Jesus calls us to is recognition of our sinful condition.

And the joy?  It can and should be full-on crazy celebration!  As I mentioned earlier, the sermon can seem like an even more severe life than the law. And here is what most fail to see and even when we see it, we find hard to experience. Jesus knows we can’t. We can’t live free of anger and lust and judgement and unforgiveness!  That’s why He offers us His righteousness. That’s why mercy is given. That. Is. Grace!

And until I come to the end of me and bring my nothing to God, there is no room for grace to be experienced. And so the dance of the paradox begins. Living in spiritual poverty and the riches of Christ together is the challenge.

If you’re like me, and you are, you begin to take credit for spiritual maturity at times. You take for granted the all-encompassing nature grace must have in our lives. The longer I live in Christ the more I realize how much I need Him. The dos and don’ts are easy, grace is not. It requires dying and mourning and spiritual bankruptcy. But then and only then do we experience freedom and joy.

By the way, this why we desperately need each other!  But that’s another post.

It’s a journey and one in which I hope you find joyful mourning.

What On Earth Am I Here For?

For the past six weeks our church has gone through a campaign using Rick Warren’s, What On Earth Am I Here For? (formerly, The Purpose Driven Life) book and materials.  It has been a wonderful experience as all our LifeGroups went through a study together and our weekend services addressed the same topic each week.  It also coincided with each person reading the daily readings from the book.  And of course we threw in extra special events and activities along the way creating a really fun and unifying season in the church.

Each week I sent out special update emails with various  bits of information about what groups were doing, the reading schedule and more.  It also included a “blog post” of that week’s purpose, adding some of my insight into the topic.  Each week got a bit longer as I grew into doing this (I had not originally intended to include this).  Even though some of post is specifically “to” our church, I wanted to capture them in and repost them here.  Just in case you are not aware, Rick Warren’s premise is that God has designed his followers to live lives that demonstrate 5 purposes: worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and evangelism.  Here are the repostings of my insights for each of those.

Worship; “Assigning WORTH or VALUE”

As you in your reading and in your LifeGroups look at the purpose of worship, remember that worship is not characterized as an act or ritual like bowing down.  Instead it is an attitude of the heart and will – recognizing the value of someone or something and giving it the proper attention in our lives.  So when we hear something like, “He worships money or sports more than God” it makes more sense.  Of course nobody is bowing to money or sports or hobbies, etc.  But we certainly can give them greater value and importance in our lives than they deserve.

Fellowship; Worth the Risk!

Each of us has a built-in desire to be known, accepted and loved!  But for many of us the risk or fear of rejection is huge.  Or the risk of feeling obligated to deal with someone else’s “mess” is too uncomfortable to consider.  But an insulated life is not a rich and full life that God wants for us.  And while inviting others into our “space” can be messy sometimes, ultimately the reward of rich connections and relationships makes all the difference.  Additionally, the call to live like Jesus can only be achieved in “the one anothers.”

That is why Mariners believes so strongly in the role of LifeGroups.  Of course thats not the only way to express and live in fellowship in our lives, but it sure is a great one!  If your group is a temporary one started for this series, please begin to consider what it might look like to stay formed and work together to see Christ formed in each other.  If you are not in a group yet, please seek one out.

Take the “risk”, it’s worth it!

Here’s what some are saying about their groups for this series:

“Our group is loving every minute and we’re having some very profound times together.”

“Our group is also really enjoying meeting together and sharing life. Some great insights have been coming out, as well as questions answered more comfortably in a small group setting than buttonholing the pastors. We’ve been laughing, learning, sharing, and having a great time of participation. We’ve been able to spend a lot of time on prayer requests, which is even better than I hoped.”  

“I have seen some members of our group begin to sense a value and significance in Christ.”

May you all experience the power of fellowship,

Pastor Len

Discipleship; Christ Formed In You

Maturing in Christ, having Him formed in us, is our calling.  To live like and become like Jesus!  Somewhere along the way, the idea of disciple became synonymous with bible study and prayer times and daily devotions.  And yes, disciples do those things!  We do develop habits or “disciplines” of faith in order to understand and grow in faith.  But the habits are not the mark of a disciple.  Christ-like character is!  Do we live humbly, exhibit the “fruit of the Spirit”, consider others…Love one another?

Over the past few months a number of our messages have included themes of sufferings and difficulties in life, and one might get the impression that to follow Christ is all down-and-out hardships.  We don’t share those things to be depressing or because we have a cup-half-empty worldview.  We do that to help each of us have a clear perspective that, despite the modern western view that we should have a life of ease and happiness, we live in a broken world and following God doesn’t exempt us from experiencing it’s hardships.

What makes our message different, however, is that the sufferings of life are not wasted in God’s plan.  A verse in the message this past weekend was, “Trouble produces patience, and patience produces character, and character produces hope.”  Romans 5:3-4   The process “in God’s plan” leads to hope.  Outside of God, there is no hope.

So do we as followers of Christ have times of happiness and joy and ease?  Yes, of course.  Can we experience God and grow to be like Him in those times?  Yes, of course!  But let’s not be naive or caught off guard or run from the difficult times in life for as we face them with the view that God is working in us, then we are led to a hope, a Christ formed in us hope!

May we all “know the power of His resurrection and participation in His suffering”,

Pastor Len

Ministry; Going For It!

Ministry is an interesting concept  There are so many aspects and layers to it.

As I brought out in my message this weekend it is “anything” you do to bless others and honor God.  And yet, I also brought out that we are called to find a role in our church family to fulfill our corporate calling to reach our community.  So there is this tension between “where” and “how” I serve that seems to be casting a shadow on all of this.  That is until we remember, ministry is less of what we DO and more of who we ARE.

We are ministers!  The creation of the career pastor has kind of messed us all up a bit in our idea of ministry.  God has shaped and called all of us to be ministers.  And as we understand our new identity as Christ-followers we can begin to tune our “ears” to hearing the Spirit of God lead us to bless others at any given time.

There is another tension that casts a shadow, and that is the “need” versus “gift/skill” area.  I’m going to speak to this in context of finding a role in our church.  At the Connection Sunday this past weekend you saw serving teams with sign-up sheets expressing they need people to be on their teams.  And as you walk from table to table you may think, “well, I don’t know where I fit in!  I love to cook, or I love organize things, or I love to help people …(fill in the blank).”  And you just don’t know how your gift or skill fits in with so many of the teams.

We had a discussion about this as a staff this week and so I want to pass this on to you – we understand the potential disconnect for many of us!  And we are committed to figure out ways to make opportunities to serve be more relatable to your gift mix rather than our team/department name.  Our next Connection Sunday will be based more on gifts and skills required instead of ministry teams!  And to start off the opportunity to serve… if you are a person who likes to organize things and help communicate systems, I would love to have you help me create an even more relatable Connection Sunday Ministry Fair!

Until then, here is what you can do to find a place to serve now.  If you know what your gifts and interests are, I and many others on our leadership would LOVE to talk to you about custom areas for you to jump in.  There is a place for EVERY gift here and there are more opportunities than you can imagine to be part of the great calling YOUR church has to make difference in Half Moon Bay.  If you really hunger to take those next steps to serve, then please reach out and we will help you find a role that can be very fulfilling for you and a powerful blessing for those you serve.

It starts with a couple of “reframing” actions.  First, begin to embrace your calling as a full-time minister rather than an occasional volunteer.  Second, become self-aware of what you bring to the table.  You ARE gifted in some way by God and likely more than you give yourself, or frankly God, credit for!  Third, recognize that those gifts can be used for more than your career or hobby and instead or in addition can lead people to experience God!

We looked at Romans 12 for our discussion on “Fellowship” a few weeks back, but I love this verse:

Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.  When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. Romans 12:10-13 (NLT)

So much can be drawn from that passage and the verses surrounding it.  But what struck me that week and again today is the “serve the Lord enthusiastically” phrase.  I want for us all to love serving and give our all to this high calling, and to just go for it!  As you move forward in your adventure, the adventure to see others blessed by God working through you, I pray you experience the incredible joy that God has in store for you!

Pastor Len

Evangelism; The Highest Form of Worship!

This is our final update email and therefore my last blog post on our purposes.  I have been privileged to be part of this event with our church and I hope you have been moved to take steps closer to Christ in trust and faith.

Evangelism is really an interesting call or purpose for our lives.  Certainly, if any of these are controversial, it’s this one.  Just the word…evangelism…has developed an awkwardness these days.  For many it conjures up images of TV preachers or street corner harassment or door-to-door campaigns.  Our fears of rejection or turning people off or being labeled judgmental or just not knowing what to say gets the best of us.

And yet it’s the sharing of the “good news” that is the last thing Jesus told us to do when he left this earth.

I don’t know about you, but I get pretty excited about my latest tech gadget or running shoe, and want to tell people.  And practically every survey I have ever taken about a product or customer support asks how likely I am to tell somebody.  So if it’s expected that I share about the insignificant, then how much more should I about the eternal?  I don’t ask that to guilt any of us!  I understand our fears.

But let me present this in just a bit of a different way for a moment.  As we have learned of the 5 purposes, they have been presented as individual attributes or callings that we should aspire to develop in our lives.  Sort of a measuring stick to see how healthy we are in our faith development.  I want us to do just that, and yet instead of seeing them as separate, we should also see them as integrated and intertwined and all of them as “worship”.

An old statement from church history says, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  John Piper takes it a step further and changes the last half to “by enjoying Him forever”.  So if worship is our goal, then how does evangelism fit in as the highest form of worship as my title suggests?

Our God is worthy enough for all of mankind, and more personally, our friends and family, to give their lives.  Our God is worthy enough for us to “shout from the mountain tops” of what He has done in our lives.  By sharing the good news, we in fact worship!  And if one more person gives their life to Him, one more person is a worshipper.

I don’t know if that helps any of us overcome our internal obstacles to sharing more.  But perhaps by seeing it’s importance, we might make the opportunity to work through our obstacles more intentionally.

We have the good news!  Let’s pass it on.

Pastor Len

A Life Filled With Awe

In recent months a number of thoughts have been bouncing around in my mind.  But even deeper, my heart.  Life has been going on with all it’s busyness.  Demands for work projects, recovery pain from latest marathon, family activities – just like everyone, I am busy.  But like an underground spring, there have been thoughts of what could be.  What I hope for.  What I sense is missing or coming up short in my life.

I’m not depressed at all.  Rather quite hopeful and encouraged!

These thoughts have been spurred on by a few passages of the bible that have come up in some of my readings or small group discussions.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.  Acts 2:42-47 (NIV).

Lord, I have heard the news about you; I am amazed at what you have done.  Lord, do great things once again in our time; make those things happen again in our own days.               Habakkuk 3:2 (NCV)

He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.  To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.  Colossians 1:28-29 (NIV)

Each of these passages have burrowed deep into my heart to create this longing.

As pastors, church leaders, and workers in our churches (paid or not) we are part of a powerful experience, opportunity and responsibility to be part of presenting “everyone fully mature in Christ”!  I know life can be busy and overwhelming.  I know that we can lose some of the wonder and joy and passion for what we do in ministry and see it as another obligation or task.  And at seasons in my life it has been reduced to that.

I want the awe!  I want the amazement!

I don’t long for some 1st century re-creation of the church.  It can never be exactly like that.  I’m not expecting signs and wonders.  I’ll take them, sure.  I don’t envision a series of revival meetings with ecstatic behavior either.

What I see, what I hunger for is a revival of community.  The principals of the Acts community can be developed.  And there is no greater miracle to be seen than “Christ formed in us”.  I want to see the Lord adding to our numbers daily.

I want these things for my generation!  My time!

I want to see a church strenuously contending with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in us!  I’m seeing signs of that in my particular local church right now, but my hope is for the Church, not just my church.

I don’t want to dismiss what I know He is already doing now, or imply we are not “strenuously contending” now.  I see the power of God at work all the time and am moved to praise and gratefulness.

I just have this sense there is something…more.

I want to encourage us today to make space in our hearts for the wonder to grow – the wonder that God would use each of us to transform lives.

Let’s not get caught up in the distractions of politics…God is bigger than America!

Let’s stop whining about the marginalization of the church in America and be the church America…and the world needs.  Our authority is not given to us by congress or the zeitgeist of culture, but by Christ!

Let’s not try to impose our faith on culture, but compel our culture to adopt our God through the irresistible grace He offers!

Let’s devote ourselves to the teaching and the fellowship and the prayer.  Let’s fill our worship centers with praise and celebration and let’s fill our homes with each other – admonishing and teaching and encouraging and proclaiming.

Embrace the “SUCK”

Wisdom…goals…safety…accomplishment…health…pushing to limits.

These are all values in a delicate dance I just played around with. Now let’s be clear, I didn’t do anything that was truly dangerous or outrageous. But the dance was danced nonetheless.

It seems most of my posts have been around running and yet, they end up not about running at all. Well, here we go again. 😉 This year has been a difficult year for me since March when I ran the Oakland Marathon. My feet have never felt well since then and with all the training for a Marathon one craves food more. But a person with weight issues like myself has a hard time keeping the food intake in balance with the lessening of training once the run is over. So the weight has creeped back up a bit. Combine that with the foot pain, Achilles bone spurs and tendonitis, and then an additional muscle pull from a half marathon in May, and well, running has been difficult.

Fast forward to September. My muscle pull is healed; I complete another 10K and half marathon challenge; and am feeling well. I come to realize that I am one 5K and one marathon away from completing 3 of each distance in 2015. I’m not sure why, but that sounds like an impressive and cool thing to accomplish! I mean, just a few years ago I was a couch potato, a 435+lb potato. So to be able to say I did this, well, it’s just cool.

And that’s how goals get set I suppose. A dream comes out of nowhere, gets imagined and one goes for it. I never thought I would run at all, anywhere, let alone do an official event of any distance.

And that’s how goals get set I suppose. A dream comes out of nowhere, gets imagined and one goes for it.

The problem though is that my body didn’t cooperate with this self-created goal. Sure the muscle pull is well, but the heels are worse. So I attempt a marathon training plan that my body just can’t manage. The extra weight on the Achilles is not a good fit and admittedly I am struggling to get the weight back off. But I press on to accomplish the goal. I get a 5K done in October. That was easy enough. Just a marathon to go. just…

I get some long cycling distances in, do some short runs, spend time in the gym trying to keep fit, but the runs are short with more days of rest between than allowed for a good training plan. I try the Jeff Galloway method of run four minutes/walk one and that seems to be good to let me get further without killing my feet. But let’s face it; I am not in as good of shape as I was in January when I ran my first marathon.

But with goal setting comes determination and stubbornness. Isn’t that how we push ourselves? And so the dance with wisdom begins. I knew this was going to hurt and not be a good running time. I wasn’t ready, but I wanted to complete this new dream.

Race day came and actually I was feeling pretty good. My legs were fresh, my heels were in a pretty good spot and I was prepared for ways to manage the pain and allow myself some latitude in walking and going a bit slower. And actually as the race began I was doing really well.

The first 11 miles were well under the pace I needed to finish within the 6 hour limit. I even could end up with a personal best if kept it up. But then my body had different ideas. My heels had moments of pain all along, however, it was manageable and expected. But my left foot started to hurt horribly under the arch and that started to slow me down.   Miles 12-17 were below pace but still ok and the average would be good enough. I was going to do this! I was walking more than I wanted and had some serious bouts of self-doubt and thoughts of quitting, but I pushed on.

I noticed a different pain than I had ever felt though on my right foot. The pad next to the ball of the foot was really tender. I could feel the sock rubbing. It had been raining at times so I thought the wet sock was causing some pain. By this time I was beginning to lose it mentally. I was hurting and I couldn’t run and now even walking was getting hard. Diane met me at mile 18.5 to give me fresh socks and shoes, but the damage had been done. A bruised pad and blister had formed. The dry socks helped, but I could not get my body to get moving and my feet were killing me. And then the real emotional battle happened. The race crew began to open up the roads behind me and I desperately tried to stay ahead of them. In my attempt to give my feet relief by walking, the slowing down caused my muscles to stiffen and so I became even slower. I just could not get my body to respond to a quicker gate. There were less and less runners around me and I began to think I was dead last. I wanted to quit, but I just couldn’t. I was well over 20 miles into this. How could I give up now? But how could I continue? I was hurting so bad. I knew it wasn’t injury hurt, it was just pushing myself to the limit hurt. And so I continued to hobble on.

Different people along the way shouted out encouragements that I soaked in to get me steps further. At mile 22 or so is when I made the final decision to just not consider quitting any longer. At the top of an overpass, one that seemed like it was miles long to get to the top, there was a volunteer who spoke truth to me in the most encouraging way. You see, up to this point people were saying things like, “You’ve got this!” or “You’re killing it!” and I was thinking, you are being kind, but I am so not killing it. I am near the back, the race is closing down and I am dying in pain. I am SO NOT DOING WELL.

But this lady was different! She asked how I was and in my saddest voice I said, “I hurt so bad, I don’t know if I can make it”. And she agreed with me! She said, “I know, it sucks, huh?” Throughout this short conversation she encouraged me to “embrace the suck”. I was going to hurt the next day whether I finished the race or not. But the pain I would feel would be far worse if I gave up at this point. So keep going!

And so I pressed on. I did finish! The race had been completely closed down and they were removing the finish line as I neared. My incredible wife advocated for me for them to stop just a bit so I could finish and she stood there at the finish line for me. They gave her the medal to place over my head as she gave me a kiss.

IMG_1003I did it! In 2015 I completed 3 5Ks, 3 10Ks, 3 Half Marathons, and 3 FULL Marathons. Admittedly this final medal gives me mixed emotions and will remind me of many lessons. I am “embarrassed” at the level of fitness I let myself slip to and the poor time to finish the race. In the end it was 7 hours and 46 minutes; almost a full 2 hours worse than my best time. Nobody can say that was done well. But I am not embarrassed at all really, as this is also one my proudest moments. I gutted it out. I didn’t give up. I pushed through pain and temptations and doubt and accomplished my goal.

And so here is where the post is not about running at all. A major take-a-way from this experience is that real encouragement is not in platitudes and “you can do it” type statements, but in truth that acknowledges the pain and difficulty and then moves you to a place to dig deeper any way. I in no way dismiss the well-meaning motives of anybody who cheers you on. It’s welcome and meant well. But when you know you are hurting or not doing well, to be told you are isn’t useful.

As a pastor, I deal with people on many different levels of brokenness in their life. Some are going through serious trials and facing huge odds and the spiritual high-fives aren’t useful. Empathy is to share in one’s pain, to cry with them, to understand. I can’t fix their life or make the pain go away, but I can acknowledge that it hurts or “sucks”. I can pray with them to find the strength that God provides to move through the “suck”. Sure, I feel a bit helpless. I want to fix and rescue and make everything better. But the journey through the “suck” is what is needed to get to the goal. The determination to finish has to be found in each one of us.

Dance the Dance

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11 NIV)

In recent years I have developed a strong bias towards being a practitioner of the faith of Jesus Christ rather than a studier of the Word. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in reading and studying the bible, but I have observed so many over the years who have spent hours on bible study and little time on application. Lives were broken and inconsistent with the bible they studied so much. Or I noticed so many who equated maturity with knowledge. And even worse I also observed so many who became pharisaical and determined their holiness by their knowledge.

But I also may have anchored to this view to cover for a bit of my own laziness and lack of deeper study. Being real here.

In any case, I still believe that knowledge without application or life transformation is selling God short. Jesus IS the word and therefore our interaction with the bible should be more about relationship than education.

The above passage struck me today as it compels us to add knowledge and insight to our experience. Why? It appears that our love, ability to discern what is best, and our righteousness are all linked directly to it. This is not surprising or new to me, but it does cause me to be careful not to swing to one extreme or another. It’s a delicate dance to balance study and application. To make sure we don’t see education, which is the American way, as our primary means of changing. But to also make sure that we don’t also just go out there and try to navigate the choices of life with too little information and insight of God’s mind and heart. We can’t just live on sermons of others, no matter how good they are. Remember the phrase, “A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing”? We need to get into the word on our own regularly so that we will not just know what God says to us on how to live, but so that we will know God.

I have heard too many times from people leaving their churches that they weren’t being fed. But I say, pick up the fork and eat yourself. God has a feast in His word for each of us. We’ve been invited to the dance. To rejoice in Him.

And because His word is alive, and again, is Jesus, we are “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ” when our love abounds in knowledge and deep insights.

So dance today. Immerse yourself in His word, be transformed by being with Jesus. Seek the deep insights. And like me, try not to swing to either extreme.

Moving Towards Christ

I have observed an interesting and sad result when offering people in our church cash gifts in their difficult times.  We have a team that quietly distributes funds to various ministries and individuals as they feel led.  The individuals are told that there are no strings attached, it’s just a gift to help in a particular time of need.  The gift of course is almost always received with gratefulness.  Often with humility and brokenness.  But then over time I have seen a number of people become uncomfortable, feeling that somehow they should pay it back.  We stress it isn’t necessary, but you can see the struggle they’re going through.  And in most cases, they couldn’t pay it back anyways.  But they wrestle with accepting what they feel is “charity” and what we feel is an expression of love.  Sadly many over the years end up leaving the church shortly after the gift because they feel shame in having this obligation.  They find it easier to not be reminded each time they come to church.

I think this plays into exactly what author and pastor, Matt Chandler, brings out when he asks the question, “What moves you towards Christ?”  

That’s the question posed his new book, To Live Is Christ (chapter 5), regarding the passion that Paul expresses in Philippians and David shows throughout the Psalms.  The hunger, deep groanings, to consider all things rubbish in comparison.  He wonders why more of us don’t find ourselves in that place and then offers this as a possible reason…

“What often happens for us when we come to know the Lord—and usually it comes from a very sincere place—is that our love of God’s grace is replaced with a sense of obligation to please Him. It starts with gratitude but easily and naturally turns into trying to pay back a debt—to earn His grace, in other words. We move on to the self-salvation project so rapidly.

“Instead we need to ask a question complementary to good works. We need to ask ourselves: What moves me toward Jesus? What stirs my affections for Jesus Christ?” Matt Chandler & Jared C. Wilson. To Live Is Christ to Die Is Gain.

There is something inside of us (pride) that wrestles with grace.  We feel an obligation to try to pay back, to be on the same footing as the giver.  And yet in the case of the cross, that just will never be the case.   We will never be on the same footing with Christ.  The pot will never be equal with the potter.

I think this is perhaps an aspect of “working out our salvation with fear and trembling”.  The struggle to not let pride strip away the necessary complete abandonment to grace is part of our journey.

So what moves us towards Christ?  What motivates us to settle for just being good or better instead of being intimate with Him?    I can’t answer that for anyone else as I struggle enough for myself.

What I do know is that I want to have words like yearn, passion, burn, groan, hunger and thirst to be part of what describes my desire to know God deeply and intimately.

Prayer: God, thank you so much for your free and immense gift of grace to me.  May I receive it continually and not move towards trying to earn it in any way.  Help me to see my place of desperation at all times instead of attempting to convince myself of my own worth.  Instead may my life, by the power and leading of your Holy Spirit, be marked with a devotion and passion to bring you glory!  “As the deer pants for water” may my soul long for you.  I want to press in to more of you.

No Room for Guilt and Shame When Growing Deeper

This weekend I found myself having a conversation with a wonderful lady who was “filled up” with the love of God.  She had shared though how during the week she struggled with yielding over trust to God in a situation and that it surprised her because she thought she had settled that issue.

I then found myself sharing something that I had actually never articulated before and I pass it on to you.  I too have been filled with shame and guilt and discouragement thinking that I too have settled issues only to be returning to them again and again.  I have come to see this differently.  Of course there are times when we actually return to the same issue as we don’t always really give it up and grow through it.  But more often we sell ourselves and the growth that God is actually accomplishing in us short.  Becoming like Jesus is a life long process and just like we can’t see a tree grow moment by moment, we do see it year over year.  We need to get a higher view of our journey and not judge ourselves in the moment.

First off guilt and shame are NEVER God’s desire for us.  So whether we are dealing with the same issue over and over or not, we need to find ways to react that lead us toward God.  He came to offer grace and freedom from guilt and shame.  Godly sorrow and the Holy Spirit’s conviction are more appropriate.  They lead us forward to change and growth.

But in addition to that, I suggest that what we sometimes interpret as discouragement from facing the same issues over and over may in fact not be the same thing at all, but a deeper level.  Here I am not talking about sin specifically, but the areas of yielding trust and faith to God’s control in our lives.  Every step of the way on our journeys is going to be met with opportunities to trust Him.  And they are not like going back to the fist step on our path.  I too wish that I was perfect in trust.  But I am not, and neither are any of us.  But that doesn’t mean that we are not maturing and growing.  And in that process we are digging into deeper layers of issues in our lives that need to be handed over to God.

Instead of interpreting your latest opportunity to trust God as a failure of having yielded yourself fully to God last time, see it as growing deeper.  At the last opportunity you, to the best of your ability and passion and awareness may have fully offered yourself over to Him.  But as He is working in you for His good will, He may be taking you to a deeper or different aspect of something familiar.

Keep leaning in to God’s heart and growth for you.  Don’t let your own guilt or shame derail what God is doing in you.  Instead, and again, let the godly sorrow and Holy Spirit’s conviction propel you to a deeper walk with Him as you become more like Him.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,  I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.  Only let us hold true to what we have attained.  Philippians 3:12-16 ESV

(Listen to Jeremy Riddle’s Sweetly Broken.  “At the cross you beckon me. Draw me gently to my knees.”)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OrgmjZU1ivI&w=560&h=315]

Nothing is Wasted (Elevation Worship) is a fantastic song. One lyric in particular, the title phrase, strikes me. “Nothing is Wasted, You work all things for good.” If in fact God does work all things for good for those who love Him, then there is nothing that is left outside of that work on His part. ALL means Nothing is Wasted. God is so powerful and loving that He has the ability to make even the most insignificant or most hurtful or most evil part or experience of my life work out for His good. And not just the ability, but in fact He does accomplish this.

Now let’s get real here though and let go of childish naiveté. His good does not mean our view of happy endings. As C.S. Lewis said, God doesn’t care if we are happy, He wants us to grow up. And that growth is often through sharing in Christ’s sufferings.

But as we press in and let Him accomplish the work He has begun in us, nothing is wasted.

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