Leave It at the Cross

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“You were never meant to carry this beyond the cross.” – MercyMe, Dear Younger Me

This line strikes home for me every time I hear it. Because I look back at things that I know I shouldn’t have carried beyond the cross and see the pain it brought and the problems it caused.

I think to some extent all of us have things that we try to carry beyond the cross.

We talk about turning things over to Jesus. We nod confidently and agree there is nothing that He can’t carry for us.

But still there are things we try to carry ourselves.  We plant our feet firmly, heave it up on our shoulders, and trudge forward, one laborious step at a time.

Maybe it’s because we feel like it’s not something that’s worthy of turning over to God – it’s too trivial to bother Him with.

Or maybe it’s too ugly and we don’t want to expose it to our relationship with Him – like somehow revealing the thing (which He already knows about) will somehow taint His impression of us.

Or maybe someone has convinced us that God’s grace doesn’t quite cover that.

But Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

He didn’t say “all who labor and are heavy laden with big things.” Or “all who labor and are heavy laden unless your burden crosses this line.” He said “all.”

So no matter the size, shape, appearance, or form of your burden, bring it to Him. You were never meant to carry it beyond the cross.

Alcoholism? Bring it. Pornography? Bring it. Unwanted homosexual desires? Bring it. Bad temper? Bring it. Guilt from a painful past? Bring it. Hurt caused by someone else? Bring it. Drug problems, gambling addictions, trust issues, gossip, hate, lying, cheating, jealousy, judgmentalism – whatever form your flaw or your struggle takes…bring it to His cross.

And leave it there. Don’t carry it one step further.

When we try to carry it ourselves, bigger problems result. Struggles become addictions. Secrets become complex networks of deceit. Angry outbursts become abusive behavior. One more compulsive bet becomes financial ruin.

The scenarios are exhaustive (and exhausting!).

Trust me, carrying whatever it is ourselves and trying to keep it stuffed inside only leads to more (and deeper) hurt. I know. I’ve been there.

So make the commitment now to leave everything at the foot of the cross. Everything…and live free!

p.s. – since I mentioned it, take a listen to this song if you have time. It’s worth it.

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Three Things to Consider While You Wait

Household 791Did you ever wonder about the years between the time the prodigal son took off with his inheritance and the time he returned?

We have a pretty good idea of what happened in the son’s life during that time, but virtually no insight into the father’s.

First, I wonder how hard it was for him to let go in the first place. How it must have torn his heart to hear his son say “I don’t want to have anything to do with you. I’ll just take my money and move on.” What emotions did he grapple with? Confusion? Anger? Feeling like a failure? Desperation? Guilt? Resignation? All of the above?

And what went through his head while the boy was away? We don’t know how long it was, but we know it was probably years. Partying away a small fortune, living through a famine, hitting rock bottom, and entering the workforce in the most demeaning job imaginable – all of that doesn’t happen overnight.

So what about dad during this time?

Did he yearn to go out searching for him? Did he think about sending a search party or hiring a private eye? If the story were pulled into the modern age, would he try to turn on the GPS on the boy’s phone, or Google his name to see if he turned up in the news? Would he have constantly fight the urge to text or email him?

It had to be grueling, just living with the silence, not hearing any news. Thinking about the old times, choking back emotions when memories arose. Maybe wishing he had done some things differently – spent more time with him, worked less, had more patience. Maybe he made some serious mistakes that he wished he could take back, or at least have a chance to explain. Maybe he looked back on the good times and felt a twinge of hurt and anger that his son would dismiss all that good and fly from the nest.

Of course, this is all speculation. We don’t know what went on at the home-front while the prodigal was ruining his life. But some of us can draw from personal experience, and feel like we have a pretty good idea.

Which leads to my point (yes, I have one).

Maybe there’s another lesson in this parable besides the return of the prodigal. We must not lose sight of that key lesson – that just like the prodigal, we can always return home, find unconditional acceptance, and be embraced by our Heavenly Father.

But maybe for some of us there’s also the lesson of what to do if we find ourselves in the shoes of the heartbroken father.

Some of you may be there right now.  If so, here are three thoughts about the wait that may help.

First: Life goes on. We can’t allow the pain of that damaged relationship to damage the rest of the relationships in our lives. Others still need us, and we have responsibilities to them. The hurt is real, and we can’t ignore it. But to dwell on it at the expense of other, intact relationships is wrong. Take the pain to God. Find counsel if necessary (there’s no shame in getting counseling – don’t get caught by that lie). But keep loving those that are still in your life. As far as we know, the father still attended to his farm and the rest of his family in his youngest son’s absence.

Second: God is in control. No matter how bleak things seem, God never relinquishes control, and He never drops the ball. Whatever is happening, He is there. He’s not surprised, He’s not outmaneuvered, He’s not stumped. We don’t know how long the wait was, but we know this: the father was still waiting and watching expectantly right up until his son appeared on the horizon.

Third: Do what you can, and let God do what He will. You can’t control this. Relinquish the urge to try. If an opportunity comes to let them know you’re still thinking of them, take it. But trust that the love you showed them while you were together will stay with them, and that God will remind them that they can always come home. The father didn’t pursue the prodigal, but somehow the son still knew that he could return, and would find some sort of welcome (even if it was just a job as a farmhand).

And one other thing…

Keep your running shoes on so you can dash out to meet them when they return!

Commend

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“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8 KJV

It’s not often I prefer the King James Version for study, or launch from it in my blog posts. I love its poetic prose and rich imagery, but versions written in today’s vernacular make it much easier for us to grasp the concepts and intentions of the text, in my opinion. (No intent to launch a firestorm with that comment – I know there are passionate opinions on both sides of the KJV fence…so I’ll move on quickly).

Something in this verse jumped out at me recently, though, and the word that struck me is one that is only used in the KJV – “commend”. Most modern day translations render the verse “God demonstrates…” (NASB, NIV, NKJV) or “God shows…” (ESV) or “God proves…” (HCSB) “…His love for us.” These are all good words. But let me spend a few minutes on why I think “commend” is so much richer.

Dictionary.com defines “commend” as “to entrust; give in charge; deliver with confidence.”

God “delivered with confidence” His love to us. Not any confidence based on our ability to carry it out. But confidence because of who He is and because of His ability and determination to carry through (see Philippians 1:6).

How should that change my life? That God would ‘entrust’ His love to me? He didn’t give it to take it back. He didn’t give it to ‘see how this works out.’ He didn’t give it with reservation or hesitation. He entrusted it to me! He ‘gave it in charge’ to me! He ‘delivered it with confidence’! He gave it with the full intent of my possessing it for eternity!

What a terrific word! How rich that one word makes this promise. How could I ever take advantage of or dismiss such a commitment?

And what freedom! Knowing that God not only offers His love but commends it – this symbolizes a commitment that allows me to live in total freedom, knowing that He has full confidence in me and my ability to possess (and share) His love.

There is no obligation or striving, because it is based completely on Him and not on me in the slightest. His faithfulness and His promise and His work in the person of Jesus Christ make it so – not my ability to earn it or to maintain some level of worthiness.

So no matter what my weaknesses, what my failings, what level of ugliness I might see in myself – God commended His love to me with no take-backs or do-overs. He demonstrated it (to tie it all back to the word used in other translations) before I ever had a chance to prove my worth.

Because our worth is in who He has determined us to be.

Let that sink in.

Let it become part of how you see yourself.

Let it become who you are.

And live free!

What Not to Wear

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“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Romans 13:14)

Sort of an odd statement, isn’t it? “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Why didn’t Paul say “get in step with” or “devote yourself to” or “obey” the Lord Jesus Christ?

Paul used the imagery of ‘putting on’ something for a couple reasons.

What we wear covers and protects us.  It keeps undesired elements (wind, rain, paint spray, poison ivy, sand fleas – you name it) off our skin. Appropriate clothing means harmful or unwanted things cannot get to us.

What we wear also shows something of us to the world. Even those who give the least consideration to fashion have to admit that their wardrobe choices, intentionally or unintentionally, are made with purpose. It may be as simple as to draw attention (get noticed) or to avoid attention (fit in), but clothing selection has meaning.

So our spiritual attire is important. Proper dress matters in our most private moments because it protects us from harmful things. And it matters when we step out in public because it reflects our most basic choices.

Let’s thumb through our closets and see what should and shouldn’t be there.

Writing to a different church, Paul lists some things we should be wearing:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:12-14).

Makes sense, right?  Putting on Christ means being like Christ. So let’s don the things we see in His example.

On the other side, Paul and Peter both give some hints as to the sort of things we need to be rid of:

“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (1 Peter 2:1).

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).

Some of these are blatant enough that they are no-brainers – everyone knows sorcery and orgies should be avoided.  Others are more subtle – like envy, jealousy, or dissensions. But blatant or subtle, choosing the wrong apparel can be limiting and enslaving.

So, can it be any clearer what needs to make up our wardrobe and what needs to go to the curb?

One final point, because I don’t want clothing selection to become the main point and result in a legalistic checklist exercise. Remember, we started with the idea of putting on Christ. Our freedom comes from abiding in Him and allowing Him to empower our choices.

We will slip up sometimes. But the question is: were you drawn into it because you had a weak moment or did you intentionally pull it off the hanger?

When Paul says “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” he is not saying that if you fall you are disqualified – just that the consistent rejection of proper attire and choice of ‘trashy’ clothes reflects a heart that isn’t focused on following Jesus.

If you are putting on Christ every day, He’ll help you put on the right things. And the rest of that stuff can be left for the moths to eat.

Unashamed!

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“For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren.”   – Hebrews 2:11

I don’t know about anyone else, but this is a precious promise to me.

The perfect God of the universe, in the form of Jesus Christ, came to earth and died a brutal death so that I could be made holy (sanctified) in God’s sight.

And now, seated in Heaven, He is not only willing to extend grace and forgiveness to me, not only willing to declare “holy” one that is furthest from holiness. But on top of all of that, He is completely unashamed to call me His brother!

This is especially precious to someone like me, whose mistakes have brought shame and brokenness into some of his relationships – one who has experienced both blood relatives and spiritual brothers and sisters turning away in shame.

Those who have been there know all too well the pain of carrying the guilt of bad choices, the agony of realizing there’s nothing we can do to undo them, and the torment of knowing that loved ones are literally (and rightfully) ashamed of him.

There’s a song called ‘Your Beloved’ by Brent Helming, the chorus of which says:

‘Cause I’m Your beloved,
Your creation,
And You love me as I am.
You’ve called me, chosen
For Your kingdom.
Unashamed to call me Your own-
I’m Your beloved.

Unashamed to call me your own!

As I let those lyrics sink in recently, that one phrase hit me like a freight train. Then, just days ago, I came across Hebrews 2:11, and I was knocked to the ground again by the very same train!

That the God of the universe would be unashamed to be associated with me is astonishing.

You see, here’s what really makes this amazing: Jesus doesn’t love me because He has to. He doesn’t love me because He feels obligated to stand by a promise or commitment (actually, His commitment was made because He loved me, not the other way around). He doesn’t love me because someone might think differently of Him if He didn’t. And He certainly doesn’t love me because I deserve it.

He loves me because He loves – it’s what He is, and what He does (1 John 4:8, John 15:9).

And out of that love, because I have entered into a relationship with Him, He is unashamed to call me His brother!

If you don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, I urge you to make that move right now. He loves you, just as you are. No matter how ugly, or how undeserving, or how ‘far gone’ you think you are…He loves you and wants a relationship with you. And He will be unashamed to call you His brother or sister.

If you do have a relationship, take a moment today and bask in the knowledge that He is unashamed to call you part of His family. It’s definitely a truth worth meditating on!

What Lies Within

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“Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”  2 Timothy 1:6-7

Each of us has a gift – a message to carry to others about what God has done for us. But often it lies dormant because we don’t make the conscious effort to stir it up and put it to use.  Fear causes us to bury it or hold it back.

Sometimes that fear is the result of guilt and shame, feeling we’re unworthy or disqualified.  

Sometimes it’s due to doubt and low self-worth, a certainty that nobody really wants to hear anything we have to contribute.

Sometimes there’s just a feeling of inadequacy, that we don’t have the skills or talents to properly deliver our message. 

And sometimes it is the fear of others – what will they think or say? Will they think less or differently of me? Will my boldness stir up anger or resentment, or blow the fragile lid off of latent bitterness and unforgiveness? Will people make assumptions about my motives?

But God does not intend for that gift to be stagnant and neutralized by fear, no matter what form it takes.  As Paul encouraged Timothy, we are also urged to “stir up the gift of God which is in” us, because “God has not given us a spirit of fear.”  Whatever the source of that fear – guilt, shame, doubt, feelings of inadequacy or inferiority, potential reactions of others – it is not from God.

So what does God give us?  

Power to live larger than our flaws and failures.  With the aid of His Holy Spirit, we have the power to blast through any barriers that will rise before us.  The power to cling to the truth of our real identity in Him, throwing off the labels and the doubts, whatever their source.

Love, the only attribute against which nothing can stand.  Hatred (including self-hatred), doubt (including self-doubt), gossip, lies, labels, accusations, unforgiveness, anger, bitterness…whatever tends to reinforce our chains – all these things eventually crumble in the face of love. Read 1 Corinthians 13 and 1 John 4:18. There is nothing in the universe stronger than love.

A sound mind that isn’t riddled with insecurities, hesitancy, or negative labels.  One that knows what He intends for us and steps forward in that knowledge, regardless of what the world or those negative voices inside our heads may think or say. A mind that is renewed (Romans 12:1-2) and confident (Philippians 1:6). 

This is how God intends us to live. Living out the message He has placed within.

Don’t allow your gift to lie dormant any longer. Don’t let the Enemy or anyone else convince you that you are not useful or valid. You are that and so much more – you are a vital part of God’s plan.

 

Birthright

Castles 044A whole new aspect of the term ‘born again’ occurred to me recently. Maybe it’s nothing new to you, but it was for me.

When someone is born into money or royalty, they typically don’t go around trying to prove they are worthy of their social status. Instead, they generally have this confidence about them that says they don’t have to prove anything or earn their place. There’s this inner security that it is theirs by birth, and will be theirs until the day they die. It’s often not a conscious thought, but it underlies everything they do.

When you think about it, it would be silly for a prince to go about trying to earn the right to be called a prince when he has people who wait on him hand and foot and a crowd automatically comes to attention when he enters a room.  

It would seem ridiculous for an heiress to spend her days trying to prove she’s somebody when her wardrobe knows no bounds and the mere mention of a day on the water sets in motion a personal assistant, a limo driver, and a yacht crew.

So why do we feel when we’re born into the family of God, we suddenly have to start being good enough to belong?  Like we have to earn our sonship or daughtership?  Our heavenly Father would send scores of heavenly beings to our aid if necessary, and even tells us that someday we’ll judge angels (see 1 Cor 6:3). Our status is far greater than any heir to human fortune or throne.

Look at these verses:

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13 NASB)

“to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.” (Galatians 4:5, 7 NIV)

See also Romans 8:15 and Ephesians 1:5.

We’re told in these passages that God declares us to be sons (and daughters).  And so just like it would be silly for a royal heir to spend their time trying to earn their royalty, it is silly for us as children of the living God to spend our time trying to earn our place in His family.  We already have it!

Trying to earn that which we already possess is self-imposed slavery.  

We try to do good things in order to please Him. But if you’re born again He’s already pleased with you – so pleased that He calls you His daughter or son. Not a potential son, not a future daughter, but His child today. Our place in His family is secured, but not on our merits. It is secure because according to John 1:13 it’s born of God. It’s based on the promises of the One who does not lie (Titus 1:2) and does not change His mind (1 Samuel 15:29, Malachi 3:6, James 1:17).

So today, don’t go about as if you are trying to prove to the world that you deserve to be His child.  Go about knowing you are His child, and let your actions flow out of that base assumption.