Can You Prove Yourself Guilty in Less Than 15 Seconds?!?

I love crime dramas. I particularly love movies or shows which feature criminals and agents of justice who demonstrate extraordinary intelligence and thought. There is nothing worse to me than a show or movie which has been billed as “thought provoking” or “brilliant” and, in reality, is unrealistic or, worse, common. Perhaps the reason for this is because I believe that I could be a brilliant agent of justice. I believe that I could outsmart a brilliant criminal. I think that’s really the appeal of all of the entertainment in that genre – we think we are that guy!

In the end, we are not. Take, for instance, these two alleged thieves. Having been accused of stealing a woman’s purse as well as the contents of that purse, the plaintiff and the defendants went to the only truly reliable source of justice – Judge Judy. Look what happens:

Did you catch that? He said the earpiece wasn’t in the purse. Brilliant.

Though Judge Judy was perceptive and swift in her justice, there is a higher authority than Judge Judy: God. Every day, humans stand, pleading innocence, within God’s just gaze. What case do humans make?

  • “Don’t blame me for the ear piece. I’ve done a lot of bad things in this life, but I didn’t do that.” We see this in the ever-present defense, “I’ve never murdered anyone.” Well, congratulations. The standard against which we are judged is God’s perfect standard for humanity, not other humans’ extreme depravity. You don’t need to kill someone – just being angry out of selfishness is worthy of the guilty verdict. Guilty.
  • “You don’t understand my situation; I needed to steal that purse. I needed to tell that lie. I needed to look out for myself.” Of course, what this means is, “I needed to do this wrong thing because I didn’t believe that God would provide through right things.” Basically, “God, please step down from your throne so that I might rule more effectively in your place.” Guilty.
  • “I have given away more purses in my life than I have stolen purses. My good outweighs my bad. I’m basically a good person.” How exactly does that work? Who is the accountant of this ledger? Who decides what is good and what is bad? Can you check your balance at any time? How many goods make up for one really bad bad? Would the lady whose purse you stole agree that giving away some purses is a moral equal? In truth, God is the accountant and all humans are naturally in default. That doesn’t mean we can’t do any good; it means we’ll never be able to do enough to offset our rebellion against God. The scales will never tip in our favor through our effort. Guilty.

Fortunately for humanity, including the thieves in the video, the victim and the author of this blog, God didn’t leave us guilty and hopeless. There are days when I can, by the grace of God, make it 15 seconds without showing my blatant offense against God. There are days when I cannot.I am guilty; having a more positive attitude or not dwelling on that reality does not make the reality less true.

Fortunately, I have trusted in Jesus Christ to pay the price for my offenses and make things right with God. Everyday is a celebration of that liberation from judgment – but only because my trust, my hope and my identity are in Jesus Christ. How long does it take you to prove your guilt daily? There is hope! Learn more about this great story of forgiveness here:
http://viewthestory.com/embed/player/396

How real men (and women, perhaps) carry the groceries?

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Have you ever had to make the deep and serious decision between 2 or more trips walking the 90 feet from your vehicle to the kitchen or piling up and hanging grocery bags from yourself in every way humanly possible? I need to know, how many is too many?

I have difficulty with this every time I go shopping. What a waste of energy and effort it would be if I kept walking back and forth and back and forth. I might have to walk 90 to 130 feet if I did that.

There is one variable, however, that one must consider when making this decision. What is in the load? Eggs? Rotisserie chickens? Bread? One must consider these issues. Do you really want shopping bag scrambled eggs? Is it really worth having to mop the chicken juice off the kitchen floor to not walk back to the vehicle another time? Did you really mean to buy flatbread?

The load matters. Actually, the load determines the limits.

In Proverbs 27:23-27 we are instructed to know the condition of our flocks and to pay attention to our herds. We are instructed that new growth comes when the hay is cut and that faithfulness with what one has now is how one prepares for what is ahead.

What is your flock? What is your herd? God has given you something to be responsible for. He has given you people to be mindful of. He has given to you responsibilities to consider when making decisions. Are you considering the Word and wisdom of the Lord when you make these decisions?

Margin is that space between load and limit. It is the reality that some days the load of bearing one’s cross daily to follow Jesus is heavier than on other days. Margins are neither the means nor the measure of holiness. Margins are the result of holiness.

We have space between our God-given limits (the one he intentionally created to exist within us because we are not God) and our decided upon load. The key is not to simply set limits and then tell God the load must fit within them. The answer to this dilemma is to accept the God-given load and allow that to determine the God-given limits. The load determines the limits.

Most people in our culture are over-extended with their money, time, energy, emotions, and spirit. Yet, most are painfully unaware of their marginless life because it is the norm of our day. We have decided to push all limits and breakdown all barriers, even healthy ones.

I give you 3 challenges in making your decisions about load and limits.
1. Honor what you have.

Honoring what you have in life includes honoring who is in your life. You must consider what you have to be content in and with it. “He who is faithful with little will be given much.” Or as Proverbs 27:25 states “the new grass comes after the growth is cut.”
2. Honor today.
Tomorrow can only be honored when today is honored. Be faithful with this day and you will be ready to be faithful with the next one.
3. Honor the Lord
You have flocks because God so blessed. Your herd is his blessing and doing. Honor him with and in it.

I encourage you to consider the load God desires of you in making your limit decisions. Start with the God-given load and then you will be ready to live within God-given limits.

Hardest Challenge Ever

jim

“My life’s so crazy. I’m so busy. It’s just crazy, my life is busy!” You have said this at least once in the last 48 hours. Don’t deny it. I have. And by saying it, we just may have turned down doing something God truly desired for us to do.

So here’s the challenge: Take 5 minutes every day, for the next 7 days, and sit in a chair completely still and completely quiet. That’s it. Why is this hard, you ask? Because your life is so noisy and you will FREAK OUT when it is silent.

I know a guy who works 72 hours by his own choice, just to keep up with co-workers. I recently heard a lady say the only moment of silence she has had in last 6 months was waiting in the doctor’s office for her doctor to arrive. People now tell pollsters that they’re too busy to register to vote, spouses they’re too busy to date, co-workers they’re too busy to make friends outside the office. They’re too busy to take a vacation or to sleep. And time for serving the church? Yea right.

What’s worse is busyness is much more than a way of life for many people, it is a badge of honor. We’ve bought into the lie that if we are busy, then we are important. I am doing more. I am better. It’s just not true. You aren’t important because you are busy. You are important because God said you are. Plain and simple.

Honestly, I don’t think your life is as busy as you think it is. Seriously. But IT IS NOISY. Ding, ring, wahhhh (baby crying…ALL THE TIME at my house). Netflix, candy crush, and on and on…these are not things that take our time. We straight up give it to them. And they steal our needed silence.

God did not intend for us to live this way. We all have or one day will come to a realization that our time on Earth is limited. That should cause us to pause & rest. But instead, it has the opposite effect on many. Just maybe, that’s the very attraction of busyness. If we never take a moment to stop and think, we don’t have to face that hard truth. And without time to reflect, our drive to show status can mean we create busyness even when it doesn’t exist.

But beware…Busyness is not evidence of godliness, but rest is. Busyness is not a fruit of the Spirit. The Bible doesn’t list it this way: love, joy, peace, patience, busyness…

In Psalms 46:10 it says clearly- BE STILL. And don’t just be still, but know that I am God. We are not God. The world can operate with you. And what you are doing, you can’t do non-stop.

Take the 5 minute challenge. But prepare thyself! Because as soon as you start your phone will vibrate on the counter. Your arm will start twitching and you will want to go see “WHAT AM I MISSING??? WAS THAT SOMEONE POSTING A PICTURE OF COFFEE WITH A BEAUTIFUL SWIRL ON TOP???”

Now shhhhhh…

You, Me, and Leonard Fournette: The Myth of the “Christian Superstar”

This past Saturday, afternoon, much of Louisiana (and the nation) watched in collective, jaw-dropping amazement as LSU running back Leonard Fournette launched his Heisman Trophy campaign in style with a thorough and relentless drubbing of the Auburn Tiger defense. Sprinting, cutting, and outright barreling his way to 228 yards and 3 touchdowns, Fournette introduced himself to a nation of college football fans with resounding effect.

Chances are, you already knew that. But what you may not know is that I have something in common with the LSU star. Several years ago, when I was still in high school, I too made my way around the celebrated turf of Tiger Stadium, performing for thousands (okay, more like hundreds, or perhaps dozens) of adoring fans- as a part of the Louisiana All Star Marching Band. Yep, I marched right in step for all to see and blasted trumpet notes to the heavens for all to hear. Had you been there, you would have been hard pressed to determine which was the more awe-inspiring performance- Fournette’s against Auburn, or mine against, well, no one in particular.

Please, please…resist the urge to jump through your screen right now and ask for an autograph. I know it’s impressive, but still, I’ve been working really hard to remain humble all these years, and I’d appreciate your help in that.

Now obviously I’m being ridiculous here. No one will ever mistake me for Leonard Fournette- or for the last, least skilled player sitting on LSU’s bench on Saturday. I will never, ever touch the turf of Tiger Stadium in the context of SEC football competition. If I’m in the building, it will only be to cheer on our Tigers as a spectator. And unless you’re a budding high school football star who has stumbled across this article, I’m fairly certain the same is true of you.

Here’s why I bring this up- Because I’m convinced that too often, we conceive of Christian ministry- of the work of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our world- much like we do high level college football, or to be honest, high level anything. We understand that God, for whatever reason, uses people to accomplish His work in the world; most of us just don’t of those people as us.

Instead, we look for the next Christian “superstar”- the Jesus-following equivalent of Leonard Fournette- and remain content to sit in the “stands” and supportively (or at times, critically) spectate while others (pastors, missionaries, small group leaders, and the like) get it done. We read their books and blogs, listen to their sermons, and “follow” their exploits on social media- all the while remain idle in the face of our own God given gifts and opportunities.

The problem with this is that it isn’t the New Testament model for Christian ministry- not even close! In God’s family, there are no “superstars” and spectators; there are only men and women miraculously rescued by the grace of God in Jesus and now called and commissioned to join His work in the world. To draw on our football analogy, we are all invited- indeed, commanded by God- to suit up and get on the field. Everyone gets to play, and everyone is important in the process of advancing the Gospel in a high impact way. Even a quick rundown of Jesus’ original “inner circle”- a motley crew if there ever was one- reveals this to be true. God, through the Apostle Paul, speaks at length about this in Ephesians 4…

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (4:11-16, ESV)

I could pull numerous other New Testament texts to drive home this point, but I think at this point, it’s pretty clear- In the “stadium” of this world, there are no stands; there is only a “playing field,” which in reality is much more like a battlefield, in which all of us are called to stand and contend for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the souls of men and women.

It is certainly true that God has wired each of us uniquely to play a unique role in that process, and has even given some, like myself, the responsibilities of a “player-coach” who leads others in a recognized way in the process. But even for these special assignments, the primary purpose in view is the multiplication of ministry in the entirety of God’s church, and ultimately the multiplication of followers of Jesus Christ.

My question for you today is simple and straightforward- Are you “in the game” to which God has called all of His people, or have you been content to “sit in the stands” and cheer on your favorite Christian “superstars”? My hope and prayer for you is that you will see and seize the massive potential which God has embedded in you in Jesus Christ, and charge forward in faith and obedience into the opportunities He has placed before you to help people follow Him. That’s how the “game” of God’s Gospel advance- which is really no “game at all, right?- is won.

The Healing Dream

I can’t imagine being blind. I already have bad eyes and without my contacts or a pair of glasses I can barely see. One of my best friends, Joe, has a brother who is blind. He wasn’t born blind but became blind when he was younger. Dude has so much joy, he’s talented musically, and has the heart of a champion in everything he does. I can honestly say that I don’t know if I would have that same attitude if I were blind. I can be a complainer and a man of excuses, so I know for a fact that, in the flesh, I would be depressed, a nagging spirit, and an absolute pessimist.

In Mark chapter 10, there is a guy named Bartimaeus. He is a beggar who is blind and seeking Jesus for healing power. When I think about this man, outside of what the biblical text actually says, I wonder about him and those like him. I ponder what his thoughts might have been, his actions, and his dreams. You see, when he heard that Jesus was passing him on the streets, he cried out “Jesus, son of God, have mercy on me!” This means Bartimaeus had to have heard of this great man named Jesus before. He heard of Jesus’ healing power, his loving ways and that he is capable of anything! I wonder if this man had dreams of meeting Jesus and hopes and visions of seeing Jesus reach out and touch him, heal him, and save him.

However, the moment he cried out, the crowd, maybe even some disciples, rebuked him, telling him to be silent. Can you imagine? Bartimaeus is finally going to meet Jesus and the crowd attempts to hold him back. Though many of us can’t relate to an inability to see physically, we can relate to Bartimaeus as people try to hold us back from seeing the dreams we have: Peace, joy, healing of some kind, a good life, and sustained through life through Jesus. These things, my friends, are things that only Christ can offer us. Some of us are striving to dive more into our relationship with Christ, but we allow people to hold us back. However, we can learn some valuable things from this passage of Bartimaues, because he didn’t let others hold him back:

  1. Your cries for healing are not insignificant, they are heard: Keep crying out, and let desperation in any situation or circumstance drive you to the feet of Jesus and away from any discouragement. He knows. He hears. He’s there.
  2. It is never too inconvenient for Jesus to serve you, heal you, and save you: Jesus came to serve, save, and heal anyone who calls on his name. Bartimaeus is a marginalized person, an outcast, and a shameful man to society, yet Christ serves him, heals him, and saves him. His dream finally comes true. No matter where you are at, Jesus will call you.
  3. Your faith in Jesus will make you well, no matter what: This doesn’t always mean physically. In the passage Bartimeaus cried out “Son of David” to Jesus twice, and then he called him Rabbi. What faith before the physical healing began! Often times, though we are physically hurt, Jesus is healing our hurt souls. If your dream is to be well, Jesus will certainly make you spiritually well, which has more rewards in the heavens than your earthly bodies will ever get.

Yes! Doubt Like Thomas

How many of you have ever struggled with doubting some characteristic of God or some action of God in the past or present?  The statistics would suggest that if you are not already raising your hand, you will at some point in the future.  It is important to be honest with yourself, because doubt left to grow limits your view of God.  It is only when God is in full view that the fullness of this present life is possible.

You have likely heard the saying that “seeing is believing”.  Let me offer another, Belief without seeing is faith.  Now before anyone runs too far with that statement, let me offer another thought: Belief without basis is a trap for challenge without response. (1 Peter 3:15)  The sweet spot of faith must then lie somewhere between the crippling position of absolute proof before response and the equally perilous place of reaction without reason.  I am proposing that the middle ground is an open, and well used, God created mind.  I hope today I am writing to those who consider themselves faithful followers of Jesus Christ as well as some who feel no need to seek God’s forgiveness.  Blind spots are limited vision of many types that we all fall victim to at some point.  However, God opens the eyes of those who are willing to walk with him.  God draws all to himself and gives to each what is needed to cross from doubt to belief.

Though there are many examples we could test, let’s just jump in deep with a difficult question.  Do you believe one of the cores of the Christian confession: that God raised Jesus from the dead?  Do you believe he was actually dead and resurrected from the grave, or is the miraculous beyond your willingness to trust?  What I am really asking you to evaluate is can the creator God step into the natural and do something absolutely super-natural?  During the historical enlightenment period there was an effort to map every super-natural Biblical event to a natural explanation.  This was a very conscious and open effort to wrestle with doubts about super-natural events that led to a very limited view of God.  Too often our doubts are rooted in unconscious limitation we have placed on God.  When we doubt the resurrection of Jesus, we will live with uncertainty over God’s power, the trustworthiness of Jesus words, and the way of salvation. (Mark 8:31, Romans 10:9-10)  Then when some challenge to our faith occurs we retreat from the security and peace of faith in Christ to a place of disillusioned uncertainty.  Until we wrestle with our doubts, they secretly discredit the ways God revealed His power in the past and the ways He continues to operate in the present.

So, let me encourage you today to doubt like Thomas.  It is recorded in the book of John chapter 20 that after Jesus’ resurrection the following occurred:

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”  Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”  Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:19-29 ESV)

Thomas deals head on with his doubt and the end result is walking in faith.  Thomas was honest enough with his struggle to say what he was thinking and apparently resolved enough to remain with the people who already believed.  Eight days later Jesus returns and does just the opposite of what one might expect.  Instead of ridiculing Thomas for his doubt, he offers him a way out. So, doubt like Thomas; deal with your doubt in the open and remain with the people who are strong in their faith.  God gives to each what is needed to cross from doubt to belief and opens the eyes of those who are willing to walk with him.

Turn Your Got To’s Into Get To’s

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments”…John 14:15 (ESV)

I want to invite you to do a little thought exercise with me. Don’t let that word “exercise” scare you off; this one won’t even require you to get up from wherever you’re sitting right now. Here it is…

Take a mental stroll through an average week of your life. Think about the things that you do- when you wake up in the morning; as you head out the door (if you do) to work, school, or wherever; as you perform the tasks associated with your current set of responsibilities; as you spend time with various other people in your life; as you finish out your days and prepare to get some rest.

As you consider the unique circumstances of your life, and the choices that you make on a day in, day out basis, ask yourself this one simple question- Why do you do the things that you do? What motivates you to make the choices that you do with your time, money, energy, etc?

Chances are, if you’re anything like me (and on this point, I’m betting you are), everything you do falls into one of two categories- Things you’ve got to do, and things you get to do, or to phrase it another way, things you ought to do, and things you want to do. Here are a few examples from my life…

I’ve got to get up pretty early every morning.
I get to spend those early mornings with God and with my family.

I’ve got to sit down and pay our family’s bills every week.
I get to live in my home, drive my vehicles, and continue to put food on the table for my family.

I’ve got to work (and at times, wrestle) through several hours of study and writing at work every week.
I get to take the fruit of that labor and share God’s Word with our church family on Sundays.

I’ve got to get out in the brutal Louisiana heat and mow my grass repeatedly throughout the summer.
I get to look forward to the day when I can give the job to my two sons J.

Here’s what I’m aiming to communicate with this- Every got to in my life (and yours too), if it’s going to be sustainable over the long haul, has to be performed in the service of a greater get to. Obligation, on its own, is a lousy long term motivator. It is, instead, our affections which ultimately drive our choices. To put it more directly, what we love determines what we do.

Now let’s apply this principle in light of your relationship with God, provided you have one. God makes it pretty clear, in the text that heads this post and others like it, that our obedience to Him is the evidence of our love for Him. He gives us, in His Word, many commands- from the Old Testament’s Ten Commandments, to Jesus’ instructions in the Sermon on the Mount, to Paul’s practical exhortations in his many New Testament letters. It would be a fair and accurate statement to say that, as followers of Jesus Christ, there are many things you’ve got to do.

But here’s the rub- You and I are never going to obey Jesus with any long term sustainability because we ought to. You know this is true, because there are dozens of things in your life right now that you know you ought to do, but consistently don’t. Why not? Because there is no love- no get to, if you will- driving you to do them. The secret to consistent, growing obedience to Jesus isn’t obligation, but affection.

When you love someone, it causes you to do things that previously seemed unreasonable, and perhaps even impossible. It influences you to invest your time, money, and energy- even to the point of sacrifice- in things that weren’t previously even on your radar. It doesn’t necessarily make all of those things easy, but it does make them worthwhile. Got to’s become get to’s when love is behind them.

If you’re struggling with obedience to Jesus in some area of your life right now, don’t simply ask youself, What can I do to make myself obey more and better? Or, if we’re being completely honest, What can I do to get out of obeying, and not feel guilty about it? Instead, dig a little deeper into your heart and ask, Where and how have my affections become disordered? What or who do I really love most, and how is that influencing my choices?

There is no getting around this; Jesus said so Himself- “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” That means the opposite is true too- If you don’t love Him (or if you love someone or something else more), you assuredly won’t keep them. So if this is true, what should you do in light of it? Here are a few suggestions…

  • Consider what stirs your affections for Jesus Christ- and do those things consistently (Hint- There are certain things, such as spending time in God’s Word or with God’s people in His church, that are non-negotiable to this process).
  • Consider what dampens your affections for Jesus Christ- and remove those things from your life (Hint- If there is any unconfessed, unrepentant sin in your life, it will steal your joy and “ice down” your heart toward Jesus).
  • Pray that God would grow your affections for Him, and for the things that are close to His heart (most notably, people).

All of us have certain got to’s in our lives, certain things we simply ought to do. That’s inescapable, even in our relationship with God. But when love enters our hearts, those got to’s can become get to’s– and obedience can become a joy.