Love Without Limits?

Line Sand

It is the wide love of God for us that leads us down the narrow road of love.

That’s the bold assertion that we made last Sunday as we launched into the last segment of Jesus’ Sermon On The Mount through our new series, The Right Way.  We zeroed in on the radical breadth of who God loves, how God loves, and why God loves- and what that should mean in the lives of those of us who have received that love through Jesus.  We learned that God’s life changing love is available to all– which means that ours should be too, including (but not limited to)…

  • Those of other racial, ethnic backgrounds
  • Those of other religious faiths (or no faith at all)
  • Those of other political opinions
  • Those of other economic statuses
  • Those of other moral convictions and lifestyles
  • Even those who have wounded us deeply

This list is undoubtedly uncomfortable to consider- and even more so to put into practice.  But as we said on Sunday, while it may be improbable, if the Gospel is true it is not impossible!  After all, if a holy God can love rebels like us (and the Cross of Christ proves that He has), then surely His love can flow through us into the lives of anyone in this world.

But this raises a tension for us, doesn’t it?  How are we supposed to love those with whom we deeply, profoundly disagree?  I’m not talking about petty disagreements, but the “heavy” stuff of life- matters like the sanctity of all human life; the nature of marriage, family, and sexuality; the appropriate response to social and economic injustice; the authority of the Bible; and the truthfulness of the Gospel.  How can we reconcile God’s command to love like He does without compromising core level convictions in the process?  Is this even possible?

I believe God’s answer to that question is a resounding yesbut to get to that yes, we’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do.

I firmly believe that when it comes to the issue of “love”- and what “counts” as “love”- we’ve been sold a lie.  This is a lie that I believe originated in secular thinking, but has deeply infiltrated the thinking of many in God’s church.  What is it?  That love equals agreement, acceptance, and affirmation.  In other words, “If you love me, you’ll agree with me, accept me without hesitation, and affirm my choices without question.”  We see this kind of thinking play out most explicitly when it comes to questions of sexuality, but I believe it informs the way we think now about just about everything.

The lie itself probably shouldn’t surprise us.  But what is truly tragic is to the degree to which supposedly Bible believing, orthodoxy affirming followers of Jesus have bought it without question, and have abandoned centuries of consistent Christian teaching and veered into questionable- and I believe destructive- territory, all because they’ve adopted an insufficient definition of love.  What we must come to see is that a “love” that merely agrees, accepts, and affirms without question or evaluation is actually profoundly unloving– and ultimately ungodly.

The way I see it, we’ve missed the boat on this thing in two directions- both of which arise from this same poisonous root.  Some in the church have blurred the lines between right and wrong, between truth and error, between sin and righteousness.  Others, to the opposite extreme, have taken those lines- as revealed in God’s Word- and used them as weapons to insult, exclude, and elevate themselves over others in self-righteous judgment.  But in both cases, the same lie is in play- in the former case, if I love you then I must agree with you, and in the latter, if I disagree with you I don’t have to love you.  So what, then, is the alternative to these two “ditches”?  Again, as it always is, the Gospel is our guide.  Consider…

  • God makes the truth clear- and so should we. God doesn’t play “hide and seek” with us on issues of right and wrong.  While His Word may not address every potential nuance we face in life, it is decidedly not lacking in clarity on the big questions we face on a day in, day out basis.  It is critical as the people of God that we understand this revealed truth well and express it clearly as we have opportunity.  Now we must be humble here, recognizing that while God is infallible, we are not- which means that we need to keep pressing in for rich understanding and right application.
  • God demonstrates active love toward those who reject His truth- and so should we. At one time, all of us rejected God’s truth- apart from His gracious intervention, “there is no one righteous- no, not one!”  And yet God was gracious, kind, and compassionate toward us- so much so that He sent Jesus from heaven to earth to pay the price for our sin and provide us an opportunity to repent of that sin, and to trust and follow Him.  As 2 Peter 3:9 declares, “God is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”  This heart ought to be reflected in the way we approach and engage with those who reject God- just as we once did.
  • God was willing to endure suffering to see others rescued- and so should we. This is the most stunning aspect of the Gospel- that the holy God of heaven would willfully submit Himself to unjust suffering so that His enemies could know His saving love.  Crazy as that sounds, that’s the standard that He sets for us too- not that we would literally go to the Cross to redeem those with whom we disagree, but that we would be willing to be misunderstood and mistreated for the sake of the Gospel.  This isn’t only true for those in hostile global contexts, but also for those of us in everyday life in a culture that is increasingly emboldened in its opposition to the truth revealed in God’s Word.  What if, instead of virulently fighting for our “rights” (although I am a big believer in religious liberty for all), we went the second mile to seek to understand our “enemies” and guide them toward true satisfaction and freedom in submission to our Creator?  There is no guarantee how that ends up, but the clear witness of God’s Word is that that’s our calling and responsibility.

To summarize, when it comes to the idea of “love without limits,” what we find is that there are limits to what we can in good conscience agree with, accept, and affirm– but that there are not limits to the actions we take to see those held captive by sin’s deception set free by the grace of God.  I want to encourage and challenge you today to consider which of the above “ditches” you are most prone to stumble into, and to instead walk in God’s supernatural strength to love others even when it is messy- just as you yourself have been loved by this God.

 

Tell A Better Story

Book

Last week, I had the great privilege of traveling- along with Pastors Kirk, Brian, and Griff- to Atlanta, Georgia for three days of refreshing, energizing, and challenging training for pastors and leaders.  The theme of the conference we attended was For Our Neighbors, which- if I keeping it completely real with you here- didn’t do much for me initially.  After all, I figured, I’m already a pretty neighbor-ly guy.  Tell me something I don’t already know!

Well, as is often the case in life and faith, often what we need isn’t the revelation of something new, but rather the repetition of something old.  And as we traveled back home on Friday evening, I was pretty confident that God has said exactly what He intended to say to me in our three days away.

You don’t need me to tell you this, but it hasn’t been the easiest, most pleasant year in our community- or in our nation, for that matter.  We’ve stared down- and continue to face today- a potent combination of challenges, from natural disasters to racial tensions to political drama to the everyday maladies that come our way in this broken world.

I have my stories.
You have your stories.
We have our stories.
And in the midst of that turmoil, we all have a choice to make- particularly so as the people of God, called by His name.

Can we tell a better story?

Ryan Leak, one of the presenters at last week’s event, said something striking about the current state of affairs in our world- “If things are as bad as we say they are (and they may well be!), then now is the best time we’ve had in a long time to make a difference for good.”  Do you believe this?  If so, does your life as a follower of Jesus reflect that?

Let’s face it- It would be very easy to wither under the onslaught of sin’s effects in our lives and in our world today.  It would be easy to complain and condemn.  It would be easy to hunker down and isolate ourselves.  It would be easy to descend into the battle using the world’s weapons and ways.  It would be easy to give up the fight altogether.  Chances are, we’ve all tried on one or more of these strategies at some point.

But if we believe our own message as followers of Jesus, then we should be neither surprised by the state of the world we’re in, nor cynical about God’s ability to bring restoration into even the most broken of situations and circumstances.  And as His representatives and ambassadors this side of heaven, it’s our responsibility and opportunity to speak that truth- and to live it too!

Can we tell a better story?

Here are a few ways I believe we can, starting right now…

  • When literal storms rage (and they do!), we can be on the leading edge of caring with compassion for those afflicted and impacted, working to help them put the pieces of their homes and lives back together. By the way, this is one we’ve seen firsthand in a powerful way over the past nine months…but the need isn’t behind us yet.  Consider coming out this Saturday, May 6 for our next Geaux Day to serve families still rebuilding!
  • When storms of moral confusion rage (and they are!), we can point with conviction and compassion (both as essential) to the gracious design of a Creator who is working not for our harm, but rather for our joy. Even as we are often misunderstood and mischaracterized, we can stand ready to welcome the world-worn “refugees” of a sexual “revolution” that has left in its wake far more victims (especially women and children) than victors.
  • When storms of racial tension rage (and they are!), we can work to build bridges of empathy and understanding among different groups, seeking healing and reconciliation in real relationships with others. As followers of Jesus, we have the unique opportunity to demonstrate to the watching world the power of a Christ-centered diversity that finds its power in a shared identity that doesn’t deny our differences, but does transcend them.
  • When storms of political division rage (and they are!), we can steadfastly refuse to take up the world’s weapons of hatred and hostility, and instead contend for Christ-exalting convictions while at the same time demonstrating Christ-like character. We can hold up our ultimate allegiance to a King and a Kingdom that transcends the temporary, and hold to the confidence that He is indeed sovereign over all the affairs of humankind, even when that is tough to see.  On this basis, we can trade in the “pocket change” of temporary political wins for the bottomless riches of His eternal victory- and then work in love to see light overcome darkness in the meantime.
  • When storms of spiritual aimlessness rage (and they are!), we can bear witness to the wanderers that there is an Answer to all their longings- and His name is Jesus Christ. We can demonstrate that it is in Him alone that the peace, purpose, justice, joy, hope, and love for which we’re all searching can be fully and finally found.

Friends, as the people of God, called by His name, we have a better story.  God has given that to us in the person and work of Jesus Christ in the Gospel.  He now calls us to raise our voices and proclaim it in word and deed to the watching, wondering, wandering, weary world- not simply as a religious story confined to our pews and pulpits on Sundays, but as a rescue story released in power through every corner of our lives every single day.  That’s our opportunity.  That’s our responsibility.  That’s our privilege!

Will you tell a better story?

Who’s Your Hero?

Lego Batman

“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord”- 1 Corinthians 1:31 (ESV)

I recently took my two boys to see the new Lego Batman Movie.  It was a fantastic way to spend a night out with my “dudes” (their words).

The film was a great mix of kid-friendly features (I mean, what genius marketing to combine Legos and superheroes, two foolproof attractions for boys, into one overpriced film!) and snarky, adult-friendly humor.  As the name suggests, Batman sits at the center of movie’s storyline, soundly defeating every would-be evildoer that comes his way and saving the good people of Gotham City, over and over and over again.

He does a lot of good, and everyone in turn thinks he is great- most of all, Batman himself.  From an opening sequence where he saves Gotham while singing and rapping an anthem (to himself) called “Who’s The (Bat)Man,” it is clear throughout the movie that the Dark Knight’s “drug of choice” is the undying adulation to which (in his mind) his heroics have entitled him.  It is, in short, the fuel that keeps him going day after day, year after year, in the superhero life.

Now aside from a providing a couple hours of laughs, this obviously over-the-top character got me thinking- How often do we live our lives, especially in relationship to God, in much the same way?  To be more specific, how often do we do the “godly things” we do as a means to inflate our own egos, make an impression on others, and most dangerously and deceptively of all, entitle God to love and accept us?  How often do we set ourselves up as the hero of our own life and faith?  Perhaps we’ve learned how to dress it up a bit more subtly than Batman, but I’m concerned that for too many of us (including myself!), the heart is far too much the same.

In his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul warns us of this universal temptation to “make much of ourselves”- and often to use God to do it!  He exhorts the Corinthians in 2:1-5…

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.  For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

So against the backdrop of Batman’s self-glorifying antics and Paul’s Holy Spirit-inspired warning, here’s a question for all of us to consider carefully today- Who is the “hero” of your faith?  That is, when others interact with you, hearing your speech and observing your actions, whose “glory” do they see and hear most on display?  Is it you, or is it “Jesus Christ and Him crucified”?  Here are a few questions to help you “keep it real” on this…

  • When you speak of your salvation, is your focus on God’s gracious provision or on your work in “getting your life right”?
  • When you speak of your growth in Christian maturity, is your focus on God’s power to transform or your efforts to “become a better person”?
  • When you do something good or godly, are you immediately tempted to tell someone about it (or to make it more timely, to post something about on social media for everyone to see)? If so, why?  What are you seeking to gain?
  • When you read the Bible, do you read primarily with yourself in mind, or with God in mind? In other words, who is at the “center of the story”?
  • When you share your faith with others, is your focus on everything they need to do, or on everything that God has done on their behalf?

I want to take care here not to be misunderstood in what I am saying.  I am not contending that we have no personal responsibility in following Jesus, or that it is always wrong to share of our successes and victories on that journey.  After all, the Bible does tell us in Matthew 5:16 to “let our light shine before men,” but let’s take care to read the reason we are to do so- “so that others might see our good works and praise our Father who is in heaven.”  In other words, it should always come back to Him- His grace, His power, His glory.  Jesus alone is worthy to be the “hero” of our lives!

“Just Stop It Already!” Why God Commands Us To Rest

Off Button

“Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God…You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.  Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day” (Deuteronomy 5:12-15, ESV)

Which of God’s commands do you find most difficult to obey? 

For simplicity’s sake, let’s boil it down to just the Ten Commandments to identify an answer.  There are some pretty strong candidates here, aren’t there?

I mean, don’t covet your neighbor’s stuff?  Especially in our consumeristic, media saturated culture, that’s a tough one.  One trip to your Facebook or Instagram feed proves this.

And don’t lie– I mean, about anything?  Maybe we can avoid the “big ones,” but to tell the whole truth all the time?  That’s a high standard- and a costly one at times.

Even the seemingly easy commandments like “don’t murder” and “don’t commit adultery” aren’t- according to Jesus- all that easy at all.  As Matthew 5 makes clear, harboring anger against someone equals “murder,” and entertaining lustful thoughts equals “adultery.”  Yikes.

Today, though, I don’t want to talk about any of these seemingly more “scandalous” acts of rebellion, significant as they are.  Instead, I want to zero in on perhaps the least carefully considered commandment in all of God’s law- the Fourth Commandment, God’s directive to “observe the Sabbath,” or put more simply, to rest regularly.

The command itself has an odd history, finding its origin in God’s work of creation in Genesis 1-2.  As the account goes, God creates everything out of nothing in six days- heavens and earth, land and sea, plants and animals, and ultimately humankind.  And then, on the seventh day, the God “who never sleeps or slumbers” rests.  Now why would a Deity of such unlimited capacity choose to take a day off?

To be clear, I don’t believe that God in any way had reached His end.  He wasn’t tired from all that creating.  He wasn’t stressed out.  There was no internal tension in the Trinity.  Instead, I believe God was establishing for us- as a model, which He would later make explicit in a command- the critical importance of taking time to “stop and be still.”  He created this world to operate according to certain laws, principles, and rhythms- and one of the most significant of these rhythms is that of work and rest.

Work is a good thing, created by God for His glory and our good.  We know this because work existed in the Garden of Eden before sin entered God’s good world.  Part of God’s curse on sin was that some aspects of work would become difficult and toilsome, but prior to the Fall, work was a God-given gift designed for flourishing.  There are many of us who need to be reminded of this today, and approach our work with a renewed sense of gratitude and purpose.

That being the case, God never intended that our work would be unending or all-consuming.  Just as work has an important role to play in our lives, so does rest– so much so that God not only suggests that we rest, but actually commands it.  He even provides us with a “schedule”- once out of every seven days, take the day to “stop and be still,” to focus on unhurried time with Him and with those whom has placed in our lives.

So here’s the question that we must grapple with today- Why is this so important to God, so as to put it on the same level as commands such as “don’t worship other gods” and “don’t kill people”?  What are the benefits of taking seriously God’s command to rest regularly?  Let’s take a look at a few…

  • Regular rest reminds us that God is God- and we are not. One of the foremost idols with which we wrestle in our culture is that of control.  To put it bluntly, we all struggle with a “God complex” to some degree.  We believe the Serpent’s lie that we can “be like God”- knowing it all, fixing it all, and being everywhere for everyone in our lives.  Taking time to “stop and be still” reminds us that the world will keep turning even when we aren’t “on”- because we were never holding it in our hands anyway!
  • Regular rest honors God’s creative design. God created human beings with amazing capacity physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually.  But let’s be clear- He did not create us to “live without limits” in any of these areas.  And when we unwisely attempt to press against the outer edges of these limits by failing to rest, His design demands that we will pay dearly for it.  For some, this will mean physical breakdown…for others, a mental or emotional crisis…for still others, a relational implosion.  In any case, it is critical that we submit to the sovereign Designer on this.  We will be far better off for it.
  • Regular rest opens the door to rich, thriving relationships. Pastor and author John Ortberg says it well- “Hurry is always the enemy of love.”  You and I know this to be true; we experience it on a near-everyday basis.  The more hurried we live, the less time we have for people- or for God.  We may fool ourselves into believing that we keep the pace we do “for others” (or even more dangerously and deceptively, “for God”!), but dig down deep enough, and you’ll find that there is some self-serving motive underlying all that unbridled busy-ness.  When we live well rested, as God intends, we are able to give our best to God and to others- not our leftovers!
  • Regular rest enables us to make wise, God honoring decisions. Let’s be real here- Exhausted people make pretty awful decisions.  It is when we are tired that we are at our most vulnerable to the deceptions and temptations of our Enemy.  Why?  Because we possess little reserve left to “fight the good fight,” and even worse, we can begin to believe the lie that we “owe it to ourselves” to compromise.  After all, look at all the great things we have done!  But in this blinded state, we can throw away true “Kingdom greatness” simply because we cannot bear to “fall behind” in our pursuit of what we have deemed “great.”

We could go on, of course, but I think we’ve said enough here.  Here’s the challenge I want to pose to you in light of all this- Take one day in the next week to really rest- to “observe God’s Sabbath”- and see how you respond to it.  If you find it difficult to do this (and trust me when I say that some of us are going to find it agonizing), ask God and yourself why.  Measure the benefits and the costs, and weight them against each other.  Ask God with an open heart and mind to really teach you through this time.  Give Him time and space to speak and work.  I believe that if you’ll take this simple step to trust Him, that He will do a good work- though perhaps not a comfortable work- in your heart, mind, and body that will be to His glory and others’ good.  Will you take one day this week and “just stop it already”?

What Does Money Mean To You?

Cash Stack

“But godliness with contentment is great gain…for the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.  It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pieced themselves with many pangs”- 1 Timothy 6:6, 10 (ESV)

“Money is a tool, a test, and a testimony”- Ron Blue

Let’s take a test together- When you think about money, what is the very first thing that comes to your mind?

  • …Is it the comfort it can buy you?
  • …Or the security it can offer you?
  • …Or the power it can give you over others?
  • …Or the status to which it can elevate you?
  • …Or something else altogether?

Let’s face it- Each of us has a slightly unique answer to this question, a different thing that money does for us.  This is critically important to pay attention to- because inevitably, for better or for worse, our perspective on money shapes our practice with it.  Or to state it differently, our desires always shape our decisions.  Consider a few ways this can play out financially…

  • When money = comfort, we tend to spend big, and at our worst, without planning or discipline.
  • When money = security, we lean hard into saving, and likely experience nagging anxiety no matter how much we have.
  • When money = status, we often spend to make a statement, with mixed motives that can stain even our seemingly “good deeds” (“Have you seen how much they gave to ____________? Wow!”)

All of these scenarios- along with many others we could list here, but haven’t- are visible ways that what the Bible calls the “love of money” shows up in our lives.  Notice that in each circumstance, it isn’t necessarily money itself that we “love,” but rather what money can get us.  Money is like the “key” that promises to open up the doors that we want to walk through.

So why is this a problem?  Because although money can often open the first “door” (and perhaps a few after that!)- be it the “door” of comfort, security, power, status, or something else- there are always more doors to open.  There is never a point at which “enough” is actually enough.

  • There will always be more comforts to be pursued.
  • There will always be more emergencies to avoid.
  • There will always be more people to influence, impress, or (if we’re being brutally honest) outdo.

Most of us, of course, don’t think this way.  We believe the lie that one day, we’ll get “there” financially, wherever “there” is- and then we’ll be satisfied.  But we never do- at least not for long.  We always find ourselves standing at yet another locked “door,” with an insatiable craving for that which we believe will open it yet again.  As Pastor Andy Stanley has said wisely, “Our appetites for more are never fully and finally satisfied.”

So what’s the alternative?  How can we take what we’ve learned from this little exercise and put it into practice in a productive and God glorifying way?  I believe there are three key steps each of us must take…

  • First, understand and own your unique vulnerability in this area. If you’re prone to unwise spending, say it.  If your lean is toward anxious saving, speak it.  If you honestly lack a generous heart, admit it.  I get that this can be scary and uncomfortable, but it’s critical if we are ever going to break out of the cycle in which many of us find ourselves.
  • Second, shift your thinking on money from something you live for to something you live with. As Christian financial expert Ron Blue says, money itself isn’t evil, but it can never function as an end unto itself.  It is, instead, “a tool, a test, and a testimony”- something that provides us with an opportunity to grow in maturity and trust in Jesus Christ, and to powerfully share His love with others.
  • Finally, and most importantly of all, consider how Jesus alone can do for you what you’ve been asking money to do. Search His Word for promises that speak to the longings of your heart and mind, and replace your craving for money with a growing craving for Him.  Make Him your comfort…make Him your security…make Him your worth and value.  He alone can fully and finally satisfy.  Don’t trade His truth for money’s lies!

I remember vividly when this became real to me.  I had never thought of myself as a “lover of money” before, but a few years ago, after several years of disciplined budgeting and diligent saving on a relatively modest income, I was feeling pretty good about the “security” that our money had afforded us.

And then, in a rapid fire “series of unfortunate events,” it all went away- and I was incredibly bothered.  Not that it was wrong to be bothered under the circumstances, which were admittedly unpleasant.  But this went deeper than a mere, “Oh, that stinks.”  What the Holy Spirit began to reveal to me was that, in an unconscious way, I had begun to place more trust in money- and in my own ability to manage- than I did in God, and in His ability to provide it.  This was humbling to recognize and admit, but it became apparent to me at that point that this was my unique vulnerability, and I needed to repent and ask God to change my heart in this area.

A few years later, we are working toward some goals once again, seeking to be wise stewards of that which God has entrusted to us.  This time around, though, my hope and prayer is that our ultimate confidence will not be in our own financial savvy, but in God’s good heart and able hand.  We will do our best to be wise, but ultimately we are trusting in Him as our all-satisfying hope.

That’s my story in response to this little exercise.  What’s yours?  I pray you’ll take the time this week to consider it, starting with this simple question- What does money mean to you?

 

 

Are You Afraid Of The Dark?

shadow-monster

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16, ESV)

There is a monster living in the corner of our seven year old daughter’s room.  How do I know?  Because she has been telling me about it for years!

It generally makes it home in shadowy corner just under her window, but if you get too close, it isn’t beneath slipping into her closet, just out of reach and out of sight.  It has some very specific conditions for coming out, too- it has to be dark, and she has to be alone.  Apparently, it gets pretty skittish around even small crowds- and it absolutely hates light of any kind.  So while it is admittedly a pretty pesky, persistent little guy- he has been paying regular nighttime visits for several years now- if you have the right tools at your disposal, he’s incredibly beatable.

Let’s be real here- Whether you’re a parent, grandparent, teacher, older sibling, or anyone else who deals with kids on a regular basis, you’ve probably played out something very similar to the scenario I’ve described above.  And if you’re anything like me- and on this point, I’m guessing you probably are- you’ve likely played along graciously in an effort to calm young minds, while at the same time thinking to yourself, “This is pretty ridiculous.”  After all, it is the fear of the unseen, the unknown, and the unchallenged that gives such “monsters” their power.  It is in darkness that such fear thrives, and in the light that it finally dies.

Now it’s been a loooooong time since I’ve been seven years old, but what I’ve recently realized is that as we grow older, the “monster” never really goes away; it just change residences, moving from the dark corners of our bedrooms to the dark corners of our hearts.  Eventually it gets a name too- shame.  With every mistake we make in life, every struggle we face in relationships, every failure we experience on our journey, the monster grows more and more powerful.  It feeds on our anxieties and insecurities.  And the bigger it grows, the more feverishly we work to keep it tucked away in the shadows, and the more fearful we are to shine a light in its direction and face it.

The “shame monster,” as I call it, comes in near countless variations.  A few common ones…

  • Shame over a checkered moral past that continues to follow you
  • Shame over unwise financial decisions and their continuing effects
  • Shame over failed or close-to-failing relationships
  • Shame over unspoken doubts and questions about God and faith
  • Shame over long term, seemingly impossible-to-shake sin struggles

I don’t know which of these resonate most with you, but here’s what I know for certain- Just like the live-in “monster” in our daughter’s room, every unique version of the “shame monster” has two things in common…

  • It thrives in the dark.
  • It dies in the light.

One of shame’s greatest effects on us is its relentless power to paralyze.  It deceives us into believing the lie that our sin is too ugly to own, too scary to reveal, and too grievous to forgive.  So we keep it tight under wraps, and do our best to pretend that it isn’t there, that it isn’t impacting us all the time.  Some of us are better at pretending than others, but no matter how skilled we are at putting on a “happy face” for others, as long as we’re lying about what’s really happening in our hearts, shame wins.

So what’s the alternative?  To bring the “shame monster” kicking and screaming into the light of the Gospel of Jesus, believing it and applying it to our specific situation.  Here’s how we do that practically…

  • Own your sin, the ultimate source of our shame. Own it before God to find forgiveness, and own it before others to experience healing.
  • Consider the Cross, the reality that all your sin and shame were nailed to it with Jesus Christ, our perfect substitute sacrifice. Because Jesus took your place, bearing God’s wrath on your behalf, sin and shame no longer have to hold you captive.  Recognize that the Cross is not just an objective fact, it is a personal
  • Live in the light. Be open about your struggles and failures, and about the truth that they no longer have to define you, because Jesus has given you a brand new identity in Him!  This will not only help you to remember and hold on to this, but it will also send the message to others that they too can experience the same forgiveness and freedom.
  • Fight the temptation to isolate. Remember- shame thrives in the darkness, and disconnection drives us into that darkness like nothing else.  This is why the local church, and the opportunities that she provides us to build relationships, is such a critical, non-negotiable part of our thriving in Jesus Christ.  We weren’t made to live independently, but interdependently.

Back to where we started, I have a suspicion that in years to come, we’re going to see less and less of the “monster” in the corner of the house’s back bedroom.  That battle will soon be over- but a much deeper one will continue to rage, in the hearts of every member of our family- and in the hearts of every member of yours too.  I’m committed to fighting that fight with the piercing light of the Gospel, because I know more and more that that’s our only shot at winning.  Wherever you find yourself today, I pray that you would take up that same weapon and find victory and freedom too.

Just Enough Is Not Enough

NFC Championship Football

“Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord”- Romans 12:11 (ESV)

Last Sunday evening, millions of people across America and around the world tuned in to watch what is arguably the single most celebrated American sporting event of the year- the NFL’s Super Bowl.  For the better part of three quarters, the Atlanta Falcons- quite surprisingly, to most fans and observers- absolutely dominated the New England Patriots, to the tune of a seemingly insurmountable 28-3 lead.  At this point, many parties began to wind down, and likely many TVs began to be turned off, because it was over…right?  Right?!

Wrong.

From the 8:51 point of the third quarter on through the end of the regulation and overtime, Tom Brady and the Patriots would orchestrate the single greatest comeback in NFL playoff history, capped by a touchdown on the first possession of overtime, to defeat those Dirty Birds by a final score of 34-28.  If you are a Patriots fan, it was, of course, absolutely exhilarating.  And if you have the misfortune of being a Falcons fan (which is quite a misfortune in its own right!), the misery of your championship-less history was extended and deepened in a most gut-wrenching fashion.

As I reflected on this historic game late Sunday night, I thought back to the message I had preached at FC Airline that morning.  Working from Jesus’ powerful words in Matthew 5 and Luke 6, we were challenged to “go beyond” in our giving, our going, and our loving- to live every aspect of our lives with “second mile mentality.”  As I thought more about that hauntingly high standard, and about the incredible happenings I had just witnessed on my TV, this statement struck me…

Just enough is not enough. 

It wasn’t enough for the Falcons to finish what they started in that fateful Super Bowl loss, and it isn’t enough for those who have been named with the name of Jesus.  In fact, it is never enough if we are to live the life that God has called us to live as His unique people.

If we’re being honest with God, ourselves, and each other- “keeping it real,” as we say- I think we’re all pretty well acquainted with “just enough,” aren’t we?  In many ways, it is the natural bent of our sinful hearts; we want to live our lives in such a way that we appease God and assuage our guilty consciences, but don’t get “too radical” about things.  I confess that I have lived too many days of my life with this very mentality.  I’m guessing I’m not the only one.  So what are some ways that “just enough” plays out practically in our lives today?

“Just enough” giving.  We don’t keep everything to ourselves.  We write a check to the church or to our favorite charity from time to time, and maybe toss a couple bucks to the homeless guy on the corner.  This helps us to feel like we’re “doing some good,” but never works to release the relentless chains of greed, materialism, and “possession obsession” from our hearts.

“Just enough” confession.  Nobody wants to be known as a “fake.”  But at the same time, true authenticity is pretty scary stuff, isn’t it?  So we often settle for the halfway version of honesty.  We share the safe stuff, the surface level symptoms of the sin-sickness that afflicts the depths of our hearts.  Because we’re sharing something– again, nobody wants to be perceived as claiming perfection- we justify the things we continue to hold shamefully in secret.

“Just enough” service.  Just as nobody wants to be seen as inauthentic, likewise no one wants to be called lazy.  In an effort to avoid this, often we choose to serve somehow– but in a halfhearted, “bare minimum” kind of way that doesn’t stretch us into the realm of the uncomfortable or challenging.  Tragically, many Jesus followers are selling short the Spirit’s great power and giftedness within them simply because we don’t want to make the sacrifice to use it to its fullness.

“Just enough” discipline.  This is one the foremost hallmarks of lifeless, routine, “checklist Christianity.”  Sure, we may crack open the Bible regularly- perhaps even daily- and toss a casual prayer to heaven each morning and evening, but we do so without any real engagement or expectation.  We do it “because we’re supposed to,” or maybe “because we’ve done it for years,” but the freshness and impact that God promises- and truly desires to give His children- is long gone.

“Just enough” leadership.  One of my all-time favorite statements on leadership comes from Andy Stanley- “Leadership is a stewardship.  It is temporary, and you are accountable.”  That’s rich- and for many of us, uncomfortably weighty.  As a result, many of us avoid stepping fully into the leadership responsibility and opportunity that God has laid before us.  We use false humility as a defense mechanism- “Oh, I just don’t think I’m qualified for that…”  Essentially, we play it safe- when God has instead called us to step boldly into His call in our families, schools, workplaces, churches, and communities.

I recognize that these are tough words, but they aren’t intended as a condemnation- far from it!  God’s invitation to the “second mile life” is an incredible act of grace and generosity.  He wants us to know Him personally and powerfully– in all His glory.  He likewise wants us to be used by Him personally and powerfully– all for His glory.  He wants our lives to echo into eternity, leaving a legacy of spiritual impact on those who we have the opportunity to touch.  This is what we were made for- all of us!- and this is where true joy, “real life,” is found. 

Because of this truth, “just enough” just isn’t enough; it is a profound and tragic “selling short” of God’s design and desire.  Where and how have you been settling for “just enough” in your life lately?  What would it look like to live with a “second mile mentality” in one of the areas mentioned here- or perhaps another?  What would it look like to live a life “worthy of the calling to which we have been called” in Jesus Christ?  My hope and prayer is all of us will step out today to find out.