our striving would be losing

If there ever was someone who deserved the distinction of being absolute, that someone is Jesus. He declared himself the absolute, only way to enter into the kingdom of heaven (John 14:6). In this question, there is no grey area – not a single drop of ying yang to dilute what He has spelled out explicitly in His word.

Christ is salvation for those who believe, but salvation is bigger than we think. It is not just a salvation from judgment. Christ’s salvation is also salvation into righteousness. In the same moment that He freed us from the bloody (literal) cycle of sacrifices, He freed us into obedience by way of His righteousness. We are no longer ruled by the destruction of our secret hearts and the destruction of our sinful humanity. We are not ruled by the darkness that seems to rule the world.

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

We are freed from judgment by Christ’s atoning sacrifice and freed into obedience by Christ’s imputing righteousness.

What we believe about Jesus Christ matters because our lives could never stand up to God’s righteous judgment. My sin goes before me and follows close behind. The good I want to do gets muddled up in my own schemes and I am daily reminded of my sin that leads to death. I am weak against greed and pride and lust and fear and faithlessness. There is not a day I could stand upright in the face of God’s righteous judgment.

But God, being rich in mercy called His children before the foundations of the world into freedom from the judgment that is due our dead bones.

I need for Christ to offer a salvation that is more than just a courtroom scene where He takes my guilty sentence. I need for Him to be the justice I act and the mercy I show and the love I share. I need for Him to be the righteousness that roots out my fear and greed and lust and pride and I need Him as replacement. I need for Christ to be who God sees when I stand before the throne of judgment. AND HE IS, dear friends!

What we believe about Jesus Christ matters because His sacrifice both atones for our sin (receiving the judgment we are due) AND imputes our righteousness (replacing ours with the perfect life Christ lived).

He is the perfect heart condition when I try to muster compassion. He is the perfect generosity when I scrounge for change. He is the perfect host when I frenzy about with overlapping plans. He is the perfect listener, counselor, and encourager when I am trying very hard and very imperfectly to be all those things.

Yesterday, I sang “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” with a group of strangers in a beautiful church near Union Square. This second verse really tore apart my spirit.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

I do a lot of striving – a lot of confiding in my own strength – and none of it gets me closer to a better salvation. Absolutely not one single attempt (or many) at righteousness will be the reason Christ invites or denies me into His kingdom. Because there is only one right Man, a Man of God’s own choosing, who has the power and perfection to be condemned in my guilty place so that I can become the righteousness of God. Salvation doesn’t get any better than that.

No matter how many hungry folks we feed or naked people we clothe or strangers we invite in, we would never do it perfectly and we would never do it enough. I would never do righteousness enough and (if I could be so bold) you wouldn’t either. We are always striving and our striving is always losing, but God made a way for us to be free of judgment and freed to righteousness. And that way is Jesus.

What we believe about Him is the most pressing, most prominent, most permanent thing today. He makes perfect all our imperfect attempts because He gave us His righteousness. We are freed from striving for perfection and freed from losing at that game. We are freed into obedience because salvation doesn’t depend on our righteous performance. Salvation depends on the cross and Christ performed that perfectly… so that we could enter into His joy and invite others to the banquet table to meet the Man of God’s own choosing.

As I click at my keyboard, wet and sloppy tears are tracking through the blush on my cheeks. Everything is snot-messy because salvation will always be a mystery. I don’t understand why I get to know Christ. I don’t understand why my sin does not banish me forever from His presence. I don’t understand why I never have a better response. I don’t understand why my daily song doesn’t sound like worship. I don’t understand why my heart can be so resistant to miracles.

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:20-31 ESV)

what does freedom look like?

I remember having a conversation with my friend Sarah in Honduras – we were sitting on the patio at a café and blocking out the construction noise. We were talking about what it would look like for a person to live as if truly forgiven.

There was a point, soon after we asked the question, where we ran out of words. We just sat there with our eyes in the air and our imaginations running wild. I think we both giggled to break the silence and then agreed that a truly forgiven life would look like freedom.

This morning, that freedom found footsteps as the pastor preached through Galatians 5:13-26. We are designed to walk, but it’s an “out-of-balance” exercise – every footstep is like falling until our feet find the ground again. Movement is uncertain and uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous. Movement in any direction means leaving what is safe and stable (even if just because it is known).

But, we are made to move.

If we didn’t move ever, at all… we would never feel the freedom of motion. We would never get anywhere or experience anything outside of our shoulder width stance. Our safety in what is known would also be our prison, and one we choose for ourselves.

How does freedom work? How do footsteps happen?

After church today, over Panera with my uncle Tom and cousin Vince, we talked about freedom footsteps. Because walking is not an abstract activity. It’s not something you experience by dreaming or talking or thinking. Walking is something you experience by doing and we were made to do it.

So, how do freedom footsteps happen? Because Paul tells the Galatians that we were called to it.

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

We were called to a freedom that breaks us out of the prison of pride and idolatry, safety and self-promotion. We are no longer held captive by the idols that informed our spiritual paralysis. Through the work of the Spirit, by the grace of God, our feet shake the fear weighing us down.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 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. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Our walk – our freedom footsteps – displays the power and glory of the Savior who set us free. We do not keep in step with the Spirit to prove our worth. We keep in step with the Spirit to express our freedom.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.(Galatians 5:13-26, ESV)

Tonight, I met up with my dear friend Emma. We used to meet weekly for “Dream Sessions” where we challenged each other creatively and tonight we had a reunion. She is a very special inspiration and kindred spirit. Her wisdom is crazy years beyond her high school age. As we talked about freedom and footsteps, she shared this quote from memory:

“A ship in a harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are for.” -thought to be spoken by Admiral Grace Murray Hopper

A ship is not made to sit in the harbor, but it can only sail if it is released from the shore. And the same is true of us: by God’s grace we are released from the chains of our shoulder width stance to the freedom of forward motion. Walking with the Spirit is not meant to gain our freedom, but to express it.

grounded in freefall

Do you ever get a sense that you are just floating – waiting for your feet to find land so that you can report a location? Everything feels in motion because you are in motion and it’s hard to orientate yourself when you are in a freefall.

Those typical questions people ask depend a bit on roots, like “Where are you from?” and “What do you do?” My answers, in this freefall, are fluid and sweeping and noncommittal and perhaps a little evasive. I don’t like to let people watch me grasp for ground – it’s uncomfortable to flail about when you are used to being surefooted.

I don’t know how to explain the strange and confident peace that covers my soul in all this uncertain discomfort. I sound like a broken record, but it’s always about believing. Believing the Lord will make good on His promise to provide, protect, and preserve. When we believe God is a faithful promise keeper, the freefall feels different.

When life gives you freefall, become like an astronaut.

Does that sound cheesy? Probably. But, I imagine astronauts do not spend all their gravity-less time wondering if they will ever touch ground again or if there is ground at all all the thousands of miles beneath them.

I imagine they know there is and I imagine they stretch to enjoy the float. I know that astronauts are not in freefall – that they don’t have to fear the impact on the other side of their floating. And my freefall in these uncertain moments is the same: I am secure in God’s promises, secure in the solid rock of His word, secure in the refuge of His wings.

He is my ground when there is none underneath me.

Christ is my identity even as I’m floating in freefall and flailing. I am His and He is mine. He is with me in my present and He is my secure future. I am reading through Galatians and this morning I read,

for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:26-29, ESV)

My identity can’t change mid-flight. I am a son of God – my inheritance is secured in Christ in the middle of all the insecurities I might feel. I have already been named an heir, through faith.

This is my solid ground.

The beautiful thing about putting on Christ like clothes is that He’s with you in the freefall, closer than any other thing. He is my inheritance and secure future, but He is not distant and silent. He is breathing truth to my soul and filling my cup to overflowing. He is holding me together.

When I believe what He has promised, I do not doubt the ground. I do not doubt my future or my inheritance. My adoption means comfort more closely and hope more securely than any other thing.

God has called me His in this freefall. My flailing may not make sense and my floating might make people talk, but my heart is grounded in God’s promises.

 

 

unshackled and unashamed

We crowded the platform overlooking the stage – the three of us in a kind of huddle, swaying and bouncing with giggles.

We danced with our hands in the air, singing the words we knew and mumbling through the ones we didn’t. More than 17,000 people packed the arena and it felt like just the three of us – three blonde sisters savoring the moments and filling the air with laughter. I wasn’t concerned about impressions because I was singing with two beautiful girls who were lost in the music.

I didn’t used to be like this. Junior and high school were about keeping up appearances, no matter how many times I try to say they weren’t. 

Do I look spiritual enough? Do I look too spiritual? Do I look smart enough? Do I seem too smart and not humble?  I did a lot of situational assessment to figure out how to make the best impressions. I know, definitely first world problems.

I thought on those things as I was standing there at the concert, not caring about anything that anyone was thinking. Maybe it was because those things – those silly cultural fears about what others think – seemed so petty when I thought about what my sisters thought of me. I wanted them to see that I was unshackled and unashamed.

Christ doesn’t set free halfway – when he freed me from my sin it was complete. That kind of power pulls people into statements like Paul’s in his letter to the Romans, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes…” That’s not a statement that’s worried about impressions.

The law of the spirit of life has set me free from the law of sin and death. Free.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
(Romans 8:1-11 ESV)

The Spirit of God dwells in me and the Spirit is life and the Spirit gives life – the kind of life that lives unshackled and unashamed. This is the impression I want to make.

Today is the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, and I want to live it unshackled and unashamed.

You may not be giving something up for 40 days, but if you are, let me encourage you: don’t put yourself under the law for 40 days as an act of penitence. If you are in Christ, the law of the Spirit of life has set you free from the law of sin and death. Don’t crawl back under the law so you are condemned again. Instead, live in the freedom His grace provides.

Even as you are giving things up, focus on Jesus as treasure and your small sacrifices will taste so much sweeter.

These 40 days are about choosing Christ instead. When we want chocolate or coffee or facebook or drive-thru or clothes or comfort, choose Christ instead. Sink your teeth into His truth and be filled to full with His grace. He satisfies (Psalm 63) like nothing else.

In sacrifice there is reward and His name is Jesus.

Here’s a devotional you might check out and some of my favorite songs for lent. These 40 days could be a time where you discover what it means to be unshackled and unashamed.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

o love that will not let me go

“How did Jesus have power to do miracles?”

The question was like extracting one drop of water in a massive wave off the coast of El Salvador – marvelous and impossible.

I sat across from Anna and considered the fireworks in my heart. Oh, how I love my Jesus. I got flustered and stumbled over my words in excitement. My haphazard words fluttered out like they would if I was trying to explain that I’d found a key to a secret garden in the center of the city, where hydrangeas and peonies and lilies bloomed year-round. It’s too good to be true and my heart knows it.

The more we study the life of Jesus, the more willing we are to stand in awe – to marvel at the mystery. Anna’s question came from our summer Bible study, “Walking as Jesus Walked” by Dann Spader and my delight came from the response: digging deeper. My delight is not that I have answers, but that through the Spirit we have strength to comprehend the love that surpasses knowledge.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
(Ephesians 3:14-21 ESV)

As the weeks go by, my encouragement to these girls is to go digging – to taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8) over and over and over again. Nothing bad can come of studying the Word and asking God to give us insight. The Word never returns void. When we’ve uncovered verses that we think don’t make sense, it means digging deeper to uncover why they do.

The more we read God’s Word, the more we want to read God’s Word. As we study the life of Jesus, I am holding on to the love that will not let me go – the love that allows me to grow in wisdom and stature, in favor of God and man (Luke 2:52), just like Jesus.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy