I am not the fixer: a repeat lesson on grace and faith

No advice is ever new. It’s all been said before and probably many times. When she was growing up, my mom jokingly numbered her dad’s talks. He would sigh deep and launch into a lesson on life and she would say, “Oh, is this #642?” Because, of course, she’d heard them all (hasn’t every teenager?).

Yesterday, I needed to hear a repeat. I don’t know what number lesson it is, but it’s the one I need almost every day and especially on this day. A couple cases were just stretching my heart to breaking. I found myself thinking up ways I could make things easier for the kids and for the parents and for the transitions. But, it’s just all so messy.

Broken relationships, broken trust, broken love, broken houses. Brokenness can never stay as is without someone suffering payment.

When things break, someone has to pay.

I don’t have to tell you about the brokenness. You see it, too. Your best friend, co-worker, dad, brother, cousin, neighbor, step-sister… you are familiar with brokenness and you know its high cost.

I had about an hour after a meeting yesterday and before my nightly rounds began. After work ended, I would have another very difficult personal conversation about brokenness. In the middle of work and personal messes, I needed to remember that messes are well beyond my power to fix them.

I am not the fixer.

The very best way I can respond when messes make their way to my door or crawl out of my own heart is to seek the Lord.

So, I sat with my computer in my lap and read this little devotional from Solid Joys on Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.” I needed to hear the lesson on faith because it rightly positions my heart to seek sufficiency where it can be found. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve heard it before, my heart needed to hear it again.

Because I am not the fixer. I don’t have the tools or the expertise. I don’t have the right words or the right timing. I don’t have the power to mend brokenness or pay for its destruction. I don’t have access to that kind of bounty.

Faith is the act of our soul that turns away from our own insufficiency to the free and all-sufficient resources of God. Faith focuses on the freedom of God to dispense grace to the unworthy. It banks on the bounty of God. (John Piper, Future Grace p. 182-183)

Oh, but I love my Jesus!

In faith, I can believe that He is the same grace-giver today that He was yesterday, the same sufficient provider and the same bondage breaker. His resources never end. All the cost of brokenness that ever was does not exceed the payment of the cross. But He does not just make payment for all the ways we’ve been in wrong relationship with God and man, He restores us and renews us and revives us once again. The broken are mended and made new in Christ.

By His grace, we believe He is capable of this kind of miraculous mending. As often as I hear the lesson, I cling to the grace that allows my belief. Yesterday, I needed to hear a repeat.

And do you know what He did?

As I made a mess of nightly rounds, a colleague asked me, “You seem different, peaceful. You kinda strike me as the tree-hugger type…”

I didn’t really know what to do with that, but it felt like he was making a compliment. He backtracked and danced around political correctness (ah, government workers), but I kind of giggled, “Well, I’m not exactly a tree-hugger, but I do feel at peace.”

And then I explained it was because of my faith that I could have any peace at all. I thought that might be the end of it. Nobody wants to hear about “religion” these days, so we’re told. But, he did and he started asking questions. We were both a captive audience in that car and I knew the clock said I was late to my next two appointments, but I felt a very perfect calmness.

He’d been brought up Baptist, but then he got “curious” and frustrated with a God who required punitive damages – the exchange of hellbound consequences for actions didn’t seem consistent with forgiveness and mercy.

I’m almost positive he did not take a direct route to our destination and the part of me that was antsy about the time was won over by the part of me that was excited about his questions. We talked about sin requiring payment (from somebody) and the mercy God showed in giving the payment on our behalf. In our line of work, we are familiar with brokenness and payment required… but the miracle of salvation is that a third party steps in to pay AND to mend. And God is the only one with the power and authority to do so.

I prayed for him and his family all the way to my next appointment – that they would soon be numbered as sons and daughters of the King. And I breathed deep the grace that gave me faith to believe it is possible – for him and for me. This is a lesson I need on repeat.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

cast your deadly “doing” down

Complete has a faster footspeed than my best race pace. I’ve chased it enough to know it’s always just beyond my reach. A quiet morning is sometimes the best backdrop to be still and let truth sink in. That’s where I am this morning – sitting while white hot Truth is sinking in deep.

And the word complete makes sense at this speed.

Some days, I chase wholeness with diet soda and frenzied activity. Other days I chase it curled up with books and blankets. All the chasing and the doing feels like the fastest way to accomplish completeness. It feels productive and shrewd and mature to be busy with all the right things.

But complete has a faster footspeed than my best race pace, and the only way I’ve ever caught up to feel the fullness of it is to just be still. This stanza from the hymn “It is Finished” by James Proctor captures the beauty of completeness in just the way this morning needs.

Cast your deadly “doing” down—
Down at Jesus’ feet;
Stand in Him, in Him alone,
Gloriously complete.

Yes, often my “doing” is deadly and must be cast at Jesus’ feet. It’s strange how tightly I can hold something that kills me – how firmly I can grip something that eats away completeness from the inside. How foolish I am to cling to the very thing that prevents wholeness (in an effort to make myself whole). It sounds dreadful.

I praise God for Truth in the stillness on Wednesday mornings, when the birds and the neighbors and the buzz of traffic accompany my reverie. I praise God for inviting me to cast my deadly “doing” down at His feet (time and time again). I praise God for His sufficiency that makes me whole. I praise God for the work of Christ, where I am complete.

There is nothing I can do that will get me closer to what’s been done.

I am complete – gloriously complete and that is sealed by the finished work of Christ on the cross. No amount of doing or chasing or wishing or wasting can come close to accomplishing what Christ did. So, the best thing to do in the stillness of a Wednesday morning is praise. I will praise today with my feet planted firmly in Him alone.

jesus loves Me vs. Jesus loves me

Jesus loves me, this I know
for the Bible tells me so
Little ones to Him belong
they are weak but He is strong

Yes, we know.
We know every person is special.
We know every single child is unique.

And praise God for the way He has fashioned us each beautifully different to reflect His creative glory! But, do we think that our special-ness and unique-ness merits Jesus’ love?

Do we believe our lovability makes Jesus’ love for us obvious?

When children are young and cute, it’s hard not to make a big deal about them. It’s hard  not to fuss over how cute or brave or strong or daring they are. We promote their self-centered orbit by circling around them with our affections.

There is a subtle, creeping danger, then, of making the universal children’s Sunday school anthem meaningless.

If we sing, “Jesus loves Me, this I know” with the understanding that Jesus could do nothing but love us, His love is nothing miraculous or mysterious or beautiful because we believe we deserve it.

And a love that we deserve from Jesus would make us the central character. And if we are the central character, then we are really greater than God Himself. And if we are worthy of the love He gives because we are greater than God Himself, do we really need His love in the first place?

What is the posture of our hearts when we talk about the love Christ showed for us on the cross? Is it a posture of squared shoulders and nodding acceptance, like one accepting an award or is it a prostrate position of humility and repentance?

I can say with all manner of certainty that Jesus does love me. I do know this because the Bible reveals God’s purposes (that will not be thwarted) and from the very beginning He conspired to pour out great love and grace.

I know that Jesus loves me because He came and spent Himself unto death for the “little ones to Him belong.”

I know Jesus loves me because His bent shoulders that carried the cross are strong enough to bear my every affliction and weakness.

I know Jesus loves me because He prepares a place for me in eternity, where I will enjoy uninterrupted communion with my Maker.

I know that Jesus loves me, but it is because He is the central and most important character in history that His love holds any weight or power.

Because God is rich in grace and mercy, He gives lavishly what His creation is not worthy to receive. And in this giving, we experience a love that far surpasses the petty affection of anything that can be earned.

That is what makes Jesus’ love for us so beautiful.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10 ESV)

when little children understand that badness needs a remedy

I enjoy anything Rain for Roots or Sally Lloyd-Jones. Just quality folks with the kind of creativity that touches the spirit of little ones, you know? Well, their collaboration with the Rain for Roots CD is brilliant and so recently I made it my soundtrack while I chauffeur little ones around the city.

One little one said (after a tantrum heavy hour),

“I feel bad…
because I was bad.”

I had to stop swaying to “Jesus is Alive” in the front seat to ask,

“What’s that, sweetie?”

“I feel bad…
because I was bad.”

Oh, the beauty and tenderness of a fragile heart! I melted a little bit and pleaded silently for wisdom – not the high brow kind, but the singing and dancing and leaping kind.

Have you ever been inside a moment where you know the Gospel is begging to be shared – just right there in front of you like an open door? Have you ever started to walk through in faith and found yourself on the threshold thinking, “This sounds CRAZY! How is this ever going to make sense?”

And then the longer you talk about it, the more you are convinced that you’re not making sense. That’s the moment you start praying simultaneously for God to graciously rip out your words and replace them with His – one of those supernatural things where the person hears something you might not even be speaking.

Just me? Hm.

But this little one, she was listening.

She was listening to another child who was once lost, but a child who was found by God. She was listening as I talked about why we feel bad when we are bad… about how our badness hurts other people. I told her that her badness hurt me, because badness always hurts people.

“Are you hurt?”

I said I was, but that there is something called forgiveness.

And that led to talking about God, who taught us how to forgive – who sent His Son out of love but was hurt in the worst way. His Son was even killed because of people’s badness.

“He walked on this ground?”

Yep, He walked on this ground – like a person.

“And then they killed him?”

Yes, that’s pretty bad, huh?

“Yeah, that’s really bad.”

This God who offered forgiveness for the badness of those who hurt Him also offers forgiveness to us if we believe Jesus is God’s Son and has the power to forgive us.

We pulled into the driveway and gathered everything from the backseat. As we were walking up the sidewalk, I said, “You know what? I’m so glad I saw you today. You are very special.”

“Even though I was bad?”

“Yes, even though you were bad.”

And especially because you were bad, dear child! I wanted to say. Especially because you understand there is badness in you that makes you uncomfortable and sad and sick with guilt. 

I drove away from that house with all sorts of prayers that God would replace my words with His and melt the heart of this little one so she can know His forgiveness and love. I prayed that she would understand what it means that Jesus is alive.

ALIVE and daily offering to break the cycle of badness with the weight of His forgiveness and grace. ALIVE.

Because badness needs a remedy and His name is Jesus. And He is ALIVE!

let LOVE fly like cRaZY

if I have to sell my soul

“This is *Christmas*. The season of perpetual hope. And I don’t care if I have to get out on your runway and hitchhike. If it costs me everything I own, if I have to sell my soul to the devil himself, I am going to get home to my son.” (Kate McCallister to the Scranton ticket agent in “Home Alone”)
Do you remember that scene? We see the raw desperation of a mom who loves her son with a love that says crazy things. Why do I bring it up, other than the fact that Home Alone ranks as one of the best movies of this season?
Because it reminds me of Paul’s desperate words for the Jews in Romans 9:
I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. (Romans 9:1-5 ESV)

If you can’t hear Paul’s heart of love in this passage, read it until you do. The truth he speaks about has taken hold of him in such a way that he cannot bear to see others believe lies. He had “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” in his heart. This is not just a movement Paul joined or an experience or a short-lived passion. His heart got ill over the lost.

If you are not in anguish over the lost around you this morning, consider God’s great mercy in calling them to Himself. Consider that as one child chooses Him, she passes from a life of separation from Christ into a life of union with Christ.

Wow.

The knowledge impresses me into silence, but it also motivates. There are many motivators to do the good deeds God has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10). We can be motivated by anguish and sorrow to share with urgency, but we can also be motivated by joy and gratitude to share with patience. Both motivators come from an understanding of the crazy love we’ve been shown. Crazy love speaks crazy things. 

Let’s be willing to speak crazy things as a result of God’s love for us and in us.

I’m not petitioning for the words “Merry Christmas” to be shared at the checkout counter. Nope, I’m talking about getting on our knees to ask for crazy love so that we can open up our hearts to share that crazy love with others. 

Imagine saying Kate McCallister’s words about your neighbors, your co-workers, your family, your best friend. Does it feel awkward? Might we ask God to grow that kind of crazy love in us so we can pray as Paul did?

Christmas is a miracle. How are you going to tell the story?

let LOVE fly like cRaZy 

St. Francis, evangelism, reliable research, sexual identity, and the 99% I’ll support

I was gone last week in Michigan, but I tried to stay up on my reading. I slipped away a few times to work and inevitably ended up perusing Twitter and the blogosphere to find out what’s going on in the world. I think of my twitter account like one of those tickers that talk about the Dow Jones or Wall Street (I guess all that information flying across the screen is about the economy or something). Twitter is more my cup ‘o tea because it’s an aggregator of information of news in theology, arts, crafts, foods, and popular headlines. I don’t find everything there, but between twitter and blog posts sent to my email, I read a lot of content from a computer screen. Here are some of the things I’ve found.

  • How well do you know the saints? You know, the ones that get their soundbites memorialized on those inspirational posters with landscape scenery. How well do you know about their lives, their ministries, and their beliefs? Do you know them well enough to recognize when they are being misrepresented? St. Francis of Assisi is famous for saying, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” There is one huge problem with this inspiration – it didn’t happen. Check out this great article, “FactChecker: Misquoting Francis of Assisi by Glenn T. Stanton to find out more.
  • This short article, “No Such Thing as the Gift of Evangelism” by Ed Stetzer exposes the excuses far too many believers use to ‘get out of’ sharing the gospel with others. I’m interested to know your thoughts – especially if you’ve taken a Spiritual Gifts Inventory that said you are not gifted in evangelism. Stetzer shares four proposals that I think are very helpful.
  • Have you ever wondered where the statistics come from that say a child in the foster care system requires 40 square feet to live in the state of Iowa (true story, I checked)? Where does research come from and why do we trust it? Who is checking and double checking the methods of the researchers and how many re-writes of the results happen before the public sees it? Here’s the biggest question: when we don’t agree with what research finds, is it bad research or just disagreeable results? A professor at UT conducted research of children of gay parents and came up with some very UNpopular results. A blogger wrote a letter and now the University of Texas is looking into his “questionable” ethics in the study. Check out this article from Denny Burk, “The Witch-Hunt for Mark Regnerus” and see if you can make sense of it.
  • This article, “The New Sexual Identity Crisis” from Jeff Buchanan (Executive Vice President of Exodus International) writes about the identity fragmentation that we see in regards to sexuality. Too many people have chalked it up to progress or trend or fad and not enough of us have taken a deep look at what it means for society and culture that we are a people so sexually confused. This article gives great insight.
  • In this video, Jonah Lehrer shares that “grit is the stubborn refusal to quit.” I love that. I can support 99% when it stands for good, old-fashioned perspiration. If you’ve got the time, his insights on creativity and how we get there are really refreshing.
  • I am a huge fan of the arts. HUGE. My mom is a music teacher, my dad’s family of 10 grew up performing, and I grew up on the stage with my siblings in church and school productions. This story in the Huffington Post, “Grace, Love, Courage: on Art, Artists, and Patronage” talks about one particular person and her support of the arts.

As always, I could give you more, but these should keep you pretty busy. Enjoy, folks, and don’t forget: knowledge is useless if it doesn’t result in acts of love. Even knowledge of what’s going on in the world should point us back to ways that we can serve and share the hope of the gospel.

Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.

(1 Corinthians 8:1-3 ESV)

destroyed for lack of knowledge

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;
because you have rejected knowledge,
I reject you from being a priest to me.
And since you have forgotten the law of your God,
I also will forget your children.
(Hosea 4:6 ESV)

On the way to work my shift at the print shop last night, I was thinking about my morning meeting at the university that didn’t go as planned and about the transportation for the youth summer trips and about the grades for the Bible Instruction Course that still need calculated and about preparing a meal for 70 at the soup kitchen downtown.

I was glad to be on my bike, pedaling against the wind that I wished would blow through the clutter in my mind.

When I got to work, Derek asked if I had just woken up and I desperately wished I could have said yes. I slid into the groove and Derek, Jeremiah, and I made good progress on the night’s orders, though I kept noticing the weight of my feet.

And then Derek asked, “You read the Bible, right?”

Whatever was dead in me revived and I think my eyes got really big, “Uh-huh…”

“Well, you believe that it’s all true, right? ‘Cuz I have a question…”

I smelled trouble, “Derek, this sounds like I’m about to walk into a trap, but I’ll hang with you. What’s your question?”

He kind of smirked, acknowledging his underhanded set-up of this conversation, “Well, why does it tell me I can’t mix threads in my clothing or that we can’t eat, like, meat of hooved animals?”

I was quiet for a bit, measuring his interest.

“I mean, do you believe that – because you believe the Bible, right?” he pushed a little further.

“Derek… can you hear me out?” I thought I should get his permission before launching into a discussion of the old and new covenants and the significance of the Bible read as a whole.

He actually looked surprised, “Oh, of course! That’s why I asked.”

Derek is currently one of my favorite people and he wears genuine around like its high fashion. So, I took a deep breath and dove in. I can’t really explain what happened next.

We talked about Adam and sin and how it put all people at odds with God. We talked about Moses and Abraham and the guidelines God gave in the Old Testament for a holy, healthy life. We talked about the covenant God made with the people and how that covenant set up a temporary system until the fully sufficient sacrifice – a Savior – would arrive. We talked about Jesus and how he was that sacrifice. We talked about Peter’s vision in Acts 10 and about how salvation is not based on works or a family pedigree. We talked about how salvation is meant to bring freedom from the bondage of sin.

Not one customer came in during our conversation and the telephone stayed silent.

At the end of all this rambling, Derek asked, “So, does your church teach you that stuff – like do they present it like that? How do you know what you just said?”

I threw off all the strange weight of a full day, as I stood there and heard his questions. There was nothing else but his question and the Truth that answered him.

I shared the Gospel, plain and simple. I was a sinner, destined for destruction and deserving of death. But, I believe that Christ took my place on the cross and I’m now united in right relationship with Him and freed to live life abundantly with a knowledge of the Lord. The Spirit lives inside me and He shows me what is true. He gives me understanding as I read the Bible. The more I read the Bible, the better I know the Lord. And, yes, church is part of that process.

My knowledge of the Lord is my delight. Knowing Him means mystery, adventure, security, refuge, and cRaZy joy.

And so I want Derek to know Him, too! I want him to get lost in the wonder and get filled with the beauty that comes as we grow in the knowledge of the Lord.

God desires that we return to Him – that we seek Him and not vain pursuits.

“Come, let us return to the LORD;
for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him.
(Hosea 6:1-2 ESV)

Hosea’s story parallels the hearts of the wayward Israelites – who pursued many lovers. Our story is similarly told – our hearts are inclined to love another. But, in Hosea, there is a future hope of reuniting with the Lord through Christ on the cross, “…after two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up…”

We live with that hope.

Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD;
his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
as the spring rains that water the earth.”
(Hosea 6:3 ESV)

Let us know.
Let us press on to know the Lord.
By the grace of God, may we not be destroyed for lack of knowledge. 

let LOVE fly like cRaZy