to change a life at its root

I spend a good amount of time considering the power and possibility of change. I suppose I’m in that kind of business – the kind where success depends on people changing from bad to better.

But we’re all in stages of bad to better and change is really something everyone is obsessed with – more like this, less like that, etc. And then we funnel our obsession into determination and make every effort to move forward on that sliding scale towards better.

Change, the positive kind that moves us towards something better, is a slippery and untamable little animal.  Keller writes in Jesus is King, “…no one has ever been deeply changed by an act of the will. The only thing that can reforge and change a life at its root is love.”

I’ve spent many frustrated seasons rustling up impressive acts of will in an effort to change (the “many frustrated seasons” should help you know how those turned out). I come from a long line of go-getters, on both sides. I’m not sure if you can grow up on the farm and not be a go-getter, actually. Many times it was a literal ‘pulling up by the bootstraps’ that had to happen to keep our little farm afloat.

In any case, I know what determination looks like and it is a great credit to my parents and family that my understanding hasn’t produced any entitlement. We worked hard, gave generously, and loved fiercely. Oh, we didn’t do it perfectly, but I saw it all happen with a healthy dose of will power. My family’s is a survival story of sorts and outsiders looking in might say we wouldn’t have made it (changed for the better) without an impressive act of the will.

But none of that resolve changed our lives at the root.

The root of a life runs deeper than health and finances and farm accidents. And the root is the only depth that has the power to change the whole tree. Keller writes that in Mark 8:34-9:1 Jesus pointed to the cross (to love) as the only thing that can change a life at its root.

Christ lost himself in every ultimate sense so that we could be found.

Any positive movement on the continuum of change depends entirely on a work that has already been accomplished. I am not working to be approved, but an approved workman who is unashamed (2 Timothy 2:15) to exercise the freedom to live redeemed. The change already took place at the cross and is still taking place through the Spirit in my life. This is sanctification – that we are called holy and set apart because of Christ and that we are becoming holy and set apart because of the Spirit’s faithful work inside us.

All my acts of will are helpless to change my life at its root. Only love can do that.

Keller writes, “Once you see the Son of God loving you like that, once you are moved by that viscerally and existentially, you begin to get a strength, an assurance, a sense of your own value and distinctiveness that is not based on what you’re doing or whether somebody loves you, whether you’ve lost weight or how much money you’ve got. You’re free – the old approach to identity is gone.”

You’re free. Live free today.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

before all that: exploring a life of desperate dependence

Before the breakdown and before the last straw that falls on the camel’s back.

Before all that.

What if we got desperate and dependent before anxiety wrapped its cold, stubborn fingers around our hearts?

I’ve learned dependence before, many times. While boarding with  a leaky car in Austin and while bumming on a co-worker’s couch I learned some important things about dependence. But we have a tendency to label lessons like mile markers – things we’ve passed along the way. Once we’ve learned a lesson, we move on with a forward gaze, assuming the lesson is added to our lives like a scout badge on a vest.

Well, maybe it’s just me that does that – but I’m only cheating myself out of joy if I live treating lessons like mile markers or scout badges.

Oh, how I love my patient and faithful Savior! He is reminding me that “casting all your cares on the Lord because He cares for you” is not merely for the SOS moments. Maybe let me rephrase: our lives are a string of SOS moments.

This is what I am learning and living.

We are made to be desperate, but not the kind of desperate that builds up to a breaking point and then explodes out of control. Not that kind of desperate.

We are made to depend desperately on the One who will trade our need for His provision.

That is His good design. Our dependence is deeper than bread and water, but our needs are all in the same well that His grace is sufficient to fill. That is His good design – desperate dependence, all the time.

We cast our cares on Him because He cares for us – because He has been faithful and promises to be faithful in the future. Our God has never broken a promise, not ever. My desperate dependence is evidence that I believe Him to be just that.

So, when a string of days fills with SOS moments, there is not less joy available. It is not a lesson of dependence that marks another mile walked on the faith road. Desperate dependence is the road we walk, the path we tread as we daily rejoice in His provision for us. He provides all that we need, according to His riches in glory (Philippians 4:19) – and there is no bank with better credit. Our provision comes from the source of all things.

The deep well of His sufficient grace offers peace (Philippians 4:6) when we cast our cares (1 Peter 5:7), believing that God is the strength for our hearts and portion forever (Psalm 73:26).

Before the breakdown and before the last straw (but of course, in those times too), we are invited to desperately depend on the One who can sufficiently provide for our needs and overwhelm our lives with joy.

I could tell you about the past two days – about the car trouble and the appointments and the millions of ways that God gave me good gifts. I could tell you about the near disasters (averted, I know, by the grace of God) and the very friendly repair shop on SE 14th Street. I could tell you about the songs I sang in my car with littles in the backseat and the way they explained the songs to their parent. I could tell you about sitting around a coffee table in community and laughter.

I could tell you just a few of the millions of ways God is providing in the desperately dependent state, but then it might seem like this is something I “learned” in the past two days.

And I didn’t learn it, in the past tense way.

This desperate dependence is meant to be a lifestyle that flows like the lifeblood in my veins, keeping me existing here on earth. So, I’m exploring a life of desperate dependence, walking that road with eternity hidden in my heart.

what you believe changes everything

Just this today, friends.

Our work is to believe and to keep believing. Garrels says,

“What you believe changes everything.”

This work of hanging on to the promises of future grace, of believing God for all that is promised in Christ, this transforms a life and shapes the way you see and mourn for tragedy.

resigned, but found

Resignation sounds like defeat.

It sounds like you let something or someone else win. Resignation often happens after a hard fight – the relaxing of muscles after strained opposition. And there’s a heavy humility in knowing the object of opposition overtook all your efforts.

Resignation sounds like defeat because resignation is defeat. It bends our shoulders in submission as we admit our efforts were just not enough.

If it’s possible, I woke up today feeling this way – resigned, with shoulders bent. I know this sounds like a defeated posture. And, honestly, it feels like a defeated posture. But, as I pray for the Lord to be victorious in and through me today, I know that I must resign my own efforts and rely on His might.

I’m resigning all the ways I would push my own agenda and promote my own schemes so that my heart might be one found by Him and strengthened. The alternative (not resigning to the Lord’s ways, strength, and guidance) is war. When we foolishly oppose God’s purposes by relying on our own efforts, we welcome war.

At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him, “Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the LORD your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you. Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the LORD, he gave them into your hand.

For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.” (2 Chronicles 16:7-9 ESV)

Resignation might look like defeat, but only until your heart is found and strengthened by the living God. Then resignation looks like victory.

“Not I ask for, not I strive for
But Thy grace so rich and free.
That Thou givest whom Thou lovest,
and who truly cleave to Thee.”

hearing the gospel song

“Like you, I need to hear the gospel song over and over again because my soul is a sieve and the gospel leaks out of it, leaving only the husk of Christianity – my self-righteousness and obligations.” Elyse Fitzpatrick in “Counsel from the Cross

You’ll probably have to read that little nugget one more time. I did, anyway.

Is your soul a sieve the gospel leaks out of, leaving the shells of human efforts on top? I feel like no matter how many times I go to the river to fill up my cup, I will soon be found in the desert and empty.

Empty because I let the gospel seep out. Empty because our soul can only be a sieve on this side of heaven.

And that’s why we need the gospel song over and over again – because pretending to be filled only keeps us empty.

In the book, Fitzpatrick asks a friend who is struggling, “How do you think the resurrection impacts this circumstance?” Her friend responds, “I know it should but I just don’t know how.”

How many times is this true of us? We really do believe – in a Sunday knowledge kind of way – that Christ transforms us.

But, we also really believe that Christ has little to do with our best friend’s gambling problem or our parents’ divorce or our children’s grades. We know Christ is in all things and holds all things together (Colossians 1:17), but we also know that little Johnny has had to stay inside from recess because he is spitting at girls.

Can it really be true that the resurrection – that event that took place 2,000 years ago – could impact the gambling and the divorce and the grades and Johnny? And if the resurrection does have impact (because we know it should), does that mean we just expect all those circumstances to change for the better – kind of like neosporin for cuts?

And that’s why we need the gospel song over and over again – because pretending to be filled only keeps us empty.

When we tackle gambling and divorce and misbehaving little ones apart from the resurrection, we are aides in destruction. When we believe that God is not relevant or helpful or interested in those matters, we are saying that we are the best solution. We convince ourselves that God is a useful “help in times of trouble” only in certain circumstances and for the rest, it’s good old-fashioned DIY (because who knows your problems better than you, anyway?).

How’s that working out for you, champ? Not so good, at least for me. Soon enough, I’ll come crawling back to the throne of grace with all those husks on the top of the sieve and say, “Lord, I’m empty. Give me some of that gospel truth. Remind me what it means that you died and rose again. Remind me of the resurrection.”

The power of the resurrection is in believing God’s sovereignty stretched so far to allow the worst suffering in order to allow the most glory and joy.

The truth is, God is not surprised by your gambling or divorce or Johnny’s spitting. God is not surprised by your fear or your pride or your greed or your desperate need for coffee at 7 am. He is not surprised when you lust after a married man or worry about your jean size or lie on your taxes.

The power of the resurrection is that God was never surprised at sin – that He sent His Son while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8) – and that Christ’s death and resurrection effectively conquers and cancels sin in our lives. Today. Not two thousand years ago. Today – the coffee, the gambling, the pride, Johnny’s spitting, the divorce, and the jealousy.

Christ canceled sin when he endured the cross, “for the joy set before Him” (Hebrews 12:2). And this canceling power frees us to have joy in the middle of struggle and pain and confusion.

This sin-canceling power frees us to live like no circumstance will bury us in the ground, because we have been raised up.

So, let the gospel song be sung over you again and again today. Get filled up and then get filled up again. Sing the power of the resurrection until you forget the words and then listen for the words again.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

Lord, I need You

The road got watery today – just blurred up without warning. I wiped it away and sang this song with the sadness of my own heart’s wandering.

Because where you are, Lord, I am free
Holiness is Christ in me

I need you, O Lord, I need you
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
My God, how I need You

It’s not just that addiction doesn’t know what “side of the tracks” to haunt and it’s not just that the sturdy wooden pews at the courthouse feel so much different than the tattered chairs of a living room. It’s not just the mess of names and family trees and explanations. It’s not just those things, but it is those things too.

I don’t know what started the waterfall today, but I know it made me acutely aware of my need for a Savior. I didn’t make it to small group tonight for the silliest reason – I got lost. Literally, lost on the way back from my last appointment. I was driving back and forth and sideways trying to locate a road that would point me in the direction of home and failed more times than I’ll admit. That’ll shake a person into the knowledge of need and it did me.

I turned off the music and just sang out that chorus on repeat. I realized how beautiful the words “my one defense, my righteousness” are to my soul. My defense against sin and deception and all the forms it takes in my day (frustration, fear, worry, pride, selfishness) is that righteousness is planted in me. God’s grace reaches deeper than my sins can ever go so that I am freed to righteousness in Christ.

My one defense to sin (Christ) is also my victory over sin (righteousness). It’s all wrapped up in one glorious bundle and it took way too long today for me to live like that truth is a Thursday reality. Too long.

I need You, Lord. O my, how I need You!

You have authored miracles in my life to free me from fear and pride and selfishness and worry. I desperately need You to help me walk like You’ve done just that. And I will never grow out of that desperate need.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

 

saying no to things we like in favor of things He loves

I remember saying it in AWANA, speeding through a mile-a-minute. Those little jewels might have been plastic, but it was a big deal to fill up that little brown crown on my bright red vest.

Someone, Denny Messenger probably, slowed me down and asked me to say it again.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24 ESV)

I always memorized things in a sing-songy way, little phrase by little phrase and it almost always ended up sounding like an awkward poem. I would rock back and forth and scrunch up my face if I got stuck. Once successful, I’m sure I beamed as I grabbed my book back to review for the next verse.

Someone like Denny Messenger would take the time to ask what I thought Jesus meant when he asked the disciples to “take his cross” and I would respond in the same sing-song fashion that we have to “do hard things for God.” Well, I’m not sure what I really said, but I imagine it being something like that.

Now, 20 years later, that verse is still hidden in my heart, along with a host of others from the NIV and I can’t tell you how often I’ve been grateful for the early investment. When truth is planted, it grows and always returns blessings.

I was reminded of this verse recently in several conversations with friends. One of the conversations was about vision – is everyone supposed to have a specific vision that requires sacrifice on behalf of Christ? Another conversation was more specifically about understanding what it practically means to “take up your cross.”

Twenty years is a long time for something to be hidden… you’d think the goodness of it would be exhausted by now, that there would be nothing to mine for in one measly little verse from an ancient book that an 8 year-old memorized, partially out of the desire to stand in front of a group of kids to receive a plastic jewel to put in a plastic crown on her vest. But, in the currency of grace, twenty years is an investment that proves its worth.

What does it mean to take up my cross and follow after Christ? What does it mean for 9 am and in the break room and for Tuesday night? Does it mean we start up non-profit organizations? Does it mean we live amongst the poorest of the poor, or at least give all our funds away? Does it mean we find something very, very heavy and then commit to carrying it?

What does it mean to take up my cross and follow after Christ?

My friend shared thoughts on the verse from a devotional that talked about the importance of choosing this “cross.” It is not something situational that you cannot change, but something that you elect just as Christ elected to suffer for the joy set before Him.

But, “What do I choose? How do I find this cross Jesus speaks about?”

I wonder if we race too quickly past Jesus’s first words in this verse, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself…”

Often, I think, Christians are paralyzed because it seems a great chasm exists between walking unencumbered and walking with a heavy cross. Of course, this chasm does exist – the Christian life is not easy or comfortable – but maybe the concept of finding an uncomfortable and heavy cross at 9 am and in the break room and on Tuesday nights is overwhelming to the point of paralysis.

“let him deny himself”

Just as the sanctification process is from one degree of glory to the next (2 Corinthians 3:18), our “taking up of the cross” is a daily denying of ourselves and in the littlest things treasuring Christ first. Very few will feel the weight of a cross on their backs (though Christians are still being crucified), but we all choose what we treasure the most with the weight of daily decisions.

Are you willing to be inconvenienced? Uncomfortable? Awkward? Humiliated? Hated?

Do you treasure Christ more than you treasure popularity in the workplace?
Do you treasure Christ more than you treasure your Monday night TV program?
Do you treasure Christ more than you treasure your weekends of leisure?

We say no to the things we like in favor of the things He loves, because we love Him and believe His promises.

When we treasure Christ the most, our footsteps follow His into self-denial. We present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to the Lord (Romans 12:1) in the ways we deny ourselves and follow Christ into and through any suffering our treasuring of Him might bring.

Want to read about someone who is doing this well? I’m learning a lot from this young man and his journey to make much of Christ as he denies himself and follows Him. Check out this post and see if you don’t agree.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy