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)

kingdom first, all things next

The Sabbath shines the beautiful light of the cross to illuminate what is best and cast a shadow on all other things. That’s what my Sabbath is doing, anyway.

My soul is shifting into a more right position as I stop and listen and breathe: kingdom first, all things next.

My life has too many lists. Lists on papers, lists in books, lists of books, lists on receipts, lists for groceries, lists for tasks, lists of bills, lists on bills, lists for the future, lists of people. Maybe it’s not too many. Maybe all the lists are okay.

But, this morning as I was thinking about seeking the kingdom, a peace seemed to settle all the many numbered things I keep adding in bullet points to my life.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33, ESV)

My lists of all things too often come first. My plans and schedules and scribbled to-dos too often crowd out the first thing. That’s when I find myself living in the shadows instead of enjoying the sun.

We are invited to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness first and then promised that the lists of all things will get rightly sorted.

The cross perfectly illuminates our freedom and perfectly beckons us to joy.

His kingdom is the best thing to seek, the most rewarding and the most exciting. Today, the Sabbath is reminding me to rightly order what I seek.

no cross so heavy

There is a line in one of my favorite hymns, Count Your Many Blessings, that sings this melody in the second verse,

“Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?”

And it is this song that came to mind as I read from 1 John that “his commandments are not burdensome.” The weight pressing on top of hunched, wearied shoulders is not the weight of God’s commandments.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.

And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:1-5 ESV, emphasis mine)

Because we are freed to follow, freed to love, freed to obey, freed to hope in believing the power of Christ’s death and resurrection.

Freed.

If a slave is released from the toil of one yoke to another – from the demands of one set of chains to the demands of another – we do not proclaim him free. He is not free. The nature of his slavery is that he must work to live.

The nature of our freedom in Christ is that Christ’s work grants life. The work is accomplished and freedom is gained in believing.

So, when we read that our love of God is expressed in our keeping of His commandments, it is not because our law abiding secures our life.

Did you hear that, friend?

There is not one law-abiding thing you can do to make your life more secure. Christ has done all the work and offers you all the reward.

This is the victory – the glorious, weightless truth that Christ broke the slave chains of sin and destroyed the yoke of death. And He did all this without our help, while we were helpless.

Today, remember that keeping God’s commandments is what we are freed into and that Christ stands in the gap when we obey imperfectly. When we believe that Christ truly conquered and canceled sin on the cross, our righteousness rests on the burden he bore on our behalf. Let’s love Him and keep His commandments with this kind of grace hemming us in.

The cross might seem heavy that you are called to bear, but there is no cross so heavy as the cross Christ bore on our behalf to free us to love Him, obey Him, serve Him, and enjoy Him.

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

 

but for you who fear My name

Remember yesterday? When I was holding on to hope?

It was like someone tried to pop my balloon after that post went live. It was just a 20 minute thought in the middle of yesterday’s traipsing… but hours later I wondered if my cases had read it and wanted to prove me wrong.

Today, I’m remembering what it means to have my feet planted in future grace. It means God has freed me from anxiety, authored my peace, and anchored me in hope. In faith, I believe this today – that the Son of God will rise with healing in His wings. And I believe my day can look different because of my belief.

The Lord is good and gracious to those who fear Him.

I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the LORD;
let the humble hear and be glad.

Oh, magnify the LORD with me,
and let us exalt his name together!
I sought the LORD, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.

Those who look to him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him
and saved him out of all his troubles.

The angel of the LORD encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints,
for those who fear him have no lack!
The young lions suffer want and hunger;
but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.

Come, O children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
What man is there who desires life
and loves many days, that he may see good?

Keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from speaking deceit.
Turn away from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.

The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous
and his ears toward their cry.
The face of the LORD is against those who do evil,
to cut off the memory of them from the earth.

When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears
and delivers them out of all their troubles.
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the LORD delivers him out of them all.
He keeps all his bones;
not one of them is broken.

Affliction will slay the wicked,
and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
The LORD redeems the life of his servants;
none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.
(Psalm 34 ESV)