Should vs. Need: How My Life Got Wrecked Today

Halloween is a really interesting holiday.

I’m not here to write about the merits or evils of the holiday. To be honest with you, I kind of like it because you can usually get a bunch of Reese’s Cups for pretty cheap, and those pumpkin-shaped Reese’s are delicious.

882017-largeHalloween is all about, for kids at least (and sometimes adults), dressing up and pretending to be somebody else. The Halloween costume that sticks out in my mind as I write this is one from elementary school, when I dressed up as Anakin Skywalker from Star Wars. I had a brown Jedi robe and a toy blue lightsaber. I thought I was hot stuff. I ran around slaying trees with my blade and Force-pushing my brother over. At least I tried to, he seemed to be resistant.

On Halloween, we pretend to be somebody we’re not. Sometimes I find myself doing that as a Christian.

I do things like study my Bible because I feel like I “should” as a Christian. I pray because, well, if I don’t pray I’m not being a good Christian.  If I’m listening to too much secular music, well, shoot, I should turn on some worship music right away or I’ll stop being a good Christian.

I’ve lived like that for a while. I’m confident in my salvation and in my status as a believer, but I was missing the point. I spent too much time trying to be a good Christian to realize what being a Christian is all about. I thought that would find peace, joy, contentment, satisfaction, my place, things I crave.

But today God rocked me with this truth:

I realized that I need to study the Bible, pray, listen to encouraging and challenging Christian music and have fellowship with other believers not because I “should” do them so I can be a good Christian, but because I need to do those things because I’m a bad Christian.

When I pray, I don’t want to come with the mindset of “Oh, I haven’t prayed today, let me get that out of the way” or “I need to have this deep, big-word-filled, intense prayer so people think I’m spiritual.” I pray because I honestly desperately need the help of the God of the universe, the Creator of all things.

When I read/study the Bible, I hope not to do it with the mindset of “I need to feel good about myself, so let me study the Bible” or “I want people to see me studying the Bible so they know I’m super spiritual.” No. I study the Bible because I honestly desperately need to know who God is, what He says about me and what I need to do to honor and glorify Him and find true joy.

When I listen to Christian music, I don’t want to do it with the mindset of “I need to listen to more Christian music than secular or else I’ve wasted my time” or “I want them to see Hillsong and Lecrae and David Crowder at the top of my Most Played so they know I’m holy.” I listen to music about the gospel, about grace, about God’s love for me because I honestly desperately need to be reminded of those truths when I see my sinfulness.

When I spend time with believers, I hope not to have the mindset of “OK, I’m getting my holy huddle time in for the day” or “I want them to see my righteousness so they know I’m good.” No! I want to spend time with believers because I honestly desperately need encouragement and love and direction and challenges and community.

When I write these posts, I want you to know that I need these words more than anyone else out there. And when I write, maybe, just maybe someone else will be encouraged.

I obey because I need to, not because I “should.” Otherwise I wouldn’t make it. There’s a big difference to pursuing God because we “should” pursue God and pursuing God because we need to pursue God. There’s a need in our souls to be loved, forgiven and accepted by Him, washed in the blood of Jesus every day for our sins. By praying, reading and knowing Scripture, listening to Christian music and being in the company of believers, by obeying God and His Word, we can have that need fulfilled.

There’s a big difference between “should” and “need.” I “should” do something because it’s the right thing to do. I “need” to do something because I’m missing something if I don’t.

In those moments when we see our need and we act on it, we’re developing a rich intimacy with God if we’re genuinely seeking Him in them. It’s not just a going-through-the-motions, checking-it-off-the-list kind of thing. It’s a genuine, “God, I need You. Desperately. So please! Be with me!”

It’s not, “I need to look good, so I’ll do stuff about God.” It’s, “I need to be healed/loved/accepted/forgiven, so I’ll be with God.”

Thing is, if we went off of our performance before God, we’d never pass. Only when we’re credited with the performance of the Perfect Person, Jesus Christ, we’re good.

So I need to, even on the days when I fail in the biggest way or I fail a lot, admit my need for a forgiving Savior, a loving God, a relationship with Him. Admitting who I am, not putting on a show or a costume. And only then will I find peace, joy, contentment, satisfaction, my place.

There have been two songs, with the same title, that I’ve been listening to the last couple days, and I think they’re helpful reminders.

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Before We Get All High and Mighty on the Osteens…

There’s been a big Facebook and blogosphere uproar surrounding the YouTube clip of Victoria Osteen’s “worship God for you” declaration in the last couple weeks. 

The clip below has over 1 million views on YouTube:

I will say, the Bill Cosby bit is funny.

The criticism that has come the Osteens’ way for their stance is well-deserved. If you want a good response to what was said, read these excellent blog posts by Albert Mohler (“The Osteen Predicament – Mere Happiness Cannot Bear the Weight of the Gospel”) and Matt Walsh (“Joel Osteen and his wife are heretics, and that’s why America loves them”).

These are things that should be written, and I commend both Dr. Mohler and Walsh’s blogs as must-read if you have any confusion about the theology behind it. But as I pondered these responses and thought about my own reaction, I had to stop and think about myself for a minute.

How many times have I approached God this way? How many times have I spoken false doctrine to others or to myself because it “felt good” to me or would “feel good” to others? When we see false teachers, we should call them out, we should point out the flaws in their teachings. But we must not do it out of self-righteousness, but in love and dedication to the truth.

I’ll be the first to tell you that I have long fought a battle with self-righteousness. I grew up in a Christian family and managed to stay out of trouble for most of my school career – with just the odd silent lunch or reprimanding word here and there. I also attended church regularly and regularly spoke out in youth group. I knew a lot. I knew the answers.

When I went to college, I saw a lot more sin than I did before in high school. Just part of the gig of being a college student. And my freshman year, it manifested itself in self-righteousness. I would look around and see others and, I confess, judged them. Hardcore. I would self-righteously look at them and shake my head (sometimes visibly), astonished by their sinful ways.

BJoel-Osteen-Preaching1ut in the last couple years, I’ve noticed one thing: I’m not much different than they are.

If it weren’t for Christ in my life, I’d be right there with them. I’d be in the same boat. I’d be sinning just like them.

Also, fun fact: I am sinning like them. Maybe it displays itself in different ways, but I’m a sinner just like those kids I went to school with are. Just like the Osteens are.

Just like you are, Christian. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Pharisees loved to do what we’re doing to the Osteens. They loved to look at sinners and condemn them. I notice that sometimes we in the church love to do the same, especially when it comes to false preachers.

Let me go ahead and say again that I don’t approve of what Victoria Osteen said, or what Joel Osteen has said. It’s a horrible misinterpretation of Scripture, to put it mildly.

But before we get to crucifying them, remember that they need Jesus just as much as we do. Remember that Jesus died so that the pastors who misinterpret His Word might have a chance to learn differently, receive grace and spend eternity with Him in heaven. I want them to preach truth.

I also don’t want to give an affirmative answer the Osteens’ salvation, because that’s not my job. If they’re Christians who are just missing something big, pray for them. If they’re not Christians, pray for them.

I don’t want to be the prideful Pharisee that looks down on the repentant tax collector and says, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:11-12). Or in this case, “false teachers, liars, misinterpreters of Scripture, or even like this Victoria Osteen.”

Truth is, I’m a lot like them. 

I want to be the Christian that sees the flaws in others and responds in three ways:

  1. Pray that they know and love Jesus.
  2. Examine my own heart for sin.
  3. Pray that I would know Jesus more.

We shouldn’t be comparing one to another; we all fall short in comparison to the glory of God (Romans 3:23). He just wants us – you, me, the Osteens, the kids I knew in college – to be His. 

So please, Christians, let’s be in prayer for the Osteens, not just blast them all over social media and in conversations at church. We must stand for truth, yes, but not at the expense of loving others.

Love Means Backing Up What You Say (Even When You Screw Up)

I couldn’t tell you what the accurate statistics on divorce are, and I could post a bunch of links to studies that show different numbers on divorce in America, divorce in the church, divorce of this kind of couple or this kind.

I could just tell you that people say “till death do us part” and then don’t do that.

Maybe that will make my point. People swear love and faith and truth to one another on their wedding day and a certain number end up quitting for a number of reasons.Love-Fire

Then there’s the other side. The group that doesn’t commit to marriage because they’re scared of that level of commitment. What if I want to back out?, they ask. What if it gets hard? I admit that I find myself in that group sometimes.

I’ve been doing a study on love the last few days. And among the many things I’ve learned is that love isn’t about saying the right things or having the right emotional feelings. It’s about doing what you say you’re going to do.

1 John is stocked with nuggets of jumbo truth about what love is, what love looks like, what love means, etc. I want to key in on two verses in particular.

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“Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” – 1 John 3:18

John’s emphasis is on love being the action and not just the words. It’s really easy to love in words. It’s really easy to say the right things. It’s really easy for me to say to my brother, “Hey, I love you and I’ll always be there for you.” It’s really easy for me to say to my friends, “Hey, I love you guys and I’ll always be there for you.”

Thing is, they’re words. In the long run, they’re empty. In his spoken word “Refuge” on Alex Faith’s album ATLast, Christian rapper Odd Thomas says, “I need more than just words. I need God’s words. God’s word is the only word that brings me refuge.” He’s saying, in light of the words of God, our words are sometimes meaningless, oftentimes offered as a well-intentioned platitude during which people might mean well but have no real intention or discipline of trying to follow it up.

Unfortunately, I find myself saying those kinds of things often. God’s words are really the only words that have any lasting effect.

That’s not to dull the power of our tongue. Proverbs 18:21 notably says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” We can encourage or bring down with our words.

But John’s trying to saying our love is most notable in our actions. He gives an example.

“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” – 1 John 4:20

John gives the example of someone who says he loves God but then hates another, calling him a liar. He’s saying his words are false and mean little. I think he’s taking it more in the direction of “how can you love something you haven’t seen if you can’t love something/someone you have seen?,” and that makes sense.

But this is an example of someone who says one thing and then acts out another. That’s not love. When the couples who stand on the altar pledge “till death do us part” and then part a few years later, they haven’t kept their word. They promised one thing and then acted out another.

When I tell my brother, “Hey man, I love you, I’ll pray for you,” and then I don’t pray for him, have I really loved him? Have I really?

When I don’t tell my friend that I think he’s in sin and doesn’t see it, even though that’s what I want to do and have told him I will do, have I really loved him? Have I really?

If I say I love God, but disobey one of His commands, have I really loved Him? Have I really?

No.

What a wretched man I am. Who can save me from this body of death?

—–

But praise God that we have an example in Christ. Not only is it an example, it’s the hope we have when we fall short of displaying true love.

“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” – 1 John 4:9-10

God’s love is best displayed in His sending of Christ to earth to die to give us life. It was something He said and then it was something He did.

Said:

  • “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Judah…For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” – Jeremiah 31:31,34b
  • “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:10

Done:

  • “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” – John 19:30
  • “In (Jesus) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us…” – Ephesians 1:7-8a

Love is saying something, then doing it. It’s words that turn into action. Sometimes love doesn’t need words, but the most powerful example of love we’ve ever seen was something that was said and then done, accomplished by the God-man Himself, Jesus Christ. God’s the perfect example, once again.

Because of that love, I’m forgiven whenever I fail at loving others. But I’m also given the grace to get back up and try again. Let that sink in. Just think about it for a second. When (not if) we fail, if we’re in Christ, we’re forgiven and that’s not held against us. We’re forgiven so we can try again.

Whether it’s loving God or loving my wife (in the future) or my brother or my co-worker or my pastor or whoever, love is a word that requires some action. It’s a word that turns into an action. It’s saying you will do it/are that/are working to grow in that and then doing it.

God did it. Thank Him that He did.

Our Weaknesses Are Beautiful Road Signs

Sometimes my weaknesses make me question the goodness of God.

“Why would God let me sin? Why can I sin? Why do I even have the ability to sin? Why can’t I just be perfect? Why do I struggle with x, y and z?”

These are questions that, honestly, run through my head sometimes and make me question the goodness of God. But there are answers running throughout the pages of Scripture, and by God’s grace He reminded me of them this morning.

interview-weaknessIn 2 Corinthians 12, Paul is writing about his struggle with conceit, with pride that he has received revelation from God. Verses 7-10 read thus:

“So to keep me from being conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Paul is “content with weaknesses.” I admit that I am far from content with my weaknesses, and I think sometimes in the church we look upon our weaknesses as a terrible, troubled thing that have no benefit and forget the great lesson Paul’s trying to teach here.

We don’t know for sure what his thorn was, what made Paul weak. There are many guesses that have been made, but it brought to me a point that I think he’s trying to make here: whatever weakness we possess, it’s to make God look more glorious. As God tells Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Now, let me be clear here: I don’t want to say we should be content with our sinfulness. We should never be. But there are three ways that come to mind for me in which our weaknesses (sins, bad habits, flaws, etc.) make God look pretty awesome.

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1. God’s character is perfect, ours is not.

I’ve always wanted to be perfect. I’ve always wanted to not sin. I’ve always wanted to be without fault. I’ve always wanted to kill all the sin in my life. Maybe not for the right reasons all the time, but it’s what I’ve desired.

But I’ve had to learn to live with the truth that I am not and will never be perfect, but God is. That’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever tried to do. Because of the sinful flesh that still is a part of me because of the fall, I will sin. I will sin the rest of my life. I hope and I should pray more that I sin less and less as I grow in faith and understanding of God’s Word. But I need to accept that I will never be perfect.

And in light of that, God looks all the more glorious and is worthy of more and more praise because He was, is and will always be the picture of perfection. He will never ever sin. The angels around the throne in heaven sing, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3). It’s a song that caused Isaiah to confess his sinfulness and his imperfections.

When we see the perfection of God in light of our weaknesses, our pride should take a serious blow and we should turn to praise the glorious God in heaven who is perfect in every possible way.

2. God’s plan is perfect, ours is not.

If I had my way, I’d set up everything like this: get married pretty soon, start the job of my dreams in a couple years, have a couple kids, live in a nice house, the whole American dream thing. God doesn’t work that way all the time. Some of us experience everything the way we want to, some of us don’t.

I’d actually be willing to bet that all of us don’t experience every single thing the way we want. I can point to a couple places in my life where things didn’t go my way in a big way and it was frustrating and disappointing. I can also think of times where things went my way and they turned out terribly because I rejected the good purposes of God and the truths in Scripture that He graciously gives all of us.

But God has worked great things of beauty in my life out of those situations. It wasn’t easy to see at the time, but in that 20/20 hindsight, it’s truly beautiful.

It reminds me of the great promise of Romans 8:28 – “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” It’s for good. All of it, everything. Even our sins and our weaknesses and our imperfections. All of it works together for our good. And it’s not our plan, it’s God’s.

When we see the perfection of God’s plan in light of our idea of what’s “best for me,” our pride should take a serious blow and we should turn to praise the glorious God in heaven who has our true best in mind.

3. God’s love is perfect, ours is not.

We have a terrible time attempting to love others in their weakness. Usually, when we see a flaw in someone, we tend to love them less. I am among that group. I’ll notice something in someone I’m around that just frustrates me and I love that person less or not at all.

God doesn’t have to do that with me. He sees all the sin in my heart, in my mind and in my actions and He loves me anyway. He loves wholly, perfectly, unconditionally.

I’m reminded of the Sidewalk Prophets song “You Love Me Anyway.” At one part, the singer expresses this powerful truth:

“I am a thorn in Your crown, But You love me anyway/I am the sweat from Your brow, But You love me anyway/I am the nail in Your wrist, But You love me anyway/I am Judas’ kiss, But You love me anyway/See now, I am the man who yelled out from the crowd/For Your blood to be spilled on this earth shaking ground/Yes then I turned away with the smile on my face/With this sin in my heart tried to bury Your grace/And then alone in the night I still called out for You/So ashamed of my life, my life, my life.”

1 John 3:16 says that we know love by the fact that Christ “laid down his life for us.” That is the great example of love, and it’s the love that God shows to us even in the midst of our great weakness. Even in the midst of our great sin. Even in the midst of our failures and our rejection of God at times. If you’re truly in Christ, God loves you perfectly.

When we see the perfection of God’s love in light of our oftentimes pitiful love for Him and for others, our pride should take a serious blow and we should turn to praise the glorious God in heaven who loves us perfectly.

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There’s more than three ways, but this is just a brief look.

Don’t get discouraged in your weaknesses. Instead, use them as a reminder of how glorious God is in light of your imperfections. And then remind yourself of that third point.

It’s so easy for me sometimes to see my weaknesses and just get discouraged. That’s where God’s perfect love comes into play. If you’re a believer, God’s mercy to you is paramount. That’s where the Lord’s word to Paul is so crucial: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

In our weakness, God’s grace is sufficient for everything, most importantly our salvation. Praise Him for it. But He also gives us grace so that we can grow and get better. If we were constantly trying to do the right thing, we would have no room to grow and get better, we’d be too busy trying to atone for doing the wrong thing in the first place. It’s grace that we see our weaknesses.

Our weaknesses are simply the signs on the highway showing us the way to go: towards a loving, merciful, just and gracious God who is perfect in every way, has our best in mind and loves us unconditionally.