Jesus Died Knowing Something About Us We Don’t Like to Think About

Traffic can be terrible. Especially when it’s raining. It’s so easy to get distracted by the rain, by the cars, by the lights, everything. According to the DOT, 17% of vehicle crashes are due to wet pavement and 11% are due to rain. It’s those kind of distractions that can make driving difficult.

In my life, in the traffic jam that my life can be, one of the most distracting things can be the fact that I sin.

I used to hate thinking that I’m a sinner. I couldn’t stand it. I don’t want to be a sinner. But I’ve grown more and more comfortable with it. I’m growing to understand that it’s just a part of who I am, part of my life, a result of the sin nature in me at conception. Like David, “in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5).

There are some days when, everywhere I look, I see sin. Not just in the world, but in me. And it can be really discouraging sometimes. It sucks thinking about it.

But my awesome girlfriend (must give credit where it’s due) told me something this weekend that blew my mind.

Jesus died knowing we would continue to sin. God chose to save us knowing we would continue to disobey Him. We were forgiven of all that sin while our Father in heaven knew we’d never fully be the reflection of Christ we’re called to be.

We’d be foolish to sit here and say we will ever be without sin. I doubt that 1 John 1:8 ever becomes false – “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” I dare you name someone on earth who ever been without sin other than Jesus. To ever think we will go a day on this earth without sinning in someone is a fool’s errand.

Not only did Jesus come to die while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8), He continues to love us while we are still sinners. He continues to give grace upon grace upon grace from an abundant overflow.

See, we don’t stop sinning when we accept Jesus. We try to sin less, yes. But we see our sin even greater, as even more of an offense, even more of an attack on God and His commands. It’s rebellion. But we don’t stop. It’s a fact. Brennan Manning, in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel:

Often I have been asked, “Brennan, how is it possible that you became an alcoholic after you got saved?” It is possible because I got battered and bruised by loneliness and failure, because I got discouraged, uncertain, guilt-ridden, and took my eyes off Jesus. Because the Christ-encounter did not transfigure me into an angel. Because justification through faith means I have been set in right relationship with God, not made the equivalent of a patient etherized on a table.

We get our eyes removed from the cross, from Jesus, and when that happens we lose our foundation and then we fall, just like a house built on sand and not on stone. When we quit focusing on Jesus, we uproot the foundation we have on the Rock of Ages and put it on shaky sand. Our lives are filled with continual foundational uproots, trying to find something that will hold us for the moment.

And Jesus loves us through it all. God saves us knowing that will happen.

Being saved doesn’t make us perfect in our obedience. All it does is make us perfect in our standing before God. And that’s HUGE! That means everything. That means I don’t have to be continually regretful of my sinful decisions, of my sinful actions. It means God looks past it, and will continue to look past it. I, and all believers, can rejoice in that.

In the hectic traffic that is life as a Christian, trying to cope with that fact that most of the time we’re terrible at following Jesus, we can hold onto that truth and keep going straight. Eyes on the road, hands at 10 and 2, trusting those wheels to get us to the end.

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Ideal Is Not Real. Jesus Didn’t Wait for the Ideal. Neither Should We.

I’m a quitter. Always have been.

My mother tells me that, when I was younger, I would play with blocks, and if the tower I was trying to build gave out on the first attempt, I would just quit and do something else. And as I look back at my life, I would say that I continued that trend. I can’t tell you how many books I started writing and then quit because they weren’t going how I wanted them to. I’ve thought about dating a number of girls but chose not to even pursue it because I thought it would bomb.

There are a number of things in my life now – including a beautiful young lady – that are changing my mind on my quitting ways. It’s forcing me to confront something I’ve been terrified to confront for a long time.

Ideal is not real.

For so long in my life, I wouldn’t do something unless it was exactly how I pictured it to be, entirely complete and perfect. And when things would get difficult, the first thought was “I should quit.” Relationships, jobs, classes in college, blog posts (reading and writing), books (reading and writing), movies (watching).

In response to this, a few months ago I began a daily reminder on my phone. It’s Proverbs 3:5, which says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” It buzzes on my phone every day at 8 a.m., around the time when I start work. It’s a reminder to me that, even if things aren’t completely making sense with what’s going on or they’re super hard or annoying or difficult, I need to rely on God’s provision and where He’s placed me in life.

It reminds me that I don’t need to wait for everything to feel right, for everything to be “ideal” before I move forward with something.

See, particularly when it comes to ministry and romantic relationships, I think there’s this notion in the current evangelical culture that things need to be a certain way before you embark on either. If you’ve got a certain sin, you’re not qualified for either. If you haven’t dated “long enough,” you shouldn’t get married. If this, if that. We wait for this “ideal” situation to come along before we take a “step of faith.”

Thing is, if we wait for it to be “ideal,” it’s not a step of faith. If we’re going to take the Hebrews 11:1 definition of faith – “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” – waiting for the ideal all the time is not trusting God.

Now, there’s times where waiting for the ideal isn’t a bad thing and might even be wise. But if it’s how we live our life, we just might be missing out on something awesome God has for us.

And we can take our cue from Jesus on this. Romans 5:6, 8:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Jesus didn’t wait for us to be perfect before He came. He didn’t wait for us to have all our crap together before He came to earth and lived a perfect life, died and resurrected Himself. He just came at the right time! In fact, I think it was our lack of being ideal that made it the “right time” for Him to come.

I’m not saying throw yourself into every situation ever just because you might want to. Obviously I need to think and pray carefully about decisions I make. But I don’t need to not do it or quit what I’m already doing just because it’s not “ideal.”

Because let’s be honest – rarely is ideal ever real. We live in a broken, screwed-up world. We’ll never run into something that is perfect. Ever. Perhaps God is putting me into imperfect situations so I can rely on Him to work through them.

Maybe now I’ll go back and finish that tower.

Sanctification Is a Process. Why Rush It Unnecessarily?

Last night, I was telling a high school guy in my youth group the story of Benjamin Franklin. Well, at first, I wasn’t sure if it was him or Jonathan Edwards, but he corrected me. Anyways, at one point in his life, he decided he was going to try to live virtuously. So he constructed a list of 13 virtues: temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquillity, chastity and humility. I’ll let a post from the website Art of Manliness tell the rest:

In order to keep track of his adherence to these virtues, Franklin carried around a small book of 13 charts. The charts consisted of a column for each day of the week and 13 rows marked with the first letter of his 13 virtues. Franklin evaluated himself at the end of each day. He placed a dot next to each virtue each had violated. The goal was to minimize the number of marks, thus indicating a “clean” life free of vice.

Franklin would especially focus on one virtue each week by placing that virtue at the top that week’s chart and including a “short precept” to explain its meaning. Thus, after 13 weeks he had moved through all 13 virtues and would then start the process over again.

He never got a clean sheet, but, apparently, he became more and more virtuous.

I think a lot of Christians, including myself, would admire this tact. But I think we struggle sometimes because we try to work on all 13 at once, and therefore get discouraged.

If you look at the whole of the New Testament, there are a lot of commands. One listing has 1,050 separate commands for Christians to follow. That’s a lot of things to be aware of. A few:

  • Be mindful of prophecies and command­ments (2 Peter 3:2)
  • Do good to them that hate you (Matthew 5:44)
  • Let not sin reign in the body (Romans 6:12)
  • Do not pray as hypocrites (Matthew 6:5)
  • Walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16)

I think a lot of us have the approach to these things as that website does: “If obeyed, they will bring rich rewards here and forever; if disobeyed, they will bring condemnation and eternal punishment.” Even if we believe in the Gospel, we can be so petrified that we’re letting down God that we fear punishment and condemnation for not doing everything perfectly. So we try to do all 1,050 right at the same time and inevitably get discouraged.

What we forget is that sanctification is a process. It always has been and it always will be. I love what Brennan Manning says in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel:

Often I have been asked, “Brennan, how is it possible that you became an alcoholic after you got saved?” It is possible because I got battered and bruised by loneliness and failure, because I got discouraged, uncertain, guilt-ridden, and took my eyes off Jesus. Because the Christ-encounter did not transfigure me into an angel. Because justification through faith means I have been set in right relationship with God, not made the equivalent of a patient etherized on a table.

When you become a Christian, you’re not instantly perfect in your obedience. Your relationship and standing with God is made right, but your behavior is not. And it will not be until you reach eternity with God. Just because we disobey God’s commands doesn’t disqualify us from receiving that eternal reward.

After I became a Christian at some point before or during my freshman year of high school (not sure when exactly, my testimony is here if you want more details), I began what ended up being an eight-year quest for perfection. It wasn’t what I was intending at the start. But my thought process was something like this. I’m a Christian –> Christians obey God –> if I don’t obey God, I’ve failed –> (I sin) –> I’ve failed God.

One of the things I’ve learned about the greatness of grace and the Gospel is that it opens me up to have a lifelong sanctification process. And, like Ben Franklin, I think it allows me to take things one at a time.

An example: for the last year, I haven’t been worried too much about how deep or consistent my Bible reading is. I also haven’t been too worried about my prayer life. That’s not to say I haven’t given up on those things. I still want to do well. But I don’t lose my mind when it’s not how I want it to be.

What I’ve really been focusing on is believing the Gospel. For a long time, I knew the Gospel of grace was true, but I had a really hard time accepting it belonged to me, that it applied to me. With that, I had a hard time accepting myself and loving myself.

So about a year ago, I set my mind to learn more about grace, learn more about the Gospel, learn more about what it meant to be forgiven. I looked at Scripture. I read books like One Way Love by Tullian Tchividjian, Abba’s Child and The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning, and The Search for Significance by Robert McGee. These books have helped me grasp the greatness of the Gospel, what it means for me, what I need to believe.

And I’ve grown in that area tremendously! I’m believing the Gospel more and more every day, I’m understanding its freedom and I’m living out of its forgiveness and God’s love for me! It’s refreshing. Has my Bible reading “suffered” because of it? Maybe. I don’t know. But I’m working more on applying the Bible instead of just reading it, and it’s awesome.

I think I’m beginning to move out of that stage where I’m focusing on grace because there’s sin in my life I need to deal with in a real personal, intentional way. And perhaps I’ll work to spend more time in prayer in this upcoming season. But that foundation of grace and the Gospel has been helpful in that area of my life too, and it will continue to support me throughout this next season.

It does us no good to try to do everything at once. There’s nothing wrong with taking your time. Obviously, we can’t use that as an excuse to ignore the other good things we can do to obey God. But just as there is a time to be born and a time to die, there’s a time to focus on prayer, a time to focus on loving, a time to focus on giving.

You’re not a failure if you don’t get everything right. You’re just human. Rest in that. Rest in grace. Rest in the hope that the Gospel provides that means you don’t have to be perfect at any time in your walk with Christ.

Just take steps day-by-day. You’ll get there one day, I promise.

Why Try to Not Do Something When You Can Intentionally Dive Into the Love of God?

A week or so ago, I wrote a blog post about the “ironic process theory” and how it can apply to how the Church often reacts to issues in the public sphere. An excerpt:

I think we can subconsciously encourage this in Christian culture when we overload on what not to do. We think so much about not doing something that we end up thinking about it and doing it anyways.

Instead, why don’t we focus more on what we could do? We’re losing our minds trying so hard not to sin that we can easily forget what we can do instead. If I’m trying so hard not to look at porn, it would be easy for me to just slip right into it. If instead I focus on what I can do, psychologically I’m more likely to do it. The difficulty is learning to focus on what I can do instead.

Just about every morning I wake up, there’s temptation to sin at my doorstep. Sin knocks, begging to be let in, telling me that things are better if it is in my life in a personal, real way. And there are some days I listen to it, there are some days it wins.

But this morning as I contemplated this, I realized that there is something 10 million times better for me than sin that’s also knocking, that’s also dying (literally) to be heard. It’s the love of God. And I would do a lot better to listen to it than to the temptation to sin.

God Is With Us. Seriously.

It’s totally cliché now for me to tell you that God is with you every moment of every day if you are a Christian. And it’s cliché for a good reason! There are tons of Scripture that talk about how God is with us. Some examples:

  • Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)
  • Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)
  • Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)
  • 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. (2 Chronicles 16:9a)

Literally, God is with us. Through the Holy Spirit, He lives in our hearts, and He is constantly around us, watching over us. And it’s not just that.

Hebrews 13 says He’ll never leave us. John 14 says He makes a home with us. Isaiah 41, speaking to the children of God, says God will strengthen us and help us and uphold us. 2 Chronicles 16 says God is looking for the opportunity to give us, Christians whose hearts are blameless through the blood of Christ, strong support.

Yet when I sin, I act as if God is not there. Not only am I rejecting that His way is better, I’m rejecting His offering of being there at all times to help me in times of sin.

The times I reject this most are when I’m tired and lazy or I’m depressed. In those moments, I’m looking for what’s going to satisfy me, usually whatever’s easiest. Sometimes it’s food. Sometimes it’s sinful fulfillment. Whatever it is, it’s usually not good.

What I forget most is what God offers me in those moments that practically far outweighs the allure of sin.

Love Is Here. Love is Now.

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 is love, 1 John 4:16 says. When you look at God, you see love perfected, love as it should be, love in the proper place in one’s heart, love in the proper context, love acted out properly. And it was through Christ and His life and death and resurrection that we saw the best example of His love, that we could be forgiven of our sin and made in right relationship with Him.

But that wasn’t the end of God’s love. God’s love is still true and still for us today. I love the lyrics to Tenth Avenue North’s “Love Is Here”:

Come to the waters
You who thirst and you’ll thirst no more
Come to the Father
You who work and you’ll work no more
And all you who labor in vain
And to the broken and shamed
Love is here
Love is now
Love is pouring from His hands, from His brow
Love is near, it satisfies
Streams of mercy flowing from His side
‘Cause Love is here

In moments when I’m tempted and I’m depressed, I need to turn to the love of God first! I need to bring to mind the Scriptures that tell me that God is here and God loves me. Remembering, dwelling on and praising Him for that love is what will truly satisfy me far more than any man-made remedy.

It struck me this morning that, because the love of God is always available, I don’t have to wait for it to be ready, I don’t have to go through any hoops to get to understand it and believe it. I simply have to do it! All I need to do is believe it and rest in it, meditate on it, dwell in it, trust it.

That is the key to defeating sin. It’s not purposely avoiding things, which can be helpful, but it’s not the answer. The answer is clinging to something better, purposefully pursuing something else: God’s love. Moment by moment, I need to turn to God’s love for me before I turn to anything else.

Whether that’s looking at a poster that reminds me of God’s love, bringing to mind Scripture that tells me of God’s love, or stopping and praying and thanking God for His love, it’s something I’ve got to grow in, something I’ve got to do.

Wanna Know What Terrifies Me? Death.

I’m a pretty fearful guy. I’m scared of a lot of things. Bugs, taking risks, going into the unknown. But nothing scares me more than death.

I was reading the story of Lazarus in John 11 this morning and I began to ponder death, when it comes, how I’ll feel, etc. There’s a very real possibility that I won’t be able to contemplate my death before it comes. I could die in a car accident, in a murder, a surprising heart attack. But I could also die a slow, peaceful death, in which I’ll have hours or maybe even days to think about what is going to happen.

As a Christian, I’m supposed to have assurance of what is next: eternity with God, streets of gold, all that jazz. And that’s awesome! I love it. But am I the only one who gets freaked out when thinking about all those things?

Dying is something that we have no firsthand experience of until it happens. Unlike a first marriage, first kid and many other firsts we hear about from others, we can’t speak to someone who has died about the experience of death. And then when we die, we can’t send word back to earth about it. I’ve often thought about if it was possible for me to send a “message in a bottle”-type word to friends and family when I’ve died, but I don’t think that’s a real thing. Sounds like something out of a movie.

Because of this lack of firsthand knowledge about how it goes, death freaks me out. And then another puzzling question comes.

What if I’m wrong about Jesus? What if there is nothing when we die? What if I’ve believed the wrong thing? What if, what if, what if?

I’d love to be able to tell you that I’m consistently trusting in God’s plan for me after my life here on earth is through, but I can’t. I have doubts. I have worries. I have concerns. Trying to contemplate the afterlife gives me a headache, I think because it’s such a mysterious, complex thing our feeble brains can’t handle.

To be honest with you, I’d love a Defending Your Life-type heaven where we get to eat as much food as we want and it’s all good and we play mini-golf and ride trams and just hang out with people for a few days. It seems quite relaxing, except for the whole judging-you-off-of-what-you-did-with-your-life part.

Back on the subject: I know that I have nothing really to worry about. If you’re in Christ, your future is secure and you are safe from eternity apart from God because of the blood of Jesus Christ. And I think it’s necessary for me to remind myself of this truth because my doubt comes very often.

There’s nothing wrong with doubting every once in a while. Doubt is something that’s a natural part of life because, as we said before, we don’t know what’s going to happen in the end from firsthand experience.

But for me, the hope and grace of the Gospel gives me comfort unlike anything else in these moments. I won’t believe the Gospel every minute of every day, unfortunately. That’s just real life. I have doubt and skepticism that creeps up every once in a while, sometimes to a crippling degree.

Thankfully, there’s grace to explore that doubt. God doesn’t leave me when I doubt him for a minute or 60. And He won’t leave me when I die either.

The Devastating Sarlacc Pit of Depression

If you’re familiar with the Star Wars film series, you just might remember this scene in Episode VI:

That thing in the ground with the tongue sticking out is a creature called the “sarlacc.” I could go into all the background of where it came from, how it got to that hole in the ground, but I want to talk about what it does to its victims. (Of course, this is all fictional, but it serves a point.)

Wookiepedia (the Star Wars wiki) puts it so:

Only the sarlacc’s gaping maw could be seen from the surface, with the vast majority of its huge body lying beneath the ground. It lay in wait for any living creature to stumble into its maw, and additionally, it pulled nearby victims in with one of its many tentacles. A sarlacc’s mouth was surrounded by rows of retractable razor-sharp teeth, used to chew victims during adolescence, before the digestive system was fully formed. Adult sarlaccs developed a beaked, snake-like tongue at the center of the fearsome pit, which doubled as a mouth.

After being swallowed by the tongue, the victim made its way into the sarlacc’s stomach to be digested, purportedly being kept alive and slowly digested for a millennium. A strong network of vessels inside the stomach punctured the victim’s skin and muscles and then embedded itself into victims before injecting neurotoxins into them, preventing the victims from escaping and ensuring that they remained immersed in the acidic fluids in the stomach, and attached to the walls of the stomach.

Pretty gruesome, to put it mildly. You get sucked in and then slowly digested for a thousand years until you’re completely broken down. You’re alive for as long as you can be until your body is dismantled or you pass away by other causes.

That’s what a downward spiral of depression can feel like.

I’ve been depressed the majority of this week. As an adult, the pressures of some things get to me in ways that I didn’t expect, I think because I haven’t dealt with them before. Money, jobs, relationships, the usual fare. But little things get to me too: people disagreeing with me, sometimes even looking at a woman at all, little sinful thoughts that I deal with right away.

It’s a downward spiral, as I said. Let me give an example of how it works.

I’m sitting in my office at work, and I’m watching a YouTube video of a movie trailer. The inevitable glimpse of a sex scene in a movie flashes on the screen, and I feel guilty right away for even seeing it. Then I wonder, “Shouldn’t I have stayed away from that video if I knew it was going to be in there?” So now I feel guilty for even watching the video. Step 1: a little depressed.

Around lunchtime, I go out to grab something to eat and pay money for it. I then think about my bank account and how it definitely has less money in it than it should. I haven’t been spending money wisely. I get anxious about how I’m going to pay for things. Step 2: a little more depressed.

A little later that day, I’m sitting in my office and I start thinking about how my job isn’t what I wanted it to be. I’m bored as crap and not doing anything productive. For a moment, I wish I had done something else. Like got a different job. Crazy, right? Step 3: a little more depressed.

A little later, I go to church. I have a conversation with a friend and we disagree about something. It’s not a fight, it’s not hostile, it’s perfectly normal. But I take it hard for some reason I can’t explain. I’m a little upset that that friend didn’t agree with me, and then I get upset that I got upset. I shouldn’t get upset at this! I shouldn’t be mad! Who am I to think that everyone would agree with everything I say? Step 4: even a little more depressed.

By this point I’m down and out. I’m deep in the sarlacc’s mouth, being chewed up consistently. And I feel like sh…poop. There’s decay. I’m being broken down.

What to do? What should I do? What the heck is next?

I’ve got to, I need to, I must run to Jesus. I must remember the promises in His Word. I must pray and seek His grace to help. It’s super hard to do this when you’re in the pit. That’s why I need people around me who can point me to spiritual truth, who can remind me of Scripture. That’s why I need reminders in my life of who Jesus is and what He says of me.

I’m not writing this post looking for you to feel sorry or bad for me. I want to simply help those who don’t deal with depression understand where those of us who do are coming from and the difficulties we struggle with.

Depression is often real sadness taken to the nth degree. This is my attempt to explain it and to raise awareness for it within the Christian context. There’s not enough of it.

Our Instabilities Aren’t Wasted. They’re Simply Magnifiers of God’s Greatness.

John 9 is an interesting chapter of Scripture. It’s dedicated solely to the story of a man born blind whom Jesus decides to heal. Verses 1-7:

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.

Let me key in on the bolded part because I think it’s quite revealing of God and His character and how He uses us.

One of the common evangelical statements is that God doesn’t need us, and it’s true. God has no need of man to accomplish His goals and display His power, but He chooses to show Himself through us, through changing our lives, through altering our futures, through working all things together for our good (Romans 8:28) whether we realize it or not.

You might say the man’s blindness was an “instability” to his life. It was something that made his life a little harder to deal with. I’m not blind, but picture for a minute that you are blind. Look around. All of the things that you see now, you wouldn’t be able to see. For example, I’m sitting in my office at work now and I can see my Bible, my phone, a photo on my desk, my water bottle, my laptop and a few other things. If I was blind, I couldn’t see any of those things. It would make life a little unstable.

Getting back to the blind man for a second…his blindness didn’t make him useless in Jesus’ eyes. He wasn’t disqualified from being part of God’s plan. He had been a beggar before (v. 8), he hadn’t been part of the community like everyone else. However, to Jesus, the blind man was a tool that God used to display His power. Jesus healed him, thereby showing the “works of God.”

It’s taken me a while, but I’m learning to see the instabilities in my life as an avenue for God to show His power in my life.

On this blog I frequently write about my anxiety and depression in my life, and I hope in the future to go into more detail about those things and how God has worked in my life. A couple weeks ago, I preached a sermon at my church on 2 Chronicles 14-16 and used it to talk about how our relationship with God can’t be based on feelings. Here’s an excerpt from the written part (I’m sure I said it somewhat differently):

I struggle daily with anxiety. Not just your normal stress about everyday things, but what’s been called a mental illness. An anxiety disorder akin to OCD. I’m also prone to depression. So prone, in fact, that I take medicine for it. Anxiety and depression affect the way I feel, the way I react to situations, the way I read things. I could go deeper into it, but I don’t have time here. Would love to talk to you about it on a separate occasion.

For a long time, my faith and my relationship with Jesus was based on how I felt. When you deal with anxiety and depression, you’re more prone to feel bad or worried about things. It’s a first instinct. I would live on those ups and downs of the emotionally spiritual life. I would wait for that next spiritual high. When I got to the latter years of high school, it became a daily thing where I would check how I felt about my relationship with God and that would be the barometer.

My foundation was my feelings. My foundation was not the beautiful Gospel truth in 2 Chronicles 16:9, that God is supporting me no matter how sinful I am, no matter how much I disregard Him, no matter how crappy I feel, simply because He calls me His and He loves me. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned more and more that Christianity is much more about thinking properly, and the basis for that proper thinking is returning to truth about God and what He’s already done in your life.

God didn’t let my instability go to waste. He used it to teach me the “beautiful Gospel truth in 2 Chronicles 16:9,” that “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.” Just like God used the man born blind to display Jesus’ power, God has used my anxiety and depression to display the greatness of His truth and His consistent support of me.

Nothing is wasted. God doesn’t waste your instabilities, things that might even drag you away from God at times. He may simply just be using them to remind you who He is, that He loves you and cares for you and is desperate to help you. He doesn’t need you, but He wants you. He is powerful and mighty, and, child of God, He’s on your side.

Don’t let your instabilities scare you. Simply let them lead you to trust in a God so bold, so powerful, so brash, that He’d hang out with and heal those born blind.

Hello, My Name is Zach. I’m 22 Years Old, and I Love Old-School VeggieTales.

Most of the time on this blog I try to write something that’s insightful and cutting, sometimes trying to speak specifically to something that’s prevalent in culture. But today I found episodes of VeggieTales on Amazon Prime, and I found a whole new thing to write about.

If you were a kid and grew up in a Christian household in the late 90s/early 00s, you’re most likely familiar with the VeggieTales, the adventures of Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber learning moral lessons based in Bible stories. It was funny and you learned something about obeying God. Plus the songs were awesome. A couple of examples:

 

 

Can’t get over how awesome these things are.VeggieTales is super creative. There are sly winks at popular culture, humor that adults could get that’s not inappropriate and it’s vegetables walking and talking and singing. I can’t get over the jokes where they talk about how they don’t have arms and how that affects things. I really liked the two movies that came out – the Jonah one and the Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything one. So good.

I know all the words to several of the Silly Songs. Last week, I was driving to dinner with some of the youth in the youth group I help out with and I turned on a Silly Song in my car and proceeded to sing every single word. I think they thought I was weird. Maybe I was.

Stuff like VeggieTales is good, wholesome entertainment even for a nearly-23-year-old dude who just wants a laugh here and there.

As I write this, I’m watching Lyle the Kindly Viking, in which Junior Asparagus plays a little Viking who is good at sharing. It’s adorable. Is it cheesy? Sure. But you know that my kids are going to watch this. It reminds me of my young days when I was unstained by a lot of the things in the world that distract me from God now.

If you take anything from this blog: let yourself enjoy stuff like this once in a while. I think there’s times where I look at VeggieTales and think, “Shouldn’t you guys be preaching the Gospel instead of silly morality tales? Don’t kids need to know more?” And I get critical. And perhaps they do. BUT, there’s nothing wrong with teaching kids these things when they’re young and get a head start on obedience.

Plus it’s just stinkin’ cute and funny. You’ve got to love it. If you’re over 10 years old today and have some time, just watch it. It’s totally worth it.

And today, I was thankful for what I have, because God listens to my prayers, after watching this:

You Don’t Have to Read Your Bible Every Day to Be a Christian

So I didn’t read my Bible yesterday. Well, I guess I did for a minute or two, but then someone came into my office and I had to put it down.

If it was a couple of years ago, I would have been distraught. How could I let a whole day go by without opening God’s Word or barely cracking the pages? How could I be so selfish and so obtuse as to think I could go a whole 24 hours without reading something from the Bible? What’s wrong with me?

Absolutely nothing.

See, there’s a strong emphasis in the church on reading your Bible daily, and that’s a good thing. I can’t tell you how much I’ve benefitted and grown from reading, studying, memorizing and applying Scripture. There are some verses that are the basis for my life and everything I do and think. If you’re a regular reader of this blog (of which there are maybe 2 or 3 of you), you’ll notice that I’m a big fan of Romans 8:28, Romans 8:1 and 2 Chronicles 16:9. And more. I think regularly thinking about God’s Word is something Scripture encourages.

But I’ve also noticed that this emphasis can be dangerous, and I speak from personal experience.

A common question asked when I was in college was, “What are you reading in your Bible?” The implication was that you need to be reading your Bible every day and it needed to be memorable. Here’s the thing: that’s not a command of Scripture.

We don’t have to read the Bible every day to be a Christian.

There’s nothing in the Bible that says, “You must read Scripture every single day.” Yet a lot of times we act that way. We get down on ourselves when we miss a day or two. We “encourage” (more like “guilt-trip”) those who have missed a few days to “get back on” the Bible-reading train. I’ve definitely done that. In small groups in college, there were specific Bible study plans that I was “on” and I would feel guilty about missing a day or not memorizing a verse I was “supposed” to memorize.

This kind of attitude promotes a guilt-induced morning “quiet time” where people like me spend 30-45 minutes trying to figure out something I can post on Facebook or something I can blog about. It becomes a Bible study where you fill up page after page in a notebook with “deep spiritual insights” you can’t remember a few hours later. Why? You’re doing it because you feel like you have to. And that’s not healthy.

Being a follower of Christ is not about doing something, it’s about being something. It’s about being saved by Christ, being forgiven by His blood, being accepted by His love. You let that motivate everything you do. Reading your Bible because you’re “supposed to” will get you nowhere.

Here’s the kicker: reading your Bible will help you be what you’re called to be as a follower of Christ. A lifetime of dedication to learning and applying truths of the Bible will be one that shows the light of the Gospel to those around you. It will help you love people better. It will give you strength in the hard times. It will give you hope when things seem hopeless. I am all for reading your Bible consistently.

If you’re not reading consistently, why are you not reading? If you’re not reading because life is busy or you just forgot, that’s fine! It happens to everyone and I don’t think that’s a sin. We’re busy and forgetful people. But if you’re not reading because you’re lazy or you don’t find it useful, there’s something to consider and give time to thinking through.

If you take anything away from this post, let it be this: Don’t get down when it doesn’t happen. Scripture does not say you must read your Bible every day. What does it say?

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105)

“How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.” (Psalm 119:9)

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16)

The emphasis in these verses is on letting the Scripture be practically applied to your life. I’d rather spend more time focusing on applying Scripture than reading it. You do have to read it so you know what to apply. But there’s absolutely nothing that says you must daily read it.

The Gospel says we don’t have to do anything to be called one of God’s own. And that means me not getting much time in the Word yesterday is perfectly OK.

Don’t Think Too Much About Pink Elephants. Think About the Right Things.

The best part of any good heist/prison break-out/escape movie is the planning stage. In the planning stage, you get to see how the crooks plan to execute the heist/escape and get away with it. That last part is huge. They don’t just plan the actual job/escape, they plan how they’re going to deal with the ramifications of it.

In the television show Prison Break, Michael Scofield intentionally gets arrested so he can break his wrongfully-accused brother out of prison and get out of the country. Not only does Michael have a plan to break out of prison, he has a plan for afterwards. He’s set the necessary implements in place so he and his brother Lincoln can get away safely.

(I’m not spoiling anything – the show is called Prison Break, you think they’re not going to get out?)

These characters spend a lot of time focusing on the aftermath of their actions. I think we can take a lesson in the Christian community and learn to do the same thing.

We spend a lot of time as a Church telling each other and the world what not to do. We spend a lot of time saying, “No.” And there’s good to that. We need to be speaking truth about things we should not do. We should not look at pornography. We should not gossip about others in the church or in the workplace. We should not lie. We should not physically attack someone unprovoked. We should not hold bitterness in our hearts towards other people, Christian or not.

However, with this focus on what we’re not supposed to do, we miss out on two very important facets.

First, how do we respond if we do these things?

Growing up in the church, you’re told to not do a lot of things. I can look back and remember things I was told not to do. Don’t have sex before you’re married. Don’t cuss. Don’t drink. Don’t hang out with the “bad crowd.” Don’t this, don’t that. What happens if you do? Most of the time we don’t talk about this part. We’ll be hesitant to approach it or we’ll simply say, “Pray and ask God for forgiveness and don’t do it again.” Isn’t there more?

Shouldn’t we spend more time talking about what to do after we sin? We’re going to sin. It’s a proven fact. In those situations, there’s only so much good that comes from saying, “Don’t do ________.” In those situations, we need to learn how to approach the aftermath, how to work through the “getaway,” if you will. We need to be teaching people how to deal with their sin, what to believe about themselves, what to believe about God, how to deal with the guilt and shame that comes from it.

I’m not saying we don’t tell people what not to do. Knowing what is sin is huge. In Romans 7:7, Paul says, “…if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.'” But the focus needs to be on what to do in response to the inevitable: us sinning.

Second, what can we do instead of these things?

You know the whole idea where someone tells you not to think of a pink elephant and all you can think of is a pink elephant? It’s called the “ironic process theory.” I think we can subconsciously encourage this in Christian culture when we overload on what not to do. We think so much about not doing something that we end up thinking about it and doing it anyways.

Instead, why don’t we focus more on what we could do? We’re losing our minds trying so hard not to sin that we can easily forget what we can do instead. If I’m trying so hard not to look at porn, it would be easy for me to just slip right into it. If instead I focus on what I can do, psychologically I’m more likely to do it. The difficulty is learning to focus on what I can do instead.

And then comes the Gospel. When we don’t do the things we’re supposed to, which is going to happen, we remember the grace of the Gospel, that, at the end of the day, it doesn’t change our eternal state, it doesn’t change God’s love for us, it doesn’t change His loyalty and devotion to us, it doesn’t change the fact that we’re still His adopted son/daughter.

I think thinking about the right things is something the Christian culture could be doing a lot better job of, and it’s an idea that runs through a lot of my blog posts. Instead of speaking out constantly about how bad Planned Parenthood is, we should be helping those who want to get abortions find a different way to deal with an unwanted pregnancy. Instead of bashing the Supreme Court for their decision on gay marriage, we should be speaking about how doing things God’s way is 10 million times more satisfying. Instead of getting all worked up over Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner, we should be doing life with those struggling with their gender identity. This is very conceptual and doesn’t always translate to practicals easily. It depends on the situation. But it’s vital.

I could be wrong, as always, and I could be missing something huge. The cool thing is the grace of the Gospel covers me in that too.