These are books I enjoyed this year. Hope you enjoy them also.
“I never ask forgiveness anymore,” said my friend as we drove up HWY 38 to Big Bear. The comment struck me. I asked him to continue. “Why should I ask for forgiveness when all my sins have already been forgiven?” I kept pressing the topic wanting to get to the bottom of this. “What I do now is receive the forgiveness that God has already granted me. I repent and move on.”
It was an interesting concept. Do we as believers need to ask forgiveness or just receive the forgiveness that God has already granted? Do our transgressions ever reach the throne of God? While this might seem like splitting hairs, I believe there is more to it.
For the last three months I have been pondering this question. The more I think about it, the more I am tending to agree that as believers we never need to ask for forgiveness in a way that assumes that our debt has not already been paid in full.
Check out Romans 6:10
Rom. 6:10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.
This verse assures us that the death Jesus died paid for all the sins ever committed and uncommitted. His work on the cross reaches backwards and forward.
1 Peter 3:18 echoes this fact again.
1Pet. 3:18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.
What this verse proclaims is that even the sins of the ungodly have been paid for. This means that people will perish with their sins paid for and surrounded the the loving work of God. They simply never accepted this free gift.
What the Bible proclaims is that the work is done. Sin is dead. All we need to do is receive forgiveness as a free gift of grace.
Rom. 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In the past, when I committed a sin, I felt separated from God until I found the ability to ask forgiveness. Once I did that, I felt that the relationship was restored and accepted again.
That type of understanding of sin and forgiveness proclaims that sin still has the victory over forgiveness. Here is why. In this paradigm, Jesus is seen a forgiver of sins. He has a big bowl of His forgiveness that is always ready to forgive the latest sin you committed.
The problem is that forgiveness does not kick in until you ask for it after committing your latest transgression. Here the forgiveness of Jesus is at the beck and call of sin. Sin holds the power until the believer asks.
The other view, and I believe the scriptural view is that you come to Jesus who has already forgiven that sin and receive the forgiveness already completely granted.
This is how the bible can talk about being free from sin. If sin still has the power to separate you from the love of Christ, if it causes a break in the heavenly reality for even one second, then Jesus death on the cross was insufficient.
While Paul (Romans 6) and John (1 John 1:10) make it clear that we can still commit acts that are in the category of sin in the natural order of things, Romans 8 assures us that these acts never make it to heaven in a way that breaks our communion with the Father.
Here’s the take away. Stop wallowing in guilt and shame for the sins you commit. That kind of sorrow is worldly sorrow. Your sins are forgiven before you commit them. (keeping Roman 6:15 in view)
Instead, with Godly sorrow and repentance, that lacks regret (2 Corinthians 7:10) receive God’s completed forgiveness and pray for the ability to overcome this error in the future.
Phil. 4:12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
I have come to expect getting the best parking spot in the lot. I don’t pray for them, they just appear. Out of nowhere they materialize, and there I am with another premier spot. If Jesus would quit giving me parking spots it would be a lot easier not to expect them, but there it was again today as I pulled into Rubio’s during the storm of the century. I was content, at least for the moment.
The secret of contentment is expecting nothing more than Jesus. When we are satisfied with knowing Christ, we can be satisfied in all situations. Jesus is either everything or nothing. There is no middle ground. The pure Christian life equals Jesus plus nothing. Most agree to this when it comes to sin and our fleshly desires, but what about in the arena of blessings? What about all the good things we want God to lavish on us – like parking spots, spouses and the new iPhone 4? The things we feel entitled to as a follower of Christ?
While I want blessing in the temporal, blessing beyond knowing Jesus is always icing on the proverbial cake. To be sure, God takes great pleasure in blessing his children in the temporal. He regularly messes with my personal theology by giving me parking spots. I don’t remember the last time I had to look for a stall to park. It is almost like God is saying, “Hey, don’t forget that I love taking care of my son.”
What I want to steer clear from is feeling this type of blessing is a foregone conclusion to knowing God. This is the essence of the prosperity gospel: We are due a certain amount of worldly blessings because we are children of God. I personally prefer to stand with those who have preached Jesus as crucified, risen, coming again. This is all I need, and all I need to know. Do I want that parking spot, Yes! But, my hope is to have a faith survives devoid of temporal blessing. Am I the type of believer that is content when these things don’t materialize?
The central question then stands, “is Jesus enough?” Is Jesus and cancer enough? Are Jesus and an unfair lifetime prison sentence enough? When it is not – when God’s path leads to a life of suffering instead of plenty – how will we stand? How will we not question why? How will we cling to our faith?
The deeper I submerge myself into Christ, the less I am caring about blessing on this earth. The greater glimpse I get of the true extravagance of Jesus’ worth and the ultimate blessing that is knowing him, the more all temporary forms of lesser blessing seem. The blessing of knowing Jesus nullifies all others. This is not to say that they are not good, even given by God. Rather it is to point out that they fail the test of eternity. They all will pass away.
Nonetheless, the fact still remains that God is a God of rich blessings in the temporal and eternal. As the apostle John say’s:
John 1:16 From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.
So I guess I am going to keep getting my parking spots while doing my best not to put my faith in their appearance.
More scriptures on contentment:
Phil. 4:12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
1Tim. 6:8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.
Heb. 13:5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
Psa. 16:6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.
As a pastor I deal with people and their kingdoms. Granted, most are not lavish in regard to worldly kingdoms, but nonetheless, they are still kingdoms of a sort.
I meet very few people who have a grasp of the boundaries of their realms. Many complain that they want a greater kingdom (and strive to attain it) while others are in the process of losing what they do have. Some are even having their kingdoms divinely increased. In the case of Bathsheba (1 Sam 12), David wanted something beyond his ordained kingdom. When Absalom usurped David from the throne his kingdom was protracted. Thus, David experienced both of these scenarios in a very short period of time. One argument key to this post is that if you are not stewarding well over the kingdom you have been given, it is very possible that someone else will soon be doing it for you. We see this in the case of adultery all the time. One spouse or both begin to neglect the kingdom of their marriage and someone else comes in to assumes the throne. This definitely happened with David when Absalom slept with his fathers concubines for all Israel to see.
The obvious question then is, how is your kingdom going? Are the things you are currently possessing truly part of your kingdom. Have you attained things in your own power that are not ordained within your kingdom boundaries? I would argue that many people do this with their careers. They take a job to maintain a lifestyle that they are not called to. Like I said in my talk on 10.8.2010 (See Speak). Some of us might be called to never live above middle or low income. Still, much of the church encourages believers in the idea that we should all be wealthy and that this is a sign of God’s blessing. I don’t think Mother Theresa or St. Francis lacked any blessing and they were called to be poor.
Here an example from another area of life of what I mean. Recently, I have gotten back into endurance sports. Back when I was 25, single and working as a personal trainer, I was pretty fast.
For that last few months (now at the age of 41) I have been trying to recapture the old glory. I counted every supplement, did not miss a workout and was spending about 5-7 hours a week on the road either running or biking.
About two weeks ago, I felt the Lord tell me that I was trying to capture a kingdom that was no longer in the boundaries of what God has for me now. Yes, as a single guy who was a personal trainer, that lifestyle was right. God used me in that then and it was within the flow of my kingdom blessing and business.
The thing is that I am just not that guy anymore. My wife and kids can’t afford me to be that guy even if it is attainable for me. Basically, God told me to measure my kingdom. The point is that when we live within our kingdom boundaries we will live in peace and blessing. When we don’t we move into a place of striving.
I think that this relates to all areas of our life. Like Nehemiah (Neh Ch. 2) we need to walk the wall of our life, looking at each gate measuring the boundaries of each and decide if they are in need of repair. In some arenas we might need to step our game up and assume our kingship. Some parts of our life might need to be backed off so we can live within our kingdoms boundaries, so we can live in true blessing. While there is grace when we live outside of our kingdoms, there is not the same blessing.
The word of God calls us to steward no more then we have been given from heaven. Any increase of that territory, whether relational, financial or territorial needs to be given by God. That increase only comes when we live in submission to our current set out boundaries and steward them well.
This is how David claimed his greater kingdom. He submitted to a jealous Saul, served him faithfully, played his harp and dodged spears. As soon as David tried to assume a kingship that was not his (Uriah’s wife), David lost his kingdom.
So how is your kingdom going?
Phil. 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Everyday is a battle for peace. On days when things are going my way, when there is a breakthrough at work or my wife and kids are happy and content, I have peace. On other days, for no apparent reason, I wake up with the world on my shoulders. Peace is nowhere to be found.
This is the kind of peace that is based on control and fear. It is peace based on our own understanding. The problem with this kind of peace is that it is elusive. It comes and goes like the tide. All it takes is one phone call or perhaps a look at your waistline and you are unsettled.
When our wife or partner is upset, we fear that we will lose them and we lose our peace. When we don’t hit our number at work we fear that we will be fired and so we begin a mad dash to get things under control. We strive to make things right in our own power. We continue doing this no matter what the cost until we have regained our temporary peace back.
People’s perceptions of us is one of the most cruel robbers of our peace. I counsel with so many people that seem like a dim phantom of who they are called to be due to fear of what others thinks. This is why some people who are true extroverts become painfully shy, forgoing their true identity because of fear. They have decided they will control other people’s perceptions by blending in, by becoming who they think people want them to be.
I know that I have fallen back into this type of peace when my mind becomes tense and I start reaching for things I can control. My usual plan of attack is to furiously clean the house or organize the bills or garage. The odd thing is that these usually have nothing to do with my loss of ballast, but still, they give me a sense of temporary control.
The peace that Jesus offers us is not based in any kind of control. Instead, Jesus says let me have control and I will give you a peace beyond understanding. This is the kind of peace that is content in all situations and allows others to live freely without the desire to control anything or anyone. I would argue that we are never called in God’s word to control anything other then ourselves. Instead we are to steward faithfully, but never control.
The word of God tells us that we are to derive no peace or satisfaction of mind from the world. Rather, our peace is to be found only in things that are unchangeable and eternal: God Himself. (2 Thess 3:16)
The only way to come to this type of peace is to begin a journey into God’s love. Remember that perfect love cast out all fear (1 John 4:18). We control and lose our peace for only one reason. That reason is fear. Whenever you are stressed, it is based in a fear. If you don’t believe me, the next time you find yourself stressed, stop and ask why. I am sure that you will find it has to do with some-thing you are afraid to lose. This could be another’s love of you or your temporary membership in the club of beautiful and respected people.
When we begin to accept that we are truly loved, and that God works all things together for our good and benefit (Romans 8:28) then we will begin to finally live in true peace. It is this type of peace that weather storms. It is this type of peace that lets you act our your life in love as opposed to fear. Acting out of this center is what finally allows our lives to become authentic.
I think I found the cure for divorce. Spend one morning at divorce court. This is what I did yesterday while standing as a character reference for one of our church members.
Ours was the last case of the day, so I got a chance to witness a number of emotional, spiritual and physical disasters unfold before me. While I am not sure what hell is actually like, I am sure that some of the elements that I witnessed yesterday will be part of the equation. This is the underbelly of human emotion and behavior.
One by one, spouse after spouse and parent after parent stood before a judge who now was in charge of decisions that were once theirs. Dollar amounts were being place on kids. This kid is worth this amount in support, another a higher amount because they took gymnastics lessons. Even virtual visits were being assigned.
The parties involved no longer communicated. Instead they were spoken to an for by their personal attorneys. I never saw one former couple make eye contact in my morning at the court. It was as if the space that their former partner encompassed was removed from the cosmic grid. They no longer existed.
What I found interesting was that there was also not a couple there who did not start their relationship in either passionate infatuation or determined “love”. Now they stood here as puppets of the system, being spoken for and to by intermediaries and worldly sovereigns. I really can’t describe how awful it was. It took me about a day to recover.
So what happened to love? Was true love ever present and if it was how is ths result possible. Is love really able to overcome all things? Can it overlook all things, or is this just biblical poetry.
1Cor. 13:10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.
1Cor. 13:13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
When I related this story to a friend yesterday, he told me with full confidence that if his wife or him were to commit adultery, that that they would not separate. I think I could say the same thing, but once again, I have never been or hope to be in that situation. Still, maybe this is the view we should all have.
What would unconditional love look like in a marriage? In the last couple of entries I talked about how we should have no “because” in our love. We should never love for any reason. If we do, then our love is based on a thing, and love then becomes a servant of that thing.
As I searched the scriptures, I stood corrected. We are to love because of one “because” and only one.
1John 4:19 We love because he first loved us.
What this verse says is that God is the impetus of all our love. Since God himself is greater then love, then basing our love on God creates a foundation for love that supports it in all its trials. Thus, in order for love to supersede all things it needs to stand on a foundation great then itself. The question then to us in every arena in which we love is this, “Does this act of love find its only anchor in the person of God himself.”
This is why love conquers all. Love does not conquer all because of its innate essence as the thing called “love”, rather love perseveres because its very fuel is the fullness of God.
This is why Jesus says that divorce in certain situation is only because of human weakness. While it might seem trite, love can easily overcome a adulterous affair. Is not love infinite? Will sin not pass away. The answer is yes. For what seems a might hurdle to us, is childs play for God.
This is also why God can overlook any sin and send his only Son to die for us. It is because of a fantastical love that flows from a source of infinite power and ability. That source is God Himself.
Romans 8:38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[m] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
So I have continued to have this discussion about God’s love with a host of close friends. What comes up most is the question of how our worth is then determined in the view of God. What makes us valuable to God.
The answer to that is “Choice”. While I am not loved by God because of any thing or innate value of my own, I am of unimaginable and immeasurable worth due to God’s Choice.
The fact that God chose (from within love) to create me in His image is one of many reasons that I have for finding a favorable view of myself in Him. Another is the fact that God sent His son to die for me. That reason alone, the fact that Jesus was willing to die for me and call me His chosen is where I find my worth.
The key here is that this worth is based on nothing I have done. All of it comes from the impetus of God’s choice. Because of this, we as believers are eternally anchored in His favor.
The distinction that has made the most impact on my way of living is when I based my understanding of God’s favor on a “because” which found its anchor in my merit, the feeling of God either being pleased with me in the present moment was tied to how I was performing. On days my walk was closer to my understanding of God’s requirement for holy living, the happier and more fully accepted I felt. If another day I did some act of unkindness, I would feel removed from God’s pleasure and acceptance until I made the relationship right with Him.
God’s favor of me is not tied to my feeble understanding or ability to walk in closer accordance to His words (the bible) calling. No matter how I perform, I am always accepted and approved of by God. Romans 8’s assurance of our freedom from any condemnation affirms this.
Let’s get back to the human relational out workings of this. When we decide to marry a person, it is not because we love them. I know that we think it is, but it is really just a choice. I married my wife not because I love her, but because she was the best choice for me. That choice was based on all kinds of “because”. I married her “because” she is a beautiful and amazing individual full of talent and kindness. This though is not why I love her. I love her for no reason other then God has called me to love her regardless. My love for her then is displayed in the “choice” I made to covenant with her. This is why we say “for better or for worse” when we get married. Love is based on no thing. Her performance in the marriage or my possible waning emotional state has nothing to do with how I love her. I love her no matter what.
This is why it is impossible to fall out of love. Instead, one person in the relationship has decided they no longer chose to be in relationship with their partner because of a “thing” or lack of a desired “thing”. What is really happening is that the person if falling out of affection with the other person. They are no longer being affected in the way they wish, and a state of emotional distance develops. Many divorce for this reason. Be assured that this is not love. Love conquers all these obstacles (1 Cor: 13). That is why it will be only one of three (Faith, Hope and Love) that remain. As we know, the greatest of these is love.
Let’s again look at God. The good news is this. You can never leave God’s love. If you are in Christ, you are the within the center of His great love. You can rest. There is nothing you can do that will separate you from that love. Besides that, you are also eternally favored due to His decision of you.
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
1 John 4:18
Brennan Manning devastated me this week. It happened when reading “The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus”. Manning makes the statement, “God’s love is based on nothing at all, and that is what makes us secure.”
There were two initial reactions that immediately arose within me. The first was the demand to be loved “because”. I want to be loved for some innate value of my own. Is this not what we are all driving for in this world. Every one of us wants to be set apart from the rest, to be the top of the heap. We yearn for a loveableness (my word) based on our own worth. We want to be loved “because” we are kind or sexy or smart or fashionable. Whatever it is that gives us worth is what we want. One look at modern media will show you that the world and those in it are striving to determine their worth by who they are or what they do. They are selling their souls for the right to be loved. And for this reason, something inside of me wanted to reject any love that loves valuelessly (my word).
Over the last few days I have asked family and friends if they would ever want to be married to someone who loved them for no reason. Would you really want a lover who did not love them because of some uniqueness they possessed? In each case those answering said that this idea of love made them feel insecure. They wanted to be loved “because”. If there is no reason behind love, then why would one stay? Why would one keep loving. What would make them special and set apart? What would keep their spouse from equally loving another?
As I pondered these thoughts, I felt a knocking at the door of my heart. A wave of peace seemed to be present and available if I was only willing to accept my own worthlessness. It is a great burden to be carrying the weight of your own self-conceived worth. Worth based on personal merit needs always be replenished. It needs always be tended. It needs always be nurtured and heaped upon. The satisfaction of worth that comes because of some “thing” we do or possess is a fleeting and elusive love.
When we base our love on a reason, love is always in jeopardy. Merit filled love can never be trusted. It is the most unfaithful of loves. Lose the merit and you lose the love.
When we begin to define ourselves as those who are worthlessly loved, we will for the first time set foot on the trail of authenticity. For the first time ever we will be able to stop with all our comparing and strivings. We can then and only then step out of the storm. For then and only then will we know love.
This type of love is beyond the human condition. It is a love reserved only for God and those of His affection. God’s love is encapsulated in a vacuum free of the contaminants of merit, production, striving, positional authority and worldly aspiration. It is a pure love that loves for loves sake. It is based on nothing but love itself and pays dues to no “thing”.
This is the perfection of love that the scripture speaks about. This is the kind of love we are called to have. This is the love of God.