the big IF L4L.25

SIN EDITAR

SIN EDITAR (Photo credit: angel almanzo grupo 52)

The Word

“I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.” John 5:24 (New Living Translation)

“It’s urgent that you listen carefully  to this: Anyone here who believes what I am saying right now and aligns himself with the Father, who has in fact put me in charge, has at this very moment the real, lasting life and is no longer condemned to be an outsider. This person has taken a giant step from the world of the dead to the world of the living.” (The Message)

I sat beside a dear friend today at Bible study and listened as she entertained the big IF.

You know it. You’ve heard it before. You may have even spoken it aloud, like my friend has, more than once. The big IF doesn’t discriminate based on denomination or age or the number of church activities you participate in. It doesn’t take into account how many times you’ve read through the Bible from cover to cover. It doesn’t care how many scripture verses you know by heart.

No, the big IF makes itself available to everyone who has ever doubted that what they’ve said and done can be forgiven by a just and righteous God.

The big IF, despite its many variations, usually sounds something like this:

IF I go to heaven when I die.”

The App

If ever there was a time to take Jesus literally, that time is today and these are those words.

Salvation is not a crap shoot and heaven is no lottery jackpot, yet we continue to play the game (if you were to die tonight – as the age-old evangelism hook goes – would you go to heaven?).

With words as clear and firm as these, spoken by Jesus, why in the world do people still sit in our pews and around the tables in our fellowship halls, allowing for the big IF? Don’t they know that Jesus came, not to condemn them, but to love and save them from their sinful selves? Don’t the spiritual leaders in their midst speak this truth – Jesus’ own words – over them in their shame-filled, doubt-ridden existence?

Whose responsibility is it to point out to those who listen to Jesus’ teachings and believe in the one, true God that eternal life is theirs ALREADY? There really is no excuse, church (shame on us!) for allowing the big IF to infiltrate the ranks of the redeemed. Every day that the great deceiver is allowed to taunt our brothers and sisters by dangling heaven in front of their imperfect lives is a day that the Body of Christ is caught taking a nap on the sofa. It’s time to wake up and crush the enemy, people. It’s time to get literal with the big IF.

If you listen to Jesus’ message,

If you believe in the God Who sent His Son to live among us AS one of us,

YOU WILL NEVER BE CONDEMNED FOR YOUR SINS!

YOU HAVE ALREADY PASSED FROM DEATH INTO LIFE!

There is no IF I go to heaven about it, because your open heart and belief in God have already marked your entrance into eternity.

If we aren’t sure that God is saving a place for us in heaven, the problem isn’t that we haven’t done enough or said enough or jumped through the proper hoops in the prescribed order… the problem is that we aren’t taking Jesus seriously.

If we live our lives in a state of perpetual timidity, tentative and failing to embrace our Kingdom standing, how then can our lives bear the fruit they were designed to produce?

Believe the words of Jesus!

Align yourself with God!

Take a giant step away from the big IF and into the land of the living!

It’s high time we stop tip-toeing around the big IF and instead choose to live boldly into the reality of our eternal life, armed with nothing less than the assurances of Jesus Himself.

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Fear of Heights L4L.17

Piece of chalk and blackboard

Image via Wikipedia

The WORD

“You must not be called ‘Teacher’, because you are all members of one family and have only one Teacher.” Matthew 23:8 (The Good News Translation)

“Don’t let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. Don’t set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do.” (The Message)

These words of Jesus have great potential to tweak us all today. Whether we lean toward passive followership or have a penchant for taking charge, Jesus is very clear that we are ALL students in God’s classroom. Standing up there, in front of the chalkboard, isn’t Pastor so-and-so or Dr. such-and-such…

It’s GOD.

The APP

There is great danger in our failure to take literally these words of Jesus.

Caution is required anytime we begin to subscribe to a particular human teacher’s words or ways. To the degree that our earthly teachers seek to function as holy plumbing systems, a person can actually participate in the active Word of God as it flows through the lives of His people. At the point that those pipes seek to channel God’s goodness in directions of its OWN choosing, we’ve crossed that delicate line between participation and power.

Even the most well-intentioned human teachers can become sidetracked in issues of pride, authority and control. We don’t do them any favors by empowering them to exercise their issues in our lives, do we? There is a great need for all students of the Word to keep ourselves in check when it comes to who we listen to and how far down the road we are willing to go behind a person who is herself attempting to follow the Rabbi.

My Tuesday morning women’s group has discussed this many times – the way that we in churches tend to put all of our eggs into the Pastor-basket. Pastors are people, lest we forget, and Jesus’ reminder is timely for those of us who would rather see one person charged with much responsibility than to take up our own crosses and follow the Teacher Himself.

On the other hand, some of us would be wise to ask God to give us a healthy fear of heights. Leadership comes so easily to some, along with the temptation to become something more than we were ever called to be. We who seek to let the Living Waters flow from our ministry efforts would do well to keep the picture of the classroom in our minds.

I picture old, wooden desks (the kind with the lift-up desktop and pencil shelf inside), arranged in rows facing the blackboard. There are boys and girls seated on chairs that swivel and squeak. Some have buzz cuts. Others have pig tails. Scraped knees. Ankle socks. Grass stains on their jeans. These are my classmates – real, down-to-earth people – and I sit there with them. I am one of them. And just like sweet first-graders, we love our Teacher.

Today, on this Literal 4 Lent journey, take a good, long look at your surroundings:

  • Do you feel a bit nauseous? Do people look like ants from where you stand?
  • If you were to fall, would you have far to go before hitting bottom?
  • Is it unclear who your Teacher is?
  • Are there other voices speaking into your life that compete with His?
  • Are you content to live vicariously through the bold and boisterous others you’ve surrounded yourself with?

Consider what gives you pause. Pray for caution and pray for fear. Embrace your classmates. Listen to the Teacher.

Let Him tell you what to do.

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Hold On Loosely L4L.12

yes!!!

The WORD

“Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Matthew 5:42 (New International Version)

Sounds… painfully simple.

“When someone asks you for something, give it to him; when someone wants to borrow something, lend it to him.” (The Good News Translation)

This philosophy on life and living must have been easy for Jesus – He owned the clothes on His back. We never hear about Him owning a house or a boat. He never talks about His possessions, which leads us to believe He didn’t have much.

No goats. No sheep. No business. No emergency stockpile of food and supplies.

Not really a stretch to live this text literally when the physical things that others may need just can’t be found in your garage.

We, on the other hand, have garages and cupboards and closets and houses FILLED with things that may be needed by others. When someone asks to use something you have, Jesus is saying that the only answer to come from your mouth should be, “Sure!”

The APP

Now, this works well in some situations – like when the borrowed item is a duplicate or something I don’t use every day. But what about when the item is important to me? Something that I need? A practical help in my home, or a treasured gift from someone I love? How could I possibly let that thing out of my sight?

You’ll cringe (as I am), but the idea of entitlement creeps into our best intentions to put these words of Jesus into practice. Entitlement and ownership. I made it! I bought it (after saving up for months)! It belongs to me!

Picture clenched fists. Picture hands on hips. The stance of an owner.

God knows this is an area where there is plenty of room for me to grow, and over the past months He has given me an opportunity to get it right. You see, the stuff that I possess is becoming easier to let go of. Material things mean less and less to me as I grow more and more in the image of my Lord. I would almost say I had learned this lesson, but I would be wrong.

Because it’s not just about things that come with a price tag.

One of my life’s passions is creating environments and opportunities for women to really connect with God. I have a number of retreat curriculum that I’ve created over the years, and I guess you could say they’re my babies. Born of intense research, gut-deep passion and the guidance of the Spirit of God, these materials are attached with a sort of holy umbilical cord to my heart. If you listen closely enough, you can hear my heartbeat in those pages. No kidding.

My vision for using these materials has always included me. Me as the teacher, me as the leader, me as the one who puts it all together. It makes sense that it would be that way, since God chose to use me as the vehicle to deliver them from thought and idea into function and form, right? I faithfully wait, then, for the right timing to be able to put these amazing teachings of God into events that will move women closer to His heart. Opportunities have come, but they haven’t overwhelmed me. I am patient, after all, knowing that God has a plan to complete the work He has started… and then an email arrives.

An email from a woman I have never met. She has heard about me and my retreats. She has been praying for an opportunity to reach out to the women in her church. She knows this is the answer to her prayers – our connecting over the idea of retreat. God has led her to me and the work I’ve been doing. This isn’t just her take on the situation – I see God in it, too. His Name is written all over it.

It’s not a stretch for us to meet – she even offers to make the drive to my home, for my convenience. I’m excited and eager to share with her about my vision for what God is doing in this work of my hands! Maybe this is an opportunity for me to bring all of this goodness to another group of ladies! Confirmation that I was right – this is my calling, after all!

There’s just one problem. The women my new friend wants to minister to only speak Spanish, and I don’t.

In spite of my gifts, my passion and my enthusiasm, it becomes clear that this is not my gig. And the beautiful woman of God who sits beside me on the sofa is practically oozing Spirit and energy for this ministry! It’s gorgeous! God Himself is visible in her love for the women in her church, and she’s asking to borrow the materials I’ve created, in order to make it into something He can use HER for…

I could clench my fists, put my hands on my hips and say, “But it’s MINE!” After all, I did spend months preparing the talks, the activities and the projects that this pile of papers represents. My prayers, my study, my willingness to be used by God made this curriculum possible, right? But to take an owner’s stance would be to claim the glory that is God’s alone, taking credit myself for something that GOD HIMSELF has done.

If all that I have comes from God, then nothing I have is really mine.

It was a defining moment in ministry for me, the day I handed over those valuable pages to one who will use them for the fame and renown of our Lord. In those moments, I chose a steward’s posture, opting not to cling to God’s work but to set it free.

Holding on loosely to that which wasn’t mine to begin with.

This Lenten season, in keeping with the challenge to take Jesus at His Word, lighten up! Loosen your grip on the stuff of this world and instead, choose to live generously out of the true abundance that is ours in Christ.

After all, this is exactly what Jesus did for us.

He held His life loosely so that we might receive the benefit when He gave it all away.

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