Easter Thoughts (from 20,000 feet), Part Two
Here’s another thought I had from around the Easter season:
God’s grace doesn’t require an understanding of the depth of our own depravity.
Let me try to unpack that:
I “accepted Jesus” somewhere between the ages of 5 and 7. I can tell you as a fact that I had no idea how sinful I was. I thought I was a pretty good kid with a couple defects, and I mostly decided to become a Christian because, well, that’s what the rest of my family had done, so I figured it must be all right!
As I’ve grown older, and grown further in Christ, I can see my faults more and more clearly. Just when I think I’ve finished tying off some loose end of a character flaw, another one rears it’s ugly head and reminds me why I need God’s grace, and how broken I really am.
But that deeper understanding of how messed up I am doesn’t negate the salvation that I accepted as a snotty-nosed kid 20-ish years ago. Part of the beauty of God’s goodness is that it doesn’t even require the recipients to understand how good it actually is. I now understand that I will never understand just how good God is, and how big of a deal it is that all my sins are simply wiped away through the Cross. And yet, God’s grace still remains.
This is totally backwards to the way I give out my flawed version of “grace.”
If someone wrongs me, I hopefully have the integrity and character to forgive them. But before I do that, I want to explain, in painful detail, just how bad their actions against me were.
Essentially, I’m saying, “Yes, I will forgive you, but first, let me help you understand just how good this forgiveness actually is by helping you understand how badly you screwed up.”
Man, I am so glad God doesn’t do that. I sometimes feel like I can hardly handle just the slightest illumination into my failures that God so gently brings. If He shined a floodlight on all my failures at once, I’m afraid I’d simply shrivel up and die.
And yet, He still extends Grace. He still offers His hand, face beaming with a joyous smile, as I again find myself stuck in the mud of my sin. And even as He pulls me out, again, there is never a moment where He sits me down to explain how far He had to come, how hard He had to look for me, or how much it cost Him. He simply gives, and keeps giving, never expecting us to truly appreciate the price that He paid.
God’s goodness goes deeper and further than I will ever understand, and, to top it all of, my lack of understanding doesn’t bother God.
That's some pretty good goodness.
"You haven't seen anything yet... 'Cause you don't know how good I get..."
Easter Thoughts from 20,000 feet, Part One
So, I’ve been thinking about Jesus. Surprise!
I love times of the year that seem to beg for reflection. Christmas, my own birthday, New Years, the Easter weekend… For me, at least, they remind me to take a step back, let my thoughts float within a particular theme, and let God speak through them.
On this past Good Friday morning, before heading off to what proved to be an amazing joint Good Friday service with 7 of the churches around Cornwall, I had a moment to sit down and reflect. And I was struct with the thought of weight. The weight of sin. The weight of my sin.
Messing up in life always carries consequences. Regardless of the outward, obvious consequences, there’s always an internal sting when we realize our failings. I think everyone feels it a bit differently, and some people get back up and move on faster than others, but I think, unless they’re some sort of psychopath, everyone has some pang of regret for the wrong they have done.
As a Christian, I can eliminate that heaviness at the back of my mind by allowing Jesus’ death to wipe it away. I still learn from my mistakes (I hope), but it no longer weighs on me like it did before.
For this and many other reasons, I can’t imagine living a life without Jesus and the refreshing forgiveness that He doles out to mess-ups like me. I feel like I would collapse under the struggle of trying to live with that backlog of my sins trying to crush me. The only reason I can stand up at all is because of Jesus, and the way He takes all the crap of my past away. I’m not sure how I would function without that.
And all this leads me to thinking about Jesus in his last hours on earth, as a mortal man wrapped around an immortal God. He bore my sins, that weight, so that I didn’t have to.
But even crazier than that, He bore the weight of all sins. That just blows my mind.
Cheaters. Liars. The scum of the earth.
The weight of every single “little white lie,” every look of lust, every outburst of anger, not only past and present, but future, all placed on the back of a man who had never committed a single sin.
That’s brutal. That’s unfair. It seems that, if anyone should be put through something so horrific, it at least should’ve been someone who at least kinda deserved it. How about Barabbas? He seems about as guilty as anyone. Or how about someone more recent, like Hitler? At least then we could say that God’s judgement was directed at someone who was worse than most.
Unfortunately, there’s a couple problems with this idea.
First, it’s hard to know where to draw the line. Maybe Hitler accomplished more obvious evil than most people in human history, but that doesn’t mean he was any more deserving of God’s judgement than anyone else.
I think, when we’re comparing a sinful human with a sinless God, the difference between getting in a fight with your sibling and murdering thousands of innocent people turns out to be totally insignificant. As brutal as it might seem, when we just compare any of us individually with God’s standard, we all fall so short it’s laughable.
It’s like comparing the hockey skill level of Wayne Gretzky in his prime to two 5-year old kids. Sure, one of those kids is going to be better than the other, but when you compare them each individually to Wayne Gretzky, the difference really doesn’t end up mattering. The sheer scale of comparison makes any differences between those kids insignificant, and the scale is immeasurably larger when it comes to the righteousness of God and man.
So then, maybe Hitler can’t really be the one to blame. It turns out, we’re all to blame. We’ve all failed to live up to God’s standards, and when we’re being compared to perfection, that pretty much levels the playing field.
But there’s a second problem that I think exists with the whole “let’s put sin on Hitler instead” idea. I’ll admit that I do not have Scriptures on tap to back up this idea, and while browsing the web during flight is actually possible, it turns out to be slow and expensive, so I’m not currently able to do research to back up this thought. Given that disclaimer, I still think this is a God thought, so I’m going for it:
Maybe the only Being able to carry the weight of sin itself without collapsing had to be a perfect, sinless man. Maybe an ordinary, sin-filled human wouldn’t have even had the capacity to stand up under the weight of God’s forthcoming judgement that night before in the garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus Himself asked for the “cup to be taken away from Him.” Maybe, if Father God had instead chosen an ordinary human to break sin’s power, they simply would’ve self-destructed under the weight on the road to the crucifixion site, instead of being sacrificed like Jesus had to be.
Jesus asked for another way. I imagine that the Father would’ve found one if it existed. But He didn’t. And maybe that’s because Jesus was the only possible way for mankind to have a chance to live free from sin.
That would make Jesus our one and only chance, and He didn’t let us down. The perfect one solved the problem introduced through Adam and Eve, once and, literally, for all, if they would but accept it. The only one strong enough to carry our weight was also perfectly willing to be “led as a lamb to the slaughter,” perfectly willing to endure not only the physical torture of crucifixion, but the emotional and spiritual torment of carrying the sins of the entire human race, and having Father God turn away from that concentration of sin in Jesus’ final moments.
Perfectly willing to die so that sin and death’s power over you and me could be broken, forever and always.
Yeah, I'll say yes to that any day.
Light and Darkness
So, I feel like I should confess before I begin. I’m kinda flat-out stealing this.
Well… With that out of the way, let’s dive in, shall we?
I recently had coffee with one of the leaders in my church (Pastor Dick, for those that know my church), who basically emanates wisdom anywhere he goes. When I meet with him, I usually leave with a sense of increased understanding of my own life combined with an almost depressing realization at how far I have to grow to reach his level of wisdom.
Anyways, I was telling him about a recent time in my life where I had been challenged about something in my life by a friend. It was absolutely a needed challenge, and “hit the mark,” so to speak, but the aftermath in my emotions kinda took me by surprise.
Basically, the devil used what should have been a healthy growing opportunity, and used it to start trying to tear me down with my failures. It’s truly amazing where the human mind will go when we allow the devil to tell us lies.
I was telling all this to this leader, Pastor Dick, and one of the many nuggets of wisdom he shared really caught my attention. Basically, he reminded me of what Jesus likened Christians to:
Probably the most obvious reference to this is in Matthew 5:14-15:
“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.”
Now, there’s a lot of good stuff bottled up in these couple of verses, but I want to just focus on the fact that Jesus declared Christians to be light. I had never really thought too much about it, but Pastor Dick pointed out that Jesus wouldn’t and doesn’t use specific metaphors or comparisons by accident. There’s a reason that He decided to compare us to light. That already had my interest, but Pastor Dick went on.
He started talking about the characteristics of light, and why God might compare us to it. I think the most obvious one is the one that we as humans think about the least, and yet is still probably the most interesting for Christians:
Light always beats the darkness.
Think about it. You can be standing in the deepest darkest cave in the depths of the earth, completely and utterly cut off from any possible light source, with a darkness that some might say you could feel…
And all you need is a pocket lighter to completely shatter that darkness.
It’s not like the darkness comes around and starts oppressing the light, or like the light has to fight to be seen. All the light has to do is be, and the darkness has no choice but to run away. There’s never a question of whether or not the darkness is going to leave the area when we bring a light to it. You never have to fight away the darkness, or carry the light to every square foot of space in order to cleanse it of being dark.
And Jesus used all of this to paint a pictures of what Christians are, or at least what they would be if they simply realized it.
Darkness is probably more active when we translate it to the Spiritual sense of things, but I don’t think the picture of light changes much. It doesn’t take a floodlight to break through the darkness; all it takes is a little lighter, and the darkness loses it’s ability to touch you.
As a Christian, I already have all that I need to fight against any darkness already living inside of me as part of the package deal that is the Holy Spirit. Anytime the darkness comes at me, I just have to go back to the light I already contain, and, regardless of how dim or bright that light might be, the darkness has to back away.
I think satan is scared of fully-functioning Christians. I also believe satan’s bark is usually worse than his bite, though I know there are exceptions to that rule. The devil plays mind games with us, using the power of words in an attempt to drag us down, afraid of what might happen if we simply stood up in who we already are.
That is what I want to do more of. That is how I want to live. That when satan comes with his lies, I simply stand in confidence in Christ.
As Pastor Dick summed it up: “Flick the Bic.”
So yeah. All that to say, I think I’m beginning to learn how to stand up stronger as a Christian when opposition comes. I don’t have to just sit back and take a beating when the enemy starts screaming out lies. All I really have to do is remember who I am and let the God-given light inside of me shine, and darkness has no choice to run and hide.
Honesty and Scheduling
Wow. Christmas? Seriously? It’s been 3+ months since I updated this thing? This is starting to look like one of those blogs where every post starts with “Sorry it’s been so long since I lasted posted…”
Well, let me make it abundantly clear that the length of time in between posts has nothing to do with how stuff God’s been doing in my life. On the contrary, in some ways, I think these past few months may prove to be monumental in the overall course of my life. I suppose only time can truly tell that, though.
Anyways, might as well jump into two big things that I feel like God has been focusing on in the last little bit. First, let’s start with scheduling.
That probably sounds like a pretty un-Spiritual word, but God has been teaching me just how important it is.
I am absolutely an extrovert. While some people might get their energy from going off by themselves and reading a book to relax from from exhausting social gatherings, as a general rule, I get my energy from hanging out with other people. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy time alone (that just so happens to be part of the changes God has been working on), but for the most part, I find I have a very high “tolerance” for hanging out with people, if that makes sense. Where other people would get tired and want to go home, I could stay for another few hours. My sister Karen, who is more introverted, knows this better than anyone; anytime we’re both at some gathering, she’s always the first one ready to go.
Anyways, I say that to say this: for most of my life, if there has been an opportunity to hang out with someone, my first reaction has always been “yes.” Unconditional, without question, if there are people in the vicinity and you have invited me, my knee-jerk response would always be “yes.” I also go out of my way to try to initiate hang-out times, be it with a group of people, or just grabbing coffee one-on-one with someone. I found myself almost desperately trying to fill in the evenings of my week, chasing down people to try to get together with them, and feeling like a week was a bit of a failure if I had more than on or two evenings spent at home without outside interaction.
Now, I love people. That won’t change. As much as I love camping, I’m not about to become some hermit, living off in the woods by himself. But as this year started, God basically sat down with me and said “write out your life. Write out all the people you want to hang out with, all the things you want to accomplish, all the projects you want to complete, all the things you’re chasing.”
My goodness, there’s a lot of names on that list. Too many, it turns out.
God has finally, finally, convinced of the fact that I simply cannot do it all. There are things, good things, that I really want to do, that I simply cannot do, and have to give up. There are people that I want to hang out with that I simply don’t have time to hang out with, at least not on a consistent basis like I would want to. That’s the hardest part: wanting to connect with someone, and not being able to. It especially stings if I feel like there may not be many other people that would reach out to them.
I’ve heard it before, but God finally showed me, personally, that if I try to do everything I want to, I’ll end up sucking at most, if not all of it, and end up getting burned out. However, if I let God pick the things in my life that I should focus on, and trust Him with the parts that I need to let go of, I will be far more productive in what I am doing. Focusing on doing a few things really well is far, far better than attempting to do a whole bunch of things, and doing them all poorly.
So I’m learning (slowly, as it turns out) to take a second when someone says “Hey, let’s hang out!,” and think about whether or not that’s the best use of my time. I’m learning to filter my schedule, all of it, through God. I guess that makes God my secretary?
At any rate, that is the first thing I’m learning these days: allowing God to prioritize my life, and letting Him choose which relationships to pursue (and when to pursue them!) and which ones to let go of. It’s hard, but it’s been good, going through the process of letting things go that I’ve decided I want to do so that I can focus on the things that God has actually called me to.
That brings me to the second big thing that God has been teaching me as of late. Honesty.
Honesty is a bit of a funny topic for me, especially having grown up in church my whole life. You don’t lie if you’re a Christian, right? You just always tell the truth, right?
Turns out, I don’t. I absolutely do not always tell the truth. Sure, maybe I tell a part of the truth, or something that is kinda true, but there are times when I know what the, uh, “true truth” is, if you will, and I intentionally skirt around it.
Maybe it’s awkward. Maybe it’s a bit controversial. Maybe it would make someone else look or feel bad. At any rate, the true truth is most certainly uncomfortable and inconvenient. And so, I lie. Or, at the very least, I don’t tell the whole story.
I’ve noticed this most while I’m working, but I’m sure there are examples elsewhere as well. On several occasions, I’ve been asked by some co-workers (to whom I now apologize, if they happen to be reading) why I live in Cornwall and commute to Ottawa for work, instead of just moving to Ottawa and settling down there.
There’s several reasons. I pick the most comfortable ones, and leave out the most true reason.
I tell them that I have family in Cornwall. I tell them I have friends I want to stay connected to. I tell them that the commute isn’t too bad, and you get used to it.
Those are all true things (though that last one is becoming less and less true as time wears on). But that is not the real reason, the “true truth”.
The real reason that I currently live in Cornwall, and plan on continuing to live there for the foreseeable future, is that my church is in Cornwall. I feel that, in this season of time, God has called me to Harvest Christian Fellowship in Cornwall, Ontario, and I have decided that I will always build my life around my church, not around my job.
That’s the real reason. But I don’t say that. I say something easier, something more comfortable and more convenient.
The Bible says a couple things about truth and honesty:
“that we… speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head - Christ”
- Ephesians 4:14-15
It turns out, speaking the truth in love, being honest even when it’s inconvenient, is one of the keys to “growing up in all things.” And King Solomon was pretty blunt in His description of how God feels about lying:
“Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord,
But those who deal truthfully are His delight.”
- Proverbs 12:22
Ultimately, speaking the truth is important, even when it’s uncomfortable. But really, honesty is more than just what you say. It’s also how you live, being true to yourself, and doing things for the right reasons.
So let’s talk about beer.
I’m not much of a drinker. At all. I’ve probably drank alcohol less than 15 times in my life (and, side-note, I still have to use spell check to get the right spelling. For some reason, it just never comes out quite right…).
However, I personally don’t have any sort of personal conviction against drinking alcohol as a Christian. Obviously, there are limits that the Bible even talks directly about (see Ephesians 5:18), but I don’t think having a beer is inherently sinful.
As such, I’ve noticed myself doing something a bit odd when I’m around non-Christian friends, and they start drinking: I’ll kinda force myself to order something. Not so that I can fit in, like you might expect, but because I have something in me that wants to prove to my non-Christian friends that Christians aren’t some weird breed of people that refuse to drink beer and look down on people that do. And I suppose that’s not a bad thing to want to prove, but here’s the thing:
Out of the (admittedly few) times that I’ve drank alcohol, I can only say that I kinda enjoyed it once. I’d just as soon drink root beer or iced tea.
So I’m not drinking because I’ve decided for myself that I’d like to; I’m drinking, for the most part, in an attempt to prove to the world that Christians aren’t weird. And I’ve decided that that is a lame reason.
Don’t get me wrong, I think Christians should live their lives in such a way that non-Christians don’t “trip over their style,” as Pastor Dennis Lacheney (from a great church down in Virginia, “Christian Life”) put it when he spoke at Harvest once. I don’t think Christians should get a reputation as being weird or judgemental, two adjectives that I think a lot of non-Christians would attribute to Christians as a whole.
But I also don’t think that we as Christians should be so concerned with what the world thinks that we feel a sense of pressure to fit in for the sake of Christianity’s reputation.
I think we can be different without being weird. And I also think that if we try too hard to not be different, that can easily end up being weird in itself.
Maybe drawing my non-Christian friends to Jesus starts out simpler than I realized. Maybe it starts out by simply being true to who Jesus has made me and called me to be. Maybe it means not worrying quite so much about proving that Christians aren’t weird, and instead simply striving to be completely transparent and authentic about who I really am, and trusting that that the real me will attract non-Christians instead of pushing them away. Maybe it means trusting that the ways in which I am similar or different to those around me aren’t some random fluke, but actually God-designed in some way.
So I’m learning about honesty. I’m learning about prioritizing and scheduling my life and the relationships in it. And through it all, I’m continually convinced that the patience and kindness Jesus employs while leading me into these discoveries solidifies His title as the best teacher ever.
My goodness, He is so good.
"Steady heart that keeps on going, steady Faith that keeps believing, lead me on..."
Without Christmas Day
Without Christmas day, there’d be no Christmas lights
There wouldn’t be trips, dedicated to the sights
There’d be no rush to buy, your gifts the day before
There’d be no Christmas songs, no carollers at your door
You wouldn’t see a Christmas tree, decked out from floor to ceiling
There wouldn’t be a nativity, or wise men humbly kneeling
There’d be no heaps of gifts, no kids with dreamy eyes
You wouldn’t hear of Santa Claus, or the sleigh he always flies
Things sure would be different, without Christmas day
Mary and Joseph would be normal, no scandal to get in the way
The shepherds would keep on sleeping, the wise men keep on searching
Peter would’ve stayed the course, and ended his life fishing
Without Christmas day, no joy or peace on earth
Every man would still be searching, for anything of worth
The veil of separation, would still be inches thick
A bit of a bigger deal, than not having old St. Nick!
With all the bustle and rush, there’s one thing to remember
The reason for our joy, in this last month of December
Is the Saviour King Jesus, who came as a child
Small, humble, vulnerable, tender and mild
His birth paved the way, for the greatest of gifts
To save a race lost at sea, hopeless, adrift
Always remember, why we celebrate this way...
Good Friday doesn’t come, without Christmas Day