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Bring Your Nothing

Posted on November 10, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

I have a pretty basic https://twitter.com/jeffblock" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">digital bio: husband, father, friend, pastor, and self proclaimed nerd. But, I often wonder how well I know myself and tend to think that I don’t. Maybe it’s a mid-30’s-life-crisis. Or perhaps it’s a result of living inadvertently under a digital screen where I’m thinking only 140 characters at a time. I don’t know. But one thing I do know is that who I really am is not the tightly worded or perfectly angled person I tend to “display” to the world. If I’m honest, who I think I am--my identity--is usually a victim of the ebbing and flowing, rising and diving, twisting and dodging of the obstacles in my daily path; this makes me usually at war with myself. Who am I really? Most the time I don’t know; who usually wins is the puffed up version of myself: tooting my own horn for others to hear.


Maybe you’ve been here with me or maybe not; if so, it’s because we’ve forgotten who we are.


Do You Know Yourself?


What if I told you that I think Madonna has a better sense knowing who she is than we most likely do?


In her 1991 interview with Vanity Fair, Madonna admitted,


“My drive in life is from this horrible fear of being mediocre. And that’s always pushing me, pushing me. Because even though I’ve become somebody, I still have to prove that somebody. My struggle has never ended and it probably never will.”


Like Madonna, we have a horrible fear of being mediocre, too. Madonna knows herself well and she’s not afraid to admit this. The question is, do we?


It’s Not Our Feelings, It’s Our Ego


We don’t want to be mediocre parents, mediocre teachers, mediocre pastors, or mediocre friends. So, if you’re like me, we tend to say and do things that will cause us to gain the credibility we want. We want to feed our ego. Often, it’s our egos that are hurt more than our feelings when we fail to measure up in public or in private. Tim Keller explains this reality in his book, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfullness:


“The ego often hurts. That’s because it has something incredibly wrong with it. Something unbelievably wrong with it. It is always drawing attention to itself – it does so every single day. It is always making us think about how we look and how we are treated…It is the ego that hurts – my sense of self, my identity. Our feelings are fine! It is my ego that hurts” (16).


I often hear pastors say, “I’ve been doing ministry for a long time.” Or, I hear parents say, “I’ve got four kids.” What I hear when I hear these statements is the ego validating and justifying itself ("trust me, I know what I'm doing!"), trying to cover up what is misplaced: our identity. We’re all prone to puff ourselves up or even toot our own horn for the sake of keeping our ego intact and our sense of self feeling good. It’s our reputation or our credibility that’s at stake, right? That’s how we feel. But, really, it’s our pride.


Keller says pride “is the pleasure of being more than the next person.” And that is exactly our problem.


Transformed and Redefined


In 2 Corinthians 5:16-17, Paul describes a transformed view of self.


From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.


He sees self-worth and self-regard and identity wrapped in the gospel. It’s the gospel that redefines, recreates, and revalidates ones identity in the work of Another. We have a new transformed self, forever changed. But we tend to forget this, and we get caught up in the battle waging between our normal view of self and our transformed view of self. Thus, we need to continually hear the gospel: “You’ve got nothing. You’ve earned nothing. All you have and all you are is because you are loved beyond measure.


We Brought Nothing, God Brings Everything!


In a song by Shane & Shane, Bring Your Nothing, they sing:


“I’ll bring nothing

You bring everything

How could it be?”


In God’s everything is the love he has for his Son, in whom your life is now hidden (Col. 3:3). The Son whom has been “appointed the heir of all things” (Heb 1:2), and “has sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb. 1:3), has already given you everything when you have nothing to offer. God’s everything is God’s love and we have it. In her book, Exploring Grace Together, Jessica Thompson writes,


“You can smile in your heart, knowing that the most important thing about you isn’t how you play baseball or any sport. The most important thing about you is God’s love for you. You can smile because that will always be yours” (112).


And we smile because His love is forever (Ps. 136). We are given everything when we have nothing. Because of His Love we are free from having to chase credibility or from tooting our horns. What we are and who we are has nothing to do with us any longer. Our “pat-on-the-back-achievements” or our “hide-in-the-closet-failures” don’t define us. Instead, we are now anchored in the One who claimed us, died for us, loved us, hid us within Himself, and freed us from ourselves.


“See what kind of love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1).



This post was written by Jeff Block.

Chief of Sinners

Posted on November 3, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

"Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst."


-1 Timothy 1:15

Run, Dog, Run!

Posted on October 27, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20




I’ve written on Stephan Pastis’ work before; Pearls before Swine is my favorite comic strip, and I read it daily. Pastis typically displays what we might call “great acumen about human nature.” And he’s done it again here in the above (and below) strips.


It’s naïve Pig’s response that caught my eye. When asked why he’s excited, Chained-up Dog replies with tremendous enthusiasm, “New Chain!!” Pig’s right, being excited about a new chain is quite optimistic. In fact, it’s nothing to be excited about, because it’s not good news—the dog is still chained up. But, truth be told, don’t we all get excited about the new thing/behavior/rule/diet/routine that will be the key to real success, to us finally achieving control over our lives. It’s in our fallen nature to be oriented as such. I’ve seen this in my own life, and I’m sure you’ve seen it in your own. I’ve seen it in my tendency to be attracted to the newest diet craze (where are we now, gluten?) to my fruitless efforts to watch just one show at night (wait…how is it 12am?). I desperately try to control broken behavior with behavioral changes, and that is just switching out an old law for a new one; that’s not freedom and it’s certainly nothing to be excited about.


The good news is that the Gospel is not a new chain, a new law. It is a word of freedom, silencing the law and its tyranny in my life, in our lives.


But all too often the Gospel is presented as law. One too many of us have heard some form of the idea--either explicitly, but more often implicitly--that it is not simple faith in Christ that justifies but faith and works. When the ‘and’ creeps in, then the Gospel, rather than being a word of life and freedom, becomes a new Law. And Jesus becomes a new Moses. And no amount of optimism (or marketing) can change the fact that we are now not free but have been given a new chain.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WAtiaVA3PaQ&w=600


The problem with turning Gospel into a new Law is this: the Law doesn’t love me, won’t lay down its life for you, and can’t pity and have mercy on miserable sinners like us. Also this: the Gospel rather than being the word that sets us free and grants us new life becomes a demand that we won’t fill and that will bring death. And worse: the work of the Cross is nullified; Jesus’ sacrifice was in vain.


But the Gospel is not a new Law nor is Christ a new Moses. The good news is that by faith in Christ we are justified apart from works; the good news is that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification—all of it apart from any of our works and always in spite of them. Martin Luther in his Lectures on Galatians writes,


‘...Now I have Another, who has freed me from the terrors of the Law, from sin, and from death, and who has transferred me into freedom, the righteousness of God, and eternal life. He is called the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.’


And this,


As I have said, faith grasps and embraces Christ, the son of God, who was given for us…When He has been grasped by faith, we have righteousness and life. For Christ is the Son of God, who gave Himself out of sheer love to redeem me…. Therefore Christ is not Moses, not a taskmaster or a lawgiver; He is the Dispenser of grace, the Savior, and the Pitier. In other words, he is nothing but sheer infinite mercy, which gives and is given…


It’s important to maintain this definition of Christ because otherwise, to use Luther’s words, we turn Christ into a taskmaster and tyrant. The lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world becomes the rigid judge standing over us in judgment dolling out death sentences.




When Christ is turned into a taskmaster and tyrant, people are wounded, become skeptical, and flee the one place that should have been a word of life because it has become a word of death. Pastis is right, the new chain does nothing but make us desperate. And, desperate for life and freedom, we will run and run (hungry and thirsty) seeking to fill that void with just about anything.


Therefore, we hold on to this definition of Christ: He is the one who "loved you and gave himself for you.” (Period.) There is positively and absolutely no "and" attached neither to that fact nor to the fact that this is all ours by faith alone. We might even find ourselves inspired to proclaim to the desperate, burdened, shamed, guilty, wounded, and the skeptic (i.e. ourselves and our fellow human beings) who Jesus Christ is and what he has done on our behalf.


For Christ is the joy and sweetness of a trembling and troubled heart. We have this on the authority of Paul, who adorns Him with the sweetest of titles here, calling Him the One ‘who loved me and gave himself for me.’ Therefore Christ is the Lover of those who are in anguish, sin, and death, and the kind of Lover who gives Himself for us and becomes our High Priest, that is, the One who interposes Himself as the Mediator between God and us miserable sinners. -- Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians.



Originally published at www.mbird.com: http://www.mbird.com/2013/01/run-dog-run/

Dance of the Dirty, Rotten Sinners

Posted on October 20, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

We hear about sinners sinning and we shake our heads and cluck our tongues. The fires await them, we think. Then we bury our heads in our bibles and smile at how very holy we are. We attack people who practice homosexual behavior and all those people more “liberal” than we are as if they had erupted from a crack traveling up from hell itself. And we feel satisfied with ourselves, and sing our songs and thank our God we’re not like them.


At times, God will show me something that I’m wrong about. I find myself humbled and thankful that he would be so kind to love me amidst such ignorance. Then, I encounter someone who is still wrong about that thing, and I immediately judge them for not being as spiritual as me. There’s something about us that habitually turns the best of gifts from undeserved grace into deserved veneration in our minds. So we start to believe that God’s love is something which began as grace, but soon enough began to sprout from God’s admiration of our goodness.


The love of God should leave us breathless. Hit us square in the gut, silencing our doubts and fears of never being fully accepted. It should be the water which nourishes our faith. But the awe has worn off and we’ve patted God on the shoulder, telling him that we’ll take it from here. And, now, it is pride which feeds us, fertilizing our hate. The one so deep in debt no amount of work could pay it back, freshly forgiven, is running the streets, pointing fingers at all the other debtors.


We were all born ugly and we’ve found our beauty. Should we then use it to shame others? Because God’s goodness has been superimposed over our evil, is our evil now acceptable?


Because we can’t be the things God desires of us, we don’t then humble ourselves before God as logic dictates, we raise up superficial works that can be easily accomplished as that which God desires. We baptize our opinions as law and wedge them into legitimate Scripture. These clownish replacements for God’s righteous demands make us feel superior, and so we stand judge over anyone who dares oppose us. But, until the church rejoices with the weak, shouting, “You too?” instead of scowling behind pious masks, we say Jesus’ death was a band-aid.


If it were ever about us, and our goodness, God would have sent a holy scoreboard for each believer. Instead, it is about what Jesus did. Because we’ve accepted his love, we’re not then better than others. We are humble receivers of a great gift.


We are the hungry, and having found food, we arrogantly judge other beggars for still being so hungry.


What could be more beautiful than the undeservedly-loved shouting, singing and whispering that the loveless are loved too? Instead of berating them for their lack, we should nourish them with the happy news. But first we have to remember who we are and who God is. We are Sinful. And our sin runs deeper than too much drinking or marital unfaithfulness. Those are just symptoms of who we are. Our entire nature is evil. That’s what we’ve been saved fromourselves. So, there is no room for pride.


“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)


God forgave us so that our sin is no longer the issue. We no longer have the demand of impossible rules to earn the favor of God, it was given to us freely by Christ. So what makes us so prideful? Is it because we can’t accept that it’s all free? Is it because we feel better thinking we’ve contributed? Believing spirituality is as easy as wearing nice things to a church service.


But spirituality isn’t wearing a tie to church, that’s a cop-out for the real deal of loving so much it may break you in two, knowing that only God can put you back together. Our well-manicured Sunday go-to-meeting clothes are ridiculous replacements for a clean heart that only the death of God can provide. We bite our tongues to keep from saying four-letter words when our tongues are swelled with evil expressions for those not like us. But all any of us has is grace.


All you have is grace.


You are naked and think you’ve succeeded in covering yourself with the abundance of air around you. All you have is grace. We smell of death and the bones inside rattle when we angrily shake our bible at others, but we think the whitewash is good enough. We need a resurrection, not a paint job. We need to lose ourselves in the truth that we are loved not because of what we do, but wholly in spite of it. All we have is grace.


We are thieves and vandals, adopted by a good man who cancelled our debt and announced to the entire kingdom to put anything more to come on his account. Murderers and whores for whom God danced so violently when we came home that we couldn’t help but laugh and dance along.


The dance of the free.

The dance of the filthy, rotten sinners.

The dance of the forgiven.



This post was written by Chad West. You can find him on Twitter here: @MisterPreacher

I Don't "Got This"

Posted on October 13, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (1)

Pressure had been building like steam in a tea kettle all morning long. Piles of dishes from the night before, missing shoes, children who won’t get out of bed, who won’t eat breakfast, who don’t answer when I call to them. Steam. Building. And then….Where’s Ezra? I open the back door. A once clean, blonde haired, blue eyed boy standing in the middle of his sandbox covered in mud.


That’s all it took. The absolute last straw of the morning. Boom.


“Why?! Why can’t you people just do what I ask you to do? Why do you have to make everything so stinking difficult?!” Wide eyes staring blankly back at me, while I continued on my rant. “Why do you guys refuse to clean up after yourselves? Why do you have to make such messes in the first place? This is just insane. I can’t find anything. Just know when you guys get home, everyone is cleaning this house. I can’t possibly be expected to keep up with all of this by myself. If you guys can’t stop making mornings so difficult, I’ll just start waking you up at 6am.” And then the big kahuna finisher, “You guys just have to get your act together. Seriously. Or I’m just going to go crazy.”


Oh yeah. I went there.


By the time we loaded into the car, we were crying. Then my son announces that he put the hide-a-key in the sandbox. I run out there to check. I can’t find it. Perfect. I head back to the car. *Car door slams!*


In the midst of feeling completely helpless and completely out of control at this point, I realize that my daughter who is already having a hard time at school, will go to school crushed because her mom flipped a lid this morning. And I feel like a complete jerk. I begin to make amends with my children. Thankfully, by the time we got to her school, I was able to make it right. She hopped out of the car smiling, and I drove away.


I began recounting all the events of the morning and felt so guilty for yelling at my kids. No, they hadn’t picked up after themselves, but there’s also a giant pile of laundry in my bedroom floor that’s been looking at me for two days waiting for me to fold it. And yes, they left a mess in the living room but I didn’t bother to do the dishes from dinner last night. Ugh, hypocrite.


But there’s something else. Something deeper.


I feel guilty because I acted like a jerk and I crushed my kids with my words; I should feel bad about that. My failure to love my kids should break my heart. But the reason that I feel bad about it and am embarrassed about it--if I am being honest--is because I really do believe that I should have my act together. It’s the self-righteous part of my heart that believes: “I got this.” And if I don’t “got this” it’s because they don’t have their act together. And the reason that none of us have our act together today is because our house is messy. And the proof that this is the problem at hand is in the way I apologized to my kids. “I’m sorry, I should not have gotten so angry and yelled at you. We will all clean the house tonight and have a better morning tomorrow.” Oh, me and my fig-leaf-solutions.


The truth is that I don’t have my act together. I never will. I’m always a mess but sometimes I’m more than that. I’m a disaster. I’m the kid in the sandbox with mud slung from the top of my head to the bottoms of my feet. What does the gospel say to a disaster like me? Well, for starters, Jesus is not at all surprised in my outbursts. He knew before I even opened my eyes this morning that I was going to flip a lid. Not only that, He’s praying for me always. “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). That truth slays me. Yes, I failed to love my children when they disobeyed me, but God never fails to love his children when they disobey him. Ever.


When I don’t “got this”, Jesus does. When I’m ranting and acting like a fool, Jesus is advocating for me. “She’s a disaster right now, but she is my disaster. Paid in full.” That thought breaks past the “I didn’t obey the law” and gets to the thing under the thing: the thought that I actually could love my kids perfectly this morning and not just be about my own inconveniences. The love of Christ breaks in down to our self-righteousness. It reaches down to our fig-leaf DIY solutions and lovingly says, “You don’t got this, Sarah, and it’s that constant belief that you do or that you should that makes you need me in the first place. I perfectly loved for you. You’re not going to get it right. Boast in your weakness. Just need me.” It is bathing in that unconditional, radical love to me--while I’m knee deep in my sin--that makes me skip off happy and free toward my children, ready to love them in the midst of their mess. They, like me, are giant disasters, little broken people who desperately need to be loved, who will never get it right or have their act together, ever; they—like me--need Jesus. And the good news is: we can run to Jesus, with our mud from head to toe, and he will welcome us with loving arms.


This post was written by Sarah Taras.

When We've Gone Rogue

Posted on October 6, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

I was sitting on the edge of Sunset Cliffs, peering into the vast blue expanse of the Pacific Ocean, when I came to grips that I wasn’t a very good Christian; it was probably the seventeenth time that year. I was a “super-senior” at a Christian college, and had given much of my time to various ministries – lead a couple of them – and I felt lost at that moment. The path I was on was shadowed by sin and regret and uncertainty. I felt alone on that unstable cliff while my eyes gazed at the endless majestic ocean. I thought about quitting.


I thought about going rogue. No one would know.


The heaviness of life was taking its toll on my mind. My Adversary loves to lie (John 8:44). He takes what is good and twists it. He takes what is bad and makes it pleasant. The light things get weightier. The heavy gets light.


Not praying feels good.


Autonomy appears to be freedom.


Going rogue feels good.


For a season.


The problem is we’re so vulnerable at times like these. When we’ve strayed off the path and we’ve squandered what’s been given, we sit on a cliff of uncertainty in a straightjacket, imprisoned with guilt, our conscience betraying us. We’ve lived our whole lives trying to be strong: doing the right things, plotting the course and remaining faithful to the cause. Eventually, the cause is no longer trusted.


So, we go rogue.


Undercover.


Hidden.


We begin thinking in contradictions. Why do I do what I do? But I love what I do. But I’ve failed over and over (Romans 7).


It’s interesting though. “None of my failures in faithfulness have proved terminal,” the late Brennan Manning once wrote. “Again and again radical grace has gripped me in the depths of my being, [and has] brought me back to accept the ownership of my infidelities.”


When we’ve gone rogue, the Light uncovers us in our darkness. Grace has a way of bringing us back to Him when we are at our end. Grace is a magnet; it draws to itself the one it seeks—the prisoner. Grace does what all my works can’t: it releases straightjacketed prisoners.


Grace Forgives


“The forgiveness of God is gratuitous liberation from guilt” (Brennan Manning).


Only in the gospel of grace – and nowhere else in this world – does forgiveness precede repentance.


You mean, me, the train wreck rebel, doesn’t have to clean up the debris and wreckage I’ve done?


Nope. You need not clean up one piece.


Rogues Come Home With A Limp


The self-absorbed, reckless, needy, promiscuous, younger brother eventually came to the end of himself in Luke 15 and walked sheepishly home only to be seen from far off and embraced by his father.


In his chapter “The Victorious Limp” from The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning describes this prodigal son:


“When the prodigal son limped home from his lengthy binge of waste and wandering, boozing and womanizing, his motives were mixed … He stumbled home simply to survive. His sojourn in a far country left him bankrupt. The days of wine and roses had left him dazed and disillusioned … Disenchanted with life, the wastrel weaved his way home, not from a burning desire to see his father, but just to stay alive” (182).


When we’re lost, when we’re not on the path, when we’ve gone rogue, we don’t have to do anything to come home; we’re just done with ourselves, with our own weak solutions and fixes. There doesn’t have to be a good motive for coming home.


And the first step is already taken by a loving Father who eagerly scanning the horizon searching for your face.


“Even if we come back because we couldn’t make it on our own, God will welcome us. He will seek no explanations about our sudden appearance. He is glad we are there” (183).


The father in Luke 15 doesn’t cross-examine his wayward son, doesn’t pester him with questions, or lecture him with “I told you so.” Instead he’s overjoyed. He took him back just as he was.


Our Heavenly Father does the same for us.


God Just Shows Up


It is becoming clearer to me each and every day that Jesus is relentless in pursuing those who have lost their path. Those who have looked up and asked, “What the heck, God?!” are the ones who are granted a pillow to lay their fears, frustrations, anxieties on.


In His merciful love, God just shows up. “We don’t have to tarry at the tavern until purity of heart arrives. We don’t have to be shredded with sorrow or crushed with contrition. We don’t have to be perfect or even very good before God will accept us. We don’t have to wallow in guilt, shame, remorse, and self-condemnation” (183).


We’re kissed,


held,


clothed,


celebrated.



This post was written by Jeffery A. Block

You're Not a Sad Story

Posted on September 29, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

I love being around high-school students because they haven’t quite learned how to make their emotions “presentable.” I often find myself telling high-school girls that adults experience the same exact things they do: discouragement, betrayal, confusion, doubt, fear, and frustration. The only difference between an adult experiencing these things and a high-schooler is that, as an adult, I am able to mask it all more effectively. The struggle, the angst, the tangled web of emotions, the heartache that they experience as teenagers isn’t just a result of the fact that they are in a period called adolescence. It’s a result of being a broken, sinful human in a broken, sinful world; whether you’re 90 or 9, suffering is real, the struggle in this world is real.


If you haven’t seen The Perks of Being a Wallflower, you should. After seeing it for the first time, it became one of my top five movies. The story is that of the quintessential plight of the American teenager, and, as such, it is a story about suffering—about broken, sinful people in a broken, sinful world. The movie is narrated by a 16-year-old boy named Charlie, whose short life has already been wrought with deep suffering: childhood sexual abuse, the death of his favorite aunt at age seven, the loss of his best friend to suicide in eighth grade, the burden of watching his older sister endure an abusive dating relationship, and continued psychological trauma from his own abuse.


Charlie knows what it is to suffer. And yet, he also comes to know what it is to experience deep joy with a group of social misfits just like him. In the beginning of the movie, he is writing a letter in which he says, “So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.”


In a message I gave at youth group, I used this movie throughout in order to illustrate the reality in which we live. Theologians often call it “the already-not-yet”—the overlap between the old order of things and the new order of things that has been ushered in by Christ. We live by faith in what Jesus has already accomplished, and we live by hope in what He is still coming to do—to restore all things. Because we are still waiting for the broken, sinful state of things to pass away, we will always find ourselves in the midst of suffering, both inner and external turmoil. But the suffering is not all there is, for we are given the guarantee of our salvation, and thus hope, all throughout the pages of Scripture. Like Charlie, we too are both happy and sad, and we’re often still trying to figure out how that could be.


In John 16, Jesus tells his disciples that their lives will be filled with weeping and mourning and pain while the world will be living it up and rejoicing. He isn’t saying that we will never experience joy and pleasure and goodness in this life, but He is being honest about the suffering that we will experience in this world.


See, what Jesus is saying here is that the reason that God’s children will often groan and ache in this life is because, for us, this is the worst part. If you’ve staked it all on Jesus, this life is the worst you will ever have to experience. But for those who don’t know Jesus, this life is best thing they will ever experience. It makes sense, then, that they would be rejoicing and living it up, because, in a sense, they have to. This is all they’ve got. But for us? The best is yet to come; so we are free to groan now because it truly is the hardest part.


Jesus also uses an illustration to explain the reality of the struggle to his disciples. He gives them the example of a woman in labor. If you ask any woman when she experienced the worst pain during her pregnancy, she’ll tell you it was at the end—right before she delivered the baby, while she was in the late stages of labor. That’s what Jesus is saying about the time we’re living in: it hurts so much is because we know that something new is coming, and we’re closer to that end today than we were yesterday. Jesus is coming to make everything sad come untrue.


At the end of the film, Charlie’s two best friends come back from college to visit him. They had a tradition of driving through this one tunnel, taking turns standing in the bed of the pick-up truck with their heads back and arms spread wide. In this closing scene, Charlie gets into the back of the truck, and his closing monologue plays. He refers to that moment as “that moment you know you’re not a sad story; you’re alive.”


I love that line because that’s the message of the gospel. You are not a sad story. You are alive. But sometimes, we still feel like it’s all just a sad story, don’t we? Still, the whole of Scripture screams, “This world is not just a sad story! One day it will be fully alive. ‘Behold! I am making all things new. Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true.’”

Grief Changed My Prayer Life

Posted on September 22, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

2009 was the year grief began to hit our family. That is the year the miscarriages began (back to back to back) that brought everything I thought I knew crashing down. Before 2009, I had answers for everything. I had eloquent prayers for every situation anyone could ever face. In fact, I often received praise for my ability to pray so eloquently. I was eager to offer counsel and prayers for others in their grief. Mostly because of compassion....but also because I thought I knew.


Grief is an efficient way to learn that you really don't know jack. Because of grief, my prayer life dramatically changed. I stopped offering eloquent prayers that I thought God wanted (needed?) to hear. I started offering raw prayers. Raw became all I knew. It was all I had. The truth just came pouring out of me. I didn't understand why I had to go through this pain over and over again. The "God" I believed in used trials like a car wash. "She's not clean yet...send her through again!" Was I not content enough with my life? Was I not faithful enough to the church? Whatever “it” was, was God going to "beat it out of me"? With that "God" in view, these were the only conclusions left to draw. So, I just started boldly asking Him those questions.


By God's sweet grace and perfect timing, I had studied the book of John right before the trials began...and I saw Jesus altogether different than I ever had before. He wasn't angry with sinners. In fact, he was compassionate and gentle. (Especially with women who were grieving!!!) More importantly, Jesus repeatedly stated that he was a reflection of his heavenly Father, which could only mean one thing: the way the son interacted with people around him is the way the Father interacts with us. That truth alone began to reshape my prayers in the midst of my grief: God the Father wasn't angry with me.


Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. John 5:19


“If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.” John 14:7


“Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. John 14:10


I decided to get out of my house daily for a while to help battle the depression that was always looming. Somehow a change of scenery was always helpful. One day in particular, I took my daughter to a "splash pad." I found a shady tree and sat under it. I had been reading "Hinds Feet on High Places" but I was so numb that I might as well have been reading an auto parts catalog. Nothing was getting through. As I sat there that particular day, these words hit me like a tidal wave:


"Fear not, Much Afraid, only believe. I promise that you shall not be put to shame. Go with Sorrow and Suffering, and if you cannot welcome them now, when you come to the difficult places where you cannot manage alone, put your hands in theirs confidently and they will take you exactly where I want you to go. Much afraid stood quite still, looking up into His face, which now had such a happy, exultant look, the look of one who above all things else delights in saving and delivering."


I sat there, under that tree, in the middle of a park and "ugly cried" my eyes out. I finally understood that he wasn't driving me repeatedly through a car wash until I was clean. He was gently leading me through the difficult places. It was okay that this was hard. It was okay that I was afraid of the unknown. His purpose for all of my pain wasn't punitive at all, he was delivering me. From what, I had no idea at the time but at least I understood that he looked upon me with delight as a loving Father. His love for me gave me the freedom to believe. Terrified still, my prayers started sounding more like, "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!!" Five years later I see what the Lord was doing. He was on a rescue mission. I was drowning in self-assurance and self-righteousness. He lovingly rescued me from it and laid me on the beautiful shores of his grace. He began teaching me about the gospel, to stop relying on what I'm doing and all of my "safety hedges" and to rely on what he has done for me. My prayers are still not eloquent in a worldly sense. I am pretty sure that when I pray I resemble closely a baby giraffe that's just been born as I stumble through requests and praises, tripping over the right word. The truth is: I am like a baby giraffe when it comes to the gospel. I'm re-learning how to "walk." Every bible passage that I read jumps out at me, and I realize I've heard it wrong or I've read it wrong for the past 15 years. I can no longer offer "brilliant, pretty words of wisdom" to others; the only thing I have to offer is: rest in what Jesus has done, pray honestly, and lean on Him.


This post was written by Sarah Taras.

Stories Matter

Posted on September 15, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

We sat across the table from one another, casually chatting about life and school. She said something about how she was having a hard time because of what everyone thought about her.


“Well, what do people think of you?” I asked.


“Whore.”


My eyes met hers just as she was moving her gaze back down to her plate and quickly out the window.


“Why do they think that?” I gently prodded.


She hesitated. Could I be trusted?


She looked back at me. “Sorry,” she said. “I just wasn’t sure if I should tell you all the details.”


“Oh, you don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to,” I assured.


And then it came gushing out. Like breath that has been held much too long, almost to the point of suffocation.


Pain. Pain that led to several drinks, which led to a party with other thirsty attendees, which led to an incoherent indulgence with multiple partners. It was a disaster. Her words spilled out, like wreckage filling the space between us.


****


Stories. They are the fabric of our lives.


That night at a restaurant, one girl told me a story. Whether or not she realized it, she was giving forth evidence that we naturally gravitate to stories. We use them to express our emotions, to convey our hurts and joys. Whether or not we thoughtfully consider this, we know it to be true.


Maya Angelou once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” For months, that girl had been bearing an untold story in her soul. And the thing that unleashed all that was bottled up inside were two simple questions: “What do people think of you?” and “Why do they think that?”


The Bible is a story. The majority of Scripture is written in narrative form. God could have simply given us a PowerPoint from heaven with several slides containing bulleted points of things we needed to know. But He chose to give us stories. And when He took on flesh and dwelt among us, much of his teaching was through parables—stories that left people offended, astonished, captivated, and delighted.


Every story that God writes whispers the name of Jesus, as is written on the cover of The Jesus Storybook Bible. The pages of Scripture are filled with them, but so is the world around us. Each person we see has a story. Each student that walks into our doors has a story. And it is only when our small stories intersect with the greatest Story ever told that our longings, confusions, joys, and hopes are finally validated and set in proper perspective.


So often, though, we do not tell stories. Instead, we recite facts or explain ideas and theories—facts are detached from flesh and blood; stories are intimate, tapping into the very core of a human being. Facts certainly have their rightful place—we want the facts of the Gospel to be true!--but, first and foremost, we are called to be storytellers. As Diane Setterfield wrote, “A good story is more dazzling than a broken piece of truth.” Thankfully, we don’t have to come up with the stories on our own; we’ve the greatest story ever told.


****


Four days after having dinner with that girl, I met up with her for coffee. I asked her more about what she had told me at dinner the week before. We talked about the heartache and shame and betrayal she had been experiencing during that time. We talked about her family and the brokenness and harshness she had suffered. Later on, the conversation drifted to her thoughts on God and religion. She told me that she was an agnostic—that she knew there was a God, but that she didn’t know who he was. And he certainly wasn’t involved in her life.


I asked her why she felt that way. Her gaze shifted downward and her voice lowered. “I guess…Well…I just don’t feel good enough.”


I told her that I often feel the same exact way. I also offered that, as far as I could tell, Christianity was the only story that really dealt with that. And I simply went on to tell her a story.


In John 4, Jesus intentionally goes out of his way to interact with a woman at a well. She had been shamed in her society because of her promiscuous lifestyle. Thus, she went to get water at midday—a time when she was sure to be the only one at the well. Jesus approaches her, and she is immediately taken aback. If he really knew who I was, he wouldn’t be speaking to me, she thinks.


But He knew everything about her—all the skeletons in her closet. And He revealed this all in one small sentence. “Go get your husband.” Every muscle in her body probably tightened. Her heartbeat probably began to double in speed. How does he know? In that moment, she has to admit her shame: “I don’t have a husband.” Jesus calmly and kindly says, “I know.” And then he tells her about her life. She’s had five husbands, and she’s currently sleeping with someone who she’s not married to.


Jesus shows this shamed woman that he knew her story—all of it—and still chose to enter into relationship with her, to pursue her, to put himself in a risky position in public by approaching the woman who was off-limits.


“Wow,” she said. “That story really relates to me…all of those guys.”


“You know what?” I asked. “The way that Jesus responded to those women is the same way he responds to you. And that kind of a God is compelling to me.”


Tears filled her eyes. Something was happening, something that was much bigger than a conversation happening between two people sitting across from each other at Starbucks.


Later that night, I texted her, and thanked her for hanging out and letting me get to know her a little more. She thanked me to listening to her rants, to which I responded, “You weren’t ranting. You were sharing your heart.”


And then came some of the most beautiful words I have ever read: “Well we definitely need to hang out again. I need to hear more stories.”


I began to cry, and my heart was filled with amazement at Jesus. And I realized that stories matter. Stories work. Stories speak to our hearts because we have threads of the Author woven through our very souls. I realized anew that people are not ultimately longing to know “the facts” or have all their questions answered. They want a Person—that Someone who can always make sense of them and love them to the very depths. Jesus is that Someone, and he invites us into His Story. And when we are caught up in that Story, we become, not first and foremost apologists of brute facts, but storytellers.



Originally posted on the Rooted blog: http://rootedministry.com/articles/stories-matter

Psalm 121

Posted on September 8, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

“My daughter is pregnant.” The text about a friend’s unwed teenage daughter felt like a punch in the stomach. I was undone. I was also hopeful though; I know how God loves to take the most broken situations and turn them into the most beautiful. So I crafted a text back, one that I thought would be encouraging. After I hit the send button, I knew it was wrong. It was too formulaic, too light, not enough of me entering into her pain.


Have you ever been in a period of your life where it seems like every text, every email, every phone call you receive is bad news? Where it seems like everywhere you look there is real hurt and brokenness? Where the effects of sin seem to win over the effects of redemption, where life seems hopeless and discouragements seem endless? Where every “Christian” or “religious” phrase you know sounds empty and embarrassing?


Where do we go during these times? What do we do? How do we encourage others who are in the middle of these times?


It is essential to remember that we cannot fix each other. Rather, we can enter into each other’s hurt. We can sit in the dark with our friends. There’s nothing we can do to make the situation better, so we are free to stop trying to make it better.


“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” Henri Nouwen


When our friends are hurting or we are hurting, we don’t have to rush through it, we don’t have to pretend we know why this thing is happening, that we are bastions of divine confidence that it will all be okay, we certainly don’t have to fill the awkward and often painful silence.


However, when we do want to say something, when we long to look for words to encourage and soothe may we look to Him alone. In Psalm 121:1-2 the psalmist says,


“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made the heaven and earth.”


Where does our true and only help come from? From an event that happened thousands of years ago on that Golgotha’s hill near Jerusalem. On that hill our Savior endured a suffering that we shudder to think of. The maker of heaven and earth came and took on our body of flesh so that we might know He understands our suffering. We can be assured that “He will not let your foot be moved: he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (v.3). There is not a time when El Roi’s (the God who sees) watchful eye is averted from His loved ones. “The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day nor the moon by night” (vv. 5-6). There is not an instance where our Heavenly Father is unconcerned about our well-being. “The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore” (vv. 7-8). This promise is the promise that was withheld from Christ on our behalf. As He suffered on that hill, the Lord did not keep Him from all evil. He actually experienced all the effects of our sin all so that we could hear a resounding: “The Lord will keep you forevermore.” Christ heard silence as He cried out to God so that we could hear: “the Lord will keep your life.”


Where does our help come from? It comes from the triune God’s sacrifice for us and His eternal communion with us. In every doubt, in every fear, in every moment of anger, He promises to be at your right hand. He has already paid for all of your doubt and mistrust. God looks at you and sees the perfect record of His Son trusting the Father’s plan without fear or doubt. There is real pain in this life, but--praise God!--we have a Savior, a Rescuer, a Keeper that is ours forever.


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