Pleasing God: A Paradigm Shift (Part 4)

This is Part 4 of a series of posts. Please scroll back  and read part 1, before continuing on here.

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SO THIS IS OUR Paradigm Shift: What pleases God?

2 Corinthians 5:9 (NAS): “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.”

Hebrews 11:6 (NAS): “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”

Well, I guess we all need to decide what God is calling us to do to please Him? Do you really think He wants us to live perfect lives? (Which by the way, was Jesus’ job: to live a sinless life for us and die for us, redeeming us from the curse of the law which demands obedience to ALL God’s laws?) Or does it please Him more to be utterly honest with Him in our imperfection and choose to BELIEVE that He did what we couldn’t do so we wouldn’t have to? He died to redeem us from the CURSE of having to obey the law. 

Is it possible that God is pleased with us when we are quick to let him show us mercy for our imperfection? Don’t you think it pleases Him more to have his children live by the very grace He died to give us? Not embracing the sin He hates, but embracing the God who saved us from having to live under the guilt and shame and bondage of an impossible drive to meet an impossible ideal: Complete and perfect righteousness.

Does our freedom In Christ please God?

Galatians 5:1 says “It was for freedom that Christ set us free! Therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject to a yoke of slavery.” 

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Do you know what that yoke of slavery was that Paul was talking about? The law! The good and perfect Law, that God Himself gave as a stopgap to His people! Following a bunch of impossible, albeit, seemingly good behavioral rules.

Do you know who the Pharisees were in the New Testament? 

They were the “good Jews” of the day who asked themselves, “hmm, what would please God best?” And, what they determined was that God would be MOST pleased by their behavior. So they created long lists of rules to obey and thereby prove to God their righteousness. However, Jesus said they disgusted Him. Because their perceived righteousness was tied to their deeds instead of being birthed from a love in their heart towards God. 

“And He said to [the Pharisees], ‘You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.’” (Luke 16:15 NAS)

God says that you push away His grace by trying to live up to some impossible righteous standard. 

“For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.” (Galatians 5:4 NAS)

So, are all the commands in Scripture, even the original Law of God bad?

Of course not! Our Bible is not a bad book full of ridiculous commands.  They are God’s words and are truly good.

 “But still, the law itself is holy, and its commands are holy and right and good.” (Romans 7:12)

In Romans 7, Paul asks the same question: “So, is the law bad?” The answer is No! The commands are good. But trying to live up to satisfying ALL the commands is bad because that’s not what its purpose was. Its purpose was to show us how powerless we were to live up to the perfection of God! That was its purpose! To prove our imperfection to us. If you feel imperfect in living up to all its commands, then the Law has fulfilled its purpose! Trying to or expecting to perfect ourselves for the purpose of pleasing God is enslaving and leads us back to the very slavery that Jesus died to save us from.

Romans 10:3-4 says “For they (Israel) didn’t understand God’s way of making people right with Himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they clung to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the Law. but Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the Law was given. As a result, all who BELIEVE IN HIM ARE MADE RIGHT WITH HIM.”

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Now, let me ask you, if trying to achieve this idealistic perfection in our Christian life is both wearying and enslaving and is in fact impossible, doesn’t it make sense that God probably doesn’t wish for us to allow any other impossible idealistic goals in life to enslave us either?

So, now we’ve come full circle. 

Why do we NOT feel “enough?”  Because we have not learned to be content with who we are, where God has placed us, and the circumstances God has put in our life. Where we are right now will never be enough as long as we keep chasing the impossible ideal. In fact, that very ideal may not even be God’s particular will for us, so then we’re stuck in this place where we are actually fighting God for the life WE want instead of the life HE wants for us. And spiritually, WE will NEVER feel enough as long as we are reaching for an ideal that isn’t grounded in Jesus’ finished work for us. The only One in History who WAS enough was Jesus. The only One who can make us feel “enough” is Jesus! The only way we can feel enough is if we are content with Jesus’ perfection on our behalf.

Why are we holding onto impossible idealistic expectations in life and our self-fulfilling attempts to become righteous?

So, if God’s loving desire for us is freedom from self-reliance and self-fulfilling ideals that are impossible to achieve anyway, why are we holding onto them with such a death grip?  in the same way, if His desire for us isn’t as much a perfect life as it is a life that is completely God-reliant on his mercy and grace, totaling believing Him when His Word says we are already completely accepted and intimately loved, why are we turning our backs on the open door to His grace and mercy, with our own attempts at self-righteousness? Why are we trying to fulfill with pride some impossible perfection? Why don’t we enter through our authentic and humble confession (a contrite heart) that we ARE imperfect and we know it, to find the very grace and mercy of the One Who already loves and accepts us without all that striving after the wind?

I am going to try to give you an illustration that helps you come to grips with the beauty of this paradigm change for anybody. 

Leaning into our imperfection leans us into God

whose desire is to show us mercy!

I’m going to try to show you a series of charts. Try to follow them to their logical conclusions with me. We’re going to start with this:

We are indeed imperfect, sinners, failures at times, messy-life people who haven’t achieved all they originally desired they could with their lives! Our first question is which way are we going to lean when we become painfully aware of our own imperfection?

We have have two choices: 1) we can either lean into self-perfection (orange side) or 2) we can lean into our imperfections (blue side) that makes us feel like such failures? Which way would you lean?

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1) When we lean into our self-pursuing, self-achieving, self-reliant self-perfection, our goal we justify is only that we are simply trying to do the right thing and do the best we can. We will usually choose this method because we truly believe this is right. Our unfortunate deception is that “good behavior makes US good.” (orange side)

2) On the other hand, rather than denying our inability to perfect ourselves, we could agree with God and just come out admit that we surely aren’t perfect! Does our acknowledgement of our imperfection agree with God’s assessment of us? Doesn’t God even say that our righteousnesses are like filthy rags! He knows we’re imperfect. So, we agree with the apostle Paul in Romans 7:18 “For I know that nothing good dwells in my, that is in my flesh!” (Blue side)

1) But if we still  futilely attempt to achieve all our dreams and our self righteousness, too, with every failure, we decide we need to try even harder. We believe that God will be pleased if we try harder to become “better.” We believe that His commands are what God’s actual expectations of me are (fully obedient, every one, absolute perfection). We reason if it’s in the Bible, God expects us to achieve them on our own. We believe, “we can make God happy in us if we can only make ourselves better!” (Orange side)

2) But when we lean into our imperfection, we freely acknowledge our own neediness and our imperfection. We long for justification. We discover in His word that when we accepted Christ as our Savior, God justified us long ago. We long for acceptance. We discover that God’s acceptance of us was won by Jesus on the cross. Unable to take any comfort in our OWN successes, we long for someone to redeem us and for lives which even we, at times, can hardly stand to look at. We long for Someone to make us feel complete, rather than this feeling of failure hanging over our heads. There is a hole in our heart, a longing, that is dying to be filled. (Blue side)

1) Still striving to the right (to achieve all your own perfection), on the off chance that we are somewhat successful in our goals and in our ability to impress a God with our obedience, who are we really MOST proud of? US!!! Self-fulfillment! Self-satisfaction! PRIDE! We feel pretty good about ourselves so we believe God must be pretty proud of ME right now, too! If I succeed, if I win, if I achieve all my goals? “Look at me! Look at my self-control! Woo-hoo! Yay, ME! We are so proud of ourselves that we bring our impressive acts of righteousness and success to God! (Orange side)

2) But for those who are still willing to continue to lean into their imperfection, we recognize our great neediness. We acknowledge our great need of a Rescuer and someone to love us in spite of all the ugliness we feel. Out of desperation, we cry out to God in our brokenness, in our messiness, in our ashes, in our imperfection, and in our depravity (our sinful condition). In our desperation, we find the courage to show Him our brokenness. We find safety in that humble admission. We choose to be authentically honest. We choose to embrace a humble and contrite heart. By now, we acknowledge how far from perfection we have fallen. Groaning out to the spirit of God, we affirm, “I don’t want to live this way!” (Blue side)

1) For all the self-reliant, self-achievers, if you even succeeded in deed, you likely failed in spirit, because you attempted to achieve it through self-righteousness. You probably only succeeded because of your own stubborn will power. Unfortunately, it is highly probable that God may not even have been in that success. Although you may have obeyed the rules as you understood them, you likely felt pretty good about ourselves doing things yourselves (self-reliance = pride). Pride is sinful, by the way! The glory of the Lord was diminished because He was cheated of getting the glory! Unfortunately, in your futile attempts to please God, the irony is that you denied God from being the Hero of your story! You just made yourselves your own self-proclaimed heroes.

But what happens if you fail in those struggles and attempts to win, to succeed, to self-rely, to beat your bodies into perfect righteousness? What happens when you don’t succeed? You’ll beat yourselves up again! “I’m imperfect! I’m a failure! I can’t achieve anything good! My life is a mess!” And the cycle of getting beat down over and over again begins all over.

In this paradigm, the harder you try to improve, the more you fail. And the more you fail, the more unacceptable you feel because you’ll only see YOUR efforts and YOUR achievements. Because it depends on your own efforts, you will determine that you don’t deserve to feel acceptable. Because you’ll let people down (couldn’t make others happy), you’ll feel unloved. You’ll condemn yourselves because of failed expectations (you expected more of yourselves). You’ll feel judged because you’ll have fallen short of the perfection mark (the standard). You’ll feel like a failure because you’ll never arrive at a perfect mark all the time. You’ll feel unloved because you won’t feel acceptable because of your failed behavior which was supposed to earn your love and acceptance. In this paradigm, demonstrated by your banging your head up against the wall over and over again, you believe you really can and could have arrived at that perfect mark given a little more effort and more will power. (Orange side)

2) But what if you had humbly leaned into your imperfection from the beginning (I know, it’s counterintuitive)! God would have seen your hearts in perfect agreement with His! You wouldn’t have denied His holiness! You would have agreed that His holiness was so far above you, that your actions were nothing but filthy rags in comparison. You wouldn’t have  denied your imperfection. You would have freely confessed that you had fallen short of His perfect standard. Both you and God agree that it’s not what either of you had intended or desired. But as a response to your humble and contrite heart, He’ll pour out His mercy and grace on you! God will be pleased because you demonstrated your great need of Him to complete you! The cross covered your sin! Jesus’ righteousness was put onto you! And finally, God did what glorifies God most. He demonstrated His own character by giving you His mercy and grace!

What happens in this scenario is that when you make mistakes and don’t succeed, you’ll just keep leaning into His grace to sanctify you from within and remember with confidence that your acceptance is complete and your sins forgiven. You don’t lose your footing because it already aligns with where you truly are. You need Jesus! I need Jesus. His grace and mercy are always available to both you and me.

Psalm 51:16–17 (NAS): “For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”

Let me ask you again: We have have two choices: 1) we can either lean into self-perfection (orange side) or 2) we can lean into our imperfections and our need for God (blue side)? Which way would you lean? One way causes us to need God more! The other way causes us to need God less! One way causes us to crave the grace of God—it means everything to us! We can’t live without it or the God who freely gives it! The other way grace is cheapened! We don’t need it. We can do it by ourselves! Which side do you think pleases God more?

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A heart that is humble and contrite towards God, sorrowful at anything they do that doesn’t reflect His character (all their imperfections and all their failures), is a heart that leans into the heart of God Himself. The fruit of such a heart will naturally yearn to please Him which will more often and likely affect their future actions.

If you are faced with a child who adamantly refuses a parent’s help and grudgingly insists on doing things himself and his way (“I’ll do it myself”) as opposed to observing a  child who acknowledges his bad behavior and says, “I’m sorry, mommy!” Which child is more likely to do the right thing the next time? The child who is genuinely sorry and acknowledges his imperfection to his parents because it’s a natural outpouring of his tender heart.  

Similarly, a child of God who leans into God by leaning into their imperfections in this paradigm will yearn for the heart of God, will be more likely to align himself with the behavior that reflects God’s heart, and the sanctifying work of God HIMSELF through the work of His Holy Spirit will produce fruits that are more reflective of the character of God. 

Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

But not thru human effort. Thru God’s work in us. Our job is to lean into Him via our great need. His job is to perfect us from the inside out, in His grace and in His timing! 

Philippians 1:6 “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

(To be continued)

Pleasing God: A Paradigm Shift (Part 3)

This is Part 3 of a series of posts. Please go back here, then here, read the first two parts before continuing on here. 

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What are the disadvantages of holding tightly to unrealistic expectations of idealism and perfection?

1) We deny ourselves the ability to align ourselves with what God is doing in our life right now. If we set perfection and idealism as our ultimate goal, we will lack contentment for anything less. How can we be content with our little house, if our idealism wants us in a bigger house? How can we be content with our husband and our marriage, if our idealism wants a completely different picture of what marriage looks like so that we’re always trying to improve our spouse? How can we be content with our imperfect children if we are never happy with them because they continue to misbehave? How can we be content with our Savior’s sacrifice for us, if our idealism demands that our goodness should be perfect and sinless before God?

2) If we set perfection and idealism as our ultimate goal, we will miss the joy in the now. If we’re a mountain climber and our only joy is getting to the the top of Mt. Rainier as the ultimate fulfillment of our dream, we may very well miss the wildflowers along the way. We may miss the beautiful tranquil streams in the valleys. And so on. If we lack contentment with where God has us right now, we will miss the joy of a husband who may be imperfect but may deeply love us. We will miss the joy of being able to enjoy our little imperfect rugrats. We will miss the joy of the simplicity of a home that doesn’t require as much maintenance as a big house. You get the idea.

3) Do you know the phrase, “if you live by the sword, you will die by the sword?” It means that whatever standard you set for your life, will be the very standard that will one day condemn you or at least imprison you. If our standard is perfection, we will fail every time we aren’t perfect. 

4) Perfectionism and idealism are exhausting. Are there things in life that we can set our mind to and achieve? Sure! But whatever ideals and perfections we set our hearts on achieving will require every last drop of your energy. We will end up enslaved to the chase of that ideal. So, we need to ask ourselves, is that worth giving our lives to? Is it worth the exhaustion? Is it worth the enslavement to continually chase that perfect goal? Do you feel that increases your freedom or enslaves you?

5) Another disadvantage of holding tightly to an unrealistic expectation of ourselves is that we ultimately refuse to agree with God about our current condition. Rather than embracing the thought, “You’re right about me, God. I really am an imperfect sinner who is desperate for You, God.” We claim instead that we CAN still perfect ourselves; we just always need one more chance to prove ourselves.

When you insist that we can do something OURSELVES, it pushes others away. So, in essence, if we are impatient with ourselves and become irritated when we aren’t spiritually perfect, we also push God away, denying Him being welcomed into our sin situation because we’ll refuse His help. We’ll refuse the mercy and grace God is trying to give us now.  Humble contrite surrender throws open the door to His mercy and grace! “I can do it myself” pushes Him away! If we aren’t careful, our self-reliance will end up opposing God because self-reliance is prideful and God says He will oppose prideful ways.

6) The tighter we hold on to this need to perform, to do everything right, to do everything well, to achieve all our dreams and ideals, the less we’ll become dependent on Jesus. That chase will consume us. And the more we are consumed with the ideals, the less we’ll be satisfied with our life and our current situation. We’ll also be less satisfied with our relationship with Jesus because, ultimately, when we are consumed with this perfectionist drive, we’ll become less dependent on Jesus.

7) Here’s another really important point: If we aren’t careful, we will adamantly refuse to allow God to give our lives an alternate ending, a different calling for us which is by His design. Listen, if God does not want us to achieve our own goals, if He has something special He wants to accomplish with our weakness, (with our imperfection), He will oppose our plans so that He can use us how he wants to use us. This isn’t unkindness! In fact, this is great love and kindness. He has a special purpose for our lives! Are we willing to give Him control of that future? 

I know! He gave me depression for 12 years. I have to stop and clarify here! God is always for YOU! You, the person. But He may throw a monkey wrench into your plans (He may oppose your ways) if they don’t please Him or glorify Him. There are endings in some of our lives that God deeply desires to come to pass because those frailties and those weaknesses will open the door to a way He has planned to glorify Himself with our lives. 

What are the benefits of letting go of perfectionism and performancism? 

  • It lets us recognize and embrace the little wins typically insufficient for a perfectionist.
  • It lets us breathe in a breath of contentment and breeds gratefulness for the life God has given us.
  • This will give us more energy for the ones we love and more patience with them.
  • Letting go, although frightening at first, actually gives us the freedom we really want.
  • Finally, letting go of our control makes us more dependent on God, which makes HIM rejoice because HE gets to be the good, good Father and the gentle, Good Shepherd. He gets to please Himself with His own good character. 
  • And, for most of us, our desire to be “good” probably was birthed out of our ultimate purpose to please God anyway, right? So, why do we then deny God the right to change His desired outcome in our lives?

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Spiritual Benefits of Letting Go Of Our Self Righteousness 

Because our value is now based on God’s unconditional love, we will always feel loved. Because our value is based on God’s unconditional acceptance of us, we will never feel unacceptable. Guilt and shame won’t cripple us anymore. We choose contentment in Jesus making us enough, not our own efforts to make ourselves enough. We believe the gospel! We embrace grace! We embrace freedom in Christ. God means more to us! 

As we lean into our confidence that no matter how imperfect we are, no matter how far we fall short of the standard, no matter how many times we have fail to achieve and no matter how many mistakes we make, we realized we will never surprise God. So we can never disappoint God. We will never be unacceptable to God because God’s wrath is forever appeased. His holiness has been satisfied. Our guilty consciences have been cleansed. Our crippling shame is denied a foothold because our guilt has been erased. 

When we believe the truth of the gospel, we learn to trust that we are still accepted by God in spite of our unacceptability. We learn to trust that our deeds no longer condemn us anymore because they have been pardoned by our Savior. We learn to trust that we are loved in spite of our unlovability. We believe that we are bestowed grace and mercy when we come to Him in our honesty, humility and brokenness. We learn to accept God grace for ourselves because what God says is good cannot be evil.

We learn to embrace God’s plan for our lives rather than chase our tails trying to achieve all our hopes and dreams, even our spiritual ideals. We learn to rest in God’s finished work on the cross for our sins. And we learn to rest in His grace for all the rest of our imperfections, all the ideals we fail to meet, and all the perceived failures that we feel. 

We learn to choose to not be defined by our imperfections. We learn to embrace grace for the person that we truly are. We learn to choose freedom from being chained to and defined by what we do and don’t do. We learn to choose contentment with where we are, who we are and where we are going. We learn to choose to be okay with where God has us and choose to remain humble and surrendered to His future which He will, by the way, complete in His way and in his timing.

So how can we posture ourselves in a way that God has promised He will respond to with tenderness, compassion, mercy and grace?

God opposes the ways of the proud self-reliant but gives grace to the HUMBLE God-reliant. Remember, He promises that a broken and contrite heart He will never despise. We can either posture ourselves / align ourselves with what God opposes by pushing relentlessly to be the best we can be at all costs (self-reliance and self-fulfilling idealism) OR we can posture ourselves in a humble, contrite manner which God says He will always accept.

You see, when we humbly acknowledge we are weak and often broken, and embrace a contrite heart and a life surrendered to God’s will for us, no matter what that is, our heart is demonstrating its desperateness for God in all areas of our life (God-reliance and a God-desired outcome whatever His will asks of us). I mean, admit it. If you achieved every perfection you ever dreamed of, wouldn’t that just decrease your desperate need of God?

A Greek Lesson about Perseverance and Endurance

James 5:10 tells us “We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and mercy.” 

Who doesn’t want to be known for their incredible endurance and perseverance? But when we read that word (endure or persevere), we think of an athlete who victoriously crosses the finish line and wins, right? Or we envision a mountain climber getting to the top of some mountain and planting his flag… right? He persevered, and with that perseverance he won the prize, right?

Endurance “hypomo-ne” literally means to “REMAIN UNDER.” Which means to exist in the tension of a difficult situation. Like with Job. He existed in the tension of a difficult situation. It does not necessarily mean patience but it means persevering (remaining, waiting, staying) in a difficult situation.

It certainly does NOT mean overcome! It does not mean win! It does not mean become victorious! It means that people who were identified in Scripture as those who persevered with endurance were the ones who surrendered to steadfastly “remaining under the oppression.” What James 5 tells us about Job was that in the storm, Job just held on. When the weight of his trials pressed down on him, he released his control and surrendered to God’s plan for his life. Then, He cried out to God for relief.

But what Scripture is saying is that what God found acceptable in Job was NOT his strength to overcome. It was his embracing his weakness. It was Job’s choice to submit to the will of God for Him and “remain under” this oppression, something that he found incredibly difficult. The suffering was excruciating. But Job “remained under” (persevered, endured) thru great tragedy to find God’s compassion and mercy on the other side. 

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Are WE willing to “remain under” our difficult life situations to experience that degree of compassion and mercy from the Lord? Job didn’t receive that by winning or overcoming. He found it in losing his way and ultimately his control over his own life. Job didn’t find mercy and grace by leaning away from his pain. He found it by owning it and leaning into it. That is where he found the Lord. That’s when we find Job summarizing his suffering by saying, “I only thought I knew God, but now I’ve seen Him face to face.” 

Great Need Precedes Great Compassion

You see, mercy must always be preceded by recognizing our great need of mercy, and it is received by LEANING INTO our NEED. If we refuse to embrace the authenticity and desperation of the way things are right now (the life God has given us right now), we will never find mercy in it. It cheapens mercy when we don’t want it, because we don’t feel we need it. 

The more desperate our authentic confession that we desperately need it, the wider the door is to finding it IN the Lord. You see, God often pulls us into a desperate, broken, unfulfilled life to force us to interact with Him because He wants to display His kindness and His grace. Danielle Strickland (from the Salvation Army) said that it is in the chaos of life where she finds the Spirit of God hovering over us. I agree with her. Because in the chaos of MY life is where my need for Him was the greatest!

It’s also true that if we hide our brokenness from our brothers and sisters in Christ or our spouses or even our children, we shut the door to them showing us  compassion and mercy IN it. Nobody will know! We’ll give the illusion that we’re strong already. Nobody will be given the opportunity to show us mercy.

What do we perfectionists (what I call performancists) hate more than anything? OUR NEED! NEEDINESS! INSUFFICIENCY! Not being able to do it OURSELVES? But what does God desire more than anything of our hearts, the recognition of our NEED!!! Owning up to our imperfection and our recognizing our inability to ever achieve true perfection! 

Here’s a really good check of our dreams and aspirations: 

Are the dreams for your life causing you to be more self-reliant or more God-reliant? Does your picture of success increase your need for God or attempt to prove yourself to God, thus decreasing your need for God? If your goals in life don’t cause you to become more God-reliant, you’re chasing your own tail. You’ll never find contentment. You’ll never recognize mercy and compassion when God tries to give it. 

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So, how can we align ourselves with what GOD’S will is for our life?

Start with where you are— right now (all your circumstances… even the messy ones). I know it is hard, but I challenge you to release your death grip on how YOU want your life to look. Start with being honest with God and agreeing with God about the truth about you (you are imperfect, you can’t be righteous no matter how hard you try, you can’t fulfill all your ideals, you can’t fulfill yourself by remaking yourself perfect), because you need Him desperately! 

Recognize that God in His sovereignty has allowed everything that has happened in your life to happen and He has kept from happening everything that hasn’t happened. Lean into the way life is RIGHT NOW (even the negative things), drinking in your life as a result of His perfect sovereignty. Lean into the imperfection that you hate because in doing so, it acknowledges your great need. I’m NOT saying to rejoice over any sin and imperfections and unrecognized dreams but embrace them in that you own up to your shortcomings, which means aligning yourself with how God sees things and sees you. 

A biblical truth you can take to the bank: Even if you are imperfect and, in fact sinful, as a child of God, are you despised or rejected by Him? No! You are still loved and still forgiven! So, as you seek to align yourself with how God sees you, don’t be afraid to see yourself as an imperfect sinner because you are still loved and forgiven (if you have asked Jesus to save you). Drink in the truth of both of these tensions!

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about how we can experience freedom in Christ in spite of being imperfect! (To be continued)

Pleasing God: A Paradigm Shift (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of a series of posts. Please go back here and read the first part before continuing on here. 

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What is the significance of the cross?

All humans are born into the world imperfect. From Adam’s very first sin, we were sinners because a sinful nature was passed on from his generation to our generation, from Adam until me.  There is not a single human on earth, nor has there ever been, who does not have a sin nature or who does not sin. 

Unfortunately, once Adam had introduced sin into our heritage, we no longer could be at peace with God. God’s holiness and His justice demanded punishment for sin. Our sin made us enemies of God! We were irreconcilable! In fact, that original sin set about a chain of events and consequences made it absolutely impossible to EVER please Him. You, see, someone had to pay for it. A sacrifice had to be made to punish his sin and ours to satisfy the justice of God.

So, God sat down at the beginning of time, and came up with a plan to satisfy His own holiness, His own justice, and appease His own wrath. A perfect sacrifice had to be offered; anything but perfect wouldn’t have been acceptable. So, God sent His own perfect Son Jesus to live a perfect life and to die a sinless death, so that the penalty could be paid for all who would believe in the ages to come. And THAT death was acceptable to God. In fact, because God placed the entire weight of all of mankind’s sin on a His shoulders, and as He died, He took on Himself the penalty of all of mankind who wanted in on the deal (those who would call on Him to save Him). 

His one atoning sacrifice would once for all cover ALL the sins of mankind in eternity past, in the present and throughout eternity future, on ONE condition! A transaction had to occur. The transaction begins with acknowledging our sinful condition and our great need to be rescued from our sin, to escape eternal judgment. A person needs to recognize that Jesus Christ was and is indeed God incarnate. A person needs to believe that when Jesus died on the cross, it was for the sole purpose of paying the penalty for the sins of mankind. Then, one needs to unquestionably believe that He could save them forever from their sins. And finally, a person needs to ASK God to save them. With the confession of our need, our declaration of our belief in Jesus as the son of God and our belief that God would save us because HE promised He would in His Word, the transaction is complete. Upon our acceptance of that legal deal, our names are written into the Book of Life and can never be removed.

So, does everyone on earth have this gift of salvation? Unfortunately, no. Salvation only belongs to those who in simple faith, believe God and trust Him to save them. The transaction is so simple, a little child can understand it, but a transaction still needs to occur to reap all the benefits of being justified by faith. 

So, what is the beauty of the gospel (which means the good news of Jesus)?

After I am saved, the beauty is that Jesus gave the Father what He wanted from me, which I could never give Him. Perfectness.  Jesus offered HIS perfectness for ME and God the Father accepted that sacrifice for ME! I trusted Christ as my personal Savior completing this transaction for me at the tender age of five. But, I admit, it took years to fully understand the ramifications of that transaction on my life in Christ! But the fact is that once you accept Jesus’ sacrifice and become a child of God, God says “your life is finally enough to please me” because God gave HIMSELF all that He demanded from me through Jesus. God the Father is pleased with Jesus’ sacrifice and has forever made peace with us.

Once we are saved, will we finally be perfect? 

Do any of you know any perfect people? No! None of us are perfect. Why? God didn’t take our sin natures away! He simply forever pardoned us for all our sins. He used His own righteousness to cover our sinfulness. But we are still plagued with these dumb sin natures that make mistakes every single day! But, unfortunately, it doesn’t stop us from trying to chase down and achieve a state of righteousness in and of ourselves.

Doesn’t God want us to do what is right? 

Yes! Absolutely YES! Does He think we can ever reach His righteous standard? NO, Absolutely NO!

But the irony is: Before salvation, we needed Christ to save us BECAUSE we were sinners. He didn’t make us righteous first so that He could save us. He saved us to redeem us back and apply Jesus righteousness to us. He saved us so that HE (not us) could make us righteous in the Father’s eyes!

So, why do Christians have this misconception that AFTER salvation, we can make now ourselves righteous with our own attempts when we could not BEFORE?

The Bible reminds us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart.” (Jeremiah 17:9-10a)

It does NOT say, if you try hard enough, you can make your heart ‘better.’  To believe that you can actually make your unrighteous heart righteous is actually refuting what the Bible says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23)

In fact, while we are trying to become better and better, we may actually be sinning in order to attempt to arrive there. And here is how: It is actually a sin to attempt to justify ourselves, trying to self-fulfill our own self-righteous perfection. Another word for self-righteousness, self-fulfillment, self-achievement, is PRIDE! And pride is sin. In fact, pride is one of the very things that God specifically says He opposes.

James 4: 6 “God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

So, while we are trying so hard to become perfectly righteous, we are actually doing it the opposite way of how God says will please Him. (stay with me-I’m getting there) 

So, what is the “will of God” then if it isn’t becoming more and more perfect / more and more righteous? 

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Contrary to what we’ve learned, His word says that God draws near to those with a broken and contrite heart (NOT a heart who is becoming more and more perfect, more and more confident, more and more strong, more and more put together, more and more self-controlled or more and more sinless). This is really important: Listen! 

Ps. 51:17 “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart— These, O God, You will not despise. 

Ps. 34:17-18 “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, And delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, And saves such as have a contrite spirit.” 

Doesn’t God want us to obey His commands and attempt to do better?

Just because there are commands in Scripture that tell us how God wants us to live doesn’t mean that DOING those things make us any MORE righteous, or that God is MORE pleased with US when we do them. The truth is: there is NOTHING we can do that will make us MORE loved or cherished by God. 

The truth is: there is NOTHING we can add to the righteousness of Jesus that God has not already attributed to us by His son’s death on the cross that can make us MORE righteous.

There is nothing WE can do that makes God take notice of us and have a special affection for us because we are good, “Wow, THEY are pretty special (THEY are such ‘GOOD girls’) because THEY are living life so well.” But we also don’t have to worry that God thinks poorly of us when and if we don’t live sinlessly, because Jesus has already accomplished all the perfect that was required to be accomplished on our behalf.

Why do we want to achieve idealistic righteousness of any other idealistic dream anyway (besides possibly just being proud of ourselves or making others proud of us)? Because we want to be accepted by others. Because we want to please the ones we love. Because we don’t want others to point their fingers at us and condemn us for being bad. We want to be easy to love. We want to be treated with compassion, kindness and tenderness, and not accusations and condemnation. 

So, if we are achieving these things so that we will be loved, accepted, and treated with kindness, then aren’t we simply desperately trying to ultimately achieve what God has already given us?  And if the method we are using to achieve them with (self-fulfillment, self-reliance, self-righteousness) is going to push God away, aren’t we just shooting ourselves in the foot, meaning we’re doing everything that God Himself says He will oppose?

Rather than aiming for the ideal end result, maybe we should be more concerned with the method that brings God running to us, our hearts in love with Him. 

“1 Samuel 16:7 (NAS): for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Sometimes, I don’t think we trust God to really know our desires to please Him. We believe we have to SHOW Him with our perfection. However, if we are honest, we discover we just can’t ever be perfect. But through humility, with honest authenticity, when we acknowledge to Him that we are weak and often broken, and contritely acknowledge the truth that we are indeed imperfect, that is when God comes running to us to show us mercy and compassion. 

Matthew 9:13 (NAS): But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’  for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

You see, LEANING INTO our weakness and imperfection throws the door wide open for God’s mercy (compassion) and grace. PLUS, His GREATEST joy isn’t experienced in OUR triumphs, but He is glorified more when HIS own attributes glorify HIMSELF, not when we try to replace His perfection with our own. (Carefully examine what God says here! …When I (God) have been made happy by MY actions.

Ezekiel 20:43-44 “You will look back on all the ways you defiled yourselves and will hate yourselves because of the evil you have done. But you will know that I am the Lord, O people of Israel, when I have honored MY name by treating you mercifully in spite of your wickedness.

Are we embracing the world’s definition of success — or God’s definition of success?

I John 2:15-17 “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of your flesh and the desires of your eyes and the pride in your life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” 

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Is it possible that all of our aspirations that we women have spent our whole life trying to achieve have been driven by self-reliance which we learned would prove us to be “good girls” and that would make others happy and proud of us? Isn’t another word for self-reliance and self-fulfillment of something you want more than anything else in life, just another word for the “pride of life”  which says “I can do it myself?”

So, I guess what we all have to ask ourselves is, “Do all of our high expectations for ourselves even please God? Or is it possible that most of our high ideals are really about making us feel good about ourselves? Looking good to other people? Earning people’s favor? Worrying about other people’s expectations? Etc.”

Another lie we believe is that our high ideals and expectations are actually realistic goals. They are NOT! God never promised you can achieve everything you want to achieve! The world might have told you that, but God never did. You can climb that cliff and climb that cliff and climb that cliff but if the cliff is not climbable, you are only setting yourself up for failure.

My dear sisters, do we realize that there has never been a perfect mom? There has never been a perfect marriage. There has never been a perfect home. There has never been a perfect bank roll. There has never been a perfect body. There has never been a perfect friend. And there has never even been a perfect Christian. (Gasp!)

If you set an impossible ideal in front of you as your goal (perfect mom, perfect wife, perfect Christian, whatever it is), you will ALWAYS end up feeling defeated. You will ALWAYS fail. You will NEVER attain that wonderful elevation of yourself having arrived at the life of your dreams. The only possible outcome for all those unrealistic idealized expectations is failure. And failure is the one thing we don’t want! Am I right?

 

My husband, a firefighter, told me recently about a call his crew had gone to. A woman had fallen down a flight of stairs. While the firefighters urged her to go to the hospital to make sure she hadn’t broken her back, she was impertinently stubborn. She was determined to get up by herself, and walk by herself, and climb those stairs by herself because she felt it showed her strength and fortitude. But in reality, it showed her stupidity. She chose self-reliance over acknowledging she was weak, broken, and injured. It is more likely that her valiantly portrayed fortitude, pushing through the pain, probably cost her a lifetime of back problems—all so that she could prove to observers that she wasn’t hurt and that she could do it herself. 

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We women often do the same thing, pushing through impossible situations, to prove that we can do it ourselves. We’re more like a bunch of two-year olds than mature realistic adults. We don’t want to admit that we’re just plain ol’ everyday humans who can’t achieve all our idealistic goals. We aren’t super-woman! We are afraid to admit our weaknesses and our brokenness! We’re afraid deep down inside that it will prove that we are failures. Ladies, we’re not failures unless we try to pretend to the world that we are winners! That’s unfortunately, when we simply prove our naive stupidity! On the other hand, we prove that we are mature when we can freely admit that we are not everything we wished we were, and that we’re only human, and that we might not ever arrive at any level of perfection, and learn to be okay with that.

Is it even good for us to hold so tightly to all these expectations of success and achievement? What about self-control and righteousness? (To be continued)

The Sacrifice of Listening

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I’ve recently been reminded of how hard it is to witness someone’s pain, hardships, trials, sufferings. It’s hard being a member of their inner circle of friends and family who are aware of the suffering and not know how to handle it.

What do we say? What don’t we say? Should we share a Bible verse to encourage them? Should we send them a link to a web page? What gift can we give to make them feel better? Should we help them analyze their situation so they might have a better perspective (well, more often than not, we believe they should share OURS). I think you get the idea…

And what if their pain results in our pain? What if their fears only spread fear on to us? What if their unknown future becomes our unknown future? If we enter into their pain, it is likely going to weigh on us, mentally, emotionally, physically. There’s no easy way to sugarcoat it: sometimes loving someone becomes just plain difficult. Just reading 1 Corinthians 13 makes it obvious how far short we all fall to loving like Jesus loves or wants us to love.

The topic I want to briefly discuss is listening. Listening to the hurts, the sadness, the laments of people going through trials is tough. It’s so hard to emotionally invest in someone else’s pain by listening, by simply being present. Presence with them, listening to their laments, is a labor of love. It is a  great sacrifice of love.

But one of our worst tendencies is to think that it is our right or maybe our duty (tough love), to help them through it or over it. We tend to think they need our insight or our answers or our analysis, for their own good.

But consider Job’s friends: After Job started complaining to them about his suffering, Job’s friends basically said, “ENOUGH! Stop talking! I can’t keep listening to this! You are making me angry. In fact, your laments just make God angry.” However, interestingly enough, in the end, it was God who reprimanded these same friends for their lack of compassion and their judgmental attitudes.

Job’s friends basically said, “ENOUGH!
Stop talking! I can’t keep listening to this!”

Scripture tells us how the conversation went:

“Then Eliphaz the Temanite replied to Job:
“Will you be patient and let me say a word?
For who could keep from speaking out?
“In the past you have encouraged many people;
you have strengthened those who were weak.
Your words have supported those who were falling;
you encouraged those with shaky knees.
But now when trouble strikes, you lose heart.

You are terrified when it touches you.
Doesn’t your reverence for God give you confidence?
Doesn’t your life of integrity give you hope?” (Eliphaz- Job 4:1-6)

“Then Zophar the Naamathite replied to Job:
“2 Shouldn’t someone answer this torrent of words?
 Is a person proved innocent just by a lot of talking?
Should I remain silent while you babble on? 

When you mock God, shouldn’t someone make you ashamed?” (Zophar- Job 11:1-3)

My friend, Steve Siler, wrote a beautiful song about listening many years back. Mr. Siler knew this VERY important principle when he wrote this piece. If you visit this link, you can listen to it, too. (Scroll down the page and click on the preview link.) I pray that you will let it touch your heart. Let it sink down and marinate in your soul.

There are people out there who just want to be loved. Sometimes, they need space. Let them have it. Sometimes they will ask you for advise and counsel, but be careful… are they really asking or are they doing self-reflection and trying to sort things out on their own? Whatever the scenario, it takes real godly wisdom, spiritual discernment and restraint to know when to just sit quietly beside them when they turn to us and begin to speak. More often than not, what they really need is for us to just LISTEN and be present with them.

One of my favorite lines from the song is, “Sometimes, the greatest gift of all is presence in the front row of the sacred concert where you played the music of your soul.”

When people give you an audience in the sacred concert of their souls, practice presence instead of speaking. Hear them instead of sharing. Listen instead of breaking your uncomfortable silence. Your friends will thank you.

Listening” (Steve Siler, MusicForTheSoul.org)

“You came to me. Said you needed someone to talk to.
Had a secret that was tearing you apart.
Couldn’t look me in the eye.
Wasn’t easy for you to speak it
And share these pieces of your broken heart.
Before I knew it, I heard myself talking…
Making your story about ME.

I wasn’t listening. I wasn’t hearing you.
Too caught up in myself to put you first.
I wasn’t listening. I wasn’t with you in the moment.
You didn’t need my vain and empty words.
Silence and a shoulder, that was what was missing.
Forgive me, I wasn’t listening. 

I spoke too soon, so uncomfortable with questions.
Couldn’t stand to let your pain speak unopposed.
When you needed a nod of reassurance,
When ‘nothing’ would have been the thing to say.

I wasn’t listening. I wasn’t hearing you.
Giving you the same old answers I’ve rehearsed.
I wasn’t listening. I wasn’t with you in the moment.
Oh, you didn’t need my vain and empty words.

Sometimes, the greatest gift of all … is presence.
In the front row of the sacred concert
Where you played the music of your soul.
I wasn’t listening. I wasn’t hearing you.
I didn’t give you the attention you deserved.
I wasn’t listening. I wasn’t with you in the moment.
You didn’t need my vain and empty words.
Silence and a shoulder, that was what was missing.
Forgive me, I wasn’t listening.
Forgive me, I wasn’t listening.”

Things I’m Learning from Facebook | by Sandi Patty

The following blog by Sandi Patty was written so well and touches upon a principle that I am VERY, VERY passionate about that I felt I would just re-blog it today. However, at the end I do want to share Jason Gray’s song: “Holding The Key.” Have you ever considered that YOU may be holding the key to someone feeling loved, feeling cared about, feeling encouraged, feeling lifted up in prayer, feeling grace applied to them, feeling unashamed, feeling like they belong, feeling the arms of God Himself around them, feeling set free? 

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“Last week, we posted a very simple question on Facebook: “How can we pray for you today?” I have to say that I truly wasn’t expecting the response and I have spent the last several days trying to find words for my heart that has been deeply moved. I have read each and every one and have been praying over each person as I read.

I have been moved by many things —

– the level of honesty.

– the tremendous needs in our brothers and sisters.

– there is a level of authenticity that exists on Facebook.

– there is a freedom to speak deep personal truth.

– there is a need for each of us to share our hurts.

– it is a clear reminder that we are not alone in our pain.

And it makes me pause to be puzzled at this thought… Why do we seem to feel more freedom to be open, raw and honest on Facebook, than we feel the freedom to be vulnerable in our church?  

It seems to me that one of the very things we desperately need in our church community is a space of grace to be real. It’s very hard to be real. I honestly spent the first many years of my life trying to pretend I had it all together — that I was perfect… my life was perfect. But truly, I was just hiding behind that mask of pretense. And then I fell… HARD! And made choices that people quickly surmised — “She is FAR from perfect.”

But can I tell you, since that day, when I said, “I don’t care what people find out about me, I don’t care to whom I share the truth of my wounded-ness and wrong choices, I don’t care if it costs me my career… the ONLY thing that matters, is to be right and clean before the Lord. So I will be bold and I will be honest, truthful and confess…” When I got to that place in my life to FULLY surrender, THAT is when true freedom began to plant its seed in my heart.

I felt that same sense of freedom on Facebook, as I read through message after message of gut level authenticity. I have come to believe this with my whole heart: Where there is truth (and often that truth is about ourselves and so hard to bear), there is freedom. Jesus says “The truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). That truth is God’s Word, but that truth is also about the honesty of our heart. Where there is truth, there is freedom, and where there is freedom, there is GOD, right smack dab in the middle! Because He is TRUTH and FREEDOM!

So, here is what I’m learning from FACEBOOK ––

  1. We so desperately need community –– people to come along side and walk with us; people to whom we can simply say, “Here is where I am today; I just wanted someone to know.”
  2. Oh, how I pray that our churches will not only have a sanctuary but that churches can be a sanctuary! A safe place to cry out, “No I’m not okay! I just need someone to know!”
  3. We are not alone. While our hurts and wounds are unique to us, there are others who share similar pain. So often, it just helps me to know I am not alone.
  4. WE NEED EACH OTHER. It’s that simple.
  5. Keep sharing your story. In the pages of my own story, there are chapters I’d like to rip out. But I find that it is within those very pages, I have seen God most at work.

Lastly, I want to share one of the sweetest verses I have found in the past few weeks.

Romans 15:13 (ESV):
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Be encouraged my friends — there is a hope that awaits us.  Be encouraged, today!

– Sandi via Things I’m Learning from Facebook | Sandi Patty.

 Now, listen prayerfully to Jason’s Gray words.

“Holding the Key”  by Jason Gray