The Relationship is Worth the Cost

worth_itContinued from here.

Far too many Christians view their faith as following a list of do’s and don’t’s to avoid going to hell when they die, but that completely misses the point. Christianity was never intended to be a religion. Jesus died to reconcile us with God to restore our relationship, and it’s out of this relationship that the blessings flow. If you try to reduce down the Christian faith to do’s and don’t’s, you are setting yourself up for being a miserable Christian.

Far too many Christians spend their time focused on trying to change the outside (comply with a list of do’s and don’t’s), which isn’t going to work because we don’t have the power to change ourselves. They…

are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” ~ Matt. 23:27-28).

Only a relationship with God can resurrect the dead bones and clean the inside. As you enter into a close, deep, personal, and intimate relationship with God, He changes you on the inside, which gradually flows to the outside, enabling you to begin gradually obeying that list of do’s and don’t’s, not out of fear of going to hell but out of love. The key to experiencing fulfillment rather than misery in your relationship with God is love.

I used to think that missionaries were crazy. I didn’t want to get so close to God that He made me stop doing the things I wanted to do and start doing “weird” things like giving everything up and following Him. Now, I am one of those “crazies” in that I gave up a higher paying job to lead a prison ministry, an area of ministry I previously had no interest in. Quite simply, God changed my heart, and it’s an honor and privilege to serve Him in this way rather than a chore. Have I paid a high cost for following Jesus? Sure. Was it worth it? Absolutely! I no longer ask if the cost of following Jesus is too high. Instead, I ask if it’s worth it, and the answer is a resounding YES!!

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace sitting on a couch under the words, “Worth it.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Knowing about God is NOT Knowing God

anchor_dadContinued from here.

Another area in my life that made me a miserable Christian for decades was knowing a lot about God without knowing God. This was an issue for me for decades. I read the Bible cover-to-cover twice. I was active in Bible studies regularly. I prayed every day, which consisted of me telling God all the things I needed Him to change in my life for me to be happy. From the outside, I seemed like a very strong Christian because I knew a lot ABOUT God. However, I did not know Him.

One of my seminary textbooks used this analogy. Imagine a foster child who has grown up without a father who decides to write a dissertation on fatherhood. He can interview multiple fathers, read books and peer-reviewed articles about fathers, and even follow a father around for a month to learn all he needs to know to write his dissertation. However, he will never reach the level of understanding about a father as a five-year-old boy who has grown up with a father who loves him. You can do all sorts of research about a person, but to actually know the person, you must engage in a relationship with Him … and that’s what was missing for me for decades.

How does a little boy know who his father is? It comes from spending time with him as the relationship grows. A boy learns through experience what a father is and that he can trust his father to take care of him. Each time his father acts as his son’s protector, the boy learns that a father is a protector, and he trusts that he is safe as long as his father is around. The son rests securely in knowing that his father will meet his needs as his father provides him with food, clothing, and shelter. Fear of being without is not even on the son’s radar because he has learned through experience that his father will care for his needs. This doesn’t mean the boy has never had a meal served late. Even when he must wait to be fed, he knows nourishment is coming because he knows and trusts that his father will provide for him.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace standing on an anchor, wrapped in a banner that says, “Dad.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Saying “No, Lord” is not an Option for a Disciple of Christ

Continued from here.

In his book, Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God, Henry Blackaby says that two words can never go together: “No, Lord.” If Jesus is your Lord, then your response must always be yes, such as saying “Yes” to losing a friendship, being rejected by extended family, or being fired from a job to follow Jesus… all of which I have personally experienced. If you say “No,” then Jesus is not your Lord. Either you are Jesus’ disciple, or you are not. If you are his disciple, then your response will always be “Yes, Lord,” no matter how heavy the cost. The point at which you say “No” is the point at which you cease being His disciple.

That’s a hard truth to process, but I believe it’s pivotal to understanding how someone can be a “miserable Christian.” I’ve been there myself! Several years ago, I saw a way to fix a longstanding problem. I did not pray for God’s leading. Instead, I told God that I am going to do X and asked that He bless me. His response what deep conviction that this was not His plan for me, but I didn’t care – I wanted what I wanted, and I was determined to do it whether God liked it or not. In other words, I said, “No, Lord.” I arrogantly believed that I knew better than God, and I ceased being His disciple.

Keep in mind that I knew the Bible very well, was leading a Bible study in my church, was praying to God regularly, etc. From the outside, I was a very strong Christian. However, I was MISERABLE on the inside because God stopped “talking” to me. I had reached a place in my relationship with Him where I could sense His “yes” or “no” to guide me through my life. After I made the choice to say, “No, Lord,” He grew silent. For one miserable year, I continued to pray, lead Bible study, study His Word, etc., but I refused to obey Him, and He remained silent. And that thing I wanted that I thought was worth disobeying God over never brought me any satisfaction. It was a sham that I could have avoided by saying, “Yes, Lord.” God broke me down that year, and I refused to repent until I was bedridden with an ailment that perplexed the doctors. That was one of the most miserable years of my life, and I learned from that experience that my response to God will always now be “Yes, Lord.”

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God. Courtesy Amazon.]

 

Why are Some People Miserable with God?

Ccostontinued from here.

Before you flood my inbox with outrage over this topic, let me assure you that I believe that having a close, deep, personal, and intimate relationship with God is worth any cost. I have paid heavy costs for my own relationship with God. I have lost friendships that were dear to me. I have been rejected by extended family. I have been fired for refusing to violate God’s law and look the other way while my employer did something unethical. God has richly blessed me for all I have lost to follow Him. I have found that following Jesus is worth any price I must pay.

Jesus himself told us that there would be a cost to following him. He advised us to estimate the cost and decide whether we were willing to pay it to follow him. What is that cost? EVERYTHING!

In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples” (Luke 14:33).

I don’t think most people take the time to estimate the cost before receiving Jesus as Savior. They come to a place where they realize their current eternal destiny is hell and don’t want to go there. Receiving Jesus as Savior seems like a better option since then they can avoid hell and go to heaven when they die. (I’m sure it’s less than flattering for God to know that so many people choose Him solely as as a better alternative than hell.) But Jesus wasn’t looking for people to change allegiance solely to avoid hell. He said,

And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27).

I see no option in the Bible to receive just enough of God to avoid going to hell but otherwise return to living your life however you feel like it. And carrying your cross and following Jesus is not simply warming a pew for an hour on Sunday mornings. Carrying your cross and following Jesus means you no longer get to live your life however you want, and yet I don’t think many Christians get this memo before deciding to receive Jesus as Savior. I believe far too many people are seeking to call Jesus Savior without calling Him Lord, and that is the underlying reason for their misery.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking into an empty wallet with insects flying out of it. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Getting Just Enough of God to be Miserable

I’m reading Wayne Jacobsen’s book, In Season: Embracing the Father’s Process of Fruitfulness. Chapter One opens with these intriguing words:

My dad used to say that most people only get enough of God to be miserable. The longer I live, the more I am convinced he’s right.”

I have been thinking about these words ever since I first read them a couple of weeks ago, and I must agree with them. After all, that was my story for decades. I knew the Bible better than most people and could even quote many verses from memory, but I was not experiencing the promises held in those passages. Some of the most miserable Christians I have met are very well-schooled in what the Bible says without actually doing what the Bible says to do.

A few years ago, I spent a weekend with two of my friends who had not met each other before. One of those friends has the spiritual gift of discernment, and she made an observation about my other friend that threw me. She said she felt sorry for my friend because she thinks she might actually be better off not having a relationship with God because then she would at least have hope. Instead, this person has filled up with head knowledge of God without actually applying it in her life, and now she has lost hope because she mistakenly believes that what she now has – a head filled with Bible verses – is all there is to a relationship with God.

My first reaction was to bristle at the notion of someone being better off without God. How could someone possibly be better off without Him? A dominant theme in many churches is the importance of “saving souls.” Isn’t receiving Jesus as your Savior better than not? And yet, as I thought about it, I began to see what she meant. My friend wasn’t saying that it would be better for my other friend to go to hell when she dies: she was merely pointing out that my friend only got enough of God to be miserable and that it might be an easier journey for her if she could go back to that place without God in her life and start over.

How can someone actually be more miserable with God than without Him? That’s the focus of my blog this week.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of In Season: Embracing the Father’s Process of Fruitfulness. Courtesy Amazon.]

 

The Pleasure after the Pain

smile2.pngContinued from here.

On her television show Enjoying Everyday Life, Joyce Meyer helped me with this concept of the pain and pleasure of following God into deeper levels of holiness. She pointed out that when we choose to follow God, we will first experience pain as we “kill” more of our sinful nature. After we push through the pain, which requires effort, we then step into the pleasure that our spirit experiences as we deepen our relationship with God. Transforming into the image of Christ involves a continual cycle of pain followed by pleasure. We must first allow God to break down our resistance to Him by crucifying more of our flesh, and that hurts. It requires effort, and it frankly does not feel good. However, once we kill that part of our sinful nature, we are able to experience God at a deeper level, which is unbelievably pleasurable to the spirit. That pleasure far exceeds the pain of getting there. It’s well worth the effort and pain to walk into a deeper relationship with God.

Something else Joyce Meyer said on her show resonated with me. She said don’t envy someone else’s relationship with God if you are unwilling to do what they did to get it. I like the metaphor of an Olympic athlete. Yes, winning an Olympic gold medal sounds fantastic, but how many of us are willing to do what is required to win one? There’s so much more to the story than running one race. Olympic athletes train, sacrifice, and, yes, experience pain in their quest to win the gold medal. And when they do, they tell you it was worth it.

Your walk with God is the same way, and unlike with Olympic athletes, an intimate walk with God is attainable for all of us … BUT we must be willing to put forth the effort to attain it. We must be willing to push through the pain to experience the pleasure. We must be willing to because the “Messiah’s misfits”) as we journey toward a deeper, more intimate relationship with the Living God. Developing a close, deep, personal, and intimate relationship with God requires much effort and cost, but it is so worth it!

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

The Blessings of God’s Best for Us

blessedContinued from here.

Because I am becoming “weirder” (I prefer the term “Messiah’s misfit”) as I conform less and less to the patterns of this world, the pain of experiencing God’s best for me is obvious, such as being mocked or ridiculed for refusing to do things that everyone else, both in the World and even many within the Church, sees absolutely nothing wrong with doing. However, the blessings I experience far outweigh the pain. Yes, the initial steps of purifying myself are painful. For example, walking away from watching secular television was particularly painful for me in the early weeks. However, after the pain comes a deluge of blessings.

For example, I used to be an impatient driver, continually frustrated by the slow drivers interfering with my desire to arrive at my destination 30 seconds earlier. I was also an anxious driver, always looking for policemen with radar guns and making sure I stayed just under what I believed was the magic number for getting pulled over for speeding. Today, I’m a very relaxed driver because I am neither in a hurry nor breaking the law, so there’s nothing to get worked up about. Even as people tailgate me and express their displeasure with my “slow driving” as they whip around me, I’m relaxed as I sing praise and worship songs to God while I drive. I set aside more time to reach my destination, and I arrive not only on time (or early) but also relaxed and refreshed.

Even though I’m still in the early stages of secular television withdrawal, God is showing me the blessings. He recently called me to a deeper level of holiness and pointed out how the characters on the television shows I miss routinely model ungodly behavior. While watching the shows, I was happy to ignore the many ways these characters disobeyed God’s basic principles, such as the wives’ continual disrespect for their husbands. Now that I have stepped away, I’m finding it easier to live in a holier way because those influences are losing their power over me. I’m only allowing God to influence how to behave as I greatly limit my exposure to worldly ways.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding her hands in prayer above the word, “#Blessed.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

The Pain of God’s Best for Us

im_OKContinued from here.

Let’s return to the quote I started this blog series with:

We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” ~ C.S. Lewis

People sometimes ask me whether Christianity becomes easier or harder as I mature in my relationship with God. My response is “yes.” It becomes easier for two primary reasons: (1) Obedience is simple – either I am obeying God in a situation or I am not, so I no longer engage in mental gymnastics to lie to myself about “wrong” being “right” or acceptable just because I want it to be; and (2) I have a long track record to look back upon – God was faithful before, so I more easily trust that He will be faithful again.

It becomes harder primarily because I am becoming “weirder” (I prefer the term “Messiah’s misfit”) as I conform less and less to the patterns of this world. As a simple example, the Holy Spirit has convicted me to obey the speed limit when I drive, which is something even most Christians fail to do. Whenever I share this simple example with a group of Christians, most will say they are glad that God has not convicted them of this. However, the Bible makes it clear that it’s a sin to break the speed limit:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” ~ Rom. 13:1

I love people where they are, just as God loved me where I was when I routinely disobeyed Him in this area (along with many other areas of my life), so I don’t try to fill the Holy Spirit’s role of convicting them. At the same time, I do not allow the majority’s voice to give me “permission” to sin along with them. Whether or not the Holy Spirit has convicted anyone else, he has convicted me. Thus, I must obey the speed limit when I drive, even as people I love mock me for doing so. That has gotten harder as I continue conforming into Christ’s image.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace wrapped like a mummy on crutches below the words. “I’m OK.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Christianity Requires Effort

treadmillContinued from here.

All relationships require some amount of effort. No two people see everything alike, and so at least one person (and preferable both) in the relationship need to make an effort to align with the other so the two can walk together. A relationship with God is no exception. I fear that far too many Christians assume that because receiving salvation required minimal effort on their part, that’s the way a relationship with God is always supposed to be. Anyone with this mindset clearly has not spent much time in God’s Word because the Bible is filled with stories of the effort required to walk with God. Jesus himself told us that there’s a cost to discipleship. And what is that cost? EVERYTHING!

Now, you might be thinking, “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! That’s not what I signed up for. I only want enough of Jesus to avoid going to hell, but I’m unwilling to make changes in my day-to-day life that require effort.” If that’s your mindset, then you are not Jesus’ disciple, and you don’t really believe him. It’s not enough to believe that Jesus is the Son of God: “even the demons believe that—and shudder” (Jas. 2:19). Being a disciple of Christ involves more than simply saying, “Yes, I believe Jesus died for my sins. I receive you as my Savior so I can avoid going to hell. I’ll see you when I get to heaven. Meanwhile, I’m going to live my life however I see fit.” That’s not discipleship.

Discipleship involves radical changes. It involves choosing to love God more than yourself or anyone else in your life. It requires you to be willing to let go of ANYTHING you possess, recognizing that you possess nothing but God … and He is enough – more than enough, actually. Discipleship means that you choose to die to your selfishness day after day, becoming a servant not only to God but to everyone around you. You willingly let go of everything so that you can gain everything, becoming enslaved to Christ to experience the freedom of Christ.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace running in a treadmill. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

The Effort of Being in a Relationship with God

 

barbellI previously shared that I am reading Janet Brooks’ book, Enjoy!: More than Surviving Life’s Transitions. She caught my attention when she quoted my favorite Christian writer, C.S. Lewis, as saying,

We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” ~ C.S. Lewis

I had not heard that quote before reading it in Brooks’ book, and I have been meditating on this concept since reading it in one of the early chapters of her book. I also decided to return to reading another of Lewis’ books (I had taken a break after spending a year in divinity school – needed a break from reading theology books). I recently started reading his book, The Problem of Pain, which I’m sure I’ll be blogging about in future weeks. But I digress…

In her book, Brooks asks why we find it so hard to trust God even though we know how intimately He loves us. She postulates the reason is that we know how much work it’s going to take to transform us into the image of Christ in his perfection. She then weaves in the above quote from C.S. Lewis. I think Brooks has hit the nail on the head – Far too many Christians never grow up because they see how much work is involved and simply don’t want to do it.

Think about it. Becoming a Christian requires nothing of us other than belief. While this can be a blow to our pride, there’s not much to do. I say, “Jesus, please forgive me for my sins and come into my life,” and just like that, I’m a Christian. This requires very little effort on my part because Jesus did all the work. The reason I can say a simple prayer and be reconciled to God is because Jesus did everything else. Effort was certainly required to reconcile me to God, but Jesus expended 99.9% of that effort. He allowed himself to be tortured, killed, and temporarily separated from God so that minimal effort would be required on my part – simply believing – for me to be reconciled to God. However, that’s not the end of a relationship with God. It’s only the beginning.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace lifting a barbell. Courtesy Bitmoji.]