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.]


Promised Land Living: The Importance of Christian Discipleship

I recently completed two series: four fundamental beliefs and seven fundamental practices of the Christian faith. You might be thinking that it looks like a lot of work. Folks, this is what it means to be a disciple of Christ!

The only part of Christianity that takes no effort is receiving Jesus as your Savior. Accepting him as Lord is a whole different ballgame – it requires effort. You must pick up your cross, deny yourself, and follow him. That means you don’t get to do whatever you feel like doing and also experience the benefits of the fruit of the spirit, such as joy and peace. You can be “saved” from hell but still live a hellish life if you don’t take active steps to take up your cross and follow Jesus as a disciple.

I was excited to receive Dallas Willard’s book, The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teachings on Discipleship, for Christmas, and it’s next in my “book queue” to read. The back cover says beautifully what I am trying to communicate:

The last command Jesus gave the church before he ascended to heaven was the Great Commission, the call for Christians to ‘make disciples of all nations.’ But Christians have responded by making ‘Christians,’ not ‘disciples.’ This, according to brilliant scholar and renowned Christian thinker Dallas Willard, has been the church’s Great Omission.”

It’s not enough for us to receive Jesus as our Savior and secure a “fire insurance policy” that gets us out of hell. That’s the starting point, not the ending point. Church, we’ve got to grow up! It’s time to move forward from receiving Jesus as Savior and also embrace him as Lord. Until we do, we won’t accomplish the purposes that God has placed us on this earth to do, and we sure won’t make the Christian life look very appealing to others.

I received Jesus as my Savior at age 8, but I did not truly embrace him as Lord until age 44. I spent decades living in emotional bondage – bondage that was just as bad, if not worse, than that experienced by many people who had not received Jesus as their Savior. Yes, I could check off my list that I wasn’t going to hell (although I wrestled with that concern on and off), but I was not experiencing the fruit of the spirit. I was not joyful or peaceful as I self-injured and binged on food.

Despite having decades of knowledge about God and “being saved”, I was still a spiritual infant. I wanted God to wave a magic wand and change my circumstance, but He wanted to change ME! That didn’t happen until I started doing what He said to do. God’s promises in the Bible can be your reality, but this won’t happen without effort. You must commit to growing into His disciple and allowing God to change you from the inside out. If you will do this, your life will change radically for the better, just as mine has.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cover of Dallas Willard’s book, The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teachings on Discipleship. Courtesy]