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My search for Jesus

GOD’S RICHES AT CHRIST’S EXPENSE (GRACE)

 

GOD’S RICHES AT CHRIST’S EXPENSE (GRACE)

Christian, Why Do You Judge?

 

One of the wonderful blessings I’ve acquired from multiple failings in life is an increased ability to give grace to others. Part of it is because I understand that I myself didn’t deserve the grace I have found in Jesus. The fact is, you can’t earn it, it is a gift from God. There are many fellow believers who seem to have forgotten this fact, and it saddens me. Let me tell you who you may not even know you’re hurting when you (figuratively) cast that stone toward someone else who may have stumbled, sinned, fallen short, etc.

 

When you decide to tell others how someone else doesn’t measure up you’re telling them that they too have to live up to your standards. Some of the most impactful sermons I’ve ever heard have been when the speaker has been vulnerable enough to share some of the trials, hardships and mistakes they’ve had to overcome. The common theme has been that but by God’s grace, they wouldn’t have made it through. Why and how can any of us who’ve received grace forget that?

 

When that star athlete you don’t know is pulled over or the celebrity files for divorce, who are you impressing when you say, “they did it to themselves?” Listen, I know I’m guilty of doing the same thing. I just want to instill in your thought process that the person(s) you’re saying this to may be going, or have gone through something similar. The fact is none of us deserve God’s grace and mercy. None of us are worthy of His love and amazing sacrifice Christ paid on the cross. Don’t ever forget that. Grace truly is unmerited favor that, somehow, we all have access to.

 

There are very few times anymore I personally get hurt by hearing somebody get judged. Call it me surviving 40 years in the wilderness. By the time I figured out I couldn’t earn what God wanted to give me I had scars to show. Those times I do let those negative thoughts get in my head though, I start thinking “who am I to serve Christ?” Well, last time I checked, everyone in the Bible that God used apart from His own son had tremendous flaws.

 

Congratulations if you have it together all the time. For those of us living in the reality of needing God’s grace day by day, hour by hour, your voicing the flaws in everything and everyone you see is not helpful. If we all waited until we lived up to your standards to share the great news of God’s love, we’d never share it with anyone. At 47, thankfully I’ve learned to tune out the negative pretty well. There are nights it hits and hurts though, and I don’t see the benefit in your criticism, except the reminder that I know I truly am not worthy of any of this on my own. It’s His blood that has set me free. Christ only needed to die once to pay for all our sins. Why my brothers and sisters do some of us feel His death wasn’t enough for him or her? Should Jesus have to go back to the cross again?

 

I don’t say any of this to diminish the harm of sin. Yet, where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. When you want to say something about someone ask yourself who you’re being most like. Do you sound like the advocate or the accuser? I’ll always wonder how long I would have stayed in the wilderness had I not kept hearing those accusatory voices. I wouldn’t change a thing though, because once I got it, to the degree I think I’ve gotten it, God’s grace was all the sweeter!

 

It feels a little hypocritical to tell people to quit judging. I ask forgiveness and understanding to those I am judging. I am more concerned with making us all aware that our words do affect others. Choose them carefully and err on the side of building people up rather than tearing them down. Remember when saying what someone deserves what you yourself truly deserve. Love wins!

On Standby

You may think you know who your friends are, but unless you go through something, you may never really know. Who is there with you when you face tragedy or trouble? I’d have to say I am truly blessed with some great friends. I’ve done some really foolish things and gotten myself in a lot of trouble. When I was down and out, without a job or a car, I quit hearing from an awful lot of people. However, there were some who didn’t judge me, at least outwardly, and supported me with words and/or actions.

This past weekend we studied one of the last sayings from Christ on the cross. Jesus looks out and sees just one disciple there alongside His mother. Jesus tells John and Mary to “behold,” or look out for one another (John 19:26-27). One of the beautiful things Pastor Steven showed us was Jesus noticed who WAS there. He was on a cross being crucified for our sins, yet He wasn’t focused on who wasn’t there with Him. Jesus wanted those who did stand by to the very end to continue looking after each other.

I have to make a true confession. Over the past 7 1/2 years, I’ve held a little bitterness to people who didn’t seem to care about me or stick with me. If I can learn to follow Christs’ example, my focus needs to be on the wonderful friends and family who have been here with me all along. Why dwell on who isn’t here? Will that affect them in any way? Of course not, it only hurts me to hold any bitterness. I can really feel a shift in my personal joy as I turn my attention at gratitude for those who are with me as opposed to who were not. Let the anger go, and if people really want to leave, let them go too!

How many times have I received grace from God? Too many times to count I am sure, and I continue to need it. Once you’ve truly received it, you have to give it. It’s not grace because I deserve it, so who am I to require things from others to give it? The ones I have been mad at, upset with, I have to forgive them! How long can you hold a grudge against someone who probably doesn’t even know you’re holding it? Who is that affecting? Ultimately, my joy is my job and if I’m holding resentment for people, I’m that one who is unhappy. The joy of the Lord is my strength, so if I can give grace like He gives I will never be stronger in Him!

To those of you who showed me grace, thank you so much! I will forever be grateful. I want to name you all but know I would miss some. Your godly example of love and kindness was noticed then and is even more noticed now. If I can return the favor I’ll try to be on standby for you at all times.

Come and See

COME AND SEE

(Ephesians 3:20; Luke 8:15)

 

I felt alone and dirty,

Like I was buried deep.

You brought me up and out,

A harvest ready to reap.

 

You took me as I was,

You made my life complete.

I want to thank you God,

For all you’ve done for me.

 

While the seed is buried,

Help me to trust your way.

Let me find my rest,

Teach me Lord, to pray.

 

When the fruit comes forth,

Let me praise your name.

Remind me that it’s you,

Who gets the glory and fame.

 

I have to work the ground,

I’ve got to plant the seed.

I need your rain to come,

Give me the faith to believe.

 

You took me as I was,

Told me to come and see.

I will follow you God,

Do what you can through me.

 

Break this seed’s hard shell,

For first it has to die.

From the death of a seed,

Will the fruit come alive.

 

Before it starts to sprout,

Remind me of all you’ve done.

That I may know this truth,

The best is yet to come!

 

You said, Come and see, come and see, all that God can do for me.

Yes, come and see, come and see, all that God can do through me!

Come and see, come and see, all that God can do for you.

Come and see, come and see, all that God can do through you!

The Tactic Is Division

We spend so much time avoiding awkward conversations. Almost every thought is now carefully worded as so not to offend anyone. When a public figure does say something we deem politically incorrect, or even offensive, they are immediately vilified. Maybe they should be, but why can’t we just discuss their idea(s)? We don’t get any closer to really fixing hearts and minds by trying to control everything that is said.

The rioting going on in nearby Charlotte is heartbreaking. The world I live in, to my parents’ credit, was one of acceptance of others. Yes, we’re human and sometimes judge others, but I didn’t see it being based on the color of someone’s skin. Although, Dad does still notice every tattoo and piercing, bless his heart. My early childhood we lived in Perth, New York. There were many Spanish people, but I had never seen a black man in person until I was four or five. I don’t remember the meeting whatsoever, but Mom said I played with this man for quite a while, just the two of us. When we walked into the dining room, I announced to the crowd, “you know what? Joe is people too!” The fact of the matter is, racism is taught. It’s often handed down from generation to generation. Sometimes, I believe it’s a result of experience also. We don’t dare discuss that though, do we?

My high school in New Jersey had cafeterias divided by race in the 11th and 12th grade building. I don’t know if it’s still that way today. I also don’t remember anyone from the staff needing to tell us that. Yes, there were a few students who would be brave enough to enter the opposing cafeteria. Thankfully, no harm came from it, but how do separate eating areas even come about? How was that not worthy of a discussion?

I’ve mentioned Marvin Washington in other posts. He is my adopted big brother and he is black. Marvin is 6’9, and back then, was more than willing to fight someone. That didn’t stop other black students from calling him “white boy” within days of moving in with us. I imagine most of the teasing was done in fun, but I don’t really know. He and I have had talks lately about this crazy world, and he seems to understand it all as little as I do. I have a firm belief that the enemy, dare I say the devil, is happy to see all of this division. I also remember being jumped in the locker room by a black student. Fortunately we were split apart before the fight got too out of hand. What had I done to deserve being jumped? He said I made him look bad on the basketball court in gym class. It seems silly, but the idea that a white guy could play basketball was something he’d been taught could not be.

We need to have deep, face to face, loving, difficult conversations with others. The fact is, we’re all different, or unique. Breaking down the barriers of the obvious differences will only happen if we talk to each other. You may be fine. You may love everyone and have been able to forgive everyone else. Remember, it only takes one person to forgive, but it takes two people to reconcile! If both parties don’t get involved and one has any resentment whatsoever, there cannot be reconciliation.

This idea is not limited to race relations. How many marriages would have been saved had couples discussed the first few little offenses? If it’s something that really bothers you and you can’t get over it, to save a relationship there has to be communication! How did the two that became one all of the sudden become two again? Division. It’s the devils’ best tool. I believe you hurt yourself the most when you hold onto any grudge, but you’re also wrecking your relationships. Don’t turn your friends, neighbors and loved ones into enemies because you’re afraid to discuss things with them. If something bothers us to a point that it brings us down, we need to deal with it quickly.

On a side note, our political establishment teaches us division all day every day. Pray for our country, pray for our leaders and pray we can have honest, open discussions. True change can happen, but the bride of Christ, his church, needs to facilitate it. If you’re a Bible reader, I would encourage you to read Matthew 5:21-26. Jesus’ words are so much more powerful than mine. Be uplifting in your speech. Love each other and just talk! This world’s too big for all of us to be right all of the time.

I Still Feel Shame

When I look back on where I used to be and where I am now, I can only praise God and give Him all the credit for the change in me. Lately, I’ve been feeling kind of proud of myself. That’s the complete opposite of giving God the credit. Pride. I remember being told time and again by my mother that pride goes before the fall.

A few weeks ago I felt a shame I hadn’t felt in quite some time. Tonight, I’m seeing it as a teaching from the Holy Spirit before I had to fall completely. The funny thing is, this shame wasn’t caused by anything I’ve done recently. No. This was seeing someone in church I hadn’t seen in fourteen years! I was in shock, to be honest with you. All the memories of partying with this person were right there in front of me. I may have missed out on an opportunity to see what God has done in that persons’ life, and I certainly blew a chance to share His goodness to me. Perhaps I’ll have another chance.

I literally hadn’t felt a shame like this since 2012. That, too, was in a church. The difference this time was I was the one showing up to someone else’s church. Now that I’m looking back at it, I realize they probably weren’t trying to make me feel ashamed as they were actually ashamed of themselves. Talking to me might have led to an embarrassing truth that they knew me from the bar!

So much of life is about perspective folks. Find people you can be open and honest about everything with. It’s so silly to think about how much we worry about what others think. Little things like how many people read this, for example. I remember when my goal in blogging was to hopefully help one person, not project myself into some great example. I can’t go back in time and undo things I’ve done yesterday, much less fourteen years ago.

When I read Romans 10:10-11, I believe what might seem like shame, if handled right, can be viewed as conviction. I don’t think I actually was so embarrassed by my behavior in the past as I was of my fear of how others see me. Next time, hopefully I’ll be ready to give a witness to all God has done for me and not be worried about someone’s opinion of me. For the believer, there is no shame. That obviously doesn’t mean there aren’t moments we feel shame, which I do. However, I no longer need to live in it and can actually learn from it! Thank you Lord for your word, which helps me see this. Please keep my pride in check.

10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”

Who Are You Inviting To Church

I read some interesting statistics at backtochurch.com this morning. They claim that 82% of the “unchurched” are somewhat likely to attend church if invited. They also claim only 2% of the churched invite someone unchurched to come to church. I’m grateful to be in a church where I know it’s much higher than 2% of the people are inviting others, but it’s disturbing to see that kind of a number. One in fifty?! Wow!

Having grown up in church myself and drifted away for years, I have to admit I didn’t stumble across a whole lot of  people inviting me to theirs. In fact, one in fifty would have probably seemed really high when I think about it.

Yes, there are other ways to introduce someone to Christ than inviting them to church. I’m actually a rare example of that, but that’s probably just because I had firsthand knowledge that the church was a great place for desperate people, and I was desperate. I was fortunate enough to live within a little over an hour of a church that utilizes other means of presenting Christ to people than counting on just invites. They use social media really well, have a very well polished website that has everything from sermons to ways to actively serve in the community. In my case in particular, I was drawn in by the TV ministry. I literally was woken up by the “Elevation Experience” following Saturday Night Live back in February 2012 and was inspired by both the music and the preaching. I recorded it the following week and showed my brother, Chuck, and he and I, along with his son, Max, have been attending Elevation ever since! All three of us get to serve on different teams and see how God moves in different ways week after week.

What God has done in my life to change me I can’t keep to myself. That’s why it’s amazing to me to think about that one in fifty statistic. Yes, God did find a different way to get me to this church. However, in the past four years I’ve had the opportunity to take at least 29 others to church with me by inviting them. I really feel it would be more if I didn’t have to bring them an hour one way, but I try not to turn that into the excuse not to invite them. Instead, I add not only the invite to church but also to grab a bite, on me, afterwards.

I’ve seen six people of those 29 raise their hand and receive an orange Bible and go to the tent and say they’ve given their life to Christ. I admit, I sometimes feel disappointed that they don’t decide to ride down with me and get involved like my family has. That probably has a lot to do with pride,  but I honestly want everyone I know to experience Christ like I have and there’s no better way I know of than being involved in the local church. Some of those friends are actually active in local churches closer to home, and to that I say, to God be the glory! Some I have no idea what they’re doing spiritually, and I need to do a better job of staying in touch with them, but I also need to let God be God and know at least I’ve tried to show them I care about them.

I will hopefully never understand the 98% of people who never invite an unchurched person to church. When Jesus changes your life and you are radically changed absolutely for the better, why wouldn’t you want those around you to know about Him? If you aren’t inviting others to church, or to a closer walk with God, perhaps it’s because you really aren’t walking with Him yourself. I didn’t write this to shame anyone, just to raise some awareness and let you know, there’s always a seat available to ride to church with me!

 

Awfully Important to Love Yourself

I believe there are five things that hold us back more than anything else. I also believe we can have the confidence to overcome these things when we see ourselves as God sees us. We have to shift our focus to overcome them, but here are the five things I see as our biggest obstacles:

Anxiety can keep us from being able to perform a task. We can actually make ourselves physically ill with the mere possibility we won’t be able to make someone else happy no matter what we do.

Worry is an even deeper form of anxiety that can keep us up at night. It’s often the thought of what can possibly go wrong. It’s the “what if” mentality but focusing on only the negative.

Fear takes worry to the next level in that it actually scares us. We see only the negative outcomes and think of how our actions can harm us and/or others.

Unwillingness kicks in because of all the above factors scaring us out of trying. When anxiety-worry-fear kick in often enough, we eventually may become afraid to even try.

Lethargy comes when even though we may be willing to try, we are so drained mentally and even physically we just don’t have the energy to do it.

The first letter of those five words spells awful. I believe when you step back, remember Jeremiah 1:5, where God says “before I formed you in the womb…I set you apart and appointed you…” When we realize we’re fully loved by Him and fully capable to do what He wants us too, we can truly learn to love ourselves. That’s my final two letters, or my suffix, to my awful word. Loving Yourself may be the most important thing in being able to be all you can be. I say it’s awfully important.

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