Category: How We Grow

How Can I Be Both Perfect And a Screw-Up?

Matthew 5:48 says: Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. 

But at the same time Romans 3:10-11 says:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
 there is no one who understands;
 there is no one who seeks God.

What? The Bible tells me to be perfect, but then it tells me I am a perfect screw-up? How can both things be true?

To answer, I must tell you how much I love the cation words. These are several rhyming words that describe what Jesus did, what Jesus is now doing, and what Jesus will do. Let me start by giving you “cation” word #1 for today: It’s justification. Justification says you do not bear the full penalty for your screwups or moral failure since Jesus took all your blame on the cross! Since Jesus now stands in your place, you can claim this stunning verse:

 I lead a blameless life;
deliver me and be merciful to me. (Psalms 26:11)

What? Blameless? Yes, I am:  Christ set me right with God. And his righteousness comes from outside of me, not based on anything I ever did. In Romans 3:22 it says:

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.

But despite this, I still screw up. What happens when I do sin? Do I just laugh and blow it off since I have already been declared righteous? I don’t think so.

Sam, a missionary pastor who gave a sermon at our church, is a mature Christian who’s served the Lord faithfully in his international organization for decades. Yet, he confessed that he really started to lose it in a discussion at a recent meeting that degenerated into a futile argument.

I admired Sam for being man enough to admit his foul-up in front of our whole congregation and for how quickly he got the meeting back on track by rapidly repenting and asking forgiveness.

Why was Sam able to react correctly?

His reaction leads to our other “cation” word today: sanctification. This means becoming more like Christ over time. Ephesians 4:24 talks about progressively growing in sanctification:   put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Because I’m striving to walk as a mature man of Christ, I am not planning to yell on the phone at anyone ever again. I am not planning to lust ever again.

But what if I do?

I trust that the Lord will lead me to repent and ask forgiveness more quickly than I ever have before. And that he’ll continue to replace an impatient urge to get my own way with more of the good attitudes that Jesus gives.

I am glad I am not alone in this process of achieving change. I’m in a good men’s fellowship group called Battleground at my home church that is a huge help in this.

Our motto in Battleground is that we seek an authentic experience of God’s word, meaning that we want to not merely put Bible verses into our heads, but to allow those words to change us to reflect the character of Jesus. We confess when we fall short of that and we rejoice when we see the Lord at work building that into each other.

This quote from John Piper gives a great description of what we strive for in Battleground. Each of us is:

a godly man,
who knows he is a sinner, pardoned for God’s name’s sake,
justified by grace, trusting God’s mercy,
depending on God’s Spirit, taking refuge in God’s protection,
delighting in God’s beauty, keeping God’s covenant,
and therefore walking in integrity and honesty and uprightness.1 

What John Piper described cannot be achieved in isolation. In strong fellowship God gives us a solid way to care for and encourage each other to grow to be more like Christ.

May you have fellowship in a group like that, too.
Amen.

1 https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/can-anyone-really-be-blameless

Be A Blessing

If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit. (Leviticus 26:3-4)

In the Old Testament there’s a close link between obeying God and material blessing.

But in the New Testament, Jesus does not guarantee that following him gives material blessing. I was not able to find a verse where Jesus says, “if you keep my commands you will have health and wealth.”  So then – we might ask – why should we even bother to obey his commands?

As I reflected on this, I saw that I have too often clung to a secret attitude that I would not admit aloud. I felt really glad that I didn’t need to follow the Old Testament rules; indeed my attitude was “Good —-I know I am in, I am saved and going to heaven. I have a lot of latitude. I’m free to do whatever I want as long as it is not too outrageous.”

But I missed something, big time. Because listen to Jesus — he says 
If you love me, keep my commands.” (John 14:15)

The more I seek to be driven by love, the more my old attitude of liking to see how far I can push things without sinning gets shoved aside. Now, much better, there’s a push towards loving service.

So what does it look like to seek after a life with a lot of joyful love for the Lord and for people? I don’t think it is the total quantity of one’s good deeds. Some folks simply have a more generous temperament and find it easier to pour themselves out, while others tend towards having a more Scroogelike temperament. I am closer to being an innate Scrooge.

But I can tell you for sure that I am not as much like Scrooge as I would be if I did not have Jesus!

Doing what Jesus says leads to genuine New Testament blessing. This applies especially during our time of pandemic, because now we have a time of material scarcity, not material abundance. A key difference walking with Jesus is being able to experience walking in blessing even when our circumstances are not abundant and fruitful.

You may be familiar with the late great radio preacher Robert A. Cook. At the end of each broadcast he would say: “Walk with the King today, and be a blessing!”  Let’s all join in!

Feeling Worthless? God helps.

On an October Sunday this past Fall, a strong negative feeling of discouragement started to overwhelm me. I felt that whatever kind of ministry I did for the Lord was worth nothing and I was a useless Christian. For a while these feelings were like a whirlpool from which there was no escape.

Too often, when I have such annoying or uncomfortable feelings, I want to quickly escape from them; trying to push them aside or shut them down as quickly as possible to escape any pain. But when I do that, I don’t thoroughly understand what’s going on in my heart and I miss the opportunity to really grow.

On this fall Sunday afternoon, one means of escape would have been to watch a good football game. But with a miserable Jets game on one channel and a horrible Giants game on the other, there was no escape. I was forced to deal with what I was experiencing.  What did it mean? What exactly was making me feel so worthless? What was God trying to show me, and how could he help me?

This is where the Lord drew me to Romans 12:3 and it came alive :For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.

But you may ask, how does feeling low and discouraged mean you are thinking too highly of yourself? Here’s why: it’s thinking that what’s going on in my life all depends on me and not on God.

If I know what my true strengths and true weaknesses are before God, then I can better resist whenever there is an onslaught of negativity, a lie that contradicts God.  When negativity arises, I like how God invites us to spew out our frustrations to him:

 I pour out before him my complaint;
    before him I tell my trouble.

Listen to my cry,
    for I am in desperate need;
(Psalm 142:2,6)

I start taking my reactions to the Lord in prayer. But it’s not just me and God.

Because many who are reading this are brothers and sisters are going through the same thing. I am not the only one who wrestles with the gap between where I am and everything that God wants me to be.  In the above Psalm David continues in verse 7: Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name. I love this — for I know that God will respond! By admitting our shortcomings and not hiding from them, God begins to turn around even our bad reactions to build more of Christ in us.

Mandatory donations?

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  (2 Corinthians 9:7)

In this verse we give out of thanks for who God is, without expecting or demanding to get anything back. This is different from the teaching that says, “If you give to this ministry then God will pay you back much much more money than you gave — guaranteed!”

In truth, our good God may graciously give even more back than we gave but he is good whether or not he does that. Our God isn’t a heavenly ATM machine and does not give an ironclad guarantee to make us whole like FDIC deposit insurance does! 

What is a cheerful giver like? The cheerful giver donates without being cajoled or manipulated. At our church we call this grace giving. Free grace giving gets rid of the transactional quid pro quo that often creeps into teaching on giving.

A couple of years ago we had a guest speaker at our church who took a collection. His cause was good, but I disagreed when he said, “Forget about what you planned to give — now give what God wants you to give!” But wait a minute — if someone has prayed and decided in their heart what to give, aren’t they a cheerful giver before God? Isn’t it a form of manipulative compulsion to say that the amount someone decided was bogus because it was too low? What good is it if someone gives some more because they were made to feel guilty ?

Cheerful giving gets rid of the fear of “What happens if I don’t give enough?” Some claim that it is mandatory to give at least 10% of your income to the church and they drag in some Old Testament verses to say that if you don’t give that percent then you are “robbing God.” How different that sounds from the grace shown in today’s opening verse!

 Ironically, people in my church end up giving more over the long term because we are not being cajoled, frightened and bullied into giving more! Indeed, as we grow in Christ, we have less acquisitive lives.  Note that we are not told to never spend a penny on our own pleasures but rather we see that the drive to strive to get more and more to spend on our own pleasures is toned down. As that happens, we simultaneously richly enjoy God’s provision for our own needs andwe cheerfully set aside a sizable chunk to give for the Lord’s work.