Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Meeting Our Heroes

Meeting our heroes is always a dicey proposition. I've read and heard many stories of those who met theirs, and walked away very disapointed. "He or she was my hero? Really?" Most of them do not live up to anything resembling hero status. From a distance they can look pretty good, but when we meet them we are usually sorely disappointed.

I met my spiritual hero Saturday. John Lynch, who has given the greatest message ever given (search him on YouTube and it'll pop up as the mis-titled Two Roads. It should be called The Room of Grace). Here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rfy03PEVUhQ

It gives language and hope to a lot of things going on in our hearts and spirits. It even seems way too good to be true, this Original Good News John calls it, True Grace, the True Gospel. And other than Steve Brown of Key Life Ministries, I'd never heard anyone else speak it as John does. So a part of me wonders, IS this too good to be true? Is this just tickling my ears with what I want to hear? And then God leads me to Galatians 3 where I'm told that it's the same faith that keeps saving me that initially saved me. And Romans 4 where the faith of Abraham is held up as our model! He hadn't done anything but believe and was declared forevermore righteous by God. No one else gets to speak a word about that! And Luke 15 where Jesus shows us the heart of a Father whose son rebels and burns up his inheritance...even while Dad knew what the outcome would be. And when he returns home, there's a party instead of a beating. I want a God like that, who loves me no matter what, who is willing to rescue me from the deepest darkness.

John lives up to it, the hero status. Others are now giving voice to the Grace Message, Tullian is perhaps leading a New Reformation, the one that says, it's done, you can rest, you have nothing to bring anyway! His genuinness and transparency and vulnerabilty and invitation to enter in are so un-doing. If Jesus is any less, I'll be sorely disappointed. And I know that John will be equally humiliated and proud of such commentary! For he knows his lack, his inability to live up to such lofty ideals, and at the same time, knows that his butterfly wings are spread wide as he sails in the open sky for Jesus. The real Jesus. The One who loves us, no matter what, and draws us into Him because of that. This is what happens when God restores our Original Glory (2 Cor. 3:18 for the curious). I want to fly like that.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Grace. And Murder.

This is one of the most sickening times I've experienced. I guess that when you minister to felons, ex-felons, and the ones that haven't been caught yet...you should expect something bad to happen. For 25 years of that, though, nothing has. I've seen God's grace change men and women in amazing ways, freeing them from their pasts, their shame, their addictions, and into healing and freedom and wholeness. It's rarely an easy process, and more often than not there are troubles and setbacks and failures still...but over time, when God moves in, He wins! Thankfully!

A year ago I watched such a transformation in a man who I grew close to. He'd come to Wayside broken and empty, had blown up his marriage and family of two young girls, his wife had restraining orders against him...but God moved. In hope against hope, this man's heart changed, his whole demeanor changed, and as crazy as it sounds, his ex-wife actually contacted him! They visited, dated a bit again, and then, unbelievably, were remarried!! It was an awesome thing to see. I was there. There was weeping and shouts of joy and hugs, at all that God had done. We believed again, ourselves, that God could indeed do most anything!

And then a few weeks later, he ran off, using drugs again. His church embraced him and walked thru it with him, his wife received him back again. And then he was gone again. She loved him, but didn't love him high. So she went back downstate where she was from, trying to put the past behind her. My heart broke for her. She'd set aside all her fears and wounds and received him back, and I imagine her family told her she was nuts. I admired her courage and her heart.

The last time I saw him was right after he'd come back to Wayside for a few days before he left again. He was determined to go find her. He said he'd walk if he had to, didn't matter, he wanted her back. I warned him against it. I knew that he'd pushed her past her limits this time. He would not listen. His mind was made up. And I knew that it was not a good idea. I'd sent her a text somewhere along the way to warn her or just share my sorrow with her at how things turned out.

And I never heard from either again.

Until two weeks ago, I got word that wrecked me. He murdered her last summer.

.......*there are no words for this*........

Sickened, sad, broken, wretched, angry, anything on the dark side of the paper I was feeling. I was crushed is perhaps the best word. Crushed. I'm still crushed. I looked up the news story, hoping against hope that it wasn't true, but there it all was. She's dead. Their young daughters orphaned, likely taken in by her family who thought she was nuts and who likely hate him with every passion in them, of course.

And he's locked away forever. He confessed, there is no defense, of course. And he should be locked away forever. But he's still my brother. God still loves him. Even though I'm not quite sure of my love for him. And then God showed my something totally unexpected.

God feels the same way about my sin as I do about my brother's. God is crushed, and sick to His stomache (if He has one) and disbelieving, and sad, and angry. You see, I get so used to my sin. I can rationalize it. I can compare it. And I can live with it. It's no big deal. And God vomits. It's hard for us to ever imagine what our sin looks like to God. Now, I know, at least in part. For this thing my friend did is so wretched, so disgusting, so crushing, my own spirit is a mess even as I write this. And that's how God feels. Wow. It makes me confess and repent immediately.

And here's the most amazing (and challenging) thing. Even as God weeps over my sin, He loves me. He extends grace to me, covers me in His righteousness, forgives me, and embraces me. How does He do that after what I've done? And how can I do that to my brother. The murderer. After what he's done? I have to remember that we are no longer defined by our failure or our sins, but by the One Who Loves Us. Amazing Grace. Truly. I pray that I can extend it as God does.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

$100 Million

So imagine you get THE call! "Sorry to inform you that your great uncle-in-law, Harry, died, and has left you $100 million." (And you immediately wonder what's to be sorry about since you never knew about Harry anyway!) $100 Million. US, American, dollars (before tax). Wow. The mind reels doesn't it? What will you do with all that money? What can you do? And here's the thing: whatever you choose to do, Harry isn't asking for it back!

You can blow it in Vegas, which might take two weekends. You could build a garage and fill it with Jay Leno's cars. You could just drive to the airport and pick the next plane, first class, thanks, and never come back. Even charter your own jet. Or heck, just buy one! You could buy a villa on the sea, or maybe a half dozen of them. You could pay off your student loans and still have a little left over. You could invest and never care about the market ups and downs. You could buy a sports team.

You could build a hospital, fund a new charity, feed Sierra Leone, run for President, throw $100 bills all over downtown at those with bongos and "Help" signs trying to get by. You could sponsor 1000 kids through Compassion International. You could rebuild New Orleans. You could pay off Illinois' state debt. You could repave the roads in Chicago after this winter.

And you know what? No one's taking the money back whichever way you choose. If you blow it, it's yours. If you give it away, it's yours. The money has been given to you and nothing will change that. Nothing. No matter how responsible or irresponsible you are, you open the account statements, and there it is, still.

Stop dreaming. Enough of that. Here's what is real: God's grace. What confuses us is that grace is too good to be true, like getting the call about your $100 Mil. So God chooses to love me, rescues me from hopelessness and despair, and in that moment decides I'm His. Forever? He's never going to change His mind and cast me away? No matter what? If I live like an idiot, He loves me. If I love Him back (or not), He loves me. If I slowly begin to let Him grow in me and become all that He desires, He loves me. He doesn't change His mind. His grace is mine.

And just like Uncle Harry's bank account, it's mine to do with as I please. What will I do with that grace? Will I abuse it and waste it? Will it have been given in vain? (2 Cor 6:1 Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. ESV) We can't lose it once we have it. But it can be wasted...and how sad that is. But most of us don't even know that we've received it anyway, or what it means.

This is the best way I can think of to explain our responsibilities in the light of God's grace. We cannot earn more grace! Nothing we do will add to it or diminish it. And that's where the messages we regularly hear confuse us. Sometimes what we hear is: "If you do this, God will bless you." "If you become a really devoted Christian and pray three times a day, read your Bible, and floss...then God will surely love you more and protect you and give you a happy life." That's what we hear. But that's not Biblical. God loves you in the same way that you love your kids. If your kids behave, you love them. If they misbehave, you're not happy, but you love them! If they get arrested, you love them. If they become movie stars, well, wait, that's arrested most of the time, isn't it? If they become doctors, you love them. Your love doesn't change based on how well they live. God's love doesn't change based on how well (or poorly) you live. Ever. Get over it.

But now, you have grace, acceptance, love that won't end, hope and a purpose. And to quote Braveheart: "What will you do with that Freedom?"

It's ours to choose. Let's not waste it.