I Need Jesus… for Everything!

I used to be able to do math. I won the department math award at my university and taught computer science at the college level, but that was 35 years ago (if I did the math right). Lately, I’m unsure whether I’ve left a 20% tip. Watching my mother struggle with the same declining ability show’s me it’s not going to get better. For a lot of people this wouldn’t be a big concern, but for me it’s the equivalent of texting an invitation to the wrong person or forgetting to zip my jeans.

I am so stupid! I can’t do anything right. Now people will pity me. These are some of the thoughts my inner critic can be overheard exclaiming as I pull out my phone to double a number and divide by ten. What embarrasses you? Toilet paper on your shoe? Tripped down the steps? Left your child at the gym? Not a person has ever been born who didn’t make mistakes (OK, there was One). We are limited creatures and fallible. It’s unreasonable and unloving to demand perfection of others – or of ourselves. But most of us do it.

I am thankful for a snippet from Brennan Manning I read some years ago for teaching me another way. (If I could find it, I would quote it.) He wrote that grace teaches us a new purpose for all our mistakes, those unintentional foibles which the Accuser likes to exploit. He said every blunder is a sweet reminder that we need Jesus. There isn’t one single thing we can ever do perfectly, and perfection is the standard for salvation (Matt. 5:48). To be reminded of our humble, fallen nature is to be reminded that we are not only forgiven for our sins but also completed for our imperfections in the righteous life Jesus lived on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 10:14).

Now I try to accept my bloopers with a smile and let them preach a different message to my heart. Lipstick a mess? Left my purse at the grocery store? It just means I need Jesus. And, hallelujah, He’s there. I always have needed Him, even when I thought I could be perfect on my own. Now in my growing confusion, I see more clearly than I ever have: I need Jesus for everything. Even math.


Related Material:

God Embraces the Embarrassed at Desiring God
God’s Will and Your Big, Stupid Mistakes by Lon Hetrick

Becoming

You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations –these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit –immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
– C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

 

Photo by Matt H Wade

I live in Orlando, a city best known for its theme park kingdoms. Most of us who live here take little notice of them, considering them irrelevant (except for occasional matters of traffic) to the struggles of daily life. I’m afraid that’s how we sometimes view God’s Kingdom, too.

 

Everyone who rightly claims the name of “Christian” has been given a free ticket to a supernatural kingdom of epic adventures, but most of us are content to stop just inside the gate and camp permanently in the parking lot. After all, it is clean and safe here. Little effort is required to wander aimlessly in the immediate vicinity. From time to time snatches of captivating music tempt us to press on for points unknown, but daily struggles, unspoken fears or a lack of imagination keep us rooted to the pavement.

 

Christ bought the ticket we carry in our pocket, and it was His song which drew us through the outer gate. Far in the distance stands a blazing throne where God the Father reigns in unimaginable glory, and it is toward this throne that Christ’s footsteps lead us, that gratitude for His love compels us, that the promise of His grace draws us. Between the gate and throne lie diverse pathways lined with heaven’s riches which are ours to discover if we will. Some of you will be saying, “Riches? The route of my life has included far more disasters than miracles.” But I am not referring to the outward condition of life but to the inner process of becoming Christ-like. It is a process of goodness and glory which requires our attention and cooperation and invites our celebration. Having passed through the narrow gate which divides the dead from the living, it is time to leave the anteroom where life is habitual and the world’s songs drown out heaven’s music. Half-hearted devotion is satisfied with half-truths and temporary treasures, but we were not redeemed for such trinkets.

 

God has infinite gifts tailored to meet the particular needs of His children. To move toward God is to become a little better, a little wiser, a little fuller, and a little more beautiful than we were before. One small step in the right direction will bring us that much closer to the Savior who has gone before us. Yes, we may encounter difficulties – battles and wounds, even – but there is no limit to the grace and joy to be found by walking forward in faith. When we finish this earthly sojourn, we will have become something more than we are now, and when we finally arrive at the foot of the throne, “the souls of righteous men made perfect,” (Heb. 12:23) we will have become everything that God dreamed for us. Right now, right here, all of us who dare this quest are in the process of becoming that new and glorious creature.

 

The Apostle Paul prayed for the Ephesians that they might “know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge,” and “be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19). Can you imagine what that might mean, to be filled up to all the fullness of God? For one thing, it means that no matter how much you know of Him now, how much you are filled with His love, how much you understand His goodness, His sufficiency, His power in your life – there is more! There’s more right now, and there is always more. That is the marvel of God’s kingdom. You can always press a little closer to the throne. The wonderful promise for us is that when we draw near to God, He will also draw near to us (James 4:8).

 

Discuss it: What would it mean for you to step a little deeper into the Kingdom of God? What keeps you from taking that step?

* Would it mean clarifying a belief you have struggled with?

* Taking on a greater challenge in the area of service?

* Might it mean facing that sin you’ve brushed aside?

* Could it mean forgiving the nearly-unforgivable?

* Perhaps making prayer a more constant source of strength?

* Memorizing your favorite passage?

Let me know what is calling you deeper in.

 


 

I am having a happy summer break with the Littles, so this post is a repeat from several years ago.

Elder Brother Sadness

How far would you go to know the reality of unconditional love in your life? Belonging is a basic, human need on par with water and air, something every child must have to thrive in the world, something many adults still hunger for. One survivor of the Jonestown Massacre, where more than 900 people died in a cult-related mass suicide, told reporters that it could happen simply because, “We are all looking for a place to fit in” (interview on The Today Show, 4/4/17). The despair which comes from never quite finding that place can also show up as frustration, isolation, competition and bitterness. I think that’s what happened to the elder brother in Jesus’ story of the prodigal son.

 

Most of us can bring to mind a mental picture of the angry, arrogant young man depicted in Luke 15:11-32. Moreover, those of us who are familiar with Tim Keller’s eye-opening Prodigal God book and sermon series realize that the older sibling is actually the focus of the story, and we have scanned our own hearts for our elder brother sin. Elder brother resentment, elder brother selfishness, elder brother pride, these we know. But in this post I mean to suggest that those sins grow out of another, hidden problem that you might also find inside your heart: elder brother sadness.

 

The prodigal’s stay-at-home sibling never left his father’s side. He lived in his house, shared his resources, ate dinner with dad every night, enjoying his own inheritance day after day. And yet, when his lost brother returned to the family, his reaction was to accuse their father of favoring the one who strayed. He refused to join the party because, deep inside, he thought it should have been thrown for him.

 

The father’s response to his refusal is often thought of as a rebuke. Yet his words are tender, his tone inviting: “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.” The father seems to be comforting rather than confronting his older child, the child who didn’t realize he always had everything he wanted.

 

How SAD that he lived all those years with the Father and never felt – really felt – that he belonged. And the fear that he never would robbed him of any generosity or compassion he might have shown to others. When I think of the Pharisees to whom Jesus was preaching, it is easy to be judgmental. But when I think of the abiding sadness which drove the elder brother out into the night alone, it gives me a new perspective on his sin and mine.

 

One of the things Keller says the elder brother should have done is to stand beside the Father as host of the party. What if he had understood that all those years of faithful service were never about earning a fatted calf? What if he had spent those years believing he was enhancing the beauty of his own household instead? Might he have taken the same joy as his parent in preparing a huge feast, inviting others to share his table? What would it be like for me to serve with an attitude of giving away what is already mine instead of subtly trying to earn something for myself?

 

The elder brother thought that a party in his honor would have made him feel loved. I often think that, too. (If only I were more affirmed, more noticed, more lauded!) What if he had realized that every day at home was a party in his honor? Might he have lost his fear of never belonging? Every day I live in the favor of my Father, in the company of His family, in the righteousness of Christ, is a party in my honor. O, Lord, let me live each day in light of this sweet truth and never confuse some temporary, superficial affirmation for Your means of grace.

 

Don’t cry too hard for the elder brother; he fled blindly from sadness and fear into sin. But see him with new eyes, as a warning of what we might become if our eyes are not opened and our hearts not grounded in the unconditional love which is ours every day. I have a necklace given to me by a good friend which reminds me, “My beloved is mine, and I am his.” I am going to try to believe this harder. No party in the world will ever cast out my sadness, loneliness and fear, but God’s love is able to do it. I want to remember: there is a warm and beautiful place I can never be kicked out of, and I already live there.

 


Some things to think about:

  • The elder brother thought that a big party in his honor would fix his emptiness. What is it that you think would fix your emptiness? Would it really?
  • What are the things God has already given you to show that you belong? Are there ways you could believe those a little harder?
  • How would it be different if your service was never about earning, but truly about giving away something you already have?
  • The elder brother’s fear drove him to pride and selfishness instead of driving him to the Father’s love. What sins do your fears drive you toward?
  • How can we respond in faith to those fears? (Think about things like identifying and embracing your spiritual family, practicing gratitude, creating reminders of God’s love, encouraging yourself with the truth, looking to God for affirmation, etc.) Please share any practical ideas you have!