Nuggets: Flu Shot Jesus

Currently, my husband’s and my favorite pastor to listen to online is Craig  Groeschel. This morning he made an unsettling point.

Do you treat Jesus like a vaccination? 

When you get a flu shot, you are essentially being injected with a weakened strain of the flu virus. Within a couple weeks, your body develops antibodies to the infection so that in the future you are protected from it. You might feel a bit under-the-weather after receiving a flu shot, but for the most part you can go along your merry way. You got just enough of the virus to make you immune to it.

Many of us have received just enough of the Gospel to be immune to Jesus. We’ve been doused with church and Christian-ese. We’ve learned the moral things and can spout off the Ten Commandments, John 3:16 and most of the 23rd Psalm. We’re familiar enough with Jesus that He doesn’t radically impact our lives on a daily basis. Basically, we’re immune–numb.

If we’re not careful, that weakened strain of the Gospel will prevent us from getting  “really infected” with the person of Jesus Christ. It will certainly keep us from being contagious. 

Just a nugget. Just a thought.

Broadening the Gospel Platform at the Olympics

When you watch the Olypmics, how do you feel? I have to admit, I love that rush of empowerment when my favorite athlete crosses the finish line first, or stands tear-streaked to the strains the National Anthem. It’s a good feeling.

I completely “get” the fist pumping, water-smacking, “can’t believe I made it this far,” maddening-need-to-do-it-again–amass more medals than Michael Phelps–emotional high. I think I can understand the powerful feeling of fame, matched only by the soul-crushing shame of loss on the worldwide stage.

And, along with the rest of America, I love a feel-good story: everything from baby Boomer to Kathleen Baker’s refusal to be cowed by Chrone’s Disease to the courageous German gymnast who finished for his team despite a torn ACL. In fact, it’s a nice distraction from the incessant pavement-pounding of this political season. In a way, it makes it easier to pretend (for 2 weeks) that all’s right with the world, that all these nations simply enjoy a friendly rivalry contained in the sporting arena.

I will be parked (as often as possible) in front of the television for these all-too-short days of friendly, inspiring competition. But, there’s something the majority of media leaves out, even out of the feel-good stories. And that’s the multiple stories of faith.

It’s easy enough to hide our faith under a basket when our greatest exposure is the guy at the supermarket, the daycare provider or our co-workers, but can you imagine the pressure these athletes face to hide this most important and inflammatory topic from a world filled with people who have no problem killing based on faith?

But some have chosen not to hide it. Some have chosen to use their platform, however brief it may be, to declare the love, grace and power of Jesus Christ in their personal lives and His desire to be Lord of every life–before the day when every knee will bow without exception.

” … so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth … ” Philippians 2:10

You won’t hear these stories on TV, so I feel compelled to do my tiny part to broaden the platform for one of these bold athletes. Meet David Boudia:

The Problem With “I Did It My Way”

I choose My Way. Words on old wooden board.

I’ve been haunted recently by a fresh perspective of the Gospel. Don’t worry, that’s a perfectly fair use of the word which dictionary.com defines as: “preoccupied, as with an emotion, memory, or idea; obsessed.” So, I’m perfectly happy to have this Gospel ghost invading my thoughts, permeating the atmosphere of my mind.

That doesn’t mean that my mind is completely settled and at peace though. No, instead I’ve come to realize how poorly I’ve assimilated this Good News into my daily life. We’ve been told that the Gospel must get from our head into our hearts, but I think it’s more truthful that the Gospel must rule in both places—occupy both head and heart simultaneously to do us any real good. Otherwise, it may affect our destiny but it won’t change our day-to-day.

You see, since I said “yes” to Jesus at seven years old, I’ve been doing my best to live for him. But, while most of my life has been a valiant effort to please and honor God, it has also been a belligerent rejection of his unrealistic mercy, affection, love and provision. Ultimately, I’ve gotten stuck on the hamster wheel of “Oops, sorry God,” to, “I’ll do better; try harder,” to, “Thanks for giving me eternal life,” to, “See how pretty and shiny my life is now?” and back to, “Oops, sorry God. I’ll do better.” Then, it’s back to work on how best to manage my sin, get my behaviors (the external and obvious sins) under control so that I can go back to being a happy, successful Christian quietly humming, “I Did It My Way.”

So, God’s been relentlessly kind in pointing this out to me through various excellent books: Craving Grace, by Ruthie Delk; Waking Up, by Ted Dekker and of course, the Bible. Now, if you’re interested in joining me on this journey, you’d be wise to read both Delk and Dekker’s books cover to cover. I recommend doing that with the Bible too, but it’s helpful to start with a story that illustrates exactly what I’m talking about. So, let’s look at a lesser-known story—the story of Amaziah, king of Judah, in 2 Chronicles 25.

Young Amaziah, barely 30 years old, was a newbie to ruling a country. But the Bible says right off the bat that he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. (If you know anything about the ancient kings of Judah and Israel, you know that’s not a common characteristic.)

But even though Amaziah (like those of us who call Christ Lord) was obedient to God mostly and desired to do what was right, he still had the human hankering to “do it my way.” Just before heading out to war, he gathered his troops and then decided he needed a few more. So he paid 100,000 men from Israel to join his army. God quickly dispatched a messenger:

“O king, do not let the army of Israel go with you, for the Lord is not with Israel, with all these Ephraimites. But go, act, be strong for the battle. Why should you suppose that God will cast you down before the enemy? For God has power to help or cast down.”

This was Amaziah’s first opportunity and he triumphed. He quickly released the Israelite soldiers and headed into battle confident God’s way was best. God delivered. Amaziah and his army conquered their enemies and took much spoil. But suddenly, Amaziah’s pride at his success took a turn for the worse.

“I Did It My Way,” must have been playing in his head too, as he took the idols of his conquered foe and set them up at home. Another messenger arrived saying, “Why have you sought the gods of a people who did not deliver their own people from your hand?” (Good question!)

But Amaziah replied angrily, “Have we made you a royal counselor? Stop!”

Let’s stop here. Can you see yourself? I see me as clearly as if a polished mirror lay between the pages of my Bible.

How often have I sought to obey and Lord, been successful—even acquired the admiration of other Christians—only to pat myself on the back (discreetly) and think, “I’ve got this good-God thing down!”

Don’t deny it. It happens to every. single. one. of us. The telling point is what we do next. God faithfully sends a reminder to each of us, in every situation (The Holy Spirit is called the counselor for a reason!) to pull us back from the devastating affects of our own way.

What next? Will you shout (with the memory of your most recent victory playing in your head) that, “I’m doing okay doing it my way!” Or, will you quickly see again the cross, the Good News, the Gospel—the resurrection—and realize that every single victory is from the Lord. Will you realize that if you adopt the idol of your most recent success you will quickly find yourself in the position of your defeated foe—guarded by something that cannot deliver or save?

How God Plans to Keep His Word

How long have you been waiting?

What on earth are you waiting for?

Is that the problem–you’re waiting for something on earth when the fulfillment of your longing lies in the realm of eternity?

But I’m not going to be that ethereal with this post. I’m talking about waiting on the things you actually need, long for, must see, can only realize here on this earth.

Maybe you’re waiting on a restored relationship, healing, someone to come through on their word … God to come through on His Word …

I wonder how Abraham felt waiting … and waiting … and waiting … on God to fulfill His promise of making Abraham into a great nation and planting him in the most beautiful, resourceful land.

In his book, Climbing With Abraham, David Ramos reminds us:

“And of all the land he was promised, [Abraham] only ends up legally owning a fraction of one percent of it by his death.”

I wonder if Abraham reflected on the fact that God had created the whole earth in seven days and destroyed it with a flood in 40 days. That’s pretty fast, all things considered. So why on earth did God drag out the time He required to fulfill His promises to Abraham.

Ramos says again:

“God cares for you intimately, but is never thinking of only you. His plans are always bigger than us, and that is for our ultimate good.”

I’ve got a list of things I’m waiting for, a list of things I pray for incessantly and wonder if God has even grown dull to hearing my repetition.

But I cling to some New Testament truths here too: He told us to keep asking, seeking and knocking–implying that the answer will come but not necessarily in a timely window. He also promises that He who began a good work in us will complete it. No ifs, ands or buts. (Matthew 7:7, Philippians 1:6)

So there you have it. God’s recipe for meeting your heart’s desire:

You pray, you seek, you ask, you knock. You pray more, ask more, seek more, knock more. You believe God (Genesis 3:6). You die (maybe) (Hebrews 11:13), you see God (1 Corinthians 13:12), not a single promise fails–ever (Joshua 21:45).

All things (for all people who love God, in every place, over all time) work together for good (Romans 8:28).

You see, it’s “bigger than us” (you’ve got to read Ramos’ book). 

Defile (take 2)

Last week we talked about the word “defile”. I thought I was finished, but per a couple conversations, I want to present a couple more thoughts.

In an age of therapists, counselors, lawsuits and blaming our mothers, it’s not uncommon to hear people talk about the problems, sins, etc. that they inherited from generations past. Or, we hear of victims who blame themselves for their abusers’ sins. They feel defiled and bear the guilt of someone else’s offenses.

Jesus said in Mark 7:15, “There is nothing outside of a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”

So think with me and apply this to yourself or someone you know. NOTHING from outside can defile you in the sight of God. If you have been violated and feel worthless, dirty, guilty, Jesus says it’s not true. If you were raised by a critical parent, you are not doomed to treat your children the same way.

NOTHING from outside can defile you. The rape, the abuse, the cutting words of a parent have not, cannot, defile you. You are not made guilty by association. You are not condemned by the environment from which you come.

If you have believed on Jesus, the Son of God, as your very own Savior, then the Spirit of God lives in you. What comes from within you, that which could have defiled you, is of God. You are clean.

“But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world. Those people belong to this world, so they speak from the world’s viewpoint, and the world listens to them. But we belong to God, and those who know God listen to us. If they do not belong to God, they do not listen to us. That is how we know if someone has the Spirit of truth or the spirit of deception. 1 John 4:4-6

Isn’t that Good News?

Memorial Day.

AMemorial DayPrayer
By Rev. Dick Kozelka (ret)
First Congregational Church of Minnesota
Minneapolis, MN.

Eternal God,
Creator of years, of centuries,
Lord of whatever is beyond time,
Maker of all species and master of all history —
How shall we speak to you
from our smallness and inconsequence?
Except that you have called us to worship you
in spirit and in truth;
You have dignified us with loves and loyalties;
You have lifted us up with your lovingkindnesses.
Therefore we are bold to come before you without groveling
[though we sometimes feel that low]
and without fear
[though we are often anxious].

We sing with spirit and pray with courage
because you have dignified us;
You have redeemed us from the aimlessness
of things’ going meaninglessly well.
God, lift the hearts of those
for whom this holiday is not just diversion,
but painful memory and continued deprivation.
Bless those whose dear ones have died
needlessly, wastefully [as it seems]
in accident or misadventure.
We remember with compassion those who have died
serving their countries
in the futility of combat.
There is none of us but must come to bereavement and separation,
when all the answers we are offered
fail the question death asks of each of us.
We believe that you will provide for us
as others have been provided with the fulfillment of
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

This poem was taken from U.S. Memorial Day.org, quite a valuable resource that I didn’t know existed. I confess, that even as an Army spouse, I can’t wrap my mind, let alone words, around the significance of Memorial Day. All my life it has simply signaled the beginning of summer, cookouts, water skiing – the good life.

I want to understand it with more clarity. I apologize for cavalier years and flippant “Happy Memorial Days.” Thanks be to God, that Memorial Days can be happy for those who know Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior, who call on the Lord with a sincere heart, who confess with their mouth and believe in their heart that Jesus is Lord.

Please visit this blog again on Wednesday for a suggestion as to how you can personally help share the gospel with men and women in the military.

Prelude of Worship and a Prayer in Conflict

I’ve been trying to get around praying through Psalm 133. This will sound silly, but it seems to short too be deep. But then, Jesus never once talks positively about lengthy prayers. The only reference is made by Paul when he says to “pray continually.” (1 Thess. 5:17)

I have been reading through the Bible in a year and usually each day requires 3-7 chapters of Scripture. When I opened the Bible on Sunday, the only chapter was Ps. 133. That’s not only just one chapter, but it’s only three verses! So, I asked God. Below, I will share with you our conversation. I have learned that I must come to God with praise and in worship before I begin imploring Him for things, asking for help or presenting my problems. Please, take the time to read the Scriptures I’ve listed, especially if you are in a season of prayer-less-ness. Scripture is the cure, I promise!

“There must be some reason Abba, that you have brought me to Ps. 133 without so much as an explanation or longer passages to ‘bookend it’. Jesus, this very morning will you reveal your glory to me -the manifestation of the Father, the only glimpse that I may take and live?”

“Abby, worship is where I am found. Adoration.”

Oh Lord. Teach me a deeper way to worship you. Your word says that you live within the praises of your people. [Ps. 22:3] So if I want to find you, I must come into your gates with thanksgiving and your courts with praise. [Ps. 100] You promised that if I seek you, I will find you. [Jer. 29:13] So I am coming to hold you to your word. I come bringing a full tithe, a full sacrifice of praise. Your word says to test you in this, and you will pour out more blessing than I can handle. You are all my good, I want the blessing of your presence.                [Malachi 3:10, Ps. 16:2, Hebrews 13:15]

[Prayer in the middle of conflict]

Father, Christians are so often accused of being intolerant and the exclusivity of the Gospel of bringing disunity. But your word leaves no doubt that you are a God of Peace. Your word calls Jesus the Prince of Peace. [Isaiah 9:6] Teach me Lord to be humble toward others. Teach me to think of others more importantly than myself. [1 Peter 5:5, Phil. 2:3] Father, I need your strength to hold my tongue [Job 6:24] in my marriage, toward my friends and family, in the presence of my enemies and in the middle of arguments. In discussions with non-Christians help me to find the balance between boldly defending the Gospel and being gentle. [1 Peter 3:15] In Psalm 133, you promise blessing when we dwell with others in unity. Teach me to seek your favor above that of any other, including my own self.

The Moralistic Appeal

On Monday, I confessed several ways that I see the moralistic gospel veiling pride in my own life. Continued reading reminded me of a specific instance, or several instances.

When I was 14, I began a long struggle with anorexia. I endured hours and hours of counseling. I was treated from every angle – coddling and compassion for the disease that assailed me, conviction and chastisement for  yielding to a sinful addiction. At first, it was easier to lean into the people who felt sorry for me. But, as God has peeled away the scabs of pride, painfully revealing my frailty and failures, I realized that I had been lured into sin.

Personally, my eating disorder was a mask for pride. I had invented my own moral code: extreme bodily self-control. I berated myself for succumbing to food or a shortened workout. I looked down on others who couldn’t mortify their own desires. So pride festered, manifesting itself in my own bodily destruction – what sin will always do.

When I married, my wonderful husband turned out to be human too. I won’t confess his weaknesses, but he had a few addictions and failures of his own. I mounted my moralistic ladder and instead of displaying Christ’s love to him, I preached a moralistic gospel. He didn’t measure up to my personal moral code, he wasn’t reading the Bible as much I was, he wasn’t seeking Godly counsel as I was, he wasn’t fighting his demons as valiantly as I was. So I lambasted him for his shortcomings. Regrettably, I even doubted his salvation.

Case in point – a moralistic gospel.

If I can refine one nugget of gold from the years of my eating disorder, it is that God used it later in life to show me how patient, graceful and forgiving He had been toward me. God even showed me how my own family had displayed the true gospel toward me in the midst of my eating disorder. In this way, He convicted me of my counterfeit life-preaching toward my husband. If God stooped so low as to redeem me from the pit of rebellion, how could I insist that anyone else climb out of the pit, clean themselves off and then present themselves to the God of Grace?

Wax’s chapter on the moralistic gospel in Counterfeit Gospels, rings true in my own history. I pray the Lord to keep me humbly in the center of the one true gospel.