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?

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Your Broken Body, A Freewill Offering

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Romans 12:1

God has had me in Leviticus lately; a place Beth Moore affectionately calls “the graveyard of anyone who commits to read the Bible in a year.” However, I’m powering through it, not for the first time, but discovering all kinds of ponderable things this time through.

This time, I’m mesmerized by the specificity with which God describes each type of sacrifice and offering.

The sacrifices and offerings described in Leviticus never truly did away with sin. The animals were merely a portrayal of the ultimate sacrifice to come—Jesus Christ. That is why the offerings for sin, guilt and purity always required an animal without spot or blemish.

Have you ever wondered about Paul’s meaning in Romans 12:1 of, “ … present your bodies a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God … “ .

Those who believe in Christ as savior understand that Christ paid our debt. He was the final sacrifice. There is no more blood to be shed, work to be done or sacrifice to be offered. And even if there were, we are painfully aware that our imperfections would exclude us from being an acceptable sacrifice. What kind of offering could we possibly be, that Paul would urge us to … oh …

Present. That’s an important word. It implies to bring something to someone or surrender it to them for their purposes. In other words, it’s a willingly given offering. It is not an offering demanded for payment. It is not required by law, but Paul urges us—“by the mercy of God” to do this. It’s only reasonable he says.

The freewill offering is the only offering in the Old Testament in which God said the Israelites could present a blemished animal. That’s you and me. It is only in this capacity, freely presented, that our blemished, broken bodies are of any use or value to a holy God. (Leviticus 22:21-23)

You see, Christ did pay the ultimate sacrifice. His sacrifice for sin was required. Without it, all of humanity is damned. But now, we are overflowing with gratitude. We are stunned speechless by undeserved mercy. Now, it is that mercy, the mercy of God, that compels us to bring forward our damaged bodies and present them to our Father. And the beauty of it is, because of Jesus, they are acceptable.

What’s Your Name?

sunrise-invitation-1431868-mAlmost every Christian on the planet can rattle off, “I’m saved by grace through faith.”

Almost every Christian on the planet gets up each day with fresh resolutions—and a better arsenal of excuses.

A familiar Old Testament character can empathize with you. He was full of excuses, little white lies and a few big, old whoppers. Ashamed of who he was, Jacob tried to make himself sound better, feel better, look better than he actually was. Follow his story with me:

Jacob had tried to come out first. As Rachel gave her last anguished push, he thrust forward his tiny pink hand. But just before he could claim the birthright, Esau, big and red, shouldered his way out first. Jacob was shortly behind him, gripping Esau’s heel with all his might.

Their young years were rife with tension. Sure, there were good days when the boys enjoyed camaraderie, but their parents’ divided loyalties kept them both on edge. Ruddy Esau was Isaac’s choice, but Rachel favored Jacob. Maybe she felt sorry for him, the underdog, the sweet little boy who wanted desperately to make his mark on the world.

At birth, Jacob had been labeled, “deceiver,” or, “crafty one,” (the meaning of his Hebrew name) in recollection of his attempt to claim the honor of first born. Living up to his name, twice the Bible tells specific stories of him deceiving his family members in order to claim blessings that were not his. Then, one final, colossal mistake left him running for his life—Jacob lied about his name.

He told his blind father, Isaac, that he was Esau. He convinced Isaac to bless him with the honors of a firstborn. “I am Esau.” Three little words.

There is oh, so much more to the story! But let’s move forward, the privilege of a Bible scholar, to survey the entire landscape of Scripture and consider each story in context and in its minutia.

Years later, Jacob lay restless on the ground trying to sleep. For days, his family had been traveling, a monster caravan of livestock, servants, women and children. As they neared their destination, Jacob’s home in Canaan, word came that Esau had learned of their arrival and was coming to meet them. In fear, Jacob sent gifts ahead of him to pacify his brother. That night, in a fitful sleep, he had a visitor.

Initially, the Bible only tells us that a man wrestled with Jacob all night long. Later, we come to understand that this was a pre-incarnate Christ, a theophany. As day broke, Jacob lost the match but still clung fiercely to the stranger. “I will not let you go until you bless me!” he said.

Then, God asked Jacob a most ordinary, and ironic question: “What is your name?”

Did God not know? Did the Creator who knit this man together in his mother’ womb, not also know his name? Why do you think God asked?

God wanted Jacob to admit who he really was. Long ago, when Jacob claimed to be Esau, he pretended to be someone he was not. He pretended to be worthy of his father’s blessing; he pretended to be the rightful heir. Jacob believed he need to be better, older, more worthy in his father’s eyes to receive the blessing.

The last time Jacob had been asked to give his name, he lied, “I am Esau.” In other words, “Father, I am who you want me to be.”

Now, God asked Jacob not to redeem himself, not to prove his worth for the blessing, but instead to admit who he was—a liar, a cheat, a deceiver.

Humbled, Jacob told the truth, “I am Deceiver.” And in the wake of his truthfulness, God, Himself, redeemed Jacob.

“Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome’ … Then he blessed him there.”
Genesis 32:28-29b

What do you have to do receive the blessing of Christ’s righteousness, the favor of God for salvation?

God does not ask you to become someone you are not. It is vain to cover your flaws, change your name, mask your scars, hide your weaknesses and sins. Your salvation is in admitting who you are—all failures and mistakes included. In the wake of your confession, when you understand your need for the Savior, God Himself will change you, redeem you, clothe you in righteousness and bless you.

Isaiah 61:10
Isaiah 30:15
Isaiah 43:1

Little Miss Mary, Perhaps not so Saintly?

At Christmas time, second only to fame of baby Jesus, is that of the virgin Mary. In fact, in many instances, she’s not even the runner up, but the main character celebrated in the Nativity. As the story goes, the perfect, serene, pious, humble virgin drew God’s attention. Because of her near perfection, He chose her to bear His one and only begotten son. But where do we get this idea?

As I read through Luke 2 and Matthew 1 this year, a couple things struck me as off kilter from my usual Christmas perceptions. First is Mary. What do we know of her prior to the angel’s visit announcing her conception of Jesus. Absolutely nothing! Imagine what her life must have been like. What if Mary wasn’t gentle? What if Mary hadn’t been fully submissive to her parents? What if Mary once slipped an apple in her pocket as she passed a fruit stand in the market? What if Mary felt guilty about a few little white lies? What if?

Previous people had found favor with God:

Noah, who ended up passed out, drunk and naked in his tent had found favor with God. (Gen. 6:8)

Abraham who lied because he didn’t trust God to care for him, found favor with God. (Gen. 18:3)

Moses, a murderer with a fierce temper found favor in the eyes of God. (Ex. 33:12)

So what of Mary? Perhaps she wasn’t so saintly. I don’t mean to disparage her, but I do think that Christendom must be wary, lest we idolize a mere human, on whom God decided to bestow favor. Did you catch that?

God decided to bestow favor. God’s favor came, not in response to anything Mary had done. I wonder if that’s why God didn’t tell us all about Mary’s life prior to become Jesus’ mother. It wasn’t important to God that Mary be perfect. He was sending Jesus to be the sacrifice for all of Mary’s failures – past, present and future. None of her little white lies, temper tantrums, disobedience or failures would ever be able to count against her.

Mary found favor because Jesus found favor.

Consider this New Year’s resolution: I will cease to work to earn God’s favor. I will stop tallying my good and balancing it against my bad. I will stop groveling before the throne of God. I will instead boldly yet struck by awe, revel in God’s favor because of Jesus.