Christmas Gratitude

nativity

I am thankful for Christmas, it’s a gift not deserved
It symbolizes the privilege to humbly serve
I am thankful for the manger, my Savior’s bed
Giving up his rights, a life of poverty he led

The King of Kings, creator of all things
Came lowly, quietly, bound as a human being
From riches to rags, a story seldom told
No room in the inn, God left out in the cold

I’m thankful for Christmas, when down is up
It reminds me that giving actually fills my cup
I am thankful for the poor who teach me real faith
They teach me how to walk, in more eloquent ways

I’m thankful for Christmas, God gave up all rights
He honored lowly shepherds, on that bright starry night
Jesus came to love the unimportant, turning success upside down
With no earthly titles, born in a forgotten town

I’m thankful for Christmas, Jesus experienced every human grief
He walked on this earth, homeless, rejected, forsaken, not believed
But it teaches me about pain, pain I too often try to avoid
That it draws me to the only One who can fill my heart void

I’m thankful for Christmas, God came for a relationship
Jesus had close friends, experienced loss and actually wept
It shows me that tears that fill my eyes
Bring healing to my hurt and that he hears my cries

Christmas teaches that man is not perfect, as not to depend
It reminds me to put my hope in the One without end
Jesus came for my mistakes, for my sins and disgrace
Christmas keeps me from religion and makes me run towards Grace

I am thankful for Christmas, it’s a gift that keeps on giving
I gain a new perspective, with a view of eternal living
My creator to a cradle, who wonderfully made me
Makes me live with a greater sense of responsibility

Christmas is about waiting, there was 400 years of silence
It was a hopeless world, dark, oppressed and full of violence
But then “For unto us a child is born, a son is given,” the prophets decreed
Mighty God, wonderful counselor, everlasting father, the prince of peace

I’m thankful for Christmas, it’s about forgiveness, a gift offered freely
It makes me let go of past grudges and do it more quickly
I am grateful for an innocent baby willing to be punished
My life is based on Him growing up, opening his arms, saying, “It is Finished!

So this Christmas, receive the good news that brings everlasting joy
It the serious business of heaven given by that little baby boy
Take responsibility, don’t wait for perfect conditions, this is the day
The angels remind us a savior has been born, REJOICE and don’t delay

The Potential of Regrets

regrets2

Regrets are everywhere, I’m overwhelmed with shame
Guilt rules my world, it’s a hard emotion to tame
I bury it deep, wanting it to go away
I hide it discretely, looking for a new day

Regrets are everywhere, I’m overwhelmed with shame
It’s weakening my bones, it’s rendering me lame
I say it’s no big deal, I minimize the pain
I compromise my values, deepening the stain

Regrets are everywhere, I’m overwhelmed with shame
No peace, no rest, finding someone to blame
I’m guilty as charged, a warrant I serve
A life time of punishment, it’s the least I deserve

My heart is broken, peace a distant thought
I medicate my emotions, my relationships are shot
I need a new life, I need a new chance
Seems it’s not possible, at least at first glance

But I’m learning about a gift, that can’t be bought
It’s a gift, I must receive, on Calvary’s hill it was fought
He took my sin, my debilitating mistakes
Wiped them clean, giving life a new take

Regrets are everywhere, I’m overwhelmed with shame
Christ came quietly, humbly, avoiding the fame
He came to take my transgressions, red as crimson
Making them white as snow, freeing me from prison

Regrets are everywhere, But there is no shame
I’m allowing Christ, his blood, to cover my blame
He came to give life, to set captives free
All we have to do is admit, accept and agree

The Most Dangerous Word

Nicodemus

Many times to better understand something, it is helpful to learn what the opposite of that something is.

I’m a student and proponent of Grace. But Grace can be a squishy word. So I would like to talk about the opposite of Grace, which is LEGALISM.

Pastor Tullian Tchividjian writes “Legalism says God will love us if we change. Grace says God will change us because He loves us.”

Nicodemus was a legalist. He was a Pharisee.

Max Lucado writes “It’s a fact of the farm. The most fertile ground remains barren if no seed is sown.”

This defines legalism. Legalism is obsessed about soil preparation but totally misses the point of the seed. This is how legalism thinks. Faith is an outside work. How you speak, act, pray, the image you portray.

If Nicodemus would have been a farmer, he would of had a degree from the University of Farming in cutting edge soil preparation techniques.

The Pharisees were really good at making the soil look good but they had one problem, (How many of you would love to have one problem? But it was a big problem) they produced very little fruit.

Nicodemus, was tired of his fruitless, shallow, look good on the outside life, so he is drawn to Jesus. He sees the fruit, passion, love and humility of Jesus. He sees Jesus breaking the rules so he can touch the untouchable and love the sinner that the religious leaders had shunned.

Nicodemus’ spiritual life has become a charade and it’s shrinking his soul, so the Gospel of John says that he came to Jesus at night. He’s drawn to Jesus, but he has a reputation to uphold, so he sneaks out to see Jesus at night.

Which is very symbolic of legalism. Legalism offers no light.

Legalism robs your freedom. It sets your standards so high that it leaves you paralyzed.

Legalism damages relationships. Nobody wants to spend time around people who feel they are spiritually superior to everyone else. The Bible says, “Love forgets mistakes. Nagging about them parts the best of friends.”

Legalism puts rules in front of people. I recently met a couple who were teaching a high school Sunday School class and they took some high school students to an elderly widows home to paint, clean and bring her a meal. The youth were reprimanded and the couple asked to leave the church because they happened to do these biblically good deeds on the Sabbath. The rule was more important than the person.

Legalism ultimately destroys your joy. Because there is always a gap between what you want to be and what you want others to think you are and who you really are! The gap destroys your joy.

And here is Nicodemus, he has no freedom, all his friends are legalists, he is putting rules ahead of people and his joy is gone, so he comes to Jesus.

In the dark of the night, Jesus tells him, “Nicodemus, I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God (No one can be good enough, no one can have flourishing relationships, no one can love people the way I love them, no one can experience a joy that is indestructible and liberating, no one can have eternal life) unless he is born again.”

Jesus gets right to the point “Nick your problem is legalism. Your soil looks good, but you have no seed.”

This meeting in the dark is a meeting between two opposing views on salvation.

All the world’s religions can be placed in one of two camps: LEGALISM or GRACE.

Either man saves himself or God saves him.

Legalism is a dark world. Fear (Have I done enough?) Arrogance (I have done enough!) Failure (I’ve made too many mistakes.)

Jesus goes on to tell him, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit give birth to spirit.”

Jesus says that salvation doesn’t come from church attendance, a certain set of rules or perfect theology.  

Jesus tells Nicodemus that Salvation is God’s business, Grace is his idea and it is at His expense.

In the dark of the night, Jesus looks at Nicodemus and shares these revolutionary words, “For God so love the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (And you thought the guy with the rainbow, curly wig who sat in the endzone of NFL football games holding a sign of John 3:16 made this saying up, but this comes from the very mouth of Jesus.)

Nicodemus, the legalist, had had a lot of conversations about salvation. But not like this. This was the first time no rules, systems or secret decoder rings were needed.

“Everyone who believes can have eternal life!” Not “Everyone who achieves or succeeds or agrees.”

EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES!

When Nicodemus heard those words, his life was changed forever!

GRACE CHANGES EVERYTHING!

It gets you off the perfectionism treadmill, because as the Psalmist wrote “Nothing is perfect except God’s word.” I hate treadmills, because you run and run and run and you sweat, you get beaten down and tired and when you are done, you are standing in the exact same place you started. That’s legalism!

Plus, trying to be perfect is not only tiring, it’s narcissistic. Pastor Tullian Tchividjian goes on to say, “To focus on how I’m doing more than what Christ has done is Christian narcissism.”

Pretending to be perfect is also hypocritical. The Greeks used to call actors, hypocrites, because an actor is someone who pretends to be someone or something he or she really is not. This is the same word Jesus called the Pharisees.

Jesus told Nicodemus, “Your soul is tired and worn out because you have been on this perfectionism treadmill. Jump off, because salvation comes from me, not from your works. My Grace is available.”

Grace changed Nicodemus. How do I know?

A while later, Jesus was killed on the cross, by the legalists, and the disciples were scattering like cockroaches when the lights go on, but a man named Joseph of Arimathea asked permission to take Jesus’ body down from the cross and John 19 records that: “Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night, came too…” and he brought embalming ointment and he helped lay Jesus in the tomb.

Nicodemus, the one who came quietly, fearfully, secretly at night now comes boldly, courageously and confidently in the day.

Grace has liberated him!

Nicodemus had received the seed of Grace and now plants the seed of salvation, Jesus into the tomb and 2 day later that seed burst forth and defeated death once and for all!

Legalism Kills.

Grace liberates and brings forth life!

Our world is being destroyed by legalism.

Grace is our only hope.

EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES!

I pray you get off the perfectionism treadmill and receive grace!

You don’t have to pretend anymore!

You are loved and accepted.

 

3 Defining Characteristics of God’s Love

Bent Woman

Love in our world can be very fickle.

Joseph Stowell in his book, “Fan the Flames” writes, “It was absolutely amazing. I was in West Africa, and the missionaries were telling me that in that culture the larger the women, the more beautiful they were thought to be. In fact, a young missionary who had a small wife said that the nationals had told him she was a bad reflection on him– he obviously was not providing well enough for her. A proverb in that part of Africa says that if your wife is on a camel and the camel cannot stand up, your wife is truly beautiful.”   

God’s love is NEVER fickle. God’s love is unconditional. God’s love is available to ALL!

When you receive the undeserved, free grace of God’s love, you cannot help but be a different person because love changes you.

St. Augustine said, “Love slays what we have been so that we may be what we are not.” 

God’s love says you’re forgiven.  You’re valuable.  You’re acceptable.  You’re lovable.  And you begin to see yourself differently.  

But it also changes the way you look at other people.

In Luke 13 Jesus gives us a picture of what God’s love looks like practically.

Jesus is teaching on the Sabbath in one of the synagogues and a woman shows up that has been crippled by a spirit for 18 years. She is all bent over and cannot straighten up.

Jesus sees this woman and calls out to her to come forward. He looks her in the eye and with compassion says, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” He puts his hand on her and immediately she straights up and praises God.

Instead of the religious leaders in the synagogue being excited about the healing, they become upset that Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath.

With great tact, Jesus calls them hypocrites and scolds them saying, “Shouldn’t this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for 18 long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

When Jesus said this, many of the religious leaders were humiliated, but the people who witnessed the miracle were delighted and found hope with all the wonderful things he was doing.

Jesus does 3 things in this story that shows us not only what God’s love looks like practically, but it also shows us how we can emulate God’s love practically.

First, JESUS SEES HER.

This woman has probably been coming to the synagogue for 18 years. She is unimportant and can do nothing for the religious leaders. She has become invisible. 

As Jesus is teaching, his eyes lock on hers.  He sees her.  He notices her.  He is moved with compassion. 

One of the great miracles of the Bible and one of the most defining characteristics of God’s love is that Jesus in His infinite grace see you and me.   

No one ever noticed and paid attention like Jesus did. 

He saw people.  He especially saw the people who other people passed over.

The worlds love sees the powerful, the beautiful, the rich.

Jesus sees the invisible. Jesus sees the “least of these”.

It is my observation that you really have to slow down and be intentional to see people that the world has declared invisible. 

Second, JESUS SPEAKS TO HER.

The book of Proverbs says, “There is life and death in the tongue.” 

The words that come out of our mouths and roll off our lips have the power to breathe life and grace and hope and strength or they have the power to slice and cut and poison and destroy

THE CHOICE IS OURS..

Jesus calls her “a daughter of Abraham.” 

He doesn’t call her an elderly crippled woman. He says, “You’re a daughter of Abraham.”  A daughter of the most famous of all Jewish men, Abraham. 

Picture this woman walking home that day after being healed, standing up straight, looking people in the eye for the first time in 18 years, seeing things she hasn’t seen in 18 years and ringing in her ears are those words “daughter of Abraham.”

Third, JESUS TOUCHES HER.

In grade school, the worst thing that could be said about you is that you had kooties! 

If you had kooties, you were UNTOUCHABLE.

There are not many things more painful than when people begin to feel like they’re untouchable and no one wants to be around them. 

Jesus reaches out.  He touches this woman. 

Studies have concluded that people who experience meaningful touch on a regular basis actually have a longer life expectancy. 

There is a Catholic parish in the Denver Area right next to the Denver Metro Clinic which treats AIDS patients.  This church once a year hangs a big banner outside on its wall and passes out flyers in the neighborhood advertising Big Hug Sunday.  At the end of the Sunday service they call people forward who are HIV positive so that the congregation can file by one at a time to simply hug every one of them in line. 

People who would never darken the doors of a church for any other reason, untouchable by the culture, stand at the front of the church just to have a human embrace. 

Jesus often reached out and touched the untouchable to communicate his love.

When you SEE, SPEAK and TOUCH people that the world doesn’t see, doesn’t speak to and definitely doesn’t touch, you are living out the 3 defining characteristics of God’s love.

A LOVE THAT IS NEVER FICKLE, BUT COMPASSIONATE TOWARDS THOSE THE WORLD HAS DECLARED UNIMPORTANT AND INVISIBLE.

The Apostle John wrote in 1 John 3:18  “Let’s not just talk about love, let’s practice real love.” 

52 weeks a year, churches talk about the love of God, but too often it ends with just talk.

This week, look someone in the eye that the world has labeled invisible.

This week, speak life into someone who has been told it’s too late for them, by telling them how valuable, gifted and redeemable they are to God.

This week, touch someone that the world has put the label “kooties” on. A hand shake, an arm around a shoulder, a hug, an embrace towards someone who feels untouchable could literally heal a broken heart, a broken body, a broken life.

THESE PEOPLE

jesus feet

An abandoned daughter discovers her Heavenly Father.
An angry ex-con encounters authentic friendships.
A controlling mother learns to let go and let God.
A one year clean woman mentors a struggling drug addict.
A relationship destroying alcoholic gains new tools and makes amends.
A recovering sex addict finds new purpose and is set free.
A guilt-ridden religious woman experiences grace.

Who are these people?

These are the people Brennan Manning celebrated when he wrote, “There is a beautiful transparency to honest disciples who never wear a false face and do not pretend to be anything but who they are.”

These are the people Jesus had in mind when He said, “I have come to heal the broken-hearted.”

These are the people Jesus said are the greatest because of their humility and commitment to one another.

These are the people Jesus would call the Church.

Yet…

These are the people most churches reject, ignore and outsource to other agencies.

These are the people most churches marginalize, judge, undervalue and under serve.

These are the people most churches hope go somewhere else.

Yet…

These are the people who are bringing huge blessings to my church.

These are the people who are showing us that God is still in the miracle business.

These are the people who are showing us how to be transparent and brave.

These are the people who are showing us the importance of accountability and genuine friendship.

These are the people who are showing us that we are all in recovery from something.

These are the people who are showing us that the ground is level at the foot of the cross.

These are the people who are showing us that everything is Grace.

These are the people that God is with, and if we are with them, then we are with God.

Yet…

Why are so many fleeing the church?

Because the church has rejected “these people.”

These are the very people Jesus said he would judge us by how we treated them.

These are the very people Jesus said that when we serve and love them, we will be blessed.

These are the very people Jesus said that when we serve and love them, we serve and love him.

We too often want the world to change when in reality, the church must change.

Until the church becomes transparent, inclusive, safe, brave, courageous, messy, grace-filled, humble and willing to sacrifice, serve, strategize, prioritize and make a high commitment to serve and be led by “these people”, then it will continue to shrink and be benign.

We too often want the world to repent, when in reality, the church must repent.

If the church is not serving and welcoming and allowing “these people” to lead, then it is really not the church, but more a building, more an exclusive club.

At my church, “these people” call themselves Celebrate Recovery, and they are leading the way towards blessings, miracles, redemption and an intimacy with God that is rarely seen.

Thank you for your example in humility.
Thank you for your leadership in transparency.
Thank you for your commitment to grace.
Thank you for re-introducing us to the presence of God.

May there be a revolution of “these people.”

“It is impossible to meet God without abandon, without exposing yourself, being raw.” Bono

Twitter @celebraterecvry

http://www.celebraterecovery.com

My One and Only Fabulous/Imperfect Life

“It’s too late for me” is my lifetime cry
“Second tries aren’t possible” screams out the lie
Bitterness feels good, a drug that fills
It’s an unnatural high that quickly kills

I’ve sanctioned my actions, sold out to compromise
Defrauded my mind, it’s made me unwise
I am wonderfully made, it’s called Amazing Grace
My life’s full of fear, it’s such a disgrace

Children should learn, the world needs their illumination
My focus on “I” has muted a powerful generation
More for the rich, more for the strong
Can I keep affording to be wrong?

Prophets redundant in their admonition
Promising pain and affliction
I use up my resources without permission
While missing the point of true religion

Self-indulgence, gluttony, greed, I easily meet
From the inner city down to Wall Street
Covet my neighbor, keeping track of what they own
My happiness is fragile, I don’t even know the Jones

Called to eternal reasons, called to bigger dreams
Called to deeper thinking, it’s harder than it seems
Obsessed with brief amusement, my aim is so small
Bombarded by shallow living, I’ve succumbed to the fall

I’m far more powerful than I believe
Truth is, if I walk in, scarcity must leave
Cynicism rules the day, it has strangled my soul
Stops me from changing, it has taken its toll

Parched soil, empty bellies leads to much heartache
Many won’t eat today, while my plate is too great
I’m not here to manipulate, to throw out guilt or coerce
But I’m missing opportunities that bless and don’t curse

In the words of Paul, “I don’t do what I should”
He goes on to say, “I’m not always good.”
In the words of James, “Your faith might be dead”
He goes on to say, “They’re not works if just said.”

I compromise with apathy, bragging I’m doing no harm
I do just enough, showing off my charlatan charm
Justice is calling, it’s a Kingdom mandate
My comfort zone is charity, I’m missing my fate

The message is simple, it’s clear and concrete
My directive is obvious, overt, not discreet
Hand over my life, it’s the power of surrender
It’s about loving the least of these and a heart that is tender

The One Thing That Can Change Our World

rembrant-prodigal-son-detail

I wrote this poem about the one thing that can change our world:

“It is hard to explain, but you know it when you see it.
It is meek, but you can’t contain it

Hard to grasp, but you know when it’s around.
It is hard to teach, but it can be found.

Exceedingly quiet, while deafening loud.
It is extraordinarily humble, yet aptly proud.

Thieves want to own it, but it cannot be stolen.
Many are for the strong, It is for the broken.

No one’s ever dreamed it.
No one’s ever owned it.
No one’s ever bought it.
You just get it when you receive it.

No politics can claim it.
No business can sell it.
No celebrity can wear it.
The poor and outcast possess it.

It is private, yet transforms communities.
Largely diverse, yet brings unity.

It is unfair, yet purely just.
More powerful than our strongest lusts.

Often emulated, yet falling short.
Eye for an eye, it is karmas retort

Always talked about, yet seldom shown.
It is something you must experience to be known.

It is not so much a destination, than an eternal trip
You can’t get by trying, you just open the gift.

It is multi-faceted, never looking the same.
It is the one thing that will never change.”

This poem is about Grace.
Grace is a scandalous thing.
It will get you kicked out of your religion
It has gotten quite a few people killed.
Yet, Grace is the only hope for you, me and our world.

I am hesitant to try to explain Grace in a simple sentence or catch phrase but…when we forgive our enemy, serve the poor, fight injustice, love someone who is different than us ethically, politically, or spiritually, that is a picture of Grace.

“To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark.  In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.”

Brennan Manning “The Ragamuffin Gospel”