Surrender!

I like the song, “I Surrender All.” We’d be more honest if we sang, “I surrender 70%,” but it makes a crummy song.

How kind of God to take us where we are and move us bit by bit to where we need to be. A year after we give it our all a patient Father shows us our mixed motives and manipulative words—and we surrender that.

God gives us the perfect score of Jesus at the get-go. Call it justification. He takes my sin and I take His righteousness. Quite an exchange! I stand in the righteousness of Christ before a holy God. Sanctification is the process of becoming what I am. I am going “from one degree of glory to another” through the sanctifying work of the indwelling Holy Spirit. God meets us at our point of need. He doesn’t leave us there.

Two things help to bring about this change: what we believe and what we behold. Believing I am righteous in my position allows me to become righteous in a practical, day-to-day sense. If I believe that I am a pile of junk and that God must be angry with me, I am believing a lie, and I stall the process.

Believing that the work on the cross was complete, that I can add nothing to it, and that God is doing a good work of making me more like His Son, that is what happens. Paul says, “Faithful is he who called you, and he will do it.” Some believe that God is doing a poor job. Not true.

The second change-agent is what I behold. As a young man I concentrated on not sinning, as if doing so would make me sin less. It actually gave sin power because of my focus. I eventually discovered that God wanted me to focus on the perfection of Christ rather than the imperfection of Paul. Big difference!

Christconsciousness trumps self-consciousness. Paul writes that “we all with unveiled face beholding…the glory of the Lord are being changed into the same likeness with ever-increasing glory” (2 Cor. 3:18). It works.

This needs to be balanced with an honest assessment of our lives, so we don’t live in unreality. John writes, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (I John 1:8). Walking in the light does not mean walking in perfection; it means walking in vulnerability. That is why John follows with the well-known Scripture, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins…” (I John 1:9).

Christ-consciousness actually makes us more sensitive to our sin and more prepared to deal with it through confession rather than through punishing ourselves on the one hand or excusing ourselves on the other. The Spirit within never condemns, but He convicts, so we can confess and see it removed. We do as the writer of Hebrews tells us: “Fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (12:2). What a way to grow!

HAPPINESS OR HOLINESS: TAKE YOUR PICK

A woman in Sweden was prepared to divorce her husband. Not because they were incompatible or because he was abusing her but because she was unhappy. Her children said, “You have a right to be happy.” I told her she was going to leave her kids the legacy that if a marriage doesn’t suit you, claim your rights rather than assuming your responsibilities.

People into entitlement break commitments that don’t serve their cause. If anyone was entitled to anything, it was Jesus. Yet rather than claiming His rights as the King, He emptied Himself. We are to do the same. We react when someone offends us, because we think that we deserve better treatment.

Our inclination is to choose happiness. All things equal, we’d rather be happy than sad. If you choose happiness over holiness…
you will feel entitled, and you will complain if you don’t get what you deserve; and
you will become a victim, always feeling like you’re getting a bad deal. Plus,

You will choose survival over service. The three men in the fiery furnace did not try to escape the fire; they wanted to escape disobedience. God will protect His own. Paul said, “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24). He wasn’t going for the easy way—he wanted the right way. Those committed to ‘happy’ will chose the road of least resistance, like the Swedish friend. And,

You will choose self-indulgence over self-denial. The Christian life bears the mark of the cross. Jesus died that we might live, but He also died that we might die—to selfish pleasure, to the biggest piece of the pie, to the first place in line. These people are grabbing and never satisfied. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). Kids learn it soon—“that’s mine.” As soon as you start grabbing, you lose. Satan was a grabber.

If you choose holiness over happiness…
you get happiness thrown in. The writer of Hebrews quotes the psalmist who says of Jesus, “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy (Heb. 1:9; Ps. 45). Jesus did not ask to be happy, but He was the happiest person who ever lived. His Father guaranteed it, pouring the oil of gladness all over Him.

“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”—not a good idea. But those who pursue holiness (Christ-likeness) get happiness as part of the package. Simply put—the holier, the happier. Nothing makes the world more unhappy than sin. By contrast, nothing makes the world more joy-filled than godly character.

SOME OF MY BEST FRIENDS ARE BLACK

So what? Does that change anything? I can’t prove to you that I am not racist or that America is not racist. I am shocked by the way African Americans were treated in our country’s recent history. It was terrible slavery that scandalized a God who cared for them as much as any white—and more. God shows a bias for the broken, and we were breaking them.

Sadly, the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children to the third and fourth generation. We are reaping the disaster that we sowed. Tough luck, America.

So what can we do? Make sure we have repented for the way we enslaved them for multiplied decades (and wherever we continue to do so). Hopefully they can and will forgive us.

I pray for a lot of young adults with father wounds. I tell them, “You are not responsible for what your parents have done to you. But you are responsible for your responses.” I ask them to do three things: acknowledge the wounding, forgive imperfect parents, then ask for forgiveness for imperfect responses. Forgiveness is not saying that dad or mom did not do a lot of damage. It is saying that I am not going to try to get even. I entrust them to the care of a just and merciful God. Bitterness sticks in the soul and makes me say and do stupid things. Hatred is a cancer, a slow killer, and I repeat what was done to me.

The reaction of blacks who looted or fought in the last year demonstrates the kind of reaction that happens when wounded children are unwilling to forgive their parents and feel like they need to get even for what was visited upon them. Can’t blame them—but the law must. Sadly, innocent people are being hurt, looted, and murdered in the name of justice. Not close to justice.

I hope they can deal with their resentment, or they will continue to react the rest of their lives. Their reaction is no excuse for breaking the law, for doing what has been done to them, any more than a child has a right to get even with a father who was so broken that he didn’t know how to be a father. By reacting, that child is passing on a skewed legacy, and his own children will reap the bitter fruit. They are. Hurt people hurt people.

Far better to forgive, as Corrie ten Boom did for the atrocities of Nazi Germany and became a redeemer rather than a reactionary. We need more blacks like the ones I know who are healing agents to a broken generation. An unfathered generation, which is what 70% of black children are, is said in the Bible to be under a curse—a curse of abandonment, rejection, lovelessness, self-loathing, and insecurity.

Forgiveness, born out of the violent death of Christ, lifts the curse. And as we sing in the well-known Christmas carol, “He comes to make the blessings flow far as the curse is found.” Everyone agrees—we need the curse lifted. Blacks and whites must do it together, whites by making sure they have asked for forgiveness where they or those before them exhibited horrendous racial discrimination (and some sadly still do), and blacks by making sure they are not excusing a reactionary life style that prolongs the pain and produces a racial discrimination in reverse, but that does what Jesus did as a first order of business from the cross. He said, “Father, forgive them.”

PEOPLE (like me) SAY THE DUMBEST THINGS

God won’t give you more than you can handle. Are we going to say that to Job who lost everything?  Or the teenager being trafficked in Thailand? Or a victim’s husband in Nazi Germany? The Bible says, “He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear” (I Cor. 10:13). It is dealing with sin, not suffering. If you tell someone that God won’t give her more than she can handle, and she is not handling it, there is something wrong with her. No, there is something wrong with you. Never say it.

This is a bad time for this to happen. And what would have been a good time, when you’re driving around the block just to kill time? When my car failed to start recently, I remembered times when I thought, “Bad timing.” I decided that was stupid, so I said instead, “God, this is a good time for this to happen.” Didn’t fix the car, did fix the attitude.

If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Hey, if it’s worth doing, just do it. Don’t attach a condition. Too many perfectionists back down because they can’t do it just right. Let them off the hook. Lower the standard so they can relax and do something mediocre.

I don’t deserve this. Oh, really. You’ve chosen the merit system rather than the mercy system. Good luck. Getting what you deserve is not close to good. Like the lady who slapped the photo down on the counter and said, “This picture does not do me justice.” To which the clerk said, “Ma’am, you don’t want justice—you want mercy.” Me too.

Why did this happen to me? I can understand why you might say this. Think it through. How about Harvey next door? Or your pastor? If we agree that bad things happen to good people and “in the world you will have tribulation,” as Jesus said, then we’re learning that missing a plane or denting the car or losing a job might happen to good people like you.

No one’s perfect. We all make mistakes. So does that let you off the hook? Sounds like somebody may be running from conviction. Is it that uncomfortable that we would rather say something stupid than deal with the problem?  Let’s ‘fess up’ and acknowledge irresponsibility.

If you do that one more time… Really? Has it been seventy times seven already? Do you sit on the Supreme Court? Does your verdict stick? Has your great virtue finally reached the end of its toleration point? Just be thankful that God doesn’t say to you, “If you do that one more time…” If He says it, duck!

This weather is terrible. And who is over the weather? Are you judging the weather guy or the God of the universe?  In reality, nature is in a bad mood as a result of the fall (Rom. 8:19-22), as Larry Osborne, a good writer, likes to say, and some weather truly is bad, like tornadoes and hurricanes. They won’t continue in the new earth, when “mother” nature is released from her depression.

It’s going around. Then is it coming around? Are you its next victim? Of all the luck. Someone said something somewhere about living by faith. That’s close in the dictionary to fate—but a long way off. Don’t take in every stray cat, or every stray germ or stray thought. Take ‘em captive to Christ. Let’s try believing God and overcoming! Hey, not a bad idea.

Lesson:  Don’t believe everything you think—and don’t say it either!

MAKING PROPHECY EASY

Karis, our youngest, once said, “I used to think that prophecy was something speakers did at conferences. Now it’s simple: say what you see.”

She was taking prophecy from the extraordinary into the ordinary. When a well-known prophet delivers a right-on message, no one says, “I can do that.” When a team of young people spoke prophetic words at the store, my daughter decided, “I get it.” When Paul said, “You can all prophesy,” he wasn’t speaking to veterans.

He also said that “everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort” (I Corinthians 14:3). We don’t have to look for dark clouds to give an authentic word. Prophecy builds up; it doesn’t tear down.

If you receive a negative word like pornography, you might say, “God is for you. He wants to bring you victory, not shame you.” Or if you know the person, you might say, “We all fight battles. Any you are not winning?”

Jesus could have found plenty of garbage in Matthew’s life, but he called him to his destiny by saying two words: “Follow me.” Jesus looked past his faults to his future. Prophecy can take peoples’ eyes off their defeats and allow them to see what God is doing. Prophecy is more about peoples’ potential than their past.

Here are some guidelines:

  1. Say what you see. Speak naturally and deliberately. If the person has a bright countenance, you may start by commenting on it. God will give you more as you step out.
  2. Address the future. Speak to where people are going more than where they have been.
  3. Keep it simple. Jesus loves making things simple.
  1. Don’t give direction or correction unless you seasoned.

Paul writes, “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.” This tells us first that it works in conjunction with love. Grow in love—grow in prophecy. Second, prophecy is a supernatural gift to be desired, not a natural ability to be cultivated. We prophesy according to our faith. Grow in faith—grow in prophecy.

Prophecy is not the same as encouragement. Prophecy includes a timing issue. It is a now word, something coming not just from the heart of the speaker but from the heart of God.

Prophecy is not flattery. Saying something nice about a person’s character or destiny thatis not true will hurt them. People who receive words about being called to the nations when God never intended them to leave their hometown will develop a false sense of hope.

People who prophesy are operating at different levels. A beginner may be 30% accurate, while a person with a mature gift may be 80% accurate. Yet 80% is 20% from perfection. We don’t stone prophets for inaccurate words in the New Covenant; we weigh the prophecy.

Scripture encourages us to go after prophecy. And we should be open to receive prophecy from others. Receiving is a mark of kingdom living. But an open heart and a gullible heart are not the same. Prophetic words can never replace the Word of God. If you are hungry for a prophetic word, read the Scriptures!

TWO THIEVES–TWO DESTINIES

“Two robbers were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left” (Matt. 27:38). They joined the tirade of insults from close range. Why would they? They probably heard that Jesus could do miracles—and they needed one. They lived irresponsibly; they were dying irresponsibly.

Then sorrow replaced sarcasm. Perhaps seeing the way Jesus died showed him how different they were. By acknowledging the justice of what was occurring, it brought one to a place of trust. In his dying moments he humbled himself.

One thief received the justice he refused to acknowledge. He sneered, “Save yourself, and us,” hanging within feet of the One able to honor his request, but not on those terms. He died as he lived, taking without giving.

Two thieves had a history. They were most likely Jews, religious at one time. Bad resolve turned them toward evil. One knew that he had made a mark, but it was not a good one. He asked Jesus to remember him when He came into his kingdom. Revelation comes with honesty. Incredibly, he could see that Jesus…

  1. was a king;
  2. had a kingdom over which He reigned; and
  3. had power over death. Remarkable insight!

The sins Jesus died for included his. He entered eternity free of guilt for criminal activity. Sadly, the other thief did not come into the light.

The conscience-stricken man spoke to two people—his partner, then to Jesus. He rebuked his friend, then acknowledged his blame. The man who had wasted his life said, “This man has done nothing wrong.” What discernment!

Jesus spoke powerful words: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

  1. When Jesus said “today,” He did not mean in the near future or sometime soon. He meant “today,” and He delivered.
  2. With me—Jesus knew His destiny was not to stay in the grave. A former thief would enjoy His companionship—forever!
  3. In paradise—from a life of wickedness to an eternity of bliss, through the blood of a man who did nothing wrong. He died believing!

Pilate had mockingly put on the cross the only title Jesus ever had: “This is Jesus; king of the Jews.” One Jew at the cross acknowledged Jesus as his king. He had no time to prove his decision. Still the grace of God reached him and drew him into the love of the One whose arms were stretched out on the cross as if to receive him. Moments later he took his final breath and stepped into eternity—to receive the reward that Jesus paid for as they hung side by side. The other one would not share his destiny.

They now reside as far away as darkness is from light. Hell was not made for that thief but for the devil and his angels. He chose to be Satan’s companion rather than a brother of the Son of God. Close to death, one met the author of life as he clung weakly to life itself. The other rejected the offer and slipped into a Christ-less eternity.

If you are drawing breath, it is not too late to embrace the forgiveness won at the cross, which when you die will bring you into the personal presence of the King!

THE HEALING POWER OF THE CROSS

The world views strength as conquest. God’s power is shown in surrender. Jesus said, “I have power to lay down my life.” Nowhere is God’s power shown more clearly than in the cross, portrayed graphically by Isaiah seven hundred years before.

The prophet writes that “he had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:2,3). Far from being attractive or domineering, he was an insignificant “root out of dry ground.”

The prophet shows us three ways that the slain Lamb demonstrates might, the kind the world knows nothing about.

THE CROSS BRINGS HEALING FROM SIN. Some may say, “We don’t need healing; we need forgiveness.” Jesus said to the Pharisees: “They that are well have no need of a physician but they that are sick.” Sin is a sickness.

But “there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul,” like the song goes.   For “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (5).

Thankfully, the cross brings healing not only from the penalty of sin but also from the power. Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you.” In those words she experienced the acceptance of grace. It gave her power to receive the truth: “Go and sin no more.” “He breaks the power of cancelled sin, He sets the prisoner free.” That power is found in the cross.

THE CROSS BRINGS HEALING FROM SORROW.   We have sinned, and we have been sinned against. Sin brings guilt; sorrow brings shame and sadness. The devastating work of sin has brought untold sorrow. A man abandons his family, leaving a wife and children to cope. Another hopes for a promotion and is terminated unjustly after thirty years of service.

Jesus heals broken hearts. His home-town sermon was taken from Isaiah 61: “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted…” (1). He did that through the cross: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…” (4a).

He can give us a “crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61:3).

People who have walked with sorrow may say, “Impossible.” But that power comes from the cross.

THE CROSS BRINGS HEALING FROM SICKNESS. Matthew was a reject like Jesus, but of a different kind; he collected taxes. But Jesus made the right choice. Years later, Matthew painted one of the most beautiful portraits of Christ ever penned. When Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, Matthew thought back on the day, adding these words: “This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases’” (Matthew 8:17).

I find no greater reason to pray for the sick than this, that when Jesus died, He carried our sicknesses as well as our sins and sorrows. May you know the power of the cross in your life—today!

GETHSEMINARY

What do we do when God’s plan no longer serves our purpose? I’d accept suffering more if it didn’t hurt so much.

The cross is where we die, but before we die, we must decide to die. Gethsemane is on the way to Golgotha. We are challenged to say, “Not my will but yours be done.” Many stop here. From Jesus, we learn about Gethseminary training:

 

Our weapons include vulnerability.

Jesus was at His weakest because He was being called to drink the cup of God’s wrath. Nowhere do we see His humanity more clearly: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me” (Matt.26:38).

Peter wasn’t sharing Christ’s struggle; he was asserting his allegiance. Jesus had tried to warn Simon. Sometimes positive affirmation just doesn’t make it.

Struggles are a positive sign. Doug was bummed. He cussed out a guy on his mail route. I asked him, “Would you have felt this guilty a few years ago?” “No, I would have felt great.” “Doug, God is convicting you. That’s good news!” We often interpret struggles as a negative sign. The greater the call, the deeper the conflict. Peter underestimated the conflict and lost big. Jesus fought the fight of faith and triumphed.

We engage the fight through prayer. Jesus told the disciples when they entered the Garden, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation” (Lk.22:40). In the face of conflict, Jesus prescribed prayer. We are not trying to find God’s will but do it. This isn’t a prayer of guidance; it’s a prayer of surrender. When the going gets tough, the tough get—praying.

If we start the fight at the cross, it’s too late. The time to put the armor on is not when you hear the guns going off. Pray—before the important meeting, before the challenge at work, before the date. Understand, Jesus was not going after Satan; He was going after God. I am embarrassed that I have often planned or promoted or pleaded or preached or processed—when I should have prayed.

Victory tastes sweet. Isaiah wrote: “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer…After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied” (53:10,11). An olive crushed, the oil released, a soul satisfied. Peter swallowed the bitter fruit of defeat. He entered the fight—an hour late. Jesus had already faced His battle, and He confronted the Roman cohort with calm.

The big conflict commences with God: will He have His way or will I have mine? Our battle in the Garden offers the potential to produce oil only because our pioneer broke through and won for us (Geth-shemani: oil press).  Adam #1 met the enemy in the garden and lost big; Adam #2 met His enemy in another garden, had it out, and won big. Ride on His obedience.

Olives taste okay, but they can’t match olive oil for usefulness. A friend once said, “I have come to the place where if I know what God wants, I will do it regardless.” He had passed his Gethseminary. God had squeezed—and oil was flowing. May it be so for you and me.