Lè kè m’ par kase ande

“When my heart is torn asunder…”

As many of you know, a couple weeks ago, I went to the country of Haiti on a medical mission trip. Going into this experience, I knew that I was going to “experience” God. I had been on countless mission trips in the states during middle school and high school. I felt like I knew what to expect on the spiritual side of things at least. On the medical side, I had never done anything like this before. I figured that I would see some interesting things, gain some experience, do some soul-searching with regard to my future career, and just see what the medical field is all about. I came back with more than I ever thought I would. God truly changed my life there.

Before even leaving the country, I knew what I was going to be walking into when I arrived in Haiti. I knew that I would disease, destruction, depravation, and poverty. And yes, I did see all of these things, but I saw something that I felt like I had never seen before: faith. The people of Haiti have the strongest faith I have ever seen, stronger than in any American church. And I felt myself become physically ill with my own country and myself. We are far worse off than the Haitian people. They have something that we don’t have as a whole. They have what matters in life.

Suddenly, everything fell apart in my mind. My entire way of thinking was changed. We have all of this money, food, clothing, entertainment, you name it. But we as a nation are headed down a path of destruction and a path that leads away from God. I cannot even describe the freedom I felt being there. I had nothing but God and people. And Jesus’ command suddenly made so much sense. “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” I finally understood that at least to some degree.

We have put so much pressure on people in America to look a certain way, be a certain way, act a certain way, etc. That doesn’t exist there. All of these arguments that we get in about doctrine and churches and everything that goes along with that do not exist in Haiti. The pastors of surrounding churches all meet together and talk about their congregations and their personal walks with God. They have a united church. They are doing things right. I never realized the depravity in America and especially in American churches until I experienced what a real church was supposed to be like.

There is no way to describe this feeling. There is no possible word combination that can make you feel this freedom. There is nothing I can say or do to make anyone understand what I experienced or how God truly changed my heart. I so desperately what to go back. In fact, I never wanted to leave. That place, those people, that church has my heart. I want to be there so badly. I have made friendships with the Haitian people in one week that are stronger than most relationships I already had. I realized what it meant to have a relationship in which the foundation is God. I always thought I was doing that, but I wasn’t. That is something I am now changing and working on.

This all brought me back to one verse that I have talked about before and that God always kept in the back of my mind and on my heart. However, the week I spent in Haiti helped me to truly find this renewal. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing, and perfect will.” Christianity is all about the renewal of your mind. It is changing the way you think. Once we change how we think, we will change the way we feel, and then the way we act. This is when lies and sin begin to disappear. When we align our thinking with God’s thinking, our lives will change.

I discovered so much about myself, and even more about God and what it really means to follow him. My life will never be the same. I still maintain relationships with my Haitian brothers. I have seen how a church, God’s church, can stretch across oceans. I pray every day that I can be in Haiti with these people. It is truly where my heart is. I have never felt such a peace or such a freedom. I wish I could describe it in words, but it is not something that I do not think can ever be described. It must be felt.

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Unclean Hearts: What Can Wash Away Our Sins?

If you have grown up in church, you were probably absolutely bombarded with the message that Jesus washes away sins. We’ve all heard the lyrics, “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” That’s all good considering that’s the gospel. However, there has been something that I have realized recently that has changed my perspective completely.

What is it that has made us dirty? Any good church-going Sunday school kid would say “sin.” This is where the problem comes in. We cannot believe that what we do is what makes us unclean. Before you start screaming heresy, please continue reading.

It is not our actions that have separated us from Jesus. It is our sinful nature. We are inherently sinful. You may be thinking that there isn’t much a difference between those two things. Everyone sins, so it works the same to say that the sins we commit separate us from Jesus, right? So wrong.

The problem with this thinking is that it leads to shame rather than freedom. If we believe that what we do is what dirties us, then every time we sin, we are going to feel like we have dirtied our holiness. We were never holy. We were born into sin. We were born dirty. We were born unclean and unworthy. Even if we never sinned in our lives, we are still not holy.

I have found that every time I sin, usually the “bigger” ones, I feel like I have somehow spotted my perfection. I feel like I’ve messed up some sort of “I didn’t sin for this long” streak. This is a huge issue because instead of focusing on Jesus in sin, it makes us run from God. When we think that we have somehow failed God by sinning, then we fear God in an unhealthy manner. We run away in shame.

We have to understand these things:

1. God knows that we are going to sin. We aren’t failing him by sinning. He already knows we are going to, and his grace is bigger than any sin.

2. We are not perfect. When we mess up, we don’t suddenly make ourselves unclean. Yes, we should repent and feel conviction, but we must understand that we were never holy to begin with.

3. Although we are striving for perfection and holiness, we aren’t there yet. We are going to sin. We are going to lie to ourselves. We are going to justify the things we do. Sin isn’t always going to be subconscious. We are sinful in our hearts. We are going to blatantly and consciously sin at times. God still forgives that.

The most important thing to realize is that the condition of our hearts is what has separated us from God, not our moral imperfection. Our moral imperfection is what shows us that our hearts are inherently sinful. We are unclean in the very fibers of our being, completely separate from our actions. Our actions and failure to adhere to the moral commands of God are simply to show us that we are not holy and that we need Jesus. That is the purpose of the law: to show us our need for Jesus. It is not to try to live perfectly in order to not spot these perfectly white robes that we seem to think we wear. That leads to legalism, not to Jesus.

Following God should lead to guilt that pushes us to repentance, not to shame that leads us to run from God. We must realize that God’s grace is bigger that ALL of our sin. Our sin does not continue to separate us from God. Once we are made new in him, we can never lose that. God sees us through the lens of his perfect grace. We are to strive to be holy, but at the same time we must realize that we are not there yet, nor have we ever been. We are not in the process of trying to stay holy. We are in the process of trying to become holy.

Intuition: Mortal Commodity

Intuition is a gift. However, as with everything God has given us, there is a way to use it incorrectly. Chances are, we will figure out how to abuse any gift of God; that is simply our sinful and rebellious nature. So how do we discern proper use and misuse of this gift?

God has really been putting this on my heart for a while. It has simply taking me this long to really sit down and listen. Let me start with scripture. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to man, but its end is the way to death.” Powerful stuff.

God has blessed us with intuition, but he has also given us discernment. We just need the wisdom to know when our thoughts are lined up with God’s thoughts. I believe this is the heart behind Solomon’s request for wisdom. God offers him anything in the world, and he asks for the most important thing: wisdom.

Let’s get back to that proverb. The heart behind this verse says that what we think is right is the way to death. I’m going to say something that will really hit hard if you let it. I know this thought destroys every ounce of pride that I hold. What you think and what you feel are not absolute truth.

Ouch, right? This is killing me just to even right this. Just because you think it’s right, or it makes you feel good, or you don’t feel guilty about it, or you don’t think it’s that bad, doesn’t make it right. You are not your own moral scale. You can’t make up your own truth. Truth must be absolute for it to even fulfill its own definition.

Let me share another quote with you that has been tearing me up inside since I first heard it. Blaise Pascal said, “All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.” Just let that soak in.

Everything we do is hedonistic. Everything is for our own pleasure. We even turn seeking God into something to simply make us happy. When it stops making us happy, we stop seeking. When we run out of things to make us happy, we turn back to God. You want to know what Jesus meant when he said to deny yourself? He meant that you’re going to have to put your happiness aside to follow him. He meant that you’re not always going to be happy. You can’t always be seeking happiness. You can’t be seeking things that just make you feel good or things that you think are right, apart from what the author of truth has said in scripture. This is man’s mindset. This is small thinking. This thought taken to the extreme is what leads people to kill, steal, hate, do drugs, have sex, and even kill themselves. He never promised us happiness; he promised us an abundant life.

God wants abundance for us. Fulfillment is found in truth. Truth is found is scripture. Scripture is from God. We must read God’s word, seek God’s truth, ask for God’s wisdom, and follow his will. This means that we can’t just get drunk or have premarital sex or harbor anger just because we want to. When you chose to follow Jesus, or if you do choose that, you chose to deny yourself. We signed up for this. You want fulfillment? You’re only going to find it in one place. I can assure you.

We do not get to be whatever we want and just attach God’s name to make sure we win a basketball game or our sick grandfather doesn’t die. We cannot change God’s character by attaching new truth to his name. We are to change by attaching God’s truth to our lives.

What are you doing with your life? I ask because that’s the question God keeps pushing on me. What are you doing? I know that I hate when God’s name is grouped with things that are not Godly. I’m sure God hates that infinitely more. To end on point, our intuition was given to us to find God, not to make a god out of ourselves. Use it correctly or it will become a mortal commodity. It will lead to death.

Myth: The God of Karma

Okay, the title might be kind of misleading. Just stick with me here! This will (hopefully) make sense as you read.

Often times, it seems that Christians fall into this ideology that God is a god of karma. We may understand that our works do not save us, but often it seems that we believe that our works will make God love us more or bless us more. This is simply not true. Remember, I have said this before, but Satan only tells lies when they are almost the truth. Our works matter and God blesses us, but these are not related in the way we seem to think they are. Let me explain.

For some reason, as Christians, we tend to fall into this rut of “I am doing all of these things right, but God hasn’t ____.” We believe that our attempts at pleasing God should be met with God bestowing happiness and blessing upon us. This is not the case at all. Jeremiah 17:7 says, “The man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence indeed is in the Lord, is blessed.” Now, you may be thinking that that means when we trust God, all of this happiness and rainbows and butterflies are just going to come pouring over us.

Reread this verse. The man IS blessed. It doesn’t say that the man WILL be blessed. Although this may appear to be just a small grammatical difference, this is huge. God does not bless the man who trusts in him with things or gifts or anything like that. The man’s blessing comes simply from being in the presence of God. I think that we often forget that being in God’s presence is the greatest blessing of all. That is fulfillment. That is abundance. That is blessing. That is love. That is where we find ourselves. That is where we are complete. That is the only place we are complete. What more could you ask for?

This issue can also be approached from a different angle. The idea of karma is that one can essentially put the universe (or whatever higher being) into his or her debt. The reason this does not work with the idea of the God of the Bible is that Jehova God can never be in our debt. He doesn’t owe us anything. Everything is already his. You cannot make God owe you. You can’t try to do all of things right and then expect some sort of reward. The reward for loving your neighbor is peace, fulfillment, completeness, not an A on the math test you didn’t study for or a little extra money this month. That isn’t how God works. He’s not a credit card. He’s the creator. He’s the savior. No matter what we do in this life, we belong to God. God doesn’t belong to us.

We need to stop seeing God as synonymous to karma. God doesn’t just bless the good and curse the bad. His will, his purpose, his nature is far more complicated than that. We limit God by expecting happiness from simply doing the right things. When we do what is expected of us, that doesn’t merit reward. That’s simply what you were supposed to do.

For the visual learners out there, I am going to apply this to my dad and basketball yet again (big surprise, huh?). My dad was the kind of coach that didn’t get excited too easily. We often saw him standing on the sidelines with his arms crossed in front of him, subtly chewing on a piece of gum, and either nodding or shaking his head ever so slightly. If my dad shows a lot of emotion, it’s serious. You either did something so unbelievably awful that he felt the need to act it out, laugh at you, and sub someone else in, or you did something so great that all he could do was chuckle to our assistant coach and give you a thumbs up. Anyways, THE POINT: If we ran a play correctly, my dad didn’t get all excited and give us all some candy and throw a party for us. He would just nod his head because it was expected.

The same is true for God. God expects us to seek him. Obviously, he knows we are imperfect, but his standard is that we will seek him. Our reward for seeking God isn’t the blessings along the way. Our reward is in heaven. Our reward is to receive exactly what we are searching for. Our reward is God.

Ex Gratia ; Sola Gratia

So I made one of those permanent decisions recently. I got tattoos. Finally! But I thought since I got them in Latin, and Latin is all mysterious and what not, I should probably explain a little. So here’s that.

As you can see, my left foot has the words Ex Gratia tattooed on it. Ex Gratia is latin for “from grace.” This sounds pretty Christiany, huh? Well, hold your horses. This is actually a legal term. It refers to a legal act in which on party does something for another simply in favor or in kindness. There is nothing the receiving end can do about it. It just is. Now we apply this to Jesus for my case. Jesus did this for us. Sometimes I just need to be reminded of the simplicity of the gospel. Jesus took my sin. Not just emotionally or figuratively, but literally and legally. I am no longer indebted to it. To me, this phrase Ex Gratia is like Jesus saying, “It is finished.”

What I also love about this is that the meaning becomes deeper each day. It also serves to remind me that grace comes first. Just like the legal aspect of anything always has to come first. You walk into a bank and what’s the first thing they have you do? Fill out paperwork. You go to school, what do they  make you do? Paperwork. Just like legality comes first, Jesus grace comes first. I don’t need to sin just to receive grace. I have received grace first, so therefore I flee from sin.

On my right foot I have something similar (but completely different) tattooed. It reads Sola Gratia. This phrase is one of the five solae propounded during the Protestant Reformation. This phrase means by grace alone.” This is also something I need to be reminded of daily. I have struggled tremendously in the past with both extremes of legalism. I have thought that doing everything right will save you, and I have thought that nothing that I do matters because I have grace. Both of these are lies, and hopefully that is evident when they are written out. However, I have also struggled with this middle ground issue. I hope someone can relate to this. I struggle with believing God is a god of karma. Now, don’t worry, I am not going all new-agey on you. Although I will realize in my head that there is nothing in my power that I can do or accomplish or say that will save me or save anyone else, I often struggle with thinking that accomplishing more things will make God happier with me. Therefore, I think God should bless me. It is a simple, small lie with catastrophic and far-reaching implications. This tattoo reminds me that I cannot put God in my debt. God will never owe me anything because everything is already his by grace alone.

Together, these tattoos remind me that I belong to God. I am marked forever, and not just on my body. This is something that Satan uses against me, so I’m going to literally wear my struggle. Battle with me. Image

A Place Only You Can Go

So one of my favorite songs of all time (which is saying quite a bit) is Needtobreathe’s song A Place Only You Can Go. I love this song for many reasons, but the most moving and most truthful lyric I have ever heard is in this song. It says, “Grace she comes with a heavy load / Memories they can’t be erased / Like a pill that’s swallowed that makes me well / But leaves an awful taste.”

This one particular line often flutters around in my head. My conscience uses this lyric on me constantly. It reminds me of Romans 6, which is such a difficult yet profound chapter of scripture.

For those of you who are not familiar with this chapter, the beginning goes a little something like this, “What should we say then? Should we continue to sin so that grace may multiply? Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it” (Romans 6:1-2)?

Those two verses kill me sometimes. The most common lie the devil likes to tell me is this: “It’s okay. Just see what this is like. You can have grace later.” Romans 6 absolutely destroys this lie. So many times in my life, I have done things while thinking “I can always be forgiven later.” This is a terrible aspect of the human condition, but it is remarkably real in my life especially.

Going back to that Needotbreathe lyric. “Grace she comes with a heavy load / Memories they can’t be erased / Like a pill that’s swallowed that makes me well / But leaves an awful taste.” Grace cures, but memories don’t just die. Yes, I 100% believe that I have been forgiven for everything I have done, am doing, and will do. However, just because I have been forgiven of those things doesn’t mean I don’t still think about them. Even once the guilt and shame have been overcome through Jesus’ grace and forgiveness, there are still the memories of the things that I have done. I am not the same person because of things I have said, my mistakes, and choices I have made.

Sin isn’t an idle thing. Sin isn’t just something that you do that you need forgiveness for. Sin eats you alive, even after the actions have ceased. Sin destroys you. Sin changes you. Sin makes you see people differently. Sin makes you see God differently. The deeper you get into sin, the more grace you may receive, but the more difficult it is know what is true and what isn’t. Sin is darkness. Lies are darkness. One cannot focus on truth while living in sin. We say we have died to sin. Although, people still makes mistakes, and though we are all still growing and learning, sin is not something to be teased. Don’t play around with it. Sin is death. God meant that when he said it.

God is not trying to limit your life or keep you from doing things. God doesn’t want you to be hurt by your sin. God doesn’t want to see his children die from the inside out. God doesn’t want to see darkness take over you. God wants your life to be abundant. John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.” God’s rules are not legalistic. God’s rules are to make your life more abundant.

I know from personal experience that this is true. I have lived many years in darkness. I have returned to that same darkness many times, and each and every time it becomes more difficult to escape. Grace becomes harder and harder to swallow the more we live in sin. I am not saying that not sinning will make you happy all the time. I am saying that life will be much more fulfilling without sin and without the memories of sin.

God’s grace is beautiful. Just be careful not to sin with the thought that grace will follow. If you’re thinking about grace before the sin, you know better. Mistakes happen. Just don’t abuse God’s grace. It will only leave you empty and hurting.