Feeling is Great but Knowing is Everlasting (Or Half the Battle…Yo Joe!)

That song with the Michael Jackson hook “I always feel like somebody’s watching me”…what if it was instead “I always KNOW that someone is watching me”…that heightens the intensity of the problem.  To feel that someone’s watching would make you paranoid, to KNOW would enter you into fight/flight mode.  (Thanks to the Marine Corps my toggle switch for this mode has been snapped off on “fight” yut yut yay yut…so don’t sneak up on me creeper!)

I remember a while back watching a sermon on YouTube from Alistair Begg and I thought that he nailed something that I had never really sank my teeth into before.  Feeling comes and goes but knowing is what is needed.  He would go on about how miserable of a day he was having and then it always would send him over the edge when someone at church would ask him how he was feeling.  His premise was something like, “don’t ask me how I am feeling, ask me what I know.  I feel like crap right now but I am thankful that my hope is not in how I feel but in what I know.”  He then used this as a spring board into teaching that it is not our feelings or experiences in our life as Christians that are sustainable but it is what we know as a Christian according to God’s word that sustains us.

That has helped me out on many occasions.  Especially in those moments when I don’t “feel” saved.  Surely I am not the only one who has experienced what I am talking about.

Everybody tracking?  Good to go.

Then why do I see so many social media quick thoughts, sermons, books,  from Celebrity Pastors, non-Celebrity Pastors, celebrities who may be Christians but I am not sure if they have ever said that they are, seem to be constantly commenting on the “feels” of a Christian or give calls for an invitation to Christ, to Church, to an event in order to feel this or that, or even worse, to come to Jesus to receive the constant flow of Snake Oil Christianity.

Yeah I’m reaching way back in the ole DeLorean with Doc Brown on that reference.  If I need to explain what I meant by Snake Oil ask me in the comments below.

Am I the only one who is picking up this constant dropping of the glorification of “feels” and “desires” as the ends and Jesus as the means of obtaining them?

I call it Snake Oil Christianity because in a quick glance it is nothing more than throwing out a sales pitch; hoping that it touches the soon to be church member’s eye.  “Are you poor and wish you were rich?  Are you sick and wish you were well?  Are you weak and wish you were powerful?  Need a job, need a wife, need a life?  Well I have to cure all for you!  It is right here in these hand crafted bottles of mine.  Just one swig of Gimmieemystuffhallaluyarglawry Tonic and all of your problems will be washed away.  That’s right this ri cheer is the cure for what ails ya.  That’ll be $$$$$$ and buy the Gimmieemystuffhalluyarglawry Tonic companion gift set with my book “How Jesus’ Gimmiemystuffhallaljuarglawry Tonic Gave Me My wildest Dreams RAT NOW.”

Should I not be concerned (is it even my place to be concerned) that the constant theme that I am seeing in so many areas of what are Christian circles and preaching is nothing more than instant blessing; just add the Trinity to your will and stir in order to receive whatever it is you are looking for?

I used to fall into this trap.  I used to buy into Jesus is a means to an end way of thinking.  “I want this….where is Jesus at?  I need Him to make this happen.”

Just reading the Beatitudes over and over again, I am not sure how we can get the idea that Jesus said God wants you to be rich, mighty and powerful.  He might indeed!  I am not saying that He doesn’t!  I am confident that if He does it is not for your glory but for God’s and good grief peeppell…our leader was a man who suffered physically and was broke like no joke.  He even told us that the world would hate us and that we would be persecuted because of Him.  His original 12…I think one died of old age but that was in exile (John on the Isle of Patmos I think).  The rest surely didn’t get “Their Best Life Now” according to the standards of the world but got their worst way to die right now…beheadings, impaling’s, stoning’s, upside down crucifixions you know the good stuff.  Let us not forget the early Christians who were sport in the Roman Coliseum either…

But if you were to ask them…because they KNEW that they had been given the grace of God…they would more than likely say that they had their best life now because they know that the life that they have is the life of Jesus.

Yes, we are to make our requests to God.  Yes, even when we do treat God like a genie in a bottle more than we do our Heavenly Father, He still loves us and still wants us around and His grace is still on us. Man that is good news….this grace stuff…I can’t get enough!

My goal is not to make you feel guilty.  My goal is to help you realize that as a child of God, the odds are…what you are really longing for (comfort, peace, love, joy, identity, purpose, etc.) you already have in Christ.

My 3 year old son often treats me the way I often treat God and it makes me smile because I realize that he doesn’t think that I know what game he is playing.  He gets very sweet, shows some affection and hits me with the hook, “can I pweese watch Wallykazam daddy?” while I am watching the Atlanta Hawks game.

I smile and hook him up with Wally because I love him and he said the magic word, so I am sure God feels the same some times.

BUT if I knew that there was something better to give him than Wallykazam…why would I let him settle for the cheap stuff?  Yeah, he might throw a fit “I WANT WALLAKAZAHHHM” but I may be planning something better for him…like hanging out with daddy.  Which is what happened last night and he loved it.  He wanted a mustache like daddy (don’t laugh it is still in the early stage!) So we spent time looking for something to make him a mustache with (pipe cleaners from my wife’s craft station stash…I’m sure she won’t mind).  At that point he had forgotten all about Wallykazam…and then I put it on without him asking…much to his joy.

If I knew that by giving Him something different or using his time in a different way would bring him more joy (even if meant temporary hardship) would I not want to hook him up with that instead?

God is God.  He is sovereign and there is nothing outside of his ability.  If there was anything that could bind God or halt God from accomplishing His will, then He would no longer be God.  His love for me is displayed through the grace that he gave to me in His Son Jesus.  After letting that sink in, knowing what God has done for me, changed everything.  What stuff…oh yeah that cheap stuff I was praying for yesterday…

The inspiration for this blog or rant is nothing more than I want everyone to experience the awe and the wonder of God’s grace for sinners.  It has conquered me, defeated me and raised me from the dead.  It has changed everything in my life.  God’s grace through faith in Christ has been the lone defining point in me.  It is No Longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.  All because of God’s love and His grace for loser, sinner me. Knowing this has caused me to have side eyes at Gimmieemystuffhallaluyarglawry Tonic and

I just don’t understand how I ever got over the truth of God’s grace to ever want to move on to talk about anything else.

And that is why I definitely have my eye on Snake Oil Christianity.

Verses that I love to Read When I need to remember what I KNOW.  Notice how a lot of these verses are telling us something that God is doing has done or will do.  Not suggestions or conditional hopes…but something that is happening will happen or has happened.  I love the “will’s, is’s and are’s”:

Galatians 2:19-21

Ephesians 2:8-9

Ok so really Ephesians 2:1-22

Hebrews 13:5-6

Philippians 4:6-7

Romans 6:1-4

Romans 8:28…ok all of Romans 8

Romans 8:38-39

Romans 8:1

2 Corinthians 5:21

Romans 5:8

1 Peter 5:7

John 11:25-26

Matthew 11:29-30

John 3:16

Matthew 28:20

2 Corinthians 12:9

Romans 6:14

Romans 11:6

James 4:6

Hebrews 4:16

John 1:16

Romans 3:20-24

2 Timothy 1:9

John 1:14

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The Year Of The Lord’s Favor

I ran across something over the internets a couple of weeks ago that produced an initial response in my gut of, quite honestly, sadness.  I thought of all of the people who would read what I had just read and think

“that’s my way out, that is how I will overcome my trial, that is how I will be able to survive,    that is how I will be able to prosper.”  That is how I

That is how I

That is how I

How I

How I

I

I

I

Being a Marine, this has me thinking about that poor recruit at boot camp who couldn’t get the whole “referring to self in third person” order down pat from the Drill Instructor.  I, me, my, our, us, we, was never allowed to come from your “filthy face.”  Only “this recruit, the recruit or these recruits” would be acceptable…

All this I and “self” stuff…What about Jesus?  What about His finished work?  What about sufficiency in Him?  What about His grace being sufficient?  That is how I?  What about that is WHAT Jesus did?

What about deny self?

What about Follow Christ?

What about No longer I who live but Christ who lives in me?

I immediately thought about everyone who would read what I had just read; to perform a specific spiritual discipline in order to obtain “increase” and assume that this is a call to fast and pray in order to receive increase from God.  There was a reference to this year as “the year of increase.”

I thought about all of the people who would be placing their faith into something that they are physically doing (spiritual discipline, works) in order to receive something that they believe that they need or believe that they should have already and are fretting over their lack of favor/increase.

DISCLAIMER:  CALM DOWN

I am not anti-favor, anti-increase or anti-spiritual disciplines.

In NO WAY is this a slap against spiritual disciplines or anti-bringing requests to God.  The Bible says to bring your requests to God WITH THANKSGIVING AND SUPPLICATION (Philippians 4:6-7).

Also, make note that we are to pray for God’s will to be done…this means that we are stating that if our requests are running in a different direction than what God would will, what His plan and His character would desire for us, then we are effectively asking for anything that is outside of the will, character and plan that God has for our life to NOT come to pass…

Yet we get mad when we don’t get our way…or don’t have our prayer answered the way we like.

We much rather our plans,

our desires,

our will come to pass and it will make us feel righteous, all high, mighty and anointed if God were to give it the green light/blessing.

We do not desire God’s will; we desire our will with the righteous comfort of God’s stamp of approval…so that we are still righteous, amirite?  C’mon…surely I can’t be the only one who has done this in the past…

If you desire to utilize a spiritual discipline as a form of worship rather than a form of magic, then by all means, do not let me or anyone other than God tell you to be silent.  It pleases God and magnifies His glory when we make Him the source of everything in our life (as if He isn’t already).  When we seek His provision we are showing our dependency on God and not on anything or anyone else.

Side Note:  A spiritual discipline that is produced naturally by your new nature in Christ should be what is valued not a bare branch which is what only the old nature of you all by yourself could ever produce.

Good works and spiritual disciplines are good things but not things that WE can fulfill.  Only Jesus can do that…which is why we need Him and when we do works it is out of a nature that we already have in Christ and not a nature that we wish we had (unless we are not in Christ).

In Christ alone will we find complete fulfillment of all the righteousness that we NEED.

Without Christ we have nothing.

Jesus + Something=Nothing  | Jesus + Nothing=Everything

But I have good news for those who may use spiritual disciplines as a magic spell mistakenly thinking that it will conjure up a desire that you have…

Well, first the bad news.  Good news is only good news when you know the bad news.

  • The desires of your human flesh-heart are not desires for God but for sin, more specifically for self. To desire “self” more than God is sin.
  • This nature will lead to a desire that leads to a choice that you will make. The choice that you make comes from the desire of your heart which will be according to your nature.  Does that make sense?
  • The nature of self, the sin nature of self will desire things that are not of God…this nature cannot desire the things that are of God because it is spiritually dead…dead is dead and cannot act…

Good news…

  • If you are in Christ, you have a new nature that will give you new desires that will influence new choices.
  • If you are in Christ, you already have all the increase that you will ever need. God’s grace supplies that in the reality that you are in Christ and that He lives through you.
  • If you are in Christ, every time you choose to follow the desires of the nature of self, God’s grace is and was enough to cover that sin, that mistake. It is finished means “it is finished (John 19:30).”
  • If you are in Christ, there is enough grace to cover you even when you try to use spiritual disciplines like magic. Yup, there is enough grace for that too (GLAWRY BE!)
  • If you are in Christ, resting in Christ is far greater than the anxiety, exhaustion and guilt that the Law gives. The Law gives the desire for you to feel that you NEED to do something in order to receive the Favor of God.
  • If you are in Christ, you do not “need” to do anything for God. He has already taken care of everything in Christ.  It is done.  A done deal.  It’s over.  It is really over…

I believe it was Tullian Tchividjian who I read saying something similar to:  Now that you realize that there is nothing that you “have” to do for God, What do you want to do?

If it is a spiritual discipline then PRAISE GOD for it will be Him alone that gets the glory.

Becoming a Christian, being saved by Jesus is not a means to an end, it IS the end.  A prayer for increase from Christ may appear as a conundrum when in reality there is nothing greater to increase into from Christ.

What happens when your expectations of worldly increase do not come to fruition?  Or worse, what happens when they do?  I can only imagine the damage that prosperity has done to an individual…leaving them to feel without a need for Christ…

Do you want Christ more, relax in Him more, rest in Him more, worship Him more for “increase?”  Has your faith now been placed in something else other than Christ?  Doing that will leave you anxious, guilty, burned out, exhausted and worrisome…I promise!

I know, I’ve seen me do it!

Do you not realize that when given God’s grace you already have everything?  You already have increase?  It is already yours?

In Christ you ALREADY are favored by God.  You already have favor, you already have strength, you already have joy, you already have love… all because you have Christ!  Christ is love!

Have you ever (like me) prayed that God would give you strength?

What if I told you that God IS your strength through Jesus…

There is a difference in praying for God’s portion and praising Him because you know that He IS your portion.

Everything that the Law and every end goal of every spiritual discipline that the Old Covenant hoped to obtain is impossible for anyone to fulfill (apart from Christ) and it was given freely as a gift of grace to sinners in the New Covenant!  Whenever this truth hits me I can’t help but think of the beginning of that old song “Shout”

Weeeeeheeeeehheeheeeeeell……you knowyoumakemewanna…SHOUT

As I was typing this all out and finding my self-righteousness flame I praise God for His grace on me the sinner and then for giving me the thought see and ask;

“How do you know that anyone is thinking what you are thinking?  Maybe you are the only one who is assuming the motive behind what you read.  Make sure that you are not doing anything in order to receive anything that your “self” may want to receive….which surely left unchecked, will desire something more than/different than Christ. Make sure that your desire to write this blog is a desire to glorify God and to share the message of God’s grace through Jesus with others for God’s glory not yours.

What is your motive Zack; to point to Jesus or to point to you?”

Gulp…

I am fearful of that thought for I know the nature of my “self” and I do not trust it’s/my motives.  All I do know is that the message of the grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ has changed my life and has given me so much peace, rest, love and joy.  I truly want and desire for others to experience Jesus in a way that sets them free, which is exactly why He came in the first place (Luke 4:18).

Stop right there…

While looking up that verse

As I am typing this, praise God, look at the verse after 18:

“to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:19).”

That was Jesus quoting the book of Isaiah……the year of the Lord’s favor….the year of increase IS referring to Jesus.  The year of the Lord’s favor is referring to when Jesus came to earth.

The Lord’s favor IS Jesus.

Therefore we can stop looking for the Lord’s “favor” because WE ALREADY HAVE it if Christ has us.

And then like a flood God’s grace swept over me even more and the tension in my shoulders gave way

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,”     2 Peter 1:3

“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”    Romans 11:36

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”   2  Corinthians 12:9

It is like fasting and praying for increase when increase was already poured out and dumped all over you…you are covered in favor for you are covered by the blood of Jesus…

When is the year of the Lord’s favor?

Correction…When was the year of the Lord’s favor?

Answer:  The time when Jesus came to Earth to save Sinners…

WOW.

THANK YOU JESUS.

I’ve got nothing after that…I don’t need any more I don’t think…sometimes all we can do is stand in awe and praise God…come to think of it…there is nothing else I’d rather do…

The Little Engine Who Can’t

We all know the old story, (or maybe it is just fresh on my mind being the daddy of a 3 year old) about the brave little engine who with all her might and despite her lack of ability climbed the top of the mountain to bring all of the snacks, candy and toys to the little boys and girls on the other side of the mountain.  While huffing and puffing up the mountain the brave little engine kept saying the same thing over and over again “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”  Sound familiar now?  It was a heroic moment.  It taught little boys and little girls that it is wrong to come with the attitude of “that’s not my job” and it is right to try to help others who are in need regardless of what you may believe your ability to help may be.  It also was a lesson in heart and actually trying to do something to help others.  It promoted action rather than inaction and that is a very good thing.  That is a very American thing.  To pull oneself up by their own bootstraps and get to work is antithetical to what sometimes feels like the majority of the political voices in American are saying today.  The modern “Little Engine That Could” would probably have a Federal Government Seal emblazoned on the side of it’s iron hide.  However, this post is not about American exceptionalism, capitalism, politics or anything like that.  I do love politics and find it fascinating but right now is neither the time nor the place therefore, I digress.

When reflecting on the story of “the Little Engine that Could” in a Christian perspective, biblical reality seems to go in a different direction in the understanding of how this story should turn out.  The reality of life will find that many of us, if not most of us, find ourselves bogged down and exhausted with life.  We try harder, try to live better, doing righter, keep on keepin’ on, struggling to finish the race well and finishing the race well seems to somehow always paint a picture in our minds of running a race alone and all by ourselves.  Why do we never see Jesus as the one who is running our race?  We even rely on and declare funny sayings that we think are in the Bible but really are not like, “God helps those who help themselves” and “God will never give you more than you can handle.”  NEITHER of these statements are found in the Bible and quite frankly are against what God’s Word actually says and teaches.  They may be found on coffee cups but not in God’s Word.

The reality is that God often, if not most of the time, gives us things that we cannot handle.  He does so specifically and purposefully so that we will come to the realization that we NEED His help.  Look at the Law.  It is impossible.  You cannot handle it on your own.  Yet somehow in the name of free will and individualism we pervert the understanding of both to love and latch on to the idea that we can be in control and if we work hard enough and try hard enough we can figure out how to keep the law and how to win at life for our own righteousness sake.  Take note that this is done for our own righteousness sake and never in worship of God’s namesake and the righteousness of Christ.  Yet in our self-help, self-worth, self-pride, worship of the idol of self in the religion of “me” we look as if we are a little engine struggling, pulling, tugging up a mountain saying “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can, I think I can” and never moving an inch.  Sometimes slipping and sliding down the track until we hit rock bottom.

Yet rock bottom is where Jesus often meets us isn’t?  It is in those moments of “I can’t.  I can’t do this.  I give up” where Jesus reaches out his hand and offers Himself, His ability, His strength, His hope, His way, His truth, His life to us.  Not his help.   He is NOT our co-pilot.  He does not help us to make it happen.  He MAKES it happen.  It is ALL on him.  He IS the pilot, he IS our life, he IS the catalyst, the ignition, the initiator.  We never start looking for Jesus without God’s gift of grace placing the desire in our heart to look for Jesus.  We love Him because He first loved us.  We need to realize that we are the Little Engine Who Can’t and rejoice in the fact that God has given us His grace in the ability to understand and see that truth about us. (Those who do not understand this truth have not been given God’s grace and understanding to see it for they are not the children of God.  This will sound offensive to them and will only harden their heart more.  Think Pharaoh in Exodus and what the Old and New Testament say about Him and his relationship with God.  The heart that receives by faith in the truth of God’s gift of grace through faith in Christ is a heart that has already been changed, regenerated by God in order to receive this as truth…heavy stuff, I know, so maybe a future post can explain all of this).

Since we are on the topic of childhood memories, remember the first Church song you remember being sung?  For me it was “Jesus Loves Me.”  One of the key lines in the song is “they are weak but He is strong.”  Remember that and hold on to that.  Apart from Christ you will never ever EVER reach the top of the mountain.  Yet, the moment that you give up and look to Jesus for His finished work, for His peace for His love for His forgiveness for God’s grace,  is the moment that the Engine Who is the Way, the Truth and the Life steps in to take over everything.  EH VA REE THANG.  You never stop being the Little Engine Who Can’t but you have a friend and a master in the Engine Who is the Way.  When He covers you with His own power and nature, you have a new nature being in Him.  With His covering, it is His ability that is now in control and getting the job done.

He cannot be stopped.

He cannot be exhausted.

His grace cannot be swallowed up by your inability and failure.

He has enough grace to cover it all and all of you.

And He is always on time.

God WILL give you more than you can handle.  Those moments are given as a gift of grace to realize how much you need Jesus, how your only hope is if you are in Him.  Use those moments to praise God that He is able to bring you through on the other side of the mountain.   Smile, praise and worship God, enjoy the ride, and rest in the finished work of the Engine Who is the Way the Truth and the Life.

Let this new found freedom and rest motivate you and inspire you to call out to others, “All aboard.”

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  

John 14:6

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 

2 Corinthians 12:9 

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” 

Matthew 5:17

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” 

Matthew 11:28-30 

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 

1 John 4:10

as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 

Romans 3:10-12

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”  

John 6:44

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” 

Matthew 16:24-25

 “I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day!” 

1 Corinthians 15:31

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  

Galatians 2:20

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  

Ephesians 2:8-9

 

What Is A Child Of God?

A lot of my past and future posts may refer to a particular topic or condition that is contingent upon being a child of God.  For example I may write something along the lines of, “if you are a child of God.”  I even referenced in a previous post that I would create a post that answered the question “what is a child of God?”  First and foremost, I am not referring to the Son of God, Jesus.  Nor am I suggesting that people can one day become divine or God-like with God-like creative capabilities, that is completely different from Christianity and I would put this litmus test in front of anyone who would suggest that you can be a follower of Christ, a Christian, and believe that man can one day become gods or demigods (son of god like Hercules):

Litmus Test

  • What do you believe about the Person and Work of Jesus?
  • What do you believe about the Trinity?
  • Do you believe in justification by faith alone?
  • What do you believe about the authority of scripture?

How that individual answers these questions will give you a pretty good idea whether or not they are following the Jesus of the New Testament.  There are many different versions of Jesus that try to mislead people to believe a false version or anti version of Him…Biblical Eschatology refers to these false Jesus’s as anti-christs (not to be confused with THE anti-christ).

To help clear up any further understanding when I refer to a “child of God” in the remainder of this post I will be referring to what the Bible defines it to be, just to make sure that we are all on the same page.

Where were we…ah yes “What is a Child of God?”   Maybe it would first help to list some scripture, place some Bible down as the foundation that we play on top of in this post.   In no way is this an exhaustive or complete referencing of what the Bible says about what a child of God is but it is just a snipit.

John 1:12:  “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” 

To be honest that was pretty straight forward and more direct than I had previously thought.  Of course the “he” in this passage is referring to Jesus.  If you need more Bible (who doesn’t?) here are some more verses that help in understanding what or who is a child of God:

Galatians 3:25 “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”

1 John 3:10 “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.”

Romans 8:14-17 “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.  For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

Hopefully that helps…now here is a follow up question to the question that this post is featuring…how do I become a child of God?  That will be for another post….

Why another post?  Because there is a quick answer and then a really deep, deep, heavy (Marty McFly voice) answer….but it has given me such comfort and joy….and peace in knowing how I became a child of God…I have truly been set free and liberated by knowing how it all happened…

As a teaser into the future post that answers the question “How do I become a child of God?”  take a look at this to prepare you for what lies ahead.  I pray that the Lord will bless you and guide you in His will and His purpose for you and your life:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.  In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”

Ephesians 1:3-14

Reference List

All Bible references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

No Longer I

I thought I would take the time to introduce myself with a little more detail than what my profile says.  I am a rare native of Georgia and an even rarer native of Atlanta (statistics in 2008 said that roughly 60% of people living in Georgia were born in Georgia and just 30% of people living in Atlanta are actually from Atlanta). I currently live in Sugar Hill, GA which is in Gwinnett county just NE of Atlanta.  I am a fan of all Atlanta sports teams, which proves that I have to be a subscriber to grace, mercy, hope, loyalty, love and long suffering.  I am unashamed to admit that I am a fan of the Falcons, Hawks, the 2017Atlanta MLS team and I am a fan of the Braves who can remember when Dale Murphy was the only reason to go to a game. I grew up watching NASCAR with my grandfather back when Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Bill Elliott were the names to beat. I currently root for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and up and coming son of Bill Elliott, Chase Elliott. I am also an avid supporter of the USA Men’s soccer team. My father went to the University of Georgia so I have been barking like a Georgia Bulldawg all my life and believe it is no coincidence that the Bible is written in red and black (humor). I graduated from Kennesaw State University with a B.A. in History and I am looking forward to their first football season in 2015.  I currently have only 4 classes left of my Masters of Divinity degree in Theological Studies at Liberty Theological Seminary and I am a huge Liberty Flames fan! I enjoy sports but I have learned not to allow them to rule and run my life or become so emotionally entangled with my fandom that it jeopardizes or harms my relationship with God.

I was raised in a Christian home and realized that Jesus had claimed me as “His”, repented of my sins and believed in Christ at a young age in 1989. I thank my parents often for the foundation that they laid for my life. In April of 2003, I joined the United States Marine Corps and served for five years. During those five years I made many mistakes and rebelled against all that I knew was right and pleasing to God. There were many times where God made it crystal clear to me that He had a plan for my life and that He was protecting me in a mighty way. One of the sparks that helped my spiritual awakening from my sinful coma was a radio program by Ravi Zacharias that I would listen to inside a small Barracks room in North Carolina. The seed of an obsessive desire to draw closer to God, share with others the Gospel and an interest in apologetics kindled in me in late 2007.

In 2012 I knew that I had the desire to pursue a M.Div. at Liberty University but I had no further direction than that. I struggled for months with the thought of “wasting” my military service benefits on higher education other than a discipline that would better prepare me for the business world or something more “stable” according to the world. The closer I sought the Lord, the more push back I got from these thoughts and I stepped out in peaceful faith that I was doing the right thing. Not only have I for the first time in my life been able to now live with such peace and freedom out of total surrender to Christ, I have been so incredibly blessed for attending Liberty. Once I surrendered my plans to Christ, He is revealing His plans for me. My thirst for apologetics has increased over the years from that seed that was planted in 2007 in my Marine barracks room.

What really plunged me forward in this were the questions that one college age young man had for me. Some of the questions I was able to answer with confidence, the others not so much. This motivated me to pursue studying the answers or how to answer. It has opened my realization to loving the Lord with not only with all my heart, soul, and strength but MIND as well. As I surrender to Christ daily, the more I realize that He is all that I need and that He is worthy of all that I am. Knowing that He is in control is a type of relief that I cannot fully explain and I am confident that only the one who experiences it for themselves can fully understand. I am now in a place where I not only love Jesus because all that He has done for me, but because of Who He is.

The Lord has blessed me so much through all of this to draw me closer to Him and I am so excited to see what He has planned.  I am not sure where exactly He plans to take me, but knowing that He will be with me is all the confidence that I need.  I have 0% confidence in me but I have 100% confidence in Christ!  My favorite Bible verse is Galatians 2:20; “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  This is where the name of this blog comes from, “No Longer I.”  The more I press into the reality of who I am in Christ, the more I realize that it is truly, “no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”  This has helped me to understand the true freedom, liberty and joy in Christ that comes from saving faith in Him.  It has helped me to see that when I examine myself to see if I am in the faith, if I am looking to see how I am growing, how I am doing better spiritually, then I do not understand spiritual growth, do not understand grace, and do not understand what Jesus meant when He said, “it is finished.”  Whenever I or anyone else examines ourselves to see if we are in the faith, if we do not think of Jesus and what He has done as the source for our faith and examination then our hope is placed in our “doing better” “trying harder” “living righter” attempt at life than Jesus’s conquering and fulfilling of it.  Salvation comes by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone.

I yearn for and desire the growing bond and cooperation between followers of Christ, no matter denomination, geographical location, cultural difference, barriers to language or personal Biblical convictions that are not essentials in order to be considered a follower of Christ.  I yearn for a united Church who is united by a belief in the person and work of Jesus Christ, justification by faith alone, the Trinity and the authority of Scripture.

I believe that America is in need of and is on the verge of another Great Awakening or potentially another Reformation.  Yet instead of the Protestant Reformation that was ignited by Martin Luther in 1517 in response to the Catholic Church, I believe that if a Reformation occurs it will be in response to the American Western Evangelical Church.  None of this will be achieved without a serious repentance and return to a church life of prayer.  I have an amazing wife and 3 year old little boy who are both showing me a kind of love that is beyond what I deserve. Every time I am around my wife I am reminded how God likes to show off. Every time I am around my son, I am reminded how much it cost God to send His Son to the cross and how much God loves me.

I have recently been capture by God’s amazing grace.  More so than I ever have before.  I have always enjoyed God’s grace but not at the level that I am right now.  I am currently soaking up material that is being presented by individuals like Tullian Tchividjian, Steve Brown, ministries like Liberate and Key Life.  If the American Western Evangelical Church experiences a Reformation it will again be because we have uncovered the joy of God’s grace once again.  To give a better idea of what I am referring to, please allow this illustration that I found in Tullian Tchividjian’s book, “One Way Love.”

“As Robert Capon writes:

The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellar full of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two-hundred proof Grace—bottle after bottle of pure distilate of Scriputre, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly.  The word of the Gospel—after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps–suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started (Tchividjian 2013, 24).”

May you be overwhelmed and in awe of God’s glory and grace where you cannot help but desire to worship Him and enjoy in the joy that comes from doing so.

Because He Lives,

Zachary James Cole (a sinner who Jesus loved and died for)

Reference List

Tchividjian, Tullian.  2013.  “One Way Love.” Colorado Springs: David C. Cook.

Radical Grace

Radical Grace

A few years ago I read a book by David Platt titled, Radical.  For those who haven’t read it there is a call to take part in something Platt calls the Radical Experiment.  It consists of the following components:

  1. Pray for the entire world;
  2. Read through the entire Word;
  3. Sacrifice your money for a specific purpose;
  4. Spend your time in another context;
  5. Commit your life to a multiplying community (Platt 2010, 183).

I tried to apply most of the components of the experiment in my life and did so with excitement.  I soaked up the message and realized the importance of the call to live radically for God and for others.  I subscribed to the email posts by Operation World as Platt mentions in his final chapter in order to pray for the world (Platt 2010, 189).  It lead me to seek out organizations like Voice of the Martyrs where I have a calendar on my desk that has a prayer for a specific people group and or fellow Christians throughout the world each day.  I am thankful for how God has used Radical in my life to wake me from my realization that modern American Christianity and my perpetuation of its continuance was wrong.

However, I came to learn very quickly that it is easy for me to fail when it comes to following the challenge to live radically for Jesus.  I also learned that I will continue to fail often in trying to hold true to this challenge loyally every day.  I mean I can fake it outwardly and make people think that I am doing it well.  But if my motive in doing so is so that others will think highly of me rather than highly of God, does it not render my efforts as being misguided or even sinful?  If my motive to live radically is so that others or even just myself would see/reflect on the perception of me living radically for God, wouldn’t that be a pursuit to feed my own pride?  If I thought that it would result in making me feel better about myself so that my self-pride could be fed, just like my flesh desires for it to be, would that not be wrong?

Even if that was my motive, I did not get very far.  It was quick to wear me out, leaving me feeling exhausted, wore out, feeling like I had failed God, that He was disappointed in me and that I was willing and understanding to accept whatever punishment or pause on any blessings that He had for me if I had simply remained faithful to Him and to the Radical Experiment.  I tried to do it on my own and it left me feeling hopeless and burned out.

That is where I went about it all wrong.  I tried.  I tried when I was supposed to “die.”  Die daily (1 Corinthians 15:31).  Deny myself, take up my cross and follow Christ (Matthew 16:24).  I tried to do it without resting in the grace and finished work of Jesus (Hebrews 4:1-4).

Because I am in Christ, because I have been covered by God’s grace and the righteousness of Christ; all of my mistakes, failures, sin, misguided attempts at righteous acts with sinful motives have already been consumed and atoned for on the cross by Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Jesus meant it when He said “it is finished (John 19:30).”  I am free to live dangerously following Christ.  Because I am a child of God “there is therefore now no condemnation for” me (Romans 8:1).   When the devil reminds me of who I am without Christ while I am falling and failing miserably making my sad attempt to live the Radical life, I now remind Him of who I am in Christ while resting on Christ who actually did live the Radical life.  My joy no longer hinges on how well or how awful I am doing but hinges on how well Jesus lived His life for me so that it may be imputed and blanketed over me.

Joy that is grounded in what Jesus did cannot be shaken because Jesus lived out life perfectly.  It is the life of Jesus that pleases God.  It is Jesus only who was able to fulfill the law and fulfill all righteousness.  This was the plan all along.  Jesus did this so that the Father might be glorified when out of His love, mercy and grace He offers us this gift of Jesus’ fulfillment of God’s law and fulfillment of all righteousness to us for us to wear like a robe.  Not because we deserve it, but because we don’t deserve it, realize we don’t deserve it and are given the desire by God to ask for it which then leads to it being given to us freely, lovingly, mercifully and gracefully from God.

AND it pleases Him to lavishly coat us in it (check out Ephesians 1 and Luke 12:32).

Do I desire to live radically for Jesus?  Yes of course.  Do I always faithfully live radically for Jesus?  No, I fail often.  I do not look to fail or like it when I do, but I do.  “Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 7:24-25)!”  My joy is in knowing that God knows and knew that I would fall and yet while I was still a sinner Jesus died for me (Romans 5:8).”  I now can live the Radical life without fear and without hesitancy because I take comfort in knowing that Jesus has already lived the Radical life for me.

There is no fear.

There is no anxiety.

There is no burden.

There is no guilt.

There is no shame.

There is no “me.”

There is no “self.”

There is no longer “I.”

There is now no condemnation for me when I desire to please God now because Jesus has done that for me already and has given it to me as a gift of God’s grace.  I have traded the heavy impossible yoke that I was carrying for the yoke of Jesus (Matthew 11:29-30).  The reality that it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me, has literally changed everything (Galatians 2:20).  Everything.

No

Longer

I

10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. 

Galatians 3:10-14, ESV

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Romans 1:16-17, ESV

 

Reference List

Platt, David.  2010.  Radical.  Colorado Springs: Multnomah.

He Found Me

The other night a small group of friends and I from our church packed up our green Church van with blankets, coats, jackets, hats, gloves, clothes, sandwiches, water, cookies and self-made personal hygiene kits and headed into Downtown Atlanta.  With all most all of the seats out of the van it felt like we were the A-Team on a mission.  I may have just dated myself there…it was like driving in the Turtle Van on a mission…that may have been just as bad.  Basically it was a rush and a feel of excitement and thrill of not knowing what may lie ahead but knowing what our mission was.  Our mission:  to seek out in the streets of Atlanta for those who were less fortunate than ourselves.  Our goal:  to show the love of Christ through caring for and giving those in need the items that we have collected from generous individuals.  It was dark out and cold out (well…it was to me…I may not be a fair assessment of what you might consider cold.  Anything below 78 degrees is cold).

We drove down dark streets and vacant parking lots looking for potential people to approach.  As we met individuals on our mission many were cold, many did not need all that we had to offer and only accepted what they needed at that time.  They wore what they had, bundled up some even bundled up on the side walk.  Some smelling like booze, almost all looking unclean and worn out.  Some appeared to be mentally disturbed and not sure what it is we were doing but almost all thanked us for what we were doing.  Many showed their appreciation and surprise.  Some were even hostile and demanding more from us but they were outnumbered by the look in several eyes that seemed to carry such a burden yet seemed to carry such appreciation that we had approached them and met them on a cold Georgia night.  I can even remember one of the individuals that we would meet raise his hand and say “God bless you in the name of Jesus.”  It went off and felt like a thunderclap in the night.  Everyone that we met was a person, someone who was created in the image of God.  It was His love that compelled us to seek out show our love to them.

Yes, there are places that these people can go and yes many of them choose not to in order to live a life of their choosing with their rules and their will.  Many I am sure may simply feel lost and without hope.  Is this not the same way we were when the Holy Spirit first found us?  Choosing to live by our rules, our will and our control?  Hiding in the shadows of my depravity, trying to find warmth under a cold concrete overpass in my heart with nothing to wear but my sin, I can remember feeling the touch of the Master.

He drove down the dark alleys of my soul but He knew exactly where He would find me.  He gazed down the cold and dark vacant lots of my life.  He carried with Him living water and the bread of life and met me where I was and said that they were both for me.  You see I did not go looking for Him, He came looking for me.  GLORY HALLALUJAH MY GOD AND MY KING KNEW ME AND CAME LOOKING FOR ME!  How can I not drop to my knees and cry “Holy?”  The Holy Spirit was on a mission, to draw me to Him, to call me out from where I was from the darkness so that He might lavishly gift me with His grace.  I had and still have nothing to offer Him.  There was nothing on me that I could have ever given Him to deserve or earn what He gave me next.  He led me to the Father, to God, Who knew me by name and knew me before the foundation of the world was laid (Ephesians 1:4).  He called me, He found me, He sought me and bought me.  I am now a child of God.  I have been adopted into His family and His house. I was given that wonderful amazing gift of God’s grace.  Salvation came to me by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.  God chose me, I did not choose Him (John 15:16) and that produces a joy in me that is unmatched.  It pleased God to save me, to adopt me and to lavishly cover me with His grace.  So when He loved me and bid me “follow Me” what other choice was there?   What other joy was there?  What other hope and wonder was there?  Just as my friends and I sought out those who were in need, God sent His Son so that the Holy Spirit would seek out me, for I was in need of Jesus.  Is He in front of you right now as you read this?  Has the Holy Spirit found you where you are, what country you are in, what alley you are trying to find warmth in on a cold winter night?  I pray that He too bids you “follow Me.”  Won’t you follow Him and take what He is offering?  It is the greatest thing that has ever happen to me, when Jesus found me and called me by His grace.  I pray that He is calling you as well.

“3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”

Ephesians 1:3-14, ESV