Trying harder is not your best option

Try harder! Try harder! It is the mantra of both American culture and American Christianity.

Do you want to get ahead? Work harder!

Do you want to excel? Do more!

Do you want to be a better Christian? Strive more intensely!

Do you need to deal with some sin or struggle in your life? Start fighting to overcome it!

This is common fare in many Sunday morning sermons, and on the surface it sounds like wise counsel. The Apostle Paul talked about “pressing toward the mark” and “fighting the good fight,” and the author of Hebrews even said, “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your own blood.” So apparently, there is a greater striving to be reached and a fiercer resistance to be waged. However, the striving and the resistance are not the starting points.

The reason we sin is because we love it. Sin is not an annoyance that we need to deal with, it is something that we have actually grown to love. Granted, it is possible to both love and despise our sin simultaneously, but the reality is that if we only hated it, we wouldn’t keep returning to it. So, technically speaking, we don’t primarily have “sin” issues we actually have “love” issues.

The first step in moving beyond a lesser love or addiction is to develop a greater love. We cannot merely tell ourselves, “Stop sinning! God hates it and it isn’t good for me. It will hurt me in the long run, and I need to be a better person.” All of those sentiments may be true, but none of them can cure our longing for the sin, unless we learn to long for something greater.

Here is how one of America’s early Pilgrims expressed it in The Valley of Vision: “Teach me to believe that if ever I would have any sin subdued I must not only labor to overcome it, but must invite Christ to abide in the place of it, and He must become to me more than (the sin) had been; His sweetness, power, life must be there.”[1] In other words, we overcome sin when we begin to love God more than our sin; we say no to lesser loves when we encounter something greater to say “yes” to.

Let’s process this in our hearts with God. Let’s admit that we love our vices. And then rather than beating ourselves up and pledging another round of well-intended vows, let’s ask God for a greater love. Let’s ask Him to reveal Jesus to us and introduce the Holy Spirit to us to such a degree that everything else grows dim by comparison.

[1] Arthur Bennet, Editor, The Valley of Vision (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975), 295.

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Strength to Love–Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day! As we pause this week to ponder Dr. King’s contribution to the cause of justice and equality in our nation and world, I want to suggest a resource that I think you will love. Dr. King’s book, Strength to Love, is one of the best books I have read in years.

It is a compilation of some of his most dynamic sermons, carefully edited and arranged into book form, and it is powerfully compelling. In this book, Dr. King is  intellectual, philosophical, and biblical, and his insights are eerily prophetic for our times. In the introduction, his wife, Coretta Scott King, wrote, “If there is one book Martin Luther King, Jr. has written that people consistently tell me has changed their lives, it is Strength to Love.” Those words certainly proved true for me too. This book is definitely in the top ten list of the best books I have read this past decade. I have inserted a link here so you can peruse it on Amazon.

But regardless of whether you care about reading this book or not, let’s remember our three best friends this week: faith, love, and hope. As Dr. King did in his day and context, let’s live lives of intentional faith, let’s model love, and let’s never stop speaking God’s hope to our world.

God bless you!

Pardon written in the wounds of Jesus

Your have been pardoned, and your proof is written in the wounds of Jesus.

I know it is Christmas time and we are supposed to be thinking about the birth of Jesus, but this past week, I have been gripped with a thought concerning His death. His death decreed our pardon, our forgiveness, and our release from sin.

Isaiah said, “He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

I have needed that, have you? I have transgressed, I have been caught in iniquity, I have failed my loved ones, and I have needed pardon.

Pardon is amazing. To be guilty and then to be set free is a gift of immeasurable proportions, and it changes everything for the freed. Life is sweeter when it gets returned to us. Decisions matter more when we actually have the freedom to make them. Our blessings are more potent when we know we don’t fully deserve them.

Exiting presidents often issue presidential pardons in their final moments in office, and the recipients of those pardons get a second chance to begin again. How amazing to have received something greater than the forgiveness of a human president, how amazing to be forgiven by God!

It did not come cheaply. Although we call God’s forgiveness a free gift, it did not come to us easily or casually. It was purchased by the ultimate act of love, a love that absorbed unthinkable pain and stared down death itself.

Let’s exult in our forgiveness. Let’s strive to live lives that never need to ask for it again. Let’s be quick to extend pardon to the people who fail us, and let’s grow into God’s beautiful blend of truth, justice, and unquenchable grace. Your pardon has been written in the wounds of Jesus, and the life you are dreaming of is found in Him.

Love built this

There are two things happening in and through your life, whether you realize it or not: you are becoming what you love, and you are building what you love.

It is an undeniable fact of life that we humans begin to resemble what we love. If we love kindness and honor and courage, we begin to resemble those things. Conversely, if we love ego gratification or winning at all costs, those things begin to shape us too.

We look like our gaze. We look like our passions. Counselors and coaches tell us that in five years we will look the composite of our closest current relationships. For better or worse, love sculpts, shapes, and defines us.

Additionally, love determines what we build. Regardless of who or what we say we love, the reality of our love will be found in what we spend time building. I might say that I love certain people, but if I never invest or build into their lives, my words of love ring hollow. I might say I love my loved ones, but if they routinely get my emotional leftovers while everyone else in my life gets my best efforts, then I might not love them as much as I say I do.

It is fascinating to consider what the Scriptures say about what Jesus loved. He loved the rich, young ruler (Mark 10:21). He loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus (John 11:5). He loved His followers (John 13:1). He even loved the whole world (John 3:16). Consequently, when it came time for building, His words were to be expected, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18).

Jesus loves people, so He builds a church with the intention to serve them.

What do we look like? What are we building? And whom do we really love? At the end of my life, I want to be proud of the things I have built. I want to honestly and gratefully say, “Love built this.” What about you?