The Greatest Gift of All…Jesus
(Another challenging devotion by my incredible husband…read this one. JESUS IS ALL)
I’ve been here a few months now and reflecting on my time I realized I’ve learned quite a few things. For instance, I was unaware a single curse word could function as noun, pronoun, adjective and verb all in the same sentence. Some can even replace the word “um” in certain situations. I’ve learned if you take a chocolate protein shake, mix in M&M’s and then freeze it, it tastes like really really bad ice cream which is absolutely better than no ice cream. And on a more serious note, I’ve also learned we all have problems. Our phones here are all in one small tent and it’s really amazing to overhear the loud conversations. I’ve quickly learned that no matter how tough a front we choose to put up, most of us, if we’re honest, would admit we’re hurting in some way. It might not be dramatic or it could be something from the past we manage to keep tucked away, but it’s there. In reality, any idiot could figure this out walking through a bookstore or glancing a magazine rack. The sheer volume of self-help material out there tells you we as a society are hurting. The whole self-help industry makes millions teaching us how to find the good or intrinsic worth that’s inside you. They essentially say focus on yourself, your inner child, go to your happy place, make peace with your past, or at least make the author some money buying the book. I’m not really sure exactly how they spin it but you get the idea—essentially the answer lies within, so keep digging till you find it, then pull yourself up your spiritual bootstraps and be happy.
The crazy thing is the church puts out a milder version of the same message. It goes like this: find the sinful areas in your life and then look at them in light of the fact that God loves you. Remember God wants you to be happy about who you are and He has “good things” and a “prosperous future” in store for you. Empowered by this message you’re reminded of your talents and the service you’ve done for others. God is proud of you and happy to have you on his team. Jesus already paid for your sins, so realize you’re already forgiven, work a lot harder next time, and voila!, you’ll be a new person. Right…have you heard variant of that before? However, is that true? Is that how conversion and sanctification work?
Typically that sermon is quickly followed by the testimony from the guy who was hooked on crack, sleeping out of his car, warmed by a different women every night, might even have killed some body in his youth and then he found Jesus and never turned back. He hasn’t even had the slightest temptation to sin since that day. The testimony gets us all fired up to try harder to be a better person for Jesus. But, then Monday comes, we jump back on the web, or you see that person you can’t stand and it all falls apart. What’s our problem? Again I ask is that how a conversion experience and relationship with Jesus is supposed to develop? I sure hope not because if you’re a Christian I bet that hasn’t been your experience. You’ve accepted Christ and yet a daily battle with sin still rages within you. Maybe you even doubt God or your own faith because everything the Christian life isn’t as easy as that guy’s testimony. Does that mean those of us who still struggle sins of anger, lust, pride, greed or whatever else, have something intrinsically wrong with us—in short YES. In fact H-E- double hockey sticks, YES. To put it bluntly you and I are really screwed up. Something is very wrong with us, but that self-help book can’t fix it. It’s way deeper than that.
I remember after I accepted Christ I earnestly wanted to be more like Jesus, to devote my life to Him, yet I failed almost every day (and still do). Whether it was my eyes, thoughts and/or pride issues I was always screwing up something. I felt like a fake and in my mature manhood chose to run from God so I could find acceptance on an easier grading scale. How about you? Does that sound familiar at all? If you’ve accepted Christ as your Savior, how have you dealt with your recurrent sin? Have you pushed God away and sought others to make your self feel better? Have you taken Oprah’s or one her buddy’s advice and looked for something good within to focus on to regain your confidence? Their solution sounds real spiritual because we ignore or forget our sin, look inside ourselves to focus on our good characteristics and then use those strengths to better ourselves for God. But, is that a biblical perspective? Well, the Lord definitely has something to teach us regarding how we should view ourselves and how we should deal with this struggle. There are lots of texts we could go to, but let’s take a look at the familiar character Moses to see if we can learn something and gain some insight into God’s perspective.
A little background in case your coffee hasn’t kicked in yet this morning. Moses was a Hebrew, set a drift in a basket in the Nile, discovered by an Egyptian princess and reared in the Egyptian Palace as a prince. Additionally, he liked racing chariots just like the Disney movie shows. He then runs away after killing an Egyptian slave master and eventually God comes to him in a burning bush while he is keeping sheep company on Mount Horeb. God speaks through the burning bush and tells him 7 … “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, 1” (Exodus 3) Now at this point Moses is thinking, “Sweet, I love honey and milk, you go get’em God and when they are truckin’ by this mountain, these here sheep and I will join the cattle train and head to the promise land.”
Then the Lord continues (and yes I am totally making this context up)…10 Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” Excuse me? (This is when we find out we aren’t too different than Moses.) He starts in with his reasons of concerns. Who am I do pull this off? Who will I even tell them sent me? What if they don’t believe me? And lastly God, you realize whom your talking to, I’m really not gifted at this public speaking thing. Moses is doing everything in His power to try to talk God out of the plan he has laid out before him. On a side note if you ever find yourself trying to give God advice– stop. He really doesn’t need your wisdom and you should just give up or it’s probably going to get ugly.
So, Moses obviously has some issues with trying to follow the path God has laid out before him. Aren’t we kind of like that? God asks us to do things far easier than the tasks he had for Moses and yet we recurrently fail or at least question Him. Don’t be greedy, don’t cheat, don’t covet or lust, obey your parents, don’t get drunk, respect authority…pretty straightforward stuff. And, in reality it’s much easier than me taking a walk over to Iran and leading those oppressed Christians out of the country, which is just about as crazy as the task Moses was given. So where am I going with this, what are we suppose learn from Moses? Well let’s look at how God responds to Moses’ struggles and disbelief.
First, note what God doesn’t say. Contrary to all those books and “name it and claim it” sermons there is no stroking of Moses’ ego here. No building him up speech, followed by a some good looking guy or gal singing a worship song to get him feeling good about what he can do for God. Additionally, try as I may, I haven’t found the verse that says, “Oh Moses, you’ll do great. You’re good looking, a great speaker, and dog-gonnit Moses, people like you.” It just isn’t in there.
Now I’m not trying to say that God doesn’t like you—the cross would be quite confusing if that were the case. However, I am saying the Bible’s teaching is pretty clear regarding our hearts. Unlike what we often hear from the world and some churches, the Bible teaches that nothing good is in you. We have an inherent sin nature and the only thing good in us is that which God has placed there through His Spirit. If Paul, the greatest missionary ever to walk the earth, who wrote approximately three fourths of the new testament can say in Romans, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out…Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” I think it’s safe to say our hearts are irreparably broken and in deep need of a Savior.
We are unrighteous; in fact the bible says, “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (the literal translation is actually even worse). Swwwwweeeeeet. So all my striving and the hard work I do to help God is the equivalent of a menstrual cloth in His eyes. But hold on a minute, don’t be discouraged by this reality or you’ll miss the whole point. You see, it’s not about you, and it’s not supposed to be about you. We were made for His glory not ours. God can use anything he wants to bring himself glory, just look back at the talking jackass He used to correct Balaam in the book of Numbers. You see, if we search our hearts with biblical eyes the only worthy thing you’ll find is “Christ in you the hope of Glory” and our only purpose is His Glory. So while we often hear, work harder, be better, do more for God and then feel horrible when we keep failing, the reality is He just wants us as we are. Broken, tongue tied, insecure sinners falling before our Savior and embracing the Grace which is only found in Him. How amazing is that? That Jesus would choose retched people with jacked up hearts, continually forgiving our sins so we may revel in His Grace and bring Him glory. Now that is something worth living and dying for…that’s the Gospel.
Wow Dave, that’s awesome thanks for getting my Christmas spirit really flowin. If I hear you right, you’re basically saying my heart sucks and there isn’t anything good in me. Yep, sorry to be honest, I know it doesn’t exactly sound like the sweet holiday message that we are used to, but it’s true. However, if you understand the reality I’m pointing out and can set your pride aside for a moment, the greatest gift you could ever receive will crystallize before your eyes…Jesus. The real Jesus, not the one the world will throw at us this season but the one who is far more interested in His glory than yours. The one who longs for you to realize your greatest joy isn’t found inside you but rather in placing your life in Him. In knowing His heart as a Father, a Redeemer and ultimately your Savior. Our hearts are wretched and our self-motivated good works are worthless, so check your guilt and pride at the door and find the life changing Grace He is waiting to offer. The manger is sweet and the stable nostalgic but until we understand the our hearts, His purity, and sin’s penalty, we’ll never grasp the reality of Jesus or His Grace. This Christmas season stop trying to fix yourself, you can’t, you need a Savior. So raise your eyes from the mirror to the Heavens and join the kings of old as we come and worship Jesus Christ, our new born King.