Freedom Friday: Does Jesus Accept You as You Are?

Imagine you’re at a bus stop.

Technically, it’s a free shuttle. The sign at the covered bus stop says that the free shuttle runs on this route.

You wait. You wait some more. Several buses come and go, but no free shuttles, and none of them end up at your needed destination.

Finally, you ask someone walking up the street if they know anything about the free shuttle.

“Yes, the free shuttle goes on this route and will take you right where you want to go. Just sit back; relax. This is the route for the free shuttle. Don’t worry.”

Relieved, you sit back in the shelter of the bus stop and wait. You check your email on your phone, text a few friends, check your Facebook. Soon, you realize another hour has passed.

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Just then, another bus comes, and someone gets off. “Please,” you say, “do you know when the free shuttle will be coming? I’ve been waiting a long time!”

“It’s Sunday,” the man replies. “The shuttle doesn’t run on weekends.”

***********

3 weeks ago, I wrote a post on what allows me to still wear my LIVESTRONG bracelet and to still listen to the song, “Healer.” What allows me to do that is grace.

This week, with some big news in the Christian media (which I’m not going to comment on :)), I kept hearing the phrase: “Jesus accepts people as they are.”

I hear this phrase a lot from my American Christian friends. I can’t say that in the past this phrase ever bothered me all that much. I can’t even say I really gave it much thought until those recent conversations.

Something about the way the phrase was used didn’t sit right with me. I started to wonder if this phrase actually accurately depicts the fullness of the Gospel.

We generally use this phrase as another way of saying, “We shouldn’t judge where people are. Jesus accepts people where they are and so should we.”

But what if that’s only telling people half the Gospel?

Mary Heathman, in speaking at a conference I recently attended, said, “Grace and truth are two sides of the same coin. They are not two different coins.” She went on to say that one without the other isn’t grace or truth; it’s pseudo-grace and pseudo-truth. Grace and truth, in essence, are inseparable. You can’t have one without the other.

I immediately think of John 1:14:

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

What if “Jesus accepts you as you are” is just the grace part? Can we really have grace without truth if Jesus was the fullness of both?

Isn’t that sort of like telling someone that yes, the shuttle you’re waiting for does run this route, but not telling them the specifics of how to get on the bus?

Did Jesus accept the rich young ruler where He was? How about the woman caught in adultery?

Can you think of examples in Scripture where Jesus accepted someone who was stuck in sin where they were (grace) without calling them to something better (truth)?

Because I can’t.

This verse is the closest I can think of to the sentiment of “Jesus accepts you as you are” stated by Jesus and recorded in Matthew 11:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

Sigh. We all give a big exhale when we read this verse. What a peaceful, embracing sentiment. Jesus continues:

Take my yoke upon you

Now hold up! That doesn’t sound very “come as you are”-ish! Exchange my weariness and burdened self for a yoke?

Yes.

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

Jesus’s yoke may be easy, but it’s still a yoke. His burden may be light, but it’s still a burden.

Perhaps this is why He implored the crowds listening to His teaching to count the cost before committing to being His follower:

 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.

“In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” Luke 14:28-33

The problem may very well be with our definition of the word “accept.” However we couch it, the thought that Jesus might accept or embrace us where we are is not necessarily reassuring.

Because I don’t want to stay here.

What we do know is that Jesus is always calling us to so much more than what we’ve experienced thus far. He calls us to abundance. Therein lies the hope of the Gospel: the promise of life-changing transformation.

For that, I’m all in.

Monday Morning Meditation: Teach Us to Pray

Luke 11:1: “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.'”

I’ve been spending a lot of time with the section of Scripture we call “The Lord’s Prayer” lately. Not studying it – just praying it. This prayer I memorized as a child that flows out of my heart when I’m not sure what else to say.

In December of 1998, I was introduced to Keith Green. I was given his biography, No Compromise, as well as a couple of his CD’s. I was not yet a Christian, but a friend thought maybe Keith’s music and life would draw me closer to Jesus during a difficult time.

Keith was a radical. He was 100% sold out to Jesus. And one night in January of 1999, as I listened to one of Keith’s passionate songs, as I heard him sing about Jesus, I cried out to God, “I want what he has!”

I don’t know that I was ever taught the context of the Lord’s Prayer. This wasn’t a prayer that Jesus apparently recited over and over, as my Sunday School teacher did, in order for the disciples to memorize it. It wasn’t super lengthy or wordy. It wasn’t even a topic that Jesus brought up on His own accord.

One disciple wanted to be taught how to pray.

Read Luke 11:1 again, as quoted above. The disciples saw Jesus praying. When Jesus was finished, one of his disciples said of Jesus, as I said of Keith Green that January night, I want what He has.

If you struggle with knowing how or what to pray, ask, as the disciple asked:

“Teach us to pray.”

God, let that be our prayer this week. Teach us to pray as You pray. We want what You have.

Monday Morning Meditation: Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

When was the last time you waited in eager anticipation of something to come?

A wedding? The birth of a child? A loved one coming to visit after a long journey?

Think about it for a minute. Think of how you felt. You were likely so excited it was almost as if your breath was caught in your chest.

This was the scene in Luke 2 after the birth of Jesus.

When Joseph and Mary brought the baby Jesus to the temple to be consecrated, there were two people there who had been waiting… and watching… and waiting.

If you are not familiar with the story, take a second to read it. Simeon and Anna had been in the temple, waiting. Simeon waited with a promise from God: he would not die before he saw the Messiah. We don’t know if Anna had a similar promise, but we do know that after the death of her husband, she prayed, fasted and praised God night and day in the temple.

They both waited – with expectation.

In the morning, O LORD,
you hear my voice;
In the morning,
I lay my requests before you
and wait in expectation. (Psalm 5:3)

Are you waiting in expectation this Christmas week? Or are you running around like a headless chicken trying to finish every last detail?

I encourage you – breathe. Stop where you are and sit. Grab a cup of coffee and just take 5 minutes to talk to Jesus. Set a timer if you need to. Welcome Him once again into your heart, and ask Him to take His place on the throne of your life.

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.

I pray that despite the busyness of the next few days, you would find your rest in the Lord as you wait in expectation for the celebration of His coming.

Freedom Friday, Tools for the Journey: Keep It Simple

Years ago, I wrote

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Simple Girl
I am a simple girl
I live a simple life
I want to have a simple job
I want to be a simple wife

But I’m beginning to see that my life is not my own
And the path that I would take is not for me to choose
And all I want to be and all I’ve ever known
I’d give it all up for your sake; what do I have to lose?

My life would be nothing without You
My life was nothing before You
My life would be nothing apart from You
I can do nothing without You

© 2000 Unveiled Faces Music

I still want that simple life.

A picture of the sunset in Cape Cod

Yet I complicate things.

When reading these lyrics, I am reminded of a saying from 12-step programs, Keep It Simple.

How can we keep things simple when life seems overwhelmingly crazy?

1. Focus on what you know.
When trying to make a decision, I often think about all the unknowns and uncertainties.  It’s usually unhelpful and unproductive. 
It’s much more helpful to focus on what I know to be true.
Another saying I’ve taken away from my time in 12-step programs is, I can’t. God can. I think I’ll let God.

What a concept.

If God is really faithful, if He doesn’t jump off the throne at the first hint of an obstacle, then continually choosing to believe that He is who He says He is sounds like a much better plan than drowning in uncertainties.

Here’s what I know:
God is good.
He is loving.
He provides.
He stoops down to make me great.

That’s what I will focus on.

2. Stop analyzing, and keep praying.
I usually spend more time than healthy trying to make sense of things that may never make sense. I try to make decisions by weighing pros and cons, crunching numbers, and creating spreadsheets.
I try and figure out what seems good.
What appears good to us is often the enemy of God’s best.

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21

Then I remember: you have not because you ask not.

In Luke 18, we have this example of a persistent widow.  She continued to ask the judge for what she wanted until she got it.  In Matthew 7, God is described as a good father who does not give His children stones when they ask for bread.

Put your analysis on pause, and ask the God of the universe to lead you in His paths.

3. Choose to trust.
Friends, if you’ve been reading my blog for any period of time, you know this is one of my central themes.  If I say I believe the Word of God, which states that God is trustworthy, then I need to choose to trust Him.

Choose to trust Him in the way you think and the things you think about.

Choose to trust Him with what you say about yourself, your situation and your God.

Choose to trust Him with your actions and in the decisions you make.

God has our best at heart.  I need to remember that.
Keep it simple.

I am praying Romans 15:13 for you all this week:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Freedom Friday: Totally Surrendered

I mentioned last week I’ll be starting a series on Jesus, what He said, why He came, and what He asks of us.

When people ask me the key to learning to walk in freedom, I answer without pausing:

It’s total surrender.

“He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” Matthew 10:39 (NASB)

Yet my heart aches. I see so little surrender in the people around me.

I became a Christian in college. So did many of my friends. We attended campus ministry together.

Mike O, my spiritual mentor, and myself (looking rather zombie-like)

The campus ministry I’ve been part of has a strong emphasis on sharing Jesus with the world. And thus, many of my friends and me left college, ready to take on the world for Christ!

Or so we thought.

A good number of these people are no longer even following Jesus.

Some of those that do follow Jesus live a pretty standard American life. Some attend church regularly, some give financially, some are involved in humanitarian and/or evangelistic efforts.

But not many.

I’ve found myself wondering, Why? What changed?

I need to first look at myself.

While I’d like to believe that I live a totally surrendered life, I am self-aware enough to know I have plenty of blind spots.

Self-reliance is always a challenge for me. So is pride. We want what Jesus has to offer. We also want the Christian life to come easily, without sacrifice on our part. We don’t really want to do what Jesus requires of us in order to live the life He desires us to live.

What does Jesus require of us?

A lot. More than we care to admit.

Did you ever notice that Jesus would often try and talk people out of following Him? He said this, as recorded in the gospel of Luke, chapter 14:

If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.

But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’

Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down with his counselors to discuss whether his army of 10,000 could defeat the 20,000 soldiers marching against him? And if he can’t, he will send a delegation to discuss terms of peace while the enemy is still far away. So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own.

Does that sound like the gospel of today? Where is total surrender spoken of today?

Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31, 32 NLT)

As I found myself heartbroken over a recent conversation with a friend, I had to stop and pray, Let it begin with me, Lord. Break my self-reliance and my pride. Strip me of the things I cling to that keep me from living a fully surrendered life. All I want is all You have, Jesus.

Let the truth set me free, Jesus, by empowering me to being faithful to Your teachings. Let Your words sink so deeply into my heart that a totally surrendered life naturally flows out of me.

Let it begin with me, Lord.

Freedom Friday: Why Jesus Said He Came

I’ll be starting a series on Jesus, what He said, why He came, and what He asks of us.

A few months ago, I began to wonder: why did Jesus say He came? We often say, “Jesus came to….,” but I wanted to research Jesus’s own words about His purpose in coming.

Here’s what He has to say. I believe all references are NIV1984.

“I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5:17

“I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:13

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, 
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’” Matthew 10:34-36

“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28

“Jesus replied, ‘Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.’ So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.” Mark 1:38-39

“On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’ Mark 2:17

“
I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Luke 5:32

“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” Luke 12:49-53

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Luke 19:10

“
For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” John 6:38

“
Jesus said, ‘For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.'” John 9:39

“
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10

“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it.” John 12:46-47


’“You are a king, then!’ said Pilate. Jesus answered, ‘You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’” John 18:37

This is not your typical Freedom Friday in that I’m not going to tell you about my life and experiences. I’m also not sharing my thoughts on these verses. Rather, I encourage you to really read and dig in to these verses. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead as you learn about Jesus and His purpose for coming to earth.

Freedom Friday: Are Your Dreams Suffocating?

What have you been dreaming about lately?

Are there dreams that God has deposited in your heart?

There have been many times God stirred a vision in my heart: for my life, my family, my marriage, His calling. Thinking about the dream, praying through it, processing it made me come alive. It stirred a longing in me that is often silenced.

Then something changes.

Life happens, circumstances are difficult, my perspective tells me it’s not worth it to hope. My dreams are too big, too ludicrous – just too much.

It reminds me of the parable of the sower that Jesus told in Luke 8. My dreams become like the seed that fell among thorns.

“The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity.” verse 14

What are the thorns suffocating your dreams?


If we serve a God of hope, and hope does not disappoint….

If hope that is seen is not really hope (“if we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it,” Romans 8:24 NLT)……

Why do we allow our dreams to be suffocated?

There is a simple answer.

Fear.

My main thorn is fear.

Fear drowns hope. It keeps my dreams bound, caged, suffocating.

How do we combat fear?

With love.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18 NIV84)

If God is love, if His love is unfailing and never-ending, why do I fear? Why do I doubt?

When I look to the cross, can I still believe anything is impossible for God?

This thought popped into my head today: I never want to stop dreaming.

I need to find a way to keep my dreams alive, to fight off the thorns that threaten to silence them.

“And the seeds that fell on the good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest.” Luke 8:15

Is fear suffocating your dreams today? What would happen if you received God’s unfailing love?

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12

What dream of yours needs to be revived today?

Other helpful posts:
Are Your Dreams Asleep?
How To Keep Dreams Alive
Living Your Amazing Without Suffocating

Freedom Fridays: What is Freedom? Part 1

I’m starting a series I’m going to call “Freedom Fridays”. I’m hoping to at least post here every Friday on Freedom Fridays and make that my focus for now.

Why talk about freedom?

Freedom is my anthem – it’s my life’s theme. And the questions that come with the word “freedom” are questions I continually ponder.

What is freedom? What does the Bible have to say about it? Is it attainable? If so, what does that look like?

I do not have all the answers. What I can say is that most of the time, I feel free! Plus we already know it’s not about how we feel; that does not dictate my reality. Do I still have struggles? Yes, but I don’t feel enslaved to anything.

This wasn’t always the case. I struggled for years with several life-controlling issues (an eating disorder, sexual brokenness, self-injury, to name a few). I also wrestled with what I thought “freedom” should look like in my life, and these are some of the things I’ve learned in the process, as well as things learned while ministering to others.

Galatians 5:1 says “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” Jesus said He came to “proclaim freedom for the prisoners” (Luke 4:18). Let’s start by understanding our terms: What is Freedom? In the New Testament, there are several words that are translated as “freedom”, “liberty” or “release”. And they basically mean the “liberty to do or to omit things having no relationship to salvation”, “living as we should, not as we please” or also “release from bondage or imprisonment”.

I would go a step further to say true freedom is living in the fullness of all God created you to be. It’s learning to walk in His design, what He wanted you to be when He created you. This is the freedom that Jesus died for.

Why is this topic so important? Because I believe it’s one of the most misunderstood topics in the faith.

Most Christians seem to reside in one of 2 extremes. Some settle for a lot less than God has to offer. If asked, they would say they, of course, believe that God is the able to do the impossible (to deny this would be to say Jesus was lying), but they don’t really believe God wants to do anything extraordinary in their lives or in their struggles. They just hold on till heaven. Then there’s the other extreme where believers can have an unrealistic idea of what freedom looks like, and how long it should take. They expect some sort of “zap” experience wherein temptations & struggles disappear in a moment. They quickly forget that even Jesus, who was without sin, was tempted! The Bible says we are a new creation, so shouldn’t we just snap our fingers and all our troubles should vanish? Well, that’s not Biblical either.

Let me explain a little more what I see as the middle ground of these 2 beliefs. If this freedom for which Christ died was a simple process & easy to grasp, then the direction offered to believers in Romans-Jude would be unnecessary and you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog. I believe Scripture teaches that freedom is both a one-time gift and a process. The moment we come to Jesus Christ, He gives us freedom through the Holy Spirit, so that we are no longer slaves to sin (Romans 6:17-18). But that freedom is something we need to learn to walk out.

So how do we learn to walk in true freedom? More on that next week 🙂