November 1, 2012

Life Gaps and Wanting More

 

We all want things to be better in our lives, no one says, “Wow, I wish things could be worse.”  We all want to be healthier, more fulfilled, happier, more successful, more loved, more loving, and experience increasing significance. We want to look in the mirror and be completely satisfied with who we are as a person on how our life is being lived. Nothing wrong with that, for sure.

Yet, if you are like most people, there are areas where you are dissatisfied. The person you want to be isn’t who you are. The way you act, live, and interact with others leaves you painfully aware of the gap between what you hoped for and what reality is.  Everyone senses these gaps on a daily (even moment to moment) basis, though they may not be able to put their finger on what they are feeling. Like the gap between the teeth of that cute girl you fell in love with in 1st grade, there are gaps in our lives between what we expect out of ourselves and what we end up being and doing.

Underneath the gap that we see between who we are and who we want to be, is a deeper gap. It’s the gap between God and ourselves.  We sense we were created by God, to live eternally, with God, forever.  That’s why seek God, that’s why we desire to overcome death, that’s why we imagine paradise — like existences.  It’s the stuff of poets, philosophers, and alike.  All sensing the gap, trying to bridge it, and imagining what life is like without it.

At every level, spiritual, emotional, and physical, there are gaps.  The question isn’t, “are their gaps in my life?” the question is, “what are you doing with them?”

To the the question, “What are you doing with them?” most people respond with one of four answers: religion, church, self-help, or life-enhancement. The problem with each one of these is, they don’t work.  ”Religion” just makes you more aware of the gap as you can’t seem to bridge it no matter what spiritual gymnastics you do, “church” futilely focuses on keeping you from acting on the gap with a bunch of rules to follow that you end up breaking, “self-help”  tries to convince you that the solution to the gap is within you when it’s not, and “life-enhancement” simply tries to put lipstick on the gap, hoping you won’t notice it anymore. That pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it.

Admittedly, I have first hand experience with all four attempts to overcome the gaps in my life. In college, I dabbled in “religion” in the form of new-age trends. I have read all kinds of “self-help” books and psychological theories and applied their principals. I have even tried “life-enhancement” through pursuing success and behavior modification tactics available in both religion, church, and self-help arenas. And to be sure, as a pastor of 17 years, I have tried “church” as a way to fix the gap through focusing on overcoming it by following Christian “rules.” So, I can tell you through first hand experience, none if works. None of them made me a better person, neither in my being nor in my doing. No gaps were closed nor diminished. In fact, a lot of it made me frustrated, disillusioned, and exhausted.

There are a lot of genuine people (maybe even you) who are simply looking for solutions who feel the same way … frustrated, failing, and fatigued.  Yet, we wonder what to do. If we can’t find a real-deal-solution through going to church, applying some self-help technique, pursuing life-enhancement, or signing up for some kind of religion, what are we to do?  Especially since many Christians churches are actually contributing to the problem because they aren’t presenting the true Gospel. I must admit, at times, the way I have presented Jesus and His Gospel has contributed to the problem. As a pastor, I was like many Christian churches when it comes to the Gospel, so close yet so far away.

So here’s what has finally and truly changed my life and satisfied my soul. Here is what I want to tell you, and the message God has em-blazed upon my heart and as is using Amy and I to build a church around ….

God loves you, as is. He is not waiting for you to clean up, shut up, or grow up. He loves you with an everlasting love. God’s love of you is perfect. In fact, God is love. He can do nothing but love you. And you simply being created by God is reason enough for Him to make you the object of His love. It has nothing to do with what you have or have not done or will do.

In a real sense, it would be illegal for God not to love you, He would be a house divided against Himself because He is love. Don’t worry about coming to Him, you can’t. That’s why, through Jesus, He comes personally to you. Throw out the image you have of God who is simply waiting for that moment of failure in your life to push you under His thumb and make you pay. His deepest desire is to love you, give His life to you, and be with you forever. He believes your best days are ahead, and that nothing in your past needs to keep you from having His future.  God is on your side, always has been, always will be.

God loves you. It’s that pure and simple.

Because God loves you so much …

Jesus came to give you a completely new identity.

This is critical to understand because your identity is the combination of who you are and who you believe yourself to be. It’s about 1) who you actually are, and then 2) your perspective of you are. Both are critical.

That’s why giving you a new identity involves first making you into a completely new person with a new nature, new standing, new future, and a new purpose, through your faith in Jesus’ finished work on the cross. Jesus gives new life by first giving us a new identity. There isn’t much of a new life without  a new identity. Becoming a new person doesn’t do much if you don’t know you are a new person. To give us a new identity, He must make us into a completely new person, through and through.

Without becoming a new person, we are as good as dead. As is, everything about is has an expiration date… our hopes, dreams, love, abilities, and admirable qualities. Everything. As good as we seem to be, because of sin, we are as dead as can be.  Look around, everybody dies. And the truth of the matter as, we can never measure up spiritually, emotionally, and physically as we are. We don’t just live in a broken world tainted with sin, we are a broken world, tainted with sin. Everyone, everywhere, everything.

The good news is, Jesus offers us a completely new identity by killing our old self, and giving us a completely new self. This is the essence of what Jesus accomplishes for us on the cross. He didn’t come to enhance our life, He came to crucify it and then resurrect it. It’s not about renovating your life, it’s about resurrecting it by killing it (spiritually) and then rebirthing it (spiritually). If your old self doesn’t die, your new self can’t live. We don’t give our life to Jesus (as well meaning as that sounds), Jesus gives His life to us. Our former life is of no good to Jesus, we have nothing to give Him. Additionally, our life is no good without Jesus, through His lavish Grace, He has everything to give us.  And by “everything,” I mean everything. Only His Grace can bridge our gaps!

That’s the heart of the pure Grace and Gospel of Jesus Christ. We give Him nothing (cause we can’t), He gives us everything (cause only He can). This exchange happens through one action, our “faith.”

The new identity and life God offers you through Jesus (received though faith) makes you into a completely new person with a new way of seeing yourself. Did you take that in? A completely new person! Your sins past, present, and future are forever forgiven. You become the righteousness of Christ, having no longer any form of condemnation from God in your life whatsoever. Don’t read that too quickly, let it penetrate your heart… “no condemnation”. You are completely made whole, lacking nothing. Every gap is filled. You are free from guilt and shame, and are given the mind of Christ. You are no longer under the law (rules), but under Grace. You don’t have to perform to get to God or even keep Him close. You don’t have to be a better person, you get to be a better person. Your performance no longer shapes your identity, your identity shapes your performance. God’s Spirit lives in you, not to convict you, but primarily to convince you of your righteousness in Christ, the very thing Satan wants you to discount!  Though you will still sin (because of our flesh), it is no longer your nature to sin (or worry, fear, doubt etc.). Sin no longer defines who you are, Jesus does; His life, living in and through you. You are perfectly loved by God and completely pleasing to Him. It is no longer you who lives, but Christ who lives in you. You lack nothing, you have all the fruits of the Spirit in seed form, and the Holy Spirit will help you to will and act according to God’s pleasure in your life. It’s all Jesus, not you! If it were you, it wouldn’t work.

Jesus doesn’t just want to give you a new life, He wants you to believe you have it! He wants it to become your identity.

See, if you don’t believe it, you first won’t receive it. And if you receive it, but don’t continue to or truly believe it, you won’t be blessed by it. Faith is the currency of the Kingdom of God. It’s how what God has becomes what you have. That’s why so many people aren’t Christians, and why so many Christians are living defeated, discouraged, divided, and desperate lives. They don’t prevail, they fail. As 2 Peter 1:9 says, “For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins”  Right belief leads to right living. If you miss the Grace of God and who you have become in Christ, you will miss the blessings of it. That’s why the complete Gospel of God’s grace is so critical! You will never know your true identity until you see it and believe it’s true about you!

That’s why …

As you believe it, you will live it.  The goal of the Christian life isn’t your obedience, it’s faith in Jesus’ provision. Sadly, for many Christians obedience is the root, and faith is the fruit. Yet, the opposite it true. Faith is the root, obedience is the fruit.  A new identity equals a new way of living, not the other way around. The more you believe in who you are by the Grace of God in Christ, the more you will live it.

Satan always tempts us to do the wrong things by first tempting us to believe the wrongs thing about who we are and what we have (or can have) in Christ.  Notice that with Jesus, immediately after His baptism, Satan first tempted Jesus to doubt His identity as the “beloved son of God with who God was well pleased” which God had just declared over Him mere hours before Satan tempted Him to turn the stones to bread. In fact, Satan strategically and conveniently removed any mention that Jesus is beloved by God and well pleasing to the Father. Instead, he simply asks, “If you are the son of God…turn these stones…” in a futile attempt to get Jesus to believe the wrong things about who He is and what He has in the Father so that He would do the wrong things.

Satan is still vigorously trying to do the same with us, subtly trying to remove from our sense of identity that true believers are sons of God, beloved by God, and completely pleasing to Him. If we believe the wrong things about our identity, we will do the wrong things in life. An obedience problem is always first an identity problem. A gap problem is always a Grace problem.

Let me remind you again, for a true believer in Jesus, there is no condemnation over their life, none. You have become, through Jesus’ shed blood, the righteousness of Christ, and that is not merely a positional reality, but a complete reality. You are without blemish, all your sins (past, present, and future) have been put away (killed) through the cross, they are no more in the eyes of God. You have been made a new creation, the old is completely gone. You don’t have two natures, you have one. The old Adam is gone. (ref. Romans 6:6, Galatians 2:20) Christ lives in you, you have His mind. It is no longer your nature to sin, fear, worry, be depressed etc. It is no longer our nature to sin (though we do), and when we sin, it no longer defines us or separates us. You don’t live from you, trying to be a better person bridging the gaps, that will never work!  You live from Jesus, through faith in His work in you, and become a better a person. In Christ, you aren’t just a better you, you are a completely new you. 100% Jesus, 100% you. You lack nothing, absolutely nothing. I think you need to hear that again, “you lack nothing!”

This is the right belief of your identity, it’s all focused on Jesus and His Grace, not on your performance. Which, ironically enables you to perform with increasing faithfulness. As I stated earlier, right identity leads to right living. People who believe in the true Gospel of the Grace of God through Jesus don’t sin more, they sin much less. The gaps in their life don’t expand, they close. Their freedom becomes a catalyst for faithfulness because their heart overflows with thanksgiving for what Jesus has done as they walk in a completely new sense of self and life without guilt, shame, and sense of condemnation. It truly is amazing Grace.

“For if by the transgression of the one [Adam], death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:17)

An abundance of Grace is what leads to prevailing (living much better) in life, not an abundance of guilt, shame, and rules. Believe in the abundant Grace of God for your life and see the results! Watch the gaps close. Remind yourself every moment, “I am already forgiven, I am the righteousness of Christ, there is no condemnation, it is no longer my nature to sin, I am better than that, I lack nothing, greater is He that is in me than is in the World, I am fully pleasing to the Father, I am perfectly and completely loved, I am a son of God (Galatians 3:26)” and see how your life and living improve.

God gave me a great analogy that I hope will bless you … Trying to live like Christ and bridge the gaps in our life  from our own efforts is like trying to sing like Celine Dion. You can hear her voice in your head, but you never can match it with your own. But if Celion Dion could somehow live in you, you could sing just like her as you allow her voice to become your voice. Her identity becomes your identity. In the same way, Jesus lives (or can live) in you (through faith), and when we live from Jesus in us and the identity we have because of Him, we will more and more act just like Him.

Living a gap-closing life is about our actions catching up with our true identity, not our identity being caught up in our actions. You cannot become a better person until you become a new person and believe it. Only Jesus can make you new. If you are in Christ through faith, you are a completely new person. You are a much better person, and when you believe that, you will act more and more like the person you are in Christ… much better!

In Christ, you have no gaps, now believe it, receive it, and live it! The more you have faith in the Grace of God, the more God’s blessing flow to you.  When you rest in God’s Grace, He goes to work on your behalf. When you go to work on your behalf, God’s grace rests. Happiness, success, joy, peace, loving and being loved, health, and even wealth are stored in God’s grace, not your own your efforts.

Believe it, receive it, live it!

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