This excerpt from Brennan Manning’s Abba’s Child is worth reading over and over and over until it gets inside us. The context of this piece is Manning describing a retreat where he spent 5 days in John’s gospel and was struck by how the disciple came to know himself as the one whom Jesus loved. Manning wonders what would happen if we became absorbed by that fact and allowed it to be our identity – one whom Jesus loved. How would that change the way we approach Him, particularly when we fail?
Peter, the denier of Jesus, a failure as a friend in the hour of crisis, a coward in his soul before the servant-girl in the courtyard, jumped into the water almost naked once John told him Jesus was on shore. “At these words ‘It is the Lord,’ Simon Peter, who had practically nothing on, wrapped his cloak round him and jumped into the water” (John 21:7). John notes that the boat was about a hundred yards offshore.
These biblical characters, however clean or tawdry their personal histories may have been, are not paralyzed by the past in their present response to Jesus. Tossing aside self-consciousness they ran, clung, jumped, and raced to Him. Peter denied Him and deserted Him, but he was not afraid of Him.
Suppose for a moment that in a flash of insight you discovered that all your motives for ministry were essentially egocentric, or suppose that last night you got drunk and committed adultery, or suppose that you failed to respond to a cry for help and the person committed suicide. What would you do?
Would guilt, self-condemnation, and self-hatred consume you, or would you jump into the water and swim a hundred yards at breakneck speed toward Jesus? Haunted by feelings of unworthiness, would you allow the darkness to overcome you or would you let Jesus be who He is – a Savior of boundless compassion and infinite patience, a Lover who keeps no score of our wrongs?
I’m in the middle of a teaching series on Sunday called “Reveal” which takes us through the Gospel of John. The aim is to reveal who Jesus is and why he is significant. I don’t normally blog about my sermons but am doing so here for two reasons. One, I think there is something beneficial for everyone, whether you are in recovery or not (yet). And two, I leaned heavily on a chapter in one of my favorite books, We Would See Jesus, by Roy Hession. Perhaps in reading this you will be led to buy his book and read it once or a thousands times. I would.
So the following are highlights from the sermon and the book. You can view the sermon below. I pray it blesses you.
Jesus as the Door
In the beginning there were no walls. There was perfect fellowship between God and humans, and perfect fellowship between man and woman. We didn’t have walls between us until sin entered the fabric of the universe. You can read about this in Genesis 3. Almost immediately, after Adam and Eve reached beyond what God instructed, a wall went up. Shame and guilt surrounded the relationships both here on earth and between us and heaven. This is what sin does. While it promises life and freedom it delivers only death and shame. With each transgression it’s as if we are adding another rock to the layer until we wake up one morning and find our fellowship with God and others strained.
Even those of us who have walked with God for many years experience this wall from time to time if we are not vigilant. It’s so easy to allow jealousy or bitterness or some resentment to erect a wall almost without our awareness. Creep happens, where the things of this world entice us bit by bit and we unintentionally give ground, allowing sin to tantalize us just for a moment and before we realize it a habit has developed. This habit soon becomes an addiction and we wake up one morning with a great wall between us and God and our fellows. Who among us have not had periods of famine where it seems as though the pages of scripture have dried up and our prayer life has grown stale and worship has become routine?
And what do we try to do when we find a wall? We try to fix it by doing more. We pull up our boot straps and determine to scale the wall. We try, try, try harder. We white-knuckle ourselves until we are blue in the face and we fail again, frustrated that the wall now seems higher rather than more manageable. If only there were some other way through this wall!
Read John 10:1-10. Here we discover the great truth that God has not left us to eternal separation and frustration but has provided not only the one who can show us the way through the wall, but is the way himself! Jesus not only points us to the door, but he is the Door! If only we will come to him and acknowledge that we are in no position to scale the wall on our own, we will find the abundant life he promises (John 10:10).
As we consider Jesus as the Door, we discover four characteristics of this door. Each of these by themselves are significant and praise-worthy. Taken together, they will revolutionize anyone’s world, and set them free.
1. It’s an OPEN Door.
When Jesus hung on the cross and announced it is finished, the wall (veil) separating the most holy place within the Temple from the rest of the world split in two. Jesus forever demolished the wall that stood between us and God requiring that we work our way towards salvation through the Law. So open is this door that the biblical authors declare we may now go boldly before the throne of grace to receive mercy (Hebrews 4:16).
What qualifies us for this door? It is our sin that makes us qualified to come enter through it. It is our coldness, our unbelief, our hard hearts, our addictions, our jealousies, and a myriad other ways in which we sin which qualify us for this Door, provided we will simply acknowledge this. We cannot conquer or suppress or scale these things on our own, but are invited to judge these things as sin and bring them to the open Door.
2. It’s open at STREET LEVEL
Not only is the door open to everyone, it’s open to us right where we are. We do not need to dress ourselves up in order to make ourselves look more presentable before we come to Jesus the Door. This is Good News! The door to God is open to the sinner as a sinner, and the failing saint as a failing saint.
I know in my own life I may have thought of the door as open at street level for others but never myself. Whenever I was failing in some area of my life I placed the door just a bit higher up, just out of reach. I would convince myself that I need to get a few days sober before I approach God, or in some way make myself a better Christian before I can be accepted. No! Our failures do not disqualify us for the door but rather make our need for him all the more urgent, and his grace all the more abundant. Run to him the moment you fail him and discover that he is everything he promises to be and more.
3. It’s a LOW Door.
In order to pass through we are going to have to bow our heads in repentance (turning away from our old ways and accepting Jesus’ ways). Scripture speaks again and again of “stiff-necked” people whom God cannot use or transform because they are stubborn, self-willed, and full of pride.
If you have come to the door again and again and have left unchanged and unfulfilled, it might be because you came to the door with your own agenda and your own ideas of how this new life is going to look. Remember, our best thinking has gotten us here, to this point of need. All it has done is erect a great big wall. If we are going to pass through this door into life we are going to have to be broken, lower our heads to the dust and trust that the things God requires of us are for our own good and will lead us to wholeness. Everything must change. And that change begins with me as I bow my head and enter.
4. It’s a NARROW Door.
When we arrive at the door we stand there utterly alone, with no room on the left or right of us for anyone else. We cannot wait for nor depend upon our family and friends, our church or pastor, to get us through the door. One day we will all stand before God and give a personal account of our lives and no finger pointing will do (Rom. 14:12).
Nor can we wait for someone else to get right before we do. This drives the co-dependents among us, myself included, crazy. We can’t be the door for others, or wait for them to get through the door before we start taking care of ourselves. If we are going to realize Jesus as the Door and all the blessings that come with it, we will have to trust that He is also the Door for them, but only as they come alone and decide on their own to walk the path Jesus has made.
Thank God for Jesus! The wall between us and God or us and others cannot be scaled on our own by our own power. But thanks be to God for Jesus, who is himself the Door, always open, right where we are, ready to transform us one by one. All that is required of us is that we come to him. Just come. Don’t wait. He’s ready and willing and more than capable of doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
Genesis 3 contains everything we need to know about what goes wrong in all of us. It contains the anatomy – the inner workings – of temptation, from the beginning seed planted by the enemy to the tragic fall which follows. It’s a fall that need not happen to us because we know how the enemy attacks. And yet, we fall for it time and time again.
Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthian church that we should not allow Satan to get an advantage over us, for we are not ignorant of his designs (2 Cor. 2:11). That we are not ignorant of how Satan works may have been true in the first century, but is it today? Do you know how the enemy sets out to destroy you? Do you even know that you have an enemy? Peter, another one of Jesus’ first followers, warns that the devil “prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). If you don’t know this, nor understand how he works, you are easy pickings.
So, looking closely at Genesis 3, learn this “anatomy of temptation” well so that you can be better prepared to defeat the lion, and even see him coming a mile away.
The Enemy Subverts
Bring into question whether God really said something or not.
“Did God really say…?” (3.1)
Twist the command into something absurd.
“You must not eat from any tree?” (3:1)
Notice how he twisted God’s original command, that they may eat of every tree but one (2:16-17), into one that seems absurdly restrictive.
Implants doubt in the mind that God has my best interests at heart.
God must be holding out on me. He is not a good Father.
The Unprepared Response
A misquote of the original command, even adding something (we may not touch it) that is not there (3:3).
Because we are ignorant of what the bible actually does say, the lies the enemy tells us ring true.
How easily we fall into the trap of adding more rules to the perfectly good ones God has already given, thus adding to our delusion that God is not a good Father and is holding out on us.
Water down the punishment.
This is more evident in the original Hebrew, but God’s initial command came with the warning that if they disobey, they will surely die. Eve misquotes the command itself and then diminishes the punishment, essentially saying, “If we do this, God said we might die.”
The Enemy Pounces
Seeing an opening, Satan presses in on the angle of non-punishment. “You will not surely die!” (3:4). You will be fine!
He then appeals to our sense of entitlement, desire and independence.
You deserve to be happy. Everyone else has it. You have the right to be your own boss.
Satan convinces us this will make us like God. It will give us life. It’s what we have been missing all this time.
After seeing that the thing wanted is appetizing (isn’t all sin?) Eve reaches outside of God’s design and grabs something she shouldn’t.
Result is estrangement from God rather than unity.
Result is shame and guilt rather than a deeper intimacy with God and with each other.
Result is blaming everyone else, never taking responsibility for the choices made.
Result is a sure death, both physical (one day) and spiritual (immediate).
Consider how this plays out in your life. If you are addicted to something – sex, porn, food, fame, career, money, whatever – then every point above has been compromised as your reaching for something outside of God’s parameters has become habitual. We addicts have, over time, whittled away at what God has really said about how we should live our lives (if we ever knew it to begin with), convincing ourselves that God is holding out on us and that we must seek happiness on our terms. Even more, we have watered down the punishment God promised would come to us if we do this. The enemy has pounced on this and each time we do it without getting caught we think ourselves more and more invincible.
And yet, if we are honest, in the cool breeze of the evening (3:8) when God comes looking for us, we are found hiding. The intimacy and connection we crave is broken, not only with God but with all our relationships. Our reaching for life on our terms has not delivered anything the enemy promised. We are dying, both physically and spiritually, with each successive bite.
Want to be free of this insane cycle of destruction wrought through this anatomy of temptation? Go and read Matthew 4:1-11 and see how Jesus handles the same cycle. Jesus knows and respects the words of God and their authority. Jesus knows where the true source of Life is found and never questions the goodness of his Father (even while he is going to a cross!). Jesus knows the designs of his enemy well, and comes through temptation victorious.
You and I can do the same. The enemy is prowling. Are you prepared to face him?
Luke 15 is one of my favorite chapters in the bible. It’s what I preached from Sunday. I spent most of the time in the story of the prodigal son but ended with the story of the lost sheep. Here, Jesus asks an important question of his audience full of sinners and religious professionals:
Which of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the 99 in the open country, and go find the one that is lost until he finds it?
The answer to this question is one that might surprise us: NONE OF US! We are quite content with the 99, aren’t we? If one foolish sheep goes and gets itself lost we are not going to jeopardize losing 99% of our profits for one dumb sheep, right? That would be bad business. 99% is not a bad return in our economy. Besides, the one lost might count as a write-off.
But this story isn’t about us. It’s about our Heavenly Father. Jesus is trying to show us that unlike us, this Hound of Heaven will not rest until He finds and brings home every one of His own. When we wander off the path and get stuck in a thicket, we can count on our Good Shepherd hunting us down till found.
At least two applications come to mind, the first being more obvious than the second.
First, God is not content with just 99%. He is a jealous God and wants all of His children, or sheep, home. He is not interested in preserving the flock that is at the expense of the flock that should or could be. This means He will move out from our little church pastures where we have grown comfortable with ourselves and the 99 we have in attendance to go hunting the dark corners of our communities in search of the one that is missing. He will not rest till every lost soul is found. And therefore neither should we. We are to be like our Father in Heaven, discontent with the number we have and always seeking to find the one hung up in the bushes out back.
Second, yet every bit as important, I sensed the Lord saying to me that I am all-too-often content with giving Jesus 99% of my heart when he wants it all. Far too often I think it’s a good return on my investment if I can give God most of myself while holding back parts here and there. I assume that God is like me, content with the 99 and willing to write-off the part I’ve withheld. But God is not like me. He is a jealous God and wants, and deserves, everything I have.
You are not your own,for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
Back when I was addicted to pornography I got good at minimizing this sin by focusing on all the other good things I was doing (pastoring a church, going to seminary, adopting children, etc). I convinced myself that God would be satisfied with the good I was doing and overlook this “one little black spot” in my life.
Perhaps porn is not your “one thing” but something else. Maybe gossip is your thing, and you know it’s wrong and you shouldn’t do it, but believe 99% of your heart is good, what’s the big deal about this one thing? Maybe it’s an addiction to any number of things or people. Maybe it’s anger, or fear, or envy, or lustful thoughts, or bitterness, or lying, or crude speech (Eph. 4:25-32). It is so easy to comfort ourselves in the pasture made up of the 99%, where we go to church, attend Sunday school, pay our tithes, and give a dollar now and then to the beggar on the street and think God doesn’t care about the one dark corner of our heart hung up in the brambles.
The good news is that God does care. I know that may not sound like good news at the moment. It may sound like judgment. And it is. God’s word judges our hearts and minds, but never for the purpose of condemning us but to free us. He is a holy God who “yearns jealously over the Spirit which he has made to dwell within us” (James 4:5). If there is part of you which is lost, which is inconsistent with the will of the Holy Spirit, God wants to correct it, heal it, and free it. He wants us enslaved by nothing in this world (1 Cor. 6:12).
So God is not like us. He wants ALL of our heart, ALL of our SOUL, ALL of our STRENGTH , and ALL of our MIND (Luke 10:27). If God wants this, then He will impart to us the grace by which we can accomplish living fully unto him rather than partly, or even mostly. We can trust all of our heart and mind to Jesus because he is a GOOD shepherd and knows exactly and completely what is best for us (John 10).
What is your 1%? Pray with me…
Dear Jesus, I thank you that you care enough about me to want everything. Forgive me for being content with giving you what I thought was most of me when you want all of me. I give you permission to seek out and find and bring home the parts of my life that are lost and in darkness. Expose them for what they are and help me to see my sin in the way you see it. I don’t want to be enslaved by anything, and ask you to take complete control of my heart, my thoughts, my desires, my words, my body, my will. Thank you, Jesus, for loving me enough to save every bit of me. Thank you for forgiving me. Amen.
The story of the lost sheep ends this way:
I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance (Luke 15:7).
Below is the video of yesterday’s ADDICTION sermon. It’s a sermon I would never have been able to preach a few years ago. Why? Because I was committing spiritual malpractice.
For many years as a pastor I would look at pornography or engage in other lustful pursuits during the week before preaching a sermon on Sunday. I knew I was committing sin, and felt terribly guilty about what I was doing, but justified it by convincing myself the good I was doing on Sunday outweighed the evil I was doing the other days of the week. I convinced myself that God can and does speak through donkeys and would bless my efforts despite my habitual ass-likeness.
I realize how outrageous this sounds to many of you. How can you be so blind!? you ask. But this is precisely what sin does to us. It blinds us to the truths of God. Paul calls us “darkened in our understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in us, due to the hardness of our hearts” (Eph. 4:18). It doesn’t happen overnight. The spiral of degradation takes time, dragging us deeper and deeper into it’s grip until the things which seemed so obvious before are now blurry, unclear, and suspicious. When living in sin the Bible reads less black and white and a lot more gray.
Jesus called such practitioners of religion “whitewashed tombs” (Matt. 23:27). They looked good on the outside but inside their hearts were decaying, ugly, far from God. They were blind to it, though, just as I was blind to the darkness of my own heart and the effect it had on others. A blind shepherd cannot lead sheep anywhere good, nor to any place they have not been themselves. A preacher who is looking at porn on Saturday cannot expect God to bless his or her efforts on Sunday. We grieve the Holy Spirit, and thus short-circuit the mighty work God wishes to do in our churches when we live under the bondage of habitual sin.
Oh the number of Hail-Mary-Prayers I threw out there on Sunday morning! Hoping that somehow, someway, God would be pleased to overlook what I had been looking at all week and bless “the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart.” What a fraud! Granted, all good things come from the hand of our Father, and it is only because He is rich in mercy that I was not struck down dead in the pulpit and, I pray, I did not make a shipwreck of too many people’s faith (A couple years ago I wrote a letter to my former church, repenting to them for my spiritual malpractice, asking them to please forgive me. To this day I pray for them and anyone who had the misfortune of sitting under this “blind guide,” that God would bless them and keep them and fill their heart and minds and souls with every good thing. I praise God today that they have a pastor whom I believe loves Jesus and knows His power to save. Praise God for answered prayer!).
The truth is, pastors, if we cherish sin in our hearts God will not listen to our prayers (Psalm 66:18). If our private lives are such that we are not walking in the Spirit but in our flesh then our prayers that God bless our people, heal their wounds, superintend our words, and pour out His Spirit on His church have no guarantee of being heard. We are committing spiritual malpractice and must repent. We must cry out to God to give us a spirit of repentance, that He would open our eyes and our hearts so that we might see ourselves in light of His Holiness. We must cry out that He would soften our hearts so that we can see our sin and how much it displeases God. When we do this, the scales will fall from our eyes and we will know. No longer will God and His word be gray to us. The delusion will dissipate and we will begin to expect God to heal the wounds of His people and pour out His Spirit in a mighty way on Sunday because He has done it in our own hearts every day of the week before.
Pastors, let us not fool ourselves into thinking that the state of our churches as they are in this country are signs of God’s blessing. Many of them stand today only because of God’s mercy. Jesus died on the cross to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). If we are not witnessing strong-holds coming down in our churches, then we must not point fingers at them but at ourselves. What strong-holds are in MY life? What am I not believing God can deliver me from? Stop committing spiritual malpractice on yourself and your sheep. “Repent, and turn again, so that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19-20).
I think one of the most glorious questions in history is the one Jesus asked the invalid of 38 years in John 5:
Do you want to be healed?
Imagine! The creator of the universe asking this man that question! But it isn’t a question he asks only of this man. He asks it to every one of us.
Do you want to be healed? Do you want to be made well? Do you want to be whole? How we respond to that question is every bit as important as the glory of the question itself.
That Jesus has to ask the question speaks volumes, doesn’t it? I know from personal experience that the answer to that question is not always what we might expect. The reason for this is explained just 2 chapters prior to this story:
And this is the judgment: the light has come in to the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil (John 3:19)
Jesus is always asking the glorious question to us, every day, and we often tell him no. It’s true that the reason is because we love our sin more than God. Like Gollum with his Precious, we are not keen on parting from the thing which has become our favorite god, the thing we have bowed to time after time. Even though it threatens to destroy us and everyone we love, we cling to it nonetheless.
Do you want to be healed? The question offers us a promise that seems too good to be true because we know how evil we are. We know the power of our Precious. It has held our attention for so long, with such intensity, that the thought of it being gone from our lives invites all sorts of other questions: What will I do without it? What will be expected of me if I’m healed? What will I run to when I feel alone? And the big one…
What if it doesn’t work?
Isn’t that the biggest fear? What happens if you put all your eggs in the basket named Jesus and it doesn’t work? What if you step out in faith, go all-in, take the plunge, and you discover that there is no one there to catch you?
If you feel that way you are not alone. I remember feeling that way, and I talk to many others who do, too. Particularly if they are professing Christians. The reasons come in many shapes and sizes but can generally be summed up one of two ways: We love our sin too much to want to be healed and/or we are afraid God cannot make good on his promise to heal us. We have more faith in the power of our sin than we do the power of God to heal. It’s as though we want to protect God from failure. Oh, how prideful we are! Is there any limit to our evil?
This is why for so many of us it is not until we are at the end of our rope that we will say yes to the question, Do you want to be healed? It won’t be until we have exhausted every other resource, every other “program,” every other step, and have hurt everyone who loves us that we will then hear the question as though for the first time and cry out like the invalid of 38 years, “Sir, I have no one else!”
When we realize there is no one else, we lose the fear of falling into nothing because we see our sin has already brought us there. I remember when I first heard the words, “God hasn’t brought you to this point to just make you better, but to make you new.” I so desperately wanted those words to be true! Though I couldn’t imagine it could be true of me, I knew that either God had to do a miracle in my heart or I was dead. There was no one else. I had tried it all. God was either going to prove Himself as more powerful than my Precious, or there was no God, and the gospel was pointless.
Thanks be to God, He has been more than faithful! His word is true, and His promises are real. He says to you and I time and time again throughout Scripture, in fact, more times than any other command, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”
If you have heard Jesus ask you the glorious question, do you want to be healed? tell him yes! Do not be afraid, for He is with you, and will never leave nor forsake you. Nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37)….not even defeating your Precious and creating a new mind and heart inside of you.
Last night I had the privilege of hearing Julie Ziglar Norman, daughter of Zig Ziglar, share her testimony at the Women’s Care Center of Rhea County banquet. At one point she shared a story about a poor grade she received in school for a speech she gave to her class. When she asked the teacher why she received a low mark, her teacher explained,
Julie, I know who your father is. I expected better from you!
That story got me thinking about our Heavenly Father, and the expectations upon those of us who believe, and are thus given the right to be called His sons and daughters (John 1:12).
And yet, unlike Julie Ziglar Norman’s teacher, it’s rare these days to have someone in our life who calls us up and out of status quo Christianity. It’s rare that we expect much out of ourselves, too, even though we claim to be children of the King.
Paul had great expectations for those who would follow Jesus. He urged Christians to live lives worthy of the calling they have received (Eph. 4:1). He insisted that he was leaving the past behind and pressing on towards the prize ahead, that upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:12-14). Paul expected big things.
Jesus, too. It was Jesus who said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). In a world where no one expects much from us anymore, and we expect little from ourselves, these words of Christ get twisted to mean all sorts of things. And yet the truth remains: Jesus expected great things from us. In fact, he trusted us to such a degree that he ascended to heaven, leaving 11 men behind to continue the mission for which he gave his life. Jesus expected they could do it.
Of course, we don’t do it alone. Any good that comes from us is not because of our natural ability but because of who our Father is and His grace at work within and through us. And our Father will not expect out of us that which He is not willing or able to provide a way for us to achieve.
In this way He is unlike our earthly fathers. As a dad of 5, I expect some things from my children. Some of them good, I hope, but not all. Sometimes my motivation for expecting certain things is not good (like when I want them to be quiet just because I don’t want to be disturbed). My expectations are often selfish. This is because I’m sinful, like all earthly fathers. But our Heavenly Father is not like me (thank God!). His motives are always pure and I can trust that His expectations are grounded in love, and my living up to them is always for my good.
However, the extent to which we believe our Father expects great things from us is, without question, the same extent to which we will live worthy of such a calling. If you don’t truly believe that Jesus gave his life to “save us from our sins” (Matt. 1:21), to “destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8), and to “set the captives free” (Luke 4:18), then most likely you will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. I know very well what that is like, living for years under the descriptor, “Addict,” rather than the truth, a sinner saved by grace.
I had more faith in the power of my sin than I did in Jesus Christ who overcame the world (John 16:33).
Do you know who your Father is? He is expecting great things from you. Today, I encourage you to look to Him rather than your sin. Run to the cross and there you will find the power to resist temptation and grow in righteousness. Our Father expects great things from you and I. Let’s press on towards the prize!