return to sin-der

“The truth is that there are such things as Christian tears, and too few of us ever weep them.”  John Stott

Several weeks ago I was asked if I’d consider becoming a spiritual pen pal with a fellow believer whom I’d never met and who happens to be incarcerated.  Although I’ve never done anything like this before the idea immediately appealed to me so I wrote the letter and sent it on its way eagerly awaiting my new found friend’s first response confident that the Lord had something to teach me through this new relationship.  Weeks went by with no reply much to my growing disappointment, but then just when I had almost given up I finally got my “reply.”  Much to my surprise it was my very own unopened letter being returned to me.  Attached to the letter was an adhesive notice from the prison informing me that the return address information I had provided was not sufficient and couldn’t be delivered.  The problem? I had left off my first name and had only provided my last name on the return portion of the envelope.  Who would’ve ever thought that leaving off my first name could make such a boomerang difference?  Not I obviously.  The bottom line is the prison needs complete information to be supplied on everything and everyone attempting to make contact with anyone on the inside before allowing access.  In other words, they want to know exactly who you are before they’ll welcome you inside.  Supplying only my last name without my accompanying first name simply didn’t get the job done in their eyes because in doing so I was only partially identified.  To their way of thinking my partial compliance was no different than not providing any return address information at all.  Immediately I was reminded of Jesus’s thoughts as found in Revelation 3:15-17 (WEB):  I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were cold or hot.  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of my mouth.  Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing;’ and don’t know that you are the wretched one, miserable, poor, blind, and naked;”

Not that long ago I read something captivating that John Eldredge, the Wild at Heart author, said in his latest book, “All Things New” regarding our hearts being transformed by hope you can taste:  “If you woke each morning and your heart leapt with hope, knowing that the renewal of all things was just around the corner—might even come today—you would be one happy person. If you knew in every fiber of your being that nothing is lost, that everything will be restored to you and then some, you would be armored against discouragement and despair. If your heart’s imagination were filled with rich expectations of all the goodness coming to you, your confidence would be contagious; you would be unstoppable, revolutionary.” (emphasis mine)   Those words, “contagious, unstoppable, revolutionary” have stuck with me as if they’re on permanent loop in my very soul since reading them that very first time.  As a believer, who doesn’t want to be contagious, unstoppable, and revolutionary for Jesus?  That, my friend, describes a world impacting soul on fire for the Lord laser focused on matters of eternal significance.  As I thought and prayed over these three qualities I realized I am not contagious, I am not unstoppable, and I am not revolutionary for my Savior.  So, what is holding me back?  The truth is that like the insufficiently addressed returned letter containing only my last name, I am not fully engaged with Jesus.  Or put another way, I’m half-hearted and that’s why my desired destination is not happening.  Again, thoughts of the lack of appeal lukewarm water presents trickle through my mind.  This is a mouthful I’d like to spit out.

Recently I completed a YouVersion devotional by John Bevere based on his book entitled “Killing Kryptonite.”  Although I’ve not yet read the book some of my friends who have told me it’s basically about identifying what’s holding us, and the Church, back from becoming everything God desires us and His bride to be.  In its presence kryptonite renders Superman not just helpless, but can with prolonged exposure, kill him.  Referring to the early Acts church as compared to the modern day church Mr. Bevere asks, “Why are we not seeing the greater works God promised?” He answers that question by saying, “I believe that just like Superman had kryptonite, the church-the collection of individuals who claim to follow Christ-does as well.”  Continuing on Mr. Bevere observes, “The state of the church today, which seems to clearly be at cross purposes to God’s intentions and purposes for our lives as Christ-followers, should frustrate you.”

Now I don’t know about you, but those last three words, “should frustrate you” catch my attention.  In fact, they haunt me, but not for the obvious reason.  No, sadly they pursue me because I realize I am not contagiously, unstoppably, and revolutionarily frustrated with the Church being anemic and therefore unlike the early Acts type of Church.  Saying you’re frustrated is one thing, however, and doing something about it is another.  If you’re truly frustrated then shouldn’t that manifest itself in change being sought that addresses these issues?  Sincere frustration should result in my actively trying to implement change shouldn’t it?  Perhaps I’m not doing something about the Church’s failings as I perceive them to be because the truth is that the Church’s problems begin with me.  How frustrated with my own walk with the Lord am I?  Isn’t that the first question I should be asking before casting any stones towards the Church?  Yes, it’s the painful but much needed “log in my own eye” perspective scripture warns us about.  I can easily see the Church’s problems, but can’t, or worse yet, won’t, see my own.  A good, long, honest look in the mirror of God’s Word confirms this to be true about my own shortcomings in devotion and faithfulness to Him.  How can I even begin to be frustrated with the Church such that I actually attempt to do something about it when my own frustration with myself is minimal at best?  Again, sincere frustration drives heartfelt change, doesn’t it?  Sadly, the evidence at hand says there is only partial frustration, partial conviction for change on my part.  As a result I am forced to admit that I am half-hearted in my devotion to the Lord.  Rephrased, I have to squirm and uncomfortably confess that this is so because the Lord is not my only God.  Ouch, yes, writing those words is painful.  Lord, please forgive me that I have been unfaithful to You!  John Bevere calls these other gods the kryptonites in my life.   Comparatively speaking, I see once again that I am no different than my returned, unopened letter filled with pages of well-intentioned words with their message never delivered, never received because I had withheld a part of my name, a part of who I am.  My words in the letter fell short and remained unread because I was not all in from the very start.  They had no chance from the moment I first wrote them, yet I didn’t perceive that reality until later.  Such words are no different than bodiless bird’s wings (Grounded flight of freedom) unable to soar because they are being held captive by the quicksand of my own half-heartedness.  Is it any wonder that almost no one, friend or stranger alike, seldom asks me as to the reason for the hope that lives and breathes inside of myself?  Perhaps such inquiries rarely happen because that message is not being received in the first place.  Why?  Because delivery cannot successfully take place so long as the message we’re sending begins its journey with anything less than our being wholehearted for Jesus.

My return address was incomplete, and that meant I was not “all in” enough so as to warrant my message contained in the letter successfully reaching my pen pal.  My voice was silenced because I was only half-hearted from the outset.  As I considered all of this the story about Jesus washing the disciples’ feet came to mind as found in John 13:1-17. One part of the story stood out to me in particular.  At one point Peter’s unbridled, wholehearted enthusiasm causes him to spontaneously exclaim, ”Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!” This, then, was Peter’s response to Jesus saying to him, “If I don’t wash you, you have no part of me.” Although Peter didn’t completely grasp everything Jesus was saying and doing at the time I think we can all agree that Peter’s unrestrained zest for what Jesus was doing was without equal and was without reserve. The world is in desperate need of “all in” believers like Peter who generously deliver life and hope as found only in Jesus wherever they go.  Such passionate excitement and eye-opening devotion for Jesus is nothing short of contagious, unstoppable, and revolutionary isn’t it?  Imagine for a moment what His Church might look like if we were to be so wholeheartedly abandoned for the Lord as Peter.  Why, the world would never be the same.  People would be naturally drawn to such a church bubbling over with sincerely aligned hearts.  There’d be no mistaking who we are in Christ both inside and outside the walls of the church.  Such a city on a hill would burn brightly as never before beckoning all to come, see, and share in what the Lord is doing wouldn’t it?

Yes, my initial thought that the Lord had much to teach me through this new relationship was indeed true…and all He needed at this early part of the journey was simply a letter marked “return to sender.”  Half-hearted is not getting the job done, friends.  The world needs wholehearted Jesus followers otherwise what we have to say is lukewarm, watered down, and doesn’t stand much of a chance of getting through.  Driven by holy frustration let our voices be contagious, unstoppable, and revolutionary for Him this day because our hearts are all in for Him and Him alone with no other gods before us.  May our united trumpets’ herald be pure, clear, beautiful, and distinct faithfully proclaiming exactly who He is to a world in desperate need of hope.

“The secret of the Christian’s passion is simple:  Everything we do in life we do as to the Lord and not to men.”  David Jeremiah

“Christ did not die to make good works merely possible or to produce a half-hearted pursuit.  He died to produce in us a passion for good deeds.  Christian purity is not mere avoidance of evil, but the pursuit of good.”  John Piper, The Passion of Jesus Christ

“The Holy Spirit cannot conquer the world with unbelief, nor can He save the world with a worldly Church.  He calls for a crusade, a campaign, and an adventure of saving passion.  For this enterprise He wants a separated, sanctified and sacrificial people.”  Samuel Chadwick

“All other passions build upon or flow from your passion for Jesus.  A passion for souls grows out of a passion for Christ.  A passion for missions builds upon a passion for Christ.  The most crucial danger to a Christian, whatever his role, is to lack a passion of Christ.  The most direct route to personal renewal and new effectiveness is a new all-consuming passion for Jesus.  Lord, give us this passion, whatever the cost!”  Wesley L. Duewel

“One person with passion is better than forty people merely interested.”  E.M. Forster

John 13:1-17 (WEB)

13 Now before the feast of the Passover, Jesus, knowing that his time had come that he would depart from this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he came from God, and was going to God, arose from supper, and laid aside his outer garments. He took a towel, and wrapped a towel around his waist. Then he poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. Then he came to Simon Peter. He said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?”

Jesus answered him, “You don’t know what I am doing now, but you will understand later.”

Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet!”

Jesus answered him, “If I don’t wash you, you have no part with me.”

Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!”

10 Jesus said to him, “Someone who has bathed only needs to have his feet washed, but is completely clean. You are clean, but not all of you.”11 For he knew him who would betray him, therefore he said, “You are not all clean.” 12 So when he had washed their feet, put his outer garment back on, and sat down again, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me, ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord.’ You say so correctly, for so I am. 14 If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Most certainly I tell you, a servant is not greater than his lord, neither one who is sent greater than he who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

Recommended additional reading:  Psalm 119

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