Jesus’ Call: “Come and Die… and find true life in forsaking everything…”

Our Culture’s Call: “Come and Get… and find Health, Wealth… whatever your heart lusts for!”

Did Christ call you to the path of your wildest dreams coming true?

Did Christ call you to the path of health and wealth and romance?

These are the things we dream of, right?

If he wanted to attract a lot of people, you would have thought THIS is what he would have offered, right?

But instead he say’s these words: “If you want to follow me, deny yourself… take up your cross, and follow me…whosoever does not hate his own life cannot be my disciple.”

I think one of the reasons this sounds so foreign to us is because it goes against our cultural norms (individualism, consumerism, materialism…)

In fact, I think when most of us come to Christ in this culture, it is BECAUSE OF Radical Self-Interest…

We don’t come to die, we come to live!

Some of us come to God to get hope for our Eternal Destination

We look at eternity: Heaven & Hell… which one sounds better?

Some of us want a better life now… Maybe it’s the false health and wealth gospel OR maybe you are looking for Freedom from the brokenness we’ve experienced when we couldn’t help ourselves… addictions, sorrows, things that had been done against us… and we believe Christian Morality will help us achieve freedom from those things…

Some of us want to Make a Difference in the world, and Christianity is the perfect vehicle to accomplish our activist plans…

Some of us just grew up in it and don’t know any different, so we settle into a version of Christianity that fits us because we know there is some truth in there. So we find a church that reflects our values and settle in until something messes with us (offended at a person or teaching or they stop doing my favorite light show during the morning concert…), then we hop around until we find another church that fits our consumer hearts

The church has said for a long time, “Come get saved for your reasons, then join a church that fits your personality and desires (music-style, teaching-style, etc…), and then try to participate in mission as you can… That’s the key to the Christian life: you’ll be feeding some homeless people, behaving better, and know you’re going to heaven when you die”

The problem is we end up leading unfulfilling lives!

Mission becomes some dry activity squeezed into our free time…

Discipleship becomes a list of Meetings we attend and adding more Activities into our already saturated lives…

Freedom becomes a ball of guilt-ridden feelings we walk around under because we can’t break our sinful habits and we can’t seem to find the balance we seek, and we can’t do enough to make a dent in world poverty…

So… after a while, we find ourselves wanting to plop down Indian-style in the middle of the floor and give up, because our Fuel is Gone & we are Burnt Out and This Call is not all it was cracked up to be…

Jesus wants to free you today from that self-serving, unfulfilling, religious cycle!

Jesus wants to Break the chains of your the guilt, and consumerstic lie you’ve bought into today!

He wants to Set Loose the Pharisees and Sadducees and Zealots from their self-fulfilling dreams… the idols they have put their hope in… idols they are serving in the name of God

Many of us come to Christ to gain our lives…

Jesus calls us to lose our lives…to die.

Although my understanding of worship continued to evolve and mature, the basic function of my heart remained the same. I was the same self-seeking slob...

I had stopped chasing an experience. I was learning to content myself with God as He chose to reveal himself to me. But something was still way off. My heart still wanted to get something... to earn something... and worship was just becoming a new way to accomplish this. One more work. One more merit badge on my vest of self-righteousness. One more way to get something from the God who was, Himself, quickly becoming the means to something I wanted: my salvation, joy, self-image, happy life. He was the means to all the things my heart really desired... not an end in Himself. I was serving God for His gifts, not for Him. It took the loving and jarring truth of the gospel to set me free from the self-righteous, self-seeking ideology that held my heart captive.

See, for the longest time in my walk I understood the gospel cognitively, but it had never truly invaded my heart and soul in the way it was about to...

It started with a few gracious questions the Holy Spirit led me to ask myself as I studied. If I was walking with God, why was I so unhappy? Why was worship so exhausting? Where was this "rest" the Scriptures promised? Where was the joy? I was looking to God for these things He had promised and I wasn't getting them! It seemed like the more I tried to honor Him and remove my heart's false hope from other things... the more I tried to make Him the center... the more exhausted I was becoming. I was irritable. I was unhappy! I was getting burned out! There had to be something wrong!

I thank God for graciously leading me to the end... the end of my works-based theology (that wasn't working)... the end of my trying to either impress or manipulate God into giving me what I wanted... the end of myself.

I wandered into a church-planter's meeting a year or so into planting Anchor Gaslamp in Downtown San Diego. I was tired. Dead-tired. Ministry wasn't fulfilling me like I thought it would. I needed new ideas. I needed to be pumped up and inspired. I needed a better model for planting churches. Looking back I think God had different ideas...

The speaker got up and began preaching about the cross... at first all I felt was frustration. This was not what I had signed up for. Didn't he know this was a church-planter's conference and that we all knew the gospel! But as I listened, the frustration quickly gave way to interest, then godly-sorrow, then repentance as I heard the gospel in a whole new way! It wasn't a different gospel than the one I had grown up with, but this time it spoke to me at a different level... to my heart... and it challenged me to examine all of my life, not just my eternal destination, in light of the gospel!

As He began to talk about God's holiness, comparing it to our brokenness and self-centeredness, I felt like God was holding up a mirror that showed me the cancerous core of evil and destructive ways within my own heart. As I saw myself in light of a holy and gracious God, I shriveled back in vehement disgust of my own condition! I knew I was broken before that day, but I had never really taken the time to examine my own sinfulness... My fragile sense of self-worth could not have handled it because my sense of self-worth was built on my accomplishments (which is why I had chosen the path of ministry in the first place). I had always known that I was not perfect, but I would rationalize it: "We are all imperfect, so that's alright... no need to dwell on it. God forgives us all because of Christ... he has to, so now let's move on to important stuff like mission and evangelism!"

I guess that's what I had done my whole life... I had just kept moving on immediately after sin. I had never stopped and taken an inventory of my heart. Not only was there a lot of wicked desires in there, but even the good things were tainted by the bad... I had never realized that I could be trying to do all the right things for all the wrong reasons. I could be worshipping and ministering and pastoring out of sinful motivations (like the older brother in the story of the prodigal son, who wants all the things the Father gives without the Father himself... the older brother who performs his but off trying to earn everything the Father has without realizing that the Father has given it to him already...) My heart was broken! The more holy and pure I realized God was, the more wicked I saw myself. That was the bad news!

Then the good news came flooding in and overwhelmed my heart. He cared about the sin, but He cared about me more... enough to make a way out of the mess I had found myself in... It's interesting that the worse the bad news is, the better the good news is. The bigger and wider and more impossible the gap between my sinfulness and God's holiness, the more amazing grace becomes.

I realized that before this moment the gospel was always "ok news;" but when I took the time to realize how broken I truly was without God, and how impossible all of my situations were, I realized what marvelous news the gospel was!

Grace became more and more amazing! Worship began pouring out of my soul, not as some way to get things from God, but as the natural result of a soul that deserves nothing, but has ALREADY been given everything from God! I deserved death, but I was breathing and eating drinking deeply from life! I deserved eternal sorrow, but I was laughing and singing and dancing! I deserved to be cut-off, but I was surrounded by people that loved me! I deserved hell, both in this life and the next, but I was already beginning to taste the sweetness of heaven here and now... the sweetness of my future eternal reward... A reward I didn't earn or deserve, but one that was earned and secured for me by Christ!

Like I said, worship flowed from my heart!

I was overwhelmed by the goodness and undenyable grace of God.

I realized that I had been given everything I needed through Christ and His sinless life, His efficacious death on the cross, and His empowering resurrection!

The Gospel changed my heart... it transformed the heart of worship forever!

When I came to a church gathering and sang praise, joining in with a host of voices in corporate worship, it took on a new meaning... a new life. I wasn't trying to gain special favors or experiences or strategically find my way into new dimensions... I wasn't trying to find formulas to get into God's presence or make things happen. Worship was not the means to anything... it was an end in itself. God was not a means to anything anymore... He was an end in Himself. I had already been given everything. If I never had a new word or fresh revelation from God, He had already spoken and given me His Word. If I never saw a healing, He had already healed me ultimately... If I never felt His presence, those moments I had already experienced in His presence were enough already! What grace He had already given me that I should even be called His child... That He would EVER move on my heart and draw me to Him.

Now don't get me wrong... I am persuaded that God still heals and speaks and draws us into moments of rapture in His presence! The Holy Spirit still opens up our hearts to receive the deep mysteries of His Word! BUT I am content... more than content, I am satisfied with the gospel and what God has already revealed to me and done for me. Worship is continually flowing from this heart to God throughout the day (in decisions and relationships and conversations) and in special times of corporate worship in songs and expressions and shouts of praise.

Of course I have not perfected this...

If I worshipped perfectly:

I would never sin...

I would pray without ceasing...

I would truly believe in my heart (not just comprehend in my mind) that everything I need is in Him...

My heart would find its full identity in Him...

Other people's words would not affect me...

I would rest from my spiritual works...

Anxiety and fear would be strange feelings from a past life...

Instense love is the only lens through which I would see anyone (even bad drivers)...

My life would be a perpetual mission...

My relationships and actions and words would be soaked in the gospel...

In short, I would be like Christ...

And there is coming a day where "...we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is..."

In that day, Christ will be the only target of our worship and hope and trust...

In that day, we will experience the fulfillment of our humanity...

In that day, we will be true worshippers.

But until then, let's realize that we are all worshippers, we just fall short in 'where' we aim our hope...

And let's make God the center of our lives...

And let's not pursue God for His gifts...

And let's not use worship as some sort of sick gift to ourselves...

Let's avoid the "raindance mentality" and let God be God, without trying to manipulate Him...

Let's stand before the cross in awe and let worship flow from our ever-expanding belief in His gospel and our ever-widening appreciation of His grace...

Let's realize who we are in this thing, and see God as He truly is...

And let's become more like Him as we focus our hope and attention more and more upon Him...

Let's become true worshippers, who worship the Father in spirit and truth...

When I thought of worship, I thought of music. Dance. Gyrating. Screams and Shouts and Bobby-pins flying around the altar, as the Pentecostal updo's came shaking down. The reality of worship as a lifestyle had never dawned on my pre-teen mind. As I prayed and researched and contemplated the nuances of this thing called worship I realized something: I am always worshipping. Every single moment of my life is an act of worship. Whether I am deliberating on what to buy in the store, or typing an email to a friend. If I am sitting at my desk in school, playing basketball, or on a date... worship. It is not something I conjure up... I was made to worship, and it's something I can't turn off... worship is the ever-present state of my heart.

Let me explain. We live in a fast-paced consumer culture where advertising grabs our attention and seeks to grab our hearts. "You are unhappy. You need our product. Then you will be fulfilled." This is the message we hear repeated a thousand times a day. "Put your hope in us, and we will fix this area of your life." Something always has our focus. Something always competes for our attention.

Right now I am focused on writing this. Right now you are reading it. You are choosing whether you agree with what I am saying or not. As I sit in this cafe typing, how many things are going on all around me? A guy just spilled coffee all over the table a few feet away and it's dripping all over the floor, as he curses under his breath and sops it up madly with his two free napkins. Hurried waitresses are hustling by... hustling for their tips. They make a living here. Their life is defined by their performance. A stunningly-beautiful blonde girl walks by. The guy cursing at his coffee pauses as she passes... his eyes scan her from top to bottom and meet my eyes as she passes my table. As his brain registers this miniscule moment of time, he realizes that I see into his heart. He lowers his eyes from my gaze, pauses, then proceeds to sop up the coffee. I continue to type.

I am surrounded by worship.

Harold Best says it this way: "We were created continuously outpouring. Note that I did not say we were created to be continuous out-pourers. Nor can I dare imply that we were created to worship. This would suggest that God is an incomplete person whose need for something outside himself (worship) completes his sense of himself. It might not even be safe to say that we were created for worship, because the inference can be drawn that worship is a capacity that can be separated out and eventually relegated to one of several categories of being. I believe it is strategically important, therefore, to say that we were created continuously outpouring—we were created in that condition, at that instant, Imago Dei."

What Harold Best is saying is that all of us are looking for something to aim our hope toward… The world is NOT simply divided between two groups of people: Those who worship and those who don’t. It is divided between people who worship things that will distort their lives, and people who worship the only proper object worthy of the worship of their soul. You are either worshipping the wrong things or you’re worshipping the only One whose worship will not distort your life.

As I think back on the past few minutes here in this cafe, I try to imagine where people were putting their hope. The man who lost His temper at his coffee spillage, then ogled the passing beauty. The worried-eyed waitresses performing for a paycheck. You. Me. Where is our hope?

Maybe our ultimate hope for salvation and life beyond lies in Christ, but according to what true worship is, our hope in EVERY situation must be Christ. Of course that doesn't mean we lie around like piles of gelatin waiting on God to drop manna into our mouths and send cash to our mailboxes. It doesn't mean that the waitress shouldn't be working for a paycheck... but what would happen to that worried look in her eyes and the frantic frenzy of her hurried steps if she knew God was truly in control and that He would provide for her-even if she made a mistake and lost this job tomorrow... because He is the one who gives her the breath in her lungs and the ability to earn an income... and He's the one who gave her the opportunity to earn that income here...and He will continue to provide for her long after she's moved on from this job. Her performance is important, but God is her ultimate source of hope, whether she realizes it or not.

Am I saying that the guy can't feel any emotion when he spills his coffee? No, frustrations come... but our outbursts do betray our hearts and where we put our trust... Did God stop being in control because he spilled his coffee? Did the earth spin off it's axis? Did the world end? Worse things have happened and will happen to this coffee-spilling ogler of women, but his hope in this moment is in his fragile sense of control. His hope may be in having the perfect, unstained outfit and impressing the people he works for, or some potential boss he's going to an interview with. This outburst was not about the coffee. It's about his expectations... it's about all the other layers beneath... Is God his source of hope in this moment or his own perceived sense of control? Is he trusting God for his identity, or is he finding his identity in the eyes of his co-workers and bosses and those who will judge him for his coffee-stains?

Am I judging him for admiring beauty or for pursuing his love interests... of course not! But ask yourself, as he watched her pass, where was he putting his hope? Was he believing that God is good and that He has already made provision for his happiness, or was his unsatisfied soul hungrily lusting for more and more... always dreaming about the next thing out of reach? Did his eyes reveal his heart's ultimate desire? Was that desire submitted to God, or has it taken up residence on the throne of his heart? I don't know... Only he can look inward with the guidance of the Spirit and catch any kind of glimpse at what's going on deep within. I'm just a silent observer.

As you read this, where does your mind go? Where are you putting your hope? What things take up residence in your heart? Whatthings take up a majority of your resources (time, energy and effort)?

Whether we are worshipping our own sexuality and ability to provide for ourselves...

Whether we are worshipping those around us and their approval or what they offer...

Whether we are worshipping our jobs, possessions, relationships, status, or religious performance...

Whether we are worshipping things that distort our lives or the only One who will give our lives meaning...

We are always worshipping.

As Tim Keller says, "True worship isn’t manufacturing something you don’t have already or trying to think of things to say about God and to God… Worship is TRANSFERRING the ultimate value from the things that your heart has already said are ultimate, TO GOD. Every single person has put their hope in something. They say 'If I have THAT, THEN I’ll be ok, Then I’ll know who I am, Then I’ll have meaning or purpose in life, Then I’ll be happy.' Everybody has that. Everybody is living for something... but whatever that thing is, it completely orients your whole life. It can completely control you... This is what worship is. Not just coming and singing songs or praying here and there. Worship is recognizing you ALREADY have ascribed ultimate value to something in your life and worship is the process Redirecting all of your hope and all of your focus and towards God."

Discovering this truth about worship was transformational for me. My walk with God began to change almost overnight. It was like I saw everything with new eyes... like a heavy fog had lifted. Worship wasn't getting something from God, it was giving something to God... not because He needed it, but because I needed Him. Worshiping the one true God is ultimately the most healing thing in your life!

But there is still one remaining danger! I had to ask myself why I was doing it? What was my motivation for worshipping? Why was I trying to redirect my worship from all the false gods in my life to the one true God? Was it self-centered? I was finally beginning to wrap my mind around what worship truly was, but I realized my heart was still in the wrong place. I was still at the center. I wanted to worship God for what I got from it.

It wasn't until I let my heart be overwhelmed by the gospel that worship began to change me forever...

(Part 3 Coming Soon...)

Worship is weird outside of a gospel-centered context... I remember growing up as a kid in church and trying to wrap my mind around why this all powerful Being NEEDED my worship... why I had to go sing to Him every Sunday... I felt like my worship somehow fulfilled Him... like He was incomplete without it and if He didn't get it somehow He would be angry, like a spoiled kid who doesn't get his toy in the store and throws a tantrum (something I was very familiar with around this time).

As I grew to know the Lord on a personal level, praying and reading His Word, I began to realize that He's not at all like that kid who doesn't get his way, and that He doesn't even need my worship... which led me to a weird place: apathy towards worship. If He doesn't need it, what's the point?

I was still a long way off from understanding the depths of the gospel message, but I knew some of the basics: that He died for my sins and loved me. This sparked something within my heart... a little bit of thanks. "Wow God, that's pretty cool... thanks... um, I guess you had to because you felt guilty for cursing us all along with Adam, Eve and the whole planet, but I do appreciate You for forgiving us and dying under the weight of Your own heavy decree... that's nice. Thanks!" I knew He loved me because I could feel His love for me when I prayed and I would be overwhelmed at times with His Spirit... but I still somehow felt like I was doing Him a favor when I worshipped Him.

Day in and day out as my relationship with God took on new forms... as I experienced life with it's diverse situations and had to go to God for answers, my appreciation for Him grew and my walk deepened. I began to weep as I thought about His love for me. I began to be moved in times of corporate worship, which was easy in the Pentecostal church I grew up in, where worshipful expression was given full-license. Still, the worship I gave Him was shallow and immature. In fact, it began to twist and turn and transform into something else altogether. Somewhere in there worship became all about me.

It's interesting how easily this happened. There were services I attended during that time where I went expecting nothing, but somewhere in the music I would be overwhelmed by my emotions and an overwhelming sense of God's presence... The feeling was so great... the joy so inexplicable that I began seeking the experience of being in His presence. I would "pray hard" and say things I knew He wanted to hear so I could experience that high again... I would jump and run and contort my body... I would "Dance like David danced," not as a result of His powerful presence, but as some perverted form of a "rain-dance" trying my best to make God to move. looking back now I feel like I behaved less like a Christ-follower and more like one of the prophets of Baal, doing anything to get the fire to come down! I was seeking the gifts of His presence, and not the divine Giver himself.

Don't get me wrong, there were positive motivations in there too! I wanted God to move so miracles would happen! I wanted people to get healed! I wanted broken hearts to be mended, and broken relationships to be restored! And most of all I wanted people to be filled with the Spirit! But all these motivations paled in comparison to the high I was chasing. Then, when God seemed not to respond in the way I wanted Him to, I became that kid in the toy store... I half-blamed God and half-blamed all the carnal people who weren't worshipping Him enough... "If we just had more unity!"

One day I found myself in a spiritual desert, starving for 'more of God' and wondering if there was some secret sin in my life that was causing Him to judge me by withholding those moves of His Spirit that I was feening for. Desperate for more experiences, I stepped into the shoes of a mad scientist and began researching worship in order to break down the perfect formula to get God to move... to sustain my fix. In my mad pursuit I read the Psalms... I read the Gospels and Epistles... I read and read and read... and I discovered something. Worship is not what I thought it was...

(Part 2 Coming soon...)

We are in exile.

We live outside the promised land.

Our hearts yearn for it.

Our eyes weep.

...We collapse by the river and lament.

Exiled from our mothers womb.

Expelled from the garden.

Memories of the promised land

Haunt creaky corridors in my heart

...I thought freedom was the path I chose.

The womb is heaven. Heaven is confining.

My ego was to large for that place.

I crawled out head-first into the cold,

Screaming and crying and covered in blood.

...Reality deals it's crushing blow.

The garden is heaven. I am never content.

How could God keep any tree for Himself?

I'll show Him. I'll take it. I'll survive.

He's holding out on me. My way is best.

...If only I'd known.

The promised land was ours.

Yet here we sit mourning.

Living in the past. Hoping in idols.

We've exiled ourselves-our chosen path.

...But the way back has been opened.

Paradise lost was ours all along

There is nothing in this world quite like standing in the reality of your need for God.

Growing up in church, I have been a fervent participant in this thing called repentance, with it's various nuances and forms. I have groveled. I have self-justified. I have self-loathed. I have tried to hold out without repenting, because I knew I was inevitably going to fall again and I wanted to wait... I wanted to be truly sorry... I wanted to wrap all of my repentance into one "big" moment of sorrow. There have been heartfelt moments where I found myself gripping the carpet with my teeth as hot tears burned their way down my cheeks, and I could scarcely utter a sound. There have been other moments where a simple "sorry" was all I felt I needed to say

I am a sinner. I am well-acquainted with repentance. It is an everyday reality for me.

But... sitting here in this moment, once again preparing for a time of sincere repentance... I am realizing something for the first time. There is beauty in this moment; a beauty I have never noticed before.

As the gospel sinks down deeper into the inner-recesses of my heart, like a spelunking adventurer repels himself downward into a dark cave, I feel the gospel shining its light on unexposed areas and revealing truths about this place in my heart I never realized.

Over my life I have repented for many different reasons: Because I feel bad.. Because I have sinned... Because I want to save myself from hell...

I have looked at repentance through many different glasses: I have seen repentance as a work of salvation. I have repented to get God to forgive me... To twist His arm. "If I'm this sorry you have to forgive me... You must!" I have even carried my guilt around with me. I have struggled with fear that in those moments I didn't really repent, because I find myself repeating sins over and over. I have stood at the foot of the cross and said "thanks for carrying the weight of my sins, but it's not enough... I need to carry them too... then I will earn what you have already given me." Sounds crazy right! But many of us do that, and I think it's because somewhere down deep, maybe we want a bit of the credit, or maybe we just don't understand how good the news of the gospel is... that we can not save ourselves... and no walking around carrying our own guilt can or will ever add anything to our salvation. He already paid it all.

Other times I have looked at repentance as a formality. I have taken the gospel of grace to the other extreme, knowing full well that He took on the complete payment of my sin and that I am free. So when I would find myself sinning, I would move on, barely feeling the need to repent, knowing that without Christ in my life I would always sin... In those moments I understood grace, but took advantage of it. I used His amazing grace as a license to sin and to feel free from remorse.

What is so beautiful about this moment is that I see repentance for the what it truly is. Repentance is not the legalistic, guilt-ridden extreme that I have experienced in the past (although it does involve viewing my sin and brokenness for what it is). At the same time Repentance is not the lawless, "cheap-grace" view of the gospel (although it is realizing I am freed from the penalty of my sin and that I don't need to carry the weight of that sin anymore). What has freed me from these broken forms of repentance is the gospel.

I am learning that repentance is a time I sit in the realization that I am a great sinner. I remind myself that this moment of sin I have just experienced is what I will perpetually experience without Christ. My self-bent heart perpetually leads to actions that bring sorrow, destruction, and death into my life. I allow that truth to sink deep within my heart... I experience it. I don't shy away from the brokenness deep within the recesses of my heart. In this moment I am gripped by the overwhelming realization of my great need for God.

But that is only part of repentance. If I stop there, I begin to fall into the legalistic, self-deprecating and simultaneously self-glorifying trap of carrying the burden of my own sin, thereby becoming my own savior and missing out on the gospel transformation that is mine through Christ.

I haven't truly repented until I have experienced the full gospel in those moments... that although I am more selfish and broken and vile than I could ever imagine, He loves me more than I could ever dream! He has forgiven me and washed me and sanctified me already and He does not see my sin! He looks at me and does not see a sinner! He sees me through Christ, victorious and blameless and worthy!

In that moment grace becomes truly amazing. But, it will never be amazing unless I realize the huge divide that exists between me and God… the divide between my brokenness and His holiness. I must sit in the shadow of the cross and take the time to meditate on my need for him, in order for the grace and forgiveness to impact my heart and bring the realization of the joy and peace that I have with God because of what Christ has done.

A preacher friend of mine says we don't need to actually repent to get forgiveness... that if we are in Christ we are forgiven already. But he also points out that we do need repentance to remind ourselves of the forgiveness that is ours in Christ... that we need repentance to allow that truth of His grace to sink deeper within our hearts and transform us from within. I am not sure If I could go that far with it. Scripture tells us to repent over and over... but I think he has a really good point when he discusses our need for it: We all need true gospel-centered repentance. We all need it to be a daily reality for us. We need it to draw us away from our addictions and rapture us up into a glorious place where we see our God in His beauty and grace... that place where everything else melts away and we are once again overwhelmed by His love.

There is nothing in this world quite like standing in the reality of your need for God.

I'm at home sick today, looking out my window into the courtyard. There is a complex beauty to urban architecture, especially when trees and flowers strategically accent the lines and angles laid down by the designer. Near the far gate of the courtyard sits a small, beautiful garden... the kind you would pass by a hundred times as you go about your business without even realizing it's there. Today, however, my pacing has slowed and I am captivated by its tranquil beauty...

Suddenly the peace of the moment is shattered! The neighbor in my courtyard is shouting at someone. "You can't tell me what to do! Shut up! Quit trying to control me! You better walk away! Walk away!"

Her situation is new, but the story is ancient. It's being retold. The tranquility of another garden was demolished long ago.

Adam and Eve chose to elevate their opinions above God's... to do what was right in their own eyes, instead of resting in their trust of the Creator and Sustainer of life. They chose to walk away from the source of love and provision and meaning. It was you and I in that garden staring at those trees, choosing between His way and ours. I have made that choice over and over this week... I often choose for myself. I often mistrust. I often miss out on true life.

The invitation back into peace, wholeness, joy, love, adventure, and true life is an invitation to walk away from the tyranny of self... an invitation to leave the land where you are king and where your will is the measure of what is good, right, and perfect. In order to experience true fullness, you must empty yourself of your opinions and hopes. You must, once again, make Him the object of your hope, desire and allow him to be your God.

My neighbor is painting a picture of this truth! What is she saying? "I am the ruler of my life! I say what goes and I won't submit to anybody! Get out of my area because you are threatening my sense of control! This is my area, and I have everything the way I like it... the way I think will bring me lasting happiness and everything I want! I know what's best and you are not it!"

Does she really know what is best for her life? Do any of us? Is it to welcome others in as long as they don't challenge our fragile sense of self-worth or control? Is it to maintain our feeling of significance at all costs? Is it to be in control of your destiny and your sense of ethics and morals? Where does this struggle come from?

Try this on for size. Imagine if the story is true and God was the source of our joy and significance and life, and we pushed him out. Who did we put in that seat? Ourselves! When someone in our culture is co-dependant or down on themselves, where do we point them? To themselves! "Love yourself! Respect yourself! You don't need them! You are beautiful just the way you are!...etc." Where do people go when they want to improve? Self-actualization! "Be the best you can be! Press your limits as an individual!" What is the measure of what is good? Each person's view! "You gotta do what's right for you! This is true for me! We all have our own paths..."

The problem is we are trying desperately to replace God with Self. It does not work. I am not God. You are not God. In our hearts, deep down in the darkness, we would all like to be, but we are not. And we end up placing all our decision making, and hopes and joys and expectation for life onto ourselves, but we can't stand the weight of it all! We crush ourselves in the process! I thank God for the day I crushed myself, hit rock bottom and realized the reality of my need Him.

Now, I find my joy and significance in life in Him! My identity is not based on my performance or my looks or other people's thoughts, but in His Word about me: I am His beloved and nothing can change that! I can be honest about my shortcomings. I don't have to hide the real me. As I move forward in rugged honesty towards God and others, He changes me... He shows me how to improve. He sets the bar way higher than I ever did on my own, and then, like a good friend at the gym, He spots me, so the weight of His expectation for my improvement doesn't crush me! And the best part is this: I am free to be selfless! I do not always walk in this freedom, but it is mine for the taking and I am learning to explore this new land of putting God first and loving others as myself!

I have to say it again... The invitation back into peace, wholeness, joy, love, adventure, and true life is an invitation to walk away from the tyranny of self... an invitation to leave the land where you are king and where your will is the measure of what is good, right, and perfect. In order to experience true fullness, you must empty yourself of your opinions and hopes. You must, once again, make Him the object of your hope, desire and allow him to be your God.

The Darkness is creeping in all round... the shadows threaten the light

The Brokenness surrounds me, it's within me, I can barely breathe

I sit, legs folded, on the floor... the light is flickering within

Sirens and helicopters scream warnings throughout the night

Untrusting eyes, fake smiles and worn faces pass me in the streets

The stove top's on fire, the pot is boiling... its contents screaming for release

The earth is tilted, it spins violently through the heavens on an invisible path

A collision is immanent, this can't go on forever... we're spinning out of control

We yearn for the light, but we love the darkness... it is our home

We dream of healing, but continue to break and wound and plunder

We know nothing but this. It is all that surrounds us... it grows from within us

Do we dream in vain? Is the light even real? Take a moment. Look around you...

A child is born in northern Uganda, before he can walk he's held a gun

Another child in similar clothing walks the same footsteps on the streets of LA

Their fates are intertwined, these two young soldiers... manipulated manipulators

The products and perpetrators of hate and ignorance, perpetuating the brokenness

For a dollar, a lawyer feigns ignorance of his client's sin in the name of 'equal rights'

A doctor refuses a patient because the HMO won't support it. The sickness rages on...

A politician jumps on a cause as a platform to launch her career...The career takes off...

The career flies... Flies miles away from the injustice that gave it wings, leaving all as it was

The molested child who can't imagine true love, passes along the brokenness to another generation

An entrepreneur takes a shortcut, a lawmaker takes a bribe. We take and consume and kill...

The policeman's power magnifies his true heart... the celebrity can't escape the madness within

Power, Position and Money show the heart for what it truly is... the brokenness is within

The earth is groaning, water and fire pouring from her heart... she shakes under the weight of it all

What terrors has she witnessed since her conception? Could anyone bear such a weight?

She tries to hold on, waiting for the day of her deliverance... hoping for her redemption

But the light is fading... The brokenness is tearing through her... every moment is a miracle

The Darkness is creeping in all round... the shadows threaten the light

The Brokenness surrounds me, it's within me, I can barely breathe

I sit, legs folded, on the floor... the light is flickering within

I put my hope in my Redeemer. You are our only hope. Save Us...

Two years ago I stepped out into the unknown, along with some of my closest friends, to plant a church in Downtown San Diego. I had what I thought were good motives at the time. Looking back now, I marvel at God's great grace, that has been discipling and changing my heart all along the way.

I had a good motive... one good motive: I wanted to reach people who were not being reached. In retrospect that one good motive was grossly eclipsed by my many other, lesser motivations which included: searching for my independence, seeking to prove myself, finding my identity, and so on. These other motivations were the result deep heart struggles. Without realizing it I was giving my life over to my savior... the 'god' who sat boldly on the throne of my heart - Pride. At the time I thought I was serving Jesus. I was not.

Pride was an idol in my heart because I often felt I was in the shadow of greater men, and that if I was ever going to be my own man, I needed to make a name for myself - without anyone's help. I needed to prove myself, firstly, to my family, who had great expectations for me and let me know from the time I was little (I was a fourth generation Pentecostal and the anointing was building up in the bloodline). I needed to prove myself to my peers, because I was always that loner preacher's kid, with no siblings, who desperately wanted to fit in with all the cool kids around him (In fact, I did some pretty stupid things to try to gain everyone's approval). I also needed to prove myself to... well, myself... because I knew what a screw-up I was, and how if people ever saw all the junk deep in my heart they would hate me and kick me out of their lives. Not least, I needed to prove myself to God because I was sucking up all His air and taking up all His time and using up all His mercy, and not showing anything for it except more blunders and screw-ups! I was a walking contradiction, full of self-hate and self-love.

I left everything to follow God, to win souls... and to prove myself.

You can probably look through the fog of my self-delusion and clearly see the answer that I needed: God's Grace. But at the time I was oblivious to it. I didn't see the problem... much less the solution. In fact, all of the stress from managing my morality throughout my early years of following Christ, had created a trap door in my heart, which I frequently found myself falling through, swinging wildly into sinful addictions then repenting and holding onto rigorous moral standards in order to protect myself from further moral failure. I was miserable... but it was all I knew.

In an attempt to prove myself further, while at the same time trying to build a protective wall to guard myself from my self-destructive ways, I threw myself into the deep end of theological pool, reading everything I could get my hands on. But an interesting contradiction resulted: as I grew in my knowledge of God, my heart grew farther from His. Instead of His truth invading my heart and causing love, gratitude, and compassion... instead of allowing my understanding of grace to grow into humility, I held His truth as some personal trophy and I looked down my nose at others who didn't understand this wealth of theology. I judged those in my past with their ignorant (as I saw it) legalistic beliefs. And as much as I judged others, I judged myself... understanding the truth of God's grace as some abstract principle, but not believing in its reality and power in practical ways. Grace was something God had to do for everyone. I tried to give grace to myself and others, but not out of a thankful heart. Instead it was because I had to. It was a requirement.

It's an interesting contradiction to find yourself in.

If I lived morally (according to my standards) I judged others.

If I failed, I judged myself.

I was carrying the cross... it was just the wrong one.

Somewhere in there I found myself doing all the right things for all the wrong reasons.

One day the reality of God's Grace started invading the dark places of my heart and shining a light into the shadows. It wasn't a sudden invasion, but a gradual, subversive overturning of pride's reign within my soul.

This gospel-mutiny against pride's control over my life grew steadily as I began to realize that I was living a life totally out of sync with the beliefs I knew to be true. If the fruit of my life was so self-centered and destructive, the root couldn't be God's truth... it had to be something else. Something besides God's liberating truth was in my heart, and I knew this because I was bound with feelings of self-condemnation and judgment of others. How was that possible? How can someone know all the right things and live all the wrong ways, constantly jumping from one extreme to another?

Connection. I met some amazing friends during this time who began talking about the difference of head knowledge and heart-level-belief. They showed me how we can know all the right truth about God in our heads, but never really believe it in our hearts. If there is a disconnect there, His truth never works its way out into our lives. They showed me that sanctification is not the act of applying external motivators for godliness, but simply allowing the Holy Spirit to close the gap between what we know to be true in our heads and what we believe in our hearts. This is pure grace. This is the gospel flowing from God and into our daily lives.

The surface problem I had was that I was storing up an artillery of truth in my head to be used in the battles for faith... the real problem was that, even in that, I was self-deceived... I was really just storing God's truth up there in my head to protect my pride and prove my worthiness to myself and everyone around me. The problem was that His truth was not connected to my heart, so I was not being changed by it and Sin was reigning in my life. My only defense against sin was not the gospel, but my own moralistic effort. When I succeeded in reaching my moralistic goals I gloated and judged others; when I failed I judged myself. My self-image spiked upward and downward with each transaction between my failure and His grace...

The worst realization of all came as I realized that Jesus Christ was not my savior. I wasn't letting Him save me. I was trying to save myself.

Surrender. I had to surrender. I had had enough. I had failed myself. I could not save myself and I was done trying. Pride was a false savior. I had to put my trust in another. My loss of hope in myself and my learning and my impressing others, created a vacuum for the truth to invade my heart and overcome pride's reign. The moment I lost hope in myself was the moment I found hope in my Savior. I began to realize that I was already made worthy... not through anything I had done, but through the sacrifice Christ made on the cross. Nothing could change my status. Not some mistake. Not some sin. Not some comment some person made. My identity was secured through His finished work. I was free.

Jesus paid it all,

All to Him I owe;

Sin had left a crimson stain,

He washed it white as snow.

I hear the Savior say,

“Thy strength indeed is small;

Child of weakness, watch and pray,

Find in Me thine all in all.”

For nothing good have I

Whereby Thy grace to claim;

I’ll wash my garments white

In the blood of Calv’ry’s Lamb.

And now complete in Him,

My robe, His righteousness,

Close sheltered ’neath His side,

I am divinely blest.

Lord, now indeed I find

Thy pow’r, and Thine alone,

Can change the leper’s spots

And melt the heart of stone.

When from my dying bed

My ransomed soul shall rise,

“Jesus died my soul to save,”

Shall rend the vaulted skies.

And when before the throne

I stand in Him complete,

I’ll lay my trophies down,

All down at Jesus’ feet.

The realization of that truth has continued to grow in my life daily, applying itself to more and more situations and rooting itself deeper within my heart. When someone brags on me or when someone else tears me down, I have a priceless gospel-opportunity to remind myself that I am more broken than I could ever imagine and at the same time I am more loved forgiven and accepted than I could ever dare to believe. My words and works do not define me. His work on the cross... this final word on the matter defines me: "It is finished!" There is no room for pride... there is no room for condemnation, because Jesus paid it ALL.