Why Me Lord?

Kris Kristofferson had reason to ask such a profound question. Packed into it is the sense that he found a treasure that rightfully belongs to someone else.

He came from a military family and became an Army officer himself, a helicopter pilot. In 1965 after achieving the rank of captain, he turned down an instructor position at West Point. He moved to Nashville and accepted a job as a janitor at Columbia Studios. His family promptly disowned him.

Kristofferson began to have some success as a songwriter, but his career took off when Johnny Cash noticed him. He was hard to overlook when he landed a helicopter in Cash’s front yard! But as with many artists, success led to hard living and self-medication.

During those years, Kristofferson penned the song, “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.”  “Well I woke up Sunday morning with no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt. I’d smoked my brain the night before with cigarettes and songs. On the Sunday morning sidewalk wishing lord that I was stoned, cause there’s something in a Sunday that makes a body feel alone.” It was a ballad of a hurting and lonely life.

But one Sunday morning was different. In 1971, while driving back from a concert with singer Connie Smith, he agreed to attend church services. Evangel Temple is where Smith, Johnny Cash, Larry Gatlin and other artists attended. Smith recalled, “He hadn’t been in church for 20 years.” Rev. Jimmy Snow offered the invitation to receive Christ Jesus as Savior. Kristofferson said, “I remember thinking, that’ll be the day. Then I found myself walking down front to kneel down. I was weeping. It was an experience unlike anything I had gone through before.”

That night, he had a new song. “Why me Lord, what did I ever do that was worth loving you or the kindness you’ve shown? Lord help me Jesus, I’ve wasted it so, help me Jesus! I know what I am, my soul’s in your hand.” He knew he did not deserve the gift of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Does the Bible answer the question, “Why me?” Indirectly. It’s more about God than you. “We were by nature children of wrath…But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ…and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:3-7). How sublime is God’s love, mercy, and grace for you!

So God rescues you, makes you more alive than you have ever been, and continues that kindness “in the ages to come.” That raises a better question. Why not you?

No Longer I

The new elastic case came from Amazon.  Dreading the tedium of setting up the new phone, I figured at least slipping on the case would feel like progress.  I removed it from the package and began to stretch it over the phone.  I failed.  I rededicated myself to trying harder.  For a moment I thought I had it, but I failed again.  I finally realized it would never work because of the size difference between an XS and XR, or something.  I needed to exchange the case.

Exchange is such a part of life.  You exchange your labor for a paycheck, and your paycheck for whatever you need more than money.  You can’t wait to exchange an elected official for one less outrageous.  Maybe you tried exchanging a job or even a spouse for a new shot at success or happiness.

What if you could exchange your life for a better one?  The Christian gospel offers something quite like that.  Even professing Christians can miss this vital point.  Apart from this exchange, you will not know the power of God’s grace.  Listen to Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God” (Gal. 2:20).

The 19th C. British missionary Hudson Taylor called this the “exchanged life.”  He discovered this truth when fellow missionary to China John McCarthy wrote to him, “To let my loving Savior work in me His will, my sanctification, is what I would live for by His grace.  Abiding, not striving, not struggling; trusting Him for present power in the conscious joy of a complete salvation.”  Trusting the changing power of Christ is not just for missionaries or preachers.  It is the basic Christian life!

Yet the struggle to live rightly before God is real.  Brenan Manning (The Ragamuffin Gospel) writes, “Sooner or later we are confronted with the painful truth of our inadequacy.”  Apostle Paul is embarrassingly transparent when he admits nothing good dwells in his humanity and he does not always perform well.  “Wretched!” he says.  Then he thanks Jesus for setting him free from the human condition, and for not condemning him for it. His point is that you can live by the Spirit of Christ in you (Rom. 7, 8).

If it doesn’t work, exchange it.  If you are riding the roller coaster of trying but failing, exchange that ride for the sky lift of living by grace through faith.  For a peaceful life well-lived, set your mind on the Spirit.  Then you will experience the exchanged life lived by faith that says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.”

Seen and Known

The great contradiction of our technological age is that so much information can be gathered about us, yet that does not satisfy our basic need to be known.

The slogan in George Orwell’s fictional Oceania is “big brother is watching you.” That phrase has become a metaphor for modern surveillance methods and concerns over personal privacy. We are way beyond the days of wiretapping. Facial recognition software and artificial intelligence make all kinds of surveillance frighteningly possible. China has implemented “social credit system” technology that monitors who goes where, and for what purposes. In America, they say TV’s are looking back at you and Alexa is always listening. The National Security Agency can intercept phone calls and track web browsing. American politicians rail against spying on ordinary citizens because people do not want everything they do to be known by the government.

Yet we yearn to know and be known. The lyrics of pop culture captures that sentiment. Back in the day, The Who sang, “Who are you? Who who? Who who? I really want to know.” Modern Swedish artist Zara Larsson sings, “Nobody sees, nobody knows. We are a secret can’t be exposed. That’s how it is, that’s how it goes.” Culture decries a life lived in secrecy or isolation as a tragic loss for humanity. We are created for community.

It is particularly lonely if you think not even God sees or knows you. Yet, the Bible says, “From His dwelling place He looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth. He who fashions the hearts of them all, He who understands all their works” (Psa. 22:14-15). The God who fashioned you, understands you. The context here is that God knows when you are trying to be independent and self-reliant. But He looks for something else. “The eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope for His lovingkindness, to deliver their soul from death” (v.18-19).

Don’t caricature God as Santa Claus, who sees you when you’re sleeping or awake, and knows if you’ve been bad or good. God already knows you’re bad – “all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23). He looks into your life to know whether you “exchange the truth of God for a lie” or worship your Creator (Rom. 1:25). When you accept what God knows about you and trust Him with your soul, then you know what it means to fear Him.

God knows more about you than any technology can capture. The God who fashioned you also sees you, loves you, and invites you into community with Him. It is His mercy that gives you hope. As you rely on Him you have reason to rejoice that He knows you personally. Is there any other way to respond to the One who sees?

Listen Well

“Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! All persons having business before the Honorable, the Supreme Court of the United States, are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the Court is now sitting.” So begins each session with a call to listen carefully to important words about to be uttered.

Even though listening is a high virtue, we still have to remind each other to practice it. A coach tell his noisy team, “Listen up!” A mom tells her recalcitrant teenage daughter, “You’re not hearing me.” In a business meeting, I heard someone quash a frequency-jamming word barrage with, “You need to stop transmitting and switch to receive for a while.”

Did you know that some version of the words “hear” or “listen” occur over 700 times in the Bible? Are we so deaf to truth, one wonders? Perhaps the reason for that Biblical theme is this candid challenge: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel” (Prov. 12:15).

It is easy to be right in your own eyes, especially in beliefs about God. But well-intentioned people can fall into error. Sincerity plus freedom of thought is no formula for truth. Before you can live the truths of God, you must listen to them.

Saul was a murderous persecutor of the Way (followers of Jesus). He sincerely believed he was doing the work of God. But then his Damascus Road experience happened, when Jesus spoke to him. He listened. It so radically changed his life that his enemies became friends.

The Hebrew prophet Samuel often found himself bearing the Word of God to people who did not want to hear it. He counseled them not to demand a king. He warned them not to turn away from God. He rebuked the King who failed to listen. He had the confidence and courage to stand firm in critical moments because as a boy, he experienced the power of a receptive heart when he said to the Lord, “Speak for your servant is listening.” (1 Sam. 3:10).

God has spoken to you through creation, the Bible, and in His Son. The Bible says, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). The most profound message you can hear is the truth of Christ that results in faith. Only then are you who God intends you to be, in relationship with your Creator, Savior, and Counselor.

In 2017, Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the commencement address at his son’s graduation. His theme was that the trials of life are a tutor. He said, “I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others.” No one likes to be ignored, particularly not your Creator who offers love, forgiveness, and eternity. To live well, listen well.