Your honor

How comforting, God, that Your Word holds true by Your honor, and not by mine.

I bow before your holy Temple as I worship. I praise your name for your unfailing love and faithfulness; for your promises are backed by all the honor of your name. (Psalm 138:2, NLT)

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Published in: on July 29, 2013 at 7:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Top Five

Think of the five worst disasters you have ever made in your life.  The Top Five.

Not accidents, and not something that was done to you, but the worst disasters that you yourself ravaged in your life.

The worst.  The secrets. The ones you don’t talk about.

The ones you might (or would) consider committing suicide over if news of them became viral on the internet.

We all have them.  We might not admit to them (even to ourselves).  But we remember.

We may have tried to make excuses for them (blaming them on our childhood, other people’s evils, or chemical malfunctions of our brain).  But in the end, in our heart, we know we are responsible.

Question: What do you do with your five worst sins?  (And what do I do with mine??)

Do you try to bury them?  Refuse to think about them?  Distract yourself?  Self-medicate?  Go to a psychologist?  Become so busy you can barely remember them?  Punish yourself?  Try to make up for what you’ve done with ‘good things’?  Try to make things right?

Or do you play the blame game (it’s not my fault . . if you only knew the reason why . . it’s complicated . . I might have been partly at fault but I did what I did because someone else . . if I’d been on the right medication . . if I’d had time to . . if I hadn’t been provoked . .)?

Now imagine something terrifying.  Imagine that the Highest Being in the universe, the Judge of all existence, the All-Knowing All-Wise All-Discerning GOD of All Truth . . knows your sin.

He doesn’t just know it casually.  He doesn’t just know it from afar.  He intimately, personally knows your sin.  He is fully aware of it, but not just aware, but fully capable of understanding why you did what you did, and totally able to judge you for the evil that was in your heart despite any circumstances or people you think led up to your sin.

He is fully able to separate out what everyone else did, and find only and exactly your fault and the precise debt that you owe, and hold you absolutely responsible for that portion which is unpaid, unpunished, and completely inexcusable.

Now imagine that, because He is fully just, absolutely perfect, totally fair, and in the highest position of authority in the universe–and beyond–He has every right, responsibility, and capability to judge you for your sin.

The question is, What do you think He will have you pay?

Do you think that, for those worst sins you’ve listed in your mind, money could pay them off?  Could you pay enough, if you were a billionaire, to make things right with the people you harmed (assuming they are still living)?  Could you do enough ‘good things’ for that person (again, assuming they are still living) that you could make full restoration of what you’ve done?

Hmm. It might be possible.  Maybe you could make full restoration with the person you harmed the most.  But what about all the people you have ever harmed?  Do you know all their names?  Do you know where they live?  Can you make all the things you have ever done wrong, right?  Could you figure out how?  Are all the people still alive?  Would all of them let you?  Would they all accept what you are doing as payment?

What if you could?  Just imagine, just suppose that you could.  Somehow, you could cross off not just the five worst sins you’ve done, but every sin, ever that you’ve committed against anyone ever in the world.

Are the Top Five sins erased?  Is the record forgotten?

In your efforts to make things right, you may feel like you’ve made some progress–and really, you have–but you have not covered the infinite distance toward restoring your relationship with God.

When David said,

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. (Psalm 51:4, NIV)

–He wasn’t kidding.

What had David done?  Well, in his Top Five sins he’d taken another man’s wife (a man who served him) and then killed that man to cover up her pregnancy.

So what was David saying?  Was he saying that he hadn’t done anything wrong against the man he killed?  Was he saying he didn’t have any apologies to make to the family whose son, brother, etc., he’d murdered?

NO.

He was saying that, while the harm he’d done against this man (and his wife) was repulsive and vile, it wasn’t a sin.  Sin is an act against someone who is unsinful.

A sinful man doesn’t have the capacity to be sinned against.

One way to look at this is, picture a whole bunch of pigs in a pig pen, filthy and soaked with mud.  If one pig splashes mud on another pig, he can say, “I’m sorry, I splashed mud on you,” and he can even say, “Let me try to get the mud off of you I splashed on you,” but he cannot say, “I made you dirty.”  All the pigs in the pig pen were already dirty from their own wallowing in mud before any other pig starting splashing mud on them.

We are all filthy with sin.  So while the Bible encourages and commands us to treat each other as we want to be treated and to make restoration as God prompts us, we cannot sin against each other in this sense.  All of us are unholy.  To sin is an act against a holy being.  So we don’t sin against each other.

So the Top Five sins you’ve committed?  They aren’t sins to the people you did them to as rightly judged by them (or by anyone else).  That doesn’t mean you didn’t harm them, or that it wasn’t wrong, or that they can’t acknowledge it was wrong, or that an earthly judge doesn’t have the right to convict you for the wrong you did.  But it does mean no one on earth can judge what you did as sin against THEM since no one on earth is capable of judging your sin (since we are all SINners).

But who did you sin against?  (You know where this is going.)

You sinned against GOD.

God is holy and can rightly judge that you have sinned against Him by sinning against the people He created in His image.  But that doesn’t mean the only sins you are accountable for are those you’ve done against others.  Any sins you’ve committed against God (like not worshiping Him alone, serving anything else rather than Him, cursing Him with your language towards Him, etc.), He also rightly judges.

When we actually realize this, the list of things we think are on our Sin List greatly expands.  The list includes anything and everything we have done in insurrection of–and therefore rebellion towards–God.

WOW.

Can you imagine standing before God on holy Judgment Day and just dealing with your Top Five sins?  Just think of those.  Question: How will you deal with them?  (And HOW WILL I??)

Will you give God an excuse?

Do you think He’ll believe it, since He knows you better than you know yourself?

Will you try to buy Him off by citing good works?

He’s a fair Judge and can’t be bribed.

Will you cite quotes from your favorite psychologist or bring with you medical books and magazines that explain your behavior as chemical malfunctions the brains?

You’ll have no such luck.  God knows exactly what you are responsible for, and He holds you responsible for exactly that.  God made you–you don’t have to explain your brain’s design to Him.  Further, He knows that you are responsible for the reason your brain doesn’t work right (if calling the disposition towards sin nature means not working right–as well as any genuine issues you have).  Yes, even the genuine issues we have, we are responsible for because they are a part of the curse we justly received when we invoked GOD’s judgement upon ourselves by our sins!  You and I are responsible because you, like me, like everyone else, actively chose rebellion against God in the Garden of Eden and every day of our lives since we have been born.

You chose when you were two years old to pull the hair of your little sister; you chose when you were in college to burn music illegally; you chose when you became a parent to lose control and scream at your kids; you chose when you were a senior to take that extravagant vacation instead of giving money to the poor.

Whatever sins they are, your whole life, there are sins–SINS and SINS–and even if you could be so fortunate as to only be held responsible for the Top Five, it wouldn’t matter.  You’d still be infinitely condemned.

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Think of your Top Five as sins that Scripture places like rungs of condemnation on a ladder. Rungs on a ladder that cannot be removed.
Where does this ladder lead you? You might be surprised.

So you may be thinking, This is the most depressing blogs I’ve ever read and the worst news I’ve heard in my life.

And that is absolutely true, if you’ve never read the Bible.  But if you have read the Bible, do you realize that the condemnation cited in the Bible towards sinners is FAR WORSE than anything I could possibly conjure up here?

The theme of condemnation appears OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER and in case you didn’t get the message, it is from Genesis to Revelation.  Condemnation for sin!  Condemnation for sin!!  Condemnation for sin!!!

Whole groups of people destroyed for their sin lust.  God takes sin so seriously that, when He ordered annihilation of a people and all their animals and property as a perfectly fair penalty for their sin, and Achan the warrior took a few things to save back, not just he had to be annihilated, but his whole family.  He had placed his whole family under the annihilation curse because God takes sin that seriously.  (You can read the historical account in the book of Joshua, chapters 6-7 especially.)

You can be angry about God’s judgment.

You can stomp on the floor.  You can shake your fist at God.  You can say you don’t believe in Him because you don’t like His fair justice.

Or you can recognize that God’s standard of holiness is nothing like our self-made standard of what’s acceptable.  Sin against God has the worst penalty because it is the worst travesty in the universe.

You cannot sin against God and live with Him forever . . Period! . . unless . .

You grasp hold of the ladder of condemnation Scripture gives for your sins . . and see that, at the top, is the stunningly beautiful plan of redemption.

God in His mercy doesn’t speak of condemnation in Scripture for the purpose of His delight in punishing you.  Rather, what does He say?

Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’ (Ezekiel 33:11, NIV)

The ladder of condemnation that Scripture reveals is an upward ladder, not a downward one, and at the top is the extraordinary NO CONDEMNATION of the cross!

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.(Romans 8:1-2, NIV)

The cross is at the top of your ladder of condemnation!

As you climb you may hardly make it to the first rung before you can scarcely bear to see your sin any longer.  Just a glimpse at your Top Five sins can utterly destroy you.  (‘Just’ your worst sin–or ‘just’ any sin–can.)

I have to be honest.  When I came to Christ, I did not ascend the ladder of my condemnation all the way.  I held some sins in fear and hiding, fearful to climb the rungs to see all of who I really was.  There were things I left in concealment, or wallowing in excuses.  And I showed God only the sins I was comfortable with showing Him.

But what I found was that He pulled me up, from the rung I was on, to the top, and He forgave not only the sins I showed Him, but all my sins.  This is because I gave my faith to CHRIST JESUS, who is my HEAVEN at the top of my ladder!  He is the total surprise grace I would have NEVER expected to find at the top!  If it weren’t for Him, my ladder would have led down to Hell, but by His mercy He used my condemnation to show me the path HE had build from it up to Him by His work on the CROSS!  (By the way, how terrible the fall for those who see that the ladder of condemnation leads to the cross, ascend most or all the way, but never ask Jesus to pull them from the ladder onto the landing at the foot of His cross.  How much deeper the plunge into Hell!)

The last four years or so have been on the path that comes after the foot of the cross, the path that ascends into Eternal Life, and on that journey, Christ has given me gracious opportunities to glimpse at my Top Five.

Why do I say gracious?  Because I see the purpose of these glimpses is to get me to confess them and yield them over to God–and to leave them far behind on the rungs of the ladder where they belong.

The holiness of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross is a fire, and that fire BURNS DOWN and WHOLLY CONSUMES my sins on the rungs of the ladder!

My sins are no longer on rungs–that is what GOD has done for me.  I was afraid they were still there, but only when I turned to look back have I seen that they only exist as condemnation in my mind, not in the mind of God.  He has burned the ladder of condemnation down.  If I had come to Him with them long ago, I would have seen it.

The gloriousness of the burned ladder is IMPOSSIBLE to describe.  It, too, is a theme in Scripture, the third theme: worship.  From Genesis to Revelation, is the worship of a perfectly, perfectly, perfectly GLORIOUS God who forgives sins through Jesus Christ.

Look again at your list of Top Five sins.  Are you a believer?  Have you asked Jesus to come into your life and be Master of your soul?  Do you believe in Him?  If so, do you realize that that list is present in your mind, and is held triumphantly in the hand of the Accuser (Satan), but it is not on your record anymore?  Do you realize that the list Satan is holding is blood-soaked and unreadable, and that it is a BIG TRICK to keep you feeling condemned and miserable and nearly useless for the Kingdom of Christ?  May I encourage you to show that list to God?  You cannot pull it from Satan’s fist, but you can show it to God by pointing to it in Satan’s tightly clenched fist.  GOD is fully capable of pulling it from Satan’s fist.  That list is already taken care of, and one day it will be destroyed beyond God’s memory.  Hallelujah!

. . And if you are not a believer, why not?  Surely you don’t want to pay for your sins someday.  Do you realize that the full plan of salvation is not for you to somehow get rid of your sins, but that CHRIST has already done it?  Look at the condemnation your sins have brought you that Scripture reveals to you, but then believe in Him who took that condemnation away!  He will teach you–and is fully capable to do so–how to live a life of holiness before Him, with, for the rest of your life, the mercy that, every rung of sin you build, will be forever burned down by His redemption!

I am convicted, committed to, and fully convinced that I canNOT pay for my sin.  By the mercy of God, I can face my Top Five, in already knowing He has paid for them (or, if I’d rightly faced them before I became a believer, in knowing He was willing to pay for them).  And I am also convicted, committed to, and fully convinced that He has overcome my list, my whole list, even my Top Five.  My list, however great, is NOT so great that it can overcome the GREATNESS OF GOD’S SACRIFICE.

Hallelujah.

The ladder is fierce.  But my soul is already at the top of the landing, at the foot of the cross, kneeling down at the feet of Jesus.  And He has burned the ladder down.

Hallelujah.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV)

This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel

after that time, declares the Lord.

I will put my laws in their minds

and write them on their hearts.

I will be their God,

and they will be my people.

No longer will they teach their neighbor,

or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’

because they will all know me,

from the least of them to the greatest.

For I will forgive their wickedness

and will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:10-12, NIV)

________________________________________________________________

Photograph by Martin Cathrae, profile on http://www.flickr.com/photos/suckamc/

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

A big thank you to the Answers in Genesis Conference this past week and especially to how Todd Friel’s message on Law & Grace blessed me.

Many thanks to all the pastors and mentors who helped in showing my heart and mind to the grace of God, and to Ben, who, when I get frenzic about my sin, reminds me of Romans 8:1.

worshiping the gift instead of the Giver

The story of God’s people in the Old Testament unfolds in what, from an earthly standpoint, is a disaster.  No matter the miracles, graces, or new starts the people have, as a nation they do not ever choose to live a life faithful to God for longer than perhaps a generation.

But one of the most startling errors they make, something that almost defies description, is what happens between the enemy land and the Promised Land.

In Egypt, the enemy land, God’s people had been driven into demoralizing, back-breaking slavery.  Their young boys were slaughtered by a heartless ruler, in an attempt to decrease their population.  Long forgotten was Egypt’s indebtedness to this bondaged, nation-less people living withing their borders.  Segregated, violently misused, and driven to early deaths, God’s people were forced into the labor of brick-making and had no rights whatsoever.

But God had not forgotten them.  He saw their mistreatment and flipped the religious-political realm of power upside-down in Egypt.  He promised to delivered His people, with an incredulous bonus: the Egyptians would be so fearful of the God of their slaves that they would give them all kinds of parting gifts to send them on their way.

Imagine that you went to Bed, Bath, & Beyond to register for housewarming gifts.  Then you ask for printouts of your registry.  You program your GPS with the addresses of your worst enemies, and at each stop, you deliver them a copy of your registry.

And at each stop, your enemies immediately rush out to the store and return carrying neatly wrapped packages of housewarming gifts with the famous BB&B purple tissue paper.  Astonishing?

Now, the Egyptians didn’t have a Bed, Bath & Beyond store to visit to give gifts to their once-slaves, but they did have the motivation of the fear of GOD in them, and whatever the slaves asked for, they received immediately from the people who had once disregarded them, beaten them, and tried to smear them into the dust.

The Egyptians urged the people to hurry and leave the country. “For otherwise,” they said, “we will all die!” So the people took their dough before the yeast was added, and carried it on their shoulders in kneading troughs wrapped in clothing. The Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing. The Lord had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians. (Exodus 12:33-36, NIV)

All this sounds beyond marvelous.  But coming up is one of the most inexplicable, inexcusable betrays imaginable.

Soon after God’s people leave Egypt with all of their new goodies . . they intentionally forget about Him.  When He speaks directly to their leader on the mountain, they’re not sure if He’s coming back soon.  So what do they do?

They use the gold that they received from God’s work in their lives, and turn it into an unfathomably stupid idol.

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.” So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry. (Exodus 32:1-6, NIV)

Who was supposed to be one of their godly leaders, Aaron, tried to ‘manage’ the situation by attributing the gold calf as someone being part of worship to GOD.  God was not impressed, and great judgement fell on His people because of their betrayal of His gift.  They used what He had given against Him.

We can look at that, and think, How could anybody be so stupid?

But is it really different today?

If you live in America, you live in the top bracket of the world’s wealth.  But that’s not the half of it.  Don’t forget the job opportunities & benefits, government assistance programs, minimum wage laws, education opportunities, housing, charitable & relief organizations, insurance opportunities, multiple-means access to food, many possessions (clothes, furniture, accessories, etc.), and freedoms you have in America.  Even if you feel like things aren’t going the way you’d like, you are still in the richest of the rich in all of these things compared to the majority of the world’s population.

And more than that, think of all the gifts God has given you in the last . . week.

The gift of time.  Did you breathe this week?  So did I.  Did your heart beat?  So did mine.

The gift of income.  For nearly all of us, the gift of a paycheck or another source of income like unemployment or welfare or social security.  Even if you think you’re not getting enough, you are getting far more than most of the world’s population.

And what about the far more important gift of relationships?  Not just the ones we usually think about, but what about the relationship opportunities you had this past week at the gas station, grocery store, baseball game, hospital waiting room, car line at your child’s school, sitting in the mechanic’s shop, and on and on . .

And how much more should we count the gifts of the many relationships we have been given for generous, long scoops of time?  Are we grateful for the day we’ve had with close friends and/or family?  The week?  The month?  The year?

What about the friendships and family ties God has gifted us with that have lasted half, most, or maybe even all of our lives?  Have you and I been treating these people as the gift of God that they are?  Have we brought these relationships before God for His glory . . or have we used the very relationships He gave us as idols (or as a means to fulfill idolatrous cravings)?

Answering these questions honestly, I see I am not so far removed from God’s Old Testament people as I would like.  The very graces He has given me can easily turn into sins to wield against Him.

The question isn’t whether or not we can relate to God’s people in the Old Testament.  The question is rather,

What is our golden calf?

What has God given us, as a gift, that we have used against Him?

We all sin in this way.  All of us have had blessing after blessing from God.  But it’s not hopeless.  Although we have all gravely sinned against Him by taking His gifts and betraying Him with them, we all also have hope through Jesus Christ . . because Jesus was betrayed by thirty pieces of His own silver, silver He had created in the ore He Himself designed, from deep in the earth that He Himself spoke into being.

Jesus paid for our betrayal of Him on the cross.  And now we who believe in Him and stake our lives and eternities on Him can start over with how we use His gifts.  We can unwrap them once more, with new eyes, and, this time, use them for Him.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:7, NIV)

Grace alone by faith alone, Part 4: The effect of the movement on the church

So long as the Scripture was in Latin, and the people spoke English, it was impossible for a peasant to stand up against the authority of the false leaders.  They had no way of knowing what was false because they had no standard of truth.  Not far away in Germany, Martin Luther, who translated the Scripture from Latin to German, would say of God’s Word, “Here I stand.  I can do no other.”

The question became more than about one issue in Scripture.  It became about all issues in Scripture.  That is: Can I, in my philosophies, or any leader I respect, in their philosophies, contradict the clear meaning of the Word of God and be correct?

The reformers answered no.  No person, no matter how learned, or how wise, or how much (s)he claims to have heard from God, can contradict the Word of God and remain in the Truth.  This is based on the very simple theology that God cannot, and does not, contradict Himself.  If God is Truth, He cannot also be lie.  Therefore, nothing within Scripture is contradictory, and nothing outside of Scripture holds the right to contradiction.

This leaves the power right where it should be: in the Word of God.  God does not give spiritual leaders to us to tell us how to think.  He gives leaders to us to shepherd us.  But we are warned in the Scriptures themselves about false leaders.  We are not to trust any leader blindly, and we are not to follow anyone who would give a different message than the Message given in the Word of God.

William Tyndale and Martin Luther are two of the greatest church leaders we have ever known.  But it is not their leadership that made them great church leaders.  It is their recognition that all leadership must fall under the authority of and be tested by the Word of God.

Most employers don’t hire a new employee without a background check.  They certainly don’t hire a new CEO without checking a single reference.  In the same way, we can, we should, and we must check all church leaders, and all Christian writing against the authority of Christ.  His authority is revealed to us in His unchanging, perfect, ever-relevant Word.

And that doesn’t only apply to pastors.  It includes everything you read (like this blog) and everything Christian friends and mentors tell you.  It must all match up with the Word of God.

No one has perfect theology except God, who knows exactly who He is and exactly how everything works.  Not even the best leader in the church will have all his sermons without the flaw of sin.  But for someone to choose to directly contradict Scripture, even when this is pointed out, is a huge warning sign that this person is not diligently following Christ and may actually be working for the enemy.

With that said, we must also be careful not to condemn those who have studied difficult passages of Scripture and with integrity believe something different from what we believe.  If someone justifies something in contrast to Scripture, that person should not be in any form of church leadership.  But if a person has a different view on something that is not as clear, and if that view comes with prayer and examining Scripture, we need to realize that we all fall short of complete understanding and we all need God’s grace to get us through our short time on this earth.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12, NIV)

Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away. (Jesus, quoted in Mark 13:31, HCSB)

Published in: on July 13, 2013 at 7:01 am  Leave a Comment  
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On ham, being a ham, and why I love surveys

Less than an hour ago, Ben and I got out of the car to head into Giant, a local grocer.  We had the intention of using their Wi-Fi.  We’d been sitting in the parking lot, talking to my mom on speaker phone about wedding plans, and we’d gotten disconnected.  I needed to go to the bathroom really bad, so we decided to head on in to the store and wait for Mom to call back.

Or so I thought.

But that was before the ham.

Whence upon entering the grocery store, both of us lugging our laptops (because I hadn’t brought the carrying case), a grocer waiting at the doorway asked me a simple question.  It went something like this,

“Would you like to take a survey?”

Unfortunately for Ben, he was still in that section of the grocery store that has the mat and usually the carts, and sliding glass doors separated him from stopping me.

Already in the star-dazzled I’ve-been-asked-to-take-a-survey daze, I asked, “What’s it on?”  Or maybe she just volunteered the information.  It happened in somewhat of a blur.  😉

She said something like, “You’ll get to try two kinds of lunch meat ham and answer questions about it.”

Now, let’s back up for a moment.

I do not usually eat lunch meat.  Lunch meat, as a general rule, bothers my stomach.  Furthermore, I do not like the taste of most lunch meat very much.  If I do, rarely, eat lunch meat–unless it’s at a work function and I’m temptingly hungry–I only eat natural or organic.

Furthermore, I do not particularly care for cold lunch meat ham.  If I did splurge on lunch meat, it would probably be bologna or roast beef or thick-sliced ham.  Not thin-sliced, salty, salmon-colored lunch meat ham.

Poor Ben.

I was whisked away on the adventure of a survey and he was left coming in with a drying umbrella, laptop under one arm, and possibly wondering, What . . happened?

In fact, he said something very much along those lines.  He tried to ask me what I was doing.  But I felt far too important to answer him.  I was, after all, the winner of the prestigious You have been selected to answer regal questions about lunch meat ham survey.

He looked confused.  And a bit frustrated.  He thought we’d both established that we had to go to the bathroom.  He thought we were going to work on our computers for a quiet evening.  He wondered what I was doing as I snubbed him and walked over to a long, royal table with a cream tablecloth and several laptop computers.

As I was heading over, I heard the store attendant ask Ben, “Would you like to complete our survey too?”

Well, he was very fortunate.  Clearly she was inviting him because she’d seen he was with me.

I sat down in a wooden chair in front of a laptop computer with a smallish keyboard and a grocer served me a piece of lunch meat on a disposable plate.

Let’s back up a moment.  Do you remember when the grocer said something like, “You’ll get to try two kinds of lunch meat ham and answer questions about it.”?

Here’s what mattered most in that statement to me: “You get to try blah blah blah blah blah blah and answer questions about it.”

She could have said, “You get to try our new line of pumpkin squid stew and answer questions about it.”  (Although I would have drawn the line at aardvark squid stew.)

The important thing was, she was asking me to TALK!

I LOVE to TALK.

And I LOVE to take SURVEYS.

I love to tell my PREFERENCES (even on pumpkin squid stew or lunch meat).

I love for someone to want to know my OPINION.

My phone began buzzing.  Mom was calling me back.

Under my relationship with God, planning my wedding is one of the most important planned events coming up in my life right now.  It’s a serious responsibility.

But I ignored the call.

Since one of the survey questions on the laptop asked me about the aroma of the ham, I sniffed the ham authoritatively, as if the Food Network camera crew had just dropped me off for the day in front of the grocery store.  Then I chewed the ham.  It was still the way I remembered it.  Salty.  Salmon-colored.  Too thin.  And very lunch-meaty.

I did not rank that ham very high.

At some point, the phone had buzzed again . . and I think again.  I felt guilty, and tried to send a standard message, “Can’t talk right now.  Call you back in 15 minutes.”  There wasn’t a standard message for Doing ham survey.  And I didn’t want to answer the phone and lose the momentum of the importance of this moment.

Under the notes section for the first ham, I wrote what even I did not consider sagely or prose: Ordinary lunch meat ham.

Ben’s phone rang very shortly after my third call.

He said, “Your mom is calling me now.” with a slightly unfriendly tone, I might add, as he was sitting next to me at his laptop survey computer, fully aware that I hadn’t answered my phone.  He had the audacity in his tone to indicate that perhaps I should be answering the phone, perhaps since my mother has been devoting hours to wedding planning in the last several weeks.

I bungled some excuse to him, flustered by the interruption from the ham tasting, about trying to send her a message that I’d call her back.

The second ham was better.  Less salty.  More bland.

Ben at his second ham and answered the questions too fast.  ‘Clearly’, he wasn’t taking this seriously enough.  He finished his survey up.

Under the notes section for the second ham, I wrote in high culinary cuisine that the ham could be improved with a honey or maple or something else smell that I’ve already forgotten.

But we only got to answer questions about two lunch meats.  😦

I did manage to get an extra refill of my little water cup as I took the survey.  The grocers made sure we had enough water, were ready promptly with our ham plates, and one grocer said that if we had any questions, we should feel free to ask.  She was so friendly.

But then the attention ended.  😦 😦

I got a thank-you, a $1 off coupon, and then we had to leave the special table. (Awwww . . I do not WANT to leave the special table . .)

And then Ben (who’d also had to go to the bathroom all along) let me go first (remember we had our computers with us) . . without actually commenting anything about the delay or my regal ignoring of him while I sat down for the survey-by-special-invitation (i.e., by walking through the front door).

Mom got a good laugh when I called her back.  Avoiding talking about why I’d ignored her calls until she straight-up asked me, I did admit to taking a ham survey.

. . Why am I like this?

Why do the words, Do you want to take a survey? sound to me like, You have won a small jackpot!!

I see here in myself something very much like the beauty . . and the fall . . of Eve.

In the beauty, that I want to be loved.  I want to be special to someone.  I want for someone to want to know my heart.

In the fall, that, most of the time, I want to be important more than I want to love others.  I want to be special even if it isn’t to someone, but to something, like a ham survey.

For Eve, it was Satan talking through the serpent that lured her away from the beauty and into the fall.  The serpent talked to her.  He asked her a question.  He opened up her vulnerability to wanting to be special . . so that he could garbage her.

The tragedy was, she already had been special.  Btu she didn’t realize how much so until she took the first bite of trying for more specialness than what God had already fully given her.

The serpent knew that, when Eve fell, it would be her fall, not her beauty, that would define her.

But the talking serpent was wrong.

For shortly after, God gave Eve the hope of a redemptive beauty: One who would crush the head of the talking serpent and bring her beauty back to her.

Tonight, the ham survey reminded me of something.  I am prone, very prone, to coveting importance, in the wrong things.  Like a piece of ham.  And it’s easy, so easy, for me to lose sight of the real importance: that Jesus loves me–already fully.

My life should never be on center stage; the world doesn’t hinge on my opinion.  That spot is reserved for the One Redeemer of Eve (and Adam): Jesus Christ.

And that isn’t just my opinion.  That’s the reality of the only One who could destroy the mouth of the serpent.

I don’t need to take a survey to be special.

I can simply look at the nail-scarred foot that crushed the serpent’s head and remember:

I am loved. ❤

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:8

Grace alone by faith alone, Part 3

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9, KJV)

In the movie God’s Outlaw, when asked if he believes in the ‘heresy’ that faith alone is sufficient for salvation, William Tyndale quotes his Latin-to-English translation of Ephesians 2:8-9 (which would, after his death, highly influence what became the King James translation).

It did not matter to the leading clergy who had placed him on trial that he was quoting Scripture–he was in conflict with their leaders, their leaders’ writings.

And it did not matter to William Tyndale that he was in conflict with the church’s leaders or their writings, because they were in conflict with the clear understanding of Scripture.

The false clergy could only maintain their charades so long as God’s Word remained untranslated into the language of the people.  They saw William Tyndale as taking away their power to hold the people hostage and eek religious slavery out of them; they didn’t realize that Christ had taken this power away already and Tyndale was only His vessel.

But is it dangerous to believe in grace alone by faith alone?  Isn’t it possible, even likely, that people would be led to immoral behavior if they believed they were saved by God and did not save themselves?

Apparently, God is willing to take that risk.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9, KJV)

Published in: on July 12, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Grace alone by faith alone, Part 2

At the time of Martin Luther of Germany, the people were very aware that they could not earn their salvation through good works.  And in that awareness was one of the worst perversions the church has ever entertained: good works and money could buy salvation.

The false clergy who sold this idea were the very same who claimed to exalt the apostle Peter.  This is the same Peter who, when asked to sell the power of God, said this:

“May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” (Acts 8:20b-23, NIV)

Could Peter have meant anything except that the gift of God cannot be bought with money?  There is no question, and that is why William Tyndale and others like him died to translate the Bible into the language of the people.  No corrupt clergy can stand against the grace of God, when grace is revealed for what it is.

Insightfully, Peter accuses the man trying to buy salvation of being “full of bitterness” and “captive to sin” (verse 23).

People who fight against grace will always be bitter, because they cannot receive what they are trying to block others from receiving.  Jesus said,

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either.”  (Matthew 23:13, NLT)

This injunction from our Lord is yet a huge reason why the Bible must be translated into the language of the people.  If Satan has placed his own people in false power in false churches, how will the people of God know without His Word to light their path (Psalm 119:105) and reveal the good from the bad (Hebrews 4:12)?

Since the time of the reformation, fewer false teachers in the church have been trying to sell salvation by money—but the ones who do often have very public false ministries.  And the idea that the church is just out to get money is still one of the biggest complaints of those outside the church.

If the idea that money can merit salvation has been critically wounded, what about the idea that works can merit salvation?  Has the church given that fallacy a mortal blow, or are we still engaged in works vs. grace warfare?

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV)

Published in: on July 12, 2013 at 7:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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The thirst for eternity

Ben, “Will you hold my hand?”

Me, “I will always hold your hand.”

Ben, “I will always hold you in my heart.”

We thirst for eternity.

In this short, short life, we thirst for eternity.

When we’re thirty, we want to be twenty.

When we’re fifty, we want to be thirty.

When we’re eighty, we want to be fifty.

We long for more time.

More time for romance.  More time for family.  More time for friends.  More time for achievements.  More time for plans.

We thirst for eternity.

Why?

We were created to be eternal creatures.

In fact, everything God ever made was created to be eternal.

We fell from our eternal state with Him when we broke truce with Him.

We said we didn’t want eternal life with Him.

We got what we wanted.

Only now that we have it, now that we see it up close, we don’t want it.

We thirst for eternity.

I’ll be thirty this year and I’ll be thirsty this year.

I don’t want to grow old.

I don’t want to die.

I don’t want for my body to break down.

I don’t want for my last breath to leave my lungs.

I don’t want for the last beat to pulse in my heart.

I don’t want to die.

I want to last for all eternity.

But there’s only one way I can:

If God reverses what I did in my rebellion.

If He takes the curse I deserve for my sin and places it on Himself.  Only He, as the Eternal One, can take the eternity-away-from-Him that I once asked for and destroy its effect.  He can do this, because in addition to being eternal, He is infinite.  He is able to take the infinite consequence for eternity in a finite span of time.  He did this on the cross.  The rest of us, because we are not infinite, nor qualified because of our unholiness, would have to pay the infinite consequence eternally.  Only He can pay it in a finite amount of time.  And only He can take away the burden of death from us forever.

I receive this work of His in my life.  I receive His eternal payment and I know that I can now live forever with Him.

Ben and I will certainly not be married in Heaven.  Heaven is much better than the sweetest romance we have on earth.

But could we hold hands in Heaven?  I think maybe we could.

And it could be (off and on) forever.

But we can’t hope for this because of sentimental feelings on romance cards or flighty hopes in romance movies of foreverness-even-though-it-really-isn’t-ish.  We can hope for this (or something even better) only because of Jesus Christ.  He is our forever.

Forever. ❤

For the believer:

. . the truth lives in us and will be with us forever. (from 2 John 1:2, NLT)

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. (Jesus, quoted in John 14:6b, NLT)

Grace alone by faith alone, Part 1

Grace alone by faith alone.

It’s hard to believe William Tyndale was burnt at the stake for believing it.

Or is it?

Grace alone by faith alone.

The idea is so simple a four-year-old could explain it.  But it is so contrary to human thinking that leagues of scholars haven’t been able to resolve the dispute.  Still today we have a great deal of confusion, strife, and anger over the issue.  Nobody is burning anybody at the stake right now, but plenty of people are at war over grace.

How in the world can grace cause so much trouble?

Grace is the offer to take away punishment, for free.  It doesn’t seem like anybody could be mad about grace.  It doesn’t seem like anybody would want to protest against it.  But that’s because grace really isn’t causing the trouble.  The trouble is caused in the human heart.

I rarely have trouble receiving grace from others.  But I often have trouble with watching someone receive grace because it takes away my opportunity to hold power and condemnation over that person because of what they did.

This is why leading false clergy in England burned William Tyndale at the stake.  They didn’t want the poor to believe that they were saved by grace alone.  They didn’t want the poor to believe they could be forgiven of their sins without retribution.  That would mean the “unholy” masses would be on equal ground with the “holy” clergy.

(The funny thing about grace is, even if you don’t believe you need it or want to receive it, it will still affect you.  Even though the clergy believed they were close to perfect and did not need grace, the fact that the poor could be freely forgiven would mean the clergy’s “close-to-perfectness” would be overshadowed by the total perfectness of the poor man forgiven by Christ.  This was totally unacceptable to them.)

Withholding grace is all about control and ranking.  The people who pretend like they don’t need grace or as much grace end up “on top”, and the people who need grace must instead “work to earn it”.

But, of course, the very moment I work toward earning grace, I am no longer looking for grace.  I am looking for merit.  And trying to earn God’s approval on merit is like trying to carry a load of dry cleaning through a mud shower and present it as satisfactory to the customer.  It will never happen.  Our very “good works” (which are not good works because we are corrupted by sin) are mud showers, and getting to God by them is hopeless.

We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind. (Isaiah 64:6, NLT)

Published in: on July 11, 2013 at 7:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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The invitation

Beechcraft

Imagine if Bill Gates walked into a public square one day and said, “Anyone who wants to come to my house, follow me.”

Now imagine that a homeless man is passing by with all his worldly possessions in a shopping cart.

He immediately lets go of the shopping cart—which rolls a bit further—and rushes towards Bill Gates.

Bill Gates doesn’t look upset or horrified.  Instead, he just nods and begins walking back to his jet with the homeless man, and all the others who want to see Bill Gates’ home, following him.  Can you imagine that happening?

But this is nothing compared to what Jesus did!  The Son of God, with infinite majesty, power, and resources, invites the homeless, the working class, and the wealthy, to come to Him for salvation, and even the rabble of His day!

I don’t think you or I should hold your breath for Bill Gates to fly his jet to our city and invite us to come to his island for dinner.

But in the middle of a great big feast, Jesus really, actually stands up and makes an invitation for anyone who wants to be fulfilled to come to Him.  He invites you and I, all of us–the ‘winners’ and the ‘losers’, the wardens and the prisoners, the stockbrokers and the bankrupt–to His house!

Wow!

On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (John 7:37-39, NIV)

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.”

“No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!” (John 14:1-7, NLT)