Bounce

Financial calculationWhen I was a teenager, I got my first paying job at a fast food restaurant. My mom helped me open a checking account.

I felt like big stuff having a checking account. I loved that I had the power to write checks.

I loved that power too much.

My mom carefully taught me how to balance my checkbook. For a short time, I kept up with it. After that, I sort of estimated. Or just believed the money would be there.

My mom insisted I balance the checkbook one night, and I realized something very important.

The check I’d written that day was going to bounce. It wasn’t even a check for stuff I needed, but just stuff I’d wanted to have.

I felt embarrassed about it, and I tried to brush it off as no big deal. But Mom wouldn’t have it.

Mom told me the store could put my name on display at the registers for the clerks to look at, to make sure not to accept anymore checks from me. And, to top it off, the bank doesn’t look keenly on bounced checks and charges an overdraft fee—and I didn’t even have any money in savings for the bank to draw from.

After I realized more of the gravity of the situation, Mom told me she would pay the debt—I think the check was for something like $200 and much of the money I didn’t have.

I didn’t realize it at the time nearly so much as I see it now, but my mother was presenting a clear picture of the Gospel for me that day.

First, God gives us the freedom to choose how we will spend our lives. But in Adam, we all chose to turn away from God and now we have a sin nature that makes right choices impossible apart from Christ.

Second, we all get in debt to sin. And not sinning for things we need—just things we want. We have no excuse for the sin we get ourselves into. We’re careless about getting ourselves into sin. We don’t realize the full consequences.

Third, we defend ourselves when confronted with sin. We try to brush it off or justify it as if it’s no big deal—or we regress into self-pity and remorse.

Fourth, God convicts us of our sin. We see that we have no excuse and that we have no way out on our own.

Fifth, God offers to pay our debt. We can start all over again, debt free, by belief in His Son. (For someone who is already a Christian who sins, we get a fresh start in our walk with Him.)

This miracle is made possible by grace. God takes our debt—sure to bounce back to us on Judgment Day—and pays it all off. He takes on our poverty, and we inherit His righteousness. This is the power of the cross.

He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:14, NLT)

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Ten Ways to Show Someone You’ve Forgiven Them

Forgiveness

What do you do when a friend or family member or a new acquaintance butts heads with you?  As a Christ follower, you have the privilege of forgiving.  Why is this a privilege?  Because you’re showing someone a tiny taste of what Christ did for you on the cross.  That is a privilege!

The following list is lighthearted.  As Christians, forgiveness isn’t an option.  But the outcome of forgiveness looks the same in all circumstances.  This list isn’t meant for cases where someone has wounded you who is dangerous or malicious.

Rather, this is a list of ideas for someone who has said an unkind word, forgotten something that was important you, slighted you, gossiped about you, etc.  The beauty of Jesus’ way of forgiveness is that you do not have to wait to forgive on the other person acknowledging what they did.  You can start forgiving right away.

Here are a few ways you can show that you forgive the one who hurt you.

  1. Invite them out for ice cream, or to your house for lunch.
  2. Send them an encouraging card letting them know you’re praying for them and hoping they’re having a great week.
  3. Give them a little gift.  It could be something personally meaningful to you.  Or, you could give a little “thinking of you gift” (like a candy bar, a single flower tea light, or little stuffed animal).  Or, if they collect something, you could give them one in the series.  You could also give something that is an interest to them, like a set of golf balls for a golf fan, or a skein of yarn for a knitter.  Attach a card with a smiley face, short note, or give them the gift anonymously.
  4. Invite them to a special event or occasion like a ball game, game night at your house, or birthday party.
  5. Be brave and strike up a conversation!  Share a couple of your “favorites” with them in conversation or tell them about a funny childhood memory.
  6. Give a true compliment about them to one of their or your friends.
  7. Invite them to church or a small group Bible study with you.
  8. Don’t tell others about the offense.  You may want to tell a trusted, wise friend as you work through the hurt, but then let it go.
  9. If they know there’s a rift between you and they feel responsible or bad about it, you can say the precious words, “I forgive you.”
  10. If you are responsible for part of the problem (and you can pray about whether this applies to you or not), you can say you are sorry–even if the other person isn’t sorry for their part.  God can release you from bitterness through your humility–and may even use your humility to move in the other person’s heart and release them.

Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. (Luke 11:4, NIV)

Published in: on April 4, 2014 at 7:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Who can God use?

senior

Priests, judges, kings, poets, prophets, orphans, servants, cupbearers. . . shepherds, wise men  . . . widows, the elderly, young children, babies, and infants in the womb . . . rebels, royalty, military leaders, and prisoners . . . beggars, foreigners, fishermen, tax officers . . . the unwanted, the socially disgusting, the insane, the condemned, the possessed . . .  slaves, slave owners, jailers, liars, adulterers, and murderers.

God can use you, too.  No matter your past.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31, NIV)

[1] such as Aaron

[2] such as Samuel

[3] such as Josiah

[4] such as David

[5] such as Elijah

[6] such as Esther

[7] such as Naaman’s wife’s servant

[8] Nehemiah

[9] like those who witnessed the miracle of Jesus as a baby

[10] like those who visited the young Jesus

[11] like the widow of Zarephath and Ruth

[12] such as Simeon

[13] like the child Jesus showed in His object lesson about the Kingdom of God

[14] like Isaac

[15] like John the Baptist

[16] like the rebel Simon the Zealot–zealots were rebels against the Roman control

[17] such as the royal official whose son was healed

[18] like the Roman centurion

[19] like Silas

[20] like the lepers in 2 Kings 7

[21] like the Ethiopian eunich

[22] like Andrew

[23] Matthew, for one

[24] lepers and beggars, for example

[25] the woman with menstrual bleeding, for one

[26] Nebuchadnezzar, for one

[27] the woman caught in the act of adultery, the thief on the cross

[28] like the man who cut himself with the stones

[29] Onesimus

[30] Philemon

[31] the one who helped Paul, for example

[32] Peter, for one

[33] like the man who slept with his father’s wife and was forgiven for a new start in 2 Corinthians 2:7

[34] such as Paul

Published in: on March 7, 2014 at 4:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Weight

The final story of my life is not the weight of the sin I’ve done but the weight of the forgiveness You have carried to me.

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. (Isaiah 53:4, NIV)

Published in: on October 15, 2013 at 10:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Have you ever been broken by God?

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. (Psalm 51:17, NIV)

I don’t know for sure about you, but I resist being broken.

I’ve never broken a bone that I know of except for maybe a rib, but one of the most painful experiences I had as a child was a time when astonishingly I did not break a bone.

I was in a park on a playground, and I’d guess I was about 8 or so.  I was fascinated by the teeter-totter, and I wondered how the mechanism worked that tilted it up and down.

I don’t remember how exactly it happened, but I went over to the teeter-totter to check out the axis.  While I was sticking my hand in to see how the mechanism worked, two kids got on either side of the teeter-totter and started using it.

It was one of the most extreme pains I’ve had.  The weight of the teeter-totter bearing down on my arm was so agonizing I could not even find my voice to tell the children to stop.  I’m sure it all took place in a matter of a few seconds, but I found my voice and in what seemed to me to be a dazed murmur asked them to get off the ride.

They got off, in surprise, and I pulled my arm out.  I was in shock about what had happened as I held my throbbing arm out.

Since then, I’ve rarely put my hand in any kind of mechanism again without seriously thinking about it first (I’m reluctant to get something out of the garbage disposal).

The idea of God breaking us is not one I think any of us can honestly say we are comfortable with.  For one thing, many believers still don’t fully trust that God is love, and so when they (and most of the time I am included here) think of Him breaking them in their lives, they think secretly of some ill-purpose or ill-will.

I would assert that we try very hard not to be broken by God.  Have you ever been listening to a sermon that was convicting, and found a way to distract yourself?  Have you ever been reading a book that was too uncomfortable about radical devotion to God, and found something else to do?  Have you ever felt God convicting you of a sin and been too fearful to face the consequences?

We are masters at resisting God’s breaking.  At 3:00 in the morning, if God is working on your heart, you can not only read a book, but you can turn on the TV, surf the internet, play a video game, or chat on Facebook.  Some people are even able to work from home and answer emails or write new proposals during the uncomfortable time.

The goal for us seems in whatever way possible to resist God’s breaking of us.

And for reasons that seem very valid to us.  God’s breaking of our hearts can be far more painful than the time my arm was caught in a seesaw.

But why would God want us to break?  If He doesn’t desire to be mean to us–He doesn’t enjoy kicking us around the way a criminal might kick a dog around–and He doesn’t seek as an end result for our sorrow, then why would He cause something so terrible to happen to us such as breaking?

Here are a few reasons I can think of.  You might add your own.

  • Salvation.  The most obvious reason is salvation.  Many people feel broken before salvation, though some (because they were a small child or because they had already gone through a breaking time previously, or for another reason) may not experience this breaking pre-salvation, but post.  After months of feeling broken, God in His grace brought me to His salvation in a time of healing.  God knows how each of us work.  Many come to Him in broken-hearted repentance.  (For me, much of this repentance came after inviting Christ into my life.  I was on a journey to confessing [and admitting] all of my sin before God, a journey I’m still working on, fearful that He wouldn’t forgive me if He really knew me.  But I did come with the mindset of already knowing I was a sinner, and having known that for years.)
  • Confession to evaporate guilt.  There are two ways to look at this: God is cruel or God wants you to be free of entanglements and burdens.  The entanglement and burden of unconfessed sin is huge.  If you are too afraid to give God a sin because you think if you “acknowledge” it He’ll stop loving you (personal experience here), then you carry a weight that God doesn’t intend you to carry as His child.  And He will increase the pressure and pain of that weight until you give it to Him, so you can walk free.
  • Confession to evaporate denial.  Sometimes, it’s easy to not give certain sins to God, mainly if we want to keep doing them (again, spoken from experience).  Rather than looking at God as someone who is all to overjoyed to punish you for your sin, realize that He wants you to walk a life that is a witness to others, and that He is working to bring about your sanctification (the purity of your walk before Him).
  • Eternal perspective.  It is so, so easy to hear the message of Christ drowned out by the so-called ‘goodies’ of this world.  I find myself struggling to resist looking at magazine covers as I walk through the grocery store aisles; distracted by bulletin boards that idolatrize materialism and physical beauty; and overwhelmed at times by the plethora of possessions one can own in their lifetime–each with the personal, very intimate, and totally deceitful promise of a and then I lived happily ever after claim.  Other times we feel inundated by work or relationship demands, sexual cravings, physical needs, retirement concerns, etc.  The list is nearly endless.  And in all this, the eternal perspective we should have is forgotten or put on a back burner.  When God breaks us from these things, what happens?  We are able to focus on the delight of Him, and to truly draw others into His Presence.
  • Passion.  Becoming dull for God can begin to happen in a single moment.  One choice can cause us to stumble and fall out of fellowship with Him.  In this time, we are not only on a self-destructive path for ourselves, but we do warfare against the precious testimony we have toward the world.  God wants to create in us a zealous, earnest passion for the lost, for His Truth, and for His everlasting love.
  • HumilityWe can get to where we think we are the coolest Christians on the block.  God breaking us reminds us to have an eye out for the broken.  When we are standing proud with our chest puffed out, showcasing the ‘metals’ we think we’ve earned in our Christian walk, we nearly always ignore the needs of the lost around us.  God wants us to remember the lost, including the ‘undesirable’ lost.  And not just to throw money at them or pity them, but to reach out and share the Good News of Jesus Christ with them!
  • Dependence on God.  It’s hard to believe, but sometimes in our Christian walk, we can think we are soo special that God could scarcely do without us, rather than that we cannot do without Him!  Ever been there?  I have.  When God breaks us, it isn’t an act of trying to force us to see Him as boss, but a gracious kindness to remind us that He is our Life.  When we stray from dependence on God, we become dependent on things that serve as ‘mini-idols’ in our lives, like our relationships, our career, our plans, etc.
  • Bravery.  When we have an area in our life that we feel we can’t achieve victory over, God can give us the courage to have victory by breaking us of our love for that wrong thing or or the fear holding us back from doing the right thing.  God can break us of our fear of sharing our testimony, witnessing to people on the street, etc., or our love of materialism, forgiving those who have hurt us most, etc.–by destroying the false hope we have in doing something wrong and destroying the false fear we have in doing something right.

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. (Psalm 51:17, NIV)

I am so afraid of being broken.  I am so afraid of suffering.  If you’re like me, you probably are, too.  But there are times in my Christian walk when I’ve prayed for God to break me.  In fact, one Christian song we sing, Hosanna (Hillsong United), invites God to do just this with the line,

Break my heart for what breaks Yours.

We may artificially request for God to break us and be shocked by the very real answer He gives us.  True brokenness is terribly painful and we struggle to accept it, even from the hand of our Rescuer.  But think about the verse from the Psalm, and these other Scriptures, and you and I will see a bright torch of Hope in our brokenness.

“Son of man, groan before the people! Groan before them with bitter anguish and a broken heart.” (God, Ezekiel 21:6, NLT)

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. (David, Psalm 34:18, NLT)

My days are over. My hopes have disappeared. My heart’s desires are broken. (Job, Job 17:11, NLT)

“I am a woman with a broken heart. I haven’t had any wine or beer; I’ve been pouring out my heart before the LORD.” (Hannah, 1 Samuel 1:15b, HCSB)

He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds. (David, Psalm 147:3, NLT)

I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart. (David, Psalm 38:8, NIV)

Ezekiel (whom God commanded to groan), David, Job, and Hannah all followed God.  They had hearts that sought Him.  Job is a man whom God said about him,

“There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 1:8b, NIV)

Surely Job had a life that we should look carefully at to learn what a follower of Jesus might expect to experience in this world.  (By the way, “blameless” does not mean “sinless” but that he followed God exceptionally and was forgiven of his sin.  In Job, he refers to sin he has had in the past, and indeed he sins against God in his anger/doubt towards Him.)

What do we find?  Job had a time of intense grief, questioning, doubt, struggling, and terror.  God broke him.  And in this, Job discovered the wonder of God.

What about Hannah?  She wanted children, probably more than just about anything.  Maybe even more than she wanted a relationship with God.  But she came to God in great brokenness, laying her grief at His feet, and she rested in whatever answer He would give her.  Then, when God did give her a child, she did something that seems almost unthinkably hard–she gave her first child to Him, to live in the temple.  She got to see her child, the boy she’d so longed for, once a year.  And how did God honor her for giving over what she most wanted to Him?  He gave her sons and daughters to raise, and the baby she dedicated became perhaps the greatest Old Testament judge during the time before the kings.

And David?  David lived a life of soaring highs and terrible lows before God.  After he became trapped in sexual sin, he killed men, including the husband of the woman he had violated.  He became terribly broken (see Psalm 51).  God forgave him, and in his beautiful, broken Psalm about his sin (Psalm 51), we find these words:

Restore to me the joy of your salvation

and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,

so that sinners will turn back to you.

Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,

you who are God my Savior,

and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

Open my lips, Lord,

and my mouth will declare your praise.

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;

you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;

a broken and contrite heart

you, God, will not despise. (Psalm 51:12-18, NIV)

David knew something that many kings who came after him didn’t: only the Messiah could truly take away sin.  No matter how wealthy David was, or however mighty a warrior he was, or however talented with musical instruments, nothing and no one but God could take away his sin.

In summary, there are many reasons why God might break a person.  For a lost person, the reason is always for the purpose of salvation.  For the saved person, God sanctifies us through times of brokenness.  Resisting His brokenness as a lost person is to resist Eternal Life.  And resisting His brokenness as a believer is to resist His work to purify your life and testimony here on earth.

In a time of brokenness, however deep and fearful and even hopeless it may seem, remember that God’s ultimate desire is not for you to remain in this brokenness, but for you to be saved by it (if you are lost) or for you to experience His delight more deeply and draw the lost to Him (if you are already saved).

A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. (Solomon, Proverbs 17:22)

A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed. (Solomon, Proverbs 15:13, ESV)

Although this blog might seem like a detached commentary on the pain of brokenness, it is far from it.  I write this during a time of very personal and painful brokenness in my life.  I am not fully out of the feeling of having my arm caught in a seesaw yet.  I still feel the new wound of brokenness and I still have an unsettling, restless angst of, What if it does not go away?  I don’t know who said this first, nor is that really important, but I hold to the line, God does not waste our pain.  Whether you are a believer or not, God isn’t bringing suffering on you because He enjoys tormenting you.  Rather, He longs for you to be saved, or, if you are saved, to know Him better.

Although much of my heart still wants to resist the experience of breaking in my life, and though I still at times feel like a wild animal struggling to be tamed, I believe in, I hold to, and I desire to cling with white-knuckled grasp to the love of Christ.  I know that times of breaking are not senseless, needless, or for the purpose of my destruction, but rather to bring my heart closer to God, to bring my will in dearer alignment to His, and so that I may “rest on His unchanging grace” (Edward Mote, hymn On Christ the Solid Rock).

And one more Scripture each for unbelievers and for believers going through a time of brokenness.

Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:3-9, NIV)

Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,” (Hebrews 13:5, NASB)

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.

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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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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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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