From elf to orc to elf

“Do you know how the Orcs first came into being? They were Elves once, taken by the dark powers. Tortured and mutilated . . a ruined and terrible form of life.” –Saruman, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by New Line Cinema. [1]

If you want to know the first half of your story, J.R.R. Tolkien had it about right.

Elves. Beautiful, immortal, flawless.

We were like that once.

If that were where the story ended, the Happily Ever After would follow straight after the Once Upon a Time. But . . it isn’t. Between the two lies the biggest catastrophe of human history.

We were taken in by the dark power. Satan, to be exact. Oh yes, he tricked Eve, sabotaged Adam . . and within the halls of time became the worst memory of all:

The fall.

But what happened next is something so unexpected, not even the great J.R.R. Tolkien could capture it in his stories.

The orc . . had the chance to once again . . become elf.

It’s as though time unwinds. The torture, the mutilation, the ruined and terrible life . . all play backwards, like a movie on rewind. And suddenly, we’re back at the beginning, beautifully, stunningly standing in the Garden of Eden once more.

This is what it means to be redeemed.

To go from elf to orc . . to elf.

This is the story of everyone who has ever believed the sacrifice of Christ has the power to change you back into who you were created to be.

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)

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[1] Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, New Line Cinema.  Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson.  Based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s book, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

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I don’t deserve a bike, but here I am riding!

cute little boy on a bicycle

I grew up with Andy Griffith Show reruns playing every day at 12:30 in the afternoon. One show that sticks in my mind is when Opie thinks he’s received an A on a test he took.

His dad gets so excited, and praises him for his good work. Opie’s exuberant–right there on Cloud 9. But the next day he goes to school and finds out there was a mistake made, and he didn’t really earn an A at all. He goes home downcast, having fallen hard off the clouds, only to find his father has bought him a bike as a reward.

The guilt he feels over the next few days drives him to run away from home.

As believers, sometimes I think we come before God like Opie does before his father. We know we haven’t really received an A, but we think God has a better impression of us than we really deserve. This leads us to depression and fear and anxiety that God will find out we’re not really as great as He thinks we are.

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. God is totally aware that we are flops and failures. He’s not under a misconceived notion about who we really are. He knows exactly what we’ve done. He knows our worst motives. And He knows every reason why we don’t deserve Heaven.

One of the easiest and yet hardest things to understand in the Christian faith is justification. Justification is the idea that Christ’s A is laid down over top our F, and that the Father accepts that A on our behalf. It’s so easy that a grade-school student can understand it. And yet, it’s so difficult to really live out in our lives. Sometimes we find ourselves, like Opie, running away from God in fear that we are not really good enough.

That’s bad theology. 🙂 We forget that God already knows, far more than we do, who we are. And we forget that Christ’s A really does cover our F. When God gives us gifts, we don’t have to be hit with an enormous wave of guilt. Because, in God’s eyes, we have received the A. We are rewarded for Christ’s grade. That’s grace.

Running away from God when He gives us good things does not send the message that we are unworthy (which is what we think we are communicating), but instead sends the message that Christ’s A is unworthy. We don’t mean to say that, but that’s what it looks like. We don’t really live out justification if we think our F stands in the way of God’s love for us.

Opie had good reason to feel guilty for receiving a bike he didn’t really deserve. No one had stepped up for him and said, “Here, Opie, take my A and everything that goes with it.” But we have the most loving Friend in the world who did exactly this for us! We can receive God’s gifts with excitement and joy and, most of all, praise to Jesus, who makes all gifts possible.

That leads us to the point of this little blog. I’ve received Jesus’ A for my F. That’s justification. So even I don’t deserve a bike, here I am riding!  I can unwrap every good thing God has in my life, praising Christ Jesus all the way, because Jesus is my test-taker and He has laid down His life so that I could have His perfect A.

It’s time to take my new bike out for a spin.

Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone.
 (Romans 5:18, NLT)

 

 

 

Choosing pink toothpaste

Walking down the toothpaste aisle at our grocery store as a child, I saw a kind of toothpaste unlike the ordinary blue kind I was used to.  It was a pink toothpaste and it had my favorite characters on it.

My mom warned me I might not like the flavor of the toothpaste.  I was sure I would.  She warned me I might not.  But with my favorite characters on it, how could it possibly taste bad?  I was sure that I would want to use every last bit of the toothpaste.

However . . I tried it once . . and found out that, just because your favorite characters are on something doesn’t mean it will taste good.  My mom and dad ended up using up the pink toothpaste.

It’s a little story of grace.  My parents used up what I had asked for, pleaded for, and found out I despised.  It reminds me of the ultimate story of grace, when Christ took in all the sin that we had asked for, pleaded for, and discovered we despised.  Even though none of it belonged to Him, even though He had every right to demand that we carry it ourselves, He bore our sin for us . . all the way to the cross.

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 June 25, 2014 at 4:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Super Nintendos and Grace

I was about 10 or 11 the summer I begged my mom to buy me a Super Nintendo.  At that time, I believe the package deal came with Super Mario World.  Super Mario World.

I had one goal that summer: get that Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

The problem was, I didn’t have the money.  Or close to the money.  Or close to close to the money.

Mom cut me a deal.  She told me that she wanted me to practice math over the summer, and that if I did so many lessons in the math book, she would buy me that Super Nintendo.  I can’t remember how many lessons it was now, but it was a lot–either 50 and 100.

There was no reason I wanted to solve math problems over the summer, except one: to get that Super Nintendo.

I worked and worked on the math lessons.  I dreaded them, but I also looked forward to them so I could get them done.  Mom checked them for accuracy.  At last & finally, I completed the last dutiful problem and I turned my work in to Mom.

I got my Super Nintendo.

You know, I was thinking about this story this morning and how, for many of us, we still see grace a lot like how I saw that Super Nintendo System.

We know we can’t earn grace by paying for it.  We know we don’t have the “money”.

But we still try to pay for it with “math lessons”.

So many of us go to God with our “good works” and, almost under the table, we show Him what we’ve been doing like, God, I know you say grace is a free gift . . but look at this, would you?  This is good work 32 for the week. 

We try to buy insurance, if you will, in good works.  We try to convince God that, should He change His mind about His free gift, we have enough wonderful deeds saved up to sway His vote back towards us.

How this must grieve the heart of God.

First, when we try to do good works for our glory–which is really what we’re doing when we ‘save them up to our account’–we fail to present a picture of God’s grace to the world.  Our witness becomes how we try to “earn” favor with God–something the Gospel teaches us simply cannot be done.

Second, we quickly learn to either live in a state of denial or we realize how bad we are at good.  Only through God’s Spirit can bring us to good works.

Third, we burn out of wanting to try.  Bringing our own efforts to the table equals exhaustion.  We can’t, on our own, do anything right.  When we try, we wear down.  The more we wear down, the more bitter and frustrated we become.

But most important of all, we lose out of the Message of the Gospel: Jesus Christ paid it all.  We act as though there’s some kind of catch, as if there’s fine print at the bottom of the contract.  We forget that God, and God alone, made this agreement with us.  We didn’t help God tear the curtain in the temple from top to bottom.  God, and God alone, tore this curtain because the perfect sacrifice of Christ was complete.  For all who would believe.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23, NLT)

Published in: on June 12, 2014 at 10:17 am  Leave a Comment  
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Tickets for grace

Blank TicketA camp I went to as a kid gave out tickets for snacks. I can’t remember how many tickets we got each day–say four.  Different snacks were worth different point values.  You could get maybe a little dish of ice cream.  Or two Fruit Roll-Ups.  Or maybe cheese crackers.  But you could not get ice cream, Fruit Roll-Ups, and cheese crackers.

If I am really honest, I look at grace a lot of the same way.  I act as though God has given me a certain number of tickets each morning to spend on forgiveness.  Then I look at what I’ve done wrong in the day.  I try to pay out the tickets to cover the sin I owe.

And, invariably, I always run out of tickets before I run out of sin.  And, although I would never voice it this way, it goes something lie this,

I could pay for those eighteen small sins.  Or this one big sin.  Or this sin trap I keep falling into over and over.  But how am I going to pay for them all?

When I do this, although I’m not thinking about it this way, I’m acting as though the blood of Jesus is limited.  As though Christ in His death on the cross was willing to pay for some of my sins, but not all of them.  What would that have accomplished?  Why do I think Christ would go through such a terrible death and then only partway save me?

There are no tickets of grace.  There should be no worry for the Christian over whether or not Jesus is willing to cover all our sins.  When we focus on whether there’s enough grace, we miss out on delighting in what grace is: God’s undeserved forgiveness of us and help for us in our time of need.

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16, NIV)

Grace abundant for the Christ follower

Our life starts with grace.  And our life ends with grace, too.

Our life is grace.

But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace. (Romans 11:6, NASB)

Published in: on February 19, 2014 at 4:50 am  Leave a Comment  
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Grace Contagious

Grace is contagious[1].

Highly contagious.

And even the most stubborn, hard-core hater can’t go to the local drugstore for a vaccine against it.  Even he, yes, he! . . Even she, yes, she! . . Even the ones you can’t even picture smiling or giving, even THEY can become infectious with the grace of Jesus Christ.

Find someone to give grace to today.

And don’t be surprised if it’s the person you DIDN‘T have in mind.

Oh, make no mistake, it will probably be someone who really annoys you–and not just a little bit!  Or someone who you struggle with hating.  Or someone you’ve had a long-term grudge against for 21 years.  God will give you the opportunity to spread His grace to people like that {and also the teenager who cuts you off in traffic and the man interrupting your dinner date with his loud cell phone conversation and the coworker who goes on and on about political beliefs that are opposite to you and . . you get the idea 😉 }.

Grace is contagious.

Spread it around.

Can’t do it?  No way?

None of us can.  Only Jesus can give you the quality of grace.  The world will look at it with wonder and confusion or even recoil and call it a disease.  But once you receive grace, you see that you are ‘infected’ not with a pathogen, but infused with benevolence meant to bless every single person in the world.

. . And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone in debt to us. (Luke 11:4a, HCSB)

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[1] I don’t know who first said this, common phrase on internet.

The peace of grace.

I relax in Your grace.

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” –Jesus, Matthew 11:28b

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Photograph by Oliver Kendal, profile on http://www.flickr.com/photos/oliverkendal/

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

Published in: on November 11, 2013 at 10:02 pm  Comments (1)  
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Pulled under

Christ’s grace is like that one last big wave.

My heart doesn’t see it coming; can’t resist it.

What has held so firm to legalism, so doggedly to joyless living, is at last carried away in the roil of a final wave I never saw coming.

It’s a violent crest, and it fights harder for me than I can.

I go under.

No matter how hard, how meaninglessly hard I try to swim against it, I am under the current.

Once again, I find the rigid lovelessness inside me melt like wax on a flame.  Once again, I find my fears give way to a resting trust in the ocean above and beneath me.

And I am carried away once more.

. . reminded at last that it is only He who can drown me in His love . . not I . .

. . that He is not not working hard to beach me on the sand . .

. . but rather that He has fought excruciatingly hard against the whirlpools of my misunderstandings and the current of my failures . .

And that, at last, I can rest, I can really rest, and let the tide of His mercy carry me out . .

. . without struggling to swim towards Him – choking on mouthfuls of grace – terrified He will leave me behind if only He gets the chance.

Oh, to drown in the love of Jesus Christ.  To glimpse the treasures buried deep within the waters of His peace.  To chance to see the unearthly beauties of a secret grace under the surface of what I have struggled so hard to stay above . .

Under the crimson sea of His blood, there is real rest . . delight . . peace . . and a world in which I already have God’s favor.

How can I possibly allow myself to drown in such reckless love, when I am such a wretch that I would choke on the very grace that keeps me far from the shore of my sins?

But how can I possibly resist, when the ocean that carries me to Heaven’s shores is the very blood of God?

But unfathomably, audaciously, resist I would, and that is why He sends His last big wave to catch me off guard.

The grace of Christ proves too much for me–even me in my most abased soul–to conquer.

I am too far under to swim up to the surface.

And, truly, this is why I am a Christian.

Over on the shore of sin, take a walk right by the coastline, and you will find a shell from a far-away land washed up on the shore.  The waves gently touch it, nudging it toward you.

Within this shell whispers the music of Heaven.

This shell has a name.  Hear: we call it John 3:16.

Pick up the mysterious shell of John 3:16, hold it close to your ear, and you will hear this breath-snatching, unforgettable melody within.  It is the melody of how to drown in God’s peace–musical notes far more beautiful than I could ever capture in any song I could write here.  I am just one carried in the Wave.

This is music written by the Wave Himself, music so mission-critical to Him that He would trust the music to no one’s mouth but His own.  He Himself spoke the words within this shell.  If you listen, you will hear Him calling to you from Heaven’s shore.

Sand Creative Commons

But He is not only over there . . on an infinitely far-away Shore you can never reach no matter how good a swimmer you think you are.

He is also over here . . He is the Wave who will drown your finest efforts of swimming and bring you to His Perfect Lands and, best of all, carry you to Himself.

Listen to the song He’s singing to you.

Open your heart and surrender to the Wave.

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

Jesus, John 3:16

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Wave photograph by Kelly Cookson, profile on http://www.flickr.com/photos/mscaprikell/with/11433860/

Sea shell photograph by Karunakar Rayker, profile on http://www.flickr.com/photos/krayker/with/2118533122/

Shore photograph by Romain Muller, profile on http://www.flickr.com/photos/romainmuller/with/6581917647/

Photographs are under Creative Commons License.

God’s Word from the New Living Translation.

Wings that don’t melt

Unlike Daedalus & Icarus, the wings of Your grace do not melt under the hot sun of legalism.

{And Your wings, oh God, are no one’s mythology.}

And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. (Romans 11:6, NIV)

Published in: on September 4, 2013 at 7:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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