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)

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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“But for the grace of God . . there go I.”

For some of us, it’s easy to say it . .

But do we believe it?

The more I know about who I am,

the more I do believe it.

I am tired of hashing up other people’s problems, gossiping about other people’s addictions, and slathering on judgment–even in the most evil cases.  The truth, the reality?

There but for the grace of God . . go I [1].

There is no one on earth who has committed a crime worse than I could commit by my fallen nature.

And, whether you realize it or not, there is no one on earth who has committed a crime worse than you could commit by your fallen nature, either.

This realization is not a celebration that we’re all alike, but a horror and grief that there is nothing that stands between my sin nature and acting like the Devil unless God Himself does.

What we haven’t done, and the things we’d never do even as non-Christian, is because of the restraining power of God in our lives.  There are non-Christians who, through the mercy of God’s hold on their consciences, try to be very moral.  They’d never have a criminal record in our courts.  (If we went inside their heads and saw their thoughts and motives, that would be a different story.)

And then there are lost people who, because of their rejection of God, their shoving away of His grace, He removes much or all of His restraining hand on their lives, and we see how evil sin can really be.

No longer is sin funny to us, but instead a terrible and frightening reminder of who fallen humanity–sinners who tasted the forbidden fruit–can be.

Our knee-jerk reaction is to condemn with an attitude of self-love.  We exalt ourselves subtly with the undertone of I would NEVER . . not realizing that

But for the grace of God, there go I.

But for the grace of God, there go I.

But for the grace of God, there go I.

The blockade between me and the most evil sins on earth is God’s Holy Spirit.  That’s all I need, and that’s all there is that can be my Guardian against myself.

I trust in His Word:

  1. That He has made me a new creation when I believed in Him . .
  2. That He is renewing my heart daily and sanctifying my life so that . .
  3. I cross the barrier less and less into sin and grieve the Holy Spirit less and less throughout my life.

From an earthly standpoint, I long to have something to stand in-between me and sin that I can do myself.  I long to have the self-will, the bragging rights, the righteous power to hold myself back.

But from a heavenly perspective, I see that the decision was already made in the Garden to shove God aside as our barrier.  All that stands in between us and the Devil now is when God graciously steps in once more.

We took away our own ability not to sin when we collectively chose to the path away from God.  Ever since then, we’ve been journeying into sin.

We’ve been justifying “small” sins, stumbling through “medium” sins, and hoping we never commit “big” sins.

When really, all the while, we’re all trapped on the same path that we ourselves chose: a path that winds beyond the barrier of God’s grace, a path that leads only to sin and sorrow.

Since we all started on this same path of living against God, we all should live like

There but for the grace of God go I

in humility and recognition of who we really are.

But the story doesn’t end just there.

Not for those who know Christ.

There but for the grace of God go I . . and I am safe in His Spirit.

Can a Christ-follower sin terribly?  Yes.

But only by fighting against God’s Spirit and ignoring numerous warnings, a war that will only end in grief, agony, and repentance for the believer.

The believer can never permanently go against the grace of God.  It would be like a straw man trying to walk through a cement wall.

Once we commit ourselves to Christ, the payment and righteousness of His atonement for us on the cross is like an infinite wall, too high and deep and wide for us to ever possibly find passage above or below or around, and too impossibly strong for us to ever find passage through.

That is why I choose my destiny with Christ Jesus.  I choose for the Holy Spirit to attest to righteousness within me and burn my conscience when I sin, that I may be protected and walk holier and holier before God.

I am aware that, all the while, the only barrier sustaining me from the life of the Devil is Jesus Christ Himself–and that this only barrier is more than sufficient.

There but for the grace of God go I.

But by the grace of God, I don’t have to.

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2:11-14, NIV)


[1] Origin of the expression likely John Bradford, evangelist.

Published in: on March 3, 2014 at 8:31 am  Leave a Comment  
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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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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


Wave photograph by Kelly Cookson, profile on

Sea shell photograph by Karunakar Rayker, profile on

Shore photograph by Romain Muller, profile on

Photographs are under Creative Commons License.

God’s Word from the New Living Translation.

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?


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.


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.

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.


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.


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

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.

Giving & Recieving

A reality of giving gifts out of love for God is that you will never be able to give as much as you receive back.  For sure.

If you give out of love for Christ, you will receive back more than you could possibly have imagined.  My pastor says “You can never out-give God”–in anything!  Offering God your time, sacrificing bad habits for Him, or giving gifts to show your love for Him will never go unnoticed by Him, and you’ll never be able to give Him as much as He will give you.

When I give, I might not find more of the cheap: money bags on your doorstep, extra presents under your Christmas tree, a car that never breaks down, or a growing savings’ account.  Those are the big deal kind of stuff to us, but they are the cheap stuff to God.

And when I give, I might not get more health-on-this-earth either.  I’m not really thinking about the narratives I read in the Bible when I give for this reason.  Job gave generously and his children died in a tragedy, he lost all his wealth, and he broke out in horrendous boils.  Paul gave generously and spent many nights in cold cells, was viewed as the scum of society, went hungry and sleepless some nights, and was beaten over and over.

Though God may not give us wealth or health to “reward” our giving (as if we deserve any reward for giving away a little of what we have received from Him by His outstanding mercy!), as we develop giving hearts, we find that, more and more, those aren’t the kind of things we really want anyway.  What we will find more of is the priceless.

About two years ago I began a trek of giving.  I haven’t gotten very far, but what I have learned is the more I give, the more wonderful my life becomes.  Giving does mean sacrifice–giving up something you’d really like to have, like a nice meal at a restaurant, or that new trendy outfit, or a necklace you wanted to buy to make you feel special, or a dessert every night after dinner.  I don’t know if you’ll get more of those kinds of things because you give–I kinda doubt it.  What I have learned that happens is those kind of things become less and less important, until they’re dim memories far out-shined by the brilliant light of loving Jesus Christ.

The Bible makes no pretense about it–giving is a part of living a life for God.  Giving out of drudgery or guilt is probably not going to bring you much joy.  For years, I avoided giving altogether because I simply didn’t care about it.  It wasn’t until I committed my life to Christ that I began to see giving not as a feeble try at paying God back but instead a way to back what God paid.  In other words, we stand by the power of the cross in our lives when we give out of joy.  Our giving shows we have an inkling of how much Jesus gave when He died for us.

You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” (Acts 20:35b, NLT)

Keeps us

Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” (Luke 17:7-10, ESV)

To believe we are unworthy servants keeps us in His power.

It is not us who does any saving.  It is not from us that wisdom is born, nor from us that authority is commanded.  It is not our goodness or love that rescues the lost.  We are simply following God.

If I try to usurp that, if I try to become the one who receives God’s honor and glory and power, I am overcome by the power of sin. Of myself, I have only one power: the power to be used by Satan as a puppet for evil.

But I have been called to serve in the Kingdom of kingdoms, in the realm of the one and awesome GOD in all His majesty.  In Scripture, as a follower of Christ, I am described as His servant or slave, as His friend, as His younger sibling, and as His child.

Not one of us has one whit of important in the eyes of God except by the blood of Christ Jesus. 

Everything, everything about our relationship with Jesus as Christians is only possible because He is the Christ–God’s anointed to save us.  I am His child only because Christ has redeemed me.  There is nothing within me that has earned this priceless gift.  I am the worthless servant called from the fields of Hell to start gleaning in the Kingdom of God.

To believe I am an unworthy servant keeps me in Christ’s power.  I remember: I am the servant, and He is my GOD.

I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength (Philippians 4:12-13, NLT)

Stepping up

You have given me everything I need, and when I falter, it is my problem. 

When I fail God, it is my fault.  No one else and no circumstances are responsible for my failure.  I stand before God accountable for myself.

Understanding this is painful . . and eye-opening.  If I am responsible for my failure, then I can change.  It is up to me, and I can do it by the grace and power of Jesus Christ.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13, KJV2000)

. . we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1c-2, NIV)

Published in: on January 21, 2013 at 8:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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On beauty & grace . . and alligators

I won a “Miss America” Pageant.

Granted, it was a small GA’s (Baptist girls’ mission fellowship) gathering, and granted I was actually from the country of Persia and not one of the states at all . . but I still won.

The rules were simple: dress up for the Miss America pageant and perform a talent at an all-girls’ sleepover at one of the GA leader’s houses.  We played a few games, told scary stories–but the highlight of the evening was the pageant.

I went as the queen of Persia.  I brought with me a small green stuffed alligator as my pet.  I spoke in an accent that I thought was regal and foreign at the time but almost certainly was very pathetic.  Okay, not almost certainly.  Certainly was.

I was in the “fall off” stage of my adolescence–the stage where I was on the brink of falling into unpopularity, uncoolness, and general disrepair.  I was still on the edge, though, and some preteen girls found my peculiarities cool or at least tolerable, including this bunch of GA girls.

For my talent, I hit a few keys on a piano and sung clearly–and intentionally–off key.  The general plan was so no one would realize I actually do sing off key.  I sang I’m a Lonely Little Petunia in an Onion Patch.

Why the queen of Persia would sing such a song and carry around a pet alligator . . I don’t know.  But I was very imaginative back then, and somehow it all seemed to work together cleverly in my mind.

Whether out of pity, or reward for the comedy I provided, or because of the unusualness of my act, I won Miss America.  I think there was applause and cheering as I took my “acceptance” promenade down the hallway and into the living room.  One of the GA leaders started singing You Are So Beautiful and the girls chimed in.  I think I even had a tiara.

The queen of Persia with her pet alligator . . got to be Miss America that night.

You know . . there’s a reason I still remember that pageant.  It’s because it is wrapped around a longing deep down inside a girls’ heart.

It’s a bit part of the reason why little girls long to dress up in feathery boas and high heels and Disney princess dresses . . why teens girls overspend their parents’ money for prom night . . why young women fidget and squirm and try on wedding dress after wedding dress in a mirror . . why older women sometimes wear gaudy jewelry and hats that people make fun of behind their back.

Some girls have even tried to make a career on this longing, through pageants or modeling . . or stripping.

It is the longing to be beautiful.  For someone to look–but not just anyone, but your best girlfriends, your family, and, most importantly, a man–and say,

Ah, this is beauty.

We will beg our moms to please let me wear lipstick and nail polish when we are little girls . . we will overhaul our faces with eyeliner and mascara as teens . . we will obsess with new makeup formulas through our young adult life . . and we will be conned into anti-aging creams as seniors for this very longing.

People make fun of us for our longing, and we make fun of each other for it–but, girls, isn’t it true?  We want, we long, we even obsess to be beautiful.

We will do strange things to try to achieve beauty, like starve ourselves, or undress in front of men we don’t even like, or spend small fortunes on looking fifteen years younger than we really are.  We will hunger for it . . quiver for it . . race for it.  But we never seem to reach it.  Even the girls who win all the prizes, who are on the front page of every magazine, who look thirty years younger than they really are . . don’t experience it.  None of us do.  Not for long.  Not for lasting.

“Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16b, NIV)

The actual curse was something Eve probably never totally realized . . something most of us girls probably never totally realize.

The curse was that our desire will be for men.

Not for God.

Eve was so blinded, so terribly, foolishly blinded when she ate the fruit of sin and offered it to Adam.  Rather than realize she had lost her relationship with God . . she focused on how she had lost her relationship with Adam.

Adam no longer loved her in the way he had.  She had become a liability to him–then and ever since.  Men are still out there who complain about their wives, cheat on them, make fun of them behind their back, abuse them, or simply treat them like they don’t matter much.  Guys are still out there who brag when they can get a girl to sleep with them, simply for the pleasure of a tally mark on their score sheet.  And there are still teenage boys who rate girls’ breasts or overall beauty.

And we girls still feed that.

We still run out and buy things to make our lips and breasts look bigger, our thighs looks smaller, our skin look tighter.  We are still–even now–missing the point of the curse.  We are still seeking to win the approval of Adam . . when we should be seeking to find the God we broke fellowship with in the Garden.

Because, ultimately, no matter how many times we win pageants because we sang a lovely song and carried a green alligator around and spoke in a strange accent . . we will always end up feeling hungrier.

No man, no matter how wonderful, no matter how caring, no matter how chick-flick worthy he may be, can give you what only God can give.  Even if you could have Prince Charming, even if the glass slipper fit your foot, even if you were the one who was awakened from a long slumber with a kiss . . you would never be satisfied.  Because the desire we have within us is the desire for God.  The curse is that we think it is for man.  And that is a curse we, and only we, have brought on ourselves.

But God, who is so gracious, and so kind, did not turn in scorn from us.  He did not reject us and strip us of our beauty and throw us out of His Kingdom with no hope.

Instead, He sent a Man to save us.


Do you get that?

God sent a Man to save us.

It was what Eve had been hoping for.

A man who would love her.

And in grace above grace, God gave her something she would recognize.

He gave her a Man.

Not a man who would overpower her, use her body, or trap her in flattery so he could humiliate her later . . but a Man who would speak, and the stones ready to be thrown at her would drop . . a Man who would speak, and the brand of slut she had borne for so many years would vanish in a pool of tears and the sweetness of perfume[1] . . a Man who would speak, and tenderly care for her, even when He was on the cross dying the most ugly death of all and she could only watch.

A Man who, miracle of miracles, is fully God but now is also fully human . . who always was and had all power . . and yet . . in the miracle of miracles of miracles . . came down to us to save us from the everlasting ugliness of our sin . . by yielding His life in exchange for ours . . by paying fully for our deserved condemnation, humiliation, and shame. . so He could bring us into His Royal Kingdom eternally as His own daughters.

No fairy tale, no ad, no cosmetic, no tiara, and no pageant can compete.

This is Highest beauty.

This is the Man worth worshiping, girls.  This is the Man we should long to see one day, face to face.  This is the Man who has the tiara of grace, the necklace of faith, the bracelets of joy, the earrings of loyalty, the ring of promise, the jewels of love, the fragrance of redemption, the ballroom gown of forgiveness, and the slippers of service (His service to us!–He was a servant before us!), to bestow upon us as soon as we cry out for Him to save us from the ugly and very heartbreaking lives we live without Him.

Our talents may be lowly, our appeal bleak . . but this Man makes it all right by His gift of beauty–the beauty of a life made right.

The following analogy, given in Ezekiel, describes God’s beloved city of Jerusalem–how God raised Jerusalem up from nothingness and humiliation to royalty and beauty.  I had never noticed this passage until a pastor said something like, ‘Look at how God treats Israel here.  This is a picture of how He treats us.’  Those who walk in the beauty of the blood-stained Way which Christ has made available to us will one day be a part of the New Jerusalem–where Jesus Christ will one day be revealed as Giver of all beauty and grace, and the Most Beautiful of all, our Redeemer.  I look forward to it!

On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths. No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised.

“‘Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!” I made you grow like a plant of the field. You grew up and developed and became the most beautiful of jewels. Your breasts were formed and your hair grew, you who were naked and bare.

“‘Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine.

“‘I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you. I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put leather sandals on you. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments. I adorned you with jewelry: I put bracelets on your arms and a necklace around your neck, and I put a ring on your nose, earrings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. So you were adorned with gold and silver; your clothes were of fine linen and costly fabric and embroidered cloth. Your food was fine flour, honey and olive oil. You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen. And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign Lord. (Ezekiel 16:4-14, NIV)


[1] This is not to say that the woman’s tears or gift of perfume saved her, but that she realized she had been redeemed from her past.  I think it is only ever in thankfulness that we realize what has been done for us.  The tears and perfume were how this woman showed it.  You can read her story–and how Hero Jesus defended her from derision and humiliation–in Luke 7:37-50.)