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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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)

Squirrels and Justice

Red SquirrelOne day, heading out of my neighborhood subdivision, I found a squirrel blocking my path.  Or, more accurately, I found a squirrel about to become part of my tire.  I slowed down, to give him time to move out of the way.

Why the squirrel hadn’t realized my car was coming is anyone’s guess–maybe he was daydreaming about acorns.  The sound of my tires woke him up out of his nutty bliss, however, and he immediately started panicking.

I thought the problem was over.  The squirrel had woken up, he was surely going to move out of the way now, and I could use the road built for my car (and not for the squirrel).

Uh uh.

Mr. Squirrel had an ingenious plan: outrun my car.

I slowed down the car to inching along.  In front of me, loping along in frightened one-foot leaps, bounded the squirrel.  He tried with his best effort to outrun my car.

His best effort was totally pathetic.  Had I accelerated anything above about 2 mph, he would have been instant roadkill.

There we went, down the road, the squirrel running like a fugitive of my tire, but unable to make any getaway . . me mercifully keeping my foot on the brake so as not to kill him.

In a matter of seconds, Mr. Squirrel figured out that something had to change, and it wasn’t going to be the path of my car.  After all, however much I didn’t want to run over him, I couldn’t responsibly drive on the sidewalk.

So what did he do?  Rather than keep running in front of my tire, he turned to the right, got off the road, and raced into the yard.  At first, he fully expected me to chase him.

I could drive at a normal speed again and the squirrel could tell horror stories to his friends about how I had tried to run him over.

It’s a funny story–and it’s a commentary on how many of us live our lives before God.  We are so afraid His Law is going to run us over, that we run as fast as we can away from Him.  After all, we know we’ve sinned and we know the judgment of God is coming.  But outrunning God?  Not gonna happen.  No matter how many good things we try to do, we’ll never do enough.  In fact, the Bible tells us we can’t even do one thing good apart from God, much less “make up” for a lifetime of sinning.

What we don’t often see is that God is applying the brakes.  He is inching along.  Every word of Scripture is a warning to try to get us to see what a predicament we’re in.  God isn’t trying to run us over.  He is trying to get us off the road!

In the old covenant, people got off the road by waiting on God to bring something to take away their sins.  They lived their lives trusting that He would find a way to save them from the judgment they deserved–and they were saved.

In the new covenant, people don’t just get off the road and wait on God’s wrath to pass them by.  Jesus has taken God’s wrath on Himself. He is the payment for God’s judgment.  We don’t have to race to the side of the road anymore.  Now, we can get in the car!

We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.  (Romans 3:22-26, NLT)

Mercy

Christians, preach the mercy of God to yourself.

–From Pastor Daniel

Christ has received the punishment for our sin–there is no revenge on us.

–From my Sunday school teacher, Kevin

Have you ever been afraid you made one too many mistakes?

Missed one too many dental appointments?  Forgot one too many birthdays?  Flunked your New Year’s Resolution one too many years?  Botched one too many tests?  Failed a friend one too many times?  Lost your phone one too many times?  Told a lie one too many times?  Wrecked your car one too many times?  Gotten fired from a job one too many times?  Lost your way one too many times?  Gotten one dollar too many in debt?  Argued with someone you love one too many times?  Broke your promise one too many times?  Wasted the day one too many times?

Disappointed God one too many times?

Sometimes I live in fear that I just broke the last straw.  I broke the rule one time too many.  I missed the last chance.  I went too far.

Can I come back?  Have I ruined everything?  Do I still matter?  Do you still love me?

These are the questions of the insecure heart.

Sometimes we try to ask forgiveness like we are offering God lambs to be sacrificed on His altar.  We try to be sorry enough, pay it all back, make up for it, do something good enough to offset the bad.

We forget that the Lamb of God has already come.  There are no more lambs to offer.  The sacrifice is over.  The new life has begun.

To be a Christian is to receive the sacrifice of Christ.  The merit is all Christ.  The life after is learning to be like Him.

It would be something like if I flunked a chemistry test (which is very believable).  A student approaches me and offers to give me his A+ paper.  I receive his paper and receive his grade.  But he doesn’t just walk away.  He begins to coach me in chemistry.  But the whole time he coaches me, and the whole time I improve, I must still have his A+ paper to save me from flunking.  The test is already over.  I’ve already failed.  And I’ve taken his paper for my own.  None of that changes by my improvement.  (And besides, if at any point I was the one tested, I would still fail to make that A+.)

Christ is the only one who lives a perfect life on this earth.  He is the only one who can coach us towards holiness.  He’s earned the right.  But it is always only His sacrifice that brings us to Heaven.  One day, we will die to our flunked self, and the only thing left in us will be the perfect work of Christ Jesus.  That is what God will see in us.  But it is not this work He has done in us that brings us to Heaven.  It is the work He has done for us that brings us to Heaven.

That is mercy.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2, NIV)

Inarguable

Mercy is inarguable.

Mercy triumphs over judgment! (James 2:13b, NIV.)

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Photograph by Bob Murphy, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/25908390@N00/

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Cost

I can’t afford the cost of judgment.

There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you. (James 2:13, NLT)

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7, NIV)

“For if you forgive others their offenses, your Heavenly Father will forgive you also; but if you do not forgive others their offenses, neither will your Father forgive yours.” (Matthew 6:14-15, Weymouth NT)

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Photograph by Daniel Borman, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/dborman2/

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Published in: on September 5, 2011 at 7:28 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Point of Mercy

“If there is a point we experience God [as Christians], it is at the point of mercy.”

I was in small group at church tonight, and my Sunday school teacher Kevin, made this statement, and I thought, How true! (as I quickly scribbled it down on the side of my paper—fortunately I actually brought a pen that worked this week).

The judgment we face because of our sins splits us away from God.  An uncrossable chasm of sin separates us.

We can shake our fist at the chasm, or we can run away from the chasm further into our sin, or we can stand looking wistfully across.  But there is nothing we can do to experience God’s mercy, only His judgment and wrath.  Our inability to experience God’s love is the most severe of all consequences.

And then, God crosses our chasm.

Jesus comes to us.

I have to stop and reflect.  Do I really ever think about that?  I have no rope to throw over to God’s side, and I cannot walk on air.  So God comes to me.

I remember one time as a little girl going with a neighbor and her dad to the park.  I climbed this arch thing on the playground, and I was about at the top when I became paralyzed with fear.  I clung to the curved beam and rungs and cried out for help.

My friend’s father could have said it was my own fault for climbing up so high and left me there, or he could have yelled up at me to come down, but when he saw I was paralyzed, he climbed up and got me.  I remember when he was right behind me, and I knew he would catch me if I fell, and suddenly everything was all right again.

Jesus crosses the chasm to us.  And the bridge He builds that leads us back to the Father is His righteousness.  The Bible tells us:

God made him [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV)

The way we experience God as Christians is truly at the point of mercy.  Jesus plunged into the chasm for us.  And the bridge He laid down was His life.

Photograph by Alan Bruce

We have two choices.

We can refuse the bridge, and we will one day experience the wrath of an all-righteous God, forever separated by the chasm of our sin.

Or we can run to the bridge, and we will immediately and for forever experience the all-loving mercy of our Lord and Master Christ Jesus.

By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. (Hebrews 10:20, NLT)

Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. (Romans 5:2, NLT)

Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us. (Ephesians 2:18)

Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. (Ephesians 3:12, NLT)

Photograph by Alan Bruce, http://www.flickr.com/photos/qole/199706664/

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.