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The effort to repay God, in the ordinary way we pay creditors, would nullify grace and turn it into a business transaction.  If we see acts of obedience as installment payments, we make grace into a mortgage… Let us not say that grace creates debts; let us say that grace pays debts.

-John Piper (Future Grace)

 

Okay—are we done demanding God be fair yet?

John Piper calls it the debtor’s ethic and makes a powerful case for approaching God and his loving-kindness altogether differently than  many of us have been taught.  One of the traps of feeling like we deserve something so undeserved as forgiveness is the subsequent feelings of being somehow entitled to favorite pet sins as a sort of consolation for our good time—it’s a God will understand mentality which never fails to result in our engaging in a lifestyle or activities that don’t serve God, ourselves, or others well. 

When we approach God’s forgiveness or any of the benefits of his grace and mercy with an approach of anything other than a gift—we slip into approaching God as some big cosmic scale up in the sky and we somehow justify our giving him anything less than all of us (or worse yet—a measly 10%).  We are his, and everything we have was given to us by him if we remember rightly (aren’t we stewards rather than owners?).   We reason that it is plenty for us to give God six of the seven days within our week—I should get at least one day to have my time the reasoning goes.  A heart set free by true forgiveness says What mercy God has given me!—is there any sacrifice too great for me to give back to him?

Do you see the distinct difference?

The forgiveness we receive in Christ is a net result of the liberating grace of God.  Grace is all gift—no re-payment necessary.  And so it is with forgiveness since it is one of the fruits of grace after all.

1 What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’ 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 7 ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.’   (Romans 4:1-8, ESV)

Do we live in this kind of faith—a belief that we haven’t earned an ounce of the forgiveness that Jesus provided for us through his sinless life and by sacrificing his very life in our place?

Giving back to God is the response of a heart set free—paying him back isn’t.

Like it or not—we are debt free.

Your sins are erased
And they are no more
They’re out on the ocean floor…  ~Ocean Floor,
Audio Adrenaline 

The harsh charges have been read: High Crimes Against Heaven.  The incriminating evidence has been plainly and painfully presented against you.  The many witnesses have marched forward.  The clear argument has passionately been made—the prosecution has spoken.  The defense has rested as it never got started—you didn’t have a prayer.  The jury has deliberated and rendered a verdict.

Eternal Sentence—with no possibility of parole. 

You didn’t stand a snowballs chance in Gehenna.

 13And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him (Colossians 2:13-15, ESV).

Jesus didn’t suffer and die with plans to forgive some of your sins.  He didn’t hang on a cross out in the scorching afternoon sun with crusted blood clinging on to every inch of his body in hopes to forgive most of your sins.  He didn’t withstand the ultimate humiliation and mockery so that every sin you have ever committed and will ever commit—except for your worst one—would be forgiven.

He paid for all of them.

Your case is closed—never to be re-opened.

This evil is planted in all human hearts by nature: If God were willing to sell His grace, we would accept it more quickly and gladly than when He offers it for nothing.  ~Martin Luther

So if forgiveness is free and subsequently can’t be purchased for any price—just who is it that  gets the gift of forgiveness?  Do the worthy receive forgiveness?  Certainly not—there’s none of those.  And if there were what would they need forgiveness for?  Forgiveness is for sinners.  That must mean it’s the unworthy who get forgiven.  In many cases it is those most unworthy who get to go free with Jesus after all (a clumsy reading of the New Testament would suffice in making that case).  So, yes, the unworthy  recieve forgiveness.  But does everyone who is unworthy get forgiven?  That would mean we all get pardoned.  If that is the case, can we all just be extra bad and bank on being forgiven—right?  Not hardly. 

If you can be squeaky clean and still not be forgiven don’t think for a mili-second that you can be bad to the bone and slide by (let me  add that the Bible teaches that we are all “bad” in and of ourselves contrary to what 99% of us think about ourselves).  I may be one of a small number re-stating what the Bible says on this but it’s not going to stop me from saying it—God alone is good and any goodness we possess is from him.  End of story.

Just because you desperately need forgiveness doesn’t guarantee your receiving it.  I may need a new liver but just the fact that I need one doesn’t secure my recieving one.  The bible makes it clear that not all come to a saving knowledge of Jesus—not everyone has their sins forgiven.  We will be spared the eternal penalty for our sinbecause we have been forgiven.  Basic I know—but it bears repeating.    This all goes back to the fact that we are forgiven and get to go to heaven based on nothing we did (i.e. the thief on the cross with his mountain of sin the size of Mt. Everest being fully forgiven).  

It all comes down to getting what we don’t deserve, not who sins less.  Not fair! we protest.  Re-consider before you jump off that cliff.

8 The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 9 He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. 10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.  ~Psalm 103:8-12, ESV

Just imagine for one brief moment what you’d get if God were fair.  God doesn’t forgive us because he’s fair, he forgives us because he is full of grace.  If God were fair we’d all have a one way bus ticket to an eternal lake of fire.  The bible teaches that God is just, it doesn’t make a case for his fairness.  Are you scratching your head asking questions?  That might be a good thing if it’s not dandruff. 

We haven’t been forgiven by God because the world owes us or because God is fair or because we deserve it.

To accept forgiveness means to admit that you’ve done something unspeakable that needs to be forgiven, and thus both parties must swallow the same thing: their pride.

This seems to explain what Jesus means when he says to God, ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’  Jesus is ‘not’ saying that God’s forgiveness is conditional upon our forgiving others.  In the first place, forgiveness that’s conditional isn’t really forgiveness at all, just fair warning; and in the second place, our unforgiveness is among those things about us that we need to have God forgive us most.  What apparently Jesus ‘is’ saying is that the pride that keeps us from forgiving is the same pride that keeps us from accepting forgiveness, and will God please help us do something about it.

-Frederick Buechner (Beyond Words)   

 

Buechner is a genius.  He is my favorite writer for more reasons than I can list.  His ability to simplify and hit the nail on the head without being neither dry or dogmatic is one of the many reasons I so admire his writings.  Here, he is addressing the forgiveness we extend to one another for certain but he is also eluding to the forgiveness God extends to each of us who come to him for it.  He spares no words in getting right to the heart of what can be by far our biggest obstacle in receiving forgiveness—pride.  He’s not slow to name it.  And while God has no pride that stops him from granting us forgiveness—we certainly can have a fair share of it ourselves when it comes to receiving the forgiveness we need so badly—and want so desperately.  Have ever been in a spot where you really wronged someone and forgiveness was something you certainly didn’t deserve (like we ever do)—can you remember having the hardest time asking for it?  I can.   And no—I won’t tell why.

God is looking for humility.

 13 When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, 14 if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 15Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place.            (2 Chronicles 7:13-15, ESV)

Our pride blocks the flow of a forgiving and a forgiven lifestyle.  How we need to be forgiven!  But it’s like we don’t want to forgive ourselves because if we are transparent—we then become vulnerable—but forgiveness requires vulnerability if anything.  We have to submit ourselves to someone else’s mercy—that is, if they have any.  And we can even run a little low on mercy with ourselves—imagine that, and it explains maybe why we have such trouble forgiving ourselves.  God has mercy to give and more than we ever give him credit for.  But we still fight the temptation to get sucked up into believing that he’s going to one of these days say—Alright, you have asked one too many times and I’m tired of forgiving you—you have had plenty of time to clean up your act and get this one right, of all things.  Look at you, you are pitiful.  I have forgiven you and forgiven you and here you are again! 

But God never says anything of the sort.

It’s us who have the pride. 

 

Forgiveness is the remission of sins. For it is by this that what has been lost, and was found, is saved from being lost again.

-Augustine

 

I am no scholar and neither do I pretend to be one, but I think that many times within the simplicity of living that I try to embrace I find that I stumble across things so easy to see I wonder how others so learned and smart fail to mention them more often. 

Maybe you feel the same way I do, or maybe you don’t—but either way take for instance the new findings of the scientific community here just recently which suggest that brain cancer may be linked to the usage of cell phones.  Hello!  I don’t know about you, but the first time I started using one  of those little devices (now that we are all addicted and can now no longer do without them)—the first thing   that came to my mind when I could feel a burning sensation on the side of my head after 2 minutes on the phone was—This can’t be too healthy.  It’s taken us this long to discover this?  Right.  And Barry Bonds never used HGH or steroids.  To even suggest that big business doesn’t somehow hide the truth when it’s convenient for them to do so—or instead pays others to keep it hidden for them—is about as naive and denialistic as it gets.  I know two influential families right here in the Detroit area who are sure the deaths of loved ones in which brain cancer was the culprit were linked to cell phones.  I haven’t tried to tell them they may be wrong—somehow,  I don’t doubt they are right.

More and more studies are finding that many of our problems may actually have ties to unforgiveness.  Unforgiveness can take on the form of stress, anxiety, quarreling, countless divorces, and broken relationships of all shapes and sizes.  These symptoms of unforgiveness are often accompanied by major health problems  and all kinds of destructive behaviors and conditions.  An inability or unwillingness to forgive someone certainly has powerful consequences.  I’m thinking it’s the number one cause of say— murder. 

Unforgiveness is an epidemic we fail to identify much of the time when we talk about the great perils of our day.  One thing remains though—whether God is willing to forgive us or not never needs to be in question.  His commitment to forgive remains constant and unchanged.  I ran across a story the other day that will help illustrate the beauty and simplicity of the forgiveness that only God can offer.  I’ll re-count it the best I can.

A little boy was visiting the Washington Monument with his family.  As the boy approached—he noticed a guard close by.  The boy peered up at the guard and mustered up the courage to ask Can I buy it?  The guard—appreciating the boy’s confidence—leaned over and asked How much do you have?  The boy reached into the bottom of his pocket and pulled out a quarter.  The guard hesitantly replied That’s not quite enough son to which the boy replied, I kind of thought you’d say that.  So the boy dug a bit deeper through his pockets and came up with another nine cents.  The guard looked the boy in the eyes and explained Son, you need to understand three things.  First, thirty-four cents is not enough, in fact, if you had $34 million it would still wouldn’t be enough to buy the Washington Monument.  Second, the Washington Monument is not for sale.  And third, if you are an American citizen, the Washington Monument already belongs to you.

And so it is with the forgiveness God so richly extends to us.  We can’t earn it—it’s not for sale—and it is already ours if we are in Christ Jesus.

 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.    (Colossians 1:13-14, ESV)   

…the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.     Amen

-An except from The Apostles Creed

 

Back in grade school we all had that moment when our teacher paused and informed the whole class that she wanted to hear questions—The only stupid question is the question you don’t ask—or something along those lines.  And for the most part that’s true I suppose.  Any question that’s sincere can’t be all bad.  And so to wonder about forgiveness is only to be human—even if we have experienced it’s powerful reality—we still want to understand it, as we should.

The forgiveness of sins is listed with some pretty big names there in the creed several of us would have grown up reciting—the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting are no small potatoes.

The truth is that without the forgiveness of sins the other two are a mere wish.  

The question Who gets forgiven? is easier to answer than we might guess—especially for us left-brainiacs.  Entire volumes have been written on the matter but I think it comes down to a very basic issue.  I’m not going to discuss the hot potato doctrines of election or free will and develop some sort of middle ground we can all gather around the camp fire and agree upon.  Maybe some day I will get into those views and what the Bible says—and I could—but today I will leave that to the ivory tower types.  I do have my moments I like to put on my Sunday best and present the five points of Keneism—I will spare my fine readers the agony.  But just because I’m not going to draw a proverbial line in the  sand doesn’t mean I won’t say something. 

What I fear is a say-nothing-of-substance-approach when it comes to important doctrines (in case we have forgotten, Jesus was controversial—not for controversies sake but for the sake of truth).   I’d rather stand for something than fall for anything—and I want the truth of God in any matter.  Seems to me enough of us already don’t take the Bible seriously enough at times—me included.  When it comes to our subject at hand—forgiveness—it is ever-so dangerous to take on the mind-set that much of our culture does: God just forgives every-body’s sins because he’s a nice guy.  Nothing could be further from what the Bible actually teaches.  God takes sin seriously (Jesus didn’t die a brutal humiliating death on a tree at the hands of blood-thirsty barbarians for nothing) as he also takes seriously the forgiveness of the hideous offense it represents to him.  Just because we like to remind one another that God hates the sin and not the sinner we must not forget that God hates the very hint of sin for many reasons including but not limited to what it does to debilitate and destroy the very people who commit it—namely you and I.

 1 And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. 3 And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. 4 And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. 5 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’   (Mark 2:1-5, ESV)

Jesus went on to heal the young man of his debilitating physical condition as well—however, the healing of his soul by the forgiving of his sins was the first order of business.

It always is.

That God in the person of Jesus forgives sin shouldn’t be taken lightly or for granted. 

It’s a big deal.

Heaven and hell are at stake. 

God has cast our confessed sins into the depths of the sea, and He’s even put a ‘No Fishing’ sign over the spot.  

-D.L. Moody

 

I don’t know about you but when I was a little tyke my mom would catch us kids getting into the cookie jar every once in a while.  And when that would happen—we were in for a shake-down quicker than you can say pancake.  Our mom was gonna get to the bottom of who was sneaking some of her toll-house chocolate chip wonders without asking.  The cookies weren’t always off limits but taking the last seven of them might land you in jail.  She’d line up my brother, my sister, and I (seemed she knew when I did it without even asking most the time and I still don’t know how)—and ask Alright, who did it?—all the while I still had a cookie or two in my secret stash—my front pocket.  Come to think of it, maybe it was the soiled corners of my lips that gave me away? 

Being inconspicuous has never been a strength of mine.  I was the oldest, and I was supposed to be the example or so I was told—maybe it was just too much pressure.  You can’t blame me for having some kind of excuse—can you?  Besides, the cookies were just too yummy to say No to when they were calling out my name as I’d stroll through the kitchen on my way out to play a little ball.

You know what I learned from those days of breaking into and entering the cookie jar?  It’s always best to ‘fess up instead of cover up—my mom would grant me pardon when I would.

When I didn’t—well, that’s another story.

 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.   (1 John 1:8-10, ESV)

I did it.

The question is—can we admit to God that we’ve had our hand in the cookie jar even when he knows the truth anyways?  

Two criminals were crucified with Christ. One was saved; do not despair. One was not; do not presume.    ~Augustine 

Author and pastor Mark Buchanan re-counts the following in his book Your God is Too Safe:

There is a story about Frederick the Great, King of Prussia. He was inspecting the Berlin prison. As he walked through the hordes of shackled men, they fell pleading at his feet, protesting their innocence. They claimed to be falsely accused, models of virtuous living, completely innocent of all crime. Only one man didn’t do this. Frederick called to him, ‘Prisoner, why are you here?’

‘I robbed a man, Your Majesty.’

‘And are you guilty?’

‘Yes, Your Majesty.’

Frederick called the guard over. Pointing to the man who confessed, he said, ‘Release this man immediately.  I will not have this scoundrel thief kept here where he might corrupt all these fine, virtuous, and innocent men.’

Buchanan continues…

That’s the lovely irony of confession: The one who actually confesses gets out of prison… 

God’s economy is rather quite simple—God grants pardon only to those willing to admit their offenses.  Keep in mind, one of the two criminals who hung beside Jesus confessed his guilt and praised Jesus as the Son of God and the other did not—he was too busy giving Jesus guff about being the Son of God.  And it goes without saying which one went on to eternal torment and which one to eternal joy.   

 39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ 42 And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ 43 And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’           (Luke 23:39-43, ESV)

Will you confess your sins and see the Messiah’s innocence?

You must know you are guilty.

It is only the guilty who confess and look to the Cross who get to go free.

Either sin is with you, lying on your shoulders, or it is lying on Christ, the Lamb of God. Now if it is lying on your back, you are lost; but if it is resting on Christ, you are free, and you will be saved. Now choose what you want.   -Martin Luther 

 

Forgiven

There may be no bigger word in the English language other than say—lovehatefreedomhope—or gas prices. 

Forgiveness is no small item.

Clint Eastwood knew a little about the power of the word back in 1992.  His modern-day classic western Unforgiven was his first film to break the $100 million threshold.  The film scored big with four Oscars.  Originally the movie was going to be titled The William Munny Killings—but someone on the marketing side of things had a better idea I’m assuming. 

Forgiveness isn’t just the stuff of movies—it is the stuff of life. 

King David knew a thing or two about the kind forgiveness only God can grant—the sort that leaves no doubt if understood correctly—he wrote: 

 6 Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. 7 Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD!  

8 Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. 9 He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. 10 All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. 

11 For your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great. (Psalm 25:6-11, ESV) 

Although David asks for forgiveness—and so he should—he has assurance. 

You either are or you aren’t forgiven.  There’s no multiple choice on this one.  God never plays a sort of guessing game with us here.  Forgiveness is free of charge for the asking to the most undeserving.  No public penance, alms in the coffer, or Hail Mary’s necassary.  We don’t even have to confess our sins to a priest.  How the enemy of our souls wishes it were so—and goes to any length he can to convince us that our being forgiven is somehow in the balance.  It is on this truth that our peace with God is derived and so it is no wonder with all of the watered down teaching we subject ourselves to that we might be unsure about the forgiveness that is already ours—a forgiveness never to be undermined or stolen. 

Forgiveness is not one of those abstract concepts such as your feelings in comparison to your husband’s feelings (if you have a husband who acknowledges having them that is)—what’s the difference between tall and short—or not-so-good versus not-so-bad.   

You can’t be kind of, almost, or just about forgiven. 

Half measures avail us nothing.

And that is why God sent Jesus to a bloody cross to purchase our forgiveness—no one and nothing else would do.  Our forgiveness didn’t come cheap.

Forgiveness is not only a large component within the life of the follower of Jesus—but it is a basic need and a much over-looked facet of the Christian life.  Those who downplay or minimize the teachings of Jesus and the apostles in regards to the subject of forgiveness not only are disobedient but they do their listeners a disservice.  To preach judgement and forget forgiveness is to miss the gospel message entirely.  Jesus never came to judge or condemn the world—far from it.  He came to forgive and save sinners. 

One would be hard pressed to argue that the forgiveness we relish in—due to Jesus alone—could ever be appreciated too much.  When I read the New Testament—the letters of Paul in particular—it becomes clearer than clear to me that to the extent that we understand the forgiveness we have received and continue to receive—the more freedom we experience in our walk with God and with others. 

I’m not going to tackle forgiveness in the context of inter-personal relationships here—I’ll leave that to the relationship guru’s—and more importantly to the Bible for now.  However—I am going to take the next few blogs to uncover what it means to be forgiven by God. 

And God knows we all need to be forgiven on a continual non-stop basis.  While hopefully we know we need God’s forgiveness, more importantly—hopefully we know it is ours unequivocally.

No question about it. 

I ask you neither for health nor for sickness, for life nor for death; but that you may dispose of my health and my sickness, my life and my death, for your glory… You alone know what is expedient for me; you are the sovereign master, do with me according to your will. Give to me, or take away from me, only conform my will to yours. I know but one thing, Lord, that it is good to follow you, and bad to offend you. Apart from that, I know not what is good or bad in anything. I know not which is most profitable to me, health or sickness, wealth or poverty, nor anything else in the world. That discernment is beyond the power of men or angels, and is hidden among the secrets of your providence, which I adore, but do not seek to fathom.  

-A prayer from Blaise Pascal    

 

We are the do-it-ourselfers.  We get much too much caught up in attempting to fix ourselves—Thanks God for the offer, but we’ll take it from here.  If anything, when it comes to our growth in grace—our efforts to better ourselves are off the charts (as if it were possible for a terminally ill man to provide his own cure).   Like any project gone bad—we only make our condition worse than it originally was at the onset when we take matters of our sanctification into our own hands. 

A good friend of mine who leads a Christian men’s recovery movement is fond of putting it this way—We aren’t bad people trying to get good, we are sick people getting well.  I would confer as I think the gospel message proclaims exactly the same.  And while I would agree that the human body has a remarkable capacity to heal itself, I would only add that it is God who created that same human body and that he is the one behind it’s being able to recover health and wholeness in the first place.  In other words—we can’t heal ourselves alone.  Worse than ending in mere frustration, any attempts to do so will ultimately end in failure.   

If you have ever seen a face-lift gone bad, you might understand what I am getting at. 

Our self-improvement projects are doomed from the onset and only serve our own peril, mind you—how many of them are for the wrong reasons?  Our personal holiness and righteousness initiatives are nothing more than religious ego trips—efforts to make others think of us as spiritual—more Christlike than we actually are.  Shouldn’t we want to live lives that glorify God out of love for God rather than for the love of applause?  Our insecurities and our hunger for approval and acceptance run deeper than we readily admit.  We have to ask ourselves what our motive is when we become either obsessive or compulsive about our own growth in grace—and a good indicator we are out of bounds is when we find ourselves beating up others about their own lack in such matters. 

Solomon wrote:   

 13 Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked? 14 In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him. 15 In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing.           (Ecclesiastes 7:13-15, ESV)                        

God is making those of us who were nothing but crooked—straight.  We haven’t arrived yet—we are still being changed and we still have a ways to go.  We can be sort of like kids who ask on the way to the family vacation destination—Are we almost there?  

Not yet—but we’ll get there soon enough. 

We have God’s word on it.  

In the meantime–let’s trust him to drive while we attempt to relax a little and enjoy the ride—he does know where he is taking us after all. 

In moving on to another topic in our next blog I will summarize with this: Life for the Jesus-follower should be lived in the light of just what it is Jesus did on the Cross.  We ought to focus less on our piddly efforts and more on the suffering of Christ Jesus—including the priceless fruits and glorious benefits afforded to us by his doing so—today and in eternity future.  

God’s not giving us a face-lift—no, it’s much more than that—he is renovating our hearts, and as any skilled surgeon would have it, he’s doing the surgery. 

God’s goal is not to make sure you’re happy. Life is not about your being comfortable, happy, successful and pain free. It is about becoming the man God has called you to be. Life is not about you. It’s about God. He doesn’t exist to make us happy. We exist to bring Him glory.   

-Chuck Swindoll

  

I have never served in the U.S. Armed Forces but I am informed enough to know there is a certain code of honor to be followed when you join up.  First of all you are no longer your own—you are now the property (if you will) of whatever branch you have selected, or has selected you (in the case of a draft).  And secondly, there is a certain set of principles and an order of living that you are now expected to adhere to. 

Despite much of today’s popular teaching and current line of thinking—the same type of thing that goes for tatooed Jarheads with a propensity to cuss a fair amount goes for those of us who would identify ourselves as the followers of Jesus.  We are no longer our own and we are now called to a different way of living than the life we once lived.  You could say we are no longer civilians—we now have become soldiers.

Our place in the family of God couldn’t be more secure.  That’s never the issue.  There’s not one single act or a series of a million deeds we could do to secure our place in the family of God.  Jesus has completed that mission.    However, what is always an issue is whether we are living a life of ease, selfishness, and conformity to the world—or, are we living in such a way that the pulse of our lives is to glorify God?  I’m guessing, and I am going out on a limb—that we could all use some improvement.  I’ll speak for myself in confessing that I am not only challenged by Swindoll’s short but stinging commentary—but his words are an occasion for me to pause for contemplation and a healthy kind of introspection. 

Paul had this to say himself:

 1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.     (Ephesians 4:1-3, ESV)

Only you can really answer Paul’s question for yourself, I can’t, your husband can’t, your boss can’t—not even your pastor can.

Are you walking in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called?

Philip Malancthon once said to his friend Martin Luther, ‘Today, Martin, you and I will discuss God’s governance of the universe,’ to which Luther replied, ‘No, Philip. Today you and I are going fishing, and we’ll leave the governance of the universe to God.’        

-Mark Buchanan—The Rest of God (p. 220)

 

I’ve never gotten along real well with the hot-shot who seems to know exactly what the poor sap trying to beat Tiger Woods ought to do.  This is typically the same guy who won’t play the terrorizing game of golf since it means getting off his rear.  Maybe our would-be Tiger-killer would have an altogether different attitude if he were to go out and try and qualify for a PGA Tour Event himself.  Tougher to do than to talk about. 

Beating Tiger Woods on a regular basis doesn’t happen.  The whole field has one goal in mind… although he was beat last weekend at the annual Master’s Tournament, and in case you missed it, he took second—even with a bum knee he had surgery on hours after the event had concluded.  Big talking never does amount to much and Tiger Woods never has been much of a talker come to think of it—he lets his clubs do the talking whether he places first or second.        

It’s pretenders and critics that are busy talking a good game while the Jesus-followers are quietly walking with God.       

 6 ‘With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high?  Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?  7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?  Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’ 8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.    (Micah 6:6-8, ESV)

There are more armchair quarterbacks than real ones.  It’s easier to beat Tiger Woods in theory than on the course, although I’m not so sure even beating Tiger in theory can be done.  When it comes to reality—fat chance.  My point is this: Try being like Jesus yourself before you pass judgment on someone else who has decided to take up the occupation.  Jesus was no slouch and being like Jesus isn’t the same as being like your favorite uncle.  It’s easy to compare ourselves to a guy like John Daly lets say—and it may be why he’s just so popular.  But Jesus—good luck.  It’s impossible in your own strength to follow Jesus, and unless you’ve done it, you might want to consider reserving your criticisms until you have.  It’s always the non-practicing Christian (oxymoron I realize) who has all the answers.  I’m not denying that there are phonies—that’s the case with everything.  And I’m not talking about the bogus television preachers in this blog.  I have met a police officer or two who do not represent the majority.

I still haven’t met an armchair quarterback I like.

But it’s sure hard not to like Tiger Woods.

I more fear what is within me than what comes from without.   
 
-Martin Luther
  
 
It’s not always surprising to me when I hear all-out-hard-core sinners bemoaning those Christians.  There is no doubt we could do a better job representing Jesus—I have no beef with the argument so much.  If you happen to be one of those elite Christians who thinks otherwise, let me know—I’ll pray for you.  The line of reasoning that followers of Jesus are supposed to be perfect is ludicrous if you ask me—when I read my copy of the New Testament I don’t read anything that gives me the impression the early church was either. 
 
What is clear is that Jesus was perfect. 
 
Recently, a favorite preacher of mine made mention of a T-shirt among his varied collection that reads Jesus, save me from your followers.  We have all felt that way—most of us anyways—and for good reason I’m sure.  But the T-shirt would really better read Jesus, save me from myself.   As unloving as we can be—there still isn’t a more loving family than the Body of Christ.  And even though we aren’t perfect yet—we will be.  I may feel like I need saving from the followers of Jesus—but I am just as big a part of the problem as anyone else.
 
One of the great writers of the early 20th century, G.K. Chesterton (widely known as the prince of paradox)—was once solicited by a well-known newspaper as they had invited several prominent authors to write essays on the theme: What’s Wrong with the World?—Chesterton’s contribution took the form of a letter:

Dear Sirs,
I am.
Sincerely yours,
G.K. Chesterton
 
And I am too.
 
 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.    (Hebrews 10:12-14, ESV)
 
It sure seems to me that Jesus is our perfection. 
   
Maybe we should worry less about being perfect and more about worshiping our perfector.
Give me chastity and continence, but not quite yet.   ~Augustine  
  
You could say something supernatural happens the moment we place our trust in the finished work of Jesus on his cross of shame and suffering as evidenced by our confessing we are a sinner and by our denouncing all other allegiances.  And although often times it may not look like we are changing all that much to those who are much too busy inspecting our fruit (while their own spoiled bananas are rotten and rancid)—we can be sure God’s own will be a changed people.  Faith without works will always be dead.  Satan himself believes in Jesus and it makes him no follower.
 
The reality is that as Christians we do change.  But the change is many times not the way we might guess or assume—it sure takes longer than we’d like—and worse yet the biggest obstacle to our changing is the person we see in the mirror every morning when we brush our teeth.  I am in no way suggesting that we stay the same—because we do not—but the point I am making is an important one.  If we are honest, we have to confess that we still dabble with sin—we nibble and even splurge.  No matter—sin is always over-indulging.  If we are really honest, we’d be willing to admit that we wallow around in it at times and privately wonder how as a Jesus-follower we could do such a thing.  You can’t deal with what you don’t acknowledge.  Sin hasn’t packed up his bags and left us quite yet—we may have thought he left for good when we shooed him out the door last, but he’s been merely hiding around the corner patiently waiting for a more opportune time to clear his throat and whisper sweet nothings in our ear.  To believe otherwise is only to deceive ourselves and worse yet—to mislead our younger brothers and sisters in Christ. 
 
We just get in the way sometimes.  The not-so-natural but inevitable progression when we become Jesus-followers is that we begin to do away with our old ways of living and thinking.  It’s not that we must be someone we are not—no—we have been given a brand new permanent identity.  Challenging to say the least—and just like old habits—our old identity doesn’t die so quickly.  It is the miracle after all that transpires at the very instant of our conversion which makes the absolute difference and it is this: God comes to dwell within us via the Holy Spirit who is the Third Person in the Trinity (for those who may be new to this whole idea).   God himself living within us.  I didn’t say we become God.  Big difference. 
 
The mark of a true follower of Jesus isn’t an unchanged heart but a changed one—and a changed heart is only seen through a changed life.  I started this short blog thread titled In Process based on the premise that following Jesus is just that—a process—which according to Merriam-Webster is A natural phenomenon marked by gradual changes that lead toward a particular result. 
 
 3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.   (2 Peter 1:3-8, ESV)
  
Notice Peter—the very man who denied even knowing Jesus on the eve of his betrayal—writes if these qualities are yours and are increasing…  Peter’s growth in grace didn’t end just because he stumbled again—he went on to be changed over and over again.  It can seem as though it is two steps forward and one step backwards at times—if anyone knew a thing or two about gradual change, it was Peter himself.  I’ve never liked the old saying Christians aren’t perfect just forgiven because it falls so grossly short in painting a picture of just who us Christians are.  Cheesy little maxims never do summarize what God has really said—they might sell some bumper stickers, but that’s about it. 
 
Christians are surely forgiven—but that’s not all they are if they are true-blue followers of the Son of God—they are changed in the process.
People do not drift toward holiness.  Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord.  We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith.  We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.    
  
-D.A. Carson  
 
   
Talk to a skilled sailor and they will tell you that you can’t get to a desired location by simply drifting.  You need a few things in order to sail.  I mean what good are sails if you don’t set them?   
 
I have been at this occupation of following Jesus for over half my life now and if I have learned anything it is this—I am prone to wander as are my brothers and sisters in Christ.  It is nothing for me to coast—settle—and even flee.  God knows it.  So what good does it do me to hide it or deny it?  What I need to acknowledge is my need for God’s grace if I am going to get anywhere in becoming more like Jesus.  Without his grace I simply drift directionless.  Simply put—God’s grace is the wind that powers my sails.  I don’t need to make more efforts—that has gotten me no where.  What I need is God’s grace.
 
 1 Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, 4 while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.            (Hebrews 2:1-4, ESV)
 
For as long as I can remember I have struggled with the question—How does God’s grace and my efforts to grow in Christlikeness co-exist?  And what I have learned is quite simple: My findings undeniably tell me that my efforts have to be grace-driven (as Carson eludes to in the quote above). 
  
My prayer becomes not Help me try more God—but Please give me more grace so that I can grow in Your grace. 
  
Drifting becomes much more difficult when that happens.    
…The law is divine and holy. Let the law have his glory, but yet no law, be it never so divine and holy, ought to teach me that I am justified, and shall live through it. I grant it may teach me that I ought to love God and my neighbor; also to live in chastity, soberness, patience, etc., but it ought not to show me, how I should be delivered from sin, the devil, death, and hell.
 
Here I must take counsel of the gospel. I must hearken to the gospel, which teacheth me, not what I ought to do, (for that is the proper office of the law,) but what Jesus Christ the Son of God hath done for me : to wit, that He suffered and died to deliver me from sin and death. The gospel willeth me to receive this, and to believe it. And this is the truth of the gospel. It is also the principal article of all Christian doctrine, wherein the knowledge of all godliness consisteth.
 
Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.  ~Martin Luther  
    
Some time ago now, my pastor was sharing on the wondrous Book of Romans over the course of a couple year span and still didn’t manage to exhaust all the gems of truth throughout Paul’s ground-breaking letter.  On this particular Sunday my pastor was explaining in detail the nature of our bondage to sin while at the same time making a case for the freedom from that same power of sin that faith in Jesus affords each of us the very split-second we come to a place of conversion.  As he began to speak and walk around the lectern it became obvious to all of us in attendance that our pastor was sporting more than his usual striped conservative tie and white shirt under-neath his black robe he’d wear during the colder winter months.  He was being followed by a rusted iron sort of thick link chain that had been attached to his ankle—as it also had been affixed to a post of some sort in the middle of the stage area.  Every time he would get so far as he meandered about, he would be forced to stop.  The chain—symbolically sin—was holding him back or captive and it was doing a good job in limiting him as to how far he could go.
  
The point became crystal clear that sin ruled and he had no freedom to go beyond it’s death hold on him.
 
 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed?  For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.   (Romans 6:21-23, ESV)
 
The following week Dr. Alberta had the same chain with him.   However, there was one exception—it wasn’t attached to him any longer.  The chain was laying there cut off and all by it’s lonesome.  He had been set free and was free to go wherever he wanted—but there was a problem.  A big problem.  Whenever he would get to the area where the chain had previously restricted him the week before—he’d all-of-a-sudden get caught up and find it difficult to go any further than he’d gone before he was set free—just as if the chain were still attached to his ankle.  It was almost as if he had been conditioned to believe that he could only go so far.  Sound familiar?  It does to me.  It explains a struggle I have found myself tangled up in on more occasions than I could count on of all our fingers combined.
 
Have you been set free from the bondage of sin? 
 
Are you living like you remember—or are you living like you have forgotten?

 

Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, I am your sin.  You have taken upon yourself what is mine and given me what is yours.  You have become what you were not so that I might become what I was not.  ~Martin Luther   
                                                                                                                                                       
WBIR out of Knoxville, Tennessee, reported the following in June of ’07: For almost six weeks, a Murfreesboro man forgot that he had entered the Tennessee Million Dollar Madness lottery. Rick Checchin was reminded of his tickets by his co-workers Thursday morning, checked them–and discovered he had won $1 million. The drawing was May 14th–and he said today he just went about living his life and forgot about the two tickets he had purchased in March. Checchin said that with a wife and two children, he’d have no trouble spending the money. He works for the Standard Candy Company. After taxes were deducted, he pocketed $750,000. Three other winners in the big jackpot claimed their prizes shortly after the drawing.
 
The guy was a lottery winner and he was unaware until someone reminded him about just who it was that he had become.  How often do we do the same?
 
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.   (2 Corinthians 5:16-17, ESV) 
         
Have you forgotten just who it is you belong to?  Are you a follower of Jesus?  Do you need to be reminded that if you are in Christ you too are a new creation never to be the same and no longer bound to the law of sin and death?
 
Can you remember the last time you stood in front of the mirror and instead of looking at the latest age spot on your temple or the more defined wrinkles adorning your face—you looked yourself square in the eye and reminded yourself that you are a new creation
      
When God takes someone and makes a new creation out of them he doesn’t do half the job.                                    
 
Sin cannot tear you away from him [Christ], even though you commit adultery a hundred times a day and commit as many murders.  ~Martin Luther  
   
A good buddy of mine told a story years ago about spanking his oldest son and in doing so he explained to his son that it wasn’t something he wanted to do as much as it was something he needed to do because he loved his son.  His son responded I love you too daddy, can I spank you?
 
None of us were  fond of going to our bedroom and writing until our fingers fell off, I won’t rip the hair out of my sisters Barbie Doll during this lifetime ever again.  It never did help anyways.  The only way to punish me was to take away my baseball privelages. 
 
Many of us got the wrong idea at an impressionable age that because our mom or dad didn’t just let us get away with murder that somehow they didn’t care about us.  Remember feeling that way?  I do.
 
Well, they did care. 
 
 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.   (Hebrews 12:8-11, ESV)
 
Maybe it’s because we have somehow gotten the impression that God is fond of kicking bad kids out of his family that we get uncomfortable over topics such as discipline?  If so, I hope you would read the scriptures to dispel your fears.  God doesn’t expel his children from his family to be sure.  He never has and he’s not about to start now.  But, just because God’s loving enough to not kick us out of the family doesn’t mean he’s not loving enough to see to it that when we need a good lick or two—he won’t stop at sending us to the detention center for a brief stay or the wood-shed for a re-introduction with the family paddle to get our attention. 
 
We have to trust that when it comes to discipline or any other family matter—as the old dinosaur of a television program most of us are too young to remember went—Father knows best.  Aren’t you glad he’s the one deciding how and when we get a spanking—I know I sure am—if not, I’d have been hung a thousand and one times by now.
 
When you sense you might be in for some punishment of your own, remember, nothing in this world can separate us from his love—even his rebuke is out of love.
Ye contracted with Christ, I hope, when first ye began to follow Him, that ye would bear His cross. Fulfill your part of the contract with patience, and break not to Jesus Christ. Be honest, brother, in your bargaining with Him; for who knoweth better how to bring up children than our God? For (to lay aside His knowledge, of the which there is no finding out) He has been practiced in bringing up His heirs these five thousand years; and His bairns (children) are all well brought up, and many of them are honest men now at home, up in their own house in heaven, and are entered heirs to their Father’s inheritance. Now, the form of His bringing up was by chastisements, scourging, correcting, nurturing; and see if He maketh exception of any of His bairns (children); no, His eldest Son and His Heir, Jesus, is not excepted (Rev. 3.19; Heb. 12.7-8; 2.10). Suffer we must; ere we were born God decreed it, and it is easier to complain of His decree than to change it. Forward then, dear brother, and lose not your grips.   ~Samuel Rutherford (Scottish Presbyterian theologian and author), Letters, VIII. To John Kennedy on his deliverance from shipwreck ANWOTH, Feb. 2, 1632 (taken from an expert).  
 
I’m quite sure I am not the only kid who was reminded about his or her last name while growing up from time to time.  Shoot—kids with parents that make Al Capone look like a choir boy still get the treatment—Johnny, why can’t you just be a good gangster like all the other little boys?  I may not have heard the exact words, but I can still hear them anyways—Kenny, you are a Stoll—now act like it—can’t you see that you are disgracing the family name.  
 
If you were from the typical family with average parents you probably never had your parents lash out and tell you that you’d be kicked out of the family for your bad behavior—and neither did I.  No, that wasn’t gonna happen.  But I was scolded mind you–and for good reason when I think about it.  My sister and I (our brother was not around yet) were even told on occasion when we got really out of line that we were gonna be dropped off at the Indian Reservation—whatever that meant and wherever that was—I still don’t know?  Being that we are part Cherokee Indian it sure seemed like a valid threat though.  So, rather than pack up the bags under our beds and take a trip in the wood-paneled family station wagon—we’d straighten up for a couple hours and get along.  Of course, if it were something my dad used all the time we’d have laughed at him—but it wasn’t—my dad seemed to know just the right time to use just the right trick.
 
God doesn’t play any tricks with us on the other hand—family business isn’t monkey business with him.  He never fails to prescribe just the right medicine for what ails us.  Our tendency is to either see God as a big soft teddy bear or a cosmic impersonal hall-monitor just waiting to whack us when we get out of line—when he is neither.
 
He is a loving Father and that makes us his loved children before anything else.
 
And like any loving father he deals with us in ways we don’t prefer from time to time.
 
 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’ 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?    (Hebrews 12:5-7, ESV)
 
If he’s disciplined you it may just serve as a good reminder that he loves you.     
 
The thing we need concern oursleves with is this—are we honoring the family name?
In Romans 7, Paul says ‘The law is spiritual.’  What does that mean?  If the law were physical, then it could be satisfied by works, but since it is spiritual, no one can satisfy it unless everything he does springs from the depths of his heart.  But no one can give such a heart except the Spirit of God, who makes the person be like the law, so that he actually conceives a heartfelt longing for the law and henceforward does everything, not through fear or coercion, but from a free heart.   ~Martin Luther
          
I got online some time ago to read my free copy of the Detroit News as I do most mornings while sipping on my cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee.  First it’s sports and then I’ll check out the front page.  The growing story of importance here in town besides the slumping economy and ballooning unemployment rate is our beloved Detroit Tigers baseball team.  They are off to a surprisingly dismal start after winter acquisitions equaling the signing Goliath and a few of his buddies.  Expectations have been rising all off-season, so to begin the season 0-7 wasn’t the start many of us fans anticipated.  The paper had one of those cybersurveys to chime in on today.  So I did.  I answered with the 27.75% who said “A little.  There are some bad signs“, in response to the question: “How concerned are you about the Tigers’ inauspicious start to the 2008 season?”
 
Some times we feel that way is regards to our journey of faith, our disconnect with sin can seem a million miles away.  Our rally-cry to beat sin sort of like Mike Tyson used to pummel his victims in the boxing ring can quickly become a whimper—the guy who was gonna whip sin into shape can suddenly find himself the whipping boy.  For many us, our anti-sin-crusade came to a halt much earlier than we had announced to the world.  And then we did it, we gave in to some old familiar vice.  
 
15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.  ~Romans 7:15-20, ESV
 
Losing seven games straight is no occasion to throw in the towel on the season.  Like any MLB baseball team worth the dirt on the bottom of their spikes, we can’t give up on our entire season after a 0-7 start when we have a 162 game schedule in front of us.
 
Oh, the Tigers won game 8 in Boston last night—154 more to go.
a blog about radical discipleship, the gospel of grace, a theology of the cross, Christian spirituality, the mission of the church in this world and whatever else on the same wave length that may be running around the brain of a hopeful Protestant.

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