Grace, Forgiveness, and Mistaken Security

It’s hard to wrap my head around the events of the last four months. Just when I think I have it figured out, or the experts tell me they have it figured out, it all changes. Is it too much news, the wrong news, or do we refuse to look at our reality? I have friends that fall into all three categories, and depending on their viewing area, there can be many different answers to many different problems. Unlike Coronavirus, which we can largely hand over to the scientists and doctors to figure out, hatred and self-centeredness are much more complicated issues to solve. They are not scientific, yet their disease has been part of our human nature from the beginning. It is not isolated to an American problem or a 21st century problem. Every generation and every country has suffered from it. We just got a little comfortable, for a little while. So what are we to do?

~ Past History ~

Ask your grandparents about their generation and you’ll likely get a different perspective. Even more than that, read the historical accounts of the Old Testament Bible and you’ll discover just how relevant it is for what we are going through today. The main purpose and overall story of the Bible is to show us through real life and tragedy the example of God’s reconciliation, grace, forgiveness, and love. God knew what we needed more than anything else. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ builds on this foundation, and his teachings and example are more important today than ever before. Sometimes I think Jesus may have been thinking more about future events in the 20th and 21st centuries when he spoke rather than just the current period. Especially that “love your neighbor” thing. That is the genius of Jesus’ teaching. He did not come to preach against the oppressive government of Rome, though he would have been right to do so. That would have only made his teaching relevant for that time. Rather, Jesus spoke about the heart, the one thing that has not changed in all the years of our technological and educational advancements. Humanity cannot survive without a change in our hearts.

~ Starts with Grace ~

The above picture says it all, no words needed. It represents something intangible, something that speaks to our hearts. And it all starts with Grace. It’s the foundation that makes all else possible. The Bible is full of examples of Grace, and God offers it willingly and freely to all who accept it. When I think of Grace, the first picture that comes to my mind is that dirty, vile, and repulsive thief hanging next to Jesus on the cross. Whatever crimes he had committed, it was atrocious enough to give him the cruelest punishment possible. How dare this guy, in his last breath on earth, after all the injustice and pain he inflicted on others, recognizes his wrongs and calls out to God to save him. Yet Jesus offers him Grace and Salvation – without hesitation. We all need that type of Grace at some point in our lives. And the most amazing thing about Grace is that it’s rarely given to those that deserve it, because, well, they aren’t the ones that need it. That’s the whole point of Grace – it’s undeserved or unearned favor, and only God can truly grant that. When I see people on the news burning down buildings, yelling hateful comments, or taking justice in their own hands, I know that they need Grace too, and God is willing to give it to them. It’s hard for me to even say that without wincing. I want justice and fairness! But we will never completely settle the score, or right the wrongs of the past without a huge covering of God’s Grace. It is the only thing that can cancel out the wrongs in our world. The law alone can never accomplish that.  God’s Grace is the great equalizer – all of us need it and all of us have access to it.

~ Forgiveness makes complete ~

Along with Grace, we must also learn to Forgive. I’ve heard a lot of apologies and “I’m sorry’s” recently, and while those can be a good start to mending relationships, words alone will not satisfy. What I haven’t heard as much about is Forgiveness and the “I forgive you’s”. Sorry is more passive but Forgiveness is an action word. We cannot completely heal without also forgiving those who have wronged us. Again, that makes me wince a little to hear that, but that is why God gave us the standard. The Hebrew word for Forgiveness means complete. When Jesus spoke of forgiving others “70 times 7”, he did not randomly pick numbers to mean a lot. The number 7 represents completeness, as in the 7 days of creation that end in rest. It means forever complete. Jesus came to Forgive us because of God’s Grace, and also to show us how to Forgive others. As TD Jakes says, “How valuable is it to you to know that you are forgiven?” To the thief on the cross, I would venture to say it was the most valuable. Forgiveness is a powerful tool, and it will set you free.

~ Mistaken Security, Mistaken Life ~

Up until now, with all of the comfortableness we have in life, we have been dangerously close to selling our souls to a false or mistaken sense of security. We’ve put our trust and security in our jobs, in our leaders or political party, the stock market, idols, our heritage, and even in our own identities. We’ve not had to think too much about what our faith really means. And that can leave us more vulnerable than the coronavirus pandemic. I believe God is giving us the opportunity for a much-needed and urgent wakeup call. Wouldn’t it truly be tragic to realize too late that your life was based on a mistaken security, one that cannot save you in the end? If the events of the last four months tell us anything, they should show us just how quickly our world can change and all that we’ve built up in it. Sadly, it also shows how quickly the condition of mankind’s heart can change too. We went from the feel-good slogan of “We’re all in this together” to rioting, looting and killing in the streets within a matter of days. Let’s face it – our world has been a ticking time-bomb for awhile, one filled with hate and self-centeredness growing under the covers of our comfortable lifestyles and false securities. It’s better we pull those covers off now and be a little uncomfortable. As a culture, we don’t fear dying or doing the wrong thing. We mock God. We don’t fear what we should, yet we’re filled with fear and anxieties over the things we shouldn’t. One day we will all give an account for our actions to God – alone. Not our friends, not our opinions, not our pride or our degrees or awards, not even with our church. No covers. No matter what happens in this crazy world, don’t let your life be based on a tragic mistaken security.

~ A better world ahead ~

So what do we do now? I don’t have the answers, but I know the way to start. With a little Grace for those we don’t always understand or agree with; a little Forgiveness to heal our world and each other; and a respect and recognition in knowing that our true security lies only in God – the giver of all good things and the One who has shown us the example of how to live – I believe we can do much better on this earth. It is the only way our world will ever make sense. So let’s start by showing the way.

31 Days of the Christmas Story from Genesis to John: Day 22 – Names of Jesus

nativity-trail

The trip for Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem was about 70-90 miles through mountainous terrain on foot. It would have taken them about 8-10 days to complete, while carrying all of their food, water, blankets and supplies. They were poor and had no place to stay once they were there. I’m sure they were wondering would happen once they got there. But were they also thinking of the earlier prophecies from Micah 5:2 that said a Savior would be born in Bethlehem, or from Isaiah 7:14 that said he would be born of a virgin?

As we wait for the birth of Jesus in the coming days, here are a few of the names and attributes that will be given to Jesus later in his ministry.

Good Shepherd – John 10:11
Light that shines in the darkness – John 1:5
Immanuel, God is with us – Matthew 1:23
Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world – John 1:29
The Word – John 1:1
Prince of Peace – John 14:27

May you experience the Peace, Light, and Good Shepherd of the One who can take away all your sin and give you a new life in Christ.

* Merry Christmas *

31 Days of the Christmas Story from Genesis to John: Day 31 – a Kingdom with no end

happy-easter-jesus-resurrection-risen-hd-wallpaper

He healed the sick, fed the hungry, comforted the oppressed, a friend to sinners, the light of the world, conquered death and was resurrected, he was loved, he was hated, he is the image of the invisible God.

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of the widows – this is God, whose dwelling is holy. He sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.” Psalm 68:5-6

 

Baby Jesus grew up. But his story does not end after the Christmas season is over. It is only beginning, and his Kingdom has no end.

The Gospel of John was written by John, a fisherman and personal friend and disciple of Jesus. John was part of Jesus’ inner circle of Peter, James and John. He witnessed the Transfiguration of Christ, was there during the Crucifixion, and Jesus asked him to take care of his mother Mary when Jesus was being crucified. John was the first disciple to recognize Jesus after His Resurrection, and he went on to live a zealous life and death for the sake of Christ. He was put into boiling oil and tortured, but when that couldn’t kill him, he was exiled to the Greek island of Pathmos. John had a deep personal knowledge of Jesus Christ and it shows in his writings:

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
All things were created through Him,
and apart from Him not one thing was created
that has been created.
Life was in Him,
and that life was the light of men.
That light shines in the darkness,
yet the darkness did not overcome it. – John 1:1-5

The Word became flesh
and took up residence among us.
We observed His glory,
the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father,
full of grace and truth.
Indeed, we have all received grace after grace
from His fullness
for the law was given through Moses,

grace and truth came through Jesus Christ – John 1:14, 17

“Your heart must not be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if not, I would have told you. I am going away to prepare a place for you. If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also.”
– Jesus, John 14:1-4

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” 
– Jesus, John 14:6

“I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”
– Jesus, John 10:10

From Genesis 3:15 when God first promised us a Savior, to the most famous verse of the Bible found in John 3:16, God has been telling us about the promised Savior!

For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16

A New Year – a New Hope. It is easy sometimes to dwell on our past and look back on our mistakes, but when we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, God immediately wipes away our past and welcomes us with the righteousness of His Son Jesus. God hates the evil that tries to destroy this world and keep us away from Him, but God loves us even more and is willing to forgive us for any wrongdoing if only we ask and turn our heart towards him. Jesus’ life on earth shows us that His grace is not determined by how good or knowledgeable we are, who we are or where we happened to be born, but it is all because of the sacrifice Jesus made for us. Through our faith, we can have assurance that we will someday be in heaven with Jesus and His kingdom that has no end.

 May you have a blessed new year getting to know Jesus as your Savior and personal friend.
God’s mercies are new every morning!
(Lamentations 3:23)

* Happy New Year! *

In Jesus’ Words: One Unforgivable Sin (Mark 3:22-30)

Jesus only mentions one sin that will not be forgiven – blasphemy against the Spirit.

Jesus warns, “He who is not with Me is against Me. Any sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” Matthew 12:30-31

This is a very specific statement from Jesus, so it is important, even life-critical, that we understand exactly what this blasphemy is and what it is not.  In this story about Jesus, the Jewish leaders or Pharisees are accusing him of being an evil spirit or the devil himself.  This is one of the biggest insults a person could say to Jesus, but insults alone are not blasphemy.  Insults or curses that are said in ignorance or unbelief against Jesus or the Spirit are not blasphemy.

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is a deliberate rejection from those who know Jesus’ claims are true, yet reject Him anyway.

These Pharisees could not deny Jesus’ claims and miracles to be true so they said He was from an evil spirit instead.  Their hearts were hardened, and they rejected Jesus even when they had the fullest possible revelation of who he was.  The Holy Spirit testifies of Christ and makes His truth known to us.  These Pharisees had that ultimate truth but rejected it, and that is why it was blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (truth).

Rejection in ignorance or unbelief that later gives way to repentance is not blasphemy.

Saul of Tarsus’ conversion is a good example of this.  He was a murderer of Christians, and a hater of Jesus.  His sins could not get much worse than that.  But when the Holy Spirit (Jesus in Spirit) was revealed to him on the road to Damascus, he did not deny or reject it.  He embraced the truth, even when he knew what that meant in facing his past sins, and what it would cost him in changing his ways.  Paul was forgiven.

Blasphemy of the Spirit is a rejection of God and His truth, when you know exactly who God is.
It is the ultimate and final rejection of God.
 

~ Jesus mentions one unforgivable sin ~
Mark 3:22-30

The scribes who had come down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul in Him!” and, “He drives out demons by the ruler of the demons!”

So Jesus summoned them and spoke to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan rebels against himself and is divided, he cannot stand but is finished!

“On the other hand, no one can enter a strong man’s house and rob his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he will rob his house. I assure you: People will be forgiven for all sins and whatever blasphemies they may blaspheme. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— because they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”

In Jesus’ Words: We have never seen anything like this! (Mark 2:1-12)

Which is easier – to forgive someone’s sins, or to heal their physical body?  We have medical doctors, medicine and hospitals that can do great things today to heal the body, but we still only have one person who has ever claimed to be able to forgive your sins for eternity, and that is Jesus.  No other person, no matter what religion or belief, has ever even attempted to make that claim.  And that one single claim is the difference, and it’s a big difference.  It’s worth checking out the person who made this claim.

Jesus had no agenda of his own, and did not seek fame on his own.  Everything he did pointed to God, whom He called His Father.  The crowds that followed Him said it all – “We have never seen anything like this!”

I have to insert a little humor here as you read this story.  Imagine Jesus speaking to the crowds, people hanging on his every word, some serious perhaps, and all of a sudden these four guys start cutting into the roof and lowering this guy down into the room. People gasp!  But Jesus stays calm, and maybe he even smiles and laughs a little to himself as he sees what lengths these guys have gone.  Jesus was not put off.  I like to think that Jesus, who was also fully human, takes delight in our persistence and creativity of our faith to see Him.  He enjoyed people.

 The Son of Man Forgives and Heals
Mark 2: 1-12

When Jesus entered Capernaum again after some days, it was reported that He was at home. So many people gathered together that there was no more room, not even in the doorway, and He was speaking the message to them. Then they came to Him bringing a paralytic, carried by four men. Since they were not able to bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above where He was. And when they had broken through, they lowered the mat on which the paralytic was lying.

Seeing their faith, Jesus told the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

But some of the scribes were sitting there, thinking to themselves: “Why does He speak like this? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Right away Jesus understood in His spirit that they were thinking like this within themselves and said to them, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, pick up your mat, and walk’? But so you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” He told the paralytic, “I tell you: get up, pick up your mat, and go home.”

Immediately he got up, picked up the mat, and went out in front of everyone. As a result, they were all astounded and gave glory to God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

Would you climb through the roof of a crowded room if you knew Jesus could heal you?