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.

Names of Jesus: Lamb of God

The next day John the Baptist saw Jesus coming to him and said,
“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” 
John 1:29

A lamb had special significance to the Jews. A lamb was sacrificed each year during Passover. God provided a lamb to Abraham for sacrifice instead of his son Isaac. But Jesus was much more. He was the perfect sacrificial lamb.

Religion had become a set of rules to follow. Jesus was not about rules, though we sometimes still like to pin rules and conditions to Jesus. Jesus was about repentance. Repentance not religion. Grace not rules. He is the perfect lamb to take away our sin, which is what we all need.

Names of Jesus: Unspeakable Gift

Paul describes Jesus as the unspeakable or indescribable gift in 2 Corinthians 9:15.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.

It is indescribable because there is no other gift as perfect or as valuable as the sacrifice of God’s perfect son for our sins.  It is a gift from God and a gift of Grace.  It is not given by law or by deeds, it is purely Divine.

The gift is available to anyone and everyone who wants it.  A gift cannot be forced on the recipient, it must be accepted.  It is given with no strings attached.  It is simply… a gift.

The tradition of giving presents at Christmas time comes from this wonderful and indescribable gift given to us.  We show Christ’s likeness the most when we are giving, out of pure joy and love.

In Jesus’ Words: Two truths about heaven and hell (Matthew 21:33-22:14)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus continued his conversation with the Pharisees, “Listen to another parable..”, he replied.

Jesus had just finished telling the Pharisees the parable of the two sons, and how the tax collectors and prostitutes would enter the kingdom of heaven before them because they had believed and repented. Jesus kept trying to get the Pharisees to understand. Pleading with them. Jesus did not want to see His chosen people miss the point and miss heaven, just because they were trying to hold on to a very short timeline of earthly power.

Jesus tells the parable of a vineyard owner and the tenant farmers who take care of the vineyard (an image that would have been relevant to the Jews of that time). When the owner sends his slaves (representing Old Testament prophets) to gather the harvest, the farmers beat them and kill them. Finally the owner sends his son (Messiah) and they reject him and kill him also. Jesus ends the parable by saying, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing its fruit.”

Still, the Pharisees must have stood there with blank looks on their faces because the next verse says, “Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables..”  Or in other words, “Ok, I’m going to try this one more time…”  The next parable Jesus tells is about the wedding banquet. The invited guests (chosen people) paid no attention to the invite and went about their own business. So the king went out into the streets and invited others – both good and evil – to come in, and they accepted the invite. Jesus tells us that those who did not originally accept “will be thrown into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The two truths we can know from these parables taught by Jesus are:

1. The kingdom of heaven is not determined by how good or evil you are.  
It is by accepting God’s invitation to believe and repent. Our righteousness for heaven is granted to us through Jesus Christ, the prophesied Messiah. There is no way any of us could ever tally up a system (or religion) to count our rights or wrongs and make a case for heaven based solely on that. It wouldn’t be fair to anyone – to the person who has tried all their life to be good, or the person who was dealt a bad lot in life and didn’t have a fair chance, or even the person who was not fairly informed. It can only be by grace through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for us.

2. Jesus tells us there is a hell and those who do not believe and repent will be sent there. (thrown into outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth).  It is not a comfy subject to talk about and many people try to water it down in today’s Christianity. But Jesus spoke about it often, and the truth does not change based on how we feel. Each of us will meet God someday, and the only thing that will matter at that time is God’s truth.

Today as Christians we get caught up in so many other obstacles, whether it is gay marriage, abortion rights, or a certain political party. But what really matters in the end are the two truths mentioned above. Everything else is secondary.

~ Matthew 21:33-22:14  Jesus’ two parables about heaven and hell ~

The Parable of the Vineyard Owner

“Listen to another parable: There was a man, a landowner, who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a winepress in it, and built a watchtower. He leased it to tenant farmers and went away. When the grape harvest drew near, he sent his slaves to the farmers to collect his fruit. But the farmers took his slaves, beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Again, he sent other slaves, more than the first group, and they did the same to them. Finally, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

“But when the tenant farmers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance!’ So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those farmers?”

“He will completely destroy those terrible men,” they told Him, “and lease his vineyard to other farmers who will give him his produce at the harvest.”

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
This came from the Lord
and is wonderful in our eyes?

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing its fruit. [Whoever falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whoever it falls, it will grind him to powder!]”

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they knew He was speaking about them. Although they were looking for a way to arrest Him, they feared the crowds, because they regarded Him as a prophet.

The Parable of the Wedding Banquet

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent out his slaves to summon those invited to the banquet, but they didn’t want to come. Again, he sent out other slaves, and said, ‘Tell those who are invited: Look, I’ve prepared my dinner; my oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

“But they paid no attention and went away, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the others seized his slaves, treated them outrageously and killed them. The king was enraged, so he sent out his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned down their city.

“Then he told his slaves, ‘The banquet is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go to where the roads exit the city and invite everyone you find to the banquet.’ So those slaves went out on the roads and gathered everyone they found, both evil and good. The wedding banquet was filled with guests. But when the king came in to view the guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed for a wedding. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless.

“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him up hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

 

In Jesus Words: Who is this? (Matthew 20:29-21:10)

who_is_this_man

So many times in this life we want to be right more than anything else. We know best. We want to prove our point is the correct one. (the prideful righteous)

or

Too often we get caught up in dwelling on our past mistakes. We failed. We’ll never be good enough so why try. (the unredeemable sinner)

Neither of these positions is how Jesus wants us to be.

It can be hard to change our habits sometimes based on how we grew up. Some of us grew up in the church. Others of us far from it. The basics of Christianity do not change either way – we must be repentful and believe in Jesus as the one God sent as the Savior for our sins. But other than that, our life and purpose on this earth has more to do with our relationship with others, showing God’s love, and forgiving others. It is in those things that we are most like Jesus, the one we follow and believe.

The problem with the first position (the prideful righteous) is that we put “our” being right above the relationship with others. We might think we’re helping, but we fail to trust God in His ultimate plan, timing and direction. And if we choose not to fully forgive someone in the process of being right (not just forgive on the surface but also in our hearts and actions), then anger and bitterness can spread to others like a wildfire out of control. Our kids see it, other family members are affected, and on and on.

The problem with the second position (the unredeemable sinner) is that we are not fully believing in who God really is. God does not condemn us the way society does. God is ready to offer mercy and grace to anyone who asks for it in their heart. Anyone. No matter what. Good or Bad. “Whosoever believes.” It seems ultimately fair, and yet a little unfair when viewed through the eyes of our world. We think those of us that are “good” have a better standing with God. After all, we’ve tried all our life. We resisted sin. Well, at least the big ones anyway.  But God is fair to all.  Anyone can be saved.  We are all equally valuable and wonderfully made by God.

~ Matthew 20:29-21:10  Who is Jesus ~

Two blind men were sitting by the road. When they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” The crowd told them to keep quiet, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” Jesus stopped, called them, and said, “What do you want Me to do for you?”  “Lord,” they said to Him, “open our eyes!” Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they could see, and they followed Him.

Jesus came into Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two disciples telling them, “Go into the village ahead of you. At once you will find a donkey tied there, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to Me. If anyone says anything to you, you should say that the Lord needs them, and immediately he will send them.”
This took place so that what was spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled:
Tell Daughter Zion,
“Look, your King is coming to you, gentle, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”
The disciples went and did just as Jesus directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt; then they laid their robes on them, and He sat on them. A very large crowd spread their robes on the road; others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them on the road.
Shouting: Hosanna to the Son of David! He who comes in the name of the Lord is the blessed One!
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken, saying, “Who is this?”

The chief priests and Pharisees asked the temple police, “Why haven’t you brought Him?” The police answered, “No man ever spoke like this!” – (John 7:45-46)

Jesus upset both positions – the righteous and the sinner.  Jesus changes lives.  The crowds may say keep quiet, stay in your place, but Jesus says differently.  Let Jesus take the burden and then let Him work out the rest.  All He asks you in return is to have faith in Him to works things out, to love others and to forgive.  Oh, and don’t forget to forgive yourself too – Jesus already has.feet with waves cropped