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 7 – A child is prophesied

isaiah-and-jesus

One-third of the Bible is prophecy, and it has not been wrong yet.

300 prophecies point to the Messiah’s first coming and 400 point to his second coming.

In 1947, a scroll of the book of Isaiah, which had been copied 2000 years ago, was found near the Dead Sea. Many of the prophecies about the baby to be born come from Isaiah.

The book of Isaiah has 66 chapters, just like the Bible has 66 books.
The first 39 chapters, which are the same number of books as the Old Testament, tell of a need for a Savior.
The second 27 chapters, the same number of books as the New Testament, tell of a Savior to come.
There are 66 references to Isaiah in the New Testament.

(referenced from The Amazing Collection: The Major Prophets, by Big Dream Ministries)

Isaiah was one of the most famous prophets, and lived from 760-690 BC. This is what he said:

Isaiah 9:6-7
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Approximately 700 years later, it came true.

Luke 2:8-11
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

May you celebrate the joy and peace of the Christmas season, knowing that it comes from Jesus Christ the Lord who was sent to us over 2000 years ago.

* Merry Christmas *

31 Days of the Christmas Story from Genesis to John: Day 10 – Salvation through His death

watchman

Harper Lee is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the famous book, To Kill a Mockingbird, written in the 1950’s. In recent years, another novel of hers was discovered and released, called Go Set a Watchman. I didn’t understand the meaning of the title at first until I learned the phrase actually comes from the book of Isaiah.

For thus has the Lord said to me: “Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he sees.” Isaiah 21:6

Much of our literature, art, and culture has Biblical references. A watchman was to be a moral compass, one to keep you on the right path and to guide you in the right direction when things go wrong.  Chapters 52 and 53 of the book of Isaiah contain some of my favorite references and literature in the Bible.  I hope you enjoy reading these amazing and undeniable prophecies from Isaiah about the Messiah’s death, written several hundred years before Jesus was born and while the nation of Israel was still in captivity.

Isaiah 52-53
“Wake up, wake up;
put on your strength, Zion!
Put on your beautiful garments,
Jerusalem, the Holy City!”

For this is what the Lord says:
“You were sold for nothing,
and you will be redeemed without silver.
At first My people went down to Egypt to live there,
then Assyria oppressed them without cause.
My name is continually blasphemed all day long.
Therefore My people will know My name;
therefore they will know on that day
that I am He who says:
Here I am.”

How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of the herald,
who proclaims peace,
who brings news of good things,
who proclaims salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
The voices of your watchmen—
they lift up their voices,
shouting for joy together;
for every eye will see
when the Lord returns to Zion.

See, My Servant will act wisely;
He will be raised and lifted up and greatly exalted.
His appearance was so disfigured
that He did not look like a man,
and His form did not resemble a human being.
Kings will shut their mouths because of Him,

For they will see what had not been told them,
and they will understand what they had not heard.

He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of suffering who knew what sickness was.
Y
et He Himself bore our sicknesses,

and He carried our pains;
He was pierced because of our transgressions,

crushed because of our iniquities;
punishment for our peace was on Him,
and we are healed by His wounds.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet He did not open His mouth.
They made His grave with the wicked and with a rich man
at His death,
although He had done no violence
and had not spoken deceitfully.

My righteous Servant will justify many,
and He will carry their iniquities.
B
ecause He submitted Himself to death,

and was counted among the rebels;
yet He bore the sin of many
and interceded for the rebels.

May you listen to the watchman’s words and let your life be guided by the truth. Jesus came as the messenger of truth, and He is the true “Peace on Earth.” 

* Merry Christmas *

31 Days of the Christmas Story from Genesis to John: Day 11 – Place of birth is named

3-wise-men

Micah was another Hebrew prophet that was a contemporary of Isaiah. He was considered to be a great communicator and was known as a prophet to the common people. If Isaiah had been the only prophet to prophesy about the coming Messiah then it might have been less believable, but when there are multiple witnesses and sources, it becomes even more credible.

Micah’s writings were read and studied by kings several hundred years after his death, and they also appear in the United States Government today. In this next prophecy from the book of Micah, he actually names the place of birth for the Messiah – Bethlehem!

Micah 5:2
Bethlehem Ephrathah,
you are small among the clans of Judah;
One will come from you
to be ruler over Israel for Me.
His origin is from antiquity,
from eternity.

These are the words the wise men read that led them to the Star of Bethlehem. They had studied Micah’s writings, where it was prophesied 700 years earlier that the coming Messiah would be from the small town of Bethlehem, from the tribe of Judah, and with an origin from the beginning of time lasting for eternity. What incredible faith they must have had to travel such a long distance to a foreign land with nothing more than these ancient prophecies. God clearly rewarded their faith.

And today, if you look in the Library of Congress next to the U.S. Capitol building, you will see these other words from the Prophet Micah inscribed above one of the reading alcoves.

Micah 6:8
He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?

Judeo/Christian principles are found everywhere in the beginning of the U.S. Government.
~ In God We Trust is imprinted on the U.S. currency.
~ A painting of the Baptism of Pocohontas at Jamestown in 1618 hangs in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.
~ The Liberty Bell is inscribed with Leviticus 25:10 (proclaim liberty throughout all the land).
~ A large bronze statue of Moses with the 10 Commandments is located in the Library of Congress, along with over a thousand rare Bibles including an original Gutenberg Bible.
~ All 50 State Constitutions reference God.
And there are many other historical references. God rewards our faithfulness.

This Christmas season, may you have the faith of the Wise Men, the prophets Micah and Isaiah, the founding fathers of America, and countless numbers of others who have gone before us. May God bless you for your faithfulness during this special season of celebration – from a little town of Bethlehem long ago.

* Merry Christmas *

31 Days of the Christmas Story from Genesis to John: Day 12 – Expect a forerunner

001-john-baptist

The prophet Malachi gives us the last recorded words we have from God before the 400 year period of silence begins between the Old and New Testaments. No more prophets, no more writings, and no word from God. Only 50,000 Jewish exiles return to Judah after their captivity in Babylon. And with this last prophet’s words, God closes out the Old Testament history and prophecy.

Malachi 3:1
“See, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to His temple, the Messenger of the covenant you desire—see, He is coming,” says the Lord of Hosts.

The prophet Isaiah also confirmed this messenger, or forerunner to the Messiah.

Isaiah 40:3
The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make straight in the desert
A highway for our God.”

How were the people to know when the Messiah was to come, and how would they recognize him? Malachi said a messenger would come first to clear the way for the Messiah. He would be a witness, one to help prepare the way.

Four hundred years later, when all hope seemed lost, an unusual man named John the Baptist arrived on the scene. He lived in the desert wilderness and came preaching a unique message: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!” He was the forerunner to Christ.

“See, He is coming”, says the Lord of Hosts.

This Christmas season, may you feel the joy and anticipation of the Savior that is Jesus Christ. 

* Merry Christmas *