Archive for the ‘grace’ category

The Work of Godly Grief Within Us

May 20, 2019


“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10) (ESV)

When I read this, I immediately ask myself, “How do I measure up to this standard?” Have I exhibited a godly grief that produces repentance that leads to salvation? I think that’s the natural inclination.

I search myself, my past and present experiences, my behavior and my orientation toward God, and I measure myself on the scale that is presented, not just in this passage, but in any passage. Scripture is not just a prescription; it’s a barometer.

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) (ESV)

I felt that active and sharp character of the Bible when I first read it in college, and it is not any less active or sharp in its affect on me today. If I am conscious of the “interaction” of the Scripture in relation to the thoughts and intents of my heart, it provides a third person view, in effect, into my self in relation to God.

Still, I am tempted to think, “How can I measure up?” Regarding the verse above, I am tempted to consider how I can generate a godly grief that produces repentance that leads to salvation. My mindset is, “How can I do that?” or “What does it take to accomplish that?”

As I dive deeper into the verse, though, I begin to see something else. That something else gets to the heart of my relationship with God. It is the heart of the Gospel.

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When You Realize God Sees You, Exposed in Your sin

May 17, 2019


Peter was one of the first followers of Jesus. He was one the twelve who became known as “the apostles”, one of the closest followers of Jesus. But Peter wasn’t just a follower, and he wasn’t just one of the apostles. Andrew, Peter’s brother, is known as the first follower of Jesus, but Peter became closer to Jesus then Andrew. Peter was one of the inner circle of the closest confidants to Jesus.

There were only three people in that inner circle: James and John, the brothers from Zebedee, and Peter, and Peter was the main spokesman of the three. Only Peter, James and John went up to the mount to witness the Transfiguration, and only Peter spoke with Jesus about it. Peter wasn’t just a spokesman; he was a leader among the followers of Jesus.

Peter was with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry to the end. He argued, legitimately, about who was best of the followers of Jesus. He boldly declared his willingness to go to prison and to die for Jesus. Of all the disciples of Jesus, Peter stood out above the rest.

So when Jesus told Peter that the rooster would not crow that day before Peter would deny him three times, Peter must have thought, “How much more can I say or do to show you that I am committed?!”

And then, Peter’s world turned upside down. The apostles didn’t understand, really, what Jesus talking about until the drama Jesus tried to explain to them unfolded right in front of them. Without warning, a crowd came walking up to them lead by Judas. The disciples reacted, ready to fight for Jesus, but Jesus stopped them from resisting, Jesus was escorted away… without a fight,. Jesus let them take him like a lamb led to its slaughter.

Imagine Peter, following at a distance, his bold bravado swept away by pained confusion and fear. “This isn’t the way this is supposed to go”, he had to be thinking. “Is this the way it all ends?” In the cloud of his confusion, pain and disillusionment, as he was standing in a crowd around a fire, a servant girl identified Peter as one of the people with Jesus, and Peter denied it.

Two more times at different intervals, Peter denied being associated with Jesus. Immediately after the third time, the rooster crowed, “[a]nd the Lord turned and looked at Peter”. At that instance, the words Jesus spoke just a short while earlier played through Peter’s head, and he “wept bitterly”.[i]

Imagine Peter as the rooster crowed and the Lord’s eyes met his…. All of his words, three years of commitment to Jesus and all the boasting about who is the greatest unraveled completely in a moment in time. Peter was undone… exposed as a fraud.

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The Importance of Relationship, Trust and Commonality

January 3, 2019


This morning I have listened to a podcast and read an article on the same theme: Christians who desire not to be defined by the things they are against. I didn’t go searching for themed material today, these things came together organically as I went about my daily habits of listening to a podcast first thing in the morning and reading throughout the day.

Early this morning, I listened to Justin Brierley interview Christian evangelist, Kevin Palau, and Sam Adams, the gay mayor of Portland, OR, on their unlikely friendship.  Later in the morning, as I was waiting on hold on the phone (for along time I might add), I read an article in Relevant Magazine: Don’t Be Defined By What You’re Against. I will add that the verse of the day on the Bible app is Psalm 90:12 (“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”)

While these three sources of material may not seem like thematic material, I assure you they are. Beginning with the interview, the evangelist, Palau, explained the motivation for engaging with the City of Portland in civic service. Palau recognized that Christians were known in the community primarily as people who were opposed to certain things, and not anything positive – let alone as followers of Jesus.

Palau also recognized that Christians were distrusted by the community, and so he set out to regain the community trust. The first thing Palau and his church did was to respond to the needs of a local public school that was failing. Not only did they show up; the showed up in such force that people took notice. What was supposed to be a day of work turned into an ongoing labor of love.

Palau and his church were so successful in making a positive impact that they inspired churches around the community to adopt schools, and the schools, in turn, embraced the church involvement. The involvement caught the attention of the mayor of Portland and his chief assistant, Sam Adams, who would later become mayor himself.

Palau and Adams are an unlikely pair to become friends, but that is what they are today. Adams is the first openly gay mayor of Portland. Palau is an evangelical evangelist. Adams confirms Palau’s concerns by agreeing that he previously only knew evangelicals for what they stood against, but now, he says, there are more things they agree on than disagree on.

Adams recognizes that they have some fundamental disagreements on key issues for both of them, but those areas of disagreement are no longer the defining characteristic. They now join hands on addressing areas in which they agree and have formed a long-term friendship as a result.

Palau has built a bridge without compromising his faith. As a result, Adams and the community no longer view evangelicals only for what they stand against; they also see what evangelicals stand for.  The community now knows that the Gospel means more than calling out sin. It means meeting peoples’ needs, loving people and offering hope. The Gospel isn’t primarily a what, but a Who – Jesus, who transforms people who follow him.

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Giving Alms from Within

October 3, 2018


Jesus didn’t pull any punches, and the religious leaders were often the targets caught in his cross-hairs. One theme of his criticism was that they kept up righteous appearances while they were anything but righteous on the inside.  It’s a bit unnerving, is it not, that Jesus could see the thoughts and intents of the heart!

For those who might be tempted to say that the one person in history you would most like to meet is Jesus, maybe you should rethink that!

But then again, Jesus didn’t do anything more than God, the Father, already does. God “discerns our thoughts from afar”; He even knows every word “on my tongue” before I say them. (Psalm 139)

Think about that. Where can I go that God is not present? There is no use trying to hide from God. It’s futile to think that we can.

So, we might as well be honest. God already knows what’s going on in our heads and hearts!

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The Impossible Perfection of God

September 27, 2018


In the Gospel of Mark, we read the story of the rich young man who came to Jesus and asked him what he must do to inherit eternal life. (Mark 10:17) After a brief discussion about the law and keeping its commandments, Jesus said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Mark 10:21)

The rich young ruler went away saddened and grieving. (Mark 10:22)

Obviously, the rich young man found the instruction very difficult. He was evidently hoping for a different answer. He claimed to have kept the commandments of God from an early age, but Jesus brushed his boasting aside and dashed his hopes by demanding the “impossible” from him.

Jesus turned to his disciples as the example for what he was about to say was walking away, and commented, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23)

If we are being honest with ourselves, most Christians in the United States are wealthy compared to the rest of the world. We might even be considered wealthy compared to the rich young man who sought out Jesus in the First Century. Unless we gloss over what Jesus said, these are hard words to swallow.

They were hard words for the disciples also. Though they had left everything to follow Jesus, they were still “amazed” at what Jesus just said. (Mark 10:24)

As if the example wasn’t enough, Jesus said it again, “[H]ow hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!” and he added a word picture for emphasis:

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:25)

At these words, the disciples were not just amazed; they were “astonished”, asking, “Then who can be saved?” (Mark 10:26)

I believe they identified with the rich young man. I suspect they knew they had to more to give than what they had given. They might have also been thinking about the size of this following to which they had given themselves – it would be small indeed! Who could even qualify?!

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Honest Liar or Dishonest Priest?

September 20, 2018


Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?  For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’  But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’  So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.  You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:   “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'” Matthew 15:1-9 ESV


And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”…. Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled?  But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.  These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” Matthew 15:10-11, 17-20 ESV

Jesus leveled his criticism at people who seemed to honor God in the way they spoke and acted, but they didn’t honor God in their hearts. He quoted the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel who carried a similar theme in their writings. The prophets were as harsh on the religious and political leaders of their day as Jesus was in his day.

The statement, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”, seems to miss the mark in light of the importance Jesus places on the heart, does it not? Not that what we do isn’t important. It’s just that what we do starts with who we are, and who are is in our hearts.

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Progression of Revelation in the Bible Part 2

August 26, 2018


In Progression of Revelation in the Bible Part 1, I made the point that the Old Testament Scriptures anticipate and point toward Jesus. Jesus said he was the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. The thrust of the Scriptures from the Old Testament to the New Testament also progresses from physical to spiritual, from law to grace. I will pick up on those themes and get into the progression from law to grace in this piece.

Before doing that, though, I am taking a short sidetrack to recall an observation I made years ago as a college freshman in a world religion class. As I as I studied (and read) the Bible for the first time in my life I realized that the fabric of the Scripture, from beginning to end, is an intricately woven tapestry. I wasn’t a believer then, but I could see (as a budding English Literature major) the incredible, unlikely harmony of the Scriptures.

I say unlikely, because the Old Testament and New Testament are a combination of writings that were penned by dozens of people and collected over a period of many centuries. All of them wrote down the revelation each one of them received from God. The “book” of the Bible would be, perhaps, the finest masterpiece of cohesive literature ever written if it were written by a single author, but it’s cohesiveness and internal integrity is all the more noteworthy by the fact that it was written by dozens of authors across a large expanse of time.

People who understand the Bible only on a surface level claim it is full of contradictions. We should hardly find it surprising if it was full of contradictions, having been written by so many people over such a long time, but the thing is: a deeper reading of the Bible reveals an uncanny, transcendent, incredibly subtle and nuanced consistency and harmony.

The intricacy and harmony of the Bible is quite stunning given its authorship: the fact that it was written by people, and not by the hand of God Himself.

And this fact led me to another thought when I first read the Bible in its sweep from beginning to end: if God is God, 1) He could reveal Himself in a way that creatures made by Him could understand His communication; and 2) He could preserve the integrity of that communication. Why? Because He is God.

I didn’t become a believer immediately at that point in my life, but I could not deny the uncanny tapestry of the Scriptures.

I recall these things as I consider the Qur’an, and the progressive nature of the two religions’ Scriptures. In the Qur’an, statements in the later sura expressly contradict and abrogate (negate) earlier sura. The later sura are also the problematic ones in which we see statements about killing infidels, etc.

In the Bible, by contrast, we see the earlier Scriptures affirmed, explained and extended in the person of Jesus. We see a progression from Law to the spirit of the law, and from law to grace, and the seeds of that progression are there in the very beginning.

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