Posts Tagged ‘forgiveness’

GFTROUCan you imagine if Karl Barth sat down to write Church Dogmatics and began with an exceptional account of how wrecked his life has been by sin, how disturbed his family is/was, and other unsavory and sordid details of his confusion, pain, and suffering and then told us the story of how God redeemed it, made it whole, and eventually used that life to change the lives of countless other equally shattered and broken people?

Neither can I. But maybe if he had, Church Dogmatics, as much fun as they are to read, would be even more fun. (I confess I have not read through the entire Dogmatics, so maybe he did I and I don't know it.)

To be sure, God for the Rest of Us is not Church Dogmatics. Most will probably be thankful for this. But it is another book among a collection of books that continue to be published by Christian publishing houses who are convinced that the every day readers in the church want to read stories about how terrible the lives of their favorite preachers have been. Preachers used to be paragons of untouchable virtue and holiness. Not so much anymore. It's kind of a newer trend where we get insights into practical Christianity via the growth process of (insert favorite preacher's name here). We get to read about their struggles, their families, their suffering, their pain, their doubt, their heroics, their rise from the squalor of outcast kid who doubts his way through Bible college on to having some sort of an epiphany and their subsequent rise to become super-hero pastors of super-mega-giant churches that are doing everything right that most other churches do wrong.

I hate to be this way, but this is the trend. I don't see it slowing down anytime soon because evidently there is a market for it. Evidently, people are buying this stuff. When I think about my own 'rise to stardom' in the world of churchianity, I usually end up sitting around wondering why it is that some people suffer so much and end up writing books and others of us suffer so much and end up reviewing those books. Sometimes, I suppose we come off as bitter.

This is partly what you get though when you read God for the Rest of Us. I'm not, necessarily, suggesting this is a bad thing. Those who read this book will figure that out on their own. To be sure, I think people should read this book because despite my conviction that the preacher should not be the focus of his sermon or an illustration (I learned this in elementary homiletics classes) in this case what we learn is that Antonucci is not some stuck up snobbish preacher unwilling to get close to people or to have people close to him. I like that this is a man who has been through the mud a time or two and yet somehow or other found Jesus. Or maybe Jesus found him. Or maybe Jesus dogged his footsteps until he turned around and asked where the Master where he was staying or the Master informed him he was coming over for dinner. Maybe its a little bit of all of it. Maybe Jesus follows us long before we ever follow him. I don't know. My point is that while I have grown somewhat weary of reading stories about the preachers who have struggled and suffered so much prior to Jesus (and sometimes after Jesus too) and share it in their books, churches, and t-shirts, church curricula, and DVDs, there is something to be said about what these preachers have learned from these experiences.

I think this book is, partly, the evidence of what Antonucci learned through his experiences.

While some Christians seem to go out of their way to protect God from the unseemly and untidy and unwashed heathens in this world, Antonucci goes out of his way to demonstrate that it is precisely 'these types' of people in whom God is most interested. Jesus did say 'it's the sick who need a doctor, not the well.' OK. So Antonucci has a vision one day, or a calling, and he packs up the family and moves to Vegas where he, following the lead of Jesus, starts to befriend and minister to all the wrong people–you know, people who would never fit in in our comfortable, white-washed, stained glass, middle-class suburban campus style churches. And a church starts to grow–and the Lord 'added to their number daily those who were being saved'–right in the middle of Las Vegas.

And if this story is true, and why shouldn't it be and how can it not be, it is utterly remarkable and unnerving the people that Jesus loves into his church through his people.

I heard a young preacher say something once that was utterly brilliant. He said, we cannot build relationships if we don't start them first. Oh, he had me hooked after that because I know that I am a somewhat strange person when it comes to relationships. Antonucci agrees: "The way to change a life is not by judging people but by embracing them. Not by pointing out their sins but by pointing the way to hope" (19). I mean, how simple can one get? He goes further (and I've read variations of this before, so it's nothing new, but I think it sets the tone for what the book is about): "What's so disturbing is that what Jesus was known for–amazing grace–is the exact opposite of what Christians are known for today. We're known for judgment and condemnation. We're known not for what we're for–loving God and loving people–but for what we're against" (19). It's really hard to argue with this. 

When I was still a preacher, here I go breaking my own rule, I was one time ripped a new one in a board meeting because I helped a friend with his taxi service. The reason I was ripped? Well, you see, I picked up drunks from bars, I drove people to a local gambling facility, and every now and again I picked up and drove 'exotic dancers' home. You'd never believe some of the conversations I had with people in that car. But it was too much for the uptight members of the board–after all, I was a preacher and I shouldn't be seen in such places or with such people. (It's a true story. It wasn't too long after that that I left the church.) I think God was teaching me to love people. I should have stayed at the church because I ended up not being very loving towards those board members who seem to want to stifle and criticize me.

Love even the judgmental. God is for church boards.

I don't know what is so difficult about loving people right where they are and then allowing God to do the hard work of changing them. But let's take it a step further and suggest that it is our goal to change people, "If our goal is to change people's behavior, to get them to repent, is fear really the best way to do that?" (156) Spend enough time trolling the blogs and you will see that there are a lot of Christians who believe just that. Spend enough time with Jesus and you will see that it will never work because even those who are won over by fear will not last long. Maybe the voices of those who spend more time with Jesus ought to be the voices heard the most by those who think of God as someone who could never love them. Our lives are shaped and we thrive by love. Fear motivates me to nothing, but love? "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). What else need be said? 

God is for us, and if he is, who can be against us? Yes, this is spoken in particular to Christians, but isn't there also a sense in which we can say that God is for all people? God is patient and not willing any one should perish. God wants all people to come to a knowledge of the truth. All. That is a huge, huge word that is too often left out of our Christianese dictionary. We need to embrace it. We need to embrace all people. And seriously who cares if we embrace people and they take advantage of us or persist in their sin? Will God find fault with us for loving all people?

Ask yourself: Will God judge the church more harshly for loving all people with great love even though they might take advantage of us or for only loving some people who treat us kindly? I think it would be better to ere on the side of love than discernment. God can do the judging, we are called to do the loving.

So, yes, there are parts of the book that made me uncomfortable. For example, I don't know about his list of apologies on 112ff, but I suppose if my apology will lead someone to Jesus, then I'll offer it. What do I care? What matters most: my squeamishness at offering apologies for things I never did? Or someone else seeing the Love of Jesus? I like that he takes the time to open up lengthy passages of Scripture for us and walk through them. In particular, the story Jonah, the story of the woman accused of adultery in John 8, and the story of the Prodigal from Luke 15 were well told. I like that he made reference to The Count of Monte Cristo; I dislike that it was the movie version. I like the stories of redeemed lives and how God took broken people and made them whole again. I like how he is honest about who he is and where he's from because even though I get a little tired of the personal 'how I rose from nothing to start a church and write books' stories, I think in this case it grounds the reader: Antonucci understands well the depths of God's love for all people–not just the few we think ought to be saved. God is for everyone. You name the category, the sub-category, or whatever: God loves people. That's the point. God loves people. So should we.

I am glad for that because this also means he was and is for me. That says a lot.

He ends the book with a worthy challenge for those who read it: Whom Do You Least Want to Love? That's all I'll say because I want you to read the book (so does Antonucci) and I want you to answer the question. I have to answer the question too because I suspect there are a lot of people I find it difficult to love. And yet God loves me. I must change.

Notes are appended at the end and there's a nice appendix titled 'My ABC Book of People God Loves." It just may shock you to see the people God is for, but it may also affirm that you are on the right path in your own choices of who you love. Good reading here. I recommend this book for all Christians who struggle to love people who are different. I recommend this book for all Christian who think it is their job to change people or to judge people. I recommend this book for Christians who are more in love with discernment than they are with Jesus. I recommend this book for Christians who truly believe that God does not want anyone to perish.

Get this book. Read it. Think on it. Then go love someone–maybe someone you never thought you could love.

5/5 Stars

Important Book & Author Things

  • Where to purchase God for the Rest of Us Tyndale House Publishers (Trade Paperback $15.99)  Amazon (Kindle $9.99 Pre-order)  CBD  (Paperback $12.99)
  • God for the Rest of Us on the internet
  • Author: Vince Antonucci On Twitter
  • Where Vince hangs out with People Jesus Loves: Verve
  • Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
  • Pages: 255
  • Year: August 2015
  • Audience:Pastors, preachers, Christians, missionaries, elders, deacons, young people, old people, people whose lives are a trainwreck, seekers, the saved, the lost, the helpless and hopeless, the loveless, the judgmental
  • Reading Level: High School
  • Disclaimer: I was provided a free advance reading copy courtesy of Tyndale Blog Network.
  • Page numbers in this review are based on an ARC. Numbering may be different in final publication.

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We have been discussing a particular passage from Matthew's Gospel on Sunday mornings in Bible School. It's from chapter 18 and if the subheading in my TNIV is correct this passage deals (exclusively?) with 'Dealing with sin in the church.'

If this passage does in fact lay out conditions for how to deal with sin in the church then it seems to me it has very little to do with how I relate to some random person who isn't in the church and who happens to sin against me–either deliberately or otherwise. If this is true, then it appears that Jesus might be suggesting there are conditions on the nature of forgiveness offered by Christians to one another within the church. (Although, to be sure, I don't think that is true.)

So I've been thinking about this forgiveness and it's rather tricky nature. I don't really think forgiveness is tricky. I also do not think forgiveness requires any steps on the part of the person needing forgiven. I think forgiveness is a choice that we make proactively. In other words, I forgive and refuse to hold on to my rights. I know it's a peculiar idea here in America that I refuse to cling to my rights for vengeance, my rights for recompense, my rights for justice.

I know that here in America if I don't require repentance before I forgive someone then I am giving them license to do whatever they want. I know that it appears that without requiring a change in behavior I am simply inviting that person who sinned against me to continue living in a state where they might (likely, will) continue sinning against me over and over again. Here in America that's how we roll. We have built an entire industry on the basis of the eye for an eye.

But Jesus has undid this, hasn't he? Think about it for a moment. All the way back in that book that some tell us is irrelevant, we read the story about a fella named Lamech who killed a young fella one day. Seems that the young fella looked at him cross-eyed one day and Lamech went all Mayweather on him and killed him. Then he uttered these words to his wives, "If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech is avenged seventy-seven times" (Genesis 4:24). Well this is interesting isn't it?

Lamech was born and bred for the home of the brave and the land of the free; the land of Judge Judy and The People's Court; the place where we all hope someone scratches our car so we can sue. We are rights happy in America; furthermore, we are especially fond of following the way of Lamech: I demand my rights. Sadly, church folk have fallen into this as well. We demand our rights–rights that Christians in other parts of the world do no enjoy and, therefore, cannot have enforced.

Then here comes Peter and he's all down with Lamech: Lord, I want to be generous so how often should I forgive someone who tramples my rights? Like, what, seven times? (I guess keeping track is a good way to count that you don't break the law. So that on sin number 8 Peter would have been fully justified to not forgive.)

Then here comes Jesus in response and listen for echoes in his words, "No, Peter. Not seven times. Seventy-Seven times." (Or maybe 490, but clearly without limit.) Now if we are to forgive someone this many times we have clearly not placed demands upon them. But note the echo: Lamech said I demand my rights without limitation and that was the culture that reigned. Then Jesus said, let go of your rights to ridiculous lengths. Don't demand justice. Don't demand the eye. Let it go. Forgive. Be generous with forgiveness. Jesus is saying, and we should be listening: "With my arrival here on earth I am bringing a new ethic to your relationships, I am giving you a new way to live. Gone is the culture of rights and demands for personal justice. Gone is the way of Lamech. Arrived is the new way. My way. It is about forgiveness."

Of what benefit is it to anyone for me to demand my rights?

So, something like five years ago the church I was serving, and had served for nearly 10 years, decided they could live without me but not without their building. They believed I could live without the house I had just bought with my wife, but they could not live without the building where they met for worship on Sundays. So they did the only logical thing: they fired me. Without warning. With only six week's severance. And with the tag line, "It's nothing personal."

Now here I am, five years removed from that. We have lost our house. I lost my career. I nearly lost my family because I had to live apart from them for a while to work. And we have lost much more besides. Two things have never happened: I have never been told why I was fired (it wasn't doctrinal at all or because of some discovery of an outrageous sin) and the neither the church nor any single individual member have/has repented and asked for my forgiveness to this very minute on September 12, 2014, 9:40 PM.

By the logic of conditional forgiveness, that church and every single member of that church who sinned against me and my family should remain in a state of unforgiveness. By the logic of conditional forgiveness, I never should have forgiven them for absolutely wrecking my family. But I don't think that's what Jesus had in mind. Stanley Hauerwas wrote, "Accordingly, the forgiveness that marks the church is a politics that offers an alternative to the politics based on envy, hatred, and revenge." In other words, those who claim Christ have no claim to rights.

The only thing we have a right to do is forgive. Much like Stephen who asked Jesus not to hold against his murderers their sin–even as they were stoning him to death. Much like Jesus who said, "Father forgive them they know not what they do." Much like Jesus who said, "If someone punches you on the right cheek, turn the other also." In other words, the Christian has no claim on individual rights.

And who knows, maybe our proactive efforts to forgive people who sin against us will actually lead someone, or some church, to repentance.

But even then we shouldn't hold our breath. I'm not.

I went to Sunday School this past Sunday for the first time in a long, long time. I also stayed for worship and was delighted that at the end of the two hours or so I was in the building the roof managed to stay attached to whatever the roof is attached to. In other words, it didn't fall on my head. That is always happiness.

As it turns out, we were talking about Matthew chapter 18 on Sunday. I will quote it in full before offering a few comments:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

Causing to Stumble

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

The Parable of the Wandering Sheep

10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. [11] 

12 “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14 In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.

Dealing With Sin in the Church

15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold[h] was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

This is a great section of teaching by Jesus, but there is a problem that is easily identifiable by the little numbers scratched between sentences. The problem with these little numbers is that they make the section fairly incomprehensible to most people reading the section. I say this because the little numbers (along with the section divisions) make this section out to be a collection of smaller teachings instead of one large section of teaching addressing one particular 'subject' which, in this particular instance, is found in verse 1: "At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"

So strip away all the verses and section dividers (things like, "Causing to Stumble" or "Dealing With Sin in the Church"). These are all artificial and, frankly, meaningless precisely because they do absolutely nothing to help us understand what Jesus was getting at and, to be sure, do everything to obfuscate what he is talking about. He is answering the question: "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" Everything in chapter 18 that follows this question is designed to answer this question–all 34 verses. I know this peculiar teaching section of Jesus ends at 18:35 because in 19:1 we read this: "When Jesus had finished saying these things…." This marks the end of one section and the beginning of another.

If we look at it this way, without verse divisions and the like, we can see that Jesus' intent in all of these seemingly disconnected stories is actually a singular cohesive point: The greatest in the kingdom of heaven is the person who refuses to stand on his/her own rights. That is, we are less concerned about ourselves than we are of others. In other words, the greatest in the kingdom of heaven is the person who thinks of others first, foremost, always. So chapter 18 is a collection of five stories all, in different ways, telling us that same exact thing.

He begins by telling us about a child: "Whoever becomes like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." I know what people have traditionally said about this: children are quiet and humble and unassuming. Well, of course, raising three sons has taught me that this is absolute balderdash. I think what it means is something like this: a child has nothing to stand on, nothing. They are completely at the mercy of others. They cannot demand justice. They have no rights to demand or stand upon at all. If this is true now, it was especially true when Jesus had the child stand in his midst. Children are dependent upon others for everything, yes, but I think the issue here is, really, this idea that children essentially have nothing and can make no demands upon anyone.

You want to be great in the kingdom of heaven? Be like a person who lays no claim to personal justice, personal safety, or the lives of others. This is his thought. This is what Jesus is driving at in 'chapter 18.'

You want to be great in the kingdom of heaven? Deal with your own sin first (6-9). This is important in today's world because many, many people are concerned about the sins of others.

You want to be great in the kingdom of heaven? Be willing to put your own safety at risk for the sake of others (10-14). This is ties everything together by use of the phrase 'these little ones' (18:4, 6, 10, & 14).

You want to be great in the kingdom of heaven? Forgive. I think that's what Jesus was talking about in verses (15-20) because that's how Peter understood Jesus: "Lord, how many times shall I forgive someone who sins against me?" (21) Why would Peter ask this question if Jesus was talking about something else? Again, I think there's a clue to be found in the verses. Look at verse 17: "If they still refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector."

Well…well. How do we interpret this? How should we treat a pagan? How should we treat a tax collector? Well, how did Jesus treat them? "While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples" (Matthew 9:10). And, "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Matthew 9:13). That is how we are to treat tax collectors and sinners. We are to treat them the way Jesus treated them: with grace, forgiveness, deference, and welcoming. How much forgiveness are we to offer? Endless amounts. In other words, when it comes to other people, we are to forget about our rights. We have no rights to stand upon when it comes to others in the kingdom of heaven.

Being a Christian means that we no longer demand our rights. Being a Christian means we have no right to withhold forgiveness from the person who asks. Being a Christian means we have no rights. The greatest in the kingdom of heaven is the person who understands these things and puts them into practice. The greatest in the kingdom of heaven is the person who knowing their rights abandons them in favor of grace, in favor of reconciliation, in favor of healing and peace in the kingdom of God. The greatest in the kingdom of heaven is the one who knowing their own value abandons it in favor of preserving the lives of others. The greatest in the kingdom of heaven is the one who has a legitimate beef with another person and yet utterly forsakes their own demands for justice, their own claims to righteousness, and forgives–frequently, often, much.

It is unreasonable, frankly, that Jesus demands such hyperbolic levels of forgiveness, but that's what he does. 70×7. 77 times. Doesn't matter how we look at it, Jesus demands it. The kingdom demands it. The kingdom principle demands that we relinquish our claim to justice in favor of forgiveness, grace, and love. And frankly, there are some people we may have to wake up and forgive every day for the rest of our lives. Jesus demands it. Greatness demands it. Look what Jesus did. 

Forgiveness is not a matter of law or steps or procedures. Forgiveness is a matter of grace. It's a matter of the kingdom. Forgiveness is the ultimate abandonment of our rights. Forgiveness is our way of saying, "I relinquish my claim on your life. You owe me nothing. I make no demands of you." Forgiveness is our way of saying, "This is the way things operate in the kingdom of heaven. This is what life in the kingdom of God is all about, every day, all the time."

This is what it means to be a Christian.

The readings for June 22, 2010 are as follows: Numbers 16.20-35, Romans 4.1-12, Psalm 94, Matthew 19.23-20.

What I hope to do is provide a thought or two on the daily readings as a means of keeping myself accountable to the daily practice of reading from the Scripture.

Numbers 16.20-35

In the early days of the church, God still dealt with people this way. Remember Annanias and Sapphira? Paul wrote in Corinthians that some people even died because they at the Lord’s Supper with contempt for the Body of Christ.

I wonder if the Lord still deals with people in the church this way? I wonder if there are still people like Moses who will intercede on behalf of the people? Still, who knows exactly how the Lord works in the church that is the Body of Christ?

Yet somehow or other in this strange act of God’s vengeance Moses, God’s servant, was also justified and vetted. Strange.

Romans 4.1-12

I like that Paul speaks of the ‘promise with value.’ He does so backhandedly when he writes, “For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless.”  That means what God has promised us has value to those who pursue it by faith.

Frankly, I like that God has made promises to us and that all of the effort is on Him and not us.

We are blessed! It’s a wonderful thought to know that our blessedness comes not from achievement or abundance on our own part but from being forgiven by One who holds the power to forgive.

Psalm 94

O LORD, the God who avenges,
       O God who avenges, shine forth.

Rise up, O Judge of the earth;
       pay back to the proud what they deserve.

How long will the wicked, O LORD,
       how long will the wicked be jubilant?

There’s another beatitude in today’s reading in verse 12: “Blessed are those you discipline, Lord, those you teach from your law.” So two readings and, so far, two beatitudes. This Psalm is packed full and I want to note simply that the Psalmist has his eyes upon the Lord his fortress, his Rock.

Matthew 19.23-20

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, 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."

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?"

Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

Peter answered him, "We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?"

Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

What we find impossible, God does not. What we see as a massive chicane, God sees as an open road. What we cannot handle, God can. He’s talking here about rich and poor. The rich, he says, do not have a shot according to man’s ways and means and thoughts. Kingdom values are upside down: last are first, first are last. Who can make sense of it?

I suppose it is logical to ask, as Peter did when pointing out that they had in fact left all to follow Jesus: “What will there be for us?”

I suppose it is also logical to ask, as an American who has much and hasn’t been asked to give up much: “What about us? Are we too rich to enter the Kingdom? Are we mere fat men stuck in a needle’s eye waiting for judgment? What about us?”

What hope is there for even the poorest of Americans who live well above the standard of living of most of the poor in the world? Does anyone in America have a shot?

Well, who can be saved?

The Love of God in Christ

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

“But Paul’s vision of God’s love, rising here like the sun on a clear summer’s morning, shines through all the detail that has gone before…God’s love has done everything we could need, everything we shall need. As Paul continued to explore the meaning of the reconciliation that has taken place between God and human beings, he delves down deep into the depths of what God had to do to bring it about….When we look at Jesus, the Messiah, we are looking at the one who embodies God’s own love, God’s love-in-action.” (NT Wright, Paul for Everyone: Romans, pt 1 chapters 1-8, 86)

Paul has spent a great deal of space telling the world, telling the church at Rome, telling anyone who would listen exactly how terrible is the predicament of man. It is bad. One might say that if it was bad in Paul’s day, it might be worse now. I doubt it. All bad such as Paul is speaking of is relative to the age. That’s not to say bad is relative, it is to say that the nature of the depravity is relative to the age. I agree with many who think that there is something terribly amiss in this world, in our culture, and in the church in general. I am not so pessimistic to think it is beyond redemption-in fact, I think that might have something to do with Jesus and why he came in the first place.

That’s what I love about Romans 5:6-11. If one were to read Romans and suddenly stop at the end of Romans 4, one might be left despairing and hopeless although, to be sure, Paul has dropped hints and given us glimpses of the beauty of what God has been planning for humanity such as chapter 3:23-24: “…for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” And perhaps also this in chapter 5:1-2: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into the grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.” But these hints in these places are hints. Here in Romans 5:6-11, Paul blows the lid off the whole thing: Here’s what God did despite all that I have written about in the previous paragraphs! And we are stunned. We are stupefied. We are knocked down; thrown for a loop. Our entire world is shattered by these few sentences concerning God and his actions.

How can we not be bowled over by such statements? How can any single one of us, any of us, read such passages of Scripture as this and think that it means anything but what it says at face value? In the midst of all the wrath, in the midst of all the sin, in the midst of all the hate we have for God, in the midst of all the pride and boasting, in the midst of all the immorality, lying tongues, open grave throats, in the midst of all the convoluted ways we have chosen to live precisely because of our free-will-there is God. There is God! Standing at the dawn with his arms opened wide welcoming home all those who lived in the manner Paul described in chapter 1 is the God who loves. There is God! I don’t know about you, but when I read how God demonstrates his love (which leads me to understand how he really, truly feels about me) I am stunned into silence, humbled, humiliated; wrecked.

At just the right time God did the most inconceivable thing: No eye had seen, no ear had heard, no one could even imagine what God had planned for us; many still find it impossible to believe. Yet God was not even willing just to say ‘I love you.’ For God it was not enough to give lip-service to his great love for us: He demonstrated it. He made it visible. He made it concrete. He put his love on display for all to see. He so loved the world that he didn’t bother to ask anything of us. He so loved the world that he sent, essentially, himself. Paul will later express this love as such: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (8:31-32)

Have any of us plumbed the depths of love this God has for his rebellious children?

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians)

Is it possible to read Romans 5:6-11 and be anything but overwhelmed? Is it possible to read these verses and be anything but destroyed, thrown down, overwhelmed, unraveled, and undone? Is it possible to consider that God loves us quite in spite of ourselves and be anything but humiliated and humbled? And so Paul can rightly ask in these verses: If God loved us this much while we were yet sinners, then ‘how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life?’ Or if God demonstrated his love for us while we were yet rebellious, then how much more ‘having been justified by his blood, shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!’

I’ve been thinking about these verses because it seems to me that this God is rather amazing. Paul hasn’t written, in these particular verses, about the pride of men. He has written about how utterly confounding is this God who loves and forgives and heals and justifies and resurrects despite the worst man has to offer. “You see at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”

So there it is again: Hope! Forgiveness! Healing! The love of God towards a people who are decidedly against him. He continues, time and time again, to astound us and reverse all our conceptions of himself. We hate, and he loves us. We run away, he chases after us. We curse, he blesses us. We sin, he forgives us. We deny he exists, he shows Himself in Jesus. We kill him, he Resurrects! We can’t really make out this God can we? We cannot really, truly comprehend a God who goes out of his way to make himself real to us, who so desires that we be his people and that he be our God that he will be crucified to make the point and to make it possible, who is so wildly in love with us that he himself will deal with our sins instead of asking us to. He makes a way where no way exists. He creates a people where none is. He extends mercy where there is none.

I’ve been thinking about this God who loves us quite in spite of ourselves. I’ve been thinking about this God who loves us. I’ve been thinking about this God who thought it necessary to demonstrate his love to us, and did so in the flesh; in Jesus. If there is anything that dispels pride in humans, it is this amazing God who loves; the God of grace. This is the God we need to preach and share and adore. This is the God who saved us in Christ.

The best irony there is is that God loves us. In spite of all the worst that Paul wrote we are, in spite of all the devastation we manage to conjure up because of sin, in spite of our creative habit of inventing new ways to die and kill and run away from God-in spite of it all: He still loves us. The Hound of Heaven dogs our every step and won’t relent; pressing in on every side.

Dare we imagine a God, dare we submit to a God-this God of the Bible, fully come in Jesus Christ? Dare we love such a God who dared to love us?

Soli Deo Gloria!

“For all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God…” Paul to the Romans, chapter 3, verse 23

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life…” John the Apostle, chapter the third, 16th verse.

Today, my attention was drawn to this post at a certain ‘that which is not to be named’ blog. It is a serious blog post. It is seriously depressing. And it is seriously stupid. (I’m sorry if you had the unfortunate ‘pleasure’ of reading it. I wish I didn’t have to link to it, but you may need context for my words.)

There I said it: It is stupid. I’m sorry. I feel badly about writing it, but there is simply no other way to express my outrage and heart-brokenness.

I know that is harsh and mean and if anyone from ‘that side’ bothers to comment on this post they will most certainly point out that I ‘missed the point’ or that I am ‘ignorant of the facts’ or that I am ‘a stupid non-Christian who is so unconcerned about abortion and the plight of the unborn that I ought to be defrocked (even though I was never frocked to begin with) and run out of the church to the tune of tar, feathers, pitchforks, torches and labeled anathema.’ To be sure, ‘they’ will probably point out that Jesus does not approve of what I am about to write in this post because Jesus hates abortion.

There I said it: The post is stupid.

I am willing to run the risk that I might be labeled by others in order to point out the sheer stupidity of the post mentioned above.

Did I mention the post is stupid? It has been a long, long time since I read something so incredibly insensitive at a blog claiming to be a voice for the Kingdom of God. I’m sorry. I’m desperately trying to be objective and compassionate. Can’t. Can’t. Can’t. I have read the post four or five times now trying, searching, scanning for hope and I just cannot find it. The most hope we can expect out of this post is that we might enjoy some ‘hauntingly beautiful hymn-like‘ music. If an expectant single-mother or a suddenly pregnant husband and wife swimming in debt is debating her/their pregnancy right now read that post, she/they would be left despairing and hopeless; feeling nothing but condemnation.

There is nothing about the Gospel. Nothing about the hope of Christ. Nothing about the penal substitutionary atonement death of Jesus. Nothing about forgiveness of sins. Nothing about grace. Nothing about repentance. Nothing about the new heavens and new earth. Nothing about resurrection. For someone who writes so passionately, so wonderfully about the damnable offense that is abortion, I just cannot believe that there is no mention of hope for forgiveness. No mention of reconciliation. No mention of peace in Christ. No reconciliation. No ransom. No redemption. No substitution. Just condemnation. *Shakes head.*

For someone who so frequently castigates preachers and churches and bloggers for not including a (the) message of the Gospel, I cannot believe the best there is to offer in that particular post is that we might get some good music out of it at the end of the day. No mention whatsoever of how people who have had abortions can be forgiven and changed by the work of Christ Jesus. (As if a purely moralized America is equivalent to the Kingdom of God.)

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I’d like to begin by noting a few things for the careful reader of this blog. You may not agree entirely, but I’ll bet we are close. What I’d like to do, is offer the invitation here, at Life Under the Blue Sky, that was not offered at SOL. I begin, however, elsewhere:

  • It is wrong to steal.
  • It is wrong to have gay sex.
  • It is wrong to lie.
  • It is wrong to cheat.
  • It is wrong to fornicate.
  • It is wrong to commit adultery.
  • It is wrong to be racist.
  • It is wrong to get drunk.
  • It is wrong to be arrogant.
  • It is wrong to be prideful.
  • It is wrong to be gluttonous.
  • It is wrong to murder.
  • It is wrong to get an abortion.
  • It is wrong to lust.
  • It is wrong to lie about the preacher.
  • It is wrong to gossip.
  • It is wrong to abuse your spouse or children.
  • It is wrong to worship idols.
  • It is wrong kidnap.
  • It is wrong to disobey your parents.
  • It is wrong to swindle.
  • It is wrong to be greedy.
  • It is wrong to rape.

Yes. Yes. I could go on and on and on. I agree with the post at SOL: Abortion is a heinous, despicable, vile, disgusting offense. I don’t know anyone here who disagrees with that assessment. Those things mentioned above are wrong; they are sin, abortion included.

But it is not the unforgivable sin. Never has been. Never will be. In the crazy economy of the kingdom of God, a person could have 490 abortions in one day and repent and God, in his mercy and grace, would forgive that person because of Jesus Christ. I mean, why wouldn’t he since he expects us to do nothing less? I don’t think God expects people to do things that he himself isn’t willing to do. Thus, forgiveness.

Abortion is not an unforgivable sin.

None of the things I mentioned is the or an unforgivable sin.

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Friends, we have ample evidence in our world of all the things that are wrong with us and all the things we do badly and all the sin we have committed and all the idols we have worshiped and all the judgment we have invited into our lives and all the times we have crucified Christ all over again and again and again…

We have sufficient testimony to all the grievous destruction that our sin has wrought upon this earth.

We have enough people pointing out the sin that plagues the United States of America and Russia and England and Brazil and Antarctica and, well, you get the point.

Jesus did not tell us to go around moralizing did he? (This is not rhetorical.)

I’m not even sure he told us to go around pointing out sin, although, when the Gospel is properly preached I think that sin will necessarily be a part of the discussion. After all, it is terribly difficult to call folks to repentance if some mention of sin has not happened.

Jesus did tell us to go and preach the good news, the Gospel. “…He gave them power and authority to drive out demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick…So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the Good News and healing people everywhere” (Luke 9:12, 6).

We have good news! We are told to preach good news! Where’s the Good News in the SOL post? A musical legacy? For one who spends a lot of time criticizing the lack of Gospel in churches and pulpits, the post is decidedly barren of any hope and Gospel. Shall we merely criticize and condemn those who have had abortions or shall we offer them the hope of Christ Crucified and Resurrected?

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Is there any hope for those who were the subject of the SOL post?

I hate to write this post, but the bottom line is that I have decided that I will make it my life’s ambition to teach the grace of God every chance I get. I want to find 100,000 ways to say: God forgives you in and because of Jesus Christ. I hate writing this post because some might conclude that I am not opposed to abortion, but that would be to miss my point. I am very opposed to abortion, but I also realize that people sin and that it was the sick, weak, broken, hurting, desperate sinners, like me, whom Christ came to save, redeem, ransom, and atone for.

Jesus didn’t come to condemn; why do we think he has assigned us that role?

The author of the SOL post did a great job pointing out a great sin, but the problem with the post is simple: She gave us a great picture of a moralized America where everyone plays in an orchestra or knits flags and worships at the throne of conservative politicians. It’s a powerful picture, but it is not necessarily one Christ has drawn. It is a terrible problem, but there was no solution offered. What’s the point of ranting about the problem when there is no solution offered at all?

She didn’t give us a picture of the Kingdom of God. She gave us a picture of her moralized America where there is condemnation for every perpetrator and no hope whatsoever.

The author would have us condemn all who have had abortions and reject them as mere weak Americans who lack courage and are interested only in their bank balance and credit card statements. Christ would welcome them into his kingdom as the very ones he came to save precisely because they are greedy, murderous, and lack the intestinal fortitude to be self-controlled–because they are sinners! Well, of course they are. That’s normally what happens when people do not know or have rejected Christ.

So here I offer what the author of Slice did not offer: Hope. If you have ever had an abortion or over-spent on your credit cards, if you have filed bankruptcy because you have no self-control, if you are a coward, if you are hopeless and think you are running on empty, if you have no where to go and you think you are out of options–there’s hope. There’s grace. There’s forgiveness of your sins. Christ has payed the price for your sins. There’s Good News! Christ has not rejected you. There’s still hope! There’s still a message of peace and forgiveness to you because of Jesus. Christ will take away your guilt. Christ will heal your wounds. Christ will save you from the hopeless, endless cycle of condemnation and death.

You can join us, all us sinners here, all us imperfect, unkempt, undone, depressed, forgiven-by-God sinners here. We welcome you to join in the story that Christ is writing and has written. We welcome you to taste and see that His Grace is Good. We welcome you to be forgiven in the Name of Jesus.

“…and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ.” The same Paul, to the same Romans, chapter 3, verse 24.

“…For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” the same John the Apostle, the same third chapter, the 17th verse.

Friends,

Several years ago I wrote a book-length series of devotions that, at the time, I sent around to everyone in my email address book. All of the devotionals were based on my experiences as a dad to three boys (the oldest of which, at the time, was 10; he is now 15.) I never did anything with those devotionals except send them around to my friends. I had ambitions at one time to try and have them published, but never did anything about it. So I have decided to share them here at my blog. All told, there are 28 of these devotionals and I will publish them all here. I have also decided that I will be leaving them for the most part ‘at the time’. That is, I won’t be updating them to reflect the five years of so that have passed since their original writing. I will update some thoughts and grammar, but other than that, they are unchanged. I hope you enjoy. jerry

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In many ways I am fortunate to be who I am. There are days when I think I would be better off to be someone else, but most days I am content and have no regrets whatsoever. Undoubtedly the best part about being me is that God has blessed me with three sons.  What more could a man ask for?  “Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate” (Psalm 127:3-5).

Being a dad has taught me more about faith, Christianity and God than all of my college courses combined. I earned a degree from college by completing many courses of study, but for the last 10 [now 15!] years I have been earning my degree in manhood by being dad to three boys. This is no small task, as you will read about in the upcoming pages.

So why is it that being a dad is so much fun? As I said I have three boys. Could life be any more challenging, rewarding or full of adventure? I think not. Being a dad is teaching me a great deal about how God must feel most of the time. Sometimes when I am disciplining my children I can hear God talking to me. (My sons sometimes listen to me!)  God’s family is magnificent and grand. It is a motley group of children from every tribe and tongue under the sun. What a joy it must be for God to be Father to so many children, but also what a burden!

I say this because God also has to deal with those parts of being a dad that are not especially wonderful. After all, we are children, and more often than not we act childish and not childlike. There is a difference you know. We play childish games with one another and treat each other poorly. We deliberately disobey. We cry when we are hurt. As a dad, I have to be ready at all times for whatever shenanigans might happen upon our path for the day. In a sense, God, as Dad, is no different.

Sometimes as God’s children we break things.

Recently, my eldest son Jerry had one of his friends over to play. While the friend was here they were in the upper portion of our house [at the time we were living in the church parsonage] playing, when all of the sudden, the brainstorm came over them. They decided it would be the right thing to do to bounce on the beds.

Great Idea.

What is great is that they did not decide to bounce on Jerry’s bigger, sturdier bed. No, instead they went into Jacob and Samuel’s room and bounced on the smaller, older, repaired-several-times-over-the-past-five-years-beds. These beds are literally held together with a prayer and some sort of drywall screws, putty, and duct tape. They serve their purpose with great dignity when there is only one 20-35 pound baby boy sleeping snug under the covers for eight or nine hours a day. But let just one 40-50 pound child start jumping on those beds and the stress is too much for those bored out, gnarly old boards. The screws literally snap in half. Now, add another 40-50 pound child to the fun and you can see the dilemma faced by those gallant old bed frames.

All that we heard was a loud crashing sound accompanied by a sickening thud. Jacob’s bed had fallen into many pieces: A headboard, foot-board, and two side rails, a mattress, a mattress board, several screws, etc., etc. The beds were designed for sleeping, not Olympic caliber athletic competitions but what did the kids care?

When I got around to repairing the bed about 3 weeks after the incident, (go-ahead laugh) I made certain that Jerry was with me so he could help with the repairs. Have you ever had to find a solid place to put a screw where the wood has been screwed into 40 or 50 times prior? To be sure, it is not easy.  It’s like asking a sponge to hold a nail or Swiss cheese to hold mustard.

You might have guessed that this is not the first bouncing on the bed incident. The room was in tatters and I said to Jerry, “Son, I want you to look around the room. See the bed, broken apart? See the hard work we are doing to fix the bed that was broken by your violation of my rules? Do you see how much work I had to do to fix what you broke?” He did, and acknowledged his newfound wisdom.

Bouncing on beds is fun. We have probably all done it with the exception of that portion of you who never broke any of your parents’ rules. So when it comes to our faith does God ever think the same thing about us? “My child, look how much work I had to do to fix what you broke. Do you not think it would have been better if you had simply obeyed the first time around?” And the story goes on and on and God is still going around fixing all of the messes we manage to make, and cleaning up all of the milk we have managed to spill, and repairing the relationships we have managed to destroy, and chasing down all the pagans we have driven away in our zeal to keep our churches clean. “And behold, the Lord saw all the he had made and said, ‘It is very good.'” Then comes chapter 3.

What is really strange about the whole story though is this: Just as I required Jerry to help me fix the broken bed, so also does God require us to help him fix the things we have broken. So he tells us that when we sin against our brother we are to go and ask for forgiveness, and when someone comes to us in repentance we are to forgive. Or when we are estranged from a sister we must go and be reconciled to them. Or when we run away from home we must return in humility to the father who does his part by waiting for, watching for, and, finally, welcoming us. Those things we break he expects us to fix.

I can tell you from first hand experience and because I am a preacher that fixing those things we break is hard. It is complicated. It is time consuming. It is humiliating. And it’s all in a days walk.

“Therefore, this is what the LORD says: ‘I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there my house will be rebuilt. And the measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem,’ declares the LORD Almighty. “Proclaim further: This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘My towns will again overflow with prosperity, and the LORD will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem.’ ” (Zechariah 1:16-17)

What we ruin God repairs. Jerusalem was destroyed because of sin; it was rebuilt because of love. God certainly returned to Jerusalem, but he made the people do the back breaking labor or rebuilding it stone for stone. He provided a way for it to be rebuilt they provided the labor. There is always work that must be done. God will provide the means, we provide the sweat.

Being a dad has taught me that perhaps it is better if we obey the rules the first time around. Then we will not have to do the back breaking work of God’s reconstruction projects. (Understand that even the work of forgiveness is difficult.  Bouncing on beds is fun; broken beds are not fun to repair. We may enjoy breaking things; we may not enjoy the work God requires when He decides to get around to fixing them. I am not convinced that our Father cares for us to take three weeks to get around to it either.

If one of my followers sins against you, go and point out what was wrong. But do it in private, just between the two of you. If that person listens, you have won back a follower. But if that one refuses to listen, take along one or two others. The Scriptures teach that every complaint must be proven true by two or more witnesses. If the follower refuses to listen to them, report the matter to the church. Anyone who refuses to listen to the church must be treated like an unbeliever or a tax collector. I promise you that God in heaven will allow whatever you allow on earth, but he will not allow anything you don’t allow. I promise that when any two of you on earth agree about something you are praying for, my Father in heaven will do it for you. Whenever two or three of you come together in my name, I am there with you.

Peter came up to the Lord and asked, “How many times should I forgive someone who does something wrong to me? Is seven times enough?” Jesus answered: Not just seven times, but seventy-seven times!

This story will show you what the kingdom of heaven is like: One day a king decided to call in his officials and ask them to give an account of what they owed him. As he was doing this, one official was brought in who owed him fifty million silver coins. But he didn’t have any money to pay what he owed. The king ordered him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all he owned, in order to pay the debt. The official got down on his knees and began begging, “Have pity on me, and I will pay you every cent I owe!” The king felt sorry for him and let him go free. He even told the official that he did not have to pay back the money.

As the official was leaving, he happened to meet another official, who owed him a hundred silver coins. So he grabbed the man by the throat. He started choking him and said, “Pay me what you owe!” The man got down on his knees and began begging, “Have pity on me, and I will pay you back.” But the first official refused to have pity. Instead, he went and had the other official put in jail until he could pay what he owed.

When some other officials found out what had happened, they felt sorry for the man who had been put in jail. Then they told the king what had happened. The king called the first official back in and said, “You’re an evil man! When you begged for mercy, I said you did not have to pay back a cent. Don’t you think you should show pity to someone else, as I did to you?” The king was so angry that he ordered the official to be tortured until he could pay back everything he owed.

That is how my Father in heaven will treat you, if you don’t forgive each of my followers with all your heart. (Mat 18:15-35  Contemporary English Version)

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

Here are some thoughts on grace. I just cannot believe, at times, how abundant God’s grace is. Strangely enough, I think it is the church many times that is most afraid of this grace. My prayer is that the church will learn grace not only saves but that it empowers us to live freely. Too often the church condemns to hell those whom God has not condemned to hell. The church needs to recover the message of grace and soon or there will be no one left to enjoy what God has planned for those who love him, for those He will save through Christ.

There is a real sense in which grace is simply wasteful. That which is freely given can be abused, discarded, and rejected; grace can be scorned. The irony is that for some reason we are prone to reject that which we have no inherent claim to in the first place. It is the Lord who gets the bad end of this deal so to speak. Grace scarcely makes sense to the saved, much less the lost. Sadly, it is Christians, the very ones who are the beneficiaries of this saving grace, who misunderstand it the most. I am included.

I have been preaching now for roughly 13 years. I have a Bible college degree. I have been a Christian since I was 13. I have hardly missed a day of worship, a summer of church camp, or a day of Bible school since I was 5. Despite this remarkable list of credentials, I am not convinced that I had any inkling of what grace really means until about two months ago. It was there in plain sight yet I missed it. I have preached sermons about it. I have claimed to be saved by it. Yet for all this I was still oblivious. It was one thing to believe that I was saved by grace; however, it was something entirely different to believe that I continued to be saved by it. I always thought that God did the hard part and it was up to me to work it out with fear and trembling.

I call it salvation hokey-pokey. And it is terribly difficult to stay in.

The problem is that I do not believe the Enemy had any intention of allowing me to know what grace was let alone see it in is abundance, sufficient for salvation and sufficient for living. That is a fine game for him to play: keep people blind, oblivious, working, working, working. People who are so busy working out (earning) their salvation have very little time left to actually enjoy it let alone give praise to the one who qualifies them for it in Christ.. As such I did not even realize that I was trying to climb out of a hole that I could never climb out of. I was trying too hard and enjoying no rest. It is not easy constantly reminding oneself of their guilt and thrashing about inside that guilt trying to make amends that can never be made, trying to win approval already granted, trying to re-qualify for a race already qualified for on the basis of someone else’s effort. Sometimes it is much, much easier to live by rules and regulations than it is to live by grace. It is nearly impossible at times to believe that God is willing to continue loving me in spite of me or precisely because of me. In this sense, grace seems wasteful. Now I am beginning to understand Annie Dillard’s words, “Experiencing the present purely is being emptied and hollow; you catch grace as a man fills his cup under a waterfall.” (Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 82)

Needless to say, grace is now the prime-mover in my life. Whereas at one time grace was ‘there’, but not, now I cannot stop thinking about it. I see grace in places where I had not imagined it before. I keep finding myself talking about grace in sermons even when I had not planned on talking about grace. It is not nearly as difficult now to offer an invitation at the end of a sermon because now it doesn’t sound so formulaic, so contrived, so forced. Now invitations at the end, the beginning, or in the middle of a sermon are invitations not to a list of chores and a life of drudgery but rather to the freeing love of God both for salvation and being saved. Not only is this true, but even the manner in which I understand Scripture has changed. Again, I see grace where I had not seen it before.

Just this past weekend, I preached from Colossians 2:16-23. I took two extra weeks preparing for this sermon because I could not figure out what Paul was saying even if what he was saying was clear. The passage was not making sense until I remembered what Paul said at the beginning and end of the letter: Grace! (1:2, 4:18). It is rather simple to understand what Paul is saying in these verses (16-23) if they are approached with an understanding of grace: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthen in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (2:6-7, NIV). More than one commentator suggested these are the ‘theme’ verses of the letter. Not ironically, then, Paul next writes, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (2:8). This thought is continued in 2:16-23. His point, I believe, is that when we allow people to pile on us rule after rule after rule we are effectively and essentially declaring our independence from God’s grace. “These things are shadows…he has lost connection with the Head…they are destined to perish…they lack any value in restraining the flesh” (2:17, 19, 22, 23).

When we submit to those who impose such regulations we are declaring that Christ is not enough, that he is insufficient. This is not living in Christ as we received him. This is not living free. This is salvation by slavery which is no salvation at all. This passage, in my estimation, makes little sense apart from grace and 6 months ago it is likely I would have missed this altogether. In the grip of grace, preaching has taken on a whole new life, has a renewed stamina, and new vibrancy. Knowing and understanding grace has altered my objectives in preaching because preaching has taken on an entirely different meaning in light of grace.

Another aspect of my life that has been radically altered by grace is in my relationships with others. This has only just started working itself out in any tangible way, but this is of major importance in my work as a minister of Christ. In a word, I am free now to love without an agenda. Now I can be as much a giver of grace as a receiver. I can be free with everyone and demonstrate the same freeing grace that God has shown me. If grace happens to appear wasteful at the moment that is fine and presents no problems. I can love not because everyone is particularly lovable but because grace loves. Practically speaking, grace has not only freed me from judgment but it has freed me from judgmentalism and this, I should add, is as freeing as being set free. I did not even realize how judgmental I was until I learned that grace is not just for saving but also for living. People do not have to conform to my rules, my standards, my objectives in order for me to love them. My love for others is now proactive. It reaches out before being reached to. It is most remarkable being freed from the notion that others must live up to my standards of holiness and rightness in order to be considered God’s child. “Judging requires that you think yourself superior over the one you judge.” (William P Young, The Shack, 159) Colossians 2:16-23 taught me that if I am saved by grace, and so also everyone who is saved, then the only opinion of anyone that matters is that of Christ Jesus, and I am not Him.

There is an older couple who recently left the church I serve. Their departure has been terribly difficult for me because the rumor as to why they left evidently had something to do with the most recent church budget and a certain line that had something to do with my education expenses. I have put off visiting them for 4 months because I have had no idea what I should say and I did not want to say the wrong thing, and given the closeness of our relationship at one time and my typical prone-to-defensiveness, reactive nature, I was bound to say something wrong. What I have learned is that I can go to them without an agenda. I do not have to go and ‘win them back’ or ‘persuade them to return’. Nor do I have to think that they are somehow apostate because they have chosen to worship elsewhere—even if their reasons for doing so are strange. Instead, I can go to them and offer them my love regardless of the outcome of the conversation. I do not have to have a particular agenda in mind. I can love them, comfort them (the husband has cancer), encourage them, and pray for them. I can demonstrate grace because it does not matter if I am to blame or not. What matters is grace and it is grace that I will speak of when I visit them this week. “Let your conversations be always full of grace” (Colossians 4:6a).

I read a book last week called The Shack. This remarkable book contains a lot of dialogue, but one particularly short section near the end really rattled me.

“Mackenzie!” she chided, her words flowing with affection. “The Bible doesn’t teach you to follow rules. It is a picture of Jesus. While words may tell you what God is like and even what he may want from you, you cannot do any of it on your own. Life and living is in him and in no other. My goodness, you didn’t think you could live the righteousness of God on your own, did you?”

“Well, I thought so, sorta…” he said sheepishly. “But you gotta admit, rules and principles are simpler than relationships.”

“It is true that relationships are a whole lot messier than rules, but rules will never give you answers to the deep questions of the heart and they will never love you.” (William P Young, The Shack, 197-198 )

The hardest part of grace for me is God. I, after all, know exactly where I have been, what I have done, and those I have hurt. I know myself all too well and I figure that if I know myself this well then God can only know me better. What gets me is that he wants me to be saved. What gets me even more is that he went out of his way to make certain it was a reality. It is hard, very hard, unbelievably hard at times to think that not only do I not have to make up for my sins but that ultimately I cannot. If the enabling power of God’s grace has freed me to love people, and to preach graciously, how much more has it freed me from the guilt of sin? And yet it is this very guilt that I seem to be reluctant to let go of.

Yet there it is. Philip Yancey comments, “Grace means that no mistake we make in life disqualifies us from God’s love. It means that no person is beyond redemption, no human stain beyond cleansing…Grace is irrational, unfair, unjust and only makes sense if I believe in another world governed by a merciful God who always offers another chance…When the world sees grace in action, it falls silent.” (Philip Yancey, Rumors of Another World, 223) I think the reason why grace makes so much sense is because it makes no sense at all. “…God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to saved those who believe…we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks” (1 Cor 1:21b, 23, NIV). This is what the world finds so difficult to believe. It is also what the church finds so difficult to believe. We thus end up worse than those ‘visitors’ in Colossae who piled rule after rule upon the church, worse than the Pharisees who in their haste to make disciples of law and order instead made children of hell, worse than the Judaizers in Galatia who insisted on a “Jesus…and” plan of salvation. I suspect this has, based on this evidence, always been a problem among those God calls.

I, no less than anyone else, struggle with grace. But I am learning. I am learning that God will not fail to finish in me the good work he began. The church needs to awaken to this message of God’s grace that is testified to abundantly in Scripture. Grace has taught me that God loves me and wants to save me. The question is whether I will let him do so or not, and on his terms. Grace may be difficult to understand. It may be wasteful by human standards. At the end of the day, however, we have nothing else to cling to. I am learning each day to trust that God loves me and His word to us in Christ that by grace we have been saved through faith. I am learning to trust that if in the course of writing a paper or a sermon I forget to capitalize all personal pronouns relating to God, he will not hate me and hold it over my head until I confess. I am learning that grace covers a multitude of sins. I am learning to trust Him for that which I cannot trust myself. Living free is far better than living in guilt. It frees me to love without an agenda. It frees me to be loved.

Annie Dillard wrote, “So many things have been shown me on these banks, so much light has illumined me by reflection here where the water comes down, that I can hardly believe that this grace never flags, that the pouring from ever renewable sources is endless, impartial, and free.” (Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 69)

Soli Deo Gloria!

John 21:15-25 (90 Days with Jesus, Day 90)

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

I don’t know that this section should be called ‘the reinstatement of Peter.’ That sounds way too deep for what happened in Peter’s life. Maybe something like the reassurance of Peter is a better way to headline this section. Whatever the case, on thing is for sure: Peter jumped into the water before he was forgiven.

This is the last meditation in the 90 Days with Jesus series. I have enjoyed working my way through John’s Gospel even though it took much longer than I had hoped. It is the story of forgiveness. Really, that is about it. There’s a lot that can be read into it. There’s a lot of minutia that can be squabbled about. But at the root of this story is one of forgiveness. Out of that forgiveness grows an enabling and empowering conviction that life is about only One: Jesus. The forgiveness we have in Christ defines us. It molds us. It creates in us a life that is decidedly about Jesus as we continue to grow and become more and more like Jesus. Peter would be among the first to learn this. Out of this conviction concerning Jesus grows all else in the Christian’s life.

In keeping with the theme of these meditations that John’s Gospel is about Jesus, I’ll make a couple of observations.

First, Jesus asks Peter three times: “Do you love me?” First he asks him, ‘do you love me more than these?’ I suppose this could mean, “Do you love me more (quantitatively) than the rest of the disciples do?” That is, is your love for me greater than, say, James’s love for me. It could be this, but maybe it is something else. It could also mean, “Do you love me more than you love everything you see here?” That is, do you love me more than 153 fish, more than boats, nets, more than the bread, the fish, more than the other disciples, more than success, more than anything else you can see? I think Jesus asks Peter this question three times because Peter denied Jesus three times. Eventually, Jesus will tell Peter that if he really loves Jesus his love will be tested by the threatening and taking of his own life in the same manner Jesus’ life was taken: Crucifixion.

But here’s the thing: Do you really love me more than these? If you do, then it won’t be a task to feed my sheep and take care of my lambs. If we truly love Jesus, loving people is no chore. But I think loving Jesus comes first. Love me. Love me. Love me. Jesus is clearly telling Peter that there will be a lot of thing in life competing for his affection and attention. Hey, all of the sudden Peter was a successful fisherman: 153 fish is nothing scoff at! But did Peter love Jesus more than these? I don’t know what Jesus pointed to specifically, but I do know this: ‘Me’ is specific; ‘these’ is not. Our love has a concrete, objective object. The object of our affection is not the randomly scattered, and abundantly supplied, ‘theses’ of the world but the One Resurrected Lord Jesus. The question is appropriate for us too: Do we love Jesus more than these? Is there anything we count more than Jesus?

Second, Jesus says that Peter will glorify God by the way he dies. It is hard when reading this not to recall what took place in chapter 12 of this Gospel:

Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. (John 12:23-29)

So imagine you are Peter, you are happy to see the Lord Jesus. You have a great fishing expedition. You eat breakfast. You take a walk on the beach. Then Jesus drops this on you: “Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’” Just exactly how do the sheep get fed because Peter dies in a certain way or because Peter dies at all? Whatever the case may be with that, Jesus told Peter in no uncertain terms: Someday you will die—quite in the same way that I died—and your death will also bring glory to God—quite in the same way that mine did. (It’s not really complicated when you compare the Greek of chapter 12 and the Greek of chapter 21.) “Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.”

Would that we could (would?) live and die in such way that brings honor and glory to God! The gist here is what I mentioned above: Be prepared in this life to give an account of the love you claim to have for Me. Be prepared to live and die in such a way that demonstrates you are more interested in Me than these. Be prepared to live (next Jesus says, ‘follow me’) and die in such a way that demonstrates you are more interested in God’s glory than you are in your own. It’s a tall order and it is one that I suspect a number of Christians, in a number of Churches have thoroughly failed to grasp in their attempts to live the American Dream and be Christians (I don’t know if the two are as compatible as some would have us believe). I think it is quite fair for Christians to consider well if they are living and preparing to die in such a way that brings glory to God. The bottom line is this: Peter knew from that day forward what he had to look forward to if he continued to follow Jesus: Peter knew that some day he would die because of his faith and confession in/of Christ. Are you similarly prepared? If Jesus told you, “Some day you will die because of me,” would you continue to follow Jesus? Peter did. I suspect that is how sheep are fed by Peter.

Finally, Jesus tells Peter: “Follow Me!” In fact, he tells him twice: “You must follow me!” There can be no compromising. This is not a matter of if, or will, or might. It is a matter of fact: “You must follow me!” Now, what we experience in the world of American Christianity is, normally speaking, anything but this following of Jesus. It’s nothing new: Paul had to write to the Corinthian church on such matters:

“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:10-12)

People have always had issues with the ‘who’ of ‘follow me.’ But what would happen if the church would, each day, every single person who confesses Jesus as Lord, take up their cross and follow Jesus? Isn’t this what Jesus is telling Peter? He just finished telling Peter, “You are going to die like me.” Now he says, “follow me.” In other words, “You are going to take up your cross and follow me.” What would happen, again I say, if every Christian truly lived this way? What if our sole ambition was not ourselves, not ‘these’, not dreams, not visions, but simply, profoundly, sincerely, the taking up of the cross and the following of Jesus? I know it sounds complicated, but I don’t think it is. Jesus is saying to Peter, “Don’t be afraid to go only where I went.” Life will be difficult, but keep the pace: Follow me. ‘What about that person over there?’ Don’t worry about him, follow me. Don’t look to the left, the right, or behind, side to side, up to down, keep your eyes fixed on Me. Follow Me. You Must follow Me. Or, this way:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. It’s not strange that the book should end this way. It’s not strange that Jesus should demand such allegiance. What is strange is the manner in which we have failed and the ‘Jesus’ we have followed. But if we follow Jesus, we follow the Jesus that John wrote about: The Lamb of God who takes away the Sins of the World, the King of Israel, the One Moses wrote about, the One Isaiah Saw, the Resurrection and the Life, the Way, the Truth and the Life, The I Am, The Living Water, the Bread of Life, The Word. We are not free to follow a Jesus of our own invention. We are free to follow the Jesus of Scripture. We are not free to determine the manner in which we follow: There is only one way to follow Jesus and that is in such a way that brings glory to the Father. This might mean a life of death or a death of life. But it always means that our sole purpose is to Love Jesus more than anything or anyone else and in so doing we will bring glory to the Father as Jesus did. Follow me, he says, all the way to the cross!

The forgiveness of God enables and empowers us to do these things. Forgiveness is not given so that we can live how we want to live. Forgiveness is given so we can live how Jesus wants us to live: In close fellowship (loving), in close suffering (glorifying), and close proximity (following) to Himself. It’s no easy thing to surrender ourselves to such a life.

I hope you have been blessed by this rather long series of meditations on John’s Gospel. I am sorry it took so long to finish them, but your patience is appreciated. I have thoroughly enjoyed studying this Gospel so intensely for so long. The only problem is that I was in the library at the Seminary last week and I noticed that there are about a thousand books on John’s Gospel alone. I have a lot of work to do and I realize that what I have written is in no way close to comprehensive. I could probably start at the beginning and do it all over again. Still, I hope that someone has been blessed in some way because of this work. I hope hope is that God was/is/will be glorified by this work.

Be blessed and a blessing. I hope soon to start a new series of meditations from Paul’s short letter to the Colossian Church. I am about half-way through my exegesis of chapter 1. When I have finished chapter 1, I will start writing. Until then, I remain yours for the glory of God alone.

Jerry

Friends,

I have been hearing this story about the ESPN personality who evidently forgot her lines. I read this at Christian Post:

Christian groups protested ESPN last week when they felt it was slow to take disciplinary action against Jacobson for her anti-Christian tirade on Jan. 11 at a roast in Atlantic City, N.J. There, Jacobson, who was reportedly intoxicated during the event, made such remarks as “F*** Notre Dame,” “F***Touchdown Jesus,” “F***Jesus.”

Both ESPN and Jacobson have called the behavior inappropriate and inexcusable and apologized for the incident. The anchorwoman was suspended for one week.

But some Christian groups say the temporary suspension was not enough and have asked for her to be fired or suspended for one year.

The Christian Anti-Defamation Commission was working to hold a meeting of pro-family leaders and ESPN’s executive leadership. Mike Soltys, executive vice president of Communications for ESPN, however, said no more meetings will be held and no more disciplinary actions will be taken against Jacobson.

“We are very disappointed with ESPN’s response to our legitimate concerns,” said Dr. Gary L. Cass of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission in a released statement Tuesday. “Christians must respond or expect more of this kind of blasphemy in public in the future.”

Cass was also not moved by Jacobson’s on-air apology.

“Only three of the 13 sentences were in any way even slightly apologetic,” said Cass.

In her apology before co-hosting the “First Take” program, Jacobson said she has learned from her mistakes and asked the public to forgive her.

So….there are some of ‘us’ who have time to protest? This is like that Kathy Griffen thing: Why do people care? Seriously, if the Son of God stood by, silent as a lamb before its shearers, what right do Christians have to protest when people say things like this?  Did anyone from Notre Dame show up to protest?

Here’s the question: Why do Christians expect people who are not Christians to act as if they were? I really don’t understand the shock, the outrage, and the protests.  I don’t understand the demands for satisfaction. My goodness, people say all sorts of things when they are drunk! I’m more offended when the president, who claims to be a Christian, declares, without any Biblical sanction or justification, that Jews, Muslims, and Christians all worship the same God than I am when an ESPN personality or Kathy Griffen, neither of whom are Christians, say things about Jesus.

I expect people like Dana Jacobson and Kathy Griffen to blaspheme. Cass said: “Christians must respond…” Uh, why? I guess we must respond because he feels we don’t have better things to be doing with our time, our resources, and our energy.

We can expect more of such blasphemy whether we respond or not. Does this man not understand the nature of the world in which we live? Does he not understand the nature of the Beast? Does he not understand the nature of sin? Really? Are Christians called to sit around with radar-like ears picking up on every single utterance of offense that anti-Christs can muster within themselves? Seriously?

“You will be my protest leaders, blasphemy detectors, and caller-outers in the US, at ESPN, at the Emmies, and yes to the ends of Hollywood and Vine.” Somehow that just doesn’t seem quite right to me.

“Several people told me last week mistakes do not define us. It is how we respond to those mistakes that does. I believe that,” she continued. “I hope you can forgive me and allow my future to define me.”

In earlier apologies, the “First Take” co-host said she respects all religions and did not mean anything derogatory by her “poorly chosen words.” ESPN affirmed that the comments were delivered in the context of Notre Dame football and its “Touchdown Jesus” icon.

While Jacobson thanked ESPN for giving her the opportunity to return to the job, the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission is calling people of faith to contact ESPN and “register their disgust.”

You know, I had never even heard of this woman until Christians started raising a stink about it and…WE INTERRUPT THIS REGULARLY SCHEDULED BLOG POST TO BRING YOU THIS SPECIAL BULLETIN:  THIS JUST IN: CHRISTIANS IN IRAQ AND IRAN AND INDIA AND THE MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA AND KOREA AND CHINA HAVE BEEN KILLED FOR THEIR FAITH AND THEIR CONFESSION OF JESUS CHRIST AS LORD.

Meanwhile, back in the the Land of God’s Chosen People there was a protest at the funeral of Heath Ledger and at the studios of ESPN.

I think I will call the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission and register my disgust with them: They are the ones irritating me. I would think Notre Dame who be a little disgusted too, but then again, the way they have played football lately I suppose they are trying to keep a low profile. (PS–Ty Willlingham got a raw deal!)

Well, Ms Jacobson, I forgive you. If that is what you want, fine. It’s yours. After all, it wasn’t my Name you blasphemed. (There might be Someone else you need to take this up with before long.) Here’s to your future, which I am certain will define you as one of the great Sports Commentators of all time (or whatever you do at ESPN). Good Luck, and godspeed!

I’m NOT saying that what she did was right, but she is free to say it. I’m not saying she should have said it, or that anyone should have listened. I am saying that all this nonsense about Christians being treated fairly, about Christians protesting anything, or crying about blasphemers’ choice of words is, in my estimation, a wee bit juvenile and beside the point.

Sincerely,

jerry

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven for in the same way they treated the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)

“When they hurled insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23)

Don’t you think we should too?

John 20:11-23 (90 Days with Jesus, Day 87)

But Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

“Paul’s insistence that we participate in the same resurrection as Jesus is congruent with Jesus’ actions and words to his assembled disciples on the evening of his resurrection when he ‘breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ (John 20:22).’ ‘The Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead’—that’s Paul’s phrase in Romans 8:11—is the same Spirit that Jesus breathed on them. Jesus’ followers live resurrection-formed lives, not by watching him or imitating him or being influenced by him, but by being raised with him. It’s formation-by-resurrection. There’s an interesting echo of the Creation story in this. The word John uses for Jesus’ action in breathing the Holy Spirit on them—emphusao—is the same verb used in Genesis 2 for God’s breathing the ‘breath of life’ into the human form he had just made, resulting in a ‘living being’ (verse 7). What God did in Genesis, Jesus did with the disciples—breathing the Spirit, bringing life, bringing resurrection life. The parallelism of the two texts—Creation and Resurrection—suggests that they are similarly basic. Resurrection is no more an add-on to human life than Creation is an add-on to that Adamic lump of clay. It’s life itself—the God-breathed, Jesus-breathed beginning of who we are and who we become by the Holy Spirit, the Holy Breathing.”—(Eugene Peterson, Living the Resurrection, 108-109)

It was evidently not a time to be crying. Twice Mary was asked, “Woman, why are you crying?” ‘They’ asked her and so did Jesus who was standing there, even though she did not recognize him at first. She thought he was a gardener and that if he had taken Jesus away she would go, get him, and carry him back to the tomb. She must have been a strong woman. (*Smile*)

Jesus didn’t do any tricks to awaken her senses to who he was. He simply spoke: “Mary.” I recall this: “The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” (John 10:3-6) Seems to me that this is a perfect illustration of those words: “Mary.” All she heard was his voice saying her name and she knew exactly who she was speaking to.

I do not believe we will mistake his voice for another’s. But I also do not think that his appearance to her was simply to satisfy her longing or to assuage her fear or sorrow. He had work for her to do, and in order for her to do that work, she had to stop clinging. I like how Don Carson paraphrases verse 17 so that we might understand why Jesus told Mary to stop clinging: “Stop touching me for I have not yet ascended to my Father—i.e. I am not yet in the ascended state, so you do not have to hang on to me as if I were about to disappear permanently. This is a time for joy and sharing the good news, not for clutching me as if I were some jealously guarded private dream-come-true. Stop clinging to me, but go and tell my disciples that I am in the process of ascending to my Father and your Father.” (The Gospel According to John, 644)

And she obeyed: “I have seen the Lord!” No more tears for Mary. There was work to be done and she did not wait to do it later.

______________

Then Jesus appeared to his disciples who were hunkered down behind closed and locked doors. He said to them, “Peace be with you.” They too were full of joy. Jesus shows them his wounds—his hands and side—indicating that this One standing in their midst was the Lord who had been crucified. The wounds are the unmistakable evidence that He was the One who had been crucified. And he was not just another Joe who had been hung on a tree: The wound in his side distinguished him from all others.

He repeats his blessing of peace. “I have told you these things, so that you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” “Our belief in God, historic as it is, is a belief in spite of history. Those who draw their belief from God’s treatment of them or their time must collapse in the black hour…What we must know is, which is destined to conquer, which is on its way to conquer, however unmarked, which has the reversion of the world, and has it on the guarantee of the Ruler of a world overcome already.” (PT Forsyth, The Justification of God, 192-193) Jesus stood among them as the One who conquered and He pronounced upon them the blessing of peace. If we have peace through the Resurrected Lord, then have we not peace indeed? This world was conquered before Christ ever set foot on it, before he ever felt the cold steel in his wrists, before the tomb was destroyed. History is against the Christian, but Christ pronounces peace in their midst, and in spite of history. 

Jesus sent Mary to the disciples and now he tells his disciples that they too are being sent. And his commission here is this: “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not for them, they are not forgiven.” That is a lot of power, a lot of authority, and a terrible burden. But he gave it to them and they obeyed.

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I have not unpacked a lot of the minutia concerning these verses. I’ll leave that to others. Allow me to consume a few more lines of space here to summarize and crystallize these thoughts:

First, he told Mary to go the disciples and tell them some things. Now whatever else we might say about all the minutia of these verses, this one thing is without question: Jesus Himself determined the content of Mary’s message (and, for that matter, the disciples’ message). Sadly, I think we miss this in the church today. I think we are far too content to think that we know perfectly well what we ought to preach or say or teach (probably because we think we know what others want to hear, or we haven’t listened to Jesus, or because we think his message weak and untrustworthy, etc.) when all along the content of our message is given us by Christ Himself. When Mary went to them, she told them, “I have seen the Lord” and she told them what Jesus had told her to say.

Jesus had a lot of confidence that Mary would do exactly what he told her to do, and it is a testimony to her that she was faithful in doing so. In the church today, we need to be obedient too. We need to make certain that the message we deliver is the message that Jesus told us to deliver. That message comes from His Word.

Second, John says that “Jesus stood among them” and declared to them “peace.” Well this sort of cinches it doesn’t it? There are many folks who are claiming a message of peace, but it seems to me that the only message of peace there will be is the one declared by Christ himself as He Himself is among us. We can simply dispense with the notion that there will be any sort of peace in this world apart from Jesus. It is Jesus who declares peace: The ultimate Shalom!

Third, Jesus gave the disciples an incredible amount of authority. Forgiveness of sins is no small thing and not something that we should mock. This responsibility, given to the disciples, is of immense importance to us. These disciples went out, armed in the authority of Christ to preach His message of forgiveness. That is, he told them the content of their message: Forgiveness.  

They went out armed with a message that says this: There is forgiveness in no other place, from no other person, but Jesus. They had the message of forgiveness and if they didn’t forgive people then who could? Is Jesus then limiting where forgiveness can be had? I think He is. I think at this point he is laying a direct assault on all other forms of religious expression. Here Jesus is nullifying the message of any other ‘prophet’. Here Jesus is saying: Forgiveness can be had only through this message you will proclaim in my Name. (See Hebrews 1:1-4.)

But there is one final thing. This message of Resurrection, peace, and forgiveness begins with a simple premise and that is this: We are dead, we are at war, we are sinners. There is no need to proclaim “He is alive” if we are not dead. There is no need for “Peace” among us if we are not at war. There is no need for “Forgiveness” if we are not sinners. In this message, is a proclamation about humanity; a message we need to heed. There is no need for Jesus to send his disciples as the Father sent him if, in fact, all already belong to him or if, in fact, he doesn’t care about them. But they do not, and he does. So he sends his disciples out among the dead, out among the warring, out among the unforgiven. And we declare his message, only.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

I realize that I am running a great risk posting the comments I am about to make. I realize well that it is not wise to cross certain Defenders of the Faith in the world of blogs. I realize full well the power of blogdom to ruin lives and to be judge, jury, executioner, prosecuting attorney all in one. But I recall that somewhere in the Scripture that Christians claim to live by, we were told to be full of grace. Oh, I have no doubt that we are to make judgments about one another to a certain degree (see 1 Corinthians 5:12-13). But I think it is this very Scripture that bugs me a little when it comes to some comments that I have been reading about a certain preacher named Tim Reed and a certain blogger named Ingrid Schlueter.  

Evidently, there have been some barbs tossed back and forth between the two. Also included in the mix is Ken Silva at Aprising Ministries. Oh, and there’s also a rather lengthy post here at Old-Truth. I have a couple of thoughts about this since Tim Reed and I share a similar heritage in the so-called Restoration Movement churches. In fact, I went to college just up the road from the church Reed preaches among.

First, let it be stated that I am in no way defending Reed’s ‘drive-by’ comments or his use of derogatory language to designed to insult Ingrid, Ken or the author of Old-Truth. If in fact Reed is saying such things, well, he should be ashamed of himself. I preach in a Restoration church and I am only too aware of how difficult it has been in the history of our denomination to get our message across to people and to be accepted as sincere disciples of Jesus within the evangelical world. The last thing our denomination needs is set backs. I fully understand Reed’s point, but I think there is a better way to dialogue with those whom we disagree. So, I am not defending him in that respect.

Second, on the other hand, neither am I calling out Schlueter or Silva or Old-Truth for pointing out his (Reed’s) apparent lack of class (although, to be sure, I don’t see where in Scripture a lack of class is considered a sin or even name calling. I did read something about unwholesome talk, but none of them are quoting Scripture). It is one thing entirely to point out that some bloggers are beyond arrogant in their presumptuousness and in their judgmentalism. It is something else to merely ridicule them with salty language and other verbiage that does not befit a minister of the Word of God; Reed should hold himself to a higher standard even if he is a self-proclaimed watchdog of the watchdogs. Old-Truth is right that Reed doesn’t advance his cause by being immature. I have read some of Reed’s blog posts and he seems to be rather intelligent–someone with whom I could have a great conversation about aspects of the church that need to be changed, corrected, or otherwise done away with entirely. For that matter, the four I have mentioned so far have a lot to talk about in this regard. However, and here’s the point…

What is wrong with this picture? Ingrid at Slice of Laodicea has, in my opinion, really stooped to a new low in her recent post concerning Reed. I don’t know how she found it, but she dug up some post that Reed evidently made at some Gaming message board. I seriously wonder how much effort went into digging up the quote–which is a rather ridiculous quote from someone claiming to be a minister of truth. But what is worse is that she says, “If you want a taste of the new pastors today, here you go.” She then reproduces the quote.

Why?

Here’s the rest of her post sans the quote by Reed (I have linked it, so you can check it yourself):

A pastor, friends. He calls himself a pastor who sends out “vulgar missives” where he insults another with a claim of having had sex with his opponent’s mother, using what he calls “anatomically correct terms.” I understand Pastor Tim Reed’s vulgar attacks on me and Ken Silva in a far clearer light after reading this. We now have men in the pulpit who are showing by their fruit that they are enemies of Jesus Christ. Why are they enemies? Because they embrace the moral filth that Jesus died to save us from. Those who love Christ and His true church will warn about “pastors” like this.

Now, she is writing about one person, one man, one pastor, one preacher, and yet she says, ‘We now have men in the pulpit who are showing by their fruit that they are enemies of Jesus Christ.” No, you don’t know what men in the pulpit are doing. You have no idea what it means to stand in a pulpit week after week and preach the Gospel. You sit behind a mic or a computer monitor and contend for your versionof the truth from the relative safety of your home or office (did I read that you don’t even consider yourself an evangelical Christian; yet you judge it? Did I read that you criticize Britany Spears and the Church that decided to write her letters to tell her about Jesus? Can you have it both ways?) You have a man who has made some poor decisions with respect to his language and the manner in which he uses it. You don’t have men who have somehow failed in their calling. It is a terrible thing you have done to judge any or all of the ‘new pastors’ because of one man’s transgression (s).

Men, friends. Is ‘pastor’, ‘elder’, ‘apostle’, ‘prophet’ Slice really saying that the only menwho are in pulpits nowadays are those who are enemies of Christ? Is the Watcher saying that those who are imperfect by her standards are disqualified from preaching the Good News? (I wonder where Paul the Apostle would be in her book. He calls his former way of life in Judaism something equivalent to ‘crap,’ Philippians 3; and in another place told certain Judaizers that he wished they would emasculate themselves. Have you read Scripture and the language it uses?) Is Slice really suggesting that Reed does not love Christ because he insulted her? Is she really suggesting that the Lord’s servants stand and fall before her judgment? To his own master does a servant rise or fall! There is a big difference between taking someone aside and quietly rebuking them and telling them to grow up and something else entirely to call their salvation, which the Lord Jesus himself secured at the Cross, into question.

I like much of what Slice of Laodicea has to say. I visit the blog two or three times a day looking for updates and quotes. I enjoy reading much of what Pastor (I don’t know if the ordained Silva preaches behind a pulpit each week or not) Ken Silva has to say at Apprising Ministries. I don’t know Old-Truth (or whether [he] has a pulpit either) so I don’t know if I like [his] stuff or not. But I have a couple of questions for the three who operate these blogs and a couple questions for all parties involved.

First, to Slice. Are you now without sin that you have the right to cast judgment on Reed? Do you really have the right to cast the first stone? Are you really suggesting that you are the ultimate arbiter of who does and does not love Christ? By whose measuring rod do you make such a decision?

Second, to Pastor Ken. Because you seem so well acquainted with the Word of God: Isn’t it a blessing to be insulted for the Name of Christ? Didn’t Jesus say, “Blessed are you when people say all sorts of things against you because of me?” Are we now to return insult for insult? Or shall we now bless when we are cursed?

Third, to Old-Truth. Do you think that you have advanced the cause of Christ by printing the name of the Church that Reed preaches at and judging his entire denomination? Do you think that all the people whom he leads in worship are somehow guilty of his infractions; his sins? Do you think that his entire denomination is somehow demeaned by his behavior? (We should be happy that not all Baptists are guilty of the sins of Baptist preachers, and not all Presbyterians are guilty of the sins of Presbyterian preachers, etc.)

Fourth, to Tim Reed. Do you really think you are helping your cause by acting so immature? Do you really think you have a defense by using the language you use? I understand well the desire to connect with people at their level, but the sinners with whom Jesus ate came to Him and enjoyed His company. He elevated them; they did not lower Him. Maybe you should try to raise the standard of your conversation.

Fifth, where is the grace? Seriously. This is one of the main issues I have with all of blogdom–and especially this case in particular. I wonder what it is that the people who are not Christians who read these blogs of Christians think about Christians and Christ after they read these blogs? I can’t believe Reed publicly says the things he says about Ingrid, Ken, and OT. I can’t believe they have responded with nothing better.

Sixth, are there not people dying every day and going to hell? Is there not something better we can do with our blogs? Seriously?

What is all this hatred? (That’s what it is.) What is all this questioning of someone’s credibility or someone’s standing before Christ? What is all this childish name-calling? Why can’t there be honest, adult conversation and dialogue? Look, I’ll debate any of these people, for example, about Harry Potter books any day of the week because I happen to think they (at least Slice’s author) are wrong about them. On the other hand, Slice’s author happens to think I am wrong too. Or, I’ll debate the (de)merits of the Reformed doctrine of election (or any other aspect of TULIP Calvinism) which is absolutely horrifying and unbiblical. But just because I disagree with those who hold to it doesn’t mean we are not together in Christ. Nevertheless, isn’t there room for adult conversation? Isn’t there room for opinions? Isn’t there room for love? Shouldn’t all of our conversations be salted with Grace? Are any of us so without sin that we have a right to sit in the sort of judgment that calls one person who preaches the Gospel an ‘enemy of Christ’? Is that really what grace is about? Are either of us lost because we do or do not read the right books? Seriously, is there any room for grace among these watchdog types? I think God’s grace is enough for us all, but also think that we’d rather be right than for God to be Justified and Justifier. I really don’t think Christians like grace at all. For all we talk about being saved by it we sure don’t want to live by it when it comes to our theological mountaintops. We’ll die for our Calvinism, but nor our Arminian brothers and sisters. Sad. How did I hear it said? The Church is the only army in the world that shoots its own wounded. Sad.

Jesus said one time, ironically on the night he was betrayed, the night before he died for all our sins, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Jesus could have mentioned a lot things in that space, but He chose to tell us, over and over again, to love one another. Well, if we demonstrate that we are his disciples when we love one another then whose disciples do we demonstrate ourselves to be when we hate each other? Here’s how Old-Truth ends [his] post:

 It’s interesting that a foundational slogan of the Restoration Movement of which Tim Reed subscribes is “In Essentials, Unity. In Non-essentials, Liberty. In All Things, Charity“. That kind of talk sounds good on paper, but when somebody doesn’t agree with where the essentials begin and end, then charity is quickly abandoned in favor of the pursuit of a pound of flesh. In the end – Tim Reed’s treatment of Christians who have differing convictions than his own, will likely prove to be his undoing. Aside from the obvious pastoral incompatibilities, his methods bring a more revealing spotlight on his own public behavior than on the behavior of those he calls-out, name-calls, and watches.

This is a danger that I think was understood early by the likes of Dan Kimball who is an Emerging Church advocate with similar complaints as Tim Reed, yet Dan seems to be able to eliminate his own conduct as a potential point of focus for his opponents. The Dan Kimball types do this through actually trying to follow the bible’s pastoral directives (ie: being self-controlled, kind to everyone, and not quick-tempered or arrogant). So while I usually disagree with Dan and the Emerging Church, I can at least listen to his views and appreciate his genuine attempt at humility. Conversely, I would venture to say that there are a good number of people who no longer even hear what Tim Reed is protesting against, because they can’t get over the glaring lack of the fruits of the Spirit that accompany his protest. (Emphasis mine.)

I think that is precisely Reed’s complaint. It’s not only Reed who cannot tolerate other people’s opinions, but it is the people he is complaining against who cannot, indeed, will not, tolerate others’ opinions. Honestly, there is guilt here on both sides. Reed, to be sure, needs to mature a little (or a lot). He needs to speak with no unwholesome language only those things which are useful for building up the Body of Christ. The rest need to speak the truth in love. All need grace.

None of this is doing anything to advance the cause of Christ or to build His Kingdom. In my opinion, both sides are doing all they can to tear apart the very fabric of that which Christ died for: Oneness, Unity, Love, and Truth; the salvation of the World; the Glory of God; the Exaltedness of Jesus Christ; the Triumph of the Lamb! If we cannot speak the truth in love, then we are mere legalists who have left no room for grace. And if we have love without truth, then we are mere sentimentalists. I’d sure like to see Bro. Reed use his creative energies to uplift people instead of tear them to shreds with his sarcasm and language. I’d like to see Slice and Silva use their considerable influence to train up people in the way they should go with grace and love instead of not.

jerry

ps–I know I’m setting myself up for a dismal day with this post. But I cannot help it. I’m not trying to pick a fight with anyone, but I’m trying to bring some peace to this part of the Body of Christ. I’m not saying I’m perfect; I’m saying none of us are. There is so much hatred in the world that I wonder why anyone would want to find refuge in Christ, let alone the church. If this is what the Church is to people, why would anyone want to be a part of it? There’s more love and grace in Elk’s meetings or AA meetings or a Major League Baseball game.

I’m calling on both sides to fix this publicly. There needs to be some growing up on both sides, some repentance, some forgiveness, and some clearing up of the real issue at hand which is: How can we best Lift up the Name of Jesus in this desperately, spiritually perverse world in which we live? Are not all sides involved concerned with the Gospel? Do they not all, in their respective ways, preach the Crucified Lord Jesus? Then why enmity?

“I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord.” (Philippians 4:2) For the sake of Christ, clear up this matter and end it. Let forgiveness and grace and peace reign.

“Let he without sin, cast the first stone…” And one by one, they started to walk away, the older ones first until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. I ask you sincerely, when it is all said and done, won’t it be us and Jesus, one on one, with no one else left? Won’t Jesus ultimately be our judge? “Has no one condemned you? Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Friends, here is an offering. I haven’t been posting much lately because I have been terribly busy reading for my seminary classes. I still need to finish those posts from the 90 Days with Jesus series. This sermon is about grace and will be/has been preached to my congregation December 9, 2007. I hope you are blessed.–jerry 

Luke 5:17-26
Grace as Unmerited Forgiveness

Introduction

“One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there. And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick. 18Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. 19When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.

“When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

“The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

“Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? 23Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 24But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 25Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God.

“Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”

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We have studied deeply over the last 3 or so years. We have drunk deeply from the well of Scripture and I hope built a lasting theological foundation. I hope by now you understand what the Bible has to say about being a disciple. I hope the sermons I have preached over these last 3 years—sermons about the Cross Driven Life, The Resurrection Driven Life, the Missions Driven Church, The Church in Exile, 90 Days with Jesus, A Theology of Suffering, and many others besides—have strengthened and encouraged your walk in Christ.

Over the course of the next several months, I want to start fleshing out that theology for you. I want to put some legs to it, give it some flesh, give it a little color and depth. But this doesn’t mean the sermons will be easier to understand. I have shown you the world against the backdrop of Scripture, from the point of view of Calvary, from the vantage point of the Resurrection. Now, we must begin to see how this theology ‘works’, what it does, how it affects us, how it determines and guides our each step of each minute.

As we approach that aspect of our ministry together, we must make another stop along the road to visit an important marker that is easily overlooked and under-appreciated and all to often avoided altogether. I am talking of course about grace.

I imagine that all of us have some experience with grace even if we are too ashamed to admit it. And if we have not had experience with grace then perhaps we have missed out on the single most fundamental aspect of Christian faith—the one aspect that sets us apart from every other religion on the planet. Here in this world of Christ’s Grace there is no merit, no earning, no achievement. We are what we are, we become who we are, and all that we can every imagine is solely because of His grace. It is this grace I would like to spend the next 4 weeks talking to you about.

We begin today by looking at a short story from Luke’s Gospel—we have been in John and Matthew already this year—that demonstrates the first of our four grace points: Grace is Undeserved Forgiveness. This morning I’d like to note four particulars of this story as they relate to grace.

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Obstacles to God’s Grace (17-19)

Whatever else we might say about this story we can say this: The man in the story, the paralyzed man, the man who never says a word, the man lowered through a hole in the roof, had all sorts of obstacles in his path to grace. Here’s what Luke tells us: “One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there.” Now, was this a literal statement? If every village in Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem had its own representation of Pharisees and teachers of the law—and there were representations from all of them that day—and they were all sitting there while Jesus taught—well, this was the first obstacle to this man experiencing God’s grace.

I imagine some hustle and bustle, some commotion. I picture these people running up to the house carrying this man on a stretcher—yelling, “Clear the way! Move! Coming through! Make space! Man on a stretcher in need of grace!” And there sits all the Pharisees and Lawyers around Jesus—not budging an inch.

Aren’t some folks like that? Aren’t some folks simply and utterly absolute obstacles to God’s grace? Aren’t there some people who will do nothing to make it easier on people to receive God’s mercy? The implication is, of course, that Pharisees and Lawyers actually made it harder on the man to get to Jesus. Doesn’t it rather boggle your mind that these people didn’t move out of the way so that the man on the stretcher could get to Jesus?

On the other hand, you have these man carrying the stretcher. These are the folks who will do anything to get someone before Jesus. I imagine this man waking up that morning and getting ready for the normal day of sitting outside the Dung Gate or the Fish Gate and begging. Someone gets him dressed, feeds him, takes him to the toilet, and then lays him out on the stretcher where he awaits his friends. They come to him. But that day, one or all or maybe even the man himself says: “Today, let’s do something different. Today we are going to Jesus. I hear he’s in town. Listen, I want you to do whatever it takes, with all that is in your power to get me in front of Jesus.” But the Bible says, “Jesus saw their faith.” So maybe the conversation went like this: “Today, we’re doing something different. No begging today. Today we’re taking you to Jesus. Today we are going to do whatever it takes to get you in front of Jesus.”

Some people are those types of people who will do anything it takes to get someone in front of Jesus. They will carry a man on a stretcher. They will ruin someone’s house by digging a hole in the roof to lower him right into the middle of the lecture hall. I can’t be sure, but I wonder if these men who carried that man that day had themselves experienced God’s grace in some way prior to this meeting. Some people will stop at nothing to get someone else before God so that they too might experience His grace.

“And the Power of the Lord was present for him to heal.”

The question before us is this: What sort of people are we? Are we the obstacle or the over-comer? Will we not flinch a muscle or blink an eye to help someone or are we the type who will stop at nothing to get someone before Jesus. Don’t you sense that excitement, the anticipation? This was urgent: This man cannot wait for the crowd to disperse, the man cannot wait until Jesus comes out, this man cannot wait until tomorrow: He needed Jesus right then and there, at that precise moment; there was no waiting—even if it meant ruining someone’s house to do it.

The Pharisees and Lawyers—they were sitting there.

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