Sunday, March 25, 2012

Church...A Safe Place If You're Feeling Good

"Mother had stopped going to church.

‘Church isn't the place to go with your troubles. Church is just a place to go when you’re feeling good and have a new hat to wear.’

There was a little bitterness in what she said, a little self-pity, but there was also truth.

Our minister would have been the last person in the world she could have talked to, to have lifted the curse she felt upon her and saved her from feeling damned. She would have embarrassed the man into speechlessness had she gone to him with her story. He would have been unable to look at her or my father without coloring.

Most of our morality, I was beginning to think, was based on a refusal to recognize sin. 

Our entire religious heritage, it seemed to me, was one of refusal to deal with it.” ~ William Inge

William Inge (1913-1973) was an American playwright and this quote is taken from his late novel My Son is a Splendid Driver (1971). Rev’d Dr. Paul F.M. Zahl, author of Who Will Deliver Us? wrote about Mr. Inge and his work here.

As I read this quote I could not help but ask God for mercy. Mercy for the scandalous ways we have hurt people in the church. Many people I know have suffered, not necessarily at the hands of others, but as a result of this sign "posted" at the entrance of a lot of churches:

Kindly Leave Your Sin At The Door
~Thank You~

I count myself with the many who have condemned, judged, or scorned others for how they look and sound. So often I have glanced away from others that don't look like me. How many times have I pridefully stared at someone sleeping in the pew next to me? The reality is that I will not stop being a self-righteous jerk this side of heaven. But that's not even the point.

The point is this. I can be honest about who I am, I am just like you. We are both sinners. Sinners that have been saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Jesus did not die for the godly. He died for the ungodly, that's me and that's you. He didn't endure scoffing, shame, and agony beyond imagination for those who have it all together. He bled a bloody death on a cross for my sin and for yours. He has set us free from guilt and shame.

Knowing this liberty frees me to say I'm sorry. To acknowledge I am self-righteous and judgmental.  

Practically speaking, what does all of this mean?  It means that, "Mother" could start coming to church again. Whatever sin drives her guilt and shame is no worse than the sin that drives my guilt and shame. I can love others with the freedom that comes from the gospel. I don't look at anyone as any different than me. Together we can rejoice in the liberating news of the gospel.  

Yes we are sinners, but we have a radical, scandalous Savior who loves us unconditionally no matter what we have done!

Together, we can remind each other of this glorious news that sets captives free. We can "preach the gospel" to each other every day because we need to hear it every day.  

We could go from being a church that isn't the place to go with your troubles, to a church that swings their doors wide open and says; "
Welcome sinner, we're just like you."

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Weeping and Rejoicing

And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law.  Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them. Nehemiah 8:9-12

The Law can only bring weeping, mourning, desperation and death. It is of little wonder that the people stood grieved in their sin, weighed down with the knowledge they had nothing good to offer a righteous and holy God. All their efforts to respond to God with gratitude and thanksgiving after their miraculous deliverance from captivity in Babylon have failed. As they came to worship, were they remembering the ways they grumbled that very morning on the way to this gathering? Were they blushing as they thought about their own impatience with their spouse or irritability with their children? As each verse of the Law was read, they sank deeper and deeper. Distressed and overwhelmed with guilt, they must have thought, what now? Where will our help come from? As they stood helpless, they heard the good news. A light burst forth as they listened to the preacher tell them that the same God who had afflicted their soul had accomplished their salvation. Their reassurance came through the preaching of God's grace to sinners,

"So the Levites calmed all the people."

They were reminded that the joy of the Lord is their strength. They were encouraged to go and eat, drink and rejoice. Yes they have sinned, yes it is a sad and sorry state of affairs. But God has made a way back and it is the very rescue mission that brings joy and peace, laughter and thanksgiving! They were set free from sin and guilt and shame - that's cause for celebration! Go now, rejoice!

God's final word to those in Christ is the same today. You have been set free. Go now, and rejoice!

What a great reminder for us. We come to God weighed down with sin and guilt, despairing, anxious and clinging to tattered faith. The Preacher stands and lovingly agrees with your pathetic condition. In that moment of utter anguish you find relief, refreshment and restoration. The Lord sings over you with joy and freedom. The chains are broken and the light bursts in. You are strengthened and renewed, free to walk out of the prison of death into newness of life. This is your redemption. Today is the day of your salvation. This is the ongoing story of the sinners' renewal by the power of the gospel. You are free!

Now, go and eat and drink and rejoice!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Scorekeeping Suffocates Relationships

What is it about our relationships that prompt us to continually count up wrongs and rights? We love to tally up all the ways someone has offended us. What's even worse is the way we keep score.  Am I the only one who gives more weight to offenses than to "good turns". I also find it easier to remember the score when the wrongs are in the lead. (not my own, of course!)

This constant tallying will kill my relationships and it will kill your relationships.

No, it's not an instantaneous death. It's a slow smothering.  It's a stifling suffocation that happens when air is cut off, when the very thing that is meant to bring life to relationships is gone and you're left choking; gasping for the one thing that saves -


When grace reigns in a relationship, scorekeeping comes to an end and we become free from the slavish burden of having to fix one another.  ~ Tullian Tchividjian 

From pages 282-284 of Father Capon’s Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus:

That, I take it, is the point of Jesus’ words against reciprocation and repayment. Jesus is saying, ‘Listen, you are absolutely mired in your scorekeeping, bookkeeping lives. You are so busy trying to hold the world together by getting your accounts straight that you hardly have time to notice that it’s falling apart faster than ever. Why don’t you just let go? Thumb your nose at the ledger! Drop dead to the accounting! Because it’s not just one more thing that can’t save you; it’s the flypaper that catches everything else that can’t save you and leaves you stuck with it forever. Look, I’m on my way to Jerusalem to die so you can be saved, free for nothing. I’m going up there to give you a dramatic demonstration of shutting up once and for all on the subject of the divine bookkeeping. What’s the point, then, of your keeping records when I’m not? ~ Robert Farrar Capon

Seriously!  What is the point of scorekeeping if Jesus isn't?  I know I need to be done with this endless, exhausting practice of keeping score!  Jesus has one scorecard that reads "I've won it all"!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Celebrating Lent, Mourning Sin and Rejoicing In Our Rescue

Lent has always confused me a bit. 

I am never quite sure what to do.

There are so many traditions surrounding the keeping of Lent that it's hard to know the "appropriate" and god-honoring way to observe it.

I appreciate this reflection from Living Story. The author writes:

What I always rediscover is that this is a season to mourn — our own sin and what Christ sacrificed for us that we might be reconciled to God. It is a season to set aside something satisfying to remember that Jesus is the only one who can truly fill our desperate craving. Not because that makes us “righteous,” but because he made us righteous.

In anticipation of Easter, Lent is a time to remember first and foremost Jesus and his work on our behalf. It's a time to stop obsessing over my work for him - because let's just be honest, my work will never measure up! It is His work, His death, His resurrection, His blood - it's all Him. My best intentions during Lent will never earn me the right standing before God that I need. Listen to these words from the famous hymn My Hope Is Built:

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.

This is my anthem, trusting only in Jesus. As I contemplate Easter and this season of Lent I am reminded of my utter inability to bring any good thing to my Savior.

I see my inability to keep all the rules, traditions and commandments but I look upward and see the way out. Jesus bled and died for me.

He covered my sins with His blood and I am set free. I mourn my sin. I grieve the ways I rebel, disobey and give in to guilt and shame. But in that moment I remember my Savior. He paid for it all, He rose to conquer death and sin, and victorious He was! Hallelujah!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Free Free Free Free Free Free Free Free Free Free Free Free Free Free!

If we are honest with ourselves, we would admit that our days are spent trying to save ourselves. We work hard to rescue our enslaved lives from the sin that so easily entangles us and keeps us in bondage and imprisoned. We do this in a thousand different ways, trying to spring ourselves from the confinement we're locked up in. Surely we can contribute something to this jail break.  

We think "Isn't there at least some way I can demonstrate that I can do this thing?".  At my very core I believe there is something I can do and have to do to free myself. The truth is, there really isn't. Think about your day so far. Mine has gone like this: I should have prayed more, I really should have stayed on track with my Bible reading plan, I know I should have been completely honest with my husband about what was bothering me last night, I have had more than one judgmental thought about my co-workers and I have questioned something I saw on fb this morning (because of course I would have never posted that link.) This list could be a lot longer and it's only 10am! I have failed in my thoughts, I have failed in my religious/spiritual disciplines, I have failed to be the helper my husband needs, I have failed my co-workers and I am murdering my friends in my heart. Had I not a Savior that stands in perfect righteousness on my behalf I would be crushed. Had I not a Lover who sees me as I truly am and knows me better than I know myself and loves me anyway, I would be destroyed. Like Paul I cry "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" Romans 7:24-25

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1

If you are in Christ, then today, this hour, right this very moment and this exact second you are free! You are free from guilt, free from judgement, you are approved, you stand as one who is not to blame, you are free from accusation, you are not just above reproach you are of no reproach, your sentence for that wrong motive in your heart just now is lifted.The ticket you would have to pay for lashing out at your spouse this morning has been paid in full.The jail time you would have served for your impatience with your teenager last night at 10:30pm when all you really wanted to do was go to bed - well, that's been suspended.You're free, you've been sprung, Jesus has broken you out and squared away every penalty that was hanging over your head.The freedom that awaits those who are in Christ Jesus is crazy talk, it's unbelievable, it's counter cultural, it's not quid pro quo. There are no if then or buts, no conditions involved.You don't have to strike a deal, make a trade, barter, swap or exchange anything.It is pure, no strings attached, no coupon needed freedom.You are not condemned, you are loved - fully, lavishly, eternally and unconditionally!

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:17

...Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more. John 8:6b-11

Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Romans 8:34

Whoever believes in him is not condemned...John 3:18a

For whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 1 John 3:20

No more shackles, no more chains
No more darkness, I am free!

Friday, March 9, 2012


A while back I posted about love - you know, the famous love chapter in 1 Corinthians? You can read it here. I wrote about my increasing awareness of my inability to live up to this kind of love: "I am realizing more and more these days that try as I may, all my efforts to improve aren't working. Trying to love like this is impossible."

Reading through this passage is a glaring reminder to me of all the ways I fall short of loving like Jesus loves. Do you feel like that? Are you tempted to read the first three words "Love is patient" and give up? I am. I have to ask myself. "have I been patient with everyone all the time?" Forget about for one day.

Even for one minute?

Have I loved like that?

Well. I guess when you put it like that...well...

I'd love to sit perched upon that lush velvet chair and recite all the ways my heart loves like this. My heart's desire and if you are in Christ, your heart's desire is to love like that. You and I long to be patient and kind, not short-tempered and rude.

But what happens in that moment when others don't meet your expectations? What happens in that second when you are having the same conversation with your teenage daughter for the tenth time? You snap. You cut it short. You are exasperated. You don't want to be brusque but your emotion takes over and your response is blunt and terse.

Phil Ryken, author and President of Wheaton College writes:

"None of us lives with this kind of love, and there is an easy way to prove it: start reading with verse 4 and insert your own name into the passage every time you see the word "love". For example: "Phil" is patient and kind; Phil does not envy or boast; he is not arrogant or rude. He does not insist on is own way; he is not irritable or resentful; he does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Phil bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Phil never fails." Do the same thing for yourself and you will know how I feel: not very loving at all." (excerpt from Loving the Way Jesus Loves Crossway 2012)

If 1 Corinthians is a portrait of love and none of us can possibly love this way, who is this a picture of? There is only one man who ever lived a love like this. One god-man who could and has personified this portrait of love. Jesus is this One, this Love. A God sent Love. A Love that came down to rescue unloving people like me and like you.

Jesus perfectly loves. Knowing we are weak and frail he says to me and to you, "You can stop trying to do this on your own. There's no need for this never ending cycle of effort and despair. See, I have loved you with a perfect love that will never fade, never give up, never end. In Me, you have the love you are seeking. All the love you need. I delivered up My body for you, and even though it looked like I was losing I gained everything by giving up. I won for you so you are free to give up. In those moments when you fail at loving others, when you feel like you're drowning in guilt and shame, remember Me. Remember My love for you. Remember it is not dependent on what you do or say. Remember that I came to rescue you, to bring you back, to care for you. I love you, God gave you to Me and I will keep you always and forever.

Nothing can change My love for you...nothing...forever...and ever..."

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Your Sins Are Forgiven

And he said to her, 
“Your sins are forgiven.” 
Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, 
“Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 
And he said to the woman, 
“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” 
Luke 7:48-50

This "woman of the city, who was a sinner" had nothing to bring that would justify herself to the Pharisees or to Jesus.

and Jesus says 
repent, then, and turn to God, 
so that your sins may be wiped out, 
that times of refreshing may come from the Lord

She did not come with a resume, with a strong reputation or with good grades. She was not a leader in her church or a Sunday school teacher.

and Jesus says 
Come now, let us reason together, 
though your sins are like scarlet, 
they shall be as white as snow; 
though they are red as crimson, 
they shall be like wool.

She was not known in her community for her philanthropic nature nor could she be commended for her outstanding contribution to her local public school.

and Jesus says
This is my blood of the covenant, 
which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

She had one thing to bring, one ticket that could gain her admission to a front row seat with Jesus.

Scandalous sin.

and Jesus says 
I am merciful and forgiving, 
even though you have rebelled against me. 
 In me you have redemption through my blood, 
the forgiveness of sins, 
in accordance with the riches of my grace.

There is a great paradox in this scene: the sinner [unrepentant religious expert] hosting Jesus, and, the sinner [repentant woman of the city].  Paul, writing to the Romans makes no distinction between "good" and "bad" people or "good" and "really good" people.  Shockingly, he announces there is only one kind of person.  He puts everyone in the same category - sinner.

"as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; 
together they have become worthless;
no one does good"
Romans 3:10-12

Who is a God like this,
who pardons sin and forgives the transgression 
of the remnant of his inheritance?

Atoning sacrifice
Keeper of this life
Hallelujah You are savior!
Beginning and the end
Forgiver of my sin
By Your mercy You have saved us!