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Category Archives: Grace

You Are Capable (of great sin)

There but for the grace of God go I. (John Bradford)

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)

I am more than capable. So is everyone. If you deny it you need to repent for lying to yourself and everyone else. (Barnabas Piper)

This is good:

Shelve Your Shock.

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Posted by on April 11, 2014 in God's Word, Grace, Sin, The Church

 

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For Your Consideration 7.12.13

I received “God’s Favorite Place on Earth” by Frank Viola today! Very excited to dig in and offer a review in the coming days.

In the meantime,here are a couple of blog posts published at Desiring God that challenged and encouraged me this week:

If you have not read anything by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, you really must. This piece will give you a taste of not only her story, but her exceptional writing style. An excerpt:

The Bible is not some pragmatist’s paradigm. It is the double-edged sword that chiseled truth into my stony heart, rendering it new and with it, recreating me as a new creature in Christ, a daughter of the King. I have no personal sexual orientation to call my own after Christ chisels my heart anew — and neither do you. We have Christ orientation, an alien identity to which we claim no rights. Do we struggle with sin? Yes. Is temptation a sin? No. What distinguishes temptation from sin? Temptation clobbers you from the outside and lures you to do its bidding. Sin makes temptation a house pet, gets it a collar and leash, and is deceived to believe that it can be restrained by impositions of civility. What you do with temptation reveals Who owns your heart. How you talk about other people’s sin patterns reveals Who owns your heart.

Read the rest here in her post called, DOMA and the Rock.

The second, written by Jonathan Parnell, is Three Things We Should Know About God. And I confess, “Creator” was one of my three. Think of three things that come to your heart and mind when you think of God then read this post. I promise you will be thankful and encouraged. Here’s a sample:

When you think of God, do you think happy? Or do you think stern? Sadly, it is common for us to think of God as a negative caricature would depict him. Do you think of him frowning? Is he seething with anger like a capricious despot? Or do you see him who is glad at heart — glad in the glory of his Son and the communion that they share? Do we see him as the Father who said of Jesus, with no hesitation, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17)? Do we see him as the Father who delights to give us the kingdom (Luke 12:32)? Do we see him as the God who overflows with joy when a sinner repents (Luke 15:7)?

So long as sin exists, he feels indignation every day (Psalm 7:11). But at heart — who he is in himself — God is happy. To grasp this truth will work wonders in our souls.

Keep feeding your mind and soul with GOOD things. Drink deeply from God’s rich word, and never stop learning, seeking, growing, thirsting, following hard after Him.

Blessings on you this weekend!

 

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Broken Resolutions and New Beginnings

What is the real secret of the new year? It’s real secret lies in that we know nothing at all about it. Year after year men and women make their new resolutions. They realize above all else what is needed is a fresh start and a new beginning. They decide to turn their backs on the past, to turn over a new leaf, or even to start a new book of life. That is their desire, that is their firm conviction and intention. They want to break with the past and for a time they do their utmost to do so, but it doesn’t last. Gradually they invariably slide back to the old position and to the old state of affairs. And after a few such experiences they no longer try, and come to the conclusion that all is hopeless. Up to a point, the fight is kept up and maintained, but sheer weariness and fatigue eventually overcome them, the pressure and the might of the world and its way seem to be entirely on the other side and they give in. the position seems to be utterly hopeless.

Well, now, there’s a cheery thought for the new year! But for how many does this ring true? By our own determination we try to keep our new year resolutions. And it lasts for a little while. (My daughter commented last night at how she dreaded January at the gym because beginning January 1 through about mid February, the place was packed with newbies starting their resolutions… for about six weeks.)

This is my first day back at work this year, so the “real” beginning. Thought I should make it count. The above quote comes from a sermon on The Parable of the Prodigal Son by D. Martin Lloyd-Jones (1898-1981). (I wonder if he preached it in January.) He goes on to say (and the rest of this text is largely taken directly from his sermon):

Do  you feel that your life has gone wrong, has gone astray? Are you forever mocked by the haunting spectre of the might-have-been? Do you feel that you have got yourself into such a position, and into such a situation that you can never get out of it and put yourself right again? Do you feel that you are so far away from what you ought to be, and from what you would like to be, that you can never get there again? Do you feel hopeless about yourself because of some situation with which you are confronted, or because of some entanglement in which you have got involved, or because of some sin which has mastered you and which you cannot conquer? Have you turned to yourself and said, “What is the use of making any further effort, what is the use of trying again? I have tried and tried many and many a time before, but all to no purpose, and my trying now can lead to but the same result. I have made a mess of my life, I have forfeited my chance and my opportunity, and henceforth I have nothing to do but to make the best of a bad job.”

The very first word of the Good News (the Gospel) is that people in this position should lift their head! All is not lost—there is still hope, still the possibility of a fresh start, a new beginning. And it can begin right now without a moment’s hesitation, and not by hoping on something imaginary, something that relies on our strength of determination, or something in the unknown future, but rather by leaning of something that happened in the past nearly 2,000 years ago, but which is as strong and powerful today as it was then. There is a possible turning point even along the blackest and most hopeless road. There is a new beginning.

But conditions are attached. Drawing further from the parable, there are three things we must do if we wish to avail ourselves of a new hope and a new start:

  1. First, we must face our position squarely, honestly and truly. It is one thing to be in a difficult position and quite another to face it honestly. Like the prodigal son, we don’t get into that kind of a pickle over night. It’s gradual, it’s quiet, and we scarcely see it at all until we hit bottom. Then we tend to avoid thinking about it. We busy ourselves with other things or say, “what’s the use, here I am anyhow.” But the very first step back is to face the situation honestly and clearly.
  2. The next is to realize that there is only One to Whom you can turn and only one thing you can do. The prodigal had tried and exhausted all his own efforts and the efforts of other people. He was finished and no one could help him but his father. If we pathetically try to cling to our own means, our money, our friends, we will never be pulled from the pit of repetition or the snare of our own doing. The  improvement will only be transient and temporary. You can go on trusting yourself and others and trying with all your might, but a year from now the position will not only be the same but actually worse. God alone can save.
  3. But as you turn to Him, you must realize further that you can plead nothing before Him except His mercy and His compassion. The prodigal left home full of himself, his rights, his own confidence, but he returned determine to be nothing more than a servant in his father’s household, at least they had it better than what he finally made of himself. We are nothing before God—we have turned our back on Him, ignored Him and flouted Him. Yet if we cast ourselves upon Him and His mercy, asking Him if in His infinite goodness and kindness He can possibly make something of us, then all will be different.
  4. If you do, you will find that in your case, as in the case of the prodigal, there will be a real, solid new beginning and new start. The impossible will happen and you will be amazed and astounded at what you will discover. In Jesus Christ, a real genuine new start, and new beginning are possible. And they are possible alone in Him! We see the prodigal son’s father rushing to him as he sees him returning, kissing him, stripping him of his filthy rags of clothes, preparing a huge celebration feast, treating him like the son he always was and not the beggar he had become. God is amazing and surprising. He rises far above our way of thought.
  5. But in order to have a really new start, I require something further. It is not enough that every trace of my past be removed, I require something in the present. I desire to be clothed, I must be robed. I need confidence to start afresh and to face life and its people and its problems. The father does not stop at kissing his son and removing his filthy rags, he clothes the boy with dress that is worthy of a son and places a ring on his finger. He announced to all that his son has returned and clothes him so as to make him feel unashamed when he meets people. No one else could do that but the father.

It is precisely the same with us when we turn to God. he not only forgives and blots out the past, He makes us sons and daughters. He gives us new life and new power. He will so assure you of His love that you will be able to face others unashamed. He will clothe you with the robe of Christ’s righteousness [right standing], He will not only tell you that He regard you as a child, but make you feel that you are one….The world only tries to clean the old suit and make it look respectable. God in Christ alone can clothe us with the new robe and really make us strong. Let the world try to point its finger and remind us of our past. Let it do its worst; we have but to look at the robe and the shoes and the ring, and all is well.

Here is opportunity for a real new beginning. It is the only way. God Himself has made it possible by sending His only Son into this world, to live and die and rise again. It matters not at all what you have been, nor what you are like at the moment. You have but to come to God confessing your sins again Him, casting yourself upon His mercy in Jesus Christ, acknowledging that He alone can save and keep, and you will find that

The past shall be forgotten,

The present joy be given,

A future grace be promised,

A glorious crown in heaven.

My prayer for us all this new year is that we don’t waste time or waste our lives, waiting for some unknown imaginary event or new year resolution to improve our lot. Faith in Christ alone will do that. Such an amazing gift, such a wonderful, unfathomable promise. Time to leave the pig sty and return to the Father.

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2012 in Grace, Jesus, Salvation, Sin, The Journey

 

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The Guts and the Grace

Well, it seems there is a great convergence going on. You know: when multiple things come together and form one powerful thing.

It’s like when you experience something; there is a tug at your heart. You start to ask God about it. Then you read something in a devotional, then an article, then read something similar in another book; you take notice, it’s growing. Then you hear a sermon on Sunday, and have a conversation with a friend on Monday; it’s coming together. Two or three blogs you subscribe to seem to be discussing variations of the same theme, then your sister calls you and says the speaker at the conference she’s at is teaching on the subject. You turn to the next chapter in your Bible the next morning, and God’s talking about it, too. It’s becoming clear. Do you think He is speaking? 🙂

My friend and worship pastor likens this phenomenon to tributaries in the rainy season all rushing in to form one big, brown, raging Class V river. Convergence.

This has been happening to me, and yes, the topic is still “Sin.” Why do people not even like to say the word? In reality it’s an archery term that means “missing the mark.” I don’t have any trouble at all telling people I missed the mark. I messed up. Why then do we have a problem saying, “I’ve sinned”??  Maybe a dose of reality would help:

In my last post I quoted from James 5 where we are told to confess our sins to one another and pray for each other so that we may be healed. “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” I didn’t read on farther that day, but I did today. The last verse in that chapter reads, “If anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

Wow. That’s pretty powerful. Sin is not only something we should watch out for in our own lives, it is something we should watch out for in the lives of our sisters (and brothers) because it could cost them their lives. I have friends who were “brought back.” This means their friends went after them when they were messing up. Had the guts to do it. Loved ’em enough to do it. I hear those stories and cry. As a “prodigal daughter” three times over, I don’t recall being pursued like that. I don’t remember anyone trying to rescue me. Though perhaps people tried and I was just too stubborn, willful, self-centered, and rebellious to hear. But I do know that there were times when not only was I not pursued, I was shunned. And I wonder how many times I turned an ignorant or a blind eye to my sisters who needed me to have the guts and grace to come after them…

YET — look at the blessing the rescuer gets according to this verse! Having been the drowning, I would like now to be the rescuer. Do we have the wisdom and desire to see and remove the log in our own eye? Do we have the guts and the grace to help a sister out with the speck in hers?

My prayer is for this “convergence” to become one mighty, raging, unstoppable river — sweeping in believers in to its swift current and causing a cleansing, a renewal, a keen and quick understanding of sin, of confession, of repentance, of redemption and of so much love for one another that we cannot bear to see a sister washed ashore and left behind. THIS should be what the church is all about.

 
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Posted by on November 9, 2011 in Grace, Sin, The Church

 

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The Shunned: When Church Goes Terribly Wrong

There is a “Christian fiction” (I always feel odd using that phrase) series about the Amish, and one of the best sellers, called “The Shunning,” is about an old traditional practice of ostracizing a member of the faith for some grievous sin. While this may seem an odd practice to most American Christians it is certainly most alive and well in many controlling church communities.

If you’re with me this far, you might assume I am referring to some backwater church made up of all relatives or perhaps a cult that manipulates its members. You’d be wrong on the first, and getting warmer on the second. I call these churches “borderline cult” (my friend calls them “cultish”) and I was a member of two: One in Hawaii and one in the Bay Area of California, neither were backwater, and neither made up of all relatives. And I was “shunned” from both.

They don’t call it that. These grace-less churches misuse scriptures like Ephesians 5:6-7 in their anti-love behavior. (WAIT!: Isn’t “anti-love” the same is “hate”? Hmm…) People who are in these types of churches are either the victimizer or the victim. Or they are completely ignorant. Sometimes they are all three as they morph their way through the muck and mire of these communities. The manipulation and deception is so powerful, it is (as a lovely, young friend of mine said) like being in a smoke-filled room – you don’t realize how you are being poisoned.

Here is the kicker: I was in leadership in both of these churches I mention. So by default I was a victimizer. (“Isn’t this how all churches operate?”) And I was also the victim, manipulated from the beginning to believe twisted scripture and ultimately allowed to be controlled to the point of questioning truth, logic and good common sense.  I was ignorant to the fact that this was so NOT what Christ intended the church to be. In many ways the community was refreshing and vibrant, non-traditional and different and offered things that had been missing in my life. It’s easier to rest in ignorance when there are some things to value in spite of things to reject.

BUT, OH! When you don’t conform, when the smoke clears a little and you start to SEE, when you start to ask questions and point to God’s word as the standard-bearer; OR when you mess up and fall into some sin or other (and here again, “sin” could be simply non-conformance to non-scriptural behaviors, or not being or acting the way leadership thinks you should) or if you leave for another church (any of these will do), then you are SHUNNED!

I remember in Hawaii, when after I left the church for a year having had all the controlling I could take, people walking down the same side of the street as me would cross to the other side to avoid any interaction!  No one called, no one asked how I was or what I was doing. Same in California (the issue was far less about control and more about manipulation) – not only did no one seek me out, the truth was so twisted that I still can’t believe it. And this was after I had been on staff and on the worship team and a leader in women’s ministries. Victimizer. Victim. Ignorant.

THANK GOD many (probably most) of the folks formerly in these churches have left. We have grown and are healing and are currently in healthy churches who understand Christ came to heal the sick. We understand that people will know we are His followers by our LOVE for one another. Many relationships have been restored. But some, sadly, have yet to bring themselves to find a healthy community of believers. And others, even more sadly, continue to cloister themselves within these abusive churches. They separate themselves not only from the world but shun any fellow believers who do not think as they do. It is sad. It is unscriptural. It is hurtful. And it is wicked. Pray for them. Pray for us all.

Here is how to tell if you are or were part of a “cultish” church:

  1. The teaching does not come from the Bible, or when scriptures are used they are lifted way out of context.
  2. You are told how to think; when you think for yourself and speak of it you are rebuked.
  3. Church leaders shame others publicly and gossip about others in casual conversation.
  4. When someone leaves the church the remaining members are publicly or personally counseled to avoid the departing brother/sister at all costs.
  5. The mistakes of leaders are covered up; the same mistakes of “regular members” are exposed.
  6. There is no accountability or safety net in place for the leadership.
  7. If there is an “accountability safety net,” it does not hold abusive leadership accountable, only the “regular members.” The lack of love, care and gentle restoration is generally absent.

There are more, but I’ll stop here. These do not come from formal training or spiritual abuse resources, just my own experience and my conversations with friends who experienced the same. This is my story, but (OH! JESUS!) hopefully it is rare. CORRECTION: This is part of my story. And thank God, such a small part! The REAL story, the story of Christ’s grace, mercy and redeeming love (regardless of my abuse, regardless of my sin), Christ’s victory over everything — THAT is THE STORY!

The bottom line for those with a similar story? God is not manipulative and will not be manipulated. God loves His children and treats them as the most perfect and patient parent would – He does not abuse, belittle, patronize, or shame them publicly. Has your church screwed up? God hasn’t. Have you screwed up? God forgives and forgets when we humbly seek Him. Church is made up of humans. God is not human. I believe He is truly grieved over the abuses His children and would-be children have suffered at the hands of the church or other believers. I do NOT believe that negates His perfect plan for the purpose of the church in this world. I do not believe that excuses us from finding and becoming involved in a local, healthy, God-loving Christian community (e.g. Church) and working out our “stuff” together.

I believe we will find there is a treasure awaiting those who dare to trust again. MAYBE just dare a little. MAYBE try to trust again. If anything here resonates with you, here is a very good Web site to check out. You will find many good resources that to consider for your healing:

http://www.barnabasministry.com/

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2011 in Grace, Love, Relationships, The Church, The Journey

 

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In the Absence of Grace

Lack of joy is in the absence of grace, and often I think this is due to legalism. What a dirty word. I hate, hate, hate it. Legalists really push my buttons. Probably because I used to be one. In a very recent conversation with a dear friend, I realized how I’d been watched earlier in my Christian walk. Further reflection caused me to grieve for my legalistic ways and how they have contributed to my dear sister’s hurt and confusion. I used to hurt the same way. I didn’t even know I was perpetuating this common malady of the American Christian church…

Most of us raised in the church, or saved for a very long time, especially in our Western Christian culture, can identify with legalism’s nasty grip and lasting effect. We have to DO things right and make sure others do, too! We can’t miss church, or quiet time; we must ‘say grace’ before a group meal, and never say ‘no’ to whatever is asked of us… Pretty soon we forget why we even started down this path; We become frustrated and angry and burned out; and we don’t even know why. We lost our joy because our joy stopped originating from the Giver of Himself; It gradually shifted to us — us trying to be what we think He wants us to be. Or maybe what we think the Pastor or Pastor’s wife, or some other brother or sister wants us to be.

A life of liberty comes from knowing God, from seeing and savoring Jesus Christ. Not for what He does for us, but simply (or maybe not so simply) Who He Is. We are here to make much of God; to glorify Him alone. Sure, we go to church because we are more effective in this together. Sure, we pray and read God’s word because we hunger and thirst for Him like water in a dry desert, not because we feel obligated to put in our 20 minutes of quiet time… When the perspective changes to God Himself being our very food, water and breath, legalism creeps quietly and rightfully out the back door.

The liar of liars wants us to carry around guilt for not doing. Or not doing things right. The Giver of Himself wants us to know and love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. If we do that the liar is shamed and hushed, and we are joyful and victorious.

“When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth.  I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”  ~Ephesians 3:14-19

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2011 in God's Word, Grace, Jesus, Joy, Love

 

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Kudzu and the American Dream

One of the most memorable things about a vacation trip to the Southeastern United States a few years back was the kudzu. Mile after mile native trees and shrubs and even man-made poles and structures are covered with the stuff, often completely obscuring the original object. Like something out of “Jumanji” these thick green vines crawl up and wind around everything until entire landscapes are completely transformed.

In and of itself, this plant is kind of attractive. It has medicinal properties and makes for good animal feed. Scientists are finding new and beneficial uses for the plant in treatment of alcoholism, cancer, migraines, allergies and diarrhea. But left unchecked this non-native plant becomes of the most invasive in the United States landscape.

On a plane yesterday this memory came back to me (“out of the clear, blue sky”) and it came while I was pondering a book I’d just finished called Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt in which “The American Dream” is exposed for the dangers it poses in the believer’s life. While not evil in itself and useful for many good things, the lifestyle that comes with obtaining “The American Dream” can take over a person’s life until the only thing you see are those things. The things are like kudzu that has now obscured the true aim and purpose of the Christian. Nothing about that person’s life looks any different from the next door neighbor pursuing the same dream but without Christ.

I am fifty years old now and quite confident I have wasted a good many of those years in the comfortable, selfish, unscriptural practices of the ineffective pseudo-Christian life. I completely missed the boat on what it means to live a cross-centered life. I did not count the cost so I did not pay the cost. Instead, I let what many American Christians honor and condone, The American Dream, become a very real and central part of my life. Instead of using God-given resources to largely serve others, I let them largely serve me, and they gradually took over my life to the point where you could not tell the difference between my kudzu-covered life and a well-behaved non-believer. What a sad testimony.

I highly recommend Platt’s book to any Christ-follower who is dissatisfied with The American Dream or wanting something far more than the temporary goods they have obtained. Other books with similar messages include Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper and Crazy Love by Francis Chan. But lest you become overwhelmed or lean towards guilt and remorse (as I am prone to do), you would do well to also read Holiness by Grace by Bryan Chapell in which he makes a beautiful and scriptural argument for God’s powerful grace and mercy and how He values the worker who comes late to the harvest.

For those starting out their careers and who also love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength: Beware the kudzu of The American Dream. Guard your heart against the desire for comfort and seek first the kingdom of God and the Treasure that cannot be bought but is freely given. It will joyfully cost you your life and that life will never be wasted.

 

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