According to the Riches of His Grace

"In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us…" -Ephesians 1:7-8

Category: Gospel

Tug of War and Forgiving Others

tug-o-war1

In the past year, I have been wronged by a lot of people, whether it was a big offense or a very light offense. In fact, nearly every person in my life has sinned against me in some form or fashion in the past year.

But worse than that. I have surpassed all their sins in the sins I have committed against them. If I were to post the top 10 sins I’ve committed in the past year on this blog post, it might be flagged by certain parental control programs for inappropriate content.

The fact is, I am a sinner. Jesus summed up the law in two sentences. Love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. So when I fail to love God fully at any point and when I love myself more than my neighbor in any way, I sin.

But despite how putrid my soul is, despite how stained with sin I am, God didn’t hold that against me. He didn’t let that interfere in his love for me. Rather, he came into my realm as the man, Jesus Christ. Instead of holding my condemnation against me, he took the punishment for my sins upon himself and died the death that I completely deserve. He forgave the massive debt that I owed.

If you are a Christian, this is your story. You have been forgiven by an immeasurably great God! He has cast your sins as far as the east is from the west. He has forgiven all of your sin past, present, and future. There is no more condemnation for you. He will no longer have anger against you. Now, you can know him! You can love him!

With that in mind, I turn to a passage of Scripture I have been dwelling on heavily for a long time now. “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

Do we grasp this? God in Christ has forgiven us so immensely that we will praise him forever for it! And that is our example of how we are to forgive other people. I understand it’s hard. And I have no idea what other people have done to you. I only know what I have done to other people and what others have done to me.

God has forgiven me for everything I’ve ever done wrong. So why in the world would I not seek to forgive others. It doesn’t necessarily happen right away. I don’t always just decide to forgive right when I am wrong. Sometimes it takes me days or weeks to work it out in myself. Sometimes, I have to stay up for an hour past when I was going to go to sleep just to spend time in prayer and not let the sun go down on my anger.

But forgiveness is the only route to go. The alternative is to hold a grudge against a person for your entire life and hate them, which is disobedient to the Lord and will tear you apart on the inside until you are a very bitter and cynical person.

A mentor of mine was preaching a couple weeks ago on forgiveness and he made an incredible statement regarding it. Forgiveness is like tug-of-war. As soon as you finally let go, the war is over.

Dwell on the fact that God has completely forgiven you, if you are in Christ, and then let go of the rope.

I Come in Simplicity

“I come in simplicity, longing for purity, to worship you in spirit and truth, only you….You’re the reason I sing, the reason I sing, yes, my heart will sing, how I love you. And forever I’ll sing, forever I’ll sing, yes my heart will sing, how I love you.” -Rend Collective “Simplicity

These are the lyrics of my favorite Rend Collective song. The reason I love it so much is that it calls us back to worship the Lord in simplicity.

I am a seminary student, so I am usually around a lot of people who speak at least two languages: English and Theology. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love theology. My bookshelf has finally reached it’s third full shelf. I love to read and study.

But us who study a lot must be careful, because knowledge puffs up. If you aren’t careful, knowledge makes you arrogant and thus, dishonoring to Christ. If we ever reach the point where we are not acquiring knowledge in order to know and love God anymore, but rather to be smart, we are in sin.

At seminary, it has been described as the fact that we are drinking out of a fire hose. And that is the truth. We have to take in a lot of information in a short time span. So there are a lot of extremely smart people at my seminary, which is great! Take your study and do it to the glory of God. Learn as much as you can, but never lose track of the purpose of loving God more in your knowledge.

At seminary, I have to constantly take a step back and come to the Lord in simplicity. I love really deep worship songs like those by Sovereign Grace Music and Hillsong, but I like more than just those deep worship songs.

Chris Tomlin recently released a song called “Jesus Loves Me”. The chorus simply says, “Jesus, he loves me. He loves me. He is for me. Jesus, how can it be, he loves me.”

I know some people at seminary who scoff at songs like that because it’s not high enough theology. But if you can’t fall in worship singing that Jesus loves you, there is something wrong with you. It may not talk about the propitiation of the cross, the sovereign power of God, the extravagant glory of God, or the overcoming of the saints by the blood of the Lamb, but it is the Gospel in it’s simplest form.

There is real value in laying aside theology textbooks and heavy doctrines for a bit and just remembering what Rend Collective says, that he is the reason we sing, and then singing how we love him.

Why They Keep Making Sequels

Vader_Luke_DSII

Have you noticed that they seem to continue ruining great stories by making unnecessary sequels? Today, JK Rowling (writer of Harry Potter) released a tweet that is a clue to her next project. I read an article from a guy who interprets the clue that she is going to be writing another Harry Potter. Everyone got excited!

As is common in the news, they are currently in production of Star Wars Episode 7, featuring old and wrinkly, 70 year old Luke Skywalker.

I even saw an article on Facebook a few days ago about the possibility of my favorite television series, Lost, being continued on.

Can I just yell a huge “STOP!” Here’s why.

Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Lost are, in my opinion, three of the greatest stories in our pop culture. But the stories are finished.

(Spoiler alert for the next part)

Harry Potter’s story is about the fact that Harry survived an attack from Voldemort when he was young and now Voldemort seeks to kill him and take over the Wizarding World. In the final book, Harry defeats Voldemort and the world lives happily ever after. Story finished.

Star Wars is about Anakin Skywalker turning to the dark side, becoming Darth Vader, and thus helping build the oppressive galatic empire. Luke Skywalker is part of the rebel alliance and learns that Vader is his father, so he begins to work to redeem his Father. In the final movie, Vader turns back to the good side, kills the Emperor, and dies. The empire is defeated and peace is restored to the galaxy. Story finished.

In Lost, Oceanic 815 crashes on an island and about 40 passengers survive. They begin to live on the island and learn that it is special. By the end of the show, only 6 of them remain alive and a monster who has been living on the island for thousands of years is seeking to destroy the island, so Jack, one of the passengers on the island, kills the monster and sacrifices himself to protect the island for good, while the remaining survivors make it off the island. Story finished.

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – PART 2

Many think it is sad that these stories are over, but it is a joy that they are finished. The whole point of the story is realized when the end comes. The point of why we cared about the characters for so long is made known.

But some want to continue to know what happens from here. They want to know what Harry does after Voldemort is defeated. They want to know what Luke does now that the empire is gone. What did the remaining survivors of Oceanic 815 do when they got back to the real world?

To which I respond, nothing. It’s not real. There is not a storyline that continues on into the future in a fictitious world. In the real world, yes. When you graduate high school, you have been part of your classmates’ stories for four years. Their story will continue on beyond you. But not in Harry Potter. It’s over. And we should be glad.

It ruins the story to continue it on after the purpose of the story is complete.

If you don’t believe me, let me give you an example. Imagine that we are co-workers and last night, I was trapped in a burning building, on the fifth floor and I was recounting the story to you on our lunch break. I had to fight through burning flames and do my best not to die. I found a child on the fourth floor, unconscious and picked him up, to carry him out of there. I finally made it out alive and alerted all of my family and friends of what had happened and that I was okay. Story finished.

But if I continue on after that in telling you the story and tell you about me going home, what I had for dinner, how I prepared my dinner, what I did before I went to bed, how long I brushed my teeth, what kind of Listerine I used, what time I went to bed, how long I slept, what time I woke up, what I had for breakfast, what color tie I put on to go to work, how long my commute to work was, how many red lights I got stopped at, and what happened at work up to this point, you are going to think it’s pointless.

“Bro, what does this have to do with the story about the burning building?”

Exactly.

It has nothing to do with the story I was telling. And making sequels to a movie that has already finished it’s story just to continue the story of the characters is the same way.

Why do we care so much?

JackDiesWithVincent

The answer to that question is found in Ecclesiastes 4:11. There, Solomon states that God has written eternity on our hearts. We are created by a God who exists in eternity and had no beginning or end. He has always existed and will always exist. We can’t comprehend that because we exist in a finite universe where things have to have a beginning and an end. If a story goes on forever in our universe, it is boring.

But, ultimately, we crave a story that continues on after it is finished because we are part of one. The eternal God has come to the finite earth as Jesus in order to provide redemption for us through his death on a cross. Now, if we follow Jesus, we begin a relationship with Jesus that will carry beyond our death into eternity, where we will go. If we don’t follow him, we will go to eternity, but not with Jesus. We will be separated from him in hell.

We crave a story that last forever because there is one that last forever. It is the only one that makes sense to carry on forever. It is the story of Jesus. He has existed since before the creation of the world, he came into the world to bring us to himself, his story is continuing as people from all the nations of the world choose to follow him, and after the world has ended, those who followed him will continue to be with him and know him forever.

The cross of Jesus Christ stands as the image of the only story that needs a sequel after it is over.

1jesus_on_cross

Sanctification in Construction Work

COnstruction_work_in_downtown_Miami

I wake up in the morning. The sun is shining through the window, but that isn’t what wakes me up. It’s not even my alarm that wakes me. It’s the sound of construction on the floor below me. My dorm was probably built about the same time as the Roman Colosseum, so it’s pretty old. And they decide the year that I come to seminary to update it. So, every day it sounds like a jackhammer is trying to pelt through my floor.

Before I started seminary, I was a groomsman in one of my best friend’s weddings. The wedding was about an hour from my seminary city, so I left at the reasonable time to get there for the rehearsal dinner. That was a mistake, because I ran into road work….that spanned for what seemed like the entire country of Russia. I moved about 2 miles in an hour. I listened to an entire CD and could still see some of the same things that were around me when it started. They had already rehearsed once without me by the time I got there.

When I was in college, they decided my junior year to remodel the main building on campus, which caused my tuition to increase, but they told us that the building wouldn’t be finished until after we graduated. So, I funded a project that I never saw.

What do all these stories have in common? Construction work. I hate seeing unfinished work. I hate getting stuck in traffic in a construction zone.

But I think about construction work and I actually learn a great spiritual lesson from it. There will always be construction work in the world. Things are always going to be needing repair or updating. Things are like that because of sin.

And I am a construction project. When God created the universe, it was good. Then Adam and Eve sinned and that damaged God’s creation. Death and destruction entered the world and now everything goes bad. But then Jesus came into the world. Sin entered the world when man disobeyed God at a tree. In a reverse effect, Jesus took the sins of the world on himself and allowed himself to be nailed to a tree. He died on that tree, rose from the dead, and now new creation has begun. All who believe this story begin a journey in which God is remaking them. He is in the process of restoring all things to what they once were, one person at a time.

We call this sanctification in the church. The process in which God remakes a Christian out of their sin into the image of Jesus. This will all finish when Jesus returns and Christians are resurrected into the form that Jesus was when he walked out of the tomb. Now, if anyone is in Christ, he is new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Now, Jesus stands over the creation saying, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:5)

So, as much as I hate the inconvenience of construction work, it reminds me of the work that is going on in me and in the world as God recreates the world back into what it was originally.

Telling Stories

I love telling stories. Maybe that is why I studied journalism in college.

Last night, my seminary had their fall festival and I met and hung out with a lot of people. It was a big night of getting to know people, so there was a ton of storytelling.

Honestly, I think everybody loves telling stories. If you think about it, most of what you talk about on a daily basis is a story. If you talk about an epic play on a sports game, you are telling a story. If you tell your spouse about your day at work, you are storytelling. If you recount what you saw on the news, you are telling a story. Little of what you talk about is not storytelling of some form.

I tell so many stories, that I often find myself telling several of the same stories rather often. I have friends who have been with me each time I have recounted a story to different people and so they have heard the story a lot. It almost looks like they get annoyed at hearing the story sometimes, because they have heard it so much.

They’ve heard my story about my embarrassing moment in my seventh grade talent show. They’ve heard about the cow that wouldn’t move out of the road for our van when I was in Romania. (We were yelling, “MOOve!”) They have heard about the time that I got t-boned by a police officer while I was waiting to turn into Arby’s. They’ve heard about the time that I pulled a muscle in my back sneezing.

That made me think. I talk about Jesus and the Gospel a lot. As a current seminary student and future pastor, it’s the thing that I probably talk about the most. But I have yet to get to the point where the people in my life get annoyed at how many times I tell that story.

What about you? Do you tell the story of the Gospel so much that people get annoyed with how many times you do?

Let’s do that! Let’s tell the story of the Gospel (that man has sinned and God has provided salvation in Christ on the cross for all who will believe) so often that people get tired of hearing about it. I know that sounds kind of negative, but if that’s what it takes to get the world to believe, let’s go for it!

Why Many Church Kids Leave the Church

I’m sure you know at least one of them. You know those people who grew up in church. They were at all the fellowships. They went to church camp every year and probably even cried during that emotional final night of the week. They might have led worship during youth group and maybe even taught a Bible study.

But today, they are grown up and they are not in the church. In fact, they might even be professing atheists today. And you look at them and wonder, “What happened to you?” Maybe you believe in the doctrine of eternal security which says that you can’t lose your salvation (as I do) and this kind of person makes you question it. Yeah, people will say that those kids probably never knew Jesus, but that is hard to compare with how passionate they were for him during their youth years.

I have known many people who fit the bill for this description. I’ve even had really close friends who fit this description. I can’t say I know the answer to the question above of “were they ever really saved?”, but maybe I can offer some insight as to why I think they are no longer in church and no longer following after Jesus.

Disclaimer: I am not claiming that this is the case with every kid who grew up in church that is not in church anymore.

A big reason that church kids leave the church is because of the adults in their lives. That could be their parents, the adults in their church, or any other Christian adult they know.

You get well-meaning adults who genuinely do want the best for kids and they begin teaching Christianity to those kids, but in a wretchedly wrong way. They don’t teach them the truth of the Gospel. Rather, they teach them morality.

So those church kids grow up knowing a list of moral commands that they must keep in order to be a “good” Christian with no emphasis on Jesus. They know that true love waits. They know that we shouldn’t drink beer or cuss. We shouldn’t do anything more than hold hands with someone we are not married to. We shouldn’t see any movie that is rated “R” (we make an exception for “The Passion of the Christ”). They know that every good Christian votes Republican and only votes on 3 issues: traditional marriage, pro-life, and the right to bear arms. They know that being a good Christian means that you are a generally nice person in public and don’t end up in jail. They know that in difficult situations, they should ask What Would Jesus Do (and they probably wear bracelets with WWJD on it). They are taught to pray when they get up, before their meals, and before they go to bed.

And they are taught that if you don’t do these things or if you screw up and slip into a sin, God is sitting in heaven disgusted at you. In fact, you’d better ask for forgiveness quickly or he might blast fire out of heaven and kill you where you stand.

So this exhausting list of moral impossibility is taught to the church kids while they are young. During their young years, they understand it as proper obedience, until they move out or go off to college. Then they realize they are free to do whatever they want. With this freedom, they leave the church and start doing everything they were ever told not to do.

While some of these things above are true laws for the Christian to flourish in their relationship with Christ, if they are the basis of salvation, we are no different from the religions that seek to earn God’s approval. Often, people openly say they don’t believe salvation is by works, but then they teach a works-based system like this.

Church kids, along with all the church, must be taught over and over again the power of the cross of Jesus Christ. We did nothing to obtain salvation. It was all because of Jesus. In fact, we are completely unable to reach God’s perfection. It’s time we stop splitting the world into good and bad people. You and all your friends and loved ones are not the good guys. We are all the bad guys and Jesus is the good guy who took on our badness to save us from ourselves.

And so, as he is nailed to the cross, he cries out to God, “Have you forsaken me?” He says this so that forever, those who believe the Gospel do not have to. They will be forever with God! The “good” Christian is not the one who successfully keeps the ten commandments of American evangelicalism. It is the one who believes the Gospel. “For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Your works don’t determine if God looks at you with favor. Jesus Christ on the cross determines that you have favor with God.

And the even more exciting news is that you can’t lose that favor. I can’t sin my way out of God’s love and favor, for Christ is the one who died. This means that when you screw up, as you will a lot, you don’t have to put yourself in the penalty box and wait a couple of days to come back to God. You can come back now! You are still righteous before God by the cross of Jesus Christ. There is no condemnation for those in Christ!

Maybe you think this kind of teaching will lead people to sin like crazy with no worry. And that is a temptation sometimes. But if you truly understand this grace that God has given you in Christ, you won’t do it. Yes, you will sometimes turn, even willingly, to sin, but your allegiance will be to Jesus Christ, who you love with all your heart.

This is the message that youth in the church, as well as adults in the church, need to be taught. That God adopted Christians in Christ. That Christians are his children who he will never cast out. That he has made us holy and blameless in his sight. And that he continues to lavish his grace upon us every day.

Oh, this grace on which I stand!

Psalm 136 (New Testament Version)

I read Psalm 136 this morning and it is awesome! It is full of references to the Old Testament and shows how God’s love endures forever in all of that. As I was praying during my quiet time, I thought to myself, what if Psalm 136 had been written after the New Testament was written. The Old Testament is awesome, but the defeat of the King of Sihon might not mean much to you unless you are a Jew and/or have studied  the Old Testament in great detail. So, what if it was talking about the story of the New Testament? Maybe it would be something like this.

Psalm 136 (New Testament Version

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever.

The Word was in the beginning with God, for his steadfast love endures forever.

He created all things and holds them together, for his steadfast love endures forever.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, for his steadfast love endures forever.

He was baptized by John in the Jordan, for his steadfast love endures forever.

He overcame temptation in the wilderness, for his steadfast love endures forever.

He called twelve to follow him and carry his message on, for his steadfast love endures forever.

He taught with great authority, for his steadfast love endures forever.

He turned water into wine, for his steadfast love endures forever.

He gives eternal life to all who believe, for his steadfast love endures forever.

He healed the crippled man at the pool, for his steadfast love endures forever.

He fed the 5,000, for his steadfast love endures forever.

He is the Bread of Life who will satisfy all hunger, for his steadfast love endures forever.

He walked on water, for his steadfast love endures forever.

He healed the man born blind, for his steadfast love endures forever.

He is the Good Shepherd who dies for his sheep, for his steadfast love endures forever.

He raised Lazarus from the dead, for his steadfast love endures forever.

He washed the disciple’s feet, for his steadfast love endures forever.

He told the twelve to love one another, for his steadfast love endures forever.

He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, for his steadfast love endures forever.

He prayed for the twelve to be unified, for his steadfast love endures forever.

He was arrested willingly, for his steadfast love endures forever.

He remaining silent on trial, for his steadfast love endures forever.

He endured lashes from a whip on his back, for his steadfast love endures forever.

He took a crown of thorns, for his steadfast love endures forever.

He carried the cross, for his steadfast love endures forever.

He was lifted up on the cross, for his steadfast love endures forever.

He bore the wrath of God, for his steadfast love endures forever.

He became sin, for his steadfast love endures forever.

He was forsaken by the Father, for his steadfast love endures forever.

The veil of the temple was torn, for his steadfast love endures forever.

He cried, “It is finished!”, for his steadfast love endures forever.

He died, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Death has been rendered defeated, for his steadfast love endures forever.

He was buried, for his steadfast love endures forever.

The stone rolled away, for his steadfast love endures forever.

The Word emerged from the grave alive, for his steadfast love endures forever.

He let Thomas see the scars, for his steadfast love endures forever.

He forgave Peter three times, for his steadfast love endures forever.

He gave the great commission, “Go make disciples of all nations”, for his steadfast love endures forever.

He ascended into heaven and sent the Holy Spirit, for his steadfast love endures forever.

He will come again, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ, for his steadfast love endures forever.

The Extravagant Grace of God

Ephesians 1:7-8 says “In him, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us…”

Ephesians 1 is one of my favorite passages in Scripture and it is often overlooked because of a few controversial words within it. But all controversies aside, I don’t want to take Ephesians 1 out of the Bible. For those who believe the Gospel, God lavishes grace upon them. I love the word “lavished.” Extravagant. Overflowing. Immeasurable.

This passage cannot be applied to those who are not believers. Those who do not believe the Gospel are still under the wrath of God (see Romans 1-2). At the cross, Jesus endured the wrath of God for all who would ever come to faith in him. If you are a believer in Christ, do you realize what this means? There is no more wrath! It has all been poured out upon Christ!

This is great news because you don’t have to feel guilty when you slip into sin. Christians will still fall from time to time. We are being conformed into the image of Jesus, but we aren’t there yet. We seek to flee sin because we love Jesus. In loving him, we are drawn to obedience. But we don’t have to feel condemned when we do fall. In fact, even after our salvation, God continues to lavish this extravagant grace upon us. He pours an overflowing cup of it out upon us and delights in doing it!

So when you slip and fall into sin, get up and keep running the race that is set before you, looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.