What does it mean to be a minister of the gospel? In summary, here is what I believe the Holy Spirit is saying through Paul in Eph. 3:7-10.Read More
This past weekend was one of those tough parenting moments. As an aside, I am thankful for those friends who debunked the myth early on that it’s only the 2s that are “terrible” or else I would be completely unprepared for the 4s! Our son Philip threw the tantrum of the year. We had never seen him that angry. Because he didn’t get something he wanted on Friday night, he lashed out at us in every possible way. He was like a mad dog with his teeth sunk into his anger, and he was not going to give it up. Finally after a long time of us holding his bedroom door shut and telling him to get on his bed and calm down, he gave up. His anger gave way to tears, but the damage had already been done.
We grounded him for the first time ever. I’m sure it won’t be the last. Because he was grounded, it meant that he missed his best friend’s birthday party on Saturday and the first birthday party of the new school year.
Saturday morning after waking up, Philip went into his playroom and played quietly by himself. After some time passed, I went to him and told him how much we loved him but also how much he hurt us by his sin. He looked up at me and said, “Mommy, please give me a new heart.”
“We know all too well our sins and offenses.”
Sunday morning we rushed to church late as usual. Even though I had little time to get ready, my hair and make-up were satisfactory, and I was wearing jewelry and new clothes. Quite a feat for a mom of a little one! Everything about my outward appearance looked put together except for my fingernails. My dark blue fingernail paint was chipped and ugly. My fingernails gave me away that all wasn’t put together on the outside.
“It turns out Jesus doesn’t even want the best we have to offer.”
One of the main reasons that my husband and I left the Baptist church and have come to the larger Anglican church (our church is actually an evangelical Episcopal church) is because of weekly Communion. In part we love taking weekly Communion as it is a constant, visible reminder of the gospel. But we also love the way in which Communion is taken at the Anglican Church. Instead of little cups of juice and fingernail size crackers being passed to each person individually without ever needing to leave your seat, the taking of Communion in the Anglican tradition involves getting out of your seat and kneeling next to brothers and sisters. Communion isn’t just an individualistic experience but one the church does together. (As an aside, in a way, Communion is also more of an individual experience in the Anglican tradition as the priest or vicar gives each person, individually, bread and wine, looks into their eyes, and says, "Take this and remember Christ died for your sins.") I remember the first time the significance of the act of taking Communion truly sunk in. I walked forward with open hands, bringing nothing with me, kneeling in reverence and submission, and receiving the bread and wine. This was the message of the gospel. I bring nothing of my own merit to Christ. Instead I kneel at the feet of Christ in reverence and submission waiting to receive from him in faith his body and blood which were broken and shed for the forgiveness of my sins. Instead of taking Communion, here I’ve learned to receive Communion just like I have received the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“What does Jesus want? He wants you.”
Sunday morning after listening to Dean Andrew Pearson’s wonderful sermon of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which I have been quoting here, Communion was offered. We were sitting on the last row that morning. As I waited for my turn to go to the table, I prayed and watched people of different kinds get up from their pews to receive Communion. Then, a few rows ahead of us, a man on crutches got up and limped forward to the Communion table. He was lame. Yet while he is lame on the outside, it occurred to me we all approach the table of Jesus Christ limping, lame with our own, invisible crutches and bruises. Just like Philip asked me on Saturday, so I, too, that morning came limping to the table asking, “Jesus, please give me a new heart.”
When it came for my turn to get up, I looked down at my chipped painted fingernails and was thankful. I was thankful that there was something on the outside of my body that wasn’t perfect, that needed fixing, that was ugly. Because it reminded me that stripped of all of my pretenses and outward appearances, I am one in great need of Jesus. I need a new heart. Every day. I, like Philip, make my Father sad. At times, I, too, sink my teeth deep into sin, into my selfishness and pride and refuse to let go. I, too, need the Holy Spirit to continue to sanctify and make new my heart. I, too, come to God on crutches knowing that he heals the sinner, cures the brokenhearted, and makes new the old. Only in Jesus do we find what we’ve always been looking for – love so perfect, love divine.
“Every time we celebrate Communion we issue an altar call. We say, The table is set. This is what Jesus Christ has done for you. He has died and is risen again. And he is alive. Come forward and simply receive by faith Jesus Christ. What do you bring when you come forward? Nothing. You just come forward, and whether you are rich or poor, young or old, whether you got it together or you’re a total wreck, whether your bruises really hurt or whether you are still struggling with your bruises, we all take the same posture on our knees and open our hands like beggars and simply receive. We say ‘yes’ to Jesus and surrender our hearts and lives to him.”
For the full sermon, listen here.
Running from our sin. It’s a natural tendency to want to flee and hide when we are confronted with the reality of our own sinfulness and the ugliness of the sin.
We want it etched from our memories. We want a fresh start. We long for forgiveness.
My son recently turned 4 and he is at an age where he is becoming more cognizant of his fleshly reality. It’s a difficult age, for many reasons, but it is also an exciting age in that he is very moldable and teachable.
I began a series on #GraceForTheSinner a few months back because, after a personal experience of coming to grips with pride in my heart, I felt compelled that there might be others who needed to be reminded of the grace that comes from Christ Jesus. Not a cheap grace that requires no repentance on our part nor grace that doesn’t result in obedience. Rather, the grace that is taught in Scripture came at a very costly price (the life of God’s Son), yet is given to any and all who believe and is more powerful than any of sin’s grip on our lives.
Looking back, I had some unrealistic expectations for Mother’s Day given the age of my child. Yet, somehow I had conjured up images of a day where Philip would be easy and obedient, a day where I got to do what I wanted to do, and a day full of thanksgiving for all that I give to my family. Ahhh. What a nice thought. Isn’t that what Mother’s Day is all about anyway?
Both Osvaldo and I prepped Philip for the day. “Sunday is Mother’s Day, that means we get to celebrate Mommy for all that she does for us.” “You’re going to be a good boy on Mother’s Day for Mommy, right?” spoken in an almost pleading voice.
I’m shaking my head as I even put down on paper the tactic we were using to produce an obedient child for one day. Parents make mistakes too!
It would have been one thing if Philip had been his normal self on Mother’s Day – fun and delightful with a few issues here or there. But no. He began the day and finished the day as a completely different child. He was the exact opposite of the child I had imagined for the day. Screaming, throwing himself down in tantrum style, spitting, kicking, talking back, saying “No,” are just a few of the things we dealt with on Mother’s Day.
Every parent knows exactly what I’m talking about. It was as if the more we tried to produce a good child, the more he rebelled and became exactly the opposite child we were wanting him not to be.
By the end of the day, after I came to terms with my real Mother’s Day (not the one of my expectations), Osvaldo and I were exasperated. We stood in the kitchen and looked at each other with defeat both thinking the same thing, “We are failing as parents!”
We decided it would be best to talk to Philip in his bedroom. Osvaldo began the conversation with, “Philip, no matter what you do, we love you. Our love for you will never change. We will never stop loving you.” Then he followed with, “We are always ready to forgive you when you come to us and say, ‘I’m sorry.’” From there he told Philip what it was that he had done that we did not like.
I followed by saying, “Philip, God gave us to you as your parents to give you a place to live, to give you clothes, to give you food, to take care of you when you are sick, to give you love, hugs and kisses, to play with you, and to even do fun things with you. The only thing God and we ask in return – the one thing you are to do for us – is to obey. When you do what you did today you are not showing love to God and you are not showing love to us.”
Then we left. We closed the door until there was just a crack and left him in his room to think about these things. A few minutes later, I went to peek through the crack to see what he was doing. What I found was that Philip was going around in a circle and every time he stepped on his Superman cape, which was lying on the floor, he grunted.
When we brought him out of the room shortly afterwards, we asked Philip what he was doing in his room. This is what he said: “I was trying to get away from all the bad things I did.” And in his 4 year old speech that needs my translation he explained that he was stepping on his Superman cape to give him the power he needed to get away from those bad things.
We gave him a hug and Osvaldo said, “Philip, you can never get away from the bad things on your own. None of us can. Papi can’t. Mommy can’t. But there is one who can, one who is greater than Superman and who has the power to take away the bad things. His name is Jesus. When he died on a cross, he took away all those bad things. If you turn to Jesus and ask him to forgive you and to take away those bad things, he will do it, Philip.”
Philip said, “Ohhhh.”
We weren’t sure if the truth stuck, but the next evening before dinner, Philip prayed, “Jesus make for me the cross to take away the bad things I did.”
A week later he told me, “Mommy come see.” When I came into his toy room where his Grandpa was sitting on the floor, he showed me that he had made a cross out of two sticks in his room. He said turning to Grandpa, “Grandpa, Jesus makes a cross for you to take away those bad things you did.”
And just last week after telling Philip three times to get into the car without him doing so, I said very sternly, “Get in the car now.” Philip got into his chair and said to me, “Mommy, why did you talk like that?” I said, “Like what?” “Like mean to me.” “I didn’t talk mean to you, but said to get into the car firmly after you kept disobeying.” Philip looked into my eyes and said, “It’s OK, Mommy. Jesus makes the cross for you.”
“Jesus makes the cross for you” is Philip’s way of saying that Jesus forgives you. Jesus, because of what he did on the cross, can take away those bad things from you – to make them as far as the east is from the west.
John Newton, famously known for penning the words to that great hymn, “Amazing Grace,” was an unlikely person to come to faith in Jesus. Prior to his redemption, Newton was a cursing, blaspheming sailor who lived in the 18th century. He lived a life of complete immorality, who immersed himself in the evils of the slave trade and made women and alcohol his hobbies.
While on one of his many journeys at sea, Newton woke one night to someone crying, “The ship is sinking.” It was during this terrifying experience that he later wrote, “What mercy can there be for me?” Biographer Jonathan Aitken wrote about this experience saying that Newton came to the conclusion “that anyone who had ridiculed God and his gospel with so much profanity could not possibly receive divine salvation in the hour of need.”
“Conversely, however, Newton kept on remembering the promises of God, which he had learned from Scripture in his youth. He recalled the extraordinary twists and turns in his adult life, describing them as ‘the calls, warnings, and deliverances I had met with,’ as he wondered whether they could be interpreted as any sort of sign of God’s favor.”
This was the beginning of Newton coming to terms with the great grace Jesus offers to him because of what he did on the cross.
Newton would eventually go on to become a great preacher, pastor and hymn writer. Yet Newton “never forgot that he owed his redemption from a life of sin to a life in Christ entirely to divine mercy.” As he said on his death bed, “I am a great sinner, but Christ is a great Savior.”
He made this further clearer by writing the words that would later be the inscription on his tomb:
John Newton Once an infidel and libertine A servant of slaves in Africa Was By the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ Preserved, Restored, Pardoned And Appointed to preach the faith He had long laboured to destroy.
Jesus made the cross for John Newton.
Jesus makes the cross for Philip.
Jesus makes the cross for Grandpa.
Jesus makes the cross for me.
Jesus makes the cross for you.
“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” Col. 2:13-14
“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of the cross.” Col. 1:20
“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” 1 Timothy 1:15
*My quotes from John Newton and about John Newton come from Jonathan Aitken's "John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace."
A few days ago I celebrated Ash Wednesday, the day that marks the beginning of the season of Lent. Lent is a time when Christians historically have prepared themselves for the celebration of Easter by repenting, fasting and reflecting on their humanity and deep need of a Savior. The Ash Wednesday service is meant to remind each person of his or her mortality.
In thinking about the Grace for the Sinner series in light of Ash Wednesday and Lent, I am reminded that we cannot fully understand the grace Jesus Christ offers without first understanding our great need of it. It is when we are aware of our own mortality and sinfulness that the grace of Christ can become a transformative reality in our lives. We cannot be pardoned of our sins without first acknowledging that we have sin that needs pardoning. It is in this broken, aware-of-sin, repentant state that Jesus meets us and pardons us.
This is where we find David in Psalm 51. Unlike his predecessor Saul, when David was confronted with his sin (the one where he killed a man and committed adultery) David acknowledged it and repented (cf. 1 Sam. 12:13ff). It is sometime after the prophet Nathan's confrontation with David that David composed Psalm 51.
David begins the psalm with a plea for God's mercy. "Have mercy on me, O God." This is a cry that probably many of us know well. I am a sinner! Have mercy on me, O God!
Recently I, too, pleaded before God, "Have mercy on me." I have an inclination to want to control my life. This desire to control materialized in two ways recently. For one, my husband and I have been trying to conceive. For several weeks I was obsessed with wanting to control the circumstances surrounding conception as well as obsessing with signs and tests that would tell me if I were pregnant. I became anxious and tried to exert "control" by talking and thinking about it obsessively. Secondly, I hate flying. I am scared of the idea of falling, but most of all I don't like the feeling of being completely out of control of the situation. I don't know how to fly an airplane if a pilot got sick and they needed an extra one. I can't control the weather to make it so that we have perfect flying conditions. As we were to fly home a few days ago, I tried to control the uncontrollable by again obsessively worrying about the flight. I dreamt about it. I talked about it. I looked at the weather app non-stop. I was physically sick to my stomach as my nerves only increased with each day that grew closer to the day of our flight.
It was in the midst of trying to control two uncontrollable situations that my husband, like Nathan, spoke truth into my life. He said, "Kristen, you trying to control these situations is idolatrous." His words were like a sharp arrow to my soul. Conviction spread across my body. And as I left that conversation in prayer the rest of the day, God began speaking to me about this area of sin. In my frail attempt at trying to exert some control over these situations I had made for myself an idol. I was trying to sit in God's rightful place as sovereign Lord of my life. Instead of trusting God, I was trying to manipulate God or rather manipulate the situations as if God had no role and was nonexistent. This is a serious sin and one that I am ashamed to admit to you today.
"Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions."
God's mercy is dependent on and a natural causation of God's great and abounding love for us. If we get what we deserve according to our sins God is just and blameless (Ps. 51:4)! But mercy gives us what we do not deserve as it acts not according to our sin but according to God's steadfast love.
David recognizes his sin and his deep, deep need for forgiveness. "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight."
Over and over again in Scripture God pleads with his children to recognize their sin for what it is so that they might repent and so that he might show mercy (cf. Psalm 103:8-19).
"Yet even now," declares the Lord, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments." Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God? (Joel 2:12-14)
The first step in receiving the grace and mercy of our great God is acknowledging sin and turning from it. And when God pardons you and me from sin it is not a pardoning with strings attached or pardoning that lasts only for a night. No. Grace, like its giver, doesn't wear out with time or change like the moods of humans but rather is steady and sure. Grace does the work for which God intends it.
David in his prayer says, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me (v. 10)." The goal of the believer when he or she leaves that place of repentance and pardoning is a clean heart. God cleans up the sin and mess we make and sets our hearts back on him and on truth. He restores the joy of our salvation and places his praise on our lips (Ps. 51:12, 15).
I was still a little nervous when I flew home earlier this week, but I did not want to sin against God in the way that I had before. So I prayed that He would help me to trust in his sovereignty and his perfect will for my life. For those two flights home he placed an off-duty pilot going home across the aisle, a woman next to me whose hand I needed to hold because she was nervous, and a senator from Tennessee who loves the Lord. He surrounded me with people that brought calm and comfort to me. God is so, so good to us even when our terrible sin against him deserves the worst for us. He showed goodness and mercy and kindness to me by not only pardoning my sin but placing people to comfort me in the midst of something difficult. That, my friends, is great, amazing grace.
What areas of your life need cleansing? Is there sin in your life that you are refusing to recognize as sin? Or, are you aware of your sin but afraid to turn to God? Like me, do you sin against God by trying to take control of your life through worry or manipulation? Are you guilty of idolatry? Slander? Failure to trust God? Hate? Greed? Lust? Lies?
Spend a few moments confessing to God knowing that He is ready to meet you with grace and mercy and that He is ready to make your heart clean, your spirit right so that you might walk in truth and righteousness.
Most merciful Lord, your love compels us to come in. Our hands were unclean, our hearts were unprepared; we were not fit even to eat the crumbs from under your table. But you, Lord, are the God of our salvation, and share your bread with sinners. So cleanse and feed us with the precious body and blood of your Son, that he may live in us and we in him; and that we, with the whole company of Christ, may sit and eat in your kingdom. Amen. (The prayer of humble access; The Book of Common Prayer)
When we sin as Christians, we immediately (should) feel shame.
When I lose my temper with my spouse or child, when I hurt a friend with my words, when I break the rules, or when I lie, what inevitably results is shame. I feel so ashamed I don't know how to face myself let alone God. What will God think of me? Will he still love me? Will he be able to forgive me again or for such a sin as this?
These are thoughts and questions many of us experience in the heat of our shame. How do I approach God? How will God respond? Many times in my shame I want to run away or hide from God. Have you been to that place?
I think a good place to turn in our Bibles to address these questions is to the very beginning. Prior to the Fall, the author of Genesis describes the condition of the first man and woman in the garden as that of innocence and purity. They "were both naked and were not ashamed" (Gen. 2:25) as a result of being in a right relationship with God.
Then some time later the serpent enticed the first couple with his lies and the woman and man fell for it and sinned against God. Because of their sin, they went from being in a state of honor to a state of shame. "Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked."
They tried covering up their nakedness, their shame, with some fig leaves, but when God came "walking in the garden in the cool of the day" they still hid themselves even though they were "clothed."
"But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, 'Where are you?' And he said, 'I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.'"
Why was Adam still afraid of being naked if the text just told us he and Eve had made clothes for themselves? There are several possible reasons. Possibly "because I was naked" meant he was now conscious that he was naked. Possibly because his attempt at clothing was poorly done and he still felt ashamed to be naked. Possibly because it signified that he ate the fruit and sinned. I think all three possibilities are very plausible. The point is that when Adam and Eve sinned it caused distrust in their relationship with God that was once full of trust.
But God, after issuing the punishment that was justly deserved, looked upon this first couple whom He had made with compassion and mercy. He saw them in their misery and shame and before sending them away performed an act of mercy. He clothed them. "And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them" (3:21).
God takes their shame and covers it with grace. He replaces their poor attempt at clothes with something better that will cover them, protect them and keep them warm. To be sure, though, the garments -- this act of mercy -- came at a cost; it costed the lives of animals.
The beauty of this account is that it is both historical and universal. The Genesis account tells us the story of our ancestors as well as the story of our own humanity. This story, in addition to being about a particular time in history, is a dramatization of what happens every time we sin.
How often have you hid from the Lord because you were afraid and ashamed over your sin? Our sin breaks a trust that we have with our God and causes us to doubt and fear Him. But what I witness about the character of God from the very beginning proves to be true over and over in Scripture. That is that in our misery and shame God looks down on us with compassion and acts mercifully toward us.
"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ -- by grace you have been saved -- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." (Eph. 2:4-7)
When you sin, instead of running away or hiding from God, turn to God in repentance knowing that He is rich in mercy and will look upon you with compassion.
Here is the cool thing. When Adam and Eve left the garden they left with clothes stained with the blood of animals. When we as the people of God reenter the garden we, too, will be clothed with garments made by God. But these garments will be white, and they will have come at a different cost. This time it will not be the cost of an animal, but rather it will have come at a greater cost — the blood of God, the incarnate Son.
"'...For the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure' — for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints."
"But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law ... the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe."
God's mercy which was evident from the beginning continues throughout time, even to today, until the kingdom of God is fulfilled. So when you sin, when you experience great shame, turn to a God full of compassion and mercy who wants to meet you and cover your shame.
After that brief moment where I lost all sense of calm and cool and acted like the child to whom I was directing my frustration, I felt very, very low. I was ashamed. Sad. Broken. Broken-hearted. Upset with myself. I couldn’t lift my head out of my hands to face the shame that I felt and the depth of my sin.
This wasn’t the first time I had been to that place of deep sorrow over my sin, and sadly probably not the last. It took recitation of Scripture, tearful praying to God for forgiveness, and apologizing to Philip before I was able to find the strength to leave that place.
Have you been to that place as well? To the place where you are broken over your sin? To the place where you feel so ashamed of your sin you don’t know how to face God, others or yourself? To the place that David described in Psalm 32 where because of his sin God’s hand was heavy upon him? “For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity.” (Ps. 32:4-5)
It is in these moments of realization of sin and confession that God so graciously meets us to offer forgiveness. Yet, most of us still struggle to accept God’s forgiveness. Forgiveness is clouded often times by misunderstandings and lies that Satan would have us to believe. The portrait of God as seen in Scripture is many times in conflict with the portrait that we have of God in our minds, and it often comes to a head when we are in that place of deep shame and remorse over sin. ("I know Scripture says that God offers forgiveness to the repentant but [fill in the blank].")
This is where I hope Grace for the Sinner series will be a blessing. In this new series, I want to explore Scripture’s teaching on forgiveness and grace. These will be (or at least should be) short devotionals/reflections that I hope will bring you in deeper conversation with and understanding of God and the gifts of grace and forgiveness that He makes available to the repentant.
In this series I hope you will find grace, whether you find yourself as the impatient parent, the self-centered spouse, the disrespectful child, the unforgiving friend, the wannabe perfectionist, the over-controlling individual, the gossiper or [fill in the blank]. Here I also hope you will be reminded of and will find a perfect God who loves and redeems imperfect people.
I was first introduced to the song below at our church in England, and I immediately took to the lyrics. The message of the song is to come as you are -- a sinner -- to Jesus and discover the love and grace he has to offer. "Come, all you vagabonds, come all you don't-belongs, winners and losers, come people like me." Jesus offers grace to the sinner.
Come all you vagabonds, come all you don't-belongs winners and losers, come people like me; come all you travelers, tired from the journey wait a while, stay a while, welcomed you'll be.
Come all you questioners, looking for answers and searching for reason and sense in it all; come all you fallen, and come all you broken, find strength for your body and food for your soul.
Come, those who worry about houses and money and all those who don't have a care in the world, from every station and orientation the helpless, the hopeless, the young and the old.
Come all believers, and dreamers, and schemers, and come all you restless and searching for home; movers and shakers, and givers and takers, the happy, the sad, the lost and alone.
Come self-sufficient with wearied ambition and come those who feel at the end of the road; fiery debaters, and religion haters, accusers, abusers, the hurt and ignored.
Chorus: Come to the feast, there is room at the table! Come, let us meet in this place with the king of all kindness who welcomes us in with the wonder of love and the power of grace, the wonder of love and the power of grace.