Excerpt from 843 Acres post: The Law and Grace Distinction
Prayer: Lord, We are justified by our faith alone, and it is your grace alone that saves us. Yet we are not merely saved from something, but also for something—namely, a life that is in step with the truth of the gospel. “And this is love, that we walk according to your commandments.” Therefore, Lord, forgive us for using something other than you to make us acceptable. Expose the spiritual roots of our behavior. May we embrace community so that we have eyes to see ourselves better and, in community, may we be like Paul—pointing to the gospel as the means and hope for our conduct. Amen.
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Friday, May 23, 2014
Thursday, May 22, 2014
Excerpt from Bethany at 843 Acres post: Forgiven Much, Love Much (Newton)
John Newton, The Letters of John Newton (1772)
The righteous are said to be scarcely saved, not with respect to the certainty of the event, for the purpose of God in their favor cannot be disappointed—but in respect of their own apprehensions, and the great difficulties they are brought through. But when, after a long experience of their own deceitful hearts, after repeated proofs of their weakness, willfulness, ingratitude, and insensibility—they find that none of these things can separate them from the love of God in Christ; Jesus becomes more and more precious to their souls. They love much because much has been forgiven them!
They dare not ascribe anything to themselves—but are glad to acknowledge that they must have perished a thousand times over—if Jesus had not been their Savior, their Shepherd, and their Shield! When they were wandering—He brought them back. When they were fallen—He raised them. When they were wounded—He healed them. When they were fainting—He revived them. By him, out of weakness, they have been made strong. He has taught their hands to battle, and covered their heads in the day of battle. In a word, some of the clearest proofs they have had of his excellence—have been occasioned by the mortifying proofs they have had of their own vileness. They would not have known so much of him—if they had not known so much of themselves!
Posted by Jim Grayson at 7:48 AM
Monday, May 19, 2014
Bethany post at 843 Acres: Turning Creatures Into Sons
Niceness: If Christianity is true, then why aren’t all Christians obviously nicer than all non-Christians? After all, here, Peter says,“Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love”? Shouldn’t we be obviously more loving than non-Christians?
Reasonable: “What lies behind that question,” writes C.S. Lewis, “is partly something very reasonable and partly something that is not reasonable at all. The reasonable part is this. If conversion to Christianity makes no improvement in a man’s outward actions—if he continues to be just as snobbish or spiteful or envious or ambitious as he was before—then I think we must suspect that his ‘conversion’ was largely imaginary … Christ told us to judge by results. A tree is known by its fruit; or, as we say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.”
Unreasonable: The unreasonable part, however, is to expect that the world is neatly divided into two camps—people who are 100% Christian and people who are 100% non-Christian. “The situation in the actual world,” Lewis continues, “is much more complicated than that.” Moreover, “low output” doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re failures, especially given our different “natural causes” and “certain temperaments.” For example, what comes naturally (not necessarily spiritually) to Polly Anna may come only by the Spirit for Scrooge. “A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God,” says Lewis, “would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world—and might even be more difficult to save. For mere improvement is not redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine. God became man to turn creatures into sons; not simply to produce better men of the old kind, but to produce a new kind of man.”
Prayer: Lord, you came to make us new. Give us discernment to know whether we are good because of our natural inclinations or whether we are good because of our spiritual redemption. For we long to be changed by you and know that you are working in our hearts. Amen.
Posted by Jim Grayson at 7:50 AM
Thursday, May 8, 2014
Monday, May 5, 2014
Tullian Tchividjian post: Distinguishing Consequences and Condemnation
I was in a NYC taxi cab on a Friday night when I got the phone call from my brother Stephan telling me about what was going down at Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale with my friend of 20 years, Bob Coy. I was both shocked and saddened. While it’s hard to admit, things like this happen all the time, but Bob? How could this happen to Bob? You see, it’s easy for us to put Christian leaders on a spiritual pedestal and forget that they are human too, that they face the same temptations as everyone else – maybe even more so.
The sadness I felt for him was justified, but my shock revealed what is an all-too-common mistake that we all make: believing people are better and stronger than they actually are. The fact is we are messed up people living in a messed up world with other messed up people. Jack Miller put things in their proper perspective when he would say, “Cheer up, you’re a lot worse off than you think you are. But God’s grace is infinitely greater than anything you could ever ask for or imagine.”
No church, no organization, no one is immune. We are all human. In fact, at Coral Ridge, we faced a similar situation two years ago. It was discovered that a staff member (and close friend) had fallen like Bob. Like my reaction when I found out about Bob, I was both shocked and saddened. I didn’t see it coming. None of us did. Of all the crises I’ve faced and had to deal with over the last 17 years of pastoral ministry, this was the toughest.
On top of having to deal with this on a very personal level, I had the weighty responsibility of leading our church through it. How do you make sense of it all? What do you tell people?
One week after we discovered the details of my friend’s sin, I had to stand up on my first Sunday back from vacation and tell our church what happened. I, of course, did not share much. I steered clear of details. But I reminded them of an all important distinction that we often confuse: no vertical condemnation does not equal no horizontal consequences. But, and this is even more important: horizontal consequences do not equal vertical condemnation.
Reading all the blogs and comments about what happened with Bob Coy reveal that lots of people confuse these two categories which results in two basic responses. Some people question his salvation: “how could anybody really be a Christian and make the mistakes Bob has made? Off with his head.” Others say, “Wait a minute. We’re no better than he is so why does he have to lose his job? After all, don’t we believe in grace and forgiveness?”
The first group needs to be reminded that God’s love for us and acceptance of us does not in any way depend on what we do or don’t do, but rather on what Jesus has done. Who we are before God has nothing to do with us—how much we can accomplish, who we can become, our behavior (good or bad), our strengths, our weaknesses, our past, our present, our future, and so on. Who we are before God (our identity) is firmly anchored in Jesus’ accomplishment, not ours; his strength, not ours; his performance, not ours; his victory, not ours. Our guilt is met with his grace, our failures with his forgiveness, our mess with his mercy. God only loves bad people because bad people are all that there are.
The second group needs to be reminded that consequences on the ground of life are real. Real people make real mistakes that require real action to be taken. So, for instance, we can talk bad about our boss without sacrificing one ounce of God’s acceptance because, before God, “our sin has been atoned for, our guilt has been removed.” We stand before God clothed in the perfect righteousness of Jesus. Justified. In forever (no vertical condemnation). But we might still lose our job (horizontal consequences). We can make the mistake of driving 100 MPH on I-95 without losing a bit of God’s love for us because “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (no vertical condemnation). But we might still lose our license (horizontal consequences). When we confuse consequences with condemnation and vice versa, we don’t know how to make sense of things when tragedies like what happened to Bob (or us) take place.
The truth is that when we are in the throes of consequences for foolish things we do, our only hope is to remember that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” In fact, the kind of suffering that comes from the consequences of sin is like a brush-fire that burns away every thread of hope we have in ourselves and leaves only the thread of divine grace.
I reminded Bob of this the morning after I found out what had happened. He thanked me. I told him I loved him. But more importantly, I told him that God loved him. And that for those who are in Christ, it is impossible to out-sin the coverage of God’s forgiveness because the sins we cannot forget, God cannot remember. The consequences Bob has faced and will continue to face are real because his sin was real. But the beauty of Jesus’ work on his behalf will enable him to weather the storm because “While the Accuser may roar of sins that I have done, I know them all and thousands more, My God he knoweth none.”
Posted by Jim Grayson at 7:05 AM
Reissig Courtney post: How a Dad Loves a Prodigal
My dad and I are really close. In fact, we're so close that I worked for him doing all of his bookkeeping for the year before my twins were born. I loved talking to him nearly every day, especially since he lives so far away from me now. But we weren't always so close.
I was once a prodigal daughter.
For nearly two years I ran from my parents, family, and the Lord. I liked sin and liked living in sin. Talking to my dad (and mom) meant conviction, and I wanted nothing to do with it. If you peered through the window of my past you would have seen that I perfectly fit the profile of the son in Luke 15:11-32. I was wild, impulsive, and opposed to authority on every level.
A quick survey of the families in your church would probably reveal that many have or had children who in some way have strayed from the faith of their upbringing. Parenting is hard work with no real guarantee of the outcome. While every situation is unique and has its own challenges, one thing is certain—prodigal children need to know they are loved. And my parents made sure of that.
In the years I lived away from them, they never abandoned contact with me. While our interactions looked different, they made sure to take advantage of moments where they felt I needed exhortation, encouragement, or just the acknowledgment that I was loved by them. My mom bought me Christmas and birthday presents every year, even though I never once tried to see them for holidays or family gatherings. The presents waited for an opportune time, revealing to my brothers and ultimately me that I was never once forgotten from their grieving memory. I have a box full of letters from them that serves as a painful yet necessary reminder that while my sin was (and still is) grievous, the grace I have received is extravagant.
Love, No Matter the Cost
We often talk about memories from our childhood. For me, my childhood was pretty good. We made wonderful memories together as a family of six. But the memory that captures the most formative event in my life is the one that I rarely think about anymore.
The entire time I was living in rebellion, my parents prayed for me every day. So when I told them I wanted to move home one cold December morning, and was tired of my life of sin, they were overjoyed. This rock-bottom-moment was exactly what they were praying to see. Immediately they began helping me prepare for the move. They arranged flights for me to come home, paid for a moving truck, and began helping me think through where to finish college.
And then I got mono.
I suddenly found myself uninsured and in the emergency room. At this point I was too sick to do anything besides barely plug along to finish my school semester. There was no way I was going to be able to pack up and get myself to Dallas (three hours away) to the airport. My dad had already intended to come help me move home by picking up my car and driving it to Michigan. At this point, I needed him. I had no energy, no real friends, and no ability to think through a move. I was helpless.
My dad flew to Dallas and picked up a car from a friend to drive down to where I was living. Less than an hour outside of the city, the car he was driving broke down. But nothing was going to stop my dad from getting to me. I will never forget the words he said to me as he sat in the Greyhound station waiting on his bus to drive him to San Marcos.
I will get to you, Court. If I have to walk there, I will get to you.
When I picked him up at the Greyhound station he embraced me with tears streaming down his face. It was exactly what I needed. The softening of my heart had begun with the mono and continued with the love and care of a dad who didn't hold my past hatred of him against me. In those moments, he didn't hound me about how I scorned him and my mom all those years. He was on a rescue mission. I needed help physically and spiritually, and he was there to give it.
For more than a week my dad stayed with me in my dorm, packing up all my boxes, getting reacquainted with me, and showing me what it means to live like Christ. His example humbled me on so many levels. For two years I had spurned his and my mom's love, care, and fellowship. And here he was forgiving all of it and welcoming me back in. I was floored and a little self-conscious. In my heart, I was ready to come home, but I couldn't shake this nagging guilt that told me my parents deserved better than how I had treated them. I was unable to help myself in any tangible way, and I was further placing myself in their debt by their selfless care for me.
There are so many more pieces to this story, like the fact that my dad stayed in the dorms with me for a week to make sure I was eating and getting rest. Or the fact that he went to the cafeteria with me every day to watch me fix my plate and send me back for more nutritious fare. Or the fact that my parents paid all of my medical bills despite the fact that I was the one who abandoned them. This is what makes it all memorable. They didn't abandon me. Ever.
You don't always appreciate and understand your parents when you are younger. At 31 now I see my dad (and mom) as instruments used by God to help me understand the gospel. God is relentless in his pursuit of us. So were my parents. They never stopped pursuing me until they had me safely home. Sometimes they pursued through prayer, begging God to open my eyes to my sin. Other times they pursued through letters, e-mails, and occasional phone calls. Even though I didn't always see it as love, every form of contact was laced with love and care for the outcome of my life.
By God's grace, he answered those prayers.
Deep Spiritual Need
Prodigal children do a number on the hearts of their parents. And no one understands that agony more than God does. By understanding my sin against my earthly parents, I grew to understand how my sin against my heavenly Father was far worse and deserved a much stricter punishment. In caring for my physical needs through the love of my parents, God revealed to me my deep spiritual need that could only be remedied by Christ.
This is how a parent loves a prodigal. In the same way that God never abandons his children but lovingly pursues us even to the depths of our sin, so parents model (to a lesser and more imperfect degree) the abundant grace of God poured out through them.
God was kind to restore my relationship with my family ten thousand fold. And while I still mourn the loss of those rebellious years, I praise God that he gave me parents who loved me enough to pursue me to the end of myself and point me to the only one who could save me.
Posted by Jim Grayson at 7:02 AM