Saturday, January 31, 2009

Sin and Forgiveness

Little Connie sat in my office, wanting to “ask Jesus into her heart.” I explained the entire story to her: God’s holiness, our sin, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, and her need to trust Jesus as Savior and Lord. Then, I questioned her to see if she understood. “Connie, have you ever sinned?” “No.” I was a little shocked. I tried to explain sin to her again, thinking she must not be understanding me clearly. She stuck to her story. Little Connie wanted a Savior, but did not want to admit she needed one. She was blinded to her own sin.

Connie and I faced the amazing paradox of Christianity. Joy comes in the morning. We can only see the morning joys of salvation after the dark night of repentance. To be forgiven of sin, one must come face to face with the dark depravity of the soul.

And no one wants that. We like to rationalize our sinful attitudes and actions, justify them in the light of the actions of others or our circumstances, and enlist others to support us in our ungodliness. The last thing we ever want to do is turn on the light and see the filth.

That is a work of the Spirit in our hearts. He shines the light and makes us see ourselves for what we are. When Isaiah saw himself he cried, “Woe is me, I am undone.” It is never pleasant to see our human hearts as they really are. Not much fun.

In Psalm 130, the Psalmist says, “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?” He cried to God “out of the depths” of sin. He did not boast before God, he cried out for mercy. Each of us must come to that point of spiritual bankruptcy before we can experience the riches of God’s grace.

But here is the paradox: when I see my sin for all it is, when I am dismayed at my own wickedness, without excuse or justification, I receive the most amazing gift any human can receive – complete, wonderful, full, amazing forgiveness.

The Psalmist admitted that no one could stand before God’s record of sins, but then he realizes, “with you there is forgiveness.” In verse 7 he states that with God there is “unfailing love” and “full redemption.” When I took my sin to the Cross of Christ and laid it before him, I received grace. GRACE. God does not treat me on the basis of my sin. He relates to me “in Christ.”

It is hard to accept that. Human relationships are conditional, often temporary. It is hard to understand the awesome forgiveness of God. I still sin. I still fail my Savior, and I do it every day. But, GRACE! Amazing Grace! God’s forgiveness is more powerful than my own sin. He convicts me, restores me, renews me, and establishes me in his righteousness. Like the Psalmist, I have not only been redeemed, I have experienced “full redemption.”

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

When Things Don't Work Out

In a prayer service at a previous church I served, I asked the people to share a moment when God demonstrated his love for them. One man shared an amazing story from WWII, in which he probably should have been killed, but was not. Others began to tell stories of near death experiences and other situations from which God delivered them.

As someone who once was rescued unconscious from a swimming pool, I am grateful for God’s providential care. He does demonstrate his love by protecting us. But what about the folks who do not receive the positive outcome? What about our dear friends who buried their precious daughter? They prayed for her. Did God not love them? What about our friend Bill Hyde, killed by terrorists? Did God look away for a second? Does an undesired outcome mean that God does not love me as much as those who get what they pray for?

In Acts 12, two of Jesus’ disciples were arrested for preaching the gospel. But the outcomes were very different. We all know the story of Peter’s rescue from jail. The church was praying, and God threw open the doors of Herod’s jail and brought Peter out. He went to the prayer meeting and knocked on the door. When the servant girl told the church that Peter was at the door, they thought she was crazy. When they opened the door and found that the story was real, they rejoiced. God had worked in mighty power to save Peter.

But the chapter begins with a story with a very different outcome. James, the brother of John, also got arrested. But for him their was no miraculous salvation. For him there were no open jail doors, or prayer meeting celebration. For James, there was only the sword.

Why? Why did God rescue Peter and let James die? Was Peter a more vibrant Christian? Did God love him more? Was God mad at James? Did James not have enough faith? There is no evidence that any of these things was true. God loved James and Peter so much he shed the blood of Jesus Christ for both of them.

Why? We will never know. Maybe in Heaven God will let us know. Maybe not. I suspect that even in our glorified state we will have trouble understanding God’s sovereign plan. God works by a playbook that is his alone.

But this much is clear. We cannot read the outcome of our lives and determine the love of God. God always works out his sovereign plan based on his love for us. He is working all things for the good of those who love him. His love is seen in the Cross, in his constant presence in our lives, and in his promise of heavenly glory, not in the outcomes of life’s trials. Sometimes he rescues us in miraculous ways. Sometimes he lets us taste Herod’s sword.

His love is not seen in the outcome of our circumstances, but in his constant presence with us no matter what happens. Our job is to trust him and to walk with him, whether we walk with him through the jail doors to freedom, or to face Herod’s sword.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

When You Feel Like Giving Up

Peter was a fisherman. He had done it all his life, even when he was a disciple of John the Baptist. Then, one day, Jesus walked by. “Follow me, and I will make you a fisher of men.” And Peter followed him. He left the nets behind and followed Jesus for more than three years, throughout Galilee, to Jerusalem, to Gethsemane, and to the Sanhedrin. There, it all ended.

“I swear to you, I never knew this man.”

With those words, Peter denied the Lord he had sworn to serve. And even when the most glorious miracle of history occurred, even when Jesus was raised from the dead, even when Jesus appeared to the disciples, Peter could not forget the fact that he had failed.

And so, he told the other disciples, “I’m going fishing.” The present tense verb used in John 21:3 helps us understand what Peter was saying. This was not a vacation. This was not recreation. Peter was not taking a fishing trip. He was returning to his life as a fisherman. He was giving up. He had failed Jesus and he was through.

Ever felt that way? It happens to me often, usually on a Monday morning. When I fail, or when the pressures of life pile up, or trials and opposition come, I have the impulse to throw it all in, resign my job, and go fishing. Metaphorically, at least. Actual fishing is not a temptation to me.

I bet sometimes you feel like giving up. It may be because of your own failure, or because of the hurtful actions of someone else. You gave your best, and no one recognized it. You poured yourself into ministry, but nothing came from it. The pressures of life have snowballed to the point you just can’t take it anymore. Like Peter, and me, you want to go fishing.

But Jesus won’t let that happen. He appeared to Peter by the Sea of Tiberias. He took Peter back to where it all began. He renewed the miracle of his provision. “Cast your net on the other side of the boat.” Jesus did it all over again. He took Peter right back to beginning, and renewed his faith and the wonder of God’s power. That’s where healing begins with us. We must return to the presence of the Lord and renew our minds and hearts in him. The good news is that Jesus always begins the process of healing.

Jesus did not ignore Peter’s failure, or sweep it under the rug. He made him face it. Three times Peter denied Jesus. Three times Jesus asked him, “Do you love me?” Jesus renews us by making us deal with the sin and failure that drew us away from him. When we repent, the blood of Christ covers our sin and brings us renewal.

Then, Jesus gave his command to Peter. “Feed my sheep.” God renewed Peter by giving him an assignment. Take care of God’s sheep. Jesus renewed Peter, then sent him out to serve. The fallen soldier was back on the front lines.

Jesus will never let you give up. As his child, he won’t let you go fishing. He will come to you, inviting you back into his presence. He will help you find forgiveness for your failure, and will restore you to a life of fruitful service.

No, my friend, it is not time to go fishing.

A New Opportunity

If anyone is still checking this site, I would refer you to the two places I will be writing in the days ahead.

First, I am now a regular contributor at SBC Impact and would encourage you to read at that site. It is a great site and I am honored to be writing there. The whole team is worth reading.

I will also be writing at my devotional site, "Word Processing." Check that. I hope to write regularly there.