Tag Archives: gospel

4. the saving grace of the gospel

Tim Keller

I recently read through a book (review here) where I read this statement for the first time and my heart literally fell to its knees in humble surrender and I cried. Not full out sobbing though there were tears and an ache that ran so deep I couldn’t help but allow Jesus to embrace me in that moment.

Mercy

Not getting what I deserve.

Grace

Getting what I don’t deserve – Undeserved favor.

I am more sinful and flawed than I ever dared believe and yet, through the blood of my Savior, Jesus Christ, I am more loved and accepted than I ever dared hope…at the same time.

Just let that statement wash over you.

You are more loved and accepted, in spite of yourself, than you ever dared hope by a man who died to know you.

“The gospel of justifying faith means that while Christians are, in themselves still sinful and sinning, yet in Christ, in God’s sight, they are accepted and righteous. So we can say that we are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope – at the very same time. This creates a radical new dynamic for personal growth. It means that the more you see your own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to you. But on the other hand, the more aware you are of God’s grace and acceptance in Christ, the more able you are to drop your denials and self-defenses and admit the true dimensions and character of your sin.” – Timothy Keller

I am grateful for so many things, but this…

This trumps all.

If it weren’t for the saving grace of the gospel, I wouldn’t have hope; we wouldn’t have hope.

There would be no reason to.

The gospel is a message from God about him…

about our sin…

about his Son, Jesus Christ…

about his sacrifice…

about his love for us, his beloved children…

and a summons to faith and commitment…to him, and him alone.

It’s sad to say that some churches give a good presentation of God’s gospel message, teaching his commandments and how we should live them out from the pulpit, but never give their listeners the opportunity to make a commitment to following him or what following him really means; what it really looks like.

I grew up in such a church.

Between my birth and the age of 18, I had only been given an opportunity to respond to that call on my heart once…through the amazing love and kindness of my mother and God’s use of a bedtime story at the tender age of four. I’ll forever be grateful for that moment in my life. The real adventure of my life began that day.

Let me backtrack on that a moment:

Yes, I grew up in the church.

Yes, I heard about Jesus and learned how to obey his commands each week, through the sermons, through Sunday school, through catechism, through GEMs and through my education at the local private elementary school.

But…it’s not enough to simply know all of these things and try to live them out (works-based faith (i.e. legalism).

It is not enough.

“The gospel is news of what God has done to reach us. It is not advice about what we must do to reach God.” Timothy Keller

Jesus didn’t give his life for me just so I could live my life believing (head knowledge) that he is the Son of God and that he died on the cross for my sins. Even the devil knows and believes this.

The gospel isn’t about how good I am or how well I live out those commands. Attempting that on my own isn’t enough. I can’t earn God’s favor. He already gave it…freely.

Grace

The entire Bible is God’s story, our history, and sums up the gospel in this:

  • God created us to be with him; to take joy in him (Genesis 1-2).
  • Our sin separates us from God (Genesis 3).
  • Sins cannot be removed by good deeds – we cannot earn our way to heaven (Genesis 4- Malachi 4).
  • Paying the price for our sin, Jesus – God confined to human flesh – died and rose again, bridging the gap in our relationship – enter mercy and grace (Matthew-Luke).
  • Everyone who trusts in Him alone has eternal life (John).
  • Life with Jesus starts now and lasts forever (Acts-Revelation).

“The gospel is neither religion nor irreligion – it is something else altogether. Religion makes law and moral obedience a means of salvation, while irreligion makes the individual a law to him or herself. The gospel, however, is that jesus takes the law of God so seriously that He paid the penalty of disobedience, so we can be saved by sheer grace.” – Timothy Keller

Mercy

Not getting what I deserve.

Grace

Getting what I don’t deserve – undeserved favor.

Everything written in his Word directly applies to our lives today and the gospel needs to make its way to my heart for it to have an impact and for its transformational power to work in not just my life, but on those whom my life touches.

The gospel has the power to heal, redeem and restore… making all things new. The gospel allows me to live by the standard of grace rather than works:

“To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story [not just the good…the dark/bad too.] In admitting [my dark side] I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.” – Brennan Manning

I needed to make a commitment to following Jesus; to allowing him entrance into my life and my heart so he could begin his redeeming work in restoring me.

Not just once in my life, but every single day.  romans 1.16

I need to be intentional when it comes to my relationship with Jesus (more on that later). I need to make the choice to follow him with each passing moment and choose to give him first priority with each decision I make and all that I do. It’s intentionally choosing to surrender my life to Jesus and allowing him to work within me…throwing out the rubble of lies I’ve believed and renewing my mind with his truth.

It’s about defining myself as loved by God. This is my true self…all other titles, names, and faux identities will pass and fade, as will anything this material world offers – daughter, sister, lover, co-worker…my job title isn’t my identity. I am a daughter of the one true God. I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine (Song 6.4). That is my identity. That is who I am.

And living this way is radical.

It goes against the grain of our culture and our world.

It isn’t easy. Nothing in this walk with Jesus has been or is. I will say that life is easier with him than it ever could be apart from him.

I don’t want to be like this broken, beautiful world I live in. I want to and long to be like my precious Jesus.

This isn’t just for me. It’s for all:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3.16 NIV

God so loved the world

Jesus stands at the door and knocks (Revelation 3.20). He doesn’t barge in. He patiently and lovingly waits for you to invite him in.

We need to be active in seeking God…”and those who enter a relationship with God inevitably look back and recognize that God’s grace had sought them out, breaking them open to new realities.” (Tim Keller, The Reason for God)

I am aware of so much more now than I would be if I had not chosen to follow Jesus. I am no longer blind. I see…more and more with each passing day.

“My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I’ve done nothing to earn it or deserve it.” – Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

I’m thankful for the saving grace of the gospel that, because of it, I am more loved and accepted than I ever dared hope.

We all get to choose between life and death. Today, and every day that follows, I’m choosing life.

What will you choose?

“The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creation. Not to make people with better morals but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and set s everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love. This, my friend, is what it really means to be a Christian.” Brennan Manning, The Furious Longing of God

If you’re seeking guidance or wanting a relationship with Jesus, please reach out to and get plugged in to your church in your area or a friend/co-worker who you know is a Christian. Or, leave me a message here.

thankful

how Christians can interact with Halloween

They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. John 17.16

Halloween

Images of trick-or-treaters dressed to the nines in Dorothy, princess, superhero and witch costumes, candy and carved pumpkins come to my mind.

And yet, I’m sure Christians around the world have heard it before:

“Don’t celebrate Halloween. It’s the Devil’s holiday…”

That thought never entered my mind until I got to college.

Just the other day, a friend said the same thing.

What happened? I mean, sure, there’s a lot of worldly things tied to the holiday itself, but where did the community aspect of it go? Is it even okay for us to have fun?

When I was a kid, my parents never taught me how to honor the “evil” side of Halloween. Sure, I knew about it, but we didn’t celebrate that. We celebrated community and shared relationships with one another. I have many good memories tied to this particular yearly event (outside of Christmas and Thanksgiving).

As a child, I remember dressing up as princesses, Raggedy Anne, Ariel (Disney’s Little Mermaid) and Belle (Beauty and the Beast) each year and going trick-or-treating in the small town where my family attended church.  It was harmless fun, plus, I got tons of candy, which went bad because I got sick of it after a while and probably led to all those pesky cavities…not to mention the inches on my adolescent waistline. But I digress…

A few years passed and somewhat similar costumes made their way back into my fall wardrobe, worn once a year, in the forms of witches, vampires and road kill during my high school and college years. I attended high school parties, held at school…I wasn’t the partying type although those occurred to, I’m sure, and festivities held at what will always be my first official home church when I moved to Brookings, SD. Trunk-or-Treat was the huge thing then…seemed fun, even though I never went.

And even now, as an adult, I do enjoy dressing up, for the fun of it, but opted not to today. I donned a simple, black turtleneck sweater and jeans this morning and chose one of the two pairs of “Halloween” earrings I own and dressed down. There’s still the office Halloween potluck, put on by the Team Member Engagement Committee, of which I’m very active in and a party with my church crew tomorrow evening…perhaps then I’ll don my Merida costume in every effort to live the life of a Scottish princess for a few hours.

One hot topic that is continuously brought to the table: Christians shouldn’t have anything to do with Halloween. I’ve taken part in conversations with friends who share what they’re doing instead, but, in thinking about my past experience with the day and the festivities our culture has around it, I discovered one common thread: relationships.

When I was a child, we went door to door. Even the cranky, old man living in the darkest house on the corner joined the world in handing out candy. We related.

In high school, college and today, those parties and festivities were held to connect with people.

Yes, God commands in his Word that we should be in the world, and not of it, but he doesn’t demand us to hide from it (John 15.19, 17.16, Romans 12.2).

I’m called to be involved.

To be interested in…

To reach out…

To relate…

To get my hands and feet dirty…

I stumbled on an article conveying just that thought this morning at Relevant Magazine, found here. David Valentine writes about his home state of Texas, how they observe Halloween and how other churches across the country view the holiday in general. He also makes a valid point that Christmas has its origins in pagan religions and how Christians don’t seem to shy away from that holiday.

He points out that while steering clear of the things of this world, we shouldn’t lock ourselves away and how we should instead get our hands dirty:

“In our increasingly fast paced society, we see less and less of our neighbors. Whether you live in a high-rise in the city or your closest neighbor is a mile down the dirt road on the left, we are more disengaged with society than ever before…it becomes increasingly difficult to take time to engage with our neighbors.

Halloween is a once-a-year opportunity where everyone is out and about. Children with parents in tow are running door to door (or trunk to trunk) for the next bit of free candy. The cranky old man turns his porch light on and gives out candy by the handful. Not to mention, someone in the neighborhood, there is a party happening…”

Valentine poses this question: What if the Church stopped being afraid of the world on Halloween and began to engage it?

What if?

What would that look like?

What if we allowed God to take something meant for evil iand spin it around for good?

What if?

We need to step up and redefine the way we interact with Halloween and we need to find a way to include the gospel in doing so. Could that mean handing out candy or other goodies, including healthy options? Sure.

We need to engage with our neighborhoods and surrounding community.

Our children get dressed up (because it’s fun) and go door to door asking for candy.

We choose to sit on our front lawns and talk with our neighbors.

We revamp the way we see Halloween and not view it as just another day, but rather one day a year when all of our neighbors are out in the streets. We have a unique opportunity to interact with everyone.

Here’s an idea: throw a Halloween block party every year for the kids in your community. People will show up to play games, get candy and hear the Gospel…just a thought.

Valentine closes with this thought and I couldn’t agree more:

“If you feel convicted that you shouldn’t celebrate Halloween, you certainly don’t have to. But perhaps you should reconsider how you can use the opportunities the holiday provides to reach other. If nothing else,  Halloween is a day designed by our culture to engage with our neighbors. Perhaps instead of condemning the “evils” of Halloween, or even simply turning off the front porch light on October 31, you should consider giving our candy and chatting with your neighbors or inviting everyone to a party…engage with your community. Who knows, you may have the joy of watching the resurrected Jesus bring those who are dead to life.”

And what greater joy is there than that?

Recommended further reading here.

(more than a) Book Review: “The Meaning of Marriage” by Tim Keller

I suppose I should start by stating that I’m not married nor have I ever been married, so I’m probably  the least apt to talk on the subject. I may not be an expert, but I do pay attention to my world, details and all, and well, based on all of that, I can definitely form my own opinion and apply truth to my own life when it comes to this topic…albeit a touchy one at times.

Why this book? Why read it if it doesn’t pertain to me? Truth is, it does. Tim Keller even says so in his introduction: “[The primary goal of this book] is to give both married and unmarried people a vision for what marriage is according to the Bible…and to help [singles] to stop destructively over-desiring marriage or dismissing it all together…a Bible-based marriage book will help each reader have a better idea of who he or she should consider as a prospective mate.”

I may not be married…

…and there’s a chance that I won’t be in this lifetime.

And that’s okay.

I am party of the Church, the Bride of Christ.

Put like that, I am a bride.

And this book?

It has forever changed the view I’ve had on marriage my entire life, as well as hitting home views I already knew, but didn’t fully understand – and all of this is more so due to the culture I’ve grown up in, the books I once chose to read, and (thank you to) Hollywood, through the shows and movies I chose to watch. Even Disney…no one talks about what happens after or how the damsel lived before meeting her prince. Marriage isn’t at all what I once believed.

Eight chapters of “heavy” information…

Chapter 1 opens the discussion of Paul’s insight on marriage and how it differs immensely from the marriage views of today’s culture.  Tim Keller constantly makes a points out the profound mystery marriage is and how it changes us and how marriage was intended to reflect the gospel and the relationship with the triune God. Tim also makes a statement on how “compatibility” doesn’t exist and after reading it, I would tend to agree.

Chapter 2 opens the door to how the Holy Spirit works in the lives of all, not just those who are married and discusses how each individual is responsible for their own actions; their own self-centeredness and how I need to take personal responsibility for myself.  I can’t change the other person. The only person I can control is me.

Chapter 3 talks about love and how it is not strictly limited to romantic love (which is more of a feeling that will fade over time). Love is also an action and a choice.

Chapter 4 proves the following statement: Marriage is for helping two individuals become who God created them to be, which sets the reader up for Chapter 5, where Tim elaborates on three basic skill sets that with enable you to help your spouse become the person God created them to be:  truth, love and grace.

Chapter 6 teaches the reader what it means to embrace the other gender as God created them to be. Rather than disregarding a person because their differences don’t match your list of necessary qualities or because they are just too different doesn’t mean they should be shoved aside and not even considered. Notice the differences, acknowledge them, embrace them and thank God for diversity….it’s what makes them who they are and God intended those differences to compliment (not complete) those he made in his Image.

Chapter 7 deals with living as a single in this beautiful, broken world. Tim and his wife, Kathy, discuss the history of dating and how different cultures view marriage, delving into how some Christian circles paint the picture that a person is somehow not complete if they don’t have a spouse or a family. Singles are not incomplete, nor are they missing anything. We can learn from our brothers and sisters through the Church. And because this chapter really hit it home for me, I’d like to share the following lies our culture tells us as well as a few quotes from the chapter:

  • Lie :: Truth
  • “As soon as you’re satisfied with God alone, he’ll bring someone special into your life” :: God’s blessings are never earned by the level of our commitment.
  • “You’re too picky” :: God is not frustrated by your fickle whims and does not need broader parameters win which to work.
  • “As a single, you can commit yourself wholeheartedly to the Lord’s work” :: while that statement may be partly true, God doesn’t not require emotional martyrs to do his work…marriage plays a huge role in his work too.
  • “Before you can marry someone wonderful, the Lord has to make you someone wonderful” ::  God doesn’t grant marriage as a second blessing to the satisfactory sanctified.

He doesn’t work that way. The gospel doesn’t work that way. I, along with many of you, have heard those statements directed at me many times and well…I’m not single because I’m too picky. I’m not single because of my imperfection. I’m single because he is good:

“I am not single because I am too spiritually unstable to possibly deserve a husband, nor because I am too spiritually mature to possibly need one. I am single because he is so abundantly good to me; because this is his best for me.” – Paige Benton Brown

How true is that!

And finally, Chapter 8 deals with the topic of sex and why it is best saved for marriage…not basing it on a “rule” the Christian religion follows, but basing it on God’s ultimate desire for his children.

Overall, a great book and while the writing is easy to read, the context is heavy…

…a book I wouldn’t recommend breezing through. Take your time. Read one chapter a week…or per month. However long it takes for this applied to truth to sink in. Pair it with Epheisans 5. Camp in it. The Meaning of Marriage is a definite must read and should be added to your own personal collection, whether you’re married or not. Get your own copy as I won’t be lending mine out any time soon…it’s that good.

hope: in light of the incident in Boston

“I wonder…if the rent in the canvas of our life’s backdrop, the losses that puncture our world, our own emptiness, might actually become places to see.
To see through to God.”
– Ann Voskamp –

My heart aches

…aches for those in Boston

…for those affected by yesterday’s events.

I can only imagine what it would be like to live through that ordeal…and the more I think about it, the likelihood of that happening in my lifetime, directly to me or to those around me, is higher than it would have been the year I was born.

Oh, the world we live in.

darkness

sin

brokenness

And yet…there is hope.

Hope because we’ve been saved; by grace through faith.

Hope in Jesus.

Hope in His Kingdom to come.

Granted, I see events (am somewhat indirectly affected by them, rather) like yesterday’s bombing and I want nothing more than to go Home. I also know how difficult it is to see the hand of God in those types of situations, but He’s there…and He’s very much alive.

I’ve been rereading through A Sudden Glory by Sharon Jaynes (find book review here) and taking part in her online Bible study the last seven weeks and this week’s lesson really hit home today: “Trusting God in Tough Times.” She asks some pointed questions right in the first chapter: Could it be that the puncture wounds in the canvas of [my] life might actually become the rent places of the soul through which you can see God? …through which you can see His light burning through the openings?…How do we allow life’s difficulties to become see-through places? How do we see those glory moments?”

I’ve been working on another entry for quite some time – and I hope to have it up soon, but you know how temperamental writers/artists are; not including the fact that I’m a bit of a perfectionist – regarding such an experience. Did you know you can experience those moments on a daily basis? It’s true. It’s easy to find God when things are going well; when life is coasting by with the pay raise; the new home; a new love interest; a new addition to the family – but…

but…

when life gets dark…

when life gets tough…

when the road gets hard…

Where is God in all of that?

Jesus Himself states, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). And the beautiful thing? He has overcome the world! That statement, in and of itself, makes my soul smile. Have you ever experienced that feeling?

“When we experience shattered dreams, broken relationships, tragic losses/events, or unfulfilled longings, it can be difficult to feel God’s presence, to see His hand, and to hear His voice. Moments of His glory cease when we close our eyes in pain and tune God out in anger” or hurt. But that doesn’t mean that God isn’t there. He is.

People let us down. Life disappoints. And so does God…in a sense. We expect Him to move one way and He doesn’t. We show Him the roadmap we’ve drawn out for this situation in our lives according to the way we think it should go and He doesn’t follow it to a tee. Then, like a lover wronged, we guard our hearts against future disappoint and lower our expectations and trust. But…God understands. He’s been there. He knows exactly what you’re going through; what I’m going through.

He sympathizes.

He sees.

El Roi

“The God who sees me” (Genesis 16.13).

I’ve always thought the ancient Hebrew language was beautiful…and (on a side note) I’m thankful for the scholars, theologians and researchers who have done research and studied to uncover these truths about the Word of God that make the emphasis and its power that much more real…to me, at least.

Instead of following our tendency to be the child throwing the temper tantrum, maybe we should take God at His word and simply “be still.” I know…easier said than done, right? But not impossible. We simply need to shift our focus from what we see (but don’t completely understand) to what we cannot see (2 Corinthians 4.18). It may not make sense today, but some day? It will.

Isaiah 55.9 reads: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

I stumbled on a fellow believer’s blog entry posted by a friend on Facebook today – which can be found here. Tim Meier asked a valid question: How do we respond to these events?

And, being human, I would tend to agree with his answer…and in agreement with Obama: justice. But…

but…

I also know that just punishing these people, while the right thing to do, won’t end a culture of violence or hateful evil.”

Ending that cycle starts with us.

And we must remember that God will bring judgment due to those based on what they’ve done with the life God gave them. That breaks my heart…the thought that thousands of could-be brothers and sisters won’t be saved before Christ returns. It’s my responsibility to live out His gospel on a day-to-day, moment-by-incredibly miraculous-moment basis; to show others what it means to have life to the full; to follow Jesus.

We may never understand the actions behind the tragic events of yesterday’s attack in Boston. But I know that God was and continues to be there. He is omnipresent….everywhere at once. He did not write the story of our lives to simply sit back and watch it play out. He is in the story with you; with me. In fact, He has the leading role.

Does that surprise you?

It shouldn’t.

We try to butt in and take the spotlight…often. Remember the statement I made earlier about showing Him your life’s blueprints? Yeah…we do that all too often. I’m guilty of it. You’re not alone on that.

Imagine this:

Imagine getting to heaven and looking at your playbill…personally, I think it will be the entire tapestry and I’ll automatically see that role He gave me to play in His bigger picture…and you’ll see that God had the leading role all along. His life covers ours. Our names will be listed in supporting roles as a display of His glory.

And His glory can be found here:

  • in your current timeline.
  • in the community that came together to help following yesterday’s events.
  • in the lives that were/are being saved.

Our limited vision doesn’t allow us to see how God is working behind the scenes, but we must believe that He is there. “Difficult times are pregnant with glory moments just waiting to be birthed in the lives of those willing to labor through the pain. The key is to not allow bitterness and anger to make our hearts infertile to God’s gifts.” Those moments in difficult times are not dependent on our circumstances but on our focus.

But how do we focus on God during trying times?

By cultivating a grateful heart…being thankful for all that you have…and keeping your focus on God through it all. Trials test and stretch us (read the book of James); they rip away the flimsy fabric of self-sufficiency and become the raw material for God’s miracle in our lives. God is far more interested in developing our character than doling out a life or comfort and ease. “Consider it pure joy,” James said, “when you encounter various trials.” (James 1.2). Note that he said when not if. It will happen. Believe it. And be prepared to grow in faith and character because of it.

C.S. Lewis (enjoy his work) stated, “If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place of training and correction and it’s not so bad.”

Phillip Yancy also wrote: “Faith means believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.” That is so true. Often times, I’ve looked back over past journal entries and have been recognized God’s hand in my life during a past struggle…when I didn’t feel His presence or couldn’t see Him at that precise moment. He was there.

He’s here now.

The dark places are simply opportunities to trust that He knows the way – and the perfect time to hold on…

…hold on to faith.

…hold on to hope.

…hold on to Jesus.

Video – Give Me Jesus – Jeremy Camp

Works Cited:
A Sudden Glory: God’s Lavish Response to Your Ache for Something More. Sharon Jaynes. 2012.
When Terrorism Comes Close. Tim Meier. <http://www.theunitive.com/when-terrorism-comes-close-the-boston-marathon-ill-never-forget>