Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Walking Birds and Hired Hands

By Jon Acuff:
Sometimes I like to think I’ve got faith figured out. I feel like I’ve learned a few things, had a dramatic return to Christ after years of wandering, read some books, and can clap my hands together and say “done and done.” But these last few months have been a weird time of God exposing to me how broken my understanding of his love is. How twisted and how false my beliefs are. And recently he showed me that with a dead bird, a homecoming and a single letter.

As I’ve mentioned 92 times, I’m reading through the Bible with some friends right now. I’ve joked a few times that the book of Leviticus is the “one year plan killer.” It’s the book that has often knocked my out of the running for actually reading through the Bible in a year. It’s full of mold regulations and verses that tell you how to determine what hair color means in the middle of a sore and oh man, I stop reading. That was the attitude I took with me as we marched into the L.

But because the Bible isn’t a book, but the Word of God, every line, every verse has the potential to blow you away. And Leviticus 14 did. Is it dramatic? Is it earthshaking? Not at first glance. The verses that caught me are about, you guessed it, mold regulations.

Here is what verses 49-53 say:
“To purify the house, he (a priest) is to take two birds and some cedar wood, scarlet yarn and hyssop. He shall kill one of the birds over fresh water in a clay pot. Then he is to take the cedar wood, the hyssop, the scarlet yarn and the live bird, dip them into the blood of the dead bird and the fresh water, and sprinkle the house seven times. He shall purify the house with the bird’s blood, the fresh water, the live bird the cedar wood, the hyssop and the scarlet yarn. Then he is to release the live bird in the open fields outside the town. In this way he will make atonement for the house, and it will be clean.”

I’ve read those verses a number of times before but this time, something hit me, a question I couldn’t shake:
“Do you think the bird who was freed, the live bird who represented being forgiven, walked when it was released in the fields or did it soar?”
The other bird paid the price. Freedom was bought at a cost. Atonement was paid with a life. Knowing that, seeing that, do you think the second bird refused to fly when it was released? Do you think it quietly tucked its wings and scurried about the ground?

Of course not. Having escaped death, having escaped that moment, it probably could not fly high enough or fast enough into the sky. It jumped loudly into the freedom of forgiveness.

I don’t. I don’t celebrate God’s mercy or grace that way. I am like the prodigal son, returning home to be a hired hand. I act like forgiveness is something to be earned, not celebrated. I am not an heir to the throne, I am a hired hand to the throne. But, I am wrong.

That’s why I continue to come back to the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15. When he returns to the farm and finds himself in the father’s embrace, there is only one sentence of his plan that the father will not let him say: “Make me like one of your hired men.”

I don’t think he was allowed to say it because it couldn’t be true. He was his son, that was his identity, not his employee.

I mess grace up so often and have confused it in my head for so many years. I finally just confessed to God, “You know how I think. You know how I’ve trained myself to believe for years and years. I can’t rewire myself. I can’t sanctify me. Only you can. I need you to transform the way I look at grace.” 

And the prayer that came from that confession and the hope I have for you and me is simple:
“Help me live in the joy of forgiveness, not the job of forgiveness.”

Those two words might feel similar, joy and job are only a single letter apart, but they are worlds away from each other. I pray we will be that bird who does not run, but instead flies. Who looks at what Christ did for us on the cross. The sacrifice, the mercy, the grace and that we will not try to earn it when we return to the farm, but will instead accept it. Fly in it. Celebrate it. And know the joy of forgiveness.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Would you allow a Murderer and an Adulterer to Pastor your Church?

By Tim Challies and found here:

There are not too many stories from the life of Jesus that made their way into all four of the biblical accounts of his life. Each of the authors writes for a different purpose or to a different audience and this leads them to different emphases. Yet one of the stories that each of them tells is Peter’s denial of Jesus. Peter’s darkest moment, his greatest shame, was included by all four of the gospel writers. Isn’t it interesting that in an account of the life of Jesus, all four of them veer for a little while into Peter’s life.

This raises two questions in my mind: How did the gospel writers know the details of this story and why do they all make mention of it? This story could so easily be the stuff of tabloids, meant to bring shame to Peter, to cause people to doubt his faith, to doubt that he could be a worthy leader in the early church. Why would all of the authors risk bringing further shame on this man?

All of the disciples were present when Jesus foretold that Peter would deny him, so there were many witnesses to that part of the story, but they had long since taken flight when Peter actually swore and called down judgment on himself if he was one of those men who knew Jesus. His darkest moment happened in the dark of night and he was the only witness to the whole account. How, then, did the gospel writers know what Peter had done? It seems clear that Peter must have told them. Even while this story must have caused him to blush in shame, he humbly told it to point to the Lord’s grace. Even today, two thousand years later, we rarely think of Peter without thinking of him as the man who sinned and was restored.

Why then did all four of the gospel writers include this story in their accounts of the crucifixion? At least in part because Peter’s fall and restoration was a crucial story of the power of the gospel, that even a man who betrayed Jesus, a man who turned away from Jesus at the most hurtful time, could be restored. The gospel could save even a man like Peter.

This makes me ask, Is my gospel big enough to account for a man who three times denied that he knew the Lord? Is it big enough to account for a man who spent all of those years with Jesus, only to desert him in the end? Is it big enough to allow a man like this to be a leader in the church? Is your gospel big enough for all of this?

What if David lived in our day and what if he was a leader in this little segment of the Christian world when he committed adultery and murder. Would your gospel be big enough to say that even a man like that could be forgiven and restored? I am not talking about things done before a person comes to know the Lord, but things done by those who profess faith, by those who have been given light, who see God for who he is.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


By Robert McGee:
It is important to understand that fruitfulness and growth are the results of focusing on Christ and desiring to honor Him. When growth and change are our primary goals, we tend to be preoccupied with ourselves instead of with Christ.  “Am I growing? Am I getting any better? Am I more like Christ today? What am I learning?” This inordinate preoccupation with self-improvement parallels our culture’s self-help and personal enhancement movement in many ways. Personal development is certainly not wrong, but it is misleading—and it can be very disappointing—to make it our preeminent goal. As we grasp the unconditional love, grace, and power of God, then honoring Christ will increasingly be our consuming passion…The only One worthy of our preoccupation is Christ, our sovereign Lord, who told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.”

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

....without Sin

I can say that I cannot pray without sin — I cannot preach without sin — I can do nothing without sin; and as one expresses it: my repentance needs to be repented of, and my very tears to be washed in the precious blood of my dear Redeemer. Our best duties are as so many splendid sins. Before you can know you are at peace with God, you must not only be made sick of your original and actual sin, but you must be sick of your righteousness, of all your duties and performances. There must be a deep conviction before you can be brought out of your self-righteousness; it is the last idol taken out of your heart. The pride of our heart will not let us submit to the righteousness of Jesus Christ. But if you never felt that you had no righteousness of your own, if you never felt the deficiency of your own righteousness, you cannot come to Jesus Christ. There are a great many now who may say, “well we believe all this,” but there is a great difference between talking and feeling. Did you ever feel the need of a dear Redeemer? Did you ever feel the want of Jesus Christ, upon the account of the deficiency of your own righteousness? And can you now say from your heart, “Lord, thou mayst justly damn me for the best duties that ever I did perform?” If you are not thus brought out of yourself, you may say to your heart “Peace! Peace!” but there is no peace.”  - George Whitfield

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Knock, man!

And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.  
Luke 11:5-8

“See the man at midnight.  Imitate that man.  Act it all alone at midnight.  Hear his loud cry, and cry it after him.  He needed three loaves.  What is your need?  Name it.  Name it out loud.  Let your own ears hear it. . . . The shameful things you have to ask for.  The disgraceful, the incredible things you have to admit and confess.  The life you have lived.  The way you have spent your days and nights.  And what all that has brought you to.  It kills you to have to say such things even with your door shut.  Yes, but better say all these things in closets than have them all proclaimed from the housetops of the day of judgment.  Knock, man!  Knock for the love of God!  Knock as they knock to get into heaven after the door is shut!  Knock, as they knock to get out of hell!”
-Alexander Whyte, “The Man Who Knocked At Midnight,” in Lord, Teach Us To Pray

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Prayer for Times When Sufficient Grace Doesn’t Feel Sufficient

From Scotty Smith:
“… There was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ”My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Cor. 12:7-9
Dear heavenly Father, the Apostle Paul’s story stirs up my already stirred up heart. Though I’ve experienced the toxic shame of my own failures, the emotional assault of betrayal, the soul-pillaging pain of loss and heart-depleting episodes of depression that make heaven look like my only option… nonetheless, I know myself to be an amateur in anguish, a tenderfoot in trauma, a mere suckling in suffering.

Compared to many sufferers that I know, quite honestly, Lord, you have every right to judge my whines, complaints and moans as those of a spoiled brat. But you are far too merciful and gracious to do so. You take my sin and my pain seriously, so seriously you gave Jesus for me, and I will forever praise you.

But today, I join many of my brothers and sisters, in bringing before you our friends and family members who are in the vortex of chronic suffering—a downward spiral of misery that mocks the notion of your mercy; that calls into question the sufficiency of your grace; that doesn’t make heaven look good, but invisible.

Father, give us your heart for the suffering. Give us wisdom, give us strength, give us kindness. For those whose physical pain is increasingly unbearable, we cry out for the power of Jesus to fall.

Unashamedly, unreservedly, we ask you to bring relief, Father. By the means of supernatural intervention, please calm the nerve endings. By the means of common grace, please give physicians wisdom to know what medications, and what doses, would be best in each situation.

Father, for those who are suffering fresh emotional trauma, and those who are just beginning to deal with heart wounds long since buried, bring the grace, truth and power of the gospel to bear. Help us enter the emotional chaos not as fixers, but as listeners; not as tamers of the whirlwind, but as those who follow Jesus into the storm; not as those who fear our inadequacy, but as those who own our weakness. When our friend’s emotional pain triggers our’s, help us to stay present, focused and caring.

Father, for those who are suffering mental and spiritual anguish—for friends who simultaneously feel like Job and Job’s wife… counting loses and cursing heaven, don’t let us be like “Job’s friends.” Better to sit in awkward silence, than to offer cliché, rules and formulas. Better to be a quiet, living epistle of mercy than to spout Scripture verses like unwrapped band-aids. We believe this, help our unbelief. Free us from timetables and the need to make it better.

Father, when we ourselves begin to ask, “How long, O Lord?” When we wonder, silently and out loud, “How much is too much?” When we begin, or continue to doubt, your mercy and might, make the cross of Jesus clearer and dearer. O, for the Day when Jesus finishes making all things new. So very Amen we pray, in Jesus’ suffering and triumphant name.