Thanks for the Gift! What do I Owe You?

Do you remember being excited about an upcoming birthday? Perhaps you still are? My son was. He knew all about the presents. He was pointing things out every time we went to the store. “I want that”. “I need one of those”. “Can I have this for my birthday?”

At the age of 5, celebrations can be all about the presents… some of us older folks can still get wrapped up in the gifts aspect of things. But as the day approached and he rattled off where he wanted the party, who he wanted there, and how the day should go down, he managed to make some bad choices.

Not bad party ideas or bad birthday wishes… bad life choices. He made some mistakes. He messed up. It was frustrating because some of the decisions he made were contradictory to lessons we had laid out dozens of times before.

It never once crossed our minds to not give him the presents as a form of punishment. They were already purchased. No matter what choices he made yesterday it was still his birthday on that new day. We might find an effective form of discipline for when he does act out… but we give him the gifts we want for him to have.

God wants us to have the gift of salvation. Why do we struggle so much with the gift of Jesus? We tend to think that our actions can change His mind… The very mind that was made up when the apple was bitten in to.

We say some pretty crazy things. “I don’t deserve that gift!” Really? What did we do to earn our birthday presents? What accomplishment did we perform? Nothing. Our birth was through no desire or effort of our own, it was a decision made a certain number of years back by other people. And they reward us from their love.

Why do we try and change the meaning of grace? It’s little different. We do nothing to earn it. God provides it out of love. If it was something that required deserving, none of us would have it. Grace was a decision made by God long before our time and He gives it to us because He loves us. If we do something that He does not like, He doesn’t go back in time and pry the nails off the cross.

God has already given us His Son. The sacrifice has already been paid. The pain has already been endured. He isn’t going to return the gift because of our sins… the gift was given because of our sins. We needed it. We couldn’t get to God without it. And the part that seems difficult for us to understand is that God couldn’t get to us without it. We are His desire.

God sent His Son because He wanted to be with us but couldn’t. So He gave this amazing gift to free us from our sin and we think that very same sin exempts us from the gift.

I think we struggle so much with this because we can’t read about grace without binding works back into the equation. We get nervous if we hear about grace and we don’t hear about how we can fall from grace. Some of us believe that too much forgiveness implies ‘once saved, always saved’. So we swing the boat around as fast as possible to include that we can choose to leave God and reject His promises.

So rather than running the race, we are left spinning in circles. God gives grace, but I keep messing up. We think He’s on His way back to Walmart to return the cross because it doesn’t fit us anymore.

We have to leave that door open because we just can’t comprehend how grace truly works. Completely and utterly without us… that is how it works. It is a Godly gift. One that we are meant only to accept, not to earn.

Our circular logic leaves an option ‘B’ on the table. I could either accept grace and I had better be good afterwards… or I could fall from grace and spend eternity in the very bad place.

To me, this sounds like an out. This his how people operate that don’t want to go all in. If I accept this grace and let God transform my mind and I become His servant… what would change? Everything. Absolutely everything would be drastically different in every step of life.

It sounds like cold feet. Grace can’t be THAT good. I could still blow it. I could definitely mess that up, so I better behave. I should be careful. Instead of celebrating, I should spend time in self pity. Instead of praising, I should judge myself a bit. Doesn’t that sound crazy? It’s not like we think it through just like I’m spelling it out, but we reach the same end result, don’t we? I can’t live free in the grace of God because I hate myself too much!

This sounds like a prenuptial agreement to me. One of those documents you sign with your fiancé because you either don’t trust them or you know you aren’t trustworthy. It’s a legal declaration that you believe that something bad could happen. It says, I want to spend the rest of my life with you, but should either one of us change our minds, here are the rules for how that will play out.

Isn’t that romantic? They will write poems about our love, but if I see someone I like better, I want the toaster. I trust you with all of my heart… sign this.

And we take this same approach with God when we don’t immerse ourselves in the free gift of grace that He has given us, clearly based on His love for us and not on our works for Him. We create an out. Every time we utter that phrase that we aren’t good enough, we push back on the gift. Gifts aren’t purchased by the receiver!

If we had an obligation to the gift, it wouldn’t be a gift. It would be called a purchase. In this case, grace was purchased, but it was paid for by someone else. Jesus paid the price. But the grace was given freely to us. Grace is not a loan, its not an IOU, its not bought in installments, and its not a balloon payment. It’s free. It’s a gift. Given to us. And we are meant to do one single thing. Accept it.

If you are struggling with thoughts about all the effort that goes into accepting grace, I fear you are missing out on this precious gift. We do not change our behavior to receive grace… once we have received grace, and we truly accept it as an un-earnable and Holy gift… we are wholly transformed by the love of God and the relationship we build with Him.

When I gave the presents to my little boy, who had acted poorly, do you think he handed them back and said I didn’t deserve these? I honestly believe the thought never once entered his mind. He tore open the paper and danced in the ribbons. He played with each and every toy until they broke and since he is a 5 year old boy, they all broke.

And I believe this is meant to be our response. Swim in the wrapping paper that is grace. Tear open the gift and embrace it. Snuggle in bed with it at night. Carry it to breakfast. Sneak it into your backpack and take it to school. Give it a seat at the table. Love it as the gift that it is. Our behavior is not wrapped up into grace. That happened so long ago and is freely given as a pre-purchased gift. If you insist on finding a place in this thought about your behavior, that has much more to do with your relationship with God.

If you find that you and Jesus look nothing alike, start by embracing grace. Nuzzle up to the feet of His throne and make peace that you are His child and He both loves you and longs for you. He gave a mighty gift that came at great cost to Him and His Son. He did that for you. Before you even knew who you were. He didn’t pay that price just to withhold the gift.


Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

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Do You Really Only Have One Shot?

I have always been amazed at how photographers can capture such amazing, seemingly magical moments by pressing a button at the precise moment that a breathtaking event occurs.

My recent exploration of cameras has pulled back the curtain as to how this actually happens.  First, there is a portion of time that is less than a second.  What I mean by this is you don’t just have one second to take a picture.  You can take pictures in fractions of a second.  One of the cameras I want to buy can take over 20 pictures in a single second.

Humans typically blink in a tenth of a second.  So you can quickly see how over 20 pictures during that second can get around one of many problems that can occur if you were to only snap a shot one time.  Cameras also come with a buffer.  This can hold those 20+ photos that are coming in every second for multiple seconds.  The camera is taking in pictures faster than it can permanently write them to storage so it needs a place to hold them while you are still capturing.

Once the buffer is full, or once you are done taking the pictures, it will then write the pictures captured to the camera storage for you to sort through later.  This can amount to hundreds of photos all captured in a matter of seconds.  And this explains how its done.  They just hold down the button and let the moment unfold before them.  A bird in flight, a baseball swing, a shooting star, that perfect smile…

I used to think that photographers had to stop, pull out their camera, turn it on, point, focus, and then press the button one time and hope that they were lucky enough to catch something good.  And if they missed.  If they were too early or too late… it was gone forever.

I tried photography years ago and found it frustrating because my images were always blurry and I felt like I missed every opportunity.  I feel like many of us live our lives like this.  We think we only get one shot.  And if we muster up enough of whatever we need to take it and it doesn’t go so well, we are through.

We only give our marriages one shot.  We give our friends one chance.  This situation gets only one round from me.  And if it gets painful, or hard, or frustrating… I’m out!  Maybe we give it two chances or three, but the end result is the same.  We know how to quit.  We are experts at giving up.  Wasting time on fruitless things is not something we like to do.

Whats worse is we give up on ourselves just as easily.  We get tired of making the same mistake over and over and over and we can’t comprehend how anyone could accept such failure.  Peter said that he does the things he should not do and he does not do the things he should.  I appreciate him sharing that.  It gives me hope.  I get the sense he is constantly at odds with himself.

God is the God of second chances.  But also third chances, forth chances, hundredth chances, and beyond.  Much, much beyond.  We cannot out-sin God’s grace.  It doesn’t mean we should try to, it just means we have hope if we desire a fresh start with our Father in heaven.

I want to encourage us to not only give others a chance, but to give ourselves a chance… lots of them.  God’s buffer never fills up.  If we can understand how He extends grace to others, remember that works for us too.  Bluntly put, we aren’t the exceptions we often think we are.  He loves us and forgives us when we seek that.  All of us.

 


Smite My Enemies… But Forgive Me

We can’t properly understand God’s mercy until we grasp that we, whose lives directly act in contradiction to God, go to Him to ask that He fix all of the contradictions in our own lives. We are jailers seeking freedom. We are liars expecting truth. We are sinners that demand perfection. If we can turn, ‘why me?’ into ‘send me!’ we begin to step out of hypocrisy and into grace. If someone sins against us and we can discern that our own sin breaks the heart of Jesus before we judge others, then we are beginning to accept that gift.

 


Photo by Elti Meshau on Unsplash

Grace, More than Once

We have a young foster child in our home.  Recently, he had an opportunity to speak to his parents on the phone.  When they didn’t answer, my wife reached the phone out to him and put it on speaker so he could leave them a message.  Only, he didn’t want to.

His face curled down to sad and his fingers started entangling amongst themselves, while he stared at the floor.  My wife prompted him verbally, visually, and physically and he just sat traumatized before the recording mailbox.

He was given plenty of warning, lots of time, and a plethora of opportunities to speak up.  He refused them all.  So she hung up and then the tears started to flow.  When we asked what was wrong, he wouldn’t answer.  We knew part of it already.  He comes from a background where he always gets his way.  Being offered things that he doesn’t want or like causes some outrageous reactions.

So we started to chalk this up to yet another episode where he is making sure that he is in charge.  His tears turned to fits and his fits soon became bellowing screams.  All because he chose not to talk.  We hadn’t even indicated that any form of discipline was in order.  He simply wasn’t going to talk to his parents this day by his own choosing.

After he calmed down some, we tried to figure out what happened.  He is an excellent communicator when he wants to be.  He let us know that he was scared and sad and that he wanted to try again.  But the problem is that we had already let him know the rule based on many of these outbursts before.  Once he passes up an opportunity and chooses to ignore us, disobey, etc.  He loses that chance for the day.

So here we have a child that refused to do something he actually wanted to do and now is whining, crying, and complaining, because he can’t do it anymore (at least for the day).  And while I’m struggling to not pull out my hair over how he reacts and over reacts and then constantly comes back and wants to try again even though he totally blew it before, I finally realized… He’s just like me.

Ignoring God, thinking I know best, doing my thing, living my own way, my rules, my terms, my conditions… then, when things don’t work out, the whining starts.  Why me?  What have I done?  I don’t deserve this!  It’s not fair!

The saddest part?  All of it, every last piece of it, can in some way be traced back to me not wanting to talk to the Father.  If I spent the right time with the right heart in His presence everyday… none of this would happen.

Buts that not all. I actually thought, this is a great opportunity to teach him grace. I could let him talk to his parents and make him so happy and teach him biblical truth all at the same time.

But I was so scared he would expect grace every time… I let the moment pass.

Because I know how he is already. I know how I am. I need grace every time.  All of the progress we made would be lost, he would become dependent on grace and never act correctly on his own the first time.  He would be just like me.  And I can’t stand that thought.

Desperate to teach this child important life lessons, I refused him the most important teaching of all… the one I depend on every day.  I pray God forgives my ignorance and continues to pour grace over undeserving, frequent offenders.  And I’m thankful He keeps His sense of humor up while teaching me through the foibles of a four year old.

Erasing Makes A Mess

I worked for an unscrupulous manager when I was growing up.  He would fill out the schedule in pencil and, when it suited him the most, he would erase time slots and fill it out again.  Thankfully, the GM was smart, and when I showed him the faint outline left by the erasing it was obvious that the data was altered.

I used to use erasable ink pens until I learned that no amount of swiping would make the surface completely clean.  Maybe technology has changed, but when I was a child, writing something in an erasable format was like putting something on the internet… there was no way to get rid of it.  Like a dirty chalkboard, you can make out bits and pieces of what was previously documented there.

This is why I’m thankful that Jesus didn’t erase our sins.  He took them.  If He had just forgiven us, there would still be a remnant or stain.  And in our minds we would know what we have done.  It’s hard to live through guilt.  Jesus took our sins.  More specifically, He bought them.  They had a price and we couldn’t afford it.  Jesus stepped in and heaped them all on Himself in our place.

I know a lot of people who won’t begin or further a relationship with Jesus because of their past.  They feel that God is all powerful, but He can’t forgive them.  They think that they have messed up too many times.  They use phrases like too much, too late, or too hard.  The gift we have been given pretty much means that we don’t have a past anymore.  We only have a future.

Jesus found a way so that when someone comes along and scratches the surface of our lives, they don’t find the person we used to be.  That person is gone. We are new with Christ.  That doesn’t just mean we act different, it means we ARE different.  We have a full new history of grace, forgiveness, and salvation.

Satan would have you believe that if someone comes along, they can perform that trick the detectives use on TV shows with a pencil on a post it note to uncover your secrets.  God’s truth is that you have no secrets… His Son paid for them all.  The temptation is to retreat in your sin.  The gift is that you have no sin.  Not if you accept the gift of Christ crucified and live in a relationship with Him.  So please allow me to encourage you to stop letting your sin keep you from Christ, when it is Christ who keeps your sin from you.  Stop trying to erase the sin, when He will fully take it all.

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Opting out of Grace does not Mean God Can’t Forgive

There are frequently two incorrect assumptions many assign to God.

1.  I’m not good enough.

2.  My sin is too great.

First, you may notice I said we assign those assumptions to God.  That was not a typo.  We may be sulking in our own history of mistakes, but we are effectively saying, “I have dug a hole so big even God can’t reach me!”

Do you really believe that is possible?  Are we so great that our mishaps can limit our creator?

Secondly, lets revisit what God did to forgive our sins.  He let His Son live a homeless, nomadic life on earth, allowed him to be mocked, tortured, and killed, and put all of our sins on Him in our place.  Do we really believe that after all of that, His plan to save US had a flaw?  Are we so clever we found a loophole?

When you claim your sins are too big, you are also saying God is too small.  And incidentally, you are kind of saying the whole death on a cross thing was a bit of a dud.   Equally so, if we assume our merit, in any way, affects God’s relationship with us, we have a gross misunderstanding of God’s plan from the beginning.  Jesus came to save the sinner… of which we all are.

We cloak our statements so it sounds like we are so bad and unworthy…. but what we are really saying is that God can’t.  Or God won’t.  That line of thinking has a problem with tense.  God did!  It’s already done. The price has already been paid.  To know that Jesus already died for your sins and then to believe you are exempt from that salvation is to call God’s plan a failure.  You think you are saying, “no, I failed… ME!”  but that is exactly why you have been forgiven… because we all fail.  We all seek forgiveness… and God will give that grace-filled forgiveness to any and all who ask sincerely.

Why would He go through the agony of letting His Son die…  Why would Jesus go through the whole of it… if it wasn’t a complete package deal?  Did God tell Him, “sorry, Son, the liars and thieves can be saved but the adulterers and murderers are on their own?  No.

No matter how sick, how disgusting, how repulsive you find yourself… Jesus bought those attributes from you.  There might be something holding you back or keeping you from letting go of those sins… but nothing held Jesus back from dying for them.

So instead of shrugging off your Savior and condemning yourself… try asking for a little grace.  Grace is that thing that NONE of us deserves, but He gives it to us anyway because He loves us.  You don’t require MORE grace than anyone else.  We all need grace.  And to all who ask, all will receive.

One final reminder… One of Satan’s biggest lies is in the mirror.  Its how we perceive ourselves.  God loves us and wants us to be with Him.  He payed dearly so we could be with Him.  If you are feeling unwanted, useless, unworthy, or unloved… you are being deceived.  God follows His own commands, of which the greatest is, to love all.

Here is the sad summary… you can choose not to accept grace.  Many do.  But it isn’t because it wasn’t offered.  Can you get so hungry that food won’t help?  Can you get so thirsty that water won’t work?  Can you be so poor that you turn down money because it will just make things worse?  I hope those all sound ridiculous to you.  Because it seems quite silly to God that you would find yourself in a predicament that He can’t solve or forgive.

One Question: Pass / Fail

Lets call this an exercise.  It might sound like I’m getting political, but I promise it’ll barely scrape the surface before I get back on topic.  And the topic is a single question test to help you understand where you stand spiritually.  It’s not meant as anything other than a personal self assessment in one key area of faith.

Jesus, our intercessor, is often seen as standing at the gates of Heaven.  He will, as promised, vouch for those who have received His gift of salvation.  The Bible calls it, among other things, the separation of grains from weeds.

Before we get going, I’d like to ask you to think of 2 names.  See, I’m not even going to mention them.  These 2 figures have been in political news non stop for months and likely won’t be left out of the news for the foreseeable future.  Most likely one of the two names brings up feelings of unhappiness.  In many people, the feelings are much stronger.  If I’m to believe social media, both of these people are absolutely hated by the opposing party.  If you aren’t wrapped up in the political turmoil then pick your current enemy number 1.

Some of us, get so agitated at the mere mention of the name, we probably already forgot what we are doing.  So all I want you to do is to think about those 2 people for a minute.  Got a good image?  All set on their character, beliefs, motives, and class?  Good.

Now, lets pretend for a moment that Jesus pulls you aside at the gates of Heaven.  He has a task for you.  Those 2 people are right behind you in line.  In your ear, He whispers the following:

I have already paid for their sins.  On the cross I endured absence from my Father while I took on the whole burden of all sin.  I was sacrificed and now is the time to deem people entrance or deny, forever, access to the Father.  I know how horrible time away from God is and it forced me to cry out in anguish for all to hear.  To be away from God is to be forsaken.  Lost.  Alone.  Horribly and wretchedly doomed.  I will not share their secrets or their sins, nor their accomplishments.  You only have the knowledge you have brought into death.  What sentence would you pass on to these 2 people?  Should they be allowed to praise God forever, or weep for eternity?  Should I forsake them?

And thus begins your test.  Knowing only what social media or biased media has provided you, are you ready to condemn others to an eternity of Hell?  Are your sins lesser?  Is God unable or incapable of forgiving?

I’ll remind you of a single scripture before you are asked to answer.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. – Ephesians 4:31-32

Can you do it?  Can you pass judgement on these people?  Can your conscience bear the weight of eternal consequences?  I praise God every day that I am not a judge (in earthly or heavenly matters).  Passing out penalty is not something I envy.  Although it is much needed, I could not be the one to decide when a price should be paid.  Thankfully, the Bible makes it easy.  Forgive debts.  Forgive crimes against us.  Forgive each other.

This doesn’t mean to let people ruin the world with chaos.  This means that we are free from the burden of consequences when we forgive those who wrong us.  This affectively makes it “their” problem.  To not forgive is to hold on.  Picture Ebenezer Scrooge hoarding receipts, demanding payments, double checking the locks on all of his money…  Its a task to hold grudges.  Its a burden.  When you forgive, both parties become free.

OK, no more preaching.  It’s time to answer… Did you learn anything about yourself?

Was it hard to give grace to someone like this?

Did you find feelings of hatred stir up inside?

If you found that your emotions don’t exactly line up with the many, many verses in the Bible about forgiveness and judgement, then you are in the right place.  You are able to see the difference which will allow you to change your behavior.  The Christ-Like servant does not publicly hate or judge.  Instead, we pray.  If you believe, as the Bible tells us, that no one is beyond the reach of God’s grace, then you must also believe that everyone is worth praying for.

The bottom line is are you are a hater or a pray-er?  Who do you choose to be today?