Sunday, March 31, 2013

When Good Met Grace
I'm one of the good girls.  Sure, I'm not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but I’ve never done anything “really bad”. 
I grew up in a good home, went to Christian schools and was never interested in drugs, drinking, sex, or rock-n-roll.  For the most part, I obeyed my parents and did what I was told.  I was a good girl.

I've never been arrested and never gotten a speeding ticket (which doesn't mean I didn't deserve one).  I’ve taken people meals when they were sick, sang songs to older folks in nursing homes, worked at a camp for developmentally disabled, given money to missions, and shared what I had with the poor (when it was convenient).  I’ve led Bible studies, faithfully attended church and strived to be "good" in every way. 


But my goodness left a bitter taste in the heart of God.


We are all infected and impure with sin.  When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags . . .  Isaiah 64.6


Buried deep in my heart was a cancer.


Secret Sins.  Hidden thoughts, attitudes and feelings. . . 

Pride.  Arrogance.  Condemnation.  Bitterness.  Jealousy.  Greed.  Lust.


How easy I found it, to justify my own thoughts and behaviors when I compared them to my friends and their indiscretions.   How quick I was to focus on their glaring flaws and ignore the sickness growing inside of me.   


Hypocrites!  For you are like whitewashed tombs – beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity . . .     Matthew 23.27 (NLT)


Does God care about a “good girl” like me? 


One day Grace reached out to me.


But He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins.  He was beaten so we could be whole.  He was whipped so we could be healed.  All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.  We have left God’s paths to follow our own.  Yet the Lord laid on Him the sins of us all.   Isaiah 53.5-6


Grace brought my secret sins out into the Light.  Grace sent me to my knees and overwhelmed me with sorrow over my evil heart and arrogant spirit. 
Then, Grace lifted me up, dusted me off and wiped the tears from my eyes.  Grace forgave me and set me free from my goodness.

                                Undeserved . . . Lavish . . . Amazing . . . Grace


Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re free people – free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds.  And not just barely free either.  Abundantly free!  Ephesians 1.7 (The Message)
Do you need His Grace today?  Whether you're "good" or "bad", His Grace is for you.

Friday, March 15, 2013

When WORK is Good!

Have you ever wanted something so bad that you were willing to do just about anything to get it?


What I wanted more than anything in the world, when I was a teenager, was a pair of “Ditto” pants and yes I know that dates me!  (In case you’re wondering these were a very  hot commodity in the 70’s, I’m just sayin’!) No off-brands for me I wanted the genuine article.  I scrimped and saved and dreamed about those Ditto’s.  For a moment in time all my energy, effort and thoughts were wrapped up in obtaining a pair.  I was a slave to my desire and worked hard to own my first name-brand pants!
 Since then, there have been other possessions, people or dreams that have occupied my time, my attention, and my energy.  What about you?  Have you ever focused on something so much that everything else began to dim in comparison?


In Romans chapter eight we find a very familiar passage of scripture.  If I took a poll I bet most of us could quote this verse from memory.  We’ve probably had this verse pushed on us during a difficult period of our life from well meaning people who haven’t quite known what to say.  This verse has been used so many times and in so many inappropriate ways that for many of us it has become a bad cliché – how sad is that.


And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:28 (NIV)


Taking a fresh look at this Scripture a few weeks ago, led me to discover a treasure in this verse I had never seen before.  Do you see it?  In all things God WORKS for the good . . . 


The word WORK jumped off the page and straight into my heart.  I think I had always envisioned this “working” as something that haphazardly happened or that maybe God was somehow “helping” all things to be for my good.  But what if it’s more intentional than that, more focused?  What if God is WORKING the way I worked at getting my Ditto pants?   What if He has a laser-like focus, an all-consuming passion to do this work in and for me?
 The word work is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as an activity in which one exerts strength or faculties to do or perform something and a sustained physical or mental effort to overcome obstacles and achieve and objective or result. 


Work is HARD.  It takes intentionality, focus and skill.  God is not just “hoping” things will work out for our good.  He is orchestrating, planning, and crafting ALL things in your life and mine for our BEST! 


Think about it!  He has the universe at his fingertips, is resource rich and is not hampered in His WORK by our poor choices, mistakes, or sin.  This passion and planning is born out of His LOVE for us, His children.  He will not rest until the task is finished. He will not give up or complain that the task is too hard.  He is driven, focused and intent on working ALL things, the good and the bad in our life for our GOOD.


Resist the temptation, the next time you hear this verse used as a simple platitude, to overlook it, or to throw it aside.  Instead, be reminded of your God and how much He is FOR YOU!


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Penchant for Penance

Do you struggle letting go of guilt?  Find it hard to forgive yourself for past mistakes?  Do you feel a deep-seated need to punish yourself for wrongs that you have committed?

I don’t know about you, but I do! 


I look back at the regrets of my past and just can’t seem to let go.  If only I would have listened . . . If only I had made a different choice . . . How could I have been so stupid? . . .


I see my mistakes and beat myself up over them . . . and the self-talk starts.  What an idiot you are?  What were you thinking?  Did you think at all?  You are so impulsive?  Why can’t you have more self-control?  You don’t deserve to be forgiven . . . I long for the guilt and the sorrow to go away but it never quite does.


There is something that whispers deep inside me, “You need to pay the price for what you have done.”  Since the beginning, this has been man’s answer to the sin problem; working to pay off the debt of our sin.  But who can ever pay off such a great debt?  And how do we know it’s ever enough?


Listen to what God’s Word says about our innate need to pay for our sin.


We are all infected and impure with sin.  When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags.  Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind.
Isaiah 64:6


For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 6:23


But God . . .


God saved you by His grace when you believed.  And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.  Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.  Ephesians 2:8-9 (NLT)


In our heart of hearts this free gift seems too good to be true.  Doesn’t it?  How can your sin and mine be so simply forgiven?


That’s the kicker – it WASN’T simple or easy.  A humongous price WAS paid for our sin – Christ’s agonizing death on the cross and powerful resurrection from the dead.  This amazing GIFT is free for the taking and available for ALL of us – the good, the bad and the ugly.


A long time ago, I took God up on His offer of free Grace but still find myself struggling with the need to pay penance for my sin.  I fight to let go of the guilt and battle to forgive myself for what I’ve done. 


BUT, I’ve come to realize that clinging to my guilt and punishing myself is once again falling into the trap that we humans use to solve our sin problem. 


When Christ died on the cross it was FINISHED!  Your sin and mine was COMPLETELY PAID that day.  There is nothing we can do to make it more complete – it is COMPLETE, DONE, FINISHED!


The sobering fact is that when I refuse to forgive myself and try to pay penance for my sin, I’m really declaring that what God did on the cross was NOT ENOUGH for my sin and He needs my help to cover the debt.  My sin is too BIG and too GREAT for His death on the cross to cover.  Really?  Is God is a liar?
Whoever believes in the Son of God inwardly confirms God’s testimony.  Whoever refuses to believe in effect calls God a liar, refusing to believe God’s own testimony regarding his Son.  This is the testimony in essence:  God gave us eternal life; the life is in his Son.  So, whoever has the Son, has life; whoever rejects the Son, rejects life.  1 John 5:10-12


My friend, do you struggle, like me, to forgive yourself of past mistakes?  Have you accepted Christ’s free gift?   Then, receive His grace, let it wash over your soul and relinquish the guilt and burning desire within you to pay penance.  There is no need because God paid it ALL for you! Nothing more is owed!