Small words. Big ideas.

Sometimes, I write things on Facebook. And then sometimes I compile those things into a blog post. This is one of those times.

So here are some thoughts on Grace, Sin, and Unforgiveness

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Grace vs. Sin

It’s a hard balance, right? Do we preach against sin or extol grace? Can we do both?

I was recently reminded of Jesus’ master move when he was standing between a vulnerable woman who had been “caught in the act” and some very powerful men who wanted her dead.

After he challenged the guys and the older ones got it first, he found himself alone with the accused. He asked her, “Hey, where are those guys who wanted to condemn you and then kill you?” She looks around and says, “All of them are gone! No one’s left!”

Jesus whispers, “I don’t condemn you either.”

Powerful.

Tremendous grace is given freely to the scared and hurting and absolutely guilty.

Then Jesus says secondly the thing we typically say firstly, “Now go and stop sinning.”

We need to say both of these things and we need to say them in the right order. If we only say “STOP SINNING,” we miss the love and passion in our Savior’s eyes and the demanded obedience quickly becomes unbearable. Obedience gets disconnected from the heart of the Father. But if we only say, “Jesus doesn’t condemn you,” we’re selling people a cheap half-truth that won’t lead them anywhere close to sanctification.

Sometimes I’m scared. Sometimes I’m scared to tell people to stop sinning because they won’t like it. Then maybe they won’t like me.

Sometimes I’m scared. Sometimes I’m scared to talk about the LACK of condemnation. Maybe they’ll like it. Then maybe they’ll just keep on sinning because, whatever.

But I’m realizing that combining these two truths, and combining them in the order of Jesus, is powerful.

And I want to echo these sister truths more often, and with boldness.

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“I forgive, but help my unforgiveness.”

This has become a powerful prayer for many of my clients. (And me too, actually!)

It’s modeled off of the father’s prayer in Mark 9:24, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” I find it fascinating that Jesus didn’t chide this guy for his lack of total and complete faith. He didn’t sniff out a smidgen of doubt and refuse to help. He healed his boy.

Sometimes I need to choose to forgive, as an act of obedience. At the same time, I need to recognize the reality that heart-level forgiveness is not a one-time-say-the-magic-words-and-it’s-all-better sort of thing. This prayer honors that reality.

If forgiveness is hard for you, if you’re wrestling with the ongoing impact of another person’s sin, consider praying this prayer, “Father, I forgive ______, but help my unforgiveness.”

And see what happens…

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But I’ve done all these good things . . .

by Elizabeth

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The question came as Jesus was beginning His last journey to Jerusalem. It came as He was heading toward His most heart-rending task, as He was starting the long descent toward death: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

We all know the story. A young, rich, religious man calls Jesus good and then asks Him how to achieve eternal life. Jesus first scolds him for calling anyone “good” but God. Then, feeling genuine love for the man, Jesus tells him to follow the commandments and proceeds to list several of them.

The man defends himself. “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young,” he says. But Jesus informs him that there is still something he hasn’t done – namely, to sell all his possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow Jesus. The man’s face falls when he hears this, and he goes away sad, for he was a very wealthy man.

I’d always glossed over this incident, thinking it might not apply to me. (I’d also neglected to notice until now that it occurred just before Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last time.) But this month as I again worked my way through the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, it suddenly struck me: the story of the rich, young ruler is my story.

“I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young” — once upon a time I said those words out loud, too. I’d just been confronted by my own sin, and I was shocked. I remember protesting, “But I’ve spent my whole life trying to follow God!” My statement was just another version of the rich, young man’s statement; it was just another version of pride.

And like the man, my face fell too. When I saw my attitude for what it was — sin — I did an abrupt U-turn. I interpreted my sin as the worst of all sins and became very depressed. My sin wasn’t a sin that could be forgiven, you see. A sin like mine didn’t deserve God’s grace and forgiveness. Where before I had thought I was better than others, I now thought I was worse.

I rolled around in my sorrow and self-pity until a friend gently pointed out that I was exhibiting reverse pride: the kind of pride that says my sins are so bad they can’t be forgiven. I had flipped from the regular old pride of thinking I was a good person to the insidious, upside-down version of pride that said I could never deserve God’s forgiveness.

But my goodness was never good enough anyway, and reverse pride is a sin to repent of, too. So Jesus basically said the same thing to me that He said to the young man: “There is something you still lack.” That something was a humble awareness of grace. Because in the end, Jesus didn’t ask me to give up all my possessions. (Moving to Asia isn’t the same thing.)

What Jesus has asked me to give up is the idea of myself as someone who has done good things. He’s asked me to give up the idea that I’ve followed the commands well. Because I haven’t. And He’s asked me to give up the idea that any sin is beyond His reach, including the prideful belief that I have no (or very small) sins.

As Jesus watched the man in this story walk away, He explained to His disciples how difficult it is for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of heaven. His announcement left the disciples wondering who in the world could be saved – because to a certain extent, we all trust in both riches and our own good works.

But here is where the story gets good, because Jesus told His disciples that “What is impossible for people is possible with God.” And He kept walking toward Jerusalem to make the impossible, possible. He kept walking toward Jerusalem to make the man’s question irrelevant. He kept walking toward Jerusalem to demonstrate His genuine love for us and to give a very un-good humanity the goodness that belongs to God alone.

Whether we’ve done “all these things” since our youth or not.

(Originally published at A Life Overseas.)

Bleeding for Dust Like Us

by Elizabeth

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I worked at a Christian summer camp when I was a teenager. We attended Hymn Sing every morning, and at the end of every Hymn Sing we wandered off to our Bible classes while singing these words from Fanny Crosby: “Tell me the story of Jesus, write on my heart every word. Tell me the story most precious, sweetest that ever was heard.”

I didn’t realize at the time just how central that prayer-song is to our Christian walk. For what is theology but the stories we tell ourselves about God? So we cry: Tell me the story of Jesus. Tell me the story of a God-become-flesh, a God-who-dwells-among. Tell me the story of a God who sacrifices of self, who pours out His life-blood for dust like us.

Tell me the story of a God who sets captives free and makes blind people see. Tell me the story that never gets old or grows stale. Tell me the story that revives my weary soul, the story that brings new life to all. Tell me the same story I’ve been hearing for thirty years, the same story people have been telling for two thousand years: Tell me the story of Jesus.

I love this story. Truly I do. It doesn’t matter how many times I hear the story, I can’t get enough of it. And it never gets old. But. Sometimes I forget. And sometimes I need a reminder. Last month my reminder came in the form of C.S. Lewis’s children’s novel The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. For when I read it with my children, I read words like these:

“Please – Aslan,” said Lucy, “can anything be done to save Edmund?”
“All shall be done,” said Aslan, “but it may be harder than you think.”

As I spoke those words out loud, I remembered the greatest Story ever told: the enormity of Jesus’ sacrifice, the enormity of my need for that sacrifice, the enormity of Jesus’ love for all of humanity. Believe me, I needed the reminder.

Glennon Melton has said that “Grace cannot be personal if it is not universal.” If grace is for me, then it’s for you. And if it’s for you, then it’s also for me. This is a truth about grace that I sometimes forget. Sometimes I need reminding of the personal, and sometimes I need reminding of the universal. Last month I needed reminding of both, and I found them both in the pages of an ageless children’s story.

This week the global Church is preparing for Easter. We’re on a collective journey toward the Cross and toward the Resurrection that follows. As we journey, let us remember the truths immortalized in the Apostles’ Creed. They are the core, the crux, the fundamentals of our faith. They are the words we must remember when we begin to forget. And they are the words I leave you with today.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Amen.

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When you forget the Story, what helps you remember??

(Originally published at Velvet Ashes.)

A Few of My Favorite Things {August 2015}

by Elizabeth

Good stuff from this past month. It’s heavy on music, because that was one of the biggest ways I encountered God this month.

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BOOKS

From Good to Grace by Christine Hoover. I finished this book this month. I continued to underline almost every word of every chapter, it was that good. Just brimming with truth about grace, receiving God’s love, the proper place of work in our lives, and how listening to the Holy Spirit eliminates comparison and competition. Do NOT miss this book. I repeat, do NOT miss this book!

 

BLOG POSTS

Convicted but not Condemned by Renee Swope.  I was in a big place of self-condemnation when I heard a sermon differentiating between Holy Spirit conviction and enemy-inspired condemnation. Conviction brings hope, while condemnation brings hopelessness. That was a freeing, new idea to me, and I almost wrote a blog post about it. Then I read this one and figured I didn’t have to. Christine Hoover’s book also touched on these ideas.

The Other Side of Achievement by Chris Lautsbaugh. On his site, Chris writes mainly about grace, so it makes sense that he would write a post about another idea that was discussed in Christine’s book. (It would seem I found grace everywhere this month.)

Sometimes Ministry Sucks: Theology for Wounded Hearts by Anisha Hopkinson. As anyone who’s been in ministry (or church) longer than 5 minutes knows, it sometimes hurts. What to do about the pain? Always, always, always, the answer is to go back to Jesus.

Rested, Restored, Forgiven by Rachel Pieh Jones. Absolutely love this piece. Though I first read it awhile back, something reminded me of it this month (can’t remember what), so I went back and re-read it. I’ve experienced it myself, and I love the way Rachel tells her story. Do not miss this one!

Harmonizing Sadness and Joy by Craig Thompson. One of the things I get to do as editor at A Life Overseas is to read posts before they publish. When I went in to this particular draft to read it ahead of time, I cried through the whole thing. It so perfectly describes the way I mourned the loss of my Grandma this past month.

(See my comment on Craig’s post for a longer explanation of intermingling joy and sadness, and see my comment on this post for another gift from the Father during this time of sorrow.)

I’ll transition into the music section here, because grieving from afar is tough, and aside from Christine’s book, words didn’t do very much for me this month, not even the Bible. Rather, it was music that spoke most deeply to my soul and helped me connect with God again.

 

SONGS

With Everything by Joel Houston. We sang this song at church the first Sunday after my Grandma died. Not very many songs get my hands lifted high, but this one did. My hands reached to the heavens as high as they could when we got to the chorus.

So let hope rise, and darkness tremble in Your holy light,
And every eye will see Jesus, our God, great and mighty to be praised.

With everything, with everything, we will shout for your glory.
With everything, with everything, we will shout forth your praise.

Our hearts they cry, be glorified, be lifted high, above all names.
For You our King, with everything, we will shout forth your praise.

Great is Thy Faithfulness by Thomas Obediah Chisholm. We also sang this classic hymn that Sunday morning. (It’s much better when sung congregationally, but I couldn’t find a modern rendition of this hymn that captured what it felt like to sing it that Sunday morning, so this Chris Rice solo is the best I can offer you.) That morning especially, I needed to join all creation in praising God’s faithfulness, even in the midst of the pain.

“Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Holy Spirit by Bryan and Katie Torwalt. This song hit me hard. I heard it when we went to another international church to hear one of our teammates preach. While I resonated with the idea of longing for God’s glory and His presence, I also stopped and asked myself the question, what do I long for? What am I hungry for?? The answer: Transformation. I’m hungry for transformation in my own life, in the lives of those around me, and in my host nation. So hungry it hurts sometimes. This Kari Jobe cover of the song best captures the feel of that Sunday morning. (“Feel” is kind of important to me apparently.)

Holy Spirit You are welcome here,
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere.
Your glory God is what our hearts long for,
To be overcome by Your presence, Lord.

Salvation Belongs to our God by Adrian Howard and Pat Turner. As I sat hungering for transformation, this song came to mind, and I substituted “transformation” for “salvation.” Sometimes when I blog honestly about my struggles (and I’m about to get really honest here again), the floodgates open, and other people to tell me their stories, both publicly and privately. I listen to their stories, I absorb their pain, I feel their sorrow. Then, weighed down with grief, I worry over how best to respond. I start to take on the responsibility of fixing their pain with my words. But that’s too much pressure. The idea that transformation belongs to our God lifted an enormous weight off my shoulders. I can love people through my words, but I don’t have to transform anything or anyone. That’s God’s job.

From the Inside Out by Joel Houston.  We sang this Hillsong classic after the Holy Spirit song. I just love it. It speaks of one of my deepest core beliefs: that God’s light will shine when all else fades. And above all else, I want to lose myself in worship of Almighty God. (But sometimes I forget to.)

Your will above all else my purpose remains
The art of losing myself in bringing You praise
Everlasting your light will shine when all else fades
Never ending Your glory goes beyond all fame

Here I am to Worship by Tim Hughes. Another classic, but one that never gets old. Just love to declare that He’s my God. We sang it a couple weeks ago at church. (This is Hillsong’s version by the way.)

Here I am to worship, here I am to bow down
Here I am to say that You’re my God

Alleluia by Chris Quilala et al. I first heard this Jesus Culture song two years ago at an International House of Prayer conference and fell.in.love. I thought I’d been transported to the heaven. Earlier this month I was feeling really spiritually numb, and when I turned on my worship song mix, this was the song that played first. I remembered all over again that worship is the point of this life, and I started longing for heaven all over again. Also, I didn’t feel numb any longer. I don’t think you can listen to this song without worshiping or longing for heaven.

All the angels cry out, Holy is the Lord God
All the earth replies, Holy are You

Forever by Brian Johnson and Kari Jobe et al. Jonathan had raved about this song to me, but until I sang it in church a couple weeks ago, it just didn’t have the same power. (Congregational singing is also a thing with me, apparently.) I wept through this song. Wept. Jesus is beautiful. What He did was beautiful. You better believe my hands were lifted high on the Forevers and the Hallelujahs.

Now death where is your sting?
Our resurrected King has rendered you defeated

Forever, He is glorified, forever, He is lifted high
Forever, He is risen, He is alive, He is alive

We sing Hallelujah, we sing Hallelujah
We sing Hallelujah, the Lamb has overcome

 

KIDS STUFF

My God is Powerful from Group Publishing’s Everest VBS. If your kids have never attended a VBS from Group, they are missing out! Group writes new theme songs each year whose lyrics somehow always bring me to tears. They also record a few modern worship songs and an old hymn or two, and they set everything to choreography (for the kids). I love the depth of the messages my kids hear over and over again in these songs — lessons I myself need to re-learn.

His Power moves the earth and sky, takes me to the highest heights

My God is powerful.

His power can forgive and heal, crushes darkness, drives out fear

My God is powerful.

Other favorites from this year’s VBS:

I Sing the Mighty Power of God by Isaac Watts (love this hymn!).

I sing the mighty pow’r of God, that made the mountains rise,
That spread the flowing seas abroad, and built the lofty skies.
I sing the wisdom that ordained the sun to rule the day;
The moon shines full at His command, and all the stars obey.

One Thing Remains by Brian Johnson and Bethel. Never get tired of this one either.

Your love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me
On and on and on and on it goes, it overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I never, ever, have to be afraid, one thing remains

International Children’s Bible Field Guide. Based off the translation my parents bought me as a child, this book goes chronologically through the Bible. We got it from our Sonlight curriculum, and we read it for our evening devotionals. It stimulates tons of questions and really in-depth conversations and is a really theologically balanced book, giving room for variations in non-essentials. (Which super-impressed me, honestly.)

“God is Disappointed With Me” {A Life Overseas}

Elizabeth is over at A Life Overseas today, continuing her series on Timothy Sanford’s book “I Have to be Perfect” (And Other Parsonage Heresies). Whew! These last three lies are intense. Don’t miss the end of the post where she offers several resource ideas for combating these lies.

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I grew up hearing sermons about the “goodness and severity of God” and about God not hearing the prayer of the sinner. Girls Bible study times were filled with questions like, “If women are to remain silent in church, is it a sin to whisper in church to ask someone the song number if I didn’t hear it announced?” and “How long should my shorts be?” So by the time I entered ministry at the age of 19, no one had to tell me I needed to be perfect; I already knew I needed to be perfect. And not only did I know I needed to be perfect, I knew everyone else needed to be perfect as well.

At the same time, I knew everyone wasn’t perfect. As a teenager, I knew my church friends were being physically and sexually abused at home, but no one would ever dare talk about that at church, where their dads were leaders. This taught me that the families around me weren’t perfect; it also taught me that they needed to appear that way. Furthermore, it taught me that the rest of us needed to treat them as though they were perfect. The appearance of perfection mattered more than actual righteousness.

Those are my stories; your stories will be different. Yet our collective stories may have taught us something dark and devious: that ministry and missionary families are (or should be) holier than everyone else. Our stories may have taught us that in order to serve God, we need to be super human. At the very least, our stories may have taught us that we need to project an image of perfection. Sometimes we extend this expectation to others and become judgmental of their non-perfection; other times we require it only of ourselves.

Finish reading the post here.