Tagged: forgiveness

Seeking God’s People

Hosea.
A testimony to God’s steadfast lovingkindness towards Israel and Judah.

2018 Blog Tour c

From the start, Hosea tells the story of our God whose unfailing love paves the way for the redemption of God’s people even as they commit adultery with every lover they can find.

Read Hosea 1-2. Note the intentionality of the writing. Pay attention to the meaning of the names. Let the movement of the plot become apparent. Watch carefully what God is doing behind the scenes.

It is astounding. It is delightful. It is transforming.

The book is likely written in the final days before Israel’s exile during the rapid succession of kings (six in twenty-five years). God pled with God’s people through many prophets to turn back from their idolatrous ways to avoid the cleansing God would bring through the exile.

In verse 1:2, Hosea is instructed by God to go take a wife, Gomer, from among to harlots and to have children with her, an analogy for Israel and Judah’s adultery.

Three children are born.

The first is named Jezreel in reference to a massacre in 1 Kings 9-10.

The second child is a daughter named Lo-ruhamah, meaning “she has not obtained compassion.” God tells Hosea to name the innocent this for, “…I will no longer have compassion on the house of Israel, that I should ever forgive them” (1:6b).

A third child is born. Another son. His name means “not my people.” Verse 1:9 reads:

And the Lord said, “Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not My people and I am not your God.

Chapter two opens with the two younger siblings instructed to contend with their mother for her harlotry. Hosea writes of how Gomer cheated on the children’s father and warns the father will strip the mother naked and leave her exposed unless she repents of her adultery and no compassion will be had for the woman’s children.

Such brutality is shocking to modern Western readers.

But then something beautiful happens in 2:6.

https://i1.wp.com/brians-walks.co.uk/photos/a-coast-to-coast-cycle-path-cleator-to-moor-row.jpgThe harlot’s husband says something even more shocking!

He tells the children of prostitution that even as their mother pursues her lovers, she will never overtake them. He has put a hedge up along her way. He has walled the paths so that she can run, but she cannot hide from him. She can seek her false lovers, but she will never find fulfillment with them.

‘Then she will say, “I will go back to my first husband,
For it was better for me then than now!”‘

What Israel does not know is that God provided for all her needs while she chased her false lovers. The grain, the new wine, the oil. Even the silver and gold which she and her lovers sacrificed to Baal were lavished upon the her by the harlot’s husband, God.

Still, God says, she will be punished for her unfaithfulness in the sight of her lovers.

But then. Oh, then, declares the Lord, “I will allure her” (2:14b).

Did you hear that? God will allure the bride who ran off after all her lovers, chasing them with God’s own gold and silver, new wine and oil.

God loves God’s bride so richly, so heavenly, that even the ones called “Not My People” and “She Has Not Obtained Compassion” are worthy of God’s alluring efforts.

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her
     Bring her into the wilderness,
     And speak kindly to her” (2:14).

And God does. After the adultery/idolatry is removed from the people by means of the exile, the people are brought back to their land. The bride returns to her first love.

“And it will come about in that day,” declares the Lord, “That you will call Me Ishi [husband]” (2:16).

See the source imageHosea 2 ends like a letter between two lovers. No more false lovers, no more war. Israel will lie down in safety, betrothed to God forever in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and in compassion.

God will betroth God’s bride to himself in faithfulness and she will know the Lord.
And God will respond.
God will respond in the heavens and Israel will respond on the earth.
And the earth will respond with grain and wine and oil 2:18-23.

In grand triumph, the children return:

I will also have compassion on
     her who had not obtained compassion,
And I will say to those who
    were not My people,
‘You are My people!’
And they will say, Thou art my God!’ (2:23 b,c)

(Be still in that for a moment. Let the beauty of what just happened wash over you.)


This is the story of God and Israel.

It is my story.
My precious love story with God who allures me.

Yes. God strips me bare and uncovers my nakedness in front of my false gods.
Then God removes those unkind lovers from my lips and betroths me to God forever.

This is also your story.
(Be still in that for a moment. Let the beauty of what just happened wash over you.)


God is always seeking God’s people. Providing for them.
Loving you steadfastly and making a way for you to be found.

Let God’s lovingkindness and compassion wash over you.
God calls you God’s people.


christine parker - pic

Christine Fox Parker serves as President/Executive Director of PorchSwing Ministries, Inc., a non-profit ministry she founded to offer healing and safe space to survivors of all forms of church abuse and to educate churches and Christian institutions in creating safer spaces and improving care for abuse survivors. She earned a Masters in Christian Ministry and a Master’s in Counseling from Harding School of Theology.

A popular speaker and teacher across the country, Christine co-edited and contributed to Surrendering to Hope: Guidance for God’s Broken, published by Leafwood Press in May 2018.

Connect with Christine on her websites at www.porchswingministries.org and www.christinefoxparker.com .

 

 

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The Past Fuels the Future

I have regrets. I’m not immune to errors in judgement. I’ve made mistakes.

Even worse, I’ve done things wrong that weren’t mistakes. They were deliberate words and actions that I knew were wrong and I did them anyway.

I’ve accomplished things. There are things in my life that make me proud. Degrees I’ve gained. Friends I’ve kept. Family I’ve loved. Trophies for this and that. Not perfect, but proud.

When I look back on my life, some days I see the warts. Sometimes I see smiles.

The problem when my regrets fill the horizon is that I don’t look back far enough. I only look at my life. My disappointments. My hurts and pain over the last 40 years. If only I would look further into the past. 2000 years further…

When I look deeper into the past I see Jesus. I’m reminded that as he wept in the Garden of Gethsemane he looked 2000+ years into the future. He saw my shortcomings. He knew I’d disappoint him and others. He knew that at times I’d choose to ignore him. Knowing all this he still took the actions necessary to forgive me. He died for my benefit. He welcomed me into his family.

The attitude that I bring with me today often reflects how far I look into the past. Can I look backwards past my regrets just as Jesus looked forward past them? Can I look back far enough to see Jesus, or will I allow my regrets to block that view? Will I move through today with the baggage of yesterday or the freedom given me by Christ?

Each January I lead the Lawson Rd Church of Christ through a process of reflection and projection that we call Vision Sunday.

When we reflect on the past year there are always things we  wish we’d done differently. Situations that we could have handled better. People we could have loved more. How we view the past has a big influence on the future. We can criticise it. We can become discouraged by it. We can learn from it. We can be motivated by it. Or we can focus on the places God’s hand is obvious and praise him.

mlk day onToday is Martin Luther King Day in the US of A. We face the same process and the same choices. MLK Day prompts us to spend time looking both backwards and forwards. When we do so…

  • We can criticise Dr King for his shortcomings.
  • We can criticise the day.
  • We can be discouraged by aspects of the past or the lack of progress of the past 50 years.
  • We can continue to learn from the civil rights movement.
  • We can be motivated to continue the work of those who’ve gone before us.
  • Or we can look for God’s hand in our history and praise him.

I am firmly in the camp of the last three. Dr King’s vision of equality and love for all neighbors comes from the pages of Scripture and the heart of God. We’re not there yet, which means we all still have roles to play in standing against discrimination and racism. Don’t just read this and do nothing. I encourage you to take a moment and write down something you can do to encourage racial harmony.

How we look at the past, individually, as a church, or as a society, will influence the way we view and live the future. As individuals we must believe that we can make a difference. As a society we must admit the wrongs of our past and work to right them. As Christians, we acknowledge our regrets, but move forward in the power of Christ, filled with hope while working for a better tomorrow.

The psalms provide a wonderful example for using the past to motivate the present as we move into the future. They contain many examples of praising God for past faithfulness that inspires confidence in His future faithfulness. Yesterday during worship we read the first few verses of Psalm 21 and I’ve copied them here for your encouragement.

The king is glad because You, O Eternal, are strong.
    In light of Your salvation, he is singing Your name.
You have given him all he could wish for.
    After hearing his prayer, You withheld nothing.

True blessings You lavished upon the king;
    a crown of precious gold You placed upon his head.
His prayer was to live fully. You responded with even more—
    a never-ending life to enjoy.
With Your help, his fame and glory have grown;
    You raise him high and cover him in majesty.
You shower him with blessings that last forever;
    he finds joy in knowing Your presence and loving You.
For the king puts his trust in the Eternal,
    so he will not be shaken
    because of the persistent love of the Most High God.

Grace: The Power of a Redemption Story!

This week we start off the Summer Blog Tour with a post by Les Ferguson. As usual I encourage you to check out Les’ blog: http://lesfergusonjr.com and his regular contributions for http://www.Wineskins.org.

After the double murder of his wife and disabled son in October 2011, Les stepped down from a full time preaching ministry to focus on holding his family together and building a new life. He has since married his childhood sweetheart, Becki. Together they are raising four boys.

Les eventually re-entered the ministry in 2014 and works with the Lake Harbor Drive Church of Christ in Ridgeland, Mississippi as their Senior Preaching Minister.
2015 summerblogtour

I don’t watch a lot of TV. Consequently, I often miss things that are culturally relevant. I hear about TV shows and have no clue about them at all. People talk about movies and actors and I just kind of nod my head because more often than not, I have no idea who or what they are talking about.

Even when a movie comes along that grabs my attention, I rarely make the time to see it. In fact, I cannot at this moment remember the last movie I saw.

The truth is, I am a nerd and would rather read a good book.

That I can talk about with ease.

dirty jobsSo while my grasp of popular culture is fairly tenuous, I am somewhat aware of a Discovery channel program called Dirty Jobs. Instead of trying to explain something I have never really watched, the following comes directly from the show’s website…

Welcome to Dirty Jobs, the new Discovery Channel series that profiles the unsung American laborers who make their living in the most unthinkable – yet vital – ways.

Our brave host and apprentice Mike Rowe will introduce you to a hardworking group of men and women who overcome fear, danger and sometimes stench and overall ickiness to accomplish their daily tasks.

 Not one to just stand by, each week, Rowe will assume the duties of the jobs he’s profiling, working alongside rattlesnake catchers, fish processors, bee removers, septic-tank technicians and other professionals: average folks tackling extraordinary tasks that simply must get done.

 But you’ll walk away from Dirty Jobs with more than just a glimpse into unfamiliar occupational duties…

 If you’re like us, you’ll also gain a new understanding and appreciation for all the often-unpleasant functions someone is shouldering to make your everyday life easier, safer – and often cleaner.

 

Dirty Jobs.

Nasty jobs.

Disgusting jobs.

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I know there are plenty of jobs out there I wouldn’t want to do.

Not today.

Not tomorrow.

Not ever.

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But, I’d like to suggest maybe the nastiest, dirtiest job of all is one done by God…

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The job is grace.

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We typically define grace as unmerited favor.

The definition itself ought to tell us ahead of time that grace is a dirty and rough business. Giving grace means giving people what they need not necessarily what they deserve.

Speaking of movies I have seen, remember Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ? Like the movie tried to convey, the Crucifixion wasn’t a death penalty punishment meant to impart death from a “let’s-try-and-spare-the-punished-any-overt-pain” kind of experience. To the contrary, far from humane, it was intended to inflict massive emotional, mental, and physical suffering—a total annihilation of body, soul, and spirit. For those who had to watch one live and in person, it must have been a spiritual gut-punch.

Hopefully you are managing a visceral grasp on the ugliness Jesus endured, because there was nothing rougher or more difficult than the grace procured by the Cross…

Did I mention it was a dirty job?

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It is always a dirty job.

Grace means getting down into the filth and ugliness of our world.

Worse, grace means there are no rubber gloves and boots to protect you from the showers and splatters of filth that will come.

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That’s what Jesus did.

That’s what we are called to do.

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I wish I lived in a sterile, clean, antiseptic environment, but I don’t.

Sometimes I whine, complain, and get all twisted up.

Sometimes I act ugly, mean, or spiteful.

Sometimes I am selfish and heartless.

Sometimes I experience/ endure heartache.

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And because I am fundamentally flawed and broken, I need grace.

I need grace from God.

I need grace from you.

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Yes, grace is a dirty job.

But it’s grace that takes away our guilt and shame.

It’s grace that says, “I love you.”

It’s grace that says, “I forgive you.”

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It’s grace that takes broken stories and breathes into them the new life of redemption.

It’s grace that takes our pain and humiliation and turns it inside out.

It’s grace that redeems our story and makes it into something different, something useful, and something of service.

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It’s grace that wipes away our tears.

It’s grace that empowers our own acts of forgiveness.

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In the heartache of brokenness, I am thankful for the God who could not be pushed away by my anger and pain.

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I am thankful for the grace of God.

It’s a dirty job, but it is the power of my redemption.

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05 - Les Ferguson picGrace.

It’s a dirty job but it’s my story…

Eating Jesus

We can all sing in the car, alone.

We can all pray in a dark room, by ourselves.

We can all give online, individually.

Taking the Lord’s Supper requires community.

When it comes to the Lord’s Table, we come together to remind ourselves of the blessings of His body and blood offered for us.

communion 01Regardless of our personal resumes, we all celebrate exactly the same thing at the Lord’s Table. We’re equally separated from God and equally reconciled.

  • Our sins are forgiven;
  • Our guilt is removed;
  • Death is defeated; and
  • Intimacy with God is restored.

Every person receives every blessing.

Three times in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus acts as the host of a meal. Luke 9 (Feeding 5000), Luke 22 (Last Supper), & Luke 24 (Emmaus). Each time we’re told, “Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” The message of the Lord’s Supper, the significance of this table isn’t limited to a solemn Sunday morning. The Lord’s Supper is a continuation of eating with Christ on the hillside, and in the home.

In Luke 24:31, right after Jesus hands these disciples their bread, “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him”. When we come to the table each week, it’s good that we don’t see hatred responsible for hanging Jesus upon the cross. It’s good that we don’t see division or classes or races. We see Jesus. Because Jesus is still our host. He still serves us. Our eyes can still be opened to recognize Jesus among us. And as our eyes are opened we acknowledge that the Lord’s Supper is not something we do alone. Our eyes are opened to those around us and we see people forgiven by God, just as we are.

The original corruption of the Lord’s Supper that Scripture reveals to us, was the introduction of division into the experience. Class warfare took over the Supper and removed the values of unity and equality before God. 1 Corinthians 11:20 describes the situation as so severe that “when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat.

And just as Jesus took his meal on the road, we cannot keep our worship to Sunday morning. I love that the Lord’s Supper is a symbol that we ingest, because it means we take it with. Our challenge is whether we take any more with us than a cracker and a sip of juice.

I wonder when Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me” as he shared the Last Supper with his disciples, did he just refer to eating crackers and sipping juice? Or did he mean something more? Did he mean to eat with sinners, in remembrance of me? Did he mean break down political, racial and whatever barriers and eat together, in remembrance of me?  Did he mean to forgive and serve our enemies as he washed Judas’ feet, in remembrance of me?

This is a lot more challenging than making sure we have the right type of juice and cracker in the trays each Sunday.

I wonder if he didn’t have in mind this description of the family members of the victims of the Charleston shooting this week. They appeared at the bail hearing for the shooter and while communicating their hurt and loss also managed to speak mercy and grace to him. A journalist at the New York Times described the scene this way

It was as if the Bible study had never ended as one after another, victims’ family members offered lessons in forgiveness, testaments to a faith that is not compromised by violence or grief. They urged him to repent, confess his sins and turn to God.

What a wonderful description: It was as if the Bible study had never ended….

Jesus inspires us to go into the world as ambassadors of reconciliation, taking a message of hope and healing. Having ingested Him on Sunday, we are to live, as if the Lord’s Supper never ends… until the kingdom of God comes.

Don’t Stay That Way (repost)

This article was originally published 26 January 2012. It’s part 2 of the article I shared on Tuesday.

  • Read Revelation 21:1-8 here.
  • You can listen to this sermon here.
  • You can watch the video here.

Whenever I talk about grace, or unconditional love, I always hear a “Yes but…” in the back of my head.  In fact, sometimes it’s so strong it’s almost like I hear someone saying it.

  • Yes, but… someone else will relate to that person better… they’re more her age… they have similar interests…
  • Yes, but… what message will that send other people?
  • Yes, but… how’s that going to impact the church?   We’ve attracted a few people like that recently…
  • Yes, but… what’s to stop them doing it again?
  • Yes, but… we don’t want the church to be corrupted by the world…
  • Yes, but… they still have to accept the consequences for their sins…

I can’t avoid it, the “Yes, but…” is always there.

The sad truth is that although these concerns may be valid, when they’re expressed in the presence of grace, they turn the speaker into the bitter brother at the prodigal son’s celebration. (Luke 15:11-32)  When we witness grace and see only the dangers instead of the joy, that’s bitterness.

Grace involves risk.  When a church allows a teen caught smoking dope to serve on the communion table, is it glossing over sin and telling teens that it’s okay to take drugs? Or does the church demonstrate forgiveness, and grace? Of course, we don’t want anyone thinking it’s okay to use illicit drugs, but we also don’t want them thinking that unconditional love only exists in theory!

When a church says, “Come as your are”, the church echoes the invitation of God. (See my previous post here.) That’s a risky invitation because it exposes the church to a world in a way that may make us uncomfortable at times.  We’ll see and experience things that better fit the fruit of the flesh than the fruit of the spirit, and we have to say, “that’s okay – come anyway”.  That’s grace, that’s acceptance, that’s unconditional love… that’s God.

But there is a 2nd half to this invitation. “Don’t stay that way.”  To accept people captured by sin, by hurt, by anxiety, without offering them relief would be cruelty, not grace or love.  In his book No Perfect People Allowed, John Burke completes the sentence by saying, “But we love you too much to let you stay that way.”  Love is our motivation for encouraging people to make life changes.  Not an inflated sense of self-righteousness.

Christians attempt to get through life without sinning. Not because we want to win a prize for attaining perfection but because we understand that God is holy and values our holiness. We avoid sin not because God has labeled it as such, but because we believe that God’s way is a better way.  We don’t impose our standards upon others because we know best, but we share God’s way of living to share God’s love because we believe it works.

If I was just to hear the instruction, “You need to change” I would probably initially hear criticism.  My defenses would go up.  I might not hear anything else the other person said. For this reason the message to repent must be preceded by acceptance of the person. Repentance is a vital part of the message of Christ.  But Christ’s message contains mercy not criticism.  Change can be good.  Change can bring relief.  Change can be therapeutic.  We need to make every effort to convey this message in a context of grace and acceptance, not criticism.

The video I linked to at the top contains Cardboard Testimonies from the Southwest Church of Christ in Jonesboro, Arkansas.  A quick search on YouTube will bring up lots of these testimonies.  They all tell the story that change in a context of grace is a wonderful thing. Let’s make the message loud and clear in our lives.  Let’s not get caught up in cycle of “yes, but…”.

  • Does giving grace scare you?  What risks do you see?
  • I believe that over time Christians lose sight of who they were without God.  How do you remind yourself that you had an urgent need to receive God’s forgiveness?
  • What thoughts does the phrase “unconditional love” prompt in your mind?

Where Is the God of Justice?

When Israel complained about God’s apparent detachment from their lives he responded by promising to first send a messenger to prepare the way for his coming. While the Israelites sought for God to free them from foreign oppression, instead God warned them that his application of justice would begin with them. In God’s eyes justice involves much more than political and military oppression, although they can be horrible. Justice also involves how society treats those living on the margins.

  • Read Malachi 2:17-3:5 here.
  • You can listen to the related sermon here.

I recognise that this is an odd approach to thinking about the nativity. I’m taking this course because Mark 1:1 quotes Malachi 3:1 to introduce John the Baptist, who in turn introduces Jesus.

In Malachi 2:17 the prophet accuses Israel of “wearying God with your words”. One of the specific examples he offers is the question they ask, “Where is the God of justice?”

Ruled by the Persians, the Israelites longed for the return of autonomy. They apparently also longed to keep the tax money they paid to Persia. In their mind God should pour out just judgement upon the Persians and grant Israel freedom.

In response (3:1) God promises a “messenger who will prepare the way before me.” The messenger is only a precursor to the coming of God.  But when God himself appears, rather than bringing justice against the Persians he will appear and hold court in His temple in Jerusalem. The first to be judged will be his representatives, the Levites.

Since Mark 1:1 (and Jesus in Matthew 11:1-10) identify “the messenger” as John the Baptist then it seems natural to identify Jesus as the Lord and judge Malachi anticipates.

What fascinates me is the list of people going to be judged:

  • sorcerers,
  • adulterers,
  • perjurers,
  • employers who exploit their employees,
  • those who oppress the widows and orphans,
  • those who deprive foreigners of justice, (those who are inhospitable to the homeless. The Message)
  • anyone who does not honour God.

In our society when we think of justice we tend to think more like the Israelites than like God. Our list of people needing God’s justice might include: thieves, drunk or careless drivers who cause injuries, medical malpractice, politicians lining their pockets, big companies who hurt communities through pollution, gangs, drug dealers and anyone committing violence in our community.

The big discrepancy between God’s list and ours is his focus upon the margins of society. Sure he starts and ends with those who pursue other gods, but in between he cares for:

  • those betrayed by their spouse,
  • those abandoned by a corrupt judicial system,
  • unpaid employees
  • widows and orphans
  • foreigners, refugees, the homeless, those without family support systems.

How would our world be different if we defined justice by how these social groups are treated?

How would our churches be different if we expressed God’s justice by addressing these issues?

In Jesus’ ministry we also see that he didn’t bring the style of justice the public expected.

Like Jonah and Micah, “the messenger”, John the Baptist, first came “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4) Then in Mark 1:15 we see Jesus message summarised in similar terms “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

The justice Jesus first preached wasn’t condemnation and destruction, it was repentance and forgiveness. We also find God’s concern for the poor and defenceless throughout the New Testament. The very setting of Jesus birth, in a stable, places him among the homeless. His parents then flee to Egypt as refugees to escape Herod’s persecution. In Matthew 25 Jesus identifies himself with the marginal when he says “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

Over in James 1:27Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

These messages of justice didn’t appear in a vacuum, they reflect God’s heart as expressed in Malachi 3.

Nelson Mandela recently died at age 95. The fall of apartheid in South Africa may not have been quite as dramatic as the fall of the Berlin wall, but it was equally profound. Mandela became the figurehead of the movement pushing for change and was the first president of South Africa post-apartheid.

By the end of his life, Mandela had grown to become an icon for forgiveness and reconciliation. As a leading representative of a marginal and oppressed class of society, it would have been so easy for him to call for justice in the form of retribution and violence. Instead, like Jesus, he modeled the peaceful, but difficult, path of forgiveness.

The baby in the manger was the God of justice the world sought. But for the world to recognise Him we need first to accept His definition of justice and sacrifice ours.

HERE’S some more reading on this text from Malachi.

Pride Antidotes

In my previous post I listed 7 signs of pride in our lives. But there’s little benefit in pointing out problems without providing solutions. So here are some antidotes to the attack of pride.

In his excellent book Humilitas Australian minister and academic John Dickson proposes several means of cultivating humility in our lives. I’ll share a couple of those and then throw in a few suggestions of my own.

  1. We are shaped by what we love.
    If we find ourselves struggling with pride, we probably don’t value/love humility. So combating pride requires learning to value humility. Notice humble people and imitate them. Study what makes them humble and make appropriate adjustments in your own life.
  2. Pay attention to others.
    Pride involves an obsession or love of self. If we deliberately move the focus of our lives away from self we reduce pride. Jesus taught us this process in Matthew 22:35-37 when he gave the Greatest Command, “Love God” and the Second Command, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” If we can genuinely rank God first in our lives and others equal with self we will find ourselves closer to humility than pride.
  3. Practice obedience.
    Bonhoeffer in Cost of Discipleship  describes obedience as the most fundamental step of discipleship to Christ. Obedience requires submission to a higher authority. Jesus himself gives an example according to Philippians 2:8 “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death…”  For an interesting perspective on this topic, you can check out this blog post by ACU professor Richard Beck that also discusses obedience and humility in light of Benedictine monasticism.
  4. Focus your thoughts on the gifts God has given you.
    Scripture regularly reminds us that God gives us salvation as a gracious gift. (Romans 6:23) We’re also told several times that our talents and abilities that distinguish us from each other are actually gracious gifts from God. In Romans 12:3-8 Paul begins by warning Christians “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought…” then goes on to list the gifts God gives his people. When we accept this reality we will have less reason to take pride in any of our accomplishments.
  5. Develop a habit of gratitude.
    Gratitude naturally promotes humility. As we cultivate an attitude of thankfulness we will increasingly appreciate the contributions God and others make to our successes.
  6. Learn to forgive.
    The connection between forgiveness and humility may not jump off the screen at you. Think of it this way. The opposite of forgiveness is judgement. Judgement often involves an air of superiority. “I’m right and you’re wrong.” Or maybe, “I’m wrong, but you’re wrong-er”. Forgiveness means letting go of the right to be right. It allows others to sin without thinking less of them. We don’t keep count of their sins, because we know the length of our own shortcomings. Consider the parable of The Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14). Imagine how different the story would read if the Pharisee had wondered over to the tax collector and said, “You’ve hurt people I care about, but I’m glad you’re here today and I for one forgive you.” No pride, just forgiveness and humility.
  7. Forget about being humble.
    If we attempt to increase our humility we still focus on ourselves. The more we invest in the lives of others, serve others, and love others humility will naturally follow us. But if we make humility a focus of our lives how are we going to measure our progress without again becoming proud in the process?
    It’s much better to serve others because we love them than because we want to reduce our pride.

What other traits have you observed in humble people that you know?

Comeback from HURT

Is it possible that the insults Jesus received caused him emotional pain? Was Jesus immune to that? Did the Divine insight he often seemed to have allow him to perceive people’s motives and never take offense?

  • Read Mark 3:20-35 here.
  • You can listen to this sermon here.

I received some pretty direct criticism for this sermon not connecting with people. Naturally, that frustrates me. I have no interest in working for hours to talk for 30 minutes for people to think they wasted their time listening to me. I’m not about to tell anybody the sermon was better than they think. The sermon is only as good as they think. If it’s the preachers goal to connect God’s Word with the congregation and they don’t feel connected, then the preacher needs to do something different.

One reason I think the disconnect occurred arose from the application I made from Mark 3:20-25. I attempted to call upon my inner Max Lucado, and it clearly didn’t work. But I’ve heard it said that Max is a better writer than speaker, so maybe my inner Max also works better on paper… or computer screen.

In Mark 3 Jesus’ ministry gear up a notch when he appoints the Twelve in v13-19. He immediately begins to teach them. He gets so caught up in his teaching and the crowds are so big that v20 tells us that “he and his disciples were unable to eat.

Somehow, Jesus’ mother, Mary, hears that he’s not taking care of himself. She takes her other children and goes to Jesus. This seems like a very natural and motherly thing to do. We probably imagine her wrapping up some bread, fish and carrot sticks planning to make sure he eats every bite before he goes back to teaching. But surprisingly we find a very different motivation in v21. The CEV state it this way, “When Jesus’ family heard what he was doing, they thought he was crazy and went to get him under control.

God blessed me with a supportive home environment. We didn’t have a lot of money. There were many things we couldn’t do. But my parents always encouraged me to pursue my dreams. During high school one year I decided I wanted to try ventriloquism. I had very little stage experience. I had never worked with puppets. But Mum looked around in various obscure places and found several books for me to study and work on. I didn’t have a teacher and it was more a whim than a dream, so my ventriloquism venture was short lived. But my Mum’s willingness to support my strange ideas meant a lot.

I took familial support during my upbringing for granted. In fact, I still do. I imagine that Jesus also expected his family, those closest to him to support his new ministry: Even if they didn’t understand it.

Instead Jesus’ family thought he was crazy, nuts, bananas. He’d lost his mind. They were so convinced of his insanity they were willing to take him by force. Jesus, who’d never sinned. Jesus, whom his mother had always trusted. Jesus, who left heaven. Jesus, who took on the form of a human. Jesus, carrying out the will of his Father. Jesus, accused of having lost his mind by those closest to him. Surely, if he has any shred of humanity this leaves Jesus hurt and confused.

At this point in the sermon some people may have experienced discomfort. After all, wouldn’t Jesus just take this in his stride? Didn’t Jesus know to expect opposition? Wouldn’t Jesus understand that their intent was to look out for him, to care for him? Surely he knew their motivations were good? Wasn’t Jesus tougher than that? Do you really think his emotions went up and down like ours?

The Bible doesn’t tell us a great deal about Jesus’ emotional stability. I guess it’s fair to assume that he was usually a pretty stable guy. We know he wept in the face of death (John 11:35). We know he became hot under when God was insulted (John 2:13-17). We know that throughout his ministry he was “moved with compassion” (Mark 6:34; 8:2). But it doesn’t tell us whether he was ever lonely. It doesn’t tell us if the insults he received made him cry, or made him angry, or whether he just felt pity for the people speaking them.

We need to be careful not to turn Jesus into a Stoic devoid of human emotions. The Westminster Confession of Faith (2.1) describes God as

“…infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute…”

I don’t accept this description of God, but that’s a discussion for another time. I do think it’s difficult for us to draw the line between the divinity and humanity of Jesus. In this particular instance I’m very comfortable picturing Jesus emotionally wounded by the statements and attitudes of his family. Their belief in his insanity undermines his ministry almost as much as the Pharisees in the very next verse who argue that he’s demon possessed. I don’t think this makes Jesus a wimp, or even a SNAG. It seems to me that you’d need a remarkably cold heart to be unmoved by your mother and siblings seriously calling you crazy. I don’t believe Jesus ever had a cold heart.

I also believe that Jesus would have discussed and clarified these accusations with his family pretty quickly so as not to allow anger and resentment to fester. Consider his advice in Matthew 5:23-24 to settle disputes before worshiping God. Also in Matthew 18:15 he teaches that if someone sins against you it needs to be sorted out between the two of you directly. Only after direct communication has failed do you involve other people. It’s reasonable to believe Jesus followed his own directions.

Now, I think I lost my inner Max a few paragraphs back, but here’s my observation. There is a way back from hurt and insult. As devastating as it might be to have your siblings and mother lose trust in your dreams and abilities Jesus didn’t turn it into a family feud. Even while hanging on the cross Jesus made sure Mary wouldn’t be left alone (John 19:26-27). He certainly wasn’t vindictive. We also learn in Galatians 1:19 that Jesus’ brother James became a leader in the church after his death.

While it’s human to hurt we need to watch that our hurts don’t define us. Christ was defined by the forgiveness, grace and mercy he extends to all of us who wounded him. We should also aim to have grace greater than our hurts.

  • Do you have difficulty picturing Jesus having emotions?
  • Why do you think the Bible tells us that Jesus wept, but not that he laughed?
  • Does it make a difference to you if Jesus was a “take-it-on-the chin” kind of guy or emotionally sensitive?

Day of Atonement

To be honest, I’m a bit nervous at the prospect of writing about the Day of Atonement. It continues to be a major event on the Jewish calendar and I suspect you’d be much better off using Bing or Google to gain a better understanding of the feast than trying to follow my explanation. But here I go anyway… 🙂

The Day of Atonement represents the pinnacle of the sacrificial system given to Israel by God. Here’s a basic outline:

  • Exodus 35-40: Instructions for construction of the Tabernacle and its furniture.
  • Leviticus 1-7: Instructions for how different sacrifices are to be offered.
  • Leviticus 8-10: Dedication of the priests
  • Leviticus 11-15: Description of ceremonial clean & uncleanness.
  • Leviticus 16: Day of Atonement.
  • Leviticus 17-27: Laws for Godly living.

If I was to put these sections in my own words, they’d look like this:

  • God needs a holy place to live.
  • The way sacrifices are offered matters. They’re holy. We cannot approach God thoughtlessly.
  • The people offering the sacrifices are to be holy representatives of God.
  • Here’s a list of small ways to maintain personal holiness – free from sin and the baggage of sin.
  • On this day each year the nation will seek, receive, and celebrate the forgiveness of sins. They will receive at-one-ment with God.
  • If you’re God’s people you’ll express it in your lives… here’s how.

Rooker, in his Leviticus commentary (213), observes that Leviticus 16 “is the consummation of the previous fifteen chapters and provides the spiritual energy and motivation to carry out the imperatives of Leviticus 17-27.”  I think that’s a good summary of my outline.

In the original context of the Israelites in the wilderness and the tabernacle at the centre of their camp, the Day of Atonement rituals included:

  • 1 purification of the tabernacle (Lev 16:15-20);
  • 4 times atonement was made for the high priest (16:6, 11, 17, 24);
  • 3 times atonement was made for the nation (16:10, 17, 24).

The rituals include both sin offerings and burnt offerings. At the centre of the day is the fate of two goats. Two he-goats are brought before the high priest who casts lots to choose one to serve as a sin offering and the other to be that year’s scapegoat. The high priest placed his hands on the head of the scapegoat and “confessed over it all the wickedness, and rebellion of the Israelites – all their sins – and put them on the goats head.” (16:21) As the goat then left the camp, so did the sins of the nation.

This dramatic ritual must have made an impression on the people watching their sins depart. Verse 30 summarises the days events saying, “on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the Lord, you will be clean from all your sins.” Isn’t that exciting?

Being clean from our sins is a thrill. It means harmony with God. It means removal of guilt. It means a clean slate and a new beginning.Christians experience a similar joy in the ritual of baptism. 1 Peter 3:21 describes baptism as “an appeal for a clean conscience“, while Paul in Acts 22:16 describes how he was told “Get up, be baptised and wash your sins away, calling on his name.

Just as the goat didn’t magically remove sins (God did when these instructions were followed) so the baptismal water doesn’t remove sins by itself, and the sin doesn’t literally disappear into the sewer system. Atonement can only come from God. And just as there was one goat sacrificed and another banished, so baptism requires the sacrifice of Jesus. It is powerless by itself.

While I’m making comparisons, let me throw in Psalm 103:11-12.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

This passage demonstrates the confidence that the Israelites had in the promise of God to forgive them. In particular I hope you notice how God’s forgiveness is grounded in his love for his people. It’s almost an Old Testament version of John 3:16. God’s love for his creation prompts him to provide a path to forgiveness, to adoption, to holiness.

  • Since baptism is once while the scapegoat occurs annually, how do you remind yourself of your holiness before God?
  • Is the Israelite Day of Atonement a helpful lens to consider your forgiveness and relationship with God?
  • How prominent is the idea of holiness in thinking about your Christian walk, decisions you might make, or ways you worship God?

Don’t Stay That Way

  • Read Revelation 21:1-8 here.
  • You can listen to this sermon here.
  • You can watch the video here.

Whenever I talk about grace, or unconditional love, I always hear a “Yes but…” in the back of my head.  In fact, sometimes it’s so strong it’s almost like I hear someone saying it.

  • Yes, but… someone else will relate to that person better… they’re more her age… they have similar interests…
  • Yes, but… what message will that send other people?
  • Yes, but… how’s that going to impact the church?   We’ve attracted a few people like that recently…
  • Yes, but… what’s to stop them doing it again?
  • Yes, but… we don’t want the church to be corrupted by the world…
  • Yes, but… they still have to accept the consequences for their sins…

I can’t avoid it, the “Yes, but…” is always there.

The sad truth is that although these concerns may be valid, when they’re expressed in the presence of grace, they turn the speaker into the bitter brother at the prodigal son’s celebration. (Luke 15:11-32)  When we witness grace and see only the dangers instead of the joy, that’s bitterness.

Grace involves risk.  When a church allows a teen caught smoking dope to serve on the communion table, is it glossing over sin and telling teens that it’s okay to take drugs? Or does the church demonstrate forgiveness, and grace? Of course, we don’t want anyone thinking it’s okay to use illicit drugs, but we also don’t want them thinking that unconditional love only exists in theory!

When a church says, “Come as your are”, the church echoes the invitation of God. (See my previous post here.) That’s a risky invitation because it exposes the church to a world in a way that may make us uncomfortable at times.  We’ll see and experience things that better fit the fruit of the flesh than the fruit of the spirit, and we have to say, “that’s okay – come anyway”.  That’s grace, that’s acceptance, that’s unconditional love… that’s God.

But there is a 2nd half to this invitation. “Don’t stay that way.”  To accept people captured by sin, by hurt, by anxiety, without offering them relief would be cruelty, not grace or love.  In his book No Perfect People Allowed, John Burke completes the sentence by saying, “But we love you too much to let you stay that way.”  Love is our motivation for encouraging people to make life changes.  Not an inflated sense of self-righteousness.

Christians attempt to get through life without sinning. Not because we want to win a prize for attaining perfection but because we understand that God is holy and values our holiness. We avoid sin not because God has labeled it as such, but because we believe that God’s way is a better way.  We don’t impose our standards upon others because we know best, but we share God’s way of living to share God’s love because we believe it works.

If I was just to hear the instruction, “You need to change” I would probably initially hear criticism.  My defenses would go up.  I might not hear anything else the other person said. This is a crucial part of the message of Christ.  It’s another way of saying “Repent”.  But Christ’s message contains mercy not criticism.  Change can be good.  Change can bring relief.  Change can be therapeutic.  We need to make every effort to convey this message in a context of grace and acceptance, not criticism.

The video I linked to at the top contains Cardboard Testimonies from the Southwest Church of Christ in Jonesboro, Arkansas.  A quick search on YouTube will bring up lots of these testimonies.  They all tell the story that change in a context of grace is a wonderful thing. Let’s make the message loud and clear in our lives.  Let’s not get caught up in cycle of “yes, but…”.

  • Does giving grace scare you?  What risks do you see?
  • I believe that over time Christians lose sight of who they were without God.  How do you remind yourself that you had an urgent need to receive God’s forgiveness?
  • What thoughts does the phrase “unconditional love” prompt in your mind?