- 2019Dec 09
Every follower of Jesus is offered the gifts of grace without any strings (or ribbons) attached. All of us have full access to these gifts. Paul writes that we are brought into right relationship with God entirely as a gift of His radical and amazing love.
When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life. Titus 3:5-7, NLT
Grace is the best deal ever offered and yet we often resist accepting the gift of our Lord. We can’t believe it is true. We fear it can’t be possible that we can be loved, accepted, and adopted even when we know our behavior doesn’t deserve such love.
But that is the miracle of grace.
A recent Christmas song gives a humorous clue to the mindset that helps make it so hard to open the gift of Grace.
The song “I’m Gettin’ Nuttin’ for Christmas” sums up the lie that Satan sells to every seeker of Jesus that your rewards are tied directly to behavior.
I’m gettin’ nuttin’ for Christmas
Mommy and daddy are mad
I’m getting nuttin’ for Christmas
‘Cause I ain’t been nuttin’ but bad
That seems about right to our performance based mindset. I have not done what I should have. God has to be disappointed and maybe even a little ticked off at me so I don’t deserve this grace. I will buck up and try harder and THEN I will earn God’s love. What a sad misunderstanding of how God wants to relate to His children.
The Christian life is a life of grace from beginning to end and it is all based on what Jesus has done for us and not on anything we have done for Him. We enter it this journey with Jesus by grace, live it by grace, and enter God’s eternal presence by grace.
We learn as children that we get good things and receive love when we are good and do good things. Santa is pleased (and we later substitute God) when we obey. So we learn early that we had better be good. Or least fool everyone around us to think that we are being good.
I remember (vaguely) the tension of the Santa Claus years. I knew I hadn’t really changed much. I tried to modify my behavior for a week or two leading up to Christmas but I knew I had failed to really be good. I learned a couple of things early. I learned how hard it is to change behavior by sheer willpower and I believed that I could fool Santa by living a lie.
Isn’t that too often how we view God? We need to behave better. I don’t deserve forgiveness. I know my heart. Just like Santa we think that Jesus is making a list and He is checking it not once or twice but every moment of every day. God knows if you’ve been bad or good so if you want to be blessed and loved you had better be good or you will get nuttin’. .
Satan sells the lie so convincingly. And we buy it for months and years and even decades. I did.
But God and Santa are very different in their approach. God does not keep a list. He is not impressed by our hernia inducing straining to control sin.
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)
Jesus offers us so many gifts. But the one we seem to have the hardest time unwrapping is this gift of grace. The stunning radicality of grace is that what seems to be too good to be true is more true than we can imagine. This unconditional love from God is unrelated to the emotions, expectations and desires that taint our human love. I am choosing to believe that truth this Christmas. I am going to allow God to love me and not attempt to earn that love. I am not going to remind myself why I am not worthy. I am going to open my arms and my heart to His love. My feelings ebb and flow. God’s feelings for me are a consistent fountain of grace so I am going to jump in the fountain today and splash around.
Don’t buy into the bad theology that God’s gifts are performance based. Receiving this gift is based simply on coming to Him in humble need. Go straight to the gift of grace that Jesus left under the Cross. Open it. And clothe yourself in His salvation, acceptance and love. It may be the best gift you have ever given yourself. Unwrap it without guilt this Christmas. It was left there just for you.
- 2019Dec 02
The day after a wonderful Thanksgiving Eve family gathering we checked out the new movie about the iconic children's star Fred Rogers. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is based on the real life relationship between Rogers and Esquire magazine writer Tom Junod.
In the movie the cynical journalist has been renamed Lloyd Vogel. Known for his unflinching exposes of people and events, Vogel chafes when receiving an assignment to do a "puff-piece" on television's Mr. Rogers. Vogel approaches this story determined to find out if this gentle man is a fake. His skepticism prompts one of the best exchanges in the movie with his long suffering wife.
Lloyd Vogel: I’m profiling Mr. Rogers.
Andrea Vogel: Lloyd, please don’t ruin my childhood.
I will not offer any spoilers. I will say the movie was not what I expected. It was much, much more.
I have a confession to make and an apology to offer. I was "too cool" for Mr. Rogers. I mocked his sweater, slippers, and unique delivery. As a fellow Christian I am sorry I did not see what the one time aspiring Presbyterian minister was creating in his special neighborhood.
Fred Rogers took the truths of grace and quietly created a place of acceptance and safety.
His principles are straight out of the Gospel. And like the Jesus he studied in seminary Rogers also chose to focus his patient words toward children and those who could be tough to love.
Fred Roger's offered this wisdom to Vogel. "I think the best thing we can do is to let people know that each one of them is precious." That is the overriding theme of the Gospel. That Jesus was willing to give up His life for every person because they are precious.
There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:13, NLT
In this neighborhood Fred Roger's addressed the difficult topic of forgiveness. "Forgiveness is a strange thing. It can sometimes be easier to forgive our enemies than our friends. It can be hardest of all to forgive people we love. Like all of life's important coping skills, the ability to forgive and the capacity to let go of resentments most likely take root very early in our lives."
It is hard to imagine what a cultural bombshell this teaching was from Jesus. "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven."
And Jesus told the mind boggling parable of the Prodigal Son who did every single thing wrong and slithered home to find his father running to embrace and welcome him back to the family. Why? Because he was precious in his father's eyes.
Roger's smile radiated as he repeated this line over and over. "I like you just the way you are." You didn't have to try and be someone different to be in his neighborhood. And you don't have to do anything special to be welcomed in the into the family of Jesus. Simply bring your need and trust. Just the way you are.
Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:28-29, NLT
Fred Rogers never shied away from tough topics like divorce, death, and pain. "There is no normal life that is free of pain. It's the very wrestling with our problems that can be the impetus for our growth."
Contrary to the heretical prosperity teaching of some, Jesus never once said this journey would be without pain. He did give a priceless promise that gives me hope.
33 I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33, NLT
None of us gets out of this life unscathed. Followers of Jesus have the hope that those trials will be redeemed as we grow more like Him. Perhaps one of the greatest truths of grace is summed up by Rogers
"Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people."
That is what grace does in the journey of a believer. Because of Jesus we are a new creation, loved exactly as we are on our best or worst days, forgiven and loved as His precious child.
Jesus also had something to say about neighbors.
"...an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”
37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’[e] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
I can't believe I didn't recognize the principles of grace that Fred Rogers instilled through characters and stories into his gentle neighborhood. As I left the movie I voiced a minor complaint to Joni.
"That was really powerful but I wish they would have made a bigger deal out of his faith."
Her reply was spot on. "He didn't make a big deal out of his faith. He just lived it."
And maybe that is the biggest message Fred Rogers left with his fellow believers in Christ. Maybe we should quit worrying about how others view our faith or if we are getting a cultural fair shake. Maybe we just need to live it.
- 2019Apr 22
I am amazed by people who are so brazenly sure they are right about what they believe. I have friends who are completely sure there is no God and there is no logical need for such beliefs. They believe science is the ultimate answer for everything and they view my faith as a naive weakness and crutch. Sometimes I long to be as sure of anything as they are of everything. So I will be honest. I have wrestled with doubt in my faith journey. I am not convinced that I know everything. Here is a bit of what I wrote about that journey in Waking Up Slowly.
The story line of the movie Risen was intriguing to me. Historically, there was a Nazarene who was crucified, and two groups had a tremendous interest in making sure that his death was the end of the story. The Romans wanted no movement to grow so large that it would cause political unrest. The Jewish leaders wanted to stamp out the heresy that they believed this Teacher was spreading, in order to keep their power intact. It was a win-win situation for the religious leaders and Rome to eliminate this messianic hope of the people. The story is told through the eyes of a Roman military tribune named Clavius. He was tasked by Pilate to make sure Jesus’ crazy followers did not steal the body. A story had been circulating that the Nazarene would rise again in three days, so Clavius made sure the massive stone was rolled into place over the entrance to the tomb and sealed. Roman soldiers guarded the tomb, knowing full well they could be killed if they failed to keep the body secured.
Three days later the body was gone, and Clavius began a desperate hunt. The battle-hardened soldier could not accept that this Nazarene named Jesus could have somehow comeback to life. That is a step of faith that people are still wrestling with two thousand years later. But it is the most important question of all, if you are to put your faith in Jesus.
If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then there really is no difference in this man and any other great moral teacher. But if Jesus did rise from the dead, then His words are different from the words of any other teacher. All of Christianity depends on what happened in that event.
Risen explores the imagined lengths that the Romans and religious leaders went to in order to quell the rumor that Jesus had risen. They tried to find the body (or any similar body that might pass for his) that could be displayed to stop the rumors. They were not successful.
I struggled with these same questions.
- How could the body disappear?
- How did a bunch of cowards like the apostles become heroes of the faith and become willing to die martyrs’ deaths? Simply because they stole the body out of a tomb?
- Could they have kept a lie of such massive implications secret?
I love the way former Watergate principal Chuck Colson honestly evaluated the event:
I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Everyone was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison.
They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world—and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.
Honest people can view the same evidence and come up with completely different opinions. I wrestled with the claims of Jesus Christ for a long time before I decided to believe that He was who He claimed to be. And I remember feeling exactly what the fictional character Clavius felt when he was asked what he feared most: “Being wrong. Wagering eternity on it.” I have never been able to accept the idea that there is no design or bigger purpose to this life.
Perhaps the most important argument for me is the impact that the Nazarene teacher has had on my life. I have haphazardly attempted to follow Him for many years. Tolstoy’s quote fittingly describes my awkward attempts: “If I know the way home and am walking along it drunkenly, is it any less the right way because I am staggering from side to side!” The apostles followed Jesus and saw that it was not an easy choice at times. Many followers were deserting Jesus after some difficult teaching.
At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?” Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66-69, NLT)
That is my belief. I am drawn to Jesus. I believe that God decided to redeem man through this outlandish plan. No religion offers redemption without works other than the gospel of Jesus. I believe I have seen His hand over and over in my life. But if I am wrong and had the opportunity to live my life over again, I can honestly say I would change nothing.
I consider a life pursuing the impossible goal of becoming like Jesus to be more valuable than any honor or possession I could attain. The teachings of Jesus are so amazing and so radical that I cannot imagine that any man could have imagined them. If you drill down into just His words, you will find a sacred pathway that is worth seeking.
I believe my marriage is still intact because I have followed the teachings of Jesus. I don’t say that lightly. I honestly believe that without that faith commitment, Joni and I would not have survived. Whatever kind things that my friends and colleagues might say about me are in large part due to how I believe I should respond to them based on the words of Christ. I have been shaped and matured by this radical Rabbi who changed history. He changed me.
Tim Keller puts it this way:
The Christian Gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. It undermines both swaggering and sniveling. I cannot feel superior to anyone, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone. I do not think more of myself nor less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less.
I have been changed by these truths. I have confronted my doubts and I have chosen to stay focused on the claims of this Rabbi from Nazareth. If I am wagering my eternity, I choose to wager on Jesus.