Monday, April 29, 2013

Why God Keeps Forgiving Me

Why does God keep forgiving me?

I’ve been a Christian a long time, and I’m more grateful for His forgiveness than when I first became a believer. I’m sure it’s because I’m more disgusted by my sin, more in love with Jesus, and more attracted to holiness.

But why does God keep forgiving me of my sins? After all, they tend to be the same ones I've been struggling with all my life. So why?

Here are some reasons I thought of:
  1. I am really, really sorry for my sins. 
  2. I promise Him I’ll try harder next time. 
  3. He sees that I’ve made progress in my fight against sin.
Honestly, sometimes I feel that these are all factors in God’s constant willingness to forgive and cleanse me of the same sins. But actually the reason He keeps forgiving me is not because of anything in me at all.

His forgiveness is always based on His own free grace. My sins were paid for, not by my contrition or attempts to improve, but by Christ’s substitutionary death. His payment for me included even the sins that are yet in my future. His life, death, and resurrection are infinitely valuable and eternally effective.

That doesn't mean my contrition, determination to try harder, or actual progress are insignificant. But they are not reasons for God's forgiveness, but evidence of that forgiveness. 

As A.W. Pink put it, "It is not the absence of sin, but the grieving over it which distinguishes the child of God from empty professors" (Studies in the Scriptures, 1932-33, p. 161).

Thanks be to Jesus alone, who secured my forgiveness past, present, and future, and doesn't give up on me when I fail. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

(Another post on the same subject: How Many Times Will God Forgive Me?)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

I Wouldn't Trade

The other night my son and I saw a science fiction movie starring one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. We went to a late showing, and I noticed that most of the theater audience were young men 
It was really a good movie, filled with mind-boggling special effects, stunning vistas of a future earth, and whiplash plot twists. But without question what made the film work was the star's heroism, athleticism, and believability.

Most of the young men in the audience would probably love to trade places with this guy. He is handsome, poised, does most of his own stunts, and has more money than the king of a small country. In his movies he is loved by gorgeous women, and in his real life he seems to be surrounded with stunning young females. I suppose it’s no wonder that many men think they would prefer his life over their own.

I reflected on all that as the IMAX sound system blew back what’s left of my hair. While I really enjoyed the movie, I wouldn't trade the movie star's life for the one I've been living all these years. 

Despite his toned muscles and killer smile, the star will grow old and die. His money won't save him, and the legacy of being a movie star won't matter in the end. None of his relationships with beautiful women has gone the distance. He may die alone. Saddest of all, he is a committed member of a cult religion. 

The things that are most admirable about him are ego-driven, self-gratifying, and pride-inflating. Jesus told a parable about a guy like him, who seemed to have it all, and then one day God demanded his soul. And the divine assessment of the man was abrupt and final: You fool! (see Luke 12:16-21). What does that say about those who wished his life could be theirs?

For me, a two-hour movie is entertainment.  But the best thing is, I get to go back to my real life. Because the Person I really admire has already traded His life for mine. The life He gave me lasts forever, and so do the the relationships and the riches.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Wounded Healer

A few years ago my wife had a routine, outpatient gall bladder surgery that turned into a medical nightmare. She almost died, had multiple surgeries, spent a month in the hospital, and ended up with a wound the length of her abdomen that I dressed every day for months. It would not heal no matter what we did.

Finally we were referred to the top plastic surgeon in our HMO. He performed a complicated procedure to excise the tissue that wouldn’t heal and move muscles around, closing her wound for the last time. It worked, thank God.

Before our first appointment with the surgeon, our regular doctor made this off-hand comment: he’s a great surgeon. By the way, he has Tourette's Syndrome.

In case you don’t know what Tourette’s is, here’s an internet definition from the National Library of Medicine: a condition that causes people to make repeated, quick movements or sounds that they cannot control. Having a surgeon who might have “repeated, quick movements” he cannot control made us nervous. Yet he’s the doctor who executed the delicate surgery that finally allowed my wife’s body to heal.

All of us who serve Christ are wounded healers. We have broken hearts, but we comfort grieving people. We struggle with doubts, but teach the trustworthiness of God’s word. We fight fear, but we en-courage. We still sin, but we try to model purity.

For some reason the Lord is pleased to display His strength in weak, unremarkable people. He reveals His wisdom through foolish, unexceptional people. He delights to achieve His purposes through people whom others might pass by or disqualify. His reason? That all the glory will be His. Or as Paul said, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God (1 Corinthians 1:29).  

Our “wounds” often trace back to our own sins and poor choices, or the sins and poor choices of others. But the real Wounded Healer is our Christ. All of His wounds were because of sin, but not His own. Our hope and healing, our joy and peace, our forgiveness and faith, all come from those wounds.  He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 1 Peter 2:24.

It is often in our weakness and fear and pain and brokenness that we meet Christ in His comfort and kindness, and find Him strong to save. It is only in the comfort of His wounds, and His triumph for us, that we bring any healing to others. It makes me appreciate Augustus Toplady's old hymn, written 250 years ago. He surely got it right, to the glory and admiration of Jesus, our Wounded Healer.

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save from wrath and make me pure.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Broken Plant

A couple nights ago I got to babysit our two grandchildren. My wife had to leave for part of the evening (how convenient!) so I had the two kids all to myself. My granddaughter is four and a half, and my grandson is a year and a half. And I was born during the Harding administration.

I got ready by chugging a five-hour energy drink and strapping on body armor. Just kidding.

Actually I got ready by childproofing our living room a little bit. I moved the big matches on the fireplace from the hearth to the mantle, put away a container of pens and pencils, and stored my wife’s cross-stitch project in the closet.
Then I dragged the coffee table out of the way, and slid the big leather chair in front of the loveseat. That way we could hurl ourselves from one to the other without being impaled on the corner of the table. And by “we” I mean, of course, the grandkids. I didn’t actually hurl myself, though I did lurch, stumble, and wobble a couple times.

We had a great time. We watched Thomas the Train on Netflix and sang the songs together. We all made loud, crazy noises and ran laps around the furniture. We played tag, with me holding my grandson on my shoulders while my granddaughter easily outran us. We dropped tennis balls in the dog’s water dish. Then we got our own water to drink and also to pour onto the loveseat. We hid under our blankees and snuck up on one another. It was pretty fun.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

An Atrocity You Probably Haven't Heard About

Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." Matthew 19:14, NIV

Have you heard the name Kermit Gosnell? Did you know he is an abortion doctor on trial in Philadelphia for murdering seven babies and one mother? And that he is suspected of killing hundreds of other babies? And that he operated out in the open, under the cover of the law?

If you get your news primarily through “the main stream media,” you probably don’t know anything about this atrocity. Yet this is a case that deserves front-page headlines in every newspaper and top-of-the-hour coverage in every newscast. Don’t hold your breath.

But why bring it up on a blog called “Admiring Christ”? After all, my intent in this blog is mainly to lift up the beauty and greatness of Jesus. Not to comment on news and not to be political.

I decided to write this post because Christ loves babies, because He came to give abundant life, and because this horror story is the terrible, grisly, unspeakably gruesome opposite of who He is. The Lord Jesus was angry with those who tried to prevent little children from coming to Him (see Mark 10:13,14). Decapitating newborn babies and treating their mothers like subhuman trash ought to inflame the righteous anger of anyone who loves Jesus.

I’ll give you three links to read for yourself, with the hope that you’ll not be silent. Many Germans apparently knew what was going on in the Nazi death camps when millions of Jews were murdered, but didn’t speak up.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Come Unto Me

Some days I feel like a weary child whose life is confusing, whose days are hard, with little understanding of why. I need Jesus in those times not to explain or to offer up a grand scheme. I need Him, His presence, His goodness, His kindness, and His nail-scarred hands.

If I could, on those days I would curl up like a little child, close to the warmth of my Savior. I would come near to Him without speaking, and just settle down at His side. I believe He would smell like leather, like wood smoke, and like the sea. And sitting so near Him would settle my heart.

And some days I feel like an old man, so tired of trying hard and often failing that I need the touch of Someone older than time, the Ancient of Days, who will soothe my brow and let me rest. Maybe, I hope, I will hear Him whisper: “Well done.”

This is one of those days, Lord Jesus Christ. 

I'm glad You said, Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Jesus and the Demons

I love Jesus’ authority over the demonic. In an age when the occult is celebrated in popular culture, and when the demonic is portrayed as relentlessly, frightfully, overwhelmingly powerful, it’s great to see Christ’s effortless domination of fallen angels.

Consider how Christ freed the Gerasene demoniac (Luke 8:26-39). What a glorious example of our Savior’s liberating grace! The demonized man must have been as miserable and hopeless as any human being can be. Helplessly under the sway of a horde of demons, he was out of control and out of his mind, a monster who was a danger to himself and to everyone in the community.

The demonic infestation were terrified of Christ, and begged Jesus not to torment them (8:29). They couldn't make a move without Jesus’ permission.

One of the curiosities of the story is when Jesus asked the demons’ name. Some people claim He did this to exercise control over the demons. Get their name and you have power over them. But Jesus already had power over them, had had it since He created them as angels millennia before, and He certainly didn’t need to be told anyone’s name.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Place of Our Own

The other night at Bible study someone told the story of a woman who had been homeless for years, but finally was able to rent an efficiency apartment. She was full of joy to have her own safe and secure place, her own refrigerator, her own bed, her own blanket.

Most of us take our own place for granted. In America most people have more stuff, more space, more blankets, than we’ll ever use.

I remember a late night taxi ride I took in Chennai, India, many years ago. It was my first international trip, and I had a short layover in a nice hotel near the airport. I was shocked to see hundreds of people lying in rows, sleeping on the sidewalk. Another time at a conference I attended a young African church planter was asked where his family lived. He replied simply, "Under a tree."

Some people do not and will not have their own place. Some of those people, on the street or under a tree somewhere, are believers in Christ. Some of them went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated--of whom the world was not worthy--wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth (Hebrews 12:37b-38).

This world is not our home, not really.

Our hope and longing are for our own place, designed and prepared by the One who loves us best and who waits there to welcome us, finally, home. Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. John 14:1-3.