When I saw this fallen apple caught by the bough of an evergreen tree, it reminded me of how the grace and love of Jesus catch me when I fall.
When I saw this fallen apple caught by the bough of an evergreen tree, it reminded me of how the grace and love of Jesus catch me when I fall.
There are three phrases some Christians use when talking about sin that should never be used. They often cause people to feel condemned and discouraged rather than loved and encouraged. Not only that, but the phrases are lies.
Christians have taken part of Habakkuk 1:13 and twisted it to make people believe that God cannot look at sin. It makes people think that God must be so disgusted with them when they mess up that He can’t even look at them. That is far from the truth. If Christians who use that phrase would just read the whole verse, they would notice that the rest of it actually reveals that God does, indeed, look upon sin, but the implication is that He cannot watch it happen without doing something about it. Yeah, I know it sometimes seems like God is blind and doesn’t care about the evil in the world. That was Habakkuk’s question, and God answered him. If anything, God is full of patience, as well as compassion, mercy, grace and love toward His children, not disgust.
I’m not sure what verse or verses are used for this one, but it is another phrase that can make people feel condemned and discouraged. Usually, when the phrase is used, it is used in reference to ‘big’ sins or things the person speaking has strong convictions against. What of the gossip or the glutton? I’m sure they sin daily, but does that stop God from being able to use them to bless people as well, or to work with children in the church, or to sing in the choir? That God cannot use us because we sin or struggle in an area is a lie that the devil wants us to believe to keep us from actively reaching out to others, because it makes us feel unworthy. Intentional sin may interfere with our intimacy with God, but as in the parable of the prodigal son, the Father stands waiting with open arms for our return.
What makes us right with God? According to the Bible, we are declared right with God when we accept Jesus as our Savior for redeeming us from sin and rising from the dead. So to imply a Christian is not right with God because of a sin she is struggling with is to imply a works-based system rather than a faith-based one. Which is it? Are we or are we not saved by faith? I am reminded of something my friend, Randell, said in a Sunday school lesson based on a study from Hebrews 8.
He said, “It is unfortunate that many Christians think they are saved by grace but still must fulfill their Christian life according to the Old Testament law. They want the New Covenant for salvation, but they want the Old Covenant for sanctification.”
If we feel the need to approach a Christian brother or sister about something in their lives, then we need to focus specifically on the issue and not imply that the person is not right with God. What if they agree with God about the thing they are struggling with, and we come along and accuse them of not being right with God? We will leave them feeling condemned and discouraged rather than loved, encouraged, and strengthened.
We really need to be careful that we do not parrot what we have heard other Christians say without really considering the validity and impact of those things. These three phrases have done a lot of harm by hurting people and misrepresenting God, so let’s throw them out.
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A few weeks ago I heard a preacher talk about God’s unconditional love as if it was a dirty word. On another occasion, an old friend spoke of grace with equal disdain. I understand where they were coming from. One was coming from an attitude of legalism, while the other was grieving over grace being taken for granted and used as a license to sin. I am grateful that the pastors and teachers at the church I attend preach about God’s unconditional love and grace in a balanced way and without contempt.
My daughter and I were discussing how people see truths differently depending on where they are in life and through which lens they are looking. For example, a person who truly recognizes his or her own utter depravity and the amazing grace and unconditional love of God, tends to really understand grace and is able to be gracious toward others. They see grace in a very positive way. Those who tend toward legalism and feel justified because they are able to keep certain commandments or live what they consider to be a good Christian life, tend to view unconditional love and grace with less value and speak contemptuously about churches that emphasize God’s love and grace. It is reminiscent of what Jesus said to Simon, the Pharisee, when he scorned Jesus for allowing a prostitute to wipe His feet with her hair. Jesus said:
“Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gave me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but his woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, her sins which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much; but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.” (Luke 7:36-50)
The preacher I heard also mentioned visiting a fellow Christian, and upon finding out he had beer in his refrigerator, condemned him and questioned whether or not the man was a true Christian. Even if the man was an alcoholic, it does not mean he is not a Christian. What if he is addicted but wants to quit? What if he agrees with God that his drunkenness is sin? Didn’t the Apostle Paul himself say in the very same letter to the Romans concerning there being “therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”, that he himself does what he doesn’t want to do and doesn’t do what he wants to do? Didn’t Paul call himself a wretched man and thank God for Jesus Christ his Lord? (Romans 7 :14-25)
The attitude of the preacher reminds me of the parable Jesus told of the Pharisee and the publican (with modern claims added in italics and parentheses for emphasis):
And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. (Alcohol has never touched my lips, nor my feet entered a movie theater. I am in church every time the doors are open, and I go out soul-winning every week.)” And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. —Luke 18:9-14
Another preacher, who is full of grace, has never condemned his crack addict friend. He does not question his love for the Lord just because his friend is in church for a time and then falls back into his crack addiction. This preacher loves his friend unconditionally and encourages him to never, ever, ever give up. Which one would you say is more like Jesus?
Unconditional love and grace are, indeed, not to be used as a license to do whatever we want. If we do that, then it is fair that our love for God would be put in question. But if we hate when we sin, if we agree with God and try to turn away from doing it again…
He forgives us 70 x 7, because He is full of grace and a love that does not put conditions on us, like doing penance, before He will love us again. His love is unconditional. A person who simply dismisses sin and makes light of it because of grace and unconditional love, may need to consider the seriousness of sin, the purpose of obedience, and his/her own love for God. Likewise, people who speak of unconditional love and grace with disdain, may need to consider their own depravity and remember from what they themselves have been saved.
If I err, I would rather err on the side of love and grace.
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I participate in a weekly photo challenge for my photo blog, and this was too good not to post here, too. While pondering this week’s photo challenge theme Extra, I remembered finding a 4-leaf clover a day or two before. I also remembered seeing some clovers whose leaves had a reddish edge. Four-leaf clovers have an extra leaf, so I decided to venture out in hopes of finding one for the challenge. As I strolled to the back yard, I also thought, “Lord, it would be really cool to find a red 4-leaf clover.” Even though it wasn’t actually a prayer request, and even though He doesn’t always answer our prayers in the way we want or expect, I was so excited and surprised to actually find one! What are the odds? Seriously! Jesus loves this ragamuffin!
Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not. —Jeremiah 33:3
“God will take you where you haven’t chosen to go, in order to produce in you what you could not achieve on your own.” —Paul Tripp in his sermon “The Difference Between Amazement and Faith”
Have you ever had a favorite shirt you had to get rid of because it became stained or ripped? A few months ago as part of a ladies’ Bible study that used our closets as a metaphor for our minds, we were asked to bring something from our closet that represents hope. I brought one of my favorite shirts, a brown long-sleeve tee. Even though it has gotten stained many times such that I thought I’d have to toss it out, after applying some stain remover, it has always come clean. The reason it represented hope to me is because it reminded me that Jesus doesn’t toss us out when we become stained with sin. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I was reminded of this recently in Sunday school as our pastor has been teaching through Psalm 119 and reminded us that God has promised not to forsake us utterly when we seek Him.
And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee: for thou, LORD, hast not forsaken them that seek thee. —Psalms 9:10
This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. —1 Timothy 1:15
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. —Psalm 51:7
I have a little friend I sometimes pick up and take to school, but since her older brother and sister have to be in school earlier, she comes to my house for about an hour. She loves playing in my office and pretending it’s a secret lair. She also loves playing with toys my second son had as a little boy that my granddaughters now enjoy. One of those toys is a plastic rainbow Slinky. Just as it was time to take her to school, she brought the Slinky to show me she had gotten it tangled. Her sweet voice was so apologetic. I took the tangled mess from her little hands and said, “That’s okay. I’ll take care of it.”
Later as I began to untangle the Slinky, I believe the Holy Spirit helped me to see that we are like my little friend, handing our tangled messes to our Heavenly Father when we can’t fix them ourselves. I had created a tangled mess this week, but Father was so tender and loving when I handed Him my ‘Slinky’, and people I had hurt reflected His mercy and love as well. I’m so grateful I can go to Him with my messes and not be scolded or turned away.
“Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him.” —Psalm 103:13
Have you ever told a ‘white lie’? Have you ever wondered if there are times when it’s okay to lie or withhold the truth? Is it wise to always speak only the truth? Consider the movie Liar, Liar. Proverbs 10:32 says, “The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable: but the mouth of the wicked speaketh frowardness.” Frowardness is basically twistedness, a turning from good to evil.
The Bible clearly teaches that God hates wicked deceitfulness, but contrary to popular belief, the nineth commandment does not say, “Thou shalt not lie,” it says, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor (Exodus 20:16). There are a few instances in which lying or withholding the truth appears to be permissible. The midwives disobeyed and lied to Pharaoh because they feared God (Exodus 1). Rahab lied to the soldiers to protect the Israelite spies (Joshua 2). Jonathan lied to his father, King Saul, about David’s whereabouts, because his father wanted to murder David (1 Samuel 20). People who believe we should never, ever lie will admit those three examples were, indeed, permitted, but those same people would also say, “They should have trusted the Lord, and the fact that they lied, reveals a lack of trust in Him.” But permit me to give another example. Samuel withheld the truth from King Saul about going to anoint a new king and was instructed by the LORD Himself to give an alternate or secondary reason for going to Bethlehem to prevent Saul from seeking to kill him (1 Samuel 16). Why did the LORD not tell Samuel, “Just trust me. I’ve got you covered”? In each of the examples given, murder— an evil was being prevented.
The Bible also clearly teaches that the devil is a liar and is the father of lies (John 8:44). His intent is to deceive and destroy. A Danish proverb says, “If lies are to find credence, they must be patched with truth.” Satan has no problem stating enough of the truth to get us to believe a lie, but as a Yiddish proverb says, “A half truth is a whole lie.”
So, what’s the answer? Perhaps the first place to start is to consider the purpose or reason we sometimes lie. We lie to protect ourselves and/or others either from unpleasantness, chastisement, hurt or real danger, like when we’ve done something wrong and want to cover it up, when we want to be kind and not hurt someone’s feelings, or when someone is in physical danger. We lie or withhold the truth to deceive others in order to gain an advantage over them, like when we give false information about ourselves on a job application or seek to cheat someone out of something so that we might benefit regardless of how it affects anyone else.
“A lie prevails until truth arrives.” —Mexican proverb
“If you lie and then tell the truth, the truth will be considered a lie.” —Ancient Sumerian proverb
“Honesty is the best policy.” —American proverb
Proverbs 12:22 says, “Lying lips are abomination to the LORD: but they that deal truly are his delight.” God hates when we seek to deceive someone else for our own gain and with evil intent, but He loves when we deal with others with integrity. Bottom line— consider the two greatest commandments— “Jesus said unto him, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’” (Matthew 22:37-40)
Have you ever felt like just giving up? Or have you ever had someone tell you that you were part of the reason they didn’t give up, which in turn encouraged you and gave you strength to keep going? I received a call from my friend, “Pops”, a couple of nights ago, and his testimonies and kindness encouraged me, so I wanted to pass it along to you and hope you are encouraged and strengthened, too.
I met Pops last summer while volunteering at the Union Rescue Mission, a homeless shelter on Skid Row in Los Angeles. Scott, a mutual friend, introduced us, and I loved chatting with him. Pops has an incredible story. Previously known as one of the meanest men, even being called “Animal” and “El Diablo”, he is now one of the sweetest with a huge heart. He gives glory to God for changing his life and giving him a second chance, and he credits Scott with saving his life by teaching him about God’s amazing grace. You can listen to part of his testimony in the video below.
Pops called me to share some wonderful news. After so many years of being separated from his family— his wife and children and now grandchildren and great-grandchildren— he will be seeing them this very day. Who once was believed to be dead, and was spiritually dead, has now been discovered to be alive, much like the prodigal son. His family is overjoyed, and he is overwhelmed by their love and acceptance. I, too, am filled with joy, but I am also overwhelmed, because Pops surprised me by sharing how much my kindness and visit to the mission, along with the love of others and God’s grace toward him encouraged and strengthened him, helping him to stay clean from drugs for four years and to open up and not be afraid of relationships. You just never know what kind of impact you might have on someone else. The Lord has certainly used Pops and others in my life, too.
“The life I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place my touch will be felt.” —Frederick Buechner
Another person I’d met at the mission was Jenny Kershner, the director of the mission’s Learning Center. She said something that really surprised me. While talking about addictions and the people who go through the mission’s recovery program, she said, “Sometimes relapsing is a good thing to help a person solidify the decision to change and fully rely on God.” That reminds me of the Japanese proverb, “Fall seven times and stand up eight,” as well as something Pastor Steve Cobb of Temple Baptist Church in New Bern, NC told a crack friend. He said, “Never, ever, ever give up. No matter how many times you fall, you get back up!”
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” —Socrates in Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book That Changes Lives by Dan Millman
“Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” —Galatians 6:9 ESV
Never, ever, ever give up!
“Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” —Proverbs 3:5, 6
Have you ever been so disappointed you felt like your heart was sinking into a pit of despair and all hope was lost? I think everyone has at one time or another. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
Although disappointments come for different reasons, the most oft expressed seems to involve relationships and trying to find love. Carolyn McCully, a Christian author said, “Much of our disappointment in relationships is not because people have actually wronged us, but because they have failed to meet our expectations.” While I think her statement is true to a large degree because disappointments come from unmet expectations, I also think that as we have moved away from following Jesus and even sought to remove the Ten Commandments, we actually tend to wrong each other more. We should be able to expect common courtesies, but fewer and fewer have been taught good manners, and our world has become more of a selfish, dog-eat-dog world instead of one that practices the Golden Rule. Instead of being taught to truly love and serve others, we are encouraged to love and serve ourselves. The problem is we already love ourselves as expressed through various forms of self-preservation. We just wish someone else would love and not reject us, too.
“He who plants thorns must never expect to gather roses.” –Arabian proverb
People say, “I just won’t expect anything, and then I’ll never be disappointed,” and yet, they often find themselves disappointed time and time again. The key isn’t in never expecting anything at all. That’s impossible. The key can be found in a Panamanian proverb, “If you want no disappointments, don’t indulge in illusions.” Find out what is true and reasonable, be prepared to accept or adjust for temporary delays or set backs, and be willing to practice patience and grace. “Flexible people don’t get bent out of shape.” And when a desire is finally fulfilled or an expectation met, it is especially uplifting and appreciated when there has first been a delay. Sometimes you might even be glad you didn’t get what you’d originally hoped for.
Some people might feel like God is disappointed with them and sees them as a hopeless case. So not true! God, who is omniscient, is never disillusioned, so He cannot be disappointed. His Father-heart may be breaking at witnessing the hurt and pain we and others feel as a result of wrong doing, but He is not disappointed, and He never sees us as a hopeless case. He is always working to draw us closer and not to push us away like people sometimes do.
“The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever. He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.” –Psalm 103:8-14
Although we don’t fully know Him and sometimes have misguided expectations because of things we’ve heard or been taught about Him, He knows us. He knows you. Even the ugly parts. And He loves you anyway. There is hope. If you’ve ever fallen in love and felt wonderfully alive, then you might be able to imagine what it feels like to realize just how much Jesus loves you. He will not push you away.