Thursday, January 30, 2014

Matchless and Enduring Grace

Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.  (Joel 2:12-13)

The last seven words (statements, actually) of Jesus as He hung on Golgotha's cross are among the most encouraging of all Scripture. Here is the second of the seven: 

Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.
(Luke 23:43)

Two men, hanging between heaven and earth, nailed to crosses on either side of the One in the middle. Two men, thieves, struggling against death, knowing it was only a matter of time before death finally sunk its talons into their souls.

And they watched the Stranger in the middle.

One thief knew he deserved to die. He’d broken the law, and now was paying the penalty. The other, even in the midst of dying, joined the mob at the foot of the cross in mocking, cursing, and blaspheming the Stranger in the middle.

But the broken thief would have none of it. What are you doing? he rebuked. “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” And then he did what everyone must do at some time in their life. No. Rather he did what everyone must do repeatedly in their life. He turned to the One in the middle and pleaded, Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom.” (Luke 23:40-42)

Repentance does amazing things in and for our soul. It lifts us to where Jesus hangs on the cross, face to face with His nailed and bloodied body – brutalized because of our sins. As the Hebrew prophet Isaiah foretold centuries earlier, He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6). Repentance frees us from ourselves, from our arrogance that binds us to eternal death. It teaches us humility and unveils for us our fleeting mortality and our desperate need for an eternal savior. Repentance brings us into an intimate relationship with the King of Glory reserved only for the penitent.

“Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom.” The penitent thief spoke less than a dozen words. Short prayers from the heart are as efficacious as long soliloquies.

Jesus, remember me.

Oh, how the King loves to hear our plea born in a penitent heart so He, in return, can promise, as He promised the dying thief, Truly I say to you . . . you shall be with Me in Paradise.

Thanks be to God for His matchless and enduring grace.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Forgiveness Incomprehensible

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? 
Romans 8:35

 The last seven words (statements, actually) of Jesus as He hung on Golgotha's cross are among the most encouraging of all Scripture. Here is the first of the seven:

 “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” 
(Luke 23:34).

The more I think about that statement, the more I am intrigued. And encouraged.

Forgive them.

Just a few hours earlier, in the Gethsemane Garden, soldiers led by the Jewish priests surrounded Jesus and the disciples. Peter drew His sword and came within a hair of cutting the skull of the high priest’s servant. He sliced off His ear, instead.

But Jesus would have none of the fight. “Put back your sword, Peter,” Jesus commanded. “Don’t you know I could call just now to my Father and He would put at my disposal 12 legions of angels to defend me?”

A Roman legion consisted of 6,000 soldiers. In other words, the Lord could have called for 72,000 angelic warriors, swords unsheathed and glistening in the firelight, and the ground would have been drenched with the blood of those who’d come to drag Jesus away.

But He didn’t call for them. Instead, God-in-the-flesh-of-a-man, God their Creator, the Almighty God permitted His creatures to spit at him, pull His beard, punch him in the face, and haul him off to court.

And now, hanging bloodied and bruised on an old rugged cross, crowds of priests, soldiers and rabble mocking Him, cursing Him . . . .

I wonder sometimes if the thought crossed His mind even for a nanosecond to glance toward His Father and ask for those angels. If it did, He put it from His mind and said instead – Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.

Forgiveness. It is why we can come anew to Jesus, perhaps especially as we approach the Lenten season in our continuing journey toward the Kingdom. There is no sin so grievous, so dark, so vile that the grace of God and the mercy of God cannot – and will not – cleanse with Christ’s blood.  What is it St. John wrote in His first epistle? If we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7). And St. Paul’s encouragement to the church at Ephesus: In [Christ] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace (Ephesians 1:7).

Forgiveness. It is why we can stay with Him today, wherever we are in life and whatever we've done wrong. If we confess our sins, St. John tells us, again in his first epistle, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9). When the penitent walks out of the confessional he or she has God’s absolute and inviolable assurance of forgiveness. As the Holy Spirit promises through the psalmist: For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. Just as a father has compassion on His children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust  (Psalm 103:11-14).

Forgiveness. It is the reason we can journey with Him wherever He leads us. As St. Paul wrote to the church at Rome: If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.(Romans 8:31-39)

Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.
When we sin, when we slash the whip once again across His back, when we drive another nail into His bleeding hands, how much do we really understand what we are doing? How much do we know how it grieves Him? How it breaks His heart? If we had the remotest clue, I don’t think we’d be so cavalier to do some of the things we do.

Father, forgive them.

But if the Scriptures teach us anything, it is that there is forgiveness with God, complete, unhesitating, and unqualified forgiveness to the penitent. And that is precisely why you and I can come to Christ, stay with Christ, and journey with Him wherever He leads us.

Thanks be to God.

Sunday, January 19, 2014


In those days Jesus  . . . was baptized by John in the Jordan. . . .  And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan . . . . (Mark 1:9-13)

The verb St. Mark used for “drove him out” – ekballō – carries the idea of being compelled to do something. The word for ‘tempted” – peirazō – carries a sense of being tested to see how a person will behave in a particular situation. And so this was no cake-walk for the One who is fully God and fully Man. Forty days. Hungry. Cold. Alone. Battling His enemy’s relentless subtle and not-so-subtle attacks. A place of stark, barren deprivation. And yet, just before the Father impelled Him into that place, He called Jesus His “beloved Son.”

A beloved son. It almost defies my ability to reason it through. A beloved son, yet driven by the Father into the wilderness for soul-searing tests. I wonder if the writer to the Hebrews had those days in mind when he wrote of Jesus, “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8).

A beloved son.

I committed my life to Jesus in 1972. I know I am His beloved child. And many times I too have wandered the wilderness during my decades-long journey with Christ. Confused.  Bruised. Alone. And the enemy has never failed to whisper his subtle and not-so-subtle lies in my ear, such as: “If you are a beloved child of God, why has He left you alone in this desert?” Or, “If you want out of this mess – here’s how to do it” – which always involved some sin-laden decision he’d also help me rationalize away.

Father, make me into the image of Jesus.” Isn’t that our prayer? Isn’t that our heart’s cry, to imitate our Savior? To follow in His footsteps? To bear our cross as He bore His? Trials often fall over us because God has impelled us into the desert to nurture our faith, to test our mettle, to show us what we will do in that wilderness, even should it last 40 days, or 40 months – or even 40 years.

Although a beloved son, Jesus “learned obedience by the things which He suffered.” So too, we should not be surprised by our own wilderness in which the Father can transform us into the image of Christ. As St. Peter wrote, “let those suffering in accordance with God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator, while continuing to do good.”(1 Peter 4:19).

Yes, Holy Spirit, help us entrust ourselves again and again into our Creator’s faithful hands. Amen.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

It Doesn't Matter

Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. The Apostle Paul to Timothy, 2 Timothy 4:2-4

This time, like at other times in history,
ever increasing multitudes
from every culture,
religion, and social strata
call evil ‘good’ and good ‘evil’,
darkness ‘light’ and light ‘darkness’
and who seek for themselves
to tickle their ears.

But this time,
like at every other time in history,
one thing
of all things
and will remain
forever unchangeable:
God’s transcendent Truth.

That is why it doesn’t matter
if no one listens to what you say
for Christ.
If God moves you to say it,
then say it.

It doesn’t matter
if no one notices what you fashion with your hands
for Christ.
If God moves you to fashion it,
then fashion it.

It doesn’t matter
if no one reads what you write
for Christ.
If God moves you to write it,
then write it.

It doesn’t matter
if no one cares that you sacrifice time, career,
or even your life
for Christ.
If God moves you to sacrifice it,
then sacrifice it.

It is not our kingdom we build,
but His.
It is not our plan we work,
but His.
He is the Architect,
we, simply laborers
privileged to work
   and however 
  He pleases.