The God Who Forgives

Here it is the start of another year. There is hope for a fresh start, a new beginning. To do better at life than I did last year. But there are old doubts. Can I really begin again?  Can God possibly love and forgive me after what I’ve done?

The simple truth is…”If God doesn’t speak to me in my darkest sin, He doesn’t speak to me at all.” Either he is a God who loves even the most vile sinner and longs for them to turn to him or he doesn’t care for any sinner and will condemn us all to hell.

His love is way beyond anything we can imagine and so we imagine his love is like ours. “Fragile, weak and conditional.”

We love those who are kind to us. God loves those who hate him.

We love those who are worthy of our love. None of us are worthy of God’s love.

We love those who we have the energy to love. God loves with a passion that takes our breath away. It is an unending wellspring of love for the people he has created for one purpose only…to love and serve Him.

And yet we put limits on the limitless God.  We say, “I have gone too far. He can’t possibly forgive this offense. I have sinned too often. He will not forgive me yet again.”

But we forget that he is the good shepherd who leaves the 99 righteous persons to seek and save the lost one. (Luke 15:4-7)

We forget that he loved people like David who was guilty of sexual immorality, betrayal and murder.

We forget he loved the extremely wicked city of Ninevah enough to send a reluctant prophet to preach them the gospel. Jonah tried to get out of the assignment, but God insisted, and the entire city from least to greatest had the nerve to repent. (Jonah 3:1-10)

Such a heart of forgiveness this God has. So at the beginning of this year I bring my past failures to him. I seek His power in changing who I am. I determine to set my eyes on my only hope. The grace and forgiveness of a God who loves me in spite of who I am.

Note:  This post can also be found at my new website

 http://windowsofhisgrace.com/

I am in the process of moving some things over there. It is an upgrade that will allow me to do some different things. I will let you know when it is fully functional, but I hope you take the time to stop by. 

Jesus and Santa

“I can’t wait for Christmas!!!”  My granddaughter blurted out to the clerk restocking the shelves at the grocery store. The clerk responded with, “Have you been good this year so Santa will come?” Arianna looked a little confused and then answered,  “Santa’s not real, God’s real.” Now it was the clerk’s turn to be confused. Not knowing just what to say I smiled, and we moved on down the aisle.

I thought about the conversation all the way home. I don’t think of Santa as evil, but Jesus is so much better.

Santa keeps a list of who is naughty or nice. The theory is he only visits those who have been good. We use it to motivate kids to cooperate with us those last weeks before Christmas or those gifts aren’t going to show up.

Jesus, on the other hand, came knowing we weren’t nice. We needed a Savior who could save us from our sin. (Matt. 1:21) His coming depended on God’s goodness, not our goodness.

Santa supposedly leaves a lump of coal to those who don’t measure up. Jesus offers complete forgiveness and has taken the punishment we deserve by dying in our place.

Santa lives forever to keep track. Jesus now lives forever to intercede for us before God. (Romans 8:34)

Santa shows up one day a year. Jesus has promised to never leave us or forsake us. (Hebrews 13:5b-6)

But the most important difference between Santa and Jesus is the one Arianna pointed out so simply. “Santa isn’t real …God is real!” It is fun to pretend, but my belief in God isn’t a fantasy. It is something I have staked my life on. So as you celebrate Christmas this year remember it is about a Savior, not a Santa.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

Now that’s something to be excited about!

 

Anger management

“But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry.” (Jonah 4:1 NASB)

Message delivered, people repent. Jonah is beyond upset that God didn’t destroy them.

His anger shocks and surprises us, but should it? Jonah is brutally honest about how he feels. But before we condemn him out of hand we have to admit there are shadows of his attitude in our own hearts.

We cover up our displeasure. Pretend things don’t bother us. But the reality is different.

We think we have a corner on God’s kindness. When we see him show grace to a stranger, someone who doesn’t have a history with God, we feel a little put out. After all, we have spent a good part of our lives serving him, following him. It isn’t fair that this person, new to the faith, is having prayers answered when mine go unanswered.

If I experience broken families, sickness and death of loved ones, prodigal children, job loss, why do they get the good husband, healthy obedient children, good job, nice house . . . and the list goes on.

We equate things with God’s approval. So if someone has more things or better things than we have we are under the mistaken impression that he doesn’t love us as much. Thus the pouting begins. It becomes even more of a sore spot if God shows grace to our enemy.

We find ourselves saying, “If God really loved me he would punish my enemies not bless them. …and bitterness creeps In.

Here is where Jonah’s story gets interesting. God uses a plant to give Jonah shade. Jonah is thrilled. (“extremely happy” Jonah 4:6 NASB) God sends a worm to eat the plant and it withers.

God sends the sun and scorching east wind to beat down on Jonah’s head. Jonah becomes suicidal.

“he became faint and begged with all his soul to die, saying, ‘Death is better to me than life’.” (Jonah 4:8 NASB)

Why the plant? Why the worm? Why the sun and east wind? Because God loved Jonah enough to try and explain His heart to him. God had a great love for the people of Nineveh.

Jonah wasn’t listening so God laid out an object lesson. “Jonah, you fell in love with the plant that had only been with you for one day. If you felt such strong love for the plant shouldn’t I love these people who I have made?”

God doesn’t delight to destroy, he delights to redeem. He desperately wants Jonah to understand His character.

God doesn’t tell us the rest of the story. Jonah’s response isn’t recorded in scripture. But I hear God asking me the same question he asked Jonah. For He is ever reaching out to me. Trying to teach me things my hard heart is too stubborn to see. And in his pursuit of others He often invites me (or you) to be part of the process.

Where There’s Life There’s Hope

Jonah 2:1-10

We know the story. Jonah refused the assignment God gave him. He didn’t’ just dig in his heels, he ran in the opposite direction. God pursued him with all the forces of nature, which included a massive storm and a huge fish.

What we read next is a little puzzling.  Jonah prays a long extended prayer, not of supplication, but of thanksgiving! This gives new meaning to the phrase “Where there’s life there’s hope.”

Imagine it with me. Jonah assumes he is a dead man. Into the raging sea he is thrown, sinking down to the depths. Amazingly, a huge fish swallows him and his journey continues. Whether Jonah is too dazed to be aware or barely conscience we don’t know, but after three days he realizes what he has been through, and is thankful to be alive. Notice, he doesn’t ask to be delivered from the fish. Yes, even if the rest of his days are spent in the belly of this fish, he is thankful to be alive. I really think Jonah assumed this was his new home.

But there is something else embedded in that prayer. . . God’s very real presence. After all, God is the one who had put him there. He might be in the belly of a whale, but God was with him and, for Jonah, that was enough. Jonah’s joy was not in his physical circumstances, but being in the presence of His God. He closes his prayer of thanksgiving with the phrase “Salvation is of the Lord.” God’s response to that acknowledgement? God commanded the fish to vomit him up. God showed Jonah such grace.

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How does this apply to me? In the midst of my trouble am I thankful? Not thankful for the trouble, but thankful that I am still alive and that God is with me? My every breath is from him. Do I comprehend that? Do I fully understand that “Salvation is of the Lord?” Am I so distracted by my difficult/dangerous circumstances that I fail to see the more important fact that God is with me? If trouble comes am I prepared to be satisfied with God being with me in the trouble, not necessarily removing me from it?

“and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b NASB)

Windows of His Grace

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I’ve been overwhelmed with how difficult life is for many  people around me.

They are not dealing with one crisis, but many.

There are the car accidents, house fires, lost jobs, bankruptcy, court cases, prison terms.

There are the handicapped children, physical sickness, surgeries, cancer, deaths.

There are the prodigal children, substance abuse, adultery, broken families, emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse.

The list is endless, but in the midst of the dysfunction and  trouble I catch glimpses of God. He provides what is needed day by day, often minute by minute. Those crumbs that sustain us through a barren land.

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Life will continue to be hard. We live in a fallen world that is getting worse not better. The sweetness in life comes from knowing this One who cares for our souls.  He has been there all along, caring for his sinful, wounded children. We catch glimpses if we take time to look.

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I ran across an old hymn by Isaac Watts that gives such a sweet picture of God. Oh that I would look through the windows of His Grace to catch a glimpse of Him.

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“I love the windows of thy grace. Through which my Lord is seen.

And long to meet my Saviour’s face, without a glass between.

O that the happy hour come, to change my faith to sight.

I shall behold my lord at home, in a diviner light.

Haste my beloved and remove, these interposing days.

Then shall my passions all be love, and all my pow’rs be praise.” – Isaac Watts 1674-1748

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9 NASB)

 

Angel Correspondence

I’ve been sent to guard the entrance of the garden.

I really don’t understand these humans God made. God formed the man with his own hands and then breathed His life into him. Each part of creation was magical, but when he made man that was something astounding. The man looked so much like God. I’m not sure why God created him. It wasn’t like He was lonely. There was his Son and the Holy Spirit. The three of them have such a time together. You should have seen them working on creation. God’s light pierced the darkness. The waters were pushed aside and the dry land appeared. They arranged what was nothing until it was a work of art.

That wasn’t enough for God. All kinds of plants started growing. Some just appeared full size and beautiful. Then they hung the sun and moon in place. And the stars, oh, the beautiful stars. Stars without number.

Next they made water creatures and birds in the wide sky. What imaginations the three of them have. Each creature was more beautiful or stranger than the next.

Then they started in on the animals. Big, small, tiny, furry, sleek, comical, beautiful animals. Some made me laugh when I saw them. No, they weren’t a mistake. God planned for them to look that way. Such variety. And then, like I said, there was man. To see him come to life took my breath away.

How did it go so wrong?

God had given him everything, a beautiful wife, a dream job, the most beautiful, magical place to live.

But you’ll remember Lucifer. The last time we heard from him 1/3 of our forces joined him in open rebellion. He was roaming around. He does a lot of roaming. Always looking for something of God’s to ruin. His hatred for God consumes his every thought and action. He knew better than to talk to Adam directly. Adam had been given the mandate right from God. Eve had heard it second hand so she was easier to deceive. She argued with him a little, but his skill at persuasion was too much for her. He acted like her friend, like he had her best interests at heart. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

She reached for and ate the fruit. It actually tasted good. She gave some to Adam. He knew full well what he was doing. He knew about the promise of death. He also knew that if he didn’t eat he would lose Eve to death and he would continue on without her… How could he continue on without her? He made the awful choice of turning his back on God to stay with Eve. I think he immediately regretted it, but what was done was done.

They both tried to hide.

I expected God to kill them both on the spot. Amazingly he showed them grace. God asked them questions he already knew the answers to. I think He wanted them to own up to what they’d done. They blamed each other and even God for the offense. Adam said, “this woman you gave me…” So the good gift God had given Adam was now to blame for his disobedience. Why didn’t he see? Why didn’t he see that it wasn’t Eve or even Satan that was to blame? He simply wanted what he wanted and he wanted it now. Then when he got what he wanted he blamed Eve for the choice that ruined them both.

Why does God bother with them? How can he tolerate this rebellion. Satan’s rebellion nearly broke his heart. Now man does the same and God’s plan of redemption goes into action. It is an amazing story that is playing out now…but getting back to my station at the entrance of the garden. Why guard the entrance? What’s the big deal? The fruit has been eaten, the damage has been done. Did God throw them out because He was angry. No, don’t you see it? God was kind. Kind to prevent them from eating from the tree of life that was in that same garden. The tree that they hadn’t bothered eating from yet. (It hadn’t been forbidden.) If they ate it now they would live forever as sinners. No possibility of change. Some day they would eat of it, but not now. Not in their present state. God took the option away from them because He is kind.

So I wait and watch for God’s plan to unfold. It makes me curious. These creatures who look so much like God. These creatures that God gives such grace.

When you get time I’d like to hear about your latest assignment.

(This fictional correspondence is based on the following passages. Genesis 1-3; Ezekiel 28:12-18; Revelation 12:4; Rev. 22:1&2)