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Archive for the ‘grace’ Category

Amanda Criss has provided some very helpful thoughts in how to respond properly to criticism. Here’s a taste:

I realize now that my feelings were so hurt because my pride was so devastated. A proud heart like mine is shocked and offended at an accusation of imperfection. I want to be liked and admired, but instead, my desperate need for a Savior was shamefully exposed.

But the gospel frees me to receive criticism without anger and indignation. In the reflection of God’s holiness, I realize and embrace that I am much more sinful than my accuser can ever think to express. Even if the specific accusations I receive are without merit, when it comes to my deceitful heart, they don’t know the half of it.

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It is hard to claim that twenty-first-century America is a happy place. Anger and bitterness abound, and joy and peace are in short supply. A sense of despair hangs over us. As a people, we seem to have no sense of purpose.

We try to alleviate this despair with busyness or toys, so we distract ourselves with work and social media and television and smart phones. Such things, though, do not solve our basic issues, so we seek therapy, believing that a psychiatrist and perhaps the right drugs will get our minds balanced to deal with the problems of contemporary living.

In many churches the pastor is the spiritual therapist, and his sermons are therapeutic, giving attention to hearers’ felt needs. People flock to such churches because life is all about them and their issues, and they know that this particular pastor is going to deal with human concerns and give them some spiritual therapy to apply to their psychological sore.

Unfortunately, we miss the root issues while trying to fix the surface ones. The primary reason for our despair is sin, and the solution is not a pseudo-psychiatrist masquerading as a preacher.

Fallen man and woman live in selfish sinfulness. They live outside of God and in rebellion to his will. This man or woman may attend church periodically, perhaps even every Sunday morning. Perhaps he or she recognizes that something is out of order in life and considers church as the place to get it right.

While the therapeutic salve or always being on the go may distract momentarily distract us, in the dark of night and the quiet of one’s soul the despair continues. It may be dulled, but it is not removed or replaced. Unfortunately, many stumble through life, day by day, pushing their despair aside with the distraction of entertainment or social media, work or recreation, or alcohol or pharmaceuticals. Anthony Burgess [1600-1663] observed this about the nature of man centuries ago: “Oh, it is to be feared that there are many that give themselves lusts, and carnal pleasures, that so they may put a foggy mist between their conscience and themselves. Others dig into the world, labouring to become senseless, that so there may be an eclipse of this light by the interposition of the earth. Others run to damnable heresies, denying Scriptures, God, heaven, hell. . . . What are these but refuges of guilty consciences? We must distinguish between our carnal concupiscence [desire], and conscience; between deluded imaginations, and conscience; between an erroneous and scrupulous conscience, and a well grounded and truly informed conscience, and when we have done so, we must follow conscience as far as that follows the Word.”

The despair remains because the condition of the fallen person remains. Scripture instructs that, as fallen humans, we are “dead in trespasses and sins,” that we “follow the course of this world, . . . the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience,” that we live “in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and [are] by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3).

We are helped only when we recognize that despair is a God-given gift to alert us to the fact that we are not what we were intended to be. God created us to live in fellowship with him, but like the fish longing to live on land, we rebelled and find ourselves out of the environment unto which we were created.

God has graciously gifted us with despair so that we will grow weary of living in an alien environment. Our conscience convicts us of our waywardness, and the Word of God and the Spirit of God point us to Christ. Only in Christ will our lives find the peace and sense of purpose unto which we were created: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” [Romans 14:17 (ESV]). Despair arises from living in the wrong environment, but despair is God’s gift to drive us to Christ, the One who is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

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Are we amazed at grace?

Doubtlessly, one of the most widely-sung and best-known hymns of Christianity is “Amazing Grace”:

Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,

That saved a wretch like me!

Perhaps familiarity has bred dull thinking. Have we lost the significance of the words “amazing” and “grace”?

I think that there is far too much of the Pharisee within all of us. You remember our Lord’s parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14. Luke records that Jesus “told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt.” A Pharisee and a tax collector went into the temple to pray. In our culture we hold neither Pharisees nor tax collectors in esteem, especially with the nefarious activities of the Internal Revenue Service coming to light in recent months. In Jesus’ day, Pharisees were among the most highly esteems persons in Judaism. They were conservative, hard-working, and honorable men.

We often think of Pharisees as those self-righteous Jews who went around condemning anyone having a good time because some religious law somewhere was being violated. That the Pharisees were self-righteous is true. The reality of the matter, however, is that most people who condemn the Pharisees as being self-righteous are themselves self-righteous. Excusing one’s own trespasses while denouncing those of others is a ubiquitous human trait.

The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable does little more than articulate a pervasive human condition: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”

We would not be so crass as to voice such a description of ourselves. When we observe the sinful lifestyles of others, however, how often do we have the attitude of the Pharisee?

Clay Layfield, minister of worship at First Baptist Church in Eastman, Georgia, pointed me to a new hymn entitled “Not in Me.” We plan to introduce it to our congregation one Sunday evening soon. “Not in Me” was composed by Eric Schumacher and David Ward with the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector in mind, and you can hear it here. Look at the first verse:

No list of sins I have not done,

No list of virtues I pursue,

No list of those I am not like,

Can earn myself a place with You.

O God! Be merciful to me—

I am a sinner through and through!

My only hope of righteousness

Is not in me, but only You.

The hymn rightly notes that nothing in us warrants God’s acceptance of us—not the sins we have not done, not the virtues we have esteemed, not a comparison with those we deem less worthy for whatever reason. Our depravity permeates all of our being; our “only hope of righteousness is Christ alone.”

The second and third verses continue the theme:

No humble dress, no fervent prayer,

No lifted hands, no tearful song,

No recitation of the truth

Can justify a single wrong.

My righteousness is Jesus’ life,

My debt was paid by Jesus’ death,

My weary load was borne by Him

And He alone can give me rest.

 

No separation from the world,

No work I do, no gift I give,

Can cleanse my conscience, cleanse my hands;

I cannot cause my soul to live.

But Jesus died and rose again—

The pow’r of death is overthrown!

My God is merciful to me

And merciful in Christ alone.

Only an awareness of ourselves in our sinful state and an awareness of what God has done on our behalf can help us understand that God’s grace is indeed amazing.

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

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While the technology consulting giant Accenture has ended its sponsorship of Tiger Woods and other companies are reassessing their relationship with the world’s best golfer, Swiss watchmaker Tag Heuer announced today that it is sticking with Woods despite his adulterous relationships. Spokeswoman Mariam Sylla provided the unsurprising politically-correct response. “We respect his performance in the sport,” she said, but his private life is “not our business.”

To acknowledge that Woods is a great golfer is akin to observing that the sun is very hot. His play is sensational and his personal story has been carefully constructed. He has allowed neither politics nor racial extremists such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton distract him from his widely appealing and carefully crafted public image. And it is that public image which reveals the silliness of Ms. Sylla’s declaration. Part of Woods’ appeal is the fact that his private image was assumed to be as clean as his public image. And, to be sure, if Woods’ public image continues to suffer as a result of his “private” sins, we will not be surprised to see Tag Heuer bail on the über-successful athlete.

The truth is that a person’s private life does matter, protestations from the pseudo-sophisticates notwithstanding. It just so happens that western culture has come to view one’s sex life as a non-issue. Note Hollywood’s defense of child-rapist Roman Polanski. Pseudo-sophisticates claim to be above such “nonsense,” except, I suspect, when one of them finds his or her own spouse sexually unfaithful.

What has made Tiger Woods an incredibly wealthy man is the assumed clean private life implied by his clean public life. His golfing ability alone has made him a lot of money, but his image coupled with his athletic prowess is what has made him so insanely marketable.

The reality, though, is that Woods’ multiple adulterous escapades are not his ultimate problem. They merely provide an external manifestation of a sinful heart.

And lest we stand in judgment as Woods’ moral superiors, the fact is that many of us have not committed the sins that he committed simply because we have not had the opportunity to do so. We are innately no better morally. “None is righteous,” the apostle Paul contends, “no, not one” (Romans 3:10 [ESV]). Left to ourselves, no sin is beyond our capacity to commit. That is why Jesus came, to save us from God’s just condemnation by voluntarily bearing divine judgment we deserve and accounting us righteous, a grace undeserved. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 [ESV]). May Tiger Woods come to know the same Savior.

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Christian Audio is offering a free download of an abridged version of The Brothers Karamazov during December. Just be sure to type DEC2009 as the coupon code. By the way, abridged is still over nineteen hours of listening pleasure and is well done, according to the reviews. Enjoy! Mine is downloading even as I speak, er, type.

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