Pardon written in the wounds of Jesus

Your have been pardoned, and your proof is written in the wounds of Jesus.

I know it is Christmas time and we are supposed to be thinking about the birth of Jesus, but this past week, I have been gripped with a thought concerning His death. His death decreed our pardon, our forgiveness, and our release from sin.

Isaiah said, “He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

I have needed that, have you? I have transgressed, I have been caught in iniquity, I have failed my loved ones, and I have needed pardon.

Pardon is amazing. To be guilty and then to be set free is a gift of immeasurable proportions, and it changes everything for the freed. Life is sweeter when it gets returned to us. Decisions matter more when we actually have the freedom to make them. Our blessings are more potent when we know we don’t fully deserve them.

Exiting presidents often issue presidential pardons in their final moments in office, and the recipients of those pardons get a second chance to begin again. How amazing to have received something greater than the forgiveness of a human president, how amazing to be forgiven by God!

It did not come cheaply. Although we call God’s forgiveness a free gift, it did not come to us easily or casually. It was purchased by the ultimate act of love, a love that absorbed unthinkable pain and stared down death itself.

Let’s exult in our forgiveness. Let’s strive to live lives that never need to ask for it again. Let’s be quick to extend pardon to the people who fail us, and let’s grow into God’s beautiful blend of truth, justice, and unquenchable grace. Your pardon has been written in the wounds of Jesus, and the life you are dreaming of is found in Him.

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Do you believe in the Church?

In our anchoring Apostle’s Creed there is a statement of faith that often gets overshadowed by some of the weightier elements of the Creed, such as our general belief in God and our specific beliefs in Jesus Christ. It is the statement about the church.

About three quarters of the way into the creed—after the affirmation of belief in the Holy Spirit—it says this: “I believe in the holy catholic (or universal) church”.

Do you?

When we survey the weaknesses, flaws, and even corruptions in the church it can sometimes be easier to believe in God than to believe in the church. Lots of people feel this way. They say things like, “I’m spiritual not religious” or “I believe in God; I just don’t believe in the church.”

I understand where they are coming from. Unfortunately, far too many people have had experiences in the church that did not reflect well on Jesus or His teachings. At best, these bad experiences have soured people toward Christianity and at worst they have done lasting damage to a person’s faith in God.

And yet, it’s still in the Creed. When we affirm our loyalty to Jesus we still say that we believe in His church, and we even call it “holy”. How can that be?

First, we believe in the church because Jesus believes in the church. The church is the only organization that Jesus ever promised to build. The church was Jesus’ idea and He has given His word that He would build it on the earth. Furthermore, He is committed to the ongoing purification of the church so that our goodness increases and our shamefulness decreases.

Second, we believe in the church because we are the church. Personally, I worship every week with some of the greatest people on our planet. I’m not joking or being dramatic with that statement. The members of Grace Church La Verne are radiant. Yes, they are human and prone to weakness, but they are also kind and loving and generous and devout. If I were Jesus, I would be proud to have them bear my name. Amazing people—people who care about humanity and who want to honor Jesus Christ—can be found in nearly every church around our world today.

So we believe in the church because we believe in Jesus, and we believe in the church because we know the potential in the church. In the 2001 film Pearl Harbor Japanese Admiral Yamamoto lamented the decision to attack Pearl Harbor and he was quoted as saying, “I fear all we have done is to awake a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”

We believe in the church because despite our failures and frailties we see gigantic potential in the church. We see Christ’s hands and feet—the New Testament calls it His body—and we know that our best days of love, mercy, worship, teaching, and reform are before us.

Let’s reaffirm our faith and let’s do our part in being the church that humanity needs.

The Apostle’s Creed:

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic (universal) Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

Amen.

Poised

poisedAre you a poised individual? Would anyone use the word poise to describe your mien and air, your manner and your bearing?

Poise is a word that refers to elegance and grace in a person’s carriage. It is the state of composure that allows one to remain centered and upright in any given situation. Older uses of the word described balance and equilibrium in a person’s core.

The opposite of poise is discombobulation, the state of being confused or disconcerted by external forces, and when we get discombobulated we make up for it by posing. Since we don’t have a natural composure flowing from within us, we wear external masks and strike external poses to compensate. Which one best describes you? In a given day are you more poised and composed or posed and discombobulated?

Our level of poise and composure is directly tied to our confidence—the more confident we are the more poised we become. Conversely, as our confidence ebbs our fear, confusion, and distress increases.

So how do we shed our posing and grow in confidence that leads to ever-increasing poise and composure? Two thoughts. First, stay close to Jesus Christ, who always modeled poise and equilibrium. He moved through the storms of Roman oppression and religious persecution like an eye of a hurricane, ever-poised and composed. Second, remember that confidence flows from the presence of God. The more we cultivate the presence of God in our lives the more our confidence grows and poise becomes our posture.

I know it can take time to overcome our fears and grow in poise and confidence, but it changes everything when we attain it. Let’s set poise as a goal, and learn to bring the peace, hope, and composure of Christ wherever we go every day of our lives.

The Audience or the Conductor?

symphonyWhose eye does an elite orchestral musician most want to catch, the audience’s or the conductor’s?

For a brilliant symphony musician, audience applause is a desired outcome, but it is not the central aim. The focus is on following the conductor’s lead. What would happen to a violinist or a cellist who gazed at the crowd while missing the conductor’s cue? Were that to become a common occurrence their career would undoubtedly be short-lived.

Musicians hope for applause but they follow the maestro regardless of how the audience responds. If the house is silent they keep playing as they’re led, and if ovations become deafening they do the same.

For followers of Jesus our mindset should match that of the orchestral musicians. We want to win and draw and move as many people as possible, but our ultimate goal is to please the one who called us.

The love, favor, and acclaim of men and women can be wonderfully fun and affirming, but it can never replace God’s “Well done good and faithful servant.”

Whose applause are we working for? Whose “well done” do we crave? Is our gaze fixed upward toward an audience of one or are we looking to every passing face to find our approval and worth?

It isn’t easy to secure this kind of focused devotion, but it is worth the effort. When heaven affirms you its effects will touch and heal the deepest recesses of your soul.

Superman, Batman, and YOU

batmansuperman2Superman…Batman…Ironman…the Incredible Hulk…what is Marvel teaching us, and what, if anything, do these stories say about you?

Super hero stories have always been popular, but today we’re touching new heights of fan fervor as we return for a 6th, 7th, and even an 8th installment of the Batman saga. Movies are being made about even the most obscure of super heroes such as Ant-man and the Black Widow, and there doesn’t seem to be an end of future productions in sight.

Why are super hero stories so popular? Since pop culture is often a commentary on the values of a society, I wonder what our super hero obsession is revealing about us.

Are we looking for a hero? Are we longing to be a hero? Are we bored with our lives and simply love a two-and-a-half hour escape from reality? Do we try to live vicariously through Superman’s biceps, Captain America’s heroism, or Ironman’s wit?

Or is all of this stuff actually speaking to us on an even deeper level? Is there any element of the Gospel inside all of this?

I think there is.

A careful reading of the New Testament shows Jesus constantly revealing the deeper, truer, stronger, and better identities of His followers. He always seemed to think there was more to His followers than what a casual observer could see on the surface.

  • Peter wasn’t just a fisherman; he was a fisher of men.
  • Saul/Paul wasn’t actually a persecutor of the church; he was a champion of the church.
  • Timid, fragile disciples were actually fearless world-changers, who would boldly die martyrs’ deaths for the cause of Jesus Christ.

Jesus always saw into the deeper, truer, alter ego of His followers. And He sees the same in you. You are more than you think you are. Empowered by God’s Spirit, and walking in your destiny, you are a part of God’s hope and plan for the world.

So the next time you’re at the cinema, lost in a haze of special effects and complicated plot twists, remember that God just might be speaking to you there.

When you’re feeling illegitimate

Illegitimate [adjective, noun il-i-jit-uh-mit; verb il-i-jit-uh-meyt]

Adjective

  1. Not legitimate; not sanctioned by law or custom: an illegitimate child
  2. Unlawful; illegal: an illegitimate action
  3. Irregular; not in good usage
  4. Obsolete

Noun

  1. A person recognized or looked upon as illegitimate

Verb

  1. To declare illegitimate

Do you ever feel that way? Do you ever feel like you’re not legit? Like other people in your same role(s) in life are more legitimate than you?

Sometimes I don’t feel like the real deal. Sometimes if a church shopper visits Grace and then opts for another church or pastor, I think, “Makes sense—that other pastor is probably a truer pastor than me.”

Isn’t it a bummer to feel that way? It’s also a dangerous way to feel, because to the degree that we feel illegitimate, we will try to find legitimacy. And if we aren’t careful we can go to illegitimate places to legitimize our legitimacy. Make sense?

If I don’t feel legitimate I can look to my talents or accomplishments to extract a sense of value or worth. If I doubt the legitimacy of God’s work in my life, I can move outside of my relationship with Him to try to authenticate my life, and those are almost always dangerous moves. We can never find legitimacy illegitimately. There is no external award, degree, or accolade that can forever heal our soul’s deep need for legitimacy. Legitimacy comes from our heavenly father.

And Jesus knows all about this.

He encouraged me the other day when I was having a “poor me, I don’t feel legit” kind of a day. I realized that Jesus lived His entire life under the banner of illegitimacy.

  • People questioned the legitimacy of His birth.
  • When He assumed His role as Savior of the world, people mocked him asking, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?”
  • He was seldom recognized for who He really was…and yet in a world that screamed “illegitimate” Jesus modeled true Sonship.

He knows how you feel, and if you’ll look to Him and follow Him, He will heal the haunting echoes in your soul. You. Are. Legitimate.

The subtle brilliance of humanistic thinking

starsChristianity presents the highest, noblest view of the dignity of man (male/female) of any other worldview or belief system. According to our Scriptures, we humans are not merely the products of unguided evolution. We aren’t simply “dancing to our DNA” as Richard Dawkins claims.

We are not simply the latest, upgraded installment of the evolutionary chain, animals 2.0.

We are carriers of a divine spark. We are made in the image of God, loved by Deity, and we carry an intrinsic value and worth that is unique among all of creation. That’s our starting point. And yet as brilliantly and wondrously as we were made, we aren’t God. We submit to God. We worship God, but we ourselves are not divine.

In contrast to this Christian perspective is evolutionary humanism that starts from a very different place. In evolutionary humanistic thinking, humans are not intrinsically special or unique. We aren’t loved by Deity and destined for a significant life or eternity. We are biological impulses. We’re just the latest version of evolution, today’s manifestation of natural selection.

How interesting it is then to see that although humanism begins with man as no more significant than animals, it ends with man essentially enthroned as God. This is inconsistent reasoning. Humanistic philosophy both reduces the sanctity of human life while simultaneously elevating man’s prowess and genius as the greatest force in existence.

How does that happen? How do we begin as nothing more than animals, but then end as essential deities? It’s a brilliantly subtle belief that divests us of accountability and responsibility, while promoting our independence and pride.

I like King David’s exclamations from Psalm 8 verses 1 and 4: “Oh Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Then “What is man that you are mindful of him?” God is mindful of us—that makes us special. But it is His name—not ours—that is majestic in all the earth.