Category Archives: Forgiveness

Ash Wednesday Thoughts…

 
Because I’m on sabbatical, this is the first time in years that I won’t be administering the ashes on the foreheads of my church family. I’m glad to be on sabbatical, but I’m sad to miss this. It’s one of the most intimate and meaningful things I do with my church family. Look each of them in the eye, remind them that they are dust, and exhort them to repent and follow Jesus.

My Ash Wednesday observance today consisted of – among other things – listening to a sermon on Romans 1 by the late Mark Ashton, Vicar of St. Andrew the Great in England. He died of cancer on Easter morning in 2010. Maybe in another post I’ll share some of his words about receiving a terminal cancer prognosis. They’re profound and moving. But today, I want to share some of my notes from his sermon on Romans 1. They’re profound too and helped me once again see the significance of observing days like Ash Wednesday. The notes are raw – I didn’t edit them for this post. So, please bear with me. I hope their significance will hit you like they did me today.

THE GOSPEL: Romans 1:16-17 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

The Gospel shows us a right/righteous God acting rightly/righteously to make us right/righteous before Him.

How could God be just in declaring human beings innocent when human beings are guilty? This was exactly what unjust judges did and do in the courts. Taking bribes and declaring guilty people innocent. Is God like that? NO! In the cross, God paid the full penalty by putting Christ on the cross. So, his holiness, righteousness, and justice remain intact.

The quote from Habakkuk in verse 17 reminds us that God has ALWAYS dealt like this with His people. In the OT and NT, the man who would be right with God has had to rely solely on God to grant him that relationship of rightness. By faith from first to last.

GOD’S WRATH: Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

The Gospel is necessary because there is such a thing as the wrath of God. This is “God’s wrath poured out from heaven.” It’s not just some impersonal cosmic process of cause and effect – like karma. God is not some morally neutral spectator of some moral process. It’s nonsense to say that God hates the sin but loves the sinner. Sin has no separate existence except as an act of rebellion carried out by rebels (human beings). And how does a rebellion get quashed…by removing or changing the rebels. Sin has no existence except by the thoughts, words and deeds of a sinner. Psalms repeatedly says that God hates sinners. There is no such things as a rebellion as an abstract thing. There are only rebels who rebel. There is no sin for God to hate; there are only sinners. Remove us from the universe, and you have removed evil. That’s why the Bible is so vague about where sin (beginning with the serpent) came from – so that you and I don’t pass the buck. Where does evil come from? Our hearts.

This is why the Gospel is so necessary – and those of us who have it are obligated to share it. Because people aren’t indifferent to God in their sin. They are rebellious and objects of God’s wrath. Without faith in Christ and the receiving of God’s grace thru Christ, we are enemies of God…and God is our enemy. An in all irony, God is also our only hope.

Retreating, Eating, and Confessing

Michelle and I just returned from a wonderful weekend at Desert Harbor Retreat. We’ve been there a few times now, and each time we go, we are blessed, refreshed, and encouraged. The location is breathtaking, the accommodations are perfect, the food is incredible, and the wise counsel we receive from Raymond and Wesley Jo Linam is invaluable. Desert Harbor is open to anyone, and Michelle and I can’t recommend it to you enough. Take some time to get away to reflect on God’s goodness and be renewed by booking a stay there. Here are a few pictures that you click for a better look.

 
We were given much to consider, pray about, and work toward while we were there. Among many other things we were counseled to consider doing during my sabbatical, we were encouraged by Raymond and Wesley Jo to cook together. They are such good cooks, and the meals they provide their guests are very healthy and VERY delicious. Unfortunately, Michelle had to return to work today, so I took up the cooking challenge myself. We will be cooking together in the coming days, but I just couldn’t wait. Last night, we discussed 3 new meals we’d like to try, and I hit the grocery. Took me over an hour to find everything we needed, but it was so worth it. I made Quinoa Risotto with Carrots and Asparagus – a crock pot meal that was very easy to make and VERY easy to eat! I’m a novice, so I needed to start with the crock pot! You can find the recipe for it here. If you have a healthy meal you love, please send me the recipe at mpotter7088@gmail.com.

 
As the delicious smell of the meal slowly poured out of the crock pot, I spent some good time in the Word and in prayer. Part of my devotional rhythm consists of a time of confession.  There’s a prayer of confession I often pray from an old puritan book called The Valley of Vision. It is such a thorough and powerful prayer that encompasses so much of what I want to and need to confess to the Lord regularly. I want to share it with you in hopes that you will make this a regular prayer of confession too.

Holy Lord, I have sinned times without number, and been guilty of pride and unbelief, of failure to find Your mind in Your Word, of neglect to seek You in my daily life. My transgressions and short-comings present me with a list of accusations, but I bless You that they will not stand against me, for all have been laid on Christ. Go on to subdue my corruptions, and grant me grace to live above them. Let not the passions of the flesh nor lustings of the mind bring my spirit into subjection, but rule over me in liberty and power.

I thank You that many of my prayers have been refused. I have asked amiss and do not have, I have prayed from lusts and been rejected, I have longed for Egypt and been given a wilderness. Go on with Your patient work, answering ‘no’ to my wrongful prayers, and fitting me to accept it. Purge me from every false desire, every base aspiration, everything contrary to Your rule. I thank You for Your wisdom and Your love, for all the acts of discipline to which I am subject, for sometimes putting me into the furnace to refine my gold and remove my dross.

No trial is so hard to bear as a sense of sin. If You should give me choice to live in pleasure and keep my sins, or to have them burnt away with trial, give me sanctified affliction. Deliver me from every evil habit, every accretion of former sins, everything that dims the brightness of Your grace in me, everything that prevents me taking delight in You. Then I shall bless You, God, for helping me to be upright.

Ashes, Dust & Repentance

AshWed2015

Today is Ash Wednesday, a day that begins the season of Lent for Christians. There are 40 days (minus Sundays) until Easter, and the season of Lent is a time for Christians everywhere to prepare themselves to celebrate that glorious day. Tonight, I will observe the beginning of the Lent season with my congregation by administering (and receiving) ashes on our foreheads.

Tonight, my congregation will be reminded that the Lent season is all about preparing for Easter through repentance and renewal. We will be reminded of our sin, and we will be called upon to repent. In our service tonight, we will sing together, we will recite Scripture together, we will pray together, and we will receive a cross of ashes on our foreheads. The ash will serve as a reminder of the biblical principle from Genesis 3:19 which says, “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” And because we are dust, and because to dust we shall return, repentance and renewal is essential. We will be reminded again tonight that full and complete reliance upon our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is essential.

The practice of placing ashes on the forehead has its roots in the Old Testament (book of Ezekiel) when an angel of the Lord was told to “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.” Tonight will be a night when we will be reminded of our sin (reminded to sigh and groan over it), and then encouraged to begin a time of remembrance and thanksgiving for the work of Christ on the cross when He – once and for all – forgave us of our sins and cleansed us from all of our unrighteousness.

Lent is to be marked by discipline and fasting with the goal of death to sin, but our eyes must not stay down. They must look ahead to Easter, a day when the fasting comes to end…a day of unbridled laughter and celebration. A day when all creation rejoices and marvels at the gift from God: our Savior, Lord, and King, Jesus Christ.

Weird Name. Good Movie.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie with a compelling storyline, superb acting, and one that authentically but beautifully wrestles with some of life’s more difficult issues. However, this past weekend, I saw one such film: Philomena.

Philomena is a film about a washed-up political journalist who picks up the story of a woman’s search for her son who was taken away from her decades ago after she became pregnant and was forced to live in a convent.  The themes of religious abuse, adoption, a mother’s love, and ultimately forgiveness are explored in a realistic way that is at times humorous and at times uncomfortable. But it makes for a powerful (and even rewarding) story to watch.  Here’s the trailer…

[youtube]http://youtu.be/rG3QP8foCvg[/youtube]

The Tomb Is Empty!

Here is the powerful video I showed at the end of our Easter service yesterday.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fWU0M99P5i4&playnext=1&list=PL83352B0E1738C8BC&feature=results_main[/youtube]

By the way, I did pay for and download the official copy…and it was in English!

Death Bed Confessions

deathbedAs a pastor, I’ve been invited to experience the final moments of several people’s lives.  Each time I walk through the death process with someone, it causes me pause and deep reflection.  It reminds me of my mortality and my absolute trust in the Lord for my life and breath.  It reminds me that my days are numbered.

I’ve been called to homes minutes after a troubled father committed suicide, minutes after a woman died in her sleep, and minutes after a woman accidentally overdosed on drugs.  I arrived at the hospital literally one minute after an older gentleman died after a long bout with cancer.  In all these situations, I did not experience the final minutes of these precious lives.  But, with a few people, I have experienced that moment when they take their final breath.  What a privileged position I’m in to be invited in by family members to experience their loved one’s final moment on earth.  It’s a sobering, spiritual, powerful experience.  Some have gone quietly; some have not.  But none have delivered profound final words so often seen in the movies.  But just because I’ve not experienced this doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

Recently, a user on social platform, Reddit, posed this question: “To the doctors nurses, police, paramedics etc. of Reddit. Did you ever hear a death bed confession and what was it? Did you feel like it brought relief to the person confessing?” More than 8,000 comments have been posted in response. None of them has been verified. User privacy is an important part of Reddit, but the community is also quick to police itself when fraud is suspected.  Here are some of the fascinating experiences users shared in response to this question:

Mayaseye: “When I first started as a 911 dispatcher I had a call come in and all that the person said was ‘Tell them I’m sorry,’ and hung up.  I knew right away what we were going to find when we got there. It was the worst feeling. I just felt so dirty that I was the last one to talk to this guy, and no matter how fast we sent help it didn’t matter it was just too late. So I guess he was confessing, but it just made me feel icky.”

Orange_Penguin: “This may not seem like much, but the last words my mom said to me before she died were ‘Baby, I’m scared.’ She wasn’t scared of anything – she was a paramedic for over 20 years and had practically seen it all. That was the most horrifying part about watching her die. In all the times she’d been forced to go to the hospital, I had NEVER heard her say that she was scared.”

Buddynacho: “My grandma went a little loopy before she went, but she left a voice mail for her best friend in the last days along the lines of ‘Maggie, it’s Deborah. I’m dying, and it’s a lot of fun! Call me back!’ ”

CopWithoutVest: “A call had come out of a shooting that had just occurred. It was in a neighboring division, but we were close so we decided to go. We were the first unit and there is a guy, shot right in the forehead walking back and forth. He is on his cell phone screaming and crying and asking his mother to please forgive him for everything he has done because he got shot and was going to die.” He posted later that he never found out whether the man died.

CommercialPilot: “My great-grandmother went to bed one evening and didn’t wake up for a number of days. Finally, 4 or 5 days later, she awoke, lifted her head, looked at her husband of 70 years marriage and said softly “I’ve loved you for 70 years now and I would do it all over again.” Then she looked at her daughter and said “Daughter” nodded her head, laid back down and died in her sleep shortly thereafter.”

CNN.com did an article about this.  You can read it here.  Or, you can go straight to the thread on Reddit.com by clicking here.

 

Real Liberty

What is liberty? As Americans, we have fought for it, and thousands upon thousands have died for it.  But is this real liberty? Some 500 years ago, long before America was a country, reformationist Martin Luther described what real liberty is – and he said that all other kinds of liberty are not even worth mentioning in light of it.

Statue of Liberty 2Our conscience is free and quiet because it no longer has to fear the wrath of God. This is real liberty, compared with which every other kind of liberty is not worth mentioning. Who can adequately express the boon that comes to a person when he has the heart-assurance that God will nevermore be angry with him, but will forever be merciful to him for Christ’s sake? This is indeed a marvelous liberty, to have the sovereign God for our Friend and Father who will defend, maintain, and save us in this life and in the life to come.  As an outgrowth of this liberty, we are at the same time free from the Law, sin, death, the power of the devil, hell, etc. Since the wrath of God has been assuaged by Christ no Law, sin, or death may now accuse and condemn us. These foes of ours will continue to frighten us, but not too much. The worth of our Christian liberty cannot be exaggerated. 

As believers in and followers of  Jesus Christ, may we live in the confidence that in Christ, our conscience is free from the wrath of God.  May death, wrath, and hell not frighten us “too much.”  May we hold our Christian liberty – real liberty – as the most valuable thing we possess.  We need not die for this kind of liberty; Christ already did!