Category Archives: Grace

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.

Chicken, Football, Gay, and Straight

I like Chick-Fil-A, and I like college football.  Something pretty profound and very God-honoring took place on New Year’s Eve at the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta.  Shane Windmeyer and Dan Cathy hung out – as friends.  Shane is a 40-year-old gay man who is the founder and executive director of Campus Pride, the leading national organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) college students.  Dan is a 59-year-old straight man who is the President and COO of Chick-fil-A and an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage and supporter of conservative Christian causes.

Shane has not liked Dan for sometime.  As a matter of fact, Shane has seen Dan as his enemy and has led national movements against him and his company, Chick-fil-A. Dan decided to do something about this, and what he did – I believe – is a model for how Christians should deal with people they disagree with.  And more specifically, it’s a model for how Christians should deal with homosexuals.  Dan got to know Shane.  He invited Shane to talk with him – not only about their differences – but about what they have in common.  And guess what?  They became friends.  Neither has compromised their position on the same-sex/traditional marriage debate, but by engaging in conversation, the walls between them have been removed.  They are friends.  Friends with differences.

Shane recently published an article on the HuffPost Gay Voices blog, and I was moved and encouraged by what I read.  A gay man writing about his change of heart toward his former Christian enemy – all because the Christian man reached out to him and began a conversation.  Here is a segment of Shane’s article.  You can read the entire article and see a video interview with Shane by clicking here.

Throughout the conversations Dan expressed a sincere interest in my life, wanting to get to know me on a personal level. He wanted to know about where I grew up, my faith, my family, even my husband, Tommy. In return, I learned about his wife and kids and gained an appreciation for his devout belief in Jesus Christ and his commitment to being “a follower of Christ” more than a “Christian.” Dan expressed regret and genuine sadness when he heard of people being treated unkindly in the name of Chick-fil-a — but he offered no apologies for his genuine beliefs about marriage.

And in that we had great commonality: We were each entirely ourselves. We both wanted to be respected and for others to understand our views. Neither of us could — or would — change. It was not possible. We were different but in dialogue. That was progress.

In many ways, getting to know Dan better has reminded me of my relationship with my uncle, who is a pastor at a Pentecostal church. When I came out as openly gay in college, I was aware that his religious views were not supportive of homosexuality. But my personal relationship with my uncle reassured me of his love for me — and that love extends to my husband. My uncle would never want to see any harm come to me or Tommy. His beliefs prevented him from fully reconciling what he understood as the immorality of homosexuality with the morality of loving and supporting me and my life. It was, and remains, an unsolvable riddle for him, hating the sin and loving the sinner.

My relationship with Dan is the same, though he is not my family. Dan, in his heart, is driven by his desire to minister to others and had to choose to continue our relationship throughout this controversy. He had to both hold to his beliefs and welcome me into them. He had to face the issue of respecting my viewpoints and life even while not being able to reconcile them with his belief system. He defined this to me as “the blessing of growth.” He expanded his world without abandoning it. I did, as well.

As Dan and I grew through mutual dialogue and respect, he invited me to be his personal guest on New Year’s Eve at the Chick-fil-A Bowl. This was an event that Campus Pride and others had planned to protest. Had I been played? Seduced into his billionaire’s life? No. It was Dan who took a great risk in inviting me: He stood to face the ire of his conservative base (and a potential boycott) by being seen or photographed with an LGBT activist. He could have been portrayed as “caving to the gay agenda” by welcoming me.

Instead, he stood next to me most of the night, putting respect ahead of fear. There we were on the sidelines, Dan, his wife, his family and friends and I, all enjoying the game. And that is why building a relationship with someone I thought I would never understand mattered. Our worlds, different as they can be, could coexist peacefully. The millions of college football fans watching the game never could have imagined what was playing out right in front of them. Gay and straight, liberal and conservative, activist and evangelist — we could stand together in our difference and in our respect. How much better would our world be if more could do the same?

May we follow the example of Dan, a man who had more than most of us to lose in befriending Shane.  May we as Christians be willing to enter into relationships with non-Christians that may be “unsolvable” riddles for us – for the sake of Christ and for His kingdom.

Why I Hate Election Season

I wrote this 2 years ago today during the 2010 mid-term election season. I still feel the same. 

I hate election season.  I’m not anti-voting, anti-democracy, or anti-American.  I just hate the onslaught of negative media campaigns where political opponents slam, slaughter, and condemn one another.  It’s so bad that my kids have caught on.  We try to out-do one another with ridiculous and hilarious fake smear ads.   On the way to school the other day, Taylor and Alexis saw a billboard for one of the candidates for governor here in NM and began spouting off funny smear ads that made me laugh so hard I nearly wrecked the van.  Unfortunately, condemnation of one another is nothing new.  Jesus told His followers to knock it off nearly 2000 years ago.  He said…

“Judge (condemn) not, that you be not judged (condemned). 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:1-5

Judging and condemning one another is standard operating procedure for most.  It’s an American pastime.  So, if followers of Christ are supposed to refrain from judging and condemning one another, then we need to be told how to stop.  From Jesus’ words above, I believe He gives us three very good and practical ideas on how we can stop condemning one another.

1. Recognize that to the extent we do (or don’t do) something, it will be done (or not done) to us by the Lord.

This is what I like to call the Reciprocal Principle of the Kingdom. Jesus makes it very clear in Matthew 6 that if we forgive one another, then we will be forgiven by the Lord.  If we don’t, we won’t be forgiven by Him.  In Luke 6, Jesus again shows how this principle works.  He says, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”  Recognizing that we will be condemned by the Lord if we condemn others ought to give us good reason to stop.

2. Recognize that we are often guilty of that which we condemn others for.

Theologian John Stott profoundly says, “Human beings unhappily possess an inbred proclivity to mix ignorance of themselves with arrogance toward others.  We have a fatal tendency to exaggerate the faults of others and minimize the gravity of our own.  We seem to find it impossible, when comparing ourselves with others, to be strictly impartial and objective.”  Jesus may have been being a bit light-hearted when he used the log/speck analogy, but there’s nothing light about it.  How can we condemn others when our sin is often so much more heinous than the sin of the one we are condemning.  Recognizing this truth will go a long way in helping us to stop.

3. Recognize that our self-examination must result in mercy toward others.

Jesus says in Luke 6 that citizens of God’s Kingdom are to “be merciful even as your Father is merciful.”  How can we not be merciful to others when we begin to fathom the unfathomable amount of mercy that the Lord has poured out on us?  As we realize that the Lord loves and forgives us even in light of the huge log of sin we possess, then the speck of sin possessed by our brother or sister in the Lord suddenly doesn’t look so bad.  We may need to address his or her sin in order to bring about their restoration before the Lord, but it should be done in a spirit of gentleness and mercy.  The Apostle Paul reminds us that “if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”  Understanding the mercy we have received from the Lord ought to kill any inclination to condemn others for their sin.

So…enough with the condemnation.  Bring on November 3rd! (November 6th this time around.)

God Is Faithful (Even When We’re Not)

This is a condensed transcript of my July 10, 2011 sermon.

We humans sure have a knack for messing things up, don’t we?!  I tried to avoid the Casey Anthony trial at all costs, but I broke down last week at the gym when I turned on the TV at the machine I was using and saw these words: “Breaking News: Sentencing To Come Any Minute.”  I decided to watch while working out, but I never made it to the actual sentencing because of all the legal maneuvering on both sides.  It made for a very long and boring workout!  All of the legalese reminded me of my three months on a grand jury a few years back. I was reminded of some of the horrific cases we were exposed to.  My time on the grand jury reinforced a deep theological truth I was taught early on in my Christian upbringing: we humans sure have a knack for messing things up.

I’m leading my congregation on an overview of the story of God and the story of God’s people in the Bible – because in all reality, it’s our story too.  A couple of weeks ago, we saw that the story of Cain (Adam and Eve’s son who killed brother) demonstrates clearly that humans – after the fall – have a terrible capacity to misdirect their lives.  Sadly, this is still true to this day.  Throughout the history of God’s people (beginning in the Old Testament), we have been stuck in a vicious cycle of sin, and unfortunately, this cycle continues with us.  But as we will see (and as we know from our own experience as well) God is faithful – even when we aren’t.  Are there consequences for our unfaithfulness?  Yes, as we will see.  But through it all, God remains faithful.

We pick up the story in Exodus 25 where God gives Moses instructions for the building of the tabernacle, which will be a portable sanctuary where God’s presence will reside with His people as they move toward the Promised Land.  As we have seen from the beginning, God has always intended to be present with His people, and the tabernacle is proof of this for the Israelites.  And because worship of God is what His people should be all about, God goes into great detail to describe exactly how He wants the tabernacle to look.  The great detail laid out in Exodus shows that the worship of God is not something that should be taken lightly by His people.  God continues to be faithful to His people by blessing them with His presence as they journey to the Promised Land…but His people do not reciprocate.

Golden Calf

In Exodus 32:1-4 we read, When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron.  And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”

In an unthinkable act of rebellion and faithlessness, God’s people directly violated the first two commandments that they had just been given by the Lord: 1) You shall have no other gods before me. 2) You shall not make for yourself a carved image.  God had been so faithful to His people.  He had freed them from slavery, set them on their way to their own land, and promised to dwell among them via the tabernacle, but they were not faithful in return. And this is our story too. God is faithful – even when we’re not.

God’s anger burned against His people for their betrayal. Three thousand people perished at the swords of the Levites, and God sent a plague on the rest of the people for their sin. The consequences were devastating, BUT the Lord forgave them of their sin and renewed His covenant with them once again. And God said, “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the Lord, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.” (Exodus 34:10)  In spite of the people’s sin, God makes good on His promise to be present with them even after their great betrayal with the golden calf.

Self-Confidence Leads To A Devastating Defeat at Ai

Moses dies, and Joshua is placed in charge of leading God’s people into the land that God promised their forefathers.  The conquest begins with God renewing His promise and covenant with His people.  He tells them that if they are faithful to Him and His word that they will be successful in their conquest and will be prosperous in the land.  But, after God’s great victory at mighty Jericho, the people get confident and apathetic toward the Lord and decide to take on the next battle at tiny Ai on their own.  They don’t wait for God’s strategy; instead they pursue their own strategy and attack, and in so doing, they suffer an astonishing loss of life.  Their disobedience cost them (as it does with us)…but God was still faithful.  They repented, He forgave them, and they eventually conquered Ai – this time under His direction.

Over time, Israel becomes established in the land that God promised them. God leads them to mighty victory after victory, and they gain more and more land, but Judges 2:12 reveals where the hearts of the people were after much of the conquest was over: They abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. The cycle of sin and rebellion, repentance and forgiveness continued – even after ALL that the Lord had done for them. Because of this, they experience the hand of discipline from the Lord, but we also see that the Lord does not give up on them – nor does He give up on us in spite of our sin and rebellion.

Rejection of God As King

God appoints judges through whom He rules and leads His people. Some judges are good. Some are not. Sometimes the people listen to the judges. Sometimes they don’t…but God remains faithful to His people. His presence remains with them, and He continues to bless them – so that they will be a blessing to others.  But, the book of Judges closes with these sad words:  In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21:25)

In 1 Samuel, we’re introduced to the last judge: Samuel.  He’s the last judge because the people of God decide they no longer want to be ruled by judges…they want a king – just like everyone else.  Instead of recognizing God as their king and submitting to His rule through the judges He appoints, they decide they want a human king so that they will be like all the other nations around them.  Shockingly, God tells Samuel to let the people have what they want.  However, He tells Samuel to warn the people of what a human king will do to them.  Samuel does, but even after his dire warning recorded in 1 Samuel 8:10-18, the people persist in their desire for a king.  So, God agrees to give them what they want – on one condition: He chooses the king.  God’s faithfulness is evident amidst the unfaithfulness of His people in that when God chooses Saul to be king, He places His Spirit in him.  God gives the people what they want even though He knows that it will be bad for them…and then He still blesses them by filling their human king with His Spirit!  God truly is faithful to us – even when we’re not.

David and Solomon: The Unfaithfulness Grows

As the children’s Bible I used to read to my kids so pithily states, “Saul started off as a good king, but he quickly became bad.” That pretty much sums up Saul in a nutshell.  His disobedience led to God removing His Spirit from Him and placing it in a small shepherd boy named David.  After years of fighting off King Saul’s murderous attempts, King David assumes the throne.  He was a more faithful king than Saul, but he did not obey the Lord as He was instructed.  He had multiple wives and committed adultery which led to murder.  The Lord declared that the “sword shall never depart” from his house, and because of David’s sin, his family was riddled with strife.

His son, Solomon, followed as the next king, and even though he came from a family where the sword would never depart, God was faithful to Israel and unified them under his reign.  During Solomon’s tenure as king, there was a cohesive government in place, peace ruled the land, and a temple for the Lord was built.  However, the problem was that Israel was supposed to draw all other nations to God, but under Solomon’s rule, Israel seemed more interested in national pride and building their empire than in drawing other nations to the Lord.  Solomon also fulfilled Samuel’s warning from 1 Samuel 8 that the king would “take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work.”  In 1 Kings 5:13-14 we read, King Solomon drafted forced labor out of all Israel, and the draft numbered 30,000 men. And he sent them to Lebanon, 10,000 a month in shifts. They would be a month in Lebanon and two months at home. Adoniram was in charge of the draft. Solomon lived in excess and forced God’s people to serve him. Rather than trusting in the Lord, Solomon made alliances with foreign kings (and foreign women) to secure Israel’s safety.

Through It All, God Is Still Faithful

King Solomon was unfaithful to God in many ways, yet God remained faithful to His people.  During Solomon’s reign, he oversaw the building of the Lord’s temple, and eventhough faithlessness to the Lord was rampant in Israel under his rule, notice what happened once the temple was completed: When the priests came out of the Holy Place, and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the Lord, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever,” the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God. (2 Chronicles 5:11-14)

God STILL blessed His people with His presence!  His design from the beginning has been to dwell among His people, and even in the midst of their devastating unfaithfulness, He was still faithful.  This is the God we serve.  He still desires to be with His people – so much so that He came and lived among us in the form of Jesus Christ – Immanuel, God with us.   While we were yet sinners, Christ came. While we were yet sinners, Christ lived.  While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  While we were yet sinners, Christ arose.  While we were yet sinners, Christ redeemed us.  While we were yet sinners, God sent His Spirit to fill us and live in and thru us.

God has always been faithful to His people – even when they’re not.  And He’s faithful to us today – even when we’re not.  This is His story…and it’s ours too!

Cities of Refuge (3 of 3)

Then the LORD said to Joshua: “Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses, so that anyone who kills a person accidentally and unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood. Joshua 20:1-3

Here is the continuation of the last post exploring the parallels between the “Cities of Refuge” in the Old Testament and Jesus, our refuge, today.

4. The cities of refuge were stocked with food and other necessities, and likewise, the Lord provides us with everything we need.

These cities were fully stocked and fully prepared to take care of the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of those who ran to them. Surely the person who ran to these cities for refuge would be hungry and thirsty, they would be frantic and scared, and surely they would be in need of spiritual counsel and prayer. And these cities were fully prepared to handle any need that these people had.

In the same way that these cities were stocked and prepared to meet the needs of those seeking refuge, so too is the Lord, our refuge.  Francis Schaeffer says: Jesus’ death in space-time history is completely adequate to meet our need for refuge from true moral guilt which we have.  It is final because of who He is. We are safe and free from the penalty and power of death in Christ.

And not only is He able to meet our spiritual need for a Savior, but He also is able to take care of our physical, mental, and emotional needs as well. Philippians 4:19  And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

God owns it all, He controls it all, and He is ready and willing to provide for His children everything they need through Christ. In Matthew 7:11, Jesus says: If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! The cities of refuge had everything desperate people needed, and so too does our Lord.  He is able and willing to give us everything we need.

5. If a person did not flee to the cities of refuge, there was no help for him.  Likewise, if we do not run to the Lord, there is no help for us.

Run to the Lord and be safe.  Run to anything else.  Put your trust in anything or anyone else for refuge, and you will not be safe. This is really stating the obvious, but we really need to be reminded of this again and again.

If you were in desperate need of help and protection back then, and you saw a sign that said “REFUGE,” it would only make sense to run as fast as you can to the city of refuge. The signs are everywhere for us today.  They say “REFUGE,” and they’re all pointed to the Lord.