Christianity 201

December 12, 2022

Seeing Ourselves as Beloved by God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. – 1 John 3:1-2 ESV

Just less than a year ago, we introduced you to Jake Owensby, a Bishop in the Episcopal Church in the United States, and the author of Looking for God in Messy Places: A Book About Hope (Abingdon, 2021). This appeared recently at his blog, which is also called Looking for God in Messy Places. Click the title which follows to read it there.

Doing a Hard and Risky Thing

A dear old mentor of mine passed away a few years ago. But the lessons he taught still help me see things—see myself—a little more clearly. Maybe the most important of those lessons came in the form of a story he once told on himself in his usual self-deprecating way. He said:

“I used to be perfect and I was miserable. So I went to therapy. I got all screwed up but I’m really happy now.”

It can be terribly difficult to admit when we’re wrong. That our choices and our actions have taken us deep into the weeds. At some level we sense that coming clean about our blunders and missteps offers the only way out of the mess we’re in. But man, it’s hard. It’s emotionally risky.

Psychologists tell us that when we struggle to admit that we’re wrong it’s because of what they call cognitive dissonance. If the world presents us with evidence that contradicts our beliefs, we’re likely to experience an inner tension. Our turmoil becomes especially acute when the world tells us that we’re wrong about who we think we are.

That’s exactly what John the Baptist was telling the people around Jerusalem. You’re not all that. You really need to admit it. Like, you know, now. Or as Matthew’s Gospel puts it, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 3:2)

You might have heard John’s words as something like this. God is coming soon. You do not measure up. At all. God has high standards. And even if God grades on a curve, you’re not going to make the cut. Get your act together before it’s too late.

As for me, I hear something different. It goes like this. You’re only as sick as your secrets. Keeping those secrets about your messy old self is exactly what makes you sick. Your problem is that you assume that you have to make yourself lovable.

Look, God isn’t just on the way to you from a distant planet. God is here. Right now. Already all up in your stuff. God knows everything—simply everything—about you. And God loves you to death. Sort of literally.

You’re already God’s beloved. Life is not about making yourself worth loving. Life is about discovering and then acting like you are the beloved.

Paradoxically, we discover the depth to which we are loved precisely when we look honestly at what we take to be unlovable about ourselves. We see that we are loved because, well, Jesus. Not because of us. Not because of what we accomplish or achieve. Jesus loves us because that’s who Jesus is.

And here’s the deal. Not only does knowing that God loves us give us the courage and the freedom to admit just how messy we can be. That admission carries us a step toward becoming a truer version of ourselves.

A beloved person can forgive, even themselves. A beloved person begins to heal and offers compassion to the wounded. A beloved person responds to another’s need without weighing what they might deserve.

Now don’t get me wrong. Like my old mentor said, you and I have quite a way to go. From time to time we will hurt other people, get resentful or envious, struggle to be generous or to forgive, say things (at least in our heads) that make Jesus run for the airsickness bag.

John the Baptist told his listeners that he baptized with water to mark their repentance. He wasn’t announcing their graduation from human boneheadedness. No, that involves another. Another would come to baptize with the Spirit and with fire. That other of course is Jesus.

The presence of Jesus in our lives is like fire. Not the destructive fire that blisters skin and razes villages. His is the fire that warms and transforms. Gradually. Often imperceptibly. Over time.

Admitting that at times I’m a mess can be hard and risky. And it’s how I discover again and again that I am the beloved.


Jake’s book is Looking for God in Messy Places: A Book About Hope; available where you buy books.

September 23, 2018

A Worship Liturgy and Word Study: Sin, Forgive

by Ruth Wilkinson

Then He took a cup, and after giving thanks, He gave it to them and said,
“Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood that establishes the covenant; it is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins…”
Matthew 26:27‭-‬28 HCSB

There are a number of words in the Bible that are translated to our English word “sin.”

Different words that paint different pictures of different behaviours, but that all have one thing in common — they describe things in our lives that come between us and the God who loves us.

Things like:

  • Missing the target (hamartano) – because sometimes we really do try our best, and still fail;
  • Wandering, going off the path (planay) – because sometimes we stop paying attention, and suddenly realize we’ve gone off course;
  • Defiance, Rebellion (parabaino) – because sometimes we just choose say no to God. Or to say yes to something that is not for our best.

As we take some time to pray through this prayer for forgiveness either out loud or silently,
listen for His still, small voice and what He might want you to see in yourself.

Then take a moment of silence and talk to Him about it.

Lord, forgive me.
For the things I’ve done impulsively, without thinking.
For the things I’ve done gradually, over time.
For the places I’ve gone that I had no business going.
Forgive me, Lord.

For the things I’ve held tightly that I should have dropped or given away,
For the things I’ve given away that I should have held sacred.
For the things I’ve let go that I should have fought to keep.
Forgive me, Lord.

For the things I’ve said or typed, the links I shouldn’t have clicked.
For the times I’ve kept silent or stood off to the side when I should have spoken up.
Forgive me, Lord.

For the ways I’ve used or put down other people, or held myself more highly than I ought.
For the things I’ve taken that were not mine to take.
Forgive me.
Forgive me.
Forgive me, Lord.

This leads to our second word…

There are a number of words in the Bible that are translated to our English word “forgive.”

Different words that paint different word pictures of how God responds when we ask what we have just asked.

Pictures like:

  • Drop, send away (aphiemi) – because He promises to send our sin to the bottom of the ocean, to the depths of the wilderness, never to be even remembered;
  • Cover, make peace (kaphar) – because He reaches his hand to shelter us from the justice we’ve earned and to reconcile us to himself;
  • Pick up and carry (nasa) – because he takes our burden, pays our debt and sets us free.

And says… “You are forgiven. Let’s start fresh.”

December 15, 2016

The Prayer That Looks Inward

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. – Mark 11:25

So far we’ve said there are two nouns which are repeated in the common recitation of The Lord’s Prayer: heaven and kingdom. But there’s also a third word, a verb, which you could argue appears twice; its repetition necessary to the simile it sets up.

And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.– Matthew 6:12

I want to focus on the word forgive today, so try not be distracted by whether or not you prefer debts or trespasses.

A few of the translations play around with the verb tense on this, but they are fairly unanimous in keeping the word forgive. (Exception is The Jubilee Bible: “And set us free from our debts, as we set free our debtors.”)

  • And forgive us our debts, as we also forgave our debtors. (DLNT)
  • and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (ESV and others)
  • And forgive us our debts as we forgive those who owe us something. (Voice)
  • Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. (Message)

There are several petitions in this prayer — for daily bread, to not be led into temptation, to be delivered from evil — but the request for forgiveness is conditional. The best example of a conditional promise is 2 Chronicles 7:14

if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

There God is telling his people that if there is a drought, or if there is a plague, if they do X first, God will do Y.

This is also reminiscent of Matthew 10:8, but in the reverse.

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. (NLT)

In this case it is implied that God has already done Y and now invites you to be an agent of X being received by someone else.

But we can’t twist that into a principle that would apply here as God saying something like, ‘I’ve already forgiven you so now you can freely forgive others.’ Rather, the text would point to something closer to, ‘If you want to experience my forgiveness, you’ll have to know first what it like to have forgiven others.’

There is of course the grace which goes before; what is termed prevenient grace. GotQuestions.org defines it as

a phrase used to describe the grace given by God that precedes the act of a sinner exercising saving faith in Jesus Christ. The term “prevenient” comes from the Latin and means ”to come before.” By definition, every theological system which affirms the necessity of God’s grace prior to a sinner’s conversion has a type of prevenient grace. The Reformed doctrine of irresistible grace is a type of prevenient grace, as is common grace.

Romans 5:8 reminds us that in terms of big picture forgiveness, what we experience when we come to Christ for the first time, God has already made the way; the pardon and peace is there, we just need to claim it:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Back to our primary text.

The Message version of the Lord’s Prayer verse is probably the best as it would indicate an ongoing process, a chain of grace, where we are constantly experiencing forgiveness ourselves, and meting out that forgiveness to others.

There’s also a sense here that, ‘you know (hopefully) what it is like to forgive someone for something, so you know how God forgives you.’

Again, while we’re looking at a New Testament text, Jesus was teaching this prayer in an Old Testament world. We’ve been using BibleStudyTools.org for this series, and the entry for the Hebrew word Callach meaning both ready to forgive and forgiving makes reference to Psalm 86:5

For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, And abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You.

God’s predilection for forgiveness is something he is ready to do. But how long do we keep forgiving people who owe us (debts) or have injured us (trespasses)? Jesus answers that in Matthew 18:22

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

The NIV rendering of Luke 17:4 is even more explicit on the degree of forbearance being demanded of us:

…Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

Paul echoes this in Colossians 3:13

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Proverbs 19:11b reminds us that the quality of forgiveness is an essential part of our character:

…it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense

Finally, James 2, 11-12 reminds us that it is essential to be an agent of mercy if we wish to experience it ourselves:

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Jesus tells a parable about a man who received immeasurable forgiveness but failed to do the same for one who owed him a lesser amount. May that never be said of us.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Scriptures all NIV except where indicated


Darlene Merenick is a Canadian singer who died all too young a few years ago. I was able to hear this song performed live several times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

February 11, 2013

I Once Was Lost But Now I See

or: I Once was Blind But Now I’m Found

24 Ways to Explain The GospelI admit today’s post title was offered a little tongue-in-cheek, because today we’re looking at the various metaphors that can be used to describe salvation and sometimes we can get our metaphors mixed up!  This was inspired by one of the hundred-odd little laminated pamphlets issued by Rose Publishing of Torrance, California. In a bullet-point world, these pamphlets (many of which are also available as wall charts) distill information on a variety of Bible-based subjects, and for most of you can be tucked into your Bible.

Rather than simply plagiarize the material, I’ll discuss a few of them to give you the idea.  The pamphlet is called 24 Ways to Explain The Gospel and can be purchased individually or in packages of ten. Remember, don’t mix your metaphors like I did in the post title. Stay with a single one at a time.

  • The Biological Model

The idea here is that Jesus offers us a way to move from life to death. Our sin deserved death, a death that was introduced through Adam, but Jesus is the bread of life and offers us abundant life.

  • The Health Model

The concept here is our sinful state is characterized as sickness; that Jesus promises to be our physician; moving us from illness to health.

  • The Family Model

This will resonate more strongly with some people. Jesus takes us from being orphans to being adopted into his family, having the full rights of sons.  Thus Christians refer to God as “Father,” because of that adoption; even to the point of the more affectionate “Abba” meaning daddy.

  • The Relational Model

This is one that is used in many gospel presentations; the idea that we were once God’s enemies; that sin has separated us from Him; and that Jesus is a bridge that allows us to connect and be in relationship with God.

  • The Rescue Model

This has so many different possibilities but all would revolve around the idea that we were perishing but Jesus rescues us from death. This metaphor uses the term ‘saved’ more than the others.

  • The Freedom Model

This begins with the visual of people in bondage or slavery who then experience deliverance to new life and eternal life; from being slaves to being free.

  • The Legal Model

This metaphor begins with people under the the penalty of their wrongdoing — basically a crime and punishment consequence — but Jesus enters the picture and offers us forgiveness.

  • The Nationality Model

Again, this has the potential to resonate more deeply with anyone who has ever emigrated from one country to another. The idea is that we were aliens — without a home — and Jesus provides a way for us to become citizens of a heavenly kingdom.

  • The Vision Model

Referred to in today’s post title, this is the idea of moving from blindness to sight.  Anyone who has ever sung “Amazing Grace” has heard this metaphor expressed. Sight allows us to see God and His wonders.

  • The Knowledge Model

The person who develops a real relationship with God moves from ignorance or foolishness, to understanding and wisdom.

  • The Truth Model

Salvation is described as knowledge of the truth. We move from falsehood and false teaching to the truth of the gospel which makes us free.

  • The Navigational Model

This is the other half of the “Amazing Grace” metaphor, I once was lost but now I’m found.

  • The Ambulatory Model

This is the idea of moving from falling or stumbling to standing and walking; the latter being a commonly employed metaphor in scripture.

  • The Illumination Model

This is another popular theme in scripture; moving from darkness to light. Jesus is that light.

  • The Purity Model

This metaphor expresses what many people desire: Jesus cleanses us, taking us from being dirty (impurity) to being clean (purity).

  • The Agricultural Model

This one goes a little deeper, there are actually several agricultural models including the idea of being trees planted by the Lord, but also including the metaphor of being grafted onto a vine.

  • The Creation Model

Sometimes this takes the form of a garment; the metaphor includes the idea of moving from old creation to new creation. This is the model wherein we would employ the term ‘born again.’

…You’ll notice we had no scripture verses today. I hope the scriptures suggested themselves to you as you reading. It’s also possible that in your discussions with people God will give you some other metaphor from some other aspect of life. I know this is possible because I’ve seen it happen in my own life. If you purchase the original copy of the pamphlet you’ll find ample scripture references for each point; and remember that I did not list all the models here.

Well, okay; one scripture; one that I hope encourages you to commit to imprint a few of these models on your heart and mind so that you can easily share them with people at any time:

…concentrate on being completely devoted to Christ in your hearts. Be ready at any time to give a quiet and reverent answer to any man who wants a reason for the hope that you have within you.  (I Peter 3:15 J. B. Phillips tr.)

February 10, 2011

Don’t Let My Love Grow Cold

Sometimes the fire in our heart seems to die down to nothing more than glowing embers.  Sin has done its work, guilt has doused the flame, fear has driven us away, love has grown cold.  We want to light the fire again, but we are guilt-ridden and afraid.

It happened to King David.  He had sinned with Bathsheba.  He tried to cover it up, justify it, forget about it. But finally he found himself cornered by unconfessed sin.  A kind of claustrophobia made peace of mind impossible.  The inner fire of spiritual passion no longer burned.  Lacking the fresh wind of God’s breath, the fire in his heart was no more than a glowing coal. Only when confronted by Nathan the prophet did David come to terms with his sin. The king confessed his sin and pled with the Lord to rekindle his heart. The Lord heard him and lit his fire again.  And the dying embers that had been doused by sin were reignited.

Are you wretched, poor, and naked?  Has sin doused the flame of God’s love in your heart? Do as King David did, for the remedy is the same. Confess your sin to God and ask Him to breathe new passion for Him into your heart.  Ask him to light the fire again.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. ~Psalm 51:10-12 NIV

from My Heart for His Glory; Thomas Nelson 2002; devotion for July 2nd