Ahh! We love happily ever after stories. It’s the bread and butter of romance fiction. The Cinderella story that keeps us coming back for more. The denouement that makes us sigh with contentment. [Read more…]
The nails of the cross make me weep.
I’m a wimp. A wuss. More tender-hearted than the law allows. More sensitive than what’s good for me.
Try as I might to hide my overflowing cup of compassion and my leaky tear ducts, my emotional sensitivities erupt the most at movie theaters. It started when I was twenty-two A scene in the movie, Gandhi, of British soldiers gunning down women and children in an enclosed courtyard sent me into hysterical sobs. My two friends who had gone to the movie with me sat in stunned silence.
“Wow,” commented one friend afterwards. “I’m sorry we exposed you to that. I guess we’ve seen so many more movies than you, we’ve become numb to scenes of brutality.”
Thirty years have not desensitized me. Determined to get historical backdrop for a novel I was writing, I gritted my teeth through Saving Private Ryan. I offended my teenage daughter by refusing to watch the first movie of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy because the dark horseman filled me with terror. I walked out of The Son of God during the crucifixion scene, missing the wonderful retelling of Jesus’ resurrection.
Don’t even talk to me about The Passion of the Christ.
I ducked out of rooms whenever talk turned to gathering a group to go see the movie, The Passion of the Christ. My luck ran out when someone – I think it was my pastor-husband – suggested we show it at the church.
“Since you don’t see well, you can just sit in the back,” he told me. “Or sit in the next room with the snacks.”
It didn’t help. It was the sounds as much as the sights. Especially one sound. The sound of a hammer pressing nails into flesh.
“Stop!” I wanted to scream. “You’re hurting my Lord.”
Horrible things happen to people on this earth all the time. People drown in rivers. Tornadoes rip children from mothers’ arms. Fire destroys historic landmarks like the Notre Dame Cathedral. Human beings suffer injury and illness.
Yet there’s something especially horrific about one human being doing harm to another. How could anyone take that nail, place it against the flesh of another person, and drive it in to attach flesh to wood, knowing it will bring slow agonizing death? What kind of hatred or hardened ambivalence as in the case of Roman soldiers doing their job, would lead someone to do such gory work?
“Stop, just stop.”
Others who can make it through that moment of the Crucifixion tell me their emotions go to a farther place. Christ allowed the soldiers to hurt Him. He didn’t resist. He knew that acquiescing to their evil would bring about a greater good that they could not begin to fathom. His suffering and his death held a purpose that transcended all pain and suffering.
“But 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
One woman I knew chose to watch The Passion in the privacy of her living room. I always viewed her as a tough-as-nails kind of gal, the kind that won’t ever let you see her cry, one I wondered if she would ever relinquish her soul to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The Passion brought her to Jesus. It was the crucifixion scene that bent her knee and brought on the tears.
She told me later, “All I could do was weep and say over and over, ‘He did it for me. He did it for me.’”
I can’t imagine anyone intentionally suffering pain and death for my sake.
I think of how often I feel so smug and self-satisfied with my magnanimous sacrifices of time and energy for the good of others. Compared to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, my paltry attempts of service are a spit in the wind.
Jesus did it for me. He did it because He loves me. He was willing to suffer the full brunt of pain, anguish, and God’s wrath so I and the rest of the world didn’t have to spend an eternity of agony and separation from God. Why?
The eternal benefit was worth the temporary pain.
The next time I hear a reenactment of those ringing blows, I need to hear my Lord’s soft singing voice, “For you, my love, for you.” Each lowering of the hammer is not a strike of torture, but a ring of victory. Each blow is one more toll toward the cross, one more step toward freedom for whosoever will.
The cross, the symbol of death, has become our life.
What does the cross mean to you?
Amazing grace! It really is amazing.
The word grace can mean many things in our English language, definitions that can distract us from the core of its content rich meaning. Even to Christ followers, grace has become as common as communion cups. We’ve consigned it the simplistic explanation that it is a gift from God. It’s so much more than that. It’s an undeserved gift. I don’t know about you, but that blows my mind. Why would the God of the Universe want to give someone like me something I don’t deserve?
In order to wrap our brains around that and try to teach children and new Christians about this wondrous thing, we’ve invented simplified acronyms about this Amazing Grace.
Have you heard this one?
God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense
Very true and very concise. It’s what I call a nutshell definition. It’s so well coined that I can rattle it off without stopping to think about what it really means.
Max Lucado says in his book, Grace: More Than We Deserve, Greater than We Imagine observes that we’ve come to accept a wimpy kind of grace, Ole’ Max nailed that “greater than we imagine” part. Grace is more than a one-time gift even though that in itself would have been awesome and undeserved. Instead, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is only the beginning of grace. An important beginning. A crucial beginning. God, in His love for us, chose to make Amazing Grace much more. A gift that keeps on giving. Something that becomes richer, fuller, and more beautiful the further we go in our Christian walk.
Christ’s death and resurrection blasted open the door to a Heaven-sized bundle of blessings that any allegiance to an outward law code could attain. Yes, acceptance of God’s gift of salvation will bring you to eternity with your Lord. But grace has a lot of work to do within you before you reach Heaven’s gates.
Here’s six things that grace can do for you.
Grace frees you.
It frees you from having to live a perfectly perfect life before God allows you to live in His inner circle. It frees you from the penalty of sin and the emotional tangle of its entrapment. As Jesus said, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (Jn 8:36).”
Grace forgives you.
Are you overloaded with guilt from past sin? Afraid you can’t forget? Afraid others won’t forget. According to Jesus, it’s over. He has removed your sin from you as far as the east is from the west, and that’s an awfully long way. Ephesians 1:7 says, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” God’s forgiveness greets you every morning. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, day after day.
Jesus could have just died on the cross, rose from the dead, prepared heaven, and called it good. Instead, in his lavish love and mercy for us, He gives us so much every day that, let’s be honest, we do not deserve. Not one bit. We’re sinners, remember? Every one of us. We’ve rejected Him. We’ve tried to take charge of our own lives. Even after agreeing to follow Him, we’re prone to dally in the ditches and get sidetracked by rabbit trails. Our actions blare that we don’t trust God enough to get us through this thing called life. We whine and complain about the silliest of things, things that would rival the Israelites’ complaints in the desert.
Yet, every morning we awake to a new set of grace-gifts. Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
Those three are easy and what we commonly think of when we hear the word grace. God doesn’t stop there.
Grace transforms you.
You aren’t just forgiven so you can go back and make the same mistakes again. Nor does God leave you to “try harder” but fall on your face in failure. Throughout the rest of your life, God works with you to change you into His likeness. He gives you the resources to make your life better. The best gift of all is a new heart, a clean heart.
Lucado calls this a spiritual heart transplant. I call it WOW! Ezekiel 11:19 says, “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” Do you know someone whose life radically turned around when they became a Christian? Point proven. That’s what grace does. Grace gives you a brand-new set of motivations. You no longer do what is right, good, and beneficial because you have to. You do it because you want to. God’s grace fuels you to move forward toward right living.
Grace dwells within you.
This is the one that I have a tough time wrapping my brain around. It’s amazing that God blesses me, wants to walk with me, and is crazy in love with me. Beyond that, He chooses to live inside me through His Spirit, to incorporate His spiritual DNA into mine. Some believe this indwelling of the Holy Spirit gives them the power and freedom to worship God at a new level. Forgive me, but that is oh so pea-sized limiting. God’s partnership with us is so much more.
Because grace dwells within me, I don’t have to try to live a God-pleasing life by my own strength. God isn’t just helping me live righteously; He’s living that righteous life through me. Paul said in Galatians 2:20, “Not I but Christ who lives within me.” Lucado says, “God expects us to change then gives us the power to pull it off.”
Why did God choose to do it that way? His glory shines through the sin-cracks of my life in such a way that others see Him in me and desire to draw closer to His grace. Anything I do for Him and because of Him is through Him, not through my own limited effort. How do we live by grace and not by merit? Ah ha! Here it is. We live by grace because grace lives inside us.
Grace empowers you.
We’re given a power that transforms our lives to represent His righteousness. We’re also empowered through grace-gifts unique to each believer that enables us to reach God-sized dreams.
God calls us to do an impossible task. He asks us to tell the gospel message to all nations using gifts He will give us. No one is packaged quite like you. You have a highly specialized task that only you can do and you’ve been given a designer toolbox with your name on it. Check out Romans 12:6-8. Don’t stress too much on which of twelve or fourteen spiritual gifts is yours. The point of these verse is that you use what God has given you in the best way you can for His glory.
When you give in to God’s gift for you, the best parade in all the world will march right down the street of your life blaring God’s grace and glory to anyone who is watching and listening. Won’t that be amazing?
How has God’s grace benefited you today? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
God’s passion to protect and preserve you is unmitigated. Unfathomable. Unsurpassable. He does what He does because He loves you and He wants you with Him.
My baby daughter underwent the first of two eye surgeries at age three weeks. [Read more…]