The biggest ‘but’ in history

There must be numerous contenders for the most game-changing word in the history of the world, but today I’m going with this one: ‘but.’

Today I was reading through Mark chapter 14 and was meditating on the time Jesus spent in the garden of Gethsemane before he went to the cross.

The first half of verse 36 struck me like never before. Jesus was praying and said these words: “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me.”

In this are two profound things. First, Jesus knew that God could do anything. He knew that it was well within the power of his Father to pull the pin on redemption and instantly take His son back into the eternal glory from which He had come. Furthermore, Jesus asked for it. Such was his agony at the thought of what he was to endure, that he asked his Father to remove it from him.

The Father would not deny the Son. Except for one entirely game-changing word: ‘but.’

At the most intensely pivotal moment the world has seen, the Son surrendered his will to His Father’s saying ‘Yet not what I will, but what you will,’ and the Father, in that moment of Jesus’ submission, overruled the will of His Son. Together they endured the cross, despising the shame, for the redemption of mankind.

How grateful I am for Jesus’ submission to the will of His Father, and how challenged I am by my lack of it.

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Why would God destroy a city?

Sodom and Gomorrah are two famous historical cities known for their destruction. The account of their demise begins in Genesis 18, when the Lord says to Abraham, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me.”

I was reading this passage as a part of our church’s Genesis study, and this question was posed: ‘Why would God be so concerned about the reports coming from Sodom and Gomorrah?’ I was stumped at first. Sure I know that God hates sin, but evil is just a part of our world, right? Why did He feel the need to destroy them so dramatically?

As I pondered this I was suddenly reminded of something Jesus said: “If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out.”

Sin is not static. It spreads like a cancer, sometimes slowly, but surely. It seeps into a culture until it moulds minds and consciences and lulls people into deception, saying, “You can live as you like” and “There is no consequence.”

God’s destruction is always characterised by two things: justice for evil, and protection of that which is good. Just like a cancer in the body must be killed, in order for the body to be saved, so has God worked throughout history to restrain the spread of evil, so as to protect his people and offer salvation to all.

The Western dream… no servitude

I was in year 12 when I first heard about ‘The American Dream.’ We were studying Of Mice and Men and my teacher was explaining George and Lennie’s pursuit of land to call their own as the ultimate American dream.

This goal has become the veritable ‘pot at the end of the rainbow’ for much of western society; to own a piece of land has become both the American and Australian dream. We may have masters at work, but at home we are slaves to no one. Even our political systems are built on the premise that the common man does not serve the leader, but the leader serves the common man.

As a result, one of the greatest challenges I face is that of servitude to God. No longer does my generation feel any real duty to ‘King and Country.’ In fact, if I’m honest, the concept of truly living my life in servitude to anyone seems foreign to me.

There are many who have laid down their lives for our liberty, and for that I am grateful, but I am afraid that it has created a dangerous illusion. I struggle to lay down my life in full servitude to God, because I have been falsely led to believe that my life is my own. Not only to I fail to see that I am a slave to sin or self, but I have lost all comprehension of the honour it is to serve a great master.

Don’t have Jesus as your backup plan

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Do you realize you don’t have to do anything good to get to heaven?

I’m so blessed to go to a church that is very focused on the Gospel. We are constantly reminded that we are saved by grace, not by works, and the more I am reminded of this, the more I realize I need to hear it.

Because the Gospel of Grace is completely counter intuitive

I was sitting in church last night while a friend preached from Hebrews 11 about the righteous being justified by faith. He reminded us that when we die and come before a Holy God, we will have nothing to commend ourselves other than our faith in the righteousness of Christ and his ability to cover our sin.

I found, in that moment, sin in my heart.

You see, I kind of treat Jesus like my back up plan.

I do good things to gain approval with God, and entrance to heaven, and when I fall far short (which I inevitably will), Jesus covers the rest.

WRONG

Jesus covers it all.

It’s hard for me to accept, and may take a lifetime to grasp, but Jesus isn’t filling the gaps where we’re lacking, he’s doing it all. He’s taking the dead (both spiritually and literally) and bringing them back to life.

When I stand before God, I will have nothing to recommend myself, just faith in the fact that Jesus will speak for me.

He’s no backup plan. He’s all or nothing.

The Gift of Death

The gift of death is, paradoxically, the gift of life.

One of my beautiful students asked me the other day, why God would create such beautiful people, only to let them die.

garden_of_edenIt’s a fair question, but it’s one limited by lack of information, because if we understand the fullness of the Bible, we can understand the gift of death.

When Adam and Eve were in the garden they were free to eat from the Tree of Life. They were going to live forever in the bliss and beauty of what God had created.

The right to eat from the Tree of Life was only taken from them after they sinned. Because living forever under the curse of sin was never God’s plan for anyone.

Adam and Eve both died a physical death, but it was not a tragic one. Physical death was one of the gifts that God gave them, along with the redemptive death and resurrection of His Son, in order for them to enter into eternal life.

Death can be a great tragedy, but only when it takes a person who refuses to accept God’s gift of life. For those who have life, it is the beautiful gateway out of an existence marred by sin.

Why prostitutes had an advantage with Jesus

382805_10150412644633143_1558372632_nSome time ago I watched a documentary by Louis Theroux about legal prostitution in America. What surprised me about these women was how broken they were. There were no pretenses. They are who they are and they know it.

Sure they have attitude and sass, and a lot of bravado, but once you get them talking, deep down, it’s not something they’re proud of.
It made me realize what it was that caused Jesus to hang out with them in preference to the religious elite of the time. While the prostitutes were under no false illusion about who they were and their need for a saviour, the rest of us spend so much time thinking of ourselves as good and trying desperately to cover anything that cracks the facade. The prostitutes of Jesus’ time knew they were seen as the scum of the earth, and came to Jesus in humility, recognising their true place before him.

Jesus had a lot of time for these people. And their humility was their great advantage. As He said “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” It is our great disadvantage that many of us who think we are morally healthy by the world’s standards, are dying of pride on the inside, while the humble are receiving Jesus’ forgiveness and grace.

What fault do I find in God?

318183_420720264625633_89298623_nLast week I was reading in Jeremiah and was struck by this verse in chapter 2 where God asks: “What fault did your fathers find in me, that they strayed so far from me?”

I found myself asking the same question. When I stray far from God, what fault is it that I find in Him?

Is it that he’s not exciting enough? – No, He soars on the wings of the wind and consuming fire comes from his mouth.

Is it that He’s not fulfilling enough? – No, He fills the deepest parts of my soul and brings me peace.

Is it that He’s not near enough? – No, He is in me and with me during every second of the day.

I can come to only one conclusion: He is not sinful enough.

His heart does not desire what mine does. My heart desires things that He hates, and I turn my back on Him in order to pursue them.

So what charge can I hold against my God? Only this: that He is good, and my flesh revolts against it.

Thoughts on Hell from the Hottest Place on Earth

1186903_28200330Today I’m apparently living in the hottest place on earth. With temperatures predicted to soar to 46 degrees Celsius it’s definitely a scorcher.

But you know what? Although it’s definitely hot, sitting in an air-conditioned house I’m hardly feeling it; I’m not being hit with the reality of 46 degrees.

This reminded me of a sobering passage from Jonathan Edwards’ famous 1741 sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God:”

 

‘There is the dreadful Pit of the glowing Flames of the Wrath of God; there is Hell’s wide gaping Mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon, not any Thing to take hold of: there is nothing between you and Hell but the Air; ‘tis only the Power and mere Pleasure of God that holds you up.

You probably are not sensible of this; you find you are kept out of Hell, but don’t see the Hand of God in it, but look at other Things, as the good State of your bodily Constitution, your Care of your own Life, and the Means you use for your own Preservation. But indeed these Things are nothing; if God should withdraw his Hand, they would avail no more to keep you from falling, than the thin Air to hold up a Person that is suspended in it.”

How great is the grace of God that holds us out of hell! And how fearful the day that He removes His hold from those who, by their own will, have rejected it.

When Depravity Makes Me Mad (and it’s a good thing I’m not God)

I have to admit, sometimes depravity makes me so mad. When I talk to someone who openly loves everything that God hates; who blatantly scorns His word and mocks His name, I sometimes feel a deep, bubbling anger rise in me.

Some would call this righteous anger, and sometimes it is; but sometimes it’s not too. Sometimes I feel aggressively angry, sometimes I wonder why God still offers these people grace.

foggymorning_2201323A couple of months ago I was flying over one of Australia’s cities at night. I remember looking down and seeing the tiny cars zooming along the highways like glowing ants, and I thought about how small we all are when viewed from afar. I thought about how easy it would be for God to reach down and squish us with as little thought as we give to stepping on an ant that has bitten us.

And then I encounter depravity and I wonder why He doesn’t; sometimes I even wish He would. It’s a good thing I’m not God.

When faced with total depravity, God’s grace abounds even more. I should know, because He’s bestowed it on me. When I look at someone who curses God’s name, I must remember that ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’

And those who continue to despise and reject Him must remember that ‘today is the day of salvation,’ and they cannot assume that there will always be a future chance for repentance.

You Couldn’t Handle the Guilt.

Photo Credit: Mare-of-Night

Painting Credit: Mare-of-Night

Growing up in a Christian home meant that while I always knew I was a sinner, my ‘good little Christian girl’ behavior often made it hard for me to really see myself that way.

As I grew older, and my understanding of both myself and the gospel deepened, I came to understand that while I was good at avoiding the obvious, visible sins, in my heart, I was no better than anyone else. I understood this, but I often struggled to really feel it; instead of wrestling with guilt, I’ve wrestled with not feeling guilty enough.

I’ve prayed through this many times, grappling with the paradoxical desire to fully comprehend my sinfulness (which would hopefully enable me to more completely experience God’s graciousness) while at the same time recognizing that the cross has done away with my sin and I am clothed with the righteousness of Christ.

I was struggling with this once again on the weekend; struggling with my lack of guilt and my apathy towards my sinfulness, when I sensed the voice of God say to me ‘Sarah, you couldn’t handle the guilt.’

I know that I’m a sinner, and I know that I’ve trusted Jesus with my sin, so instead of wrestling with not feeling it enough, I need to rejoice in God’s grace. He knows that I could not stand under the weight of my own guilt, and He has not asked me to. Jesus paid for that too.