Full credit to Adam Ford for his creative, cutting edge work. Click here to go to Adam’s site – enjoy the random button.
The current ever so likeable Pope recently made or recognised two now deceased Popes as Saints. That was my background – Popes and Saints. You can imagine my surprise when I was transformed by Christ on my own little Damascus Road, some 20 odd (very odd) years ago. I quickly read most of the New Testament and there it was – jumping out at me in (Saint) Paul’s letter to the believers in Ephesus (modern day Turkey) –
Ephesians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus ….
Wow! saints in Ephesus. Saints alive! In Ephesus. Wow! Turns out saints simply means ones made holy by what Jesus has achieved. He lives the holy life – he then lends & gives his holiness to the unholy (that’s me). Jesus said he came for the sick (that’s me) not the well (that’s not me). Honest read it for yourself.
Matthew 9:11-13 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
This lending and giving happens by the sick just accepting and receiving the righteousness or rightstanding of Jesus as a gift. By believing it and in the One who provides it. Amazing. Amazing grace in fact. No striving to be good, earning brownie points, dying with despair because of enormously bad decisions, mistakes, sins.
Just (understatement) a transfer all of my stuff onto Him and all of his stuff onto me. Filled with humility and blown away by the kindness of a Holy Holy Holy God – I start to live for him and even begin to make some good decisions, other-centred decisions. Grace (undeserved kindness from God) gets to work on you and it changes you. Instantly and gradually-continually. Leaves you with less attitude and more gratitude.
So, ridiculous as it may sound, I am in fact a saint and Pope Francis doesn’t even know me. I recently spent the Easter Week on the English south coast and hung out at an Anglican Cathedral for most of Thursday, Friday and Saturday. It was founded in 1108 and is closely connected to one they call Saint Richard. Here is a wonderful prayer he wrote during his lifetime and this morning it is my prayer for me & thee.
Prayer of St. Richard of Chichester
Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ,
For all the benefits thou hast won for me,
For all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me. O most merciful Redeemer, Friend, and Brother,
May I know thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
And follow thee more nearly:
For ever and ever.
–St. Richard of Chichester (1197-1253)
You don’t earn a place in heaven.
You can’t earn a place in heaven.
You can’t contribute to earning a place in heaven.
You got nothing.
You are without hope.
Unless you want to hope in the God of the great exchange.
What is the gospel? Check this out. This is it!
Elvis had left the building. What would Jesus have done? Short answer. I have some idea.
Let’s go back a bit first. Recently, I had the opportunity to sit in on a muslim christian discussion evening here in the UK. I have been to this particular series of gatherings before. They are lively, energising, and at times somewhat scary affairs. This one was the scariest by far but not in connection with the subject of this blog post. What was much more interesting was the way a christian and a muslim handled an exchange of words and emotion.
At the Q&A time of the evening, both speakers having delivered their respective presentations, a christian brother took the opportunity to ask a question. The question would turn out to be a very important question. Great. The question would get lost in a moment of heat and pain. Not so great.
The christian brother was from Pakistan, not an easy place to be a christian believer these days. The evening discussion was about Peace – a perspective from Islam and Christianity. The Iman used the majority of his presentation time to present an elaboration of the external greetings of Islam – the ‘salaams’ (peace greetings) and how they are so integral to Islamic thought and the practice of every muslim.
Very interesting but a little thin to my christian heart and consciousness. He included very briefly a number of more important points about the deeper aspects of peace. I say more important because in my opinion they were far more significant. But perhaps not in his opinion. Otherwise he might have and maybe should have given more time to them. However I have to say in fairness to this dear Iman, he is not the most direct or forceful kind of communicator. He frequently appears to squander his time on background or at least secondary issues. So the ultimate shape of his Peace presentation was perhaps more a continuation of this personal limitation or style rather than there being little to say on the more substantial aspects of peace from an islamic point of view.
Notably, he did take a moment to say that in a real sense Islam is not a religion of Peace. He had obviously not been ‘madrass’ed’ (schooled) by George W. Bush, Tony Blair or other such ‘Islamic scholars’ of the recent age. I appreciated this honest statement and look forward to an elaboration of this in due time. He actually proposed that the subject of War be a topic for another evening. That could be interesting.
Anyway, towards the end of the night, the pakistani christian during his Q to the Iman’s A, asked a question about the place of salaams (peace greetings) in engagement with non-muslims. The Iman indicated that there was some discussion within Islamic authorities and scholarship around whether the traditional muslim greeting ‘As-salam alaykum’ should be extended to non-muslims. He concluded that there was only minimal support for it. Reciprocating that greeting when extended first from the non-muslim is another and more positive matter altogether. It’s interesting, I just googled the phrase ‘muslim greeting’ to ensure I got the spelling correct for this post and the internet is full of this very discussion – the yes’ and the no’s of whether a muslim should and can initiate this greeting to a non muslim. (How do you spell the plural of no? What is the plural of no?)
What does grace look like lived out. Firstly, lets do the basic housekeeping and define grace. Grace is unmerited favour. It is the provision of goodness and blessing that you did not earn or deserve in any way at all – big or small. Grace points to the extraordinary kindness of the giver of grace. It does not obscure the undeservedness of the one to whom grace is extended. The absence of grace (if the giver did not extend it to you) would leave you without a case for complaint to anyone. If it did, the grounds of your complaint would be the very ground on which you could actually say I do deserve some of this kindness even if only in a tiny tiny measure. Grace is the filling of empty hands with gifts abundant.
Tullian Tchividjian is my go-to guy for thinking through what Grace is and is not, how it works or how it deals with works. For clarity, works are your best bits in action – your kindness and all round greatness and stuff like that – the things you do that make you think “you know what? I am an alright person, I’m going to be ok. I know it and I think God probably knows it too.”
Tullian writes extensively about grace and has provided may wonderful pictures of grace at work extraordinarily in real life that I want to share with you. For now here’s one of them.
During a radio interview last week, the interviewer told me a story that gets to the heart of how grace transforms.
He was a camp counselor one summer and one of his responsibilities was to go around with another counselor and check the cabins every morning while the students were at breakfast. In order to motivate them to keep their cabins clean, awards were given at the morning assembly to the students who had the cleanest cabin. One morning the counselors walked into one of the cabins only to discover that it had been intentionally trashed. The students thought it would be funny to “break the law” and do the exact opposite of what they had been asked to do. Clothes everywhere. Food all over the floor. Words written on the bathroom mirrors with soap. Wet towels balled up in every corner. The place was a complete disaster.
The two counselors were speechless. The one looked at the other and asked, “What should we do?” After pausing for a moment, the guy who was interviewing me finally answered, “Let’s clean it up.” His buddy looked at him like he was crazy: “Clean it up? Are you kidding? These punks need to be punished! I’m not cleaning up their mess.” The other one said, “Well, I’m going to clean it up. And by the time I’m done with it, these kids will win the award today for the cleanest cabin.” After some moaning and groaning, his buddy decided to help him. They cleaned the whole cabin while the students were at breakfast. Picked up and folded all the clothes, scrubbed all the soap off the bathroom mirrors, vacuumed up all the food, made all the beds, and hung all the wet towels up to dry on the clothes line right outside the cabin. Then they left without saying a word to anyone.
When the students came back from breakfast, thinking they had pulled off a great prank, they couldn’t believe their eyes. They were the ones who were now speechless. They initially thought they were now going to be in double trouble. They sheepishly made their way to the morning assembly. When the award for the cleanest cabin was announced and they won, they couldn’t believe it. Instead of being punished, they were rewarded. They all found the two counselors who had cleaned up their wrecked room and begged for forgiveness. And, according to the guy who was interviewing me, those boys kept the cleanest cabin for the rest of the week.
What those boys experienced was what theologians call “double-imputation.” Not only did someone else bear their punishment (having to clean up the miserable mess they made) but they were rewarded for someone else’s “righteousness.” As my friend Scotty Smith recently said, “The gospel isn’t merely the absence of all condemnation; it’s also the fullness of God’s delight lavished on us in Christ.”
And notice…the result of this irrational act of grace toward these boys was NOT worse behavior. It was sorrow and transformation. These punks were punk’d by grace…and they would never forget it.
The story of this great song leaves the Sinnerman without hope. I would point the Sinnerman in question and any sinner man you know to Jesus the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. By repenting of sin and believing on the Lamb who takes it away you will find him to be a Perfect Saviour.
John 1:29 The next day he (John the Baptist) saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
As a person from a religious background which had lots of truth but just the right amount of falsehood to derail and distort the truth I have always been concerned for the hearts of others who live and breath within a defined faith tradition. My heart aches for the lostness of muslims, jehovahs witnesses, mormons and many others. I empathise with their desires and comittments but I sympathise with their blindness.
Having a faith background can be very helpful when you do encounter the true faith – in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the son of God, sent into the world by God the Father’s love and desire to rescue sinners (John 3:16). A faith background can be helpful and unhelpful in unequal measure. Growing and discipleship will involve learning and unlearning. The road out of faith and into faith will be disruptive, costly, sweet, precious and life saving. That’s a piece of my story and here’s a piece of some others story.
I came across this video of a bunch of mormon folk about two years ago. Watched it while cooking – I think I was making bagels from scratch. Their journey broke my heart with joy. These people have found the true faith – they have unlearned and they have learned. I felt close to them and the love of God in the gospel of Christ while watching it.
I do recommend you take the time (55 mins) and watch it. You will learn lots about mormons and their grace and gospel needs. Grab a coffee and take a little time to be blessed. Watch it with your small church group especially if you have active mormon missionaries in your community.