I was encouraged by this blog from Matt Reagan at Desiring God where he gives 10 different reminders for Christians concerning realities about God and ourselves. Reading through these, I’m compelled to remember these daily as I am weak and often need reminders. I agree with the writer where he says that somehow during the night, he’s forgotten the big realities about God and the universe and himself and the Gospel. He states, “I desperately need to steady myself with biblical truth rather than stumbling forward to live from unbelief… I’ve learned over time to put structures in place that remind me of those unseen things, especially during my bleary-eyed, half-conscious mornings.”
I often like to read online comments on various articles or news stories to see what people are talking about. They often give me insight into how viewers are thinking or processing the information contained in the story. It seems to be inevitable that there will be commenters arguing about anything from typos in the story to facts to what they think should have been the outcome.
This morning, I was reading a Facebook post by The Gospel Coalition where 2 commenters were going back and forth in a heated discussion. The discussion could have been civil, but one of the commenters had to go there. Where is there? There is where the conversation gains new heights of irritation, where fuel is heaped onto the fire. What took it there in this conversation?
“Are you smoking crack?”
Purely incendiary! Not to mention, offensive. However, we are all often guilty of saying the most unhelpful things in a conversation that ultimately bring up walls and end conversations quickly! Things like:
“Are you serious?”
“You can’t be serious!”
“You don’t really believe that!”
“You can’t be that _____!”
“You ARE that _____!”
“Where did you get THAT from?”
“You have LOST your mind!”
“No person in their right mind would think something like that!”
“Oh, you think you know everything. Right.”
“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard!”
The list can go on and on and on… and on. Now, reading those, we will probably cringe, especially if we remember ourselves using any of those phrases before. I will admit, though embarrassed to do so, that I surely have. We become those that start the fire and create fury. As one who is a believer & follower in Jesus Christ, I understand that saying these things reveals a heart of anger toward the other person. In those moments, there is a failure to love that person as I should (Matt. 22:39) which is ultimately a failure to love God for He has commanded me to do so (Matt. 22:37). I am failing to see the other person as an image bearer (Gen. 1:27) who is deserving of my respect and dignity. It shows that there is a preoccupation with self as well, a self seeking preoccupation, a self serving preoccupation, and that is wrong as well. I am more concerned in those moments with winning an argument, than winning others & being kind to others.
When I think about the Gospel of Jesus Christ in regard to those moments, I’m reminded of Philippians 2:
 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,  who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:3-11 ESV
Jesus is my perfect example of humility. He was never concerned with winning an argument; He was concerned with winning people to the Kingdom of God. He was never self centered or self serving, but rather, Scripture says that He came to serve, not to be served (Mark 10:45). He loved God and He loved His neighbor. He did everything that I fail to do day by day.
But – there is hope in the Gospel! I fail daily because I sin daily! I am born in sin! I, Jenn, am a natural born sinner like everyone. I know that this presents a problem in light of God’s holiness, therefore I need a Savior. I need Jesus! Praise God that He provided His Son, Jesus, to save us. Christ lived the perfect life, the life that I could never live, yet He died the death that I deserve to die. We all deserve to die that death. We all deserve to bear the full brunt of God’s wrath. But Jesus bore that wrath on the cross so that all who repent and trust in Him would receive His righteousness. He died on the cross for sin, and rose 3 days later, ascending to the right hand of God, and He is there now. My sin, our sin, deserves wrath, but, because I have trusted in Jesus and have received eternal life, I don’t get God’s wrath or judgment. I am forgiven! I have received the Holy Spirit and He convicts me of sin when I fail. And when I fail, I can run to God for forgiveness, knowing that He is faithful & just to forgive me and cleanse me of all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Christ is our only hope. He is the only way (John 14:6).
Because of Christ, there is hope for me. There is hope for all of us, all who are fire-starters and fury makers. When I am prideful and humility is the farthest thing from me, I can look to Christ, my perfect example, and hope in His glorious Gospel.
Last Fall, during our church’s Disciple Now (DNow) weekend, I was asked to share my testimony of how I, a DNow leader & redeemed sinner, was saved by a gracious God. Here is what I shared with the youth, parents, and fellow DNow leaders.
Good evening, friends. I stand before you a redeemed sinner, a sinner saved by grace, and this is how that very grace transformed my life.
I grew up attending church because being an African American, this was a cultural norm for my family. I was 12 when I was baptized and helped with different ministries yet I lived a life that didn’t reflect Christ. My high school years were the pinnacle of my rebellion. I did the things my classmates did: I ran away from home, I disrespected my parents, I got into drugs and alcohol. As I got older, and graduated from high school, I’d left the church I grew up in while my sinfulness continued to escalate, finding me with a desire to learn more about the occult and pagan practices. I read all the books that I could read, researched, and made purchases to support this newfound desire. It was interesting though – even though I wasn’t a Christian, I found myself praying to God, while in my ignorance, pursuing my new interest. At that time, I thought that I was a good person. I thought that I was going to Heaven. I thought that there were many ways to God, not just one. I thought I was perfectly fine doing what I was doing, but praise God that He did not see fit to leave me to that way of thinking.
On the evening before my 21st birthday, I met someone that spoke truth to me about the life I was living. He warned me that my new interest was dangerous and it scared me. I returned to the church I grew up in, afraid that God could never forgive me for what I’d done. The youth pastor at that church comforted me with the truth that God is a forgiving God and He could forgive me.
Over the next several months, the Lord was working in my heart, causing me to see my sinfulness more clearly. In the summer of 2002, God’s Gospel became clearer to me. I understood that my sin separated me from God and I deserved His wrath. It also became clear to me that God sent His Son, Jesus, into the world to live the perfectly righteous life that I couldn’t and to die as a substitute in my place. Jesus took the wrath of God that I deserved. Three days after His death, Jesus rose from the dead proving His innocence and his righteousness. I knew my only hope was to respond to this gospel by repentance and faith and that is what I did. Over time, I saw evidence of a changed heart that had new desires. My desire toward sin was replaced with a desire to please God – a desire that only He could give! My life is different and I am a new creation in Christ. The cross changed my life and I now realize there is no greater joy than living a cross centered life.
During my evening reading in Romans, I landed on what is one of my favorite parts of the Book – Romans 12:9-21:
[Marks of the True Christian]  Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.  Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.  Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.  Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.  Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.  Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:9-21 ESV
Safe to say, it is challenging. Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, doesn’t pull any punches here. None of the Bible does! As I read this set of verses, I am challenged to ask myself questions like the following:
Do I abhor what is evil or do I only slightly dislike it? (v9)
Is my love genuine or is it a show? (v9)
Do I rejoice in hope or is it an afterthought? (v12)
Am I patient in tribulation or do I complain? (v12)
Do I rejoice with those who rejoice & weep with those who weep or am I selfishly concerned with my own life? (v15)
Do I trust the Lord to avenge me when wronged or do I attempt to take it into my own hands? (v19)
Do I pursue harmony in relationships with others or do I pursue my own kingdom? (v16)
Do I do what is honorable in the sight of all? (v17)
Do I bless those who persecute me or do I treat them the way I am treated? (v14)
Goodness! And those are based on just some of the verses in this one passage alone! Praise God for grace & mercy!
The questions that we can ask ourselves from this chapter, as well as the whole Bible, can be used by God to show us our weak areas – where we lack in our faithfulness and how we always need His sanctification, grace, and help. However, none of these actions commanded in Romans 12 are possible apart from the Gospel of God & the work of the Holy Spirit in a responsive & regenerate heart. It is, after all, a heart issue. We don’t want to be guilty of what Paul Tripp calls ‘fruit stapling’ where we focus on the behavior (fruit) and not the heart change (root). May we lean on God’s Holy Spirit to continue to stoke the flame of the heart that loves Him and desires to obey Him and bring glory to Him. May we rejoice in the conviction of the Holy Spirit. May we love His Word that He has given us. May He continue to sanctify us and may we be lights in the midst of a dark world. May we be made deeply aware of our weaknesses and our need and rejoice in the fact that our God knows them, promises to sanctify us, and loves us wholly.
At the beginning of this year, my husband David and I decided to pray for more diligently for opportunities to share the Gospel as well as boldness in sharing it. Once a week, we have a day that we really focus on these prayers. Today, Wednesday, was that day. Concerning other prayer requests, we have really been able to see God’s kindness, grace, and faithfulness, and today was no different.
Wednesdays and Thursdays are my off days so I usually use them to do chores around the home like doing laundry. This morning when I went to load the laundry card in our apartment complex’s office, the machine wasn’t working and there was a repairman fixing it. I decided to run an errand and come back to read and do some other chores in the meanwhile. After doing a few things around the home, I finally went down to the laundromat and got my clothes washing. As I was walking out, I noticed an older woman walking up, peering through the door. I walked out and she commented that she was trying to see how much it cost to wash and dry your clothes. I informed her, but let her know that she had to get a card issued through the complex. As she stood there, she began to tell me that she was visiting her grandson there. This led to my asking her where she lived. After about ten to fifteen minutes of conversation, I’d found out about her family and found out that we’d lived in some of the same places / areas. She currently lives in Pennsylvania; I lived there for 3 years. She has a daughter moving to Dallas; I was born and raised there. She has family in Houston; my husband is from there. During our conversation, she mentioned that she’d lived here in Austin previously and had actually lived on a street nearby. That street happens to be the street that my church is on. As I shared that with her, she immediately knew where it was. After some time, she mentioned that one of her family members was a teacher. Yet, another thing in common. I let her know that I was a teacher at a private Christian preschool. As the conversation went on, I asked her if she was a Christian. She’d mentioned a few things about church so I thought it was a good question.
Me – “Are you a Christian?” Her – “I guess so; I was baptized when I was 14. I don’t drink, smoke, I try to do the right thing, I raised my kids to do the right thing…” Me – “Those things are all good things, but those things don’t make us Christians.Have you heard of the Gospel?” Her – “Yes, it’s the 10 commandments & all of the people who wrote & made up the Bible” Me – “Well, the 10 commandments are a part of the Bible, and the Gospel is explained there as well”
I took that opportunity to share the Gospel with her. I told her that we are all sinners, we’re all born disobedient toward God, and that we deserved hell. I told her that Jesus lived the life we should have lived, yet died the death we should have died. I explained that when we trust in Jesus, we receive His righteousness and we receive eternal life. Earlier, during our conversation, she’d mentioned that she couldn’t wait to see all of her loved ones in Heaven, but she’d mentioned God as an afterthought. “Mary, the best thing that is in Heaven for the Christian is Jesus! We get Jesus! And unless they trust in Jesus too, though it would be nice to see them all there, some of our family members will not be there.” As our conversation wound down, I invited her to our church on Sunday.
Now, there are some important things I must mention. I am naturally shy and introverted. When I started dating my husband, a lot of that diminished & I have grown in these areas. He is naturally quite outgoing and gregarious. He seems, to me, to be gifted at talking to people, lacking fear. I tend to often feel awkward and intimidated. David & I had a conversation a couple of weeks ago about me having to work harder to overcome my natural tendencies by God’s grace and the power of His Spirit. Today was an answer to our prayers toward that end. Sharing the Gospel with her was not as hard as I’d made it to be. God granted me the boldness I’d prayed for. I saw her as someone who needs Jesus and my heart was saddened for her. I cared about her. I listened to her. I wanted to know who she was. She wasn’t someone to check off of my list. She was a sinner, like I am, in need of God’s great grace through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
David has often encouraged me to do life intentionally when it comes to having Gospel conversations. Any moment could be opportune. What I thought was going to be just doing laundry today was something much more.
When I’d told him about my conversation with her, he shared that he’d prayed this week about this very thing for me. How gracious is God to answer my love’s prayer in this way. I am thankful for the opportunity to be obedient to God’s command to share His Gospel, and I pray that I would have many more chances to tell people of God’s great love to us sinners that was shown by the sending of Jesus Christ. I pray that I would continue to grow in my fervor and boldness and urgency.
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. (Romans 1:16 ESV)
This morning, while reading Matthew, I came across the following and my heart was struck in such a way to share. I have read this passage of Scripture many times, but as I thought through the great debt that we have been forgiven, I also thought about our tendency at times to hold grudges & to hold others to what we think they should be held to.
[The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant]
 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”  Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.  When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.  And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.  So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’  And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.  But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’  So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’  He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.  When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place.  Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.  And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’  And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.  So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” Matthew 18:21-35 ESV
A talent was a monetary unit worth about twenty years’ wages for a laborer (10,000 talents were owed), & a denarius was a day’s wage for a laborer (100 denarii were owed).
So, looking at the difference between the 2 wages, it is very clear that one is a much greater debt. It almost seems impossible to pay it back. It is an absolutely impossible debt to repay. The smaller amount was much more feasible, and compared to the larger, it is barely a drop in the bucket.
We are born with that same type of debt – one that is absolutely impossible to make amends for. Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of sin is death. We are born sinful and death is the only thing we earn and deserve because God is Holy, perfect, & just. However, just like the servant in the passage above, God has shown mercy and has provided a way for our debt to be absolved and cancelled – His Son: Jesus Christ. When we place our faith and trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins, we receive His righteousness. Our sin is taken out of our accounts and is replaced with righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21). Those that are in Christ are forgiven much, and because of this great truth, our lives should be marked by forgiveness.
The servant in the above story seems to have quickly forgotten how great of a debt he was forgiven. I think, as Christians, we do too. When someone ‘crosses’ us, offends us, or does us wrong, we are so quick to write them off and make them pay in our hearts & minds. Praise God that He has not done this to us! He showed great grace and mercy to us and we should do the same. By the power of the Holy Spirit, God has given us new hearts in Christ Jesus, hearts that are able to forgive with the same forgiveness we have received. May we always remember, and be grateful for, the forgiveness of our infinite debt from a Holy God and seek to honor and glorify Him in our forgiveness, mercy, and grace toward others.