Paid Up

He paid a debt He did not owe;
I owed a debt I could not pay;
I needed someone to wash my sins away.
And, now, I sing a brand new song, “Amazing Grace.”
Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay.

Ellis J. Crum

I remember singing the words to this old hymn as a young boy growing up immersed in Baptist culture. Truthfully, although they were familiar to me, and slipped from my lips without much effort, they didn’t mean all that much to me at that time. But last week, as I considered freshly the impact and implications of the sacrificial death of Jesus, I was freshly reminded of them- and freshly struck by their astounding meaning.

Have you ever been in debt before? I mean, really in debt? I mean, so in debt that you weren’t sure how you were even going to begin paying up? Needless to say, that’s a pretty helpless and hopeless place to live. It leaves you with only two real options- work yourself to the bone in an attempt to make things right, or sink down into the despairing resignation that you likely won’t ever get there, and may as well not even try.

While I have a few I could choose from, the debt story that stands out in my life came at the beginning of my senior year of college. I was your typical, under resourced college student, but had managed in a year’s time to save enough cash to purchase my now-wife’s engagement ring. I had the ring in hand, and was ready to pop the question. What I did not have was any more money; I had spent pretty much everything to get the ring.

And then it happened. Late one Friday night, pulling back into the parking lot outside my residence, I got into an accident…with a parked car. Yes, embarrassing, I know. It was late, no one was around, and I was honestly tempted to walk away. But I couldn’t. I left a note with my name and number, and began pleading with God that I would never have to speak with this individual about this incident. Two days passed, and just as I began to hope that God had graciously answered my prayer, the phone range. It was the vehicle owner, and she (justifiably) wanted things fixed. She got a quote on the repair, and while I don’t remember the precise amount, it was…a lot, especially when you have the equivalent of $17.34, give or take, to your name.

I called home, somewhat sheepishly explained the situation to my Dad, and he agreed to pay the upfront cost of the repair, leaving me indebted to him. Remember, now, I have basically no income at this point. So while the debt wasn’t crazy big by objective standards, to me it was massive. I began funneling every little bit of cash I got back to my Dad for the remainder of that school year, becoming a master of the $2.14 dinner at Whataburger on the weekends in an effort to save whatever little bit of extra I could. Finally, after returning home the next spring, I had the debt down to approximately one third of its total.

Kerri and I were a few months from our wedding day, and from “real life” expenses. I was facing down, for the first time in my life, the necessity of paying the rent, the utilities, the car insurance, the groceries, and the like. I was still making next to nothing, and Kerri was still in school. And this debt continued to loom over my head- that is, until one afternoon when my Dad slipped me a note. The content of this note was short and simple, but it couldn’t have meant more to me in that moment.

It read, “Paid in full.” In that moment, with those three words, my Dad said to me, “Don’t worry about the rest. I got this.” You would have thought someone had just given me a check for a million dollars. I was overjoyed, a weight gone, a burden lifted, all thanks to the grace and “forgiveness” of one man. Take note of this, though- In that moment, with that act of “forgiveness,” my Dad didn’t magically make my debt go away. It still existed, the same as it had before. He simply absorbed the cost of it himself. Someone had to pay it- either I did, or he did. And in love, he chose to pay in full on my behalf.

Now let’s revisit the words of the old hymn that heads this post. It describes a “debt” that we owed- not to another person, but to God Himself. This debt was significant, so insurmountable that we could, by our own efforts, “never pay it.” We’re not talking a $10 “I owe you” here; think more like $10 billion. This is the debt of our sin and rebellion against God- a debt that each of us, without exception, owes to our Creator God.

Now when you consider the reality that debts don’t just “go away”- they must be paid by someone- you realize that in light of our sin, there are only two options. Either we have to pay up, or God has to pay up, to absorb the rightful cost of our sin on Himself. In Jesus, God chose the latter, at one moment revealing the absolute depth of our depravity and the absolute depth of His love for us, even in light of it. In Jesus, God said to us, “I got this.” On the Cross, Jesus paid our debt in full forever, “clearing our account” before heaven and making a way to be made right with our God.

Think about that for a moment. How much would you have to love someone to pay a debt for them? It probably depends on the person in question, as well as on the amount owed. But consider the question this way- How much would you have to love someone to pay their debt at the cost of your own son’s life? The answer to that question is how much God loves you- not on your best way, but on your worst. Think of the most sinful, shameful thing you’ve ever done, and recognize that in that moment, God offered up His one and only Son to rescue you for a relationship with Him. How one could stand unmoved in light of such a sacrifice is absolutely beyond me.

In closing, I give you this quote from Timothy Keller. Meditate and marinate on it this week, and if you’ve never trusted Jesus’ “payment” on your behalf, I implore you to make that move this week. If you have, allow yourself to be freshly reminded of the gravity of that sacrifice, and share it with someone else who needs to know that hope too.

“The Gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope”…Timothy Keller

Why did Jesus live?

Often when asked this question we simply answer with why Jesus died. I am asking a different question. Why did he live? Why did God inspire men to write down the stories of his life and fill pages with his quotes? If the sole purpose of the life of Jesus was the death of Jesus, why would we need so much other information?

God has never spoken more clearly than He did through Jesus.

In John 14:6-7 the disciple who Jesus loved wrote, “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Jesus communicated and demonstrated who God is.

Jesus, also, communicated and demonstrated who we are.

How did Jesus accomplish all of this in 33 years of life and only 3 years of public ministry? Jesus is perfectly God and perfectly man.

Here are a few truths we should learn from the life of Jesus.

1. Jesus lived to be Truth and to bear the truth. In John 14:6, Jesus says he is “the Truth.” In John 18:37 he says he came to bear witness to the truth. Jesus being God, is the truth. Jesus being man is responsible to bear the truth. He is perfectly God and perfectly man.

2. Jesus lived to be the Law and to bear the Law. In Matthew 5:17 Jesus tells us he did not abolish the Law but he completed it. There is a story found in John 4 that speaks to immeasurable power of this truth. There is a woman that is caught in adultery and, by the Law of Moses, deserves to be stoned. Jesus is asked what to do with her. He says that the person without sin should cast the first stone. None do. Jesus looks at her and says, “Neither do I condemn you…Go and sin no more.” Jesus was without sin and could have stoned her. He did not because he would take that stoning on her behalf at the cross. He had to face every trial and temptation we face to bear the price of this sin. He is the Law and he paid the price of that Law.

3. Jesus lived to be the Light and bring the Light. In John 8:12 Jesus says he is the “Light of the World.” The power of his light is seen in his interaction with a Samaritan woman at a well. While talking about the life he came to offer he speaks to her of her husband. She says she does not have one. He agrees and says, in fact, you have had 5 husbands and the one you are with now is not your husband. It was true. The truth he spoke and the hope he gave her caused her to share the good news of Jesus with her village. Jesus did not live simply to show her how darkness was. He lived to be the very Light he would bring.

4. Jesus lived to be righteousness and to bring righteousness. In Matthew 9:13 Jesus says he did not come to call righteous, but sinners. We see this truth in his interaction with Zaccheus, a thieving tax collector, who wanted to see Jesus. Jesus called him from the tree he was in and went to his house. This interaction caused the self-righteous of the day to condemn Jesus for eating with sinners. That day Zaccheus repented of his lifestyle and committed to repay with interest what he had stolen. Jesus came to be the very righteousness he would bring.

5. Jesus lived to be change and to bring change. In Matthew 10:34-39 Jesus speaks of the difficulty of following him. He says that it will require son to turn against father and daughter against mother. The call is one to highest allegiance. The call to follow Christ is a call to any and every cost. We see this in the lives of the disciples who were fisherman and tax collectors and who left everything and everyone they knew to follow Jesus. They stepped outside of every cultural expectation to follow him. Jesus did not simply come to bring change. He, himself, is the change.

6. Jesus lived to be life and to bring life. In John 10:10 Jesus says he came to bring life and that life to abundance. We see the power of his ability to bring life in the resurrection of Lazarus. He called a dead man out of the grave and told those around him to unbind him from his grave clothes and let him go. Jesus is the very life we need, but he also lived so that he might personally bring this life to others.

Who is this?

Who speaks life where there is death?

Who unbinds the bound? Who frees the fettered?

Who calls out the corpse? Who gives life to the lost?

Who gives way to wayward? Who gives hope to the hopeless?

Who give grace to those too far gone?

Who is this?

Is this a man? Or is this God? YES.

Jesus is. Jesus is perfectly God and Jesus is perfectly man.

On Repentance

“16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil,
17 learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression” (Isaiah 1:16-17a, ESV)

Recently, in the latest bizarre turn in what has been an incredibly bizarre (and looooooooooooooong) process to widen Hwy 73 in front of our Prairieville Campus, someone had a less-than-brilliant idea. “I’ve got it!” they exclaimed with confidence. “Let’s split this road…IN HALF. Let’s run it this way for a couple miles, in front of various homes and businesses (and one church!). And best of all, let’s ensure that drivers have NOWHERE TO TURN AROUND!”

Genius, I tell you. Thankfully, not long after initiating this nightmarish design, someone realized that for this plan to work for any length of time, it simply must include crossovers and turnarounds at regular intervals. While the extra quarter mile past wherever it is you’re going may be a minor (and often muddy) inconvenience, it pales in comparison to the all-the-way-in-another-parish detour with which we were presented originally.

All this to say, I’m grateful for turnarounds. And as I survey the landscape of my relationship with God, I quickly find that turnarounds of the Hwy 73 variety are nowhere close to the most important ones I need. No, it is undoubtedly the opportunity- and God’s invitation- to repent of my sin and turn to Him that means far more to me than anything you or I will ever experience on an Ascension Parish roadway.

Repentance isn’t something we talk about much these days. Let’s face it- on the surface, it seems pretty unappealing. I mean, why in the world would I want to stop doing what I obviously wanted to do in the first place so I can do something different, especially something that seems, at first glance, to be boring at best and downright difficult at worst? In this way, initially repentance seems like anything but a gift. But in reality, there are few greater graces with which God provides us than the opportunity to do just that.

Often, when we consider repentance, we think of it as a ploy by God to somehow steal our joy. If He really loves us, we (falsely) presume, why in the world can’t He just let us be? This business of transformation seems like such a hassle, such a downer to our ability to enjoy our lives. But think about this- If you saw someone who you loved deeply engaged in some activity or pursuit that was clearly to their detriment, wouldn’t you work by every means necessary to call them to change, even at the risk of them doubting your motives and intentions? If you loved them as much as you claim to, of course you would! We can all point to examples in which we have done this very
thing.

That’s exactly God’s angle toward us in calling us to repentance, first in the ultimate sense of calling us from our sin to salvation in Him, and then all along the journey of growing into maturity in Jesus. God simply loves us far too much to allow us to wander unimpeded toward destruction- not only our destruction, but also that of others, and ultimately of His glorious name. God’s perfect righteousness just won’t allow Him to let the grievance of sin go unaddressed. So in calling us to repentance- that is, to turn around toward Him- God is not attempting to steal our joy. On the contrary, He is actively working- by whatever means necessary- to preserve our joy in Him!

Recognize this clearly- The opportunity to turn around- from sin into forgiveness, from destruction into restoration, from death into life- is not our right or our entitlement; it is an astounding gift of unmerited grace, made possible only by the work of God on our behalf. We do not, by our own initiative, have it in us to turn around as we must, to save ourselves from destruction. We all, without exception, desperately needed God to “create the turnaround” for us. And the Good News of the Gospel is that for each of us, He has- in the person and work of Jesus. Jesus’ perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection laid the groundwork for us to get from a pathway to death to a road to eternal life.

I think it’s high time that we changed our tune on repentance, beginning to see it not as an unwelcome, unloving intrusion into a carefree life, but rather as a grace to be celebrated, as an opportunity to know a life we could otherwise never obtain for ourselves. Wherever you’re at today, as God calls and makes the way, will you turn away from your sin and begin to walk His way instead?

The Heart Of The Matter

As we took another step this week in our summer long exploration of The Big Picture of the Bible, we took a trip through the Old Testament age of kings, focusing very specifically and very intentionally on a single king, David. Though the story of the Bible tells us about many kings in the nation of Israel and otherwise, there is no human ruler that looms large over the narrative than David.

David was, in so many ways, an unlikely candidate to be king. Last and least among his brothers, he is not even called into his father’s home to be evaluated by the prophet Samuel, who had come to his father in search of Israel’s next leader. But as 1 Samuel 16:7 makes clear, God saw something in David that was absent in Saul, his predecessor, as well as in his seven older- and seemingly more impressive- brothers. And what was that “something”? A heart after Him.

In choosing David to lead His people, God revealed something critically important about the manner in which He measures men and women- that is, that in His Kingdom, the heart matters most. We may regularly be impressed by others’ wealth, talent, professional success, and the like, but God is impressed by no such things; He looks first to the state and content of our hearts before Him. After all, as Saul’s failures clearly showed, “looking the part” can only get one so far in God’s Kingdom.

It is essential to note that when we say God looks to our “hearts,” we are not saying that he looks to our intentions. A heart after God possesses far more than good intentions; it is revealed, even validated, by what we say, think, and do. The content of the heart always, eventually, inevitably comes out in the everyday choices we make. And as we look to David’s life and rule, we see a man who consistently, even in the face of enormous pressure and hardship, sought to exalt and honor God in all that He said and did.

This did not, however, mean that David was perfect. As 2 Samuel 11 reveals clearly, and in ugly detail, David remained a deeply broken man, wholly susceptible to the sin and temptation that afflicts us all in this world. At the peak of his power and influence, he leverages his position to commit adultery, fraud, and murder in rapid succession (and you thought political scandals were invented in Louisiana!). And yet, it is what happens in the immediate aftermath of this string of sins that reveals as much or more about David’s heart than anything else he said or did in all of his life.

Confronted head on by the prophet Nathan with the utter, egregious wickedness of his actions, David makes no excuses, minimizations, or justifications. He responds to the revealing of his sin with but one statement- “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13). For a fuller statement of David’s confession and repentance, read and reflect on Psalm 51. This raw moment, on one of David’s darkest days ever, teaches us a critical truth regarding the heart- The heart that honors God is marked by recognition and repentance.

If you desire to honor God with everything you are and everything you’ve got, you simply must recognize that at some point, your brokenness is going to show itself, and it is what you do in the moment that it does that will reveal where your heart truly stands before God. Stop believing the lie that you’re ever going to get all your stuff together, and learn to live with a persistent sense of holy desperation that recognizes God’s righteousness, your sinfulness, and your need to repent before Him and receive the transforming grace that only He can offer. If you do this, you will progressively grow in godliness; and on the flip side, if you don’t, you’ll become insufferably prideful, and your heart will grow gradually colder and colder before God.

So, as you consider David this week, ask yourself this question- How’s your heart? And how do you know? Be honest with God, with yourself, and before some trusted others too about the content of this most critical part of your being. Don’t believe the lie that your imperfections disqualify you from having a God honoring heart. Instead, recognize them for what they are and learn to live in a place of consistent humility and repentance. Beg God to change your heart to be more like His. It is a prayer that, by His grace and power, He is more than willing and able to answer.