It is Finished

11 04 2009


James Ryan arrives at a headstone, and falls to his knees, tears in his eyes. On the headstone is the name “John Miller”.   Ryan looks up to his wife by his side and asks, “Have I been a good man? Tell me I’ve lived a good life.” His wife looks down and assures him that he has. However, the tears continue because James Ryan does not seem to be able to believe that he has been good enough.

Many immediately recognize this scene from the movie  Saving Private Ryan by Steven Speilberg.  The movie is well written. John Miller is portrayed by Oscar winning actor Tom Hanks who is tasked with taking a squad of men to find James Ryan. Ryan is the fourth son of a woman who has lost three son already  in World War II.  Military commanders have decided that Mrs. Ryan will not lose her last remaining son. Miller’s squad eventually loses 8 men so that it can save this one.

Miller dies in battle with Ryan by his side side. With his last breath, he looks at Private Ryan and whispers, “Earn this.”   Back at  Miller’s headstone, Ryan has clearly lived his entire life with a tremendous weight on his shoulders. Has he earned the sacrifice of John  Miller and his men? Miller himself, earlier in the film, says, “He better be worth it. He’d better go home and cure a disease, or invent a longer-lasting light bulb.” 

Christians too often hear these words, “Earn this,” coming from Jesus’ lips as he dies on the cross. We live our lives trying to earn it, to become someone for whom such a sacrifice isn’t so incredibly incomprehensible. We turn into James Ryans, questioning if anything we do could ever be quite enough. 

“It is Finished” is in the Gospel text the single word tetelestai.  Being in the perfect greek tense, it means literally, “it has been and will for ever remain accomplished, completed, finished.”  

Christ’s salvation is a free gift.  He purchased it for us at the high price of his own blood.  There is nothing left for us to pay.    IT IS FINISHED.  There is nothing left to contribute.  Not that we now have a license to sin.  On the contrary, the same cross of Christ is the most powerful incentive to a holy life.  But this life follows the cross, it does not purchase it.  First, we must humble ourselves at the foot of the cross, confess that we have sinned and deserve nothing at his hand but judgement, that he loved us and died for us, and receive from him a full and free forgiveness.  

But Jesus doesn’t say, “Earn this” from the cross. He says, “It is finished.”  The message of the Gospel is diametrically opposed to John Miller’s “Earn this.” Miller applies the law to Ryan’s future in a way that Ryan can never escape. No matter what Ryan may ever do or who he may ever become, Miller’s words will never allow Ryan to live in peace, or safe from Miller’s judgment-from-beyond-the-grave. One word of law destroys the grace Miller shows in giving his life for Ryan. 

No word of law escapes Christ’s lips from the cross. Incredibly, the word of law is applied to Christ (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). We are freed, and safe. Don’t allow your ingrained pride to rebel against God’s grace.  Instead of stumbling on the cross because you insist on trying to earn God’s favor, bow at the cross and receive his gift.

Jesus doesn’t say, “Earn this.” He says, “It is finished.”

*Some of the information used within this post originated from the Christianity Explored DVD Series by Rico Tice.  Rico is a personal friend of mine and has preached at my church.  Christianity Explored is a wonderful evangelism tool of which I serve as a North American Advocate. 

Reflections of Grace

12 03 2009



Joel Sheesley is a well known and respected artist who has taught art at Wheaton College in Chicago Illinois since 1974.  A large, though by no means exclusive part of his work has concentrated upon domestic life in suburban America.  Many of his works are large scale and, upon reflection, reveal how Americans fit into their everyday lives the belief’s upon which their faith is placed, the culture in which they live and the people that they love.

Sheesley’s “Winter Conversation” communicates an ever present grace in our lives, even when we are going through what on the service would appear to be the most routine matters.  Initially we see a couple’s reflection as they converse at the table with winter’s light shining through a nearby window.  The undisturbed snow communicates a beautiful simplicity and peace; the light, which creates the reflection, represents hope.

However, in this simplest of common events there is a powerful eternal truth present as well.  If one looks closely they will notice that the print of the painting on whose glass you see the reflection is, “The Portinari Altarpiece,” by Hugo van der Goes, painted in 1476.  The center panel of the altarpiece depicts the nativity of Christ.  Most of it is obscured by the reflection, but you can see a bit of Joseph (his sandal – off his foot because he is standing on holy ground), various angels, a bit of the shepherds, a bit of Mary’s blue dress, a sheaf of wheat, and various flowers, all of which have specific symbolic meaning in terms of the events and persons in van der Goes’s painting.

The message is clear.  There is a truth which connects the past event of the birth of Christ with even the simplest and most routine occurrences of our daily lives.  The truth of God’s grace is an ever present reality of our lives, reflected even in a “Winter Conversation”.

Grace When You Don’t Do Anything

9 03 2009



Sam Phillips is like an old friend.  I even knew her when people called her Leslie.   Leslie Phillips was one of the biggest “Contemporary Christian” artists of the 1980’s until the artistic limits the industry placed upon her sent her into the mainstream market.  If Phillips’ music is anything, it is creative with spiritual themes flowing through her music like a “River of Love”.  Since leaving the Christina market, she has met incredible critical success but her commercial success has been limited, peeking with her stint as the in-house songwriter for the television series “Gilmore Girls”.  

Phillips latest album is not only creative but is brutally honest as well.  The album clearly is an open testimony of a life lived through the heartbreak of a difficult divorce from her husband, producer T- Bone Burnett.  Each song is like a journey through the valley of betrayal, loneliness, heartache, and stubborn faith through what Chesterton called the “dark night of the soul”.

Leslie Phillips may have left “Christian music” in 1987 and changed her name to Sam, but her lyrics have demonstrated that she never left Christianity. “Don’t Do Anything” is the strongest example of that.  On the surface, the album seems dark but, when one looks deeper, convictions about God’s grace are clearly stronger than the questions which are asked.

At first glance the title song ”Don’t Do Anything” seems odd and out of place on this album.  It is surrounded by other songs which delve into the frailties and inadequacies of human love.  But, it would appear that this was by design.  Phillips apparently understands the necessity to show “ungrace” and its painful effects before revealing the beauty of God’s grace. Human love can lead to broken hearts, often has strings attached, and offers no guarantees.  It is conditional.  However, God’s grace is unconditional; it is eternal and dependable.  Phillips states it well:

“I, I love you 

When you don’t

When you don’t do anything

When you’re useless

I love you more

When you don’t do anything


When you don’t move, when you don’t try

When you don’t say anything

When you can’t feel, When you don’t win

When you don’t make anything”


For those who have come to the end of themselves and realized their own frailties, it is as if God is speaking from heaven.  One can almost see a broken hearted wife and mother who sees her world has collapsed around her and, like Psalm 46, whose foundations have collapsed.   But, in the midst of her despair, she hears the voice of God say “I love you even when you have blown it, but I love you more than that.  Be still and know that I am God because I love you even when you don’t do anything.”

“I, I love you

When you don’t 

When you don’t do anything

When you don’t want, when you don’t lie

When you don’t make any sense

When you don’t go, when you don’t hide

When you don’t think anything


I, I love you 

When you don’t

When you don’t do anything

When you’re useless

I love you more

When you  don’t do anything.”

Go read Psalm 46 and then don’t do anything but know that you are loved.




Favorite Music for 2008

23 02 2009


 Below are my favorites for 2008.  If any of them are new to you give them a listen and let me know what you think.  Also, I would love to hear in a comment what your favorites were for last year.  

paintedred JJ Heller – Painted Red, I have just discovered JJ Heller but love her music.  The entire album is a refreshing change of pace and sound from most Christian artist out there today.  However, the song Painted Red is simply beautiful lyrically and musically.  Its simplicity adds to its strength.  Here are the lyrics:

If I could not hold a pen

I would write of you on my heart instead

You have bought me with your blood

And I am painted red by your love

Ooh …

If I could not say a word

My life would speak of love I don’t deserve

Hope means holding on to you

Grace means you’re holding me too

Ooh …


  Red Mountain Church–  Everything these guys put out is excellent.  My favorite album is probably The Gadsby Project; however, the newest release This Breaks my Heart of Stone is growing on me.  Depth of Mercy CD, This Breaks My Heart of Stone CD, The Gadsby Project CD, Help My Unbelief CD.  If you do not have time to listen to everything a few of my favorite cuts are:  Help My Unbelief, Lord Dissolve My Frozen Heart, Christ or Else I Die, Wedding Dress, Friend of Sinners. However, do not cheat yourself by listening to only these few songs.  Red Mountain Church was not the first to place new tunes and arraignments to classic and often long forgotten hymns but they are with out question the best.   Many of the hymns recorded here come from the Gadsby Hymnal.  You can learn more about William Gadsby on “An Uncommon Grace”’s “Great Lives” page and his biography can be found on the “Current Reading List“.  There is a link to Red Mountain Church under “Great Music” in the side bar.


 mindy-smith Mindy Smith is an artist that has been around a few years but I just discovered her music in 2008.  Below I have posted my two favorites which she does.  Smith is a committed Christ follower and her lyrics are raw, honest, authentic and genuine.  Let me know what you think.

Top Three Books for 2008!

21 02 2009

Here are my top three books for 2008!  Comment on them and tell me yours.

stott1 Evangelical Truth: A Personal Plea for Unity, Integrity, and Faithfulness by John Stott

It is possible that it may end up on my “Great Books” page which would make Stott the only person to have two books there (the one presently on the page is Stott’s The Cross of Christ).  This book is a prophetic call for the church of Christ to take seriously the kingdom work of God, reject modern fundamentalism’s tendency to fragment from and demonize those who disagree with them on “non essentials”, and embrace a more evangelical mindset that is mission focused.

mygrandfathersson_440x668 My Grandfather’s Son by Clarence Thomas

Post modernity will read this book and shake their heads at the “cruel and strange” approach Thomas’ grandfather used in raising his grandsons.  I read it and long for a time when common sense ruled, hard work was rewarded, and adults were allowed the freedom to raise children into great men and women who think for themselves.  Today, elites will call Thomas’ grandfather abusive.  Clarence Thomas, from his seat on the Supreme Court, calls him the “greatest man I have ever known.”  

I love this quote by Thomas’ grandfather: “Old man can’t done up and died.  I know, cause I was there when it happened.”

miller A Faith Worth Sharing: A Lifetime of Conversations about Christ by C. John Miller

The best book on evangelism which I have read in a long time.  If your tired of “sale approaches” and “techniques” this book gently and clearly reveals the truth of the matter when it comes to sharing our faith – Its about the heart of the one who shares.

WOW! An Uncommon Grace is a Year Old!

20 02 2009


  An Uncommon Grace is 1 year old!

Since that time we have:

1.  Been named “Religious Blog of the Week”

2.  Had almost 20,000 hits!

3.  Received 244 comments

4.  Made 22 posts

Our most popular posts have been:

1.  “God’s Mercy & Micah’s Touch”  with 1,376 hits!

2.  “Cash Got Grace” with 1,311 hits!

3.  “A Good Man is Hard to Find” with 1,045 hits!

Thanks for the support!

I have made some recent changes to the site I hope are helpful:

1.  There is a ‘Search’ feature at the top

2.  A ‘Select a Category’ feature

3.  A ‘Select a Month’ feature

4.  A “Recent Comments” feature

5.  Added copyright protection for all material on the site

 6.  Added links to any books or movies (music will be forth coming) covered on the site so that you can order them if you want.  Just hit the title and it will take you to a site where you can order.  

Help me celebrate “An Uncommon Grace‘s” Birthday by subscribing:

1.  If you have Yahoo!, Google, AOL, Bloglines, or Netvibes you can scroll down on the right of the page and hit one of the icons matching Yahoo!, Google etc… and it will subscribe you.

2.  Right under the “Search” area hit the orange icon next to the title An Uncommon Grace and follow the instructions.

3.  Scroll to “Subscribe to An Uncommon Grace by email” on the right and follow the instructions once you click on it.

Any of these are easy ways you can subscribe and receive the latest posts.

I hope the Lord continues to give me interesting things to write about which highlight His grace through literature, music, art, preaching, and life.



Grace on the Field

13 02 2009



Few people would expect to find grace at a high school football game in the middle of Texas on a Friday night.  Texas is known for its high school football being possibly the most competitive and tough in the country.  It’s take no prisoners reputation has spawned big screen movies and a television series.  So no one would have ever expected to see a life changing display of grace in Grapevine, Texas on a Friday night at a high school game, but that is just what they found.  

The game on that Friday night was between Grapevine Faith vs. Gainesville State.  It was the oddest game from the very beginning.  The spirit line was there with all of Faith’s students and fans lined up on the field for the players as they ran out to wild cheers, but it was Gainesville State’s players who ran through to the roar of the line and fans.  

The stadium was full of homemade spirit banners, like ones you might find any Friday at a High School game, but the signs held by Faith’s students said “Go Tornadoes!” and, well, Grapevine Faith’s mascot is a lion.

At least the fans were all there. Both the home team and guest team bleachers were filled, but they were all filled with Faith fans who, oddly enough, were cheering for Gainesville State’s players.

By now you’re probably thinking that this is one of those games where everyone comes together because the other team has lost a player or faced a tragedy beyond their control.  Not really, the grace at this game went a little deeper than that.   

When the game was over it wasn’t even close.  Faith destroyed Gainesville State 33-14.  However the strangeness continued.  The losing team received a standing ovation and the losing coach was showered with a traditional Gatorade victory bath.  

The 12 uniformed officers who had stood at Gainesville State’s sideline seemed to be out of place throughout the game but now moved into action as they began to escort the players off the field in pairs and load them onto the waiting bus.  The bus which would return them to their maximum-security prison.

Faith is a Christian High School and its head football coach, Kris Hogan, wanted to teach his players a life lesson about grace.  He did much more.  He taught an entire school and town.  However, perhaps most importunely, he taught some boys who had committed violent crimes that mercy can transcend justice.  In the world where most of these inmates had lived, that was something they had never encountered before a Friday night, on a football field, in Grapevine, Texas.

When he first had the idea he told his players, “Here’s the message I want you to send to the boys at Gainesville State:  You are just as valuable as any other person on Earth.”

One last thing happened right before those armed guards led the Gainesville boys back to their prison.  Everyone gathered in the center of the field to pray and, to the shock of almost everyone there, it was a Gainesville player that asked to pray.  “Lord,” he began, “I don’t know how this happened, so I don’t know how to say thank You, but I never would’ve known there was so many people in the world that cared about us.”

The Faith fans and players watched as the prison bus pulled away.  The Gainesville boys had their hands pressed to the windows watching, as if they wanted one last look at these strange people who showed them grace when no one else would.  Then Coach Hogan and his players turned to walk back to the locker room.  

You’re not supposed to cry in locker rooms after you have won a Friday night game, but it was not an ordinary game that Friday night in Grapevine, Texas. These boys had learned there are some things much more important than winning and that maybe, sometimes, real men do cry.