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.

Preaching & Grace #2

27 01 2009



Sculpture of  Peter Preaching

     As we have seen already, the preacher has a responsibility to make grace, Christ, and His cross central to his explanation, understanding, and application of every text.  However, grace also plays a vital role in the enablement for obedience.  In leading his listeners to the point were they become enabled to obey the truths taught, the preacher must always start with God’s grace.  As Bryan Chapell reminds us in Christ Centered Preaching, “The power to do what God requires resides with God.  Responsible preaching does not tell people their responsibilities without also informing them how to plug into this power.”  No matter how well a passage has been studied or how well a sermon has been developed, none of it will be effective if the listener does not see God’s love for us and His infinite mercy.  It is when we understand and embrace the love that God Himself has given that His Holy Spirit stirs within our hearts the power which enables us to live the truth which has been explained and applied.  

     On the question of enablement, we can find our answer in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians when he writes,

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to al this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.  And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.  With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”

     When believers grasp what God has done for them through His grace and what He provides for them by His grace, they are motivated by love: God’s truth is received more freely because of His love, His Spirit gains more and more control of their lives because of that love and that His Spirit provides the very power needed to enable them to live lives which are pleasing to their Heavenly Father.  It is all by His grace.  

     Whether the preacher is explaining or seeking to understand Holy Scripture, or applying it to the lives of his listeners, grace is the central ingredient that must always be in the center of his efforts.  Whether the preacher is seeking to motivate his congregants to live lives pleasing to God or to reveal to them how they can live the lives they are motivated to live, grace must be the center of his message.

     It is by God’s grace that the preacher’s mind is ever able to comprehend the vastness of God’s Word.  It is by God’s grace that His truth is communicated through the preacher.  Grace provides the love which motivates believers to live out the truths the preacher proclaims and grace sends the Spirit which enable believers to live lives pleasing to God which are in accordance with Scripture.  

     We are enabled because the Spirit of God empowers us.  The Spirit of God empowers us because we love God.  We love God because He has adopted us as His children.  God adopted us as His children be cause He gave us the faith to believe, repent and surrender to Christ.  We surrendered because of the great sacrificial love Christ and the Father displayed for us on the cross and through the resurrection.  God sent His Son who died on the cross because of grace.  In fact, grace is central and ever present at each step in the process.  The preacher must never forget this and always see it’s presence in all of Scripture as well as through every step of the process of preparing and delivering his sermon. 

Preaching & Grace

24 01 2009


Paul Preaching in Athens      

Paul Preaching in Athens    

     The more I study and experience the role of grace in my own life as well as in my preaching, the more I realize the vastness of God’s grace and the human impossibility of its complete comprehension.  Because preaching is what I do, I have particularly been thinking about the question, “What role should grace play in a preacher’s understanding and explanation of Scripture?”

     Well, first, grace keeps the sermon focused on God instead of on man, on the Creator instead of the creature.  Grace keeps the preacher from falling into the trap of moralizing and proclaiming a legalistic ‘to do’ list.  When the preacher is looking at a text, his focus must always be on God and God’s gracious eternal plan of redemption.  He should point his congregation to the fact that whatever they might hope to achieve comes from a life that is centered on and surrendered to Christ, because any hope to achieve comes only through Christ alone, not from good works or personal efforts.

     Paul writes in Romans 3: 22-24, “The righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe there is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”  This text makes it clear that our salvation comes only by God’s grace.  Taking the text in context, the preacher must fully understand and then explain that it is Christ who gives us salvation as a free gift of His grace and our salvation is secured solely in Him.  Therefore, it should always be at the forefront of the preacher’s preparation and study that “the Bible requires us to construct our message in such a way as to reveal the grace that is the ultimate focus of every text.”

    Grace must not just be central in a preacher’s study, understanding and explanation of of Scripture, but equally important when it comes to how he applies Scripture for daily living.  Preachers should motivate their listeners by grace, not guilt.  As Bryan Chapell has written, “If God has freed His people from the guilt and power of sin, then preachers have no right to seek holiness by putting believers back under the weight Jesus bore.”   

     The preacher must understand and make clear that it is God’s grace that gives us what we need to please our Heavenly Father.  Philippians 2:13 makes the point quite succinctly, “For is is God who works in you to will and act according to His good pleasure.”  In his book, Holiness by Grace Dr. Chapell writes, “Though it flows through us, the righteousness that sanctifies us before God originates in Him.  We strive in the strength that He generates, reach for Him with the love that He instills, and trust Him with the faith that He provides.”  This is true for every believer.  For the preacher specifically one could say that though the sermon flows through him, it originated in God and is a product of His grace.

     So, how does the preacher motivate his listeners to apply the truths of God’s Word to their lives?  Certainly not through guilt or fear, for their effect is short lived at best.  The answer to the question can be found in the words of the Puritan preacher, Samuel Bolton when he wrote three hundred years ago, “There is nothing more powerful than love.”    Again, Chapell speaks convincingly, “What compels the mother back into the burning building for her child is love.  And what most powerfully and persistently compels us to obey God when there is no apparent earthly gain is love inspired by the mercy of God in Christ.”

     We are loved by God, saved by His grace and adopted as His children through His mercy.  Romans 8:15 explains, “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.  And by Him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”  Just as a small child does with his earthly father, we are motivated to please our heavenly father out of a graceful heart consumed by love.  

     My prayer is that this will be the focus of my preacher and the motivation for holiness in my life and in my preaching.

A River of Grace

5 11 2008

Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River tells the story of Jeremiah Land, a custodian at a local school.  He has been known to perform miracles from time to time, including one which brought healing to his son Reuben. Jeremiah lives with his three children: 16-year-old Davy, 11-year-old Reuben, and 9-year-old Swede.  The novel is written from the perspective of Reuben Land who, as an adult, reflects on his family in 1962 Minnesota and the events that altered the path of their lives. Reuben reveals his father to be a quiet gracious man who is humble and gentle and has been given  a gift which he uses not for himself but for others.

The novel takes a dark turn when Davy kills two teenage thugs who invade his family’s home. It isn’t long before the whole community turns on the Lands, especially the school superintendent—Jeremiah’s boss—Chester Holgren. Mr. Holgren is a nasty man with a diseased face. Young Reuban, the story’s narrator, describes Mr. Holgren as “a man whose face was a minefield of red boils.” He adds: “I hated him, I’ll admit, and would soon hate him more, but a person had to feel sorry about this face. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried a dish called tomato pudding. It’s cooked soft and is ever so red and lumpy.”

Mr. Holgren does whatever he can to make Jeremiah’s life miserable, eventually firing Jeremiah for false accusations of drunkenness. The firing takes place in the school cafeteria in front of all the children. Here’s how Reuban describes the scene:

“I left my milling classmates and headed for Dad, where he stood in rapt surprise facing Holgren. I hadn’t in mind to say anything, and indeed I didn’t; for as I approached Dad lifted his hand, sudden as a windshift, touched Holgren’s face and pulled away. It was the oddest little slap you ever saw. Holgren quailed back a step, hunching defensively, but Dad turned and walked off. The superintendent stood with his fingers strangely awonder over his chin, cheeks, and forehead. Then I saw that his bedeviled complexion—that face set always at a rolling boil—had changed. I saw instead skin of a healthy tan, a hale blush spread over cheekbones that suddenly held definition; above his eyes the shine of

constant seepage had vanished, and light lay at rest upon his brow.


Listen: There are easier things than witnessing a miracle of God. For his part, Mr. Holgren didn’t know what to make of it; he looked horrified; the new peace in his hide didn’t sink deep; he covered his face from view and slunk from the cafeteria.


I knew what had happened, though. I knew exactly what to make of it, and it made me mad enough to spit.


What business had Dad in healing that man?


What right had Holgren to cross paths with the Great God Almighty?

The story of Jeremiah and Mr. Holgren is fiction, of course. But in the real world, Christian mercy is a miracle of sorts. It is two miracles! It takes a miracle of God to show that kind of mercy, and it is a miracle to be touched by such mercy.