A Historic Pardon

Today I have a little history lesson for you.

In 1829, George Wilson robbed a United States mail carrier. He was captured and tried in a court of law where he was found guilty of six charges. Wilson’s sentence was execution by hanging.

Influential friends pleaded for mercy to the President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, on his behalf. President Jackson issued a formal pardon, dropping all charges.

George Wilson refused the pardon.

An official report stated Wilson chose to “waive and decline any advantage or protection which might be supposed to arise from the pardon….”

Nobody knew what to do about this strange turn of events.

President Jackson felt that George Wilson had no choice but to take the pardon. Wilson argued that the pardon had no value if he did not accept it.

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court.

The Justices ruled that Wilson could not be forced to take the pardon and if Wilson did not accept the pardon then it did not have any value.

Chief Justice John Marshall wrote, “A pardon is an act of grace, proceeding from the power entrusted with the execution of the law. But delivery is not completed without acceptance. It may then be rejected by the person to whom it is tendered, and we have no power in a court to force it on him.”

George Wilson went to the gallows,
even though he had been pardoned.

Did you get that?
A pardon is an act of grace.
It is not complete without acceptance.
This act of grace cannot be forced on a person.
It is a free gift, but it can be rejected.

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord,
that he may have compassion on him,
    and to our God,
for he will abundantly pardon.

Isaiah 55:6-7

Come Clean

People have been making confessions for centuries.
Their words can become our words
when we need help with our confession.

Today I’m sharing four short prayers —
the first from the 18th century,
the second from the 19th century,
a third from the 20th century,
and finally one from the 21st century.

Pick your century.
Choose your confession.
Come clean and then leave clean.

From “The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions”

Merciful Lord,
Pardon all my sins of this day, week, year,
all the sins of my life,
sins of early, middle, and advanced years,
sins in private and in the family,
sins against light and knowledge.
Pardon all my sins,
known and unknown,
felt and unfelt,
confessed and not confessed,
remembered or forgotten.
Good Lord, hear;
and hearing, forgive.

From Rev. George Ridding — 1867

Lord, open our minds to see ourselves as you see us.
Save us and help us, O Lord.
From pride and self-will,
from the desire to have our own way in all things,
from an overweening love of our own ideas,
and blindness to the value of others.
Save us and help us, O Lord.
From strife and division,
from magnifying our certainties to condemn all differences,
from all arrogance in our dealings with others.
Save us and help us, O Lord.

From “The Book of Common Worship” — 1906

Gracious God,
our sins are too heavy to carry,
too real to hide,
and too deep to undo.

Forgive what our lips tremble to name,
what our hearts can no longer bear,
and what has become for us
a consuming fire of judgment.

Set us free from a past that we cannot change;
open to us a future in which we can be changed;
and grant us grace to grow more and more in your likeness and image,
through Jesus Christ, the light of the world.

Scotty Smith: Heavenward — 2012

I’m annoyed, irritated and wound up tight.
I have been for several weeks.
Please gentle and soften my edgy and crusty heart,
by your grace and for your glory.

I can offer explanations, but I won’t make excuses.
I just come to you as the knotted mess that I am.
You are filled with mercy, compassion and patience.
You convict me without condemning me.
You humble me without humiliating me.
You don’t just tell me what to do, you give me yourself.
What would I do without you Jesus?

I repent of keeping a record of others’ wrongs.
I repent of not repenting.

Convict me when my sense of humor reveals a lack of kindness;
when my poor manners show a lack of love;
when my words tear down more than they build up.
I pray in your powerful and holy name.


Pardon Me

I beg your pardon, but I have one more word on this topic of confession:

“The wise prayer of confession always leads to an acceptance of God’s pardon.” George Buttrick

Coming clean before God isn’t simply airing out your dirty laundry.
(There are plenty of day-time talk shows available for that kind of thing.)

It also isn’t groveling in sackcloth and ashes, ruthlessly berating yourself.
(That just leaves us feeling hopelessly worse off than before.)

Doing the dirty work of unearthing our inner stinky garbage must be followed by heaving it into the trash can, rolling it out to the curb, watching the waste management truck squish it to smithereens and waving goodbye. Sure, there will be another load next week — all the more reason to stay on top of it — but God never fails to remove our confessed sins, as far as the east landfill is from the west landfill.

Although God invites us into forgiveness, it didn’t come without cost.
But He prepared and paid for it, so we dare not squander such a gift.

When I am invited over to a friend’s house for lunch, I don’t wait for the bill. I don’t ask her how much I owe her. I don’t leave a few dollars on the table for a tip. She paid for the food and she prepared the meal from a heart of joy for our friendship. Receiving her gift in the same spirit of joy is the only appropriate response.

As I wrap up my confession, I might say something like this:
“Lord, I’m so sorry that it took Your Son’s blood to pay the price for my sin, but since it’s been done and my sins have been completely paid for, I will not insult You by refusing to receive forgiveness. Thank You from the bottom of my heart.”

Then I preach to myself by speaking aloud an assurance from the Word. Any of these would do just fine.

  • There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:1)
  • Blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not count his sin. (Rom. 4:8)
  • I, I am He who blots out your transgression for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. (Isa. 43:25)
  • If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with You there is forgiveness. (Ps. 130:3-4)
  • In Him we have redemption, through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace. (Eph. 1:7)
  • If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

Beset

That thing I did yesterday?
I did it again.
I’m sorry again.
Already today,
I’ve done it again.
I’m sorry again.
There’s a good chance that tomorrow,
I’ll do it again.
I’ll be sorry again.

Besetting sins: sins that we continually struggle with and have a weakness toward; vices that easily entangle us.

We all have besetting sins. Maybe it’s gossip or jealousy or telling white lies. It’s that same-old-same-old thing that gets us every time. We get weary of confessing it because we sound like a broken record and assume God is sick and tired of hearing it on repeat. We hover on the edge of hopelessness. When will we ever get some victory here?

I’ve got besetting sins. In fact, I have a list of ten of them in my prayer notebook. It’s not pretty. I don’t love it. But I have found a way to deal with the sins with which I am beset.

Every personality type has assets and liabilities. Since I’m a sucker for temperament tests, I’ve taken them all. Most of them reveal my preferences, how I like to do things and the areas in life where I thrive. The Enneagram is a little different. One of the insights it offers is a rundown of how each of the nine types function, both at its healthiest and its unhealthiest. Thus, my list of ten besetting sins. There were no surprises, but still, reading through the unhealthy character traits feels like a slap upside the head. Awareness is half the battle, though.

When I am at my healthiest, when I am the best version of myself, these are my strengths:

  • Wise and discerning
  • Realistic
  • Inspiring
  • Conscientious
  • Self-disciplined
  • Strong sense of right and wrong
  • Principled and fair
  • Responsible
  • Strong sense of higher purpose
  • Integrity

When I am at my unhealthiest, when I am the most surly version of myself, these are my weaknesses:

  • Critical
  • Fearful of mistakes
  • Perfectionism
  • Correcting/Nagging
  • Impatient
  • Self-righteous
  • Unemotional/Impersonal
  • Always right
  • Judgmental
  • Self-critical

This makes a perfect prayer list.
I confess the weaknesses that have entangled my heart.
I pray for the Spirit to beef up the strengths.

Dear God,
Let my weaknesses grow weaker
and my strengths grow stronger.
Amen.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize
with our weaknesses.
Heb. 4:15

My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness.

2 Cor. 12:9

Coming Up: Pardon Me
Looking Back: True Confessions

True Confessions

I confess I’m not very good at confessing.

Confession was not a big part of my faith tradition so I never learned the proper words to use or the correct posture to strike or the acceptable attitude to display. This section of my prayer notebook is thin. I have much to learn.

When it comes to confession, I tend to swing between two extremes:

#1) I think about things I’m really ashamed of and recoil at the thought of rehashing them. Let bygones be bygones. Sweep them under the rug and move on. The past can’t be changed, so don’t look back.

Lord, have mercy.

#2) I can’t think of anything to confess. I don’t drink, I don’t do drugs and I don’t sleep around. I go to church, I read my Bible and I’m a really good girl. There’s no sense in drudging up something that isn’t there.

Lord, have mercy.

I know that both extremes of that swinging pendulum are filled with error. Somewhere between beating myself up and puffing myself up, there is a place where God is patiently waiting for honest truth.

So I went looking for help. I needed words I didn’t have. If confession is a cleansing of the soul, then I wanted to learn the language, understand the posture and adjust my attitude.

King David got me started with the scariest prayer I ever prayed:
“Search me, O God,
and know my heart;
test my thoughts.
Point out anything
You find in me
that makes You sad.”
(Ps. 139:23-24)

It’s not up to me to delve into the deep, dark places of my soul to drum up some impressive sins. That’s God’s job. He does a thorough search and makes me aware of what’s lurking there. Once it’s pointed out, it’s my job to look it square in the face, agree with God that I was out of line, and say “I’m sorry”. And mean it.

Many others have written heart-felt confessions
that provide words I wouldn’t have come up with on my own.
It’s okay to steal those prayers —
no confession needed.

Coming Up:
Beset
Pardon Me

Looking Back:
Pray to Pray
Adore

Reboot

Remember last year when I posted five days a week all summer long?
Yeah, that’s not gonna happen again.

Remember the 40 days in a row of posts on Eastertide?
Ooph, probably not about to do that anytime soon.

Are you seeing a pattern here?
It seems I have a Feast of posts followed by a Famine of indefinite length.
My “small drop” pours out gallons of ink and then dries up as I recover.

I’d like to change all that.
This small space could use some balance and consistency.

Time to reboot.

I love the first day of a new month. I was born on a 1st so maybe it’s just an innate part of me. The joy of flipping over the calendar page fills me with anticipation. What stories will those 30 white boxes hold? What memories will we make? Who will I meet for the first time? For the hundredth time? What will I learn for the first time? For the hundredth time?

Back in January, I sensed a need to make prayer a priority in 2021. So on this first (unofficial) day of summer, I’m revisiting those New Year’s goals and dreams. I’m going to invite you into my prayer notebook and offer some words from old dead guys as well as living saints who know a lot more on the topic than I do.

And because it’s summer, I might just tell a few stories, share a few pretty pictures and brag a little about my grands. Let’s meet up here a couple times a week and spur one another on, shall we?

Countdown to Liftoff – Day 1

Happy Ascension Day!
The 40 days of Eastertide come to an end today.
It’s time for liftoff!

I’ve never paid much attention to Ascension Day, and for many believers, this day will go by unnoticed. In some countries, it’s a public holiday with government offices, schools and businesses shut down. In their experience, when a king or queen ascends to the throne, it is cause for great celebration.

“After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.'” Acts 1:9-11

This was quite the dramatic exit. Jesus was going away for good this time. He had been coming and going for 40 days, but this was it. His feet left the ground and He levitated higher and higher. The disciples saw the whole thing, until a cloud got in their line of sight.

They stood there, staring into the empty sky. Whoever saw anything like it? A man floating up into the clouds! Who could have looked away at such a sight? Twelve men strained to see, with necks stretched back, heads cocked to the side. Oh, surely Jesus was smiling. Just think of His own excitement in returning to heaven, to His Father, to a victory party and coronation. Perhaps He had a tinge of sadness leaving His Men of Galilee, but He had confidence in the Holy Spirit to carry on the mission in them.

Then a voice: “Why are you standing here looking skyward?” Surely more smiles, right? The angelic messengers had bombshell information. “The very same Jesus will return in the same way He left. Just in reverse.”

He left physically.
He will come back in the same way.
He left visibly.
He will come back in the same way.
He left from the Mount of Olives.
He will come back in the same way.
He left in the presence of the disciples.
He will come back in the same way.
He left blessing His church.
He will come back in the same way.*

What will you do today to celebrate your crowned King
who sits on His throne with authority and power?
Look intently up into the sky for a few minutes?
Kneel before the glorious and majestic King Jesus?
Or, like the disciples, go from here worshiping Him with great joy?

“God exalted Jesus to the highest place
and gave Him the name that is above every name.”
Phil. 2:9

*David Guzik commentary

Countdown to Liftoff – Day 2

“When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them.” Luke 24:50

I hope my last words spoken on this earth are poignant and heart-warming, perhaps even quotable. I don’t want my last utterance to be something like, “Don’t forget — the garbage goes out on Wednesdays” or “Did we get pre-authorization from the insurance company for this?”

You can tell a lot about a person by their parting remarks.

When Lady Nancy Astor saw all her children standing by her bedside, she said, “Is it my birthday or am I dying?” I wonder how they answered that question.

Groucho Marx quipped to his tearful wife, “Die, my dear? Why, that’s the last thing I’ll do.” Are you kidding?

Trailblazer Kit Carson was quoted as saying, “I just wish I had time for one more bowl of chili.” That must have been some crazy good chili.

Conrad Hilton left a bit of advice with his last words: “Leave the shower curtain on the inside of the tub.” No comment.

Mother Theresa spoke from her heart, “Jesus, I love you.  Jesus, I love you.” Just what I’d expect.

And then there was Steve Jobs — “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.” Indeed.

With His last words spoken on earth,
Jesus pronounced a blessing on the disciples.

Was it the Old Testament blessing, “The Lord bless you and keep you…”? Or like Moses, who had a blessing for each of the twelve tribes of Israel just before he died, did Jesus give each of the disciples a special word? What He said was not recorded in Luke’s gospel, but the sight of Jesus lifting His hands in blessing caused great joy among the disciples. It doesn’t indicate that Jesus put His hands down as He ascended.

Even now,
Our Savior’s hands of blessing are raised over His Bride,
the Church.

I don’t know when my last day on earth will be.
I don’t know if I’ll get a chance to offer any parting words.
So today, I’ll speak words of blessing on those around me.
Just in case.

Countdown to Liftoff – Day 3

“So when they met together, they asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.'” Acts 1:6-8

The Message version says it like this:
“You don’t get to know the time.
Timing is the Father’s business.
What you’ll get is the Holy Spirit.”

I love that. The timing of things isn’t any of our business. We don’t get to know everything and we have to be okay with that. BUT (my favorite word in the Bible) we get something amazing to help us carry out the work until His kingdom is restored on earth. The word “power” in the Greek is “dynamis”. As in dynamite.

There is dynamic Holy Spirit power in believers,
to be witnesses to the ends of the earth.
It’s time for a little combustion.

Countdown to Liftoff – Day 4

“On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'” Acts 1:4-5

Here they are again, eating. Even in His resurrected, glorified state, Jesus enjoyed a good meal with friends. That’s good news! We can look forward to wonderful times around the table in New Jerusalem.

Jesus had one command for His beloved disciples:
wait.

Although He did give them a time frame of “a few days”, the disciples weren’t exactly sure how long to wait or what they were waiting for. They didn’t want to miss out on this “gift”, so they obediently waited.

God’s timing is always perfect, even down to the minute.

Jesus’ death coincided with the Feast of Passover.
Christ died at 3:00 p.m. —
the exact time that the lambs
were sacrificed on the altar in the Temple.

His resurrection occurred on the Feast of First Fruits.

And the Holy Spirit was scheduled for the Feast of Pentecost.

All those Old Testament high and holy days
that had been celebrated for hundreds of years —
they all were fulfilled in Christ.

So the disciples waited until the appointed time for a new kind of baptism.