Not Quite Home on the Range Yet

Last night I sinned. Multiple times. My son and son-in-law were with me at the time. They sinned, too, and we all had a great time doing it. Let me explain. We were celebrating my son-in-law’s birthday, so we went to a shooting range before dinner, cake, and gift giving. It’s something Micah enjoys, though he doesn’t have a lot of opportunity to do it, so we surprised him with a round at Enck’s Gun Barn. My son Drew also has more experience than I do in this area, making me the rookie of the bunch. 

I’ve shot pistols before, but only a few times in the distant past and only at Coke cans set up in the woods near my brother-in-law’s house in North Carolina. Last night we used a rifle—a Ruger AR-556, which is considerably louder than a pistol, though the kickback isn’t bad at all. Given my lack of experience, I was hoping to just get my shots on the paper target!

I didn’t get a bullseye this time, but all my shots were inside the 8 and 9 rings, and one even nicked the center circle. Not bad for a beginner. But all three of us kept missing the mark, which is one of the biblical metaphors for sin. There are many other images, too, but this one is prominent.

Judges 20:15-16 says, “At once the Benjamites mobilized twenty-six thousand swordsmen from their towns, in addition to seven hundred chosen men from those living in Gibeah. Among all these soldiers there were seven hundred chosen men who were left-handed, each of whom could sling a stone at a hair and not miss [ḥǎṭṭāʾṯ].”

The word ḥǎṭṭāʾṯ is a general word for sin, usually having the sense of missing the mark, going astray, offending, or ignoring something required by God’s law (e.g., Gen 40:1; Jdgs 20:16; Neh 13:26; etc.). It can also mean “sin offering” (e.g., Exod 29:4).

King David prays in Psalm 51:2, “Cleanse me [ṭāhēr] from my sin [ḥǎṭṭāʾṯ].” The word ṭāhēr means to “be clean,” “cleanse,” “purify,” or “pronounce clean,” as from a defiling condition. It can have a ritual context (e.g., Lev 11:32), or it can refer to the actual cleansing of impurities (e.g., Naaman’s leprosy in 2 Kgs 5:10). 

It can also refer to the removal of impurities from metal (e.g., refined gold and silver in Mal 3:3). Therefore, the word does not necessarily have a sacramental connotation (contra Goldingay, etc.) or even a ceremonial connotation (contra Wilson, the ESV Study Bible, etc.). Indeed, David’s hope of forgiveness rests on nothing ceremonial (cf. vv. 16-17). The sense of his prayer in v. 2 is, “Purify me from my defiling sin.”

Because of his mercy, grace, and compassion (Ps 51:1), God can certainly do that. And because David came to him humbly, he did. “The Lord has taken away your sin,” said Nathan the prophet. You are not going to die” (2 Sam 12:13-14). David later wrote, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven” (Ps 32:1).

Interestingly enough, all three of us last night were landing our initial shots low and to the right of the bullseye. That would seem to suggest a sighting issue on the gun. Our Range Safety Officer (RSO) helped us make the necessary adjustments to shoot more accurately. He also helped me with my stance and positioning vis-à-vis the target. He was patient, kind, and supportive, not condescending at all toward this novice.

Probably my biggest challenge as a shooter is the fact that I’m left-eye dominant trying to shoot from a right hander’s position. My impulse, then, is to use my left eye to align the sights, but that doesn’t work when you’re pressing your right cheek to the gun stock. Here again, the RSO was perceptive and gave me some suggestions to help me “not sin.”

Our night at the range caused me to think about the fact that we’re in this spiritual journey together. “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23), which is why judging and condescension are out of place in the Christian life. Smug self-righteousness is just a way to justify our anger at other people because they sin differently than we do.

Our natural misalignments and daily temptations to “miss the mark” don’t go away when others scold us, humiliate us, or impose their asceticisms on us (Col 2:21-23). They tend to dissipate when those with a little more experience help us learn how to aim higher. 

We are pilgrims on a journey
We are brothers on the road
We are here to help each other

Walk the mile and bear the load

The RSO actually showed me last night how to be a better pastor. Lord knows, I need ongoing training.

Image Credits: pexels.com; nationalinterest.org; aurrpc.com.

Radiate, Part 1: The Priority of One (Luke 19:1-10)

If you knew you had only two weeks to live, what would you do? Where would you go? How would you spend your time? With whom would you spend it? What would be the final experience you give yourself before exiting this life and entering the next? Most people (believers included) would spin out scenarios that focus on their own interests, desires, or pleasures. It’s a natural and understandable impulse. By the time Jesus encounters Zacchaeus in Luke 19, he has less than two weeks to live before dying on the cross, and he knows it. But what do we see him doing? We see him focusing his time on “the priority of one.” And the one that Jesus focuses on is the chief tax collector of Jericho! No one was more despised or vilified than the wealthy Zacchaeus. Matthew was a garden variety tax collector, but Zacchaeus was his boss. He cheated the cheaters! 

So, this famous story isn’t just about a mafia thug, it’s about a mafia don—the godfather of the first century. In fact, the rabbis in that day said, “A tax collector could never be saved. It would take a lifetime of lifetimes for him to repent of all his sins.” Jesus didn’t agree with them on that point, so he invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house, causing everybody to “mutter” (Luke 19:7). But it was an encounter that changed Zacchaeus’ life. Indeed, Zacchaeus received Jesus into his home, and somewhere during the visit, he received Jesus into his heart, too. The story is rich with insights about: (1) the gospel message (i.e., how the lost can be found); and (2) the gospel mission (i.e., how the found can impact the lost). It’s a story that teaches not only that God can save anybody, but also that God—and the godly—are on the lookout for the lost.

Quite significantly, in the previous chapter, a rich young ruler comes to Jesus, wanting to know what he must do to inherit eternal life. The man doesn’t like Jesus’ answer, so he goes away dejected. His wealth had become an idol to him, and Jesus tells him to smash his idol and follow him. The man won’t do it. So, Jesus declares as the man is walking away, “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:25). But those who heard him say it asked, “Who then can be saved?” (Luke 18:26). Hear the panic in their question! The rich young ruler was a man of status and wealth, so he was assumed by most people to have been unusually blessed by God. If he can’t be saved, then who can be? The shocking truth is that Zacchaeus can be saved. In fact, Zacchaeus is the camel that Jesus got through the eye of the needle! “What is impossible with men is possible with God” (Luke 18:27). Listeners are therefore challenged at the beginning of this new year to pray:

Lord, lay some soul upon my heart,
And love that soul through me;
And may I bravely do my part
To win that soul for Thee.

Sermon Resources

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

Two Hebrew Words for Forgiveness

There are two main words in the Old Testament for “forgiveness,” and they’re usually translated in the semantic range or cluster of “pardon” / “pardoned” / “forgive” / “forgiveness” / “forgiven” / “forgiving.” Together they form a mega-them in the Hebrew Bible. The two words are nāśā and sālǎḥ.

The first word is transliterated nāśā.

The word nāśā (accent on the second syllable, with the vowel sounding like the word “ah’”) means “the taking away, forgiveness or pardon of sin, iniquity, and transgression.” So characteristic is this action of taking away sin that it is listed as one of God’s attributes (e.g., Exod 34:7; Num 14:18, Mic 7:18).

Sin can be forgiven and forgotten by God because it is “taken up and carried away.” In Exodus 32:32, 34:7, Numbers 14:18, 1 Samuel 15:25, Job 7:21, and Micah 7:18, nāśā means “take away guilt, iniquity, transgression, etc.” (i.e., “forgive” or “pardon”). Micah 7:18-19 contains these wonderful words: 

Who is a God like you, 
who pardons [nāśā] sin and forgives the transgression 
of the remnant of his inheritance? 
You do not stay angry forever 
but delight to show mercy.
You will again have compassion on us; 
you will tread our sins underfoot 
and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.

This passage reveals that no angel or human has a character so willing to pardon wickedness done against himself or others as God does. Micah 7:18 says that God delights in showing mercy. This means he enjoys doing it. He does not pardon our sins in a begrudging way. Verse 19 here shows how far God removes our sins from us. He figuratively hurls them into the depths of the sea.

The second word is transliterated sālǎḥ.

The word sālǎḥ (accent on the second syllable, same vowel sound as nāśā, hard “ch” ending as in “Bach”) is used of God’s offer of pardon and forgiveness to the sinner. Never does this word in any of its forms refer to people forgiving each other (e.g., Exod 34:9; Num 14:19-20; 2 Kgs 5:18, 24:4; Ps 25:11; Isa 55:7; Jer 5:1, 7, 33:8, 50:20; Lam 3:42). It is exclusively a divine action.

Sālǎḥ removes guilt associated with a moral sin or wrongdoing connected to a ritual or vow. Isaiah 55:7 reveals that God calls individuals to turn from their known sinful ways and thoughts to him so that their sins may be pardoned: 

Let the wicked forsake his way 
and the evil man his thoughts. 
Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, 
and to our God, for he will freely pardon [sālǎḥ].

And now let us add a New Testament (Greek) word to the mix:

The Greek word is transliterated Iēsous.

Iēsous (ee-YAY-soos) is a proper noun that comes into English as “Jesus,” which is the Greek form of the Hebrew “Joshua,” meaning “the Lord saves.” Matthew 1:21 says: 

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus [Iēsous], because he will save his people from their sins.

According to the New Testament, Jesus is the incarnate Word of God, the Creator and Savior of the world, the founder of Christianity, and the sinless exemplar of the nature and ways of God. Since the name was common in his lifetime, he was usually referred to in a more specific way, such as “Jesus of Nazareth” (e.g., John 1:26).

“Christ,” which means “the anointed one,” is a title acknowledging that Jesus was the expected Messiah of Israel. In the Gospels, Jesus is usually identified as “the Christ” (e.g., Matt 16:16). After Peter’s sermon at Pentecost in Acts 2:38, he was usually referred to as “Jesus Christ.” This composite name joins the historic figure with the messianic role that prophetic expectation and early Christianity knew he possessed.

In Luke 7:36-50, Jesus is anointed by a sinful woman in the presence of Simon the Pharisee, a religious leader in first-century Israel. The scene is provocative and scandalous for its day, but the encounter ends like this in vv. 48-49: 

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

That’s the right question to ask. Jesus Christ is the embodied forgiveness of God. He is nāśā and sālǎḥ in the flesh.

Image Credit: centrostudismmaddalena.

Toothpaste and Torment

Bobby was six years old, and he had an inquiring mind. He had been learning how to measure things at school, and his teacher suggested the class go home that night and see what they could find there to measure. Bobby took the challenge to heart. When he got home, he measured his desk. He measured his toy box. He measured his bed. He measured everything within reach. 

Then, while enjoying a moment of inspiration in the second-floor bathroom, Bobby thought to himself, “I wonder how long the wiggly white worm is that lives inside the tube of toothpaste.” Soon, under the pressure of eager, juvenile fingers, the wiggly white worm oozed its path down the sink, across the bathroom floor, out into the hall, and down the stairs into the living room, where the economy size tube finally expired. 

Bobby was ecstatic. It was only a moment’s work to walk his ruler along the gleaming white trail and record the measurement. “Now,” he said to himself, “all I’ve got to do is put the toothpaste back into the tube before mommy finds out.” Sadly, Bobby’s progress in physics was not as advanced as his mathematics, or else he would have known that certain processes are irreversible. 

His mother’s voice sounded from the kitchen, “Bobby, what are you doing?” A deep intuition alerted him to the fact that she would not be pleased with the long white worm on the floor. Frantically, he tried to scoop up the evidence, but that only made the mess worse. 

“Bobby!” cried his mother at the sight of the strange new design on her favorite carpet. “What have you done?” 

And with no further ingenuity forthcoming, Bobby—in typical six-year-old fashion—burst into tears. He ran full tilt and buried his face in the apron of his startled but kindhearted mother. “I’m sorry, mommy. I’m really sorry!”

Has it ever occurred to you that life can be a bit like toothpaste? It, too, flows out in an irreversible stream, and sometimes we wish we could put it back. But that cannot be done, and we’re often left with a mess we cannot clean ourselves. 

“If life had a second edition,” wrote the poet John Clair, “I would correct the proofs.” King David might have agreed with that sentiment. After his famous sin with Bathsheba and his murderous ploy to cover it up, he realized he had made a terrible mess of his life and kingdom, and he had no ability to clean it up himself. Yet in the midst of his tormented soul, he somehow knew that God did. In Psalm 51:1-2, he asked the Lord:

Have mercy on me, O God, 
according to your unfailing love; 
according to your great compassion 
blot out my transgressions. 
Wash away all my iniquity 
and cleanse me from my sin.

With true remorse and raw repentance, David ran full tilt and buried his shame in the apron of God’s lovingkindness. He understood full well that to get clean with God, he had to come clean with God. And so, the disgraced king cried out to God in Psalm 51:7-10:

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; 
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. 
Let me hear joy and gladness; 
let the bones you have crushed rejoice. 
Hide your face from my sins 
and blot out all my iniquity.
Create in me a pure heart, O God, 
and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 

David discovered that the crushing weight of sin was no match for the mercy of God. In fact, he went on to celebrate in another psalm the forgiveness he received from the Lord: “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered” (Ps 32:1). God had truly made him “whiter than snow.”

Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, received this instruction: “Call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). “Jesus” means salvation. Reflecting on what Christ accomplished in his death and resurrection to make sinful people righteous, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Rom 5:20).

Ultimately, David learned that while our lives may be irreversible, they are not irredeemable. That’s true of your life, too. 

Thank you, Lord, for your merciful heart. I confess that I’m not a person with a small debt. Sometimes I willingly choose my way above your way, preferring my own glory to yours. Sadly, I have done this, like David, even as a believer. Yet, your gracious heart remains. Thank you, God. I am grateful that my forgiveness is based on your character and not my own; that it’s based on your love for me, not my love for you. If that were the case, I’d be lost forever. But you are the God who still gives people new hearts. Do that for me, I pray, and help me to walk in your ways. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Image Credits: shutterstock.com; pexels.com.

This New Life: A Website Devoted to Biblical Hope and Radical Grace

Welcome to This New Life, a website devoted to biblical hope and radical grace. Thanks for stopping by. We’re Tim and Sonya Valentino. We live in Myerstown, PA, a small town halfway between Reading and Hershey. Both of us are into family, nature, hiking, music, art, history, museums, Christian ministry, theological education, and the Philadelphia Phillies. We’re also into coffee. The darker the better.

We’re on the journey of life with the Author of life. Let’s walk together and marvel at the scenery. As we go, let’s “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). We’ve created This New Life as a resource to help with that endeavor. We also write to clarify our own thinking. And laugh at ourselves.

On this site we try to provide a balance of content creation and content curation. Creation refers to the materials we generate ourselves. Curation refers to the materials that other people publish and we repost. Our goal for This New Life is simply this: Creation + Curation = Inspiration + Formation. It’s a digital journal, of sorts, chronicling “our life in God’s light,” with others welcome to look in from time to time.

For more information on who we are—personally, vocationally, educationally, theologically, politically, and relationally—check out the About page. For the rest of this post, we’d like to share why biblical hope and radical grace are so important to us.

sunrise-clouds-ocean-horizon

In some ways we’ve lived a privileged life. But in other ways we’ve slept in the emotional gutter from time to time. Life can be challenging like that. One moment things are delightful; the next they’re devastating. Today everything is beautiful; tomorrow everything is broken. Disappointment gives way to disillusionment, and rank cynicism tries to move into the attic of our minds. “Vanity, vanity,” says the Teacher. “All is vanity” (cf. Eccl 1:2).

But there’s one thing that has always kept us going—one thing that has always been an anchor for the soul in troubled times: our unshakable hope in the grace and goodness of God. Jesus is risen from the dead, and that changes everything. Hope refuses to die in a world where Christ has conquered death.

Hope refuses to die in a world where Christ has conquered death.

Ask the average Christian why Jesus came to earth, and you’ll get a variety of answers:

  • Jesus came to die for the sins of the world.
  • Jesus came to reveal the heart of the Father.
  • Jesus came to destroy the power of death and hell.
  • Jesus came to heal, teach, and forgive.

These responses are all accurate. Still, there’s another color on the palette to paint with. Jesus himself answered the question this way: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). That’s a beautiful, hope-filled statement, and it thrills the heart of anyone who’s ever been able to say, “I once was lost but now am found.”

We can say it. Jesus came to seek and to save the two of us. We revel in this good news—and the new life it brings. “Because I live,” said Jesus, “you also will live” (John 14:19).

man-field-sunburst

But how did Jesus go about seeking the lost? What was his approach? Luke 7:34 says, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking.” That’s a fascinating statement. How would you have filled in the blank? The Son of Man came ____________ and ____________.

  • Teaching and preaching?
  • Healing and forgiving?
  • Loving and restoring?
  • Dying and rising?

Again, all true answers, but the text says, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking.” Fellowship and hospitality were his modus operandi. In fact, a major feature of Luke’s Gospel is that Jesus is usually going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal. Every time we turn the page, we smell another dish from the kitchen. Markus Barth has said, “In approximately one-fifth of the sentences in Luke, meals play a conspicuous role.”

A major feature of Luke’s Gospel is that Jesus is usually going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal. Every time we turn the page, we smell another dish from the kitchen.

But does that sound like a holy man to you—more feasting than fasting? More parties than protests? What kind of a rabbi is this? Indeed, the rap on Jesus was that he was “a drunkard and a glutton,” a man more into parties than piety, or so it seemed to the religious crowd (cf. Luke 7:34b).

jesus-upper-room-bread-communion

A drunkard is someone who drinks too much alcohol. A glutton is someone who eats too much food. Jesus was neither of those things—the Bible says he never sinned—but apparently he gave his enemies enough ammunition to make the charge stick.

It stuck, not because he was eating and drinking per se, but because he was eating and drinking with all the wrong people—the blind, the lame, the diseased, the prostitutes, the thieves, the criminals, the tax collectors, the unfaithful, the ceremonially unclean—“sinners” who were as low as you could go on the religious food chain.

Not only that—and we may need to swallow hard on this—there’s no record that these folks ever had to “repent” before they could come and eat at Jesus’ table. The fact that they came at all, and ate and enjoyed his welcome, apparently was repentance enough for him. Many of them changed after eating at Jesus’ table—precisely because they had had a life-transforming encounter with him.

There’s no record that these folks ever had to repent before they could come and eat at Jesus’ table. The fact that they came at all . . . was repentance enough for him.

The word for that is grace. Amazing grace. Radical grace. Scandalous grace. Even Peter—the lead disciple who had walked with Jesus for three years and received the keys to the kingdom—needed a lot of it. Over and over again.

Even after the great day of Pentecost, when he was filled with the Holy Spirit and preached to thousands of people, Peter blew it. Again. For example, Peter once broke fellowship with people whom God had accepted—a clear denial of the gospel—and it needed to be corrected lest the good news become ugly news (cf. Gal 2:11-21; 1:6-9).

Thankfully, Peter never gave up. Throughout his life and ministry, Peter received grace every time he needed it. Such is the ministry of reconciliation that Jesus came to bring. Religion parcels out grace in teaspoons to those it perceives to be worthy. Jesus lavishes it on those who know they need it.

Religion parcels out grace in teaspoons to those it perceives to be worthy. Jesus lavishes it on those who know they need it.

jesus-upper-room-footwashing

But the grace that Jesus gave to people was a little too much for the religious bureaucrats in the first century. Tim Chester has said, “In Luke’s Gospel Jesus got himself killed because of the way he ate.” It’s true. Before Jesus ever picked up the cross, he picked up the fork. In fact, the one led to the other. Jesus died, in part, because of grace. For some folks, his grace was a little too amazing.

Before Jesus ever picked up the cross, he picked up the fork. In fact, the one led to the other.

Grace means that no believer can ever feel smug. Every time we take Communion, we sit at Jesus’ table, too. Do we deserve to be there? Of course not. Like Mephibosheth at King David’s palace (cf. 2 Samuel 9), we come to Jesus’ table as guests, and by invitation only. All are welcome there, and none are excluded unless they refuse to come by faith.

And that’s why the two of us are really into biblical hope and radical grace. We need it. We love it. We want to share it. It’s changing our lives, and it can change yours, too. “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people the full message of this new life” (Acts 5:20).

Sure thing, Lord. The privilege is ours.

leaf-green-water-drops-ladybugs