rags to riches reality

Steve Jobs was born to a teenage mother and later adopted by a working-class couple in California. He dropped out of Reed College when he couldn’t afford tuition, but continued auditing classes. In 1976, he started Macintosh in his friend Steve Wozniack’s garage with just 50 computers. He was fired from the company because of a power struggle. He then started Pixar and sold it to Walt Disney. He returned to Apple in 1996, leading the company to a massive expansion in music and media through devices and software including iPod, iTunes and the new iPad. Some love him in a cultish way, whiles others love to hate him for being a rock star CEO. Most remember the scene in Forest Gump when Gump says, “I investment in this fruit company [Apple]. I don’t have to worry about money anymore.” No one can deny Jobs is a true to life rags to riches success now worth over 5.5 billion dollars.

We love to hear stories about people who rose out of poverty into the path of success, like those seen in the Pursuit of Happiness and Cinderella Man. We are inspired by the work ethic and luck of people who climbed out of the hole. The Bible tells us the greatest rags to riches story of all time—you—a follower of Christ.

The Bible describes people without Christ like filthy rags [cf. Isaiah 64:6]. You might look like you have it together on the outside, having acquired the “good life” by the worlds standard, or believing you don’t need any help to make something of ourselves, but we are still viewed as wicked inside out if we do not have Christ. Without Christ you are a dead men walking.

Dying Penniless in your Filthy Rotten Rags [Ephesians 2:1-3]

Sin literally a deadly poison. Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay. Sin might be cute in a baby, but the older you get the more ugly your sin appears. Before Christ my biblical rap sheet does not look hopeful. I was a gutter dweller, saturated with a thirst for sin. We are reminded that this is what, “You were…”

…dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. [Ephesians 2:1-3]

It is hard to believe the Bible characterizes us like this. I certainly did not think of myself as that bad. Now my mother would probably disagree, since I was no angel. But was I as bad as the verses above describe me to be? These verses seem to be describing a vile murder or rapist, not an innocent young boy who grew up in the suburbs of Milwaukee. Is anyone innocent of sin? It is clear from these verses we are born into a world that is sinful, by nature we are inclined towards sin, and there are supernatural powers influencing us to sin. The odds are triple stacked against me—I am a sinner [vs.2-3], living in a sinful world [v.2], powered by sinful opponents [v.2]. Is there any hope?

The truth is we need to be reminded of how sinful we are in order to be grateful to savor the sweetness of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Remember all the ways God has blessed us in Christ? [cf. Ephesians 1:3-14] Without Christ I am a pile of filthy rags that are good for absolutely nothing.

Becoming Rich without Deserving a Dime [Ephesians 2:4-7]

There are two words that bring us hope in a sinful world, “but God…” These two words contrast all that we are before Christ [vs.1-3], but who we can be in Christ [vs.4-7]. Even though I am sinful and sold out to sin, God comes through with His mercy when I ultimately deserve His wrath. “But God,” are two wonderful mysterious words of salvation.

Why is God so merciful to His followers? Paul shows that the origins of Gods saving initiative are found in His mercy [v.4; cf. Ex.34:6; Ps.103:8], His great love [v.4; cf. Rom.5:5-8; 8:39], His rich grace [vs. 5, 7-8] and his kindness to us in Christ Jesus [v.7]. Our salvation is totally undeserved, but again that is the character of God.

The benefits of Gods mercy are both present and future. In Christ, I am saved for eternity, but now have power over sin through my present day relationship with Christ. We see three present future realities of God’s mercy for His followers in verses 5-6. First, I am “made alive with Christ.” Without Christ I was dead in my sin [v.1], but through Christ I am made alive. I am alive because my sins have been forgiven in Christ forever [cf. Colossians 2:13].

Second, I am “raised up with Him.” There is a clear connection here between Christ’s resurrection and mine [cf. Colossians 2:12; 3:1]. Without Christ rising from the grave I would not have hope of raising either. My salvation secures my resurrection. Third, I am “seated with Him in the heavenly places.”  In others, I no longer have to live under the authority of the ruler of the kingdom of the air [v.2]. In Christ, I have been transferred from the old kingdom to the new reign of Christ.

Followers are given these realities so that “in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.” [v.7] Grace is basis of the whole work of salvation [cf. 1:6; Rom.3:21-25; 5:15]. God’s grace is like a physician bringing back-to-life a person whose heart has been flat-lined in a coma for years, raising Him from the artificial life-support, and setting him loose into the world to live freely. God has taken us from below the spiritual poverty level, raised us to new life, and given us an eternal inheritance.

We think we deserve God’s grace. I hear people say often, “God is love and would not send anyone to hell. I am certainly good enough to get into heaven.” Grace would not be grace if we deserved it. We don’t deserve it. Instead we impose upon God that we do deserve it. Grace is not cheap. It came at the cost of Christ’s death upon the cross. Grace is priceless.

Becoming Rich without Doing any Work [Ephesians 2:8-10]

When God pours out His grace He does not hold back, “For by grace you have been saved.” [v.8] This is the heart of the gospel message [vs.8-10]. I am not good enough, smart enough, strong enough, or rich enough to get salvation by my own merit. God has to come through with His grace.

There are comments on either extreme of grace, “I am too bad for God to forgive me,” or “I don’t need grace, I’m okay.” To this David Powlison writes, “Left to ourselves, we think we are either too good to need grace or too bad to receive it. Are you too good to need a major redemption?”[1] This is echoed in the Bible,

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. [Ephesians 2:8-10]

Salvation is humbling. It is humbling because I cannot do anything to get it on my own. Salvation is the work of grace is supremely and solely through the work of Christ. Any good work that I do produce is a gift from God and picture of His grace. Even faith in God’s is a gift from God. As one commentator states, “If Gods grace is the ground of salvation, then faith is the means by which it is appropriated. And faith itself cannot be a meritorious work; it is the response which receives what has already been done for us in Christ.”[2]

I was once a poor man living in the squanders of sin, now I have been given the riches of the kingdom in Christ. God’s grace has picked up my horrific tab and canceled my spiritual indebtedness. Salvation through Christ is the world’s greatest rags to riches reality. When I think about the grace of God I sing with Paul, “to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has blessed us in the Beloved [Christ].” [1:6] God’s grace is not only a source of comfort, but counsel to work out my salvation as I “walk in” His grace in a manner that is worthy of His glory [v.10].

[1] David Powlison. Seeing with New Eyes, Phillipsburg, NJ. P&R Publishing, 2003. 49]

2 Peter Thomas O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, The Pillar New Testament commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 174.

plan G

plan G

A man once asked me the question of all questions, “If you were to die today where would you go?” I didn’t have a smart answer. I was curious, but though to myself, “Could anybody really know the answer to that question?”

How do I get to heaven? Many have tried to answer this question in many different ways:

  • You got to do a bunch of good deeds [hope to make the Cosmic curve for the class].
  • Do as you please [aka: heaven on earth]. This is the only life you got.
  • God is a God of love and wouldn’t send anybody to hell.
  • You got to have faith.
  • You got to follow the teachings of Buddha, Muhammad, Joseph Smith, or Jesus.

Yet these many ways do not answer the question. They just lead to more questions: How good is good enough? If this is heaven on earth, why is there so much suffering, sin and temptation? Why wouldn’t a loving God judge sin? Faith in what? How do we know which guy? What is your plan get to heaven?

PLAN A: By Being Sinlessly Perfect

If our eternity rested on our perfect performance we would all be doomed. We have all committed errors and made foul plays. This is called sin. You are not perfect. You cannot bat 1.000. Sorry to burst your bubble but you are not good enough [Rom.3:23 “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory].

God is perfect. Our sin causes us to miss the mark of His glorious perfection.

The problem is that you and I are born sinners. You are born needy. You cry for attention. Ask any baby who desires the attention. You did not have to take sin lessons. We are educated as selfish little sinsner straight from the womb. And I have been sinning habitually ever since.

When people say that they are a “good person” or share their list of “good deeds” [i.e. help the poor, generosity] or compare themselves with “bad people” [i.e. Hitler or Bin Laden]…they are just sugar coating  the reality of their sinfulness [Prov.14:12 “There is a way that seems right to man, but in the end it leads to death.”]. PLAN A: I CANNOT CHECK

PLAN B: By Paying the Price for our Sin

Trying to be a good boy or girl only ends in disappointment and frustration because we can never quite match up. It ends in death [Rom.6:23 “For the wages of our sin is death…”]. This is more than physical death, but also eternal separation from God. Notice this spectrum of goodness [Evil being murders, rapists, and abusers / God being absolute perfection]:

EVIl and GOD Spectrum graphic

First on the spectrum is Mother Teresa [MT]. She is known for her compassion for orphans in Calcutta. Under “Christian” in the dictionary would be her picture. Some would say she is the best of all Christians, yet in her biographies she admits struggling with many sins. Second, Billy Graham [BG], the long known evangelist who was used by God to bring many into God’s kingdom. He preached to more people than anybody in history. Yet he publicly admits his fall into sin. Then there is me [JT]. I cant even be in the same category with MT & BG. Just ask my mom or wife and they will let you know what kind of sin I am!! Where would you put your initials?

Mother Teresa, Billy Graham and I are in serious trouble. We cannot match up to God’s standard. We fall way short. This applies not only us, but you too. It doesn’t matter if your parents are Christians, if your grandma prays, if you go to Africa to help AIDS children, if you go to church every time the doors are open, you will still fall short.

There is a giant chasm that separates you and me from God [cf. Bridge to Life]. It is like trying to throw a stone from where you are to the North Pole. Some might throw farther than you, but we all still fall way short. Our sin creates a separation [Is.59:2 “It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, He has turned away and will not listen anymore.”]. We cannot pay the debt load for our sin. It cost too much. PLAN B: I CANNOT CHECK

PLAN G: By Trusting in the One who did

Since Plans A & B fail what other option do we have? How about Plan G? Plan G = God’s Grace. Grace us unmerited favor or a gift from God that you do not deserve. I do not deserve God’s grace even on my best day. No one deserves it. This is why it is called grace [Rom.6:23b “…but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”].

What does God’s grace look like? Because of His love He sent His Son to die on the cross for your sin [all your junk, funk errors, strike outs and foul plays]. His grace can at a gruesome cost; execution on a cross. Jesus did the work of Plan A & B before He went to the cross. He did what we could not do. He did it for you. The work is done. The cross bridges the separation. It is a homerun game willing deal.

Religion = DO. Do this and don’t do that. It doesn’t work.

Relationship with Christ = DONE. It is finished on the cross. [Jn.19:30]

From the moment we receive God’s grace there are many things we receive: Forgiveness, Christ’s Righteousness, acceptance into His family, reconciliation, redemption, and so much more.

How do I get God’s grace?

Admit. Admit that you have fail with Plan A & B. That you do not measure up to God’s standard. That your sin separates you from Him. See yourself as God sees you. Recognize the chasm between you and him.

Believe. Believe that God sent Jesus to die on the cross for your sin. It is not about understanding everything. It is about trust.

Receive. Let Jesus come in. Open the lid of your heart and let Him come in. Let Him change you from the inside out.


sin is more than

I gathered at the Communion Table like never seen before. On Sunday, I was faced with the reality of my sin as Pastor Kenny preached on the reality of the cross from the perspective of our sin and the wrath of God.  For a majority of the service I was confronted by my darkness that once separated me from the Light. It is my sin that nailed Christ to the cross, but it is also the cross of Christ that frees me from the bondage of sin. The Gospel is so good! By the end of the service, I had my head in my hands praising a God of grace.

I went home that night and wrote a poem reflecting the passage below:

“And you who were dead in your sins…God made alive together with Him, having forgiven all our sins, but canceling the certificate of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross.” Colossians 2:13-14 


sin is more than blood and gore
more than neglecting the poor
more than sleeping with a whore
more than being wicked to the core

sin is more than a binge on gin and rum
more than forsaking the lowly bum
more than pretending to be blind, deaf or dumb
more than being compassionately numb

sin is more than committing a vile crime
more than stealing a nickel or dime
more than a mind filled with grime
more than wasting away valuable time

sin is more than one night before the ring
more than an extra-marital fling
more than putting an enemy in a sling
more than having no offering to bring

Sin is slapping a Holy God in the face
defaming the name of His glory and grace
facing a judgement without a case
separating all from His eternal place


Sin is recorded on a certificate of debt,
punishable by death; an infinite loss
but Christ has taken the the dirty note
and nailed it to the splintered cross