Grace, Truly Amazing, pt. 2

Grace - truly amazing

December 11

“We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ…” (Gal. 2:16)

If you are a follower of Jesus, then you understand (fairly well) that you can do nothing to “save yourself” – and that we are all truly…

saved-by-grace-through-faith

We accept fairly easily that Jesus paid the price for our sins and that He offers us complete forgiveness because of what He has done for us. For many believers, this is the extent of their understanding of God’s grace.

But this understanding of grace is incomplete. And when we do not grasp the fullness of God’s grace, we spend much of our Christian lives trying to be good Christians (usually by trying to do a bunch of good things or by keeping a strenuous moral or religious regimen).

In short, many believers start with grace… but then move on to an emphasis on human effort. “God did good for us… but now it’s up to us to be good Christians…”

This leads to a “gospel” of “more or less.” I’m familiar with some churches where this type of “gospel” is not only popular, it is proclaimed as “Bible truth…”

“If you want to please God, you have to do more of these things (insert a long list of good Christian activities) and you have to do less of these things (insert an even longer list of things Christians should never be doing)… After all, God is ever-watching and He is constantly checking on you… to see if you are being naughty or nice.”

But this is NOT “Bible truth…” It is more along the lines of (what some have described as) “Santa Clause theology.” (He’s always making his list & checking it… infinitely!).

s-claus.jpg

The Book of Galatians was written to address this exact issue: Paul tells us: “We are saved by grace… AND we must continue by grace.” And grace is always God’s efforts.

While it is popular to think that our efforts, at pleasing God, actually please Him – according to the apostle, this is just not so.

It is only God’s efforts that have pleased Him, will please Him, and can please Him.

That goes for our Christian walk (our everyday lives) now. Every moment of every day we are called to live by God’s efforts… FOR us, IN us, and THROUGH us.

Anything we do to try and ADD to grace (by our own efforts)… actually nullifies grace! That’s not my thinking, that’s the apostle’s:

Gal 2 21

We tend to think that righteousness is our gift to God… but righteousness has always been, and will always be… God’s gift to us.

We are not righteous because we keep God’s Law, or because we live perfect lives, or because we can check all the right religious boxes – we are righteous because of what Jesus has done. Only. Always. We can do nothing to add to the righteousness He has provided. We can do nothing to make God love us more (or be less dissapointed with us).

Grace is ALL of Him. Grace is NONE of us.

And the best news of all is that God has offered His grace to each of us freely… in unlimited, unconditional supply. We just have to humble ourselves enough to accept that, for the entirety of our lives, He has offered us a gift that we could never have earned… or deserved.

gift-of-grace D Arms

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Grace, Truly Amazing

Grace - truly amazing

December 10

For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people.” (Titus 2:11)

It is a common thought among many people, these days, that (pretty much) all religions are the same. A secondary thought emerges… so there really isn’t any need to embrace one religion over another. All roads lead to God. So choose one and be committed to it.

all roads lead

Be sincere in what you believe. Try to be decent to people. And (by all means) don’t murder anybody.

So… “Hold to these particular values and you’ll be okay. After all… who is to say that one religious belief is really better than another?”

To these sentiments I both agree and disagree. I agree that (basically) all religions are the same in how they approach the whole notion of what should be expected of a human being (or expected by some deified figure).

I disagree wholeheartedly whenever Christianity gets lumped into the conversation about comparative religions. Christianity (in its correctly-understood form) is not a religion. It is a relationship, initiated and secured by God Himself – to which He invites all humanity to come and receive what HE has done.

not_religion

This one thing separates Christianity from all other belief systems and religions. Every one of those other systems promises you something in return for your dedication, your efforts, or your good behavior. In other words, all the religious systems of the world are ALL based on man’s efforts to get to God (or to do something that earns them some special status or reward). And all these religions promise greater rewards for the most dedicated, the most sincere, the most committed among them.

Briefly stated… ALL religion is based on what one does to meet (or exceed) their standards – and there is special commendation for those who demonstrate their desire for “extra credit.” It is all… DO and DO MORE. And there is always a serious reprimand for those who DO NOT… or who don’t DO enough.

The Christian faith is different. Alarmingly different. The entirety of Christian faith is based completely on what God has done and what God will do (through those who have willingly received what God has done for them). In Christianity, human effort is excluded. There is no do… or try harder… or do more… EVERYTHING is based on what God has done… on His all-sufficient efforts… and the fact that there is nothing left to be done. (Let that thought sink in for a bit…!)

it-is-finished

This is why Jesus is so important… and why Christians must be adamant about the fact that Jesus is the only way to God. Jesus’ work on every human being’s behalf accomplished (past tense) what needed to be done to please God – in full.

This brings us to the Biblical concept of Grace. God did what we could not do, paid the price we could not pay, and accomplished what could not be humanly accomplished. And He offers all this finished work freely (and without conditions) as a gift to any and all who will simply, and humbly, receive what He has done.

I cannot imagine a more magnanimous gift… from a more magnanimous Heart.

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At Fault…

December 5

Yesterday, we talked about a growing, systemic problem in our culture today… the lack of consideration for others (and how that leads to all manner of issues and abuses, which dominate our headlines everyday).

headlines

While it is easy to observe and define the problems in our culture, it is much more difficult to know what to do about them. Everybody knows that it would be better if we all learned how to get along and to accept one another in our abundant differences. But solutions to these kinds of issues seem more distant than ever.

Our culture is a mess – and it is getting to be more of a mess each day… is there any hope to turn this around?

This is where Christianity must shine. It is where we alone have the true solution to the world’s plethora of problems. But that doesn’t seem to be happening (in large part). Our society continues to drift into darkness – and turning away from God (and His ways) seems to be more popular than ever. In so many ways, a Christian worldview is not only being neglected… it is being demonized – and those who voice the opinions of God (and His Word) are quickly becoming perceived as a great part of the problem (if not outright evil!).

hating Christians

It is also easy (and popular among Christian circles) to point to the evils of society and rail against the godlessness that has pervaded every arena of our culture today. We like to puff out our chests and talk about all the ungodliness all around us and about how it is destroying our country (and the people in it). But decrying all the things that are “wrong” does little to make anything right. We seem quick to identify darkness… but slow to do anything about it.

That’s because complaining is easy – being the solution is hard.

Make no mistake about it… Christians are actually called to BE the solution.

BE the solution

It begins with an understanding that we so often miss. We want to blame the world for the problems of the world (or we want to blame the devil for how he has “blinded the minds of the unbelieving.”) But if we really want to get real about who we need to blame for the world’s ills we need look no further than ourselves.

It really comes down to this… if darkness is prevailing in our world, then there is an absence of light. If darkness is winning… then light is not even playing.

Jesus came as the Light of the world. That is a highly significant distinction. And everywhere He went, He brought the Light of God into the darkness. Even people who were the “godless” of His day could see His Light. And they were drawn to it. They welcomed it. They found hope in it. What is more, they found the power to change in it. It was the Light of the love of God encountering darkness and doing what Light always does – dispels it.

light-of-the-world

But what we forget is that the same Jesus Who encountered darkness in His day is the same Jesus Who lives within us. And He still seeks to dispel darkness in our day.

That’s why He confirmed one vital piece of information to us: “YOU are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

It seems to me that each and every one of us (who believe in Jesus) need to take a good, hard look at our own lives… our calling is clear – and we need to be about it.

The eternal fate of those in this world depends on it.

be the light 2

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In Consideration…

December 4

Yesterday, I mentioned that, on a recent date night, my wife and I took in a movie.

While I shared the most important lesson from the day (in yesterday’s post) there was an observation (at the movie theater) that caught my attention… and I thought it worth comment. I think it is the central issue that is plaguing our current culture.

While watching the movie, there were several serious annoyances that continually disrupted our evening…

First… after the movie had begun (and the theater was dark) a fair amount of patrons (late for the movie) walked in and stumbled their way around to finding an available seat. After this first aggravation, there was an almost constant commotion going on all around us. Several people were talking (some commenting about the movie, some revealing the plot line, some explaining parts of the movie that their friends didn’t understand). Then, at various points in the movie, other people would get up, stumble their way into the aisles to exit the theater for refreshments or restroom breaks, or to talk on their phones, etc…

theater talking

Now, I don’t ever remember these kinds of issues being this blatant (even only a few years ago). When did we, as a culture, lose sight of the fact that there really ARE other people around us – and it is right and proper to cosider how our actions might affect them?

It seems to me that simple consideration for others is not only becoming an issue in our culture… it is becoming something completely lost. It seems, we don’t even consider being inconsiderate a problem anymore.

Then, it occurs to me, that this may be a larger problem than we first realize. Think of our political structures, of the divisive way in which we handle problems, of racism, of bullying, of all the ways in which people abuse and mistreat others.

mistreating-employees     emotional-abuse

Think about any issue that dominates our headlines – and how that issue would be resolved (or never become an issue) if we all held to the constant of consideration for others around us.

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised… we are quickly becoming a culture that has kicked God (and His “outdated ways”) to the curb. The whole popular concept of “tolerance” is just a humanist way of trying to impose simple consideration on others – without really considering what is at the heart of the matter.

It was God Himself Who gave us the key to how to live in true consideration of others. He put it this way:

Do unto others

Treat other people like you would want them to treat you. Consider how your words or actions just might affect others… before you do or say.

Jesus even told us the extent of this kind of consideration… “This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12) Jesus is telling us… consideration for others defines everything that is right and good.

There is no doubt that we are in trouble as a culture. When people live only for themselves – and couldn’t care less how our words and actions might affect others around us, we can do nothing but implode.

That, it seems to me, is what the headlines are telling us every day.

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Candy Canes, Broken Projectors, and Providence

December 3

I’m pretty sure that we’ve all heard the phrase:

mysterious ways

But there are some times when He allows us to catch a glimpse of just how He works in our lives.

Case in point… this past weekend…

To set the scene… my wife (being the wonderful Proverbs 31 kind of gal that she is) does her due diligence to make the most out of our every penny. In a recent bout of online holiday shopping, she came upon one of those deals of which you just have to take advantage. But to get “free shipping” she had to purchase one extra item of more than a dollar. Being an elementary school teacher, she ended up selecting some special candy canes for her children at school.

candy canes

Unfortunately she was notified (later) by email that her candy canes could not be shipped to us (because they would likely be crushed in process) – so she would have to pick up her special canes in-store.

The problem was that the company would not send the canes to any store near us. We would have to drive some 30+ miles to pick up her $2 canes (now her special canes are getting even more special! wink emoji ).

Taking the opportunity to have a date night, we decided to take in a movie and then drive the short distance from the theater to where her canes were shipped.

Next problem… on the way to the theater, we discover that the store’s hours for all pickups is only from 8am to 8pm. That’s right. By the end of the movie, the store’s pickup center would be closed. (This is a lot of angst for a sugar rush for her kids!).

Enter the handiwork of God…

I have never seen this happen… In the middle of the movie, the projector just stops working. Bottom line… the problem cannot be resolved, we get free passes for a future movie, and the time is 7:40. Just enough time (according to our GPS) to get to the store in time to beat the 8pm deadline for picking up her canes.

We make it with a few minutes to spare.

And now, with special canes in hand (finally!)… we head back out to our car. Where we discover the real reason for all the “fateful” events of our day…

In the parking space right next to ours is a family in distress. They are far from home and their car won’t start. The mom of the family asks if we have jumper cables — which “by chance” we do.

jumping car

After a lengthy time of struggle (trying to get the cables connected just right) her car finally starts.

You could just feel the relief in the air (from the whole family) as I get a thankful bear-hug from a total stranger, in a strange parking lot, in a strange town.

We were in the right place. At just the right time. With just the right provision… to meet the needs of a family in desperate need of help!

Sure… it could all be a coincidence. But my wife and I have been praying that we would be more of a blessing to people in need – and, as we were driving home, there was a real sense of wonder as we both recognized the Hand of God in the midst of all the little frustrations that dominated our evening.

Maybe we all just need to be reminded that we are here on this earth because God wants to show His love through us… whenever opportunity arises.

And we shouldn’t be surprised when we find that God is in the midst of all those opportunities.

divine-appt

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The Gift of Our Selves

present for God

November 30

“I appeal to you… to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship…” (Romans 12:1)

It seems that the only thing that we can give to the God Who has everything is ourselves. This is the essence behind the apostle’s admonition in our verse today.

What God seeks from us is a full and complete surrender – and this surrender is the very foundation of how we are to worship God. It’s what it means to give ourselves to Him.

surrendered 1

But here’s the really important thing… So many believe they have gifted themselves to God only to live their lives for themselves. Because they have said a prayer, or think occasionally (or fondly) about God, or have accepted that Jesus came to be the Savior of the world, or have been baptized, or attend church on a (semi-)regular basis, or practice any number of religious rituals – these types of “actions” can give the impression of commitment without really being completely gifted to God.

The danger is that we can fool ourselves (and everybody else) into thinking that we are a child of God – when our lives do not really reflect our “Parentage.” But God is never fooled. He knows our hearts. And those who are actually His (who have truly and completely gifted themselves to Him) bear an unmistakable resemblance to the One Who welcomes them into His care.

We live in an age where so many people are confused about what Christian faith really confusedentails. Because of the confusion, so many people try to add Jesus to their existing lives – while continuing to pursue their own paths and passions. They turn to God only when He is needed – when they reach a place in their lives when they are out of all other options.

But this is not the faith that Jesus came to proclaim. He came to call people to Himself. To live daily as His disciples. To call those who would willingly surrender their lives, their dreams, their ambitions, their pride – and to lay everything down before the Master… permanently.

The gift of ourselves is not something we do when things are tight, or when we have no other options, or because we like the sound of being close to God.

It is something we do because we see the glory, honor, and majesty of the Living God – and we cannot help but give Him the only thing He is wanting…

Fully surrendered hearts. Fully enamored souls. Fully dedicated lives.

C. S. Lewis once said…

CS Lewis

This is really at the very core of the gospel!

Jesus was the Gift of God given completely to us so that we would be enabled to give ourselves completely to Him. He came to make us acceptable gifts to God – the giving is entirely up to us.

Everything in a true expression of Christian faith must begin with giving God the only thing we can give Him – all that we are.

But the return is amazing… those who give all that they are receive ALL that He is.

Posted in Belonging to God, Child of God, Commitment to Jesus, Daily devotional, God's provision, surrendered to Jesus, the Gift of Jesus, True Christianity | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

What do you give to God, Pt. 2

present for God

November 28

“The Lord has told you what is good, and this is what He requires of you: To do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

Today’s verse is from one of the minor prophets (Micah). But it is no minor message. It is a message that is at the heart of God’s Heart in what He seeks from humanity. And if we don’t understand this message, we really won’t understand what’s the big deal about giving to God what He seeks from us…

The context of the verse is a common theme, not only with God’s people, but with all people. It brings focus to what most people commonly think about God – and about what He wants from us. And it comes with all the detrimental by-products that come along with misunderstanding Who God is… and what He wants.

Micah’s words are God’s response to a complaint that regularly rises among His people. God’s people are “weary” of God’s Laws, tired of dealing with His standards and procedures – and would just prefer that God would leave them alone. In other words… the chosen people would just rather go back to being… unchosen.

grumbling

God responds by pointing out all the things that we all tend to forget. We tend to think that God is all about rules (and keeping them) and sacrifice (giving God our stuff) and religion (doing all the things we think are pleasing to Him). We tend to believe that it’s all about what we have to give up so God won’t be mad at us.

In truth, we can all get a little (a lot!) bent out of shape when it seems as if someone is only interested in taking things from us (or in making our lives miserable).

Many people see God this way. Mad at the world. On the take. And always on the lookout to ruin people if they don’t toe the line and follow the rules to the letter.

angry-god

This is the mindset of God’s people in Micah’s day. God was more of an annoyance and killjoy – rather than the One Who delighted in, and treasured, them.

Human perception of God always goes this way IF we forget what God is really seeking from us.

And what God really seeks is… a real relationship.

It is our relationship with God that effects all the other relationships in our lives.

Bottom line: what God wants is our good. He wants us to be blessed. Happy. Content. Full of joy. Full of hope. Full of purpose. And deeply in love with Him.

All things that well up in us because our thoughts and our hearts are centered in our love for God – and, more importantly, His love for us.

People in love with God (and enamored with God’s love for them) find themselves doing what is right, treating people with kindness and mercy (even though undeserved) and humbled in how God has treated them – which causes them to want to “walk humbly with God” – delighting in His ways (and desiring His truth).

walk humbly

The tension for every person comes down to two things: will we live our lives for ourselves? OR will we live for the One Who created us (and Who loves us with an everlasting love)?

The question is… What do you give to the God Who has everything??

 

The answer: Your whole self…

give yourself away

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What do you give to the God Who has everything?

November 26

“…this is what The LORD requires of you…” (from Micah 6:8)

We have just passed Thanksgiving… and that means that our thoughts are now turning towards Christmas (although many stores have been trying to “turn our thoughts” since right after the 4th of July!). Unfortunately, most of our thoughts (these days) have turned to gifts and giving (i.e. what should we give to all the people who share our lives with us??). For many folks, this season has turned into a stress-fest centered in buying and giving just the right things to all the right people.


And some (actually) see this as real fun!

In our most sane moments we do realize that this is not really what Christmas is all about – but every year we seem destined to give in to the insanity… as we find ourselves out there among all the other “crazies” who have also lost their minds.

It would be tempting to “rail against” the commercialization of Christmas, but would it really do any good? This is our current culture. There seems to be little to be done – even if we really do yearn for simpler (less stressful) times (and Christmases!).

But I thought it might be more helpful to add one more thought to our collective plates. And really, it is a very important thought…because it involves the most important Person of all.

If we were to give God a Christmas gift… what would we give Him?

There are two main problems in this scenario…

One) God owns everything – so what could we possibly give Him that He doesn’t already have?

And Two) God needs nothing. He is all-sufficient in Himself, and has never needed anything.

Talk about a tough Person to which to give anything!

And yet… when we read through the pages of the Bible, we get the distinct impression that God is actually seeking something from us. He has given us every indication that one of His main thoughts is to be high up on our “gift giving list.”

What gives? Why would the God Who needs nothing, and has everything, want anything from us?

It gets even deeper still… the central person of human history was Jesus – who was God with us – and the very reason He came was to make it possible for us to give something to God.

That’s right. It’s one of those “two-way-street” things. Jesus came to be God’s gift to us – but He also came to enable us to be able to give something to God in return.

God has in Mind for us to keep Him central in our thoughts at Christmas time and… at every time.

The whole point of Christmas is that God took the initiative to give us what we could never earn on our own – so that we would each be able to give Him what we could never give without His unlimited help.

This week… let’s talk about what to give to the God Who has everything…

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Thankfulness

November 22

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time. Fall colors. An overabundance of great food. Family. Friends. And time to reflect on things for which we are thankful.

Just the other day, I came across a wall-hanging that said:

Of course ,the sign was trying to drive home the point that all of us have at least one thing, every day, of which we can give thanks. For most of us that is many things.

So if we always have something for which to be thankful, why is it so hard for most of us to “give thanks at all times, in every circumstance?”

Thanksgiving is a day to remind us of the fact of our many blessings – and this is a good thing… But what is it that prevents us from being thankful (and reflecting on our blessings) all the other days of the year?

In our verse for today, the apostle is issuing a command. Not just a suggestion. Not just a life-principle (that we would do well to keep). He is telling us that it is God’s idea that we should be thankful at all times. Even in times that are not so “good.” Even in times when our circumstances will not make our “best of” list.

We seem to do well enough being thankful for the wonderful things in our lives (those things that we can truly, “always, always, always be thankful for”) – especially on days set aside to think about such things in our lives. But the apostle is admonishing us to something deeper. Something way more difficult… He is telling us that we need to be thankful for everything we face, every moment of everyday. He is talking about living in a constant attitude of thanksgiving.

An attitude not governed by our circumstances, but governed by our relationship with the God Who transcends (and rules over) our circumstances.

The whole point of Christianity is that we are not on our own (ever!) – and that God is never detached from what we are facing on a daily basis.

The Bible declares that, for the believer in Christ, God is right here in the midst of our lives. The “good,” the “bad,” and the ugly. If we really, truly, believe that… we never have cause to be unthankful about anything. When God is with us, there is never a moment when we are truly alone… or outnumbered… or overwhelmed.

It is such a simple formula…

The whole key is in truly embracing heaven’s math…provided through Jesus. And living daily, by faith, in what God has so graciously provided.

I find that the “thankful” wall-hanging isn’t as accurate as it should be. It’s a nice proverb – but neglects the most important thing of all. The real reason we can “give thanks at all times, in every circumstance.” 

The God of heaven is right here on earth… with us… always!

So I am proposing a new, more accurate, wall hanging – that involves the truth of living in our permanent relationship with the Almighty…

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To BE or not to BE

November 14

The New Testament paints a glorious picture of God’s handiwork accomplished through Christ. It speaks of what God has made us to be – so that He can live in us, and work through us, to draw the whole world unto Himself.

As Christians, we have all been taught (mostly) that we are becoming something special because of a relationship with God – and with enough energy, effort, and commitment… we just might become what God wants us to be.

But the truth is, we already ARE something special because of all that Jesus has done for us. There is nothing left for US to do… to BE what God wants in us. Jesus has become the “door” into the fullness of what God has for us. This is the magnitude of His grace to us.

To live in that fullness, we must see ourselves in the light of Christ’s completed work. He has changed us from something broken and fallen (and not at all like God) into being something fully representative of God. We ARE new creations… and that new creation has been “created after the likeness of God, in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4:24)

Our identity is all-important. How we see ourselves (what we think we ARE) shapes the course of our lives – and the path of our Christian experience.

All this is essential because God is asking us (actually commanding us) to do some impossible things. We are commanded to BE imitators of God (Eph. 5:1). To BE holy, because God is holy (1Pet. 1:15-16). To BE perfect because our heavenly Father is perfect (Mt. 5:48). To BE joyful always (and in all circumstances; 1Thess. 5:16-18).

Do we really understand how impossible these things are? They are completely beyond our capabilities as human beings.

Yet, they are completely the character and nature of God. He doesn’t have to work to be these things… He IS these things.

And that is what He is trying to help us understand. He asks (commands) us to do the impossible – and acts like it is no big deal.

That’s because it isn’t. God is not asking us to become Him. He is asking us to welcome Him – deep into our hearts. To let go of all our human frailties and faults and foibles and place our faith in Him and His completed work on our behalf.

This is the new you: “Created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

But these are only words on a page until they find a home in our hearts.

God has done everything that needed to be done to take care of our sin problem and restore us from all the devestation that sin had brought into our lives.

He made us (past tense) new – through the work of Jesus. All He seeks is for a people who will trust in what He has done – and who will walk in the fullness of all He has provided.

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