Christianity 201

February 11, 2014

From Law to Grace

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Isaiah 53:5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

12 …For he bore the sin of many,
    and made intercession for the transgressors.

Isaiah 54:4 “Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame.
    Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.

“For a brief moment I abandoned you,
    but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
In a surge of anger
    I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
    I will have compassion on you,”
    says the Lord your Redeemer.

“To me this is like the days of Noah,
    when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth.
So now I have sworn not to be angry with you,
    never to rebuke you again.
10 Though the mountains be shaken
    and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
    nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
    says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

We usually do straight teaching and study pieces here, but don’t want to minimize the power of a story that puts those teachings in context. Such is the case today. Greg Stubbings is a friend of ours who shared this just a few days ago…

When I was ready to attend a certain church in 1970, I couldn’t find their address. So I wrote to their headquarters. They sent a pastor and his assistant to “screen” me. They wanted to know if my hair was the right length. It wasn’t, even though I had it cut for the interview. They wanted to know if I smoked. I had quit smoking cigarettes, grass, hashish, and opium. They wanted to know if I was “shacking up.”  I had recently split up with my girlfriend. So, I seemed suitable if I’d cut my hair. I asked them if my friends could come. But they’d have to go through the same process. No way that was gunna’ happen! These pastors were looking for “fruit worthy of repentance”. It seemed as if I had to walk perfectly in the flesh before I could walk in the Spirit. This church didn’t want sin creeping in.

But the church I attend now isn’t looking for those they can disqualify. The pastor doesn’t stand at the door, seeing if he can smell smoke on someone. Or say, “Look, that couple isn’t wearing wedding rings”, or “Don’t you think those two guys are standing too close to each other? I wonder…”. No, when I walk in that church, I’m like the apostle Paul, who said “In me dwells no good thing”. Sin comes in that door full-blown. I am accepted as I am. My pastor knows that it is only the goodness, and love, and favor of God that can change me, not laws and regulations.

With my new understanding of grace, you can only imagine how angry I was when a radio preacher said if I wanted to get right with God, I had to list all my sins and go before Him to confess them. No wonder Christians think God is angry with them. But Isaiah prophesied that, after Jesus would be punished for me, in chapter 53, God swore he would never be angry with me (chapter 54). Furthermore, He says He will remember my sins no more (Hebrews 8:12). The Greek there is a double negative and should read, “I will remember your sins never, not ever again.”  And God repeats Himself in Hebrews 10:17.

Hebrews 8:12 For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.

Hebrews 10:17 Then he adds:

“Their sins and lawless acts
    I will remember no more.

So for me to go before God’s throne, rehashing my sins, where the ark of the covenant is, I would have to remove the lid of that ark, the box containing the two stones that list the Ten Commandments. The lid is called the mercy seat, representing God’s favor towards me. Why, even Indiana Jones had more sense than to remove that lid. And for me to remind God of my sins would be like slapping Jesus in the face, saying “What You did wasn’t enough.” To go back to the law is to fall from grace (Galatians 5:4). No, I no longer want to attempt to justify myself by my law keeping. Instead, I am obedient to the faith that Jesus is the end of the law (Romans10:4). He perfects my conscience (Heb.10:14). He clothes me in His righteousness (Rom.5:19).

Thank You Lord!

Here are some of the scriptures Greg mentioned today:

Galatians (NLT) 5:4 For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.

Romans (Voice) 10:4 But Christ makes the Law no longer necessaryfor those who become acceptable to God by faith.

Hebrews (AMP) 10:14 For by a single offering He has forever completely cleansed and perfected those who are consecrated and made holy.

Romans (NASB) 5:19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.

September 22, 2013

Do You Trust Me?

trusting God 2


NLT Prov. 3:5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
    do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
    and he will show you which path to take.

While the school year has just begun here, and many students are enjoying settling back into the routine and catching up with friends; others already have the goal in sight: Getting good marks. They know that report card season is coming, and while the end of the semester may seem far away, each day builds on what was processed and understood the day previous.

I’ve written before about the importance of spiritual growth, the importance of ending well,  and a sample self-examination we can do to see how we measure up spiritually using both a beginner and an advanced report card template found in scripture.

Today I want to suggest another test; and I am including myself in this one. It consists of two questions God would ask me:

  • Do you love me?
  • Do you trust me?

We’ll come back to the first one another day, but when we think of trust, I think our thoughts sometimes go different directions:

  • trusting Jesus for our salvation, i.e. trusting in what Jesus did
  • trusting God in terms of having an overall plan, i.e. having our best interests at heart

These are just two among other possibilities. The point is to say that each of us might interpret this question differently and then intend something different when we answer.

Mark Altrogge is a Sovereign Grace pastor and wrote on this a few days ago in an article titled, Who Do You Trust? (Click through to read the whole article.)

…The Christian life is a life of trusting in the Lord from beginning to end. To trust in the Lord means to believe his word and act on that belief. This is what FAITH is. Faith is trust. The bible says Everyone who believes in Jesus will be saved. This doesn’t mean we simply believe information about Jesus, that he lived and was crucified. It means we TRUST his promise to wash our sins away in his shed blood, give us eternal life and bring us to his Father. It means we believe that he is God and we trust him as God. We trust him to rule, care for and lead us. Jesus is THE ULTIMATE EXPERT. He created every molecule in the universe. He knows us inside and out. He knows exactly what we need. So we should put all our trust in him.

Faith takes action. A couple years ago I had to get a stent in my heart. So I went over to Shadyside Hospital in Pittsburgh and put my life in the hands of a surgeon I’d never met before. I didn’t simply believe he was an experienced expert who knew what he was doing. I entrusted my life to him (of course, ultimately I entrusted my life to Jesus) and took action. I drove to the hospital and laid down on the table. My trust in the doctor led me to take action. Faith leads to action – obedience to Jesus.

To trust in the Lord means to TRUST HIS WORD. In my early Christian days, we used to say, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” In a sense that’s true, but it’s not completely accurate. The truth is “God said it, that settles it.” God’s word is true whether I believe it or not. But my well-being depends on me believing it. So we should cultivate this conviction: “God said it, I believe it.”

And this is where we are tested from the day we’re born again till the day we close our eyes in this world and open them in heaven. The test is: “What did God say about this situation and will I believe it?” This is what Paul calls the “good fight of faith.” He said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7). He had fought all his life to keep believing God’s word and trusting the Lord in all circumstances.

do not lean on your own understanding

Here’s the BIG QUESTION: Whose understanding will you lean on, the Lord’s or your own?

Our hearts are constantly interpreting. We constantly take in all that happens to us and interpret it. For example, I walk through the church lobby and say hi to someone, who walks right past me without so much as a nod of the head. I immediately begin to interpret the situation – wow, he must be mad at me. I can’t believe he just snubbed me. He’s so unfriendly. That’s my interpretation. But the truth of the situation is he just saw his child fall down behind me and he’s hurrying to help her.

We constantly interpret life. Hard times hit us and we think “God has abandoned me” or “God doesn’t love me” or “God is giving me too much to handle.” So here’s the question: Will you believe God’s word – will you trust in the Lord with all your heart, or will you lean on your own understanding? Will you trust your interpretation of life or God’s?

The BIG QUESTION is always How does GOD understand this situation verses how do I understand this situation? What is God’s interpretation? What does God’s word say about this? God says I am in control and I will never leave you nor forsake you. I will never turn away from doing good to you. I am causing this to work for your good.

Trust the Lord today. He’s the ultimate Expert. He knows exactly what you need. And he understands your life perfectly. Lean on God’s Word and his interpretation of events, not your own.


November 10, 2012

Not All Growth is Healthy Growth

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:43 pm
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Randy Morgan blogs at Your Best Life Later. I enjoy reading him — and have for years — but he has eluded appearing here as he’s one of a number of bloggers who types everything in lower case. Sigh! I decided today to either reformat every sentence or just run this as is, because there’s a paragraph — the one I’ve set in larger type — that I want you to really think about. (Time will tell which way this appears!) You’re also encouraged to read this at source where it appeared under the title, Pruning is Painful (but in lower case!)

i came home from work tonight to find that my trees had been butchered.

a little back story…

when we moved from our old home, i promised myself that i was done with trees. our last house was surrounded by big, beautiful oak trees. consequently, i fought all summer to get the grass to grow in the shade and i fought leaves the rest of the year.

when we found the house we currently own my wife fell in love with it instantly, and the house hunt ended suddenly. and this lot has more trees than the last one. so every few years i am forced to hire tree trimmers.

i’ve hired the guys with a truck and a chain saw who knocked on my door and offered me a deal i couldn’t resist (and i always regretted it), and i’ve hired arborists who are more interested in making trees healthy than making them look good.

several months ago i took bids from several companies and made arrangements to have my trees trimmed by a well-respected company. i invited them to come whenever they had room in their schedule. they came today.

it literally looks like my trees have been destroyed.

i’ve watched them work. the trimmers climb up into the middle of the tree and first cut out all the dead twigs and branches. then they begin drastically thinning the healthy branches. it looks terrible when they are finished, but the result is a tree that flourishes. what looks damaged today will grow symmetrically and evenly, and produce much more green foliage (that i get to rake in the fall, praise his holy name).

“that’s a delightful story, randy,” you may be thinking, “but is there a point?”

the longer i’m a christian the more i grow, but not all growth is healthy growth. my sinful nature compels me to grow in ways that are comfortable and convenient, but jesus calls me to grow in ways that are difficult and scary.

jesus illustrated this concept by pointing to a vine that bears little fruit.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (john 15:1-2).

like the trimmers who devastated my trees today, the gardener in jesus’ analogy undoubtedly shredded the vine. after pruning, i’m sure the vine looked like it would never again bear a meaningful harvest. but the gardener knows how to care for the vine.

jesus’ prescription for healthy spiritual growth is connection. he said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (john 15:5).

but connection is costly. it is not comfortable and it is not convenient. if i am going to remain in jesus, it will require deprivation. other pursuits must be neglected and ignored. connection will most certainly be painful. like pruning.

but i have visited connection in the past and i have found it to be encouraging and refreshing.

and as the seasons change, our pain will result in greater fruitfulness.

~randy morgan

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