Christianity 201

March 26, 2020

God’s Got This: When There is a Pandemic and Jesus Says “Do Not Worry”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

Is anyone worried yet? If you are not, are you living under a rock? The COVID-19 virus is a big deal, and while cases were once reported in someone else’s backyard, they are now being reported in ours.

So along comes Jesus and says “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear” (Matthew 6:25). We might want to ask;
“Jesus, are you living under a rock?”

Those who first heard Jesus may have asked that also. Many of them would have been living day to day in a society where you were paid daily. Some may have been living meal to meal. Just plain survival was a big deal for many people. Along comes Jesus who says “do not worry . . . ”

We have been looking at the Sermon on the Mount, realizing that Jesus was not giving news rules for us to follow slavishly, but rather was teaching us what kind of people we should become. This line of thinking continues here:

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:31-33 (NRSV)

We are to be the kind of people who know that God is a good Father. We are to be the kind of people who seek His goodness in our lives. We are to be the kind of people who know, without doubt, that God loves us. Our Heavenly Father knows what we need. Don’t worry, God’s got it.

Since Jesus told us to not worry, does that mean we should never have a concern in the world? The very first Christ followers who were aware they should not worry about food and clothing did not quit working! The apostle Paul did not live as someone who expected money to miraculously fall from the sky. He continued his work as a tentmaker. He encouraged people to work in 2 Thessalonians 3:6–12. There was never the idea that since God loves us, and since we need not worry, that we need not have concern for the things of life and take initiative. Yes, God loves us, so therefore we should not worry, but we still need to take initiative, to show proper concern.

Since Jesus told us to not worry, does that mean we will never face trouble? Jesus went on to say,

So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. Matthew 6:34 (NRSV)

Do not worry, but know there will still be trouble! Being a Christian does not make us immune from trouble. God loves us. That is the way things are. But we will face trouble. That is the way things work.

There is a difference between the way things are and the way things work. The way things are: we live in relationship with a Heavenly Father who will take care of us. The way things work: we live in a broken world where we need to take initiative and where bad things happen. We need, therefore, to make wise decisions, to take proper initiative for the sake of our health and the health of society.

Theologians study the way things are. Scientists study how things work. Theologians and scientists can sometimes say too much about matters in each other’s area of expertise. A theologian can study history, especially with regard to Jesus and point to the reality of God’s love. God has spoken into our world, as we learn in the Old Testament, but ultimately has revealed Himself in Jesus, revealing His love at the cross. Theologians can help us understand that. However, if a religious leader says don’t worry about COVID-19, that God will give you immunity if you just trust Him enough, change the channel. That’s not how things work. Listen to the scientist, who learns through observation how things work. However, if a scientist says there is no God, change the channel. That is not the way things are, and the scientist, with all his or her observation, cannot know that. They cannot observe everything.

We walk by faith and with wisdom. It is not an either/or thing. To show wisdom is not to show a lack of faith. To show faith is not to show a lack of wisdom. It would be foolish to say that God will take care of us, so therefore we do not need to concern ourselves with the evidence with regard to COVID-19. It would also be foolish to say we have evidence on how to deal with the virus, so we don’t need to think of God.

I didn’t plan on this being the week we would land on “don’t worry” in our sermon series. I also didn’t realize how appropriate my one-minute Easter message would be on the radio. It begins,

This is a special time of year for many of us. It is time to get our motors running and head out on the highway. Being a Baptist pastor, I have often been asked if I feel close to God while riding my motorcycle. That sometimes depends on who is pulling out in front of me. Sometimes I have felt a little too close to God.

In life there are many reminders of our mortality. Whether it’s an accident, or the threat of a pandemic, there are many reminders that “dust we are, and to dust we will return.”

That is how things work in this broken world. That is the focus of Lent, a time we remember our mortality. Bad things happen; cars cut in front of motorcycles, people get addicted, a plane falls out of the sky, cancer strikes, infections spread, an innocent man is arrested, beaten and crucified. That is Lent, that is the recognition that death is part of the way things work. But after Lent comes Easter Sunday!

Death is a result of our separation from God. God has dealt with that separation through His grace, His love, His mercy. He is a good and heavenly Father who has gone to extreme lengths to be reconciled to His children. That is the way things are.

For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:19 (NLT)

So a pandemic looms ominously. Don’t worry, God’s got this? Actually, our Heavenly Father has us. But we’ve got this. We can see how this virus works, we can take appropriate steps. We do not worry, knowing that come what may, God loves us and someday we will stand before Him in glory. He’s got us. We do not worry. We do take care, however, and we will want to take care of each other through this difficult time.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Read more of his ‘shrunk sermons’ at his blog. For a limited time, the full sermon can be heard at https://podpoint.com/calvary-baptist-church-cobourg-podcast)

March 8, 2020

Receiving, Then Sharing God’s Compassion

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today back again at the blog with the unusual name, More than Useless, written by Pastor Thom Fowler. Click here to uncover the meaning of the blog’s name, or click the header below to read this at source.

Compassion

Loving Father, I am regularly amazed at how You can take something that I have a certain amount of hesitancy about and use it in a way that touches people’s hearts. It is a great reminder and encouragement for me to know that I am certainly cherished by You but though I may feel limited and limiting, You still get Your word out! Praise the Almighty King!

Luke 7:11-17

11 Soon afterward Jesus went with his disciples to the village of Nain, and a large crowd followed him. 12 A funeral procession was coming out as he approached the village gate. The young man who had died was a widow’s only son, and a large crowd from the village was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, his heart overflowed with compassion. “Don’t cry!” he said. 14 Then he walked over to the coffin and touched it, and the bearers stopped. “Young man,” he said, “I tell you, get up.” 15 Then the dead boy sat up and began to talk! And Jesus gave him back to his mother.

16 Great fear swept the crowd, and they praised God, saying, “A mighty prophet has risen among us,” and “God has visited his people today.” 17 And the news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding countryside.

I know what compassion means but looked it up anyway. When I typed in the word “compassion”, this came up on Google.

What does it mean to have compassion?

If someone shows kindness, caring, and a willingness to help others, they’re showing compassion. This is a word for a very positive emotion that has to do with being thoughtful and decent. … When you have compassion, you’re putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and really feeling for them.

I don’t know about you, but I felt that that explanation fell a little flat. …being…decent? …really feeling for them? Yeah, but…

Further down the page were this question and answer.

What is the biblical meaning of compassion? (emphasis mine)

Compassion alludes to kindness and sympathy, but there is something deeper, something even more profoundly powerful, in its meaning. … The Bible talks of a God who has compassion for Israel. It tells of a Savior who suffers for the world, and it asks us to live and act compassionately. (This is from Compassion International’s website.)

In reading through today’s passage, the line that caught my attention right off was

When the Lord saw her [a widow whose only son had died], his heart overflowed with compassion. NLT (emphasis mine)

As I have stated before, God’s word speaks more clearly than anything I could ever write. Here are more verses that speak of our Lord’s compassion to us. (These and many more can be found on the Compassion International link above.)

And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” Exodus 33:19 NIV

“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. Isaiah 54:10 NIV

The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. Psalm 145:8-9 NIV

Yes, the Lord has great compassion for us, but we also have a responsibility to show it to others.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12 NIV

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Philippians 2:1-2 NIV

Lord Jesus, may we wholeheartedly embrace Your compassion for us all and may we, like You, purposely, graciously be about sharing it with all we meet. Amen.

 

February 4, 2020

The Hurt of Rejection

Today again, an internationally-sourced devotional for you that’s new to us; this time from down under! Christianityworks is a non-denominational, global media ministry headquartered in Sydney, Australia. They have additional offices in the UK, India, and the USA.  To read today’s article at source, or listen to each on audio, click the individual titles.

Romans 5:7,8 Very few people will die to save the life of someone else, even if it is for a good person. Someone might be willing to die for an especially good person. But Christ died for us while we were still sinners, and by this God showed how much he loves us.

Honestly, I think that rejection is one of the worst things that we ever have to deal with in life. Sometimes it’s a big rejection, like a divorce. Other times, it’s just the little things. But whichever form it comes in, rejection is just the pits.

Have you ever been ignored by other people? It hurts, doesn’t it? You know – a bunch of people at work decide to go out for lunch and they forget to invite you. I even remember back when I was single, all the married couples would go out for lunch after church, but I wouldn’t be invited.

Man that hurts, because even though it’s not a big thing sometimes, those sorts of slights, if I can call them that, tell us that we’re not worth anything much to those other people and that, at the end of the day, we’re not worth anything much … period. You know what I’m talking about.

So the question is how do you deal with that feeling of rejection and loneliness? How do you stop it from eating away at you?

Well, it’s in that moment that you and I need to experience the magnitude of God’s love for us – not just in words or as a concept, but for real. Words are cheap. But God’s actions speak louder, much louder, than words.

This is how the Holy Spirit puts it in the book of Romans:

Romans 5:7,8 Very few people will die to save the life of someone else, even if it is for a good person. Someone might be willing to die for an especially good person. But Christ died for us while we were still sinners, and by this God showed how much he loves us.

Just breathe that in. Let God’s Word fill you with the love that you need when the rest of the world ignores you.


Here’s a bonus devotional for you from Christianity Works:

Forgiveness – A Surprising Twist

Matthew 6:14,15 Yes, if you forgive others for the wrongs they do to you, then your Father in heaven will also forgive your wrongs. But if you don’t forgive others, then your Father in heaven will not forgive the wrongs you do.

There are many things we know that are incredibly wrong. Murder for instance. Rape. Adultery even. We know they’re wrong. And then there are the things that we like to sweep under the carpet. Things like, unforgiveness. Surely that’s not up there with those others.

One of the things that many so-called Christians are incredibly good at is ignoring the bits in the Bible that they don’t like. The bits that … Well they’re probably there for someone else’s benefit, but not for mine. We don’t like to think about it quite as brutally as that, but it’s the truth.

There are lots of very inconvenient things there in the Bible that we’re just dying to ignore – take for instance the whole thing about God’s forgiveness. The conventional wisdom is that if you believe in Jesus, then you’re completely forgiven, right? That’s what the Bible says. That’s the whole “saved by grace through faith” thing … correct? And nothing can ever get in the way of that. And yet, when Jesus was teaching His disciples how to pray, this is what He taught:

Matthew 6:12 Forgive us our sins, as we also have forgiven those who sinned against us.

That has a definite sting in the tail and just in case they didn’t quite get it the first time, He added this little bit – a surprising twist if ever there was one – to the bottom of the Lord’s Prayer:

Matthew 6:14,15 Yes, if you forgive others for the wrongs they do to you, then your Father in heaven will also forgive your wrongs. But if you don’t forgive others, then your Father in heaven will not forgive the wrongs you do.

Now remember – Jesus said that. And there’s only one way to read it. What unforgiveness is rotting away there in your heart? And what’s it doing to your salvation?

January 4, 2020

Living in a New A Year One Day at a Time

As I mentioned a year ago, it’s rare that I get to use the writing of people who I know personally. Eric Wright is the author of both fiction and non-fiction Christian books, and is also a former missionary to Pakistan and former local church pastor. This appeared on his blog Country Inspiration. Learn more about his books at this link. Click the header below to read at source. (You’ll see a reference to this being part two of another article which I was unable to locate.)

Rediscovering God’s Love and Grace

How can we learn to live joyfully, one day at a time without worry about tomorrow? Moses has some advice for us. Yes, that Moses who led Israel from Egypt through 40 years of wilderness wandering and rebellion. Can we imagine a more worrying job?

In ten verses of Psalm 90, he relates some of the hard facts of life. We came from dust and are destined to return to dust. Between these two extremes, our lives are full of trouble and sorrow, much of it caused by our own secret sins. [See Psalm 90:3-11.] He sounds very pessimistic! Moses would not have been invited to host a motivational show.

But then he tells us his secret. “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:14). What a way to beat pessimism!

He urges us to pray that the LORD might help us to begin our days with a settled sense of His unfailing love. That we KNOW with certainty that whatever a day may bring, the love God has for us will not disappear or change. If we have been saved by God’s grace through Christ, we can know God’s love will surround us today.

How much love does God have for us? Paul prays that the Ephesians, and all Christians, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being…being rooted and established in love, …may grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (See Eph. 3:16-19). In other words we need to let the sense of God’s indescribable, unfathomable, infinite love permeate our souls.

How much am I loved? A hymn writer exults,

The love of God is greater far,
Than tongue or pen can ever tell.
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell.…

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;

To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

But what if we fail, which we will? What if we sin? What if the day is a mess? What if, like Moses, we are vilified or deserted or stretched beyond our capacity to endure? Will God love us still? Will his arms surround us? Will he still be our rock?

I’ve recently concluded that our temperaments are so attuned to try and please God by our works, that we need to relearn grace almost every day. We keep thinking we have to earn His love. We have our jobs…until we retire. If we do a good, honest job, won’t God be pleased? Yes, but His love will not increase or diminish depending on what we do.

After retirement, we have our to-do-lists. If we complete our daily devotions won’t God be pleased? If we call on the sick, or attend church or pray, won’t God be pleased? Probably, but His love will not increase or decrease depending on our accomplishments or lack of them. His love is showered upon us as an act of divine grace—His undeserved, unearned loving forgiveness for our sins and reception of us as His children does not vary. “It is by grace you are saved and that not of yourselves.” And it is by grace that we are kept.

Moses tells us that the more we are satisfied in the morning with God’s love the more we will sing for joy and be glad all our days. But our emotions fluctuate from cheerfulness to discouragement and outright despair depending on the circumstances of our day. Reading Moses’ history, I doubt if he sang through every day. Some days he was angry and in despair over Israel. Probably, living a joyful life uplifted by a focus on God’s love is a work in progress. Something we must grow into. However we feel, we can know that God’s love for us does not change with the weather.

Wade Robinson writes, “Loved with everlasting love, led by grace that love to know. Spirit breathing from above. Thou hast taught me it is so!…In a love which cannot cease, I am His and He is mine.”

December 10, 2019

Devotional Thoughts When You Don’t Expect Them

I had this article as a link for our weekly news roundup at our parent blog, Thinking Out Loud. I thought this was a rather provocative teaser: Lessons in replacing toilet seals and the Corinthian church.

Much later in the hour it occurred to me it would also make a good fit here. This from the blog The Cripplegate, which we linked to in 2012, but not since! The author is Eric Davis.

Plumbing, Self-Esteem, & the Great Love of God

I recently noticed that the floor around my toilet looked stained with water. Knowing very little about plumbing, I contacted my trusty father-in-law. He knew what to do right away. “The wax seal is broken.” When he was in town for Thanksgiving, he held my hand through changing the seal. This was a first for me. In addition to saving $300 in plumber costs, many things about the experience were memorable; one in particular.

But first, a brief detour.

One of the first epistles I preached through as a pastor was 1 Corinthians. It was a good challenge.

Paul writes the letter to help this beloved church make some spiritual adjustments to their lives. Many in the Corinthian church were full of pride. They lusted after significance. They craved the praise of men. Likely they didn’t want to hear any “bad” news about things like sin, hell, and the need for repentance. They liked the more “positive” things. They were too sophisticated to talk about sin. It was all too fire and brimstone for them. Thus, the message that salvation is exclusively through an unflashy, unfashionable Jewish guy nailed to a cross was too offensive for their self-esteeming sensibilities. They wanted to feel important and esteemed. They lusted after recognition. They jockeyed with one another for popularity and praise. If a relationship or ministry association did not help them get notoriety and spotlight, then it wasn’t worth their time. In other words, they were self-worshipers.

And the apostle Paul loved this wrecked church. So, to shepherd them, he says things like this:

“[W]hen we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now” (1 Cor. 4:13).

Their founding pastor shepherds them here to understand how the world views Christians, and apostles in particular. He does so to corral them away from their craving of praise and esteem. And it’s good shepherding.

Let’s consider two words he uses, translated “scum” and “dregs.”

The word translated, “scum,” is the Greek word περικαθάρματα (TDNT, 3:430-431), and, “dregs,” is περίψημα (TDNT, 6:84-85). They are rich, colorful words, being synonymous in Greek.

The word, “scum,” meant, “to clean around,” and “dregs,” literally meant, “to wipe around” or “rub.” Sometimes they referred to a sweat rag or bath towel, used to wipe away those less noble areas of the body. Also, they referred to something of no value that had to be scraped off and thrown away, particularly sewage and refuse. In ancient times, human waste would sometimes be carried out in pots and disposed of. As one can imagine, “build-up” would accumulate in these pots. In order to effectively love one another in a household, the “build-up” would have to be scraped off and diligently disposed of.

Back to my recent plumbing inauguration. So, after undoing a few bolts and draining the water from the toilet, the enlightening moment came: we lifted the toilet off of the seal in the floor. And for those of you who haven’t done this, let me tell you. Actually, let me show you (see the pic above, taken after I had scraped most of it off, to spare you all). There it was. The dregs. The scum. The “build-up.” The scrapings. And I had the privilege of scraping. It was necessary character building. Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 4:13 will never be the same to me.

So, how does the apostle of grace help people struggling a bit with the love of significance and a lust for mattering? How does he come alongside those battling a tad with self-exaltation syndrome? How did this exemplary church leader love those who did not have much of a pallet for those unfashionable, negative things like sin and a bloody cross?

It’s as if he says, “So, you want to be praised and popular in the world. I understand. Ok, so, you know the sweat rags people use at the bath houses and gymnasiums? And you know the excrement pots in your house? And how you have to scrape them often? That’s what we are. We are nothing more than sweat wipe and sewage scrapings. Glory to God.”

“Scum” and “dregs.” Scrapings. Wiping-around. These are the words that our good and loving God decided to preserve for the ages in Holy Scripture. The Holy Spirit could have spoken many words here. He chose these. And we shouldn’t try to soften this. Beware of being too sophisticated for God and his word. And beware of using the Bible to shield the Bible.

Glory and praise be to Almighty God. The Lord Jesus Christ bore our wrath on the cross. He loves the scrapings and the sweat-rags. He loves us! He loves us! And by faith in Christ, we will bask and rejoice in his love for all eternity!

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

 

November 19, 2019

God is With You, No Matter What

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:11 pm
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Today, a series of searches led us to this devotional, which, we discovered after a few minutes, was actually reblogged from an article by none other than Rick Warren. You can read more at PastorRick.com or click the header below to read this one at source.

God Watches Over Us

“Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:6 NLT).

When King David declared that God’s goodness would pursue him, he wasn’t saying, “Surely only good things are going to happen to me!” He knew as well as anyone that bad things happen to good people.Instead, David was saying that only God’s goodness would follow after or pursue him. No matter how bad or evil or difficult something seems, God can work it out for good.

It’s one of God’s great promises that he’s given to believers: Everything that happens to us is working for our good—if we love God and are fitting into his plans (see Romans 8:28). If you’re a believer, the Bible says all things are working together for good—not that all things are good, but things are working together for good.

There is no difficulty, dilemma, defeat, or disaster in the life of a believer that God can’t ultimately turn toward his purpose.

Like goodness, God’s unfailing love follows us in life. King David says it pursues us!

Picture a parent following a little child around picking up after them. When we’re struggling with hurts, habits, and hang-ups, God is coming right alongside us, helping to pick up our messes and telling us that his unfailing love is always there.

So instead of entering into the future with a question mark, you can do it with an exclamation point! God will be with you no matter what happens. He will help you out: “Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6 NLT).

  • God’s goodness will provide and protect.
  • God’s mercy (unfailing love) will pardon and forgive.
  • God’s goodness will supply.
  • God’s mercy will soothe.
  • God’s goodness will help.
  • God’s mercy will heal.

Goodness is the fact that God gives us good things in life that we don’t deserve. Mercy means God holds back the condemnation we deserve.

When King David said he would live in the Lord’s house forever, he was saying that God had prepared a place for him in heaven.

That’s one of the most important connections we see in the Bible. It connects yesterday with today and then connects them both with tomorrow.

God says, “I’ve got this great life planned for you, and surely goodness and mercy will follow you through it, but that’s not the end! I’ve got something else at the end!” God builds it to a crescendo.

So David ends his psalm by saying, “We’re going to heaven!” Jesus saves the best until last. With God it just keeps getting better and better. The best is yet to come. “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands” (2 Corinthians 5:1 NIV).

Talk It Over

  • What are some ways that you see God’s unfailing love following you?
  • The Bible teaches that no matter how bad or evil or difficult something seems, God can work it out for good (see Romans 8:28). How does that truth affect your life?
  • How have you seen God use difficulty, dilemma, defeat, or disaster in your life—or the life of another believer—for his purpose?

PLAY today’s audio teaching from Pastor Rick

November 6, 2019

Deep and Lasting Friendships Don’t Just Happen

NIV.Eccl.4.9 Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up.

NIV.Prov.27.17 As iron sharpens iron,
    so one person sharpens another.

Six months ago we shared something from the writing of Glenn Kaiser, a leader in the Jesus People USA community in Chicago which gave birth to Resurrection Band, Cornerstone Magazine and the Cornerstone Festival. Today we’re back with another one of his devotional pieces. Click the header below to read at source.

True Friendship!

Some years ago someone repeated to me what another person had stated about a third party. The sentiment was something like “He might sometimes drive me crazy but he’s the kind of person you want to have next to you in a foxhole.”

I get a long list of daily devotionals in my inbox most of which I read slowly through. Sometimes they seem to nail truth or at least open up a line of thought I find encouraging to consider. On occasion they spread open to a larger field of reality I think it good to share.

Here are three quotes on friendship.

  • “A true friend is the one who walks in when others walk out.”  -Walter Winchell

Boom. A few more thoughts on this in a moment, but I have several such friends and am SOOOOO grateful to God for them!

  • “The only way to have a friend is to be one.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

True friendship costs and the sad truth is that plenty of people are not committed to one another enough to pay the bill.

Lastly a “Yes and No” on this quote:

  • “In true friendship, one can express anything and everything without feeling ashamed or afraid of being rejected.” -Aparna Chatterjee

I agree but counter and add that even when you do feel ashamed a true friend is one you can still express anything to and not fear being rejected.

These kinds of deep and especially lasting friendships don’t just “happen”. They take real investment of time, effort, forgiveness, agreeing to disagree but not terminating the relationship easily. Actual continual physical abuse and life and death matters are another matter entirely and certainly friendship with such a person is not what I’m taking about.

Some of us are so insecure and/or arrogant, at times we’re just not willing to build truly deep and close alliances, maybe even a sort of coalition. This does not mean full agreement in every area but enough that you still reach out, respect, actually hang out willingly with one another.

The lack of such commitment to mutual friendship contributes to extreme polarization which can and often does happen. I believe this an element of why our world is often quite mean, impatient, fractured, even brutal to the extent of breeding outright hatred in our times.

How easily do you “send ’em packing”, just dump a friend? Whether or not you agree on everything (you don’t and won’t) what sort of friend are you when they’re hurting? How willing are you to point them in directions that may bring them needed help and perhaps relief from issues they’re plagued with?

Are you simply a friend of convenience- they have some of what you want so you hang out to take not so much share and/or give?

Some of the amazing reality of God is He already knows everything about you and knows the depth, importance, right or wrong, good for you or self-destructive, He’s down with it all -and still loves you. He doesn’t always agree with your choices but Jesus didn’t come to a world of people who all full-on agreed with Him, gave/give a rip about God or even care much for others. He came for all sinners -meaning you, me, all of us!

“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” -Jesus in John 15.12,13

We may split from others, might run away from Jesus but He never left. While we were yet sinners… hmmm… He died for us. HE laid down His life for us. That’s the sort of friendship I’m talking about!

When nobody else is around -He is.

I can’t tell you how thankful I am for my Best Friend.

God help us learn to love and cultivate, indeed sacrifice to become the sort of friends Jesus calls us to be for others. And Thank You Lord for such friends!

October 19, 2019

Trying to Earn God’s Presence

Six months ago we introduced you to Kristen Larson who writes at Abide.Trust.Believe. I stopped in for a visit again this week, and was touched by how she writes at a deeply personal level, as you’ll see in the piece below. Click the header which follows to read at her site.

Loved

I was raised in a Christian home. My upbringing included Sunday School on Sunday mornings, Youth Group on Wednesday nights, and Small Group on Fridays. From an early age, God quickly became the most important person in my life.

I can remember the first time I raised my hands in worship during Sunday School. I would spend hours in prayer at church camp in the summer. My journals are filled with prayers and questions – looking to God for the answers.

Growing into adulthood, the godly women in my life encouraged me to spend intentional time alone with God, where you read your bible and pray. And I have done my best to make this a priority for the last 10 years. They’ve never been the perfect “hour every morning with a cup of coffee”, and they’ve never been perfectly consistent, but spending time in the Word and in prayer has continued to grow in importance the older I get.

I have had many seasons in life where I’ve felt alive in Christ. I’ve felt his love wash over me and my times with him have been fruitful and life giving. But this year, my times in solitude with the Lord started to get frustrating.  I was leaving each time upset and irritated. I couldn’t feel God. I couldn’t hear him. The logical solution was that I was doing something wrong. So, I would try getting up before work to start my day off right. I kept falling asleep, so I’d plan out exactly what I would read. When that didn’t work, I’d try spontaneity – just opening up anywhere in the bible and reading. I gave devotional reading a shot. I tried focusing on prayer alone. I gave reading a book by a Christian author. Nothing worked.

It wasn’t until just recently that I was able to finally voice the lie that had been planted in my heart. Luke and I were driving home from a dear friends funeral, and I don’t remember exactly how it came up or how the conversation wound its way there, but I remember telling Luke with tears in my eyes… I don’t think God loves me.

Just voicing this to Luke and identifying it caused blinders to off my eyes. I can see it now. I was trying to earn his love. I realized on that car ride home that I had been trying to earn his presence by getting up early each morning. I was trying to be good enough for him to speak to me by doing all the right things. I was trying to come up with ways to manipulate him into speaking to me.

But as I remembered the overarching story of the Bible, the truth became so clear: I cannot, under any circumstances, earn his love. 

Romans 5:6-11 says,

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

God chased after us, even while we rejected him. God extended his love to us, even when we failed, yet again. God sealed the deal, even while we sat covered in our sin – paralyzed by our inability to measure up.

Psalm 23:6 says,

Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.

He pursues us.

I hope you can begin to walk in this freedom today, too. I encourage you to spend time with the Lord, knowing, believing, and declaring that he loves you.  Let this truth wash over you:

You are loved. You are his.

October 6, 2019

God: What He Did was Who He Is

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. – Hebrews 1:1-2 (NIV)

In my formative spiritual years, I remember hearing this:

We worship God for who he is.
We praise God for what he has done.

For some, the distinction may not be entirely clear as when we substitute the word thank as in:

We worship God for who he is.
We thank God for what he has done.

I was taught this in what we might call, for lack of a better term, an ecclesiastical setting; in other words, the intent of the speaker(s) was to communicate the difference between simply saying “thanks” versus bowing our hearts in total adoration for who God is; his power, might, majesty and… wait for it… his merciful love.

I get that.

But I think it also needs to be said that, long before the foundations of the earth were laid, it was part of God’s plan all along to make a way of atonement.

God didn’t simply wake up one morning (!) and say, “This sacrificial system isn’t working, we need to try something else.”

The broad story arc of the Bible points to the coming of a Savior. He didn’t simply know that this is where the story was going to lead, rather he had planned out that the opportunity for humankind to experience forgiveness that was both full and free was the direction of the story — the plot line — from the beginning. Dispensationalists call this “the age of grace.” I would call it the “age of atonement.” We went from having to cover our sins to having our sins be covered.

And here is my point:

This whole plan is a reflection not only of what God did — though it is certainly that — but also indicative of who God is.

His actions and his act of mercy toward we who are sinners are indistinguishable from his nature.

He is a God of love.

He is a God of mercy.

He always has been.

The LORD passed in front of Moses, calling out, “Yahweh! The LORD! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.  Exodus 34:6-7a (NLT)

When we consider God’s nature, we often end up at the big O-words — omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent — and can forget he is loving and merciful and in his ways that are far above our ways has devised a plan none of us could ever imagine.

For that we offer thanks; we offer worship; we offer ourselves.


Here are some thoughts on thanks from Ruth’s worship set this morning:

 

September 17, 2019

Let There Be Grace

grace

We continue where we left off yesterday, with another scripture medley. Today’s post is entirely scripture, prepared using BibleHub.com, an online Bible resource.

As I slowed down to read through each verse in many different translations, I was very much aware of:

  • Who was speaking (made clear by the reference)
  • Who it is who was or is the recipient of grace
  • Whether the verse was testimony, instruction, promise or warning
  • The centrality of the theme of grace in scripture

I hope you’ll take some time with this and not rush through…

But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me–and not without results. For I have worked harder than any of the other apostles; yet it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace.
– I Cor. 15:10 NLT

I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ
– I Cor 1:4 KJV

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.
– Titus 2:11 NIV

I do not misapply God’s grace, for if righteousness comes about by doing what the Law requires, then the Messiah died for nothing.
– Galatians 2:21 ISV

As God’s partners, we beg you not to accept this marvelous gift of God’s kindness and then ignore it.
– 2 Corinthians 6:1 NLT

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.
– 1 Peter 4:10 NIV

Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.
– Hebrews 12:15 NLT

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power.
– Ephesians 3:7 NIV

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you
– Ephesians 3:2 NIV

Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord;
– Acts 11:23 NASB

But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
– Hebrews 2:9 ESV

The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.
– Luke 2:40 NASB

We can say with confidence and a clear conscience that we have lived with a God-given holiness and sincerity in all our dealings. We have depended on God’s grace, not on our own human wisdom. That is how we have conducted ourselves before the world, and especially toward you.
– 2 Corinthians 1:12 NLT



Here’s another collection we posted previously:

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 necessary for 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.


And one more passage:

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;

Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour;

That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.   Titus 3:5-7

July 17, 2019

Judgement will be Merciless to the One Who Has Shown No Mercy

Today our blog tour takes us back to Charlie Garret at The Superior Word blog. Click the title below to read at source. Then look around, there are some other great articles there.

James 2:13

For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. -James 2:13

The Greek reads with more force than is presented here. It more rightly says, “For the judgment will be merciless to the one who has shown no mercy.” It is a precept which permeates Scripture in various ways. Solomon says this in Proverbs –

“Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor
Will also cry himself and not be heard.” Proverbs 21:13

James’ words also remind the reader of the parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18:21-35. Jesus shows there that mercy in us is something that is evaluated by God in our own judgment. David’s words in 2 Samuel acknowledge this precept as well. There he says, “With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful.”

The reason for this is that mercy is an attribute of the Lord. It is a part of His very nature. In Exodus 34, when revealing His glory before Moses, the Lord proclaimed

“The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.” Exodus 34:6,7

Later in Numbers, when the people of Israel sinned against the Lord, Moses appealed to Him for them. In his appeal, he said,

“And now, I pray, let the power of my Lord be great, just as You have spoken.”

After that, he repeated the very words of the Lord from Exodus 34 as the prime example of how the Lord would most effectively reveal His great power

“‘The Lord is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He by no means clears the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation.’ Pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray, according to the greatness of Your mercy, just as You have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.” Numbers 14:18, 19

Astonishingly, Moses saw the power of the Lord most fully demonstrated in His mercy and forgiveness. This is what the Lord had declared concerning Himself, and Moses grasped onto it, knowing that the Lord is unchangeable in His Being. As this is so, he appealed to that truth.

Moses is considered Israel’s great lawgiver. A law demands justice leading to punishment for transgression. But Moses saw the strength of the Lord in withholding that, and in its place granting mercy. Does that not sound like God working in Christ? The greatest demonstration of all of God’s power is found in the giving of His Son for sinful man. It is the very heart of the gospel, and the gospel is the very heart and purpose of all Scripture in regards to salvation. Paul says as much in Romans 1:16

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.”

The law and its penalties could not compare to the mercies of the Lord. And the Dispensation of Law was but a dark moment in redemptive history as it led to the gloriously revealed light of the Dispensation of Grace. Moses, understanding this precept above all else, then spoke out his petition to the Lord, and the Lord pardoned according to his plea.

This is why the judgment will be merciless to the one who has shown no mercy. It is because in not showing mercy, we cast off one of the principle attributes of God, in whose image we are created. But in being merciful, we too will find mercy. As James says, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” God who is merciful will look upon us in mercy when we reflect His nature and demonstrate mercy.

Life application: James indicates that mercy is a powerful tool for good in our lives and for our eternal destiny. A good way to remember the meaning of mercy is to remember it along with the meaning of grace. Mercy is not getting what you do deserve; grace is getting what you do not deserve.

As Jesus speaks of this so poignantly in Matthew 18, take time today to read the entire parable and see how this confirms what James says. However, remember to take the entire subject of forgiveness in context. When we receive Jesus as our Lord and Savior, all our sins are forgiven. Therefore, in the context of the Christian’s life, being unmerciful will result in loss of rewards, not condemnation. Either way, being merciful will keep us from a greater judgment because we are acting as our Heavenly Father does when we stray.

Lord Jesus, it is not always easy to be merciful, but it reflects Your divine character when we are. Because of this, please grant us the ability to be more merciful to others so that we might be pleasing to You. May Your words sink into our lives and become our very nature – to Your glory! Amen.

June 16, 2019

God’s Picture of Father Love

AMP Mark 4 : 2a And He taught them many things in parables (illustrations or comparisons put beside truths to explain them)…

PHILLIPS Mark 4 : 1 – 2a Then once again he began to teach them by the lake-side. A bigger crowd than ever collected around him so that he got into the little boat on the lake and sat down, while the crowd covered the ground right up to the water’s edge. He taught them a great deal in parables…

When you look at the ministry of Jesus there are at least three things that separate Him from all others who came before and all others who have come after:

  • Miracles
  • Questions
  • Parables

While all the parables contain more depth than we see in the first reading, one that is especially rich is the one we call The Parable of the Lost Son, or The Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Six years ago, for Father’s Day our pastor spoke on this parable and as always happens with this particular section of Jesus’ teaching, there is always a new takeaway waiting if you look for it.

Before we gloss over this point too quickly, let me say that we need to approach familiar Bible passages with the attitude of expectancy. I do this every year at Christmas and Easter and I am never disappointed if I have my radar set to look for a new insight or revelation.

I knew of a pastor once who would begin some of his messages with a prayer that ended, “…and God if there’s anyone here who feels they’ve heard this all before, help them to know that your desire is to write this on the tablets of their heart.” (And that was before computer tablets!) Some messages we simply need to hear over and over and over and over and over and over again.

But that’s not what I mean here. I’m talking about where we haven’t heard it all before because there is so much depth to the passage in question. I’ve said that I think all scripture is like that to some degree, but in some passages, the potential message outlines are infinite.

I am continually fascinated by the concept of scripture as a multifaceted jewel which reveals, refracts and reflects with each slight turn. The geometric properties of a large diamond mean that each face is interconnected directly to several others, which in turn are attached to others.

Christianity 201, 1/24/13

At church that Sunday, the takeaway had to do with the father in the story running to meet his returning, contrite, repentant son. Our pastor pointed out that traditionally, because of the son’s shame in losing his money to Gentiles, the town would gather to shame him as he re-entered. But instead, the father runs to meet him, hug him, kiss him and give him a ring.

NIV Luke 15: 20b … But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Usually, the focus here has to do with the way in which the father runs to meet the son, that he was essentially shaming himself by lifting his tunic to run to do so. He thereby identifies with his son’s shame, his indignity, his disgrace.

But there’s a parallel between this event and what happens minutes later in the story where the father has to take shorter but equally important walk to meet his other son, the elder brother.

The Voice Luke 15 : 28b The older brother got really angry and refused to come inside, so his father came out and pleaded with him to join the celebration.

The NLT has “begged” instead of “pleaded.” Young’s Literal Translation has “entreated.” This was not a 30-second conversation. This other young man required convincing; he needed to be persuaded.

So the parallel is that the father leaves his party of which he is the host, and leaves his home to go outside and beg the older son to come in. He is identifying here with the elder son’s appraisal of the injustice of the situation, his feeling that his performance based approach has counted for nothing.

And in terms of performance, Jesus was sinless. Jesus’ life was characterized by the injustice of the condemnation of an innocent man. Jesus had to leave the comparative ‘party’ of heaven to come to us. Jesus suffered the indignity of the cross…

…I grew up in The Peoples Church in Toronto, Canada under the ministry of Dr. Paul B. Smith. Each Sunday night as the choir sang Just As I Am, Dr. Paul would remind everyone that, “If you take one step toward God, God will take ten steps toward you.”

So imagine how much the speed at which God will move to embrace and welcome and restore you if you yourself come home running…

May 19, 2019

Entering the Place Where the Lord Dwells

Today we’re introducing an author who is new to us here. Mark Stephenson co-pastors Horizon Church of Towson. Maryland and writes at Fire and Light. In today’s article, he paints a vivid picture of what it is like to enter into the dwelling place of the Lord, referred to in scripture as Zion or Mount Zion.

Click the link below to read at source.

City of the Living God

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel…

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”[ref. Deuteronomy 4:24]

– Hebrews 12:22-24, 28-29

When we worship God we get to enter the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. We get to walk among thousands upon thousands of angels who have gathered to joyfully worship the Lord. We get to approach the throne of grace with confidence knowing that Jesus has made a way by His blood.

Can you picture it?

As you walk toward God’s throne, surrounded by cheering angels, you are clothed in garments of white. The aisle to the throne is as clear as a crystal sea. The angels, as servants of the King, all know that a child of the King has entered the throne room. Royalty has walked in and they all act accordingly. You are an heir of an unshakeable Kingdom, a co-heir with Christ.

As you approach God on His throne, your pace slows. Your steps are careful. You are reminded that this is not only the King of Kings but also your Heavenly Father. You stop. You know this is close enough. The rest of the distance from you to Him is for Him to walk if He decides. He is a consuming fire, and you can feel His power from here. You bow down with your knees to the ground to honor the One who deserves all glory and honor.

You bow your head in reverence and awe. You don’t bow as a slave bows to a master. You are not afraid. You don’t bow in shame and guilt. His eyes see through you, but it is not a stare of disappointment or judgment. It’s a gaze of pure love. He loves that you bow your head in reverence, but He doesn’t want your head to stay bowed. As a loving Father, He signals to you to lift your head. He doesn’t want the top of your head but your eyes looking back at Him. He loves to see your face. The joy and pride of a proud parent fills His countenance.

As He stands to His feet, all the angels–the cherubim, seraphim, and all the other heavenly beings–drop to their knees in worship. As He walks the transparent aisle toward you, He signals you to your feet. You’re not sure you should be standing so your personal angel has to tell you to stand up. You stand before pure love and pure light walking toward you.

Self-limitation is an act of love and had He not reduced His own glory and power in this moment, you’d be fatally consumed immediately. And you know it. You can feel Him dial down His presence and majesty in order to draw near to you. It’s what He did in Jesus and here He is doing it again…just for a moment with you.

He has a smile that makes you smile. When you see His smile it’s so contagious you can’t help but feel joy well up from your gut and overtake your face. He puts His left hand on your right shoulder. You instinctively know that if His power wasn’t sustaining you in this moment you’d collapse under the weight of His glory.

He doesn’t have to say a word. Somehow everything that needs to be communicated is already being said, heart to heart, mind to mind. And somehow He’s not speaking one word at a time but instead it feels like He’s downloading whole ideas instantaneously. These thoughts would take a long time to explain using words but somehow the ideas come all at once.

He draws even closer. He wraps you in His arms. He transmits a love that is intoxicating and overwhelming. Tears burst from your eyes, and your heart feels like it is about to explode. It’s like your current heart wasn’t meant for this amount of love. You need a new heart, one with the capacity to hold a fraction of what is coursing through you in that moment.

The encounter ends.

Grateful is such a small word for what you feel in the aftermath, but it’s as close as you can get to describing the feeling. You have come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and you are in awe!

 

April 18, 2019

Compelling Grace, Part 2

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

How Loving Others Points to God

by Clarke Dixon

For a worldview or religion to be compelling you would expect it to nurture good relationships. This is especially true where offence is involved. Where there are relationships, there are hurting people, for people hurt people. We are human. If a worldview or religion is true, we should expect that it will help us relate to one another and navigate the nasty quirks of our humanity.

Does Christianity provide a compelling vision for relationships including a method of dealing with offence? Some would say “no, Christianity is all rules which makes people get all judgemental.” Others would say, “no, Christianity is all forgiveness which turns people into doormats.” So which is it?

Last week we looked at the compelling way God relates to us. To summarize, God’s relationship with us is based on His grace, not our performance. How are we to relate to others?

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. Ephesians 5:1-2 (NLT)

As God relates to us, we relate to others; with love and grace. Consider the following verses:

7 Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 8 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. . . .
10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. . . .
16 God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.
18 Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.  We love each other because he loved us first.
 If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers. 1 John 4:7,10,16-21 (NLT)

We are to relate to others in the same manner God relates to us; with love and grace. There are some things we can say about this . . .

First, grace provides a compelling atmosphere for relationships. Some relationships are like sailing in a thunderstorm or like walking on eggshells. Fear is a constant. However, “perfect love expels all fear.” God drives out our fear for He does not treat us as our sins deserve (see Psalm 103), but rescues us, and relates to us, by his grace. What is true with our relationship with God can also be true in our relationship with others. Grace provides a great fear-free atmosphere for people to thrive in growing relationships. In marriage, in family, among friends, at the workplace, in teams, the experience of grace given and received provides a great atmosphere to live, work and play.

Second, grace provides a compelling response to offence. People often deal with offence by either “fight or flight.” Neither work well. The Christian is to do neither. Rather than lash out and risk an all out war, we are to turn the cheek. Some will say that is not at all compelling. Won’t people will walk all over us and take advantage of our grace? Well, no, grace provides for a flexibility in responding to offence.

Suppose a spouse is abused again and again, and each time the abused spouse is expected to forgive the abuser as if nothing ever happened. Is that compelling? No. I call this “doormat grace.” Some would say this is the vision of Christianity in dealing with offence, but it is not. The Bible teaches the need for grace, love, and forgiveness in relationships, yes, but the Bible also teaches the need for wisdom. The Book of Proverbs is still in the Bible! We need not offer doormat grace, but wise grace. Grace toward offenders means wanting the best for them, it does not mean putting up with the worst for yourself. When you respond with grace, you do not seek the destruction of the offender, but neither do you open yourself up for destruction. The gracious person turns the other cheek instead of hitting back. The wise person also takes a step back.

Grace, when applied with wisdom, sounds like this: “I will not seek your harm, though I think you deserve it, however, I do not trust you and so have set boundaries so that you can not harm me further. There may be opportunities for changing these boundaries in the future, but right now I discern these to be appropriate for my own safety and well-being.” Grace leads to not seeking revenge. It does not lead to acting as if the offence never happened, that trust has never been broken. Wisdom considers trust. Grace considers the possibility of future relationship. Wisdom considers the possibility of future harm. Grace leads to treating people better than they deserve. Wisdom leads to not letting people treat you worse than you deserve.

Grace in relationships is compelling. It provides a compelling atmosphere for relationships and a compelling response to offence which includes flexibility in applying wisdom in responding to offence. Within Christian relationships there is space for growth, reconciliation, boundaries, and safety for oneself. Christianity when practiced in emulation of God, in the Spirit of Christ, and keeping in step with the Holy Spirit, provides a compelling vision for relationships, including a compelling method of dealing with offence. The manner in which Christians are to relate to others is really compelling. This is no surprise of course, for it comes from a real God.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

 

April 11, 2019

Compelling Grace

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , ,

How the Love of God Points to the Reality of God

by Clarke Dixon

Is the manner in which God relates to us compelling? That is, does the relationship offered by God make us go “wow, that makes sense and is is consistent with a good creator God.” Is it consistent with what the Bible teaches about God, namely that “God is love” (1 John 4:8)?

Many would answer, no. Their impression of Christianity is that you try to keep the rules, then you go to hell when you die because you couldn’t. If that is it, then no, it is not compelling! However, that is not it! Many religions are based on performance, that is, your relationship with God is dependent upon how well you keep the rules. Many people, including many Christians, think that Christianity is based on performance. That, however, is not Christianity.

What does Christianity teach? What does the Bible teach as to how God relates to us?

Let us first go to the Old Testament.

We might be quick to point to all the rules of the old covenant law and assume that relationship with God was, and is, based on performance. However, look closer. Long before the law was given at Sinai, God continued in relationship with humanity. Adam and Eve sinned, which introduced death and separation from God. However, God stayed in relationship with Adam and Eve, and with humanity. Israel was called to be a different kind of people, a people who followed God’s lead. They often stumbled, and yes, bore the consequences. However, despite their poor performance, God stayed in relationship with stumbling Israel, and with stumbling humanity.

In the Bible we have a long record of relationship between God and humanity. Within this, to use literary language by way of analogy, the old covenant is a sub-plot which is essential to the unfolding of the main story. Yes, in the sub-plot Israel’s performance was tied to Israel’s future. If they rebelled against God, they would be exiled. They did rebel. They were exiled. But God stood by them anyway! Through Israel God was working out his plan for relationship with all of us. That plan was not dependent on anyone’s performance, but on God’s grace.

The old covenant law was not the main story, even of the Old Testament. The main story, from Genesis to Revelation, is God’s relationship with humanity, not through our performance, but by His grace.

. . . . God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,  but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 2 Timothy 1:8-10 (NRSV) 

Second, let us consider Jesus.

How do you begin your prayers? Is it “O all seeing, all knowing judge, who is ready to pounce on me for every sin”? Jesus, in teaching us to pray, taught us to begin with “Our Father.” The Lord’s prayer begins in away which reminds us that we belong. We begin prayer with a reminder that when we are praying in the presence of God, we are exactly where we ought to be. We belong, even when we are aware that belonging is not what we deserve. In teaching us to pray, Jesus reminds us that we relate to God, not through our performance, but by God’s grace.

Consider too, how Jesus related to people in the Gospels. We have Jesus being gracious to all, being known as a “friend of sinners” (see Matthew 11:19). Jesus did have harsh words, but he reserved his harshest criticism for the religious perfectionists who harped on performance of the law. Jesus modelled a grace-filled life. God relates to us in the same way people related to Jesus, not by our performance, but by his grace.

Consider too, the cross. We sinned; he died. He rose; we live. That is all grace. Eternal life is a gift made possible only by the grace of God.

Third, let us consider Paul, as an example of what the apostles taught.

Paul teaches about grace Ephesians 2:1-10;

You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,   so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Ephesians 2:1-10 (NRSV emphasis mine)

Though we were in a mess, God rescued us. Paul himself, is an example of grace, since he messed up terribly in persecuting God’s people. If God’s grace can reach Paul, it can reach anyone.

So how does God relate to us?

The Bible teaches that God’s relationship with us is marked, not by the performance of perfect people, but by God’s grace for imperfect people. This is a compelling aspect of Christianity.

Grace provides a great atmosphere for our relationship with God. When a relationship is based on performance, it can be like sailing in a thunderstorm, scary. When a relationship is based on grace, it is like sailing with a good breeze on a sunny day. There can be adventure, enjoyment, and progress. Grace provides an atmosphere perfect for flourishing and growth. When we receive God’s grace, we do not come before Him like a distrusted employee before a cruel boss, or a hated criminal before a harsh judge. The Christian comes before God as a child welcomed into the presence of a good, good father. The Christian experience of grace is therefore consistent with how God would relate to us if “God is love.” The manner in which God relates to us is consistent with a good and loving God. Grace points to the reality of the God we meet in Jesus, God as revealed in the Bible.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here. All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV.

 

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