Wednesday, March 2, 2011
J.I. Packer writes in "Knowing God,"
“(Church people) may pay lip service to the idea of grace, but there they stop. Their conception of grace is not so much debased as non-existent. The thought means nothing to them...Talk to them about the church’s heating or last year’s accounts, and they are with you at once; but speak to them about the realities to which the word grace points, and their attitude is one of deferential blankness...whatever it is you are talking about, it is beyond them...”
Sadly, this accurately describes so many people who carry the name of Christ. In fact, I would daresay of myself that I was more energized about God's grace in the beginning stages of my walk with Christ than I am now. Surely the day I became born again was more exciting. And in the days that followed, I was clearly more zealous about sharing what had happened to me than I usually am now.
In any case, if we look to Luke 15, we find a story just about as familiar as that old hymn. Many sermons have been preached from this passage, the majority of them being given the title of "The Prodigal Son." I prefer to center my messages and sermon titles on the Father's grace rather than the rebellious son's return, but that is neither here nor there. We find here an inspiring story of a loving father.
What makes the Father's love so intriguing and invigorating? I think the mysterious attraction of his amazing grace can be reduced down to these 3 reasons:
1.) Who he gives it to. (bad grammar, good theology)
2.) How he gives it.
3.) Why he gives it.
In the same way God's grace is amazing because of the same reasons.
He shares His grace with people like you and me. We are most times too haughty and have too high a view of ourselves. Before promoting ourselves to "good people," let's consider the following from God's Word:
*Our best righteousness is just filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6)
*Hosea compares us to adulterers who constantly “cheat on God”
*All sinners deserving of death (Rom. 3:23, 6:23)
*No one is good, not one except for God Himself (Luke 18:18-19)
*Without His Spirit we are just dead bones (Ezekiel)
*If we lust, we are committing adultery. If we hate, we are committing murder. If we borrow without returning, we are thieves...even the most "casual sinner" is a lying, murdering, thief and adulterer.
*Apart from Christ, we’re just slaves to sin, Satan, and our selfish desires (Rom. 6)
Barely scraping the surface, we see that we're infinitely less than good people. It's amazing that God would offer so much blessing to dirt like us.
It's also amazing how He offers His grace; willfully, joyfully, and generously. God wasn't forced to send His Son for us. He chose to do so out of His love for us (John 3:16, Rom. 5:8), and what's more, He was pleased to do it (Isaiah 53:10).
As if all that is not amazing, check out what Ephesians 1:7-8 says, "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he LAVISHED on us with all wisdom and understanding.” God just lavishly pours out His grace on us. It's not like us being sprinkled by a few raindrops, but more akin to standing under a continuously flowing and incredibly refreshing waterfall.
Lastly, God's grace is amazing because of why He gives it. He loves us. God, the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present, eternal and infinite Creator and Sustainer of the universe, loves us. Even while we were sinning against Him- rejecting Him in the most despicable of ways- He made the ultimate sacrifice out of love.
During a British conference on comparative religion, experts from around the world debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith. They began eliminating possibilities. Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death. The debate went on for some time until C. S. Lewis wandered into the room.
“What’s all the rumpus about?” he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions.
Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”
After some discussion, the conference experts had to agree. The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish covenant, and Muslim code of law — each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.
Thank you God for your amazing grace. I am still amazed.
Thursday, February 10, 2011
I am a fan of apologetics-and I'm not referring to the cheesy band that changes the lyrics of popular secular songs to make them "Christian lyrics" (whatever that means). I love the study and practice of Biblical apologetics.
Contrary to what many think, apologetics doesn't have anything to do with apologies or apologizing. It comes from the Greek word, apologia, which means "in defense of." In apologetics, we don't say, "I'm sorry for what I believe," rather we may say, "this is why I believe what I believe..."
This brings up a question, do you know why you believe what you believe? A popular verse about this topic is found in 1 Peter 3:15:
"...but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence..."
Pondering that passage, may I ask you a few questions:
* Is Jesus Lord in your heart? Some of us like Jesus as Savior, but not as Lord. If He saves you from sin and death, then He also saves you to righteousness and life. (Rom. 6) Let's not waver back and forth, being "lukewarm." (Rev. 3:16, Luke 11:23)
* If He is Lord, then do you have an answer for those who want to know why? If you don't have an answer or aren't sure how to respond to the skeptic or atheist when questioned about your faith, you should consider studying and growing in your understanding. Maybe you could grab a book, go to a conference(s), or meet with a mentor or pastor to learn more about defending your faith. (2 Tim. 2:16) And you should definitely ask God for wisdom and His Spirit's guidance as you speak. (James 1:5, Isaiah 50:4-5)
* If He is Lord, AND you have an answer for your faith, the question then becomes about whether you are giving your responses with gentleness and reverence? Some of us attack those to whom we are defending our faith or we come across as arrogant when we provide our answers. Let me challenge you to "speak truth in love" "letting our conversations build up" "showing compassion in all that we do." (Ephesians 4:15, 1 Thessalonians 5:11, John 13:34)
* If He is Lord in your heart AND you have the answers for your faith AND you defend your faith with gentleness, love, and reverence, then come teach me!
As believers, may we "study to show ourselves approved workmen of God who need not be ashamed" and let us "be ready to give an answer for our faith." God bless.
Friday, October 15, 2010
This annual event is and has been quite a point of controversy for many people, particularly among those who are seeking to make godly decisions and aren't exactly sure where celebrating Halloween falls on God's scale of right and wrong. Many point out that Halloween is rooted in pagan traditions and rituals and that for one to "glorify" Halloween, he might as well be worshiping Satan. On the other hand, children dressing up, getting candy, and bobbing for apples hardly seems to be some unholy worship of false gods-why deny children such innocent fun?
There are some things we may not understand about Halloween and/or God's Will concerning such a celebration. However, to quote an old pastor of mine, "don't let what you don't know rob you of what you do know." Going to the Bible and seeing what Jesus said, here are some things we do know:
Matthew 5:14,16- "You are the light of the world...Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven..."
- Halloween is characterized by darkness and gloom- We are to be the Light in a dark world.
John 15:11;14:27- "These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be full..." & "I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."
- Halloween's theme is horror and fear- We are to be joyful and faithful.
- Halloween depicts (even glorifies) death- We are to have Life through Christ and offer this Life to others.
So, however you approach Halloween weekend, be safe and keep these passages in mind. God bless, and hope to see you Sunday.
On the Journey Together,
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
There once was a poor, rural family who were greatly concerned because their little boy had not started talking. The family didn't have many resources to call upon, so the problem went on for a long time. One day, while the mother was making supper, she became overwhelmed and lost her concentration. She burned the meal. After she served the meal, the little boy tasted it and hollered, "I can't eat this. It's all burned." Shocked but happy, the mother hugged the child and asked, "Why haven't you been talking?" He said, "Up to now, everything has been OK."
I've been that little boy way too many times. I hold in the encouraging words of affirmation and the compliments that would brighten a person's day while freely complaining and criticizing over the smallest of things.
When I read the New Testament I am convicted about the way I sometimes speak, but encouraged because God has given me direction in this area. Check out these verses:
"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." (Ephesians 4:29)
"Let your speech always be with grace." (Colossians 4:6)
"But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips." (Colossians 3:8)
"...and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks." (Ephesians 5:4)
Prayer: Lord, help us speak words of Grace and Love. May our words pick up and and build up, not tear down. May we encourage, not discourage. May we give thanks and not complain. May we glorify and bless Your name, Oh God, by letting our speech be pure and holy to Your ears. Amen.
On the Journey Together,
Sunday, September 12, 2010
Unfortunately, one of the most well-known verses in the Bible is also one of the most misunderstood and misquoted. It's found in Romans 8:28:
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."
Did you see the rest of the verse? All things work together for good "for those who love (God) and who have been called according to His purpose." One thing that we see throughout the Bible is that almost exclusively the promises of God are for the people of God.
If you love God and are fulfilling His calling and purpose for your life, take heart---for, everything will work out for good!
However, if you are living a life of unconfessed and unrepented of sin; if you are rejecting the calling of His Spirit; if you are knowingly choosing to rebel against God and His Word, don't be surprised when things in your life don't work out.
In fact if you aren't following Christ, you should expect that aspects of your life will almost undoubtedly fall apart when the storms come, for you are building on a foundation of sand.
As Paul continues in this letter to the Believers in Rome, he says in verse 37:
"...in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us."
May we love God, follow God's calling and purpose for our lives, and experience (by His grace) the ability to become more than conquerors in all of life's situations. Then and only then will we realize that ALL things DO work together for good...
On the Journey Together,
Friday, September 10, 2010
One of the most challenging things for me to try and wrap my mind around is the cosmos. When I think about the sun(s), other planets, stars and star clusters, other galaxies, black-holes, the varieties of nebula, and so forth, I am flabbergasted at their scope, beauty, and force. The awesomeness of such wonderful things fills my heart and mind with awe.
Psalm 33:6,9 says,
"By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host...for He spoke, and it was done; He commanded and it stood fast." (NASB)
This God, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, knows us, loves us, and wants a relationship with us. You may choose to believe that the universe is an accidental byproduct of random chances, but as for me, I'll put my trust in God.
Worshiping the Creator Together,
Monday, August 23, 2010
It appears in our "information age" everyone wants to know it all. Answers to almost any question are just a quick google search away. In fact, we don't even have to be near a computer; we're so connected that we have Internet on our cell phones. It seems all of the world's knowledge is literally at the tips of our fingers.
We must not be deceived, however, to think that just because knowledge and facts are so readily available that we really are the all-knowing ones. To be sure, it is one thing to be educated/informed and another thing altogether to be wise. This is an important distinction because we don't make choices based on knowledge alone, but we make choices from our wisdom (or the lack thereof).
Paul instructs us in 1 Corinthians 3:18-19:
"Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight."
Paul says if you're looking around and comparing yourself to the world and the people around you, and if you are beginning to think that you're smarter and wiser, watch out! Beware, for if you think you're wise, you're really a fool in God's eyes!
Later in 1 Corinthians (10:12), Paul reminds us that if we think we're standing, we better be careful 'cause we're about to fall.
If you're anything like me, at times you can start believing that you're a pretty smart fella (or gal). It's when I think I've got the answers and everything is all figured out, and when I start feeling in control and empowered, that I usually blow it the most and the biggest.
So what do we do? Well the verse above says that we should humble ourselves and realize that ultimately our worldly wisdom is really foolishness. We should trust God (and His Word) for the answers and the true wisdom that we need to succeed.