Monthly Archives: November 2016

Taking Grace to the Next Level

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I’ve been researching Matthew, the apostle of Jesus.  I don’t think we fully comprehend how amazing it was that Jesus chose Matthew for his disciple.  He was a tax collector, and most of us know that tax collectors were reviled in Jewish society.

But as I’ve been reading “Twelve Ordinary Men” by John MacArthur, I’ve seen much more clearly that tax collectors were considered to be the worst of sinners. They often used coercion and hired thugs.  They were allowed to overcharge and keep the extra for themselves.  They were guilty of greed, extortion and abuse.  Thus, they were forbidden to enter any synagogue.  They were on the same social level as prostitutes.  (“Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.” Matt 21:31)  As MacArthur wrote, Matthew was “a social pariah, the rankest of the rank.”

So it’s pretty wild that Jesus came up to Matthew and said, “Follow me.”  THAT is a great picture of God’s grace.  Jesus didn’t treat Matthew as his sins deserved.  He didn’t treat him like someone to be dissed or shunned.  He called him to his side.  He called him to be one of the most influential people of all of history, and entrusted him with the future of mankind.

And Matthew reacted to this call.  He immediately gave a dinner and introduced his reprobate friends to Jesus.  Later, he wrote a gospel that would influence the hearts of millions.

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Here’s a dinner with reprobates!  Okay, it’s not Matthew and his friends, but it gives us a visual of what it would be to have dinner with sketchy characters.

God is astoundingly gracious.  This just blows my mind.  Just when I think I understand God’s grace, I discover a whole new level.

So I can see it in the Bible.  But do I realize how astoundingly gracious God has been in my life?  In one of my last blogs, I wrote about how I was getting in touch with my sin more, and thus more in touch with how much I’ve been forgiven.  Every time I go through an honest gut level confession, based on scriptures, of my daily sins and know I’m instantly forgiven,  I’m like, “God, your grace is so awesome!”

But the amazing grace is more than forgiveness of sins.

It’s realizing that God is giving me breath after breath.  I am sustained in life because of Jesus.  I would cease to exist without him.

“. . . in him all things hold together.”  Col 1:17b

“He holds everything together through his powerful words.”  Hebrews 1:3b

cell-adhesion

Jesus holds us together like a laminin cell adhesion molecule.

It’s comprehending that every good thing I have comes from HIM.  I think about how I grew up surrounded by atheists, and how God drew me from that into knowing him, into a place where my heart overflows.  I think of my beloved husband and children.  I think of the satisfying and meaningful things God gives me to do with my day.  I think of my material possessions — my colorful carpet, my comfy bed.  I am so blessed!

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”  James 1:17

So this means it’s time for me to take grace to the next level in my life.  I can’t just recognize the astounding grace I’ve been given, it needs to become the foundation of everything I do.

Check out what Tom Jones says in his book, “Strong in the Grace.”  He quotes Titus 2:

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.  Titus 2:11-15

This verse, says Jones, reflects that grace should be central in our lives. We repent and do right because of the effect of the grace of God on us.

“Grace is not simply another element, another thing on the list,” Jones writes.  “It is the heart and soul of the message!  If you miss this, you have missed it all.”  And later he asserts, “We must be ‘strong’ in the grace (II Tim 2:1).  It must be obvious to all that, for us, it is the trunk of the tree.”

Are we strong in the grace?  Is it the trunk of our tree, or just a branch?

trunk-of-tree

This past Sunday at church, in the sermon, we read Luke 7:36-50 about the sinful woman who anointed Jesus.  It was the same passage of scripture that had really impacted me in a recent quiet time!  I blogged about it last week.  God works that way.

The lesson at church was about how we should have compassion on others, as Jesus had compassion on this woman.  We should give grace, as we have been given grace.

As Jeff Hickman preached, I told myself that I do pretty well at practicing compassion.  But then I remembered who I was sitting next to!   It was a young woman who a friend and I met a couple of years ago.  We studied the Bible with her for a while.  But she had a lot of challenges going on in her life and she fell off the grid.  She stopped responding to my communications.

Then Saturday night, out of the blue, she texted me and said her life was miserable, and she wanted to come back to God!

So did I immediately call her in excitement?  Was I like the father of the prodigal son, holding out my arms in a warm welcome?  Did I show great compassion?  No, I was feeling moody and selfish.  I forgot about the grace.

I took the easy way. I just texted her to see if she could come to church with me in the morning.

The miracle was that I wasn’t in Auburn, like usual.  I was in Atlanta, and she was in Atlanta, and she came!

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That was even more the grace of God!  God just kept on giving, and doing good, in spite of my meager efforts.

There is so much amazing grace.

Why do I forget?  I pray for God to work and it can feel strained, like I am rowing upstream, like the well is dry.  My eyes can be blind to the bounty of goodness that surrounds me, the never ending source of strength and hope.

Let’s make grace our foundation!  Let’s fill our well with it each morning as we remember all God is and all he has done. Let’s draw from it as we face our challenges.

Anything is possible!  God is awesome!  But we’re only going to see that if we take grace to the next level and let it change our lives.

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Help Me Understand

listen

Help me understand.”

If we said those three words more, the whole world would be different.

“You think very differently from me. Help me understand.” “I can see you’re angry. Help me understand why.” “It seems like you did something wrong. Help me understand your thinking.” “You hurt me. Help me understand why you acted in that way.”

“Help me understand.” Well, actually, it isn’t saying these three words that will change the world. It’s LISTENING to the response.

Listening means that you try to see things from the other person’s point of view. You don’t formulate arguments as to why they are wrong. You don’t jump to conclusions and put them in a slot. You don’t dwell on your opinions and feelings.

You try to put yourself in their place. You try to understand them. You try to have compassion.

Doing this will not just happen in a minute. It will take A LOT of listening. You will have to be willing to hear the background and the whole story. You will need to ask sensitive questions. You will need to use reflective listening, and repeat back to them what you hear. “So you’re saying that . . .?”

The Bible in James 1:19 says, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…”

How often do we practice this? Can we really let go of our agenda and our strong emotions for a period, and really listen, without reacting?

One of my friends posted something on Facebook that incited an angry retort. Here is part of his response to this retort: “I’m sorry you’re hurt. I would be happy to listen to your thoughts in person and understand as best I can. I love you as my sister, I hope you feel the same. Let me know when we can get together, I really want to hear your thoughts and be unified in Christ. You are more important to me than the election, you are my sister; and Christ is more important than us all.”

We can’t always agree with people. But we can try to understand them. We can love them. We can respect them.

I just finished watching a silly video by Kid President on how to disagree. (Not putting the link, but you can Google.) I love how he sums it up. “It’s okay to disagree. It’s not okay to be mean. Don’t say it until you can say it with love.”

Amen!!

 

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Finding Forgiveness

burden-of-guilt

I realized this week that I’ve been out of touch with my sin.  This is astounding to me, because I try so hard to be good and do the right thing.  I’m a touchy-feely person who often articulates her emotions.   I feel guilty a lot. I just studied sin with a friend.  So I would have thought that I know very well what my sins are.

But when I read a chapter on forgiveness from the book my friends and I are going through, I felt tied in knots.  I couldn’t connect.

And as I’ve thought about this since, I’ve realized that I don’t want to think about my sins.  I beat myself up too much.  I have an overzealous conscience.  I don’t want to feel worse!  Plus, I don’t know how to come before God.  When I do, I say things like, “Forgive me for not doing so and so.”  It’s something I feel badly about, but don’t really feel sorry enough to change.  And when it comes down to it, I’m not sure it was wrong.  I know it’s probably my guilty soul telling me it was.  So asking for forgiveness seems off.

I decided that I would trying going back to the Bible.  I read a couple of passages that list sin (Gal. 5:19-21, II Tim. 3:1-5), and wrote down which transgressions applied to me. This was much different!  Here are some of the sins I could clearly see in my life in the last few days:  being envious, having selfish ambition, being a lover of self, being ungrateful, being unforgiving, having anger, having pride, and being lover of pleasure.

This time, when I thought about my sins, I could have the correct perspective about them!  I knew they were wrong.  I knew they were destructive.  I knew they hurt God.

The subsequent light that went off in my head was this:  I have been unconsciously thinking that sin is not being perfect.  I tend to see God as always wanting me to do better, so sin to me is an extension of that.  If I don’t live up to that standard in my mind, that is sin.  No wonder I’ve been off kilter!

So now my goal is to go back to the sin lists each day.  After all, Jesus said to pray each day for forgiveness of sins.  I want to practice this in a much better way.

And here is what makes my heart happy:  I can feel more forgiven.  That is where I was getting stuck before.  I couldn’t feel as forgiven because I had this impossible measuring stick I was holding over myself.  But with a finite list of real sins, I can ask for forgiveness and know that God forgives me instantly!

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  I John 1:9

The real bonus is that when I feel forgiven each day, I can be free to love more.

Therefore I tell you, because her many sins have been forgiven, she has loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”  Luke 7:47

I can love God more, and others better.

Being forgiven truly is truly something we all want so desperately, and few of us find. And just when we do, Satan confuses the issue and get us out of touch.  Let’s use our Bibles.  God is waiting, like the father of the Prodigal Son, to welcome us into his merciful arms.

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God Can Work with Your Faith!

In my last blog about Learning to Love the Old Testament, I talked about the story of Adam and Eve.  I wish I could discuss every story in the Old Testament.  But for the purpose of this series, so that we can get an overview of the Old Testament, I am going to stick with a few of the major stories in chronological order.

So that means that I need to fill in the gaps.

After they were cast out of the Garden, Adam and Eve had children.  Their children had children, and so on, and the earth populated.  But as mankind proliferated in number, evil also proliferated.  The whole world was corrupt.  This made God totally bummed out.

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.  The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.  Genesis 6:5-6

atrocities

This picture of the effects of war illustrates that wickedness is still rampant today.

God had such great dreams for mankind.  His heart’s desire was to be close to the people he had created.  But they had sinned in the Garden, and their sin continued to multiply.

So God decided the best way to deal with this was to wipe the slate clean and start anew.  He would bring a flood over the earth which would wash away the crooked generation.  He would preserve one person whom he found to be upright, along with this man’s family.  This man was Noah.  Under God’s direction, Noah built an ark, a ship that would survive the flood and, in a sense, save mankind, along with other living creatures.

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Noah was one man who would obey God.

The future would be built on of the descendants of a man who respected God and lived right.

This theme is continued over and over in the Bible.  God finds someone who follows him with all their heart.  God builds his future upon this person.

Ten generations after Noah, we find the most famous example of this in the story of his descendant, Abraham.  It makes my heart thrill to see how God found one man with faith, one man who would obey him.  What God did with Abraham laid the foundation for so much of what we know today.  It became the bedrock of three major world religions.  It changed the world.  It ultimately paved the way for us to be saved.

So I want to encourage you to read the story of Abram, later called Abraham,  in Genesis 12-25.  It is such a monumental tale.  Read it and then let’s talk about five totally cool things we can learn from it.

. . .

Okay, if you’re up to speed on Abraham, here’s the first cool thing we can learn:

1. God can work with your faith. 

It was flat out amazing that Abraham had the faith he had.  You see, Abraham didn’t have the written word, as we do, or as Jews who lived after Moses did, to teach him about God.  I’m sure his forefathers passed down some type of knowledge and belief.  But we also know that Abraham’s father worshiped other gods.  (Joshua 24:2)  We know that Abraham lived among heathen nations.

So where did his iconic faith come from?

It came from God speaking to him.  “The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.”

But it had to also come from Abraham’s decision to listen to God.   Something about God must have resonated as truth with Abraham.  And he nurtured this spark in his heart as the one thing that was most important.  He believed that the God who spoke to him was THE GOD, awesome and mighty, and must therefore be revered.

And Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD counted him as righteous because of his faith. Genesis 15:6

Abraham listened to God, and up and left his country and his people.  Because God said so, he put his hope in the impossible, that he would have a son. “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations…”  (Romans 4:18)   Because God asked it of him, he was willing to sacrifice what was dearest to him, his son.

The bottom line is that Abraham’s spark of faith became a catalyst in his life.

catalyst

We probably all feel that spark in our heart at one time or another.  But how often do we act on it?  How often do we decide it is the most important thing?  How often are we willing to change our life?

Yet the thing is, we actually can grab onto the spark and take a scary step of faith with it, just as Abraham did.  It’s not a Herculean task of brute strength that is beyond us.  It’s doesn’t even require great faith.  It just requires enough to take the first step.

And if reading about Abraham is not enough to help us take the first step, God gives us example after example of heroes of faith — Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Rahab, Gideon,  Ruth, David, Jehoshaphat, Ezra, Peter, Paul, Phillip.  The list goes on and on.

The Bible is a book about ordinary people who find a kernel of faith, act on it, and are used by God for great purposes.

And that is what makes the Bible so remarkable.  God doesn’t forge his will through people who, of themselves, have amazing talents and powers.  He builds his kingdom on something as mundane as belief —  something each one of us can have.  Each one of us can, like Abraham, go against the grain of our surroundings and circumstances and choose to believe.   Jesus stated this loud and clear, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.’”  Luke 17:6

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If Abraham could have faith, we can too.  And if we have faith, God can use us in a powerful way.

Let’s pray.

Father God, thank you for the example of Abraham. His faith is so inspiring.  I want to have faith like he did, but it’s so hard!  Help me to have faith in this area:________________________.

Father, I do believe, help me to overcome my unbelief!   I pray you can do something with my little spark of faith.  Help me to step out today, holding your hand, and going in the direction you would have me go, as Abraham did.   Help me to not freak out at the sacrifice or scary thing you may ask of me. 

Help me to hope against all hope!   I’ve lost hope in this area:____________________. 

Father, I’m excited at the way you can use me.  I’m on board, let’s go!  May your will be done through me.

In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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