Taking Grace to the Next Level

tax-coll

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.

star-wars-last-dinner-2

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!

tacarra

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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