Category Archives: Grace

The Thing That Changes Everything

Afterward, Jesus found the man at the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well. Stop sinning, or something worse may happen to you.”  John 5:14

It makes you wonder.  Why would this guy continue to sin? He’d been laid up for 30 years.  Jesus picked him out of the crowd and made his life radically better.  Wouldn’t this man be so grateful that he would honor God with his life?

Either he didn’t realize how much had been done for him, or he didn’t appreciate it.

We want to say, “How blind can this man be?”  But we forget the foibles of human nature.

I remember a time when we had a group of young men over to dinner.  I bought special food from the store and spent hours preparing it.  They were unavoidably delayed, but when they did arrive, they basically ate and ran.  It made me feel bad, because their actions didn’t demonstrate a recognition of the time and money I’d spent on them.  It wasn’t that they were being deliberately rude.  It just didn’t cross their minds that someone had gone to a lot of trouble for them.  It didn’t occur to them that they should be so grateful as to stay and visit for a while.

In the same way, maybe the former invalid didn’t fully see what it meant that the divine representative had singled him out, taken time for him, and expended power to heal him.  Maybe he didn’t realize that gratitude should be expressed in action.

It like this video I saw recently.

In the video, everything we take for granted is gift wrapped, and the man treats it all like amazing presents.  He’s excited, and marvels that he’s alive, that he has a wife and children, and that he has electricity, running water, breakfast and a car.  It’s pretty convicting in a way, because around the world, may people don’t have these basic things.

When we look at this, we see that we all can be like the invalid man who was healed.  We forget that God has given us what we have.  We don’t act out our gratitude.

And we have been saved, so this should motivate us to action more than anything else.  II Peter is always convicting.  “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life . . . For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge (etc) . . . But whoever does not have (these qualities) is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.” II Peter 1:3-8

So let’s get back to the words of Jesus, “Stop sinning, or something worse will happen to you.”  If Jesus took out the time to heal this man, he took even more time to search until he found the man, and warn him about the consequences of his sin.

I might have been like, “The guy’s not grateful.  Now it’s on him.”  But Jesus sought him out and tried to turn him from his path.  Jesus had to really care in order to do that.  He showed mercy.  I love it.

And Jesus told him that thing that he needed to hear most.  He’d been physically healed, but spiritually, he was still stunted! He needed to repent.

Surely Jesus shows mercy on us as well, by giving us chance after chance to repent.  This is another thing that we don’t need to take for granted.  Any of us could die today.  Or God could turn his back on us, because that is what we deserve.  But he’s given us another day to make changes and give our heart more fully to him.

Here are some takeaways from today’s red-letter passage:

  1.  Will we see how fortunate we are that God has given us what we have?
  2.  How will we express our gratitude to God?  Will our gratitude motivate us to address our sin — our pride, selfishness, worldliness, etc?
  3.  Will we appreciate the mercy shown to us as we have another day to repent?  What will we do differently?

The man who had been healed thought that he now had everything he needed.  He didn’t realize that he’d been given the one thing that could really give him what he needed:  the opportunity to be grateful.  It was gratitude that could motivate him to repent.  It was gratitude that could keep him faithful and get him to heaven.

May we realize that the same is true for us.

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Filed under Grace, Gratitude, John, Red Letter

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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Filed under Grace, Uncategorized

Learning to Love the O.T. IIa — The Choice

I love the third point about the story of the Garden so much that I’ve made a whole blog about it. (See my previous blog for points one and two.)  Great stuff!  Here is the third thing that I think is totally cool:

That God gives us a choice.

choose-your-path

It is so amazing that God gave Adam and Eve the choice to obey or disobey.  Skeptics through the ages have ranted against a God who would allow people to make destructive choices.  “How could a loving God not prevent people from hurting themselves and others?” they ask.

But there is such grace in having the ability to make a choice.  It feels so wonderful to do the right thing willingly and joyfully, because we choose to do so.

And God always makes sure to  tell man the consequences of making the wrong choice. He doesn’t let man just walk blindly into harm’s way.  He told Adam and Eve that if they ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they would die.

His message to the Israelites expressed this consistent theme:  “Choose today whom you will serve.  This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”  Deut 30:19

The prophets echoed this:

Seek the LORD and live, or he will sweep through the tribes of Joseph like a fire; it will devour them . . . . Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you. . . “ Amos 5:6, 14

Incline your ear and come to Me.  Listen, that you may live; And I will make an everlasting covenant with you  Isa 55:3

Circumcise yourselves to the LORD And remove the foreskins of your heart, Men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, Or else My wrath will go forth like fire And burn with none to quench it, Because of the evil of your deeds.”  Jer 4:4

Continuing to the New Testament, we see that God gave Jesus a choice. This is crazy amazing.  I mean, just think about it.  God left the salvation of the whole world up to choice.  Jesus didn’t have to go to the cross, but he wrestled in prayer to make the decision to do so.

And when Jesus made this choice, God set in motion his age old plan to make it easier for us to make good choices.  He said through Jeremiah, “I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them.” (Jer 32:39)  With the motivation of Jesus’ sacrifice, and with the indwelling of the Spirit, we do have more of a singleness of heart.  We want to do the right thing.

THIS is the goal for God, that we want to serve him, that we want to make the right choices, “not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  (2 Cor 9:7.)  In giving man choice, it gave God the opportunity to have the sweetest delights.  He loves for man to choose good, to choose HIM!   “There is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10)

And at the end, when we make it through the finish line, God will rejoice with us as the parable in Matthew 25 expresses, “”Well done, good and faithful servant. . . Come and share your master’s happiness.

heaven

The narrative of the Bible concludes by taking us full circle.   Our good choices (and God’s good grace) will bring us back into the Garden.  “To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’”  Rev. 2:7

Pray with me.

Father, thank you that you’ve given us a choice.  I do love you so much, and I want to serve you with my whole heart, and give my life to you, and make you happy.  Thank you that you gave us Jesus and the Spirit, and set us up to win.  Help me to make good choices today.  I really need your help today in choosing ____________________.

Help me remember that there are consequences for my decisions.  Help me not to be lackadaisical.   I so much want to make it through the finish line and run into your loving arms.  I’m only going to be able to make it through dependance on you.  Help me to look to you throughout the day, as I make the little choices that set the direction of my future.  Have mercy on me when I make the wrong choices, and may I not become bogged down in them, but have the energy to pick myself up and move forward.

I praise you for your plan to redeem us and give us an opportunity to joyfully do the right thing, and give ourselves to you.  You are so awesome, and I love you.

In Jesus’ name, amen

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Filed under Grace, Loving the Old Testament, Uncategorized

Holding Onto the Grace

Last week I watched my grandkids, and this week I’m still getting caught up.  I have some great thoughts on Malachi 3:12 that I am working on, and I hope to blog about this soon.  But in the meantime, here are some awesome things I have found in Hebrews 12!

Starting with verse 14:

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.

This is so convicting for us today.  Are we making EVERY EFFORT to be at peace with people?  It will take being humble, living out verses like:

  • He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth (Isa 53:7)
  • he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant (Phil 2:7)
  • But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.  (Matt 5:39)
  • I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.  (Isa 50:6-7)

Going on to verse 15: See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

This verse deals with the sin of idolatry.  Look at this Old Testament reference: “Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the LORD our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison. Deut 29:18

Why do we fall into the sin of putting something ahead of God?  We feel like God is not enough.  We lose confidence that he will take care of us.  We don’t see that we HAVE the grace of God.

This is illustrated by what comes next in the passage:

See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son.  Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.

What went wrong with Esau?  He did not appreciate his birthright.  He had an awesome inheritance that would include both physical and spiritual blessings.  But he did not see what an awesome thing he had.  The moment he got hungry, all he cared about was meeting his needs.

Do we see what an awesome birthright we have?  The writer of Hebrews goes on to show us exactly what we have:

You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.

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.

This is flat out amazing.  When we contemplate what we have, it really can keep us from being bitter, from turning away from God, and from sinning.

Because it is a very serious thing that we should appreciate what we have, and let this motivate us to make every effort to be holy.

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.

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.”

In doing a Greek word study of this last verse about worshiping with reverence and awe, I was surprised to see that the word for “awe” really means “fear.”  So many times in the Bible, we are told that the word “fear” means “reverence” more than it means “being afraid.”  But in this case the word really does mean “being afraid.”

And it makes sense in this context.  God is telling us very strongly that it will not go well for those who don’t treat the gift he has given them as utterly precious.  As it says it Hebrews 2:2, “how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?

We are going to be shaken.  Judgement Day IS coming.

We MUST “be thankful and so worship God acceptably.” Literally, being “thankful” here means that we “have grace.”  The passage has come full circle.   We start out by being admonished not to miss the grace of God, and we end by being advised to hold tightly to it, so it overflows into our heart and into our every behavior, and we are thankful.  Then we worship and serve God in a way that is immensely pleasing to him.

In going through years and years of trials as a Christian, one of the hardest things is to hold onto grace and gratitude, and not let bitterness enter our heart.

One couple who exemplifies the way we SHOULD be is Gary and Christy Roberson.   Gary at one time was in the ministry.  He LOVES to serve God.  But at some point he moved to Atlanta so his children could be in a church where there was a great teen ministry.  He ended up working for many many years in a demanding job that required him to travel. Christy had to work full time at a job that probably wasn’t her favorite thing to do.  (If you’re reading this, and I post the wrong information, let me know.)

They went through many other challenges in life.  Gary was appointed as an elder, but had to step down due to health concerns.  I believe they lost a grandbaby.

But through all of this they continued to serve God admirably.  Gary taught the adult Sunday school class.  They both got with many couples and families and counseled them.  They certainly helped Ken and I in an enormous way with raising our family.

Just recently, Gary and Christy reached a point where they were able to semi retire.  They put out the word that they would like to serve in the ministry at a small church, to receive a supplemental income.  And who hired them?  A small church in Hawaii!

They held onto the grace and God has blessed them in a huge way!

Gary and Christy

This picture brings tears to my eyes.  I am so happy for them.

So let’s all hold onto the grace we have and make sure we NEVER get discontent, never want more, never get bitter.

Life may not be what we want it to be.  Our dreams may feel broken.

But as Christians we are blessed with a tremendous birthright, a marvelous salvation.  That is more than enough.

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Filed under Abundance/Greatness of God, Grace, Gratitude, Hebrews

Being Refined, Part II

He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness,  Mal 3:3

My last blog was on being refined.  But there’s so much good stuff I’ve been learning.  I can’t stop with just one post!

So for this blog, I investigated how silver was refined in the olden days.    I found out it was a pretty arduous process of putting the silver ore over a blazing hot fire and keeping it there until the impurities have separated and burned away.

refining2

If that is a metaphor for how God purifies his people, it doesn’t sound like fun!

Does God refine the all of us like this, or was it just the Levites at that time in history?

In I Peter 1, Peter talked about the many “grievous trials” the first Christians endured, “These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

It sounds like the refining of faith through testing is a process God likes to use for Christians.

Rats.  I wish I was like James, thinking it’s great when there are challenges!  “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” James 1:2-3

But more often I want to avoid the unpleasantness.  I haven’t been blogging partly because I had several bouts of depression.  When I’m depressed, I feel like a failure.   The voices of self-accusation are so loud!  It is very hard to feel like I am pleasing God.

And I’ve also been ADD.  My mind has been like a bee flitting from flower to flower, and not able to land in one place for long.   Plus, I’ve been working through the emotional fallout from some situations that upset me.

Is this refining?  It’s been making me feel like I’m becoming more unspiritual, not more spiritual!

It’s funny to me — last night we were talking at house church about the widow who gave two mites, and I saw how ironic it was that Jesus commended this woman who probably didn’t look sharp or well put together, and derided the teachers of the law who did look sharp and well put together. (Mark 12:38-44)

In my own life, I tend to think I need to feel and look like I have everything under control.  But maybe that’s not what God is seeking.

We can see what God is seeking by looking at the process of refining metal.  If God purifies us like silver, the following things are going to happen:

  1. We’re going to feel the heat! Refinement can’t happen if the temperature is just pleasantly warm.  In the same way, we’re not going to progress if it’s too easy and comfortable.  God’s going to put us right over the fire!!  “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”  II Cor 1:9
  2. We’re going to think it never ends. Refinement isn’t an instant chemical reaction.  It takes a good while for all of the impurities to burn away.  So we can’t expect to learn what we need to learn in a quick trial.  God works through processes.  “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”  Romans 5:3-4
  3. We’re going to be in a controlled situation. A silversmith has to keep a constant eye on the refining process to see when the impurities are burned off, and when he needs turn off the heat.  If he exposes it to fire too long, the silver can oxygenate too much and it will be unworkable.  In the same way, God doesn’t just expose us to heat and go off and do other things, like we do with a pot on the stove.  He monitors and protects us.  He gets us through at just the right time.  “And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”  I Cor 10:13
  4. We’re going to get radiant!! The end product, purified silver, is so shiny, it’s like a mirror. In Ephesians 5:29 it says that Jesus gave his life so the church could be radiant. So what does it mean to be radiant?  It means we’ve quit our whining and bellyaching and started trusting God completely!  “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure …Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.” Phil 2:14-15

The upshot of this is that we start trusting God completely because the trials have made us realize the worthlessness of our own efforts and of the unspiritual things we’ve been relying on.

We’re studying the Bible right now with a woman who’s been through some really harrowing stuff in her life.  At this point in time she sees clearly that all of the things she’s been chasing are empty.  She told us that she is so sick of it all that she is ready to throw in the towel and give her life to God.

She’s going to God as the source.  That’s what I’m learning to do as well.  When I’m feeling weak, I’m seeing that I’ve got to rely more on the Spirit.

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  Luke 11:13

When I’m feeling down, I’m remembering that His grace is sufficient, and that will get me through.

“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” II Cor 12:9

When I have a sticky situation, instead of wracking my brain, I praying more, expecting God to help me work it out.

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.  Ps 5:3

Instead of freaking out at a challenge, I’m taking a deep breath, accepting it, and asking God what he is trying to teach me.

He wakens my ear to listen like those who are being taught.  Isa 50:4

It’s true, I do feel a bit haggard and worn lately – a little like a widow with two mites myself!  But I’m learning to find peace.

I’m learning that God is the god of the broken, of those who are travel-stained and stumbling on the road.   I’m learning that God doesn’t want us to always look impressive, and be able to pat ourselves on the back.

This statement resonates with me, “We miss the gospel of God:  the good news that although the holy and all-powerful God knows we are but dust, He still stoops to breath into us the power of life – to bring to our wounds the balm of acceptance and love.” (Rich Mullins)

The gospel is that we who are dust, who feel the burden of our failings, can be healed, refined, made radiant.  It’s counter intuitive, but it is pure joy to undergo the grueling process of trials, because the end is so wonderful.

Still, the end product may not look like we think — us looking all sharp and well put together.  Instead, we become joyful beggars, exchanging our dross for riches with a loving savior who is happy to provide.

I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich. Rev. 3:18

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed . . . Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  II Cor 4:8-9, 16-17

Good things come to those who persevere!  Feeling emotional at the baptism of my friend Lauren.

Good things come to those who persevere! Feeling emotional at the baptism of my friend Lauren.

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Filed under Grace, Malachi, Perseverance, Surrender, Things I Am Learning

Peace in the Striving to Give Our Best

“A son honors his father, and a slave his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the Lord Almighty.

“It is you priests who show contempt for my name.

“But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’

“By offering defiled food on my altar.

“But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’

“By saying that the Lord’s table is contemptible. When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the Lord Almighty.

“Now plead with God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?”—says the Lord Almighty.  Mal 1:6-9

What does it mean to give our best to God?  This passage paints a very emphatic picture of the importance of giving our first fruits, and how it is seriously wrong it is to offer less than our best to God.

My problem is that passages like these can be a guilt trap for me, a snare of legalism. I can start thinking that I need to be giving more to God. And it is true. We really do need to make every effort to enter through the narrow door.  We need to work as if working for the Lord.

But we can’t get on the performance roller coaster, and feel up or down, or that we’re doing well or poorly, because of how we are giving to the Lord at that particular time.

So how can we be motivated to be excellent, and still find peace? How do we find contentment if we are constantly striving to do better?

Maybe one way is to simply accept our lot as servants.

So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’  Luke 17:10

There’s something beautiful and fulfilling about pouring ourselves out for the one we love. As the hymn says, “His service is our sweetest delight.”

Another way is to just focus on loving God. If I direct my thoughts and heart to loving Him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, a wonderful feeling washes over me, and I cease my unrest.

But what I want to talk about most here is the peace that God supplies.  To address this subject, I want to remind everyone that God’s heart for  his people is one of “hesed:” which means “covenant loyalties.” In the Old Testament, we can see how the Lord stuck with His people over and over again, acting on their account, having patience with them, meting out consequences for their stubborn waywardness, but then bringing them back to Him once again.

So Malachi reflects one of God’s last prophetic expression of hesed.  He is basically saying, “I’ve been committed to you, but have you been committed to me?”  After a history of rescuing them, God has now  brought his people out of Babylonian captivity, back to Jerusalem. They should be overflowing with thanks, ready to serve Him wholeheartedly.  But instead, they bring Him diseased offerings.

Doesn’t this sound like all of us? God has done so very much for us.  But we can’t seem to reciprocate in kind.

This quote by Douglas Coupland really resonates with me: “Now—here is my secret: I tell it to you with an openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God – that I am sick and no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.”

I relate to this quote because I also reach the point where I can’t do the things I want to do.

It’s such an irony. We must give our best to God, our first fruits. Yet we are like the Israelites, who continually sink back into blind selfishness and only give a pittance.

And then we need God to help us give.

I want to share a story from this past weekend. Ken and I went down to visit an old high school friend who was having a hard time and needed some encouragement.  Many years ago, Ken baptized this friend, but after a short time, the friend left the Lord. We hoped to be able to rekindle some spark of this friend’s faith.

I wanted so much to be a light for this friend, to show Christ by my life.  But instead I felt like a rusty sputtering machine, like all my gears weren’t working, and my spirituality just wasn’t flowing.

We had this awesome church in mind where we wanted to take our friend Sunday morning.  But it didn’t work out for us to go there, and we had to settle for taking him some place else.  And on Sunday morning, as I was feeling uneasy about the way things were going, I felt in the Spirit that it would be great for our friend to hear the story of the Prodigal Son, and I prayed  that the sermon message would be on the Prodigal Son.

Lo and behold, the message WAS on the Prodigal Son!  It gave Ken and I a great springboard to share with our friend, and talk to him about his faith.

You see, the point of all this is that when our offering to the Lord seems paltry, God steps in and makes up the rest.  He makes it clear to us that He is bigger than our efforts, and we can trust His working.

The Malachi passage above would be feel hopeless to me, except for one little verse, “Now plead with the Lord to be gracious to us.”  In our insufficiency, we can always petition for the sufficiency of His grace.

So in conclusion, we really DO need to strive to give God our best.  The prophet Malachi makes it very clear.  Every day we must renew the determination in our heart to be excellent. We must remind ourselves that He has been lovingly committed to us, and reciprocate.

But we must also remember that every day we will fall short.

And because God loves us dearly and fiercely, He’s not letting go of us when fall short. Instead, He expands His goodness to cover our lack.

We find peace in the realization that God fills in the gaps between our inadequacies.

For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.  II Cor 8:12

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Filed under Grace, Make Every Effort, Malachi, Peace, Relationship with God, Uncategorized

Keeping Us Out of the Wasteland

edom

“I have loved you,” says the Lord.

“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’ 

“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackalsEdom may say, ‘Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.’

But this is what the Lord Almighty says: “They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the Lord.  You will see it with your own eyes and say, ‘Great is the Lord—even beyond the borders of Israel!’”  Mal 1:1-5

For the past couple of years, I have been reading through the prophets in chronological order.  I took a break from this for awhile, but thought now would be a good time for me to finish the series.  I only have two books left — Malachi and Joel.  I’m reading Malachi.

Malachi was written after the Israelites came back to Jerusalem following the Babylonian and Persian captivities. You would think that the Jews would have been properly chastened after being in exile for 70 years.  But they still fell into much sin, once they came back to Jerusalem.  According to Nehemiah 13, the Jews were intermarrying with foreign people, not keeping the temple holy, and not keeping the Sabbath.

So in comes Malachi, the last prophet until the time of John the Baptist 400 years later.  The last words of God to His people.  The last warnings to them about how they should live.  (Some say Joel was written later, but Malachi’s words are still among the last prophesies.)

God starts by saying, “I have loved you,” to the Jews, and they ask, “How have you loved us?”

Isn’t that what we do too?  God tells us plainly in His word that He loves us.  Yet we are always saying, “How?”  We always see the things that are going wrong, and think that makes us unloved.

God’s answer is to remind the Jews about Edom.  “If you want to know what it looks like to be unloved, look at Edom!”   Because Edom was desolated.  More than that, Edom would NEVER come back to ascendancy.

Contrast this with the Jewish nation, which, although they went into captivity for 70 years, was brought out of captivity.  As we love to read In Jeremiah 29:11, God says to the Jews, “I know the plans I have for you.  Plans to give you a hope and a future.”  This was not true of Edom.

A side note about Edom here.  Edom was a country made up of the descendants of Esau.  Although they originally settled elsewhere, they ended up in a land that was southeast of Judah, where present day Jordan is.  During the time of King David, King Solomon, and many of the kings after them, Edom was a vassal state of Israel.  But then when Jerusalem was conquered, the Edomites joined in the destruction and pillage of the city.  For this reason, God said that he would never allow them to rebuild.

And it is interesting to look at the country of Jordan today.  Much of the country is inhabited by Bedouins, who, according to one source I read, are “desert dwellers” who “endure the desert and have learned to survive its unforgiving climate.”  The land of Edom is still a wasteland.

Bedouin Dwelling

Bedouin Dwelling

But anyway, what I would like to focus on in this passage in Malachi is the contrast between those who have God’s grace and favor, and those who do not.

One of the main ways God showed his favor to the Jews was by giving them the law.  He showed them the right way to live.

I’ve been reading “The Guilty Soul’s Guide to Grace” by Sam Laing lately, because I tend to feel guilty when I think of the “law” — all of the things in the Bible I SHOULD be doing.  When I remember the law, I start feeling like a failure.

But it recently occurred to me that God gave us the law to KEEP us from being a failure, to set us upon a good path for our lives.  (I’m not going to discuss here that, of course, we are under grace, not the law.  The law still points the way to right and wrong.)

It is as Solomon wrote in Proverbs 6:23: “For this command is a lamp, this teaching is a light, and correction and instruction are the way to life.”  And Ps 19:8 says, “The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.”

Those who don’t follow God don’t have the benefit of knowing the right way.  So with the Edomites, on one hand, they were doomed to destruction because it was their consequence from God for their actions.  But on the other hand, they were not going to thrive because they did not walk according to God’s statutes.

And it really strikes me lately how much the same is true today.  It is like Ps 73:18 says of those who don’t follow God, “Surely you place them on slippery ground.”  People who go their own way so often trip up, or end up in a mess.  Haven’t you seen it?  I think of friends and loved ones I’ve watched go downhill, being battered and bruised, with one bad thing happening to them after another.  It’s hard to watch, and they often won’t listen to advice.

So the last words of prophesy to the Jews would be that God loved them, and gave them a good path.  He also in love gave them strong warnings against straying from the path, and showed them what happened to those who lived apart from it.

Today, all over the world, we see the wasteland of those who do not follow God.  We see wars and atrocities, people rising and then falling.  Will this be a motivation to us to follow God?  Will we see that God loves us and has given everything to help us walk in the right way?  That we should walk in this way not out of compulsion, but in appreciation for having the ingredients for an abundant life?

It is as Ps 119:32 says, “I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.”

This is what the LORD says– your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea.”  Isa 48:17-18

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