Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Grace upon Grace

"For of His fullness we have all received, 
and grace upon grace."
John 1:16

Looks kind of like a Christmas tree, doesn't it?  Nope - it's just laundry, the necessary evil in all our lives.  I can remember my mother saying that she loves laundry because you start with the messy pile and when it's done you have a neat, folded stack.  And I added, "Yeah, but then you turn around the the messy pile is already forming again when you haven't even put away your neat stack!"  It never ends, does it? Even if right now your laundry is finished, you have dirty clothes on your body that will begin the pile all over again…

So what does this have to do with grace upon grace?  Grace is a lot like dirty laundry - it never runs out.  Just when you think you've exhausted God's goodness, you turn around and there is a whole new pile to pick up and enjoy.  

John 1:16 tells us that we have all received the fullness of Christ, so let's first think about what that means.  Colossians 2:9 says, "For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form…"  This is a reference to Jesus Christ, that God is fully known in the flesh through Jesus Christ. Colossians 1:19 tells us, "For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him…", so Christ in the flesh was a pleasing thing for the Father.  And Ephesians 3:17-19 says, "…so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God."  Christ in me is the only way to know the fullness of God - the breadth, length, height and depths of His love are all-consuming and all-filling.  Of this fullness, we have received - Jesus is God incarnate and believers have received God when they put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ.  

We have to start with the fullness to understand the grace upon grace - when you are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, now you see life through spiritual eyes.  A near miss on a wet road is no longer a lucky coincidence, but God's loving protection.  In the same manner, a cancer diagnosis is no longer reason to question God's goodness but rather an opportunity to draw near to the Father and trust in His sovereign will.  As believers, we should see grace all over the place - in every breath, every new sunrise, every opportunity to hold a baby in church, every homework assignment and yes, even every load of laundry.

It's a matter of perspective.  When you know Christ, you understand that there is a much bigger story in the works.  You know that redemption came at a high price and that God wants an intimate, personal relationship with His image bearers.  You know that every new day is common grace extended to the unbelievers - another day to humble themselves and cry out for mercy before the day of judgment.  You know that even the mundane chores of life are an opportunity to steward responsibly for God's glory the tasks He's placed in our care.

So the next time you look at that pile of laundry (like in the next few hours), remember the never-ending supply of grace and goodness that God showers on your daily, because you have received His fullness through Christ.  As you fold, thank Him for individual blessings and before you know it, it will be time to do the laundry again...

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Damsel in Distress

"I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
from where shall my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, 
who made heaven and earth."
Psalm 121:1,2

Have you ever had one of those days?  Maybe you didn't have three men tying you up; it was probably more like your children or maybe your co-workers but it seemed just as dire. The damsel in distress concept has been around for a long time.  Most super-hero movies have a damsel that needs saving - same with blockbuster thrillers - and in these movies, there is a point where all hope is gone.  You try to figure out who will save the day and how they can possibly do it, but it just makes your heart race even more.  And then, in the distance, help appears and before you know it, the story is resolved.

This fall I am encouraging my ladies study to memorize Psalm 121.  It's a great damsel in distress passage.  One verse a week for eight weeks and it's done.  Really, anyone can do it, but let me show you the value in it.

Life is hard because of sin.  God's initial creation was good and perfect - without sin, which means it was without sorrow, conflict or consequences.  But sin changed that and today, we live in a world ripe with the consequences of sin and if we completely honest, often we find ourselves looking in the distance, wondering when help will arrive.  Bills are overdue, children are heading down dangerous roads, temptations are feeding our addictions, health is failing, quarrels are increasing, your patience is dwindling and you just want a way out.

Then this comes to mind:

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where shall my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber.  Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.  The Lord is your keeper.  The Lord is your shade on your right hand.  The sun will not smite you by day, nor the moon by night.  The Lord will protect you from all evil;  He will keep your soul.  The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever.


Do you believe this?  Is God really in control?  Does He have your back or are you doing this life thing on your own?  Because God is immutable, what we learn about Him in this chapter still stands today:  The Creator of the universe cares about you - He is aware of all of your burdens and He doesn't need a break from watching over you. He's never tired and He's never distracted.  He is in the business of protecting you and keeping you.  It's not a part time job - it's what He loves to do.

Now, though Jesus Christ took the punishment of our sins away, the consequences are still present - so buck up, friend.  You're not alone.  Work hard, eat beans and rice and get those bills paid off.  Set boundaries for your children and act like the adult in the relationship, then get on your knees and give them to the Lord.  Radically amputate the temptations that flow into your life and get help for your addiction.  Get to a doctor, stop fighting and be kind, tenderhearted and forgiving.  Do all of this, knowing that your Support, your Foundation, your Body Guard is ever present, wide awake and in total control.

Oh, and how about memorizing Psalm 121 as a reminder…have a great day, friends!

Friday, September 4, 2015

Be Anxious for Nothing...

"Be anxious for nothing…"
Phil. 4:6

Easy to say, hard to do.

That's the problem with pulling four words out of a letter - they become over-used and misunderstood.  If all we had were these four words, it would be like the Bob Newhart clip of the psychologist who, after hearing the troubles and feelings of his patients, would look at them and yell, "Stop it!"  As funny as that scene is, it's just not that simple.

But we get way more than four words and to stop after "nothing" would be irresponsible. Here's what we get:

Be anxious for nothing, 
but in everything by prayer and supplication 
with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

When you're anxious, bring it to the Lord.  Cry out to Him but do it with a thankful heart that you know the God of the universe, that He made a way for you to access Him, that He loves you and hears you, and is intimately involved in your life.  Pray with confidence that He cares, He can and will intercede and that ultimately He knows what is best for you.  Pray and be thankful.  

And the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension, 
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Mmmm…the peace of God.  What a great promise!  This peace, which is for the most part inexplicable, is not because we've prayed, but because we've prayed with thanksgiving.  To have a thankful heart encompass your fears is to put God in His rightful place, on the throne of your life.  How can you walk into the presence of God and not fall in thanksgiving?  So when you pray, drench your concerns with thanksgiving - turn your heart to the blessings in your life and then bring your concerns.  God's peace will then guard your heart and your thoughts - why?  Because the larger He gets, the more you rest in His care.

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, 
whatever is honorable, whatever is right, 
whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, 
if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise dwell on these things.

Here we get our support to the first four words.  God knows that our anxiety comes from our thought life.  What are you marinating in?  Anger, bitterness, worry, frustration - a bad conversation between you and a friend, spouse or fellow employee?  Where is your mind taking you?  How much of your waking thoughts are consumed by trouble, strife, fears and concerns?  The Lord, in telling us not to be anxious, tells us now what to think about.  Whatever is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, good, excellent and worthy of praise - okay, stop for a moment.  What are you anxious about?  Does it fit in these categories?  Then, don't just "stop it" - change it!  What in your life fits in these categories?  That is what you need to dwell (marinate) on!

The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, 
practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Practice these things - put them into action.  Don't be forever learning and ever applying - get going.  Here's a suggestion - carry a journal with you and when you find yourself fretting, write down your thoughts.  Then test them against the list of what we are supposed to be thinking and decide to set your mind on something more uplifting.  Then, WITH THANKSGIVING, go the the Lord and thank Him for your salvation, your adoption, your justification, your redemption (if you don't know what those are, then maybe a little studying would give you some pretty awesome things to marinate in) and then ask Him to help you where you are anxious.  Then get your mind on something else, or go FIX the problem and move on with your day.

I am so thankful that we have more than just four words, though a command from the Lord should be enough for us to act.  May the peace of God dwell richly in your lives as you walk in obedience with Him.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Word study: Isaiah 40:28-31

Isaiah 40:28-31

Do you not know?  To be absolutely certain about something

Have you not heard?  To listen or pay attention to

The everlasting God, the Lord,  Never ending, infinite, boundless, limitless

the Creator of the ends of the earth One who brought something into existence

Does not become weary or tired.  in need of rest as a result of excessive exertion or lack of sleep

His understanding is inscrutable.  Perception/impossible to understand or interpret

He gives strength to the weary, the capacity to withstand great force or pressure

And to him who lacks might He increases power. The state of being without or not having enough of something/to make greater in amount, intensity or degree

Though youths grow weary and tired, The early stage in the development of something

And vigorous young men stumble badly, Strong, healthy and full of energy/to lose ones' balance or trip repeatedly, make a mistake or repeated mistakes

Yet those who wait for the Lord Remain in readiness for some purpose

Will gain new strength; Obtain or secure, reach or arrive at, increase the amount or rate of, increase in value

They will mount up with wings like eagles, To become stronger or more intense

They will run and not get tired, Aggressively move in a direction with speed

They will walk and not become weary. Move at a regular and fairly slow pace

So let's put it in the vernacular:

Are you not certain?

Have you not been paying attention?

The limitless God, the Lord,

The One who brought the world into existence,

Does not need rest because He's over-exerted Himself or didn't get a good night's sleep.

His perception is impossible for us to figure out.

He gives the ability to withstand temptation and life to those of us who are over-exerted and tired,

And when we don't have enough strength, He increases the intensity of our power.

Though young believers exhaust themselves,

And even those who are strong and have more energy than the rest of us continue to repeat the same mistakes,

If we remain ready for the Lord to act

We will secure new strength.

We will become more intense and strong like the might seen in the flight of an eagle,

We will move with swift aggression and not tire out,

We will move at a normal pace and not even feel weary.  

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Bonus Readings

Hello, friends - I have a few fun things for you to read today.  First, in prepping for study this week, I looked at  I Corinthians 6:18-20.  It's the passage that reminds us that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.  As I read these verses, something stood out to me and I found myself on a rabbit trail, trying to figure out what the first part of these verses meant.  I came across this story about St. Augustine (www.preceptaustin.org site) as told by Harry Ironside and found it amusing and encouraging!  Enjoy:

Other sins do not affect the body, but this one sin is ruinous to body and soul alike, and so, Paul says, "Flee fornication,run from anything that would tend to stir the body to unholy lust. 
In his "Confessions" St. Augustine tells how in his unconverted days he had allowed himself to become the willing victim of vile and fleshly lusts. He lived his careless life as the pagans of that day, and associated with the corrupt and wicked members of society. When he got converted, the great question upon his mind was this, "Will I ever be able to live according to the Christian standard of holiness, will I ever be able to keep myself from the vile, sensuous life in which I have lived so long?" When he first yielded himself to Christ, he took as his life-text Ro 13:1314 (note), where the apostle exhorts the believer to
"Put on (aorist imperative = Command to make a decisive choice to do this!) the Lord Jesus Christ  and make (present imperative + negative = Stop doing this!) no provision (pronoia - word study) for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts."
For long after his conversion he did not dare even to go near that part of the city where his godless companions of former days lived. But one day a matter of business called him there, and as he was walking along the street he suddenly saw one of the beautiful yet wicked companions of his folly. The moment her eyes lit upon him her face was illuminated with delight, and she came running with outstretched arms and said, "Austin! where have you been for so long? We have missed you so," and he turned and gathered up his long philosopher's gown and started to run. It was not a very dignified proceeding for a doctor, a professor of rhetoric, to run up the street with a godless girl running after him. She called to him, "Austin, Austin, why do you run? It is only I!" He looked back and exclaimed,
"I run because it is not I."

And he was off again. "The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20-note). That is our standard, and so in all our behavior in the use of the body we are thus to glorify Him. (H A Ironside Expository Commentary)

And finally, here is the statement I read at the end of study.  Several of you asked for it: (from home.snu.edu/~hculbert/commit.htm)

I'm a part of the fellowship of the unashamed. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I'm a disciple of His and I won't look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still.

My past is redeemed. My present makes sense. My future is secure. I'm done and finished with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, mundane talking, cheap living, and dwarfed goals.

I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don't have to be right, or first, or tops, or recognized, or praised, or rewarded. I live by faith, lean on His presence, walk by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by Holy Spirit power.

My face is set. My gait is fast. My goal is heaven. My road may be narrow, my way rough, my companions few, but my guide is reliable and my mission is clear.

I will not be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded or delayed.

I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice or hesitate in the presence of the adversary. I will not negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.

I won't give up, shut up, or let up until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, and preached up for the cause of Christ.

I am a disciple of Jesus. I must give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until He comes. And when He does come for His own, He'll have no problems recognizing me. My colors will be clear!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Living with a Gospel Awareness

"…that which is known about God is evident within them…"
Romans 1:19

CSI had an ongoing storyline this fall that culminated recently in an episode where two fathers were contrasted.  One father, whose daughter was kidnapped by a serial killer, was forced to act on behalf of the killer to save his daughter.  The other father made the choice to use his own daughter as bait to catch the killer.  He willingly put his daughter's life at risk, with her permission, I might add, to put an end to this man's killing spree.

In the end, the first father (who was a police officer, as well) was sent to prison and the second father was praised, as his sacrifice paid off and the killer was caught.  Well…actually he wasn't caught but he was identified and escaped, but I'm pretty sure they'll get him…so the story goes on…

Here's my point today - the gospel is everywhere.  Show me a good superhero movie and I'll show you a world who cannot save itself but needs a Savior.  Our movies and TV shows are filled with helpless characters who need saving.  And then there's the news - the brokenness of this world is the main storyline and occasionally a hero is exalted, though much of our news still needs a Savior.  We look to government or the police to swoop down and bring justice, but too often it falls short.

I just read a news report of a man in Georgia who was at a creek with his 9 year old son and heard the cries of a 4 year old girl.  He dove in the creek to save her and hit his head on the bottom, cracking his spine and immediately paralyzing his legs and one arm.  He was still able to save the girl and now a week later, he passed away in the hospital from complications.  Terribly sad story but in it we see sacrificial love - the helpless needing a willing savior and the savior, giving his life for the helpless.

The gospel is everywhere - look for it daily and you will see it.

One of the criticisms of Christianity is that the Father gave His Son - some have said, what kind of father would do that?  I've heard God accused of "cosmic child abuse."  But when we watched that CSI episode, the father who was willing to use his child as a lure for the killer, fully knowing the risks, he was hailed as the hero, rather than the father who protected his child.  It's a crazy world we live in, right?

Friends, I truly believe that the gospel basics are sown into our hearts.  Like King Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 3, God has set eternity in the hearts of men. Deep down we know there is a God, we know He has standards, we know we don't meet them and we long for a savior.  It's the plot line for much of our entertainment.  So my challenge to you is to open your eyes and look for the gospel in everyday life.  When you do this, you will be surprised where it shows up…and remember, this longing is only filled in Jesus, so when you meet broken people in the midst of a gospel crisis, point them to the perfect Savior who will never let them down, miss His cue or fail at rescuing them.  

Monday, January 26, 2015

Thoughts vs Prayers

"The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much."
James 5:16

Just a quick note today - I was working on dinner and had FOXNEWS on this morning, and much of the coverage is the big blizzard that is hitting the east coast later today.  The anchor was explaining that this storm not only affects the 50 million people in its path, but the rest of our country and potentially the world, considering 1700 flights have already been cancelled which throws off travel worldwide.  At the end of her segment, the anchor looked into the camera and said, "Your thoughts for America are appreciated."


Thoughts or prayers?  Do our thoughts affect the heart of God?  What a strange comment.  Let's say I am in Paris, sipping some hot chocolate at a street cafe and my thoughts turn to the blizzard.  Does that do anyone any good?

I think you get my point.  I am not saying that we can pray the storm away, but I am saying that God hears the prayers of righteous men.  Not only are there many believers on the east coast, but there are 50 million image bearers who are going to be affected by this blizzard.  Lives will be lost, power will be out, there will be shortages of food and kids will not be in school.  Flights will still be cancelled and all travel will be inconvenienced. I heard this morning that crews from Michigan are already on their way to help with the power outages.  These are but a few of the consequences of a major storm like this, and who knows how long these difficulties will last?

We must pray for our country. We must ask God to be merciful and to protect the people, restore the power, provide the help, and minimize the suffering from this storm.  It's not that we deserve His grace, but He loves us and wants to hear our prayers.

So friends, stop thinking about it and please pray.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Power of Underestimating

"Or do you think lightly the riches 
of His kindness and tolerance and patience, 
not knowing that the kindness of God 
leads you to repentance?"
Romans 2:4

John MacArthur in his commentary on Romans says that self-righteous people make two mistakes - they underestimate the heights of God's standards and the depths of their sin.  In other words, they think too highly of themselves and too little of God.

This past lesson in Romans we were confronted with a question about God's all-powerfulness, His love and His goodness. The question was posed to one of our women at Harvest in regards to a horrific crime forced upon an 8 year old girl, how can God be all-powerful or even good if something like this happens?  

Really bad things happen every day, and there are definitely bad things that are worse than others.  A dishonest "I'm fine" pales in comparison to rape and murder, right?  All of these bad things fall on the sin scale - it comes in all shapes and sizes.  Lies, murder, gossip, envy, arrogance, untrustworthy, unloving - it's a long list (Romans 1:28-32) but we've got to own it.  So, yeah, bad things happen every day - some because of us and some to us - all of it sin.

In addition to sin, there are also bad things on the "Life is Hard" scale - accidents, droughts, illnesses, starvation, down-sizing, suffering and storms - things that make life broken but are not necessarily directly connected to a sinful act.  We have to accept the fact that these things are results of our sin, however.  In God's perfect created world, car accidents and cancers weren't in the design.  But sin has affected all of life - Romans 8:22 tells us that all creation groans in the pains of sin and longs to be restored to its original state.  All life suffers under the weight of man's sin.

But when bad things happen our first question tends to be, Where was God?  Ding, ding, ding!  The Underestimation Machine just went off.  Or when we are cornered by that old high-school-friend-turned-atheist with a really hard question, we begin to wonder, Why did God let that happen?  Ding, ding, ding!  Or when ISIS beheads another kidnapped reporter, we cry out, God, why?  Ding, ding...ding.

Friends, God is not the author of sin…we are.  He has also placed the care of this world in our hands. As image bearers of God, we have been not only given the task of stewarding the physical world and cleaning up the messes our sin has caused, but also the task of bringing the evil we brought into this world to justice.  When we point our finger at God and blame Him for "bad things", we are underestimating the depths of our sin and the heights of His holiness.

Does God answer to us?  The world would say yes (ding) and they have already arrested, tried and convicted Him.  But when we demand answers of God, we are humanizing the Almighty (ding).  We are bringing Him down to our level (ding) and demanding performance and explanation of Him (ding) which can readily be found if we turn our gaze inward.  The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked - this is the same heart that accuses God and denies responsibility.

Oh, friends, let us not take for granted the kindness, tolerance and patience of our holy God! When we mourn over sin, I get it - we want justice!  The scriptures guarantee that justice is coming but in our haste to see it, we are neglecting to see God's kindness in salvation towards man.  He is working in and through the brokenness of life to draw men to Himself. Do we forget that had justice been immediately poured out on our own sin that salvation would not have occurred?  Had Adam and Eve dropped dead in the garden, all life would have ended.  But God, being rich in mercy because of the great love with which He loved us, when we were dead in our sin made us alive Christ - let us not forget His drawing, His patience and His tolerance of our sin that brought us to repentance, let alone the price He paid for that sin.

The world underestimates God and sin - it is a powerful tool of Satan, for if the world would look realistically at both, the results would be devastating to the enemy.  Let us not live self-righteous lives who judge others, as well as God - but let us humbly and graciously live in the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and let us immerse ourselves in the Word of God so that we may be able to answer the questions of those who are lost, pointing them to the truth of Jesus.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

New Year, Same Old Choices

"And He Who sits on the throne said, 
"Behold, I am making all things new."
Revelation 21:5

Happy New Year, friends.

How's that resolution list?  

Of course, I am speaking to my younger friends, because the friends who are my age or older gave up resolution lists ages ago.  It's not that resolutions are hopeless, but the reality that life is hard and simply because we've turned the page on the calendar doesn't make it easier to do what we know we should be doing no matter what day or year it is.  If it were that simple, then we would celebrate the New Month every month by turning the page, shouting "Happy New Month!",  and writing our resolutions over and over until we finally get them down.  

Here's the truth - God is the One Who makes all things new.  A day is coming when He will do this for the entire earth.  If you need some refreshment for your imagination, read Revelation 21 and remember, that day is approaching.  

But in the meantime, God still is in the business of renewing:
  • Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me - Psalm 51:10
  • Who satisfies your years with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle - Psalm 103:5
  • And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect - Romans 12:2
  • Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day - II Cor. 4:16
  • He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life - Titus 3:5-7
My prayer for myself, as well as you, my friends, is that in this new year we would turn our hearts and minds even more so toward the Lord, that we would start each day at the foot of the cross, that we would soak in the richness of His word and walk in the newness of the life that cost Him dearly, that we would choose to be humble and to place ourselves under His protective hand, that we would serve the Lord with gladness at every turn and that 2015 will be a year of growth and wonder, as we open our hearts to God's transforming work through His Spirit and His Word.  

Yes, the battle to lose weight will continue to be waged in this home, as well as the call to get fit, be nicer to those around me and sort out my junk drawer.  But instead of doing this to be a better person, I believe if we place Jesus at the center of all things, the journey will no longer be a battle but a blessing.

May the Lord renew your spirit today and may He continue to draw you into His care.