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.