Category Archives: God’s Grace

Grumbling: Rebelling with our attitudes and our words

Therefore, when the Lord heard (their grumbling) He was full of wrath; a fire was kindled against Jacob; His anger rose against Israel, because they did not believe in God and did not trust His saving power.  Psalm 78:21-22

The verses just before this explain, “God made streams come out of the rock and caused waters to flow down like rivers.  Yet they sinned still more against Him, rebelling against the Most High in the desert.  They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved.  They spoke against God, saying, ‘Can God spread a table in the wilderness?’”

This took place in the wilderness, when the children of Israel were in between Egypt and the Promised Land.  They grumbled and rebelled against God.  They tested God in their heart by demanding things of Him that they thought they were entitled to.  They sinned by speaking words of unbelief and complaining.  no grumbling 10 complaining.jpg

Have you ever complained about your circumstances?  We think we’re just venting, but really, we’re saying “God, You’re not good.”  And we can pray demanding prayers that are really complaints to God, saying what He is giving us isn’t enough.  And we tell ourselves and others that we really can’t trust God.  It is rebellion and it angers God.  Really–have you listened to yourself when you grumble?  Stop it.  

In response to Israel’s attitude, God was not only full of wrath, but a fire was kindled against Jacob.  That means that it was the start of God working against the Israelites, not for them.  That is never good.  But verse 23 has a merciful tone, in spite of God’s wrath being kindled: Yet He command the skies above and opened the doors of Heaven, and He rained down on them manna to eat and gave them the grain of Heaven.

In other words, in spite of their lack of trust, reflected by their venting–God was still good to them!  Even when they didn’t deserve it, God gave them bread from Heaven to eat.  That is grace, giving us good gifts that we don’t deserve and didn’t earn.  It was also mercy, not giving them what they did deserve.  In Psalm 103:9-10 there are beautiful words of God’s character, “He will not always chide (accuse), nor will He keep His anger forever.  He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.”

We can anger God with our testing Him, saying that the weather stinks, our job is rotten, and we wish we had more of just about everything–money, vacation, or friends.  It’s not just run of the mill complaining, it is a lack of trust in the goodness of God.  But in the middle of it, God is still good to us, giving us our daily bread and not giving us what we deserve.  

Praise God for this!  We’re just like the Israelites, rebelling and grumbling.  God does something big and then we forget and whine for something bigger.  When we deserve to get wiped out, He opens the skies and rains down goodness upon us.  He is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love.

*Image from Howard Carter, Google Images


The Heart of Rebellion


Joseph Conrad wrote a book called,
The Heart of Darkness about going into the heart of Africa in the late 1800’s.  It was pretty much unexplored and treacherous to travel to the interior of Africa, hence a great darkness in many people’s eyes.

In the Bible, Jeremiah 17:9 describes the human heart as “deceitful above all things and desperately sick (wicked KJV); who can understand it?”  In Romans 3:10-18, Paul elaborates, saying that without God, no one seeks after Him.  We use our tongues to deceive, our lips have venom like asps, our mouths are full of curses and bitterness, our feet are swift to shed blood, and the way of peace we have not known.  In reading this passage at a jail Bible study, one gal said, “that pretty much describes everyone I know, myself included.”

Not a pretty picture.  It’s the heart of darkness.  But what grabbed me in reading through the New Testament, as I’m now into Acts, are the motives of the people that rejected Jesus.  They had a chance to accept Him, they heard the truth, but they flat out rejected it all for some base reasons that are common to all of us.  This is the heart of rebellion.  Let me highlight a few:

  • Mark 15:10.  Pilate perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priest had delivered Jesus up.  The chief priests were jealous of Jesus.  This jealousy theme is repeated again in Acts 5:17.
  • Mark 15:15.  So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them for them Barabbas.  Pilate wanted the people to like him.
  • John 12:42.  Nevertheless, many of the authorities believed in Jesus, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.  They were vainglorious, or in today’s slang: a glory hound or a glory hog.  
  • John 19:38.  Joseph of Arimathea asked to bury Jesus secretly because he feared the Jews.  He was a follower of Jesus, had not consented to the council’s decisions (though a prominent member) and was himself waiting for the kingdom of God.  He was afraid so he acted secretly.  At least he acted.
  • Acts 7:25.  Stephen was preaching about how the Jews’ forefathers rejected Jesus, so it was no surprise that they did too.  Moses thought that the Jews would understand that he was to be their deliverer but they did not understand so they rejected him; Acts 7:35 saying, “Who made you a ruler and a judge?”  They didn’t get it but with an edge, like ‘go away.’
  • Acts 7:39 “So they refused to obey Moses, but thrust him aside and in their hearts they turned away saying to Aaron, ‘make us gods to go before us.’”  7:42  So God turned away and gave them over to worship the ‘host of heaven,’ the stars and images that they made.”  They made fake gods instead of obeying the One and only God.  So God gave them over to their fake gods.
  • Acts 7:51 “You stiff necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit.”  Any time we are confronted with the truth and say no to it, we are resisting the Holy Spirit.
  • Romans 1:21.  “For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”  When you know the truth but reject it, you become foolish.  It sends you down a dark path.
  • Romans 1:24.  “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves.”  Romans 1:25.  “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped the created things rather than the Creator.”  When you reject God and choose a lie, you live out the consequences of that lie.

The Great Turn Around

Isaiah 55:6-7  “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near; Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord, that He may have compassion on him, And to our God for He will abundantly pardon.”

In the midst of our rebellion, of our turning away from God and going our own way, God still calls us back.  God  loves us, He wants a relationship with us and sent His Son Jesus to redeem us from our heart of rebellion.

Call upon God while He is near, return to the Lord and He will have compassion and  will abundantly pardon.

rebellion
*Image from Quotefancy


Come to Jesus, all you who are weary and are heavy laden

Jesus- the invitation

 

This was my jail study this last week, with seven women.  This is Jesus.  Really, to know Him is to love Him.  Some have heard this in different shapes and forms, but need to hear it again and again until it sinks in.  Others haven’t heard it before.  One gal was getting sentenced this last week to a possible 20 years (she got 25).  Jesus changed her in front of our eyes over these last three years of her being in and out, especially in the last six months.  God still works miracles, the biggest being in changing lives!

 John 3:16.  For God so loved the world that He sent His only son, Jesus, that whoever would believe Him will not perish but have everlasting life.  God loves us and Jesus gave His life for us so that we won’t have to spend eternity in Hell because of our sin.

John 11:5 and Luke 19:5.  Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus…Jesus looked up at the tree and said, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down for I must stay at your house today.’  Jesus knows us by name, and He loves us.  He doesn’t just love the world generically, but specifically.  He knows us by name, even the number of hairs on our head.  Psalm 139:4 says that before a word is on our tongues He knows it completely.

John 8:1-8.  That’s the account of the woman caught in adultery.  When Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees, “Let him who is without sin be the one to throw the first stone,” and they left oldest to youngest, she looked up and saw just Jesus.  He asked, “Where are the ones who condemn you?  Who’s left?”  “No one,” was her response.  “Neither do I condemn you.  Go and sin no more.”  Jesus doesn’t condemn them when they come to Him; He wants them to be set free from their bondages.

  •  One gal was caught up in an interesting thought about how Jesus was a part of       making the law, but yet let her break the law.  Jesus really was the fulfillment of the law.   He was the law.  He was loving, kind, merciful and just, which was what the law was really aimed at.  The Pharisees kept the law, but weren’t any of those things.  So they really didn’t keep the law.  Maybe that’s why Jesus kept healing on the Sabbath, to poke holes in their broken system.  In Romans 8:3-4 it says that God sent Jesus to do what the law couldn’t do in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us.  Bottom line: Meet Jesus, look into His loving eyes and turn from your sin.

John 4.  The woman at the well.  Here’s the outcast of the outcasts at the well at noon.  And Jesus talks with her, asking for water and telling her about living water so she wouldn’t have to thirst anymore.  “I want that water!”  “Okay, go get your husband.”  “I don’t have one.”  “I know.  You’ve had five, and the guy you’re with now isn’t one of them.”  Jesus knows our backstory and He still likes us.  He knows what it is that we’re trying to fill the hole in our heart with.  Everyone has a hole in their heart that God put there so we would long for Him.  It has to filled with Him, otherwise it’s still a hole that needs to be filled.  Some people try to fill it with guys, others with drugs, others with shopping, others with food…

  • The other interesting discussion...What are you trying to fill your hole with?  Why don’t you fill it with Jesus?  We all have holes.  Andy Warhol is the guy that said “Everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame.”  That’s why people will go on ‘American Idol’ even when they’re really bad, or do whatever do get noticed.  There’s a verse in Ecclesiastes 3:11 that says ‘that God has set eternity in our hearts.’  The Oscar Meyer Wiener song illustrates it: “Cause if I were an Oscar Meyer Wiener, everyone would be in love with me…”  Why would it matter for everyone would be in love with them?  Because God put that hole there for it to be filled by Him.

Final verses: Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”

 


I Must Get to Jesus

This was my jail Bible study last week.  I’ve been thinking about it since then, about how it was really more for me than for them maybe.  I went in with a friend.  We usually go up with two of us.  I led.  My friend used to be in federal prison for like eight years.  Jesus got a hold of her in a big way there and she has such a soft heart for people.  She has yet to really tell her testimony.  I can’t wait until she does.  It will be powerful.

We  had three different groups of women, so I led this three different times.  Some women can’t get along with each other, and all together the little room we meet in would be too full.  I like the intimate nature of groups of three and four because we can really interact.  It’s a county jail and most of the women are Native American.  We chatted for awhile.  I’ve been going in leading studies on Sunday nights for over 17 years now, and some have been in and out of jail almost that long.

My thread was about people who wanted to get to Jesus so bad they were willing to do almost anything to do it.  The first was from Luke 5:18-20.  That’s where the four guys lower the paralytic guy down through the roof because the house was too crowded to get to Jesus.  In verse 20 it says, “And when He saw their faith He said, ‘Man, your sins are forgiven you.”  It never really struck me before Jesus saw their faith.  And maybe the four guys were changed that day too.  Or maybe they encountered Jesus before.  But they were desperate enough for their buddy to get healed that they sawed a hole through a roof.  That’s audacity and desperacy.

The next scenario we looked at was Luke 7:36-50, the woman who washed Jesus feet with her hair, tears and ointment.  She busted into a dinner party of Pharisees and was willing to cut through put down’s and maybe getting tossed out so she could do something they would never do.  In washing His feet with her tears, she got to His heart and He got to hers.  Jesus turned to her and said that He knew she loved Him much and that though her sins were many, she was forgiven much.  The Pharisees didn’t get that.  But they weren’t willing to get to Jesus like she was either.  Are you?  Am I?

Image result for touch the hem of his garmentThe third person we looked at was a another desperate woman.  She’s told about in Luke 8:42-48.  Do you notice none of these people get names?  This one is “the bleeding woman.”  She had ‘an issue of blood’ for 12 years.  If you want to get a room full of women going, read that story.  She thought, ‘if I could just touch the hem of His garment.’  And she did and ‘boom!’ she was healed.  She had to push through a big crowd to get to Jesus.

What do you have to push through to get to Jesus?  I have push through a busy schedule, other people’s demands, through stupid distractions, through crowds, traffic, tiredness, laziness and all kinds of things just to get to Him.  There are times when I find myself saying inside “I just have to sit with Jesus.”  Sometimes I want to scream it.  Other times my soul whispers it.

To the women in jail, I encourage them to get radical to get to Jesus.  They will do whatever it takes to get to a party or to get a hit of drugs, or to get a boyfriend.  Jesus said in Matthew 5:29-30 that if your right eye or right hand causes you to sin to cut it off.  That’s radical!  We have to be radical to get away from sin and we have to be radical to get to Jesus.  Unconventional, desperate, audacious.  We have to saw holes in roof tops, break into dinner parties and push through crowds.

Do whatever it takes, but get to Jesus and hold on tight.


Sin and the Blood of Jesus

Jesus blood.jpgIf we walk in the light in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.  But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  1 John 1:7,9; 2:1-2

If you asked 100 people what they think our biggest problem is, you might get quite a broad range of answers.  Some might say something about politics, others about countries who want to attack, others may talk about the environment.  God tells us in the Bible that our biggest problem is sin.  When Adam fell in the Garden of Eden, we fell, separating us from God and alienating us from Him, ourselves, others and nature.

God sent Jesus as a perfect sin offering to save us from the His wrath and the penalty of sin.  This is the heart of the Gospel, the good news of salvation because of Jesus.  When we repent of our sins, asking God to forgive us and to give us a new heart, we receive the righteousness of Christ.  When God looks at us, He sees Jesus.

But after this glorious transformation, we still sin.  We still need the blood of Jesus to cleanse us of the guilty stain that sin leaves so that we can stand clean before God.  The good news of our verses for today is that God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness–if we confess our sins.  It doesn’t just happen automatically.  We can’t just do things that are offensive to God and everything to be okay because “it’s all under the blood.”  It is all under Jesus’ blood once you confess that sin and turn from it.

The other error that we might be prone to is to fall apart because of our sin.  It’s like falling down and not getting up again.  The good news is that “as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us,” as Psalm 103:12 declares.  He wants us to come and repair our broken relationship with Him, the sooner the better.  There is no sin too dark or too big that God can’t or won’t forgive.

When we sin, we have a defense attorney–Jesus Christ the righteous one.  Picture a courtroom scene.  When the judge asks “How do you plead?”  We say, “Guilty.”  The Judge delivers his sentence and then offers for his Son to pay it for us.  Though that would be preposterous in real life, that is exactly what happens when we confess our sin.  Jesus, our advocate, stands in our place.

This is made possible by the blood of Jesus.  Throughout the Bible, from the very beginning, blood had to be shed.  In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve covered themselves with fig  leaves after they sinned.  God stepped in and covered them with animal skins.  In doing so, blood had to be shed.  All of the way through the Old Testament, the people brought animal sacrifices and their blood spilled out on the altar to show that their sin was covered by blood.  It was a down payment until Jesus came and shed His blood once and for all on the cross.  

There is power in the blood of Jesus.  In Revelation 12:10-11 it says that the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.  And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony…  Satan accuses us day and night, trying to get us to wallow in guilt and shame.   But if we stand in the blood of the Lamb, bringing those sins that Satan is accusing us of to God and confessing them, then Satan has no dirt to dig up on us.

If Satan is badgering you about certain events and sins of the past, confess them to God out loud, announcing to yourself, to God and to Satan that the debt is paid.  If there is something you need to do to make something right, do it.  Then you can stand free before God and before everyone else.  

Finally, Satan wants to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10).  He will use any open door to torment and to taunt us.  If you have been abused or wounded in spirit, that puts a hole in your heart that Satan can use to mess with you.  Perhaps you have held bitterness against the offender, against yourself or against God.  Bring that incident, or string of incidents, to God in prayer, asking Him to cover those holes by the blood of Jesus.  He will set you free from that bondage and from the torments of Satan.

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our tresspasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us.  Ephesians 1:7-8

*Image from speakthewordonly63.wordpress.com


What’s your superpower?

spiritual gifts.png

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies–in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.  To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.  Amen.  1 Peter 4:10-11

 

This little passage is about spiritual gifting, which is the empowerment by God to do things for the kingdom. There is a difference between doing things that we are naturally good at and doing something by gifting, leading and enabling power of the Holy Spirit.  I have been naturally good at sports and music, and in my younger years would do much of both without much need of the courage and gifting of the Holy Spirit.  But there is a supernatural gifting that comes from God, by His Holy Spirit, that has been called your “spiritual gift.”

There are many varieties of this spiritual gifting, with lists in Ephesians 4:11-12, Romans 12:2-7 and 1 Corinthians 12:4-11.  They are things like teaching, giving, hospitality, wisdom and discernment, preaching, evangelism, administration and showing mercy.   When Jesus comes into your life, He gives you abilities from His Spirit so that you can serve Him and build up the church.  And He expects you to use it for His glory.

No Christian can then say, “I’m not good at anything; I have nothing to offer.”  That is a lie from Satan, or a ploy of your flesh to be a slug.  As sure as you have the Holy Spirit in your life, you surely have a gifting of some sort.  

There are two ways of looking at this gifting:

That every believer has at least one of the listed gifts.  Your task would be to discover what that gifting is.  One way of discovering this is to get out and try things.  And, just like someone who shoots baskets in his driveway was meant to take those skills and be a part of a basketball team, your gifts are meant to be fleshed out in the church.  

 When there are opportunities to serve and you do something, you may find that some things are in your wheelhouse, and others just aren’t.  And, you may do something like help out with Sunday School or take part in the worship team, and people may tell you how that really touched them.  You may feel the working of the Holy Spirit when you tell others about Jesus, and you know those words didn’t come from your own head.  A pattern will soon follow of things you are drawn to doing, and of seeing God work through that.

That the gifting of the Holy Spirit in your life is varied, depending on the need of the moment.  If I am filled by the Spirit and am walking in the Spirit, being led to do something and I do it, the Holy Spirit’s power will work through me.  There are times when God has led me to do something that is totally out of character for me, but I know I must obey and do it, and God works.  

Here is an example of this:  One time I was at a prayer meeting with several other churches in our area.  The pastor leading it urged us to think about someone we could share the love of Jesus with, and to ask God how to do that.  As soon as he said this, a mom from school came to my mind.  As we bowed to pray, I had a flash of an image of me standing at her door with two bags of groceries in my hands.  She had been having some troubles with drugs and getting caught.  It would have been more comfortable to me to have her in my jail Bible study, but to walk up to her door with groceries was not in my comfort zone.

After work the next day, I knew that this was when I should do this.  Her house was right across the street, so it was easy to know if she was home or not.  There were cars in the driveway, so this was the time.  As I stopped at the stop sign, the choice was there: if I turned right I would go home, left to the grocery store.

“Okay God, I’ll just drive to the grocery store…okay God, I’ll go in, but I don’t know what to buy for them.”  I sensed God tell me, “Just buy what you would buy.”  So I went my usual route, but got double of what I would get.  As I got to the check out, I told the clerk, “I need paper bags, and all of this has to fit in two bags.”  That’s what in my  “mini vision.”   So I fit them snugly in and set off for her house.  I prayed that God would give the words to say why I was there.  I didn’t have a script prepared.

When I got to the door with the bags in my arms, she came to the door and said, “What are you doing?”  Her living room had several people in it, so we walked into the kitchen and said, “I just wanted to let you know that God loves you.”  She gave me a hug, I talked with her and the guests for a few minutes and I left.  I am still waiting for the opportunity to tell her more about Jesus, and I have this gut feeling that one day it will come.

This was a one time working like that.  I was obeying  the leading of the Spirit, and trust that God worked through it.  If God is leading you to do something, just do it with the courage and the strength that He provides.  

“We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  Ephesians 2:10


Rescued from Hopelessness

 

abundant life.jpgKnowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways (the empty way of life)  inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.  1 Peter 1:18-19

In 1978 Kansas released the song “Dust in the Wind.”  It’s kind of a fun sing along song, but yet it reflects the emptiness of life, “Just a drop of water in an endless sea…”  King Solomon kind of said the same thing in the book of Ecclesiastes.  He was the wisest man, had tons of money and wives and stuff, but yet he concluded it was all “a chasing after the wind,” in Ecc. 2:17.  

I was struck by this futility when hearing of an old friend who would go to her dad’s grave every year to pour a can a beer on his grave in remembrance of him.  On her way out from the cemetery, she got into a serious car accident.  It made me think of the futile and empty ways of trying to make life have meaning.   

But with Jesus, life takes on a new meaning, or He gives meaning and value for the first time.  Things go from black and white to color.  In John 10:10 Jesus declared, “I have come that you might have life, life to the full.”  And in John 14:6 He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  Jesus came to give us life, meaning to life, abundant life, and a value of life that we can’t know apart from Him.  

Everyone tries to figure out life’s meaning and value, with the questions of ‘where did I come from, why am I here, and where am I going?’  When you begin to embrace the Bible and its world view, you can see that you have been created by God, the events of your life have meaning and value, and coming into a relationship with Jesus gives you eternal life.  

This was made possible by the precious blood of Christ.  Jesus shed His blood on the cross so that we could be redeemed, or ransomed from the futile ways of life that we inherited.  To be ransomed is to have a price paid to get you back from a kidnapper.  Our soul napper is Satan, who took us captive in our sin to do his bidding.  Jesus paid the bounty with His blood to buy us back from Satan and to set us free to enjoy this life that is abundant and joy filled.  Jesus rose again to demonstrate that He is the Son of God,  with power to conquer sin and death.  We must claim this personally, asking God to forgive our sin, crying out in belief that Jesus came from God, died for us and rose again and living a life given over to Him.

Last night I was reminded of the truths of 1 Peter 1:18-19 as I sat with women from our County jail in a Bible study.  Two women cried in despair as they described the troubles of their lives, of the struggles of addiction and of how they didn’t think that life has any purpose to it.  They listened as we talked about the hope that God proclaims that comes from finding life in Him.  

Oh God, may they find their hope in You, and may they be rescued from their empty way of life that has brought such pain.  Thank you that you have saved me from a hopeless life and that You have given me meaning to life, with the glorious hope of eternity with You.  Thank you Jesus, for redeeming me with Your precious blood.

For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.  Colossians 1:13-14


More on God’s Grace (I just can’t get off of it!)

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I had heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You (and I repent).  Job 42:5

I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love and I became to them as One who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent low to them and fed them.  Hosea 11:4

There is a facet of grace that has been tumbling around in my mind, calling out to me to put words to it.  ‘Chesed’ is the word in Hebrew that speaks of God’s grace in terms of deliverance from enemies, affliction, or adversity.  It denotes enablement, daily guidance, forgiveness and preservation (from allaboutgod.com).  

When God does something in us, or for us, that we couldn’t do for ourselves, that is His grace.  In Titus 3:4-5 it starts with, “When the goodness and kindness of our Savior appeared, He saved us.”  This kindness and goodness doesn’t stop once we become a Christian, it carries us throughout our lives.  It keeps appearing, sometimes in very difficult or unexpected situations.

I was talking with an old friend about how things have been going.  He had told me a few months ago that his son and his brother were both struggling.  His son had only been married less than two years when his wife decided that she didn’t want to be married anymore.  Her father and mother’s relationship hadn’t been good and it ended poorly.  So her conclusion was, why stay in a bad marriage to have it end like that?  He has been waiting at least nine months for this marriage to come back from the dead, waiting with the control really not being with him at all.  As time goes on, the prospect of restoration fades.

My friend’s brother has been a pastor of many years.  Less than a year ago he revealed that he had been having an affair for several years.  Now his wife and children won’t talk to him and have refused his pleas for forgiveness.  He has lost pretty much all he has known for the last thirty years and lives in a crummy apartment back in his small hometown, helping out with their mother who has dementia.  He too waits for God to show up and do something that he can’t do.

Remember the woman who had been bleeding over 30 years?  She pressed through the crowd just so she could touch the hem of Jesus’ robe (Mark 5:25-34). She thought something like, “I will throw myself at His feet, shamelessly asking for help.”  And Jesus helped her, He did not send her away.  When God does appear with His goodness and kindness and speaks to your desperate situation, it is radical.  That’s when Job said, “I’ve heard of You, but how I’ve seen You.”  In other words, “I used to sing ‘Amazing Grace,’ but now I have met amazing grace.  I can sing of it first person.”

I have known others whose lives have been ripped apart and rebuilt into something completely different, who have a testimony of God’s grace that is riveting.  In the process of unwanted interruptions, God brings us to Himself and it deepens our relationship with Him, bringing about pure gold.

That was my thought about the son and brother who have professed knowing Jesus most of their lives.  They have heard about grace, but when God’s kindness and mercy show up and fix their unfixable situations, they can say, ‘now grace lives with me.’  And their Christian lives will explode into directions they never could have plotted out.  Just when God will do that, I don’t know.  But because of His ‘chesed,’ I know He will.

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God leads us with cords of kindness and bands of love, bending low to ease the yoke on our jaws.  Jesus appears with His goodness and kindness and saves us from our troubles, or at least gives us a ‘new normal’ with the strength that comes from Him to handle whatever yoke that is on our jaws.

 


What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

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Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.  James 1:2-4

I didn’t have a very good week.  The  first day of my much awaited month off  started with an extreme gallbladder attack, though I didn’t know what it was for a day.  Day two involved having it removed.  Day 5, I hit a deer, smashing our car and causing the airbags to go off.   Our deductible from our health insurance will cost up to $8000 out of pocket.  

Different versions use the words perseverance, endurance and patience instead of steadfastness.   So, be joyful when troubles come your way, and be steady, persevering, patient, and not crumbling like a cheap card table.  Somehow our trials and troubles, given their full effect, will make us mature, perfect, complete and lacking nothing.

In 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, Paul said that they thought they were going to die and didn’t think they could endure.  But then he said it happened so that they would not rely on themselves, but on God who raises the dead.  Paul was saying there was a purpose in his suffering, which was so that he wouldn’t rely on himself, but on God.  I’ve been saving extra money away, dreaming of retiring from my job which has gotten more grueling for several reasons, including me getting older.  And in a snap that money goes toward something  else.  Perhaps God wants me to rely on Him and not my own resources.  

God also wants to produce in us  a wholehearted faith.   He values that so much that He may, in His love, take away all the other things that we might be tempted to rely on.  In my case, maybe it was money.  God’s aim is that we grow deeper and stronger in our confidence of Him, knowing that He’s all we need.

Finally, God wants our faith to be strong.  Being joyful when troubles come is a reaction that is counter our own emotional response.  Being steady and unwavering because God is our refuge in times of trouble can be a showcase for those around us to see His life at work in us.  Satan stood before God saying that Job’s faith was really because he was so rich and prosperous.  God responded by making a wager that if all of the stuff was gone, Job would still worship Him.  Job proved that his faith wasn’t built on all of the stuff, but that he worshiped God because God is worth it.   

Job’s faith was strong because God planted it in him, just like He did in Moses and the other Hall of Famers, and just like He does in us.  He will grow and build our faith, even protect it.  Jesus told Peter that in Luke 22:31-32: “Simon, Simon, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.”  

So take heart in your trials, making them a source of your joy.  God will use those troubles to cause us to rely on Him, and to show us that He’s all we need.  When we let God do His work in us through our struggles, He grows us.  God protects our faith even when we are sifted like wheat by Satan.  And in the end, it is “He who keeps us from falling and will present us blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy.”


Be Strengthened by Grace

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Do not be led astray by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace…  Hebrews 13:9

My last devotion was about not missing the grace of God because a root of bitterness springs up in you or someone around you.  This root can pull you away with a stubborn and cold heart and produces poisonous and bitter fruit, as Deuteronomy 29:18 warns.

But today, let’s think about how to experience the grace of God and have it actually strengthen us.  There are three things I can think of today that can pull someone away from grace.  I’m sure there are dozens, but let’s start with three.

  1. Thinking that how I’m doing as a Christian is about my performance and measuring up.  Christians my parents’ age seem to have been caught up in what looks good, whether it had meaning or not.  You had to do the right thing, go to every event there was because it wouldn’t ‘look good’ if you didn’t. The Christian life was one of duty and striving to measure up.  It ends up with a ‘see me’ mentality, because if I’m going to wear myself doing these things, I better get the credit for it somewhere.
  2. Strange and diverse teachings of today.  There are so many rabbit trails out there that you can go down that might seem exciting or where it’s at, but don’t really bring you closer to Jesus and what He has for you.  Some might be into the fulness of the Holy Spirit, others into end times, yet others into finding our Jewish roots, and on it goes.
  3. Getting defeated by sin, causing the Christian life to be an impossible roller coaster of some success, but more failure.  The result here is guilt, shame, not even trying to measure up and then going back to your old life.

I won’t want to linger here, because I want to get to ways for your heart to be strengthened by grace.  I’ll stick with three again.

  1. Get off of the performance leash.  Don’t let others control you.  Learn to play to the audience of One: Jesus.  Learn to hear His voice and find confidence in letting what He’s directing you dictate what you get involved in, and where you go.  What others think of you doesn’t matter really, it is what God thinks of you.  If you are living in honest obedience to Him, then cut the leash.
  2. Just get hooked on Jesus.  Take getaways with just your Bible and a notebook, maybe even no food so it doesn’t distract you.  Don’t let up until you’ve gotten through all of the distractions to just be with the lover of your soul.  In John 13:25 we see that John leaned against Jesus’ bosom.  Get that close to Him that you can feel what He feels and you see yourself and others through His eyes.
  3. Understand that your salvation is by grace alone.  It is a gift of God, meaning that you didn’t earn this salvation, God gave it to you.  He took the scales off of your eyes.  When you bring your sins to Him, He throws them as far away as the east is from the west.  You can live in freedom and hold your head high.  You don’t have to listen to the voice of the enemy that either speaks to your mind or through others’ lips.  They are words like, “You’re no good,” “remember all of the rotten things you’ve done,” and “it’s all your fault.”  You are loved, you are free, God has good plans for you and He is well pleased with you.  He is doing a work in you that will sand off the rough edges, so let Him and it will be good.

Let your heart be strengthened today by God’s grace.  Revel in what He has done for you, rest in His presence and lean up against Jesus’ bosom whenever you can.  Grace to you!