Category Archives: 15. The Grace Of God

The Grace of God (Sunday) – Luke 7:36-50

From Luke 7…

Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume. (verses 36-38)

Much of how the Jews thought about Jesus is revealed by Simon’s comment when he saw this spectacle of an unclean woman weeping at Jesus’ feet and mopping up the fragrant flood with her hair.

Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner. (verse 39)

The Jews believed themselves unclean when they came into contact with things deemed impure. They went to great lengths with ritual washings and sacrifices to rectify this. It must have looked like spiritual suicide for Jesus to allow a sinful woman to linger at his feet, mingling tears and perfume with the dust and sweat of His feet. Jesus was revealing a great deal more about the God whom Simon believed he had been worshiping.

Where had this sinful woman’s tears come from? What accounted for the absence of Simon’s tears? Jesus answers these questions with The Parable of Two Debtors.

 A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have judged correctly. (verses 41-43)

Jesus tells us we are seeing clearly when we understand that love for God is repaid in gratitude. The sinful woman was lugging around a five hundred denarii note. She knew the weight of it. She knew the exorbitant interest it demanded. She knew she would never be free of it. We don’t know what jump-started her gratitude. We only know her heart had acquired faith and that she had credited Jesus for her unburdening.

There is no shortage of irony in this scene. While Simon believed he had planned this dinner, it had actually been Yahweh who had done the coordinating. He wanted Simon to better see who He actually was. Who better to demonstrate this than a woman defiled by Simon’s own grasp of righteousness. Simon had thought men were defiled by what touched them. Jesus wanted him to understand men were defiled by what they were – all men (including Simon) were 500 denarii level-debtors. Because of His great love, Jesus was about to take His best shot at this man’s heart, Simon, I have something to say to you.”

And he replied, “Say it, Teacher.” “A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. (verses 40-46)

Jesus wasn’t just chastising Simon because he was an inconsiderate host, he was bluntly telling him he was an ungrateful sinner, no different than this woman he was so harshly judging. While poor Simon’s heart is on its heals, Jesus throws in a little something else to think about – His capacity to forgive sins.

For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”  Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (verses 47-50) 

Most of us know who this man is who even forgives sins. The question is, do we have fifty or five hundred level gratitude. Unfortunately for many the greatest exercise of their faith is to believe they are sinners. Unlike this sinful woman, they have never felt sin as a killing load. What do we say to this? Do we need an evangelist to come and drive this home? Do we need to engage in deep introspection in order to dig deep down to some level of consciousness where the fact of our depravity is lurking unnoticed? I’m doubtful.

I like tidying things up but these questions remain a mystery. However, we do know this from John; no one can come to Jesus unless the Father who sent Jesus draws him. And we know from Paul that God may grant men repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, that they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, who had held them captive to do his will. From scripture it seems, going from zero to fifty or to five hundred level-gratitude is always dependent upon God coordinating the meeting. 

Is there anything we can do to receive the gift of repentance? I am unsure but I do know that when faced with a mystery, it is good to pray.

Father, where we are like Simon, help us to see that we have been defiled in our being. Help us to see the fatal wound of our heart, where it compulsively seeks its own way, hedging all its bets and lining its own nest, judging others and finding itself innocent on all counts. Help us to see the 500 denarii debt-reality of our circumstance without Christ and, if necessary, help us to weep. Jump start our gratitude, that we may be those who ultimately live gratefully at Your feet, knowing Your gift of faith is saving us, granting us peace. And while we remember sin’s grotesque stain, may our hearts celebrate our new life in You and our restored beings in Christ. May our gratitude forever be a fragrant aroma to You. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Grace of God (Saturday)—Romans 3:21-26

 But now apart from the Law the dikaiosune of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the dikaiosune of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His dikaiosune, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His dikaiosune at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26)

In The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard gives the history of the word righteousness. The same word appear four times in today’s Blue Book passage. It seems appropriate to pass on a few of Willard’s thoughts on dikaiosune (or righteousness). They are simply too rich to pass over.

He writes, “People deeply hunger to be good but cannot find their way…but the centuries-long attempt to devise a morality from within merely human resources has now proven itself a failure.” In this, Willard includes what the scribes and the Pharisees did with the Law, “which until the coming of Messiah, was the most precious possession of human beings on earth.” In his clarification of its purpose, he says that “the Law of God marks the movements of God’s kingdom, of his own actions and of how that kingdom works. When we keep the law, we step into his ways and drink in his power… To be sure, law is not the source of dikaiosune, but it is the course of it.”

            Willard continues: “Jesus knew that we cannot keep the Law by trying to keep the Law. To succeed in keeping the Law one must aim at something other and something more. One must aim to become the kind of person from whom the deeds of the law naturally flow. The apple tree naturally and easily produces apples because of its inner nature… It is the inner life of the soul that we must aim to transform, and then behavior will naturally and easily follow. But not the reverse.  There is a special term used in the New Testament to mark the character of the inner life when it is as it should be. This is the term dikaiosune.” (Vines Dictionary even used the word “rightwiseness.”)

Willard says that the best translation of dikaiosune “would be a paraphrase: something like “what it is about a person that makes him or her really right or good.” For short, we might say “true inner goodness.””

Willard makes the case that this true inner goodness is precisely what God is doing as He disciples us—establishing dikaiosune, or a “rightwise” kingdom heart. Keep in mind, the essence of the New Covenant is this: the Law will then be written in their heartsChrist lives in us—He who is the fulfillment of the Law.

With this key in hand, Willard goes on to unlock some of the deepest truths ever spoken to man in Jesus’ Sermon on the Hill. While an evangelist tends to highlight the dikaiosune that leads to what most western Christians have come to think of as “being saved,” that transaction that insures the life-after-death aspect of eternal life,  Willard highlights the fuller dikaiosune that leads to saving us in our daily, hour by hour, intercourse with Him, where in the normal course of life, dikaiosune hearts sprout and bear dikaiosune fruit. Willard proposes that the kingdom of God grows only from the source: the kingdom-dikaiosune heart that Christ inhabits.

Father, please expose any lies in our hearts that would fuel our own efforts to live acceptably before you. Destroy these lies, which unintentionally create sad parodies of inner goodness. Don’t let up until, by your grace, we all rest in your great love with childlike security and rightwise hearts. Amen.

 

The Grace of God (Friday)—II Corinthians 8:1-19

Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. So we urged Titus that as he had previously made a beginning, so he would also complete in you this gracious work as well. But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also. I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:1-9 NASB)

The backstory of our passage is Paul’s mission to collect funds to relieve the suffering of the saints in Jerusalem. Titus and a company of faithful believers are essentially the plate that Paul is passing from town to town. But there is much more going on than just receiving. Paul, as always, is giving—aspiring to impart some spiritual value, that those entrusted to him might discover more and more of their heavenly treasure. He knows that if the Corinthian believers can hear his words, they will have even more of eternity activated in their hearts.

His relationship has been strained with Corinth since he was forced to discipline them for a matter of gross immorality and for their misuse of spiritual gifts. To make matters even dicier, he is collecting money from Gentiles for a group that is predominantly Jewish. Paul’s persistence and perseverance in bringing healing and wholeness are exemplary.

Paul is aware that where Christ’s rule is taking hold in hearts, God’s kingdom is growing. Paul’s continual motivation is his ambition to facilitate Christ’s rule in the hearts of men. When Paul’s words hit home, God’s will in heaven is accomplished on earth and the kingdom expands.

Why is preaching and teaching even needed here? Why don’t these Corinthians just follow through like the extremely zealous Macedonians had, giving sacrificially beyond their means with no prompting from men? We probably can’t know all the reasons, but it’s certain that the kingdom grows at different speeds and in different ways in different places. In Macedonia, all that was necessary was the mention of a need. In Corinth, where the fire had gone down, he has to blow on the embers to rekindle the flame. Preaching and teaching are needed to tend the holy fires that God intends to burn in our hearts. Living words have that effect on living spirits.

Paul could have guilted the Corinthians into giving, but to preserve their investments in the kingdom, he avoids any ends-justifying-the-means approach. (Guilt is an imposition upon a redeemed spirit; love always preserves human choice.) He also avoids using his apostolic authority to command that their giving. While he did tell the Macedonian’s story, I believe he simply let it accomplish whatever God wanted among the Corinthians. To secure their heart-investment in God’s kingdom Paul knew that:

 Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7 NASB)

While many dollars are raised and many bodies recruited by way of guilt and the abuse of spiritual authority, little of lasting value is ever sustained by those means. The poor may be fed and some version of the gospel might get preached, but the eternal kingdom investment is squandered. Some good works might get whipped up, but kingdom growth is vastly diminished if the labor comes grudgingly or through compulsion.

Where the Kingdom of God expands, someone has acknowledged the presence of God in the midst of some authentic need. As catalysts of God’s kingdom, they see the primacy of the spiritual over the material and the provision of God in greater measure than the need at hand. With their kingdom-focused vision, they see that men are not only saved by grace, but also that grace is the life-flow of the kingdom, and that:

 God is able to make all grace abound to us, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, we may have an abundance for every good deed. (2 Corinthians 9:8 NASB)

Father, thank you that though You were rich, yet for our sake, You became poor so that we, through Your poverty, might become rich. Teach us to give ourselves to You and then to each other. Let us live and move and have our being in you. Amen.

 

 

The Grace of God (Thursday)—II Corinthians 12:7-10

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me-to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 NASB)

Most of the speculation I’ve heard about Paul’s thorn has been toward some kind of a physical handicap. It very easily could have been. But we do see, along with that issue, whatever it was, that he also suffered insults, distresses, persecutions and difficulties as a part of the benefit package God bestowed on him. Recall: he asked three times to be delivered, but he was not. God told Paul, in no uncertain terms, that grace would be his sufficiency in the matter. As Paul worked this out, he was equipped to conclude and proclaim that his suffering was the platform of his strength—the outworking of Christ’s life through him. Isn’t it ironic that, through unanswered prayer, Paul discovered God’s ways and power?

I am afraid, in our error, the reasoning of many modern Christian’s goes as follows:

We are fortunate that today our revelation has gone beyond Paul. We now know that insults, distresses, persecutions and difficulties indicate a satanic attack and must be resisted in Jesus’ name. We stand on the Holy Scripture that says God has given us the unalienable right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. We know our destiny is to ascend to places of greater influence in the arenas of society, industry and politics.

It is rarely said, but today Paul’s contribution to discipleship is passé. Oh yes, he is lauded for his teachings about justification, but what have we done with his embrace of weakness? Do we realize to what degree the message of the kingdom of God has been infiltrated by western values that attempt to mitigate risk and insulate us from hardship? Do our preachers today preach the same kingdom gospel that Paul preached or have we accumulated for ourselves teachers who accommodate our personal and national values?

Another way of asking this question would be, “Do contemporary Christian testimonies highlight deliverance through or deliverances from insults, distresses, persecutions and difficulties?”

We have to keep in mind that the kingdom we have been called into is not of this world. Our king is unlike any ruler this world has ever known. This world despised Him because He said they were wrong to store up treasure on earth where moth and rust take their toll. He said this world was wrong to think that ultimate power rested in politics. He said it was wrong to think that true authority came from a title. He said radically crazy things, like the first shall be last and that the last shall ultimately be given first consideration. He said that our Life, Liberty and Joy would be discovered in a Person, not a constitution. And He taught that our rights consisted of taking up our cross and following Him. He taught a wisdom this world is incapable of grasping—in essence, that power is perfected in weakness.

In God’s kingdom, there is an inverse accounting system. On our heart’s balance sheet, what we see in our assets column, God sees as our actual liabilities, and what we see in our liabilities column, God sees as the essential elements from which He can build His Kingdom.

While I’m grateful to Paul for his contribution to the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith, I am equally grateful to him for showing us the basis for the command to give thanks in all things. I am grateful to him for demonstrating with his life that all things (even what we perceive as the worst things) ultimately, somehow, work together for our good. We are deeply indebted to Paul for revealing that where evil has abounded, grace shall abound all the more. Thank you, Paul, for making the connection between the heartaches of this temporal world and the glory of the next.

Father, You have given men no shortage of opportunity to discover your Life. Reveal to us the hidden (and even unwelcome) pathways of the heart into Your Life. Teach us to rightly inventory our weaknesses that the power of Christ might be expressed through us. Help us to become content with our perceived liabilities that we might discover Jesus our strength, our inheritance, our all in all. Amen.

 

The Grace of God (Wednesday)—Titus 3:1-7

Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men. For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 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 3:1-7 NASB)

In this letter to Titus, Paul plies his apostolic gift by practicing what he preached, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). Paul had left Titus, his true child in a common faith, in Crete with the delegated task of finding faithful men and appointing them as overseers in each city where he found communities of saints.

Paul was sadly aware that not all turned out to be good stewards of the grace of God. This no doubt saddened him for the sake of their souls, but it also galvanized his determination to preach the pure gospel that was entrusted to him. Paul believed the gospel was discredited as something less than the transformational miracle it was when believers did not bear the fruit of it. He was jealous for the reputation of the gospel. This comes through regularly in his teaching:

 In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech, which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us. (Titus 2:7-8)

 Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith so that they will adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect. (Titus 2:9-10)

To Paul it was inconceivable that transformation would not occur in the lives of those in whom Christ dwelt. Early Christian history even reveals that the lives of new professing believers were observed for a time until the community had seen evidence of transformation and commitment to the body of Christ. It was not until then that they were baptized. N.T. Wright comments, “Paul saw baptism as the moment when someone was brought into the community marked by the death and resurrection of Jesus. From I Corinthians 12, we learn that it is also intimately connected with the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Is Paul just down on human nature? Is he just a pessimistic sad sack when he says men are foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending their lives in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another? Or, was Paul speaking accurately about all human nature prior to regeneration? I believe the latter is clearly the case. Even more intense diatribes by Paul on our depravity can be found in 2 Timothy 3:1-5 and in Romans 1:29-32.

We can learn much about transformation here. Even though believers are born anew in the Spirit, holy lifestyles do not just pop out of them. It apparently requires teaching and admonition to stimulate the new life within. And from there it requires the implementation of the will in believing obedience to manifest that new Life. But it would also be a great error to think new life is simply a byproduct of our choices. New life is manifest because believing obedience connects the will to the eternity that is already within us. To illustrate this, I have an example from personal experience.

I was once alienated from a particular person. In my heart I believed this person had harmed me and was committed to bringing me further harm as opportunity presented itself. More than anything I wanted to assemble a jury and have this case tried. I wanted exonerated on every count where I believed I had been unjustly accused. I was torqued and was losing the battle with bitterness.

My theology and my will were at cross-purposes at this point. More accurately, God and I were at cross-purposes. I knew the scriptures said to give thanks for all things, to bless your enemy and pray for them but my heart was essentially saying, “No! This is unfair and I want my day in court!”

My standing prayer almost from the beginning of my Christian life has been, “Search me, oh God, and know my heart, try me and know my anxious thoughts and see if there be any hurtful way in me and lead me in the everlasting way.” Until then, I didn’t know quite what His searching was going to feel like and what kind of hurtful ways it might expose.

While I was being energized in my flesh with anger and self-pity and a host of other rotting attitudes, my spirit was crying out for life. I knew I was being tested, but I could not find it in myself to let this thing go. I knew I was innocent; “God, why is this injustice happening! The tremendously good and painful news was—God had me hemmed in by His sovereignty, by His intimate awareness and involvement in the circumstances of my heart. It wasn’t pretty, but finally, out of sheer misery, I surrendered enough to pray: “What are you saying to me God? Even if it’s hard, please speak.”

I was reading in Romans at the time, and I came across 12:18: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” God was speaking directly to my heart. I knew the “you” in this sentence was me. By God’s grace, this directive somehow slipped around my defenses and I knew that God was not interested in my vindication. And He was not weighing-in regarding the responsibility of the offending party. He was telling me clearly that I needed to lay my case down (or take up my cross, in bible language). I knew I was to go to this person and ask them to forgive me for my wretched sinful attitudes.

When I agreed with God to do this, grace flooded my heart. When it came to that unthinkable moment of humbling myself before this enemy, my words were honest, innocent and easy. This was a watershed moment in my spiritual life. I discovered that when I engaged my will (very much contrary to my feelings), responding to the Lord in believing obedience, Christ was in me with divine capacity to forgive.

My point is that I didn’t have the benefit of a big inspirational wind pushing me in the direction of reconciliation. I wrestled with the Truth in my own heart for more than a year. The truth was that I was in violation of the laws of love with my selfish insistence on my own rights. Note: if you’ve bought into a gospel that caters to your personal rights, I would quickly abandon that particular gospel; it is infected at its root and will never produce eternal fruit.

I had to agree with God that there were hurtful ways in my heart and I had to engage my will to act. This whole messy, internal wrestling match preceded the release of God’s grace. Oh, but when God’s grace came! What healing poured into the effected lives! Grace, in generous measures, actually spilled over into the network of believers associated with this incident and is still paying kingdom dividends.

Here is part of the mystery I live with: I know that it is by grace that we are saved into eternal life and that it had nothing to do with me. But at the same timeI can also say that when working out that eternal Life within me (with no shortage of fear and trembling), it does depend on me, in part. My will is involved as I love God through believing obedience.

Father, raise up the Pauls and the Timothys and Tituses who can faithfully entrust the true gospel to other faithful men. Raise up those who will remind us of the dynamics of both salvation’s immediate and long term expressions. As heirs, may our inheritance in Christ be so visible in character and deed that all onlookers can see the tangible hope of eternal life. May the cumulative stories of intervention and transformation find their audience in our lost and skeptical world. May the gospel of the kingdom be adorned by the transformed lives of Your true children in their common faith. Amen.

 

The Grace of God (Tuesday) – Ephesians 2:1-10

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10 NASB)

As mankind compares himself with himself he appears to be alright. However, as God compares us to the original design we appear more like the Walking Dead. Paul teaches that without Christ our zombie-like spirits marched in step to the self- destructive whims of the flesh and the mind. Like a family of disfigured marionettes we rattled along in a lifeless march, thinking we were free when, all the while, the strings were firmly held by an evil master. As we trekked onward, indulging in our selfish appetites, our strings became impossibly tangled as we were driven toward a precipice from which we would be shoved into a dark unknown.

But it turns out there is another character in our story, One far greater than the one who held our strings. He is the Creator of those doomed and dangling beings whom He still loves even in their entangled and mutated condition.  Since He originally designed them without strings He knows there is the capacity, still yet, for Life within them. He knows His breath will awaken them. It is to a troop of these rescued and awakened ones that the Apostle Paul writes. He explains what has happened to them.

He tells them they were rescued by the initiative of their Creator, a rescue that they had nothing whatsoever to do with. Acting out of His own great mercy and love for them, their Creator gifted them with a faith that positioned them on the firm ground of His grace. This salvation was not just deliverance from damnation, it was an impartation of Life. While they were the Walking Dead, He breathed into them and they became the children of light, animated by the very Life of God. They could now walk on their own, by the Spirit.

This salvation included a new status as those elevated from lifeless slavery to a realm situated above the dark one they had come from. Through the gift of the Creator, a family of like-spirited beings are being gathered together and restored to the Creator’s own image. With their strings clipped they are now free to choose to deny the conditioned impulses of an old mutilated nature. Without their strings, they discover a new Life within, empowering them to live and to love out of their new identities.

The Creator aspires to release his family, who is now living from the power of the age to come as freed men, back into the present evil age where they had been imprisoned. The Creator’s good and perfect will is that they, as His own workmanship, enter into the reconciling and redemptive tasks he has prepared for them – putting things back, by way of the Creator’s own Life, into the order which He originally intended.

Father, thank you that in Your kindness You have raised us up with Christ, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places so that in the ages to come and even now You might show the surpassing riches of Your grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Help us to live perpetually at rest in the complete nature of Your gift. Help us to break free of every conditioned response and impulse we learned when the strings were still attached. You are the Giver of every good and perfect gift. All to Your glory.

The Grace of God (Monday)—John 1:14-18

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (John 1:14-18 NASB)

A few small groups I’m a part of were preparing to study the book of Romans. As a prelude to our study, I asked them what they thought about the Bible and its claim of divine inspiration. The words inerrant and infallible were offered immediately as synonyms for inspiration. However, the scriptures themselves do not make these claims about themselves. The testimony of scripture is that it is inspired by God. Translators have arrived at the word inspired by way of the Greek word theopneustros, meaning literally, the wind, or the spirit, or the breath of God. After we went around the room sharing, a person asked me what inspired meant to me. I would like to share what I said along with an additional thought I had early this morning.

Last night I shared that the Bible was one of the first books I read. Sadly, I was 23 when I started reading. I had tried to read the Bible in college, and it just didn’t click. But when I surrendered my life to Christ, something happened in my heart. When I picked up the book this time, I found my heart saying “yes.” I didn’t understand all I read, but there was something new in me that was strongly agreeing with at least the spirit of what I was reading. The words of Paul helped explain this phenomenon.

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God. (1 Corinthians 2:12)

I explained to my friends that before Christ, I thought my heart was probably like an unformatted disc.  This is one way I have viewed our fall (in Adam). When we sinned and died (as God promised we would), our hearts became unformatted, incapable of receiving and comprehending Light. However upon receiving Christ, God imparted the Spirit to us and re-formatted our hearts, giving us himself as our light, enabling us to receive and comprehend his Word.  This is one of the ways we know we have been born again. As a new reader and a new Christian, I was blown away when I read in 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (NASB)

I wish everyone could share the unbounded joy of my Light-deprived heart when I discovered that the same Spirit that had breathed the words of scripture into life had also just breathed into me, imparting a Life of like kind. I was no longer a lost, lonely, increasingly drug dependent waste of a person. I was a brand new creation! I lived in an intense and perpetual OMG-state of mind for at least 2 years. To say the least, the Bible was (and is) a big deal to me. Light had been restored to my spirit, and I now had the capacity for personal relationship with God. It still blows me away. After my reformatting, I soon came across Hebrews 4:12-13:

 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.

Hmmm. That sounds intrusive. Actually, it sounds painful. About that time, I also discovered Psalm 139:

 O Lord, You have searched me and known me. 

You know when I sit down and when I rise up; 

You understand my thought from afar. 

You scrutinize my path and my lying down, 

And are intimately acquainted with all my ways

 Search me, O God, and know my heart; 

Try me and know my anxious thoughts;

And see if there be any hurtful way in me,

And lead me in the everlasting way.

(First and last verse of Psalm 139 NASB)

        Within a short time I had grasped that my heart was a big deal to God, and that if I was to call him Lord, I would have to live knowing that I must say yes to his word even when—no, especially when—it painfully intruded upon my understanding and agenda. Yes, It is true that Thy word is a lamp unto me feet and a light unto my path, but it can also be, when necessary, a scalpel unto my heart. In reading 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, I grasped why my heart was such a big deal to God. I had become his residence on earth!

 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. (NASB)

And my heart, (a bit meekly) prayed, “Alright Lord, I guess I had best ask—what do those words mean? Romans 12:1-2 began making impressions on my heart:

 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 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. (NASB)

I began thinking in those early years that it is an understatement to say that fairy tails really do come true. A frog becoming a prince is a watered down reality compared to my story. I was a hopelessly lost and clueless spirit, plagued with doubt, bound up in a self destructive lifestyle, condemned to die when (rather suddenly) God breathed his very own life into me, releasing me from my slavery to sin, transferring me from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. I was no longer a slave to sin; I was a son of God!

I have been blessed to live for 4 decades with these eternal values operating in my spirit. Everything that has happened to me since has had to pass (often as great messes) through these filters.

The thought I awakened with this morning (which I didn’t share with my group) is related to Isaiah 55:11:

 So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. (NASB)

God breathed out His Word and the cosmos appeared. God’s Word is the DNA of creation, holding everything together. Simultaneously the Word and the Spirit are working in tandem to reconcile all things back to God, establishing his Kingdom. Both in the cosmos and in our hearts, it is true that his Word:

 Will not return to Him empty, without accomplishing what He desires, and without succeeding in the matter for which He sent it. (NASB)

So, as my friends and I embarked on this Bible study, I prayed that the spirit of His Word will make the living truths of Romans comprehensible, applicable, and ultimately transformational, not (God forbid) just more Bible-data to store up in our heads. I pray that as the Spirit of God blows over our own spirits with His Word, that we too shall:

Go out with joy and be led forth with peace; that the mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before us, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands; that instead of the thorn bush the cypress will come up, and instead of the nettle the myrtle will come up, and our hearts will be a memorial to the Lord—an everlasting sign which will not be cut off. (Isaiah 55:12 NASB)

May our hearts tell their own stories of how His Word:

 Living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword has pierced as far as the division of our own souls and spirits, of both our joints and marrow, and has judged the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. (Hebrews 4:12 NASB)

Then perhaps the world will look upon us as children of Light, seeing that our claims regarding the light of God’s Word are true, noting that our own transformed hearts have become evidential light in themselves to those remaining captives to darkness.

 In Genesis 1, the climax is the creation of humans made in God’s image. In John 1, the climax is the arrival of a particular Human – the Word made flesh. At creation the Word challenged material chaos and darkness, bringing out of it order and purpose. Now the Word challenges spiritual chaos and darkness which is bound up within creation itself. The Word is now bringing into being the new creation, in which God says once more, ‘Let there be Light!’ (from N.T. Wright’s John for Everyone)

Father, help us to not lose sight of the fact that you have never lost sight of us, that nothing and no one are hidden from Your sight. All things (especially our hearts) are open and laid bare to Your eyes, the One with whom we have to do. Amen.

 

The Grace of God (Saturday) – Romans 3:21-26

Romans 3:21-26

But now apart from the Law the dikaiosune of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the dikaiosune of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His dikaiosune, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His dikaiosune at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

As I was driving to my destination yesterday I was listening to Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard. (I am also reading this book.) In Chapter 5, The Righteousness of the Kingdom Heart, he was giving the history of the word righteousness. This morning I see the word righteousness appear 4 times in today’s Blue Book passage.  It seems appropriate to pass on a few of Willard’s thoughts on dikaiosune (or righteousness). They are simply too rich to pass over.. (The following words that are italicized are Willard’s or derivatives of his.)

People deeply hunger to be good but cannot find their way ….but centuries-long attempt to devise a morality from within merely human resources has now proven itself a failure. In this comment Willard is including what the scribes and the Pharisees did with the Lawwhich until the coming of Messiah, was the most precious possession of human beings on earth. In his clarification of it’s purpose, he says that the Law of God marks the movements of God’s kingdom, of his own actions and of how that kingdom works. When we keep the law, we step into his ways and drink in his power….To be sure, law is not the source of dikaiosune, but it is the course of it.

Jesus knew that we cannot keep the Law by trying to keep the Law. To succeed in keeping the Law one must aim at something other and something more. One must aim to become the kind of person from whom the deeds of the law naturally flow. The apple tree naturally and easily produces apples because of its inner nature…..It is the inner life of the soul that we must aim to transform, and then behavior will naturally and easily follow. But not the reverse.  There is a special term used in the New Testament to mark the character of the inner life when it is as it should be. This is the term dikaiosune  (or righteousness). Vines Dictionary even used the word rightwiseness.

The best translation of dikaiosune  would be a paraphrase; something like “what it is about a person that makes him or her really right or good.” For short, we might say “true inner goodness.” Willard is making the case that this true inner goodness is precisely what God is doing as he disciples us – establishing dikaiosune, or a rightwise kingdom heart. Keep in mind, the essence of the New Covenant was; the Law will then be written in their hearts. Christ lives in us; He who is the fulfillment of the Law.

With this key in hand Dallas Willard goes on to unlock some of the deepest truths ever spoken to man in Jesus’ Sermon on the Hill. While an evangelist tends to highlight the dikaiosune that leads to what most western Christians have come to think of as being saved – that transaction that insures the life-after-death aspect of eternal life, Dallas Willard highlights the fuller-dikaiosune that leads to saving us in our daily, hour by hour intercourse with Him, where in the normal course of our lives, dikaiosune hearts will be established bearing dikaiosune fruit.   Willard proposes that the kingdom of God grows only from the source; kingdom-dikaiosune heart which Christ inhabits.

Father, please expose and destroy any lies in our hearts that would fuel our own efforts to live acceptably before you and unintentionally create our own sad parodies of inner goodness. Do not let up until, by your grace, we are all resting with childlike security with rightwise hearts in your great love. Amen.

 

 

The Grace of God (Friday) – 2 Corinthians 8:1-9

2 Corinthians 8:1-9

Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. So we urged Titus that as he had previously made a beginning, so he would also complete in you this gracious work as well. 

But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also. I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.

The backstory of our passage is Paul’s mission to collect funds to relieve the suffering of the saints in Jerusalem. Titus and a company of faithful believers are essentially the plate that Paul is passing from town to town. But there is much more going on than just receiving. Paul, as always, is giving; aspiring to impart some spiritual value, that those entrusted to him might discover more and more of their heavenly treasure. He knows if the Corinthian believers can hear his words they will have more of eternity activated in their hearts.

His relationship has been strained with Corinth since he was forced to discipline them for a matter of gross immorality as well as their misuse of spiritual gifts. To make matters even more dicy is the fact that he is collecting money from Gentiles for a group that is predominantly Jewish. Paul’s persistence and perseverance in bringing healing and wholeness are exemplary.

Paul is aware that where Christ’s rule is taking hold in a heart, God’s kingdom is growing. Paul’s continual motivation is his ambition to facilitate Christ’s rule in the hearts of men. If Paul’s words hit home with the Corinthians, God’s will in heaven will be accomplished on earth. Thy kingdom will have come in some increasing measure.

Why is preaching and teaching even needed here? Why don’t these Corinthians just follow through like the extremely zealous Macedonians had, giving sacrificially beyond their means and with no promptings from men?  We probably cannot know all the reasons but it is certain that the kingdom grows at different speeds and in different ways. In Macedonia all that was necessary was the mention of a need. In Corinth, where the fire had gone down, he has to blow on the embers to rekindle the flame.  Preaching and teaching are needed to tend the holy fires which God intended to burn in our hearts. Living words have that effect on living spirits.

Paul could likely have guilted the Corinthians into giving but to preserve their investments in the kingdom, he avoids any ends-justifying-the-means approach. (Guilt is an imposition upon a redeemed spirit. Love always preserves human choice.) He also avoids using his apostolic authority to command that this giving occur. While he did tell the Macedonian’s story, I believe he let it accomplish whatever God wanted among the Corinthians. To secure their heart investment in God’s kingdom Paul knew that…..

Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

While many dollars have been raised and bodies recruited through the abuse of authority and through guilt, little of lasting value is sustained. The poor may be fed and some version of the gospel might get preached but the eternal kingdom investment is squandered. Some works on earth may be stirred up but kingdom growth is vastly diminished if the labor or gifts have come grudgingly or under compulsion.

Where the Kingdom of God is expanding someone is acknowledging the presence of God in the midst of some authentic need. As catalysts of God’s kingdom they are seeing the primacy of the spiritual over the material and the provision of God in greater measure than the need at hand. With their kingdom focused vision they see that men are not only saved by grace but that grace is the life flow of the kingdom and that…..

God is able to make all grace abound to us, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, we may have an abundance for every good deed.

Father,  Thank you that though You were rich, yet for our sake You became poor, so that we, through Your poverty, might become rich. Teach us to give ourselves to You and then to each other. Let us live and move and have our being in you. Amen.

 

 

The Grace of God (Thursday) – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me-to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

The speculation I know of regarding Paul’s thorn has been toward some kind of a physical handicap. It very easily could have been. But we do see, along with that issue, whatever it was, he also suffered insults, distresses, persecutions and difficulties as a part of the benefit package God bestowed upon him. Recall he asked three times to be delivered yet he was not. Paul was told in no uncertain way that God’s grace would be his sufficiency in this matter. As Paul worked this out in his life he was equipped to eventually conclude and proclaim that his suffering was the platform of his strength – the outworking of Christ’s life through him. Isn’t it ironic that through unanswered prayer Paul discovered God’s ways and power?

I am afraid, in our error, the reasoning of many modern Christian’s goes as follows….

“We are fortunate that today our revelation has gone beyond Paul. We now know for that insults, distresses, persecutions and difficulties indicate a satanic attack and must be resisted in Jesus’ name. We stand on the holy scripture that says God has given us the unalienable right to pursue life, liberty and happiness. We know our destiny is to ascend to places of greater influence in the arenas of society, industry and politics.”

It is rarely said but today Paul’s contribution to discipleship is passé. Oh yes, he is lauded for his teachings about justification but what have we done with his embrace of weakness? Do we realize to what degree the message of the kingdom of God has been infiltrated by western values which attempt to mitigate risk and insulate us from hardship. Do our preachers today preach the same kingdom gospel that Paul preached or have we accumulated for ourselves teachers who accommodate our personal and national values?

Another way of asking this question would be, “Do contemporary Christian testimonies highlight deliverance through or from insults, distresses, persecutions and difficulties?”

We have to keep in mind that the kingdom we have been called into is not of this world. Our king is unlike any ruler this world has ever known.  This world despised Him because He said they were wrong to store up treasure on earth where moth and rust take their toll. He said this world was wrong to think that ultimate power rested in politics. He said it was wrong to think that true authority came from a title. He said radically crazy things like; the first shall be last and that the last shall ultimately be given first consideration. He said that our Life, Liberty and Joy would be discovered in a Person not a constitution. And He taught that our rights consisted of taking up our cross and following Him. He taught a wisdom this world is incapable of grasping; in essence, that power is perfected in weakness.

In God’s kingdom their is an inverse accounting system. On our heart’s balance sheet, what we see in our “Assets” column God sees as our actual liabilities and what we see in our “Liabilities” column God sees as the essential elements from which He can build His Kingdom.

While I’m grateful to Paul for his contribution to the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith, I am equally grateful to him for showing us the basis for the command to give thanks in all things. I am grateful to him for demonstrating with his life that all things (even what we perceive as the worst things) ultimately somehow work together for our good. We are deeply indebted to Paul for revealing that where evil has abounded grace shall abound all the more. Thank you Paul for making the connection between the heartaches of this temporal world and the glory of the next.

Father, You have given men no shortage of opportunity to discover your Life. Reveal to us the hidden (and even unwelcome) pathways of the heart into Your Life. Teach us to rightly inventory our weaknesses that the power of Christ might be expressed through us. Help us to become content with our perceived liabilities that we might discover Jesus our strength, our inheritance, our all in all. Amen.