You Know You’re Starting To Understand Grace When…

surprise

Most of the time, I don’t get grace. I mean, I understand it in an intellectual, theological way. I could probably give you a well-nuanced, theologically accurate, biblical description of God’s grace. I can sing about “amazing grace that saved a wretch like me.” I can direct you to the grace chapter in Grudem’s Systematic Theology. But I’m learning that there’s a long way between my head and heart. There’s a massive difference between knowing about grace and being transformed by grace.

How do I know when I’m starting to truly, fully grasp grace? Here’s how…

I’M STARTING TO TRULY UNDERSTAND GRACE WHEN GRACE SURPRISES ME

The grace of God runs counter to every impulse in me. The desire to earn, merit, and purchase God’s grace is woven into my DNA. I instinctively try to push my way into God’s presence by law-keeping. Yeah, I’m saved by grace, but after being saved, I go into salvation-maintenance mode, which, according to my thinking, hinges on my good works.

This is why God’s grace is so befuddling to me. God doesn’t give me grace because I’ve earned it; he gives me grace because he is gracious. Here is the brain-busting reality: God’s grace has absolutely ZERO correlation with earning. I know, I know, this kind of talk seems reckless, even a little dangerous. If this is really true, I might take advantage of God’s grace. I might start backsliding. I might go all apostate on God. Surely a little bit of earning is good, right? WRONG!

If I don’t get pound this fact into my head, I’ll never truly understand grace.

Jesus makes this crystal clear in his parable about the workers in the vineyard. Those who worked from the beginning of the day assumed they would receive higher pay than those who worked only one hour at the end of the day. They assumed that the master operated according to principles of “fairness”. They had worked harder than those who only worked one hour, therefore the “fair” thing to do would be for the master to pay them more.

But the master paid everyone the same amount, which caused a fair amount of grumbling among the workers. The master then said:

Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last. (Matthew 20:15-16)

Everyone was surprised by the master’s pay scale. Those who had worked all day were surprised that they had only received one denarius. Those who had only worked one hour were surprised that they had received one denarius.

Grace is wonderfully, surprisingly, delightfully not fair! Fairness has nothing to do with God’s grace! Today, God will give me a lavish, ridiculous, completely unfair, completely surprising amount of grace. Today, God will give me a surprising, unexpected, wonderful amount of grace. Today God will give me way more grace than I’ve “earned” (as if I could ever earn God’s grace). Today, God will surprise me with grace.

If I’m not suprised by grace, there’s a good chance I don’t understand it.

Why We Should Keep Waiting For God

waiting-down

Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you,
and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the LORD is a God of justice;
blessed are all those who wait for him.
(Isaiah 30:18)

The ESV Study Bible comments on this passage:

“Note the amazing logic of grace: God’s people forsake him for a false salvation (vv. 1–17); therefore, he is gracious to them (v. 18). But he waits, for the Lord is a God of justice, i.e., he knows the perfect way to achieve his purpose, the perfect time to go into action, and the perfect disciplinary process that will awaken Judah.”

Judah had taken refuge from her enemies by turning to Egypt for protection – “a false salvation”, rather than turning to God. But God wasn’t finished yet. He was waiting for the perfect time to be gracious to them, the perfect time to “awaken” them, the perfect time to pour out his mercy. And when he did be gracious to them, he would “exalt himself” – he would display his glory.

Are you waiting on God for something? Praying and praying yet the answer seems to not be coming? God has a perfect timing. He is waiting until the perfect time to be gracious to you. The time that will be best for you and bring the most glory to him. He is a God of justice – he won’t fail to answer prayer. He won’t fail to treat you justly. He won’t fail to be true to his promises. He would be unjust if he told us to trust him and wait for him, then fail to be gracious. But blessed are all those who wait for him.

Why should we keep waiting for God?  Because he is waiting for the perfect time to bless us. He has bags and bags of grace stored up for us. He’s just waiting for the absolute best time to heap them upon us. So keep watching for the One who plans to be gracious to you. Keep asking, seeking and knocking. Keep trusting him. Keep your mind stayed on him. Don’t go running to Egypt for salvation. Don’t go running to the world for relief.  “Blessed are all those who wait for him.”  When God does pour out his grace you’ll appreciate it more than ever. Who knows?  Today might be the day he answers your prayers.

I Would Say This Verse Pretty Much Covers All Your Bases

It’s so easy to take the Bible for granted. I mean, I’ve got like twelve different physical Bibles around my house, including two children’s Bibles. The illustrator for one of those children’s Bibles must have been fascinated by eyes because all the characters have ginormous eyes with no eyelids. Jonah and John the Baptist and Martha all look like they’ve taken mega doses of amphetamines and haven’t slept for weeks. Kinda weird.

On top of all the physical Bibles I own, I also have many different digital Bibles. I’ve got the Bible on my phone, computer, and iPad. I’ve got friends sharing Bible verses on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. I am awash in God’s word. Maybe that’s what makes it so easy to take it for granted. I forget just how sacred God’s promises are. I forget that in Christ, God, “…has granted to us his precious and very great promises…” (2 Peter 1:4)

And then I read verses like 2 Corinthians 9:8, which says:

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

When I read this verse this morning it slapped me out of my Bible sluggitude. The depth and breadth and preciousness of this promise are unbelievable.

If this promise is real (and it is!) it means I have access to the absolute depths of God’s astounding grace.

God is able to make all of his grace abound to me. Not some of his grace. Not crumbles and pieces of his grace. God will make all of his grace abound  to me. This means God’s grace will fill every nook and cranny of my life. Both the mundane and the monstrous will be splashing over with God’s grace. The heavenly and the hellish. Just think how much grace is contained in that word “all”.

Because I have all of God’s abundant grace at all times I will also have all sufficiency for all things at all times. God himself will give me empowering grace to obey him, love him, trust him, and thank him at all times. This covers everything! Cankersores and cancer, back aches and bronchitis, child birth and child death, retirement and bankruptcy. God’s grace is deeper than the deepest pit and higher than highest mountain. All thing and all times really does mean all things and all times. I don’t have to worry about coming to the end of God’s grace. He will always have more than enough for me. I can’t predict the future but I can predict that all of God’s grace will be there to meet me in the future.

Because I have all of God’s grace which is sufficient for all things and all times I WILL abound in every good work. This is a beautiful divine daisy chain. Grace leads to grace leads to grace. God will empower me to be generous when I’m poor and when I’m rich. He will strengthen me to give thanks when I healthy and when I’m sick. He will motivate me to serve when I’m strong and when I’m weak. I won’t run out of good works because God won’t run out of grace.

There’s a reason my grandpa is still abounding in good works at age 94. God’s grace has abounded to him every day. It enabled him to care for my grandmother as she disintegrated with Alzheimer’s. It enables him to take a poor man shopping for groceries on a regular basis. It enables him to paint hundreds of birthday cards every year. All of God’s grace for all things at all times for all good works.

God will give me more than enough grace for all things I encounter today. When I get to tomorrow I’ll encounter the same abundant grace. Then the day after that and after that and after that. I’d say this verse just about covers everything.

+original photo by Kevin Dooley

A Song For This Morning’s Post

This morning I posted how the story of David’s kindness to Mephibosheth is a wonderful picture of God’s grace to us in Christ.  My friend West Breedlove, a worship leader in Knoxville, TN, wrote a song a while back on that very story.  He sent me a quick recording he did of it years ago.  I think you’ll like the song – not to mention he’s a great finger-picker (for you pickers, West capoed his guitar on the 9th fret).  Listen to it here.  Enjoy!

Mephibosheth by West Breedlove

I am the son of Jonathan
My only claim to fame
For I’ve been bound for so long now
Inside this broken frame
Legs that don’t know how to walk
What hopelessness this brings
Till the invitation came to dine
Forever with the king

What can he see
In a useless thing like me
His table is my own
Like I’m in his family
The kindness he has shown
Is not required from his throne
And I wonder, can he see
That I’m crippled in my bones?

I should have been his enemy
A rival he should kill
But for the sake of jonathan
A vow he has fulfilled
A promise for salvation
For all in jonathan’s line
But more than just saving me
He’s brought me here to dine

The status of my family
He now has given back to me
The land which we once lived in
Is now in my hands again
This king who we tried to kill
Brings me to his every meal
And what am I to say to him,
This king who now calls me his friend?

Copyright by West Breedlove

 

Calling All Dead Dogs

And David said, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” Now there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba, and they called him to David. And the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?” And he said, “I am your servant.” And the king said, “Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him?” Ziba said to the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.” The king said to him, “Where is he?” And Ziba said to the king, “He is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar.” Then King David sent and brought him from the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar.  And Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and paid homage. And David said, “Mephibosheth!” And he answered, “Behold, I am your servant.”  And David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.”  And he paid homage and said, “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?”

Then the king called Ziba, Saul’s servant, and said to him, “All that belonged to Saul and to all his house I have given to your master’s grandson.  And you and your sons and your servants shall till the land for him and shall bring in the produce, that your master’s grandson may have bread to eat. But Mephibosheth your master’s grandson shall always eat at my table.” Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.  Then Ziba said to the king, “According to all that my lord the king commands his servant, so will your servant do.”  So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table, like one of the king’s sons. And Mephibosheth had a young son, whose name was Mica. And all who lived in Ziba’s house became Mephibosheth’s servants. So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king’s table. Now he was lame in both his feet. 2 Samuel 9:1-13

What a wonderful picture of God’s grace.

Mephibosheth was useless to David – he had nothing he could offer the mighty king of Israel.  He’d been lame in both his feet, since childhood when his nurse dropped him (2 Samuel 4:4) and crippled him for life.  Mephibosheth had done nothing to deserve David’s kindness.  He was astounded that David would heap such amazing blessings on his head.  ”What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?”

But David didn’t pour out his kindness on Mephibosheth because he had anything to offer David. He did it for the sake of his father,  Jonathan, David’s friend (1,7).  And what an astounding blessing David poured out – not only did he give him a boatload of servants to till his land and bring him the produce, he gave Mephibosheth a permanent place of honor at his own table (7).  For the rest of his days, Mephibosheth would eat the king’s delicacies and enjoy fellowship with David himself.

Like Mephibosheth, we were spiritually ruined, having been born in sin (Psalm 51). We had nothing to offer God, deserving only judgment and condemnation.  Each of us could well have asked God: “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?”  Yet as David blessed Mephibosheth for Jonathan’s sake, so our Heavenly Father heaps blessings on us for Jesus’ sake.  He accepts, loves, and delights in us because of Christ.

God has seated us dead dogs at his own table.  But not because we deserve it.  He fulfills his promises, gives us gifts and fills our hearts with joy because of  Jesus.

Do you think Mephibosheth was grateful? I’d guess he gushed with thanks every time he took a heaping bite of royal beef or a sip of David’s choice wine. For all the grace God’s heaped on us in Christ let’s heap our thanks and praise back on him.

Is Grace The Opposite of Law?

[This post was written by my fellow pastor Bob Mundorff]

Why do so many Christians think grace is the opposite of law? (That sounds kind of proud, so I’ll admit that I thought that too). Or even that grace is “relaxed law”? (Yep. Thought that too).

However, Jesus said that he didn’t come to abolish the law and that none of it will pass until the heavens and earth pass away. Then he actually said that anyone who “relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven”. [see Matt. 5:17-48]

“Whaaahh? But… didn’t Paul say in Romans, that we are not under law, but under grace?” That’s right. And then Paul went on to say that doesn’t mean we can live however we want, but that we would be obedient from the heart (rather than from an external code – law). Like a weary wife living under the impossible standards of a perfectionist husband, Paul explained in Romans chapter 7 that before we were saved, we were that wife married to the law. This husband (law) demanded and expected intricate perfection in every task. But he never helped her. She wished he would die, so she could be free from this awful marriage. But God said the law is actually good and must remain [Romans 7, 1 Tim. 1:8, Matt. 5:18].

How then, can she (we) get out from under this burdensome marriage to this taskmaster named Law? There is a way… We can die. And that’s exactly what happened when you trusted Jesus. You died to the law! And now you are married to a perfect husband who actually helps you complete every task with joy. Romans 7:4 says, “…you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.” Then verse 6 explains, “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.”

Praise God, we are no longer under law! But that doesn’t mean we should just let ourselves go. He calls us to strive for perfection [1 Peter 1:15]. Jesus doesn’t want to be married to someone who’s life looks like a guest on the Jerry Springer show. No way! The bar has actually been raised. But here’s the glorious difference – God works in us to fulfill his higher standard! Because of the Holy Spirit, we are able to do far more abundantly than all we can ask or think…[Eph. 3:20].

Here it is summed up in my favorite little poem.

Run, John, run, the law commands
But gives us neither feet nor hands,
Far better news the gospel brings:
It bids us fly and gives us wings

Grace not only brings us salvation, but enables and empowers you to live it out! [Titus 2:11-12]

Hard-Wired To Think We Must Do Something To Make God Love Us

The instinct to self-atone runs deep in our hearts. We want to make amends for our sin on our own. But God has done it all through Christ because of his grace, his undeserved love to us. Grace is so simple to understand and yet so hard to grasp. It’s not its complexity that makes it difficult. The problem is that we seem to be hard-wired to think we must do something to make God favorably disposed toward us. We want to take the credit. But all the time God is saying, “In my love I gave my Son for you. He’s done everything needed to secure my blessing. I love you as you are, and I accept you in him.” God can’t love you more than he does now, no matter how much you change your life. And God won’t love you less than he does now, no matter what a mess you make of your life.  – Tim Chester, You Can Change

How do we get “hard-wired to think we must do something to make God favorably disposed toward us”? For some of us it may be our upbringing. When I was a kid my dad seemed disappointed in me when I didn’t do well on the baseball field. He loved baseball so much and was so good at it, that when I didn’t do well I felt I was letting him down. He wasn’t a Christian then and I’m sure he’d be much different now. Even though I knew better, I still did the same thing to my kids at times. Sometimes when they failed in some way or confessed a sin, my facial expression conveyed that their performance had let me down.  I so regret ever doing that.  Perhaps we get this self-atonement idea from our society – nothing is free. We have to earn everything we can get. So we’re not used to gifts – everything has a catch. It’s so foreign to think that God loves us simply because he has redeemed us and sees us in Christ and accepts us in him, not because anything we do but because of everything Christ did.  Grace is so foreign to us – there must be a catch.

Because believers are in union with Christ, when God looks at us he sees Christ and loves us in Christ. Because of Jesus, not us.

So remember “God can’t love you more than he does now, no matter how much you change your life. And God won’t love you less than he does now, no matter what a mess you make of your life.”

photo by elMejorTrato.com

 

Trust Me, God Doesn’t Need Our Brooches

Then all the congregation of the people of Israel departed from the presence of Moses.  And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the LORD’s contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments.  So they came, both men and women. All who were of a willing heart brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and armlets, all sorts of gold objects, every man dedicating an offering of gold to the LORD. Exodus 35:20-22

It wasn’t Israel’s brooches and earrings and signet rings and armlets and gold objects that pleased the Lord – trust me, God doesn’t need our brooches – it was the willing hearts and spirits of his people. Do you want to please the Lord and bring him joy? Serve him with gladness.

When our heart isn’t in it, we can go on a mission trip or give all we have to the poor and it stinks in God’s nostrils.

Jesus criticized the Pharisees saying ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.’  Outwardly they did what God required. They kept the rules.  They did the religion thing.  They lit the candles.  They painstakingly tithed.  Yet inwardly their hearts weren’t in it.  Serving God was tedious. Joyless. If our attitude is I’ll do it but I won’t like it, we won’t please the Lord even if we conform to his commands externally.

Here’s where it gets tough. God calls us to serve him in lots of ways we don’t naturally want to.

Caring for that perpetually needy and demanding sister. Helping that brother who quite frankly doesn’t smell good.  Going to care group when you’re flat out beat and would just rather spend the evening in a catatonic state of TV watching. Caring for an elderly parent. Humbling yourself to ask forgiveness.

At times I feel about as much like serving Jesus as jumping into a freezing river on New Year’s day. Yet God calls me to serve him with wholehearted gladness.

How do we do this? Cry out to God – Jesus, help! I don’t feel like doing this. Change my heart! Help me desire to serve my brother. Give me grace to change these diapers cheerfully. Help me be a cheerful giver. Help me do this from the heart!

Bottom line – we need God’s grace to be cheerful, willing servants.  God’s joy, God’s gladness, God’s strength.

Christ’s people are willing; all that they do, they do willingly, for they are constrained by no compulsion, but by grace alone. I am sure we all can do a thing far better when we are willing than when we are forced. God loves his people’s services, because they do them voluntarily. Voluntarism is the essence of the gospel. Willing people are those whom God delights to have as his servants.-Spurgeon

How has God helped you to serve him cheerfully?

It Wasn’t Supposed To Be This Way

They hadn’t been to church for a while so I gave the husband a call.

“Hey Chuck, (not his name) how are you doing? Haven’t seen you guys for a while. Is everything okay?”

After a couple uncomfortable seconds, Chuck said, “we probably won’t be coming back to church.”

“Are you serious? Really? Why? Have I done something to offend you?”

“No. You see, Mark, it wasn’t supposed to be this way. We did everything we were supposed to do. We taught our children the Bible. We took them to church. We told them about Jesus. We prayed for them. And then my son winds up getting a girl pregnant and having to get married. It just wasn’t supposed to be this way.”

I felt really sad for Chuck and his family. And I felt really sad that Chuck had the expectations of God he did and that he’d obeyed God for the reasons he did.

God doesn’t promise us trial-free lives if we obey him.

God doesn’t promise that if we keep his commands he’ll reward us with cruises and country club memberships. Tim Keller, in Prodigal God, talks about how the prodigal son’s elder brother had expectations of his father which tripped him up:

We see that the elder brother “became angry.” All of his words are dripping with resentment. The first sign you have an elder-brother spirit is that when your life doesn’t go as you want, you aren’t just sorrowful but deeply angry and bitter. Elder brothers believe that if they live a good life they should get a good life, that God owes them a smooth road if they try very hard to live up to standards.

Not only does God not owe us easy lives, but he promises we’ll suffer:

Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. Psalm 34:19

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials… 1 Peter 1:6

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.  James 1:2

We should not be amazed that suffer; we should be amazed we don’t suffer more than we do.

It helps me to remember that not only do I deserve any thing bad that happens to me, I deserve far worse – I deserve to burn in hell for eternity for my sins. Of course I’d never tell anyone in their sadness or suffering you deserve to be in hell so buck up, but it helps me keep things in perspective for myself when I’m tempted to complain.

So when is it appropriate to say “It wasn’t supposed to be this way?” Whenever something good happens to us! Whenever we are blessed! It wasn’t supposed to be this way – I sinned and rebelled against God – yet look how he has blessed me!

So don’t obey God thinking he’ll owe you, for God owes no one a thing. Serve him out of gratitude for all he’s done for you and because you love him. Serve him for his glory.

No, it wasn’t supposed to be this way. And aren’t you glad?

How To Turn Away Wrath (Which Is Especially Important When It’s The Wrath Of A Biker)

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1

Someone unloads their anger on us. Our boss, our teen, a cashier, the guy who lays on his horn in the car behind us when the light turns green and we’re daydreaming and just sitting there.

We feel a sense of injustice when someone rails at us. We feel that our anger in response is righteous.  We didn’t deserve this.

Our natural inclination is to fight fire with fire. Yell at me, I’m going to yell back at you. Accuse me, I’m gonna blast you. Spray me with pepper, I’ll melt you with a flamethrower.

Jesus was accused, mocked, spit on, slandered. Yet he never fought fire with fire. Never got his hackles up or mocked in return.

When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 1 Peter 2:23

Jesus could have crushed his opponents with a syllable. “You want to revile? I’ll show you revile.”  Not Jesus.

What was his secret?  It was this – he “continued entrusting himself to him judges justly.”  Jesus lifted his eyes above his enemies and focused on his Father, entrusting himself to him, knowing that he would judge justly.

If we entrust ourselves to the One who will bring about justice for us in the end instead of focusing on the injustice of someone’s anger toward us, it will go a long way to help us respond to them in a godly way.

When Jesus cried from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” he was extending mercy to those who tortured and crucified him unjustly.

We too should extend mercy to those who abuse us – we too  should pray, Father forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t know my heart. They don’t know how hard I’ve tried to work for them. Don’t know how hurtful their words are.  So Father have mercy on them.

Once I got a call from one of our leaders who was in charge of a free car wash our church held. He said some of the water had run onto the street in front of the church and a guy had driven his motorcycle through it. The guy was furious and yelled at them because now his motorcycle had a few flecks of dirty water on it. I got his number from the leader and gave the man a call. He lit into me, saying how irresponsible we were to let water from the car wash run into the street and how he’d just spent 2 hours cleaning his bike and now it had dirt splatters on it.

My initial thought was, “Man, you need to get a life.” But God gave me grace to be humble. I said, “I am so sorry that happened to you. We really should have been watching where the water went. I want to pay for you to get your bike completely cleaned, waxed, whatever you want so that it’s perfect.” He went on for another few minutes about how irresponsible we were and I said, “You’re right.  I am so sorry. We were trying to have a free car wash to show the love of Jesus to people and this happens.”

“The car wash was free?” he said, subdued.

“Yeah. But that’s no excuse for what happened to you.”

“Well, don’t worry about it,” he said, “it’s not that big of a deal.”

I wish I could tell you that later he came to our church. He never did.  But I was grateful God gave me the grace to diffuse his anger with gentleness. Who knows? Maybe someday he’ll go to a church, get saved, and become the leader of a motorcycle ministry.