Amazing Grace

I will be forever thankful that in the years just before Dominic ran ahead to heaven, I spent each morning lingering long over Scripture.  I had just completed filling my fifth journal, copying entire chapters and making notes about what God revealed as I wrote and read.

Because if I had not been so thoroughly steeped in truth before it happened, I’m not sure I would have listened to it afterward.

I understand how hearts are hardened by tragedy.    

It’s a wonder that any heart remains soft at all.  

Only God’s amazing grace has kept me from turning away.  

Only His steadfast love has kept me from leaving it all behind.  

not doubting wondering how painful the best will be.jpg

 

 

Have You Seen His Glory?

If I had been around in the intertestamental years of Israel’s history,  I think I’d have been tired of waiting for that promised Messiah the prophets kept crowing about.

I mean, really-how long was it going to take?

What was God waiting on?

What was the plan anyway?

And then, when this young woman shows up claiming to have been overcome by the power of the Holy Ghost-well, that’s a nice fairy tale but hardly how I think God would work this whole thing out.

Except that was EXACTLY how He worked it out-God Himself sent His Son to be born of a virgin and to live as a perfect man and to offer Himself as the perfect and sufficient sacrifice for sin.

Jesus the Messiah, the Christ, revealed Himself to His disciples.  He gave them a glimpse of His glory-the glory of the one and only Son of the Living God.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

John 1;14 NIV

We no longer have to wonder what God is like or what He is up to.

He is full of grace and truth and He is up to reconciling the world to Himself through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus.

THAT is glorious.

word became flesh

God Doesn’t Grade on a Curve

When I was in school it was popular to ask a teacher after a test:  “Will you grade on a curve?” The hope was always that since it was unlikely anyone would get a perfect score, the brackets would be moved downward.

cartoon grade on a curve

Very few of us like absolutes.  We prefer to be judged one against another instead of against an unbendable standard.

It’s no different with morality.

If you asked me to judge myself on a scale from Hitler to Mother Teresa, I would definitely put myself closer to her rather to him.

As long I measure myself against other humans, I am comfortable saying I fall in the top 50 percent.

Trouble is, that’s not the standard.

The standard against which my actions and heart attitudes are measured is unchangeable and inflexible.

It is perfection itself-the holiness of a holy God.

And when I place myself next to that measuring rod, I am woefully short.

Jesus shocked His followers by telling them that unless their righteousness exceeded that of the Pharisees (considered the most upstanding and holy in that day) they would never enter the kingdom of God.  He expounded on every aspect of the Ten Commandments by addressing not only outward conformity (which, in truth, was impossible) but also motive and intention.

By that standard, even my “good deeds” are inadequate because they are often done with a wrong heart attitude.

I give because I want someone to think I’m generous.

I volunteer because I am a people pleaser.

I work hard because I want a raise.

Paul wrote in Romans “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” (Romans 3:23)

I can never “measure up” to the perfect standard of a perfect God.  And while my flesh may be happy with “good enough” the holiness of God demands absolute perfection.

Truth is, I am a sinner-I miss the mark, I step outside the boundaries, I do what I shouldn’t do and don’t do what I should do.

Just like our first parents, I listen to my flesh and the evil one and question God’s goodness and His wisdom.  I want to plot my own course, captain my own ship.

And also like our first parents, I find that I cannot do it.  

I fall woefully short.

I am naked and ashamed, exposed in my sin and without hope for redemption by my own efforts .

In any other story, this would be the end-no hope, no second chances.

But God….

Two of the most beautiful words in the world!  

God has not left me without hope.

He has not left me in my sin.

He has not abandoned me in my desperate state of alienation from my Creator.

He Himself has provided the Sacrifice,

the Perfect Lamb,

the propitiation for my sin.  

lamb of god with crosses

 

 

Made for Relationship

I’ve always taught even very young children straight from Scripture because I believe there is no better way to introduce them to Jesus and God than by the words the Spirit breathed into the world through the pens of chosen men.

In preparation for sharing with the children of our community this week at VBS, I’ve been studying the Bible verses chosen for each day.

When I study, I look up parallel verses and use several Bible translations and some paraphrases to try to get a better grasp of everything God may be saying.  I don’t use commentaries because I find them distracting and because I am convinced that the Holy Spirit can lead me into all truth.

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

John 14: 26 KJV

Since I’ll be busy these next five days, I thought I’d share my study notes with you.

the relationship begins

The first day’s theme is “The Relationship Begins”:  

Now Christ is the visible expression of the invisible God. He existed before creation began, for it was through him that every thing was made, whether spiritual or material, seen or unseen. Through him, and for him, also, were created power and dominion, ownership and authority. In fact, every single thing was created through, and for him. He is both the first principle and the upholding principle of the whole scheme of creation. And now he is the head of the body which is composed of all Christian people. Life from nothing began through him, and life from the dead began through him, and he is, therefore, justly called the Lord of all. It was in him that the full nature of God chose to live, and through him God planned to reconcile in his own person, as it were, everything on earth and everything in Heaven by virtue of the sacrifice of the cross.

Colossians 1:15-20 PHILLIPS

Jesus is God made visible!  Selah

(Pause and think about that!)

The eternal, omnipotent God of the universe chose to clothe Himself with flesh and enter His creation as a creature.   He subjected Himself to the same forces of nature I’m subject to.  He walked like I walk, talked like I talk, was hungry, thirsty, happy, sad-just like me.

But He is also utterly unlike me.

He was before ALL things.

He MADE all things.

His power keeps all things TOGETHER.

He made me and as my Creator, He has the absolute authority to direct my path.

“Life from nothing began through Him, and life from the dead began through Him”-He is the Author of physical life and the Author of eternal life.

There is no life apart from Him.

Whether or not I acknowledge this truth doesn’t change that it IS truth.

Jesus said, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You’ve even seen him!”

John 14:6-7 MSG

Christ’s sacrifice and His blood make it possible for me to dwell with God eternally.  He is the propitiation for sin, the payment in full for the penalty I deserve.

For that reason He is justly called, “Lord of all”.

God’s Son shines out with God’s glory, and all that God’s Son is and does marks him as God. He regulates the universe by the mighty power of his command. He is the one who died to cleanse us and clear our record of all sin, and then sat down in highest honor beside the great God of heaven.

Hebrews 1:3 TLB

 

radiance-hebrews-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

He Is ALL That and More

Sometimes I have to remind myself that the One Who holds me in His hand IS “All That” and MORE.

He is more than I can imagine,

more than I need,

His resources are limitless

and His grace sufficient for every day

and all eternity.

HE IS-

The Way and the Way maker:

“Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.”

~Isaiah 43:19 KJV

The Truth and the Truth Speaker:

“When swearing an oath to confirm what they are saying, humans swear by someone greater than themselves and so bring their arguments to an end. 17 In the same way, when God wanted to confirm His promise as true and unchangeable, He swore an oath to the heirs of that promise. 18 So God has given us two unchanging things: His promise and His oath. These prove that it is impossible for God to lie. As a result, we who come to God for refuge might be encouraged to seize that hope that is set before us. 19 That hope is real and true, an anchor to steady our restless souls, a hope that leads us back behind the curtain to where God is (as the high priests did in the days when reconciliation flowed from sacrifices in the temple) 20 and back into the place where Jesus, who went ahead on our behalf, has entered since He has become a High Priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.”

~Hebrews 6:16-20 VOICE

The Life and the Life Giver:

“The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.”

~John 1:4 NLT

The Promise and the Promise Keeper:

“Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus. In him, this is what we preach and pray, the great Amen, God’s Yes and our Yes together, gloriously evident. God affirms us, making us a sure thing in Christ, putting his Yes within us. By his Spirit he has stamped us with his eternal pledge—a sure beginning of what he is destined to complete.”

~2 Corinthians 1:19-21 MSG

I cannot see the end of this journey but He is already there.  

god is already there

It looks black as night to me and I am fumbling around in the dark, but there is no darkness in Him at all.  

in him is no darkness

My flesh and my heart will fail, but His never will.

god is the strength of my heart

Exposed

When you pass that accident on the side of the road or read about the mass shooting in the press, what do you think?

What do you say?

Do you breathe a sigh of relief that no one you loved or knew was part of such a tragic disaster?  Do you feel chosen, special, “above it all” because you follow Jesus?  Do you think that your faithful, Bible-focused life and worldview will protect you from random accidents or the sinful actions of others?

Do you say, “Thank You God, it wasn’t me (or mine)?”  Do you pray for the ones caught up in the death and destruction?  Pray that they knew Jesus?  Pray that their families will be able to bear the weight of grief and sorrow that is just this moment bearing down on them?

Or do you snap a photo with your phone and post on social media something like: “Awful wreck on the interstate.  So glad I was a little late this morning or it might have been me! God is good!”

Or worse:  “Awful wreck on the interstate.  Traffic backed up for miles.  UGH!

I walk in two worldsone where I am so very thankful for each life and family spared what I now know by experience, and one where I am brought to tears every time they aren’t.

I wish believers in Christ would choose words that are consistent with compassion-whether the person is spared or not.

Jesus is a man of tears.

He was moved by love and compassion in every human encounter (even with the Pharisees-He wished their eyes were opened).

I want my heart and my words to reflect that I know this Saviour full of love and mercy.

Spared or not, it’s no doing of mine.

To say otherwise reflects only arrogance and ignorance.

Just a moment, now, you who say, “We are going to such-and-such a city today or tomorrow. We shall stay there a year doing business and make a profit”! How do you know what will happen even tomorrow? What, after all, is your life? It is like a puff of smoke visible for a little while and then dissolving into thin air. Your remarks should be prefaced with, “If it is the Lord’s will, we shall be alive and will do so-and-so.” As it is, you get a certain pride in yourself in planning your future with such confidence. That sort of pride is all wrong. No doubt you agree with the above in theory. Well, remember that if a man knows what is right and fails to do it, his failure is a real sin.

James 4:14-17 PHILLIPS

Count Your Blessings?

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
*Count your many blessings, see what God has done.
[*And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.]

COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS by Johnson Oatman, Jr.

I grew up singing this hymn.  It has a catchy tune and a good message-if the most trying thing you have had to endure is ordinary disappointment.

But if you’ve been devastated by the storms of life, hope dashed to bits on the rock of despair, heart shattered into a million pieces by loss-well then, the advice seems rather infantile and useless, however good-intentioned.

It is useless, if what I’m trying to do (or what someone else is trying to do for me) is pile up blessings on one side and losses on the other and make the scales balance or better yet-tip toward the blessing side.

Because there is NO way to balance losing my son with any earthly blessing.

I have my other children.  Yes, but I had them when I still had him.  I have my health (sort of).  Yes, but I had it when I still had him.  I have a home, freedom, food-yes, yes, yes.  But all that I had when I still had him.

So you see, I can’t make it balance out.  No one can.

But there is a kernel of truth in this hymn.  And it’s not in trying to pile up one side and weigh it against the other.

No.

The truth lies in two things:  First, when I learn to count blessings I change my heart’s focus from what I’ve lost (and cannot regain this side of heaven) to what I still have.  It helps me live forward instead of trying (without success) to live in the past.  It whispers hope and courage instead of shouting death and despair.

Second, counting blessings forces me to see God’s faithful love even in the midst of terrible loss.  It reminds me of Who He is, what He has done and what He continues to do.  It brings to mind and burns into my spirit the truth that God never fails, His Word is true and He will finish what He started.

The Psalmist begins many of his songs with something like this:  “Where are You God?”  “Why have You forgotten me, God?”  “When will you answer my plea, God?”

He lays out his case, his worries, his broken heart before the Lord, begging for mercy, for action, for some kind of observable help.

And then there’s a turn in the song, it’s like a switch is flipped in the Psalmist’s heart-he remembers…

He remembers Who God is, what He has done in the past, how His faithful love has sustained him and continues to sustain him.

Nothing has changed except the Psalmist started counting blessings.  The pile of blessings didn’t outweigh the pile of troubles but it bore testimony to God’s gracious goodness even in the midst of trouble.

That spoke hope and courage to the Psalmist’s heart.

And it speaks hope and courage to mine.

How long, O Eternal One? How long will You forget me? Forever?
    How long will You look the other way?

How long must I agonize,
    grieving Your absence in my heart every day?
How long will You let my enemies win?

Turn back; respond to me, O Eternal, my True God!
    Put the spark of life in my eyes, or I’m dead.
My enemies will boast they have beaten me;
    my foes will celebrate that I have stumbled.

But I trust in Your faithful love;
    my heart leaps at the thought of imminent deliverance by You.
I will sing to the Eternal,
    for He is always generous with me.

Psalm 13 VOICE