Sunday, June 29, 2014

Grace in friendship

1 Samuel 20:1-3 NET "David fled from Naioth in Ramah. He came to Jonathan and asked, 'What have I done? What is my offense? How have I sinned before your father? For he is seeking my life!Jonathan said to him, “By no means are you going to die! My father does nothing large or small without making me aware of it. Why would my father hide this matter from me? It just won’t happen!Taking an oath, David again said, “Your father is very much aware of the fact that I have found favor with you, and he has thought, ‘Don’t let Jonathan know about this, or he will be upset.’ But as surely as the Lord lives and you live, there is about one step between me and death!' Jonathan replied to David, 'Tell me what I can do for you.'" 

David has been anointed by Samuel to be the King, but Saul did not recognize God's will for David. Saul sought to destroy David.  In this passage, the friendship of David and Jonathan illustrates the way that we should show grace to others when we are completely surrendered to God Jonathan was the son of the anointed King, SaulJonathan loved his father, the king, and believed that he had a close relationship with him. Jonathan stood by his father until the time of both of their deathsJonathan was the heir to the throne--the golden child--not only was he the heir to the throne, but he was a kind and God fearing manJonathan seemed to have everything it would take to be a successor to the throneHowever,  Jonathan gave up his earthly entitlement in order for God's will to be accomplished God used Jonathan to show His favor and grace to DavidIn spite of the opposition of King Saul, God's will was accomplished to make David the king, and Jonathan was the vessel to accomplish thisDavid was enabled by God's grace to accomplish great things for Israel, but God's favor poured through Jonathan to bring David to the position where he could serve God bestWe often  remember Jonathan as the friend of David, but more importantly, he was a vessel of God's grace.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Legacy of Grace

1 Samuel, chapter 1 tells a story about a man named Elkanah, who was from the priestly tribe of Levi, and his two wives Peninnah and Hannah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah did not.  The story indicates that although Hannah had no children, her husband loved her very muchThis family was faithful to go to Shiloh each year and sacrifice to the LORD, and Hannah's husband favored her every year with double portions of the sacrificed food.  This made Peninnah jealous, and Peninnah provoked Hannah and caused her to grieve at the lack of children of her own.  
In Genesis 3:16,  we learn that the punishment for a woman was to increase pain in childbearing, but her desire shall be for her husbandHannah felt worthless because she did not provide her husband the one thing that only a woman could do One year, when the family was at Shiloh sacrificing to the LORD, Hannah prayed very earnestly to the LORD and asked for a son, whom she would dedicate to the LORD as a Nazarite.  Hannah did not ask for a son to raise her standing with the rival wife, nor did she ask for a son to help her when she became too old to workShe asked for a son to glorify God.  Eli, the elderly priest, observed Hannah prayingHe accused her of being drunk, but ironically, Hannah had just dedicated her unborn son to the LORD with a stipulation that this son would never partake of any strong alcoholic drink.          
 In 1 Samuel 1:18, Hannah replies to Eli, the elderly priest. "And she said, 'Let your servant find favor in your sight.' Then the woman went to her quarters" NRSV.   
Hannah's request for grace and favor from the priest is evidence that she had confidence in seeking grace from God. She believed that she would one day be bringing her child to Eli for him to train to serve the LORD.  When we seek grace from God, if our hearts are earnestly seeking to glorify the LORD, then what we ask will help to pave the way for our future generations to seek God's grace too. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Recognizing Grace

Galatians 2:9:  "and when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised." (NRSV)   

In the verse quoted above, Paul tells the Galatians about his relationship to the early Christians. In Acts 9, the miraculous conversion of Saul illustrates the power that God can use to imprint grace into our heartsActs 9: 1 says that Saul (who was a Pharisee [Acts 23:6] breathed threats and murder against the disciples of the LordSaul also participated in the stoning of StephenWhen Stephen was brought before the council, his face shown like an angel, and the men on the council saw it (Acts 6:15)The result was that the council was angered, and stoned StephenSaul, and the council saw the grace of God poured into Stephen, but they did not recognize it.  Without spending time with Christ, it is hard to recognize him.   

Saul finally recognized the grace of God when he was confronted by Christ himself on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3).  Paul then spent time with Christians learning about Christ (Acts 9:19) Later, when Paul meets with the Apostles in Jerusalem, they recognize the grace in himBefore Paul spent time with Christ, he was unable to recognize the grace of God in Stephen when it was right in front of his eyesAfter his conversion, not only could Paul recognize the grace of God, but others could recognize the grace of God in Paul.     

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Grace works

Ephesians 2:8-10 NRSV "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of Godnot the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life." 
 What a powerful verse this is. The eternal scope of works and grace are summed up in these verses. Before God created us in Christ, He prepared us for good works.  The second chapter of Genesis confirms that man was indeed created for work. We were not created as part of the food chain, but for the specific purpose to work and care for the earth. And God declared that man's work was good--innocent from evil-doing.  But when we lost our innocence and our eyes were opened to the difference of good and evil, our works were unable to please God.  And now, our works do not workIt is grace that works. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Grace and childlike faith

Genesis 2: 8-9, 15-17 "then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil...The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, 'You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.'"

The Bible tells us that we must become like children in order to please God and receive his grace. By reading Genesis 2, we can learn something about the natural state of man before sin entered the world. Man was a natural, earthly being, created to work and please God. Man's work, the mechanics of everyday living, pleased God. It is good for us to remember that when God created us, he was pleased with us just the way we were. Genesis 2:16-17 indicates that man did not know the difference between good and evil, and in this respect, man was much like a child. Jesus, in Mark 10:15, specifically states that "…whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it."

Man lost his childlike state when he sinned, and ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the consequence is that we now know the difference between good and evil, and we must all deal with that knowledge. The big question is how do we revert back to the natural childlike state that pleases God? The grace of God, Jesus' death on the cross, dealt with the problem of the knowledge of good and evil. His death allows us to not worry about good and evil, and, like children, just strive to please God in the mechanics of everyday living.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Power and Grace

Exodus 33 is a story that describes God's power juxtaposed with grace. Moses and the Israelites are at Mount Sinai, where God gave Moses the law. God then commanded Moses to take the Israelites to Canaan. In the first verse, the Lord said to Moses, “Go, leave this place, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, and go to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give it.’  I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.  Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, or I would consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” Exodus 33: 1-3( NRSV emphasis mine).

Then, in Exodus 33: 12-13, Moses said to the LORD, “See, you have said to me, ‘Bring up this people’; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” (NRSV emphasis mine)

God is mighty. More mighty than we ever can imagine—God's might can consume us, and we, also, are certainly a stiff necked people! Yet what does Moses do? He does not cower in fear, and feel sorry for himself, but he asks for the LORD's favor. Moses asks to be shown God's ways in order that Moses could know God and find grace in God's sight.

How amazing! We have the same privilege that Moses had to stand before God, whose very presence can consume us, and ask to know Him better. And the LORD will honor our request. That is the power of God. That is the grace of God.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Grace and suffering

     Humans are God's favorite. The grace and favor of God is for all of us, period.  The book of Genesis tells the story of Joseph who was so hated by his brothers that they stripped him of every human right by throwing him into a pit, and selling him into slavery.  God's grace was with Joseph, even through his suffering, and God's grace is with each one of us today, even through our own suffering  Ephesians 1:11 explains how and why we have the grace and favor of God "In him [Christ] we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him [God] who works out everything in conformity to the purpose of his will" NIV (emphasis and parenthetical notations are mine).  From the very beginning, God chose us, through Christ because it was God's will to do soWe are God's favorite because he chose us, and his grace is with us in spite of our suffering.  A good thought to remember today is that suffering is not an indicator of the absence of God's graceSomehow, God uses human suffering to polish his grace into a sparkling gem.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Receiving Grace

Ruth 2: 8-10  Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. 9 Keep your eyes on the field that is being reaped, and follow behind them. I have ordered the young men not to bother you. If you get thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn.” 10 Then she fell prostrate, with her face to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?” 

Ruth was doing the right thingAs a young widow, she left her own country to follow her mother-in-law, Naomi, to Israel and tried to start a new lifeShe obeyed all that Naomi told her to do, and she worked hard.  However, when Boaz noticed Ruth and helped her to earn a livelihood, Ruth responded by falling prostrate on the ground and asking, Why meWhat have I done to deserve your favorNot only Ruth, but other stories in the Bible demonstrate a similar way of receiving grace.  In 2 Samuel 9, King David shows kindness to Mephibosheth, the crippled son of Jonathan, by providing him with a place to live and food to eat for the rest of his life.  In verse 8 , Mephibosheth  "did obeisance and said, 'What is your servant, that you should look upon a dead dog such as I?'" NRSV.  In Luke 17:12-16 ten lepers begged Jesus to heal them, but only one returned to prostrate himself at Jesus feet and thank himThese examples show not only gratitude for grace, but also an undeserving attitude.  Why meWhy would a great person look upon a lowly person with kindness and respect? 

Why did God choose to love us and favor usWe have done nothing but wrong, even when we try to do right, yet He chose to save usThis may be one of the greatest mysteries of all timeWe so often go about our lives acknowledging God, but never humbly prostrating ourselves before Him and recognizing how much we do not deserve His favorRecognizing our unworthiness opens the door to receive grace.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Remember Grace

1Corinthians 1:3-4    "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus," 
Deuteronomy 6:6-9  "Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead,and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."

If we read the letters of Paul, we are bound to notice that Paul begins most of his epistles with a greeting that mentions grace.  The beginning of letters are always read, but rarely pondered because the introduction is supposed to usher in the main idea of the message, but Paul had an important purpose for mentioning the grace of God in the introduction of his letters.  

Peter indicates that Christians considered Paul's writings to be scripture, even at the time they were written. In 2 Peter 3:16, Peter says "…speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures."  NRSV emphasis mine.

Paul knew the repetition of scripture was an important Jewish practice, as Deuteronomy 6:6-9 illustrates The idea of putting God's commandments on our doorposts to greet our visitors is echoed in Paul's greetings in his scripture lettersRepeatedly reminding ourselves of God's grace helps us to keep grace constantly in our own hearts.