Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Grace in our universe

This graphic is from Wordpress, and I love it.  The magnitude of grace is phenomenal--it not only encompasses our hearts, and our world, it permeates the universe.  Our God is HUGE! and also minutely personal. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Grace and indecision

" When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, 'Is it you, you troubler of Israel' He answered,'I have not troubled Israel; but you have, and your father’s house, because you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals. Now therefore have all Israel assemble for me at Mount Carmel, with the four hundred fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table' So Ahab sent to all the Israelites, and assembled the prophets at Mount Carmel.  Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, 'How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.' The people did not answer him a word." 1 Kings 18 17-21 (NRSV).

Ahab was King of Israel for about 22 years, and according to 1 Kings 16: 29-34, he was an evil king and worshipped Baal. During Ahab's reign, there was a three year drought in Israel because God had told Elijah to predict it. Ahab blamed Elijah for the drought, but God had other purposes for this dry period of time. In the scripture above, the word of the LORD came to Elijah and told him to go to Ahab and tell him that the Lord will send rain. Elijah devised a test to prove it was God who was going to send the rain, not Baal. Baal's priests and Elijah set up alters to sacrifice a bull. Both sides were to pray for the one that they worshiped to light the fire for the sacrifice. All of Israel gathered to watch Baal's priests pray for fire to consume a sacrificial offering. After a while, it was evident that the prayers of Baal's priests were unanswered.

Then, Elijah soaked his alter with water, then prayed to the LORD. The fire from the LORD came down and consumed the sacrifice and the stone alter as well. In the scripture above, Elijah's reminds both King Ahab and the people of Israel that a very big God is at work in their lives, and modern Christians need to be reminded of this as well.

Modern American Christians struggle with the idea that our government enacts laws that differ from our moral sensibility, but there are countries in our world that even prohibit the worship of Christ! A decision for or against a Christian political agenda is not nearly as important as the decisions we must make every minute of the day to seek Christ in all we do.

Christ gives us grace to cover our sins, and to cover our wrong and ill informed decisions. This is exactly what happened to Adam and Eve in the garden. After their eyes were opened and they saw their own nakedness, Adam and Eve hid.  They hid, not because they thought that God would not find them, but because they did not want to decide to come forward. They hid from themselves, but God's grace covered them anyway. The LORD covered their nakedness in animal skins, and from then on, all mankind was given the responsibility to seek God for ourselves. We must do this today. The best encouragement we can give to each other is to remind one another to seek the LORD.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Grace and prophecy

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.” Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your comrades who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. Revelation 19: 9-10 (NRSV).

Prophecy, or foretelling the future is a popular idea in modern American culture. Christians speculate about the coming of the Beast, and the degradation that our society and churches have experienced and will continue to experience. Prophetic scripture should certainly never be ignored or downplayed, but it is important for Christians to keep in mind that the testimony of Jesus is grace, and it is for grace that all prophecy has been proclaimed since the beginning of time.

Genesis 3: 1-19 describes what happened when man sinned and God had defined the consequences with which man must live his life. Immediately following this passage, in verses 20 and 21, Adam named his wife Eve because she was the mother of all living, and God made durable garments for the man and woman to cover their nakedness (or their sin). Adam's naming of his wife shows that they recognized the significance of their sin to all mankind, and by the same token, God's grace that covered their sin also covered the sin of all mankind. This is the very first prophecy, spoken and acted by God, and the prophecy proclaimed that grace will cover the sin of mankind.

Remember this! God's grace was before sin, and when we repent and recognize our sin, God's grace will cover us. This prophecy has constantly been fulfilled since the beginning of time. When we hear prophecy of the end times, it is a call for us to proclaim God's grace.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Grace and legal documents

And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, 14 erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.  Colossians 2:13-14 NRSV 

This brief passage of scripture provides us with a legal picture of gracePaul is describing the way that physical circumcision illustrates the spiritual circumcision that brings us to ChristIsrael's law and religion were closely intertwined and circumcision represented the religious, legal and political aspects of a Jewish man's lifeCircumcision is a covenant or agreement between God and AbrahamIt was an outward sign of a spiritual pledge to honor and worship only the LORD, and when a man became circumcised (usually as a baby), he became a political part of the lineage of the nation of Abraham, and subject to its laws and customs.
In verse 12, Paul is speaking to the Colossians, and the pronoun "you" is addressing the members of the church in Colossae.  The pronoun "him" refers to Christ, and the pronoun "us" refers to Jewish and Gentile Christians, or in other words, all of the followers of Christ.  
 The church at Colossae had many Gentiles among its members, and Paul is reminding them that although they are uncircumcised, they are still included when Christ forgave all of us of our trespasses. Circumcision is a rather hazy issue for modern Christians because we associate circumcision with health procedures, and associate the religious aspect of the procedure with Jewish practicesIn Paul's time, circumcision was hotly debated as a requirement to become a ChristianSince Christianity started with Jewish men, the first Christians were circumcisedHowever, Paul is reminding the Colossians that God saved them when they were uncircumcised, and He forgave them just as he forgave the Jews who were circumcised. 

Verse 14 illustrates a perfect blend of the legal and spiritual grace that God has extended to ALL of usIt says that God erased the record that stood against usHe erased itDo you know how hard it is to erase a legal documentIt is not just a hard thing to do, it is impossible to remove ink from paper or parchment because the ink is absorbed in the fibers, and becomes a part of the paper.  We can destroy the document, but we cannot erase itGod does not destroy itGod does not declare that our sins were never thereHe erases the writing without destroying the paper!  Then, God set the paper aside and nailed it to the cross.  God's grace does not only forgive us, it justifies usGod erased all of the documentation that detailed the crimes that I committed, then He allowed His only son to take the punishment for the crimes for which I had already been forgiven. This grace, it is definitely amazing.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Grace and rest

The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
    the thoughts of his heart to all generations. Psalms 33:11 NRSV

And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. Genesis 2: 2-3 NRSV

In the first scripture above, we are reminded that God's will is forever, and forever encompasses past, present, and future. The word counsel, in the King James Dictionary, has many meanings and nuances including, advice, opinion and instruction. Another facet of the definition includes purpose, design, will, decree. The idea that the definition produces is that God's counsel is his purpose or design given to us as his advice or instruction. God's counsel interacts with us; it is not simply a mechanism that declares. With this definition in mind, we look at the second part of the verse and see that the Lord's counsel is the thoughts of his heart, and God's thoughts existed before time, and will extend after time.

The second verse ties in with the first verse because it explains God's thoughts from the beginning of time. The NRSV commentary mentions that God hallowed the seventh day because of rest. Hallowed means that something is set apart as sacred. The scripture says that God hallowed the seventh day because of rest.

For humans, rest is the ultimate goal of all that we try to accomplish in our earthly life. For modern Christians, we are often overwhelmed with the busy-ness of life, the enormity of the task at hand, and the scarcity of time or resources to accomplish it. We long to finish our work and rest. This longing was created in us by God from the very beginning.

If we look at our spiritual life, the rest that God created for us is fulfilled in grace. It is in grace we must rest, and this has been the Lord's counsel to us from the very beginning.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Pretend grace

Shechem also said to her (Dinah's) father (Jacob) and to her brothers, “Let me find favor with you, and whatever you say to me I will give.  Genesis 34:11 (NRSV Parenthetical notations are mine.) 
The background to this scripture is complicated and disturbingDinah is the only daughter among the twelve sons of JacobShe is raped by a Hivite prince named Shechem, who then falls in love with Dinah and takes her into his home.  In the scripture passage above, Shechem seeks grace from Jacob and his sons and asks to marry Dinah.  Shechem  knows that he committed a disgrace against Dinah and her family, but he is willing to do anything or pay any price to rectify the situation. Although Shechem  loved Dinah, he and his father Hamor wanted to use the marriage with Dinah as a political unionThe Hivites wanted to intermarry with Jacob's family, share their own land with Jacob and his tribe, and in return, the Hivites wanted to use Jacob's family's livestock and property. 
At first, Dinah's brothers receive Shechem's request with anger, but then they pretend to be placated by Shechem's offer to give them anything they ask.   Jacob's sons ask that the Hivite tribe be circumcised, and so Shechem and the Hivites complied with the request. As the Hivite men were recovering from the procedure, the sons of Jacob attacked the Hivites, killed them all, plundered the land and took back their sister.
Dinah's brothers offered pretend grace. Perhaps the Hivites did not deserved grace, because rape was and is a serious crime, but deceit and murder are serious crimes too, and the Israelites gained enemies from this incident, enemies that they would have to contend with hundreds of years later when Israel entered the promised land.
This is a story of sin, and the consequences we face when look only to our own needs and wants, and not seek the divine will of God.  God favored Israel because the people of Israel were descendants of Abraham, who was a man who sought God. God's favor toward Israel provided a nation into which Christ could be born in order to save the entire world, not just Israel.  Israel's behavior in this story demonstrates by contrast us how mighty and powerful is the grace of God.  If God still favored Israel, in spite all of the sin and deceitfulness committed by this nation, then we can see that God's grace toward us does not rest upon how good or righteous we are.  God extends grace to us because of His righteousness, and because of His righteousness alone.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Grace and testimony

"And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. John 1: 14-17 (NRSV)
Matthew Henry's commentary on this passage of scripture provides some information about how the apostle John brings his testimony of Christ to us.  Henry reminds us that testimony has, since the beginning of civilization, been the principle means by which men can determine the truthTestimony is essential in a court of law in order to determine the truth and judge what it right.  Most legal systems that desire to seek the truth will take measures to help insure that testimonies are true. 
The apostle John wants his readers to know that his testimony about Christ is true. The apostle brings in the testimony of John the Baptist, who testified that Christ actually came before himJohn shows us in verse 14 that God's Word, which is His testimony, testifies to Christ as His only son. In verse 17, Christ testifies to himself through grace—grace upon graceThis means, for us, that when we sin, (and this is a fact; we all sin) we can ask Christ to testify for us, and God will judge us based upon Christ's testimonyAnd what will Christ testify on our behalfGraceHis testimony will be graceAnd when we sin again (and we will sin again and again—sin upon sin) Christ's testimony will be graceGrace upon grace.   

I hope you have enjoyed today's devotional.  I would like to invite your comments or personal testimonies or praises regarding God's grace in your life. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Grace and trauma

With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. Acts 4:33 (NRSV)

The early church began with trauma victims. The apostles and the followers of Christ had recently witnessed the crucifixion of their beloved leader, the kindest, truest, godliest, and most perfect man who had ever lived. The crucifixion caused much trauma in the lives of the people of the early church. It was such a tragedy, and although Christians today experience trauma, but it will never re-create the trauma that Christ suffered through crucifixion.

The key to growth through trauma is expressed in the verse above. It is grace. The favor of God allowed the early Christians to minister to each other by sharing their testimony of resurrection and hope, and by growing in grace toward each other. A common psychological healing process for victims is to minister to each other in their common need and provide hope to each other. An interesting thought to ponder is that the modern psychological analysis of the trauma victim's recovery process recommends grace as a healing device, which is a healing process that God has always provided for us.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Grace and repentance

July 5, 2014  Grace and repentance 
 "And I will pour out a spirit of compassion (grace) and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn."  Zechariah 12:10 

"Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart."  Hebrews 4:12 

This scripture in Zechariah does not offer a neatly packaged symbolism that modern Christians can relate to their own lives, but it does speak of the overarching theme of repentanceGod's spirit of grace through Jesus' death on the cross enables us to see our sin and mourn for what we have done. 
When we repent of sins, it is because of God's grace through the Holy SpiritA good scriptural example of this is the story, in Nehemiah 8:1-12, of Ezra reading the book of the law to the people of IsraelThrough grace, God created a revival in the people of Israel when Ezra read the book of the law.  Nehemiah 8:9 tells us specifically that the people wept when they heard the reading of the lawNow, I  have read some of the Jewish law in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, and I must admit that it never drove me to repentant tearsBut God's grace, through the law, can cause us to understand our sin and repent.
The scripture in Hebrews reminds us how powerful God's word is--even the reading of something as seemingly dry as God's law can become a fountain of grace if we position ourselves to be receptive to God's nudging.