"God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him in the midst of loss, not prosperity." --John Piper

Thursday, March 31, 2011

A gift of grace

Ephesians 3:7

 7Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power.

Paul is such a humble God-worshipper. Everything in his life centered around the gospel. The good news. Somehow, Paul seemed to understand with certainty the message of hope like no one else. His ministry was never considered a burden. He viewed it as a blessing. Perhaps today's ministers might feel that way, in a parsonage or given a housing allowance, a salary which in some cases is generous and others maybe not so much, in a country where they are granted the freedom to boldly (if they choose) speak the Word. Paul did not have it quite so good. Yet he still considered it a gift. A gift in which God worked His power. A power so great that Paul could heal others, but not himself.

Even though I am not a minister, this passage speaks to me. For I too, am what I am by the gift of God's grace. And while I may not be able to heal others of their sicknesses, I can share the gospel and offer a healing for sin. Not through my works, but through the working of His power.

Lord, show us your power and glory. Amen.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

This grace is not for me

Ephesians 3:1-6

1For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— 2assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Why is Paul a prisoner for the Gentiles? Because of the Gospel of God's grace! It is not just enough to know of God's grace, one must experience it to receive the full benefit. Paul was given a huge experience of God's grace. One who was once a murderous opponent now a zealous apostle. Why? Not for Paul's sake, but it was "given to me for you." In other words, it was given to Paul that God's grace might be known to the Gentiles.

Paul speaks of the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to other generations. Not a mystical knowledge, but the mystery of how God's love would work itself out on a cross. No one, even the most learned Jewish scholar at that time saw that one coming. And even in his current generation, it is revealed to his apostles and prophets. But not for their sake. Grace is never given for the sake of the one receiving it, it is given that God's grace might be known to others.

So what about the grace God gives you and me? If God did not give it to us for our own sake, and He did not, what are we doing to share it with others that they might see it. This light was not meant to be hidden under a basket.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

To those near and far...

Ephesians 2:17-22

17And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Jesus came and preached peace to those who were near (the Pharisees, those who understood and obeyed the law, the Jew who earnestly practiced their faith, those who cited the fact that we should love God with our heart, mind and soul) and those who were far (the tax-collectors, prostitutes, gentiles). I believe that peace is the gospel message of peace and reconciliation to God through faith. And a large part of that message was the loving of those God created (as illustrated in the parable of the Good Samaritan, for one). That faith includes giving of yourself not only for God, but for your neighbor, whom you are told to love as  you love yourself.

So we are no longer strangers, aliens, enemies even, but we are connected together through God himself. We are part of a holy temple. Imagine building a building where the components of that building to not work together. What if the mortar, which is different from the bricks, refused to bind together with the bricks? What if the shingles of a buildng refused to let themselves be seen with the tar paper that is laid beneath them? So we must embrace our differences because they are needed in order for the building to perform its function. I am not saying that we accept destructive forces that would tear the building down. You don't observe a mold and continue to let it grow in the building, that would destroy the building.

Jesus came to reconcile man to God. In the process, he reconciled men with one another, because how can the body be reconciled to God and yet at war with its members?

Monday, March 28, 2011

No Harmful Side-Effects!

Ephesians 2:14-16

14For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

Caution: May cause drowsiness.

Many medications come with warnings about possible side-effects. While the main purpose of a drug might be to relieve a headache or some other problem, in some people it also has other effects. Sometimes these are positive but usually negative.

Jesus is our peace. He has made us both one. Who is the both, and how are we one? I believe the both are the circumcised (Jews) and the uncircumcised (Gentiles). The dividing wall of hostility was the law. The Jews had it, the Gentiles didn't. Because of the law, the Jews could not even associate with the Gentiles. They were unclean. Christ's death on the cross did away with the law.

If the law could have given us righteousness, it would have remained in effect, and there would have been no need for Jesus to die on the cross. But the purpose of the law was to show us our unrighteousness. So we needed a remedy, which Jesus provided on the cross. His main purpose, I believe, was to glorify God by providing the perfect sacrifice for our sins. But there were also side-effects. As a result of His death, the law was done away with, the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile destroyed. (Gal 3:28)

I imagine this was a tough one for the Jews. It required a radical shift in their thoughts. But to embrace this was to embrace the world. It was as if God had opened for them a door that had been shut for centuries. Maybe that was a scary door to open. But Jesus did it. He got rid of the reason for the hostility.

I think this is one that we need to apply more broadly today. As we look at others in our world who are different. Could be drug-addicts, Muslims, racial or gender issues, but Christ has broken down the dividing wall an calls us to reach out to all. What are the side-effects the cross has had on you?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Good News!

Ephesians 2:11-13

11Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called "the uncircumcision" by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Paul was the Apostle to the Gentiles. Though being brought up as a Jew in the strictest sense, God sent him to the Gentiles, the non-Jews. The Gentiles were called the uncircumcision, or the unclean, by that which were clean according to the law. As unclean they were separated not only from Christ, but not even a Jew would have anything to do with them. As my kids my say, the Gentiles had a bad case of cooties. They were outside of God, outside of the family of believers, outside the promise of redemption. So they were without hope, key word being were.

But now in Christ Jesus, all who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. It reminds me of many of the healings that Christ performed. He took those who were unclean. The lepers, paralytics, dropsy, etc., and he healed them. Many times he touched them, which would have been so wrong for a Jew to do. But Jesus did it, he healed them and made them who were previously unclean to be clean. Again, the outsiders able to come in. Good news!

Grace and its aftermath

Ephesians 2:8-10

8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

It is grace that saves us. Grace is unmerited favor, and Paul goes on to make sure that this is very clear. It is not our own doing, it is a gift, not the result of works. So no boasting! In fact, our reaction should be just the opposite, humility. Dare I even say, intense humility, brokenness, awe.

We are His workmanship. As a craftsman puts together a fine piece of furniture, God has made us as we are. And just as a craftsman's work has a purpose, so does God's work. We are created to do good labor, in order that we might reflect His glory. Notice that our doing good works comes after our grace. Good works does not give us grace, but it is the result of grace. That is why, if we want to be changed, we must look to God and see His glory and grace.

Goodness, kindness, patience, gentleness, self-control, joy, peace, love, faithfulness. All of these were made ahead of time, that we should walk in them. These are the things we see if we honestly look at God. These are how we should walk in appreciation of and to be a reflection of His grace.

The gospel in 10 verses. Our sin to God's grace to our response. An incredible journey of faith and love.

Friday, March 25, 2011

God's Grace

Ephesians 2:6-7

and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

God displays His kindness and mercy through His grace, and lest we think that is a small thing, Paul gives us a peek at what that means...

God raised (past tense, so does this mean that it is a done deal and we cannot lose His grace? Let the debating begin!) us up and seated us with Him in heavenly places. That is what grace does for us. It puts us in an incredible place. Grace is not just about forgiveness, it is about the glory of God. What will I do when I realize the fullness of His grace, because as it stands now, I only see a part of it? I have to believe I will praise Him for His greatness. Even though I cannot understand the fullness of this grace, I can already praise Him for it. In fact, I should be doing this. Why else would Paul take the time to share this vision?

But poor old me, I too often get caught up in that which is "by sight." That is where His word inspires me. That is where the word of a good preacher can lift me up. (Note: I said "good preacher," because I have heard some who definitely bring me down.)

So that in the coming ages I might see His "immeasurable" grace. Are you kidding me? Immeasurable? So that no matter how long I spend in heaven, even if it is eternity, I will still not get to see the full size of His grace? I want that. I want the giver of that grace. No wonder Paul said, "to live is Christ, to die is gain."

Batman and the Gospel

Ephesians 2:4-5

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved -

It feels like a Batman episode (I know, I am showing my age), when we left off yesterday we were in deep trouble labeled as "children of wrath." And not just anyone's wrath, God's wrath. It was a hopeless situation, as there is nothing we can do or anything we can give to get out of this mess. There is only one solution, and that is for God to free us. Now tell me, would the Riddler put Batman and Robin over a boiling pot of acid only to come back and free them himself? Of course not. Neither would the Penguin, Mr. Freeze, the Joker and so on.

But there is a differences between those guys and God. First, God did not put us in this situation, we did. We did it when we chose to sin. And second, those guys don't love their enemies, but God loves us. Third, those guys are not merciful, but God is full of mercy.

That is the beginning of the good news, who God is. It is what brings Him to do what He did, which is bring life to us even while we were dead in our trespasses. Holy forgiveness, Batman! And that is exactly what it is, a most holy forgiveness. A forgiveness that came at great price, which God paid in full through His Son Jesus. A forgiveness from a situation that we could never have escaped from on our own ability. A forgiveness, when understood, that should bring us to our knees.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The real me

Ephesians 2:3

among whom we all once live in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

I have heard Matt Chandler call Ephesians 2:1-10 "The gospel in 10 verses." I agree, as I think Paul is continually presenting the gospel in his writings in many ways and places. But this verse I think is one that we would rather not hear. And probably don't, in most churches.

For many, the thought that we were once sinners is something we don't hear a lot. Yet it is all over Paul's gospel. And if we are going to be honest, we struggle with sin still. I like that Paul states we have both desires of the body and the mind. We have urges that were put into our bodies by God, but that still does not mean we have to act on them at every turn. It is easy to justify things we do, but this is not a valid justification. And then there are the urges of the mind. Greed, anger, hate, etc., we used to live according to these too. Everyone. And we start young.

Because of this we were children of wrath. Like the time my son spilled water on my laptop as we were leaving to go somewhere. He knew he did it, yet just walked out the door with the rest of us, saying nothing and not bothering to clean it up. After several hours soaking in water, the laptop was fried. Had it been picked up and moved, or quickly dried up, perhaps a different outcome. I believe I had reason to be upset upon returning home and finding the mess. Children of wrath.

My son did not have $1,000 to replace the laptop. That was a problem. I don't have enough to pay my debt to God either. Thank God for verses 4-10, which I will discus in future posts!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

They keep going and going and going...

Ephesians 1:1-2

 1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—

Paul is talking to the Ephesians, to Christians, to you. Okay, to me too. We were dead in our shortcomings, in our sins, those things that we used to live in back when we followed the original sinner, Satan.

Notice that he says, "in which you once walked." That means that we do not walk in them any longer. It is not that we do not struggle in our flesh, but we have a means of conquering our struggles, and that is to walk in the Spirit. The alternative of not following the Spirit of God is that we are following the spirit of Satan. The spirit of selfishness.

The word "work" is the Greek word "energeo" which sounds a lot like our word "energy." So this raises the question, where do we get our energy? Those who get their energy from the Spirit of God will have the power to overcome. But those who walk in their own power, or the power of this age or of Satan will continue to struggle with their disobedience.

There is an axiom that if you don't change what you are doing, you shouldn't expect different results. If we want to see change in our lives, we need to make a more conscious effort to walk in the Spirit.

Head over heels

Ephesians 1:19b-23

That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

God is all-powerful. So in a sense, it is strange to hear God using "mighty strength" and "exerting" Himself. Job Chapter 26 touches on some of the strength of God, and then concludes by saying "And these are but the outer fringe of his works; how faint the whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power?”

I like the words of the ESV, which translate it as the "immeasurable greatness of his power toward us." Now, instead of seeing God exerting Himself, I just stand back in awe as I witness His strength in raising Christ and placing Him as supreme over all things.

Christ is not just above, He is far above all things, past, present, and future. He is ruler in this age and the age to come. I love the idea that all things are under His feet (as in they can be stamped out when He sees fit), but He rules over the church with His head.

I need to keep His greatness before me. I need to see His glory and let that keep me focused, for I am far too easily swayed to sin. I also need to see His strength and justice, and remember that it is much better to be ruled over by His head than to be under His feet.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sign me up?

There is a story about a church in Ohio that is giving away $1,000 to encourage people to come to church.

Apparently, this is the second year for this offer. Last year's event doubled their regular Sunday attendance for the Easter Sunday Service.

So many thoughts are running through my head, I know I will lose a few before I finish typing:
  • What were the long-term results of this? Did the church grow? Were people brought to Christ?
  • How about the offering that Sunday? Did the extra people give to offset or even overcome the $1,000 cost?
  • What is the message we are sending?
  • I know that Jesus fed followers, but didn't he later also say that they were only following to fill their stomachs?
  • If one of the goals is to help in the stuggling economy, what if someone "wins" who is not in need?
  • Do you put envelopes under the seat of the winners, or draw names?
  • What other things is this church doing to help those who are struggling right now?
  • Does the winner have to claim this on their taxes?
  • Wow!

Turn it around, silly people

Ephesians 1:15-19a

15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

Can't you just see the humility of Paul here? How humbled he is in what God has done in Ephesus? He is not patting anyone, including himself, on the back for the faith and love of these people. He knows that there is only one who gets the praise, and that is God. Knowing that all things come from God he first gives thanks. Thanks to the one who is responsible for all good gifts. And beyond that, he prays for them, praying to God that the faith that he has heard about will continue to grow. Praying that the Spirit will be unleashed in their lives. Why? That they might know Him better. Because as they come to know Him better, their faith will increase, their love for one another will grow even greater.

Doesn't this stand in stark contrast to most of Christianity today? We see the church is growing, and we smile and pat one another on the back. We send an offering to Haiti or Japan, and of course we print the amount of the check in hte bulletin and newsletter, because we want to know just how awesome we are. Go God, You sure know how to use us awesome Christians. We often offer up a prayer too. But is it constant? Does it echo the humility of Paul and of Christ?

What we need to understand is, it is knowing Him that brings us to our knees. It is seeing His grace and glory that creates life change in us. We don't respond to get closer by works that seek to impress God or others. Those who do have already "received their reward in full." (Matt 6:2)

Monday, March 21, 2011

God somehow does it all

Ephesians 1:11-14

11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

Did Paul just go all Calvinist here? (Or did Calvin later go all Pauline for you chicken/egg types.) There is just something comforting about knowing that under every circumstance God is sovereign.

I read and re-read these verses, and I do not know the answer to all of life's questions. But I know that there is someone who does. In these verses I see a God who is in absolute control, a God who is worthy of all praise, a God who cannot be defeated. Whatever the path, He works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will. And He does it for His glory. I am okay with that, because I certainly do not expect He would do it for my glory, me being a sinner and all. And that goes for humanity as a whole as well, seeing that we have all sinned and fall short of His glory.

To be God's possession is an amazing thought. Most humans do not desire to be the possession of someone else. Under slavery, people risked their lives in order to no longer be the possession of another. Yet there were those, who out or fear or loyalty gave up freedom to remain with their masters.

I think this goes back to Jesus thought that we cannot serve two masters. I notice that Jesus did not give a third option. Such as, "Option 3: You can not serve either one, but you can have absolute freedom!" Jesus knew in our sinful state that such an option did not exist. And to be honest, being God's possession does not exist without Jesus.

That is what I want to dwell on today, being God's possession. Just being able, through Christ, to not be thrown away as worthless, but to be clean and presentable before Him. God, the one who wonderfully controls it all. Now that is priceless.

Friday, March 18, 2011

That's Bigger Than I Thought!

Ephesians 1:7-10

Redemption is found in the blood of Christ. This is given through the grace of God. Every time I see or hear that word "grace," I need to remind myself, I don't desreve it. This is God's wonderful mercy to me. And grace wasn't merely handed to us, it was lavished on us. As if God, in His love, just couldn't give us enough grace. God doesn't supply redemption stingily or begrudgingly, but He pours it out.

God had a plan, and that plan was fulfilled in Christ. In Christ, redemption of everything would be accomplished. Creation would once again be able to be united.

As I read through the first 10 verses of Ephesians, I could not help but see how Paul exalts the glory of God. Ironically, it is somewhat subtle. I say that because the way that Paul speaks has become a sort of expected Christian language. But such a language did not exist in Paul's time. We use words like "blessed" and "grace" and so on without a thought to their true meaning. I wonder what Paul would think if someone sneezed and he heard another person respond, "Bless you." That is what I need to see in my life, the Gospel, the glorious grace of God, how truly blessed He is. And the depth of what He has lavished on me through His grace.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Glorious God

Ephesians 1:6

to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

What is to His glory? Salvation. Verses 4 and 5 tell us this, that He chose us to be holy and blameless before Him, and that He predestined us for adoption through Christ. But what strikes me is that this was all done to the praise of His glory. He saved us so that He might have glory. This is so contrary to what we often hear preached, and even to what we by nature want to believe.

C.S. Lewis likened God to an old woman begging for praise prior to his conversion. Obviously, Paul does not see it this way, nor is he think it wrong that God should seek His own glory.

But let me ask this question, if God does not seek his own glory, whose glory should he seek? Ours? Tell me what glory I should receive because God saves me? If someone risks his life to save another, the one who saves or the one who is saved? Of course it is the one who does the saving.

But what about humility? That is a non-issue. When God saves us, He deserves the glory, He is not seeking it. He saves us because of His great love for us. If a mother risks her life to save her children, she does not do it to gain glory, even though she likely will. She does it out of love for her children. Should we expect any less from God?

And it is through His glorious grace that we are blessed in Christ, His Beloved. The word grace is "charis," and can also be translated "joy." That it is to His great joy that He has saved us. This makes me think of what the writer of Hebrews states about Christ's vision of the cross, "who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God."

I think this is a difficult concept for some, that of joy. Often we equate joy with happiness. The cross was not a happy day. But joy is different. It is not a temporary feeling. It is a mindset. It was the joy set before Him that Jesus focused on. Most women long to have children, but I can't think of many who would go through labor just to experience pain. No, they do it for the joy that comes after the labor. (An interesting footnote, when the writer of Hebrews writes of "the joy set before him," he uses the word "chara" which is a feminine noun for "the joy received from you.")

Paul is painting a picture of a very loving Father. A Father who is worthy of our praise. A Father who takes joy in providing for His children. A Father we cannot help but worship, if we understand Him in the light of truth.

God wants us to be joyful. Some would have us to think that this means He wants us to be happy all the time. But I see it as more of a mindset. The mindset of Christ. The mindset Paul had. Not a super-natural mind, but a mind that sees the goodness and grace of God. A mind that is more than just gracious (nice), but a mind that is grace-filled, a mind that is flat out blown away but the goodness of God. A mind that focuses on what can we do in this circumstance, rather than one that sees what is happening to us in this circumstance.

Having it all

Ephesians 1:3

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.

Paul begins by saying "Blessed be God." God is worthy of our worship, because He is adorable, worthy, good, etc. I believe that this is the beginning of the gospel. God is good, and is worthy of our praise no matter what. Paul expounds more on the greatness of God in other places, one of my favorites being Romans 11:33-36. Not only does Paul say this, but he lives it. It was this thought, I believe, that carried him through the many torturous events in his life. Prison, stoning, shipwrecks, murderous threats and so on. It seems that nothing ever got Paul down. It was this thought that also got Paul through the good times, through times when he might otherwise have been tempted to rely on the things of this world rather than on God. Paul always understood that God is in control, and that God loved him very much.

I think this thought is echoed in the Lord's prayer, where Jesus beings, "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name." God is holy (hallowed). Can there be any greater acknowledgment of God's worth than to call him holy? This is pinnacle to us worshipping Him. We need to see Him as holy, perfect, sinless, all-good. If not, why would we worship Him? If so, we are crazy not to worship Him.

God's goodness overflows to us. He has "blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places." A few things to note about His blessings to us. First, we are blessed in Christ. I think this is a primary reason that many in the world can be satisfied with little, while many with much would not be satisfied with even more. God's blessings overflow through Christ. As Paul said, "I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need." (Phil 1:12) The secret is to understand God's goodness and how it flows to us in all circumstance. That is why the next verse in Philippians is "I can do all things through him who strengthens me." 

To continue with this thought, Paul states that we have every spiritual blessing. If we have every one of them, then we have no lack. This does not mean the we have every spiritual gift, but we have every spiritual blessing. We have all that we need, in Christ, to deal with whatever the world throws our way.

What is this spiritual blessing? I believe it is faith. Jesus said, "[I]f you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you." (Matthew 17:20) So even the smallest faith is enough blessing to accomplish a great task. If we have faith, we have all that we need. If we see God as beautiful, hallowed, wonderful, then we know that we have all that we need in this life.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Gracious Christians

I attended a men's meeting at our church last night. It left me feeling puzzled.

We spent 3 hours at the church. About 45 minutes in dinner, with the obligatory opening prayer, and a devotion up front. After dinner, about 65 minutes in small group. We read Scripture, prayed, and talked and had more than a few moments of awkward silence.

Then we gathered for the last hour or so to go over the book of the month. This month, we were discussing the first 6 chapters of "Growing Churches, Growing Leaders" by David Faust. In the first 6 chapters, he focuses on growing churches and the role that grace plays in the church.

As I left, something was gnawing at me. I heard about grace. Many times arms were nearly broken trying to pat ourselves on the back as it was mentioned how graceful our church is. We send our High School kids on missions trips, we are friendly. We welcome those who are different. We prayed for Japan last Sunday. We spent 3 hours meeting together, and there are so many other opportunities for fellowship and learning throughout the week. We love and hug and there are no problems at our church. We are a graceful church.

Or are we?

A thought occured to me. Are we a graceful church or are we a gracious church? Here is what I mean...

Gracious people are nice. They smile a lot. They are friendly. They help other people out when it is comfortable. Sometimes even when it is a little uncomfortable. A little. Gracious people like to see nice things happen to others. The world is full of gracious people, and gracious people can attract a crowd around them. Usually, it will attract a crowd of more gracious people. So soon, you have a bunch of people who are growing. It could be a church, or it could be a Rotary Club.

Grace is different. The devotional speaker defined grace as "getting what we don't deserve, or not getting what we do deserve." So I began to ask, "Am I a grace-filled Christian?" and "Are we a grace-filled church?" So, here are some perceived differences.

Gracious Christians welcome people when they come to church. They are friendly, they smile, they maybe even go out of their way to hug or embrace newcomers.
Grace-Filled Christians are welcoming people where ever they encounter them. They are just as grace-filled getting pulled over or waiting in line at the grocery store. They don't just invite others to church, they introduce them to Jesus.

Gracious Christians pray for the needs of others.
Grace-Filled Christians pray for the needs of others and will go the extra mile to sacrificially seek to meet those needs. They do it because they recognize the grace that has been given to them, not just in the meeting of their material needs, but the grace of God flooding into their lives through Christ.

Gracious Christians read the Bible. They know and follow the Bible to the best of their ability.
Grace-Filled Christians read and live the Bible. They know and follow the Bible above and even beyond their ability, according to the level of faith God has given them. They trust God to provide when they are weak. They see God's Word as a lamp to their feet and a light to their path.

Gracious Christians will ask God to bless you.
Grace-Filled Christians seek to be a blessing to you. They are not just hearers of the word, but doers. They are foot-washers when the opportunity arises.

Gracious Christians run from conflict in an effort to maintain a sense of unity with one another.
Grace-Filled Christiams embrace conflict as an opportunity to grow, seeking to maintain the unity of the Spirit.

Gracious Christians go to church on Sunday. And maybe even on one or more other days as well.
Grace-Filled Christians walk with Jesus every day. Every moment of every day. They know Him.

Gracious Christians a good people.
Grace-Filled Christians are sinners who understand they are broken and they need for a Savior.

Gracious Christians love their church. They go to small-group meetings. They meet one another's needs.
Grace-Filled Christians love their church as Jesus loved the church, and are willing to give themselves for her. They don't limit their understanding of their church to a specific group or location. Their neighbor is anyone who is in need, just like the Good Samaritan.

Gracious people do the work of the church.
Grace-Filled people follow Jesus. And for Jesus, a lot of that work takes place outside of the doors of the physical building that we call church.

Gracious Christians are worried about the outside of the cup. They want everything to be in place so people will look at them and tell them how beautiful their cups are, and how they wish their cups were as beautiful.
Grace-Filled Christians cups are clean too, but on the inside. The outside might now look as nice, maybe because they were caring for others needs when the lawn needed to be mowed, but the inside is clean.

To be a gracious Christian is to live out my faith in a comfortable way. The problem is, Jesus calls me to carry my cross and follow him. I can only do that if I am grace-filled.

I cannot help but think of Matthew 7:21  "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven."

I like being around gracious people. They make me feel good. Sometimes, grace-filled people make me uncomfortable. Like Jesus. He probably made the Pharisees feel a bit uncomfortable sometimes. And I am sure that the Rich Ruler felt a bit put out when he told him to sell everything. A gracious person would not do that.

So I have a task before me...a task to be a grace-filled Christian. A task to be uncomfortable sometimes. A task to be like Jesus.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Simple Answers???

During prayer time today, our preacher asked for prayer for those in Japan affected by the earthquake. Which I think would be just about everyone in Japan, in some way or another. During this time, he confidently stated that God did not cause this to happen.


Does he know something that I don't know? No, I am not saying that God is laying a judgment on the people of Japan for something they did or did not do, but can someone confidently and reasonably state that God did not cause this to happen? Again, I am not saying God did, or that He liked it, but can anyone say that God did not do it?

Judges 9:23    And God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem, and the leaders of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech,  (Who sent that evil Spirit?)

2 Kings 15:5   And the LORD touched the king, so that he was a leper to the day of his death, and he lived in a separate house. And Jotham the king’s son was over the household, governing the people of the land. (Who touched the King?)

Job 2:10   But he said to her, "You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips. (Good question! Perhaps one that we do not ask enough!)

Job 42:11   Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him. And each of them gave him a piece of money and a ring of gold  (All the evil that who brought on Job?)

Isaiah 45:7   I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.  (Who creates calamity?)

Amos 3:6   Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it?  (Unless who has done it?)

I am not saying God directly caused this, although that is plausible. But I cannot say that he didn't. I cannot pretend to know the mind of God. Nope, not me. And not any other human either. And even if God did not directly cause the calamity in this case, is He not the designer of the earth that rests on plates so that earthquakes happen?

I guess what frustrates me in all of this is putting God in a little box that we make. What if God came down and revealed "Yup, it was Me, I caused the earthquake." Would that really shake your world? Because for me, if I didn't know He was in charge, working all things for good, that is what would shake my world.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Input and Output

Sometimes I post daily or even more. Other times I don't. That is for a variety of reasons. Here lately, at a time when I thought I would post a lot (due to the fact that I am recovering from an injury and have a lot of time and nowhere to go), I find posting difficult.

Some of this is probably just trying to force it. I have started posts only to never finish them. Some of it is just not wanting to sit here and whine about things that I have no control over. But a lot of it has been this has been a great time for input, rather than output. I have been reading blogs, books, articles. And it feels great. Great to catch up on what is going on in several places, great to spend quiet time with God (especially while the kids are in school), and great to just learn.

So maybe when I get around to posting some more, as I am sure will happen again, I will be able to speak with a greater sense of wisdom because it will not just be my own. I am thankful for a season of "reloading."

If you are interested, here are some of the things I am reading...

Radical by David Platt - thumbs up
Growing Churches, Growing Leaders by David Faust - Jury is still out on this one
Redeemed, by Mike Wilkerson - thumbs up
Rid of My Disgrace by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb - thumbs up

I have about 4 others that I have not started yet. Maybe some fodder to future posts. Until next time...