Grace. How good it is.

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“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5).

There are many things that can be said about these verses, but I want to point out one area that we sometimes overlook. These verses, in a roundabout way, speak to the reality of God’s grace sinners receive when they come to Christ. We are not to stand in judgment of others lest we forget that we too are sinners who are guilty of sin. To not judge others does not mean we suspend our powers of spiritual discernment or ignore sin, but it does mean we recognize we are no better than others. Only a hypocrite can pass judgment on another without realizing how much he/she has received by way of God’s grace.

Grace is the overwhelming force of love, forgiveness, and acceptance that floods our life with God’s presence, peace, and joy. We sometimes forget that only Christ was without sin. We cannot make such a boast. It is through Christ that the floodgates of grace are opened to us. What if God did not give grace to sinners, and instead gave sinners exactly what they have earned through their sin?  Banish the thought! But, we don’t have to look far. Jesus spoke about hell more than anyone in scripture, and He took no delight in knowing people were going there. Indeed, He said, “The Son of Man came to seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). Though judgment is real, God seeks to save sinners from eternal judgment. This is the point of the gospel, and it is why it is called “Good News.” It is good news because through Christ, and because of the cross of Christ, God saves sinners from the eternal doom of hell.

Yet, there are people (whom Jesus is speaking to in this text) who do not want to give away God’s grace through the gospel. Instead, they seek to stand over and above sinners as though they were, themselves, without sin. The absurdity is self-evident.

God’s people are called to make known God’s grace through the gospel. That is why Paul confidently proclaimed that, “I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:16). Those who are recipients of God’s grace know how good it is to stand under the shower of God’s love and feel the warmth of His forgiveness wash over their needy souls. As recipients of God’s grace, we are called to flood each other’s lives with the same love and forgiveness we have received. But, tragically we often don’t give God’s grace away as freely as we have received it. We want it for ourselves but find it hard to freely give it away. So, Jesus was warning that God’s people should not hoard God’s grace.

Jesus was teaching that those who have received the matchless grace of God should not be quick to pass judgment on others (as in sentencing them). To do so is to negligently overlook the sin and failures of their own lives before God. How can needy beggars pass judgment on other beggars? Or, how does a beggar become greedy thinking his crumb is a symbol of his great wealth? No, freely we have received (of God’s bountiful grace) and freely we are to give away (Matthew 10:8). When one beggar receives bread, he would do well to tell others how to get that same bread – and he would do well to generously share the bread he has freely received with others.

God’s grace cannot be exhausted. God’s people should rejoice in that truth and seek to give as much away as possible.

Look Up

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“They turn, but not to what is above” (Hosea 7:16).

Trying times came upon the children of Israel. They were threatened by foreign nations. They were facing a very real existential crisis. But, they did not know that turning away from God led to their problems – and the further they walked away from the Lord, the greater their problems became. Yet, when all seemed lost, they refused to come back to God. They refused to call upon Him. Instead they turned to false god’s. They turned to Ba’al, Marduk, Molech, and Ashtoreth, amongst others. They turned everywhere but to the one true God who was calling to them (Hosea 7:7, 10, 14). As they called to Ba’al they cut and mutilated themselves. As they called to Molech, they sacrificed their children. But, despite the intensity of their actions and the sincerity of their misguided beliefs, there would be no answer. They called, but silence is all they received. Yet, during all this, God was there watching them; and through His prophets calling them. The message was simple, “Seek me with all your hearts, and you will be found by me” (Jeremiah 29:12-13). God longed to save them, but they would not “cry to Him from their hearts.” Even in all their sin He was ready to save and protect them. How much sorrow do people bring upon themselves because they don’t “turn to what is above?” God never turns from people. People turn from God. God loves with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3) and will gladly receive anyone unto Himself. There is no sin that can carry one too far away from His reach. No one is too far gone for the Lord’s help. He comes – He always comes – to those who look to Him and cry out to Him from their heart. When we turn to Him, even in the depths of our sin, we will be met with compassion, kindness, love, and hope. All we have to do is, “Look to what is above.” When we do, we will discover that God is already looking at us.

God Knows

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“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:33-34).

God is the Lord of history. It has been said that history is His-Story. In Daniel chapter eight (verses 1-8), God gave Daniel a vision of things that would take place in the future. This vision came to pass two centuries later. It is an amazing thought that God can reveal in detail things that will not occur for centuries. No wonder Jesus told us not to be anxious. The gentiles, He said, are worried about the daily affairs of life. But, our Father not only knows our needs, He knows the events of the day long before the day arrives. Because He is our God, we can leave the worry to Him. He said, “Seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness” and all our needs will be provided for. In Christ we are free to let God be God – which releases us from all worry, anxiety, and fear. If God can direct the affairs of nations centuries before they occur, He is capable of meeting my meager needs. My eyes can only see to the horizon. But, my faith anchors me in the One who sees through the centuries and directs all of time.

The Biblical Marks of Discipleship

Plant Sequence
One of the current needs of the church today is to recover the biblical concept of discipleship. Over the past generation the understanding of discipleship as being foundational to the mission and life of the church has been watered down. During the same period of time one can find many resources devoted to the topic. However, instead of being the foundational principle upon which the church should operate, discipleship has been relegated to just one ministry amongst many within the church. During this time, the church has unofficially adopted the strategy of running programs as being the necessary approach to building a healthy church. Hence churches have children’s programs, youth programs, evangelism programs, discipleship programs, and music and worship programs – amongst many others. This partitioning of programs has led people to see discipleship as just another program within the larger church with the effect that people see it as an option or preference. One person joins the choir, another goes to the discipleship class, but both are “active” in ministry. And while that may be so, as a result of partitioning the church into programs, the church is not fulfilling the great commission.

Before Jesus ascended to the Father he made clear the purpose of the church. Every gospel account and the book of Acts communicates some version of the Great Commission. The most explicit enunciation of the Great Commission is found is Matthews’s gospel. Their Jesus said,

“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen” (Matthew 28:18-20, NKJV).

From this text it is clear that the Great Commission is not limited to evangelism. And while the church has always understood that the Great Commission is a command to lead people to Christ, it has not always embraced Continue reading

A Very Real Power

I was thinking lately about the power of language. As I thought about how God used the spoken word to create the universe I was struck by the reality that there is great power in our use of language. It is something we often take for granted. God said, “Let there be….” and the world and all that is in it came bursting forth into existence.

We cannot create a universe, but we can create divergent realities with our language. Think about the power words have over children when they are still learning. What is said to that child can determine the course of his or her entire life. Think about how criticism can break a person emotionally and psychologically. Conversely, think of how a word timely spoken can redirect the course of a person’s entire life in positive ways. Words are more than just ideas verbalized. They are a form of power that we wield every time we open our mouth. As such we are to use our speech in ways that honor God and direct people to the path of life.

The Bible has much to teach us about Continue reading

My Brother

“While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:46-50).

The other day someone made the statement to me, “We are brothers.” What he meant was, we are fellow believers, and as a result there is a relationship between us grounded in Christ. I agreed and we gave the appropriate man hug with the hit on the back, and then we went our separate ways. This morning while doing my quite time I read the above verse. Jesus raises an interesting point concerning our relationships in Christ. He seems to limit them.

Jesus’ family came looking for Him. His mother and brothers were attempting an intervention. Mom found the brothers and convinced them to put a stop to what Jesus was doing. I think they thought He lost his mind and they were seeking to “speak” with Him about His ministry. His reply is almost shocking. “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” He asked. The normal reply would have been, “Those guys out there with the little old lady who are waiting for you.” But instead Jesus points to those who are actively following Him and says, “Here are my mother and brothers!” He then defines that relationship with great specificity. He says, in effect, Continue reading

Do What?

Over the course of the last year I have heard several Christians dispense advice along these lines, “You have to do what is right for you.” I remember being a young soldier in 1990 and giving out the same advice to someone who asked me about a situation they were in. The advice has an appearance of wisdom. In every situation there are factors that only the person involved in can navigate; and only the individual can assess the consequences that will arise as a result of their choices. So, telling them to do what is right for them, i.e., what will benefit them the best, seems to be the right advice to give.

Before I came to know Christ, I saw myself as an isolated entity with no clear connections to the world around me. Sure I had family relationships, friends, and breathed the same air as those around me, but whatever I chose to do, in my mind at the time, had little impact on others and the world around me (in so far as my actions did not hurt others). That may be a bit of a simplification, but, like those around me, I made choices that I believed were best for me without giving much thought to anything else. But, when I met God, my perspective on life changed.

Before we meet God we are simply individuals trying to navigate Continue reading

Freedom

This is chapter 9 of my book, Man of the World.

 

“Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17)

I remember watching Mel Gibson’s movie Brave Heart years ago. No one who watched that movie can forget the dramatic ending where, during intense torture, the main character cries out, “Freedom!” Freedom is a yearning within all people. Unfortunately, outside of Christ there is no freedom. Only He can bring the freedom our soul longs for. Sin enslaves all people. And religion without Christ cannot set a single person free. For those who strive to be free in the flesh, seeking freedom through religion, they will receive only weariness, toil, and disappointment. But, for those who come to Christ, a glorious freedom awaits them.

The true Man of the World comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. Satan seeks to lead us into the land of religion and ritual that is devoid of life. He creates rules and generates anxiety. He wants people to think of God as a heavenly IRS agent desperately seeking to find something wrong with you so He can smite you. He wants to create division amongst people by getting them to become suspicious of each other. He wants people to distrust each other, hate each other, judge one another, and hurt one another. He has done a good job. Lifeless religion has been the source of contention and strife for as long as history has been written. The reason there are so many different denominations is because there are no shortage of people hurling contempt upon others in the name of God. Fallen people are always looking for reasons to divide. It takes a spirit filled person to see imperfect people and, knowing they too are sinners in need of a savior, love them as Christ did.

Thankfully, Jesus came to give us the Spirit. He came that we may have life and have it abundantly.[1] He did not come to give us rituals, or generate anxiety by telling how we might fail. He didn’t come to tell us how some are better than others. He isn’t watching over us with a clipboard and Continue reading

The Great Deceiver, Chapter 2: The Battle for Freedom

“Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17)

One of my more memorable experiences was when I first left home after high-school and joined the army. After processing through the MEPS station and then traveling to Ft. Benning where I was to attend basic training, I soon found myself surrounded by a group of young men my age. Before long we were greeted by a raving mad drill sergeant who made it known how happy he was to see us. After we were called to attention, the drill sergeant made it clear who was in charge. I will never forget the young solider in front of me. His whole body was shaking with such violence that I thought he was going wet his pants.

I think that for most people my age being confronted with such aggressive authority was something most of us had never experienced. We all grew up in a very permissive society. We are accustomed to living in a society that puts much emphasis on individual liberty. We do not like restrictions placed upon us. We all agree that our society should be guided by the rule of law, but are not too upset when those in authority bend the rules from time to time. However, when we stood before the drill sergeant that day we all received a crash course on military authority. We learned that it is complete, covering every area of our lives.

When Desert Storm broke out, the unit I belonged to at the time was locked down for a special mission were we to invade Iraq. Thankfully our armies stopped at the border and my unit was not sent in for the mission. But, while we were waiting Continue reading

The Great Deceiver, Chapter 1: The Battle for Truth

“Then God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:3)

I remember the first time I was pulled over for a speeding ticket. I was in high school. I will never forget how my heart leaped into my mouth when I saw those flashing lights behind me. The officer was not interested in having a conversation, “License and registration please” he said dryly. It was not a pleasant experience. Those radar guns have a nagging way of telling on you. Special pleading does not help. He walked back, gave me the ticket and told me to slow down. My parent’s insurance company was, no doubt, not interested in special pleading either. Pay up or ride your bike.

Life is like that. No one really complains that a police officer pulls over teenage kids driving too fast. In fact, most people are grateful for that. Kids need to learn to drive safe; and that means learning to drive by the rules, speed limits included. I’m still a student.

Radar detectors were invented to speak truth when otherwise the truth would be clouded by all the excuses inventive teenagers can muster. Unfortunately for the kid driving, the speed limit is not a suggestion, it’s the law. Black and white. You either comply or you break it. When you break the law, you pay the piper.

But, while no one today would argue with an officer about the legitimacy of a radar’s ability to accurately track speed, many people, most really, want to argue that there is no such thing as truth that should guide how we live. There are opinions, and various points of view but nothing as solid as Truth by which real things can be defined. The sad reality is that this is accepted as perfectly normal today.

I don’t know when people began to accept this en mass, Continue reading