For it is by grace you have been saved...

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The World is Broken...and So Are You

How can ______________________? (fill in the blank)

How can those ISIS monsters do what they do?

How can rioters cause so much destruction and think it's helpful?

How can Bruce Jenner think mutilating himself is going to help anything?

How can people blame the police for everything, including biker fights?

How can people continue to slaughter babies in the name of convenience?

How can my good friend buy into every conspiracy theory, including his latest "flat earth" kick?

How can we keep electing the politicians we do?  Can't people see who they really are?

How can...

The answer to all these questions is really simple.  The World is Broken.  Have you read the first few chapters of Genesis?  God created and it was good.  Man sinned, and it was broken.  We are in a state of brokenness that will continue until Christ returns and the New Heavens and the New Earth become a present reality.  

And that means that until then, people will continue to do broken things.  Horrible things.  Things that confuse some of us, and defy logic, and make you shake your head.  It's a broken world, with broken people.

But here's the thing.  You're one of 'em, and so am I.  We're all broken.  Have your read the first few chapters of Romans?  All of us, every one of us, is broken.  We all seek our own selfish desires.  Some of us are bound by cultural restraints, legal restraints, our idea of moral restraints.  But in the end, we all like sheep have gone astray, none seeks God, none seeks right.  We are all broken. 

I hear the arguments:  But I would never do that!  But I could never possibly...!  But!  As I once heard it put, the world is sliding to hell on their "buts."  We may not all act in the most sinful way possible, but we are all equally depraved.  The heart that murders is born in the heart that feels anger, Jesus said.  The heart that commits adultery is born in the heart that looks with lust, He said.  The heart is a deceitful thing, full of all kinds of wickedness, Jeremiah told us. 

Here's another "how can..." question.  How can a holy and perfect God, one who is perfect is righteousness and judgment, how can He know what you did/thought/said this week and still let you draw breath and escape His wrath?  How can God not just shake his head at our stupidity and wipe us all out right now?

Because while the world is broken, God is in the business of fixing things.  Jesus came to take the wrath we deserve, so that we might have forgiveness.  It's an act of pure grace.  And it's only His grace that separates me from that ISIS soldier, that rioter, that murderer, that...whatever.  It's grace. I don't pretend to understand it.  His thoughts are not like mine, His ways infinitely higher, Isaiah says.

All will one day stand before Him.  The whole broken world. All will be judged.  Only those in Christ will escape the flames.  Pray you receive His mercy now and don't find yourself surprised to be in "that" crowd on that final day.

And for those who do know Christ, know His mercy and forgiveness: the next time you're tempted to look down your nose and shake your head at the sin of others, take a good look at your own heart, and thank God for the mercy He's shown you.  You were born just as broken.  God's grace has fixed you.  How can He be so gracious as to save a sinner like me?  His thoughts are not like mine, His ways infinitely higher, and I'm so glad they are!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Can We "Overdo" Grace?

As you can tell by the title of this little blog, I kind of like the idea of grace.  I mean, apart from grace we have nothing.  Apart from grace we are nothing but a bunch of rebellious, hell-bound, wrath-deserving... well, you get the idea.  Grace is amazing.  I think someone even wrote a song about that. 

So, I'm reading through our daily reading plan at church, looking for Sunday night's message.  I preach through books on Sunday mornings (we're in John at the moment) and then for Sunday evenings, I take a text from that week's readings.  Anyway, I'm reading through this week, and I come to Isaiah 55. 

Now, let me say something. One of the reasons I think preaching through a book on Sunday morning is a good idea is because it forces me to address the topics as God's Word brings them up.  I don't get to pick and choose. I don't get to skip over things, or just dwell on my favorite texts and topics, etc.  I think that's a wise approach to get to the "whole counsel" of God's Word. 

And as I'm reading here in Isaiah 55 I'm reminded why this is a good practice.  Because I LOVE this chapter.  I'd probably come here way too often.  53 is obviously an amazing text, one I could meditate on forever.  But I love 55 as well.  What a great chapter.  And it's all about grace. 

Granted, the word isn't used there at all.  But the concept...  "He who has no money, come, buy and eat!"  Come and find God's salvation, you who have nothing to offer, no means of getting it!  That's grace.  "Let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon."  Grace, grace, grace!

Anyway, I'm reading this chapter, and looking for all the things grace is to fill in the outline, and before I know it, I have it "narrowed down" to EIGHT points.  That's right, an 8 point sermon. And that really was narrowing it down, I think.  Because grace is so...well, amazing!

And then I think, "Am I overdoing this?"  I'm I overemphasizing this thing called grace?  Can we "overdo" grace? I mean, if I talk about grace too much, does that lessen the reality of sin?  Does it make it seem like our sin isn't that big a deal?   

C. H. Surgeon once said:  "We think that we are honoring God when we think great thoughts of our sin. Let us recollect, that while we ought to think very greatly of our own sin, we dishonor God if we think our sin greater than his grace. God’s grace is infinitely greater than the greatest of our crimes."

Infinitely greater than the greatest of our crimes.  So, can we really overdo grace?  Well....  I think sometimes grace can be misunderstood and misapplied.  Paul even addresses some of those potential problems in Romans 6.  But in the end, true grace, truly understood, can never be "overdone" or "over emphasized."  

Truly, apart from grace, we have nothing.  No hope.  No life.  No...anything.  I'm no John Newton, but I even penned a little hymn/ditty about this glorious grace not too long ago.  I can't help it.  I think about grace all the time.  I love to preach it, because I know I so desperately need it.  And you do, too.  

I hope I don't scare any of our folks away who might read this and think, "An EIGHT point sermon on Sunday night!"  I'll try to keep 'em relatively brief.  But oh my!  Grace!  It's the theme of the song we'll sing for all eternity.  We're just getting warmed up....

"The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you."

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

No One Takes Our Joy!

I hate watching the news.  Most of the time.  I like the weather and the sports sections.  But otherwise, it's just, well, so depressing.  Local news seems to focus on local disasters: fires, murders, controversy.  National news, the same on a bigger scale:  regional disasters, global economic scares, this and that threat to world peace.  On and on. 

It's not just the frustration of the mainstream media always putting their spin on things.  Every story has an "angle" and the media wants to take whatever angle they can to promote their agenda.  They don't even hide that fact any more.  But I digress.  This isn't about the media's liberal bias. 

No, it's just the news in general always seems so negative.  And it has a tendency to pull you down if you spend too much time with it.  There are only so many times you can groan and moan and growl.  

But here's the deal.  No matter what the news says, no matter how bleak things get, no matter how many dangers are coming our way, no matter how much ISIS grows, and the homosexual agenda proceeds, and the America-haters use their American freedom to bash America, no matter what the complaint may be: No One Takes Our Joy!
As followers of Christ, our joy doesn't come from this world, so the world can't take it from us.  In John 16, Jesus speaks of His leaving "for a little while" and then the disciples seeing Him again "in a little while."  Obviously, the immediate context speaks of His arrest and crucifixion, followed by His resurrection.  And the ultimate context speaks of His ascension, followed by His Second Coming.  But there is an "in between" understanding as well. 

In this world, we can still "see" Jesus.  As the Holy Spirit comes and convicts of sin, and regenerates our hearts, and leads us to repentance, we come to "see" Jesus.  He is with us, present with us by grace through faith.  And the promise He makes, in verse 22 of that passage, is "I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you."  No one will take our joy. 

Think of the lives of those disciples as they went on from there.  Arrests and persecution and famine and martyrdom.  Did Jesus not see those things coming?  Was this promise of joy made in ignorance, thinking things would work out a little better for those guys?  Of course not.  

In fact, in the preceding verses, Jesus promised them that the world would hate them!  The world would persecute them for His name's sake.  He knew full well what was ahead.  And yet, He still promises that "no one will take your joy from you."  The joy of seeing Jesus, the joy of knowing Him by faith, the joy of being filled with His Spirit; nothing can ever take that from us!

This isn't in any way making light of the difficulties we face.  And the way things are going in this world, those difficulties may grow at an alarming rate.  I'm not personally looking forward to any of that.  I'm not making light of the real, grief producing things of this life: disasters and terrorism and persecution.  Many still weep and wail and mourn, and we all experience that to varying degrees.  But even then, our true joy can never be taken from us. 

In my previous post I reminded us that this world is not our home.  It just naturally follows that if our identity is not wrapped up in this world, then our joy isn't either.  So bring it on!  I may not always do a good job of living up to my theology.  I may crumble outwardly when the grief comes.  But even then, I know that my true joy is in Christ, and nothing, no one, no how can take that away!