Tag Archives: grace

Today’s Scripture – August 10, 2017

Luke 6:32-36 (NIV) “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

The key to all of these kingdom expectations is that the character of those who belong to the kingdom will no longer be the character of the world, but that it will be transformed into the character of God Himself.

The people of the world show love to others when there is an expectation that they will be loved in return. And if their love is not returned, they are quick to turn away, to cut their losses and move on. But God shows love all day long to people who not only don’t return it, but who often throw it back in His face. And He keeps on showing that love for years, sometimes generations. God’s people, the people of His kingdom, are expected to show that same kind of self-sacrificial, other-focused, long-lasting love to others.

The people of the world do good to others as long as there is an adequate return. That return may be material, or just feeling good about trying to make a difference. But God does good to others who never acknowledge it, and when there is no “payback.” He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45), even though the evil and the unrighteous never thank Him for this provision that makes food grow and makes life pleasant. God’s people, the people of the kingdom, are expected to continue to pour blessings into the lives of the people around them, even if that good is never acknowledged.

The people of the world lend to others expecting to make a profit on their investment. But God never “lends” to people at all. Everything that we receive from God is a gift of love. Some people do multiply what God gives them out of love and devotion to Him, but that is not a condition of His giving, and He freely gives a multitude of blessings to those who will not even acknowledge that those blessings come from Him, preferring to believe that they are the result of hard work, or “luck.” God’s people, the people of the kingdom, are not to lend to others with the expectation of gain, but are to lend freely, and even to give to those in need with no expectation of return.

Of course it takes more than a mere profession of faith to change the mindset and character of a person from the mindset of the world to a kingdom mindset. It takes transformation, a complete remaking of the mind that only comes to those who are willing to give themselves wholly to God, to make themselves a living sacrifice, holding nothing back (Romans 12:1-2). But to those willing to give themselves fully to God, He will give a new heart of flesh to take the place of their stony, worldly heart, and will move them with His Holy Spirit to be just like Him, and to do what He would do (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

Father, to have such a kingdom mind and heart seems so far a stretch for many of us that it is hard for us to believe that we could ever think and behave in those ways. A big part of that is that we try to figure out how we can change our own minds and behaviors to be more like You, instead of simply devoting ourselves entirely to You and allowing You to do the more significant work of true inner transformation, remaking us into Your own image. Help me, Lord, to give up the “self-help” paradigm so common among Your people, and simply give myself to You to be completely transformed. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – March 16, 2017

Matthew 22:1-7 (NIV) Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying:  “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.  He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.
“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner:  My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready.  Come to the wedding banquet.’
“But they paid no attention and went off–one to his field, another to his business.  The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.  The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.”

Jesus was still talking to the chief priests and Pharisees.  (They don’t storm off until 22:15.)  He isn’t letting up on them, but continues to push the truth forward in ways that they cannot deny.  God is not willing that any are lost, even those who hearts are hard and necks stiff.  If they are ultimately lost, it is not because God failed to speak, but because they have refused to hear.

The figure has changed in this parable, but the message is still along the same lines.  The guests invited to the wedding feast first are these religious leaders, and the picture is tragic.  The king, God Himself, who has prepared a wedding feast for His Son, Jesus, extends an invitation to the best people of the land, these leaders.  All is ready, and the doors to the palace are thrown open for them.  But the invited guests ignore two separate invitations.  They have more important things to do that to go to the king’s feast!  And some even mistreat and kill the messengers, God’s prophets.

The next action of the king is to destroy these murderers and to burn their city to the ground.  This foretells yet again God’s judgment that resulted in the destruction of the city of Jerusalem, taking away the temple and its rituals – a judgment that has lasted until the present day.

Jesus was never shy about telling it like it is, including all of the gory details.  But He did it in an honest effort to get people to respond, to repent, to turn away from the path that ensures their ruin.

Father, Your grace and mercy are mind boggling.  In Your place, I would have been tempted to wipe these people out before they could murder Jesus.  But Your way was better, and much more merciful.  You gave them every opportunity to repent, and even spared them for another almost 40 years before your final judgment fell on the city!  Thank You for all that You are, and all that You have done.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – Matthew 5:7

Matthew 5:7 (NIV) Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

The kingdom of God is no place for those who are stern, harsh, judgmental, and unforgiving.

Every single person who enters the kingdom of God does so through the gate of God’s mercy.  When they come to Him, spiritually bankrupt, broken by the understanding of their own sinfulness, humble, realizing that they deserve God’s condemnation rather than His blessing, and hungering to be transformed into genuinely righteous people, they receive God’s mercy, His forgiveness through the sacrifice of Jesus, and His transforming grace.

From that moment on, those people belong to God, and are expected to be representatives of Him and His kingdom.  As such, they are expected to show others the same grace and mercy that He showed to them, whether they consider those others “deserving” of it or not.

The parable of the unforgiving slave (Matthew 18:23-35) is the best illustration of this.  When the slave, who owes his master millions of dollars, throws himself at the master’s feet and begs for more time to pay, he receives far more than he asks:  complete forgiveness of the debt.  But when another slave, who owes the first slave a few hundred dollars, begs the first servant for more time to pay, the first slave shows no mercy.  He has the second slave thrown into prison until the debt is paid.  He who received unimaginable grace from the master shows none to his fellow who begs a much smaller mercy from him.

The master is justifiably angry at the first slave, and actually revokes the mercy that was originally given to him.  Since he would not extend mercy to another, the mercy that he himself received is negated (verse 34).  Then Jesus ends with the inverse of this beatitude:  “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35 NIV)

In God’s kingdom, the harsh and judgmental will receive no mercy.  Instead, they will be judged by God using the same standard that they use to judge others (Matthew 7:1-2).  But those who show the same abundant mercy to others that they themselves have received will continue to be show that same abundant mercy.

Father, thank You for Your abundant mercy.  Help me to always remember who and what I was when I came to You, humbled by the depth and breadth of my black sins, and with no hope of every being able to do anything to repay You what I owed.  You pronounced undeserved forgiveness into my heart, and transformed me completely, taking away the darkness and shame of my sins, and replacing them with light and joy in You.  How could I not extend the same abundant forgiveness to someone else?!  Even though it may be difficult in some cases, help me, Lord, to be as merciful to others as You have been to me, so that I can always live in Your kingdom.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 4, 2014

John 9:39 (NIV):  Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”

Some people have a problem with the idea that Jesus came into the world for judgment on His first visit.  The typical argument goes like this:  The first time Jesus came, He came in love to save people and to show them Who God really is.  When He comes back, THEN He will come in judgment on those who didn’t receive Him.  But then, what do you do with this verse, these words from Jesus’ own lips?

Jesus did come the first time to save people from their sins and to show them Who God really is.  But in doing that, He automatically caused people to choose sides – to sort themselves into those who would accept Jesus for who He claimed to be (God in the flesh), and those who would reject Him, and thus reject God, the one Who sent Him.  So His very presence created both the opportunity to be saved and receive life, and the opportunity to stand against Him and bring judgment on oneself.

That same sorting, that same self-categorizing, goes on even today.  There are still those who are drawn to God through His people, who receive Jesus for Who He really is – the God-man through whom salvation was bought and paid for, and thus receive salvation and eternal life.  But there are also those who reject God’s people, who reject Jesus, and who thus reject God.  They sort themselves into the category of those who oppose God, oppose His agenda, and who will thus be subject to His wrath.

However, it is also important to remember that as long as there is life, there is hope.  Like Paul (and even like me!), people have opportunities to change their alignment; to stop rejecting Jesus, and to receive all of the life that has been made possible for them through His sacrifice.  Thorough a changing of their own choice, they can actually change the judgment that is awaiting them.  But that opportunity ends when they die and stand before God, when the judgment against them will be written for all eternity; or when Jesus returns, when the same thing will happen.  But it is crucial for all of God’s people to remember that even though their presence will tend to make people choose one side or the other, light or darkness, peace or war, life or death, no one should ever give up loving their neighbors, and even their enemies, praying for those who persecute them, and trying with all that is within them to try to turn those who have not yet chosen Jesus to turn into the way of life before it is too late.

Father, thank You for this reminder.  I was one who rejected Jesus, and even taught against Him.  But the faithful prayers and witness of Your people, and Your own love showing me my lostness, my doomed future, the judgment that I had drawn against myself by my own choices, drew me to the cross, to full surrender, and to eternal life.  Thank You for not giving up on me!

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Today’s Scripture – December 2, 2013

Galatians 5:16-18 (NIV):  So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

Paul has often been misquoted, both in verse 18 here and in Romans 6:14.  Many quote these verses as if Paul had said that Christians have no obligation to live in accordance with God’s commands, because we are “not under law, but under grace.”  But a more in-context reading shows how this interpretation is inaccurate.

Most people who believe that Christians are “not under law” will agree that people who claim to know Jesus are not allowed to lie, or steal, or covet, or commit murder, or dishonor their parents, or engage in idolatry.  So the question naturally arises:  what part of the law do we not have to follow?  One answer commonly given, and correct as far as it goes, is the sacrificial law; that was fulfilled by Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice on the cross.  But even that answer misses Paul’s intent.

Paul’s context indicates that he is not talking about obeying or not obeying God’s commands.  He takes obedience for granted in all of his letters, and clearly calls disobedience to God’s commands sin.  (See the impressive list of disobediences that disqualify people for the kingdom of God in Galatians 5:19-21!)  Instead, Paul is talking about the fact that too many who go by the name of Christ attempt to obey God’s commands in their own strength, and fail miserably.  The contrast to this is the person who is “led by the Spirit.”  This Spirit-led person so lives in God’s presence through the indwelling Holy Spirit that they instinctively obey God’s commands.  They do not need the law as a schoolmaster to try to keep them in line.  Instead, their love for God, the transformation of their inner selves by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, their commitment to God’s agenda, and their gratefulness for the grace and mercy that He has show to them through their salvation drives them from within to obey all that God has commanded them to do.  (cf. Ezekiel 36:25-27; Romans 6:18; Galatians 5:24-25.)

The one who loves God and serves Him out of a transformed heart by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is done with striving, done with legalistic righteousness based on conformity to an external standard.  Instead, driven by an internally righteous orientation of their entire life, they will find that the right thing, the righteous things, the genuinely holy thing, become for them the instinctual thing to do.  And, when that happens, sin is no longer their master, and they live their lives not under the law, but in the true freedom of grace.

Father, thank You for all You have done to make this true righteousness a reality for Your people.  Thank You that we really can live as children of light, in the glorious freedom of true holiness.  And not just for brief moments, but for all the rest of our lives (cf. Luke 1:74-75).  All glory goes to You!  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 27, 2013

Matthew 6:12, 14-15 (NIV):  “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

There are a lot of people who desire God’s forgiveness, and want that forgiveness to be powerful, effective, and complete.  We want God to forgive us so completely that He no longer even remembers that we have sinned.  We want Him to forgive us, and then treat us with absolute love, trust, and care, as if we have always been deserving of all of that.  And, when we truly repent, completely turning away from our sins, and seek God’s forgiveness by faith in the blood of Jesus, He does all of that for us.

There is, however, one huge thing that will completely block off God’s forgiveness: unforgiveness of someone else.  Jesus was very intentional in His wording of this part of His model prayer.  A person who follows His lead is asking for God to forgive them in the same way, to the same degree, that they have extended forgiveness to others.  And, as Jesus made clear in many of His parables, that is God’s standard anyway.

If we withhold forgiveness from anyone, God will withhold His forgiveness from us.  If we say that we forgive, but hold a grudge against the other person, we will find that God will continue to hold our sin over our own head.  If we claim to forgive the other person, but then let hurt feelings keep the other person at arm’s length from ourselves, we will find that God has grown distant from us, too.

The ONLY way to really experience God’s forgiveness, and the eternal life that goes with it, is for us, His people, to truly forgive those who have sinned against us, and forgive them not just in words, but from the heart.  And yes, God DOES know what they did to us!  Only complete forgiveness of others will open the door to complete forgiveness from God.

Father, I understand how this requirement is based on Your unconditional love, not only for those of us who follow You now, but for ALL people everywhere, people whom You desperately want to become Your followers.  But they will never believe in or trust in Your forgiveness of them if they don’t even get to experience OUR forgiveness!  Help us, Lord, to forgive as You forgive, so that we can be forgiven fully as we fully forgive.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 20, 2013

Matthew 5:38-42 (NIV):  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’  But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.  Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”

 

The “lex talionis”, the “law of retaliation” (“an eye for an eye,” etc.) was not originally meant as a standard for righteous revenge, but as a limit – a method of stopping the escalation of retaliation in its tracks.  Sin-twisted human nature is such that it instinctively ups the ante.  If someone mistreats a person emotionally, it is very easy for them to mistreat back physically if they have the chance.  A slap in the face is magnified in return to beating the other person up.  A beating is retaliated against by deadly force, which is returned with interest onto the heads of family members, and on it goes.  We can see this same dynamic at work today, all over the world.  Some who use this kind of escalation see it as protecting honor, or as “not letting them get away with” whatever harm the other person has caused, but once the words are swept out of the way, it is simply sin-twisted human nature focusing by instinct on oneself.

As I said, God put the lex talionis in place to limit this retaliation.  If a tooth is knocked out, a tooth can be knocked out in return – ONLY ONE; and then the whole matter must stop.  If a hand is lost, a hand can be taken in return – ONLY ONE; and then the whole matter must stop.  By the way, this is not righteousness to take revenge in this limited manner; it is a temporary concession to the sinful self-centeredness of the hearts of mankind.  It was purely designed to keep God’s people from dividing and destroying themselves by revenge.  To limit yourself to only this kind of revenge merely keeps you above the level of the animal – nothing more.

But with the advent of the kingdom of God, whole new possibilities opened up.  Out of hearts that are reshaped and remade by the Holy Spirit, it is possible for God’s people to actually love their enemies, and to never start any retaliation at all.  A slap in the face, instead of being retaliated against by an equal slap, can just be absorbed, and love returned in its place.  This is the truly righteous response – not an equal pushback, but a completely unequal one in the opposite direction; not equal harm, but abundantly unequal good!  If someone wants to sue you and take your shirt, there is no retaliation by looking to take something of his in return, but a wholehearted attitude of generosity that gives more than is asked.  (And not out of a motive of trying to shame the other person, but out of a heart of love.)  If someone (a Roman soldier was in Jesus’ mind in this illustration) uses their official capacity to force you to carry his equipment for a mile, there is no looking for an opportunity to get back at them and even the score, but a generous giving of even more than they demand.

These actions, returning good for evil, not seeking revenge, but instead pouring out love and care for those how mistreat you, stop the spread of hate, revenge, and evil in its tracks.  They push back the darkness, replacing it with the love and light of the kingdom of God.  But such a counter-intuitive response cannot be forced from a sin-darkened heart.  This is not some ideal to be strived for by people who want to be “nicer” or more righteous.  It is the NATURAL response of a reshaped heart – the instinctive response of a human nature that has been remade and reshaped by the power of the Holy Spirit.  People who live in continual and powerful relationship with God will instinctively respond in these ways, in ways that pull the fangs of evil and that replace darkness with light, with no thought, and with no hesitation; it just flows from them naturally.

To those who are worried that these responses will make them a target, or that their honor will be sacrificed, I say:  Perhaps.  But if a person belongs to God, those things are not to be their concerns.  It is not our own honor that we should be concerned with, but God’s.  It is not the preservation of our money or our “stuff” that is to be our focus, but the spread of God’s kingdom.  And if we give ourselves entirely into God’s hands, all of these most important things will be accomplished through our loving response to any evil that is done to us.

 

Father, I can see that the real challenge is not to respond properly to evil that is done to us, but to stay in such close connection with You that the right response naturally flows from within us.  Lord, help us to do just that.  Help us to cling to You, to hold closely to You, to stay in such intimate contact with You that Your heart beats in our own spirits, and that our every action is a clear and accurate reflection of Your loving actions toward us, of Your giving Yourself for us even while we were still sinners.  Amen.

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