Thorns and Thistles of Grace

I’ve been writing in other contexts/venues lately and realized… “Hey, I’m paying $$ for this blog site, so I should probably take advantage of it.” I can share those other writings here too! Sometimes, I need to be hit in the head with a big rock to wake up.

A couple of weeks ago, I delivered a message on the Thorns and Thistles of Grace, in part inspired by this article a dear friend shared with me.  The message ended up being a two part message, the first focusing on a different twist (thorns and thistles) of God’s grace, and the second focusing on what God’s grace is not.  For this post, I want to focus on the former.

In general, I think we tend to think of God’s grace as a New Testament idea — probably because His grace is made manifest in the person of Jesus Christ.  Sometimes, we forget that His grace is a foundational part of God’s character: It is part of who He is.  One of the premier illustrations of God’s grace in the New Testament is Jesus’ parable of the lost sons (prodigal).  (That can be a multiple posts, so we won’t go there for now – go read it.)  Grace is not just a New Testament idea.  God’s grace is poured lavishly throughout His word.

Two of my favorite OT verses are Jeremiah 29:11 and Isaiah 1:18:

Jeremiah 29:11:
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Isaiah 1:18:
“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.

My intent here is not to take these verses out of context.  In context, they are bookended with the disobedience of Israel.  And that, is precisely what illustrates God’s grace in these verses.  From a human perspective, these verses don’t make sense.  They are illogical.  And yet, God declares despite your failings, disobedience, and rebellion, I have good plans for you.  Come, let me show you my reasoning.   I will take your sin and wash them away.”  That is grace.  Undeserved.  Unearned.

Another Old Testament passage that illustrates God’s grace is the story of David and Bathsheba found in 2 Samuel 11-12.  What?  In this history, David’s sins are numerous and severe.  God could have cut David down in a way similar to how Saul was treated, but God knew David’s heart and how he would respond.  Knowing that David would repent, God sent Nathan to tell the story of a wealthy man and a poor man.  (Go read 2 Samuel 12 for context.)  David responded with repentance.  Sure there were consequences to David’s actions (there always are), but like the lost son, David was restored to a place and status that he really didn’t deserve.  That is grace.

That brings us to the thorns and thistles of this message.  The context for this comes from Genesis 3.  In the following verses we enter at the tail end of God describing the results and curses of disobedience.

Genesis 3:17-19:
17 And to Adam he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.

First, it is important to note that this is not a curse God is placing on Adam.  He did not say “because you listened to your wife, I curse you.”  Look carefully,  “because you listened to your wife…, cursed is the ground because of you.”  The cursed ground is a direct result/consequence of Adam’s actions.  It is important to note that just prior to these verses, God sends Adam and Eve from the garden because there is another tree, the Tree of Life, in the garden that God did not want them to eat from and become eternal creatures in a fallen state.  Grace.

Now jump forward to Moses on Mount Horeb.  Tending sheep, he came upon the burning bush.  The word that we typically translate as “bush” is the Hebrew word סְנֶה, Pronounced seneh.  This word means “thorny bush” or “briar”.  Here, God is encompassing the curse brought on by Adam and carrying that image forward into His plan of redeeming the Hebrew children.

And finally, jump forward to Pilate’s courtyard where several Roman soldiers have taken a branch of thorns and twisted it into a mock crown so that they could mock this King of the Jews and spit on Him.  Here is God, through Christ, consuming the thorns of the curse so that humankind  could be redeemed and restored to a right relationship with the Father.  Grace!

Does grace make sense?  Not from our perspective.  To God, it is part of who He is.  Was grace free?  Yes!  Cheap? Heavens No!!! Deservered? No, unmerited!  (More on these last two in my next post.)

As you read through the Word, Old and New Testament, I encourage you to find the grace of God in ways that you have not seen before.  If grace is a part of His character, you will find it in surprising and unexpected ways.

All Verses taken from:
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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He is sovereign!

OK,  I get it.  Not blogged since the middle of the year 2014.   No excuse other than traveling and laziness.  Thus endeth the blatant lame excuse!

So, I am driving home from a wonderful 87th birthday dinner celebration for my Beautiful Princess of God’s (i.e., Wife’s) father, and I hear the song “I can only Imagine” by Mercy Me.   Great song!  Makes you think.  Then God laid this on my ears…  Hey Todd, think about the galaxy (I hadn’t looked at my blog since the last post), there are 2 billion stars in your galaxy.   There are at least 350 billion galaxies that we know about with billions of stars in them.  When God said (spoke), “Let there be Light,” that creation was born.   And last night He said, “Todd, I know each one of those stars by name.”

So, I still love the song, but now my thought is “I Can’t Begin to Imagine!”  I can’t even begin to comprehend a God that creates a vast universe so He can demonstrate his love for me…  WOW!!!  When he says “My ways are higher than yours, my thoughts are higher than yours,” that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface.   I can’t begin to imagine!  When we’ve been there 10,000 years, we’ve only just begun and with a God that says “Let there Be light” and the universe happens, I know we will never be distracted being in His presence!  There will never be a “Squirrel!” moment!!!  :-)

Bottom line, God is bigger than anything life can through at me and He is sovereign.  He is sovereign! He is sovereign! He is sovereign! He is sovereign!

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Is God Bigger than a Mack Truck?

OK, stupid title.  Just playing off the somewhat old adage of “If you had a direct confrontation with a Mack truck, do you think you would look different?  Is Jesus bigger than a Mack truck?”   I don’t think I need to explain that any further.

About a week ago, a good friend suggested I read the book “#The Explicit Gospel” by Matt Chandler.  So before my flight to Nashville this week I grabbed it at Amazon and downloaded it to my Kindle app.  Bam… set to read on the plane segments.  This is one of those books that will be a little controversial, a little confrontational, and probably a little bit in your face.  But then, “The Explicit Gospel” is presenting the Gospel and the Gospel is all of those things and more.

I don’t want to rehash Pastor Chandler’s book (I encourage you to read it for yourself!  It’s worth the time.), but I do want to focus a bit on how he presents God in the first chapter of the book.  Sometimes we put God in this nice little box that fits into our life so we can go about our daily routine and not be interrupted by Who He is.  But, that is not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.   That is not the Creator of all that is.  At some point during my reading of that first chapter, I was reminded of a cute little joke about some scientist who had come to challenge God saying they could create life just like He did.   So God accepted the challenge.  He met the scientists, bent down and picked up some dirt and formed it into a man and breathed life into him.  God said, “OK, your turn.”  The scientist began to dig up some dirt and God said, “No, go make your own dirt.”

God spoke creation into being.  He didn’t create from things that already existed.  He created by the power of His Word!  When I do a little research with my favorite friend Google and look up “How many galaxies are there?”  The most common answer is 100-200 billion (yes BILLION) galaxies — each with 200 to 400 billion stars — and some super computer model has estimated that there are 500+ billion galaxies out there.  Then I think about the Word and God knowing each star by name.   I can’t get my head around that math.  So, Pastor Chandler mentions the vastness of the universe then takes things down into the micro level.  Colossians talks about Christ, in His being, holds us together (go google Lou Giglio and Laminin for some more science fun).  The point is, God knows every cell of our body; He numbers the hairs on our head (thankfully at 50, I still have most of mine).

When I put these two thoughts together, the trinity, the persons of God are more incomprehensible than I can begin to image — thus wrapped in the scripture (Isaiah 55:9) “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  I can’t even begin to comprehend His being.  He is so big that he encompasses the billions of galaxies, knows each of the billions of stars in the billions of galaxies by name, holds me together by His being, and knows every cell in my body and numbers the hairs on my head.  He is able to know and comprehend the largest of large, but hold together the very cells that make up my earthly body.  No words can begin to describe that.  No thoughts can begin to come close to understanding that.

He created THIS for His glory.  So yes, without bringing the Gospel any further into this discussion (God willing, I will be doing that in the coming months.  I need to start writing again.), to answer the question, God is bigger than a Mack truck and we can’t walk away from an impact with Him and not leave looking different, being completely and utterly changed.

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Jesus Christ: Fully God, Fully Human

While I understand the Trinity in my head-knowledge, wrapping my heart around the triune God, is sometimes a struggle.  I get the doctrine.  I get the theological arguments.  But, when it gets right down to it and think of Jesus walking this earth and living a perfect life, I find myself thinking “well of course He could do it right, duh, He’s God,” and I sometimes forget the part about Him being fully human.  Then, I ran by this little nugget of a Resurrection Sunday video (The Fifth Cup) by The Skit Guys.  In the video, it talks about how part of Israel’s celebration of  the Passover (Seder) included pouring glasses of wine.  Four cups were filled to represent the promises of God in delivering the the Hebrew children from slavery.  The first four cups represented:

  1. Sanctification
  2. Redemption
  3. Deliverance
  4. Protection

But there was also a fifth cup, and it represents the perfect wrath of a perfectly just God.  The video talks about how that cup, while we fully deserve to drink from/of it, was never intended for us, but for God, in the person of Jesus Christ, and this, before the foundations of the Earth were laid!

Now fast-forward about 1531 years from the first passover to a seen just outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem — the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed the prayer…

“Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass by…”  This was the fifth cup… the cup of God’s perfect wrath filled from a perfectly just God.  Christ, as the human Son of God, fully human, did not want to drink that cup of wrath.  If there were any other way, the fully human part of the trinity wanted with all desperation to avoid it.  So much so that the intensity of His prayer caused Him to sweat blood!  The fullness of His humanity met the fullness of His divinity in this moment, “but not by my will (human),  but by Your will (Divine).”

We are able to fully see Christ’s humanity in the draw of His flesh, but the perseverance in submitting to the will of His Father in accepting the task laid before Him.  He drank full of the fifth cup for MY sake.  Took upon Himself, in the fulness of humanity, the fullness of my sin and the wrath intended for me.  He wanted the cup to pass by Him in the garden of Gethsemane, but drank it in, for me, on the Cross of Calvary, on the hill of Golgotha!  Burying my sins forever in the tomb, separating them from me as far as the east is from the west.

But the story doesn’t end there… Three days later, he rose from death and defeated death, the the end result of my sin.  (That is a whole other post.)

The bottom line… So often we think in terms of the divinity of Jesus and think, “it was easy for Him; He is God after all.”  But, in that second garden (in the first garden, man failed, in the second garden, the Son of man succeeded), a God who felt all of the tugs of human flesh succeeded and satisfied the requirements for justice from a perfectly just God.

Lord God, Thank You for the plan You set in place “before the foundations of the earth where laid.”  Thank You for Your Son who, fully human, followed Your will despite the draws of the fullness of His humanity.  And, thank You for the insights You give through the gifts of Your faithful followers.  

Have you had and encounter with Christ where He demonstrated the  fullness of His humanity and fullness of His Divinity?  Please Share…

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Sermon on the Mount – Insights for Life

OK!  No one faint!  My last post was October 14, 2012 and it wasn’t even a real post.  I cheated and re-blogged one of my daughter’s post’s to her website.  I openly confess, I have been VERY lax in blogging and have no real excuse.  I could explain that my life is extremely busy and I just haven’t had the time, but then that would just be a cop-out for “it has not been a significant enough priority.”  So there you have it;  it has not been a significant enough priority in my life.  I would like to say I am going to change that…  Maybe I will.  Then again, maybe it will be another 3.5 months before my next post.  I hope not!

With those formalities out-of-the-way…

The last several sermon’s I’ve preached to the youth, and this one to the adults, have had a focus on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  I find it significant that Jesus’ first sermon, in the first book of the New Testament, has so much meat for living our daily lives as Christians, followers of Christ!

After being obedient in His baptism, and being told that “this is my Son, in whom I am well pleased,”  Jesus is immediately taken by the Holy Spirit to be tempted and fast for 40 days and nights (To me the “nights” part is significant because when I commit to a fast for X number of days — when sundown comes on day X, it is over!!).  After conquering temptation and fasting, he immediately begins preaching repentance and gathering disciples.  His first recorded sermon starts by talking about be blessed — you can say that word with two syllables or one it still means the same thing. :)  Most people think of the word “blessed” as meaning either “happy” or “receiving favor”.  While both of those are valid and have something to do with its meaning, the Greek word we translate as “blessed” is “makarios” which implies a deep-rooted sense of well-being (because of our relationship with God).

To me the beatitudes are promises that we are assured of because we are followers of Christ.  When we are poor in spirit (lacking the fortitude to go on spiritually), we will be backed up by the kingdom of Heaven.  When we are morning, we will be comforted.  When we strive for righteousness, we shall receive the ability to achieve it (through Christ)….  And, when we are reviled and persecuted and spoken evil against because we are followers of Christ, we will be able to rejoice because Christ is storing up rewards for us in eternity!

Sure he has built up a small group of disciples by this time (Matthew 4), but He is preaching to thousands (compare to “televised” for the time) and telling them “when you are persecuted for MY SAKE,” you will receive awards in eternity.  No wonder they marveled at His teaching as “one who had authority and not as their scribes.”  (Matthew 7:29)  He makes the claim that if they followed him, they will be persecuted — who had the authority to make such claims — the Messiah!

And it just gets better form there…  Jesus repeatedly uses the phrase, “You have heard that is was said…” Typically, He says this when the then modern-day teachers have taken a scripture and either misinterpreted it, or taken it out of context, or both.  For instance, He says in Matthew 5:43, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy”  Nowhere in the Old Testament does it say hate your enemy.  This is clearly a reference to a popular teaching of the day.  All throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus takes the popular teaching of the Law at the time and takes it to a whole new level.  He reset’s the original intent of the Law — after all, He did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17) — the only one capable of fulfilling it, and doing so on our behalf.

The bottom line, the Sermon on the mount is chock full of Christ’s “reset” on His intent in the OT.  Three short chapters in Matthew (5-7) contain His expectations on how He wants us to live our life, how we should react to circumstances we encounter in life, and how we are to treat others.  I think it is worth at least a week’s worth of repeated reading — hey why not 40 days.  After all the first two things he deals with in terms of life circumstances are (in order) anger and lust — coincidence?  I think not!

How have the teaching of the sermon on the mount affected your Life?  Care to share?

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re-blog: day 12: engage

Imagine what the world would be like if we were all transparent with each other, if we shared our struggles and allowed others who have been there to build us up.  And, we could build others up where we see struggles we have been through.  That would be amazing.  Honesty and openness!  Check out this wonderfully insightful post by my wonderful daughter!

day 12: engage.

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Oswald Chambers: A Man I Will Meat in Heaven

Oswald Chambers is one of those communicators that tells it like it is.  No sugar-coating, no dancing around political correctness (of course there was no need for political correctness in his time).  He just talks about the Word of God and exposes His truths in simple, matter-of-fact terms.  Just as God’s Word is black-and-white, Oswald exposes it to us in black and white.  Mostly what we have from Oswald is lectures that he gave as a professor at several Bible colleges in England and the US.  He has been teaching me since my brother’s wedding when as the best-man in the groom’s party I received a copy of “My Utmost for His Highest.”

In preparation for a couple of my sermons in the coming months, I ran across another book of Oswald Chambers entitled “The Moral Foundations of Life: A Series of Talks on the Ethical Principles of the Christian Life.”  You have to love titles from the early 1900’s, so formal and detailed.  The titles of Oswald Chambers’ books were created by family members or colleagues because all of his published works were printed after his untimely death from complications of an appendectomy.  (Why am I providing all these atypical details?  Because I want to encourage whoever is reading this blog to do a bit of your own research of Oswald Chambers’ life.  He truly is worth looking into.

So, the whole reason I was inspired to write this post after a long weekend that didn’t feel like a weekend, is this; I went back and re-read the very opening of the Moral Foundations of Life book and was astonished at the value and truth that is in every single word of his first paragraph.  Here it is in its entirety:

Beware of thinking of will as a faculty. Will simply means the whole nature active. We talk about people having a weak will or a strong will, it is a misleading idea. When we speak of a man having a weak will, we mean he is without any impelling passion, he is the creature of every dominating influence; with good people he is good, with bad people he is bad, not because he is a hypocrite, but because he has no ruling passion, and any strong personality knits him into shape. Will is the essential element in God’s creation of a man. I cannot give up my will: I must exercise it.

I would like to be able to say that I have always stood on my own will (wouldn’t we all), but that would be lie.  I have stood on both sides of this paragraph.  I have been so impressed by someone or something that I allow my will to be shaped by that influence, good-for-good, and yes, bad-for-bad!  And in these cases, as Oswald so simply states when I do this it is because I am not passionate enough about my beliefs and faith and give up my free will.  I allow myself to be influenced by someone or something else and at that point, give up the very gift of God that is key to our humanity.

One may argue that if we allow ourselves to be influenced by good and allow our wills to be submitted to those things, that is not so bad.  In my wife’s equine terms, “WHOA!!!”  God’s point behind free will is choice.  If we find ourselves “going with the flow” because the river we are floating in is Christian, we are still giving up our free will.  We are allowing other’s to determine our direction.  Or, as Oswald states, we are allowing our position to be determined by others, not because we are hypocrites, but because we have “no ruling passion, and any strong personality [that] knits [Us] into shape.

God gave us the ability to choose in ALL things.  We must determine to choose free will and not willingly give up the things we know are true and righteous because we are impressed by someone’s or something’s charm.  We have all been there, good or bad, impressed by someone or something and find ourselves blindly nodding our heads in agreement to the very thing we would, if we stepped back and stood and tested His will for our life, and said, “No, that is not true in my life.”  Instead, we find ourselves saying, “Yep, that could work for me.”

I want to encourage you to use your God-given gift of free will.  It is a gift, and like any gift is meant to be used, or as Oswald Chambers state “practiced.”  I love that verb (practice) because it means you get to do it over-and-over until you get it right.  There is no implied limit.  Just keep practicing!  When you find yourself blindly nodding your head in agreement to someone or something, do a check, “Do I WILLINGLY agree with this, or am I just nodding because it seems like the right thing to do at this moment.”  Then, behave accordingly!

To encourage others, share where you have stood on your free will and have been blessed, or blessed others by practicing your God-given gift!

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