God is bigger and more inclusive than you imagine

The following excerpt has really been challenging my paradigm of God. In times of suffering, difficulty, and trial it is so easy for me to get focused inward–on myself or my own circumstances–and lose track of looking outward–particularly to the Gospel truths and who God is amidst it. In a world where there is so much turmoil, inconsistency, and pain God promises to be a steadfast, firm foundation whose promises are always true and who is eternally unchanging (see Psalm 118, Hebrews 12:26-28, 2 Timothy 2:19, and Hebrews 13:8).

“Over the years I’ve seen Christians shaping God in their own image–in each case a dreadfully small God. Some Roman Catholics still believe only they will grace heaven’s green pastures.. There is the God who has a special affection for capitalist America, regards the workaholic, and the God who loves only the poor and the underprivileged. There is a God who marches with victorious armies, and the God who loves only the meek who turns the other cheek. Some, like the elder brother in Luke, sulk and pout when the father rocks and rolls, (and) serves surf-and-turf for a prodigal son who has spent his last cent on whores. Some, tragically, refuse to believe that God can or will forgive them, for: my sin is too great.

This is not the God of grace who “wants everyone to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4). This is not the God embodied in Jesus that Matthew came to know. This is not the God who calls sinners–which, as you and I know, means everybody.”

From The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning (p.42).

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I could dissect this quote for hours, but for the purpose of this particular posting I will draw out only one thing that comes to mind: God is so much bigger and so much more inclusive than I give Him credit for or imagine; and when I reflect on this truth it is so remarkably calming–freeing, even. This massive God is powerful, not particular. Sovereign, not slave-driving. Victorious, not defeated (or defeatable!).

This is the God who sees me at my lowest and has the power and compassion to lift me up. This is the God that, as the book of Hebrews says, aligns with me in my weakness and is “mindful of me” (Psalm 8:4). This is the God I sing about, pray to, look towards, and live to proclaim. This is not some manmade idea to help make sense of a complex world. This is a God both higher than our intellect while also closer than our most intimate emotions.

Quite simply: This is a God worthy of our worship.

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Everything For Your Good

God is so great that he works out a plan, a plan to work everything out for your good if you belong to him, and his glory, which takes into consideration your choices, and still works his plan out infallibly.

 

Jacob lied to his father, Isaac, and wanted his birthright. He cheated his older brother out of it. Because he cheated, because he lied, he had to flee from his family. Was he guilty? Yes. Did he experience pain in his life because of that choice? Yes. Was he punished for it? Yes. But because he sinned he went and found his wife, Rachel, through whom the Messiah came. Was it all right then that he sinned?

 

No, but don’t you see because Jacob sinned, though God held him responsible for that choice, did that put him on an eternal plan B? Did he say, ‘I’ve ruined it from now on because of this sin. God will never give me the best?’ My friends, no. When he sinned he went into the best for him. God is far greater than your stupid choices.

~ Tim Keller

God Owes Me Nothing (But Gives Me Everything!)

Lately I’ve been feeling pretty beaten down. I’ve had what is probably the worst 11 month stretch I’ve ever had to go through. It’s tested me, stretched me, and brought me to the end of myself time and time again. I think the hardest thing about it was that there was seemingly no end.

I’m still in the midst of quite a few of these difficulties (job situation, no car, financial strain), but I finally feel–for the first time in a long time–that I’m turning a corner. I’ve been coming to realize that my frustration stemmed from my belief that God owes me something. I mean, I’m going to church, leading in the capacities I am able, leading a small group, reading my Bible.. that must warrant some sort of special grace to me, right??

Not so much.

In reading through John Piper’s Daily Devotional, today’s content really resonated in a special way with me. For the first time in quite a while I’ve been able to see that God owe’s me nothing, and that’s been incredibly freeing. I’ve been able to come to terms with the spiritual state of my soul and where I would be without Christ’s (perfect! willing!!) intervention.

In short, this changes everything.

I’ll let Piper do the rest of the topic with this framework in mind.

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If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

A vague, bad feeling that you are a crummy person is not the same as conviction for sin. Feeling rotten is not the same as repentance.

This morning I began to pray, and felt unworthy to be talking to the Creator of the universe. It was a vague sense of unworthiness. So I told him so. Now what?

Nothing changed until I began to get specific about my sins. Crummy feelings can be useful if they lead to conviction for sins. Vague feelings of being a bad person are not very helpful.

The fog of unworthiness needs to take shape into clear dark pillars of disobedience. Then you can point to them and repent and ask for forgiveness and take aim to blow them up.

So I began to call to mind the commands I frequently break. These are the ones that came to mind.

  • Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Not 95%, but 100%. (Matthew 22:37)
  • Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Be as eager for things to go well for him as you are for things to go well for you. (Matthew 22:39)
  • Do all things without grumbling. No grumbling—inside or outside. (Philippians 2:14)
  • Cast all your anxieties on him—so you are not being weighed down by it anymore. (1 Peter 5:7)
  • Only say things that give grace to others—especially those closest to you. (Ephesians 4:29)
  • Redeem the time. Don’t fritter or dawdle. (Ephesians 5:16)

So much for any pretensions to great holiness! I’m undone.

But now it is specific. I look it in the eye. I’m not whining about feeling crummy. I’m apologizing to Christ for not keeping all that he commanded.

I’m broken and I’m angry at my sin. I want to kill it, not me. I’m not suicidal. I’m a sin hater and a sin murderer. (“Put to death what is earthly in you” Colossians 3:5. “Put to death the deeds of the body” Romans 8:13.)

In this conflict, I hear the promise, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Peace rises.

Prayer feels possible and right and powerful again.

How I Approach God When Feeling Rotten

The Greatest Salvation Imaginable

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…” ~ Jeremiah 31:31

God is just and holy and separated from sinners like us. This is our main problem at Christmas and every other season. How shall we get right with a just and holy God?

Nevertheless, God is merciful and has promised in Jeremiah 31 (five hundred years before Christ) that someday he would do something new. He would replace shadows with the Reality of the Messiah. And he would powerfully move into our lives and write His will on our hearts so that we are not constrained from outside but are willing from inside to love Him and trust him and follow Him.

That would be the greatest salvation imaginable–if God should offer us the greatest Reality in the universe to enjoy and then move in us to see to it that we could enjoy it with the greatest freedom and joy possible. That would be a Christmas gift worth singing about.That is, in fact, what he promised. But there was a huge obstacle. Our sin. Our separation from God because of our unrighteousness.

How shall a holy and just God treat us sinners with so much kindness as to give us the greatest Reality in the universe (his Son) to enjoy with the greatest joy possible?

The answer is that God put our sins on His Son, and judged them there, so that He could put them out of His mind, and deal with us mercifully and remain just and holy at the same time. Hebrews 9:28 says, “Christ was offered once to beat the sins of many.”

Christ bore our sins in His own body when He died. He took our judgment. He canceled our guilt. And that means the sins are gone. They do not remain in God’s mind as a basis for condemnation. In that sense, he “forgets” them. They are consumed in the death of Christ.

Which means that God is now free, in His justice, to lavish us with the new covenant. He gives us Christ, the greatest Reality in the universe, for our enjoyment. And He writes His own will–His own heart–on our hearts so that we can love Christ and trust Christ and follow Christ from the inside out, with freedom and joy.

Excerpted from John Piper’s Advent Devotional “Good News of Great Joy”

Battling Unbelief With Promise

…Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)

When I am anxious about being sick, I battle unbelief with the promise, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all” (Psalm 34:19). And I take the promise with trembling, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:3–5).

When I am anxious about getting old, I battle unbelief with the promise: “Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (Isaiah 46:4).

When I am anxious about dying, I battle unbelief with the promise that “none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living” (Romans 14:7–9).

When I am anxious that I may make shipwreck of faith and fall away from God, I battle unbelief with the promises, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6); and, “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).

This is the way of life that I am still learning as I approach my seventieth year. I have written this in the hopes, and with the prayer, that you will join me. Let us make war, not with other people, but with our own unbelief.

It is the root of anxiety, which, in turn, is the root of so many other sins. So let us turn our eyes fixed on the precious and very great promises of God. Take up the Bible, ask the Holy Spirit for help, lay the promises up in your heart, and fight the good fight — to live by faith in future grace.

Future Grace, Multnomah Books (Colorado Springs, CO), pages 59-60

Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

At the heart of the word “courage” are ideas of boldness, fortitude and resolve. These three closely related words together provide a robust understanding of courage. Boldness is the confidence to take a risk – initial courage. Fortitude is the firmness of the mind without retreat – sustaining courage. Resolve is the determination to reach the end goal – persevering courage.

Courage is often expressed in word pictures of battle, conflict or crisis (insert a William Wallace freedom cry here) so that a “courageous” person will face an opponent even if victory looks bleak. But what about the courage to speak truth in love though it may cut to the heart (Acts 2:37John 6:60)? It requires courage to call out friends for living lives that do not resemble the faith they profess.

When lacking the courage to speak plainly and with conviction, we often say nothing, call it mercy and let the opportunity pass. Passivity counterfeits for patience. Cowardice masquerades as grace.

Instead of recognizing that our fear of man cripples us to silence, we convince ourselves that we are gracious people. But the problem is that leaving someone in sin is not grace or love; it is consent, indifference and, quite honestly, unloving.

Grace is frequently misunderstood to mean overlooking wrong, when true grace could not be further removed from this misconception. Grace is not rejecting someone when they sin or overlooking sin in a person’s life. It’s having the courage of conviction to call someone out when they sin and to do so in love. Grace is a commitment to bring to light what is in darkness (1 John 1:5-10).

There have been many times in the past where I have overlooked sin in a brother and called it grace. Instead of leading them out of sin, I let them stay in their sin, which corrupts and decays. This is not an act of love but an act of cowardice.

Genuine grace transforms. True grace never overlooks. It is remarkable, and when you see it, you know it. Grace never leaves you the same.

If we quench the voice of the Spirit long enough, we can become numb to His leadings and thereby render our selves useless to our brothers and sisters in the church. We must regain our sense of conviction and be bold, strong and resolved to stand courageously with other believers when we see sin in their lives (Heb. 3:13). This is true love.

It is time to leave coward ways behind and become mature men and women marked by conviction and courage. Are we willing to be bold and initiate conversations with our brothers and sisters who are not living out the faith they profess? Are we willing to show fortitude and to pursue those who are unwilling to change? Are we committed to not letting one in the flock go astray?

After the infamous fratricide in Genesis 4, the Lord comes to Cain asking where his brother is. Cain projects his guilt in his response to the Lord: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The reality is this: He was his brother’s keeper. And I am my brother’s keeper. You are your brother’s keeper. You are your sister’s keeper. We are to look after one another, speaking truth in love (Eph. 4:15). We are to shine the light of Christ into the dark places, especially if that dark place is your brother or sister.

Scriptures for Further Reading

Originally posted on The Village Church’s blog by Clint Patronella here: http://ow.ly/cvCnI

9 Lessons from God Concerning Sickness

Sickness is meant…

1. To make us think—to remind us that we have a soul as well as a body—an immortal soul—a soul that will live forever in happiness or in misery—and that if this soul is not saved we had better never have been born.

2. To teach us that there is a world beyond the grave—and that the world we now live in is only a training-place for another dwelling, where there will be no decay, no sorrow, no tears, no misery, and no sin.

3. To make us look at our past lives honestly, fairly, and conscientiously. Am I ready for my great change if I should not get better? Do I repent truly of my sins? Are my sins forgiven and washed away in Christ’s blood? Am I prepared to meet God?

4. To make us see the emptiness of the world and its utter inability to satisfy the highest and deepest needs of the soul.

5. To send us to our Bibles. That blessed Book, in the days of health, is too often left on the shelf, becomes the safest place in which to put a bank-note, and is never opened from January to December. But sickness often brings it down from the shelf and throws new light on its pages.

6. To make us pray. Too many, I fear, never pray at all, or they only rattle over a few hurried words morning and evening without thinking what they do. But prayer often becomes a reality when the valley of the shadow of death is in sight.

7. To make us repent and break off our sins. If we will not hear the voice of mercies, God sometimes makes us “hear the rod.”

8. To draw us to Christ. Naturally we do not see the full value of that blessed Savior. We secretly imagine that our prayers, good deeds, and sacrament-receiving will save our souls. But when flesh begins to fail, the absolute necessity of a Redeemer, a Mediator, and an Advocate with the Father, stands out before men’s eyes like fire, and makes them understand those words, “Simply to Your cross I cling,” as they never did before. Sickness has done this for many—they have found Christ in the sick room.

9. To make us feeling and sympathizing towards others. By nature we are all far below our blessed Master’s example, who had not only a hand to help all, but a heart to feel for all. None, I suspect, are so unable to sympathize as those who have never had trouble themselves—and none are so able to feel as those who have drunk most deeply the cup of pain and sorrow.

Summary: Beware of fretting, murmuring, complaining, and giving way to an impatient spirit. Regard your sickness as a blessing in disguise – a good and not an evil – a friend and not an enemy. No doubt we should all prefer to learn spiritual lessons in the school of ease and not under the rod. But rest assured that God knows better than we do how to teach us. The light of the last day will show you that there was a meaning and a “need be” in all your bodily ailments. The lessons that we learn on a sick-bed, when we are shut out from the world, are often lessons which we should never learn elsewhere.

~ J.C. Ryle (Tract: Christ in the Sick Room)