Monday, January 29, 2018

Giving Grace

Grace 3

Peter tells us that grace is a many-splendored thing. (I Peter 4.10) Thus far we have examined two aspects of grace, saving grace – the unmerited favor that results in my salvation, and helping grace – the unmerited favor that helps me to do what God tells me to do. In this post I want to examine yet another facet of grace. We have looked at how grace ministers to us; today I want to examine using grace to minister to the people around us.

As a pastor I routinely talk to people in a wide variety of situations and circumstances. Some of them seem to glory in their frankness.

"I just tell it like it is."
"I just call 'em like I see 'em."
"I don't hold back none."
"He started it; I was just giving him what he asked for."

The operating assumption of such an approach is that brutal honesty, with an emphasis on the brutality, is to be commended. I do believe, of course, that there is a time and place for dealing with people firmly, but, by and large, what ought to predominate in our dealings with them is not what we think they deserve.

This cuts to the heart of how we deal with people, and as I write this it cuts to my own heart. Recently, I was asking my church people to pray for me, and on the list of specific things I wanted them to pray was that I would be more compassionate. My default position is to be hard, and I often solace myself with the fact that what I just said is the truth, and no more than they deserve. Yet in the parable of the man forgiven a great debt in Matthew 18 we learn the utter fallacy of desiring mercy and grace from God while at the same time refusing to dispense it to those around us.

Apparently_homeless_man_doing_crosswordI think of a homeless man who accosted me in a park a few years ago. He asked me if I had any spare change. I allowed that I did. He asked me if he could have some. I told him he was welcome to get it where I got it. He asked where that was. I told him I got mine at work and if he wanted some that is where he would find it. Was that true? Yes. Is that what he deserved? After fourteen years of living in one of America's largest inner cities, I unhesitatingly also answer that one with a "yes". But was there any grace in my answer? Sadly, not in the least.

The scriptural truth is when you and I speak to people we ought to do so with grace. Jesus did. Thou art fairer than the children of men: grace is poured into thy lips: therefore God hath blessed thee for ever. (Psalm 45.2) And we are to do so also. Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man. (Colossians 4.6) Why? Because we ourselves have been given such prodigal grace.

I think every person reading this would agree that it is not right to want what you will not give, and one of the things every person wants is grace. If it is trouble, we want less than we deserve; if it is blessing, we want more than we deserve. We want the largest serving, the prettiest flowers, the biggest bonus. We want favor poured out on us. We want to be the favorite, so to speak. We desire grace. It was not just a polite turn of phrase Hannah used when she said to an angry Eli, Let thine handmaid find grace in thy sight. (I Samuel 1.18) Yes, it was a polite turn of phrase, but why does that phrase exist? Why is it used no less than fifteen times in the Word of God? Because we want other people to look at us, not through the harsh lens of law and duty and toeing the line, but through the lens of grace. It is an innate human desire.

Mandy and I have been married for eighteen years. I have let her down too many times to count. I do not deserve for her to view me with grace, but I want her to do so. I am the father of two teenagers and a third grader. They have lived with me all their lives. They see me, good and bad, up and down, for better and worse. I want them to view me with grace. For fourteen years I have occupied the pulpit of the Maplewood Bible Baptist Church. My people and I know each other well, perhaps too well. They are painfully aware of my humanity, and in those times I need them to view me with grace.

Well, it is not right to want what I will not give. I must be just as willing to dispense grace to my wife, and my children, and my people as I am desirous of obtaining it from them.

Beloved, since we have received such great grace it is our duty to dispense it. Paul said as much to the church at Philippi. Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace. (Philippians 1.7) Paul said, "I received the grace of God, and then I turned around and gave that grace to you." They partook of his grace because he gave what he received.

For six years Jack Hyles was my pastor. I realize a fair Pastorjackhylesnumber of my readers have no great opinion of him, but he comes up in my life because for so long he was such a large part of it. One of the best things he ever taught me was his so-called "silent sermon." Dozens of times I have seen him act it out. He would say, "Let me show you the Christian life." He would kneel down, lift both hands in the air toward Heaven, and pantomime receiving something. He would then get off his knees, walk toward another person on the platform, and pantomime handing them what he had just gotten from God. Like Bro. Hyles or not, he was exactly right.

I go to the Lord for a message. He gives me one. I turn around and give it to my people. I go to the Lord for the health and strength to work. He gives it to me. I turn around and give the proceeds of my earnings to my family. I go to the Lord for wisdom. He gives it to me. I turn around and give it to the puzzled pastor with a troublous situation calling me from a distant state. And I go to the Lord for grace. He gives it to me. And I am supposed to turn right around and give it to those around me that deserve that grace the least.

See, that is what is so wrong about how I treated that homeless man in the park a few years ago. I gave him what he probably deserved, but what I did not give him was grace. May you, dear reader, as you peruse this give me the grace I do not deserve for my failure. Indeed, may all of us take the wonderful grace of Jesus and treasure it, yes, and then give it out to all and sundry.

Grace was given to give. So give it.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Helping Grace

Grace 2

Grace is a gem with many facets. Peter said as much when he admonished us, As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. (I Peter 4.10) "Manifold" means numerous or varied, and thus is a perfect adjective for a many-faceted grace. At its simplest, grace is unmerited favor. As such, God's grace is best displayed and illustrated and understood in saving grace, but saving grace is by no means the only aspect of God's grace discussed in Scripture. As we saw last time it is first, but it is not only. Thus, today I wish to turn our attention to a different facet of the manifold grace of God.

I call this aspect of the grace of God helping grace. I get that phrase from Hebrews 4.16. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

Helping grace is just as much grace as saving grace. Do youimg-help_button and I deserve God's help? Do we deserve for the Almighty, the Creator of everything, to give us the help we need to fulfill our daily tasks? Of course not. Any help He grants us is entirely undeserved. It is purely a gift.

I suppose one might say, "Well, I am just trying to do what God told me to do. Of course, He ought to help me." Really? When your boss assigns you a task does he then show up in your cubicle to help you do it? No, he does not. He explains, he trains, and then he instructs you to do it yourself. If you keep coming back to him and saying, "I cannot do this without your help" at some point he is going to lose his patience and you will find yourself in the unemployment line.

No, beloved, we do not deserve God's help in living our lives, not even in fulfilling the daily tasks He has instructed us to do – but we most assuredly need it. And when He provides the help we need to do something that we are unable to do on our own He has, yet again, richly bestowed His grace upon us.

As well, helping grace is always enough. Who cannot help but be moved by Paul's pen when he writes:

II Corinthians 12.7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.
8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

wallpaper-my-grace-is-sufficientGod often calls on you and I to do something that is beyond our normal capacity to do. For example, He tells us to live a holy life, yet we are chained by the world, the flesh, and the devil. It is impossible. He tells us to love our wives like Christ loved the church. That, too, is impossible. He places some crushing burden upon us, and when we cry for relief He piles yet more on top. When we say we cannot go another step and plead for deliverance Heaven is deaf, as Shakespeare said, to our bootless cries. How do you live holy? How do you love your wife as well as Jesus loves? How do you carry an indescribable burden for years? You ascend to the throne of grace on your knees, and find waiting for you there just the grace you need to help you do what He called you to do.

I can hear you now, murmuring as you read, "But He did not because I could not carry that burden; I fell beneath the weight of it." I say this kindly but it must be said: God has provided you and I all the helping grace we need. If we fail, it is not because He did not provide; it is because we do not avail ourselves of that provision. God has given us the Holy Spirit. God has given us the Word of God. God has given us a church to encourage and strengthen us. God has given us a pastor to feed us. God has given us a mind capable of understanding. God has given us a free will capable of choosing. God has given us a promise of fresh grace, specific to our situation, available for the asking. This is most definitely sufficient.

Do not tell me that you cannot do what God told you to do. Tell me it is hard, yes. Tell me it hurts, yes. Tell me you do not want to even though you know you should, yes. But do not tell me you cannot.

Our Saviour, of all people, understood this. Facing the cross He pleaded to be excused, but resigned Himself to His Father's will and carried it out magnificently. How did He accomplish that massively impossible task? But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. (Hebrews 2.9)

Mature Christians do not become mature by finding excuses;
th they do it by finding grace. They do all sorts of things God wants them to do even though they cannot. How? The grace of God helps them.

Not only is helping grace always enough it is also always necessary. We simply cannot do what God tells us to do in our strength. We must have His help in order to do it, whether it is something for ourselves, or something we need as we serve others. Paul said it this way, For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward. (II Corinthians 1.12) Our "conversation" is our manner of living. "To you-ward" means how we help, how we minister to those around us. How do we live a life oriented in service toward those around us? By the grace of God.

I am a Christian, a citizen of the United States, a neighbor to other people on West George Street, a son to two aging parents, a brother to five siblings, a father to three precious children, a friend to dozens if not scores of people, a husband to my darling wife, a writer read by more than a few, and a pastor to the membership of my church. Just writing that sentence exhausts me. All of these responsibilities require things of me that I cannot do and be. It is not in me to fulfil all of them well all the time.

In just one of those – being a Christian – I am supposed to live holy, have faith, pursue wisdom, show love, stand firm for right, know doctrine, witness, give sacrificially, be patient, learn the Bible, praise God, pray, serve in a ministry, forgive others, keep Christ pre-eminent, be at peace, persevere, work hard, judge carefully, control my tongue, express gratitude, keep my mind on Heaven, cultivate sorrow for my sin, be meek, hunger for right, yield to the Holy Spirit, live contented, resist the devil, keep a shining testimony, and a thousand other things. How in the world can I do that, let alone everything else on my list?

I cannot – by myself. I must have God's enabling, strengthening, helping grace. And then I can, for His grace is sufficient.

This is the only possible way that what I offer to God will ever be acceptable to Him. Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. (Hebrews 12.28)

Do you find yourself over-matched, beloved? Do you find yourself wondering how in the world you can possibly do all the things you are to do? How you can possibly be all the things you are to be? Good. Let that drive you to the throne of grace. You will find there mercy, and grace to help in time of need.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

First, Grace

Grace 1

Perhaps the most famous hymn in Christendom is John Newton's "Amazing Grace". It can arguably be said that no one described grace better than he when he said,

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch; like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

It is a wonderful description of grace because he is what grace produces - found from lost, sight from blindness, sweetness from wretchedness. And all of that at absolutely no charge.

The classic definitions of grace include phrases such as unmerited favor, undeserved blessing, unearned goodness, and complete acceptance. I prefer a story.

Let us say that tonight, while I am sleeping, someone breaks into my house, sneaks into the bedroom that contains my two sons, and slaughters them in cold blood. As he saunters out the front door, whistling merrily, I load my shotgun and blow him down the front steps. Is that grace? No. That is vengeance. As he saunters out the front door, whistling merrily, I frantically dial 911, watch as Chicago's finest pile out of the patrol car, and arrest him. He is tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison. Is that grace? No. That is justice. As he saunters out the front door, whistling merrily, I do nothing. I let him go scot free. Is that grace? No. That is mercy. But if I bring him back into my home, wash off the blood, give him my son's room, and adopt him as my heir – that is grace. Amazing grace.

Grace, though much more than just that which saves us, is amazing to us precisely because that is where it found us all first. And that saving grace is still what we treasure the most. For the next several months on this blog we are going to explore the subject of grace, but we are going to start right here with saving grace. Our first grace.

Saving grace is where we first start with God. I spendwalker-garret-saving-grace several dozen hours a year mentoring men who have been recently saved. Sitting down with Caleb recently, I explained that salvation is important because everything else in life revolves around it. Salvation is the hub of the wheel, the foundation of the building. You cannot start living life until you have been born, "quickened" in the immortal language of the Apostle Paul. This is where it all begins.

Ephesians 2. 1 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;
2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:
3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
4 ¶ But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,
5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
6 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:
7 That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.

We do not deserve mercy. We do not deserve Heaven. It is unmerited favor, undeserved blessing, unearned goodness, and thus complete acceptance. To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace. (Ephesians 1.6-7)

Not only is saving grace where we first start with God, saving grace is where God first starts with grace.

Genesis 6. 5 And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
6 And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.
7 And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.
8 But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.

Noah found unmerited favor, undeserved blessing, unearned goodness, and thus complete acceptance. Noah found adoption instead of vengeance. In other words, Noah found grace. This is the first mention of grace in the Bible and it is significant. It sets the context of grace, a gift prodigally poured out on sinful man. It sets the beginning of grace, a salvation from sin and from the justifiable wrath of a scorned Creator.

Saving grace is not only where we first start with God, and where God first started in the Bible, it is also what God places first in priority of emphasis when He discusses grace. The word "grace" is used 170 times in the King James Version. These passages have various contexts and purposes, and we will look at many of them over the next few months. But we first start with this for there are more verses that discuss saving grace than any other aspect of grace. First in use, first in time, first in the plan of God, first in emphasis, first grace.

I read many a secular biography and history. Just today I was reading Jack Weatherford's "Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World". It is a fine book, well-researched if not quite well-written. Running in place on the elliptical, my eyes staring vacantly at a screen over my head playing ESPN's Sportscenter, I listened as Weatherford went into long detail of a 13th century debate between William of Rubruck, a Franciscan missionary, and a Mongol shaman, a Buddhist monk, and an Islamic imam. The theological ignorance flying off the pages into my ears was staggering. Neither the author describing the scene, nor the four participants knew the first thing about God because none of them knew the first thing about grace. Yet God mentions it again and again and again in Scripture, emphasizing it, modeling it, explaining it, defining it, illustrating it, and applying it.

You can find saving grace in Genesis, Acts, Galatians, Ephesians, Titus, and I Peter, but we see it most clearly, perhaps, in Romans. In this matchless epistle, Paul deals at length with the problem of sin. He describes our great need of justification, how to obtain that justification, and how to then live above sin, conquering sin. Paul sets forth the widely held position of his day – that justification comes only through our good works – and demolishes it.

Romans 4. 1 What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?
2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.
3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

saved_by_grace_by_blugi-d8dtloxFaith in the person and claims and work of Christ is the hand that reaches up to Heaven to access the saving grace of God. By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5.2) Thus, when I place my simple faith in the claims of Jesus to be God, to be sinless, to die an atoning death for me on the cross, to rise from the dead, to be the Messiah that saves me from my sins, I have accessed redemption and justification. I have thus, via faith, found the same rich, rich grace that Noah did, that Abraham did, that every man and woman and boy and girl in Heaven did. Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all. (Romans 4.16)

If you are paying with works then it is not unmerited favor, undeserved blessing, and unearned goodness. No, you are paying off a bill. The only way it can be by grace is if we do not pay the bill at all. In other words, grace and works are completely contradictory soteriological systems. And since it clearly is by grace it just as clearly cannot be by works. And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. (Romans 11.6)
Salvation is a free – through incredibly costly and valuable – gift.

Romans 5.15 But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.

17 For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.)

20 Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound:
21 That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.

Grace, free grace, rich grace, only grace, brings me to life. It quickens me, forgives my sin, declares me legally justified, and gives me an eternal home in Heaven.
James Gray, who for decades served God in the same city I do, wrote it this way:

Naught have I gotten but what I received;
Grace hath bestowed it since I have believed;
Boasting excluded, pride I abase;
I'm only a sinner, saved by grace!

No matter what else you may know about grace know this first – the grace of God saves you. It is where we begin. It is where He begins. First, grace.