Category: Grace (page 1 of 8)

The Bible is Your Story

In 1 Corinthians 10, the apostle Paul tells the old story of the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness and they way they complained and rebelled and how God faithfully provided. Paul says they were all baptized when they passed through the waters, just like us (10:2). They ate spiritual food and drank spiritual drink from Christ Jesus, just like us (10:3). These things are examples for us, Paul writes (10:6). He says these things were written down for us as warnings (10:11). What happened to them, he writes, is common to all people, it happens to all of us (10:13). And, he says, God is faithful in all of it (10:13).

You see what Paul’s doing. He’s telling our story. The Bible is our story.

Story doesn’t just tell us something and leave it there, it invites us to participate. A good story drags us in. We feel the emotions, we get caught up in the drama, we identify with the characters, doors and windows get flung open, and we the nooks and crannies of our lives and our world we had missed.

The Bible as our story brings us into the vast wonderful world God creates and saves and blesses and offers us a place in that world. It shows us where we are. Good stories show more than they tell. And the Bible is the greatest story of all time.

“From infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the child of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” ~2 Timothy 3:15-17.

The Bible is a story. If we read it and interpret it like a book of rules and regulations or like some kind of constitution, we won’t get it. We’ll respond to it in the wrong way. If you mistake a recipe for chicken enchiladas for a manual on putting a vacuum cleaner together, you’re going to wind up hungry in a very dirty house. If you misread a highway sign that says “Speed Limit 65” for a randomly posted bit of information and not the stern law of the land it is, a police officer is going to pull you over and give you a brief, but expensive, lesson in hermeneutics.

The Bible is not a moral code that says, “Live up to this.” It’s not a system of doctrines that says, “Think like this.” The Bible tells a story and invites us in. “Live into this.” This is what it looks like to be a human being in righteous relationship with God and others. This is what God wants. This is what God is doing. And here’s where you are. Now live into it.

“You accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the Word of God, which is at work in you who believe.” ~1 Thessalonians 2:13

Sometimes I am blind Bartimaeus on the side of the road near Jericho. Calling out to Jesus in my pain. Surrendering my life to the Lord. Yielding to his will. And he mercifully heals me.

Sometimes I am Naaman, covered with sores, dying of disease, and wanting to be saved, but on my terms. I try to dictate just how God needs to deal with me. He needs to do it my way. So arrogant. And he heals me anyway.

Always, I am Peter. Always shooting my mouth off, always wanting to be up front, always wanting to be the leader. One minute I pledge my allegiance to the Lord — Even if I have to die with you, I will never leave you! — and the next minute I’m a shrinking coward, warming myself at the world’s fire and denying that I even know who Jesus is. And then Jesus comes to me and asks, “Do you still love me? Then, come on, let’s keep going.”

Is that you? Where are you right now in the Bible’s beautiful story?

Are you Martha? So busy. Way too busy. Running around like a chicken with your head cut off, taking care of all the urgent stuff that needs to be done. Family. House. Chores. Neglecting your most important relationships. Maybe avoiding your relationship with Christ. And Jesus knows it. He’s sitting right there in the next room, waiting for you to slow down and pay attention to him. Even though you haven’t talked to him in months or even years, he keeps coming over. Have you noticed that about Jesus? He keeps coming over.

Are you Zacchaeus? You’ve got a great job, lots of money, wonderful benefits, more than enough security. But you’re alone. You’re not close to anybody. You’re just watching all the church people do all their church things and you don’t understand it at all. But here he comes. Here comes Jesus, walking right up to you. He pulls you down out of your tree and says, “I’m coming over. I’m coming to your house right now.”

Maybe you’re being torn apart by a terrible storm. The flood waters are rising, the things you love and the people you know are being destroyed. It’s dark and people are dying. It’s scary, this flood. And you know that God uses these times to cleanse and renew and recreate and make things right. But you don’t know if you’re in the ark with Noah or out in the water drowning. Listen as God’s Church reminds you, “You’re with us. You’re safe. You’re saved.”

Are you David? The King of Israel, the man after God’s own heart. What did God see when he looked at David that day and chose him and blessed him? David was just a kid, kind of an afterthought, just a boy hanging out with the sheep. Remember the story? What did God see in him that day? Did he see David’s fierce violence or his fierce loyalty? Did he see David as the great psalmist or as the notorious outlaw? Did he see David’s prayers and humility or the adultery and lying and murder and all the sin? God saw all of it. Every bit of it. And God still picked David. He chose David. And he chose you in Jesus Christ before the foundations of the earth.

The Bible is our story. It’s got our God on every page. It reveals our God who loves us intensely and saves us faithfully and who will not be stopped or even slowed down in his determination to live with us eternally. The story’s got all that.

You’re in there, too. It’s got you, too.

Peace,

Allan

Divorce & Remarriage: Last Part

This part is just to people who have been divorced. If you’ve ever been through a divorce — if it happened forty years ago or if the ink is still wet on the paperwork — this part is for you.

I know when you hear people say God hates divorce, you think, “Can he possibly hate it more than I do?” I know. You read somewhere that divorced people have failed Christ. Somebody in your Bible class says if divorced Christians remarry, they’re going to be living in adultery the rest of their lives. You overhear someone say divorced Christians have to stay single forever. And you wonder if you’ve really been forgiven by God.

Can you be forgiven?

Maybe you wonder if you’re OK with God. Maybe you went into your marriage and divorce was not even an option. Just like all of us.

Sometimes hearts harden. Sometimes people turn their backs on God’s plan. Sometimes one party makes a decision that forever changes a covenant relationship. Maybe there’s adultery. Maybe there’s abandonment. Maybe there’s abuse. Always there’s sin.

Maybe you tried everything. You begged God night and day to save your marriage. You tried marriage counseling. You gave your all for years and years and all you got from your spouse in return was more adultery. You sought wise counsel from your elders and others in the church who know you best. But, eventually, you had to walk away.

Maybe you weren’t even a Christian when you went through your divorce. But now that you’ve given your life to the Lord, some people are telling you your current marriage isn’t pleasing to God or his Church. Or you have to stay single. And it’s not making sense with the good news of the Gospel.

Or maybe you were the guilty party. Maybe you cheated once. Or twice. Maybe a lot. Maybe your selfishness drove your spouse away. Maybe you were so caught up in your work that you neglected your spouse and children. Maybe it was your addiction. Maybe you live with the shame and guilt that you’re the one who destroyed your family.

Here’s what you need to know: There is mercy and forgiveness from God for divorce. There is a place at the table and a place to serve, a place to belong and a place to be valued and loved in God’s Kingdom for all who’ve been divorced. This is precisely why Jesus walked to the cross and willingly died for us. Love. Grace. Forgiveness. For all our sins, not just some of them. Your life right now and your eternal destiny are wrapped up in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus. And in Christ there is always light and life and hope.

Peace,

Allan

Divorce & Remarriage: Part Four

Before I post the next section of our “Divorce: It’s Going to be OK” sermon from last Sunday at Central, let me direct you to this story in USA Today detailing the successful efforts of Blue Bell Ice Cream to identify the woman who licked the top of a container of Tin Roof last week and placed it back inside a store freezer. It happened in Lufkin, Texas. Behind the Pine Curtain. What’s wrong with those people? It’s sickening to me that somebody would do this in the first place but, more than that, it’s ludicrous that she and her friend would record it and post the video to the internet. More proof, as if we needed any, that the internet in general and our iPhones in particular are making us worse people, not better.

Also, please be aware that you can buy Little Debbie Christmas Tree cakes now in the middle of the summer. It’s a special promotion they’re calling “Christmas in July.” And please do not be surprised that I am participating.

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God forgives all sin through the cross of Christ –

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly… God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” ~Romans 5:6-10

Divorces cause many burdens: physical, emotional, sexual, and social burdens. And, of course, spiritual burdens. Well, yeah. Divorce is sin. There are consequences for disobeying God. With divorce, there’s a guilt because we’ve failed at this most important relationship. But God forgives us and restores us by offering his perfect Son to cover our imperfections. At the cross, we’re made perfect in God’s eyes despite our many failures, including our failures in marriage. We look to the love of God and the cross of Christ.

We’ve tried legislating divorce and remarriage by laws and rules. So if a person destroys a God-ordained marriage and can’t fix it, we impose some type of punishment or restitution. If you’re going to be forgiven by God and live in a righteous relationship with God — if you’re going to be OK — then you have to do this and you cannot do that. We try to deal with divorce through laws. Praise God, he deals with divorce at the cross!

The cross of Christ is an eternal symbol of God’s limitless love and amazing grace. When we are forgiven at the cross, we become perfect by God’s love and grace and we are completely released from the burdens of guilt and shame and fear and we’re also released from any requirement to make some kind of restitution. The Church has forced divorced people to stay celibate, we’ve forbidden them to remarry, we’ve demanded they dissolve their second marriages, and we’ve disfellowshipped people who wouldn’t or couldn’t pay those prices.

Know this: Jesus Christ is the only one who pays the price. Jesus Christ makes restitution for all the sins of humanity at the cross and that includes restitution for divorce. Jesus paid it all!

“I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more!” ~Hebrews 8:12

We do not offer judgment or condemnation to the world or to each other. We gladly offer the cross of Christ. We don’t fix past sins by adding new ones. Sometimes you truly cannot go back and change what’s done. But you can commit to, in our Lord’s words, go and sin no more. All of us can claim complete forgiveness and perfect pardon through the atoning death and resurrection of Christ and work hard to remain from now on faithful to whatever vows we’ve made.

A church that is anchored in the love of God and the cross of Christ is a church that can say to a couple in crisis, “Don’t divorce; stay married.” We can say to the divorcing couple, “Repent of this sin against your family and against God.” And we can say to the divorced, “God loves you; he’s not angry with you; you are forgiven by God in Christ.”

There will be some who accuse us of preaching cheap grace. My response to that is God’s grace is better than cheap; it’s free!

“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~Romans 6:23

“It is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God!” ~Ephesians 2:8

There are some who say you can’t be forgiven for divorce and remarriage if you’re already a baptized Christian when it happens. There’s forgiveness if your divorce was before you became a Christian, but if you were already a Christian you knew better. You can’t be forgiven of that. You’re living in sin.

Really? Go back and read Romans 5:6-10.If baptism into Christ forgives a pre-Christian divorce and remarriage, how much more! If God’s grace is freely given to his enemies, how much more for his children! The idea that Christians receive less grace and forgiveness than non-Christians cannot be our guide. The idea that Christians receive less grace because we understand God’s will better distorts grace. All God’s children have grace. Grace has no value if it doesn’t forgive sin. Romans 8 tells us there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!

Peace,

Allan

I Trust You Now

Lord Jesus, I believe that you are able and willing to deliver me from all the care and unrest and bondage of my Christian life. I believe you did die to set me free, not only in the future, but now and here. I believe you are stronger than sin, and that you can keep me, even me, in my extreme of weakness, from falling in its snares or yielding obedience to its commands. And Lord, I am going to trust you to keep me. I have tried keeping myself, and have failed, and failed, most grievously. I am absolutely helpless. So now I will trust you. I give myself to you. I keep back no reserves. Body, soul, and spirit, I present myself to you as a piece of clay, to be fashioned into anything your love and your wisdom shall choose. And now I am yours. I believe you do accept that which I present to you; I believe that this poor, weak, foolish heart has been taken possession of by you, and that you have even at this very moment begun to work in me to will and to do of your good pleasure. I trust you utterly, and I trust you now.

~Hannah Whitall Smith

Evidence of the Grace of God

“When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.” ~Act 11:23

Barnabas saw things in Antioch that proved to him God was active and working among the Christians there. He saw visible proof, tangible evidence that God’s grace was having an important impact. Part of the proof was that disconnected disciples were becoming one in Christ. They were unified in spirit.

“During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world (this happened during the reign of Claudius). The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.” ~Acts 11:27-30

In our society today, we have perfected the art of screaming at each other. I say we’ve perfected it because God help us if there are more levels of that to attain. If we still have a ways to go in developing newer methods of yelling, insulting, labeling, ignoring, fighting, and separating from one another, God help us.

Our first impulse is to define our differences. Our worst habit is dividing. We have black churches and white churches. We have blue churches and red churches. Rich churches and poor churches. Progressive churches and traditional churches. And hundreds of different denominations. What can be done about that?

God’s grace. Only the power of God’s grace.

This is the work of Jesus, right? This is what Jesus does. He’s got Matthew the tax collector and Simon the Zealot in the same band! That’s like having Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump in the same house church! And Jesus tells both of them: Knock it off! I’m in charge! We’re not into identity politics here! We’re not motivated by our differences! We’re on a mission from God for the Kingdom of God compelled by the grace of God that’s bringing all things and all people together in Christ!

You’ve got a really volatile thing in Antioch. Jews and Gentiles, Greeks and Barbarians, slave and free, rich and poor, Mediterranean culture and Syrian desert culture — all kinds of racial, cultural, and socioeconomic differences. And they’re all united together by the blood of Christ. Their life in Christ is bigger and more important than their differences. The mission is bigger and more important than their comfort or their preferences.

And what about the gift? They’re sending money to the church in Jerusalem. They’re sending their own financial resources to the brothers and sisters they’ve never met in a different culture 300 miles away. It’s extraordinary! How does this happen?

Barnabas sees it as evidence of God’s grace.

Do we see that kind of counter-cultural Christian unity in our churches today? Are we even looking for it?

Peace,

Allan

What Else Barnabas Saw

“When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad…” ~Acts 11:23

The Jerusalem church leaders sent Barnabas to Antioch to investigate the news that Gentiles there were being baptized. Is it legit? What are they being taught? How are they worshiping? Who’s leading them? Can we sign off on this? I’m not sure what the specific concerns might have been, but we do know that when Barnabas arrived, he clearly saw physical, tangible proof that God was at work. What did he see? Can we see those same things today? And are we even looking for those things?

“The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.” ~Acts 11:21

Barnabas saw sinners turning their lives to Christ. They believed the Good News that God through Jesus was putting everything back together again. The persecuted proclaimers knew it, the new disciples in Antioch understood it, Barnabas saw it, and we need to believe it! We don’t trust in God’s Word, we don’t believe in God’s power, we don’t believe in God if we don’t think it’s possible in our churches and throughout our cities. Barnabas saw sinners stop sinning. And that’s what you and I need to be looking for, too. That should be our expectation.

But we have this attitude that we expect to keep sinning. Before we ever get out of bed in the morning, before our feet ever touch the floor, we know that we’re human and that we’re going to sin sometime before dinner. What is that?!? Where does that come from?!? Not from the Bible. I know we can’t be completely perfect this side of glory. We’re not saints. Randy Harris defines “saint” as someone who’s life hasn’t been sufficiently researched. But what is this concession to sin?

“Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” ~Romans 6:1-4

God’s grace is the avenue for genuine repentance and change. Where there is God’s grace, you’re going to see changed lives. By the same token, f your life is not changed, perhaps you have not personally received the grace of God — you’re rejecting it or denying it or something. It is God’s grace that motivates and initiates real change. It is God’s grace that empowers you and me to say “no” to sin.

“The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope — the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” ~Titus 2:11-14

The grace of God has given us the redeeming life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. That ought to be enough, but it seems like it takes more to get us excited nowadays. We’re jaded. Bored. I know, Jesus saved us by dying on the cross. Yeah, yeah. Yawn. Are you kidding?!?! That is stark raving mad!!!

Jesus has delivered us from our bondage to sin! Jesus has rescued us from our slavery to death! We belong to a loving and gracious God through our risen and reigning Lord! Jesus is reigning right now at the right hand of God! He’s taken office! The ascension is huge! We don’t talk about the ascension enough! Jesus is in charge right now! And he doesn’t reign like Queen Elizabeth — he absolutely rules! And we humbly give our whole lives over to him! We say “No” to sin every day, every hour, and “Yes” to his gracious rule!

With a lot of exclamation points!

That’s what Barnabas saw in Antioch as proof of God’s grace. Is your life radically changed by the love of God in Christ? Do we see dramatically changed lives in our churches? Are we even looking for it?

Peace,

Allan

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