Growing In Godliness Blog

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Finding Grace in a World Full of Ungrace – Part I

Thursday, December 02, 2021

Finding Grace in a World Full of Ungrace – Part I

By Tom Rose

 

[Note: The article that follows draws heavily from two books by Philip Yancey which are referenced at the end.  In an effort to help describe grace, this author uses a new word to contrast everything that is not grace, which he simply terms ungrace.]

We speak of grace often as if we fully understood it, but do we?  More importantly, do we believe in it and do our lives proclaim it?  Most of us have grown up with many values based on what sociologists call the “Protestant Ethic.”  It can be described in phrases like: pull yourself up by your own bootstraps; the early bird gets the worm; no pain, no gain; there’s no such thing as a free lunch; and stand up for yourself!  However, each of these are examples of “ungrace”.  Indeed, most institutions run on ungrace and their insistence that we earn our way.  Over time, we build up a resistance to grace – partly because it is unearned (and doesn’t seem fair) and partly because it is shockingly personal to the individual who receives it. 

Aware of our inbuilt confusion about grace as well as our difficultly to explain it, Jesus chose to teach about it frequently – most often in the form of parables.  The three stories in Luke 15 (about the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son) seem to make the same point.  Each underscores the loser’s sense of loss, tells the thrill of discovery, and ends with a scene of jubilation.  It is only when we pause and allow their meaning to filter through our minds that we are confronted with their astonishing message and begin to realize how thickly our veil of ungrace obscures our view of God.

For example, can you image a housewife jumping up and down in glee over the discovery of a lost coin (Lk 15:8-10).  Now that image is not exactly what comes to one’s mind when we think of God.  Yet that is exactly the picture Jesus insisted upon.  In effect He is asking us, “Do you want to know what it feels like to be God?  Well, when one of my creatures pays attention to Me, it feels like I just reclaimed my most valuable possession, which I had given up for lost.”  The message is clear: God will go to any length to bring us home.  How far will He go?  All the way to Calvary.  God gave us His Son as proof that He has not given up on us.  That’s grace!

Grace is unmerited, undeserved, unconditional love of God toward man.  Grace is what every sinner needs, but none deserve (see Rom 5:8).  Unconditional love is a difficult concept to grasp.  By grace, God did for us what we could not do for ourselves.  Truly, God’s goodness toward us was not based on any thing we had done – or would do in the future.  He acted freely and without expectation of receiving anything of equitable value in return.  It was unearned kindness.  Indeed, grace is the essence of the gospel as it puts the “good” in the Good News.  It provides healing to those who hurt, help to those who struggle, and hope to those who despair.

Here is an important concept, though: while salvation is by the “riches of His grace” (see Eph 1:7), it is not by grace alone.  Paul, in Eph 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”  The giver and gift are so involved that the gift cannot be handed over unless the recipient is involved.  Grace is God’s part; faith is man’s part.

Read the The Parable of the Vineyard (Mt. 20:1-16), then pause to notice the role of each character.  God is the master of the house, Christ is the foreman, the laborers are the disciples, the vineyard is the church, and a denarius was the ordinary pay for a day laborer.  Whereas the first group of workers agreed to a set wage, the others merely trusted the master to give them “whatever is right” (see v. 4).  Now at the close of day, the early hires were dirt covered, sweat drenched, energy depleted, hands throbbing, back aching, and denarius deserving – everything the latecomers were not!  The foreman was told by the master to pay the wages beginning with those hired last.  As each worker stood before the foreman they each were given a denarius – regardless of the time they started work.  Predictably, the story has those who get more than they deserve, those who think they deserve more than they get, and a jealous reaction arises.  However, no one received less than he initially expected, and some received more.  The master had not made the early hires equal to the latecomers; rather he made the latecomers equal to the early hires.

Many Christians who study this parable identify with the employees who put in a full day’s work, rather than the add-ons at the end of the day.  We like to think of ourselves as responsible workers, and the employer’s strange behavior baffles us.  However, unless we step outside the world of ungrace we risk missing the story’s point.  God dispenses gifts, not wages.  None of us gets paid according to merit, for none of us comes close to satisfying God’s requirements for a perfect life.  If paid on the basis of fairness, we would all end up in hell!  Grace cannot be reduced to generally accepted accounting principles.  In the bottom-line reality of ungrace, some workers deserve more than others; in the realm of grace the word deserve does not even apply.

Jesus did not want His followers to be haughty, nor did He want them to have an employee mentality.  It is not so much for so much.  Rather, they should focus on work, not wages; service, not seniority; production, not position; trusting in God’s goodness at the end of the day and not comparing themselves to other workers.  From our Protestant Ethic background, we reach a troublesome dilemma as few things seem more unequal than the equal treatment of unequals!  But this is the ‘New Math’ of grace. The master did not give the latecomers what they deserved; he gave them what they needed.  It was not based on merit, but mercy.  Moreover, if we care to listen, there is a loud whisper from the gospel that we, as believers, did not get what we deserved.  For each of us as His children deserved punishment and got forgiveness.  We deserved wrath and got love.  We deserved a debtor’s prison and got instead a clean credit history.  We deserved stern lectures and crawl-on-your-knees repentance, but He left our world to return to His and set the table of grace, beckoning us to come to His banquet feast.

It should be noted, however, there is one aspect of the Protestant Ethic that is affirmed by the scriptures.  Phil. 2:12-13 admonishes us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling…for it is God who is at work in you.  No one is too bad to be saved, but some are “too good” to be saved because they have a self-righteous attitude.  They tend to look down on others, think too highly of themselves, and feel that God owes them something.  Then there are others who are unwilling to make the effort to change their lives and to put in the work to grow in Christ.  Nevertheless, God will always do His part to make you into the person He wants you to be, if you will work, too.

In summary, grace remains the last and best word to describe what God has done for each of us.  First, grace is free only because the Giver Himself has borne the cost.  Second, grace makes its appearance in so many forms that it is difficult to define.  However, something like a definition of grace in relation to God would be: grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more, and grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.  Yet, grace alone does not save us; grace is God’s means by which – if we choose to obey His commands - we may be saved.  Third, grace alone melts ungrace.  Finally, Christians are saved by grace in order to serve by grace.

When I stand before the throne,

Dressed in beauty not my own;

When I see Thee as Thou art,

Love Thee with unsinning heart;

Then, Lord, shall I fully know –

Not till then – how much I owe!

 

For the above article, ideas and phrases were selected from: Grace, by Aaron Erhardt, Louisville, KY: Erhardt Publications, 2015; God’s Amazing Grace: The Sweetest Sound of All by Wilson Adams, Murfreesboro, TN: Courageous Living Books, 2015; What’s So Amazing About Grace” by Philip Yancey, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997; Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014.  

How Long, O Lord?

Saturday, November 13, 2021

How Long, O Lord?

By Gary Watson

David was being hunted in the mountains by Saul. Saul's jealousy had prompted him to make a vow to take the life of David. David flees for his life and while in the mountains, he wrote Psalm 13. (http://www.fbbc.com/messages/hyles_psalms.htm).  It might be observed that David was so stressed that he felt alone and deserted.

Psalm 13 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
    light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
    lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.

According to the Mayo Clinic, stress has many common effects on our bodies:

  • Headache
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Stomach upset
  • Sleep problems

Common effects of stress on your mood

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation or focus
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Irritability or anger
  • Sadness or depression

Common effects of stress on your behavior

  • Overeating or undereating
  • Angry outbursts
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Tobacco use
  • Social withdrawal
  • Exercising less often

Scripture abound in assuring us that God will help us cope with stress.  1 Peter 5 strongly assures us that God will help.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever.

Note the assurances, challenges, and attitudes necessary as the passage describes: we must humble ourselves, submit ourselves to God, be sober-minded, and watchful.  We must resist the doubt and despair Satan causes. We need to be firm in the faith even if we suffer a while.

The words of Isaiah should reassure us:

Isaiah 40:

29 He gives power to the faint,
    and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
    and young men shall fall exhausted;
31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint.

What Makes Christianity Unique?

Saturday, October 30, 2021

What Makes Christianity Unique?

By Mark McCrary

Of all the world’s religions, what makes Christianity unique? Why should it be considered above all others?

Like most religions that revolve around a concept of a singular God, Christianity emphasizes the holiness of God. But Christianity’s take is somewhat different than many others; it is not simply that He is a good God, but His holiness means He is a perfect God - there is no sin in Him. Because He is holy, if we are to have a relationship with Him, we must be holy as well (“…but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’”). God is so perfect, in fact, He cannot tolerate the presence of sin. Isaiah 59:2 tells us, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.”

Such holiness demands that God be just. Unlike the teachings of some religions, He can’t look at our lives and, if there is more good than bad, wave away that bad as if it didn’t happen. It did; and His holiness can’t ignore it. There must be a price paid for those wrongs (“And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission,” Hebrews 9:22).

But, Romans 3:26 tells us something beautiful: because God is holy, He must be just; to be less than just would make Him less than holy. But—importantly— He is also the justifier (Rom. 3:26, “…To demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus”). What makes Christianity unique, ultimately, is Jesus Christ—God coming down in the form of man to pay the price for our sins (Hebrews 9:22) and reconcile us to the Holy God.

“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation,” Rom. 5:6-11.

Christianity presents a God who is so holy He cannot tolerate sin. Yet, for some reason He paid the price for our sins through His Son Jesus Christ. Why would He do such a thing? Because “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

That’s what makes Christianity unique.

The Planned Death of Jesus

Friday, October 15, 2021

The Planned Death of Jesus

By Tom Rose

One of the ways in which pseudo-scholars, critics, and skeptics attack our Lord is by denying that His sufferings were planned and purposeful.  His death, they insist, resulted from a miscalculation; it was a noble attempt to bring goodness into the world, but ended in an unplanned disaster.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  The whole trajectory of His life was prophesied 700 years before and included every aspect of His career as the Messiah, Servant of Jehovah in the book of Isaiah.  Indeed, He came into the world “not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent me” (Jn 6:38)…and the Father’s will was for Him to die.  Jesus was not a well-intentioned victim of a plan that surprised Him when it went horribly wrong.  No, He knew exactly how His life would end, down to the minutest detail, and had know it since before the foundation of the world when the plan of salvation was formed.

Luke 18:31-34 is the third and most complete of Christ’s specific predictions concerning His death as recorded by Luke— the first is found in Lk 9:21-22; and the second in Lk 9:44.  Jesus was on His final journey to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.  So that there would be no misunderstanding, He takes the twelve aside to remind them, with specific details, what was about to happen to Him was God’s plan. Yet, despite Jesus’ clear teaching, the disciples failed to perceive the meaning of what He had taught them.  The threefold repetition in v. 34 says, 1) they understood none of these things, 2) this saying was hidden from them; and 3) they did not know the things that were spoken.

But there was a perfectly good reason that the disciples failed to grasp the Lord’s teaching about His suffering and death; it failed to fit their messianic theology.  They expected the Messiah to be a king, who would defeat Israel’s enemies and establish His kingdom.  (Recall Bro. Pope’s reference to Acts 1:6 this morning.) They were looking for a coronation, not a crucifixion; for a messiah who killed His enemies, not one who was killed by His own people, and (even more unthinkable) willing to forgive His enemies as they did so.  The idea of a crucified Messiah was an absurdity to them; it was so ridiculous that they could not even comprehend it.  “The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,” wrote Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:18.  Thus, “Christ crucified” was “to Jews a stumbling block” (v. 23) a massive barrier that they could not get past.

After His resurrection Christ reaffirmed the veracity of the O.T. teachings and gently rebuked two of his disciples, on the road to Emmaus, for their failure to understand it (Luke 24:23-25).

Eventually, His disciples came to understand it, to believe it, and to preach it…beginning in the first century and continuing down to the present time. 

Never allow anyone to discount or minimize the importance of the death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ, for as the hymn says, “Without Him, how lost I would be.”

Trust and Faith

Friday, October 01, 2021

Trust and Faith in Hard Times

By Mark McCrary

Hardships and problems come our way in life, and sometimes they are very severe hardships and problems—the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job or health, financial problems. They are most confusing to us as Christians when we are trying to do everything we are supposed to do like serving God and others.  Then we begin to ask that oft asked question, “Why?”

The Psalmist struggled with the same question in Psalm 44.  In the first eight verses, he speaks of how he had been taught about God and His mighty power, how he saw God as his King and ruler, and how he trusted in Yahweh to deliver him in battle.

But, beginning in verse 9, the psalm takes a very dark turn.  The psalmist startles us with these words, “But You have cast us off and put us to shame, and You do not go out with our armies. You make us turn back from the enemy, and those who hate us have taken spoil for themselves. You have given us up like sheep intended for food, and have scattered us among the nations. You sell Your people for next to nothing, and are not enriched by selling them. You make us a reproach to our neighbors, a scorn and a derision to those all around us. You make us a byword among the nation, a shaking of the head among the peoples. My dishonor is continually before me, and the shame of my face has covered me, because of the voice of him who reproaches and reviles, because of the enemy and the avenger” (44:9-16). “Why” is not stated, but it is certainly implied.  And, he states very matter-of-factly that he and his people had been faithful to God. “All this has come upon us, but we have not forgotten You, nor have we dealt falsely with your covenant.  Our hearts have not turned back, nor have our steps departed from Your way… If we had forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a foreign got, would not God search this out?” (44:17-18, 20-21).

Have you ever felt that way in hard times? Have you ever thought, “If I wasn’t obeying God, these problems would be understandable.” What is the answer? What is remarkable about this psalm is that there is no answer given as to why God was not there… because in the end no answer would satisfy. What answer could be given to the person eaten up with cancer as to why they are suffering that would cause them to say, “Oh, I get it! Now I understand! Everything is alright now”? There is no answer that immediately removes the pain of a heart broken by the loss of a loved one or a broken or troubled marriage.

There is no answer.  There is only trust and faith. 

Though overcome with questions and doubts, the psalmist persevered with these words of power, “Arise for our help, and redeem us for your mercies sake” (44:26).  Our comfort in hard times does not come from an “answer,” but from continued confidence in our God we have believed in and submitted to.  It comes from having faith that “farther along we’ll know all about it, farther along we’ll understand why. Cheer up my brother, live in the sunshine; we’ll understand it all by an

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