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Monday, October 11, 2010

Balancing Grace, Faith and Love

Before I became a born-again Christian, there were people praying for me. I am grateful for their prayers. I believe their prayers brought the person into my life that could share the gospel with me so I understood it and received it. I wasn't an instant success, this guy needed persistence and stamina. It took two years of him telling me stories of Jesus before I received Christ, but when I did—I did.

Though there were Christians who tried to witness to me before Stanley, most showed me church, not Christ. Most showed me judgment and told me about the wrath of God rather than showing me His goodness. Paul says it is God's goodness that draws people to repentance (change of mind) (Rom 2:4). It was when I saw the goodness of Jesus that I chose to follow Him. That is the gospel Stanley preached. He told me about the good God who so loved me that He sent His only begotten Son to live the example of life He wanted for me. He revealed God's Son laid His perfect down as a sacrifice for me so I could have the life He demonstrated. Stanley did not berate me with my sin, he didn't try to show me where I missed the mark—He showed me Jesus—and without a word spoken about my sin, I knew I was a sinner. I knew without Jesus I had no hope of being otherwise. I knew that I had repeatedly missed the mark God fixed for me and would continue to do so without Him killing me to stop the cycle. But Jesus . . .

Jesus saw my condition too, and chose to do what only He could do about it—He took my place on the cross of judgment. Though my sin invited sickness to enter my body, He bore the stripes that paid for everlasting healing for me. The seeds I'd sown throughout my life reaped a life of poverty, but He bore the judgment for my wrong ways and delivered me from poverty. My words and actions wrought for me shame and humiliation, but Jesus bore that too, and placed His robe of virtue around me. Jesus became a shield around me, my glory and lifted my head. Each time I read the Bible, I realized there was something I was free of or something I had gained through my relationship with God through Christ. That is the power of grace. That is the grace that brought me to faith.

I believe this is where the first century church began—at this place of grace—through faith because of the word spoken to them. I believe our words should bring faith to people. I believe we should speak in such a way to bring faith to people so they can access the grace God freely offers all of us. As I learned last week, "the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men." (Titus 2:11). But I think sometimes we fall into the same category as the Christians who tried to get me saved before Stanley came with the good news. I think we want to scare people into salvation. I've known some people scared into salvation, and those people didn't hold on when times got tough. They decided it was too hard to live for a God that never seemed pleased and with so many rules. I don't know any person scared into salvation that hasn't given up on being a Christian. Why? Because of the God we revealed to them.

I believe it has something to do with repentance. The word used in Romans 2:4, and translated as "repentance" means "to change the mind." That definition is from The Complete Word Study Dictionary for the New Testament. When people receive salvation to avoid hell, most of the time they don't change their minds about their life of sin, they just want to change their destination. But when we witness the goodness of God, we want to be like Him. We want to let Him change us from what we were to what He is. We change our mind about what is good and pleasant and acceptable. Many of us have not witnessed goodness until we've seen God. Jesus said even good fathers on earth are evil in comparison to God (Mt 7:9-11). I believe if we can show people God's goodness, then they will be healthier and happier Christians from the start.

I also believe if we can reveal God's love for people, they will have more faith to hold on during hard times. If we really believe He is love, we won't believe He put illness in our bodies, or allows the devil to put illness in our bodies. I don't know any parent who puts illness on their child. When our kids get sick, we take them to the doctor and get them all the help we can get. Yet, some are willing to believe that God has allowed them to be sick to teach them something, or to give them a "cross to bear." But that's not what the Bible says. The Bible says in comparison to God's goodness, we are evil. The Bible says God so loved us that He sent Jesus to pay the price for our healing (Is 53:4-6 & 1Pet 2:24). If He sent Jesus to pay such a ghastly price, would He then cancel that and put sickness on us? No. No. No. He didn't put it there and He didn't allow it. The devil is the one who tries to steal, kill and destroy—not God. If we are battling an illness in our body, it isn't because God sent it or allowed it. It is there because we haven't learned to access what God gave us the moment Jesus bore the stripes that paid for our healing. Healing is part of salvation—per the dictionaries, and per Jesus' actions and words while He was here on the earth. We need to hear this all the time. We need to hear it until we can't believe anything else—until we refuse to accept anything else.

I believe if Christians would spend their time knowing their God and what His love purchased for them, then we wouldn't have so many in the world angry with our judgment of them. Instead we might see more people clamoring to know this good God who is love.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Grace's Influence Part Two

Titus 2:11-12
11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.

Wow. Did you see that? The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared (become obvious, become visible or known) to all men (humanity). This blows me away. First, the grace of God is what brings salvation, and second that it has appeared to all people. Let's focus, for now, on the first part of this verse: The grace of God that brings salvation—

We discussed what salvation means—it is what Jesus carried out for all who will accept and receive—deliverance, preservation, health and well-being. Jesus accomplished our deliverance from sin and all the results of sin in the earth. If we believe Jesus is who He said He was, and did what He said God sent Him to do—we have received salvation through faith because of grace. By grace we're saved through faith (Ephesians 2:8).

James Strong (Strong's Concordance and Dictionary) defines grace as "…especially the divine influence on the heart (of humankind) and (that influence) reflected in the life." That's what grace is, and we see in Titus 2:11 that said influence in our heart is what brings salvation.

The dictionary defines "influence" as "an emanation (springing up, source) of spiritual or moral force, the act or power of producing an effect without apparent exertion or force or direct exercise of command. The power or capacity of causing an effect in indirect or intangible ways. One that exerts influence. To have an effect on the condition or development of: modify, affect."

So—God influenced our heart to affect us for change—from sinner to saved and from cursed to blessed, from rebellious sinner to obedient child. When we allow grace to mix with faith in what God has said about us, then that influence begins to display and reflect the changes to those who knew us before. The people who knew me in my twenties, knew a different person. Grace has changed me. I know I am not all God intends me to be yet, but I also know He is faithful to complete the work He began in me. The point is, His influence in my heart has changed me and I reflect that change in my life. It is reflected in the words I choose (to bring life instead of devastation), it is reflected in how I treat people, it is reflected in the work I do and how I live. Life is so much better now than then!

Knowing that grace is influence, makes me want to go through all the Bible says about grace again. I counted it once; seems like that word is used more than 125 times in the New Testament. I am convinced God wants us to know His grace and all it brings to our lives.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Grace's Influence

I've been meditating on grace a lot lately. Grace is a deep subject. Paul, in his letter to the church at Ephesus, said we are saved by grace.

The Greek word translated "saved" here is sozo. It is used more than one hundred times in the New Testament. Jesus used the term often: "Daughter, your faith has made you whole." (Mt 9:22). The word "whole" is the Greek word, sozo. "The Son of man came to save that which was lost." (Mt 18:11). "The Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them." (Luke 9:56). He told the blind beggar, "Receive your sight, your faith has "saved" you." (Luke 18:42). Luke tells us that the man who was possessed of devils was "healed," using the same word, sozo. We know by these examples that the word saved (sozo) means more than just saved from going to hell. We know by the examples that the health, and wholeness that this word represents is not a "someday when I get to heaven" experience. Health occurred for the blind beggar when he believed. Wholeness came to the woman with the issue of blood the moment she reached out in faith. Salvation is deliverance, preservation, health, well-being and to be made whole—and if we are to assume it works as it did when Jesus walked the earth—all that sozo is should occur when we believe.

It is by grace we are saved, through faith, says Paul (Ephesians 2:8). That tells me that grace is a major key to my salvation, so I think I should meditate on grace frequently and deeply. But do we really know what grace is? Do we really know what it means that grace has come into our lives? Do we know how to access grace? Admittedly, I still have more questions than answers, but I continue to meditate because I know God reveals to those who diligently seek. Questions don't bother God, it is indifference that bothers God.

The word Paul uses in the letter to the Ephesians, translated "grace" is the Greek word, charis. My friend, Robert Shankle, the best teacher on the effects of grace in a believer's life, taught me about grace when I was a young Christian. He taught me to use a Bible dictionary to study deeper and to get a fuller meaning of what God says. The Strong's dictionary says this about grace: charis is from a word meaning graciousness (as gratifying),
of manner or act (abstract or concrete; literal, figurative or spiritual; especially the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life; including gratitude). Strong's says it is especially the influence of God (divine) on/in the heart of mankind and the reflection of that influence in the life of said mankind.

This is not what I learn in church. This is not the message of grace that I hear from the pulpit. I hear that grace is a free gift from God, and I hear that because of this free gift I am forgiven of all my sins (past, present, and future). I hear that grace is God's unmerited favor—which many Christians have translated to mean they are God's favorite. Favor is one way the translators of the King James version of the Bible translated the Greek word, charis. That translation was done in the early 1600's. The point I'm trying to make is we may understand the words differently in this age than those who gave us the words.

Take, for instance, the word favor. My Merriam Webster dictionary defines favor as: Friendly regard shown toward another, esp. a superior toward an inferior. "Approving consideration or attention." But when I look at the definition for favor in my American Dictionary of the English Language composed in 1828, I see a definition for the word, favor that is almost a page long and details favor as "kind regard, support, defense, vindication, lenity, (to pardon the guilty is a favor, to punish them is an act of justice.) mildness or litigation of punishment. A gift or present." I've summarized.

So, what does it mean that we are saved by grace, through faith? What did it mean that those who experienced Jesus' favor while He walked the earth received immediate "salvation" and not a promise for a future deliverance from whatever they were suffering from? Why did grace look different then than it does now? Or have we just perceived it differently? And if we have perceived it differently, how should we understand that we are saved by grace through faith?

Robert Shankle has started a new blog where he promises to teach us about grace. This is the link to his blog: http://robertshankle.blogspot.com/

Next blog, I will go into more detail about what it means that God influences our heart.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

What On Earth Would This World Think?

Luke 15:11-12, 17-20

11 Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them.
17 "When the younger son came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' 20 So he got up and went to his father.

"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Today I went to church at The Way, in Fort Smith. I love the inter-active format there. We had time for praise and worship interspersed with testimony. Then Todd (Pastor) opened the discussion from the word of God. Today's discussion was about love. God is love, God has love for us and God wants us to love as He loves.

At one point, someone brought up the night Judas betrayed Jesus. In John 13:1, we read, "Jesus, knowing that his hour was come that he should leave out of this world to his Father, having loved his own that were in the world, he loved them to the end." One version says, "He showed them the full extent of His love."

Todd brought out how Jesus must have felt, to wash the feet of Judas, knowing Judas was going to betray Him, yet He bowed before him and washed his feet. The superior bowed before the inferior and washed him. It is a powerful thought—so powerful I haven't been able to forget it. In fact, it has caused my mind to roll continually with thoughts of God's generous love for us.

Jesus has the Father's heart. He said more than once, "The Father does the works." And, "I only speak what I hear from my Father." The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was the perfect reflection of His Father, God (Hebrews 1:3).

So, while I know God and Jesus magnify all we think is love, I think, while knelt before Judas, Jesus must have loved him just as surely as we love our children—even when they don't love us back. Even when they choose a way that is so different from what we have taught them. Even when they go against every bit of wisdom we've offered them. Even when they not only don't honor us, but in fact, dishonor us with their choices, words and actions. Even then, we love them. We kneel down (humble ourselves) and love them even in their dirty places—because that is what love does—that's what love looks like. Heidi Baker says, "Love looks like something." Yeah—love looks like Jesus on the night Judas betrayed Him.

And that was the beginning of the avalanche of thoughts. Because, if that is what love looks like, that is how He wants us to be with one another, isn't it? And if this is what love looks like, this is how we should be with the world around us, shouldn't we?

What would the world think if they saw us love one another this way? What would the world think if they witnessed Christians loving one another even in the dirty places? What would the world think—and how would they respond to love such as that? What depth could the Church grow to if we loved one another like Jesus loved Judas? What would the world think if we loved them enough to wash their dirty places—even while knowing they could betray us and not repent for it?

What on earth would this world think if we loved like Jesus loved?