Grace

Tuesday Devotional: 2 Kings 6

bibleRead 2 Kings 6.1-7

Grace is a concept easy to accept upon becoming a Christian but more difficult to believe as we begin our walk with Christ.  We know how much Jesus has done for us.  We know how our prior condition was not only harmful to ourselves but to others around us.  We know that the promise of eternal peace and joy in Heaven is real.  We know that the struggle with our sinful nature is ever-present and ongoing.  However, after “knowing” all of this, many Christians fail to move.  They feel like to move is to open the door to making the wrong decision or going in the wrong way or hearing the wrong thing from God.  We are paralyzed by fear, suffocated by hypotheticals and worst-case scenarios.  We don’t want to mess up.  We don’t want to make a mistake.  We don’t want to lose what God has offered us.

But while all of these feelings are natural and justifiable, where is the heart of the Gospel?  Where is the cross?  Where is the resurrection?  Where is Jesus?

When you met Jesus, did you meet a savior who sought opportunities to punish wrongdoers, or who brought healing and forgiveness?  Did you meet a savior who set traps for people to fall into or who was the first to reach out and touch the unclean and unworthy?

The tragedy of the Christian is the fear of making mistakes.  While the Gospel of Jesus Christ MUST establish a new heart and a new way of life, must seek to honor God and His commands and must never tolerate sinful behavior, there is still grace.  There MUST be grace! There is still understanding.  There is still the authority of the living God to cover a multitude of sins by the righteousness and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

The mark of a Christian is how often and willing we are to allow God’s authority and glory to be revealed in us.  This often comes by the action of faith.  The faith of a Christian is believing that the living God is real and is with us.  The God of Creation commands us to move, to work, to live, all for His glory.  If we love God and choose to serve Him with all that we are and all that we have, mistakes no longer become a paralyzing fear.  Fear of making mistakes is predicated on an expectation of perfection.  Punishment is associated with fear, and if we believe in Jesus, we know the punishment was His and is not ours.  We will of course make mistakes. We will fall.  However, the God of Creation has never demanded perfection from us, but has desired for us to choose Him first.  Our salvation does not hinge upon our perfection.  Our salvation rests on if we believe in Jesus, who embodies perfection.  Faith in Jesus allows us to try and fail, to move and to fall and to reveal a Father who loves that we believe.

Tuesday Devotional: Genesis 50

bibleRead Genesis 50:15-21

Why are we so suspicious of grace? Why are we so suspicious of undeserved forgiveness? It is a sad reality that in a world filled with so much love shared between us that we find it hard to receive that love without a complete understanding of why we deserve it in the first place. The state of a child is not only innocence and freedom of paralyzing self-awareness. The state of a child is also an innocent unawareness of the evils of this world. Unfortunately, as we grow older we begin to lose this innocence and begin to come into what we call “the real world.” This real world is one that is far more acquainted and nurturing to the selfish desires of man that are not conducive to free grace or undeserved love. In the real world we learn to be cautiously suspicious of forgiveness that is not deserved. We develop tactical skills in defending ourselves from love while we persistently hope in and seek to discover it. In the hearts of man is a struggle, a conflict, a fight. This fight is between our natural childlike nature that expects love to be love, and our nurtured state of maturity in this world that cannot accept the reason or logic behind a love that cannot be explained or rationalized. To a child, unexplained grace is a gift. To an adult, unexplained grace is a ploy. It is a move. It is a plan, a scheme, a trap. Perhaps this is the reason why the human heart is so resistant to the cross and so unwilling to accept the life of Jesus Christ. This inability to accept holy and righteous love is such that for those that have understood or accepted it, it is a crushing blow to the heart. It is a blow that brings the heart to tears. The effect of sin in this world is that it has not only separated us from God spiritually but it has produced a barrier between the love of God that we so desperately desire but as a result of sin are simultaneously afraid of.

Thursday Reflection: Oreo Perspectives

oreos source

During a Bible study on Matthew 5:17-20, we read about Jesus discussing the importance of the law and regulations that preceded him and how they related to his Gospel ministry. 

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.
Matthew 5:17-20

After we read the passage, the question was posed as to how one would explain this passage to someone with little to no background on Jesus, or the Law and prophets he talks about.  The answer we found was unconventional, but effective: the Oreo.

First, I am a lover and devotee of all things snacks. In all honesty, I would be totally content to entirely replace all large meals with unending and continuous snacking. Of course the problem is that doing so is a slippery slope, a diet with no boundaries or limitations and no cap as to when enough is enough. Because, although our stomachs can correctly inform us of our physical satisfaction, one glance at a bag containing what, in that particular moment, is all that is good in this world, “what’s just one more handful?” Oreos can be your best friend and worse enemy.

Oreos are unique cookies. The two chocolate cookies are separated, yet united, by a thin, or sometimes if you’re lucky, double-layered, cream filling. The Oreo is unity in contrast. The cookies, while delicious if eaten on their own, leave something to be desired apart from the filling. They are quite dry and the richness and crunchiness of the chocolate can be somewhat overwhelming. On the other hand, the filling in the middle, while sweet and easy on the palette, is simple and one dimensional without a contrasting texture or flavor.

The only way to fully appreciate an Oreo, the Oreo that everyone knows and loves, is to eat the cookie in its entirety with both the cookies and filling contributing equally to the experience.

What does any of this have to do with Matthew 5? In the Bible we see two contrasting sides. On one side we find the Old Testament, beginning with Genesis and ending in the prophet Malachi.  On the other, we find the New Testament, beginning with the Gospel of Matthew and ending in Revelation. One’s approach to the Bible and how these two sides interact or contrast with one another can radically determine on’s approach to God and his son Jesus.

Compare the Old Testament to the chocolate cookies. For some people, the experience of the Old Testament is less than positive. The Old Testament can be difficult to understand, difficult to relate to and difficult to find any use for in the present day. One might say that the “texture” of the Old Testament is too “crunchy” and the flavor is too rich and overwhelming in too large of quantities.

If the Old Testament is the cookie layers, the New Testament is the cream filling. The New Testament is seen as a welcome departure from the Old Testament: the language seems easier to understand, the stories seem more heart-warming, and Jesus seems quite loving and gentle as opposed to the God of hell, fire and damnation of the Old Testament. The stories of Jesus often concern healing, grace and redemption. One might say that, like the Oreo Cookie filling, the New Testament is sweet and enjoyable and a welcome respite from the crunchy rich chocolate cookies.

This brings us finally back to the scripture in Matthew. In the passage Jesus stressed the importance of the Old Testament scriptures and how necessary they are to fully understand his Gospel ministry. One can view his mission as a circle. Prior to Jesus, the circle was forming but not complete. Jesus did not come to create a new circle but to complete the circle already being made. Without a strong understanding of the prophets and the history preceding Jesus, nothing about his Gospel ministry in Israel makes sense or matters.

In fact, it is because of the entire Old Testament that Jesus did the things he did and say the things he said. The more we read the Gospels, the more we realize that everything Jesus did was motivated by the desire to connect the listener to the past, where God spoke in the same words and acted in the same ways. His entire ministry was overflowing with a consciousness that he is the great “I am” from Exodus, completely unchanged.

For the purposes of our Oreo analogy, Jesus is saying that the filling of his Gospel ministry is sweet but without the cookies of the Law and prophets, the product is incomplete. Filling without the cookies is not an Oreo, it’s simply filling. The writer of Hebrews expounds on this point by saying:

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised,
40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. 
Hebrews 11:39-40

With cookies and no filling, or filling but no cookies, you don’t have an Oreo.

Many of us spend 90 percent of Bible-reading time swimming in the New Testament. While I do this myself from time to time, we cannot disregard the Old Testament as disconnected from the New. The Old Testament is the foundation of the New, and the New is the revelation and completion of the Old. The Bible is two sides that cannot exist independent of each other. Jesus came to connect and reveal the two. To focus only on one is to misunderstand the teaching of Jesus himself and to misunderstand the relationship of God to us.

In my Bible studies we spend a lot of time with people who are new to Jesus and the Bible. With this being the case, we often spend more time in the New Testament introducing people to the Gospel and Jesus. However, once these individuals witness Jesus’ Gospel ministry, we see them diving head first into the previously offensive and at one time overwhelming Old Testament, where they begin to see the pearls that the Spirit begins to reveal.

While one side of the Bible might be more appealing to you, never neglect the other. It is in the marriage of the two that you see the truest picture of God and how he relates to us. Once someone asked me how I could say that, by reading the Bible, I can gain a better and more complete picture of who God is and what he is like. My response was that reading the Bible is like building a jigsaw puzzle. By reading the Old with the New Testament together, we are given the pieces to the puzzle. While we will never possess all of the pieces to the puzzle and the picture will always have missing sections for our faith ponder, the pieces provided by both the Old and New Testaments reveal enough to us to see God and understand him, as he desires us to.

 

Tuesday Devotional: Romans 1

Read Romans 1:18-32bible

“Punishment” is often attributed to God long before “love” or “grace.”  The wrath of God is far more interesting a headline than his humble sacrifice and endless love for those who have not loved him.  For many, the creator God is an authority figure to his inferior creation, small beneath his heavy hand.  In this vertical perception of holy hierarchy, there is far too much room for rules and consequences and far less room for love and grace.  While God has established his law and standards and there are indeed consequences to breaking them, the punishment of God is often misunderstood.  As most of us experience punishment, an act of disobedience is swiftly followed by an act of punishment intended to end the disobedience.  This is reactionary punishment.  While this approach to punishment is effective, the punishment of God is typically far more lesson driven.  God’s desire is not limited to putting an end to our misbehavior, but shows us how our misbehavior has terrifying effects on not only our own lives but others as well.  When punishment is associated merely with our own actions, isolated to us as individuals, we learn obedience and punishment in a system of self-preservation and self-service.  Godly wrath and punishment is far broader and more terrifying.  God’s punishment intends to show us that with freedom to seek the satisfaction of our human desires, we are capable of far more destruction than one single act.

Will a child learn and understand the consequences of stealing the car keys and driving the family car more if stopped before leaving the driveway, or if allowed to drive around the city for a single hour?  The first is a warning of things that could have been.  The second is an experience of consequences.  The second leaves no room for hypotheticals or what ifs.  It locates the disobedience directly within the consequences.  Therefore, the punishment of God in terms of letting us carry out our desires without correction is far more terrifying than a direct rebuke by the Lord Almighty before a false step is taken.  However, in this way we are better able to understand the purpose of his law when we face our own destructive tendencies.  Only by experiencing the dangers of our own nature can we not only accept but desire his laws, decrees and protection from ourselves.  Save us from ourselves, Lord God Almighty!