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The Grace of God

One of the devotions I use regularly during my personal quiet time chose 1 Corinthians 15:10 as the key verse for Monday’s devotional. (All verses in ESV unless otherwise noted.)

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”

I always look up the verse in my Bible to see the context in which it was used, and with this verse I sensed it was time for some more in-depth study. This passage begins with a reminder of the gospel message in a nutshell. Written by the apostle Paul, in verses 3 – 5 he says:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”

‭‭Then next four verses tell of the appearances of the resurrected Christ to His apostles, ending with Paul’s own visitation on the road to Damascus. In verse 9, he identifies himself as “the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle“, because of being a persecutor of the church prior to his conversion. And then Paul speaks of the grace of God in verse 10.

After studying a verse in context, one of my favorite online resources for gaining a clearer understanding of a verse or passage of Scripture is the website preceptaustin.org, which often has a detailed commentary and other resources to help me see the verse in light of the whole of Scripture. I decided to check that out today, and found some help getting a clearer understanding of what Paul was trying to communicate in this verse.

First, this resource gives the verse being studied in a variety of translations. As I read through the list, one version stood out to me for it’s clarity, one I seldom use in my personal study. In the Barclay translation, this verse reads:

“It is by the grace of God that I am what I am, and his grace to me has not proved ineffective, but I have toiled more exceedingly than all of them, but it was not I who achieved anything but God’s grace working with me.”

The commentator on this passage, who is a retired physician, points out that grace is used “in triplicate” in this verse. He compares 1 Corinthians 15:10 to a prescription from God, written in triplicate, for “spiritual health” in both our personal lives and in our ministry to others.

By the grace of God that I am what I am

Most of us have a basic understanding of the meaning of grace. The Greek word for grace, “charis,” means undeserved favor given to us. There are two main kinds of grace taught in the New Testament, saving grace. This is the kind of grace spoken of in Ephesians 2:8-9.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

‭‭Paul definitely acknowledged this kind of grace in his life, but this isn’t the kind of grace he is focusing on in this verse. The second type of grace has been called sanctifying grace. This is the daily grace God extends to us as Christians that empowers us to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Sanctifying grace is the ongoing work of the indwelling Holy Spirit that enables us to grow spiritually, so that we become better representatives of the Lord to those around us. It is the process described in Romans 8:29, and it will continue until the day we see Jesus face to face.

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

His grace toward me was not in vain

The proud Saul of Acts 7 who was rejoicing over Stephen’s stoning and who “was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” in Acts 8:3 is gone. And more than his name was changed. He had been changed on the inside. And God’s grace was responsible for the change, first in bringing Saul to saving grace and then in changing him into Paul through His sanctifying grace, a key instrument of God in spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth and author of much of the New Testament. The message for us here: The grace of God in our lives is effective in accomplishing His purposes in and through us.

His grace in our work and ministry.

The third mention of grace in this verse is the one that caught my attention. Paul worked diligently at the tasks God had called him to do. But the changed Paul took no credit for what he had accomplished. Instead, he acknowledged anything achieved in and through his life was the result of God’s grace. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8,

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

‭‭‭Paul further explains this in Philippians 2:12-13,

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

‭‭Yes, we have a part in living the successful Christian life. Our part is choosing to walk in obedience. But total obedience isn’t something we can accomplish in our own strength. If so, Jesus wouldn’t have needed to send the Holy Spirit to empower us to live the life He calls us to live.

  • Grace is what brings us to Christ.
  • Grace is what helps us grow more like Jesus.
  • Grace is what empowers us to do the work of the Kingdom that God has prepared beforehand for us to do.

The Holy Spirit is the member of the Godhead who offers us saving grace and sanctifying grace, and He is also our source of empowering grace for the work God has called us to do.

Are you in need of God’s grace today? I sure am. If you don’t already know Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, if you haven’t put your faith in Him for forgiveness of sin, don’t put this life-changing decision off another day. You need God’s saving grace and the Holy Spirit you will receive the moment you surrender your life to Jesus.

If you already have become a Christian, did you know that sanctification is a work of grace, accomplished as we cooperate with the indwelling Holy Spirit? Or are you trying to change your “problem areas” in your own strength? Paul described the results of doing this is Romans 7:14-15, “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” We have a part in the process – renewing our minds in God’s Word, choosing to lay down our will and walk in obedience – but the needed power to walk out His will comes from the Holy Spirit within all believers. The Holy Spirit will bring both conviction concerning areas that need to change and the power to make those changes.

Are you struggling with seeing what purpose God has for this season of your life? Is there something you believe God is calling you to do but don’t have any idea how to get started? In this area too, God’s grace is the answer. The indwelling power of the Holy Spirit is given to make us God’s witnesses in the neighborhood and city where we live, the surrounding area, and even to the ends of the earth if that’s a part of God’s calling on your life.

Facing the Unknown With a Known God

Youth With A Mission, better known as YWAM (pronounced “WHY-wham”), is an interdenominational Christian missionary organization founded by Loren Cunningham and his wife Darlene in 1960.

While on a beach in Hawaii, looking out at the waves, Loren Cunningham saw a vision of a different kind of waves – waves of young people taking the gospel message to the ends of the earth. YWAM was founded as a result of that vision. Fifty-nine years after it began, YWAM continues as an effective tool for fulfilling the vision He gave Loren and the Great Commission of Acts 1:8 upon which it was based and of Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19 to “go and make disciples of all nations.”

YWAM has had a special place in our lives. Some close friends of ours, Billy and Lyn Littlefield, went through the YWAM discipleship training program in the 1970s, and their training became the catalyst for a discipleship training program my husband Mitch and I were a part of in the early years of our marriage. A few years later, Mitch’s sister Shirley also spent time with YWAM.

I think the thing that has stuck with me more than anything else from these early years of our marriage and our indirect involvement with YWAM is the stated purpose of this Christian organization: To know God and to make Him known. I can’t think of a better description of the effective Christian life!

To Know God

John 17:3 says, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” The Christian life begins with a personal relationship with God. Through faith in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, we receive forgiveness for our sins and come to know God and His Son Jesus Christ. J. I. Packer, author of the book Knowing God, said:

“There’s a difference between knowing God and knowing about God. When you truly know God, you have energy to serve Him, boldness to share Him, and contentment in Him.”

Knowing God begins when we become a part of His family through faith in Jesus Christ. But it is also a growing process as we come to know Him more fully through His written Word. As we read and study the Bible, we learn what He is like – a faithful God, loving us with a steadfast love, showing us mercy by not giving us what we deserve and grace by giving us what we don’t deserve. His names, attributes, promises and the total of Scripture progressively reveal the fullness of Who God is. This kind of knowing is a lifelong process.

To Make Him Know

Once we know God through a personal relationship with Him, Jesus has commissioned us to go into all the world and share that knowledge with others. Starting with our “Jerusalem” – the neighborhood, town or city where we live and moving out from there, we begin sharing the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. As disciples, our call is two-fold, to grow personally in our knowledge of God and to be disciple-makers, introducing others to the good news that has changed our lives.

When An Unknown Future Looms Ahead

At no time in our lives is truly knowing God more important than when we face an unknown future. When things feel totally out of our control, knowing God gives us confidence that our circumstances aren’t out of God’s control. God has not promised to shield us from trouble. He has promised to be with us, whatever we must walk through.

Peter Marshall, pastor and chaplain of the United States Senate from 1947 to 1949, said: “God will not permit any troubles to come upon us, unless He has a specific plan by which great blessing can come out of the difficulty.

Corrie ten Boom, survivor of Ravensbruck German concentration camp and Christian speaker and author of The Hiding Place, a memoir telling the story of her family’s hiding Jews from the Nazis, said: “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

As I write this Teach Me Tuesday post, I’m preparing for an MRI on my left knee that has been swollen and extremely painful since the end of May. As I await this test, scheduled for today, I don’t know what lies ahead. So I’m choosing to focus on what I do know.

  • I do know God has promised to go before me and be with me, no matter what lies ahead, and He always keeps His promises. “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” Deuteronomy‬ ‭31:8‬ ‭
  • I do know God promises to work all things together for the good of those who are called according to His purposes, and I am one of the called. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans‬ ‭8:28‬ ‭
  • I do know that God uses the circumstances He allows to touch my life for His purposes, specifically, to conform me to the image of His Son. “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Romans‬ ‭8:29‬
  • I do know God is good and I believe I will see God’s goodness while I’m still on this earth. “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!” Psalms‬ ‭27:13‬ ‭
  • I do know God is faithful. He never promises and then fails to deliver. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” Hebrews‬ ‭10:23‬ ‭
  • I do know God is love. God’s love is so great that He gave His only Son to bring us into fellowship with Him. With His love, He embraces each of us personally. “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” 1 John‬ ‭4:9-10‬
  • I do know when this life is over I have an inheritance awaiting me in heaven. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,” 1 Peter‬ ‭1:3-4‬

As Corrie ten Boom said, if we know God we have no reason to fear the future. If we understand His love for us, we can know the difficulties we’re currently walking through will produce blessing, both in this life and in eternity when we go to be in His presence forever.

Diamonds

When I’m hurting, as I have been over the past four weeks with intense pain in my knee and digestive problems also making it difficult for me to eat regular meals, my prayers have been primarily for two things, for some answers concerning the cause of symptoms I’m dealing with and for some relief from the pain. But as I laid in bed early Sunday morning, after a painful night with little sleep, the clear word I heard from the Lord had nothing to do with these desires of mine.

The words I heard, as clearly as any message I’ve ever heard from the Lord: “I’m forming you into a diamond, created and cut perfectly to be a reflector of My light to those around you.”

Even if this wasn’t the message I was desiring from the Lord, after walking with Him for almost fifty years I know better than ignore a word from Him. So I decided to do some research on how diamonds are formed and prepared. It was eye-opening.

Diamonds are pieces of pure carbon. Contrary to popular belief, they do not come from coal, although they may be similar in chemical composition. They are formed deep within the mantle of the earth, but only where the conditions are right since they need a lot of heat as well as pressure to form.

The only producing diamond mine in the United States is located near Murfreesboro, Arkansas, with around fifty commercial diamond mines around the world. The rough diamonds come out of the mines looking like worthless pebbles, which must be carefully cleaned to remove all the impurities.

To prepare them for use as gemstones is the job of skilled diamond cutters. Since diamonds are made of the hardest material in the world, only a diamond can be used to mechanically cut another diamond. Precision in cutting is key, both for the larger rough diamond and for the individual cut diamond in getting the exact angles needed for the best result. The more the diamond is cut, the brighter it sparkles.

As I tried to imagine the extreme temperature and pressure under which diamonds are formed, and the detailed process of turning a rough diamond just out of the mine into a valuable gemstone, I began to see why God had brought this object lesson to mind. I suddenly wasn’t surprised at the fiery trial I’ve been going through during this last month… or all the other trials our family has been through over the last few years.

John 1:9 identifies Jesus as the light of the world, but in Matthew 5:14 Jesus said the same of us. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” We are called to be reflectors of the true light, Jesus. And for that to happen we need to go through a similar process to the one that turns a rough diamond just out of the mine into a valuable gemstone.

‭‭1 Peter 1:6-7 describes the positive outcome of being tested by God’s fire. I especially appreciate the wording of these verses in the New Living Translation. Though these verses compare the process we go through as Christians to that of purifying gold, fire is a common factor in both gold and diamonds becoming what they were meant to be.

“So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.”

‭‭So don’t be discouraged at the trials and pressures in your life. God is using them to create something beautiful from our lives. Something that will cause us to be light in the darkness of this world, and then result in praise and glory and honor on the day Jesus returns.

Seeking God with Our Whole Heart

“Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord,” Jeremiah‬ ‭29:12-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This promise from Scripture is one of my favorites. It comes immediately after one most of us are familiar with, Jeremiah 29:11, which reminds us that God has a good plan for our lives, a plan to give us a future and a hope. Often, I see this verse quoted, with no mention of the following verses that are directly related to it. They speak of the focus that is to be present in our life as we realize God is good and His plan for our lives is good.

Earlier in the book of Jeremiah, we read a solemn warning of what was ahead for Judah (the Southern Kingdom of Israel) if they continued down the path they had been trodding (see Jeremiah 9). If they continued stubbornly ignoring God’s law, determined to follow their own desires, judgment was ahead.

Unfortunately, this stern warning had not been heeded, and that judgment had arrived. God used Babylon as His agent of judgment against Israel for their sins of idolatry and rebellion against Him, and in B.C. 587 Jerusalem was attached, the city destroyed, and the people taken into captivity to Babylon.

Jeremiah 29 begins with these words. “These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.” (Jeremiah‬ ‭29:1‬)

In this letter, Jeremiah gave clear instructions from the Lord to the exiles. They were to build houses and live in them, plant gardens and eat their produce, marry and have children, take wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage that they in turn would have children, and seek the welfare of the city where they have been sent into exile. (https://www.bible.com/59/jer.29.5-7.esv). In other words, this would not be a brief interlude in there lives, so they needed to accept the consequences of their failure to obey God and live in the best way possible during this time.

In verse 10, Jeremiah gives them a promise that this time of exile will come to an end. Jeremiah writes, “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.

This is the setting of Jeremiah 29:11-14. The season of exile would come to an end, the people of Judah would return to their promised land, and in having gone through the Lord’s discipline they would have a hopeful future, as they chose to seek God with their whole heart.

While we have not experienced exile because of disobedience to the Lord, like Judah we are recipients of this promise. This is a conditional promise, requiring something from us. To seek God is to desire His presence more than His presents. While God has promised to never leave or forsake us, our awareness of His presence is affected by the depth of our relationship with Him. To walk in God’s presence daily, we must seek Him with our whole heart.

What does it mean to seek God with our whole heart?

  • It is to seek Him with a deep longing that makes the things of this world pale in comparison.
  • It is to recognize receiving life from Him is a vital necessity, something without which we can’t truly live a meaningful life.
  • It is to realize without Him we can do nothing of lasting value, and therefore make abiding in His presence daily our highest priority in life.
  • It is to respond quickly to the conviction of the Holy Spirit

Remember, we are seeking the presence of a God whose desire for us to live daily in His presence is so great that He sent His own Son to earth as a man, to live the life we were called to live but could not, and then to die as our substitute on the cross. Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our sins, was raised on the third day, and He now lives within us in the person of the Holy Spirit to empower us to live in a way that pleases the Father.

Once we have accepted Jesus’ sacrifice as the payment for our sin and become children of God, we can seek Him with confidence that He desires a close relationship with us even more than we desire to walk close to Him. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, the way has been opened for us to encounter God based fully on His grace, mercy and love for us. All that is required for us to experience God is to set aside time daily to seek Him with ears open to His voice and a heart ready to receive and obey.

Original photo by Ben White on Unsplash

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Peace In Tough Situations

My devotional reading this morning in Breaking Free Day By Day, by Beth Moore, began with the following question.

“Have you had a time when you were surrendered to Christ in the midst of real difficulty and you found His peace beyond understanding?”

This immediately brought to mind the day in November 2018 when I was in a small room in the emergency center of St. Luke’s Hospital in the Houston Medical Center. We had already been told that our son David was in critical condition, and while the medical staff was doing their best to stabilize him, his private duty nurse and supported home living aide and I were taken to a nearby room to wait. As I sat in that room, it became a sanctuary of God’s presence. The Lord clearly spoke to me that He was ready to take our son to heaven to be with Him. The words brought no fear, no fight, simply a deep willingness to surrender our precious son to the Lord.

For years, as we battled through one life-threatening situation after another in David’s life, I had dreaded the time when God would take him home. Even in recent years, fear of David’s death had been my biggest source of anxiety. Yet as we faced the time of surrendering our special-needs son to the Lord, there was no fear, no dread.

Concerning situations such as this one, Beth Moore said:

“When we are in crisis and finally give up trying to discover all the answers to the whys in our lives, His unexpected peace washes over us like a summer rain… Peace comes only in situations that are completely surrendered to the sovereign authority of Christ.”

Elisabeth Elliot said in the deepest valleys we walk through, we gain the deepest insights about our God. This deep valley has taught me much about God’s peace. The Greek word translated peace, as used in Philippians 4:7, refers to the sense of rest and contentment that comes from living in harmony with God, accomplished through the gospel.

As I read this brief devotional this morning, my eyes were opened to truth of why God spoke to me that day in the hospital. God was not asking my permission to take David home, I already knew that. In reality, He was inviting me to walk through this very painful situation in His peace. Through surrender to His clearly revealed will, I’ve walked through one of the most painful seasons in my life with a deep sense of peace. Yes, we miss our son. Yes, we have grieved his loss. But if I had to find one phrase to characterize these last four months it would be supernatural peace, that peace spoken of in Philippians 4:7 that makes no sense in the natural, that surpasses our human understanding and is a gift from God.