Tag Archive | Grace

Only Because of God’s Mercy: God Uses Imperfect People

Hebrews 11 has been called the “Hall of Faith,” but have you ever really examined the lives of the people listed there? These are the people God used to change history, but Max Lucado has described the men and women listed in this chapter as “a rag-bag of ne’er-do-wells and has-beens who found hope, not in their performance, but in God’s proverbially open arms.”

Let’s examine a couple of these men of faith. Abraham, the Father of the Jewish people, lied about his wife Sarah, as recorded in Genesis 12:11-20, saying she wasn’t really his wife but his sister – a half-truth – even asking her to join in the lie because he was afraid the Egyptians would notice her beauty and kill him to take her as their own. And then a little later, he did it again. Not what I would call a man of integrity! And yet he has a major part in the Hall of Faith. God forgave Abraham and continued to use him for His purposes.

Then let’s look at David, whom God called a man after His own heart. 2 Samuel 11 gives us a dark picture of an episode of his life when he saw a beautiful woman and decided he wanted her, even if she was married to one of his faithful soldiers. He not only took Bathsheba for himself and got her pregnant, but when his scheme to cover up his sin failed, he came up with a plan to have her husband killed on the battlefield. Again, not exactly the kind of man I’d look up to. Yet David repented and was forgiven for these sins, and God continued to work through him in spite of his huge failure in this situation.

And there are lots of other imperfect people listed in this chapter, men who had genuine faith in God and were used by Him but still had major flaws in their character. And unfortunately, this wasn’t limited to the men God used in Biblical times. Even the genealogy of Jesus includes some women we definitely would not look up to as examples of godly women: Tamar was guilty of adultery, and Rahab was a harlot, just to name a couple of the women who are discussed in the Bible.

As I read a devotional from Max Lucado’s book Chronicles of the Cross earlier this week that spoke of the men and women God used in the Bible, the message was clear. God uses people to change lives and to change the world – and the only kind of people He has to choose from are imperfect people. He did this during biblical times, and He still does it today. God never condones sin – and there are consequences when we make wrong choices. God allowed Abraham to be chased out of Egypt because of his sin. David repented, yet he faced serious ramifications as a result of his sin. But what a clear picture of the loving and forgiving nature of our merciful and gracious God.

On this Thankful Thursday, lets give thanks for our God who doesn’t treat us as we deserve to be treated, but who gives us both mercy – not punishing us as our sins deserve, and grace – blessing us in spite of the fact that we fail daily to live up to His standards. And let’s remember that God uses imperfect people – the only kind He has to choose from. In light of the amazing love and mercy of God, make yourself available to serve Him.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian who served God faithfully in the midst of intense persecution by the Nazis that led to his martyrdom, said “Once a man has truly experienced the mercy of God in his life, he will henceforth aspire only to serve.”

Walking By Faith into an Unknown Future

This Christmas, our family is preparing to enter a new phase of life. As a new year approaches, we are adjusting to no longer being caregivers for our special needs son David, who is spending this Christmas whole and in the presence of Jesus, and looking ahead to a much different year.

To prepare my heart for what lies ahead in 2019, I decided to end 2018 by doing a devotional study called Life Journey, aimed at those who are facing major changes in life, written by two of my favorite writers, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, authors of the Boundaries series of books.

Today’s devotion focused on the life of Joseph. If you aren’t familiar with the story of Joseph, Genesis 37 tells of his jealous brothers selling him in slavery, and the story picks up in Genesis 39, which begins with these words: “Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there.” (‭Genesis‬ ‭39:1‬) From there things went downhill, as a series of difficult circumstances begin to change Joseph into the man God was calling him to be, second in charge over the land of Egypt and a key character in the preserving of God’s chosen people through a worldwide famine.

The following quote stood out to me from this devotional reading.

“Joseph’s fruitfulness, or success, came from putting his faith into action. He trusted God to do the divine part, then invested himself fully to do his human part.

Joseph didn’t try to manipulate the pieces of his life that were out of his control. He entrusted those to God. Note what Joseph didn’t do: try to escape slavery or prison; despair and forfeit his identity and integrity; resent and hate the ungrateful cupbearer; or develop a victim mentality. Knowing what circumstances were out of his control, Joseph handed them over to God and focused on his responsibilities.

Joseph embraced the tasks he could do: He waited patiently on God for his vindication and reward (see Psalm 37:6–7); worked hard for his master, Potiphar; resisted Potiphar’s wife; managed the prison for the warden; interpreted dreams for his fellow prisoners; respected God’s warning of famine; stockpiled food and grain for the lean years; married and raised two sons.

Joseph couldn’t possibly have foreseen how God would orchestrate the pieces of a worldwide famine to reunite him with his family. He simply did what was in front of him at that moment and trusted God with the big picture of his life. And God made him fruitful (see Genesis 41:52).”

Good advice for how to walk into an unknown future!

The Discipline of Memorizing Scripture

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.” Isaiah‬ ‭61:1-4‬ ‭NIV‬‬

As I began a study earlier this year of Breaking Free, by Beth Moore, one of the first assignments was to memorize the above passage. As I struggled phrase by phrase to learn this rather long portion of Scripture, I had no idea of what our family would be facing a few months later – or of how God would use several of the truths in these verses to bring comfort in the midst of sorrow. This whole situation with the sudden loss of our son has given me fresh understanding of the importance of memorizing Scripture so it will be available for God to bring to mind in our times of need.

This passage written by the prophet Isaiah describes some of the reasons Almighty God sent His only begotten Son Jesus Christ to the earth. Beth Moore wrote: “One of the primary reasons God sent His Son to this earth was to bring tender salve and relief to those whose hearts have been broken.”

As I’ve walked through many of the practical aspects of dealing with the death of our special-needs son David this week and of making preparations for his memorial service next Tuesday, this passage has taken on special meaning. I’ve experienced the Lord’s comfort in the midst of mourning, joy and a garment of praise instead of the deep despair I had always thought would be a part of this event which I have dreaded since David’s initial diagnosis as a three-month old. In those early days, we were told it was unlikely that David would live beyond early childhood, yet God graciously gave us thirty-four years with our precious son before He took him home to be with Him and to restore him to complete health.

So during this tough week of dealing with many of the practical aspects concerning David’s death, I’m grateful for the truths of Scripture that God has brought to mind and used to strengthen and comfort me. And I’m thankful that I didn’t give up when I was struggling a few months ago to commit these verses to memory.

Have you made memorizing Scripture a part of your daily walk with God? If not, I highly recommend making this discipline a part of your daily quiet time. I’ve personally found the Scripture Typer Bible Memory app to be a helpful tool for committing Scripture to memory and regularly reviewing those verses I’ve memorized. Our God can use many methods to speak truth to our hearts in our time of need, but as I’ve grown as a Christian I’ve learned that one method He uses repeatedly in my life is that of bringing to my mind a truth that I have already made the effort to memorize.

God’s Unfailing Love

For many years, Bible reading and study has been a major priority in my daily life. The primary way God speaks to us is through His written Word, and in the weakness of my flesh I need to hear from God daily to know how to walk victoriously through the many challenges of this life.

This past week was not an exception to my habit of beginning my days with time in God’s Word. But it was an exceptional week of hearing from God. It was a week where God’s message to me was coming through loud and clear. It was a week of hearing over and over again: “Trust in My unfailing love.

Unfailing love is how the New International Version of the Bible translates the Hebrew word checed. Other versions translate it steadfast love, lovingkindness, mercies, faithfulness, kindness, mercy, and love. Why so many different translations for one Hebrew word? Simply because there is no single English word that fully expresses the meaning of checed.

Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words says there are three basic meanings of the word, which always interact: strength, steadfastness, and love. This word is used 240 times in the Old Testament, most often in the Psalms. Vine’s says, “The term is one of the most important in the vocabulary of Old Testament theology and ethics.”

This single Hebrew word also includes the concepts of generosity and favor, of loyalty and mercy, of grace and faithfulness, of goodness and devotion, of protection and blessing. When used to describe our God, it applies primarily to God’s particular love relationship with those who are His chosen, those who have entered into a covenant relationship with Him. That includes you, if you have placed your faith in Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins on the cross.

As I did my regularly scheduled Bible reading last week, each day it included this concept. God was obviously trying to show me something important about His character. Then the day after this began, we learned that we need around $40,000 in repairs on our home, due to damage from Hurricanes Ike and Harvey that was not covered by our insurance. I was feeling overwhelmed.

The next morning, one verse about God’s unfailing love especially stood out to me. It was Isaiah 54:10.

“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”

‭‭As I read these words, I realized God had given me a promise to hold onto. What we are facing feels huge, but it isn’t bigger than our God. No matter what lies ahead, we can walk through it in confidence that His unfailing love for us will not be shaken and that His peace won’t be removed.

This week, I’m especially grateful for the special words God brings to life from His written word, when a verse or concept in the logos, the written Word, becomes a rhema word that we personally hear and receive as we spend time in His presence. For that to happen requires a commitment to open your Bible (or a Bible app) every day with expectancy that God will speak to you.

Is there a verse of Scripture or a concept taught in the Bible that God has used to encourage you recently? Give thanks to the Lord for being a God who speaks to His people. If God has spoken a special verse or passage to your heart that has encouraged you, don’t keep the good news to yourself. Share it with someone else. It may be just what they are needing to get through a difficult day.

“Walking and Leaping and Praising God”

For the last couple months, I’ve been using Rachel Wojo’s monthly Bible Reading Challenges to put together a weekly blog post, daily adding a brief reflection and graphic on that day’s passage. I still plan to continue doing this, but as I was reading today’s passage from the Everything Beautiful Bible Reading Challenge, God opened my eyes to some encouraging truths and I felt compelled to go beyond my short entry for the weekly post and do a separate blog post.

Today’s Everything Beautiful passage is found in Acts 3:1-10 and tells of one of the miracles during the early years of the church. It took place at the gate of the temple that was called the Beautiful Gate, probably so named because of it’s ornate decorations, but commentators are divided about the actual location of the gate. It was apparently one of the gates or doors through which the Jewish men who came to worship entered, but it’s exact identity is of little importance. The emphasis in this passage is on what happened here.

It was the hour of prayer, and Peter and John were on their way into the temple when they saw a man who was lame from birth being carried to the entrance where he habitually spent his days asking alms of those who were entering the holy place.

Doubtless, Peter and John had seen him many times before, but this day was different. At the man’s request for alms, Peter stopped and spoke with him. The man was hoping for silver or gold to meet his material needs, and he probably had a sense of disappointment at Peter’s first words, “I have no silver and gold.” But Peter’s next words changed his life. “But what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”

If you’ve been a Christian for many years, this is probably a familiar passage. But the Holy Spirit loves to give us new insights as we spend time daily in God’s Word. This morning, the words following the actual miracle stood out to me, “and (he) entered the temple with them (Peter and John).”

As I read these words, I sensed the Holy Spirit speaking to my heart that this was of great significance to this newly-healed lame man. So I did some research to confirm what I was sensing. If the lame man had never before been allowed to enter the temple, was this somehow a case of looking down on those who had less than perfect bodies? As a woman with a long list of chronic illnesses and disability as a result of an automobile accident and actively involved in ministry to others with chronic illness, this definitely had my attention.

Were the blind and lame restricted by God from entering the temple, forced to stay outside the temple gates because of their infirmities? Scripture does tell us (in Leviticus 21:16-23) that the blind and lame were excluded from serving as altar priests, presenting sacrifices and food offerings to God. But there are no specific verses that teach the physically disabled were to be banned from the tabernacle or temple. So we know this was not God’s plan.

Yet there are extra-biblical sources that seem to indicate this was common practice by the time of Jesus. The fact that the man was at the gate, which Peter and John were about to enter, and not inside the temple, seems to confirm this. If so, it came about either through Jewish tradition or the misreading of Scriptures such as Leviticus 21 and 2 Samuel 5:8, where David is quoted as saying on the day he was anointed as king, “The ‘blind and lame’ will not enter the house.” But this could not refer to the temple, since it had not been built at that time, and in context doesn’t even appear to refer to the physically blind and lame.

We do know, according to Matthew 21:14 and other passages, that Jesus healed the lame and blind in the temple. This shows they were at least able to go into the court of the Gentiles, and it along with the many healings during His earthly ministry show us Jesus’ heart was to include those who were afflicted or disabled.

If the lame and otherwise afflicted were actually banned from the temple, as many believe, when the previously lame man who had been healed entered the temple with Peter and John he was probably as excited about this as he was about being able to walk. No wonder he was “walking and leaping and praising God!

Today, regardless of what was true at the time this miracle took place, we can be confident that chronic illness neither separates us from God’s presence not makes us unqualified for ministry. Jesus’ death and resurrection instituted a new way of life, a life described in Hebrews 10:19-20 as “the new and living way.”

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,”

We are no longer under the law. We now live by grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Romans 6:14 clearly states that we are not under the law but under grace. Why is this true? Because one of the things Jesus came to do was to fulfill the law (see Matthew 5:17).

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,” (Ephesians‬ ‭2:8‬ ESV)‬‬

“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Galatians‬ ‭5:18‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

And that’s such good news that we, like the once-lame man of Acts 3, should be “walking and leaping and praising God!”

Jesus, the Bridegroom

 

The name Bridegroom is used often in the Bible as a metaphor for God, specifically for Jesus Christ. The Church is likened to a Bride with Christ as her Bridegroom, painting a clear picture of the special relationship we are privileged to have with Him. We are bound together by a covenant of grace that cannot be broken.

In our current culture, marriage is not known for permanency. But this was not God’s original plan. God’s guidelines for marriage were explicit. Marriage was meant to be ‘til death do us part’, as the traditional Protestant marriage vow states.

“’Haven’t you read… that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Matthew‬ ‭19:4-6‬ ‭NIV‬‬

With this understanding in mind, the bride-groom imagery of the Bible is a wonderful picture of the security of the children of God in their relationship with Him through faith in Jesus Christ. Once we have made a true commitment of our lives to Jesus, we can have assurance that we belong to Him. Yes, we still sin, we’re far from perfect. But we never again need to fear we are lost eternally.

Whether or not you are now happily married, if you have trusted Jesus as your Savior and Lord you will be a part of the Bride of Christ at the Wedding of the Lamb. In his gospel, John said, “The bride belongs to the bridegroom” (John‬ ‭3:29a‬ ‭NIV). If you belong to the Lamb, Jesus Christ, you will be a part of the Bride of Christ.

At the culmination of human history, Christ will come for His Bride, the Church.

For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.” Revelation 19:7

The Bride, made up of all those who have believed in Jesus Christ as their Messiah through the ages, has made herself ready. Dressed in Christ’s own righteousness, she has grown in purity.

But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” 1 John‬ ‭3:2b-3‬ ‭NIV‬

Now, she has seen her Bridegroom face-to-face, and she is pure as He is pure. She is ready for her heavenly wedding. It’s time for the Wedding of the Lamb!

As I reflect on this name of Jesus Christ, I look forward to this day in the future. As part of the true Church, I know I will be included in the Bride. If you know Him as your personal Lord and Savior, you can have the same confidence.

Jesus Christ Our Savior

Easton’s Bible Dictionary defines Savior as “one who saves from any form or degree of evil.” In the sense we are using Savior as a name of Jesus, it refers to the good news of salvation and forgiveness of sin available to us by faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross and His resurrection from the dead. Easton explains, “Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ secures to the sinner a personal interest in the work of redemption. Salvation is redemption made effectual to the individual by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

The idea of a Savior isn’t unique to the New Testament. From the Garden of Eden and the fall into sin, God has spoken of Himself being our Savior. One of many verses from the Old Testament calling God our Savior is Isaiah 43:3, which begins with these word, “For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…”  

Throughout the Old Testament, God delivered His people from perils when they walked in obedience to Him. But the promise of theSavior, of the One who would come to bring salvation from sin and restoration of relationship with God was still future.

From His birth, Jesus was identified as this promised Savior. When an angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds in the field watching their sheep, this announcement was made.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke‬ ‭2:11-12‬ ‭ESV

After His resurrection and ascension to heaven, Jesus was recognized by the early church as the ONLY source of salvation.

And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts‬ ‭4:12‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Both Paul and Peter acknowledged Him as Savior.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Titus‬ ‭3:4-7‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:” 2 Peter‬ ‭1:1‬ ‭ESV‬‬

While the price for our salvation has been paid, a response is required from us for Him to be our personal Savior.

It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” John‬ ‭4:42‬ ‭ESV‬‬

I made the decision to accept Jesus as my personal Savior in 1971, when my eyes were opened to the truth that growing up in the church didn’t mean I knew Jesus as my personal Savior. If you haven’t made this decision, today can be your day of salvation. Listen to the following song, and then make wherever you are your altar of surrender to Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord.