Understanding Grace

Grace 1   “Until we come to that point of understanding what wretches we are; we will never understand the amazing grace of God. It takes a wretch like me to experience the amazing grace of God.” (A.W. Tozer)

Grace. We talk about it, we sing about it, pastors preach about it, writers write about it, but do we really understand it? Do we truly appreciate how amazing God’s gift of grace really is? “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” (Ephesians 2:8) There is no more valuable nor miraculous gift we will ever receive than the gift of God’s grace and, as Tozer noted, to fully appreciate it we must recognize why we need it.

Paul wrote in Romans 7:24, “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” The word translated in the NLT as “miserable” is the Greek word “talaiporos” which means enduring trials, afflicted, wretched. When we grasp the definition of the word in the original Greek it helps us understand the terrible condition Paul was writing about; and it makes clear his words that follow: “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Ephesians 7:25a)

The other thing we should understand, to fully grasp God’s gift of grace, is the holiness of God. The believer understands his or her own wretchedness in direct proportion to how clearly he or she understands the holiness of God. “No one is holy like the Lord! There is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.” (1 Samuel 2:2) “Who is like you among the gods, O Lord—glorious in holiness, awesome in splendor, performing great wonders?” (Exodus 15:11)

Jesus said in Matthew 5:48, “But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” This is an impossible standard, one we can never attain, but God is holy and can set no lower standard, because he is perfect. So it is the marvelous wonder of the Gospel that Jesus met this standard for us! And that was what Paul was pointing to when he exclaimed, “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Chris our Lord.”

Paul teaches us plainly that we cannot attain God’s standard of perfection, “For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.” (Romans 3:20) So it is by understanding this principle that we can see ourselves in stark contrast to God’s holy perfection. And from there we can find the generous gift of grace he offers us: “We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.” (Romans 3:22-24)

And that, friends, is grace. Praise be to God! “For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people.” (Titus 2:11) “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) Truly the Lord is full of grace and he longs to offer you his gracious gift. I pray that today will be the day you accept it, if you haven’t already.

“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:37-38)

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.

CANCELLED!

Cancel Culture3You have almost certainly heard the term “virtue signaling” by now; it is a term that has received quite a bit of attention in the media as of late. According to Wikipedia, the term was coined by James Bartholomew, a British journalist, who defines virtue signaling as a “public act with very little associated cost that is intended to inform others of one’s socially acceptable alignment on an issue.” In today’s tumultuous social environment, we may see corporations, public figures, and even individuals noted for various acts of virtue signaling.

Running parallel to virtue signaling, and possibly even more notorious, is the term “cancel culture”. This is the practice of thrusting someone out of social acceptance because of some negative action or statement, that may be either current or deep in one’s past. The cancel culture hit close to home for me recently when a group of individuals decided my old high school should be renamed because something negative was discovered in the history of its namesake. Apparently, if someone discovers anything untoward about your past, it can negate all the good one may have also accomplished.

So what are we to make of all this? Do we fall in line with popular culture and engage in virtue signaling of our own? Do we look for reasons to cancel someone or something so as to purify our surroundings? What if someone discovers something in our past and makes a public spectacle of it? Could that ever happen?

As with all questions we may have, the first place we turn is to the Bible. In regards to virtue signaling and the cancel culture, we shall see that God has much to say! Let us start with this verse: “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth.” (1 John 1:8) Also, the Bible explicitly tells us: “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” (Romans 3:23) So, we see, that no one is perfect. Each and every person has something in their past (and/or present) that could be brought into the public eye at any time.

Let’s take a look at the capitol city in my home state as an example. St. Paul is named after a seemingly exemplary individual (the Apostle Paul) who wrote most of the New Testament and helped start the Christian church at great personal cost. Surely if there is a man worthy of having a city named after himself, it would be the Apostle Paul, right? Or could Paul be canceled?

If we go by the modern cancel culture, I think the Apostle Paul would definitely have a high potential for cancellation. Paul referred to himself as “the worst of sinners” in 1 Timothy 1:16. Prior to his conversion to Christianity, Paul was a persecutor of the church. He pulled people out of their homes and had them arrested for no reason other than their religious beliefs. Many of these people were beaten, tortured, or even killed. Paul stood by and watched while Stephen was stoned to death in complete agreement with the proceedings. Should a modern city, a capitol city no less, carry his name with a track record like this?

If the standard is perfection, then we need to recognize that the only perfect person to ever live on this earth was Jesus Christ. The rest of us, all of us, have sin in our history. So if we are going to start canceling people because of their past, we MUST cancel everyone not named Jesus Christ!

But in God’s economy, sin does not have the last word. He sent his only Son to live among us, to teach us, to heal us, to die for us, and to rise again that we can be forgiven. And when we accept God’s free gift, then, like the Apostle Paul, we become new creations. “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) And in Romans 8:1 we read, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.”

Before we can participate in canceling others, we first must look at ourselves. Realizing we, too, are imperfect and sinful before a Holy God, we can understand that even our heroes were sinful, too. We never forget what Jesus taught us, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:1-4)

And with this in mind, rather than canceling others, let us share the Good News of the Gospel with them in hopes that they, too, might be saved. In the process we shouldn’t shy away from sharing our own personal failures in the hopes of leading another to salvation. Because, rather than signaling our virtue to others, we boast in the Lord, the only perfect One. “Therefore, as the Scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:31) Remember, Christians aren’t perfect, they are forgiven!

The Apostle Paul, when he shared with Timothy that he considered himself the worst of sinners, said this, “But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:16) This should also be our attitude! For “If I must boast, I would rather boast about the things that show how weak I am” (2 Corinthians 11:30) and how gracious our Lord God is!

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.

White As Snow

Winter 3 I woke up the other day to our first, freshly fallen snow of the season. It wasn’t much, just enough to cover the roofs and the ground, but it was wonderful blanket of crisp, gleaming white. From the balcony of our 5th floor condo, it was a beautiful sight and an exciting preview of things to come. I always get excited for the change of seasons here in Minnesota but those first few snowfalls are always a special treat and, perhaps, my favorite of all.

It may be hard for those unaccustomed to living so far from the equator to grasp, but there’s nothing quite like the incomparable beauty of seeing everything covered in a bright, glowing tapestry of pure white. Especially after the beautiful fall colors have faded away and left us surrounded by a dreadful, lifeless brown and gray. For by then the days have grown short, the temperatures have dropped, and things have started to feel rather gloomy and bleak. But then one morning, we wake up to that first, freshly fallen snow and it’s like new life has been breathed into our whole environment!

And the cycle repeats itself throughout the winter months. Snow falls, bringing its refreshing newness to the land, only to fade to a brownish gray as repeated exposure to sun, wind, and dust takes its toll. And then more snow falls, once again delivering its sparkling rebirth to the landscape. My favorite snowfalls are those where the snow sticks to everything, coating the tree branches in a glistening white powder that sparkles and shimmers and brightens the day. You forget the harshness of the cold as you revel in the splendor and beauty before you.

Such is the effect of freshly fallen snow. Not everyone I know enjoys the bitter cold the way I often do, but few deny the beauty winter brings. And I think the revitalizing effect that freshly fallen snow has on the landscape is a perfect metaphor for the cleansing effect God’s grace has on our souls.

One of my very favorite verses is Isaiah 1:18: “Come now, let’s settle this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.”  The colors scarlet and crimson reflect the darkness of sin, the hopelessness of guilt. Depravity and perversity pull people down and create a chasm from which we cannot escape on our own.

But Isaiah uses the white associated with snow and wool to portray the opposite of sin: forgiveness, mercy, cleanliness, new life. And he acknowledges that it is only God who can bring us from one to the other, only God can bring us from guilt to grace. And David does the same in his psalm of repentance where he asks the Lord to “purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” (Psalm 51:7)

It doesn’t matter how far we’ve fallen, or how deep the crevasse our human condition has cast us into, God can and will get us out.  Paul teaches us in Galatians that “Jesus gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live.” (Galatians 1:4) And again in Galatians 3:13: “But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing.” So we can be confident that whatever we have done, whatever darkness surrounds us, no matter the stain of our sin, God, through Jesus, can and will lift us up and wash us clean and give us new life. Just like the freshly fallen snow brings new life to the scenery around us.

But how do we avail ourselves of this? First, we must repent. We read in Matthew 4:17, “From then on Jesus began to preach, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” This truly is the first step we take. It really means, in its most simple form, that we come to agreement with God that we truly are sinful. (And if you think you are not sinful, just ask your spouse or your parents or someone else intimately close to you and you will learn the truth!) We accept what the Bible says, that “we all have sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3:23). Then we ask for His forgiveness and place our faith in Him.

Romans 10:9-11: “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. As the Scriptures tell us, anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.”

Romans 3:22: “We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.”

Galatians 3:11: “So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”

1 John 1:9: “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”

So, if you haven’t already, please avail yourself of God’s great and endless mercy. Let Him make you as clean as the freshly fallen snow, that you might sparkle in the newness of life that comes by faith in Christ. And if you have already made that decision, but feel you sometimes still struggle, know that just like the snow refreshes itself throughout a winter season, God will bring constant refreshing to your soul as you abide in Him.

If you are lucky enough to live where the snow falls, may you enjoy this winter season. And if you live closer to the equator, let me suggest a visit to a wintry destination soon!

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.

His Grace Is Sufficient

All Too Human 4   There are those out there who will tell you becoming a Christian means having your “best life now”, that all your problems will disappear, that you will have happiness beyond your imagination. Health and wealth will be yours and trials a thing of the past. Still others may suggest that once you become a Christian you will live in sinless bliss; your life will be one of perfect obedience, free of all wrongdoing. Yes, there are those who make such wild promises about the Christian life.

I wish I could tell you that they are right. I wish I could tell you that becoming a Christian means an immediate end to all manner of struggle and that you can skip through life with increasing health, wealth, and happiness. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you that. Certainly there may be a rare minority that experience such things, but for the vast majority of us, we continue to struggle with all the ordinary trials life puts forth. Both those external and those within. Even after our conversion, we are still existing here in a fallen world, after all.

In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul is candid about one of his personal struggles, describing it as a “thorn in his flesh.” We do not know specifically what this is, some speculate it may have been some form of demonic hindrance to his ministry in Corinth, but whatever it was, Paul makes it clear it was enough of a burden he was desperate to be rid of it. He writes: “Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)

Indeed, God’s grace is sufficient. For all of us.

One of my favorite passages in all of Scripture is Romans 8:1: “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” This verse immediately follows Paul’s description of his continuing struggle with sin in Romans 7:14-25, which I feel is worth repeating here: “The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Picture the scenario if you will. Paul, a Christian by direct, personal revelation from Jesus Christ Himself; the very man through whom the Holy Spirit wrote most of the New Testament, surely a Christian among Christians, describes for us his personal struggle with ongoing sin. And it is this passage, perhaps more than any other in Scripture, with which I can personally relate. I feel my course has been one of steady improvement since my conversion, and surely some of the most vile of my sins remain behind me, but I am still quite surprised at the velocity and frequency with which I can fall into sin. “Oh, what a miserable person I am” indeed.

In the Bible, Paul is not alone in his ongoing struggle with sin. Scripture is replete with men of faith who experience personal failure. Witness David and his adulterous affair with Bathsheba or Peter and his thrice denial of Jesus. Space doesn’t allow me to dive deep into all the Bible characters and their specific circumstances, but I know I am not alone in my struggle. And I hope you know you are not alone, either. Whether you are struggling with external circumstances, or your own ongoing battle with bad habits, you are not alone. And you are not left to contend on your own. God gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit (see Ephesians 1:13) to help us recognize when we fail, and to learn and grow from our experiences.

Once we become Christians, we start the journey of sanctification. That is, we start growing in Christlikeness. With rare exception, this is a process of steady growth over all the remaining years of our lives. We can take certain steps to help the process; such as regular Bible reading and prayer, church membership, and interaction with other Christians. Intentional participation in activities such as Bible study small groups can really help us. At least, that has been my experience.

Always remember that Christians aren’t perfect. We’re just forgiven. And if you have not yet found a relationship with Jesus Christ, I hope you will consider taking that step now. It won’t make your life instantly better, but it will make you instantly forgiven!

May God bless you richly! Here at Reign Drops, we’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment or drop us an email at: ReignDropsBlog@gmail.com

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.

 

Do I Really Need A Parachute?

Parachute 1  Imagine the scene. You’re on a commercial airliner flying to the destination of your dream vacation. You’ve saved your money for several years to pay for this trip and your excitement level couldn’t be higher. You’re no stranger to flying, but this trip is definitely special. The flight attendant takes you through the usual flight safety warnings and before you know it the plane is up in the air. Only ten hours of flight time and you’ll be there!

Then the captain makes an announcement that catches you by surprise: “Ladies and gentlemen, the flight attendants will be coming through the cabin shortly with a parachute for each of you. Please take the parachute and strap it on your back.” Now if the announcement ends there, you will probably be wondering why they are handing out parachutes. You’ve flown before and this has never happened so you’re probably wondering all kinds of things; maybe even looking out the window to see if there is smoke or fire or anything out of the ordinary.

But what if the captain’s announcement continued this way, “Folks, the parachutes will make your flight more enjoyable, please strap the parachute on, sit back and enjoy your flight.” Now the flight attendant hands you this thing about the size of a small backpack, you strap it on and sit back in your seat. Except you can’t get comfortable. The parachute makes it impossible to sit normally and soon your back is sore and you start to become angry at the airline. What in the world is going on? After not too much time, you take the parachute off and make it known you will not wear this thing.

The parachute most certainly did not make your flight more enjoyable and you now have  backache causing you to feel contempt for the airline, the captain, and the parachute. You will have nothing to do with any of them after this flight. They are already ruining your dream vacation.

But what if the captain’s announcement went this way instead, “Folks, the flight attendant will soon hand each of you a parachute. Please calmly strap your chute on before helping those around you. The plane has developed a serious malfunction and will soon crash to the earth, but you will be guided to a door where your parachute will help you land safely on the ground.” With this additional information, won’t you gladly strap on your parachute and endure whatever discomfort it might bring for the assurance of safety that comes with it? I should think so!

So you see it is only when you have the complete picture of the situation that wearing the parachute makes any sense at all. Likewise, it is the same with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If I were to come to you and say, “Friend, you need to accept Christ,” you would likely wonder to yourself why in the world would you need to do that. My statement simply wouldn’t make sense. And if I said to you, “If you accept Christ it will make your life better,” you might very well give it a try, but eventually something would happen to make you question if your life was truly better, and you might end up turning away from Christ because the promise I gave you was not fulfilled. It is only when we have the complete picture that the Gospel of Jesus Christ makes sense.

So to fully understand the Gospel (which means “good news”) you need to first understand your need for it. Just as understanding that the plane is about to crash made the need for a parachute understandable, knowing that we are sinners helps us understand our need for Jesus. The Bible says, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3:23) and the reality is, deep down inside, we all know we have made mistakes; we all have done things that have hurt others, we are all guilty. In fact, if we are truly honest with ourselves, we have likely felt the weight of that guilt much more often than we care to admit to others. To deny this is to be disingenuous just as the Apostle John wrote, “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth.” (1 John 1:8)

Perhaps the bigger problem for most of us is that we tend to compare ourselves to others and then, despite our self-knowledge and the guilt we feel, we conclude we’re “not that bad” especially compared to (insert name of notorious sinner). And isn’t that natural? In fact, not only is it human nature, it is the very ploy of the devil to make us think we don’t need God, for Satan is the father of lies just as Jesus says in John 8:44: “He (Satan) has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” And the Apostle Peter warns us, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

So don’t believe the devil. Believe the Bible instead! And the Bible says, “No one is righteous—not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one.” (Romans 3:10-12)  I honestly think the reality is that I don’t need to convince you of your guilt. I believe we all instinctively know the truth about ourselves deep down inside. And, therefore, being knowledgeable of our sin, what we really need to comprehend is that the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). God said about Himself in Exodus 34:6-7: “I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But I do not excuse the guilty.”

God does not let the guilty go unpunished. Not the guilt of the worst person you can think of, not my guilt, and not yours. The guilty receive punishment, and that punishment is death. But God, in his infinite love and mercy, made a way for us to escape that punishment and to receive eternal life. And that way is Jesus because Jesus paid the penalty for us. So the Gospel is this: “God so loved the world He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) And just as the impending plane crash is why you need the parachute, sin is why you need the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Availing yourself of the Gospel is almost as easy as strapping on the parachute; just talk to God. Admit to him you have sinned and you need his mercy. Accept the free gift of grace he offers through Jesus Christ; for there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)

And now you know the full story! God bless.

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.