Grace

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January 8

Friday, January 8th, 2021

It is my humble opinion that one of the hardest things to do is to accept blame-responsibility for something. As a younger pastor I can recall a number of times saying, “If this hadn’t happened” or “If this hadn’t been done” then none of what took place would have. I’m not as bad as I used to be, perhaps maturity has entered the picture (I hope) OR understanding God’s love and grace and plan more has made a change in me (my greater hope).

There is an old saying: “Remember, whenever you point a finger at someone there’s always 3 pointing back at you.” (I guess the thumb is a non-entity, an extra, but don’t cut it off!) Finger-pointing is nothing new. Do you remember the Garden story when God confronted Adam and Eve? What did they do? One thing they didn’t do was accept the blame. Nope, not them.

  • A: “The woman. It was her fault.”
  • E: “The serpent. It was his fault.”

That’s taking one for the team, isn’t it? Nope. And as you well know, nothing has changed. Like my feeble attempt to explain away, i.e refuse to accept responsibility for a failure or wrong action, we still do that. I suspect on a daily basis. Oh sure, we mature so we (hopefully) accept responsibility a little more readily, but I know within me there is still this little man pointing his finger at someone else. I wonder when that happens if that is a little bit of what Jesus was referring to in Mt.13:14-15. I realize that passage deals more with hearing the message but the same closed heart for the “seed” can be the same closed heart for hearing and accepting the truth. And responsibility.

Here’s a thought: For every time we accept responsibility and stop trying to pass the blame, perhaps grace has become more real to us. Grace helps us see ourselves as we truly are-definitely not as good as we think we are-but willing to accept responsibility for the mess.

“Father, help me to stop pointing fingers at someone or some thing and to start seeing ‘me’ as the culprit. Then help me to allow Your transforming grace to do its work.”

December 23

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

When I was a youngster, and if I was a betting man/boy, I would have bet my last dollar (which I had none of back then) that my mother had eyes in the back of her head. She was like “See all/know all” to me. I had 3 brothers-all younger- and we all had the “Not me’s.” I’m sure you have probably seen that Family Circle comic strip where the mom asks “who did it?” and they all say, “Not me.” Well, I think the cartoonist had it right and must have used my family as the model for that particular day. I can remember there being a time that something would happen or something was missing and mom would line us all up and say, “Okay, who did it?” Not even the “It is better to tell the truth than get caught lying” line would stop the “Not me” from flowing out of our mouths. But strangely mom would say, “Okay, Robin or Garry or Curt (never Bill), why did you do it?” and the cover would be thrown off the perpetrator.

You know, I may have escaped my mother’s piercing eyes (and disappointment) but with God it is different. As Paul David Tripp writes:

God’s grace will expose what you want to hide, not to shame you, but to forgive and deliver you.” (40 Days of Grace- Day 4-P.14)

Little did I, or my brothers, know that revealing to mom our (there I admitted it) infraction actually set us free. We didn’t have to skulk around like Golem wondering if we were going to get caught. And we no longer have to hide our sin (we can’t anyway). God’s grace brings that sin out into the light and pierces it, obliterates it. Exposes it. All for the better.

“Father, you have shined your light of grace on my sin. You have exposed it so it cannot control me. Thank you.”

December 17

Thursday, December 17th, 2020

This is Day #3-the third and final day-of my thoughts on ideas found in the Introduction of Paul David Tripp’s little book 40 Days of Grace. I’d like to suggest you read Day 1 (December 15) and Day 2 (December 16) in order to prepare yourself for today’s thoughts.

There is a big different between “will” and “might” or “possibly.” In this final devotion, Tripp lists several ideas of what Grace will do.  Here they are:

  • Grace will remind you again and again that you have no ability whatsoever  to earn God’s favor, but it will dispel your fear of not measuring up. I could linger on this one a long time. How many go through life living in this fear?
  • Grace will repeatedly put you in your place will never harm you by putting you down.  I have to ask this question: Am I really a worm Mr. Watts? ( Think the hymn “Alas and did my Savior bleed?)
  • Grace will call you to examine yourself with honesty and humility, but will free you from being paralyzed by fearful introspection. It is good to examine; harmful to bludgeon.
  • Grace will keep reminding you of what you are not so you will receive God’s welcome to what you can now be. That is the result of a new life in Christ.
  • Grace will blow up your little kingdom of one while it introduces you to a much better, more glorious King. My kingdom of one is such a small package.

Grace is more than just a story, it’s more than just a theology, and it’s more than just a powerful force-no, grace is a person, and His name is Jesus. Jesus is the grace of God.

Celebrate Jesus. Celebrate grace. I’m typing this in my office and I just looked up from the computer to take a drink of my nutrition shake and saw a plaque I have above me on the shelf of my desk: Grace changes everything.  How can I argue with that?

“Thank you, Father, for your grace. Thank you for the impact it has made on my life and continues to make. Help me to celebrate Jesus.”

The comments in blue are quotes of Tripp’s from his book.

December 16

Wednesday, December 16th, 2020

I want to continue today with my thoughts on grace taken from 40 Days of Grace by Paul David Tripp. I’d first encourage you to read (or reread) yesterday’s devotion again. (I just did).

“Grace is a wonderful story and the best gift ever.

  • Grace is a jewel of God’s character and the only reliable place to rest your hope.
  • Grace is a tool that God uses to transform you.
  • Grace is a theology that you could study forever and the sweetest invitation you will ever receive.”

Whenever someone asks me how I’m doing I will often answer, “Better than I deserve.”  When you take the time to analyze it, that is the essence of grace. It is often said, “Mercy is not getting what we do deserve; grace is getting what we don’t deserve.”  That is a very good and apt definition of both and it shows the distinction between the two. And both are true to the core. What strikes me, and this goes back to the third bullet point above is this: Grace is a jewel, but as long as I live I will never get to the bottom of it. I will never “mine” it completely. That mine will never play out, never exhaust itself, never run dry. I can unquestionably say that grace is unfathomable.

“Father, may I never stop probing, never stop mining, your magnificent grace. May I never ever feel I have reached the bottom of the well of your grace.”

{Just a note: putting Tripp’s thoughts into bullet points (in blue)  is my doing. I do it for clarity and succinctness. His initial thoughts are in a paragraph. So if there is any lack of understanding or misrepresentation (which I hope there isn’t) it is purely mine.}

December 15

Tuesday, December 15th, 2020

I began reading today another devotional book by Paul David Tripp. It is called 40 Days of Grace. I love-love-love-(did I say love?) talking and reading about grace. More than that, I love learning about and living in grace. The next two days I’m going to divide his introduction into devotional thoughts. There is way too much for one day. So strap yourself in, hang on and take a ride with me.

“Grace is a thunderous, expansive, powerful, and life-altering word…

  • It is the one thing that has the power to change you and everything about you.
  • It is what all human beings need, no matter who they are or where they are.
  • Men and women need grace, the young and the old need grace, the rich and poor need grace, the popular and forgotten need grace, and the weak and powerful need grace.
  • You could dig into grace every day of your life and not reach the bottom of its power and glory.

Grace explodes into your life in a moment, but will occupy you for all of eternity.”

Grace is the best of stories. I know it is the best of mine. I was such a sad, pitiful representative of God’s amazing grace. Bound by legalism, I was not a heart set free. Anything but. But one day grace broke through while I was on a personal retreat. I spent almost two days crying as God’s grace washed over me, I’ve never been the same and I never want to go back.

“Father, your grace as described by John Newton is truly amazing. Thank you for rescuing me from legalism and setting my heart free.”

The blue highlighted portion is from his book. There will be more tomorrow.

December 4

Friday, December 4th, 2020

There are a lot of emotions which people experience during the Christmas season.  There are the devastating ones like loss, loneliness, and lifelessness. They lead to a feeling of why bother? Why not just give up? There are also those emotions which carry a sense of settledness. Joy. Peace. Knowing you are loved.

One that is all too common is one called discouragement. How do I know that? I’m fighting it tooth and nail right now. This has been an unusual year to be sure. The virus lead to decreased attendance until we had to lockdown. Then when we could open again our attendance began to creep back up slowly. And I was okay with that. Then recently the spike has hit and we are back to people staying home. I know this is best, especially for those directly impacted by the threat to their health or those they love. But that still doesn’t ease the angst of one who loves people and feeds off seeing them.  So after an up, then a down, then an up, and now a down,  I have found myself fighting off being discouraged. For the most part I’ve been doing well. My hardest time? This past Sunday when it hit me again.

This all came back to me and I saw it again when I read Paul David Tripp’s Day 30 devotion from 40 Days of Faith. While his devotion focused on how God has each of my days written down even before I was born, it caused me to stop and think about my own heart. I had to remind myself that what happens (has, is and will) does not surprise Him in the slightest. He’s not wearing the suit of the guy with question marks all over Him.

On the contrary, He authored this all with a combination of wisdom and grace. That means He knows my disappointment and discouragement and comes alongside me with an arm around my shoulder and eyes full of understanding saying, “I’m here Bill. Don’t get discouraged. You are going to be surprised when this all shakes out. But you gotta trust Me.”

So I do the only thing I can do. I cry on His shoulder and lean into His chest and resign myself to His warm and steady heart beat.

November 23

Monday, November 23rd, 2020

Before I start: my blogging friend, Diane, is having surgery today. I’d like to ask you to stop and say a prayer for her safety, the doctor’s steady hands, and a good and smooth recovery for her. Thanks.

I’m not much of a horticulturist. I’m not much of a gardener either. My thumbs are black. I decided I wanted a garden a few years ago…when I was much younger. I loved fresh tomatoes (especially the yellow ones) and green peppers-usually given to me by others. So I thought, “Why not? After all, how hard could it be?” Let’s just say that after 3 or 4 summers I again relied on others for those fresh veggies. I planted. I watered. I weeded (my least favorite thing of all). I had no clue about tilling and using cardboard or newspaper to keep down weeds. I also didn’t feed them plant food. The kicker, though, is I found it kept me from more important things-like riding my bike. Why work when you can have fun, you know? For three summers I also umpired softball so there went my free time.

I’ve seen many-myself included- treat their faith like that. We want to grow. We want to see fruit. But we don’t want to put in the “effort” to grow. I’m not talking about a works-oriented salvation. I’m talking about personal nutrition. You see, God calls us to Himself then wants us to grow in that faith. He provides what we need to grow but we need to utilize it. Reading the Word. Praying. Gathering with others to worship and encourage. Reaching for Him to help us get rid of the weeds. In spite of what some may think, this does not happen on its own. We don’t lay our head on our pillow with a Bible underneath and by osmosis have it soak into our brain. God has provided all we need for growth. Let’s not be stagnant. Let’s apply the nutrients of truth and grace to our fledgling “plant” and start growing. Fruit awaits if we do.  Take some time to read Galatians 6:7-9.

“Father, You want me to grow, not stagnate. Help me to allow Your Word, Your thruth and Your grace to water my life to bring forth fruit.”

November 20

Friday, November 20th, 2020

First, a couple of questions:

  • Have you noticed that judging is a tricky thing?
  • Have you noticed we will often judge another but overlook our own sin? (Of course you have noticed)
  • Have you noticed we are often more judgmental of people who struggle with the same sin as us?
  • Have you noticed how we often have a scale of how right or wrong a sin is?

Judging is tricky. I know what some say. They use the Scripture in Matthew 7:1- “Judge not, that you be not judged” as rationale for being able to do what they want without having you or me as their conscience. “Who are you to judge?” is the question often asked. I have some thoughts on that but let’s walk away from that for now.

I’m particularly wanting to focus on the kind of self-righteous posturing we get into when we compare. “Will you look at that. I’m sure glad I don’t do that.” That kind of self-righteous shtick that lampoons others while getting us off the hook. Sadly, if we have overcome a habit, rather than become more sensitive we tend to become a harsher critic.

Another angle to throw in is how we are often harder on others or totally avoid talking about the sin we are guilty of. Like the preacher who harps on porn or adultery because it is prevalent in his life, OR avoids talking about them because they are in his closet.

Here’s a novel idea (said with tongue planted firmly in my cheek): How about we just stop pointing fingers of judgment on sin and look in the mirror more intently and with more honesty? I’m not saying we lay down our discernment of right and wrong. What I am saying is to stop the self-righteous picking at someone else.

“Father, may my thoughts and words be pure and Christ-focused.”

November 18

Wednesday, November 18th, 2020

Words are interesting. Obviously, we can’t really speak without them. Even the deaf person uses words, albeit sign language, to communicate. Some people use homespun words like y’all. The first church I served was in the heart of KY on the top of a hill called Mt. Carmel. They gave me some money so I could buy some food to keep in the kitchen for when I was there on the weekends. When I thanked them publicly I used the word “youns” (a PA word similar to y’all) and they looked at me like I was from outer space. I seriously wondered if they even knew what I was saying. 🙂 Some use high falootin’ words like in the King James. And some use words I would never use.

But there are two words used in Ephesians 2:4 that change everything. Two 3-letter words. Who knew two short words could have such a powerful impact and tell such a powerful story! The words?  “BUT GOD.” After talking about how dead we were in sin and had no way out, Paul uses “But God” to introduce a whole new idea. But God who is rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us…”  Then he embarks on his grace project, i.e. being saved by grace. Lost. Found. Mired in death. Made alive in Christ. Isn’t it amazing how two 3-letter words can have such an impact, can make such a difference?

And he didn’t have to use King James English to do it. No $10 words. No “y’alls” or “wheretofores” or “whatsoevers.” No legalize.

“BUT GOD” That says it all.  “Father, thank you for those two simple words that pack a wallop. What a story they contain!”

November 10

Tuesday, November 10th, 2020

When I have my Quiet Time in the morning I like to supplement it with devotional material. Some of it is pretty light but some of it really makes me think. For two years in a row I did New Morning Mercies (NMM) by Paul David Tripp. WOW!  What a goldmine it was.  I can’t even begin to tell you how many copies of that book I gave away to friends and colleagues.  One of my biggest joys is sharing books or providing books to others to read and think about and grow. NMM was one of them. I even had about 5 guys daily emailing their thoughts on their reading of NMM.  I brought it to an end because I realized that although they enjoyed reading the devotions it was hard with their daily schedules to write about it. It was beginning to bog them down so rather than sour them on NMM and having a Quiet Time, I called a halt.

Well…just last week I started a new devotional by Tripp. It is called 40 Days of Faith and I found out after buying it that it takes its cue from NMM and its material is gleaned from it. That’s okay though. My memory is not such that I could remember what I read a couple years ago anyway! 🙂

I recently read this and shared it with the folks during this past Sunday’s communion thought: 

Jesus paid it all! There are no bills due for your sin! You are now free to simply trust and obey.  Stop trying to earn something from God. Stop trying to gain more of his acceptance. Stop trying to earn his favor. Stop trying to win his allegiance. Stop trying to do something that would pay for his blessing. Stop trying to morally buy your way out of his anger. Stop trying to reach a level where you will know lasting peace with him. Just stop trying. Just stop.  (p.16)

Paul tells us that “no one is justified before God by the law.” (Gal.3:11)  I think that is talking about more than the OT Law. I believe Paul is also talking about the crazy notions we get that we can barter our way; buy our way; earn our way; “righteous” our way; and do enough good to get a “Get Out of Jail Free” card and make it into heaven. Just the opposite is true. We can’t do any of that. Salvation is not for sale in any way, shape or form.

Salvation is a free gift. Jesus is there, not just to welcome us, but also to sustain us.

“Father, thank you for your free gift of salvation. I am still blown away by that gift even after all these years of being with You. Help me to lead others to your freedom.”